Blind Baggage

My Dear Rotarians and Friends, in particular my Action Presidents,

Mitford Mathew’s Dictionary of Americanisms explains that this was a short form for a blind baggage car which was a railroad car with no door at the end placed toward the front of the train or next to the locomotive. Thus, in hobo language, beating the blinds means to steal a ride on the main car next to the engine.

One can imagine the excitement and the satisfaction of the hobo who succeeded in beating the blinds. On the one hand, it was important to get into a car close to the engine for the warmth, but on the other, the risks of being caught were high. Such is the paradox and nature of many things in life, as it was in the beginning, is now, and probably would ever be. It is interesting that in Britt, Iowa, they observe a Hobo Day on the second weekend in August (which is the week that has just past) with festivities and celebrations for these once castigated American vagabonds who regularly rode the rails. There is actually an institution called the Hobo Association which would elect a king and queen during the festival, as aging former participants sing nostalgic folk ballads about their exploits, and reminisce about their heyday during the Great Depression. They would also distribute hobo stew and open to the public a museum devoted to boxcar transportation.

In the Sixties and early Seventies, students of Morrison Hall of University of Hong Kong organized a Hobo Nite every year to enable hostel members to invite other students and members of the fairer sex to the Hall for an evening of song and dances. It became an institution of some sort and was only discontinued when the hostel buildings became unsafe after an infamous rainstorm. There should be very little correlation between hoboes and university students at the time, but the fact that students had chosen to identify and distinguish themselves as such actually spoke volumes. I recall that the tickets to the party were much sought after, as were the titles of hobo king and queen conferred on the most appropriately attired couple for the occasion.

I had a good friend who lived in Sheung Shui those days. He told me how he rode the trains free all those years when he was studying in King’s College. My friend was clearly clever and had a meticulous mind. He played very good bridge and he graduated with First Class Honours in Mathematics. He told me how he played hide and seek with the ticket inspectors and how he would roam the cars when he spotted them. On the rare occasions he was caught out, he would fake that he had forgotten to carry his seasonal student tickets. I remember asking him why he did that.

I suspect the motivation between the Great Depression hoboes and my mathematician friend for riding trains free would be different, and I have no intention to start a moral debate on either of them, but the interesting thing is that both the hoboes and my friend had chosen to share their exploits with others after the events, particularly when they were on safe grounds.

Maybe that is how sharing begins.

Now, Rotary to me embodies many positive values of human nature. And if one borrows the wisdom of past presidents of RI, Rotary is everything. Rotary is love, leadership, perseverance, dedication, action, friendship, fellowship, loyalty, service, hope, dignity, etc., etc., etc. Pick any RI theme and one can write books on it, but to me, Rotary is all about sharing.

Yes, Rotary is all about sharing. Each of the Four Avenues of Service is about sharing something with others. Take Club Service, a Rotarian having experienced the joy and happiness of Rotary fellowship shares his experience with another friend by inviting him to be a member and to share Rotary with him. In Vocational Service, Rotarians share their professional and vocational experiences with fellow members and others, and in the process learn to respect and honour all occupations that are useful to mankind. In carrying out Community Service projects, Rotarians not only share what they have with those less fortunate than they do, but also learn lessons in humility and humanities through sharing the experience of those whom they serve. Through International Service, Rotarians become more world-minded and global conscious, and would strive to uphold the principles of justice for mankind and to promote peace between nations, which is the ultimate of sharing.

I believe sharing enriches life and the person who shares as well as the ones with whom one shares. One doesn’t lose anything by sharing. All too often, one gains.

There would have been no Rotary if Paul Harris had not chosen to share his hopes, fears and expectations with three other men, and if he did not share his loneliness with friends. Rotary in Hong Kong would have been one club, for example, if Rotary Club of Hong Kong did not share its club territory with other clubs.

Sharing indeed is a funny thing. If one shares one’s joys with a friend, both become equally happy, but if one shares one’s sorrow with a friend, the sorrow goes away twice as fast; and if everyone shares hope with a friend, the world will be darn side more hopeful than ever.

On this hopeful note, I urge you to share Rotary with a friend, beginning with this month of August, Rotary’s Membership and Extension Month. Bring friends to your club meetings as a start. Follow President Frank Devlyn’s advice to carry the “What’s Rotary?” cards. Don’t leave home without it. And remember not to carry just one, but carry them in abundance. This evening, I gave a pack of 50 to each of the eight club presidents I met at the official visit. I am sure they would make good use of them. Come to me for the cards if you are desperate and run out, but you can get them for US$1.30 for a pack of 50 from our most helpful service centre in the Philippines.

For the Chinese-speaking clubs, there are Chinese text cards. Get them from Deputy District Information Co-ordinator Herbert Lau (RC of Tolo Harbour).

Talk to you soon.

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