Aboard Pong Tong

Sunday, August 25, 1929

Packed up my junk this morning and took a rickshaw down to the wharf opposite buoy #7 where lay the Pong Tong. A sampan took me out to the boat.

The Pong Tong is not a bad little boat.  A British cargo boat with accommodations for 28 first class passengers and a few second, 43 I believe. 1724 tons and 253 feet in length. I chose a starboard cabin, a nice little room with two bunks, though I have it all to myself. Come to think about it, this cabin is luxury itself—darned luck to have a cabin instead of a hatch. There are a number of other first class passengers, though no whites. Second class is aft and not so hot. The aft hatch is full of those enrolled in steerage.

At 12:30 I had lunch in the saloon with the officers. The other firsts grace the second sitting. At two the agent, captain, and customs officials came aboard. We sat in Capt. Robt. E. Freckleton’s cabin and gabbed a half hour over some drinks. At 2:30 we weighed anchor, steamed up the river opposite Saigon where we could turn around, and at three started our 45-mile downward journey to Cape St. Jacques on the sea.

The Saigon, or Don-nai River, as the natives call it, works itself into abject contortions in its effort to reach the sea. Snaking its way through flat low-lying fields, this broad river flows swiftly toward the hills that mark Cape St. Jacques.

I spent the afternoon reading in a wicker chair on the bridge and talking to a Chinaman from Hongkong. We sailed down with a Chinese cargo ship, but have now left it behind. It grew dark at dinner. Afterward I went up on the bridge and had a long talk with the Capt. (who doesn’t think much of Wilson) till we dropped the pilot at the Cape and entered the open sea. St. Jacques is a sea-side resort, and its long line of lights beneath the hill on which winked the lighthouse was a memorable farewell to the indolent tropics shimmering under the hard sunshine; the tangled jungles, moist, cool, its twilight pierced by misty shafts of light; the broad, low expanses of flooded green paddy fields. The pilot climbed down the rope ladder into his motor launch, and a moment later the last connections with Indo-China went careening and tossing shoreward. Lightning in a clouded sky has added to the charm of the down-river voyage. The mate says this is the cyclone season, so here’s hoping—wishing the ship no bad luck but I’ve never been in a cyclone.

The officers are a jolly good lot. They all thrive on a good sense of humor from the Capt. down. While on the bridge tonight the Capt. told me all about himself—how he ran away from home at 16, stowed away, and was gone 16 months. He was apprenticed to follow in his father’s footsteps and be a tanner but his chums kidded him so about giving up the sea life, he finally went back to sea. At 19 years of age he applied for his 2nd mate’s papers. Has a family in Australia—wife and two boys and hasn’t been home for five years. Judging from what he said, I would say he was perhaps 53—short, stout, ruddy complexion, good natured and humorous.

Well, it’s about 2 bells and a half dozen miles off Cape St. Jacques. Due to arrive in Hongkong Thursday morning.

My Chinese friend imparted this information: Saigon’s chief business is exporting rice. Saigon and Bangkok lead in this field. China hardly grows enough to meet its own demand and exports little if any. However, China exports tea—which reminds me, since this is an English ship, I am served afternoon tea.

Comments are closed.