Zerky in Hong Kong

April 2, 1968. Dear Zerky, we have smuggled Tarzan into Hong Kong because the government wants to lock him up in quarantine. Now he is terrorizing the city. When we walk down the street with him on his leash, people stand on the edge of the sidewalk until we have passed. One time Tarzan got all excited and started to bark and the crowd on the sidewalk scattered into the street. How do you say “his bark is worse than his bite” in Chinese?

Our hotel room is tiny and depressing. Two of its opposite walls are only four feet away from each other. Hong Kong is a vertical city with no room to spread sideways because the buildings have been compacted together so tightly. Hong Kong is a city of show windows and glass display cases—a giant tax-free department store. I suspect there are more consumer goods here per square foot than anywhere else on earth. Many of the things we are now seeing in show windows, we have not seen since we were in Athens. Somewhere in Turkey we began leaving a trail of little glass baby food jars across Asia. They were not litter, they were gifts. We started washing them out when we realized how much people liked them. Now I know that the world must be round because here on the far edge of the Far East we have come full circle and found ourselves back in the wasteful West. Having learned how to get along without most of this stuff, we have come to realize that much of what drives the western world’s economy is junk. You can probably buy anything here in Hong Kong, and perhaps anybody, and should you be in the market for flesh, well, there is plenty of it available in the many bars of this neon, nighttime jungle. Just as in San Francisco’s North Beach district where you used to live, Zerky, erotic nightlife is a prime tourist attraction here. Your mother and I both wanted to take a peek at it, so we dirty-worked you last night by turning you over to a Chinese baby sitter in the hotel where we are staying. I am sure that she had ever taken care of such a cute little Caucasian boy before. She adored you but you did not like her at all. When we got home last night, she told us you had had a tantrum after we left. Mommy and Daddy, however, had one fine evening, bar hopping between such sterling establishments as the Fuji Club, the Hanoi Club, the Bunny Club and the Playboy Bar where, from the safety of your mother’s company, I found it most enlightening to study the various techniques of Hong Kong bar girls as they feed upon the flesh of foreign tourists.

Yesterday brought us the best news of our trip. President Lyndon Johnson has announced that he will not seek reelection and has promised to de-escalate our war in Vietnam. Hip-hip Hurray, we don’t know whether to cheer or to cry. The prospect of an end to this idiotic war has met with a curious reaction in the Hong Kong press. The newspaper is counseling people not to be overly concerned because, while peace will bring a slowdown in business, initially, in time the reduction in American armed forces personnel will be more than offset by the increased tourism resulting from the increased stability of Southeast Asia. “The dominos will have fallen,” they seem to be saying, “war is bad for tourism.” Couldn’t they have figured this out earlier?

The best thing about Hong Kong is the temperature. We are cool at last. For the first time since Sikkim, we can walk around without getting bathed in sweat. For the last three days now, we have been hustling all over town getting ready for our departure. Like most people who come to Hong Kong, we are having some clothes made by those “legendary Hong Kong tailors.” Men’s suits are very cheap here and when I get back to San Francisco I am going to have to get dressed up and go looking for a job. So I am having two suits and several dress shirts made for yours truly. We are also busy getting boat tickets for our homeward journey via Yokohama, and, I am afraid, our carefree days are rapidly coming to an end. It’s funny how here on the mainland of China we are beginning to feel as if we are already home. Part of it, I suppose, is that we used to live on the edge of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Still, that clock-towered Hong Kong Star Ferry Terminal sure does look like San Francisco’s Ferry Building. Ferryboats are continually crisscrossing the harbor on their way to and from Hong Kong Island, which could just as well be Oakland, California. Hong Kong and San Francisco seem to have merged.

Hong Kong Skyline

Now that our trip is over, I am beginning to feel cheated by that plane ride we took from Calcutta to Bangkok. It seems to me that in order to get to Hong Kong from India, you should drive through China, or else through Burma, Laos and Vietnam. But unfortunately both China and Burma are closed to foreigners. Two nights ago while we were in Bangkok, I got my map out and within half an hour had figured out how we could cash in the remainder of our airplane tickets and use the refund to take the train to Singapore. From there we could island-hop our way through Indonesia to New Guinea, and then on to Australia, from where it would be easy to catch a boat either to San Francisco or to the Panama Canal. Were it not for this bloody heat that keeps beating us back away from the equator. Southeast Asia is just too damn hot in April and, what’s more, we had not planned on your growing up so soon, Zerky. So to hell with it, we are going home. Maybe someday this cold war will be over and you will be able to drive through Burma, Laos, Vietnam and China. Or maybe you will not even be able to drive through France. What will your world be like? We can only wonder.

And now the time has come for Bill Raney to give you the final entry in JoAnne’s diary.
This is our first day out upon the ocean, where there are many junks and sampans. Our ship has mostly Japanese passengers, along with a Chinese crew.

In Memorium

I hazard to guess that the part about dying that most of us find most unacceptable, is not so much the pain as the annihilation. It’s that big black hole we are afraid of—that endless void. Let us then remember that after our deaths we live on in the memories of others, and that we are not gone until they are gone too.

So let us now remember the brave Tarzan who protected us from the little monkey who was protecting its baby from us.

And let us remember the gentle JoAnne who loved all living things and remembered to say goodbye to her friends the bears in the zoo at Bern in Switzerland.

And let us remember that little blond boy who brought peace to the middle east one snowy night near Mt. Ararat, where Noah’s Ark finally came to rest.

• • •

So what happened to our little family of adventurers, anyway? Should you want to learn more, let me suggest that you might want to buy a copy of Letters to Zerky of which you can get a hardcover edition for only $8.95 or a paperback for $6.95. Or you might want to give me a phone call at 831 429-4234, or to send me an email via the contact form on this website. Whichever you might choose, I will see to it that you get an autographed copy in the mail.

—Bill Raney, July 8, 2013


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