Shanghai, the Wicked City


The People’s Republic of China under Mao had consolidated inland China but had not yet captured Shanghai when yours truly, Ensign Jarvis arrived. Also checked into our second floor of the old Palace Hotel, still a prime hotel at this writing, was my roommate, a short, pleasant Mustang Navy officer, Lieutenant Avila. He was the Military Governor of a little island in the Palaus, a group of islands in the western Pacific. He had come to Shanghai with a load of government-issue technical books which the natives of his island had no use for. He planned to donate them to the Chao Tung University, a technical college (still an important institution).

Lt. Avila’s friends called him Pancho from the likeness of his name to Pancho Villa. The first night, I could see that Pancho was a character. As we innocently toured some of the bars and restaurants, he drank quite a bit and when we came back to the hotel, he started working on the last half of a fifth of bourbon, explaining that there was nothing to do on his island in the Palaus so he drank about a fifth a day—the tropics, you know.

Suddenly a gentle little tapping at our hotel door. Opening the door, I saw two smiling Chinese girls. I didn’t have a say—Pancho motioned them in. I wasn’t ready for such girls—I feared all kinds of diseases. It turned out the lieutenant wasn’t ready either, but for a different reason. The girls knew only a few words in English, but finally Pancho conveyed the idea that he had butterflies in his stomach. I remember the meaning of “butterflies” was demonstrated to them by his pointing to the colorful butterflies on their bamboo fans.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when his girl pulled out a little envelope from her purse and poured some powder into a glass of water. To my surprise, Pancho drank it. Almost at once he felt well enough to enjoy the girl. Then the girls left. Although mine was still smiling, she couldn’t have enjoyed being rejected.


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