A New Chapter

It was an eventful week for me, to put it mildly. I began my pre-retirement leave on Monday, the day I reached the official retirement age as defined in the terms of appointment at the time I joined the Hong Kong Government, nearly 33 years ago. The week before, I was in between lunches, dinners and parties, mostly organized some weeks before, but some made possible because of cancellation of meetings and trips. The result was that the body, in particular the digestive and cardio-vascular systems, had been working overtime, not to mention the central nervous system or the respiratory system.

I enjoyed all these parties I went to. Invariably, I was asked to say a few words. Where there was a congregation of Rotarians, I was always reminded, without exception, that I was only required to say a few words. As usual, I threatened that I would speak for 45 minutes. Of course, I never did that, for I did not want the parties to end early.

At the risk of being invidious, I would make special mention of the drinks party at Madison’s on 3 April to which all of you had been invited. I mention it not only because I had a hand in organizing it or because many of you were there, but because it was a good cross section of the people and friends with whom I had been working and meeting, particularly of late. Here, let me share with you briefly how I did it. First, I fixed the date and asked Larry Parmanand to have the venue for cheap. Then I sent out some invites by email. I probably may not have sent all of you an invite, but I had meant to. Indeed, a lot of invites were sent through friends and friends of friends, and I did not have the guest list until very late. Understandably, many could not be there, while others who had intended to come could not make it for one reason or the other. It is the thought that counts, and I thank all of you no less.

I think we have fully achieved the objective I set for the evening, which is to make it an affair to remember. And very importantly, we have achieved it with your assistance. Rosita was there, against the advice of some well-wishers mindful of the risks of viral infection in crowded places. “This is the largest crowd in such close proximity that I have been to these days, and most without masks too,” said a friend. “I have risked my life to come to your party,” said another jokingly, but with calculated seriousness. Meggy Tseung made an entrance that many would remember. In addition to wearing a mask, she had gloves, and most impressively, her own crystal wine glass. A few colleagues in Invest Hong Kong had observed that there were not too many civil servants in the crowd and that those at the party were predominantly in the “Business and Professional Service” Sector. I was impressed that my colleagues were working even at my farewell drinks party.

I would like to thank the people who came bearing gifts. I had not expected them, for one thing, I had not organized my own retirement party before. The gifts are all rather thoughtful and well chosen, as were the words on the cards which accompanied them. Now that I have more time on my hands, I can think about organizing more parties in bigger or smaller groups. I may even become a professional party-organizer, and if I become good at that, I may even be invited to organize the wedding parties for my children or their friends, that is if they are sufficiently brave or adventurous.

Back to the beginning of this week, the first thing I did was going back to the Office. The thoughts of retirement had yet to set in. I was still calling my friends through my secretary and I was somewhat amused but not surprised when she answered my first call to her Monday morning with “Mr Wan’s Office”. I had spent most of the weekend before that packing up the office. I had packed all my personal effects into boxes. It was hard work. Those of you who had done something similar before would know what I am talking about. It was also an emotional experience and somewhat therapeutic, but I won’t recommend anyone to do it too often. Now, I had arranged for a friend to come in with his van at 10 a.m. in the morning, but first, I needed to shift all the boxes and paintings down to the loading bay of this Grade A office building. Well, it has not been graded Grade A for nothing. They have rules for everything. Even though they are a piece of cake for a retiring bureaucrat, it took some last minute administrative manoeuvering. It was raining as the van left the building, thereby creating the appropriate somberness for departure, but it was nothing like the downpour we had in 1997 when Chris Patten left his office for the last time.

Rosita and I had decided to celebrate my birthday in a local hotel and to invite a group of close friends to dinner. We checked in to a five-star hotel in Causeway Bay and found that the occupancy rate was below 30%, due mainly to the massive cancellation of reservations worldwide to Hong Kong following the outbreak of atypical pneumonia, particularly in this region. I have written on the issue in the latest issue of Kingspark News. Suffice it to say that I believe Hong Kong would emerge from this a cleaner and more health conscious city and would be even stronger and better able to handle disasters in the future. To friends abroad, I invite you to look at our past records and capacities for bouncing back, and urge you not to give up hope on Hong Kong. We have been written off many times before, and we have time and again proved our critics wrong. So far, it does seem that giving up on Hong Kong would be like giving up on the world and humanity. To those in countries thinking of imposing travel restrictions for visitors from Hong Kong, if you are in a position to influence opinion formers and decision makers in your country, invite them to apply the 4-Way Test and to think long term.

