millions of diamonds
sparkling on a sheet of down
where else to find wealth


Important Christmas message from the Pope

Delivered on separate occasions, the two Christmas massages from 84-year-old Pope Benedict XVI this year should indeed be read together.

At the Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, he lamented that Christmas has become an increasingly commercial celebration that obscures the simplicity of the message of Christ's birth.

"Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season,” he said. “And to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light."
And in his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" (Latin for "to the city and the world") speech from the central loggia of St. Peter's on Christmas Day, he prayed for famine, flood and conflict victims from around the world.

These are timely reminders for us during the festive time. For years, I have noticed that there is an increasing inclination for many to see Christmas as an occasion for pleasure seeking. The slogan of in a credit card advertisement by Hong Kong’s largest bank, prompting the whole city to “Live, Shop, Play”, says it all. The Pope reminds us not only to ponder the true meaning of Christmas but also to think about and pray for the disadvantaged. On this holy day, let us reflect on the reason for Jesus Christ assuming a human existence which began in the simplest and most humble fashion.


Gala Dinner

This was the evening for the Gala Dinner. Being vegans, our food choice is quite “limited”, so it doesn’t make sense to pay the exorbitant price for much of the food that we are simply not going to touch, and the good thing about this favourite resort of ours is that it doesn’t require guests to join the Christmas Dinner like many other hotels.

But we did take some part.

One of the activities for the Gala Dinner was “Cinema Paradiso”, in which movies were shown in front of a lotus pond while the guests were having dinner.  The show being open air meant that other guests were also able to see it, so when we returned to the resort after having our own version of “Gala Dinner” (garlic bread + fried asparagus + yellow curry with vegetables + rice) at about 5 percent of the price of this one, we sat at a secluded corner and quietly enjoyed the show. It was a Disney cartoon, a Christmas version of Beauty and the Beast in which Belle helped turn the Beast into the prince that once was and his gloomy and cursed castle into a hopeful and lively one on Christmas Eve.

A typical storyline for a fairy tale, you might say, but interestingly, the cartoon reinforced some important concepts I learned about life from Nick Vujicic’s book Life Without Limits: Inspiration for a Ridiculously Good Life. In the two chapters that I read at the poolside in the last two days, Nick talks about how to handle life when things go against us. He proposes that we should have hope and adopt a positive attitude – an attitude of gratitude, action, empathy and forgiveness. These happened to be the very weapons that brought Belle her triumph, and it was a lack of these that had left the Beast trapped by the dark voices in his own psyche.
Some things in life are more than coincidence, when you think carefully about them.


5 (+ 1) strategies to keep you running ahead

There is a good article on the Psychology Today website today, called “Stop Playing Catch-Up: 5 Simple Strategies to Keep You Running Ahead Instead of Behind”. Without going into details, I’ll just list the strategies here:
1.         Write it down.
2.         Get it over with.
3.         Finish what you start.
4.         Invest time to add time.
5.         Work when no one else is working.

The strategies are elegant in their simplicity. With the possible exception of Strategy 5 – which means you may have to stay up late or rise early – they don’t seem to be difficult to carry out. But if I may venture a suggestion, I would add one strategy between 1 and 2:

            Make a start.

To me, that is the vital, make-or-break strategy. Its importance is expressed in the Chinese saying that a good start is half the success. Unfortunately, making a start is possibly the most difficult step. Try to recall how many times you have fallen behind or failed because you never did make a start to do something you should or wanted to? 


More than a toy

Both of the above pictures are published in the BBC website today - one showing Obama visiting a children's centre in the US and the other showing a scene in the Occupy Wall Street campaign.

Obviously, the protagonist is Lego.

Obviously, it is much more than a toy.


"I figured I should share the wealth"

A friend of mine recently forwarded an email to me the other day, entitled "I figured I should share the wealth".

Yeah, sure! was my immediate reaction. I wasnt even convinced that the email was sent by my friend. Scammers are known to steal email addresses and pose as friends. Such was my skepticism towards messages like that.

