Friday, December 31, 2010

People Change, Myself Included.

Went to a family gathering this evening. Didn't want to go but am extremely glad that I went.

I very briefly mentioned my uncle here.

When was the last time I met my cousin?  Must be some 20 years ago, probably during my uncle's funeral. As my uncle had determined not to work, my father took care of his two kids.  After graduating from college and becoming a physiotherapist, my elder cousin moved to Australia.  Since then I haven't talked to or met him.  I was always mad with him.  My father paid his college fee, brought him clothes and offered him things we didn't get, and he just vanished. Not a note of thanks, a phone call, or an email for nearly 20 years.

A few days ago my father received a phone call from my cousin.  He was coming to Hong Kong with his wife and kids.  My father was overwhelmed with joy.  He called me and my brothers and sister three times a day to ensure that we would attend the family dinner today.  It sounded like the greatest news to him in many year.  Not wanting to spoil my father's mood, I went to the dinner, reluctantly.

Surprise. Surprise. I enjoyed the gathering, very much, a lot.  I actually felt happy to meet my cousin, his wife and children. Wasn't I supposed to be filled with hatred, disrespect and a feeling of annoyance? Honestly I wasn't. Not a bit. My cousin is now living a good life and has a lovely wife and two wonderful children (one is, like his father, a physiotherapist and the other is a medical doctor to be).  Not in a million years can I imagine that it can be so satisfying and joyous to see someone who are somewhat blood-related to me becoming polite, well-mannered and wonderful young man and woman.  Filled with joy, I thanked my cousin for breaking the ice and coming here to visit us.  I meant it.  A big thank you indeed.

On my way home, I kept wondering how foolish I was to let myself be blinded by prejudice and close-mindedness.  If only I had taken the first step and contacted my cousin, I'd have had all the joy of seeing my niece and nephew grow.  I'm glad that it's not too late.

I have been telling my daughter that doing something that you don't want to do may bring you some totally unexpected joy.  I am right.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Vivian Maier

Not sure whether this humble nanny would like to be known, but she is bound to be referred to as an unknown Henri cartier Bresson, Robert Frank, Eugene Atget or Garry Winogrand.

More examples of her work are available here and here.

Looking at these vintage photographs, I can't help but wonder how many other Vivian Maiers are left undiscovered.  Street photography must be Vivian Maier's second nature that she did not realise what an incredible eye she had.  Living in a man's world and probably a bit introverted, she might find it easier to stuff the negatives and prints under the bed than making an effort to show them to people.  Some critics say that her work does not stand out from other street photographs. "Not enough irony or wit, and, not keeping a distance from their subjects", they claim.  What?  Since when has getting close to the subjects become a vice, and adding irony or wit a virtue?  The greatness of Maier's work lies in her connection with the subjects, not any calculated irony or wit.  I am pretty certain that she never pre-contemplated a ironic or witty scene, and waited for the perfect magic moment to come; she just brought her Rollei to her eyes when she saw something interesting and pressed the shutter. That was it.

If the purpose of life is to create something that will last, she successfully achieved this very purpose.  Her work is going to last.

Good that there were films and nothing digital half a century ago.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

石悅《明朝那些事兒》 (Shi Yue: Those Ming Dynasty Stuff)

Sometimes I feel embarrassed by my ignorance of China, which is less than an hour away. There are some household names that I am completely unaware of. An recent example is 石悅 (Shi Yue) and his bestseller 《明朝那些事兒》(Those Ming Dynasty Stuff).

A few things about Those Ming Dynasty Stuff:
  • First published in 2006;
  • Over 5 million copies sold in 3 years;
  • Best-selling history book ever;
  • One of the 30 best-selling books since 1949;
  • Winner of Best History Book Award;
  • Has been translated into English, Japanese and Korean.
Those Ming Dynasty Stuff is a seven-volume set about the history of Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) by 石悅, Shi Yue. One may tend to think that Shi is a wise old historian at one of the major universities. Wrong.  Shi, who was trained in law, is a custom officer.  He wrote the first volume of Those Ming Dynasty Stuff when he was 26 and completed the seventh and last volume just before he reached 30.

There is an interview of Shi by CCTV, which is quite interesting.  How on earth would a 7-year-old pick up the "24 Histories" (二十四史) and start reading? (By the way, the "24 Histories" is not an ordinary book of history. The whole set contains 3213 volumes and about 40 million words, written in traditional classical form.)  Why should such a young person, who also enjoy video games and comic books, sometimes talk like someone who has lived many lives? Was he a historian in his previous life? 

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Secret for a Long Life - the Violin

Many violinists are able to play at advanced age (Ivry Gitlis, Ida Haendel and Nathan Milstein to name a few). Here is a video of Ida Haendel playing Bloch - Nigun at the age of 81. Absolutely unbelievably amazing. You have to watch the video to believe it. (Embedding is disabled at the request of the owner of the video so you have to click on the link to view it.) Violin making also appears to be a good sports to maintain one's physical and mental health. Stradivarius was still making violins at 90 when his contemporaries lived an average life of 50 something. Is violin playing/making the answer to aging? Probably, but one has to avoid travelling too much to let the magic work. A number of top violinists actually died in train (David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan for examples) or in a plane crash (Ginette Neveu, who won the Wieniawski Violin Competition at the age of 15 over 180 contestants, including David Oistrakh the Great, who finished second).

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Eye Candy for Girls

The ladies in my office are always calm and quiet.  But they go crazy this morning over a young, brave and good looking fresh graduate from the police training school who rescued a tourist from the sea.  Link here.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

I wish I were there

There are thousands of historical moments that I wish I were there to witness. One is the performance by the "children orchestra" in 1939.

From Nathan Milstein's From Russia to the West:

"Toscanini's legendary temperament, well known to the musicians and the public, exploded once in my presence in a very funny way.  In New York in 1939, a benefit was held for the Chatham Square Music School. The star attraction of the program was the "children's orchestra", as it was advertised. The orchestra's violinists included Heifetz, Adolf Busch, Oskar Shumsky, and me, and I remember that one of the violists was William Primrose. The cellists included Emmanuel Feuermann, Piatigorsky, and Alfred Wallenstein.

All eighteen or twenty of us "children" came out onstage in shorts, even Busch, a big, red-faced man who was almost fifty then, yet looked younger than the rest of us.

The conductor of our "children's orchestra" was none other than Toscanini.  We played Ferdinard Rie's "Perpertuum mobile." Heifetz said before the performance, "Let's surprise the maestro! He'll be keeping a strict beat, as usual. But we'll start an incredible acceleration. Let's see how Toscanini reacts."

The maestro came out to his "children's orchestra" in a long, old-fashioned coat, like a school teacher. He began conducting and we followed Heifetz's plan and played faster and faster. Toscanini could not understand what was going on! He was so angry that he dropped his baton and ran off!

The "children's orchestra" was a great success; the audience loved it and thought that the trick with the tempo had been planned that way. The maestro, however, was furious and would not come out for a bow. Instead Wanda [Toscanini's daughter] came out, dressed in a man's suit (she had borrowed my pin-striped pants) and with a hat in her hand. She even twirled a drawn mustache, as if she were the maestro. The audience was certain that this too was part of the grand design and went wild."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Locatelli Sonata in F Minor, Op.6 No.7

I have been looking for David Oistrakh's version of the Locatelli's sonata. Not much luck still. The only recording that I have is the one by Leonid Kogan. A wonderful CD by the way.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Noah's Ark

Fascinated by the greatest creation by mankind ever (which is, God), a Christian friend of mine has been sending me me links to the "discovery" of Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat in Turkey by Noah's Ark Ministries International (NAMI), a Turkish-Chinese coalition formed to search for remains of the Noah's Ark.

