Bangkok meet-up

Sunday 27th January 2019 – Bangkok

Bangkok has been one of my tricker stops to find alumni, so when I made contact with Jyoti Sarinthorn an alumni from I-House Sydney, I was very excited. I prepared her for a dinner a deux, however in the end we mustered 4 alumni for dinner.

As my ‘Thai Trip Inspiration’ blog post describes, Bangkok was a significant stop for Harry. As I do not have edition No. 2 of the iHouse World Newsletters for the stops beyond Hong Kong, apart from staying with Vidura for two weeks I do not know much about Harry’s time here. There was no I-House to visit but I am assuming there were Thai alumni to meet.

Bangkok was a first in that I had my first ISH alumni, Charles (originally from the USA) join an event. Charles studied for his undergrad in NYC so had also visited I-House NYC to listen to illustrious speakers meaning he understood the set up there. Book and Jomphong from I-House NYC completed the party.

Whilst eating the delicious Thai food, the facilities, activities and layout of the different Houses was compared. It seems that ISH and I-House both have the all important Pub, whilst I-House Sydney residents, having none resort to taking over the Pub across the road!

I passed on Nelson Fung’s Hong Kong candle with its delicious sent to Book, who gave me a very interesting candle to take on to Delhi. It is a candle from his friends wedding. They are a couple who met doing Cheer-Leading and married in 2015 – which in Thai years is 58.

The candle has some Buddhist thoughts for both husbands and wives – a top 5 for each which go something along the lines of…. (for those who speak Thai you will be better off reading what it says!)

For the Women 1) Be a good organiser of the household, 2) Be supportive of your husband, 3) Don’t cheat i.e. have an affair, 4) Keep the property and money you have safe, 5) Work hard

For the Man 1) Give complements and support, 2) No sarcasm, 3) No affairs, 4) Give respect, 5) Give jewellery!

Thank you to my Thai Gentleman and Lady for continuing the hospitality of Thailand that was shown to Harry on his trip.

Story Snippets…

Thai Boxing – Book Mongkol Jarujanya – I was asking questions about the different Thai sports and Jomphong was trying to persuade me that I should go to a Thai Boxing lesson at the Gym before I leave, when Book shares with us that whilst at I-House NYC he learnt Thai boxing from a Mexican! Not something he had done before in Thailand and it helped him feel confident walking the streets of NYC late at night.

Turning a London Experience Around – Charles – When Charles arrived in London for his Post Grad study, he was assigned accommodation by the Institution he was studying at. However when he arrived and went to see it it was grim, dirty, miles from anywhere, no other student near by and generally miserable. Charles went back to the accommodation office and said that he could not live there and they said they would pay him to live there (which shows how bad it must have been). Charles was depressed as his time in London was not working out as he had visioned it. Shortly after he came across International Student House by Regents Park. It was evening but he went in and got chatting to the residents and decided this was the place for him. Approaching the admissions team, he was told that there were no places so he would not be able to escape the dreaded student housing he was in. He stood firm and insisted that he really did need to move and they then said that if he was willing to share in a double or triple he could come. Charles goal was to meet people so this was ideal! He had a very happy time at ISH and learnt how to drink like an Englishman at the Pub amongst many other cultural lessons.

Where we ate: Taling Pling

Happy in Hong Kong

Wednesday 23rd January 2019 – Hong Kong

When Harry got to Hong Kong, it was Lunar or Chinese New Year and it was year of the Horse. I have arrived just before the New Year and this year it is year of the Pig. So every shop, housing complex or school is decked in red decorations and pigs in all shapes and sizes abound. Whilst I would love to be here to experience the New Year’s celebrations, the mass movement of literally millions of people across the region or Chunyun, had made me think carefully and plan to avoid the main rush. I don’t imagine that in 1966 when Harry was travelling that the transport links allowed for the millions of journeys taken today at this time of year.

A welcome gift from Joanna Lee to everyone attending

The first person to join my 100,000 Grains of Sand Facebook Group when I set it up last year was Nelson Fung, a Berkeley I-House alumni, so I was excited to finally meet him.

My event in Hong Kong was organised and hosted by Frank Wong, a NYC alumni and long time supporter and organiser of gatherings here. Suitably for 2019 and the Hong Kong shopping obsession, the venue was a restaurant in one of the high end shopping malls, Pacific Place.

Frank Wong signing my scarf that I have been collecting signatures on (when I remember to!)

