Saluting A Honolulu Legend
Wednesday - June 06, 2007
An obituary this year on the 90-year-old Honolulu grande dame of motherhood, culinary skills and speak-your-mind sassiness, Tita Pang, reminded me that we have so many distinguished elders here and suddenly they are gone in one or two paragraphs in the newspaper.
That made me think of Walter Chun of Makiki, now 96.
Born the ninth of 10 children in a Kailua rice farmer’s family, he graduated UH in 1934 and was taken to China by the son of Sun Yat Sen. He served as the English secretary to the president of the highest law-making body in the Nanking government.
When the Sino-Japanese war began in 1937, he returned to the U.S., did his graduate degree at UC-Berkeley, and became fascinated with Mao Zedong and the young Communist party. So he used a connection to get back to China and travel to Mao’s headquarters in Yanan. In his nine months there, Walter Chun came to know Mao, Zhou Enlai and their top generals. He wanted to be a fighter against the Japanese, but Mao and Zhou told him “No, you will have other things to do in China’s future.”
So, with his both-sides connections, he spent six years in the Nationalist government organizing industrial cooperatives. Civil war between Chiang Kaishek and Mao came in 1947 and Walter Chun came home to Honolulu to work in real estate, marry schoolteacher Junnie Wong, and take her to live in Beijing “to see the new China” under Mao and the communists.
In Honolulu, many people wrote Walter off as “a Red.” Many old friends stopped writing to him.
He and Junnie would live in China for 11 years, their two children were born there, and Walter became a connection to the West for trade fairs and fledgling business. Over the years, he’d become the man to deal with as China opened to the world and more business connections were made.
He did finance work for Communist and non-Communist banks in Hong Kong, then returned here to be a consultant to big business that wanted China entree after the Nixon rapprochement. His son died in a plane crash, but his daughter Yen started taking over the business and runs it today.
Now Walter’s everybody’s friend, his old “Red China” tag forgotten. His recent birthday party downtown was a packed-house affair.
Walter, this is written so that you can have the fun of reading a multi-paragraph “obituary” while you’re alive.
I’ve returned from a month-long Mainland trip to find columnists lambasting Democratic legislators for kowtowing to unions (you mean our 25 percent-of-working-population union membership isn’t a worthy constituency?), a commentator suggesting that blue-eyed lawmakers born elsewhere are unfit to hold office, and an alleged journalist on the fringe using the term “yellow-bellied coward” to describe a legislator. And can Calvin Say be all that bad if only three law-makers voted against him for House Speaker?
This is mainly showboat journalism and I pay it no heed. Even the white-hot grilling of nominees Kim, White and Young was a case of the Legislature finally doing its job right. I was only disappointed that Glenn Kim survived to become a judge. It’s probably too bad that Peter Young didn’t survive, but those are the breaks.
Lots of things some people wanted didn’t pass, but I prefer the slow-speed-ahead approach to lawmaking rather than slam-bang change you regret a year later.
And I sure didn’t see blue-eyed lawmakers doing anything better or worse than brown- and black-eyed ones.
I rated this Legislature average.
What we have more of now are showboat commentators and folk-of-the-fringe writers who give themselves the title of journalist. They haven’t earned that title. They are mostly disgruntled individuals on a tear.
Unfortunately, too many citizens refuse to do any homework to form their own learned opinions.
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