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

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

Its presence symbolizes a collection of unlikely occasions that introduced Fong, now 81, away from his birthplace Hong Kong to the United States within the Nineteen Sixties, thanks to a likelihood 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.

Before talking to CNN Travel, Fong texted us a spoiler alert: “I need to tell you ahead of the time. We didn’t make the entire trip to California.”

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

Born through the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), Fong misplaced his mom when he was a toddler. His father and elder brother labored within the transport trade so have been away a lot of the time.

“Although my step-mother and my elder sister were there for me, I learned to be independent at a young age,” Fong remembers.

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 few years.

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

Fong joined the police drive earlier than quitting to grow to be a journey information at Grand Hotel, a now-demolished colonial-style resort that when stood in Hong Kong’s touristy Tsim Sha Tsui district in Kowloon.

Meeting 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 Hotel, he approached the counter to request a personal tour. Fong occurred to be working that day.

“Mr. Treadwell was 6 foot 4 while Mrs. Treadwell was 5 foot 2. So Mr. Treadwell had to lean down to talk to his wife all the time,” says Fong.

He led the couple from Kowloon to the New Territories to Lok Ma Chau, the border between China and Hong Kong. Before getting into Lok Ma Chau, the group handed by a large duck farm.

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

It turned out the American had ordered a Chinese 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 Travel by way of video name from his residence within the US.


Fong was naturally curious. He did not even know precisely the place California was — “I didn’t study long enough to take geography class” — however he instantly requested Treadwell, “If you need a crew, can I help you?”

Treadwell replied: “Sure, you’re in.”

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

“I thought it was another private tour booking, I didn’t remember his face at all,” Fong remembers at this time with a mischievous smile.

All aboard the “Little Duck”

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

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

“At that time, it was like a dream to be able to sail to America,” says Fong. “Mr. Treadwell said he planned to go to Japan and we could make a stop in the Philippines where we would swim and dive and fish. It sounded very fun.”

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

“But I didn’t have a bank account then,” he remembers. “I wasn’t married. I didn’t own any real estate or any status — I’m a person with nothing on paper. In normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be able to get a visa, but on that day, a miracle happened.”

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

Eddie Fong labored as a journey advisor at a native resort within the Nineteen Sixties.

Courtesy of Eddie Fong

Fong says the counselor took a leap of religion and advised him: “For an unknown reason, I think I’m going to give you the visa. I don’t know why.”

The duo instantly began making 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 physician from the UK. Then they recruited Ralf Wolpers, a younger traveler from Germany, and Brian Frecker, one other younger traveler from Australia; each have been vacationing in Hong Kong.

“The five of us said, ‘let’s gang together, and then we can go,'” says Fong.

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

“It was the longan and lychee season. Everyone gave me a bunch as they said there would 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 assortment of islands about 15 kilometers offshore, earlier than they shook fingers and bid them farewell.

Rough seas forward

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

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

The former Hong Kong resident now has a copy of that journal and skim a few excerpts to CNN Travel: “Everybody was seasick, really seasick. It was extremely rough. But Little Duck rode the waves like she should. It was a tough night, but we made it through. Everybody was good sports. We’d leaned over the rail; we’d vomited, come back, lay down, assist in steering, assist in sailing. When the night went through, the wind dropped. In the morning, the wind dropped down; the sea dropped down. It was as calm as a lake.”

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

But Frecker, the Australian, did not get better as quick as the remaining, says Fong. Bass, the physician, inspected the boy to be sure he was wholesome sufficient to proceed. The workforce then had a assembly and determined to go on for one more day.

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

“You couldn’t even raise a pocket-handkerchief,” famous Treadwell in his journal.

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

“I remember I was feeling uncertain about my own future and I missed my family and friends,” says Fong, as he squeezes his eyes shut to recall the reminiscences of his journey.

“I also remember the longan and lychee. As I was the only Asian, I was the only one eating them. I would vomit from seasickness. And I would then eat some more as I didn’t want to waste them.”

