launching of Alcoholics Anonymous in Hong Kong was fuelled,
literally, in Thailand. Providence decreed that David
D., an English businessman, should begin his last binge
- a 48-hour solo fizzer - in Bangkok on August 30, 1969.
Flying back to Hong Kong, he resolved to get a regular
meeting going as soon as Clark G., who used to make once-a-month
visits from Guam, next hit town.
recalls, "Clark flew in, quite unexpectedly, on the
first of September. We advertised immediately in
the English-language press. And on Tuesday, September
2, the first scheduled AA meeting in the Colony was held
at the Mariners Club on Kowloon side of the harbor. The
attendance? Clark and me. Our ad worked for us."
Sadly, times have changed and now the Mariners meeting
has closed. The Borrett Road Club House, it seems, is
much more accessible if not even more salubrious!
Clark, and lqbal respectively British, American,
and Pakistani reflect three main (sometimes overlapping)
strands in the membership as it developed: British and
the Commonwealth; North American; and Asian. David and
Clark were quick to register the new group with the general
service offices in New York and London, the link with
New York soon proving to be the more practical. The group
began to grow. Ray H. became Hong Kong member number three.
And soon George G., an active member from Phoenix, Arizona,
turned up in the Colony.
1970, George, who then objected to any publicity about
AA facilities, got a second meeting going which was more
to his liking than the (advertised) Mariners Club one.
The new Monday evening meeting place was the library of
St. John's Anglican Cathedral on Hong Kong Island, another
convenient place, very near the Hilton Hotel. Over the
years, a strong relationship developed with the Cathedral,
and eventually three weekly lunchtime meetings were being
held within its precincts.
two of our three main meeting places date back to
our earliest days. For the third location, which is AA's
present home at 12 Borrett Road, on the slopes of the
Island overlooking the harbour the group would have to
wait sixteen years.
elsewhere, early growth was not smooth or easy. Perhaps
every new group has to have a taste of the difficulties
faced in Akron, Cleveland, and New York in the late 1930s.
Hong Kong old-timers all stress how fragile the young
got to remember," says one veteran, "that it
took about three years, 1966 to 1969, for AA to get going
in Hong Kong. And it was often touch and go whether the
infant would survive. At times it looked plain impossible."
went on, "It was not just that there were so few
of us, and so many slips. AA was an expatriate activity;
and for, many expatriates, then perhaps even more than
now, Hong Kong was a place of transit rather than long-term
residence. An AA member might think he'd be here for good.
Then suddenly he'd be posted. Looking back, it seems we
needed two things for survival. One was a sort of anchorman
someone who'd stay in Hong Kong and stay sober to hold
things together. Two, we needed a good supply of AA visitors
to pep us up and remind us we were part of a worldwide
both these resources came into play. David D. is reluctant
to admit it ("I just stuck around, luckily for me,"
is the way he puts it), but he undoubtedly filled the
role of anchorman during the crucial period. By any calculation
he was a prodigious twelfth-stepper, taking on the toughest
cases. And for the first nine years he was the main AA
telephone answering service. This burden he was eventually
to hand over to a pair of second-generation stalwarts,
Jayne and Malcolm S., a husband and wife team (she Australian,
he British) who came into the Fellowship in close succession
three, long regarded as fixtures in Hong Kong, were
to leave the Colony unexpectedly in 1989, David departing
for Guernsey in the Channel Islands and Malcolm
and Jayne for Australia. But by then, AA in Hong Kong
had acquired sufficient structural strength to make it
less dependent on heroic individual effort.
to the influx of AA visitors, one cannot exaggerate the
benefits hey have brought. As a trading and financial
center Hong Kong has always had a stream of overseas business
people passing through. In the seventies and eighties,
especially following the opening of China to foreign
investment, many of them came bearing and sharing the
AA message. Quite a few others, with local AA help, got
sober in this hard-drinking harbor city. AA in Hong Kong
also owes much to visiting sailors from the U.S. Seventh
Fleet. The sight of a flotilla entering the harbor is
always welcome to AA eyes, for it promises especially
good meetings in the days ahead.
thing that the old-timers emphasize is the camaraderie
and intimacy that marked the first decade of AA
in the Colony. During a recent visit back to Hong
Kong, Malcolm S. summoned up some memories:
"There were so few of us, we'd all go twelfth-stepping
together. Everyone was everyone else's sponsor, or so
it seemed. When I was twelfth-stepped, the gang stayed
with me, day and night, for about seventy-two hours. It
wasn't just meetings, it was being together after and
between meetings coffee sessions in hotels, poker sessions
in someone's apartment, picnics in improbable places.
seemed to get into the act in my home once even
my son, then aged three. He'd so often heard Jayne and
me answering calls from inquirers that one day when the
phone rang, he knew just what to do. He picked up the
receiver and politely announced, 'Alcoholics Anonymous.
