Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Excerpt

Passengers for the Boac flight to Rome, Cairo, Basra, Karachi, Calcutta, Rangoon, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Tokyo, please say good-bye to your friends and take your seats in the coach.' Could such an announcement ever sound ordinary? Much as I love the Arabian Nights, no magic carpet offered such a prospect.

It was 3rd March 1950. My wife and I and twenty others started off for Heath Row, a little band already apart from the world of London streets. My thoughts were on the job ahead, an official mission of an unusual kind.

'I am directed by Mr. Secretary Creech Jones to invite you to write a book of about 100,000 words dealing authoritatively and comprehensively with the geography, history, economics, politics, social conditions and administration of the colony of Hong Kong. It is intended to be the first in a series dealing similarly with other British colonial territories and designed to provide books which, while in sufficient detail and with sufficient authority to be of value to the specialist in colonial affairs, will at the same time appeal to the general educated public by reason of their attractiveness of style and presentation.'

So began my official 'offer'. It is alarming to be asked to make an appeal to the 'general educated public', and to deal 'authoritatively' as well as 'comprehensively' with such an array of subjects as would require a team of professors and much more than 'about 100,000 words'. Being neither a professor nor a far-eastern expert, I have only tried to convey to 'ordinary readers' some of the excitement and interest Hong Kong gave to me. I hope they will not feel affronted by this assumption of a mutual sharing of lower standards.

My knowledge of the Chinese was slight. Years ago in the Island of Pemba in the Zanzibar Sultanate I made friends with three Chinese, who in a lonely little camp were collecting bêche-de-mer or sea-slugs for export to China. A little English and Swahili were our only means of intercourse, but they appreciated a friendly approach, and when I left presented me with a Chinese teapot and two handleless cups in a padded basket, and a Chinese-English phrase-book.

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