I took my Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) in
1965. Education was
not yet free or compulsory and HKCEE was still
administered by the Education Department. Many girls of my age were working in the textile
factories and getting good income to support their families which unlike today were
quite big in size with five or more children.
We were a family of eight
children crammed in a small flat of less than 300 square feet with one room let
out to minimize the rent. So in the evening, there would be ten of us together
with the three tenants, a couple and the wife’s brother from Macau in the
apartment. Wireless television was not yet introduced though there was already subscription
cable television offering several hours of both English language and Chinese
language programmes. As the fees were high, not too many families did
subscribe. Listening to the radio would be almost the only entertainment! My
father had the radio on the whole day! And all we had during the hot summer
would be the electric fan!
The apartment was no place for
studying! Luckily, I had discovered a nice and cool place to study not too far
away from home - the Kai Tak Airport. I walked from To Kwa Wan to the airport
and read my books there for hours. As air traffic was not too busy, I could
study undisturbed. These days, there are
air-conditioned study rooms all over Hong Kong. The Education Bureau is
concerned about the provision of “a quiet place for students to study,
especially for those residing in crowded and noisy homes”. That would be me!
In 2014, the Education Bureau
provides subvention for 41 study rooms with about 5,200 seats in public housing
estates. In addition, about 180 study rooms with around 10,600 seats are
self-financed or subvented by various government departments as well as non-government
organizations. In the 2013-2014 financial year, the funds required for subsidizing
study rooms in public housing estates was about $5.2 million.Obviously, this generation has
their needs well attended to while our generation had to face adversity on our
own. Which generation is more fortunate? Well, with hindsight, I think my
generation is – bitterness before sweetness and that makes sweetness even
Last Sunday morning, I went for
hair colour treatment, something I hate but have to undergo every two months.
My hair greys quickly and as I am still working, I do want to look not my age!
I made a mistake with the opening
hour of the saloon and arrived too early. I was not mad but happy that there
was time to treat myself to a full set of breakfast at the McDonald’s which I
seldom visit. But the whole restaurant was surprisingly crowded with queues at
the counter and all tables occupied. So instead of having a full set, I opted
for an egg and sausage muffin and a coffee. I managed to get the last high
stool at the bar table. Sitting uncomfortably, I gobbled my food and washed it
down with the lukewarm coffee.
Though clumsily engaged, I couldn’t
help noticing what a mother and daughter were doing right in front of me. The
girl looked like six or seven years old and she was dressed in a pink tutu
ready for ballet class while the mother looked in her thirties. She was writing
hurriedly on the flattened cover of the breakfast set while the girl was
narrating a school trip.
“Now that I am writing for you,
when we are home after class, you only need to copy this into your exercise
book! See, you can have composition to submit tomorrow!”
To this mother, the whole point
of doing the writing task is for submission! Doesn’t she know that the process
of transferring ideas into writing is a learning experience her daughter has to
accumulate? I pray that this mother is only ghostwriting for her daughter once
in a blue moon!
As a child, I was brought up
reading and listening to a lot of fairy tales. Some of these are still the
favourites of many children. Two such examples are “Snow White” and “Cinderella”.
There are movies, cartoons, picture books and online games telling their
stories and a range of products from dress-up dolls to household items bearing
their images.Even my grand-daughter, Hayley has a lot of “princess” stuff such as
blanket, rug, school-bag, lampshade, chopsticks, lunch box, water bottle etc.
Parents and of course, grand-parents are intentionally or unintentionally immersing
their children especially girls in this “princess mentality”!
But if we educated adults are
actually using our head, we will discover a lot of imbedded biases which as
parents, we would not want to instill in the young minds of our children.
