They All Want to Fly Away
Pilots are often envied
the chicks love going to Kai Tak, they all want to fly away..
The Hong Kong Kai Tak International Airport at Kowloon City was closed down in 1998. Before that, planes flying low across the city skyline had been a vivid image in the memory of many of us. Ying Wa Boys' College, my old school, was only a mile away from Kai Tak. Somehow we survived our lessons, constantly aware of the jet planes taking off, or landing, or different planes taking off and landing at the same time. We managed to speak out whenever volume was called for. The teachers and students never minded the jet planes any more after their first month at Ying Wa. Many of us became fascinated by planes. When we played soccer at Kowloon Tsai Park, we would kick the ball as high as we could, imagining that we could one day down a plane with an extraordinary kick. Some boys even took their dates from the neighbouring schools to Kai Tak for a milk-shake from one of the city's earliest Macdonald's outlets. The easy stroll around the runway was a popular part of the event. There were plenty to admire and talk about: deafening jumbo-jets, beautiful air-hostesses in their flattering Cathay Pacific uniforms and the tall American pilots in their smart Pan-Am out-fits. According to the passed-on wisdom amongst the boys, “the chicks love going to Kai Tak, they all want to fly away”. I never dated any girls when I was in secondary school and never went to Kai Tak. I never knew whether the saying was true. That was before Lin flew away from Kai Tak in 1978.
Lin and I went to primary school together. She was the dream girl to all the boys in our class. She was pretty, fair and always smiling. More importantly, she was the first girl to develop breasts in the class. She was two or three years older than the rest of us because she dropped out for two years to help with household chores. This was quite a common happening in the late sixties where almost every family in our part of the city was in financial turmoil. She was made the class monitor as she could order respect from the wild kids during the teachers' absence. I was her deputy. Our working relationship was great but did not have the chance to get far. School was adjourned early in Primary Six so that we could have more time to study for the Secondary School Admission Test. If your family couldn't afford private schools, the test would be your only chance to get public education, or might be even to break away from poverty. I did exceptionally well and got admitted into Ying Wa Boys, one of the best schools for not-so-wealthy boys. Lin only did average and went to a school with a long name which I never remembered. Somehow, most of our class were going to schools with names nobody could remember.
Our class gathered from time to time after we left primary school. Lin was still fair and pretty. Her curves did not appear so outstanding now that all the girls were having breasts. However, she stopped being attractive to me not because of that. She had stopped smiling. We heard that she had to work part-time during the week-ends as a “beer girl”. “Beer girls” were supposed to be “indecent” as they got paid for urging diners and pub-goers to drink more beer, often by way of seductive gestures and even allowing their customers to touch them. “Beer girls” often told themselves that these customers were too drunk to remember anything the next morning, so it wouldn't matter. Nonetheless, they remembered everything so vividly themselves. So it certainly mattered.
In the summer of 1978, we got the news that Lin was getting married and leaving for New York. Gossips had it that she was marrying a middle-aged widower who wanted a new mother for his young children and gave Lin's parents a huge gift for her hand. Lin was not distressed to get married this way as she wanted to leave home and Hong Kong. She told one of us that she had been dealt a bad hand of cards and wanted a re-shuffle. In the gallery of Kai Tak, the class of 1972 posed for pictures, shook hands and said good-bye, saddened by the uncertainty of not knowing when we'd meet again.
That same night, I looked at the the polaroid pictures we took. Lin was looking sad in all but one of the photos. She was gazing behind her rather than at the camera. Her face was blushed and her eyes wide open. I followed her gaze and saw the source of her excitement: a jet-plane ascending and heading towards a beautiful new moon. The Ying Wa Boys were right. “They all want to fly away.”