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Hong Kong

( Originally Published 1924 )



I ARRIVED in Hong Kong just as the setting sun was gilding with its golden rays the mountains, which encompass this great British port in the Far East. The entrance is narrow, guarded on each side by powerful fortifications, for Hong Kong is the Gibraltar of the East. The light faded rapidly, for there is no twilight in the tropics, and as we anchored rows of lights, tier upon tier, sprang into being. Ht was a beautiful sight. Early in the morning were surrounded by sampans, differing materially from those of the Japanese, for the owner, his wife and one or more children live all the year round on them. The sleeping arrangements are most ingeniously designed so as not to interfere with the use of the boat for light freight and passengers in day time. They nearly all have a mast and a bellying lateen sail, but are generally worked by two oars forward of the mast and one aft, which is used not only for propulsion but for steering. The wife does this while the husband and a half-grown son or daughter labor at the oars in front. They are built very sharp in the bows and have remarkable speed. Just as it became dark a violent gale sprang up and the sampans and junks scuttled for shelter. The junks have a different model, being bluff in the bows, and are meant to carry a great deal of cargo. The families live on board, often two or three of them. Their home is in the high poop astern, which stands up like those of the galleons of old. Their cooking arrangements are interesting. At the stern is a pit lined with brick. In it is a large iron pot, under which the fire is placed. Having put such food as they wish boiled in the pot, a screen is placed over the contents, and on this other pots containing food which is cooked by steam on the principle of the fireless cooker. H have said a gale sprang up. What a hubbub it created on the junks! Everybody screaming orders or advice—and suddenly there were dozens of flares. These were paper prayers to the gods being sent off for protection, and appeals to the devils to go easy. On the whole the Chinese have more faith in the devils than in the gods, for they argue that as the gods are good they will not harm you, but the devils will. Then why waste good prayers on the good gods. Devils can be propitiated and they can also be frightened away. The power of movement of devils is limited by fixed rules. For instance, they can climb down a straight roof, but cannot get around sharp corners. That is why the eaves and angles of Chinese roofs are turned up. It becomes a sort of obstacle race for the devils. Every junk has a dog, whether for protection against the powers of evil or for eating on great occasions, I do not know. The Chinese fishing fleet is very large. The junks have the traditional high sterns and low prows. They are manned by a dozen men and work in pairs. We passed hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, covering the sea for miles and as far as one could see. Some of them came within a few feet of the ship, so that one could see that the crew was entirely naked and that the action of the sun on their yellow skins had turned them to a rich red bronze. They work in pairs with a draw seine between them.

The colony of Hong Kong consists of the Island of that name and sonic 400 square miles of mainland "leased " from the Chinese and called Kowloon. The great city is named Victoria and nestles at the base and winds up a mountain of 2,000 feet in altitude called "The Peak." There are other mountains, but this is the principal one. On it live the city magnates, who dwell in enormous houses as large as public buildings. The reason of this is that Hong Kong being a subtropical land, space is necessary for coolness; moreover, domestic servants are cheap. The system of indenture prevails. A householder pays the parents of a girl so much for her services for life, generally about $300.00 in gold. lie feeds and dresses her, gives her a small dot if she marries and provides for her old age in case she does not. This system is changing, for the orphanages are training hundreds of native girls as domestic servants. One has read that the Chinese have very little use for a female child and that they will either drop her in the river or desert her on the slightest pretext. Orphanages are picking up these unfortunates and giving them some education and training. The great Roman Catholic Orphanage at Victoria has 400 little Chinese female orphans, who do laundry work, needlework and receive religious and domestic training. It is run by French and Chinese nuns. They also have a very fine hospital, which is managed by the French nuns and nursed by Filipina girls, with Chinese boys as ward helpers.

I saw a wedding at a chapel, at which the bride and bridegroom, both Chinese, were dressed in the latest Paris styles, while the officiating clergyman was a Chinese Christian priest, who wore a combination of European and Chinese vestments.

