Memories of Hong Kong, 1972
This summer, it will have been 40 years since I was in Hong Kong. I had not really thought much about the place for many years, other than indulging in occasional daydreams about my time there, but selling a rather unlikely item to someone there (via eBay) got me curious where they lived, and so I used Google Maps to see. I had not realized until then that Streetview was useable there, too, and I was literally stunned to see the changes in the place-just about everywhere I knew was gone, replaced with something new. I spent most of an evening “walking” up and down Lockhart Street, trying to find traces of the places I had known back in 1972.
I was 19, a college Sophomore, and I had a $2,000 inheritance that I was itching to use. Asia had always fascinated me (National Geographic was my favorite magazine growing up), and I decided to go on a trip to many of the places in Asia – without having much of a clue, my ticket was written so that I could stop in Tokyo, Taipei, Hong Kong, and some of the islands in Micronesia, such as Truk. I should say here that until I had entered college, I had not seen an Asian person in real life until I was 18 – such was the isolation of my small Michigan town.
I spent the first several weeks of my trip in Japan – Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. I had no reservations anywhere nor was I a part of any tour group. I just stayed in one place until I tired of it, and moved on. All the time I was in Japan I just wandered around, looking at museums and temples, going days without speaking to anyone. Not a very enjoyable trip, and after all these years I can barely recall any of it. That was soon to change when I got to Hong Kong (I skipped Taipei due to dwindling money).
When I got to Kai Tak Airport, I had no idea where to stay, as usual, and a cab driver offered to take me to a hotel in Kowloon. Well, I took a chance, and he took me to a nice little place on Chatham Road called the ‘Green Jade House’. Nothing fancy, for sure, but good enough for me. The strikingly beautiful girl at the front desk was a plus, too – she was very friendly, and I could listen to her British / HK accent all day. Her name was ‘Janey’. All the girls I was to encounter had these old-fashioned English names, like ‘Mabel’ or ‘Betsy’.
Anyway, in some guidebook or another, I had read some mention of Wanchai, and I decided to investigate this place first. My place was a short walk from the Star Ferry terminal, and I was soon on Hong Kong Island.
There were still lots of rickshaws around then, and many were parked waiting for people getting off the ferry. Every one of the drivers would soon approach you, asking “You want girl?” Invariably, if you said no, they then asked “You want boy?” I passed on their offers, and kept walking. I was an object of curiosity, as I had quite long hair, and I probably looked about 15. Needless to say, that never stopped me from getting a drink in any bar I went in (and I went in just about all of them).
Lockhart Street was filled with US servicemen from the ships in the harbor, and I got a number of strange looks due to my appearance. Several US sailors stopped to talk, and in their company, we decided to take up one of the rickshaw driver's offers. We followed him on foot around the corner to a place on Fenwick, that turned out to be a three-storey brothel. As I went up the stairs behind the driver, I could barely see people smoking or otherwise consuming drugs of some sort on two of the floors – they were dim, stereotypical “opium dens”. The girls were on the third floor. Should I mention here that I was still a virgin? I was excited, and very nervous too. We were in a sort of parlor, and there were doors all around. One was open, and I could see it was just a tiny room with a bed in it. An older woman was there, and she told us all the girls were busy at the moment, but we were welcome to wait. As much as I wanted to stay, the two sailors I was with decided to leave, and I followed reluctantly. We ended up in the Ocean Bar, and sat down at a table with some British sailors (the place was packed). They began passing around a cigarette with a bit of opium in it, and I took a few hits of that, too. My memory of events after that is somewhat dim, but I went off on my own visiting the other bars that lined both sides of Lockhart. Lots of them were topless then, but as I recall, that generally meant that one girl behind the bar was wearing a long gown that came up just under her breasts, and she had little cones pasted over her nipples. They usually had a sort of cape to wear when they wanted to cover up, for whatever reason. The other girls in the bar usually had a uniform of some type, but I cannot recall if there was ever a place where the girls who sat at your table were topless.
Between whatever I had smoked and drank, I was rubber-legged by then. I headed back to the ferry to go back to my room, but once on the other side, walked the wrong way. I can still vividly recall staggering down unknown streets deep in Kowloon, totally lost. What a sad, sorry spectacle I presented to all the Chinese watching me. I still have no idea at all how I ever found my way home – fear must have sobered me up a bit.
