I woke up today to a message from a dear friend from my MBA, who lives in Hong Kong, sending me pictures of myself in a newspaper article in the South China Morning Post Sunday Supplement.
Before I even arrived in Hong Kong on my trip the well connected family friend I was staying with had decided that my quest could be of interest to the press and contacted Fionnuala McHugh a freelance journalist for the SCMP. Fionnuala and I met when I arrived in Hong Kong and as the story unfolded over the next few days and she attended my Hong Kong event it became clear that the ‘lonely Chinese student’ was the hook. Writing the article took Fionnuala to the I-House NYC Shanghai gala and also to meeting my cousin (another of Harry’s great granddaughter’s) Mira Edmonds who is currently living in Shanghai.
The full article is at the link below and covers so many aspects of Harry’s and my story. Enjoy…
Signs of spring were all around my walking route this morning; magnolias, fruit blossom, daffodils and catkins. I was out to see if the rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other would help me organise my many many thoughts as I reflect on my trip. Finding myself static with no plane to catch and a self imposed need to shape a plan for what next, is somewhat different to my last three months. The fresh air of the grey English morning did allow the space to organise several themes that echoed through my experience…
Harry’s I-House idea was born out of hope. Hope that by having future leaders live together and interact day to day they would bit by bit shed their prejudices and limiting beliefs about ‘the other’. The stories I heard as I travelled and what I saw at each of the I-Houses I visited, showed me that Harry’s hope was well placed and for the majority what he hoped for does happen. In fact I believe that what actually happens is beyond what Harry had hoped for.
My hope as I set off on my trip was that I would be able to, in some small way, pass the light on of tolerance, understanding and international friendship and I feel that was achieved. Out of that hope, I think a new a bigger hope has emerged which is a hope that the International House idea can be spread further and more Houses can offer future leaders from around the world the opportunity to expand their view beyond what they have known.
One of the things I most admire about Harry is that he was a man of action. In my work I coach business leaders who are often wrestling with challenging or complex situations, one thing we often discuss is about action and choice. Choosing to do something or even actively not to do something, will produce a result, sometimes good, sometimes not what we expected, but not choosing or passively not doing anything or even just talking about doing something but then not actually doing it, will not usually result in anything to move you forward. I could have waited to do my trip and perhaps it would have achieved more, but more likely it might never have happened. Creating momentum by starting or trying something I think is very critical to many I-House stories not just mine or Harry’s.
I did not get to meet Sofia Corradi, who with her sister Gemma lived at I-House NYC, but Gemma attended my Rome event and spoke passionately about Sofia’s work. Sofia is known as ‘Mamma Erasmus’ as she was a driving force behind the Erasmus European student exchange program which she cites was as a direct result of her time at the NYC House. Not an easy thing to do but Sofia again was a woman of action and bit by bit pieced together the network needed to enable the exchanges.
Also in Rome, Claudia Pelicano shared with Gemma and I one of her favourite Gothe quotes “At the moment of commitment, the Universe conspires to assist you.” Gothe sums up well my experience of having stepped forward and taken on this personal pilgrimage.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Dialogue & Curiosity
I-House folk, ask questions, lots of questions and they listen, they want to explore your perspective. They are comfortable not agreeing with it and expressing why that is or what their perspective is. Their questions can be searching right from the start, they make you think, they show you other ways to see things. They know that we can’t always like everyone but with some give and take that we can find ways to live alongside them and are willing find a way through the bumps to get there. They are open to re-exploring and also admitting they have changed their mind.
I don’t believe that everyone arrives at an I-House is pre-disposed to this by being part of a self selecting group. On my travels many I met had arrived at the House randomly, or with less research or understanding of what they were about to experience than you might imagine. However once there eating together and being surrounded by such diversity, their curiosity came to the fore. Many described how being at the house opened up possibilities beyond what they had ever imagined. I love this.
