SI Vault
Edwin Shrake
June 16, 1969
Toasters, shavers, 'Peyton Place' and the repeated victory shout of 'Aieeee!' make Rudyard Kipling's celebrated verse seem outdated. One month on the Asian golf tour suggests that East may still be East, but it is certainly meeting the West
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June 16, 1969

Never The Twain Shall

Toasters, shavers, 'Peyton Place' and the repeated victory shout of 'Aieeee!' make Rudyard Kipling's celebrated verse seem outdated. One month on the Asian golf tour suggests that East may still be East, but it is certainly meeting the West

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The course itself is long by Asian standards—more than 7,000 yards—and stretches away flat as a prairie, dry and dusty, interrupted by air strips, roads and muddy ditches. Women in straw peasant hats kneel around the greens and clip the grass by hand. The small clubhouse has electric fans, pinball machines and hostesses in tight silk dresses. A Chinese won the tournament, though few of the players seemed to notice. "There's much luck involved here," Guy Wolstenholme said. "The grass is very coarse and thin, and you never know where the ball is liable to go. You have to bounce it up to the green and hope."

The players always left the course as soon as they had signed their scorecards and could take the bus back to the city to seek air conditioning. "Oh, but this is not the hot period yet," said Arthur Janzen, a former Dutch diplomat who does crossword puzzles in six languages and now makes blue-glaze celadon pottery in Chiangmai, the old imperial capital of Thailand in the mountains 360 miles north of Bangkok. Janzen was in the Erawan Hotel awaiting a buyer who intends to introduce the pottery in a San Francisco department store. "But I don't know if I can make as much pottery as that," said Janzen. "Each piece is finished by hand, by me, you see, and the summer is coming on. April, May and June one can do nothing between 11 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon. It is simply too hot. Except perhaps watch television."

Arthur described watching The Dean Martin Show at his house in Chiangmai. The audio portion of the show was in Thai, but an FM radio station carries the audio in English for those who prefer. "The translations are very funny," Arthur said. "Lord knows what the Thais thought was going on." The Thais, it should be noted, are quite proud to say they have never been colonized.

From high rooms in the Hongkong Hilton one can look down on other symbols of the state of affairs in the British colony. To the left is the tall, ponderous, granite building of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, a capitalist bastion. Moving counterclockwise, the next structure is the slightly taller and no less ponderous granite building of the Bank of China, a financial and political headquarters for mainland China. Between the Bank of China and the harbor is the Supreme Court, an old colonial building with dome and columns. Across the street to the right of the Supreme Court and a bit nearer the harbor is the Hong Kong Club, where in nostalgic moments colonial gentlemen can sip gin and quinine water and look out at British warships in the harbor, recalling the days when it was believed that a couple of His Majesty's gunboats could bring the yellow heathens to their senses if there was ever trouble.

Directly in the foreground below the Hilton is the Hong Kong Cricket Club. Each morning certain ceremonies can be observed there. Athletic instructors in white uniforms march out at the heads of columns of children in white uniforms. They spread across the green cricket pitch for exercises and for games before forming up to march in again. In the afternoon out come groups of men in white, and a cricket match begins. They play at this mysterious game for interminable periods. Finally, when the cricket match has ceased, here come more groups of men in white, tennis nets are set up, and tennis is played on the grass, with Chinese boys to fetch the balls.

In an intensely crowded area of four million people, where about 100,000 live on sampans and junks in the harbor and around the island and another 100,000 camp on rooftops in shelters that are blown away by typhoons, where two of every three adults are refugees, this cricket pitch, which serves merely a few of the 50,000 British and other foreign devils in Hong Kong, eventually became intolerable. The cricket club lease will not be renewed when it expires in 1971, some 120 years after the club was founded. Instead, the pitch will become a park. The architects are arguing whether to put in a skating rink or a bandstand, but what is certain is that the cricket club will no longer exist.

"Pretty amusing if you ask me," an American businessman, himself a New Colonial operating in an Old Colony, said of the cricket club situation one afternoon in the Hilton. "The British are here for maintenance and protection, you know, to be the cops and keep the city running as a free port where a lot of money can change hands. But the Chinese like to kick them in the tail now and then to remind them Hong Kong is in China."

Hong Kong is an island about 10 miles long dominated by Victoria Peak. Across the harbor, on the Chinese mainland, is Kowloon ("Calhoun? Crazy name for a Chinese town," I heard an American golfer say), a jumble of hotels, factories, jewelry shops, tailors, restaurants, Turkish baths and tenements draped with laundry. Beyond Kowloon is the New Territories, more than 350 square miles of farmland and mountains bordered in the north by the Sham Chun River, past which is Kwangtung province of Communist China. The New Territories will legally revert to mainland Chinese possession in 28 years, which is one reason why vast areas, including nearly 200 islands, remain open, unbroken land despite the crowded conditions in Hong Kong proper.

To reach the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club from Hong Kong Island one goes by ferry across the harbor through a maze of boats, then by train on the Kowloon-Canton Railway for an hour north through green hills and pines, past hundreds of tiny truck farms being worked by barefoot peasants, with pagodas up on the smoky heights and fishing boats moving slowly on the water. Through the train windows one sees many schools with the expectable asphalt soccer and basketball courts, and uniformed children at the railroad platforms carrying their books in airline flight bags. The vegetable farms are irrigated with intricate systems of ditches, and there are fields bright with flowers that are potted to be sold in florist shops.

Drinks are served on the train by a porter in a white jacket. On an early-morning ride north toward the Sheung Shui station, an American sailor boarded at the first stop out of Kowloon. The sailor was somewhat unsteady, clearly in the throes of a monstrous hangover, his cap crammed low on his forehead and his eyes the color of tomato aspic. He lit a cigarette and ordered a beer from the porter. Halfway through the beer he raised his head and looked around the car. Painfully he blinked, shook his head and blinked again. Seated nearby he saw perhaps 20 men wearing pullover shirts, most carrying handbags, some carrying extra pairs of shoes with spikes. But what held the sailor's attention were the golf clubs. Almost everybody else was some ordinary Chinese on his way someplace, but there were 20 guys on this train with putters! You could almost hear the sailor muttering to himself: "God help me if this is the train to Mamaroneck."

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