Hong Kong is one of the great seaports of the world because it is the gateway to Southern China. How great it is will be understood when I say that the annual tonnage of London is thirteen millions, of New York, eleven millions and Hong Kong twelve millions. During the great general strike in 1921 no less than one hundred and seventy-six sea-going ships were tied up in the magnificent harbor. Another reason for the greatness of the port is the small harbor dues, the tax being one cent per ton. The Royal Navy uses the harbor as its Far Eastern base and war-ships of various classes are always seen there, from the battle cruiser to the submarine. A special class is the shallow-draft river gunboats which proceed up the rivers and maintain order on occasion. There are large dockyards, repair shops and a naval arsenal. The population of the colony is composed of 600,000 natives and seven thousand Europeans, including the white garrison of twenty-five hundred. There are in addition usually two Indian regiments in the garrison. These, with 500 policemen, maintain order among this vast native population. There are a few white police, but the majority are Sikhs and Chinese. How do they do it? By strict administration of the law and swift and certain punishment of malefactors. The Chinaman knows he will get a square deal in the courts whether he is plaintiff or defendant, so the masses stand behind the guardians of British justice.

Victoria is beautifully built of brick and stone, the sidewalks being arcaded and the buildings most imposing. All types of the East are to be seen in the streets. The business of the place is enormous, hence the wealth of the merchants, some of whom live in princely state. The Chinese merchant, with his shrewdness and thriftiness, has also waxed exceedingly rich under the security of British administration.

Piracy and banditry are rampant in China. This is due to the failure of the formation of a strong central government. As everybody knows, that unfortunate country is torn with party strife, strife which does not express itself in the ballot box, but with pistol, sword and gun. Rival leaders have each their own "army," so called, which really consists of a larger or smaller band of armed ruffians, who live on pillage and rapine. Unfortunate people, natives as well as foreigners, are seized and held for ransom. If the friends do not produce the amount demanded, they are horribly tortured and finally killed.

One takes a risk in travelling by steamer or train. Both have armed guards, but when an attack is made the bandits are so numerous that they overpower the guards. One of the most dramatic of piracies happened when I was at Hong Kong. The Sui An is a passenger ship which makes daily trips to the Portuguese city of Macao. She was due to arrive on her return from Macao at 9 p.m. on Sunday the 19th of November, 1922, and as she failed to make her appearance another ship of the same line was despatched to find her. She brought back the story of a most startling piracy. It would appear from all accounts that the piracy had been deliberately planned down to the minutest details. The Sui An left Macao on Sunday at 5 o'clock with a full list of passengers, both steerage, first and second class. All went well until about 5.45, when shots were heard in the steerage. An Indian policeman who was on guard there was suddenly confronted with revolvers pointed at him by about eight of the Chinese passengers. One of the men caught hold of the watchman, while two of his confederates fired at him, striking him in the leg. Immediately there was screaming on the part of the remaining passengers, who rushed to the gates which separate the steerage from the second class. A Chinese woman appealed to the officials to open the gate. He immediately did so. Then there was a frenzied rush for the passage, during which the pirates were able to mix with the intermediate passengers, some of them at the same time making for the upper deck by means of the stairs. Within a few seconds of the firing below, shots came from all quarters, pirates rushing the upper deck. Small gangs armed with revolvers and daggers drove the frightened passengers into their cabins, firing wildly as they ran. There were six Indian watchmen on board who made plucky efforts to capture the ringleaders. They failed, however, and were shot down and thrown overboard. Within a few moments the majority of the passengers were locked in their cabins, where the pirates divested them of their money, jewelry, clothing and personal property. Meanwhile firing went on in the main cabin, which looked like a shambles. As the pirates knew little about_ navigation they forced an officer to go on the bridge and take the wheel, directing the course to Tsang-chou, where the pirates left the ship. When morning came it was found the ship was in Bias Bay. The police and a doctor were signalled for. When they came alongside crowds of pale and frightened men and women were clustered together and a perfect babel of voices explained what had occurred. The pirates killed the policemen, and wounded the captain, two officers and two Europeans and a number of natives. The heroes of the fight were the two Europeans, who were tailors, which goes to prove that the old adage, " It takes nine tailors to make a man, " is not always true. The leaders of the affair were women, and the one who appeared to be the commander wore a blue silk jacket and pink trousers, and was armed with two revolvers and a dagger. They made a good haul, for in all they took $50,000 worth of cash and kind. Gunboats and troops were sent after them next day, but no trace of the pirates or their booty could be found.

