Letter from the French Polynesians

Bora Bora, 12 July

My wife Su said it was about time I wrote another letter, adding that it was those letters that had first drew her to me. I was almost tempted to ask her what made her so certain that I wrote all those letters myself. It is yet another indication that a person is rarely the person as he or she appears, and by corollary, is no more than a collection of features that are neither his or hers nor would remain as such over time. I had actually said to her that I had never meant those letters for her because I never knew she existed; but then again, I have been writing primarily because I feel a need to communicate, or more crudely, I feel an urge to write, lest I forget. It follows that I have no idea who would read my letters and when, why they would read them, and what they would make out of them.

I wrote to you last on the eve of my marriage. Marriage is what most people would regard as a momentous event in life, a milestone that would lead to irreversible consequences, a highly stressful event not only for the couple in question, but also for their friends and relatives, particularly those who are nearest and dearest to them, and as someone has put it, something often taken in haste and regretted at leisure.

I would go as far as saying that although I was never averse to marrying a second time, I was in no great hurry either. Indeed, I had a full and busy life, albeit a bit lonely at times, even before I met Su. Everything appeared rather organized. Durham had just accepted all my assignments and I was on my way to present more detailed proposals for my research and thesis. I was about to send my supervisor an outline so that we could have a more meaningful discussion during his scheduled visit to Hong Kong in March. I had piano lessons every week and was well on my way with a Bach piece and I was rather pleased with my progress. There were other things too. Then we decided on marriage; and priorities began to change.

I did meet my supervisor, but was unable to make any progress because I had been rather busy. I stopped practicing piano because I was rarely at my own flat.

Lest you begin to read something into it, Su and I are fine and cannot be better. It does not mean we agree on everything or that we only notice each other’s strengths. It reflects a growing understanding between us, and with that we have been living up to our mutual pledge that we would love each other more each day.

Let me quickly give an update of what has been happening to Su and me since we got married. At the time of writing, we were in the middle of a cruise among the South Pacific islands where Internet connection is not ideal and somewhat expensive. I forgot my password for uploading these letters, and I would see what I can do when I am on land again.

Back to the South Pacific islands, there are some 2,400 of them. In oversimplified terms, these islands form a triangle from Hawaii in the north, to New Zealand in the west and Easter Island in the east. On this cruise, we were among the Tahiti group of islands, officially known as the French Polynesians, of which there are 118 islands, but only six of which are over 100 sq km and not every one has a population.

The history and geography of these islands are as much colourful as they are contested. Most people have derived their own ideas and images of the area and of the people and culture on these islands. Until I read the guide book by Lonely Planet and until I set foot on a few of the islands, my image of Tahiti was based on a set-book “Mutiny on the Bounty” I read in the secondary school and some Hollywood clips based on Captain William Bligh’s expedition to Tahiti which began in 1787. I had never thought of visiting Tahiti or the French Polynesians. Unlike Paul Gauguin; who spent his last years here and who said in his letters that he had come here to look for something primitive and unpolluted by civilization, which he said he hoped would in turn enhance his art and paintings; I do not have a trace of such motivation, nor do I subscribe to his sentiments. By the way, the name of the ship we are on is none other than m/s Paul Gauguin.

I have gone off at a tangent again as usual. Let me go back to what Su and I have been doing since we are married. First, we tried to pay all the bills before we set out on our series of vacation. I think we settled most of them, but then one or two suppliers or service providers took a rather long time to send us the bills. We then tried to collect all the pictures and films taken on various occasions related to the wedding and had them arranged into some logical sequence. We now have one production in two DVDs in a rather nice box, in limited edition. The production features some 2,800 pictures and would run into four to five hours for full viewing. We fully understand therefore if friends do not ask for a copy. As for the videos, we have just learnt that they should be ready by the time we are back in Hong Kong.

Still on what we have been doing, we began going places and Su has been uploading images of some of these places on the internet, through Facebook and other means. In May, we went to Koh Samui, which we have defined as Leg One of our honeymoon. Su taught me snorkeling, or she tried. It was tough for someone who was not quite used to water sports. I did see some aquatic life and colourful fishes, but I would need more time to learn the skill. In another place, I have mentioned that I was unable to go on a scuba diving course because I could not find a doctor who was willing to sign the enrolment form. It was a very leisurely trip and totally relaxing except when I was struggling with my snorkeling equipment.

Let me relate what we experienced one night. We had just finished dinner on the beach laid out by this boutique hotel in which we stayed when we noticed some unusual but rather pleasant sight above us. It must be full moon that night – the moon was clearly very round – and it had been somewhat cloudy earlier. In fact, it showered a bit before dinner. Somehow, the clouds around the moon dispersed leaving a large and clear circle in the sky with the moon right at the centre. It was a perfect circle. We had never seen anything like that in our life. Just to confirm that we were not seeing things under influence, we checked with the people around. They all confirmed what we saw and agreed that it was an unusual sight. We think it was a sign, a benign one from Above for which we praised the Lord.

Yes, I am glad that we have been doing this regularly these days – praising the Lord and being thankful for what we have and praying for the needs of others. Su has been reading up books given her by Fr. Deignan. She has found my religion interesting and has said she might take up formal catechism classes. That would be nice.

Leg Two of our honeymoon comprises a river cruise on the Danube with a pre-cruise land tour in Prague and a post in Budapest. Those of you with a Facebook account and are our Facebook friends would have seen some of the pictures we took during the trip and hopefully have shared some of our joy. Su had actually booked this trip nearly a year before with five other couples. These are friends she met on previous travels and together with one other couple have been meeting every month, normally over a meal. Su was the odd person out and the 13th member in the group until I walked into her life and became the 14th member.

The trip has once again proved a point I hold about travelling and going places. Briefly, it is not the cities, places and monuments that one has visited on a trip that matters, but rather the people one met and in particular the companions with whom one was on the trip. At the end of the day, it is the experience and the memories that would remain; and I have made this point before in another place with reference to Eliot’s Four Quartets.

Moving on, we returned home after Budapest, when we tried to catch up separately with our previous lives. Su began frantically reading for her exams; as fine adjustments were being made to the Third Leg of our honeymoon, which is where we are, a sea cruise around a few major islands around Tahiti, followed by about ten days in and around Sydney, visiting friends who could not come to our wedding. I left Su before this trip for 11 days to go on a pilgrimage to Greece.

I will talk to you later.

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