Dr. Lee Shiu Hung
2:45PM, 9 September 2013, School of Public Health at the Chinese University of Hong Kong
I: Dr Lee, thank you for the opportunity to interview you. For the record, could you please state your full name, your birth date and where you were born?
Lee: My full name is Lee Shiu Hung; my [surname] is Lee. I was born in China, but in the old days, there was a free movement of people. When I was very young, I left my home country in the Guangdong Province and came to Hong Kong because my father made arrangements for myself and my mother to come to Hong Kong. And that was before the Japanese occupation, before the Second World War, I came to Hong Kong. I completed my education in Hong Kong.
I: What year did you come to Hong Kong?
Lee: I think it was around the 1940’s, because the Second World War was from 1941-’45. Hong Kong was under the Japanese occupation for 3 years and 8 months. I was a child at that time, but I stayed in Hong Kong during that period. After liberation, when the war was over, I studied my education in Hong Kong. My Middle School, University and afterwards I started to work in Hong Kong.
I: What year were you born?
Lee: I was born in 1933. Now it is over 80 years.
I: What year did you start to become involved in the Vietnamese boat people situation?
Lee: Now I cannot remember exactly [when I became involved with the Vietnamese boat people] but the 1970’s was a period of influx of Vietnamese boat people. I still remember one morning around Christmas time; I was working in the Headquarters of the Medical and Health Department. And my boss, Dr Jerome Choy – he was the Director of Medical and Health Services. That morning we were having some Christmas party celebrations, and then he asked me to go to the Central Government Office to attend an urgent meeting. I asked him what the urgent meeting was, but he told me to ‘go up and see’. So I had to rush out to the Central Government Offices to attend the meeting. Now, the meeting was a high-powered meeting involving the Heads of [several] Government Departments and the Secretaries. The meeting was held at the basement of the Central Government Offices because of the high security [required]. I represented the Department in attending the meeting. The subject to be discussed was ‘Vietnamese boat people’. Now Vietnamese people at that time… there was a boat [that had arrived in Hong Kong] known as the Hue Fong, from Vietnam. They arrived in Hong Kong waters, but the boat wasn’t allowed to enter Hong Kong and had to wait for [further] instruction from the United Nations for clearance. This was because it was the first time a boat with several thousand Vietnamese refugees had left Vietnam because there was fighting between North and South Vietnam. The people from South Vietnam had left their home country by boat and arrived in Hong Kong waters. So we had to wait for instruction from the United Nations as to whether or not Hong Kong would be the first port of call. We had to prepare in case they were allowed to enter Hong Kong. So I attended the meeting to prepare [for the situation] in case the boat was allowed to enter Hong Kong. Given that I represented the Medical and Health Services, the first question was on the concern of public health and infectious diseases. Vietnam was well-known as an endemic area for plague. Plague is a highly infectious disease, starting from a rat and spreading to human beings, resulting in an epidemic with high mortality. And then we were afraid that if [the] plague was introduced into Hong Kong, there would be a disaster because Hong Kong is very densely populated. And then we would have to be careful in how to prevent the introduction of plague in case the refugees were allowed to enter Hong Kong. I represented the Department [of Medical and Health Services] and at first we had to consider theories in clearing the refugees of suspicion of infectious diseases. Now the boat at that time was floating in High Island in the southern part of Hong Kong Island, in the high seas. So how could we do the inspection and disinfection [of refugees]? It was not easy, because the boat was floating around and you couldn’t just [board] the boat because there was no pier. At that time, [given that this was a medical emergency] I asked my boss, the Director of Medical and Health Services Dr Jerome Choy, about mobilising medical services – including doctors, nurses etc. – to inspect the boat, refugee inspection, disinfection and so on. Moving the medical personnel onto the boat was a big question, as was finding doctors and nurses to undertake this special assignment. However, in Hong Kong we have a very important medical department known as ‘Auxiliary Medical Services’. The Auxiliary Medical Services (AMS) Department is a department where the members are volunteers, trained in first aid, emergency [services] proving medical and health services in times of emergency. So I thought of the AMS, however I wasn’t the Commissioner of the AMS. The Commissioner of the AMS was the Director of Medical and Health Services. So I telephoned Jerome Choy, saying that with his permission, I would like to mobilise members of the AMS to go to the ship to undertake the inspection and disinfection. So Dr Choy gave me the order to call the AMS. This was very important, as even though I could call the members of the AMS to go onto the ship, the question was ‘how’ they would [board the ship]? It wasn’t easy because the ship was floating around on the high seas, only using a small boat to get on there and the AMS members wouldn’t be able to climb up onto the big ship to do their work. So I thought about using a helicopter [for the AMS members to board the ship] and I had to seek approval from the Commissioner to use the Auxiliary Air force. We used the helicopter, and through the helicopter we [flew] the members of AMS from Aberdeen. Aberdeen is a southern part of Hong Kong Island. We started from Aberdeen, and used the helicopter to take the AMS members to the island. From there, using a rope they are dropped onto the boat. Now this was very dangerous, however AMS [members] are very loyal and faithful so they were dropped by rope onto the boat. From there, they undertook their inspection, disinfection and everything [else required].
