A short lesson in cold spells

Friday 30 November 2012, 5.09pm HKT

12.51am local time
18°C (64°F)

WE’VE SEEN a sudden drop in temperature these couple of days in Hong Kong (plus a sudden rise today). That got a friend and I ruminating about how people handle weather changes that in turn led to another thought about the old, the sick and the homeless.

Weather-wise, I’ve grown up or lived in some really interesting countries before, so I’m highly aware of how people react to weather changes.

Yeah, I wrote about the old, the ignored and the homeless suffering through cold spells several times before [such as this post]. The saddest part (and angriest for me) isn’t a lack of facilities from the government — that’s another story for another day.

What kicked off the other thought between my friend and I is that the UK and Hong Kong have nearly the same ‘direction’ of temperature change. Obviously the two places have different temperature ranges. Like Hong Kong, water surrounds the UK on all sides, so temperatures keep bobbing up and down all the time. The UK hardly stays cold longer than 14–21 days. Hong Kong usually doesn’t stay cold longer than seven days. People in both places fall ill all the time, which is one reason why the UK invented free universal healthcare (the National Health Service, or NHS). Hong Kong still hasn’t got that yet because the government is afraid to spend money. Yet the truth is, Hong Kong did have near-universal healthcare once.

That got my friend, Lily C., to say this:—


I THINK the healthcare system in Hong Kong is not bad overall. But the HKSAR government needs to ensure the quality of our nurses and doctors [can cut the ice]. For this, I have a story to share.

An old relative of mine has been in hospital four times these past few years. The first three times have been for heart problems. The most recent was for pneumonia.

Every time I visited her in hospital, I got to see a lot about our doctors and nurses. I got to see as well the suffering, sorrow and despair on the faces of patients, many whose bodies have various tubes sticking out of them — the very picture of helplessness of an individual hanging on to dear life.

Hospitals are sad places. From what I’ve seen, I’ve come to some conclusions.

Our doctors are missing the point of their calling

Because of the pressure and expectations put on our public hospitals, many of our more experienced doctors in their 40s and 50s have left to start their own clinics in the private sector. Those that remain in public hospitals are mostly fresh graduates with little or no working experience. Absent the role models of the more experienced doctors, many of the fresh doctors are mindful about earning money more than about the philosophy underpinning their vocation. That earnings-oriented attitude in turn tends to cause fresh doctors to suspend their awareness of the needs and wants of patients and their families.

In my relative’s case, one doctor was always pushing for heart surgery. My relative refused point blank out of natural fear, which is understandable. The rest of us also rejected the idea too, seeing that surgery on the balance of probability might possibly be quite dangerous for a 70-something person with a weak heart.

When we tried to ask about our relative’s general medical status, the doctor turned away and brushed us off. It’s hospital policy, the doctor told us in chilling terms, that he will disclose no medical details to any of us (regardless of our status as family members) now that our relative — his patient — wasn’t agreeing to surgery. If (and only if) our relative agreed to have surgery could he tell us more — excusing his response on some moral conscientiousness of being a doctor!

Nurses: patients’ predicaments left by the wayside

Then there’s the way our nurses apparently treat patients in general.

Nurses here come in two colours: those decked out in all-white uniforms, and those in dark-blue tops and white slacks. Also coming in two are their varieties and never the twain shall they meet: the friendly, amicable type vs. the apathetic, callous type with a noticeable propensity to ignore the predicaments and sensitivities of patients in their care.

http://article.wn.com/view/2012/04/16/Nursing_Homes_Disaster_Plans_Big_Gaps_Found_In_Emergency_Pre/In truth, some of the nurses I’ve seen are wholly lacking in adroitness even from a layperson’s standpoint.

In the case of my ageing relative the last time she was in hospital, she first contracted the flu, which then turned into pneumonia. Because of that, she needed daily flu shots to boost her immune system. In nearly every single instance, my relative came away with a red, swollen, bleeding wound because of how the shots were administered. For a 70-something year old, that’s quite an ordeal.

