Daily rains characterize our voyage from Singapore through the China Sea--rather unseasonable weather, the captain says; and for the second time in his long experience as a navigator of the China Sea, St. Elmo's lights impart a weird appearance to the spars and masts of his vessel. The rain changes into misty weather as we approach the Ladrone Islands, and, emerging completely from the wide track of the typhoon's moisture-laden winds on the following morning, we learn later, upon landing at Hong-kong, that they have been without rain there for several weeks.
It is my purpose to dwell chiefly on my own experiences, and not to write at length upon the sights of Kong-kong and Canton; hundreds of other travellers have described them, and to the average reader they are no longer unique. Several days' delay is experienced in obtaining a passport from the Viceroy of the two Quangs, and during the delay most of the sights of the city are visited. The five-storied pagoda, the temple of the five hundred genii, the water-clock, the criminal court--where several poor wretches are seen almost flayed alive with bamboos-flower-boats, silk, jade-stone, ivory-carving shops, temple of tortures, and a dozen other interesting places are visited under the pilotage of the genial guide and interpreter Ah Kum.
The strange boat population, numbering, according to some accounts, two hundred thousand people, is one of the most interesting features of Canton life. Wonderfully animated is the river scene as viewed from the balcony of the Canton Hotel, a hostelry kept by a Portuguese on the opposite bank of the river from Canton proper.
The consuls and others express grave doubts about the wisdom of my undertaking in journeying alone through China, and endeavor to dissuade me from making the attempt. Opinion, too, is freely expressed that the Viceroy will refuse his permission, or, at all events, place obstacles in my way. The passport is forthcoming on October 12th, however, and I lose no time in making a start.
Thirteen miles from Canton I reach the city of Fat-shan. Five minutes after entering the gate I am in the midst of a crowd of struggling, pushing natives, whose aggressive curiosity renders it extremely difficult for me to move either backward or forward, or to do aught but stand and endeavor to protect the bicycle from the crush. They seem a very good-natured crowd, on the whole, and withal inclined to be courteous, but the pressure of numbers, and the utter impossibility of doing anything, or prosecuting my search for the exit on the other side of the city, renders the good intentions of individuals wholly inoperative.
With perseverance I finally succeed in extricating myself and following in the wake of an intelligent-looking young man whom I fondly fancy I have enlightened to the fact that I am searching for the Sam-shue road. The crowd follow at our heels as we tread the labyrinthine alleyways, that seem as interminable as they are narrow and filthy. Every turn we make I am expecting the welcome sight of an open gate and the green rice-fields beyond, when, after dodging about the alleyways of what seems to be the toughest quarter of the city, my guide halts and points to the closed gates of a court.
It now becomes apparent that he has been mistaken from the beginning in regard to my wants: instead of taking me to the Sam-shue gate, he has brought me to some kind of a house. "Sam-shue, Sam-shue," I explain, making gestures of disapproval at the house. The young man regards me with a look of utter bewilderment, and forthwith betakes himself off to the outer edge of the crowd, henceforth contenting himself to join the general mass of open-eyed inquisitives. Another attempt to again enlist his services only results in alienating his sympathies still further: he has been grossly taken in by my assumption of intelligence. Having discovered in me a jackass incapable of the Fat-shan pronunciation of Sam-shue, he retires on his dignity from further interest in my affairs.
Female faces peer curiously through little barred apertures in the gate, and grin amusedly at the sight of a Fankwae, as I stand for a few minutes uncertain of what course to pursue. From sheer inability to conceive of anything else I seize upon a well-dressed youngster among the crowd, tender him a coin, and address him questioningly--"Sam-shue lo. Sam-shue lo." The youth regards me with monkeyish curiosity for a second, and then looks round at the crowd and giggles. Nothing is plainer than the evidence that nobody present has the slightest conception of what I want to do, or where I wish to go. Not that my pronunciation of Sam-shue is unintelligible (as I afterward discover), but they cannot conceive of a Fankwae in the streets of Fat-shan inquiring for Sam-shue; doubtless many have never heard of that city, and perhaps not one in the crowd has ever been there or knows anything of the road. As a matter of fact, there is no "road," and the best anyone could do would be to point out its direction in a general way. All this, however, comes with after-knowledge.
Imagine a lone Chinaman who desired to learn the road to Philadelphia surrounded by a dense crowd in the Bowery, New York, and uttering the one word "Phaladilfi," and the reader gains a feeble conception of my own predicament in Fat-shan, and the ludicrousness of the situation. Finally the people immediately about me motion for me to proceed down the street.
Like a drowning man, I am willing to clutch wildly even at a straw, in the absence of anything more satisfactory, and so follow their directions. Passing through squalid streets occupied by loathsome beggars, naked youngsters, slatternly women, matronly sows with Utters of young pigs, and mangy pariahs, we emerge into the more respectable business thoroughfares again, traversing streets that I recognize as having passed through an hour ago. Having brought me here, the leaders in the latest movement seem to think they have accomplished their purpose, leaving me again to my own resources.
Yet again am I in the midst of a tightly wedged crowd, helpless to make myself understood, and equally helpless to find my own way. Three hours after entering the city I am following-the Fates only know whither--the leadership of an individual who fortunately "sabes" a word or so of pidgin English, and who really seems to have discovered my wants. First of all he takes me inside a temple-like building and gives me a drink of tea and a few minutes' respite from the annoying pressure of the crowds; he then conducts me along a street that looks somewhat familiar, leads me to the gate I first entered, and points triumphantly in the direction of Canton!
I now know as much about the road to Sam-shue as I did before reaching Fat-shan, and have learned a brief lesson of Chinese city experience that is anything but encouraging for the future. The feeling of relief at escaping from the narrow streets and the garrulous, filthy crowds, however, overshadows all sense of disappointment. The lesson of Fat-shan it is proposed to turn to good account by following the country paths in a general course indicated by my map from city to city rather than to rely on the directions given by the people, upon whom my words and gestures seem to be entirely thrown away.
For a couple of miles I retraverse the path by which I reached Fat-shan before encountering a divergent pathway, acceptable as, leading distinctly toward the northwest. The inevitable Celestial is right on hand, extracting no end of satisfaction from following, shadow-like, close behind and watching my movements. Pointing along the divergent northwest road, I ask him if this is the koon lo to Sam-shue; for answer he bestows upon me an expansive but wholly expressionless grin, and points silently toward Canton. These repeated failures to awaken the comprehension of intelligent-looking Chinamen, or, at all events, to obtain from them the slightest information in regard to my road, are somewhat bewildering, to say the least. So much of this kind of experience crowded into the first day, however, is very fortunate, as awakening me with healthy rudeness to a realizing sense of what I am to expect; it places me at once on my guard, and enables me to turn on the tap of self-reliance and determination to the proper notch.
Shaking my head at the almond-eyed informant who wants me to return to Canton, I strike off in a northwesterly course. The Chinaman grins and chuckles humorously at my departure, as though his risibilities were probed to their deepest depths at my perverseness in going contrary to his directions. As plainly as though spoken in the purest English, his chuckling laughter echoes the thought: "You'll catch it, Mr. Fankwae, before you have gone very far in that direction; you'll wish you had listened to me and gone back to 'Quang-tung.'"
The country is a marvellous field-garden of rice, vegetables, and sugar-cane for some miles. The villages, with their peculiar, characteristic Chinese architecture and groves of dark bamboo, are striking and pretty. The paths seem to wind about regardless of any special direction; the chief object of the road-makers would appear to have been to utilize every little strip of inferior soil for the public thoroughfare wherever it might be found. A scrupulous respect for individual rights and the economy of the soil has resulted in adding many a weary mile of pathway between one town and another. To avoid destroying the productive capacity of a dozen square yards of alluvial soil, hundreds of people are daily obliged to follow horseshoe bends around the edges of graveyards that after two hundred paces bring them almost to within jumping distance of their first divergence.
