From the Magazine: Alumni Leave the Mainland for Island Lives
Pomona College Magazine
Roderick des Tombe '01
Pulau Macan, Indonesia
Roderick des Tombe offers a different way of life on his eco-resort island of Pulau Macan.
The sight of snoozing strangers is always good news to Roderick des Tombe ’01. He gets a kick out of how, within 30 minutes of arriving on his eco-resort island off Indonesia, people who’ve never met before feel comfortable enough to just conk out on the various couches under the thatched roof of the Pulau Macan sundeck hut.
No rest for Roderick, though. He would be busy enough trying to juggle the demands of hosting up to 30 people for the weekend on a 2.5-acre island. There are staff members to manage, snorkeling trips to arrange and menu queries to field from guests. But des Tombe is hoping to do more than create a pleasurable weekend respite from the crazy, crowded Jakarta megalopolis that lies about 90 minutes away by boat.
With the island’s solar power, organic garden, rain catchment and back-to-nature housing arrangements, he has visions of Pulau Macan becoming a model for a different way of life, one with environmentally sustainable practices that some visitors may choose to bring back to their homes. “Part of our aim is to show people you don’t need big cement walls, you don’t need flatscreen TVs, you don’t need air conditioning,” says des Tombe, who was born in Indonesia to Dutch-American parents.
Survivor: Pulau Macan this is not. When he took over management of the island in 2008, des Tombe added eco-friendly touches, but he also upgraded the resort, ditching the squat toilets and bring-your-own bed sheets policy. Des Tombe says most of his guests are quite content with the overall back-tonature vibe, but he does keep two small air conditioners for visitors for whom the breeze will not do. With his background studying economics and politics at Pomona, des Tombe knows there will be tradeoffs between comfort and eco-consciousness.
Out of college, des Tombe went to work in the realm of business suits and conference rooms, not swim trunks and hammocks. He had returned to Southeast Asia to do consulting and analysis for targeting foreign investments into developing countries such as Indonesia. He decided environmentally friendly tourism was the most practical way to bring economic development to the region. So des Tombe quit his job and started his own tourism firm—with plenty of fits and starts—until he met the owners of Pulau Macan (“Tiger Island”) through a friend and wound up creating an eco-resort on the island.
One early challenge was lining up reliable boat passage to the little island, one of more than 100 in a chain off the coast near Jakarta. He had to put down hefty advance deposits for boat travelers, only to see people cancel at the last minute. “It was scary at the beginning,” he says, recalling the desperate, “So, what are you doing this weekend?” calls to friends. “We’d have to run the trips with a big smile on our face knowing we had just lost $200 to $300 that weekend.”
Since then, des Tombe has worked out the transportation issue,
the resort’s finances have been righted and his ambitions have
grown. He recently took majority ownership of a café in Jakarta
that he hopes will become a gathering place for that city’s green
movement. And maybe, he says, Pulau Macan will become the
first in a chain of eco-resorts. So after working on the island all
weekend, des Tombe spends weekdays in bustling Jakarta building
the business, fielding inquiries from potential guests and talking
up the resort as a spot for weekend getaways and business
retreats. Every so often, though, des Tombe does manage to
steal away to the quiet island for a mid-week retreat. Then he
can finally snooze, too.
Bernard Chan '88
Bernard Chan helps lead Hong Kong through its identity crisis.
Past midnight, Bernard Chan '88 is speaking on his cell phone from Shanghai, where he has jetted in from Beijing on a quick business trip. Then it’s back to the capital to continue with the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, in which he is one of 36 deputies representing the special administrative region of Hong Kong.
This trip is not quite routine for Chan, a prominent civic leader who spends the vast majority of his time in Hong Kong, where he grew up and is now raising a family of his own. But these days neither Chan nor the urban island he loves can ignore the booming mainland to the north. With interests in finance, insurance and healthcare, Chan is shifting more business to the mainland and finding time to learn the Mandarin Chinese dialect spoken there—while pondering the future of the city-region he calls home.
“We are going through this identity crisis and asking ourselves who we are now,” says Chan.
Chan was raised on Hong Kong Island, the population center of the former British colony, much of which lies on a peninsula of the Chinese mainland. When Chan was a boy, it was a big deal simply to cross the harbor to the rest of Hong Kong by ferry. Today, though, an everexpanding network of tunnels allows car or subway trips with ease.