But check the link I did, out of mere curiosity, and I found obvious signs that the whole thing was a poorly erected scam. The link led to an article that gave the impression that it was published on a respectable news website, with icons of MSNBC, ABC, BBC, USA Today, CNN, etc. But whatever icons you click, they lead to a form asking you to sign up.

The article was about a woman making easy money working online. The article never specified exactly what she did to earn a living with a computer at home. It just urged the reader to take up the time-limited offer and follow the steps of signing up and setting up an account. The first cheques of about USD500 USD1,500 will arrive in about a week.

Yeah, sure!

My curiosity stopped there. My common sense reigned.



bewildered biker
bewitched by sublime beauty
in idyllic world


"What is not seen is clean"

Today's front page news story about a street food seller keeping his beef innards in a "storeroom" right next to the urine trough of a public toilet (yes, the local papers here do run such stories on the front page!) is definitely disgusting but hardly surprising.

I have always maintained that, in our great culture, the facade and what lies behind can be totally different things. I have written about how a lot of taxis reek of stale cigarette stench because the drivers smoke therein when there are no passengers, even though smoking in public vehicles is illegal here. In a Chinese society, the philosophy is that it is okay to do anything that suits your own interest but not that of others as long as you don't get caught. We have been conditioned in such a way that even though we are aware of being short-changed, we do not seem to mind. For example, the hygenic conditions of kitchens of restaurants (never mind how "high class" they are) never give customers complete peace of mind, but instead of pushing for an improvement to emulate places like Singapore or Japan, we just put up with it and kid ourselves with the adage that "what is not seen is clean".

Let's face it, does anyone who dares to put those beef innards in his gob really believe that they are clean? Has anyone living in Hong Kong not seen those entrails being dragged on the floor on their way to some wet markets or, yes, kitchens of restaurants?

And the gourmets are ready to brave the hazard, all because the food, they say, is delicious.


The Devil's Eye

“We have to admit that the soap operas on TV all these years have to take much of the responsibility for people being so cynical these days,” said my favourite host of an Internet radio show in a recent episode. He has been a screenplay writer for many years.

I cannot agree with that more. One thing I can always be proud of is that, ever since childhood, I have been immune from the intoxication of those primetime craps that have not only wasted countless hours of people’s precious lives but also poisoned the minds of the millions of people who stare blankly at the TV screen, watching the farcical, imbecile drama from their dinner table or couch every single evening. Work out the number of hours of one’s lifetime that are squandered that way and you will see how sad and shocking it is. I thank God for granting me the wisdom to see through the absurdity during my childhood when I would happily take the seat at the dinner table with my back to the TV. That was how much I resisted and detested those programmes. I look back with pride at the time I gained that I could spend on more worthwhile pursuits.

As I am writing this, I can almost hear Chris de Burgh’s song “The Devil’s Eye”:

Can you hear me, are you listening, has your programme disappeared?

I can see you, I am watching you, I've been planning this for years.

I have blacked out you television, every station in the world is mine,

And there are millions who are just like you as you sit there, paralysed!

I have some orders which you will follow, and there's nothing you can do,

'Cos as you're looking at your T.V. screen, I am looking back at you...

Oh side by side,

We will cross that great divide,

'Cos nothing's gonna save you now from the Devil's eye!

Oh nothing's gonna save you now from the Devil's eye...

Turn your dial to the number that is shining on your screen,

You will notice that everything is red, you won't need blue or green,

All around me, fire is burning, yes I'm calling you from Hell,

And all those people who haven't seen me yet, will soon be under my spell.

Something's happening, sounds like thunder, maybe the Lord is on His way,

He's still angry and He's after me since I cheated on the Spanish Train,

Oh yes He's coming, and He could stop me, but He'd better make it soon,

'Cos the last time that I won a world, I made it into a moon...

Oh side by side,

We will cross that great divide,

'Cos nothing's gonna save you now from the Devil's eye;

Oh side by side,

Forever we will ride,

'Cos nothing's gonna save you now from the Devil's eye!

I can see you,
 I can see you, I can see you...


An immortal love letter

What is an immortal love letter?

Probably not the ones you and I wrote in the yesteryears. A classic example has to be this one written by St Paul:

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

"Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away."

