David’s Obituary

February 9, 2017
David at Age 20

David at Age 20

The following is set to appear in the Victoria Times-Colonist on February 11, 2017:

After the long goodbye of progressive dementia first diagnosed in 2000, David Nixon set off on his next adventure on February 9th at the age of 82. A resident of Victoria since 1977, David loved the city and often said it was the very best place in the world to be, and he lived in many places!

Predeceased by his parents, Glen & Ethel, and brother Russell, David will always be remembered by friends and loved ones, especially Sylvia van der Stegen and her brother, Rev. Al Tysick; Suzanne Olson; Laura Wright; Robert Rivoire; and his former partner, Ken Sudhues.

David lived a colourful life, starting at age 19: he was a clerk with the International Supervisory Commission in Indochina; a cryptographer at the Canadian Embassies in Bonn and Leopoldville; 2nd electrician at Wyndham’s Theatre in London; casting director for the Constance Brown Modeling & Talent Agency in Montreal during Expo 67; he framed Ted Harrison’s first show at Robertson Galleries and processed OFY grants in Ottawa; and, after moving west, he became “Our Mister Nixon” – the beloved china & crystal manager at Birks in Victoria. His final working years were spent having fun (yes!) with the BC public service. David’s last working day was Friday, December 31, 1999, which he thought quite auspicious.

David at age 65, with his Peacekeepers' Medal

David at age 65, with his Peacekeepers’ Medal

There were dark times as well. David was purged from the federal service in 1961 on suspicion of being homosexual and therefore a security risk. This eventually led to his being hospitalized for depression and being further victimized as part of Operation MK Ultra through the tender mercies of Dr. Ewan Cameron in Montreal.

Through it all, David remained upbeat and treasured his friends. His participation in the ISC in Indochina led to David sharing the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize with other peacekeepers and he received his Peacekeepers’ Medal in late 2000.

No service by David’s request. A private gathering will be held later this year. Please raise a mug of strong coffee, a glass of good red wine, port, or cognac, or savour some quality dark chocolate, and think fondly of “Our Mister Nixon”. Many thanks to the staff of 3 Dogwood at Oak Bay Lodge for everything they’ve done for David. Arrangements through CARE Funeral Services.


Homeward Bound

November 27, 2012

July 11, 1955

Dear Dad & Russ,

Well, here I am again. And just as soon as we get an O.K. from Ottawa, I am coming home. I’ll dash off an airmail letter to let you know. Also, just the minute I have my travelling itinerary laid out, I shall also airmail you the details. And if I am allowed to return via Paris I shall send you a cable just before leaving Paris, telling you exactly what time I shall be arriving in Ottawa. Keep the Ford in good shape, please!

As I shall be flying home via commercial airlines I shall only be allowed 44 or 66 pounds of luggage, depending on whether I’m in First Class or Tourist. Therefore, I am sending one of my airpacks home with John Plourde. John leaves here tomorrow and leaves Saigon next Saturday. He will be in Ottawa approximately eight days later. As soon as he gets to Ottawa, Dad, he will be giving you a phone call and I would appreciate it very much if you would drive over to his place and pick up my suitcases. I’ve given John the keys, too, so perhaps you could open the suitcases and sort of air them out for me. I’m enclosing a list of of the things I’m sending with John and you can get his address off this list. I’m also enclosing a copy of the “Declaration of Articles Acquired Abroad”. John has the other copies for Customs purposes.

This morning I had my 14th shot in the arm. This time it was for cholera.

July 14, 1955

You know, at times this really is a mad old world we live in isn’t it?

By the time you receive this letter yours truly (that’s me) will probably be flitting about from India to Pakistan to Iran to Egypt, Greece, Italy and Paris, France. Or, perhaps I shall be atop the Eiffel Tower in Gay Paree taking in the sights! The whole point is, anyways, by the time you receive this letter I shall either be on my way home to Ottawa or just about to leave for home.

And it all happened so suddenly, really it did.

Up until a little over a week ago I was labouring under the impression that I still had another month and a half to go at the very least. Today, a wire arrived from Ottawa authorizing me to proceed to Ottawa IMMEDIATELY! And just before we closed up the office at 1 o’clock today, a PRIORITY wire was sent to Saigon requesting our Delegation there to please reserve my air accommodation at the earliest possible date!

Just like that. I’m practically on my way home now. So folks, it’s just a matter of waiting for Saigon to reply to our telegram (which shouldn’t take more than two days) and then away I go!

So tonight I must start getting things organized for the Big Trip. Which might prove to be quite a job. It’s amazing how much stuff you can collect in11 short months!

I might mention here that after you receive this letter, please don’t write me ’cause I just won’t be here no more!

David and his posse, 1955

David and his posse, 1955

July 16, 1955

If you two have nothing better to do next July 29th at 3:45 in the afternoon, then how about jumping in the Ford and driving out to Uplands Airport to pick me up?

Things have happened fast around here lately! Last night the wire came in from our Delegation in Saigon telling me my flight schedule. Which is as follows:

  • Depart Saigon             1100 hours           21 July
  • Arrive Paris                 1420 hours           22 July
  • Depart Paris                2230 hours           28 July
  • Arrive Montreal            1215 hours          29 July
  • Depart Montreal           1450 hours          29 July
  • Arrive Ottawa              1545 hours           29 July

Which means that two weeks from this very minute I shall be home again!! Hard to believe, eh? I leave Phnom Penh next Tuesday, July 19 for Saigon, then at 11 o’clock on Thursday morning I’m on my way!