He doesn't follow the news too closely.

Dr. Randall Price, a devoted evangelical Christian and former member of the NAMI's team who was once hailed as one of the top experts in biblical archaeology by NAMI, pulled out of the project a few months ago, believing that NAMI had been taken advantage of by the Kurdish guides. The "remains of the Noah's Ark" were, according to Dr. Price, probably planted by the Kurdish guides at the site for the NAMI's team to discover. He said,
I was the archaeologist with the Chinese expedition in the summer of 2008 and was given photos of what they now are reporting to be the inside of the Ark," he wrote in his message dated April 26.

The photos were reputed to have been taken off site near the Black Sea, but the film footage the Chinese now have was shot on location on Mt. Ararat. In the late summer of 2008 ten Kurdish workers hired by Parasut, the guide used by the Chinese, are said to have planted large wood beams taken from an old structure in the Black Sea area (where the photos were originally taken) at the Mt. Ararat site. In the winter of 2008 a Chinese climber taken by Parasut's men to the site saw the wood, but couldn't get inside because of the severe weather conditions.

During the summer of 2009 more wood was planted inside a cave at the site. The Chinese team went in the late summer of 2009 (I was there at the time and knew about the hoax) and was shown the cave with the wood and made their film. As I said, I have the photos of the inside of the so-called Ark (that show cobwebs in the corners of rafters – something just not possible in these conditions) and our Kurdish partner in Dogubayazit (the village at the foot of Mt. Ararat) has all of the facts about the location, the men who planted the wood, and even the truck that transported it.

To my knowledge, the Chinese took no professional archaeologist or geologist who could verify or document the wood or the structure. (Copied from WorldNetDaily)
Dr. Price's view is shared by other experts, including those who are Christian (see for examples, here, here and here). Some mainstream churches have also quietly banned NAMI's propaganda.

The guys at NAMI are giving Christianity and Chinese Christians a bad name. I just can't help wondering whether their true mission is to make Christianity sound stupid and Chinese Christians look quibble and desperate.

And, so what if the remains of the Noah's Ark are found and one of the myths of an ancient tribe proved? Is discovery of the grave of Shennong Shi (神農氏) proof of the existence of a God of Medicine that is relevant to all people?

The Bach's Chaccone is greater than any PRESENT Gods. Chances are that 500 years from now people are still listening to the same Chaccone and admiring Bach as we are doing now, but the PRESENT gods will become nothing but names mentioned in books about history of religions like Mithra, Nero and the many other gods before and after the Council of Nicaea.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

We Will Miss You

After devoting her entire life to education, Shirley Lee, ISF Academy's Principal before Malcolm Pritchard, passed away on Wed, Oct 6, 2010.

A note from Shirley's children: 

"Our mother, Shirley Lee, passed away in the early morning hours of Wednesday, October 6, 2010. During the last week of her life, she was comfortable and with little pain. She was comforted by all of you who visited, spoke with her on the phone, and sent your thoughts, prayers, and blessings our way.

Shirley was a force with which to be reckoned and should be remembered for her boundless energy, bottomless compassion, and absolute belief in the potential of her students, her community, and her culture. We are all blessed to have spent whatever amount of time we had with her.

She is survived by her two children, Lily Panyacosit Alisse and Tawal Panyacosit Jr., her two beautiful granddaughters, Eden and Celeste, and all of you who loved her as we did.

A memorial service will take place in the next few weeks and we will do our best to apprise you of its occurrence. Please forward this announcement to all who would care to know.

Thank you again for all the love and support,
Lily and Tawal"

Lily and Tawal have expressed that, in lieu of flowers, those who wish to remember and honor Shirley should instead send donations to an organization that they will designate within the next few days.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Wanchai Market

Our daughter's violin teacher has been politely nagging us about our relaxed attitude and reminding us that we should have given her music theory lessons long ago. Running out of patience, she ordered us to prepare her for the Feb/March 2011 music theory exam. Unable to resist an order from such a lovely lady, we enrolled our daughter in a music theory class. So, starting from about a month ago, my wife and I have been living our new schedule - every Saturday for half an hour when our daughter is having music theory lesson, we wander around in the Wanchai market, looking for fresh meat, good produces and other interesting things. The following is what we have discovered so far.

Hong Ning Dairy - The only organic dairy farm in Hong Kong. It is a very small operation - daily production is less than 6,000 bottles. Given its extremely small production, the farm does not bother to have an outlet on the island side. (A list of its outlets in Kowloon and the New Territories is here.) Yet, if you drink milk, you can find Hong Ning milk at a little shop in Wanchai market, which manages to get allotted 20 to 30 bottles per day. The shop is called 菜菜子 Oh My Farm, shop B3, 3 Wanchai Road. The milk is priced at HK$12 a bottle (should be HK$11 a bottle as you can have a dollar refund when you return an empty bottle). Not cheap but at least we don't have to travel to the Kowloon side to buy a bottle of milk. At 菜菜子 Oh My Farm, you can find a great variety of organic produces, which can be had at half of 3Sixty/City Super's prices. The ladies there are extremely helpful and friendly. You are going to like them, I guarantee.

Walking along Wanchai Road in the direction of Johnston Road you will see a little hole in the wall stall which sells fresh poultry (平靚正家禽). There you can find Kamei chicken (lean, hormone and god-knows-what-it-is free chicken) developed by the Kadoorie Farm.  Cheap by 3Sixty's standard but still not inexpensive (HK$30 or so for a drumstick or HK$50-60 for a piece chicken breast). If you, like me, haven't developed into a 100% veggie though, agree that it is better to give up bulk of junk for better quality stuff, you will appreciate Kamei chicken (by the way, how much can one eat?). A warning: there is no turning back - you'll either be a 100% veggie or stick to Kamei chicken. You won't touch KFC again.

Further down the road you will find Sun Kee Butcher (新記健味豬, No.40 Wanchai Road, Tel: 25757675). If you prefer organic farming you should go to Sun Kee Butcher. This tiny stall is the last castle of Tam Keung, one of the very few farmers in Hong Kong practising organic farming. His other outlets in Kowloon City and Shatin are gone as there are not enough customers who are willing to pay 10-15% extra for what looks like the same thing that they can get at Park'N Shop. Luckily, his stall in Wanchai is thriving. If you go there after 2 p.m., you probably will have to leave empty-handed. Ah Tak, the man in charge of the stall, is extremely friendly. He is most willing to chat with his customers and share his knowledge about cooking and Wanchai history. Call him at the above number and he'll reserve your order for pick-up later in the day.

If you have a half day off and are fed up with Pacific Place or IFC, take a detour to Wanchai. It will be fun.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Self-Pitying Wealthy Poor

A couple earning well over US$300,000 a year, who own a house with big lawn and two nice cars should feel contented. Not necessarily, at least not in the case of a law professor at the University of Chicago.

Following Obama's proposal to let Bush's tax cut expire only on incomes above $250K, the law professor wrote and published on the internet an article explaining why he should, after paying taxes, mortgage, contribution to 401K, his children's private school education, etc., feel strapped. His article drew hate-mails from across the States. And, finally, "after a big fight with his wife", the professor deleted the article from his website. (Google "whining of the rich" or "whiny law professor" if you are interested.)

I guess the professor is not very smart. What made he think he should tell the whole world how much he and his wife are earning, how much taxes they are paying and how much they need to pay for their children's education is beyond me.

The whole episode gets me thinking though. Are there any comfortable-but-non-big-bucks options for the upper middle-class?

