Mating, killing, hatching...

One day not long after that sexual cannibalism, I found a brown patch in the box. About the size of a bottle cap, it was stickly at first but soon hardened. An egg, obviously.

Some time later, it hatched. No fewer than fifty tiny praying mantes crept out from the shell and scuttled about. I was thrilled. Not only were those little creatures cute, they were in the most beautiful bright green colour I have ever seen. The scenes were very similar to what the pictures in this weblog show, only my ones were very, very bright green in colour.

What an experience it was for a city kid to be able to witness that cycle of mating, killing and hatching. But I didn't get to see the growing. After just a couple of days, it dawned on me, as those little creatures began to lose their sheen, that there was no way those young lives would be able to live in the box for long. Much as I was unwilling to, I took them to a park and released them.


Sexual cannibalism

People say that one of the benefits of pet keeping for children is that they can learn about death and about how to handle the grievances stemming from the loss of life of their beloved pets. As someone who has a lifetime of pet keeping experiences, I can certainly vouch for this. Over the years I have reeled and healed over the departure of various four-legged friends, the memory of whom still triggers hidden aches inside. Those were excellent lessons about life, death and love.

There was one death that did not so much sadden me as astound me. For a number of years during my childhood, I had the hobby of keeping praying mantis. My childhood bosom friend and I were both so fascinated by the commanding stance and composure of the insect, which looks like a fearless warrior toting two curved knives that we went about catching them. We soon learned about the kind of trees where they could be found. And we would sit like statues and stare at those trees until the first one who spotted a welcoming speck of green would give the other one a nudge and say: "I saw one." We would then climb up the tree and get it if it was within our reach. If it wasn't, we would wait and pray that it would move down. The tricky thing about catching a praying mantis is that it will bite your finger at your first strike and, trust me, it hurts. But once in captivity, it will be gentle and friendly, scuttling on your arm and letting you grab it. And the best thing is, it doesn't try to escape. It has wings but doesn't really use them. So while we always had two or three that we kept in a box, we would take them out when we go home after school, feeding them with some grasshoppers that we caught on the way. The picture of a praying mantis grabbing a grasshopper by its scythe-like forelegs and gobbling it was really quite spectacular.

Then came the time when I captured one that I noticed to be different from the ones I had had. And the way I caught it was rather unusual too. I was having a lesson on a stormy day. The heavy rain outside the classroom and the boring lesson combined to drown my spirits, but I suddenly snapped to attention as I caught a glimpse of a familiar speck of green on a fluorescent tube at the ceiling. A praying mantis! I was thrilled. From that moment onwards, I just prayed that the lesson would end as quickly as possible and the insect would still be there when it did. After what seemed like eternity the bell rang and, much to my relief, the little one was still there. I waited for my classmates to stream out of the classroom, then leapt up a desk and captured it without my difficulty. It was a beauty, lush green in colour, but I noticed that its abdomen was more rectangular in shape than the other ones I had. Without giving it much thought, I put it in the box when I got home.
The praying mantises got along well. They always did. There was no fighting or anything like that. But one day a couple of weeks later, as I opened the box, I was stunned to see that the praying mantis I caught in the clasroom was chewing something, and stuck to its rectangular abdomen was a little part of what was left of the abdomen of another praying mantis! It didn't take me long to figure out what had happened. So the shape of the abdomen was a distinguishing feature of the insect's gender. So I had witnessed the closing scene of sexual cannibalism.

The fact that for some species of living things the husband would get gobbled up by the wife after a sexual intercourse is one of nature's great mysteries. There is no higher price for the male to pay for that experience than with his own dear life.


One world

The pictures above are submitted by viewers of the BBC News website on the theme of "Picnics".

The pictures below show some people in Niger. Millions in the country have been suffering from starvation due to drought and crop failure. The people have had to ease their hunger by eating a kind of lizard called "bo" and tree leaves with the bitterest taste.

Explaining how the leaves are eaten, a woman said: "These are the leaves of the Tatola tree. We boil them and pound them and add a little salt, then we put them with the millet husks, which are all we have left now. The husks do not satisfy our hunger, but if we add some boiled leaves, it helps."

