When Billy asked me to write about “friendship and poker”, something Warren Buffett has said immediately popped into mind. Buffett has offered this advice on friendship for years, “You will move in the direction of the people that you associate with. The friends you have will form you as you go through life. Make some good friends, keep them for the rest of your life, but have them be people that you admire as well as like.”
“So it is important to associate with people that are better than yourself.”
Much on friendship has already been shared on Billy and the World. It is rather imposing when asked to contribute to a platform with a stated mission “Search for Essence in Knowledge and Goodness”.
Friendship with peers better than yourself sounds great if it does not involve poker. Poker is all about winning your hand, friendship with better poker players is great in concept but terrible in execution.
Another widely quoted Buffett, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.” For investment, this is great insight for those seeking value-oriented long-term investment. For poker, “Multiple buy-ins are what you pay, low self-esteem is what you get” when you are up against better players, especially if with friends.
Bottom line, friendship and poker do not mix well.
Knowledge and Skill are overrated. Thank goodness there is an element of luck in poker. Treasure luck over skill any day, any time and with that friendship still stands a chance.
He stopped playing tennis for 15 years and is now playing catch up for lost time. Tennis four days each week is great if the head, shoulder and knee all cooperate. Monday is always slow, take until Wed to warm up and by Friday it’s time to go easy and relax. The cycle repeats.
His profession as a real estate developer came late but sweet while it lasted. Nothing perfect, but at the least was conducted like a symphony, as it should be for any complicated project to be successful.
The work force multifamily housing project as a public/private partnership in San Mateo is a first for the City. The technology office/residential campus at the BART mass-transit station is a first for the City of San Leandro. The entitlement and adaptive reuse of a blight neighborhood center into school for the Foster City San Mateo School District is a first for Foster City. Demographic data mining and use of geographic information systems in real estate analytic is pioneering and ahead of its time and popularity. Last to be mentioned but most proud of is the acquisition and installation of the 55 foot Burning Man sculpture “Truth Is Beauty” at the tech campus.
Harry is currently a Realtor with Compass in Palo Alto, California, and loves what he does, especially since he works with his best friend, Charlene – who also happens to be his spouse and life partner. Prior to real estate, Harry had a fruitful career in finance, consulting, private equity investments, and corporate management. He left his last role as an Executive Vice President of Li & Fung in 2015, because he had promised Charlene he would leave his globe-trotting job when his younger child left for college, and he kept his promise.
Harry has been in the Bay Area since 1988, when he transplanted from New York to attend Stanford Business School. The sunny climate, the great outdoors, and the diversity of people and cultures served as strong draws to keep him here, and he hasn’t looked back since. In addition to work, Harry volunteers his time with various organizations, including serving as Chair of the San Francisco Lodge of FF Fraternity, the oldest Chinese fraternity in the US, and interviewing for Yale College and Phillips Academy. Harry is a former Director of Yale’s alumni interviewers for the Peninsula region and was a founding Board member of the Association of Asian American Yale Alumni.
Most of us have more than a few good friends. We enjoy each other’s company, having nice meals together, playing games, and oftentimes having thoughtful discussions. Sometimes we help a friend through a difficult time – parenting problems, issues with a spouse, or an illness. During these rough patches, friendships can grow deeper as we offer comfort, love, and support to our friends in need. There are other times when our relationships may hit some turbulence and we avoid talking about the cause of the rough air. My proposition in this posting to Billy’s friendship website is that rather than avoiding the bumps, making the choice of engaging in difficult conversations can deepen the bonds of a friendship or other relationship that may be meaningful to you.
I would like to share two personal examples:
A long time ago when I was a second-year business school student, I was in a class that included a time-consuming group project, and everyone in the group received the same grade on the project regardless of individual effort. One of my very good friends was a member of this project group and he usually came unprepared to our meetings and hardly did any work. One of my core values is to be fair and considerate to others, so I felt strongly that my friend was being extremely inconsiderate of his fellow group members. This feeling steamed inside me throughout the quarter, yet I didn’t do anything about it. Finally, at one of our evening meetings, I called out my friend for his lack of preparation. I tried to talk in an objective manner and voiced my feelings, rather than attack my friend, but it still was a very strained discussion. To my friend’s credit, he pulled me aside after the meeting to talk further and we ended up talking for a few hours until well after midnight. It was definitely not an easy discussion – we were NOT shooting the breeze – but we ended our talk with a tight hug and not only did we remain friends, our friendship got stronger as a result of this difficult conversation.
My second story is both work-related and personal. My boss (who also was and is a good friend) and I had to endure a very challenging stretch at work, commuting weekly from the Bay Area to New York for a few months, as we were trying to save a company from bankruptcy. During this time, we were eating breakfast, lunch and dinner in the office, oftentimes returning to our apartment in the early morning hours. Adrenaline was high, as was stress, and morale was very low. Towards the end of this difficult assignment, I wasn’t feeling great about my relationship with my boss, because he wasn’t communicating like he normally did, he was curt during our discussions, and he just seemed angry with me. Under the circumstances, I didn’t blame him at all, but because the tension between us was bothering me, I finally broached the topic over a late dinner. I tiptoed into the discussion, because this was definitely a sensitive situation, but I was clear in my intention and I voiced how I felt. My boss didn’t hold back and laid out exactly why he was upset with me; the tension between us was definitely real, not imagined. For what seemed like a long time, we talked about our respective feelings and our own perspective on the situation. At first, the tension was as thick as the spicy curry sitting on the table, but in the end the air was clearer and the haze had lifted. We understood each other and we respected each other’s perspective. Instead of letting this tension simmer and fester, and hurt our relationship, we talked through this difficult and sensitive issue. The result was a stronger, not weaker, bond.
