In Seoul we attended the British Embassy for a briefing and they kindly held a reception attended by many of the business interests the members of the Trade Mission wanted to meet. It was an evening that led to many successful business deals being made. We became readily aware that South Korea was a country still very anxious about its North Korean neighbour and whilst there were informed about two landings by armed maurauding North Koreans soldiers. We became aware, too, that the National Anthem was played very loudly each day in the streets of Seoul at 5 p.m. and everyone one would stop until it had ended. On one occasion whilst I was being driven to an appointment an air raid alarm sounded and the car stopped and we went to the nearest air-raid shelter. Of course I was worried about Mabel who was on her own and later discovered she had gone to visit a large shopping complex but she had coped marvellously during the air raid alert. She told me she saw everyone crouching at the top of the nearest esculator so she tried to do the same and someone kindly brought her a stool so that she could sit. She was impressed by the extreme courtesy of everyone who would bow whenever anyone entered the shop. She went back the next day and was stopped by a Korean man who asked her if she could explain what diapers were as he had just received a large order to supply diapers but didn’t know what they were! We took a short plane journey to Pusan, the business centre. It was at Pusan that the secretary to the Mission approached me to ask if Mabel would mind if he arranged dinner for her in the hotel restaurant where he would make sure she would be well looked after, as the Mission members had been invited to a special dinner in our honour which would be a ‘male occasion’! Mabel was intrigued and couldn’t wait to find out what I had gotten myself into . . . We sat on cushions at a low table and each delegate had a girl sitting by his side whereas my host and I as we sat opposite each other had a lady on either side. One girl made sure my glass was full and the other assisted me during the meal as chopsticks would reach out for whatever food I wanted to eat. There was also the ritual of the host coming round accompanied by one his girls and squatted down beside me as he drunk a toast to my health. I returned the compliment and made my way accompanied by a girl plus a bottle and glass to drink his health! During the course of the evening, the girls did traditional dances and groups would sing, and to my horror my host also got up to sing. Various Members of the Mission having experienced this ritual before also did ‘a turn’ and then I with one of the older lads (also a Scot!) did a duet on the lines of ‘I belong to Glasgow’ which came across as ‘We belong to Pusan’. Mabel laughed her head off when I related this saga to her. Not at all what we were accustomed to in Ashington or even Blyth on a Saturday night . . . In Tokyo we met the director of the British Chamber and visited the Sun City Exhibition Complex. Later at the offices of the Honda Car Company we had an agreeable meeting, obtaining all the assurances we had hoped to get on behalf of the component firms in membership of the Birmingham Chamber. The day ended with an invitation to a most memorable dinner at the British Embassy with H.M. Ambassador along with a small party from British Areospace also visiting Japan seeking business. Mabel was delighted to meet a young member of the Embassy Staff at dinner who was a Northumbrian and when he mentioned that he had been tardy in writing to his mother, Mabel armed with the address of his parents telephone them when she got back to Barnt Green!
Whilst in Tokyo a friend Mabel had made en route invited us to meet her family and have an evening meal in their home. We later understood this was a special honour as an invitation to a Japanese home was a rare privilege. She came to meet us and accompanied us on the underground journey which we wanted to make and we found this to be an exhilarating experience.
When we arrived at the house we were greeted by her mother and shown into a western furnished sittingroom and then we did not see the mother until we had been served during our visit with various dishes of fish and other delicacies brought to us at intervals in the sittingroom by the girl and her sister. At the end of the meal the mother joined us and later she invited us to see her bedroom. We had removed our shoes and put on slippers when we first entered the house and now as we entered the mother’s bedroom we removed the slippers. It was sparsely furnished and dominated by a long low table in the centre of the room which was her bed. On the wall at each end of her ‘bed’ was hanging the death-masks of her parents. The only western item in the room was a small television set mounted on a wall-bracket.
When I retired I was invested by The Queen as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to British newspapers which was the occasion for my family to attend Buckingham Palace. Mabel and I then quickly set off for Australia to enjoy a three-month holiday to celebrate our retirement from Newspapers and Publishing responsibilities. Overlooking Hong Kong Floating Restaurant, Aberdeen Harbour in Hong Kong It began in Hong Kong where we spent four nights. It was our second visit and Mabel and I found it a city that never disappointed. It pulsated with life. I had to do an interview with the local radio station as I was then a Vice-President of the Birmingham Chamber and it had been arranged by our High Commissioner’s office that I should talk about British trade. Whilst I was doing that Mabel took the opportunity to go on a trip which took her to the borders with China and looked over into Kowloon and the New Territories. Land ahoy! On Board the Cruise ShipWe then boarded a Russian cruise ship, MV Fedor Shalyapin, 21,000-ton passenger liner formerly owned by Cunard liner, to Sydney which would take two weeks and stop for a day at Manilla and also Papua New Guinea. When we sailed from Hong Kong the ship was carrying about half the usual number of passengers but that all changed when we reached Papua New Guinea when there was a great infux of families returning to Australia for the Christmas Holiday. It was said the Russians operated this ship and others like it to earn ‘hard currency’.