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The Arches 
of the 

by Brian Yu 


Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2010 with funding from 

IVIulticultural Canada; University of Toronto Libraries 

The Arches of the Years 

•' Vi ^' 

The Arches of the Years 


by Brian Yu 

Canada-Hong Kong Resource Centre 

1 Spadina Crescent, Rm. Ill ♦ Toronto, Canada • M5S lAl 

Hong Kong Life Stories No.l 

Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies 
Toronto, 1999 

Canada and Hong Kong Research Project 

University of Toronto - York University 

Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies 

York Lanes, Suite 270 

York University 

4700 Keele Street 

Toronto, Ontario 


Copyright © 1999 by the Governing Council of the 

University of Toronto and the Board of Governors of York University. 

All rights reserved. 

ISBN 1-895296-32-3 

Printed in Canada at the Coach House P*rinting Company. 

Co-Directors, Canada and Hong Kong Project: 

Diana Lary and Bernard Luk 

Copy Editor: Janet A. Rubinoff 

Calligraphy for cover design by Jerome Ch'en, York University 

Hong Kong Life Stories: Series Editors' Preface 

Hong Kong has evolved from a colonial port on the China coast to a major 
centre of the global economy and a metropolis with a distinct way of life, over 
the half century since the Second World War. It is undoubtedly a Chinese 
society; it is also an open, pluralistic and civil societ>'. Social and cultural 
development has gone hand in hand with the economic, but has been much less 
well documented in the scholarly literature or the popular press. 

Many men and women contributed to the making of Hong Kong society. 
Some were rich and famous, or did great deeds which were recorded in print or 
on stone. Most just struggled quietly to sundve in difficuU conditions, to 
maintain their self-respect, and to raise their children. The life stories of these 
men and women give us a deeper, fuller understanding of the evolution of Hong 

In this series, we plan to publish Hong Kong life stories from diverse 
perspectives. There will be books in a variet}' of genres, such as autobiographies, 
biographies, oral histories and collections of representative works. With these 
publications, we hope to further the aims of the Canada and Hong Kong Project, 
viz., to chronicle the development of Hong Kong and to make Hong Kong better 
understood in Canada. The authors are responsible for their own opinions, 
which do not necessarily represent those of the Project or the editors. 

Mr. Brian Yu. the author of The Arches of the Years, is the youngest son of 
nine siblings. Their father had a Classical Chinese education, graduated from 
Oxford, and served as a \'emacular school inspector in the Hong Kong 
Government. Brian was educated by the Jesuits before the war. After the fall of 
Hong Kong, the family fled to Free China. Early in the postwar years, he won a 
scholarship to attend Cambridge where he became the first Chinese graduate to 
be recruited by Shell International Petroleum for service in Hong Kong. He had 
a successful career with Shell, while his siblings pursued theirs in law, in 
education and in scholarship. He was a pioneer in the early stages of Hong 
Kong's process of de-colonization and made many contributions to society. He 
immigrated to Canada in 1968. After working in turn for the Professional 
Institute of the Public Service of Canada and the Treasur\- Board, he rejoined 
Shell in Toronto. He is fully integrated into Canadian societ>', and remains close 
to his far-flung family. 

December 1998 Diana Lary 

Bernard Luk 
Series Editors 

Christine and Catherine 


Foreword 9 

Introduction 1 1 

1. Fountainhead, 1839-42 13 

2. The Bonds of Tradition, 1908 15 

3 . The Beginning of Change, 1 909- 11 18 

4. Oxford, 1912-16 20 

5. Homecoming, 1916 24 

6. The Inspector of Vernacular Schools 27 

7. My Mother 30 

8. The House on Shelley Street 32 

9. Childhood Memories, 1930s 37 

10. The Seeds of Learning, 1930s 46 

11. The Fall of Hong Kong, December 1 94 1 63 

12. The Perilous Years, 1942-45 70 

13. Cambridge, 1946-49 95 

14. My Father and His Protege, 1946-51 1 14 

15. Hong Kong, 1949-57 120 

16. Ipoh, 1957-59 126 

17. London, 1959-60 131 

18. Kuala Lumpur, 1961 134 

19. Scaling the Heights, 1962-66 136 

20. 'Goodbye, Father', 1966 142 

21. Watershed, 1967-68 150 

22. Ottawa, 1968-72 156 

23. Toronto, 1972-84 165 

24. The Golden Arch 177 

Glossary 185 


Walt Whitman wrote 'This is no book, who touches this, 
touches a man'. This may indeed be said of Brian's book, but 
perhaps it would be even better to say that one touches a family. 
The title is full of symbolism. Arches are often bridges and bridges 
often link very different places. A bridge can link two contrasting 
sides of a river or, as in a Roman aqueduct striding across Europe, 
bring water from mountains to plains. So it is with Brian's story. It 
links the ancient culture of China with the hectic life of a western 
city and the learning of the East with the mechanization of the West. 

Half a century has passed since Brian and I were fortunate 
enough to find ourselves in one of the world's great universities. 
Cambridge is, in itself, a bridge which spans the learning of the ages, 
which embraces the genius of Keynes and Newton, Rutherford and 
Milton. Doubtless this helped Brian to build his bridges. 

As we walked together in the meadows of Grantchester those 
many years ago little did I think that, one day, he would join me in 
the fascinating project of getting a brand new system of industrial 
relations to work for the professionals of the Public Service of 

Now we are both happily retired in a great country far from the 
lands that nurtured our roots. This little book lets us touch Brian 
and his family as they travelled over the many arches which have 
marked their journey. 

Leslie W.C.S. Barnes 


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In the preface to All Our Yesterdays: A Song of My Parents, 
which appeared as a private publication in 1992, I wrote as follows: 

I first gave serious thought to writing a short 
story of my parents in December 1989, something 
like a song of praise rather than a biography. I 
informed my brothers and sisters early in 1990 of my 
intention and asked for their help in the writing of the 
story, to be called A Song of My Parents. 

Later Father Albert Cooney S.J., my former 
French teacher, suggested an alternative title. All Our 
Yesterdays. The idea appealed to me and I 
subsequently decided on the present title. All Our 
Yesterdays: A Song of My Parents, with a view to 
broadening the scope for my reminiscences without 
losing sight of the main theme. 

My story is based on facts, on my memories and 
perceptions of the past and on the recollections of m.y 
brothers and sisters. I have attempted to place many 
of the events taking place in my story in the context 
of history. In this regard I have drawn freely from the 
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Churchill's memoirs of 
The Second World War, Barbara Tuchman's Stih'ell 
and the American Experience in China, and Major 
Oliver Stanley's The Lasting Honour: The Fall of 
Hong Kong. 

In the years that followed, I have revised All Our Yesterdays in 
accordance with the dictates of mind and the whims of memory, and 
added the story of my chequered career in some detail. Hence, 77?^ 
Arches of the Years, the memoirs of a Chinese Canadian with a 
family history going all the way back to the Opium War. 

My sincere thanks are due to Leslie Barnes, past President and 
former Executive Director of the Professional Institute of the Public 
Service of Canada, former Senior Research Fellow of Queen's 
University, Kingston, and currently First National Vice-President, 
Federal Superannuates National Association, for the foreword; 
Wilfred Saunders C.B.E., Emeritus Professor of the University of 
Sheffield and Professor Anthony Hudson of the University of 


12 The Arches of the Years 

Liverpool for their helpfijl comments on some of the chapters; my 
nephew Professor Anthony Yu of the University of Chicago for the 
account of his unique relationship with my father in the early 
postwar years; my sister Margaret for permission to quote from her 
poem in memory of my mother, and my sister Mrs. Winnie Wong 
for the translation of one of my father's Oxford poems. 

I am indeed grateful to my friend Eleanor DeWolf who 
proofread the constantly evolving manuscript, to my son Peter who 
undertook the formatting of the final manuscript, and to my wife 
Mamie who prepared the glossary of Chinese names. 

I am greatly indebted to Professor Bernard Luk of York 
University who so kindly accepted my memoirs for publication by 
the Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies and also contributed to a 
number of key improvements in the manuscript. I wish to thank 
Peter Yeung of the Canada-Hong Kong Resource Centre for putting 
me in touch with the Joint Centre in the first place, and Janet 
RubinoflF, Editor for the Canada and Hong Kong Project, for 
proofreading the final manuscript. 

I must gratefiilly acknowledge that some of my comments on 
Cambridge are taken from Cambridge, A Living Tradition by 
Michael Grant, and Cambridge Colleges by Janet Jeacock. 

Chapter 1 
Fountainhead, 1839-42 

'Happy is he who has three wives and four concubines. ' Such is the 
essence of an ancient Chinese saying, so close to the hearts of men, 
which has been scrupulously handed down through the ages. 

Under successive Chinese Dynasties, most men took pride in 
being polygamists, while many women, usually from underprivileged 
families, found shelter and security as concubines. Tradition also 
conferred the dignity of social status on a man's official concubines 
by recognizing all their offspring as legitimate. Hence, it was 
universally acknowledged that being someone's concubine would 
not undermine a woman's self-respect or compromise her sense of 
virtue. In such a compassionate society, it is tempting to speculate 
that true bastards could well have been hard to find! 

My grandfather was bom sometime during the Opium War of 
1839-42. This infamous conflict was occasioned by Chinese 
resistance to British opium trade in the heyday of gunboat diplomacy 
and, as the world knows, constitutes an inglorious page in British 
history. In the event. Captain Charles Elliott seized Hong Kong in 
1 84 1 and, a year later, aboard the HMS Connvallis moored on the 
Yangtze River, China signed the Treaty of Nanking ceding Hong 
Kong 'in perpetuity' to Britain. Never before in the history of China 
had the Sleeping Giant been so humiliated by a foreign power, and 
the credibility of the Manchu rulers of the Qing Dynasty (1644- 
1912), the last Chinese Dynasty, was shattered beyond redemption. 

Hong Kong in Chinese means 'fragrant harbour'. At first sight it 
was a mere rocky island of about seventy-seven square kilometres 
(17.7 km. long and fi'om 3.2 km. to 8 km. wide), sparsely inhabited 
and pirate-infested. But to the shrewd and far-sighted builders of the 
British Empire, the commercial and strategic significance of its deep 
and sheltered harbour, possessing east and west entrances and lying 
in the chief trade route to China, was beyond all question a pearl of 
very great price. 

In 1 860, after another brief war, the eight square kilometres of 
the Kowloon peninsula, which dominates the Hong Kong harbour 
fi"om the north, was ceded by China under the Convention of 
Peking. Britain in 1 898 was fiarther granted a ninety-nine year lease 
of nine hundred thirty-four square kilometres of the mainland 


14 The Arches of the Years 

immediately adjoining Kowloon, known ever since as the New 

Of humble origin, my grandfather came from the well-known Yu 
clan which populated the poor county of Taishan in Guangdong 
Province. As a young man he and his two elder brothers went to 
seek their fortunes in nearby Guangzhou, the thriving provincial 
capital situated at the mouth of the Pearl River, lying 144 kilometres 
north-west of Hong Kong. There, finding his Midas touch in 
building and banking, he prospered. 

My grandfather had four wives or, more precisely, one wife and 
three concubines. His wife was the undisputed mistress of the house 
to whom each concubine, when formally received into the family, 
had to kowtow in the presence of relatives and friends. She was 
regarded by all his children as their first mother, and the three 
concubines their second, third, and fourth mother respectively. 

After the death of my grandfather's wife, the first concubine 
became by custom his 'replacement' wife, although still addressed 
by the children as their second mother. When my grandfather passed 
away at the beginning of the twentieth century, his third concubine 
was only seventeen. He must have gone to his rest smug in the 
conviction that, by contemporary standards, his amorous 
acquisitions were neither so many as to excite envy, nor so few as to 
arouse sympathy. 

Today, as I write my story, scattered in many countries around 
the world, including Australia, Canada, China, England, Malaysia, 
Singapore, and the United States are the numerous descendants of 
my grandfather. None of them, to my best knowledge and belief, has 
managed to equal, let alone surpass, his bona fide achievements in 

Chapter 2 
The Bonds of Tradition, 1908 

The first of my grandfather's three concubines, later his 
'replacement' wife, was a peasant woman. In March 1891 she gave 
birth in Guangzhou to a big and healthy baby boy, who was called 
Wan, with Yat Man as a second name. As time went by, the boy was 
rigorously schooled in literature and history, in accordance with 
tradition, and no expense was spared in engaging seasoned private 
tutors to spur his academic development. Yu Wan was my father. 

In Imperial China, the scholar was from time immemorial 
respected and acclaimed as the elite of society, ahead of the peasant, 
the artisan and the merchant, in that order. The scholar's stature was 
further enhanced and bolstered by the glittering prospects of fame, 
rank and fortune that were enshrined in the education system for his 

At the heart of the system was the Imperial Civil Service 
Examination, based exclusively on calligraphy and the writing of 
Confiician essays. It was administered at three progressive levels, 
the lower two levels being held respectively in the prefectural and 
provincial capitals, and the final level conducted solely in Beijing 
with the Prime Minister as Chief Examiner, under the auspices of the 

Whoever passed the final level of examination would be assured 
of appointment as a kuau or mandarin in the Imperial Civil Service. 
At the same time the top three successfijl candidates would be 
presented to the Emperor by the Prime Minister, and singled out for 
major appointments. The first of the three - in other words, the best 
scholar of the year - might even be offered as his bride the daughter 
of either the Emperor or the Prime Minister. Not surprisingly, the 
paths pursued by the best and the brightest in the empire all led to 
Beijing. It was indeed the common dream of parents to see their son 
donning the brilliant silk robe of a kuan, revered for his learning, 
admired for his station, and feared for his authority. My grandfather, 
I can safely hazard a guess, must also have shared in such a dream. 

However, the Imperial Civil Service Examination, aptly 
described by Barbara Tuchman, the distinguished American writer, 
as the Great Wall of Chinese culture, was abolished by Imperial 
Edict in September 1905 as a belated gesture of reform in the dying 


16 The A rches of the Years 

days of the Qing Dynasty. At about the same time my grandfather 
died. Under the guidance of an elder brother, an intellectual some 
ten years his senior, my father continued with his studies, 
blossoming into a brilliant young scholar endowed with an excellent 
command of Chinese classics, a keen sense of history, and a natural 
gift for poetry. 

While still a teenager my father had his first taste of romance, 
albeit strictly in the fashion of his times. One day, he found on his 
bedside table a pile of photographs of pretty young girls whom he 
had never met. Compiled by professional matchmakers with due 
regard to each girl's appearance, attainment and family background, 
the photographs had been placed there by his mother in the hope 
that one of them might capture his fancy. She was not to be 
disappointed. Next morning a single photograph was seen pinned to 
the wall above my father's bed. 

It was the picture of a beautiful girl in an elegant cheongsam. 
She was comfortably seated in a charming pose, with her hands 
resting on her lap. Her gaze, neither seeking nor avoiding attention, 
indicated a woman at peace with herself A suppressed smile implied 
self-confidence, but without the desire to impress or to please. There 
was something about her bearing which gave a hint of class and 
character. Her name was Lam Lan Sin. 

For many centuries, girls from the upper classes were compelled 
by custom to have their feet bound from early childhood, to prevent 
them from growing longer than three inches. The shape of 
diminutive feet was seen as a symbol of feminine charm and 
eroticism, but such binding of feet was, of course, nothing short of a 
barbarous act of slow and prolonged torture leading to permanent 
disability. Luckily for Lan Sin, her parents were enlightened enough 
to recognize the folly of the custom and courageous enough to defy 
convention. Thus, she was spared the ordeal. 

Lan Sin's two uncles were knans. Her father was a successful 
businessman who, in his young days, had passed the first level of the 
Imperial Civil Service Examination. Lan Sin's mother loved music 
and, as a rare accomplishment, even learnt to play the flute. By all 
accounts, the Lams were worthy of esteem and, indeed, a family 

Whether my father was allowed any opportunity to find out for 
himself something more about his pinup girl was of little 
consequence. His mother promptly decided to have Lan Sin for her 
daughter-in-law. At the same time the coy young maiden was 
unequivocally told by her parents that Yu Wan would be the ideal 
husband for her. Through the buzzing matchmakers, matrimonial 

The Bonds of Tradition, 1908 17 

preparations were quickly begun between the two families. In his 
later life my father was fond of telling his children tongue-in-cheek 
that, like the Vicar of Wakefield, he had indeed chosen his wife 
wisely, 'not for a fine glossy surface, but such qualities as would 
wear well'! 

Dating, as we know it, was definitely not on the calendar of 
premarital events and, in the fine tradition of a blind marriage, it was 
on their wedding night, in 1908, that my father spoke to my mother 
for the first time. He was then seventeen, a year younger than his 
bride. Like all men of his time, he was wearing a pigtail. His bride, 
as a sign of attaining womanhood, had her hair knotted in a bun. 
Such was the beginning of an arbitrary partnership that was to 
remain constant and true over almost sixty years, despite the many 
changes in my parents' lives and in the world around them. 

Though strangers to each other, my parents came from similar 
backgrounds. Destiny brought them together as husband and wife. 
Tradition instilled in their wedding vows a lasting sense of 
commitment. Mutual love, respect, understanding and tolerance, 
sprouting and nurtured over time, strengthened their bonds of 
wedlock. The growing family focussed and sustained their common 
interests. Unselfish love and dedication set them apart as exemplary 
parents, whose steadfast sense of values served as a constant source 
of inspiration to their children. 

The Beginning of Change, 1909-11 

Honeymoons as such were simply unheard of in my parents' time. 
My father resumed his scholastic pursuits immediately after 
marriage, while his bride came under daily scrutiny by all her 
mothers-in-law. In the following year, 1909, a son, Pak Chuen, was 
born. Then suddenly, Guangzhou came under the scourge of 
bubonic plague, and my maternal grandmother was one of many 
who fell victim to the epidemic. My father and his brother, 
accompanied by their mothers, moved hastily with their families to 
Hong Kong. 

In Farewell the Trumpets, the third volume of 77?^ Pax 
Britatmica Trilogy, Jan Morris stated the following: 

T began to wonder', wrote the young 
revolutionary Sun Yat Sen (1866-1925), 'how it was 
that... Englishmen could do such things as they have 
done with the barren rock of Hong Kong within 
seventy or eighty years, while in four thousand years 
China had achieved nothing like it.' 

It is, therefore, not altogether surprising that the seemingly 
inconsequential little British Colony soon opened the window of my 
father's mind to fresh perspectives. The importance of English in the 
world at large dawned on him, and he quickly resolved to make a 
real effort to learn the language. Brushing embarrassment aside, he 
took his first English lessons at the age of eighteen or nineteen at the 
Lingnan Primary School, which was sponsored by American 
missionaries. He was so much older and bigger than his new 
classmates that he made himself very popular by carrying them, one 
after another, on his shoulders during recreation periods. Before 
long he joined St. Stephen's College, then the leading English school 
in Hong Kong, where he was first introduced to Western history and 
world geography. 

Meanwhile civil and political discontent and unrest had been 
spreading in many parts of China, and the writing appeared on the 
wall for the tottering Manchu Government. On October 10, 1911 
troops mutinied in the historic city of Wuchang, quickening the 


The Beginning of Change, 1909-1 1 1 9 

tempo of events that soon led to the fall of the Qing Dynasty. To 
mark the dawning of a new era, men of all ages jubilantly cut off 
their pigtails and young women eagerly got rid of their foot 
bindings. It should not be too far-fetched to draw a parallel between 
those largely-forgotten symbolic events and the tearing down of the 
Berlin Wall and the toppling of Lenin and Karl Marx statues in 
modern times. 

As the winds of change swept over China, Hong Kong was cast 
by the happy combination of geography and British policy in the 
fateftil role of the good Samaritan in the context of Sino-British 
relations, and began capturing world attention as a haven for people 
and capital fleeing from instability on the mainland. Thereafter, 
steadfast adherence by London to the established policy of 
enlightened self-interest has been a key factor in shaping the major 
currents of economic forces and social change in Hong Kong until 
its return to China in 1997. 

The change of scene and circumstances seemed propitious for 
my parents. A daughter, Sheung Woon, arrived in December 1911. 
By that time my father had already made up his mind to embark on a 
crucial voyage of discovery. 

Chapter 4 
Oxford, 1912-16 

In the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the 
twentieth, countless young men with little or no education emigrated 
from impoverished regions in south China to other countries in 
search of a livelihood. With few exceptions, they left their families 
behind, hoping someday either to return home with new-found 
wealth or to bring them over to the adopted country. Most of them 
found work as unskilled labour, often under wretched terms and 
conditions. Such were the many thousands of Chinese coolies who 
helped build the Canadian Pacific Railway, performing backbreaking 
work for much less than the wages paid to a white man, and many of 
whom died in the process. 

At the other end of the social spectrum, those enjoying wealth 
and station in China traditionally looked askance at travel even 
within the country, for fear of poor roads, deficient transport or 
rampant banditry. Journeying afar to foreign lands, deemed to be 
uncivilized, was frowned upon as an even less attractive proposition. 
Few felt the need or cultivated the desire to go abroad for the 
express purpose of pursuing Western knowledge and learning. 
Nonetheless, by the turn of the century, the first trickle of Chinese 
students could be seen returning from the United States and Europe 
with their degrees and the trappings of Western culture. 

My father was accustomed to a sedate and trammelled way of 
life in a conservative and parochial society where time had more or 
less stood still for generations. At the age of twenty, happily 
married, he was quietly relishing the fruits of my grandfather's 
legacy. Why should he be the first in the family to forsake the 
charms of habit and break the fetters of tradition by venturing 

But destiny kept beckoning him. Prodded by an enquiring mind, 
spurred by ambition, and steeled by a plucky spirit, he grew restless 
and discontented with the status quo. There was no one close to him 
who could offer meaningful advice. Still, as his thoughts veered 
increasingly towards the fiiture, he was consumed with a burning 
desire to fijrther his education abroad, expand his horizons, and join 
the vanguard of the new Chinese generation. 

The decision to leave home having been made, he finalized 


Oxford, 1912-16 21 

arrangements for his wife and two children to stay with his mother 
and the elder brother who was his former mentor. Early in 1912, he 
was on board a steamer sailing across the Pacific to San Francisco. 
At least, so he thought. To begin with, he was seasick most of the 
way and confined much of the time to his cabin. Weeks later, when 
the ship docked at its final destination, he learnt to his utter 
amazement that he had landed in Liverpool! 

At this critical juncture, some kind soul my father had probably 
met by sheer chance on board his ship, perhaps a good fairy posing 
as an Englishman, spirited him to Oxford, which he had barely heard 
of by name, and placed him in the hands of an experienced tutor. 
Bewildered, speaking little English and knowing less about Western 
culture, he could not have been a more unlikely candidate for the 
world's most prestigious university. But, having fallen in love with 
Oxford at first sight, he dauntlessly accepted the challenge. In the 
ensuing months he threw himself wholeheartedly into the task of 
cramming for entrance examinations which were so alien to him. To 
add to the obstacles barring his way, he had to take French as a 
second language. Incredibly, in the autumn of 1913, he gained 
admission to Merton College. He was now an Oxford 
undergraduate. It proved to be the turning point in his life. This was 
his finest hour. 

Merton, founded in 1264, is Oxford's third oldest college, after 
University (1249) and Balliol (1263); however, it was the eariiest 
organized college. Among my precious collections are some 
photographs of my father strolling in Merton Garden. Six feet tall 
and sturdy in build, he is smartly attired in a sports suit with 
matching bow tie and cap. His clean-shaven face is marked by a 
determined countenance and a penetrating gaze. With handsome 
looks, dignified charm and imposing presence, he comes across like 
a delightfiil blend of Cary Grant, Ronald Colman and Laurence 

To return to the realm of reality, my father's life as an 
undergraduate was anything but a bed of roses. After all he had 
spent three years, at the most, learning the rudiments of English in 
Hong Kong and less than eighteen months preparing for Oxford. It 
boggles the mind that, despite his limited English and lack of 
relevant academic background, he was attending the same lectures 
and tutorials as native students from famous public schools. Indeed 
the recurring weekly academic activities, which most undergraduates 
simply took for granted, amounted to an intimidating uphill struggle 
for my father. I can well believe that he virtually ate and slept with 
his dictionary, especially his Anglo-Chinese dictionary. Years 

22 The Arches of the Years 

afterwards, some of his textbooks from Oxford were discovered by 
his children to be filled, page after page, with minute Chinese 
notations pertaining to both the meaning and pronunciation of the 
Enghsh text. 

Fortune intervened when Sir John Miles, a tutor at Merton, took 
my father under his wing. Intrigued by the atypical student, Sir John 
was unsparing in his efforts to guide my father patiently, term after 
term, through the academic maze. Indeed the tutor was as helpfijl 
and understanding as the student was keen and persevering, and they 
did each other justice. In my father's own words. Sir John made it 
possible for him to succeed at Oxford. No wonder that, in years to 
come. Sir John's photograph permanently occupied pride of place in 
my father's home in Hong Kong. It also transpired, shortly after the 
Second World War, that Sir John remembered my father only too 

Throughout his university days, my father did not take part in 
any kind of sports or attend debates at the Oxford Union. He was 
simply short of time. It must also have been a real burden at first for 
him to converse in English. Unduly self-conscious, he chose not to 
disclose to anyone that he had a wife and two children in Hong 
Kong. Making friends at Oxford certainly did not come easily to 
him. However, as he gained in confidence, he made conscious 
efforts to hobnob with fellow-students, seeking every opportunity to 
improve his speech. Himself a teetotaller, he quickly picked up the 
habit of offering a glass of sherry to anyone dropping in on him in 
his corner suite in college, located on the second floor of Staircase 3 
in St. Albans Quad, overlooking Merton Garden and Christ Church 
Meadow beyond. By degrees, he became more attuned to his new 
environment, his black gown hung more comfortably over his 
shoulders; and he was profoundly impressed by the unmistakable 
attributes of an English gentleman. 

My father wrote home regularly. Unfortunately, my mother 
could not correspond with him simply because, like most of her 
contemporary countrywomen, she had not been taught how to 
compose a meaningful letter. He had to be content with hearing 
from her indirectly through his brother. Later, to add to his 
concerns, mail would either be delayed or disrupted by the war at 
sea. He was grief-stricken when news arrived that his mother had 
passed away. 

By the time my father began his second year at Oxford, England 
was already at war with Germany. Before long many of his 
contemporaries were voluntarily joining up, one after another, to 
fight for King and Country, leaving Oxford a little emptier day by 

Oxford, 1912-16 23 

day. He kept wondering how many would ever return. He himself 
never saw any of them again. 

My earliest impressions of the First World War were garnered 
from my father, who used to hold us in awe by recounting war 
stories after dinner. Sometimes he would even sing a few bars from 
// 's a Long Way to Tipperary, his favourite war tune, to liven up the 
evening. On one occasion, describing an air raid over London in 
1915, he recalled dramatically how he had been wonder-struck by 
the sight of a stately Zeppelin suddenly coming into view, 'floating 
like a giant cigar in mid-air'. He also spoke highly of Churchill, time 
and again, as a towering wartime figure. Little did I dream that I 
myself would be caught up some day in another world war, and 
Churchill would take over the centre of the world stage. 

History poignantly remembers 1916 as the year in which some 
two million young men from the opposing armies were slaughtered 
at Verdun and the Somme. But on a happy personal note, my father 
graduated that summer. Four years earlier he had arrived in England 
inadvertently, an awkward foreigner eager to learn, but not knowing 
where to begin. Now he was leaving with a glowing sense of pride 
and an Oxford degree. He had acquired a sound knowledge of the 
English language and a cultured accent. He had learnt to respect 
England's historic institutions and to admire the English way of life. 
Indeed, he was so full of Oxford that the original mould of his 
intellectual and moral outlook had been recast and fiised with the 
best in English culture. 

As the day of departure drew nearer, my father was conscious of 
a haunting premonition that he would probably never return to the 
dreaming spires of Oxford, the scene of so much academic struggle 
and personal achievement. He could hardly bear the thought of 
leaving his Merton rooms behind: If only he could have foreseen 
that, some day, those very same rooms in St. Albans Quad would be 
occupied by one of his sons and that, another generation later, a 
grandson would also be a proud member of Merton! 

Homecoming, 1916 

For the long journey back to Hong Kong, while Europe was still at 
war, it was my father's original intention to have a distant cousin for 
company. However, the latter was anxious to return via the Indian 
Ocean by first opportunity, and paid little heed to the danger of 
travelling in a vessel flying the British flag. My father preferred to 
play safe by taking an American ship to the United States, where he 
could also do some sightseeing before going home across the 
Pacific. Eventually they went their separate ways. His cousin sailed 
from England, the ship was torpedoed by a U-boat, and the poor 
man was lost at sea. 

My father embarked later for the United States. On the way his 
ship caught fire, but the captain and his crew successfully fought the 
blaze and calmly prevented the situation from getting out of control. 
None of the first-class passengers, mxy father among them, knew 
anything about the incident until after arrival at New York! 

I have no knowledge of the places my father visited or the 
people he met while in the United States. It was sometime late in 
1916 when he returned joyfiilly to my mother's arms. 

During his long absence, my mother and her two children were 
staying with my father's elder brother and his large family in a three- 
storey house at 11 Queen's Road East, Wanchai, part of my 
grandfather's legacy. Also living under the same roof were my 
father's own mother, his two younger sisters, and my grandfather's 
youngest concubine. As a long-term house guest, my mother could 
not have had an easy or happy time bringing up two young children 
in the crowded conditions while coping with the awkward family 
setting. But her spirit did not falter, and her common sense and 
ability to adapt to trying circumstances enabled her to come through 
with flying colours. Those very attributes would stand her in good 
stead in hard times during the Second World War. 

After savouring the euphoria of reunion, my parents settled 
down to a new phase of their lives together. At first my father was 
apprehensive that my mother would not appreciate the ways in 
which England had changed him, but his anxieties were quickly 
dispelled. Even though it was beyond her to understand what 
Oxford meant, she loved and adored him nonetheless as her hero, 


Homecoming, 1916 25 

with all her faculties of emotion and admiration. For her part, my 
mother was afraid that he might no longer care for her after having 
been away for so many years, years in which she had not been able 
to write him even once. However, her fears soon evaporated. His 
love for her had by no means been chilled by prolonged separation. 
He had been faithftil to her, and he went out of his way to reassure 
her that she would always remain the only woman in his life. It was a 
promise he would keep till the end of his days. 

It did not take my parents long to start looking for a suitable 
apartment in the Wanchai area, and to move into the first home of 
their own. However, eager to offer his services to the young and 
fragile Republic, my father left shortly afterwards for a fact-finding 
tour of China. He travelled far and wide, stopping off at major cities 
such as Guangzhou, Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Wuchang, 
Hankou, Tianjin and Beijing. Everywhere he went, he called on 
friends and made new contacts. He also visited the West Lake, the 
Great Wall and other famous attractions, and the sense of awe and 
exhilaration that surged through him at the sight of their beauty and 
grandeur was later captured for posterity in his glowing Chinese 

Unfortunately, while the scenery delighted him, the politics 
depressed him. In the course of his travels, the impression grew on 
him that the leaders of the day were largely drawn from disparate 
groups of self-seeking adventurers, with few qualifications to 
govern, with little concern for public welfare or national interests, 
and lacking a vision of the country's future. By the time he arrived 
back in Hong Kong, he had become quite disillusioned. All thoughts 
of pursuing a career in politics or government in China had been 
driven from his mind. 

At the time China was teetering on the brink of a long and bitter 
civil conflict among warlords, each bent on protecting and extending 
his own domain. In hindsight, what the country sorely needed at that 
critical stage of her history was a Napoleon, not someone aspiring to 
emulate 'the Younger' Pitt. It was the wrong time and the wrong 
place for a bicultural and peace-loving Oxonian, motivated by 
humanitarian interests and lofty ideals. 

My father next tried his hand at business in partnership with 
friends, but it was not an unqualified success. At this point his 
fortunes took a fortuitous twist. Mr. Law Yan Pak (Y.P. to his 
friends), a contemporary from Cambridge who had recently been 
appointed the first Inspector of Vernacular Schools in Hong Kong, 
called on my father unexpectedly and, on behalf of the Director of 
Education, invited him to fill the remaining position for another 

26 The Arches of the Years 

Inspector of Vernacular Schools. The pay would be on the sterling 
scale, normally restricted to British expatriates - a mark of 
exceptional remuneration and prestige for Chinese civil servants in 
the British Colony. The offer, which could not have been more 
timely, was accepted with little hesitation. 

Thus began sometime in 1917 or 1918, more by chance than by 
design, my father's lifelong career in education. By way of Oxford 
and the Hong Kong Government, he was now, to all intents and 
purposes, a kuan\ 

Chapter 6 
The Inspector of Vernacular Schools 

When my father joined the Education Department, there were three 
main categories of schools in Hong Kong: Government Schools, 
Grant-in-Aid Schools run under the banners of Catholic or 
Protestant missionaries, and Vernacular Schools. There was no free 
education at any level. 

At both Government and Grant-in-Aid Schools, English was the 
prime medium of instruction, while Chinese was taught as a second 
language. Generally referred to as 'English' schools, they operated 
under the watchfijl eye of expatriate Inspectors of Schools. Senior 
students at 'English' schools had to participate in two levels of 
annual public examinations, the Junior Local Examinations (later 
renamed School Leaving Certificate Examinations) and the Hong 
Kong Matriculation Examinations. There were only about a dozen 
'English' schools, virtually all having a reputation for consistently 
high academic standards. 

In the case of Vernacular Schools, where emphasis was placed 
on the study of traditional subjects like Chinese classics and history, 
classes were conducted in Cantonese. English, on the other hand, 
received scant attention as a second language. 'Chinese' schools, as 
they were commonly called, greatly outnumbered 'English' schools. 
Run mostly by private enterprise, they received limited financial 
support from the government and came under less stringent 
regulation and inspection. In the absence of any public examination 
for their senior students, a common level of academic standards was 
lacking among Chinese schools. 

The population of Hong Kong being predominantly Chinese, 
most parents naturally preferred to send their children to 'Chinese' 
schools to acquire proficiency in the native language and develop a 
good appreciation of Chinese culture. English was still widely 
perceived as just a foreign language, notwithstanding its 
international importance. However it was not uncommon for 
students from well-to-do families to switch to 'English' schools after 
completing their primary education at 'Chinese' schools with a view 
to learning more English and also obtaining a more balanced 

Against this background, the appointment of Y.P. Law and my 


28 The Arches of the Years 

father as the first two Inspectors of Vernacular Schools, both 
reporting directly to the expatriate Director of Education, must be 
regarded as a historic event. It was a clear signal of the 
Government's intention for the first time to provide Chinse schools 
with strong central direction and to raise their academic standards. 

Y.P.'s interests were more oriented towards mathematics and 
science, while my father's strengths stemmed from his background, 
training and experience as a classical scholar. Between them they set 
and regulated academic standards and authorized school curricula 
and textbooks. Classical Chinese continued to take precedence over 
pai-hua, the written vernacular, as the cornerstone of learning. Both 
'Chinese' schools and the Chinese departments of 'English' schools 
were subject to more rigorous inspection. Y.P. and my father were 
also responsible for monitoring and evaluating progress at the 
Normal School (a Chinese teachers' training college), which turned 
out graduates with diplomas for filling teaching posts at 'Chinese' 
schools and the Chinese departments of 'English' schools. In this 
regard Y.P. and my father made a point of interviewing all graduates 
individually at the time of their appointment as registered teachers. 

In Y.P. and my father, the Director of Education could not have 
chosen two better qualified intellectuals with complementary assets 
and compatible temperaments. A highly popular and visible team, 
they were affectionately nicknamed 'Laurel and Hardy' in Chinese 
circles because of the contrast in their physical appearance. Law Yan 
Pak and Yu Wan were household names in Hong Kong. 

As the population in Hong Kong increased and the number of 
schools multiplied, so did the Inspector's job grow in scope and 
complexity. Two more Inspectors of Vernacular Schools were 
appointed. Several new positions were also established for sub- 
inspectors; one of the new recruits was Lam Pak Chung, my 
mother's younger brother, who with his scholarly family background 
did not fail to measure up to expectations. 

Y.P. and my father also served in rotation as Chairman of the 
Board of Examiners for British Cadets working in the Hong Kong 
Government and learning oral Cantonese and written Chinese. Over 
the years, quite a few of those Cadets went on to scale the heights in 
the British Colonial Service, either in Hong Kong or elsewhere in 
the British Empire. Among the best known of former Hong Kong 
Cadets who had met my father at Chinese examinations were Sir 
Alexander Grantham and Sir David Trench, both of whom became 
famous in turn as postwar Governors of Hong Kong. 

After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, Mr. Arthur St. G. 
Walton, the first postwar Director of Education, inherited the 

The Inspector of Vernacular Schools 29 

unenviable task of starting the Education Department again from the 
state of desolation to which the Japanese had reduced Hong Kong. 
It was with a great sense of relief that he welcomed Y.P. and my 
father back to their old posts at the Education Department. 
Mr. Walton wrote from England in January 1991 : 

Your father and Y.P. were an immense help to 
me - a Godsend you might say - and enabled me to 
concentrate my attentions on the problems of starting 
the Government and grant-in-aid 'English' schools, 
as I knew that the subsidized and private 'Chinese' 
schools could not have been in better hands. 

My father was one of the very few Chinese scholars of his 
generation to have been enriched by Oxford. In the course of a 
career spanning more than three decades, he was respected and 
admired as both a man of principle and integrity and a charming and 
affable leader. In conjunction with Y.P., he shaped the course of 
Chinese education in Hong Kong, encouraged the development of a 
new breed of teachers, fostered pride in both the teaching and 
learning of the national language, and contributed significantly to the 
preservation of Chinese culture within an overwhelmingly colonial 
and commercial environment. 

My Mother 

Between 1918 and 1924, my mother gave birth at yearly intervals to 
seven more children, four girls and three boys. Two of the girls died 
in infancy. The five who grew up together were Hung Kwan, Man 
Sang, Ping Tsung, Shuk Siu and myself Kwai Ko, better known in 
later life as Josephine, Margaret, P.T., Patrick and Brian. In 1929 
and 1931 (when my mother was forty-one), two more daughters 
arrived. Wing Nin and Kwun Ming, alias Winnie and Rosalind. 

Like all women in her male-dominated society, my mother was 
from birth constrained by custom and circumscribed by tradition. 
For instance, she never went to school, and was only allowed very 
limited formal education at home, for the simple reason that 
ignorance on the part of women was regarded as a time-honoured 
recipe for virtue. On the other hand, since upper-class women were 
ruled to be above manual work, she was given little opportunity of 
acquainting herself with domestic chores and was therefore rarely 
seen sewing, cooking or grocery shopping. 

But most significantly, she was brought up in no uncertain 
manner to suppress her individuality and to abide by rigidly-defined 
codes of conduct, which blatantly affirmed the subordinate, and 
indeed subservient, role of women. Thus, she was groomed to be 'in 
speech modest, in appearance presentable, in conduct decorous, in 
application diligent', and indoctrinated 'as maiden to obey her 
father, as wife to obey her husband, as widow to obey her sons'. 

Nevertheless, behind my mother's mask of timeless convention 
breathed a remarkable woman. She was gentle and warm-hearted, 
affable and sociable, forthright and ingenuous. Frugal and 
unostentatious by disposition, she was content with what she had, 
and not envious of what others possessed. She did not take the good 
things in life for granted, but considered it a matter of great 
importance to count her blessings by way of ancestor worship. 
Handicapped by lack of schooling, she relied on common sense and 
intuition in bringing up her children, running the household with its 
many servants and, most important of all, coping with change. 

As a consequence of frequent maternity, my mother suffered 
from agonizing attacks of neuralgia over a period of many years 


My Mother 31 

before Pearl Harbour. But she learnt to carry her cross with 
resignation and fortitude. During the attack on Hong Kong and in 
the cruel years that followed, she remained unwaveringly strong and 
courageous in the face of danger and hardship. When my father's 
health began to fail after the war, she devoted all her time and 
energy to nursing him and keeping him company. 

My mother could not speak a word of English or find England 
or China on a map. But she cared so much for her children and had 
such faith in my father's judgement that she gladly accepted the 
endless personal sacrifices he kept asking her to make, for the sake 
of their education. And year after year, whenever the children did 
well at school or university, her days would be filled with joy and 
pride and she would feel abundantly rewarded. She clearly belongs 
to that elite circle of dedicated, selfless women who give much of 
themselves to their husbands and children and ask for little or 
nothing in return. 

The House on Shelley Street 

With the fast-growing family, my parents changed residence three 
times during the 1920s, first to Arbuthnot Road (where I was born 
in 1924), then Coronation Terrace, and finally Shelley Street - all 
located in mid-level Hong Kong. It would be meaningfiil for me to 
sketch a mental picture of our house on Shelley Street, where for so 
many years the lives of so many of us were so closely intertwined. 

Mount Victoria, 550 metres high, is the dominant landmark on 
the Island of Hong Kong. Looking north towards the Kowloon 
Peninsula and the New Territories, it commands a panoramic view 
of the beautifijl harbour from end to end. Not far above the harbour, 
Caine Road snakes its way horizontally for about two kilometres 
across the northern slope. From about the mid-point of Caine Road, 
Shelley Street rises at a steep incline for perhaps a hundred and fifty 
metres to link up with Mosque Street. 

Shelley Street lay at the heart of what used to be a quiet, 
peacefial middle-class neighbourhood before the Second World War. 
A grey mosque with its characteristic green-and-white minaret stood 
near the junction of Mosque Street and Shelley Street, brooding 
over the otherwise exclusively residential area. Built in 1915 beside 
a vegetable garden and within a large compound, this sombre place 
of worship was protected against intrusion by a high fieldstone 
retaining wall hugging the east side of the upper half of Shelley 
Street. Directly facing the wall, an unbroken row of narrow, 
nondescript three-storey houses descended along the west side of 
the street. However, the last two houses, numbered 17 and 15, near 
the halfway mark between Mosque Street and Caine Road, were 
conspicuous by their size and style of architecture. They were 
adjoining twin brick houses with a good frontage, two storeys high, 
fijnctioning as one and separated only by the common dividing wall. 

That was where we lived from 1928 till the early postwar period, 
except for a little over three years during the Japanese occupation of 
Hong Kong. My father chose this for his home primarily for 
convenience in his children's schooling. Two highly-regarded 
Catholic schools were within easy walking distance, namely, the 
Italian Convent (later renamed Sacred Heart School) and Wah Yan 
College, run by Irish Jesuits. 


The House on She I lev Street 33 

Imagine yourself getting out of your car at Caine Road and 
walking slowly up the steep slope of Shelley Street, which is not 
accessible to traffic. As our house comes into view, the first thing 
that catches your eye is a long L-shaped covered verandah, with 
white ornate lattice and railing, which wraps around the upper floor 
of the building. The long side of the verandah overhangs the 
sidewalk in front of the house along Shelley Street and the short side 
is directly above an alley running westward at right angle to the 
street. At the rear of the verandah there are as many as eight 
identical double doors with inset windows, all painted white and 
evenly spaced. Each double door is flanked on either side by 
maroon-coloured wooden shutters. Seasonal flowers blooming out 
of jade green vessels, neatly arrayed on top of the verandah railing, 
lend a touch of colour and character to the setting. 

Two sliding double wrought-iron gates bar the entrance to the 
house from the sidewalk. The one at no. 17 is permanently locked, 
while the other at no. 15 handles traffic. Behind each gate and set 
back into the house is a small square covered porch, on the granite 
floor of which two ceramic elephants, each laden with a pot of 
flowers, stand guard with a nonchalant expression in front of a 
double wooden door. 

Passing through the door at no. 15, you will find yourself in a 
corridor which extends about thirty feet along the dividing wall 
towards the far end of the building, where there is a staircase. The 
corridor opens on the right into a sitting-room with a piano, and 
then a connecting bedroom at the back. Two fairly large portraits, 
one of my grandfather and one of his 'replacement' wife, both in 
19th century costumes, hang on a wall in the sitting-room. Upstairs, 
directly above these rooms, are two adjoining bedrooms. 

Symmetrically, on the other side of the dividing wall at no. 17, a 
corridor looking towards a staircase leads to the children's study on 
the left and an attached bedroom behind it. An archway in the 
dividing wall facilitates traffic across the landing at the bottom of the 
two staircases. 

Any one stepping into the study for the first time cannot possibly 
mistake its raison d'etre. Lining the two opposite walls of this room, 
from end to end, are two tiers of large mahogany bookcases with 
glass doors. They contain perhaps a thousand ancient Chinese 
volumes, the age of which is evident in the traditional style of the 
soft bindings and the unusual texture and faded colour of the pages. 
Three wooden desks with chairs are arranged side by side in front of 
the bookcases at one end. There is at the centre of the room and 
directly under a ceiling fan a glass-topped round table with four 

34 The Arches of the Years 

matching chairs. Nearby stands a square open wooden bookcase, 
over three feet high, creaking and groaning every time it is swivelled 
on its base. It is full of my father's books from Oxford. 

My father's own study is located upstairs above the children's 
study and linked at the back with my parents' bedroom, which is 
furnished with two doubie-beds. The front half of the dividing wall 
on the upper floor has been removed. This provides ample space for 
a large combined sitting and dining room, where meals are taken, 
dinner parties are held and mah-jong is played. The kitchen and 
servants' quarters are set at the back of the lot, separated from the 
rest of the house by a large, partially-covered rectangular courtyard 
serving as an utility area. 

As my thoughts ramble from room to room over the familiar old 
abode, how every nook and cranny seems to harbour a dormant 
memory! Three unique souvenirs in my father's study immediately 
come to mind. There stands on the wooden desk a photograph of Sir 
John Miles, looking every inch an English gentleman. Two finely- 
framed pictures hang on the wall behind the desk, one taken in my 
father's Merton rooms and the other being a group photograph of 
my father and his 1914 Merton contemporaries, before they went to 
war. To my father those photographs associated with his Oxford 
days must surely have been worth their weight in gold. 

