Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wash and Wax

I know a clean car is a sign of a sick mind.  But the work pressure and muscle pain from the last run was gone after 2 hours of labour.

Saturday, April 07, 2012


An atheist though, I am obsessed with the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son of God, and the meaning of Trinity.  Is the Son of God begotten or unbegotten?  How can the Son be coeternal and uncreated if his being is from the Father?  How can Jesus be equal with the Father if he specifically announced that the Father was greater than he?  What is Holy Spirit?  How does it relate to the God?  These questions were once the focus of the lively debate between Arius and Athanasius.  The Gospels seemed to be on the side of Arius.  However, since Constantine for political reasons proclaimed at Nicaea that Athanasius was right and his descendant, Theodosius, in 381CE, issued a decree which made it unlawful for everyone to question the state-preferred Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit formula, the debate was brought to an abrupt end.  Still, what does Homoousion in the Decree of Nicaea mean?  Trinity?  How can there be three be one?  If there is only one God, how could the Logos also be divine?  The questions remained.  At one point, Gregory of Nyssai felt compelled to announce that "Every concept of God is a mere simulacrum, a false likeness, an idol: it could not reveal God himself.  The true vision and the knowledge of what we seek consists precisely in not seeing, in an awareness that our goal transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility."  When I am almost ready to accept that the Christian God is after all completely unspeakable, unnameable and unknowable (the Fathers of Cappadocia who tried to justify the Christian faith said it, not me), an equation that appeared in a recent article in the Hong Kong Economic Journal (which has nothing to do with religions) somehow revives my interest in the matter: + + = .

+ + = ∞.  Doesn't it explain the nature of Trinity?  The problem is, of course, if we take out an from the left side of the equation the end product will remain the same.  It also doesn't matter if we add another to the equation.  But, is God the same God if we take the Son or the Holy Spirit out of the equation?  Does God remain the same if we add say a Holy Daughter to the equation?  Why not?  After all, + + + = .

Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Old Idea" - Leonard Cohen

The long wait is finally over.  Leonard Cohen new album is about to hit the street.  You can listen to it online, courtesy of NPR.  The streaming is available for a limited time.  So grab a single malt, dry martini, espresso, whatever, dim the light and enjoy.

You can pre-order the album here.  You can also read the poetic lines of the first track "Going Home" In New Yorker's Poetry page.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Comments Moderation

A fellow blogger has been receiving comments from those who don't know the difference between the right to speak and the right to bully.  As I'll hate to see this little personal blog turn into a mud wrestling field, I do moderate comments.  Luckily I seldom get nasty comments from my readers and I have deleted comments from no more than 2 individuals.  The first of whom was too keen to find out who I am, comments deleted; the other had the tendency to post some nasty remarks about another reader of mine, comments deleted.  When I delete a comment, I ignore it completely.  No rebuttal; no reply.  It always works.  People disappear after being ignored a few times.  It's probably not very polite of me to completely ignore a comment but, hey, not all comments deserve a reply, do they?  And, more importantly, I consider it rude and unfair to the one whose comment gets deleted if I comment on his/her comment after exercising my right to delete it.  So, as a rule, I don't mention deleted comments.  They just silently disappear.

I love the delete key.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Romantic Story on Christmas Eve - A Real Story from a Book of History

(Portrait of Praskovya Ivanovna Zhemchugova-Sheremeteva by Nokolai Argunov, from Wiki File)

The musical life of eighteenth-century Russia was dominated by the court and private theatres such as the Sheremetev's, which was considered as good as the court's theatre in St. Petersburg.  Boris Sheremetev, the head of the Sheremetevs, was a long-standing ally of Peter the Great.  When Boris Sheremetev died in 1719, the Tsar told his widow that he would treat Boris' children as his own. Pyotr Sheremetev, his sole surviving son, was brought up in the court and became one of the few companions to the future Tsar (Peter II).  As a result of the close connections with the court, the Sheremetevs became unimaginably wealthy, so wealthy they owned 200,000 "census serfs" (which meant actually a million serfs).  Pyotr was survived by Count Nikolai Petrovich Sheremetev, who turned out to be an admirer of European cultures.  From the 200,000 census serfs, the Count would select a few hundred and train them as artists, singers, architects, painters, furniture makers, actors and sculptors.  The painting above was painted by Nikolai Argunov, Nikolai Petrovich's favourite serf painter.

