The Old Colonial was having difficulty with his glass of Tiger beer. The leading threesome in the last round of the Singapore Open golf championship was coming up the 9th fairway, and people were rushing out of the clubhouse, across the veranda and along the sidewalk to join the crowd around the green. Each time the Old Colonial lifted his glass someone would jostle his elbow and beer would slosh onto his mustache and down the front of his green golf shirt. Already there were stains on his golf shorts and puddles beneath his spiked shoes. "Blast!" he said, putting his glass on the table. "Good I'm not drinking raspberry cooler. I'd look like a stinking Christmas tree."
From the veranda of the Bukit Course clubhouse of the Singapore Island Country Club the view is across a putting green surrounded by gladiolas along a low brick wall. Beyond the putting green the eye wanders over a course that is abruptly hilly, wet and pea green, with a small lake in the distance. The season was early March, toward the end of what passes for winter on the equator, and heat rose in dark ripples from the trees. A tiny Chinese woman in pink stretch pants hurried past the table swinging a large straw handbag that did not quite touch the Old Colonial but made him jerk up a hand to fend it off and thereby knock the glass of beer into his lap.
"Do you know," the Old Colonial said after a moment of watching the woman scurry into the crowd on the other side of the scoreboard, "what has happened since the Chinese took up golf?" The implications of this question could be enormous, as the Old Colonial quickly realized. "Among other things, it has meant the decline of manners around this place. Wouldn't want them to know I said so, of course, but they simply do not have a feeling for decorum."
"I thought the Chinese were known for having an elaborate etiquette," I said.
June 15, 1969
"My dear man, you haven't been out here very long," said the Old Colonial. "You say the Chinese have an elaborate etiquette, and I say poo! If a Chinese hits his ball into a bunker, he thinks nothing of tramping up the sand. He will stand in the line of your putt. If the fancy strikes him, he will shoot first no matter who is away. It's all very well for you to hop off the plane and tell me the Chinese have elaborate etiquette, but I tell you, meaning no offense, that etiquette is what we had around here until six years ago. This was a golf club then, make no mistake about that! We were called the Royal Singapore. A thousand members, and the ones who weren't gentlemen had at least heard the word. The Chinese thought we were snobbish. Matters of politics persuaded us to combine with that other club, the new one with the poshy bathing pool, and now we have 5,000 members. Three thousand of them play golf! And most of them are Chinese! Dear man, look around at this crowd. Is this a royal golf club or is this an amusement park?"
The Old Colonial poked a finger at a photo on the first page of the Singapore Open program. The photo, beside a message wishing success for the tournament, showed Lee Kuan Yew, prime minister of Singapore, blasting out of a bunker with rather good form. "This chap had considerable to do with the changes," the Old Colonial said. "Now come along." He paused at the bar just off the veranda for another Tiger beer. "Quite tasty beer, actually," he said. Then he walked over near the pinball machines to a wall that held a board with the roster of club champions and another board with the handicap lists. Once they had been composed of solid colonial names like Oglethorpe and Pumphrey-Jones. Now they were made up almost entirely of names the Old Colonial would rarely have had to pronounce on the 1st tee, except perhaps when asking for his driver. "A beautiful island here, much of it. An industrious place. Only equatorial city I know of where chaps don't demand a siesta after lunch," he said. "But I shall go when the military leave in 1971. The businessmen may stay if they like, and good luck to them. But the truth is, this island is not ours anymore, has even lost the illusion of being ours, and I shall miss the place, but it's time for me to return home."
There was a shout from the 9th fairway, from somewhere behind the Qantas and Benson & Hedges and Dunlop signs, and I went out to watch the players approach the green. In the crowd were little dark Tamils, Chinese women in silk pajamas or the slit-skirt cheongsams, Malays in big straw hats upon which one expected to see embroidered "Souvenir of Mexico," British in shorts and white knee socks, British women in very short shorts and golf shoes with turned-down anklets, Chinese men wearing caps with emblems that said "Taipei C.C.," red-faced Australians in khaki shorts with cans of beer, young boys in sports shirts and tight pants, Sikhs with turbans and beards, Indian women in saris. For every Chinese, Malay or Indian woman in a traditional costume, there were several more in hip-hugger bell-bottom pants and oversize tinted spectacles.
