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Thomas Stevens
"Around the World of a Bicycle - Cycling through China in 1886 "
Part 4

Cycling through China - Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part7 | Part 8 | Around the World on a Bicycle - Maps and Pictures

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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, the following mob are barred entrance to our room. They are not, by any means satisfied, however; they quickly smash in a little closed panel so they can look in, and every crack between the boards betrays a row of peering eyes. Ching-We is a hollow-eyed victim of the drug, and yearns for peace and quiet so that he can pass away the evening amid the seductive pleasures of the opium-smoker's heaven. The rattle and racket of the determined sight-seers outside, clamorously demanding to come in and see the Fankwae, annoy him to the verge of desperation under the circumstances.

He patiently endeavors to forget it all, however, and to banish the whole troublesome world from his thoughts, by producing his opium-pipe and lamp and attempting to smoke. But just as he is getting comfortably settled down to rolling the little knob of opium on the needle and has puckered his lips for a good pull, a decayed turnip comes sailing through the open panel and hits him on the back. The people looking in add insult to injury by indulging in an audible snicker, as Ching-We springs up and glares savagely into their faces. This indiscreet expression of their levity at once seals their doom, for Ching-We grabs a pole and hits the boards such a resounding whack, and advances upon them so savagely, that only a few undaunted youngsters remain at their post; the panel is repaired, and comparative peace and quiet restored for a short time. No sooner, however, has Ching-We mounted to the first story of heavenly beatitude from the effects of the first pipe of opium, than loud howls of "Fankwae. Fankwae!" are heard outside, and a shower of stones comes rattling against the boards. Ching-We goes to the partition door and indulges in an angry and reproachful attack upon the unoffending head of the establishment. The unoffending head of the establishment goes immediately to the other door and indulges in an angry and reproachful attack upon the shouters and stone-throwers outside. The Chinese are peculiar in many things, and in nothing, perhaps, more than their respect for words of reproach. Whether the long-suffering innkeeper hurled at their heads one of the moral maxims of Confucius, or an original production of his own brain, is outside the pale of my comprehension; but whatever it is, there is no more disturbance outside.

It must be about midnight when I am awakened from a deep sleep by the gabble of many people in the room. Transparent lanterns adorned with big red characters held close to my face cause me to blink like a cat upon opening my wondering eyes. These lanterns are held by yameni-runners in semi-military garb, to light up my features for the inspection of an officer wearing a rakish Tartar hat with a brass button and a red horse- hair tassel. The yameni-runners wear the same general style of head-dress, but with a loop instead of the brass button. The officer is possessed of a wonderfully soft, musical voice, and holds forth at great length concerning me, with Ching-We.

The officer takes my passport to the yamen, and ere leaving the room, pantomimically advises me to go to sleep again. In the morning Ching-We returns the two-foot square document with the Viceregal seal, and winks mysteriously to signify that everything is lovely, and that the goose of permission to go ahead to Nam-ngan hangs auspiciously high.

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The morning opens up cool and cloudy, the pebble pathway is wider and better than yesterday, for it is now the thoroughfare along which thousands of coolies stagger daily with heavy loads of merchandise to the commencement of river navigation at Nam-hung. The district is populous and productive; bales of paper, bags of rice and peanuts, bales of tobacco, bamboo ware, and all sorts of things are conveyed by muscular coolies to Nam-hung to be sent down the river.

Gradually have we been ascending since leaving Nam-hung, and now is presented the astonishing spectacle of a broad flight of stone steps, certainly not less than a mile in length, leading up, up, up, to the summit of the Mae-ling Pass. Up and down this wonderful stairway hundreds of coolies are toiling with their burdens, scores of travellers in holiday attire and several palanquins bearing persons of wealth or official station. The stairway winds and zigzags up the narrow defile, averaging in width about twenty feet. Eefreshment houses are perched here and there along the side, sometimes forming a bridge over the steps.

The stairway terminates at the summit in a broad stone archway of ancient build, over which are several rooms; this is evidently an office for the collection of revenue from the merchandise carried over the pass. Standing beneath this arch one obtains a comprehensive view of the country below to the north; a pretty picture is presented of gabled villages and temples, green hills, and pale-gold ripening rice-fields. The little silvery contributaries of the Kan-kiang ramify the picture like veins in the human palm, and the brown, cobbled pathways are seen leading from village to village, disappearing from view at short intervals beneath a cluster of tiled houses.

Steeper but somewhat shorter steps lead down from the pass, and the pathway follows along the bank of a tiny stream, leading through an almost continuous string of villages to the walls of Nam-ngan.

Next: Cycling through China - Part 5

Cycling through China - Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part7 | Part 8 | Around the World on a Bicycle - Maps and Pictures

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