Occasionally the path winds its serpentine course between two tall patches of sugar-cane, forming an alleyway between the dark-green walls barely wide enough for two people to pass. Natives met in these confined passages, as isolated from the eyes of the world as though between two walls of brick, invariably recoil a moment with fright at the unexpected apparition of a Fankwae; then partially recovering themselves, they nimbly occupy as little space as possible on one side, and eye me with suspicion and apprehension as I pass.
Great quantities of sugar-cane are chewed in China, both by children and grown people, and these patches grown in the rich Choo-kiang Valley for the Fat-shan, Canton, and Hong-kong markets are worth the price of a day's journeying to see. So marvellously neat and thrifty are they, that one would almost believe every separate stalk had been the object of special care and supervision from day to day since its birth; every cane-garden is fenced with neat bamboo pickets, to prevent depredation at the hands of the thousands of sweet-toothed kleptomaniacs who file past and eye the toothsome stalks wistfully every day.
After a few miles the hitherto dead level of the valley is broken by low hills of reddish clay, and here the stone paths merge into well-beaten trails that on reasonably level soil afford excellent wheeling. The hillsides are crowded with graves, which, instead of the sugar-loaf "ant hillocks" of the paddy-fields, assume the traditional horseshoe shape of the Chinese ancestral grave. On the barren, gravelly hills, unfit for cultivation, the thrifty and economical Celestial inters the remains of his departed friends. Although in making this choice he is supposed to be chiefly interested in securing repose for his ancestors' souls, he at the same time secures the double advantage of a well-drained cemetery, and the preservation of his cultivable lands intact. Everything, indeed, would seem to be made subservient to this latter end; every foot of productive soil seems to be held as of paramount importance in the teeming delta of the Choo-kiang.
Beyond the first of these cemetery hills, peopled so thickly with the dead, rise the tall pawn-towers of the large village of Chun-Kong-hoi. The natural dirt-paths enable me to ride right up to the entrance-gate of the main street. Good-natured crowds follow me through the street; and outside the gate of departure I favor them with a few turns on the smooth flags of a rice-winnowing floor. The performance is hailed with shouts of surprise and delight, and they urge me to remain in Chun-Kong-hoi all night.
An official in big tortoise-shell spectacles examines my passport, reading it slowly and deliberately aloud in peculiar sing-song tones to the crowd, who listen with all-absorbing attention. He then orders the people to direct me to a certain inn. This inn blossoms forth upon my as yet unaccustomed vision as a peculiarly vile and dingy little hovel, smoke-blackened and untidy as a village smithy. Half a dozen rude benches covered with reed mats and provided with uncomfortable wooden pillows represent what sleeping accommodations the place affords. The place is so forbidding that I occupy a bench outside in preference to the evil-smelling atmosphere within.
As it grows dark the people wonder why I don't prefer the interior of the dimly lighted hittim. My preference for the outside bench is not unattended with hopes that, as they can no longer see my face, my greasy-looking, half-naked audience would give me a moment's peace and quiet. Nothing, however, is further from their thoughts; on the contrary, they gather closer and closer about me, sticking their yellow faces close to mine and examining my features as critically as though searching the face of an image. By and by it grows too dark even for this, and then some enterprising individual brings a couple of red wax tapers, placing one on either side of me on the bench.
By the dim religious light of these two candles, hundreds of people come and peer curiously into my face, and occasionally some ultra-inquisitive mortal picks up one of the tapers and by its aid makes a searching examination of my face, figure, and clothes. Mischievous youngsters, with irreligious abandon, attempt to make the scene comical by lighting joss-sticks and waving bits of burning paper.
The tapers on either side, and the youngsters' irreverent antics, with the evil-spirit-dispersing joss-sticks, make my situation so ridiculously suggestive of an idol that I am perforce compelled to smile. The crowd have been too deeply absorbed in the contemplation of my face to notice this side-show; but they quickly see the point, and follow my lead with a general round of merriment. About ten o'clock I retire inside; the irrepressible inquisitives come pouring in the door behind me, but the hittim-keeper angrily drives them out and bars the door.
Several other lodgers occupy the room in common with myself; some are smoking tobacco, and others are industriously "hitting the pipe." The combined fumes of opium and tobacco are well-nigh unbearable, but thera is no alternative. The next bench to mine is occupied by a peripatetic vender of drugs and medicines. Most of his time is consumed in smoking opium in dreamy oblivion to all else save the sensuous delights embodied in that operation itself. Occasionally, however, when preparing for another smoke, he addresses me at length in about one word of pidgin-English to a dozen of simon-pure Cantonese. In a spirit of friendliness he tenders me the freedom of his pipe and little box of opium, which is, of course, "declined with thanks."
Long into the midnight hours my garrulous companions sit around and talk, and smoke, and eat peanuts. Mosquitoes likewise contribute to the general inducement to keep awake; and after the others have finally lain down, my ancient next neighbor produces a small mortar and pestle and busies himself pounding drugs. For this operation he assumes a pair of large, round spectacles, that in the dimly lighted apartment and its nocturnal associations are highly suggestive of owls and owlish wisdom. The old quack works away at his mortar, regardless of the approach of daybreak, now and then pausing to adjust the wick in his little saucer of grease, or to indulge in the luxury of a peanut.
Such are the experiences of my first night at a Chinese village hittim; they will not soon be forgotten.
The proprietor of the hittim seems overjoyed at my liberality as I present him a ten-cent string of tsin for the night's lodging. Small as it sounds, this amount is probably three or four times more than he obtains from his Chinese guests.
The country beyond Chun-Kong-hoi is alternately level and hilly, the former highly cultivated, and the latter occupied mostly with graves. Peanut harvest is in progress, and men, women, and children are everywhere about the fields. The soil of a peanut-bed to the depth of several inches is dug up and all passed through a sieve, the meshes of which are of the proper size to retain the nuts. The last possible grain, nut, or particle of life-sustaining vegetable or insect life is extracted from the soil, ducks and chickens being cooped and herded on the fields and gardens after human ingenuity has reached its limit of research.
Big wooden pails of warm tea stand about the fields, from which everybody helps himself when thirsty. A party of peanut-harvesters are regaling themselves with stewed turnips and tough, underdone pieces of dried liver. They invite me to partake, handing me a pair of chopsticks and a bowl.
Gangs of coolies, strung in Indian file along the paths, are met, carrying lacquer-ware from some interior town to Fat-shau and Canton. Others are encountered with cages of kittens and puppies, which they are conveying to the same market. These are men whose business is collecting these table delicacies from outlying villages for the city markets, after the manner of egg and chicken buyers in America.
My course at length brings me to the town of Si-noun, on the south bank of the Choo-kiang. The river is here prevented from inundating the low country adjacent by strong levees; along these are well-tramped paths that afford much good wheeling, as well as providing a well-defined course toward Sam-shue. After following the river for some miles, however, I conclude that its course is altogether more southerly than there is any necessity for me to go; so, crossing the river at a village ferry, I strike a trail across-country in a north-westerly direction that must sooner or later bring me to the banks of the Pi-kiang. Sam-shue is at the junction of these two rivers, the one flowing from west to east and the other from north to south; by striking across-country, but one side of a triangle is traversed instead of the two formed by the rivers. My objective point for the night is Lo-pow, the first town of any size up the Pi-kiang.
