Chapter 01: Education and Family in Hong Kong

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Chapter 01: Education and Family in Hong Kong

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Dr. Yung talks about his family background, education, and the challenges of growing up in Hong Kong during the recovery period in the aftermath of World War II. He first explains that his parents came to Hong Kong from China during the War. He describes the family's financial situation and the strong work ethic he gained by working in his father's business. Dr. Yung explains the educational system in Hong Kong. He talks about the origin and growth of his faith. He talks about meeting his wife, Susie Yung, in high school. Dr. Yung next recounts his early educational experiences under the British style, "pyramid" system education in Hong Kong and notes his transfer from a community school to the Jesuit-run Wah Yen College, a "vigorous" and well-funded school where all the teaching was in English. He notes that he became interested in medicine while he was in high school. Dr. Yung recounts how he came to the United States for college.

Identifier

YungWKA_01_20140320_C01

Publication Date

3-20-2014

Publisher

The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Personal Background; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; Personal Background; Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine; Faith; Professional Values, Ethics, Purpose

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And. Alright I started the recorder again. It is . And. So the identifier. I’m Tacey Ann Rosolowksi and today I’m interviewing Dr. Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:. Is that correct?

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

Yes. Yes.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay.

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

Correct.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

For the --- For the Making Cancer History Voices Oral History Project run by the Historical Resources Center at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Dr. Yung joined MD Anderson in 1981 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neuro-Oncology. He has served as Chair of that department since 1999. He also serves as Co-Director of the Brain Tumor Center and holds the Margaret and Ben Love Chair in Clinical Cancer in honor of Charles --- Dr. Charles A. LaMasitre. This interview is taking place in a conference room in the Department of Neuro-Oncology in the Faculty Center on the Main Campus of MD Anderson and today is my first session with Dr. Yung. It is now and the date is March 20, 2014. Thank you so much for agreeing to

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

Thank you.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

--- to take part in our project.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I want to just start with some basic biographical background. Can you tell me your birth date and where you were born?

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

I was born in --- on April 8, 1948. I was born in Hong Kong and so I grew up in Hong Kong.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Tell me a bit about your family. Was there anyone involved in the sciences?

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

My father and mother came to from China to Hong Kong. You know, during the Second World War. He --- they came from the province of Qaun --- Quang tong.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I’m sorry, I’m going to need you to spell that for me.

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

Yeah. Quang Tong should be Q-U-A-N-G T-O-N-G. Quang Tong. :8

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

T-O-N-G. Okay.

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

As I kind of lost check of how to spell these things that --- with the new --- with the new spelling that China use now.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Well it can be checked later on.

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

And they came from a --- a ---, you know, village called Dichow Jo () province --- Dichow Jo province

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Was it a --- it was a small village?

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

No. It’s not that --- well it’s not that small. It’s a --- It’s one of the bigger provinces within --- within the --- within Quang Tong. And they --- so I think came down to Hong Kong during the Second World War. And when I grew up as a youngster we were doing some --- we w --- my father was in business with fixing tires when I first was first born, I think. And then he moved on to do plastic manufacturing back in the early ‘50s. You know, Hong Kong is recovering from the war. And --- And the plastic industry was one of the way that a lot of people, you know, kind of make their living on. And either we processing things for --- for a bigger factory or started making small things. So --- So I remember we wer --- we were kind of --- we were pretty poor at that --- that time. We all crowded into --- into a --- a small house.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. How big was your family?

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

I have eight bro --- well we are total eight siblings. So I have seven brothers and sisters. And, you know, my mother is my hu --- my father’s second wife. He lost his first wife, you know, when she was very young. So he remarried and so they came --- then came to Hong Kong. So we had a total of eight.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Wow. Did that --- Did that experience growing up in a --- in a poor family --- how did that affect you or did it?