I: What was your position at that time?
Lee: I was Assistant Director of the Medical and Health Department. Now these are the pictures I kept… [Shows photos to Carina of the Hue Fong and Vietnamese refugees on board the ship]…
The whole night the AMS [volunteers] carried out the disinfection [processes], they helped women to deliver [their babies] on board the ship. Now this was highly risky, and then throughout the night I received telephone calls from [concerned] family members of the AMS [volunteers]. Some would ask, ‘Dr Lee, how is my husband?’ I would respond, ‘your husband is safe but he can’t return home’. [Laughs]
I: Do you know how many AMS members there were volunteering at that time?
Lee: I think several hundred? Then, the next day, we received direction from Whitehall, the United Kingdom that Hong Kong would be used as a first port of call for Vietnamese refugees so the boat could enter Hong Kong waters. So the instruction was received in the morning [from the UK], and the next day the boat entered Hong Kong waters. The boat then went to the Kwai Chung container terminal. At the Kwai Chung container terminal, we used a ferry for the refugees to unload themselves and get onto shore. So here you can see the AMS members helping the refugees get off the boat onto the shore. Once the refugees were off the boat, they would be taken to hospital; [at] the Princess Margaret Hospital. Princess Margaret Hospital was opened at that time; the first patients [at the hospital] weren’t local people – the first patients were Vietnamese refugees. There, they underwent medical examination again. After everything was [found to be] alright and the refugees were cleared, they were allowed to go to the refugee camp at Chi Ma Wan. You know that Chi Ma Wan was on Lantau Island? So from then onwards, every day you would have thousands and thousands of boat people coming from Vietnam in Hong Kong waters. [This was because] Hong Kong was the first port of call. So I had to make sure that these refugees weren’t bringing in infectious diseases; not just plague but others like tuberculosis, malaria etc. And then the refugees were kept in the refugee camp. We had to set up refugee camps in the outlying islands. Now I had to make sure that if they [the refugees] got sick, there would be medical care [available for them] at the refugee camps. We had to use AMS members again, because our ‘normal’ doctors and nurses had a lot of work to do in the [other] hospitals. So we had to use Auxiliary Medical Services (AMS). Now you can see, from ten of us, I had to use a helicopter to go to the outlying islands to [conduct] an inspection of the refugee camps. [Shows photo to Carina] Now you can see me using the helicopter… and then to the refugee camps. Now the refugee camps were managed by the Correctional Services Department. The Assistant Director accompanied me to go to [undertake] the inspection. We had also set up medical clinics; I had to go to see the medical clinics. All the AMS members carried out [treatment] for when people were sick and provided treatment. This [happened] every day. And then in order to make sure that the boat will not bring in rats from Vietnam, later on we used an island [speaks Chinese] opposite Kennedy known as ‘Green’ (Ching Chao) island. Are there still houses on Green Island? Then we moved the refugees into these houses and kept them there for six days. Why did we keep them there for six days? Six days is the time taken for the incubation of the plague? If after six days they were not sick and were [feeling] alright, we could allow them to go to the refugee camp. But for the first part, they would stay there for six days and we would do the disinfection and cleansing and so on. Green Island was like a quarantine island for the refugees. Then [as for] the boats, some of them were wooden boats and may have had rats. We were not sure [about whether or not the boats had rats], but if the rats came onto shore it would be very dangerous [for the Hong Kong population]. So to make sure that the rats weren’t brought into Hong Kong, we moved the wooden boats into a channel and burned them. This was to make sure there were no rats there. Once they were in the refugee camps for a long time, we would have to undertake inspections, provide medical