Random thoughts of an economist

Coming home for dinner, honey?

Posted in Life by kafuwong on January 9, 2017

The telephone rang.  I picked the phone.

“Are you coming home for dinner?” My wife asked.

“What time is it?”  I replied.

“It is already six thirty.”  She said.

“Gosh.  I should be leaving office soon.  Should be home for dinner by seven thirty.”  I said.

“Good.  Dinner will be ready by seven thirty.”  She said.

It was eight when I opened the door.  My wife said, “We just started fifteen minutes ago.  Almost done.  Your son and I decided not to wait any longer.  We did save some for you.  All in the rice cooker.”  I could tell she was annoyed that I was late — again.

That was a normal day.  My wife was home taking care of the household chore.  That included cooking a dinner for the family.  In a normal day, I would be late for dinner.  In fact, even if I got home early, I would continue to do my work in the study — until I was told dinner was ready.  Even with the dinner-ready announcement, I continued to work for some time (kind of to finish the things at hand) and would show up late at the dinner table.  My wife was not happy.

In recent months, our roles switched.  My wife is now working full-time.  I stay home to take care of the household chore.  That includes cooking a dinner for the family.  Now it is my turn to ask whether and when she will come home for dinner.  Just like me in the past, she is often late for dinner.  I feel annoyed.

Yes, I feel annoyed by my wife’s being late for dinner.  I am even more annoyed by my being late for dinner when my wife was the cook.  Today, I start to understand how much I was hurting my wife back then — but only when finally we have a role switch.

Because I have been through it, I am more sympathetic of the hectic schedule of my love ones, and thus try to be more tolerant and supportive.

不要關心贏輸

Posted in Life by kafuwong on August 26, 2016

一位朋友分享網上奧運的感言。

里約奧運會落幕了!

中國女排打了8場,贏了5場,輸了3場,冠軍!

塞爾維亞打了8場,贏了6場,輸了2場,亞軍!

美國女排打了8場,贏了7場,輸了1場,季軍!

總結:
人生呀,關鍵不在於你贏過多少次,而在於你在什麼時候,什麼場次贏了什麼對手!

這跟人生一樣,年輕時允許失敗,可以積累經驗教訓。越往後就越失敗不起了,因為後面都是淘汰賽,一旦失敗只有出局!

平時的小敗不要緊,祝各位都能在關鍵鍵时刻贏出!

閱後有點感概。看上去,文章的前設是人生的目的是要贏。如果人生是為了要贏,那就要懂得在關鍵時贏。平日的輸是培養日後贏的養分。那平日能從輸中學習就十分重要了。

哈哈哈。說到尾都是為了贏。能不能不談贏輸,只純粹為了享受打球的樂趣,把贏輸看成是副產品呢?我懂的。女排球員心底是想贏的。但人生的比賽是比甚麼?要贏甚麼?由女排的輸贏推到人生的輸贏,強調輸贏,我感到不安。

一樣米養百樣人。有人沒目標。有人的目標是見步步行步。有人有清晰目標。有人就是天天要贏。父母,老師都教下一代要訂好目標,要上進,要賺錢,要贏。追求贏的文化,在香港這類的大城市一點都不缺乏。走進縣城(如我近期探訪的福建永春縣),人是慢活的。你問縣城的人,“你追求什麼”,“你有想贏什麼”。大部份可能就是見步行步,沒有目標的一類。很希望賺錢,很要贏的朋友,都已經去了城市裡找機會。城市裡就是堆滿了為賺錢天天拼搏的人。對於香港人追求贏的文化,我當然是理解的。

然而,我真心的希望球員能為享受打球的樂趣而打球,學生能為享受學習得樂趣而學習。至於收入多少和贏輸勝負,就算是享受之外的副產品吧。

My dear books, good bye.

Posted in Economics, Life, Uncategorized by kafuwong on July 21, 2016

As I prepared my departure from HKU, I started to sort out things that I wanted to take home, and what to discard.

As I did not have to pay for the usage of my office space, I had kept a lot things that I had rarely touched.

Now, leaving HKU means that the usage of space at home to keep these stuff will become costly.  Like most people living in Hong Kong, I cannot afford to keep everything I have accumulated during my 14 years at HKU.  

I asked myself repeatedly, “Is there anything I cannot live without?”  “Is there anything I will likely use in the near future?”   Most of the stuff in my office do not pass these tests.

Mostly books, I decided to give away.  There are a lot of books that have sat on my shelf for a long long time and had rarely been referred to.  Time to say good bye to them.

Now, in retrospect, I should give them out long long time ago.

A long break, I need.

Posted in Life by kafuwong on July 13, 2016

No.  I have not reached the age when my employer would push me out of the door.

Yes.  I still have value to my employer.  He still wants to keep me.

It is my choice to take a break — a long break, possibly.  There does not seem to be a mechanism for me to take a long break  — say a year or two — from my job and return afterwards.  Allowing anyone in my institution to take such a long break might cause difficulty for my employer to hire a short-term replacement.  With such anticipation, my natural choice is to resign.

