20110131

Never stand still?

This picture shows a scene of the World Economic Forum which took place recently in Davos, Switzerland. I wonder if that slogan "Never Stand Still" is meant to be a piece of advice for the global leaders attending.

God would disagree. He says instead, "Be still, and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)

20110130

Unmanageable expectations

After Roger Federer lost to Novak Djokovic in this year's Australian Open semi-final, failing for the fourth consecutive time to get to a Grand Slam final, there was an excellent article on the Tennis Magazine website talking about "the burden of being Roger Federer".

The writer noticed that his fans, among them some past champions, see no limits to what the great man can do. So when he is behind in a match or when he loses one, they attribute the problem to his tactics or how he uses his talents. In yesterday's match, Patrick Rafter, while commentating for Australia's Channel 7, suggested that Federer should have mixed spins and trajectories instead of trading bullets with Djokovic. Amazingly, such "expert advice" is given even following victories. After Federer won Wimbledon for a fourth or fifth time, Pat Cash said: "Yeah, that's fine, but I really wish he would come to the net more."

This phenomenon, from fans who have been so used to the easy flair and versatility of this man who is arguably the best to have ever played the game, believes he must be able to do anything he wants and to make anything happen. This is what Federer referred to as the "monster of expectations". He probably tried to manage such expectations or express his frustration by answering, when asked about his new "aggressive" style, that "it wasn't like I was just pushing the ball in the court before", or saying when given some "expert advice" on how to handle an opponent, "you go and play against him. See how that feels."

Obviously, for someone with such exceptional talents, the beast and burden of expectations live on, even though, at 29, he may have seen his best days.

20110129

Is it a tennis or a soccer match?



When Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray contest for the crown of this year's Australian Open in the Final tomorrow, it won't be quite as light-hearted as the Rally for Relief exhibition match (the charity event which took place on 16 January to raise money for the victims of Australia's flood disaster) as shown in the pictures above, but it is unlikely that the loser will be bitter either.

Both 23 and their birthdays being just a week apart, Djokovic and Murray have known each other since their early teens.

"We’re good friends, we practice a lot together," Murray said about his relationship with Djokovic. "So there won’t be any secrets with our games,” Murray said.

Djokovic also spoke fondly of their friendship. "We played under 12, under 10, under 14. We grew up together. We basically made a breakthrough to top 100 more or less at the same time."

"It’s nice to see somebody doing well, the person who was your longtime friend,” he said.

But with Murray trying to become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win a Grand Slam and Djokovic aiming to repeat his success here in 2008, they are going to lay their friendship aside they moment they step onto the court tomorrow.
As Murray predicts: "It’s going to be a brutal match.”

20110127

Canto-flop

With display monitors being rampant these days, we are force-fed with irritating public broadcasts. Our peace and quiet are brutally invaded by the advertisements in the "Road Show" on buses and between the "news broadcasts" on trains. Now they don't even leave you alone even though you are in an elevator for a minute or so. They "entertain" you with the hair-raising Cantopop music video!

That's abuse of technology at its worst!

20110126

The star is rising... again


I have a particular fondness for cult products. Take tennis racquets for an example. Many of the frames I have loved are from brand names which have a very small market share or have stopped producing tennis racquets altogether. How many players in the pro tour are using racquets of Rossignol, Fischer, adidas, Volkl and Kneissl? But surely, some of these brands deserve more than a cult status as their products' performance are as good as their looks.

A classic example is Kneissl. As a recent Tennis Magazine article said, Kneissl has a great history, and they are an innovative brand. Not only have Kneissl designed and produced racquets which have been the weapons of great players such as Ivan Lendl, Thomas Muster, Sergi Bruguera and Helena Sukova, played and won with a Kneissl at some stages of their career but also they were actually behind a couple of high-profile frames which did not carry the star logo. The adidas GTX Pro Graphite that Ivan Lendl played with in the first half of the 1980s was actually a paint job Kneissl White Star Pro. The Puma racquet that Boris Becker won Wimbledon with was constructed by Kneissl.

Kneissl have sort of retreated from the tennis stage for a while. So I had a pleasant surprise when I recently saw a female professional player wielding a white frame which was an unmistakable Kneissl because of its distinctive shape and the white colour. According to the Tennis Magazine article, Kneissl is making a return to the racquet market. This is definitely welcoming news to me. Back in the 80s, I was crazy for those stylish, white, egg-shaped racquets which were very hard to find. The two I had were bought second hand and had gone past their heydays, but I treasured them nonetheless. I whole-heartedly wish that this comeback will be a success. Who knows? A certain tennis star of tomorrow might win a Grand Slam wirh a Kneissl.

