Okay… you’ve heard it all before, but I’m gonna tell it, again… I got to spend Chinese New Year in Hong Kong in 1973, courtesy of Uncle Sam’s Yacht Club. What a total blast.
Three of us got a room for a week at the brand-new Excelsior Hotel – it had only been open about 2 months – and we lived the life of luxury. I can’t even begin to describe the place back then. It had a disco in the basement, a rooftop cocktail lounge overlooking Causeway Bay, one of the fanciest restaurants I had ever seen – and unparalleled service. The hotel is now a Mandarin-Oriental property – and a lot more expensive than the HKD119/night we paid. (Their best rate right now is HKD1,680/night – excluding taxes and fees.)
We started having fun the moment we arrived. I had form-fitting gaberdine’s made for my 6′ 150 pound 20-year-old body. I wouldn’t be able to get a foot into them if I still had them – no idea what ever happened to my seabag – but I was definitely stud material. Well… in my mind, anyway. They really were cool.
The food. OMG. The food. We ate like kings for nothing. Impossible amounts of food for pennies. And every bit of it delicious. Stuff I had never seen before and will probably never see, again. But dayum, was it good.
One of the neatest things we did was go out to the Red China border. This was 1973. Nixon had started the talks with Mao and the ice was thawing. We could now actually buy Red Chinese goods – just not with American dollars. I bought a harmonica that rivaled any Hohner harmonica I ever owned. And a dozen copies of Mao’s Little Red Book.
One thing we wanted to do was go out to see the Red China Border. The concierge at the hotel said we should take a guided tour – we said we wanted go out there on our own, and after they realized we weren’t going to take a tour, they reluctantly wrote us out directions and off we went.
What an adventure. Catching the Star Ferry, buying train tickets – we were only allowed to travel First Class – and then catching a local bus… The bus was totally surreal. It was the epitome of what you think of as rural transportation with chickens on the roof and the whole bit. The highlight on the bus was an elderly couple giving up their seats for us.
We got onto the crowded bus and an elderly man and woman stood up and motioned for us to take their seats. I immediately said no – for them to sit. They were both crestfallen with heads bent low and looking very sad. Finally, it dawned on us that they were offering us the one thing they had to give – so we sat. They beamed the entire trip just smiling and shaking their heads up and down. I cannot tell you how uncomfortable I was – but they were happy. It was a bit of a cultural learning experience for me.
It was obvious anywhere we went that we were American Servicemen but people treated us good. 1, they wanted our money, but I think more than anything else, people were able to differentiate between the GI and The Government. They all knew we didn’t want to be over there, either.
The people were fantastic, the food was fantastic, the nightlife fantastic, and the drugs… fantastic.
I do have to admit that I smoked some pure heroin when I was there. The method was to empty out a bit of tobacco from a cigarette, put a bit of heroin in the cigarette, add some tobacco back, light it up and inhale.
Holy Shit, Batman!
Not one of my wisest decisions I ever made by a long shot. It was so good it scared the bejezus out of me. Just thinking about it sends shivers down my spine. I sure as hell never did it, again. But WOW!
Hong Kong was a city of contrasts. We were staying in a luxury hotel and watching little old ladies climbing scaffolding carrying bricks.
There was a building boom going on and the old was being torn down and high-rises were going up. It didn’t dawn on me at the time that those were homes being torn down for office buildings and tourists like me. But it was fabulous to witness bamboo scaffolding 30 stories in the air!
The lights, the lights, the lights! It was neon-overload. During the day it was just kinda dingy away from the water. But at night, it was pure magic. The Wan Chai district – Lockhart Road – was the main bar district where the GI’s and the hookers all hung out. It was pretty seedy. I didn’t spend a lot of time down there, but definitely had to see it!
Hong Kong was a place out of time – and a place I would never recognize, today. It’s an island with a finite border. The only thing they could do is go up. And up they have gone. I’m glad I was able to see it when I did.
And I wouldn’t mind going back to see it, again. And that HKD1,680.00 Excelsior Hotel room is still less than a mediocre hotel room in New York.
Hmm… air fare…