It does not seem like the people in these two sets of pictures are living in the same world.


How are you, Mr Lion?

In this interesting picture taken in a zoo, it almost looks like the lion and the tiny owl are friends, but in actual fact the situation was quite dangerous.

The baby owl, which lived in a lime tree in the lion enclosure, fell from the nest and hopped up to the lion. Zoo visitors were alarmed but helpless, as it was too dangerous to do anything to save the owl. Fortunately, after peering at the cute owl for a while, the lion was not interested. After several clumsy efforts, the owl later flew to safety.

It was quite funny how the cute little owl looked at the lion innocently and fearlessly, totally unaware of the impending danger.


Work "flow"

While all the attention has been on the match and the players, one could also pay tribute to the unsung hero - the chair umpire.

44-year-old Mohamed Lahyani of Sweden spent 11 hours, 5 minutes over three days in the umpire's chair, but he said he did not get a chance to feel tired.

"I was gripped by the amazing match and my concentration stayed good," Lahyani said. "I owed that to the players. Their stamina was breathtaking and their behavior exceptional."

"When you are so focused, and every point feels like a match point, you just don't even think about eating or needing the bathroom."

The experience Lahyani described was remarkably similar to what Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi referred to in his book Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life as "flow", which are exceptional, intense moments in which what one feels, what one wishes and what one thinks are in harmony, moments in which one is so completely immersed in the experience that one wants it to last forever. According to Csikzentmihalyi, "flow" tends to occur "when a person's skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable", and the "flow" experience usually involves "a fine balance between one's ability to act, and the available opportunities for action". Simply put, when high challenges are matched with high skills, the deep involvement of "flow" is likely to occur. In the case of the extraordinary match, the players' stamina and behaviour provided Lahyani with the high level of challenge, and he had to apply his umpiring skills and bo so totally focused on every point that he was completely unaware of his physical needs. He was in a perfect state of "flow".

No doubt the players were too. And we should not forget that, both for the umpire and the players, the tennis match was their work, and they have been able to find "flow" in their workplace. How much more rewarding our life will be if we can derive "flow" experience from our work life, which accounts for much of our waking time?


Game, sweat and match

The longest tennis match ever is over.

Twenty more games were played when the match resumed yesterday. John Isner won the historic duel. It is a match for which one hates to see a loser and I certainly feel for Nicolas Mahut. That said, I honestly don't think that whoever has emerged victorious stands a chance for the next round, after being pushed to such physical and mental limits. So, as tennis fans, let's just give full credit to both men for treating us to this high drama they have put up with their unbelieveable fitness and stamina.

The final score was 6-3 3-6 6-7 (7-9) 7-6 (7-3) 70-68. The match, which lasted 11 hours and five minutes and spanning three days, smashed a number of records: the longest match, the longest set, the most games in a set and a match, the most aces in a match and the most aces by a player. In all, 215 aces were served, 112 by Isner and 103 by Mahut.

The number of games played in the final set, at 70-68, is higher than the points in the lowest scoring NBA game! In the match between Bosten and Milwaukee in 1955, the score was 62:57 and merely 119 points were scored.


"59 all. Final set."

59-59? If you are asked which sport this score belongs to, it is quite natural for you to think that the answer is basketball. Only this answer is wrong.

The amazing tennis match at Wimbledon between American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, which was suspended ysterday because of bad light, smashed many tennis records.
The epic clash, which is still to be concluded today, is the longest match in tennis history, outlasting the previous one at the French Open in 2004 between Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement by almost three and a half hours. So far, with the match tied at 4-6 6-3 7-6 6-7 59-59, 163 games have been played and that is 51 games more than the previous longest Wimbledon match between Pancho Gonzales and Charlie Pasarell in 1969. That match lasted five hours 12 minutes with Gonzales winning 22-24 1-6 16-14 6-3 11-9. As the score shows, that was before tie-breaks were introduced. Isner, with 98 aces, and Mahut, with 95, have also smashed the previous record for the most aces in a match set by Ivo Karlovic with 78 aces last year.