20110125

Family affair

There is something about the sage of gambling tycoon Stanley Ho's family battling for his fortune that baffles me.

Why does an affair like that deserve a place on the front page of newspapers? What is news-worthy about it? What purpose does it serve except to whet Hong Kong people's voyeuristic appetite?

Why is it that this tycoon can boast of having a few wives in a society where polygamy is supposed to be illegal? What does it say about social equality in Hong Kong?

I know I may sound like a sour-grape, but I would never want to swap places with this man with a fortune and a sex life one can only dream of. Not only does he have to constantly safeguard his own security and live under the scrutiny of the media, he has also become the victim of his own promiscuity now that he, at 89, faces the ignominy of his family scandal becoming the talk of the town. Having a few wives is not as enjoyable as it appears, and with such a family feud going on and going public, he might not be able to rest in peace when the day comes...

20110124

It's "game, sweat and match" again

This may not be quite as dramatic as the epic Wimbledon match last year which spanned over three days. It took 182 games and 11 hours and five minutes for American John Isner to defeat Nicolas Mahut of France. Still, yesterday's Australian Open fourth round match between Francesca Schiavone of Italy and Svetlena Kuznetsova of Russia has become the longest match in tennis history between two players of the fairer sex.

Just like in the incredible 70-68 final set of last year's Wimbledon match, in yesterday's match both players were totally absorbed and focussed in the contest that sometimes they were unaware of the external circumstances. To borrow Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi's term again, they were in "flow".

Mohamed Lahyani, the umpire of last year's match, said afterwards: "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." Schiavone said after yesterday's match: "When you’re in a situation like this, I think every point is the most important. It’s like every point is match point. You have to keep going." Kuznetsova's experience was similar. “At some stage, I was like, ‘What’s the score? Who’s serving?’” she said. “I had no clue sometimes. It was so hard to count.”

All credits to 30-year-old Schiavone for coming through this tough one, but if past experience is anything to go by, I fear that she may not have much left for the next match after this gruelling one. She can ask John Isner about it.

20110123

Under-promise and over-deliver

Here is another good example of expectation management.

"We don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver but I hope they see we have certainly shown a commitment to moving forward, that we are not interested in short-term results. If we can show progress that is good, and hopefully we are building a management team which can produce success year in, year out as we have in Boston.”

This is what the new Liverpool chairman Tom Werner said in a media interview last week. "We don't want to over-promise and under-deliver" is consistent with the mantra of wanting to "under-promise and over-delivery" expressed by Americans Tom Werner and John Henry since their Fenway Sports Group took over the football club in October last year.

This is a stark contrast to the gaffes dropped by another American duo, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, in the first press conference after they bought the club four years ago. Not only did they describe Liverpool Football Club as a "franchise" but also they vowed to have a "spade in the ground" in Stanley Park to build a new stadium within 60 days. Of course, history has now shown that the promise never materialised, and the ill-fated spell of ownership by the Hicks/Gillett partnership has largely contributed to the great club being dragged to the abyss of the current season.

Hopefully, the refreshing, down-to-earth approach represents a healthy turn of events and, like the first victory under King Kenny's charge on Saturday, is a promise of great things to come.

20110122

The first azalea

During my university days, I had mixed feelings about the blossoming of the azaleas on campus. While the thriving of the beautiful flowers in March signalled the end of the cold winter season, it also heralded the coming of the final examinations. There was therefore a consensus among students that when the azaleas blossomed, it was time to do some serious study.

If this is still pretty much the tradition of university students these days, they had better beware that they are not misled by this signal from Mother Nature, as it appears that flowers are blossoming earlier. It is still just January, but already I have seen the budding of the first azaleas. Apparently, global warming has slowly but surely affected the seasonal changes, which in turn has altered the pace of biological growth.

This cold winter may have given people a good reason to challenge or deny global warming, but the early blossoming of flowers is a subtle signal not to be overlooked.

20110121

What a racquet! (2)

How about buying a brand new tennis racquet of your favourite brand at less than one tenth of the retail price?

Hardly possible, isn't it? Except for China, where anything can happen.

Except, of course, that there is a possibility, albeit remote, that it is not an official (or, dare I say, legal) product of the brand name owner.

From the website taobao.com, which is considered China's equivalent of e-Bay, there is this company which sells some "Yonex" racquets at RMB89 (less than USD15). Not only is the name "Yonex" embossed on the racquet but also there is the word "Japan" in the butt cap.

