As the founder of DB’s new Rotary Club, Christian Chasset doesn’t want a cheque from you – he wants your time. Elizabeth Kerr reports.
Even in a classroom, to look at Christian and Dominique Chasset, both transplants from the outskirts of Paris, you’d think you were looking at a French New Wave filmmaker and his star/ muse. Christian is the contemplative one. You can imagine him on set – head, topped with a shock of just-under-control silver-grey hair, turning side to side, as he composes an image in his mind. Dominique is the robust chatterer, preternaturally smooth-cheeked and often beating Christian to the punch with a pointed comment.
That she is always ready with something to say while he considers his words isn’t really surprising given that the Chassets are career teachers and founders of Central’s 30-year-old Hong Kong Institute of Languages. They’re communicators by trade.
And as of July, they’re using that communicating skill to do some good in Discovery Bay.
The Chassets arrived in Hong Kong 32 years ago – separately. Christian, now 60, was in town looking for job opportunities, having spent some time travelling through Asia. Dominique, now 58, was on her way home from China. They met through a mutual friend, someone Dominique had got to know on the mainland. “Back then when you wanted to catch a train or something in China, you had to go to a special waiting room,” Dominique remembers with a laugh. “Otherwise you’d be surrounded by people touching your skin, your hair. Total chaos.”
Artsy sheen or not, the Chassets are indeed a married couple. When Christian’s phone rings it earns him a scoff for having left it on during an interview. “It’s your brother,” he deadpans. That raises a tiny, guilty blush in Dominique. “Oh, yes,” she says. “He always calls Christian because I never have mine on.”
Married nearly 32 years, the Chassets have been in Hong Kong more than half their lives, and in DB for 27 years. “[We] came five or six years after the pioneers. I knew DB a little because I had a few friends who lived here in 1984, 1985,” says Christian. “That was phase one, so everyone was living near the beach and everyone had a garden. At the time I was living on Cheung Chau, but after two years there and three years in Causeway Bay, we came here. I think we’re very ‘European’. We need our space and our green. We’ve moved several times but always within Discovery Bay.”
The Chassets started their school as a French language learning centre and eight years later branched out to include English, Mandarin, Cantonese, German and Spanish. It’s a crowded field now, but in the mid-1980s things were quite different. “When we started up it was really niche and there weren’t too many competitors,” notes Christian. “The likes of Berlitz were not here.”
Service above self
With the Hong Kong Institute of Languages going strong, the Chassets decided some time ago that they needed other ways to channel their energies. This led to Christian’s latest venture: founding DB’s own Rotary Club.
Christian started the DB charter because he approves the club motto of service above self. “I always like to help others. When you teach it’s a little bit like that,” he explains. “If you think only of yourself and watch TV and pay attention only to your phone and do nothing, you’re not really human. We need people to tackle difficult problems and motivate others to give their time.”
After serving as president of the French Overseas Association from 1995 to 1998, Christian wanted to spread out and help the community at large, not just new French arrivals to Hong Kong. The 110-year-old Rotary International’s non-profit, secular, apolitical mandate is to step in where help is needed, by donating the time, resources or skills of its professional members. Its vision includes the big picture (education, healthcare, poverty, the environment as a few examples), but local community-level programmes make up part of that vision as well.
“We are focusing on DB needs, be it individual needy people or as a coordinator with other projects,” stresses Dominique, the charter’s first member. And despite being one of Hong Kong’s more affluent enclaves, DB does indeed have needs, be they geriatric care or social issues. Says Christian: “This is not a charity. It is a service.”
The DB chapter will also work with other Hong Kong clubs to fall in line with Rotary’s larger aims, like its ongoing campaign to eradicate polio.
Currently there are over 50 Rotary Clubs scattered across Hong Kong, but until Christian put his mind to it, DB was unrepresented. “We have 25,000 people here, and I knew Rotarians that lived here but were members of the Wanchai club, of Kowloon East or whatever,” he states.
A new club needed 20 people to gain official status from head office in Chicago, and after the first casual meeting in February, Christian hoped to meet that benchmark by spring. He got his 20 by the end of May and now counts 31 members. “There are good people in Discovery Bay,” he says, ever so pleased.
While Christian has no solid plans for the freshly minted Discovery Bay Rotary Club (suggestions are welcomed), environmental issues are near and dear to his heart – and a necessity in light of the trash emergency that plagued the SAR’s beaches this past summer. “We’re hoping to have DB Green founder Kate Wade as a member, so we’ll be working with her and discussing what we can do: cleaning beaches, cleaning the mountain path,” he theorises.
“You forgot to say that we are 31 members and 12 nationalities,” adds Dominique, rightly boasting that the club is a reflection of DB itself and one that is firmly rooted in its community. “If you want to do something like this you have to involve all members of the community – a Hong Kong first. This club is where the members live,” she finishes.
As a firm believer that it is the duty of those who can to help the world, and their communities, on behalf of those who cannot, Christian is succinct in why Discovery Bay – or anywhere – needs a Rotary Club. “Together you can achieve more.” Spoken like a true Rotarian.
Find it: Discovery Bay Rotary Club, firstname.lastname@example.org