Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Responses to A Tribute to My Primary School

ADMINISTRATION NOTE: This blogger has accepted an invitation from Asia Sentinel, an online magazine, to move this blog to their website. Their technical people are in the process of finalizing some details and the move will be completed shortly.

For a preview of the new home for this blog, please go to Asia Sentinel's website and look under "Interactive Content" for my blog posts by title:-

http://www.asiasentinel.com/


Since the publishing of the post “A Tribute to My Primary School”, there have been many responses from our old school mates, some of which I would like to share. I have copied below messages from emails received. Please just note that I’m nowhere near what some of them made me out to be about writing….

From So Chun Hoi:

“After reading the article of Alice, I think many of us are eager to meet our Math teacher Ng Sir at the coming event, but it is heard that he will not join this gathering, may I suggest every one of us to send him an email requesting him to come.”

From Mak Sui Man (Rachel Poon):

“Hi, all, I did not find time to read Poon Wai Han's blog until this wee hours of the day. and, once I read it, I got so excited and could not help responding though I was supposed to get up to rush through a few things.. I was in 6C and of course would not have a clue about 6B. Yet, Alice, you have helped me put into words of pictures the sweet memory I had for my beloved primary school. Thank you so much. I am so proud of having authors in our class of such calibre- you and Kan Mo Han who writes Chinese books.A few things of curiosity:1. I remember having the' fatal' exams all in one day. folks, pl share our memory bank2. I tried to guess the little five, are they Wong Woon Sing (which cannot be wrong), Fung Miu Han, Lee for Lee Tat Yee? , Chiu for Chiu Yat Sing? Have I got them all wrong?3. I wonder whether Ng Sir is reading our mail. If he had, he could not but feel our love and respect for him. (pl. note that I have deliberately deleted his address on this mail). Apparently not a regular user of the internet communication, he has been a very quiet reader if he had been reading. I do wonder how he felt about us. Actually I have been procrastinating about writing him a personal letter to thank him specially for being one of the most important persons to give me the 'magic wand' that cast a life-changing spell in my life.I do have a frantic idea to suggest, for those who shared the gratitude of Alice and me: could we each write a piece of our memory about him to make into a booklet or something and send to him. Wo and Winnie, I am not proposing this as part of the big event as you may feel it would make it look unfair on other teachers [that is why I tried to exclude other teachers on this mail too]. But I am curious of how Ng Sir touched the hearts of different students and do want to find a platform to share mine [and I do not have a blog]Btw, how I wish all these could reach a few of our classmates like Wong Hing!Also, anyone has contact with Chow Po Ching who is the Chinese teacher to 6C and possibly 5b?I really have to go now.”

From Leung Sing Sze (Angela Fu):

“Thanks for sharing a beautiful friendship story of the “Little Five”.
Throughout primary school, I thought little boys were put on earth to annoy girls and I couldn’t wait to get to an all girls’ middle school. Was I narrow!!”

From Wong Tai-chu (Sabina Chan):

“I didn't know we have such a famous author (Alice poon) attended our old primary school. I live in Washington state, but I come up to Richmond (Vancouver) every weekend. Unfortunately I can't attend the reunion but would like to see photos. Somehow I really don't remember what year I graduated from EHR. I was graduated from high school in 1967, so I think I must belonged to the class of 1962 then. My triplet brothers, Wong tai-hang, tai-cheung, tai-kwan and my youngest brother, Wong tai-Kai, also graduated from EHR. may be one of you remembered us. I left HK in 1970 to attended the University of Washington and hate to say it, I totally don't remember the old school days and would like someone to fill me in.”

From Rolland Lau Hoo-Kwan:

“Hi Sabrina, Just trying to help filling you in. My name is Lau Hoo Kwan. I have a class photo to 62AM Class 6A but you are not in it. But I DO remember your name the names of your three brothers (They must have been quite famous back then being triplets.)So, I guess you are graduate of 62AM but not Class 6A.Hope this help. Sorry that you couldn't make the reunion.”

