10thof January 2019 – Honolulu Hawaii
For our short time on the islands we were blessed with beautiful blue skies, a gentle breeze and temperatures that defrosted our European winter stiffened joints. I can certainly see why retirement to the islands tempts so many.
Having taken advice on appropriate attire for a Hawaiian party, Chris and I walked the short distance to the beautiful home of the Whitcomb’s. Their house is set underneath Diamond Head, which is the ridge of the crater of an extinct volcano that soars above the houses at its base, but is also is sufficiently up a hill to offer views down to Wakiki and the ocean.
I was honoured to receive two floral Lei’s from the hosts and Pat Lee. They smelt wonderful and one was woven together so beautifully it seemed a shame that it would fade as flowers do.
Anu Hittle had arranged for her friends’ band to come and serenade us, which added to the atmosphere as both old and new alumni and I-House friends arrived. As before the event was multi-generational with our oldest guest, Ann being 91 and our youngest Anu’s daughter. Many of those attending had been in the New York House in the late 1960s and early 1970s and at least two had met Harry Edmonds, which made me very jealous. This was the first alumni gathering in many years and so it had taken many phone calls by Francis Wong and his band of helpers to track everyone down.
Our hosts Henrietta and David, met at I-House and so are part of the elite club known as Sakura Sweethearts (named after the Sakura park in front of the House where romance often blossomed). There were other Sakura sweethearts with us too, some sadly whose husband or wife had now died, but whose lives had been richer for their cross-cultural marriage. Infact David was very adamant that mixed race or religion marriages have a key part to play in supporting tolerance and understanding between cultures.
We lit the candles for my candle relay and had the full Candle Ceremony pledge. The backdrop to the candles was the yearbook from NYC I-House of 1965-66 and we had it open at the page where Harry Edmonds was standing lighting his from the big candle as part of that years’ Candle Ceremony.
It was an evening full of stories and reconnection and warmth. Thank you to all those who made it possible.
Indian Cross Dressing – Ann Inaba – aged 91 a NYC alumni from the 60s – Ann came from a very small town in the USA to study at the Teachers College at Colombia. She loved her time at the House and particularly remembered one of the cultural evenings. She was accompanied by another caucasian man and the two of them decided to go in Indian traditional costume, however as she remembers fondly he dressed as the woman and she as the man.
Ping Pong Romance – Asking Sakura Sweethearts Armando and Jo-Anne how they met at the NYC House, I was told it happened over Ping Pong. However their memory of the story was slightly different for each of them. Armando said that he was playing Ping Pong when 3 beautiful Hawaiian girls came in and he started to chat one of them up but she was not interested so he switched his attentions to Jo-Anne and the rest is history. Jo-Anne said that she was playing Ping Pong and Armando came to play and then the rest was history. Whichever way they are still together some 50 years later.
Lucky Chance Admission – Nikki Ty-Tompkins was a young musician and she got the chance to audition for the Juilliard School of Music in NYC. At that time I-House allowed folks coming for interviews to stay for 3 days so she came and stayed at the House. During her 3 days she met a Mrs Feinstein who worked at the House and who was very kind to Nikki over the short visit. When she got her place to study the Piano there she decided to apply for I-House as her residence. Her application was turned down as she was not a graduate student and she was too young. Again though the House offered her 3 days of accommodation whilst she found herself a home in NYC. She arrived at the House and who should she bump into but Mrs Feinstein. Mrs Feinstein told Nikki that it was lucky she had caught her as it was her last day working at the House. Nikki explained that she had not been accepted to live at the House at which point Mrs Feinstein told her to stay right where she was and not to say a word and went off. A few moments Mrs Feinstein returned and gave Nikki the news that she was now a resident of I-House. This miracle by the wonderful member of staff opened so many doors for Nikki including meeting her Indian husband at the House with whom she lived in India for many years.
Blackout– Pat Lee recalled the major blackout that happened in NYC whilst she was at the House. She described how it was turned from an inconvenience to a major party and how the Juilliard School students had put on impromptu candlelit shows to keep everyone entertained. The only down side was having to walk up to her room which I believe she said was on the 10thfloor.
Keeping safe– The area around I-House NYC has not always been as gentrified as it is today and particularly in the 60s and early 70s it could be pretty rough as alumni reminded me. Girls studying at Colombia were offered escorts back from their classes after dark. A violent mugging with a knife at a bus stop did not seem to have put off another of our guests and others recalled how local shops such as the meat shop had entrances with double sets of doors where the street doors would be closed before you were let in the doors to the store.
Coming to I-House– Asking people how they ended up living at I-House often elicits interesting responses from “I was a Fullbright Scholar, so I was told to live there” to “My Aunt went to Colombia and went to I-House so I was always told you should go to Colombia and live at I-House so I did go to Colombia and live at I-House!” to “My Mum lived at I-House in the 1930s so she suggested I should live there when I went to study in NYC”.