Can I help you?' The caller was a neighbor, distinctly
nonalcoholic, to whom lengthy explanations had to be given.
maybe Hong Kong is a busier place and everyone has less
time. AA in the Colony is certainly stronger now and there's
more of it, better organized. But those early years, back
in the mid-seventies in my case, were great times to be
alive and sober here."
time to mention some of the milestones marking the growth
of the group. Conspicuous among them was the authorities'
decision, in early 1985, to let us have rooms (at very
little annual rent) in the old, high-ceilinged former
military hospital at 10 Borrett Road. This gave the Fellowship
a daily meeting-place with 6:00 p.m. meetings now
every day of the year.
has to go back earlier for other milestones. This account
is no more than a sketch of growth over twenty-one years,
but here are a few key dates and developments.
1974, Tony B., a Cantonese-speaking Irish-American who
had sobered up in New York, arrived in Hong Kong and lost
little time in setting up a Chinese-language meeting in
Kowloon. This was the start of many efforts, which continue,
to carry the message to fellow-sufferers among our Chinese
fellow citizens (who comprise ninety-eight percent of
1978, AA acquired a mini-base, a ten foot by eight foot
windowless box of a room, in Wanchai, then a red-light
entertainment district. The room, in the Sailors and Soldiers
Institute, had to be given up in the early eighties. Among
many memorable meetings there was one attended by seventeen
AA5 possibly the most crowded AA meeting, per square
foot, anywhere ever.
1979, a new weekly newcomers meeting began, which brought
dozens of active alcoholics into the Fellowship. The meeting,
discontinued ten years later, was regularly chaired by
Dr. John. A class of 1979 entrant himself, he had been
a headline-making binge drinker; the Hong Kong police
learned the hard way that it was best to send at least
a dozen men out to subdue him. As active in AA as ever,
John now practices medicine in London.
the early 1980s, closer links were developed with the
Adventist Hospital, largely through Jayne S.' s perseverance.
As a result, many AAs came to join the program either
during or after detoxification at the hospital.
1986, through the good offices of Carole A., a genial
restaurateur, and her nonalcoholic partner Bill Nash,
a Saturday lunchtime meeting got going in the private
dining-room of a high-class restaurant in town. "Oh,
boy, this is real Gold Card AA," said a visiting
American sailor as he first looked around. The label stuck:
of us still refer to this weekly event as the Gold Card
eighty-eight saw the start of another big push to get
Cantonese language AA rolling, with dual-language
meetings being launched in hostels in densely crowded
Kowloon. The initiative came from our outstandingly durable
Chinese member, Peter W.
1989, baskets for contributions were introduced at the
main meetings. A real old-timer, back on a visit, exclaimed:
"Good God, we were saying in 1970 that we really
must get a basket. Let no one say that the Hong Kong Group
does not get there in the end."
has been remarked that AA is different wherever one goes
in the world, and yet the same everywhere too. Some of
the peculiarities of AA in Hong Kong have, been touched
on. Regular visitors to the Colony will be able to recall
other oddities. For example, despite a variety of
meetings in various locations and despite repeated
attempts to "groupify" the meetings separately,
so far we have always reverted in the end to being one
single Hong Kong Group. Again, most of our meetings are
discussion ones, with only one fixed speaker meeting a
week. Generally we close the meetings with the Serenity
Prayer, and often say it seated rather than standing.
are historical reasons for most of these ways of doing
things, but it would be tedious to relate them here. The
important thing is that when Hong Kong AAs travel overseas
(as many of us do frequently), we feel at home in other
meetings. And most of our visitors tell us they feel at
home here too.
two people in 1969, the membership has grown to
around 150 in all today, though the tally of those present
at meetings can swing up and down remarkably depending
on who's in town and who's away. There are eighteen scheduled
meetings a week, with an average attendance of around
twenty. Our non-AA friends and sympathizers have multiplied
over the years; and we rejoice in the progress made by
fellow-pilgrims following other twelve-step programs like
AlAnon, NA, and ACOA. AlAnon was on the scene in Hong
Kong from the start (in 1969), or rather from before the
start. NA meetings began, with AA support, in 1986.
can now look back on a decade of survival, the 1970s,
and a decade~ of expansion and consolidation, the 1980s.
What of the 1990s? Well, most of us are optimists and
we have high hopes that, among other things, Chinese-language
AA will really get off the ground in the next few years.
As regards the future of Hong Kong and the impending transfer
of sovereignty in 1997, we seem to worry about it rather
less than others so maybe we're actually learning
not to project too much and to be grateful for what we
have: something of immeasurable worth.
a far cry from Akron to a harbour city on the edge of
the South China Sea. That Alcoholics Anonymous should
have travelled so far and taken root here is something
for which we owe gratitude to all pioneers , worldwide
and from 1935 onward. It is also, for us AAs here in Hong
Kong, awesome evidence of that Power that makes the impossible
L., Hong Kong