The tennis world will no doubt hold its breath to find out how the match will conclude today (or, on second thought, maybe not?), But whether it will be a quick finish of just two more games or it will last another day, the two heroes should be commended for their superhuman tenacity, willpower and fitness. As Isner himself said: "Nothing like this will ever happen again. Andy Murray agreed. "This will never ever be matched again," he said.



Jonas, Todd and Shawn are back.

After the tiger and two camels belonging to a zoo in Canada have gone missing for four days as the truck and trailer which were supposed to take them to Nova Scotia had been stolen, the trailer was found near Montreal after the police received a tip. The animals were in good health and are now resting at their homes.

I hold up my hands. I feared that the tiger and two camels will not be found alive as they could be sold or killed by the thieves. I probably had too little faith in humanity.

The story of their loss and recovery is quite heart warming. The zoo officials have shown genuine concern about the animals, putting up one reward after another to help trace them and making public appeals for the thieves to take care of them. The following remarks by head zookeeper Stephanie MacEwen show how much they care.

"I am so relieved. I feel great... Everyone has been up for over 72 hours and now we can hit the pillow."

You have to give credit to the thieves too, not only for returning the animals but also for caring for them while they were missing. The police believed it would have been difficult for the animals to survive in the heat of the enclosed trailer for nearly four days.

MacEven said: "I'm feeling emotions I didn't know I had." Maybe that applied to the thieves too.


Animal stories (1)

Two pieces of recent news about animals show how the western people care about the four-legged creatures.

The first is about a tiger and two camels belonging to a Canadian zoo being stolen a couple of days ago. Jonas the tiger along with Sean and Todd the camels were inside the truck and trailer being snatched by thieves.

It was believed that the animals were taken inadvertently. "Really who would want a tiger and two camels?" zoo director Michael Hackenberger said. "These things would be like a millstone around your neck. There is no rhyme or reason for it."

As time went by, Hackenberger became increasingly worried about the well-being of the animals. He had two public messages for the thieves, whom he said were "either the smartest thieves in the world or the dumbest". He wanted them to know that the animals were microchipped so moving them on or selling them wasn't an option. He also wanted them to ensure that they water the animals he gave detailed instructions about how to water them, especially watering the tiger safely.

To help trace the animals, the zoo has earlier put up a reward of 20,000 Canadian dollars. But as the zoo officials are increasingly worried that the animals may die soon if they are not properly cared for, they have followed that up with an additional offer of $2,000 for proof that the animals were alive. "It's the best money they'll make off a digital photo in their life," Hackenberger said.

If as the circus officials believed the thieves of the trailer had no idea what it contained, I wonder how they would react when they found out that there were a tiger and two camels inside. Like the zoo officials, I am worried about the animals. Not only is there the possibility that they are not watered, it is also likely that the thieves would kill them if they cannot figure out how to handle them or if they think they can make some money out of the animal parts. I pray that in the next couple of days there will be some good news about Jonas, Sean and Todd.

(to be continued)


Summer is a volatile dragon

"Le 21 juin c'est le premier jour de l'été," said an online French newspaper for teenagers.

The 21 June is the first day of the summer, it says. The newspaper is right there. According to the Lunar calendar, today marks the arrival of summer.

To me, summer is like a volatile dragon at the prime of its life. The hot-headed young creature is energetic, powerful and reckless, and has a very unpredictable temperament. It can be at its charming best at one moment, and utterly devastating or devastated the next. Now it gives you its brighest smile and warmest embrace. Now it pulls a dark face, howling and wailing, bursting into tears, spitting out its fury like fire, destroying everything that stands in its way.

It is not easy to fall in love with this fickle dragon, but to me this love affair has lasted all my life.


Take up our cross daily and follow Him

In today's Gospel, Jesus said to His disciples:

"If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." (Luke 9:23-24)

Take up our cross daily and follow Him. Sound advice from Jesus. Only it is by no means easy. For one thing, the mind may be willing, but the flesh is weak. And even if the mind is willing, the fact that every moment it wanders from one incoherent thought to another as we are constantly bombarded and hijacked by sensory stimuli makes it very difficult to remain focussed and aware of the commitment.

