There is no month like the month of May. April showers bring May flowers. On the first day of May, 50 years ago, we got more than flowers. Our ship, the S.S. President Wilson, docked that day beside the Sea Terminal in Hong Kong harbor.
Now, half a century has passed, and neither Hong Kong nor my wife and I are exactly the same.
Then Hong Kong was the crown jewel in the British colonial system. Those were the days when the sun never set on the British Empire.
It all began when we resigned the pastorate of the First Baptist Church of San Manuel, Ariz., to take up the missionary role on the island of Taiwan.
We flew to Los Angeles for our visas, visited Art Linkletter’s TV show and got a wave from Dinah Shore!
After a night or two in San Francisco’s Stewart Hotel, we boarded the ship at 4 p.m., April 10, 1957.
On that date 45 years earlier the ill-fated Titanic sailed. Not being superstitious we set sail. Going out of the bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge was but the first of many new experiences for two flat-land Texans.
This was before commercial jets, and going by ship was a great savings. We also were able to take loads of stuff like a kerosene cooking stove and bundles of toilet tissue. The stove was used only a few years, as Taiwan has plenty of propane. The toilet tissue was coveted, because all the stores sold was packages of rough brown paper, which we learned to appreciate with time.
Sailing with us were George and Beth Wilson and their three children: Sarah, Denise and six-month old George III. Now they have a granddaughter living in Taiwan and a Hong Kong-born son, Dr. Dale Wilson, Ph.D., Columbia.
The Wilsons were appointed to Hong Kong, where he later became president of the Baptist Seminary, as well as a leading fixture in the emerging Hong Kong Baptist College. Today it is one of Asia’s leading universities.
First stop was Hawaii, then a U.S. territory and not yet a state. We had a whole day to see the sights. Uncrowded, unhurried Honolulu had a hula-skirted group to greet us. Interesting Asian customs began to force themselves on us.
The next land we saw was Yokohama Bay, Japan. The city of Tokyo still showed signs of the Second World War, but also a determined people enduring the changing scene.
Dad, being a barber, got lots of snapshots of barbershops on our journey. Later in Taiwan I was impressed with an outdoor barbershop, underneath the spreading chestnut tree–or was it a banyan?
Easter at sea was interesting, but no sunshine as I recall.
The approach to the Philippines took us east of Taiwan and then near Corregidor Island–one of the last parts of the islands surrendered to Japan in 1942.
Manila was hot. That is all I remember about it. And the whistles men made at the girls. It was a piercing, somewhat rude custom from the streets.
At every stop we met former China missionaries, who had been forced to leave China when the Communists took over. Baptist work in Asia, up until 1945, had only been in China and Japan. The veterans branched out to open work in the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and South Korea.
May 1 is the world labor day, and Hong Kong was covered in flags. The Chinese Communist flag and the Nationalists (Taiwan) flag was everywhere. It was a colorful battle of flags.
The year before there had been more riots than color. But 1957 found most of the fanatics holding in their anger. The British were good at controlling a colony. (Who could guess that 50 years later the United States would be trying their hand at colonization–and doing a poor job of it!)
There were no skyscrapers. The stores only turned the lights on when they had a customer. If you were the first customer of the day, you got a bargain. It was always good to shop early.
May 6, 1957, Jody and I boarded a British coastal steamer for Keelung, Taiwan. The captain was a Sydney Greenstreet look-alike. But that’s another story.
Britt Towery, a retired Baptist missionary, writes a weekly column for the Brownwood Bulletin in Brownwood, Texas.