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Tribute to My Primary School

I had just finished tackling the mathematics exam that day, for which “Ng Sir”, as we used to call this caring and dedicated math teacher of ours, had prepared us by tirelessly giving after-school tutoring in the school hall for three evenings a week in the months leading up to the exam.. My mind was a total blank and my pent-up emotions just had to be given a cathartic release. When asked by a classmate how I did, I simply couldn’t react in any way but by letting go a profuse cascade of tears. I was so unnerved by the maths exam that I was not at all confident about my performance. On the bright side though, I felt pretty sure I would get high grades for the English and Chinese exams.

For a lot of primary 6 students who came from poor families like myself, the secondary school entrance examination was one big hurdle to cross in our young lives, as we had to compete for a very limited number of seats in much coveted well-known English secondary schools, whose selection criteria were invariably top grades in all of the three key subjects: Chinese, English and Mathematics. Being able to get into one of those few renowned schools was equivalent to being given a magic wand which could cast a life-changing spell on one’s teenage years and one’s future.

The subject of maths had always been my bete noire. What made matters worse was that the secondary school entrance exam was designed to not only test one’s arithmetic skills, but also one’s brain agility (a student had to answer 100 questions in a one-and-a-half- hour duration) and as such was an extremely stressful test for a primary 6 student. Mind you, those questions all required calculations to be done and were not multiple choice questions.

As much as it was a tension-filled 1-day examination, it was also the most competitive and stimulating task that we had ever attempted. Now in retrospect, it was probably the expected competition that had worked as a motivating force that pushed us to do the best we could and excel in all those three subjects, which helped to lay an essential foundation for our secondary and post-secondary education and to prepare us for our later challenges in life. After all, competition is omnipresent in the adult world, and the earlier you get trained for it, the better.

I have always felt that I owe deeply to my primary school headmaster and teachers not only for the solid primary education I received, but also for their ethical and moral teachings and the way they imparted their values on us by their own examples.

Our headmaster 容宜燕 was a gentle, compassionate and highly respected education professional, whose kind complexion always radiated warmth, intelligence, and paternal love for his students. Every week he would give a short inspiring speech before class to students lined up tidily in the school playground on the second level. The speeches were mostly touching anecdotes from which moral lessons could be drawn. Even the usually most unruly of students would behave and quietly listen from start to finish.

There were a total of 4 classes of primary 6 students (6A, 6B, 6C & 6D) and I was in class 6B. There were five of us in 6B who were Ng Sir’s favorites and we were called the “little five”, as we were of relatively small build and were all seated in the front row. Two of us were girls and the other three boys (girls – Fung & myself; boys - Lee, Wong and Chiu).

Ng Sir was the most hardworking of all teachers and gave generously of his own time to tutor students after school hours. He was well aware how daunting the secondary school entrance exam in maths was and wanted us to be well prepared and well trained in the subject. He made his tutoring sessions open to all four classes and always managed to make what appeared to some of us the most inscrutable subject a little easier to understand.

Our class mistress and English teacher was Mrs. Lee, a bespectacled, care-free, independent and outspoken personality. Considering we didn’t start to learn the 26 English letters until we were in primary 3, Mrs. Lee’s efforts to prepare us for the rigorous secondary school entrance exam were quite a feat, to say the least. Our Chinese teacher was Miss Tsui, who was a demure, soft-spoken and gracious lady, though she never had a problem commanding our total attention in class.

On one fateful day, the results of the secondary school entrance exam were announced. Happily the “little five” all got accepted into reputable English schools. Lee and Wong went on to St. Paul’s Co-ed College, Chiu got accepted by Wah Yan College, Fung went to Ying Wah Girls’ College and I went to St. Paul’s Convent School.

To this day, I am still in contact with Wong, Lee and Chiu (although we haven’t had a get-together for ages). Our greatest regret is that somehow we lost the contact of Fung many years ago.

