" Hong Kong Mini Reunion Summary "
By Al Chambers
Ann Arbor, MI
December 14, 2005
Bill Stork and I started exchanging e-mails about a possible '62 Hong Kong Mini Reunion in early 2003 shortly after his web site feature about living and working in Hong Kong. We convinced ourselves it could be done and would be fun, and it was.
Planning was suspended for almost a year because of SARS, but by mid-2004, we again were confident that it was worth a try. Classmate response to our "indication of interest mailer" favored a four-day program, including evening time together at planned events and guidance on good places to visit on your own during the days. We chose the October timing because tropical, humid Hong Kong normally is cooler and drier.
A lucky thirteen classmates joined what turned out to be an extraordinarily congenial group. Most had not known each other well at Yale or spent time together in the intervening 43 years. In the group were Jonathan Ater, Al Chambers, Skip Dechert, George Evans, Rob Flint, Dave Hummel, Dennis Jackson, Ken Luke, Art Mann, Herm Pettegrove, Bill Stork, Phil Watson, and Bill Williams. Our Clare Fellow classmate, Sir John Boyd turned out to be in Hong Kong at the same time and joined us briefly. Three other classmates registered but had to cancel for assorted reasons.
The group really bonded. Ken Luke wrote, "To me, the best thing about the reunion was being in the company of my classmates and their wives or significant others, while becoming acquainted with an exotic part of the world. Of the thirteen members of our class who participated, I knew only two fairly well before the reunion. However (probably because of the small number who attended), I feel that all of us became friends during that week, and will continue to be friends in the future." Phil Watson observed, "We have been to HK many times in the past, but always on business. So it was a real pleasure to play the tourist for a change and see something of HK other than of hotel lobbies, bankers' conference rooms and lawyers' offices. There was, of course, the added bonus of being able to travel with such a congenial group of fellow '62 classmates and spouses." Bill Williams explained, "Whenever we attend a Yale reunion my wife always remarks that she has never met a nicer, friendlier, more considerate and more interesting group of people who are more comfortable to be with than my Yale classmates and their 'significant others.' This reunion, populated mostly by lawyers and engineers, was all that and more." Art Mann concluded, "Even though I didn't know these guys at college, I can always count on Yalies to be interesting, and this occasion was no exception. Everyone was knowledgeable and fun to be with."
This enthusiasm and friendly tone was evident from the first informal evening at Bill and Jasmine's Chinese Club and at the welcoming breakfast. In fact, breakfast together on the outdoor patio of the Conrad Hotel, where we all were staying, became a cornerstone of everyone's schedule.
Cassandra Watson took the lead in organizing guided van sightseeing trips to Lantau Island and the New Territories, which a majority joined. Veteran traveler Dave Hummel remarked, "In Hong Kong we particularly enjoyed getting out of the center of the city and seeing Lantau Island and the New Territories. We had no idea that there was so much green space in Hong Kong. The old fishing village on stilts and the big Buddha were Lantau highlights." For Penny Marston, "Our bus tours on Thursday and Friday with our guide, Kitty, really brought Hong Kong and the surrounding areas to life with a wealth of information." George Evans expanded on the visit to Lantau, "About 10 of us visited the Big Buddha by small van. A cable car is being installed to make the ascent from airport level to hilltop accessible to masses of people. It still was reasonably crowded when we were there, about half tourists and half devout Chinese. Actually, the line between the two is not so clearly drawn. Much of Chinese religious practice, monks excepted, seems to fall under the category of 'covering all bases.' Feng shui, for example, lies at the crossroads of superstition and theology; and among its adherents are many who appear to find it more practical to take a position of 'why not' rather than 'why.' They would not see anything inconsistent in the Big Buddha as both object of veneration and Disney attraction."
During those sightseeing trips, school was in session for Math teacher Bill Stork, but he reappeared late each afternoon to lead us on our evening culinary adventures. Three Chinese evenings Cantonese, Peking and Cantonese Seafood were mixed with the Foreign Correspondents Club signature lamb chops and international fare for our farewell evening on the Peak.
