Cultural heart of HK
AT the end of a corridor, on the seventh floor of Trinity House in Wan Chai, beats the pulse of the Italian community in Hongkong. It is the office of the Association of Dante Alighieri - the Italian Cultural Society.
For almost 40 years, this office has been the centre for collecting and dispersing news of events inside and outside the local Italian population which, while small - about 350 families - makes its presence felt through many channels.
The society, which is the community's cultural heart, co-ordinates fund-raising events and arranges Italian language courses, offers translation and interpreting services, conducts cooking classes through Hongkong's top hotels and restaurants, and plans cultural activities for the public.
The Dante Alighieri Italian Cultural Society is a non-profit organisation formed more than 100 years ago with headquarters in Italy.
It has 425 branches in 58 countries and its aim is to promote the language, culture and image of Italy.
At the helm in Hongkong is the man who started the local branch in 1954, Mr Leo Tung-hai Lee, OBE, who has helped make the society a vital link between the territory and all things Italian for its 150 members.
The OBE is not the only title Mr Lee has earned. He also has a Caveliere Gran Croce, the highest honour a foreigner can be awarded by Italy.
It was awarded to Mr Lee in 1987 for his work in promoting bilateral trade.
Recently, the society held its annual fund-raising ball and dinner, the highlight of the Italian social calendar, at the Regent Hotel grand ballroom.
The money raised went to the Children's Cancer Foundation and the appearance of popular Italian singer Isabella Biffi, who arrived especially for the occasion, ensured the ball's success.
Among the 500 guests were the Italian Consul General, Mr Folco de Luca, his wife, ball chairman Mrs Francesca de Luca Gabrielli, and life senator of the Italian republic and former prime minister of Italy Mr Amintore Fanfani.
Mr Fanfani was in Hongkong for an exhibition of his paintings and donated one of his works to the society to be auctioned at the ball.
The society's efforts are far-reaching with victims of earthquakes and other disasters benefitting from its aid.
Part of the funds donated personally by Mr Lee have been allocated to establish the Leo Lee Scholarship which enables brighter students to further their studies by taking a course in their chosen field in Italy.
Last year's winner was Mr Benny Leung who studied fashion design in Milan.
The Sandy Bay charity activities of the society have led to an annual fund-raising fair which involves a full day of activities organised by the Italian community in Hongkong.
It is a chance to gain insight into the culture and tastes of Italy while raising money for the Duchess of Kent Children's Hospital.
Equally successful were the cooking classes held again this year by top Italian chefs with some of the money raised funding other activities.
The series of five lessons for about 25 participants was held at Grissini in the Grand Hyatt with chef Gabriele Colombo; Sabatini in the Royal Garden Hotel with chef Enzo Manfrinato; the Mistral at the Holiday Inn Crown Plaza Harbour View with chef MarioCaramella; Nicholini's at the Conrad Hotel with chef Giovanni Greggio; and Il Tartufo with chef Moreno Mattei.
Events planned by the society this year include an Italian film review about the changes in its society from post-war to present day. This will be presented jointly with the Regional Council and Regional Services Department. The 10 movies will be screened at Tsuen Wan Town Hall and Sha Tin Town Hall this month.
And for those who cannot get enough of Italian films, July will see the joint effort of the Italian Cultural Institute in Seoul and the Hongkong Arts Centre when five features dedicated to new Italian directors and authors are shown.
Later in the year, a ballet by modern dance company Balletto di Toscana will be performed, directed by Ms Cristina Bozzolini.
The society has also planned several chamber music and jazz concerts, an indication of the broad range of its cultural interests.
While the membership may not be exclusively Italian, the members of this society are Italian at heart.