Michael Elliott

       Awoke at 6 a.m., and unpacked. Discovered, tucked away here and there, the following items: one bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol, one bottle of prescription-strength Tylenol, one nasal spray, two varieties of prescription antibiotics, two varieties of antihistamine pills, and one tube of antibiotic ointment. Where did I get all this stuff? And why? I hate taking any medicines, so why do I carry so many of them around?
       Also: The Tailor of Panama, by John le Carré, which I’ve been lugging around for ages, but is yet unopened; Rabbit Redux, by John Updike, which I may get round to later this week; and Winter Holiday, by Arthur Ransome, which I read on the plane from New York to San Francisco.
       Ransome, for those of you who don’t know, wrote the best children’s books ever. A distinguished correspondent in revolutionary Russia for the Manchester Guardian, he married Trotsky’s secretary and retired to the English Lake District. In the 1930s, he wrote 12 books about a group of children on vacation. (The first, and best-known, is called Swallows and Amazons.) The children do what any sensible kids would do with their free time; they invent their own worlds, have believable adventures, hike, sail, and climb. I devoured the books when I was a kid, and wrote the only fan letter I’ve ever penned to Ransome, who, though an old man by then, replied with a beautiful pen-and-ink sketch. My 8-year-old daughter has just started to read them, with exactly the same sense of enjoyment that I had years ago, which, naturally, has given me the excuse to read them all over again. So far, this is the best thing that has happened in 1997.
       One of Ransome’s later books, Missee Lee (title almost certainly politically incorrect), takes the children to the South China coast, where they are kidnapped by a Cambridge-educated woman pirate. I spent tonight with some latter-day British adventurers in the South China Sea. A group of us took a ferry to Lantau, site of the new airport–which, with attendant bridges and railways, is the biggest construction site in the world. The bars on the island are full of young Brits, some of them working on the airport, some of them teaching English, waiting tables, serving greasy breakfasts 24 hours a day, doing anything else to make ends meet for a few months or so of adventure. Putting out a magazine too–on the ferry over, we were given a copy of Orbital, a free magazine produced by a couple of twentysomethings that chronicles life on the outlying islands. Very professionally done, too.
       One view, naturally, is that all this will soon end. From April 1, Britons no longer have the right to land in Hong Kong and get a job, no questions asked. Still, those wanderlust Britons whom you meet in any bar, anywhere in the world, won’t stay at home. “Where do people go after Hong Kong?” I asked Simon Calverley, 25 years old, whose rather grand card announces that he runs “Marketing/Advertising” for the Orbital. “There’s a lot of talk about Vietnam,” he said. Is Hanoi ready for British breakfasts? They’re on their way.