Hong Kong has been judged the absolute best liberty port in the world. This high rating is from sailors who have tested liberty all over the world. When sailors speak of liberty ports, it is accepted that the ladies are not far away, if only for the great scenery they provide. After spending several months in Hong Kong, one lady emerges who stands head and shoulders above all the rest. She was one of a kind, and provided an incomparable service for the sailors on extended stays in the city. She is known throughout the world, and in one magazine, was the featured centerfold. She is Hong Kong’s infamous Mary Soo.
Unlike other ladies, she was granted freedom to move around select ships in the harbor without restriction, plying her trade, and in the process, relieved many sailors aboard ship, whose duties were onerous. Like many ladies, she was a shrewd businessperson, and never passed up a profitable deal. And like most, she accepted no checks, no credit, and no promises. She worked strictly under contract, and required payment for services as rendered. Some claimed she was an artist, enhancing each sailor’s world with her special touch. Others said she was a workhorse, dedicated to an incomparable service. On the Gardiners Bay we knew her intimately. We had an understanding with Mary Soo.
While Mary Soo worked well for her customers, she was also the head honcho lady, the madam working a bevy of like-minded and well-trained girls. They arrived at the ship each and every day on their sampans, small boats that were perfectly adapted to working at the water’s edge. Most surprising was that Mary Soo and all her girls provided their services free for our garbage, no questions asked. Following the strictest of standards, the leftovers from the mess-hall after each meal were collected in individual containers and delivered to Mary Soo each day. To receive such fine service for that which otherwise would be thrown away, was an unbelievable bonus value. She is shown below with some of her girls, hovering next to the Gardiners Bay on one of her sampans.
From top to bottom, stem to stern, all around, she painted the ship. On this day, with long poles in hand, they are painting the ship’s hull with loving care. We provide the paint, and they paint the ship for the garbage, no questions asked. It was a big ship, and required long poles, many girls, and many days for a single coat. Exactly how many coats of paint might have been applied is not known. It was such a fine arrangement, the ship was painted over, and over, and over until it was just right. Following is a glamour shot of the Gardiners Bay at anchor. Sun covers on the bow’s main deck and 01-level are prepared for hanging out in style, while Mary Soo and her girls slave away. What a novel way to relieve the sailors.
She kept our beautiful little ship in top shape, and carried off the excess food as a bonus. It is understood that she gave much of the food to her many working girls. What they did not want, she sold on the streets throughout Hong Kong. Through this process, we were feeding those many starving Chinese we had heard so much about.
In the late fall of 1955 we came to the end of our tour as Station Ship, and knew we would miss Hong Kong. We knew that many tears would be shed. For our departure, Mary Soo planned a mighty going away celebration. She rigged a sampan with one of her many long poles, and from the high end of the pole suspended a twelve-foot long cluster of firecrackers. Then she summoned four of her most loyal girls to follow us out of the harbor. As we pulled away, she lit the firecrackers. For five minutes the crackers swished like the tail of an angry dragon, almost blowing Mary Soo and her girls out of the water in the process. Then we were gone.
As we passed out of sight, Mary Soo shed buckets of tears, because she knew we were taking all our garbage with us. What a deal!