Review: Hong Kong on the Brink

Hong Kong on the Brink is a memoir by an American diplomat who writes about Hong Kong in the 1960s during the tumultuous days of the Cultural Revolution. It’s a personal story with historical relevance.

The author, Syd Goldsmith, is not known as a particularly high-level diplomat. Yet his take as a Cantonese speaker at the American Consulate gives him a window into the inner workings of the time which makes this book about far more than just granting visas. With over fifty chapters, it covers a wide range showcasing both day-to-day life as well as complex international politics.

Goldsmith starts out with his backstory, explaining just how he became a Foreign Service Officer and found himself sent to Hong Kong in 1965. With an exceptional education, he decided to forego the business world and instead enter government service. He also delves into his personal life, his marriage and the birth of his first child, although those topics often seem to warrant less attention than the focus on his career (which he even admits in some critically self-reflective parts).

After a thorough screening process, he is sent to Hong Kong. It was not his first choice, but he soon starts to embrace it and studies Cantonese seriously. In the chapter entitled ‘The Tricks They Try,’ the book gets entertaining with an overview of the scams that immigrants utilized in the hopes of coming to the United States. Goldsmith always writes with no judgment. As a diplomat, he also gets to observe the high life of the rich and powerful. For the first third of the book all seems well even with the backdrop of Maoist China and the Vietnam War… Then, by chapter fifteen it is explained to him that “there was real trouble just below Hong Kong’s appearance of calm.”

The crux of the book is the communist riots of the year 1965, which is often foreshadowed until it finally explodes in the climax of the narrative.

The title of the chapter ‘The Labor Strife Boils Over’ shows an example of how  economics caused much unrest in the British colony. In the following chapters it is noted how many of Mao’s infamous Little Red Books have taken over the streets. At first it may not be judged as a serious threat, but the reader can feel the rising tension.

Meanwhile, various chapters jump from one topic to another, from briefly meeting Richard Nixon to an expose of Macau. Eventually, the author becomes a sort of CIA analyst as he meets with Cold War agents to discuss what may come. Not to mention a source for journalists as the resident expert.

Goldsmith can be downright poetic at times. “It strikes me that fright can sear memory, etching it deeply into grooves,” he muses. “A needle will play it like a 33-rpm record, over and over for a lifetime. But the trauma can also reduce memory to ashes.”

I learned a lot in reading this book. There were many complicated factors that tied colonial Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China even during the heights of the Cold War. For example, even under the threat of a possible military attack they still hoped to be able to trade for water with officials across the border. But the book is still from the subjective perspective of one man, and not meant to be a complete history of all things Hong Kong during that decade. Still, a very informative perspective indeed.

Fortunately, cooler heads did prevail in the end although the city went through very challenging times. Syd Goldsmith made it. The extremism of the Cultural Revolution, as we all know, never did fully overtake Hong Kong. The cost of freedom was, however, rather high as the British ultimately seized control.

“By early 1968 Hong Kong’s emergency was pretty much behind me,” the author writers at the end of the book, as he reflects upon what he witnessed and survived.

Hong Kong on the Brink (appropriately subtitled An American diplomat relives 1967’s darkest days) is not introductory and is only recommended for those already familiar with Hong Kong and modern Chinese history. Hong Kong expats particularly curious would be most interested. For a certain kind of reader, this an excellent read.

Published by Blacksmith Books, the book is available on Amazon and at bookstores within the former colony and current special administrative region.

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DATING IN CHINA

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DATING IN CHINA


(Table of Contents)

Firstly, from 2008 on:

Prologue: How I came to China

Part 1: Burning Man
I go to a big trippy festival

Part 2: Doing LSD at Burning Man
I expand my mind and receive an invite abroad

Introductions

Intro to Dating in China
First things first, let me explain how this thing will work

I arrive in China
The story officially begins, I get here

Girls

Mona
My first China-based girlfriend, and how that didn’t work out

Julia
The next level… Sigh, was it love?