I’ve had a few other tough discussions, not just the ones above. I like to share a few lessons learned from my experiences with difficult conversations:
Confront difficult situations, don’t avoid them. For many of us, the easy thing to do is nothing, but avoidance doesn’t resolve differences and, more often than not, simply makes the situation worse. Whatever bad feelings there are will fester and, without meaningful dialogue, both parties just think the worse of the other. Inaction causes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because our negative thoughts fill the communications vacuum.
Difficult conversations don’t need to be confrontational. Take your emotions out of the equation and conversation, understand the other person may have a different perspective, and respect that other perspective. A lot of times when we go into these tough discussions, we go into attack mode, thinking we’re right and the other person is wrong. This mindset will just make matters worse, so don’t do it.
It’s okay to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Share your thoughts, your perspective and, especially, your feelings. Instead of labeling or judging the other person’s actions, talk about the impact of those actions on you. There’s no right and wrong, or good and bad, about how you feel, but when you say something like, “What you did yesterday was bad,” you immediately put the other person on the defensive.
Focus on a mutual understanding of the issue, and move the conversation towards a resolution that meets both persons’ needs. Remember that your goal isn’t to simply “get the issue off your chest,” but to work together with the other party to reach a meaningful (it doesn’t necessarily have to be amicable) resolution.
From my personal experience, when I’ve engaged in difficult conversations with friends, our bonds got stronger and the relationships became more meaningful. On the work front, difficult conversations have resulted in mutual respect and understanding, and a tighter team mentality. So when you’re confronted with a tough situation, think twice before you turn your back on it. Dealing with controversy and sensitive situations proactively and with purpose will strengthen your relationships, both personally and work-wise.
When asked by my best friend to write on this subject, I wanted to do it out of friendship. And I think I know, out of a sense of empathy, his reason for the request. This is what friendship and empathy are all about.
I had no idea, however, until I started to write, just how difficult it is to make sense of these words. It has taken several weeks of introspection, researching, learning, and reminiscing before I feel comfortable enough to tackle this subject.
What Is Friendship?
What is it? How does it come about between two people? Is it our DNA? That endows us humans with a brain to think; a heart to feel; an ability to verbalize our thoughts and emotions; and the instinct to want to be connected with others of our kind? I would like to think so.
Given this instinct and the ability to communicate, is it not natural that one would want a relationship with others one likes? Some relationship will wither due to indifference. However, some will grow from mutual likeness and interaction into friendship, and from friendship into love.
Friendship gives two people unknowing opportunities to learn from each other and the desire to want to help the other in many different ways. The sense of loneliness in the current lockdown we are experiencing — now that we are compelled to observe self-isolation at home and social distancing and mask wearing outside — makes me realize just how much we need friends. Is this the power of friendship?
It takes a mutual sense of empathy, nevertheless, to make us aware whom we miss. So it is empathy between two people, which sustains a friendship.
What Is Empathy?
This is the innate ability in human beings to understand another person one cares about and wants to share the feelings of that person. Empathy can be described as cognitive, emotional, and/or compassionate. I have observed as a lover of music that musicians and lovers of music seem to share a stronger sense of empathy. Although not everyone has empathy and it does not necessarily follow that a person would possess all three types of empathy. Can it be learned? I would like to think so.
Cognitive empathy is the ability to put oneself in the place of another person, to see and feel what that person sees and feels. This is a skill some has; and it can be seen in those who succeed in sales and in negotiation. However, there is a dark side to this personality as well. According to professionals in psychiatry, narcissistic, sociopath, or the bad aspects of Machiavellianism would be examples. Such a person can be talented but devoid of sympathy for the suffering of others.
Emotional empathy exists when one feels physically for another person [as if emotion is contagious] and wants to be attached to that person. A strong sense of emotional empathy is what leads to and binds a friendship.
Compassionate empathy exists when one understands the predicament of another, feels for that person, and wanting to lend a helping hand.
What Is Vision?
Subjective and futuristic, it is influenced by the experience of a person. For this reason, I propose to write about my own life experience as an example before writing on the subject of vision.
1930 was the year of my birth. The tumultuous events in that decade and the one that follows — the Great Depression in America, which started in 1929; the Second Sino-Japanese War in Asia (1937-1945); the Rise of Nazism in Germany that led to World War II (1939-1945); and Japan’s attack and occupation of Hong Kong (1941-1945) – had huge impacts on the formative years of my life; and, I think, shaped the person that I have become.
Now that I have reached my 90th year on earth, and having crossed the threshold of wisdom as well, I should know at least the difference between a wise guy and a wise man. I would recognize a wise guy by his behavior, which is inevitably “me first”, but a wise man I am doubtful.
My own life began in comfort with no want only to become one of deprivation and hardship. I emerge from those experience possessing courage, a will, and a determination to survive, and probably with the strengths to walk a straight and righteous path, literally and figuratively. Some may consider that stubborn or arrogant, but I also learned humility, kindness and forgiveness that were taught to me.
Born to Cantonese parents in Shanghai and as a 3rd generation American of Chinese descent was unusual in itself. The circumstances — on reaching the end of my first month of life — when I was taken by my parents, together with a brother two years my senior, on a P&O ship to Hong Kong (so I am told); to stay over at the Peninsula Hotel before being carried in my mother’s arm, who walked across the street in front of the hotel to board a coal-burning, steam locomotive train to home, which was Canton (renamed Guangzhou since then) was not an ordinary event either.
The family would take us children and our amahs to spend a few weeks in the summer at the Repulse Bay Hotel (to get away from the heat and humidity of Guangzhou). Then the family relocated to Hong Kong, on account of civil disturbance in Guangzhou, which was the beginning of the Communist movement. We were living in Stanley and attending St. Stephen’s Grammar School until I was 11.