In my case, I would not call it a resignation.  The good old contract arrived my desk a while back and I simply had decided not to sign.

Be careful with your “title”!

Posted in China, Information, Life, Parenting, teaching by kafuwong on May 9, 2014

Saw a link in the Facebook about a page of supposedly prestigious “XYZ” university. But the title was shown as “XXX” university. If you had once been a student of the “XYZ” university, you should feel annoyed. One of my Facebook friends felt annoyed.

I joked: “Will they give a scholarship or Starbucks coupon to the first person who will write to point out the typo in “XXX University”? They should!”

After writing the joke, I couldn’t help visiting the link. I found no obvious errors on the page. In fact, I search for “XXX”, I could not find any trace of “XXX” in that page. Then, why would Facebook showed the page title as “XXX”? It turned out that the error was more fundamental than I thought. I found that Facebook used the “title” of the html page (hidden unless we pay special attention to it) as the title of the link. That is, when I viewed page source, I saw:

“XXX University” inside the html code of “title”.

If I were the administrator of the XYZ university, I would feel very embarrassed to see this error. So, I decided to send the administrator an email.

This is a laughable “hidden” error in your page of view-source: http://abcde.org/#news-students. The error shows on your facebook link. It should be “XYZ” instead of “XXX” in the “title”. Please check!

Several hours later, I got a reply from the administrator:

多谢之处。我们马上更正。

In English, “Thank you $#%. We will make correction immediately.

Although I am proficient in Chinese, that “$#% (之处)” is something I cannot make sense of. It is an obvious typo.

They made a mistake. I alerted them of the mistake. They returned with another mistake in their “thank you” email. So, it looks like “to them, making mistake is a rule rather than exception”.

Just for fun, I have just sent the administrator another email asking what he meant by “$#% (之处)”. What would you feel and say upon receiving my email — if you were the administrator?

I like photography

Posted in Economics, Leisure, Life, Photography, teaching by kafuwong on February 4, 2014

Who doesn’t like photography!

Photography was an expensive hobby. I could not imagine buying a camera, films, and printing the pictures out. I still remember that my family owned a camera, but the cost of buying a roll of film and printing the pictures (i.e., the marginal cost of shooting pictures) was prohibitively high — at least in my childhood.

Photography is no longer an expensive hobby. With a digital camera, we can shoot as many as we want to (constrained only by the size of the memory card). There is no need to print to see what we shoot. We can see the image with a computer or on the screen of the camera. A dramatic reduction in the marginal cost of shooting pictures has encouraged more shooting. Suddenly, everyone is shooting. As the cost of sharing pictures on the internet is low, everyone is sharing.

Just like many others, I has begun to shoot more pictures. At the beginning, they were just for records. Nothing exciting, frankly speaking.

What stimulated my interest in photography was really the acquaintance of an expert, who later become my close friend. He taught me what was good, what was not — with a lot of patience. As I started to shoot more pictures, I began to share my experience with other close friends whom I never knew their expertise in photography before. Now, I have not just one “laoshi” (the putonghua pronunciation of “teacher”), but many of them. Some of my photography “laoshi” are my friends in Facebook and Renren (a Chinese counterpart of Facebook). Yes, some of them happened to be my students of Microeconomics.

Aside from enjoyment, photography complements my teaching and research. They are similar in that they all require us to look at things from different angles and find new ways of seeing things. In photography, we need to find new ways of seeing the world. Different angles — left and right, high and low, above and below, etc. Good pictures always teach me the new ways of seeing things. It could be the case that I passed by the same building every day, but I never noticed that ways of looking at the building.

Photography slows me down. Even without a camera, a photographer pays attention to the environment and things happening around him. There is a lot of joy to seeing things from new angles.

Photography requires patience. Often, we need to wait for the right person to pass by before we take photo. May it be the trespassing lady in red, or the reflection off a building from a sunset.

I was told by a friend with much wisdom: Life is like a path full of many beautiful things; unfortunately most of us race through the path and never slow down to appreciate the beauty. Photography helps me slow down to appreciate these beautiful things in the world I am in.

No. I do not do selfies.

Who stole my Chinese New Year?

Posted in Economics, Hong Kong, Life, Parenting, teaching by kafuwong on January 29, 2014

I still remember the great time people had during Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. At the end of the year, we would be busy preparing for the New Year. We always had a big house cleaning several days before the New Year. We always bought some new clothes to be worn during the New Year. We stocked up food (vegetables, live chickens, etc.) for the New Year. We had feasts during the first couple of days of the New Year. We visited relatives whom we have not seen for the whole year during the New Year. Yes, lucky money in red envelopes was something kids (myself included, back then) looked forward to eagerly, too.

Time has changed. The New Year day is no longer that different from an ordinary day – if not for the additional streak of public holidays. I could not help pondering the reasons behind such change.