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

Well we all --- I mean in those days --- in --- in the early ‘50s in Hong Kong is --- is, you know, everybody had --- you know, when we gre --- grew up everybody work. I mean we all had to work in --- with the --- in the family business. You know.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What did you do?

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

I do a lot of stuff when I grow up as youngsters. You know, I wo --- you know, because we were doing plastic toys and plastic flowers I wo --- you know, work on putting things together. You know, I’d do some painting and I --- pa ---. I also delivered, you know. So, you know I’d --- I’d --- I would use a bic --- you know, bicycle and deliver, you know --- you know, bags and carton box of stuff, you know, to the factory or to the store.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

How early did you do that? At what age did you start working in the family business?

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

I probably working --- start working when I was around 10. You know. Yeah. Probably around 10.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So you have a serious work ethic.

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

When I --- When I --- When I was in 5th Grade, 6th Grade.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, so from a --- a work ethic, yeah ---

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

A work ethic. So from that time I’m always working. Well, as the --- because a --- as the business grow --- that the --- the --- the --- the factory grow, you know, and you know, we start hiring more workers then --- then I --- then I get to spend more time in study. So I think by the time --- by the time that I’m in --- by the time I’m in Grades 8 or 9 I pretty much con --- you know, don’t need to do much work in terms of, you know, labor work with the factory anymore and focus more on --- on study and play.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

That’s a good thing too.

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

Mostly focused on study because the Hon --- the education system in Hong Kong, you know, in the ‘50s and ‘60s a pretty --- a British pyramid system. And also we had actually two system that either you are in Chinese school, especially in the --- in the secondary school in the high school time they kind of --- the system got segregated into a Chinese system and English. So. And I was --- You know, I started because my family was poor I --- I started in a --- in a school that run by a church. Actually, no. My first school was not a church school. My first school is actually a --- a what --- what did they call --- a community school. And so then I --- then --- by --- wh --- by the time I’m ready for the --- I think 4th Grade I moved to a church run elementary school. I think so. The lot of [?] () school in Hong Kong oth --- besides in --- in --- in the ‘50s and ‘60s besides the government school is almost all church, you know, related school because during --- after 1949 when the communist took over China all the religious activity in China, you know, was prohibited and so a lot of church, you know, whether its Catholic Church or protestant church they all kind of moved to Hong Kong. Or --- And --- And --- these schools, you know, that built by different denominations, different churches.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Now was --- was your family religious in this way?

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

No. No my --- my family is not. But because I went to church schools so I, you know, went to church activity early one when I was in --- in early --- in 5th Grade or 6th Grade and continued on. So I actually --- I became a Christian in Hong Kong when I was in high school. You know, and the --- and the church that I went to in the elementary [?] () school which is a --- a missionary church from California. A kind of --- a Pentecostal church --- a Pentecostal denomination church called Four Square Church and they have the school.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Has that continued to be important to you?

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

And o --- so that --- my --- my faith had been started then and its actually continue, you know, going to church. My --- My church service even when I came to the US.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Is that still the case.

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

Th --- That’s a big part of my life and our life because I met my wife also in Hong Kong in the same church that we went to.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And your wife’s name?

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

My wife is Susie --- Susie Yung.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Thanks. Yeah. So tell me about the education. How was the education? When did you know that you were going to focus in the sciences or in medicine?

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

Oh. Well. Since the --- the --- the first 6th Grade I was in pretty much a, you know, a community school or church school that wa --- was not very high level. But in Hong Kong also you have, you know, as I said is a pyramid system so there is --- there is public exam for you to go to the next level and get kind of see if fit to a better school --- say --- so at 6th grade you have a public exam and then if you do well in the public exam, you can be selected into better school by the government. So I did well in my 6th Grade exam so I was sent to a Catholic school --- a Jesuit school in Hong Kong called the Wah Yan College.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And how would you spell that?

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

W-A-H Y-A-N College. And the --- the school was run by the Jesuit, you know.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

The intellectuals.

