After sitting on the tarmac for almost six hours in Wuhan and then circling off-shore, we finally arrived in Hong Kong, made our way through the immigration
and met up with Randy our local guide. When we were on the bus Evan greeted as he did each time we had been on a bus together with ‘Ni hao.’
“Now it is Nei ho ma,” I responded.
“That’s right,” Randy replied. “Someone knows Cantonese. Or, you can say lay ho.”
I actually only remember a few words of Cantonese and had been trying not to think of them while I needed to remember my newly-learned Mandarin.
As the bus whisked us on the freeway to our hotel on Hong Kong Island – a 40 minute drive through rush hour traffic, past the shipyards
I thought about the last time I arrived in Hong Kong – a very different experience.
In early September, 1961 JoAnn Yee (now Lee) and I disembarked from the SS President Cleveland at Kowloon, Hong Kong after our twenty-one day journey across the Pacific.
The heat and humidity enveloped us as we searched for the person from Chung Chi College who would be meeting us.
Soon we were driving through Kowloon where we saw rickshaws,
and street vendors.
It was a whole new world.
I had picked Chung Chi College for my Junior Year Abroad experience sponsored by the Presbyterian Church thinking it would be a place I would not have a chance to visit again. However, by time I was leaving mid-June, 1962, I wrote home “When I leave my friends here it won’t be with ‘Good-bye’, but hopefully with ‘Till we meet again.’ “
It had been fifty-five years.
Kai Tak Airport, which I had flown out of when I left Hong Kong, had been tucked right in the harbor. Randy told us the new airport had been built at its current location on Lantau Island in 1998. To reach Lantau Island in 1961, I rode on a ferry. Today, a causeway connects the island to Kowloon. Lantau Island is also where Disneyland Hong Kong is located!
On our first morning in Hong Kong, Randy took us to a variety of locations on Hong Kong Island. The bus drove us up Hong Kong Island’s notorious hills to a spot where we could enter the Central-Mid Level Escalator, the longest in the world. “80 – 90,000 passengers ride the escalator each day. It keeps people out of vehicles,” Randy explained. “It goes down until 10:30 in the morning, and then it reverses and goes up the rest of the day.”
When we reached the bottom, we walked to Graham Street, a narrow lane lined with vendors. I was glad to see that these market streets still existed.
However, Randy explained that they would soon be phased out and the vendors would have the opportunity to rent space in a government building.
The street markets encompassed two lanes. We walked up one, past the meat market,
and down the other one. At the bottom was one of the modern skyscrapers.
Our next stop was at the Man Mo Temple.
I remember visiting it shortly after arriving in Hong Kong in 1961.
While eating at the Floating Restaurant was not on the agenda,
we were able to ride in a sampan
around the noticeably smaller harbor area. Instead of boat people living on their junks, there are now large yachts moored along the edges of the harbor.
“What happened to the people who used to live on their boats?” I asked Randy.
“With the restrictions on the number of fish that can be caught, people needed to find other ways to make a living. The government relocated them to high rise apartments, and they now work at other jobs. Their children can go to school and have a better future,” Randy explained.
After a dim sum lunch,
we set out to learn the Metro system and explore the Tsim Sha Shui and Mong Kok areas of Kowloon. These were the areas I had traversed the most back in 1961.
Street scenes like this
have now been replaced with areas like the flower market street
and bird market street.
The tour offered an optional evening activity, Hong Kong at Night. I was glad that Jan had not wanted to sign up for this activity. I wanted to remember the Hong Kong at night of my youth.
The big event for me was visiting Chung Chi College again. The tour had left the last day free.
Over the years I had lost touch with my closest friends – two of my roommates – from my school year in Hong Kong. JoAnn had the same experience, but had stayed in touch with a Chinese American couple, Frank and Jean Woo. Frank had been a lecturer, and later chaplain at Chung Chi. She gave me their email address. I wasn’t sure they would remember me after all these years. They did and replied promptly to my email. They live in Pasadena and had just entertained a graduate student, Iris, from Chung Chi who was studying at Claremont Divinity School. She was returning to Hong Kong the following month and would be delighted to show me around when I was in Hong Kong.
I contacted Iris in February to confirm our plans and promised to let her know where I was staying and asked her to inquire whether the college would like my 1963 Chung Chi yearbook. Her inquiry put me in touch with the alumni office and enabled me to ask whether they had contact information for my two former roommates. They had an email for one of them, Ellen Chan Yip, who now lives in Vancouver, Canada. We have now been in touch, have talked on the phone and are planning to get together sometime this summer.
When I visited my oldest son in late March, we visited with Frank and Jean Woo. It was wonderful to catch up.
I emailed Iris again in early April with information about our hotel. When she told me it would take her 1.5 hours to take the Metro to my hotel, I suggested that Jan and I could take the train and would meet her at the campus, saying “I rode the train often when I was a student at Chung Chi.”
After she sent me the Metro map
and realized we would have to make three changes, I panicked, but was determined to figure it out. After riding the Metro with Evan the day prior to our trek to the campus, I realized that it was like riding the subway anywhere – and was relieved the signage was in English as well as Chinese characters.