Why are the days before New Year no longer a special clothes-shopping season. When I was kids, most families in Hong Kong were poor. We could hardly afford to buy any new clothes. So, a family may be able to buy one or two sets of new clothes for each family member per year. Since we wanted to celebrate the New Year and were going to meet relatives during the New Year, we wanted to dress the best then. Thus, the best time to buy new clothes was before the New Year. Now, families are richer. Most family can afford to buy clothes year round. Therefore, the days around New Year are no longer special shopping days for a typical family in Hong Kong.

Why don’t we stock up vegetables and live chickens at home anymore? Refrigerators allow us to store food, not just at home, but also in supermarkets. The supermarkets can stock up food and keep them fresh using refrigerators even if supply is short during the New Year. And, improvement of transportation technology allows us to procure supply from other countries who do not celebrate Chinese New Year. The need of stocking up food at home has greatly diminished.

Visiting relatives? Yes, we still do, but not just during the Chinese New Year. Imagine in the old days when transportation was costly (in terms of both time and money), we could not afford to visit our relatives any time we wanted to. Transportation has become faster and cheaper. We do not need to wait until the New Year to see them. In addition, the improvement of telecommunication allows us to communicate with our relatives any time. New Year is no longer a special time for such communication.

Yes, when we meet relatives during the first couple of days of the New Year, we may have feast. In the old days, we would cook at home. But, now, a great percentage of us will do it in restaurants. The chores are now left to the restaurant workers.

Even lucky money in red envelopes may not mean much to kids today. In the old days, when kids were so poor, any lucky money was good money. Kids are rich these days (their parents give them large amount of pocket money weekly). A ten-dollar bill in a red envelope? Are you kidding me?

Yes. We still celebrate Chinese New Year. Yes. I can always use a few days off work and get to see some friends and relatives.

All Americans are nice people and most of them lives in either Wisconsin or Minnesota.

Posted in Information, Life, Parenting, Statistics/Econometrics, teaching by kafuwong on November 26, 2013

During my high school years. I thought all Americans were nice people and most of them lived in either Wisconsin or Minnesota. Because… all Americans I met during my high school years were from either Wisconsin or Minnesota and they were all very nice people.

Now I know this view is biased. My biased view is due to the small sample size I had (the sample of only nice Americans from Wisconsin and Minnesota). Now I understand that my view was wrong because I had looked at demographic data and found that there are a lot more Americans from the other States than from Wisconsin and Minnesota. And because I have met not-so-nice Americans since my high school years.

Now I understand that my view is necessarily biased because no matter how hard I try, I can only obtain an incomplete picture of the world (limited time, limited brain power). There are many people out there who know what I do not know and therefore can teach me good lessons.

I demand a stricter enforcement of traffic regulations in Hong Kong!

Posted in Economics, Hong Kong, Life, Regulation, teaching by kafuwong on October 6, 2013

This is one of my worst days. A former student of mine was hit by a truck on a pedestrian crossing in TaiKooShing yesterday and then flew 20 meters before she landed. She is now in critical conditions. I wish her the best.

Twenty meters! Near pedestrian crossing, the speed limit must be low. The truck must have been over the speed limit by a lot.

Shit happens! Such shit happens because the traffic regulations are not observed. The fundamental reason is that regulation is not properly enforced. Nowadays engines are more powerful. Control of the steering is much improved. Speeding is tempting and has happened much more often. And, drivers are also tempted to use their cell phones while driving. Using cell phones during driving distract our attention from the road. Personally I see an increase in speeding on the road and the use of cell phone while driving in recent years.

To avoid similar accidents in the future, we need to rethink a proper separation of human flow and vehicle flow, traffic regulations and their enforcement! Meanwhile, I will try to be very careful in crossing any road.

Everyone be safe.

Get educated!

Posted in China, Economics, Life, Parenting, teaching by kafuwong on August 16, 2013

Have you ever lied? Do you still lie? Most of us would say: “Yes and yes!”

There are good liars and bad liars. Good liars are able to lie without being caught.

What makes good liars? At the very least, liars have to make a judgment on whether a lie will be easily discovered. If you know your chance of being caught is high, will you lie? If you know the penalty of lying is high, will you lie? Most of us will say: “No and no!”

Good liars know when to lie and what to lie. This is non-trivial. The ability to do so is often positively related to knowledge/education. That is one of the reasons why liars caught are less educated. In fact our ability of catching liars increases with our education too.

An example is the attempt of faking a African lion by Tibetan mastiff (a large, hairy breed of dog) by a zoo in mainland China. An educated kid can easily distinguish a dog’s barking from a lion’s roaring. (http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/08/15/212327280/zoo-in-china-swaps-lion-for-dog-hopes-no-one-notices) Laughable, indeed. That is what we would expect when a low-educated liar meets a high-educated observer.

The upshot is that education is important for all of us — liars or not!