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Fly Deborah

San Francisco - Cafe FloreI walked into the mottled sidewalk that is lit up by patches of sun in the cloudless blue sky. No fog, not even a light caress of wind. The stuffy air promises another really warm day in the city, which, for the month of June, is rare but nonetheless very pleasant. Activities are sparse at about quarter shy of seven. My rut of a morning routine will begin at Cafe Flore, where I take up the corner table and read over coffee. Christopher beats me getting there first with the New York Times (crossword puzzle) in his hand. Then in strolls Karin with her trendy and chic bag. But no Deborah.

For 31 years Deborah has been a regular at Cafe Flore, where she takes her coffee, helps out with perplexing crossword puzzle clues, reads her buddhist books, and just threads everyone together. Literally she knows everybody like the back of her hand–not only the names, but their jacks of the trade, gossips, and pedigrees. Yesterday, her last day at the cafe, all her friends came by and paid tribute to her friend. They showered kisses on her. Hugs were exchanged. It was indeed an emotionally charged moment to see that everyone were holding back their tears. I cannot even imagine how tough and difficult the decision is for her to move back to Connecticut after living here in the Bay Area for half her life.

I know we are all feeling the impact of the ups and downs of daily politics and deteriorating economic news and, to one degree or another, the toll it takes on each one of us. I think she feels comfortable and at peace with the choice she has made–to retire in her hometown where gas prices are not as staggering and to be near her sister. As she has gladly puts, “Life here has been wonderful, more than I could imagined; absolutely no regrets! Now, off to the next adventure, one filled with Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring!.” Deborah, I wish you the best and you will be remembered. But the cafe will never be the same without your being there.

Cantonese Learner

Widely spoken in southern part of China and is my native tongue, Cantonese might be one of the most difficult languages to learn owing to the fact that is is more of a spoken than a written language. This morning a macho-looking, brawny man sitting two tables from me at Cafe Flore has an English-Cantonese dictionary. Impressive. It turns out that he has been taking Cantonese course at City College and this is his second semester. His job in the garment business takes him to Hong Kong and Guangzhou twice a year so some proficiency in Cantonese will help. The beginning, three-hours-per-week Cantonese class focuses on conversation skills and phonetics. The trickiest part of the language and that which makes it difficult to master is the intonations. The southern dialect has seven tones, as compared to four for Mandarin. A slight mistake in tones will put you in big trouble as you call someone’s mother a horse!

12-Year-Old Harangue on Religion, Sinnerdom, Goodness, Morality

Leo is the go-between in L.P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between. Chance has him become the bearer of clairvoyant messages passed between two lovers, a lady from an aristocrat family and a brusque farmer. This is not a review of the book, which I have yet finished. But the 12-year-old affords some very mature, translucent insights of religion, God, and which bear a similar perspective to mine.

Excerpt:

“Think about being good, my mother had told me, and I had no difficulty in doing this, for I had a sense of worship. …I felt I could really contemplate the mercy of God, and hymn its praises if I didn’t have to stand forever; but I thought of it simply as an attribute of God; I didn’t connect it with the sins of men. And in the same way I did not associate goodness much with moral behavior; it was not a standard to live up to, it was an abstraction to think about; it was included in the perfection of the heavenly bodies, though it was not their goodness that specially attracted me, it was their immunity from the disabilities I suffered from. … Usually I closed my mind completely to what was being intoned, … But this time some of the words came through and “miserable sinners,” instead of being a sound, reached me as a meaning with a challenge.” (p.85)

I do not encourage nor do I approve of adultery or any form of criminal perpetration, but ever since my Christian friends turned their back on me upon coming out, I realized goodness does not always go hand-in-hand with moral behavior. Inevitably, the next question in mind is what defines moral behavior. To what extent does the breach of moral behavior, or morality, contribute to decadence of goodness. Is homosexuality considered immoral? If so, then does it mean that all of us are not good?

“I rebelled strongly against it. Why should we call ourselves sinners? Life was life, and people acted in a certain way, which sometimes caused one pain. … Life has its own laws, and it is for me to defend myself against whatever comes along, without going snivelling to God about sin, my own or other people’s. How would it profit a man, if he got into a tight place, to call the people who put him there miserable sinners? … I disliked the leveling aspect of this sinnerdom; it was like cricket match played in a drizzle, where everyone had an excuse … Life was meant to test a man, bring out his courage, initiative, resource; and I longed, I thought, to be tested: I did not want to fall on my knees and call myself a miserable sinner.” (p.86)

This is refreshing. For years I have experienced this very leveling aspect of religion making people’s life miserable. I don’t like when people bust out a scripture, usually out of context, in order to justify their disapproval or hatred of another human being, a social group, or a behavior.