2022年8月20日 星期六

In memoriam : Yared of Ethiopia Keep Moving

In Memoriam : Alain Rezelman

I first met Alain in the Health Clinic shortly after I started working there just over 30 years ago, but not in a professional capacity. One afternoon a nurse popped her head round the door and told me a French Professor was just outside wanting to talk to me about a non-medical issue. "OK" I said hesitantly, undeniably a trifle apprehensive. In the next second Alain had already rushed into the room, a big smile on his face and brandishing a video camera. " I'm doing a promotional video for the university to attract overseas students, it features various departments and facilities, and you're to introduce the clinic " "NO!" I was appalled, being somewhat camera shy. " You see, I'm new here, there must be other doctors who'd do a much better job " But I was no match for the tenacity, persuasiveness and charm Alain had in his disposal to get people to do his biddings, besides which his boundless enthusiasm was infectious, and before I realized it I was in the video. I never saw the completed video and I pray to God that my part was edited out ! *********************************************************************** Alain was not a regular patient of mine so over the years we did not see much of each other. There were a few consultations involving the children, but every time I saw him he was seemingly in good health and good cheers. Then one day out of the blue there was a commotion in the clinic and he was the cause. It transpired Alain was brought in by his wife in an acute state of confusion, he staggered about, totally unaware of his surroundings and spewed gibberish non-stop. ( Turned out he was actually speaking French, having lost all his English in his fugue state, but to non-French speakers it might just as well be gibberish) He was rushed to the regional hospital and a CT scan showed he had suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), a serious bleeding in the brain. " Will he survive ?" the Clinic nurses asked me with concern, they were all quite fond of Alain. "We can only hope," I replied gravely. Mortality from SAH is 40-50%, and over 60% of survivors will have some long term neurological sequelae . Alan surprised us all by not only surviving but bounced back to his energetic old self, with no apparent neurological deficit. All that we could conclude was that his zest for life was far stronger than the grip of the Grim Reaper for a time. ********************************************************************** More years slipped by, then one day Alain came to the clinic with devastating news. He's been diagnosed with the genetic eye disease Retinitis Pigmentosa. He was determined to continue teaching for as long as possible, and coped with his gradually failing eyesight by gradually enlarging the letters on the computer screen. "It's OK, I can do it, just takes more time " he was calm and matter-of -fact, fully ready to adapt to a continuously changing lifestyle. His brother had become completely blind in his 40s so maybe he's had time to process the inevitable, but I was still awed by his seeming lack of self-pity, rage or despair, the sort of reaction anyone presented with this horrifying prospect must surely experience and give vent to, especially in a doctor's office. Amazingly Alain was already planning his future in darkness with his typical undefeatable positive attitude. He was a grounded, practical, remarkable man. *********************************************************************** A few more years on I was told Alain had taken retirement and had already left for France. We'd lost touch completely . I had no idea he'd returned to Hong Kong after his wife passed and was living in Mong Kok until much later. In spite of the lapse of many years I found little change in him when we met up again, as he sat beaming with happiness in the university canteen, eagerly engaged and interested in everything that's going on around him. This was a man who clearly enjoyed life and loved the company of friends, and it was easy to forget his disability. Alain had to be the quintessential poster boy for "how to live with adult onset blindness" : I was totally blown away when he told me he not only shopped at the wet market but went hiking regularly ! How did he do it ? An incident at a dinner gathering provided a clue. We were talking about our favorite food and I gushed "I just love cheesecake !" Alain threw his arms up in the air in disgust and pronounced authoritatively " In this world there's cheese and there's cake, but there's no such thing as cheesecake !" Presumably because he's a Frenchman he's decided he's the definitive food connoisseur, and that's that. His confidence in the belief that he's always right was overpowering, and it struck me then that this was exactly the kind of fiery invincible self-assurance , coupled with a deep sense of pride and dignity, that was needed to generate the driving force that would carry him through the waves of trials and tribulations in his life, and leave him still standing after the tides recede. *********************************************************************** Oh, by the way, the connoisseur's favorite food was deep fried stuffed pig's large intestine, who'd have guessed ! ************************************************************************ Alain's passing is a great loss to everyone who knew him. He was a rare soul and his life had been an inspiration to many. Personally I'd never forget his enthusiasm and optimism, his resourcefulness, his willingness to soldier on and adapt to whatever life throws at him, however hard and unfair. His was the ultimate chameleon of indomitable human spirit, at ease in both good times and bad. With his passing we've lost a good teacher not only in the French language, but also in how to live life on one's own terms, to refuse to bow down to fate and to finally emerge a victor. *********************************************************************** Dear Alain,merci et au revoir, rest in peace !

2022年2月25日 星期五

Problem with Hong Kong

Problem in HK has always been its small and weak government, coupled with a large unruly population who intend to topple the HK government, setting up hindrances every step of the way in the government effort to deal with the pandemic , the irony is many of them are actually on government pay ! The present dire situation is a direct consequence of the total disregard of the government advice to get vaccinated, to keep social distance, to avoid crowds, to observe quarantine. Nearly half of the HK people are anti- government and out of control, the government knows it but lacks the authority to do anything ! The HK government gets a beating whatever they do or don't do, they're derided by a powerful press not only when they do wrong but also when they do right. The resolution to put forward the summer holiday for students is after due consideration that pandemic control might still be unsatisfactory by summer, which is highly possible with the current amount of sabotage that's going on against pandemic control measures , but even such legitimate decisions are ridiculed by cartoonists and satirists far and wide. This would have been funny haha in an educated and intelligent society, alas in HK it only stirs up further hate for the government ! *********************************************************************** The HK government has to be the most bullied government in the world due to the vicious anti-government and anti-China section of the population. HK does not have Singapore's “POFMA” ~(Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act ), and false anti-vaccine rhetoric is rampant, misleading a large dim-witted public. Paradoxically HK is less successful than Singapore and far more difficult to govern because HK is too free, and now everyone in HK is paying for the misuse of freedom of the oafish 50% ! *********************************************************************** While the rest of the world is happy the elderlies and the disadvantaged poor die off to relieve welfare spending, HK is not willing to do that. It's money versus human life, and that's Chinese Human Rights in action. Remember the days in America when not only patients queue in long lines to enter hospitals but corpses had to queue to enter the morgues ? Eventually the morgues were so full the corpses had to be stored in cold meat trucks ! HK doesn't want to repeat that here. This reflects a different set of values between capitalist and socialist systems. Capitalist system is built on money, socialist system is built on people. This is why the death toll in the US is almost a million, 160,000 in the UK and only just over 5000 in China. *************************************************************** Singapore vaccination rate was far far above that of HK when it opened up, even then the Singapore Medical Department warned its citizens about the predicted rise in death toll and beseeched their acceptance of possible loss of dear ones. We as individuals choose different courses of living, as does each individual society, but none is perfect and all carry pros and cons, at this time HK chooses to follow the CCP model, which is the humane model. In this model every life is considered precious regardless of age, status, illnesses or disabilities, and all must be protected from infection by way of zero transmission rate, through strict pandemic control measures.. This model is effective but comes with an economic price. The chaos in HK right now in fact confirms the wisdom of tightening pandemic restrictions, because without them the chaos would be ten times worse ! It's a measure of the true moral value of a society by how much sacrifice it's willing to endure in order to care for its most vulnerable. *********************************************************************** When our vaccination rate is satisfactory and more cures are found for the infection, when we're confident that we can cope with the consequences of opening up, who knows, maybe we'd steer to another course of management. That's why we're very interested in following the happenings in all the countries that opted for opening up now, and observe how they fare for the next 6 months. Life is dynamic and we're always willing to learn. *************************************************************

2021年8月31日 星期二

Who are Hans ?