A few months ago a friend lent (gave?) me a book called 窮得有品味, Chinese translation of Die Kunst des stilvollen Verarmens by Alexander, Count of Schönburg-Glauchau. From the author's name, you can probably tell that his ancestors were members of one of the noble families in Germany. Now a poor journalist though, the author, by reason of family heritage, can tell an authentic Chagall from a well executed fake, the best champaign from the second best and know the top painters and sculptors. His book is about means to live like a noble in the most inexpensive way. Extremely entertaining and most inspiring, I really love the book. Strange that there is no English translation of it (I did a quick Wikicat and GoogleBook search and it appears to be the case. If I am wrong, please correct me). If you can read either German or Chinese or Japanese (there appears to be a Japanese version), I sincerely recommend it. It's so true that we don't need to live in the biggest houses, fly first class, go to the fanciest restaurants and drink Romanee Conti to live a good life.

Yesterday, a very good friend invited us to go to dinner at one of the most expensive restaurants in town to celebrate her birthday. Not that I don't want to go out with some good friends, but, what the point of spending many thousands of dollars to risk bumping into some celebrities who will spoil my mood? I don't fancy fancy restaurants and derive no satisfaction from going to places like Amber. Call me a cheapo but I prefer small restaurants with less than 20 tables that are owned by the chefs. I'm not sure whether I'm getting old or what (maybe wiser?) but I'm really tired of the rat race. Two weeks ago we sold our apartment and made a tiny profit. We have decided to move into a cheaper place. Moving into a smaller and cheaper place has multiple benefits: First, there are more options to us - my wife can choose not to work if she wants to and spend more time with Ho-Sum; I can have more time for books and music and can refuse to work with people I don't like. Second and perhaps more importantly, we do believe that we are doing our daughter a disservice if she lives too comfortable a life. It's about time she goes to school on public transport and takes care of herself. Living too ISFish won't do her any good.

富得有品味 is nothing; I prefer 窮得有品味.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Little Prayer

Wondering what the 2nd encore Evelyn Glennie played in her concert was, I posted a question to a local music newsgroup that I randomly found on Google before I went to bed yesterday. Got answered by another percussionist from China this morning. It is A Little Prayer composed by Evelyn Glennie herself.

A short video that I found on Youtube

And, Evelyn Glennie in Sesame Street.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Evelyn Glennie and CIty Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong Again

Glad that we attended virtuoso percussionist Evelyn Clennie's concert on Sept 25. What an evening.

Seldom do I immediately fall in love with a modern piece but I love the Marimba Concerto by Alexis Alrich. A surprise to myself as I am neither a big fan of modern music, nor the marimba. The concerto does not try to impress by presenting a grand structure but is extremely picturesque. Listening to it I can actually see some ancient caravan merchants carrying loads of silk and china, spices and jewels, leaving Xian from the East and Byzantine from the West, entering the desert with dreams of wealth and glory. The composer, Alexis Alrich, was among the audience witnessing the premiere of her concerto. She must be proud of her work and glad that the concerto was so well received.

Evelyn Glennie is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in November to raise funds for AbleChildAfrica. You can make a donation through JustGiving.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Health Check

Can't remember when I had my last health check. "It's long overdue", my lovely wife has been constantly complaining.

I don't believe in health check.

Numerous researches have proved that "self-rated health" outperforms complicated procedures by medical doctors. In such researches, doctors typically go through the medical history, conduct tests, see the results of the tests, and carry out detailed examination for each persons concerned. Independently of the doctors' prediction, the persons are asked to answer a simple, multiple-choice question such as the following:
In general, how would you say your health is: (a) Excellent (b) Very good (c) Good (d) Fair (e) Poor?
It may sound a bit surprising but the results are always the same: self-rated health scores provide more accurate indications of how much longer people will live than the doctors' predictions.

There is nothing modern about modern medicine. In Dance with Chance, the authors gave a vivid description of the then most advanced treatment given to King Charles II by fourteen of the best doctors.
The King was bled... to the extent of a pint from his right arm. Next [the doctor] drew eight ounces of blood from his left shoulder ... gave an emetic to make the King vomit, to physics, and a enema containing antimony rock salt, marsh-mallow leaves, violets, beet roots, camomile flowers, fennel seed, linseed, cardamon seed, cinnamon, saffron cochineal, and aloes. The King's head was then shaved and a blister raised on his scalp. A sneezing powder of hellebore root was give to purge his brain, and a powder of cowslip administered to strengthen it... A plaster of pitch and pigeon dung was put on the King's feet. Next there was more bleeding followed by the administration of melon seeds, manna, slippery elm, black cheery water... To this mixture were added forty drops of the extract of human skull. Finally, in desperation a bezoar stone was tried. The King died.
I am not trying to belittle doctors and medical researchers. No, not at all. But, thank goodness, the study of medicine is evolving and will continue to evolve.  I am a hopelessly optimistic person. I am confident that two hundred years from now people will consider MRI, CT Scan, PSA test (prostate-specific antigen test) etc. the like of extract of human skull and pigeon dung. Why then should I be obsessed with the magical effect of MRI, CT Scan and PSA test?

There is an interesting study about prostate cancer and PSA tests. In his excellent book Calculated Risks: How to Know When the Numbers Deceive You, psychologist Gigerenzer said the following about PSA test:
People who take PSA tests die equally early and equally often from prostate cancer compared with those who do not. One cannot confuse early detection with mortality reduction. PSA tests can detect cancer, but because there is as yet no effective treatment, it is not proven that early detection increases life expectancy...The test produces a substantial number of false positives, and therefore, when there is a suspiciously high PSA level, in most of these cases there is no cancer. That means many men without prostate cancer may go through unnecessary anxieties and often painful follow-up exams. Men with prostate cancer are more likely to pay more substantial costs. Many of these men undergo surgery or radiation treatment that can result in serious, lifelong harm such as incontinence and impotence. Most prostate cancer are so slow growing that they might never have been noticed except for the screening (out of 154 people with prostate caner only twenty four die of the disease). Autopsies of men older than fifty who die of natural causes indicate that about one in three of them has some form of prostate cancer...
In other words, a lot of men die with prostate cancer than from prostate cancer.

Speaking of PSA test I have a personal encounter with the test. Not exactly mine but my father's. Devastated by the death of my mother, he looked like a dead man. We took him to a doctor and he was given some tests. One of them was the PSA test. The result was positive, so positive that the doctor, reading from the most authoritative texts, was almost certain my father had prostate cancer. It turned out to be a false positive. The exceptionally high PSA reading, as the doctor was trying to explain with hindsight, was due to emotional stress. Any lesson to learn? Well, there is much truth in conventional wisdom - if you want good health, try to be happy. If you doctor tells you there is a high cancer risk, take a vacation, relax and have a second opinion.

There is a downside to health check: it promotes an illusion of control. It makes people believe that if they follow certain guidelines and have early symptoms detected, they'll live a longer and healthier life.  I don't see any real difference between this health related illusion of control and the illusion shared by a great number of parents: the belief that if they can get their kids into the most famous schools and colleges, their kids will live a happy and successful life. Is there such certainly in life? Let's see what people will say about our medicine and schooling two hundred years from now.

P.S. I will make an appointment for a health check after posting this. You know, what I think doesn't matter; I have to obey the Almighty in our house.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fujifilm FinePix X100 Large-Sensor Compact & An Ugly Leica

As people are waiting for a digital rangefinder from Voigtländer, Fujifilm unveils a "Large-Compact" digital rangefinder.

Not that I am going to buy one but I am really impressed. It's proof that not all camera makers have gone insane. It also makes all those Nikon and Canon wonderbricks look like headless chickens with giant heads. Could be a Leica X1 killer too. Details here.

