LEE KUAN YEW AND THE CREEPING MEATBALL

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So, farewell then, Lee Kuan Yew, grand patriarch of Singapore, who never saw a critic he didn’t want to jail or sue, or a gum chewer he didn’t want to fine.

Much has been written extolling the great man, beloved of entrepreneurs and capitalists for creating a safe, uncorrupt haven for their money and by hordes of ex-pats in Asia for providing a tiny, perfect oasis for a few days’ R and R, coupled with a chance to down a Singapore Sling at the famed Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel.

But none of the lengthy obituaries has included one of the more remarkable confluences of Lee’s long career. That occurred, of all places, on the scenic, normally placid campus of the University of B.C., where he encountered an invasion of raucous ragamuffins imbued with the heady, counter-culture tonic of Yippie-dom. As a survivor of the Japanese occupation of Singapore, however, surviving the wild, student occupation of the UBC Faculty Club – with him in it! – was Peking Duck soup for the wily autocrat.

For the many poor unfortunates and obit writers with no knowledge of this momentous event, return with us now to those thrilling daze of yesteryear, when student power was afoot on campuses throughout the land, harnessed to the widespread anti-war, anti-capitalism, anti-establishment, anti-pig, pro-dope smoking rhetoric of the young. I will tell you the tale.

On a fine fall day in 1968, celebrated, head band-wearing Jerry Rubin of the Youth International Party and unkempt author of the great literary classic DO IT!, ventured north of the border to deliver what he called a “sermon” at a large public rally in front of the Student Union Building at UBC. Rubin was a self-proclaimed radical who loved media stunts, none more headline-grabbing than the Yippies’ presence at the Democratic convention in Chicago a few months earlier, where they occupied Lincoln Park and paraded their presidential candidate, a pig named Pigasus, through the streets of the Windy City. The cops responded by bashing in heads and charging Rubin et al with conspiring to riot.

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At the end of his inflammatory, UBC speech advocating abandonment of “the creeping meatball”, Rubin further urged students to take action to liberate themselves. “We’ve got all these people here. Let’s do something. Is there any place on campus that needs liberating?” Whereupon, several well-rehearsed members of the crowd yelled: “The faculty club!” And then, as The Ubyssey reported: “…off they went.”

Hundreds of students stormed through the doors of the posh faculty club, haven of tweedy, privileged professors swilling from its well-stocked liquor supply and dining on only the finest cuisine. Once ensconced inside the hallowed, professorial precincts, the unruly miscreants didn’t leave. They drank the booze, rollicked in comfy chairs, inhaled illegal substances, went for nude dips in the club’s ornamental pond, discussed the merits of political something-or-other, boogied to live music and generally got up the noses of outraged profs.

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“I’m disgusted,” stormed classics scholar Dr. Malcolm MacGregor. “This gutter-snipe comes up from the U.S. and organizes this thing, and all the students follow along like sheep.”

And where was Lee Kuan Yew during all this merry mayhem? Intrepid Ubyssey reporter James Conchie Lee Kuan Yewfound the bemused Prime Minister of Singapore relaxing in a second floor suite at the faculty club, his home during a 19-day “relax and study” visit to Vancouver. Against the wishes of a nervous security guard and a few, equally-worried faculty, Lee admitted the reporter for a brief interview. “All this isn’t bothering me at all,” he told Conchie, with a wide smile. “It takes something of a much more serious nature than this to get me excited.” He wondered out loud: “What is happening here? Everyone seems to be running around in a great fluster.” At that point, Conchie was ushered out, after Lee promised him a full interview before leaving town.

The escapade, which lasted through the night and into the next day, produced a vintage issue of The Ubyssey. You can peruse the full edition here:

http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/pdfs/ubyssey/UBYSSEY_1968_10_25.pdf

Not only is the paper’s coverage of Rubin’s antics great fun, it’s also a wonderful time capsule. Feast on ads for the legendary Retinal Circus (Papa Bears and Easy Chairs from Seattle), the Czech movie classic Closely Watched Trains, Duthie Books on Robson (sigh), an appearance by Mother Tucker’s Yellow Duck at a weekend anti-war rally, and, best of all, Poulson’s annual typewriter sale!

At the same time, suggesting that the sentiment of the Sixties didn’t prevail everywhere on campus, there were also ads for the Canadian army’s Regular Officer Training Plan, Dale Carnegie’s appalling course: ‘How to win friends and influence people’, business management opportunities at Procter and Gamble, plus my personal favourite, a meeting of the UBC Young Socreds.

As for all those young flacks and hacks whose names are sprinkled through the pages of that particular Ubyssey close to 50 years ago, “Where are they now?” I hear you ask.

Well, Jerry Rubin, who subsequently became a stock broker (groan), is dead, hit by a car as he jaywalked on a busy LA street in 1994. Fence-sitting AMS president Dave Zirnhelt became a Cariboo cattle rancher, horse logger and two-term NDP cabinet minister. The ever-effervescent Stan Persky divides his time between Vancouver and Berlin, and writes books. AMS vice-president Carey Linde became a lawyer based on Haida Gwaii, before moving to Vancouver, where he has established a “men’s rights” practice. Oh, well…

Kirsten Emmott is a well-known poet, writer and family doctor, now living in Comox. Ubyssey movie reviewer Kirk Tougas is a renowned cinematographer, with many fine films to his credit. Contributors to a Younger Vancouver Sculptors exhibition at UBC include Gathie Falk and Takao Tanabe, both of whom went on to acclaimed, artistic careers. “Gathie Falk has some really funky pieces on display, including a grey, velvet-covered bureau with a sculptured shirt on top,” writes reviewer “F.C.”, in all likelihood, the free-spirited Fred Cawsey.