From the moment I met Frank at the venue to the moment I left, the event was high energy and high volume. About 20 people attended a mix of I-House NYC, Berkeley and Larry Kwok representing I-House Sydney. As ever there was a range of ages, locals and expats. We had lawyers, architects, film festival organisers, publishers, entrepreneurs, bankers….

Not quite all of us as some had to shoot off and some arrived after….
Nelson Fung on the left proudly sporting his IH Berkeley Tee, with K.Y. with his IH NYC Tee (also in main image if you want to see what they actually look like!)

We continued the candle relay with me giving Nelson the Manila candle that Leah had bought and he gave me the Hong Kong Candle to take onto Bangkok. It is my first scented candle with the scent of white Micheila and smells wonderful. It was produced by a company in Hong Kong of beeswax and has a wooden wick. On its label it depicts Pottinger Street (stone slab street) which has always been a place where small traders sold their wares including candles. Nelson had certainly put a lot of thought into his choice.

Pottinger Street today decorating for Luna New Year

For those following the lonely Chinese student thread, I received new information, from Joanna Lee, that there is a Boxer Indemnity Scholarship recipients relatives association in Zhuhai in southern China. So that will be a line of investigation to follow up.

Hong Kong has been fun as I have also been able to catch up with family, my first cousin lives here, as well as family friends who kindly had me to stay and friends from my MBA at London Business School. The weather has been perfect, as in sunny and not too hot and I have the most had delicious food, particularly my lunch with Larry Kwok at the Mandarin Oriental.

Next stop Bangkok, which is promising a small but perfectly formed gathering.

Story Snippets…

Thirty years later – Arlene Barilec and Joanna Lee – When at I-House New York in the 1980s, Arlene and Joanna attended a Sunday Supper. The speaker was an eminent I-House alumna in her 70s or 80s and one of the things that she spoke about was how her friends made at I-House were still her closest and dearest friends. John Wells was then the Communications Manager of the House and Arlene and Joanna, remember saying to John that they couldn’t imagine that would be the case for them, in fact they could not even imagine staying in contact for a year, but now 30 years on they absolutely agree with the speaker that night.

Welcome to your new country – Joanna Lee – Joanna was telling me how if the I-House NYC alumni based in Hong Kong know a new I-House alumni is coming to live there they will arrange a welcoming committee for them. They will create a welcome pack and ensure that the new arrival, knows where things are like supermarkets, doctors etc.. and how to get around and who to call if they have a crisis. This is really passing the light on as Harry would have wanted and it is similar to what the Intercollegiate Cosmopolitan Club offered newly arrived international students in NYC from 1910 when it was set up after his meeting with the lonely Chinese student. They would help them get established in NYC and make sure that they knew someone cared even though they were feeling far from home.

Best and worst experiences in the dining commons – Nelson Fung – It seems that when Nelson was at I-House Berkeley the food quite up to the high standard now lovingly prepared by the executive chef Todd Koenigsberg for current residents. Whilst Nelson perhaps did not delight in the food offered, he did enjoy the wonderful company and it was definitely dining together that he enjoyed. He described, the joy of striking up conversations with people studying topics he had never even thought about or from countries he had never visited. Definitely where he made some of his life long friends.

I-House Baby

21st January 2019 Quezon City, Philippines

When Doris Ramirez from the Phillippines applied for a place on the Human Rights Advocacy Program (HRAP) at Columbia University in 2014 she was not thinking about starting a family. However by the time she was awarded the place and a scholarship that helped fund it she was pregnant so she was faced with a difficult decision about what to do. She decided to join the program as it was an opportunity of a lifetime and was due to finished one month before her due date.

All 10 of the students on the HRAP program get admission to live at I-House so that is where Doris found herself living when she arrived in New York. All was going well until her waters broke unexpectedly when she was 5 months pregnant. She was rushed to hospital and spent the next few weeks there as doctors tried to give her baby a better chance of survival by delaying its birth.

Far from home, it was her I-House friends and the Filipino nurses at the Hospital who befriended her and kept her spirits up. Her I-House friends bought her food to the Hospital to try and keep her eating well as the American Hospital food was not tempting her.

On the 31st of October 2014, Maria Angelina Fatima was born weighing just over 3lbs. Amazingly just two days later Doris was back at Columbia determined to complete her program. Fatima was in the Hospital for another month in the special care baby unit before she was allowed out. So Doris juggled her studies with spending time at the Hospital with her baby.

