USS King (DLG-10/DDG-41) Discussion Forum

General Category => General Discussion => Topic started by: IrvTrinkle on August 20, 2006, 23:27:58 PM

Title: Mary Soo and her girls - Hong Kong
Post by: IrvTrinkle on August 20, 2006, 23:27:58 PM
In 1961 I met Mary Soo for the first time and was also fortunate to meet her daughter. She called every one of her people son, daughter, sister, or brother but this lady was Mary Soo's right hand person. Little did I know at the time that I was in the presence of a legend in the US Navy and a hero to the locals. Here is a photo of her crew coming out to paint USS Mahan DLG-11 and USS King DLG-10 when we were moored in Hong Kong Harbor in 1964. I was just finishing my tour on Mahan. There are more photos of King and Mahan on the Mahan website. I found this particular photo on Google There is a bit more there under (Mary Soo Hong Kong Ship Side Painters).

The first time I met her in person it was hard to believe that such a tiny frail little old lady was so powerful and could possibly be the head of such a large family. All the orphans she took in and all the orphanages she supported were all part of her family. She was a charmer but she was also hard line when it came to bargaining and business. I was on liberty in Hong Kong for about the third or fourth time and having been mesmerized by some of the beauties that were painting our ship, the USS Picking DD-685, I absolutely had to go ashore and check things out. I was not disappointed when I met one of the "side painters" at her place which was a bar on the water front about a mile from the China Fleet Club.
The young lady introduced me to her mother (Mary Soo) and I found myself being charmed by an older woman who was just different. I had a few drinks, got something to eat, and we talked about things to do and see and how wonderful Hong Kong was and she had different girls bring out a number of her keepsakes including pictures with dignitaries and probably every US Navy skipper that ever visited there. The girls all told me that I should visit her home but I never got the opportunity although we became good friends and the pictures I saw, were of a true mansion fit for a Queen. The next day, the same young lady contacted me on the ship and invited me back to see her mother and bring cigarettes (sound familiar)? For some reason I did go back and for the price of a couple meals, a few drinks, cigarettes (of course) and just being respectful, I found that I had a long time friend. Later on I was determined to find someone in Hong Kong and Mary Soo was instrumental in helping me find that person. That is a different story in itself.
I was stationed at the Communications station in Yokosuka, Japan from late 1964 until 1969 and one day I was going out the side door at the end of my watch and I noticed a familiar looking lady across the street kind of staring at me. I crossed the street and it was one of Mary Soo's "daughters" who had married a sailor homeported in Yokosuka. She had seen me several times over a period of a few months and told Mary Soo where I was. Mary Soo told her to contact me and let me know that this young lady was there by herself in case she needed help with anything. When she told me who she was and what Mary Soo had told her I felt like a big brother. We went to the Windjammer Club, had dinner and a couple drinks and I put her in a cab rather than getting in trouble. We did meet several times for dinner when her husband was deployed but I always maintained my cool although it was tough. I eventually met her husband and he was a jerk. I think there are a good number of sailors married to Mary Soo's girls.
In my Navy career, I ended up visiting Hong Kong thirty-three times and it was around 1975 that I saw Mary Soo for the last time. We just lost touch and even Christmas cards stopped coming when I went to Korea. I feel that I am a better man for having met, dined with, and drank with a true legend. I did her several favors over the years and she was always appreciative of that. As I said earlier, she also did me a big time favor in helping me to locate someone that otherwise I was not able to find.
In a large cruise box of pictures in my garage, I did have a hundred or more pictures of Hong Kong including an autographed photo of Mary Soo, some of her girls, and me in Wanchai. When the wife and boys cleaned out boxes several months ago, a lot was thrown away and I am not sure if they tossed photos or not. They claim they kept pictures.
William Holden did a movie about Hong Kong with Nancy Kwan in about 1960 and it was named "The World of Suzie Wong." I saw the old movie on video about ten years ago and boy did that bring back memories. From the time I was 19 to the time I was 42 I spent very little time in the USA by being stationed in the Orient or by being homeported there or even swapping from ship to ship in the early days. I met high ranking Government officials and I drank with the dregs of the earth in some places but I enjoyed every bit of it. Mary Soo was higher than any high ranking Government official. She was the life's blood to hundreds of refugee children and fed them our leftovers.