The lady in the painting was Praskovya Sheremetev, one of the many Sheremetev's serfs.  In the painting Nikolai Petrovich was reduced to a miniature, suspended from Praskovya's neck.  Praskovya was born to a family of serfs on the Sheremetev estate.  Noted for her beauty and her voice, she was selected to be trained for the opera.  She also learnt Italian and French, both of which she spoke and wrote with fluency.   She made her first appearance on stage at eleven, in 1779, and within a year, she played the leading roles in major performances.  The Count, who frequented the theatres, was a fan of her.

One summer evening in 1784, Praskovya was driving her father's cows down to the stream when some dogs in the count's hunting group began to chase her.  Nikolai Petrovich called the dog away and walked to Praskovya.  When he knew that Praskovya's father was intending to marry her off to a local forester, the Count said that he would forbid any such marriage.  'You weren't not born for this!  Today you are a peasant but tomorrow you will be a lady!'

By the beginning of the 1790's Praskovya had become Sheremetev's de facto wife.  It was no longer just the pleasures of the flesh that attracted him to him but, as he said, the beauty of her mind and soul.  For a very long time the count would remain torn between his love for her and his own position in the society.  Marrying a serf girl was unthinkable.  It was not even clear, if he married Praskovya, whether he would have a legitimate heir.  Somewhat he was forced to choose between his own romantic feelings and the customs of his class.  Praskovya's secret relationship with the count also placed her in an almost impossible situation.  When rumours went from one house to another, her fellow serfs became resentful of her privileged position and called her spiteful names.  She was also shunned by society.  People would come to snoop around her house and sometimes taunt the "peasant bride".  It was only through her strength of character that she managed to retain her dignity.

The Emperor Paul, an old friend of the count, assumed the throne in 1792.  Paul appointed Sheremetev Senior Chamberlain, the chief administrator of the royal court.  Sheremetev had little inclination towards court service but he had no choice.  It was at that time that the first signs of Praskovya's illness became clear.  The symptoms were unmistakable: it was tuberculosis.  Her singing career came to an end and she was confined to the Fountain House, the count private estate. 

Praskovya's confinement to the Fountain House was not just the result of her illness.  The snobbish prejudices of the noble class and the resentment of her fellow serfs had left little breathing space for her.  All she could do was to spend the days with the count, play the harpsichord or do needlework.  The vast reception rooms of the Fountain House were empty - and the only people who would ever visit were loyal childhood friends and artists who were above prejudices and resentment.  The Emperor Paul was in this category.  He always believed that the Sheremetev family was different from other aristocratic clans, a little bit above the social norm.   Several times he would arrive incognito at the back entrance of Fountain House.  Paul was enchanted by Praskovya and presented her with his personal diamond ring, which she wore for her portrait by Argunov.

In 1801, the count married her in a secret ceremony at a small village church on the outskirts of Moscow.  One year later Praskovya gave birth to a son, Dmitry.  She was weakened by the birth and died after three weeks of painful suffering.  At this moment, the most desperate time in his time, the count was abandoned by the whole of Petersburg society.  In preparation for the funeral he publicised the news of Praskovya's death.  Few people came - so few that the viewing of the coffin was reduced from the customary three days to five hours.  There was only a small group of mourners - close friends of Praskovya, a few serf performers, some domestic servants, and a few close friends of the count.  There was no one from the court (Paul was already dead); no one from the noble families; no one from the Sheremetev family.