I'm sick of ignorante who know nothing about China who persist in spreading lies about genocides of minority tribes in China by Han Chinese. So exactly who are the Hans ? People who lived in areas ruled by the Han Emperor identified themselves as Han people (漢人) , but because the kingdom didn't include southern China, so southern people were not Han people , they were Southern Barbarians. But Tang Dynasty took over southern China as well , that's why southern people traditionally identified themselves as Tang people (唐人). Most of the Chinese immigrants to the West in the early days were from southern China, so that's the Chinese the West knew, even as late as 2 generations back most such immigrants would still insist on calling themselves 唐人 (Tang) and not 漢人(Han) ; this is why Chinatown is always 唐人街 (Tang Street) and not 漢人街(Han Street), Chinese restaurants are 唐人餐館(Tang restaurant), never 漢人餐館(Han restaurant), 唐餐(Tang cuisine) is nothing more than westernized Cantonese cooking, and Bruce Lee (from the south) is 唐山大兄 ( Big Brother Tang) and not 漢山大兄(Big brother Han). Nowadays the terms 唐人 (Tang) and漢人 (Han) are accepted by most Chinese, but the West today for whatever reason have decided to call all Chinese who doesn't belong to a "minority tribe" in China, "Han'' . However the population of Han Chinese is not monolithic like the Japanese, DNA analysis shows distinct differences between the northern and southern Chinese, so much so their disease profile is fairly different ! I'm sure studies comparing all the 25 Han sub-groups would show interesting differences too. Oh, did you not know there are 25 different types of Hans and 5 sub-groups of Mongolians ? The 25 Han subgroups are not arbitrary divisions, not only is their general appearance slightly differ, they also have different languages, different foods and customs. None of each subgroup can understand the dialect of the other, that's why it's important for EVERYBODY in China to learn the national language Mandarin just so we can communicate ! How is that cultural genocide ? Is making Japanese or Korean Americans speak American in America cultural genocide ? It could turn out China is a country of 86 minority tribes, and Guangdong (in the south ) being the most populous is the dominant tribe ! Southern Barbarians no more ! 😆The West should start calling the Chinese Tangs and not Hans ! Isn't it fascinating to be Chinese ?!😂 That'd also automatically make nonsense of the West's assertion of a humongous Han Chinese persecuting minorities when in fact they're minorities themselves ! 🤣 Unlike the US, Canada and Australia, China never needed to kill off its indigenous people to grab their land. The descendants of all the indigenous tribes who lived in China thousands of years ago are still living there today, many still follow their ancient customs and wear their traditional clothing to this day.And proud of it ! All the diverse indigenous cultures are respected,valued and encouraged in China, they're not just as tourist attractions but a way of life. We're a true reflection of the state of humans in the world, we're fluid but all related, depending on the political climate we're different entities at different times yet the same at the end, we're all Chinese, all 86 minority tribes of us ! As the Chinese saying goes " Within the four seas , we're all brothers", and according to ancient Chinese tradition whichever brother controls the family fortune has the obligation to care for the whole family. China has shown the world how it's done : you care for your poorer brother with heart and lift him up however you can with soul . Heart and soul. Your brother is not too heavy. Let that be a reminder to all humans everywhere. We all live within the four seas after all .

2020年1月20日 星期一

My comment on BBC Interview with Dr Darren Mann


What a disgrace to the medical profession this person is ! He's bigoted and biased, and knows nothing about the protocol of medical work in conflict zones ! The first lesson we were taught by the International Red Cross is : we must obtain prior permission from the authorities (government, army or police) before entering the conflict area, and we must report our whereabouts at all times to the authorities so as to avoid friendly fire, as well as not to impede any on-going conflict control operations. Did any of the so called "medics" seek prior authorization in HK ? Did this doctor in this despicable BBC interview ? So far in HK any Tom, Dick and Harry can just put on a vest with the word "medic" printed on it and pretend to be humanitarian workers, no verification provided, and many Tom, Dick and Harry do just that so they can shield the terrorists and assist their escape !!

The second lesson the International Red Cross taught us is : never insert yourself in the middle of any potentially violent conflict situations, because if you get injured not only are you unable to help anyone, you'd become a burden yourself. The HK police always put up warning flags before instituting measures against the terrorists after serious assaults like the throwing of petrol bombs and projectile weapons , so it's reasonable to believe that anyone still hanging around after all that are in fact all terrorists ! If these so called "medics" go against the directive of the International Red Cross they only have themselves to blame for the consequences !

The HK police are more restrained than police in the West, be it Britain, France or the US....., not to mention those in Israel, India, Thailand , Philippines.... in fact, almost any country you care to mention ! But you never hear the so called "Human Rights Organizations" condemning them, right ?!.... Oh, could it be because they're not Chinese ? What double standard hypocrites !

The problem with these HK medics is they think they're holier than thou and they are above the law ! The message International Red Cross repeatedly drums into our heads is : to render effective and credible medical service, NEUTRALITY is paramount, particularly in sensitive conflict situations where perception is just as important as action - medical staff have to be seen to be whiter than white ! The only way to gain trust from our patients and the public is impartiality in our professional arena. Certain HK medical and nursing personnel have brought deep shame to our profession by injecting politics and hatred into public hospitals, this has resulted in not just deep fissure within the fraternity, but mistrust and contempt from the general public. Public Hospitals belong to ALL HK citizens, including the police and their families, and the citizens who support them ! These "medics" have no right to hijack public medical services to use as private political tool to hurt fellow citizens. They're unfit for their jobs !

In this particular BBC interview it's clear this doctor and his team, by his own admission, to be of no difference from the Maffia doctors servicing the criminals, operating in the back room and shielding them from the law ! Medics do NOT have special privileges and must uphold the law at all times in order to retain integrity and credibility, the HK Medical Council must take heed and take action - time for the HK medical profession to earn back respect from the public !

2018年8月2日 星期四

An Eventful Trip in southern Africa

It was late evening when we arrived at the Namibia Airport, I was immediately greeted by a beautiful black man. "I'm Derek your guide," he extended his hand towards me with a wide grin, then announced earnestly :"I'm a bastard" " Oh sure....if you say so." At this point of the journey nothing startled me anymore. Only much later did I realize what he actually said was "baster", a Namibian term denoting an ethnic group descended from a crossbreed of Afrikaners and indigenous tribes. Oh well !

Derek quickly packed us into his minivan then promptly cut his hand on a piece of sharp metal jutting out from the dashboard near the ignition switch, instantly dripping blood all over the front seat. " Doctor doctor," everyone in the van shouted in unison : "do something !" I sighed in resignation, this trip had been nothing but EVENTS !

