"Life is a library - and the books are only on loan." Miss McNally, Cecilia - Cec to friends - dealt in jade, old gold and antiques. A leading light right along Australia's eastern seabord she adored her trips to Hong Kong and sometimes I went along for the ride.
Miss M chose to stay at the Y adjacent to the Peninsular Hotel. I stayed at The Pen. Through a flurry of white liveried bellboys she would enter The Peninsular, greet friends, and exit via a side door into the Y. "Why spend on big hotels - the YMCA is quite safe. Buy jade and finance your next trip."
The lady travelled light, jade jewellery in her handbag being the ticket to London should she decide to trade and travel on. "Westerners undervalue jade. The best pieces in Hong Kong are from Australian deceased estates. Tomorrow, we go straight to the jade market - early, six-thirty on the seven one two bus. If you see a chemist I need bobby pins." Hair pins are central to this story.
Street barter has its moments. Scribbled numbers on old newsprint proffered by a gummy Chinese trader. Cecilia breaking eye contact to turn to me - the decoy, "Satisfied?" She would pivot back to harangue the seller. "This is not old jade. This is new jade. Not good jade." He would look suitably offended. I'd disappear into the bitumen. A thousand eyes watched.
At a precise moment McNally would reach into her untidy French roll, withdraw a trusty bobby pin and scratch the bottom of the jade carving. "See! Very bad jade. Soapstone." Feigned concern by the vendor, then his toothless grin,"Oh Kay."
Cecilia to me. "Show your money and pretend to leave." Money exchanged hands as a jade trinket gift slipped to Cecilia from an appreciative vendor. "No matter how low you go you will never beat China in a deal. There is always something left in there for them." True, bless her. more on jade