Doug & Sylvia traveling with his dog, Marco Polo, 1930s
This weekend I was in L.A. visiting Marty and we were playing the wishing game over Chinese food at Mandarette. Sometimes the game is based on winning the lottery, sometimes it’s places we’d like to visit, sometimes it’s “Hump Island” (what three men we’d want to be stranded with in the tropics). This time our friend Martin joined us and it was Time Travel: where we’d like to go in what decade. Strawberry shrimp is a whole lot sweeter when you’re jet setting through time! Martin offered London in the swinging sixties and Marty proposed Hollywood in the 1940s, but we all agreed on Paris in the twenties and Shanghai in the thirties.
Silky met her match in Fairbanks in so many ways, but particularly when it came to travel. They both had the hunger to see new worlds and the adventurous nature to experience new places. They were fortunate enough to get to see most of what I dream of, including a trip to Japan and a cruise through the Pacific that ended in Singapore in 1935.
Using my time travel imagination, I have attempted to recreate that coveted experience. Excerpted here from my book, Searching For Lady Silky, is the exotic orient in the 1930s.
The horn of a looming cruise ship blasted one long drone as the Caroline pulled into port. The murky green-grey waters spiraled in her wake as she nudged into the slip and her mooring was secured. Sylvia felt sentimental about leaving the Caroline after so many months but was excited by the exotic enormity of Singapore and the random chaos of the pier.
Sinewy Asian dockhands seemed to fly in every direction–leaping from boats, loading parcels and crates–their long dark braids swinging from under flat hats made of woven reeds. Wealthy passengers, both western and eastern impeccably dressed in european fashions, briskly boarded or disembarked the small crafts, yachts and cruise ships lining the quay. Rickety two-wheeled carriages powered by young boys on bare feet zigzagged between travelers and dockworkers barely avoiding plunging into the dirty water below.
The frenetic activity was a shock after the solitude of their boat and the quiet island life they’d experienced, the impact intensified by a barrage of smells that both intrigued and repelled Sylvia. Raw fish and the smoke from roasting pork mingled with horse manure, hay and tar mixed with the fragrant scents of steamed jasmine rice and green tea. Beneath it all was the ever-present funk of the sea itself.
They took a taxi from the wharf, pressed on all sides by scurrying pedestrians carrying bundles and children, rickshaws and bicycles and occasionally another motorcar. Sylvia hadn’t see such crowds and chaos since the Place Djemaa el-Fna marketplace in Morocco.
One of the very first things I plan to do when I sell my book is to travel. Maybe not through time, but certainly in Silky’s footsteps.