A volunteer guide from one of the villages extricates me from a bewildering network of trails in the afternoon, and guides me across to the bottom-lands of the Pi-kiang. Receiving a reward, he eyes the piece of silver a moment wistfully, puts it away, and guides me half a mile farther. Pointing to the embankment of the Pi-kiang in the distance ahead, he presents himself for further reward. Receiving this, he thereupon conceives the brilliant idea of piloting me over successive short stages, with a view of obtaining tsin at the end of each stage.
John Chinaman is no more responsible, morally, for the "dark ways and vain tricks" accredited to him in the Western World than a crow is for the blackness of his plumage. The desperate struggle for existence in this crowded empire, that has no doubt been a normal condition of its society for ages, has developed traits of character in these later generations which are as unchangeable as the skin of the Ethiopian or the spots of the leopard. Either of these can be whitened over, but not readily changed; the same may be truthfully said of the moral leprosy of the average Celestial. Here is a simple peanut-farmer's son, who knows nothing of the outer world, yet no sooner does a stray opportunity present than he develops immediately financial trickery worthy of a Constantinople guide.
The paths across the Pi-kiang Valley are more walls than paths, often rising ten feet above the paddy-fields, and presenting a width of not more than two feet. Good riding, however, is happily found on the levees, and a few miles up-stream brings me to Lo-pow.
The hittim at Lo-pow is somewhat superior to that of yesterday; it is a two-storied building, and the proprietor hustles me up-stairs in short order, and locks me in. This is to prevent any possible hostility from the crowd that immediately swarms the place; for while I am in his house he is in a measure held responsible for my treatment. The bicycle is kept down-stairs, where it performs the office of a vent for the rampant curiosity of the thousands who besiege the proprietor for a peep at me.
A little cup and a teapot of hot tea is brought me at once, and my order taken for supper; the characters on ray limited written vocabulary proving invaluable as an aid toward making my g-astro-nomic preferences understood. A dish of boiled fish, pickled ginger, chicken entrees, young onions, together with rice enough to feed a pig, form the ingredients of a very good Chinese meal. Chop-sticks are, of course, provided; but, as yet, my dexterity in the manipulation of these articles is decidedly of the negative order, and so my pocket-knife performs the dual office of knife and fork; for the rice, one can use, after a manner, the little porcelain dipper provided for ladling an evil-smelling liquid over that staple. Bread, there is none in China; rice is the bread of both this country and Japan. During the night one gets a reminder of the bek-jees of Constantinople in the performances of a night policeman, who passes by at intervals loudly beating a drum. This, together with roystering mosquitoes, and a too liberal indulgence in strong tea, banishes sleep to-night almost as effectually as the pounding of the old drug-vender's pestle did at Chun-Kong-hoi.
The rooms below are full of sleeping coolies, cat-and-dog hucksters and travellers, when I descend at day-break to start. The first two hours are wasted in wandering along a levee that leads up a tributary stream, coming back again and getting ferried to the right embankment. The riding is variable, and the zigzagging of the levee often compels me to travel three miles for the gaining of one. My elevated path commands a good view of the traffic on the river, and of the agricultural operations on the adjacent lowlands.
The boating scenes on the river are animated, and peculiarly Chinese. The northern monsoons, called typhoons in China, are blowing strongly down stream, while the current itself is naturally strong; under the influence of wind and current combined, junks and sampans with butterfly sails all set are going down stream at racing speed. In striking contrast to these, are the up-stream boats, crawling along at scarcely perceptible pace against the current, in response to the rhythmical movements of a line of men, women, and children harnessed one behind another to a long tow-line.
The water in the river is low, and the larger boats have to be watched carefully to prevent grounding; sometimes, when the river is wide and the passable channel but a narrow place in the middle, the tow-people have to take to the water, often wading waist deep. Men and women are dressed pretty much alike, but in addition to the broad-legged pantaloons and blue blouse, the women are distinguished by a checked apron. Some of them wear broad bamboo hats, while others wear nothing but nature's covering, or perchance a handkerchief tied around their heads. The traffic on the river is something enormous, scores of boats dotting the river at every turn. It is no longer difficult to believe the oft-heard assertion, that the tonnage of China's inland fleet is equal to the ocean tonnage of all the world.
Below me on the right the scene is scarcely less animated; one would think the whole population of the country were engaged in pumping water over the rice-fields, by the number of tread-wheels on the go. One of the most curious sights in China is to see people working these irrigating machines all over the fields. Instead of the buffaloes of Egypt and India, everything here is accomplished by the labor of man. The tread-wheel is usually worked by two men or women, who steady themselves by holding to a cross-bar, while their weight revolves the tread-wheel and works a chain of water-pockets. The pockets dip water from a hole or ditch and empty it into troughs, whence it spreads over the field. The screeching of these wheels can be heard for miles, and the grotesque Chinese figures stepping up, up, up in pairs, yet never ascending, the women singing in shrill, falsetto voices, and the incessant gabble of conversation, makes a picture of industry the like of which is to be seen in no other part of the world.
Chin-yuen, my next halting-place, forma something of a crescent on the west shore of the river, and is distinguished by a seven-storied pagoda at the southern extremity of its curvature. As seen from the east bank, the city and its background of reddish hills, two peaks of which rise to the respectable height of, I should judge, two thousand feet, is not without certain pretensions to beauty. Many of the houses on the river front are built over the water on piles, and broad flights of stone steps lead down to the water.
The usual boat population occupy a swarm of sampans anchored before the city, while hundreds of others are moving hither and thither. The water is intensely blue, and the broad reaches of Band are dazzlingly white; on either bank are dark patches of feathery bamboo; the white, blue and green, the pagoda, the city with its towering pawn-houses, and the whole flanked by red clay hills, forms a picture that certainly is not wanting in life and color.
The quarters assigned me at the hittim, here, are again upstairs, and my room-companion is an attenuated opium smoker, who is apparently a permanent lodger. This apartment is gained by a ladder, and after submitting to much annoyance from the obtrusive crowds below invading our quarters, my companion drives them all out with the loud lash of his tongue, and then draws up the only avenue of communication. He is engaged in cooking his supper and in washing dirty dishes; when the crowd below gets too noisy and clamorous he steps to the opening and coolly treats them to a basin of dish-water. This he repeats a number of times during the evening, saving his dish-water for that special purpose.
The air is reeking with smoke and disagreeable odors from below, where cooking is going on, and pigs wallow in filth in a rear apartment. The back-room of a Chinese inn is nearly always a pigsty, and a noisome place on general principles. Later in the evening a few privileged characters are permitted to come up, and the room quickly changes into a regular opium-den. A tough day's journey and two previous nights of wakefulness, enable me to fall asleep, notwithstanding the evil smells, the presence of the opium-smoking visitors, and the grunting pigs and talkative humans down below.
During the day I have sprained my right knee, and it becomes painful in the night and wakes me up. In the morning my way is made through the waking city with a painful limp, that gives rise to much unsympathetic giggling among the crowd at my heels. Perhaps they think all Pankwaes thus hobble along; their giggling, however, is doubtless evidence of the well-known pitiless disposition of the Chinese. The sentiments of pity and consideration for the sufferings of others, are a well-nigh invisible quality of John Chinaman's character, and as I limp slowly along, I mentally picture myself with a broken leg or serious illness, alone among these people. A Fankwae with his leg broken! a Fankwae lying at the point of death! why, the whole city would want to witness such an extraordinary sight; there would be no keeping them out; one would be the centre of a tumultuous rabble day and night!