Needless to say, I’ve got just oodles of things to do before leaving next Tuesday. Please don’t be worrying about me one little bit. I’m so accustomed to flying about strange foreign lands now that it’s just like taking an Ottawa street-car! You’ll be hearing from me from Paris.

Lots and lots of love,


What David didn’t know was that, while on his way home via Saigon, he would witness an attack on the UN headquarters in the Majestic Hotel! 

It started over here, with the man holding the flag

It started over here, with the man holding the flag

Then there was this large crowd gathering

Then there was this large crowd gathering

Sometime later, around the corner, at the Hotel Majestic, the damage was done. According to David, the woman on the right in the white dress is Clare Booth Luce

Sometime later, around the corner, at the Hotel Majestic, the damage was done. According to David, the woman on the right in the white dress is Clare Booth Luce

"What a dump!" Interior damage at the Majestic

“What a dump!” Interior damage at the Majestic

Look over there - some burned cars!

Look over there – some burned cars!

I'll just stand here with my cigarette.

I’ll just stand here with my cigarette.









And, following along eventually was this, from Gene Loo.

And so, David arrived back in Ottawa… but not for long!

Snippets – Nearly Home

November 26, 2012

July 4, 1955

Dear Dad & Russ,

Well folks, all being well, I’ll be home NEXT MONTH!!! I suppose this thought has occurred to you too, but I just thought I’d put it down on paper ’cause it sure does look good, doesn’t it? Yes, here we are in July already and, according to my contract, this is a twelve-month posting. And July is the 11th month. And then – just NEXT MONTH!!

You know, when I think back on these past 11 months I just can’t for the life of me figure out where the time has gone. I suppose the fact that everything is so new and exciting and busy has made the time fly quickly, but even so, it just seems like last week I boarded the “Empress of Tokyo” bound for unknown adventures. A lot of water has certainly gone under that proverbial bridge since then!

Some of the Commission gang on the terrace, including the new steno and Errol Wyse (redhead in the loud shirt)

Some of the Commission gang on the terrace, including the new steno and Errol Wyse (redhead in the loud shirt)

Did I ever tell you about the letter I got from Cecile Fyen, our first steno, who is now with our Embassy in Paris? Cecile wanted me to try to get to Paris on July 14 to drive to Holland, Belgium, etc., with her and a gang from the Embassy!! Sure sounded good, but, of course, I had to say no. Sooo, just yesterday I got a letter from Cecile stating that if I can possibly arrange to come home near the end of September via France, I am included in a guest list at the home of the parents of a friend of hers. Follow me? The really “nice” thing about all this is that her friend’s parents have a chateau or something in “Nice” on the Cote d’Azur in southern France – French Riviera you know! Too bad both these invitations are either too early or too late, eh? Oh well, Cecile says that even if I can’t make either one of these dates, to come along to Paris anyways and she will have all sorts of sightseeing trips lined up for me. I shall probably spend four or five days in Paris, en route to Montreal. Paris, however, will be my only stop-over, you can rest assured!

Last week was pretty uneventful for a change. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, a whole bunch of us fellows were decorating City Hall for our Canada Day reception on Friday, July 1. We had a whale of a lot of fun, but unfortunately I took slightly ill on Thursday night and missed the big show itself! Now don’t get excited! When I said slightly ill that’s just what I mean. It was nothing but a little fever caused by a bug or something. It was all over on Saturday but the doctor suggested I just stay in bed till today, which I did. My appetite didn’t suffer at all, I’m glad to say – I ate like a horse!! The point is, however, I’m all better now and just rarin’ to get these next few weeks tucked away under my belt and be on my way back to Ottawa!

I’m glad you got a kick out of my Hong Kong effort. Of course, when I get home, I can elaborate a lot more about my trip to Hong Kong. It’s so darn tricky trying to express yourself on a piece of paper!

I still haven’t heard any definite date from Ottawa yet, but I’ve got my suitcases all dusted out and ready to roll at a moment’s notice. Not much longer now, I’m sure.

What David sent home with Sgt. Plourde
Check the declared purchase prices! (Click on the image for a larger view)

July 11, 1955

Well, folks, this won’t be a very long letter as I want to send it airmail.

For a long time now, I’ve been looking forward to the day when I can sit down at my typewriter and type the following four words: I AM COMING HOME.

And today is that day.

Yes, I’m coming home after nearly 11 months in Indochina. Now, I don’t know for sure, but this may all be “old news” to you two if External Affairs has already phoned you or something. However, old news or new news, it’s GOOD news!

In last week’s letter to you I mentioned my wee fever episode that took place on Canada Day weekend. The doctor didn’t tell me anything at the time, but, evidently, while examining me and my fever he discovered that I was just generally exhausted and in a wee bit of a run-down condition. Now, for goodness sake, please don’t go jumping to any wild conclusions. I am not in the least way sick at all, please believe me. I’m just plain and simply “run-down” and in need of a few weeks’ rest – IN CANADA.

[What David’s “little fever” turned out to be was dengue fever. A relatively mild case to be sure, but it precluded him from ever being a blood donor and reoccurred for a day or so every few years.]

