Hong Kong visit 1987 | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Hong Kong visit 1987

In 1987, I learned from a friend in Hong Kong that the old R.A.F. camp at Little Sai Wan was about to be demolished.  An old friend from my time in the R.A.F. and I decided to visit it and take photographs.  We booked a flight and hotel accommodation with a B.A. subsidiary to stay for a fortnight in late October, exactly coinciding with the 30th anniversary of our going there in 1957.  It was his first visit to Hong Kong since then.  I had taken my wife for a holiday in 1981 but neither of our wives wanted to go.

Shortly before the flight from London, the company rang me to say that the medium range hotel on Nathan Road was double booked.  The Canton Trade Fair had just ended and all the hotels in Hong Kong were inundated with people.  We had three choices, each with several hundred pounds compensation - quite a lot of money in 1987.  Our options were, (1) Cancel the flights and the hotel booking and get a full refund and the compensation, (2) go there and find our own accommodation, (again with the compensation) or (3) they had found accommodation in a 'motel' somewhere in Kowloon, again with the compensation.  We had both cleared our holidays with our employers so (1) was no good.  I immediately telephoned my friend in Hong Kong whom I had only met at an orienteering event just a few months previously in Scotland.  He happened to be a senior police officer in H.K. and I had tentatively arranged to take my orienteering gear with me in case we might meet up and take part in some events in Hong Kong.  I mention this to indicate that he was by no means a long-standing friend.  I asked him about the 'motel'.  His response was to check with one of his Chinese officers and he rang me back to say that it was a pay by the hour place and not one that he would recommend. I got the picture!  "Just get on that plane. I'll pick you up at Kai Tak, and we'll sort something out after you've had a good night's sleep in our apartment," was his solution.

The story does not end there.  A few days previously on 15 October the biggest hurricane in several centuries had hit the south of England and the railway network in the Midlands and South of England was completely shut down.  I telephoned the man in the B.A. subsidiary and pointed out that we would take option (2) but that we could not even get down to the Heathrow airport in London. He said that if we could get to Manchester, he would arrange for a free flight to take us from there to Heathrow and that, if and when we found somewhere in Hong Kong, B.A. would foot the bill.  My friend's wife drove him over from their home in the North East to our house in Carlisle, where he stayed the night before my wife drove us down to Manchester airport.  

All went well and we arrived in H.K. to find my policeman friend waiting for us.  He drove us to their apartment somewhere up on the Peak, and his wife said that we could stay there for the full two weeks as both their sons were away at boarding school in England and that we could use their twin-bedded room if we wanted to.  We did not want to impose on them, so the next day I started telephoning hotels to see whether I could find a room.  The B.A. man was correct. They were all full.  In a last gamble I rang the Mandarin hotel which was then the second most expensive hotel after the Peninsula.  Yes, they had a twin-bedded room but only for five nights. I telephoned the B.A. man in London, probably woke him up in the middle of the night and told him that we had found a room and how much it would cost.  He said that as it was not as expensive as some London hotels we should go ahead.  I have often thought that when he woke up the next morning, he must have wondered what on earth he had committed his company to!  So, off we went and lived in luxury for five nights and we managed to take quite a few photographs (all mine are on Gwulo - 1980s, 1987 Andrew Suddaby) before time was up and we went back to stay for the rest of the fortnight with my friend on the Peak.

A side story to our stay in the Mandarin is interesting.  I had put some cash and my passport into a safe deposit box in a room behind the hotel's reception.  The morning when we had to leave, I asked the clerk to let me go in there to collect my things and he accompanied me.  I was opening my small drawer when I realised that there was a very tall and large white guy also there.  I glanced across at him and saw that he had a very attractive and very young Chinese girl with him and that they were stuffing MASSES of brand new high denomination U.S.A. dollar notes (wrapped in thick bundles) out of several very large and deep drawers into suitcases.  He gave me a VERY dirty look, and I got my few hundred HK $ notes and left.  It is significant that this was just after the Black Monday worldwide stock market crash of 19 October.  He was clearly getting out of Hong Kong with a lot of money, and it looked very suspicious.  I mentioned what I had seen to my policeman host and he said something along the lines of, "Hm. that's interesting. We'll find out what he's up to at the airport."  I never did hear the outcome, but I have never seen so much money.

Anyway, our hosts were truly hospitable, and we were able to stay with them until the return flight, and I did enjoy going with them to several orienteering events in the New Territories and on Lantau.  Back in England I contacted the B.A. man and, not expecting any success, I suggested that as we had stayed with the policeman for nine nights it would be good public relations for B.A. to send a cheque payable to him equal to the cost of the nine nights if we had stayed at the Mandarin.  He agreed without hesitation, and I was able to forward rather a large cheque to my friend in Hong Kong.

So, that is my story, loosely attached to the Love Motel theme, and of how my friend and I nearly ended up staying in one.  I think that we would have received some very strange looks if we had chosen that option and had asked to pay for two weeks and have single beds!

Andrew Suddaby


Thanks Andrew and to your mates and colleagues that the history of RAF Little Sai Wan has been retained and reproduced in photographs for readers to view.