This letter to the Corinthians was read at the wedding service I attended last Sunday, just as it has been read in innumerable others. There is no better choice for Bible reading on such an occasion. Couples to be wedded would benefit for life if they keep these verses to their hearts. But as I observed on the day, the attendants of the services did not seem to be pondering the meaning.

The verses, though immortal, may simply not be sensational enough.


The start of the "Kill Chris" campaign

What I found most interesting about the excellent "lost chapter" of Steve Tignor's book High Strung (the chapter which, meant to be Chapter 19, was never published) was the remarkable turning point of the tennis life of Martina Navratilova - one of the greatest female players of the sport.

It was when she suffered a humiliating 6-0, 6-0 defeat at the hands of her arch-rival Chris Evert in 1981.

That was the lowest point of her career. Six year after her defection to the US, she was still coming to terms with life as a stateless star. She might have become less alienated as when she first arrived (she told the media in an interview in 1976: "I had nobody to lean on. I couldn't see my family, they couldn't see me, I was all alone… I felt like the whole world was against me."), during which time her reaction to her misery was "going on shopping sprees and pigging out on junk food. But she had gone through highs and lows in those six years, and had earned herself the labels of "the choker" (having been upset in the semifinals of the US Open in the previous four years and often letting her emotions get the best of her) and "Martina the Complainer" (for always speaking her mind and questioning authority). It was also the time when the news that she was bisexual was made public and she had to handle the publicity as well as the loss of sponsorship.

And then came that monumental drubbing in a tournament at Amelia Island in March 1981. But as Steve Tignor wrote, "what appeared to be the bottom was in reality a turning point." For it was during that tournament that Navratilova met basketball star Nancy Lieberman who, together with transsexual tennis player Renée Richards, formed what was to be known as Team Navratilova. While Lieberman helped Navratilova with her training and competitive style, Richards helped her with her strategies. That was the start of what Chris Evert would later call the "Kill Chris" campaign, which completely transformed Navratilova, catapulting her to be the all-conquering winner who was to amass twenty Wimbledon titles (including 9 singles, 7 doubles and 4 mixed).

Martina Navratilova's story is one that shows how the way we handle major setbacks can make a huge difference. We can let the setbacks drag us down the mire. Or we can work hard to change our fortune, and come up stronger than ever.

Only we can make that choice. And what a huge difference that choice can make.


"Marathon Ball"

It was reported that, during the longest rally in tennis history (see yesterday's entry), the Rossetti brothers had hit the hair off the ball, leaving a bald ball that sometimes spun wildly during the final stages of the rally.

Realistically, no tennis ball could survive 25,944 strokes in over fourteen hours. Not even the so-called "Marathon Ball" Penn plans to release to the market next January. The ball is said to last 22% longer than standard balls. This, by the poor standard of today's tennis balls, is not much.

Given that players of the game cannot do without tennis balls, which, by design, do not have a long playing life as performance is greatly affected after the hair comes off and the internal air pressure is reduced, the product has always been a profitable consumable for the manufacturers. In recent years, however, the quality of tennis balls, like that of many other commodities, has steadily been compromised. The balls become less and less durable. "So what?" said the tennis shop owner I am familiar with when he heard me grumble about the situation. "Can you stop buying them? Are you going to quit playing?"

The "Marathon Ball" sounds appealing, but I seriously wonder whether it will live up to its billing. I seriously wonder whether it can play as well as the balls that I used to know. And how much will it cost? How good a deal the new ball is remains to be seen.


The longest tennis rally ever

Tennis anyone?

How about playing for over 14 hours?

And in one single rally, too.

No kidding. This was exactly what two identical twin brothers in the US did in 2008.
In last year’s Wimbledon, we had the longest tennis match ever, which was an 11-hour-and-five minute epic which spanned over three days (see my entries on 24 and 25 June 2010).
What Ettore and Angelo A. Rossetti performed was an equally jaw-dropping feat. On 9-10 August 2008, they broke the official Guinness World Record for the Longest Tennis Rally by playing a 25,944-stroke rally which took over 14 hours and 31 minutes. This was certified by video, eye witnesses and a Guinness World Record official adjudicator.

The event was for charity and a five thousand US dollars were raised.