Clancy – By Rickshaw

Geoff Hill’s latest update on – THE CS CLANCY CENTENARY RIDE – Somewhere out East – East of the Newtownards Road anyway!

Supported by Adelaide Insurance Services and BMW Motorrad.

Recreating the first around the world ride 100 years on.

Hong-Kong-Street-scene-small In Penang, Clancy’s plans for a spot of gentlemanly motorcycling down the peninsula were scuppered by the news that the road petered out into swampy jungle 150 miles north of Singapore, which left no alternative but to continue to there on the Bulow.

Before it sailed, he and a Scotsman leaped into a rickshaw for a tour around the capital Georgetown, during which he managed to condemn the typical Malay as “a mixture of Chinese and monkey, and…about the most unreliable person on earth”.

How he quite managed to glean this comprehensive insight from a brief rattle around town is a mystery, for immediately after damning an entire race, he and the Scotsman hurtled into the squalid business district to be greeted by the sight of dozens of stuffed pigs, roasted turkeys and trays of sweetmeats being borne to the funeral of a rich Chinese lady to nourish her spirit in the afterlife.

Soaked by a sudden downpour, he paid off the rickshaw driver and reboarded the Bulow for the day and a half voyage south to Singapore, then on to Hong Kong.

Rickshaw Leisurely Pace

Arriving in Georgetown, we did exactly as Clancy had and jumped into the nearest rickshaw, proceeding at a leisurely pace through a residential section in which the bungalows still slumbered behind flowering trees and velvety lawns.

The business section, by which I imagine Clancy meant the jetties on which the Chinese clans lived and traded, and the area just inland, was still a hiving, hawking maze of temples aromatic with joss smoke and noisy with the roar of small furnaces, the clang of tinsmiths, the buzz of saws and hiss of planes of the furniture makers, the cluck of justifiably concerned chickens in cages, the urgent tick of sewing machines, the slosh and steam of laundries and the silent, methodical labours of rattan weavers.

On the largest, the Chew Jetty, one of the stilt homes was available for rent, complete with air con, TV, wi-fi and a karaoke set, just in case you wanted to invite the Wongs around for a good old sing-song of an evening.

Street-scene-in-Georgetown-Penang-smallHong Kong, with its modern natives and matching shops, came as a complete surprise to Clancy, as did the fact that his plans to ride the 1,000 miles north to Shanghai were thwarted by the small but significant fact that apart from a few miles outside major cities, there were neither roads, railways nor wheelbarrow tracks in southern China, rendering his beloved Henderson “as useless as an aeroplane in a coal mine”.

Mind you, the fact that he only spent a night in Hong Kong didn’t stop him subjecting the Chinese to an immediate Clancyfication, although unlike the unfortunate Malays, this was a positive one.

They were, he decided, quiet, respectful, courteous and neat, and the women, with their becoming silk pantaloons, long embroidered coats and neat slippers, were very nice indeed.

After summing up an entire nation, he tucked his pen in his pocket and went sightseeing with a couple of Marines from the US gunboat Wilmington who showed him around town in between making his hair stand on end with horror stories from the 1911 revolution which ended 2,000 years of imperial rule in China.

Two-wheels-rickshawsmallHaving read too many James Clavell novels, I fully expected to arrive in Hong Kong, spend three days negotiating a fiendishly complex business deal in fluent vernacular Cantonese, sign it with my personal chop, seal it with a bottle of 50-year-old Macallan, then go out for dinner with my Chinese mistress, having left several ex-wives at home in New York, Honolulu and Skegness.

Sadly, none of the above happened, but it was just as hectic, thanks to Northern Ireland expat Peter Rolston, the former ITN and CNN presenter who’d forged a TV and media training career in Hong Kong and who’d lined up several speaking engagements and nights out for us during our three days there.

Slightly Bonkers

The brother of slightly bonkers TV superbabe Pamela Ballantine, Peter was even more bonkers, indicated by the fact that he’d been reading my newspaper columns and books for years since his wife Angela bought him a copy of Way to Go.

A few days before our arrival, I’d got an email from him saying: “Broadsword calling Danny Boy. Your imminent arrival noted. Kerbstones being painted and bunting unfurled. The third Wanchai District Accordion and Pipe Band mustered and in fine fettle.”

On the airport bus on the ride into town, we were greeted by one of the most jaw-dropping skylines on earth: a vista of vertiginous skyscrapers, rugged mountains and billowing clouds for which no amount of gazing at photographs or films could prepare you.

Even the scale of the docks, with scores of ships, hundreds of cranes and thousands of containers, is astonishing.

It is as if all the commercial energy of the world has been distilled into one drop of pure, unadulterated capitalism.

You imagine it’s the sort of place where they buy shirts with the sleeves already rolled up.

That evening, I gave a talk and slide show on the Clancy trip and previous bike adventures to the Royal Geographical Society, and afterwards, its director in Hong Kong, Rupert McCowan, took us out for dinner to the China Club, based in the old Bank of China.

Geoff-Hill-on-Chew-Jetty-in-Georgetown-Penang-smallAs we walked up the stairs past owner Sir David Tang’s private and priceless collection of art deco paintings and ceramics, Rupert suddenly stopped and glanced down at Gary’s training shoes.

“Ah, we might have a problem getting in with those,” he said.

We stood, scratching our heads and looking at each other, as blokes do.

“I know. Clancy’s boots,” said Gary, pulling them out of the bag in which we had brought them to the talk.

Suitably attired, we entered a scene straight from the China of the Thirties, with white-jacketed servants, whispering fans and a string quartet playing Bach in the corner.

“They have several restaurants here, but I thought you might be getting homesick for Europe, so we’re eating in Cipriani,” said Rupert.

It was no use, I thought; we were destined to end up eating Italian all the way through the Far East.

Keep up to date and up to speed with the CS Clancy Centenary Ride – the first biker to ride around the world left Dublin 100 years aqo – at

Background information:

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