PREFACE TO RECOLLECTIONS OF ROMANCE AND BEAUTY
Moments of romance and beauty are often moments of intense happiness. When I was in school, my friends considered me a romantic creature, a term I have chosen to interpret as an endearing compliment. I have had many moments of romance, and when the feelings generated from these moments were particularly over-whelming, I always attempted to capture these movements in poetry. I have written many poems, and most of them were inspired by powerful, romantic feelings.
I call them poems, and not verses, because even if they were badly written, they nevertheless did not lack sincere emotions. They were not mere pieces of deliberate craftsmanship, but a spontaneous outpour of fervent feelings. Some of these poems were written straight away, almost without conscious thought: I merely recorded whatever expressions that came naturally.
For every poem, there was always an irresistible, vehement urge inside, compelling me to write it; and I felt emotionally released only after the intense feelings had been transferred onto paper. A serene feeling of calm delight would envelope me each time I had written a poem. Whenever I re-read it later on, I always experienced a tingling of joy. Although these poems are about personal matters, the joy derived from them is universal, and thus can be shared by others who want to share it. The judgement as to how successful or otherwise I manage to share this joy with readers, will be the special prerogative of those who read the poems.
I was (and still am) a veracious letter-writer, and all the letters in this Recollections were written with emotion. Although I have written countless letters to my friends, and have enjoyed them all, it is not an easy task to select letters for publication, because, amongst other reasons, it is unfair even for the most egoistic person to expect friends to keep the letters they received at odd times so that these letters could one day be retrieved for publication.
Nevertheless, all the letters in this volume are selected with one primary purpose: they all record and illustrate beauty -- the beauty of friendship. Even if I have nothing else in this world, I can proudly boast of one thing: I have wonderful, sincere friends whom I can always trust and depend upon.
Some of the letters in this selection are so warm that if someone were to show me similar letters, I may think that they were written by lovers for lovers. It is mysterious, sometimes unreasonable, why some people tend to regard intimate friendship between persons of the same sex with suspicion. And some insist that intimate friendship between those of the opposite sex must necessarily develop into, or at least aim at, marriage. (Nevertheless, one of the girls I wrote poetry for, later became my wife -- she is still my one and only wife; she has given me five lovely children, and like a fairy tale come true, we live happily ever after.)
It is not irrelevant here to state clearly that my relationship with my male friends is perfectly honorable and normal, and that with my female friends beautifully platonic. While I have much sympathy for, and will readily give moral support to, those unfortunate people who can only satisfy their sexual desires through homosexual or lesbian activities, I personally find these activities unwholesome and distasteful.
On the other hand, while I make no pretence nor apology for my keen appreciation of lovely girls and their company (an interest in which my wife shares no amusement), I am proud that I have never attempted to exploit their emotional gullibility which sometimes crops up at certain unguarded moments, nor to encroach unfairly beyond legitimate limits any girl in her normal sense would rightly regard her private territory. What is significant here is not just vindication of any possible mis-interpretation of my warm feelings reflected in my poems and letters, but emphasizing that sincere friendship between the same as well as the different sex, can be blissfully beautiful without any lustful implications.
While the poems and the letters were initially addressed to personal friends, the essays were intentional attempts to record my experiences and impressions of beauty for general readers. In conveying these experiences and impressions, I also hope to share with other people the joy of living I have derived from them.
The primary purpose of this book is to please, not to teach; but if any reader finds, besides the pleasure of reading, new awareness, inspiration or insight in these poems, letters and essays, then the effort of compiling and publishing them will be greatly enhanced. I vividly remember an inspiring conviction I once learned from a friend, who said that many happy things in the world are actually free. Different people, understandably, have different ways of making happiness for themselves and for others. This particular friend, for example, derived much happiness by sharing it in the telling of humorous stories.
In my essay, I recorded my method of achieving happiness through appreciating beauty -- in poetry, in nature and in our daily work. Given legitimate allowance for sparse moments of emotional depression, which I believe must have happened to every person at one time or another, this attitude of beautiful, joyous living has enabled me to live every moment of my life. In this connection, I greatly value a kind observation my good friend Wong Ai Wei once told me, that I am a great lover at heart -- of beauty, of life and of happiness. It is my conviction that if a person is absolutely determined to live a happy, beautiful life, irrespective of his financial and environmental conditions, nothing (and nobody) can prevent him from realizing this aim.
All the poems, letters and essays in this selection, with the exception of a poem and two letters, were written many years ago, at a time when my feeling for, and my appreciation of, romance and beauty were particularly intense. One of the two exceptional letters and the poem were specially written for my friend Wong Ai Wei on his wedding, a memorable occasion that logically marks the conclusion of a particular phase of romance and beauty, and signals the start of another.
The other odd letter, which was written recently to John and Lorraine, is included for three good reasons. Firstly, it serves as a useful reference for comparison of my letter-writing, which invariably reflects, at least partially, my thoughts and style of expressions now with those of many years ago. Next, it documents my contemplation and intention concerning the publication of this book. Thirdly, it records one of my many interests not mentioned in the other letters, and this interest is Kungfu. I wish to illustrate that those who love romance and beautiful things are not necessarily soft, cissy weaklings, as some people may irrationally imagine. Conversely, those who indulge passionately in martial arts are not necessarily unfeeling brutes with no taste for anything fine or delicate. My love of Kungfu began even before my acquaintance with poetry, and this fascinating hobby has given me much radiant health and mental freshness so that I can appreciate romance and beauty with greater zeal and vitality.
The poems, letters and essays in this selection have given me much joy. I hope the reader may derive as much joy from reading them.
The above Preface was written more than 15 years ago. Inspired by the proverbial story of the great Chinese poet Li Po who, after having derived tremendous pleasure from his poetic creation, gleefully burnt his poems over the Yangtze River, thus illustrating that the greatest joy a true writer obtains is from the actual process of writing (and not from the often tedious process of finding an interested publisher), I have kept this manuscript for many years.
Even now, reading those poems, letters and essays written fifteen to twenty five years ago, give me great joy and excitation of reminiscence. It is heartening, perhaps pleasantly paradoxical, to note that the very advice I gave to my students (Miscellaneous Collections) turns out to be very pertinent and soothing advice for myself, as I chanced to read these reflections at a time of some emotional stress.
It reminds us that despite the mad, often insensitive, pursue for materialistic gains, which many of us are inevitably involved, we can still look back at the idealistic vision of our adolescent times and derive some inspiration and unexpected wisdom. Perhaps, I should leave the poems, letters and essays in this collections undated.
Now as I tidy the manuscript for a publisher, I include at the end of this Recollections, a poem composed lately, a letter written to my qigong disciple recently, and an essay on a subject in which I have expert knowledge. I made these inclusions because they show, amongst other things, that the intervening years have mellowed my search for happiness in romance and beauty from a personal viewpoint to a more universal perspective. The romance and beauty are still there; though the romance and beauty of individualistic idealism of younger days, have developed into the romance and beauty of a more matured age in the endeavour for the betterment of all humanity.