28 Mar 2013


One day, Angela looked at my tie and said, “It is stained. You should wear a napkin at meals.”

“Daddy is a baby! Daddy is a baby!” Angelina chanted.

I told them a story.

Once upon a time, a famous painter always wore a napkin when he was drawing pictures. With time, the napkin was stained with every color.

One day, he was summoned by the king. It was not until he had reached the court when he realized he was still wearing the napkin.

“What is that thing on your neck?” the king asked.

Without pausing a second, the painter answered, “This is a tie, your majesty. I wear it for decoration.”

The king was very pleased and asked the painter to paint a tie for him.

This marked the birth of ties.

21 Mar 2013


Lately, a childhood friend recognized me at the church and I became organist again. In fact, organist was Mozart’s last job under Prince-Archbishop Colloredo. Apart from composing music, Bach was also famous for making organs. He made it sound easy, “There is nothing to it. You only have to hit the right notes at the right time and the instrument plays itself.”

I was obviously content with the job and my wife asked, “Is it for the love of God or love of music?”

“Are they not the same?” I replied.

14 Mar 2013


As the 10th anniversary of SARS drew near, JW got loads of interviews. “One striking thing is that almost all reporters asked the same question in the end,” said JW. “Are we prepared for the next SARS outbreak?”

We were puzzled. In the past decade, we got a huge infectious disease center in the city center, and all big hospitals had built dozens of isolation rooms. We no longer need to worry about the supply of face masks and protective gowns. Of course we can never prepare for everything, but we are better prepared than ever.

“The point is,” JW explained, “we do have better hardwares. The reporters were asking about the preparedness of professionals. They saw that the best medical graduates all want the ROAD to success. Would they risk their lives for their patients when the need arises?”

We went silent. That said, aren’t the people working ten years ago still very much alive?

P.S. After the SARS outbreak, so many people said their lives were no longer the same and their values were changed. A few years later, the very same people hungered for fame and money more than ever. I am truly surprised how the experience could have so short an impact.

7 Mar 2013


At the Department Research Day last Saturday, KL mentioned Good to Great by Jim Collins. He described great leader as one who builds a team rather than oneself.

Coincidentally, I read Excellence Without a Soul: Does Liberal Education Have a Future? by Harry R Lewis not long ago. In one chapter, Lewis explained why professors do not like teaching. Universities select them that way. Nowadays, universities focus so much on research output that they hire their staff based almost solely on their research track record. Along the same line, research performance is the main determinant of contract renewal and promotion, whereas the assessment of teaching performance is often reduced to a single average student evaluation score and scarcely discussed. According to Lewis, we should not ask why professors do not like teaching. Rather, we should ask why there are still professors who care about teaching. Using the same argument, we would not be surprised if professors only want to build their own fame (or in the jargon of the university administration, international reputation) through research.

When we look around the department, however, we can only be amazed at the number of people who care to teach and care to build the next generation. Many are even young academics who are themselves struggling. This is almost suicidal, but it is lovely to be surrounded by good people.