As a woman, I detest all the
feminine stereotypes depicted in the stories. Physical beauty is associated
with virtues while ugliness with evil. Princess Snow White and Cinderella are
both beautiful and virtuous while the antagonists, the Queen or the step mother
and her daughters are all ugly and therefore, wicked! Also, both heroines await
the handsome princes to save them from their misery and then they live happily
hereafter! I bet no mothers upon reflection would want their daughters to
develop such wrong beliefs or prejudices.
The stories of "Snow White”
and “Cinderella” were folk tales known across Europe centuries ago. The Grimm
Brothers collected them in Grimms' Fairy Tales, first published in 1812. That
was a different time when women’s only career was their marriage and family! So
when read by 21st century children, these stories need to be re-interpreted
or read under parental guidance.
The one moral we want modern
girls to learn is that while it is great to be born beautiful and intelligent,
we can still build our future without these traits and that we should not judge
people by their looks!
I have not always been an English
teacher. I taught both History and English until 2001. Well, actually, my
university degree was in History. When my memories went back to those years as
a History teacher, the two emotions that I felt strongly then would once again
surge through me. The first one was my anger over the humiliation suffered and
the loss of territories since the Opium War in 1839. The next was my
frustration over the intrigue situation of the Crimea and the Balkans.
For the past few weeks, the Crimean
peninsula has caught the limelight for the samehistoric reason – the struggle
between Russia and the rest of the western world. The Crimean referendum held
on March 16 reminds me so much of what happened in Austria 76 years ago on 12
March 1938. In both situations, people at gun point voted for secession from
the ruling sovereignty and be incorporated by the “invaders”, Russia in the
case of Crimea and Nazi Germany in the case of Austria.
But it must also be remembered
that ethnic Russians account for 58 percent of Crimea's population, while
Ukrainians make up 24 percent. Crimean Tatars, who were once deported by Soviet
Russia but returned to the peninsula from exile after the fall of the Soviet
Union, comprise 12 percent of its population. These are the very people who are
now awaiting to see how their fate fares!
The history of the Crimean
peninsula expands more than 2,000 years with many different conquerors
throughout time. Some of these included the Greeks, Ottoman Turks, Tatars and
the Mongols in its early history. In the 13th century, it was partly controlled
by the Venetians and by the Genovese followed by the Crimean Khanate and the
Ottoman Empire in the 15th to 18th centuries, the Russian Empire in the 18th to
20th centuries, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and later the
Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic within the Soviet Union. In 1991 it became
part of independent Ukraine, as the Autonomous Republic Crimea.The greatest fear in western
Europe has always been that Russia, already with the Black Sea fleet based in Sevastopol,
Crimea, will continue the process of expanding south in the Black Sea region
and will possibly even reach Istanbul - a gateway of immense strategic
importance between the Balkans and Asia.
To Vladimir Putin, President of
Russia, Crimea would be a dazzling conquest, once Russia's imperial crown
jewel, a lush land seized by Catherine the Great in the 18th century. Russia is
expected to face strong sanctions from the U.S. and Europe. But by far, the
western reaction including that of the USA has been quite feeble.
Though Hong Kong is nowhere near
to Crimea or Ukraine, we have to bear in mind that we are part of this big
world and we should not be merely engrossed in our own local matters. The media
should also provide the viewers with in-depth analysis of global issues.
God is never fair. Why is she pretty and I'm not? Why was he born
with a silver spoon in his mouth and me to a poor family? Why has she got such
big eyes and mine are so small? We are always puzzled at how God, or anyone who
is looking down from above, makes his decisions. On which cheek is he going to
press a dimple etc?But God is absolutely fair in one way - each and every person is
granted 24 hours, no more, no less! And yet some people can achieve a lot in a
day while others would just sit there wasting their life! A task can be
accomplished in an hour while it takes another person double the time. I am not
talking about ability. That is again something we can't control.I am talking
about focus and commitment and of course, time management.