Clumsiness is curable through practice and experience; callousness is not.

Indeed, I was in near-fury at the sight of one nurse feeding an old woman in my relative’s ward. That old woman had trouble chewing food and feeding herself generally, so she got served congee [porridge] for breakfast but then just milk for lunch and supper. On the day I was there, a nurse had to feed the old lady by the spoonful.

http://www.smh.com.au/sport/horseracing/lightning-pace-sets-up-hometown-record-tilt-20120211-1sydo.htmlFeeding by the spoonful wasn’t the problem. It was the lightning pace of it all that infuriated me.

Scarcely had that old lady downed one spoonful then the next one was shoved in her face.

Predictably, the old lady coughed and choked, and nearly vomited over herself. It was a terrible sight to see anyone being treated like that.

Here’s what I had learnt from those and other sights and experiences of mine at hospitals.

Lesson One: We have to stay fit and healthy at all times. Be conscious about what makes our diet, such as reducing fat intake, cholesterol and stuff like that.

Lesson Two: Treasure your time in the here and now, and live every day as happily as you can humanly manage.

Lesson Three: The Hong Kong healthcare system needs serious improvement, not just in the quality and qualifications of the personnel, but improvement in the whole ambit of whys and wherefores of providing care for the sick and incapacitated. I think the road is longer than how our hospital authorities think they see it.


Lily C. is a university graduate in Hong Kong with a major in English.

* * *

Please leave a comment for my friend Lily to make her day.— Editor



© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012. (B12432)

Images: Hong Kong taxi via About.com | Doctor and money via c4c | Emergency vs. Disaster adapted via World News Inc. | Horseracing by Vince Caligiuri via the Sydney Morning Herald.

The future of ‘government’

Tuesday 30 October 2012, 12.30am HKT

GUUS GOORTS is an affable Dutchman who runs a language learning portal in Singapore called Yago. This is his first (and exclusive) article for The Naked Listener’s Weblog in which he ponders over the future of ‘government’ in face of our world of information overload.

The Naked Listener himself could have written something about this, but it’ll just be too longwinded and nowhere near as concise or good in quality. Gentle Reader, you ARE in luck for a change.

* * *

Why ‘government’ will become obsolete

Google’s Eric Schmidt said in 2010 that we now produce as much information in two days as that in all the years from the dawn of civilisation up to 2003 combined — a mind-boggling stat.

In other words, information is hardly a scarcity anymore. The issue now is how to find the most trustworthy information. Or whether it’s actually trustworthy to begin with.

While the rivers of information flow and grow daily, we’re just starting to adjust ourselves to the new reality of information overload.

Here are just three examples why ‘government’ is going to be largely obsolete in future:—

Government investment agencies exist to help businesses identify business partners locally and abroad. Yet a quick search through LinkedIn is already a quicker help for you to identify prospects — with that extra ‘edge’ of giving you a better idea of who you’re actually dealing with because you already know those people there who know other people who knows still others you can and could connect with.

Say you’re in school and take school maths. Your teacher is already assigned to you. You can’t request a different teacher, no matter how much you hate his style, or guts. Yet on YouTube, you could find a fearsome number of explanations for any possible mathematical concept you’re interested in, and choose the ones that gel for you.

Education authorities inspect and certify schools (particularly private schools) in our countries. Most of us still care whether that job is done properly and transparently. From what I know of this certification process here in Singapore, it’s a paper exercise in which the school in question just needs to submit ‘this’ permit or ‘that’ certificate. No one from the Ministry of Education comes to the school and talks to the students to see if teachers there are passionate, effective or just plain agreeable in what they do. Yet just by visiting a school review site, the average person can get a better idea of the school’s standing than romping through official government education reports.

Those and other responsibilities of our governments are replaceable by Internet sources, sometimes with qualitative improvements over the existing situation. The idea is that, if people come together and share, it gives us a much better knowledge base than any ‘analogue’ human organisation could do. In other words, government needs to employ more ‘spot checks.’ The Internet can be used to capture life itself.