The trip started 5 days ago inauspiciously. We boarded the plane at midnight from Hong Kong, the flight to Johannesburg was 13 hours, so I took careful deliberation to settle myself restfully for the duration. Except Providence disagreed, and at the exact moment I closed my eyes I heard a rumbling several rows back. I sensed it's becoming serious when a blond girl in the next aisle nudged her boyfriend awake then stood up to take pictures with her cell phone. By then the rumbling had evolved into a commotion, and suddenly the intercom boomed urgently : " Is there a doctor on the plane ?" I slide deeper into my seat to wait for the usual. From past experiences right after the first appeal an American (or two) would have rushed forward bursting with self-importance and put on a big show " I'm the doctor, what needs to be done ? Chop chop ! " Unfortunately not this time. By the 3rd appeal I was incredulous - 260 people on the plane and not another doctor aboard ?! I had no choice but to get out of my seat and presented myself to the Afrikan air stewardess. " What do you want ?" she was as annoyed as she was big. " You called for a doctor, I'm a doctor" I said apologetically. " Oh good ! " she thrusted a syringe into my hand " I need you to give the troublemaker this sedative, under South African Aviation Law, only medically qualified persons are allowed to give injections"

"Hold on!" I stretched myself to stand as tall as possible, which merely brought my head to the level of her bosom, and put on my business voice:" Before I administer any medication could I first find out for myself what's going on please ? And I'd like to speak to and do a clinical assessment of the person concerned." "OK" she was only too happy to pass the buck. "Mind yourself, he's drunk !" With that parting warning I walked up to the culprit gingerly, introduced myself and relieved to find him subdued and ready to tell his side of the story. He was also handcuffed." Have you been drinking?" In-spite of his bloodshot eyes Mr C insisted he had not- he was lucid, his speech was clear and there was certainly no alcohol smell on him ; he also denied to be on any medication. Apart from a couple of scratches on his arm there was no other visible injury. I checked his passport and letter of employment. It transpired Mr C was from a poor Chinese rural province, en route to Zambia to work as a laborer. He claimed the European gentleman in the seat next to him was disrespectful : allegedly the guy curled up on the 2 seats next to him and luxuriously stuck his feet in Mr C's chest, when Mr C angrily pushed the feet back the 2 men started a shoving match which got more and more physical, during which Mr C's T-shirt got torn at the sleeve. Now properly incensed, Mr C ripped his shirt off completely to reveal Hercules muscles and a large tattoo, then he jumped up on the seat and growled. At this point the giant steward and stewardess stepped in. I shook my head in sorrow, 2 people were involved in a fight, yet only one was branded the troublemaker, the bad person. I'd like to believe it was the Yakuza torso and not his ethnicity that clinched the deal but I'd my doubts. Meanwhile his equally combative white neighbor had long been moved to another seat some way back, busily feigning asleep.

" It seems the whole episode was a silly misunderstanding compounded by language barrier" I explained to the stewardess and the co-pilot, who sauntered up to get the latest," He's sorry and promises to be quiet and behave himself, is it possible to take the handcuffs off ?" "No," the co-pilot said " We've already informed the Police so when we arrive in Johannesburg he'll be escorted to the Police Station " " Couldn't anything be done to reverse that ? He's only in transit in Johannesburg and due on a plane to Zambia ! He doesn't speak any foreign languages, he's travelling alone and knows nobody here, plus he might lose his job if he doesn't get to Zambia in time " " Sorry no, the wheel's already in motion, but I'd remind the police to get him an interpreter "

Mr C was calm when I told him his fate, I then got him a blanket and told him to get some rest. I felt so bad for Mr C I spent the next hour or so composing 2 letters, one to the Pilot ( in the troposphere the pilot's the de facto supreme commander) and one to the South African Police Superintendent, pleading his case. People who begrudge Chinese laborers in Africa never knew the degree of helplessness and hardship they're subjected to. Adhering to the traditional Chinese work ethics and unrestricted by local labor law, they generally work much longer hours than their African counterparts, and in worse conditions. Barely literate, they are the poor wretched souls that China's economic gravy train has left behind. I could never understand how these people manage to go as far as they do. I remember in Sudan airport I ran into 5 laborers from Sichuan and had to spend 20 minutes filling in each of their immigration form, checking and rechecking the data for them. They couldn't read the form and were blissfully unaware they needed them to pass through immigration ! They also had no idea where anything was and would have missed their flight if I didn't drag them to the right gate. The bewildered haunted look that is the universal badge of identity on the disadvantaged poor is only too easily recognizable. And I see them everywhere.

It was the first time I was in South Africa, so I was glad to get some pointers from Mr Wang, who's originally from Beijing but had lived in Johannesburg for over 25 years, though he's unsure if he planed to stay on much longer. He's just sent his daughter to study in Australia. " If she decides to stay on in Australia that's fine with me !" he said . " I hear crime rate's bad in Johannesburg, are things better in Cape Town ?" " But they're COMPLETELY DIFFERENT stories ! " Mr Wang was horrified at my ignorance, " In Johannesburg they rob you with a gun, in Cape Town they rob you with a knife !"
To educate myself on Africa I bought a number of books, which almost got me in trouble. The immigration officer caught sight of one of my purchases - [Why is Africa poor - by Dr Greg Mills], and barked at me with displeasure :" Do you think Africa is poor ?" " I don't know Sir," I looked him straight in the eye and replied with great feeling, " I haven't read the book yet, all I can tell you is I found everything in Johannesburg to be VERY expensive ! ! "

The drama continued on the flight to Zambia. A Chinese lady in our group simply refused to take her seat. The pretty Zambian stewardess wrung her hands in distress " Ma'am, we've to take off now, you must sit down !" " What's the problem ?" I popped my head up and immediately saw the problem : the woman's seat was the middle one between 2 black men. " It's OK, I'll switch seats with her, " I told the stewardess who beamed in relieve. The loss was on the woman, I chatted with the African gentleman on my left, Mr Ochuko, and found to my delight that he was a Nigerian Government Officer on his way to a Rotary Convention in Zambia, the 2 day event was to take place in the very hotel we were to stay in ! I'd always wanted to visit Nigeria, ever since when I was in high school in South London and my favorite Physics tutor was a Nigerian. It was also a real pleasure to meet Rotary delegates from many African countries as well as local Zambian members later in the day, and learnt about their charitable work.

We started the sightseeing from Livingston town, the tourist capital of Zambia today. It's named after the Scottish explorer Dr David Livingstone, who discovered and named the Victoria Falls in 1855. We were taken to the Craft Village then on the obligatory Zambezi river sunset cruise, but I was more interested in exploring the town on my own. Livingston town was one of the first white settlements in Zambia , which was then Northern Rhodesia. It's been promoted as a historic town for its colonial architecture preserved from the first decade of the last century. The 1981 movie "The Grass is Singing" ( based on the novel by Doris Lessing, British Rhodesian Nobel laureate in Literature (2007) , and set in 50s Rhodesia ) was filmed on location here because of its dated character.
Our African local guides were Shamiso and Herbert, and our driver was Polite, all Zimbabweans. All of them held 3 month renewable commercial licence which allowed them to operate in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. We were scheduled to do 2 things in Botswana, a Safari excursion and a Chobe River Boat Cruise.

