How a failed journey to California aboard a Chinese language junk boat led to a lifelong friendship

2021-04-08 06:32:37

(CNN) — Sitting in Eddie Fong’s lounge in Palo Alto is a 55-year-old mannequin of a standard Chinese language junk boat.

Its presence symbolizes a sequence of unlikely occasions that introduced Fong, now 81, away from his birthplace Hong Kong to the USA within the Sixties, because of an opportunity encounter with a retired Oakland detective that developed into an bold plan to sail throughout the Pacific Ocean to California on a life-sized junk boat.

Earlier than chatting with CNN Journey, Fong texted us a spoiler alert: “I must inform you forward of the time. We did not make your complete journey to California.”

However although their crusing journey was unsuccessful, it led to a long-lasting friendship and a lifetime of adventures.

Born throughout the Second Sino-Japanese Battle (1937-1945), Fong misplaced his mom when he was a toddler. His father and elder brother labored within the transport business so had been away numerous the time.

“Though my step-mother and my elder sister had been there for me, I discovered to be impartial at a younger age,” Fong remembers.

When he was round eight years outdated, Fong borrowed 20 cents from his landlady and enrolled himself in a public faculty run by a Christian missionary, the place he studied for just a few years.

At 17, he dropped out and began working to assist assist his household.

Fong joined the police power earlier than quitting to change into a journey information at Grand Resort, a now-demolished colonial-style lodge that after stood in Hong Kong’s touristy Tsim Sha Tsui district in Kowloon.

Assembly Mr. Treadwell

In 1965, Arthur Treadwell, a retired Oakland detective in his late 60s, traveled to Hong Kong together with his spouse. A visitor of the Grand Resort, he approached the counter to request a personal tour. Fong occurred to be working that day.

“Mr. Treadwell was 6 foot 4 whereas Mrs. Treadwell was 5 foot 2. So Mr. Treadwell needed to lean down to speak to his spouse on a regular basis,” says Fong.

He led the couple from Kowloon to the New Territories to Lok Ma Chau, the border between China and Hong Kong. Earlier than coming into Lok Ma Chau, the group handed by an enormous duck farm.

Out of nowhere, Treadwell immediately shouted, ‘Oh, little duck!’

It turned out the American had ordered a Chinese language junk boat in Hong Kong to sail to California and, seeing the little fowls, determined Little Duck was the proper title for his new vessel.

Eddie Fong talks to CNN Travel via video call from his home in the US.

Eddie Fong talks to CNN Journey through video name from his house within the US.


Fong was naturally curious. He did not even know precisely the place California was — “I did not examine lengthy sufficient to take geography class” — however he instantly requested Treadwell, “In case you want a crew, can I allow you to?”

Treadwell replied: “Certain, you are in.”

Fong dismissed it as a joke as he did not see Treadwell once more — till the next yr. Round springtime in 1966, a tall American got here to Fong’s counter and stated, “Are you able to go? You promised me you’d go to California with my boat.”

“I believed it was one other personal tour reserving, I did not keep in mind his face in any respect,” Fong remembers immediately with a mischievous smile.

All aboard the “Little Duck”

Virtually prepared a yr after Treadwell’s first go to to Hong Kong, the Chinese language junk boat he ordered and did certainly title “Little Duck,” was able to sail.

It did not take lengthy for Fong to say sure, despite the actual fact the American was virtually a stranger.

“At the moment, it was like a dream to have the ability to sail to America,” says Fong. “Mr. Treadwell stated he deliberate to go to Japan and we might make a cease within the Philippines the place we might swim and dive and fish. It sounded very enjoyable.”

The following day, the 2 went to the American Consulate Normal Hong Kong so Fong might apply for a vacationer visa.

“However I did not have a checking account then,” he remembers. “I wasn’t married. I did not personal any actual property or any standing — I am an individual with nothing on paper. In regular circumstances, I would not have the ability to get a visa, however on that day, a miracle occurred.”

Eddie Fong worked as a travel advisor at a local hotel in the 1960s.

Eddie Fong labored as a journey advisor at a neighborhood lodge within the Sixties.

Courtesy of Eddie Fong

Fong says the counselor took a leap of religion and instructed him: “For an unknown motive, I feel I’ll provide the visa. I do not know why.”

The duo instantly began making ready for his or her voyage by gathering meals provides and attempting to find extra crew members.

