. . . . .
MP duty in Tsingtao was tough. It wasn’t the long hours that was so bad, it was when we had to tum in our buddies who were breaking the rules when we had to put them under arrest. Many of the old establishments had been put out-of-bounds and this made it tough on the old hands. Some places were home to them. Even married Marines used to go to Ping-Pong Willies to sit and drink tea with the girls. They didn’t indulge and often they gave money to the girls out of sympathy. Nevertheless, we had to patrol these places and those Marines and sailors we found in them we had to arrest. It wasn’t always fair, like putting the bathhouses out-of-bounds. The guys really enjoyed a hot bath and a rubdown but the Provost Marshall put bathhouse off limits. The Provost said it was due to leprosy. But that was hard to believe. Lepers didn’t go into a bathhouse for recreation.
In time I got to know every bar and dancehall, every cabaret, every joint and every bordello in Tsingtao. I dreaded when the Seventh Fleet sailed into port. If the British Navy arrived at the same time, pandemonium was certain.
When fights in bars and dancehalls broke out, we accepted it. We knew by the time we arrived, the places would be squared away, and all we would find would be Marines and sailors with black eyes and missing teeth, sitting quietly at their tables. With the bordellos it was much more difficult. The larger, better known ones, had four floors built around courtyards. It never failed, when we walked into a courtyard, there would usually be a couple of Marines and sailors who were scrambling to make their escape. The Chinese had clever ways of assisting them. They blocked the passageways so that we couldn’t get through. Masses of people, women, kids, old men, all would appear on the stairways; pushcarts and bicycles suddenly jammed the doorways; and more often than not, mamasans decided to empty their chamber pots into the courtyards just as we were arriving. I don’t know how many times we got doused until we learned how to take cover, while the “good guys” made their escape.
Sometimes these guys didn’t quite make it and we caught them with their skivvies down. This was the case with a tall slender master sergeant from Texas. One night he stopped by Ping-Pong Willies to get some poontang, to sample the wares, so to speak. He didn’t give much thought that Ping-Pong Willies at the time was out-of-bounds. We knew someone was upstairs, but this was one of the rare instances when the Chinese couldn’t block our passage in time. We were in a dilemma. We really didn’t want to arrest him. The sergeant knew if caught, he would probably lose his stripes, but after a few drinks, and the strong urge for a woman, he decided to gamble and chance it. After making his selection, he entered a room on the third deck. Stripping for action, leaving only his field scarf (necktie) on, he began to enjoy himself. Suddenly, the mamasan burst into the room screaming, “MPs, MPs.”
The sergeant didn’t want to get busted so he opened the window, climbed out and hung on to the windowsill by his fingertips while we searched the room. We knew he was there, for his clothes were on the chair, so we just took our time. The poor sergeant. It was winter and in North China winters there are very cold, and there he was, hanging buck-ass naked from a window ledge in a whorehouse in Tsingtao. After a few more minutes we gathered up his clothes and left. We figured the sergeant must have sobered up by the time we cleared out, but none of us could imagine what he would do without his clothing.
The only article of clothing he had was his field scarf which he hadn’t bothered to remove at the start of the evening. Spying a filthy blanket in one corner of the room, he wrapped it around his body, and caught a rickshaw back to the Marine compound. Arriving at the back gate and bumming a quarter from the sentry, he paid his rickshaw boy and sneaked into the barracks. The next day we gave him back his clothes. We also saved him his stripes.