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

Its --- Its --- Its boy’s school. And it’s pretty vigorous school. You know, because in those days, you know, its really because of the --- you --- you need to be, you know, selected by your ex --- by the grade of your exam and then you get put in that school. And I was lucky. I think I was lucky. I did well. I get assigned to a very good school. You know, it’s one of the school that has --- run b --- started by the Catholic Church with a pretty good school ground. You know, land is very precious in Hong Kong and most school is very small with a small building but my --- my, you know, high school or secondary school that --- that they call because from 7 to 12, actually to 13. The --- The British system is 7 to 13 ---13. And so I went ---- I stayed with the same school through --- to --- to --- to --- to Grade 13. :4

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So comm --- )

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

But I started --- I mean since I started from a relatively low level community school, my English was terrible because it was a English --- it is a English school. Te --- All teaching was --- was taught by English except for the Chinese class. We do have Chinese class. Chinese literature and Chinese history class that are taught by Chinese but the rest are all in English. So my English was terrible from --- because of coming from the --- so I had pretty tough time the first few years in this school to maintain my --- to maintain my grades so that I won’t get kicked out from the school. But at the same time the school has a lot of --- I --- I --- I’d like t --- you know, the --- the education provided by --- by the school, especially the Jesuit system. They are very vigorous, you know. Very serious in their teaching. And but at the same time because of my school is --- had --- you know, was given a pretty big piece of land so we have our own soccer field, our own basketball court, and so I --- and we get to involve in sport. You know, well so I --- I get involved in sport early on, you know, find my time to play soccer, tr --- to do track and field and do swimming.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So it was really pretty re --- pretty well rounded.

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

Well I mean I was, you know, --- I grew up fr --- my family was pretty poor. _____ () ____ you know --- you know, --- I --- but I’m also given freedom to entertain myself. So I get involved with --- with sport activity. I would go out swimming with friends and with church friends and so --- and you can do things wi --- do those kinda of things without mo --- without any money.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Any money. Right.

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

Right?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. Absolutely.

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

I mean I don’t have to go to a club. I don’t have to do that. I just go to the --- you know, go to the w --- you know, pier and jump in the water. Or go to the beach the --- in Hong Kong --- Hong Kong has many beautiful beach. ____ (1) you know, in the ‘50s and ‘60s is still kind of developing. You know, the countrysides are very natural and beautiful and so we can just take a bus and go to the countryside and jump in the water or hike, you know.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So tell me about the subjects that you were really attracted when you were in school. H --- You know, how --- was it chemistry, was it bio --- where were your interests starting to develop?

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

I, you know --- When I was in high school I wanted to do medicine.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Really. Why?

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

Because I was attracted to medicine for you know --- for the service aspect. You know, that I can, you know, serve. Partly also --- I mean I think that’s one --- the influence by, you know, growing up in the church also. That, you know, in --- in those days again, you know, recovering from the war you either work as a laborer or if you --- if you’re, you know --- with the pyramid most of --- the --- the --- the --- the high school graduate that get in ---- go to the university, you know, most the time go into very tech --- scie --- science and technical because, you know that’s whe --- those are the --- the --- the subject that w --- will make you in --- go into professional --- go into, you know, profession that has stable income, you know. So you b --- you either go into --- become, you know, in t --- in the technical become engineer or become doctors, become --- . Very few lawyer in those days because we only have one law school in Hong Kong. There’s only one medical school in Hong Kong when I grow up. And then a lot of people become police. That’s a stable government job.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Right. Sure.

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

Or you go and --- and --- and you become gov --- civil servants. It’s a colony --- It’s a British colony. The British government, you know, choo --- chose a lot of educated people to run the government. You know, and --- and becoming a civil servant is, you know, very stable job with good benefits. But, again so that’s what all the s --- you know, all the high school graduates, university graduates the bulk of it will go into Civil Serv ---

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

: Civil Service.