Our driver for the day in Botswana was Blessing, a name he chose for himself when he converted to Christianity. He's in good company as 70% of Batswana are Christians. The windscreen of his bus was plastered with stickers depicting football heroes (football being the most popular sport here ) and HIV prevention slogans (HIV being the most devastating health crises here). Botswana has the third highest HIV infection rate in the world, it's been estimated a quarter of all adults here are infected.
Botswana is richer than most other African countries since large diamond deposits were discovered in 1967, a year after gaining independence from Britain. Yet a recent World Bank poverty assessment reported that almost half of the population are still poor or vulnerable. A stratified economy and HIV/AIDS are deemed equal contributors to poverty here. The rapid and substantial loss of workforce in a small nation of only 2 million people has understandably resulted in havoc. In the 6 years between 1999 and 2005 Botswana lost 17 % of its health care workforce to AIDS, and by 2020, it has been projected that the loss in agricultural labor force to AIDS could be more than 23 %. Funerals became common and regular, prompting Judge Unity Dow to write her book : "Saturday is for Funerals". (Judge Dow is Botswana's first female High Court judge, human rights activist and writer) The government has since joined forces with international initiatives and created some of the most comprehensive HIV treatment programs in Africa, it's also the first African country to provide free universal anti-retroviral treatment, so hopefully things would change for the better .
The driver/guide of our Safari van called himself Presley -" Because I love Elvis!" he explained. Presley clearly also loved animals as he seemed as excited at sighting them as we did, and was very knowledgeable about the local wildlife. We were told the elephant population is high here partly because civil unrest in neighboring countries have driven them to Botswana as a port of refuge. " You think we might see some black rhinos ?" " No, they're extinct here." " What happened ?" " The Chinese happened !! " I sighed ! May I digress here to clear a myth please, for the umpteenth time : Rhino horns have absolutely zero aphrodisiac effect !

Trust me, I am a doctor !

The Chobe River Boat Cruise was great fun for me specifically because of the comedy team that's the Captain and Willie, the boat boy. The Captain was forever taking the mickey out of Willie, " Do you know why his nickname is Ant ? And why he needs to drink of a lot of water all the time. "" Why ?" " Because he scurries around a lot like an ant, and his long hair needs water to grow, just like plants !" He laughingly pointed to Willie's dreadlocks. " He keeps his hair this way because he's a Bob Marley fan" Willie nodded in assent." That's reggae, right? I thought Bob Marley was Jamaican. Aren't you a bit young to be a Bob Marley fan ? I believe he died of malignant melanoma in the early 80s, 20 years before you were born. " With the few sentences I exhausted my total knowledge of reggae music." Yes, but there's quite a 'Rasta' following in Botswana nowadays " "Wow, that's interesting it's happening now !" I mused. The Rasta - Black Cause movement originated in Jamaica in the 1930s, aside from its religious and spiritual dimensions, it also had an earthly aim which was to rectify the falsification of Black history by the power cultures and religions of the West, reaffirm the dignity of a people scorned by centuries of slavery, and to promote a black identity for blacks across both sides of the Atlantic. Bob Marley was credited for being the voice that brought the movement to the international stage.
The Captain then kept me occupied with a string of riddles, as I'm hopelessly bad at riddles I bombed all of them ! Shell shocked, I only managed to remember 2 of them :
1) What's as big as an elephant but has no weight ?
2) What comes up once in a year and twice in a week ?
If you guessed the answer to be : 1) is "shadow" and 2) the letter "E", you're a much more clever person than I am !

The first president of Botswana, Seretse Khama, married a white English woman Ruth Williams in 1948, a union that flew in the face of racial segregation of the time. To appease South Africa, the British government banned the Khamas from Botswana for almost a decade. Their story was told in the movie "A United Kingdom" (2016). The positive outcome of the couple's pain is Khama and his successors strove hard for racial harmony, hence today black/white relationship is more relaxed in Botswana than most other post-independence Africa. Relationship with the Chinese however is not exactly cordial, but the reason is economical rather than racial. Chinese presence in Botswana became significant during the country's construction boom in the late 1980s ; today the 6000 or so Chinese in Botswana are mostly small traders, who have been heaped with the usual criticisms for flooding the local market and blamed for conflicts over management style. Even while acknowledging their service to be essential to the majority poor in the country, the government has responded in restricting licensing of Chinese retail businesses, and generally created an increasingly hostile environment by imposing strong regulations. Kind of a mini-Trump tactic !
The next 2 days were devoted to the Victoria Falls, acclaimed to be one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. We stayed in the Kingdom Hotel in Victoria Falls town, Zimbabwe. We picked this hotel because of its supreme location right next to the Falls : we could walk over anytime with no need of a guide, as the paths and the many viewing points were well-marked, besides the views were highly recommended as we could stand opposite the falls and view them head on. Just remember to bring a raincoat for the drenching spray !
We were greeted warmly by Mr Derrick Kung, the hotel general manager ( Derek and its variants must be a popular name in southern Africa !) He's the first Chinese person I'd met on the ground so far, I was also a bit surprised because since coming to southern Africa I didn't see many white people about either, not even tourists. 3 generations of Derrick's family had lived here, he's sticking it out for as long as he could, but a lot of Chinese had moved away since independence. " Business is not so good ?" I surveyed the empty lobby " It could be better but we've to accept seasonal variations," I nodded in admiration at his Pollyanna optimism, " Besides people don't just come for the Falls, for example, the Japanese tend to come in November to see the flowers, and they usually come in large groups of 50-100"
The local name for the Victoria Falls is TMosikalamosikala, meaning "The Smoke That Thunders". It's twice as tall as Niagara Falls, and although it's not the highest, the widest or the greatest volume of water, they have the largest sheet of water for any fall in the world.

Victoria Falls town is a small border town and Zimbabwe’s busiest tourist destination. There were the usual souvenir shops, curio and sculpture markets where one could find the famous Zimbabwe Shona stone carvings, and of course plenty of eateries. There were depressingly few tourists about and I was impressed how gracious the vendors were when I politely declined their sales. I was more interested in observing the everyday life of the locals. Wandering off the main avenue, I stumbled into a small local library only to find a young librarian on duty guarding mostly empty shelves. The miserable 100 or so tattered and yellowing books ranged from Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Enid Blyton, Biggles, to a few old science text books - all very 60s Britain and looked suspiciously like cast-offs from people who had to leave in a hurry.

The pitiful library left me sick to the stomach when I recalled the uproar Bona Mugabe ( daughter of Robert Mugabe) caused in the Hong Kong Legislative Council in 2009, when she was enrolled into the Hong Kong City University to do Accountancy and Administration under the alias Tracy Guvamombe. Ironically her cover was blown because her mother, Grace Mugabe, assaulted a British photographer for the Sunday Times newspaper while shopping in Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong, which naturally hit the news. Known infamously in her country as "Dis Grace","Gucci Grace" and "The First Shopper", Grace was after all merely doing what she did best ! The poor guy however sustained numerous bruises, cuts and abrasions to his head and face, courtesy of the multiple diamond rings on Grace's fingers when she attacked him outside the Shangri-La Kowloon where the Zimbabwean entourage took up two floors. The hotel bill of tens of thousands of British pounds was paid in cash, even as their country was mired with poverty, hunger and hyper-inflation. Mrs Mugabe got away under the shield of diplomatic immunity.

