by Peter Wong, Executive Director of the Lion Rock Instituteregular contributor to English and Chinese print, TV and radio in Hong Kong

[This was first published in the Chinese-language publication Eastweek on June 12, 2012, and online here.]

I am especially grateful for the wise elders in my life. I treasured their experience and wisdom. Many of today’s TV ads in Hong Kong are about financial planning so that people can retire in their 40s and go on expensive holidays. The message is to dislike your job and live a carefree life without working. The wise men I knew had one thing in common: they were eager to reach for another peak in their lives, regardless of whether they were in a wheelchair or were already successful financially.

When I was with them, I sometimes questioned them with doubts, “at their age and with such abundance, what more they thought worth fighting for?” They could not give me a simple answer in a few words.

Looking back over their lives, I find triumph over a collection of challenges and goals, over and over. Some of their dreams never came true, but they never hesitated reaching for them.

I knew one of these friends for many years. He grew up in Communist China being classified as an outcast because his father was a businessman. He could never receive higher education no matter how good he was at school. It was the time when every Chinese was told not to have dreams for his own life, but for the sake of the nation. Though he was young, he challenged himself with a question, “While grass grows to different height, why man should live the same life?” When many people were deceived into vainness, he chose to give up on the hopeless state. Then he overcame many obstacles to make his way as a refugee by swimming to Hong Kong and devote his life into a dream full of uncertainties and possibilities.

This was a typical scenario for people in the Hong Kong of the 1960s and 1970s. Many such people later became legendary figures, and shared similar stories of persistence. He never stopped to tackle all challenges in the path towards his dreams, even when he was disabled by sickness in his later years. Wheelchair-bound, he kept sharing his goals for the future with me while we were visiting many places around the world together.

Another man became a very good friend of mine, although we only knew each other for about three years. He was an Australian. I first met him when he was 72 years old. I was puzzled when he told me that he would move to Hong Kong. He often stated bluntly how imprudent the Australian government was and then concluded: “Australians should learn from the example of Hong Kong. There should be more places like Hong Kong in the world.” I was almost moved to tears by his words. I could hardly find people locally sharing the same thoughts about the marvel of this city. I felt blessed that I finally met someone who did.

I later learnt that this man was a successful entrepreneur in the self storage business in Australia. Merely from his lifestyle, no one would be able to tell easily that he was such a successful person. One may find out more about this man when one knows that he spoke bluntly of the vain acts by the bureaucrats in Australia. As a result, he constructed another successful story by speaking of what were politically incorrect and something no one dared to speak about. For example, he proclaimed “the right to discriminate” and “people create value whereas politicians are parasites destroying value”. In my last conversation with him, I said “you are going to a place, I believe, where there is no state.” And then, he laughed at the other end of the phone.

These men in their sixties and seventies still challenged themselves to achieve their goals. Some people think it is unnecessary, but I believe this is a necessary attitude of extraordinary people. In the last six months, I lost both “elderly friends”. One of them was my father; another one was Neville Kennard. I will always remember both indomitable spirits.