A lady had a dog of which she was very fond, but as he was newly come to the house she was afraid he would stray away. One morning she had occasion to go down town so she said to the " boy," "Sam, you take care of dog. You get dinner ready, I come back soon." Imagine her horror when on her return she went into the kitchen and found the dog nicely skinned and ready for the oven. "What did you do that for?" she cried. Sam replied, "Missy, you said take hair off dog." Dogs are largely eaten in China.

A lady had a Chinese house boy. She had a "day" for receiving her friends and as the " boy" could not speak sufficient English to announce 1 he names of the callers she told him to ask for their cards. All went well until a lady who was in mourning called and presented a card with a black border. Says Chong, "You no can come in, you not got right ticket."

THE TYPHOON

Oh, for a soft and gentle wind,

I heard the fair one cry,

But give me the roaring gale

And the white waves heaving high.

Thepoet who wrote these lines had not experienced a number-one gale or a typhoon or he would not have been so keen to cry for the roaring gale. I quite sympathize with the fair one, for to be at sea with a soft and gentle breeze is a delight.

It is almost incredible, until one has met with a number-one gale or a typhoon, what the wind can do to the calm and placid waters of the so-called Pacific Ocean. Magellan was in luck when he crossed this ocean some three hundred years ago. He would not have called that vast body of water "Pacific" had he experienced the terrors of a typhoon. 1 have travelled some 12,000 miles on that sea and found it uncertain and coy. Perhaps I was, like the ladies, hard to please. There were days when one could sit out in the warm and balmy sunshine for a whole day, others when it was bitterly cold, and again others when the ship was swept from stem to stern by the waves and spindrift and when it was dangerous to cross the deck. The waves were " blue mountains ever rolling."

I had my baptism of salt water when 300 miles east of Japan. We left Yokohama late in the afternoon of a December day. It was utterly calm. Over the sea hung a light haze. The stillness and lack of movement in the air was oppressive. The sun sank into the sea like a ball of fire so that one expected to see steam arise. The barometer sank rapidly until it reached 28.3. Then the wind began to sigh, to moan and then to howl through the rigging. Every rope whined as if in pain. The sea, calm so far, began to rise and presently to dash over the vessel. The sky became murky and overcast and suddenly darkness came, black as Erebus. The stout ship rolled and pitched frantically. Everything not firmly fixed rolled about, crockery and glasses crashed, chairs were thrown down violently. It was only possible to walk by holding on to the railings. "Fiddles" appeared upon the dining saloon table, to which one had to hold on. To cat one's soup and drink one's coffee were acts of legerdemain. The storm increased in violence, but the waves, which had washed over the upper bridge, decreased in size. The water could not rise, so great was the force of the wind, for the tops of the waves were blown off and the waves flattened. Instead of running in a definite direction they were gathered up in heaps, dizzy mountains, madding whirlpools, sickening abysses. The air was full of flying scudd, which when it struck the face stung like a whip lash. The motion of the ship changed to a sort of wallowing, a corkscrew motion. From time to time came great bumps as the ship ran into a vast water heap. Sleep was out of the question for I was lashed in my berth to avoid being thrown out. When morning came at last the sun rose on an angry sea, and with the sun, gigantic waves, which swept the ship fore and aft so high that they washed over the navigating bridge sixty feet above the normal level of the sea, flooding the chart room with four feet of water. As it was impossible to drive a ship against such a sea without danger of starting the plates, we lay to and waited for the gale to blow itself away, which it did, in twenty-six hours, when we resumed our regular course and speed.