Sightseeing walking tour
Photo by Skip Dechert
For Bill, who is a superb organizer and a true Yale partisan, there was a joy and excitement in leading the effort. As he put it, "Jasmine (my better half) came to ask me how I had put together the mosaic of events that constituted this Mini Reunion of the Class of 1962. I responded that I had based it on past experience, from both my stint on the AYA board of Governors and as president of the Yale Club here in Hong Kong. The first taught me the advantages that come from detailed advance planning; the second, the balance to be achieved from a panorama of events cultural, physical, and social. I also knew that the AYA would be of inestimable help, and that one classmate on the ground in Hong Kong could probably package the week better (and more economically) than any travel agent or tour group company." Support indeed was strong from the Alumni Association including setting us up to be the first Mini Reunion to offer online registration.
For Al Chambers, the impetus was the chance to return to Hong Kong where he had lived with his family for six years in the 1970s. Operating on his own when his wife, Alice, was unable to come at the last minute, he spent time finding and visiting with old and not so old journalist and business friends, each evening sharing news and rumors with the rest of the group.
Although virtually everyone had his or her own camera, Skip Dechert quickly emerged as the most skilled and dedicated photographer. Some of his best can be found on the web site while those and others are on yale62.smugmug.com for anyone interested in seeing more or purchasing prints.
Jonathan and Deanne Ater had been to China previously but not Hong Kong. Jonathan signed on as the third member of the organizing committee and provided important guidance and encouragement before and during our Reunion. His photo collection, accompanied by poetry-like captions, also capture many key moments and the personality of the Reunion. Photos from other attendees are also on this site.
Relying on the postings as a measure from those attending the Mini, three scheduled activities were the most memorable. Certainly the most unusual was the last day picnic at Meredith and John Cox's house. Situated more than an hour from central Hong Kong, deep in the New Territories in an until-recently-deserted 19th century Chinese village, their new home in an old home could only be reached by walking in about a half mile from the nearest road. Cox (Yale '67), a friend of Bill Stork's and an active member of the Yale Club of Hong Kong, invited us to visit their extraordinary digs when he heard of our Reunion.
Cox home picnic
Photo by Skip Dechert
Julie Evans reflected the group's impression when she opened her note by saying, "I especially enjoyed the lunch at Meredith and Jon Cox's house and walking around their charming village." Striking the same chord, Bess Mann almost painted a picture of the experience when she wrote, "I was captivated by the human scale of everything in Pak Sha O. Off the beaten path, accessible only by foot, through abandoned rice paddies that whisper of the past, there stands a dilapidated village of two streets and twenty-some houses ... This is the stuff of romance, and I think Somerset Maugham would have loved it. Everything in Pak Sha O has a story: the orange plastic tiger in the garden; the absentee landlord's altar, hidden behind padlocked doors; the deconsecrated Catholic chapel up the hill. And last, but certainly not least, the resourceful, talented, lovely Vilma Pegg, Philippine immigrant with a vision for the village, who reconstructed parts of it by hand, and who watches over her little kingdom with vigilance. It's a place where something's bound to happen, and I wonder what part John and Meredith Cox will play in the Pak Sha O drama! I am so grateful they shared their exotic new abode with us, and I wish I could be there during the monsoon." Herm Pettegrove, recalled a brief conversation with our host, "I have seen videos of cobra hunts and the terrain is exactly like what we are seeing here. Interesting that you should bring up that topic," Jon responded, "The cleaning woman killed a cobra over there (15 feet away) in the storage shed last Tuesday." I asked whether this was a recurring problem and he said, "Oh no, cobras avoid humans at all times, the real problem here is the ringed kraits (another poisonous snake whose venom's toxicity far exceeds that of the poisonous snakes of North America)."