And, the Most-Ugly-Camera-in-Photokina Award goes to ... a limited edition Leica designed by Walter de'Silva priced at £19,800.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tribute to the Disturbed Expatriate Women’s Canine-Worship Cult and AFCD

A puppy called Garland, newly adopted from Hong Kong Dog Rescue (HKDR), was lost in April 2010. Its owner was devastated and felt guilty for its loss. The HKDR volunteers and members of DEWCWC (Disturbed Expatriate Women’s Canine-Worship Cult, as a popular gweilo blogger prefers to call them) had been searching for Garland in the Pokfulam area since April. Bad luck. No trace of Garland. Finally, members of DEWCWC had to give up. After all there did not seem to be any real chance for a puppy to survive on its own for so long.

Two days ago, Garland was sighted in the area off Victoria Road near West Island School. In very poor shape though, it was Garland. Its overbite (upper jaw much longer than lower) was unmistakable. It turned out that Garland had been visiting a construction site along Victoria Road, where it could find some construction workers who were kind enough to share their lunch with her. The HKDR volunteers rushed to the site to try to catch her. It wasn't an easy job as you can imagine. The poor dog was so scared that it escaped from its rescuers. In despair, they called the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, which sent out a team as soon as they were called. They set up a trap and wait. Finally, they caught Garland. Hooray. My hat off to HKDR volunteers, members of DEWCWC, the construction workers and AFCD.

(Photo from HKDR's Facebook)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Right Results for the Right-minded

Not wanting to lag behind the Jews and the Muslims, who already have their own religiously correct search engines (Jewogle for Jews and I'mHalal for Muslims), a group of Christians in the States have created SeekFind, a search engine that only returns results from websites that are considered consistent with the Holy Bible. According to the people behind it, SeekFind is designed to promote biblical truth by excluding information that does't meet the Christian standard.

It looks interesting. Let's give it a try.

I type "Obama" in the search field and SeekFind produces 115 results. The top search result is, "Is Barack Obama the antichrist?"  I try "Terry Jones" and the search engine takes me to a review of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". I search "Democratic Party" and it shows me the nexus between the Democratic Party and Marxist politics. What about "sexuality"? I enter "sexuality" and am rewarded with a lecture on monergism and told why the Holy Spirit is the only agent which effects regeneration of Christians.

I am not sure whether these guys are doing a service or disservice to their beliefs.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Insanity on a Global Scale

After a 10-year experiment in “pressure-free education”, Japan has determined to go "back to basics" and add some 1,200 pages to the standard textbooks for elementary school students and give them more homework. The move, according to the "experts", is necessary to ensure that the Japanese students can compete with students from other countries and places like S. Korea and Hong Kong. (

The world is becoming more and more uniform.  There is now a standardised test called PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) for students from all over the world.  And, students in the US, from Florida to Alaska, are expected to live up to the "Common Core State Standards", a set of standards devised by the folks at the Council of Chief State School Officers who, after drinking who knows what it is, believe that they are capable of devising a set of uniform standards.

Longer school hours, more homework, more assessment and yet more homework...

Great. It sounds really great. Things won't get better until they can't get worse. Let more people join the mass of hysterical sleep-deprived zombie-like parents marching in the hall singing, "Top Scores to Our Children!"

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Angel Queen 千年女王

My sleeping habit is really bad. Very rarely do I sleep through the night. Even in a good day, I'll wake up two to three times. Sometimes, not wanting to go back to sleep immediately, I'll listen to the stereo or radio. This morning, waking at around 3, I turned on the radio, and I heard this:

I am sure a lot of people born in the 60's and 70's know this song.  It is the theme song of a Japanese animated cartoon called Angel Queen, a.k.a. 1000-Year-Queen, Millennium Queen or Galaxy Express. It is a very sad story about sacrifice and salvation based on the work of Leiji Matsumoto (松本零士). The main character, Angel Queen, was destined to engage in thousands of years of conflict with her twin sister. It was upon the final resolution of the conflicts that the twin sisters could work together to save the Earth, by having themselves killed. I am fairly certain that Leiji Matsumoto knew history well, in particular the history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Why Leiji Matsumoto should write such a story for kids is beyond me. Maybe he did not have kids in mind.

What follows is another song from Angel Queen, which helps make it so memorable.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Evelyn Glennie and CIty Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong

I am sure some of my readers will love to attend this concert - Evelyn Glennie in Hong Kong. Details of the concert here.

Hearing impaired Evelyn Glennie is a renowned solo percussionist, an educationalist, a jewelry designer and a real life fighter. Given the number of fans she has, reserve your tickets now.

A TED video featuring Evelyn Glennie:

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Hawking: God Did Not Create Universe

Today's headline reminds me of Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question", one of the most inspiring short stories ever written. You can read it here.

And there was light ...

Friday, September 03, 2010

Hong Kong Eonomic Journal 信報

I have been reading HKEJ (Hong Kong Economic Journal, 信報) for over 20 years and been feeling proud of it. Not only is it the highest quality newspapers in Chinese language, it is in fact more readable than many big names worldwide. There has been some recent changes that leave a nasty taste in my mouth. First the inclusion of the so-called LifeStyle, which is nothing but a collection of boorish advertisements of luxury items, then the sudden suspension of Chen Yun's column (陳雲 - 我私故我在) following his criticisms of some of the local property developers, and the announcement today that there will be a new property page (probably sponsored by one or more of the property giants), which is going to replace the following columns of the more out-spoken writers: [商思話] 程逸; [繁星哲語] 梁巨鴻, 朱耀偉, 王建元, 梁燕城, 陳載禮, 郭少棠, 文潔華, 陶國璋; [文耕草莽] 文啟明; [上海通信] 柳葉, 毛尖, 張惠清, 愷蒂...

What the hell!? Not even a note of thanks to the out-going writers? People like 程逸 have been there since the day HKEJ was born! Don't tell me these are not murders en masse committed by the new owners of HKEJ and his friends in the Hong Kong Property Empire. I am not a three-year-old.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Stornoway - Fuel Up


Not liking any of the mooncakes that one can buy and finding them too sweet and greasy, my father decided to make his own mooncakes. These are the low sugar, low fat organic mooncakes he made over the weekend. The darker coloured ones have date paste and the lighter coloured ones have green bean paste in them. It is his first attempt and the results are just perfect.

My father never fails to impress.

He was born in the 30's at a time when there were only wars, more wars and yet some more wars. A few months after the Japanese had surrendered he came to Hong Kong.  As a 13-year-old young refugee who had never been to school and did not know anyone in Hong Kong, he found a job as a junior sailor and went on-board a cargo ship to Malaysia. With the very little money he earned, he managed to support the livings of his parents and his brothers and sisters, who were then all stuck in Tianjin. He taught himself English and continued to perfect his skills as a sailor. One examination after the other, he finally became a Captain, before he turned 26.

My father spent half of his life on ocean going ships. As a father of four and uncle of kids of my other uncles who preferred not to work, he had to work extremely hard. He never took any extended leave so that he could earn the extra bonuses. In my younger days I saw him probably less than 20 days in a year. Although we had very little time together, I was somehow more attached to him. I guess it was because he was the easy to identify hero and I, foolishly enough, did not have the wisdom to see all the sacrifices and contributions of my stay-home mum.

A few years after his retirement my father took up another job - to take care of his wife who was suffering from Pick's disease. Anyone who has experience with patients of dementia will know what it is like to take care of a patient whose brain steadfastly decides to shut down a part of it every day. When she was formally diagnosed as a Pick's disease patient, all the doctors predicted that she would live for another three or four years. It turned out that she lived another eight whole years, thanks to my father's 24/7/365 care and attention. My father's place was like a hospital ward. There were breathing aids, wheelchairs, mechanical mattress, electrical nebulizer, feeding apparatus and all kinds of tubes.