It was from this home that the children set forth one after 
another to pursue their studies overseas, Pak Chuen the eldest 
(better known as P.C.) in 1928, Sheung Woon in 1932, and the rest 
after the Second World War. Winnie and Rosalind, the two 
youngest, were born here and so was my nephew Anthony, P.C.'s 
only child and my father's dearest grandchild. My brothers and 
sisters and I grew up together by and large on very friendly terms, 
quarrels and fights being remarkably rare. There were even 
occasions when we shared minor misfortunes in inimitable style. 
Some of us, at one time, went down with measles in rapid relay and, 
at another time, suffered from whooping cough in discordant 

Here, in the sitting-room at no. 15 was the piano my father 
bought for Sheung Woon in the late nineteen-twenties, after winning 
a minor sweepstake. I can well remember Sheung Woon dreamily 
strumming the Merry Widow Waltz and Ramona, Josephine 
earnestly playing Rustle of Spring and Dream of Angels, and Patrick 
playing, in a serious vein. Meditation and, in a light-heaned mood. 
Ferryboat Serenade In the children's study, Margaret often wrote 
for hours at a stretch as a regular contributor to the Rivulet, a 
Catholic magazine, and other such journals. Upstairs, while having 

The House on She I lev Street 35 

his evening bath, P.T. often spun lively adventure yarns at my 
entreaty and for my enjoyment. On the verandah, Patrick and I, after 
seeing Captain Blood, zealously re-enacted, over and over again, 
the dazzling life-and-death duel between Errol Flynn and Basil 
Rathbone. How Patrick won my heartfelt gratitude by agreeing to 
take turns to be the hero, even though he was much the taller and 
better swordsman! 

Here, I played house in the bedrooms upstairs at number 1 5 with 
Winnie and Rosalind, complete with mock tent and toy utensils. 
Once in a while, I demonstrated my capacity for generosity and 
fairness by buying ice-cream, through the wrought-iron gate, from a 
passing vendor - a one-cent cone for Rosalind, a two-cent cone for 
Winnie and a three-cent cone for myself 

Here, a large, ancient pendulum clock hung on a wall in the 
sitting-dining room upstairs. With predictable frequency, like a 
character from Dickens, my father mounted a stool, raised his head 
and then, with the key in his outstretched right hand, wound the 
clock - slowly, deliberately and audibly. 

Here, in a gentle, kindly and sheltered environment, I was 
brought up in a scholarly, close-knit family. Like many Chinese 
children, I had to learn and commit to memory eight household 
words that capture the essence of Conftician values, namely, 'filial 
piety, brotherhood, loyalty, trustworthitiess, propriety, honour, 
integrity, a sense of shame ', even though I was too young at first to 
ftiUy understand or appreciate what they meant. My daily domestic 
life was carefree, in that all my needs were anticipated and met by 
servants. Weekends and holidays were often brightened by joyous 
family events. Mine was a happy and contented childhood and 
adolescence. Unlike David Coppeifield or Jane Eyre, I never knew 
neglect or want, but always felt secure and loved. 

My parents finally moved away from Shelley Street in the early 
1950s. Since then, a virtually unending housing boom has been 
constantly changing the face of Hong Kong. In September 1991, for 
the first time in many, many years, I returned to Mosque Street, now 
subject to one-way traffic, and looked nostalgically down Shelley 
Street towards Caine Road. Standing at the intersection I once knew 
so well, I could hardly find my bearings. 

The entire neighbourhood seemed like a noisy little concrete 
jungle. A newly-completed forty-storey condominium, obviously 
designed with little regard for beauty or style, towered above the 
surroundings. There were buildings under construction and old 
houses under demolition. There was not a trace of our former home. 

36 The Arches of the Years 

But dust and dirt and debris were everywhere in evidence. Gone 
completely from the scene was the leisurely and unpretentious charm 
of a bygone era. Nevertheless, behind the ageless retaining wall, the 
old mosque was still standing and still brooding, oblivious of time 
and indifferent to change. 

Chapter 9 
Childhood Memories, 1930s 

It is with a distinct sense of fun that I recall the bee in my mother's 
bonnet concerning matters of health. Nothing could shake her 
conviction that indigestion brought on by gluttony was the root 
cause of most of her children's ailments. Hence, the standard 
treatment for any sick child, almost regardless of condition, usually 
began with a strong dose of castor oil, followed by a starvation diet 
of simple broth or plain bread. But it would be foolhardy for any one 
to cast doubt on my mother's approach. After all, none of her nine 
children ever failed to recover from illness at Shelley Street. 

Sometimes, during my illness or convalescence, my father would 
sneak home quietly, like a secret agent on a covert mission, with a 
garoupa steak and boiled potatoes, neatly packed in a carton, as a 
reward for my alleged good behaviour. He always bought them at 
the Hong Kong Fish Company at Des Voeux Road Central, on his 
way home from work. Even though it was a thinly disguised attempt 
to sabotage her starvation programme, my mother would be game 
enough to turn a blind eye, as long as the villain of the piece was my 
father. To this day, steamed garoupa with boiled potatoes, plain 
though it may be, has remained one of my favourite dishes. 

I have another wonderful memory of my father, one which I 
especially cherish. On many occasions when I was ill, he carried me 
to his bedroom in the evening, put me beside him in his double-bed, 
and then lulled me to sleep by chanting softly, almost in a whisper, 
well-known romantic poems from the Tang Dynasty (618-906). 
More often than not, he began with The Lutanist's Lament, the 
melancholy tale of a lonely woman who played the lute for a living 
while pining for her callous lover. Whenever I fondly recall those 
precious moments, I still seem to hear the gentle, haunting cadence 
of his voice floating back to me across the years! 

My elder brothers P. T. and Patrick shared with me the front 
bedroom on the upper floor of 15 Shelley Street. For many years we 
slept side by side on three single beds. There I woke up one Sunday 
morning in a very bad mood. When my mother appeared to make 
routine inquiries, I behaved like a thoroughly spoilt child by 
screaming at her. With a click, the bedroom door swung open. The 
corpulent figure of my father, looking dishevelled in pyjamas and 


38 The Arches of the Years 

with hair still uncombed, slowly emerged through the doorway, like 
a giam stalking his prey. Instantly I froze. For just a few moments, 
which seemed to me an eternity, he stared at me more in sorrow 
than in anger. Then with rare emotion in his voice, he thundered: 

'Who has dared to be so rude to mother!' 

Overcome all at once by remorse, shame and fear, I stood 
trembling from head to foot, lost control of my bladder and wet my 

During the early 1930s, my father used to take five of us, 
Josephine, Margaret, P.T., Patrick and myself, out to lunch on a 
Sunday or a public holiday, at least once a month. Our favourite 
restaurant was the Prince's Cafe, located in the alley beside the 
China Building at Queen's Road Central. Seldom did my mother go 
with us, preferring usually to stay at home with Winnie and 
Rosalind. It made me very happy to be part of this popular family 
event, especially to be seen wearing a western-style suit in public 
and demonstrating my dexterity in handling knife and fork. 

After lunch my father would sometimes take us to a soccer 
match at Caroline Hill or Causeway Bay, where we used to cheer 
lustily for our team, South China A. Sometimes we would go to a 
movie either at the Queen's or King's Theatre, both in the vicinity of 
the Prince's Cafe. Although I did not know enough English to 
follow the dialogue meaningfully, yet I distinctly remember seeing 
Greta Garbo in Mata Hah and Queen Christina, Wallace Beery in 
Treasure Island and Viva Villa, Charles Laughton in The Private 
Lives of Henry the Eighth and Les Miserables, Norma Shearer and 
Frederick March in 77?^ Barretts of Wimpole Street, and Robert 
Donat in 77?^ Count of Monte Cristo. Decidedly, the best actors in 
the world, in my unbiased opinion at the time, were Laurel and 
Hardy. Sometimes my father elected to spend the rest of the 
afternoon playing bridge or mah-jong at the Chinese Merchants' 
Club, in which case he would send us home in a taxi with Josephine 
as leader 

There are other things I can think of which my father obviously 
enjoyed doing for the children's benefit. Even though he was not a 
swimmer, he took us to the Chinese Swimming Club at North Point. 
That was where we all learnt to swim, while he and my mother 
stayed afloat playftilly nearby by holding on to inflated rubber rings. 
As a result, swimming quickly became a popular family pastime in 
the summer months. However, despite my father's best intentions, I 
never became a good swimmer. About once a year, a fair would 
usually be held for public entertainment on a vacant lot of land 
opposite The Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon. There, with my father 

Childhood Memories, 1930s 39 

looking on smilingly, we would be treated to rides in the Ferris 
wheel and in tiny electric carts. And whenever the circus came to 
Hong Kong, the whole family would be among the enthusiastic and 
noisy spectators. 

My father always dressed neatly and meticulously. If there was 
one thing that he would not put up with concerning his sons, it 
would have been an untidy, sloppy appearance. In fact he saw to it 
that unlike most other Chinese boys, P.T., Patrick and I wore mainly 
made-to-measure western-style clothing and imported English 
shoes, all procured from Tak Cheong Tailors right opposite the 
Queen's Theatre. We could well have been the best-dressed boys in 
Hong Kong. There is on display on the built-in shelf in my family 
room today a photograph of the three of us boys taken at the 
Botanic Gardens, each wearing tie, jacket and plus fours and holding 
a felt hat or cap at his side. Despite the somewhat blurred print, I 
can still be seen stealing the spotlight from my two handsome 
brothers, by virtue of my broad and eager smile. All my upper front 
teeth are missing. 

My mother was punctilious in observing traditional festivals in 
the course of the lunar calendar year, especially Chinese New Year's 
Day; the seventh day of the seventh moon, in commemoration of 
two legendary star-crossed lovers, known as the herdsman and the 
spinster; the Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival, which falls on the 
fifteenth day of the eighth moon, comparable to Thanksgiving Day 
at harvest time; and the Chung Yang Festival on the ninth day of the 
ninth moon, a day for remembering the dead. 

Chinese New Year's Day was by far the most important and 
colourful festival. It was a day earmarked for both honouring one's 
parents and practising ancestor worship. On that day, at my 
mother's appointed time, my parents sat side by side on two easy 
chairs in my father's study. The children, dressed in their Sunday 
best, lined up ceremoniously in front of them in descending order of 
age. One by one we kowtowed, first to my father, and then to my 
mother, while loudly offering them New Year greetings. This filial 
gesture was always acknowledged by my parents with a smile and a 
word of appreciation, while my mother handed each child two small 
red envelopes, each containing a sparkling silver dollar. As a matter 
of fact, exactly the same ceremony was performed on my parents' 

The end of this ceremony was closely followed by the beginning 
of another, namely, ancestor worship, a simple, traditional act of 
thanksgiving to one's ancestors for blessings reaped by the family. A 

40 The Arches of the Years 

small room at the back of our house had been set aside, as a sort of 
private chapel, for this purpose. The main piece of furniture in the 
room was a plain mahogany altar placed against a wall. At the centre 
of the altar there stood a solemn-looking tablet framed in black, 
within which was the Chinese inscription, written by my father in 
bold characters on red paper, 'The Ancestors of the Yu Family 
Through All Generations.' 

As the whole family trooped into the room for worship, red 
candles and joss sticks standing in pewter urns on either side of the 
tablet were lit by servants in attendance. Several dishes of freshly- 
cooked food, usually including roast pork, were laid out on a table 
in front of the altar. My father being less than keen on perpetuating 
ancestor worship, perhaps as a result of Oxford, and my mother 
being tactful, he was asked to begin the ceremony by simply bowing 
before the tablet. Then my mother took her turn by kowtowing 
solemnly until her forehead touched the ground. The children 
followed suit, again in descending order of age, but all the time 
under my mother's keen surveillance. No one could have got away 
with only a half-hearted attempt at worship! 

One day af^er the Second World War, my mother surprised the 
whole family by proclaiming aloud that a simple bow instead of a 
complete kowtow would, henceforth, be quite acceptable during 
ancestor worship. When the children responded with a chorus of 
approval, my mother grinned contentedly with an air of triumph and 
benevolence, like a benign pope condescending to modify 
ceremonial aspects of worship, but steering clear of amendments to 

My father always walked to work in the morning, that being his 
only form of exercise. It took him less than half an hour to get to the 
office at the Fire Brigade Building, right by the waterfront, going 
downhill most of the way. For the return trip, he would invariably 
take a sedan chair carried on the shoulders by the same two tough 
porters, who were brothers. My father weighing some two hundred 
pounds, it could not have been an easy task carrying him uphill to 
Shelley Street. But he was welcomed by the porters as a regular 
daily customer with a generous tip. Before the Second World War, 
the sedan was a popular mode of transport in mid-level Hong Kong, 
which had limited accessibility to motor traffic. 

Sometimes some of us children would be waiting in the verandah 
for my father to come home in the late afternoon. At the familiar 
sight of the heavily-laden sedan crawling up Shelley Street, bouncing 
slightly up and down, we would scramble downstairs to be at the 

Childhood Memories, 1930s 41 

front gate to greet him. On arrival alongside the house the two 
porters, sweating profusely, would stand perfectly still for two or 
three seconds to steady their balance before lowering the sedan 
gently on to the ground, by bending their knees simultaneously. My 
father would then clamber awkwardly out of the bamboo chair, like 
a huge lion emerging from a tiny cage, holding The China Mail in 
one hand and smiling and waving at us with obvious pleasure. 

Mention of the two porters somehow brings to mind the Chung 
Yang Festival - the equivalent of All Souls' Day. My father's own 
mother was buried (while he was at Oxford) in a remote and isolated 
spot somewhere among the hills of Kowloon, behind the Lion Rock 
overlooking the Kaitak Airport. In conformity with conventional 
wisdom, my father's elder brother must have followed, to the letter, 
the professional advice of a///«g shui expert concerning the choice 
of burial ground for my grandmother and the layout of her grave. 

The mystique of fimg shui, founded on the harmonious 
relationship between 'fling' (wind) and 'shui' (water), is the means 
by which everyday life can be adjusted to improve luck or avoid 
adversity. Compliance with fwig shui over details of burial is, 
therefore, expected to bring luck and fortune to the descendants of 
the deceased, although, oddly enough, no one ever seems to care 
whether////?^ shui might also do some good for the loved ones who 
have gone to the other world. 

The practice of fung shui, whether for burying the dead, 
choosing a home, or designing a building, is still very much in vogue 
among many Chinese, especially the rich in Hong Kong. Small 
wonder that Hong Kong has become so fabulously prosperous! It is 
even alleged in a local newspaper that some brokerage firm 
nowadays takes the precaution of consulting/////^ 5/7/// experts when 
forecasting trends in the Hang Seng Index. Be that as it may, there 
seems to be little doubt in the minds of believers that, one way or 
another, fung shui will continue to exert its bounteous influence on 
Hong Kong, now that it is part of Communist China, under 'one 
country two systems'. 

Virtually every year at Chung Yang, a public holiday, my father 
would visit his mother's grave; during the early 1930s he would 
usually take P.T., Patrick and me with him. After crossing the 
harbour by the Star Ferry in the morning, we would take a bus to 
the Kowloon City terminal. There we would be met by the two 
porters bringing refreshments, including a roast suckling pig, and 
also items customarily used for burnt offerings, such as joss sticks 
and red candles. It would take us well over an hour to proceed on 
foot from the terminal to the grave. Despite the long walk in warm 

42 The Arches of the Years 

October weather, my father would still be fully dressed in suit and 
tie! However, the three of us boys would be sporting shorts and 
cowboy hats, each proudly flaunting a toy six-shooter in a holster 
worn on a leather belt while jointly pretending to court imminent 
danger in hostile territory. 

The excursion highlights of one sunny Chung Yang are still 
residing like pictures in the gallery of my memory. Under a 
cloudless, azure sky, we turned off the main road around noon and 
made our way leisurely through a little village I can no longer name, 
leaving the noise and bustle of Kowloon City gradually behind. Soon 
we were picking our steps along a zigzag, weather-beaten trail as we 
climbed a steep and rugged hill, which was practically deserted. Tall 
pine trees, dotted all over the slope, gave partial shade from the 
glare of the sun; every now and again, a breath of wind rustling 
among the branches overhead brought welcome relief from the 
humid heat. Leading the pack at a brisk pace were the porters, with 
the light but precious load mounted on their shoulders. Next came 
the three of us, romping along merrily and firing our guns at random 
at the imaginary enemy. Slowly, with measured steps, my father 
brought up the rear - a little out of breath, his tie loosened, his collar 
unbuttoned, his jacket dangling over one arm, his shirt wet through 
with sweat. 

My grandmother's grave sat on a piece of land that had been 
carved out of the hillside. When we finally got there, not a soul was 
within sight or hearing so that we had the place all to ourselves. In 
front of the tombstone, the joss sticks were laid out and lit, with the 
food and soft drinks placed nearby. After slipping on his jacket and 
adjusting his collar and tie, my father stood still for a few moments, 
bowing his head in reverence; my brothers and I did likewise. Then 
came the signal from my father we boys had been waiting for: the 
attack on the roast pig could begin, with chopsticks, knife and fork, 
or bare fingers In the excitement of the moment, my grandmother 
was quickly forgotten by her three hungry grandchildren. But it must 
have meant a great deal to my father to be at the scene, year after 
year, to honour the memory of his mother whom he had last seen 
prior to his historic journey overseas. 

My mother was the moving spirit whenever parties were given at 
Shelley Street, It was such a treat watching her finalize the guest list 
with circumspection, choose the dinner menu with consideration, 
and dress stylishly for the occasion with deliberation. A chatty, 
cheerful and charming hostess, she knew how to look after her 
guests and make them feel at home. Sometimes the right 

Childhood Memories, 1930s 43 

combination of guests would call for a game of mah-jong. At dinner 
she would take steps to ensure that her guests were courteously 
served and her children were on their best behaviour. My father 
usually assumed a passive role throughout the party, just relaxing 
and entering into quiet conversation with the guests. Thus, it was 
from my mother that the children acquired a taste for festivity and 
learnt the meaning of hospitality. 

One particular family event we frequently looked forward to was 
a week-end or holiday visit from our favourite uncle Mr. Lam, my 
mother's younger brother, and a sub-inspector of 'Chinese' schools, 
and his wife and seven children. Many were the afternoons and 
evenings when our home resounded with loud and intermittent 
screams of joy and laughter from happy and compatible children 
playing together to their hearts' content. 

After the war the Lams emigrated from Hong Kong one after 
another in different directions, to the United States, Canada and 
England. By chance I was reunited with some of them in Toronto in 
the 1970s, after a lapse of many years. My aunt and uncle passed 
away in turn at a ripe old age in Toronto, the former in her eighties 
and the latter in his nineties. It was with a real sense of personal loss 
that, in the presence of all my seven cousins, I delivered the eulogy 
in English at both fianerals. 

Speaking of mah-jong, I cannot resist the temptation to put 
down some thoughts on such an entertaining subject. This Chinese 
game for four is perhaps even more popular in Hong Kong today 
than before the Second World War. It is the favourite pastime of 
men and women, old and young. It appeals to both the rich and the 
poor, the learned and the less educated. It is played at home, at the 
back of small shops, in clubs, restaurants and luxury hotels. It is 
played at birthday and wedding parties and, indeed, on any happy 
occasion. More often than not, a party is assured of success if the 
trouble is taken to organize mah-jong games for the indulgence of 
guests. Not surprisingly, it is also played in Vancouver, Toronto and 
indeed anywhere on earth with a sizable Chinese community. 

No one seems to know for certain when and by whom mah-jong 
was invented, or why mah-jong in Chinese signifies 'sparrow', which 
does not seem to be a very meaningftil term. But the English word 
'mah-jong' was coined and copyrighted by Joseph P. Babcock, an 
American resident of Shanghai who is credited with introducing the 
game to the west after the First World War. 

Briefly, for the benefit of the uninitiated, mah-jong is played with 
136 tiles, made nowadays of plastic; the pieces are named by five 


The Arches of the Years 

categories, namely, bamboos, circles, characters, honours and winds. 
The first three are suits, each numbering fi-om one to nine; honours 
are distinguished by three colours, red, green and white; and there 
are four winds, east, south, west and north. 

The numerical breakdown of the tiles is as follows: 



4 of each 



4 of each 



4 of each 



4 of each 



4 of each 



The basic object of play is to obtain sets of tiles in various 
combinations. This is done by having a run or sequence of three tiles 
of the same suit in numerical order, and/or a sequence of three tiles 
of the same suit and rank, and/or three honours of the same colour, 
and/or three identical winds. The winner is the first player to show a 
complete hand, i.e. four sets and a pair of like tiles. There being no 
partners at mah-jong, each player operates entirely on his or her 

The strategy of mah-jong is both offensive and defensive: to 
complete a winning hand as soon as possible, to block other players 
by not discarding tiles usefiil to them, and to build a high-scoring 
hand. There are many variations of the basic game, each with 
different sets of rules for achieving runs or sequences; the more 
complex and sophisticated the rules, the greater the probability of 
high scoring. As a game that thrives on chance without dispensing 
with the need for skill in anticipation and manipulation, mah-jong is 
indeed capable of titillating anyone with a gambler's instinct and 
challenging all who have a serious turn of mind. Hence, its immense 

My brothers and sisters and I all learnt to play mah-jong when 
we were kids. I started playing the game when I was only five years 
old. I distinctly remember the occasion when I cried my eyes out 
after discarding a wrong card and losing five cents to my sister 
Margaret. At our Shelley Street home before the war, the clattering 
of mah-jong tiles during weekends and holidays usually meant that 
my mother and her children were basking in the fijn and excitement 
of a family game. Sometimes Patrick and I were not above cheating 
our poor unsuspecting mother, by exchanging tiles under the table! 
In her old age, having a game with her children and their spouses 

Childhood Memories, 1930s 45 

was my mother's way of melting her cares away. 

Turning to another aspect of life at Shelley Street before the 
war, we rarely had fewer than seven maidservants to handle virtually 
any item of housework that one could think of I was so spoilt that I 
even relied on servants just to fetch me a glass of water or to put on 
my socks for me while I was still in bed. It was customary for 
servants to work long hours, seven days a week. They had no annual 
vacation, although they were allowed to take time off on an ad hoc 
basis to return to their native village. Their average wage with an 
annual bonus amounted to ten or fifteen Hong Kong dollars per 
month, plus board and lodging. It was meagre but, by prevailing 
standards, not at all mean. 

Although mainly illiterate, the servants were instinctively 
hardworking, honest and faithful, doggedly carrying out their 
multiple chores - some of them onerous - without losing their sense 
of self-respect. Had such wonderful and dependable domestic help 
not been readily available, my mother could not possibly have run 
her large household for so many years. 

One of those servants deserves special mention. Ah Mah ('ah' is 
a common colloquial prefix before a name) came as my brother 
P.T.'s wet-nurse in April 1921 and remained with us until our 
departure for China in 1942. After the war she rejoined us, working 
for me when I got married and later for P.T. Finally retiring in 1969, 
she was provided for by P.T. until her death in 1981 at the age of 
one hundred. Sensible, caring and devoted, Ah Mah is reminiscent of 
Peggotty, David Copperfield's beloved nanny. 

As a boy I used to take our servants for granted. It embarrasses 
me to recall that I was sometimes less than polite, if not downright 
rude, to some of them. How little did I appreciate what they were 
truly worth! Nowadays, whenever I watch reruns of Upstairs, 
Downstairs, some of the endearing and true-to-life characters 
portrayed in that heart-warming British television series - Mrs. 
Bridges the cook. Rose the lady's maid, Daisy the parlour maid, and 
Ruby the kitchen maid - remind me, time and again, of their worthy 
counterparts at Shelley Street. 

Chapter 10 
The Seeds of Learning, 1930s 

It is clear as crystal that the manner in which my father moulded and 
motivated his children in Hong Kong bore the stamp of Oxford's 
influence, in sharp contrast to the way he himself had been raised in 

As a pre-eminent leader in Chinese education, it was my father's 
responsibility to foster traditional learning among the student 
population in Hong Kong. But as a far-sighted parent buoyed by his 
own experience, it was his aim to bend his children's steps in the 
direction of more ambitious and more far-reaching goals. Over a 
period of some thirty years, the education and training of his 
children followed an intelligible, consistent pattern. They were 
trained at the outset to acquire fluency in two languages, Chinese 
and English, which have virtually nothing in common. Then they 
were encouraged, in their formative years, to enrich their minds and 
broaden their outlook by becoming conversant with the intrinsic 
values of both these two distinct cultures. Seen through my father's 
eyes, to cultivate a bicultural mentality is to seek the jewel in the 
bilingual crown. 

Not surprisingly, my father sent all his children to 'English' 
schools, where the environment was far more conducive than 
'Chinese' schools to the influence of Western culture. Eventually his 
five daughters matriculated at the Italian Convent (later Sacred 
Heart School), and his three younger sons spent all their school 
years at Wah Yan College under the Irish Jesuits. Neither Catholic 
nor Protestant by persuasion, my father was a liberal in his 
philosophical outlook. His decision to entrust the children's 
education to the Catholic missionaries was made, not out of 
religious considerations, but because of his high opinion of those 
two academic institutions. He certainly had a heahhy respect for the 
Irish Jesuits as teachers. His choice of schools was fully justified in 
time by the children's academic achievements. 

At home the children were given intense private tuition, in order 
to develop their language skills in Chinese and English and, to a 
lesser extent, their knowledge of French as a third language. 
Throughout the nineteen-thirties, hardly a weekday went by without 
some of the children taking private lessons af^er school hours. My 


The Seeds of Learning, 1930s Al 

father must have spent a small fortune on their tuition fees alone. 

Although my father did not know much about music, he was by 
no means insensible of its charms. It was not by chance that all his 
children were introduced, one after another, to the wonders of music 
as part of their upbringing. P.C. learnt to play the violin. All the 
others took piano lessons under Professor Harry Ore, a white 
Russian and the leading pianist in Hong Kong before the Second 
World War. 

Taking a giant step away from tradition, my father was intent on 
giving his sons and daughters equal opportunities for education, and 
left little doubt in their minds that every one of them was expected 
to pursue academic excellence at both school and university. After 
dispatching his two eldest children to England, he reluctantly 
recognized that the best he could do for the many younger ones 
would be to send them to the University of Hong Kong. That nearly 
all of them eventually succeeded in ftirthering their education in 
either England or the United States, mainly on scholarships, was 
beyond his wildest dreams. 

My father did his utmost to give his children the best possible 
education, regardless of the financial burden. He counselled them at 
each stage of their development, inspired them with his charming 
reminiscences of Oxford and England, and took great pride in their 
achievements. A gentleman in speech and demeanour, he was strictly 
governed by his deep sense of moral values and expected from his 
children what he always demanded of himself In public or in private, 
not a breath of scandal was ever associated with his name. To my 
mother, he was a kind and caring husband who never allowed the 
gulf between his own education and hers to come between them; to 
his children, both a guiding light and a shining example. 

When P.C, my eldest brother, joined the University of Hong 
Kong (founded in 1911) in 1927, my father had already decided to 
send him to England. With this in view my father engaged one of the 
English lecturers, Mr. Reeves, to teach P.C. specifically how to 
speak and behave like an English gentleman. Once a week P.C. was 
taken to lunch or tea at the Peninsula or the Hong Kong Hotel, both 
patronized in those days primarily by expatriates and, to a lesser 
extent, wealthy upper-class Chinese. There, he was drilled by Mr. 
Reeves in English conversation, taught manners and etiquette, and 
briefed on aspects of life in England. Thus, when PC. set sail from 
Hong Kong, he was probably better prepared for England than most 
foreign students in his time, certainly far better than his own father 
some fifteen years earlier! 

48 The Arches of the Years 

PC. entered Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1928, read for the 
combined Law and History Tripos and graduated in 1931. 
Interestingly enough, his time at the University happens to overlap 
with the period that spawned the internationally-known quartet of 
Cambridge spies - Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean 
and Kim Philby - who in later years rocked the British Establishment 
by turning traitors to their country. PC. could well have run into 
some of those characters at one time or another, while having tea at 
the Copper Kettle or a pint of bitter at the Eagle or the Little Rose. 

While still an undergraduate P.C, an unabashed admirer of 
Napoleon, set his heart on becoming a professional soldier with a 
view to fighting and winning battles for China. However, deferring 
to my father's wish that he should first qualify as a barrister before 
undergoing military training, he was called to the Bar in 1932. Then 
he went to Woolwich. In this connection, the Royal Military 
Academy, Sandhurst, wrote in January 1991: 

Our record shows that Pak Chuen Yu was a 
Gentleman Cadet at the Royal Academy, Woolwich, 
from 5 February 1933 to 11 July 1934. ..There were 
56 cadets in his batch, but he was not eligible for a 
place in the final order of merit as he was not joining 
the British Army. No details are recorded of his 
specialisation, though the course, designed to 
produce officers for the Royal Artillery, Engineers, 
and Signals, had a strong scientific and mathematical 

As the eldest son, P.C. enjoyed a handsome allowance from my 
father and was thus able to live sumptuously in England. When in 
London he moved around habitually by taxi, rarely by bus or 
underground. His suits were tailored in Savile Row. He travelled 
often on the Continent. In the prime of his dancing days, he was 
hailed by his Hong Kong contemporaries as the 'Tango King'. 
However, to defray the mounting expenses resulting from PC's 
prolonged stay in England, my father had to raise funds through a 

Sometime after his return to Hong Kong, PC. joined General 
Yu Han Mou's Nationalist Seventh Army based in Guangzhou. That 
was when various warlords were gradually putting aside personal 
differences and rivalries and rallying behind Chiang Kai Shek, the 
leader of both the Nationalist Army and the Kuomintang (Nationalist 
Party), in order to form a united front against impending Japanese 

The Seeds of Learning, 1930s 49 


On July 7, 1937 the Japanese engineered the notorious 
Loukouchiao (Marco Polo Bridge) Incident near Beijing as a pretext 
for the full-scale invasion of China. The outbreak of the undeclared 
Sino-Japanese War gave P.C. the opportunity he needed and he 
immediately saw action as commander of the solitary anti-aircraft 
battalion protecting Guangzhou. In the same year he married Norma 
Au, whom he had first met in England. 

After matriculating with a distinction in History, Sheung Woon, 
the second child and my eldest sister, joined the University of Hong 
Kong in 1931. There were then very few women undergraduates at 
the University. She too went to England in the following year. But 
while studying at the Trinity College of Music, she fell in love with 
S. Y. Tong, PC's close friend from Downing College, Cambridge. 
They got married in England and came back to Hong Kong in 1935. 

Josephine and Margaret, the next two children, matriculated 
together in 1936, Josephine with a distinction in English, and 
Margaret in both English and French. Gifted with a fine ear for 
music, Josephine developed steadily into one of Professor Ore's best 
students; at a recital over Radio Hong Kong, she played Brahms' 
Cradle Song, to the delight of the whole family. At the University of 
Hong Kong, Josephine majored in Education while Margaret studied 
English and Chinese Language and Literature. Both were founding 
members of the French Club as well as active members of the Arts 
Association. Each year, prior to the commencement of the play 
staged annually by the Association, to which the public was invited, 
Josephine invariably performed at the piano. They graduated in 
1 940, at the time of Dunkirk. 

Thus, for as long as I can remember, it was impressed on me in 
so many little ways that my eldest brother and three elder sisters all 
did well in their studies and that, by implication, I was expected to 
follow in their footsteps. 

My earliest academic memory goes back to the day when I was 
formally initiated as a new 'scholar' in the traditional manner. Like 
my other elder brothers P.T. and Patrick, I never attended nursery 
school or kindergarten: my initiation, therefore, took on a special 
meaning. I was five years old at the time. I remember being 
meticulously dressed for the event in a bright yellow brocade gown, 
over which I wore a tight fitting black silk jacket buttoned up all the 
way at the front. I also put on a black skull cap with a red knob at 
the top. Ah Mah carried me on her back from one room to another, 
upstairs and downstairs, proudly mumbling incantations to invoke 

50 The Arches of the Years 

good luck for her little master. Smiling and chuckling close by were 
my parents and the rest of the family. Finally the miniature odyssey 
ended in the children's study. 

A wooden desk and chair, my parents' gifts to me for the 
occasion, served as the centre of attention. On the desk were neatly 
laid out a Chinese writing brush, a pot of black ink and a scribbling 
pad, all brand new. Easily discernible on the seat of the chair was a 
strange-looking object, somewhat circular in shape, thin in 
dimension and neatly wrapped in red paper. Inside the parcel was a 
pancake freshly made from glutinous rice! I was deposited on the 
chair and made to sit right on top of the pancake. My father, 
resplendent in a dark blue silk gown, sat down beside me, placed the 
Chinese brush in my tiny right hand and, holding my hand firmly in 
his, guided me to write my Chinese name, Yu Kwai Ko, on the pad. 

With an encouraging smile my father asked me, 'Where are your 

Loudly and emphatically I responded with a well-rehearsed 
reply, 'In my belly!' 

Thus, amidst cheers and applause from the happy gathering, I 
was officially ushered into the world of scholarship and learning. But 
to my juvenile mind, it seemed more like a domain of drudgery and 
perplexity, something to be viewed with suspicion and apprehension. 

Needless to say, the pancake part of the act was meant to get me 
glued from the outset to scholarly habits. Anthony Trollope 
apparently had the same sort of idea in mind when he wrote in his 

I was once told that the surest aid to the writing 
of a book was a piece of cobbler's wax on my chair. I 
certainly believe in the cobbler's wax much more 
than inspiration. 

Be that as it may, I must in retrospect challenge the validity of 
the pancake theory. I had a terribly shaky start as a little student. 
The pancake I had sat on in good faith and with high hopes 
evidently failed to generate anything approaching the desired results. 
However, others might equally argue that both my brothers P. T. 
and Patrick rapidly became outstanding students, after sitting on 
exactly the same kind of pancake at their initiation. Whatever the 
outcome of the debate, I remain absolutely convinced that the 
pancake treatment could be of little help to any child who happens 
to be a slowcoach like me. 

The day after gaining recognition as a new scholar, I began 

The Seeds of Learning, 1930s 51 

taking my first Chinese, English and arithmetic lessons at home from 
the same tutors teaching P.T. and Patrick. Two years later, my 
father sent all three of us to Wah Yan College, about a quarter of a 
mile away at Robinson Road, to commence formal schooling. 
Founded by Mr. Tsui Yan Sou in 1929, Wah Yan had by then 
passed into the hands of Irish Jesuits. I was placed in Class 8B, 
while P. T. and Patrick joined Class 7A. 

At the time, the academic levels in 'English' schools like Wah 
Yan were graded from 8, the bottom class, to 1, the matriculation 
class; A, B, and C denoted the upper, middle and lower streams 
respectively at each level. There were no rules governing the entry 
age for students at any level. 

I was then seven years old, but my classmates were by and large 
five or six years older, all having completed their primary Chinese 
schooling before joining Wah Yan. One of them, the oldest by far, 
was a married man in his mid-twenties! From then until I 
matriculated some seven years later, for better or for worse, I was 
never to experience the fun and pleasure of playing with classmates 
of my own age. 

Vividly do I recollect my first day at Wah Yan. It was cold and I 
had to wear an overcoat. Ah Mah, the indispensable servant, 
escorted me to school and then handed me over to Mr. Chau, the 
class master. Mentally unprepared for this new kind of life, I crept 
shyly and nervously into the classroom, frightened at the sight of so 
many teenagers milling about noisily. When class began I sat 
uneasily and apprehensively at my desk, as if I were stranded on an 
alien planet. I saw antipathy in every face, sensed skulduggery in 
every smile, and detected animosity in every movement. When the 
school bell rang for the mid-morning break, I summoned enough 
courage to be the first to dash out of the classroom. Catching sight 
of Ah Mah in the courtyard, I rushed over to her, crying at the top 
of my voice. It was not an auspicious beginning for me at Wah Yan. 

Mr. Chau, pock-marked and balding, was a strict disciplinarian 
who prided himself on exercising firm control over his class and 
would not hesitate to inflict corporal punishment with a ruler on any 
unruly or inattentive student. It is impossible to forget how my 
classmates and I were rigorously drilled to singsong this little rhyme 
after him, line by line, aloud and together, over and over again, 
placing equal emphasis on each syllable in a word as well as on each 
word itself 


FLY TO im SKY ^ , . , . .y^ . 

Canada-Hong Kong Resource Centre 

52 The Arches of the Years 


Thus, with the best will in the world, we were taught to speak 
English, syllable by syllable, as if we were conversing more or less in 
Cantonese. In the words made famous by Rex Harrison in My Fair 
Lady, poor Mr. Chau and his entire class, like Eliza Doolittle, should 
by rights have been 'taken out and hung for the cold-blooded 
murder of the English tongue'. 

It is worth pointing out that the many thousands of characters or 
words in the Chinese language are, without exception, monosyllabic. 
When spoken in Cantonese, a dialect with few diphthongs and little 
noticeable distinction between long and short vowels, the words 
tend to tumble out one by one in a staccato style of delivery. 
Furthermore, the pattern of Cantonese intonations is quite at odds 
with English inflection. That is why whenever English is spoken with 
a Cantonese accent, it sounds like strange monotones. Interestingly 
enough, Cantonese girls, for whatever reason, tend to speak English 
with a better accent and greater fluency than boys. Perhaps they 
have keener ears and a sharper tongue! 

By and large, it is safe to say that the Cantonese, other than 
those who have benefited from having been abroad, are not famous 
for speaking English with a good accent. Unfortunately, they are 
notorious for speaking abominable Mandarin. There is a popular 
saying among northern Chinese, based undoubtedly on centuries of 
exasperating experience, which can be translated as follows: 

In heaven and on earth. 
There is no more dreadful din 
Than that of the Cantonese 
Speaking Mandarin! 

At the time I could read and write only simple Chinese and 
English, and my knowledge of arithmetic was very elementary. I 
was by no means ready for Class 8, which was roughly equivalent in 
level to today's Grade 6. As a result, the Chinese lessons that were 
meant for those who had been through primary school simply went 
over my head; the English Crown Reader had too many words I did 
not understand; and the exercises in multiplication and division were 
too difficult for me to follow. At the end of the academic year, I 
came out bottom of the class of forty, having failed dismally in most 
subjects. For a sensitive boy anxious to do well, it was a humiliating 
and baffling experience. Yet, despite my age and poor results, I was 

The Seeds of Learning, 1930s 53 

promoted to 7B! To this day I still cannot quite figure out why I was 
not made to stay in Class 8 for another year. 

Naturally, I continued to flounder, often struggling through tears 
over my homework. If my father was around, he would offer me 
help and encouragement. Sometimes he would even try to persuade 
me to skip the homework and go to bed instead. In those gruelling 
days, how I envied the apparent ease with which my elder sisters and 
brothers won their teachers' accolades or captured school prizes! It 
did nothing for my pride and self-confidence one day when I 
overheard two teachers talking to each other. 

One said, T.T. and Patrick are indeed very talented brothers.' 

The other replied, 'Of course they are. But I'm afraid their little 
brother is simply not in the same league. ' 

It was just my bad luck that I had to live under the shadow of 
two clever brothers. But I consoled myself with the thought that life 
would have been much worse if I had had to put up with two stupid 

Lacking the physique for sports, I was quite content to be a 
spectator. One day, while standing on a platform to watch a soccer 
game in progress, I lost my footing and fell headlong towards the 
playground below. My forehead hit a cement step and I started 
bleeding badly just above my left eye. An ambulance was called and, 
after the wound had been heavily bandaged, I was sent home, blood- 
stained and dazed. Rising from his sick bed, my father held me 
closely in his embrace and, to the surprise of everyone present, was 
unable to choke back his tears. The trace of a scar on my forehead 
still bears silent witness to that touching moment between a loving 
father and his youngest son. 

Notwithstanding the accident, I continued to develop a keen 
interest in soccer. Eventually I was allowed to join P.T. and Patrick 
and their classmates in friendly games. However, my mother would 
always insist on our being chaperoned by Ah Mah, her duty being to 
stand on the sidelines during the game carrying towels and soft 
drinks. My mother would also stipulate, each time before we set off 
for the playing field, that we should 'avoid sweating too much'. 
Naturally, all three of us would murmur a hearty assent in her 
presence. But alas! while the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak. 
How many times did we return home from a game, red-faced and 
soaking wet, embarrassed and contrite, wondering nervously what 
our poor betrayed mother would have to say! 

At first most of the boys at school referred to us as the sons of 
Yu Wan, the well-known Inspector of Schools. Later we were 
tagged with the nicknames Big Fish, Middle Fish and Small Fish, the 

54 The Arches of the Years 

Cantonese word for fish being pronounced in exactly the same way 
as our family name Yu. When Mr. Terry Sheridan, a popular Jesuit 
scholastic, staged The Merchant of Venice with my brothers' class, 
P.T. was cast as the Doge and Patrick as Portia. I was deliberately 
given the part of a little page so that the Three Fishes could be seen 
on the stage together. The tall, slim and gentle Portia, speaking in a 
well-toned voice and pleading with poise and eloquence for mercy, 
easily captured the heart of the audience. At the end of the play my 
father, brimming with pride, was surrounded by the Jesuits who 
made no attempt to hide their partiality for his sons. Amazingly, 
Patrick's portrayal of Portia happened to be an accurate portent of 
his future career as barrister. 

My father took care to ensure that my brothers and I were 
getting the kind of private tuition we needed. From the many 
qualified teachers from the Normal School, he singled out Mr. Mak 
Kwun Chak for appointment as our Chinese tutor. Mr. Chow Ching 
Lam, our English tutor from Malaya, who had previously taught 
PC. and all my elder sisters, certainly knew how to turn the routine 
learning of grammar into a stimulating exercise. At one time I also 
had a coach for mathematics. French was not taught at Wah Yan, 
but as we moved up to the senior classes, it was added to our 
weekly private lessons at home. Some thirty years later, when 
immigrating to Canada with my family, I was glad I knew a little 
French and thankful for my father's foresight. 

It could not have been a better decision on my father's part to 
encourage Patrick to play the piano. Inspired by the magic of the 
keyboard, he grew into a wonderful pianist having a flair for playing 
light classics with a delicate touch and improvising dance music in 
the style of Charlie Kunz. At the other end of the scale, both P.T. 
and I got absolutely nowhere with our piano lessons. Fortunately, 
neither of us was immune to the charms of music. In our later life 
P.T. and I found ourselves sharing a common love of popular opera 
arias. Indeed we both fell under the spell of the same woman - 
Maria Callas. 

In our days together at Wah Yan, I looked upon both P.T. and 
Patrick as my role models, trusted leaders and closest friends and 
companions. Cast in the same happy mould, they were articulate, 
outgoing, well-mannered and self-confident. They competed year 
after year for honours in class. They were active in school debates. 
They were leaders at soccer. Best of all, neither of them bullied me! 

True to form, both my brothers passed the Junior Local 
Examinations with Honours. However, during the Matriculation 
Examinations in the following year, Patrick became seriously ill with 

The Seeds of Learning, 1930s 55 

blood poisoning sustained from a cut foot. For several days he 
hobbled with a high fever to and from the examination hall at King's 
College. Afterwards, believing that he had flunked the major papers, 
he confided despairingly to my father that he was about to bring 
shame and disgrace to the family. Curiously enough, the Board of 
Examiners entertained other ideas about Patrick. As it happened, 
both P.T. and Patrick were awarded Government Scholarships to 
the University of Hong Kong. My father was absolutely 
flabbergasted. It is hard to tell whether he ever trusted Patrick's 
word again! 

Government Scholars before the war had no choice but to study 
for a degree in Education and to commit themselves to teaching at 
Government schools after graduation. With my father's backing, 
P.T. turned down the scholarship offer in order to read Economics. 
Patrick, on the other hand, settled for the Government Scholarship, 
thereby preparing himself for a teaching career. 

P.T. and Patrick took up residence at Ricci Hall, a Catholic 
hostel for Hong Kong University male undergraduates. It was 
named after Matteo Ricci, the Italian founder of the Jesuit missions 
in China, who had died in Beijing in 1610 without realizing his 
dream of converting the Chinese Emperor to Christianity. With their 
good looks, light dancing steps and nice sense of humour, my two 
brothers were in great demand at social ftinctions. They played 
together on both the Ricci Team that won the Inter-Hall Soccer 
Championship, and the Arts Team that won the Inter-Faculty Soccer 
Championship. Patrick also grabbed the Arts Association headlines 
by performing the title role in Atidrocles and the Lion. In September 
1941 my brothers began their final year at the University with great 
expectations, but within three months the shock of war was to 
shatter their dreams. 

During my difficult early years at Wah Yan, my father always 
made me feel he had every confidence in my ability to survive. Not 
once did he betray any sign of disappointment or disapproval oyer 
my consistently poor reports from school. Ever so slowly, the tide 
began to turn as I moved up to 6B and then 5B. By the time I was in 
4A, I found myself able to compete with my classmates on many 
subjects. Fondness for the English language and European History 
and a growing desire for achievement were gradually eclipsing the 
fear of failure as my prime motivation for studying hard. But I 
continued to agonize over written Chinese, my weakest subject. 