Mary
A summer romance, a brief flight, all too innocent

Annie – Sky – Lulu – more
Singlehood, bachelor life, the learning process, playing the field…

Zoey

The Beginning
Long-term relationship begins, a defining point in my life

An American intermission
You can’t go ‘home’, and I try and I fail and I drift

The End
Finally, and sadly, nothing lasts forever

 

GUANGZHOU YEAR
In the city… the city of Canton…

And now, 2011 to early 2012:

My Guangzhou Year 1
An intro to the new status quo, as I pack up move to the ancient land of Canton/
the modern megacity of Guangzhou

Dating GZ Edition – Kendra
First story, I meet a crazed American abroad and adventured therein
Public nudity and disrespect, among other themes

China to Thailand to Cambodia
I travel, I bring a certain Cynthia, I make mistakes
But hey, that’s life and at least I got to see a new place

Dating – visitors and friends, others
Some characters from previous entries reappear, old friends reunite, a funny story happened one day
This time it’s not just about me

Rejected in Guangzhou
The stories everyone seems to want to know. Rejected!
Featuring Josephine, Seline, and more

The End – my humble successes
On a final positive note, sometimes life works out rather fine
It was a good year, I experienced a lot
I really shouldn’t complain

 

2012

Back to Shenzhen
In which I return to this town that somehow suits me

Emma
I begin the online game~

Jeanie
I have a girlfriend! I really did!

Yuki
I must admit, things got a tad gross.
Hope this wasn’t the beginning of a certain pattern…

 

2013: Epic Clusterfuck Year

Not Dating in America (and Hong Kong, and Canada)
2012 comes and goes and the world doesn’t end,
Meanwhile a bad start as I embark upon a year of drama bullshit

The Stalker
In which I make a foul choice which ends up following me around all year.
Dark times. No fun.

Carmen
I meet someone cool and travel to the Philippines
A brief positive note, albeit all too brief

Sonia – Jing – Amelia
POF, a site, met some peoples from differing lands, times are had,
and then I quit online dating forever more

The Very End
And I do mean it, the very very end.
I reflect and I consider and now it is time to move forward–

DATING IN CHINA – MY GUANGZHOU YEAR

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Canton Tower
I was there, man

 

 

Previously: DATING IN CHINA – MEGAPOST 1
Covering the years 2008 – 2011

And now, 2011 to early 2012:

 

My Guangzhou Year 1
An intro to the new status quo, as I pack up move to the ancient land of Canton/the modern megacity of Guangzhou

Dating GZ Edition – Kendra
First story, I meet a crazed American abroad and adventured therein
Public nudity and disrespect, among other themes

Dating – China to Thailand to Cambodia
I travel, I bring a certain Cynthia, I make mistakes
But hey, that’s life and at least I got to see a new place

Dating – visitors and friends, others
Some characters from previous entries reappear, old friends reunite, a funny story happened one day
This time it’s not just about me

Rejected in Guangzhou
The stories everyone seems to want to know. Rejected!
Featuring Josephine, Seline, and more

The End – my humble successes
On a final positive note, sometimes life works out rather fine
It was a good year, I experienced a lot
I really shouldn’t complain

Stayin’ upbeat

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DATING IN CHINA – MEGAPOST 1

And now for your reading enjoyment. In case you missed it before. Allow me to lay it all out.

Megapost of my personal dating memoirs, covering the time span of August, 2008 to February, 2011

Links, from the beginning:

Prologue: How I came to China

Part 1: Burning Man
I go to a big trippy festival

Part 2: Doing LSD at Burning Man
I expand my mind and receive an invite abroad

Introductions

Intro to Dating in China
First things first, let me explain how this thing will work

I arrive in China
The story officially begins, I get here

Girls

Mona
My first China-based girlfriend, and how that didn’t work out

Julia
The next level… Sigh, was it love?