As Dux of our respective class, my brother and I were treated to two movies of our choice. There were only two movie theatres then — the King’s and the Queen’s theatres, on opposite side of Queen’s Road Central; one showing in Technicolor Northwest Passage starring Spencer Tracy and Gig Young, the other also in Technicolor, Northwest Mounted Police starring Garry Cooper. In between the movies, we had supper of pork chop, “jit gua” (a melon) and rice at Jimmy’s Kitchen. We took the bus (instead of being driven in the family car, Sunday being the day-off for the driver; and car-owner did not drive in those days). We woke up the next morning to Japan’s invasion of Hong Kong, (Japan did not declare war on Great Britain at all). That was Christmas Day 194l.
By then I had learned humility and kindness from “Leung Lo Si”; and forgiveness from Mrs. Martin, whose husband was Headmaster of St. Stephen’s. In my recollection, Leung Lo Si ordered me one day as the class was ending to “sit on the wall”, a punishment for misbehaving. Tears of outrage were rolling down my cheeks. After the class room was empty out, she said to me in Cantonese to the effect that “you are not being punished; but I hope this experience will help you to remember what it feels like to be punished and that not everyone learns as fast as you. Learn humility and kindness and help others less able than you.”
In the Japan-occupied-Colony, everyone was subject to body search, which can be described as a lascivious and intentionally-insulting act. Like everyone else, I endured
In silence while I think of Mrs. Martin and Leung Lo Si.
30 years later, when I returned to Hong Kong, in 1972, I re-revisited my old school and stumbled across the grave of Mrs. Martin on a mount in school grounds. I went back to the village and returned with flowers. I placed the flowers beneath the cross that marked her grave and said a prayer in homage to a kind lady, who learned Cantonese so that she could teach us. That was a poignant moment for me to feel good about myself as an adult and an intellectually-committed follower of Christ.
Forgiveness was etched in my mind. When I had high tea in the afternoon, especially at the Peninsular Hotel, I would think of her for teaching me good manners, including how to hold the saucer so that the tea cup would not rattle. Good manners meant standing up in the classroom when the teacher came in and went out of the classroom. It also meant to defer to the lady to enter a room first; to walk on the curb side of a street when escorting a lady; and to greet a lady standing up.
Back to Japanese-occupied Hong Kong: foreigners were interned but Chinese were encouraged to leave (on account of food and water shortages). My parents took the four of us to interior free China together with two very young nieces (who were left in the care of my parents when their mother did not survive surgery and their father was in America). For the next few years, life was a hardship; but for my brother and me, an adventure. We learned skills that we would not have otherwise.
The ocean voyage on a flat bottom boat from Hong Kong to the French possession [which was subsequently renamed “Zhan Jiang”], the ship that departed Hong Kong in late afternoon had to lay over at Macau the next morning for fuel. Four of us — Dad, a friend of his, my brother and I — went ashore in drizzling rain to purchase three boxes of “Char Siu Bao”. My brother and I were each holding a box underneath our poncho, when the box held by Dad, who was talking with his friend about the calligraphy on that box, when a man came from nowhere to grab it. Dad reacted quick enough to have tripped him up; but the man was already eating the paper box and the Bao inside lying on the wet ground. Other onlookers would grab a Bao that was spilled on the ground and ran. This scary scene of hunger was etched into my mind ever since. And I was to experience it later when we had to survive on one meal a day of rice and salted black beans.
At Zhan Jiang, coolies were hired to carry our belongings and the sedans for us to sit. My brother and I ended up sharing one chair and taking turn to sit or walk. But both of us opted to walk and learn quickly enough the meaning of false pride. Today, I walk with a cane to keep my balance, and thought of that experience whenever my legs sent out the same aching signals. To this day, I wonder whether it was a case of feeling pity, on seeing the red and swollen shoulders of the coolies, or feeling the unfairness of it all.
On reaching the destination, we would ride on the back of a truck to Liuzhou, which was to be our home for the next two and half years.
Those trucks ran on kerosene. Riding a truck on unpaved dirt road with deep pot holes was an Experience, which I would not want to repeat. When the truck reached the foot of a hill, two “driver assistants”, who sat on either side of the driver, would get out of the cabin to crank up the air intake into the two charcoal burners, mounted on both sides of the vehicle. The truck would lurch forward a few feet. The helpers would put two triangular blocks of wood behind the rear wheels of the under-powered and over-laden truck to keep it from rolling backward; then start the cranking processing all over again. When the truck managed to reach the top of the hill, it would careen down the dirt road, which had no guard rail; as the driver would not use the brakes at all! We would see on the way down in the valley below over-turned trucks. We were told the reason: the kerosene left over at the end of a journey would be sold and the drivers would the cash for themselves. In retrospect, I think God was really looking after us.
Life in Liuzhou was comfortable: although we were living in a house built with inter-woven slats of bamboo with wet mud slapped on them as walls and dried grass as roof, we were going back to a co-educational school again (founded by Cantonese refugees just like us out of expediency). I recall there were friends (of the family) whose fathers were Flying Tiger Pilots, and whose families happened to be there at the same time — the Ou-Yeung brothers and the Ding brother/sister, similar in age to my brother and me. Told to look after them, we would join in fist fights to defend them when the locals were out to beat up the “foreigners”. After a few days of coming home in torn clothes, Mom asked if she shouldn’t intervene. We would say no because we were gaining in numbers and winning! I think that was when we really found our sense of fair play. We taught the two boys swimming; and felt good to have them as friends, when they managed to swim back to shore from the capsized ferry in mid-river during a flood.