Witnessing the whole degeneration process (memory loss, personality change, loss of speech, immobility, incontinence, inability to swallow, breathing difficulty and finally death) was painful. My mother left two years ago. I did not feel particularly sad when she died. There was this guilty feeling of relief...

There were times that we were worried that our father would not recover from our mother's death. Every time we went to his place he would tell us things like, "Your mum died 435 days ago", "it would be your mum's birthday in 112 days", and so forth. The mooncakes shown in the picture above are testimony to his partial recovery from his wife's departure. He is always a curious and energetic man and wants to try something new. I hope he will remain so.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cat and Dog

Soon after we had got married my wife suggested that we should have a cat. As a great admirer of the feline creatures, I jumped at the chance and promised to get her one. When searching for a cat we bumped into Mr and Mrs H, a couple from Holland who were breeders of the Balinese breed (long hair Siamese). They happened to have a new-born Balinese which we fell in love with at first sight. When the little hair ball was 3 months old, we brought it home and gave it a new name - Mui Mui.

As the only kitten in the litter and having seen more men and women, boy and girls than other cats, Mui Mui was deeply convinced that she was a member of the human race. She was very attached to us. Every evening if I was not home by 9 p.m., she would become agitated. If we went on vacation, I had to call back home every now and then to talk to her, or she would refuse to eat. When we were happy, she was happy; when we were sad, she knew. She was always interested in the books that we were reading (as if she could read) and food that we were eating. I once put a glass of red wine in front of her. After some hesitation she gave it a try. And, I can't describe it. You have to see it yourself to believe that a cat is capable of making such a face - eyes squeezed to a line, whiskers pulled to the front and mouth pulled back. Very funny indeed.

Mui Mui was some 4 to 5 years old when our daughter was born. She was the most wonderful elder sister. Whatever our daughter did to her (poking her ears, pulling her tail, throwing toys at her), she would never fight back. When her younger sister was asleep, Mui Mui would sit next to her, guarding her, not making a sound. When she was awake, she would jump to the living room and meowed to us, commanding one of us to attend to her immediately.

Mui Mui passed away some three years ago. Sad. All good things will come to an end, won't they? We thought of keeping another cat, but, as our daughter turned out to be allergic to all other cats, we had to give up the idea. Our daughter loves dogs. Ever since she was able to read she has been reading everything about dogs, from dog breeds to dog training to dog history.  I dare say that our daughter is one of the least materialistic girls. She never asked for anything, be it toys, modern gadgets, new cloths or new school bags (I guess she is the only student at her school who use the very same school bag from grade 1 through grade 5). So, when she asked for a puppy we found it hard to say no. Because of her allergy and asthmatic tendency, poodle appeared to be the only breed open to us (I'm not Obama and can't order someone to find me a non-shedding Portuguese water dog). We then found her a poodle...

I once said that I did not want a kid in my life. It turns out that I am a happy father. I also said that I hated small dogs like poodle and Yorkshire terrier. Now, I have a tiny poodle sitting next to me as I am typing this. Never say never.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Yashica EZ F521 Review

There are two major drawbacks that turn me away from this little Yashica.

First, it takes three seconds to boot. Not fatal per se but, given that it loves to turn itself completely off (not stand-by) after 60 seconds to save power, if you are not shooting non-stop and there is a 60 second gap between two pictures, you have to turn it back on and wait for another three whole seconds before you can shoot on.

I also hate that there is no way to turn the monitor permanently off. Yes, you can suspend the monitor by pressing the display button a few times. But the slightest touch of shutter release will bring it back on. I do not "chimp" and only use the viewfinder to frame. That means I have to constantly struggle with the display button. To make things worse, the shinning bright light from he monitor, which is very close to the viewfinder, is more than distracting. It makes the viewfinder hard to use. Why bother building into a camera a viewfinder that is not usable?

These two things together, my shooting mode is like this: turn the camera on, wait for three seconds, press the display button a few times to turn off the monitor, frame and shoot, press the display button again to turn the monitor off, frame and shoot...(60 seconds later)... turn the camera back on, wait for another three seconds...

This little inexpensive Yashica feels good in the hand and produces images of acceptable quality. It is a pity that it tries too hard to impress by pretending to be capable of doing things that are not expected of a supposed to be simple and fun to use camera. Take away the all the built-in filters, cancel the video mode and limit the monitor for pictures review purpose, it will then be a great fun camera.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Han Yuan Book Store 漢源書店

Han Yuan Book Store (漢源書店) is more like a friend's place than a book store or a cafe.  It is is located in a quiet corner of the former French Concession, surrounded by publishing houses, traditional Shanghai-style residences and trees. The exact address is no.27 Shao Xing Road, Shanghai (5 min walk from Shan Xi Road South station, Line 1).

The owner of Han Yuan, Deke Erh, is a photographer based in Shanghai.  Signed copies of his books are available at Han Yuan at no extra cost. The book store carries books on photography, fashion, literature and old Shanghai customs and cultures. Scattered over the place are some old furnitures and antiques from Erh's own collection, which include antique tea sets, calligraphies, paintings, lamps, cameras and aged books. Some photographs of Han Yuan here.

Han Yuan is just the perfect place to have a cup of coffee and to read. You can bring your own books, sit down, order a cup of coffee and stay there for a whole day. No one will ever ask you to buy a second cup of coffee or disturb you from your reading. Sitting in Han Yuan takes you back to the old days, the days when you could idle in the yard in the lazy days of summer, when time seemed to pass slowly and nobody was in a rush. We went to Han Yuan on a Sunday and spent our entire afternoon there. Our daughter found a copy of Sophie's World (an early print which is not for sale).  After reading the first 20 pages she fell in love with it. She found in the middle of the book a bookmark with some scribbles on it which said, "Please leave this bookmark in its place. I love this book and will come back to finish it.". My wife found a reprint of 楊絳《雜憶與雜寫》 and I managed to finish 龍應台《目送》which I never had time to finish. We went to Han Yuan the next day and spent another afternoon there. If there is something in Shanghai that we really miss, it is Han Yuan.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Amanfayun, Hangzhou

Hidden deep in 飛來峰 (Feilai Peak, the Peak from Afar) are seven ancient temples. The most famous of which is 靈隱寺, Lingyin Temple (meaning: "Temple of the Soul's Retreat"), first built some 1,700 years ago during the Eastern Jin Dynasty, around the time when Constantine summonsed the Council of Nicaea. To the West of Lingyin Temple there lies a historic village called 法雲古村 (Fayun Historic Village). From its name, 法雲 (Fayun), one can readily guess that the village formed part of the seven ancient temples. According to some publications, the village was established by the monks and nuns of the nearby temples who had chosen to return to civilian life but wished to live close to the temples. A few of the farm houses in the village have been turned into AmanFayun 法雲安縵, a resort run by Aman Resorts. The farm houses have been kept in their original state. From the outside, the Aman villas look exactly like the other farm houses.  Unless you already know, you cannot possibly tell that farm houses are now Aman villas.

Although the village is open to public, it is very little known. Chances are that you will not come across more than a few visitors in a day. The place is extremely well preserved. I can imagine that it looked exactly the same hundreds of years ago. There is an old Chinese story about a man who walked into a mountain and stayed in a hut for a night, only to find out the other day when he walked out of the mountain that the outside world had changed beyond recognition. I cannot help thinking that the story actually happened here. Time seems to have frozen at Fayun Village and there seems to be a spirit in every tree and every piece of stone. It is kind of surreal, almost dream-like. If someone tells me that the little spider on the twig, having listened to the monks' morning and evening prayers for over a hundred years, can recite a script from a Buddha text, I will believe it.   