David Graham, a thin young Australian professional, was on the 9th green with a 30-foot putt for a birdie 3. Playing with Tomio Kamata of Japan and Ben Arda of the Philippines—the threesome representing three of the 14 countries that had entrants on the Asian circuit—Graham was either leading the tournament or was a stroke out from hole to hole, depending on the progress of Kamata, Arda or Guy Wolstenholme of Great Britain. The crowd pressed close, curious to peer at Graham, who had set a course record of 62 in an earlier round. Movie cameras, which are permitted on the Asian tour, made fluttery sounds. A rooster crowed from a hut in the forest near the clubhouse. Graham stroked his putt and left the ball four feet short of the cup. The Australians in the gallery cursed and punched each other on the arm. Kamata putted out for his par and squeezed through the crowd ringing the green to buy an orange squash from the refreshment stand. After carefully studying his four-foot putt, Graham took his stance over the ball, brushed the grass with several practice strokes and then stood without moving for half a minute.
"He's losing his bloody nerve!" an Indian in a turban and gold-rimmed dark glasses said loudly.
Graham putted. The crowd turned away from the green and split into two prongs, one heading toward the 10th tee and the larger toward the shade of the old white-stucco clubhouse with its red-tile roof and arched doorways.
"How he do?" Kamata asked.
"He missed it," I said.
"Aieeee!" cried Kamata, the new leader, slapping himself on the forehead.
The Old Colonial came out to walk the 10th hole. The fairway is bordered by a road along which trotted several small girls with large bundles of firewood on their heads and an old woman in black silk pajamas who carried two heavy loads in wicker baskets on a shoulder pole that was bent almost into a bow. One could see into thatch-roofed huts in clearings across the road. People squatted beside cooking pots on the ground and looked at the bell-bottomed, miniskirted golf gallery bobbing past under a copse of umbrellas. The Old Colonial and I were talking about the signs I had noted on the taxi ride from the Raffles Hotel out to the club through Chinese and Malay ghettos, new apartment house districts, blocks of office buildings, past enormous compounds of clipped lawns and large buildings like those of the Seventh Day Adventists or the Singapore Bible College, past military establishments with acres of beautiful green soccer pitches that were being manicured by women laborers. In the space of two blocks the taxi would pass a school with asphalt basketball courts and soccer pitches, a Mobil gas station with its Flying Red Horse and uniformed attendants, a thatched hut with women kneeling to do laundry in an iron pot, and Cheng Fen's Medicine Shop, which had a sign that said TV REPAIRS HERE.
Along the way would be other signs—BE SAFE WITH SIM LIM FINANCE! and KEEP SINGAPORE CLEAN and COME TO MARLBORO COUNTRY and SEE SERGEANT PRESTON OF THE YUKON SUNDAY NIGHT. Rare was the café or grocery shop without its Coca-Cola or Pepsi sign, even along the Singapore River where the junks and sampans swarmed. If one wished to go to hell in the tropics in the classic manner, lying about unshaven with a bottle of gin and sending out messages to let someone else run General Motors for a while, it would be impossible in Singapore. One would drown in Western commerce instead of gin.
The Western trend in the architecture of the city strikes the traveler's eye immediately. The government has erected gigantic blocks of apartments, some 10 stories high, to resettle people from the ghettos. "It is much tidier than having them spread all over the place in those little dwellings," said the Old Colonial, "and this government is obsessed with cleanliness."
The previous day Mario Marchesi, manager of the Raffles Hotel, a proper old place with ceiling fans in the ballroom, rattan furniture, an aviary, a palm court and food to equal that in the finest restaurants, had been discussing what he called the "fanatic, hardworking honesty" of Singapore government officials. He also had commented on the cleanliness program. "There are no mosquitos except out in the jungle. Walk the streets with me, and for every fly, cigarette butt or scrap of paper you find, I will buy you a drink. I was in New York City last year. I was supposed to stay eight days, but I left after four. I couldn't take it any longer. How can people live in such filth as they do in Manhattan?"
