"Hong Kong Mini Reunion Summary"

Our intrepid travellers weigh in on the trip
December 14, 2005

Reports from (alphabetically) Sir John Boyd, George Evans, Nancy Dechert, Rob Flint, Dennis Jackson, Ken Luke, Bess Mann, Penny Marston, Herm Pettegrove, Phil & Cassandra Watson and Bill Williams follow.

Sir John Boyd: Greetings! It was great to catch up with classmates in Hong Kong, always one of my favourite spots and lively as ever. Here in Cambridge, of course, we captured Yale's Provost to be our Vice-Chancellor — and she is a fantastic success. Many other reasons to recall my time at Berkeley College, from a catch up on the 'Liberal Basketball League' to twin messages this week from the Yale Russian Chorus — better than ever by the sound of it. My old College in Cambridge has also just been nudging alumni to support the system of Clare-Yale exchanges ('Mellon Fellowships') which took me to New Haven in the first place. I was a lucky guy. Something worth sustaining, even if my own daughter spent a year at Harvard! A couple of weeks back I caught the visit to Clare of Jim Watson of Double Helix fame to unveil a sculpture commemorating that very great discovery in Cambridge. No prizes for guessing its shape! — Regards, John  TO TOP

Nancy Dechert (wife of Henry 'Skip' Dechert): 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.  TO TOP

Rob Flint: Hong Kong was our third great Yale adventure of 2005. In January we had taken the AYA trip to Antarctica (where I worked professionally on nine expeditions from 1963 to 2001); then in June we did an AYA trip to Iceland (where we stood astride the mid-Atlantic spreading ridge and watched our left foot move toward America, while our right foot was moving toward Europe — didn't see it actually MOVE, thankfully). So having covered the two poles, what was left but a Yale trip to the tropics? The '62 Hong Kong mini-reunion filled the bill nicely. Bill Stork, Al Chambers, Jonathan Ater, Bill's friend Jasmine, and other organizers did a superb job in planning great meals and activities and leaving plenty of free time for exploring, sight seeing, and fellowship. My wife Susan and I added an additional eight-day excursion to Guilin, Xian, and Beijing at the end of our stay in Hong Kong.

The trip was very enjoyable for its sights, good food, and comfortable travel, but I also found the experience of both Hong Kong and China especially thought-provoking. 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 high rise "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. A universal reaction to China is an impression of the sheer NUMBERS of people EVERYWHERE — on the streets, in the parks, on public transit, on bicycles, and in cars. Is this another glimpse into our future? We are certainly not very good at controlling our numbers either in the United States or in the world. We have heard about the rampant pollution problems in China. Certainly the air everywhere (except atop the Great Wall) seemed gray and dense. A short walk from our hotel in Beijing brought us to a garbage-filled and stagnant water way. And yet so many systems did seem to work well: Hong Kong was particularly easy to get around — transportation systems were well-marked and clean. We were told that there is an effective social safety net in Hong Kong: how do they manage that within the framework of a VERY capitalist society? Are we missing something in our own capitalist society? Entrepreneurship seems to abound both in Hong Kong and in the rest of China. How did the society come so far and so fast from the dark days of the Cultural Revolution? The RATE of learning and DEGREE of adaptability are astounding.

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! — Rob Flint robflint@aya.yale.edu  TO TOP

Dennis Jackson: The Hong Kong reunion was a great conclusion to our tour of China. Hong Kong is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with outstanding restaurants, hotels and retail stores. Highlights of our stay included trips to Lantau Island and the New Territories where there remain villages which reflect traditional ways of living in the area. 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. Certainly China is making great progress in terms of its economy. Finally it was a pleasure to visit with classmates, some of whom I haven't seen since our graduation from Yale.  TO TOP

Bess Mann: No question about it, the village of Pak Sha O caught my fancy. After the monotony of colossal enterprise zones in the North, with their gargantuan factories and high-rise cities of identical cement towers; after all the hustle and bustle of sophisticated, modern Hong Kong, 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.

Art says, "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."

We hope anyone who ventures in the Lancaster area will call and come visit any time.

Penny Marston: The Hong Kong 1962 Mini Reunion was a fantastic experience for me. I have never been to that part of the world and was overwhelmed with interest in the people,culture and history.

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.The boat ride out in Victoria Harbor, Friday night, gave a grand view of the islands and city lights of this emerging society.