AmanFayun does not offer facilities common to other resorts.  There are two small restaurants, a tea house, a library and a spa but there are no gym, swimming pool, karaoke or the like. To keep the ambience of the place, things are TVs and bath tubs are not to be found in the rooms and villas.  Our villa is some two or three hundred metres away from the restaurants and spa area.  Not very conveniently located one may think, but we love walking on the stone path.

This is our first Aman experience and we are Aman Junkies already. True that Aman is twice as expensive as other resorts like Banyan Tree but Aman is a hundred times better than others. If I have to choose between a paid night at AmanFayun and a free week at Banyan Hangzhou (which comes with meals in any restaurants in Hangzhou of my choice and a limo with driver), I will go for a night at AmanFayun, definitely. There are five more temples that I need to visit.

My next blog will be about another great find in China - a cheap one.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Two More Days To Go

I did not blog in the past week as I was heavily involved in a piece of work which took up more than 16 hours of any day of mine.  With 4 or so hours of sleep everyday I really didn't think I could produce something marginally worth reading.  Luckily, in 2 days' time, I can have my vacation, a much overdue vacation.  Save that I know where my wife will take me to, I have no idea what she has planned for the vacation.  I do know, however, I am going to enjoy whatever she has planned.

I am going to leave my heavy gear at home and take nothing but a toy camera with me.  It's a Yashica EZ F521.  I am always a big fan of Yashica/Contax. Although it costs me no more than HK$680 (about US$87), it has everything I want - an optical viewfinder and a fixed-focal lens which is not too slow (it has a 42.5mm f.3.0 lens).  This 100% plastic little camera is amazingly light, lighter than my very light Summicron 50/2 alone.  I'll write a review of this little Yashica when I'm back from vacation.

To make this vacation a real vacation, I'll be away from phone, computer and internet.  So, there will be no update to this blog before August 13th.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Creepy Songs

This post should be read after the clock strikes 12.

Gloomy Sunday is probably the best known creepy song.  Legends have it that the original version was cursed, something about there being a subliminal message in the Hungarian lyrics and that people would kill themselves after listening to it on a bad day.   Here is Bille Holiday's cover, which, people say, does not carry the dark magic.

夜夜痴纏 is a Hong Kong's answer to the Gloomy Sunday.  Said to have been banned in the 80's following some strange occurrences to the DJs who were stupid enough to play it after mid-night.

I do not find 夜夜痴纏 creepy.  If there is a creepy Cantonese song, it is this one:

This must be the most creepy Bach of all. BTW, whether or not you believe that there is a memorial to Bach's wife hidden in it, this rendering of the Chaconne is deeply affecting.  BBC review of the Morimur here.

And, there is nothing more creepy than this: a 7-year-old playing a Paganini Caprice. (The lovely little girl got accepted by Julliard School and became the school's youngest student after playing Paganini Caprice No. 24, Vieuxtemps Violin Concerto No. 5 and Bach Sonata No.1 in front of Itzhak Perlman and Stephen Clapp.  Here is her short biography)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Education and Lottery

The Hong Kong A-level Exam results were out some two weeks ago and the IB Diploma results were released just now.  Parents of kids who did well (my congratulations to them) were reported to have said that getting 5As in HKAL or 40+ in IB and securing a ticket to one of the top universities is like finally winning a big lottery or a mega jackpot.

Numerous researches have shown that winners of mega jackpots live a short life, are far more likely to go bankrupt and have their marriage ended by way of a divorce.

Do you still want to win a big lottery or mega jackpot?

We often see in the papers stories of people winning a mega jackpot.  What about the people who did not win? I bet you've never read any news about Peter's not winning, Paul's not winning, Mary's not winning ... If we require a TV station to run a 30-second interview with each loser every time they interview a winner, the losers in a typical lottery in the US will require nine and a half years of your uninterrupted attention just to watch them say, "I did not win", "I lost", "Neither did I"... (There is an interesting TED video on this.)  The media bias creates an illusion that lotteries are winnable and makes people buy lottery tickets.

Is it the same with the attraction of the top universities?

We have stories in the papers and fancy magazines (which very often are more pornographic than the real pron magazines) that Simon Junior, graduate of Princeton, joining Goldman Sachs as its youngest partner, and Ann, grand-grand-grand-daughter of Peter the Great and a graduate from Yale, becoming CEO of one of the Fortune 500.  It's not that likely that we'll find in the papers stories of Simon, graduate of Harvard, becoming a police officer, or Peter, a Cambridge's graduate, becoming a pharmacist or a teacher.

Is there a similar illusion, like the lottery one, that makes people believe that going to one of the top universities will bring us happiness and success?

Winners of medium-sized lotteries are generally happier.  If Oxbridge and Ivy League = the biggest lotteries and second-tier universities = medium-sized lotteries, what do you prefer?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hong Kong Book Fair and Stephen Fry

Although you are not going to see Chrissie Chau and other underage pseudo models in person, this year speaker lineup for the Hong Kong Book Fair has its own attraction.  The guest speakers include:
    • Han Han, Chinese blogger, named one of the "100 most influential people" by Time Magazine;
    •  Frederick Forsyth, author of thriller books The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File, The Dogs of War and The Devil's Alternative;
    • Stephen Fry, actor, comedian, author and Twitter user with more thn 1.57 million followers;
    • Andrew Roberts, historian and author of Hitler and Churchill;
    • Jade Y Chen, best-selling novelist and playwright from Germany.
    To take part in the guest speaker forums, you have to register ahead of time.  Act now.  Chances are that all the places for Han's and Fry's forums will be taken very quickly.

    Here is Stephen Fry. (If you, quite understandably, don't want to see too much of Ann Widdecombe, jump to 1:15).

    Friday, July 09, 2010

    Hong Kong's Best Kept Secrets Series - Tiao Yuan Soya Sauce 調源醬油

    It's a very well kept secret.

    An extremely low profiled old money family in Hong Kong has been producing the Tiao Yuan soya sauce since time long forgotten.  The family, among the very rich though, is little known.  Members of the family have been patrons to China Care Fund, a local charity that is quietly helping many poor students (especially girls) in the more remote parts of China.  The family once hosted a causal party for the China Care Fund's people at the family mansion in Fanling.  I was lucky to be invited.  It was not a fancy party like the ones at Four Seasons but there were good friends, good food and good chats.  After the party the guests were presented some souvenirs - two bottles of Tiao Yuan soya sauce, freshly brewed from the in-house brewing facilities, which were behind the mansion and next to the private peacocks garden (there were some real peacocks!).  Nice party souvenirs indeed.  The soya sauce is brewed in the way their great grandparents did it.  No chemicals added; no preservatives, no artificial colouring and nothing of those substances whose names I cannot spell.  Just good materials and a lot of attention and a lot of time.  The soya sauce making business is now more a family heritage than a money-making business.  They are making it for friends, relatives and old customers who still remember them.  Production is extremely small.  There used to be an outlet in Causeway Bay but it is now gone.  To buy the soya sauce you need to go to Sham Shui Po and look for a little shop called Tai Hing Food, which is right opposite to Pei Ho Street Market Building.   Trust me, it is the best soya sauce you can find.  The price is a little unreal - it's HK$20 per bottle.  It makes the price for the balsamic vinegar from Modena or Reggio Emilia sound like a joke.

    Tuesday, July 06, 2010

    It's Complicated

    Summer must be a time for divorce.

