New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions.
-Mark Twain-

My new years resolution is the same every year and I always keep it. It is "I resolve to make no New Years resolution". -tom swaim-

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Old Fools Journal: Hong Kong

When we were last with our young heroic fool in the far east he was on his way to this fine city. You'll find that episode here.

We were on our way to Hong Kong! That's like we are going to Emerald City a magical place that exist only in the mind and in OZ. I knew of it and even about where it was located but it was so far, far away that it existed to me only as a fairytale. After months of boredom and disappointment this down trodden crew was suddenly on its feet again. Hong Kong was in the neighborhood. Some of the older hands had been there before but to most of us it was new magic. Suddenly there was new cheerful interest in our grooming and the grooming of our ship

We were to find out that Hong Kong was full of impoverished Chinese, pickpockets, thieves and con artist but all that was on top of a city full of artistic, friendly, hard working and talented people. We quickly learned to avoid the bad and take in the good in this great City. I have been to a large number of cities and I don't wish to slight any but Hong Kong and San Fransisco are the big cities to me.

This account includes photos of two cruises to Hong Kong. The first on the USS Mansfield DD728 in 1959 and the second on the USS McKean DD784 in 1962.

We had been chasing aircraft carriers since leaving the Formosa (Taiwan) Strait duties and we were tired but looking forward to the arrival in another Chinese port really wound our springs. I didn't know it but I was about to buy my first and next to last civilian suit. I was also about to meet a very young Chinese girl that would live on in my mind for the rest of my life. I only knew her for hours but she made a lasting impression on me.
The first thing I noticed was there are a lot of Chinese and all of them in a very small space. They were packed in everywhere even on the streets in the business part of town living in doorways. Jewelry stores abounded guarded by very big bearded and turbaned Skihs with long curved swords. It would take a brave or desperate man to shoplift in one of those places. Everyone spoke English, we rode in English double decker buses and bought clothes made of English wool. The money was dollars, Hong Kong Dollars printed up by the English. England ruled here.

Aberdeen. Little did I know that 15 years later I would be a "boat people". These people are born on these boats, grow up, get married, have children and die on these boat cities. I know people that have play fishing boats on trailers that are bigger than these boats.

I remember one boat that was set up with a cook fire in the middle and all kinds of cookware going from boat to boat serving up hot food. You could see all their bedding and personal effects stowed in the bow of the boat. The man provided the propulsion, the woman did the cooking and the kids handed over the food and collected the money. I was so impressed that the picture of that scene was permanently burned into my memory. It's not a moving picture it's just that boat and those people along side in full living color.

Even then Aberdeen was famous for it's floating village. There was a floating restaurant that was featured in the 1950's movie "Love is a Many Splendored Thing" starring William Holden and Jennifer Jones. We did not know anything about the movie but had heard the song. We went there for the food. We made a deal with the local water taxi which was a really small sampan captained and powered by a very old women that could not have weighed 70 pounds (32k) and didn't have a tooth in her head. How do I know that? Well her smile was so big that if she had been hollow you could have seen the inside of her toes. This was her job and she was good at it. She sculled us out to the restaurant with amazing speed and apparently little effort smiling all the way then in English said she would be back to pick us up. We ask how she would know. She said "I Know". We did not have one word of Chinese. Shameful. When I learned later that the same words said with fifty different inflections meant fifty different things some of which could get your throat cut I didn't feel so bad. But then English is about the same.

We ordered one of the meals and was really surprised when they brought these little bitty bowls of soup. I thought this is terrible we'll never get enough this way but sixteen little bowls later, all different and all exquisite I had enough. Yeah I was a real sophisticated world traveler. When I look back on it at least I was polite but I was still an Arkansas hillbilly.

After the sixteen courses of food plus tea and at least sixteen courses of the story of the movie that was made there we were ready for the water taxi to pick us up. I had heard the song "Love Is A Many Splendered Thing" as much as I ever wanted to. I have to admit that on the rare occasion I hear it now, and the rarer the better, it takes me back.

This is the only surviving photo of yours truly I can find of the Hong Kong adventure. Radioman seaman (E3) taken in a dining garden high above the city.

We all survived this little vacation in China by drinking a lot of excellent beer, eating a lot of well made pastry, sampling every Chinese dish we could find and making visits to the fifth floor of a certain hotel courtesy of our very excellent tailor. Needless to say that between Japan and China we all became fairly proficient with chopsticks.

Our tailor was a little man with a great smile that everyone in his shop seemed to like. However when we stepped out the back door taking a short cut we saw his sewing shop. The alley had a row of sewing machines down each side and looking back I'd say there were probably 50 or more under a shed roof. None of those girls looked up or smiled when we went by.
Several of us hired a van and went for a tour on the China Mainland. This is a surviving picture of that little ride. I don't know where it is or what the name of the river is. You see there were two five gallon buckets of iced down beer behind the back seat and that is pretty much what I remember. Ah such memories.

Soon it was back onto the high seas pursuing matters of War. On the Mansfield and in 1962 the USS McKean it was chasing carriers some more. We did have some unfortunate events that I'll get to as soon as I can get my head around them. On the Mansfield we were just aggravating the Chinese but little did we know in 1962 aboard the McKean that we were supporting a war. Pretty heavily too. The people back home didn't know it either. Being in the radio gang I saw plenty of traffic to confirm it. Those black unmarked and unlit airplanes weren't going to Vietnam at night for sightseeing. Spooky. Still gives me goosebumps.
This is not a cruise ship. It's only purpose is to kill people. I never met anyone on board one of these that wanted to kill people.


f said...

Thanks, I've never met any serviceman from anywhere that wanted to kill people, and most of those I've met were never going to glorify combat - they were as afraid of the enemy as the enemy was of them. As Remembrance Day draws near every year I think of all those who died, on our side as well as their side...

Steven Cain said...

Another great read... thanks for the trip and talking time to post the pictures... greatly appreciated.

Ben in Texas said...

Keep it up please. So many of the ex-service men don't ever bother to relate their stories and we plain ole folks will never know what it was really like unless we hear it from you and your brothers.

kfg said...

"English is about the same."

Dude. Dude! Duuude.

I'm glad you wrote this, because I'm glad I got to read it. The last paragraph made it perfect.

Lord Wellbourne said...

Wonderful post! The world is nowhere as big or far away as we think it is. Thanks for bringing a place and a time closer to me.

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