Interview... Erika Whitney
"Quaker State of Mind"

Today I am with Erika Whitney whom we all know; but today we are not just interested in her St Mark's day. We want to go back and see the Mrs. Whitney that we don't know. She was born in Germany in a small town called FLensburg. Population... I was kidding her "58", she said a little bit more than that 60,000. So we can call that a small town. There was a war between her middle school and college days.

R: So what was the war like?
W: This being the Nazi Period I was totally indoctrinated. I was told it was a necessary war. It was a war that had to be fought and I believed it. We had restrictions, food was rationed, but growing children were given extra rations. Young girls and boys had to join the Hitler Youth and wearing uniform on the days of meetings was compulsory.
R: So you are telling me that you did not like uniform.
W: No. Every Wednesday day afternoon and Saturday we had to go to meetings, dressed in uniform. There was a lot of propaganda, lectures on the war and our successes in winning the war, but also singing, folk dancing and sports. At the end of the war, British troops advancing, we still believed Hitler would win the war
R: Was there any actual gunfire near where you lived?
W: Not when the British marched in occupying the city. But during the war there was bombing, and the city was twice a target. Practically every night we had air raids, as the planes flew overhead to drop their bombs on larger cities. I always refused to get up which annoyed my mother intensely. We had our suite case ready and would go up the street to a bunker where it was comparatively safe, joining lots of other people, all waiting for the siren to tell us we could go home.
R: So all the fire drills that we had back in St Mark's day were silly stuff compared to what you were doing.
W: Yes, this was mini scale by comparison.
After the capitulation we had British occupation, which brought also a lot of restrictions. We had very little to eat and a curfew. Some of our houses were confiscated for British officers and personnel. Strangers were allocated to our homes , being only allowed a certain amount of sq. meters per person
R: You were the lucky one to have a room.
W: Yes, my father built a room in the attic. In German houses attics have very high ceilings, this is where you hang your laundry in the winter. My father partitioned off a small narrow part, which had a big window and the room was just wide enough to climb into bed.
R: Nobody had any money?
W: After the war, the Deutsch Mark was devaluated, everybody started off with the same amount of money. As far as I can remember I think it was D.M.68.00.
R: There was no job to go to?
W: No, there was chaos, nothing functioned, schools and universities were closed. A lot of people had to be de - nazified. This brought about a lot of fear, not knowing what would happen to you and your family and it was then that I learned my father had not been interested in Nazism.
R: During that time people had no money and no jobs to go to and you still were going to school?
W: It was interrupted and I took care of my aging grandmother .
R: When you finished college, what did you do?
W: I worked for a very short time at an English bank, it was there that I learnt one could go to England on some kind of program. A friend and I decided to go. She was living in the country and processing was very slow. After I signed my papers I learnt that she had been refused and I went on my own.
R: How many brothers and sisters do you have?
W: I am the only child. I left my parents for what I thought would be two years in England.
R: In those days it was not easy for a young girl at your age to go to a foreign country by herself. What was it like in England?
W: I arrived and was sent as a domestic to a wealthy family, which was quite an experience. I felt very lonely, isolated and cheated. They had a number of servants and had several German girls before me, one had tried to commit suicide it was just a different life style. I was miserable and searched for a change, found a job as a governess to 2 small children, but Immigration did not allow this switch. The only thing they allowed me was to go and work in a hospital. I was sent to a hospital near Cambridge as a domestic, but soon after my arrival the matron suggested I should switch and study nursing for three years. Teaching was not possible, so I became a student nurse.
R: Were you discriminated against because you were a German?
W: I was careful not to broadcast I was German, not quite knowing how it would be received, but people were actually very nice. I was introduced to a Quaker couple in Cambridge, she was Irish and he Austrian, they invited me to the Quaker Meeting House for their Tuesday night discussion where I met Joe Whitney,
R: You said you were just spending two years there.
W: No, I was able to alter my contract to three years as a student nurse. I got married and Joe and I decided go to Pakistan with Quakers as missionaries.
R: What was he doing those days?
W: He had finished his degree at Cambridge and we decided to stay one term in Cambridge to study Bengali. After that we left for Birmingham, a Quaker College to prepare for our work in Dacca, East Pakistan.
R: So you went from a war torn country to England and then you decided to go another politically unstable region.
W: We did not think of it in that way. We thought we could be useful in East Pakistan
R: How much time did you spend in East Pakistan?