That was largely how I spent my last birthday and first day in retirement, with friends and Rosita, with the children calling from abroad and generally rather pleased with doing nothing. Before I went to bed, Rosita said she had something to tell me the next day. I pleaded with her to tell me there and then. She said she might as she went for the bathroom. I thought I could stay awake long enough for her return. Alas, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. The wine at dinner did not help. The next thing I knew was 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Presently, I asked what she had to tell me, and this was what she said, calmly and with her usual grace and composed self. Her doctor had called the day before – my birthday – when I was out having lunch. The scan she took the week before showed that the cancerous cells had resumed activity in the liver. Two lumps were of particular concern. The doctor asked her to come the following day with her husband to discuss treatment. Suddenly, it became clear. She had kept the news herself for a day so as not to upset me on my birthday, which could have ruined the party. I think this is what love means – self-sacrifice. I wonder what I have done to deserve that.

At the hospital, the doctor showed us the evidence from the scan and recommended early treatment. He outlined four options, but even as he was setting them out, he ruled out two of them. As before, he advised us to seek other expert opinion, which we did later, as he made the necessary preparations for the treatment to be decided. To cut the long story short, we have decided to take yet another course of chemotherapy, using another drug which promises lots of adverse side effects on the renal and other systems. We have also arranged for her brain to be scanned tomorrow to confirm whether there is growth there. Treatment would then follow shortly. The good news is that treatment can be done at the day clinic, with greater frequencies, thus obviating hospitalization and the trauma of complete confinement and isolation that would now be routine under the threat of SARS. That was Day Two.

We spent Day Three plying between home and hospital as Rosita underwent tests in preparation for next week’s treatment. We began to discuss other consequential changes and possibilities. It now seems inevitable that longer travel plans would need to be postponed and that we would need to sacrifice some privacy for a live-in maid, which in turn means that we may need to consider moving to a bigger flat.

Day Four began with golf. Some six to eight weeks ago, Ted Ho – a past president of my Rotary club – and I had arranged to kick off my golf regime this day. Rosita and I drove some 30 km to Ted’s place for breakfast at 8 a.m. It was the first time we saw their fourth daughter, now in her fifth month. The baby girl is adorable and her arrival has inspired me to ask Ted for the copyright for Hong Kong’s version of Little Women. So far, Ted has not said no, and I take it that silence means consent.

Ted introduced us to the golf pro, and I had my first serious lesson, which ended with a sore spine, general muscle pain and a skinned right thumb. It was all normal, said a very supportive Ted. All along, Rosita sat on the side reading and watching with amusement how I made a fool of myself. I suspect she would be a better player. From Fanling, we went straight to town. Ted went to the Kingspark meeting, while Rosita and I went for our separate lunch appointments. We met up after lunch and decided to go shopping for flats. We went to Baguio Villa, because we had lived there for a long while some years back. We walked into the office of the nearest real estate agent, who took us to see a few flats before taking us to another development. Before the afternoon was out, we were minded to take up a recently renovated and yet to be occupied flat. To cut the long story short, we signed a provisional agreement to lease the flat the following day. The lease would begin later in the month. We spent the rest of the week looking for a domestic helper and some furniture.

In the meantime, the Americans gave Iraq war, assisted by the British. I have strong views on wars in general. In short, I don’t believe in wars. They never solve any problems. Wars beget problems and human sufferings. Wars never bring people and nations together. Rosita and I went to see The Pianist when Tam Dun failed to show up for his concerts. We are amazed that people and nations would still do wars after World War Two, billed by humanity since as the war to end all wars. Retirement certainly would give me more time to read up history and books I have been keeping over the past 30 years. For now, the priority is to stay healthy, both mind and body and for both of us.

This was how I began this new chapter in my life; and I wish that all of you had a Happy Palm Sunday. I hope to talk to you soon.

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