Fare Thee Well, Alex

I mentioned last time that I visited a friend who was very ill. Sadly, he passed away peacefully in hospital two days later. His family and friends wasted no time to organize a dignified and respectable funeral which was well attended by many friends and past colleagues in the cultural, media, broadcasting and Government sectors; and I had the honour to be invited to be one of the pallbearers. I have just returned from the crematorium and the farewell banquet which followed; and would like to share with you some thoughts on this my very good friend of some 35 years, lest I might forget when my faculties fail me.

I first met Alex in the mid-Eighties when he was a top executive of TVB and I, Government’s chief TV and film censor and Secretary of what was then known as the Broadcasting Authority. We had regular meetings to discuss standards and code of practice on programming and advertising on TV, as well as licensing conditions. We both didn’t expect we would become close friends one day, for we were apparently on opposite sides of the discussion table. As it happened, we both developed mutual trust and respect for each other over time from the propriety, fairness and professionalism displayed on either side on the issues we had dealt with together. More often than not, we both saw ourselves working on the same side as a team to protect the interest of the viewers, rather than in a regulator and licensee situation. By the time I moved to another job, we had become personal friends and our families were meeting for meals and other social activities so that the children of both families became friends too. I think I had invited Alex to speak at Rotary clubs and eventually he became a member of the Rotary Club I formed, but his extensive interests in so many fields and in so many institutions wouldn’t allow him to stay as a member too long.

In the early Nineties, we did the MacLehose Trail together and joined the 100-km charity walk, beginning with short practice walks on weekends, graduating to overnight walks and ending in completing the walk as a team. Many people have said that participating in Trailwalk as a team is a sure fire way to test friendship. If the team survives and more importantly if it survives together with the support team, chances of team members becoming buddies would be good. I have heard that some teams had broken up before, during or after the walk, with members hating each other and vowing never to meet each other again. Not for Alex and me, we continued our hiking sojourns years afterwards and our friendship had endured.

Alex was a thoughtful and caring friend. There was a time that I was not particularly well. He took me to see a Chinese herbalist and qigong master twice a week, sometimes more frequently. After my retirement, he advised me seriously and intently to take care of my health and constitution so that I would be fit enough to face whatever new challenges that I would face in the next two decades.  Then when Rosita was receiving treatment, he had taken time to keep me company and in her final days was always around us to see how he could help. I recall for example that one time he was going with me round Western District looking for some desserts that Rosita suddenly had asked to have. It became our private joke for a time. I called him as soon as Rosita was pronounced dead. He came up immediately and literally held my hands, took away my car keys and became my chauffer for the next few days. He was always quietly doing things for his friends, making sure that they were ready for the next steps before leaving them, again quietly and unobtrusively, and never taking credits for what he had done for them. I say only a noble gentleman would do such things.

A few years passed quickly and quietly after Rosita passed away, during which Alex first took me to Yunnan or the Chinese Shangri-La and later to other visits to China while keeping up our almost weekly hiking. One day, I told him I met Su and had sort of proposed. His immediate reaction was whether I had consulted Rosita. I was very touched. I told him I had, through my daily prayers and personal mediation. He was content and said he would meet her before he consented to be my witness for our marriage. He became our witness indeed and on the eve of our wedding, he once again went out of his way to buy desserts, this time for Su after dinner when someone suggested that it would be perfect to have those glutinous sweet dumplings except that the hotel where we had dinner couldn’t offer such delicacies. So he went off with Su’s best friend and a key bridesmaid to Sai Ying Pun and returned after 10:30 pm with a few bowls of the sweeties, to the applause of the waiting crowd. The dumplings were to bring us both luck, and I am sure they did. At our wedding banquet the day following, he spoke very warmly and candidly, and made references to our dates of birth, suggesting that the question of who was the more senior between the two of us was one that could not be decided with certainty, to the amusement of the audience, some of whom were already too intoxicated, but why not. At this point, I am further saddened that a number of the key protagonists at our marriage had already gone, beginning with James Yick and his wife who arranged the venue at CCC for two of our wedding banquets, Bill Chow who arranged the banquet at Zetland Hall, Wilson Wong who organized the group for my Wah Yan peers, Rev. Fr. Deignan who was the principal celebrant, K. K. Chow who was my primary school classmate who coordinated the peers remaining, and of course, Alex whose signature was on our marriage certificate. Such is the nature of how life operates, so that one must of necessity look forward.

Alex became a very good friend and counsel of Su after our marriage. When he found out that Su liked the peppered pork belly soup, for her constitution, he went out of his way to take us to a few restaurants in Kowloon City and Causeway Bay. I could not recall who drove to those restaurants or what happened at those dinners, but we had a great time every time. Su recalled that Alex was somewhat pensive at some of those meetings and had tried to tell her some messages, probably to advise her to live life for the present moment or something to that effect. Su also recalled an occasion when we retrieved some books and memorabilia from a storage in Tsuen Wan, shortly after we were married. Alex told her that it was his plan to ditch the books he would not read or he would not have the time to read in the next ten years because there was simply not enough storage space. At the farewell banquet today, we learnt from his sister that those books were not ditched, not yet, but instead through the intervention of his sister, a memorial library will be created to be ready by the end of the year to keep all the books and artefacts that Alex had collected all his life, to be shared and enjoyed by his friends who would value such a collection. What a generous soul and friend. Watch this space if you are interested.

It has indeed been my honour and pleasure to have known Alex and been a part, albeit a very small part, of his life. He was a quiet and private person, a person who selected friends with care and passion, a person who suffered no fools and would not buckle before power and fortunes, a person who lived up to the sacred dictates of Truth, of Honour and of Virtue, but a person who had attracted so many friends and acquaintances that could be dying to be closer to him.

So long, my beloved friend, my beloved hiking friend in particular. Fare thee well, Alex.

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