I am not exactly familiar with New York City. Every time I was here when I was still holding down a job, I was either rushing between JFK Airport, the office and the hotels, or worse, passing through en route to somewhere else. I recall being taken to see some musicals or jazz performances in the evening, but that I was often too tired to stay awake throughout. My longest stay was the 10 days with Su five years ago about two weeks before we married. Su organized that trip single handed and with single minded determination, from the choice of airline to the choice of hotels, and from where we met the children for the first time to where we would eat during our stay. New York was familiar territory to her because that was where the headquarters of her last bank was before it folded up; and she often talked fondly of how she would run in Central Park as often as she could, which was why she would always pick a hotel close to the Park. To be fair, Su did introduce me to some aspects of New York.
It turned out that the children could not spend too much time with us five years ago, which left us with time for sightseeing, museum hopping and shopping. We went to some musicals and concerts and we also toured the Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Centre. The typical day would begin with attending morning Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, followed by breakfast at Prime Burger and a stroll or brisk walk in Central Park. Fast forward five years to the present, St Patrick’s is now under renovation, but still open. It was scaffolding everywhere inside, but it is business as usual. I found another church closer to our hotel called Saint Thomas Church on the Fifth Avenue which is not nearly as frequented by tourists as much as St Patrick’s. Indeed, there were only five in the congregation at the morning Mass I attended, including me, and no tourists. The young priest spoke clearly and with confidence. The Mass was preceded by prayers from the Common Prayer Book and the liturgy was slightly different from the one with which I am familiar. I later found that this one is not exactly a Catholic church, but rather, one of Anglican tradition in the Episcopal Diocese of New York, hence the rather unfamiliar liturgy, but I like the prayers. Prime Burger was gone, but the name was still hanging outside the premises which apparently had been vacant since late 2012. People we met kept telling us that New York had never been that cold for many years, which was perhaps why the cherry and apple trees in Central Park had yet to blossom. We recall they were in full blossom in April 2009. It was between -6 to 6 degrees Celsius when we were there. The mornings were rather chilly and frosty and the wind in Central Park cut into the flesh at times.
Since we had planned to be here for only five nights, we had not lined up anything specific beforehand, so that we could be with the children as much as we can. Nevertheless, apart from meeting the children, we managed to meet up with a few friends.
First, there was Edward Lau who started Rotary Club of Kingspark with me and who was to have been the charter president, but through some twists of events, I became the CP and he the second president. We were very close, even after he went to San Francisco and joined the Rotary Club there. He and Alice returned back to Hong Kong around 2003 and rejoined our club and so on, so that we become ever that close. Now, Edward is one of the founders of a bank which operates for the Chinese communities in New York. After the financial crisis, Edward found it necessary to keep a management presence at the bank, meaning that he had to be at the bank rather often, or a week every month. The bad news is that he could not attend more club meetings, but the good news is that he would make use of his presence in New York to see my son and afterwards report back. When he learnt that we planned to be in New York, he asked Lawrence to book a table in a reasonable restaurant for dinner on the Sunday we would be here; and Lawrence did. Edward flew in that afternoon. When we were all seated, and just when we were about to order food, a young lady with a familiar face walked to our table. It was Joyce, Past President Joyce Mak and current Club Secretary. I almost could not believe my eyes, but it was such pleasant surprise. Joyce was in the East Coast for business, but she actually had to double back to New York in order to have dinner with us and to give me this very pleasant surprise.
Then there was Bob and his wife Janet. Bob was my Assistant Governor when I was Governor; and later he also became a Master of my lodge at Zetland Hall. He was posted back to New York three years ago, and this is the first time we met since he left. As can be expected, the meetings became rather emotional at times. We ate, we drank, we talked non-stop, and we laughed and almost cried, and so on. We promised to meet again sometime somewhere.
On Su’s side, she began looking for her ex-colleagues after we met the children. She met Albert and his wife Joyce. Albert was her sales trader and they worked rather closely for six years. He was recently laid off after having served the company for 25 years. His wife was a cosmetics product specialist in color. Both kept very fit and had no children. Life is tough in New York. Then we met Will who came across as a very focused and disciplined professional and father. He has four children, from 13 to 18. He would not travel or spent on unnecessary luxury items such as fast cars even though he could afford them, but put money away in savings plans to make sure his children would afford a good education before he retires. All in all, he is a great guy. There was also Sabina, a 38-year old blonde from an ex-state of the ex-USSR, who used to be in the fashion business, but who self-learnt to become an IT project manager for banks, which was where Su met her. Sabina is also a very much focused individual determined to succeed in life and who wants nothing but the best. I can see shades of Su in all her friends, who are not the easiest persons to get along with, but who would become life-long friends over time with people such as Su with whom they had fought the same battles.
I could not sign off without mentioning a 30-year old man who presented himself near the door of a restaurant as we left. He had a tie which matched his shirt and an overcoat with a button missing. He told us he was a sous chef out of work, but having to find food for a family, including a 12-year old daughter. We gave him some money and we hope he used it well. Life must be tough in New York.
On this note, I would sign off from the BA Lounge at JFK. I won’t bother you with the story that we had to wait three hours for the counter to open because I decided to go to the airport early. I hope to talk to you again in Vancouver.