"Can I take my hand back?"

Responding to criticism of police blocking a TV camera in an arrest of a protestor during a Chinese Vice-Premier's visit to Hong Kong on August 16, the Police Commissioner made the incredible claim that the officer had reacted out of "basic instinct". He said: "[He] felt a black shadow with a black object approaching so he used his hand to block it. His hand then got stuck on the camera and he asked the reporter: `Can I take my hand back?'"

This is the most ludicrous and blatant lie I have ever heard. While it is supposed to be funny, I find it almost scary that something like this should come out of the gob of the one in charge of the police force here.


"Treat those two imposters just the same"

"A victory always helps your belief, but you have to manage it. If you lose, you are not going to cut your throat and if you are winning, you are not going to take it for granted you are going to do that every week."

What Kenny Dalglish said after Liverpool's recent victory over Arsenal, their first away win against the Gunners since February 2000, reminds me of these lines from Rudyard Kipling's immortal poem "If":

"If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same...
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!"


Be a biking nation, not a viking nation

As the logos show, this DSB (Danish State Railways) red S-train compartment is for prams, wheelchairs and, yes, quite obviously, bikes. Better still, bicycles have been allowed to travel free since 2010. Before that a bicycle ticket cost 12 kroner (about USD2.25). Making it free was just a move to encourage more people to use their bicycles.

Being a flat country with the highest point (Møllehøj ) being merely 171 metres above sea level, and being a country that puts much effort into taking care of its environment, Denmark is well positioned to be Europe's prime biking nation.

And being a biking nation is definitely better than being a "viking nation", a page of history which showed its people terroring Europe by looting and raping, a page which some Danish people still talk about with a bit of shame.


Supra referee

Imagine having such a football team.

In all their home games, they will put in place a match official who is above the referee and linesmen. When the referee has made a major decision against them, such as awarding a penalty to their opponents, this home team can appeal to the match official, who has the power to rule out the referee’s decision and whose ruling is final and cannot be overturned.

If there really were such a team, would you like to play against them? Or would you pay from your own pocket to watch them play? Would you consider this as fair play?

This, sadly, is not a hypothetical situation. This is exactly what the provision for the People’s Congress to interpret the Basic Law of the HKSAR is like. Hong Kong can appeal to “Grandfather” for his view when we think the odds are against us, such as the recent situation of Filippino maids fighting for permanent citizenship.

What is shocking is that more and more Hong Kong people consider the option of seeking Grandfather’s view acceptable! When it comes to defending our (selfish, short-sighted) interest, anything can be compromised.


Another good question

In my blog entry yesterday, I talked about asking a good question. This is a very useful skill, especially for teachers, whose job is a matter of provoking thinking and inspiring learning.

In a seminar on the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region I recently attended, the speaker demonstrated how he was able to put the skill into good use.

Having been invited by the HKSAR Government to conduct the seminar, it was not appropriate for the speaker, a professor of a local university, to speak negatively about the Basic Law. But he cleverly began the seminar by asking the participants to bear the question “Is the Basic Law a good constitutional law?” in mind as we listened to him introduce its provisions and try to answer it. Towards the end of the seminar, he re-visited the question and reminded the participants to think about it. This question was an excellent class assignment, one that should get the students to reap the benefit from the seminar by paying attention to the speaker’s elucidation and thinking critically about it.

As I left the lecture theatre, I thought back on the issue that was the most critical about the Basic Law – whether its interpretation should follow the principle of originalism, which dictates that judges deciding constitutional issues should confine themselves to enforcing norms that are stated or clearly implicit in the constitutional law, or we should adopt a purposive approach as Hong Kong is doing now, and seek an interpretation of certain provisions from the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. I also thought back on the controversial circumstances of the few past cases in which such an interpretation was sought, including some for which the interpretation did not follow the provisions of the Basic Law, i.e. the provisions to be interpreted concern affairs which are the responsibility of the Central People's Government or the relationship between the Central Authorities and the Region, and the interpretation shall be sought through the Court of Final Appeal of the Region. Whether the Basic Law, which has given room for all these controversies to take place, is a good constitutional law, the answer cannot be more obvious.


"How similar or different is Denmark from what you expected?"