The penchant for cleanliness is observable in a system of values remarkably different from that of the United States. In the same week that The Straits Times, which has an English-language circulation of 190,000, reported a Singapore citizen was fined $10 for possession of marijuana and a U.S. student was fined $33 for being caught with a pound and a half of the weed in his flight bag at the airport, another Singapore citizen was fined $40 for tossing a cigarette butt onto the sidewalk. "Singaporeans must be broken of this terrible habit," the judge said of the latter crime. "A cigarette butt belongs in a receptacle, not in the street."
"I could get blotted on an offer like Marchesi's," the Old Colonial said as we walked in the heat toward the 11th green, "but it would be hard work finding enough flies and litter. I can get blotted much easier in the clubhouse if you'd care to get out of this sun."
We were seated once again on the veranda, near a display of bottles of Vita Plus blackberry currant juice—a product I had been drinking a couple of afternoons earlier when the hedge outside the Raffles Hotel had caught fire and an assistant manager had tried to smother the blaze with his coat, causing his armpits to smolder and in turn causing half a dozen more waiters to form a bucket brigade that doused the assistant manager thoroughly—when we were approached by Harry Knaggs, chairman of the organizing committee of the Singapore Open, who came in from the course wiping moisture from his glasses. A tall, pleasant fellow in sandals and a colorful sports shirt with the tail out, he once played to a three-handicap in Yorkshire before business took him to Singapore. He ordered up a Tiger beer and looked at the gallery moving toward the 18th green. "About 2,000 here today, I'd say. Might not be too hard on the sponsors this year, eh?" He laughed. "Be all right with us if more young American chaps came out to play our Asian tour. We try to make it as easy and inexpensive for them as we can. Some places we board them in private homes. If that's not feasible, we get them rates at good hotels. We furnish free caddies. We don't have big prize money by American standards, but we have a government concession so the prize money you do win is tax free. The winner here receives $2,000 U.S. tax free. That's not so poor, is it? If you spent it out here, it would be worth considerably more. Why don't more young American pros come out? Aren't they interested in traveling in a lovely part of the world and winning money at the same time?"
"I guess they don't know about this tour," I said.
"One of them does," grinned Knaggs. "Jack Nicklaus. He was sent a wire asking if he would play in the Philippine Open in Manila, the first stop on our tour. He sent back a wire saying he would be delighted to play in Manila if he were furnished with two first-class air tickets round trip, all expenses and $15,000 in tax-free appearance money. Our answer to that was N.O. We never pay appearance money. When this tour was first set up, Peter Thomson agreed he would play the circuit every year and would try to get other Australians to play it, provided we would not pay appearance money to anyone. Thomson, after all, has won the British Open five times."
"What will you do when the British military leaves Singapore in two years?" I asked.
"Do? You mean will I go back to Yorkshire? Oh my, no. I'm staying here," said Knaggs. "I've been out here 12 years now. We have a fine government. It's Socialist, but our taxes are relatively low and salaries are higher than in the United Kingdom. The climate is nice year round. I can play all the golf I want, I have a good house, servants, a driver for my car. Why should I go back? Being an independent country is good for Singapore. We have strong unions, a rising middle class, an honest government. Oh, I'll stay here, thank you."
By now the tournament had ended in a tie between Graham, Wolstenholme and Kamata, and the 30-odd Japanese players who were traveling the tour grouped around Kamata to encourage him. Kamata had never been close to winning anything before. His best finish ever was a 10th in the Japan Open. He was grinning and saying, "Aieeee!"
Caddies in rubber shower thongs padded off to the 1st tee with three bags, and soon a small portion of the crowd moved down the fairway. Wolstenholme dropped out at once with a bogey. About 15 minutes later the loudspeaker in the clubhouse had an announcement:
"Reports from the course state that T. Kamata made the 3rd hole in buh-dee while David Graham was having a par. Therefore, T. Kamata is declared winner of the 1969 Singapore Open. A word to competitors. Would all competitors make sure they remove their golf clubs and other equipment from the changing room this evening. There will be no collection tomorrow morning. Prize giving will take place more or less immediately. Would all of you congregate round the putting green."
Suddenly I thought I saw a body flying through the air. Then I saw it again. It was Kamata. The other Japanese were grabbing him and flinging him up, like a blanket toss without a blanket, in a ritual on the order of throwing a winning coach into the shower, and meanwhile they were laughing and shouting. I wondered how Nicklaus or Palmer would take to being used as the object in a game of mob catch. If that custom had ever begun in the United States, it would have ceased the first time Lawson Little or Jimmy Thomson won a tournament.
