Mr Clive Chan, Headmaster

Mr Chan has extensive experience in teaching English to people of all ages and abilities. He returned to Hong Kong after spending years studying and working in Australia. He has taught English in different secondary schools and Business English at a university in Hong Kong.

All human beings are alone. No other person will completely feel like we do, think like we do, act like we do. Each of us is unique, and our aloneness is the other side of our uniqueness. The question is whether we let our aloneness become loneliness or whether we allow it to lead us into solitude. Loneliness is painful; solitude is peaceful. Loneliness makes us cling to others in desperation; solitude allows us to respect others in their uniqueness and create community.

― Henri Nouwen 

Dear parents,

The COVID-19 pandemic has entailed social distancing measures that have seemingly created a strong sense of loneliness and escalated the depressive moods brought about by the political events in Hong Kong since the middle of last year.  More than 2 million Hong Kong people were found to exhibit signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) according to a research by the University of Hong Kong in January 2020 while a recent research in August attests an alarming 74% of Hong Kong residents suffering different degrees of depression and anxiety.  Are you one of those who feel lonely or depressed?  Is resumption of social activities the only solution to your loneliness? 

Before dealing with the above question, maybe I should first tell you the sad story of Umbanana.

Umbanana was one of the six small goldfish my elder son Jonathan bought from a shop in Sceneway Plaza when he was about 7 years old. He just put all the fish in a small glass container without any sophisticated filter or ventilating device, and in less than a month, the other five fish died.  The sole survivor caught our attention, and the family agreed on calling it Umbanana (Umbrella and Banana). We all thought Umbanana was going to die within a few months, but amazingly it survived after more than 18 months on its own, seemingly content and happy when we fed it and changed the water in the tank.

Umbanana quickly became the favourite pet of our family, and when Jonathan’s grandma visited, she would feed and even talk to Umbanana.  One day, grandma caught us unawares by buying 6 goldfish of another kind and put them in the bowl together with Umbanana. In good faith, she thought Umbanana was lonely and the new fish would give it the necessary company.

To everyone’s dismay, however, we found Umbanana dead the following morning, and all our efforts to console young Jonathan failed. In despair, he refused to take care of the fish and asked us to take them away, and had never wanted to buy another goldfish ever since.

You may wonder why I tell you this story, but Umbanana’s misfortune has certainly shed light on how I deal with the current pandemic and relationship with friends. Umbanana might have died of an infection the other fish carried, or it might have been attacked by the other 6 fish who were trying to claim the tank their new territory.  I didn’t have a clue as to the reason for Umbanana’s doom, but one thing was crystal clear: Umbanana was healthy and happy on its own but endangered when it was in the wrong company. It might have lived for a longer time if it had been allowed to live on its own, though its aloneness was deemed undesirable by some people like grandma.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a standstill and turned most of our lives upside down, forcing us to spend more time alone at home and much less time with our friends.  We find it difficult to acknowledge that the mode of human interaction has undergone such irretrievable changes that it may take a long time before we can gather freely without the fear of getting ill.   Many of us are caught between the desperation to have connections with other human beings and the desolation of falling prey to a highly infectious disease. 

Yet, is aloneness such a cruel thing?  It probably is if we don’t have any peace of mind when being alone. Umbanana, on the other hand, didn’t find living alone devastating as it had continued to grow healthily in a simple glass bowl for more than 18 months.  Enjoying the solitude and serenity inside its habitat, Umbanana might have been quietly observing the happenings in the apartment, eagerly waiting for its daily feeds while watching the smiling faces of the family and intriguing faces of occasional visitors.

With advanced telecommunication devices, you certainly do better than Umbanana in interpersonal connections despite the social distancing measures.  What you could nurture in yourself  is the inner peace that would help you manage your aloneness better.  Start by putting away your smartphone.  Go for a walk on your own; be mindful of your body movements and breathing while keenly observing the people and events around you  Try having lunch on your own.  Take time to taste every bit of the food and drinks with absolute no distraction from messages on your phone. Do this for a week, and I am sure you will attain more inner peace which would radiate when you interact with your family and friends.

May peace be with you!

Yours sincerely,

Clive Chan