Yet Another Year Ender

For many years, Wah Yan College alumni would hold their annual party today, the 23rd day of December, rain or shine. Some die hard alumni would even go as far as saying that everything else won’t matter as long as we have our Annual Ball on this day. The school has certainly produced some well known graduates over the years, noticeably senior government officials and of course the current Chief Executive of the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. I recall that we used to attend the annual party on this day, sit at the same table and eat the same food.

I was first a past chairman and then a past president of the alumni association – which official name is a mouthful, so I would not bother to repeat it here – and I had the privilege of having annual balls organized on this day for a few years. I cannot recall when or why the practice was discontinued, and I honestly do not know whether my successors have been organizing similar parties these years. The last big dinner party related to Wah Yan I can recall is one held in December 2009 to mark the school’s 90th anniversary and was billed as a Gratitude Dinner. It was held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, rather well attended, but of course nothing of the scale of the HKU Gala Dinner held in the same venue last week, an event I would come back later in this letter.

So much for an introduction of a year ender, which I had planned to pen after the morning Mass at the Ricci Hall chapel this morning, but which I could not begin until now, which is after normal lunch hours, except that I have yet to have lunch. Lest you begin to think that I have lapsed into a disorganized retirement or married life, let me quickly adjust your mental formation and share with you that I have continued to be rather busy, and indeed much more organized and focused.

Su and I are determined to be happy and healthy together; and I am happy to report an almost trouble-free year on the health front for both of us. We have not been unwell for longer than a few days. Su has always been well, as young people tend to be; and the doctors at the family health clinic had very little to nothing to say about my well being during my regular medical checks, except to ask me to lose a few kilos and do more regular exercises if I am minded to continue to remain healthy. We thank God for that and we pray that long may it last. Somehow, Su believes that she can rightfully claim credit for keeping me healthy and would remind me that I used to have rather long spells of being unwell before I met her and when I was living alone. I do not disagree; and I am indeed grateful to her on the one hand and have encouraged her on the other to be thankful to God for giving her the strength, energies and motivation to continue the good work.

Talking of being thankful to God, we are grateful that Su was baptized at Easter this year and has taken the Christian name “Maria” though she has yet to adjust to the newly acquired name. Su had worked very hard in the lead up to her baptism. She attended classes every Sunday for 18 months and the classes continued for three more months afterwards. She has been serious about her religion and quite rightly so, and she would argue with the facilitators or instructors over fundamental issues. After baptism, Su continues to go to Sunday Mass with me and she tries to help out at the new catechism class.

On the work front, as I said earlier, I have continued to be busy, even though I have given up two offices this year, as Chairman of the HKU Centre of Buddhist Studies Alumni Association and as Chairman of the Friends of St. John. I continue to be active in Rotary, but since the completion of the Hepatitis B Immunization projects in Chongqing, I do not need to travel as much to the area last year. With HKU, I have become the Clerk of the Convocation; while I have found myself spending more time on meetings related to Freemasonry.

On the study front, my post graduate programme with Durham University took a definitive turn when the Programme Co-ordinator visited me the third time in January and persuaded me to opt for a Masters in Educational Research. I was persuaded and in July went to Durham to collect the Degree. As regards Su, she has continued to pursue her law studies through the LLB programme offered by University of London, which at times could be heavy going in terms of time and energies.

Still on the study front, I have taken a Mediator Skills Training course with the UK based International Dispute Resolution Centre and have since been assessed as having demonstrated the required standards to achieve CEDR Mediator Accreditation such that I may now use the title “CEDR Accredited Mediator”. CEDR in this context stands for the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution, which was launched in London in 1990 as an independent, non-profit organization with a mission to encourage and develop mediation and other cost-effective dispute resolution and prevention techniques in commercial and public sector disputes and in civil litigation.

Turning to travels, I think we have traveled less frequently, but somehow, as I went over the diary, I found that I have made four trips with Su this year – a week in Korea in April to look at the cherry blossoms, about three weeks to UK, mainly Scotland in June and July, a week in Bali in December, mainly spent in Ubud, and a few days in Taipei very recently. Separately, I was away by myself a few days at a time to Malaysia in January, in June and in August, mainly on Masonic activities, a weekend in April in Taipei on Rotary business, and about a week in the Three Gorges in River Yangtze in October, the last one being a reunion with very old friends some of whom I last met 40 years ago.

