Chasing the Ghost of Suzie Wong Event Followup

One-sheet movie poster from “The World of Suzie Wong”

The image of Suzie Wong on the Fragrant “Star” Ferry in her long elegant cheongsam / 長衫 is one of the most iconic images of mid-twentieth century Hong Kong.  It is also one of the most troubling. For everything about Suzie and her “world” is false, conjured up by Richard Mason, a British RAF intelligence officer turned writer, living in Hong Kong in the 1950s.  And yet the book that was written (and the movie made) about her refuses to leave us. She’s stuck somehow in our collective consciousness.  Is Suzie an empowered young woman or is she a hapless victim? Is she an example of plucky Cold War Hong Kong or a shameful reminder of the poverty and turmoil of its past.  The debate, I’m sure, will rage on (and on) but in the meantime, I think it’s helpful to visit the places that represent Suzie. The Fenwick Pier, Spring Garden Lane / 春園街, Luk Kwok Hotel 六國飯店 and other locations in and around Wan Chai that can help us to dissect the myth and come to terms with why Suzie is still with us today. Perhaps in walking the same Wan Chai streets, we’ll find what it is about her and her story that we love or love to hate so much.

 

Publicity Photo from WSW featuring Nancy Kwan

On April 21, 2018, Hong Kong Sacred Spaces Society hosted a community walking tour were Society Members joined in a conversation about Suzie and the Wan Chai she would have inhabited.

Our walk started in the new Harcourt Garden behind Police Headquarters on Arsenal Street.  We walked East towards Fenwick to the site of the former Fenwick Pier Boat Landing, across Hennessey and then over the Pacific Place 3 ending on Star Street.  We then walked across Sau Wa Fong / 秀華坊 Street to Ship Street then heading down to Queen’s Road East stopping at the Hung Shing Temple / 洪聖古廟 and continuing on to Stone Nulla Lane.  After a brief look at the restored Blue House and the Old Wan Chai Market, we headed down Wan Chai Road then Cross Street over to Spring Garden Lane.  Finally, we used the Wan Chai MTR Station Pedestrian Flyover to walk to Connaught Road to the Luk Kok Hotel where we ended our day.

Route:
Original Royal Naval Canteen from Historic Postcard.
  • The Fenwick Pier Area (Former Servicemen’s Guides Association, Fleet Arcade, and Site of China Fleet Club, Hong Kong) The landing site for almost all American serviceman in Wan Chai during the Vietnam War Era.  A gateway of sorts controlled by the US Military Police (MPs) who would regularly patrol the area’s most notorious bars.  Primary Theme: SOFA ( Status of Force Agreement) and the lesser known VFA (Visiting Force Agreement).  Secondary Theme: PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • Ship Street /船街 and surrounding area.  One of the first commercial warehouse districts in Hong Kong which consequently has one of the first Red Light Districts in the Late Nineteenth Century Hong.  The area lost out to the emergent Taikoo in present-day Causeway Bay.
  • Hung Shing Temple /洪聖古廟  Hung Shing  / 洪聖 was a Tang Dynasty Official who’s Queen’s Road East Temple runs along Wan Chai’s ancient shoreline.
Historical postcard of original Spring Garden Lane along Praya or Waterfront.
Historic snapshot of the so-called “Big Numbered” brothels that lined Spring Garden Lane prior to and after the Pacific War.
  • Spring Garden Lane /春園街 and Old Wan Chai Wet Market / 灣仔街市  This is an important stop in the imaginary world of Suzie Wong as this is the site of the Nam Kwok Hotel where the protagonist artist Robert Lomax played by William Holden lives and works.
  • Luk Kwok Hotel 六國飯店 (Currently Gloucester Luk Kwok Hotel) The actual site (not building) where Richard Mason author of “The World of Suzie Wong” worked during his stay here in Hong Kong.  Nothing like the fictional hotel, the current iteration has a Suzie shrine that we’ll all get to see.

Homework:
One-sheet for “To Whom It May Concern”
Yes, that’s right homework.  I really feel that if you don’t AT LEAST watch the original movie “The World of Suzie Wong” you’re not going to get the most out of this event.  There are many ways both legal and illegal to watch the film. I’ll leave it to you. However, here’s a link to amazon.com’s streaming service where you can watch it for a couple of bucks.  While you’re at it you can read the book on the Kindle platform.
by Sheridan Prasso
Once you’re done with that you can check out fellow Hong Kong Sacred Spaces member Sheridan Prasso’s “Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, and Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient”  An excellent primer of this sprawling topic.  I also strongly recommend the autobiographical documentary “To Whom it May Concern: Ka Shen’s Journey”. A film highlighting Nancy Kwan’s important role in Cinema in general and Hong Kong Cinema specifically as one of the first popular biracial actresses working in Hollywood.
For a more local perspective on the Suzie Wong myth, I can recommend the hard to find “My Name Ain’t Suzie 花街時代 ” (trailer here) directed by Angela Chan 陳安琪.  Intense, and a little sad “My Name Ain’t Suzie” is a nice comparison to WSW.
If you’re more of a literary type you can compare “A Many Splendored Thing” written by Han Suyin / 韓素音 and the Hollywood movie with a slightly different title again starring William Holden from 1955. The film also stars (jarringly) Jennifer Jones in Yellow Face. It won an Academy Award for Best Picture among other things and if you watch “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” FIRST, you’ll see just how refreshing Nancy Kwan’s “Suzie” really is.