Sunday, 15 October 2006

Give Me A Break... Undisturbed Please!

Weekends during which I could go hiking, swimming, writing, watching DVDs or working out in a gym now seem a remote reality. I have already forgotten for how many weekends I have been working from morning till evening. An iron-red cauldron of annoyance and fury has never been boiling so violently inside me, ready to erupt any time like a devastating volcano.

I am ready to burn anything in front of me into ashes. No questions asked.

Unfortunately, I know better than anyone else that this is life and little, if any at all, can be done about it. There is no one to blame or to complain against. Everyone has been working hard on their jobs and so have I. But at a time when five different journalists from the same media outlet called me within a week on the same issue, I just couldn't help wondering why I'm always the one who respond to their enquiries.

I don't understand why things always happen over the weekend and I'm the only person stuck in front of my computer at home. Even if I don't have any specific plan or appointment over the weekend, I would like to stay away from work and enjoy some leisure time on my own. This is the balance of life that I strongly believe everyone are entitled to have.

Unlike many technology companies have proclaimed in their advertising campaigns, technology nowadays are not making things easier but making work far more accessible than it should be. Mobile phones and emails on Blackberry are perhaps the most notorious inventions that keep people at work 24 hours per day, seven days a week. Physical distances make no more sense and people just can't get away from the labyrinth of calls and emails every now and then, wherever they are. This is exactly why so many people are suffering from all those kind of mental illness these days. This is also why I'm still not convinced to have a trendy 3G mobile phone or Blackberry or digital personal assistant or for that matter, as many people out there want me to have. I just don't want to spend another grand or two to make my life even more miserable.

I know I don't have the privilege to complain when compared to those from the grassroots who are left unemployed or are made to work 12 hours every single day to make their ends barely meet. But I have no intention to make anyone feel bad. All I need is a good and undisturbed rest to refresh myself, both mentally and physically. I simply want to vent my fatigue, fury and frustration. Otherwise I would have joined thousands and millions of mentally ill patients within a day or two.

Friday, 13 October 2006












所以,請不要道貌岸然地批評懷舊有多頹廢、有多商品化。商品只是一種形式,我願意用不合理的高價買回來的,不是表面上看得見、摸得到的商品,而是商品背後所代表那份已遠去、開始褪色的回憶。回憶才是無價之寶。因為在老人癡呆症發作之前,我需要一些retrieval cues,把美好的時光永遠留住--儘管那些都是一些虛無縹緲的光影。


Thursday, 12 October 2006

Don't Look Down Upon Your Little Monsters

Almost a week has passed after the final episode of the special feature of Joou no Kyoushitsu was aired, but I'm still inclined to share my two-cents on this remarkable drama, probably one of the best I have seen in five years.

While the most obvious "lesson" of this drama is the urgent need to rethink what education is all about and what the best approach of education should be, there is another key message that parents and teachers should never overlook - do not ever look down upon on children. For some reason we adults always think that children are good and simple by nature. They need to be taught about the borderless knowledge of the world and how to sustain their good qualities in-born. However, as we can see from countless news reports about violence on campus and juvenile delinquency in recent years, our assumptions now seem irrelevant and inappropriate. Are children really as simple as we think they are? Do children have their own way of thinking that we adults are unaware of or reluctant to learn about?

Look at the students whom Akutsu met before she transformed herself into a "devil" teacher. They bully. They kill. They pay no respect to human life and dignity. They set their teachers up in wicked plots to make them resign or deprived of their jobs. Worse still, most parents do not have any idea of what their children truly are. They are easily blinded by their good behaviour on appearance, and do not bother to find out what their children think inside their little but complicated minds.

Isn't it a bitter reminder for parents and teachers, who have been taking it so much for granted that children are simple and innocent and should not be held responsible for what they do?

I even think that it's time for the judiciary to re-consider this naive assumption and review the legal proceedings for juvenile delinquency. I don't say this simply because I have watched the Japanese drama. I say this because I find the frequent recurrence of juvenile violence, drug and sexual abuses over the last couple of years unacceptable and irritating. The current approach of giving teenage criminals exceptionally lenient treatment, based on the assumption that they are too innocent and immature to fully understand the consequences of their deeds, is but a hopeless fallacy. How can you be sure that a 15-year-old boy doesn't know it is illegal to kill or to rob? Do you really believe in this kind of bullshit if the boy tells you that he doesn't know? Does it have anything to say about the education being offered to our next generations? At a time when people in 70s or 80s are often found guilty of engaging in violence and sexual abuses, despite their "experience" as human beings, what difference can age actually make in terms of defining the legal liabilities of offenders?

