Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In memory of a youthful heart

I suppose I owe quite a lot to him. Many years ago, since we lived relatively close to them, our family often visited theirs. My childhood memory mainly consisted of playing toys in other people's homes; this one was no exception.

There were probably some lego sets around, although my main activity appeared to be reading lego catalogs. For some reason this cement mixer and this classic space set had left very deep impression in my mind.

During that time I had one of my early encounter (if not the earliest) of a computer; in fact it might be an Apple II but I'm not so sure now.

He used to work in the UK for some time. Every time he came back he brought us lots of UK stamps, in two categories: those used for regular everyday mail, in large quantities and with many duplicates, and those that were relatively rare and only have a few copies in each batch. Then we have the task of splitting these stamps into 4 sets "fairly" (one for each of the kids there). We could spend an entire afternoon doing this.

He once gave me a thick and heavy book (the biggest book I had at that time), something like a Reader's digest compilation on topics related to the Earth, and a 1970-ish atlas used by Geography classes back when he was in school (in which you can see the version of Hong Kong coastline before the more recent landfills, and a whole lot about the British Isles).

I also stole, from the books he left behind after he emigrated, a (I believe?) C. J. Tranter's A-level Pure Mathematics textbook; it's very "British" and certainly treats topics very differently from a modern-day text (for example it starts with the question of what happens if we integrate 1/x, shows that it must be "log-like" and from this defines the constant known as e before finally moving on to its numerous other properties). Among other things it gave me my first exposure to the convergence of series and the natural logarithm.

These were probably useless stuff to him anyway, but were good to me. I really appreciate this because I myself hate to give things away to people; if you ask me to give you my atlas back in secondary school, I won't be too happy about it (even worse if you have taken it without me knowing it).

During all these years he never seemed to get old; he always spoke in a slow, cheerful and somewhat child-like tone. This probably is a reflection of an youthful heart.

In the past year or so, somewhat being kept out of the loop, I have only been barely aware of what has been going on with him. During a certain period of time there appeared to be positive progress, but the inevitable eventually happened. At least I believe he didn't have much regrets. He can rest assured the books had made their impact on a kid.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009