On Monday morning the 100 or so players on the Asian circuit moved 200 miles up the Malay Peninsula, northwest along the Strait of Malacca, to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. The airplane came down into a bowl formed by mountains and put passengers off at a new and gracefully designed terminal of swooping concrete forms that create shaded areas to catch the breeze. There waiting was a sign: THROUGHOUT SOUTHEAST ASIA YOU HAVE A FRIEND AT CHASE MANHATTAN.
That evening I went to the nightclub bar on the 15th floor of the Federal Hotel, one floor below the bar that revolves and gives a view of the stadium, the racetrack, the prison, a roller coaster, apartment and office buildings, mosques, the Moorish railroad station, shacks and extensive construction, with rubber plantations, tin mines and the mountains beyond. I was sitting alone, reading The Malay Mail, and I asked the bartender what time the show started.
"Nine-forty-nine," he said.
"Strange time," I said.
"Flamenco, it says on the card."
"Topless flamenco!" I said, astounded.
"No. Have flamenco dancing. Then topless. Girl take bath. Real bath on stage. Is very nice. You see."
A Chinese in a tuxedo appeared in the spotlight after a while. Two or three numbers had been accomplished to random clapping. "And now, ladies and gentlemen, I present you Miss Camilia in a sexy Western dance," he said. A Chinese girl came out in a blonde wig, green beret, sequin sheath and cigarette holder and carried a plastic tommy gun. While the Hong Kong Melody Makers played Bonnie and Clyde theme music, she slunk about, tore off most of her garments, fired numerous bursts at the audience from her tommy gun and finally died writhing and screaming on the floor. "Sexy Western dance!" repeated the master of ceremonies, stepping again into the spot-light. Nobody clapped, but he seemed accustomed to that.
The Royal Selangor Golf Club is approached through a gate and down a long road that, for the Malaysian Open, was hung with advertising signs of all sorts and huge cutouts of golf balls. Police in khaki shorts, knee hose, billed caps and Sam Browne belts with holsters stood at the front door of the clubhouse, the usual white-stucco building with arched windows and a steeply pitched red-tile roof. The two golf courses at the Royal Selangor are flatter than the courses in Singapore but are green and well groomed, and there are blue mountains in the near distance. I walked the course with Peter Thomson during the first round of the Malaysian Open. The heat was crushing. Thomson was playing with a painful left wrist wrapped in an elastic bandage. He had a gallery of three. The only sounds on the course were the golfers talking quietly among themselves, birds in the forest, and now and then gentle applause from somewhere. An Indian woman wearing a sari, gold earrings, bracelet and necklace walked silently behind Thomson with a rake to do the traps. "Not much like a big tournament in the States, is it?" said Thomson. In Abdullah Bin Talib's pro shop, there was torpor. Often the shop was unattended, the clubs, bags and shoes sitting in their racks like unfathomable artifacts of some lost and mysterious culture.
By the weekend, however, activity had commenced. The president of the club, Dato Haji Harun Bin Haji Idris, was there. The Russian and Japanese ambassadors were there. The tournament was to be shown on TV Malaysia for four hours on Saturday and five hours on Sunday with the commentary in the Malay language, the latter being a stipulation made by the government. The commentator knew nothing whatsoever about golf. C. W. Hutson, a businessman from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, acted as adviser. "So many golf terms simply won't translate into Malay," he said. "This may sound rather weird."
The Royal Selangor, 75 years old, had an almost exclusively European membership until about nine years ago when Malaya's ruler, Tunku Abdul Rahman, joined the club and was followed by various bureaucrats and merchants who saw golf not only as a game but also, as in the United States, a convenience in matters of social movement and commercial enterprise. Now the Royal Selangor is more than 70% Asian. But not even the personal attention and interest of Tunku Abdul Rahman, now the prime minister, could change one significant fact about the weekend: the television schedule for the tournament had to be planned around TV Malaysia's showing of Peyton Place.