Morgan Randall an I-House Berkeley alum came to my Berlin event, he recently made this 2 minute video for the Berkeley Big Give, which I think summarises the I-House experience brilliantly https://youtu.be/51nJGhurr_A
A continuing journey – As I have talked about Harry devoted the whole of his long life to the I-House idea and whilst I have come somewhat late to my journey, having just been 50, I feel I am at the beginning so there will be more….
Passing the light on – inspired by the Candlelight Ceremony that is held each year at the 3 original Rockefeller Houses, I wanted to pass the light on of understanding, tolerance and international friendship. So I bought one big candle which travelled the whole world with me. Then in each destination I was given a new candle to take to the next stop and I left the candle from the previous stop and so on in a relay.
Candle Donors – New York starting candle – Susan Storms, I-House Berkeley – Angela Raunch, Honolulu – Francis Wong, Tokyo – Mami Urano, Taipei – Grace Cheng-Huei, Manila – Leah Jordano, Hong Kong – Nelson Fung, Bangkok – Book Mongkol Jarujanya, Delhi – Aditi Mody, Mumbai – Nidhi Shah, Beirut – Dirk Kunze, Istanbul – Nilgun Okay, Athens – Alex Varelas, Rome – Claudia Pelicano, Paris – Isabelle Sionniere, Berlin – Katrin Schomaker, Stockholm – Anders Paulsson, Oslo – Anders Garbom Backe, Helsinki – Anna-Maij Lindholm, Copenhagen – Jack Pederson, London – Patricia Hamzahee, Chicago – Denise Jorgens, New York finishing candle – Anita Haravon
We hope to reunite all or some of the candles at the 100 year celebration for I-House NYC in 2024.
After an uneventful but not quite long enough to get any proper sleep, flight from NYC to London Heathrow, I am home after 73 days.
Harry’s home was Lyons in upstate New York, so he returned there at the end of his trip.
Back at home on the 20th of April 1966 her wrote a letter reflecting on his trip….
Dear Friends around the World:
You who have been following my journey, and whom I have seen so recently, will be glad to know that I arrived in New York April 19, and that I am quite well, though, as might be expected, a little tired. Otherwise no worse for wear, and quite ready to make another trip when there is a new International House to dedicate.
Although I have been a seasoned traveler for half my life, these 100 days top them all. For I saw so many hundreds of you in such a short time in your own countries and capitals –
New York, Berkeley, Honolulu, Tokyo, Taipei, Manila, Hong Kong, Bangkok, New Delhi, Karachi, Tehran, Beirut, Istanbul, Athens, Rome, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, London – New York.
Your kindness, and hospitality and enthusiasm for International House, and its ideals, were far beyond measure, and my ability to thank you.
What were the high points of my travels?
Well, every stop, every country, every city, every Person I saw was a high point.
However there were three times when I was greatly stirred.
Going with two Greek friends up the Acropolis, I saw the exact spot where the Apostle Paul made his famous speech to the “men of Athens” in which he said, “God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth.”
In Paris, opposite the U.S. House at the Cite Universitaire, is the statue of Tom Paine, who had such an influence on the American and French revolution; he said “The world is my country,” and “My religion is to do good.”
In Westminster Abbey, London, is a Plaque of the brothers John and Charles Wesley, Founders of Methodism, with the inscription, “The world is our parish.”
All these are akin to the motto of International House “That Brotherhood May Prevail.”
Will Brotherhood ever prevail?
Yes, I believe man is rapidly approaching that point. Brotherhood must prevail, or else!
Again, thank you for everything. There are enough happy experiences stored in my memory to last a thousand years!
My first ever trip to Chicago was going to be a brief one. Chicago was not on Harry’s original itinerary, however from the moment I connected with Denise Jorgens, the current I-House Chicago Executive Director, she convinced me that I could not do this trip without visiting all 3 original Rockefeller Houses. As I had already booked the majority of my flights and my timeline was pretty set, it meant that this would be a flying visit.
Denise’s husband Anil Trivedi, is an I-House NYC alum, so to me they are the ultimate I-House couple and are able to carry forward the I-House spirit respecting the history and evolving to keep up with changes in the wider world of student life.
