2010年7月30日 星期五

The Water, the Wind and the Ice of South America , Jan2009

We, the 15 transit passengers hailing from places as diverse as Asia, Europe, and Maryland USA , were brought close together in spirit in Argentina by shared calamity, when the American Airline managed to lose all our luggage as we passed through Dallas .

" Does this happen very often ? " I asked the good looking Airport ground staff . " Yes, every day! " he said " We handle 800 pieces of luggage per day, there're bound to be mistakes !" I was flabbergasted . Over 110,000 pieces of luggage are checked in and out of the HK Airport every day, yet we seldom lose a bag !

Hence the first item in the itinerary upon arriving in Argentina was to buy a toothbrush . Many of the grocery stores in Buenos Aires were run by Chinese , and Mr Chan, who worked in one such shop close to our hotel , was deeply alarmed by our plight. Mr Chan moved to Argentina from Beijing 10 years ago and sadly experienced only the negatives of life in South America. He was convinced police corruption was behind the loss of our luggage, and showed his sympathy in the best traditional Chinese way he knew, by piling us with food . I explained to him we would be travelling to Iguazu the next day and have no need for food, but to no avail . On the morning of the flight to Brazil the hotel desk clerk handed me yet another plastic bag holding this time half a water melon, some oranges and bananas , courtesy of Mr Chan. The plastic bag was my only luggage so I dutifully put it through the X-Ray machine as directed by the Airport security guard , lamentably my only reward for being a good citizen was irradiated fruit .

The Iguazu Falls National Park resides at the junction of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, the main attraction being the Iguazu Falls . Taller than Niagara Falls and twice as wide, Iguazu Falls was short-listed as a candidate to be one of the new 7 wonders of Nature in 2009 . Indeed, the name Iguazu is derived from the indigenous Tupi-Guarani language meaning 'Great Waters'. The Park is home to a number of rare and endangered species of animals and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984 .

Saulo our Brazilian guide, told us the legend of Iguazu . The story goes that a Serpent God M'Boi fell in love with Naipi , a beautiful native girl, but she loathed him and tried to escape with her lover, Taroba, in a canoe. M'Boi was furious, he expanded his body to the size of the river , then slithered and squirmed to force the river to form new curves and the earth to split. The river spilled over the cracked earth, tossing Taruba out of the canoe onto the embankment. Naipi was about to smash into the ground below when M'Boi changed her into a large rock, so she couldn't run away. Taruba saw the transformation and was going to rush down to her when M'Boi turned him into a palm tree - forever rooted to the earth above the falls. This was M'Boi's way of revenge, separating the two lovers by an enormous waterfall, so they could see each other but never touch. To this day M'Boi is said to be still jealously watching the lovers from the deep waters of Devil's Throat, one of the most spectacular Falls in Iguazu. Although Naipi and Taruba can never be together, they manifest their love by forming a rainbow which starts from a palm tree on the Brazilian side of the falls and reaches over to the rock of Naipi in Argentina .

Looking at the awsome flow of waters , it is hard to believe there were at least 2 registered occasions ( 1934 and 1978) when the Iguazu Falls completely dried up . Saulo had pictures to prove it. Weather change and conservation was uppermost in Saulo's mind as his livelihood depended on the Falls. He was right to worry, for as recently as 2006 the Iguazu Falls dried up again for a short time when a severe drought hit South America .

The 2 days in Iguazu allowed time for the Airline to redeem itself, and after collecting our baggages we headed for El Calafate, a small town in Patagonia, to begin the hiking part of the trip.

The meeting with Claudio, a young college student who was to be our guide, started off badly.
Admittedly I'm one of the most pampered hikers in the world, having cut my teeth hiking in places like Nepal, Bolivia and Kenya, where I had porters carried not just my personal backpack, but my water and sometimes even my camera . I can carry no weight, because just hauling myself up the mountain is more than I can cope at times . Thus I was in hysterics when Claudio told us flat out there were no porters available . " But we booked specifically for porters beforehand from HK ! " I wailed. " There're no such porters in Patagonia, I've never heard of them. " I blew a fuse. " What do you mean there're no such porters ? " I shoved a receipt under his nose, "See, we already paid for them !" The Head Office confirmed the payment, and poor Claudio had to rush to procure the porters at the last minute .

After pulling a few strings, we got our porters . It was settled that a couple of sturdy fellows would carry the heavy loads and use short cuts to reach the camps ahead of us, while Jose, a city boy from Santiago who's barely out of high school, would carry my small backpack and walk close to me the whole way. Jose was on holiday visiting his brother in Calafate, and wanted to see Torres del Paine as he had never been.

My second sin was over-packing, and the bag I brought was too big for a man to carry. " Aren't we using llamas to transport the gears ?" " No, I'm the llama !" Claudio fished out a tattered smelly backpack of his. " This is for you to use .You can only take on the trek what can go into this bag , whatever else that can't be shoved in you'd have to leave behind ." Then he proceeded to throw out half of my clothing. " You don't need 10 pairs of socks !" He looked nonplussed. " But some of them are liners !" I protested ."You don't need all those earrings either ! " My guess was he's never met a Chinese woman before . My fellow country women had been known to scale a mountain in skirts and high heels .

The Torres del Paine National Park is in Chilean Patagonia, it was designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1978 , Covering an area of 2,400 km2 , the paths in the Park are clearly marked and well maintained, and there are many refugios which provide shelter and basic services . Unfortunately its reputation as a trekkers mecca has resulted in crowded trails and unreasonable high prices in recent years .

We took the "W" route which is by far the most popular . It is named for the shape of the route on the map, and goes through the heart of the Park to the three most famous vistas – Torres del Paine, Los Cuernos, and Glaciar Grey. Each of the three shoots are usually done as a day trip.

The centerpiece of the park is the Cordillera del Paine Massif, a group of 3 giant granite towers overlooking a small lake of emerald green, high in the mountains. Most hikers opt for a day trip to see the towers , which was what we did .

The itinerary I got was a fairytale : " .....A GENTLE downhill leads to....... then walk a GENTLE slope along a river side....... then a final climb leads us to the Towers viewpoint. Estimated walking time 5 -7 hours round trip." I did not find the slopes gentle and the final climb turned out to be over a cascade of rocks and boulders the whole way up to the top. I was all done in. " What's the longest time on record for you to finish the trail with a client ?" I asked Claudio between puffs ." 9 hours 45minutes, that was with an elderly American couple." " Well, Claudio you're in luck," I patted him on the back " I'll break the record for you today ! Just for you ! "

The rooms in the refugios we stayed in all had several bunk beds, and always full. I am a very light sleeper ( bequeathment of years of hospital on-calls ) and dread snorers in dormitory-style lodgings, so I was pleasantly surprised there was not one snorer among all the immates, not even the big hefty Italian biker ! It was pretty good going until 3 a.m. one night when I was woken up by the guy sleeping in the bunk above me, giggling and gibbering in Spanish . I sat bolt upright in a fright before I realised he was sleep-talking !

The food in the refugios was atrocious, and meagre in quantity . One morning Claudio caught me scrutinizing the content of my bowl at breakfast . " I think I've been given a drop of scrambled egg " I told him pitifully. The meat was tough as leather and the bread crumbly and dry; my only solace was the Cerveza Austral Lager ( Patagonia beer brewed in Punta Arenas ) which came to be the mainstay of my diet in the mountains .

As always, beer makes me wildly brilliant . " I've solved the porter problem !" I announced out of the blue to my startled companions ." We can put up these huge balloons, attach the bags to them , and pull the strings along as we walk on, just like flying a kite " My mind was racing " And we can attach little motors to the backs of hikers and they'd be at the mountain top in a jiffy......."I had had enough of walking by this stage. " This balloon thing, I really don't know........" Claudio was being polite . " I guess you're right , " I crashed back down to earth " The sky will be filled with balloons and the bags will collide and split open, scattering underwear everywhere "

We experienced the ferocity of Patagonia weather at Glacier Grey. The wind whipped at me like a manic living thing, I had to walk half crouched , struggling not to be knocked over ; many times I was forced to a complete halt . " How much longer is it to the glacier ?" I asked Claudio. " About 2 hours ." " Your hour or my hour ?" I was getting smart . Then the sky opened up releasing sleet and hailstones , at which point I decided to turn back, leaving my hardy fellow trekers to soldier on. Claudio came with me ." You know what people say : Patagonia wind is the Big Wind you can see " I turned around and saw birds flying backwards and trees growing horizontally . " Now I know what the "W" really stands for, " shivering in my boots I had another epithany, " it's Windy, Wet and Wretched !" " But it could also be Wild, Whimsical and Wonderful !" Claudio evidently had deep feelings for Patagonia !

" Aren't you cold ?" All that Claudio had on was a T-shirt, a pair of knee- length pants and a windshield ." No, I love the cold !" Claudio said. " I'm part Indian ." Claudio was not boasting. When the first Europeans encountered the indigenous Indians they were astonished by their complete indifference to the bitter cold weather . They went about completely naked in the frigid cold and biting wind, swam in 48 degree F water, and either slept in the open or in simple wigwams, unclothed . A Chilean researcher claimed their average body temperature was warmer than a European's by at least one degree.

However, what I later learnt about the fate of the indigenous Indians after visiting Estancia Harberton and Estancia Viamonte broke my heart. These people experienced virtually every catastrophe that has beset similar groups throughout the world : victums of successive waves of sailors, whalers, sealers, miners, missionaries, sheep herders, soldiers and lumbermen , they were systematically massacred, poisoned and expropriated from their native soil , and some tribes are now extinct .