Lost in grief, the count resigned from the court, turned his back on society, remained a widower and, retreating to the country, devoted his final years to religious study and charitable work in commemoration of his wife.  He spent vast sums on building village schools and hospitals, set up trusts for the care of orphans, endowed monasteries to give the peasants food when the harvests failed.  The most ambitious project was the alms house which he founded in Praskovya's memory on the outskirts of Moscow - the Strannoprimnyi Dom, which was by far the largest public hospital in Russia.  For years the grief-stricken count would leave the Fountain House and walk through the streets of Petersburg distributing money to the poor.  He died in 1809, the richest nobleman in the whole of Russia, and no doubt the loneliest as well.

Praskovya was buried at Alexander Nevsky Monastery, next to the grave of the count's father - a place that was reserved for the count himself.  She died a lonely woman, but she was later joined by the like of Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, at the Monastery.

The painter of Praskovya's portrait, Nikolai Argunov, died as a serf.  But his children were among those liberated by Nikolai Petrovich.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

I am a runner

I've been running since October.  Having great fun.  Feeling good to call myself a runner. 

Should I call myself a runner? How many kilometers must I have run to be a runner?

Some identifies can be had without practice or repetition.  One only needs to kill once to be a killer, cheat once to be a cheater, or buy the "right" lottery ticket to be a lottery winner.  To be a runner, singer or painter, however, one has to have committed to the activity and done a fair amount of running, singing or painting.  Some other identities, say, a parent or a good friend, take time and efforts to maintain.

It would appear that those identities that are hard to acquire or maintain are capable of delivering greater and more long-lasting happiness.  It may well explain why people are not necessarily happier as they become richer – they do not acquire any new identity as they move up the rich to richer to obscenely rich ladder.  Indeed, people report that they are happier if they kiss goodbye to some of their money.  They give, and they become philanthropists, educators, patrons of art and supporters of scientific discoveries.

There are people whose only sense of self-worth appears to derive from their status as one of the very rich.  They are glad that they are ten times richer than their peers but constantly fear that they may one day wake up form their sleep only to discover that they are nine, not ten times richer than their neighours and old friends.  My most humble advice to them – get a life, get a new identity, no matter what, or do some running.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Illényi Katica Again

Realised just now that I'd shown the violinist side of Illényi Katica but not her singer side.  Here we go:

Can't stop watching her videos.  What a talented and stunningly beautiful elegant woman.

Three Beautiful Talented Women Who Can Sing and Play an Instrument

Eva Cassidy

(The above is a snapshot of Eva's performance at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., where she regularly performed.  Live at Blues Alley, a classic already, is the only live recording of her.

Illényi Katica

Lori Lieberman

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Into the Wild (2)

The kids are back from the wild.  Covered in mud and completely exhausted though, they are all full of joy and pride.

The parents, lining up in front of the main gate and welcoming them as if they are soldiers returning from a war, are more happy and proud.  You may think we are over-reacting.  But if you are in Hong Kong you should know the weather that we are now having.  Wind, rain, lots of wind and more rain.  In the last few days, the kids hiked with their gears in downpour and spent their night in the open with nothing but a plastic sheet over their heads and another plastic sheet beneath their sleeping beds.  They were cold and wet but their spirits remained high.  The kids from an ESF school left after the first night (and they got tents!).  So did the kids from Guangzhou.  But the ISF kids marched on, faced the rain, ate their soaked bread, took care of each other, looked for the right branches to make their rain shelters...

"I feel for the refugees", "Four walls and a roof are so precious", "My legs shook uncontrollably when I reached the camp site", "I was so happy to have reached the top of the mountain. It's beyond words", "Sai Kung looks even more beautiful in rain", "The raft broke in the sea", the kids just can't wait to share their experiences.

"They have grown so much in just a few days. You have to see it to believe it", a teacher who went with them said.

A big thank you to the teachers and trainers from Outward Bound.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Into the Wild

October is always a month blessed with nice weather.  It also marks the beginning of the hiking season.  Not this year.  A strong easterly monsoon, a broad area of low pressure and a tropical depression over the Western Pacific are working together to bring us a lot of rain and strong wind.