The news broke worldwide at the same time as Zimbabwe announced both a hike in student fees and a demand that tuition would from then on to be paid in US instead of Zimbabwe dollars. The students took to the streets. " Why is Bona not attending Lupane or Midlands State University ?" asked Clever Bere, president of the Zimbabwe National Students' Union (Zinasu) " She must come back home and face the same suffering with fellow Zimbabweans because of her father's policies !" Zinasu swiftly mounted an online campaign to pressure Hong Kong to deport Bona. Unfortunately in the way of this cold harsh real world, not only were their efforts futile, 60 university students were jailed after clashes with the Zimbabwean riot police, and to add insult to injury, media further leaked that to prepare for Bona's stay in Hong Kong, Mugabe had splashed out HK $ 40 million for a set of pale pink boxlike 3 storey villa at JC Castle ( named after action movie star Jackie Chan), an upmarket walled and gated Estate with gardens, a clubhouse and a swimming pool in Tai Po developed by Albert Yeung Sau-shing's Emperor Group, Yeung being one of the island's most colorful tycoons who had been repeatedly linked to organised crime. Subsequently Bona's bodyguards twice assaulted reporters outside her Hong Kong home but no action was taken against them either. In 2011 HK City University spokeswoman Karen Cheng confirmed that Robert and Grace Mugabe turned up in the University for Bona's graduation ceremony, and had their moments with their daughter " just like all the other parents". Except of course all the other parents didn't have Security Protection from the HK Government.
In 2014 Mugabe blew 3 million British pounds on a lavish wedding for Bona then had the gall to ask for a pay rise from his people ! Still, he had his fans." Do you think life's better or worse after independence ?" I asked Shamiso. " Oh definitely it's better after !" He enthused. " How is it better?" Then he let out his family was one of the beneficiaries of the "4,000 white-owned farms redistribution reforms". I was instantly intrigued : it's an open secret only veterans or people well-connected to the government were allotted land. Shamiso's father was in fact a militia who fought alongside Mugabe, for which he was rewarded a small plot where he now did subsistence farming. Herbert the other Zimbabwean guide was silent, like the overwhelming majority he had no connections and life had been hard. To make up for the shortfall Herbert was super-diligent in pushing brand new Zimbabwean billion dollar bank notes to us the tourists, putting a new twist to the old saying "making money with money" .
Zimbabwe wasn't always a basket case. When Mugabe took over the country from the white minority government of Rhodesia, despite the long years of war the economic foundations were strong. The new government expanded health and education to the black population (which they were previously deprived), and for a time Zimbabwe had the highest literacy rates in sub-Saharan Africa. Then the economy stagnated, donors including the IMF pulled out because the economic policies were deemed un-Western, just at the time Zimbabwe was hit by a devastating drought, followed by ravages of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. To appease his black supporters Mugabe rushed through his flagship policy of Land Redistribution, which not only sounded the death knell for the agriculture-based economy, but the process was executed so disgustingly that aid to Zimbabwe completely dried up, and varying degrees of sanctions were imposed on the government. The pain had been relentless, as the 21st century ushered in the Age of Inflation. The economy was in free fall and the whole state services collapsed, doctors and teachers were not being paid, schools had no text books and hospitals had no medicines.There was no money to treat raw sewage which led to a massive cholera outbreak. Zimbabwean life expectancy was among the lowest in the world, and Zimbabwe was dubbed the world's fastest shrinking economy. The economy has since stabilized somewhat mainly because the government has adopted foreign currencies in place of the Zimbabwe dollar, which still means that those without access to hard currency are in a desperate situation. Though Mugabe's resigned now, the political and economic situation's still extremely wobbly.
The Victoria Falls Bridge was opened in 1905, it spans the Zambezi River which is the natural border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge is a highlight for the young daredevils but not us oldies. The most we did in the air was the helicopter ride. My pilot was Anja, a pretty 26 year old blue-eyed blond . " How great is this, a lady pilot !" I shouted over the roar of the engine " Yep, mighty great !" she shouted back, then proceeded to make the right and left dips, purportedly to give us better views of the Falls but which just succeeded in making us nauseous; and the semi- somersaults designed to make us scream, which we all dutifully obliged. Anja's taken over from her father who was the regular pilot before he became sick. " But you're so young. " " You do what you've got to do " She shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly. There you have it , the quintessential Afrikan woman, tough, strong, level-headed, and no nonsense !

The evening was spent in the Boma Restaurant, reputedly the best (also the most expensive) place to sample the local Zimbabwean cuisine : BBQ buffet of game meat like Kudu, crocodile, impala, guinea fowl, as well as regular meat like beef, pork, fish and chicken. The specialty here is actually warthog fillet. We were urged to try the Mopani worms, a local delicacy. It's in fact a caterpillar, nearly as long as a finger and as thick as a cigar, weight by weight it's said to contain three times as much protein as beef. I tried one and it's the most revolting thing I've ever eaten ! I've tried larva, grasshopper and scorpion before, but they were crispy fried, crunchy so you can pretend you're eating crisps. But this worm tasted muddy, it's soft and squeezy, and stuff oozed out when I bit into it.......I couldn't spit it out fast enough !
Live Mopani worm . Would you eat this caterpillar ? Really ?
As in all cultural dinner shows we were treated to performances by Amakwezi traditional dancers, singers, Amazulu drummers, and for those under the weather there's a Sangoma (traditional healer) to set you right again, for a small fee .

The next day we were to return to Zambia to catch a flight to Namibia, when we got word Port Health wanted to check our Yellow Fever certificates. " You all had Yellow Fever vaccination done ?" Everybody nodded, " And you all have your certificate with you ?" 4 hands shot up. "NO, we were told to get the shot but we weren't told to bring the cert ! " Not wanting to run the risk of leaving 4 members behind, Kitty our team leader proceeded to do what Chinese are best at : making forgeries. 4 Yellow Fever certs belonging to employees of the travel agency were faxed from the Hong Kong office, Kitty carefully blotted out the original names and put in new ones. " They did have the shots so it's not really lying" Kitty kept telling herself to ease her conscience.

We walked across the bridge to the Immigration Checkpoint, where there's already a longish line consisting mainly of women laden with heavy baskets. They were the cross border traders. Africa has a huge, predominantly female informal economy, estimated to represent one-third of the continent's GDP. They deal mostly in crop products, biscuits, sweets, vegetables, clothes, footwear and blankets. However their days might be numbered as the government is contemplating roping in these informal traders for the purpose of taxation. I recognized a few faces in the crowd." I saw you dancing in the Boma last night, you're very good !" They were the Amakwezi dancing girls " No work today ?" " Well, works starts at 6 this evening, so meanwhile we're doing this " They giggled. I don't know why people think Africans are lazy !? Certainly not the women, African women are some of the hardest working people I've come across.

A few baboons lurked about, causing unease in the HK group. The Zimbabwean girls laughed " They won't be a problem once we cross over to Zambia" Apparently baboons are a delicacy in Zambia so are killed immediately upon sight by the locals.

