General

Out of San Francisco

Stanford Court is a Renaissance hotel on California Street just above Powell, so that if one stands outside the main entrance, one can see the Bay Bridge, on a clear day that is. And it was clear and sunny for the three or four days I was there. Indeed, people I met complained about it being unseasonably warm and sunny, for Americans are now in their Thanksgiving Week, and such weather is bad for business and hence not conducive to attaining a stronger economy. The warm and sunny weather could be deceiving though, for as soon as the sun sets – and it sets rather early, such as 5p.m. – it becomes rather cool and windy in places.

Two blocks down on California stands Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, which is the Old Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception. It was built in 1854 as California’s first cathedral, so that the parishioners are now celebrating its 150th anniversary. Old Saint Mary’s survived the 1906 earthquake and fire and is a historical landmark, required by law to have its structure reinforced seismically or risked being torn down.

The newsletters of Old Saint Mary’s are typical California or San Francisco rather. On its front, it says, we welcome people of all faiths and all races, divorced or separated persons, families with children, gays and lesbians, homeless persons, loving relations, married couples, single persons, those in recovery, travelers from far and near, widows and widowers, and visitors. In short, everyone is covered, but notice that apart from the first category, they appear in alphabetic order – very politically correct indeed.

Two further blocks down, we have Montgomery Street where we have Omni Hotel, Tiffany, the Hong Kong Government Office, and more hotels, among other institutions. These are all very familiar landmarks indeed.

As Stephanie and I walked down California Street, we naturally recalled and reminisced the different occasions we met in San Francisco and the people with whom we were together. Sadly, many of them have gone before us, notably her mother and her mother’s parents, both of them. Stephanie was rather reluctant to discuss her mother this time, and would not say why. She is content that I have kept all her personal effects in places to which I have access even if I am not keeping all of them in Goldwin heights. One day when she has her own place, she would recover all of them and put them in one place, she said. She is still very much focused on her study programme, which is hard work, extremely hard work. More fundamentally, it is not easy for her to make longer term plans because getting an internship after the fourth year is by no means certain or automatic. There were other things that she was reluctant to discuss and I would therefore not go into the details.

Father and daughter thus had a reunion of somewhat less than 20 hours including sleeping time before they go separate ways: the daughter went back to Berkeley by BART where she parked her car and would motor up to Davis, while the father spent the evening trying to read up from the internet what he had missed from lectures, dosing off too many times in between.

It was fortuitous I did most of the packing before I went to bed. I woke up 20 minutes before the airport shuttle I had booked was scheduled to leave. I made it and was in good time, but let me go back to what I think had resulted in I getting up so late.

I was reading up my notes and some required readings of my course alright, but I was also reading some of the letters I had written in this series. You see, I paid US$10 each day for the internet connection – which was very good and efficient – and I decided to make full use of my money’s worth. Just as I thought that I had managed to get over my loss, once I described as irreplaceable etc., through faith and prayers and through my latest discovery and studies about the impermanence of life and so on, I discovered that I need more time, much more time and training before I can get over that. But please do not feel sorry for me, for I do not feel sorry for myself. This is a natural process. My Christianity upbringing has reaffirmed that my wife has now a place in heaven, and is waiting for me to join her, if I get there one day; and my newly acquired Buddhist teaching will say that it is the thirst and craving for a false perception of self, which has arisen out of ignorance, my ignorance, that is the arising of my dukkha or suffering. In short, there is nothing to be sorry about, because nothing was, has been or is there.

The theoretical framework, beautiful and impeccable though it presents itself, is, alas not as easy to swallow as it seems, not for a mortal like me, and not until I have found the path leading to the cessation of dukkha. Those of you who were at the Memorial Mass marking the first anniversary of Rosita’s passage would recall what happened: I was doing the scripture reading, which was a beautiful passage, and I could not go on after the first two lines when my eyes were welled with tears. I had to ask my good friend to continue.

Such my friends, was the corporeal and mental state I found myself in as I left San Francisco, a place which has spurned so much imagination, legend and memories for many, impermanent though it must be by definition. I understand that the California Governor, that Arnold Something, is in Hong Kong at the invitation of the Government and Invest Hong Kong and his visit will be followed by the Mayor of San Francisco, a very attractive lady killer. I would stop here and leave you to muse over life and its trappings, and I hope I would talk to you later in my trip.

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