Three or four times in life, unless you are seriously unlucky, you’ll encounter a person with whom, while perhaps having nothing apparent in common, you feel a very strong mutual sympathy of thought, feeling, and temperament. I shared this priceless bond for 34 years with Chan Kwong Chi of Hong Kong, who died this week.
In spite of utterly different backgrounds, ages, languages, everything, there is hardly anyone I have ever felt more at ease with. Chan said I must have been Chinese in a previous life. Perhaps that was it.
I learned more about China and Chinese-ness from hanging out with Chan than I did from a shelf-full of books. In recent years, as I buckled down to making a living and raising a family, Chan and I fell into the slovenly habits of long-distance friendship: an occasional letter or phone call, cards at Christmas and Chinese New Year. (And at the latter he’d send “lucky money” to my kids when they were small.) We were last together in the summer of 2001, when I took the family to China.
Chan is survived by his wife, to whom I owe more kind hospitality than I can ever repay, and his three bright, enterprising, and successful sons. R.i.P.