When I talked to my Danish friend through Skype the evening before I left his country, he asked a meaningful question that got me thinking: "How similar or different is Denmark from what you expected?" That is a good way to evaluate a country you have visited. Here are some thoughts inspired by the question:
  • We had expected to learn about the culture of Denmark and connect to its people. We saw how the country takes good care of itself and the people and is at the cutting edge in various areas and domains. Things are well planned and laid out. The art, design and technology are all impressive. The culture, as we saw in the various museums and in Christiania, is rich and diverse. The people we encountered (with the exception of the young rascals who almost took my wallet) were all nice and refined. They were dignified people who carried themselves well. We spent a good day with the friend and his family. The conversation over the dinner was not only pleasant but also an excellent way to understand how the locals see and feel about things.
  • We had expected the Danish food to be good and it was. The bread, in particular, was always freshly baked and had exceeded all expectations. Smørrebrød was our favourite dish and I will certainly try to make it here at home.
  • We had expected (or rather hoped) the weather to be good but unfortunately that wasn't always the case. And it got colder than we had expected when it rained, too.
  • As expected, the cost of living is high. Transport is especially costly by our standard. The train, bus and ferry fares are several times more expensive than what we would pay for "equivalent" trips in Hong Kong. That said, the standard of living is also high. One pays high prices for food, products and services of good quality and I think that's fair enough.
  • While we had not expected dramatic landscape, having been told by the friend that Denmark is a flat country, we nevertheless took in some beautiful scenery during the trip, especially when we took advantage of the "flatness" and did some biking tour when the weather permitted.


What's in that urine?

We were certainly happy to see Parker and Piper again after we got home from the trip to Denmark, but the happy reunion quickly turned into a shock.

Since about three months ago, Piper started to sometimes excrete urine which was orange in colour. Fearing that it was a sign that something was wrong with his kidney, we took him to the vet, whose diagnosis was that Piper was healthy and so was his kidney. He told us to monitor the situation and Piper's peeing behaviour, and bring him back for further tests if his condition worsened. The orange urine, though not frequent, persisted, but Piper was otherwise healthy and active and did not look to be in pain.

When I scooped the poop yesterday, however, I was shocked to see a lump of brownish sand. So the problem seemed to have intensified. I called the vet to make an appointment. He asked me to try to bring some urine sample. Collecting urine from cats is, normally, not an easy thing to do, but as Piper, being a pedantic cat, has the habit of coming for a pee after I have cleaned the litter box, that habit makes the task much easier to carry out. Without much difficulty, then, I managed to collect a little sample yesterday evening. There was unmistakably blood in the urine.

At the veterinary hospital today, I was told that there are normally three causes for the problem - stone in the kidney or bladder, infection and stress. It is possible that not having been with us for almost two weeks has given him the stress, but that does not explain the onset of the orange urine about three months ago. X-ray, ultrasound and urine tests were then carried out for the other two causes. No stones were spotted in the kidney and the bladder, but the alkaline content of the cat's urine was high (pH 7), suggesting possible urinary tract infection. So no surgery is deemed necessary at the moment, but Piper has to be on antibiotics. Hopefully that would do the trick.

Piper has always been a weaker cat than his brother Parker. In fact, he was still on antibiotics because of sneezing when he was given to us while still a few weeks old. I always suspect that his blindness and frailty had to do with the dirty environment in which he was born. He and Parker were found by a volunteer in a garbage can when they were babies.

I hope and pray that Piper will pull himself together and get through this one unscathed.


Does believing the best of everybody save trouble?

"I always prefer to believe the best of everybody, it saves so much trouble."
- Rudyard Kipling

After quoting from Rudyard Kipling's poem "If" yesterday, today I would like to write about another quote of the writer, which is the one above.

To me, the wisdom of the two parts of this statement must be examined separately because they are about two different issues. One issue is whether we should choose to "believe the best of everybody". The other issue is whether doing so "saves so much trouble".

One thing that always impresses me when I travel to Europe is how things operate on the principle of mutual trust. Take public transport as an example. One can take buses and trains (not all, but many of them) without making payment or showing proof of payment. One should pay his fare, of course. In Denmark, based on my experience and observation, there are at least three ways of paying one's bus fare: buying a ticket from the driver, buying a ten-trip ticket and insert it into a machine on the bus for punching information about the number of uses, or, in the case of tourists, buy a card (the one for Copenhagen is called Copenhagen card, the one for Aarhus is called Aarhus Card, etc.) which entitles the holder to free travels within certain zones for a certain number of days. But except users of the first way which comes across the driver as gatekeeper, other passengers can freely hop on and off buses. The same goes for many train services. Of course, I am not saying that you don't have to pay. The onus is always on the passangers to show evidence of payment when required, even though we never had to show our Copenhagen Dards and Aarhus Cards during our stay in the cities. In Hong Kong, passengers must swipe the Octopus card or insert the ticket or money to get in. Period.