In the same manner, Hong Kong’s connections to the mainland grow ever more intricate. In the years leading up to the 1997 British handover of Hong Kong to China, the concern in the colony was to preserve the Western-style freedoms of expression and commerce. People there didn’t foresee how quickly China would boom and what that would mean for Hong Kong, according to Chan.
A turning point came when the 2003 SARS outbreak brought Hong Kong’s economy to a near-standstill, and, Chan notes, the Chinese government’s decision to allow more visitors from the mainland rescued the region’s commerce. From 2001 to 2008, tourism from the rest of China nearly quadrupled to 16.9 million visitors, according to the CIA World Factbook, which notes that “they outnumbered visitors from all other countries combined.” Now Hong Kong stores cater to wealthy mainland shoppers, who also have been snapping up high-end housing, and Hong Kong’s stock market is increasingly dominated by mainland enterprises.
In this fast-changing environment, Chan finds Hong Kong natives, particularly the young, are discovering an interest in their region’s past. Recently appointed to head a committee on revitalizing historic buildings, Chan has to face the reality that most of Hong Kong’s prime historic spots are long gone, leaving spots in less attractive locations that pose the challenge of preserving the past while ensuring the sites are economically self-sustaining. “We can’t just turn them into museums,” says Chan.
Nor can Hong Kong itself afford to become a quaint relic. At the
moment, Chan says, Hong Kong’s greater freedom of expression and
legal protections for commerce still help attract companies’ regional
headquarters. Ex-pats also are drawn to the cleaner air and better
schools: “They might be working Monday to Friday in China but …
many of them would still prefer to keep their families in Hong Kong.”
Chan, though, knows the gap is narrowing. Just recently, he was
looking over a list of Pomona alumni in China and discovered nearly
as many were living in Shanghai or Beijing as in Hong Kong, a
dramatic shift from past decades. “I was shocked,” he says.
Julie Trescott '08
Julie Trescott stays in touch with 1,512 of her closest friends...
Julie Trescott ’08 has a lot of friends. One thousand five hundred and twelve, to be precise. But with a job at Facebook, at the company’s European headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, social networks are key to her anything-but-isolated island life.
The Emerald Isle’s geography, defined by mountainous coastlines and the cold waters of the surrounding Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea, historically contributed to an insular mentality. Now, thanks to a booming tech industry, Ireland has become a hub for global connectivity. Over the last few years, companies such as Google, Yahoo, eBay and Facebook have set up shop in Dublin, attracted by favorable business tax laws, an English-speaking workforce and the proximity to mainland Europe.
“It’s like a mini Silicon Valley over here,” says Trescott, who trains new hires in user operations. Except for one big difference: “My co-workers are Spanish, French, Irish, Turkish, Swedish, Italian and German.” This multi-lingual team is key for interacting with the 280 million Facebook users living outside the United States.
Trescott is happy to be among them. She went to work at Facebook’s Palo Alto, Calif. headquarters after earning a degree in sociology, but having studied abroad in Madrid, she was looking for “another excuse to get back to Europe and to travel.” As luck of the Irish would have it, the website’s Dublin office, which opened in 2008, was rapidly expanding. After a successful job application and several weeks of “running around like a crazy person” to prepare for the transatlantic move, she became a Dubliner last November.
The coastal city, packed with pubs and literary lore, has proved urban yet approachable. Trescott lives 5 minutes from her office, sharing a flat with two women who work for Google. The daily walk to work takes her through the recently revitalized Docklands, an area along the River Liffey near Dublin Bay boasting trendy restaurants, public art (such as a corridor of 8-metertall, red, glowing poles) and the brand new Grand Canal Theatre, designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind. For a scenic escape, every week she runs along Sandymount Strand, a beach famous from James Joyce’s fiction.
But no matter where Trescott goes—a weekend jaunt to
Budapest, a return trip to Spain—she’s well-connected. Through
status updates, comments and messages, she has kept in touch
with family and friends in the U.S., learned of other Pomona
grads living in Europe, solicited travel tips, and made plans for
her freshman year roommate, a British exchange student, to visit
Dublin this spring. “You would think that I would not check
Facebook when I came home from work,” Trescott says with a
laugh, “but it’s still the last thing I do before I go to bed.”
—Anne Shulock ’08
Jim Kelley '63
Angel Island, San Francisco Bay
Jim Kelley has explored the geology of hundreds of islands.
With his salt-over-the-shoulder respect for seafaring tradition, Jim Kelley ’63 figures he has visited a couple hundred oceanic islands over the course of his career. In the Atlantic, he has covered pretty much all of them, from the Faroe Islands to the Falkland Islands, with only a few exceptions such as an unoccupied archipelago off Brazil.
