Remembering Father -6 more in Hong Kong
Then as luck would have it, Father discovered another companion for me but not until Christmas Day. Constance Frederika Gordon-Cumming said I should call her Eka, but I felt that was too familiar, but compromised and called her Constance. She is 20 years older than me, and had come to Hong Kong with a travelling companion, Miss Shervington who had come to meet with her father. So Constance was pleased to fit in with Father's suggestion that I join her on her touring, as long as I appreciated that she was also an artist, and if a scene captured her imagination, she would be spending some time making sketches of the place. She will be staying with Mr. John Snowden, deputy Chief Justice and living in the house of Sir John Small, the Chief Justice who is on leave at the moment.
Let me say a bit about Constance. She is Scottish and from a wealthy family. Her father is Sir William Gordon-Cumming. She grew up in Northumberland and was educated at Fulham, London, but she taught herself how to paint with help from artists visiting her home, including Sir Edwin Landseer, one of Queen Victoria's favourite painters. She began her travels in 1867, after spending a year in India.
She had only arrived on Christmas Day, but after she was met at the docks by the Snowdons, she was taken to our hotel for breakfast, and that is where we met her. So we all went together to the Cathedral for the Messiah, and met up with Andrew and Vandy again afterwards who had arrived back in Hong Kong on Christmas Eve.
When we saw them outside the Cathedral I asked them if they had enjoyed the service.
“The Japanese and Chinese music grates so on my ears, I longed to hear an organ once more,” said Andrew. “I enjyed the service very much. The music was well performed.
With that, we set off together to have a second breakfast at the hotel.
"Did you sleep well last night?" I asked them.
“Not really,” said Vandy. After retiring I heard a well-known sound – the ubiquitous mosquito. It was rather odd to be compelled to rise and ring for our boy to put up mosquito bars on Christmas Eve, but it had to be done.
"As we were awake anyway, we spent our time talking about the economic practice in China which is striking, of making money stretch as far as possible. A sweet potato is sold in halves, or even in quarters, if required; ferriage across the river in a boat - a stream as wide as the Ohio at Pittsburgh – costs one-fifth of a cent, and you can engage an entire boat for yourself for a cent, if you wish to be extravagant,” said Andrew.
Vandy joined in, “Poultry is sold by the piece, as we sell a sheep, the wings, breast, legs, all having their price, and even the very feet of a chicken being sold for soup. Common iron nails are laid out in lots of six each; these have been used and used again, no one knows how often; we see the people at work straightening old nails at every turn. You can buy one-tenth of a cent's worth (1 cash) of either fish, soup,or rice. Verily things are down to a fine point here!"
"You certainly seem to think like business men at all times," I said.
"In one of our strolls through Canton we came upon a string of ten blind beggars wandering through the narrow, crowded street, the hands of each upon the shoulders of the one in advance, the leader beating with his cane upon the stone pavement, and all beseeching alms. It was a strange sight. The Chinese Government gives to every blind person a small monthly pittance, and well-dressed passers, I observed, generally bestowed a cash upon the gang," put in Vandy.
"It was specially pleasing to see at church this morning the detachment of British soldiers, the more so as they were Highlanders. My heart will warm to the tartan,” said Andrew. “One strange feature I shall not soon forget. Several soldiers, in their scarlet uniforms, sang in the choir. I scarcely ever see soldiers without being saddened by the thought that the civilization of the race is yet little better than a name when so much must still be done to teach millions of men the surest way to destroy their fellows; but I take hope from this omen - these mighty men of war engaged this morning chanting the seraphic strains which proclaim the coming of the better day when there shall reign 'on earth peace, good-will toward men.'”
When we reached the hotel, we assumed the others would join with us for breakfast, and so they could tell Constance and me about their adventures in Canton as she said that was her next intended stop. But because Father and Mr. Snowden said they already knew all there was to know about life in Canton, they decided to leave us to chat on our own and went off to another table.
"So tell us all about what you did in Canton," I said.
"We left at 7 a.m. It's about 95 miles from here, you know. The steamer is just an American riverboat, and we enjoyed the trip very highly," said Vandy.
"What time did you get there?" Constance asked.
"About four in the afternoon, and such a swarm of small boats as surrounded us was never seen elsewhere," said Vandy. "When we were a full mile from the wharf I saw the mass begin to stir, and such a stir! and almost all rowed by women, yelling and striving, and dashing one boat against another, in their efforts to be first. One of the most active scrambled up the guards and reached us on the upper deck almost before the boat had stopped, and secured us as her spoil. John, here, is no match for a Canton boat woman on water, whatever he may be on land," said Andrew, giving his friend a nudge.
"Did you go to see the temples?" Constance asked
"Our first stroll was through the narrow, crowded alleys of Canton. Pictures and descriptions had prepared us for what we were to see, but, as is usual in the East, we knew nothing until we had seen for ourselves. For five hours we were guided through streets varying from six to ten feet in width through one continuous mass of Chinamen. As for China women, they are rarely or never seen."
"Except on the boats," added Vandy.
"A few men are in silks; numbers of coolies, with loads, are almost naked, but more, of a slightly higher order, are in rags; for the Chinese, unlike their scrupulously clean brethren of Japan, appear to pile on one tattered, greasy cloth rag over another until they are a bundle of filth, against which you fear at every step lest you may be pushed."
"What were the shops like?" I asked.
