Going ashore in Hong Kong
November 30, 2012
As the “Police Action” in Korea winds down, my ship, the USS Essex, travels to Hong Kong for a week of “R & R.” The day is overcast as we enter the bustling harbor. Sampans and cumbersome junks mingle in perfect harmony. Suddenly Victoria Peak (1,811 feet) bursts up from the harbor. At the foot of the peak, is a picket fence of soaring office buildings. For a young man who thinks getting a tan in Malibu is a vital necessity, this is heady stuff.The Essex personnel boat shimmies up to the quay. We disgorge like a hungry mob. Directly ahead are a group of young hostesses passing out flyers for local attractions. I walk up to a sandy haired young girl who looks to be 18. I accept a brochure, we talk, and I ask her name. Lonely doesn’t begin to describe my emotional state at this time of my life. I am recently divorced and am not handling it at all well. The girl’s name is Barbara. Her parents are civil servants in Hong Kong. We chat until I can’t find anything else to say. In desperation, I blurt out, “Will you have dinner with me?” “I’m sorry. We aren’t allowed to go out with military personnel,” she says. Undaunted, I persist and she finally says OK, but first I have to meet her parents. I pass the test. “Would you like to go to one of those floating restaurants?” she asks. “Sounds great,” I say, and we water taxi through a carpet of sampans. “People live their whole lives on the water. They are born there, marry and eventually die there, never spending hardly any time on dry land,” she says. As we walk up the ramp to the restaurant, we select our dinner as it swims in a cage. Later it appears exquisitely garnished at our table and is absolutely delicious. “To walk down a street in Hong Kong, is to walk around the world,” I write in a letter to my folks. Sikh guards wearing red turbans stand at the entrance of the Hong Kong-Shanghai Bank. Chauffeured Rolls Royces jostle their way among the double-decker buses and rickshaws. Primly dressed nurses guide their progeny to exclusive schools for diplomats’ kids. The hustle and bustle never ceases.Barbara and I ride the tram to the top of Victoria Peak. The view is from “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.” Next, we take the ferry across the bay to Kowloon, a tiny chunk of Mainland China still held by “John Bull.” Hong Kong never ceases to entertain me.On my final night in port, we dine at an elegant, old world, style supper club. Neither of us are drinkers, so we order crme de menthe. The mood of the evening is warm and cozy. It’s such fun to be dancing with her. Too soon, the lights dim, the orchestra plays “God Save the Queen,” we all stand and the evening comes to a close.We return to her parents’ apartment, but of course, she can’t invite me in. We sit on the darkened steps. We talk until the sky glows with the dawn. Barbara has become my guide, my friend, my confidante. We never kiss, we never even hug, but she has touched me deeply, and I’ve taken the first step to feeling better about myself. Thank you, Barbara.Ron Walker lives in Smith. He can be reached at email@example.com.