That's why I find it somewhat surprising that the 13-year-old boy who almost claims Akutsu's life in the drama can escape from any criminal charges he may have faced. Akutsu is right by saying that only education can achieve miracles, but a superstitious belief in the power of education without taking into account its limitations can also be destructive. I'm really worried about Akutsu, who is ready to risk her life for her students. Luck will not be always on her side.

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Disgraceful Obsessions - A Personal Review of Policy Address 2006-2007

Chief Executive Sir Donald Tsang delivered his second policy address today.

Not surprisingly, this policy address fails to present a long-term vision for Hong Kong's sustainable development. Sir Donald's obsession with pragmatism and his eagerness to solicit support for a second term in the office has become a convenient excuse for his lack of commitment to the "blessed land" that has nurtured him for more than 60 years.

Among other things, what irritates me most is Sir Donald's arrogance. I can understand why Sir Donald is so proud of what he has been doing, because people of his age still think that securing a permanent job with pension in the Government is a lifetime achievement that is worth mentioning when he visits his grandfather's grave. Being an administrative officer responsible for policy-making for the Hong Kong subjects provides yet another justification for arrogance and complacence. Unfortunately Hong Kong is no longer a colony. We do not need a benevolent autocrat who is obsessed with lip service of his love and commitment to his subjects. Despite the boring and demoralising education we have received at schools all these years, we are still smart enough to tell whether the Government leaders have done their jobs well. Aren't you making yourself a laughing stock by putting those ridiculous words such as "always people first" and "for the people" in writing in every single piece of propaganda, when this is exactly why every taxpayer contributes to allow the Government to exist? Are you trying to remind your people or yourself?

The second most annoying thing is his repeating Hong Kong's success story AGAIN to show the so-called "emotional" side of the Great Leader. In his 60s, Sir Donald is exactly one of those baby-boomers who have made Hong Kong as it is today. They have conveniently turned a blind eye to the fast-changing, interest-oriented social environment of Hong Kong that is totally different from the time when the baby-boomers left their schools to their careers. At that time social mobility was high. Opportunities were everywhere for those who worked hard and were willing to learn and improve their lives. Changes were slow and progressive, allowing people more time to adapt. Individuals often have a strong sense of responsibility not only for himself/herself, but also for his/her family and the community as a whole. People respected each other by Confucian heritage although they didn't know much about the Western values of human rights. But all these have gradually been replaced by an obsession for personal pursuits at the expenses of the others, so long the means are allowed within the legal framework. Communities are torn down and conglomerates uproot family business and entrepreneurship. Hard work is no longer appreciated but cunning tricks, in the name of creativity, work and count. Every aspect of Hong Kong are dominated by baby-boomers who refuse to retire, and these are the people who criticise their next generations of lacking commitment and experience because they see their children are not as successful as they were at the same age, in terms of both income and social status.

Sir Donald, pardon me for asking a dumb question: Under such a shameless and soulless environment, how can you expect your next generation like me, a woman of the same age of your sons, to work hard to succeed? Do you really think that hard work still works in Hong Kong today?

Let me be absolutely honest with you: To me, this is no better than a convenient lip service to make the people of my age and younger even dumber to follow the success stories of your generation, and by doing this, we are doomed. We are sick of this hypocrisy. People like you have witnessed the irresistible changes of Hong Kong and have facilitated some others, but too many of you have also failed to recognise that new wisdom is also required to survive in the new Hong Kong that you helped create. Of course you are proud of your achievements and would like these to become "blessings" and "fortune", but we don't want them. While these blessings and fortune do not last, they can also become a curse for us. We want to do things our way like you did, but in a more sensible, responsible way with more integrity and respect for people, culture and the environment. Please stop all the rhetoric about the people and your old success stories. Concentrate on what you should do and shut up.

Sunday, 8 October 2006










What Education Is All About?

Japanese TV drama Joou no Kyoushitsu, literally "The Queen's Classroom", is thought-provoking in many ways. In addition to being a mercilessly straightforward reminder of hypocrisy in the adult world, it also inspires the audience to re-think what education is all about.

No other issue can be more relevant and important not only for Hong Kong but all over the world.

One of the most common criticisms of Maya Akutsu is her ruthless and tyrannical style of teaching. She seems to pay no respect to human rights of her students. Otherwise she would not have forbidden her students to leave the classroom to respond to the call of nature under all circumstances.