Denise and Anil had first met with Chris and I in Tokyo when they happened to be there at the same time and seeing my candle relay in action inspired Denise to say that we could have a candlelight ceremony when I visited which was so exciting.
The Chicago House was the 3rd of the original Rockefeller Houses and was opened in 1932. They always wanted a House on each coast and one in the middle. Chicago seemed the obvious choice and it also had quite a significant international student population (c1000) in the late 1920s. Once Harry had helped agree the site, the building seems to have gone quite smoothly. Keeping continuity of Directors seemed to be more of the issue.
The House’s life has not been without ups and downs, including in its more recent history nearly being pulled down, but a concerted campaign by alumni saw it given a reprieve. It has also been extensively and carefully restored as well as continuing to modernise including making it wheelchair accessible. All around the House there are reminders of the history.
A couple of things really stand out about Chicago, one is that unlike all the other Houses I have visited they rarely rent their facilities to generate income, but keep them for internal and resident programs. The second thing is the very extensive program of events that are open to the wider Chicago community. Covering music, politics, dance, international affairs, film, literature, their program really does have something for everyone. https://ihouse.uchicago.edu/events/
Due to a lack of undergraduate accommodation on campus at the moment, the House is home to a fully undergraduate set of residents, but Denise continues to campaign for the House to be reverted to be a home for graduates as it was originally intended. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this will happen in stages over the next few years as other accommodation on the campus comes on line.
I have never attended a candlelight ceremony so I was so touched when Denise said that we could have one at Chicago. Her team went to so much trouble to make the evening perfect. Denise talked about the International Houses World Wide group and then I shared my reflections on my trip, this being the penultimate stop.
Harry ‘borrowed’ the Candlelight Ceremony from the YWCA. Just after I-House NYC was set up, his wife Florence, returned from a YWCA meeting and described this ceremony they had done with candles, pledging to pass the light on. Harry immediately saw that this would be a great tradition at the House and started it, obviously tweaking it so that representatives from each Nation came up to light their candle and then having everyone light their candle before the reading of the pledge. Today I-House NYC, Berkeley and Chicago all do the Ceremony as I believe do the Houses in Australia.
Three of the current Fellows led the ceremony and the pledge was read in 7 languages – English, Persian, French, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian. It was very moving. We then went on to have a delicious dinner of foods from around the world.
All in all despite the pouring rain my day at Chicago I-House was so full of warmth and welcome it was truly memorable and huge thanks go to Denise and her team.
Room with a View – Christina Whack – Christina joined us for the Candlelight Ceremony, she is an I-House alumna, who was studying Opera singing whilst at the House. She now performs in other genres https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncGv4rXwaTo and has all been working with her mother Rita Coburn Whack on the acclaimed documentary about Maya Angelou ‘And Still I Rise” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ihsqa4mVjEw Whilst at the House Christina took a number of jobs including being the Production Assistant / Technician for events. This had some advantages including being offered a room on the 11th floor in one of the towers of the House which had windows on two sides and afforded a beautiful view down the Hudson for Christina to wake up to every day.
Beirut was one of the stops I was most looking forward to when I set off, not only because I had never been to Lebanon, but also because it was not so long ago that sadly the war prevented all tourism here and still when you tell people you are coming they ask if it is really safe.
It, along with the other middle eastern countries were also important in the International House story as from the beginning of the Houses they have had Arabic, Jewish, Sunni, Shia and Christian residents from the region all living side by side. This has often involved heated debates but at the end of the day they have shown each other respect and sought to understand and developed tolerance and friendship within the I-House context.
For someone who has been lucky to live in relative peace in the UK, seeing the bombed out and bullet hole ridden properties around the city was disconcerting and sad. My taxi driver told me about how he and his wife escaped to Saudi during the war, but when they had children they could not afford the schools in Saudi and his wife and 3 children returned to Lebanon in the midst of the War, I could not imagine the daily worry for him and his wife through that period. Thankfully they all survived and he now had 5 grandchildren.
