The World of Impermanence

I had planned to write a letter to commemorate our third wedding anniversary the way I did for our second. Now, almost three weeks after the event, after a heavy lunch on yesterday at a venue to which I probably would not be invited for a long while, and after watching Carmen with Su, I find myself in a mood to write something.

April for us is now a month of birthdays and wedding anniversaries, not only of ours, but also of many good friends, so much so that about three years ago, Sally saw it fit to create a group on Facebook for the April birthday boys and girls and to organize a party every April on a date that suits most. This year, we had it on the last day of April. Off hand, I can recall a few April birthdays: those of my son, Jimmie, Sally, Alice (more than one), Benny, Steve and Veronica, David Harilela, Alexander, Ariel, Benjamin and so on. Birthdays used to be a big deal when one was young or younger, but as one grows up, one tends to forget about them until one gets a lot older. Now, we have this mighty social network announcing birthdays of everybody ahead of time and prompting users to wish everyone Happy Birthday such that one can never be sure how genuine or sincere such greetings are or the value to which one ought to attach them. I could have mentioned in a previous letter for example that I received over 100 birthday greetings last year and that I tried to reply to each one until I got rather tired. This year, I also received plentiful of such greetings, but I was less diligent in replying primarily because my declared birthday fell during the Easter holidays and on which day I participated fully at a Teachers Camp organized by our Rotary District, thus leaving rather little time for me to catch up on my emails. Let me thank everyone here belatedly for their good wishes and greetings. It proves that somebody still remembers me and loves me when I am 64; and I am pleased.

On wedding anniversaries in April, I can recall the one of Pearl and Steve which falls a day after ours, and the wedding of Heidi’s son which we attended before our third. There must be others. We were in good company on our third anniversary; we were wined and dined; and we cut a cake too with a picture on Facebook afterwards as well. It was a Sunday: we went to Mass in the morning and had some private moments before we went to dinner. Some of our friends still refer to us as newlyweds and keep telling us that we are always travelling. Perception is indeed a funny thing; and when would a couple cease to be newlyweds.

Let me bring you back to something I said at the beginning of this letter. I was actually at lunch yesterday in Government House with a rather special group of people. Our host was none other than the Chief Executive who told us that yesterday marked the last 50 days of his term in office. He actually started the countdown when he had 100 days left. He and his wife had been busy packing; and the single biggest problem was deciding what to pack and what to leave behind. At one point, his wife suggested packing everything and putting them in storage in the first instance. Well, it really does not take a Chief Executive to realize that a slightly more permanent solution is required.

My mind quickly drifted back to the few episodes of packing for storage I had gone through since Rosita died and since I moved out of Baguio Villa. Let me quickly recall them. First, I packed about 20 boxes of personal effects and sent them to a place in Tsuen Wan. Then I packed over 10 boxes of books and some furniture and kept it at a storage facility of a Rotarian named Kenneth. That must be some seven years ago and I never saw the boxes until about a year ago when separately, the Tsuen Wan store moved while Kenneth’s facility was no longer under his control. Meanwhile, when I moved out of Seymour Road shortly after I married Su, I had more boxes packed and kept in another storage facility rented by my removal friend Albert. I had no idea where exactly the place was except that it was somewhere in Kowloon; and out of expedience, I had the 30 or so boxes moved to Albert’s place and they had been sitting there happily together until recently.

Something happened recently. We were given temporary leave to use a room measuring about 120 square feet, the room being part and parcel of a flat being offered to us for acquisition on some rather specific terms. We seized the opportunity and had Albert moved all the boxes and personal effects under his charge to this room, together with 20 new unused carton boxes in which I would later put the material I would retain. The day before yesterday, I had a first attempt to organize the aftermath of the move. The following is a rather simplified report.

There are many boxes in the room of varying sizes the external appearances of which indicate that the boxes are in all stages of deterioration and dilapidation. There are at least two items which I could positively identify as not belonging to me. My rough estimate is that they would take up about 400 to 500 cubic feet of space. Albert’s lads were sensible enough to leave sufficient room for access to most of the various boxes.

As I waded through a few boxes, I began to re-live bits of my past life. I found some clothes and personal items of Rosita and the children, some neatly packed and still in rather good conditions. There were many photos, again in various stages of perseveration. Some were filed in albums, but too many others were carelessly stacked together and unfortunately stuck together and hence damaged permanently. Many photos were put in separate envelops with my name written on the cover, while Rosita had written questions for me apparently on some covers asking what the photos were about. Then there were photos of the children at various ages, some taken with their parents, but mostly with Rosita. I cannot recall the occasions they were taken in many cases, and worst, I don’t think I have seen many of the photos. Then there were toys and comic books and many other things; and these are stuff uncovered from the first few boxes.

My master plan is to retain only the items that I could ultimately keep in one flat. It means that I need to discard most of the stuff in the boxes. If I do not do this now, Su and maybe my children would have to do it after I pass away. Seriously, I don’t think any of them would look forward to that process. Besides, keeping these items in storage is not cheap, particularly if the chances of going through or using those items again are minimal. It is true that some items are potentially valuable and some collectors may be prepared to pay good money for them, but I do not know where these collectors are and it would entail a lot of work to arrange such processes. I hope that in the end, I would put all the items that my children would value into a few boxes so that they can go through them when they come by Hong Kong again or when they can find the time to so do. They can then decide for themselves what to do with them at leisure, and at least they then won’t have to deal with 50 more boxes. I keep telling myself that I am doing this for Su and the children so that they need not go through what I need to go through.

This will be very difficult work, difficult not because of the physical exertions, but because of the effects on the emotions, feelings and the mind. My Buddhist studies should help me learn how not to develop attachment to extraneous physical items and to realize that emotions and feelings are impermanent and unreal. Let me quickly say that Buddhist teachings are beautiful to look at, but humanly difficult to practice. It will be character building and I hope I emerge a better person after the process.

Later today, I would go to work in the room a second time; and I hope to talk to you soon.

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