Christmas 2003

It is Christmas again. For me, this is the first Christmas I don’t get invited to office parties or get involved in organizing one. This is hardly surprising, for I no longer operate in any office as such. You may think then that I would have plenty of time organizing parties and writing Christmas cards. Well, time has probably changed a lot from the days when Pat Poone first sang White Christmas. People don’t write Christmas cards as diligently and seriously as they used to. They are replaced by electronic greeting cards, some of which are quite nice, but some are rather crude and even rude. Their designers or perpetrators have probably forgotten what these cards were first meant for. Maybe they don’t know or care about Christmas at all.

In the First Sunday of Advent, the priest who said the Mass I went to urged the congregation to be slightly more careful in picking Christmas cards. “Pick the more relevant ones if you cannot find the reverent ones, the ones that bear a Christmas message,” he said, or something to that effect.

I used to keep all the Christmas cards and birthday cards or whatever occasion cards I received. I had a box. In the beginning it was easy, for I did not receive that many cards anyway when I was small. Then I kept the ones I liked, either because of the messages, but more often, because of the senders, in the belief that the senders had picked those messages carefully. As time goes by, and as I keep moving houses, the hobby becomes impossible, but I still keep a few ones from the early days and I still keep the more interesting ones from personal friends. In the past two decades, perhaps the bulk of the Christmas cards and seasonal greeting cards were from business contacts, sent to the office, and quite a few arrived unsigned. My secretary would open them all, take out the business cards and prepare return cards for my signature. Remember what the Permanent Secretary asked the Minister to do in “Yes Minister”, that was exactly it.

Then came the Internet and the call from green groups to save trees, people are actually making more use of e-cards, but there are always sufficient die-hards around, lest we would see the premature demise of a few industries. So much for the off the tangent waffle, let me go back to what I had wanted to say in this letter in the first place.

Christmas is a time for joy, hope and reconciliation, among other things. I wish you a Merry Christmas. I hope you find joy in every thing you do or come across, in waking up, in looking at yourself in the mirror and being able to recognize the reflection therein, in watching your loved ones falling asleep and waking up, in waiting for the breakfast with the extra calories you have always dreaded, in meeting the people you always meet; in dealing with the daily chores, in being able to wait for the next bus or taxi after just missing one, and in not being tired of waiting for whatever you have been waiting. I hope you can learn to forgive in the spirit of the Lord’s Prayer, take the first step to speak to someone whom you haven’t spoken to for a while because of something between you, and forgive yourself for being not as smart as you really are at the time you wanted it.

I hope you can eat, sleep and be merry, eat and drink as if there were no tomorrow, dance like no one is watching, sing like you are singing in the showers, and sleep like a baby.

Now, let me quickly recap what happened in the Wan’s household since the last Christmas. Let me try to do it the way they do in “Just a minute”, the celebrated BBC programme, in which contestants are asked to speak to a subject in sixty seconds flat without hesitation, repetition or deviation; and here I go.

In 2003, I retired from the job I had held for over 33 years, that being the only full time job I had taken up since I left university, just when SARS broke out and before the department had conceived the HarbourFest. I took up golf lessons once a week. I was beginning to feel good about it when I had to stop because I was going away for a few weeks. Sadly, my wife had another relapse of breast cancer. She started her chemotherapy in April. We moved to a bigger flat so that we can house a domestic helper who would become handy if Rosita’s situation gets bad. We hired one helper who was very good at upsetting Rosita. We fired her after one month and hired another. We have since learned to accommodate each other. Meanwhile, Rosita’s conditions got worse progressively and by July she was too weak to continue with the regime prescribed by the doctor. Fate had it that we were introduced to a qigong master who gave Rosita qigong and Traditional Chinese Medicine. She regained her strength very soon, just when the children came back in the summer to see her. We then went on an extended vacation, first to the United States to see Rosita’s father and siblings and their families, we then went to Toronto, Canada to look up some friends we haven’t met for a while, before starting on a 16-day river cruise taking us from Budapest to Amsterdam. We also lost our dog in 2003.

It is good that I can do this on the keyboard rather than before the microphone, and more importantly, without contestants. I look back what I have typed, and I can see that I could be challenged in quite a few areas on grounds of repetition, for example the repeat of 2003 in the last sentence. And on the dog, I can write an entire issue. We had the dog for over 15 years.

To say that the year that is about to end is an eventful year would probably be an understatement. We have seen United States going it alone with Iraq. The world or the international community does not have the effective weapon to counter such unilateral action, but is forced to listen to the rhetoric and half-truths. Fortuitously, even United States acknowledges that China is a country to be reckoned with, whether the Americans like it or not. The present leadership in China is taking pains to tell the Americans and the world that China is a peace-loving nation and is, has been and will always be pre-occupied with the problems of a quarter of humanity. A minute problem magnified by 1.3 billion times becomes a rather gigantic one, and so on. So there is no time and no need to go to war. On this peaceful and hopeful note, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Let us hope that 2004 will be a better year for everyone everywhere.

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