At the opposite extreme was the dinner at the venerable Foreign Correspondents Club with a panel discussion on the subject of "What China Thinks of the United States." About 30 members of Yale Club of Hong Kong, ranging in age from just out of Yale to a good bit older than the '62 crowd, joined us, broadening the experience and the table discussions. Art Mann, who has done business in China for more than 15 years, joined the panel along with two Hong Kong businessmen and the moderator, Asian Wall Street Journal bureau chief, Peter Stein, all Yale graduates. Pettegrove liked what his classmate had to say, "One event that stood out for me was Art Mann's mention of some of the problems facing American industry in trading with the Far East, particularly China. I had heard a hundred stories about how we mistreated the Chinese and bullied them into one unfortunate economic activity or another. I had not been apprised of the incredible pro-China bias in trading with that country." Dennis Jackson drew contrasts between what he heard at the FCC dinner and during his visit to the Mainland. "We also enjoyed the panel discussion at the Foreign Correspondents Club on how Americans are perceived by the Chinese people. The observations by the panelists resonated with us since we were told on the mainland that China would be the next superpower."
Photo by Skip Dechert
Classmates also appreciated the historical and architectural walking tour of Central Hong Kong on the first day, led by a recent Yale graduate. For Rob Flint a question was, "Are Hong Kong and China a window into the world's future? Certainly the Hong Kong skyline looks like something out of a futuristic science fiction film. The competition to create distinctive tall buildings makes the Hong Kong skyline utterly unique. The highrise 'new' cities of Hong Kong and China look like an artist's conception of Huxley's Brave New World: apartment buildings are so impossibly tall and crowded so close together, yet each window or balcony was festooned with laundry, representing so many resident individuals and lives."
Several classmates made Hong Kong their last stop, including Pettegrove who visited Taiwan, and Jackson and Williams, who went to China. In a triumph of coincidental planning, the Evanses left Yale '62 to immediately join a Smith College three-week tour of China. The Aters, Flints, Manns and Watsons also went to China, while the Decherts stopped in Singapore. Chambers visited Angkor Wat, Northern Thailand and Hanoi. Stork stayed in Hong Kong and helped welcome another Yale group the following week, though not as the chief organizer.
Ken Luke's one-day tour to the village of Cuiheng in the Zhongshan district of China was the most personal. The village had been the ancestral home of his grandfather, who was forced to leave early in the 20th century under threat of arrest by the "last Imperial Chinese dynasty."
And the most exotic travel surely was by the Hummels, who spent two weeks trekking in Bhutan followed by a break in Singapore and then several days snorkeling in Malaysia. Cindy and Dave have visited more than 80 countries and are still counting.
On the wonder and challenge of China, Evans and Flint offered interesting observations. George, reflected on his back-to-back trips by saying, "When people who know I have been to China now meet me, they invariably ask one of two questions: 'How (in a word) was your trip?', or 'What was your favorite thing?' The second question is a little easier to deal with, because I can reply that there were so many extraordinary things it is hard to single one out. The first question is much harder; no single adjective seems to fit such an extended-in-time transforming experience. One might as well answer the question: 'How (in a word) was your adolescence?' A friend who also had been to China counseled me that this type of questioner is not interested in a discourse on travel. Just answer: 'Fantastic.'"
Rob had a more analytic approach. He pondered, "Did I end up feeling more optimistic or pessimistic about the world's future after experiencing Hong Kong and China? I am truly undecided. Hong Kong and China show up problems that will affect all of us: crowding, pollution, rampant capitalism, the shifting of so many jobs around the world, loss of individuality. At the same time, the ability of people to adapt to those conditions, the use of modern technology, the sheer speed of that adaptability all signal some hope for our world. It was a great trip: Thanks, classmates!"
Still another vantage came from Phil Watson who shared, "Cassandra and I went on to Xian and Beijing after the reunion. I was last there in the late 70s, early 80s. Things have changed tremendously. Along with the benefits of a more modern society come the traffic jams and smog. I am presently working on a screenplay set in those locations (latest hobby), so I was able to do some research as well as take in the sights."
Far closer to Yale, Nancy Dechert took home a lovely thought, "My dad, William B. Moses, was in the Class of 1935 at Yale, and his closest friends the friends you have for life were from that class. He died this past August, and I thought of him frequently on our Hong Kong tour with members of the class of '62. I kept wishing I could call him and tell him how special these guys from Yale were, and how much I liked them and their wives (or girlfriends). It would have meant a lot to him to know that."