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

“During those days, Americans and Chinese were extremely against each other,” says Fong as he reads from Treadwell ‘s notes. “If we were caught by Chinese, we’d be in great danger.”

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.

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

“Turns out our diesel was moving six knots up against an eight-knot current. We laid there hours after hours, and we repeated the same thing the next day,” says Fong.

Finally, Wolpers the German got here to Treadwell and mentioned, “If you don’t take the Australian boy back, I think he is going to die. He started vomiting again. Remember you’re the skipper so it is your responsibility.”

Treadwell referred to as out to Bass, saying: “Listen, doc. We’re going to go back. I’m not taking any chances.”

As they reversed course, they found much more dangerous news.

There was a leak in certainly one of their pumps and it was spilling oil over the water tank. They had stocked sufficient meals, however this growth pressured them to worry for his or her water provide.

Fortunately, the currents labored of their favor however fog made it exhausting to navigate. They had to ask passing fishing boats to level them in the precise course.

“Then at night, I could see Hong Kong from afar easily as it was very bright,” says Fong. “We went back to Wung Kee and surprised everyone there. They thought we were half-way to Japan by then.

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

The remaining three posted a notice at a local YMCA, looking for replacements. When that didn’t work out, the three decided to set sail again on their own.

But history repeated itself — opposing currents and strong winds forced them to return again. This time, they went to the Hong Kong Observatory for answers.

Fong says the Observatory’s chief pulled up a chart and told the trio that from May to the end of October, much of Asia — from Hong Kong to the Philippines to Japan — would observe their typhoon seasons. He advised them to wait until November to set sail again.

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

So one morning, Treadwell took Fong to the office of American President Lines, a cargo shipping company, and asked if they could get a ride back to California — Little Duck included.

‘I only had $21 on me’

“Luckily, there was house on President Harrison. They put Little Duck on the deck and we have 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 only 14 paid passengers onboard. We ate together with the captain and the officers. The food was great and plentiful. I had fun on that voyage. It was also the very first time a white server served me food and called me ‘sir.’ It made me feel very important,” says Fong.

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

After arriving within the US, Treadwell determined to write a guide on how to function Chinese 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 more exciting: Chinese Junk Operating Expert. So I was the only expert Chinese junk operator in America, then,” Fong chuckles.

Treadwell did not find yourself ending the guide. But ultimately, Fong met “a gorgeous lady” at a church in Sacramento who turned his spouse. The two wedded in Hong Kong.

“I told my wife that I needed to move back to San Francisco to take care of Mr. and Mrs. Treadwell at their old age. She agreed so we moved to Palo Alto, just six miles away from where they lived,” says Fong.

Treadwell and Fong continued to sail collectively on Little Duck for years to come. 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 good time seeing other people watching us from their boat. Most likely, they had never seen a real Chinese junk in their life, not to mention this is in SF Bay. Many waved their hands with a smile. We felt very proud,” says Fong.

“Mr. Treadwell brought me to America and I think I didn’t disappoint him. I have been a good American citizen.”

Eddie Fong

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

“We kept Little Duck for two decades. Mr. Treadwell sold Little Duck to another couple when he could no longer take care of it. He was around 88 years old,” says Fong, once more shutting his eyes. “Oh, that was almost 40 years ago already!” he provides with a snigger.

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

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

“From there on until today, I still send Christmas cards and pocket money to Mr. Treadwell’s four great-grandchildren, to show them that I appreciate what their great grandfather did for me,” says Fong.

“Mr. Treadwell brought me to America and I think I didn’t disappoint him. I have been a good American citizen and worked for the Federal government for decades before retiring. I have two sons, one is a medical doctor and another a physicist.”

As for his “role” as a Chinese junk boat professional, Fong laughs and says, “My wife now calls me the lazy expert in the house.

“You know, previous individuals like us like to brag a little. That’s the top of the story.”

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