By the beginning of 1971 my business partner and I had already been doing photographic assignments for the air freight division of Pan American World Airways for about two years. These had taken us, on various trips, to London, Paris, Frankfurt, Rome, Vienna, Brussels, Amsterdam and other European cities, as well as to Boston, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco and other American destinations. In each case the objective was the same: to graphically illustrate their superior air freight service with photographic evidence of creative procedures such as electronic manifest forwarding and their own customs facilities at various airports.
Sadly, Pan Am no longer exists except as a small airline that bought the name after the bankruptcy of 1991. Founded in 1927, the real Pan Am was arguably the world's greatest airline until a decline caused by management mistakes and government interference brought it to its knees.
Back to the story. It is February, 1971, and we were offered a plum assignment that would last over a month, and take us to Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, and Tahiti. There wasn't an awful lot of money in this, but what a fun trip it would be!
I have hardly any still photos of this adventure as I recorded the whole thing on Super 8 movies. If I can ever figure out how to scan those tiny images, I'll drop them in here; in the meantime I'll use ones I took on a 1964 visit.
My business partner Jim Houghton and I, along with an art director, a copywriter, and an account executive from the advertising agency as well as a representative of the airline boarded a flight to Tokyo at New York's JFK Airport. Contrary to instincts, it went north to Fairbanks, Alaska, flying along the frozen Yukon River. There we stopped to refuel, and got to experience -40°F weather out on the tarmac as we headed to the terminal.
Many hours later we landed at Tokyo's Haneda Airport, only to discover that the airline had provided us with the wrong type of visas. After hours of waiting in the transit lounge, everything was settled and we took cabs to our hotel, the New Otani. Jet lag struck with a vengeance, so we slept until dinner time. That first meal was at a nearby yakitori joint — we were too tired for anything fancy.
Fortunately, the next day was Saturday, so we had a weekend free before doing any work. Since I had been stationed there in the U.S. Army in the late 1950s and later spent a month's vacation exploring Japan in 1964, I became the tour director. On that first full day we traveled by commuter train to Yokohama, then on another train to Kamakura to see the 13th-century Great Buddha (photo, above) and to visit the nearby Hasedera Buddhist Temple. Years earlier, a priest at this enchanting place had given me a clay figurine called a haniwa that I still cherish. This was a reproduction of an ancient warrior's burial figure, of a type used around the 1st to 6th centuries A.D. in place of burying his soldiers along with him, an abandoned practice which had tended to reduce the size of armies.
After lunch, another little train — a trolley car, really — took us to a point on the main line where we boarded an express to Odawara. From there it was a small electric train to Hakone to experience the splendors of Lake Asi (photo, right) with its great torii and Mount Fuji in the background. After a exciting day we returned to Tokyo via a different route, winding up in Shinjuku.
The next day was spent bopping around Tokyo, traveling by subway to Asakusa over by the Sumida River. There we visited the great complex of Buddhist and Shinto temples and shrines known as Sensoji, originally begun in the 7th century and often rebuilt. The entrance route, complete with shops, is shown in the photo above. Much of it was destroyed during the fire bombing of 1945; the present main temple is from the mid 1950s. Buddhism and Shinto, although two quite separate religions, coexist as they relate to different aspects of life, and many — if not most — Japanese belong to both.
Also, on that Sunday, my business partner and I visited a large camera store along the Ginza, and bought several new Nikon Fs as they were much, much cheaper there than in New York.
On Monday we went to work photographing the local employees of Pan Am busily improving their air freight service. By mid-week we were finished, and boarded a plane for Osaka, Japan's second city. We had wanted to take the bullet train instead, but since we were on airline business we reluctantly agreed to honor our client by flying.
In Osaka we stayed at a modern high-rise hotel, I believe it was called the Plaza. In any case, our rooms were high enough that we had a good view of the airport. I had just purchased a new toy, a miniature radio that tuned in aircraft frequencies, so I could watch the planes coming and going and listen in on conversations with the control tower. Surprisingly, they were all in English.
We worked both downtown and at the airport until Friday, then four of us took off for a weekend in Kyoto. There we stayed at a ryokan-type inn called the Seven Sisters, located in the ancient Gion district, famed for its geishas and teahouses. Dinner was at the Ashiya Steak House, where we enjoyed prime Omi beef prepared in the shabu-shabu manner, similar to sukiyaki but less oily. Japan produces what is probably the finest beef in the world, both the Kobe and Omi varieties. I was surprised when our host — an American businessman living in Kyoto — produced a few bottles of Japanese red wines that were truly superb. Before that, I had considered all Japanese wines to be virtually undrinkable, although their beer is excellent.
As I had done here seven years earlier, we hired a taxi for the day to take us around to all the historic sights, including the Old Imperial Palace (photo, above left) and the Moss Garden.
