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

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(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 collection of unlikely occasions that introduced Fong, now 81, away from his birthplace Hong Kong to america within the 1960s, due to 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 talking to CNN Journey, Fong texted us a spoiler alert: “I must inform you forward of the time. We did not make the whole journey to California.”

However although their crusing journey was unsuccessful, it led to an enduring 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 plenty of the time.

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

When he was round eight years previous, Fong borrowed 20 cents from his landlady and enrolled himself in a public college run by a Christian missionary, the place he studied for a number of years.

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

Fong joined the police drive earlier than quitting to turn into a journey information at Grand Lodge, 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 along with his spouse. A visitor of the Grand Lodge, he approached the counter to request a non-public tour. Fong occurred to be working that day.

“Mr. Treadwell was 6 foot four 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 out of the blue 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 right 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 by way of 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 research lengthy sufficient to take geography class” — however he instantly requested Treadwell, “In the event you want a crew, can I allow you to?”

Treadwell replied: “Positive, you are in.”

Fong dismissed it as a joke as he did not see Treadwell once more — till the next 12 months. 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 recollects right now with a mischievous smile.

All aboard the “Little Duck”

Nearly prepared a 12 months 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, regardless of the very 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 may make a cease within the Philippines the place we’d swim and dive and fish. It sounded very enjoyable.”

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

“However I did not have a checking account then,” he recollects. “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 an area lodge within the 1960s.

Courtesy of Eddie Fong

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

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

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

They first met John Bass, a health care provider 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 will go,'” says Fong.

Round Could 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 set of islands about 15 kilometers offshore, earlier than they shook arms 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 a giant storm. Wind and waves tore a number 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 a number of excerpts to CNN Journey: “All people was seasick, actually seasick. It was extraordinarily tough. However Little Duck rode the waves like she ought to. It was a troublesome evening, however we made it by way of. All people was good sports activities. We might leaned over the rail; we might vomited, come again, lay down, help in steering, help in crusing. When the evening went by way of, 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 remaining, says Fong. Bass, the physician, inspected the boy to verify he was wholesome sufficient to proceed. The staff then had a gathering and determined to go on for an additional 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 may 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 associates,” says Fong, as he squeezes his eyes shut to recall the reminiscences 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 might vomit from seasickness. And I might then eat some extra as I did not need to waste them.”

At one level, the boat drifted away from its course whereas Treadwell was asleep. They awoke to search 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 might 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 shifting six knots up in opposition to an eight-knot present. We laid there hours after hours, and we repeated the identical factor the subsequent day,” says Fong.

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

Treadwell known as out to Bass, saying: “Pay attention, 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 considered one of their pumps and it was spilling oil over the water tank. They’d stocked sufficient meals, however this improvement pressured them to concern for his or her water provide.

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

“Then at evening, I may see Hong Kong from afar simply because it was very shiny,” says Fong. “We went again to Wung Kee and stunned 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 an area YMCA, in search of 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 pressured 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 informed the trio that from Could to the tip of October, a lot of Asia — from Hong Kong to the Philippines to Japan — would observe their storm seasons. He suggested them to attend till November to set sail once more.

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

So one morning, Treadwell took Fong to the workplace of American President Strains, a cargo transport firm, and requested if they may get a journey 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 known as me ‘sir.’ It made me really feel crucial,” 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 put in writing a ebook on easy methods to 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 all around 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 Knowledgeable. 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 finally, Fong met “a stunning woman” at a church in Sacramento who turned his spouse. The 2 wedded in Hong Kong.

“I informed my spouse that I wanted to maneuver again to San Francisco to maintain Mr. and Mrs. Treadwell at their previous 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 come back. 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 a great time seeing different folks watching us from their boat. Most certainly, that they had by no means seen an actual Chinese language junk of their life, to not point out that is in SF Bay. Many waved their arms 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 a great American citizen.”

Eddie Fong

On these journeys, they shared tales from their earlier lives as law enforcement officials. Generally, 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 20 years. Mr. Treadwell bought Little Duck to a different couple when he may not maintain it. He was round 88 years previous,” says Fong, once more shutting his eyes. “Oh, that was nearly 40 years in the past already!” he provides with amusing.

Treadwell handed away a number of 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 picture 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. Ultimately, the port the place Little Duck was anchored was reclaimed to make means for a bridge. Fong not is aware of the place the boat is.

“From there on till right now, I nonetheless ship Christmas playing cards and pocket cash to Mr. Treadwell’s 4 great-grandchildren, to indicate them that I recognize 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 a great 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 “function” as a Chinese language junk boat skilled, Fong laughs and says, “My spouse now calls me the lazy skilled in the home.

“You understand, previous folks like us wish to brag slightly. That is the tip of the story.”

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