As if that is not credible enough, there is even a warranty card attached to give you a little more peace of mind. And this is really something quite eye-opening. I have purchased many tennis racquets all my life but have yet to see one that comes with a warranty card, so these ones must be extra trust-worthy.

The collection comes with all sorts of colours and model numbers, many of which are not even displayed in Yonex's official website. They must be exclusively produced for China, seeing that the relationship between the two nations has recently become less frosty.

The only thing that is a bit puzzling is that whatever the model number of the racquet, say, RDiS 60 as shown below, the specifications inside the throat always showsthe model number "RQIS 1 Tour". And the specifications are always the same.

But to top it all, the master stroke has to be this announcement made by the company:

"[Our company] recently discovered some inferior Yonex racquets, the quality of which is even more rubbish than ours. They break after a couple of hits. The descriptions of the products have been shamelessly copied from us. They even sell the racquets for RMB128 per piece. How brutal! Let's combat the brutal selling prices of dodgy sellers. Be careful!"

What righteousness! What honesty!

20110119

Defeated by others or by yourself?


Dinara Safina's slump is quite spectacular. After yesterday's humiliating defeat in the first round of the Australian Open, in which she was unable to win a single game in a match between two former world number one players, Safina will slip out of the top one hundred in ranking.It is hard to believe that the player who was whitewashed by Kim Clijsters in less than an hour was the same one who briefly climbed to world number one, even though she has never won a Grand Slam. Mental factors such as confidence and motivation must have played a big part in it. It all but clearly shows in her negative body language.

20110118

Bees on a tennis court

Even before I heard about "colony collapse disorder" in honeybees, I had noticed that something was not quite right for the hardworking insects. Since a couple of years ago, when I play tennis in summer, I would often see some bees on the court surface. Instead of busying themselves collecting nectar from flowers, the insects are crawling on the ground, wriggling in pain, slowly succumbing to the grip of death. I have long conjectured that there must be some toxic chemicals either in the air or in their food that have poisoned them. Now I have learned that a high level of pesticide residue in the wax of honeycomes is actually one of the major causes of the disorder, in which seemingly healthy bees vanish from a hive.

When I see those poor bees, I feel angry, sad and alarmed - angry for the mess that humans have made of the environment, sad for the suffering and diminishing of the honeybees, and alarmed for our own well-being. A few days ago, a University of Hong Kong released the findings that there is a strong correlation between the number of hazy days per year and deaths from heart and respiratory causes. For every 6.5-kilometer reduction of visibility, there is a 1.13 percent increase in such deaths.

The massive pollution and destruction of the environment caused by human greed or folly do not just affect other living things such as animals, insects and plants. They will come back to haunt us.
They already do, to be more precise.

20110117

We were there

Here are some pictures of the restaurants and caf├ęs we went to during our Christmas trip to Bangkok:







Rally for Relief

You don't often see these two great tennis champions raising their arms in celebration together in a tennis match. A more common scenario is that of one emerging as the jubilant victor and the other the dejected loser after another gruelling final.

The happy scene shown in the picture above was from the Rally for Relief exhibition event which took place yesterday to raise money for Australia's flood victims. After the two exhibition matches in December last years to raise funds for their respective charity foundations, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, joined hands again to work for noble causes.

Also taking part in the event are tennis superstars such as Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Kim Clijsters, Caroline Wozniacki and Lleyton Hewitt.

20110116

"He'll settle down, in the quiet little town..."

I was saddened by the news of Gerry Rafferty's death two days ago. I cannot say that I am his fan, to be honest. I cannot even say that I know much about him. It was through his wonderful song Baker Street in the late seventies of the last century that I came to know his name. I was mesmerised by the saxophone solo, the lyrics as well as the singer's interpretation whenever I heard it played on the radio. In that pre-Internet era , it was not easy to gather information about a pop singer or group, so one just took a song and its performer(s) on its merits. I have to say that I am mourning Gerry Rafferty as the singer of the song more than Gerry Rafferty the person.

Baker Street is considered by some as a timeless piece and one of the best existentialist songs ever recorded. It is ironic that while the song is about an alcoholic who is a rolling stone with no direction and struggling with his dream of owning a house and giving up drinking, in real life Gerry Rafferty was also plagued by the bottle. He died on 4 January 2011 from liver failure due to alcoholism.

"He's gonna give up the booze and the one night stands
and then he'll settle down, in the quiet little town and forget about everything"


I wish Gerry Rafferty has now settled down in a "quiet little town" somewhere, and would like to thank him for leaving us with that immortal song.

