Our Friends in Toronto
The decade or so before 1997 saw a lot of people leaving Hong Kong, many to Toronto and Vancouver, depending on whether they needed a job at the time, such that the younger professionals tended to move east while those who had amassed sufficient resources, west. I had never thought of leaving Hong Kong, not once, not quite because I am a die hard pro-establishment but more because I am lazy by nature and I did not exactly look forward to living in a cold or wet place with no jobs or scurrying for one to feed the family. Rosita’s older siblings went to the United States West Coast in the Sixties and Seventies. From the early Eighties her parents and the rest of the family followed and we were often asked to follow suit, but it didn’t happen. In the meantime, I watched my friends leaving one after another. It happened that the people we met in Toronto this time round mostly had come here between 1989 and 1994, a period which could easily go down as the height of emmigration in Hong Kong’s annals.
Our hosts, Diana and Humphrey, arrived in 1994 with their daughter Emma. Diana must be one of Rosita’s closest friends. Our two families used to meet almost every Sunday, very often in our place, sometimes playing fun mahjong while the children had their own fun and games. Emma married in 2005 when Diana gave me a piece of the mind she got from Rosita. She took on herself to take care of me and my interests on Rosita’s behalf and I was eternally grateful. I took Su to meet Diana in Toronto two years ago when Emma’s second child was only a few months old. Meggan is now a big girl weighing 30 pounds while her brother Nathan who is five only weighs in 35. Meggan had been known to be shy with strangers and she cried at the sight of Su and me; but before long we were able to communicate with the young girl intelligibly, to the family’s surprise. She even let me hold her for a photo wearing a big smile. More importantly, I am so pleasantly surprised that Su and Diana got on very well. They exchanged culinary practices and had so much women talks between them that others might think that they had known each other for a few lifetimes.
Then there were the god parents of my children who had come here in or around 1994. Stephen and Nancy were a few years my senior in HKU and they always looked after my interests. Stephen was some sort of a HKU sportsman and Nancy always mothered me and a few close friends, notably Joseph, Vincent, Augustine and myself. We had a routine every Sunday, beginning with Mass at Catholic Centre, followed by a dim sum lunch, a badmington or squash game at HKU Sports Centre before we adjourned to Stephen’s parents’ place in Conduit Road or Vincent’s mother’s place at West End for dinner and so on. Nancy became my daughter’s god mother while Augustine and Angela, my son’s god parents. Joseph and Augustine had since passed away, as did the first wife of Vincent whose second wife Eva became, first the god mother of Rosita and now, of Su. I won’t blame you if you have lost track of the relationships. Anyway, Stephen and Nancy rushed back from Ohio to meet up with Angela and had dinner with us. There was a lot to catch up, and we did.
Another group we met was organized by, strangely enough, a Elizabeth Ng whom I first met in the early Seventies when I was working in Social Welfare Department which was then headquartered in Lee Gardens. Elizabeth is a great organizer and people mover. She had a very successful career with the Government before she decided to move to Toronto in the mid Seventies when I thought I would never see her again. Fate had it that we met up again first in 2011 or thereabout in a reunion trip between the alumni of Catholics from HKU and again in 2013 in the Ireland trip. She is a great believer of natural healing and the influence of electromagnetic forces on the human body. She also practices and promotes basic physical exercises with the hands and fingers and so on. Through her, she motivated or mobilized people in Toronto and Greater Toronto such that we had ten people, including Su and me, at a dinner. They included Martin Lee who was my Wah Yan classmate; Joseph Liu, my long time friend since the University days; Mina who came with Elizabeth for me; Lilian who joined the El Camino trip in 2012 and who brought her friend Mark along whom we met for the first time; and Stepehn and Nancy again. I was really rather moved that all of them had turned up, some having to travel a rather long distance, and paid for a dinner with somebody that some of them didn’t exacty know very well or very long. I thank God for what happened and I thank Elizabeth for organizing the evening, particularly when she was not exactly very physically fit, having sustained some irreparable damage to her knee when she was trying to make a connecting flight in the Ireland trip last year, and when she and Mina would start a cruise to Cuba the following day.
The class of 1966 – HKU Science Biological stream – started with about 30 classmates. By mid to late Seventies, we were left with only aboout a dozen in Hong Kong. Today, the bulk are in Canada and United States, and at least three had died. There were eight people arond the table at lunch, including Su and me and two spouse, which represented the full complement of surviving classmates and spouse in Toronto apart from the wife of one who died. John Chan is the coordinator among them. He must have come here in the mid Seventies. When his wife died about three years ago, he had only one grand child. Today he had five from his son and daughter both having married non Chinese. He had a picture taken with all five which he had so proudly imprinted on his iphone cover. Unavoidably, some in the group had developed chronic aliments associated with age or aging Apart from that, all were well and were looking forward to a mini reunion in Toronto in August when at least three classmates would come in from the United States.
Meanwhile, we met Chan Nai Hung and his wife Emily. Emily was a teacher in Hong Kong. She recalled how her students were crying spontaneously and uncontrollably in class after June Fourth, which spurred her to make up her mind to leave soon after. Diana invited the couple over to share the art of making dumpings Su brought from Hong Kong. Earlier, Su and Diana had sourced shrimps, pork, vegetables, sauces and seasonings from markets in the neighbourhood, while I had bought oysters and canned soups from a seafood shop in Scarborough. Su had also brought along her oyster knife and was relating to Diana her oyster opening experiences when the lovely couple arrived with a bottle of single malt together whisky glasses, generous quantities of rum, and steak and a portable electric steak grill. Chan loves good food and enjoys cooking and preparing food. He showed us how to clean the oysters before demonstrating his prowess in opening them; he added plenty of rum to the lobster bisque and grilled the steak, all in a rather professional manner, but not before he had had a good helping of dumplings Su and I put together. Everyone appeared to have a good time. The whisky and ice wine must have helped. Two days later, we had another dinner in a restaurant featuring Alaska King Crab when the couple brought along more malt whisky and homemade ice balls. Chan was apparently impressed with Su’s capacity for alcohol in general and whisky in particular, but I had no intention to put the matter in proper perspective.
Lastly, there was my younger sister who left Hong Kong in 1992 with her family. We were very close when we were young, but time is a very funny thing and tends to blur people’s perception and perspectives. In this particular case, we became distanced for a while and we did not have much contact with each other until two year ago. We met up again for a meal this time round. My sister laughed heartily and appeared happy and healthy, for which I am thankful and grateful.
Such was how I spent the few days in Toronto, eating and drinking with friends and relatives and enjoying their hospitality, never making the slightest attempt to be a tourist or to be in Downtown Toronto. Life is probably too short for anything otherwise.
I hope to talk to you again soon on my encounters with my children in New York.