We have to "remember to remember", as the saying goes, and it is extremely tough. Prayers, I believe, constant and consistent prayers from which we will gain awareness and strength.


"Without disinterested interest life is uninteresting"

"Without disinterested interest life is uninteresting."

This is a very clever and meaningful quote extracted from Czikszentmihalyi's book Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life.

The quote is from the chapter entitled "The Autotelic Personality". The word "autotelic" has it origin from two Greek words, auto, which means "self", and telos, which means "goal". A person with the autotelic personality therefore is one who finds the things he does or the experience he has intrinsically rewarding.

Czikszentmihalyi contends that most of us have learned to save up our attention to cope with the immediate demands of living, and there is little left to be interested in anything else that will not register as a gain on our ledger of immediate goals. This is what Czikszentmihalyi means by "disinterested interest", without which one's quality if life suffers. He suggests that we develop curiosity and interest in the early years of our life and make room in our life for wonder, novelty and surprise, for transcending the limits imposed by our fears and prejudice.

Czikszentmihalyi says that to be able to develop interest and curiosity to enjoy life for its own sake we need to have the ability to control our psychic energy. We also need to find the time. He therefore suggests two steps. First, we should develop the habit of doing whatever needs to be done with concentrated attention, with skill rather than inertia. Many of the things we find interesting are not so by nature but are the outcomes of the attention we pay to them. As one focuses on any segment of reality, an infinite range of opportunities for action opens up for our skills to engage with. Second, we should transfer some psychic energy each day from passive leisure into something we enjoy doing but don’t do enough. We should husband our time carefully, not so much in order to achieve wealth and security in some distant future, but in order to enjoy life in the here and now.

Czikszentmihalyi holds that attention is normally directed by genetic instructions, social conventions and habits we learned as children, but if we are to take over the ownership of life, the only way is to learn to direct our psychic energy in line with our own intentions.


Let us gossip

The entire conversation of two women I overheard in a crowded MTR carriage yesterday was nothing but gossiping. They were making scathing attacks about some colleagues.

Sadly, such a conversation is not uncommon among co-workers. In fact, it is often what bonds them together. To add to the points made in the blogs of the last two days. Firstly, there are few contexts where the phenomenon "familiarity breeds contempt" is more clearly manifested than the workplace, which is where paid workers spend most of their waking time and where competition and conflict are very much part of the ecosystem. Secondly, gossiping is very much a part of life of this city. In fact, social circles composed of co-workers often disintegrate after some members have left the organisations because there are no longer the common topics and more importantly the common enemies. To quote Csikszentmihalyi again, "besides ... gossip there is not much else that engages their attention."


"Behind the impressive facades"

In his book Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi makes the following comments on how some societies do not make good use of leisure time:

"...the quality of a society hinges on what its members do in their leisure time. Sub-urban communities can be so depressingly bland because one has reason to believe that behind the impressive facades rising from the emerald lawns nobody is doing anything interesting. There are entire countries where one gets the impression from talking even with members of the societal elite that besides money, family, fashion, vacations, and gossip there is not that much else that engages their attention."

It seems as if the description is tailor-made for this city in which I was born and bred - a city they called "Asia's World City".


Shall we travel together? No thanks!

A friend who is making plans to go to Iceland in summer, upon hearing that I have also been considering the Scandinavian island as a destination for a summer trip, suggested that we travel together if our schedule does match.

It is nice that someone considers you as a possible travel companion, but I am not sure that it will necessarily work just because we are friends.

There are obvious advantages in travelling with friends. Co-planning not only makes preparation easier but is also part of the fun. The costs can be lowered through sharing resources and splitting accommodation and transport expenses. Above all, having the company of friends makes the journey less lonesome and much safer.
However, both from what I have heard and personally experienced, I know that this business of travelling with friends can be very tricky. If not handled well, the trip can turn into a disaster and in extreme cases may ruin a friendship. Let's face it, it's easy for friends who only have a meal or a drink together once or twice a week to stay on good terms, but for them to have to live together for a length of time is an entirely different story. When you have to make lots of big and small choices and decisions on a daily basis, many different factors come into play. So before travelling together, you have better be sure that you and your friend know each other well enough that (1) there won't be any personality clash, (2) you have similar views, interests and preferences about a lot of things, and (3) your enthusiasm and conversation topics won't run dry after the brief initial spell.
Unfortunately, such trips do not always end as well as they start. Some people have to part company with their travel partners midway because of some differences they cannot resolves. Some people may have finished the trip together but with the friendship seriously dented. A former travel companion of mine said it well: "If friends can go on another trip together, it speaks volume about their friendship." This travel companion and I have not considered doing another trip although we never had any disputes or grudges during the only journey we had together, so there you go.
The saying that familiarity breeds contempt is very wise indeed.


