Another page has turned in the history of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (where I am but a lowly “associate”) with the death of Hu van Es, one of its best known members.
Mr van Es was a very familiar figure to all the regular members of the club, almost always wearing his trademark photographer’s waistcoat, and often with his wife Annie, who seemed to soften his ofttimes somewhat bristly demeanour. Over the years I chatted with him a few times at the bar, and we played a few racks of pool in Bert’s; but I never really got to know him, and there are plenty of accounts elsewhere of his life and the photography for which he was famous, to which I can add little.
However, Mr van Es’ passing does highlight one aspect of the FCC which it is continuing to struggle with: there aren’t really any well-known foreign correspondents or journalists in Hong Kong these days. When I have friends join me at the FCC they often ask a little about the history of the club, and sometimes something like “so who are the famous correspondents in the bar tonight?”. Now with all due respect to the people themselves, pointing out someone who does the morning show on RTHK radio, or writes the jazz column for the Sunday SCMP doesn’t really help the club live up to its reputation. But when Mr van Es was in the bar I could always say “remember the photo of the last helicopter evacuating Saigon? He took it.” Which would always satisfy the questioner. (And although that was what he was most famous for, he also photographed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and uprisings in the Philippines, as well as many more prosaic events.)
So I’m not sure how to answer that question now; maybe it’s inevitable that the FCC will reflect the fact that 40 years ago Hong Kong was one of the world’s great cities and the centre for journalism in the Far East, whereas now it is well on the way to becoming a relatively small provincial city in China. There’s not much any of us can do about that, and Mr van Es’ death is another small milestone along the road.