Namibia was wonderful, clean and orderly, almost German (laugh). In Windhoek we stopped at a restaurant for lunch. As I opened the door to the Ladies I was surprised by a beautiful half naked girl drying her white blouse under the hand dryer machine, surrounded by several equally beautiful young girls all in white blouses, black pencil skirts and 5 inch heels. " I spilled coffee on my blouse, and we're so late for a publicity shot already" the drying girl answered my quizzical look " Who are you girls, you're all so gorgeous !" " Thank you, we're the 15 finalist of the Miss Namibia Beauty Contest, there're more of us in the lobby" "Are you girls ready yet ? " Their minder poked his head round the door, he was getting really impatient. We caught up with the finalists later after their official shots and had some pictures taken with them. The jinx was on me and I found I lost all the many pictures I took in this trip after I got back home, the few I posted in this blog were taken of me by other members of the group and thereby preserved. Fortunately I've the habit of reading the local newspapers wherever I travel, and this was in the day's paper :
Later en route to Sossusvlei I met some even more beautiful people. Theron and Ressis were both nursing practitioners. They took me to visit the small clinic where they serve the 950 people in their area. They also ran a HIV Clinic trying to contain the infection which was still too prevalent in Namibia. A doctor came to the clinic to do a session once a month, the rest of the time the ladies dealt with almost everything that came through the door. In case of real emergency the patient would be sent to the regional hospital. " You do really good work here" I was quite impressed at the setup. There is severe shortage of both doctors and nurses in Namibia. Until the country's first medical school opened in 2010, all previous doctors had to be trained abroad - South Africa, Russia, Cuba, Algeria and China. Derek was quite grumpy about the high private medical and dental insurance costs. But then the cost of living is pretty high here, because everything had to be imported, mostly from South Africa.
Dune 45 : known as the most photographed dune in the world
We stayed in the eco-friendly Moon Mountain Lodge in the Naukluft Mountains. It was managed by Nick and Michelle at the time, both South Africans. I met a couple of tough guys at the parking lot who'd just got back from leading a hunting trip for some Americans. The opened trunk of the car reviewed half a dozen hunting rifles. I put on my best smile. " Could I get a picture of you 2 please ?" " You want one with me holding a rifle ?" One of the big guys said and got cuffed on the head by the other big guy. Although hunting is legal in Namibia I guess it's still prudent to keep a low profile.
We did a quick tour of Swakopmund then went on a cruise on Walvis Bay to meet the dolphins, the great white pelicans and the Cape fur seals.
Oyster cultivation in Namibia began in the late 1980s in the salt pans outside Swakopmund, and the cruise included sampling of the local produce, washed down with Champagne. The boat Captain was initially from South Africa. " Do you know Mandela's a Freemason ? He's not what he seems " " No, I didn't. But a lawyer friend of mine's a Freemason, maybe it's a lawyer thing ? Bush and Clinton're both rumored to be Freemasons. " I knew next to nothing about Freemasonry, but I could sense how deeply upset he was about what was happening in his home country, even though it would be wrong and unfair to blame Mandela alone . We who live in Hong Kong are really too lucky ! I truly don't understand why some so called "Hong Kong people" want to destroy what we have.
Back to the shore while waiting for our bus, I spotted a Himba girl selling trinkets on the roadside. " How much is this bracelet please ?" I didn't really want it except as a point of conversation." 40 " " No, 20 ?" "No, 30 !" She pouted. We went back and forth for awhile, then I decided I had to pity buy as there were literally NO other tourists about ! " OK ! " I took out my last 20 rand and pressed it into her hand. I saw her face screwed tight just as I called out to our team leader, " Kitty, can I borrow 10 rand from you please ?" When I gave the girl the 10 rand her eyes widened. " See, I'd never cheat you !" I said with a laugh and was taken aback when she suddenly bent down and kissed my hand. I looked at her beaming face and felt incredibly sad. This could only mean one thing : she's been cheated a lot before !
The Baobab tree is called the Tree of Life because every part of the tree can be used to sustain life : 80% of the trunk is water; the leaves and fruits are rich in vitamins and minerals; the seeds, bark and dried leaves have medicinal values, and the fiber can be used to make cloth, rope, nets, musical instrument strings and waterproof hats. I love the Baobab legends - the baobab is called the Upside Down Tree because the tribes along the Zambezi River believe the baobab once grew upright but it got cocky, so the gods uprooted it and planted it upside down to teach it humility. Other legends associate it with fertility and strength : e.g. if a boy bathed in its water he'd grow big and strong.
I love the Baobab Tree so in my painting of this Eventful Trip I put it in the center linking the Falls, the sand dunes and the Botswana Basket Pattern in the sky. Every traditional Botswana basket pattern tells a story. This particular one tells how during hunts, hunters would track and give chase to a giraffe till it collapsed in exhaustion. The dying giraffe would look at the hunters as they came up, and realizing it was about to die it would weep. The women then took the tears and weaved them into the baskets to form the pattern " Tears of the Giraffe ", to commemorate the life and death of this beautiful animal.
I liked Namibia so much I went back again sometime later, but that's another story. That's how it is with Africa, no matter how many times you visit you would always still find plenty of wondrous stories that'd touch your soul, for as long as you open your heart.

2018年1月12日 星期五


Every afternoon was nap time for inmates in the nursing home, but like me, mother rarely slept during the day. She was reclining in bed holding a glossy magazine as I walked in the room. "Mama," I called out. She turned round and looked me in the face. Then for a brief moment, her eyes smiled. Mother hadn't recognized me for a few years now, but her soul still knew me. 

Oh how I desperately needed to believe her soul would always know me.......
Mother had Alzheimer's Disease. Like many sufferers, she had struggled alone against the gathering fog that slowly clouded her mind long before any of us realized. On one of my visits to the US, I accompanied her to her family doctor. Dr L was held in awe and high esteem by both my parents, even though he had consistently failed them. " Mother's not well, she might be depressed" I said. " Nothing untoward's happened, right? There's no reason why she should be" he shrugged away the absurd idea." You do know that my brother and his family have moved out to be nearer to my niece's school ?And old people can get depressed for so many reasons" I realized then he knew nothing about my parents, moreover, was not interested. We were swiftly ushered out by a nurse because the big doctor's busy. Depression is extremely common in early Alzheimer's.