This is the story of the Fuegian Indians, the Yahgans and the Selk'nams (Onas).

Estancia Harberton was established in 1886 by the missionary pioneer Thomas Bridges (1842-1898) from England and is the oldest estancia in Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. The missionaries including the South American Mission Society (SAMS, Church of England ), proposed to insure the well-being of the natives but instead exploited them as laborers. In 1886 Bridges was granted 24 miles of waterfront, all the land on the south coast of Tierra del Fuego worth farming and all the land traditionally occupied by the native Yahgans ( meaning " human beings " in their language ) by the Argentine government, on the assumption that he would use it to improve the condition of the Yahgans . Instead he set up his own ranch, enclosed his pastures with fences, and allowed no one to hunt or gather along the coastline without his permission, and made a huge fortune . He established his own colony of Yahgan workers, putting the once self-sufficient hunter-gatherers to toil on the land of their ancesters where they once roamed free .

In 1892 Bridges wrote : "Since 1886 I have been settled with my family in Tierra del Fuego as a colonist among the natives and dependent chiefly on their labour, and we have done very well.....We find the natives work well and happily when assured of adequate reward. They shear our sheep, make fences, saw out boards and planks of all kinds, work well with the pick and spade, are good boatmen and pleasant companions. We find their labour profitable, more so I think than we should find that of any imported labour. "

For all their hard work, the Yahgans were not paid wages as was the missionary custom , instead they were given food for themselves, but not always their families. Traditional way of life was denigrated at every turn. The Yahgan nakedness offended the sense of modesty of the Christians and they were put into clothes which promptly made them sick. The Yahgans traditionally lived by the sea, and the water and rain on the naked Yahgans kept them naturally hygiene, while the fire at their camp dry them out quickly and kept them warm; but the humidity of the clothes and the dirt which was difficult to clean led to flu and diseases ; futhermore they were forced to leave their shelter that nature cleaned, and made to live in houses where dirt constantly accumulated. The scarcity of their natural diet of seal and guanaco which were overhunted by the conquistadors also predisposed them to diseases . The Yahgans perished rapidly .

The Onas lived throughout the interior of Tierra del Fuego .The name Tierra del Fuego literally means " land of fire " , supposedly came about because the early European explorers saw the countless columns of smoke from the Ona bonfires . The Onas lived in nomadic tradition, the main source of food was guanaco, supplemented by other small rodents. After the Westerners came they penetrated Ona territory, killing local animals and took over land to build large estancias for sheep herding. Animal life on the island became scarce , and the Onas, who had no understanding of private property, hunted sheep for food. The ranchers retaliated by paying bounties for dead Onas . In 1878 General Roca, the minister of war in Argentina,waged an ethnic cleansing crusade to rid Patagonia of Indians . Soldiers were rewarded for each pair of testicles they brought back from the Indian hunts. This gave impetus to a British ship to set up a firing squad and gunned down an entire Ona community a few years later, to clear the way in their quest for gold . The number of the Ona population dropped like a stone.

Estancia Viamonte was founded in 1902 at the request of the Ona Indians, who came to Lucas Bridges , son of Thomas Bridges, for shelter from the advancing world.The family stroved to help , but it was a matter of "too little, too late" . In 1974, only 100 years after the first European settlement was established on Tierra del Fuego, Angela Loij, the last full blooded Ona died . The last Yahgan man ,Felipe, passed in 1976 . Both the Yahgan and Ona civilization have been erased from the face of the earth.

The European superiority and racism lied behind the rationale of genocide : in making the Indians sub-human it created a divide between " the civilized us " and " the savage them ", and was thought enough to justify the unjustifiable . Charles Darwin was adamant the Indians were the least civilized race on earth and were cannibals; Voltaire thought the Indians were lazy and stupid ; Bacon asserted Indians were degraded humans, while Hegel scorned their physical and spiritual incapacity . Indians were taken to Buenos Aires and to Europe where they were exhibited in cages, like animals. Sadly, such ideology and racism used to justify the exploitation of the natives during the times of the Spanish colonialism continues today , more refined and discreet, but just as effective and cruel. From the time of the conquest to the present day, the indigenous have been, and continue to be, marginalised and persecuted by the mainstream European monetary culture , and during times of economic hardship, they are always the exploited of the exploited.

Were the Yahgans and Onas savages as they were portraited ?

Thomas Bridges documented what he could of the Yahgan language and found it had a larger vocabulary than the English language . Both Yahgans and Onas had elaborate rituals that they live by, particularly concerning births and burials , and ceremonial initiation rites for both boys and girls ; while they did not believe in a Supreme Deity, they had their own story of creation and good and evil spirits that lived among the tribe. The Onas impersonated the spirits in their story- telling and were perhaps the only Amerindian nation to have a theater tradition . All Yahgans were named after the place they were born, the place that welcomed them to the world . The geographical name is perhaps the most indicative of their relationship with the land, no indigenous Indian has any concept of ownership but live in symbiosis with his environment . As one Mapuche Indian put it as he surveyed the land fenced off by a big foreign coporate landlord, the aftermath of a spate of landgrap in Patagonia : "Is the snow private ? Is the wind, the river private ? We don't want to own the land, we just want to live as a community in our territory. " In the clashes of cultures it is inevitable the more peremptory hegemonical culture would destroy that which is different .

Back on the trail, at just about the time I succeeded in training Claudio to respond with: " It is exactly all my fault ! " to my every complaint, which were many : the cold, the rain, the food, the hike, the loss of one of my earrings............. it was the end of the hiking trip and Claudio was poised for his revenge. He wanted back his backpack. " How am I going to carry all my stuff back to Argentina ?" Claudio was all grins. " I've for you a black garbage bag to hold your stuff in!" This was probably the happiest moment for him in the whole trip, and the reason why I re-emerged in Argentina a geniune bag-lady !

The Perito Moreno Glacier was the next stop. Located in the Los Glaciares National Park, it is less than two hours by bus from El Calafate and was named after the explorer Francisco Moreno . Due to its accessibility, it is one of the most important tourist attractions in the Argentine Patagonia. The terminus of the Perito Moreno Glacier is 5 kilometres wide, with an average height of 74 m above the surface of the water of Lake Argentino . It has a total ice depth of 170 metres . We walked the walking circuit which allows both faces, and the surface of the glacier to be seen, and witnessed the devastating effect of global warming as chunks of the glacier broke off to fall into the sea every 10-15 minutes for the whole 2 hours we were there .We finished the tour with a bottle of wine in the Visitor Centre , then got ready to fly to Ushuaia, and from there onto the Antartica .

I've always found travelling in South America interesting, and this trip did not disappoint. I've secured the receipe for Pisco Sour, tasted the Calafate berries in the wild, learnt to say "Shit " in classical Spanish, colloquial Chilean, and colloquial Chilean Claudio style . The only thing left to say has to be the very first line of Spanish I ever learnt : " Hasta la vista !" Movies can be very educational !

2010年7月29日 星期四

Sunrise , Sunset, Myanmar

Nov . 2004, I went with a group of Burmese-Chinese friends to Myanmar . Most of them now reside in the US , and this trip was arranged as they wanted to introduce their home country to their children, who were all born in the States.

Myanmar is one of the places I have always put off visiting as I was firmly under the notion that as a citizen of the world one should always join forces to impose sanction on autocratic regimes . But after some moral struggle I decided an opportunity to tour the country with native speakers was much too good to miss , and I'm happy to say it was a good decision.

There was a brief moment of anxiety as a couple of weeks prior to our departure there was a military coup in Myanmar which resulted in a change in Government . Fortunately the power struggle was internal between rival Generals and was swift and bloodless . Apart from being cautioned at the airport not to bring in " unfavourable reading materials " and not to shoot our mouth off in public places about politics, we were not unduely affected and things were outwardly calm.

Zaw-Lim , our Burmese tour guide , told me later in private that the ousted government was deemed to be too lenient towards the pro-democrates , and the moment the hard liners came into power soldiers started rounding up pro-democracy activists in the big cities, and many people were again thrown in jail .

We flew intoYangon and drove directly to Bago, arriving there at dusk so we didn't see much of the city.
Bago, 80km from Yangon, was an important seaport and ancient capital in bygone days . It was founded by 2 Mon princes from Thaton,who saw a female hamsa ( a mythological bird ) standing on the back of a male hamsa on an island in a huge lake, took it for an auspicious omen and made the spot a Royal capital.
The 2 birds became the symbol for Bago, to honor the compassion of the male hamsa in providing a place for the female to stand in the lake with only one island. Hence the men of Bago are said to be more chivalrous than men from other Burmese areas, but the local joke is Burmese men from other areas shy away from Bago women for fear of being henpecked !

I'm inclined to think the symbol is auspicious only because everything's always better with the woman on top !

Our next stop was Kyaing Tong in the Shan State, right next to the Thai and Chinese borders, where we treked up to the hill-tribe villages to distribute supplies ( food and soaps, etc ) we bought for them. Our Shan tour guide , a grey man in his 50's, was an anti-government guerrilla fighter in his youth and for 2 days I was treated to a stream of horrific tales of fighting and surviving in the wild . He later converted to Christainity and became a preacher, but the tour guide job fed his family .

