High Adventure on the High SeasbyAzPilot©
An odd, short term romance many years ago in post-war China. Quite an adventure for a young man.
Right after World War Two, the Pacific was awash with surplus of every description. Boats, ships, aircraft and weapons were everywhere. It was mind boggling in the enormity. What an opportunity for enterprising young men.
I'm Chick, a nickname because my last name is hard to pronounce properly, and I was a crewman on board a submarine in the South Pacific. We were patrolling off the south tip of Japan when the surrender was signed. After that happened, we were assigned to accompany the carrier Boxer, along with some other ships as escorts for a trip around the coast of China.
We all traveled up to Tsingtao, China, for the first stop. North China, politically, at that time with factions of the North Chinese surrounding the area which was in the shaky hands of the Kuomintang, or Chiang Kai-shek forces. We couldn't go outside the city limits because of the shooting but we could explore the city somewhat. Conditions were beyond deplorable. We were all shocked at what we had seen. The group didn't stay long and we sailed down the coast to some other port, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macao, before going back to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
We had seen the problem caused by the two factions in china. Of course, the US endorsed Chiang against the Japanese, who had invaded China in 1935. Now, a group of Chinese, in the north of the country, had challenged Chiang's weak and corrupt government. This group would later be led by Mao Tse Tung who would become chairman and head of a powerful Communist regime. At the time period I'm speaking of, the Northern Chinese only controlled a portion of the country and the fighting was bitter.
The escort group split up and we went to the sub base in Pearl. Our boat had some work done in a drydock. I know, a boat is a craft that can be hoisted aboard a ship, however, in the history of subs, up to that time, they were called boats. At times even called "pig boats", but by the time the fleet type sub had been created, there were so many improvements that nickname was no longer fitting.
Some of the men were about due for discharge by this time. You see, some signed an enlistment for a definite period of time, but during wartime so many men were needed, the services came up with a program that a man could sign up for the duration of the war, plus six months. I was in the latter group, as were many.
Since China, several of us had been talking about what we had seen, all over the Pacific, as well as what we experienced in China. All of us had a lot of back pay coming as well as a discharge bonus. You see, when you are at sea, in a sub especially, there is no place to spend any money, so we didn't make a full draw on the monthly pay coming to us. We were paid at the level of our rank, the 50% extra for hazardous sub duty, plus a small percent for overseas pay. We might be at sea for about 3 months, then pull into, say Australia for fuel, torpedoes, ammunition and food, for a week or two, then go out again. After the Philippines were freed, we would go into the old sub base at Subic Bay.
It was at some of those freed areas that we had seen hundreds, if not thousands of boats and ships parked, destined to rot there, possibly. For a modest sum you could buy an LST, for instance. These were large, long distance cargo carriers, capable of carrying trucks, jeeps and tanks.
Another background fact was that when an island was invaded by the allies, the outer ring of ships were subs. They could control their depth in the water and could also control their height on the surface. If they chose, they could sail with the deck just awash. Pilots were told that if their aircraft became disabled to head for the outer ring and the subs could pick them up with ease, not having to hoist them up 20, or so feet to the deck. Wounded pilots could be floated right onto the deck. After the island was secured we were sometimes allowed to venture ashore to look around. It was like a reward to get to go ashore after 3 months at sea. We looked at the sights and devastation. It was interesting.
With that background, seven of us decided to get our discharge in Hawaii. We had a mix of talents. A couple of men were engineers, or diesel operators. A couple were electricians and yet another man was boatswain. Boatswains can navigate and take star sightings for location. I was trained as a torpedo man and the last was a cook-baker. We had a crew of sorts. It meant very hard work for all of us. In subs, we were cross trained in each job on the ship. In case someone got hurt, any of us could fill in temporarily. Now to get a ship.
We pooled our money and traveled to the Philippine area and bought an LST. That was an interesting tale in itself. They, some Navy guys, just asked for a small sum and went on their way. To this day, I'm sure that they pocketed the money and wrote the ship off as damaged and destroyed. I don't remember any paperwork changing hands. It was one of a thousand ships and boats parked there. We tried to pick the cleanest one. First we checked the fuel. Pretty good but not full. We started scrounging hoses and pumped fuel from some of the others tied up next to us until we had a full tank. No one stopped us, no one cared. We picked up anything we thought would be of use to us later and loaded it aboard. I remember painting over the ship name and number, but don't remember what it was. We didn't care. An LST, in wartime, had a crew of about 145- 150. We had a lot of work to do to sail it where we wanted to go with just the seven of us. We didn't sleep much enroute.
We finally set sail and went to a couple of small islands we knew about that had been fought over. Going ashore, we combed the areas for any type of explosives and weapons we could find. We didn't care whose- Japanese or allied. If it would go "boom" we took it. If it drove, we took it. We cleaned up thousands of rifles, tons of ammunition, trucks, jeeps and amphibious vehicles until we had a good load. An LST can shove right up onto a shore, open it's doors and lower a ramp for vehicles to drive right on board. That's how we got the cargo aboard. We drove trucks around to various depots, loaded them up and drove the trucks on board- and left them there. For the next load, we would get another truck from the, now defunct, motor pool on the abandoned island. It was something else.