Mary
A summer romance, a brief flight, all too innocent

Annie – Sky – Lulu – more
Singlehood, bachelor life, the learning process, playing the field…

Zoey

The Beginning
Long-term relationship begins, a defining point in my life

An American intermission
You can’t go ‘home’, and I try and I fail and I drift

The End
Finally, and sadly, nothing lasts forever

 

Continue reading

Dating in China – GZ edition: Kendra

Dating in China continues, with my crazy Guangzhou Year.

It was a struggle at first to make friends when I moved to the suburban Panyu District. Wasn’t much of a foreigner scene in my neighborhood; I wasn’t lucky enough to immediately be introduced to cool neighbors like when I first moved to Shenzhen. I often used Guangzhoustuff.com, our local social networking portal, and knew a lot of bars and various interesting places to go. I am open to making Chinese friends, by the way, but I must be honest and admit I usually hang out with Chinese people who speak fluent English and are in the expat scene. For the Nth time, that’s why my Mandarin is passable yet not that fluent-good.

One of the first people I met wasn’t through Gzstuff.com at all, but through Pof.com. Wouldn’t you know? As far as the big free dating websites go, Okcupid seems to be more for relationships and Pof (stands for plenty of fish) seems to be more for *ahem* simply getting laid.

It’s all about the scarcity. In my experience, Okcupid has too much detail. When you fill out all those questionnaires, and endlessly list your favorite music and favorite movies and favorite books, it’s more about friendship than forging attraction. Too much in common is great, but somehow doesn’t usually work when it comes to animal attraction. Honestly I’ve become platonic friends with girls I met on Okcupid more than once, and that’s fine even if not the point.

On the other hand, the brevity of Pof makes for projection and fantasy, which are key qualities in attraction. Just tell barely enough about yourself to get people interested in more. That’s the trick. Guess I could say I had more than a bit of ‘success’ in my Pof escapades…

Anyway, I met Kendra. I met some Chinese girls too in those early days. Later I will go on and on about more people I met throughout the year. Allow me to focus on Kendra for now.

She was from Florida. She was quite curvy. She had energy. She was in a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend back home, and she was in an open relationship with him (and I did not feel guilty at all in this instance). She was wild. She was the first girl I was with since I broke up with Zoey. We celebrated my birthday and got very drunk and stayed in hotels and lots of stimulating conversation.

She was ambitious with her own writing goals, and I don’t think she’s written much anything of merit lately. She was a feminist. Outspoken. Spunk. She was a sensualist. She reinforced my negative prejudices on Florida. She was crazy.

 

First date

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Dating in China – My Guangzhou Year

Zhujiang_new_townGZ

In early 2011 I broke up with Zoey and I was depressed and I thought I should start Dating in China yet again. It didn’t go well. A full year with one person, despite the trying and failing at improprieties, and I was a tad out of practice.

A very significant chapter of my life had ended, and I knew it would take a lot of work to reach the next chapter of my life. I realized I needed a new start.

What did I really have in Shenzhen? Frankly, a bunch of shallow friendships and little job security. I liked my apartment and my general setup but I wasn’t tied down. If I wasn’t tied down, shouldn’t I take advantage and go somewhere new?

Many expats simply live out of their suitcases, but not me. The heaviest things I own are my books. I sell them, I give them away, but I always get new ones and I’m left with a big stack. That and my clothes and various knickknacks and toys, and it’s not as easy for to move to, say, Shanghai or Seoul or Bangkok as it is for that other kind of expat.

I made the decision to move to Guangzhou — also known as Canton — that third major city of China (a distant third, but third nonetheless). Why did I choose GZ? Several reasons. I liked the city. I planned to do more research of Guangdong Province for my writing projects. I even wanted to study Cantonese. Most of all, I wanted to get a van to pack up all my stuff and move somewhere only a few hours away because it’s easier.

I went there on a research trip and looked around and found a stable thing going, and I committed. Next there was the hassle of putting all my things in boxes, had a going-away bar-hopping party night with friends at the local lesbian bar, and 500 yuan later I moved. My Guangzhou year had begun.

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