Last week I received an e-mail from a friend at the U.S. Consulate. He said be that the U.S.S. George Washington would be in Hong Kong for a few days and would I like to go out with a guest and have a tour? Mmmm...let me think this over for 5 tenths of a second?
Nimitz class aircraft carrier, rows of F-18 Hornets, AWAC planes, helicopters, all sitting pretty under the American flag... do I want to take a trip out there?
So Gabriel and I set out for Fenwick pier down in Wanchai where the launches out to the carrier originate. Years ago the U.S. Navy set up a "Fleet Arcade" at the pier to accommodate the thousands of sailors who spend their shore leave in the territory. There are retails shops, ATM, American style food, Internet etc. Even when ships are not in town its fun to head down there to buy some "American" stuff.
My son and I were led out to the pier and onto a 90 seater launch for the 30 minute ride out to the George Washington. I sat down next to a blurry eyed young man who still had more than a faint trace of booze on his breath. We chatted on the ride and it turned out he was one of the young pilots who had spent the evening in one of the local Hong Kong watering holes. "I told myself I wasn't going to be out all night, to get back and sleep on the ship, "he said, "...that didn't quite happen."
As a pastor I thought I should come up with some spiritual consoling but all I was able to muster was, jokingly, if he was going to "hurl" on the bumpy ride to let me know so I can get out of the way. He smiled and said, "Will do.".
|On the flight deck|
If I'm honest the little boy comes out in me in these situations because when I was a teen-ager all I wanted was to be a fighter pilot...and here was Mr. "Top Gun" himself. (Granted it was Mr. "Top Gun" after a night in Wanchai). We chatted on the way out and he said how he's learned not to assume they will actually be able to land in Hong Kong until his foot touches Hong Kong Island. That's because often China will use Hong Kong shore leave for the Americans as a diplomatic tool. "If we've sold a missile to Taiwan, or one of our ships goes through the Taiwan Strait, I know we aren't going to Hong Kong." he said. In 2009 the George Washington was due to spend Thanksgiving in the territory. Family members from America flew out to spend the holiday with their sons when, just hours before the ship was to enter Hong Kong, China denied entry and the whole fleet sailed off back out to sea.
|Sitting in the Captain's Chair|
Of course Hong Kong bears the real brunt of China's decision as local businesses lose about US one million dollars that these visits pump into the local economy. The pilot went on to say some of the "old guys" on the ship liked to reminisce about when the British had Hong Kong and there was no diplomatic tension as "we were entering the port of an ally."
Another thing the pilot said really struck me. I asked him what they generally did out on the sea and he replied a lot of flying and drills but, "when we heard about the flooding in Thailand we began moving the fleet in that direction in case they asked us for humanitarian assistance." I thought, "Wow". You have to give old Uncle Sam credit. We moved our whole fleet on the off chance we may be called upon to save lives. It made me proud as an American to think we're still the "good" guys...mostly.
|View from the bridge|
We were escorted to one of the hanger elevators that carry the planes from the hanger bay up to the flight deck. The elevator can carry 2 planes at a time and was surprisingly fast...as I suppose it would have to be if you are in a battle.
|My apartment as seen from the flight deck|
Gabriel and I climbed the many levels finally reaching the bridge where we were given a tour and explanation of how things operate up there. We even got to sit in the "Captain's Chair"...which for a guy, its pretty cool.
|Gabriel with F- 18 fighter pilot!|
After about an hour Gabriel and I left the U.S.S. George Washington and headed back to Fenwick Pier with great memories of our time together on the ship. And because the American restaurant was in full swing with sailors watching American football on big screen TV's, We treated ourselves to the best American cheeseburgers we'd had in a LONG time!