‘Filter through the bullshit’

Sure enough, we know most of the information on the Internet is (shall we say) crap. We’re all still trying to figure out how to filter through the bullshit (never mind filter out) and bring the best information to the surface. I think we’re making progress nonetheless.

We’re not in the clear yet. We still stuck in many of our old-fashioned ways. At the moment, the new stuff coming from new technologies makes many things possible — but not probable yet.

A few days ago, someone on my train ride was using an iPad as a paper substitute to do long division. To me, that’s a bit like taking a brand-new car, lashing reins and harness to it, and getting horses to pull it. Are we going back to Square One again?!

Back to Square One by habit?

In the early days of the automobile, some places required that
motorcars be driven with horses to comply with road regulations.
One such place was Nantucket (an island in Cape Cod, Massachusetts),
which banned entry to motorcars for 18 years (1900–1918)
unless and until a driver fitted his motorcar with a horse.


Ultimately for the good

WE HAVE TO ADAPT to what’s possible in order to make it probable. Here are some changes (adaptations?) that I foresee taking place, certainly in my lifetime:—

Schooling no longer will be about acquiring knowledge. It’ll be more about skills building and learning by doing. One of the most important skills in future is how to find information; our information overload of today makes this a more-needed skill than it ever has been in the past. Another important skill is the capability (as opposed to just ‘ability’) to distinguish the good from the bad — to sort the wheat from the chaff, the bullshit from the gems. Today’s information-laden world is crap and full of crap. Then, after all that, we need the skill to put information to practical use.

Sources of information that were (and are) historically and conventionally trusted by all will become less and less relevant over time. Why ever should I subscribe to a newspaper unless it offers something I cannot find elsewhere?

Truth isn’t absolute anymore. We all know only too well that whatever viewpoint we hold or want to support, we can find plenty of likeminded opinions and facts to back it up. To stay sane (or some semblance of it), it becomes more and more important to be able to realise there are just no ‘neutral’ sources of information.

Just those three changes sound scary enough. I see the changes will ultimately be for the good of all. Information and opportunities are, and will continue to be, available to more and more people in more and different ways. Those and other realignments will allow people to go beyond relying on the élites of society to make bigger, useful and useable contributions to society.

Which scares us more, information scarcity or information abundance? Which is scarier, the change from scarcity to abundance of information or the opportunities that could come from the change?


Originally from the Netherlands, Guus Goorts is based in Singapore since 2006. After several years in the field of corporate training, he founded Yago Languages — a resource website for language learners — and runs a language learning blog of his own.

Text © Guus Goorts / Yago.sg, 2012. Image via Wikimedia Commons.



© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012. (B12381)

Peaches and mushrooms in blue and green

Sunday 28 October 2012, 4.47am HKT

AND NOW for something completely different (again).

We are once again graced with another exclusive feature by Ophelia Kwong, a British- and American-trained artist now based in Hong Kong. She has very kindly taken up some of the slack in writing for The Naked Listener while he wilfully neglects this duty and panders to the whims of his professional clients by attending wild wining and dining parties all night.

* * *

A personal thank-you to readers: After my first more intense and emotional guest entry, I should move on to something a little ‘lighter.’ What I realize about writing for this blog is that I’m not really that accustomed to writing in a way bloggers [usually] write, if that makes any sense. Mainly because I’m very much used to writing a blog/diary just for myself and not directed towards an ‘audience.’ So please forgive me for being a virgin write-for-an-audience blogger. Thank you all for reading this if you are reading it. I really appreciate it.

(Worth her weight in gold to dive into the deep end to write for us. — Editor)


ANYWAY, to get to the point, today I would like to introduce the different periods of my work thus far in my life as a professional artist.

Picasso had his ‘blue’ period — I have mine: ‘blue-green’ period, peach period and mushroom period

Actually I started talking about my work in different ‘periods’ because it was a bit of a joke between me and a friend. Might have gone through an ‘egg period’ as well — it didn’t last long — even though I think I created one of my most original work during that time.