The prevalence of American communications in Southeast Asia surprised me. New American movies reach the major cities before they reach the Southeastern United States. Hundreds of thousands of viewers of TV Malaysia or TV Singapura watch on a typical evening Ben Casey, I Dream of Jeannie, Mr. Novak, Bugs Bunny, The Avengers, movies such as The Nurses and Hell on Frisco Bay and All-Star Golf (Dave Marr vs. Sam Snead on this particular night).
"The notion that everything has to be big and zippy has not completely caught on in Southeast Asia," a history professor told me. "Modernization, constitutionalism and nationalism are Western ideas that we maybe do not care for. But as the people receive their ideas from television, they become Westernized. They are not tired of being treated as consumers because they have never had much to consume. As industry expands and products become available, the people push to acquire even irrelevant items like toasters and electric razors that they see the foreign devils using on television."
I was having dinner in a Chinese restaurant when I met Michael, a red-bearded New Colonial who was in Kuala Lumpur because of such things as toasters, razors and TV. I had seen him at the hotel, and now he asked if he could join me. "Hope you don't mind too much, but I've been here only a week and hardly know a soul. Good to be with someone who talks my own language. Of course, all these Chinamen talk English, but it's not really the same, now is it?" He seemed forlorn for a moment, stranded and lacking in pluck, but then he brightened. "Well, I'll have to make the best of it, won't I? Moving into my new fiat next week. Every bit as nice as what I had in Nigeria. I was five years in Nigeria. I'd got to know the people and fit into their ways. Your African can't get off his autohorn. Makes a bloody awful lot of noise, and his eyes bug out, but I'd come to know him, hadn't I? Here, well, it's different."
I asked about his business. "I'm the art director for a big advertising agency," he said. "Or. I was the art director in Nigeria. Here I'm the copywriter, the art director, the whole ball of wax." He sighed, heavy with his New Colonial concerns. "You've got to be a jack of all trades...in the tropics...in advertising...to survive."
On Sunday afternoon the Malaysian Open came down to the final hole. "Gabblegabblegabble buh-dee gabblegabblegabble par," said the television announcer. David Graham and a young New Zealander, John Lister, each needed a birdie on the last hole to tie Takaaki Kono of Japan. Kono had been five strokes back but had shot a 66 to finish eight under par with 280. Lister missed the green and then almost saved his birdie with a bold chip. Graham's birdie putt bounced out of the cup. The Japanese golfers began shouting and flinging Kono into the air, and the Japanese ambassador poured champagne over Kono's head. But when they looked around for the prime minister to present the trophy, he was not to be found. "He went home to listen to the horse races on the radio," someone confided.
In half an hour the prime minister arrived back at the course. He was driven to the front door in a black Imperial. He got out of the car, wearing a double-breasted gray suit, and said, "You lead the way" to three or four aides. There was no cordon of police. It was as casual as the mayor of Fort Worth arriving at the Colonial National Invitation. The prime minister made a short speech, handed the trophy to Kono, changed clothes and went out to play golf with Skip Guinto, president of the Philippines Golf Association, and two associates. The governments of Malaysia and the Philippines were in the midst of a territorial dispute that had led that very day to threats of bombing, but the prime minister did not seem to regard Guinto as an enemy. On the 1st hole the prime minister took a number of whacks at the ball. However, he and Guinto won the hole. "I usually win," the prime minister said, smiling.
The week in Bangkok was considered by many of the players on the Asian circuit almost as duty time, an obligation that had to be performed before the tour could move along to Hong Kong. Bangkok is an enormous city, teeming with massage parlors, hustlers of all kinds, cars, buses, trucks, bicycles and motorcycles. Its traffic jams are stupendous. On the bridge over the brown Chao Phraya River that divides Bangkok from the city of Thonburi, traffic moves at the same pace as in a football-stadium parking lot. When they do break free of jams, the Thais drive like fleeing bank robbers. A great number of vehicles are painted with delicate scenes of moonlit beaches, palms, tigers and flowers in blues, reds and golds. They sit for long periods without moving and then suddenly fly off as if an art gallery had exploded.
The heat is heavy ("This air weighs about identical as bricks," said one Australian), and walking around the temples looking at peeling plaster Buddhas and peering at jars of pickled snakes, birds and monkey skulls in medicine shops tended by monks in orange robes loses its fascination.
