My last letter was uploaded on 5 April 2015. This one sentence should speak volumes, but it hasn’t, except perhaps to me and me alone. Here I am, in Metropolitan Hotel in Downtown Vancouver, having met four groups of friends in two days and having been booked for a bus trip tomorrow for Whistler, I pause to check what’s on the laptop which I haven’t touched since last April.
I had not written a year ender for 2015 or sent off any seasonal greetings by bulk mailing. That doesn’t mean that I have been idle. Indeed that could be the sign of an over-used mind in a tired and aging body. Meanwhile, the times are changing; people’s habits are changing and their attention spans shortening; more people are not reading texts with more than 50 words or listening to sound bites longer than ten seconds; there seems to be no place for truth or common sense; and nobody appears to care.
Perhaps the operative word in my last paragraph is “seems”. These days, it is increasingly more difficult to tell the difference between truths and non truths, between real and unreal, or even between good and bad, particularly if one relies on the media for their main inputs. It follows that the average person would not ask further questions when presented with a statement that seems to be true or something that seems to be real, and when asked to decide on whether anything is good or bad, will go no further if it seems good, or for that matter, if it seems bad.
It used to be very easy to tell the difference between good and bad. Indeed the Bible tells us that everything that God creates is good. Then God created Man and gave them freewill and a free mind. Over time, the mind generated evil intentions or mental formations which in turn led to things that are not so good or bad resulting in bad consequences. If I were asked to write the history of mankind, that would be how I would begin.
Recently, my brother found time to rekindle his interest in the Wan family ancestry beyond our parents, based on some very old pictures and images of calligraphy which had decked the walls of the family home for a long time but which had gone unnoticed. Our parents, in particular our mother, had left some manuscripts about their very early lives, of which I had kept copies. My brother thought that the manuscripts might help his research and asked me to dig them out, which I did, with some difficulties. Naturally, I took time to read what I found or rediscovered; and in the process, the thought of writing my own memoire crept up, not for the first time though.
People write memoires all the time and many of the rich and famous would hire others to pen their biographies. Inevitably, such writings mostly talk about what they have done or said right, on what occasions and to whom. They also provide fertile grounds to discuss their arch enemies, thus offering opportunities to heal past wounds or open up old ones; and occasionally but not infrequently, new materials for redressing past wrongs and for re-writing history. Alas, history is for the victors. Some losers try very hard to re-write history, resulting in further history in the making.
If I write my own autobiography, what should I put in, where do I begin and how should I start? More relevantly, why should I write one at all, and who would be the readers? Once again, people write because they have something to say that they would like to leave for posterity; or more likely, when they have a special angle they would like to play up, one that is unique and hopefully, interesting, at least to a certain sector of readers.
But I have already said that people are not reading that much now. They would spend more time on their cell phone or iPad with which they would discover new or long lost friends. I met a lawyer at lunch today who carelessly brought up the name of a friend whom I haven’t met for over 35 years and whom she said is now living in Toronto. On further questioning and verification, it was indeed the very friend with whom I lost contact for that long. Immediately, we had our pictures taken, to be forwarded to this friend with a view to being reconnected if she so desires. Such is how technology can potentially regulate and control our lives, but notice, only if we want to be so regulated and controlled. More often than not, we have fallen into habits, created by social norms and behaviors, of acting like automatons, taking pictures after a course arrives and before the food would be tasted, uploading selfies of all new made friends without seeking permission from others also caught in the frame, or passing information on almost anything to everyone without first checking for authenticity or usefulness of the contents.
Back to the questions on my autobiography, if I begin to write, I would first clarify my date and place of birth, not that I believe anyone would be interested. In the early days, I always thought that I was born in Hong Kong because that was the only place I knew in the world. And for many years, I have lived by a different year of birth assuming that I was born in the Year of the Mouse rather than a born Pig. I also lived under a different zodiac sign of the horoscope for many years, being so convinced that I was born under the sign of Aries that I had collected a lot of the characteristics under the sign and learnt to like the features of a typical Arian, good and bad, and worst, tried to live like one. When I found out that my birth sign is actually Taurus, I gave up my interest in the horoscopes.
Then I would probably write on my ancestry, which is why I am interested in the research that my brother is working on. Apparently, our father was related to an uncle who is a high scholar with an imperial appointment in the Qing Dynasty who was sufficiently senior to carry the Last Emperor Puyi during Enthronement. This Grand Uncle had an appointment in the Chinese Department of the Faculty of Arts in HKU. He later resigned because of ill health and died in 1940. My parents met in Hong Kong in 1941 just before the War and I was born in Canton.
On that ancient note, I wish you all well and a Happy and Prosperous Year of the Monkey in advance; and I hope to talk to you again soon, probably from Whistler.