    A few friends of mine have their problems with marriage resolved by way of a divorce recently.  The common issue - a third party.  The complication of having a third party is always under-estimated. Consider this: two cake lovers wish to share a cake so that each is satisfied that they have a fair share.  How to divide the cake between the two?  It's not that hard when there are only two cake lovers involved - A cuts, B chooses.  The problem gets tricky when a third cake lover is brought into the picture.  How to divide the cake among the three so that each is satisfied that they have a fair share?  I'll give you a moment to deliberate on it.
    Don't get frustrated if you can't think of an answer.  The question, posted hundreds of years ago, was left unresolved until 1944 when a group of Polish mathematicians came up with a somewhat right solution.  A tripartite situation is more tricky that one can imagine.  Anyone who thinks that he (seems that it's always he) can resolve a tripartite marriage is either completely stupid or hopelessly arrogant.

    Ironically, if one can divide a cake fairly among three persons, he can divide it among four, five, six or more (see How to Cut a Cake if you are interested).

    Chinese Lesson (1) - 山人仙谷俗

    人: man; person; people.
    山: mountain; hill.
    仙: immortal; god; divine; heavenly.

    人 + 山 = 仙. Therefore, to be immortal and divine, a man needs to go deep into the mountain, away from the material world.

    人: man; person; people.
    谷: grain, corn, harvest.
    俗: worldly, materialistic, vulgar.

    人 + 谷 = 俗.  So, a man who eats is bound to be worldly, materialistic, or even vulgar.  The more he eats or the more harvest he keeps, the more vulgar he will be.

    Friday, July 02, 2010

    Hou Yeh Pinoy! Great! Filipinos! 好嘢!菲律賓人!

    Traditionally, people don't talk much about the Philippines except the beaches in Cebu, Imelda Marco's shoes, Freddie Aguilar's Anak and, of course, export of domestic helpers. But, it seems that things are starting to change. These days, local newspapers carry stories of Walden Bello, and the Hong Kong Arts Centre is hosting the first Philippine Film Festival.  (I really want to watch Voices/Boses but my work schedule for the coming week sucks.)  A welcome change.

    Thursday, July 01, 2010

    A Quick Rreview

    This blog has been up for a few months.  It's time for a quick review.

    1. Microsoft is out

    2. The Metro Vocal Group is in
    I notice that in the last few days, quite a number of the new readers were directed by Google to this post as they were googling "Metro Vocal Group". They were from everywhere: Thailand, the Netherlands, New Zealand and ... Romania and Russia?  It seems that people all over the world are suddenly interested in the Metro Vocalists. Their new video "Under a Vast Sky" got almost 100,000 hits in less than 3 days.

    3. Top referral site
    Gweipo leads by a big margin, followed by Joyce and Ulaca.

    4. Apparently most loved post
    On fatherhood.  Surprisingly, people like it.  I guess the cute video helps.

    5. Apparently most influential post
    On fatherhood again. One reader said in a private comment that he (or she) may reconsider the kids issue.

    6. The worst post (nominated by SorLo)
    Application for permission to date my daughter. It's a shameless copy and paste, and completely devoid of originality. (But I know parents in  my situation will forgive me.)

    Tuesday, June 29, 2010

    Bach's "Sleepers Wake" and ISF Orchestra

    As I was listening to Bach's "Sleepers Wake", my daughter told me they had played it during orchestra practice. A BIG THANK YOU to Ms Howard.

    Monday, June 28, 2010

    Report Card

    ISF is now distributing report cards by electronic means.  Despite all the emails and SMS reminders, my wife and I somehow managed to completely forget about the latest report card.  Should we declare victory over schooling or call ourselves lazy parents?

    Animals Schooling

    Saturday, June 26, 2010

    Important Chinese Painter Wu Guanzhong (吳冠中) died at 91

    Wu Guanzhong (吳冠中), important Chinese painter and a rare talent who really understood Chinese and Western art, passed away yesterday in Beijing.  He was 91.

    Mr. Wu, an engineer by training, studied painting at the National Arts Academy of Hanzhou and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts.  He was the first Chinese to be made an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.  Hong Kong was home to Mr. Wu for many years and the Hong Kong Museum of Art is home to many of his paintings.  I hope the museum will very soon show his paintings in an exhibition.

    Friday, June 25, 2010


    I'm sure some of my readers already know this excellent article in The New Yorker by Jonah Lehrer: Don't! The secret of self-control.  It is about the importance of delayed satisfaction and explains why kids who manage to resist the temptation of a marshmallow at age 4 tend to score two hundred and ten more points in S.A.T.

    I have been thinking whether adults will benefit from delayed frustration/disappointment/anger/judgment as kids will benefit from delayed satisfaction. True, life is not perfect. But, I don't know, would it make any difference if we can delay our feeling for say 30 minutes?

    Even the almighty sun has its own ups and downs.

    When I'm down and troubled, I'll turn to Bach for some comfort.  Let's see if this works for you.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    Mid Life Crisis

    Gweipo's post reminds me of Life after 50 - Reboot, a book by the Japanese management guru Kenichi Ohmae 大前研一 (Kenichi Ohmae's biography here).  You may not like the tone of the author but I do appreciate the 100% openness on his part.  It seems that this somewhat neglected book has not been translated into English yet.  Every man aged 40 or above who can read Japanese or Chinese should grab a copy and read it from cover to cover.

    Kenichi Ohmae made the following points:
    • If you love singing/dancing/acting/painting/music performing and cannot make yourself a known singer/dancer/actor/painter/performer before 40, forget about it.  You won't be a renowned singer/dancer/actor/painter/performer.
    • If you can't make yourself a partner of McKinsey & Company, Inc. before you attain 40, you just won't be a partner of McKinsey.  Face the fact and accept it.
    • If you are over 40 years of age and still complaining about unfairness and lack of opportunities, you probably will spend the rest of your life complaining and mourning for yourself.  
    • Retirement from your present job is not a ticket to grave.  If, by age 45 or 50, you still hasn't reached the highest point you thought you would be up to, you need a mental reboot.  It's time you leave your present job behind and try something new.  Start a new venture, learn a new skill and start a new hobby. 
    • You don't need to prove anything to your wife.  If she is still with you when you are 50, she already knows who you are. 
    • If you don't need to prove anything to  your wife, you don't need to prove anything to anybody.
    • Go to the country or a smaller company.  Your skill, not the highest rated though in the biggest companies, is much needed elsewhere.  You are more useful than what you think.
    • Sell your heavily mortgaged house and buy a smaller one in the less prestigious location.  Yes, you can live in a smaller place.  No, you don't want to be bothered with mortgage when you are 60.
    • Learn how to purchase tickets to movies on your cell phone; try what you used to hate to eat; learn an instrument or a new language; learn how to swim if you cannot swim. 
    • You may not be the most charming flower in the field, but you can be the ground that nurtures that flower.  Don't underestimate the value of your knowledge and experience to the youth. 
    • By 50, you should be able to tell what you can change and can't change.  What you can't change, you can't change.
    • Do what you really want to do.  
    • You should be able to ignore noise.
    • Stay away from negative people. 

    I'm just reading ahead.  Will have to live a few more years before I attain 50.

      Tuesday, June 22, 2010

      Violin Shops in Hong Kong

      Bumped into another parent who is also learning the violin after the ISF Grade 6/7 Musical and had a brief discussion with him about violin shops in Hong Kong.  Here is my list of violin shops in Hong Kong (most of them also carry other stringed instruments).

      Orfeo Strings
      I love and hate Orfeo.  Their collection is good (this is the place where you can see and try bows by Thomassin and Vigneron) but I'm really fed up with all the bullshit from one of the guys there.  Visitors to the shop who are identified as someone who can afford better instruments will be told that their children need a Laberte for grade 6 and up violin examinations, and that Chinese and Eastern European violins are for beginners.

      Hong Kong Strings
      A nice shop in Central with a fairly good collection and helpful staff.  Prices are reasonable too.  However, a neck resetting job that needed to be completely redone keeps me from rating it more highly.

