20 Summer Days In China by Betty Blunden (1974)

3 November 1974

Dearest June, I want to put down on paper my thoughts about my trip to China and what better way to do it than in a letter to you.

Our party of 24 assembled at the Overseas Airport at Mascot on 16.8.74. 13 women and 11 men. Ages ranging from 23 to 70, information supplied to us all with the names, addresses and occupations of our fellow tour members. A surprise to see my age ‘made public’ as you can imagine. But the list was an excellent introduction for us all and 1 didn’t take long to adjust to it. Marje Elmore our leader I had met twice before and half a dozen of our group who were Victorians had met at Marje’s place one evening. We were a very mixed group of people with interests and backgrounds as different as our ages. But we all had one thing in common; we were all friends of China. And we were all left wing, though we ranged from parlour pinks to proper Marxists.

We flew Qantas and we left Mascot at 11 am. I shall quote from my diary notes when I can. ‘Pleasant flight. People mixing and sizing each other up. Marje doing a tremendous ‘leader’ job. Talked at length with our wharfie — Jim Keogh’. Jim was the only really unhappy person on that plane. He wished himself back in Sydney with his buddies and couldn’t imagine why he had been persuaded to join a group ‘middle class intellectuals’ on such a trip. He drowned his sorrows in Aussie beer with the help and encouragement of the stewards.

We flew into Hong Kong at 11 pm and had the thrilling experience of seeing the city brilliant in its night lights as we skimmed over the tops of the skyscrapers to land on the runway at Kowloon.

We were met by Mr. Chau the Hong Kong representative of the China Travel Service and our smooth passage through Customs and into a waiting bus was a foretaste of the incredible service that was to be given us for the whole of our trip. Our luggage was left in a pile at the airport, and it was in another pile in the foyer of the Hotel Astor when we arrived there. A miracle that the Travel Service performed almost daily but which we never ceased to marvel at.

Double rooms were part of our packaged deal and Marje had matched up the unattached members of the group. Charlotte and I were allocated each other, an arrangement we both enjoyed for the whole tour. We didn’t see so much of each other as Charlotte chose to miss breakfast and I chose to go to bed early on every night that I could. I would rise early and wake her as I left for breakfast and I would be well asleep before she came to bed.

But we were completely compatible personalities. The party was allocated 12 rooms at the Astor which raised complications. But as Jim was so under the weather that first night he was given a room to himself and Marje came in with Charlotte and me. Fortunately for Marje a room to herself was usually available &or her. She worked so much harder than the rest of us that she needed some time to herself. But if a room was not available she came in with us.