The river contains long reaches leading in a totally contrary direction to what I know my general course to be. My objective point is a little east of north, but for miles this morning I am headed considerably south of the rising sun. There is nothing for it, however, but to keep the foot-trail that now follows along the river bank, conforming to all its multifarious crooks and angles. Every mile or two the path is overhung by a big bamboo hedge, behind which is hidden a village.
The character of these little riverside villages varies from peaceful agricultural and fishing communities, to nests of river-pirates and hard characters generally, who covertly prey on the commerce of the Pi-kiang, and commit depredations in the surrounding country. A glimpse of me is generally caught by someone behind the hedge as I ride or trundle past; shouts of "the Fankwae, the Fankwae," and screams of laughter at the prospect of seeing one of those queer creatures, immediately follow the discovery. The gabble and laughter and hurrying from the houses to the hedge, the hasty scrambling through the little wicket gates, all occurs with a flutter and noisy squabble that suggest a flock of excited geese.
A few miles above Chin-yuen the river enters a rocky gorge, and the marvellous beauty of the scenery rivets me to the spot in wondering contemplation for an hour. It is the same picture of rocky mountains, blue water, junks, bridges, temples, and people, one sometimes sees on sets of chinaware. Never was water so intensely blue, or sand so dazzlingly white, as the Pi-kiang at the entrance to this gorge this sunny morning; on its sky-blue bosom float junks and sampans, their curious sails appearing and disappearing around a bend in the canon. The brown battlemented cliffs are relieved by scattering pines, and in the interstices by dense thickets of bamboo; temples, pagodas, and a village complete a scene that will be long remembered as one of the loveliest bits of scenery the whole world round. The scene is pre-eminently characteristic, and after seeing it, one no longer misunderstands the Chinaman who persists in thinking his country the great middle kingdom of landscape beauty and sunshine, compared to which all others are--"regions of mist and snow."
Across the creeks which occasionally join issue with the river, are erected frail and wabbly bamboo foot-rails; some of these are evidently private enterprises, as an ancient Celestial is usually on hand for the collection of tiny toll. Narrow bridges, rude steps cut in the face of the cliffs, trails along narrow ledges, over rocky ridges, down across gulches, and anon through loose shale on ticklishly sloping banks, characterize the passage through the canon. The sun is broiling hot, and my knee swollen and painful. It is barely possible to crawl along at a snail's pace by keeping my game leg stiff; bending the knee is attended with agony. Frequent rests are necessary, and an examination reveals my knee badly inflamed.
Hours are consumed in scrambling for three or four miles up and down steps, and over the most abominable course a bicycle was ever dragged, carried, up-ended and lugged over. At the end of that time I reach a temple occupying a romantic position in a rocky defile, and where a flight of steps leads down to the water's edge. All semblance of anything in the nature of a continuous path terminates at the temple, and hailing a sampan bound up stream, I obtain passage to the northern extremity of the canyon.
The sampan is towed by a team of seven coolies, harnessed to a small, strong rope made of bamboo splint. It is interesting, yet painful, to see these men clambering like goats about the rocky cliffs, sometimes as much as a hundred feet above the water; one of the number does nothing else but throw the rope over protuberant points of rock. One would naturally imagine that Chinese enterprise would be sufficient to construct something like a decent towpath through this caiion, considering the number of boats towed through it daily; but everything in China seems to be done by the main strength and awkwardness of individuals.
The boatmen seem honest-hearted fellows; at noon they invite me to participate in their frugal meal of rice and turnips. Passing sampans are greeted by the crew of our boat with the intelligence that a Fankwae is aboard; the news being invariably conveyed with a droll "ha-ha!" and received with the same. Indeed, the average Chinese river-man or agriculturist, the simple-hearted children of the water and the soil, seem to regard the Fankwae as a creature so remarkably comical, that the mere mention of him causes them to laugh.
Near the end of the canon the boat is moored at a village for the day, and my knee feeling much better from the rest, I pursue my course up the bank of the river. The bank is level in a general sense, but much cut up with small tributary creeks.
While I am resting on the bank of one of these creeks, partly hidden behind a clump of bamboo, a slave-woman carrying her mistress pick-a-back appears upon the scene. Catching sight of me, the golden lily utters a little cry of alarm and issues hurried orders to her maid. The latter wheels round and scuttles back along the path with her frightened burden, both maid and golden lily no doubt very thankful at finding themselves unpursued. A few minutes after their hasty flight, three men approach my resting-place with pitchforks. The frightened females have probably told them of the presence of some queer-looking object lurking behind the bushes, and like true heroes they have shouldered their pitchforks and sallied forth to investigate. A whoop and a feint from me would either put them to flight, or precipitate a conflict, as is readily seen from the extreme cautiousness of their advance. As I remained perfectly still, however, they approach by short stages, and with many stops for consultation, until near enough to satisfy themselves of my peaceful character. They loiter around until my departure, when they follow behind for a few hundred yards, watching me narrowly until I am past their own little cluster of houses.
It is almost dark when I arrive at the next village, prepared to seek such accommodations for the night as the place affords, if any. The people, however, seem decidedly inclined to give me the cold shoulder, eying me suspiciously from a respectful distance, instead of clustering, as usual, close about me. Being pretty tired and hungry, and knowing absolutely nothing of the distance to the next place, I endeavor to cultivate their friendship by smiles, and by addressing the nearest youngster in polite greetings of "chin-chin."
All this proves of no avail; they seem one and all to be laboring under the impression that my appearance is of evil portent to themselves. Perchance some social calamity they have just been visited with, is attributed in their superstitious minds to the fell influence of the foreign devil, who has so suddenly bobbed up in their midst just at this unhappy, inauspicious moment. Perad-venture some stray and highly exaggerated bit of news in regard to Fankwae aggression in Tonquin (the French Tonquin expedition) has happened to reach the little interior village this very day, and the excited people see in me an emissary of destruction, here for the diabolical purpose of spying out their country. A dozen reasons, however, might be here advanced, and all be far wide of the truth.
Whatever their hostility is all about is a mystery to me, the innocent object of sundry scowls and angry gestures. One individual contemplates me for a minute with unconcealed aversion, and then breaks out into a torrent of angry words and excited gestures. From all appearances, it behooves me to be clearing out, ere the pent-up feelings of the people find vent in some aggressive manner, as a result of this person's incitant eloquence. Greatly puzzled to account for this unpleasant reception, I quietly take myself off.
It is now getting pretty dark, and considering the unfortunate condition of my knee, the situation is, to say the least, annoying. It is not without apprehensions of being followed that I leave the village; and ere I am two hundred yards away, torches are observed moving rapidly about, and soon loud shouts of "Fankwae, Fankwae!" tell me that a number of men are in pursuit.
Darkness favors my retreat, and scrambling down the river bank, I shape my course across the sand and shallow side-channels to a small island, thickly covered with bamboo, the location of which is now barely outlined against the lingering streaks of daylight in the western sky. Half an hour is consumed in reaching this; but no small satisfaction is derived from seeing the flaming torches of my pursuers continue on up the bank. The dense bamboo thickets afford an excellent hiding-place, providing my divergence is not suspected. A little farther up-stream, on the bank, are the lights of another village; and as I crouch here in the darkness I can see the torches of the pursuing party entering this village, and can hear them making shouting inquiries of their neighbors about the foreign devil.
The thicket is alive with ravenous mosquitoes that issue immediately their peculiar policy of assurance against falling asleep. Unappeased hunger, mosquitoes, and the perilousness of the situation occupy my attention for some hours, when, seeing nothing further of the vengeful aspirants for my gore, I drag my weary way up-stream, through sand and shallow water. Keeping in the river-bed for several miles, I finally regain the bank, and, although my inflamed knee treats me to a twinge of agony at every step, I steadily persevere till morning.
