After I saw Rita Hayworth in Orson Welles's Lady from Shanghai, I wanted desperately to see the Orient. When I was granted discount tickets six months into my career as a Pan Am stewardess, I could almost hear the rickshaws being pulled down the streets and alleys and smell the freshly roasted pork.
My mother had been caring for my father who suffered from Parkinson's and I wanted to take her away from it all. My becoming a stewardess left my mother with the caretaking. Hounded by guilt, I decided to make up for my abandoning her by treating my mother to a trip to Hong Kong.
We stayed in Pan Am's Intercontinental Hotel, the Mandarin, which had a view of the harbor outside our bedroom window. It was magnificent.
"Well, what do you think of the view?" I asked Mom.
"It's nice, but I miss Philadelphia. I wonder how Herb is."
I wasn't the only one haunted by guilt.
At the airport in baggage I met Harry. Baggage was a great place to meet men. In each city I met a new man who helped my mother and me with our luggage and eventually invited us to dinner. Harry was an antique salesman in his fifties while I was in my twenties. Mother was horrified.
"How long are you both staying in Hong Kong?" Harry asked me while ignoring my mother.
"We only have week."
"Will you allow me to take you both to dinner tonight?" Harry asked, picking up our bags.
I looked at mother for approval, but she was studying the luggage. "Sure," I said as mother rolled her eyes in a here-we-go-again expression.
Harry came to our hotel and treated us to a Rickshaw ride to the restaurant. He visited Hong Kong regularly to buy antiques. Mother giggled girlishly when we rode in the rickshaw and slowly was "cottoning" to Harry.
"These bumps are hard on my organs," she said, laughing at the roughness of the unpaved street.
During dinner we enjoyed eating snake (well, I did) and hundred year old eggs. No bugs please, though they were offered.
Once back at the Mandarin Hotel we went to the rooftop restaurant where there was an Italian band playing and I felt like I was back in Rome. The lights sparkled in the harbor. which could still only be crossed by ferry.
Hong Kong was a series of peaks and valleys. It had dramatically tall buildings juxtaposed against narrow streets. The harbor of Kowloon was just on the other side of the island and we went there for lunch on a sampan with Harry. We ventured farther away, visiting the Great Wall of China with Harry and even making a quick trip to Macao in a hydrofoil with Harry. That city was nothing but dust and one dirty race track.
My mother finally issued an ultimatum: "If you don't stop seeing that man, I'm going to leave you."
"What! How could you fly home alone?"
"Don't underestimate me, Carole" Mom said, as she packed her bags.
It was our last night and I did not go to dinner with Harry, but when Mom was asleep, slipped out to have a drink with him to say goodbye. He was kind and a bit aggressive, but I was able to reject his advances. Wearing the Pan Am girdle helped; it wasn't a chastity belt but it wasn't too different.
When we landed in Philadelphia, I was happy to see the airport and to be home. All that airsickness, all those pills I had to ingest to force sleep so that I would be rested for the next leg of my and all those tiresome passengers I had to appease, had been worth enduring to give my mother this gift. The gift of seeing Hong Kong and of flying around the world in a DC 8.
"Thank you, Carole," she said, as she kissed me and I held her tiny 5'2" frame. "I couldn't have had this experience without you. "
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