Life

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A friend leaves

Filed in Hong Kong, Life

One of our friends left us today. We took her to the airport and watched her leave after being a part of our lives for the last two years.

Asih; that's her name; was originally hired to look after my mother-in-law who with serious symptoms of diabetes and heart disease needed 24-hour care. Shortly after hiring Asih, my mother-in-law passed away.

Our own maid's contract was almost up for renewal and for various reasons including the fact that Asih could speak Cantonese, we decided to let the other maid go and stick with Asih.

Most Hong Kong people would already realise that Asih was Indonesian. Many Indonesian maids speak Cantonese while most Philippino maids has no knowledge of the language.

I've always considered Asih to be my mother-in-law's parting gift. From the first day, Asih almost never frowned, was almost always happy and generally was great to have around the house.

When she first began working for us, we moved my mother-in-law and Asih into our flat so that my wife could keep close to my mother-in-law. At the time, we already had eight dogs and Asih was pretty scared of them. Over time though, that changed and she became the dogs' best friend. Over the last two years, most of their walks have been with Asih with me only taking them out at night time. Almost all of their baths were done by Asih and almost all of their meals were organised by Asih. In addition to the usual dog food, Asih prepared beef heart rice once or twice a week for them using beef hearts that my wife took the time to buy each week from the local markets; the hearts by the way are very heavy.

Shortly after moving to our current address; two days before Christmas actually; Asih had an accident while taking the dogs out for their walk. While holding their leashes in her right hand and using her left hand to close the gate behind her, one of the dogs stood up and lunged forwards away from her. The unexpected and sudden jolt pulled Asih full force into a concrete pillar and she snapped one of her front teeth.

Asih was a happy girl and the last thing we wanted to take away from her was her smile, so we decided to take her to our regular dentist and fix her up as best as we could. Our dentist was amazing. He was able to use a new solution to extend and remould the broken front tooth so that it was almost impossible to tell that it had been broken. An xray showed that the root of the tooth had also broken straight across but the dentist was able to re-glue the root by carefully injecting a special solution into the root of the tooth at the break. The result was a tooth that even today is strong and always ready to smile. Consequently, Asih remained a happy person, always ready to show that great smile of hers.

It's unfortunate that in Hong Kong, many people mistreat their maids. The maids are forced to work from early morning to late night, sometimes without a break. Some maids are not allowed to take off the mandatory one-day-a-week holiday, and some; most notably Indonesian maids; are only paid half the legal minimum wage by their employers who conspire with the domestic helper agency to defraud the maid for their own financial benefits. Many people believe that there is little to no racial discrimination in Hong Kong but at the same time consider the Philippino and Indonesian maids to be far beneath them. In many cases, the only difference between the maids and would-be-slaves is their salaries. It's cases like these that we see otherwise civilised people behaving more like animals than people. It's unfortunate and depressing.

Asih left us today to go back home and care for her own sick mother. We will miss her but we'll see her again soon. In September, she will be getting married, and I'll be there in her home town to see the wedding and share the occasion with her. It'll be great fun.

Like my father, I like to go to non-modern places, walk around, watch the people, and observe the architecture and environment. I don't mind sleeping on the floor. I don't mind not being able to stand in a shower to bathe. I don't mind that there isn't any air conditioning, and I don't mind eating different food. I love the experience.

It's rather disappointing that most tours from Hong Kong to any other place in the world try to organise Chinese food for the tour group. If you're travelling to another place, why aren't you trying the local food? In addition, the Chinese food that is arranged for the tour group is usually sub-standard to keep costs down. On the few tours that I've taken with my wife to various places in Asia, we've often chosen to leave the group during meals and find our own food. On at least one occasion, it saved us from indigestion. While we were eating authentic Indonesian Indian food, the tour group was eating bad seafood at a Chinese restaurant and they all came down with diarrhoea.

I leave for Indonesia in the middle of September. I'll be met at the Bali airport by Asih and her family and we'll then take a privately booked minibus for a seven-hour road trip to her home town. I'll be there for four days, just enough time to see the wedding and enjoy the scenery, after which I'll return to Bali to join my wife for another four days before coming back to Hong Kong. I'll be taking my camera so I'll have plenty of photos to show everyone when I get back.

We will miss her here though. Her energy and her happy personality lifted spirits in our home and that will be greatly missed. But I'm happy for her.

Take care Asih, and have a great life.

My father-in-law

Filed in Life

The other day, I drove my wife out to the New Territories to see our favourite 'super doctor' (神醫). My wife has a serious case of hives and since western medicine has failed to help her in any way, we're consulting our Chinese doctor instead. While there are many 不外如是 super doctors, this one's the real thing. He's quite amazing. He's also our friend, having visited him many times over the years; at first with my mother-in-law and now with my wife. We smile and joke every time we see each other. I never thought it would be fun to visit the doctor.

After seeing the doctor, we drove back to Tai Po to visit my father-in-law. Being an old person, he refuses to move house to be closer to any of his nine children. Change is always harder when you're older, and a change of environment is the hardest.

My father-in-law (張寶榮先生) is an amazing man in his own right. With his wife, they raised nine children, often with little to no money to do it with. It was during the poorest of times that he began learning and teaching English to students. This is many many years ago, possibly around the time of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. Because they were poverty stricken, he couldn't afford to buy his own dictionaries, but he had to answer his students' questions, so he would visit multiple book stores, looking up and memorising a few words in dictionaries in each book store until he had memorised all of them and was able to serve the needs of his students.

Cheung Po Wing 張寶榮, immersed in English grammar Over the years, he never gave up studying English. Without help of any kind, he studied English by observation, deduction and pure reasoning. Consequently, he developed his own theories, rules and guidelines regarding English grammar.