Trip planners,you certainly outdid yourselves,each detail went off without a flaw. I will remember the great Yale folks who helped make this such a memory for me... "Frump" Pam, my boat buddy Casandra, "the twin", Julie,Ken,and the dancers Bill and Art (and so many more). I hope some of my photos will come in Herman's e-mail.... Thank you all, Penny  TO TOP

Herman Pettegrove: I really had a delightful time which was considerably enhanced by your assistance and that of Bill and Jasmine Stork and Jonathan Ater. First, they directed us to Taipei, the capital of Taiwan where we got a good and quick introduction to the culture of China which was considerably enhanced by the visit to the National Museum which, for a guy whose feet hurt when he hears the word "museum," was an awesome experience both because of the facility which was gigantic and very tastefully done and because of the incredible art collection. It was only after I left that I remembered the great scandal and numerous diplomatic complaints about Chiang Kai Shek having "plundered" the Chinese national treasures during his departure from mainland China.

We all had similar tour experiences but 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. I completed a book entitled Mr. China whose author's name escapes me on my return and got a few further insights into the difficulties we face in trading with and investing in that country. I was very impressed and pleased with the presentation at the Foreign Journalists' Club in HK even though I saw some of our classmates' faces nodding off as they tried to deal with the time adjustment which was probably at absolute bottom by our second evening in Hong Kong.

I was most impressed by the walking tour we took of Hong Kong. The reality of being in Asia was brought more dramatically to my attention at our barbecue on Saturday afternoon. It was a time when it appeared people had had enough Chinese food and the very American frankfurters, salsa and chips were welcome. There was so little "spice" in the food that Penny and I jumped into the first Mexican restaurant outside of LAX for a "hot" meal on our return. The group visited Jon and Meredith whose last names escape me and were shown a remarkable apartment house in the middle of the jungle with no driveway or any way that I could see to reach the house but to walk a half mile long tarred path. When we got to the house set in a clearing in the jungle we found gardens and courtyards with children running around. Members of our group walked through the complex cheerfully encouraged by the inhabitants. I happened to sit down with Jon and expressed a concern that had troubled me all week.

Whenever wildlife in the jungles of Hong Kong and Taiwan was mentioned I was assured, "Oh we killed our last Hong Kong tiger in 1942." Finally, the tour guide conceded that there were "many snakes" out in the jungle and she mentioned innocently some problems with "pythons" though I think she meant boa constrictors as pythons are very unusual in the dry country of the New Territories of Hong Kong. I asked Jon, "by the way, 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 said, "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)." I think he went on to suggest that it would be a cold, lonely cobra out here or perhaps these are the words I used just before nearly jumping on top of a rattlesnake I met in the woods in California. The problem is "dumb cobras" just as we have a problem with "dumb" rattlesnakes that often forget that they are fearful of humans.

I certainly thought the walking people in the gardens unseparated from the jungle were at risk but nobody complained nor noticed but me. I happily jumped on the air conditioned tourbus and rode home making sure my feet did not touch anything but concrete till I got to my front yard. — Herman

(incidentally, I still have many pictures taken by Penny of our trip; only my inability to motivate my son to get them out of the computer and into your hands delays us)  TO TOP

Phil & Cassandra Watson: 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 hotels 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.

Hat's off to you and the other organizers of the reunion (Bill Stork and Jonathan Ater). It was a great combination of planned activities and flex time. The dinner at the Foreign Correspondents Club with the local Yale Club members was a real highlight, as was the architectural tour of HK proper.

I must honestly say that the only classmates that I immediately recognized were Bill Stork and Ken Luke. That's not to say that everyone didn't look extremely fit and just the same as they did 40 years ago (or as I would have guessed they looked). As one would expect, there were a lot of interesting stories of the post-Yale years from the attendees. My favorite was the thrilling account by one of our classmate of a UFO encounter, but we were disappointed that there were no reported abductions among the group.

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.

All in all, the HK mini-reunion was great fun. We are looking forward to the next reunion in New Haven and seeing everyone again at that event. — Regards. Phil & Cassandra Watson  TO TOP

Bill Williams: 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. I do not know who she has specifically in mind when she says "interesting" but I suspect it is Herm Pettegrove. I am not sure how anyone has ever gotten away with calling Pamela Anderson "frumpy" but somehow Herm got away with it and remained solidly in her good graces. I particularly enjoyed the panel presentation and the follow-up Q and A session with participants who know a great deal more about China than I will ever know. We are greatly indebted to Al, Bill, and Jonathan for pulling the reunion together and it remains a memorable occasion Pam and I will not soon forget.  TO TOP