We visited one of the oldest anti-leprosy service centers in Myanmar but for me the high light in the Shan State was still The Central Market !
The Market's about the size of Victoria Park, but was chockablocked with stalls selling food, clothing , fabris , as well as house-hold items - the whole of Shan State must all shop there ! I loved the fabric which mostly came from Thailand and Indonesia , and had a grand old time haggling prices with the stall owners , some of them turned out to be new immigrants from China and spoke Madarin !

We were intrigued by a white powder extracted from a special tree bark which the locals put all over their faces for beauty, but the item everybody bought was the battery operated mosquito swat, and for the rest of the journey the swats were waved about constantly like badminton rackets, for the mosquios were multitudious and viscious !

It's always joyous when a birthday falls in the middle of any trip and as it happened it was Jennifer's birthday so we scrounged a cake from the restaurant !

The Inle Lake, which we toured on flat bottomed boats, is famous for its man-made floating islands. These are fertile solid masses made from marsh, soil and water hyacinth, averaging a few yards across , on which incredibly are grown a wide variety of flowers, tomatoes, beans, cauliflowers, cabbages, eggplant, garlic, onions, betel vine, melons, papayas and bananas. The lake is shallow and muddy, colored like the yellow water I saw on sale in a temple alleged to be the bath water of Buddha.

Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country so monasteries and pagodas abound, but the one I particularly liked was the Phaungdaw Oo Pagoda with its oval windows and scores of young novice monks , who crowded around us , chuckling gleefully over their own images inside our digital cameras .

Customs dictate footwears must be taken off when entering the precincts of pagodas and monasteries, thus slippers are definitely more convenient . We were all amused when Katie kept losing her slippers and had to buy new pairs at every stop during the trip, it's as though her slippers had wings and were escaping hither and thither !

I, on the other hand , kept losing umbrellas and I was surprised in a country with so much sunshine how incredibly hard it was to find umbrellas ! In the end I had to buy a monk's umbrella which earned me strange looks from the locals.

The next stop, Bagan, is one city I'd like to visit again. It is easily the most wondrous sight in Myanmar : the 40sq km of country is dotted with thousands of stupas , monuments and patho ( temples ) , all of them magnificient architectural glories built between 1057-1287 and then suddenly abandoned, barely touched over the centuries .

Zaw-Lim, an earnest young man, somehow had a fixation that we were all ardent photographers with a special interest in sunrises and sunsets, and we had to endure many early rises and late suppers in the tour because of his delusion , but I must say sunset over the Bagan ruins is every bit as spectacular as proclaimed , and is the enduring image I'd always associate with Myanmar.

The Myanmar horoscope decinates different animals to each day of the week, unlike the Chinese horoscope which goes by the year, and as I was Monday born, I've to pay homage to the tiger as my protector, a proud beast once common throughout Southeast Asia but is now becoming extinct .

The whole day boat ride from Bagan to Mandalay afforded ample time for people to catch up on their readings or their journals , and we even had time for some party games after lunch . The evening was memorable unfortunately for the wrong reason : we were attacked by swarms of insects attracted by the light bulbs, even the mosquito swats were rendered powerless . A few with unusual foresight came prepared with masks and were protected , while the rest of us tried to hide in vain in the darker corners of the boat .

From Mandalay we flew back to Yangon and stayed in the Dusit Inya Lake Resort . We were told Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest in a house across the Lake from our hotel .

Amid our frantic sight-seeing and shopping in Yangon Karen was urgently called to go back to San Francisco because her mother was admitted into hospital with a heart condition ; this was the only fly in the jam of this trip .
( Corrections : this and the greater tragedy of Bush being re-elected into the White House during the same peroid .)

I found out Zaw-Lim was a follower of Aung San Suu Kyi , and wore proudly her colors ( peach-coloured jacket for men and dark green skirt for women ). He was still in University during the uprising in 1988, and saw first- hand his student friends being gunned down by the Government troupes . His contempt and hatred for the Military was palpable .

I was curious as to where he stood on the subject of sanctions and he was, as I suspected, ambiguous. We faced the same dilemma after the Tiananmen Crackdown in 1989, but I heed the words of Ma Thanegi , a pro-domocracy activist who once campaigned alongside Aung San Suu Kyi and was also a former political prisoner .

Aung San Suu Kyi caught the imagination of the world by her highly moral and uncompromising approach to Myanmar politics. However , Ma Thanegi wrote in the Far Eastern Economic Review that he was of the opinion she was mistaken in choosing sanctions to put pressure on the Government when she could have struck up a constructive dialogue with the Government, help build a stable economy and laid the ground work for a sustainable democracy . Human - rights groups poject that when sanctions undermind the economy and the people become desperate enough they'd start a revolution, but it'll be a revolution they would watch from the safety of their own country while the Burmese are the ones to have to pay for these empty heroics !

I've carpeted the Heavens above Myanmar with the Swastika , an ancient Buddhist symbol for good luck, and the chrysanthemum flower which signifies peace and tranquility - this is my prayer for Myanmar ; though at this moment Freedom and Democracy appear to be as elusive as the Burmese old lady's blouse that I liked and scoured all over the country for in vain !

Myanmar has been in isolation for 30 years and needs to be again a part of the world . Her people had suffered enough hardship .Comimg away from this trip I'm convinced contact and not sanction is the better solution, so three months later I went to Cuba .

But that's another story.

Talking to myself

This article was published in the Chinese University Staff Association Newsletter June edition 2010

In 20 years of association with CUSA, I've come across many cases of staff grievances that had approached us for help. The cases range from perceived unfair treatment, wrongful accusation of misdeeds, trumped-up charges for dismissal , unfair workload distribution, excessive overtime, unreasonable demands from Superior, biased performance review to blatant office bullying and verbal abuse.

I stop being amazed by how these things can still happen in a workplace of today's Hong Kong, when I realize more often than not the perpetrators actually can get away with impunity!

The impression that in any dispute between the management and staff the Administration and management would pull rank to protect its own is precisely what led to the deep distrust between the University Administration and the mere masses.

It is not inconceivable many more cases never came to light because of fear of reprisal which makes their life unbearable, or losing their job. Many attribute the seemingly black-box management style of CU to be responsible for this plethoric unhappiness, which I cannot argue, particularly as one peruses the eventual outcome of many of these cases.

The fact that not a single one of the masses , not even someone who has worked in CU for 20 years, has an inkling of what goes on behind the closed door of Administration is one reason why CUSA has fought relentlessly and tirelessly for a seat in the University Council all these years.

To pick a random case, a contract was not renewed because the staff, inspite of good performance reviews, was accused by the then director to have done " bad things " . His second crime which he was reprimanded for was coming to the union for advice, which incidentally is the basic right of every worker in HK under the HK Labour Law.

The fact that there was a mass exodus and rapid staff change-over in the department at the time, which would have alerted mere mortals like you and me that there might be something amiss in the management, was ignored by the University Administration and the staff was given the boot .

Wanting to clear his name the staff saw the new director who was effusive with sympathetic noises and promised him " compensation" for having been treated shabbily, but which of course came up empty .

Eleven months after the staff left he finally obtained a copy of his confidential personal file from the Personnel Office , but there was no entry pertaining to exactly what his misdeed was . A single word "Misbehaviour" was deemed enough to ruin a man's career .

This is not to say there're no loafers on the CU staff , but I would not have stayed in any association that champions slackness , so it's lucky for me that by and large staff who are lazy, sneaky and devious know well enough to seek help elsewhere.

COULD YOU BE MADE TO WASH THE TOILET ? This question is not as rhetorical as you might think : already in CUHK clerks are made to wash dirty glasses and technicians to take out the garbage.

The logistics put forth by the Administration to support such practices is that any request the director makes on the staff in the course of running a department must unquestionably be legitimate, any query from the staff would therefore automatically be viewed as insubordination , not to mention inevitably invite a very real threat of a bad PRDS.

This Administrative doctrine makes the qualification and training requirement of staff employed to do a specific job a joke, and it'd be interesting to find out what an Audit Department would say about the improper use of human resources .

As the budget cut in the coming few years and 334 coincide with the exorbitant extra- expenditure incurred by the addition of 5 new colleges by the soon to be ex-VC to our incumbent 4 , such wandon allocation of duties in order to cut cost is highly likely to escalate in many more departments .

The fact that the incoming VC , who has repeatedly enthused in all the meetings he held with the stake- holders in CU and all the press interviews, that his first priority consideration when he comes on board is with the students , followed by the teaching staff, has not exactly calmed the jitteries of the non-teaching staff .

While it is laudible that after years of negotiation with CUSA and CUTA in the JCC, CU has now set up a Grievance Procedures for University Employee , but it's early days yet and we're still waiting to see how things will pent out .

As representative of the non-teaching staff, CUSA is willing to give the new VC the benefit of the doubt, and with bated breath we look forward to a bright new era of communication and co-operation between the Adminstration and our staff .

Hopefully then it’d no longer feel like I'm just talking to myself.

Filling the mind with good things in the Antartica

The painting :
We were 46 people from 15 countries ( including the country of Antartica where the penguins come from), but got on amazingly well .
In the Antartica I saw the Southern Cross for the first time in my life .
My photo technique's so bad I have to resort to painting to record my trips, but at least in my painting, you can touch everything !

A few years ago while touring in the USA , I, together with my cousin and her family, visited a posh shop in Michigan specialising in crystalline artifacts with a strict " You break you buy " policy . After a few minutes in the shop my niece Carolyn , then aged 8, pulled a long face . " Can I please be excused to go outside ? " she wailed , " There's nothing in here that I can touch !"