"The shops or booths on each side of the narrow streets are resplendent just now, preparatory to the New-Year celebrations, and those which make temple decorations a specialty are brilliant in the extreme. One thing appears very strange: even in the principal streets various manufactures are carried on, the workmen being so close that you can touch them from the pavement with your cane, " added Vandy. "We saw glass-making in a space not more than fifteen feet square, iron-forging and shaping, cloth-weaving, the making of coffins, of Joss-sticks and Joss-money, firecrackers, and many other articles."
"The front part of the building is usually occupied by the shop for the sale of the product, the ornamental shrine serving as a kind of screen to shut off the manufacturing department; but by stepping behind you see crowds of almost nude workmen, hard at work, making by hand with the aid of the rudest appliances almost every article known."
"For next to no wages, no doubt," put in Constance.
"The wages of a tradesman - a carpenter, for instance - are 15 cents per day; in addition the master has to give him three times per day his rice, etc., estimated to cost 6 to 8 cents more. The workmen are fed by the employer, and allowed to sleep in and about the premises somewhere or somehow."
"You wouldn't believe the food. We saw freely exposed for sale dogs, rats, and mice, all nicely dressed and hanging upon spits to tempt the hungry passers-by, while above a large pot from which the steam was issuing was a card, which, being translated by our guide, read, 'A big black cat within; ready soon.'”
"That is just awful," I put in.
"The dogs which are eaten are fed especially for the purpose, and are hung up in state with labels setting forth their superior merits. As far as I should have known, they might have passed for delicious young roasting pigs, delicate in flavour," said Andrew.
"Our guide, in answer to numerous questions upon the subject, informed us that some of his countrymen had acquired a taste for dogs, while others had succumbed to the sweeter attractions of cats; others again found rats their favourite morsel, but in all cases these penchants are indulged in on the sly. Upon no account would a Chinaman think of taking any of these peculiar delicacies home, for it appears that mesdames, much to their credit, have serious objections to their use. They draw the line here, and the husband must confine the indulgence of his uncanny longings to restaurants, and say nothing about it, or his lady friends might mark him as one of whom "'twas said he ate strange flesh.'”
"Contrary to what I had read, I find this food is not confined to the poorer classes. The price of it is about the same as that of pork, and far beyond that of hare or deer. How strange these people are! The price of a black dog or cat is fully double that of a white one, the superstition being that the former makes blood much faster than the other, while rats are supposed to make the hair grow."
"Is it as pretty as Hong Kong?" I asked.
"The European settlement at Canton is very pretty, with its broad, well-shaded avenues, exquisite flower-garden, and lawn-tennis and croquet grounds. Its club-house is a gem, comprising a small theatre, billiard-room and bowling-alley - everything complete. Colonel Lincoln, the US ambassador, took us for a stroll about the settlement, and pressed us to join a party he was just about taking over the river to visit the best flower-gardens of the city. We could not decline such a treat, and this gave us the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Lincoln, who is so well known in China as to be regarded somewhat in the light of an historical character. Her collection of teapots promises to render her famous. She boasts already of more than two hundred, no two alike in form, and the record grows day by day."
"And what did you do the next day?" asked Constance.
"It was devoted to Canton sights; but as we had several distant places to visit, we took sedan chairs, and went shouting along, four coolies each, Indian file, through the town, forming quite a cavalcade, with our guide in front. It was the same interminable maze of narrow, crowded thorough-fares, crammed with human beings, that we had seen for the first time yesterday. A great commotion was seen ahead at one place, out of which emerged several men in crimson robes, bearing banners, clearing the way and shouting out the name and dignities of a mandarin who was approaching. An ornamented chair, borne aloft, came into view, on which his lordship, an official of the third or fourth button, sat in state, followed by two servants on ponies, the only species of horseflesh we have seen in Canton. It is with considerable difficulty that even these small animals get through, and their use is confined to escorting high officials."
"I wonder how difficult it would be for me to meet a mandarin when I go there," said Constance.
"I'm much more interested in the common people," I said.
"You see a lot of those," put in Vandy. "At almost every corner we passed crowds of poor wretches gambling in various modes, from fantan down to dice and dominoes. Children participate, and stake their cash with the elders; indeed, a young man rarely spends his stray coppers in candy without tossing with the stall-keeper, double or quits; the little scamps begin early, and at every counter we noticed the dice lying ready to facilitate the operation. Is it any wonder that the vice of gambling seems inherent in the Chinese character?"
"Do you remember the pot?" said Andrew to Vandy, laughing.
"Tell us the story," I said.
"A class of venders keep a large pot boiling on the pavement in some partially secluded place, in which is an assortment of odds and ends. Such a mess of tidbits - pieces of liver, chicken, kidneys, beef, almost every conceivable thing! These the owner stirs up, taking care to bring the largest bits adroitly to the surface."
"You should see the longing faces of the hungry beggars around. One risks a cash (one-tenth of a cent), a rattle of the dice - the customer has won. The fork is handed to him, and he has two dabs in the pot. What a prize! Down go the tasty tidbits, one after the other, and back goes the fork to the pot-boiler, who again uses it to stir up in the pot prizes to tempt the lucky owner of funds sufficient for the indulgence of this piece of extravagance," said Vandy.
"I really believe the poor, miserable, hungry wretches lounging around the pot derived satisfaction from the odor emitted. And as the lucky gamester gobbled his prizes, I imagined every one around involuntarily went through the motion of smacking his lips, as if he shared in the inward satisfaction of his lucky neighbor. Vandy almost overwhelmed one of these people by handing him a cash to try his fortune; but he thinks his man was too hungry to risk the dice, and took the sure thing. He probably considered one bite in the mouth worth two in the pot; but he wasn't a representative Chinaman by any means."
(to be continued)