Letter from San Francisco

Looking back, it seems that I write more often during my travels. I wrote you a series of letters during my trip to North America and Europe, ending with one in early July from Munich or its airport rather. The records show that I did three letters in as many weeks which followed and then they dried out.

I had been asked by some of you, some directly and rudely, some less direct and more polite, and still others unexpectedly, why I had not written for a few months. I thank you for you concerns; and here I am, on my laptop, having landed in San Francisco for slightly more than 12 hours and having waken up by a body trying to adjust to the new clock.

This is actually a continuation of my last travel which ended at the Munich airport. You may recall that I had scrambled up my travel plans last summer and last minute, resulting in I having to acquire a new set of plane tickets, which meant that I was left with an unused set which must be used a year after it was issued. Well, the expiry date is 7 December 2005. I knew I would be flying again even before I set out on my last trip because I could not meet up with my daughter in the summer trip: our travel plans did not match.

San Francisco is familiar territory and I recall having written to you from here before. My plan is to catch up with my daughter who keeps reminding me of her busy schedules. I would then spend some time in Los Angeles or thereabout before coming back. For I have a busy schedule too.

Since my last letter, I have taken up a taught Masters programme with the University of Hong Kong on Buddhist Studies, amongst other things. Let me quickly say that I have no intention of giving up my faith in the religion I was brought up with, namely Christianity. There is no conflict between the two at all. Indeed, Buddhism is neither religion nor philosophy, though its teachings and precepts are more religious and philosophical than some mainstream religions that I have come across. The bottom line is, I am taking this up as an academic pursuit, something I have wanted to do for a very long time.

I am happy to share with you that I have enjoyed the programme very much so far. It is not an easy programme, and it is much more time consuming than I had thought. I recall my undergrad days when it was fashionable to skip classes, but now I have been going to classes that I am not required to attend. I have found it necessary to go to more classes so as to broaden my perspective on the various subjects and facets of Buddhism, something I have known too little before and something that anybody in Asia could well find time to pursue when they can find the time to do so.

Being able to find time to study is always fun and a pleasure. I have met teachers with great dedication to teaching and devotion to Buddhism. Many of them are so learned, so knowledgeable, so wise, so good and so compassionate and I feel that I can benefit from all of them. Many of my fellow students too are people to be reckoned with. They are highly motivated, learned and academic, and they are young. I have always said that it is great to be young, but I’d like to believe there is nothing to replace the experience that can only be acquired with age and aging. Working and talking with them is great fun and a great pleasure indeed.

Turning to another subject, I have moved out of Baguio Villa and moved back to the flat in Goldwin Heights that Rosita and I had lived for eight years. It is the same address as before.

It was not too long ago when I wrote to you about my attachment to Baguio Villa, a place where my two children grew up and so on. I had planned to stay there for a lot longer than two years or 30 months, and I had brought in new furniture and furnishings for that. Alas, I cannot move many of them to the flat in Goldwin Heights because the latter is substantially smaller. I had hired the service of a rather reputable relocation company to execute the move. They did a good job, that is, with the packing and moving, but there was hardly sufficient space for the unpacking. The result is that my son and I have been living with boxes and boxes of well packed personal effects and articles that the family has acquired and accumulated over the last quarter of a century at least. It would take time to unpack, which is why this trip to the States is a welcome break, apart from the fact that it would reduce my study time considerably and it means that I need to skip a few classes.

They must have packed between 150 and 200 boxes. I spent the first week opening up boxes and discarding the packing materials. Funnily enough, the cleaning company contractors apparently love those materials and would take them away happily without any words as soon as I took them out. I thank them for that.

Then, there was the restoration work to the flat in Baguio. The landlady insisted that I should leave nothing behind, including the almost brand new make-to-fit pine wood bed and cabinets in the maid’s quarters, the tasteful and built-to-last wall units in the living room, the carpet for the dining area, the many other cabinets and book shelves that are too big for my present flat, and so on. I called up a Catholic charity and they took away the things they needed or could take away, with gratitude from both sides. The rest was for demolition and the landfill. Watching the demolition contractors breaking up my favorite wall units and cabinets was like watching parts of my life re-lived and being taken away permanently. Now, this is where and why I say the Buddhism teachings have taught me something useful. I did not feel attached to them at all. I was neither sad nor emotional about the process. I was simply living with here and now, and being non-judgemental. It was a necessary process; and the most important lesson is that nothing in life is permanent, and should thus be perceived as such.

There are other changes in my life too. Moving to the present flat means that I cannot retain a domestic helper, because there is no maid’s quarters here. My son has been adamant on not hiring any helper full time, for we both lead an active social life involving extensive dining out. That is what he said, and I have some views on that, which I would not go into now, in the interest of harmony in the family. For now, he and I are the only ones in the family in Hong Kong. But life without a helper can be traumatic at times, particularly for someone who has been getting used to having one for so long. I have to keep reminding myself of the impermanence of life and hence the futility of having a routine or the evils of attachment. I am sorry for such Buddhism-speak and in a not-so-very-professional manner.

I have also taken up lawn-bowl classes. I had actually signed up a course last year, for the summer of 2004. I could not attend more than two classes because I was in hospital with Rosita most of the time. This time, I actually graduated, and I am trying hard to find time for this new venture.

It would take a few months before I can invite friends to my home, and my present priority is to get my assignments prepared on time and to prepare for the exams, all happening within the next two to three weeks.

I would write about my meeting with my daughter the next time. Until then, May God bless you all.

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