The next evening I was back in Wanchai. I had a drink in the San Francisco (one of the few bars that still seems to be where I knew it), and walked down to the corner of Luard. There, at the ‘Mini Nightclub’, someone beckoned me in, and so in I went. I should mention here that unlike what I see on current YouTube videos, I cannot remember ever being approached on the streets by any women – I really don’t recall seeing any on the streets. They sure weren’t sitting in front of the bars, like they seem to do now. There might have been a mamasan at the door, but that was it. All the girls in the bars were Chinese, too. I never met a girl from somewhere else then.
Back to the Mini. I was seated at the bar in the front, when someone put their arms around me – it was one of the girls who worked there, and of course she wanted me to buy her a drink. Her name was Lisa, and she soon got me to go back to a booth in the rear area of the bar. She was tired, and soon had her head on one of my legs, sound asleep. The topless bartender eyed her, and came back there to slap her on the rear. After a while, we were cuddling back there, and she whispered that she wanted to see my place. That was like an electric shock to me! The thrill of those words is just as fresh today as then. When she found out I was staying over in Kowloon, she decided that was too far to go, and had me go to a doorway next door to the Mini, that led to a place above the United Bar, called the ‘Lucky Apartments’. I got the room from the old desk clerk, and waited a short while for Lisa to get off work. This place was the filthiest room I have ever been in, before or since. When I saw the movie “Trainspotting”, and the main character went into the “filthiest bog in Scotland”, I immediately thought of this room – it was that bad. The walls were streaked brown, the sheets were brown, the whole room was brown. Several big cockroaches had crawled out of the bathtub drain, and clung to the walls. I’m guessing every square inch of that room would have glowed under a black light. But I was 19, a virgin, and long-overdue sex was imminent. I didn’t care about the room at all.
Soon, Lisa appeared at the door with another of the bargirls in tow. All kinds of possibilities entered my mind, but she just wanted me to help her with a letter to some boyfriend. So there I sat, with my excitement at a fever pitch, composing a love letter for her. That job was soon done, and she left. Then, Lisa instructed me to take a bath (there was only a tub), and she would wash me, which she did, fully clothed, closely examining my erection as she soaped me up. After I was sufficiently clean for her, she then made me leave the bathroom while she washed up, with no peeking allowed. When she appeared, she was bare-breasted, but wearing some black shorts she had on under her uniform dress. Like all the other events of that night, the thrill of seeing her before me like that is still just as exciting 40 years later. I’ll never forget that moment.
She was not completely naked because I didn’t have enough money with me as I’d left my traveler’s checks over in my Kowloon hotel room (remember those things?). So, she would only allow me to sleep next to her like that for what money I did have. To this day, I can’t remember how much she insisted on.
Well, this was not going to do. I had a gold signet ring on, with a blue Lapis stone, that had belonged to my grandfather. She eyed that, and said that would do. Thinking that I would never see that ring again (and too horny to care), I gave it to her, saying that I would bring her the money the next day.
Off came the shorts! She laid back to let me have a good look at what I’d never seen beforehand just about the first thing I noticed was the hair under her arms. Until that moment, I had just assumed that women didn’t grow hair there. Then we began what I’ve relived in my memories often over these 40 years – and it was worth waiting for.
In the morning, we left to have breakfast in some local place. One of the little things I recall is how she drank her tea with lots of milk in it, but I can’t remember what I had at all. Then after eating we went our separate ways, and I went back to my Kowloon room to sleep most of the day.
That night, I was back at the Mini, sitting with Lisa. This time the girls all had to come by and tease me, calling me “Cherry Boy”. Things were somewhat slow in the bar (the Navy had left due to an approaching storm), and the girls all sat around munching on lychee nuts. When they ran out, they sent me out for another bagful of them. The bar was actually pretty quiet, with just a juke box playing now and then. I remember another bar, with a Philipino band who played only Santana’s music, in exactly the same order as the album. The bars then were not the noisy places the bars on Lockhart seem to be these days. You could easily talk.