Treadwell thought they need to have 5 crew members on board.

They first met John Bass, a physician from the UK. Then they recruited Ralf Wolpers, a younger traveler from Germany, and Brian Frecker, one other younger traveler from Australia; each had been vacationing in Hong Kong.

“The 5 of us stated, ‘let’s gang collectively, after which we are able to go,'” says Fong.

Round Might of 1966, they set out from Pak Sha Wan in Hong Kong’s mainland Sai Kung District. Households and native media got here to ship the 5 sailors off.

“It was the longan and lychee season. Everybody gave me a bunch as they stated there could be no lychee or longan in America,” Fong says.

Wung Kee, the proprietor of the shipyard, and Eugene, the builder of Little Duck reportedly adopted them so far as Ninepin Group, a group of islands about 15 kilometers offshore, earlier than they shook palms and bid them farewell.

Tough seas forward

From there they had been on their very own, and set course for Japan. Crusing was easy till darkish, when the wind kicked up. At round 10 p.m., they sailed into an enormous storm. Wind and waves tore a few of the boards and one anchor away.

Fong says Treadwell stored a diary of his journey for his household, which his daughter-in-law typed out.

The previous Hong Kong resident now has a duplicate of that journal and skim just a few excerpts to CNN Journey: “Everyone was seasick, actually seasick. It was extraordinarily tough. However Little Duck rode the waves like she ought to. It was a troublesome night time, however we made it via. Everyone was good sports activities. We would leaned over the rail; we would vomited, come again, lay down, help in steering, help in crusing. When the night time went via, the wind dropped. Within the morning, the wind dropped down; the ocean dropped down. It was as calm as a lake.”

The crew then restarted the 36-horse-power Lister diesel engine and continued their journey.

However Frecker, the Australian, did not recuperate as quick as the remainder, says Fong. Bass, the physician, inspected the boy to ensure he was wholesome sufficient to proceed. The workforce then had a gathering and determined to go on for one more day.

After the storm, there was one other problem: No wind.

“You could not even elevate a pocket-handkerchief,” famous Treadwell in his journal.

For miles and miles, they might solely hear the pounding of their diesel engine.

“I keep in mind I used to be feeling unsure about my very own future and I missed my household and pals,” says Fong, as he squeezes his eyes shut to recall the recollections of his journey.

“I additionally keep in mind the longan and lychee. As I used to be the one Asian, I used to be the one one consuming them. I’d vomit from seasickness. And I’d then eat some extra as I did not wish to waste them.”

At one level, the boat drifted away from its course whereas Treadwell was asleep. They awoke to seek out themselves close to Chinese language shores.

“Throughout these days, People and Chinese language had been extraordinarily in opposition to one another,” says Fong as he reads from Treadwell ‘s notes. “If we had been caught by Chinese language, we would be in nice hazard.”

Fong, 81, remembers the journey that brought him to America.

Fong, 81, remembers the journey that introduced him to America.

Courtesy of Eddie Fong

They turned the ship round and headed for an island forward of them.

However 24 hours later, the island stayed precisely the place it was — Little Duck did not progress in any respect.

“Seems our diesel was transferring six knots up in opposition to an eight-knot present. We laid there hours after hours, and we repeated the identical factor the following day,” says Fong.

Lastly, Wolpers the German got here to Treadwell and stated, “In case you do not take the Australian boy again, I feel he’s going to die. He began vomiting once more. Bear in mind you are the skipper so it’s your duty.”

Treadwell referred to as out to Bass, saying: “Hear, doc. We will return. I am not taking any probabilities.”

As they reversed course, they found much more unhealthy information.

There was a leak in one in all their pumps and it was spilling oil over the water tank. That they had stocked sufficient meals, however this growth compelled them to concern for his or her water provide.

Happily, the currents labored of their favor however fog made it arduous to navigate. They needed to ask passing fishing boats to level them in the precise path.

“Then at night time, I might see Hong Kong from afar simply because it was very vivid,” says Fong. “We went again to Wung Kee and shocked everybody there. They thought we had been half-way to Japan by then.

Whereas shipbuilder Wung Kee set about fixing the embattled Little Duck, Frecker and Wolpers dropped out from the undertaking.

The remaining three posted a discover at a neighborhood YMCA, on the lookout for replacements. When that did not work out, the three determined to set sail once more on their very own.