A couple of years later, on another visit I noted drastic personality changes. My normally gentle affable mother was irritable, combative, and when questioned on misplaced items responded with uncharacteristic angry outburst and childlike pouting. Father complained about her forgetfulness and irrational ire which unfortunately I instantly brushed aside, as he's been complaining about her for exactly the same offence all my life. For sometime now father had became so frail that when they went grocery shopping, he had to walk behind mother and lean on her as a walking stick, while she relied on him for direction to the shops; but even then Dr L refused to sign the form to grant father a handicapped parking space because filling the form would take up too much of his precious time - exactly why I gave up on him and took charge myself about mother : I sent my sister-in-law a Chinese version of the Mimi-Mental State Examination(MMSE) from Hong Kong to try on mother. She failed dismally. Only armed with the test result that mother was prescribed acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, except it's too little too late.
Following a series of incidents at home the local authorities deemed parents unsafe to stay by themselves and they were forcibly put in a nursing home. Mother proved to be a real handful. She was constantly agitated, fought the staff and attempted escape on a daily basis, even managed to break not one but two of the fairly expensive electronic tracking devices securely clapped on her wrist ( I inspected the devise and not sure I could break them !). On one occasion the police was called and when she was found wandering aimlessly a few blocks away, she put up a fight as a matter of course. The 6 ft tall Hispanic police looked down on this 4 ft 10 skinny old lady gesticulating and shouting wildly "I know Kung FU" and burst out laughing, his laugh tickled mother who readily joined in. Thus was how the nursing home staff found them later, an odd couple bent double with laughter. 
On hindsight maybe I shouldn't be surprised by mother's antics. Alzheimer's might stripe away memory and comprehension, but it also releases the sufferer from the socially expected speech and behavior, and once free of the particular facade that we've chosen to present ourselves to the world, something of the essential quality and character trait that constitutes and defines a person sometimes shines through brighter, if we'd only care to look. Mother never talked about her past, but my 4th aunt had plenty of stories, and I learnt there's another side to the docile mother I knew. 
Mother was born into a traditional Chiu Chow family which discouraged higher education for girls, all her sisters had arranged marriages right after high school, but mother wanted to have a career of her own, so at 16 she ran away from home in Hong Kong all the way to Beijing to do nursing. It must have taken a lot of pluck and determination to break out of the mould, particularly in Old China - it's exactly this core of steel in her character which sustained her through a life filled with hardships.
The years in Beijing were probably among the happiest in mother's life. Mother was warm and sociable, and the large number of friends she made in the hospital was the only reason I'm alive today. I was born premature at 28 weeks, totally flat with no crying or suckling reflex. There was no neonatal ICU and medical support was primitive in those days, but a stream of nurses volunteered to tend to me round the clock in their free time, feeding me milk drop by drop using an eye dropper. Mother was the first among her peers to have a child, possibly also because of the care they took of me, a special bond formed between me and these "aunties" and I became a daughter to them all, so that later when we had to leave Beijing they were heart broken. Being from Hong Kong mother was also much admired for her fashion sense by her northern colleagues. Mother's always good with her hands, even as a teenager she was making her own clothes, including off shoulder dresses with full skirt copied from Western movie magazines. Years later she'd make dresses for me and my sister because we were too poor to buy shop clothes - you see, poverty is no excuse not to look chic ! I'm my mother's daughter, so while in England I borrowed a sewing machine from my friend Irene and made most of my dresses and skirts, and to this day I still design most of my clothes. 
Parents met in Beijing quite by fate, as they were from different worlds. Father, from a rich family in Indonesia, was studying Law in Shanghai, while mother, hailing from Hong Kong, was shut away in a Beijing hospital. After 1949 in the New China, they were both assigned to work in the same commune in Beijing. After marriage father was appointed a senior post in the Chinese Embassy in India, and we were given a house in the Embassy Staff Quarters, a car, a big dog and 2 maids to take care of me and my sister. We had 3 short good years before the storm broke.
Father was a naiveté in politics and was made to pay heavily for speaking his mind. When he was sentenced to a labor camp in Inner Mongolia for re-education, the Authorities told mother as she's non-political she could stay on in Beijing, but she would have none of it. She's as loyal as she's stubborn, and would endure anything to be with father. ( An exact replay occurred years later when the US informed mother they'd accept her immigration application to America only if she agreed to divorce father). So began the year of exile for the whole family in a barren wilderness where temperature in winter drops to -32 °C and in summer soars to 43°C. 
A year later grandfather died in Hong Kong, and because of mother's good relationship with the officials, special permission was granted for her to go to the funeral, taking my sister and I, on the condition that we all must return after the funeral. We never went back. Life in Hong Kong was hard in the late 1950s, especially for a single parent with 2 young children. The RN (registered nurse) qualification mother had from China was not recognized in Hong Kong and she could only work as an EN ( enrolled nurse) making meagre wages, until she re-sat the exams some years later and regained RN status. Mother's immensely proud of this and even in her later stage of Alzheimer's was most happy when addressed as "Nurse Yiu" (姚姑娘). Mother was a good nurse and much appreciated by her patients. Years after retirement and immigration to America we bumped into some past patient of hers in the streets of San Francisco, who rushed up to mother to grasp her hands and would not let go.

After arriving in HK we were put up in a room at the back of one of the shops belonging to mother's family, which meant we lived under the same roof as her sharp-tongued step-mother. 
It didn't help that I was an unruly child, and with mother away working so much of the time, I ran wild and frequently got into trouble. Even though I didn't understand the Chiu Chow dialect, but with a child's intuition I could sense disparage, and step-grandma was super-fluent in derogatory rhetoric : how we would never amount to anything, how hopeless mother was for only having girls and for marrying father, how useless father was. Those were not happy years. I remember woken up nights to find mother weeping by the dim bedside lamp. Unsurprisingly step-grandma and I were forever at loggerheads, I was the only one in the whole extended family who dared to stand up to her and gave her as good as she dished out - if she shouted I would scream louder, drowning out her words. Poor mother, I'd never know what my hot-head must have put her through ! 
5 years later father was given special pardon by Premier Zhou Enlai personally and allowed to join us in Hong Kong. We moved away immediately. Times were tough as father couldn't fit in in capitalist Hong Kong and had tremendous difficulty keeping a job. Essentially mother's was the reliable income, all of $300 HK. I've no idea how she managed because we were never hungry, always properly dressed; she even forked out $10 each for my sister and I for piano lessons every month, until she despaired and stopped my classes (at my request) a few months later because I couldn't sit still for even the half hour session. My hyperactivity and impatience also led to my first hair-cut at age 7. My hair was thick and exuberant, and following the northern custom, my hair was never cut from birth and it grew to waist length, but the daily morning chore of braiding it and my incessant complaint of pain while untangling the mess finally got to mother and I was marched to the hair dresser's. I was excited and intrigued by the novelty of it all so I was astonished by mother's tears when the hair fell off, covering half the shop floor. I never knew what the hair meant to mother, I did know it's later sold to a wig-making factory in Diamond Hill and fetched a pretty penny. For myself I was just glad to be rid of it. From then on to save money mother cut my hair for me until I left for England, after that I took over cutting my hair myself, which I still do to this day.
In her younger days mother loved dancing, Cha-Cha being her favorite. Right after father came to HK he hooked up with his former Shanghainese college friends, most of them millionaire textile tycoons. For the first year we were frequently invited to prestigious country clubs and fancy parties. I found a few pictures of parents in the only X'mas ball mother's ever been to, she in her simple black cheongsam ( the only nice dress she had), sitting at the same table with bejeweled tai-tais in their embroidered brocade dresses, I could sense how she must had felt totally out of place. All the talks at every table were circled around money. Father was gripped by a giant inferiority complex, and quickly we stopped going to anymore dos. So at age 10 I'd had a glimpse of High Society and I was not impressed, I was only happy it's over so I didn't have to wear itchy party dresses anymore !
Back to cold harsh reality. We moved home every year in search of cheaper lodgings, so often that one time after school I went back to the old address, clean forgotten we'd moved again. In the course of our nomadic migration, we had lived in some pretty run down shitty places, but mother could make a home under any circumstance. Observing mother, I understood subliminally early on that in adverse situations, flexibility and adaptation are the keys to survival. There was a year we lived on a balcony on the second floor of a building right by the high street. The noise and light pollution was horrendous. There were about 10 households in the same unit sharing one small kitchen, so to avoid the crowding and squabbling mother did all her cooking on a small kerosene stove in our balcony room, squatting on a low stool; and all her washing up in a bucket.
Mother was a simple woman and didn't ask much from life. Family and friends were everything to her. She had an easy way with people, and particularly enjoyed meeting my friends. She's happiest at family reunions and family outings. 