An hour or two of morning light brings me to the town of Quang-shi, after an awful tugging through sand-hills, unbridged ravines and water. Hardly able to stand from fatigue and the pain of my knee, the desperate nature of the road, or, more correctly, the entire absence of anything of the kind, and the disquieting incident of the night, awaken me to a realizing sense of my helplessness should the people of Quang-shi prove to be hostile. Conscious of my inability to run or ride, savagely hungry, and desperately tired, I enter Quang-shi with the spirit of a hunted animal at bay. With revolver pulled round to the front ready to hand, and half expecting occasion to use it in defence of my life, I grimly speculate on the number of my cartridges and the probability of each one bagging a sore-eyed Celestial ere my own lonely and reluctant ghost is yielded up.
All this, fortunately, is found to be superfluous speculation, for the good people of Quang-shi prove, at least, passively friendly; a handful of tsin divided among the youngsters, and a general spendthrift scatterment of ten cents' worth of the same base currency among the stall-keepers for chow-chow heightens their friendly interest in me to an appreciable extent.
Chao-choo-foo is the next city marked on my itinerary, but as Quang-shi is not on my map I have no means of judging whether Chao-choo-foo is four li up-stream or forty. All attempts to obtain some idea of the distance from the natives result in the utter bewilderment of both questioned and querist. No amount of counting on fingers, or marking on paper, or interrogative arching of eyebrows, or repetition of "Chao-choo-foo li" sheds a glimmer of light on the mind of the most intelligent-looking shopkeeper in Quang-shi concerning my wants. Yet, withal, he courteously bears with my, to him, idiotic pantomime and barbarous pronunciation, and repeats parrot-like after me "Chao-choo-foo li; Chao-choo-foo li" with sundry beaming smiles and friendly smirks.
Far easier, however, is it to make them understand that I want to go to that city by boat. The loquacious owner of a twenty-foot sampan puts in his appearance as soon as my want is ascertained, and favors me with an unpunctuated speech of some five minutes' duration. For fear I shouldn't quite understand the tenor of his remarks, he insists on thrusting his yellow Mongolian phiz within an inch or two of mine own. At the end of five minutes I thrust my fingers in my ears out of sheer consideration for his vocal organs, and turn away; but the next moment he is fronting me again, and repeating himself with ever-increasing volubility. Finding my dulness quite impenetrable, he searches out another loquacious mortal, and by the aid of the tiny beam-scales every Chinaman carries for weighing broken silver, they finally make it understood that for six big rounds (dollars) he will convey me in his boat to Chao-choo-foo. Understanding this, I promptly engage his services.
Bundles of joss-sticks, rice, fish, pork, and a jar of samshoo (rice arrack) are taken aboard, and by ten o'clock we are underway. Two men, named respectively Ah Sum and Yung Po, a woman, and a baby of eighteen months comprise the company aboard. Ah Sum, being but an inconsequential wage-worker, at once assumes the onerous duties of towman; Yung Po, husband, father, and sole proprietor of the sampan, manipulates the rudder, which is in front, and occasionally assists Ah Sum by poling. The boat-wife stands at the stern and regulates the length of the tow-line; the baby puts in the first few hours in wondering contemplation of myself.
The strange river-life of China is all about us; small fishing-boats are everywhere plying their calling. They are constructed with a central chamber full of auger-holes for the free admittance of water, in which the fish are conveyed alive to market, or imprisoned during the owner's pleasure. Big freight sampans float past, propelled by oars if going down-stream, and by the combined efforts of tow-line and poles if against the current. The propelling poles are fitted with neatly carved "crutch-trees" to fit the shoulder; the polers, sometimes numbering as many as a dozen, walk back and forth along side-planks and encourage themselves with cries of "ha-i, ha-i, ha-i." A peculiar and indescribable inflection would lead one, hearing and not seeing these boatmen, to fancy himself listening to a flight of brants in stormy weather. Yung Po, poling by himself, gives utterance to a prolonged cry of "Atta-atta-atta aaoo ii," every time he hustles along the side-plank.
Much of the scenery along the river is lovely in the extreme, and at dark we cast anchor in a smooth, silent reach of the river just within the frowning gateway of a rocky canon. Dark masses of rock tower skyward five hundred feet in a perpendicular wall, casting a dark shadow over the twilight shimmer of the water. In the north, the darksome prospect is invested with a lurid glow, apparently from some large fire; the canon immediately about our anchoring place is alive with moving torches, representing the restless population of the river, and on the banks clustering points of light here and there denote the locality of a village.
The last few miles has been severe work for poor Ah Sum, clambering among rocks fit only for the footsteps of a goat. He sticks to the tow-line manfully to the end, but wading out to the boat when over-heated, causes him to be seized with violent cramps all over; in his agony he rolls about the deck and implores Yung Po to put him out of his misery forthwith. His case is evidently urgent, and Yung Po and his wife proceed to administer the most heroic treatment. Hot samshoo is first poured down his throat and rubbed on his joints, then he is rolled over on his stomach; Yung Po then industriously flagellates him in the bend of the knees with a flat bamboo, and his wife scrapes him vigorously down the spine with the sharp edge of a porcelain bowl. Ah Sam groans and winces under this barbarous treatment, but with solicitous upbraidings they hold him down until they have scraped and pounded him black and blue, almost from head to foot. Then they turn him over on his back for a change of programme. A thick joint of bamboo, resembling a quart measure, is planted against his stomach; lighted paper is then inserted beneath, and the "cup" held firmly for a moment, when it adheres of its own accord.
This latter instrument is the Chinese equivalent of our cupping-glass; like many other inventions, it was probably in use among them ages before anything of the kind was known to us. Its application to the stomach for the relief of cramps would seem to indicate the possession of drawing powers; I take it to be a substitute for mustard plasters. While the wife attends to this, Yung Po pinches him severely all over the throat and breast, converting all that portion of his anatomy into little blue ridges. By the time they get through with him, his last estate seems a good deal worse than his first, but the change may have saved his life.
Before retiring for the night lighted joss-sticks are stuck in the bow of the sampan, and lighted paper is waved about to propitiate the spirit of the waters and of the night; small saucers of rice, boiled turnip, and peanut-oil are also solemnly presented to the tutelary gods, to enlist their active sympathies as an offset against the fell designs of mischievous spirits. Falling asleep under the soothing influence of these extraordinary precautions for our safety and a supper of rice, ginger, and fresh fish, I slumber peacefully until well under way next morning. Ah Sum is stiff and sore all over, but he bravely returns to his post, and under the combined efforts of pole and tow-line we speed along against a swift current at a pace that is almost visible to the naked eye.
This morning I purchase a splendid trout, weighing seven or eight pounds, for about twenty cents; off this we make a couple of quite excellent meals. Observing my awkward attempts to pick up pieces of fish with the chop-sticks, the good, thoughtful boat-wife takes a bone hair-pin out of her sleek, oily back hair, and offers it to me to use as a fork!
Before noon we emerge into a more open country; straight ahead can be seen an eight-storied pagoda. Beaching the pagoda, we pass, on the opposite shore, the town of Yang-tai (?). Fleets of big junks sail gayly down stream, laden with bales and packages of merchandise from Chao-choo-foo, Nam-hung, and other manufacturing points up the river. Others resemble floating hay-ricks, bearing huge cargoes of coarse hay and pine-needles down for the manufacture of paper.
