Yale '62 - Living in Hong Kong - Bill Stork

"Living in Hong Kong"
By Bill Stork

(Bill Stork, who has been active for many years in the Association of Yale Alumni, suggested that the Class of 1962 consider holding an October, 2004 Mini-Reunion in Hong Kong where he has lived for about ten years. We in turn asked him to write a web feature about living in Hong Kong. "What do you want to know? Ask me some questions," he said. What follows are the main points of that e-mail exchange.)

'62: What is it like, at this stage in your life, living away from the United States?

WS: It's not really much different from freshman year in New Haven, after growing up in California! Then it took me about 6 hours by plane to return to my parents' home; now it takes me double that, and I religiously do so twice a year. Family and friends are important. I don't think I would have made this step earlier in my life; having e-mail to stay in contact with others makes a difference.

Socially, Hong Kong is a very cosmopolitan and vibrant city, with a pace resembling NYC. Public transportation is efficient and inexpensive. The crime rate is low; guns are illegal. The restaurants are the best and feature a high level almost any cuisine you can think of. The social norm is to entertain out of one's home, so I find myself in the city about three nights weekly. Financially, there are major pluses: most expat packages include either housing or an allowance. I have a two-bedroom townhouse that overlooks rolling hills and Tai Tam Bay; I can walk to work.

'62: Was moving to Hong Kong part of your career path plan?

WS: No, sheer serendipity, though I had been interested in China dating back to my undergraduate days when I took classes with Mary and Arthur Wright! Hong Kong International School had decided to develop a special summer program for mathematically gifted local students as a 'give-back' to the Hong Kong community. Anyway, I got this letter in the mail asking if I would come out for three weeks one summer to teach in this program for high achievers. The school was beautiful and very well equipped with the most advanced technology. The students were eager and able and fun to teach. I went to Beijing after the session and loved it, but I never thought about a life as an ex-pat.

Then, about a week after my term ended on the AYA Board of Governors, I decided I would take a year to look for a new challenge. Ten days later I received a fax from Hong Kong; they had had an unexpected resignation. Did I know someone? Or might I be interested? That's how it happened!

The school is very advanced, and has the reputation of being the best in Hong Kong. With an American curriculum, it has as its parent constituency those here working for multi-national businesses and also local families who are looking to a college education in North America for their children. And almost 99% do go to university either in the US or Canada. And, yes, I have been known to do some recruiting! The students are able. One of the courses that I teach is on advanced math topics that include chaos theory; theory of numbers, topology, and some other areas that I did not even know existed until graduate school.

'62: What do you miss most or like most about living in Hong Kong?

WS: I miss seeing friends, but then again, were I to move back I would miss my new H K friends similarly. And I miss little things, like browsing at my favorite California bookstore, college football on TV, or driving to Santa Barbara. I go hiking regularly in China, and long weekends or holidays permit travel to Angkor Wat, Hanoi, Bangkok, Bali, Manila, or Kuala Lumpur. And then there is the food!

'62: How has living in Hong Kong changed since the former Colony became part of China in 1997?

WS: I can remember in December of 1996, I was in California to have holiday dinner with my mother and we received a call from my cousin, worried that I would be going back to Hong Kong and be there when the communists took over. I explained that I was not going to be jeopardized by the transition. Neither UK nor China could afford to have that happen. And that the "one country, two systems" seemed to have been well worked out.

Bill Stork, Hong Kong (with friend Jennifer Li at Yale 300th Anniversary celebration)
Bill Stork, Hong Kong (with friend Jennifer Li at Yale 300th Anniversary celebration)

Economically, everything was well in place at least two years before the transition. International businesses that felt uncomfortable repositioned themselves, some in Singapore. But there was really little by way of exodus. As for my school, we have several building projects underway, and we have increased not only the enrollment at our four campuses but have also increased the lengths of the waiting lists. There is the suggestion that the coming Hong Kong Disneyland will put further pressure on admissions.

Politically, in the last years of the British rule, a small amount of voting was introduced, to be increased under the Basic Law. This has happened, and there technically is more 'democracy' now than under the British. The legal system has remained unchanged, except that the final appeal might be in Beijing rather than in London.

The Chinese seem to bend over backwards to downplay any outward sign or appearance of controlling Hong Kong, especially in the economic sector. My take on this is that China is still looking for eventual return of Taiwan, and if they can make the 'one country, two systems' work in Hong Kong it might have a telling effect on Taiwan. Second, in many ways it appears that China has been effected more than Hong Kong, and that Hong Kong is having a positive effect on China in disproportion to its size.

'62: What role did going to Yale play in your being where you are?

WS: As I mentioned, China always was a great interest, and I had periodically taught East Asian history during my career. While on the AYA Board of Governors my responsibility was to serve as coordinator for all alumni clubs. One of my initiatives was to increase the number of international clubs, and the success of the Hong Kong Club featured in that effort. The delegate from Hong Kong became a good friend, and when the time came for the move I had expert advice.

Because of the Yale experiences I had become increasingly interested in the concept of internationalization (more often now referred to as globalization). I was pleased to read that Rick Levin had mentioned, as one of his four initiatives for Yale in its fourth century, the evolution of Yale as a world university. I was honored to help in that process by chairing the Yale Assembly LII, "The Internationalization of Yale", and to have Hong Kong selected as a site for the international tercentennial celebration.

(Click here to read Bill's personal description of Yale Club of Hong Kong activities)