Memory and Hong Kong

Fan Ho, boats and clouds

Fragrant Harbor it was named. Perhaps, centuries ago, with only small populations of fisherman, and overgrown with tropical flowering plants, the fragrance was mild and delicate. The arrival of international commerce must have shaken the island like an earthquake.

There’s an interesting story about the first commercial airline being established immediately after WWII. An Astralian pilot, Roy Farrell, bought a decommissioned military C-47 in 1945. It wasthe same aircraft he’d been flying over the hump with Chennault’s Flying Tigers for years, and he was determined to take it to China.

According to Farrell, he flew the plane from D.C. to La Guardia where he needed to get it converted to a civilian DC-3. According to (his own) legend, the hangars were too busy with Constellation airliner conversions to pay him any mind. But for $100 bribe he got his time to make a pitch from the wing of a plane to the assembled mechanics.

“I told ’em I had bought a C-47 and was damned well going to fly it back to China to start an airline. There was a whole bunch of laughter. But they soon saw I was serious. And then any number of volunteers came forward and I told ’em I’d pay whatever bill they presented me – hey! eyebrows shot up at that. I added I thought they were good guys and would not overcharge. We exchanged grins. Yeah, grins. Within ten minutes my baby was in the hangar out of the cold and snow, and the mechanics were swarming all over her.”

Months later, Farrell had flown the machine around the globe, landing in his old terminus at Kunming. He set up an air freight company, shipping woolens and almost anything else between Sydney and Shanghai, with a touch-down at Manila or Hong Kong. On one of these trips, another WWII pilot, Syd de Krantzow, appeared at the airport in Darwin, ready to join the company.

The pith helmet had gone; India, the Hump, tiger-shooting – all that must have seemed a long way behind him. When de Kantzow, a demobilized pilot with a determined expression, stood at dusty, fly-infested Darwin airfield next to a DC-3 loaded with Chinese silk-lined hats and pig bristles, he was in some ways a different man.

The story is pure Steve Canyon stuff, the comic strip that celebrated the post-war civial aviation story more than any other.

simply flew thei straight over the harbor and without permission landed it on the inadequate airstrip at Kai Tak. That was the first flight of Cathay Pacific.

When I first took interest in the city of Hong Kong, I went out and read Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time by Richard Hughes, which was already a decade old when I checked it out. Even so, it was a very pleasant way to get to know the city, from a journalist who knew the island’s colonial history well enough

In M. John Harrison’s novel, The Floating Gods the plague zone moves vaguely around the city, drawing its hero ever deeper into it’s grip.

Ashlyme, the portrait painter, of whom it had once been said ‘first put his sitter’s soul in the killing bottle, then pinned it out on the canvas for everyone to look at like a broken moth,’ kept a diary. One night he wrote in it.

The plague zone has undergone one of its periodic upheavals and extended it’s boundaries another mile. I would care as little as anyone else up here in the High City, if it were not for Ashley King. Her rooms above the rue Serpolet now fall within its influence. She is already ill. I am not sure what to do.

Well, that says it! Thanks M. John, I knew that someday, the mood would become as real for everyone else as it was for me when I first opened the paperback of The Floating Gods in 1983.

But now, of course, we can communicate instantly with each other using our social networks. We can drop all the heavy emotional trappings that went with telepathy. We can avoid the smell that went with skrying dried up bats on the windowsill. All that stuff we used to do in the old days is History.

Now it’s just a flick of the thumb to send out our thoughts spinning away. They go hooking back and forth into mosaics, creating a density of information unlike anything we’ve had in the past. Our words now hang and float on the current of the ephemeral moment, like some kind of semiotic net thrown onto the waves of speeded up tides. The waves are breaking at two leagues, with an interval of seconds. Do we think that we can catch a squid? Or some montsrous fish from the frenzied sea?

Even so, some comments are more salient, more tangy to the taste, than others.

For example, this comment by The Skeletal Hatter @DrStedx really seemd to get the context.

value acutally comes from labour

Hah! What a laugh. And moments later we have Mnuchin (you know he was appointed because someone thought his name was munchkin!) announcing that checks will soon be issued to all Americans. Is this supposed to placate us? A trillion dollars burned by this absurd shell game. Look at the pea! Which walnut shell is the pea under now? Abra cadabra: oops, you lose, labour. Now back to your cage. That’s a good beast. Be calm, you can buy a new trinket in exchange for the bone that we bounce off your head.

And then there was a good one about our new protocol, social distance made easy, which is a weird oxymoron when you think about it.

social distance made easy

They hit the nail on the head with number three, eh what? Another personal favorite was the admonition against hoarding. Fortunately the Dutch (we won’t speculate why) have a particular slang word for this pernicious and selfish habit, “to hamster.” And we then have public service announcments to remind us “DO NOT HAMSTER!

do not hamster

So, just don’t! Don’t hamster, okay? It’s anti-social. But it’s not social distancing. Try to keep it straight.

For my own part, I was feeling more aspirational. I am not hoping for a French Revolution – just read Palmer’s Twelve Who Ruled if you still think it’s a good idea – but rather I am somehow convinced that the Universe itself is swimming into a new realm. The alignment of Venus with Uranus that happened on the Super Worm Moon just did something. I’m not sure exactly what it was, but something anyway. I’m feeling as though the wheels are turning and the evil greed-heads with their warmongering bullshit are headed for a fall. At least I am hopeful… aspirational, as I said.

samsaric wheel, you know

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