I was supposed to go to a meeting convened by the President-elect of my club to discuss how best to celebrate the tenth anniversary of our club, until some of us found out that the time clashed with at least two other events involving Interactors and Rotaractors. The meeting having been rescheduled, I found myself having a few hours to spare.
One supposes one can call those few hours borrowed time, but then what does borrowed time really mean. An author described Hong Kong as a borrowed place on borrowed time a few decades before the British handed it back to China; a BBC correspondent said in 2002 that Yasser Arafat was a leader living on borrowed time; and numerous authors and film makers have explored the theme in one way or the other. For that matter, all those candidates running in the U.S. presidential race for the Democratic Party are on borrowed time at least for a while; and the same for those gubernatorial candidates in our district, I suppose.
As someone who is not holding down a full time job, I ought not be bothered too much about time. There are no deadlines the way they used to present themselves, there is no longer the need to get up before certain time, and mealtime or bedtime has become rather academic or flexible. Funnily though, I am now keeping a diary religiously and I have begun to operate a PDA seriously. Now I value the service of my secretaries even more than ever; and I begin to appreciate what a friend told me sometime ago about not trying to take up too many chores at any time when one is on retirement.
A working person or an effective executive would normally plan his day carefully. The people around him would try their hardest to fill up his day with appointments, while the able secretary decides whom her principal should meet or has lunch with. At the end of a typical day, the busy working person looks at his diary with satisfaction, having completed every item of work and met every person his secretary has agreed that he should meet. He would look himself in the mirror and say, “A good day’s work.” In technical terms, this person is said to be holding down a job, and rather successfully too. It does not tell you though what the person has achieved through the punishing schedules he has chosen or given to him.
A retired person operates a rather different schedule, or none at all. Put it bluntly, he has nothing to do and no priorities. Put in romantic terms, he follows his heart, or even better, he follows the priorities of his wife. It follows that every item of work a retired person does is urgent, for he would not do it until it has become so. It also follows that everything he does is important, or he would not do it or be asked to do it.
When a meeting is cancelled or rescheduled, therefore, particularly at short notice, a retired person does not have the mechanism, nor the infrastructure to fill the slot thus vacated. Consequently, rather than having borrowed time on hand, he has deficit time.
The scientific minded would not lose any time to point out that time is a continuum and a relativity, and so on. Time is nothing but a framework within which events take place in a sequence. Most importantly, everyone has exactly the same amount of time within the same period of time; and very encouragingly, those who live longer do not necessarily achieve more, or John Fitzgerald Kennedy would not have achieved that much. This is an ever youthful and charismatic leader; youthful because the world did not allow him to grow old, and charismatic, because the world had no time to learn about his packed life while he lived. He had said that he was an idealist without illusions. He also said, “Things do not happen. They are made to happen.” Some analysts have said that JFK had always known that he would not live long, so he crammed all he wanted to do in a lifetime within his lifespan. He certainly lived his words and had made what he wanted to happen happen. For example, during his presidency, he gave high priorities to scientific research and space exploration and became the first to put a live chimpanzee orbiting Earth, thereby putting behind USSR in the Space Race.
A few days into the New Year, RTHK ran a live phone-in programme to pick the Personality of the Year. The Yuen Long Croc won. I went for my Shorter Oxford to confirm that personality means the quality or fact of being a person as distinct from a thing or animal; or the quality which makes a being a person. A crocodile cannot therefore be a personality, never mind winning the personality of the year award. I had wanted to write to the local English newspaper pointing out the anomaly, but I had other priorities at the time.
In congratulating the winner, one of the presenters made a sniping remark that she was pleased that Chinese astronaut Yang was not a forerunner for the award, noting that sending a man to the Moon decades after the Americans had done it was really no big deal. What she said might be just a passing comment and might not mean anything to her or to most listeners, but I found it rather disconcerting. It reflects gross ignorance on her part of the culture of China, one of the greatest nations on Earth and the fastest growing, and a total disregard of the sensitivity of the people and their achievements by themselves alone, without the support and encouragement of other developed nations, most noticeably the Americans. Such American arrogance compounded by ignorance, if left unchecked, would not be conducive to world peace and international understanding.
The angle of American arrogance was actually touched upon during a close door session with a United States Senator last week, organized here by a think tank and attended by people and groups from almost every sector. The Senator was broaching the question of more democracy in countries in the region, including China, along the line deployed by President Bush not so long ago. The Senator was making rhetoric such as, “The Chinese deserve more freedom and democracy,” and “Democracy would lead to economic freedom” when he was confronted by a Chinese lady who said something to the effect that such remarks, even if made innocently and with good intentions, left something to be desired, for they were condescending and arrogant, if not rude.
In the world of politics, the uninspired leaders could sometimes take might for right, which is why I find what JFK said in a prayer breakfast in Washington very soothing. He said, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.” I say, let us pray that China would be a stronger nation with inspired leaders.
On such a hopeful note, I wish you health, prosperity, temperance, prudence, fortitude, and happiness, and may Justice be the guide of all your action in the Year of the Monkey.
Talk to you again soon.