I am especially grateftil to my father for my becoming genuinely 
interested at an early age in English and insatiably curious about 

56 The Arches of the Years 

England. To whet my appetite for reading, he regularly bought me 
adventure novels, beginning with Treasure Island, The Prisoner of 
Zenda and many volumes of Tarzan. He encouraged me to make a 
daily habit of reading The South China Morning Post, The China 
Mail, and The Sunday Herald. Time and time again he drew my 
attention to the proper way of speaking English by stressing the fmer 
points of accent and inflection which, strangely enough, were never 
given sufficient emphasis by any of my teachers. He spoke to me 
often and nostalgically about his Oxford days and what he admired 
so much in many of the Englishmen he had met. Sir John Miles' 
name frequently crept into his conversation. His overwhelming faith 
in Oxbridge as the world's noblest training ground for 
undergraduates was transparent and infectious. Thus, even as I was 
going through my formative years, the wish to go to England, to be 
educated at Oxford or Cambridge, and to learn to be a real 
gentleman like my father, a wish as yet vague and ill-defmed, began 
acting like a magnet on the compass of my mind. But I also feared 
that it was but a pipedream that simply could not come true. 

When I moved up to Class 3 A, the opportunity to play a 
meaningful speaking part on the stage that I had been waiting for 
finally arrived. For the forthcoming annual prize-giving day, Mr. 
Sheridan was directing my class in a presentation of The Escape, an 
adaptation of the dramatic final chapters of A Tale of Two Cities. 
Wong Chin Wah, the top student, who was like an elder brother to 
me, was cast as the hero Sydney Carton. Being barely twelve, 
undersized and shy, I was the obvious choice for the role of the 
tragic young seamstress appearing at the end of the story, 
transformed by Father Sheridan into a boy aristocrat. 

Having recently seen MGM's A Tale of Two Cities, starring 
Ronald Colman, the entire class - actors, extras, prompters and 
helpers - was inspired to meet the challenge. I can still recall, 
through the mist of time, the earnest efforts put into rehearsals by 
the enthusiastic cast, the sense of occasion and excitement shared by 
one and all as prize-giving day approached, the care and patience 
with which Father Thomas Ryan did the make-up for each actor 
prior to the performance, and the hush that fell on the overflow 
audience as the curtain rose for the first time that evening. Peeping 
from the side of the stage, I could see my father sitting right at the 
front. A bashful speaker lacking confidence and presence, I had 
worked hard on my pronunciation and diction throughout the 
rehearsals and I now wanted desperately to surprise my father with a 
fine performance. 

Faithfiil to Dickens' plot, the play was based on Sydney Carton's 

The Seeds of Learning, 1930s 57 

gallant and successful attempt at engineering the escape of Charles 
Damay from prison in Paris, in the dark and turbulent days of the 
French Revolution, by sacrificing his own life. 

In the final scene, the guillotine loomed tall and stark behind the 
prison wall at the back of the stage, its awesome knife-blade poised 
for the kill. Carton, masquerading as Darnay (whose aristocratic 
family name was Evremonde and whom he had drugged and 
dispatched to safety), was calmly waiting for his number - twenty- 
three - to be called and his turn to go to the guillotine. He was 
standing in a corner, lost in thought, when I made my entrance as a 
frightened, lone little aristocrat also awaiting execution. 

An ugly crowd was pressing against the base of the guillotine 
and screaming, 

'Down, Evremonde! To the Guillotine, all aristocrats!' 

I moved with hesitant steps over to Carton, believing he was 
Evremonde and anxious to obtain his support and sympathy. On 
discovering the mistaken identity and the nobility of his endeavour, I 
asked imploringly, 

'Oh, will you let me hold your brave hand, stranger*^' 

'Yes, my poor child, to the very end' was the reassuring, half- 
whispered reply. 

When 'twenty-two', my number, was called I slowly released 
Carton's hand and then sadly mounted the steps to the guillotine. 
The rolling of drums was loud but brief Down came the knife-blade 
with a crashing thud that was partially drowned by a wild outburst 
of shouts and cheers from the back of the stage. 


Pausing at the base of the guillotine, Carton turned to face the 
audience and then delivered his immortal line: 

'It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done; it is a far, 
far better rest I go to than I have ever known.' 

Indeed, Sydney Carton is still one of my favourite heroes, A Tale 
of Two Cities one of my favourite novels, and Dickens one of my 
favourite authors. 

An extraordinary history lesson, which took place not long after 
The Escape, now cries out for recapitulation. It was a fine spring 
morning. Outside Wah Yan College all was quiet along Robinson 
Road, but for the chirping of birds and the occasional rumble of a 
passing vehicle. In Class 3 A, located at the eastern end of the main 
school building, a bespectacled, young Jesuit scholastic - Mr. 
Fergus Cronin - was describing in fine style, with the help of a large 
wall map as well as the blackboard, the celebrated battle which took 
place on September 13, 1759 on the Plains of Abraham, near 

58 The Arches of the Years 

Quebec City, and changed the course of history. 

As I listened with undivided attention to the rousing tale, I was 
intoxicated with the drama of the tremendous event. All at once, my 
imagination caught fire: I was transported back in time to the actual 
scene of conflict as events began to unfold. I was tantalized at first 
by the costly, but unsuccessftil, British attempts to penetrate the 
French defences along the north shore of the St. Lawrence. Then to 
the British came encouraging news of the chance discovery of an 
unguarded vantage point upriver, a little to the west of Quebec City. 
I held my breath as I watched Wolfe and his five thousand men 
scramble doggedly, in the darkness of night, almost three hundred 
feet up sheer cliffs to get over the top. 

As dawn broke over the Plains of Abraham, I was overwhelmed 
by the thrilling clash of arms that quickly erupted. The rapid, well- 
drilled deployment of the Thin Red Line was met by the courageous, 
headlong charge of the hastily assembled French columns under 
Montcalm. In a matter of minutes, the disciplined, close-range 
volleys of the British infantry decided the outcome of the battle and, 
indeed, the fate of two empires. As Wolfe lay dying on the 
battlefield, Montcalm, also mortally wounded, was carried away by 
the remnants of his defeated army. 

Just then the school bell rang. The sound and fliry of battle 
faded. The lesson came to an end. Mr. Cronin rolled up his map and 
departed. But the Plains of Abraham lingered on and on in my heart 
and mind. Little did I dream that I would one day become much 
better acquainted with Canada than my learned Irish teacher. 

When 3 A broke up for the summer holidays, both Sheridan and 
Cronin had to return to Ireland to complete their Jesuit training. The 
cast of The Escape got together to give them a warm send-off. On 
that farewell occasion Sheridan, with his customary exuberance, 
burst into song with a lovely rendering of the Irish ballad. Cockles 
and Mussels. Not having much of a voice, Cronin had to be coaxed 
and coerced before finally crooning the simple melody. Ten Green 
Bottles; however, he cheated a little bit by starting with only three 
green bottles! So well remembered are the swansongs of the two 
young Jesuits who lent colour and substance to my personal 
development in what was for me a truly memorable year. 

I was one of five in my class to pass the Junior Local 
Examinations with Honours in 1938. At thirteen I was still rather 
short and slight in frame. Beaming with pleasure but speaking not a 
word, my father made me sit on his lap and kept stroking my cheeks 
as a sure sign of approval and affection. 

A few months later, at the beginning of my matriculation year. 


The Seeds of Learning, 1930s 59 

the Japanese launched a major offensive in south China. Guangzhou 
fell in October. Refiigees pouring across the Hong Kong border 
were accommodated in temporary camps set up at Fanling in the 
New Territories. On his own initiative, Father Donnelly took the 
Matriculation Class away from school for two weeks in order to 
participate in refugee relief work. My father, however, did not 
permit me to join the unusual venture, on the grounds that I was not 
old enough to engage in outdoor work meant only for adults. 

The students' mission of mercy was noble, the experience was 
stirring, but the academic consequences for the class were disastrous 
- only thirteen out of forty managed to pass the matriculation 
examinations. Those were the worst results on record for Wah Yan. 
However, Wong Chin Wah, of Sydney Carton fame, was awarded a 
Government Scholarship, but he turned it down in order to study 
medicine. After the Second World War, Chin Wah became a 
successful high school teacher. Capitalizing on Sheridan's training, 
he also made a name for himself in Hong Kong as producer, director 
and lead singer in charity performances of traditional Cantonese 
opera, sung in English with an amateur cast. In May 1995, in his 
mid-seventies, he led the Wah Yan Dramatic Society to Toronto for 
a gala performance of A Tale of Two Kingdoms, at a fund-raising 
event in aid of the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto. 

With two distinctions, in English and Religious Knowledge, I 
came first in my class, and fourth among all matriculation students. I 
also won a Government Scholarship. But my jubilation was short- 
lived. The University of Hong Kong would not accept me for the 
coming term in September because by then I would still be more 
than a year below the minimum entry age of sixteen. Consequently, 
the Education Department rescinded my scholarship. Disappointed, 
my father took me to see Mr. Ferguson, the University Registrar, 
and made a personal appeal for the ruling on age to be waived on 
my account, but in vain. Mr. Ferguson was not at all impressed by 
my father's arguments. 

On the way home from the disheartening interview, we took the 
bus at the intersection of Bonham Road and Pokfulum Road right by 
the University campus. I got into the bus ahead of my father. As he 
was boarding, the bus suddenly took off and accelerated. He 
stumbled on the steps and was flung heavily on to the road. 
Immediately there were shouts and screams from the passengers. 
The bus braked to a screeching halt. The conductor and I ran over 
to my father as he lay motionless on the ground. He was breathing 
heavily from the stunning impact but, apart from cuts and bruises, 
was not too seriously hurt. Thank God, my father's earnest attempt 

60 The Arches of the Years 

to get me into the University sooner did not end in tragedy. 

During my matriculation year, I made a conscious decision to 
get secretly baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. It was the 
only time in my life when I did something of importance deliberately 
behind my father's back. At a later date he must have found this out, 
if only by my church-going habits and other behavioural traits, some 
of which were at best indiscreet and at worst stupid. But he 
displayed no resentment and raised no objections. The realization 
that I had been less than honest or candid with him did not dampen 
his love for me in any way. Few could have taught me a better 
lesson in understanding and tolerance. But, ironically, without 
realizing it at the time, I myself was fast becoming a rather bigoted 
and self-righteous teenage Catholic. I was even persuaded that it 
would be improper, if not sinflil, for a Catholic to attend a wedding 
in a Protestant church! 

To this day, my faith in God, a gift from the Jesuits, has given 
inner strength and meaning to my life. But for a long time, I have 
been questioning some of the teachings in Catholic dogma, teachings 
which I find difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile with my 
conscience. I have been shocked by scandals within the Church, both 
past scandals which have come to my knowledge through reading 
and current scandals which keep surfacing in the news. But the 
clerical hierarchy seems unable or unwilling to acknowledge the 
dictates of conscience, and unconscionably slow and reluctant to 
recognize or deal with the individual failings of some of its members. 
To many of the informed faithful, this is hard to understand and 
harder to accept. A famous Catholic writer, Hilaire Belloc, once put 
his point of view across in this manner: 

I believe the Catholic Church was divinely 
instituted, otherwise it would not last a fortnight 
because it's run by such a crowd of knaves. 

In September 1939, at the outbreak of war in Europe, I returned 
to Wah Yan, at my father's request, for another attempt to win a 
Government Scholarship. It could hardly be described as an 
exhilarating experience. I was bored by some of the familiar lessons, 
while dreading the odds against a successful repeat performance at 
next year's matriculation. However, Father Ryan taught me English 
for the first time, and proved to be the most inspiring teacher I ever 
had. I was highly motivated to step up my reading and take greater 
pains over my writing. Father Cooney gave me generous help after 

The Seeds of Learning, 1930s 61 

school hours by taking me assiduously through Brush Up Your 
French and giving me a better feel for the spoken language. 

Barely a week before the Matriculation Examinations in 1940, a 
letter came from Mr. Ferguson out of the blue. I was informed that 
the University of Hong Kong was awarding me the King Edward 
VII Scholarship, normally intended for the top matriculation student 
of each year; in my case it was presumably meant to compensate me 
for the loss of the Government Scholarship on account of my age by 
giving ad hoc recognition to my achievement. Although less rich in 
monetary terms than a Government Scholarship, it carried greater 
prestige because of its rarity. Regardless, both my parents and I 
were dancing with joy at the marvellous turn of events. 

So my days at my beloved school, the only one I ever attended, 
finally drew to a close. It gave my father cause for pride that the 
Three Fishes became triple stars in the Wah Yan firmament, jointly 
establishing an academic record which, as far as I am aware, has not 
been equalled in the school's history up to this day. 

I joined the Arts Faculty of the University of Hong Kong, as a 
member of Ricci Hall, in September 1940 when the Battle of Britain 
was raging fijriously over the skies of southern England. I was in the 
first term of the second year, majoring in Economics, when Hong 
Kong was attacked without warning. Falling between those two 
fatefiil events, the limited time I had at the University was neither 
promising nor satisfying. 

In those days there were half a dozen halls of residence (hostels 
with dining and recreational facilities) for male undergraduates, but 
none for women. It was common practice for fi-eshmen, or 
greenhorns as they were called, joining any hall to be subjected to 
ragging in virtually in any shape or form, with the tacit consent of 
the University. Two years earlier, P.T. had to make his way at the 
stroke of midnight through the Pokfulum Cemetery, trying to find a 
secret mark on a tombstone while fending off wild dogs; Patrick had 
to stand, wearing only pyjamas, right by the main exit at the King's 
Theatre so that he could clearly be seen, looking like a buffoon, by 
the people streaming out at the end of the evening performance. 

Ragging at the University, fun though it was supposed to be, 
was anathema to me. It was totally contrary to my belief that, like 
my father at Oxford, undergraduates should be treated, and 
encouraged to behave, like gentlemen. Fortunately, for whatever 
reason, I myself was not victimized by any nasty or unpleasant 
individual ragging, but I did not escape an outlandish and, in 
retrospect, rather amusing group experience. We greenhorns were 

62 The Arches of the Years 

lined up one evening in the dining room in Ricci and made to kneel 
and behave like a row of abject slaves in front of the ragging 
ringleaders, who kept hurling insults and obscenities at us. The 
climax of the farce was reached when the hair of each and every one 
of us was thoroughly smeared with a thick, dark, filthy mixture. It 
was apparent that, having been ragged themselves in their freshman 
year, the loud, obnoxious ringleaders were determined not to let us 
off too easily. 'Do unto others what others once did to you' seems 
to have been the motto for the ragging tradition at the University of 
Hong Kong before the war. 

Quite the youngest greenhorn in my year, I did not have an easy 
time, to say the least, in making the awkward transition from 
schoolboy to undergraduate and trying to mix with young men and 
women who were mostly several years older and much more mature. 
I was diffident, self-conscious and unsure of myself in almost any 
situation, in class, in the students' union, and in Ricci. There were 
occasions when I made clumsy attempts, against my better 
judgement, to participate in the social life of the University, and 
more often than not I ended up feeling distinctly uncomfortable and 
out of place. On the academic side, I found it difficult working on 
my own, and sorely missed the familiar learning environment at Wah 
Yan, in which my intellectual development had been subject to close 
supervision by teachers. 

At the end of the first year, which seemed an age, I was 
disappointed, but by no means surprised, when I failed to shine in 
any of my papers, including English and History, my supposedly 
strong subjects. As my second year began. Principles of Economics 
was added to the curriculum and became the focus of both my 
curiosity and attention. Unfortunately the lecturer from England 
chose time after time to dictate her lessons slowly, word for word, 
as if to little school children. What a dull and colourless introduction 
to what should have been a fascinating topic! As it happened, the 
outbreak of the Pacific War that cut short my early days as an 
undergraduate turned out, in the ftillness of time, to be a real 
blessing, although effectively disguised. 

To conclude this chapter, I must turn briefly to my younger 
sisters Winnie and Rosalind, with whom I played often at Shelley 
Street and to whom I was deeply attached. Unable to help them with 
their homework, I remember trying at times to croon them to sleep 
without realizing that I was probably giving them nightmares. They 
were studying at Sacred Heart School, aged twelve and nine, when 
the first bombs fell on Hong Kong and devastated their innocent 
little world. 

Chapter 1 1 
The Fall of Hong Kong, December 1941 

Although ominous dark clouds had for some time been gathering 
over the Pacific, life at Shelley Street went on at a gentle and 
predictable pace. Then the storm broke, abruptly ending the happy 
and tranquil days of the pre-war era. 

My father was an avid reader of both English and Chinese 
newspapers. It was his unchanging morning routine to glance 
through 77?^ South China Morning Post and the three leading 
Chinese papers {Kuug Sheung, Sing Tao and Wah Kin) before 
breakfast. On his return from work at the end of the day, he would 
read The China Mail, the evening paper, before handing it to some 
of his children. As the world crisis deepened after the Munich 
Agreement in September 1938 (when Great Britain and France 
betrayed Czechoslovakia by allowing Hitler to annex the 
Sudetenland, in the vain hope of gaining 'peace for our time'), my 
father was indeed following events in Europe with ever closer 
attention. Every evening after dinner he would allow nothing to 
distract him from tuning into the BBC for world news, while 
relaxing with a cigarette and a cup of green tea in the comfort of an 
easy chair in his study. 

It was around dinner time on September 3, 1939, two days after 
the German invasion of Poland. With many of us in attendance, my 
father was waiting with a sense of foreboding in front of the radio 
for a statement by the British Prime Minister. Then we heard 
Chamberlain announce in his reedy, croaking voice that Britain was 
already at war with Germany. It proved to be the first in a long train 
of world events that ultimately led to Hong Kong's demise. It is 
incredible how the long forgotten memory of that fateful evening in 
my father's study could have been brought back in sharp focus to 
my mind, on the spur of the moment, as if it were but yesterday! 

France fell in June 1940 and Britain stood alone. In September 
the Tripartite Pact between Germany, Italy and Japan was signed in 
Berlin. This was followed in April 1941 by the conclusion of the 
Neutrality Pact between Japan and Russia. Two months later Hitler 
invaded Russia. At the end of July Japan completed the military 


64 The Arches of the Years 

occupation of Indo-China. The United States, Britain and Holland 
swiftly retaliated by imposing drastic economic sanctions against 
Japan. By October the Germans were battering at the gates of 

Through all those anxious months, Hong Kong was manifestly 
preparing for war. But, against his better judgement, my father was 
still clinging to the hope that the British Colony would not be drawn 
directly into the world conflict. The immediate consequences of war 
for him and his family would simply be unthinkable. I am sure, 
however, that he was not alone in Hong Kong in either his wishful 
thinking or his predicament. 

At the time the Hong Kong garrison amounted to four Regular 
Army battalions: 2nd Battalion Royal Scots, 1st Battalion the 
Middlesex Regiment, 5/7 Rajputs and 2/4 Punjabis. They were 
supported by the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps comprising 
local residents of many nationalities and from all walks of life, 
including staff and students from the University of Hong Kong. 

Churchill had decided in January in 1941 against reinforcing 
Hong Kong in anticipation of a Japanese attack, 'to avoid frittering 
away limited resources on untenable positions'. But fate was to 
determine otherwise. In July of that year, Canadian-born Major- 
General Grasett, the General Officer Commanding in Hong Kong, 
was posted back to England. On arrival in London, he prevailed on 
the British Chiefs of Staff to consider the defence of Hong Kong in a 
new light. In the event, with Churchill's approval, it was hastily 
agreed between London and Ottawa to dispatch Canadian troops to 
Hong Kong, in great secrecy, by the first available transport. 

On November 16, 1 94 1 , which happened to be my seventeenth 
birthday, two Canadian battalions, totalling 1975 men, under the 
command of Brigadier Lawson MC, landed in Hong Kong without 
any advance notice. They were the Royal Rifles of Canada from 
Quebec City and the Winnipeg Grenadiers. They had been chosen by 
the Canadian Government because they represented both the East 
and the West, the French and the English-speaking Canadians. 

For the benefit of the local population, the event was trumpeted 
by the Hong Kong Government as evidence of Britain's 
determination to defend the Colony and accompanied by idle boasts 
that Hong Kong was being turned into an 'impregnable fortress'. 
But the unfortunate truth is that those Canadians had had no battle 
experience, having been engaged mainly in garrison duty in 
Newfoundland, Bermuda or Jamaica. Some of them had not even 
completed their basic military training prior to departure from 

The Fall of Hong Kong, December 1941 65 

Deeply etched in my memory is my first glimpse one afternoon 
of the welcome reinforcements. Standing on the verandah at Ricci 
Hall, I watched with fascination while a long column of Canadian 
soldiers, in full battle gear, marched briskly in single file up 
Pokfiilum Road. To me at the time, Canada meant no more than a 
vast country of the Great Lakes, with a small population, but plenty 
of wheat and snow, far, far away. By no stretch of the imagination 
could I have anticipated that I myself would one day be a Canadian 
citizen, writing in Toronto about the fall of Hong Kong! 

At 8 a.m. on Monday, December 8, I was having breakfast in 
Ricci with other students when the calm of the morning was rudely 
broken by the wailing of air raid sirens. It seemed like another 
routine air raid precautions practice, unusual though it was for the 
time of day. But moments later, muffled explosions could be heard 
coming from a distance. Rushing onto the tennis court overlooking 
the western end of the harbour, we immediately caught sight of 
dense columns of black smoke billowing into the clear, blue sky 
somewhere over Kowloon. Others, who had been listening to the 
radio in the common-room, burst into our midst, shouting, 'The 
Japanese are bombing Kaitak Airfield!' 

Immediately after the all-clear, P. T., Patrick and I walked home 
from Ricci, normal bus service having been suspended. There we 
learnt about the attack on Pearl Harbour, ahhough the fiall extent of 
the disaster inflicted on the U.S. Navy would not be known for quite 
some time to come. All of us in the family were indeed traumatized 
by both the suddenness and the enormity of what had happened. 
That Hong Kong could not hold out indefinitely against a 
determined onslaught was beyond doubt. No one could tell what 
might happen during the battle that had already begun, but everyone 
feared the uncertain fijture that loomed ahead. 

Caught with little cash in the bank, my father found himself in 
dire straits. He had many mouths to feed, including his wife and 
seven children, his daughter-in-law Norma and her son Anthony, and 
seven or eight servants. Fortunately, by a miraculous accident of 
timing, my mother had just sold a diamond ring for several thousand 
Hong Kong dollars and had kept the cash temporarily at home, thus 
saving the family from utter destitution in the terrible months that 
followed. Fearless and resolute, my mother emerged as a tower of 
strength as she took immediate steps to deal with the crisis, drawing 
on experience gained in her youth during periods of unrest in 
Guangzhou. Arrangements were quickly made for provisions and 
other basic necessities to be purchased immediately, in anticipation 
of a siege. Window-panes were pasted with strips of newspaper to 

66 The Arches of the Years 

offer a measure of protection from splinters. Henceforth, meals 
would be curtailed. 

The next day, lured by curiosity, my brothers and I stood 
recklessly on the rooftop in order to have a clear view of an air raid 
in progress. In the complete absence of any anti-aircraft fire, a 
squadron of Japanese planes circled and roared overhead, slowly 
and at will, looking for targets. Then in precise formation, they 
banked one after another, diving towards ships in the harbour and 
releasing their bombs. But as far as we could see, there were no 
direct hits. 

To everyone's dismay, the fighting in the New Territories ended 
much sooner than expected. Moving rapidly across country and 
bypassing roadblocks, the seasoned Japanese infantry broke through 
the main British defensive line - nicknamed the Gin Drinkers' Line 
because it was flanked at one end by Gin Drinkers' Bay - within 
three days. On the nights of December 11 and 12, the defenders 
managed to withdraw in good order to Hong Kong Island without 
suffering ftirther casualties. 

To add to Hong Kong's woes, there came the stunning news 
that HMS Prince of Wales, Britain's latest and much-publicized 
battleship, and the battle-cruiser HMS Repulse - both of which had 
only arrived at Singapore on December 2 - had been sunk by 
Japanese bombers off the east coast of Malaya. In the gallant words 
and polished diction of the BBC, which I remember all too clearly, 
the two ill-fated warships 'went down with all their guns barking 
defiantly at the enemy'. Thus was extinguished, in a flash, any 
smouldering hope that the presence of the mighty Prince of Wales in 
Far Eastern waters might somehow bring succour to the beleaguered 

On the morning of December 1 3 a launch flying a white flag of 
truce was seen approaching Hong Kong Island from Kowloon. A 
team of three Japanese officers came with the demand for immediate 
surrender under the threat of heavy and relentless bombardment. In 
a vain gesture of defiance, the ultimatum was summarily dismissed 
by the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Mark Young. 

While the entire population waited in fear for the Japanese to 
make the next move, the Island came under daily bombing, shelling 
and mortaring. My father, afraid that our house might be unsafe, 
decided to seek sanctuary elsewhere for the whole family. We first 
spent a night with one of his two younger sisters, Mrs. Liang, who 
lived with her five children in a modem apartment at Robinson 
Road, opposite Wah Yan College, and who was kind enough to 
accommodate us. However, the space available there was too 

The Fall of Hong Kong, December 1941 67 

limited. The next day my father accepted a generous offer from Mr. 
and Mrs. Tang Man Chiu, who were close friends of my brother P. 
C, to put us up in their large and stylish two-storey house, built high 
up on the hillside at Kennedy Road overlooking the eastern part of 
the harbour. 

Under blackout that evening we slept on the floor on the upper 
level of the house. We could hear ceaseless mortaring and shelling. 
Suddenly, there came a deafening explosion, which rocked the 
building and savagely jolted me from my sleepy state of mind. 
Shattered glass and flying debris crashed all around us. My sisier 
Josephine and I, who were lying side by side, clung to each other in 
silent fear, as if the world were about to come to an end. Amidst 
confusion and panic, a lone voice cried out in pain. A servant was 
wounded in the back by either shrapnel or glass splinters. 
Fortunately, she was the sole casualty. 

By the first light of dawn, it looked as if a shell had exploded 
right by a corner of the building, miraculously missing a direct hit by 
a hair's breadth. As the stray shell could have been directed at the 
military hospital nearby, my father therefore decided not to stay 
another night in the house. After thanking Mr. And Mrs. Tang 
profusely for their kindness, he led his frightened and sleepless 
family trudging all the way back to Shelley Street. What a welcome 
sight was our own house, standing serene and unscathed in the midst 
of continuing bombardment! There was no place like home. 

On the night of December 18, the Japanese stormed across the 
north-east corner of the harbour. Landing between North Point and 
Shaukiwan in the face of scattered resistance, they rapidly pushed 
inland. The very next morning Brigadier Lawson was killed in a 
desperate attempt to break out from his isolated command post. In a 
rare act of chivalry by the Japanese, his body was wrapped in a 
blanket and buried in the battleground where he fell. Over the next 
few days there was confused and bitter fighting, mainly in the 
eastern half of the Island. 

Most fortunately, the residential area around Shelley Street did 
not suffer a single direct hit. But we were cooped up inside the 
house, with all the windows and shutters closed and bolted if only to 
provide us with a false sense of security. At one stage it was 
announced by the Hong Kong Government that several Chinese 
infantry divisions under General Yu Han Mou, the Commander-in- 
Chief of the Seventh War Zone, were heading south towards 
Guangzhou to attack the Japanese from the rear. Our gut reaction 
was to dismiss the news as sheer propaganda, obviously intended to 
salvage rapidly sinking morale. 

68 The Arches of the Years 

Sadly, Hong Kong surrendered on Christmas Day 1941, an 
event that could never be blotted out from my memory. By a 
remarkable congruence of dates, the loss of the Crown Colony came 
in the centenary year of its occupation by the British, and on the 
ninety-ninth anniversary of its formal cession by China to Britain. 

I am at a loss to describe the state of mind we were in at the 
time. All I can say is that, although defeat had been fully expected, 
the finality of the surrender, when it was officially announced over 
Radio Hong Kong in the early afternoon, was utterly devastating. 
But, mercifully. Providence and the human instinct for survival gave 
us heart as we braced ourselves for a long, hard winter of despair. 

In what was indeed a hopeless battle against overwhelming 
odds, the Hong Kong defenders were outnumbered, outgunned and 
outmanoeuvred by the battle-scarred Japanese 38th Division, which 
had three regiments, totalling nine battalions, under its command as 
well as complete control of the air and the sea. 

During the fighting, the Japanese committed unspeakable 
atrocities; civilians were massacred, women including nurses were 
raped, doctors and the wounded in hospital murdered, and prisoners 
of war shot or bayoneted to death. It was retributive justice, but 
poor consolation for the victims and their families, that Lieutenant 
General Sakai, the Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Forces that 
captured Hong Kong, was eventually sentenced to death at the War 
Trials, and executed in Nanjing. 

In all, the allies suffered over 3,400 casualties, of which 2,113 
were killed or missing, or died of wounds. It is worthy of note that 
the first Victoria Cross won by a Canadian in the Second World War 
was awarded posthumously to Sergeant-Major John Osborne of the 
Winnipeg Grenadiers, who died valiantly while leading a counter- 
attack on Mount Butler. Of the Canadians, 547 never returned 

Five days before the last shot was fired in Hong Kong, Churchill 
had signalled the Governor: '...every day that you are able to 
maintain your resistance you and your men can win the lasting 
honour which we are sure will be your due.' 

Subsequently, in his memoirs. The Second World War, 
Churchill wrote: 

The Colony had fought a good fight. They had 
won indeed the 'lasting honour'. 

I knew two of the local volunteers who were killed during the 
fighting. They were Mr. France, a lecturer at the University, and 

The Fall of Hong Kong, December 1941 69 

Algernon Ho, a fellow Riccian, who was captured and bayoneted by 
the Japanese. It is only fitting that I should end this episode of my 
story with a tribute to their memory. They too had won the lasting 

Half a century later, on a clear morning in September 1 99 1 , I 
went to Sai Wan War Cemetery in Hong Kong for the very first 
time. Sai Wan Hill is at the eastern end of the Island. Perched on the 
brow of the hill, the Cemetery looks down upon a housing estate 
half-hidden in the valley below and towards the open sea. 

Immediately beyond the entrance there rises a massive and 
imposing monument, on the face of which are inscribed in gold 
lettering the names of the fallen, including the Canadians, and the 
units to which they belonged. 

Falling sharply away fi"om the monument, towards a large Cross 
raised on a pedestal at the bottom of the steep slope, are row upon 
row of tombstones, meticulously aligned and neatly kept, some 
marked with a cross, some with a maple-leaf and a cross, a few 
bearing the mere inscription: An Unknown Soldier. 

Sai Wan War Cemetery is a moving sight and a poignant legacy 
of eighteen violent and desperate days in the fascinating history of 
Hong Kong as a British Crown Colony, a history which, as the 
world knows, came to an end on June 30, 1997. 

In memory of all those who gave their lives in the defence of 
Hong Kong - the British, the Canadians, the Indians, and the 
Volunteers - the following lines are taken, with a simple adaptation, 
from In Flanders Fields, written by John McCrae, a Canadian 
doctor-soldier, on the morning of May 3, 1915, at the height of the 
Second Battle of Ypres, during the First World War: 

We are the Dead. Short days ago 
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow. 
Loved and were loved. And now we lie 
In Sai Wan Hill. 

Chapter 12 
The Perilous Years, 1942-45 


Unquestionably, the fall of Hong Kong marked the nadir of our 
fortunes. In the aftermath of the catastrophe, we were living under 
the constant shadows of fear and gloom, fear of the brutal enemy 
and gloom over the imponderable future. Yet a star of hope 
continued to glimmer on the distant horizon as we clung fervently to 
the belief that, come what might, the Allies were bound to win the 

One of the first acts of the Japanese Military Government was to 
proclaim martial law, pending the return to more normal conditions. 
Consequently looters were shot at sight or beheaded on the spot. 
The people were also informed that if any Japanese soldier was seen 
forcing his way into a home, they should make every effort to attract 
the attention of the patrolling Military Police by banging their pots 
and pans aloud. As an immediate precaution, Josephine and 
Margaret went into hiding at Sacred Heart School. And for many 
anxious, eerie days and nights, we could hear the recurring sounds 
of concerted banging and clanging, sometimes coming from nearby, 
sometimes echoing from afar, often lasting a long time. Fortunately 
not once did we find ourselves coming face to face with the dreaded 

In those early days of the Japanese occupation, our servants 
rendered exceptional service by venturing out of the house in order 
to queue up for rice rations in the Central District, not far from 
Shelley Street, and procure what little food was available from 
hawkers. They came back with grim accounts of scenes of 
desolation and destruction. 

As the days stretched ever so slowly into weeks, and the weeks 
into months, we were mired in inactivity, emptiness and boredom. I 
tried to occupy my mind as much as possible by reading all the 
novels I could find around the house. But there was simply too 
much time on our hands, time spent all too often on hankering after 
the past, worrying about the present and wondering when, if ever, 
there would be light at the end of the tunnel. The house was 
darkened throughout the day by keeping windows and shutters 
permanently closed in the hope of deterring undesirable elements, 


The Perilous Years, 1942-45 71 

and at night, being without electricity, it was dimly lit by candles and 
oil lamps. In such a dismal setting we fell into the habit of talking in 
hushed voices, as if afraid of being overheard, and, sad to relate, 
seemed to have lost the capacity for humour and laughter. On those 
infrequent occasions when we went out, we had to suffer the 
humiliation of bowing to Japanese sentries posted at key points or 
outside military establishments. What a bitter pill it was to swallow! 

There was not enough to eat and for the first time we 
experienced real hunger. Although we must all have suffered from 
malnutrition, none of us was taken seriously ill during this woeful 
period. In the streets emaciated men, many with swollen feet, could 
be seen begging or dying where they crouched or lay. But I do not 
remember seeing any woman in such desperate straits out in the 
open. Is it possible that starving women simply preferred to die with 
dignity at home? One morning a man in rags was found stricken 
right in front of our house, mumbling incoherently and frothing at 
the mouth. In my youthful religious fervour I ran up to Wah Yan 
College and got hold of the first available Jesuit, Father Craig, to 
come and baptize the poor victim. It was my first direct encounter 
with the tragedy of death. 

One unusual incident stands out in my memory. Early one 
afternoon a Japanese officer with a typical long sword dangling from 
his belt, and several soldiers clutching rifles with fixed bayonets 
made their presence known by rattling and shaking our gates and 
yelling for attention. We had no choice but to let them in. The 
officer barked a stream of orders in Japanese which had us baffled. 
After a short frightening impasse, we finally got the message. 
Everyone in the house was summoned to the sitting-room at number 
15 and lined up facing the Japanese. Slowly and menacingly, the 
officer glared at each of us in turn. Then, with his eyes fixed on me, 
he made a low guttural sound as if to give an order. Instantly, a 
bayonet was pointed my way, and I was unceremoniously hustled 
out of the room while my family looked on in fear, not daring to 
move or say a word. 

Taken upstairs, I was pushed into the room right by the landing, 
the bedroom shared by Winnie and Rosalind. With the help of sign 
language I was ordered to open wardrobes and drawers and flip 
over mattresses. While turning everything within sight upside down 
or inside out, I began to suspect that the Japanese were making a 
routine house-to-house search for hidden weapons. 

For some time I went on ransacking one room after another. To 
show that I had nothing to hide, I carried out my none-too-diflficult 
assignment patiently and methodically. Outwardly I feigned calm. 

72 The Arches of the Years 

but inwardly I was a jumble of nerves. While the uncouth guards 
around me engaged in raucous chatter, I sought courage in silent 
prayers. At long last, the search through the entire house having 
been completed, I was led back to the sitting-room. After tossing 
more gibberish at us, the unwelcome intruders jangled with their 
weapons arrogantly out of the house. In a spontaneous outburst of 
magnanimity, I hastily forgave my enemies for denying me the 
opportunity of dying a heroic death. 

It came as no surprise that the reception of short wave 
broadcasts was prohibited by the Japanese. Despite the threat of 
severe punishment, my father simply ignored the ban. Once or twice 
a day, we huddled closely around him in his study, with the door 
shut, as we listened surreptitiously to either the BBC or the Voice of 
America. We made absolutely certain that not a murmur could be 
heard beyond our tight circle of faces. In the past, it was customary 
for my father to discuss war news and major events with us almost 
every day. But now he was unusually silent and subdued, choosing 
instead to keep his own counsel and visibly bending under the 
weight of anxiety for the family under circumstances entirely beyond 
his control. 

At first disastrous news came thick and fast from the various 
battlegrounds in South-East Asia, as the Allies were being crushed 
everywhere by the Japanese, at sea, on land, and in the air. On 
January 2, 1942, barely a week after Hong Kong's surrender, Manila 
was captured. Closely following the defeat of the British in Malaya, 
Singapore capitulated on February 15, much sooner than anyone, 
including Churchill, could have expected. A few days later the 
Japanese landed in Bali and Java. After desperate fighting, the 
Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines was overrun on April 9. During 
the subsequent siege of Corregidor, the island fortress facing 
Bataan, the Voice of America began every single broadcast of war 
news, day and night, with the spirited battle-cry, 'Corregidor Still 
Stands!' But on May 6, Corregidor finally fell, while over in Burma, 
Mandalay was also abandoned. Indeed the lights were going out all 
over South-East Asia. 

In the flush of unbroken triumph over the Allies, the Japanese 
were busy proclaiming in Hong Kong the establishment of the 
'Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere', on billboards, over the 
radio and in newspapers. Some sphere! Some prosperity! How very 
impudent they were in their blatant attempts to pull the wool over 
people's eyes! 

But all was not lost. Suddenly, on April 18, American planes 
appeared literally out of the blue to bomb Tokyo for the very first 

The Perilous Years, 1942-45 73 

time. This was followed in May by the Battle of the Coral Sea, the 
outcome of which seemed far from clear or decisive. But we 
deduced, correctly as it turned out, that as the Japanese failed to 
announce any successfial landing following the air and sea 
encounters, they must have suffered some kind of setback. Then 
came news in June of the Battle of Midway, which ended with both 
sides claiming victory. However, by identifying unequivocally all 
four of the Japanese aircraft carriers that had reportedly been sunk, 
the Voice of America succeeded in winning our vote of confidence. 
Sensing that the tide was beginning to turn in favour of the Allies, 
we even had the audacity to pose the question, 'Could this point to 
an earlier end to the war in the Pacific, despite Pearl Harbour?' 

Closer to home, Hope beckoned us through the dark clouds, 
acting as a catalyst to precipitate change. The Nationalist 
Government in Chongqing, under Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek, 
repeatedly broadcast the offer of unconditional assistance to anyone 
reaching Free China from Hong Kong. Students would be able to 
continue their studies at any school or university at government 
expense. P.T. set the ball rolling by speaking out in favour of escape 
to the mainland. There was no denying that to remain and stagnate 
in Hong Kong would mean, sooner or later, starving to death, 
succumbing to disease or, worse still, being forced to work for the 
Japanese. None of the alternatives was palatable, tolerable or 
acceptable. It was a desperate time for desperate games to be played 
for desperate stakes. Although my parents were initially 
apprehensive of the risks involved in any attempt at escape, the force 
of P.T. 's arguments carried the day. Galvanized by the prospect, 
however uncertain, of breaking loose from the Japanese, the whole 
family sprang to life. 

By an irony of fate, a foolproof escape plan was handed to us on 
a plate by the Japanese. Unable to supply Hong Kong with sufficient 
food and anxious to disperse the population, the Japanese Military 
Government decreed that anyone filling in a form and signing a 
commitment not to join the Chinese Nationalist Government would 
be allowed to depart. Did the Japanese really think that those 
applying for permission to leave Hong Kong at the time were taking 
such a commitment seriously? It hardly seemed possible that the 
mighty, well-oiled Japanese military machine could have been such a 
stickler for red tape! 

At a family conference, it was unanimously agreed that P. T. and 
I should be the first to go into Free China as pathfinders, to be 
followed, if everything went well, by the rest of the family. On a 
windy, drizzly day in July, P.T. and I waved a tense goodbye to the 

74 The Arches of the Years 

rest of the family as we boarded a crowded ferry for Macao to 
pursue our rendezvous with destiny, each equipped with a map and 
a mosquito net and fortified by a stout heart and unquenchable 
hopes. P.T was my undisputed leader, in whom I had every 
confidence and with whom I was on the best of terms. 

Situated on the Chinese coastline sixty-four kilometres to the 
west of Hong Kong, Macao was the first stepping-stone on our way 
to Free China. This little trading outpost was originally established 
by the Portuguese in 1557, but it was not until 1887 that it was 
formally recognized by China as Portuguese territory. After the fall 
of Hong Kong, Macao had come under Japanese control in all but 
name. We stayed overnight at Macao, where we visited our fourth 
grandmother (my grandfather's third concubine), whom we regarded 
with affection and respect. 

The next day we took a boat to Leizhou Wan (Guangzhou 
Wan), a strategic bay tucked away on the east coast of Leizhou 
Bandao (Luichow Peninsula), at the south-west extremity of 
Guangdong Province, which had been leased to France in 1898 for 
ninety-nine years. At the time Leizhou Bandao was still under the 
control of Vichy France, but to all intents and purposes it had fallen 
within the Japanese 'co-prosperity sphere'. The voyage of some 
three hundred kilometres was stormy, and both P.T. and I became 
very sea-sick. After resting overnight in Chikan, a small town in 
Leizhou Wan, we stepped jauntily on a very hot and humid morning 
across the border into Free China, pausing briefly to greet the lone 
Chinese sentinel on duty and to salute the Chinese flag fluttering in 
the breeze. At last we were safe, on home ground and free from the 
clutches of the Japanese. To regain freedom after it had been lost 
was a unique experience that nothing could match. 

Starting from that lonely outpost, we criss-crossed northward on 
foot into adjoining Guangxi Province, our destination being Guilin, 
its capital, some five hundred kilometres fijrther inland. On at least 
one occasion the difficult terrain made it necessary for us to journey 
by sedan chair. At night we slept in the open, in dilapidated shehers 
or in ramshackle inns. 

The names of the many towns and villages we passed through 
have gone clean out of my memory. But I do recall that in all those 
places, living conditions were primitive: there was little or no 
electricity, no running water, and no sewers. At one point we 
chugged along a river for two or three days in some kind of wooden 
boat, something like a cross between a tiny tramp steamer and an 
oversize junk, which had crude sleeping berths and a simple canteen. 
But I cannot possibly forget the evening in Liuzhou where we were 

The Perilous Years, 1942-45 75 

given a warm welcome by the city council. At the end of the formal 
dinner, easily our best meal in months, the mayor stood up smilingly 
to announce that it was his privilege to take his brave young guests 
on a conducted tour of the city's most glamorous landmark. 

Soon we were escorted to a large, old, unkempt and dimly-lit 
bungalow. As we walked slowly along a long corridor which opened 
into an array of cubicles on either side, we came face to face with 
scantily-clad and slatternly women of every age and description, 
some standing, some sitting, all eagerly looking for clients. The quiet 
ones ogled us; the boisterous ones shouted obscene remarks; the 
aggressive ones tried to drag us into their dens. Were we surprised 
to find ourselves in the thick of things inside a brothel! We came 
away from the revolting sight with a sickening sense of disgust and 
pity, having learnt more about the seamy side of life in just a few 
minutes than in all our previous years. 

The next morning we boarded a train for the last lap of our 
journey. Finally, two or three weeks after leaving Hong Kong, we 
reached Guilin and the end of what had indeed been a very exciting 
real-life adventure. I remember Guilin as a city ringed around by 
awesome giant limestone formations, rising precipitously here, there, 
and everywhere to meet the sky, and contrasting stunningly with the 
surrounding paddy-fields and meadows. No wonder that Guilin has 
traditionally been acclaimed for its scenery, reputedly 'the most 
striking in the Chinese Empire'. Interestingly, it came to light after 
the war that Guilin had served as a top-secret Allied outpost of the 
British Army Aid Group (BAAG). 

P.T. immediately wrote to my father about our safe arrival, 
urging him to depart post-haste with the rest of the family, in case 
the Japanese should change their minds about allowing people to 
leave Hong Kong. Postal service was maintained between Free 
China and Hong Kong throughout the war. P.T. took care to 
disguise his message in subtle language for fear of censorship by the 

My sister Sheung Woon gave birth on July 14, 1942 to a 
daughter, called Margaret after her aunt, and nicknamed ever since 
the 'Bastille Day little lady'. On account of the young family, 
Sheung Woon and her husband decided against leaving for Free 
China. Instead, they moved to Macao where they remained until the 
end of the war. To help support the family, Sheung Woon gave 
English lessons to the Chinese mistresses of Japanese officers. 

My parents arrived in Leizhou Wan sometime in August with 
Margaret, Winnie, Rosalind, Norma and Anthony. Josephine did not 
go with them, having decided to travel to Shanghai to join her close 

76 The Arches of the Years 

friend from the University of Hong Kong, Lena So. Patrick 
therefore stayed behind in Hong Kong long enough to see her safely 
on board her ship, and to dispose of some family possessions in 
order to raise cash for my father. He caught up with the family in 
Chikan a little later. Josephine remained in Shanghai with the So 
family for the rest of the war. 

'No pains, no gains' may sound like a tired truism. But my 
father's decision to get out of Hong Kong certainly paid huge and 
unexpected dividends. He was appointed by the British Government 
as Deputy to the Oflficer-in-Charge at the British Consulate Office in 
Shaoguan, the capital of Guangdong Province. The office was being 
established primarily to provide relief and assistance to Hong Kong 
civil servants and their families, now turning up in steadily growing 
numbers. Coincidentally P.C. arrived from Chongqing to collect 
Norma and Anthony. 

In a flurry of activity, PC. accompanied my father all the way to 
Shaoguan before returning for his family. Patrick proceeded to 
Guilin ahead of my mother and the two younger sisters to make 
temporary housing arrangements until my father was ready to 
receive them in Shaoguan. Margaret managed to find herself a 
teaching job in Chikan. 