care and support, food and lodging etc. We put up refugee camps in many parts of Hong Kong in the new territories. Even in Central [Hong Kong] in Sai Kung, [we had refugee camps] because we didn’t have enough [space]. We were very afraid of another disease; Malaria. Then we moved the people to Sai Kung refugee camp. [This is] because if a mosquito bit a refugee and then bit one of our local people, this could spread [the] malaria disease. So we had to [undertake] an anti-mosquito campaign, DDT spraying and we had to take smears to see whether or not the refugees were suffering from malaria. So these were some of our concerns. From then onwards, we had many places where the Vietnamese boat people were kept [in refugee camps]. Later on, they could come out to work and so on [from the closed refugee camps]. Finally, this problem was settled. My concern was because we were from the Medical and Health Department; our job was to prevent highly dangerous and infectious diseases from entering Hong Kong. So we had to make sure that we could provide medical care, surveillance and so on in the areas. The other concern was to take care of others with babies, in providing them with [appropriate] medical care in delivery and so on. This was part of our responsibility.
I: And how did you do that? Did you bring them into the hospital for deliveries?
Lee: Yes, we brought them into the hospital for delivery. We also had to work with the UNHCR, because we were short of staff. At one time, the UNHCR made use of Medicine Sans Frontier (MSF) from France who had also come to help. [This was] because we had so many refugee camps and we didn’t have enough [assistance] we had to find other personnel [to assist].
I: Did you find any infected cases from Vietnam among the refugees?
Lee: We did find some outbreak [of disease]; malaria was one of them. In the [outlying islands] we had mosquitoes spreading malaria so we had to be very careful. [We also found outbreaks of] cholera. But through our surveillance program, we were able to contain the spread [of disease] so that it didn’t explode. All the refugee camps had medical centres with disinfection [services and so on to stop the spread of infection]. This was why I had to go there [to the refugee centres] to undertake inspections. The other thing was food supply. [Another issue] we also had upon the refugees’ first arrival was when some of them had passed away and then their bodies couldn’t be detected. Then we had to undertake a special enquiry into the situation. [This was] because the report in the end was cleared, without any mistakes so we had taken care of everyone. It takes time to identify which particular refugee went into which refugee camp. I think overall, the departments involved were the Medical and Health [Services], Correctional Services and Agriculture and Fisheries to make sure the local mosquitoes wouldn’t be spreading infectious diseases. The District Offices in the new territories [were also involved]. We also had to help the people with communicating with the outside. So we had to use a lot of staff which placed additional stress and burden which lasted for quite some time.
I: So you had medical facilities set up inside the camps to assist the refugees?
I: And in some cases they were allowed outside the camps to hospitals?
Lee: It was to require admission into hospitals for the refugee patient to go to hospital. A lot of these were maternity patients. A lot of people didn’t dare to go into the refugee camps, so some staff wouldn’t like to work there. It could be rather risky inside the camps.
I: Were you afraid they would be held hostage inside the camps?
Lee: Not held hostage, but the language and communication was difficult. So far, the refugees were overall cooperative because they knew that we – and our AMS members – were there to help them, and also to feed them. Some mothers [for example] would need a special supply of food for their babies and so on. So we [generally] worked closely with the refugees and didn’t have much opposition because they understood we were there to help them.
I: Was the birth rate high?
Lee: Not high, but surely because there were so many families we had to make [relevant] arrangements.
I: How were the pregnant women cared for during their nine months of pregnancy?
