"Please singe and return to me"

There was a letter I needed to send out today. After preparing the original copy, the office clerk needed my signature before issue. She placed it in a clear holder, on which was a sticker which said: "Please singe and return to me."

Depending on how you look at it, this spelling mistake is both a howler and a taboo. You can either take it in a light-hearted way and quip "You mean return the ashes?" or associate it with the Chinese custom that we burn paper offering to spiritual beings or the deceased and so consider asking people to singe something and return to her as something inauspicious to say.

Either way, however, it is another demonstration of the uncomfortable truth that in casting itself as a bilingual city, Hong Kong gives the game away rather too easily.


They feed us what we like, don't they?

I find it utterly appalling and disgusting that one of Hong Kong’s best-selling Chinese newspaper should publish the photos of the naked body of a woman when reporting the news of this corpse being discovered in a country park yesterday. Even though the sexual organs have been blurred, the publication of these photos represents a blatant violation of professional ethics and ruthless trampling of the privacy and honour of the deceased and her family.

While a newspaper like this will do anything to boost its circulation, it goes back to the fundamental question about why it is that it not only survives but also thrives.

At the end of the day, this is probably what the readers in Hong Kong deserve.


Stay awake! Be prepared!

As we begin Advent this Sunday, the Gospel from Matthew (24:37-44) talked about how Jesus reminded us to be prepared for the coming of the Son of Man.

"As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man," Jesus said. Just as most peopel were eating, drinking and marry up to the day that Noah entered the ark, it is just as likely that many of us will be caught unguarded when the day comes if we do not "stay awake" and "be prepared".

The priest took the example of a current event to illustrate how we can never tell when the day will come. A couple of days ago, in Taiwan, Lien Cheng-wen, the son of Taiwan's former Vice President Lien Chen, was shot in the face while campaigning for local elections. The bullet, which struck the left side of his face and exited from his right temple, did not kill him. Another man was struck, reportedly by the same bullet, and died.

The bullet that was meant to take the life of one person ended up killing another.

No one knows when the day will come. So Advent is the perfect opportunity to remind us to prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus.


Nowhere else in the world I'd rather be

I remember reading from a travel guidebook about Japan the writer's account of his experience in an outdoor onsen. After trekking for a long time, he managed to find the onsen before it got dark. There was no one around as he dipped into the onsen set in beautiful scenery. Describing his elation, the writer said that there was nowhere else in the world he would rather be.

That was the feeling I had when I was lying on the grass of a mound at the countryside this morning. Suffocated by endless work, I needed to re-charge by re-connecting with Nature. So I cast aside the work and went hiking, on a trail much farther away than those I usually take, where I was sure I wouldn't meet many people. And then I stopped over at that mound. The sun warmed the otherwise fairly cool morning and, together with the gentle breeze, caressed the leaves, which rattled in gratitude. Insects were scuttling or whisking by. Some birds were heard but not seen. Lying on the grass with a book in hand, I also had the feeling that there was probably nowhere else in the world I would rather be. Life's best pleasure is simple and free for all. Somehow we just do not seek it.

As I left my little hideout, I felt much energised, and more ready to take on my ordeals.


Symphony under the stars

I just got back from the Happy Valley Racecourse after attending the annual "Symphony under the Stars" concert.

The cool and crisp weather, the nice sandwich and the good music, combined to make this a near perfect evening.

Except one small thing. The audience. Many of them didn't seem to be coming for the music. There were children running around and people chatting noisily (the word "dinning", which I talked about in the blog a couple of days ago, applies well here) when the performance was going on. The etiquette of respecting the performers and the other attendants by remaining silent did not seem to apply here. I kept reminding myself that the event might have been considered by many who came as an occasion for family gathering rather than a formal concert and so a relatively lax standard might be more appropriate, but I had to hush the group of people sitting in front of me when the second movement of Chopin's piano concerto no.2 was played as the music was completely drowned by the noise they produced.

The only moment of the evening that captured the attention of everyone was when fireworks lit the evening sky as the orchestra played the thundering cannon shots of Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture. Everyone took out their cameras and madly clicked away.

For a brief moment, I thought I had come to a circus.


"Dinning", anyone?

Can it be that they really mean "Dinning"? Or is this big odd word, seen outside the carpark of one of Hong Kong's most famous commercial buildings, another revelation of the true worth of this "Asia's World City"?


"In China, no verdict is a wrong verdict"

This is another dark, ignominious chapter of China's legal system.

Xinhua News Agency announced yesterday that jailed tainted-milk activist Zhao Lianhai will be released on medical parole. This happened just hours after he sacked his lawyers and forfeited his appeal. The sacking was done through a note to lawyer Li Fangping, signed by Zhao and inked with a palm-sized mark. The lawyer described the move as "mysterious".

This is a development for which one doesn't know whether to laugh or to cry. Now Zhao no longer needs to serve the 30-month jail sentence which he never deserves. But under this development which is clearly orchestrated by the Chinese government, he remains a criminal. The Xinhua statement reaffirmed that he was guilty as charged. His innocence is the price he and his family have paid in exchange for his freedom.

