A few friends have continued to send me their year enders, by emails now, normally with photos and sometimes with videos, which is a great change from the days when they were dispatched by post or at one time by fax. I enjoy reading them all and I hope they would read mine with similar enthusiasm, even though I have yet to include any photos or videos in mine. To be honest, I write my year enders primarily to remind myself the landmarks of the year, lest I forget.
I turned seventy years old officially in the year about to end. It means that I am eligible for the Old Age Allowance aka Fruit Money from April, my birthday month. However, to qualify for the allowance the first time, one must not leave Hong Kong for more than 56 days in total in the year before. I had no problem with that and I am happy that I have been receiving the allowance since April.
I have noticed that a number of my friends who had marked their turning to sixty with fanfare and parties had not seen it fit to do the same when they turned seventy; or maybe they didn’t bother to let me know; or maybe I have dropped off their radars. I found out later that Su had planned a birthday party for me in our favourite restaurant very early on. She had booked Amigo for an exclusive party for 80 to 100 participants; she had some other original plans too, but they are rather personal and I would spare you on that; but in the end we decided on a smaller scale lunch party for about 30 close friends and relatives. Obviously, some very close friends couldn’t make it because the day clashed with something else and so on. But then that was not the only birthday party. A young lady whom I have known since she was a teenager and who still Uncle John me took us out for a good dinner even before the Amigo lunch; and we had quite a few afterwards, some impromptu, others on regular luncheon slots, while still others organized by friends and well wishers. I would be unthankful not to mention a dinner organized by a Winnie in Central and attended by over 20 people including some younger friends. The party has led to another one being organized in 2019 to mark my tenth wedding anniversary with Su, but that is another story.
Still on birthday parties, a dear friend turned 60 in March and decided that his closest friends would mark the occasion in Pattaya in another friend’s holiday house there. Su and I went, but not many others did. Then two other friends also turned 60 in the year, and the three of them held a party to celebrate their 180 years. Parties are great thing.
Probably spirited by the Pattaya trip, Su booked a trip to Phuket to celebrate my birthday and our anniversary with her under the sun and on the beaches on the one hand and to refine my snorkeling skills on the other. We went to the beaches near Ao Sane and had a great time, so much so we went a second time shortly afterwards, staying in a cheaper hotel, but with better access to the beaches. This time, it was the beginning of their rainy season, but it was equally enjoyable.
Then, in July and August, we went to France and a bit of Germany for six weeks, avoiding the main cities and missing most of the Hong Kong summer. We began in Paris CDG Airport where we were picked up by a friend called Wayne and his family, wife and a daughter, in a Defender and began touring the major wine producing areas in France, staying in airbnb all the time, except for about two weeks where we stayed in Josephine’s Chateau de Fontenaille at Saint-Pierre-des-Landes, near Meyenne. Josephine is my longtime friend and Su and I had stayed in her chateau before. Indeed, five years ago, we used the place as base and toured Bretagne and Normandy with her and on our own. Visiting Josephine was indeed the main reason for us to be in Europe this time, particularly after learning she had two major surgeries in June; and the rest of the itineraries were put together between Su and Wayne. As it happened, Wayne had to leave his Defender in Germany, but by the time we parted, we had covered a lot of ground, stayed in a number of airbnb, drank a lot of wine and whiskies and had many meals cooked by him, he being a self-professed chef. In Germany, we covered the Black Forest by staying a few days in a good hotel supported by Michelin starred chefs. Once again, we were well fed in the evenings and I tried to lose some calories in the daytime in the gym and in the spa, while doing some walking on the forest trails. We also managed to get lost in the German rail systems, returning to the hotel by sheer faith and providence. Su had described parts of our journeys in her postings on Facebook, complete with photos.