P.T., Patrick and I were happily reunited in Guilin, but not for 
long. P.T. left shortly afterwards for Shaoguan where he was soon 
recruited by Lieutenant General Lee Yin \^^oh, Head of the Political 
Department of the Seventh War Zone, to work under him as the first 
fully bilingual staff officer with the rank of major. In the meantime I 
had made up my mind to try my luck at Sun Yat Sen University 
(named after the Father of the Chinese Republic), formerly located 
in Guangzhou and now re-established in the vicinity of Pingshi 
Village. I had absolutely no idea what the wartime university was 
like, and Pingshi was but a tiny dot on the map right at the border 
between the provinces of Hunan and Guangdong, many hundreds of 
kilometres away from Guilin by rail. But to continue with my studies 
with a government subsidy was obviously the most sensible course 
of action for me to take. 

Patrick accompanied me to the railway station at Guilin. We did 
not know what the future had in store for either of us, or when or 
where we might meet again. At the final whistle we embraced each 
other awkwardly, unable to find words to say goodbye. I clambered 
hurriedly onto the train with a small cardboard suitcase and a canvas 
bag stuffed with a blanket and some winter clothing, all the while 
trying to fight back the fear of being all alone, with very little 
money, in an unfamiliar, uncertain and unsafe world. As the train 

The Perilous Years, 1942-45 11 

slowly pulled away, I leaned out of the carriage window and saw 
Patrick running after it along the platform. For a few moments our 
eyes met. The love and anguish I saw on his face struck such a 
responsive chord in me that I could no longer contain my pent-up 
emotions. I broke down, weeping uncontrollably, while the train 
rattled and rumbled louder and louder in my ears. It was the saddest 
moment of my life. However, I would soon be eighteen. The time 
had come for me to live by my wits, to fend for myself and to start 
growing up on my own. 

Sometime during the night I was one of a few passengers to get 
off the train at Pingshi. In pitch-darkness I groped my way anxiously 
towards a faint light in the distance. To my immense relief it turned 
out to be an inn, although a very primitive one indeed. There I spent 
a restless night. 

Next morning I found out that Pingshi Village was still a good 
distance upstream. After making my way as directed to the river 
bank, I climbed into a long narrow boat, which resembled an 
enlarged Cambridge punt with a wicker canopy for protection 
against wind and rain. Accompanied by a handftil of fellow- 
travellers, I was soon on my way. 

Skirting at all times along the bank, the boat was propelled 
against the current by six strong men, three on each side, who 
punted methodically with long poles by using the combined force of 
their arms and shoulders. When navigating a long stretch of rapids, 
half the crew jumped ashore and dragged the boat forward with 
long, thick ropes tied around their backs and shoulders, while the 
other half remained on board punting with all their might. All of a 
sudden the entire crew broke into song, piercing the air with shrill 
drawn-out notes, as if to stiffen their resolve to conquer the hostile 
elements. Enchanted by the unusual sight and sound of their 
unremitting toil, I quietly joined the ensemble by humming to myself 
the Song of the Volga Boatmen. 

Situated on the river bank, Pingshi had a single unpaved alley 
threading its way between low, antiquated wooden structures, a 
hotchpotch of untidy shops and dwellings. Outside the village there 
stretched a vast expanse of terraced paddy-fields, divided by narrow 
footpaths into small plots, like all paddy-fields I had seen elsewhere. 
Sun Yat Sen University, I learnt, was located not in Pingshi itself but 
on the opposite side of the river, several kilometres fijrther inland. 
Life in such a remote region must have gone on in much the same 
way for the past several hundred years or more. Many of the 
inhabitants, mostly peasants, were probably unconcerned, if not 
unaware, that the country was engaged in an all-out war with a 

78 77?^ Arches of the Years 

mortal enemy. 

At Pingshi, I ran into three of my former classmates from the 
University of Hong Kong, Louis Yung and two brave and amiable 
sisters, Lillian and Anita Ip, who were among many waiting for the 
opening of term, still two or three weeks away. Being short of 
funds, we decided to stay together in a rented hut built on a mud 
foundation, which was barely large enough for two separate beds, 
each made up of wooden planks placed on top of benches. There we 
cohabited, in a manner of speaking, Yung and I becoming strange 
bedfellows in one corner and the sisters sharing the other bed. Life 
was delightfully unspoilt by modern amenities: every morning, in fair 
weather or foul, I picked my way gingerly, wearing clogs, down a 
slippery, muddy slope to the river's edge, stepped onto floating logs, 
and then washed my face and brushed my teeth while trying to avoid 
falling into the river! 

At some point Patrick paid me a visit at Pingshi. This being a 
natural occasion for recalling happier times, Patrick and I - the tenor 
and the baritone - sang our favourite duets, Indian Love Call, O 
Sole Mio and Home Sweet Home, as we had of^en done at Shelley 
Street. Our vocal performance, however flawed, could not have 
failed to impress the Ip sisters, if only because Lillian was tone deaf 
and Anita not at all musically discriminating. 

At the opening of term, we all moved over to the Sun Yat Sun 
University campus, where I met other former classmates from the 
University of Hong Kong, including Elizabeth Liang, my first 
cousin, and her boyfriend Chin Hon Ngi. As it happened, the two 
young lovers were happily married at the end of the war. Fifty years 
later, I had the rare pleasure of proposing the toast, in a well-written 
and well-rehearsed speech, to Elizabeth and Chin at their golden 
wedding anniversary in Toronto. However, there was a snag. The 
din in the crowded restaurant was such that hardly anyone at the 
large party could hear a word of what I was trying to say! 

At Sun Yat Sen University all lectures were being given in either 
Mandarin or some provincial dialect, neither of which I could 
meaningfijlly follow - something I had been dreading in my mind. 
But Luck presented me with a fresh option when news arrived that 
Lingnan University had just opened a campus for their Arts Faculty 
near Shaoguan, with generous help from American Protestant 
missionaries. I knew for certain that the medium of instruction at 
Lingnan was either Cantonese or English. 

Consequently, in November 1942, I reported in a happier frame 
of mind to Lingnan University at 'Lingnan Village', about thirty 
kilometres or an hour's ride by train north of Shaoguan. My spirits 

The Perilous Years, 1942-45 79 

on arrival were further lifted by news of Montgomery's victory at El 
Alamein and the successflil landings in North Africa by Allied forces 
under Eisenhower. 

The British Consulate Office where my father worked was at the 
foot of a hill within walking distance of Wu-Li-Ting, the first train- 
stop five kilometres north of Shaoguan. My father shared living 
quarters adjoining the office with Mr. Sedgwick, the Oflficer-in- 
Charge. Over Christmas, with Mr. Sedgwick away, my father and I 
had a pleasant and restful time together in his comfortable quarters, 
with a male servant providing domestic help and even serving 
western-style meals. My father was almost like his old self again as 
he chatted happily with me about the war. At the time the Russians 
were tightening the ring around the Germans at Stalingrad, Rommel 
was fighting a losing battle in Libya, the U.S. Marines were gaining 
the upper hand in Guadalcanal, and there was a temporary lull in the 
various war zones in Free China. We had plenty to discuss and many 
memories to share. What a far cry it was from Christmas the year 


At the beginning of the year, P.T. was reassigned to Chongqing, 
the capital of Free China, in the heart of Sichuan Province. After 
arrival in Guilin he journeyed for several days by military truck, 
westward across Guizhou Province and then northward into 
Sichuan. A good part of the road linking Guiyang, the provincial 
capital of Guizhou, to Chongqing wound its way across 
mountainous terrain; long sections of the tortuous route had been 
hacked out of sheer precipice, making hazardous hairpin bends. 
From P.T.'s truck the wreckage of fallen vehicles could be seen 
littering the valleys below. The truck drivers in the military convoy 
were openly picking up civilian passengers and illicitly charging 
them fares to line their own pockets. 

On arrival at Chongqing, P.T. assumed the post of Secretary, 
with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, to General Wong Chun Kow, 
Head of the Air Defence Ministry. He also gave English lessons at 
night in the Central Military Academy to army officers who were 
earmarked for reassignment to two newly-formed Chinese armies in 
preparation for a counter-offensive in Burma: one was based at 
Ramgarh in India, and the other at Kunming, the capital of Yunnan 
Province. Those armies were placed under the command of 
Lieutenant General Stilwell, the notional American Chief of Staff to 
Chiang Kai Shek. Stillwell had been appointed directly as a result of 
pressure from President Roosevelt, and he had the dubious 

80 The Arches of the Years 

distinction of being continually snubbed and ignored by the Chinese 

During Patrick's stay with my mother and the two youngest 
sisters in a suburban home in Guilin, he seized every opportunity to 
watch dogfights in the clear autumn sky between the Japanese and 
General Chennauh's 'Flying Tigers', the famous American 
Volunteer Group which, after Pearl Harbour, became the China Air 
Task Force. Early in 1943 he went to Shaoguan where, after several 
frustrating weeks, a challenging job came his way. He was engaged 
by Lieutenant Commander J. Davies, a British Naval Intelligence 
Officer, as his secretary and interpreter. For many weeks, the two of 
them travelled together along the South China coast, under trying 
conditions and hazardous circumstances. Their mission was to set up 
observation posts for tracking Japanese naval movements for 
transmission to Allied Intelligence. Regretfully, Davies happened to 
belong to the infamous breed of British colonial bullies who did 
nothing but harm to Britain's image and reputation overseas. On his 
return to Shaoguan towards the end of 1943, Patrick resigned his 
post in disgust and shortly afterwards joined the Political 
Department of the Seventh War Zone. 

After accompanying my father to Shaoguan, PC. took Norma 
and Anthony to Guiyang, where he left them behind with a military 
family before returning to Chongqing to attend special training at the 
Army War College. A few months later, PC. was made a Colonel 
and sent back to Shaoguan to take over the command of the Model 

General Yu Han Mou, the Commander-in-Chief of the Seventh 
War Zone which took in all of Guangdong Province, had established 
his headquarters in Shaoguan, some two hundred kilometres north 
of Guangzhou. The Japanese forces facing him were mainly 
concentrated in the southern portion of the province around 
Guangzhou and the adjacent Pearl River basin, but also held all the 
key cities along the coast. The Model Regiment, a supposedly crack 
unit in General Yu's Seventh Army, was deployed around Chang Le 
Village, about ten kilometres south of Shaoguan, serving as the focal 
point of defence against any Japanese attack from the south. The 
portly, stately Commander-in-Chief was a frequent visitor to the 
village, where his third wife happened to reside. 

P.C. arrived at Chang Le Village with his wife and son in the 
middle of 1943. Much to his chagrin, the Model Regiment, 
notwithstanding its reputation, was found to be grossly under 
strength on account of corruption which was rampant in the 
Nationalist Army; it was also poorly fed, inadequately equipped and 

The Perilous Years, 1942-45 81 

in dire need of training. As the new commander, P.C. had his work 
cut out for him. From the time of his arrival until the Japanese 
offensive late in 1944, P.C. devoted his time, energy and 
professional skills to strengthening the defences, getting his regiment 
into shape and hardening the troops for battle. 

Early in 1943, my father decided to have his own house built on 
the crest of the hill overlooking his office. The simple little wartime 
bungalow, made of bamboo and plaster, was completed in a matter 
of weeks; it had two bedrooms, a small sitting and dining area, and 
separate servant's quarters. Before long my mother and my two 
younger sisters arrived from Guilin and moved into the new home 
with my father. They were joined by Ah Oi, a faithful servant from 
Shelley Street, who had come all the way from Hong Kong. 

As complete strangers living in a remote suburb of Guilin, my 
mother and my two sisters had virtually been isolated, not knowing 
what each day might bring. It was such a happy change for them to 
be reunited with my father and to feel safe and secure by his side. By 
an incredible stroke of luck, my mother had not had another attack 
of neuralgia since the fall of Hong Kong; in fact it never recurred for 
the rest of her life. The malady that had given her so much pain and 
distress so often in time of peace was suddenly cured, without any 
medication, in time of war! 

At Shaoguan Winnie resumed her studies at True Light Middle 
School, relocated from Hong Kong, while Rosalind went to stay 
with Pak Chuen and Norma at Chang Le Village for the convenience 
of attending a primary school right at their doorstep. 

At the time, according to Chinese intelligence, all was quiet on 
the southern front in the Seventh War Zone and Shaoguan was in no 
apparent danger of coming under attack. For a while it looked as if 
we could simply mark time and wait serenely for the Allies to win 
the war, one way or another. 

1943 turned out to be quite a pleasant and interesting year for 
me at Lingnan. The university campus was small but well-planned, 
sprawling across rolling hills, the highest point of which was 
crowned by a magnificent cluster of huge, spreading camphor trees. 

At this point the reader may well wonder why students in those 
days did not have to join the Chinese Army. The reason is not far to 
seek. The Nationalist Government had decided early on, as a matter 
of policy, that because students were so few relative to the total 
population, they should be encouraged to continue with their studies 
with a view to participating in the major task of postwar 
reconstruction. Hence, conscription was confined to the semi- 
literate or illiterate, mainly peasants, who were often press-ganged 

82 The Arches of the Years 

into service. Such a policy naturally entailed terrible social injustice, 
while inflicting untold suffering on the conscripts and their families. 
It must also have had a direct bearing on the quality of the army as a 
fighting force. 

There were perhaps four hundred students in the Lingnan Arts 
Faculty, most of them from Chinese' schools in Hong Kong, with a 
few like myself from either the University of Hong Kong or 
'English' schools. Life at the campus was orderiy and Spartan. The 
students were accommodated in five dormitories, three for men and 
two for women, and slept in narrow two-tier bunks. Every student 
had an indispensable oil lamp for use after dark. Two simple, 
standard meals a day were served in a refectory, one at mid-morning 
after the first two lectures and the other in late afternoon; each meal 
invariably consisted of unpolished rice and vegetables with perhaps a 
sprinkling of meat. Students took their baths and did their laundry in 
open wooden sheds with water drawn ft^om a well, even when 
temperatures were hovering near ft"eezing in winter. 

As can be expected in wartime, there was very little scope for 
serious academic learning and intellectual development at Lingnan. 
Not surprisingly, few of the teaching staff were of university calibre, 
and books of substance were simply unavailable in the library. 
Nevertheless, hard times helped to bring out the best in the human 
spirit. Many of my Lingnan contemporaries, both men and women, 
distinguished themselves by the traits they valued and shared with 
others: a strong sense of discipline, a keen community spirit and 
mental toughness in coping with stress and uncertainty. One of 
them, David Lam See Chai, was destined to become the twenty-fifth 
Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia in 1988. 

In Voices From A Community, the co-authors Evelyn Huang and 
Lawrence Jeffery wrote: 

Dr Lam left an established career in banking in 
Hong Kong and came to Vancouver in 1967 with his 
wife and three young daughters to begin a new 
career, embarking on a life that would lead to 
unimaginable financial success and social distinction. 
Discipline, openness of mind and a trenchant 
understanding of human nature are perhaps the key 
ingredients to this success. David Lam has risen to 
one of the highest offices in Canada, a position 
formeriy reserved for members of the Anglo-Saxon 

The Perilous Years, 1942-45 83 

Mine being the upper berth of a bunk in the Number One 
Dormitory, I quickly struck up a lively acquaintance with David 
Cheung, the occupant of the lower berth. Happy-go-lucky, high- 
spirited and full of frolic and fun, David was a wonderful little guy 
with a big heart whose innocent look and mischievous smile 
reminded me of Fred Astaire. Soon we became bosom friends. 

One winter evening, when everyone was in bed but no one was 
ready to fall asleep, two of the inmates somehow started the ball 
rolling by cracking dirty jokes aloud, well within hearing of the 
entire dormitory. It did not take long for others to pitch in. There 
erupted, in complete darkness, a boisterous and sustained verbal 
crossfire from all sides, targeted exclusively on sex, and interrupted 
from time to time by lewd laughter and wild screams of delight. One 
of the major combatants was none other than David Cheung, who 
rose magnificently to the occasion by coming up with some of the 
most outrageous swear-words I have ever heard in my life. What an 
extraordinary night! When day dawned, things were back to normal: 
everyone quietly went about their humdrum routine of attending 
lectures, David was his usual sweet and gentle self, and the Number 
One Dormitory was, as ever, a model community of highly 
respectable and well-mannered undergraduates. 

I was one of many students who often took the train to 
Shaoguan to visit their family or friends on the weekend. One 
Saturday, I was walking home from Wu-Li-Ting when the air raid 
alarm sounded, followed by the sound of explosions nearby. As I 
instinctively ran behind a boulder for cover, some Japanese planes 
made a fleeting appearance overhead, diving and strafing. In an 
emplacement on the hill above me, two Chinese soldiers could be 
seen firing a machine-gun at the hostile aircraft. One plane flew so 
low on a strafing run in front of me that I could actually see the 
goggles worn by the pilot. The thrilling spectacle lasted barely a 
minute or two. On another occasion, lectures were in progress at 
Lingnan when faint explosions coming from the direction of 
Shaoguan could be heard for quite some time at the campus. Later it 
was learnt that the suburban area of Huang-tian-ba in Shaoguan had 
been razed to the ground by incendiaries. 

The Lingnan campus also attracted frequent visitors from 
Shaoguan. When Simon Li, an old friend from the University of 
Hong Kong, paid me a visit, he decided to stay for the night, 
accepting my offer of half my bunk-bed, which was about thirty 
inches wide at best. Through a hilarious process of trial and error, 
we finally arrived at an amicable modus operandi whereby we 
managed to sleep peacefully back to back all night without falling 

84 The Arches of the Years 

onto the floor. 

The three men taking English lessons from Margaret in Chikan 
all worked at the 'Institute for International Affairs': one of them 
was the boss. Behind the facade of its rather dubious name, the 
organization was in fact an intelligence arm of the Nationalist 
Government. Humming with espionage, Chikan was perhaps not 
unlike Casablanca, as depicted in the famous Hollywood movie by 
that name. Margaret needed little persuasion to join the Institute, 
especially when the job carried the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. 
Thus, she became involved in coding and de-coding sensitive data 
and secret reports, while also acting as custodian of confidential 
documents and paraphernalia. Her daily activities also offered her 
endless opportunities for practising her spoken Mandarin and 
improving her written Chinese. 

Sometime in 1943, anticipating the Japanese occupation of 
Leizhou Wan, the Institute moved with its entire staff to Meilu, a 
seaside village inside Free China. There, Margaret enjoyed the 
luxury (by wartime standards) afforded by decent offices, pleasant 
accommodation and domestic help. As can be expected, she often 
found herself meeting up with American military personnel. Halfway 
through a banquet, the two American Officers sitting on either side 
of her were looking so glum that she asked them seriously if she 
could be of help. 

'Yes, indeed,' they replied, with a deep sigh of relief, 'Can we 
have some iced water please?' 

On another occasion, while being introduced to some American 
intelligence officers, she was asked pointedly, 'Are you really a Mata 

Back came Margaret's swift rejoinder, 'Not in all respects!' 


At the instigation of Lieutenant General Lee, P.T. was 
transferred back to Shaoguan in early 1944. Now an Intelligence 
Officer in close contact with the Americans, he reported daily to 
General Yu Han Mou. Meanwhile, at the Political Department, 
Patrick was serving as a major with multiple duties: he was Lee's 
English secretary, interpreter and translator, and also a group leader 
responsible for cultivating, through the promotion of sports and 
drama in rural areas, a healthy relationship between the army and the 
peasants. Both P.T. and Patrick were being recognized by Lee as 
two of the best-educated staff officers in the Seventh War Zone. 

On a weekend in Shaoguan I was invited by Patrick to the 
premiere of a play produced by the Political Department; the small 

The Perilous Years, 1942-45 85 

cast was drawn from some of his colleagues. The play was mainly 
wartime propaganda dressed up as a love story. Funnily enough, the 
background music was not Chinese; instead, a recording of Ravel's 
Bolero was played over and over again during the performance. 

However, what I really enjoy recalling is neither the play itself, 
which was humdrum, nor the music, which, unaccompanied by the 
ice dancing of Torvill and Dean, sounded decidedly monotonous. 
From my perspective, the best part of the evening took place before 
the rise of the curtain. 

When the arrival of the Commander-in-Chief was solemnly 
announced, the entire audience rose to their feet in an atmosphere of 
excitement and expectation. Then General Yu Han Mou, the front of 
his uniform festooned with decorations, swept into view, striding 
augustly down the centre aisle. Following closely behind was his 
charming entourage of four wives, all splendidly dressed for the 
occasion. The General took the seat reserved for him at the front 
and his wives sat down right beside him, presumably in order of 
seniority. Their curiosity and admiration aroused, the audience took 
a little while to settle down after the grand spectacle. When calm 
was finally restored, the lights dimmed for the opening act, leaving 
me with a rare firsthand impression of the lifestyle of a former 
warlord from a vanishing era. 

Following the appointment of Eisenhower as Supreme 
Commander in January 1944, the newspapers were filled with wild 
speculations of an imminent Allied landing in France. It was 
tempting for the layman, tired of war, to jump to the conclusion that 
the Axis Powers were about to collapse and final victory lay within 
easy grasp. But in early spring, quite to the contrary, the Japanese 
launched a sweeping offensive in Free China, in a desperate attempt 
to knock out Chiang Kai Shek and his government before the Allies 
could effectively intervene. 

Within a few weeks, the Japanese wrested control of the entire 
Beijing-Hankou railway in north China, and all signs pointed to an 
impending Japanese attack on Shaoguan, which stood in the way of 
a direct link-up between Hankou and Guangzhou. People were 
streaming out of Shaoguan in panic. The British Consulate Office 
was closed down. On the advice of PC, my parents travelled by 
truck with myself, Winnie, Rosalind, Norma, Anthony and Ah Oi 
into neighbouring Jiangxi Province, heading for Longnan, a town a 
hundred kilometres to the east. 

At the outset of the journey, my father was already suffering 
badly from dysentery. That same evening the truck had to park, on 
account of road conditions, well outside a desolate village where we 

86 The Arches of the Years 

tracked down an inn, which was no better than a hovel. Ah Oi 
bravely volunteered to stay for the night in the truck, with all our 
baggage, in the midst of nowhere. The possibility that it might be 
unsafe for her to be all alone in the wilderness never seemed to 
bother her. I would have liked to have kept her company, but in 
view of my father's dreadful condition, I had to struggle with my 
conscience before deciding to be with him at the inn, for fear that he 
might die. Throughout the night my father remained in dire agony, 
without any medication to give him relief, and all that my mother 
and I could do was to sit up with him. It would be difficult for me to 
forget the look of suffering on my father's face that evening, or the 
single-minded devotion of an illiterate servant, who acted so 
scrupulously in accordance with her strong sense of duty. 

My father survived the night and, af^er arrival at Longnan the 
next day, responded to medical treatment. A few days later, all our 
cares were momentarily forgotten when we woke up in the morning 
to be greeted by news of the Allied landing in Normandy on June 6. 
However, unknown to anyone, my father was not completely cured; 
the disease had seriously sapped his constitution and would return 
one day after the war to haunt him. 

In Longnan we rented a farmer's hut which amounted to just 
one large room where we all slept and had our meals. As in all 
villages I had been to, sanitary conditions were abominable. At dusk 
the place was invaded by swarms of mosquitoes, which literally 
darkened the outside of every mosquito net. To get into bed at 
night, we had to master the tricky technique of crawling as quickly 
as possible into the net, without allowing a single mosquito to get in 
as well. 

Anthony was then not quite six years old; with his intelligent and 
endearing ways, he had become the apple of my father's eye. On 
those days in Longnan, Anthony, now a Professor at the University 
of Chicago, wrote to me in 1990: 

I do retain a fond and vivid picture of grandfather 
in his daily routine of teaching me the rudiments of 
both vernacular and literary Chinese. From 
grandfather's repeated recitals and discourse, I first 
learnt to love Chinese classical verse and the 
importance of committing many to memory. 

The anticipated Japanese attack on Shaoguan did not 
materialize. It was therefore considered reasonably safe for Norma 
and me to journey together back to Shaoguan, leaving the rest of the 

The Perilous Years, 1942-45 87 

family in Longnan for the time being. She rejoined Pak Chuen at 
Chang Le Village and I returned to Lingnan for my final term. 

On General Yu's orders, deep and wide ditches had been dug 
across the railway at intervals of perhaps five metres, presumably to 
serve as tank obstacles. Students commuting between Shaoguan and 
Lingnan therefore had to rely solely on shanks' s mare. 

Only about half the normal complement of students had returned 
for the new term beginning in October 1944. Still, every Saturday 
morning, those wishing to visit Shaoguan for the weekend would 
make the journey together as a group, along the broken railway, for 
mutual protection against possible attack by robbers or army 
deserters, and return the next day in similar fashion. To get to the 
railway from the campus by a short cut, it was necessary to climb a 
formidable hill. At the top of the steep and trackless slope, the 
students would invariably pause for breath and a brief chat beneath 
an overhanging boulder. There was chiselled on the face of the 
boulder, by an unknown hand, a couplet in very large lettering, each 
line comprising four Chinese characters, meaning: 

Weaklings do rest 

Strong men need not linger 

At noon one Sunday, as the students assembled at Wu-Li-Ting 
for the marathon walk back to Lingnan, I happened to be the lone 
male in the entire group of about a dozen students. It therefore fell 
to my lot to assume the leader's role as we embarked on our return 

Learning from experience, we tracked in single file along the 
torn railway, up and down the endless ditches, all the while aware of 
the possibility of coming under attack. To hide my fear and anxiety, 
I did my best to engage the girls in idle chatter and to look and 
sound like a confident leader. Nonetheless, I took great care to stay 
most of the time in the middle of the line, with half the group 
shielding me in front and the other half protecting me fi-om the rear. 

At long last, after several hours, with not too many breaks, we 
finally arrived back at the campus at twilight, exhausted but relieved. 
I was trying to find words to thank my fair ladies for their 
indispensable company when they gathered around me and insisted 
on taking me to dinner in the village tea-room. They had painted rne 
in their imagination as a knight in shining armour! I squirmed in 
embarrassment as I sat through dinner as their guest of honour, 
feeling like a coward who had been awarded the Victoria Cross by 

88 The Arches of the Years 

Suddenly, in November 1944, in a lightning thrust from the 
south, the Japanese appeared within striking distance of Shaoguan. 
Another Japanese army had already captured Guilin and Liuzhou 
over in Guangxi. Together with other students I fled the campus in a 
convoy of trucks superbly organized at short notice by the 
University. On arrival at Shaoguan I learnt to my relief that 
arrangements had been made by my brothers for me to evacuate 
with Lieutenant General Lee's wife and family to Longnan and also 
to act as tutor to the five children. At the same time my parents and 
the rest of their group took a truck from Longnan southward to 
Longchuan in the East River region, which was considered less 
likely to come under Japanese attack. 

Caught napping by the dramatic turn of events, General Yu 
moved hastily to the southern part of neighbouring Jiangxi Province. 
To buy time for the orderly retreat and redeployment of General 
Yu's Seventh Army, P.C. was entrusted with the crucial task of 
fighting a determined rearguard action at Shaoguan. FT. joined 
General Yu at his new headquarters. Patrick was dispatched to the 
East River region. 

Shaoguan was attacked from three sides by a large Japanese 
force supported by Chinese 'puppet' detachments. Led by PC, the 
defenders of Shaoguan showed their mettle by engaging the better- 
armed and numerically-superior enemy in bitter fighting, at times in 
fierce hand-to-hand combat, and for eighteen days fought them to a 
standstill. Try as they might, the Japanese could not achieve a 
breakthrough or complete the encirclement of the city. Both sides 
suffered heavy casualties, and the defenders were rapidly running 
out of supplies. 

Chiang Kai Shek's original directive was for Shaoguan to be 
defended to the last man. However, as the situation became 
desperate, PC. was finally ordered to pull out with as many men as 
he could before the trap closed. Then, and only then, did the valiant 
defenders retreat from the bloody battlefield under cover of night, 
with their heads held high, in the nick of time to avoid capture or 

Sometime after the war, when speaking to me about the battle, 
P.C. was still haunted by the memory of his many wounded soldiers, 
who had been left behind to an enemy notorious for butchering 
prisoners of war. 

At this stage China was on the verge of collapse, its armies 
reeling in retreat, its economy ravaged by war and inflation, its 
Government corrupt and floundering. Despite the gravity of the 
situation, Chiang Kai Shek never visited Shaoguan or any part of the 


The Perilous Years, 1942-45 89 

Seventh War Zone. It was also generally known that, throughout the 
war, provincial troops did most of the fighting against the Japanese. 
Chiang's own crack troops, hand-picked for loyalty to him and 
armed with modern weapons supplied by the Allies, amounted to 
perhaps half a million or more men. But they were always held in 
reserve, ostensibly for the final counter-offensive against the enemy, 
but probably to protect Chiang in the event of an attack by Mao 
Zedong or any other potential rebel. Those troops were only seen in 
public when parading in spotless uniforms in Chongqing in front of 
visiting VIPs, such as Wendell Wilkie from the United States. 

As the Japanese armies carried all before them, Chiang sent out a 
call to arms for the first time to university and high school students 
in Free China. The stirring message was embellished with the 
elegance of a classical couplet, which can be translated as follows: 

An inch of fatherland. 

An inch of blood! 

A hundred thousand students, 

A hundred thousand warriors! 

Tens of thousands of students, indeed, immediately flocked to 
the colours. Chiang's simple, majestic appeal caught the mood of the 
nation - bruised, battered, but unbowed - and, like Tennyson's 
famous lines from The Charge of the Light Brigade, has claimed a 
permanent place in my memory. 

When Mrs. Lee and her family left Shaoguan for Longnan, they 
were provided with armed guards, but motor transport was 
unavailable for part of the way. For two days ever>' member of the 
party had to journey on foot, during which a middle-aged captain 
and I took turns carrying three-year-old Michael, the youngest of 
the Lee children, on our shoulders. 

After the fall of Shaoguan, Longnan was considered vulnerable 
to Japanese attack. Lieutenant General Lee sent his family a long 
way south to the East River region in a military truck. I travelled 
separately in a public van into which were crammed far too many 
people, all fleeing to safer havens. Before long the stale air inside the 
vehicle turned foul. When some passengers started getting sick, the 
stench was unbearable. I got out at a convenient break and, with the 
driver's permission, deposited myself on the hood of the vehicle in 
front of the passenger sitting next to him. I managed to find 
something to hang on to with my bare hands. For four days, in all 
kinds of weather, I crouched and squatted contentedly in this 
awkward position, while jolting, bumping and lumbering along 

90 The Arches of the Years 

unpaved roads at perhaps thirty or forty kilometres an hour. 

In the course of the journey I got a little acquainted with a 
garrulous junior army officer, who sounded at times like Casanova 
bragging about his amorous conquests. 

'Neglected concubines', he told me categorically, 'make the best 
lovers: they are passionate, they are clean, and they would never 

Days later I rejoined the Lee family at Yanqian, a village just 
inside Fujian Province, across the eastern border of Guangdong. The 
Lees were guests of a prominent local landlord, a former Nationalist 
general still addressed by everyone as Army Commander Mok, who 
probably owned most of the land in the area. The host and his 
concubine lived in a luxurious mansion, which seemed almost as 
large as the medieval castles often seen in Hollywood movies. The 
place abounded with rooms, servants and food. There, in the depth 
of winter, I certainly lived comfortably and ate well. But every time I 
stepped outside the mansion, I could see only poor people in shabby, 
tattered clothing, shuffling along the one main street in bitterly cold 
weather. Yanqian has left in my memory a clear picture of sharp 
contrasts: opulence in the midst of poverty in a feudal society. 

It was plain sailing for me to teach the five young children - Yun 
Wah (the eldest daughter), Marion, Margaret, Martin and Michael - 
elementary English, beginning with the alphabet, but I was 
frequently at a loss trying to explain Chinese texts. However, instead 
of firing me for incompetence, Mrs. Lee pampered me like a mother. 
Indeed I had a happy time with the five smart and jovial children. 

Sometime after the war, Yun Wah settled in the United States, 
and Marion in England. Margaret is a District Judge in New 
Zealand. Both of the brothers are leading lights in Hong Kong: 
Martin is a successful barrister, an elected member of the Hong 
Kong Legislative Council, and the leader of the Democratic Party 
who hit the headlines when, shortly before Hong Kong's return to 
China in July 1997, he was received in turn by John Major at 10 
Downing Street and Bill Clinton in the White House; Michael, the 
little one nicknamed 'Ah Bum' whom I carried on my shoulders 
while running away from the Japanese, is a famous neurologist. I 
take the common sense precaution of never reminding any of them, 
either on occasional contact or by Christmas card, that I once tried 
to teach them Chinese. 

Slowly but surely, winter gave way to spring. The Japanese were 
thwarted in their desperate attempt to reach Chongqing, while being 
beaten relentlessly in both Burma and the Pacific. The Germans 
were surrendering en masse on all fronts, and on May 8, 1945 

The Perilous Years, 1942-45 . 91 

Truman and Churchill declared V.E. (Victory in Europe) Day. With 
some reluctance I left my post as family tutor to rejoin my parents at 
Longchuan and await developments. The final assault on Japan still 
seemed many weeks or even months away. Then on August 6, the 
atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and, three days later, on 
Nagasaki. On August 14, V.J. (Victory in Japan) Day, Japan 
accepted the terms of unconditional surrender. For us the war ended 
almost as suddenly as it had begun three years and eight months 

In the midst of rejoicing, preparations began for our return 
journey to Hong Kong. It was learnt that from Longchuan we could 
sail downstream along the East River all the way to Guangzhou, less 
than three hundred kilometres away. After waiting for confirmation 
that Guangzhou had been fijlly reoccupied by the Nationalist Army, 
and Hong Kong by the British, we set sail in a large junk. Travelling 
with my parents, Winnie, Rosalind, Norma, Anthony, Ah Oi and me 
were a few Lingnan students, including Wong Wai Wah, P. T.'s 
wartime sweetheart. 

It took us quite a few days to reach Guangzhou. We sailed only 
during the day, dropping anchor well before dusk and spending the 
night on board. One afternoon someone hanging around at the bow 
yelled out aloud, 

'Watch out! Here come the Japanese!' 

We leapt to our feet, fearing imminent massacre. Sure enough, 
along the river bank to our left, thousands of Japanese soldiers were 
marching splendidly upstream in tight formation, as if on parade, 
their arms swinging and their bayonets glinting in the sun. They 
certainly did not look like a defeated army. But far from being a 
threat, they did not even bother to take a look at our junk and its 
frightened, helpless occupants. They were probably on their way to 
surrender peacefijlly to some designated Chinese unit. As far as they 
were concerned, it was their unequivocal duty to obey their 
Emperor's call to lay down their arms. We were impressed by the 
remarkable discipline maintained by those proud troops in their 
tragic hour of defeat. But neither did we forget the atrocities 
committed by the victorious Japanese in Hong Kong and in China. 

On another occasion I was about to doze off in broad daylight 
when shots were fired and several members of the crew shouted 

'Bandits! Bandits!' 

Everyone scrambled for cover inside the junk. I remember taking 
the tiny gold ring off my finger and hiding it in a corner. Although of 
little real value, the ring was my most precious possession, bought 

92 The Arches of the Years 

with the little money I had managed to save up over the last three 
years. In the meantime the junk manoeuvred slowly towards where a 
few armed men were waiting on the river bank. There was a 
protracted exchange of shouts and arguments between the captain of 
the junk and the bandits. From where I was hiding I could not see all 
that was happening. Eventually, after the captain had tossed over a 
little bag of protection money, we were allowed to resume our 
journey unmolested. 

On arrival at Guangzhou we were invited by Wong Wai Wah's 
parents to stay in their sumptuous home and treated royally like 
special guests - a wonderful change after so many days on board a 
junk. Her father, Wong Tak Kwong, was probably the best-known 
doctor in Guangzhou and even ran his own hospital. We were 
informed that we could not sail directly to Hong Kong, perhaps 
because of minefields. So we went by junk to Macao, where I made 
my acquaintance with my little niece, Margaret, the 'Bastille Day 
little lady', now three years old. A day or two later we finally arrived 
back in Hong Kong in a cargo junk, landing on the waterfront at 
West Point on a clear, crisp, windy day in November, shortly before 
my twenty-first birthday. Thus ended the nightmare of the perilous 

After V.J. Day my sister Margaret and her colleagues went back 
to Leizhou Wan where they stayed for some time in a good hotel 
and were royally entertained by local businessmen as euphoria 
prevailed. Margaret collected a victory bonus of US$150 with which 
she started building a little treasure chest. Her thoughts were already 
turning towards the prospect of fijrthering her education in the 
United States. 

P.C. and FT. returned to Shaoguan following the Japanese 
surrender. Patrick was one of seven liaison officers dispatched to 
Huizhou on the East River to facilitate the acceptance of the formal 
surrender of the Japanese Army in that area. In Huizhou Patrick saw 
for himself how much better equipped and supplied was the 
Japanese Army than the Chinese. Unfortunately, he could not help 
noticing that those Japanese weapons and supplies that should have 
been appropriated for the Nationalist Army were being sold to the 
Chinese Communists by the senior officers of his team for personal 
gain. Recoiling in shock, Patrick obtained permission to return to 
Shaoguan and, on arrival, immediately reported the appalling 
development to Lieutenant General Lee. Apparently, circumstances 
were such that the upright general was by that time powerless to do 
anything about it. 

Tragically for China, the kind of corruption that Patrick 


The Perilous Years, 1942-45 93 

witnessed at first hand in Huizhou was merely the tip of the iceberg. 
The NationaHst Army under Chiang Kai Shek, poorly led and 
bogged down by corruption, simply could not stand up against an 
enemy as disciplined, as determined, and as fearless as Mao Zedong 
and his followers. As China's national leader in turbulent times, 
Chiang was wearing shoes that proved to be far too big for him. 
Ironically, by fighting with a one-track mind persistently but 
ineffectively against Mao, he made it easier in the end for Chiina to 
be swamped by the Communist tide. 

Not long afterwards both P.T. and Patrick resigned from the 
army and rejoined the family in Hong Kong. As a professional 
soldier, P.C. continued to serve the cause of the Nationalists. 

With the exception of PC. and Josephine, who was still in 
Shanghai, we were reunited in Shelley Street for our first Christmas 
together in four years. Apart from my father's harrowing experience 
with dysentery, we had all suffered in varying degrees from malaria. 
I had been afflicted at least nine times with the disease, each time 
accompanied by high fever and intense shivering. However, we had 
every reason to be extremely thankful that every member of our 
large family had come through the long and cruel war unscathed. 
Many of our friends and acquaintances were less fortunate, having 
experienced the pangs of loss in the family, either through violence 
or disease. 

Naturally I began taking stock of my own situation. Although I 
had obtained a wartime degree from Lingnan, I would have been the 
first to admit that I had virtually nothing to show for it. I was 
acutely conscious of being at the crossroads. I was in dire need of a 
better education, on which my entire future would probably depend. 
Thanks to the war years, I had become more outgoing, self- 
confident and independent-minded and was craving for the kind of 
intellectual challenge that had long been identified in my mind with 
Oxford and Cambridge. If only I had the means to study in England! 

Before leaving this chapter, I must bring up once more the narne 
of Lieutenant General Lee Yin Woh. I first met him in Shaoguan in 
1943 when, as Head of the Political Department in the Seventh War 
Zone and the undisputed right-hand man of General Yu Han Mou, 
the Commander-in-Chief, he was at the centre of power. In the 
course of the war all my three brothers served directly or indirectly 
under him. As an ill-qualified and untried youngster, I was fortunate 
to have been appointed by him as family tutor to his children at a 
time when the Japanese were at our heels. Forged in the dark days 
of war, the formal ties linking him to our family mellowed in time of 

94 The Arches of the Years 

peace into a warm and lasting friendship. J 

A fearless and outspoken wartime leader, Lee was single-minded ■ 
in his attempts to marshal the war effort behind the lines against the 
Japanese. He stood out among his contemporaries as a simple and 
artless man who led a Spartan life, shunned vested interests, 
detested political intrigue, and never abused power. 

Unwavering in his convictions and uncompromising in matters of 
principle, he made the courageous decision in 1949 to sever all ties 
with the discredited Nationalist Government which had fled to 
Taiwan, while spurning repeated invitations to join the Chinese 
Communists in Beijing. Instead, with honour and dignity, he chose 
the path of poverty and obscurity by going quietly into voluntary 
exile in Hong Kong. 

After going through a difficult period, Lee succeeded in 
establishing himself as a well-respected teacher in Hong Kong. By 
the time he passed away in 1989, all his children were doing well in 
their chosen walks of life and his wife was living in very comfortable 
circumstances. At the Requiem Mass in St. Joseph's Church, which 
was attended by a packed congregation, my brother Patrick paid 
solemn tribute to his former chief in a moving eulogy. 

Conspicuous among the mourners at the funeral were 
representatives from both Beijing and Taipei. That the two rival 
governments should have chosen to put aside their differences 
momentarily in order to give simultaneous recognition in public to a 
Chinese patriot who had served his country nobly and well, was a 
unique honour of which Lee would have been proud. 

Chapter 1 3 
Cambridge, 1946-49 

On VJ Day, there were only about 600,000 people remaining in 
Hong Kong, a million fewer than in 1941. British troops returned to 
the city on August 30, 1945, civil government was re-established in 
May 1946 and, by the end of the year, the population was back to its 
pre-war level. 

During the latter part of the Second World War, Hong Kong had 
been repeatedly attacked by American planes. On our return to 
Shelley Street the house was found, to our great relief, to have been 
untouched by bombs. In fact it had been well maintained by my 
uncle Mr. Lam who, through a verbal understanding with my father, 
had been living there with his family during our absence from Hong 
Kong. My mother was thrilled to be mistress of the house again, 
doing her best to cope with postwar shortages and inflation and 
happily counting her blessings in her familiar place of worship at 

When my father got back to the Education Department, Mr. 
Arthur St. G. Walton, the first postwar Director of Education, and 
Y.P. Law were there to greet him. He was told that S.Y. Tong, my 
sister Sheung Woon's husband, had already been recruited to fill a 
vacancy for an Inspector of Vernacular Schools. Both my father and 
Y.P. enjoyed a healthy rapport with Arthur Walton, as they worked 
together on the daunting task of postwar reconstruction. 

Before long a letter with a Shanghai postmark arrived, couched 
in traditionally formal and flamboyant language and bearing glad and 
welcome tidings. It came from the father of Lena So, with whom my 
sister Josephine had been staying after the fall of Hong Kong, 
seeking my father's consent to the marriage of Josephine to his only 
son Kwok Chu. Quietly, with no one from the Yu family able to 
attend, Josephine got married in Shanghai early in 1946. A few 
months later she came back to Hong Kong with her husband to 
resume her teaching career at Sacred Heart School. 

There was also heartening news for my brothers P.T. and 
Patrick: they and their contemporaries were given a wartime degree 
by the University of Hong Kong. Then came the surprise 
announcement by the Hong Kong Government that six 'Victory 
Scholarships' would be awarded by the Colonial Office to local 


96 The Arches of the Years 

Students to continue their education at a British university. 

Within days, Patrick and I were standing in a long hne of 
applicants, waiting anxiously for our turn to appear before Arthur 
Walton and his selection panel and hoping against hope for the best 
possible outcome. With his distinguished academic record and 
respectable war service, Patrick could well have been a clear winner 
right from the start. However, when the names of the Victory 
Scholars were posted, both of us, to our unalloyed joy, were listed 
among the lucky six. It seemed almost too good to be true that one- 
third of the available scholarships should have gone to one family! 
My parents were ecstatic that two more of their children would soon 
be on their way to England, by virtue of a happy legacy of war. How 
inscrutable, how remarkable, how delightful is the working of 

In those days British universities were flooded with thousands of 
ex-servicemen receiving government grants for post-secondary 
education. Hence, notwithstanding the combined efforts of the 
Colonial Office and the Education Department in Hong Kong, 
getting the Victory Scholars admitted to any university in Britain for 
the academic year beginning in October 1946, was indeed a matter 
of real concern. Taking the bull by the horns, my father decided to 
write independently to Merton College on behalf of Patrick, while 
P.C. made a similar approach to Pembroke for my benefit, bearing in 
mind that Cambridge offered a highly-acclaimed course in 
Economics, my preferred field of study. 

While awaiting developments, I took a job as English Secretary 
at C.K. Hung and Co., which combined an import and export 
business with the operation of the Hop Hing Peanut Oil Factory, 
possibly the largest of its kind in Hong Kong at the time. I was paid 
a meagre salary of HK$200 a month. However, apart from routine 
correspondence, there was little to keep me meaningfijlly occupied, 
and the feeling of boredom that quickly set in made me all the more 
anxious to set off for distant shores. 

It was in August 1946 that the first batch of Hong Kong 
students to go to England after the war departed for Singapore on 
board the Menelaus, without knowing which universities they would 
be joining. They were the Victory Scholars and a few others who 
went at their own expense, including my old friend Simon Li and his 
bride Lillian. 

Owing to the acute shipping shortage worldwide, we were held 
up in Singapore for three weeks. My aunt Mrs. Yong Shook Lin, the 
elder of my father's two younger sisters, and her daughters came 
down from Kuala Lumpur to meet us; her only son Pung How had 

My parents in their early years, 1909-10 

My father, 
the Inspector of Vernacular Schools, igios 

My parents in their sixties 

Five tiny tots who grew up together, 1^2^ 
From left to right; P.T., Josepihine holding Brian, Margaret, Patrick 

The Three Fishes at 15/17 Shelley Street 
Brian, P.T., Patrick 



Chinese Errol Fh/nn or 
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr? 
(Brian fencing at Cambridge, 1947) 

Brian slaving away 
at Cambridge 

P.C., the eldest brother (1955) 

Sni Wnji War Cemetery (Hong Kong) 

Brian and Mamie on their 45th wedding anniversary, 1996 


Brian and Mamie at Lake Louise, 198^ 

Brian, Mannc and Lamili/, iggi 

Standing: From left to right; Brian Eng, Teresa, Peter, Mariaii and Joseph Yao 

Sitting: Brian and Mamie with granddaughters, Catherine and Christine 

Cambridge, 1946-49 97 

already left for Cambridge. By chance I met a bumptious Singapore 
Government Scholar by the name of Lee Kuan Yew, who was also 
scrambling for passage to England. In time Lee got a double first in 
Law at Cambridge, went into politics and won international renown 
as Singapore's Prime Minister for three uninterrupted decades. 