As a visiting lecturer from China said, dismissing the lawyers may provide a platform for both sides to gracefully resolve the issue. He described the situation well: "In China, no verdict is a wrong verdict."

This is exactly like an extended family in feudal China. The grandfather can never be wrong.


A devoted cat trapper

"I captured three cats this morning!" My colleague crooned when we met in the office this morning. It was a few minutes past eight. I wondered at what hour the capture took place.

It shows what a committed cat trapper she is.

And I am a little proud of that. It was I who introduced the Trap-Neuter-Return scheme to her, knowing that she is an animal lover, and that near where she lives there are a number of stray cats that she's been feeding. She is in a perfect position to help those cats by helping to bring the population under control. And she's been doing that with flying colours.

Her love of animals is shown from the fact that she's fallen for one of the three cats that she got this morning. "I've been struggling about whether to keep that little lassie who is so friendly that she lets me touch her," she said. "This sort of friendliness can be dangerous, you know."

I nodded. Of course I know. The trust and friendship that these these harmless and innocent animals are ready to extend to humans can be ruthlessly exploited by cold-blooded abusers. And there are a lot of these sickos around. Just minutes before my colleague arrived, I had watched the first part of a video clip which was about four well-dressed young girls in China abusing a helpless rabbit to death. I couldn't bear to finish.

"Maybe you might like to keep it?" my colleague suggested, sounding almost off-hand.
So that's what it's all about.

For a moment, I was tempted, but... "I'd love to, but I've already had four, you see."

"I know."

I was almost sorry about how she was a little deflated by my lack of enthusiasm. "Just go ahead and have her desexed," I added. "The programme does stipulate that if the vets find the cats friendly, they may keep them at the SPCA and arrange homing."

That was how we left the matter. I have a feeling, though, that this little kitten might just end up being homed by this big-hearted colleague of mine. And so I wish.


Universal Children's Day (2)

More pictures, these ones showing some Indian children, for celebrating the International Children's Day:


Universal Children's Day (1)

As we celebrate the Universal Children's Day today, I would like to dedicate the day to the Afghan children shown in these pictures:


Hokkaido pictures (9)

These pictures were taken in Sounkyu:


Hokkaido pictures (8)

These pictures were taken in and around Shintuku. I will never forget the magical encounters with the red foxes on our way to and from the Taitetsu Hotspring.


Hokkaido pictures (7)

Still more pictures taken in Otaru:


Hokkaido pictures (6)

More pictures taken in Otaru:


Hokkaido pictures (5)

These pictures were taken in Otaru:


Hokkaido pictures (4)

These pictures were taken in Biei, when the weather was gloomy:


Hokkaido pictures (3)

These pictures were taken in Furano:


I used to have lots of Swatches

I used to have over twenty Swatches.

It was of course in those heady days when youth gave me the license to be profligate, but those artistic and inexpensive plastic watches did (and still do) have a lot of appeal to someone like me who went for style. For many years, they were coveted items for collection as well as speculation. I remember once a saleslady at a Swatch shop tried to sell me a watch. "This is a nice one and it is rare," she said. "It's from Japan." She was right. It looked nice, but I found the white flower on the face a bit too feminine and so left it. Some time later, in a shop that sold limited editions, I saw it again. Out of curiosity, I asked how much it was. The asking price for the watch with a big white flower on the face, which I could have bought from the Swatch shop for HKD300, was a staggering HKD1,500! I kicked myself for not listening to the saleslady.

However stylish those Swatches are, they are plastic electronic watches. Prolonged wearing damages the straps, which are mostly irreplaceable. The watches are also sealed in such a way that they do not lend themselves to be repaired should they be found not to be working. Credits to the company, some are still working well even after twenty years, but down the years, one after the other of my prized items have stopped ticking. No matter how good it looks, a watch that does not tell the time precisely or at all is rubbish. And in time to come my other Swatches will inevitably be having the same fate.

This is one big change that the modern generation has with the older ones. Before we entered the electronic age, consumer products like watches and cameras operated mechanically. When something went wrong, these items could and would be repaired. This, coupled with the fact that back then it took much longer for technological breakthough to happen, meant that the products had a fairly long lifespan. With the people generally not being very well off, it was not uncommon for a camera or a watch to be passed on from the father to the son. It is not unlike these days when product manufacturers just have a way to make you go for a new model every three years or so, even if your "old" one is in perfect condition.

Maybe that is part of what makes Hong Kong the world's largest garbage producer. And I am a culprit too, because included in the garbage are some of my old Swatches.


We are the world's largest garbage producer (2)

This is an excellent example of why we have produced so much garbage - the production and consumption of so many plastic bags that are completely unnecessary. It defies logic that one would need a plastic bag to carry the newspaper that he or she will hold with the hands to read.

It is just infuriating that people would habitually damage the environment in such a senseless and irresponsible way.