Contestants in the Thai Open were housed in hotels in town and were carted out to the course in buses, a ride of nearly an hour. The Royal Thai Air Force Golf Club is located at Don Muang Airport, which handles commercial flights as well as military. A player can be putting on a green, and not 50 yards away a United States Air Force cargo plane is taking off or a Royal Thai jet fighter is landing. There is a continual roar. "You can get used to the noise. The trick is not to get blown over," said Ben Arda of the Philippines.
The course itself is long by Asian standards—more than 7,000 yards—and stretches away flat as a prairie, dry and dusty, interrupted by air strips, roads and muddy ditches. Women in straw peasant hats kneel around the greens and clip the grass by hand. The small clubhouse has electric fans, pinball machines and hostesses in tight silk dresses. A Chinese won the tournament, though few of the players seemed to notice. "There's much luck involved here," Guy Wolstenholme said. "The grass is very coarse and thin, and you never know where the ball is liable to go. You have to bounce it up to the green and hope."
The players always left the course as soon as they had signed their scorecards and could take the bus back to the city to seek air conditioning. "Oh, but this is not the hot period yet," said Arthur Janzen, a former Dutch diplomat who does crossword puzzles in six languages and now makes blue-glaze celadon pottery in Chiangmai, the old imperial capital of Thailand in the mountains 360 miles north of Bangkok. Janzen was in the Erawan Hotel awaiting a buyer who intends to introduce the pottery in a San Francisco department store. "But I don't know if I can make as much pottery as that," said Janzen. "Each piece is finished by hand, by me, you see, and the summer is coming on. April, May and June one can do nothing between 11 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon. It is simply too hot. Except perhaps watch television."
Arthur described watching The Dean Martin Show at his house in Chiangmai. The audio portion of the show was in Thai, but an FM radio station carries the audio in English for those who prefer. "The translations are very funny," Arthur said. "Lord knows what the Thais thought was going on." The Thais, it should be noted, are quite proud to say they have never been colonized.
From high rooms in the Hongkong Hilton one can look down on other symbols of the state of affairs in the British colony. To the left is the tall, ponderous, granite building of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, a capitalist bastion. Moving counterclockwise, the next structure is the slightly taller and no less ponderous granite building of the Bank of China, a financial and political headquarters for mainland China. Between the Bank of China and the harbor is the Supreme Court, an old colonial building with dome and columns. Across the street to the right of the Supreme Court and a bit nearer the harbor is the Hong Kong Club, where in nostalgic moments colonial gentlemen can sip gin and quinine water and look out at British warships in the harbor, recalling the days when it was believed that a couple of His Majesty's gunboats could bring the yellow heathens to their senses if there was ever trouble.
Directly in the foreground below the Hilton is the Hong Kong Cricket Club. Each morning certain ceremonies can be observed there. Athletic instructors in white uniforms march out at the heads of columns of children in white uniforms. They spread across the green cricket pitch for exercises and for games before forming up to march in again. In the afternoon out come groups of men in white, and a cricket match begins. They play at this mysterious game for interminable periods. Finally, when the cricket match has ceased, here come more groups of men in white, tennis nets are set up, and tennis is played on the grass, with Chinese boys to fetch the balls.
In an intensely crowded area of four million people, where about 100,000 live on sampans and junks in the harbor and around the island and another 100,000 camp on rooftops in shelters that are blown away by typhoons, where two of every three adults are refugees, this cricket pitch, which serves merely a few of the 50,000 British and other foreign devils in Hong Kong, eventually became intolerable. The cricket club lease will not be renewed when it expires in 1971, some 120 years after the club was founded. Instead, the pitch will become a park. The architects are arguing whether to put in a skating rink or a bandstand, but what is certain is that the cricket club will no longer exist.
"Pretty amusing if you ask me," an American businessman, himself a New Colonial operating in an Old Colony, said of the cricket club situation one afternoon in the Hilton. "The British are here for maintenance and protection, you know, to be the cops and keep the city running as a free port where a lot of money can change hands. But the Chinese like to kick them in the tail now and then to remind them Hong Kong is in China."