In those days, the five of us used to play together during recesses on the school rooftop playground (which was reserved for primary 6 students). Our most favorite game was “acrobatic jumping on rubber-band string” which required great physical agility. Fung was the best at this game and always scored highest. During class times, we also used to help each other with our school work. Lee and Fung, who lived near me, used to stop by my home before the three of us trotted off to school together.

Our primary school, which saw us grow from childhood into adolescence, is named Eastern Hospital Road Government Primary School (東院道官立小學)and is located at the junction of Eastern Hospital Road (東院道) and Cotton Path (紅棉徑), near the So Kon Po Recreation Ground (掃桿埔運動場). The school was built atop a small hill in serene surroundings. What I remember most vividly are the flaming red cotton trees that we used to walk by on Cotton Path during spring time.

There was an access path, fenced on one side, that sloped down from the school entrance to the road level. The “little five” had a habit of leaning against the fence at the bottom of the slope, where we would wait for everybody to arrive before marching up together into the school hall, and while waiting, we used to chat while fixing our loving gaze at the school facade. In our heart, the school will always be a monument that we behold with affection and respect, just like when we were small.

PS I've just learned about the 50th anniversary commemorative event of Eastern Hospital Road Government Primary School to be held on December 1, 2007 and the alumni website: http://www.ehrgps.com/. I've also learned from this article that Ronny Tong used to be a student of this school.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Golden Week Holidays - A Matter of Choice

This is my translation of a Southern Metropolis article re: Golden Week Reform:-

“The ‘Golden Week’ is going to be reformed. I have heard people calling for it before. But now I am seeing a ‘testing the water’ move.

According to news reports, ‘The National Travel Bureau has revealed that the current vacation system will be adjusted. The relevant department’s new vacation proposal is at its final stage of discussion. It only remains to be considered and approved at the National People’s Congress.’

Just like the Golden Week was once bestowed on us without much prior notice, we are now just as unprepared for the new vacation proposal. This new vacation proposal will be considered and approved by the highest level of authority, but before its approval, we are to submit to the “relevant department’s” decision to determine our way of life. As a target of this decision, our only contribution is posing as an object of research.

I am not very clear as to how the Golden Week was created. But as to why it is named as ‘Golden Week’, I do have some idea. Taking a rest from work is a kind of right. However, the Golden Week does not amount to taking a rest. It is merely a ‘Golden Program’. People’s statistical interest in this Golden Program is always how many tourists there are and how much tourist spending there is. The significance of the Golden Week is its ability to ‘drive domestic consumption’.

The Golden Week actually creates a blank in people’s lives and makes people want to fill the blank with something as they are unable to bear it. For Chinese people who seldom get vacation with pay, the seven-day blank definitely would stimulate their desire to travel and thus lead to a hot trend in nation-wide traveling. This is something well within the estimation of the Golden Week designer. A traveling hot trend is an essential motive behind the design of the Golden Week.

Including the Spring Festival Golden Week and the Labor Day Golden Week, there are a total of three Golden Weeks in a year. The National Day 7-day Golden Week actually only allows 3 extra days of vacation with pay after discounting Saturday, Sunday and October 1.

For a society that shows great anxiety over ‘people flow’, as much as the Golden Weeks create economic opportunities, they also to a certain extent create negative stimulants. They are like a heated ball game - they cheer the businesses and the consumers. People flows give businesses the satisfaction of profit-making, while at the same time exerting great pressure on them on the provision of services. Nobody can provide a normal standard of services that can also cater to enormous people flows that happen three times a year. This will inevitably put businesses in a temporary state of emergency during the Golden Weeks, and the quality of services rendered to consumers cannot but be sub-par during such times.

For those who are testing the water with their proposal, this might seem a big psychological gap between a merrily expecting mood and huge disillusionment. In the event of large crowds gathering, such disillusionment exploding into mob rage is not impossible. In every Golden Week there is always a potential danger of unhappy moving crowds exhibiting public rage. Thus Golden Weeks can easily become crisis-prone periods. Discontent on the consumption front can easily be associated with social discontent. Perhaps, this is the last ‘vote’ on approving the vacation system adjustment proposal.