By this point it was December and Fatima was at last discharged from Hospital but was not allowed to fly home to the Philippines for at least another month. The I-House team allowed Doris and Fatima to take up residence in a slightly larger room at I-House. Being a new mum is never easy and it was particularly hard for Doris trying to complete her program and care for Fatima. It was a snowy winter and often as the snow fell so did her tears of exhaustion as she looked out of her I-House window. Whilst it was tough there were also great acts of kindness and care by both I-House residents and also the Filipino nurses who had met her at the Hospital. The nurses seemed to be able to miracle up baby formula and other supplies when they were needed.

Fatima’s father was able to come and visit for long enough so that he could look after Fatima and Doris could complete her program, so he too became an I-House resident.

Just before they left to go home to the Philippines, Fatima was baptised and the party afterwards was held at I-House and there were special invitations to all the wonderful I-Housers who had lived on Doris’ floor and supported her so well. There were also plenty of others who came to see Fatima as a baby at I-House is not a usual occurrence and particularly one with such a story to tell. The HRAP program that year had 10 participants from all around the globe. Doris and Henry made them all godparents to Fatima.

Fatima’s birth certificate states 500 Riverside Drive as her address, I am not sure if anyone else has I-House as their birth address, I would love to hear if there is.

Doris told me hers and Fatima’s story over dinner in Gerry’s Restaurant in Quezon City where she and Henry live. Doris is a Lawyer specialising in Human Rights and never one to make her life easy is trying to work out how to get her Masters in Migration Studies.

She told me that they call Fatima their miracle baby as had she been born so prematurely in the Philippines it would have been very unlikely that she would have survived as the neonatal care is just not as good, a sobering thought for all of us who are parents. Their dream is to take Fatima to visit all of her 10 HRAP Godparents in their home countries which will be quite a trip.

My children are now 18 and 17 and I certainly still remember the first few weeks after my eldest was born as being utterly exhausting and confusing as I got to grips with being a mother. I can’t imagine trying to complete a university program at the same time! Spending the evening with Doris, Fatima and Henry was such an unexpected delight and Doris’ resilience was inspiring.

We have plans to meet at the NYC I-House 100 year celebration and Doris is going to bring a special candle with her as her family owns a candle making business. That really will be passing the light on….

Manila meet-up

20th January 2019 – BGC Manila

Bonifacio Global City has sprung up in the 20 odd years since I last visited Manila. Sitting in the 9th floor apartment of a friend from my MBA, I can see out over a park which seems to have trapeze and circus skills being taught at all hours of the day, I can see fancy restaurants, an art centre and shiny offices, not necessarily the image that some would have of Manila.

In the Early Bird Breakfast Club restaurant, I was joined for brunch by three alumni from three houses. Leah Jordano from NYC, Neil Tan Gana from Berkeley and Virginia Teodosio from Sydney.

Professor Virginia Teodosio who is still passionate about her work on cooperatives and sustainable farming

We were reflecting on Harry’s arrival in Manila as reported in the iHouse World Newsletter Vol 2. no 1. He was met by 28 alumni at the airport and amongst his visits was ‘courtesy call on President Marcos’! I am told by my new Filipino friends that President Marcos was very early in his tenure and at that point things were looking positive as to his outlook and leadership of the Philippines so it would have been a great honour for Harry indeed.

He had a packed schedule with visits to the President of the University of the Philippines, the Rice Research Institute, a dinner at the Commercial Bank & Trust Co. Building and a farewell party!

We were also reflecting on the challenges of gathering a group of I-House alumni in Manila today considering that the Filipinos have been a strong presence in the resident group right from the start of I-House NYC in 1924. Filipinos students started to arrived as pensionados (or sponsored students) in universities like Colombia and NYU in 1903. Between 1910 and 1948 14,000 Filipino students came to study in the US, with many choosing the West Coast universities, and so some would no doubt have lived at I-House Berkeley.

In Chicago the 1940 census recorded 1,740 Filipinos living there and the majority are cited as having come to study “to acquire the American Diploma they believed would boost their place on the Islands’ ladder of success.” So all three original I-Houses have strong Filipino connections.

We continued my candle relay handing over the Taiwan candle in a Taiwan Beer Glass that Grace Hong gave me in Taipei, to Leah who had bought my Manila candle. It seems that Manila Wax Commercial have the monopoly on candles in Manila and Leah had chosen one of their Yellow ones (they come in White, Red or Yellow). I was also able to give Virginia and Neil one each of the tea light candles that Tudor had bought to the Taipei event.

