Take time out to discover real joy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 December, 2006, 12:00am

With Christmas almost upon us, most of us are caught up in the capitalism-gone-mad fever of the season. Walking through most malls, the gaudiness of the decorations and cheesy tunes overwhelm one's senses. Put out for our benefit, they are a sad but effective way to sell us a piece of perceived 'happiness'. With that said, let's put aside the commercialism of Christmas and consider one question: what is joy?

We may debate endlessly on this page about politics, ineffective government officials and our air (cough, cough), but what about something that is truly important? What about joy?

The other night I sat on my sofa with my three-year-old daughter resting her head on my leg while my four-month-old grasped my finger with her tiny hand, wide-eyed and giggling. All thoughts of the rat race that makes Hong Kong a 'world city' were swept away by something neither money nor man's work can create: the unconditional love and joy that two little children can bring me.

It is my challenge to your readers to take some time this holiday season to be still and search for what brings them the greatest joy. When you find it, spend time to embrace it.


Victory vital to Christmas

As Christmas Eve begins tomorrow, Jews around the world will be cleaning and polishing their Hanukkah candelabras and putting them away for the season. While both Hanukkah and Christmas happen to nearly coincide this year, no two celebrations could be further apart in origin or observance. Christmas is a major holiday for the Christian world, while Hanukkah is considered a minor Jewish festival. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, while Hanukkah commemorates a military victory in a battle for religious freedom.

Yet there is one vital link between them: without the military victory of the Judean Maccabees over the sovereign Syrian-Greeks, their Judean state would have come to an end 200 years before the birth of Jesus. In other words, without Hanukkah, there may have been no Christmas. Obviously, we are speculating here purely on the basis of history - not theology. For those who believe Jesus was destined to be born, no prior historical event would have made any difference. But from a strictly historical viewpoint, the Hanukkah story is indispensable to the emergence of Christianity.

The Jews, since the time of Alexander the Great, had begun to accommodate themselves to the dominant culture. But the sovereign of Syria, Antiochus IV, demanded their total loyalty, and made Jewish practice illegal - forcing a rebellion. Led by Mattathias the Priest and his five sons, the Maccabees fought a guerilla war - the 'few against the many'. They prevailed, and the Temple of Jerusalem was rededicated after its pollution by pagan rites. Judaism not only survived, but took on a new vitality, and a sovereign state was established.

Now, suppose the rebellion had failed? It is reasonable to assume that, without a spiritual focal point in Judea, the scattered Jewish communities throughout the Hellenistic world would not have been able to survive. And if Judaism had not survived, there would not have developed the great Rabbinic traditions, the academies of study and the body of concepts and ethics which were to become the hallmark of Jewish civilisation. Scholars are virtually unanimous today in accepting that Jesus was a product of that culture, as was his disciple Paul. It is no exaggeration, therefore, to state that, from an historical point of view, had there been no Hanukkah, there may have been no Christmas either.

RABBI DAVID KOPSTEIN, United Jewish Congregation Hong Kong

Relaxing in combat mode

Having lived in Hong Kong for 10 years, I have recently noticed an annoying trend developing in this city. On weekends, I get up and go for a nice cup of coffee at the coffee shop, like a lot of people who want to enjoy a relaxing day. Before I get there, I am stopped by someone standing on every block, asking me if I want to donate to a charity. I finish my coffee, and set out for a relaxing stroll, only to be stopped by a guy from an insurance company asking me to fill in a survey. I say politely that I am in a hurry and proceed to the pharmacy to buy vitamins. There, I am targeted by a saleswoman who tries to convince me that, at my age, I need way more than my daily vitamin C supplement. I politely refuse, and set out for home quickly. Unfortunately, I still have to face my biggest challenge of the day. The mall leading to my flat is swamped by agents trying to sell the new property next door. Pamphlets are thrust into my hand as I step off the MTR, and I am stopped every step of the way by someone asking me if I want to buy a new apartment. I politely say no, but a guy insists on showing me the display flat. I quickly scuttle home.

Generally, I am polite. When I lived in Canada, we would go for nice walks at weekends. When we passed people, we'd say 'hello' and 'enjoy your day'. These days, I adopt my combat walking mode on weekends. I move at double speed, avoid eye contact and try to enjoy myself without being harassed.

PAUL WONG, Tung Chung

Borrowed both ways

Further to Frank Ching's article on the kanji characters Japan has borrowed from China ('Living with borrowed characters', December 19), I'd like to add that Chinese people also use Japanese characters every day. Words like 'politics', 'economy' , 'society', 'philosophy', 'communism', 'freedom' and 'progress' were translated by the Japanese into kanji in the 19th century, and brought home by Chinese students who studied in Japan.

I agree with Ching that characters (or words) are not the exclusive possession of any country. In fact, to turn his words around, even when relations with Japan were badly strained in recent years, there was no thought in China of giving up using Japanese. As he says, they are the common heritage of East Asia.

MASAKI MURATA, Kamakura, Japan

Take care, Bomber Hill

Last Saturday, a small group of family, friends and colleagues bade farewell to one of Hong Kong's heroes. Like many in his and my generation, Norman Henry George Hill, who died aged 84, served in the second world war - in his case, in Burma. Like a true son of the British empire, he went on to serve in Palestine Police and in the armed forces during the Malayan Emergency before joining the Hong Kong police in 1954. He was soon recruited to the then Ballistics Office, where he was responsible for defusing a large variety of bombs and explosive devices.

During the 1967 riots, 'Bomber Hill', as he was affectionately known, personally defused several hundred devices. It was a hectic time for Hong Kong and, shortly afterwards, Hill was awarded an MBE. Having myself served in a field company of the Royal Engineers (the Sappers) in the second world war, where we disposed of mines, I must agree with Hill that you always need a little bit of luck. But, having come through the 1967 riots more or less intact, in 1971 his luck ran out when he was 'disposing' of a couple of suspicious packages outside what are now the Central Government Offices. The second one blew off his hand and forearm. That meant his bomb-disposal days were over, and he was confined to desk duties and giving advice.

'Always remember it's dangerous,' he used to insist. 'You must take care.' He was one of those people who could be relied upon in Hong Kong's hours of need. We must not forget him.

Rest in peace, Bomber Hill.

DAN WATERS, Mid-Levels

Decorated in smoke

My vote for Scrooge this year goes to the law firm in Jardine House, Central, which works for the tobacco industry. There used to be an air purifier in the reception area, which helped reduce the levels of cigar smoke in the office a tiny bit. When I asked the poor receptionist choking on the smoke what had happened, she told me with a wry look that it had been moved away to make room for the Christmas tree.


Miss Universe no more

Please let me correct your correspondent Joy Kingan on her comments about 'Miss Universe Natalie Glebova' and the advertising campaign for a luxury housing development ('Right royal incentives', December 21).

It's false advertising. Ms Glebova was Miss Universe, but she is no longer. The title belongs to Zuleyka Rivera, who was crowned in July. Perhaps the Consumer Council should ask the developers to be more accurate in their advertising, although with an overblown campaign that has nothing to do with reality, it may be a bit much to ask.