In any case, while raging about the poor service quality during Golden Weeks and the need to protect historic heritage sites, people should also mull over whether a possible solution should be in the form of cutting back on welfare or ensuring it. If the problem is to be solved by cutting back on welfare, then the solution would be to spread holidays of Golden Weeks to other festive days like Mid-Autumn Festival and Tuen Ng Festival. Such a solution may not cut the total number of holidays with pay, but it definitely lessens choices for workers. If the problem is to be solved by ensuring welfare, the solution would be to keep the current Golden Weeks intact, while legalizing vacation with pay. This way, people will be allowed to choose freely when to take their vacation and when to make their travel plans.

Even before a lot of questions have a chance of being debated, there are already talks that ‘discussions are at the final stage’ and ‘only waiting to be considered and approved by the National People’s Congress’. Isn’t this a little too ‘forcing people’s hand’?”

Sunday, October 7, 2007

No Creative Solution for Hong Kong

The Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre, a private think-tank, has just produced a policy submission paper titled “Hong Kong: A Creative Metropolis”. Other than the boring reified rendering of the subject of creativity, the paper amounts to little else. Above all, it is biased towards developing the hardware, giving 10 pages to cover this aspect, while giving short shrift to the far more paramount issue of education reform, which is given 2 pages of coverage. The worst thing is: it sounds as though it can force-feed creativity into Hong Kong people overnight.

Here are some lines that pretty much describe how the think-tank proposes to go about “making” Hong Kong a “creative metropolis”:-

“As a parallel model of urban planning, this paper proposes a cultural-led approach to address the issues arising from urban development. In essence, the approach promotes multi-tiered urban spatial development; it embraces diversity and enhances spatial quality of the city.”

A culture-led approach to urban development?? The two words “culture-led” and “development” sound so incongruous that they can only become oxymoronic when placed near each other. When I think of culture, I think of something artistic and beautiful like a painting, a piece of literature or classical music. When my mind switches to the word “development”, I can visualize ugly cookie-cutter style apartment buildings, philistine investors and greedy developers.

“And the new economic policy frameworks should be set to harness broad-based creativity for service innovation not only in the bounded domain of the creative industries but also the service economy in general.”

Is creativity something that can be “harnessed” through policy frameworks setting? I wonder what the think-tank had in mind when it used the word “creativity”.

“In making Hong Kong a creative metropolis, the government should take on a more proactive role in defining a creative economic policy and cultivating a creative habitat.”

Here the government is asked to play God. Without a culturally sensitive, inherently innovative and imaginative society (albeit there are some exceptions), thanks to a largely materialistic citizenry and an uninspiring system of education that does not encourage creative thinking or artistic appreciation, all talks about creative this and creative that are meaningless. While it takes time, maybe generations, to nurture such a society, one prerequisite is for government to apply a hands-off approach in this particular area and allow absolute space and freedom for creative ideas to flourish and grow among the citizens. Another sine qua non is a thorough reform of the educational system.

In short, the policy submission paper is trying to suggest that government should take the initiative to build a self-proclaimed culturally inclined hardware (in terms of development) based on some preconceived notion of creativity. Other than an attempt to take economic planning to a level even more extreme than our socialist motherland, the paper hardly offers any creative surprises.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Maiden Voyage for China's Property Law

This is my translation of an op-ed piece on http://www.nanfangdaily.com.cn/, which points out the pre-conditions for the effective operation of the recently enacted Property Law in China:-

“On March 16 the National People’s Congress passed the draft Property Bill, which will become law as of tomorrow (October 1). We will use “compulsory eviction” as a moot point to describe a once cruel urban landscape in the absence of such a law, as well as reveal the effect of private property right being forcibly distorted, and in some cases even barbarically erased. Now, with the Property Law finally in place, the nation is hopeful that it will serve not only to heal the socio-psychological wounds once inflicted by compulsory eviction, but also to uphold justice and confirm the rule of private property law.

