Chestnut-haired Irish poets and the White Flower Medicine sign

Plus I stumble into history, again


Getting my foot in the door didn't go quite as I expected.

After six months of working unpaid on my days off, I noticed the Post was hiring people for the news desk ahead of me, people with nothing to recommend them except their British social connections to the editor.

That didn't augur well for the future, so I moved across the vast editorial room to the only paper in Hong Kong that was worse than the South China Morning Post: the Sunday South China Morning Post, which produced long, feature-style stories once a week.




The Sunday Post had its own staff, the worst case of human odds and ends I have ever seen. The editor-in-chief was a food writer who had been promoted to the job in a fit of bonhomie by his drinking buddy, the CEO. He was over his head, and painfully insecure that anyone might discover this. (Everyone had quickly discovered it.)

The deputy editor was a lady with frosted hair and tight skirts on the hunt for a husband. Sometimes she came to work in the same outfit two or three days in a row, having spent the night at the home of a prospect, bringing her toothbrush and make-up to the office in a clear plastic bag.

The news editor was a moderately competent man enraged at having to work for the two of them.


And then there were the reporters, about eight of us. Some of us had been at the game too long - a hot tip produced nothing but a yawn and a yarn about how something just like it had happened in 1967.

Some of us - myself included - were too green to produce much of quality without guidance, which was something the management team was in no position to give us.

So the paper sank, and sank. Every week it got worse.

The one time I did dig up a great story - Hong Kong Chinese immigrating to Australia and Canada were covering up the existence of elderly and handicapped family members, then dumping them in public nursing homes when they left - the news editor said it wasn't relevant and buried it on page 8.

A couple of months later, the story was on the front page of the New York Times.



The White Flower Medicine Oil sign

I focused on my social life. I was 24, and there were lots of men around.

On New Year's Eve 1988, I had five separate swains dancing around me at a local discotheque.

And there were more serious romances. The chestnut-haired Irish poet, whom I kissed on a rooftop beneath the neon beams of the White Flower medicine sign.

The talented French designer, whom I truly cared for but broke up with after a dinner party at which he refused to take off a penis-nose mask.

The Eurasian entrepreneur who still respectfully kowtowed to his parents on Chinese New Year.


I had girlfriends, too - on my 25th birthday, there were 12 of us around a table at a Chinese restaurant. It was Valentine's Day and we were all at leas nominally single, so I had a red carnation for each girl as a party favor. Roses were beyond my 25-year-old means.

I also recall a fantastic Duran Duran concert with all of us screaming, long past the band's prime.

On my own, I did a little freelancing for an interior design magazine, and sometimes sat in their office late at night, working on a never-to-be-published novel.

I'd ride home on the top deck of one of the old wooden streetcars, looking down at the neon reflected off the rainy streets.

My 25th birthday party

At the Shanghai Hilton, Christmas 1988

And I travelled. There was Shanghai at Christmas, with a drunken Santa at the local Hilton.

Or Canton, for a romantic weekend with the Irish poet. The staff apologized that the 1970s-era wing of the hotel was booked, and put us in a plush 1930s-era red velvet parlor that looked as if one of Chiang Kai-Shek's mistresses had just checked out.

There was a trip on the Trans-Siberian railway, through China and Russia to Poland and Berlin, and a trip to Beijing planned for May 1989, but postponed due to some local political unrest and a typhoon in Hong Kong that closed all the airports.

I rescheduled for a time when I thought things would be more calm in Beijing - June 1-5, 1989.

Next: Tiananmen Square

Return to Half-life homepage
Send e-mail to Xander Mellish: xmel _improved
U.S. Copyright Office Registration 1-141735861