Find a fruit. ‘Play’ with it, discover all its possibilities. Cut it up, take out the seeds, make it into an artwork.

The first thing that came to my mind was a peach. I’ve always been attracted to the peach, its smell, its form — and how in many ways I felt it resembled me: having grown up overseas, I didn’t have the skinny frame that most Hong Kong locals have. The peach, in its roundness, made me smile and appreciate my own ‘form’ more. Its delicate skin is something I relate to.

And so started my ‘peach’ period at the Hong Kong Arts School under the tutelage of my mentor, Gukzik Lau.

Taking influences from Georgia O’Keeffe‘s flowers, I painted a series of closeups of the softness and sensuousness of the peach. They were like intimate self-portraits. When the eye comes very close to something, I realize there is a simultaneous sense of suffocation and drama as the creation is being wrought. To me, the feeling is like finding the essence of humanity in and through nature.



This period came was the most depressed time in my life. I had just lost Dad and I felt the need to create work that uplifts the spirit — something that somehow could give myself some hope that my ‘peach’ period wasn’t able to fully give.

A variety of installations marked this ‘period’ of mine — lightboxes and sculptures, all themed around the mushroom.

One of those installations I created and co-exhibited with a friend had been a room filled with paper mushrooms hanging from ‘the sky,’ made in such a way as to give off a dreamy, mystical atmosphere. Took hours to make the 100 mushrooms and stick each of them onto the wall one by laborious one. Thinking back now, I’m not even sure what the concept was behind all those things I had created; they were just me experimenting with form and a minimalist colour palette.



So I went on holiday back to the UK, and spent a few days in Paris too. I went to a Lucian Freud exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London and got inspired.

And then my ‘blue-green’ period started.

Also getting inspired was having discovered Dad’s stash of old LPs at a friend’s house in the UK. That vast collection of musical afición of his, now left over to me, represents Dad’s love of art and culture that endures in me since I was very young.

Those LPs — with faces of singers from long, long ago from Hong Kong as well as from Europe and America — looked so oldishly nostalgic, made more so with that layer of dust on them.

I took some of the LPs with me and started to re-create the LP covers. Blue-green colours, warm colours, cold colours, green played off against the red — all to heighten the sense and sensation of nostalgia. It was the right feeling — no, the right way — to go at the time.

From those LPs I took home, I produced 10 works. Somehow, though, all of the faces came out as though something or someone was missing in them. But the LPs got me pondering over how the imagery they contained are a reflection of the desires, the desired and what was considered attractive in those bygone days.



I was shaken and stirred.

A deformed butterfly from Fukushima, with wings born shrunken, looked so sad and tormented in that photo of it that I saw.

And then came The Rabbit With No Ears.

They shook me because, that day, I was working on a commission that had to do with mutations in the butterflies of Fukushima caused by radiation fallout.

How sad. A butterfly with busted wings can’t live properly because there’s nothing for it to camouflage itself and to attract mates.

How sad. A rabbit losing its intensely iconic rabbit ears. Is it still a rabbit with no rabbit ears?

If you were to lose the most important, the most beautiful, part of you, what happens then? What would happen to you?



For every action, there is a reaction. I believe this, and in this.

The Naked Listener writes: Opinions, good or otherwise, are deeply welcomed by Ophelia. Go on, luv, make her day.


Ophelia Kwong is an artist and writer previously in the UK and USA, and now based in Hong Kong. Her works have appeared in many group exhibitions such as White Tube, JCCAC, Culture Club, Mischmasch Gallery, Cattle Depot Artist Village and other exhibitions. She had been a writer for the art magazine “a.m. Post” (Artmap) and a guest writer for “Roundtable.” Currently, she creates commissioned art pieces and works freelance worldwide. Visit her website at Mischmasch.



Text and images © Ophelia Kwong, 2012. All Rights reserved.

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012. (B12380)

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