Finally we sailed from Singapore in the Britannic, a converted 
troopship, into which perhaps as many as two thousand demobilized 
British soldiers were packed like sardines. During the crossing of the 
Indian Ocean, some of them provided entertainment by staging a 
variety show; the one melody which has remained with me ever 
since is If You Were The Only Girl In The World, sung with feeling 
and relish by the homesick and lovesick amateur cast. As we glided 
at a snail's pace up the Suez Canal in broad daylight, the wreckage 
of military hardware scattered along its banks came into view, a 
sober reminder of the Desert War. Days later, while the ship was 
pitching and rolling in a choppy sea in the Bay of Biscay, Patrick 
received a telegram which opened a new chapter in his life: it was 
fi-om my father, congratulating him on the wonderful news that he 
had been accepted unconditionally as an Oxford undergraduate by 
the Warden of Merton - Sir John Miles! 

On arrival at Liverpool at the beginning of October, we were 
met by a representative from the Colonial Office and taken to 
London. I was informed that I was to join the London School of 
Economics and stay at a hostel for foreign students, mainly from 
Africa and India. But I felt strongly that living among Africans and 
Asians and commuting daily in the vast metropolis to attend lectures 
would not be the best way for me to study for a degree in England, 
to learn to speak English properly, and to make English friends. As 
far as I was concerned, England meant Cambridge! By that time the 
academic year was just about to begin. It was, therefore, with a 
sense of urgency and desperation that I made my first train trip from 
Liverpool Street to Cambridge and knocked on the door of 

I was taken to see Mr. W.A. Camps, a lecturer in Classics who 
also held the offices of senior tutor and tutor for admissions at 
Pembroke. He immediately put me at my ease by mentioning that he 
had previously met P.C. in college and that he had even 
corresponded about me with Mr. Ferguson, the Registrar of the 
University of Hong Kong before the war. In his mid-thirties, Mr. 
Camps (universally known as Tony) was tall and clean-shaven, wore 
hom-rimmed glasses, and spoke with an occasional stammer. While 
I was stumbling nervously in his presence, he took his time to ask 
me questions and listened patiently to what I had to say. His 

98 The Arches of the Years 

distinctive accent, his distinguished bearing and his quiet charm 
fitted him exactly to the image of the Oxbridge don and English 
gentleman that my father had crafted so carefully in my mind. At the 
end of our conversation, he told me to telephone him from London 
the next day, by which time he should be able to tell me whether I 
would be accepted for the Economics Tripos (tripos is the 
Cambridge name for the honours examination leading to the BA 

My heart was pounding as I dialled Pembroke and waited for 
Mr. Camps, the arbiter of my fate, to pick up my call. Then his voice 
came clearly over the phone: 

'Pembroke will be delighted to have YU!' 

At those magic words, my cup of happiness was immediately 
filled to overflowing. Rushing to a post office nearby I wired the 
great news to my father, the architect of my golden dream that had 
finally come true. I felt as if, in God's mysterious ways, my sedate 
and sheltered childhood and adolescence, followed by the testing 
and turbulent years of war, had somehow prepared me for this 
opportunity of a lifetime. It was now up to me to make the most of 

On my way back to Cambridge, I decided to start using my 
Christian name, Brian, for ease of identification, even though I 
would be enrolled as Kwai Ko Yu. As I passed through the main 
entrance of Pembroke facing Trumpington Street, a dignified, 
elderly, bowler-hatted porter - Mr. Cronk, a soldier of the First 
World War - slipped out of the lodge to greet me. As soon as he 
heard my name, he asked ever so politely: 

'Excuse me, sir. Are you by any chance related to Mr. PC. Yu?' 

That was precisely how my first day began in college, at the start 
of the Michaelmas term. 

Henceforth, for the better part of three years, I would be 
walking through courts and looking up at towers and spires; 
strolling, bicycling or punting along the Backs, and loitering and 
day-dreaming in the incomparable setting; attending lectures and 
tutorials, reading in the Marshall Library and browsing in 
bookshops; working in my college rooms in my first year and 
subsequently in digs, first on Silver Street and later on Brookside; 
attending Mass in Fisher House or St. Margaret's Church; picking 
up mail from my pigeon-hole on the wall in the common-room, 
having tea with fellow-students and dining in hall. Those were happy 
days, mesmerizing days, challenging days. Cambridge, with its 
atmosphere, its traditions, its culture, and its people, took 
possession of me and was to exert a lasting influence on both my 

Cambridge, 1946-49 99 

career and my personal life. 

Cambridge, often described as 'perhaps the only true university 
town in England', is located about ninety kilometres north-east of 
London. Most of the town is built on the east bank of the Cam. 
There were then twenty-one colleges (nineteen for men and two for 
women) and perhaps 10,000 students in all (over ten per cent of the 
local population) at Cambridge. Today there are thirty-one colleges 
(nearly all coeducational), including several which were not 
recognized as part of the University in my time, and over 10,000 
undergraduates and 4,500 postgraduates, with one-tenth of the total 
coming from over a hundred countries outside the United Kingdom. 
At both Cambridge and Oxford, it is the colleges, not the faculties, 
that are responsible for the admission of undergraduates, and for 
their accommodation and welfare; their tutors and directors of 
studies determine what subject an undergraduate should read and 
what papers he or she should sit for in the examinations. 

Cambridge has historically been a masculine society, and men 
still hold a preponderance of college Fellowships and faculty 
appointments. It was only in the 1880s that dons other than 
professors and the heads of colleges were permitted to marry. 
Women were not appointed to University posts until 1926. While an 
undergraduate, I was unaware that women were awarded University 
degrees for the first time in 1947. 

Pembroke is the third oldest college in Cambridge, following 
Peterhouse (1284) and Clare (1326). Founded as The Hall of 
Valence Mary by a French lady, Marie de St Pol, the Countess of 
Pembroke, the College received its charter from Edward III on 
Christmas Eve 1347. Later it became Pembroke Hall and in 1856 
Pembroke College. Marie was seventeen when she married Aymer 
de Valence, Earl of Pembroke. Legend says that she was a maid, 
wife and widow all in one day because her fifty-year-old husband 
was killed in front of her in a friendly joust on their wedding day. 
Though probably not substantiated by facts, the tale is simply too 
good to be allowed to pass into oblivion. 

There stands beside the Victorian Library a prominent statue to 
William Pitt the Younger, the illustrious son of Pembroke, who 
came up in 1 773 when he was only fourteen years old and took his 
degree at seventeen, availing himself of the provision which allowed 
sons of noblemen to dispense with the commonplace and demeaning 
business of actually sitting for an examination. He became a Member 
of Parliament when he was eighteen. Chancellor of the Exchequer at 
twenty-two, and Prime Minister at twenty-four. One of his famous 

100 The Arches of the Years 

quotations, 'Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human 
freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves', 
seems to have lost none of its validity even in modern times. A case 
in point is the cold-blooded massacre of students in Tiananmen 
Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989 

On the evening of my arrival at Pembroke, I was sent for by Mr. 
Rowe, a college don and tutor in Economics. At my appearance, he 
broke the ice by asking me for my views on the civil war that was 
breaking out in China. Then, after touching on some of the 
formidable economic problems confronting postwar Great Britain, 
he paused, looked intently at me through his half-glasses, and 
remarked thoughtfully: 

'I'm afraid both your country and mine are in a bit of a mess.' 

Accordingly I replied: 

'Yes, sir, but yours is an orderly mess and mine a disorderly 

Mr. Rowe was a lecturer in Industry, an expert on primary 
commodity markets and, at Keynes' instigation, the author of a 
celebrated memorandum on the great crisis of 1930-32. I was rather 
surprised when he offered me the option of skipping Part One of the 
Economics Tripos, a one-year programme, and proceeding 
straightaway to the two-year programme for Part Two. This would 
have put me in a position to graduate at the end of two years instead 
of three. However, knowing my own limitations and determined to 
spend as much time in England as my scholarship allowed, I decided 
there and then to read for the complete Economics Tripos. 

I was a month short of my twenty-second birthday, almost the 
same age as my father at the time of his arrival at Merton. Many of 
my contemporaries, being ex-servicemen, were already in their mid- 
or late twenties, and not a few of them were married. 

My father used to tell me how much his black gown had meant 
to him at Oxford. Now I was wearing mine with a sense of pride and 
awe as I attended my first lectures at Mill Lane, a stone's throw 
from Pembroke. My self-esteem as an earnest disciple of Economics 
was considerably heightened when a tall, middle-aged don by the 
name of Dennison began his very first lecture on Industrial 
Organization, with a wicked smile on his face, along these lines: 

'Welcome to the Cambridge School of Economics! As everyone 
knows, only those who have no flair for languages, no feeling for 
history, no talent for law, no aptitude for mathematics, and no hope 
of getting accepted for either science or engineering or medicine are 
qualified to read for the Economics Tripos!' 

His unequivocal words of unqualified inspiration were greeted at 

Cambridge, 1946-49 101 

once with loud cheers and wild thumping of desks. 

Over the next three years the lectures I enjoyed most were those 
given by Professor Robertson, Keynes' successor, and Mr. 
Habakkuk. Robertson was without peers in his ability to expound 
economic principles in simple, elegant language that compelled 
attention and admiration. Habakkuk, a young Pembroke don, had 
the knack of making Economic History come alive like an absorbing 
human drama. During the Second World War, he was one of the 
cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park which made history by breaking the 
supposedly unbreakable German Enigma machine cipher and helping 
to shorten the Second World War. 

The academic year at Cambridge is divided into three terms: 
Michaelmas, Lent and Easter, each of eight weeks' duration. 
Interestingly, attendance at lectures at both Cambridge and Oxford 
is entirely at students' discretion. It is in the mandatory weekly 
tutorial, a distinct method of teaching at those two universities, that 
individual students sort out their difficulties, submit essays for 
criticism and learn to debate calmly and sensibly a point at issue. 
Through the tutorial, the tradition of close contact between teacher 
and student is maintained as an enviable source of intellectual 

For part of my time, I had two tutors each week, Mr. Rowe and 
an Irish postgraduate whose name has escaped me. However I had 
to share each tutorial with one other student, and he and I took 
turns to read a prepared essay or join the tutor in commenting on the 
other's written effort. Daunting at first, the tutorial became the part 
of my academic work that I invariably looked forward to with 
anticipation. To have been rewarded by Mr. Rowe, once in a while, 
with an alpha for an essay written after a good deal of reading and 
forethought would indeed have filled me with a lively sense of 

There were not too many Chinese students at Cambridge, and 
most of them were from Singapore and Malaya. The few sent by 
Chiang Kai Shek's collapsing government looked as if they were in 
their late twenties or early thirties, if not older. At Pembroke there 
was, apart from myself, but one other Chinese student, a 
postgraduate from Shanghai. In my Economics class, I was the only 

During a break between lectures in my very first week at 
Cambridge, a classmate with a well-trimmed moustache and a fine 
military bearing struck up a conversation with me. He was Wilf 
Saunders from Fitzwilliam, a former captain in the Eighth Army and 
a Dunkirk survivor. Later I became acquainted with two fellow 

1 02 The Arches of the Years 

Pembroke members, Tony Hudson, a teenage Exhibitioner, and 
Timothy McKenzie, a Franciscan Friar, to both of whom I was 
initially drawn by our common religious faith. In my second year I 
met Leslie Barnes, another economist from Fitzwilliam, who during 
the war had served in the War Office and as a member of the British 
Military Mission visiting Ottawa. These four became my close 
associates at Cambridge and, eventually, lifelong friends. Yet 
another friend of mine was Erling Ronneberg, a classmate from 
Trinity and a former Norwegian underground worker who had been 
wounded and captured by the Germans in the final days of the war 
and would probably have been executed but for the timely surrender 
of Germany. 

My accommodation in Pembroke, comprising a small bedroom 
and a large living room with a coal-burning fireplace, was on the 
first floor of L Staircase in Ivy Court. The bedroom window faced 
Pembroke Street; running alongside the window, all the way down 
the outer wall of the building, was a drainpipe. On a cold November 
night, a few weeks after my arrival, I was aroused from my slumber 
by a tapping sound at the window, followed by a persistent whisper, 

'Brian, Brian, Brian!' 

Bewildered, I jumped out of bed and switched on the light. As I 
drew aside the curtain I was startled by the face of a student 
grinning up at me and saying: 

'Brian, please let me in.' 

Moments later, with my fiill cooperation, the nocturnal intruder 
managed to squeeze through the tiny window. After apologizing 
proftisely for his unorthodox appearance, he retreated to his own 

It quickly dawned on me that my window must have been used 
by enterprising students, year after year, and generation after 
generation, for gaining re-entry to Pembroke after the ten p.m. 
curfew by climbing up the drainpipe from the pavement below. 
Obviously, no one had thought of tipping me off concerning the 
critical role I was ordained to play in this historic aspect of college 
life. However, bent on making my mark as a Cambridge gentleman, 
I immediately resolved to uphold tradition by guarding the secret of 
the window jealously, while bracing myself for the noble task of 
providing indispensable assistance to unheralded visitors, if required, 
at all hours of the night. 

My scholarship took care of my university and college fees while 
paying me a monthly allowance of some eighteen pounds to cover 
living expenses. Such an amount, despite being adjusted upwards 
each year to keep pace with inflation, was sufficient for my basic 

Cambridge, 1946-49 103 

wants, but little else. However my father sent both Patrick and me 
sixty pounds every year, a generous sum which did make a 
difference to our tight budgets. Once, after winning a minor 
sweepstake, he gave each of us an additional sixty pounds and made 
me feel like half a millionaire. 

I wrote to my father about once every fortnight. He took a 
tremendous interest in anything concerning my stay at Cambridge, 
constantly offering me discreet encouragement while taking care 
never to give unsolicited advice. Although he had been away from 
Oxford for three full decades, England still occupied an exclusive 
place in his mind, as revealed in this comment from one of his 
letters: 'When England speaks, the whole world listens; when 
England turns, the whole world moves.' 

Although I had to cope with an enormous amount of reading, I 
must have encountered far fewer difficulties than my father at 
Oxford, since I had at the outset a working knowledge of English. 
However, lacking a basic understanding of industry in general and 
British industry in particular, I made arrangements through the 
British Council to visit a number of plants in the industrial north in 
the summer of 1947. They included a coal mine, a heavy steel mill, a 
light steel factory, a cooperative printing factory (where in a fenced- 
oflf area virtually worthless paper currency was being printed for the 
Chinese Nationalist Government) and The Daily Express. 

In the course of my trip I also called on fellow- Victory Scholar 
Noel Ho Nga Ming at Manchester University, and then crossed the 
stormy Irish Channel one night to spend a few days in Dublin with 
the Irish Jesuits. Noel joined the Hong Kong Education Department 
after graduation and eventually retired in the 1980s as a Deputy 
Director of Education. 

For about three months I took elocution lessons from an elderly 
lady. Ever since, I have been alertly sympathetic whenever I see 
Eliza Doolittle in her heartbreaking efforts to grapple with the 
elusive vowels, on stage or on screen. My coach, who had a 
beautiful speaking voice, once told me that she had served in the war 
as a liaison officer. Many a young serviceman had tried dating her 
over the telephone without having met her beforehand, and on each 
occasion she had had to cool his ardour with the stock answer: 

'I'm sorry, my dear, to have to disappoint you, but do you know 
that I'm almost old enough to be your grandmother*^' 

At Merton, Patrick was given a warm welcome by Sir John 
Miles and the same suite of rooms that my father had once occupied 
Patrick had toyed with the idea of serving the Chinese Government 

104 The Arches of the Years 

down the road, but anticipating a Chinese Communist take-over of 
the country, my father drew his attention to the advantages of taking 
up a professional career. This led to Patrick's decision to read for 
the degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) in two years 
and to spend the remaining year of his scholarship cramming for the 

Patrick corresponded with my father in both English and 
Chinese; sometimes they even exchanged thoughts on Oxford in 
Chinese verse. Over his lifetime, my father wrote a great deal of 
Chinese poetry on a wide range of topics, such as Oxford and 
England, his travels in China, Chinese New Year at Shelley Street, 
Pak Chuen's graduation from Woolwich, and the heroic defence of 
Shaoguan. Thanks to my sister-in-law Norma, all my father's poems 
have been preserved in a private publication. 

It is perhaps not generally appreciated that the monosyllables of 
Chinese characters are intrinsically conducive to rhyme and rhythm 
in traditional literary writing. This is perhaps best exemplified in the 
immortal Three Hundred Tang Poems of the Tang Dynasty (618- 
906), which has long been recognized as the golden age of Chinese 
poetry. Modelled on the regulated verse of the Tang school, my 
father's compositions usually consisted of four or eight seven- 
syllable lines, each worded in accordance with strict tonal patterns. 
There is in the best of his Oxford-inspired poems an abiding appeal 
which stems from the simplicity of the language, the brilliance of the 
imagery, the beauty of the cadence, and the subtlety of the 
sentiment. Thus, by catching evocative glimpses of Oxford and 
capturing wistful memories of Merton in this most elegant of 
Chinese art forms, he acted as an aesthetic medium between two 
cultures and, in my layman's opinion, achieved greatness as a poet. 

One of my father's Oxford poems has been translated freely by 
my sister Winnie: 

I see the whisp'ring trees. 
And the river running by. 
I see the dreaming spires 
Ever reaching for the sky. 

The friends I used to know 
Are well aware that I'm gone. 
The birds at my window. 
To whom do they sing their songs? 

Then was I a stranger. 

Cambridge, 1946-49 105 

Longing restlessly for home. 

Now I gaze at pictures. 

Through which my memories roam. 

What keeps me up tonight, 
Wholly lost in reverie? 
The moon o'er Magdalen 
Is reminiscing with me. 

During vacations Patrick and I made a point of visiting each 
other in turn. Together, we would do our own reading; roam on 
foot or on bicycles over our favourite haunts; buy fruit from the 
market; go to the cinema; dine 'in style' at 'British Restaurants', a 
fancy name for municipal canteens serving utility meals at subsidized 
prices; and dream beautiful dreams. Once, we even conjured up the 
notion of one day being affluent joint owners of a classy restaurant 
with the name 'Rainbow Corner'! 

Regarding those days, Patrick wrote to me from Hong Kong in 

Sir John Miles was in his seventies when I arrived 
at Merton. Several tutors and members of the staff 
also remembered father. 

I played a lot of soccer at Oxford, being a regular 
member of the College Team. I can recall the 
occasion when Sir John turned up especially to watch 
me play because, he said, he had never known that 
the Chinese also played soccer! One of my few 
regrets at Oxford was the fact that I had to turn 
down an invitation to play for the University, for fear 
of incurring travelling expenses which I could ill 
afford. On looking back I would dearly have loved to 
have been awarded a half-blue! 

Oxford changed my whole outlook on life. The 
town, the University, the parks and College gardens, 
the tutorial system and the facilities for sports were 
each and every an inspiration... 

I was present at Patrick's graduation at Oxford in the summer of 
1948. A year later he passed both parts of his Bar examinations. 
Through the intervention of Arthur Walton, Patrick was granted a 
one-year extension to his scholarship, to enable him to do his 
pupillage in London. On completion of his professional training in 

106 The Arches of the Years 

1950, Patrick returned to the Far East to begin his career as 

With me at Cambridge was Yong Pung How, my first cousin 
from Kuala Lumpur. He and I had previously met as kids in the early 
1930s during his first visit to Hong Kong with his parents. When our 
paths crossed again, Pung How, whose father had been at 
Emmanuel, was an Exhibitioner at Downing. He took both the Law 
Tripos and the LLB at the same time as Lee Kuan Yew, whom he 
knew well. It is a matter of historical interest that the majority of 
students from Malaya and Singapore went to Cambridge rather than 

Pung How and I saw each other quite often at Cambridge. Every 
year his parents sent Patrick and me food parcels which were very 
desirable gifts in the days when very strict rationing conditioned life 
in Britain. For instance, it was common practice to bring one's own 
sugar when invited by friends to tea in college. During vacations, 
when meals were no longer served in hall, to cook myself a simple 
steak would use up two whole weeks' ration of beef However I 
must not give the wrong impression that I was under-nourished, still 
less starving, at Cambridge; the meals in college were heavenly in 
comparison with those at Lingnan! In fact, coming so soon after my 
wartime experience, the shortages and hardships bedevilling Britain 
did not bother me in the least, even though at one time they 
provoked public outcries of 'Starve with Strachey and shiver with 
Shinwell!', the Minister of Food and the Minister of Fuel, 
respectively, in the Labour Government under Atlee. 

Following an outstanding multifaceted career embracing law, 
finance, and politics, Pung How has been Singapore's Chief Justice 
since 1990. 

My second year began on a promising note: by invitation from 
Professor Robertson, I became a member of the Political Economy 
Club, an exclusive association founded by Keynes. But what turned 
out to be of lasting significance was my chance decision to apply to 
the Cambridge Appointments Board for employment down the road. 
In consequence, I went to London to be interviewed by Shell 
International Petroleum. The size, diversity and complexity of the 
Shell Group, let alone the critical role it has to play in the world 
economy, was more or less foreign to me. But I was not a little 
intrigued when the people I met at the interview displayed a keen 
interest in inquiring about my background and keeping track of my 
academic progress at Cambridge. 

Cambridge, ] 946-49 107 

After moving into digs at Silver Street, right by Mill Lane, I 
decided one evening after hall to go boldly where I had never gone 
before - pub-crawling. My companion for the occasion was another 
member of Pembroke and no stranger to pubs. 

How I took pleasure in slowly sipping my first pint of bitter, 
while aping the mannerisms of the seasoned drinkers crowding 
around the bar! But by the time I got to just the second round, my 
teetotalling background already began to tell - in my mood, in my 
speech, and in my gait. Fortunately, my sixth sense came to my 
rescue when I was somehow persuaded, before too long, to choose 
discretion over valour by cutting short my evening and heading back 
on my own, rather unsteadily, towards Silver Street. I lost track of 

There were persistent knocks on the door. After a prolonged 
effort I opened my eyes. It was broad daylight. I raised my head 
with a start, and found myself lying in bed - fially clothed and still 
wearing my black gown. My elderly landlady was standing at the 
doorway and giving me a severe look of disapproval. As I dropped 
back on the pillow with a splitting headache and a loud groan, I 
heard her saying, in a clear, condescending voice: 

'Your breakfast is ready, sir.' 

With a view to participating in another aspect of life at 
Cambridge while getting the benefit of some exercise, I decided to 
take up fencing. Ever since my childhood days, scenes of duels in 
movies like Captain Blood, The Prisoner of Zenda and The Three 
Musketeers had always fascinated me. So, after buying a foil and a 
wire-mesh mask, I bicycled eagerly one day to the gymnasium to 
start learning from the French fencing master. 

It was great ftin, right from the outset, going through routine 
drills together with other beginners: standing on guard and gripping 
the foil at different angles; balancing, lunging and retreating; 
thrusting, parrying and counterparrying. Every little movement or 
manoeuvre was practised over and over again by the small class of 
apprentices, all of whom were ever so keen on learning the basic 
techniques. It looked as if everyone, including myself, would stand a 
good chance of becoming accomplished with the foil, and perhaps 
graduating in due course to the sabre or the epee. 

To be good at fencing naturally requires a high degree of skill 
and concentration, agility and energy. In a genuine contest, contrary 
to what is usually portrayed in movies, one simply cannot afford to 
mix earnest swordplay and idle banter, or allow oneself to relax or 
be distracted even for a fleeting moment. When serious fencing 
began, I was at first able to hold my own against my opponents but I 

1 08 The A rches of the Years 

had soon to admit that my eyesight was not good enough, my 
reflexes not quick enough, and my stamina not strong enough for 
such a demanding sport. Nor was I prepared to spend too much time 
practising with the foil at the expense of my reading. I therefore 
gave up fencing, not without a touch of regret, after only two terms. 
Thus, any hopes I might have secretly harboured of one day 
becoming a Chinese Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks Jr. quietly 

I had two special visitors from Hong Kong. The first was Arthur 
Walton, on home leave at the time, who treated me to lunch at the 
University Arms. The second was my former French teacher, Father 
Albert Cooney, who dropped by while on his way back to Hong 
Kong from Dublin. In the decades that followed, I was able to keep 
in touch with him. The last of my surviving Jesuit teachers. Father 
Cooney finally returned to Dublin from Hong Kong in 1992, 
crippled by old age and infirmity. He passed away five years later. 

In June 1948, at the end of my second year, my girlfriend came 
from Hong Kong with her parents to join me at Cambridge. I had 
been dating her for several months prior to my departure for 
England and continued my courtship by correspondence from 
Cambridge. As planned, we got engaged on the day we attended the 
May Ball at Pembroke. But disaster struck when it became 
increasingly apparent that we were no longer happy or comfortable 
in each other's company. Several weeks later, prior to her return to 
Hong Kong, she and I came to an agreement, after painfiil soul- 
searching on both sides, that it would be in our mutual interest to 
break our engagement. It is certainly not an episode that I can look 
back upon with too much pride or without a twinge of 

For my final year, I stayed at digs on Brookside which runs 
alongside Trumpington Road (an extension of Trumpington Street), 
the lodgings belonged to the Christian Brothers, some of whom 
were undergraduates. My large bedsitter was on the ground floor; 
from my desk beside the bay window I could see a row of trees 
lining the path of a brook not far in front of me. It was in this quiet 
Httle corner that I spent much of my time preparing for the finals. 

The Franciscan Friary was less than a block away. I got into the 
habit of dropping in at the Friary for tea with Timothy McKenzie 
and members of his community on the weekend. Once, while giving 
me some insight into a friar's life, Tim mentioned that of the three 
vows that he had made - poverty, chastity and obedience - the last, 
as far as he was concerned, was by far the most difficuU to live up 

Cambridge, 1946-49 109 


In due course I was called back by Shell International for more 
interviews, at the end of which I was asked to get in touch with 
them again after my finals. The likely prospect of securing 
employment with Shell immediately after graduation boosted my 
morale and helped me focus my efforts on getting a good degree. 

Patrick and Simon and Lillian Li came to attend my graduation 
in June 1949. For their first visit to Cambridge the Lis brought along 
their two tiny tots, Simon Jr. and Gladys, accompanied by Ah Ping, 
a gentle and well-mannered servant from Hong Kong, who could 
not speak a word of English at the time. Simon graduated from 
London University a little later and was called to the Bar. He joined 
the Hong Kong Government as Crown Counsel, rising to the 
position of High Court Puisne Judge and Vice-President of the 
Court of Appeal at the time of his retirement in the late 1980s. He 
was offered, but declined, the C.B.E. Later he was appointed by the 
Chinese Communists to the Preparatory Committee created to 
advise Beijing on the transition of power in Hong Kong on July 1, 
1997. As for Ah Ping, she became so fond of England that she 
eventually retired to Plymouth on her own, and passed away 
contentedly many years later in the land of her choice, without ever 
returning to Hong Kong. To my mind, she was quite a remarkable 

I did not get a first, but on the strength of my 2:1 (second class, 
first division) Tony Camps offered me a grant to do research at 
Pembroke for two years leading to another degree. At the same time 
Shell made me a firm offer of employment in their Hong Kong 
Office, following marketing training in Britain. I consulted my 
father, who wired an immediate reply, urging me to join Shell and 
predicting that 'Shell will last much longer than Hong Kong'. Much 
as I would have liked to have remained at Cambridge, I was not at 
all convinced in my mind that I had either the true vocation of a 
scholar or the intellectual edge to thrive in the academic profession. 
It was, therefore, not too difficult for me to decide in favour of 
Shell, accepting on trust their assurance of ample career 
opportunities within their worldwide organization. 

While in London I seized the opportunity to go to Wimbledon, 
where I queued up with Simon Li on a hot, cloudless day for over 
two hours for standing-room tickets for the men's singles final. We 
stood for another three hours under the sun watching the very 
exciting and well-played match between Ted Shroeder and Jaroslav 
Drobny, which the former won in five sets. I still relish the memory 
of that exceptional day, sunburn and all, whenever Wimbledon 

1 1 The A rches of the ) ears 

comes round each summer. 

Before joining Shell I went to Norv^ay for a holiday, flying first 
to Oslo and subsequently travelling north to the island of Alesund, a 
long way up the Norwegian coastline. There, I spent a week with 
Erling Ronneberg and his wife Hanna, for whom I used to babysit 
once in a while at Cambridge. They took me hiking with them high 
up in the mountains on the mainland. For three days we trudged 
mostly through snow-covered terrain, with Hanna leading the way at 
all times at a moderate pace ahead of me for my benefit and Erling 
following closely behind me, so that he could quickly pick me up 
whenever I stumbled and fell, which was quite often. For a non- 
sportsman like me, it was from beginning to end an exciting and 
unforgettable adventure. From Alesund I cruised southward along 
the wild and rugged coastline to Bergen and then Stavanger, where I 
boarded a plane for London. My Norwegian holiday is especially 
memorable because it turned out to be the last time that I saw or 
heard from the Ronnebergs. 

After several weeks' training with Shell, I was soon winging my 
way home. But in Cairo the plane developed engine trouble, and the 
passengers were put up for the night at Shepheard's Hotel by BOAC 
(British Overseas Airways Corporation, now British Airways). The 
next morning we were taken to see the Great Sphinx and the nearby 
pyramids. Thus, I can claim in all honesty that I once stood gazing at 
those inscrutable wonders, even though I can barely remember 
having been there! When the plane finally landed at the Kaitak 
Airport, I was greeted warmly by my father with a glint of pride in 
his eyes and a radiant smile on his face. This was quickly followed 
by a very happy reunion with my mother and the rest of the family at 
Shelley Street, which did not seem to have changed one little bit in 
the last three years. 

Still staying with my parents at the time were my sisters 
Margaret, Winnie and Rosalind, and my brother P.T. I wasted little 
time in catching up on their latest news. Margaret was now an 
Assistant Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of 
Hong Kong. An active member of the Catholic Action Association 
of Hong Kong before the war, she had gone on a Yu Pin (the first 
Chinese Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church) Scholarship in 
1946 to the United States. This is how Margaret, writing from 
Vancouver in 1990, recalls that phase of her life: 

I had no clear idea what I was going in for 
academically but, like most young people then and 

Cambridge, ] 946-49 111 

now, relished the opportunity of seeing the United 
States. My father wanted me to go. He said I didn't 
look too well physically after my years in Free China 
and thought a change in environment would do me 

After one term at St. Francis Girls' College in 
Illinois, I succeeded in getting myself transferred to 
Marquette University in Wisconsin, one of four 
American Jesuit Universities, with a strong Faculty of 
Journalism. At the end of three semesters, lasting 
twelve months, I obtained a Bachelor of Philosophy 
degree, majoring in Journalism and minoring in 
International Relations. 

On my graduation from Marquette, the Dean 
gave me as a parting gift a photo of himself which I 
still keep on my shelves. He also asked if I wanted a 
job. I sometimes wonder what direction my life might 
have taken had I accepted his offer. But I was getting 
homesick and decided to return to Hong Kong 
without attending the graduation ceremony. 

Back in Hong Kong I began to contact the 
Associated Press Office and even produced an article 
I had written about Korea for them to see. However, 
Mr. Simpson, my Professor of English at the 
University of Hong Kong before the war, was now 
Dean of Arts and acting Vice-Chancellor, as well as 
Professor of English. He offered me a job to teach 
English under him. He knew of my bent towards 
writing. Father was very strongly in favour of my 
accepting the offer. He thought an academic career 
was unsurpassable. On my part I had had a very 
happy life as a student of English and as 
undergraduate. Briefly before the war I had held the 
job of assistant to the first Dean of women 
undergraduates. The emotional ties to my alma mater 
were strong. Besides it wasn't as though I had an 
offer in journalism in the wings. So I began my 
teaching career in September 1948 which lasted for 
two decades until my departure for Canada in 1970. 

Despite the unsettling effects of the war years, Winnie passed 
the School Leaving Examinations with Honours in 1946. In the 
following year she matriculated with three distinctions, in English, 

112 The Arches of the Years 

World History and Religious Knowledge, and joined the University 
of Hong Kong as a Government Scholar. She now picks up the 
story in her letter from Detroit written in 1990: 

I remember attending most of my lectures in the 
Tang Chi Ong School of Chinese, since that was the 
only building left untouched by the ravages of war. 
The Great Hall which had prided itself on being the 
centre of student life was a total wreck. This 
important edifice was not restored to its former glory 
until five years later when once again it was used for 
social functions and for conferring degrees. 

Having benefited a great deal from my father's 
coaching in Chinese literature during the war, I 
signed up for two Chinese classes in the first year. I 
had Mr. Chan Kwan Po for Translation, a Marxist 
sympathizer, who was known for being an easy 
examiner. The Head of the Department of Chinese 
Studies was Professor Ma Kiam, a wonderful man 
and a good teacher. 

As my degree was in Letters and Philosophy I 
had to take Logic, Psychology and Ethics, none of 
which appealed to me. However I was fortunate in 
having Father Cronin (my former teacher from Wah 
Yan), the Warden of Ricci Hall, as lecturer in Logic. 
Father Cronin became one of my greatest friends and 
his death in 1990 left a vacuum in my life. 

In my second year I became a very active member 
of the Legion of Mary. The 'Legionnaires' 
congregated at Ricci Hall for meetings and social 
gatherings. From this group I made lifelong friends. 
Today, some forty years later, we are still in contact, 
and although scattered all over the world, we can 
always count on hearing from each other at 
Christmas time. 

In my third year I became the Honorary Secretary 
of the Arts Association and the first Chairman of the 
new-found History Society. I was also enrolled as a 
member of the Literary Club; sometimes I would 
walk away from the monthly meetings held at Lugard 
Hall wishing I were a budding Jane Austen or 
Charles Dickens. In my fourth year I was the first 
woman to have been elected an Independent Member 

Cambridge, 1946-49 113 

of the Students' Union. 

Rosalind was in her final year at Sacred Heart School. She was 
also taking private lessons in drawing, which eventually led to her 
becoming an accomplished amateur painter. 

In 1946 P.T. went to Shantou, a coastal city in Guangdong 
Province, to work for the China Navigation Company. With the 
offer of some financial help from my father, he decided to go to the 
United States for postgraduate studies. Through Father Ryan's 
recommendation, he was accepted by St. Louis University. P.T. 
remembers only too well leaving Hong Kong, on a shoestring 
budget, for the United States on Chinese New Year's Eve early in 
1947. After fifteen months at St. Louis, he graduated with a MA in 
Economics and Corporate Finance. On his return to Hong Kong he 
joined the Tai Sang Bank as English Secretary. He was about to 
marry his wartime sweetheart Wong Wai Wah. The first thing he 
asked me to do was to be his best man at the wedding. 

All in all, how sweet and mellow were the fruits of peace, 
coming so soon after the trials and tribulations of war! 

Chapter 14 
My Father and His Protege, 1946-51 

In the spring of 1946 my brother PC, now a Major General, 
was posted to New York as Military Attache to General Ho Ying 
Chin, the head of China's first military delegation to the United 
Nations. Anthony, his only child, continued to live with his doting 
grandparents at Shelley Street. It was my father's express wish that 
his beloved grandson, now seven years old, should be brought up 
and educated in Hong Kong under his charge, at least for the time 
being. Over the next few years my father must have given even more 
of his time and attention to Anthony than to any of his nine children 
before the war. In return Anthony learnt to love and venerate his 
grandfather, who became much closer to him than his own father. 

Writing from the University of Chicago in 1993, Anthony 
recalls in intimate detail this distinctly happy phase of his life: 

Grandfather used to take me to the Queen's or 
the King's Theatre on Saturdays, to attend the late 
morning show for children which always began with 
cartoons, followed by a western, a swashbuckling 
adventure or a comedy. Judging by the way my 
grandfather laughed and talked about the cartoons 
afterwards (his favourites included Bugs Bunny, Tom 
and Jerry, and Yosemite Sam), I would say that the 
adult most certainly enjoyed the loony adventures of 
these uniquely American characters as much as the 
child. At the end of the show, when God Save the 
King blared in the house and oversized and 
overlapping images of the Union Jack and King 
George VI filled the screen, most people would 
stampede towards the various exits. But grandfather 
would stand straight up to stare reverently at the 
screen, his hand firmly gripping a shoulder or arm of 
his fidgeting grandson. 

For lunch after the show, grandfather would 
usually take me to the little cafe on the mezzanine 
floor of the China Emporium, a department store on 
Queen's Road Central about a block away from the 


My Father and his Protege, 1 946-5 1 115 

two theatres. By far the favourite selection had to be 
cold roast beef (preferably medium rare with English 
mustard) accompanied by boiled potatoes and 
cabbage, a near perfect reminder of his Oxford days 
that he could never have enough of After thus 
sharing his table for more than five years, I too 
developed a lifelong devotion to boiled potatoes and 

Sometimes grandfather would spend a Saturday 
afternoon with me browsing in bookshops, but only 
after the old man's nap. Grandfather's afternoon nap 
was a habitual practice that sorely tried a little boy's 
patience. Shortly after he had climbed into bed, I 
would tiptoe in to peek at him, trying to see if he was 
really asleep. A frantic maid would dash in and 
whisper fiercely that I must not wake up her master. I 
would slip out only to return again to the bedroom 
once the maid had left to attend to some household 
chore. This scenario would repeat itself several times 
before I was rewarded at last with grandfather's 
rising and getting dressed. 

Holding me with one hand and a small basket 
with the other, grandfather would walk down the 
steep slope of Shelley Street, and then through the 
meandering path of Hollywood Road, a street famous 
for shops selling rare Chinese books as well as 
modern publications, stationery, brushes, ink-stands 
and other accouterments of traditional Chinese 
literati. I was then a faithftil devotee of martial-arts 
pot-boilers, and in one of these shops I would head 
straight for the section holding the latest offerings. 
As I pored over the volumes, grandfather would 
stand near the shop entrance and chat amiably with a 
salesman or the proprietor. After satisfying myself in 
that session of impromptu reading, I would make a 
selection and grandfather would then ask me whether 
I needed some books for serious study as well. 
Frequently, therefore, what landed in that little basket 
would be a set of kung-fti fiction and a volume of 
pre-modern writing - history, philosophy, or poetry. 
Proceeding down the street to the next shop, we 
would pause and I would start reading all over again. 

As I now look back on the experience, what 

116 The Arches of the Years 

impresses me is that never once did grandfather in 
any way hurry me along. He walked, he talked, and 
he waited - ever so patiently - in order to indulge his 
grandchild's fantasies that could also be, in his 
judgment, a mind-stretching contact with the printed 

The book-buying excursion, like our journeys to 
the movie theatres, also ended almost invariably in a 
restaurant, one that served Chinese cuisine. On many 
occasions grandmother and my two youngest aunties 
(Winnie and Rosalind) were asked to join us for 
dinner. The place to which grandfather and I returned 
countless times to dine was Jui Heung Yuen, an 
unpretentious little eatery on Des Voeux Road 
Central, directly across from the Central Market. 
What attracted the two of us to this restaurant were 
some of the freshest and crispest roasted and 
barbecued meats to be found - goose, duck, squab, 
quail, partridge, chicken, suckling pig and ribs. Like 
similar shops in North America such items would be 
hung and displayed behind a huge, glass-panelled 
area at the entrance. 

Whenever grandfather and I entered, Mr. Wang, 
a stout and amiable cutter of this restaurant, would 
look up - his greasy hands resting or working on top 
of the gigantic cutting board - and greet us loudly, 
'Mr. Yu, out again with your beloved grandson! 
Here's a duck leg for Sonny Yu.' 

On those occasions when we were walking 
through the streets of Hong Kong or sitting down to 
dine, grandfather would almost always ask me a few 
questions about my schoolwork or what I had 
covered with the tutor he had hired to coach me in 
the study of classical Chinese. I was urged to recount 
some episodes of ancient history that we had taken 
up in class or some passages that we had struggled to 
understand from the Analects or Meucius. These he 
would go over with me, inviting me to repeat such 
lessons in my own words and tell him as well how I 
felt about the meaning of a certain event or the moral 
of a particular description of the sages. 

Perhaps the most lasting influence that 
grandfather had on me came from the conversations 

My Father and his Protege, 1946-51 1 17 

we had - in a sustained manner - on Classical 
Chinese poetry. Grandfather himself was a poet of 
considerable erudition and talent. Though he wrote 
only one type of pre-modem lyric, the so-called 
regulated verse that most frequently appeared as a 
quatrain or an eight-line poem, each line with seven 
syllables, he wrote over one hundred and fifty of 
these. Indeed, as far back as I could remember, he 
was writing throughout the war years when we were 
travelling through several provinces in south China, 
often with the Japanese on our heels. After we 
returned to Hong Kong, his compositions were set 
down with great regularity. 

Usually after dinner, with a fi-eshly-lit cigarette 
firmly tucked in his holder, its smoke mingling with 
the steam rising from the tea in a partially-covered 
porcelain cup nestled in an old silver stand, 
grandfather would sit at his huge wooden desk. I 
would frequently take up a position standing behind 
his left shoulder so that I could peer directly at the 
pad on which he would scribble a few lines of almost 
illegible characters. 

After the initial jottings, grandfather would puff 
on his cigarette, sometimes for quite a few minutes, 
before setting down more lines until a good portion 
of the poem or its entirety had been finished. As he 
stared intently on his creation, almost invariably the 
process of revision would begin as well - the 
crossing out of a word or phrase, the substitution of 
a word here and there, whole lines cut up and re- 
arranged, more alternate lines or phrasings wedged 
between the lines and in the top or bottom margins. 
There were times when the page would be virtually 
covered by what to unfamiliar eyes had to be 
incomprehensible blotches and scrawls. 

If he could not quite finish what he wanted to do 
in one evening, grandfather would slide his pad 
carefiiUy into the desk's top right drawer for work to 
be resumed a day or two later. If a poem materialized 
to his liking, he would take a fresh sheet and copy the 
finished product, often chanting the lines softly as he 
wrote. Knowing that I had been a constant observer 
of both his work and its fruition, he would make 

1 18 The Arches of the Years 

them the subject of our conversations when we were 
alone together. 

Did you understand why I chose that word and 
not the one I first set down, that rhyme and not this 
one, he would ask. Have you observed how I phrased 
an allusion, a very familiar one about the general who 
stood on the wall while his troops surrendered to his 
enemies? Can you guess why I used an inverted 
construction in this line? These are two strange- 
looking words that actually mean soccer, a version of 
which the Chinese had begun to play during the 
eleventh century. Isn't the term particularly 
appropriate for this poem about Oxford, where your 
uncle Patrick is playing on the Merton team? Can 
you tell that this is an echo of Yuan Mei's line, or Li 
Bo's phrase in his poem that you just memorized for 

Instead of lecturing me on theories and precepts 
or burdening me with daunting exercises, 
grandfather, I realized years later, was teaching me 
how to write Chinese verse in the most indirect, 
intimate and enjoyable manner possible. Indeed I was 
privileged to see how he went about creating those 
compositions, all of which I have since committed to 
memory. His discourse on poetry and poetics taught 
me a great deal as well about the long literary history 
of China and many of its canonical figures. 

Did grandfather plan it that way? Did he 
somehow expect me to take up a vocation that would 
in some way reflect and extend the experience of 
those years immediately after the war? I don't know. 
Soon after our separation, when I left for Taiwan 
with my parents, I began writing the first halting lines 
of Classical verse of my own. Every sample I mailed 
to him thereafter, until he was too ill to read and 
write, always met in return the most generous 
encouragement and praise from him. 

I wish he could read some of what I wrote since 
then. I wish he knew as well that I now have the 
opportunity to lecture occasionally a class on Classic 
Chinese lyric and share with my students here many 
of the things he once shared with me. I hope he is 
pleased that I have kept what he had given me - part 

My Father and his Protege, 1946-51 119 

of himself. 

My father retired in 1951, the year Anthony left Hong Kong to 
rejoin his parents in Taiwan and attend the Taipei American School. 
Before long my father was repeatedly hospitalized on account of a 
serious liver infection, originating from the dysentery suffered during 
the war. When he eventually recovered, he looked noticeably older 
and careworn and was quite unable to regain his former buoyancy of 

After selling the Shelley Street home, my parents moved into 9 
York Road in Kowloon Tong. Nestling in a quiet upper-class 
neighbourhood, the quaint little two-storey home with a tiny patch 
of garden was protected on all sides by a high boundary wall, an 
ideal choice for retirement. There, they welcomed back Anthony 
with open arms when the high school graduate returned to Hong 
Kong in 1956 to see his grandparents before leaving for higher 
education in the United States. 

'Sometime during our last days together,' Anthony reminisces, 
'grandfather charged me to think seriously about a life of 
scholarship. That sowed the seeds of my vocation.' 

Shortly before Anthony sailed from Hong Kong, my father took 
him back to Jui Heung Yuen for their last dinner together. There 
were just the two of them. As my father haltingly bade his beloved 
protege Godspeed, memories of happier times crowded in upon him, 
and he was visibly overcome with emotion. 

Chapter 15 
Hong Kong, 1949-57 

On July 1, 1997, after 155 years of British rule. Hong Kong was 
formally handed back to China in a dignified and solemn ceremony 
attended by the President and the Prime Minister of China and by 
the Prince of Wales, the British Prime Minister and the Governor of 
Hong Kong. In the years leading up to this truly historic event, the 
Hong Kong Government had been steadily sending home their very 
many British expatriate staff, including top officials, and replacing 
them with Chinese civil servants. In keeping with the times, British 
and foreign firms in Hong Kong had also been scrambling for 
Chinese talent and moving them rapidly up the promotion ladder to 
the highest echelons of their organization. 