      Mr. Au and his apprentices, all quiet and timid men, are extremely helpful.  They carry Chinese stringed instruments of different grades.

      Andre Jutras
      A small one-man operation in Wanchai.  A French husband to a Chinese lady and father of a teenage girl who is also playing the violin, AJ is one of the very few violin makers here.  These days he is more a dealer of Chinese instruments than a maker/restorer but he does more than just buy and sell.  He will make sure that all the instruments that leave his workshop are properly set up and in playable condition.

      Solo Strings
      Another no-fuss and honest violin shop in Wanchai.  The shop that I now go to for repair and maintenance.

      Some violin shops are less honest than the other.  So be careful.  An unlabeled instrument that is sold for less than US$400 in a Tarisio auction may somehow find its way into a shop in the New Territories and become a HK$50,000 violin with an Italian label.

      Sunday, June 20, 2010

      Vadim Mazo First Recital in Hong Kong

      Just back from Vadim's mini recital at the newly opened Geofferik Studio in Causeway Bay.  (Something about Vadim here).

      The programme:

      Prelude and Allegro (Kreisler)
      Sonatina in 4 movements (Dvorak)
      Romance in F (Beethoven)
      Meditation from Thais (Massnet)
      Etude (Fiorillo)
      Fishermen Song (Koichi Kishi)

      Violin: Vadim Mazo
      Piano: Li, Geoff Erik

      The Etude by Fiorillo is added as a reminder to the students that an etude is a song, not an exercise, and should be practised and played as a song.  The Fishermen Song, Hong Kong premiere probably, is a song written by a Koichi Kishi, a Japanese composer who died in the US at the age of 29.

      It is indeed my great pleasure to be at the recital.  I came to know Vadim two and a half years ago when he came here to teach.  We became good friends during our week's stay in St. Petersburg in the Summer that followed.  Vadim is the most devoted and passionate music teacher I have ever met.  Educating the younger generation and passing his knowledge to them is his priority, an self-imposed task, a mission and an uncompromisable part of his life.  Despite his not very good health, he is back to Asia with his violin and his passion for music and life.

      Vadim is also bringing Tomoko from Japan, an adorable violin teacher whom kids really love.  He says he needs to learn a few things from her as to how to deal with the younger violin learners.  Tomoko is arriving in Hong Kong on Tuesday and we will be having dinner together on Thursday after my daughter's lesson with them.  Can't feel more happy and excited.

      Wednesday, June 16, 2010

      Application for Permission to Date My Daugher

      This post is not original, but who cares, this is an EMERGENCY SITUATION.

      Mr you know who you are, please read this very carefully and follow the following instructions and rules strictly.

      Note: This application will be incomplete and rejected unless accompanied by a complete financial statement, job history, driving record, family lineage and current certified medical report (including drug test) from doctors nominated by me.

      By submission this form, you understand that your application will not be processed until my daughter is 16.

      Name: _________________________________

      Date of Birth: _________________________

      Height:_____ Weight _______ I.Q. ______

      Passport/HKID # ________________________

      Drivers License # ________________________
      (If you are not old enough to hold a driving licence, wait until you get one)

      Highest rank reached in school ___________________________________________

      Lowest rank reached in school ____________________________________________
      (Give full particulars, when, where and why)

      Email Address _________________________________

      Facebook/Twitter/Other social Networking accounts: __________________________________________________________
      (You warrant that you don't have any other social networking accounts except the above and undertake to add me and my wife as your "friends".)

      Do you have one Male and one Female parent? If No, Explain_________________________________________________

      Do you have a tongue ring, nose ring, belly ring, nipple ring or a tattoo? ______ If “Yes” please discontinue application and leave.

      Are you sure you understand what does “Don’t touch my Daughter” mean? __________

      In 50 words or less, what does “Late” mean to you?

      In 50 words or less, explain how to achieve peace in the Middle East.

      Name of Church you attend ___________________
      How often ___________________

      In 50 words or less, explain why you bother to attend a church?

      In 50 words or less, explain why you don't go to church?

      When would be the best time to interview the following people?

      Your Father ______________ AM or PM, Best Contact Phone _______________

      Your Mother _____________ AM or PM, Best Contact Phone _______________

      Your Minister ____________ AM or PM, Best Contact Phone _______________

      Your School's Head ________ AM or PM, Best Contact Phone _______________

      Answer by filling in the blanks. Please answer freely. ALL answers are confidential (That means I won't put them on Youtube without the permission of my wife, or my dog).

      If you were shot, the last place on your body you would want wounded would be:

      If your were beaten, the last bone you would want broken would be:

      How private should private parts be:

      Things I hope this application does not ask about me is (must name at least three):

      When I first meet a girl, the first thing I notice about her is:

      I swear that all information supplied above is true and correct to the best of my knowledge under penalty of death, dismemberment, Native American Red Ant torture, Electrocution, Chinese Water Torture, and Red Hot Poker Treatment.

      Signature (that means your name in cursive)

      Thank you for your interest in my daughter. Please allow 4 to 6 YEARS for processing. You will be notified in writing if you are approved. Please DO NOT try to call, email or write. If you do attempt any communication before your application is approved, automatic disqualification will result.

      Do you still want to date my Daughter?

      _________ Yes, please submit my application (I agree to the attached “Rules.”)

      _________ No, I have the wrong house, I am terribly sorry to disturb you.

      Accompanying Rules for dating my Daughter:

      (1) If you pull into my driveway and honk, I will assume that you are delivering something, because you are not picking anything up.

      (2) You do not stare at my daughter. You may glance at her, so long as you do not peer below her neck. If you cannot keep your eyes or hands off my daughter, I have your authority to remove them, and I will.

      (3) I am aware that it is considered fashionable for boys your age to wear their trousers so loosely that they appear to be falling off their hips. Please don’t take this personally, but you and your friends are complete idiots. Still, I want to be open-minded. So, if you come to the door with your underwear showing I will take my electric nail gun and fasten you trousers securely in place to your waist to ensure that during the course of your date your trousers do not come off.

      (4) I’m sure you have been told that in today’s world, sex without some sort of “barrier method” of some kind can kill you. Let me elaborate. When it comes to sex, I am the barrier, and I will kill you.

      (5) It is usually understood that in order for us to get to know each other, we should talk about sports, politics and other current affairs. PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS. The only information I require is what time I can expect my daughter to be home safely, and the only acceptable answer is “Early.”

      (6) I have no doubt that you are a popular guy, with many opportunities to date and flirt with other girls. This is fine with me as long as it is okay with my daughter. Otherwise, once you have gone out with my little princess, you will continue to date no one but her until she is finished with you.

      (7) If you make my little girl cry, I will make you cry.

      (8) As you are waiting in my front entry for my daughter to appear, and some significant time goes by, do not sigh or fidget. If you want to be on time, you should not date my daughter. My daughter is putting on her makeup, fixing her beautiful hair and choosing an outfit that will pass my inspection. Instead of standing there, please do something useful, like mowing my yard, taking out my trash, or changing the oil in my car.

      (9) Do not lie to me. I may appear to be advancing in age and intelligence, but I am all knowing when it comes to my daughter. I have a shotgun, a shovel and some extra land. Do not mess with me.

      (10) The following places are not appropriate for a date with my daughter:

      Places where there are beds, sofas, or anything softer than a wooden stool; places where there are no parents, policemen, or pastors in eyesight; places where there is no presence of light; places it is warm enough to induce my daughter to wear shorts, tank tops or anything other than overalls, a sweater and a goose down parka zipped to the top; movies with romantic themes; places where there is dancing, holding hands or happiness; places where alcohol is provided.  Please note that the above list is not exhaustive. Additions to the list may be made retrospectively and without notice at my absolute discretion.
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