In The Tropics
In a tour around the world one travels by steamer about six thou-sand miles through the tropics. Entering the torrid zone soon after leaving Hong Kong, almost touching the equator at Singapore, and not entering the temperate zone again until he is nearly half way through the Red Sea, he has ample time to study the temperature ; and our opportunities were still farther enlarged by the trip to Java, which carried us nearly eight degrees below the equator. While on the water the heat is not so noticeable, being relieved by the ocean breezes, on land one suffers during the middle of the day. It is not that the heat in the shade is greater than the summer heat in the United States, but one can not always be in the shade, and the rays of the sun are piercing to a degree which is inconceivable to one without experience in these latitudes. At the seaports, too, the heat is intensified by the weight and moisture of the air, and the temperature is practically the same the year round—at least one who visits this part of the world in the winter time can not imagine it worse.
While the native population work barebacked, barelegged, bare-footed, and sometimes bareheaded, Americans and Europeans resort to every possible device to protect them from the climate.
The white helmet, with a lining of cork, is the most common head-wear for both men and women, and it does not require a very long stay here to convince one that it is superior to the straw hat. White clothes which reflect the rays of the sun are also largely worn by both sexes. For evening dress, men sometimes wear a close-fitting white jacket, reaching to the waist, and before breakfast they lounge about in pajamas of variegated colors.
Eating extends through the entire day. Tea or coffee can be had from five to eight; breakfast is ready at eight or nine and ends at twelve; lunch or tiffin as it is called here, occupies the hours from one to three; then tea follows at four, and dinner is served from eight to ten-thirty. These are the hours for Europeans and Americans, and for those natives who have adopted foreign ways, but most of the natives look as if they had missed some of these meals.
We are among the dark-skinned races here. Chinamen are a darker yellow than those seen farther north, the Malays are a dark brown and Tamils are quite black, while the Singalese and Indians are between a black and brown. Mark Twain pays a high compliment to .these dark-skinned people at the expense of the white races, contending that their complexion is always good, while the white face has freckles, pimples and moles to mar it.
There are two great seaports near the equator which every traveler visits, viz.: Singapore and Colombo, and most of the boats also stop at Penang, a thriving city on the Malay peninsula, some four hundred miles north of Singapore. Singapore is on a small island of the same name not far from the mainland, and its harbor is full of sea-going vessels of all nations. The ships from Europe to China and Japan call here, as do also the boats between Europe and Java and between India and Australia. Here, too, are to be found representatives of many nationalities, twenty-nine distinct languages being spoken in this one city. The Portuguese were the pioneers, and there are still some descendants of the early traders living on the island. Next in point of time came the Dutch, and their nation is still more numerously represented among the business firms. England, how-ever, though a later arrival, has largely supplanted both in the control of the commerce of the port, though the Germans seem to be numerous.
Singapore and Penang are the great export ports for tin, three-fourths of the world's output for that product being mined near by. The United States takes ten and a half million dollars of tin from the Straits Settlements and six millions of other products and sells only $1,161,000 worth in return.
I might add in this connection that the trade possibilities of the tropics have been very much overestimated by enthusiastic expansionists. The natives raise their own food at ,a much lower cost than we could possibly sell it to them, even if our food were suited to their wants. They do not need our building material, and as for clothing, one American is worth more as a customer than a hundred of these natives. While a few wear rich robes, the mass content themselves with a very scanty costume of very cheap cotton—a costume which someone has described as "a handkerchief around the loins and a table cloth around the bead." No shoe manufacturer need send a salesman to these parts, for even the coachman and footmen in livery are barefooted. I once supposed that we might work up a trade in breech clouts and fishing rods, but I find the latter grow here in pro-fusion, and the former are not valuable enough to furnish a basis for much trade.
There is one branch of commerce that might be developed if this were not the home of the gem and if the natives were not skillful goldsmiths. Jewelry is the passion here. Women fairly load them-selves down with ornaments when they can afford it. They wear rings on the fingers and toes, bracelets and anklets, ear ornaments galore and, strangest of all, jewels in the nose. We noticed one woman yesterday with three enormous pendants hanging from each ear, one from the top, one from the side and one from the lobe, and our coachman at Kandy was resplendent with six in either ear, but his jewelry was more modest in size. The nose ornaments look like shirt studs and are screwed into one or both nostrils ; sometimes a ring hangs from the point of the nose. The necklaces vary greatly in style, workmanship and value. The island of Ceylon is rich in gems and furnishes a variety of stones for the jeweler's art. From the fact that nearly all of the precious stones mentioned in the Bible are to be found here it is thought that Ceylon must have been known to the Israelites and that her ships carried wealth to Solomon.
After seeing the extravagant use of jewelry here, one is almost tempted to forgive even the most vulgar display of precious stones made in the Occident ; and then, too, the rubies, sapphires, the diamonds, the emeralds, the amethysts, the alexanderites, the cat's eyes, the opals, etc., exhibited in the stores here are so beautiful that one must be proof against vanity to resist their charms.
