Good News and Bad News

“Psychologically, we’re all a complex mixture of hopes and fears. Each day we wake up with the scales tipping a bit one way or the other. If they go too far toward hopefulness, we can become naïve and unrealistic. If the scales tilt too far the other way, we can get consumed by paranoia and hatred.” This is what Bill Clinton said in his autobiography.

If fate wills it though, even if we wake up one day full of hope and joy, in one blink of the eye that high spirit can nosedive into fear and insecurity.

In recent months, two events of epic proportions took place in the city of Richmond. The first was the actual setting up by Microsoft Corporation of a software development center here and the second, following on the heels of the first and reminiscent of the 9-11 tragedy in New York, was the bizarre accident of a small plane ploughing right into the 9th floor unit of a high-rise apartment building in the heart of the city.

Microsoft’s recent move was announced in summer last year and the new centre has found its footing in an industrial/business park in Richmond, at the intersection of No. 6 Road and Westminster Highway. As noted recently in a speech to members of the Vancouver Board of Trade by Colin Hansen, Minister of Economic Development and Trade, Microsoft’s decision was motivated by the relative ease to get work visas for skilled immigrant workers in Canada compared to the U.S. and by the quality of life offered by the Lower Mainland that can be afforded to the high tech giant’s employees. Presently, Microsoft has four other software development centers outside of its headquarters in Redmond, Washington, and these are located in North Carolina, Ireland, Denmark and Israel.

The new center, now up and running with about 20 staff members, expects to be hiring up to 700 within the first 12 months. The good news certainly has got British Columbians, especially Richmondites, all excited about the positive impact Microsoft’s move would have on the local economy and technological innovation. Microsoft’s arrival has also prompted British Columbia’s technology industry to gear up to look for other potential visa-seeking employers across the border. Google, Yahoo and e-Bay are already on their target list. Coupled with the imminent completion of the Canada Line mass transit rail and the hosting of the 2010 Olympics skating events, the economic outlook in Richmond has never been brighter.

Hardly has this euphoric feeling had time to cool down came the freakiest plane accident in Richmond’s history.

On October 19, a light aircraft out of nowhere zoomed through the windows of a high-rise apartment unit and landed inside the unit, killing the pilot on the spot and hurting two homeowners who happened to be in the unit at the time. The 172 residents of the affected building were made homeless, at least for a few months or until such time that structural repairs to the building are completed. Although the units are covered by the strata’s insurance, some 80 residents did not buy insurance for their household belongings, most of which were damaged by water from spurting sprinklers set off by the crash.

The unfortunate victims have been planning to file a class lawsuit against the deceased pilot’s estate but are told that the estate’s insurance is only worth about C$1 million and would be hardly sufficient to cover all their losses. They also have to face the harsh reality that their apartments, even if repaired, will likely see a drop in value.

The two events remind me once again how ironic and unpredictable life can be and how fickle can one’s fate be. In one minute you feel elated about a bright economic future in the place where you live, in the next you are hit by a disastrous blow from above that throws everything into disarray. While it may be possible to consciously adjust our daily hopes and fears, it may be a lot harder to deal with sudden misfortunes that fate chooses to throw in our path.

In the face of adversity, some turn to their faith to find consolation, while others try to find solace from the spirit of this French saying: “Qui sait, quand le ciel nous frappe de ses coups, si le plus grand malheur n’est pas un bien pour nous.” (“Who knows, when heaven hits us with one of its blows, if the greatest misfortune is not a good thing for us.”), or through this Chinese adage: “塞翁失馬, 焉知非福”, which has exactly the same meaning as the French aphorism. As trite as these sayings may sound, an attitude change in a seemingly doomed situation can make all the difference in the world.

I have recently learned about the sad news that one of my primary school mates committed suicide a few years ago. In my memory, he was cheerful, friendly and always willing to go an extra mile to help a friend in need. The reasons that led him to make such a grim decision may be too profound for us to fathom. Or it may just be that he woke up one day with his scales tipped too far towards fear and despair, and no one was around to remind him of those philosophical sayings……..