SHANGHAI : SHORE LEAVE
On arriving in Shanghai some members of the crew may have made friends with one
family amongst the many “boat people” who crowd around the foreign freighters anchored in the Wangpoo. They would come to offer
various services or merely to beg. How much of the story “The Admiral” is true is an open question, the Steel
Worker never returned to Shanghai as the ship in the story does, but the boat people of China lived hard lives and
their deaths were rarely noticed.
Click image for larger view
Louis said the “Tony” in his story was a tough Italian kid suspected of having killed a cop in Baltimore, and
who became especially attached to the little boy who they all jokingly called “The Admiral.” Tony may have
saved the kid’s life when he fell in the water near the screws of a big liner. As in “Thicker Than Blood” where Louis
called Chief Mate Duks “Duggs,” it is possible that “Tony” is a pseudonym.
True or not, Louis left behind the photograph below …
Tony and Joe on the beach at Balikpapan
(This is about a week after Shanghai))
How much time Louis spent in Shanghai over the years is also an open question. If you believe the short stories
“The Man Who Stole Shakespeare” and “Shanghai, Not Without Gestures” he lived there for some time, possibly in an
apartment building owned by the notorious gangster Du Yu Sheng. The subculture of this city of refugees
seems very familiar to him. And the Chinese interior was also a subject that he spoke and wrote about with great
familiarity, an area that he claims to have reached by hiring out as a mercenary soldier … another subculture that
Louis seemed very familiar with.
"It was Oriental Slim in San Pedro who first put me in touch, and advised me
where to go in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tienstin and Saigon. Later I knew such places in a dozen other cities and went
to them to meet people, to soak up atmosphere, and just to hear what was happening along the outside routes. Slim
had fought in several armies but had settled down to shacking up with native girls of whatever country he was in,
and staying drunk much of the time. When I met him he was on one of his extended periods of sobriety, and as I was
never a drinker we had many long talks.
Du Yu Sheng and
the Green Circle Society
"Big Ears" Du was a triad king who had his base in the French Concession where he bought houses and police chiefs with equal ease. CLICK HERE FOR MORE
This card (front and back above) was in Louis' scrap book.
“My first contact in Shanghai came in a sailor's joint called, if I remember correctly, the Olympic, having
nothing to do with the Games, although games of other kinds were played there. It was a perhaps accidental meeting
with a Scotsman, a former British-India army officer named Haig. He had left the service and become a Buddhist,
but I always suspected he was with British Intelligence. We talked, and he knew of Slim. He introduced me to a
young couple, brother and sister, who were half-castes. They had an independent income from somewhere, not a lot
of money, but security. She painted, Chinese-style, he wrote very elegant poetry which he rarely tried to publish.
Through men, and at several parties, I became acquainted with a small group of would-be artists and writers,
mostly half-castes. Markets for what they wrote not being existent they simply wrote for their mutual pleasure,
although the sister who painted occasionally sold something of hers. Indeed, a few years ago I came upon a
painting of hers in a home I was visiting, but the owners had no idea who the artist was, and I did not enlighten
them. They had come upon a charming piece of work and bought it for no other reason. I knew them for a few days
only, and since have heard they were in Nanking when the Japanese came. It is hardly to be expected they escaped.
Haig would have, and Slim if sober, but they were flowers that bloomed in the spring and can scarcely have escaped
the first freeze."