Lee: We had doctors there [at the refugee camps]. If an actual delivery was necessary, we would make arrangements for this birth to take place in a hospital. The clinic and supervisory [services] was a very good way of surveillance for infectious diseases and also medical care for emergencies. If they were seriously ill, of course they would need to go to hospital. They used the same standards for the refugees as they did for Hong Kong residents.
I: What about the death rate, was it high?
Lee: The death rate wasn’t high, but when they [the refugees] first arrived, there was some confusion as to where the dead bodies were kept. In the first few days there was some confusion because some refugees had died and it was not clear where the bodies were kept. Surely they were kept there, but it was difficult to trace. The other thing was food supply; because there were thousands of people we had to prepare the food within the camp and this created a big problem. I think gradually it settled down, but during the first few weeks when there were thousands of people arriving every day it wasn’t easy. You could see the Governor, accompanied by the Director of Medical and Health Services having to go there to the Princess Margaret Hospital to [survey] the situation.
I: How did you balance that? Did you still have to maintain health services for Hong Kong residents?
Lee: That’s right. It wasn’t easy but we had the AMS. They were volunteers with special duties to help.
I: Did the AMS have experience in handling emergency crisis [situations]?
Lee: Yes, they are trained for this purpose. [This is] because sometimes we have natural disasters such as landslides; once we had a big disaster in Kowloon. A lot of the AMS volunteers are doctors and nurses [and] in fact they are under the sector of Security
I: But before the Vietnamese situation, did they have many chances to develop their skills? Were there a lot of emergency cases?
Lee: In the old days, when you were born in Hong Kong, you would have to attend one of the Auxiliary Services to get training. It could be Auxiliary Medical Services, it could be Auxiliary Air force Services, it could be Auxiliary Fire Services [or] the Civil Aid Service, depending on the instance. [This is] because in Hong Kong we could appoint [people to the role]. But later on, [participation in the Auxiliary Services] changed to became voluntary. For example, in the early years, 1960’s, we had an immunization campaign against cholera. We had to use a lot of staff to go onto the streets to [undertake] vaccinations. So we used the Medical students and we used the Auxiliary Medical Services to go out to do vaccinations. That’s why their response to the call for emergency is very import. Previously, I also made use of AMS and the medical students to go to the Island [where the refugees were located in the camp] to undertake vaccination campaign. This was very important. We had headquarters for the training of people; some of them were retired teachers who were very helpful. This is the medical emergency services. Apart from the refugees, the other thing was the immunisation campaign against cholera.
I: What were some of the common causes of death amongst the Vietnamese refugees?
Lee: I think some of the common causes of death were old age. [And then] if they had to rush into the High Seas under very difficult circumstances, some of them were already suffering from poor health and not really fit for this kind of travel.
I: So in other words, a lot of those cases happened when they first arrived and not after they had stayed here for a while?
Lee: When they first arrived, first they had to wait – they didn’t know whether or not they were allowed to come to Hong Kong and they were worried. And then during this kind of emergency, their health would certainly be adversely affected. But after they had settled down into the refugee camp, it would be very peaceful and quiet. Some of them would run their own schools in the refugee camps, classes. During that kind of period, their life was uncertain. Any contact with their family members may not have been easy – some family members might be here or there [located all over the place]. For the Management [of the camps] there were a lot of problems relating to the diet and accommodation [of the refugees]. We had to make sure there were arrangements [in place]. I think for the first few months, it was a difficult time – both for the refugees and also for the Hong Kong Government Departments. [This was] because we had no [previous] experience and we didn’t know how to deal with them. We were short on staff [under resourced] and short on accommodation. We had to build refugee camps and we had to use a prison to keep the refugees. The prison wasn’t initially for refugees [but for prisoners] and we had to use the prison for the Vietnamese refugees, resulting in overcrowding and so on. Afterwards, they [the refugees] settled down and then they organised themselves in helping one another. That required some time, but it is a very good recognition… it’s very important. I was particularly concerned, so I had to go around to all the refugee camps and we did the best we could. I think the problem was shortage of staff at that time, and also a lack of experience in dealing with [the situation previously]. So we had to [deal with the situation] as an ‘emergency’ [situation]. But I always have high praise for the Auxiliary Medical Services, because they responded immediately [in a] high-risk situation, using a helicopter… [Laughs]
I: After the situation at Hue Fong, how much longer did your involvement with the Vietnamese boat people continue?
