General

Happiness is …..

I was talking to a Durham cohort last week. He is sort of a quiet person who would go about his work and probably his life methodically and largely by himself without bothering others. I can still remember his short presentation on his observation post – a café in Wanchai where he had an hour to spend before meeting someone – which fully reflected his thoroughness and shrewdness on the one hand and devotion to the assignment as well as his excellent presentation skills on the other, and which gained applauses from his fellow candidates and the supervisor alike, and quite rightly so. The last I heard of him – before last week – was that he was well into completing his research and had started writing his thesis. But last week, he told me that he had just written to his supervisor to withdraw from the doctorate programme because of a host of reasons related to his private and public avocation. I would say no more, lest I might blow his cover inadvertently.

So that makes two of us at least, I thought to myself; and which leads me to a recent brush with Su. I was interested in the taught doctorate programme on public administration run by HKU, which would admit the first batch of students next summer. This being a major policy initiative, I consulted Su. I expected that I would be simply going through the motion, after the sympathy she displayed when my Durham supervisor truncated my research programme which never got off the ground. I was not exactly correct. Su did not wait very long to let me have a piece of her mind and was even more direct than my Durham supervisor. She flatly concluded that I do not need it; and she asked me not to waste time on such or similar endeavours, adding that my top priority is to spend more time with her going places while we still can, unassisted.

It was like the Court of Final Appeal speaking; and there are no more appeal or review procedures, short of instigating a revolution, for which I have no stomach. Not yet, anyway. I have decided not to fight Su long ago. There are no win or lose in this game. If we go down, we go down together; and we would climb up again, together. For this is not exactly the Red Baron going down in flames. So all my lawyer and litigious friends out there please hold your fire and save it for another day. I am no less happy than before, before Su has ruled.

Doing things together seems to be a recurrent theme after we are married. We have since accepted that this could be more of a state of mind and that we do not need to be physically in the same place or side by side to do things together, which I think is obvious. Thus, I was late for Ada’s birthday party last night because I had to be at a HKU alumni function. Su went there first by herself and had a great time with the birthday girl and our common friends, sending me pictures on what was going on while I was listening to a great mind expounding the world economy over the next decade. We were also separated for three weeks last year when I went on the El Camino pilgrimage. I rather enjoyed reading some longer than usual emails from Su during that few weeks telling me what she did, which she would not have written had we been together. We also had regular long distance calls on nothing urgent or of no apparent importance. I found out many months later that those calls were not cheap, but we have long dismissed costs as a secondary consideration, so long as we feel good and think that we can afford it. Once again, it is a mind thing.

Talking of the mind thing, a friend asked me to attend a breakfast meeting of business people sometime ago. I was asked to turn up before 7am, which I did. My friend was slightly late, but his friends kept me busy by filling me in on what the gathering was and what they were trying to achieve. They all gave me business cards generously, and I tried to give them what I had, which could be my Rotary card, my HKU Convocation card, or simply my address card. Before the meeting ended, I ran out of cards. Then came the meeting itself, when every visitor was given 20 seconds to talk about themselves. When it came round to me, I said something like, “I have retired for almost ten years from a job which I had held for more than 33 years. Four years ago, I got married and have since held a full time job the object of which is to keep my wife happy.” As I sat down, there were applauses of approval all round. Apparently, they liked what they heard. We had breakfast after the meeting ended; and people began milling around looking for contacts. It was a chapter of Business Networking International (BNI). In somewhat simplified terms, this is an international organization the members of which believe that by giving business to others, one would get business in return. They seem to be growing fast. Rotary International may learn something from them.

I had a few offers to learn more about their businesses from a few members of the chapter; but I did not follow up on any of them. While I would not dismiss the possibility that I could use the services offered by these members, I asked myself how my business could grow from such networking if my primary business, as I had put it, was to make my wife happy. Happiness is something wonderfully difficult to measure or calibrate. Happiness is elusive, to put it mildly. I know I am happy when I am happy. I know I would be unhappy if I make anyone unhappy, Su in particular. But ought any person, including Su, find happiness himself or herself, instead of relying on another person or the personal next door, regardless of how reliable and trustworthy that person may be. I have discussed in these letters before that impermanence is an unavoidable feature or an unsatisfactory state in life. It follows that one could be always on the losing side if one makes happiness as one’s goal in life, let alone making another person happy as the goal. Instead, or more realistically, one ought to be talking about recognizing happiness in oneself and in others, learning to practice and appreciate sympathetic joy, and choosing to be happy as often as one can.

Su and I both felt incredibly happy at the recent birth of our friends’ first son whom they have already named Solomon. May I wish him growing up as wise as King Solomon who built the first temple in Jerusalem. We met the couple at the Catholic community in Ricci Hall; and one of them was baptized together with Su. We rushed to see them when the boy was less than a day old. Queen Mary Hospital now runs a regime requiring the newborn to be alongside the mother from birth, to enhance bonding between mother and child. So we took pictures with Solomon and had them uploaded on Facebook, which in turn had invited questions from Su’s friends on whether the baby was ours.

On that happy note, I would sign off; and I hope to talk to you later.

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