The Indian Medical Officer has recommended my early repatriation to Canada and General Snow, who is Acting Commissioner, has informed Ottawa of this fact. So now it’s just a matter of waiting until Ottawa wires their “O.K.” and I’m on my merry way home! General opinion has it that I shouldn’t be in Indochina for more than two or three more weeks more at the most.

You know, all this has happened so suddenly that I can just hardly realize it. I really can’t. By this time next month, all being well, I should be sitting right in the living room of #6-574 Kirkwood Avenue, half a world away from me at the moment. I don’t think I shall realize that I’m actually coming home until I’m soaring across the Atlantic or maybe not even until I land in Ottawa! It just seems so fantastic that 11 months have slipped by already! Oh well, it’s been a fabulous 11 months and an experience I shall never, never forget – or regret – as long as I live.

Well, I shall close this letter and get it on its hasty little way to Ottawa via airmail.

Lots and lots of love – and please don’t be worrying about me,


Our Mister Nixon in a cyclo-pousse

Our Mister Nixon in a cyclo-pousse

Some of the gang in downtown Phnom Penh
Some of the gang in downtown Phnom Penh

Behind the Bamboo Curtain

November 25, 2012

June 27, 1955

Well folks, since I last wrote you, your globe-trotting son and brother has made a wee excursion behind the “Bamboo Curtain”!!

Yes, last Thursday morning I flew up to the city of Hanoi in the land of Ho Chi Minh. It was a very strange feeling, going back again to Hanoi, the scene of my first days in Indochina. But the Hanoi of today is certainly not anything like the Hanoi of last September!!

Dad, I was met at the airport by none other than your friend, George Bevan. It was a pleasant surprise, to say the least! George had typed up a memorandum for me to help me out during my stay. I thought this was very helpful and I thought you’d be interested in knowing how well I’m being taken care of in this strange land of Indochina.

My first glimpse of a Communist regime in full swing was when I stepped off the plane at the airport in Hanoi. The Viet-Minh Police were standing right at the the door of the plane marking things down in little books. I suppose it was sort of a traffic check or something. One thing I notice about the Hanoi Airport. At one time, Hanoi had one of the busiest airports in Southeast Asia. Today it is deserted! Only our Commission plane are allowed to land in Hanoi from the Free World.

Driving from the airport to the city of Hanoi, you have to cross over a great long bridge. On the airport end of the bridge you are greeted by a huge picture of “Uncle Ho” (Ho Chi Minh) grinning his welcome to Hanoi. In spite of all the propaganda you hear about how happy everybody is under the influence of Communism, I was struck with quite the contrary picture in Hanoi. I have never seen such a sad-looking people.

Hanoi Long Bien Bridge (current)

On practically every street in Hanoi, there are hung great RED banners with Vietnamese writing on them. I am told that these banners simply welcome the peasants to the “happy city of Hanoi”. Perhaps you will remember a picture that appeared in the Star Weekly last August of the Hanoi Opera House? This Opera House is now decorated with a two-storey high picture of Ho Chi Minh and also great banners and flags all over the place.

Hanoi Opera House and "Uncle Ho"

Hanoi Opera House and “Uncle Ho”

Everybody in Hanoi is dressed in one of three fashions: (1) the peasants and common people wear black pants and brown shirts. (2) the “workers” are dressed in blue uniforms. (3) the soldiers (of which there are many) are dressed in drab khaki uniforms with brownish-yelloe (sort of a mustard shade) running shoes on their feet and khaki sun-helmets on their heads.

All the Commission vehicles are driven by Viet-Minh soldiers, and all the Commission buildings (including the hotels the Commission occupy in Hanoi) are guarded by these soldiers. In addition, you will find little soldiers all over the city, just standing on corners or lurking in yellow sentry boxes. They all carry machine-guns or bayonetted rifles, to say nothing of hand-grenades in their belts. If one of these soldiers happens to be standing in your way, he will not budge an inch! No sir, you just have to go around him. These little men have the most annoying habit of pointing their guns at you all the time, a fact which made me just a little uneasy during my first day.

I was given a room at the Hotel Splendide. This is a very nice hotel, but it does have one little drawback. Namely, it is used for the twice-daily compulsory lectures!! Everyone in Hanoi must attend these lectures. Twice daily!! The people are told what they are supposed to know, then follows a great sing-song in Vietnamese. I was told that this wee tune is the workers’ song and it is all about just how happy everybody is! I suppose if you keep telling a person that he’s happy all the time, that person will come to believe it, no matter how miserable he might be! This is the first example of brain-washing I have ever witnessed and I hope it will be the last. It is pitiful!

Under the new regime, the people of Hanoi are rationed in their rice supply. A child receives something like 17 lbs. of rice per month; an adult receives about 27 lbs. per month, and the select “few” highly-favoured government workers receive about 57 lbs. of rice per month. Now when you stop to consider that these people rely on rice for three meals a day, 17 or even 27 lbs. per month is certainly not very much.

The prices in Hanoi are ridiculous. I was walking down the street with one of our fellows up there and we saw some Gillette razor blades in the window of one shop. The price was marked as 800 dongs. We entered and the fellow asked for a package of blades. The price was suddenly 1500 dongs!! And there isn’t a thing we could do about it!!