By this time, Chiang's popularity had waned; the American public finally realized that he was just a greedy warlord, out for himself. His contacts got scarce so supplies were difficult to obtain. He had money. After all, he had looted a large portion of South China, the wealthier area; he just couldn't get countries to give him war materials anymore.
Here we came. Loaded. Ship and all. We pulled into Guang-Zhou, a port and industrial area near Hong Kong and negotiated a deal with one of Chiangs generals who was in charge of the region. We were paid off in gold. I'll never forget that color. The whole operation had only taken a few weeks of very intensive labor on our part. We got an escort into Hong Kong and deposited our gold in an international bank that was back in operation again under the British. We were rich. We looked around Hong Kong for a while, about a week and decided to go to Portuguese Macao and see it a little better. Why there? It was one big gambling area. Sure, Vegas has more lights now, but you must remember that Vegas didn't hardly exist until a few years later than the time I'm describing. The Chinese have gambling in their genes and Macao was an outlet that was unbelievable.
It was a wet, wild and wooly time, especially for someone that was 20. I was the youngest of the seven and one or another of the group had tried to get me drunk and tattooed several times. I don't know, to this day, why they weren't successful, but it didn't happen. None of us had lost much money gambling, but we did have a good time observing all the sights. Then we went back to Shanghai.
Given the semi-wartime conditions that existed in all of China, following the crushing control of Japan, the country as a whole, was broke. Conditions were horrible many places that we had visited on the cruise and they certainly hadn't improved any since. Whole populations were starving. We had seen water dipped up from a river to cook with that would have killed a horse. It was said that if you fell into the Whangpo, or Huangpu river, near Shanghai, you would die. Not from the current, the water was so contaminated, even then, that it was deadly. I'm told nothing has changed.
We lacked entertainment of the female persuasion. Horny doesn't describe it, yet we couldn't trust the whores that were everywhere. Dear God, they had diseases that the world knew nothing about. Then an idea occurred to one of us. I don't remember which one right now, but it had merit when explained. Families were desperate. Boys were valuable, for they could work and earn money to buy food for the family.
Girls were worthless. Some families even killed their female infants at birth because they couldn't feed them. In fact, that tradition was practiced in a small way until recently, when the chairman declared that couples could only have one child, under penalty of punishment. Now that's created another problem, but not of this story.
A girl, about 11 or 12 could be purchased for $15 at that time. They were good for house servants, cleaning and drudgery chores. At the next level, 13 to 18, they were good for heavier work and commanded a higher price, about $20. Over that, the price went down, as the families really wanted to get rid of the older ones. They were bigger and ate more. We checked around and found that about 10 to 12 dollars, American, a half ounce of gold, or a few British pounds would buy a girl of 18. You owned her. The family had sold her. It was final. She wasn't rented, leased or borrowed. Cruel? Inhuman? Wrong? I couldn't agree more, but those were the times, the customs and the climate then. It just was.
We became rather proud owners. Now, this was a totally new process to us, even eldest of our group. You can't just go walking around and kicking the tires, so's to speak. We hired an interpreter to handle the negotiations for us. He rounded up several likely prospects in the 18 to 20 year old range and had us inspect the merchandise. I'll tell you, that was an experience for a young kid who had little knowledge beyond that which he had gained in the backseat of a 1940 Chevy. All of the girls were scrawny, dirty and in rags. Some were homely, some so-so and a few were really rather pretty. After all, we were in a country where most of the populace looked similar to us. The close look was an awakening, of sorts. There were differences. We each picked out one we liked and the talks began. Finally, all seven of us had a girl. It was just a handshake agreement. No title papers involved. The families just walked away.
Oh my God. What do we do now? Through the interpreter, we found rooms for our small family, as it were, and went shopping. We needed everything. Clothes for the girls, cooking utensils, food, everything. And we couldn't speak Chinese. Not Mandarin or any other dialect. Each of us learned the name of our purchase; mine was Sue Fawn, or a close approximation to that. Sign language was the only communication we really had.
We all went "home" to our respective rooms and then tried our best to cope with the situation we had created. First order, of course, was to get the girls cleaned up. Vigorous scrubbing was involved. Some required several treatments. A couple of the girls had never seen running water. We were starting from scratch, if you will. Still today, I can't begin to fathom what went on in the girls minds. They were now owned by these huge, and probably to them ugly "guan-jo" creatures. They must have feared for their lives. For all they knew, we may have bought them to put into soup. They would never see their families again, just like that. Sold. They were property and they knew it. Some trembled with each touch. The fear was palpable. We suddenly had a lot to overcome.
