My Hong Kong Adventure

Walter Ashe

 In 1937, while serving in the U.S. Navy, I was a crewmember of the gunboat USS ASHEVILLE. We sailed the whole 2000-mi1e length of the China coast to protect American lives and property and found very interesting experiences in many of the ports that we visited. One port we enjoyed and visited quite often was Hong Kong. I spent many liberties browsing around the shops and areas that have many exciting things to recall as I unfold my memory bank to disclose some of the events.

    One day I was browsing in the Thieves Market in Victoria, which is the city on the island of better known Hong Kong. It was a street filled with outdoor Stands and shops like our "flee markets." I was looking for an opium pipe to take home as a souvenir. In the process of looking, in one of the shops that sold such things, I had made my needs verbally to the shopkeeper. He had pointed to several examples of what I was looking for and then left to wait on another customer while I continued trying to decide on what type of opium pipe I would want. I finally made a purchase of a small pipe about two feet long and was
getting ready to leave the shop. Suddenly, a Chinese man wearing a black mandarin suit moved quietly beside me and whispered in my ear, "You likee smoke?" Ah! The sound of adventure rang in my ears. "Yes, very much, " I lied. Soon with my Chinese guide leading the way, we weaved in and out of alleys and back streets until we came to a carpenter shop.

    It was an authentic shop from all appearances. We passed men sawing and planning lumber and entered a black cotton drape-covered doorway that surely did not indicate any secret operations therein. We proceeded down a dimly lit hallway. I felt a sense of danger at this point, my enthusiasm for adventure dropping gradually, but I kept going. At the end of the hallway I was led through another same draped doorway. Immediately, the sweet odor of opium filled my senses. Several bunks lined the walls and there were men stretched out thereon puffing ardently on the long opium pipes, lost in a drug filled dream world. My guide notified the proprietor of my desire to smoke. I could not make out his feature too clearly as the room was only lit by a small table lamp against the wall between the rows of bunks. He appeared somewhat eager to satisfy my needs and his thin black mustache hung down alongside his mouth seemed to rise as he showed yellow stained teeth in what appeared as a form of greeting. He quickly left the room and quickly returned with an opium pipe all filled and ready for use. At this point my spirit of adventure came to an abrupt end. I felt in great danger as I remembered the hatchet slaying I used to read about that happened in the San Francisco Chinatown. I knew that I had to get out of this place and in a hurry .In my desperation, and maybe a little panicky, I quickly went into an act. I suddenly, with feigned great excitement, looked at my watch. 

    "Oh! my " I spoke to the proprietor, "I'm late for an appointment," I cried out in haste. "Hold the pipe and I'll be right back." And without another word I dashed down the hallway and out into the street. I ran all the way to the Queens Theater, where I found refuge. I sat there for a long time, not aware what was on the screen, until I felt free to venture outside and headed in the opposite direction. You can be sure it was enough adventure for one day and I headed back to the dock where I could take a boat back to the protection of the ship. Maybe it was just plain Irish luck or my guardian angel that saved my from what could have been, I thought, a disastrous situation. I often wondered what the reaction was by the opium dealer to my quick departure. Maybe they had a good laugh at the crazy American sailor, but opium was illegal in Hong Kong, so they might have been concerned that the police would be informed. I'll never know, but I do still have my souvenir, the opium pipe from China.