Incidentally, I am enclosing a 500 dong note for you to keep as a souvenir. I think I’m pretty safe in saying that the dong is one type of currency that you won’t see floating about in great abundance! You will note the picture of Ho Chi Minh on the front, along with some soldiers pushing a cannon. On the back of the dong you will see some of the happy workers out in a field. Quite a change from the colourful Cambodian piastres with the pretty girls and flowers all over them!! Another interesting thing you will see on the back of this dong is the date which appears at the bottom-centre of the bill. 1951!! And the dong only came into existence at the end of 1954!! I guess Ho Chi Minh must have been pretty sure of himself!

Well, my stay in Hanoi was a very quiet one indeed. I moved to the Hotel Azure where the NCOs live after one day of political rallies at the Splendide. The NCOs accommodation is excellent. Far better than we have here in Phnom Penh. The only drawback being, of course, the presence of 3 or 4 armed guards 24 hours a day. But after a while you just get to ignore them completely. I spent a great deal of my time in our office in the Burmah Shell Building. I was utterly amazed at all the changes that had taken place since I first helped set up shop there last September! It is really a smooth-running office now.

Both the officers and the NCOs have their own mess in the Burmah Shell Building. It is the only place in all of Hanoi where anybody can go in the evening. I divided my attentions between the two messes and it was indeed pleasant to meet old friends and to see new faces also. I was told a rather interesting and sad thing in the NCOs mess. They have a boy working for them (a local Vietnamese boy) who has picked up a little bit of English over a period of time. He is a very clever chap and a hard worker, but he is just a little bit confused. You see, he was telling one of our chaps one day about what he had been told about the Canadians before he took the job. It seems that he had been told that the Canadians are murderers of widows and old men, and that the Canadians EAT small children!!! After working with the Canadians for some time he has discovered that really aren’t such a bad lot after all and, as I said before, he hardly knows what to believe anymore! The most shocking thing about all this, of course, is that this is the sort of lies that the Communists are feeding the poor, ignorant people!! It surely makes a person wonder, doesn’t it???

I don’t recall if I mentioned this to you in one of my last September letters, but Hanoi used to have a streetcar line with a huge sign on the side of each streetcar advertising a soap called “CANADA”! I noticed that the streetcars are now painted red with big yellow stars on their sides! Also, you will remember the picture I sent you in my album of a pagoda in Hanoi that is situated in the middle of a lake. This rather attractive Buddhist pagoda is now surmounted by a big red neon star!

The Perfume Pagoda (current)

Two other things I noticed in Hanoi were the presence of only RUSSIAN films in the cinemas and also the presence of “InformationCentres” that hand out booklets, etc., to the people. Also, outside these Information Centres there is a loudspeaker that pours out propaganda to passers-by all the time!!

So this is how Communism works! You really have to see it to believe it, I assure you.

On Saturday, I had lunch with Mr. Lett, Major-General Megill, and Saul Rae at Mr. Lett’s villa. We chatted a good deal and needless to say, Dad, your name came into our conversation a good deal. Mr. Lett sends his very best wishes to you and Russ.

Commissioner Sherwood Lett and Saul Rae (Bob’s father) in Hanoi, March 1955

One thing about Hanoi that relieves the monotony for our fellows is the local Cercle Sportif swimming pool. There are so few Europeans left in Hanoi now that it is almost exclusively used by the Commission people – mostly Canadians.

Well, I came down to Phnom Penh again yesterday and my adventure behind the “Bamboo Curtain” was over. It was surely an eye-opening trip, believe me!

That about does it for this week. Things are going on around her as usual, and since Errol Wyse arrived last month, it has relieved me of a great deal of work. You’ll be hearing from me again next week.

Till then, lots of love,


Catching Up and Winding Down

November 25, 2012

June 20, 1955

Dear Dad & Russ,

I’m so far behind in my letter-writing that I honestly don’t know just where to begin. By this time you will have received my Hong Kong story and I do hope it will keep you busy until you receive this letter. As you can see by the length of it, it took me the good part of one week’s spare time to get the whole thing on paper.

Things around here have changed so much in the past few weeks. I think I mentioned in one of my recent “hasty notes” that Errol Wyse is with us now from Tokyo. Also, Mr. Duder returned to Canada last Tuesday. It was a sad day indeed for the entire Delegation. Mr. Duder had won the respect and admiration of not only our Delegation, but of the Poles and indians as well. Things will just never be quite the same now that he is gone. Maj.-Gen. [Eric] Snow has taken over as the Acting Commissioner until Mr. Duder’s replacement arrives in August. Mr. Duder may be giving you a phone call when he arrives in Ottawa.

Tomorrow our new steno arrives from Ottawa, and Hap is expecting to be posted to Hanoi for a month before he goes home. Around the middle of July some of our chaps are heading back home. We have a new Political Advisor here now from Ottawa and Mr. Murray, whom he succeeded, leaves for Ottawa at the end of the month. As you can see, things are certainly changing around here and it is very sad to see all the old familiar faces leaving. It is sad, I should say, for those still left behind!! There is even talk of air-conditioning our office! That, to may way of thinking, is going to take all the fun our of Phnom Penh!

In spite of all the fun and excitement and adventure that this very unusual posting has been, I’m beginning to get very weary of the whole thing. It will be nice to get back into a good old “routine” and be able to live with civilized white people again. Yes, the day I leave the jungle for the last time will indeed be a very happy one. But I certainly have no regrets. It’s been the most wonderful experience for me, especially when you consider my age. But, as I said, I am becoming very weary of this primitive existence and all the hardships that go with it.

