20 Summer Days In China by Betty Blunden (1974)

6 September

Next day, our last day, I visited one of the big Freedom Shops run by mainland China. Here I felt more at home and bought a few things. The prices were very low but not quite as low as they had been in China. Before lunch six of us hired two taxis to drive us through a tunnel under the bay and around the island. It was a very pleasant run. After leaving the business centre on the island we drove up and around, passing expensive mansions perched in their beautiful gardens looking out over the water. We ended up at a fishing village called Aberdeen. Here the taxi drivers asked for an unreasonable fare and there was a small scene of protest. Rose solved it in true British style by calling a policeman who quickly settled it to our advantage. We were then approached by a young Chinese woman who begged us to go for a tour on her junk. As we were preparing to go on board an American intervened and warned us not to go as the junks did not have lifebelts and we were risking our lives. We hesitated and the Chinese girl nearly went berserk, abusing the American, us and anyone else within earshot. At the same time she was cajoling us to come on board. Thelma, Arthur and I felt distinctly put off and decided against going. Marje, Rose and Jim went for the junk tour. We three cowards walked along the street and chose a small fish cafe for lunch. It was pleasant and quite different from the Chinese meals we had been having, and we were content then to catch a bus that was returning to the business centre of the island. It was a double decker and was travelling around the coast on the side opposite to the one we had come by. We sat upstairs in the front and felt sufficiently adventurous. We passed through the most appalling slums, quite unlike anything we had seen in China and felt satisfied that we were seeing the other side of the coin. A pleasant ferry trip back to Kow Loon finished the outing.

It was still early afternoon when we arrived back at the hotel but I was not in the sightseeing mood any more. I didn’t want to see any more of Hong Kong, or Kow Loon. I went to my room and wrote letters. I wanted no further experiences, but just to digest what I had already taken in. At dinner we were told that our British Airways plane had left London two hours late and instead of flying out at 8.45 it would be 10.45. It was a Jumbo, and by the time we had found seats for ourselves it was crammed full. It was not a pleasant flight. I was so overtired that I could not sleep. When we arrived at Sydney Airport the chaos was unbelievable. A late flight with a Jumbo means 400 people have missed their connecting flight. People fighting at a counter for a plane booking can be an unattractive sight and I found myself part of it. It was all horrid, back in the world of fight-for-yourself. There was now no opportunity to say goodbye to other members of the group, they were all lost in the great milling crowd. As soon as I got my booking for the on flight to Melbourne, for eight hours later, I rang Mavis and left in a taxi for her place.

The young taxi driver asked where had I come from. When I said “China” he said “Mainland China?” then “How did you get there — ?” I have always wanted to go to China”. He was a student and a marvellous audience. So I started, talking about China. And I shall never stop.