After learning the lives and writings of Voltaire, John Locke and William Wilberforce in their humanity class in the comfort of an air-conditioned classroom, the Grade 8 ISF kids are out in the wild to experience the fears, feelings and life of a refugee.  This year annual camping (called experimental training) is designed to be tough and meant to let the kids have a taste of the life of a refugee.  On day one, after visting Christian Action Workshop, a service development for ethnic minority residents in Hong Kong, the kids are bused to Sai Kung and spend their first night in some makeshift shelters (no tents, just a few plastic sheets).  They have to cook their own food with some very basic stuff.  On day two, the "refugee simulation" continues, they will hike to no.19A campsite and spend the night in the wild.  On day three, they will experience a "shipwreck" - raft building at AYP Water Sports Centre and rafting to BGCA Bradbury Camp, followed by further hike to HK Adventure Corps camp at High Island Reservoir.  On day four the last day, they will have some group sharing and do their "Life Run", mini solo presentation, with a human rights theme.

Rain and wind outside.  Am I worried?  Not really as I know the kids are in the right hands.  True that it is going to be tough in this weather.  Some wet maybe, but the kids will grow wiser and stronger from the experience.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

A French Classic Reborn in Hong Kong - Leclair 6 Sonatas for Two Violins, Op.3. by Tengfei Zhou

Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764) is not one of the hottest composers and there are not many recordings of his works these days.  Tengfei Zhou, a member of the Hong Kong Philharmonic, has taken up the difficult task of performing both violins in this unique recording of Leclair's Complete Six Sonatas for Two Violins, Op.3.  It's a 100% Hong Kong production, which makes me feel absolutely proud to be a Hongkonger.  This CD (available at Amazon, Erotica and ArkivMusic (my favourite)) is one of the best-buys if you into Baroque music or French classic.

Zhou, born in Shanghai, received initial training with his father and attended the Shanghai Conservatory of Music at the tender age of 10.  In 1992, while under the tutelage of Roy Malan, he made his solo debut with the San Francisco Symphony.  He continued his training at the Oberlin College and then at the Julliard School with Stephen Clap.  He was appointed the Concertmaster of San Diego Symphony at the age of 15, and toured with the Orchestra in Europe.  He finally joined the Hong Kong Philharmonic and settled in Hong Kong.  Through his teachers, he could claim descent from Tartini and Corelli, both unquestionably influenced Leclair.  In this unique recording, Zhou plays both parts of the sonatas.  And, the result can only be summarised by two words - elegance and clarity.   The CD, once released, received critical acclaims: "Tengfei offers neat accomplished and characterful reading of the sonatas, crisply articulated ... with charming lightness and spirit (The Strad), "Impressive and highly enjoyable... comparably favorably with those of Kogan/Gilels and Perlman/Zukerman (the Fanfare).

There is a recording of the Pachelbel's Cannon in D as a bonus track.  Zhou played the cello part on a synthesiser.  He added the bonus track to his CD because of his own wedding (Is there an end to his genius?).  See the interesting interview with artist here

Tengfei is the first recording artist I personally know.   I love you, Tengfei. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

At 76, Leonard Cohen Can Sing

Raining cats and dogs and got stuck in a restaurant.  After being forced to listen to some unknown songs played at over 60dB for 30 minutes, I decided to ignore the rain and leave.  Luckily the rain stopped right after I'd settled the bill.  Hallelujah.

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Dog Whisperor - A Good Parenting Show

I love dogs and watch Cesar Millan's Dog Whisperer together with my daughter every Wednesday on the National Geography Channel.  It always strikes me how similar dog training is to parenting.

Watching the show you will keep hearing Millan say, "I don't train dogs - I rehabilitate dogs, and train their owners", "It’s not about the dog. It's always about us", "Dogs are pack animals, they need a stable, assertive and calm owner as their pack leader", "You can say as much as you want, but the dogs are picking up what is inside of you from your voice, your move", "It's always about us. It’s up to us to create an environment and circumstances in which the dog can thrive and be itself”, "To be happy, dogs need a good job, and good food, and a pat on the head. Americans tend to over-do on the affection and under-do on the job...".