Hell fire

For the first time in more than two weeks, I have finally broken free from its painful grip and have regained some feeling of control. The doctor was as good as the friend who recommended him said. “You only need to come twice,” he said with full confidence. “The pain will go on for some time because you missed the best time for treatment, but the medicine should kill the viruses and you will be fine.”

What he said concurred with the prognosis of the Chinese herbal doctorI also went to see. They both said that if I had sought treatment earlier, which I didn’t because I was heavily involved with work when the symptom first surfaced, the viruses wouldn’t have damaged my nerves and I wouldn’t have suffered as much.

The last couple of weeks have been total hell for me. While I wouldn't exactly say that the pain was excruciating, it was nonetheless extremely uncomfortable. At different times, the skin felt like it was pricked by needles, scalded by fire, shocked by electricity, or wrenched by an invisible hand. The worst thing was that the acute sensations made it difficult to sleep at night, resulting in a lack of energy and spirits during the day. It was as much a mental as a physical torture. A friend from Denmark told me that shingles, when translated into English, is called Hell Fire. I can testify that this is not wide off the mark.

But I tried my best to remain positive. I tried to remember that problems are good because they can make us stronger and bring us closer to God. So even when the discomfort was most irksome and my spirits were at the lowest ebb, I kept faith in God and held firm the belief that the problem was not insurmountable and would come to pass.

As the doctor said, there is still some aftershock. The pain is still there and will be for some time to come, but I am glad to have learned another good lesson of how priceless good health is and how it is something not to be taken for granted, even for someone like me who tries to take good care of his health. I have learned how difficult it must be for people with chronic pains and illnesses, something we may not realise unless we ourselves have had similar experiences. I have learned how problems should and can be handled with courage, faith and gratitude.

20110115

Cats in a basket

A cute recent picture of our four babes.

20110113

A one-man battle with business giants

One major reason why we in Hong Kong have less leisure despite our affluence is the domination of property tycoons and big corporations. They dominate or even monopolise the market, reap huge profits and fuel increases in commodity and property prices, especially the latter. The working class and small business owners have to pay rents or mortgages which represent a huge portion of their incomes or earnings. As a result, many have to work very long hours to get by.

A Hongkonger has now decided to take on the real estate conglomerates. He has sworn not to patronise businesses owned by them for one year.

Pong's one-man battle with big businesses was inspired by a book entitled Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong, which is about how a few wealthy individuals and companies dominate the market and stifle competition.

"Property developers eliminate the existence of many small shops, he said. “There are fewer and fewer choices for us and every mall looks the same. People lose their character in such a society."

He now travels on his bike, buys from small shops instead of supermarkets and retail chains. It has not been easy so far, but he enjoys it and has received lots of support from friends and strangers alike. He hopes to raise people's awareness to the anti-competition practices which have been taken up by the conglomerates to the detriment of Hong Kong.

I would like Pong to know that he has my support too. Where possible, I have been following his example of not patronising big supermarkets and retail chains, and while tycoon Li Ka-shing and his Hong Kong Electric has monopolised electricity supply on Hong Kong Island, I have resolved to use as little electricity as I can.

I am sure that Pong's campaign will have an impact.

20110112

Paradox of our times


A friend from Germany sent me a PowerPoint file with lots of photos set in Hong Kong and captions which I have assembled into the following:

Paradox of our times
Today, we have bigger houses and smaller families;
More conveniences, but less time;
We have more degrees, but less commn sense;
More knowledge, but less judgment.
We have more experts, but more problems; more medicine, but less wellness.
We spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast,
Get angry too quickly, stay up too late, get up too tired,
Read too little, watch TV too often, and pray too seldom.
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.
We talk too much, love too little and lie too often.
We've learned how to make a living, but not a life;
We've added years to life, not life to years.
We have taller buildings, but shorter tempers;
Wider freeway, but narrower viewpoints.
We spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less.
We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbour.
We've conquered outer space, but not inner space.
We've split the atom, but not our prejudice;
We write more, but learn less; plan more, but accomplish less.
We've learned to rush, but not to wait;
We have higher incomes, but lower morals.
We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies, but have less communication.
We are long on quantity, but short on quality.
There are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men and short character; steep profits and shallow relationships.
More leisure and less fun; more kinds of food, but less nutrition;
Two incomes, but more divorce; fancier houses, but broken homes.
This is the paradox of our times today.
That is why I propose that, as of today, you do not keep anything for a special occasion, because every day that you live is a special occasion.
Search for knowledge, read more, sit on your front porch and admire the view without paying attention to your needs.
Spend more time with your family and friends, eat your favourite foods, and visit the places you love.
Life is a chain of moment of enjoyment, not only about survival.
Use your crystal goblets. Do not save your best perfume, and use it every time you feel you want it.
Remove from your vocabulary phrases like "one of these days" and "someday". Let's write that letter we thought of writing "one of these days".
Let's tell our families and friends how much we love them.
Do not delay anything that adds laughter and joy to your life.
Every day, every hour, and every minute is special. And you don't know if it will be your last.

