I was shaken and saddened by the news of the premature death of Olivier Allais, a French friend. He was only in his mid fifties. Last time when we exchanged email was in early August, shortly before his scheduled operation for his prostate cancer on August 18. He told me that he was in a Buddhist community in central France, which was converted from a Catholic monastery. Very exotic, he said. He was meditating and learning about the 9 paths of BÖN pre-Buddhist conception. Ever since his heart operation over two years ago, he had paid increasing attention to healing and spirituality.
On Sunday (Sept 4) afternoon, when I checked my email, I was so shocked to find a note on LinkedIn from a mutual friend, saying: Olivier Allais passed away two days ago in Paris. I simply couldn’t believe it! I heard the operation had gone well. I checked his page on the Facebook and noticed that the last wall post was dated August 27. He was feeling better that day, he wrote, and he mentioned Steve Job’s extraordinary speech, talking about his fight against his cancer. Olivier was so willing to put on a good fight. It felt so unreal to look at his familiar pictures. He was no longer there?
I met Olivier in the beginning of 2005 in Beijing when he worked as a consultant to one of the EU information and technology projects. When I asked him what brought him to China, he said “curiosity”. During the few years he lived in Beijing, I met up with him fairly regularly, going out for dinner, concerts or gallery openings and such. He was a great company, witty, very charming to women, and of course, he was tall, handsome, with curly hair and sparkling blue eyes.
It was never dull with him. Once we had an evening out to the theatre to celebrate the birthday of a girlfriend. But the tickets for the musical Butterfly, based on the classic love story,were all sold out. Olivier chatted up the producer, explaining that he was a music lover from Paris and today was his beloved girlfriend’s birthday day and he would dearly wished to take her to see the show. The producer was so charmed by Olivier that he simply gave us three free tickets!
Then Olivier moved back to Paris, partly because of his heart problem. Last time I spent proper time with him was early last year when I went to Paris to launch the French edition of my memoir. He tried very hard to rally people to come to my launching party and showed me around his Paris. My fondest memory from the whole trip was biking with him on the banks of Seine in the biting cold.
I dug out of a photo of us in front of Lourve, pretending to be the lovers we never were. He was not there any more?
When we exchanged email for the last time, I asked him if he got any plan for Beijing. He replied that he was dreaming to find an excuse to return in October or November. Then he added that he couldn’t make any precise plan. “Can’t figure out the period and my mind after the operation. Both nothing and highly significant.” What did he mean? I am not entirely sure. Did that possibility ever occurred to him? What went on in his mind when he was at the Buddhist monastery? Was he pleased with his life? He certainly saw a lot of the world and did lots of things.
It sounds like that he was quite unprepared for the abrupt end of the journey. No one is fully prepared for our final destination. I was quite unprepared for this news.
Ever since I heard it yesterday evening, Olivier has occupied my mind. I wish I had known him better.
Olivier, this is my little tribute to you. Thank you for coming to my life, thank you for the fun and colour you’ve brought to me. I know I’ll miss you, Olivier.
You sister lovingly described your departure from this world as’ have gone on another journey’. I am sure it’s a journey of another adventure.