The year began with midnight fireworks from Sydney to Hong Kong and Beijing to Singapore. Ukraine’s Chernobyl atomic power plant showed no signs that it would malfunction, while London’s Big Ben rang at midnight Greenwich Mean Time, as it would for every night. There was heightened security in the United States, but no major incidents were reported despite widespread fears of possible attacks by terrorists. In Afghanistan, the Talibans announced that the hijackers of an Indian Airlines passenger plane had left the country for an unknown destination, as India and Pakistan began a war of words, with Islamabad denying New Delhi’s claim that the hijackers were Pakistani nationals, and vowing to arrest and try them according to international rules if they entered Pakistan. Meanwhile, more people were killed in renewed clashes between Christians and Muslims in the Indonesian province of Maluku. More than 1,000 people had already been killed in the sectarian violence and thousands of buildings damaged or burned. Vladimir Putin visited Chechnya on New Year Day and awarded hunting knives to federal troops battling Islamic militants in the breakaway region.
If all that sounded familiar, it is because it was a used rather than a new year. These were news items reported two years ago on 1 January 2000 when the world was waiting for an Y2K glitch to strike, when there were fireworks in major world cities including of course Hong Kong, when the Talibans were in power and when Putin was still acting president.
It is debatable whether the world has gone safer or more peaceful in the last two years, but no one would argue that 2001 did not go down too well in the world annals as far as world peace and understanding is concerned. True, China has done very well last year and as an integral part of this great country, Hong Kong has shared the nation’s joy and basked in her glory. Looking on the bright side, Hong Kong has not done worse than many neighbouring economies and it is certainly reasonable to expect that developments in the Mainland would provide more opportunities and renewed impetus for those who would not accept defeats sitting down.
I was looking at the papers yesterday and I found a few interesting item in the “Today in history” column. On New Year’s Eve in 1879, Thomas Edison showed how a light bulb worked to the public in Menlo Park, New Jersey; in 1923, the BBC broadcast the chimes of Big Ben for the first time; in 1946, US President Harry Truman formally declared an end to World War II; and in 1999, Vladimir Putin became acting Russian President when Boris Yeltsin surprised the world with his resignation.
But what struck me most was perhaps the reminder that Marie Curie received her second Nobel Prize on New Year’s Eve in 1911 for her work on radioactive elements. I was particularly impressed by the quote on the physicist from former French foreign minister Maurice Schumann. He said, “The only lecture by Madame Curie that I was privileged to attend, even though I was incapable of comprehending it, extended my horizons forever after.”
Time after time, year after year, the world has produced great men and women destined for great deeds and who would shape the world and make it a better and safer place in which to live. TIME has been picking Person of the Year since 1927, and Madame Curie certainly fits comfortably in the category if not transcends it. Sadly, the human race has also bred monstrous, ruthless and fascist dictators who had inflicted unspeakable, immeasurable and incalculable suffering, desolation and ruins to the world and their fellow human beings. The battle of good and evil will go on, which is where faith comes in: the faith that even a meek and fragile person can inspire sufficient confidence that will enable human goodness triumph over evil and terror and restore peace and salvation in the human race.
The beginning of a New Year in itself is no more significant than the dawn of a new day or the rising of the morning star, but a New Year traditionally brings hope and joy together with renewed faith, and one hopes that it is the faith that good would triumph over evil. In the past, we may have faltered in our steps, succumbed to evil under pressure, failed to support our fellow human beings when they needed us most, failed to deliver what we have promised particularly of our own accord, forgotten about the precepts of charity and mercy, forgotten about our responsibilities to God and fellow human being, and acted generally in a manner and fashion that we would not recognize or condone had we been placed in a less stressful or more fortunate position. Let us hope that a New Year would turn over a new page and make us a better person and more conscious of the needs of others and of the world.
Have a Happy New Year Day and a prosperous 2002.
Talk to you again soon.