Several war-junks are anchored before Yang-tai; unlike the peaceful (?) merchantmen on the Choo-kiang, they are armed with but a single cannon. They are, however, superior vessels compared with other craft on the river, and are manned with crews of twenty to thirty theatrical-looking characters; rows of muskets and boarding-pikes are observed, and conspicuous above all else are several large and handsome flags of the graceful triangular shape peculiar to China.
The crew of these warlike vessels are uniformed in the gayest of red, and in the middle of their backs and breasts are displayed white "bull's eyes" about twelve inches in diameter. The object of these big white circular patches appears to be the presentation of a suitable place for the conspicuous display of big characters, denoting the district or city to which they belong; or in other words labels. The wicked and sarcastic Fankwaes in the treaty ports, however, render a far different explanation. They say that a Chinese soldier always misses a bull's-eye when he shoots at it--under no circumstances does he score a bull's-eye. Observing this, the authorities concluded that Fankwae soldiers were tarred with the same unhappy feather. With true Asiatic astuteness, they therefore conceived and carried out the brilliant idea of decorating all Celestial warriors with bull's-eyes, front and rear, as a measure of protection against the bullets of the Fankwae soldiers in battle.
Ah Sum becomes sick and weary at noon and is taken aboard, Tung Po and his better half taking alternate turns at the line. Toward evening the river makes a big sweep to the southeast, bringing the prevailing north wind round to our advantage; if advantage it can be called, in blowing us pretty well south when our destination lies north. The sail is hoisted, and the crew confines itself to steering and poling the boat clear of bars.
Poor Ah Sum is subjected to further clinical maltreatment this evening as we lay at anchor before No-foo-gong; while we are eating rice and pork and listening to the sounds of revelry aboard the big passenger junks anchored near by, he is writhing and groaning with pain.
He is too stiff and sore and exhausted to do anything in the morning; the woman goes out to pull, and the babe makes Rome howl, with little intermission, till she comes back. The boat-woman seems an industrious, wifely soul; Yung Po probably paid as high as forty dollars for her; at that price I should say she is a decided bargain. Occasionally, when Yung Po cruelly orders her overboard to take a hand at the tow-line, or to help shove the sampan off a sand ridge, she enters a playful demurrer; but an angry look, an angry word, or a cheerful suggestion of "corporeal suasion," and she hops lightly into the water.
A few miles from No-foo-gong and a rocky precipice towers up on the west shore, something like a thousand feet high. The crackling of fire-crackers innumerable and the report of larger and noisier explosions attract my attention as we gradually crawl up toward it; and coming nearer, flocks of pigeons are observed flying uneasily in and out of caves in the lower levels of the cliff.
In the course of time our sampan arrives opposite and reveals a curious two-storied cave temple, with many gayly dressed people, pleasure sampans, and bamboo rafts. This is the Kum-yam-ngan, a Chinese Buddhist temple dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy. It is the home of flocks of sacred pigeons, and the shrine to which many pilgrims yearly come; the pilgrims manage to keep their feathered friends in a chronic state of trepidation by the agency of fire-crackers and miniature bombs. Outside, under the shelter of the towering cliffs to the' right, are more temples or dwellings of the priests; they present a curious mixture of blue porcelain, rock, and brick which is intensely characteristic of China.
During the day we pass, on the same side of the river, yet another remarkable specimen of man's handiwork on the scene of one of nature's curious rockwork conceptions. Leading from base to summit of a sloping mountain are two perpendicular ridges of rock, looking very much like a couple of walls. Across the summit of the mountain, from wall to wall, some fanciful architect three hundred years ago built a massive battlement; in the middle he left a big round hole, which presents a very curious appearance, and materially heightens the delusion that the whole affair, from foot to summit, is the handiwork of man. This place is known as Tan-tsy-shan, or Bullet Mountain, and is the scene of a fight that occurred some time during the Ming dynasty. A legend is current among the people, that the robber Wong, a celebrated freebooter of that period, while firing on a pursuing party of soldiers, shot this moon---like hole through the mountain battlement with the huge musket he used to slaughter his enemies.
Many huge rafts of pine logs are now encountered floating down stream to the cities of the lower country; numbers of them are sometimes met, following close behind one another. Several huts are erected on each big raft, so that the sight not infrequently suggests a long straggling village floating with the tide. This suggestion is very much heightened by the score or more people engaged in poling, steering, al fresco cooking, etc., aboard each raft.
And anon there come along men, poling with surprising swiftness slender-built craft on which are perched several solemn and important-looking cormorants. These are the celebrated cormorant fishers of the Chinese rivers. Their craft is simply three or four stems of the giant bamboo turned up at the forward end; on this the naked fisherman stands and propels himself by means of a slender pole. His stock-in-trade consists of from four to eight cormorants that balance themselves and smooth their wet wings as the lightsome raft speeds along at the rate of six miles an hour from one fishing ground to another. Arriving at some likely spot the eager aspirant for finny prizes rests on his oars, and allows his aquatic confederates to take to the water in search of their natural prey, the fishes. A ring around the cormorants' necks prevents them swallowing their captives, and previous training teaches them to balance themselves on the propelling pole that the watchful fisherman inserts beneath them the moment they rise to the surface with a fish; captive and captor are then lifted aboard the raft, the cormorant robbed of his prey and hustled quickly off again to business. The sight of these nimble craft, skimming along with scarcely an effort, almost fills me with a resolve to obtain one of them myself and abandon Tung Po and his dreary lack of speed forever.
The third day of our voyage against the prevailing typhoons and the rapid current of the Pi-kiang, comes to an end, and finds us again anchored within the dark shadow of a towering cliff. Anchored alongside us is a big junk freighted with bags of rice and bales of paper; the hands aboard this boat indulge in a lively quarrel, during the evening chow-chow, and bang one another about in the liveliest manner. The peculiar indignation that finds expression in abusive language no doubt reaches its highest state of perfection in the Celestial mind. No other human being is capable of soaring to the height of the Chinaman's falsetto modulations, as he heaps reproaches and cuss-words on his enemy's queue-adorned head. A big boat's crew of naked Chinamen cursing and gesticulating excitedly, advancing and retreating, chasing one another about with billets of wood, knocking things over, and raising Cain generally, in the ghostly glimmer of fantastic paper lanterns, is a spectacle both weird and wild.
Another weird, but this time noiseless, affair is a long string of nocturnal cormorant fishers, each with a big, flaming torch attached to the prow of his raft, propelling themselves along close under the dark frowning cliff. The torches light up the black face of the precipice with a wild glare, and streak the shimmering water with moon-like reflections.
The country through which our watery, serpentine course winds all next day, is hilly rather than mountainous; grassy hills slope down to the water's blue ripples at certain places, but the absence of grazing animals is quite remarkable. Regions, which in other countries would be covered with flocks of sheep and herds of cows and horses, are without so much as a sign of herbivorous animals. Pigs are the prevailing meat-producing animals of Southern China; all the way up country I have not yet seen a single sheep, and but very few cattle; I have also yet to see the first horse. Instead of herbivorous quadrupeds peacefully browsing, are swarms of men, women, and children cutting, bundling, and stacking the grass for the manufacture of paper.
Among the fleeting curiosities of the day are a crowd of sampans flying black flags, evidently some military expedition; they are bound down stream, and it occurs to me that they are perhaps a reinforcement of these famous free-lances going to join the hordes of that denomination making things so uncomfortable for the French in Tonquin and Quang-tse. We also pass a district where the women enhance their physical charms by the aid of broad circular hats that resemble an inverted sieve. The edges, however, are not wood, but circular curtains of black calico; the roof of the hat is bleached bamboo chip.
