Notes: The Man Who Would Be Spy
Friday 6 January 2012, 6.02am HKT
R E M I N I S C E N C E S
YOU never knew who you’re working with until you knew.
Simon Wai and I used to work together back in the late 1980s at a major international financial newspaper owned by Dow Jones. When I joined the newspaper, Simon was already 70-something and had been a proofreader there for 20 years or so.
Working the overnight shift in the Production Department down in the basement, Simon was constantly poring over horseracing almanacs, doing calculations and, when the shift was over, trundled off to the bookies to place bets.
Born Simon Verde, the son of a Spaniard and a Chinese mother, he stood six feet tall and had a strangely military air about him. You could just about tell he was Eurasian, although in fact he looked perfectly Chinese.
He took the surname Wai (the Chinese pronunciation for the first syllable in Verde) to ‘fit in’ because Eurasians were denigrated by most Chinese in the old days. Simon wasn’t Cantonese, but spoke the language perfectly.
He had married several times before, but every one of them ended up in him being a widower. Which was why he refused to marry his latest partner — he didn’t want to live through another ‘dead’ marriage and thought he was jinxed in the marital department.
None of his marriages lasted long enough to give him children. Which was also why he continued to work way past retirement age — and the job paid him enough for use as horseracing seed money.
During the Second World War, Simon was approached in 1942-43 by five-star General George C. Marshall of the U.S. Army to engage in espionage for the Allies in the China theatre. At the time, Simon was based in eastern China, either in the seaport of Ningbo or in the city of Nanking (now Nanjing) in the lower Yangtze River.
Why him? Simon had a knack for seeing what was coming — no doubt from that horse-betting skill of his. He was apparently already involved with guerrillas or partisans, and fought in guerrilla sorties against Japanese units.
Above all, Simon was literate (not exactly common in those days), knew English fluently and spoke multiple Chinese dialects (highly useful in those days when Mandarin wasn’t uniformly widespread as today).
Simon had to decline the General’s spy job offer. There was much to lose and precious little to gain for everybody. Being a punter (and a winning punter at that) all his life, it was evident to him that the Allies were still highly disorganised in the Pacific theatre. Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaya, Borneo, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Papua New Guinea and many islands in Melanesia fell to Japanese forces almost simultaneously in 1941.
Japanese forces, meanwhile, were trashing 90% of China and pummelling 90% of Allied spearheads on all fronts throughout the Far East. The situation for the Allies in Europe weren’t much better either.
Memory no longer serves, but Simon probably said he continued with his usual activities until the war ended, when he came to Hong Kong to escape the wretched civil war in China.
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Simon was one hell of a character when it came to horseracing bets. He was one dedicated punter, but positively not describable as a gambler. Nearly every month for literally decades, this guy took in winnings that equalled to his salary. Amazingballs.
(Analystfags and investmentfags, can you do THAT?)
* * *
It’s kind of hard to tell if a person is Eurasian or Chinese when the person is over 70. For some strange reason, nearly every Eurasian born before 1970 look Chinese or Asian than mixed.
* * *
PAY ATTENTION, management maggots!
You have no idea what performance, dedication and integrity actually mean — unless you knew Simon.
Simon’s horsey activities in the workplace never ever interfered with his job duties. With him, the work always came first, and play second. He could spot the tiniest typo or broken fount or uncentred hairline in a sea of grey type in an instant. All night long. Night in, night out. Aged over 70. And paid a pittance.
Now, that’s performance, dedication and integrity.
Much better than the performance from the boozing bozos upstairs or the insanely pointless managerial faggotry from head office.
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