Hong Kong is an island about 10 miles long dominated by Victoria Peak. Across the harbor, on the Chinese mainland, is Kowloon ("Calhoun? Crazy name for a Chinese town," I heard an American golfer say), a jumble of hotels, factories, jewelry shops, tailors, restaurants, Turkish baths and tenements draped with laundry. Beyond Kowloon is the New Territories, more than 350 square miles of farmland and mountains bordered in the north by the Sham Chun River, past which is Kwangtung province of Communist China. The New Territories will legally revert to mainland Chinese possession in 28 years, which is one reason why vast areas, including nearly 200 islands, remain open, unbroken land despite the crowded conditions in Hong Kong proper.
To reach the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club from Hong Kong Island one goes by ferry across the harbor through a maze of boats, then by train on the Kowloon-Canton Railway for an hour north through green hills and pines, past hundreds of tiny truck farms being worked by barefoot peasants, with pagodas up on the smoky heights and fishing boats moving slowly on the water. Through the train windows one sees many schools with the expectable asphalt soccer and basketball courts, and uniformed children at the railroad platforms carrying their books in airline flight bags. The vegetable farms are irrigated with intricate systems of ditches, and there are fields bright with flowers that are potted to be sold in florist shops.
Drinks are served on the train by a porter in a white jacket. On an early-morning ride north toward the Sheung Shui station, an American sailor boarded at the first stop out of Kowloon. The sailor was somewhat unsteady, clearly in the throes of a monstrous hangover, his cap crammed low on his forehead and his eyes the color of tomato aspic. He lit a cigarette and ordered a beer from the porter. Halfway through the beer he raised his head and looked around the car. Painfully he blinked, shook his head and blinked again. Seated nearby he saw perhaps 20 men wearing pullover shirts, most carrying handbags, some carrying extra pairs of shoes with spikes. But what held the sailor's attention were the golf clubs. Almost everybody else was some ordinary Chinese on his way someplace, but there were 20 guys on this train with putters! You could almost hear the sailor muttering to himself: "God help me if this is the train to Mamaroneck."
Although the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club is said to be located in the town of Fanling, the railroad stop is the next one, Sheung Shui, last stop before the border. As the train halts, the loudspeaker makes an announcement in Chinese, then in English, that says, "Passengers not wishing to proceed to the frontier are requested to get off here." Squatting on the platform was a little, very old Chinese in black pajamas and a wool cap of the sort favored by Babe Ruth. He had two screen cages full of live grasshoppers that he would capture and thrust into small paper bags to be purchased by fanciers of fried grasshoppers. Between the cages were two glass jars, lidded and wrapped. Australian golfers Graham Marsh and David Graham stopped and asked the old man what was in the jars.
"Sneek," he said.
"Sneek, sneek," he said.
"Snake!" said Marsh.
They hastened down to climb into the back of the truck that transported the players and visitors to the golf course, a five-minute journey. The governor of Hong Kong, Sir David Trench, an ardent golfer, flies to his weekend mansion, Fanling Lodge, between the 12th and 14th fairways, in a helicopter, but others must approach the clubhouse up a tight road that bends in front of a porch colored by flower boxes and decked with umbrella tables. Mountains stand around the course, which is itself fairly hilly, and there is the sound of bulldozers clearing fairways for a third 18-hole course to serve the club's 3,300 golfers, half of whom are not full members. Many of the part-privilege members are Japanese businessmen liable for transfer but determined to belong to a golf club. Despite its unhandy location, the Royal Hong Kong has the best golfing facilities anywhere around.
"We've an enthusiastic lot of golfers out here." said Joe Hardwick, pro at the Royal Hong Kong and before that assistant pro for 10 years at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club. "Things have quieted down since the riots. People act as if the riots never happened. You can get up to the Chinese border from here in about five minutes. From the top of that hill there you can see into China. But we don't worry about what the Chinese are going to do. We have our lives to live, don't we? What's the use getting upset?"
Asians had won the first four tournaments on the Asian circuit, but David Graham was leading in overall points, kept on a basis of showings from tournament to tournament. Besides a bonus of prize money, the overall winner receives an invitation to the $150,000 Alcan Golfer of the Year tournament. The 22-year-old Graham, a pro in Tasmania before he got a job with a Sydney sporting goods firm that helped to underwrite his appearance on the New Zealand, Australian and Asian tours, intends to try to play the PGA tour in the United States this fall. "Graham might do very well," Peter Thomson said. "The more the pressure gets on, the slower and smoother he swings. He's not like a lot of fellows who get in a hurry."