W: After a term at the Quaker College we decided not to go, feeling that we were not well prepared for this work . Instead we went to Yorkshire, Joe studied for his teaching diploma and I and two other women started a family planning clinic under Quakers in the Quaker Meeting house .
1952 we decided to go abroad. Joe applied to the Colonial Service, two jobs were offered, one in the Sudan teaching and the other in Hong Kong. We decided to go to Hong Kong.
R: Wise choice! Ha... Ha...
W: Yes, wasn't it? Ha... Ha...
R: Otherwise we would not have this interview today. So you started your teaching days in Hong Kong.
W: I started a nursery school in a Methodist Church in Wanchai..
R: A huge church between two major Streets ?
W: Yes. Joe started teaching at Queen's college.
R: Were both of you very adventurous? You wanted to go somewhere else or did England have a lot of unemployment?
W: No employment was not the reason. We were very idealistic, thought we could be helpful and wanted to see the world.
R: When did you arrive in Hong Kong?
We arrived in Hong Kong the beginning of October '52 and settled in quite quickly. Our first summer holiday 1953 was spent in Japan, participating in an International Quaker Student Seminar. I went with a group of students on a freighter 3rd. class. Being a "kwai lo" the Shipping Co. would not allow me to go third class, the reason they gave was that they had only squatting lavatories and served Chinese food. I assured them I liked both, but also told them it was discrimination and I would fight it. They issued me a ticket. When we got on board the captain gave us two empty upper deck cabins and to our delight they still served us Chinese food.

We were staying for two weeks in Tokyo at a University with students from all over the world and then in Kyoto for another two weeks at a University with a different group of students. Professors were giving lectures on various subjects, mostly political, with lengthy discussions afterwards. It was probably one of the most wonderful learning and social experiences in my life.

With us from Hong Kong came an English man, a Sikh, a Chinese women and a New Zealander. All of us were so enthusiastic when we returned, we wanted to repeat that experience in Hong Kong. However seminars were very costly and we did not have the resources, we decided we could organize an International Student Work Camp, which meant we had to raise some money.

The business community and individuals were very helpful and generous with their donations, so was the Army, lending us tents. Approaching Universities in South East Asia and Japan trying to attract students and foreign students got us the participants. The project we had chosen was on Sunshine Island, opposite Silvermine Bay, to build a small community centre ,a Quaker was trying to resettle destitute fisherman on the island. He was British, had lived in Shanghai, married to a Chinese woman from a fishing family in Aberdeen.

There were 30 participants, 12 from Japan ,led by an American Quaker. The Japanese were the first group permitted into Hong Kong after the war and the Hong Kong Government made it quite difficult for us to bring in this group. The participants were bright, enthusiastic and willing to work hard. One of them later became the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia and a Japanese held a very high position at the U.N.. It is difficult to know whether people come to a work camps because they are idealistic or whether they become idealists because of the work camp. We had two more camps in Hong Kong and Joe and I also participated in two more Seminars in Japan. It was a great experience.

St Mark's and James Pun
W: Tom Tregear a professor at H.K.U. who had been a Professor of James Pun in China, introduced me to James. I was invited to give a talk about work camps to St. Paul's afternoon school and James suggested afterwards I should come and teach part time at the school. This was in 1956
In 1957 Joe resigned from Government Service . James' friendly persuasion, my enthusiasm for the school, for James Pun, made us decide to come back. Joe would also teach at St.Mark's. After eight months of furlough we came to St.Mark's
R: How many years were you in St Mark's?
W: I was at St Paul's afternoon school for one year and two years in Shaukiwan. Joe was there for 4 years.
R: Everybody remembers Joe writes with 2 hands. We heard that he was from QC. Since St Mark's is not as famous as QC, we got excited that we had a teacher from QC! I remember you did a lot of after school activities with St. Mark's and everybody wondered where this woman came from?
W: James Pun was always wonderfully supportive and encouraged you when you had ideas. So I started folk dancing with very willing girls, but rather reluctant boys. They finally did come, but persuading them to hold hands, was quite a struggle. However we became quite good and at one time gave a performance for the Governor.
During that period there were boys called "ah fai" (teddy boys), keen Elvis Priestley fans but we thought at that time his music and lyrics were awful and could corrupt young minds. James even demanded that boys cut their Elvis Style hair before the arrival of the governor, threatening that he would cut their hair if they did not do it.