We experienced fear in our air shelter at home, on seeing a “bomb” dropping virtually on top of us. It splashed gasoline all over us. It turned out the “bomb” was the spare fuel tank of a Flying Tiger. Apparently the P-40 fighter plane needed the spare tank of fuel to fly from Chungking, the war-time capital of China, to engage the Japanese zero invaders in aerial combat. The plane would jettison the spare tank before a dog fight. Many planes would not have sufficient fuel to make it back to Chungking afterwards.
Dad had made known the fact and posted money for anyone who brought to him a downed Flying Tiger Pilot; doubling the money for the wounded; and four times the amount for a stretcher case. When a pilot was fit enough to travel, Dad would pay for a guide and two soldiers to escort him through Japanese occupied line to free China to the west of us. Unbeknown to me then, Dad would ask the Pilot to take the same consecutively numbered hand written message to the Vice Consul of the American Consulate at Kunming, who was also his friend and a fellow returnee from studying in America. Back came the message some how informing Dad to find his way from where we were to “Gwai-Yeung”, the capital city “Gwai-chou Province”, and to ask any US military installation to contact the US Consulate at Kunming, a car could be dispatched to fetch us. So destination “Gwaiyeung” it was, by asking for and following verbal directions without a map! To fund the next leg of that journey, we would sell off our belongings to raise cash. I remember how gleeful I was when my favorite things fetched more money than I expected. I no longer have any more sense of possessiveness ever since. I also learned the value of fiat money on arriving Kunming, when a small tangerine would cost four square blocks of money, tied together with strings!
US passports were re-issued for the six of us as a family [having left the very young two nieces who were not US citizens in the care of Mom’s sister and her family at Kweilin at the time] in order to fly out of China, over the hump, to Calcutta, India; where we stayed at China Inn as guests of Uncle W.J. Wen, (Dad’s close friend and a fellow Mason), who happened to be the General Manager of the Bank of Communication; waiting there for the approximate scheduled arrival of the Swedish Ship, before taking the train, traversing the sub-content, that pulled along side the Port of Bombay (since renamed Mumbai) for us and other passengers, as it transpired, to board the Swedish Ship S.S. Gripsholms on a voyage of uncertain outcome in war time — from the Indian Ocean to and through the Suez Canal into the Atlantic Ocean, infested then with German submarines, to be able to sail past the Statute of Liberty with all passengers on deck to watch in silence and in awe, as the voyage of altogether 35 days came to an end.
It was at Boston (where Uncle Jim and Uncle John were owners/operators of Chinese restaurants at the time) that my arduous process began to learn English and to be, in Dad’s words, “afirst-class American.”
The experience of having survived war-torn China made me feel very mature in comparison to my American peers at Browne and Nichols country day school, even though I could not speak, read and writes a word of English then. I was puzzled and confused by classmates who would call me Dick one day, Charlie next, then Fu Man Chu yet on another day, until I learned that there were movies about Charlie Chan the Chinese Detective and Fu Man Chu, the wise man; and that my American classmates loved to jest. I started to kid back only to learn about the “F word” from a classmate, who punched me hard on my shoulder (when we were waiting for the train in the subway) and whispered in my ear “not so loud in public, Charlie, that is a bad word”. (My school has since merged with Buckingham, a girl school, to become Buckingham, Brown & Nichols, or BB&N, the leading secondary day school in Metropolitan Boston).
Three years later, I was admitted to Harvard with due credit to my Mom and my English teacher. Mom accompanied me to the interview, and said to the interviewer, in perfect English, to the effect that “my boy is a good son, who went through hard times in war-torn China; kind, considerate, and a good Christian who never broke any rule; I shall feel safe knowing that he is in your good hands, to bring our younger children back to Hong Kong to rejoin my husband.” And the reference letter of Mr. William B. Thomas read in part — “selfdom, if ever, does he make the same mistake twice”. So I spent the next self-discovery four years and graduated as a member of the Class of 1952; just in time to be drafted into the Army that September for two years of military service in South Korea.
The military is the most effective leveling process of men, whether well-to-do or under-privileged, the learned or the under-educated, into a common denominator – soldiers serving a higher purpose than just ourselves. When I realized my black brothers-in-arms did not know why they were drafted into the army or that there was a war in Korea, everyone learned to take apart and assemble a M1 Garand rifle in the dark and within the prescribed time. I earned the title of “Professor” and the incredulity of the training sergeant. I also learned a lesson on leadership, but more importantly, a love and respect for fellow men.
I found my value system, which was grounded in my up-brining, articulated at prep school, strengthened at college, and given full expression in military services is what equipped me very well in my journey through life.
Our recorded history is a continuum of examples of how human beings learned from each other and helped each others that led to the discoveries that give us today a cumulative body of knowledge: starting with things physical from the discovery of Iron as far back as 2,500 BC (when a dagger was found among the artifacts that gave us the clue) to the discovery of paper and paper-making in 100 BC; gun powder in the 9th century; the locomotive and train in 1802; the Bessemer process in 1856, which refined pig iron into steel, and which made mass production feasible; electricity in 1879; the power plant in 1882; the automobile in 1885; to telephone, computer and internet of today.
I have seen fortune made and gone with the wind, so to speak. Such was the case with Dad, a builder who did not stop; who accepted failure [through no fault of his] without rancor, resentment or bitterness, and remained kind and optimistic with abiding faith in his progeny and in the future. He showed me that money is no guarantee for life. It is an individual’s resilience to respond to and accept changes that matters.
Regardless of what wealth you inherited or accumulated, it is what you will do with it; and not what money will do to you, that make the ultimate difference.
