( Audie Chang is former Chairman of FF Fraternity, a non-profit service and fellowship organization founded in 1910 by Chinese students studying at New England colleges. He and his wife Susan have two adult children and two granddaughters. Audie was born in China and immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1958. He studied theater and history in college but decided to pursue a business career as a CPA and financial executive in the Silicon Valley. He loves music and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Peninsula Symphony of Northern California.)
Friendship in its simplest form develops from spending time together and sharing common experiences. The FF Fraternity gave its members and me the opportunity to spend lots of time with lots of wonderful people that has led to many lasting friendships.
Back in 1979, I was invited by my girlfriend Susan (later my wife) to a Christmas party hosted by Mateo Go, a doctor in training. Halfway into the party, a bunch of guys carried a huge cardboard box into the living room and out popped Paul Chin, an aeronautical engineer, in boxer shorts. Apparently, he was Susan’s Christmas gift. Instead of running for the door, I stayed long enough to enjoy the party. Turned out Mateo and Paul were FF Fraternity brothers from college.
At the party, I also met Tony Keng, who would later join the FF Fraternity, then sponsor me to join the fraternity in 1983. Tony was an outgoing guy who was gifted with a high EQ (emotional quotient). I often witnessed how he would engage a perfect stranger in a conversation and end up becoming friends after discovering their common connections. A lifelong bachelor, Tony recruited over 50 brothers into the FF Fraternity and made it his family. Tony would often call me at unexpected times for lunch or dinner when I was at work, on vacation or with my family. If I told him I was busy his typical response was “you’re no fun”. I found out his unpredictable phone invitations to be a common experience among his friends. When I did make it for a meal, it would be an event because he would have invited other people without telling me. He was eager to introduce people he had befriended and they were always interesting. Tony was the catalyst that brought people together.
Before joining FF, I was introduced to Billy Lee, an FF brother and one of the friendliest people I have ever met. He is one of the reasons I joined FF. There were many occasions when Billy and Lucille would open their home to host a pot luck dinner for FF brothers and their families. The crowd was always lively, friendly and joyful. Like Tony, Billy was a friendly magnet who attracted talented and interesting people who he enjoyed introducing to his other friends and/or to the FF Fraternity.
Considering the likes of Tony and Billy multiplied by an order of magnitude as members of FF Fraternity, one can appreciate the rich opportunities to develop and maintain friendship for its members. The highlight of the FF experience is its annual reunion where members from the U.S. and Asia gather at a different location every year to renew friendships and share in a wealth of activities that include a business meeting, Ted talks, food tours, skit competition, basketball, tennis and golf tournaments, and a formal gala.
The friendship that has evolved from FF Fraternity often extended to the children. This happens partly by design and partly by accident. In fact back in the 1990’s, a number of FF brothers and sisters with children thought it would be a great idea to get together for a long weekend every summer so the families could enjoy each other’s company and celebrate their common Chinese heritage. As a result, the West Coast Chinese Family Camp was formed at a site in Monterey. Each year a family would volunteer to be the host family and organize activities that included an icebreaker, Family Olympics, skit night, bowling tournament, Chinese cultural event, campfire singalong, sports and games. The children who first attended the camp are now working adults with families of their own. Their friendships which were created during the camp years continue in full display at annual gatherings and recently at weekly Zoom meetings during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place.
Looking back, I believe every community should have an organization like the FF Fraternity to encourage and nurture the friendships that enrich our lives by providing opportunities to spend time together and share common experiences.