Leah had also kindly bought me some very tasty dried mango…

I then had a very lovely and unexpected afternoon of sightseeing with Neil, who took me to the newly refurbished Natural History Museum and to see the sights of Rizal Park, which on a Sunday afternoon was packed with families enjoying their afternoon. Our trip led us to discuss the joy of spontaneity which Neil said is a big feature of the I-House experience, where by joining up with people and saying yes to doing things it opens up new understanding and builds international friendships. Just as Harry had imagined it would.

Sources: Unintentional Immigrants: Chicago’s Filipino Foreign Students Become Settlers, 1900-1941, Barbara M. Posadas and Roland L. Guyotte, Journal of American Ethnic History Vol 9, No. 2 pp. 26-48

The Filipino Diaspora in the United States July 2014

Where we ate:  Early Bird Breakfast Club – BGC –

Taipei gathering

16thJanuary 2019 – Taipei 

A combined set of I-House NYC and Berkeley alumni arrived around a huge round table in a private room in the Shin Yeh restaurant in Taipei.  The photo of Harry and Florence was placed in the middle of the rotating wheel on the table and so they watched over us and travelled around and around as we chose from the delicious dishes.  

Only touching briefly on the Brexit fiasco in the UK and the US government shut down, we moved onto more enlightening discussion about time spent at I-Houses.  Music, dance, love and food themes wove through the conversations about both Houses.  

We also pondered the challenge of the Houses keeping that magical diversity through careful admissions policy which as countries fortunes ebb and flow avoids one nation dominating the resident population and how vital dining discussion  were to building international friendships and understanding. 

Grace Hong provided a very appropriate relay candle in a Taiwan Beer glass, which is suitably small as Kampai toasts require beer to be downed in one so the size avoids both getting drunk and over full. We lit the candles to pass the light on and said ‘Harry Edmonds’ whilst our group photo was clicked, and there was a sense that a combined Alumni Taiwan group had been formed that together would collect more friends for the next gathering.  We stood up to leave but conversation struck up again around the room in small groups, so it was sometime before we finally said goodbye….

Story snippets…

Pub Disco Romance – Tudor Pasco – Tudor had enjoyed DJ-ing whilst doing his undergrad degree in France and so soon became a regular DJ feature in the Pub in I-House NYC.  He loved the breadth of music that was both appreciated and that he was introduced to.  From South American salsa, to Indian Bangra, to cheezy pop all could get the crowd on their feet.  It was over the DJ turntables that Tudor met his Taiwanese wife and became Sakura Sweethearts.  They now live in Taiwan with their 5 year-old twins.

Entrepreneurial Dreams – Jowy Tani – Jowy is a Consultant Neurologist.  Every year the Taiwanese government gives scholarships to 5 doctors to go to the US to study entrepreneurship for a year, in the hopes of making them more creative.  Gaining one of these scholarships at Berkeley, Jowy was faced with the decision of where to live.  He was thinking of renting an apartment, when he read something by Mark Zuckerberg which said that Facebook was started in a Dorm so he decided that he should go for the more creative and connected life of a Dorm and chose I-House for his year. As well as practicing in Taipei hospitals he is working on a variety of projects that will improve the lives of dementure  patients. 

Food from home– Courtney Gates – Courtney’s memory of her first day at I-House is meeting the only Taiwanese resident in the House at that time.  Having recently returned from teaching English in a small town in Taiwan, Courtney was keen to strike up conversation with him.  Her new friend was also able to provide taste reminders of her time in Taiwan as, in his tiny I-House room, he was creating soya based drinks of his homeland.  A skill he passed onto Courtney.  

Where we ate: Shin Yeh Main Restaurant

Aloha Hawaii

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. 

Story Snippets….

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”.   

I-House Berkeley

Sunday 6th of January 2019

After a long and delayed flight arriving in a rainy San Francisco, determined to ensure the weather made us feel at home, arriving at I-House Berkeley with the fire roaring and the Christmas tree still up in the great hall, was a welcome sight.

The House is far more beautiful than I had imagined it largely due to all the many details and patterns woven into the structure of the building. From the patterned tiles on the stair risers to the wonderful painted ceiling in the main hall there is plenty to appreciate.

This morning before the event I had the huge privilege of spending some time with Sherry Warrick, who was Executive Director of the House for 28 years from 1961 to 1988. He is now 97 and very frail but both him and his wife Betsey still have lots of I-House stories to tell. Sherry talked of floods streaming through the House, managing the turbulent 60’s, and travel to promote I-House, whilst Betsey fondly recalled trips with students to the IH cabin and hanging out with the swimmers in the pool as well as the Christmas parties that she and Sherry held for I-House staff at their home up above Berkeley. Sadly the torrential rain today prevented us seeing the view. Both Sherry and Betsey had met Harry and Betsey talked about the twinkle in his eye and how charming he was!

