50 years ago this month I first was in Hong Kong. Since then I’ve been in this city about 20 times. The first time was on R&R from the war in Vietnam. The last time was with Leslie in 2013, less than a year before she passed away. Most of the times it was on the way into Asia and again on the way out, with Hong Kong bookending two month trips into the magic of travels with Leslie. Now I’m with Jean and the magic is alive. It’s different, of course, but undeniably beautifully magical.
At the moment we’re on the big A-350 jet riding high and smooth above the mighty Pacific Ocean – the same Pacific we see from the deck of our home in Berkeley.
The first time in HK was a surreal respite from
war. I stayed in an anonymous hotel, had anonymous sex with several women (I was anonymous; they were anonymous), drank a lot, hung out with several British soldiers, rode the Star Ferry, ate at Ricky’s Café, drank more – one night I got everyone in a bar to stand while I stood on a table singing The Eyes of Texas, yeah – I was a piece of work alright – and most notably spent a few days with a nice Chinese girl. On the way back
to Vietnam, I got a
quart of gin and a bottle of champagne, which Jeff Wiseman, Mike Noumov, and I drank on an epic drunk at battalion headquarters on Hill 55 before I staggered back insensate into the war.
In 1978 when Leslie and I were living in Austin, she came home from work one day and asked what would I think about going to Thailand? Yes! Sure! We bought one-way tickets in the back room of a Thai grocery store going from Dallas to Hong Kong to Bangkok.
That first time we stayed in a place in the Chung King Mansions. Leslie was nauseated every time we got into the back hallways. We rode the very funky, very small elevators crowded in like sardines with people from across the world – Indians, Arabs, Europeans, Africans, not many Americans. I would wake at 2 or 3 in the mornings and sit all folded up in the tiny, tiny bathroom reading a Larry McMurtry book. We rode the Star Ferry, ate at Ricky’s, and walked and walked and walked, high on life. Then onward to Thailand, Burma, Nepal, and on around the world.
In 2005, David and Jeff and I were there on our pilgrimage back to Vietnam (for Jeff and me) and the first visit to Cambodia (David’s other homeland). We stopped off in HK on the way in and the way out of Asia. Sometime during those days I was riding the Star Ferry alone (I thought probably my last ride). There was a little girl and her father sitting directly in front me. She was singing, first in Chinese, then in English,
“Row, row, row your boat,
gently down the stream,
Merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.”
The day before we left we were in Big John’s Café, a small place in Tsim Sha Tsui, and on the sound system was,
“Those were days, my friend,
We thought they’d never end,
We’d sing and dance forever and a day.
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose,
Those were the days,
Oh yes those were the days.”
And so it has been.
And now it’s three hours before we land (we slept for about six hours)… Jean and I in our life together, 22 months and still our magic unfolding. I’m writing and Jean is creating art – because that’s what she does. My jukebox is playing Brandi Carlisle, Chopin, Van Morrison…
These are the days.
These are the days that
will last forever,
You got to hold them
In your heart.
I’m so high!
Two nights ago we went to a party at Peter N R’s house. It was a total Berkeley party. Stood out front smoking a joint. Inside the question arose, who was Joe Hill? Three people broke into song – “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you and me.” Someone was talking enthusiastically about her meditation teacher. I laid a little something from the Bible on her – “In my Father’s house are many
rooms.” Jean danced, I didn’t. An old friend of hers and I talked about how just because someone is gone from our lives doesn’t mean that they have to really be gone. Jean and I were talking with a Jewish woman and Jean said, “I have Jewish guilt.” I could see the woman prepping for something weird. Jean said, “I’m the only person who didn’t bring any food.” LMAO.
New Years Day lunch with David and Charles and John and Sherry at a restaurant on the water in San Francisco. David updated
Jean’s Global Entry on his iPad. We talked of music and writing and art and life.
“Baby, ain’t it all worthwhile.”
Tuesday I went to San Francisco to see David. We talked about travel and Leslie and what David said a few days about he and his Mom and I never really had any issues – any big anger or angst – it has always been all of us trying hard, knowing what we have, just like now.
A couple of days later (night before last): I went for an evening walk along the crazy crowded streets and saw a place I had looked for several times since David and Jeff and I were in HK in 2005. It was Big John’s Café. I had wanted to take Leslie there, but never could find it, and now here it was! The next morning Jean and I went there for breakfast. On the sound system was The Sounds of Silence.
Life is a miracle!