Lee: I was in the Headquarters, so the Mental Health Department and Public Health field, so I was concerned with ensuring that there were no infectious diseases occurring in the camps. Not just in containing the diseases so they didn’t spread out from the camps, but making sure that the refugees were kept in a healthy [environment] so they could live and study etc…. and so they [the refugees] remained happy. We worked with the UNHCR and were supposed to get funding from the UNHCR, but [the UNHCR] never gave us any money! So we had to use our local resources to help the refugees. That’s alright though, because it was to help the [refugees] and to protect not only the health of the people in Hong Kong, but the people inside the camps; the refugees themselves as well. So this is a good way to serve the community.
I: How long were you involved with the Vietnamese refugee program?
Lee: Throughout the years, because I was [located] in Headquarters. I don’t know how many years…
I: Until retirement?
Lee: No. See, afterwards, some of them went to other countries and others stayed in Hong Kong.
I: That’s 2000.
Lee: So they became Hong Kong citizens and we didn’t specially keep them [separate]. Previously, they were kept in the refugee camps [closed camps] but later they were allowed to come out and became part of the Hong Kong citizens [community].
I: So you were involved with the [Vietnamese refugee] situation all the way until the end, which was May 2000? What year did you retire from your position?
Lee: I retired in 1994.
I: So you were basically involved in the whole [situation]?
Lee: Yes, from the beginning until the end.
I: How did the situation with the Vietnamese refugees affect your job, ever since [the start]?
Lee: In a way, it’s our responsibility in the Mental Health Department to protect the health of the people, so that the refugees wouldn’t bring infectious diseases into Hong Kong. Now this is very important because we knew that Vietnam in an endemic area [with evidence of the] plague, and in Hong Kong we have a dense population. So we had to make sure that infectious diseases would not be introduced into Hong Kong. So we had to [undertake] a lot of prevention control measures and provide treatment and care. This was on a sustained basis. And then we had to provide medical care for thousands of refugees; if they were sick where they would go to see a doctor and if they needed hospitalisation, where they would be admitted. It was our responsibility.
I: Would you say in your career life, the situation with the Vietnamese was the most challenging [situation] for you?
Lee: One of the most challenging, because I had other challenging public health measures. I have just written a book on my most memorable days on public health in English. This is going to be published in the UK, and is already in printing. [The book includes] my most memorable days on public health in Hong Kong, together with [other peoples’ memoirs from other parts of the world]. I did mention about Vietnamese refugees [in the book]. Other memories include when I worked in Hong Kong, I first started my work in 1960. At first we had to meet the [former] Director of Medical and Health Services, Dr PH Tang. I went to meet him at Headquarters and he asked me where I would like to work, because we had to be interviewed. I said I would like to work in ‘Port Health’. This made him jump up and say, ‘all the doctors say they want to work in hospitals, why port health?’ [This was] because Port Health was the [first point of prevention for] the introduction of infectious diseases into countries. So ships coming from infected countries would have to be inspected, and making sure passengers wouldn’t be bringing in infectious diseases. Then they would be allowed to enter and go ashore. Now the reason I said I wanted to work in Port Health was that in the [final] examinations, I was the first in the class in Public Health. So I am very good! And furthermore, Dr PH Tang was in the Port Health Office. When you work in the Port Health Office, you are like a naval person; you would go up to inspect the ship. You would be able to wear a naval uniform, which was very admirable. So I thought it would be useful to work there. Of course he didn’t post me to Port Health but he posted me to the New Territories. The New Territories was also very challenging work, because the New Territories at that time were very rudimentary, very rural. So I had to work in the floating dispensary. What do you mean by the floating dispensary? Because these people [in the islands] were fishermen and villagers, and if they are sick, they are too far away to reach the urban centres. So we had to bring them medical care to this area. We used a floating dispensary to bring them medical care there. I was a doctor to see the patients, provide immunisations and medical care. We didn’t charge [the patients] because in the Hong Kong Service, it doesn’t matter whether you have money or not. We would bring the services to the outlying islands. So I worked in the floating dispensary to see the rural people. [Nowadays] these people have left the islands to move to the United Kingdom to operate ration businesses. They earn a lot of money in UK and every ten years they have a Thanksgiving [celebration]. They still remember me and will invite me to attend these celebrations… [Shows photograph] This is the clothing I wore specifically to provide vaccinations. It was very memorable. When I was located there [on the floating dispensary] I never wore any tie or jacket, I just wore a short-sleeved shirt [and] short trousers and I worked there. So this was the way we worked in Public Health. So we did a lot of work in the New Territories and it was very memorable there. Also cholera was very important in the early days because we were short of water supply and this was also very challenging for us to prevent the spread of cholera.