The afternoon event at the House was in the Home Room and we had a lovely mix of I-Housers from Berkeley and NYC as well as staff and board members. Joe Lurie the Executive Director who followed Sherry from 1988-2007 joined us with his wife Donna and also the current Executive Director Hans Giesecke. We also had the most wonderful piano playing by Kelvin Sianzwi.

There was a lovely reminder that there is a World Wide group of International Houses when Joe Lurie gave me the T Shirt from the 2006 gathering of the group in Melbourne. A very special gift.

The candle relay also started and I am looking forward to taking the Berkeley candle to Hawaii and the NYC candle is staying here in Berkeley.

Story Snippets…

New York Alumni – remembered that during her time in the NYC House there was a lot of conflict going on between Palestine and Israel and that in the House of an evening there would be very heated discussions involving raised voices and table thumping between residents of those countries. And how in the midst of the fray someone from either group would suddenly look at their watch and say ‘pubs open’! The discussion would end abruptly and they would put an arm around each other and walk off for a drink.

Sherry goes to London – Sherry Warrick was telling me about his travels around the world on Berkeley House business and how one day he arrived in London at International Student House in the middle of the night and the doors were locked. He was exhausted and so he just sat down in the corridor by the door and dozed until he was found by a resident of the House who let him in.

Good home cooking – Joy from the I-House Berkeley team shared how much the Berkeley Executive Chef loves to collaborate with residents on creating really special food events. Recently he took on the challenge of an Albanian night of food and was to be found cooking in tandem by Skype with the mum of one of the residents to learn the recipe.

The doors came down – Even though both men and women lived in Berkeley House from the start, the sexes were housed in separate accommodation areas and there were some single sex areas in the House too. Betsey Warrick related, with a twinkle in her eye, how during the time that Sherry was Executive Director of the House, one night the students removed the doors between the living quarters. They never went back up again. “It was time” she said to me.

Continents dilemma – Susan Klee was the Executive Assistant to Sherry Warrick and told a lovely story about a time when she had to allocate residents to different continents for some event. She did well until she came to the Turkish residents. They were discussing the options with her of being part of Asia or Europe and Susan was getting a bit exasperated about how to decide when she had a thought. ‘Who do you represent in Football (soccer)?” she asked them. “Europe” they replied and so it was decided.

With Hans Giesecke Executive Director of I-House Berkeley

I-House New York

Friday January 4th 2019

My tour got ‘officially’ underway as I met with alumni, staff and residents at International House New York. We met in the Home Room which has portraits of both Harry Edmonds and his first wife Florence Edmonds, my great grandfather and grandmother so they were watching over me as I shared my thoughts with the group.

Outside I-House in Sakura Park

One of the things that I have noticed make I-House gatherings really interesting is not only the mix of nationality, women and men but also ages. So our oldest attendee was 81 and our youngest were teenage children of a Colombian resident. Whilst alumni do have a close affiliation to those who lived at the House with them in their ‘year/s’ they are just as interested in meeting those who were there before or after them.

A subset of those who gathered in front of Harry’s portrait

After my talk, there was a spontaneous request to find out more about who was in the room and what their reflections were on their I-House experience and what people were doing today. That curiosity about others and wanting to reflect and learn also seems a key trait of those who really embrace their time at I-House. One gentleman from Haiti was reflecting on the meaning of ‘home’ and the possibility of being a citizen of the world rather than just one place and certainly most of the shared experiences spanned more than one country or even career.

Harry talked about how it was the output of activities that I-House residents take part in rather than the activities themselves that produced the understanding, tolerance and international friendship, but there is no doubt that the shared experience of ball room dancing, language exchanges, Ice Cream socials or nights in the Pub provide the glue.

Being at the start of my trip, I really had no idea what reaction I would get to my personal pilgrimage. So far it has been warmth, gratitude, appreciation and curiosity, quite overwhelmingly so.

Vineet Dhindsa Sidhu, Emily Wakeling, me and Julie Pape in the Soros Room

Story snippets… from this event

I can not possibly capture all the stories that have or will be shared with me but at each event I will try and capture some stories that were shared and either amused or resonated with the group.