In the Antartica trip I fully appreciated her frustration . The first warning we got after we set sail was No Touching and to keep a good 5 feets away from all wildlife. All backpacks and outdoor gear were vacumed by the expedition staff prior to the first landing in South Georgia to remove any plant matter . I was impressed . " My backpack was never this clean even when it was new !" I said to Jonathan as I watched him vigorously went through all the pockets and pryed open each seam for the chance presence of an elusive seed . We were instructed to wash and disinfect our boots thoroughly going to and from shore , and take care of all personal functional needs before all landings . All these rules are necessary to keep the Antartica pristine and away from contaminations , albeit instituted a hundred years too late .

While we were not allowed to go near the wildlife , there's nothing we could do to keep them from approaching us, as when a king penguin attempted to swallow my foot . Nevertheless just sitting quietly watching the penguins was more fun than I could ever imagine. Even at the risk of being accused of anthropomorphizing the penguins , I swear these birds have facial expressions and the most transparent body language of any animal I've seen !

From the first encounter it was Penguin Soap Opera grande tiempo : A scrawny little rock hopper in front of me was working hard constructing his nest when everyone else had already paired up and settled in theirs . I took a look at his nest and it was empty; he had nobody ! The poor penguin loser looked so desperate as he peered around frantically as though pleading " If I build a really really big house, would you come and live with me ?" The counselor in me wished I could tell him straight " It's not the house ! You're just too needy, that's what's scaring all the chicks away !" Right next door was a couple with a different problem. The wife was busy tidying the nest while the big fat husband loafed about flapping his wings. She gave him THE look which sent him scurrying off pretending to be busy with the gravel . A minute later he returned and nudged her with his empty beak" Honey, why did you send me out ? There's no work out there !" Apparently domestic life is the same whichever world one lives in !

The Antartic Quest expedition was 18 days going through the Falklands, South Georgia, South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula , making Zodiac landings whenever the weather permitted .
Sea sickness was foremost on everybody's mind but we were blessed with amazing good weather and reasonable calm seas, which made my problem even more absurd . Due to the faulty design and malalignment of my bed in the boat, I kept being thrown off the bed even in moderate waves. No solution was forthcoming from the boat crew so I installed my own innovation . I took the luggage strap from my suitcase , wrapped it round the mattress and strapped myself in everynight like a piece of luggage . The rolling was still bad but at least I didn't end up on the floor .
When asked by friends after I got home what Antartica's like , my first word is always a resounding "COLD !" It's my bad luck I generally don't do very well in Cold Climate. Cold wind makes my skin break down and I had the worst windburn on my face ever in my life while on this trip. I was so envious of the men their moustaches and beards, finally I know what they're good for : skincare ! After the agonising icy-windy episode at the Right Whale Bay I took to wearing 5 pairs of trousers ( including one pair of down which I had had specially made in Shenzhen) everytime we went onshore . But my fingers and toes were still cold even with double gloves and triple socks , painful when they freezed and when they thawed . We were advised always to carry extra clothes in our backpacks. The weather could change very quickly in the Antartica, and with little warning the waves could become too dangerous for the Zodiac- transfer back to the boat . " What's the longest time people had been stranded on the beach in your experience ? " We asked Dr John Davies , the ship's doctor . " 13 hours. " Came the chilling reply !

I've been asked many times why with my love of travels I didn't become a ship doc. Well, I don't know about other boats but I'd never cut it on the Akademik Shokalskiy . Here the doc's expected to multi-task like everybody else : besides the medical work, I'd have to be able to drive a Zodiac, and accompany strenuous hikes , neither feat falls remotely within the reign of my capability this lifetime .

Most of the landings involved some walking, occasionally against gusty winds and on icy grounds , which brought forth my other problems ; I couldn't keep up with the pace, and I kept slipping on the rocks . I was in worse physical shape in this trip than I'd been in any other trip to date, and the fact that I had no ankles didn't help. "The ligaments in my right ankle're completely torn, and the left ankle has second degree tear " I explained carefully to the expedition leaders lest they think I'm naturally clumsy. " Like the penguins I'm better in water than on land. " Three courses of Polotherapy and weeks of pain, bruising and swelling did nothing to amend the situation. The ankles were damaged from multiple sprains in basketball in my distant youth ( maybe I AM naturally clumsy afterall ! ) , when I was fed the misinformation that the sport would make me taller. The sad fact is I'm exactly the same height today as I was at 13, when my growth gene switched off . I was quite relieved then to find apparently the expedition staff kept mixing me up with Lay Chin, a Singaporean lady . This is one time I'm quite happy that all Chinese look alike !
In contrast to the cold outside, the boat was toastingly warm. When we reached Neko Harbor we were offered the option of camping out in the snow for one night . After a great deal of struggle I took the plunge ; at least I'd be on solid ground and there's no strapping in for the night .
" Don't think you're going to get any sleep " Jamie the camping expedition leader warned us " It'll be very cold and very noisy with the penguins aquabbling all night. " Ahhh..... I smiled inwardly. Obviously he had no inkling of my secret weapon : 2 rums and a whisky, single malt ! Not to mention TWO sleeping bags . Judging from the picture I took after the drinks, I might have been swaying a little more than I thought I was doing. I either slept or passed out , I couldn't be sure, because the next I knew Jamie was at the tent hurrying us to pack up. I would have recommended this secret weapon to all future campers except that I had a rather rotten day the next day .

Two weeks before we left for Argentina, Joyce, the principle organiser of this trip , decreed that we should kayak in the Antartica. " But I don't kayak !" I panicked . " You'd better get some class before we set off " So on X'mas Eve I dutifully attended the Basic Course in Kayaking , all of three hours , during which I managed to distinguish myself by being able to blithly go round in circles even when I didn't want to .
The day before we hit the water in the Antartica I discovered that Joyce and Fei Fei , both with vast kayaking experiences, had already teamed up. I was the little fat boy in the playground nobody wanted to team with ! In desperation I beseeched Dan, the Kayak Master," Can you put me with Ken, but make it like it's your idea ?" I wasn't taking anymore rejections . Poor Ken was picked because I was told he's triathlon, so I reckoned should the kayak capsize he'd be best able to fish me out. Turned out the kayak sessions were tamer than the one I had in Wong Shek Water Centre, and I was restless . Ken was an easy-going partner, what with my nervous energy and his good-natured compliance we ended up mostly at the front of the fleet ; and at every challenge big or small I would chant incessantly, " Yes we can ! Yes we can ! Let's do it ! let's do it !" Who'd have guessed though the little fat boy might be fumpy and dumpy, but would also be at the same time fearless, even borderline manic !

Shokalskiy was a Russian geographer and the boat was named Akademik Shokalskiy for a reason. It was originally designed and built for polar and oceanographic research , somehow over the years the teaching tradition has spilled over to include the paying passengers, and the hapless stuff was given the mammoth task of educating us in all things relevant to the Antartica, from the wildlife ( birds, seals, penguins, whales ...etc ) to glaciers; geology ;
ocean currents of the Antartic Convergence; marine ecosystem ; the warm house effect and the ozone layer , up to the current research taking place in various Antartica Stations ; and the history of the Antartica right from how and when it was formed millions of years ago down to the more recent history of its conquest by the early pioneers, as well as the whaling and sealing history.
The staff was knowledgeable and the lectures, slide shows and documentaries were all extremely interesting, and I walked into each session with the full intention of learning EVERYTHING, but invariably I'd fall asleep half way through. I tried different tactic to stay awake : sitting in the front row, taking notes , pinching myself .... but nothing worked . Fortunately the most vital information mangaged to penetrate the snoozes, and at least I got the message the Antartica's in trouble . While most people are aware of the rapid melting and the whaling problem, less known to the wider public is the number of introduced species both on land and in the sea over the past hundred years and their devastating effect on the Antartica , as well as the mystery of the disappearing krill . Though the factual knowledge passed me by, the love and passion of the expedition staff for this Icy Continent and its inhabitants seeped through and left longlasting reverberations .

Why go to the Antartica ? People have asked me and I never could give a good enough answer . Since my return I've also tried to recapitulate what I've gained from this trip.

I started reading "Through the Embers of chaos - Balkan Journey" by Dervla Murphy while on this trip , and was brought to tears by a passage in the book . Miss Murphy visited Beograd in 1999, after the dismemberment of Yugoslavia , and met Vojislava, a security guard . Vojislava was thin and pale , and had sores on his scalp - the sort associated with malnutrition . He was at the university studying Classics and English Literature when his grant was cut off after sanctions were imposed . Now he was doing three jobs a day, striving to save enough to continue his studies .
He explained to Murphy why he did this : " For the love of learning, not to earn a living. When my mind is full of good things I would be able to work at something dull without getting bored "
I gasped . This has to be the most beautiful description of Education at its best - " filling the mind with good things " ! And I was profoundly touched by this young man, who had no country, no money, little prospect or future, was hungry and tired , yet possessed such deep wisdom and rich spiritual life, far far beyond his years

It'd be easy to fill my mind with good things from the Antartica trip , and not just the splendor of Nature , but also the little acts of kindness from my fellow travellers : Roy slowing down to wait for me as I fell farther and farther behind in the hike ; Gordon helping with setting up camp in the snow, as did Wayne ; Ken taking on the little fat boy and Dan organising it ; Chuck acting as human wind shield; Hannah taking the trouble to inspect my bed ......... and the list goes on ; a nod, a smile, a caring word..... Per, the Oncologist from Sweden, was right when he said 95% of the people in the world are decent and good, we just have to watch out for the 5% .

