Next week, for the first time in his six decades of life, Henry Beh will have a few vacant slots in his daily diary.
After 29 years at the Richmond Chinese Community Society (RCCS) — where he was a founding director, treasurer, president and currently executive director — Beh has decided to check out at the top.
Word of his retirement as one of Richmond’s most-recognized and respected community leaders has travelled fast and he’s already knocked back a few offers for his services from other local organizations, citing that he’s got two granddaughters (age four and 10 months) ready to fill his day.
However, there will be an undoubted void left behind by Beh’s departure, given the efforts he and his small team have made over the years to not just support the local, immigrant Chinese community, but encourage them to integrate into mainstream society, as well.
And before he bid farewell to his desk at the RCCS office on Westminster Highway at Buswell Street, Beh offered some parting advice to the most recent wave of immigrants calling Richmond their home.
“Over last 10 years, from mainland China, there is a slightly different culture coming here,” said Malaysian-raised Beh, pointing out that he speaks Mandarin, as well as Cantonese.
“There is a lot of money coming in now with new immigrants from China and I think they need to do more to understand Canadian tradition and culture; how to get involved with mainstream society more.
“They should learn to do more giving, as well as taking, give more to charity or help more mainstream organizations.
“RCCS can only do so much, we have limited funding; we only have three people working here. We are only skimming the surface. People coming here need to make more of an effort to integrate.”
Although Beh — who immigrated to Vancouver in 1974, after attending high school in England as an international student — feels strongly about integration, he stopped short of backing recent calls for mandatory English on business signs.
“Continue with the education,” added Beh. “I’ve spoken to all sides on this. A lot of the people that are putting those Chinese-only signs up, they just don’t understand the Canadian culture and I’ve told them it’s wrong and it’s disrespectful.
“If I see a business with a Chinese-only sign, I will tell them that there needs to be some English on there.
“It takes time, education will work.”
Indeed, education and integration have been among the cornerstones of RCCS in Beh’s tenure, with classes such as “English Corner” featuring among the non-profit’s programming.
“Our main objective has always been to build bridges with the mainstream (community) and be as inclusive as possible,” said Beh, who retired as an accountant in 2001 to work with RCCS, as its membership swelled from 200 to more than 1,000.
“Because of all the different cultures in Richmond, it can, if not dealt with properly, create lots of sensitivity, whether it be the Chinese sign issue or mega houses.
“The only way this can happen is for things to be inclusive; we are always doing outreach to all cultures. Our events have a little bit of something for everyone and our community dinners are for everyone.”
Born in 1989 out of the 13-year-old, parent-run Richmond Chinese School, the RCCS, according to Beh, was founded by people who wanted to help the wider community more than teaching their kids Cantonese and Mandarin.
“We felt we could do something bigger for the community, so we formed the society in 1989,” explained Beh, adding that the Chinese population at the time in Richmond was around 40 per cent. Still to this day, we are all about promoting the spirit of community participation for the betterment of Richmond.”
RCCS is now in its third home. It started at No. 3 and Cambie roads — next to Duffy’s Donuts — before moving to Park Road, where they stayed until the building was slated for redevelopment last year.
However, this will likely be Beh’s last move, explaining that it’s now “time to slow down and spend more time with the family.
“RCCS (is) going through a bit of a restructuring and the time was right. I’ve been thinking about it for a while; 29 years is a long time and I want to leave on a high note.
“I love Richmond and would love more community harmony, but it is challenging.”
Beh thanked everyone for their support over the years, adding that no successor has been chosen at RCCS.