I am glad that we have attended more weddings than funerals last year. Specifically, I have attended the wedding of my godchild, the wedding of a cohort of Su in the catechism class, the wedding of a young mentee of a fellow hiker who has claimed to be my mentee which would make me a grand-mentor, and the weddings of a few younger friends whom I got to know through various connections, including pilgrimages, Rotary and so on.

I have not forgotten that we organized a reunion dinner of the Action Presidents and Action Management Team in June. I reported the event in earlier letters and in group emails I sent to the individuals concerned. Suffice it to say that we collected close to $100,000 during the dinner, the full amount of which has since been donated to Thailand in aid of the flood victims through the Rotarians there under the leadership of Past RI Director Noraseth Pathmanand.

I said earlier that I have become more involved with the HKU Convocation, and indeed I have been spending more time on HKU’s Convocation and Court meetings and activities. This year being HKU’s Centenary, many more extraordinary celebratory activities have been and are still being organized. One of these is of course the Centenary Ceremony held on 18 August and which has attracted disproportionate, mostly unfair and unwanted, comments from all sides, particularly from the media. As an officer of the Convocation, it would not be appropriate for me to make any views on the matter in public, so what follows does not reflect the official views of the University or the views of the Convocation Standing Committee as such. They are my personal views.

I was at the landmark meeting held in Loke Yew Hall on 18 August, taking up a rather vantage seat in the front. I thoroughly enjoyed the session, the proceedings with the usual HKU flavour and the characteristic precision and time control, the colourful robes and gowns, and the speeches, in particularly Lord Wilson’s. Specifically, I was and still am of the view that HKU has done well, having secured top level support of Central Government. After the meeting, I had coffee with an ex-colleague in the government at Starbuck next to the University Library and while seeping coffee, noticed reporters and media people outside coming down and crowding round a few students. I did not make much out of the incident. I spent the next day golfing in Discovery Bay and was only aware of the sensational media reports the following morning. I thought I went to a different meeting in a different world.

What follows is now history or history in the making; and Vice Chancellor Professor Lap-Chee Tsui has become more famous than necessary and for the wrong reasons. I have the privilege of watching this VC at close quarters on many occasions at public and private functions, even though I cannot say that I am his personal friend. Professor Tsui has come across as a sincere and genuine person with a sense of humor, a professional, a scientist and a competent administrator in higher education. He has done the University good, a lot of good, but not once has he claimed personal credit for taking the University to such great heights and from strength to strength. “I was in the right place at the right time,” he would say in response to the perceived achievements of the University over the last ten years he was VC, adding that, “what the University has achieved is due to the collective efforts of all the staff and students.” At a private party attended mainly by alumni leaders, a close friend remarked that Professor Tsui was not admitted as a student by HKU. He laughed heartily and said, “Yes, that was why I went to the other university.” He is indeed very much human and any fair person would agree that he has always had the interests of HKU in the heart. Ten years as VC, or two full terms, is long enough by any standard. It is clear that it would be in the interest of both the University and of Professor Tsui that he moves on, notwithstanding the bad timing. To politicize his career is not only unnecessary, but also a cheap, clumsy and amateurish move that is not worth of anyone aspiring to be a statesman or in public office.

I think I have gone on too long; and I had meant to say something on the Gala Dinner held last week. I think I have got only the space to say that I was there, that it was a marvelous and impressive party, but that the food could have been better.

I cannot close without mentioning my children. Both Stephanie and Lawrence are well, if one believes in no news is good news. I got titbits of Lawrence through Facebook and through a good uncle who regularly visits New York and buys him dinners. I got news of Stephanie through the wife of Rosita’s brother, or her auntie, who treats my children as her own, so that I can sleep well. The real good news is that they are visiting Hong Kong soon; and I am very much looking forward to that.

Before I leave, I wish all of you out there a mindful and meaningful holiday season coming up; and I promise you that I would talk to you sooner rather than latter.

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