Finally finished reading the NY Times from the Day Before Valentine’s Day, the 13th. One short article took me back to first 1967, then to 1997, then to the recent past, and then to the present time.
Late in ’67: “Where do you want to go on R&R, Tilford?” The first chance I ever had to choose some place outside the United States to, like, you know, GO! (Well, other than Tijuana.)
“Hong Kong!” Flew out of Danang, at the time the busiest jet airfield in the world. Of course, that ‘busiest’ counted F-4 Phantoms. The Boeing 727 climbed hard and banked left harder at the south end of the Danang strip. An experienced traveler sitting next to me saw my surprised expression and said, “To avoid taking rounds from the Cong.” Sounded like a good idea at the time. I had traveled from San Diego to Danang by the USS Hermitage (Landing Ship, Dock) that May. My only previous jet travel was from Indianapolis to San Diego in March 1965 to meet the nice drill sergeants.
Arrived Hong Kong, checked in at the arranged hotel, set out to buy a tailored black suit. Bought a Miranda G 35mm camera. Ate (using chop sticks) and drank I don’t know what for the first of several times. Took a ferry to Kowloon, wearing the new suit. Took photos with new camera. Climbed the hills, walked late into the evening until realizing that I was being viewed as a possible something donor, turned around (thought about whistling casually and decided not to), walked back toward ‘civilization’. Civilization was British, very British. The Brits had leased Hong Kong for 99 years from the Chinese. Forever. (Sort of like Orwell’s “1984” was titled so far in the future he could create a new but horribly predicable world.) Bought a ‘little red book’ – The Thoughts of Chairman Mao – at a Chinese communist propaganda store. They were really excited when an American wandered in off the street. (Not great English translation, but serviceable. The cover was thin and red, looked and felt like vinyl. Come to think of it, I didn’t buy it. The cheerful Chinese gave it to me. They insisted. Other such cheerful Chinese were waving similar little red books at the same time on the mainland while beating old people for not being revolutionary enough. A few years later a new wave of counter-revolutionaries took out the Gang of Four. Does that remind you of Robespierre, the French Reign of Terror, and his ultimate fate? I took the little red book home to Indiana. Step mother threw Mao’s thoughts away a few years later.) Saw the then-current James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice – ironically set in Asia. Audience was all Chinese but me. Chinese sub-titles. Caught flight back to Danang. Spent all but the first ten minutes of the flight in the loo, violently ill, both ways. Knock, knock. “Sir? Sir? We’re landing now. You will have to come out and get in your assigned seat.” Not being able to leave the loo at that particular moment, I looked around. Sure enough, Boeing had planned for everything. There was a little seat belt for the can. Felt better. Returned to seat. Felt great! Left the air-conditioned 727 several pounds lighter and walked down the steps back onto Vietnamese dirt.
1997: Working at the National Ground Intelligence Center, Charlottesville, Virginia. Lead intelligence analyst for a study of North Korea. The British lease ran out. Hong Kong was being carefully – ever so carefully to not over-regulate and thereby destroy a cash cow – annexed by the Chinese. “One country, two systems.” I could follow the process over the Intellink secure message traffic system. Like watching a slow-motion train wreck while all the occupants pretend everything is and will be fine.
Earlier this millennium: Hong Kong street protests of greater (and I don’t mean ‘progressively’ greater) Chinese intervention and political control. Chinese would let the Hong Kong select their own political leaders, but only from Chinese-approved candidates. Protests die out. Some anti-Chinese folks disappear.
13 February 2016, NY Times: Britain Accuses China of Violating Hong Kong Treaty. Turns out if you own or manage or are otherwise prominently involved in perceived-as-rebellious book stores in Hong Kong – there because they could not exist in mainland China – you just might be disappeared. And then write notes to your Hong Kong friends and family that you voluntarily disappeared yourself without telling any of your friends or family in advance or for weeks after. It turns out that what ticked the British off about this particular case is that Mr. Lee, the most recent Hong Kong disappearee was a British citizen and was snatched while in Hong Kong. Others had been intercepted while traveling or otherwise outside Hong Kong, one from his vacation home in Thailand. Not cricket, old man. “A serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong!” The British went on to demand the immediate return of Mr. Lee. The British have no more leverage, probably less, against the Chinese than do the Hong Kong citizens. Don’t hold your breath waiting to see Mr. Lee.