Those of us who live in America would know the reference to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Constitution, but not many would remember that freedom requires responsibility to stop the exercise of freedom from becoming chaos.
Mine is about life — that all of us have an obligation to leave the world passed down to us to the generations to follow us; in a more humane and cleaner fashion (in the environmental sense of the word); in which peoples everywhere will have equal access to opportunity to improve themselves and their livelihoods; and to learn from each other. Because of this phenomenon, inequality will give rise to greater equality; the huge disparity in wealth will be reduced and minimized over time; the line between the have and the have not will be erased; and capital will be deployed to benefit not just the few, but the many; that such an experiment with democracy will create eventually greater prosperity for everyone.
This paper is a summation of one man’s experiences in life. It is meant to illustrate a not so obvious truth: that learning does not stop at commencement, but only begins or commences (in the true meaning of the word) as a life-long process. This is what gives us the knowledge and the technology to achieve the articulated vision.
What seems to be lacking is the political will and the responsibility, which only we have, as peoples enjoying the benefits of democracy — to hold our elected officials accountable, especially now, when the institutions of democratic governance is under attack internally as well as externally.
Perhaps the hardest lesson we have yet to learn is that war achieves nothing but destruction of life and human achievements.
Allow me then, to end this paper by recalling the sense of unity and joy I experienced singing in close harmony as a member of the Glee Club and of the University Choir —“Donna nobis pacem, per omnia seecula seeculorum”; “Grand us peace, world without end.”
Billy’s Comments: Those who are interested in Investments should read Richard’s Visions on Investing in Hong Kong today. See below:
HONG KONG IN A POST PANDEMIC WORLD
August 9, 2020
By Richard M. Liu <email@example.com>
If Hong Kong were to regain in the post pandemic world her footings as a trade entrepôt, an international transportation hub, and a global financial center, one must find solutions to livelihood issues, specifically:  how to enhance self-sufficiency in foods and water through the use of technology in Hong Kong and external to the SAR?  How to diversify sources of supplies to reduce virtually sole reliance on imports from China?  How to keep her markets as self-sufficient and as price-competitive as possible?  How to address the energy requirement to include development of green solutions? And  how to solve the lack of affordable housing?
Ideas, Concepts, and Solutions
Turning around an economy currently in free fall will require a private initiative to finance the resumption of cross-border trade to supply energy products to mainland China [as the initial profit center], and direct investments to overcome shortages in the whole range of foods from animal husbandry and fishery to produce and fruits [each category being a profit center] and to develop a new source of algae-based green energy [to become a profit center]. Selective use of the most advanced of the several applicable technological systems will enhance productivity, produce monetary return, and create jobs. Reviving a failing economy will require the combined usage of capital, technology and “a spirit of enterprise” to produce the daily necessities of life, in Hong Kong and external to Hong Kong as well.
As an architect, I am concerned that friendship flower in a suitable setting can do no better than to offer you the some thoughts from Thoreau’s Walden, which I happened to be re-reading when Billy posed the question: ” How about writing about What is Friendly Architecture ? “
I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society. When visitors came in larger and unexpected numbers there was but the third chair for them all, but they generally economized the room by standing up. It is surprising how many great men and women a small house will contain. I have had twenty-five or thirty souls, with their bodies, at once under my roof, and yet we often parted without being aware that we had come very near to one another.
One inconvenience I sometimes experienced in so small a house, the difficulty of getting to a sufficient distance from my guest when we began to utter the big thoughts in big words. You want room for your thoughts to get into sailing trim and run a course or two before they make their port. The bullet of your thought must have overcome its lateral and ricochet motion and fallen into its last and steady course before it reaches the ear of the hearer, else it may plow out again through the side of his head. Also, our sentences wanted room to unfold and form their columns in the interval. Individuals, like nations, must have suitable broad and natural boundaries, even a considerable neutral ground, between them. I have found it a singular luxury to talk across the pond to a companion on the opposite side. In my house we were so near that we could not begin to hear, – we could not speak low enough to be heard; as when you throw two stones into calm water so near that they break each other’s undulations. If we are merely loquacious and loud talkers, then we can afford to stand very near together, check by jowl, and feel each other’s breath; but if we speak reservedly and thoughtfully, we want to be farther apart, that all animal heat and moisture may have a chance to evaporate If ,we would enjoy the most intimate society with that in each of us which is without, or above, being spoken to, we must not only be silent, but only so far apart bodily that we cannot possibly hear each other’s voice in any case. Referred to this standard, speech is for the convenience of those who are hard of hearing; but there are many fine things which we cannot say if we have to shout. As the conversation began to assume a loftier and grander tone, we gradually shoved our chairs farther apart till they touched the wall in opposite corners, and then commonly there was not room enough.
My “best” room, however, my withdrawing room, always ready for company, on whose carpet the sun rarely fell, was the pine wood behind my house. Thither in summer days, when distinguished guests came, I took them, and a priceless domestic swept the floor and dusted the furniture and kept the things in order.
If one guest came he sometimes partook of my frugal meal, and it was no interruption to conversation to be stirring a hasty-pudding, or watching the rising and maturing of a loaf of bread in the ashes, in the meanwhile. But if twenty came and sat in my house there was nothing said about dinner, though there might be bread enough for two, more than if eating were a forsaken habit; but we naturally practiced abstinence; and this was never felt to be an offence against hospitality, but the most proper and considerate course. The waste and decay of physical life, which so often needs repair, seemed miraculously retarded in such a case, and the vital vigor stood its ground. I could entertain thus a thousand as well as twenty; and if any ever went away disappointed or hungry from my house when they found me at home, they may depend upon it that I sympathized with them at least.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines friend as “a person who you know well and who you like a lot, but who is usually not a member of yourfamily”
But look at the way we use it.
