Journal Entry #30
Long ago in another place, and now.
NORFOLK, CONN., JANUARY 19— The address of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hongkong is No. 1, Lower Albert Road. It actually sits at the top of Ice House Street, and the building was, indeed, once the colony’s ice house. Ice would be shipped in the winter months from Korea, if I have the history right, in the usual way: Huge blocks covered in sawdust filled the holds of cargo vessels. The ice house, with its thick, brick walls, was atop a rise in the Central district so these blocks could slide down toward the hotels, bars, and restaurants that ran along the harbor front.
My mind goes back to the F.C.C. and the many hours I spent there in the spring of 1987. I was the International Herald Tribune’s Hongkong correspondent, and I was working all the hours God gave because at the time I was on a retainer, not a salary, and fighting hard to recover from a blow dealt me by Newsweek, as supercilious a comic book then as it is now. Many were the morns I would open the bureau at 7 or so; many the eves I would walk into the Club hoping to make it before the kitchen closed (which was at 11, I think). I liked the steak frites and a glass of red wine, standing at the bar. I would be exhausted, but in that way one draws satisfaction from—exhaustion justly earned. Those were difficult, precarious days. But I knew even before they were over that they also had a certain brilliance. With reference to Cú Chulainn’s remarks at the end of the year just passed, times of struggle and adversity so often turn out to be among our finest times.
Anyway, I was up and down to South Korea a lot in those days, covering the last of the dictators—Chun Doo Hwan and his successor, the more ameliorating Roh Tae-woo—and the tribulations of “the two Kims,” Young-sam and Dae-jung. I had good sources in Seoul, the kind you can telephone in the evening, in some cases at their homes. There were intermittent talks in 1987 as to whether North and South would co-sponsor the Summer Olympics, scheduled to open in Seoul. I was following the story closely, and one evening sent Paris a file reporting that the two sides appeared close to an agreement. It did not strike me as a remarkable report: In journalism, news is when things happen, not when they might.