During such bus or train trips, there are a number of things I always wonder about: Has everyone really paid? Would they be caught if they hadn't, like if I did not have a Copenhagen Card or an Aarhus card indeed? Why don't those European countries install a card reader or a turnstile like we do when obviously they have the technology and resources to do so? Why don't Hong Kong adopt such a system?

Another example of mutual trust is related to accommodation. For all the Bed and Breakfast places we stayed at during this trip, all that they knew about us was from the emails I sent them for booking. In some cases, we just met the owners once, when we arrived. They explained everything. We paid. That was it. When we left, we dropped the key in the mailbox. No credit card numbers or personal identification documents or checking out were ever required. In my country, a traveller cannot possibly check in to any lodging without showing documents, or check out without someone coming to the room to confirm that nothing is missing. Again, I wonder whether such an operation system can be adopted in where I come from.

What these systems reflect is that people in Europe are more ready to "believe the best of everybody". And the fact that service providers have not lost confidence in the systems reflects that the principle of mutual trust has not been abused - not seriously, at least. As for Hong Kong and China, my belief (and certainly also the belief of the service providers) is that using these systems would produce disastrous results on revenues as there would be huge number of cases of non-payment. Now notice that this is just a belief. The fact may or may not be like that. But that is precisely the point. We are talking about beliefs here. I have to confess that I don't have much trust in my own people (and, I believe, vice versa), and this lack of trust is based on past experience and acculturation. My past experience and acculturation tell me that in our culture, believing the best of everybody DOES NOT save trouble. It CAUSES trouble.

It is certainly nice that we can believe the best of everybody because it is more peaceful and less stressful that way. If the trust is mutual, and if the mutual trust is complemented by mutual respect, then it can, as Rudyard Kipling said, save so much trouble. Otherwise, if the trust is abused by one party, then the other party is in trouble. This has happened so often in our culture that we have all got wiser. And while this has not been such a problem in some parts of the West that systems which operate on mutual trust still have a place, I am certainly not suggesting that there are no such abuses in those parts of the world at all. As my story on 9 and 10 August shows, I almost had my wallet stolen in a country that is considered to be highly developed and one of the safest in the world.


From a squat to an attractive location for a family?

"Trees and plant life thrive free from human interference and pesticides. It is more racially diverse, culturally open and creatively expressive than your average Danish neighbourhood."

This is how a recent BBC article described Christiania - a town at the south of Copenhagen we visited during our trip earlier this month. After strolling through the town for a couple of hours on a guided tour and then returning to patronise a vegetarian restaurant there, I largely agree to what the above statements say.

The enclave was set up as a squat 40 years ago when some hippies broke down the fences of the disused military barracks there. The commune has been fighting for the legal right to run its own affairs for decades, and after a recent government ruling granted the small society a semi-autonomous status, Christiania is celebrating its independence and has been called Freetown Christiania.

The two residents interviewed by the BBC seemed to be of one voice when commenting on Christiania. "It's not a perfect society, but one of the nice things about being here is that it doesn't have to be," said one resident who lives there with his two six-month-old boys. Likewise, the other resident, one who has lived there for more than three decades and now takes curious tourists (like ourselves) on guided tours of her adopted hometown, admitted: "...it's not an ideal society - it's an alternative society." But she also said: "It gave me the chance to have a life that was not boring."

The way I see it, Christiania is definitely a colourful, pluralistic community that borders on idiosyncracy. Some places I visited and people I met there reminded me of scenes and characters one can only see in a Harry Potter film. There is no doubt that Christiania has much to offer for someone like me who would like to know more about it as a social phenomenon and appreciate the alternative lifestyle and art form. That is probably what makes Christiania Copenhagen's second most popular tourist attraction after Tivoli. But to live there is a totally different story. I asked myself whether, if I were a father, I would like my kids to grow up there, and the answer is a resonant "no". There are facilities and playgrounds for kids there, but a community where dodgy fellows loiter, where too many people smoke and drink and where deviant practices such as gang fights and open sale of soft drugs characterise its life is not a safe and healthy environment to bring up children. In this respect, I do not agree with the writer of the article that Christiania is "an attractive location for a family".

It was said in the article that "the founding fathers built Chistiania with an ideological vision of openness, love and altruistic living". But if the free society is truly to thrive, those who "kill the vibe" and those who exploit the freedom for their own financial gain would have to be weeded out.