It is nearly 30 years since the fighting stopped and restoration and regeneration are also everywhere. There is a focus on design and elegance, art and food and the long and fascinating history of the country. More than this the people are charming, we were welcomed and helped by everyone we met.
This stop was also special as Sandy Edmonds, Harry’s granddaughter, joined me from her home in Vermont. Sandy is my father’s first cousin, but family politics meant that they only met a very few times. She is the most wonderful woman, a true lover of art and people, having been an art teacher for many years in US Public Schools. So, it was a delight to explore Beirut together.
I do not have any information about what Harry’s actually did on this stop, but with his close connection to the Dodge family I imagined that he would have visited AUB (American University Beirut) as Bayard Dodge, was president from 1923-48 and Dr. David Stuart Dodge held various positions from 1961-97. http://www.aub.edu.lb/President/Pages/history.aspx
Harry may perhaps have met with Samuel B Kirkwood the president at the time. Originally, we were going to have the honour of meeting Mr. Khouri, the current AUB president, but he was called away on business so we did a campus tour instead.
Our guide Ali, a current AUB student in Finance was utterly charming and showed us around the beautiful campus.
The University kept going as far as possible through the war and he showed us the tunnel that allowed the medical students to get to the hospital from the campus to go on duty without going up onto the street. Parts of the campus were destroyed including the main hall, but have been re-constructed and they even have a very funky building by Zaha Hadid http://www.zaha-hadid.com.
There is an cedar grove in the middle of the campus that were planted by the founder Dr Bliss and are still standing. I imagined Harry standing by the President’s House which has the most wonderful view out to sea, or perhaps he even got to go in!
After our tour we met up with Chicago I-House Alum Rajab Ghazzaoui, who is currently working at the AUB business school. Over coffee he was able to explain more about the complex politics of Lebanon and the region and also the challenges of daily life in Beirut. These include electricity being rationed to 3 hours a day for most householders, unless they have a generator, the traffic and lack of public transport. The newly formed government is a welcome sign, but the continued corruption that is endemic makes it hard to keep hope of real change, good jobs and growth. The war forced many to experience living overseas either, mostly in Europe or Saudi Arabia so they have a broader perspective that you might find in other countries.
My event at this stop was to be hosted by Dirk Kunze, I-House NYC alum and his team at FNST Lebanon & Syria in their very funky office space Garage 664. FNST is a German not for profit focused on liberal principles and political education. They operate in around 60 countries and focus on promoting freedom and dignity in all areas of society and hold events that encourage international dialogue, rights for minorities and democratic control.
This event was to be very different to all the others on my trip as it was open to the wider public as part of FNST’s Alphabet Series of events. We were letter ‘H’, fitting for Harry! The title of our event was ‘Humanity in the times of populism, the value of international networks’. So we could weave together my event and what FNST do in their work.
On my quest to find attendees at the Beirut event I had contacted an alumna of International Student House DC, which is part of the World Wide International Houses group, Raya Haffar El Haasan. Raya had been Finance Minister of Lebanon and I though it would be wonderful if she could come. To my delight she said she would.
Last weekend Dirk emailed me to say that in the formation of the new and long awaited government Raya had been made the first woman Minister of the Interior. He thought that this would probably mean that she would not be able to attend. However, this proved not to be the case. Raya amidst the whirlwind of her appointment, made time to come because she wanted to tell the audience how important her time at ISH DC had been in shaping her understanding of the other and how she applies this to her work. She was totally delightful as we chatted before the event began and she and Dirk helped light the candles at the end.
We had 50 people attend the event, I would love to say I was the draw but Raya in her new role, was that, but I got to share Harry’s idea, the I-House story and also welcome the other alumni in the audience, Omar Chatah and Naoki Takyo from I-House NYC and Rajab Ghazzaoui from I-House Chicago. It was so lovely to have Sandy Edmonds there too to hear both from Raya but also others about how impactful their time at the House had been on their outlook and lives.
