I always find it pleasing every time people talk about my letters, even though they don’t always read every issue or its entirety and even though they give me backhanded or mixed compliments. It happened that Rosita and I were in Bangkok a few days around the Chinese New Year holidays and met up some Rotarian friends we had not met for a while. One of them mentioned my letters and Rosita joked about the possibility that he might get named in the next issue.
Actually, I have been careful to keep to the minimum the mention in my letters of names of friends unless they are household names. When I need to refer to a person by name, I would give him a name for easy reference, for example my young friend Harry.
Harry has actually gone back to school after the last summer. The routines of school, lectures and homework would be slightly different from what he was used to at work, but he seems to be coping very well.
Harry must be one of my more ardent readers: he would invariably respond to my letters and articles on Kingspark News, usually with more generosity than I deserve and always very politely and with speed. For example, he said he found it somewhat foreign at first when I referred to the e-mail exchanges between us as letters. He has obviously given the matter some reflection since, for in a recent exchange or letter, he concluded that, “it is the thought, time and consideration which has gone into a written piece that would make it a letter, not the medium.”
On American arrogance, Harry had this to say, “I liken it to the boy who grows up in a small town as a runner, beating all the boys in the town with ease and developing in the process a false sense of security and superiority of his own worth and excellence. His merits at home lead to an invitation to a state championship in which the race was thoroughly dominated by a slew of runners from all regions, all faster, bigger and stronger than he. It is then not the embarrassment and humility, but rather the shock and patent awareness of his insignificance that he faces at this point.”
Back to my recent sojourn in Bangkok, it is Rosita’s first visit and my longest. It is also my first visit during which I did not have an agenda for work, except to eat, drink, sleep and indulge myself as far as possible, which on reflection was hard work. Rosita and I were rather pleased with the work. The bird flu had yet to strike while we were there.
The Chinese in Bangkok wield substantial influence in business, finance and politics. Chinese New Year Day and the day following are always celebrated in style. China Town was elaborately and extravagantly decorated to beyond recognition. Traffic was rerouted and motorized transport banned for a few days. Everyone who wears red in the vicinity gets a red packet in which is a lottery ticket. To participate, one puts down one’s name and identification, and puts it in a huge drum. The winners get good prizes, including a new flat and a new car from the Palace, we were told. Well, we did not carry shirts or blouses red enough to qualify and we are sort of scary of crowds, so we avoided the area.
We thought we had escaped the cold spell in Hong Kong and were quietly happy when we read in Bangkok that the mercury had fallen to below seven degrees Celsius in Hong Kong on Chinese New Year Eve. Well, it got even colder after we were back and our Observatory had to announce new records for the longest cold spell and had promised more cold weather next week.
As if the weather were not miserable enough, the Rotarians and clubs in the District here had to go through a ballot-by-mail to return a candidate to be governor 18 months down the road. This could easily be the most debated challenge in the history of the District. I have been asked by some readers to comment on the state of affairs now that it is over, or so it seems. My first reaction was that it might open old wounds when the single most important task facing us now is healing, and besides I have made my views open a month ago in Kingspark News for those who would read, supplemented by a second article issued today.
On second thought, however, and for posterity, I would like to make my views known as clearly as I can; and I would be brief.
Just as I abhor the use of violence in conflict resolution including the Americans sending troops to Iraq, I have said on the record that I would not wish to see challenges being waged in the District for the purpose of helping the District Governor to report to RI who in the District would be governor 18 months later.
There are no winners in a challenge. We have seen more than enough in the past. Our District had been plagued by challenges in the Nineties and the membership were tired by such unnecessary and unproductive activities. The principal reason given for a challenge was invariably one based on fairness or the lack of it. In the days when only past governors bore sway at the nominating committee, such arguments were plausible, but the rules have changed since. The District resolved in open voting before the turn of the millennium – I do not have the exact date to hand; suffice it to remind readers that I was the last governor returned under the old system – that future governor nominees are to be returned by a Nominating Committee comprising past presidents and past governors in equal numbers, based on the number of areas in the District, and for the purpose of assembling the committee, past governors are not past presidents. To be seen to be fair, the past presidents representing their respective areas are elected from among the clubs and Rotarians in the respective areas. The hope then was – although not stated in black and white – this would obviate challenges in the future.
Since the introduction of the new system, there has been no challenge on the decisions of the Nominating Committee. We have just gone through one and I wish the last one. For a challenge under the new system should not be seen as a challenge on the candidate returned by the Nominating Committee, but rather a challenge on the Committee itself and the governor who assembled the Committee. It is a mockery to the system, for it means that the elaborate system under which the Nominating Committee system is assembled could and would be subject to challenge by any club aggrieved by the process as long as the procedures are followed. What a waste of time, energy and talents?
One obvious way forward is to abandon the use of a nominating committee and introduce universal suffrage. I mean the real one-person-one-vote formula, and not the one-club-five-or-six-votes situation under the current ballot-by-mail system.
Having said that, no system is perfect. No system of governance has been proved to be perfect. Democracy is certainly fraud with problems and not necessarily compatible with progress, stability and prosperity. Rotary being an organization of volunteers united in the name of service, there should be endless tasks ahead to which the attention of Rotarians would be forcibly directed. Rotary has survived so long, primarily not because of the Rotary leaders, but because of the Rotarians who believe in the system and trust that the Rotary leadership would take their organization to greater heights, not to glorify the leaders or the organization, but for the ideals which we all champion.
In the same way, our District has survived thus far because we still have a strong body of good men and women that would offer their time, energy and talent for the good of humanity. Unlike the race for presidential nomination for the Democrats in the United States, it does not really matter who stays on the gubernatorial position, for Rotary is not about politics. I would invite the present and future district leadership to nurture the talents and spirits of these men and women, for they would shape the future of our District.
During the flight back from Bangkok, I read about an advice from Socrates to his students. He said, “My advice to you is get married: if you find a good wife you’ll be happy; if not, you’ll become a philosopher.”
Obviously, his advice has been followed all these years, unlike mine.
Talk to you soon.