If there is any regret it would be the lack of time to get to know everybody better, my being so tired all the time ( on account of less than 3 hours sleep each night) definitely made it more difficult ! Only on viewing the DVD of the photos on the last day that I realised there're so many talents amongst us ! The beautiful pictures were further enhanced by the expert arrangement by Jamine. So I was right to follow my instinct when giving out souveniors, in giving him the Theatre Mask, it was not for a pretty face , it was Art for the Artist !

2010年7月28日 星期三

Headscarf ; Islam ; Women

I was shouted at only once the whole time I was in Iran for impropriety of headscarf, which kept slipping off until Mmeisami, our beautiful tourguide
from Shiraz, a place famous for being both the birthplace of Shiraz wine and pretty girls , taught me how to secure it properly with an array of pins .
If this had happened during the Khomeini era, for failing the dress code ( the hejab ) in a public place , I would have been flogged for up to 76 lashes , and on top of a monetary fine, put in jail for one year. I was surprised how easily I adapted to the headscarf, which could be a saviour on a bad hair day ! The pervasive power of indoctrination worked fast, after a few days I even felt uneasy if seen with my head uncovered by a man , e.g. the bell boy in our hotel room , but it could equally well be out of consideration for his discomfiture .

Yet the headscarf or veil did not come from Islam . In ancient Rome and ancient Persia, women from noble families were secluded and had to be covered when they came into public places . The veil is also very much a Judaeo-Christian tradition . According to Rabbi Dr Menachem M. Brayer, it was the ancient custom of Jewish women to go out in public with head covered, sometimes even the whole face leaving one eye free . During the Tannaitic period the Jewish woman's failure to cover her head was considered an affront to her modesty. The veil symbolized a state of distinction and superiority of the noble women , it also represented a woman's inaccessibility as a sanctified possession of her husband . Interestingly prostitutes were not allowed to cover their hair in the old Jewish society. Today most pious Jewish women still cover their hair in the synagogue .
Catholic nuns have been covering their heads for centuries . St Paul in the New Testament stated :"...... Everyman who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head, and every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head ......." ( 1 Corinthians 11: 3 - 10 ) Among the Canon laws of the Catholic church, there's a law that requires women to cover their heads in church ; and some Christian denominations, such as the Amish and the Mennonites, keep their women veiled to this day .

Therefore Islam did not invent the head cover but endorsed it, although the headcover is extended in Islam to cover the women's neck and bosom , allegedly to protect them from molestation . The controversy with the veil today is that it has become part of an instrument of repression by States which also claim to be Islam . The veil is being used as an ideological ploy to gain control over a population, and absurd though it is, a woman's dress has become central to the image the Islamic Regime in Iran has created of itself , so much so if a woman walks down the streets of Tehran with the veil off, it means the Regime has changed . It is now the most public image of repression .

The shackle of the muslim women has long been a point of contention between the Human Rights groups and Islamic religion . But how had women fared in other religions through the ages in the West ?

Men's alleged superiority to women in the West actually originates in the Jewish and Christian religion , and is based on 3 theological assumptions :
1) God's primary creation is man, not woman
2) Woman's the primary agent of " man's fall " ( Genesis 3 )
3 ) Woman's created not only from man but also for man , which makes her existence merely instrumental and not fundamental (Genesis 2: 18-24 )

In the Judaeo-Christian religion , Eve's legacy bequeaths all women both her guilt and guile. The sin of the Biblical Eve has been pivotal to the whole Christian faith , the sole mission of Jesus Christ on earth is to purify human beings from their original sin which was of Eve's doing , therefore Eve's responsible for the death of the Son of God .The Bible states :" No wickedness comes anywhere near the wickedness of a woman ...... Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die " ( Ecclesiasticus25: 19, 24 ). Jewish Rabbis listed nine curses inflicted on women as a result of the Fall : "To the woman He gave the burden of the blood of menstruation and the blood of virginity; the burden of pregnancy; the burden of childbirth; the burden of bringing up the children; her head is covered as one in mourning; she pierces her ear like a permanent slave who serves her master; she is not to be believed as a witness; and after everything---death " . To this day the orthodox Jewish men in their daily morning prayer recite : " Blessed be the God King of the Universe that Thou has not made me a woman "

The denigration of "shameful daughters" starts as soon as a female is born . The Bible states explicitly : "The birth of a daughter is a loss" ( Ecclesiasticus 22:3 ). The Jewish Rabbis have similar sayings : " It is well for those whose children are male but ill for those whose are female " , " At the birth of a boy, all are joyful.... at the birth of a girl all are sorrowful ", and " When a boy comes into the world , peace comes into the world..... When a girl comes, nothing comes . " The Christian understanding of a woman's role on earth is appalling . St Augustine wrote : " .....I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children . " The reformer Martin Luther went even further :" If they become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth, that's why they are here . "

On female education, the Jewish Talmud states : " Women are exempt from the study of the Torah ( law of Judaism ) " and the Rabbis firmly declared
: "Let the words of Torah rather be destroyed by fire than imparted to women " St Paul in the New Testament wrote : " As in all the congregation of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church . " ( 1 Corinthians 14 : 34-35 )
How can a woman grow intellectually if she's not allowed to speak ? How can she broaden her horizons if her one and only source of information is her husband at home ?

The Old Testament considers any menstruating woman as unclean : " Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will
be unclean ...........Whether it is the bed or anything she was sitting on , when anyone touches it, he must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and
he will be unclean till evening. " ( Lev. 15 : 19-23 ) The Talmud considers a menstruating woman " fatal " even without physical contact : "........if a menstruant woman passes between two men, if it is at the beginning of her menses she will slay one of them, and if it is at the end of her menses she will cause strife between them " Furthermore, the husband of a menstruous woman was forbidden to enter the synagogue if he had been made unclean even by the dust under her feet . A priest whose wife, daughter or mother was menstruating could not recite priestly blessing in the synagogue .

Women were not allowed to testify in court in early Jewish society and even in today's Israel women are not allowed to give evidence in Rabbinical courts . In the Christian West, both ecclesiastical and civil law debarred women from giving testimony until the late 1800's . This is justified by citing Genesis 18 : 9-16 , where it is stated that Sara, Abraham's wife had lied, so all women are incapable of telling the truth .

Adultery is considered a sin in all religions . But there is a dual moral standard in how the Bible defines adultery : only the extramarital affair of a married woman is considered as adultery , so if a married man sleeps with an unmarried woman, this is not considered adultery , the man is an adulterer only if he sleeps with a married woman . ( Leviticus 20 : 10, Deuteronomy 22 : 22. Proverbs 6 : 20-7 : 27 ) The reason according to the Encyclopaedia Judaica is that the wife was the husband's possession and adultery constituted a violation of the husband's exclusive right to her ; the wife as the husband's possession had no such right to him . That is, if a man had sexual intercourse with a married woman , he should be punished only because he would be violating the property of another man . To the present day in Israel, the children of an adulterous affair of a married man and an unmarried woman are considered legitimate , but the children of a married woman with another man, whether married or not, are not only illegitimate, but are forbidden to marry any other Jews . This ban is handed down to the children's descendants for 10 generations until the taint of adultery is weakened .

This notion of ownership of the husband of his wife in the Jewish tradition empowers the husband to annul any contract, bargain or deals the wife had
made ( no act of hers was of legal value ) , and for denying her any control over her property or her earnings . Both religious and civil authorities in the Christian Roman Empire ( after Constantine ) followed the same tradition . Women's rights under English law compiled in 1632 stated : " That which
the husband hath is his own. That which the wife hath is the husband's " Therefore upon marriage a woman loses her property, her legal personality and her family name .

While the Christian Church abhors divorce, Judaism ( Hellenistic ) allows a husband to divorce his wife even if he just dislikes her , or if he simply finds another woman more beautiful . The wife , on the other hand cannot initiate divorce under Jewish law . She could claim the right to a divorce but only the husband can dissolve the marriage by giving his wife a bill of divorce . So a man can desert his wife without granting her a divorce , leaving her in limbo . While he can marry another woman and have children, she cannot do either as she is still legally married , and any liaison with another man would be adultery . A woman in such a position is called an agunah ( chained woman ) . Husbands could extort thousands of dollars from their trapped wives in exchange for a Jewish divorce .

The Biblical rules of inheritance are outlined in Numbers 27 : 1-11 : female members of the household had no right of succession to the family estate , except in the event of no male issue remained , but the wife was denied inheritance even in such conditions . Because of this rule, widows had to live on the mercy of others . Moreover a childless widow must marry her husband's brother ( Genesis 38 :8 ) regardless whether she was willing , because as part of her deceased husband's property her main function was to ensure her husband's posterity . Widowhood was considered a great degradation ( Isaiah 54:4 ) . In the Jewish legislation today , a woman who has been widowed 3 times with all husbands dying of natural causes is considered " fatal " and is forbidden to marry again .

In contrast to the Bible , Quran ( God's word transmitted through Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad ) considers the birth of a female a gift and a blessing from God , the same as the birth of a male . Quran describes creation of humanity from a single source and does not differentiate gender or order of emergence . The Quaran states : "For Muslim men and women are both God's creatures ...... Be you a male or female , you are members and protectors one of another .........For them all has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward " .

In the framework of the Quranic theology, the fall is no moral depravity, but man's transition from simple consciousness to self-consciousness, the realisation of a free self which is capable of making moral choices when confronted by the alternatives presented by God and Ash-Shaitan ( good and evil ). Man's first act of disobedience was thus also his first act of free will . Moreover the Quaran , contrary to the Bible, places equal blame on both Adam and Eve for their mistakes . God, according to the Quran, punishes no one for another's faults , relieving women from Eve's Legacy. The Quran never accuses woman as the devil's gateway or that she's a deceiver by nature .

A woman's role on earth is not limited only to childbirth; she is required to do as many good deeds and to actualize the human potential same as man .
A woman in the Islamic conception has the right to argue even with the Prophet of Islam himself . No one has the right to instruct her to be
silent. She is not confined to her husband as the one and only reference in matters of law and religion . Islam does not consider a menstruating woman " unclean ", "untouchable" or " cursed " . She practises a normal life with only one restriction : she's not allowed sexual intercourse during the period of menstruation , but she is exempted from some rituals such as daily prayers and fasting .

The Quaranic defination of adultery is the involvement of a married man or a married woman in an extramarital affair, and Islam punishes equally the
adulterer and adulteress . Islam agrees on the leadership of the husband in the family, but since the seventh century has granted married women independent means . Dowry is not mandatory, and if a dowry is given , it is considered the woman's property and she retains it even if she is later divorced . No matter how rich the wife might be, she is not obliged to be a co-provider for the family unless she voluntarily chooses to do so, as she and the children's maintenance is her husband's responsibility . Islam recognizes divorce but discourages it . If the husband divorces his wife ( Talaq ) he cannot take back his marital gifts no matter how valuable they might be ; in the case of the wife who chooses to dissolve the marriage ( Khula ) she must return the marriage gifts to her husband , which is a fair compensation for supporting her during the time of marriage .

In matters of bearing witness, generally the testimony of a woman is equal to that of a man except in financial transactions , whereby two women's witness equals one man's . The general rule for inheritance is that the female share is half the male's , as the financial obligations of men in Islam far exceed those of women .The wife has the same inheritance rights as the husband , so widows are provided for .

Why is it then with all the provisions in the Quaran to safeguard the rights of women and ensure equality between the sexes that the Islamic countries are among the most strongly patriarchal , and the Muslim women the most deprived and repressed in the world ?

The simplistic answer is the Quaran have been interpreted only by Muslim men who , confusing culture with religion , lay down laws according to the customs and traditions of their pagan Arab ancestors through the Hadith literature ( the oral traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad ) , and in the process deprived women of many rights granted to them by Islam . The inferior status of women in Islam began with the crooked rib story, which appeared in the Hadith during the early centuries of Islam . The "Ahadith" as cited in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim read : " Treat women nicely, for a woman is created from a rib, and the most curved portion of the rib is its upper portion, so if you would try to straighten it, it will break, but if you leave it as it is, it will remain crooked . So if you want to get benefit from her, do so while she still has some crookedness . " The story propagates the belief that not only women are derivative and secondary in the context of human creation , they are also fundamentally lacking in righteousness .

The myth of feminine evil in Muslim teaching took root when sex is regarded to be the weak spot Satan attacks the most . Popular Hadith states : "Whenever a man and a woman are alone Ash-Shaitan is bound to be there " and from the Prophet : " After me I have not left any affliction more harmful to men than women " This fear is conceivably the reason behind the gender apartheid and the imposition of modesty ; however, the Hadith interpretation of the Quran is probably the most misogynist in the context of marriage . One of the distinctive characteristic of Muslim sexuality is its territoriality, which sets ranks, tasks and authority patterns. Spacially confined, the woman is taken care of materially by the man, in return for her total obedience, her sexual and reproductive services . The whole system is organized to make up a society of male citizens who possess among other things the female half of the population , including the right to kill them .

Almost all Muslim societies have deviated from the Islamic precepts in practice . Over the centuries this ever widening gap has had disastrous
consequences on the Fundamentalist Muslim world in almost all aspects of life : political tyranny , economic backwardness, social injustice , scientific bankruptcy , intellectual stagnation ......... the sorry plight of the Muslim women is merely a symptom of a much deeper malady . The importance of reform is thus to liberate not only Muslim women , but also Muslim men from unjust social structures and systems of thought , so all might live fruitful productive lives according to the Islamic ideals of equality and righteousness .

The headscarf would then be just a fashion choice or traditional wear people choose to adopt - neither need implementation by guns.

The flying pigs of Portugal

My first fight in school was with a girl named Joana de Sousa , the dispute was over a basket-ball court.
Basket-ball was the rage that year and the 2 half-courts in the playground were woefully insufficient to meet the needs of the hordes of enthusiasts .
The unwritten rule of the land was first come first serve , but the finer point of the rule was that the ball had to be placed squarely on the midpoint of the freethrow line to be counted .
That particular lunch time we were trying a new tactics : first we coerced the girl sitting nearest the door to change places with Kitty, our fastest runner, then rolled the ball to her across the classroom from under our seats . The moment the bell rang Kitty was out of the door, with me closely behind her .
Kitty ran well and we reached the freethrow line primeiramente .
As we stood panting and waited for the other girls who were buying sandwiches and drinks , a voice bellowed behind us, " Get out, we're here first ! " and our ball was kicked off the court . We swung round and there was Joana, looming over us, arms across her chest .
Kitty paled and shrank back, but I was too furious to care : that one kick had skewed my sacred juvenile notion of Fairplay out of spin .
" No you're not ! We're here first ! " I shouted back . We started shoving each other, intermixed with clawing and pulling of hair and garments. By this time the playground was jammed with on-lookers , and the commotion brought forth the nun on duty . She tore us apart and ordered us to share the court .
Sister Agnes kept me behind after school .
" Joana is a Portuguese from Macau and may have difficulty fitting into our school, " she said "couldn't you find it in your heart to be nicer to her ? "
I stared at her in disbelief . Grown-ups were either blind or extremely extremely stupid !
Sine her arrival in school 6 months ago Joana had become the leader of a band of girls distinguished by being wealthy, fluent in English, and not only talked and laughed louder than any other group of girls , but also somehow managed to bend the "skirt rule" of our very strict Italian Convent School by having their hemline 3 inches above the knee , with no impunity !
Nevertheless the words " Portugal " and " Macau " stuck with me, words synonymous with Foreign Smartness and Priviledges, and I longed to see those places for myself. But I was 13 and poor as a church mouse, and those places might as well be on the moon.

Now I'm grown-up and to the best of my knowledge achieved neither blindness nor stupidity, but I've seen both Macau and Portugal.

Mr Wong Tin, a world renowned scholar on historical Japanese- Portugal relationships and a Macau resident , told me that the Protuguese left a meagre 106 million dollars to the new administration when Macau was reverted back to China, in stark contrast with the 4,460 million that HK was left with . The reason was even in the face of nagative growth in the 4 years prior to the handover , a lot of money was spent on the conservation of the historical buildings in Macau , because the Portuguese Government deemed it more important to leave behind cultural heritage than bank notes. That just blew my mind !

The Study Tour of Medieval Portugal took us to Proto , Coimbra, Fatima, Lisbon , Evora , Ponta de Sagres , Lagos Sines and Palmela , and we diligently plowed through a long list of fortresses and castles . Grandiose and magnificient though they are, they are but relics of the past , while I'm a student of the living present .
Now that I've the time to reflect I'd have to say what I love most about Portugal are the trees , the people, and the way of life . In that order .

I adore trees and Portugal has plenty of them. It was a particular joy to see orange trees dotted everywhere : in the middle of the commercial districts , in people's yards and on side walks , instead of just in orchards . Oranges have been cultivated in China for several thousand years , and the sweet orange was brought from China to Europe during the 15th century by the Portuguese , thus it is also known as the "Chinese apple" in many parts of Europe .
Orange is the favourite fruit of many HK people but relatively few has ever seen the real tree. It would be inconceivable for profit minded HK to have a cash crop so carelessly strewed all over town seemingly with no plan for harvesting , and the fact that this ancient fruit tree can be as common a part of modern metropolis as the lamp post makes my heart smile .

Contrary to the mournful nostralgic sentiment depicted by the melancholy traditional music, Fado , I find the Portuguese people generally to be pragmatic, hospitable, and possess a set of excellent life values .

The first day in Proto I sneaked off to go to the Modern Arts Museum , and got waylaid at the entrance by 3 young guys who insisted that I had a free beer with them.
" Why ?" I asked.
" Because you're the most beautiful Japanese lady we've ever met " they said , which caused a momentary confusion as I'm neither beautiful nor Japanese. Then it dawned on me : the guys were drunk !
Well, a free beer's a free beer and I wasn't going to blow it by quibbling over false representations !
"Arigatoc ! " I said . It's too exhausting pretending to be beautiful, so I pretended to be Japanese . One out of two's not bad .
" Is it OK to drink beer on a Sunday morning before lunch ? " I asked uncertainly.
" Oh, in Portugal it's OK to drink beer any hour of any day ! " they proclaimed gallantly.
Mmmm........... I'm going to love this country .

It was the month of the European Cup and Portugal had won 2 matches in a row, I guess that's reason enough for a beer , if ever a reason is needed !

