Hong Kong 2018

Hong Kong Island, Central

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

Exactly 50 years ago, after R&R in HK

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

Jean resting at the (people’s) Fa Yuen Market

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.

The view from our room

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,

Writing on the Cathay Pacific plane


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

Wonton noodle soup (shrimp) at Tsim She Kee

will last forever,

You got to hold them

In your heart.

I’m so high!

In the Fa Yuen Market (photo by Jean)

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

Tsim Sha Kee

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.

From Victoria Peak

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.

On the Star Ferry. Deep personal meaning to this photo

Life is a miracle!


On the way to Hong Kong and beyond, a tender heart

Picture a door leading from inside a house to outside. The threshold is about ¾ inch high… Threshold definitions:
A piece of wood, metal, or stone that forms the bottom of a door frame and that you walk over as you enter a room or building.
The point or level at which something begins or changes.
Hue, in the old palace grounds
Though I sometimes still carry a backpack traveling, I usually use a rolling suitcase these days. We’re on the way to Asia for about 6 weeks plus time in San Francisco going and returning. Yes, let the good times roll. It’s two minutes until the airport shuttle picks us up and I’m rolling the suitcase out the front door and as the suitcase goes over the threshold, Pop!, the handle breaks completely and irrevocably. This is the suitcase that replaced the one whose wheel came off less than two years ago as we walked to the bus stop to catch the A21 bus from Mong Kok to the Hong Kong airport on the way home. I didn’t realize the wheel was off until we were at the bus stop. Dang, I was thinking, “This thing sure is hard to pull today…”
Threshold: The point or level at which something begins or changes.
Hahaha, here we go. Rolling.

San Francisco, near David and Charles’ house

ATM we’re in San Francisco, staying with David and his partner, Charles B. and their dog, Jake. Lazy days, same old thing, buses and streetcars to Good Luck Dim Sum, the new Market Street Whole Foods (you didn’t think Whole Foods in SF is the same as Whole Foods in Dallas did you!), Castro, New Chinatown, all them places. Meals with David and Charles. Coffee, lunch at a sidewalk café, people, dogs, passing by and the occasional whiff of cannabis. San Francisco!
Our schedule of Hanoi to Bangkok in 6 weeks with stops here and there, depending on flooding seems like it might be changing already. It didn’t occur to me that Hanoi might have issues, but it seems to be directly in the path of Typhoon Haiyan. (Written a day before winds veered away from Hanoi – keeping it in because it’s what we’re thinking about.) By the time the typhoon hits Hanoi it will have deteriorated to a tropical storm with 50 mph winds vs. the 100+ mph winds of a typhoon. The Vietnam government has evacuated 600,000 people around Hanoi. So we’ll see what happens. Hopefully we can get to Hue/Danang/Hoi An and then onward. If not, the train into NW Vietnam to Sapa in the mountains is a possibility. Whatever.
Hue, at a tomb
Now there’s word that protests and strikes are happening in Bangkok. We’ll have to see how that goes too. A couple of years ago, about a mile from our hotel, the police raided some guys that were making bombs. One of the guys got out and threw a grenade at the police. It bounced off a pole and killed him. Of course we only saw it on the news.
Onward. Our plane takes off in six hours (Cathay Pacific). We’ve flown United (the worst), Korean Air, China Air, Thai International – and Cathay Pacific is the best at a decent price. The flight is supposed to take 13 hours, 25 minutes. We used Seatguru.com to get some primo seats (in one of three rows of two seats vs. the 3-4 seats in all the other rows and with some extra leg room for one of those seats.

Ban cuon lady in Hanoi. The people on far left are in
another cafe. This is a small place. Leslie’s favorite.

Hong Kong (Mong Kok), Hanoi Old Quarter, Ninh Binh, Hue, Dalat, Saigon, Can Tho/Mekong Delta, Bangkok, Chiang Mai (it’s the Banana Pancake Trail for sure).    
“Whole generations of westerners who went out there as soldiers, doctors, planters, journalists … lost their hearts to these lands of the Mekong … they are places that take over a man’s soul” (Jon Swain, one of the last westerners out of Cambodia in 1975).

Tender-hearted Leslie. I’ve known few people as truly tender-hearted as Leslie. She really does hate suffering and injustice and all that. She doesn’t like to hear about these

things, much less talk about them. Yet she spent most of her life deeply engaged and helping with people and in situations where there was enormous suffering and injustice. That was what she did. She changed a lot of people’s lives. She sacrificed a lot, laid it on the line, on the altar.

Please don’t take the word sacrifice casually. Think in terms of going eyes wide open into the fire, Think in terms of wounds.
Part of this was that she connected with people and would not turn away. It was personal with her. Her connections were personal and her battles were personal. What a warrior! A warrior for justice, against suffering.
So, here we go, on what really may be our last trip to Asia. 