Officers board us in the evening to search the vessel for dutiable goods; but they find nothing. The privilege of levying customs on salt and opium is farmed out by the government to people in various cities along the rivers. The tax on these articles from first to last of a long river voyage is very heavy, customs being levied at various points; it is scarcely necessary to add that under these arbitrary arrangements, the oily, conscienceless and tsin-loving Celestial boatman has reduced the noble art of smuggling to a science. Yung Po smiles blandly at the officer as he searches carefully every nook and corner of the sampan, even rooting about with a stick in the moderate amount of bilge-water collected between the ribs, and when he is through, dismisses him with an air of innocence and a wealth of politeness that is artfully calculated to secure less rigorous search next time.
The poling and towing is prolonged till nearly midnight, when we cast anchor among a lot of house-boats and miscellaneous craft before a city. Even at this unseemly hour we are visited by an owlish pedler, whose boat is fitted up with boxes containing various dishes toothsome to the heathen palates of the water-men. Yung Po and Ah Sum look wistfully over the ancient pastry-ped-ler's wares, and pick out tiny dishes of sweetened rice gruel; this they consume with the same unutterable satisfaction that hungry monkeys display when eating chestnuts, ending the performance by licking the platters. Although the price is nearly a farthing a dish, with wanton prodigality Yung Po orders dishes for the whole company, including even his passenger!
From various indications, it is surmised, as I seek my couch, that the city opposite is Chao-choo-foo. Inquiry to that effect, as usual, elicits nothing but a bland grin from Yung Po. When, however, he takes the unnecessary precaution of warning me not to venture outside the covered sleeping quarters during the night, intimating that I should probably get stabbed if I do, I am pretty well satisfied of our arrival. This cautious proceeding is to be explained by the fact that I am Yung Po's debtor for two days' diet of rice, turnips, and flabby pork, and he is suspicious that I might creep forth in the silence and darkness of the night and leave him in the lurch.
Yung Po now summons his entire pantomimic ability, to inform me that Chao-choo-foo is still some distance up the river, at all events that is my interpretation of his words and gestures. On this supposition I enter no objections when he bids me accompany him to the market and purchase a new supply of provisions for the remainder of the journey.
Impatient to proceed to Chao-choo-foo I now motion for them to make a start. Yung Po points to the frowning walls of the city we have just visited, and blandly says, "Chao-choo-foo." Having accomplished his purpose of bamboozling me into replenishing his larder, by making me believe our destination is yet farther upstream, he now turns round and tells me that we have already arrived. The neat little advantage he has just been taking of my ignorance with such brilliant results to the larder of the boat, has visibly stimulated his cupidity, and he now brazenly demands the payment of filthy lucre, making a circular hole with his thumb and finger to intimate big rounds in contradistinction to mere tsin.
The assumption of dense ignorance has not been without its advantages at various times on my journey around the world, and regarding Yung Po's gestures with a blankety blank stare, I order him to proceed up stream to Chao-choo-foo. The result of my refusal to be further bamboozled by the wily Yung Po, without knowing something of what I am doing, is that I am shortly threading the mazy alleyways of Chao-choo-foo with Ah Sum and Yung Po for escort. What the object of this visit may be I haven't the remotest idea, unless we are proceeding to the quarters of some official to have my passport seen to, or to try and enlighten my understanding in regard to Yung Po's claims for battered Mexican dollars.
Vague apprehensions arise that, peradventure, the six dollars paid at Quang-shi was only a small advance on the cost of my passage up, and that Yung Po is now piloting me to an official to establish his just claims upon pretty much all the money I have with me. Ignorant of the proper rate of boat-hire, disquieting visions of having to retreat to Canton for the lack of money to pay the expenses of the journey through to Kui-kiang are flitting through my mind as I follow the pendulous motions of Yung Po's pig-tail along the streets. The office that I have been conjuring up in my mind is reached at last, and found to be a neat room provided with forms and a pulpit like desk.
A pleasant-faced little Chinaman in a blue silk gown is examining a sheet of written characters through the medium of a pair of tortoise-shell spectacles. On the wall I am agreeably astonished to see a chromo of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, with an inscription in Chinese characters. The little man chin-chins (salaams) heartily, removes his spectacles and addresses me in a musical tone of voice. Yung Po explains obsequiously that my understanding Chinese is conspicuously unequal to the occasion, a fact that at once becomes apparent to the man in blue silk; whereupon he quickly substitutes written words for spoken ones and presents me the paper. Finding me equally foggy in regard to these, he excuses my ignorance with a courteous smile and bow, and summons a gray-queued underling to whom he gives certain directions. This person leads the way out and motions for me to follow. Yung Po and Ah Sum bring up behind, keeping in order such irrepressibles as endeavor to peer too obtrusively into my face.
Soon we arrive at a quarter with big monstrous dragons painted on the walls, and other indications of an official residence; palanquin-bearers in red jackets and hats with tassels of red horse-hair flit past at a fox-trot with a covered palanquin, preceded by noisy gong-beaters and a gayly comparisoned pony. This is evidently the yamen or mandarin's quarter, and here we halt before a door, while our guide enters another one, and disappears. The door before us is opened cautiously by a Celestial who looks out and bestows upon mo a friendly smile. A curly black dog emerges from between his legs and presents himself with much wagging of tail and other manifestations of canine delight.
All this occurs to me as very strange; but not for a moment does it prepare me for the agreeable surprise that now presents itself in the appearance of a young Englishman at the door. It would be difficult to say which of us is the most surprised at the other's appearance. Mutual explanations follow, and then I learn that, all unsuspected by me, two missionaries of the English Presbyterian mission are stationed at Chao-choo.
At Canton I was told that I wouldn't see a European face nor hear an English word between that city and Kui-kiang. On their part, they have read in English papers of my intended tour through China, but never expected to see me coming through Chao-choo-foo.
I am, of course, overjoyed at the opportunity presented by their knowledge of the language to arrange for the continuation of my journey in a manner to know something about what I am doing. They are starting down the river for Canton to-morrow, so that I am very fortunate in having arrived today. As their guest for the day I obtain an agreeable change of diet from the swashy preparations aboard the sampan, and learn much valuable information about the nature of the country ahead from their servants. They have never been higher up the river than Chao-choo-foo themselves, and rather surprise me by giving the distances to Canton as two hundred and eighty miles.
By their kind offices I am able to make arrangements for a couple of coolies to carry the bicycle over the Mae-ling Mountains as far as the city of Nam-ngan on the head waters of the Kan-kiang, whence, if necessary, I can descend into the Yang-tsi-kiangby river. The route leads through a mountainous country up to the Mae-ling Pass, thence down to the head waters of the Kan-kiang.
All is ready by eight o'clock on the morning of October 22d; the coolies have lashed the bicycle to parallel bamboo poles, as also a tin of lunch biscuits, a tin of salmon, and of corned beef, articles kindly presented by the missionaries.
Nam-ngan is said to be two hundred miles distant, but subsequent experience would lessen the distance by about fifty miles. Our way leads first through the cemeteries of Chao-choo-foo, and along little winding stone-ways through the fields leading, in a general sense, along the right bank of the Pi-kiang.
The villagers in the upper districts of Quang-tung are peculiarly wanting in facial attractiveness; in some of the villages on the Upper Pi-kiang the entire population, from puling infants to decrepit old stagers whose hoary cues are real pig-tails in respect to size, are hideously ugly. They seem to be simple, primitive people, bent on satisfying their curiosity; but in the pursuit of this they are, if anything, somewhat more considerate or more conservative than the Persians.
