Chapter 20: Hong Kong Queen of the Orient
The LP9 dropped anchor in the middle of the harbor approximately two hundred yards from shore. Ninety-six hour passes... issued to everyone — everyone, of course, except the duty sailors, and the attachment of MPs. Those guys never seemed to have fun.
At 0900, we received a disbursement of several hundred dollars in U.S. greenbacks from accumulated back pay. During our tour of duty, each man got an allotment of less than fifty dollars a month, for cigarettes, toiletries and goods from the local commissary. Of course, a dedicated entrepreneur might grow that amount to any denomination. For the rest of us, it was toil and pay. Nevertheless, at the end of a year, time and grade, plus combat pay, I ended up with a hefty bankroll.
Several small boats lowered along side, designated to transport us to and from the ship, each accompanied by two armed guards, idled in preparation at the bottom of the gangplank--or in this case, a metal enclosed stairwell lowered along the side. We saluted as we disembarked, expected to do so again when we stepped back on board, the latter formality often overlooked, considering we usually returned passed-out, or too drunk to remember.
Fitzgerald and I had become good friends. We giggled like schoolchildren as the small craft bounded over the shallow waves, dropping us off at the feet of Marco Polo's China. We each exchanged a hundred dollars for a large wad of red-colored Hong Kong dollars at a rate of five to one. Only in Hong Kong is a dollar a dollar. I do not say this felicitously. Since as early as 1842, Hong Kong has represented a major commercial trading port, ceded to English rule after the First Opium War that resulted in the Treaty of Nanking, and later the Kowloon Peninsula, after the Second Opium War in 1860. All foreign and domestic currencies converted to sterling weight controlled by foreign exchange banks to provide a balanced taxable commerce.
After 1868, the Japanese government purchased the Hong Kong mint on Sugar Street, and silver trade dollars declared the new currency from the USA, Great Britain, and Japan.
Then in 1898, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, negotiated between the UK and Guangxu Emperor of China, leased Hong Kong to Great Britain for a period of 99 years--a devil's promise that by 1970 was already nearing the end--all printing operations moved to the offices of the Hong Kong Note Printing Unlimited.
During the Japanese invasion of World War II, the military Yen became the only legal tender at an exchange rate of 100 yen to the dollar. However, in 1945, the restored Hong Kong government, backed by British support, declared all yen notes void; the Mint on Sugar Street printing bills of a new currency backed against the stronger U.S. dollar exchange rate. Hong Kong dollars, therefore, stay in Hong Kong--or at the least in China; and I had a bulging chunk in my pocket, making me a Kingpin of the world!
The first thing we did was have lunch at the Hong Kong Hyatt Regent Hotel. I ordered a hamburger, complete with lettuce, onion and tomatoes, fries, and a Coke. Fitzgerald chose something a little more cultured to the setting, and a beer. My plate arrived first. I took a bite, and immediately realized there was no mustard.
"Mustard, please," I said to the oriental waiter.
At first, he did not seem to understand my request; then his face brightened as he rushed away and returned with a small tub filled with something pale yellow. Although not the bright yellow condiment I knew, it would do. I might add here that I always liked mustard on my hamburgers, more than ketchup or mayonnaise. The waiter continued to eye me politely, as I spread several spoons on my bun. With flavored anticipation, I opened my mouth wide and bit a second time into my long awaited sandwich. My eyes began to water, a suffocating burning rush coursed through my nasal passage, and into my head. 'Those are the hottest onions I ever tasted,' I said to myself, removing the offending rings. My next bite was as the last.
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Distance Traveled: A Chronicle in TimeNon-Fiction
This is an autobiographical novel beginning in a small town in old south America. It records the life of a young man growing up in the shadow of the escalating Viet Nam war and eventually joining the United States Marine Corps to become a part of t...