Thomas Stevens.

Around the World on a Bicycle - Volume II From Teheran To Yokohama online

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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,



Online LibraryThomas StevensAround the World on a Bicycle - Volume II From Teheran To Yokohama → online text (page 35 of 42)