Journalism at its sarcastic best (or worst)

After England goalkeeper Robert Green let in an innocuous shot to gift the United States a 1-1 draw in yesterday's World Cup Group C opener, the unfortunate player was lambasted by the British press. Some attacks were fairly direct, such as "for all our sakes, he's got to go - now" by the Sunday Express. Some, on the other hand, were loaded with sarcasm.

For example, the front pages of both the News of the World and Sunday Mirror read "Hand of Clod", alluding to the "Hand of God" description of Diego Maradona's controversial goal against England in the 1986 World Cup tournament.

The Sunday Times made reference to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and said the blunder was "one disastrous spill the Yanks won't complain about".


Let the games begin

Got an unexpected call from a friend yesterday asking me out to watch the World Cup matches for the day. I really wasn't that keen on the football, not least because these were just the first matches of the group stage and not the final boom or bust affairs. But not wanting to let him down I said I'd come. "We could watch all the three matches," he suggested. "But it's up to you."
Remembering that the third match was to kick off at 2:30am, I quickly said that I had to go to church the next morning and probably wouldn't stay up that late. So he gave me the name of the bar and said we'd meet up at 8:30pm.

That was how I made my second ever visit to a bar (which doesn't make me a saint but a complete bore). And this visit was almost as unpleasant as the first when my cousin took me to a late night sojourne. The concoction of dim light, loud music (or, in last night's case, football commentary and cheering), alcohol and tobacco was never my favoured recipe. The last ingredient was particularly offensive. The moment I entered the bar, I was smothered by the stink of cigarette smoke. This was my first such experience after smoking was banned in all public placed under the Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Ordinance which came into effect in 2007. You'd think that people would abide by the law, but obviously bars (and I'm sure other night life premises such as karaoke establishments, massage parlours and night clubs as well) are outside the jurisdiction. It was so bad that after the final whistle of the first match which saw South Korea cruise to a surprisingly comfortable win over Greece, I had to tell my friend, himself a smoker and had been freely taking drags on his cigarettes throughout the match, that I simply couldn't stand it anymore. He then took me to another bar - one frequented by foreigners and they turned out to be the people who showed more respect to the law. Those couple of hours were more bearable. The air was less stale, and the match between Argentina and Nigeria was of marginally better quality than the first one. People were absorbed in the atmosphere in different ways, cheering and cursing in response to what they saw on the screen, making their views about football, the opposite sex and life at large very public between sips of alcoholic drinks. But I felt completely alienated. I derived some interest in observing the people's behaviour, including listening to my friend pouring out accounts of his private life with remarkable starkness, probably under the influence of alcohol, but all the time I was conscious of my role as an outsider.

The time finally came for the second final whistle, and I excused myself. My friend said he'd stay behind for the third match, which wouldn't start for another two and a half hours. I was wondering how my friend would while away the time, but he said he'd be fine and walked me to the MTR station.

My friend's parting words were "let's watch the next weekend's matches together". I wondered whether he had said that merely out of politeness. I also wondered what I should say if he really means it and asks me out again next week.



i don't feel at ease
see this, want that, detest those
trapped in my own world


Is your life "a formless blur" or "a work of art"?

Just started to read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's (a name that's about as difficult to spell and to pronounce as Eyjafjallajoekull, the area in Iceland where the volcano erupted recently) book Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. I find the following sentences extracted from Chapter 1 very meaningful:

"...what our life is consists in experiences related to work, to keeping things we already from falling apart, and to whatever else we do in our free time. It is within these parameters that life unfolds, and it is how we choose what we do, and how we approach it, that will determine whether the sum of our days adds up to a formless blur, or to something resembling a work of art."