In 1985 a measure of democracy was introduced when some 
members of the Legislative Council were elected for the first time in 
the history of the Crown Colony. With the arrival in 1992 of Chris 
Patten, the twenty-eighth and last Governor, the pace of change in 
Hong Kong was accelerated. In 1993 a Chinese civil servant, Mrs. 
Anson Chan, broke a significant expatriate barrier by becoming 
Chief Secretary (formerly Colonial Secretary). Two years later, 
despite objections from Beijing, elections were held to fill all the 
seats in the Legislative Council, and the Democratic Party, led by 
Martin Lee, a famous barrister (and one of my little pupils in Free 
China), won the most seats. 

Let me now paint a somewhat different picture of Hong Kong 
before the Second World War. It can best be described, in a nutshell, 
as a model Crown Colony. The Governor was appointed by London 
and supported by an Executive Council and a Legislative Council, 
neither of which was elected. Among those who sat on the two 
councils were a few hand-picked wealthy Chinese with business 
interests who could be counted on to say and do nothing that might 
rock the boat of the establishment. 

The million or more people of Hong Kong, predominantly 
Cantonese from Guangdong Province, were law-abiding, peace- 
loving, politically inert, and self-satisfied with being left alone by the 
government to mind their own business. By and large, they must 
have ranked among the most compliant, the most complaisant, and 
the least troublesome of the innumerable colonial subjects in the vast 


Hong Kong, 1949-57 121 

British Empire. 

As for the British expatriates who prided themselves on taking 
up 'the white man's burden', they constituted the numerically-small, 
highly-paid ruling class in Hong Kong and usually behaved as such. 
They were the mandarins in government and the taipans of well- 
established business concerns which were household words (such as 
Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, Asiatic Petroleum Company of 
Hong Kong, Jardine, Matheson and Co., and Butterfield and Swire), 
and which symbolized British success and eminence in the midst of 
peace and prosperity. As a rule expatriates resided in the exclusive 
Peak area, away from the local inhabitants. A constant reminder of 
the snobbery and racial discrimination pervading colonial British 
circles was the barring of all Chinese, irrespective of background 
and education, from membership in the Hong Kong Club, the 
prestigious hub of upper class expatriate society. (It was not until 
the 1960s that the decision was finally taken to abolish this colour 
bar and admit the first few Chinese, myself included, as Club 

In this connection, Jan Morris went so far as to make this 
startling assertion in Farewell The Trumpets: 

The British residents of Hong Kong genuinely, 
without affectation, thought of Chinese as foreigners 
in the Colony, and themselves as true natives. 

Be that as it may, few would disagree that, whether in the public 
or private sector, virtually all management, professional and 
supervisory positions of any importance had traditionally been held 
by and earmarked for expatriates. There was no room for local 
talent in the order of things, and little cause or desire for change. 
After the Japanese surrender, British expatriates flocked back to 
Hong Kong to resume their gilded careers, and the status quo of the 
colonial power structure remained seemingly untouched and 

It was against this background that Shell International broke with 
tradition by assigning me to the Asiatic Petroleum Company of 
Hong Kong (APC, later renamed Shell Company of Hong Kong) 
and starting me off fair and square on an open-ended career. 
Precisely on my twenty-fifth birthday, eight years to the day after the 
landing of the Canadian troops in Hong Kong, I joined APC as the 
first local staff to have been recruited direct from Cambridge. Not a 
few eyebrows were raised when, as a newcomer with no knowledge 
of the market and hardly any practical experience, I was immediately 

122 The Arches of the Years 

put in charge of a Sales Section in the Marketing Department, as if I 
were an expatriate from England. 

Like any raw recruit, I would have had an awkward time 
handling my job at the outset if a seasoned salesman had not been 
discreetly placed under my notional supervision, whose unwritten 
duty it was to familiarize me with the market, act as my guide, and 
caution me against making a fool of myself There was a popular 
Shell story, often quoted by old China hands, about a frantic 
telegram dispatched from the Shanghai Office to London, in the 
days before the Second World War: 'Market share falling. Send two 
more Oxbridge blues.' 

Even though I was not a Cambridge blue and could do nothing 
to improve market share, I somehow managed to survive my initial 

Meanwhile, away from the office, things of greater moment were 
engaging my urgent attention. One day, at my sister Winnie's 
birthday party, I was amazed to find myself the lone male guest 
among a crowd of women undergraduates from the University of 
Hong Kong. To Winnie's lasting credit, her single-minded attempt at 
indiscriminate matchmaking on my behalf was to have far-reaching 
consequences. It was at the party that I first met Mamie, and from 
that day on my fate was sealed. 

A swimming 'green' at the Universit> of Hong Kong, Mamie 
Leung Oi Mui was the champion free-style swimmer in the Colony 
in 1947/1949, during which she set many records. At the Annual 
Hong Kong-Manila Interport Meet in 1948 and 1949 respectively, 
she won gold in several events. She was the winner of the Annual 
Cross-Harbour Race in October 1949 in the record time of 28 
minutes and 1 2 seconds. In the same year the University of Hong 
Kong presented her with a special silver trophy in recognition of her 
outstanding achievements in swimming. 

Despite being a poor swimmer who did not know how to dive, 
who could barely do the breast-stroke, and who had a constitutional 
fear of the sea, I recklessly defied the odds by dating Mamie. I also 
indulged in teasing her with a steady stream of little notes that were 
lightly sprinkled with humour and sentiment. Before long, it was no 
secret that my undisguised attentions did not go unheeded, and my 
unconcealed partiality was neither unfelt nor unwelcome. Fortune 
often favours the brave. 

In 1950 Mamie graduated with a BA in Economics and was 
immediately appointed Mistress of Form 5 (equivalent to Grade 12), 
in Sacred Heart School, her alma mater, teaching, not Economics, 

Hong Kong, 1949-57 123 

but English, History and Domestic Science. 

On Saturday, September 15, 1951, which happened to fall on the 
Mid-Autumn Festival, Mamie and I were married in the Roman 
Catholic Cathedral on Caine Road. Father Sheridan, my former 
teacher from Wah Yan, officiated at the wedding. My best man was 
none other than my old pal from Lingnan, David Cheung, and the 
bridesmaid was my wartime pupil, Marion Lee, a daughter of former 
Lieutenant General Lee Yin Woh. 

I was surprised, but did not complain, when Shell raised my 
salary substantially as a married man and paid my honeymoon fare to 
Japan, special benefits to which local staff were not normally 

The day after the wedding, there appeared in 77?^ Sunday Herald 
a large picture of the lovely bride under a conspicuous heading 
'Mamie Leung Weds'. Only in a tiny footnote was bare mention 
made of my name. However, this should not be misconstrued as a 
mortifying experience for the bridegroom, since even John F. 
Kennedy saw fit to introduce himself at a press conference as the 
man who accompanied Jacqueline to Paris. 

From Mother Wilhemina, a Canossian nun and her former piano 
teacher, Mamie received a short but beautifully handwritten letter 
which ended on this personal note: 'You must always remember, 
dear Mamie, that when you are married, your responsibilities are 
doubled and your privileges halved.' To young lovers of my 
generation, it came across as a piece of timeless advice. 

We set sail for Japan in a calm and glowing sunset. But hours 
after leaving Hong Kong we ran straight into a typhoon. For two or 
three days the boat went round in circles, battered and tossed hither 
and thither by raging winds and giant waves. Such were the 
conditions on board that it would have been madness for us to 
venture beyond the confines of the cabin, and a steady diet of sea- 
sick pills became the order of the day. Indeed, the first seventy-two 
hours of our honeymoon turned out to be even more exhausting 
than I could have expected or imagined! 

On arrival at Yokohama, we were met by friends and driven to 
Tokyo. On the way, almost every building, every kind of 
construction and every form of vegetation on either side of the 
highway had been flattened by saturation bombing; charred rubble 
and ruins were just about the only things that came into view. I very 
much doubt if anyone in 1951 could have foreseen that Japan would 
rise from the ashes to become, all too soon, an economic 

What impressed us so much during our stay in Japan was the 

124 The Arches of the Years 

cleanliness, courtesy, orderliness and gentle dignity of the people we 
met everywhere - in busy Tokyo and peaceftil Kyoto, in crowded 
subway stations and at remote bus stops, in department stores and 
souvenir stalls, in hotels and coffee shops. It is the stuff that great 
nations are made of But what a stark contrast to the arrogance, 
brutality and ruthlessness of their warrior countrymen in the Second 
World War! 

As soon as we got home, we were thrilled, to say the least, to 
discover that we had won a minor sweepstake worth about 
HK$ 10,000, equivalent to several times my monthly salary. So, with 
unexpected cash in the bank and rose-coloured views of the future, 
we began our partnership in high spirits. For our first home, we 
rented a tiny two-bedroom apartment on the top floor of an 
unexceptional three-storey house at 1 Blue Pool Road, within 
walking distance of the race course in Happy Valley. 

A year later, Mamie gave birth in St. Paul's Hospital to a 
daughter, whom we named Teresa, after one of my favourite saints, 
Therese of Lisieux, the 'Little Flower of Jesus'. In keeping with 
family tradition I asked my father to give the baby a Chinese name. 
He called her 'Chung Kay', after an ancient celebrity reputed to 
have a good ear for music; it was my father's subtle wish that Teresa 
would hear his silent message and bring a brother into the family! On 
the heels of this happy event, luck once more came our way when 
we won another sweepstake of similar value. 

In 1954, a Marian Year in the Catholic calendar, I was on my 
way to London for training when I broke my journey in Rome 
especially to visit St. Peter's Basilica. While standing in front of St. 
Peter's statue, whose feet are touched by innumerable pilgrims and 
tourists year after year, I made a personal promise: our next baby, if 
a boy, would be named after St. Peter, and if a girl, Marian. As 
things turned out, Marian was born in 1955, also in St. Paul's 
Hospital. My parents were naturally delighted to have another 
grandchild, but would probably have been even happier if it had been 
a grandson. However, my fair-minded father gallantly named the 
baby 'Yiu Mei', meaning 'shining pillar', taken from a gracious 
Chinese couplet hailing a daughter at birth as a ftiture pillar of the 

I worked with Shell Hong Kong for over seven years, in the 
course of which I was reassigned every year or two from one Sales 
Section to another. This was, of course, intended to broaden my 
experience through exposure to new situations and changing 
responsibilities and to keep me constantly on my toes. But life in 

Hong Kong, 1949-57 125 

Shell was anything but 'all work and no play'. There were Shell 
parties up the Peak, staff functions in honour of long sewice 
employees and visiting VIPs, Chinese dinners with agents and 
dealers, seven-a-side soccer matches between Head Office and 
Kuntong Installation, and mah-jong games with my Chinese 

The name Dick Frost conjures up delightful memories of those 
early days of my career. An old China hand, he was the General 
Manager with whom I got on marvellously. One day he called me 
into his office, saying that he wanted me to meet a VTP. Standing 
stiffly beside Dick's desk, with the upper part of his body leaning a 
little awkwardly forward and his feet kept firmly apart, was a 
friendly-looking Englishman in his forties. He turned out to be, of all 
people, Douglas Bader - the legendary legless pilot who had 
commanded the first Canadian Fighter Squadron in the Second 
World War and who had won the DSO and DFC with bars, the 
Legion d'honneur and the Croix de Guerre. The three of us were 
chatting amicably when a tailor was ushered into the room. 
Thereupon, without any break in the conversation, the war hero 
slowly eased himself onto a comfortable sitting position on the 
comer of the desk, methodically unstrapped his artificial legs, 
casually took off his trousers and then gently handed them to the 
poor tailor who looked utterly dumbfounded. 

Dick was not only my favourite General Manager, but also the 
most popular among both staff and agents. He stood out in his peer 
group by virtue of his shrewd business sense, his warm and colourful 
personality, and his unfeigned interest in meeting Chinese people 
from all walks of life. He took obvious and justifiable pride in his 
ability to speak Cantonese fluently and with the right intonation, 
largely as a result of a childhood spent in south China. As a matter 
of fact, I have never come across another foreigner who could 
engage in Cantonese conversation as well as he did. Remarkably, he 
could even play with panache a popular Chinese finger game, which 
requires each of the two contestants to throw out one or more 
fingers with one hand and simultaneously guess aloud - in a split 
second - the total number of fingers shown by both parties. At Shell 
social functions, Dick never failed to wow Chinese agents and staff 
alike by rattling off different numbers, loudly, rapidly, and 
confidently in flawless Cantonese jargon without any trace of accent 
and, more of^en than not, by beating his challengers at the game. 

Dick lef^ Hong Kong on retirement early in 1957, but not before 
he had finalized plans for my transfer to Malaya. 

Chapter 16 
Ipoh, 1957-59 

When I first learnt of my posting to Malaya as the District Manager 
of Ipoh, I had to look at a map to find out the whereabouts of my 
next home. As the new assignment would be for one year only, I 
flirted briefly with the idea of going to Ipoh on my own, on the 
assumption that it would probably be less troublesome for Mamie to 
remain behind in Hong Kong with the two small children. But Mick 
Eliot, the Personnel and Public Affairs Manager of Shell Hong 
Kong, urged me to do otherwise, as he had seen so many marriages 
falling apart after unhappy separations on account of Shell. Heeding 
his advice I quickly changed my mind, and Mamie needed little 
persuasion to arrive at the conclusion that we should make the move 
together to Ipoh. 

In April 1957 we sailed into Singapore, where we were 
accommodated by Shell in the landmark Raffles Hotel, named after 
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the colonial governor and founder of 
Singapore, who had first raised the British flag on the island on 
February 6, 1819. How times had changed since August 1946 when 
my brother Patrick and I, en route to England, were held up in 
Singapore for three weeks and, for lack of money, had little option 
but to spend the nights sleeping on canvas beds at the back of a 
Chinese shop that was affiliated with a Hong Kong acquaintance! 

A few days later we flew to Ipoh, the capital of Perak State, 
about 500 kilometres north of Singapore. We could not have arrived 
in Malaya at a more opportune time. The local Chinese Communists, 
who since 1948 had been operating from jungle camps, attacking 
lonely police stations and the bungalows of European planters and 
miners, and committing murders at random (one of the victims being 
the British High Commissioner, Sir Henry Guerney), had been 
virtually eliminated. On August 31, 1957, a bright new era in the 
country's history began when Britain formally granted independence 
to the Federation of Malaya, comprising the nine Malay States and 
the British Settlements of Penang and Malacca. (Malaysia, a 
federation of Malaya, Singapore and the former British colonies of 
Sarawak and Sabah, did not come into being until September 1963. 
Singapore left Malaysia and became independent in 1965). 

Perak is the largest of the western Malayan states, having an 


Ipoh, 1957-59 127 

area of some 20,500 square kilometres. At the time its population 
amounted to less than 1.5 million, comprising 44% Chinese, 40% 
Malays and 1 5% Indians. Ipoh dates from the nineteenth century; in 
1957 it had the spacious rectangular layout of a modem pioneer 
town and some 130,000 inhabitants. Since Perak, like the rest of 
Malaya, lies just north of the equator, its climate is characterized by 
uniformly high temperatures through the year, with a mean of 27 
degrees Celsius. 

Ipoh was a milestone in my career. Under the Shell International 
staffing system, I was the first 'regional staff to be cross-posted 
within South-East Asia and the first Chinese Ipoh District Manager. 
It was also the first of exactly half a dozen geographic moves that 
spanned my entire career. 

I was exceptionally fortunate with the Shell residence at 6 St. 
Helen's Gardens in Ipoh. The large Colonial-style two-storey house 
stood in the middle of a two-acre lot dotted with trees, in a secluded 
and picturesque neighbourhood. Separate servants' quarters were 
located unobtrusively in the immediate vicinity. Aii impressive 
driveway ran in a huge circle through the estate, under the imposing 
front porch of the house and right round the buildings. A well- 
trimmed, waist-high hedge traced the dividing line between the 
estate and the adjoining racecourse. I was provided with a Ford, a 
chauffeur and two gardeners. Thus, I lived in style as the Shell 
District Manager. Small wonder that Mick Eliot in Hong Kong had 
alluded to Ipoh as a plum job! 

My territory followed the boundary of Perak, the economy of 
which was dependent first and foremost on tin-mining, and to a 
lesser extent on rubber estates and coconut plantations. In point of 
fact, the flat alluvial plain around Ipoh produced more than half of 
Malaya's tin output, making Ipoh effectively the tin-mining capital 
of the country. I was supported by two Area Assistants and a total 
staff of about twenty, all of Chinese stock and speaking English, 
Malay and one of two Chinese dialects (Cantonese or Hokkien). My 
immediate boss, the expatriate North Malaya Branch Manager, 
being some two hundred kilometres away in Penang, I was afforded 
complete freedom from day-to-day interference and ample scope for 
independent action. Mine was, indeed, the kind of junior managerial 
job that many an aspiring young Shell professional would often 
dream about. 

As District Manager, far from being desk-bound and tied down 
to a regular office schedule, I had to make frequent business trips up 
and down Perak, often staying one or more nights away from home. 
It was such a blessing to have my chauffeur Abdullah - who knew 

128 The Arches of the Years 

the territory like the back of his hand - to drive me everywhere I 
went. As I gradually became familiar with the geography of Perak, I 
also tried to be on the lookout for things of local interest that would 
normally escape the notice of a casual visitor. Once I was journeying 
in a little boat well after dark, in a remote place called Sitiawan, 
when I set eyes on hundreds, if not thousands, of fireflies glowing 
brightly like Tinkerbell above the nearby bushes along the river bank 
and swarming over the boat as it went by. It was pure magic! 

To complicate my life as a foreigner. Shell Malaya made it 
mandatory for all non-Malay staff to pass oral and written 
examinations in Level One Malay. None of my staff took the 
requirements at all seriously, having spoken Malay from childhood; 
few of them, however, could spell, let alone write, the language 
correctly. For my part, I had to learn from scratch by mimicking 
colloquial Malay and memorizing very simple texts. In the event, 
although all my staff did well in spoken Malay as expected, just 
about every one of them failed the written test. I somehow managed 
to scrape through both tests at my first attempt, thereby obtaining a 
certificate for 'proficiency' in Level One Malay ahead of the others. 
In a friendly, sarcastic vein, my loyal staff immediately dubbed me a 
'genius', if only to rub in the fact that I was quite incapable of 
carrying on even a simple conversation in broken Malay. 

I had an unusual bit of luck when I persuaded a Shell agent to 
employ young women, on a trial basis, as pump island attendants at 
his service station. The idea of creating job opportunities for women 
in retail outlets had probably never before been mooted, let alone 
put into practice, by Shell or any of its competitors in Malaya or 
Singapore. In due course two young, good-looking and well-trained 
female attendants, wearing bright red blouses and blue jeans, made 
their first appearance at the Shell Brewster Road Service Station, in 
the heart of Ipoh. By proving themselves to be no less competent 
and hard-working than their male counterparts, only more sprightly 
and genial, they had little difficulty in gaining customers' outright 
favour and earning their keep. News of the successful pilot scheme 
went round the small world of Shell agents, some of whom wasted 
little time in following suit. Soon there were female attendants on 
duty at other Shell stations, not only in the Ipoh area, but also 
elsewhere in Perak. 

As a follow-up to this satisfying experience, I decided to 
organize a beauty contest at the Annual Shell Dinner for agents and 
dealers. All the twenty or more female attendants were invited to 
participate in the competition, wearing Shell uniform. Every agent 

Ipoh, 1957-59 129 

and dealer at the party was duly informed that he would be asked to 
cast his vote for whomsoever he considered to be the prettiest 
contestant on the stage. Having already met all the competitors, I 
was prepared to bet my bottom dollar that the winner would be 
found among three very attractive girls employed at Ipoh stations. 

When the votes were counted, I could hardly believe my eyes 
when a girl with a plain face, a rotund figure and an awkward gait 
from Sitiawan easily won the most votes and was declared the Shell 
beauty queen. But the penny dropped when it was whispered about 
that the Sitiawan agent had bribed many of his cohorts with cartons 
of cigarettes and also promises of free dinners in exchange for votes 
for his pet attendant. Thus ended my first - and last - attempt at 
engineering a free election. To conclude this little tale I was touched 
when, at the end of my time in Ipoh, I received, as a parting gift, a 
group photograph of five smart-looking girls in Shell uniform, 
bearing their good wishes and signatures. 

It did not take Shell long to decide to leave me in Ipoh for at 
least another year. This made it possible for my parents to visit us in 
1958, at the time of the Mid-Autumn Festival. This being the first 
(and only) time that my parents ever went on vacation together, we 
particularly wanted to do our best to make them feel at home at St. 
Helen's Gardens. For nearly a month my parents were pampered by 
Mamie and charmed by the two grandchildren's affectionate, playflil 
ways. Friends and neighbours were invited to meet my parents at a 
cocktail party. We took them to the races; on other Saturdays the 
whole family gathered beside the fence at the edge of the lawn, 
every now and then, to watch the horses galloping by, with our 
dachshund 'Sukey' at our heels barking indignantly at the hoofed 
intruders. We were so happy and content to be together that when 
the time came for my parents to leave, the goodbyes were said with 
real regret. 

The Ipoh Club, famous for its Long Bar, was easily the favourite 
watering-place for thirsty managers of commercial firms, tin mines, 
rubber estates and other business concerns. Like my predecessors, I 
made a point of parking myself there virtually every Saturday 
afternoon, either direct from the office or on my way back from 
outstation travel. It was a civilized way of keeping abreast of market 
news and gossip and promoting business contacts on first-name 
terms. It was also customary for anyone having one more drink 
before leaving to raise his glass and cry out aloud: 'Satu, Empat, 

That well-known, overworked phrase is in fact an abomination 
of spoken Malay, meaning literally 'one, four, road' - in other 

1 30 The Arches of the Years 

words, one for the road! Sometimes I would be driven home rather 
the worse for wear, badly needing a nap to recover from too many 
'Satu, Empat, Jalan'. 

In the spring of 1959, in the wake of the usual happy-go-lucky 
Saturday session at the Club, the alarming discovery was made that I 
was suffering from a severe bleeding ulcer. In consequence, I spent 
two weeks in hospital and another two at home. There would be no 
more 'Satu, Empat, Jalan' on my weekly agenda for quite some time 
to come. 

During my convalescence I read a collection of Somerset 
Maugham's short stories written before the First World War. It was 
of particular interest to me that some of his tales of expatriates, 
living strange lives in exotic places in colonial Malaya, seemed to 
mirror some of the odd characters and situations I myself had come 
across in Perak. 

While we were on leave in Hong Kong, our holiday spirit was 
dampened by the news that my mother-in-law had to undergo cancer 
surgery. When it was time for me to return to Malaya, Mamie had to 
stay behind with the children for obvious reasons. For a month I 
lived by myself in the big house at St. Helen's Gardens, which at 
night was all too empty and much too quiet. I had to be content with 
having Churchill for company as I reread his memoirs of the Second 
World War. When the plane carrying Mamie and Teresa and Marian 
touched down in Kuala Lumpur, I was waiting impatiently at the 
airport to welcome back my three darlings with my eager embrace 
and take them home on the long drive back to Ipoh. 

Chapter 17 
London, 1959-60 

I had for some time been hoping for an opportunity to work in the 
Shell Head Office in London, an experience essential to my upward 
mobility within the Group. Was I excited when I learnt that I was to 
work in London for a year as an economist! Then came an urgent 
request for advancing the date of my arrival in England, which 
inflated my expectations and led me to presume that I was urgently 

We arrived in London in October 1959, shortly after the General 
Election which had returned Harold Macmillan and his Conservative 
Government to power. At the time Greater London, with an area of 
1,610 and a population of about eight million, comprised the 
City and 32 London boroughs, of which 12 are classified as inner 
London boroughs and 20 as outer London boroughs. 

The very next morning I reported for duty at St. Helen's Court, 
trim and fresh, ready for a quick start, and determined to make a 
tremendous early impression. The first to greet me was a sweet little 
lady personnel assistant who light-heartedly said: 'I'm afraid there 
has been some misunderstanding. We don't even have an office for 
you yet. Why don't you take a few days off" to show your family 
around London, and then come back sometime next week.' 

My ego abruptly deflated, I floated gently back to earth. 
Accordingly, I changed tack by taking the family to the West End to 
see June Bronhill in The Merry Widow, which has since then become 
my favourite operetta, and Alec Clunes in My Fair Lady, which 
brought me back to my painstaking elocution lessons at Cambridge. 
Needless to say, there were plenty of pleasant diversions in London 
to keep the family interested, excited and happy. 

Our Shell flat in Teddington, in the outskirts of London, was 
definitely not anything to rave about. Located at 43 Broom Road, 
May Place was a draughty old house divided into five self-contained 
units, two on each of the two main floors, and one up in the attic. 

Ours was the attic flat, cold, dark and gloomy, accessible only by 
means of an outdoor staircase, a fire-escape in reality, leaning 
against the side of the building. There were two bedrooms and a 
living room, with only one kerosine heater to keep us warm. As the 
weather got colder, I managed to get a second one from Shell, but 


1 3 2 The Arches of the Years 

only after some good-humoured pleading and wrangling. Even then, 
it meant that the heaters had to be moved day and night fi-om one 
room to another, as needed. Looking back, I simply cannot 
understand why I never thought of simply buying a couple of electric 
heaters to provide much-needed warmth and comfort for the family! 

And for communication with the outside world, the Shell 
families living in May Place had to walk to a public telephone 
several minutes away. Months later, following requests and protests 
to Shell, a public telephone booth was finally installed in the hallway 
on the main floor. But still no private telephone! 

Teresa and Marian attended a convent school not far fi-om May 
Place. As the weeks sped by, it was so gratifying to hear them 
picking up little by little an English accent. Marian, who was not yet 
five, was already wearing glasses. At Guy's Hospital, it was brought 
to our attention that she had a weak eye which needed correction. In 
order to force that eye to work harder, the good eye had to be 
covered up. So, whether at home, at school or in public, little 
Marian had to put up with the embarrassment and awkwardness of 
wearing an unsightly patch over one eye. But she patiently went 
about carrying her little burden day after day with hardly a whimper 
of complaint or protest. 

The Shell Head Office network was focussed on St. Helen's 
Court, Bishopsgate, in the City next door to Liverpool Street 
Station. There were in fact some thirty-four separate locations 
scattered in the vicinity, mainly in Finsbury Circus, also by Liverpool 
St., which gave staff* splendid opportunities to get lost in pubs, 
bookshops, etc., while in transit between departments. That was 
some years before all the offices were brought under one roof in the 
new Shell Centre which is by Waterloo Station. 

My office happened to be in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank 
Building, an aging structure with little to commend itself, located 
near Bank Station. Every morning I had to catch a train from 
Hampton Wick, near Teddington, to Waterloo, and then complete 
the journey by underground. I remember going to work as an 
unconventional and odd-looking Chinese by wearing a bowler hat 
and carrying an umbrella. For the first six months I was attached to 
the Economics Division where I was given the opportunity to 
develop a feel for how the huge and complex Head Office 
organization operated in relation to its numerous overseas 
companies. But my subsequent assignment in another division was 
not very helpfijl. 

All in all, our year in England has left us with many enduring 
memories. We saw the sights and heard the sounds at various 

London, 1959-60 133 

historic places in and around London, such as Buckingham Palace, 
the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, 
the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, and Hampton Court. We 
were dazzled by pomp and circumstance at the dress rehearsal for 
Trooping the Colour on the Queen's Birthday. We went to the 
theatre, attended concerts, spent an afternoon at Wimbledon, 
travelled as often as time would allow, and got in touch with fiiends 
from the past. 

Timothy McKenzie, my Franciscan friend came and joined us for 
Christmas at May Place. We had brief reunions with Martin and 
Diana Knowles and also Geoff and Taffy Smith, all friends from 
Shell Malaya. We spent a week-end with Dick Frost and his wife Pat 
in their retirement home in Bournemouth; Dick even brought us 
morning tea while we were still in bed. We visited Wilf Saunders, 
my Cambridge classmate, and his wife Joan in Sheffield, and they 
came to us with their two boys for a week-end in Teddington. We 
had lunch with Timothy at the Franciscan Friary in Buckingham. 
Naturally we went to Cambridge, where I realized my student's 
dream of staying at the charming Garden House Hotel right by the 
Backs. We had a happy time walking through Pembroke and along 
the Backs, lunching with Father Gilbey, the aging chaplain, and 
having tea with Tony Camps and his wife. Nor did I forget to take 
the family to Oxford, especially to see Merton College. 

Then came the highlight of the year. With Tony Hudson, my 
Pembroke contemporary, for company, we went on a coach tour on 
the Continent, in the course of which we spent six delightftil days in 
Interlaken, sailing in calm and sunny weather in each of the two 
lovely lakes, Brienz and Thun, making the spectacular journey by 
rail up the snow-clad Jungfrau, riding in chair-lifts, dropping into 
souvenir shops, and relaxing in sidewalk cafes. Tony even gallantly 
babysat for us on the odd evening. 

On our return from the Continent I was all too aware, with 
mixed feelings, that our time in England was rapidly coming to an 
end. On the completion of my year in London, I had to attend a 
management course at the Shell Training Centre in Teddington, as a 
stepping stone to yet another tour of duty in Malaya. This niade it 
necessary for Mamie to fly to Hong Kong with the children. 
Unfortunately, as a result of the flight home, Mamie suffered a 
miscarriage. Immediately after training I hurried back to Hong Kong 
for Christmas and home leave before taking on my next assignment. 

Chapter 18 
Kuala Lumpur, 1961 

Early in 1961 I arrived in Kuala Lumpur with my family to assume 
the post of Commercial Manager in the Head Office of Shell 

Kuala Lumpur, the capital of the Federation of Malaya, lies in 
the state of Selangor. At the time its population numbered some 
300,000. Kuala Lumpur was a mixture of ultramodern architecture 
and traditional Chinese shop houses. Notable buildings were the 
government offices and the railway station, all somewhat Moorish in 
design. The city was a hub for rail, road and air communications 
within the states of Malaya. 

After spending the first two weeks in the new Merlin Hotel we 
moved into a Shell bungalow at 21 Kenny Road, in a suburban area. 
Thus, we began another phase of our life together in an equatorial 
climate, which did not particularly appeal to either Mamie or me. 

Among the first things I did was to visit the four Shell District 
Offices, namely, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and, of course, 
Ipoh. This was intended to obtain a preliminary overview of the 
market and get a little acquainted with each and everyone of the 
District Managers with whom I shared overlapping responsibilities. 

While I was still feeling my way at work, I began taking golf 
lessons, only to find that I had very little aptitude for swinging the 
club and hitting the ball, still less sending it far afield and in the 
intended direction. After a few frustrating weeks, I made up my 
mind that golf was definitely not my cup of tea. 

I was playing with Teresa and Marian at home one Sunday 
afternoon when the telephone rang. A nurse from the British 
Military Hospital said in a very friendly voice, 'Mr. Yu, 
congratulations! Your wife has given birth to a son.' On hearing the 
happy news the two giris, who had been hoping for a brother, were 
literally jumping up and down with loud screams of joy. 

The baby was baptized Peter Timothy, after the First Apostle in 
accordance with the promise I had made in St. Peter's Basilica, and 
my Franciscan friend from Pembroke. In response to my request for 
a Chinese name for his new grandson, my father sent me this note; 
"Your cheerfijl telegram arrived last evening. We asked Winnie to 
wire you in reply and to inform you the Chinese name for your baby 


Kuala Lumpur, 1961 135 

is 'Kwok Wai'. Mother is very happy with the news. Again we 
congratulate you." 

The last of the letters he wrote me over the years, whenever I 
was away from Hong Kong, and the only one I still have in my safe 
keeping, it is rich in memories. 

Then came an unexpected signal from London that I would soon 
be transferred back to Hong Kong. Consequently I was sent to 
Singapore to attend an Industrial Relations Course. Any 
disappointment I might have felt over leaving Kuala Lumpur all too 
soon, without making any mark, was more than offset by the very 
pleasant prospect of playing on home ground again, after an absence 
of five years. 

Chapter 19 
Scaling the Heights, 1962-66 

At the time of my return to Hong Kong, a census taken in 1961 
indicated that its population was 3,133,131 or roughly double what 
it was in 1946. A combination of factors had contributed to this 
remarkable development, namely, the mass influx of refijgees from 
the mainland, free trade, low taxation, flourishing private enterprise 
and, beyond question, good and stable government coupled with the 
rule of law. As a matter of fact, the population was to double again 
by the time Hong Kong was handed back to Communist China in 

We moved into a rented apartment at 3E Robinson Road, on 
the 10th floor of a new block of flats directly overlooking Wah Yan 
College and the harbour. Teresa and Marian went to Maryknoll 
Sisters' School on Blue Pool Road, near our former home. As they 
knew very little written Chinese, they took French as their second 

I rejoined Shell Hong Kong in April 1962 as the first non- 
expatriate Personnel and Public Affairs Manager, one of four senior 
managers reporting to the General Manager. For the next several 
years I served in turn under four General Managers. I was given free 
rein to discharge my responsibilities as I saw them, without fear or 
favour. It was to be the most eventful and the most satisfying phase 
of my career. 

Unfortunately I got off to a rotten start when, in my first month 
on the job, I suddenly collapsed in the office one morning and was 
rushed to hospital once again with a bleeding ulcer. It was indeed 
very frustrating to find myself condemned to a month of inactivity at 
the beginning of a new and promising assignment. 

On my return to work, I had to lead a fairly large party on a trip 
to Brunei (lying between the Malayan states of Sarawak and Sabah, 
on the northern shores of Borneo) as guests of Shell Brunei. Among 
the group were Professor Davies, Head of the Geography 
Department at the University of Hong Kong, and a number of media 
representatives. This expedition had been planned by my 
predecessor Sweeney Todd with a view to promoting public 
awareness in Hong Kong of that tiny oil-rich British protectorate 
(since 1984 an independent state) in which Shell International had a 



Scaling the Heights, 1962-66 137 

huge vested interest (and the Sultan of which is still regarded as one 
of the wealthiest men in the world). 

The day before the scheduled departure, Hong Kong was hard 
hit by a typhoon. In the chaotic aftermath, I missed our flight. 
Consequently I arrived in Brunei all by myself, a day late. Imagine 
my embarrassment when, wearing the credentials of the new Shell 
Public Relations Manager, I finally caught up with the party I was 
supposed to lead! 

For my part, the truly memorable part of the Brunei experience 
was not the humdrum conducted tour of the oil field and refinery, 
but the long trip up a river in a small flotilla of canoes, in order to 
meet aborigines in their natural habitat. On arrival at the native 
village, we were greeted right at the landing place with all due 
ceremonial by a tall, brown chieftain in loincloth, who looked like a 
magnificent specimen of Tarzan. Standing in festive mood behind 
him were his four smiling Janes, all wearing colourfiil sarongs and 
barebreasted for the occasion. The chieftain was holding in one hand 
a live chicken and, in the other, a long knife. As a customary sign of 
welcome, he proceeded to slash the throat of the chicken with 
aplomb and then handed everyone in the party a glass of native 
drink. Mindfiil of the need to show our gallant host every respect 
and courtesy, all of us immediately gulped down the potent offering 
of friendship and hospitality. Perhaps it is just as well that I forgot 
what dinner was like that evening, but I do recall spending a most 
unusual night on the floor of a typical large and rectangular 
longhouse - a tribal communal thatched dwelling raised on stilts - 
side by side with several native families. 

Wearing my personnel hat I decided, as a matter of priority, to 
provide better health care for the seven hundred-odd local staff and 
their families. Under the existing Shell Medical Plan, all medical and 
hospitalization expenses were paid for by the company. However 
there was only one doctor on contract to attend to Shell patients, 
and his clinic was located in Shell House in the Central District. Due 
partly to the constraints of time and distance and partly to lack of 
confidence in the doctor himself. Shell employees based at the four 
field locations - one on the island and three in Kowloon -- seldom 
went to the clinic, preferring to obtain medical attention elsewhere 
when needed, despite having to pay out of their own pockets. 

In order to improve on the plan, I signed up three more doctors 
(including a famous practitioner and surgeon. Dr. Timothy Kong) 
with clinics in different parts of Hong Kong. Thus, employees and 
their families now had a choice of going to their preferred doctor or 
to the most convenient clinic. The new arrangements went over 

138 The Arches of the Years 

extremely well, as reflected in the notable increase in the total 
number of Shell patients receiving treatment from the company 
doctors and the overwhelmingly positive feedback from every single 
location, including Shell House. 

In time I also succeeded in upgrading benefit plans relating to 
sick leave, maternity leave, vacation and, most importantly, 
retirement for all local staff. There was an inevitable increase in 
manpower costs accruing from all these improvements, but it was 
readily accepted by the General Manager, Chris Robertson, as a 
sound investment in employee welfare and morale. A Shell Housing 
Loan Plan was introduced whereby, through a Shell guarantee, 
senior staff could obtain a housing loan at a reduced rate of interest 
from the Chartered Bank, up to the amount of the Shell Provident 
Fund held by the company in their accounts. Steps were also taken 
to ensure that the Shell pay scale was highly competitive in the local 
job market, especially in comparison with that of our main 
competitors, namely, Mobil and Texaco. 

With regard to the career development of senior staff, not too 
many of them had university degrees, professional qualifications, or 
management potential. Something had to be done if Shell's intention 
to replace expatriates with local talent was to be translated into 
tangible results. I therefore made sustained efforts from year to year 
to attract new recruits with good qualifications and high potential. 
After my time with Shell Hong Kong, some of them eventually made 
their way into senior management positions. 

By way of comparison, the remuneration and benefits package 
for Shell expatriate staff serving anywhere overseas was determined 
centrally by the London Head Office. It was considerably richer and 
more comprehensive than what was applicable to local staff in Hong 
Kong or, for that matter, home staff in Britain. In this connection 
expatriates were required to work, often at short notice, in any of 
the numerous Shell companies around the world, and the best of 
them were assigned to one country after another and groomed, step 
by step, for major appointments in the huge and complex 

To return to public relations, I was the designated Shell 
spokesman in regular contact with the media, both English and 
Chinese. In order to promote and manifest Shell's interest in the 
younger generation, I established the Shell Scholarship at the 
University of Hong Kong. It would be awarded each year to the 
matriculation student (from schools participating in the competition) 
who would best meet the three selection criteria: academic 

Scaling the Heights, 1962-66 139 

excellence, ability to communicate in English, and leadership 
potential. At HK$6,000 per year for any four-year programme, it 
was the richest scholarship available at the University at the time. 

In the first year of the competition (1962), the outstanding 
student in the judgement of the panel of senior managers, with me as 
chairman, was Patricia Chen. As a sign of the times, it was 
considered advisable to consult London before naming her the first 
Shell Scholar, simply because of her sex! Graduating from the 
University four years later, Patricia joined Shell as a Public Affairs 
Assistant. In the late 1960s she immigrated with her husband and 
son to the United States, where she died tragically in a motor 

Drawing a lesson from my personal experience at Cambridge, I 
made a Shell donation to the University of Hong Kong for setting up 
an Appointments Service in October 1963. This was meant to 
induce and encourage British and foreign concerns as well as the 
Hong Kong Government to provide more and better job 
opportunities for local graduates. In May 1966, when it was decided 
by the University to establish a separate policy-making 
Appointments Board, I was invited by the Vice-Chancellor, Ken 
Robinson, to serve as its first Chairman. In the following year, I 
acted as chairman of an ad hoc committee with a mandate to create 
a parallel Appointments Board and Appointments Service at the 
Chinese University of Hong Kong (founded in 1963), at the request 
of Dr. Li Choh Ming, the Vice-Chancellor. 

The Crew Department of Shell Hong Kong, which was 
responsible for the recruitment and administration of Chinese crew 
members on behalf of Shell tankers, was run by an expatriate, 
Bernard Philpot, who came within my jurisdiction. It was in this 
connection that I served as an ex officio member of the Board of 
Governors of the Hong Kong Sea School, a charity organization 
which trained boys from poor families for a vocation at sea and in 
which Shell and other foreign firms had a direct interest. 

During those crowded years, I was appointed by the Governor, 
Sir David Trench, to serve more or less concurrently on the Civil 
Service Commission (now Public Service Commission), the Labour 
Advisory Board, and the Supervisory Board of the Hong Kong 
Urban Life Survey. At one time I chaired the Personnel Management 
Committee of the Hong Kong Management Association. 

As is generally known, anyone who wants to get on, let alone 
go far, in Hong Kong cannot possibly escape the hectic pace of its 
social life, and I was no exception. As far as Mamie and I were 
concerned, there were too many parties and functions to attend, too 

140 The Arches of the Years 

much superficial association with mere acquaintances, and too Httle 
time for the family. Eventually, when Fate intervened and goaded us 
into cutting loose from the land of our birth, we were not at all sorry 
to leave the glitter and glamour of Hong Kong's lifestyle behind. 

But there was one particular Shell-related activity that was dear 
to me. Of the many perquisites enjoyed by senior management, the 
launch picnics on board the Tai Mo Shan during the long summer 
months were hard to beat. This large vessel normally operated on 
company business during weekdays between the Head Office and 
two field locations in different parts of the harbour. On Sunday it 
was reserved for the personal use of the General Manager; the four 
senior managers took turns to use it every Saturday afternoon. 
About once a month, I was able to mix business with pleasure by 
entertaining on behalf of Shell and also taking my family along. 

There was, however, a sad story related to the Tai Mo Shan. In 
the late nineteen-sixties, shortly after my departure from Hong 
Kong, a newly-arrived expatriate from England was scuba-diving 
while his wife and kids were on board the launch. Tragically, he 
failed to surface. His body was recovered a few hours later. How 
cruelly ironic it was that this bright young man should have been 
plucked from relative obscurity in the London office for an attractive 
overseas assignment, only to meet a sad and untimely end in the 
cruel sea! 

I was obviously pleased when Shell decided to give me the 
benefit of free housing. In consequence we moved into a luxury 
apartment in Fontana Gardens, in the Causeway Bay area. I was also 
not unaware that I was being groomed to be the next Sales Manager 
(and Deputy General Manager), a logical step in my career 
development. With this in view and with Mamie's reluctant 
agreement, I made arrangements for all our children to attend 
boarding schools in England in the foreseeable ftiture. 

One day I was about to fly to Taiwan on business for the first 
time when my unfriendly ulcer once more began bleeding, only more 
profijsely. By the time I arrived in hospital I was writhing in distress, 
and it was quickly determined that my blood count had fallen to a 
dangerously low level. While I was being given an urgent blood 
transfijsion, I detected a grave look of concern on the face of the 
doctor and felt Mamie's comforting hand in mine. Eventually I had 
to undergo major surgery. 

During my convalescence John Lyell, the General Manager, 
came to see me at home. Before he left, he told me candidly that, on 
account of the state of my health, my next promotion would have to 
be delayed. But what really mattered, thanks to Providence and Dr. 

Scaling the Heights, J 962-66 141 

Timothy Kong, was that the operation was a complete success. 
Later, no longer hampered by health concerns, I was free to act 
boldly and decisively when confronted with the whirlwind forces of 
sudden and unforeseen change. 

Chapter 20 
*Goodbye, Father', 1966 

While I was engrossed in climbing the Shell ladder, my brothers and 
sisters were branching out in various directions. 

Subsequent to Mao Zedong's sweeping victory in China, PC. 
rejoined the Chinese Nationalists in Taiwan to continue his military 
career. In time he served as Garrison Commander, Chinmen Tao 
(Quemoy); Chief of Staff to President Chiang Kai Shek; and 
Commandant, Combined Armed Forces University in Taipei. 

P.T. left Tai Sang Bank, where he was underpaid and 
underutilized, to teach first at Wah Yan and then King's College. 
This is how Mrs. Kathleen Blackburn, writing from New Zealand in 
1996, remembers him as a fellow teacher: 'Although circumstances 
rather than a sense of vocation had led him to teaching, he was a 
gifted teacher, a dedicated professional, serious about work and 
brilliantly successftil in it, on both the personal and academic levels.' 

After a couple of years at King's, P.T. decided to reach out for a 
better ftiture by becoming articled to a law firm, Zimmern and 
Partners. In 1955 he went to London to sit for the solicitor's 
examinations, with the help of an unconditional interest-free loan of 
HK$50,000 from Mr. Siu Man Cheuk, a close friend and bridge 
partner. However P.T. insisted on giving Mr. Siu a postdated 
cheque for the amount, over the latter' s protest, as a 'personal 
guarantee'. After passing all the required examinations, he returned 
to Hong Kong in 1956 and was made an assistant at Zimmern' s. 
Fuelled by charisma, his career took off" like a rocket. A partner at 
Zimmern' s by 1959, he moved on in 1965 to head a new firm jointly 
with two new partners, and Yung, Yu and Yuen was an immediate 

In due course P.T. went to Mr. Siu's office to repay the loan. 
Over a cup of coffee, Mr. Siu accepted the repayment with gracious 
words, moved over to his desk to open a drawer and, with a friendly 
grin, handed back to P.T. the same cheque that had previously been 
left with him. Thereupon, P.T. discovered that the cheque had not 
been signed! 

From Oxford Patrick went to Kuala Lumpur to work in Shook 
Lin and Bok, a law firm of which Yong Shook Lin, my cousin Pung 
How's father, was the senior partner. On his return to Hong Kong in 


'Goodbye, Father', J 966 143 

1951, he made history in the Legal Department by becoming the first 
Chinese Crown Counsel. He married Lucia Fung, his girlfriend from 
Kuala Lumpur. A year later he went into private practice and, by 
winning a string of difficult cases which were the talk of the town, 
he soared into prominence, excited the imagination of the public and 
went on to become one of the best-known and most-admired 
barristers in his time. Overnight Patrick Yu Shuk Siu became a 
household name. Fact is sometimes stranger than fiction. In the 
giddy early days of Patrick's outstanding career, it was not 
uncommon for pretty young women to swarm around me in open 
admiration and for stem-looking policemen to salute me smartly in 
public. I could not help being very pleased with myself until I 
painfijlly realized one day that I was being mistaken for Patrick. 