“I added her as a friend on Facebook but I hardly know her”
Trump: “I am friends with Kim Jong Un”
“America is great friends with Britain”
“Dogs are man’s best friend”
“I am not a friend of Turkish food”
“You’d better watch it, friend”
“He was hit by friendly fire”
“The police is every law-abiding person’s friend”
It’s even possible that friends or friendship can have different meanings at different ages. In childhood – it’s about sharing and playing. In adolescence, we begin to focus on shared values, loyalty and common interests. And in adulthood, it’s more about companionship, affection, and emotional support
What about all these other categories of friendship?
Friend of a friend
Kalyana-mittata (spiritual friendship)
The word must be significant. Looks at these great synonyms listed on slangpedia.
That’s no help. The word and its meaning have not changed since it became a word.
To really understand friendship maybe we should go back into history – way back. Friendship never had a better friend than Aristotle. He believed that friendship is clearly necessary and good, but that people disagree on its precise nature.
Friendship, he wrote, consists of a mutual feeling of goodwill between two people.
Aristotle said there are three kinds of friendship.
The first is friendship based on utility, where both people get some benefit from each other.
The second is friendship based on pleasure, where both people are drawn to the other’s wit, good looks, or other pleasant qualities.
The third is friendship based on goodness, where both people admire the other’s goodness and help one another strive for goodness.
The first two kinds of friendship are only accidental, because, he says, in these cases friends are motivated by their own utility and pleasure, not by anything essential to the nature of the friend. These kinds of friendship don’t endure because one’s needs and pleasures are likely to change over time.
Goodness is an enduring quality, so friendships based on goodness tend to be long lasting. This friendship also includes the other two, as good friends are useful to one another and please one another. Such friendship is rare and takes time to develop, but it is the best, right? Bad people can be friends too. But only for reasons of pleasure or utility. Only good people can be friends for the benefit of each other.
I remember a saying from a while back: “Cousins are different beautiful flowers in the same garden”. I think the saying adequately describes Auntie Yi Hua and my mother May.
Auntie Yi Hua and my mother May are cousins from two branches in the big Lee/Li forest that has many trees. They are of the same age, although my mother is four months older, which gives her the privilege of claiming the “big sister” title. They are both the oldest siblings in their nuclear families. They both received an education from missionary schools in their youth: Auntie Yi Hua from St. John’s and my mother from St. Mary’s. They both went on to have successful professional careers. Auntie Yi Hua was a translator and interpreter for the influential and powerful Chinese news authority in Beijing while my mother was an architect for a major design firm, and later with one of the most prominent developers in Shanghai.
They both are kind, people-oriented and sociable. They travel in similar circles and share same groups of friends and acquaintances. Naturally in their retirements, they tend to get together a lot with their mutual friends. Some of those friends are also relatives, whether close or extended. In recent years, they can often be found at the same dining tables during Auntie Yi Hua’s frequent and lengthy visits to Shanghai. When not physically in Shanghai, Auntie Yi Hua would make regular phone calls from the U.S.A. to chat with and check up on my mother to make sure she is fine. My mother, on the other hand, would resort to her “pony express” method of communication by corresponding with Auntie Yi Hua with letter writing from Shanghai. Regardless of the method, they would make sure to let the other know that they are in each other’s thoughts.
They both care about their ancestral heritage and are committed to serve the Lee/Li family. Whenever there were extended family functions, they were actively involved front and center. So when the local authorities of their hometown Ning Bo were building a memorial hall and a family museum for the Lee/Li family, the Lee/Li commemorative monument and the Lee/Li Music Hall at Ning Bo University, they were there to contribute whichever way they could. Being a natural leader, Auntie Yi Hua was even more instrumental in overseeing several projects to their fruition. Almost 30 years ago, Auntie Yi Hua’s mother, “Grandma #5” as many youngsters would dearly and respectfully call her, at the ripe age of 87 started to be in charge of the updating and addition to the Lee/Li genealogy book. It was a monumental task! The original genealogy book was written in 1936. By 1991, Grandma #5 felt that many decades had gone by and new generations had been born. It was time to re-edit the genealogy book and update the information to reflect the changes. As she embarked on this remarkable endeavor, Auntie Yi Hua, my mother along with other younger relatives, offered assistance to alleviate her work load. The newly completed genealogy book is now in the hands of many Lee/Li family members, and is considered the most important document of the extended family.
Grandma #5 was a lovely and cultured lady. She was gentle, even tempered, determined and wise. She was my mother’s favorite aunt-in-law. As a child, I used to visit Grandma #5 with my mother. I can still visualize her suite on the top floor of a typical Shanghai style house. There was a wooden door at the top of the stairs before the last few flights leading up to her suite. The decor of her room was simple but elegant. She had traditional Chinese furniture throughout her suite. The walls were decorated with calligraphy and paintings from her own hands. She always seemed to be so happy to see my mother. From her warm reception, I suspected that my mother was perhaps one of her favorite nieces. At the time, Auntie Yi Hua was working in Beijing.
Later on, Grandma #5 moved to a different apartment. By then Auntie Yi Hua and her family had gone to the U.S.A. My mother’s visits to Grandma #5 continued and became more frequent as Grandma #5 got on years. During my mother’s visits, the two ladies would talk about the TV programs Grandma #5 had just watched, especially Beijing Opera. Grandma #5 would show my mother her calligraphy and demonstrate her know-how in traditional Chinese arts. She would ask about the wellbeing of some relatives she had not seen for a long time. On one occasion, my mother and another cousin of hers, Auntie Ming Fen, visited Grandma #5 at the same time. The two ladies in their 70s were discussing the stock market. They made it sound quite convoluted. Suddenly, Grandma #5, who was in her 90s, asked them a simple question about what they were talking about. The two younger ladies were dumbfounded. They could not come up with an answer. I was chuckling inside: Grandma #5 still had her wits about her! Sometimes, my mother would bring treats to Grandma #5 knowing they were what she loved to eat. Grandma #5 would announce to other guests that “all of the most tasty and yummy food were brought to me by May”. Those visits carried on as Grandma #5 lived her peaceful life till she reached 106 years of age.
