Berlin Freunde

Saturday 23rd February 2019 – Berlin

Blue skies and sunshine blessed my Berlin stop along with wonderful hospitality from the whole Schomaker family but especially Katrin. She had been the mastermind behind our afternoon and evening gathering of the Freunde des International House and in keeping with the sociability of the German alumni had organised a great turnout.

Katrin Schomaker showing me the Brandenburg Gate

The first part of the day was a visit to Schloss Cecilienhof, Potsdam where the Potsdamer Konferenz was held between Stalin, Churchill and Truman in 1945 at the end of the war. We toured the restored rooms where the three leaders and their entourage negotiated and debated what the next steps were for Germany following the war. It is a building with amazing history and with lovely gardens and near by lake was a great choice especially as we ponder the future of Europe with Brexit looming.

The Potsdam visitors, (left to right) Klaus Mossele, Paul Gouras, Chan Gouras, Irina Mossele, Katrin Schomaker, Eckhardt Gouras, Charlotta Shomaker, Katrin Stenner, Gilbert Schomaker, Alice Lewthwaite & Morgan Randell (Julia Rehmet also joined us later)
Hans Husmann and Morgan Randell keeping sporting their I-House Berkeley T Shirts

Our reflections on the politics and history of the palace took place over lunch at the old dairy on the estate which is now a rather wonderful micro brewery. Obviously some of the party had to see whether the beer was any good! https://www.meierei-potsdam.de

After a short pause it was time to head out to dinner. The Freunde des International House are one of the most active I-House NYC chapters in the world and last autumn they managed three gatherings in different German cities to celebrate I-House Day.  

From the start of the I-Houses the alumni were encouraged by Harry and subsequent Directors to come together to celebrate the opening of I-House NYC in November 1924.  I am not as familiar with what happens at today at Berkeley and Chicago I-Houses but last autumn the alumni team at NYC I-House worked with alumni around the world to hold I-House Day meet ups in a long list of locations including Shanghai, New York, LA, London, Frankfurt, Berlin, Honolulu, Manila and several others. 

The Freunde group also work with the Friends of I-House UK chapter to mastermind a gathering of alumni weekend somewhere in Europe each year.  Last year it was Edinburgh with over 60 people attending and this year it will be in Essen the 3rdweekend of September, alumni from around the world welcome.  

The Freunde dinner group photo

Over the most enormous but delicious schnitzel I have ever eaten, I got to hear stories of time at the NYC and Berkeley Houses from the 20 attendees.  We also welcomed Pooja Merchant who is the current Chair of the Freunde group and her new husband who both came along despite being about to move to the US from Berlin. Some of the group had also travelled great distances to join us from Frankfurt & Munich which was very touching. 

Michael Haring & Thomas Schönenberg

For many of the German alumni who come together their time at I-House was relatively short as they were interns either for major banks or corporations.  It is always striking to me that after only 3 or 4 months living at I-House their experience was so compelling and the friends they made so significant that many years later they are still meeting with the group.  Harry would have been so pleased.  

Pooja Merchant, me and Katrin Schomaker
Klaus Mössle one of the founders of Freunde des International House saying a few words
Passing on the gold Paris candle to Katrin Schomaker who gave a beeswax candle for me to take to Stockholm

The blue skies and sunshine continued right through my stay as did the welcome and warmth from everyone I met.  

Story Snippets…

Portrait Project– Morgan Randall – Morgan came from Texas to live at I-House Berkeley and immediately was struck by the possibilities of a more international angle to his career and life.  Talking to him it is obvious that he really embraced every aspect and opportunity offered by time at the House in a purposeful way.  This included finding a novel way to get to meet all of the residents in each of his two years at the House.  He drew their portraits.  Outside each room at the House there is a small whiteboard on which the name of the resident is written.  Morgan started to draw a portrait of each person or people living in the room on the whiteboards.  During the few minutes he was doing this he would strike up conversations that often lasted longer than the time it took to do the drawing and in some cases led to friendships he still has.  He has continued his project ever since drawing people when he meets them using both hands at the same time.  Here is mine, number 8371.  To find out more about Morgan’s projects visit his website http://escher2hands.com Having enjoyed meeting Germans at the House Morgan decide to apply for a Data Scientist role in Munich which he got and has been living in Germany for the past two years.  He has visited over 18 countries while he has been there and arrived on the overnight train from Munich to Berlin to join us for the event.  Morgan later made this video as part of the I-House Berkeley Big Give in March 2019 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51nJGhurr_A

My two handed pen portrait by Morgan Randall

Where we ate – Schnitzelei Mitte – https://schnitzelei.de/mitte/

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 https://www.facebook.com/groups/grainsofsand19/?ref=bookmarks 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.


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 – https://www.earlybirdbreakfastclub.com

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 https://www.shinyeh.com.tw/content/zh/Brand/Store.aspx?BrandId=1&Id=1

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”.   

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.

Understanding

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”.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvard_Classics 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!