(CNN) — Sitting in Eddie Fong’s living room in Palo Alto is a 55-year-old model of a traditional Chinese junk boat.
Its presence symbolizes a series of unlikely events that brought Fong, now 81, away from his birthplace Hong Kong to the United States in the 1960s, thanks to a chance encounter with a retired Oakland detective that developed into an ambitious plan to sail across the Pacific Ocean to California on a life-sized junk boat.
Before speaking to CNN Travel, Fong texted us a spoiler alert: “I need to tell you ahead of the time. We didn’t make the entire trip to California.”
But though their sailing trip was unsuccessful, it led to a lasting friendship and a lifetime of adventures.
Born during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), Fong lost his mother when he was a toddler. His father and elder brother worked in the shipping industry so were away a lot of the time.
“Although my step-mother and my elder sister were there for me, I learned to be independent at a young age,” Fong recalls.
When he was around eight years old, Fong borrowed 20 cents from his landlady and enrolled himself in a public school run by a Christian missionary, where he studied for a few years…