I will definitely be coming back to Lebanon, I want to see all the other things it has to offer outside of Beirut and truly hope that with continued dialogue and perseverance, the Lebanese people will feel they are living in a thriving and stable country. If you haven’t been do put it on your list.
Surrogate Mothers of I-House Chicago – Rajab Ghazzaoui – Having been used to living at home whilst studying for his undergrad, when Rajab was accepted to UChicago for his Masters the thought of finding an apartment and all that entailed was daunting. So he phoned the accommodation office and they gave him the options including the I-House. He called them back to ask ‘one flat fee and everything is included?’, ‘Yes’ they said. He was instantly sold. Arriving at the house he decided to take one of the student jobs and ended up working in the office of the Director Denise Jordan and her team. They instantly took a shine to him and he ended up with not one but three surrogate mothers, who helped him navigate his time in the House. From explaining how the washing machines worked to ensuring he was eating properly or up to date with his admin, they were there to support him. He says that he really grew up whilst he was there.
Challenging stereotypes at Fall Fiesta– Naoki Takyo – Every year at I-House NYC they hold the Fall Fiesta, where the residents showcase culture and food from their countries. Naoki, said that he had recently found the VHS tape of his Fall Fiesta at the House (I am impressed he still had something to play it on!) and that re-watching it he was reminded how he wanted to break the stereotype that all Japanese are very serious and have no sense of humour. He and his fellow Japanese residents were dressed in Kimono and it seems that Takyo raised more than one laugh from the audience, achieving his goal. When I asked him and his wife about how he had done this it seems that “what happens at Fall Fiesta stays at Fall Fiesta”, but I think it involved some dance moves and showing more leg than you might normally under a Kimono!
Appreciation of the ‘other’– Raya Haffar El Hassan – Excerpt from her speech at the event – “For us residents, ISH (International Student House DC) was a home away from home. It provided a safe shelter from the harsh realities we, as international students, had to confront in trying to adapt to new surroundings and environment. During my stay I was fortunate to have built strong and lasting friendships with many of my co-residents. Friendships, I am happy to say that I still have to this day. These are the kinds of bonds that survive the passage of time. My friends were from all over the world – Nigeria, Colombia, Peru, Morocco, Eritrea, US, Denmark, just to name just a few. What a wonderful place ISH was and I am sure it still is. The bonds I was able to form lessened the feeling of homesickness and were essential for my mental and emotional development and wellbeing. I cannot begin to explain how important and life changing living at ISH was for me. The House offers a crash course in the importance of cultural diversity and appreciation of the ‘other’. It makes one re-examine engrained political and religious views and allows for the better acceptance of one another. So when I received Alice’s invitation to attend this event I did not hesitate for a minute, it instantaneously unlocked all the cherished memories I had from my time at ISH and made me jump at the opportunity to re-live them again and to meet other residents in Lebanon who might have shared similar experiences…. I believe this prepares us to become international citizens better equipped for careers in the Global market and provided us residents with a much larger perspective on life.”
Post office PS – for those that are following the Postcard saga (see Postcard blog post) – Lebanon proved the most challenging to date. Every request for stamps was met with a blank look. Whilst I was at AUB, our guide Ali said and there is the Post Office on Campus. So I popped in full of hope that they would have stamps. Well I may as well have asked for transport to the moon as I showed the man behind the counter the postcards. He asked a colleague and they decided eventually that the franking machine could provide the postage and I handed over $3. He promptly put my postcards in his drawer. I protested and he took them out and put them on his counter nodding that he would do the franking and put them in the post. I had to leave then, so I did not see that done, and I very much doubt they will ever arrive in the UK! Leaving Lebanon, I spotted a post box in near my departure gate at the airport. The only one I had seen in my time there. I made enquiries at the newsstand nearby about stamps pointing at the box and once again a look of incredulity from the cashier. After a lengthy explanation about what a stamp was, he went ‘ahh stamp, NO only outside at Lebanon Post!’