At the end of the night, Lisa had decided that the Lucky Apartments was just not suitable, and we got in a cab, stopping rather ironically in front of the “World of Suzie Wong” bar to get an address card from a friend of hers that worked there. This place was called the “Kid Mandarin”, and I suppose it could be described as a “love hotel”. Our room was all mirrors, walls and ceiling included, with a big bed, and a nice bathroom. I had another very enjoyable night there. She seemed to enjoy my inexperience, and seemed to be pleased to be my first. She actually brought my gold ring with her, and exchanged it for the agreed-upon amount, if somewhat sadly. I never thought I’d see that ring again – it’s on my finger as I type this.
I was quite satisfied to remain with her, and we made arrangements to meet at this place again the next night, but she told me not to bother coming to the Mini (she wanted to get all my money, instead of just a portion from me buying her drinks in the bar). I never “bought her out” of the bar. As far as I know, she was on her own time, and kept all I paid her. So, all evening, I either prowled the other bars around there, or spent the early evening at my Kowloon room watching TV (I can scarcely believe I really did this back then. What I’d give for a night in 1972 Hong Kong now!). I talked to plenty of other girls each night in the bars, but at the end of the night, off I went to the Kid Mandarin to see Lisa. I suppose this same ‘faithfullness’ is what has kept me married for 36 years now. One night we were both so tired that we just decided we’d ‘make love’ in the morning, and went to sleep (she wouldn’t get off work until 2 AM). It all seems so funny to me now, but that’s just the way it happened.
One morning, Lisa had a holiday planned for us. We were going to go shopping for a new dress after breakfast, and then we were going to go up to the peak for lunch, and then see a movie at the Hoover theatre, and that’s just what we did. She bought a nice dress with some of the proceeds from what I had been paying her each night. We stopped by her apartment block to drop it off (I had to stand outside the building while she went up, and I was getting the evil eye from the Chinese guys standing around). This was one of those old, “H” shaped resettlement blocks with all the clothes hanging from every balcony, but I have no idea where I was. Then it was off to ride the tram to the peak.
Up on the peak I took in the amazing views, and took numerous photos of Lisa, with all of Hong Kong as the backdrop. We stopped into the Peak Café, where she had her customary milky tea, and then afterwards to the Hoover, where we watched some lame Italian movie dubbed in Chinese with English subtitles. I didn’t care, I was on a “date’ with a girl I liked, and I was happy doing whatever with her.
This pattern continued for a few more nights, and my money was running seriously short, not too surprising considering I was paying for two hotel rooms each day, and for her, too. I sit here these days and think what a dummy I was then. So, the last night in Hong Kong I had to stay in my Kowloon room. That tropical storm I mentioned was threatening to stop the Star Ferry, and the cross-harbor tunnel was not yet open. I thought I would not see Lisa before I left, but that morning, before my flight, there was a knock at my door, and there was Lisa. She came in, and the sex we had was as exciting and memorable as any ever since. She followed me to the airport, even paying for the taxi as I was that broke. Before I boarded the TWA 747 home, I emptied my wallet and pockets, and gave her whatever I had left. When I got to LA I had to bum a dime off another passenger to pay for the bus to the terminal.
We actually corresponded up until sometime in 1979 (long after I had met my wife). I was in college until the end of ’74, and by ’76 I was making plans to return to Hong Kong. I actually had my ticket reserved for December 1976, when I met the girl who would be my wife in a Japanese Restaurant that I went to every Friday after work. She was an extremely good-looking Japanese woman that I thought was way out of my league, and so I never hit on her at all. But one night in October, she needed to borrow my car so she could get hers fixed, and one thing quickly lead to another. By December I was living with her, and I had to make the difficult decision not to return to Hong Kong. I gave Lisa some lame excuse, and still wrote for a few more years, but we stopped writing eventually. There was no point.
All these memories lay dormant for many years, until awakened this year. With Streetview, I can stand in front of the building she may still live in, and in front of the building the Kid Mandarin was in, and even in front of where the Mini was (the site of the present day Club Venus at 87 Lockhart Road).
I always deeply regretted leading Lisa on like that for so long, and so, against all good sense and caution, I sent a letter to her last address a while ago. I guess time will tell if I should have let all those old memories remain half-forgotten.