Riding the Metro was not like riding 3rd class on the Hong Kong – Canton Railway!
There is now a modern terminal at University Station,
instead of climbing aboard from next to the tracks.
We easily made our three Metro changes – Admiralty, Mong Kok and Kowloon Tong. Since it was early on a Saturday morning, it only took us a little over an hour. While we were waiting for Iris to arrive at 10 am, I began exploring the area around station, marveling at all of the campus buildings on the hillside,
watching students gather for activities, and
enjoying the Cattle Egrets foraging on the nearby athletic field.
As Iris was walking us around the campus, she shared that she was a doctoral student in the Divinity School, that her home was in northern China, and that she hoped to teach at a college near her home when she finished her doctorate.
We walked by the Chung Chi Chapel
that was completed and dedicated during the time that I studied there.
Next she showed us the Divinity School where she takes her classes and has a room in their student hostel.
We walked down the hill past the Alumni garden.
She knew I was keen on seeing the women’s dormitory where I had lived. In 1961-2, it stood isolated on the top of a hill, with the homes of the village of Ma Liu Shui below.
It is still there, but is almost hidden by the dense foliage – and there are buildings on the hill above it.
“That’s it,” I exclaimed as we rounded a bend and I saw the brickwork on the end of the building. We trudged up the hill, only to find that it was not the women’s dormitory.
“I need to stop and have some water,” I panted as we descended the hill. It was about 83F with about 85% humidity. I retrieved what was remaining of both my and Jan’s water bottles. “I hope there is someplace where we can buy more,” I said as I finished off my remaining water.
As we rounded the bend, we saw another similar building and headed up the hill towards it. As we approached the front of the building, I noticed that each dorm window had an air conditioning unit. “There was no air conditioning when I lived there,” I exclaimed.
The front door was locked. Iris rang the bell and a housekeeper confirmed that it was the Women’s Dorm. Iris asked whether we could see inside, explaining that I had lived there. The housekeeper hesitated and then told us we could sit in the lobby for a while.
It was just the respite we needed from the heat. Before long, the housekeeper returned and invited us to the 3rd floor, which is where my room had been. We couldn’t look in the rooms, which were now divided into two-student rooms, but could visit the common areas.
“There were six students in each dorm room,” I shared. Iris was amazed. “I will send you a picture of my room,” I promised.
I had written home about the dorm life – “dorm life at Chung Chi is much like dorm life the world over: nightly bridge games at the end of the hall, students feverishly studying, friendly chatter.”
There was now a room with several washing machines – I washed my laundry my hand. There also was a covered area on the roof for hanging laundry to dry.
It was very nostalgic to be there.
“Toh tse,” (thank you) I said to the housekeeper.
I heard her say something to Iris. “How did I do?” I asked Iris.
“She said that you sounded like an American,” she replied.
I laughed. “At least I tried.”
We walked up some stairs to the next level and caught a campus bus that took us to the top of Chinese University. Chung Chi is only one of the colleges.
“This is the university mall,” Iris told us after we got off the bus. “This is where graduation procession takes place.”
After walking by a number of the buildings, we stopped at one of the canteens for lunch.
While we were waiting for our food, I heard someone speaking English. It was an American student who was visiting with his advisor and complaining about his roommates.
“He is really irritating me,” I commented.
I really wanted to go over and talk to him, but didn’t want to embarrass Iris. I would have told him to “enjoy the inconveniences,” which is the advice someone gave me before heading to Hong Kong to study.
In my first letter home, I wrote “There are many things that would be considered inconveniences at home, such as eating rice twice a day, washing your clothes by hand, sleeping on a bumpy, straw mattress, having only about sixteen inches of closet space, and pretending you don’t see the cockroaches scurrying from under your bed. But before I left home, someone told me, ‘Even enjoy the inconveniences.’ It was wise advice, for although these things may be considered troublesome, they are part of a new life that is rich in its rewards and allows me to accept or overlook these situations. These experiences are also humbling, enabling me to become one with the people around me.”
“There is one more place I want to show you,” Iris told us. We boarded the campus bus again and walked out to a spot overlooking Tolo Harbor. I walked out to the edge for a view overlooking the freeway and the Science Park skyscrapers beyond, and Tolo Harbor,
and thought about the view of the harbor in 1961.
Stepping back, the pool and Tolo Harbor appeared as one.
We took the bus back down to where we would catch the train back into town.
Jan took a picture of Iris and me in front of the Chung Chi sculpture.
It was hard to say goodbye and leave.
“We must have walked at least three miles today,” I commented to Jan after we got back to the hotel.
“I think it was more!” she replied.
Indeed the ‘steps app’ on my phone had logged 16,789 steps (6.7 mi.) that day, including 13 flights of stairs climbed!
That night we gathered with the others from our tour group for our farewell dinner. It had been a wonderful trip – everything I had hoped for – and my visit to Hong Kong had definitely been one of the highlights. While I certainly don’t like crowds, the rhythm of Hong Kong had gotten into my blood and I wanted to stay on for another couple of days to explore areas I didn’t have a chance to visit.
But it was time to start my journey back to Albuquerque with fond memories of my return to Hong Kong after fifty-five years.