She is also notorious for the pre-mature introduction to her students the merciless competition in the adult world by emphasising the paramount importance of achieving good academic results. Her arguments are simple and straightforward: Our resources are very limited. Only successful people will be given a choice. Good schoolwork means success, preference and thus happiness. Mediocrity will bring nothing but contempt and misery. This argument is fully put into practice in her class. Preference is always given to those with the highest marks in class. They can receive lunch first with the best choices available. They can pick a seat wherever they want. On the contrary, those with poor academic results have little choice, if any at all. Worse still, they are made to serve their classmates and be responsible for all the cleaning and tedious jobs that nobody wants. Undoubtedly, these measures make it even more difficult for those students with poor performance to catch up.

The audience should find little difficulty in understanding Akutsu's strategy of transforming the classroom into a battlefield, in which her 12-year-old students are exposed, most probably for the first time, to the reality of pain and despair that their parents have been trying to conceal from them.

Exposure to the cruelty of reality is, however, merely the first and most obvious implications of Akutsu's punitive strategy. What she wants to achieve ultimately is to strengthen her students' capabilities in meeting whatever challenges they may face in future. No one can be spared from any difficulty in life, so get ready sooner than later. The process during which her students evolve from such negative responses as suspicion, mistrust and resistance to positive attributes of courage, confidence and persistence speaks for the remarkable success of Akutsu. Upon their graduation, her students finally come to realise the extraordinary but privileged training Akutsu has given them. Their tearful farewell to Akutsu is undoubtedly one of the most touching moments I have ever seen on television.

Apparently this is no more than a dramatised episode designed to impress the audience. What I find Akutsu's strategy provoking is, nonetheless, the sharp contrast between her devastating strategy and the benevolent approach that is commonly adopted in Hong Kong nowadays. In a setting when the rhetoric of human rights and respect for individuals replaces responsibilities and obligations, Akutsu is by all means an inspiring reminder that excessive protection and tolerance can be destructive. Just like human immunity against certain diseases, children can never develop self-protection mechanisms without experiencing setbacks and difficulties. Akutsu's approach is by all means an exaggeration to another extreme, but its intrinsic value deserves more recognition than it currently receives.

When protection and tolerance does not help create next generations with more strength, more integrity and higher capabilities, what should parents and teachers do? If they are right in saying that Akutsu's ruthless approach doesn't work either, what is the best approach of education to achieve the mission of creating a better future with young people of responsibility, respect and integrity?

Unfortunately the negative response of many parents and teachers in Hong Kong show that they fail to comprehend the key question raised in the drama. All they can see is how they become a laughing stock at which Akutsu and the audience coldly sneer. For some reason they fail to do anything but associate themselves with the selfish and stupid gang of adults. What is even more ridiculous is that some accuse Akutsu for damaging the professional image of teachers. How much damage could a fictitious character do to a well-established profession? Why make a fuss of everything if you have already done a good job at what you are supposed to do?

Ultimately all these ridiculous behaviours of the teaching profession may be attributed to the result-oriented management that is proven to be seriously unfitting for public functions such as education. When teachers are evaluated by the number of students who get "A" grade in examinations, how can you expect to have truly good teachers that do not care what parents and students say about them until 20 years later? When the teaching profession is filled with people who fail to attain academic results good enough for business schools at universities but are obsessed for well-paid jobs with long holidays, what kind of education do you expect? When parents feel that education of their children is none of their business but the teachers', what kind of future do you expect of Hong Kong?

Perhaps it's time for Akutsu to launch an intensive programme for those parents and teachers who have failed to do what they are supposed to do, rather than wasting her time in the re-training centre, which will fail to change her philosophy anyway. To me, the fact that Akutsu is sent to the re-training centre for the second time represents a harsh and powerful slap in any education system that prevents truly committed teachers from shaping a better future.

Wednesday, 4 October 2006


I can't really tell how tired I am. And yet there doesn't seem to have an end to what I have been doing for about three weeks.

I have been on an alert mode almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week, not to mention the overtime work through the weekends. It seems that now I have come to point where my threshold was transcended far beyond what I originally expected of myself. To my surprise, I have no headaches, the notorious problem that has been haunting me since teenage. I can sleep - though not very well, of course - but still better when I was suffering from mild depression two years ago. But I'm not sure how long my seemingly good shape is going to last.

There are always two sides of a coin, indeed. I lost three kilograms in three weeks without any workout in the gym. My loins have shrunk and my appetite has dropped to record low. Carbohydrates and meat are no longer my favourites - at least now I seldom want to have them together.

While everything seems fine, I can't help wondering how long the positives are going to last. I am getting more and more worried about my ability to keep up the standard of my work and, more importantly, the quality of life. A colleague was right by saying that there seems no end to what we have been doing together. New things keep happening that require not only immediate attention but also careful planning and implementation. I'm really concerned that the quality of work will be compromised at some point due to my physical and mental overdraft. This unprofessional and unfortunate scenario is the second last thing I want to see.