Way back in the mists of planning this trip, I contacted the Executive Director of I-House Chicago, Denise Jorgens. She is truly an embodiment of everything my great grandfather would have wanted for someone running one of the Houses. She immediately embraced my project and when she saw that one of my stops was Delhi, offered for the University of Chicago Centre there to host a tea as my event. https://www.uchicago.in/about-us/
Aditi Mody, who runs the Centre, is an I-House Chicago alumna and so here and her team were equally enthusiastic.
So, it was that I was warmly welcomed to the U-Chicago Centre. Being India where attendance is sometimes problematic, even when people have said they would come, Aditi and I were quite prepared for it to be just the two of us having a lovely cup of tea. However, we had the most delightful crowd of alumni and friends of I-Houses join us as well as Bill Mitchel Associate Provost and Exec Director of UC Arts, who was visiting India for the first time.
I had been particularly excited about meeting two of the I-House NYC alumni, Mr Narendra Jain, who had emailed me that he had met Harry in 1966 when he came to Delhi on his world trip and also Professor P.B. Mangla who had also met Harry when he was at the I-House in the early 1960s.
Mr Jain, arrived looking about 20 years younger than his 91 years, clutching a plastic folder of carefully preserved papers that he had saved since Harry came 53 years ago! It turned out that Harry’s visit to Delhi was his first ever to India. It was used to inaugurate the Delhi alumni chapter of the I-House and Mr Jain, had the list of names and addresses of the 60 people who became members at that time. He also had press clippings and the letter outlining Harry’s arrival and the dinner that Harry was to attend to inaugurate the chapter, of which Mr Jain was going to be treasurer. Finally, he shared a hand written Christmas letter from Harry which had been sent to alumni which he wanted me to keep. I was quite simply overwhelmed and touched by this wonderful man and the fact that he had so carefully preserved these memories over all these years.
I have been staying at the YMCA Tourist Hostel which is perhaps not what one would call luxurious, there is a bed and hot water and a simple breakfast. However, it must have been fate to choose there as it turns out from the letters that Mr Jain shared that that is where Harry’s dinner was held in 1966, with the US ambassador Chester Bowles and his wife attending. The dinner cost 15 rupees per couple! (Harry had worked for the YMCA in his early career so that may have had some link too.)
Prof. P.B. Mangla, had come to study at the Library and Information Technology school at Columbia on a scholarship in the early 1960s which set him off on a career that saw him live in 8 countries and travel to over 50. He has long been associated with University of Delhi and held many positions including Dean of the Faculty of Arts. His time at I-House helped him navigate the cultures of the countries he worked in and visited and as he recounted often found him meeting I-House alumni in far flung locations.
It was very lovely to have a mix of I-House NYC and Chicago alumni which allowed them to share stories and similarities and differences between the Houses. We were also joined by Vickram Mathur who lived at ISH London and is now one of their Trustees. The ISH alumni are very active still in Delhi (and elsewhere), at a recent event they had around 60 attendees.
After I had shared some of mine and Harry’s story, we went around the room so everyone could introduce themselves and share some of their I-House stories. I always love this bit as with a range of ages and careers it is so fascinating. Once again the emotional connection to the Houses as a homes away from home, even many years after leaving was washing around us as well as the images and stories from lifelong friendships made over food, whilst dancing, playing ping pong or surviving snow storms in Chicago.
I left the U-Chicago event with a huge smile on my face, so glad to have met such wonderful alumni and so touched that Harry meant so much to those who met him.
My next stop was a Speakers Dinner for the One Globe Forum https://www.oneglobeforum.comwhich was being hosted by Harjiv Singh an NYC alum. He and his German Sakura Sweetheart wife, Julia, met at I-House in the 1980s. Julia had taken me out to lunch the previous day and had shared their love story, which has partly informed her first novel ‘Leap of Faith’. https://www.amazon.com/Leap-Faith-Julia-Regul-Singh/dp/8129124807?fbclid=IwAR1lRftV0nlwfyqdWvrJjACaK5iGwmhwx_R-Bjp7TEZo5w3rGWQZ70h6uGg Julia was 24 and coming to do her Masters in Urban Planning at Columbia. Arriving at I-House the first person she met after being greeted by Romeo on reception was Harjiv. She went up in the elevator to her floor and as the doors open there was Harjiv and his roommate in their room opposite ‘checking out’ everyone arriving on the floor. Despite Julia’s view that she was too young to get into a serious relationship and consider marriage, romance blossomed and they now have 3 children and are happily navingating a wonderfully complex cross cultural life in Delhi. Because Julia was not always to be found in her room at I-House, it seems that it was used to accommodate a variety of visitors, many of whom I met during the evening, which gave others the opportunity to experience the House even if not official residents!