I have this habit of planning my day at the very moment I open my
eyes and before I leave my desk at the close of day. First things always come
first but I don't sacrifice my routines, like my three meals though they can be
simple or elaborate depending on the time at my disposal. My three hours of
exercise per week and Sunday indulgence are also important but can be given up if
really necessary to squeeze
Once I start, whether writing, marking, designing worksheets or
projects, I can dive right into it because I am prepared with the
task all mapped out
in mind, documents and skill books on the desk and of course, my coffee and water but no snacks. All armed, I can
sit and work for at two hours. All these preparations are important to ensure that I don’t have any
excuse to get out of my seat. I also set the timer to discipline myself. I don’t
feel stressed but actually feel focused and motivated. The sense of
accomplishment is truly satisfying. Maybe it is true to say that pressure can
I never complain I don’t have
time for this and that because I manage time and not time manages me.
In recent months, “locusts” as a species
of insect has been made known to Hongkongers who are basically urbanite and
should never be threatened by locusts which are a kind of grasshoppers that can breed rapidly and can become
gregarious and migratory when their populations become dense enough. Locusts form
swarms as adultsand can rapidly strip fields and greatly damage crops. They are powerful
fliers travelling great distances, consuming all plants and crops wherever the swarm settles.
They can eat the equivalent of their own weight in a day.
In the biblical book of Exodus, there is the story of The Ten Plagues of Egypt and the
eighth plague was locusts. At that time, the Hebrews or the Israelites were
enslaved by the Egyptians. Moses commissioned by God had been asking the
Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. God had already inflicted upon Egypt plague
after plague to persuade Pharaoh to release the ill-treated Israelites from
slavery. Pharaoh capitulated after the tenth plague, triggering the Exodus of
the Hebrew people.
The threat of locusts was worded
Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them
go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. They will cover the face
of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have
left after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields. They
will fill your houses and those of all your officials and all the
Egyptians—something neither your fathers nor your forefathers have ever seen
from the day they settled in this land till now. ” (Exodus
When the Pharaoh refused, God
then had Moses stretch his staff over Egypt, and a wind picked up from the
east. The wind continued until the following day, when it brought a locust
swarm. The swarm covered the sky, casting a shadow over Egypt. It consumed all
the remaining Egyptian crops, leaving no tree or plant standing.
And to these locusts the mainland tourists have been compared and a
so-called anti-locust movement has come forth organizing various rallies in
Tsimshatsui and Mong Kok. This is just not fair! True, they flood our streets
and shops. But just think of all the revenue they have brought to Hong Kong and
the workforce in the service industry they are supporting! What we should do is
to make our government officials and all the good people involved to brainstorm
for ideas to, on the one hand, cater to the needs of these tourists and on the
other hand, defuse the frustrations of the locals!
We should not vent our anger on them! After all, out of the 5.5
million tourists visiting Hong Kong in January 2014, close to 80% (4.4 million)
were from mainland!
I have always been asked “If you had
a choice, would you want to be a woman again in your next life?”
Well, that is a difficult if not
absurd question to respond to because I can only use my own experience as a
woman in this life and this world as reference when the world in my supposed
next life would be entirely different with new social norms, values as well as
Here is my reply – I would still
want to be a woman.
This does not mean that being a
woman, I have enjoyed all kinds of privileges. Quite the opposite – I have been
posed with embarrassing comments like “Oh, you’re too tough for men to get
along with!” or “As a woman, you shouldn’t push for higher education.” The
harshest would be “You are strong! You can survive the trauma!”
And like many other women, I do
care about my appearance. Men simply have to wear a suit and can attend all
events! But women would have to change their shoes, wear the proper outfit and
some women would even have their hair set just for a meal etc. As my hair
greys, I have to get it tinted. I have to tuck my tummy in for photos etc. I am
not complaining because all these add colours to my work life!
As a woman, I have enjoyed the
whole process of motherhood. That is the one privilege men are not blessed
with. Women have this choice – to be or not to be a mother. I hope no women are
forced into being a mother and all women who have decided to be a mother will
have their dream come true.