However historical past repeated itself — opposing currents and powerful winds compelled them to return once more. This time, they went to the Hong Kong Observatory for solutions.

Fong says the Observatory’s chief pulled up a chart and instructed the trio that from Might to the tip of October, a lot of Asia — from Hong Kong to the Philippines to Japan — would observe their hurricane seasons. He suggested them to attend till November to set sail once more.

“Mr. Treadwell could not wait for one more few months,” says Fong. “He was homesick and he was operating out of money to remain in Hong Kong as effectively.”

So one morning, Treadwell took Fong to the workplace of American President Strains, a cargo transport firm, and requested if they might get a trip again to California — Little Duck included.

‘I solely had $21 on me’

“Fortunately, there was house on President Harrison. They put Little Duck on the deck and we had been on board of President Harrison to San Francisco on June 16, 1966,” says Fong.

“I did not have a lot however I gave my household all my financial savings. I had with me $21. The $20 was from Mr. Treadwell. And the journey assistant who I labored with gave me the one US greenback he had.

“President Harrison was a cargo ship with solely 14 paid passengers onboard. We ate along with the captain and the officers. The meals was nice and plentiful. I had enjoyable on that voyage. It was additionally the very first time a white server served me meals and referred to as me ‘sir.’ It made me really feel essential,” says Fong.

“It took 16 days to journey from Hong Kong to San Francisco. I gained 16 kilos in 16 days.”

After arriving within the US, Treadwell determined to jot down a ebook on function Chinese language junk boats and employed Fong as a researcher.

Treadwell and Fong stand with the model of "Little Duck."

Treadwell and Fong stand with the mannequin of “Little Duck.”

Courtesy of Eddie Fong

In accordance with American labor legal guidelines, they posted a job itemizing and circulated it amongst all of the labor departments everywhere in the nation for 2 weeks, to show that nobody else was certified for the job.

“Then they made this job title a bit extra thrilling: Chinese language Junk Working Professional. So I used to be the one skilled Chinese language junk operator in America, then,” Fong chuckles.

Treadwell did not find yourself ending the ebook. However ultimately, Fong met “a beautiful woman” at a church in Sacramento who grew to become his spouse. The 2 wedded in Hong Kong.

“I instructed my spouse that I wanted to maneuver again to San Francisco to handle Mr. and Mrs. Treadwell at their outdated age. She agreed so we moved to Palo Alto, simply six miles away from the place they lived,” says Fong.

Treadwell and Fong continued to sail collectively on Little Duck for years to return. They usually sailed to Florida, Santa Catalina Island or simply took her out for a whirl within the close by San Francisco Bay space.

“We had such an excellent time seeing different individuals watching us from their boat. Most certainly, they’d by no means seen an actual Chinese language junk of their life, to not point out that is in SF Bay. Many waved their palms with a smile. We felt very proud,” says Fong.

“Mr. Treadwell introduced me to America and I feel I did not disappoint him. I’ve been an excellent American citizen.”

Eddie Fong

On these journeys, they shared tales from their earlier lives as law enforcement officials. Typically, Fong would assist with the heavier work on the boat. They’d then cease for a sandwich after anchoring Little Duck.

“We stored Little Duck for twenty years. Mr. Treadwell bought Little Duck to a different couple when he might not handle it. He was round 88 years outdated,” says Fong, once more shutting his eyes. “Oh, that was virtually 40 years in the past already!” he provides with fun.

Treadwell handed away just a few years after he bought Little Duck and handed the mannequin of Little Duck to Fong. At the moment, it sits in entrance of a framed photograph of the unique Little Duck crew.

Fong says the couple took care of Little Duck for some time earlier than promoting it to a collector. Finally, the port the place Little Duck was anchored was reclaimed to make manner for a bridge. Fong not is aware of the place the boat is.

“From there on till immediately, I nonetheless ship Christmas playing cards and pocket cash to Mr. Treadwell’s 4 great-grandchildren, to indicate them that I admire what their nice grandfather did for me,” says Fong.

“Mr. Treadwell introduced me to America and I feel I did not disappoint him. I’ve been an excellent American citizen and labored for the Federal authorities for many years earlier than retiring. I’ve two sons, one is a medical physician and one other a physicist.”

As for his “position” as a Chinese language junk boat skilled, Fong laughs and says, “My spouse now calls me the lazy skilled in the home.

“You realize, outdated individuals like us prefer to brag a little bit. That is the tip of the story.”

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