Mothers hurry home and fetch their babies to see the Fankwae, pointing me out to their notice, very much like pointing out a chimpanzee in the Zoological gardens. In these village inns the spirit of democracy embraces all living things; sore-eyed coolies, leprous hangers-on to the thread of life, matronly sows and mangy dogs, come, go, and freely mingle and associate in these filthy little kitchens. When cooking is in progress, nothing is set off the fire on to the ground but that a hungry pig stands and eyes it wistfully, but sundry burnings of their sensitive snouts during the days of their youthful inexperience have made them preternaturally cautious, so that they are not very meddlesome. The sleeping room is really a part of the pig-sty, nothing but an open railing separating pigs and people. A cobble-stone path now leads through a hilly country, divided up into little rice-fields, peanut gardens, pine copses, and cemeteries. Peanut stalls one encounters at short intervals, where ancient dames or wrinkled old men preside over little saucers of half-roasted nuts, peanut sweet cakes, peanut plain cakes, peanut crullers, peanut dough, peanut candy, peanuts sprinkled with sugar, peanuts sprinkled with salt, and peanuts fresh from the ground. The people seem to be well-nigh living on peanuts, which unhappy diet probably has something to do with their marvellous ugliness.
In a gathering of villagers standing about me are people with eyes that are pitched at the most peculiar angles, varying from long, narrow eyes that slope downward toward the cheek-bone, to others that seem almost perpendicular. No less astonishing is the contour of their mouths; ragged holes in their ugly faces are these for the most part, shapeless and uncouth as anything well could be. They are the most unprepossessing humans I have seen the whole world round.
As, on the evening of the third day from Chao-choo-foo, we approach Nam-hung, the people and the country undergo a great change for the better. The land is more level and better cultivated; villages are thicker and more populous, and the people are no longer conspicuously ill-favored. All evidence goes to prove that meagre diet and hard lines generally, continued from generation to generation, result in the production of an ill-conditioned and inferior race of people.
A three-storied pagoda on a prominent hill to the right marks the approach to Nam-hung, and another of nine stories marks the entrance. Swarms of people follow us through the streets, rushing with eager curiosity to obtain a glimpse of my face. Sometimes the surging masses of people, struggling and pushing and dodging, separate me from the coolies, and the din of the shouting and laughing is so great that my shouts to them to stop are unheard. A shout, or a wave of the hand results only in a quickening of the people's curiosity and an increase in the volume of their own noisiness. Thus hemmed in among a compact mass of apparently well-meaning, but highly inflammable Chinese, hooting, calling, laughing, and gesticulating, I follow the lead of Ching-We and Wong-Yup through a mile of streets to the hittim.
Rich native wares are displayed in great abundance, silks, satins, and fur-lined clothing so costly and luxurious, and in such numbers, that one wonders where they find purchasers for them all. Side by side with these are idol factories, where Joss may be seen in every stage of existence, from the unhewn log of his first estate to the proud pre-eminence of his highly finished condition, painted, gilded, and furbished. Coffin warehouses in which burial cases are displayed in tempting array are always conspicuous in a Chinese city. The coffins are made of curious slabs, jointed together in imitation of a solid log; some of these are varnished in a style calculated to make the eyes of a prospective corpse beam with joyous anticipation; others are plainly finished, destined for the abode of humbler and less pretentious remains.
At the hittim, with much angry expostulation and firmness of decision, the following mob are barred entrance to our room. They are not, by any means satisfied, however; they quickly smash in a little closed panel so they can look in, and every crack between the boards betrays a row of peering eyes. Ching-We is a hollow-eyed victim of the drug, and yearns for peace and quiet so that he can pass away the evening amid the seductive pleasures of the opium-smoker's heaven. The rattle and racket of the determined sight-seers outside, clamorously demanding to come in and see the Fankwae, annoy him to the verge of desperation under the circumstances.
He patiently endeavors to forget it all, however, and to banish the whole troublesome world from his thoughts, by producing his opium-pipe and lamp and attempting to smoke. But just as he is getting comfortably settled down to rolling the little knob of opium on the needle and has puckered his lips for a good pull, a decayed turnip comes sailing through the open panel and hits him on the back. The people looking in add insult to injury by indulging in an audible snicker, as Ching-We springs up and glares savagely into their faces. This indiscreet expression of their levity at once seals their doom, for Ching-We grabs a pole and hits the boards such a resounding whack, and advances upon them so savagely, that only a few undaunted youngsters remain at their post; the panel is repaired, and comparative peace and quiet restored for a short time. No sooner, however, has Ching-We mounted to the first story of heavenly beatitude from the effects of the first pipe of opium, than loud howls of "Fankwae. Fankwae!" are heard outside, and a shower of stones comes rattling against the boards. Ching-We goes to the partition door and indulges in an angry and reproachful attack upon the unoffending head of the establishment. The unoffending head of the establishment goes immediately to the other door and indulges in an angry and reproachful attack upon the shouters and stone-throwers outside. The Chinese are peculiar in many things, and in nothing, perhaps, more than their respect for words of reproach. Whether the long-suffering innkeeper hurled at their heads one of the moral maxims of Confucius, or an original production of his own brain, is outside the pale of my comprehension; but whatever it is, there is no more disturbance outside.
It must be about midnight when I am awakened from a deep sleep by the gabble of many people in the room. Transparent lanterns adorned with big red characters held close to my face cause me to blink like a cat upon opening my wondering eyes. These lanterns are held by yameni-runners in semi-military garb, to light up my features for the inspection of an officer wearing a rakish Tartar hat with a brass button and a red horse-hair tassel. The yameni-runners wear the same general style of head-dress, but with a loop instead of the brass button. The officer is possessed of a wonderfully soft, musical voice, and holds forth at great length concerning me, with Ching-We.
The officer takes my passport to the yamen, and ere leaving the room, pantomimically advises me to go to sleep again. In the morning Ching-We returns the two-foot square document with the Viceregal seal, and winks mysteriously to signify that everything is lovely, and that the goose of permission to go ahead to Nam-ngan hangs auspiciously high.
The morning opens up cool and cloudy, the pebble pathway is wider and better than yesterday, for it is now the thoroughfare along which thousands of coolies stagger daily with heavy loads of merchandise to the commencement of river navigation at Nam-hung. The district is populous and productive; bales of paper, bags of rice and peanuts, bales of tobacco, bamboo ware, and all sorts of things are conveyed by muscular coolies to Nam-hung to be sent down the river.
Gradually have we been ascending since leaving Nam-hung, and now is presented the astonishing spectacle of a broad flight of stone steps, certainly not less than a mile in length, leading up, up, up, to the summit of the Mae-ling Pass. Up and down this wonderful stairway hundreds of coolies are toiling with their burdens, scores of travellers in holiday attire and several palanquins bearing persons of wealth or official station. The stairway winds and zigzags up the narrow defile, averaging in width about twenty feet. Refreshment houses are perched here and there along the side, sometimes forming a bridge over the steps.
The stairway terminates at the summit in a broad stone archway of ancient build, over which are several rooms; this is evidently an office for the collection of revenue from the merchandise carried over the pass. Standing beneath this arch one obtains a comprehensive view of the country below to the north; a pretty picture is presented of gabled villages and temples, green hills, and pale-gold ripening rice-fields. The little silvery contributaries of the Kan-kiang ramify the picture like veins in the human palm, and the brown, cobbled pathways are seen leading from village to village, disappearing from view at short intervals beneath a cluster of tiled houses.
Steeper but somewhat shorter steps lead down from the pass, and the pathway follows along the bank of a tiny stream, leading through an almost continuous string of villages to the walls of Nam-ngan.
Text, code and images © Ray Schumacher 2005