General

Innocence of childhood

I have been at nearly all official flag raising ceremonies since reunification, in various capacities, as a member of the reception team, as host, as a guest, or a combination of the above, but not today’s. I woke up two minutes before eight and turned on the TV almost by reflex. The policemen in their immaculate uniforms were already at the flagpoles loosening the ropes that were about to carry the flags up. Almost at the same time, the band played the National Anthem, and at 8:00a.m. sharp, both flags were flying proudly under a rather blue sky and greeted by the fly-past comprising four helicopters with two carrying flags. Watching the ceremony on TV is certainly different from watching it live. One sees a lot more on TV, including who were moving their lips in sync with the National Anthem and so on, but one probably feels more as being part of history in the making by being there.

By any standard, First of July is a significant day and more than just a holiday. I think we used to have it as a bank holiday before. Five years ago on this day, Hong Kong made history and began the now famous and highly successful “One Country, Two Systems” experiment, watched by every nation. President Jiang Zemin announced Hong Kong’s reunification with China, looked forward to the return of Macau two years down the road and urged all Chinese to resolve “the Taiwan question” through peaceful means. To day, President Jiang made a special trip lasting less than a day to preside at the swearing in of the Chief Executive for the second term together with his new cabinet and principal officials. The ceremony was less dramatic or momentous than the one five years ago, but no less significant. In his speech, President Jiang urged the people of Hong Kong, among other things, to work together for the long-term good of Hong Kong, reminding his audience that they are not only masters of Hong Kong, but also masters of China. In other words, they are as much stakeholders of Hong Kong as of China. He also extended his best wishes to the Chief Executive, his new team and every citizen of Hong Kong.

In case you overlook this, today is also Canada Day, for on this day in 1867, the Dominion of Canada was born from four former British colonies. The then Colonial Secretary Lord Carnarvon said while moving the second reading of a bill to establish the new federation which later grew to become Canada, “We are laying the foundation of a great state – perhaps one which at a future day may even overshadow this country.” The four colonies were Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontariao, which between them had a total population of 3.5 million then. Canada’s present population is about 29 million, compared with United Kingdom’s about 59 million.

July was actually created in honour of Julius Caesar, and is by all account the first month in the year named after a person. Mark Anthony proposed the name shortly after Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC and because it was Caesar’s birthday month, which makes it quite different from August, albeit also named after a person, the founder of the Roman Empire, Augustus whose original name was Gaius Juliuis Caesar Octavianus. Octavian was the great nephew of Julius Caesar. He gave up his studies after the death of Julius Caesar and defeated Mark Anthony. He named himself Augustus, which means exalted, to enhance his prestige. His birthday month was actually September. August ruled Rome for 41 years, from 27 BC to AD 14, a period marked by peace and reconstruction, sound administration and steady progress. The Romans awarded him the title of Pater Patriae or Father of his Country in 2 BC, and on his death made him a god.

The Roman Empire lasted for a rather long time: the western empire, to AD 476, and the eastern empire, to AD 1453 with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. When we were at school, we were warned by the Jesuits not to read “The Fall of the Roman Empire” because “the book contains too many untruthful episodes.” Well, I bought a set in hard cover through a book club when I thought I was out of the influence of the Jesuits. They look rather impressive on the shelf.

Human beings have since learned to conquer by other means, and have been rather effective, even though it is the battles fought by the infantry which have consistently attracted the attention of nations and their people. Longer-term gains can possibly be advanced through economic, cultural and technological means. I came across a survey which ranked Bill Gates the world’s richest private citizen in 1996. He probably still is, and is therefore in a position to conquer. Last month – or end of May – the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the Rotary Foundation the 2002 Gates Award for Global Health. The award recognizes Rotary’s leadership and impact in the field of public health, most notably the priority to eradicate polio by 2005. Bill Gates has already donated US$50 million to the PolioPlus Programme, even though many have said that we should be asking him for more. Let us hope the Gates make Polio their next conquest.

The problem with the rich and famous is that people developed expectations on these unfortunate souls who would be made centers of jokes, gossips and even scandals. There was a story about Bill Gates giving a speech to graduates on 11 things they would not learn in school. I have not bothered to verify the origin or authenticity of what he was said to have said, and I am not giving you the full list either, even though they are pretty innocuous, mainly about how the feel-good and politically correct teachings have created a generation of kids who have no concept of reality and how this lack of a concept set them up for failure in the real world. His first rule is, “Life is not fair, so get used to it.” And his last rule, “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.”

I was driving home one day recently and heard a lullaby composed by Julian Lloyd Webber, brother of someone more famous with the same name, but who is in his own right an accomplished cellist. He said the score was inspired by his son David whom he looked at in sleep when he was a few weeks’ old, when he was suddenly struck and moved by the innocence of childhood, which he described as universal and timeless. To the parents and would be parents, I wish you would experience the same. When you do, I hope you treasure that for a long time.

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