"A formless blur" or "a work of art". These are pretty good analogies about how our life could be shaping up. And I believe that is where the theme of the book, "flow", comes in nicely. The more we maximise our chances of having flow experiences, where flow is defined as "the sense of effortless action [people] feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives", the closer our life will be to a work of art.

One thing I'll find out is the extent to which reading this book resembles a "flow experience".


To give or not to give, that is the question

While commuting on a train, I would and do happily surrender my seat to someone who I think needs it more than I do, such as old people and pregnant women, there are cases in which I would hesitate. Two cases where the chivalrous act is likely to cause embarrassment to or even offence of the receiver are: (1) when the 'old' people, particularly women, do not think they are old enough to be pitied, and (2) when the women are not pregnant but just a bit thick around the waistline.

On the BBC website today is an interesting article about this painful dilemma. An interesting figure quoted by the article is that 84% of the pregnant women regularly have to stand, one of the reason being that "seated commuters don't want to offend the non-pregnant".

So you see, it's not necessarily that the seated people are selfish.

To give or not to give, that is the question.http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8730106.stm


No cheaters please!

What's going on here? Is there a terrorist attack? Or a bank robbery?

No no. It's just this year's high school public examination in China.

In the first picture, the troop of traffic policemen was just "protecting the examination with love", as the placards in the vehicles said.

In the second picture, the policemen were escorting not criminals but candidates into the examination hall.

What the woman in the third picture was trying to detect was not chemical weapons. Nor was the girl about the board a plane. This 'security check' was to ensure that there would be no devices for cheating to be brought into the examination hall.

But why all the fuss? According to the news reports in the last couple of days, some examination candidates have been adopting hi-tech, state-of-the art, James Bond movie-like gadgets to cheat. The glasses they wear are a camera for taking pictures of the question paper. The eraser on the desk is a signal transmitter. The watch is a display screen showing the answers the fee-charging cheating syndicate has worked out and sent in.

What could only be found in a scene of a sci-fi movie has now become a reality. And what can be a more fitting stage for this real-life drama than our great Motherland?


Paint the yellow tiger

See the tiger?

See the pandas?

No, wait...

They ain't no tiger and pandas!

They're dogs!

They're dogs dyed to look like tigers and pandas. And they are showcased in a park in China as an attempt to attract visitors.

Here's the link to a news story about these poor animals.

It's ironic that the park, which is in Zhengzhou, Henan, China, is called Habe Pet Civilisation Park.

Very civilised indeed.


Impossible is nothing really

It took her 12 years and 39 Grand Slam attempts, in which she never previously progressed beyond the last eight, but Francesca Schiavone finally took the French Open title this year.
The Italian insisted that her historic victory is proof that the impossible can happen.

"This win shows that everybody has the chance to be who you really want to be, and do everything in your life,” Schiavone said. “This is what has happened to me."

18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova was delighted for her. “The passion came through,” Navratilova said. “She wanted it. She wanted it badly. She was going to die on that court if she had to.”


Both featuring a paper fan, these two photos show very intersting contrasts. The first one shows a woman sort of hiding behind her fan while she is travelling at the Great Wall in Beijing. The second one portrays a gay man showing off at the Sao Paolo Gay Pride Parade.


Dare to dream

Some songs and speeches that I heard in yesterday's vigil to the Tiananmen massacre were about dreams.

Dreams are commonly understood as some ideals we pursue that are yet to materialise. In the context of June Fourth, the dream is stipulated in the five operational goals of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China:

1.Release all dissidents
2.Rehabilitate the 1989 pro-democracy movement
3.Demand accountability for the shootings during Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
4.End the one-party dictatorship
5.Build a democratic China

Big dream. Difficult to realise, it appears. But there are signs that the steady and unswerving steps Hong Kong people take towards achieving it are bearing fruits. The more the shameless Hong Kong government tries to suppress, the stauncher the support gets, and the Tsang administration have made themselves look like complete fools by high-handedly snatching two statues of the Goddess of Democracy and then being forced to release the. They must be shocked to see, by the police's own admission, the largest turnout ever in yesterday's vigil at Victoria Park. It is also refreshing to see more and more young people coming out to fight for democracy both for Hong Kong and for China.