R: I was one of them. I had to go to the barber shop the next day.
W: So, I am not making that up? I remember one boy, I won't mention his name, who had become very protective of me because of an incidence that happened in the classroom. He was the one who took all the folk dance boys to have their hair cut.
R: Tell me about that incidence with the kid that you are not going to name .
W: Teachers at the beginning of every class had to fill out a form stating how many kids were present etc. and if someone had misbehaved. This boy was constantly in trouble. One day in class I found he could not differentiate between "N" and "L", he would say "my labour" instead of "my neighbour", I tried to point out to him that "N" was nasal and "L" was not. "Hold your nose, with "N" and you feel the air coming through your nose but with "L" you won't." As he did not understand, I rather foolishly asked him to hold my nose. Well, I asked for it, he held my nose and twisted it so hard that tears were running down my face. I was in shock but could not think how to punish him, I was frantic. Passing him he looked up and said "That hurt! Madam, didn't it?" I told him I didn't know what he was talking about. Being always reprimanded he probably was surprised at my response, no punishment and decided to be nice to me. He became a very attentive and helpful student, always keeping this lively class quiet and in order.
R: So that is what a Hollywood script is all about. It is a real life. Good script! I was asking you about your impression of Rev Pun.
W: I personally loved Rev Pun, I admired him. I saw him as a wonderful educator, very innovative, full of ideas, willing to try new things. Lot of people with ideas are not necessarily good at details and follow up, perhaps he was one of them.
R: Probably he did not have much assistance to implement all his ideas and operate them. I heard some teachers were not too crazy about his ideas, because back in those days he was way ahead of his time.
W: Exactly and that is what I liked about him. He drove me crazy at times with his slow response. He would sit there and suck on his pipe and made you wonder "Has he finished with me or is there something else?" and then he would come out with the answer.
R: Now that I look back, I think that was part of his strategy he would just to wait for you to say something. So it worked for him.
W: I think he had studied psychology and was a great follower of Piaget the psychologist and his ideas. I found James very protective and have fond memories. I remember James here for a re-union, I felt very vulnerable and fragile, James understood the situation and came to my rescue.
R: I love to hear your Bruce Mak Chi Wah's story again. Remember we had a banquet when Bruce came over and you told me about the story and I am very amazed.
W: I believe Bruce was living in a squatter hut with an old lady and life was quite difficult for him. Daisy Leung was ready to adopt Bruce, this wonderful kid, which of course he is. You could always recognize Bruce because his shirt was not snow white, getting water for washing was difficult .I have a memory that he spoke very fondly of his widowed father who lived in a dormitory, did not want to get married again and have more children, he wanted his son to be successful, and look what happened!
R: So Rev Pun actually arranged to have him to stay at the school? Nobody would do any thing like that in those days.
W: Yes, Bruce stayed at the school and Joe cleared a corner in the Geography room for him.
W: There was another girl, I don't remember her name, lived on a sampan with her mother, she came into Shaukiwan during the week to live in one room with her sister and family. She had TB and again Rev. Pun was instrumental getting her into a Sanatorium, very difficult at the time when space was practically unavailable.
Earlier on I told you about my dislike for uniforms and school uniform being no different, I did not like every one looking alike. I was a great supporter of the one day a week no uniform idea. I changed my idea quickly when I saw the difference between the "have and the have-nots" some students hardly recognizable, so sophisticated. I was glad when it was abolished. So, school uniform, all looking alike is fine with me.
R: Was it part of your idea to get James to get people wear the street clothes to go to school?
W: No. This is what I mean about James, he tried new things and did not mind to change when things did not go well.
New ideas : It was on a trip to Thailand, on a freighter, where, James , Joe and I explored the idea of taking students to a work camp to Japan.
R: Who got to go? What's the picking process?
W: I cannot remember exactly how one qualified. It was not just money or academic achievement that would qualify a student, but also involvement in some community work. There was financial aid available for students who could not find all the money, when we did not have enough money the Bishop lent us money out of some fund.
R: Not many schools had this kind of program in those days.
W: No, I know we were the first. We also had local work camps before and after Japan.
R: We were pretty lucky to have James.
W: Absolutely! Looking back, comparing St.Mark's with other schools at that time, James was an innovative headmaster with a great concern, that the education the students received was of excellence.