NYC Blackout from Gary Smoke, alumni – He was returning from a trip out of town by bus and NYC was hit by a blackout. At the time the Port Authority was a pretty grim place and when he arrived there was no way for him to get back to his home in Long Island as the trains were not running. Not fancying sleeping at Port Authority he decided to head to I-House. He described how he arrived, the door was opened, he was given a candle and warmly invited in. I think there was also quite a party atmosphere, which he enjoyed before returning home once the blackout ended.

Envelope Entry from Gary Smoke, alumni – When Nelson Rockefeller, Governor of New York died in 1979, his funeral was going to be held at the church at Riverside Drive. Gary saw that the funeral was going to be attended by 4 US Presidents and as the church is only a stones throw from the NYC House he wanted to attend. He went to the I-House Director and asked him how he could get in. The Director said that it was, obviously invite only, and showed Gary his invitation. The invitation came in a fancy envelope and Gary was able to persuade the Director to give him the envelope. On the day of the funeral, he walked assertively through the door to the church with the invited dignitaries and waved the envelope confidently at the security guards and was admitted!

A Russian Evening: With the help of Yelena Grinberg, we gathered a good handful of NYC alumni for an evening of Russian food and drink.

Yelena Grinberg, Sherman and Vineet Dhindsa Sidhu, Anita Haravon, ??, ??, Joyce Fan, me, Chris Swinhoe-Standen
Vineet Dhindsa Sidhu, Anita Haravon, me, Chris and Sherman Dhindsa Sidhu

Where we ate: Russian Vodka Room 265 W 52nd St, NYC

On correspondence

Letters are an important part of Harry and International House’s story. Harry was a prolific and entertaining correspondent by letter right through his 96 years. His letter writing really took off when he took on a role at the YMCA at Leigh University when he had graduated and he had to raise the money for his salary. He discovered that if he wrote to people and continued to engage with him he could get them to give a little more each time. This was his first foray into fund raising and certainly stood him in good stead.

His letters show real warmth, wit, passion and care for others and luckily for me give a record of his thoughts and work. I believe there are hundreds if not thousands more in the archives at I-House NYC and also with various family members. He typed most of his letters too, mostly very neatly with few mistakes a blessing as his handwriting is difficult to decipher.

In this email age, I do wonder if my children or grandchildren want to piece together events whether they will have such a rich resource to do so. There is also something very touching about letters. Two of my favourite letters discovered so far are about Harry’s granddaughter Sandy, who he was very fond of. The first is when she is 13 months old when he takes the time to write a letter all about what she can now do and how much pleasure it has given him to see her grow and learn.

“I am so very fond of you and I have seen you grow from a tiny baby so small that when you came home from the hospital ten days after you were born, your little feed rested in the palm of my hand and your head was in the crook of my arm.”

The other letter is to my father about his visit with Sandy, then aged nearly 6, to the New York Zoo. It talks about how they ate tomato sandwiches and ice-cream and the animals they saw.

About this time it began to rain.  But we had bought our umbrellas, and while all the people had to flee to shelter, Sandy and Grandfather put up their umbrellas and walked about in the rain.  It was lots of fun. The people without umbrellas were grumpy, we could see that, as were also some of the animals that went inside.”

My mum writes to all her grandchildren and they do write back, they love getting her letters when they are away from home. As part of this project I have also written letters as well as emails. Some have had lovely replies and some have never been replied to, but I hope they were read. Reading Harry’s letters I am mindful that correspondence with someone over time can bring joy, solace, empathy, encouragement and love to both parties.


Mrs Frank L Babbott was invited to join the Board of I-House NYC in 1925 and I have a copy of a letter written by her in 1974 to Howard Cook in the run up to the 75th anniversary celebrations.

She writes of a memory of one board meeting: “We were discussing the acceptance or rejection of an offer of the Gideons to put a bible in every bedroom. My naive reaction was an affirmative rely to their generosity. At that point then the Wise Ones (referring in particular to Mr. Cleveland E. Dodge and Mr. Frederick Osborn who were on the board at that time) countered with the suggestion of having re-printed excerpts from the volumes of great religion as included in Dr. Charles Elliot’s “Five Foot Book Shelf”. Therein lay an opportunity to prove our respect for the beliefs of others. Thereby students from non-Christian countries could feel at home among the selections from their own holy book. Because of no tinge of proselytizing the students might be more inclined to explore religions other than their one, finding likeness as well as differences. This passing recollection emphasises the constant fact that every decision was thoughtfully beamed toward international understanding”

As we move into 2019 how will your decisions over the next year be beamed towards international understanding?

Happy New Year!