As an important pillar of China’s civil law, there is a significant meaning for the Property Law to take effect on National Day. The eight readings of the draft bill over a span of 13 years are sufficient proof of the necessity and urgency for such a law. The fact is, the slowness and difficulties attending the birth of the law are directly proportionate to the multi-layers of ideals that it embodies. As revealed in many in-depth news reports, destinies of individuals and families have often been subverted by compulsory eviction, while administrative blunders have exacerbated social injustice as well as created a potential cause for social instability. Although one cannot expect the Property Law to be a panacea for all ills, it nevertheless is a promise to recognize private property right as such. At least it is a fundamental means to deter or prevent the plundering of private property, although it is not the only means.

Of course, to thoroughly cure compulsory eviction is not the only content of the Property Law. However, now playing out all over China are scenes after scenes of brutal eviction, which will be good testing grounds for the new Property Law in terms of its tenacity and surviving ability in real life situations. Perhaps it is hard to make any judgment, as the nation presently is going through a climax in compulsory evicting acts. However, the vicious genes bred by compulsory eviction will not disappear with the birth of the Property Law. Rather, they will mutate into a new reactionary power in the new battle ground. For this reason, the post-Property Law era will not be a peaceful world, rather, as in the past, the Law needs to be fought for. In other words, the extent to which the Law can be put into practice depends on its confidence and ability in harnessing state authority, as well as on its power to restrain vested interest groups’ abuse of private property right. It is true that the Property Law has offered an opportunity to wrest private property right out of state possession. However, the budding chance of liberation is held in the hands of the state and not the citizens.

One thing that warrants caution is: before the Property Law came into being, the protection of private property was well documented in the Constitution as well as in Land Management Law, but in practice, the spirit of property right under the Constitution and the Rules of Land Management have always been widely evaded. The government’s evicting actions are based on the Urban Housing Evicting Regulations issued by the State Council, and the provinces have established their own relevant procedural rules based on those regulations. Together, they have reinforced government’s authority in the system of private property right and their say is the final say. The individual’s right to negotiate his own property right is precarious at best and he faces the danger of being subjugated at any time. Although with the inception of the Property Law, the Land Management Law and Eviction Regulations will have to be amended to align with the Property Law, as long as the habitual unspoken rules of the game between governments and developers are allowed to continue to exist, the administration’s monopolizing control over private property right will not have been eliminated. Whether the efforts by victims of eviction to use the Property Law to fight that control will be successful is anyone’s guess.

Apart from the blatant challenge of the Property Law coming from government and vested interest groups, their threat to the Law, as in times prior to its enactment, consists of three principles: habitual occupation, transfer based on agreement and fulfilling a promise. In the example of urban eviction, although a citizen has the right to take his case to court, the court can only determine whether government’s documents are adequate, it cannot invalidate the act of eviction itself. The fact that a citizen cannot rely on civil law for redress means that an individual is unable to shatter government’s imposing control over private property. According to the latest civil law interpretation, as long as the procedures of compulsory eviction are legal, objection by the victim is deemed unimportant. Once the government applies to court to carry out compulsory eviction, the court is empowered to first take the plaintiff into custody. So much for private property right! What it all comes down to is a fight against the evils of a system of unspoken rules. If the Property Law is to be properly implemented, there is a need to break free from that system.

In any event, the Property Law represents a certain kind of hope for the citizens: on the premise of private property being made independent, the individual can hope to cease being a resource that can be manipulated by government. Yet, the new law is supposed to strike down such an absurd concept: it is only when the individual has obtained his private property right that he can deter government from abusing its power. The unfortunate thing is, whether he can “obtain” such right is dependent on the power- wielding authorities. Therefore, a law-abiding government is the only guarantee that can guard the spirit of the law from being distorted, mutated or displaced. The Property Law has provided a good reference for a role model government. A progressive local government should not be apathetic to such a call for improvement.”