R: You were very close with some of your folk dancers.
W: Oh yes, lots of them. The other thing that made me feel close to the students was the squad outings we had. You remember? My memory is that the students brought practically a whole kitchen with them on picnics and it was always the boys that cooked. This makes me believe now that Chinese men always do the cooking. May not be the truth.
I remember also the policing we had to do on the playground, checking that the students only spoke English.
R: One day a week there was a period of time that we all had to speak English. I was kidding when I was writing my memory of St Mark's. That day the whole school was so quiet, they didn't talk any more, because they didn't want to speak English. Some of them were not capable.
W: If you were caught by a teacher, you were given a chit with the letters "FUEL", (Failed to Use English Language). My daughter Kaaren is a publisher of teen magazines and the one for boys is called "FUEL", every time I see it, I think of St Mark's.
R: There weren't that many husband and wife team teaching. You were the only one and you were ˇ§Kwai Loˇ¨ and ˇ§Kwai Porˇ¨ too. We had a beautiful wife, lady teaching us and we were so proud. You were probably the youngest lady teaching there. I remember also Ms. Pope.
W: I was always a little bit scared of her. I have to tell about one of Ms. Pope's accomplishments. When the students were leaving the auditorium in the morning after assembly the exit was absolutely chaotic and very loud, students pushing and shoving each other. Ms. Pope used her mathematical skill and developed a way for the rows of students to criss-cross the hall, there was no pushing or bumping anymore, just a quiet and orderly exit.
R: Oh, that was her system? Wow, I didn't know that.
W: She had good skills. I found that all the teachers in the staff room were extremely friendly. There was Mr. Chin who was dapper dresser , Mr. Hsu, who became later the principal. Ms. Ruth Wong, who was a dentist , but tired of looking into people's mouth had decided to teach. She was the hygiene expert. It was common at that time to have spittoons in the staff room and people would use them.
R: They still do that in China these days, not as much in Hong Kong.
W: Not Ruth Wong ,she was very adamant about it, no spitting in the staff room spittoon and after her ruling you saw the men trotting off to the bathroom to clear their throat. It was difficult for me to remember peoples full name so I took the liberty and changed some. Lee.S.H. became Sweet Heart Lee and Wong H.K. became Hong Kong Wong ,I do not think they did mind. There is Marian Wu , now in Vancouver. I spoke to her the other day, she is in her eighties. Of course not to forget Daisy Leung always cheerful and good fun. In a skit, Joe, egged on by the students to kiss Daisy ,obliged to the delight of Daisy and the students. Then there were all the other wonderful teachers.
R: You were telling me about a St Mark's Certificate that Rev James Pun at one time started?. Can you tell that story again?
W: As far as I can remember, he wanted to create a special St.Mark's certificate for students who completed form 5. His basic idea was that not only academic achievement was important, but social skills and involvement in the community was needed to make a well- rounded person. He hoped that business would recognize this certificate and realize that these students would make excellent employees. Other schools mandate was to achieve only academically. James wanted to have it known that students with this St.Mark's certificate were well qualified, community oriented , competent people.
R: When did you leave St.Mark's?
W: Joe left St. Mark's in June 1963 for Japan to teach for six month American students in a non-western study program. Michael, Kaaren (two weeks old and very sick) and I stayed behind to pack up house, and sell the car. Wonderful Au Kim Tung came every day after school to help with the children and with packing . There were others who helped and babysat, like May Wong. Baby sitting was a new concept in Hong Kong and a number of students got their experience with us. A little incident that happened will explain how new the idea was. We engaged a girl from St.Mark's to baby sit when Michael was little, telling her we would be back at nine o'clock. Returning home, a little late ,we found no babysitter, baby alone and a note telling us that she had left, because it was after nine. I told Joe to give her a ˇ§Fˇ¨ in Geography. Ha Ha...
I left in August with the kids for Japan and six month later we all left for the University of Chicago.
Having lived in a Colony in a certain amount of comfort, adjusting to a $ 3000 a year income in Chicago was quite a challenge. ($3000 was the poverty level in the States). I bought the same type of cheap pre seasoned Hamburger meat, making different shapes and different sauces, so that you thought you had a different meal. Chicago presented a challenge and one most certainly had to be resourceful.
R: I don't know whether I should ask you about this thing or not, this is so personal. What happened to you and Joe?