[Dr Lee shows more photographs to interviewer]
Lee: This is my boss, Dr Jerome Choy and I worked in the Headquarters responsible for developing all the Medical and Health Services Hospitals. The other memory is, I don’t know if you have heard of Methadone? In the old days, drug addicts were usually addicted to opium, heroin. One day, also in the 1970’s, there was a shortage of heroin. So the smugglers raised the price of heroin, and the drug addicts had to find the money to buy the high-priced heroin. So in order to find money, they committed a lot of crimes such as robbing and so on. So Dr Jerome Choy opened up Methadone clinics. Methadone clinics were to provide Methadone to the drug addicts so they didn’t have to rely on opium. They could go back to work; they could carry on with their normal activities. But we had to open these Methadone clinics throughout the territories. So Dr Choy was instructed by the Governor to open Methadone clinics; over 20 clinics in 2 weeks’ times. So after the meeting he came back to the office and he asked me to do it. So I took up the challenge to open more than 20 Methadone clinics through the territories. I used AMS members. The AMS members responded, and so did some emergency staff. This was because you had to make sure the Methadone was taken up by the drug addict [at the clinic] because otherwise [the drug addicts] would sell the Methadone to other people. So every day the addicts would go to the Methadone clinic to take their Methadone and the problem would be over. Now Methadone was very important because it could be a substitute for drug addicts. [This is] because if you share needles, there is the risk of spreading HIV/AIDS. But if you use Methadone, you won’t have to share needles; it’s a very good way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. Now Methadone is well-used in Taiwan, China and Hong Kong. Every day we had 6,000 people going to the Methadone clinics to take Methadone.
I: Did you
have to deal with any Vietnamese refugees who were drug addicts?
Lee: At that time, our clinics mostly dealt with those inside the camp and our Doctor dealt with those [cases]. But it didn’t seem to be a big problem [amongst the Vietnamese refugees] but maybe on an individual basis? But in Hong Kong, we had heroin addicts all the time so we had to provide services for them. Now we still provide services for them.
I[male]: The problem comes when they take the medical exam for immigration to the United States, Canada and Australia, and it is found they have been taking drugs. It’s a big problem because they [the refugees] can’t be resettled until they have been cleared as drug addicts.
I: So did the Department have to handle the health inspection for clearance before departure as well for all the refugees that were resettled?
Lee: We didn’t do the clearance. It would be up to the individual receiving countries.
I [male]: But the doctors would examine and clear the refugees and continue treatment. Also the doctor inside the camp would make the Vietnamese refugees ‘fit’ to be cleared to sign out of the camps [every time they came in and out of the camp].
I: In your career life, I see twenty years out of thirty-five years working with the Vietnamese refugees. Did that change what you thought of when you first entered this profession?
Lee: In the early days, we would never have thought of such an incident, because we had never come across this kind of international affair. But in a way, I think the Medical and Health Department and other Government Departments were very concerned with this subject and we did our best in working with the UNHCR and we had communications with them. [This is] because this is an international matter so we had to work together. And fortunately we had the support of the other Government Agencies and the AMS played a very important role. When I have an opportunity, I will often pay tribute to the AMS because they are dedicated to serving the community. Hong Kong, over the years needs to cast its eyes further – not just locally, but regionally and internationally. [This is] because we need to work more closely together [with the rest of the global community].
