Looking at Red China

Suddenly…there are leaves! 5th May 2020

Some how, yesterday, I ended up taking you to Hong Kong in 1970. Where I imagined I had finally escaped the clutches of the man who was apparently obsessed with me.

There we were, comatose from jet lag, and uncle was suddenly intruding, yet again. I could barely speak, I was so tired, and the man was saying to me “what’s wrong with you girls? You’re on holiday. You should be out on the town.” Oh yes, he would have loved that.

These days, you can pick up a phone and call anyone, anywhere, at any time. Back then, making “overseas calls” required planning and a healthy budget, which my uncle never had.

I fell back on my bed in despair, asking myself if I would ever get free of this man. He was tracking my movements from the other side of the globe. It gave me the creeps. The friend I was with was rather amazed but asked no questions.

Regrettably, I have no photographs of that holiday. Their poor quality was not improved by age and they were among the items I abandoned when returning to New York.

What I remember mostly of that trip was that it seemed to be a mad dash to the farthest point possible, at which we would have to turn around in order to be back at work within two weeks.

My parents had taken me to Hong Kong in 1958 when, I think, it still looked terribly colonial. By 1970 I hardly recognized the place. I had wanted to set foot on foreign land and Hong Kong could not have more fully fit the bill.

We arrived in darkness and travelled by taxi to our hotel, blinded by garish multi-coloured neon lights. I saw no trace of anything British as we rode along. I had the impression of having been delivered into the middle of China itself, and for the first time overseas, I felt apprehensive.

In a fatigued state, one can be inclined to be overwhelmed, and next day when we ventured out, we found the place to be friendly but totally dedicated to commerce. In those days, you went to Hong Kong to shop. Conveniently, my friend liked shopping,

We also took the scenic railway up to the Peak which afforded us a great view of the very crowded harbour, which even then was obscured by air pollution. Another day, we went by ferry to Kowloon and took a trip to the New Territories where we saw, contrarily, an ancient Chinese village and then we went and stared at Red China, because that was what you did. You could not go there, you could only look. It’s hard to explain why I was so awestruck, on both occasions.

As far as the eye could see, the land did not change, paddy fields continuing to the horizon, and there was not a soul in sight. At the border there were two sets of guards who looked identical, bar their uniform.

But I had grown up hearing about Red China and Russia and East Germany. They were Communist. They were behind a wall. In Asia they called it the Bamboo Curtain. It was as if, should you go there, you would be sucked in, as into a vacuum and who knew what awful fate would befall you.

They had missiles and they had evil intent. Going to the Chinese border was sold as a tourist activity and we did it . Looking back I think it was a compulsion of some kind, like turning your head to look at an accident, although that is something I studiously do not do.

When shopping in Hong Kong, we had to be careful not to purchase anything that had originated from the other side of the curtain, as we would get into trouble with US Customs. Ironic.

In 1970 I would never have guessed that there would come a time in the USA, when you would be hard put to buy a single item you needed that was not made in China.

I almost went off on a rant about that, but instead I’ll take you on our next leg, to Bangkok where I had booked us in to a lovely little hotel I had stayed in with my mother, some years before. It was called The Princess Hotel…

And because I have no travel photos for this trip, here is something else:

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