In many professions, people think that "re-inventing the wheel" is a waste of time. I don't think so. If you have to develop or invent something without prior knowledge of other methods, you might just come up with a better method. An English saying that comes to mind is "there is more than one way to bake a cake". This adage also applies to invention and development. So while my father-in-law's theories may differ slightly to the theories and so-called standard rules of grammar found in almost every English grammar book in the library, that doesn't make them wrong. On the contrary, because he's a Chinese person who has studied and scrutinised every aspect of English and English grammar from his own perspective, his theories and rules may in fact be better suited to many Asians than those found in most text books today.

One of the things that happens whenever someone works on a single project over an extended period of time is that they become immersed in that project and nothing else counts. For the weeks that I began customising and improving this blog site, I could only talk about two things; the Perfume play, and this blog. My wife was pretty much bored to tears because every time I opened my mouth, something about the blog came out, and usually something technical in nature which she had no chance of understanding. My father-in-law is the same. Apart from talking about horse racing occasionally, his only topic of conversation is English grammar. Having lunch or dinner with him can therefore be difficult at times. None of the family shares his love for English grammar but we have to listen to his lectures out of respect; and we do very much respect him. Of course, apart from needing someone to talk to, my father-in-law also has his family's best interests in mind, hoping that their English standards will improve and enable them to become more successful in the world.

My father-in-law's theories are pretty much spot on. His conversation is not fluid because he doesn't practise much; even when I'm around because I almost never speak English; but his examples and the sentences he does speak are very much correct, and his reasoning makes sense almost all of the time. If no one learns from him, it would be a waste. He has much to offer.

Part of his dream came true last year when we was able to publish his first book, "Reliable Grammar for Teachers and Senior Students". It's available in book stores now and I heartily recommend it to anyone who needs to improve their English grammar. You may have difficulty understanding parts of it in which case you'll need to find one of his students to talk to or attend one of his classes. Two or three times a year, he teaches English grammar to teachers at the Causeway Bay centre of the Hong Kong Professional Teacher's Union 香港教育專業人員協會.

Unfortunately, today's society is all too quick to ignore and give up on the elderly (these days, mid-50s is already considered old), even those with expertise in their fields such as my father-in-law. Much of today's society is based on technology and older people quickly lose track and end up living as strangers in a fast developing world. Just ten years ago, Apple Computer was proudly demonstrating small jerky QuickTime videos being played and edited on a personal computer. Now we can bittorrent full screen high definition dvd-quality videos and not even give a second thought to the technology involved. It's even possible to view these videos while working with other software and the videos hardly stutter. It's amazing. It's also scary. In twenty years time, I myself may have a hard time keeping up with technology. By then, I'll be the ignored technological caveman in a world that moves too fast for its own good.

In the meantime, don't ignore the older people so quickly. If you take the time to chat with them, you might surprise yourself and actually learn something of value.

Daddy Cheung, Happy father's day!

The big 40!

Filed in Life

My birthday is just one day away. On Saturday, I will hit the big 40.

I don't know if I should celebrate or not. 40 is a big number. Fortunately, many in the Chinese culture believe that 40 is just the beginning of a man's life. I tend to think that this will be true for me too, with far more opportunities and experiences to materialise in the coming years. Call me an optimist (and a cynic but that's another topic) but that's what I feel.

So, Happy birthday to me, and also to Esther, a good friend whose birthday is also on Saturday, just a couple of hours before or after me; not sure which.

A running update

Filed in LifeTags:

One of my friends asked me how I was getting on with my barefoot running. I had to tell him about the cramps on my last run and how it turned out that they weren't cramps at all. The pain was actually an injury which you could say was caused by not wearing shoes. Does that mean that I'll go back to wearing shoes? No and here's why.

The injury was in the calves of my feet. I say "injury" and "calves" because both calves were injured but the left calf is the one with the serious injury while the right calf has already recovered. The injury was in fact a type of tearing; tearing at the point where the tendons from the base of the ankle connect to the muscle. The calves will need four to six weeks for full recovery. In the meantime, I have to stretch them regularly every day.

What caused the injury? Without shoes, there are no heels to lift my ankles off the ground. Without the heels, the angle between my shins and my feet becomes smaller. On flat ground, this doesn't pose much of a problem but the territory around my home is hilly and that poses a very serious problem. When running up a slope, the angle between the shin and the foot becomes extremely small. This in turn stretches the calf muscle to a length it's not used to. With the repeated bouncing of running, the calf muscle's tendon will eventually begin to tear away from the muscle.

There is one section of my short run where the road begins to slope upward rather steeply. It's a very short stretch but seemingly enough to cause the damage that I've experienced. If I had stretched diligently before each run and nightly before sleeping, the injury would not have occurred because the muscle would have been long enough to accept the full stretch.

Ankle angle flat

The angle at the ankle without shoes on flat ground.

Ankle angle shoe

With shoes, the heel is raised and the angle at the ankle is larger. The calf muscle is slightly shorter.

Ankle angle uphill

When facing uphill, the angle at the ankle is much smaller. If actually running, the leg would be leaning forward at the end of the stride, further reducing the ankle angle and further stretching the calf muscle.

So what now? Well I'll rest for another three or four weeks, stretching every day and then begin the running again. If you never get back on the bicycle after falling off, you'll never learn to ride. My calf injuries are just a learning step in the process of becoming a barefoot runner. I'll be back on the road again soon, although I may have to face the prospect of blisters again.

I promised an article about coffee. I'll deliver it soon. I promise.