Maria's Diary 30
Sweet are Joys of Home
Pure and sweet for they
Like Dews of Morn and Evening
Come To Wake and Close the Day
I will try to give a flavour of what living in Hong Kong was like. Hong Kong's streets are full of rickshaws which pass in endless procession with sedan-chairs swinging. The compradore and taipan wear costumes of the richest of silks. The poor coolie is in dirty short trousers and jacket, pigtail coiled for convenience about the head, whose face is none too familiar with soap and water. In and out of the ever-moving multitude glide the Sikhs, and the Soldiers.
The splendid buildings speak of commercial prosperity - banks, shops, offices and clubs. There are tiers of water-front warehouses locally called "godowns," filled with foodstuffs and manufactures that in time will be distributed through every town of importance.
Next to hills, the characterizing feature of Hong Kong is moisture - represented either by rain or humidity. The Briton professes that the climate of this crown colony is good; but for months at a stretch his clothing has to be hung daily in the open air to keep it from becoming water-logged, and everything of leather has to be denuded each morning of green mold. At the hotels one's apparel is kept in a drying-room, and issued at a time for use.
Papa went about his work, as vigorously and thoroughly as always. But he was also away a lot, and in June he went to visit Shanghai and Foochou. Lewin came from India and went with him to try to settle various disputes - payments over customs duties.
Our pattern of life was fairly predictable. Government House was the host venue for everything important that happened on the island.
Women weren’t encouraged to do things unescorted. And we always were taken by the servants in the sedan chairs wherever we wanted to go and they would wait outside to take us back. None of us liked this, but we did manage to get to see most of the main attractions of the island in this way. We went to the Happy Valley Race Course for the races and other activities that went on for a week each autumn. We also visited the Man No Temple. It is dedicated to the gods of literature and war, shown by one holding a writing brush and the other a sword. It was built about 10 years ago by Chinese merchants.
Another hall on the site, Kung Sor is used as a court of arbitration for local disputes. Apparently their ritual when an oath was taken, was to behead a rooster. Papa said they had to accept this as it was part of the Chinese heritage.
There are four gilt plaques on poles that are carried around at processions. Two describe the gods, one requests silence and a show of respect and the last warns women during their “time of the month” to stay out of the main hall. Inside there are two sedan chairs with elaborate carvings which are used to carry the gods in the processions. From the roof are incense coils burning as offerings by worshippers.
Papa encouraged us to take a ferry to Macao. Here is a poem he shared with us that he wrote years ago about the place.
Gem of the Orient earth and open sea
Macao! that in thy lap and on thy breast
Hast gathered beauties all the loveliest
O'er which the sun smiles in his majesty.
The very clouds that top the mountain crest
Seem to repose there lingering lovingly.
How full of grace the green Cathyan tree
Bends to the breeze and how thy sands are prest
With gentlest waves which ever and anon
Break their awakened furies on thy shore.
Were these the scenes that poet looked upon,
Whose lyre though known to fame knew misery more?
They have their glories and earth's diadems
Have nought so bright as genius' gilded gems.
We enjoyed going across the isthmus to Macao. There are frequent ferries back and forth, as many of the people who work in Hong Kong actually live in Macao, which is a Portuguese colony. The Hong Kong Canton and Macao Steam Boat company run the ferries, and the trip takes about two hours.
When there we went to see the Fortaleza de Monte - which is 300 years old, Built in the 16th century by the Jesuits and later used as a military base. We also went to the ruin of St Paul’s church, run by Jesuits in the 17th century. This is considered Macau’s most famous landmark, the ruins of this 16th-century cathedral features a spectacular façade with intricate carvings by Japanese monks.
Our only real function as the Governor’s family, other than hosting all the banquets, was to organise a bazaar for the benefit of some local charity or other every few months. We had done the same thing many times at home, so it was an easy job. We invited the various European wives to our “at home” afternoons, and in turn, went to call on them. Because of Moma’s disability, she often declined, but sent Edith and me to represent her.
One thing Papa asked us to do for him, was to write up his work, which was then sent home for Edgar and Frederick to see to its publication.
One important presentation (September 14, 1854) was by the American community of Canton and Hongkong of a service of plate to Commodore Perry in command of the U.S. Squadron. Another was held to mark the arrival (November 1, 1854) from the Arctic Ocean of the discovery-ship Enterprise.
I wanted to go to the church, and St. John's Cathedral in the middle of Hong Kong was the main Anglican one. It was built about ten years ago. It is impressive but very plain. Papa and Moma didn’t go very often, as they were staunch Unitarians, unless it was some occasion which required their presence as Important People. The first pew from the south was reserved for the Governor or visiting Royals, but we didn’t use it unless Papa was there. Edith and I were quite faithful, and through our attendance, we found out about various charities that we could get involved in. Much of the charity work was done through the Catholic missionaries, and although Edith didn’t feel as comfortable working with them as I did. After a few months I was spending an afternoon at least each week helping out at the orphanage run by the French nuns. They had little money but with what they had they would buy the girl babies who were otherwise abandoned to die.