Home Again

Last Monday or Tuesday, depending on which city one was in, was a long day indeed for Su and I, but thank God, everything went clockwork and we were home by 8:30pm, just over 24 hours when I got up to make our last breakfast in Whistler. Earlier thoughts of going out for a quick bite or comfort food soon gave way to immediate and pressing matters, such as finding out how many driving-offence points I was left with, or whether I had broken the banks while we were away. My car had a rather thick coat of dust and dirt so that I could only barely see the inside from the windscreen or back window. The good news was that I could still legally drive, I was still in good standing with the banks and the car battery still worked, which was a lot already. Thank God again. The few rain storms had not caused any visible damage to the flat; the contractors apparently having done a good job; and the utilities were still operative. Thank God once more. In short, there were no immediate life or limb issues; and we retired, after noting that I had hit a new low of just over 131 pounds on the scale. I had indeed a lot to be thankful for.

I did not eat much on the flight back; and I watched three movies, namely the Grandmaster, Frozen, and the Book Thief, in that order. I like them all, for different reasons; and I like the Book Thief best, not only because of the original score by John Williams, but more because of the simple and somewhat predictable storyline narrated by Death who never showed his face, unlike the young Brad Pitt portraying Death in the mid-90s movie, Meet Joe Black. I know the two movies are as different as day and night, as are the themes and messages each try to carry, but that was how my mind works sometimes. Somehow, the power of words, the potency of the messenger behinds the words and the manner and fashion in which words are presented all come into play and are responsible for the creation or perception of the messages. In the end, it is how words fall on a person’s mind that would lead to any results, from nothingness to actions that can be manifested in so many different ways. I don’t know whether the author of the book, based on which the film was produced and from which the script was adapted, had intended to urge people to read and write; but I certainly find the message jumping out of the screen. There was one particular frame with “WRITE” written in wall graffiti which I find particularly striking and which stays on the mind from sometime.

I learnt later from Wikipedia that a young Australian, Markus Zusak, had authored The Book Thief which was published in 2005 and which had since been translated into 30 languages. I have yet to read the book, but I understand the book features a lot more interesting details than the film; as in many other book turned film case; including the mention of a book by the title of “Whistler” which apparently the mayor’s wife Ilsa had deliberately left for Liesel, the book thief, to take away. The desire to learn more about “Whistler” sent me back to Wikipedia from where I found that “The Whistler” was an American radio mystery drama series which was very popular from 1942 to 1955. Each episode began with the sound of footsteps and a person whistling. William Castle was the brain and author behind the series, which was turned into a film in 1944 and which featured an opening as follows, “I am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales, hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes…. I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak.” I suppose the name has nothing to do with Whistler the city where we were in the past weeks. It is said that the city which began as a community could have taken its name from an arctic bird with the same name, but I would say no more than that.

It would seem that radio drama was popular in America in the Forties and Fifties, but I think the phenomenon could be worldwide such that radio programming was elsewhere, including Hong Kong. In the Sixties, certainly in the early Sixties, when television had yet to become popularized, the radio was all we had and the source of important and essential information and entertainment. I recall a popular radio series on Sherlock Holmes had me and my siblings staying up for the broadcast. It was a must-listen weekly broadcast; and some of my classmates also followed the series, so that we would compare notes during recesses or even in class.

I move from fiction and the past to present day life. Yes, we are back; and Su had beaten me in telling this to the world by putting up a blog the morning after we came back with her thoughts on the month-long absence from our flat. We have since been catching up on our sleep and I, in particular, nursing my muscle pains. Today starts the 4-day public holidays, and the lighter traffic on the roads is quite noticeable. Indeed, email and electronic traffic are also lighter. Nevertheless, I pick up one rather interesting article about Pope Francis and would like to share some highlight with you. Citing the achievements in his first year as the CEO of the Roman Catholic Church, which the author named as the world’s oldest multinational, he said that Francis must be the most outstanding and exemplary “Turnaround CEO” the world has ever known. Now, business schools have defined turnaround CEOs as those who breathe new life into dying organizations. When Pope Francis was appointed barely a year ago, he inherited a multinational in crisis: Pentecostal competitors were stealing market share in the emerging world, including in Latin America where Francis ran an office in Argentina before; scandals were scaring off customers and demoralizing the sales force; recruitment was difficult; the firm’s finances were in a mess; and black rumours ran rampage relating to corruptions and other issues. Within a year though, Pope Francis has regained and recovered a lot of the lost ground and has gained 85% approval ratings from the toughest constituency, the Americans. How did he achieve that? The article attributed his success to three management principles which are classic cornerstones of core competence. Very briefly, they are: establishing a focus, brand re-positioning, and restructuring. On focus, the Pope has re-focused the organization on one mission, namely helping the poor; and he led by personal examples, by abandoning expensive clothes, cars and residence and adopting the name Francis, who is the patron saint famous for looking after the poor and the animals. On brand re-positioning, while the Pope will not deviate from traditional Church teachings on issues such as abortion and gay marriage, he is not censorious. When asked of his views on homosexuals, for example, he said, “Who am I to judge?” He also said, “I am a sinner” in a widely publicized interview. On restructuring, he has appointed a task force of eight cardinals and has hired management consultants to look into the Church’s administrative machinery and the Vatican Bank. We can all learn from Pope Francis. He has made me proud of being a Roman Catholic.

On this optimistic and somewhat spiritual note, I would sign off and wish all of you out there, whether you are abroad on holidays or at home, a very mindful, spiritual, restful and fruitful Easter. I hope to talk to you again soon.

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