The Pacific was Kelley’s starting point. A surfer dude before anyone called them that, Kelley worked summers as a lifeguard at Laguna Beach while studying geology under the sway of the late, legendary Professor Donald McIntyre. But after Pomona, the current swept Kelley into the related field of oceanography, and for a few years Kelley lived on the Canary Islands while doing research off the coast of Africa.
He then dropped anchor in the Bay Area, where he served a long stint as a dean at San Francisco State and in leadership roles with the California Academy of Sciences. For aquatic recreation, Angel Island, seen here, served as a peaceful anchorage while he sailed on San Francisco Bay.
All the while, Kelley held on to his oceanic aspirations. His work with the academy brought him in contact with Lindblad Expeditions, and Kelley wound up as a crew leader and lecturer on vessels taking nature-minded tourists to locales ranging from Iceland to Easter Island, from the windswept Shetlands to balmy Pitcairn in the South Pacific.
His favorite island destination is tiny, volcanic Tristan de Cunha, billed as the “world’s remotest island,” an all-alone outpost in the Atlantic between South Africa and South America. Kelley had first heard of the island with no airstrip and only 280 residents while still in college, and he was eager to visit. He wouldn’t get there until 40 years later on a Lindblad expedition.
That’s OK about the wait. Kelley has worked with sailors from
all over the world, and they all seem to have some sort of saying
along the lines of “little by little.” “If you force things in the ocean,
it usually turns out to be catastrophic,” he says.
Reanne Hemingway-Douglass '63
Inside Passage, Alaska
Reanne Hemingway-Douglass and her husband turn island pleasure into business...
On her first date with Don, Réanne Hemingway-Douglass ’63 remembers, her future husband asked her what she most wanted in life. Love and adventure, she answered.
She might have added islands.
Because Réanne has seen plenty of them since she married Don in 1967. Almost all of them, in fact, from San Diego up the Pacific Coast to British Columbia and into Alaska’s Inside Passage, where a huge splatter of islands guards the coast and creates a labyrinth of fjords and channels. Réanne and Don have covered 170,000 miles in various boats, explored thousands of coves and rocky isles in kayaks, published maps of those places and written seven cruising guides for other sailors.
Before the islands, though, there was the cape. After partial agreement with Réanne on love and adventure—he listed them in reverse order—Don asked if she’d be willing to sail around the world in the Southern Hemisphere. That led to Cape Horn, where a mighty wave flipped their boat end to end. They survived that harrowing 1974 experience, and Réanne wrote a book about it, Cape Horn: One Man’s Dream, One Woman’s Nightmare.
They came north to Washington state in 1993 looking for a publisher for Cape Horn, and the one they found was also interested in printing a guide to the west side of Vancouver Island, the large piece of land off the British Columbia coast. Réanne and Don had spent two summers kayaking along that island coast and had taken many notes.
“Don tends to turn everything he does for pleasure into a business,” Réanne says.
For the next six years they split their time between the Bishop-Mammoth Lakes area in California, where Don had an outdoor-equipment and guide business, and the waters of the Pacific Northwest.
By 1999 when they decided to make Fidalgo Island in Washington state their year-round home, they had published four guidebooks. Three more guidebooks, maps, articles, seminars on cruising, their own publishing company and a website (www.insidepassagenews.com) would follow.
Right now they are boatless, having sold the trawler they used for exploring, but they are certainly not rudderless. They are headed to France where Réanne will be researching a book about the French Resistance’s successful rescue of a downed Allied airman in World War II. Réanne studied French at Pomona and taught the language for 18 years.
Then Réanne wants to write a book about a 1984 bike trip she took with another woman across the Tierra del Fuego in South America. Plus, their eighth guidebook is headed to press, this one covering the Gulf of Alaska from Glacier Bay out to Dutch Harbor.
After that, Réanne will turn her attention to a third edition of Cape Horn.
And their boatless period will only last until they can find the object of Don’s latest dream: A vessel better suited to high latitude sailing—high latitudes as in arctic waters. Réanne says she loves sailing there because she does not do well in hot weather and because she loves wilderness, which is most often found these days at those higher reaches of the globe.
Given their ages—Réanne is 76 and Don 78— they would be excused if they settled into lazy trips visiting children and grandchildren scattered across the United States. But that’s unlikely: “Usually when Don has a dream, he makes it a reality.”
So their life of love and adventure—or adventure
and love, as Don might say—sails on.
—John B. Saul