40 years ago, today, I was in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year.  I was a 20 year old sailor living it up. And I do mean living it up…

Hong Kong was magical. It was foreign, exotic, and strangely familiar at the same time. It was Chinatown in San Francisco on an immense – and I do mean immense – scale. I had a blast.

The food, the bars, the drugs… It’s kinda difficult to actually explain what it was like. The freedom to do just what I wanted to do, see what I wanted to see, experience just what I wanted to experience in Hong-Freakin-Kong! I had dress blues in gabardine hand-made for me. They were the most form-fitting clothes I have ever owned – and at 20, my 6′ frame barely held 150 pounds. They were hot.

I had a solid week off and money in my pocket. Three of us got a room at The Excelsior Hotel. It was pretty grand.


It was so grand, that it had the outrageous cost of HKD 119 per night!  $27.00/night US with taxes. Split between three of us was $9.00 each, per night. 40 years later, The Excelsior rate is HKD 1,680/per night. Just a tad more… It was the newest hotel in Hong Kong, with a revolving rooftop restaurant and a disco in the basement. A full-blown English Pub on one of the floors and a gourmet Chinese restaurant with views to die for. When I pulled out a cigarette in the lobby, a half-dozen people were there with butane lighters to light it for me.

We played the rich American tourists for a week, and trust me when I say we had a blast. Heading out to the Wan Chai district for all sorts of illicit things, playing tourist and riding the tram to the top of Victoria Peak, and eating the most spectacular foods in high-end restaurants and carts on the street, we immersed ourselves into the city. It was such a city of contrasts. Glorious high-rises and 2-story ramshackle buildings. And neon. OMG the neon. The bright lights were everywhere. While the daytime views were spectacular – just stunning beauty – the nightlife was something I have never experienced since. Which, in retrospect, is probably a good thing! The city came alive when the sun went down and the lights came on…

In our role as Rich American Tourists, we decided we wanted to go out to the Red China border and the hotel concierge recommenced a tour. We said, no – we wanted to out there like the locals. He was aghast, but finally relented and gave us directions.


On the train, we could only book 1st class. Although we tried to book lower, they would not allow it. We took the ferry, we caught the train, and then – literally out in the middle of nowhere in The New Territories – we caught a rickety old bus. The New Territories stretch from the end of Kowloon to the Red China border. It was mostly small villages and farmland in 1973.  We were now out where no one spoke or understood a word of English.

We got off the train, walked about a half-mile, and waited for the bus.

Our directions from the concierge had our destination written in Chinese so when the bus arrived, all we had to do was show it to the driver who would understand where to drop us off.

The bus…  It was the type of ancient vehicle one would expect to see out in the middle of Nowhere, China. Chickens in bamboo cages were on the roof. It was crowded but an elderly Chinese couple got up to offer us their seats. I was raised that youngsters offer their seats to their elders, so, without being able to speak the language, we politely declined.

They were crestfallen. They seriously looked stricken. It took a moment to realize that they were offering us their hospitality and the only thing they had to give us. They were losing face by us refusing their gift. So… we accepted and sat. They stood by us and beamed with delight as we sat there totally uncomfortable. Smiling and shaking their heads, bursting with pride.

We got off the bus with a lot of bowing and smiles, and wishes for prosperity. I can still see them, today. It was one of those moments one never forgets.

Magic, indeed.

So tonight I thought I should probably pay respect to those thrilling days of yesteryear with a noodle pancake. One of the easiest things to make, it is merely cooked thin Chinese noodles mixed with oil, a few vegetables, soy sauce, and rice wine, and then fried in a skillet until crispy, flipped, and fried, some more. You can make them as complex or simple as you like, make them the main course or a side-dish.

The chicken was cubed, dredged in cornstarch, fried, and then baked with broccoli. I then made a quick sauce of soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sambal oeleck, orange marmalade, garlic, and sesame oil.

The meal may not have been the most authentic or even close to anything I had in Hong Kong all those years ago, but it was enough to bring out some really grand memories.