I have attended the vigil for 21 straight years, but I dare not take any pride in that. I only consider being able to do so as a special privilege. Throughout China, it is only those of us in Hong Kong, under the protection of the grossly unfair "One Country Two Systems" decree, that are bestowed with this right, and I don't see how I can get out of this divine duty to do the least I can for my fellow countrymen in China.

The sparks have been alight. They have burnt the desire in us. We do not just dare to dream. We are convinced that it will come true.


No road through the woods?

A friend came to me with Rudyard Kipling's poem The Way Through the Woods and asked about some of the poetic devices therein. Here is the poem:

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate.
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods . . . .
But there is no road through the woods.

While reading the poem, I found that an analogy can be drawn between that road through the woods and the way to democracy that the brave people tried to pave with their lives in Tiananmen twenty-one years ago today. Some people shut the road and covered it so that it is now unknown to most. But the road and the memories associated with it are always there. Not only are there people who, like the keeper in the poem, know and remember, but also if anyone cares to find out, he will be able to awaken the scenes and the memory.

Tonight, "if you enter the woods of a summer evening late", if you go to Victoria Park, you will hear some gunshots, the roaring of tanks and some cries of pain and agony, and among them some faint but distinct calls of "Long live democracy".

There may be no road through the woods now, but there will certainly be in time to come.


More on how to handle a defeat

Another article from the Tennis website, one called How to Recover from a Tough Loss by Jon Levey, offers useful advice on getting over a tough loss.

"...if you’re a competitive player a narrow defeat can cause you a world of hurt," he writes. "What's most important, though, is to not let a recent heartbreaking setback shake your confidence so that it affects your performance the next time a match comes down to the wire."

He has some very good advice to offer:
Recall all the good things you did. Tell yourself that if you do more of these in the next match, the result will be different.
  1. Give your opponent credit. Acknowledge that your opponent was part of the reason for the loss. This will take some of the blame off your shoulders.
  2. Build back your confidence through winning. Try to play your next match against someone you know you can beat. The tast of victory will make you feel like you can repeat your success even in more competitive match-ups.


How do you feel to be beaten, sir?

Roger Federer's loss to Robin Soderling in a French Open quarter-final match yesterday ended his amazing streak of reaching the semi-finals in Grand Slam tournaments for 23 consecutive times. It definitely has been, as Federer said, one of his greatest achievements.

I am particularly interested in how he took the defeat. When asked how he would get over it, he said he would simply look ahead to the grass-court season when he will attempt to win a seventh Wimbledon and 17th Grand Slam title.

"You move on," he said. "You move on to the grass and forget a little bit."

That's probably the best way to handle a loss in sports. As Allen J. Fox said in an online article called The Agony of Defeat:

"All losses hurt your confidence, but the more emotion that's associated with a defeat, and the more you highlight it in your mind, the more damage it will do. You must black out the loss as soon as you can. This can be difficult because tennis matches feel more important than they really are, and losses linger as players naturally tend to blame themselves. The best way to counter this is to get your mind off losing."

Just as amazing as Federer's run of 23 Grand Slam semi-finals is his sense of humour. He joked: "Now I've got the quarter-final streak going, I guess."


I need a pay rise, says the Queen

How much does it take to sustain a family? Of course it depends on where you live and what kind of family you have. Here in Hong Kong you can get by, and many families do, with a few thousand per month. In poorer countries it can be much less.

But how about the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace? According to a report, the Queen gets an annual GBP7.9 million (that's about HKD90 million per year, HKD7.5 million per month, or HKD250,000 per day), which covers the cost of the royal household.

If the idea that amount of money that the Queen gets for one single day can well be the household income of a Hong Kong family for twenty years is not chilling enough, how about the news that Her Majesty is seeking a pay rise because her expenditure is GBP6 million more than her current pay and she'll soon be broke if she doesn't get the rise?

It works out to a daily expenditure of about HKD433,000 for the Royal Family.

Quite surreal isn't it?