Mother was a wonderful cook but father was stingy in his praises. The years of internment and psychological torture had broken him, he's become neurotic, paranoid and distrustful. The constant worry and pressure of making ends meet had left him bitter and disillusioned. Like so many other men frustrated by life, father took to venting his disappointment and anger on mother. The verbal abuse was relentless: mother was stupid, uneducated, coarse, a peasant, none of her family members were any good, all of them looked down on us........ Mother bore it all in silence. I'd almost never heard her answer back. She'd just carry on with her sewing, knitting, cleaning or food preparation, she's always doing something- all these on top of a full time nursing job. Mother's the most hard working person I know, or maybe it's just her way to avoid confrontation. Or maybe she knew as I suspected that father was sick. Regrettably I never got to find out what she really felt. The little time we lived together each one of us was so engrossed in getting through our days we had very little meaningful conversation, then we were separated by geography. 

Back to HK for a brief holiday, in a skirt I made myself.

It's evidently not in mother's nature to bear grudges, however mean father might have treated her. In the big scheme of things maybe settling scores is at best juvenile, for in the end her loving nature won out. By the time father died, mother was in the middle stage of Alzheimer's. I didn't see any point in telling her of father's passing, so every time mother asked about father we'd say "he's gone to see Dr L" and she'd be visibly relieved "Oh, then he's all right" At long last we'd found some use for Dr L ! Then whenever we went out for a meal she'd ask to pack some food for father." Ah Old Kwok likes this "she'd say ; even in the nursing home she's been caught repeatedly taken food from the meal tray and hid it in the drawer of her bedside table for when father returned from the doctor. Interestingly, mother, who had been slighted and looked down on all her life, in her dementia world, had created for herself an uncle who's the Police Chief in LA, who cherished her and would stand up for her in all matters. And mother, who didn't do much exercise even in the days when she was well, assigned herself the role of a well respected Kung Fu expert ! She was no longer the downtrodden one running around attending to everybody else's needs, now at last she's someone important even if it's all made-believe !

Funny thing is, growing up I seldom ever saw mother with a book, reading was the prerogative of father and us the children, but in her declining years, she finally had the leisure to thumb through newspapers and magazines, though by then it's difficult to say what she could still take in. Mother might not be an intellectual, but she's not averse to learning, particularly necessary skills for survival. When we were planning immigration to Canada in the late 60s, she did a course with Mr Josiah Lau (劉家傑), the most famous teacher in conversational English in Hong Kong. Every evening she'd diligently practice writing the new words she's learnt. A few years ago when I cleared out her house after she was admitted to the nursing home I found pieces of paper with names of vegetables and food items written in her big clear handwriting, it seemed that after all these years she's been secretly practicing writing English again. Unfortunately all the papers were lost in spring cleaning in my apartment, all that remained is the envelope she used to give me my gold wedding bracelet, which I also promptly lost ! In preparing for immigration mother also did a cookery course, in both Chinese and Western cuisine. There're still Chinese recipes in her handwriting at the bottom of the drawer, and for someone who didn't write much, mother had beautiful penmanship (both English and Chinese), so much better than mine.
After father died mother was transferred to a second nursing home. The first year in the new home was mainly about adjustment, mother was not eating well and lost quite a bit of weight. The nursing home doctor missed her anemia and slightly raised blood sugar, which he made amend after I pointed them out to him. I also cut down her poly-pharmacy (over a dozen drugs !) to about 3. In this nursing home, mother was roomed with a lady even more demented than she was. In her tender caring way mother automatically took upon herself to look out for her roomie, made sure she ate her meals, tucked her in at night and even made her bed some of the mornings when the nurses were busy, until both her own energy and wit dissipated.  After that we hired a Hong Kong lady, Ester, to sit with her a couple of hours every day  . Ester was a God sent, loving and patient, she quickly formed a special bond with mother. The next couple of years were good years. Mother was taking walks in the park, visited the mall, making friends with all she met, though she could remember none of them. She particularly loved children, whenever she saw them her face would lit up, and beaming happily, her eyes would follow their every move. Her kindly, cheerful disposition was on full display. There was an amusing episode : mother had a green thumb and loved plants. In the nursing home garden there was a small rose bush mother took to watering, problem was she over-watered it as she kept forgetting she's already done so, and the plant died. So the nursing staff put a plastic rose in its place, mother didn't know the difference and watered it to her heart's content !

March 2016 while Ester was on leave mother fell and fractured her right arm in the nursing home. The subsequent 2 years unfolded the horror of American medical and nursing care. The fracture was badly managed, resulting in deformity and severe hypertrophic spurring of the humeral head. From then on mother couldn't lift her right arm without pain, so she didn't. The nursing home was so fearful of another fall they insisted on keeping mother in a wheelchair, very quickly mother lost the ability to walk and the use of her legs. 
In mid 2017, mother was dropped accidentally in the home and sustained a right inter-trochanteric fracture. The nursing home tried to hide the fact but Ester noticed mother wincing everything her right hip was moved, so we requested an XR, which proved the fracture. Mother was sent to hospital in July 2017 for fixture. On discharge mother deteriorated rapidly, she became dull, off food. Incredibly no follow up XR was ever done. Five months on in Nov when mother again appeared to have pain in the right hip, we requested a check up. XR this time showed the pin was put in so badly it protruded through the head of femur into the hip joint, causing infection and damage that rendered the previously normal hip joint completely and irreparably destroyed. The reason for mother's deterioration was because she's been sitting in a pool of pus all this time, the infection resulted in anemia, lethargy, anorexia and poor mental state, not to mention pain and suffering which of course she's unable to communicate. Mother also had right lower leg edema on and off for a few months. The nursing home doctor made light of it but I impressed on him the need for a Doppler ultrasound, particularly with pending surgery. An ultrasound was finally arranged the following week and voila, there's a blood clot in the calf ! She was started on anticoagulant. In mid Dec mother developed fever and septicemia and only then was the pin removed and the pus drained. I'd no idea if the surgeon knew about her DVT (deep vein thrombosis), or what was done about the anticoagulant. There appeared to be complete communication breakdown between the nursing home doctor and hospital surgeon. She was put on IV antibiotics, and the moment the fever subsided, she was rushed back to the nursing home.
A few days after discharge mother was wheeled to the dining room at lunch time, where she vomited blood then collapsed and died. Mother had never had stomach problem before: it's possible she's been given anticoagulant and analgesics with no stomach protection medication, what's certain was INR was never checked.  Mother was certified dead at 2:10 PM, 26 Dec 2017 San Francisco time . Am I incorrect to think this is a wrongful death ? Much of what happened should never have happened. Old demented people apparently have no rights in America. There was not one word of apology from the nursing home, the hospital or the doctor responsible, in fact everyone's been double quick to shy away from mother's case. 
On the 7th day after death the soul returns to earth for a last visit, mother came to me in a dream. She said nothing , only smiled, but gave me a chance to apologize for not being the good daughter she deserved. On the 7th day over 7000 miles away in Memphis Tennessee, Emily Dai Mui, mother's favorite niece, also had a dream. She dreamed of her parents, Big Uncle and Big Aunt who passed a number of years ago, but in her dream they were both young, energetic and happy. They nodded briefly at her then turned to run towards someone she couldn't see. She woke up and wondered " Who were they running to meet ?"
" Emily," I told her "they were running to meet my mum"