When Auntie Yi Hua and her family were in Beijing, my father, too, was working in Beijing. On weekends, my father and another cousin of Auntie Yi Hua, Auntie Elaine, would sometimes go the Auntie Yi Hua’s house for Sunday dinners. I could only imagine the lively conversations and occasional heated debates that might have occurred during those meals. For Auntie Yi Hua being a translator and interpreter at the International News Department where she had direct contact with foreign reporters and correspondents, she was the most valuable source of information on current affairs in an era when there was hardly any real news available to the masses. Yet, politics permeated every corner and affected every facet of ordinary people’s lives. Auntie Yi Hua’s husband, Uncle Harry, a mining engineer by trade, was very precise and insightful in analyzing the political landscape of the day. My father, an urban planner working in a branch of the Science Academy, was leading an idle career in an age of non-existing urban development. With the same token, he was also very much interested in political and policy issues. I suspect that many exchanges around their dining table might be of this nature or about identical themes.
Auntie Yi Hua and Uncle Harry have two daughters, Da (Large) Beijing and Xiao (Small) Beijing. As far as my recollection could reach, before I even met Auntie Yi Hua I had heard about Da Beijing and Xiao Beijing. Whenever I did not want to study hard or behaved poorly, my father, Shao Liang, would tell me stories of what top notch students and all round children Da and Xiao Beijing were. They were good at all academic subjects as well as sports. Even though they were quite a few years younger than me, I developed a well deserved inferiority complex which lasted until one day when I knocked on their door during a summer break. Da Beijing answered the door. Her parents were not at home, she said. At that time, I had already graduated from university and was working as an editor. Da Beijing was still in high school, I believe. To a 22 year old, the teenage Da Beijing looked very young. Then out walked Xiao Beijing. She looked even younger. I think it was at that moment that I overcame my inferiority complex although they have remained little role models I could never measure up to. They were, nevertheless, cute and adorable.
A couple of days ago, in search of materials for writing this article, I asked my mother if there was something she could tell me about Auntie Yi Hua during her years in Beijing. Immediately, my mother recalled a visit to Auntie Yi Hua’s home during which she played cards with Da and Xiao Beijing. Uncle Harry sent Da Beijing out to buy noodles with clear instructions. They had very strict upbringing during their formative years. My mother, on the other hand, took a laissez faire approach towards me. If I must name one big difference between Auntie Yi Hua and my mother, this has to be it.
When my grandparents were still alive, and before the Cultural Revolution, our two families had members visiting one another frequently, spending many hours together. The friendship between Auntie Yi Hua and my mother, however, has been cultivated in baby steps and over time. Like a well aged wine, it has been growing stronger as time goes on. It has culminated in the later part of their lives. They are cousins by blood but friends by choice. It is a beautiful friendship between two cousins with beautiful spirit!
S.Y. Wang is another one of my Li/Lee Family relatives. His mother was a Li/Lee married into this Wang family. S.Y. is seven years my senior. thus a Big Brother and Mentor to me. More than that , I truly consider him a Valued Friend. When I was Young ( in my 30s) he provided me Encouragement, Sound Advice, and warm sense of Caring. Today ( I am now 88 and he 95 ), he still provides me, Feeling of Connectedness, Instant Responses to all my requests, and the Same Sense of Caring.
To me, the most remarkable traits in his character are his Intelligence, Compassion, and Trust Worthiness. “ A Man who generally prefers just few well-chosen words with thoughtful followup actions” is how I would describe him. A recent example is when I wrote to him and asked if he will be willing to share his thoughts on my Friendship & Friendshipolgy website https://MingSingLee.com. He instantly replied that it’s difficult for him to write essays these days but I may use the attached Chinese Calligraphy a professor friend wrote for him, to guide and inspire the younger generations.
“Rich is a Silicon Valley based author, IT infrastructure architect, software developer and home gardener who escaped the east coast and is married to Billy’s niece, Yu Meng. Rich and Yu have three awesome mixed ancestry daughters.”
Dear Uncle Billy,
After many years of our conversations about how to build lasting connections of friendship among people of different cultures and views, I am happy to contribute some of my own thoughts in writing. I agree with Tsing that the definition of friendship you seek is important. In my view, friendship can overcome many differences and challenges but true friendship can only sit atop a foundation of strong mutual trust and mutual respect for each other’s core values and aspirations.
Shared values are an essential requirement for true friendship. Individuals or entities holding values and aspirations that are a direct threat to your own fundamental principals, life and goals can never be a true friend. In our own conversations, the Confucian idea of a middle way – a ‘Switzerland’ approach to conflict is often suggested. Former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who favored a “middle way” in appeasing the Third Reich, taught one of the great lessons of the 20th century. Chamberlain’s naiveté resulted in the bombing of his country and his removal from office so Winston Churchill could face the reality of irreconcilable differences with pure evil. There is no middle way available when values and aspirations are in total conflict.
So what can be done? To overcome these challenges and forge friendship, it must start with two parties willing to be vulnerable to each other by directly surfacing and talking through real differences in values and visions for the future and how they might be reconciled if possible. At one point the global adoption of the Internet offered the best hope for allowing these essential frank conversations among people. Unfortunately, totalitarian regimes from Iran to the People’s Republic of China started building walls and tools of repression to prevent the open communication from happening. Sadly, we now see President Trump attempting to copy and push some of the same harmful policies here in the United States in attempting to “ban” Tik-Tok and WeChat.