Millan repeatedly stresses that dogs need a pack leader with a calm and positive energy.  He approaches dog behaviour by teaching dog owners to understand the dogs' natural needs and to respond to them properly.  In his book, dogs need work and discipline.  If a dog is deprived of work and discipline, it is going to have some behavioural problems.

Millan prioritises fulfilling and balancing a dog's primary needs: exercise (work), discipline and affection - in that order.  In other words, it is the owner's responsibility to fulfill the dog's needs through challenging exercise; clearly communicated rules, boundaries and limitations; and affection at the right time.  Millan encourages owners to give affection, but to give affection when the dog is in a balanced state of mind, not when the dog is fearful, anxious, in avoidance or over excited - when the affection itself can reinforce imbalance.  According to him, a common pitfall for dog owners is to give a great deal of affection with very little discipline and even less exercise.  He emphasises the importance of walking a dog, not only for the dog's exercise, but for the owner and dog to bond - with the dog ultimately recognizing the owner as its role model.  He encourages owners to watch their dog for subtle cues in the dog's posture, movement and facial expression, and to eliminate poor behavior before it arises or escalates.   And he also encourages owners to understand the profound effect their own attitudes, internal emotions and physical postures have on a dog's behavior, counseling owners to hold strong posture (i.e. shoulders high and chest forward) and to project energy that is calm-assertive.

One only needs to substitute "children" for "dogs", and "parents" for "dog owners" to have an excellent parenting guide.  A lot of what Millan says about dog echoes what John Rosemond says in his excellent but somehow neglected book Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy ChildrenTo raise happy and healthy children/dogs, parents/dog owners must first look into themselves and make themselves better parents/dog owners. 

I am of course not saying that children should be treated as dogs but the basic rules are the same.  After all, it is not about the children/dogs, it is about us.  If you love dogs or care about parenting, don't miss the show.  Trust me, it's a good parenting show.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ozone Bar - World's Highest Bar

As I sat down and prepared to write something about the Ozone Bar I noticed that Joyce had just blogged about it.  Bad.  Why should I choose a topic that a NYT writer had just written about?

Me and the other three gang of four went to the newly-opened Ozone Bar yesterday.  A fellow member of the gang managed to reserve a table in a quiet corner.  (The place did not take reservations and I had no idea how he managed to reserve a table. Didn't ask.)  As I was  early I ordered a drink and went to the open-air deck.  Before I reached the deck a waiter came to me and very politely asked for my credit card. Fine. Not an unreasonable practice given that people were moving around.  When I was admiring the view from 480m above ground, the English gentleman to my right turned to me and identified himself as Keith McGregor, the author of An Eye on Hong Kong.  He pulled out a MacBook Pro and showed me his work, which only got me to WOW, AH, OMG.  One of the photos of which he was most proud was the one that he took less than two years ago from where we were.  It was a stitched panorama of 28 photos of the Victoria Harbour that he took with a Nikon D3x from the top of ICC, which was then still under construction.  "I just sold it to Mr.X [it sounded like someone I should know but, sorry, I did not register the name] for US$X". Shame that the Hong Kong Tourist Board did not buy it", he said.  And he added, "It's not ordinary Photoshop stuff.  The software cost me an arm and a leg and I spent many nights on it."  We then chatted about photography, cameras, travelling, wine and old Hong Kong (he lived in Hong Kong for some years before the handover).  Half an hour later my friends arrived and I returned to our table.  A lovely little chat with an interesting man.

What about the Ozone?  Service is good and the atmosphere is excellent.  Food is so-so but the drink list is impressive.  Not cheap but not as pricy as one may think.  My only complaint is the elevator connecting the hotel lobby on 103/F and 118/F, where the bar is.  It is tiny by any standard.  And its high ceiling only serves to make it look more creepy.  I can imagine that people with claustrophobia will refuse to walk into that elevator.
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