29 Jul 2010


Last week, Angelina had a performance at the Hong Kong Book Fair. After she had told a story, a group of six-year-olds performed a play - Jack and the Beanstalk. The children were cute and spoke excellent English. Unfortunately, one of them forgot a line and the performance became chaotic. Some classmates tried to be helpful and reminded each other what they should say. After a while, they realized none of them really knew where they were and could not go on. They made a bold decision, said ‘thank you very much’ together suddenly, and ended the show.

Once, I was a member of the hand bell team of my primary school. Hand bells sound nice, but each person is only responsible for two bells. Excellent players may be able to control four to five bells if they can change quickly. Thus, each member is like a single finger of a pianist. No matter how musical you are, you have little control over the whole song and rely heavily on your teammates. This is good training of team work.

I remember little about what we really did and the songs we practiced. Nevertheless, we once performed the bridal march at the wedding ceremony of our teacher. A wrong note appeared in the fifth bar. A couple of bars later, everyone played on their own and lost the melody. To her credit, the conductor tried her best to stop the disaster. Instead of keeping the beat with her baton, she repeatedly pointed at each of us like crazy, as if we were giant keys on the piano. We tried to cooperate, but we were so small! How could we know whether we were supposed to strike the bell in our right or left hand? In the end, she closed her fists tightly to end the song. All of us struck both bells together. The ultimate crash chord.

Our conductor was very angry and did not speak to us. On the other hand, the bride was kind enough to offer us cake. We were ashamed and sorry. Now that I have become an adult, I believe the audience really did not mind. At least we were funny.

22 Jul 2010

I listened to a radio interview of a famous investigator in Hong Kong recently. It was enlightening.

The details of the project have been described by my friend earlier. [see http://ccszeto.blogspot.com/2010/03/study.html] In brief, the investigator obtained one of the biggest research grants from our Government to study the prevalence of a disease among youngsters that was believed to be both common and important. After screening hundreds of subjects, the investigator failed to find any positive case.

Like many epidemiological studies, this study claimed to select potential subjects randomly. However, the selected subjects had the right to choose whether to proceed to the test. In such a situation, it is of vital importance to compare subjects who agreed to be tested and those who refused. If the two groups had major differences, the data obtained would be inaccurate or even misleading.

If I received a big grant from the Government and got such results, I probably would not be able to sleep. However, that investigator was obviously better than me. “The project is a huge success,” he explained to the host. “If the collaborating parties agree, we would definitely extend the project for another year.”

Somehow my mind drifted to a short story.

One day, Emperor Kangxi (康熙) disguised himself as a commoner and walked around Beijing. He met a crowd and found that a murderer was about to be executed. To his surprise, the poor prisoner looked very young and certainly did not match the description of the middle-age murderer. He put the execution to a halt and confirmed that the rich murderer paid a government official to exchange a young boy for him. Furious, he ordered a thorough investigation of the event and other death sentences in the past.

The Prince who took charge of the investigation was the most likely successor of the Emperor. After discussing with his advisors, he concluded that the investigation would reveal uncountable cases of corruption and mishaps. This would create much trouble among senior officials and he might lose their support. Therefore, he just pretended to do something and held a series of investigations and interrogations.

A few months later, the Prince submitted the final report to the Emperor. “In conclusion,” he described, “no other cases of inappropriate judgments or executions were identified. The judges and officials have done an excellent job and should be commended.”

At this, Emperor Kangxi hit the table and scolded, “What a coincidence! There was just one case of corruption in the whole of China and it happened to be seen by the Emperor!”

Well, our Government is not Kangxi after all. Perhaps the disease really does not exist in Hong Kong.

15 Jul 2010

World Cup

Another year of exciting World Cup games.

To be honest, I am interested in the games but seldom enthusiastic enough to stay up to watch in the middle of the night. The only exception is four years ago, when I worked in a lab in Beijing. When you stay with a group of postgraduate students most of the time, you have to pretend to be a youngster. Nevertheless, that was an interesting experience. I just cannot figure out how the Chinese football team can be so lousy when the whole nation is crazy about the game.

Since the time of Jürgen Klinsmann, I have been a supporter of the German team. Although the team does not have real stars and fails to obtain the trophy again after 1990, their performance and results are always respectable. It certainly reminds me of the importance of team work.

8 Jul 2010


In the end, we attended three farewell parties for our Boss. Two parties were for the whole department and our team, and the speeches were very formal. The last one, however, was for his own trainees. Each attendee was asked to say something.

Most of us simply recalled funny occasions in the past. Many talked about how they shared a room with the Boss during overseas conferences and why they could not sleep. Discussing research in a swimming pool was also a collective memory. On the other hand, hardly anyone mentioned anything about success and achievements.

When it was JW’s turn, he boldly discussed built to last. He said few people could remember or cite our finest research papers in 1990s. Although those were great achievements, their importance faded with time. JW concluded that the achievement with really lasting effect was the establishment of a team of people who could continue to serve in different areas.

I cannot totally agree. Each generation has its own problems to solve. A low citation rate of papers on smallpox does not mean the original works were unimportant. Nevertheless, I suppose the point is nothing can substitute for the time you spend with your trainees and children.

P.S. The book we gave Boss contained a poem by Su Shi (蘇軾), <和子由澠池懷舊>. "人生到處知何似?應似飛鴻踏雪泥。泥上偶然留指爪,鴻飛那復計東西。" I am not interested in leaving a name in history. However, leaving a small footprint that may benefit others in the future is always a beautiful thing.

1 Jul 2010


The other day, my mentor and I discussed about the speeches made by eminent guests at our Boss’ farewell party. He mentioned some people made good use of quotes, and Szeto probably knew best. (see http://ccszeto.blogspot.com/2010/06/blog-post.html)

Well, I am ashamed to report “The mystery is history” that appeared in my blog last week was from Winnie the Pooh.

You may find this popular quote better: “The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.” – Alice Morse Earle.

Along the same line, I like the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr.

“God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.”