Diocesan Old Girls’ Association Ltd
拔萃女書院舊生會

One Family Unbroken - Across Three Generations

II. The Tans

 


 

"Call me Mabel," was the greeting from this frail 95-year "old girl". After shaking hands with us, this sprightly lady with immaculate black hair immediately put us at ease with her twinkling eyes and sincere interjection of "DGS is SUCH a good school!!" With her 2 daughters, Hester, Eva and granddaughter Andrea by her side, she warmly chatted with us about what DGS meant for this family of 3 generations of old girls.

Coming to Hong Kong from Singapore in 1929 with her family, Mabel and her elder sister, Eileen, enjoyed their days in DGS, where there were about 13 to 14 girls in each class, and subjects were less multifarious. In one class lower than Mabel, was a very pretty girl, Joyce Anderson (later Symons)!

A certificate dated January 1934 testifying that Mabel passed the Senior Local Examination of the University of Hong Kong in 5 subjects.

 

"All my memories of DGS are happy ones. I truly enjoyed my years there. I learnt a lot from DGS which has stood me in good stead in my later years. That is why I sent all my 3 daughters (Hester, Winnie and Eva) to DGS, so that they could receive the best education available in Hong Kong. I was even more delighted when my granddaughter Andrea (Winnie's daughter) went to DGS". Asked about her fondest memory of DGS, Mabel responded immediately, "School Bazaar!". She enjoyed it as a school girl, and later, as a member of the PTA, in manning, and making merchandise for the stalls.


Months before the annual Bazaar, Mabel and others would be busy creating crochet pieces like the one she is holding up.

 

Hester and Eva testified to the steadfast friendships between Mabel and her DGS friends. Monthly lunch at the "Café de Chine" was sacrosanct for their mother, and in the later years when their father suffered a stroke, those dates with "the girls" were to provide Mabel much needed support and solace.

Apart from reminiscing about the happy times at DGS, these 3 generations of DGS girls also tried to encapsulate what made DGS education so special.


Eva explains: “The invaluable thing was instilling in us, a sense of values. Right versus wrong, fairness versus unfairness, commitment versus laxity. We grew up believing that with discipline and drive, we could achieve virtually everything that we put our hearts to.”

 

The Tan girls nodded in agreement as Eva explained how she recognized these qualities in many other old girls she encountered later on in life, no matter which year they came from.

"Yes" interjected Hester. “Like my mom said, the school was strict, in particular Ms. Sawyer, but never, never unfair! That is so important.”

 

Maybe it was upholding this sense of fair play which turned all 3 Tan girls to a career in law.

Hester and Eva recalled the big tree at the main entrance, the school bell, morning assembly and the panic of piano accompaniment for hymn singing. Soon, their memories strayed to the green KG wooden hut, with the potty housed in a small outer house, which could be visited only by those young students who had mastered the difference between "May I " and "Can I" go to the toilet! Lunch was brought to School by an amah in a Chinese "lunch box" 3 stacks high. Many other girls took lunch in School, and there was always good company and joyous sharing of jokes and stories of what happened in the day. Hester and Eva, and their middle sister, Winnie enjoyed School in the main, but also received their fair share of "can do better" comments in their reports. Despite this, their academic achievements included class promotion by skipping one year through sheer brilliance, and then less successfully, staying back another year later.

Hester took up undergraduate Sociology and Psychology, and then Graduate Diploma in Education in Hong Kong University. Ms Abdullah, the Maths teacher, who wrote in her report "Hester is not going anywhere", would have been pleasantly surprised when the same student at the age of 40 qualified as a lawyer entirely through self learning at home. And why?" I just knew that I could do it if I tried. I wanted to prove it to myself".


Today, Hester keeps in close touch with her classmates, including Mrs. Elim (Pong) Lau. Their regular class outings include trips in Hangzhou, Chiangmai, San Francisco, Yunnan, and of course, back to School for celebration of their 50th anniversary. Picture: Hester, first on right, with her classmates enjoying a launch picnic.

 

Eva attended DGS for her entire 15 years (including 2 years in KG). "It's the only school I know, so every good and every bad quality I have must have come from DGS!"

Leaving DGS, Eva read law at the Inns of Court in UK, where she qualified as a Barrister. Her colourful career of 34 years saw her qualifying as a Barrister additionally in the US, Singapore and Taiwan, where she ultimately settled down practicing first from her own law firm, then as in-house lawyer, and as adviser to the government in Taiwan. She now teaches law at 2 Taiwan universities. Whereas she came 38th in her class in Chinese, today, she has 4 law books written by her - all in Chinese!


L: Eva’s law book on Intellectual Property

R: brochure on the "Taipei Story House", a small museum sponsored by Eva for reviving the indigenous culture of Taiwan people.

 

As Music Prefect, Eva's best memories of DGS was that of making music: Music Festival, mixed choir with DBS, and of course, the grandeur of singing Te Deum at St. John's Cathedral. Continuing her hobby in music, Eva recently published in Taiwan a CD of her musical performances. Eva's cultural interest has prompted her to sponsor the "Taipei Story House", a project to revive the culture of the indigenous people in Taiwan. "DGS gave us such a well-rounded general education in preparation for life. Many times when attending a concert, a banquet or even visiting a castle, things that we had been taught in School would float back to mind. We were never mere academics. Our education had really enriched our lives!"

Asked about how she managed to achieve so much and in so many jurisdictions, Eva puts it down to "drive". "DGS girls have drive. Drive is not the same as ambition. We never compete against others. It is accepting, respecting and loving oneself, and reaching one's full potential. It is self- sufficiency. I've relied so much on this spirit which has sustained me through so much in life."

Eva was reunited with her Class of '64 during their 40th anniversary celebration. Her encounter deepened her appreciation for DGS.

DGS girls are always well-groomed ---- not necessarily with physical beauty, but with a grace and inner beauty that reflects how a woman sees herself. I'm grateful for the School’s tradition of allowing girls in the senior forms to wear French heels - small things like these helped us to embrace womanhood gracefully - no need for face lifts!”


A clipping from SCMP dated November 22, 1979 reporting on the high quality of DGS' choir. Andrea was a member of this choir.

 

Young Andrea attended DGS at the insistence of her mother Winnie, and encouragement of Grandma Mabel. After primary 5, Andrea left for boarding school in the UK. She stayed on to read law, and returned to Hong Kong to do post-graduate law studies at Hong Kong University and went on to qualify as a solicitor. When her first child arrived, she ceased professional practice to take care of the younger generation which has now grown to a population of 2.

Despite her short stint at DGS, Andrea was touched when one day in a crowded lift in Central, another young lady entered, and within 30 seconds, managed to call out Andrea's maiden name in full! Similarly, at another banquet, another classmate had no difficulty in picking Andrea out amongst the crowd. It was as if those years apart had never severed the emotional tie and friendship built up in the old school yard between these young students. Andrea now enjoys regular get-togethers with her fellow classmates, reminiscing about their teachers and experiences such as the Music Festival, whilst exchanging insights on latest career and domestic developments. But, like the other alumnae in her family, it is being able to grow together in the sisterhood that comes from one family unbroken of old girls, that she will cherish most.

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