The ultimate thing is, apparently, a physical collapse.

I don't need another major problem somewhere inside my body to remind me of the importance of health. Hepatitis A was bad enough. I know it is not good to skip lunch for work, but I simply do not have time and appetite. I was really surprised that I didn't feel dizzy or starving when I stepped out of the client's office after a 90-minute meeting. Perhaps I was right when I joked to my colleagues that I have a more than sufficient reserve of body fat mass that would sustain me for another three or four weeks without food.

Unfortunately, compared to many others in Hong Kong, I have the least privilege to complain. Thousands from the grassroots are struggling for more than 12 hours per day for shameful wages paid by the leading corporations and multinationals. They are doing this not only to make their ends meet but also to stay away from the Government and the community's wrongful perception that receiving public financial assistance is a shame that represents laziness, dependence and incompetence. It is no longer news that middle-aged fathers and mothers die at work due to exhaustion and overdraft.

Compared to those hardworking and respectful people who are doing jobs that most people do not want, I am certainly one of the lucky ones. I should be grateful and yes, I am. But from the perspective of maintaining social justice and sustainable development, nothing should justify ever-increasing hours of work that take everything away from people's life but push their physical and mental capacities to extreme limits. We simply cannot afford having too many people suffering from grave illness that sustains the vicious cycle of having fewer people working to support a growing dependent population. Something should be done urgently to break the cycle.

Monday, 2 October 2006

A Bitter Showcase of Ignorance

Nothing compares to watching the final episode of Japanese TV drama Joou no Kyoushitsu, literally "The Queen's Classroom", after working through the weekend. This thought-provoking and heart-warming TV drama yet again proves the unchallenged leadership of Japanese pop culture in Asia, which, in my opinion, is likely to maintain in the next five years.

Not surprisingly, the "devil" teacher Maya Akutsu portrayed by the irresistibly cool Yuki Amami has stirred up quite a bit of criticism in Hong Kong, where many parents and teachers find the TV drama really embarrassingly truthful in hitting out at their darkest corners. Teachers complained that their professional image and integrity were damaged. Some even went that far to ask for a halt of the show. Parents also complained that their children are so intimidated by the "devil" teacher on television that they are reluctant to go to school. Their children are said to be crying loud whenever they saw Yuki Amami appearing in black from head to toe. Most probably under the pressure of parents and teachers, an Education and Manpower Bureau spokesperson said in early August (when only two out of 11 episodes of the drama were aired) that parental guidance is recommended for this drama.

What a bitter showcase of ignorance and selfishness among Hong Kong parents and teachers it is, although few have recognised this long before they are expected to. Those parents and teachers who lashed out at the drama are exactly the target of harsh criticisms of the drama. Essentially it is this group of parents and teachers who have spoilt their children, who have made their children incapable of doing anything but complaining for discomfort and difficulties. Isn't it ridiculous to any sensible person that children are afraid of going to school after watching something on television? Isn't it obvious that parents, like those in the drama, are providing their children with unnecessary protection that eventually deprives them of the opportunity of becoming independent people with a reasonable level of survival capabilities? Isn't it absurd to accuse someone of damaging a profession's image when actually the drama's criticisms are targeting those who fail to do their job properly? Is there any reason why the teachers' union leaders broaden the issue to become something for the entire profession? Does it imply that the drama's criticisms have hit out at something in them?

However, for those who are neither parents nor teachers like me, I find it extremely thought-provoking and exciting to see that how the hypocrisy and selfishness of parents, teachers and the whole adult world is scorned with Maya Akutsu's cold and contemptuous remarks.

Rhetoric blaming the younger generations of not being as smart, strong and capable as their predecessors has become very common these days. But few adults do reflect on how this world has been shaped to become as it is. Many tycoons and billionaires born before or during the post-Second World War baby boom often encourage the youth to work harder to succeed. But they have turned a blind eye to the fact that the community has become so much different that their dictum of hard work no longer works, or at least not as effective as it used to be. At a time when society is fully or even excessively institutionalised, unbreakable monopolies are everywhere and thus creativity and innovation is subtly suppressed, what can you expect from the future generations?

What Maya Akutsu advocates in the drama is nothing but the old wisdom of building strength through hardship and suffering. As one of the characters aptly puts, Akutsu becomes a devil teacher to train up her students so that they are better prepared for the challenges in future, rather than allowing them indulge in the greenhouse created by their parents and other teachers who believe that children should stay away from anything dangerous and contaminating. Those who always stay in a virus-free environment are more likely to get sick when exposed to polluted air because of poor immunity and adaptability. It is just as simple as that.