At five to eleven this morning and up until 10 minutes to 12, we were fortunate enough to witness a partial eclipse of the sun. The morning was very clear and very bright – nice blue sky and all. You just can’t imagine how an eclipse looks in this part of the world, where the sun is usually so bright!! Everything turned pink and looked very weird indeed in a sort of half-light effect!

And I received a very nice souvenir of Mr. Duder’s departure for Canada. It is an enlargement of a photo taken at the airport just before Mr. Duder got aboard the plane. It shows all the Canadian Delegation in a great long line shaking hands with Mr. Duder. And who do you think he was shaking hands with when the photographer took the picture? You guessed it – yours truly!! It’s rather too big to send home in the dip bag so I shall just keep it with me till I return.

Mr. Duder departing Phnom Penh, June 1955
Errol Wyse to David’s left (NFB photo)

Someone used David's camera to get this shot

 David took this shot before Mr. Duder got to him

I nearly forgot to mention that I’m going up to Hanoi on Thursday and coming back to Phnom Penh on Sunday. Although I was in Hanoi last September, it shall be interesting to see a city now under the Communist regime – “behind the Bamboo Curtain”. I’ll tell you about it next letter.

Lots of love,


My Trip to Hong Kong (Part 5)

November 24, 2012

Friday, May 27, 1955

Friday was a wonderful day – clear and hot. I slept in until 11:30, got up and turned off the air-conditioning and opened the windows to let the wonderful sea air waft in from over the garden. I got dressed and walked down to the “Seaview Restaurant” for lunch. I had a light salad and enjoyed the view immensely. My table was just a few yards from the water’s edge.

After lunch I walked around for about an hour. There were so many wonderful gardens to explore and also, behind the hotel, there were terraces extending halfway up the mountain. Then I swam until about 3:30 and wandered back to my room about 4:00. I ordered some tea and toast and just read and loafed until supper time. I had my last HOT BATH that evening.

There was a beautiful sunset that evening as I ate supper out on the terrace. It was all pink and grey and, as it got darker, I could see the lights of dozens of junks that had anchored in the bay for the night. They looked like bright stars in a black sky.

The evening was lovely so I decided to take a walk along the beach. To my way of thinking, palm trees and moonlight are synonymous, and that night the moon was out. Palm trees should be seen in the moonlight and especially with the background music of waves breaking onto a white beach. I was amazed, also, at the way the flame trees glowed brilliantly orange in the moonlight. It was a magical evening indeed. I found all sorts of little walks to explore, where the palms were so thick they brushed against my face as I passed. And the air was heavy with the scent of flowers. ANd this was my last night in Hong Kong. I she a tear or two of grief, I’m sure.

I think, maybe, that I could write a dandy travel folder.

When I got back to my suite the boy was waiting to open the doors for me. He was having a bit of difficulty in turning on the air-conditioners, so he excused himself for a moment and returned with a monocle (of all things!) in his eye. I could hardly keep a straight face – indeed, I nearly burst out laughing at the sight of a monocled Chinaman adjusting the dials on the air-conditioners!!

After my monocled friend had left, I packed my suitcase and then went to bed.

The two tallest buildings in Hong Kong, 1955

The two tallest buildings in Hong Kong, 1955

Saturday, May 28, 1955

I was up at 7:30 and checked out at 9. I took a taxi to the ferry landing and crossed to Kowloon, where I took another taxi to Gene’s. I then had my final fitting and Gene drove me around to do some last-minute shopping. At 11:30 I went back to Victoria and took a taxi to the Tiger Balm Gardens. This was without doubt the weirdest place I have ever been!! I’m afraid I couldn’t do justice to the Tiger Balm Gardens with mere words, so you shall have to wait until you see the colour slides I took during the visit. [Here are a few of David’s slides]

Entering the Tiger Balm Gardens

Entering the Tiger Balm Gardens

A colourful corner of the Tiger Balm Gardens

A colourful corner 

At the heart of the Gardens

At the heart of the Gardens

Upon reaching the bottom of the Gardens

Upon reaching the bottom of the Gardens

At 1 o’clock I was back in Kowloon and had lunch with Mr. Duder at the Peninsula Hotel. At 2:30 I went back to Gene’s and finished packing the clothes that he had just finished that morning. Gene and I chatted for a while and then a horrible thought struck me!!

I had 6 suitcases with me, four of my own and two I had bought for my room-mate, Hap. And they were all full!! My ticket allowed me only 20 kilos (44 pounds) of luggage!! Why I hand’t thought of this before is a mystery to me. Here I was, nearly out of money, with enough excess luggage to cost me a king’s ransom!!! I mentioned this trivial point to Gene and suggested that perhaps I could send the whole business back to Phnom Penh on a boat or something. Gene didn’t say anything, but instead picked up his telephone and dialled. Pause. Then Gene said: “Charlie? Gene.” There followed about five minutes of Chinese and Gene hung up. He said not to worry and that everything had been arranged. ARRANGED!?! I suddenly had visions of becoming involved in some sort of smuggling deal but decided to wait and see what would happen.

At 4 o’clock (my plane was due to leave at 5:30) Gene drove me and my six suitcases to Kai Tak Airport. We went into an office and I met Charlie.

