Family man, agrologist, jack-of-all-trades, participant. Born on Aug. 28, 1937, in Jinling, China; died on Nov. 28, 2013, in Kelowna, B.C., of aortic stenosis, aged 76.
During a family vacation to Florida’s Disney World, Hong emerged from the Gravitron amusement ride, beaming his trademark grin. Never one to let his age stand in the way of new experiences, the 68-year-old had just been plastered against a wall with three Gs of centripetal force.
Hong lived life with relish, shaped in part by a difficult childhood in China. At a young age, he was responsible for looking after his smaller cousins, carrying them on his back as he took lunch to relatives working in the fields. Food was scarce and Hong fondly remembered being awakened to eat some fish his uncle managed to catch, a rare treat.
When he was 10, Hong was separated from his mother to live with his father and his new family. His father had moved to Malaysia to find work shortly before Hong’s birth and both his parents subsequently remarried. Tradition meant that the son lived with his father. Hong and his family would return to China for a joyful reunion with his mother and half-siblings after 32 years spent apart.
Hong’s school years were marked by his boundless energy, which continued into adulthood. To pay for tuition and expenses while obtaining a master’s degree in agrology from Massey University in New Zealand, he learned to herd and shear sheep at a local farm, one of several jobs.
In 1967, after six years of separation because of his studies abroad, Hong married his love, Ming, whom he had met while both attended Nanyang University in Singapore.
They immigrated to Canada with their young daughter, I-ju, in 1969. Son Ivan was born soon after. The family lived in Vancouver and Agassiz, B.C., before settling in Kelowna. Hong’s expertise and innovative techniques in soil sciences were enthusiastically shared with colleagues in the federal and B.C. agriculture ministries. After retirement, he travelled to China, serving as a consultant with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization from 1992 to 1998.
Hong had a giving nature. He volunteered on the Kelowna Agriculture Advisory Committee and at the Boys and Girls Club. Children and adults would tour his garden, leaving with armloads of vegetables, seeds and interesting gardening facts and tips. The local food bank would be the recipient of boxes of squash. He gathered oyster mushrooms during his walks, turning them into one of his signature dishes to be enjoyed by others.
Hong followed two key principles: healthy living and not being wasteful. He would talk to neighbours on his daily stroll, explaining the benefits of counterbalancing exercises and of eating all your food. Family and friends can still be seen walking backward up a hill and eating all parts of a shrimp – Hong’s advice in action.
Family time was cherished. He took great joy in his five grandchildren, teaching them origami, Chinese chess and table tennis. During his retirement years, hours of fun were spent with the kids in the pool, canoeing at the cabin at Mable Lake, and rigging up tire swings. His last few days were spent sawing branches from a large maple in his yard so that, this summer, more light could reach his grandchildren as they played table tennis under the tree.
We will miss him and his big smile.
I-ju Chuah is Hong’s daughter.