Walking through the black streets of Tsingtao at night was eerie, and yet we had to make checks on the out-of-bounds dives. We weren’t welcomed, naturally, but we did get to know the keepers. Sitting at the tables in these places were an odd mixture of humanity. Derelicts and war profiteers from the world over. Dope peddlers and smugglers. Black marketers. Russians, Frenchmen, Germans, Arabs, occasionally renegade Americans who challenged us to check their passports. Here you could buy anything you wanted, or sell anything you had to sell. We stumbled into one bar, by accident, and found it was holding an auction, much like cattle auctions you see in western cattle towns in America. The auctioneer was standing on a three-legged stool, and in one hand he had a fist full of US dollars that he waved above his head. He was Chinese, with a little round skullcap on the back of his bead and a long robe that extended down to his cotton shoes. He had a couple of hairs growing out of a mole on his chin. He was shouting in Chinese and taking bids. However, he wasn’t selling cattle. He was selling young girls. He had half a dozen girls on display. They were young maidens, maybe twelve, no more than fourteen, and I gathered they had just been brought in from the country. The auctioneer made them stand on the bar, and then prodded them to parade up and down the counter. Brothel keepers and mamasans were bidding for them. Three white men, unshaven and scruffy, who were quite drunk, were hollering and hooting to the annoyance of everyone there, but they couldn’t have cared less what others thought of them. One of the men, who spoke with a Dutch accent and wanted to get attention, went up to the bar and insisted a young girl pull up her long cheongsan so that, as he put it, he could check out the merchandise. The girl refused so he jumped up on the counter and forcefully pulled down her cheongsan. The crowd broke into laughter, for in her very innocence, the girl made a fool out of the white man. Beneath her cheongsam she wore long breeches that reached down to her knees. In a fit of rage, the man yanked down her breeches, exposing her naked body. She began sobbing, and now instead of giving her sympathy, the crowd roared with laughter. This was really hilarious, a sideshow they didn’t expect. But the show wasn’t over. Another white man sitting with his cronies at a table in the back of the bar shouted to the auctioneer.
“I give twenty dollah short time,” he called. His accent was German. He was a huge man, with jowls that hung down over his frayed shirt collar. When he spoke he coughed. A Chinese man next to the auctioneer translated the message. Pleased, the auctioneer acknowledged the bid.
“Twenty dollars,” he said in Chinese.
The Dutchman standing on the counter with the half-naked girl wasn’t happy. He wasn’t about to surrender the girl for twenty dollars, even if it was only for half an hour in a room upstairs. Without hesitation he yelled for all to hear, “Thirty dollah.”
“Fifty,” shouted the German without hesitation.
I stood with the other MPs at the entrance to the rear of the bar. The place turned into frenzy. Even those who had been sitting drinking and showed no interest in the auctioning now suddenly perked up. Everyone left their tables and pushed closer to the auctioneer. He was pleased, and like a referee at a world-boxing match, he waved his hands above his head in anticipation of who would be the victor. The room grew silent and all eyes centered on the Dutchman standing on the counter. He liked the attention he was finally getting. He reach out, grabbed the girl by her naked buttocks, and gleefully shouted “One hundred dollah!”
All heads now turned to the German. It was obvious he wasn’t pleased with the Dutchman’s outrageous bid. All during the bidding he had remained seated at his table, but now he got up and stood on a chair. He began coughing. His whole body shook like a bowl of Jell-O. “You, you-” he began, coughing and wiping his face with a towel he wore as a scarf around his neck-“you are a fool! A fool! Take her, and may she give you the bloody pox.”
A cheer rose from everyone in the room, and while they watched, the Dutchman jumped down from the counter, reached into his pocket and withdrew a hundred-dollar bill. He handed it to the auctioneer, and then reaching up he grabbed the girl, pulled her down over this shoulder, and with her bare bottom still exposed, he marched with her up the stairs to the rooms above.
My impulse was to tear into everyone in the bar with my billy club swinging, but the sergeant in charge pulled me back. “There’s nothing you can do,” he said. “Nobody is breaking the law.” Breaking the law! What idle words. Whose law? I guess this spectacle was no different than the public executions they had in Tsingtao. If you were looking for something to amuse yourself, and it was Saturday afternoon, you could go to the central prison, and there in the courtyard you could watch public executions as they lobbed off the heads of the accused. No one was breaking the law there either.