It seems that Charlie is in charge of all luggage and is an old pal of Gene’s. Charlie had all my baggage checks made up for me and asked to see my passport. I handed it to him and he made a mysterious phone call in Chinese. Charlie then wished me “bon voyage” and Gene and I went into the airport restaurant to await plane time. At about 5 o’clock all passengers were summoned into the baggage room for luggage inspection, so I said my farewells to Gene and proceeded to the aforesaid room. There was my luggage, all six pieces, set out in a neat row. The customs official merely asked me where my luggage was and I pointed to the six pieces. He said “thank you” and the luggage was loaded onto a little cart and taken to the plane. Just like that.

I guess Charlie had phoned ahead. Come take-off time and I walked with the other passengers out to the plane. I was on the end of the line and was horrified to see all the other passengers hand the stewardess a “Boarding Pass”. I didn’t have one!! Just as my turn came up to board the plane, I had a sudden fear that Charlie had failed me.

I was about to explain to the stewardess that I was sorry and that I didn’t have a Boarding Pass, but before I could get out any more than “I’m sorry but…” she interrupted me with “Oh, that’s all right Mr. Nixon. We know ALL ABOUT YOU. Please get aboard and make yourself right at home.” I nearly died! That must have been quite the phone call that Charlie made. Now that I come to think about it, nobody even asked me if I had a ticket or not!!

And so, I left Hong Kong for the second time in my life. The plane warmed up for about 15 minutes, went roaring down the runway and, seemingly, went straight up. Then followed some rather clever gymnastics with the mountains of South China and we were on our way to Saigon.

It was a very nice flight and the air was filled with Eau de Cologne. There was even a bottle of E de C in the men’s washroom! I was served a creme de menthe and then handed THE FORMS. There were four in all, one to be filled out in triplicate. One of the forms caused me to nearly break out in hysterics! There was a question on this particular FORM which read: “State where you spent the fourteen nights prior to arrival in this country:” Below this rather personal question were listed: “Last night: Two nights ago: Three nights ago:” etc., all the way down to “Fourteen nights ago:” My little list included three countries – Cambodia, Vietnam and Hong Kong. That should confuse them!

After completing THE FORMS I was served a very nice dinner, and after that I read a murder mystery. At :30 we landed in Saigon and the air was heavy with the threat of an oncoming monsoon storm. There was nobody to meet me at the airport, so at 9:30 I climbed aboard the airline bus and was taken to the Air France office at some obscure address in downtown Saigon. I asked for a taxi to take me to the Continental Palace Hotel and was told “pas possible, Monsieur”.

Well, there was only one resort – the cyclo-pousse!! I managed to hail two of these dubious means of locomotion and stacked my six bags into one of them and packed myself into the other. This little caravan of two cyclos proceeded down the main street of Saigon and drew many a curious glance from passers-by. I arrived, after a while, at the Continental Palace Hotel and was given a drab little room with mosquito nets and bugs (to say nothing of the lizards). UGH!! I think I shed a tear when I thought of the conditions under which I retired the night previous.

Sunday, May 29, 1955

I slept until noon, had lunch, slept all afternoon, had dinner and went to bed. I was back in Indochina.

Monday, May 30, 1955

I was up at some weird little hour in the morning and drove out to the airport in a white Commission jeep with all my luggage in a trailer behind. I left Saigon around 8 a.m. and was back in Phnom Penh around 8:50.

And so ended my adventure to Hong Kong.



Well, for one thing, I think I’m terribly long-winded, judging by the length of this epistle!

I think I proved something, however, and that is that a person can have a heck of a lot of fun in foreign lands, even when by himself.

There is nothing fabricated or exaggerated about this record of my trip to Hong Kong. I only hope that you’ve had as much fun reading it as I had living it, and that I’ve been able to get across to you a little of the atmosphere that puts the “magical” into MAGICAL HONG KONG!!

FIN (roughly translated – THE END)

My Trip to Hong Kong (Part 4)

November 24, 2012

Thursday, May 26, 1955

I MOVED!! I was up at 8:30 and at 9:30 I sent all my luggage down to Gene’s except for one suitcase which I took with me. I took a ferry to Victoria and then a taxi, arriving at 10:30 at…… REPULSE BAY HOTEL!!! You will remember that I mentioned last Saturday that, after seeing Frank Ballachey’s suite at this hotel, I decided that “this was for me”. As a matter of fact, I even reserved Frank’s suite for myself on Saturday for Thursday and Friday. So, here I was.

The suite I had (not a room, mind you, but a suite!) cost $75.00 H.K. per day (about $12.50 U.S.). I shall now do my best to describe my $12.50 per day suite:

I entered the suite through TWO huge doors and found myself in the entrance hall. To my right was a lighted closet that would easily hold 10 or 12 persons (adults). To my left was my dressing room! Yes, I actually had a separate room just to dress in. It was a huge room in itself (about as big as my whole room at the Hotel de la Poste in Phnom Penh!). At the end of the dressing room there was a storage space for clothes and luggage. So much storage space the I’m sure ER II would have lots of room to spare! Back to the entrance hall. I then went through a curtained door into the bedroom. My goodness, I thought I must be in the main ballroom or something! Now, I’m not very good at guessing measurements but I swear that this room was about 30 feet square (approximately 900 sq. ft!). The bedroom floor was covered with a red and gold rug and there were two chandeliers in the ceiling. To my left as I entered the bedroom there was a telephone table with a telephone on it (naturally). Beyond the telephone table was an easy chair. To might right there was a table with four chairs around it. On the right-hand side of the hall there were two chests of drawers with three big drawers in each. On top of one of these chests of drawers was a silver thermos of ice water. The room was filled practically to overflowing with ashtrays. I had great fun flitting from one ashtray to another dropping an ash here and another ash there. I think the room boy thought me slightly mad. I really must admit I felt a bit eccentric. I even went to the extent o fearing my dark glasses while inside the hotel!! Also, the room was full of lamps. Along the left-hand wall were two big Hollywood beds set in a modern headboard affair with built-in lights and drawers, cupboards and bookshelves, etc. The beds were covered in cream-coloured brocaded bed-spreads. In the left-hand corner of the opposite side of the room there was a door with built-in cupboards and a full-length mirror. This door led into the bathroom. I investigated.