During the first round of the Hong Kong Open on the club's New Course, which is about 60 years old, Peter Thomson discussed Asian golf. I had noticed he was playing briskly, hitting the ball without hesitation. "The other courses we've played till now on the Asian circuit might as well have been made for the Japanese," he said. "The greens are designed so that it's hard to get a shot close to the pin. They don't hold a shot, and they're banked so the ball rolls off. The Japanese will kill you chipping and putting. They can get down in two from anywhere." The other courses did indeed seem to have been designed for old men—high-level bureaucrats and military officers—with accurate short games. "But Hong Kong is a better course for strikers of the ball," Thomson said. "So are Taipei and Tokyo, the final two tournaments."
A little fellow in a straw hat with two buckets of dirt on a shoulder pole was trotting along behind us to replace the divots and pack them with sod. A rooster was crowing in the early afternoon, and workmen were yelling at each other as they erected scaffolding around a new building that was rising from the trees. Scaffolding workers, among the highest-paid laborers in Hong Kong, build their structures up 10 or more stories by tying bamboo poles together with thin strips of fiber. They seem to be always shouting to each other, perhaps to keep up their courage.
"Many of the Asians are really excellent players, though," Thomson said. "Some of them would make out pretty well on the tour in the States if they stayed with it regularly. But conditions in the U.S. are so different from what they're used to. They can't get food that they like. The travel is difficult. They live in their own world the same as the rest of us live in ours. American players don't come over here and burn up the Asian tournaments."
Thomson wants to see the New Zealand, Australian and Asian tours combined to form a string of 17 tournaments beginning in October and finishing in May with a purse of about $250,000. India and South Korea have applied to join the Asian circuit next year and will be admitted if they put up a minimum of $15,000 in prize money and offer acceptable accommodations for the players. The Asian circuit has contestants from England, Wales, Japan, Australia, Spain, South Korea, the Philippines, Burma, the United States, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada and Hong Kong. Ten years ago the Asians would not have been welcome at some of the clubs where the tournaments are held, but things have changed and are changing faster still. A decade hence the Old Colonials will have passed from the scene, leaving behind their silver toast racks, their white stucco clubhouses and their rules against tipping.
One evening I went to a cocktail party given by the Golf Association of Hong Kong Ltd. at the City Hall. Walking over, I was looking at the guards with shotguns in front of the jewelry shops, at the tiny women in pajamas with babies strapped to their backs and tremendous loads in wicker baskets on shoulder poles. I stopped to watch an old Chinese man coughing, snorting and stamping on the sidewalk to get rid of his nose devils. Busts of Chairman Mao and Communist posters and flags were in many store windows, but most of the young people on the sidewalks were wearing neckties, ascots, bell-bottoms, miniskirts and enormous dark glasses. I was thinking about a newspaper story I read that day in the China Mail about the television invasion of Macao, the Portuguese colony 50 miles from Hong Kong. For years Macao has been famous for its vice, but now the owners of bars and cinemas were protesting that TV was ruining their business, and the Communist press was calling it "Western poison." Brigadier José Nobre de Carvalho, governor of Macao, had just bought the colony's first color-television set, and there was a printed rumor that mainland China planned to mass-produce TV sets to sell for $35 each and attempt to flood Hong Kong and Macao with them, the quixotic idea being that people would watch parades and rallies on TV Canton rather than samurai adventures, Westerns and banal comedies on the Hong Kong channels.
There was a large crowd at the cocktail party. Golfers from 14 nations were there, as were government officials, businessmen, Old Colonials and New Colonials, highball glasses in hand, mingling around a table loaded with shrimps and crabmeat and bits of lobster with bowls of sauces, talking about aluminum shafts, stock issues and new automobiles, a somewhat gloomy agenda but one the Asians and Westerners could discuss with equal knowledge and confidence. Still thinking about television, for there was a show on that night that I wanted to see, I remembered something I heard once—perhaps C. Northcote Parkinson, the Parkinson's Law man and a former professor at the University of Malaya, said it. The observation was that while many people have said golf is a microcosm of life, the opposite is actually the case, life is a microcosm of golf. The reason I laugh at that is it sometimes seems true enough to make me nervous.