Yokohama, in Tokyo Bay, was our first port of call of our Japanese coastal trip.. If I thought Singapore and Hong Kong were foreign, Yokohama was real ‘foreign’ The people were different from Chinese, very friendly, but different. Fortunately at that time the exchange rate for a British pound note was 1060 Japanese yen. The current exchange rate is 172 yen for a British pound. How the mighty have fallen.
At least this time we were alongside, and we didn’t have to worry about shore boats, just taxis getting in to & out of the dock area so that we didn’t have to walk too far. We were alongside for three days, and the evenings were spent in the town, but as time passed I realised that even at the fabulous exchange rate I was running out of money. My weekly wage was about £5.00 a week and a taxi to / from the city was expensive. I didn’t see much of Yokohama city except in the evening when it was dark. Being October the sunset came early.
At 3.30 am on the third night we were called for departure stations. We manoeuvred off the wharf to the outer harbour around 6.00 am, and as the pilot climbed down in to the pilot boat I looked back at Yokohama and saw the sun shining on Mount Juji. When I was in Japan they told me that if you see Mt Juji on leaving, you would return. Each voyage I used to look for the mountain and I was able to see it, until on my last voyage when I couldn’t, because we sailed at night.
I didn’t return to Japan again until the late 1980’s. This time I arrived by plane, because I was working for another company, and no longer at sea.
The short trip to Kobe saw us off the wharf the following day. It was a very short visit because within hours we had left and moved across the bay to Osaka.
I had a very unusual experience on my first run ashore in Kobe. As we left the ship my friend asked about the railway station and I pointed out the street and where we would turn right and then left for the station. I’d never been to Kobe and hadn’t seen a map of the city, so I do not have any idea how I knew the directions, but I knew I was correct. We followed my directions and they were correct. I must admit it left me with a very funny feeling. Sannomiya was the name of the station, but I didn’t know the name when I gave the directions.
The Kobe Port Tower had just been finished, but I don’t think it was open to the public. At 108 mtrs it looked huge to us at the time.
Kobe Tower at night.
After loading in Kobe we sailed through the Inland Sea to the open waters of the Yellow Sea off the coast of China, our next port was Tientsin (now Tienjin).
This was my first visit to Communist China, and I had been warned about what we could take in to the country, and to be very aware of the sensitivity of trading with the Chinese.
At the time I had just finished reading a novel called The Blue Ants by Bernard Newman, which was about a war that breaks out between China and Russia. In the novel the Chinese army is supplied by millions of people carry the supplies on their head. The standard dress for everyone at that time in China was blue shirt and blue trousers – everyone wore the same, hence from the air they looked like blue ants. The book was banned in China, and I was warned that I could get in to trouble if the book was found in my cabin. I am sorry to say that I threw the book overboard as we approached the pilot boat. Even though I’d finished the book, I intended to buy a fresh copy to keep, but I have never seen it since.
I cannot pass a second hand bookshop without going in for a browse, but not just for The Blue Ants. :-o)
My first impression of China was not a happy one – an armed guard at the top of the gangway and another at the bottom. The dockside labour would not speak to us unless it was via the foreman (political officer??). As part of our crew we had Hong Kong Chinese – the carpenter, the ‘donkey men’, who were engine room fitters, and one or two others. None of them spoke to the shore labour and the shore labour made sure that they were never in contact with these ‘gweilo’ (foreign devil) Chinese.
The one thing that I noticed when visiting Shanghai later in the trip, was the lack of seagulls and domestic cats. I often thought that perhaps the local population had eaten them, because many of the people looked hungry.
Before sailing from Tientsin I was instructed to take the draft reading. To do this I had to be given special permission to pass the armed guard at the top of the gangway, and on stepping ashore on to the wharf an armed guard accompanied me to the bow and stern as I read off the draft. We did not go ashore for any entertainment – entertainment was banned. Loud speakers on the wharf blared out Chinese propaganda twenty-four hours a day exhorting the labour to work hard. I wouldn’t have minded if the exhortations had been accompanied by music, at least I could have slept through the music, but the constant shouting did cause us to lose sleep. At least the shouting was in Chinese (Mandarin) so there was little chance of us being distracted or ‘converted’.
We were not sorry to see the back of Tientsin as we sailed for Tsingtao. The city of Tsingtoe was different, it was a naval base, and the locals were very twitchy.
Once again armed guards boarded us, along with the pilot, and watched our every move. We passed a Chinese submarine moored to a buoy, and the guards became quite agitated as we used binoculars to scan the sub, more out of interest than spying. After all we could see that it was an old diesel sub, circa WW2, and it was showing a lot of rust. Once the guards saw what we were looking at they became very ‘upset’ waving their rifles etc so we quickly looked the other way.
They authorities went through the ship in great detail checking every cabin and the crew’s quarters. I was glad that I had got rid of ‘The Blue Ants,’ the local guards appeared to be a little unstable.
