Of Stradivarius and Cicadas

Once again, I found myself doing a long haul across the Pacific by myself. I had got used to doing so when Rosita could not accompany me on those long trips, sometimes on Rotary meetings, but mainly on business trips. I thought that I would not be doing solo traveling after retirement. It seemed so until now; and indeed, Rosita and I had enjoyed our five-week travels together last autumn, covering quite a few cities in North America and Europe.

We had planned another break around this time to coincide with Lawrence’s commencement; and we had made flight bookings. Even when Rosita was following the Milan chemo regime, we were optimistic that we could make the trip together, and Lawrence certainly was looking forward to that.

As I had said last time, the drugs failed to work on the tumours, but had weakened her constitution instead. In the end, the doctor took her off all drugs and we look to the herbal medicine to restore her strength and immunity system. In the meantime, her doctor would monitor progress or the lack of it through the biweekly blood tests.

Rosita did accompany me to Taipei in April on Rotary businesses. We had a good time. The Taiwan Rotarians including members of our sister club pampered us all the way, and it seemed that she could be fit enough to take a flight to Los Angeles and back. Her body, however, has since been telling her otherwise, and this was confirmed by the biweekly statistics. Meanwhile, she had yet to regain her appetite and her voice, well, not sufficiently to satisfy her anyway. Even so, Rosita attended Kingspark’s tenth anniversary celebration. Her presence attracted a lot of attention from club members and friends, and I thank those kind people for that.

Following what her body told her and in consultation with a doctor friend, Rosita decided not to make this trip. The consensus was that the trip would be too tiresome such that she would not be able to enjoy it. So I flew here by myself.

Rosita saw me off in a Taxi from home to the Airport Express and I surprised her with a call 15 minutes later that I was already aboard a train bound for Chek Lap Kok. Such is the convenience Hong Kong offers to everyone going to or returning from our airport.

My flight took off before midnight and was to arrive LA before 10p.m. the same day. My plan was not to sleep too much on the plane so that I could have a full night sleep on arrival. In accordance with the plan, I watched two movies, namely Cold Mountain and Mona Liza Smile, and slept in between.

Rosita and I had planned to watch these two movies in cinemas, but somehow their screening schedules in Hong Kong did not match ours. Both are women movies: I mean movies glorifying women as opposed to movies made for women. They were both period dramas, set at different times, but and perhaps not surprisingly; there are sufficient common or at least similar themes between them. For example, women are as good if not better at facing hardship and standing up to challenges; women can be formidable, predictably unpredictable and are capable of handling situations that men cannot; women tend to follow through tasks with single-minded determination with better results than men; and very importantly, the world and hence the human race has probably survived through women.

My mind flashed back to the days we were in Oxford. Stephanie was not yet six and Lawrence barely two. Rosita took them from London to Oxford by public transport to meet a property agent on a semi-detached house that neither of us had seen. I could not go because I had to attend classes in London on some subjects that were supposed to make me wiser. A week or ten days later, we took up the lease, which began a memorable year in which I inadvertently gave her plenty of chances to explore and display her strengths as a mother, housekeeper, chef not only for the family but also for my colleagues who were with me in Oxford, principal liaison person with the school and neighbours, and above all a good wife. I think I could make an equally watchable movie out of that.

Back to the present, we learnt from the latest blood test that her condition had continued to deteriorate, albeit gradually. We both know that more testing and trying times are ahead and I would be discussing the details with the children over the weekend, face to face.

In the meantime, we have scheduled for her baptism early June. This will be a happy occasion for the family, and for Rosita in particular. The Jesuit priest who will administer the sacraments is the same priest whom I had referred to in my earlier letters. He has shared with me his thoughts on his catechumen, all highly complimentary, and he is also looking forward to the occasion. I would discuss this in greater detail next time.

Before I go, let me share with you some top news I have picked up since arrival. I have chosen two rather interesting pieces from LA and one from the East Coast.

The first piece from LA is, LAX braces for “LAX.” This is the new NBC series which will feature security breaches, tearful reunions, illegal immigrants, missing children, runaway animals, drug busts, drunken pilots and other stories that can be associated with a busy international airport.

But personally, I find the second piece more interesting and dramatic. A rather famous cellist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic left a cello at his doorway, apparently having been stressed out after a performance. He went to bed immediately and only began to look for the instrument the next morning. Security videotape showed that a motorcyclist had picked up the cello and left with it. It happened that the cello was a rare Stradivarius, more than 300 years old and valued at US$3.5 million. The cellist reported the case to LAPD, which in turn promptly issued a “Stolen Art” notice. Three days later, a woman driving home stopped at a red light and noticed a silver-colored case by a dumpster. She loaded the item on her car, aided by a homeless man standing by. At home, she opened the case and found a broken cello. She thought she could ask her boyfriend to repair it or use the wood to make something else. A week later, she saw on TV a news report about a missing cello that was invaluable. She became scared. Luckily, the boyfriend had yet to work on the piece. She went to a lawyer who returned the item to the Police on her behalf. There was a US$50,000 reward for its recovery, which the finder, now identified as a 29-year old nurse, pledged to give it to charity if she received it. It was happy ending for everyone. And the moral of the story is, don’t work on what your spouse asks you to work on too soon.

Over in the East Coast, a headline has it that residents are bracing for billions of cicadas soon to be hatched, their eggs having been lying in the soil for the last 17 years. Entomologists have advised that these are periodical cicadas and would only be hatched from the eggs buried in the ground every 17 years. They don’t bite or attack and are harmless to human beings. It would become a spectacle when they are hatched anytime now. Such is what Nature can offer and what humans can never even begin to replicate except in movies.

Cicada in Chinese rhymes with Zen, a Buddhist term meaning pontification in silence or something along the line. Zen teaching, literature and culture have influenced many through the ages and the interpretation on them, expanding. As one wonders why the periodical cicadas have chosen to make a brief appearance to us every 17 years, one also wonders whether they are trying to tell human beings anything and at this time.

I hope to talk to you soon.

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