I am Sixty Six

First, let me thank all the kind and well meaning birthday messages through Facebook, emails and other electronic means from friends and families, biological, fraternal and social. I value and treasure all of them; and I am very grateful to all of you and I feel good. Yes, I am 66 and skiing; but before I go further, let me share with you two stories of my life.

The first was circa 1972. I had left HKU, but there were groups of undergrads with whom I continued to meet on a regular basis. One of these was a Catholic community called “The Better World Movement” aka BWM, but the official name for which was “Promoting Group of the Movement for a Better World”. The movement was actually established in Rome in 1952 in response to the appeal for renewal of then Pope Pius XII in a radio message, popularly known as the “Proclamation for a Better World”. A group of Jesuits, headed by Fr. Ricardo Lombardi S J, had been instrumental in spreading the movement; and I recall a certain young Jesuit priest, whose name escaped me now, came to Hong Kong with a view to start a group in Hong Kong. At the time, this priest was based in Tokyo, Japan where age was highly respected and revered. Although he was in the forties or thereabout, he would tell people that he was 66 when it became necessary or convenient. He found that the greeting format often opened doors easier and he became used to that form of self-introduction, until one day he lost his passport in Italy and had to make a report to the Police. When asked about his age, he responded by reflex that he was 66, to a dumbfounded officer who seconds before were told that the person with whom he was speaking was a Jesuit priest.

The second event took place around 1977. I was working in the Finance Branch of the Government Secretariat when it was my routine job to ask questions on any request from departments for additional resources. There was a Chief Treasury Accountant of Civil Aviation Department making an unusual request. I sent back a routine reply asking for additional information. In response, he called me up politely and invited me to his office for a chat. I agreed; and was surprised to find that my counterpart was a rather senior expatriate elderly gentleman, for in those days, civil servants routinely retired at 55. He offered coffee, and started a conversation, beginning with, “I am 66.” What he meant was, “Look, young man, at 66, I am credible and truthful, and what I said must be respected. Get my request approved.” I still recall the pride, pompousness and significance with which he articulated the message. If he was still alive, he would be 113!

I have related the two stories primarily because when I was a twenty something, 66 meant very old age, and I thought that if I ever attained that age, I would be a very much respected person and a man of substance. Well, I am there today, officially, but I cannot relate to the mindset of the two characters I mentioned. In particular, I don’t think that I would gain additional advantages, positional or financial, in a significant way by virtual of being 66, other than being able to travel anywhere in Hong Kong for $2 and not having to stand in the ordinary queue for certain services, both advantages of which I had already acquired last year.

But I have not been looking for more advantages, not when I was a twenty something, not last year and not now. My very good friend who is 85 still goes to work every day and pays his annual dues to a fraternity even though he is entitled to claim his entitlement of waiver when he reached 80. This is honourable; and I hope I can emulate him when I reach that age. Su is very proud to have introduced me to skiing two years ago, albeit somewhat forcibly, and she has been telling people she met at the mountains of Whistler and Blackcomb just that, even though the early friends, instructors in particular, would recall what I said then, which was that my wife had tried to have me killed on the slopes. Well, it did not happen: I am still alive and kicking, and skiing.

Su has this passion of skiing in Whistler because she loves the unique beauty, serenity and coolness at the mountains which could cleanse the mind and hence re-energize the body, particularly in the days when she was a trader. Very few places, certainly not in Hong Kong, offer such conditions. So who am I to deprive her of such entitlements which she has largely earned on her own before we met? It was against this background that we had signed up for six days of skiing in two batches. Su joined me in the second batch with another couple, Justin and Stephanie, in the same class, with Jungle as our instructor. We met Jungle last year the first time. She is a Korean in her mid forties, but now lives in Whistler habitually. She is strict, methodical, cool and pedagogically skillful and effective. I was somewhat scared of her last year; but somehow I found her much more mellowed this year. Su said that she had told her my age, which might have helped, but I won’t factor too much into that, primarily from what she had shared with us in the three days we were together.

We found that Jungle did not start skiing, or learning to ski, until she was 31. She said she had acrophobia, or an irrational fear of heights. It took her one full day to learn to get off her first lift chair and a week to get used to riding on it. She was in extreme fear on her first day and she grabbed the restraining bar of the lift chair so hard and fast that her instructor had to lift her fingers one by one before she could be decanted from the chair. She overcame her phobia, became an accomplished skier and now a level three instructor. She is also an accomplished golfer, but she acknowledges that her priority is to improve her skiing and skiing instructorship.

I survive after six continuous days of skiing. Su and I took a rest on the seventh day, which coincided with my official 66th birthday. We slept late, went walking in the village and did some shopping. I got my personal pair of skis by sheer good fortune, and at bargain price, which was my birthday present.

Once again, I thank all of you for your birthday messages and good wishes; and I hope to talk to you again soon.

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