I must also mention the lovely dinner that Anil Chauhan and his wife took me for the night I arrived in Delhi. Anil, also a NYC alum, was off to Bangalore on business so could not attend the other events. Anil promotes India Biotech and was wonderful at bringing me up to date with India politics and economics. Anju teaches home economics and so was a brilliant guide to try all the things on the buffet that I would not normally have done. I went back to my hotel feeling very full.
In the press article Mr Jain shared, Harry is quoted as saying “This is is my first visit to India. I have been round the world three times by ship but never touched an Indian Port. I now regret not having been here before and not being able to stay long enough now. I’m too old to cover the whole country, but perhaps in a year or two I will make a special trip to India.” Sadly, I don’t think he ever did but he was certainly warmly welcomed on his visit.
Chai and Samosas– Shahana Basu – Chicago I-House has culture hours and one of the ones in Ishaan’s time that was most popular was the ones hosted by the Indian residents which featured Chai and Samosas. She also recalled how when the I-House Chicago was under threat of closure the alumni rallied round and reversed the decision through a concerted campaign of letter writing about the importance of the I-House to the student life at the University.
International Students’ House Delhi– Tista Bagchi – Tista shared the work of Anjani Kumar Sinha Ph.D (1935-2018) who set up International Students’ House at Delhi University and modelled a lot of activities on the I-House in Chicago where he was a resident in the late 1960s. Mr. Sinha died in 2018 after a career which saw him promote the I-House ideals of tolerance, understanding and international friendship.
House Hunting – Sonal Shah – When Sonal arrived in NYC to study she was all set to find a flat to live in for her time there. She had looked around and had found a potential flat mate. However she then heard about I-House from friends. Encouraged to apply she was excited when she got a place, but slightly worried that the potential flatmate would be annoyed, however apparently she was very understanding and so Sonal was able to go off and enjoy her time at the House without feeling bad.
A Bengali Welcome – Aditi Mody – When Aditi arrived at I-House Chicago on her first day to her surprise she was welcomed by the then President of the I-House, Professor Ralph Nicholas, in perfect Bengali. Aditi had grown up in the State of West Bengal speaking Bengali so Prof. Nicholas made her feel immediately like I-House would be home for the next few years. Prof. Nicholas area of expertise was in South Asian societies and cultures with an emphasis on Bengal. Aditi did say that her Bengali heritage may have been why she often enjoyed meals with the Professor and his wife during her time at the house, creating warm wonderful memories. https://anthropology.uchicago.edu/people/emeritus-faculty/ralph-w-nicholas
Harry’s round the world trip in 1966 was inspired by a Thai gentleman – his name was originally Toa Amranand and subsequently changed in 1915 to Luang Nathanbanja as he was honoured for his work by his country. He was a member of the Intercollegiate Cosmopolitan Club from 1921-23 while he was studying Political science and public law at Columbia.
Harry set up the Cosmopolitan club as a result of the success of the original Sunday Suppers. He wanted to be able to support newly arrived international students and also to give them somewhere to socialise, debate and connect with each other. It was seeing the success of the interactions there that led Harry to the idea that he needed a way to have the students live together to really benefit and foster the understanding, tolerance and international friendship that was his vision.
Luang was given the title and name Phya Vidura Dharmabinet by the Crown in 1929 and served his country in a variety of roles including Judge of International Court, Director-General Legal and Vice-President of the National Assembly. Harry must have engaged Phya in the I-House idea as he was a member of the Building Committee for I-House NYC and laid the corner-stone of the House.
