Remembering Father -7 more from Andrew Carnegie
"At one point our guide in advance called a halt, and upon our dismounting he led us into a walled enclosure, and startled us with the information that we were in the execution grounds. He pointed out spots still damp with the blood of criminals, several jars containing the heads of victims, the protruding hair matted with the lime used to decompose the flesh more rapidly, and a rude cross still remaining upon which a woman had recently been crucified and cut to pieces while alive. Her crime was the gravest known to Chinese law: she had murdered her husband. Poor wretch! probably he had not deserved his fate were the whole story known, for the provocation which would nerve a woman in China to rise against her husband and owner must be beyond human endurance."
"How awful," I said. "I wouldn't want to visit there."
"But it's all a part of what makes Canton and China the places they are," said Constance. "You can't just see the beautiful things and say that you've had an education."
"Were there other people looking at this?" I asked.
"Instead of this spot being set apart and shunned by man, woman and child, as defiled by the horrors enacted within its walls, the area was filled with large clay jars, used as stoves, the product of a manufactory adjoining, set out there in rows to dry. Men moved in and around them unconcernedly, and at the entrance and within the enclosure there was a temporary fantan (which is a gambling game) shop, composed of bamboo poles and mats, in full operation, surrounded by crowds of people."
Andrew added, "Of a surety the Heathen Chinee is peculiar. The grounds are of course cleared of everything upon execution days, and I suppose the swarming masses of Canton see no reason why even this acre of notorious ground should be permitted to lie useless several days in succession. There is nothing which is not put to use in China."
"Did you have a nice place to stay?" I asked.
"My room fronted on the river, and was upon the second story of this strange little hotel. It gave me fine views of the unceasing traffic of the stream, but it was not without its disadvantages as a place of rest at night. The Chinese gods, or devils rather, have a strong fondness for fire-crackers, and these were set off at all hours of the night by the more devout of the boat-women right under my windows. I woke with a start every now and then, as an unusually large bunch was fired. It occurred to me one night that some of the extra fees bestowed upon our woman and her bright little sister may have been responsible for part of this species of devotion. It is very likely that some part of their extra earnings was considered due to their gods."
Vandy said, "Another custom which interfered with slumber was the noise made by the night watchman, who walked backward and forward beating a tenor gong with a hard stick. One, two, three, slowly, followed by two quick taps, was the signal that all is well."
"Extraordinary precautions have to be taken in the cities against theft. Almost every block has its watchman, and gates short distances apart are shut at nine o'clock, after which only those known personally to him are allowed to pass. One provision struck me as putting an effectual check upon mischief of all kinds: no one is allowed to walk after night without carrying a lantern, and one found disregarding this law would be held suspect. Our landlord told us that the watchman would be sternly dealt with if a robbery occurred, as he is held responsible for the safety of his block.
“The boat population of Canton is famous as being something unique, but it exceeds all ideas I had formed of it. It is said that three hundred thousand people live in boats ranging from the size of a skiff to that of a yawl. I have seen a family of six huddled together in one of the former size, but these were the poorest of the poor. The usual passenger boat is twenty feet long by four and a half wide - the size of the hotel boats we used. We got into one one morning, and as the crackers were going off from numerous boats on all sides, our woman explained that the unusually vigorous fusilade was owing to this being Joss day.
"I was curious to see how a small yawl could be the residence of a family, and examined several of them. The centre of the extreme stern is occupied by the Joss temple, on either side of which small dishes, cans, etc., are arranged; then comes an open space extending across the boat, about four feet long, over which is thrown a light board about six inches wide, upon which stands the woman who sculls and steers the craft. A permanent bamboo roof is built over about the next six feet of the boat, and around the walls are hung a few ornaments, generally old-fashioned plates and cheap prints from the English illustrated papers, while on a shelf are those indispensable articles, the smoking pipes of the family - large and curious affairs, with richly ornamented square brass bowls about four and one-half by two inches in size. A tiny china tea-set and various little curios are found in the best boats."
Vandy added to the story, "The next portion, where passengers sit, has nicely cushioned seats running across the boat, and on each side as well, and is also covered by the roof. Next to the bow is a platform three feet deep, upon which stands the second woman, who rows or poles the boat, as may be necessary. Under her feet is the kitchen, and she has only to lift a board to show a small square covered with clay, upon which a fire can be built. Pots and pans are seen snugly stowed away around this, so that, by means of movable platforms, trap-doors, etc., the entire boat is rendered available to its very keel. At night, when the business of carrying passengers is over, all the boards are made into a fine flush deck, which is divided, in a very few minutes, into sleeping apartments by means of bamboo poles and mats; and so it comes to pass that what I was before disposed to believe almost impossible is accomplished with a degree of comfort quite surprising."
Andrew continued, "These boat people live for less than ten cents a day. Rent there is none; food costs about five cents per day for each person; clothing does not cost two. From the child of eight to the great-grandmother, all do something. When not otherwise engaged, they sew, make Joss-sticks, slit bamboo, or do something or other, the baby being strapped on the mother's back that her capacity for work may not be interfered with; and her stepping backward and forward as she sculls must be a soothing lullaby, for we haven't heard a child crying yet in China."