Ice might have formed an important item of trade, for nowhere does the white man appreciate this luxury more, had not the ice machine made importation unnecessary. The larger boats now manufacture their own ice from condensed sea water, and there are plants at all the important ports. We went from Borneo to Singapore on a ship which was not equipped with an ice machine, and we complained when the supply gave out. An English passenger took advantage of our distress to compare national characteristics, and humorously remarked that when the Americans moved into a new territory, they at once established an ice plant, while the English gave their first attention to the laying out of cricket grounds.
One does not travel far in the Orient until he becomes a crank on the subject of water. He receives so many warnings that he soon suspects that disease lurks in every glassful. If he tries the bottled waters, they pall on the taste, and if he relies on boiled water he is tormented with fear that it has not really been boiled or that some other water has been accidentally substituted. "The Old Oaken Bucket" is recalled as a vision of delight, and "the well at home" is remembered with an admiration never felt before (faucet may be substituted for well by those who live in a city).
Colombo is situated on the island of Ceylon just below the southern-most point of the mainland of India. Here, too, is a commodious harbor visited by all merchant fleets. It vies with Singapore as an equatorial port. The "spicy breezes" of Ceylon are immortalized in song and story—it is the land
" Where every prospect pleases And only man is vile."
At Kandy, about seventy-five miles from the coast, there is an excellent botanical garden rivaling the garden at Buitenzorg, even as Kandy itself rivals Buitenzorg as a summer resort. (There are extensive gardens at Singapore and Penang, but they are inferior to those in Ceylon and Java.) These gardens are about equally distant from the equator; the former north, the latter south, but the garden at Kandy has twice the altitude of the other. We were interested in comparing the plants and examining the new specimens. While Buitenzorg is superior in her collection of orchids the ferns at Kandy surpass anything we have seen. Here the yellow bamboo is added to the varieties seen elsewhere; here, too, we saw the screw palm, whose leaves form a spiral line like. the thread of a screw. Another curious variety is the sealing wax palm, the higher joints of which look exactly like red sealing wax. The travelers' palm, which we also saw in Java, is to be found here, its name being derived from the fact that each leaf stem catches and holds sufficient water to slake a traveler's thirst. The talipot palm attracts the attention of all visitors, not only because its leaves formed the parchment for the early books of Buddhism, but because it flowers but once, and then, as if exhausted by its half century's effort, dies. The sensitive plant grows wild here and seems almost human in its perception, as it shrinks from the slightest touch and folds its leaves as if withered..
I have already spoken of the fruits of the tropics, especially those of Java, but I think I ought to qualify my words. Since reveling in mangosteens, rambutans, etc., I have eaten an apple and am convinced that no tropical fruit can compare with it; and when to the apple are added the peach, the pear, the plum and the cherry, and to these fruits of the trees are added the grape, the strawberry, the rasp-berry and the blackberry, not to speak of the pineapples, oranges and bananas of our southern states, who will say that the temperate zone is not as highly favored as the warmer lands?
We not only have an abundance of both the necessaries and the luxuries, but we escape some of the torments of the tropics. Animals, reptiles and insects run riot here. The tiger is "man-eating," the serpents are large and poisonous and the insects are omnipresent. We sometimes complain at home of the mosquito, which -seems to be a universal pest, and found everywhere, "from Greenland's icy mountains to India's 'coral strands," but here its activity is perennial and its appetite reaches its maximum. In all the hotels the beds are protected by mosquito bars, for without them sleep would be impossible. The ant is even more annoying than the mosquito, for while the former does most of its prowling at night, the latter "improves each shining hour." If the natives play the sluggard, it is because they refuse to profit by the example of industry which the ant ever presents to them. It is not uncommon for the legs of dining tables and cupboards to be set in bowls of water as a protection from these insects, and where this precaution is not taken the diner divides his time between eating and fighting ants. The white ant has a literary turn of mind and pays especial attention to books. We have heard of several libraries being ravaged by this insect, the leaves being so perforated that the books looked like honeycombs. In his search for knowledge the ant has the companionship of the cockroach, which grows here to the length of two or three inches, can fly, and stains what it can not devour. The house lizard is always in evidence. One evening we counted twenty-four of these interesting little reptiles in sight at one time on our porch. At night lizards in the trees call hoarsely to each other, and when it rains the air is vocal with the croaking of frogs and the singing of insects.
In the Botanical Garden at Kandy we saw hundreds of flying foxes, which look like buzzards. Some of these flying foxes measure four feet from tip to tip.