The first obvious step to improve opportunities to talk is a greatly increased supply of freely available Virtual Private Networks and Proxies that will allow people to circumvent their governments’ barriers. Some governments like the PRC may view these conversations as “criminal behavior”. Throughout history from Jesus to John Lewis or MLK and beyond – sometimes the best place for a person to be “good” is in jail…
Billy’s Comments : Rich is a very dear nephew-in-law. We are always honest and forthright with each other. I think we share most core values, but I personally do not like to absolutely define others when we do not totally understand their hardships.
I pass through my garage everyday because I use the back door to enter my house. Every time I pass through my two-car garage, I think of my two very unforgettable U.S. Army roommates, Del Shouse and Roland Jary. We lived in a garage that was converted into an “apartment”, in Wahiawa, HI, near Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, where we were stationed in 1961. The apartment had a small kitchen, one bath, three beds and one telephone. By good fortune, we selected each other as roommates. Little did I know that this friendship would span decades, across wide geographies, and extend to the next generation of the Shouse and Jary families.
Del and Roland are the best of America, in the military or the private sector: top- notch professionals, men of sterling character, devoted family men, and who raised wonderful children. I have been blessed by winning the lottery of life by having these two life-long friends.
We were U.S. Army First Lieutenants in the 25th Infantry “Tropical Lighting” Division, on our first assignment as platoon leaders, each responsible for about 36 men. Del was a cavalry scout officer, Roland was a combat engineer, and I was a weapons platoon leader. We were all airborne paratroopers and Distinguished Military Graduates of our respective R.O.T.C. programs. Del and Roland were also Rangers. We all loved our jobs and we loved our troops. In my experience, the U.S. military is the closest institution we have for a true meritocracy and the exemplary example of an equal opportunity organization.
Del, as the “first among equals”, assigned us household chores to clean up, Roland was the handyman (plumber, electrician), and I was responsible for managing the relationship with the owner and paying the shared bills. All our tasks were undertaken instinctively, voluntarily and verbally. What an admirable model for a business or non-profit partnership today!
This bliss was a short-lived 18 months. I received orders to report to Tokyo as the Comptroller & Chief of the U.S. Army Element of the U.S. Armed Forces Radio & TV Network, (“Far East Network” or “FEN”). FEN broadcasted news, sports and entertainment all over Japan and was also popular among the Japanese public. FEN was a tri-service organization: the Commanding Officer was an Air Force Lt. Colonel, the Executive Officer was a Navy Lt. Commander, and the Army representative was a Captain (I was a First Lieutenant at that time), but they wanted to fill the slot with an MBA because the Army provided the financial man. This was an assignment from heaven.
Shortly after I left Hawaii, Del received orders to receive advanced military training and Roland received orders to Vietnam. We saw each other again 17 years later, when I stayed at Del & Genell’s home in Virginia and Roland’s home in Fort Worth. By then, Roland resigned his commission and returned to civilian life and I met his young children.
Del continued his military career and served two tours in Vietnam. In Vietnam, Del led a team to rescue a rifle company (about 160 men), who suffered severe casualties and was trapped by the enemy. Del was awarded the Silver Star Medal, the third highest award for personal valor in combat. We knew that Del was destined for great military greatness. But he was also a great humanitarian.
Roland was a filial son. He cared for his mom, who had Alzheimer’s and he carried her to the bathroom several times a day and raised two wonderful young children as a single dad. A mutual friend from our church, who was Roland’s high school classmate, affirmed Roland’s strong devotion to his family.
Fast forward to August 2019. I received an invitation from Del’s wife, Genell, to attend the burial service of Colonel Del Shouse, at Arlington National Cemetery. Roland passed away four years earlier, so I asked Genell if Roland’s daughter, Janiece, and her daughter, Gracie and son, Matt, now adults, could attend to represent Roland. Janiece came from Los Angeles with her daughter and Matt, a former U.S. Army Signal officer, came from Austin to honor Del. Janiece and Matt remembered me from childhood. How awesome is that!
Del was buried with full military honors. Over 50 soldiers: color guard, riflemen to render the 21- gun salute, band, and horse-drawn hearse to honor one man. About another 50 family and friends came to honor Del. I met Del’s former commanding officer, Major General (Retired) Steve Nichols and a West Point graduate, who told me that Del, was the “best officer he has ever known”. I am gratified that Del retired after 30 years of service to live another 31 years in peace, before succumbing to the cancer he contracted in Vietnam through Agent Orange.
Del lives on through his son, Jody Shouse, the eldest son of Del and Genell. He is a U.S. Army Lt. Colonel and the military aide to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. As a combat veteran, he was selected to serve in the elite Old Guard, where he presided over 400 funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. Jody said that his hardest job was to present the flag to his mom. Jody is now attending the National War College, is on the promotion list to full Colonel and will be the Commander of the Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) in Alaska. Jody’s career trajectory suggests that he is on track to be a general. Jody is an ultra marathoner and routinely runs 50-100 miles at a crack.
Character is Destiny: Del and Roland, you have demonstrated, by your actions and example, how we should live. I have been privileged to be your friend and battle buddy.
Bob Chen is an investment banker and the founder of Raffles Capital Group Inc, a cross-border corporate financial advisory firm. He was a Captain in the US Army, served as an infantry platoon leader and Comptroller & Chief of the US Army Element of the US Armed Forces Radio & TV Network. Bob is a member of the investment committee of JICUF Endowment Inc.