"Children are born, old men die upon them, and many thousands of their occupants have never slept a night upon shore."
"Did you always have to go where the guide led you, or could you make up your own minds where to go?" asked Constance.
"One day we strolled about alone. In the early part of our walk we heard music - a harmonium and a well-known old hymn tune - and on entering a building found Rev. Dr. Hopper, the Presbyterian minister, preaching in Chinese. We had entered at the wrong door, and were among the women, who are separated from the men by a high, solid wall; but Mrs. Hopper rose and conducted us to the other side, and after the service the Doctor came and greeted us cordially. We spent an hour in their house, and were surprised to hear that both were old Pittsburghers."
"There were at church that morning about thirty Chinamen, all of the poorer classes, principally servants and dependents of Europeans. In the afternoon we stumbled upon the large Catholic cathedral, which is now almost ready for use. It is a magnificent granite structure, three hundred feet long and eighty-eight feet wide. If anything can impress the Chinese mind it must be High Mass in such a temple, with its vaulted roof, stained windows, the swelling organ, and all the pride, pomp, and circumstance of Catholic worship. As we stood admiring, the saintly bishop approached and greeted us with exquisite grace. He could not speak English, but his French was the easiest to understand of any I ever listened to, and my little knowledge of the language enabled us to carry on an interesting conversation. When I told him I had been in St. Peter's at Rome, and had seen the Pope when the assembled thousands fell prostrate before him as he advanced up the aisle, carried upon his palanquin, he seemed much affected, and pressed us to visit his quarters, apologizing, as he showed us into a poor one-story building, for the poverty of his apartments, but adding that the true Catholic priest must needs dwell in poverty among the poor of the earth."
"I asked if he did not expect to return to France to die; but, laying his hand upon his heart, he answered that he must not allow himself to think of France, since it had pleased God to place him here. For thirty years he had labored among these people, and among them he must die; it was the will of God."
"There were only a table and a few chairs in this bishop's palace, not even a mat or carpet on the floor; but he ordered a servant to bring wine, of which he only tasted, while we drank our fill. He subsequently took us to the orphanage, where we saw eighty boys being educated. About an equal number of little girls are in a separate building. If the Chinese are ever to be reformed, this is the way to do it - get control of the young, and teach them. As for the older generation, I fear it is too late to do much with it."
"I must say I am curious as to what you bought to take home as souvenirs," I said.
"If I have one weakness more than another," said Andrew, "it is for the harmony of sweet sounds, and this the tempter knew right well. I met my fate in the famous Temple of Hoonan, in which is the most celebrated gong in China. I struck it, and listened. For more than one full minute, I believe, that bowl was a quivering mass of delicious sound. I thought it would never cease to vibrate. I asked my guide, Ah-Cum, why the temple would not sell this gong and buy another far cheaper; for my opinion is, and my experience too, that there is nothing in China that money will not buy. However, this was an exception. Well, does the priest know where there are any temple gongs that can be bought? Yes, three that belonged to a temple destroyed by the rebels some years ago, and which were still in the hands of curio dealers. The address was obtained, and off we set to see them."
"I wish I could describe the places we visited in our search, the collections of curios we saw! No antiquary outside of Canton ever saw a tithe of the strange old things we examined. One might stumble upon a magic mirror, or an Aladdin's lamp, in some of these recesses, and scarcely wonder at it; all is so strange."
"But to the gongs. There is a little bit of history connected with one of them which is significant. We found we had to get from one of the priests a certain ticket before the article could be delivered. It sounded very like pawn shop talk to me. The priest had seen his uncle, the curio dealer, and in some moment of want or dire temptation had pledged the gong of the temple for an advance. I got those which had a fairer record, and told our guide I wanted the other if he could get it; but this was impossible."
"Is that all you bought - gongs?"
"This was our procession home. Ah-Cum, the guide, came back bearing aloft a fearful idol, the ugliest I could find in China, this being Sister Lucy's characteristic commission."
"I came next with my pockets stuffed with birds'-nests, Joss-sticks, temple money, and etceteras too numerous to mention."
"Then came two coolies, one after the other, carrying the gongs, while I brought up the rear with fans, vials, ivory carvings, and what-not."
Vandy said, "It took nine boxes to hold our spoils from there."
“I exclaimed, 'Vandy, for goodness' sake let us get out of this immediately and try to regain our good, hard common sense, and be sound, practical men once more.' Fortunately Vandy felt the necessity for keeping an eye upon me, and he never was in such danger himself. But if any one can pass through Canton and escape a touch of the Toodleian malady, which prompts one to buy everything one sees, I warrant him sound to the core."
After this, we took our leave of the others, and said we would meet up with them again the next day, wishing them again, a very happy Christmas.
Father and I were invited to Mr. James Keswick and his wife Marion's house for Christmas dinner. He is nicknamed 'James, the Bloody Polite', and I can think of worse things to be called. Constance went to where her host, Mr. Snowden and his wife are tenanting in the house of Sir John Small, the chief justice.