I find that there is a disease in these latitudes called tropical frenzy —an uncontrollable anger which sometimes manifests itself when European officials deal with native subjects. This has been seriously discussed in medical meetings, and it has been argued that acts of violence on the part of officials should be excused on this ground. The subject has been scientifically considered at a meeting of German physicians. This disease seems to be confined to Europeans, the natives being immune from it—at least, it is not considered a good defense when urged by a native as an excuse for doing violence to a European.
My experience with the money changers of the Orient has made the money changers of America seem virtuous by comparison. This is the worst place for shaving, for discounts, for premiums, for commissions and for exchange that I have visited. In traveling, one has frequently to change money from the currency of one nation to that of another, and as there seems to be no fixed rate, he never knows what he is going to realize. (By the way, one who thinks that a gold dollar is good the world around can learn something from the discounts.) At Colombo I had some Singapore bills converted into rupees. The cashier at the hotel said that the rate was one-twenty, and gave me twelve rupees for ten dollars. A few minutes afterwards I had occasion to buy some tickets of a tourist agent and he allowed me fifteen rupees for ten dollars; the next time I made change I received sixteen rupees and seventy cents for ten. This is a sample of the experience one has here. At Singapore I drew some money on my letter of credit which calls for pounds; as I was going into English territory, I thought it would be convenient to carry some five pound notes, but the bank insisted on converting the pounds into Singapore dollars at eight-forty-five, and then offered to sell me five pound notes at the rate of eight-seventy. When I related the incident to an Englishman, he recalled an instance where a man presented a two hundred pound note and asked for smaller bills; the bank charged him a commission for converting the larger bills into rupees and then another commission for converting the rupees into five pound notes.
I found in China that the notes issued by a bank in one city would be discounted when presented at a branch of the same bank in another city. Throughout the Malay states the Chinese are conspicuous as money lenders, but at Singapore they come into competition with the Indians, who are their superior in this line of business. At Colombo we saw no Chinese at all.
We have found the American missionary everywhere, but his work among the Malays is less promising than anywhere else. Missionary work has been quite successful among the Chinese in the Malay archipelago and among the Tamils at Singapore, but nearly all the Malays are Mohammedans, and while they believe in one God and recognize Christ as a great prophet, they believe the author of their religion to have been a superior teacher.
In traveling, one has an opportunity to study human nature in all its phases, and in an extended trip meets representatives of all the nations. The North German Lloyd has a line running from Yokohama to Bremen. (This line, I may add, makes it possible for one to go from San Francisco to New York within two months, with but two changes of boat, and still stop long enough at the principal ports to learn something of the cities and the people.) We went from Singapore to Colombo on one of the boats of this line. Besides a few Americans, Germans and Hollanders, and a still larger number of English, there were several Japanese en route for Europe, and Russian officers and soldiers returning from Japan. We made some agreeable acquaintances among the company, as it is possible to do on every voyage, but just before leaving the boat at Colombo we came into contact with a tourist who belonged to the genus hog. Our boat arrived between eight and nine in the evening, and the porters informed us that the hotels were full, but that we could obtain rooms in the morning, as a number would leave on our ship. I stated the case to the captain, and he assured me that we were welcome to remain on board until morning. Just as my wife and daughter were retiring, a man came on board, followed by a lot of baggage, and directed his porter to put it in our room. I explained to him that not being able to find accommodations on shore, we had obtained permission to occupy the room until morning, but he brusquely replied that he had engaged the room two months before and must have it. I called his attention to the fact that the boat was late in reaching port and would not leave until nearly noon the next day, and suggested as politely as I could that the captain was the proper person to decide whether he was entitled to claim the room under the circumstances. Without consulting the captain he went to the steward and demanded that the ladies be moved to another room, although another room was placed at his disposal for the night. It required some plain, straightforward and emphatic language to bring him to the point where he was willing to occupy a different room temporarily, and I am afraid that he still regards Americans as very rude and uncouth creatures. He is, however, the first man whom I have met so far who would claim as a right that to which he was not entitled, and then demand the enforcement of the assumed right with-out regard to the convenience of others.
On the last mentioned trip we witnessed a burial at sea, the first that has occurred during our voyage. One of the passengers died after we left Singapore, and we learned of it while the funeral services were in progress. The corpse was enclosed in a black (weighted) coffin in which several holes were bored. The ship slackened its speed, and as the band played a funeral dirge, the body was slowly lowered. Upon reaching the water it floated back for a short distance and then disappeared. It was a sad sight to see the remains of a human being consigned to a watery tomb with nothing to mark its resting place; and yet he does not sleep alone, for in this mighty ocean sepulcher myriads lie buried and the waves moan above them a requiem as sweet as that sung by the trees to those who rest upon the land.
( Originally Published 1907 )
The Old World And Its Way:
Chinese Education, Religion And Philosophy
The Philippines—northern Islands And Their People
The Philippines—the Moro Country
The Philippine Problem
The Philippine Problem - Continued
In The Tropics
Read More Articles About: The Old World And Its Way