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

Civil Service.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Sure

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

I was attracted to science. You know, so I --- and also attracted to --- to the medical service, you know. So I --- And also the system is that you have to choose, you know, if --- in the middle of --- of the elementary school --- sorry in the middle of secondary school like by Grade 9 and 10 is --- the student are pretty much segregated also is technical career. So you go into technical college. And --- And college career then you could stay on to finish up to Grade 12, Grade 13 to compete to go into college. You know, so --- so g --- the first --- div --- diversion is in about Grade 9 and 10 you got to --- don’t graduate but go into tech --- technical college to be --- to be a technician.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Right. But you knew you wanted to

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

Oh yeah. So I stay --- I --- I want to go into co --- university so --- so I did --- and I was doing well enough that I don’t get kicked out to go to technical college, you know.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So how did --- how did it happen that you ended up coming to the US for your college experience?

Wai-Kwan Alfred Yung, MD:

In 1966 is the time that I finish my Grade 11 and that’s --- at that point there is a --- again there is public exam called Middle School Certificate Exam. You have to pass a Middle School Certificate Exam before you can go into Grade 6 and Grade 7 and those are 12 and 13. That’s the British system th --- the la --- the last --- the last two years it’s called Advanced Certificate. You know, on matriculation time. Otherwise you stop at Grade 11 and go out to workforce. And so I pass that exam so I get to go on to Grades, you know, 12 and 13 to prepare for college entrance. And --- And that --- the two years again is very vigorous school because that is also the time that you have t --- you have to decide whether you’re going to become a --- you know, going to go into artssubject or science subject or --- or medicine. Because the --- the --- the --- the British system is that when you enter university you either enter art, science or medicine, or engineering. So, you know, it’s decided at that --- at the juncture after the so-called Advanced Level Exam. So at Grade 13, there is a university exam called Advanced Level Exam. And you have to pass enough subject making that point to get into the university. And I --- I did quite well on that exam but I did not do well enough to enter medicine. You know, I missed --- I missed the point to enter medicine even though I did do well. So I --- I was, you know --- I think I was allowed to enter Science but I missed my --- I missed medicine. Or maybe actually I did not. I forgot. I think I --- I missed the whole thing. I m --- I missed the whole thing, you know, when the result came out. But then, you know --- like, you know, every high school student, you know, one or two at that time who --- those high school student one to two have a educate --- a university or college education almost also prepare for alternative. If you cannot get into the University of Hong Kong, some people will prepare, you know, alternative or you could go abroad. You know, if you’re civil servant, you know, you can send y --- yo --- one of the fringe benefit for civil servant your children can go to Britis --- go to England for --- for university. If yo --- If you don’t --- you’re not in that group like my fa --- I’m not in that group because my father is n --- you know is --- is --- is a, you know merchant being a business person. You know, grew up without any education. So we’re not in the civil service rank. So but if you want to prepare alternative you either go to Taiwan. There’s --- There’s opportunity to go to Taiwan. There’s opportunity to go to Australia, Can --- Canada, or USA. So I --- you know, when we’re in --- in Grade 12 and Grade 13 everybody should --- should start preparing. You know, do I go out to work or do I make sure I have a --- a backup option if I do not get into university of now go abroad. Even though my family was, you know, doing well but not well enough really to send me abroad, but I said well, I still need to prepare. So I applied. I ap --- I make --- I made application to some university in Canada and --- and --- and the United States. In fact, my first opportunity to go abroad come when I finish Grade 12. I --- I got accepted into the University of Toronto in Canada but I did not pass my physical exam. Back then you have to pass a physical exam before you can, you know, go to Canada. I did not pass my physical exam. There was some --- some kind of, I mean, I have worm in my --- almost every kid in Hong Kong has parasite. We go --- We swim in dirty waters and yeah we swim.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

That must have been so frustrating.

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Chapter 01: Education and Family in Hong Kong

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