Hong Kong2 – Into the Flow

We’re into the magic of the Hong Kong trip now – the crowds, the harbor, the Star Ferry, the food, the people, the alleys and narrow passages … ahhh.
A little background on Hong Kong: We’ve always stayed in Kowloon. Kowloon is a peninsula split by Nathan Road running north from the harbor

and the Star Ferry. The ferry runs back and forth between Kowloon and HK Island where the financial district (Central), Wanchai, Happy Valley, Victoria Peak, etc. are. The southern end of Kowloon is called Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) and is the main tourist area. TST is where the Chungking Mansions is – which nobody would call a tourist place – one newspaper called it “the most notorious flophouse in Asia” – I call it amazing. Here is something from Chungking Express: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCMkHm7HTBU&feature=fvst.

Photo above: Street performer, playing beautifully.
Going north from TST there is Yau Ma Tei where the Temple Street night market is, and then Mong Kok, which is where we’re staying. Hong Kong is the most densely populated place on earth and Mong Kok is the second most densely populated district there – wow, people everywhere. No kidding, it’s an art to move through the crowds and the people there are artists – no bumping, no jostling, just flowing through a true sea of humanity. To me, it’s sometimes magical, sometimes a little crazy, and always intense.
Photo: The corner near the entrance to the Sincere House where we’re staying. Can barely see the entrance between/above the man in the orange sweater and the woman in the pink top

Here is our trip. Up at whenever. The room we’re in now has no window, so it might be 5 or 7 or later (but not much). I fix coffee in our little filter

holder and we have coffee and talk. I go for a fast walk with a little running and whenever there is a street to cross and the light is red, I do 25 inclined push-ups (total at least 100). On the way back to the room I pick up breakfast – usually dim sum, sometimes ham and egg sandwiches at Cherikoff Bakery or 7-11 (7-11 not the same as in U.S. – way smaller, cheap, and with some unique products such as rice with chicken feet). After breakfast I shower, get a leg-rub, and

we talk about the day. Then it’s off to the races and back by around 4pm for Leslie to get a back-rub, take a nap, and figure out what’s for dinner. I usually go for a walk after dinner.
ove through the crowds and the people there are artists, no bumping, no jostling, just flowing through a true sea of humanity. To me, sometimes it’s magical, sometimes maddening, and always intense.
Photo above: On the street
The day after the last post we caught the bus to the Star Ferry and the ferry across the harbor to Central, then #15 bus up the Peak, going higher and higher past the office centers, TB hospital, past the graveyard, past the ultra-expensive apartments and homes

and then HK the skyscrapers, buildings, the harbor, the buildings spread out below in the haze that’s always there at this time of year. The bus lets off near a shopping center-type place and we go up to Pacific Coffee where we always go, sitting at the glass wall overlooking all of HK, lingering over a double espresso, enjoying the view, reading the South China Morning Post, talking …

Photo: The Star Ferry
Back down on what seems a crazy fast bus ride to where we get off to walk
to a famous wonton noodle shop for shrimp wonton noodle soup (the shrimp here have a wild taste, unlike the bland shrimp we get in the US) and vegetable with oyster sauce. We sat at a table and talked with a woman who came to HK from Vietnam in the early 80s. She’s doing well now, but I know those were some grim early days. Bus to ferry and ferry back to Kowloon, riding that ferry so many times over the years and every time magical. This was our biggest day so far – Leslie is better and better every day.
Photo: On the ferry
And so the trip goes, no big events, few big attractions, just Being. Here. together.

The next day we went to Pat Kwan, the chilli sauce etc. place to buy some black peppercorns, then across the street to Fa Yuen Market to buy white peppercorns and walk around. The nice looking woman at one of the fruit stalls remembered us from last year (“You go to Vietnam.”), which was nice. I walked to the Chungking Mansions to change money, then back up the road a bit to meet Phil (an internet friend) and his son Henry. We had a good time – Phil is an easygoing person,

easy to be around and Henry is a great kid – like his other two children. I was running late, so made a sweaty dash to the ferry to meet Leslie, back to Tsim Chai Kee for more soup and vegetable. This time we shared a table with two students from Singapore and had a good time talking with them too.

Photo: Leslie waiting for the elevator in the Chungking Mansions

On our last full day we went to the Chungking Mansions for some Indian food and ended up at a Pakistani place having a good, cheap meal of chicken tikka masala, naan, pakoras, vegetable samosas, and milk tea. The place had one table, which we

shared first with two men from India, then with an intense guy from Pakistan, and of course there was the amazing parade of humanity from across the globe. Yeah! After we ate, Leslie wanted to take the elevator up to see if the floors had changed. The first one we saw was quite a bit nicer than in the old days, but the other two were the same as ever.

Photo: CK at entrance to the Mansions

That night I walked down to the Temple Street night market to see what was happening in the way of thangkas. Too bad, the place that sold quality Tibetan and Nepalese goods was gone.
Tsering, a Nepalese woman Leslie met before was still selling images, thangkas, etc., but the quality is not comparable to the other place. Sai Yeung Choi Street South was blocked to traffic and full of people, amazing crowded, buzzing with energy and conversation. There were some stre

et performers, including a young woman playing a Chinese violin beautifully. Hong Kong. What a place!