Then, on Moday morning, we went to Osaka Airport and boarded a flight to Manila, stopping enroute at Taipei. Landing in the Philippines we encountered our first, and only, real problem with corrupt bureaucracy. Customs confiscated all of our photographic equipment on some pretense. The next day it was released after the local Pan Am office paid the proper bribes to officials.
The ride into Manila was dreary as it went through some of the most horrible slums I had ever seen, and streets crowded with makeshift vehicles of all types. As we entered the swanky Intercontinental Hotel, I noticed the presence of armed guards everywhere, even on the roof. Welcome to the Third World.
Inside, the hotel was luxurious. Its cocktail lounge, just off the lobby, had unusual seating inside open-top army jeeps. We all sat in one and recovered with a few drinks. Going outside was not very inviting, especially as it was some distance from downtown. When we did go to the Pan Am office to work, we were escorted by armed guards, and later had lunch at a private club in a fenced-in rich folks' ghetto.
Happily, on the next day it was off to Hong Kong, where we stayed at the Hilton. Remember, this is 1971, before ping-pong diplomacy opened relations between the U.S. and China. Hong Kong was still British, although totally dependent on its communist neighbor for just about everything. After doing our photography, we walked around the city, stopping at the famed Tiger Balm Gardens, shopping the Thieves Market, riding the cable car to the hill overlooking the harbor, and crossing that body of water on the Star Ferry. One stop that I remember well was a visit to a Red Chinese arts and crafts shop, operated by the Beijing government. There I was attracted to a huge propaganda poster depicting happy peasants celebrating the arrival of a new tractor in their commune. They were all holding up copies of Chairman Mao's book. I really wanted this, but it was too large to pack in my bag, so I settled for a copy of that famous Little Red Book of Mao's hilarious quotations (photo, left).
On the weekend, we hired a car and driver to take us around the New Territories on the mainland. This area belonged to the People's Republic, but was leased to Hong Kong, so we were able to visit. At that time, visits to the rest of the mainland were extremely difficult to arrange. Our driver took us along the Pearl River, past rice paddies, and to a walled-in ancient village where traditional ways of life were still practiced.
Then it was off to Sydney, Australia. My first thought as we taxied in from the airport was how this so resembled Southern California in the 1950s, except that the Aussies drive on the wrong side of the street. After doing our photography, we explored the harbor by taking a ferry to its far end, stopping at a zoo, and visiting the then-new opera house. The highlight was when some local Pan Am employees invited us for a day on their sailboat, stocked with lots of food and beer. When we got close to Bondi Beach we jumped overboard and swam ashore to see this famous place.
The next stop was Melbourne, on the southern coast of Australia. Once our work was done, we had fun at a cabaret that served peanuts and beer along with the entertainment. The custom here was to throw the peanut shells on the floor, and at each other. By the time the show was over, we were ankle deep in shells, and feeling no pain. On our last day there I bought a boomerang as a souvenir, and a surplus Aussie Army jacket.
Then it was off to Auckland, New Zealand, where we stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel. By the time we got there, it was around 9 p.m., and just about everything was closed. Hungry, we walked the streets looking for any restaurant with its lights on, and finally found a Chinese joint that was ok. The next morning we went to the airport to do our photography, but there was only one photo to do, and that only took 30 minutes. Now we were finished with everything our assignment called for! And we were not due back in New York for at least a week! What to do?
I suggested visiting the South Island, but my partner, the Art Director, and the Copywriter had a better idea: Tahiti. Yay!
A few phone calls and arrangements were made for a flight to Papeete with a connection to Moorea, and a week's stay at Club Med. That short hop from Tahiti itself to its tiny neighboring island of Moorea was on an eight-passenger puddlejumper, landing on a dirt airstrip. We rented a strange jeep-like vehicle made by Volkswagen called "The Thing" and found our thatched huts (with all modern conveniencies) next to the clear blue waters of the South Pacific. All use of money was banned once inside the club grounds, so at the gate you exchanged it for plastic beads, which were worn around the neck and used to make purchases. All meals were free, served family-style, and with unlimited volumes of French red wine from pitchers. Outside of meal hours, drinks cost a few beads. The photo on the left shows me with my Super 8 movie camera, my business partner with his Leica, and two nice ladies we met on the puddlejumper plane. Besides exploring the island, I took snorkeling lessons, and went sailing on a catamaran.
Photo above: Jim and I emerge from our grass shacks on Moorea.
Finally we had to face reality and head back to New York. First, I needed to contact the airport at Papeete to make reservations. Trouble was, Moorea at that time had no phone service, so I used the club's shortwave set and got the maritime operator in Tahiti, who put me through. Pan Am only had one flight a week, and that was days off, so we booked on UTA, a French line that served the Pacific. The non-stop flight to Los Angeles was then the longest in the world, with two movies and three meals served. We arrived in L.A. in the early evening, rented a car, and drove to Marina del Rey for an exotic dinner before taking the midnight redeye express back to N.Y.C.
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