By Dr Moni Storz

Winter is here, can spring be far behind? The English poet, Shelly, springs to my mind this fine winter morning with his immortal words ringing in my ears.

As I write this, the sky of Melbourne is pale blue tinged with white clouds and a very reluctant sun is trying to come out. There is a certain beauty in bare trees.There is a silent joy in seeing little children rugged up in balaclavas and scarfs, their little faces pink with cold. Little feetbeing marched off to school. All this I see with new eyes having been away for the past few months on a pilgrimage that began in an ashram in India and ended with a seven day writers retreat in a Benedictine abbey on the banks of the McKenzie River in Portland, Oregon.

The ancients have always taken pilgrimages. A pilgrimage is a journey taken to visit sacred places. Pilgrims like those in Chaucers' Canterbury Tales, have always met with great adventures along the way. My pilgrimage was also full of adventures, meeting new faces and visiting strange places, like New York where people didn't smile or look at each other in the eye. For three days, I wandered the streets and subways of New York, deliberately alone but not lonely. All the time I had a familiar feeling and could not name it.On the third day, it came to me. New York is Hong Kong. No difference.

In Ganespuri, India, I saw yet again young women and children working in the hot sun, breaking rocks with bare hands. Most of them were bonded labourers. Nothing had changed much since my last trip ten years ago. Suffering has a familiar face. Nothing new or strange about it. In San Francisco I stayed with a community of Chinese Catholic nuns. I slept on an old mattress in the basement with two cats. I am allergic to cats' fur. I reverted to being a Chinese and suffered in silence. I tried to meditate hard and visualise away the cats using accelerated learning techniques. When I opened my eyes, the cats had not moved an inch from the warm mattress. San Francisco can be cold at nights.

As a pilgrim, I had to take my lessons where they are offered. The lesson I learnt about cats is don't let them into your room. And definitely don't stay with frugal Catholic Chinese nuns. Perhaps it was in Ireland that I learnt my greatest lesson. Driving in a rented car through out the length and breath of Ireland with Danny Boy humming in my unconscious, I felt the Celtic connection with each heart beat. Like the Chinese taoists, the Celtic heritage is holistic, linking the head,heart, and soul. Yes, a pilgrimage is a soul journey. Our soul does not understand nor want facts and figures. Soul food is music, poetry, love and for the Irish, a few pints of guinness. In the pubs of Ireland, in the lilting voices of the Irish, in the laughter of their eyes, I learnt that when your soul is happy, you can be poor, when your soul is merry, you can be cold, when your soul is at peace, you can let happiness and love flow freely to others.

In San Jose, meeting up with old friends, Eileen Ong and Peter Osmond (ex-student of ACCS), and staying in their palatial home, I learnt that it is important to make time for friends. Friendship is balm for the soul. As Eileen said, there is an ache in the soul, a longing for friends, talking about common interests, laughing and recalling old jokes and eating and drinking. Throughout my pilgrimage, I also learnt to use cyber cafes and thank you to all of you who kept me up to date about the outside world. Happy Spring Term, my little darlings.

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