As for regular Ubyssey journos, editor Al Birnie became a printer in Toronto, news editor John Twigg spent three years as Premier Dave Barrett’s press secretary, despite his arrest in the famous Gastown Riot of 1971, wire editor Peter Ladner was fired by the Vancouver Sun for telling a public meeting that a number of Sun reporters smoked dope (not sure what happened to him after that…), associate editor and Bugs Bunny aficionado Mike Finlay went on to an illustrious career as a documentary producer at CBC Radio, reporter John Gibbs switched to the dark side for a long, distinguished career in TV news, while AMS reporter Alex Volkoff abandoned the black and white and “red all over” world of newspapers for the suave, nuanced world of diplomacy. Bonus points for the fate of Lee Kuan Yew’s favourite Ubyssey reporter, James Conchie.

They were great times.

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11 thoughts on “LEE KUAN YEW AND THE CREEPING MEATBALL

  1. Thanks for this, Rod. Alas, I missed the occupation, only arriving at UBC in September 1969 for grad school. But the copy of the Ubyssey is indeed a classic; the substance of the issue, I’m sure, is not even approximated these days. I don’t see how any of you staffers found time to get a degree. It’s even missing a few bylines, I suspect, like Paul Knox (heading up Ryerson after a spectacular career), and Vaughan Palmer, who is still pounding the keys at the Sun after, what, more than 40 years? And Michael Quigley (typing speed 200 words/minute) is still collecting vinyl, and you might like to check out his Hawaii 5-0 blog where he has minutely dissected every single episode from both the old and the current versions. I only learned of the occupation after beginning a fling with AMS Secretary Isobel Semple who told me she negotiated with the last of the occupiers and ended the thing. She ended up having,adopting and fostering kids in Kitimat and being a nurse. I met up with her again while I was working with the Nurses Union when she ran afoul of the union as leader of Kitimat’s Right-To-Life. The spirit of the occupation and the political moment translated into a victory for the (All Too) Human Government in ’71 with me as reluctantly on it as Internal Affairs Officer to complete the slate (though I was graduating, we found a lefty anthropology prof to take me on as a PhD candidate, but I’d had enough of school and resigned before our term began). Those were the days, indeed. Bob Smith (I’ll see if I can get this signed by something other than my moribund blog)

    • nice nostalgia, Bob……little known fact: i did not work at the Ubyssey…i spent three years on the Varsity at U of T….but when I came out to the West Coast, because of CUP, i knew many of the Ubyssey types, lived with them, drank with them, partied with them, etc…and worked with them at the Sun…so it really did seem as if i worked there…ah, the Human Government…

      • Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. I forgot you were at the Varsity, but only because I’m getting old. I was at UofT when you were. The Varsity was also a substantial newspaper at the time. I’ve forwarded your blog to Evert Hoogers, Mark Warrior, and Mike Quigley. Warrior maintains the occupation was planned ahead of time (in his house).

  2. Yes, thanks for this Rod. I totally enjoyed the stroll down memory lane. And you were very generous is your description of my career (though you referred to the dark side as if there was something bad about that, as if you yourself had not plumbed the depths). Like many of the others you mentioned, The Ubyssey played a huge part in starting me on my life of crime. In fact I have always thought (and told anyone I thought would listen) that it was that day, that issue, that story that gave me a leg up. The Vancouver Sun, as you know, used to send Bill Rayner, a senior desker, out The Ubyssey office once a week to help guide our young minds and — so it was said — help spot talent for summer jobs at the Sun. I was therefore over The Moon when, I recall, the pages of this issue were posted on a bulletin board and critiqued by Mr. Rayner…and there was a comment on my story saying “good quotes” or somesuch. And so it came to pass that I got a summer job at The Sun, and was there when the paper changed its name, for one historic day, to The Moon. But thats another story…. John Gibbs

    • Dark side, as in irony….reflecting the prejudice many ink stained wretches had about the TV news reporters….i never worked harder as a reporter than during my four years at the CBC…good TV people are immensely skilled and dedicated to the craft….as you were, John….that’s great about your Rubin story….hard to believe you were still 17….yeah, the Rayner pipeline from the Ubyssey to the Sun….good for everyone….brilliant decision by the Sun to become The Moon for one day….oh, the old days….how lucky we were….

  3. to Bob Smith: there’s a story revealing that the occupation was planned at a “notorious” leftie house on Stephen Avenue….scoop by M.F. aka Mike Finlay…i assume that was Warrior’s pad….

  4. You may also note that, the times being what they were, Quigley’s article in that edition of the Ubyssey is all about sex and classical music….

  5. Incidentally, I took a plane flight to California a day or two after the Faculty Club invasion, and my seat mate was Jerry Rubin. He was not at all talkative.
    I, too, worked for the Vancouver Sun for a while. I remember watching the blurry moon walk in the newsroom.

  6. thanks for commenting, Kirsten….interesting….I was never a fan of Jerry Rubin…too celebrity-oriented for my liking, and then he became a stockbroker!…i much preferred Abby Hoffman….i’d forgotten you worked at the Sun….a young John Gibbs also remembers that famous time, when the Sun, for one edition, famously became The Moon….such crazy daze….


    • That’s me in the headband, Mike Finlay to the left– I’m pretty sure he worked for the Sun, too– and Neale Adams, who stood godfather to my son later… we’re so bourgeois….

  7. try this version of the pic

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