Today I replaced the batteries of my Photon Micro-Light and gave it a bit of TLC. With some elbow-grease, the little torch was clean and shiny again. But even if nothing could erase the wear from it being carried on my keychain for 20 years, I prefer it like this for the memories that it evokes.
I bought three of the novel and rather expensive Photon Micro-Lights in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2000. Back in Mauritius, I kept one for myself, gave one to my dad, who was then building up a remarkable collection of electric torches, and the remaining one to Bambi, my late brother-in-law. I thought that the small light would be useful to him in his dark nightclub DJ booth. Today the micro-light in my pocket remains a connecting link to the great person and friend that was Bambi.
Sidenote: We were in South Africa to attend the African Computing and Telecommunications Summit (ACT 2000) in Sun City and to meet providers of satellite Internet. The mission was, first, to learn about the opportunities that were burgeoning in Africa and, second, to find an Internet provider to participate in the cybercity project in Mauritius. It was a precursor to Ebene, and we were tasked to see how we could attract investors in a freeport technology park with a reliable and cheap Internet service alternative to Mauritius Telecom.
On /r/mauritius there is an interesting albeit controversial discussion about racism in Mauritius. It is interesting that every participant thinks that some other community, presumably not their own, is racist. One says that the Chinese and Muslims suffer the most prejudice; another, that the Chinese are the most racist; yet another, that the Creoles and Muslims are the biggest victims of racism. The consensus then seems to be that Mauritians are racist generally.
However, someone rightly points out that it is not so much racism as it is communalism. Sadly this division is an effective formula for politicians to win votes and is therefore unlikely to be given up.
I recently finished reading Thoughts of Marcus Antoninus Aurelius, a collection of Emperor Antoninus’s thoughts about Stoic principles. The format of the book is notable in that each ‘thought’ is written in short sentences, sometimes even in just one phrase but rarely more than a few paragraphs. I like the book because it shows a man at the head of a great Roman empire sharing in common with us such simple desires of being good, just, and content.
Marcus Aurelius writes a lot about the importance of wisdom, justice, and humility in living well. He is also fixated with the inevitability of death and the finitude of everything; glory, he says, is a futile pursuit as nothing is permanent and we are soon forgotten in the progress of time. Little did he know that his thoughts would endure for almost 2000 years.
Not Marcus Aurelius’s own words, but a commentary from the translator, nevertheless this passage is thought-provoking.
Many men think that they are seeking happiness when they are only seeking the gratification of some particular passion, the strongest that they have. The end of a man is, as already explained, to live comformably to nature, and he will thus obtain happiness, tranquility of mind, and contentment.
Shortly after buying our house we went shopping for decoration materials. We wanted floorboards in all the rooms on the ground floor so that it was a seamless polished wood surface from the front door all the way into the kitchen at the back. That was despite general wisdom against wood flooring in rooms where there is potential for liquid spills. So we bought the top quality product that was available ‘just to be safe’. It was of industrial grade, suitable for high traffic, and guaranteed to last for ten years — a lifetime away, we thought. That was 16 years ago.
The inlet hose to the washing machine under the kitchen counter started leaking. The trickle did not flow to the front where we would have seen it but instead found its way between the wall skirting and the floorboards to soak into the sponge-like underlay material. Which means that all the time the leak was developing, the water was absorbed under the floor. It eventually reached saturation point, and the kitchen was properly flooded.
I fixed the leak, cleaned the floor, and ran the dehumidifier. Fortunately, the boards are not too deformed; there are two small bulges in front of the washing machine — could we cover them with a mat? — and there is some swelling on one side of the kitchen cabinet where it has been in contact with the leakage.
The damage is not insurance claim-worthy, but it makes one more problem to address.
Another shock-worthy event that received much less attention in 2004 was the launch of ADSL services by Telecom Plus (now MyT) at the hefty price of Rs 5,500 per month. But some people protested and forced Telecom Plus to halve the price — a decent achievement, I suppose. Of course, change.org and reddit did not exist yet, so the online petition had to be handcrafted. Thanks to Wayback Machine, you can see how ADSL 4 EVERY 1 looked.
Three of us collaborated from Canada, UK and Mauritius to put the site together within a day. The text feels like a first draft and expresses more outrage than arguments, but it achieved its goal.
Once, we met Patrick on a busy Paris metro train in a very unexpected way. He, his wife and daughter, and his parents were travelling from Canada to visit his brother. Priscilla and I had flown in from London the evening before to celebrate my birthday. Neither Patrick, nor I knew that the other would be in the city at the same time.
We were in two different carriages, so we all got off at the next station for us to meet. Patrick said that they had missed an earlier train, and I told them that Priscilla and I had taken the wrong train and were coming back round on that one. If not for those mishaps, we would not have run into each other. I don’t know what to call this other than fate.
Patrick and I have been friends since we studied at the same school in Mauritius and, before Paris, had not seen each other for more than ten years. Yet, it took us but five minutes to express our pleasure of reuniting, to hear what had happened in each other’s life, and to finally say our goodbyes. I think here is what makes male friendship special. Little is needed to reconnect us even after a long time, and there is this ingrained belief that we will always come together again.
My sleep pattern is wrecked. I go to bed at around 2 a.m. most days, except when my body crashes and forces me to an early sleep. I then have a very good rest, but only to recover for more 2 a.m. bedtimes. In short, it swings from one extreme to the other.
Now, my employer plans to have us back in offices in October. Undoubtedly, this will be difficult for many of us who will have to swap from-bed-to-zoom-in-10-minutes for early pre-COVID wake-up alarms and hour-long commutes to actual offices. Add the equally tedious return journeys, busy roads, and crowded public transport, and it goes from a difficult to a depressing outlook.
My colleagues and I are lucky, though. In 2019 we started the company’s new Way of Working (WOW) that allows employees to work remotely for up to three days of each week, with the condition that those days not be fixed. As software developers, my team need fewer face-to-face meetings than other client-facing teams in the company and have, therefore, been able to relax this rule. Now that almost two years of ‘COVID Way of Working’ prove that people can be productive working from home, it will be interesting to see how WOW evolves.
I was added to an alumni WhatsApp group, and I got to talk to my old high-school (or college) friends again. It is interesting to see that after 27 years, the same cliques exist, the same people monopolise the conversation, and there are the same quiet ones.
There’s also the dichotomy between the friends who live in Mauritius and those who are abroad. The first group talk about looking for a way out, and the second, a mind to return to Mauritius. The first group also appear to give a lot of importance to financial stability while the second wish for quiet and enjoyment. Of course, many more are content with their situations and express no desire for change.
I am not sure what to make of it, but it is an intriguing observation.
Many years ago Ms Jiang asked us for our names, went away for a few days, and came back with the Chinese equivalents. For a long time I wondered how she managed to do that, given that the names on our official documents are approximate English transliterations of the Chinese originals at best. I even suspected that she had just made up new ones for us.
After some research, I can confirm that the family (or clan) name is actually Xióng. It means ‘bear’ and is derived from a folk hero’s name. Exactly what charming Ms Jiang told us in that Mandarin class. She also said that my Chinese given name means ‘Prosperous Flower’. I want to believe that my memory fails me on this one.
My surname, like those of many Sino-Mauritians, has three parts: a botched anglicisation of the above and my father’s given name in two words. Which gives me a full name with seven parts: J E F H Y T Y, where ‘J E’ is my Christian name, ‘F H’ is my Chinese given name transliterated from Hakka, the first ‘Y’ is the family name, and ‘T Y’ is my father’s given name. Filling official paper forms with these small boxes for letters is always fun.