Gweilo: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood by Martin Booth - review by Tim Heald

Tim Heald

Ghost Boy

Gweilo: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood

By

Doubleday 342pp £16.99 order from our bookshop
 

On 2 May 1952 a small boy called Martin Booth set sail for Hong Kong aboard the P & 0 liner Cofu with Joyce, the free-spirited mother he loved, and Ken, the boozy, blimpish father they both more or less loathed. Ken, a sort of Naval grocer, had been posted to the colony, and for the next three years, while he stuck to pink gin and out-of-date English newspapers, mother and son went native. Actually, the little boy went more genuinely native than Joyce. He became a sort of Chinese version of Kim or Mowgh, roaming the streets and alleys of the city and the relative wilderness of the hills and islands, befriended by rickshaw boys, a demented aristocratic Russian bag lady, a predatory homosexual called Nagasaki Joe, Triads in the Forbidden City and other colourful characters.

Booth seems to have known no fear and been possessed of boundless curiosity and a precocious linguistic ability. When his poor sad father is involved in a vehicular shunt downtown, little Martin is able to shout at the offending tram driver, 'Diu ne 10 mo!', which is a street-Cantonese command

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