Paul Po Lok Loong
Raimondi P1-F5 (1958-69) F5C in 1969
I have always wanted to write a book but it has taken until this year for me to accomplish the goal.
What took so long? Well, time hurries on but wisdom takes forever to come. What can I say? Better late than never!
Tea Before the Rain is a narrative of personal discovery and popular history.
It revolves around what I did and how I felt on a day that put my life into perspective – the day in 1997 when Hong Kong ceased to be a British colony.
The book is not a scholarly text for academic study or an ideological tome for political analysis, although it inevitably has to mention history and politics.
I hope it can be something of a collective memoir for our generation who belonged to a particular era in Hong Kong.
My fondest wish is that readers can curl up in their favourite armchair and enjoy the book. I hope they will find something meaningful inside that resonates with their own life.
The photograph of the view from the Botanical Gardens provides the backdrop for the following excerpt from the opening chapter of the book:
To get a better view, we climbed six flights of concrete steps up to the fountain promenade at the Botanical Gardens. Once on higher ground, we looked down and saw a modest crowd standing under umbrellas at the gates of Government House. We could see part of the mansion itself, partially hidden behind bamboo groves and bauhinia trees …
For most of our childhood herein lay the seat of power. The man who governed Hong Kong lived and worked here. He had the highest office in the land, vested with full imperial authority as personal representative of the sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain. Her insignia, EIIR, was boldly emblazoned in gold on an emblem of the Crown, staring down from the two front gates of glossy-black steel rods topped with spear points painted in gold.
There was always something about the place, a vague sense of incongruous grandeur. It had been there all our lives so it did not feel foreign, just different. Like the Queen’s birthday parades or the tattoos the British military performed to impress the public. In fact, everything to do with the British had this peculiar, ambiguous feeling that we, as children, were not quite able to decipher.
The adults had much to do with it. Being good upright citizens, my parents never spoke ill of the British Crown. They held the Queen in rather high regards and did not find her government intolerable. Under the British, Hong Kong was more stable and a great deal safer in times of war, famine and revolution – calamities that periodically swept Mainland China.
Millions of Chinese had crossed the border and sought refuge in Hong Kong over the decades. Many came with nothing but the clothes on their backs. When the land crossings were blocked by security forces, the daring ones tried their luck in swimming several kilometers across the open sea to reach Hong Kong. Some of them drowned; I remember reading frequent newspaper accounts of bodies recovered from harbour. Others made it to safety but were desperate and destitute, as they had no one to turn to for support. Many slept on the streets. I saw disheveled people huddled underneath stairways and in back alleys. Makeshift shanty towns sprang up on the hillsides, offering the barest of shelters with whatever building material they could scavenge.
In contrast to the poverty and misery, the British pageantry was a pretty diversion to my childish eyes. It seemed an inconsequential ornament that added a touch of flourish to our humdrum lives. I was dazzled by the splendour and intrigued with the sangfroid.
Sometimes, though, a look on my father’s face or a few words muttered as an aside would have a sobering effect. “Such arrogance in those Britishers,” he would say if a white police officer was behaving no better than a street bully, or when an expatriate civil servant was overbearingly obtuse. I sensed intuitively that my familiarity with things British was somehow out of place. At certain inexplicable moments, Grandmother reminded me: “We are Chinese. You are too young to understand, but remember we are Chinese.”
The first printing of the book was completed in January 2019. A second printing with a different cover, shown above, was done in April. This was the version received by classmates who ordered the book before our 50th anniversary dinner in Toronto in July.
Tea in the Rain is now available as a paperback or an e-book on Amazon.com. You are invited to visit the link below for details:
To contact with me directly, please email email@example.com.
The book is a good representation of my career but I don’t want to give the impression that I made a living as an author.
Only very gifted writers – such as Anthony Doerr, J.K. Rowling, and my perennial favourite Ernest Hemingway – earned fame and fortune from publishing books. Other money-making authors include famous movers and shakers, great thinkers, celebrity chefs and even diet gurus.
I am none of the above so I did the next best thing: I worked as a journalist for 35 years.
In the 10 years before I retired, I was in charge of international news at The Canadian Press, a national news agency. I had the fancy title of “World Editor” and the unenviable job of supervising reporters sent to cover Canadian troops on their combat mission in Afghanistan.
It was truly a blessing that none of our staff was maimed or killed as improvised explosive devices buried in Afghan dirt roads were blowing up sturdy armoured vehicles day after day. My retirement began shortly after all our reporters had come home safely.
It is often said that journalists have a front-row seat on history in the making.
The trouble with journalism is that news is always about getting the next big story. You do this enough and you end up with multiple fragments of dramatic moments that are unconnected. It’s like watching the highlights of many episodes of a TV series without getting the story line.
This is where the book comes in: connecting the dotted lines. Our eureka moments of sudden insights and brilliant notions are fleeting flashes of genius that vanish quickly in the shapeless world of ideas. The most important thing to do is to write them down, and this I do with great passion and enthusiasm.
In the best of all possible worlds, we would know what we are good at and would do it with the utmost of our abilities to achieve our goals. In reality, those who get to pursue their calling are the lucky few who stand a promising chance of finding happiness and fulfilment.
I think we can count ourselves among the lucky ones.
Here we are 50 years after finishing Form 5, looking back on our careers and looking forward to more good years to come. Our satisfaction comes in many shapes and certainly not only in the form of money.
We are proven entrepreneurs with thriving businesses, manufacturers with factories humming in different countries, decision makers with unparalleled foresight, executives with unrivalled connections. We are leaders in the professions: doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. We have admirable achievement in the world of arts, culture, science and health care.
I am sure we are all keen to learn more about the life journey of our classmates. Please use this blog to share your stories.