Seeing Rita Hayworth in all her glamour in Orson Welles’ "Lady from Shanghai" had intrigued me to want to see to the Orient.
After flying as a stewardess for Pan Am for six months, I was granted discount tickets.
I was going to fly my mother around the world -- Hawaii, Tokyo and Hong Kong! I could hear the rickshaws being pulled on the streets and alleys and smell the freshly roasted pork that the authentic Chinese restaurants specialized in.
This past Sunday, the series "Pan Am" took a trip to Hong Kong, and my memories were revived.
My mother had been caring for my father, who suffered from Parkinson’s. I wanted to take her away from it all. I had been living at home and planned my escape by becoming a stewardess, which left my mother with the caretaking. Guilt hounded me. I would make up for my abandoning her by treating her to a trip to the Orient.
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.”
Herb was my father’s name. I wasn’t the only one haunted by guilt.
To my shame, my first trip was to a tailor.
I got the address from the concierge. We had one week in Hong Kong, and every day I made a trip to this tailor who was charming and wise, but said I was wasting my valuable time on material possessions.
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 50s, while I was in my 20s. 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 said, 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 roof-top restaurant where there was an Italian band playing, and I thought I was in Rome.
The lights sparkled in the harbor which at this time -- the mid '60s -- could only be crossed by a ferry boat. The mainland was cut off from Hong Kong. All this was visible from our table in this candlelit restaurant.
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 where we went for lunch on a
Sampan -- a boat anchored by the bay…with Harry.
We visited the new territories from the Peninsula where we saw the Great Wall of China … with Harry.
We took a quick trip to Macao in a hydrofoil and heard about the great plans for this city, which in the 60s was dust and one dirty race track … with Harry.
Finally, mother said, “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 didn't go to dinner with Harry, but when Mom was asleep, I slipped out to have a drink with him to say "goodbye," then never saw him again.
He was kind and a bit aggressive, but I was able to reject his advances. Wearing the Pan Am girdle helped. Who needed a chastity belt when one had the Pan Am girdle?
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 schedule (I understood Michael Jackson’s fear of sleep) 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.“
And I couldn’t have given her the experience without having been a stewardess for Pan Am.