R: Oh, why did our marriage end? I honestly and seriously cannot answer that question. It happened in 1979 when we were in Africa, Kaaren and Daniel were in boarding school in England and Joanna and Michael were with us in the Sudan. There had been difficulties in 72 , but I thought all was fine. Sadly, we separated and I came back with the four children to Toronto.
R: Is there any part of the world that you had never been to?
W: Yes, I never had been to Russia, South Africa, oh, a lot of places.
R: When did you come to Canada?
W: In 1969 we came here from the States. Joe was teaching at a Quaker College in the States but an offer from Toronto University made us decide to come here. Living in a large city had its appeal.
R: I am amazed that you really like Canada, was the idea, it is time to settle somewhere?
W: Not consciously. I remember when we moved on to the street where we bought our first house a neighbour told me she had lived on the street for seven years. I was totally amazed, how could anybody live in one place for 7 years. If I had not been responsible for the children, I probably would have kept on travelling. But you are right, one does need a base.
R: What were you doing when you first arrived in Canada?
W: Joe was teaching at U of T and I was taking care of the children and three friends and I started a Canadian handicraft store on Mount Pleasant. That was in the 70s. when everybody wanted to do their own thing and everything had to be Canadian we only carried Canadian crafts, like pottery, hand blown glass , weaving , knitting, Inuit soap stone carvings etc.
R: So you did not do much teaching after St Mark's.
W: No, none what so ever.
R: Was Joe a professor at the University in Chicago?
W: No, he was a student then. He got his PhD there. I had then two children and Daniel was born in this not very safe city. I got pregnant before our insurance became valid and medical bills had to be paid off in installments. The last one was made here in Toronto five years later, finally Daniel was ours.
Joanna was born in 1967 in Indiana. That was when zero population growth was encouraged . The students at the college were astounded that a professor and his wife were so irresponsible having a 4th child. .
R: What do you think about teaching these days with all the computers and internet kids being isolated from the rest of human beings because their interest is just in the computer in front of them.
W: Technology is here to stay , no good going against the stream. Educators are aware of the lure of the computer and its games, and that excessive use can create health hazards. My own grandson ,who is very computer smart, is addicted to these games. Heard this morning that compulsory gymnastics is going to be introduced into schools, which I think is an excellent idea. On the positive side, my 10 year old grandson who has a learning disability, hand and eye coordination, transferring distant written material onto paper, will greatly benefit from computers. He has finally been given permission to use his lap top in class and for home work. This, I am sure will make a lot of difference to him.
R: So you think with all the computers and everything, it has given a kid like your grandson a better chance?
W: Absolutely, some years ago these children would have been considered dumb. Now we know that children learn differently and need different approaches. Hard work for teachers, but also very challenging
R: What are you doing these days other than attending to your grandchildren?
W: I go to the Quaker meeting and am also involved in some committees. There are friends I see and want to stay connected with, as you get older friends become very important. I must not forget my garden which takes up a lot of my time and is very enjoyable. Every Sunday after church I drive around to see my grandchildren, three live in the city and two have just moved to Pickering, that takes care of my Sunday .
R: You were so famous for your folk dancing, what kind of training did you had?
W: It came from the student seminars where folk dancing was one of the activities after the lectures. A Professor from the States , a very accomplished square dance caller, gave me pointers and taught me things. I have always loved to dance.
R: What about the Mount Pleasant handicraft, what kind of training did you have to do all the handicraft things?
W: No , we didn't do our own handicraft, we got all the supply from crafts people. This was a regular business. The four of us did a lot of research, sat on streets for hours to count people, to find a good location and then started our adventure. In 1979 I left the business to go with Joe to Africa for two years. When I returned so unexpectedly they allowed me to buy into the business again. It was quite an interesting experience. You were surrounded by these lovely handmade treasures, all beautifully displayed and then customers came and wanted to buy the things and you had to ruin your lovely arrangements. It took me a long time to get the idea of the importance of selling.
R: I am sure that we have just scratched the surface of the many stories. So this would probably be part I of many more parts to come. It has been nice talking to you Mrs. Whitney.
W: Well, Quaker call people by their first name, so please do so if you can.
R: Yes, Erika with the K
W: Yes
R: We thank you for your constant support to the alumni association and we have a very very close relationship with you.
W: It was a very pleasurable time at St Mark's and with James. It was really wonderful.
R: Good talking to you Erika.
W: Good having you here.