I: Was there any time the public complained about the services that were provided to them being affected because the Vietnamese refugees came to Hong Kong?
Lee: Not so much a complaint but of course there were some cases of local people who I remember having to stay in the Chin Mun area. But generally, the Vietnamese people didn’t cause any disturbance to the local people. Now firstly, they [the refugees] are kept inside the camp and don’t upset the local people. But there were one or two occasions where the Vietnamese boat people had some sort of complaint inside the camp. But so far their activities were inside the camp, not outside the camp. So there wasn’t much opposition from the local people [of Hong Kong].
I: Looking back, were there any specific incidents that were most memorable to you, whether good or bad?
Lee: Probably the most memorable experience for me was the first boat arriving in Hong Kong. This was the most memorable because at that time, we didn’t really know the situation. Because after they [the Vietnamese refugees] had come in and become settled, then we knew what to do and we could do it slowly – part by part – because we had the facilities. But when they first arrived, it wasn’t easy.
I: Did you remember how many days it took for you to clear the inspections for the people at Hue Fong?
Lee: I think it was about a week.
I: I think I remember reading there were two women giving birth during that time in Hue Fong?
Lee: I remember two babies. We also used a small boat to go near the Hue Fong. It was a very memorable occasion. When I went to attend the [initial] meeting, I didn’t know what it was all about. And the meeting was chaired by the CS.
I: What did the whole situation with the Vietnamese refugees mean to you?
Lee: I think the Vietnamese refugees are almost part of our local people [of Hong Kong]. For those who wanted to go overseas of course had their own freedom [to do so] and they are accepted by the receiving countries. But those who do not go [overseas] and remain in Hong Kong are then ultimately part of the Hong Kong citizens. Because [in] Hong Kong, most of the people are like the refugees [as there are many races living there]. A lot of people are from China, because in the old days, there was a free movement [of people]. You didn’t need a passport or visa; from Guangdong you can come to Hong Kong. Most of the people in Hong Kong are from Mainland China. It was only later on that we had all these kinds of restrictions. But I think Hong Kong is built into partnership with these people in developing Hong Kong. I think we have the same common goal to serve the people and build up the area.
I: In looking back, do you ever wish it didn’t happen?
Lee: I don’t know, because in those days, there was fighting between North and South Vietnam. And I think it was reasonable for those people in South Vietnam who weren’t certain about their future, it was natural for them to leave. Even now in other places, even in China there were people leaving to come to Hong Kong. But of course Vietnam is a very nice country. I have also been to Vietnam… [Discusses places in Vietnam he has been to and enjoys visiting].
I: Thank you. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Lee: As I mentioned, there is a book on Public Health which will be published soon. The story on the refugees will also be included in the book. In 2003, we had the SARS epidemic. Now we have to cast our eyes wider, we have to take into account the global situation and globalisation. We have to work [more] closely together in helping one another. Particularly in this region, Hong Kong is an area where ‘east meets west’ and we have to work more closely in the Asia-Pacific region helping one another. Sometimes, some countries – not that they don’t want to cooperate – but they are short on resources. Even in Vietnam, they are short on resources. We now have an arrangement with Vietnam in that some of their specimens are sent to Hong Kong for analysis. So we should work together to help some of these countries where they are under-provided in expertise and resources; help them and train them. This will help to improve the situation globally, so we have to work together. The three ‘M’s are: ‘multi-sectorial’, ‘multi-professional’ and ‘multi-disciplinary‘. Normally in Hong Kong at the regional and international levels, I will often go to China and we will often work closely together with communication being very important. Collaboration is very important. I always say, ‘infectious diseases don’t stop at the border’. So we have to work closer together.
I: When will we have the pleasure to read your book?
Lee: I don’t know. I will let you know when it becomes available.
I: in the next few months?
Lee: It was coordinated by our Director who invited me to provide a chapter on Hong Kong.