Such a storm is a time of much anxiety for a commander, but he is aided in his decisions by an instrument called a Barotempestometer, by which the distance to the centre of the typhoon is measured. His duty is to keep as near the outer edge as possible. Typhoons are peculiar to the seas about the Philippines, China and Japan. They originate in the hot areas of the South and travel at a varying rate of speed in a northeasterly direction and finally break up far out at sea. They may remain stationary for a time, or may travel sixty miles an hour. The velocity of the wind is from sixty to 120 miles an hour and is rotary in general direction. It is curious to note that in the Northern Hemisphere they rotate in a direction contrary to the movement of the hands of a watch, whereas in the Southern Hemisphere they rotate in the opposite direction—that is, in the direction of the movements of the hands of a watch.

The cause of these storms is an effort to bring back atmospheric equilibrium, setting up a series of internal vortices. The size of these rotating rings of air varies from two or three to twenty-five miles in diameter, or even more.

The centre of a typhoon is relatively calm. A ship's captain of my acquaintance was once impounded in the central calm area. Ht was from two to three miles wide and was occupied by thousands of birds, which had been drawn into the whirling storm by centripetal force. The birds settled on the ship in great numbers and were so exhausted that they readily allowed themselves to be handled. The sea in this area was in a confused state caused by an upward suction, with cross-running waves. The emergence from this central area was a teriific experience.

We have all read of the recent (1922) destructive typhoon at Swatow, China, where 28,000 lives were lost. Hong Kong had such a storm in 1906, when many houses were unroofed, sampans by hundreds and many junks, sunk, and great seagoing ships driven ashore. More than 1,000 people were drowned by a tidal wave on this occasion and $20,000,000 worth of damage was done to property. They have recently (1923) had another such visitation, but the storm did not equal that of 1906 in severity.

The late summer is the usual time of these occurrences, but they may happen as late as December, as I have already related. Many ships have been lost at sea in these rotary storms and nothing ever heard of them again. An 8,000-ton ship of the Apcar line disappeared last year and all that was found of her was a single life-belt. She was loaded with 8,000 tons of rice and it is supposed that the sea broke in the hatches, causing the rice to swell to such an extent as to loosen the plates. I trust it will never be my fate to experience another typhoon. Great gales are trivial compared with these rotary storms at sea.

The most curious public spectacles one sees in Hong Kong are funerals and weddings. The body of the deceased is carried in a sort of wicker basket preceded by men with banners and gods of pasteboard and a hand discoursing the wierdest sounds —it can hardly be called musk. The band consists of a one-stringed violin, several fifes and a drum, each performer apparently endeavoring to drown the sounds created by the others. In the rear of the procession are men who scatter little folded pieces of paper, through which holes are punched. The object of these is to mislead the devils who may wish to do injury to the dead man; because the evil spirits must pass through each hole and so get confused and lose the trail. With the body a bottle of rice wine and a cooked chicken are buried for the refreshment of the deceased; but rumor has it that friends return later and dig them up and consume them to the great satisfaction of the living.

The wedding is a tremendous affair. The bride's house is covered with streamers and bunches of fire crackers. She is carried away in a closed sedan chair, preceded by bridesmaids mounted on horses and wearing curious headdresses, their faces painted dead white, and clad in gorgeous robes (on hire). They are followed by men dressed in red, who carry paper gods and the inevitable band of discordant instruments, the drum beaten with great vigor and out of all time with the other instruments. The bride is the last to leave the house and after she has left fire is applied to the long strings of crackers, which reach to the roof, beginning with small ones at the bottom to giant crackers at the top. The din and smoke is terrific. The bridegroom is not to be seen. He remains at home surrounded by his relations. The bride is absorbed into his family and is, with the rest of the family, ruled by her mother-in-law. Of late this rule has been modified and modern young Chinese couples sometimes set up housekeeping for themselves.

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