WELL FOR PITY’S SAKE!!! This was the limit!! The entire bathroom was done in PINK!!! There was a pink wash-basin with a medicine chest above it. There was a pink toilet that just sort of hissed snakily at you when you operated it (quite a change from the roar of Niagara that accompanies the chain-pulling in Phnom Penh!). Just beside the toilet and above the T.P compartment there was a built-in pink ashtray. Above the toilet there was a big window with the VIEW I shall mention later. And then there was my pink bathtub!! I’ve kept this to the last because this bathtub was really quite the production number. It was huge. So huge, in fact, that I rather got the impression that it must be an inlet of Repulse Bay and might very well be affected by high and low tide! But the most amazing thing about this pink bathtub was where the faucet should have been (if you can follow that). Instead of a faucet there was a PINK FISH that spewed steamy hot water from its mouth!!! I’m not fooling! There really was! If goat’s milk had issued forth from that pink fish I don’t think it would have alarmed me one little bit! Needless to say, I made good use of my pink fish during my two-day luxury splurge at this swank hotel The thing fascinated me!!!

Back in the bedroom again, I discovered a separate cupboard just for shoes and also another easy chair. Then there was my sitting-room. It was on the same side of the suite as the pink bathroom. I entered the sitting-room through a huge archway with rich drapes hanging down from a lattice-work affair. Separating the bedroom from the sitting-room was a built-in vanity table with a mirror that lighted up when you opened the lid. On the left-hand wall of the dressing room was a very modern built-in desk, the top of which extended behind two built-in easy chairs, one on each side of the desk. On the right-hand wall of the room was a built-in sofa with cupboards and things on either side. Say. It seems that everything is “built-in” in my suite doesn’t it? Well, I must admit, everything was! One of the most modern rooms I’ve ever seen. In front of the sofa was an egg-shaped coffee table. I might mention here that all table tops, desk tops, head-boards, etc., were covered in sheet glass. The opposite wall of the sitting-room consisted of windows with bookcases (built-in, of course) beneath them. On the window sill were some very lovely cactus plants and, in each corner window, there was a huge air-conditioner. Get that, please, it took two air-conditioners to cool the room (pardon me – suite) it was so huge. Also, there were lamps and more ashtrays all over the place.

Let me now do my best to describe my VIEW!! Directly below my windows there was a tropical garden with palm trees, flame trees (bright orange), brilliant flowers and birds. Indeed, it was so quiet at Repulse Bay that all I could hear was the birds. Repulse Bay is nestled in a sort of “U” formed by the surrounding mountains. As I stood in my window looking out I could see an old castle built on the hill to the right. Evidently, this castle is a replica of Edinburgh Castle built by an eccentric Chinaman. I think the world needs more eccentric Chinamen. It certainly was a magnificent sight to see!! To the left, the green mountains curved down to the sea. Straight ahead, beyond the garden and the beach, was the bay itself. The water was turquoise in colour near the shore, changing into green and then deep blue farther out. As far as I could see, right to the horizon, there were mountainous islands rising out of the sea. And all day long could be seen fishing junks with their wonderful old patched sails silhouetted against the horizon. I don’t think I had better go on too long this way or I’ll surely be taking the next plane back to Hong Kong!

David's view to the left

David’s view to the left

David's view straight ahead

David’s view straight ahead

David's view to the right

David’s view to the right

I unpacked and ordered orange juice, toast and coffee. I had scarcely settled onto the sofa when my order arrived! When the boy came into the room I could smell the aroma of freshly percolated coffee and I decided that I was LIVING once again after so long in the “bush”. Everything was served on a great heavy silver tray. The hot toast was enclosed in a silver steamer and there was a great dish of butter “rosebuds”. The boy poured my coffee from a great silver pot, added sugar and then plopped a big blog of whipped cream into it. All I had to do was drink it. I was just a little confused when I unfolded my linen napkin. I thought it must surely be a table cloth!

After breakfast I washed up. I never saw the towel I used again! It’s a fact. If I only used a towel once, it would mysteriously disappear and be replaced by a fresh one!

Well, to get on with the day. I loafed around until noon, just drinking in my VIEW and luxuriating in the luxury of my luxurious room (wow!). Then I walked down to the beach and, much to my surprise and pleasure, found the Repulse Bay branch of the Dairy Farm! It was a wonderful little place, set a little back from the beach and all surrounded by palm trees and bright flowers. I decided to lunch on the sun deck which I reached by climbing a wonderful spiral staircase that wound its way lazily up through the branches of a tree that grew just beside the staircase. I had a hamburger and coffee and a glass of milk to boot. I wandered around a bit after lunch and then retired (or should I say “repaired, like in a book I read once) to my sitting room and read until 3 o’clock.