In the early postwar years Sheung Woon started teaching at the 
Yan Pak School, founded by Y.P. Law and, following his death, 
took over as Headmistress. When the Maryknoll Fathers established 
the first Government-subsidized co-educational school in Hong 
Kong in 1957, they made her an offer she could not refuse, that of 
being the School's first principal, even though she was not a 
Catholic. Under her direction, Maryknoll Fathers' School gained 
steadily in academic standing and public recognition. 

Josephine emigrated from Hong Kong in 1959 with her husband 
and three children to the United States and settled in San Francisco, 
where she taught at St. Cornelius College for the rest of her working 

Margaret's teaching career at the University of Hong Kong was 
punctuated by her three trips to Britain: in 1950 on a British Council 
Scholarship to study for a diploma at Edinburgh University, in 1957 
on a study-leave grant to do research at Southampton University, 
and in 1964 on an Inter-University Council Grant for 
Commonwealth Interchange to do research at University College, 
London. On two occasions, she was the first non-expatriate Acting 
Head of the Department of English. 

When Winnie graduated with a BA in 1951, she was awarded 
another Government Scholarship to study for a Diploma in 
Education at the University of Hong Kong. She began her teaching 
career at Sacred Heart School in 1952. Two years later she married 
Dr. Peter Wong. They had five children. 

Rosalind began working in Hong Kong as a secretary for Lo and 
Lo, a law firm. On her own initiative, she went to the United States 
in 1952 to study at Marygrove College, Michigan, with the help of a 
half-scholarship and by working part-time. After graduating with a 
BA in French, Spanish and English, she married Robert Dewey, her 

144 The Arches of the Years 

American boyfriend, with the unqualified blessings of my parents. 
They settled in Michigan where she began her teaching career and 
where their three children were born. 

By and large, the comings and goings of the children did much 
to gladden the hearts of my parents in their twilight years. 

When my parents moved from Shelley Street to 9 York Road in 
Kowloon Tong in 1954, they thought it would be for good. But they 
were given quite a scare two years later when pro-Nationalist and 
pro-Communist mobs clashed in various parts of Hong Kong, 
seriously disrupting traffic between the Island and Kowloon. For 
two or three days my parents were isolated from their children, all of 
whom lived on the Island. With this unpleasant experience in the 
back of their mind, my parents eventually moved back to the Island, 
to live at 91 Robinson Road. But my father's choice of the three- 
storey house, which boasted an unobstructed view of the harbour 
from the top floor, turned out to be less than fortunate. As his health 
deteriorated, it became increasingly difficult for him to negotiate the 
two flights of stairs. Consequently, my parents went to live in an 
apartment on Conduit Road. 

One day in 1962, my father asked Mamie to write out a cheque 
for him. When he sat down at the desk with pen in hand, he was at a 
loss to put his signature on the cheque and, despite repeated 
attempts, only managed to produce doodles. After many agonizing 
moments he gave up the struggle, tore up the cheque and, with a 
blank stare, moved away from the desk in stunned silence. He had 
completely forgotten how to sign his own name. Alas! it was the 
beginning of his mental decline at the age of seventy-one. 

I was with my parents one afternoon when the telephone rang. 
The servant Ah Fung, who for decades had been working for my 
fourth grandmother, anxiously informed me that her mistress had 
suddenly lost consciousness. I immediately sent for a doctor to meet 
me at my grandmother's apartment. 

On learning that my grandmother had but hours to live, I rushed 
to the Roman Catholic Cathedral nearby and asked the Italian priest 
who answered the bell to come and baptize my grandmother. I was 
shocked when he reftised outright on the grounds that she had had 
no religious instruction, and even went so far as to accuse me of 
merely seeking a Catholic burial for the sake of convenience. 
Incensed at the attitude of the churlish, hair-splitting priest, I lost my 
cool. Pointing a finger at him, I shouted angrily. 

'If you don't come at once to baptize my grandmother, I'll 

'Goodbye, Father', 1966 145 

baptize her myself with tap water. But I dare you to face God on 
Judgment Day over your objections!' 

To my astonishment, he quickly changed his mind and complied 
with my request. 

My fourth grandmother was a tragic victim of the society into 
which she was born. A quiet and self-effacing girl from a poor 
family, she became my grandfather's third concubine at the age of 
sixteen and lost her husband at seventeen. For as long as I can 
remember, she lived a lonely and austere widow's life with Ah Fung, 
her loyal servant and sole companion, with whom she shared a 
measure of happiness. She was wholly dependent for survival on a 
meagre allowance from my grandfather's legacy; in her last years, 
her circumstances improved somewhat with financial help from P.T., 
Patrick and me. From year to year there was little, if anything, for 
her to look forward to with a great sense of hope or to look back on 
with a real feeling of satisfaction. The only joy she knew came from 
those occasions when she joined my parents for dinner or a game of 
mah-jong, or when she was with my parents' children. Her few 
luxuries in life were an occasional glass of ordinary Chinese wine 
and infrequent visits to the Cantonese opera with either my mother 
or Ah Fung. 

She and I were born on the same day of the lunar year, the 20th 
day of the 10th moon. I remember well how she used to remind me 
of her favourite Chinese maxim: 'Those who are contented, though 
poor, will still be happy. Those who are greedy, though rich, will 
always find cause for worry.' 

Fate denied my fourth grandmother beauty and talent, robbed 
her of her youth, and confined her to a life without means and 
meaning. But she meekly accepted the harshness and unfairness of 
her lot, harbouring neither grudge nor envy and, in solitude and 
contentment, found dignity and peace. 

In 1963 Patrick flew Anthony from the United States back to 
Hong Kong so that grandfather and grandson could be together 
again, if only for a little while. Now in his mid-twenties, Anthony 
was a tall and handsome scholar with two degrees, a BA from 
Houghton College, New York, majoring in English and History, and 
a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, 
Pasadena, California. Even though my father's mind was apt to 
wander at times, it took nothing away from the joyful reunion with 
his blossoming young protege. It was almost like old times. At the 
end of his stay Anthony decided to slip away quietly without even 
saying farewell, for fear that the frail old man might find their final 

146 The Arches of the Years 

parting too painful to bear. 

My parents moved for the last time into an apartment on the first 
floor at 11 1 Robinson Road, for the convenience of being near to 
P.T. and his family, who were living in the same block. With each 
passing year, my parents drew even closer to each other and it was 
as amusing as it was touchmg to watch my mother making a fuss, 
day after day, over my father's well-being, particularly on trifling 
matters of diet. Though a year older than my father, my mother by 
then had the benefit of a much tougher constitution. 

My father had long since stopped smoking and, perhaps 
unwisely, given up bridge and mah-jong altogether. Burdened with a 
gradually failing mind, he tried to persevere in browsing through 
newspapers and following the news on television. Documentaries 
about the Second World War were his favourite television 
programmes, especially those episodes directly involving Churchill, 
who had always been associated in my father's mind with his days in 
England. While watching the solemn state fianeral of Churchill in 
January 1965, my father, seemingly in a trance, suddenly burst into 

As he approached the end of his life, my father became 
bedridden. Taking a cue from some of the children, my mother 
decided to get baptized and had my father received into the Catholic 
Church as well. But by that time he was probably unable to 
recognize anyone around him. My mother hardly ever left his side, 
whether at home or in hospital. 

My father passed away on October 24, 1966. His final moments 
at St. Paul's Hospital are still fi"esh in my memory. It was mid- 
morning. My sister-in-law Norma, Mamie and I happened to be the 
only people in attendance at the time. Norma was kneeling beside 
my father, firmly grasping his hand and praying aloud. Mamie was 
standing with her head bowed at the foot of the bed. I bent down to 
kiss my father on the forehead and whispered, 'Goodbye, father.' 
Soon afterwards my mother and other members of the family 
arrived. Shedding silent tears, my mother was relieved, like the rest 
of us, that my father's sufferings were finally over. 

At the fiineral, on a sunny and sultry day, a huge crowd gathered 
to pay my father their last respects. Among the mourners were many 
Chinese teachers, including some who had known him fi"om the 
outset of his career. They came from schools all over Hong Kong to 
honour the memory of the man who, in an era of instability, turmoil 
and conflict in China, had proudly borne aloft the torch of Chinese 
learning in the British Colony. 

I treasure the memory of my father as a gentle pioneer who 

'Goodbye, Father', 1966 147 

showed his children the way from east to west and altered the 
course of our family history. Although he began life as a traditional 
scholar steeped in the past, he looked to the future and went in 
search of new frontiers. He graduated from Oxford against heavy 
odds and came home with a broadened outlook and a heightened 
sense of values. In a society too often preoccupied with worldly 
pursuits, he did his very best for the children by extending their 
intellectual and cultural horizons and, thereby, left behind a priceless 
and enduring legacy. 

Eight of the nine children graduated from university, including 
one from Oxford and two fi"om Cambridge. The eldest son became a 
professional soldier, the other three a solicitor, a barrister and a 
business administrator respectively, all but the youngest having 
served in the Second World War. 

When P.C. passed away in Taipei in 1982, he was given a state 
ftineral by the President of Taiwan, Chiang Ching Kuo. In 1994 
Patrick was voted a Life Member of the Hong Kong Bar 
Association, one of only three lawyers until then to have been so 
highly honoured. In December 1998 the University of Hong Kong 
conferred on Patrick an Honorary Fellowship in recognition of his 
invaluable service to the community and, in particular, the important 
part he played in the establishment of the Faculty of Law at the 

Without exception, the five daughters pursued a career in 
education; one of them had also served in the war. Sheung Woon 
was awarded the M.B.E. in 1971 during the term of Sir David 
Trench as Governor of Hong Kong. Both Winnie and Rosalind 
obtained a Master of Arts degree later in their careers, the former in 
Pastoral Ministry, and the latter in French, English and Education. 

Six of the children immigrated to North America, three 
daughters to the United States and two daughters and one son to 

There are twenty-six grandchildren, of whom fourteen are 
American citizens, four Canadian, three British, one Australian and 
four Chinese (Hong Kong). I would like to single out three of the 
grandchildren for mention. 

Anthony is Carl Darling Buck Distinguished Service Professor in 
Humanities at the University of Chicago. In 1993 the University of 
Chicago published Anthony's four-volume translation o^ Hsi Yu Chi 
{The Journey to the West), one of the most beloved classics of 
Chinese literature. Written late in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), 
the marvellous tale recounts the sixteen-year pilgrimage of a famous 
monk Hsuan-tsang (596-664), who journeyed to India with four 

148 The Arches of the Years 

animal disciples in quest of Buddhist scriptures. Those who are 
captivated by the fantastic exploits of the hobbits in The Lord of the 
Rings may well be interested in reading the amazing adventures of 
the motley group in The Journey to the West. 

It had taken Anthony thirteen years to complete the translation 
o^Hsi Yu Chi. In the acknowledgements, he wrote: 

As I bring this lengthy project to its completion, 
it is fitting for me to pay tribute to my grandfather, 
who first introduced me to the wonders of this tale. It 
was he who, amidst the terrors of the Sino-Japanese 
War, gave hmself unsparingly to teaching me 
Classical Chinese and English. By precept and 
example he sought to impart to a young boy his 
enduring love of literatures east and west. He did not 
labour in vain. 

In 1996 the Lingnan College of Hong Kong conferred on 
Anthony the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature. 

Magdalene So, the eldest child of my sister Josephine, was a 
member of the U.S. delegation that went to Paris in 1982 to 
celebrate the centenary celebration of the birth of Louis Pasteur at 
the Pasteur Institute. She is currently Professor and Chairman of 
Microbiology and Immunology at Oregon Health Sciences 

Denis, the eldest of Patrick's four children, who is practising as a 
barrister in Hong Kong, followed in the footsteps of his father and 
grandfather by taking his degree at Merton in the 1970s, thus 
continuing an Oxford connection which, perhaps, no other Chinese 
family has yet attained and which, indeed, would have made my 
father especially happy and proud. 

My mother surprised everyone by the way in which she stoically 
got over the loss of her lifelong partner and companion and swiftly 
adapted to the life of a widow. Her children's fears that she might 
go to pieces proved to be totally unfounded. No longer tied down by 
her ailing husband, my mother quietly resumed doing the simple 
things in life she enjoyed most, such as entertaining or visiting 
friends and relatives, dining out and playing mah-jong. Sometime 
after my father's death she flew to Taipei in the company of my aunt 
from Kuala Lumpur, Mrs. Yong, to visit PC. and Norma. On one 
occasion, with Sheung Woon as interpreter, she had as her luncheon 
guest at home Lady Trench, the wife of the Governor! But it was 

'Goodbye. Father', 1966 149 

plain for all to see that she was happiest whenever she had some of 
her children and grandchildren for company. Guided by instinct, she 
made all the right moves to earn her place as the beloved matriarch 
and conscience of the family. 

Chapter 21 
Watershed, 1967-68 

After my father's death, Mamie and I felt we could do with a change 
of pace and environment. So we returned to Japan for our second 
honeymoon. The country had indeed been transformed since our 
previous visit in 1951. The scars of war had completely disappeared. 
There were abundant signs of spectacular economic growth and 
surging prosperity. Tokyo was in a festive and colourful mood. 
Strangely enough, what could be heard booming from loudspeakers 
in restaurants and department stores was not the unfamiliar sounds 
of Japanese music, but the mellow voice of Bing Crosby crooning 
White Christmas and other yule-tide melodies! And we cannot but 
remember the exceptionally smooth and quiet ride in the luxurious 
bullet-train, the first of its kind in the world. 

In the spring of 1967 BOAC launched its inaugural flight from 
Sydney to San Francisco. To provide fanfare for the occasion, a 
number of leading firms in Hong Kong, including Shell, were invited 
to send representatives as guests of BOAC to participate in the 
event. Consequently, I found myself having a wonderful time in 
places I had never been to but had often wanted to see: Sydney, Fiji, 
Honolulu, San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. Needless to say, it was a 
journey scrupulously undertaken, from beginning to end, for the 
good of Shell! After a happy reunion with my sister Josephine and 
her family in San Francisco, I returned home with rather favourable 
first impressions of what little I saw of the United States, blissfijlly 
unaware that I was fast approaching a watershed in my life. 

At the time, the Cultural Revolution of 1966-69 was plunging 
China into anarchy and, suddenly, some of its effects spilled over to 
Hong Kong. In May 1967, what seems to have started as an orderly 
industrial strike turned ugly when violent anti-British demonstrations 
and riots, instigated, manipulated and directed by the local 
Communists, broke out and continued week after week for many 
months. A secret weapon, so to speak, was put to sinister use by the 
agitators when there appeared in the busy streets of Hong Kong, 
daily and mysteriously, odd-looking parcels, each bearing an 
ominous red flag. They were home-made bombs, some real, some 
fake, all intended to hurt and frighten pedestrians and motorists 
alike, disrupt traffic, and create chaos and panic. 


Watershed, 1967-68 151 

But the people of Hong Kong refused to be cowed. A Chinese 
reporter with a flair for metaphors dubbed the deadly packages 
'pineapples'. Overnight it became fashionable at all levels of society 
to laugh away the daily crop of 'pineapples', notwithstanding their 
savage mission. Unfortunately, not a few 'pineapples' did blow up, 
one way or another, killing and maiming adults and children alike. 
While trying to defuse a bomb in a shopping area in Causeway Bay, 
not far from my home, a British member of the bomb-disposal squad 
had his hands blown off; graphic pictures of the horrible tragedy 
subsequently appeared in at least one international magazine. 

One morning, a management meeting I was attending was 
interrupted by the sound of multiple explosions when bombs went 
off near Shell House, at the intersection of Queen's Road Central 
and Pedder Street. On another occasion, amid wild rumours of 
escalating trouble, there came an announcement by the Government 
in early afternoon that a general curfew was about to be imposed. 
Shops and offices immediately closed, and people rushed home, 
fearing they knew not what. With my Personnel Assistant Lee Ka 
Tit for company, I was the last to leave Shell Head Office, after 
seeing to it that everyone had gone. By the time we got out of Shell 
House, the streets were quite deserted, but for the odd straggler. 
There were no cars, no buses, no trams, and no taxis. The two of us 
walked anxiously side by side at a quick pace, heading eastward for 
home. Some 'pineapples' carrying trade-mark red flags could be 
spotted here and there, at a street corner, on the pavement or 
between tramlines. From time to time, one or more police patrol 
cars sped by, their sirens screaming urgently to make their presence 
felt. It was an eerie and even frightening experience, somewhat 
reminiscent of wartime. 

During those anxious months stringent emergency measures 
were taken, under the direction of the Operations Manager, Jim 
Rasmussen, in all Shell locations - Shell House, Kuntong 
Installation, and the three oil depots, two in Kowloon and one on 
the Island. I kept in close touch with the media on daily, if not 
hourly, developments. Shell was also secretly making contingency 
plans for the evacuation by tanker of expatriates and management 
personnel and their families, in case the worst came to the worst. 

Heroes are often made in stormy weather. Throughout the crisis, 
the Hong Kong Police, led by British officers, persevered in their 
courageous and disciplined efforts to contain the taunting, 
intimidating and fanatical Communists and prevent the explosive 
situation from getting out of hand. But for their remarkable 
performance, often in the face of extreme provocation, Beijing could 

152 The Arches of the Years 

well have been handed a tempting pretext for direct intervention, 
political or otherwise, in the affairs of Hong Kong, with 
immeasurable consequences. Subsequently, after law and order had 
been fully restored, an immense flood of voluntary donations poured 
into a Police Children's Education Trust Fund set up by the grateful 
public, in appreciation and recognition of what the Hong Kong 
Police had done to keep the peace in the Colony under extraordinary 
circumstances. My sister Sheung Woon was a member of the 
Committee appointed by the Governor, Sir David Trench, to 
oversee the handling of the fiind. 

As the spectre of Communism kept rearing its ugly head, news 
of the alarming situation in Hong Kong reverberated round the 
world. Out of the blue there came a letter from Leslie Barnes, my 
old Cambridge friend, now in Ottawa, asking if I would consider 
immigrating to Canada. Prompted by the spontaneous offer of 
assistance from an unexpected quarter, Mamie and I began giving 
serious thought to the kind of future we wanted for ourselves and 
especially for the family. We were forcibly reminded that even a 
first-class English education would not in itself be of real benefit to 
the children, if we were unable to guarantee their freedom and 
security in the long run. At forty-three I was not too old to look for 
new pastures, but I had to dig deep for courage and resolution to 
give up my promising stake in Shell after eighteen years and to head 
for uncharted territory. For her part, Mamie was more than prepared 
to leave behind a comfortable life in Hong Kong and rise to the 
challenge of emigrating to a strange country, especially if it would 
mean keeping the family together for a longer period. 

In the past I had more or less been taking for granted that I 
would one day retire in England, the country that still means so 
much to me. But in the circumstances of 1967 I very much doubted 
if I stood any chance of getting accepted, in the short term, with my 
family as immigrants into the United Kingdom. While we were 
deliberating, there came welcome news that the Canadian 
Government had issued new criteria for accepting immigrants into 
the country, based on knowledge of English and French, education, 
work experience, age, health etc. Armed with this information, I had 
every reason to believe that I should not encounter too much 
difficulty in obtaining Canadian immigration papers for the entire 
family. Nor did it seem unrealistic to assume that with its democratic 
institutions and traditions, its vast land, its plentifiil natural resources 
and its relatively small population, Canada has much to offer any 
immigrant willing and able to work for a living. Thus, with Canada 
uppermost in our minds, Mamie and I jointly arrived at the 

Watershed, J 967-68 153 

momentous decision to emigrate at first opportunity, disregarding 
the loss of my Shell career and what that would mean in financial 

To complicate matters, Marian had for some time been suffering 
from a rare and pernicious kidney disease which, according to expert 
medical opinion, could sooner or later become fatal. So we had to 
consuh with the doctors on the likely impact of the harsh Canadian 
winter on Marian's fragile health. However, we were relieved and 
encouraged when they could see no reason why Marian should be 
any worse off in Canada, a country known for its free and readily 
available first-class medical facilities. 

Meanwhile my General Manager, Donald Campbell, informed 
me that he was sending me to London in December 1967 for 
training, after which I would be laterally reassigned in Shell Hong 
Kong as the Central Planning Manager for exactly one year. Then, 
beginning January 1969, I would be appointed Sales Manager (and 
Deputy General Manager) and, as a rare incentive, my promotion 
would be accompanied by terms of service which would be 
comparable to those of an expatriate. The exceptional offer was 
indeed tempting and flattering, but I had already made up my mind 
on strong, rational grounds to cast aside my ambition and burn my 
boats. I therefore confided in Donald straight away that I was 
seriously thinking of emigrating to Canada and that I could not be 
sure of how things might turn out for me in the coming months. 
However, I agreed to go to London for the scheduled training. 

On my way to London I stopped over in Ottawa to talk things 
over with Leslie, who was the first Executive Director of the 
Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, a union of all 
professionals employed by the Federal Government. After giving me 
a general briefing on Canada, he immediately offered me a job in his 
organization. He and his wife Mary, whom I had also met at 
Cambridge, gave me all the encouragement and assistance I needed 
to make the final step to Canada. To them both, all in my family are 
deeply indebted for our great new life as Canadians. Since coming to 
Canada - the best decision Mamie and I have ever made together - 
we have never looked back with any regret. 

On arrival in London I immediately informed Shell of my firm 
decision to immigrate to Canada, while not forgetting to thank them 
for my happy years with the organization and for their latest offer of 
promotion. I quickly returned to Hong Kong to tender my formal 
resignation as well as to apply for Canadian immigration papers. 
When in due course my resignation was announced most, if not all, 
of my friends and acquaintances in and outside of Shell were taken 

154 The Arches of the Years 

completely by surprise. Strange though it may seem, it was even 
rumoured that I had been fired! 

It was around this time that Chance entrusted me with the most 
exciting, and perhaps the most challenging, task of my entire career. 
The Dutch captain of a Shell tanker wired London that mutiny was 
on the verge of breaking out among the Chinese crew, all recruited 
by Shell Hong Kong. Following the arrival of the tanker at 
Bangkok, the crew were taken into custody by the Thai police. I 
immediately flew to Bangkok with my subordinate, Bernard Philpot, 
the Crew Department Manager. From the airport we went straight 
to the tanker to interview the captain and investigate what had 
happened. During the briefing, the captain accused the crew of gross 
insubordination bordering on mutiny and labelled them as 
'communists', simply on the grounds that copies of Chairman Mao's 
famous Little Red Book had been found inside their lockers. It was 
not an entirely satisfactory or illuminating meeting. It did cross my 
mind that the mere presence of the Little Red Book surely could not 
have constituted a communist threat on board the tanker, no more 
than the ownership of the Bible would have turned anyone into a 
Christian fanatic. 

Next we went to the police station where the crew members 
were under detention. Speaking with them at length in Cantonese I 
was able to ascertain, among other things, that they had genuine 
cause for grievance. The captain had arbitrarily marked down, in the 
interest of cost-cutting, the amount of overtime that had been 
incurred by the crew and officially ratified by the ship's officers. The 
crew were angry and resentful, but they had not mutinied. 
Furthermore, it seemed unlikely that they had had the intention, let 
alone the means, to engage in mutiny. 

To cut the story short, I decided to assume flill responsibility for 
the crew by taking all of them with us back to Hong Kong 
immediately. In view of the captain's refijsal to endorse the crew's 
existing passbooks - a requirement absolutely essential to their 
continued employment at sea - I authorised Bernard to issue them 
with new passbooks in Hong Kong, in order to ensure their 
eligibility for re-employment by other tankers. Thus, by treating the 
crew fairly and compassionately, I was also forestalling any possible 
attempt by the local Communists in Hong Kong to exploit the tanker 
incident for their own ends, at the expense of Shell. By the time I 
departed for Canada, every one of the dozen or more crew members 
had been satisfactorily reassigned. It gives me a happy conscience to 
recall that the careers of those young seamen were given a second 
chance and Shell Hong Kong's standing as a fair and responsible 

Watershed, 1967-68 155 

employer remained undiminished. 

Disappointed with my decision to leave Shell, Donald Campbell 
showed little interest in seeing me in my final days in Hong Kong. 
But while he was away in London, Hugh Arbuthnot, the Sales 
Manager (and Deputy General Manager), and his wife Ann gave a 
farewell dinner at home for Mamie and me, to which all senior 
managers and their wives were invited. It was a gesture of support 
and understanding in unusual and stressful circumstances that was 
sincerely meant and, indeed, greatly appreciated. 

I was the second in the family to leave Hong Kong on account 
of the Communist menace, my sister Winnie having emigrated to the 
United States with her husband and five children a few weeks 
earlier. In saying goodbye to my mother, I was fortunate in that I did 
not have to worry about her future well-being, knowing that my 
remaining brothers and sisters in Hong Kong would continue to take 
good care of her. Displaying her characteristic strength and 
resilience in times of change, my mother made the parting easier for 
herself and for me by openly sharing my ardent hopes for a brighter 
future for my family in a distant land. Believe it or not, the Royal 
Hong Kong Jockey Club also came to my assistance by paying 
indirectly for the family's airfare to Canada, when I won a minor 
sweepstake for the third time! 

Chapter 22 
Ottawa, 1968-72 

After the long, tedious flight across the Pacific, we landed as 
immigrants on March 30, 1968 at Vancouver, the scenic gateway to 
Canada, and broke our journey to allow time for relaxation and 
sightseeing. On arrival at Ottawa, we were met by a representative 
from the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada 
(PIPS) and taken to an apartment hotel in the heart of the city. As I 
drifted off into sleep that night, I was conscious of a profound sense 
of relief mingled with a strong dose of curiosity. The anxieties and 
pressures that had been weighing on my mind for many months 
through force of circumstance were now things of the past. A brand- 
new life, in a land of promise, free from the shadow of Communism, 
lay enticingly ahead, waiting to be explored. 

Ottawa, a small lumbering community located near the 
confluence of three rivers - the Ottawa from the north-west, 
Gatineau from the north, and Rideau from the south - was selected 
in 1858 by Queen Victoria as the capital of the united province of 
Canada, its rival claimants being Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto 
and Kingston. The British North America Act of 1 867 made Ottawa 
the national capital. In 1968 there were fewer than 300,000 people 
in Ottawa, a clean, quiet and pretty little city where traffic jams were 
rare (except in snowstorms) and serious crimes conspicuous by their 

It so happened that a political event of great moment was then 
taking place in Ottawa, at the leadership convention of the 
governing Liberal Party. On April 6 Pierre Trudeau emerged from a 
keen contest as the new Leader, and two weeks later succeeded 
Lester Pearson as Prime Minister of Canada. In the dramatic weeks 
leading up to the general election called for June 23, the dapper, 
sprightly, and charismatic new Prime Minister set about casting a 
spell over the entire country, from sea to sea, as he campaigned 
vigorously with style, eloquence and his vision of 'one Canada' 
against his less articulate opponent, the Progressive Conservative 
Leader Robert Stanfield. In consequence I, like the majority of 
Canadians, was swept off my feet by Trudeaumania 

Although a bystander in Canadian politics, I was only too glad to 
have for the first time in my life a democratically-elected Prime 


Ottawa, ] 968-72 157 

Minister I could look up to and regard as my own. It was a welcome 
change from being a colonial subject, accustomed to accepting 
unquestioningly an alien ruler from another universe as the 
autocratic Governor of Hong Kong. Thus, I began looking forward 
to the time five years hence when, as a Canadian citizen, I could 
proudly cast my first ever political vote. 

On the labour front, as in the political arena, Canada was also 
going through exciting times. Under Lester Pearson, the Public 
Service Staff Relations Act had been passed in 1967, granting 
collective bargaining rights to all categories of Federal employees 
and opening a new chapter in management-labour relations in the 
public sector. It was in this rapidly evolving milieu that I took up my 
appointment as Research Officer in PIPS at 786 Bronson Avenue. 
Formerly a professional staff association having a purely advisory 
and consultative role, PIPS was now a full-fledged union 
representing some eighteen thousand professional employees in 
collective bargaining and negotiation with the Treasury Board. 

There were, apart from myself, seven other professional staff 
working under Leslie Barnes. They were all recent immigrants, 
including four from England, and one each from Czechoslovakia, 
India and Malta. They too were recruited by Leslie with an eye on 
the need for a good blend of academic or professional qualifications 
and work experience. It is testimony to Leslie's leadership and 
foresight that PIPS was properly staffed and well-prepared, in good 
time, to meet the challenge of major statutory change. With his hand 
at the helm, PIPS experienced little difficulty in navigating, with 
skill, purpose and integrity, the uncharted waters of collective 
bargaining in the new order of things. 

On May 1 we moved into 1761 McMaster Avenue, a small but 
picturesque bungalow on a good-sized lot, with a giant elm tree 
overhanging the spacious front lawn. This was the fifth time in the 
last eleven years that Mamie was called upon to set up house in a 
different environment and under changing circumstances, a 
vexatious task at best. But she took the stresses and strains of the 
relocation to Ottawa in her stride with the surefootedness and 
adaptability of an experienced traveller and allowed nothing to 
dampen her spirits. 

That same evening, as we were getting ready for dinner, the 
doorbell rang. A young mother was seen standing outside with a 
wailing baby in her arms and two little girls clinging tightly to her. 
Clearly they were in some kind of distress, and common sense and 
simple decency dictated that they should be offered immediate 
assistance. It also flashed across my mind that this would be a 

1 58 The Arches of the Years 

golden opportunity for me to establish an early reputation in the 
neighbourhood for Oriental chivalry! 

No sooner had I flung open the door than the mother spoke 
softly: 'I'm June Brown. We live just across the street. We saw you 
moving in. Please let us know if we could be of help in any way.' 

The friendly gesture from a complete stranger was so 
unexpected that for a moment I was lost for words. All I could do 
was to mumble what must have sounded like an unintelligible reply. 
June and Merle Brown were to become our close friends. Like 
nearly all our neighbours in McMaster Avenue and, indeed, the 
majority of people in Ottawa, Merle worked for the Federal 
Government, the main industry and prime source of employment in 
the national capital. 

Over the next four years, our family life at 1761 McMaster was 
interrupted from time to time by the arrival of a good many visitors, 
friends and relatives alike, from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, 
England and the United States. It gave us real pleasure to welcome 
them to our simple home and let them take a peep at our new 
lifestyle. How gleefully my brothers P.T. and Patrick, on separate 
occasions, participated with us in the seasonal rituals of mowing the 
lawn, raking leaves, or shovelling snow, if only with the intention of 
boasting about their rare accomplishment on their return to Hong 
Kong! Naturally, whenever possible, we would go out of our way to 
show visitors around Ottawa. Sometimes they would be driven to 
the Quebec side of the Ottawa River for lunch or tea in Kingsmere, 
the private retreat of former prime minister Mackenzie King and 
best-known landmark in the Gatineau Park, or southward to Upper 
Canada Village, where scenes of eariy life in Canada are staged 
every summer as a tourist attraction. 

We were conveniently located for the children to attend Separate 
(Catholic) schools nearby. Teresa and Marian, then sixteen and 
thirteen, with their strong academic background, got off" to a good 
start at Notre Dame High and Queen of Angels respectively. But 
little Peter, aged six, speaking hardly a word of English, was a little 
bewildered at first at McMaster Primary. 

As for the future, sending the children to England for their 
education as I had previously planned was now entirely out of the 
question - a direct consequence of my broken career. But it was 
more or less taken for granted that, sooner or later, they would 
attend a Canadian university. It was indeed our earnest hope that 
they would eventually make their way in the world across Canada's 
multicultural society, unshackled by the past, proud of their adopted 
country, conscious of the riches and diversity of their acquired 

Ottmm, 1968-72 159 

heritage, and unequivocal about their Canadian identity. By the same 
token, we had absolutely no intention of bringing them up as half- 
hearted immigrants with divided loyalties. 

While getting my feet wet in PIPS I was asked by Leslie to pay a 
quick visit to Whitehorse in the Yukon, in the north-west corner of 
Canada. In preparation for collective bargaining, I was to consult 
with nurses stationed at that designated 'isolated outpost' and find 
out at first hand how they felt about their terms of employment and 
working conditions. In lovely June weather, I left Ottawa for 
Edmonton, where I changed planes for the onward flight to the 
Yukon. By the time I landed in Whitehorse it was damp and 
freezing, summer having literally come and gone in a matter of 
hours. Unfortunately I had with me just the light summer suit I was 
wearing and a raincoat and, to compound my discomfort, my 
suitcase had been lost in transit. Cold and miserable, I made my way 
from the landing-strip to a motel, all the while commiserating with 
myself for being a victim of miscalculation and mishap. 

Geographically isolated and sparsely populated, Whitehorse had 
one little, dusty main street with a bar or two. Under a gloomy, grey 
sky, there were all the makings of a sleepy, Hollywood-style 
watering-place for cowboys, where one would half-expect to see a 
John Wayne or a Clint Eastwood riding by at any moment. Thanks 
to rational minds, positive attitudes, and down-to-earth discussions, 
the meetings with nurses went well, and my fact-finding mission was 
accomplished without a hitch. I came away with the wonderful 
feeling that not too many Canadians in their lifetime would have the 
same opportunity as I had, so soon after arrival in Canada, of setting 
foot in this unusual spot with a strange-sounding name, in the back 
of beyond. 

To mark my first business trip in Canada, I brought home token 
gifts for every member of the family. To Peter I proudly handed a 
colourfiil native Canadian beaded belt, confident that my clever 
choice would be to his liking. However, after fingering it, he looked 
visibly disappointed. Perplexed, I could not help asking a little 

'Don't you like this exotic native souvenir?' 

He said nothing in reply, but simply pointed to the label attached 
to the back of the belt. It read: MADE IN HONG KONG. 

As the hazy, lazy days of summer rolled by, Canadian football 
seemed to be on almost everyone's mind in Ottawa. Curious to find 
out why it was such a popular spectator sport, I took my whole 
family one Saturday afternoon to Lansdowne Park (now Frank Clair 
Stadium), to watch a match between the Ottawa Rough Riders and 

160 The Arches of the Years 

the Hamilton Tiger Cats. The basic rules of the game, the different 
types of play, the variety of positions and roles assigned to the many 
players engaged in offence and defence, and the fijnny signals 
frequently flaunted by the referee, were all a mystery to us. 
Nonetheless, as play surged up and down the field, we threw 
ourselves into the spirit of the occasion by cheering and groaning 
with the enthusiastic, partisan crowds, even though we had very 
little idea what was actually going on. When the final whistle was 
blown, the Rough Riders were wildly applauded for their hard- 
earned victory while Russ Jackson, their quarterback (whatever that 
meant), was hailed as the conquering hero by one and all. As we 
chatted excitedly about the game on the way home, it was all too 
obvious that all of us had fallen for the Rough Riders and Canadian 

Every weekend we would closely follow the fortunes of our 
team, either at Lansdowne Park or on television. Sometimes I would 
even take the children to watch the footballers at practice, or to the 
weekly 'quarterback club' meetings in the evening, to listen to 
spirited discussions among the coaching staff, players and fans. I 
also found time to study, in deadly earnest, the tactics and strategies 
of the game. What a fiin-filled time it was when I posed as a high- 
powered armchair football critic, when Ottawa, coached by the low- 
key and phlegmatic Frank Clair, won the Grey Cup two years in a 
row, and when Russ Jackson was king! 

For our first Christmas in Canada my mother had sent C$10 to 
each of our children. At my suggestion they pooled the money to 
buy an artificial Christmas tree, as a souvenir of their grandmother. 
To this day Mamie still uses the same tree for decorating the living 
room every year at Christmas and for the whole family to gather 
round to celebrate the holy and joyous season. 

Christmas Day 1968 is a day for me to remember. There had 
been a heavy fall of snow. It was overcast, blustery and bitterly cold. 
The daytime temperature went down to minus 25 degrees Celsius 
with a windchill equivalent of minus 58. Like a blinking idiot I 
deliberately went out for a walk, as if I had something to prove, not 
realizing that I did not have the kind of warm clothing needed to 
protect the body from prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures. 
Sure enough I felt ill that same evening and it was diagnosed the 
next day that I had gone down with a severe case of pneumonia. I 
was confined to bed for three days, during which Mamie had to 
watch closely over me. Never again was I to challenge the Canadian 
winter so foolhardily. Incidentally, two years later, in the unrelenting 
winter of 1970/71, we had the experience of a lifetime when 444 

Ottawa, 1968-72 161 

centimetres of snow fell in Ottawa! 

The following summer, we embarked on a carefully-planned trip 
to see the Canadian West. After flying to Vancouver, we went the 
next day on the beautiful ferry trip to Vancouver Island where we 
visited Butchart Gardens and had English tea at the Empress Hotel. 
Then began the magnificent drive from Vancouver, lasting ten 
unforgettable days, along the trans-Canada highway, over Rogers 
Pass to Banff, northward to the Columbia Icefield and Jasper and, 
finally, back again to Banff. Time and time again, we paused and 
lingered at a vantage point in order to view, admire and take 
pictures of the snow-capped mountains, glaciers, lakes, canyons and 
waterfalls that are such awe-inspiring features of the Canadian 
Rockies. The breathtaking rides in chair-lifts and cable-cars were 
icing on the cake. We also indulged ourselves by staying several 
nights at both the Chateau Lake Louise and the Jasper Park Lodge. 
From Calgary we journeyed by train back to Ottawa. The flatness 
and monotony of the Prairies, after the spectacular landscape of the 
Rockies, had to be seen to be believed. There is perhaps a grain of 
truth in the popular banter that by standing on a sardine can in 
Calgary, one can almost see all the way to Winnipeg! 

For a different kind of holiday experience, I took my family on a 
long weekend to Quebec City in search of Canada's historic past. In 
particular I wanted to see for myself, and point out to my children, 
the Plains of Abraham, the story of which had captured my 
imagination in class at Wah Yan College, as related earlier in 
Chapter 10. After taking a buggy ride around the city, we walked by 
the Chateau Frontenac, a massive hotel shaped something like a 
castle and named after Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac, the 
illustrious son of France who had paved the way in Quebec for the 
eventual arrival of Montcalm. Further away we strolled in brilliant 
sunshine across the extensive, wind-swept Plains of Abraham, a busy 
playground for local families and an obvious centre of attraction for 
tourists. Despite the passage of time since 1759, I very much 
doubted if the physiognomy of this epoch-making battlefield could 
have undergone any real change. 

In the distance we could see the mighty St. Lawrence, flowing 
majestically towards the far-away Atlantic. At the end of a footpath 
we peered cautiously over the edge of the precipice, high and 
daunting, which had failed to turn back the British invaders. We 
rambled on until we came face to face with a simple and dignified 
monument, on one side of which was engraved the word Wolfe and 
on the other Montcalm. I was reminded that it was on the Plains of 
Abraham that, for the first time in the long history of war, both the 

162 The Arches of the Years 

commanders of the two opposing armies were killed in action. My 
thoughts drifted back to my school days and to Father Cronin, who 
had taught me that gripping history lesson about Canada, now our 
hearth and home. 

Eariy in 1970 I was given the privilege of representing the 
Economists in the very first contract dispute between PEPS and the 
Treasury Board that had to be settled by binding arbitration. In my 
student days at Cambridge, I had paid only grudging attention to 
industrial relations and the finer points of mediation, conciliation and 
arbitration. Now I found myself diligently masterminding the case 
for better pay for the Economists, anxious as I was to present it in 
the best possible light at the hearing. In the event, the decision 
handed down by the Arbitration Panel amounted to annual across- 
the-board salary increases of 7%, 7%, and 5.5% respectively over 
three years. It was well received by the Economists but accepted, if I 
remember correctly, with a distinct lack of enthusiasm by the 
Treasury Board, to whom the award might have seemed more than 
generous. In any case, it proved to be a landmark event: the terms of 
the settlement virtually governed all other contracts subsequently 
negotiated by PIPS on behalf of other professional bargaining units, 
for the period in question. 

After the arbitration hearing, near the end of my second year 
with PIPS, I crossed the floor to accept an appointment in the 
Personnel Policy Branch of the Treasury Board, as Head of the 
newly-established Evaluation Section of the Planning and 
Coordination Division. My office was in the Confederation Building 
on Parliament Hill, the home of the Houses of Parliament, a splendid 
group of Gothic buildings which are the crowning architectural 
feature of Ottawa. Working there gave me the happy illusion of 
being within reach of the corridors of power! The Confederation 
Building itself is grand and impressive, although draughty in winter 
and like an oven on hot summer days. From my window facing 
north, I had a clear view of the Ottawa River, freezing over 
stealthily each year as winter advanced, and thawing hesitantly in 
reverse direction in late spring. To those well acquainted with the 
Canadian winter, the river's habit of donning seasonal disguises was 
nothing to rave about. But to me, as yet unaccustomed to the many 
moods and nuances of the northern climate, it was a bewitching 

Trying to find my feet as a new civil servant in the unfamiliar 
setting of the leviathan Treasury Board proved to be somewhat 
trickier than I had anticipated; it was not unlike working in Shell 
Centre, London. Luckily, I had a bright and enthusiastic young 

Ottawa, ] 968-72 163 

assistant, Eleanor DeWolf, she and I having first met perfunctorily 
as involuntary adversaries, seemingly looking with distrust at each 
other from opposite sides of the bargaining table. Without her 
thoughtful and unstinting support, the project I was working on 
would have been bogged down with difficulties. 

As we moved through 1971 Teresa was already in her second 
year at Carlton University. Marian was also doing well at high 
school. Peter was rapidly forgetting his Cantonese. But Marian 
continued to be plagued by poor health, despite continuing medical 
attention. Eventually the experienced paediatrician looking after her 
recommended a young kidney specialist who boldly decided to give 
Marian a potent new treatment, still at the experimental stage and 
known to have severe side effects, which required our written 
consent. Many months later, when all indications pointed to her 
satisfactory return to normal health, Marian made a special return 
trip with us to the Church of St. Anne de Beaupre, near Quebec 
City, to offer heartfeh thanksgiving for the gracious answer to our 
desperate prayers. Over the past several years it had been 
heartbreaking at times for Mamie and me to watch Marian 
struggling stoically with adversity. Thank God! she was really and 
completely cured. Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened 
to her, had we not come to Canada. 

In December 1971 I flew back to Hong Kong to spend a little 
time with my mother, who was recovering from a stroke. After my 
return to Ottawa, I was glancing through a journal when it caught 
my attention that Peter HoUis, a veteran Shell expatriate, had 
recently been appointed the first Employee Relations Vice-President 
of Shell Canada. HoUis and I had run into each other several times at 
Shell conferences in South-East Asia in the early 1 960s. On the spur 
of the moment I wrote to him seeking an appointment, with a view 
to sounding him out on aspects of personnel management in Shell 
Canada which might be relevant to my project. 

Within a few weeks I found myself shaking hands warmly with 
Mollis in his office in Toronto. I could hardly believe my ears when, 
without beating about the bush, he asked me what I was earning at 
the Treasury Board and then went on to offer me a hefty increase in 
salary to work for him. It was not at all easy for me, on the spot, to 
control, let alone hide, my joyful emotions at the sudden prospect of 
returning to Shell, especially on such favourable terms. But being 
already in my late forties, I was also a little reluctant to give up the 
modest pension benefits I had been building up in the last four years 
in Ottawa. In any case, my final decision would depend very much 
on Mamie's willingness to put up with the inconvenience of yet 

164 The Arches of the Years 

another move, this time to Toronto. So I asked for a few days to 
think the matter over. 

Back home the same evening, I immediately sought Mamie's 
reaction to the day's surprising development. Quickly she remarked: 

'Brian, if you are still hesitating over the Shell offer, you must be 
out of your mind!' 

So, without further ado, I jumped at the opportunity to rejoin 
Shell, leaving the future to take care of itself Of one thing I was 
certain: everyone in the family was more than ready to say goodbye 
to Ottawa's long, hard winters. 

But Ottawa could not be lightly dismissed from my memory. It 
was from Ottawa that Leslie Barnes extended me a spontaneous 
helping hand when it was most needed, and it was in Ottawa that 
Mamie and I ventured heart and soul upon a fresh start with the 
family, hoping for the best and wondering what we might find at the 
end of the Canadian rainbow. 

Chapter 23 
Toronto, 1972-84 

Toronto is the old name the Hurons gave to their country and 
probably means 'land of plenty'. In 1787 the British purchased the 
site of Toronto, situated on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, 
from the Mississauga Indians and, six years later, settlement began 
with its establishment as the capital for the newly-formed province 
of Upper Canada. In 1797 the legislature met for the first time in the 
new capital, which was called York. At first the settlement remained 
a small administrative and garrison town. In 1834 York resumed its 
original name and was incorporated as the city of Toronto, with a 
population of 9,000. 

In the early nineteen-seventies Metropolitan Toronto had a 
population of about two million and was fast becoming the leading 
financial, commercial and industrial centre of Canada. 

Early in 1972, about a month after my happy meeting with Peter 
Mollis, I duly joined the Shell Canada Head Office at 505 University 
Avenue, in downtown Toronto, as a supernumerary in the Employee 
Relations (E.R.) Department. It seemed almost like a dream that I 
should have found my way, through a chain of fortuitous 
circumstances, to the Canadian wing of the very concern that had 
recruited me direct from Cambridge, that had set me on my feet in 
an exciting career, and that had been part of some of the best years 
of my working life. As a new immigrant, I was indeed very glad and 
fortunate to have had the opportunity of working in turn for PIPS 
and the Treasury Board and gaining Canadian experience. Now I 
was ready to step into the private sector and begin working for Shell 

Assigned to a special project team, I was soon busy acquainting 
myself with the corporate personnel management network and criss- 
crossing the country for consultations with the many Shell E.R. 
Managers who were based in Montreal, Sarnia, Winnipeg, Calgary 
and Vancouver as well as Toronto. 