During our time in Tsingtao, an army officer came on board and asked me if I could read English. I told him that I could, at which point he presented me with a number of books, in English. They were all propaganda books, and one was a red book containing the sayings of Chairman Mao. I still have three of these books. I wonder if the silver fish found them as unappetising as I did, when I tried to read them at the time.
Two Different Lines on the Question of War and Peace – a 38 page tome.
On the Question of Stalin – a thin book of 23 pages, obviously the question was quite short.
People of the World Unite etc etc see title – which is quite thick at 208 pages
Once again it was guards on the gangway and we were not allowed ashore except to read the draft. This was another port to be crossed off my bucket list.
Next stop Shanghai. What a city to spark the imagination, from the early days of the 1800’s to recent times. Shanghai conjured thoughts of romance, white Russian émigrés, Charlie Chan types, and all the excitement of the East.
We were allowed ashore! But we could only visit the Friendship store and the old Shanghai Club, locally known as the ‘British Club’, now (in 1963) called the Seaman’s Club, which used to have the longest bar in the world.
Noel Coward is supposed to have placed his cheek on the bar, squinted along it, and said that he could see the curvature of the Earth. There isn’t a record of how much he’d had that evening.
The Friendship store sold Chinese goods, but only to foreigners. The local Chinese where not allowed to shop in the store.
As I, and another cadet, stepped out of the dock area, a trishaw driver offered his services to take us to the Friendship Store at a rate that we couldn’t refuse. The trip was not far, and as we stepped down we offered the fare, which he refused and said that he would wait for us. After a little arguing with him in broken English (Chinglish?) we agreed that he could wait, and we entered the multi-storey shop.
The store contained many items of carved wood, from huge wardrobes to tiny figures pulling rickshaws. Much of the furniture was covered in dust showing us that business was not all that good. I did buy two decent size Chinese jars of pickled ginger.
They were to be a present for my mother, who loved pickled ginger.
After about half an hour we had our fill of ‘shopping’ and left the store to be greeted by our friendly driver. Next stop was the Shanghai Club, come British Club, come Seaman’s Club – we used the British Club title and the driver knew exactly where we wanted to be taken. Even though the Government had renamed the building, everyone referred to it as the British Club. The trip along the Bund was bumpy as we crisscrossed the tramlines and bounced over the cobbled stones, but who cared it was the Shanghai Bund!
Once again our driver told us that he would wait.
On entering we came face to face with a large statue of Chairman Mao, with his right hand held out in greeting and the words ‘Workers of the world unite’ carved at the foot of the statue.
The picture shows the idea of the stance of an eight to nine foot tall statue of Chairman Mao in the foyer of the British Club. (Seaman’s Club).
After passing the Chairman we found the world famous bar. Highly polished dark wood that one would expect from this type of British Club – all old world charm, three bladed fans on long stalks hanging from the ceiling added that little bit of yesteryear; but not quite old world. The Chinese had cut the length of the bar in half, and created a dining room, after one walked passed the beginning of the world famous bar.
The above picture was taken in 1912, and fifty year later it hadn’t changed much at all.
To jump ahead a few months –
I returned to Shanghai and the British Club some months later, but this time on a different ship. Once again I went ashore with a colleague for a drink or two.
We had our drinks and something to eat, and as it was getting late, we decided to return to the ship. In the alcohol half of the Long Bar there was a group of Scandinavian seamen who were a little worse for drink, and they were very noisy.
As we moved out of the bar to the foyer I saw that one of the drunken seamen had climbed Mao’s statue and was trying to hang a small American flag from the Chairman’s little finger of his right hand. The statue appeared to be extremely heavy, so there was little chance of it toppling over, even with the extra weight of the seaman.
We took one look at the scene and made a beeline for the exit door. The last thing we wanted was to be involved with the start of WW3. As we left the building police cars arrived, and a great deal of shouting began. We managed to climb in to our trishaw during the confusion, and make our ‘escape’.
Returning to my first trip –
We had a strict curfew and had to be back on board by 11.00 pm – the curfew was enforced by the Chinese authorities, not by our Captain. On leaving the British / Seaman’s Club our personal trishaw was still waiting. The driver (it was a bicycle style rickshaw) was dozing on his haunches near his trishaw and jumped up to make sure that we did not use a different trishaw.
On reaching the dock gates, with armed guards patrolling the gated area, we climbed down from the trishaw and paid the driver, giving him a good tip. He handed the tip back to us shaking his head and looking sideways at the guards. We then offered a couple of packs of British cigarettes (Rothmans) in an effort to show our appreciation (his fee for the night was so low we couldn’t see how he could possibly survive without tips) – the packs were refused; he bowed low and climbed on to his trishaw, his eyes constantly checking the movement of the guards who had been watching us since our arrival. It was obvious that one worker could not earn any more than the soldiers, and he was not going to take a chance of being arrested, or causing any trouble for himself. The best we could do was to smile, thank him again, and wave him good night as we carried our ‘friendship store’ purchases through the gates towards our ship.
Our next port of call was to be Hong Kong, where we knew our tips would not be refused.