My new friend Helen

Rosita and I decided to spend the Lunar New Year holidays away in some warmer place; everyone had been expecting a cold spell. We had thought of Bali, but very few travel agents were operating tours at the time and spending a week in one hotel with no programme was not exactly an exciting proposition, particularly if it promised rain. We were down to choosing between Australia and New Zealand. The fire raging in Australia at the time gave us very little choice and we quickly decided to go to New Zealand. And why not, neither of us had been there before.

We have not spent any holiday together outside Hong Kong longer than three days for some time now, and we were looking forward to it. We booked a packaged tour which promised top accommodation and good food, and off we went.

The good thing about packaged tours is that somebody else makes all major decisions, including where to go, when to wake up, what to wear, where and what to eat, where and what to buy, when to take pictures and how and so on. One can totally switch off and pretend that one is in charge all the time.

The first thing I learned was that a tour leader was not always a tour guide, and indeed in some countries, the authorities have rules to ensure that they are two different persons. I had never given any thought to this until our tour leader expounded the fine differences. In the tour we joined, the tour leader was actually also the tour guide. She is quite a character and highly professional. She could talk non-stop all the way on the bus facing us on almost any issues with plenty of eye contact. She was sensitive to the needs of her group members whose age and background varied rather widely. While it was obvious that she had said what she told us many times before, she maintained her enthusiasm throughout and made everything sound so interesting. In short, she has shown how one person could make a difference simply by doing one’s job professionally. It is clear that she likes her job and more importantly, she takes it more than a job. She is living life through what she does, not only making herself a better person in the process, but also making friends and influencing others as she does it. As I would be making reference to her and what she said later, it would be more convenient to name her, but to retain her anonymity, I would call her Helen.

Helen is a good mimic. For example, she could do the Haka – the Maori war cry with the tongue protruding full length – and bring parts on her face together to make herself look like another person. She brought down the whole bus by mimicking a famed talk show hostess – who shall remain nameless – with advice on marital relationship. The best part of it was that she did it rather naturally and carefree, assuring us that she knew her because she was on one of her previous tours. “She is a nice person, but she behaves differently on air,” Helen stressed.

Helen could go into great details on Maori traditions and legends and was full of facts and figures, exact to the last significant figure, on dates of when events happened, areas and population of cities and townships, and heights of mountains, including how many metres Mount Cook lost and when following an avalanche. When she was giving facts, she would assume the role of a tourist guide and turn the bus into a classroom. When she was talking about her past life and episodes of other tours, she gave us her funny side, so as to keep the bus awake. “You paid a lot of money for this trip. Don’t sleep all the way,” she would say.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Helen is her readiness to put the interest of her clients before everything else. Some of the things she did for us could be in the category of beyond the call of duty, and she would always go that extra mile to ensure that everyone is looked after equally well and that no one is overlooked.

Through her, we learn about a series of natural products with phenomenal healing powers. Let me share some with you, and not in any particular order.

First, propolis. This is collected by bees from plants and trees to coat the inside of the beehives and the honeycomb cells. This is where nature works its best. The mixture of plant and insect secretion is antiseptic and extremely bacterial resistant, so much so that insect corpses, bleeding or not, brought into the beehive would stay intact and fresh. Propolis has been developed for creams, cosmetics, tablets and capsules with amazing healing power. Helen said she first learnt of the product from an article by a local well-known author and lyrics writer who was a heavy smoker. He discovered the product during a trip to New Zealand and had written about its healing power for open wounds, inflammations, laryngitis, bronchitis, lip sores and pains in the buccal cavity. Helen often suffered from a combination of these occupational disorders. One evening, she lost her voice completely, but had to take a tour the next morning. In desperation or out of faith, she tried it the first time. She had a miraculous recovery the next day and has since been a firm propolis believer and ambassador.

It seems that bees which visited manuka plants produced the best propolis. Hence, there are products with a combination of these words. There have also been a number of well-visited websites on these products with third party endorsements. Some of them are available in department stores here, but at considerable mark-up.

The next product she spoke very well of is emu oil. This is a derivative of emu secretion and, again has miraculous healing power for all sorts of disorders, notably frozen shoulders, muscle pains and rheumatoid arthritis. Listening to Helen talking about how she became a convert was equally captivating, dramatic and mind-boggling. Many of her past clients have become friends and would call her to speak of and update her on the various clinical cases. She would never keep such details from her new acquaintances.

Other products included deer velvet, cod derivatives, abalone, various honey and lanoline derivatives, and others. Helen spoke of the herd mentality during the trip with a thinly veiled innuendo that she was the sheep dog and we, the herd, but none of us took offence, and indeed I think many of us were happy to have her as our guide and leader for eight days and are looking forward to meeting her in future.

Talking of sheep dogs, you may have heard that Bush had included in the budget he recently presented to Congress expenses for an increase of 10,000 German Shepherds, over the present establishment of 8,000, to be explosives sniffers for the army, following the event of last September. The demand for these dogs has however caused a more than ten-fold price increase, from US$2,000 each in September to more than US$20,000 included in Bush’s Budget.

There are many more interesting statistics I picked up from my new friend. For example, the ratio of sheep to human is 16.7 to one, cattle 8, deer half; and the population of New Zealand is 3.8 million with 3 million in the northern island; and so on. It seems that we cannot live without statistics.

Back to my new friend Helen, I had a chance to talk to her briefly about Rotary in general and my involvement in the District in particular. She said she would be interested in attending a Rotary club meeting. That would be a good start.

Today is the first Sunday of Lent in the Catholic calendar. Ash Wednesday was last Wednesday. Pope John Paul in his Lenten Letter urged the faithful to contemplate on a message from Matt 10:8, “You received without paying; give without pay.” I humbly join the pontiff to plead you to do the same, whoever you are and whatever your faith. If my new friend can sojourn on, believing in her own ability to make a difference in the world and in the people she meets by bringing out the best of herself and giving without questioning without the benefit of Rotary, think what you can achieve as a Rotarian.

Talk to you again later.

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