Portugal, though ostensibly a Catholic country, only 10% of the population are regular church goers nowadays, and most of them elderly people.
Fatima , the town which lives off the religious fervour of pilgrims, had a relatively dry spell of business during our visit. Fatima's claim to fame is the shrine called the Basilica, built to commemorate the events of 1917 when three peasant children were supposed to have seen the apparition , "Virgin Mary of the Rosary" .
Pilgrimage sites drew a strange crowd , and I was busy people-watching when a woman collapsed not 10 feet away from me . Pat spotted me before I could skulk off . " Doctor Kwok, come help, a woman's fainted ! " There's nothing for it but to run through the ABC's of examining the semi- conscious . I was explaining to the priest who turned up to find out the worst that the breathing, pulse and colour of the woman was good, when her hand suddenly shot up and grabbed my sunglasses in a tight grip . The next tense minute was spent prying open her sweaty fingers to retrieve my rather expensive Gucci sunglasses, and at that she sat block upright . On questioning I found that she was from Spain and visited Fatima a few times a year, at each visit she'd swoon when the emotion hit her . As I said, pilgrimage sites drew a strange crowd !

Portugal is rated one of the poorer of the EU countries but you'd never know it, the cities are clean and well kept , the roads good , and all the basic essentials appear to be readily available . One of our members sprained her ankle badly and the ambulance was on the spot in a jiffy, the service was good and professional, and all free !
The reality is what makes life sweet does not always come out of the wallet . Take family for instance . Alvaro our driver had been on the road for over a week and missed his children badly, so the wife packed up their 2 small children and drove 1/3 the length of the country to catch up with us at Fatima, just so he could spent one night with the kids . The next morning she loaded up the kids and drove the same way back with not a murmur .
Children are apparently highly treasured in Portugal , I visited a local hospital and was astonished to find a section in the Emergency Department designated the " Paediatric AED ", the interior of which was brightly painted , and stuffed with toys .
If Alvaro is typical of the Portuguese working class , then we in HK still has a lot to learn. He had excellent work ethics, was courteous, hardworking, cheerful and considerate , but what impressed me most was his respect for the rules . Union rule dictates drivers cannot act as guides and he was extremely careful that we shouldn't ask him questions when we were outside the bus .

In contrast , some members of our group behaved badly . Take a random example :
The visit at the Ponte de Sagres took a mite longer than anticipated .
I was hurrying back to the bus when I ran into Janet, one of our students .
" Come on ! We're going to be late ! " I said to her as I broke into a trot .
" Are there still a lot of people behind us ? " she asked
" I guess ," I said, " but if I'm late it's on me, if the others are late it's on them . Just because others are late doesn't make my being late OK ."
It's a common mentality among Chinese that as longer as there're others worse than them then it's OK for them to be bad . Why won't they ever compare with people who're better than them is a mystery to me .
But being late is not just a puntuality issue, it's a matter of fundamental lack of respect and consideration for others , it is putting oneself first with total disregard of how others might be affected .
It's the same sorry state at dinner. If the dinner's called for 7 o'clock , you can be sure people ( not just students, but some old folks who should know better ) would still be straggling in an hour later, then expect the waitress to serve them individually from the first course on . I makes me so cross that these people spare not even one thought for the poor waitress whom they've made to run so many more times carrying the very heavy trays of food, all because it suits them to do so .
There were complains against one restaurant because of slow service , it later turned out the manager was actually waiting for all the group members to arrive before starting dinner, so the fault was with the group ! In another restaurant the manager was called rude , admittedly he could have expressed himself better, but my contention still is respect has to be earned, and there wasn't a lot from our group that'd inspire respect in others .

Evora was a beautiful Medieval city but my mind was set on shopping . As always the first stop was the earring store.
" Antique !" The shopkeeper drew me to a counter .
"Wow !" I was impressed . " What year're they ?"
" 1986 ! " the shopkeeper said
" 1986's not antique !" I almost wailed . If 1986's antique then I'm fossil !
" 1986, antique ! " he was adamant .
I dared to hope : maybe the word "antique" means something different in Portuguese , like " young and hip " ?
" No ! Antique ! Old ! "
Heck , sometimes I wonder why'd I even bother !

I have a penchant for legends , and the rooster of Barcelos is a nice tale . The story goes like this :A travelling minstrel was wrongly accused of stealing and was sentanced to death . He was brought before the judge who was having a roasted rooster for dinner . The minstrel made a supplication to Virgin Mary then said ," If I'm innocent , the rooster will rise up from the plate and crow ." Thereupon the rooster rose up from the plate and crowed , and the minstrel was released . The Rooster of Barcelos is now a symbol of Portugal , standing for justice .

Before I went to Portugal I was told by friends who'd been there that the food was atrocious, I'm happy to report the rumour's not true . Portugal's a seafaring nation and sea food's abundant, the most important being cod, e.g. bacalhau , but for myself I prefer fresh fish and meat , so the dishes I like best are sardines and pork . Both the Chinese and Portuguese are pork eating people , in Portugal pork is said to be a culinary obsession .

In China pigs are despised , but in Portugal stone statues of pigs already existed from Paleolithic times, and the pig or boar is a symbol of fertility and abundance . Unexpectedly the pig also came to be the enduring image I have of Portugal .
We were travelling through a small town when I chanced to have a flitting glimpse of a stone statue , a long pole with a small pig perched on top, mouth open in a broad grin and small arms and legs spread wide , gleefully ready to take off. We whizzed through so fast and the town was so small I didn't even have time to ask Alvaro the name of the town . But it was such a happy happy statue I couldn't put the image out of my mind !

An old nursery rhyme came to mind :
When pigs fly / and pigs might fly.
When hell freezes over.
On a cold day in hell
Not in a month of Sundays.

Whatever else life has taught me so far it is that the seemingly impossible can and does happen , and if we work hard enough we could even make it to the cities on the moon .

Swimming with the sea lions

Feb 2006 , 5 women flew half way across the world to the Galapagos Islands , Ecaudor, and swam with the sea lions . I was one of them .

" Why aren't there any sharks ?" I complained to George the boat crew , but I spoke too soon .
I was happily splashing about by myself in the water when I happened to look down and there he was , a big fellow 7 foot long , resting about 10 meters directly below me - a Galapagan shark with the typical round head ! With my heart in my throat I tiptoed away and bumped into 3 eagle rays circling round and round in the shallows . The dance was mesmerizing and I circled with them for ages . I just love the eagles !

Lonesome George is a tortoise from the Pinta Island in the Galapagos; he is over a hundred years old and is without doubt the biggest attraction of the Charles Darwin Research Station. George is special because he is the last of his species, he is in fact officially the rarest creature on Earth according to the Guiness Book Of Records . For a hundred year old tortoise George should be in his sexual prime, yet he has steadfastly refused to mate with any female from a different giant tortoise species , yearning for a mate of his own kind in vain . Poor George has to be the loneliest tortoise in the world !

The marine iguanas are the only sea-going lizards in the world and are certainly among the most unusual creatures in the Galapagos . The iguanas develop their colours as they get older- the young are black, while adults can be combinations of black, green, red or grey . The iguanas on the island of Espanola are the most colourful , with blotches of red and green. The iguanas are ectotherms so to regulate their body temperature they must bask in the sun for long periods of time ; the dark pigment in the skin helps shield the animals from the effects of UV rays .
The iguanas are adept at both swimming and diving . I was fortunate to have swam with an iguana too, and observed in close quarters how it swam by moving its body from side to side and legs held tightly behind, propeling with its tail .

Galapagos was declared a World Heritage Site in 1978 . Although land animals has long been studied intensely on the Galapagos , marine creatures have received attention only in the last 20-30 years, and the Marine Reserve was added as recently as 2001.

Unfortunately today Galapagos is in deep social and ecological crises .

In the early twentieth century, Ecuadorians began exploiting the abundant ocean around Galapagos, more than 300 species of fish including such prized angling species as marlin, swordfish, wahoo, snook, and red snapper used to thrive in the turbulent waters. The Galapagans first chased bacalao (groupers) and other rockfish, then lobsters, and finally sea cucumbers and sharks . The islands' fisheries cannot support the rapidly growing population , which has swelled to 30,000 , half of them illegal economic migrants . Each fishery in turn collapsed as the target species disappeared.
Although shark fishing is illegal in Galapagos , it does not deter local fishermen as finning sharks is immensely more profitable than labour-intensive tuna fishing- Galapagos National Park authorities have confiscated more than 5,000 fins in the year 2003 alone.
Fifteen years ago there were huge schools of hammerheads in the Galapagos waters, sighting of 200 or 300 is usual in any one dive; now one's lucky to see 20 or 30 .
Tourism numbers have trebled in the past 15 years, reaching 140,000 in 2006 , the number of cruise boats have mushroomed and a hotel was put up last year, further stretching the fragile ecosystem of the islands .

Ecuadorian government passed landmark conservation laws in 1998 to preserve the Galapagos Islands and the ocean around them,but under-enforcement means over-fishing continues unabated .With only one patrol boat operating, illegal fishing, which is commonly done by having a larger vessel stay outside the marine reserve and sending several smaller boats ( pangas) in on quick trips , is virtually impossible to stop.
Long lining fishery —up to miles long—with many baited hooks onto a raft to be picked up at a later date to retrieve everything that has been hooked , resulting in the death of sea birds, sharks, turtles, and other species as "by-catch," , is estimated to kill 300,000 albatross each year . To date 19 of the 21 world species of albatross are in danger of extinction.

Economic rankling came to a head in year 2000 when local fishermen launched a protest against fishing quotas . They took over facilities at the Darwin Research Station and the Galapagos National Park Service on the island of Santa Cruz, closed the main road and blocked the airport. They took park employees hostage, vandalized park property, and killed endangered Galapagos giant tortoises. No one could get into or out of the islands for a month.
Although now outwardly calm, the massacre of 53 sea lions found with their skulls crushed on the island of Pinta in Jan 2008 was seen as revenge attack by many.