The file is produced by someone called Herbert K. Lau. A Hongkonger, I believe. A middle class Hongkonger who is disillusioned by the life in this glamorous city which provides opportunities for multiplying possessions but not for inner peace and wisdom.

I share most of his observations except one. He said "More leisure and less fun", but what I see in myself and most working adults I come across here is that we are having less leisure time. This is another big paradox of our times. While modern technology and the affluence of our society are supposed to be able to allow us to have more leisure, the truth is that people are working longer and longer hours.

But this is a topic for another day.

20110111

Hey ugly!

I remember that when I was a child, my mother would call me some names which were quite derogatory, except that she said them so affectionately that nobody would take that as an insult and I certainly didn't.

Anyone with some understanding of our culture will know that she was doing what most older generation Chinese parents would do to their children - saying the opposite of what they wish for their children, for fear that if they extol their children's beauty or virtue, the gods will be jealous and take those qualities away. Saying that their children are "ugly" or "stupid" may, they believe, spare them of that misfortune.

He may not exactly be referring to this Chinese way of thinking, but in his book Enthusiasm Makes the Difference, Norman Vincent Peale makes the following comment about this sort of mentality:

"Here again was that curious quirk of thinking, that if one talks negatively, the opposite is more likely to occur. So in this man's mind was a strange, conflicting mixture of anxiety tinged ideas, which he feared yet didn't believe in. But he did believe in them enough to be dominated by them. The result not only caused unhappiness, but also an enormous leakage of mental energy that might have been employed for constructive purposes."

That may explain why we are in general a sad people who like to wallow in self-pity.

20110110

It's freezing, no?

Most Hong Kong people were braced for another really, really freezing day today, having had a bitterly cold one yesterday and having been warned by the Hong Kong Observatory that the coldness would carry on.

And the outcome? It has still been rather chilly, but with the cold snap being tempered by the welcoming sun, everyone was chirping about how good it felt.
That is why in the fields of business and politics, managing people's expectations is an often employed, even abused, strategy.

20110109

A Christmas Kindle

We used to sometimes receive a book for a present. Now we get a Kindle, like I did for Christmas.

I have heard colleagues who are proud owners of the gadget extolling its merits, but that did nothing to change my idea that books should be made of paper and leafed through.

Now that I have time to play with my new toy, I can see how much thoughts Amazon must have put into designing a device that offers the same convenience and experience of reading a paper book, which is of utmost importance in trying to lure die-hard BOOK lovers into making a switch. So a Kindle is not only very similar in size and weight to a paperback, it also requires no booting time. You just slide the power switch to "wake" it, using virtually the same amount of time and effort it takes to open a book. It is also extremely power efficient. One charge is enough for days and even weeks of reading.

But one still wouldn't be ready to part with a couple of hundred US dollars if at best reading from a Kindle is just as convenient as reading a book. It has to have more to offer, and I think the following is what gives it an edge:
  • Easy access to the store - With WiFi or, better still, 3G connections, your favourite titles are just a few clicks away wherever you are.
  • Free sampling - Instead of buying a book and then discovering to your dismay after a few pages of reading that it is not something that you would likely finish reading, you can download for free a couple of chapters before making the decision to order it (or making a trip to the public library!).
  • Large storage - A book is, quite literally, one book, but a Kindle can store hundreds. That's a distinct advantage when you are planning your reading for a long trip.
  • Enhanced reader features - These features of Kindle solve a number of problems I have with reading, especially when commuting, such as not having a dictionary with me, wishing to make notes or highlights but now wanting to do it on the pages, especially if it is a library book I am reading. Better still, when I later connect the Kindle with my computer, I can save the file of the notes and highlights and further work on it.
  • More privacy - Nobody needs to know from the cover of your book what you are reading!

Of course, these advantages do not come cheap, and I have discovered that for some titles a Kindle version is even more expensive than a paperback version. Also, Kindle pages are black and white so they are only ideal for texts but not for books for which pictures, photos and colours are key features.

But I have enjoyed the reading experience so far and am quite certain that I will be a regular buyer of the e-books on offer.