Mary Soo's paint crew heading to ship to paint the sides in Hong Kong. Contributed by Steve Karolyi.  USS Mahan website.
Title: Re: Mary Soo and her girls - Hong Kong
Post by: navyman834 on January 03, 2008, 02:19:31 AM
My first visit to Hong Kong was in 1956 and I recall vividly that "Mary Soo's Side Cleaners" were the first visit the ship when we anchored in Hong Kong Harbor. The following is my account from that time. I never met Mary Soo (I thought it was spelled Mary Su) but I was wrong evidently.

Mary Su's Side Cleaners

   Hong Kong was an area under British control (leased from the Chinese and governed as a British Colony at this time), it had a large port with a lot of ship activity even in these days (1956). There was considerable commercial shipping, naval ships of all flags, ferry boats to and from mainland China and multitudes of small craft that might be involved in trade, fishing, pearl diving, smuggling or any number of other activities that one could imagine. Among these boats in the harbor there were many that belonged to an organization known as "Mary Su's Side Cleaners". Moreover, when a ship anchored in Hong Kong harbor these boats would stand off near the ship while Mary Su’s sampan would approach the vessel as soon as a gangway was rigged which would allow access to the ship. They knew better than to get too close because the ships would break out the fire hoses and disperse them quickly (Hong Kong is only a couple of miles from Communist China), and no U.S. Navy Captain in his right mind would allow the possibility of Communists being near his ship. I expect that the British government actually vouched for "Mary Su's Side Cleaners" and insured they would not be infiltrated by Communists. Mary Su's crew did get the job of cleaning and painting the freeboard (from the waterline to the main deck) of the Manchester while we were in Hong Kong. As the crew soon found out Mary Su offered other things as well. While the side cleaners and painters were busy other folks on her boats would send up a basket on a long bamboo pole, which would have a note in it that would say, "what is your desire". A list of such things as brands of beer, wine, and other types of booze, along with prices for each, discounts for individual tailor shops, restaurants, bars, gift shops and houses of ill repute were also offered and these places each had coupons. If one wanted to get a little bit to drink he only had to check off that article and include his money in Hong Kong Dollars, Military Script or U.S. currency. He then had to pull on the line a couple of times and the basket would lower to the sampan. Within a couple of minutes the basket would return with whatever was requested and paid for. As I recall the movie was shown on the fantail after dark, usually after 2000 reports and this was a very active time for business to take place with “Mary Su’s Side Cleaners”
   All of the ships garbage was also taken by “Mary Su’s” workers and it was our understanding that any thing that was edible was taken to boat people that lined the shores of the harbor or to other needy individuals such as orphanages or schools in Hong Kong.

Title: Re: Mary Soo and her girls - Hong Kong
Post by: navyman834 on January 16, 2008, 23:04:12 PM
Irv Trinkle,

Your words posted on the USS King site took me back over 50 years and I felt that I should further verify that some of the things you stated in your post were the things that normally took place in the port of Hong Kong while we were anchored there. American cigarettes were in great demand every place in the word, the United States southern states certainly knew how to make a cigarette that was desired around the world. When I was on the USS Manchester (CL 83) back in 1956 sea stores were less than one dollar a carton. I smoked Old Gold’s at the time and we could generally get them for 50 cents a carton. A Sailor at that time could only by law take 2 packs and an additional opened pack off the ship, but as you know there were numerous ways to get around that regulation, and even if you got caught the penalty was typically nothing more than confiscation of the cigarettes.

As I said in another post, I did not know Mary Soo personally. In Japan she would have had the title Mamason and all the girls were her daughters and they were really part of her family, because many girls in those days in the Orient were considered a burden on their natural family and were in many cases sold for about $30 cash each. I knew of one of the Sailors on the Manchester that bought a farm girl and then found that he could not take her back to the States. The military frowned on such things at that time. I do not know what the policy is or has been for the last 40 years. But there was many an oriental girl that had the desire to go to the United States where they had heard the streets were paved with gold. It was not easy in those days for the Chinese people and they did what they could to survive.

I have never seen "The World of Suzie Wong" but I would expect that I would enjoy that movie and I will have to check at my local video store or even maybe e-Bay for it.

Title: Re: Mary Soo and her girls - Hong Kong
Post by: IrvTrinkle on April 12, 2010, 23:10:36 PM
I found the "World of Suzie Wong" CD at Amazon.Com several months ago.
Title: Re: Mary Soo and her girls - Hong Kong
Post by: navyman834 on April 17, 2010, 02:07:58 AM
Saw your post about the availability of the "World of Suzie Wong"and hopefully I will be able
to get a copy. Thanks.
Ed Hughes