While Su Was Away

In a few hours Su would be back from a trip to Phuket with her parents. They left on Tuesday. I had told Su as I walked her to take a taxi to the Airport Rail that I would write some letters while she was away, almost suggesting that she could be the reason why I had not been writing as much as I had hoped to. Well, the fact that I had failed to put out anything up to the present suggests otherwise; and I have no defense except a rather lame statement that I have yet to have the basic software for writing installed on my laptop, or that I have been otherwise occupied or busy.

Busy with what – that is the question. I often say that everyone is busy; or more precisely, everyone in Hong Kong is busy. I have often been asked what I have been busying with; and my reply invariably is that I am heavily occupied with work that does not generate any monetary benefits for me. I am happy though that many friends, particularly those who do not see me regularly or often, have voluntarily told me that I look young or younger, happy and relaxed. While I would not deny that I have been happy, I would say that it is demonstrably difficult to measure happiness; and often, one ends up listing what one has done or achieved over time as a measure, which is neither here nor there.

Another approach is to question oneself whether one has been happy with what one has been doing, whether one has missed other activities in which one would have liked to participate, and whether one has met the objectives one has set, if any at all. I can go on with such rhetoric which would get me nowhere. Indeed, I recall an oft-repeated throwaway line I deployed ten years ago, which is that I would deliberately keep an open mind on what to do next, lest I would be unable to do what I want to do when I think of what to do.

Yes, ten years slipped through seemingly unnoticed; and I have joined the club for the seniors. It seems to be a good time to think about the next step. But then would I be falling into the same trap I set for myself ten years ago? Ten years may seem long compared with four or five days, which is the time Su was away. If one takes a closer look, there is actually no difference between the two: if one can allow a day, a week, a month or a year to pass unnoticed, one can allow ten years or a life to pass by, which is what living in the present moment is all about.

It follows that the test of happiness is not what one has done or achieved, but rather how much one has enjoyed the process. All self help books are full of examples of how people have lived to very old age by living simple, in particular by eating simple and having plenty of daily but not too strenuous exercises. There is a favourite story that I have read from a book Su left in the bathroom which talks about a 68 year old man hunting game hens every morning with his father who was 88, but that his grandfather who was 118 could not join them one morning because he had to go to a wedding, his own.

Back to the last few days, I went to a few birthday lunches and dinners mostly organized in my name; and I had enjoyed them very much. Su has asked me to watch my weight and waistline, which I did. I have found that I can stand to lose one to two kilograms by skipping a meal here and there, without detriment to the body metabolism. I had actually tried this before accidentally when I was reading my Masters at HKU when classes were held in the evenings for three hours from 6:30pm, which was not conducive to making dinners. I lost up to four inches waistline before I discovered what was happening to me, but which I quickly regained during the term break.

Still on what I had planned to do while Su was away, I had thought of commenting on topical and social issues on a regular basis, but I quickly dismissed the idea as something that would not be conducive to living a good life or staying happy. Life is full of imperfections, which is Buddhism 101, and no amount of discussions on political or religious topics would likely lessen their impacts on people’s daily lives. If people choose to be unhappy, no one can help them. Most of the problems of the day – the antagonizing attitudes between individuals and groups, the failure or unwillingness to reach consensus or to meet each other halfway, the determination of some people to object to anything from people with whom they disagree, and so on – are self inflicted and self fulfilling. It is often not difficult to find solutions; as solutions are often obvious. However, one must realize that knowing the solution will not bring one closer to solving a problem. A problem will only go away when the necessary conditions present themselves at the right time and in the right manner and fashion. Once again, this is Buddhist speak 101.

Having said that I would prefer to abstain from every topic of political or religious discussion, I cannot resist making the point that I am disappointed that our lawmakers have yet to see their way to approve a donation of $100 million to the earthquake victims in Sichuan, when provision of the same amount has been made available in each of the 18 districts for local improvement works. I am more than familiar with excuses from individuals and groups for withholding donations towards disaster stricken areas because of their fear that their donations would be abused or siphoned off instead of being applied directly to the victims. Indeed many eloquent arguments have been advanced to support such inaction. My response has been simple: if one is doubtful that their relief donations would be undermined, one should give more to make sure that those who need the relief would at least get something. I am aware that many people would not agree with such a simplistic approach, but life is not perfect; and one ought not to overlook beauty in simplicity.

I hope to talk to you soon.

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