I decided to go for a swim but was just a bit concerned about what sort of reaction my bikini bathing suit would cause in a British Colony. Therefore, I purchased a very conservative pair of bathing trunks and trotted off into the surf. I’ve never seen such water!! As I mentioned in last Saturday’s instalment, the water was very salty, turquoise green and crystal clear. I imagine the bottom was sand, but if someone had told me it was velvet I would have believed him! The most amazing thing about this water was the fact that when you plunged your hand down into it, and the bubbles had subsided, you could see little drops of water shooting up in the air – like soda water!

After swimming for a while, I returned to the beach and just sat there soaking up the wonderful sun and a good sun-burn. Then I met Frank and Lou.

Now I’ve always been told never to speak to strangers, but these two Petty Officers in the British Navy (Frank and Lou by name) had evidently never heard this sage advice, so they invited me over to their section of the beach and insisted on my joining them in a rum and coke because, they said, I “looked lonely sitting there all by myself”. The funny thing about all this was that they thought I was an American and Lou was planning to “go out” to the wilds of CANADA within a year or so to settle down. So they wanted to know if knew anything about Canada!!!

Needless to say, Lou went practically balmy when I introduced myself as a Canadian. He plans to go to Vancouver (another balmy spell ensued when I told him Vancouver was my birthplace) and work as a radio technician (his job in the British Navy). Frank and Lou were stationed at H.M. S. Tamar base (or whatever the Navy calls it) in Hong Kong and invited me down to their mess that evening. They just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, especially from a fellow Commonwealther, so I promised to meet them at H.M.S Tamar that evening at nine.

We hadn’t been sitting on the beach for very long when an old American couple toddled by and were lured by Frank and Lou to join us for a rum and coke. They were a wonderful old couple on a world tour. They came from New York state and had, at one point in their travels, taken in the glorious sights of Ottawa, Canada – “near Montreal”. Frank took the male half of this globe-trotting duo down to the water for a swimming lesson while Lou tried to convince his wife that she and her husband should join them that evening in their mess. I think they would have come, too, if not for a previous engagement!! Not much later an American sailor was hailed into our happy group and this rather internationally-flavoured party continued until nearly 6 o’clock. When we finally went our separate ways, I was gloriously burned (like a tomato) from sitting out in the sun all afternoon, but feeling fit as a fiddle as a result of the fresh air and salt water.

I went back to my suite and put the pink fish into action and was soon soaking in steamy hot water and then drying myself in snowy white towels (big as bed sheets). I dressed and had dinner at the hotel dining room. Some of the tables were set out on a terrace overlooking the garden and bay, so I chose to sit there. The dinner was excellent. I started with with a shrimp cocktail that turned up in a little crystal bowl, around which was packed crushed ice inside another little silver bowl, which was inside a larger silver bowl which sat upon a little lace doily, which was on a great china plate. Whew!! The arrival of the sauce for the shrimp gave me a bit of a turn. I thought I was seeing things. The waiter materialized bearing a great silver tray. On either end of the tray there was a silver “gravy boat” with a great silver ladle in each. And in the centre of the silver tray was a little red chair upo which sat a stuffed lobster with a little white crown on his head and Neptune’s spear clutched in his right claw!!

I ordered breaded veal cutlets and also a side dish of tomatoes. Now in Indochina you have to order your meat, potatoes, vegetables, etc., all separately and they all arrive on separate plates. In Hong Kong, however, everything is included when you order your main dish, i.e., breaded veal cutlets. The meal arrived and I found that a tomato salad was included with the breaded veal cutlets. And I also had the side dish of sliced tomatoes to face. I’m sure the waiter thought I was a tomato-fiend but I didn’t mind his thoughts one little bit and wolfed down every last tomato in sight! I finished off the meal with a whopping piece of apple pie and ice cream and a pot of coffee. I produced an after-dinner cigarette and scarcely had it left the pack when a little man was standing beside me with a lighted match.

Which reminds me, I meant to mention before that every time I approached the doors (there were two, remember?) of my suite there was always somebody standing outside to open them for me. I can’t remember having to open the doors myself even once during my two-day stay!

Following dinner I ordered a taxi and drove into Victoria City and found H.M.S. Tamar base without any difficulty. I asked the guard at the gate where I would find the Petty Officers’ Mess and he nearly floored me by saying: “Are you the Can-AYE-dee-an Frank and Lou are expectin’?” I admitted I was and the guard issued me with an escort to the mess!!

HMS Tamar (formerly Wellington Barracks)

The H.M.S. Tamar’s mess was a replica of what I’ve always imagined an old English pub would look like. There was a piano in one corner of the room and a dart-board on the wall. Great ale tubs surmounted the bar and there were stuffed leather chairs all over the place. I certainly had a pleasant evening. Frank, Lou and I chatted until 11 o’clock when the mess closed. They walked me back to the gate and I boarded an ancient Chinese bus bound for Repulse Bay.

The trip to Repulse Bay over those steep, winding roads with hair-pin curves is quite an experience in a car and in broad daylight. To make the same trip in a creaking, old bus full of Chinamen at 11 o’clock at night is something I would recommend only for the very courageous and devil-may-care types!! I certainly do get myself in the strangest places!

The bus stopped just in front of the hotel and soon I was curling up beneath my blanket enjoying the frosty bite of the air-conditioners.

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