My wife Beth, our former colleague David Ferguson, and I were in Hong Kong in 1993. The three of us had led a Sister Cities trip to Taiwan, flown to Hong Kong, and were decompressing. We took a bus out to the far side of Hong Kong Island and enjoyed a nice dinner overlooking the ocean.
When it was time to go back I thought it would be fun to take sail back on a sampan instead of the bus. So I waved a passing sampan down and negotiated a ride back to Kowloon. The sampan Captain spoke no English and my Chinese consisted of xiè xie, (shey shey, thanks) but I thought he figured out what we wanted and we did the deal. I hoped he understood that we wanted to go back to Kowloon. This was not a tourist boat, just a regular sampan who happened to sail past.
Beth wanted no part of this risky deal and said she would take the bus back. "You don't want to miss this", I said, and Dave and I each grabbed an elbow and shanghaied her onto the boat as she protested. We had a lovely boat ride as the sun slowly set and the day turned into night. It was beautiful and I was pleased that I had shanghaied Beth. But the trip took longer than I thought and it became quite dark.
Then a big patrol boat came out of the night with their searchlight blinding us, with M-16 rifles aimed at us. The sampan Captain raised his hands and we followed suit. The Captain ducked into the sampan and we wondered what he was doing. I hoped he was not coming out with an AK-47. But he just brought out his papers and they let us go on our way.
I think they were trying to stop smuggling or infiltration but am not sure. It seemed to me they were acting a bit serious for just smuggling. This happened a total of three times. Each time the patrol boat came up with searchlights and M-16's aimed directly at us.
Beth was not overly happy with the rifles and still berates me. The ingrate - after I took her on a lovely, impromptu, interesting cruise! You just can't please everyone. I figure any time someone aims a rifle at you and you don't get shot it is a good thing. And three times! It made for a memorable story.
I took the photos of sampans from a previous diplomatic trip to Vietnam in 1970. It was another diplomatic effort to win the hearts and minds of the people. The sampans looked a lot like our Hong Kong sampan.