The woes of Galapagos know no bound .

In 2001 the tanker Jessica, which carried oil to feed the huge number of cruise ships operating in the Galapagos, ran aground off San Cristobal Island and spilled over a million litres of oil into the sea. It is estimated 15,000 marine iguanas died during the 11 months following the spill , even a minute amounts of oil killed fermentation bacteria in the intestines of the iguanas, which normally enables them to digest algae.

In 2007 scientists warn that three species of corals unique to the Galapagos Islands could soon disappear forever .

What hope is there for the Galapagos Islands ?

Under intense pressure from the world scientists, the Ecuadorian government purposes that visitor permits and flights to the islands be restricted , and in 2009 to double the tourist entrance fee to $200 [£100] and increase the minimum stay on the islands to eight days so that there are fewer short tours which cause more pollution . They also plan a mandatory environmental course for all Galapagos tourism workers ( no guide training has been done for the past several years ) .
In the long run sport fishing ( catch-and-release fishing), a comparatively profitable and environmentally friendly enterprise to commercial fishing , could provide a means of livelihood for the fishermen.
All may appear well on paper and on promise, but in the corrupted and murky waters of Ecuadorian politics and associated profit- mongering conglomeries, the Galapagos may still lose it all.
Already in Isabela Island the fishermen were disillusioned after an illegal big-game sport fishing tournament organized in 2005 by the Mayor of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno . The International Game Fish Association (IGFA), a private international sport fishing organization and not an Ecuadorian stakeholder, has stepped in to develop rules for sport fishing in the Galapagos , which are so stringent that no poor fishermen can afford to compete with the big-game promoters.

The world can only watch further development with bated breath and a heavy heart . The days of swimming with the sea lions could well be numbered .

Just a little help from my friends - wreck diving in Chuuk

The truth be told, I dislike both deep dive and wreck dive, but in Chuuk all dives are deep wreck dives ! All I can say is I must had been in a coma when I signed up .

The reason for the profusion of wrecks in Chuuk is because during the Second World War, Chuuk Lagoon was Japan's main naval base in the South Pacific . It was dubbed " The Gibraltar of the Pacific" because of the heavy fortifications, both natural and man-made, until it was taken out by the "Operation Hailstone", a massive naval , air and surface attack by the United States in February 1944. Twelve Japanese warships, thirty-two merchant ships and over 250 aircraft were destroyed. The US lost 25 aircraft in all.

Even before hitting the water I was in trouble. " I forgot my socks !" I wailed in dismay at Brenda , my roommate on board the S.S. Thorfinn, an ex- whaler masquerading as a dive boat . Brenda was quick to the rescue with a new pair of socks, but my relief was brief . As a sports diver I almost never do decompression dive , maybe then it's logical my dive computer was set so by the shop when I took it in for servicing a week prior to the trip. This I found out at 55 M. I also found out too late my presbyopic eyes had problem deciphering the small characters on the computer in the dim light of the deep . Suspended in the perilous depths, I was desparately trying to work out the decompression time when Tina glided by and took me by the hand, reining in my terror as she assisted me in measured ascension. The days that followed Robert, Catherine and Fong all took turns battling with my computer, and each eventually gave up in disgust. It was fortunate Fong had a spare Aladdin, which he graciously allowed me to use. But worse was to come .

Ever since my near fatal incidence inside yet another Japanese war wreck in Palau , I've been nervous about wreck dives . I was thus all apprehension when we were invited to penetrate the Kansho Maru ." Is it a simple through and through? " I asked Hitachi , the Dive Master, " Something even a blind person can find the way out of ? " "Sure ," he said " Piece of cake. Just follow me and keep close and you'd be all right " Armed with a weak torch I nodded dubiously .

The moment we were inside the pitch black enclosed chamber my old fear slithered in and settled in my jaws, gaining strength as the space got progressively tighter while we twisted and turned in single file through a myriad of cabins and corridors, causing me to plunge plop into the silt at one point , unleashing a mud storm and blinding whoever was unlucky enough to be behind me. Filled with guilt, I looked back for one second and Hitachi was gone. I pressed recklessly on and suddenly found myself boxed in in a cage, made of metal walls and layers of metal bars . Whichever way I turned I couldn't get out. From the dome of my skull a chilly disbelief expanded to fill every molecule of my being , then froze still . My heart simply refused to accept I've entered myself into the same nightmare again ! Then between the metal bars I caught sight of Connie's yellow diving mask . At least this time I' m not alone, I thought, though everytime my torch left Connie I thought she'd be gone .After a thousand more futile attempts to escape, I shrugged my shoulders and spread my palms at Connie in dejected resignation, when suddenly I was plucked and thrown out of my impenetrable prison . Who knew I'd somehow got myself trapped within the inside corner of a spiral staircase and the " through and through" was in fact " through and up " ? I later learnt Fong and Hitachi were watching me from the top of the staircase all the time , and I was never in any real danger . But others had died in similar situation because their friends did not watch over them, and the only world they could see inside the narrow cone of torch light offered them no help .

I'm not a fan of night dives but Jeffrey was persuasive. " You've got to do this night dive," he said , and pointing to a passage in a book " look, it says here this is the best night dive in Chuuk ! You can skip all the other dives after this ." That's how I dived San Francisco Maru , one of the deepest wrecks in Chuuk, at night . Never been much good in spatial orientation at the best of times, I'm generally hopeless at the end of a tired day, so when the guys wanted to go into the holdings in the San Francisco for another look at the tanks and shells I shook my head vigorously like a tambourine . But my diving buddies were insistent and my fear of being left alone outside in the dark was acute . Running out of options, I took a deep breath and dipped a toe in, then with ultimate resolve submerged myself into the holding . In the bright spot light of someone's camera I saw Connie clapped her hands in encouragement .

There're many stories from divers of ghostly encounters in the Chuuk Lagoon. Divers report hearing whispers in the waves calling their name, which stop when they turn their head ; in their watery graves the disquiet souls of Japanese and American soldiers are said to be still holding court . My ghastly encounter came in the form of a small Buddha statue , which was placed on the deck of Akikou Maru on the 50th anniversary of the War by relatives of the dead Japanese soldiers, after an elaborate commemorative Buddhist ceremony. I dived Akikou Maru twice just to look at the Buddha statue , because I couldn't reconcile the peaceful compassionate Buddhist philosophy with the atrocities of Japanese Militarism. What I later found out put shame on all buddhists everywhere .

The more benevelent and genuine something is, the more destructive it is if put to maleficent use . From 1868 to 1945 Japanese Zen Buddhism perverted the Buddhist Dharma and incorporated itself into the structures of Japanese militarism, in exchange for patronage of the Meiji government . Almost the entire Japanese Buddhist establishment embarked on an intellectual campaign to propagate spiritual justification for killing and mass brutality. The traditional Zen inward search for mental discipline was tempered and perfected into forms of military training . As reality is ultimately shunya – void or empty, Zen therefore transcends words and concepts, and is beyond the distinction of good and evil - Zen has no moral or ethical position . The Buddhist metaphor of the sword that takes life and the sword that gives life became :" The uplifted sword has no will of its own, it is all of emptiness. The man who is about to be struck down is also of emptiness, and so is the one who wields the sword. As each of them is of emptiness and has no 'mind', the striking man is not a man, the sword in his hands is not a sword, and the 'I' who is about to be struck down is like the splitting of the spring breeze in a flash of lightning.' Soldiers were taught a bizarre equation : No thinking= No-mind=No-self=No Karma, thus if killing is done without thinking, in a state of no-mind or no-self, then the act has no consequence and is an expression of enlightenment ; beside as there was:" no bodhisattva practice superior to the compassionate taking of life ", it follows killing a person is actually doing him a favour. In Islam, as in the holy wars of Christianity, there is a promise of eternal life. In Zen, the promise is as there is no difference between life and death, you cannot lose anything . In the "High Art of Killing" soldiers were taught the perfect etiquette in beheading -- the exact way to cleanse the sword, the proper way to swing it, the strong virile shout . This grotesque "treat life and death indifferently " doctrine was put into practice in Nanking, where in 7 short weeks the Japanese soldiers engaged in an orgy of cruelty seldom if ever matched in world history, brutally murdered, raped and tortured 350,000 Chinese civilians .More died in this bloodbath than at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. From 1931 to 1945 , between 10 and 20 million men, women and children were killed by Japanese troops across Asia.

George Santayana's famous saying reverberates : "Those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat its mistakes." Japan has never admitted to its war crimes and only a few Japanese Buddihst sects had made any public apologies for their participations in the War .

The trip was coming to a close. I was covered in bruises and my ears were bleeding, perfect excuses to stay on the boat while my buddies went shark feeding . Alone at last I had time to reflect that the dives would have been disastrous for me if not for the help of the good people in this trip . All through our life we need help from so many people around us, friends as well as strangers, for so many things and on so many occasions - sometimes even after we passed on. Bill, a fellow diver, died of lung cancer after 40 years of cigarette smoking, and in his Will he beseeched Robert and Rita to place his ashes where he had been most happy . Rita buried a bottle of his ashes in San Francisco Maru at 60M, the deepest dive she undertook this trip . Robert left a little part of him in Rio De Janeiro Maru, befitting perhaps because of the boxes of sake bottles on board.

In this sorrowful man-made graveyard of mangled great ships I so badly needed reminding that humans are capable of kindness and care too .