At the time I was staying in lodgings on my own since it made 
sense for the family to remain behind in Ottawa until the end of the 
school year. Before long Mamie came to spend a weekend with rne, 
especially to look at the house at 588 Cummer Avenue which 
seemed to be quite a suitable home for the family. She liked what 


166 The Arches of the Years 

she saw, and the purchase of the house was finaUzed for occupation 
at the end of June. 

On the very day that we moved from Ottawa to Toronto, I was 
shocked to learn that Hollis would be returning to England at the 
end of his first year in Shell Canada, apparently on involuntary 
retirement. The news of my sponsor's sad and sudden fall from 
grace came as a bolt from the blue and, by blurring my immediate 
prospects, filled me with anxiety. But as time passed my worst fears 
failed to materialize. It was with a genuine sigh of relief that I learnt 
at Christmas of my appointment as E.R. Coordinator for Finance 
and Administration (F. and A). 

Moving into F. and A. at the middle-management level, as a 
Chinese immigrant from Hong Kong, in my late forties, with a 
hotchpotch of foreign and Ottawa experience, made me an atypical 
newcomer. I also happened to be the odd man out, in so far as the 
line managers I had to work with at the time were all Caucasians. 
Near the end of a presentation, I made a strategic pause and then 
said offhandedly, catching the audience by surprise: 

'In case you are not aware, I often get myself into trouble, 
because you all seem to look alike.' 

Empathetic smiles and warm chuckles immediately rippled 
across the large pool of friendly faces. 

Before his departure, Hollis had done me another good turn by 
including me among the first few to be sent south of the border for 
T-Group Training, a form of sensitivity training already in vogue in 
the United States, but as yet untried and untested in Shell Canada. I 
was given to understand that T-Group Training had something to do 
with developing behavioural skills in order to work more effectively 
with people. In due course I went by myself to Carmel-by-the-Sea, 
the famous resort in California where, in the Highlands Inn, a cosy 
little hotel high up on a hill, I tried to pick up scraps of knowledge 
about the do's and don't' s of being sensitive. 

There were some fourteen participants, all men, in my T-Group 
(T merely stands for training). Thanks to judicious planning and 
screening by the training administration, everyone of us came from a 
different career background, a different organization, and a different 
place in North America. This was intended to create a select 
environment in which, as complete strangers to one another, we 
could speak our minds freely and take part in group dynamics at 
will, without being inhibited or embarrassed by the presence of 
someone whom we might have met before, or might well meet again 
in the fiiture. Thus, we were exposed for a week to the theory and 

Toronto, 1972-84 167 

practice of behavioural science, through informal talks and, more 
pointedly, by way of unstructured discussions and no-holds-barred 
interactive exercises. 

Not knowing what to expect and opting for prudence and 
reticence, my T-Group get off to a slow and awkward start. But the 
mood and tempo changed rather dramatically when one of the 
participants seized an opportune moment to let off steam by talking 
candidly about a personal matter that had been weighing him down. 
Once the ice was broken, several others also got into the act by 
doing likewise. In the emotionally-charged atmosphere that could be 
discerned stealing over the group of strangers, what was aired and 
shared in tacit confidence dealt with strictly private concerns, such 
as a broken marriage, a dying spouse, and an unsuccessful career. 
While opening out a good deal and groping for understanding and 
support, one member actually broke down in tears. There came a 
pregnant pause during which the silence in the room was deafening. 
Strangely enough, after the long, unusual session, the group began 
interacting at a higher level of trust and gradually became a closer 
community, even when arguing and disagreeing over contentious 
issues. When it was time to part company, the participants went 
round shaking hands heartily with one another and exchanging fond 
farewells. The point was made, gently and unconsciously, that even 
complete strangers with little in common could find cause to be on 
empathetic terms, if they tried, if only for a few days. 

The other types of training that I know something about, such as 
marketing, management, public relations and industrial relations, are 
entirely work-related and could hardly have any application outside 
the office domain. By comparison, the T-Group focusses attention 
on the role that behavioural skills could play in cultivating healthier 
and more viable personal relationships with another individual in any 
given situation, whether in the workplace or within the precinct of 
the family. In the process, it attempts on the one hand to sharpen 
one's awareness, and enhance one's understanding, of the way the 
other individual behaves; and on the other hand, to raise one's 
consciousness of the need at times to step back a bit, to look 
objectively at the manner in which one has been handling oneself, 
and possibly to modify one's own behaviour for the good of both 

There were many more who went from Shell Canada to T- 
Group Training, but their feedback on the experience was decidedly 
mixed. Some took to it, and even recommended it to their bosses or 
colleagues; others found some of the sessions unpleasant and 
disturbing, if not counter-productive. Perhaps as a result of divided 

168 77?^ Arches of the Years 

counsel, Shell Canada gradually lost interest in the T-Group as a 
tool for staff training and development. Later on when, in the face of 
a deteriorating market situation, cost-cutting measures monopolized 
attention within the company, 'T-Group' simply disappeared from 
the Shell vocabulary. 

For my part an ashtray carrying the emblem of the Highlands 
Inn, which has been kept among my souvenirs, is a singular reminder 
of the time, the place and the circumstances of a refreshing learning 

In April 1973, after completing five years' residence in Canada, 
my family and I proudly took our simple oaths as new Canadian 
citizens. We promptly applied for, and obtained, Canadian passports, 
following which, as a matter of principle, we did not renew our 
Hong Kong British passports. The very idea of clinging to two 
different passports and trifling with dual nationality is repugnant to 

Partly to celebrate our long-anticipated acquisition of Canadian 
citizenship and partly to court popularity at hom.e, I made the 
inspired decision to treat the family to a grand European holiday. 
For the first leg of our journey, we flew to England in mid-August, 
eager to renew our acquaintance with some of London's famous 
landmarks and attractions. In the course of a day trip to Cambridge I 
did the simple thing, in glorious weather, by loitering away time in 
the Backs, rediscovering the joys of punting, and revelling in golden 
memories. To round off a great summer day, Tony Camps, now 
Master of Pembroke, invited us over for a drink in the Master's 
Lodge. Afterward, he insisted on driving us to the station to catch a 
train back to London. That same evening we arrived just in time at 
the Victoria Palace Theatre to enjoy the Max Bygraves Show. 

From Folkstone we crossed the English Channel to Calais, the 
starting point of the coach tour which took us through France, 
Switzerland, Italy, Austria, West Germany and Belgium. At the 
many stopovers in major cities - Paris, Lucerne, Rome, Florence, 
Venice, Vienna, Cologne and Brussels - we went on a variety of 
side-trips every one of which seemed to have something of interest 
and value to offer, such as a glimpse of history, a taste of culture, a 
sampling of local customs, or a view of magnificent scenery. 

When we finally got home on the Labour Day weekend, I asked 
the children if they would each name one special experience which 
seemed most deserving of an exclusive place, like a very dear friend, 
in their memory. I thought it would have to be something 
spectacular or grand, like seeing Paris by night, or the excursion to 

Toronto, 1972-84 169 

Versailles, or exploring St. Peter's Basilica, or the stroll through St. 
Mark's Square and the gondola ride in Venice, or the evening of 
Viennese waltzes, or the cruise on the Danube, or the drive beside 
the Rhine. But what a pleasant surprise when the choice fell, with 
one voice, on the lazy and languid punting afternoon in ftill view of 
the serene beauty and architectural splendour of Cambridge! 

On Christmas Eve 1973, my mother and I were having a 
customary chat over the phone when she had to cut short the 
conversation because she was not feeling at all well. Her last words 
to me, spoken in a raspy voice with warmth and affection, were 
'Make sure you don't catch cold! Take good care of yourself and 
your family. ' 

My mother was taken to hospital on Christmas Day. She passed 
away on December 29. All through the night my brothers P.T. and 
Patrick kept vigil beside her. 

My sister Margaret, who had immigrated to Vancouver, wrote a 
tribute in blank verse to my mother's memory which ends as 

For God will have His way, 
As if to say, 'You've had 
Her long enough. It's time 
To bid farewell . ' And so 
An era's past - a life 
Of gentle ways, restraints. 
And leisured elegance. 
Beguiling an inner strength 
Derived from faith imbued 
By a culture due to pass 
Us by - a faith that made 
Her live and die by the will 
Of husband, then of sons. 
Assuming her children loved 
Her best. In all she'd been 
Rewarded, 'cause they do. 
And do, and so does each 
Grandchild - wherefore this day 
Across the seas we kneel 
In grief and pride to mourn 
Her sacred memory. 

My parents lie closely side by side in the Catholic Cemetery in 

1 70 The Arches of the Years 

Happy Valley. Nearby rests my fourth grandmother. I last went 
there in April 1994. 

On the Easter weekend following my mother's passing, I was on 
my way to a nursery to pick up some plants for my backyard when I 
noticed an 'Open House' sign outside 22 Argonne Crescent, in a 
quiet residential area not far from where we lived. Out of sheer 
curiosity I stopped my car, and dropped in for a cursory look. 

The house for sale stood in a fine situation: on high ground 
overlooking the north, on a quiet street away from mainstream 
traffic, but within easy walking distance of public transport. It was 
well-designed, solidly built and neatly kept, with room to spare for a 
family of five. There was an additional source of attraction in the 
landscaped backyard, which adjoins St. Joseph Morrow Park, the 
private property of a convent. It seemed such an admirable place in 
which to live that I went back with Mamie repeatedly for more 
carefial inspections. Despite its steep asking price, I simply could not 
keep the house off my mind. 

The next week I had to attend a meeting at the Shell Data 
Centre with Marjorie Blackhurst, a close colleague of mine. As soon 
as I sat down in front of her, I burst out helplessly: 

'Marjorie, I've fallen in love.' 

Staring at me in shock and disbelief, her eyes as big as saucers, 
Marjorie uttered a loud whisper: 

'Oh, no! Brian. What's going to happen to Mamie?' 

I hastened to explain that the object of my reckless desire was 
not a pretty woman, but a lovely home. 

After careful budgeting, and not a little hesitation, I finally made 
up my mind to put in a bid for the house. When it was accepted with 
little delay, my Cummer home was immediately put up for sale. But 
by that time the real estate market was rapidly taking a turn for the 
worse. Over the next two or three weeks, there were plenty of 
potential buyers streaming through the house, but none came back 
with any kind of offer. 

I was becoming increasingly worried that I might have to forfeit 
my deposit on the prospective new home, when something 
remarkable happened. One night, I saw my mother in a dream: she 
was pacing restlessly back and forth in her bedroom at 15/17 Shelley 
Street, looking serious and concerned, and muttering to herself in 

'I must help number nine (my family nickname, as I was the 
ninth child) sell his house.' 

A day or two later there surfaced one solitary offer which 
happened to match the minimum price I was prepared in my mind to 

Toronto, 1972-84 171 

accept. Thus my ardent wish to live at 22 Argonne Crescent was 
granted. Can I ever forget that dream"^ 

We moved into my dream house in August 1974. There 
followed ten eventful years in the chronicle of the family as the 
children grew up and the daughters started up their own homes, 
while Mamie and I settled into a stable and sedate phase of our 
married life, free from the hassles and uncertainties arising from job 
change, reassignment or relocation. 

Teresa and Marian graduated in turn from the University of 
Toronto, Teresa in French in 1974, and Marian in French and 
English in 1976. While working for Bell Canada, Teresa enrolled at 
York University for postgraduate studies, and in 1978 obtained her 
MBA. In the same year she married Brian Eng, her MBA classmate 
and a third generation Chinese Canadian from Fort Erie. My brother 
P.T. came from Hong Kong especially to attend the wedding. 
Progressing as a specialist in telecommunications, Teresa moved 
from Bell to the Canadian Telecommunications Group in 1981, and 
then to Royal Trust in 1984. 

After a spell with an insurance agency, Marian joined Travellers' 
Insurance in 1979 as a staff writer. In 1983 she married Joseph Yao, 
a Systems Analyst with Shell Canada who had come to Toronto 
from Hong Kong via Winnipeg. At the wedding dinner, my 
colleague Harry Embleton proved to be a suave Master of 
Ceremonies. My brother Patrick, who proposed the toast to the 
bride, spoke so deftly off the cuff that he caused quite a stir among 
the guests and added a touch of class to the occasion. I followed 
Patrick with a little speech of my own, in which I ventured to 
explain how I had jotted down a number of attributes I would like to 
find in my prospective son-in-law, how I had them programmed into 
the Shell Employee Information System, how the computer had 
printed out a short list of people answering to those attributes, and 
how my attention had immediately been drawn to the first name on 
the list, Joseph Yao. 

Later that evening I was dancing merrily with an old friend from 
Shell Hong Kong, when she asked, 

'Brian, tell me honestly. Was that really how you got hold of 
your new son-in-law?' 

Peter's early days in high school at Brebeuf College were marred 
by a serious accident. While bicycling to school, he was knocked 
down by a car, and was indeed fortunate to have escaped with a 
badly broken leg. Peter entered York University, graduating in 1984 
in Economics. While looking for employment, he remained at York 

1 72 The Arches of the Years 

for another year studying Computer Science. 

Mamie and I celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in 
1976 by driving for the first time through northern New York, 
Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, going as far as Bar Harbour 
on the Atlantic seaboard. The mere sight of gorgeous fall colours 
running riot on the hills and mountains and in the valleys, especially 
in Vermont, was so pleasing to the eye and intoxicating to the mind 
that we have not been able to resist the temptation to return every 
few years for more of the same experience. Jane Austen's view of 
autumn in England now comes to mind: 

...that season of peculiar and inexhaustible 
influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that 
season which has drawn from every poet, worthy of 
being read, some attempt at description, or some 
lines of feeling... 

During the general election in 1979 I went to a luncheon rally in 
support of Trudeau, for whom my family and I had voted solidly in 
1974. At this rousing assembly of loyal Liberals, he spoke without 
notes for half an hour on the Constitution, passionately and 
elegantly, proving once again that as an ad lib political speaker, he 
was clearly in a class of his own. After the speech I queued up for 
the honour of shaking hands with him I remember saying to him, 
'Prime Minister, good luck.' It was a moment of high drama in my 
life. Such was the sense of pride I derived from coming face to face 
with Trudeau and gripping him by the hand that, as I bragged to my 
friends later on, I took care not to wash my right hand long after the 

I should add that I was greatly disappointed when Trudeau was 
humbled by the loss of that election to Joe Clark. But within months, 
in a bizarre turn of events, Clark's government fell unexpectedly, 
Trudeau readily answered the call to come out of retirement to fight 
yet another election and, to the absolute delight of all his fans and 
supporters, was triumphantly returned to power with a comfortable 
majority. All's well that ends well. 

In 1982 Mamie and I went back to Hong Kong for a short 
holiday. While we were at a mah-jong party, news arrived from 
Taipei that my brother PC, who had retired a few years earlier as 
Commandant of Taiwan's Armed Forces University, with the rank 
of a four-star general, had passed away. PC. must have been one of 
the very few officers, if not the only one, in the Chinese Nationalist 
Army during the Second World War who were British-trained. In 

Toronto, 1972-84 173 

the postwar years, he could well have been the best-educated of all 
Chiang Kai Shek's high-ranking officers. By sending PC. to 
Cambridge, London and Woolwich, my father had laid the 
groundwork for the uhimate fulfilment of his eldest son's career. 
P.C. was fifteen years older than I. I was only three when he left for 
England. On his return to Hong Kong, he stayed at Shelley Street 
for just a short while before joining the Chinese Nationalist Army in 
Guangzhou. Over the years he and I saw so little of each other that I 
never got to know him well. But I owe him a unique debt of 
gratitude: but for his letter to Pembroke on my behalf, I would never 
have crossed the threshold of Cambridge. 

In the summer of 1983, Mamie and I took off with Peter for 
another journey through the Canadian Rockies. Starting from 
Calgary, we took turns to drive as we traced a sprawling circular 
route by going first to Banff, then as far north as Jasper, as far west 
as Kamloops in British Columbia, and as far south as Waterton Park 
in Alberta, before finally returning to base. Pictures taken by Peter 
during the tremendous trip can be seen lining the shelves and 
covering the walls in our family room. I simply cannot imagine how 
anyone could ever get tired of seeing the Canadian Rockies. 

When news arrived that her mother had passed away, Mamie 
immediately flew back for the fijneral. After the untimely loss of her 
husband before the Second World War, my mother-in-law had 
brought up Mamie single-handedly in Hong Kong, in good times and 
in bad times, and had given her only child the benefit of a sound 
education as well as a devoted mother's personal attention. I think 
of my mother-in-law as a little heroine in her own right, unsung but 
not forgotten. 

To return to office matters, my colleague Marjorie Blackhurst 
had begun her career as a clerk in the Shell Montreal Refinery and, 
by dint of part-time study, had subsequently earned a degree from 
McGill University. In 1974 she was promoted to E.R. Manager at 
the Shell Data Centre in Toronto, the first woman to reach the 
benchmark middle-management level in the history of Shell Canada. 
It was a major step by the company towards opening up professional 
career opportunities for women. 

In the wake of Marjorie' s achievement, I decided to stick my 
neck out by recommending to Shell someone I thought highly of and 
knew rather well. She was none other than Eleanor DeWolf, my 
former assistant in Ottawa, now working in a Federal department in 
Toronto. After a series of interviews, Eleanor was recruited in 1975 
as an E.R. Staff Analyst in Shell Canada Head Office. 

174 The Arches of the Years 

But doubts about the wisdom of bringing in a young woman, 
and a career civil servant at that, Hngered in some minds. I was even 
given to understand that should Eleanor fail to make the grade, it 
would reflect adversely on me. But far fi-om letting me down, 
Eleanor moved on from strength to strength. In 1981, while Shell 
Canada was plunged into the throes of major change, she was 
promoted to E.R. Manager for the Products Division, thus 
becoming my immediate boss and, unwittingly, saving my neck into 
the bargain. 

In my role as E.R. Coordinator, first for F. and A., then 
Marketing, and later Products, I was very much involved in staff 
planning and development, an activity that was essential, in the Shell 
tradition, to both management succession planning and individual 
career development. At least once a year, usually at the beginning of 
the staff planning cycle in the fall, I would be visiting Shell locations 
across the country for discussions with a wide cross-section of line 
managers on their local staffing needs and concerns. This would lead 
up to the annual staff planning meetings held at various senior 
management levels in Head Office. 

In October 1983 I took Mamie with me to Montreal, where we 
checked in at the Hotel Bonaventure. I was to join the Eastern 
Marketing Region management team at the hotel for staff planning 
deliberations for the next two days, while it was Mamie's intention 
to take a coach tour of the city and also do some shopping on her 

Around noon the following day Mamie was returning to her 
room from the hotel lobby. At the moment of entry, she was 
suddenly shoved through the doorway from behind while an arm 
was wrapped tightly around her neck and a gun pressed against her 
temple. Resisting instinctively and, perhaps, foolhardily, she was 
locked in a desperate, but unequal, struggle with the intruder, a lean 
young man of medium height who seemed intent on punishing her 
for putting up a fight. Finally he decided to get away, taking her 
handbag and leaving her in the room, bruised and shaken, but 
fortunately sustaining no serious injury. By the time help arrived - 
much too late - Mamie had regained her poise, and it has never 
ceased to amaze me how she managed to remain calm and 
composed when recounting her terrifying experience to the police. 

The very next day I drove Mamie straight back to Toronto. In 
the evening I was relating to Teresa the frightening sequence of 
events, when the pain of slowly recalling what my poor wife had 
gone through, coupled with the stark reminder that things could 
have been much worse, struck home suddenly with dreadftil force. 

Toronto, 1972-84 175 

Unable to finish the story I found myself crying aloud on Teresa's 
shoulder, and for the next little while, she was gently comforting, 
not her mother as she had originally intended, but her father instead. 

A few months later Mamie's assailant was caught red-handed in 
another criminal act. I accompanied Mamie back to Montreal to 
testify at the trial. Five or six other women, who had similarly been 
attacked in Montreal hotels by the same man, also turned up as 
witnesses. Two of them had not been as lucky as Mamie: one was 
knocked unconscious during the assault, and the other still carried 
painful evidence of a serious neck injury. At the end of the trial, a 
detective inspector mentioned to me in passing that the culprit 
would probably be jailed for several years, and be out on parole after 
serving half the time or less. 

'Of course,' he added philosophically, with a smile and a shrug, 
'the cycle of crime will then begin all over again.' 

Meanwhile the course of my life was being shaped, once more, 
by unforeseen events. For some time Shell Canada had not been 
performing up to expectations. Early in 1984, in a drastic move to 
cut costs and improve productivity, there came the stunning 
announcement that the company was embarking on a threefold 
organizational change, by restructuring, downsizing, and at the same 
time relocating the entire Head Office to Calgary. To this end, a 
golden handshake was offered to both those employees who were 
eligible for early retirement and to others who were unwilling to 
make the move to Calgary or were otherwise losing their jobs. 

Eventually some six hundred employees lefl the company on 
early retirement. Although the severance package was fair and 
generous, many were saddened and mortified by the abruptness of 
the more-or-less involuntary end to their careers. Some were openly 
disgruntled and disillusioned. It was all the more unfortunate that, in 
their anxiety to press on with efforts to manage change. The Senior 
Executive (TSE) - the corporate title embracing the President and 
three Senior Vice-Presidents - betrayed a certain lack of sensitivity 
by electing to downgrade the sense of occasion at the time-honoured 
farewell parties for retirees, in whose eyes 'rich gifts wax poor when 
givers prove unkind'. 

As for me, at the ripe old age of sixty, with less than thirteen 
years' service, I was more than content that I too would qualify for 
early retirement, even though I would have liked to have continued 
working for Shell a little longer. Certainly both Mamie and I did not 
have the slightest inclination to uproot ourselves again and be away 
from the children. 

On November 30th, at the end of the day, I drifted out of the 

1 76 The Arches of the Years 

half-deserted building at 505 University Avenue, alone, with a touch 
of sadness, and for the very last time. But I was not leaving empty- 
handed. I had been in the Toronto office for a longer unbroken 
period than anywhere else in my chequered career of thirty-five 
years. I had had an interesting and rewarding time with Shell 
Canada. I had met, and worked with, many fine and decent 
associates. I had made a number of close personal friends. I was 
indeed carrying away with me a bundle of happy and satisfying 

Chapter 24 
The Golden Arch 

It is a matter of some importance for me to step back a bit in time 
and recall the pre-retirement counselling programme that Mamie and 
I attended together for two days at the Valhalla Inn, off Highway 
427, to the north of Toronto, during the final weeks of my career. 
The event was promoted by Shell Canada for the benefit of retiring 
employees and their spouses, in the hope of helping them launch out 
into something new and rewarding in their continuing partnership. 
There comes into my mind the bespectacled, soft-spoken, solemn 
and elderly counsellor, who said in simple language that everyone 
could easily understand: 'If you want a sure way of getting a quick 
divorce, try rearranging the crockery in the cupboard or the 
fiarniture in the living room while your wife is out shopping.' 

Ever since that meaningful encounter with the wise old owl, I 
have been scrupulously watching my every step whenever I find 
myself pottering about on my own in either the kitchen or the living 
room. That may help to explain why, despite the relentless passage 
of time, Mamie and I are still happily married, untouched by any 
shadow of impending separation or breakup. It seems a safe bet that, 
with a little bit of luck, we shall be celebrating our golden wedding 
in 2001. 

My new life with Mamie began in a spirited fashion when the 
children threw a party at 22 Argonne Crescent on December 1, 1984 
for my retirement. There were no speeches, but plenty of goodwill, 
good wishes and good friends. Knowing our burgeoning taste for 
opera, the children also gave us season tickets to O'Keefe Centre 
(now Hummingbird Centre). Subsequently, we followed through by 
returning to O'Keefe for several more seasons. Far from becoming 
connoisseurs in that realm of beautiful music, we have been content 
with familiarizing ourselves with some of the best-known operas, 
collecting recordings of the world's top tenors and sopranos, and 
simply sitting back and enjoying the lovely arias of the great 

Being also very fond of musicals, we have made a point of going 
to most of the famous shows that come to Toronto. The one musical 
which has stolen my heart in recent years is undoubtedly Les 
Miserables. Suffice it to say that I have seen it seven times so far, 


178 The Arches of the Years 

the last time in December 1998 with our grandchildren, Christine 
and Catherine. 

As a carefree pensioner, unhurried by time and unfettered by 
schedules, I have been reading not only for pleasure but also with a 
view to acquiring a better appreciation of English prose and learning 
more about history. By and large my interests have centred on 
English classics (mainly 19th century). Western history (since 1500), 
the Second World War, and literary and political biography. I must 
also confess to being addicted to English authors who are household 
names. The reader, I suspect, can easily guess who they are. 
Rereading old favourites is surely one of the greatest joys that life 
affords. By becoming a member of The Folio Society and slowly 
building up a good collection of my cherished books in handsome 
editions, I have been indulging in the company of old friends who 
have shed their former shabby garments in exchange for elegant new 
attire. Since retirement, I have done more serious reading, and 
enjoyed it more, than I could have thought possible. Just for the fun 
of it, I have also been keeping account of virtually every book I have 

In the first ten years of my retirement, Mamie and I did a good 
deal of flying across both the Pacific and the Atlantic. To begin with, 
we were in Hong Kong in 1985 to attend the wedding of my brother 
P.T.'s eldest daughter Karen and Dr. Peter Lau. The next year, we 
went to England in the hope of seeing Timothy McKenzie, my 
Franciscan friend, who was dying of cancer. Unfortunately he passed 
away before we arrived. In the course of a coach tour of the Lake 
District, we stopped off at Haworth where we spent time sauntering 
and loitering in the parsonage and the church of the Brontes. We got 
together with my other Cambridge friends: Tony Hudson and his 
wife Joan in Liverpool, where Tony was Dean of the Law Faculty at 
the University as well as a Law Professor (and also an external 
examiner for the University of Hong Kong); and Wilf Saunders and 
his wife Joan in Sawston, near Cambridge. Wilf had retired in 1 982 
as Professor of Librarianship and Information Science at the 
University of Sheffield and had been awarded the C.B.E.; 
subsequently, advisory and consultancy work took him to all five 
continents (twice to Beijing at the invitation of the Chinese 
government); and in 1989 the University conferred on him the 
honorary degree of Litt. D. We also visited Edinburgh and came 
away with the satisfaction of having seen Holyrood Palace and the 
bedroom of Mary Queen of Scots - my favourite queen, if only 
because of her tragic fate - as well as Edinburgh Castle. 

In 1987 we were back in London for the wedding of my brother 

The Golden Arch 179 

Patrick's daughter Dominica and Trevor Yang, which took place at 
the Brompton Oratory. At Claridge's, I was called upon to propose 
the toast to the bride, and I had this to say, among other things, 
about the famous father of the bride: 

Patrick is well-known, respected and admired not 
only in Hong Kong, but also in Canada. To illustrate 
what I mean, I will now read to you, word for word, 
an illuminating sketch of him in the latest edition of 
Who's Who, published by the prestigious Canadian 
Bar Association: 'Patrick Yu, alias Yu Shuk Siu, one 
of six million in Hong Kong; probably of Cantonese 
origin; educated somewhere in England; despite 
numerous prolonged appearances in court, still 
without any criminal record; dangerously active 
member of a secret Hong Kong Mah-Jong Society; 
last seen working furiously all night at Caesar's 

As I got into my stride, there came hoots of mischievous 
laughter from the large party of Patrick's ardent and loyal admirers, 
many of whom had come all the way from Hong Kong especially for 
the occasion. With such friends, who need enemies! 

In 1989 Mamie and I joined P.T. in Hong Kong for his birthday. 
That was the time when students by the thousands began converging 
peacefully on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, clamouring for more 
freedom and demonstrating against authoritarianism. From the 
standpoint of the iron rulers of Beijing, the unexpected and 
unwelcome developments were especially embarrassing because they 
were being televised around the world. Back home, we watched, in 
horror and almost disbelief, the gruesome spectacle of tanks 
rumbling savagely across the Square in pursuit of the fleeing, 
unarmed demonstrators, soldiers firing ruthlessly at anyone within 
sight, and the dead and wounded being carried away on the run by 
their bewildered and terrified comrades. It is a moot point whether 
any of those responsible for the massacre on June 4 would ever 
admit the error of their ways. But the memory of the Tiananmen 
martyrs, who stirred the conscience and soul of Chinese in Hong 
Kong and elsewhere and won universal sympathy and admiration, 
will surely live on in the lofty pages of history, long after the 
perpetrators of the heinous crime have been forgotten. They did not 
die in vain. 

By coincidence, it was shortly after the Beijing massacre that my 

180 The Arches of the Years 

sister Sheung Woon, then seventy-seven years of age, arrived in 
Toronto as an immigrant, the last of my five sisters to settle 
permanently in North America. Partly in jest and partly in earnest, I 
started calling her 'Duchess', a nickname befitting her aura of 
dignity and respectability which was gleeflilly endorsed by her 
children, two of whom have settled in the United States, one in 
Canada, and one in Australia. Before long, I began making some 
pocket money at mah-jong out of the elderly 'Duchess'. 
Unfortunately, geography prevented me from taking similar 
advantage of my other sisters, Josephine in San Francisco, Margaret 
in Vancouver, and Winnie and Rosalind in Michigan. 

I had for some time been toying with the idea of writing a family 
biography in memory of my parents. In the event I began scribbling 
in January 1 990, manually and laboriously. During my working life, I 
had written virtually nothing of note, apart from business-related 
matters. It was a real challenge for me to tell a meaningful human 
story for the first time, especially in the early stages of the project. 
Fortunately, my brothers and sisters readily came to my assistance 
by sharing with me (sometimes through marathon telephone calls 
from Hong Kong) their reflections on people and events in days 
gone by. At the same time, my friend and former colleague Eleanor 
DeWolf took a personal interest in proofreading the manuscript. I 
must say that learning to do word processing and making a habit of 
painstakingly consulting the Oxford Dictionary of Current Idiomatic 
English have added immensely to my enjoyment of writing. 

I was not even halfway through my story when Josephine passed 
away in September 1 990, after a brief and courageous struggle with 
cancer. Half-jokingly, P.T. said to me over the phone that I had 
better make every effort to finish the project sooner if I wanted to be 
sure that there would still be some brothers and sisters left to read 
the completed account.. Unfortunately, he too was stricken with 
cancer a year later and had to undergo immediate surgery. 

With P.T.'s serious illness in mind, I speeded up my work and 
early in 1992 brought the finished manuscript with me to Hong 
Kong. The first words he said to me after reading it were 'Brian, 
how it brings back memories!'. I was introduced to Mrs. So, the 
President of New Island Printing Company Ltd. and a close friend of 
both P.T. and Patrick. A few months later. All Our Yesterdays: A 
Song of My Parents appeared in print as a private publication. Mrs. 
So took us by surprise when she decided to waive the agreed charge 
for the production of the book, as her contribution to the family 
biography. It was a gesture of goodwill to the Yu brothers that was 
greatly appreciated. 

The Golden Arch 181 

Between 1991 and 1994 I went back to Hong Kong four times 
in all to see P.T. who, despite his deteriorating condition, never gave 
in to despair. He passed away in February 1996. He left behind three 
daughters, his wife having predeceased him by many years. This is 
how I will remember him: 

P.T. grew up with Patrick and me on intimate 
terms at 15/17 Shelley Street and, during the 1930s, 
the three of us were inseparable. He was the eldest 
and most mature of the Three Fishes all of whom 
made their mark at Wah Yan College. He was both a 
brilliant student in Economics and a popular 
undergraduate at the University of Hong Kong. After 
the fall of Hong Kong, he was my cheerftil and 
unflappable leader when he and I made the hazardous 
journey together into Free China. For the rest of the 
war he served his country well as a staff officer in the 
Nationalist Army. 

As a resourceful high school teacher in the early 
postwar years, he earned the affection of his students 
and won the goodwill of his colleagues. In the course 
of his lucrative legal career, he was unspoilt by 
worldly success and unruffled by personal 
disappointment. Resolutely, he came to terms with 
the scourge of cancer right from the start and, for 
almost five years, bore affliction with fortitude and 

Mamie and I attended yet another wedding in London when 
Patrick's younger son Dominic and Janice Lo were married in the 
Farm Street Church in 1993. Patrick and Lucia then took us to 
Oxford as their guests at Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons. Included in 
the party were Patrick's elder son Denis and his wife Marianne, and 
our children Teresa and Peter. Together, the group went on a 
sentimental tour of Merton College, lingering for quite a while in 
Merton Garden, within sight of the rooms that had once been 
occupied by my father and by Patrick. 

We were delighted when Sir John and Lady Habakkuk came and 
joined us for tea at the hotel. Prior to retirement. Sir John (formerly 
Pembroke don and lecturer in Economic History) had for many 
years been Principal of Jesus College, Oxford and, at one time, 
Vice-Chancellor of the University. He and I had not seen each other 
for several decades. How memories of Pembroke crowded in upon 

1 82 The A rches of the Years 

me as we chatted happily about old times! The next day he 
personally walked us through Jesus and All Souls and, for well over 
an hour, enlightened us with interesting anecdotes of people and 
events relating to those two colleges. It was the most enjoyable of 
my many visits to Oxford. 

At other times during our stay in England, Mamie and I had 
dinner at the Travellers' Club in London with Geoff and Taffy 
Smith; spent a night at Colchester with Martin and Diana Knowles; 
and were reunited first with the Saunders in Sawston, Cambridge, 
and then the Hudsons in Liverpool. While in Cambridge, I took 
Mamie with me to call on Tony Camps who was his usual charming 
and dignified self He passed away three years later. 

In the fall of 1 994 we had the distinct pleasure of welcoming 
Wilf and Joan Saunders into our home. The four of us spent a lovely 
week chasing fall colours along my favourite route across northern 
New York and up and down Vermont. By way of contrast, we also 
went for a leisurely walk in Edwards Gardens, not far from our 
home in Toronto, where fall colours in abundance could also be seen 
and savoured, but in a restricted setting and at close quarters. 

Since then I have done hardly any travelling, although my heart 
keeps telling me to make another return visit to England. Happily, 
Cambridge came to Toronto when the Master of Pembroke, Sir 
Roger Tomkys, hosted a dinner on March 31, 1998 at the King 
Edward Hotel, to commemorate the 650th anniversary of the signing 
of the College's Charter of Foundation. A dozen or more old 
members of Pembroke from Ontario and elsewhere turned up for the 
rare occasion. I stood out, for what it is worth, as the oldest by far 
of them all. 

In my story I have been making frequent mention of my English 
friends. It has been a particular source of joy to me that, through the 
years, Mamie has become acquainted with all of them. However, our 
little world in Toronto would not be half as happy and bright 
without the many Canadian friends whom we keep seeing every now 
and again, such as the Barnes and the Browns in Ottawa, former 
Shell Canada colleagues and their spouses, old neighbours on 
Argonne Crescent, and fellow-immigrants from Hong Kong (almost 
all formidable mah-jong adversaries!). Life also perks up whenever 
we have visitors from abroad. 

Above all, Mamie and I are truly fortunate to have remained 
close to our children in every sense of the word. All three are 
leading a ftill life and pursuing their Canadian dreams in Toronto. By 
chance they all live within easy driving distance of the empty nest on 
Argonne Crescent, and hardly a week or fortnight goes by without 

The Golden A rch 1 83 

our seeing one or other of them. Year after year, we always get 
together especially to celebrate Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

A career professional in telecommunications, Teresa moved on 
steadily from Royal Trust to ROLM (1986), to IBM (1989), and to 
Norstan (1992). Since 1995 she has been operating as a private 
consultant. She is currently a member of the Board of Directors of 
the Canadian Telecommunications Consultants Association and the 
chairperson of its Public Relations Committee. She is a keen 
traveller, her favourite vacation destinations being England and 
Austria. She has attended summer courses at both Oxford and 
Cambridge and also at Canterbury. She is already planning her next 
trip to England in 1999. Brian Eng, her husband, works for Compaq 
as Manager, Financial Planning. 

Following the arrival of Christine in 1985 and Catherine in 1987, 
Marian has been a dedicated full-time wife and mother, with never a 
dull moment in her tightly-scheduled daily life. Her husband Joseph 
Yao is a Senior Planning Analyst with the Liquor Control Board of 
Ontario. As for Christine and Catherine, their cheerful dispositions, 
their winning ways, their progress at school, at ballet, at figure- 
skating, at piano, or at karate, and their hugs and kisses for grandma 
and grandpa add relish to our existence. Our love for them is 
something which only doting grandparents are capable of 

Some feelings are to mortals given 
With less of earth in them than heaven. 

As ill luck would have it, Marian was diagnosed with a brain 
tumour in October 1998, which necessitated immediate surgery. 
Mercifully, the five-hour operation was successful, and the tumour 
was benign. Since then she has been making a slow but steady 
recovery. The sudden crisis in Marian's life has brought me closer to 
God, for which I am truly thankful. As the Chinese saying goes, 
'When in desperation, embrace Buddha's feet.' 

Peter began his career with Manufacturers' Life in 1985. Four 
years later he joined Canada Life, where he is now a Senior Systems 
Analyst in Asset Liability Management. He too has been visiting 
England regularly and making good use of his camera everywhere he 
goes. He now knows much more about England, certainly in terms 
of geography and architecture, than I do. Ever since his university 
days, he and I have been calling each other by our pseudonyms, he 
being 'Holmes', and I, naturally, the bumbling and well-meaning 
'Dr. Watson', his trusted friend and loyal partner in an undefined 

184 77?^ Arches of the Years 

and ongoing real-life adventure. 

It is now time for me to pause under the golden arch, reflect 
upon the past and count my blessings. I think of my father, whose 
precept and example set the style and tone of my aspirations. I feel 
most grateflil to my wife, friend, and companion of almost fifty 
years, who has lovingly stood by me in all my endeavours. I 
remember the Irish Jesuits who imparted to me the treasures of their 
faith, Arthur Walton who provided me with a priceless ticket to 
England, Tony Camps who changed my Cambridge dream into an 
unforgettable reality, and Leslie Barnes who lent me courage to turn 
my back on the Old World and who launched me in the New. 

Over thirty years have gone by since we arrived in Canada. With 
God's help, our efforts in this great country, whose quality of life is 
the envy of the world, have borne fruit gradually and in so many 
ways, and given us cause for joy, satisfaction, happiness and 
contentment. We have found our little pot of gold at the end of the 
Canadian rainbow. 

It is as a happy immigrant and a proud Canadian that I conclude 
the writing of my memoirs. 

There is a tide in the affairs of men 

which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. 

Glossary of Names in Chinese 

Chapter 1 

Taishan ^ UJ 
Guangzhou JM'H'l 

Chapter 2 

Yu Wan alias Yat Man 

Lam Lan Sin ^|§M 

Chapter 3 

Sun Yat Sen Mi^ih)jki\h 
Lingnan Primary School 

St. Stephen's College 

Wuchang je*^^ 

Sheung Woon ( Yu) ^)^ll^ 

Chapter 5 

Law Yan Pak ^ f^ f ^ 
Inspector of Vernacular Schools 

Chapter 6 

Lam Pak Chung t^f^lS 
Sir Alexander Grantham 

Sir David Trench m^U.^± 

Chapter 7 

Hung Kwan (Josephine Yu) 

Man Sang (Margaret Yu) "^Wi^ 
PingTsung(P.T.Yu) ^^i^ 
Shuk Siu (Patrick Yu) ^^^^ 
Kwai Ko (Brian Yu) ^^^ 
Wing Nin (Winnie Yu) ^^^ 

Kwun Ming (Rosalind Yu) 

Chapter 8 

Arbut hnot Road 55 # ^ iS 
Coronation Terrace /JP 
Caine Road ^ii 
Shelley Street ^fljij 
Mosque Street D^ [# 1^ H 
Italian Convent i^y*C^'JS 
Sacred Heart School g^C 
Wah Yan College HCl 
Anthony (Yu) ^^^ 



Chapter 9 

Hong Kong Fish Company 

Des Voeux Road Central 

The Lutamst's Lament 

Prince's Cafe ^^^tl 
China Building ^ KVJ 
Queen's Road Central 

South China "A' f^HA 
Queen's Theatre ^f^^^ 
King's Theatre 4^^!^^ 
Chinese Merchants' Club 

Chinese Swimming Club 

Tak Cheong Tailors '^MWM.f^ 
Fire Brigade Building Wt'h^ 

Chapter 10 

General Yu Han Mou 



The Arches of the Years 

Chiang Kai Shek Mi\'^ 
Norma Au i^j^iR 
S.Y. Tong mW^Tt 
Robinson Road ,^ fM £ jS 
Tsui Yan Sou ^fH^ 
Mr. Chau 1^^^ 
Mak Kwun Chak ^^# 
Chow Ching Lam ^'^'W 
Wong Chin Wah W g ^ 
RicciHall |IJ^|??i# 

Chapter 11 

Sir Mark Young ^ ^ If^ H it 
Mrs. S.Y. Liang i^^>C^ 
Mr and Mrs. Tang Man Chiu 

Kennedy Road M /b i-fe ii 
Sai Wan ^m 

Chapter 12 

Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity 
Area :^^55i±^g 

Chongqing Ml^ 

Kwangchouwan |^ 'jfl }^ 

Leizhou Bandao (Leichow 

Peninsula) M'i'N^^.^ 

Chikan ^t^ 

Guilin ti^ 

Liuzhou tIP'Ji'l 

Margaret(Tong) ^MM 

Lena So |^ /J n ^J. 

Shaoguan gg ^ 

Lieutenant General Lee Yin Woh 

Sun Yat Sen University 4^ ill ::A: I 

Pingshi W^ 

Louis Yung ^li^ 

Ip sisters(Lillian and Anita) 

Elizabeth Liang ^#EB 

Chin Hon Ngi P^rH^ 
Lingnan University ^'^'K^ 
Lingnan Village ^;*ct^ 
Mr. Sedgwick 5^^ 
Guiyang ti(^ 

The Model Regiment S[^|H 
Chang Le Village :g^t^ 
True Light Middle School 

General Wong Chun Kou 

David Lam See Chai t^<^>^ 
David Cheung ^3^^ 
Huang-tian-ba "^ BB ^ 
Meilu ^li 
'Weaklings do rest. 
Strong men don't linger' 
"^^If ^ ' 

Longchuan f| j l| 

Chinese 'puppet' detachments ^ 

'An inch of fatherland. 

An inch of blood ! 

A hundred thousand students, 

A hundred thousand warriors!' 

Yanqian ^ ffj 

Army Commander Mok ^ ^ ; 
Yun Wah(Lee) ^flU 
Marion (Lee) ^Hfllj 
Margaret(Lee) ^^fdj 
Martin (Lee) ^ti§^ 
Michael (Lee) '^f.^^ 
WongWai Wah HKH 
Dr Wong Tak Kwong 

Huizhou M^'}\\ 

Mao Zedong ^^"^ 



Chapter 13 

KwokChulSo) M^^ 
C.K.Hung&Co PMWWl 
Hop Hing Peanut Oil Factory 

Simon and Lillian Li ^tS # 
Mrs. Yong Shook Lin^^l^^ 
Pung How ( Yong) ^P^i 
Lee Kuan Yew '^^M 
Noel Ho Nga Ming foJJIB^ 
Three Hundred Tang Poems 

Tang Chi Ong School of Chinese 

ChanKwanPo ^M^U 
Professor Ma Kiam M,^^^ 
TaiSang Bank y^^ig§f. 

Chapter 14 

General Ho Ying Chin 

China Emporium p|=i H H S i^ ^ 
Hollywood Road f^MtSil 
Jui-Heung-Yuen ,^^S 
York Road ^jl 

Chapter 15 

Chris Patten |^^R 

Mrs. .\nson Chan ^M^J^^ 

Asiatic Petroleum Co 

Shell Company of Hong Kong 

Mamie Leung Oi Mui M^W 
Blue Pool Road M^il 
Chung Kay (Teresa Yu) ^MS9 
Yiu Mei (Marian Yu) ^MM 
Dick Frost 1 


Chapter 17 
Bobby Tong 


Chapter 18 

Kwok Wai (Peter Yu) ^^g^ 

Chapter 19 

Maryknoll Sisters' School 

Shell House $i^y*C* 

Dr. Timothy Kong LL^f^W^ 

Dr. Choh Ming Li ^^WlW± 

Chapter 20 

Siu Man Cheuk H^^ 
Yung, Yu, Yuen a^^JE^^^^ 
Yong Shook Lin %M^ 
YanPak School fUffi^t^C 
Maryknoll Fathers' School 

Lucia Fung ),1 W^ 

Dr. Peter Wong ^Mf^^ ± 

Chiang Ching Kuo M^^ 

Magdalene So 1^ fp W 

Denis ( Yu Kwok Chung) ^ ^ ^ 

HsiYuChi o^fe> 

Chapter 21 

Lee Ka Tit ^^^ 

Chapter 23 

Joseph Yao^^^^ 

Chapter 24 

Karen (Yu) ^=R§ 
Dr. Peter Lau ^[ItJ^S 
Dominica (Yu)^ HI/SI 
Trevor Yang %^W\ 
Dominic (Yu) ^^iif 
Janice Lo ^ S S 
Marianne ( Yeo) ^ H ^ 
Christine (Yao) ^^^.g. 
Catherine (Yao) ^gfS 
Mrs. Soi^/^fgP 

Canada-Hong Kong Resource Centre 

■vJ^ . ft/ro