Dear god, what had we done. We were planning to go back home soon and here we had Bought a girl. We Owned her! Given the immigration laws of the time, it would have taken a year or more to get her into the states. Maybe longer, as Chinese have had a very low quota since the railroads imported a huge number to build the first US trans continental railroad in the 1800s. Would any of our families accept them if we did get them in? None, probably, as interracial marriages were illegal in many states then. Jim Crow was alive and well in the south and honored under the counter most everywhere else.
Well, we've done it, now what the Hell do we do? Okay, we can eat from restaurants and street vendors until we can get this shopping and cooking thing figured out. I can't speak for the others, but I tried holding a bowl and chopsticks and making motions of eating. I put our small wok by the stove and made motions of stirring. Sue Fawn nodded. Damn, we've made progress, of sorts. I took her hand and we went out into the street, looking for a market. I heard, and smelled, one a couple of blocks away. Ohboy, now we see how good I am at communication.
All I could think of was to turn my right hand palm up and make a broad sweeping gesture, pretty well covering the whole area. I saw a glimmer. Good. We moved along slowly until we got to a vegetable stand, where I pointed to the produce. She nodded and spoke to the vendor. Then more rapid fire speech which I presumed was bartering for a better price. Shortly, she turned to me and held out her hand. I dug out some national currency and gave it to her. We now had some groceries. I smiled. She now led me through the maze of carts and stalls to some other vendors. We quickly acquired some oil, spices, a bit of fish, some noodles and more vegetables. Wow, she's bright, too.
We took our purchases back to our room where she started cooking our food. It turned out very good. Wow! I went to the rooms of the others and told them what had happened to me and they said that about the same things had happened to them also. Sue Fawn and I went out again and this time I was looking for more clothes for her as she only had the one outfit so far. I had thrown out the clothing she had worn when we met. I was chilly that time of the year so I bought her a nice warm jacket and some more dresses. Some socks, shoes and sandals went into a bag, also. I didn't have a clue about what Chinese women wore for undergarments. Of course, I knew what US girls wore, but this was a whole different world.
I tried touching her breasts, then patting her on the crotch. I had another thought. I pulled up my shirt and the pulled my underwear shorts waistband up into view. After pointing a couple of times, she got the idea and led me off to another dealer where she negotiated another deal for underpants and bras for herself. Hey, we're getting across to one another.
Sue Fawn fixed an evening meal and then I'm sure we both wondered what was next. I did. The first night was different as she was just newly owned, scrubbed and scared. I made sure I didn't touch her. The next night was a little different as she knew I wouldn't hurt her and that I cared for her welfare. We went to bed together, but I just hugged her and gently held her close. She relaxed, snuggled and went to sleep. The next several days, and nights, went on like this for us. She kept the place clean, washed our clothes, shopped and cooked. In one weird moment, I caught myself thinking, "what a Helluva a bargain."
As time progressed, I became bolder with her, especially in bed. When she understood what I was doing, she returned the caresses, kisses and affection. During the day, she was the lowly servant by her actions, no matter what I tried to sign to her that she was an equal. That notion did not exist among female Chinese at that time. I found a change in bed, though. In a very short time she didn't just lay there frozen and take whatever I chose to do with her. She slowly became a participant. A very willing participant. Life was getting better.
During the daytime we had lessons- she in English, me in Mandarin. I still remember a few words today, even after all this time. In a short time, we were making love and enjoying it very much each evening. It was quiet, gentle, slow and deeply felt. Oh god, it was wonderful.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to a close. Eventually, we all had had our fill of China with it's smells, noise, poverty and corruption. We all decided to go home, now a few months after our discharge from the service. Fine, we were all agreed. BUT. What about the girls? We certainly couldn't take them back with us. We, just as certainly, couldn't dump them on the street and walk away, either. This discussion totally consumed a couple of days.
We finally came to the conclusion that we would get an interpreter to tell them exactly what was going on, and why. We weren't disgusted with them, just homesick. We wanted them to have good joss spirits and go on with their lives. We arranged this and gave each of the girls several hundred pounds Sterling, a fortune in that place, in those days. They were now well fed, well clothed and had enough money to last a long time.
We felt we had done the best we could for them, but it was still hard to leave them. Leaving China was easy but we had found friends in the girls, like adopting a lost puppy, only to turn it out, later, into the world again. It was done, though and three days later, we were back in Honolulu on our way to the States. We separated in California and haven't kept in touch. I went home to mid America, continued schooling and never looked back. Later, when I married, I told my wife part of the adventure, but never the whole story. I used to have a few snapshots of some of the girls and Sue Fawn. We've moved a lot in the many years we were married and I haven't seen them for thirty years. This is the first time the entire story has been told by me. I'm not worried what the kids will say as I'm sure they will accept it and go on. It didn't, and doesn't have anything to do with them. I might even get an "atta boy" from a couple of them. Who knows. I'm sure all the others are dead now as I'm an old man but once in while I wonder what ever happened to the girls.