Still on travels, we went to Chongqing in June for a few days to witness the inauguration of a new HKU alumni association there; and in November, another three days to Zhuhai, Zhongshan and Shunde as part of the 55th anniversary of our graduation from Wah Yan College. We also took the opportunity to try out the 55 km Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge and the Guangzhou-Hong Kong high speed train, both in the same trip. We were more than satisfied with both facilities, in terms of speed, convenience, efficiency and efficacy.
That brings me to the present day when we have just returned from Vancouver and Whistler where we stayed for three weeks trying out the fresh snow; snap shots and tidbits of which had been posted on Facebook by Su. Su first made me learn skiing in 2012 and we have continued the skiing in Whistler for five consecutive seasons until 2016. It was a break of nearly three years; and we are glad that the muscle memories are still there and that we can still manage the snow and slopes reasonably comfortably. Su’s object is that I should be able to ski as comfortably at 75 when I would qualify a ski pass at a much reduced price, about 20% of the regular price.
Lest I have given you the impression that our life has been centred mainly on travels, and so that this year ender won’t turn into a travelogue, let me quickly add that I would not go places simply because I want to go to those places or because the places are there. We have traveled together because it is an excellent way of living together outside Hong Kong and uninfluenced by the routines we have chosen individually while we are in Hong Kong. Thus, Su has continued to be interested in and enjoying her culinary skills as a pastime and in addition getting much focused with house work. She spent time cleaning every part including some unreachable niches in our Mei Foo flat, noting that we have lived in it for five full years. She has kept herself very fit and has neither gained nor lost weight for more than 3% throughout the year. I thank God for that.
On my part, I have continued my vigilance with my physical and spiritual fitness, attending daily Mass as often as I can manage and going to the gym at least five times a week. I am happy that I have kept myself reasonably fit throughout. The annual checkup at the Elderly Health Centre and the quarterly visits to the Hong Kong Families Clinic have been uneventful; and again thank God for that. I have also continued my voluntary work through the institutions with which I have been associated, including Rotary, Freemasonry, Society for the Relief of Disabled Children, various alumni, Tuen Mun Yuk Chi Centre and so on. Since my retirement 15 years ago, I have yet to take up any paid job or assignment from any organization, but I have been rather busy all the time, so much so that Su needs to take me out of Hong Kong forcibly on the trips I have outlined. Su and I have also continued somewhat religiously with our weekly classes of Latin Dance, and have tried to refine our rituals with another weekly private lesson as often as our instructor Sam could find time for us. We find these private sessions useful and good value. They have boosted our confidence, at least mine, and added more enjoyment in the exercise.
In the course of helping to organize the Wah Yan reunion, we learnt that some six classmates and a very dear past principal have left us. Indeed, it appears that we are going to a lot more funerals these days; and I have just returned from the funeral of my teacher, mentor and confessor Father Deignan whom I have known since the early sixties. I have uploaded a full piece on my website – Father Deignan and I –and in the hope that it would attract more readership, uploaded an old and fading photo on Facebook as a teaser. During the homily, Father Stephen Chow reminded us that we had seen three Jesuit priests left in 2018, namely Father Mallin, Father Naylor and Father Deignan all of whom had served Hong Kong long and well. He prayed that there won’t be more departures in the next few years.
Overall, it has been a good and eventful year for us. I would have liked to hear more from my two children in the United States or to spend some time with them. Somehow we have not worked out a plan; but I am working on that. It means that I do not have a lot of information to share with my friends about them. In the meantime, we have enjoyed the time and moments with friends’ children who could well be our children and grandchildren. Once again, I thank God for keeping both Su and I in good health. I wish all my friends good health and happiness and that the best has yet to come for them. The Year of the Pig is round the corner. Pigs are known to symbolize luck, wealth, good fortune and general prosperity. People born under the sign are generally regarded as honest, hardworking, peace-loving, truthful, generous, patient, reliable, trusting, sincere and sociable. I wish that the Year of the Pig would bring you all good fortune and prosperity and may all of you out there have a mindful and peaceful year ahead.