Even when he returned to Thailand, his correspondence with Harry must have continued over the years as Harry describes Phya asking in his Christmas Card for him to come and visit Bangkok and Thailand.
Over 40 years after he left New York, Harry was still on Phya’s mind and realising that Harry must now be in his 80s he offered to pay some of Harry’s expenses if he would come and visit him. Never one to turn down a funded trip to meet alumni, Harry of course said yes and as he was going as far as Bangkok he decided to make it a world trip, the one I am re-creating.
So here I am in Bangkok. This is where my timeline and Harry’s start to diverge slightly as Harry spent two weeks staying with Phya and his family. He describes Phya living in a small palace with a lovely atmosphere and how he was a ‘connoisseur and an expert on the raising of orchids’.
Researching anyone with a Thai name has proved challenging, they can be spelt differently in english script and decedents often have very different names. However with persistence I have narrowed it down to a name and a location in the same area as the Bank of Thailand complex off Sam Sen Road and the family surname today.
I have written a letter of gratitude to the decedents of Phya, that he funded Harry’s trip which has then become the inspiration of my trip and led to the already unbelievable experiences of the last 25 days and those still to come.
I wanted to hand deliver the letter to the address that I had, not because I expected the relatives to want to see me but more so I could see where Harry had stayed. So I set off on the river boat from Sathon Pier to Thewes Pier, enjoying the riverside world of temples, shopping malls, tumbledown warehouses and homes large and small as they flashed by.
Leaving the Pier, I walked along the canal down to Sam Sen Road. The canal is lined near the main road with stalls that are like mini garden centres stuffed with beautiful plants and flowers and of course Orchids. I love Orchids anyway but these were so gorgeous, from delicate white with the palest pink edges to huge flashy purple flowers all bobbing in the breeze that was blowing in from the river.
I was drawn into the peace of Wat Noranartsoontarikaram, where a lady sat with her back to me in a loose flowered top cross legged and motionless meditating in front of the raised buddha, with the breeze rippling her hair. She looked totally at peace. I wondered if Harry had been here, I imagine as it was so close to where he was staying that he may well have been.
Going round the corner onto Sam Sen Road with my letter in my hand I was hopeful that I might find the house and either post it in or give it to a smartly uniformed guard (I know the family are still well to do). However Thai addresses are far from simple and even with the help of a lovely young man at the post office and various kind people in the vicinity, it eluded me.
Having planned for this eventuality with my friend at the post office I applied the 5 Baht stamp he had sold me to the letter and decided that I would post it in the post box nearest to where I thought Harry would have been staying.
Having done that, I walked up onto the edge of the bridge that towers over the Bank of Thailand complex and took photos of the renaissance buildings designed by the German Architect, Karl Dohring which were commissioned by King Chulalongkorn for his son Somdet Phrachao Borommawongthoe Chaofa Boriphat Sukumphan Kromphra Nakhon Sawanworaphinit (some name to learn to spell!) in 1932. I believe that the Palace Harry stayed at was in a similar style and was on this compound somewhere.
I am not expecting an answer from Phya’s relatives, but I am truly grateful for his generosity to Harry and his engagement with the I-House idea and how that lasted through his long life.
Random aside…. Bangkok is very very full of tourists possibly because of the Lunar New Year, so I took refuge from the mid-day sun and the tour bus gaggles into a long building at the edge of the park by the palace. It was cool and airy and turned out to contain an exhibition about the Thai Kings. Looking for postcards at the end of my visit I turned over the picture below to find that it was H.M. King Chulalonkorm, the Crown Prince, and his sons at Taplow Court in Maidenhead (where I live), England on 7th August 1897. My great grandmother on my mother’s side had grown up in Taplow in one of the large houses there so my mum and I were imagining her great grandparents being invited to tea to meet the Crown Prince of Siam, who would have seemed very exotic. He certainly had a lot of sons!!