CHAPTER III. UP THE MIN RIVER
Three days after leaving Shanghai we arrived at Pagoda Anchorage at the mouth of the Min River, twelve miles from Foochow.
We boarded a launch which threaded its way through a fleet of picturesque fishing vessels, each one of which had a round black and white eye painted on its crescent-shaped bow. When asked the reason for this decoration a Chinese on the launch looked at us rather pityingly for a moment and then said: "No have eye. No can see." How simple and how entirely satisfactory!
The instant the launch touched the shore dozens of coolies swarmed like flies over it, fighting madly for our luggage. One seized a trunk, the other end of which had been appropriated by another man and, in the argument which ensued, each endeavored to deafen the other by his screams. The habit of yelling to enforce command is inherent with the Chinese and appears to be ineradicable. To expostulate in an ordinary tone of voice, pausing to listen to his opponent's reply, seems a psychological impossibility.
There had been a mistake about the date of our arrival at Foochow, and we were two days earlier than we had been expected, so that Mr. C.R. Kellogg, of the Anglo-Chinese College, with whom we were to stay, was not on the jetty to meet us. We were at a loss to know where to turn amidst the chaos and confusion until a customs officer took us in charge and, judiciously selecting a competent looking woman from among the screaming multitude, told her to get two sedan chairs and coolies to carry our luggage. She disappeared and ten minutes later the chairs arrived. Dashing about among the crowd in front of us, she chose the baggage for such men as met with her approval and after the usual amount of argument the loads were taken.
We mounted our chairs and started off with apparently all Foochow following us. As far as we could see down the narrow street were the heads and shoulders of our porters. We felt as if we were heading an invading army as, with our thirty-three coolies and sixteen hundred pounds of luggage, we descended upon the homes of people whom we did not know and who were not expecting us. But our sudden arrival did not disturb the Kelloggs and our welcome was typical of the warm hospitality one always finds in the Far East.
No matter how long one has lived in China one remains in a condition of mental suspense unable to decide which is the filthiest city of the Republic. The residents of Foochow boast that for offensiveness to the senses no town can compare with theirs, and although Amoy and several other places dispute this questionable title, we were inclined to grant it unreservedly to Foochow. It is like a medieval city with its narrow, ill-paved streets wandering aimlessly in a hopeless maze. They are usually roofed over so that by no accident can a ray of purifying sun penetrate their dark corners. With no ventilation whatsoever the oppressive air reeks with the odors that rise from the streets and the steaming houses.
In Foochow, as in other cities of China, the narrow alleys are literally choked with every form of industrial obstruction. Countless workmen plant themselves in the tiny passageways with the pigs, children, and dogs, and women bring their quilts to spread upon the stones. There is a common saying that the Chinese do little which is not at some time done on the street.
The foreign residents, including consuls of all nationalities, missionaries, and merchants, live well out of the city on a hilltop. Their houses are built with very high ceilings and bare interiors, and as the occupants seldom go into the city except in a sedan chair and have "punkahs" waving day and night, life is made possible during the intense heat of summer.
A telegram was awaiting us from the Reverend Harry Caldwell, with whom we were to hunt, asking us to come to his station two hundred miles up the river, and we passed two sweltering days repacking our outfit while Mr. Kellogg scoured the country for an English-speaking cook.
One middle-aged gentleman presented himself, but when he learned that we were going "up country," he shook his head with an assumption of great filial devotion and said that he did not think his mother would let him go. Another was afraid the sun might be too hot. Finally on the eve of our departure we engaged a stuttering Chinese who assured us that he was a remarkable cook and exceptionally honest.
If you have never heard a Chinaman stutter you have something to live for, and although we discovered that our cook was a shameless rascal he was worth all he extracted in "squeeze," for whenever he attempted to utter a word we became almost hysterical. He sounded exactly like a worn-out phonograph record buzzing on a single note, and when he finally did manage to articulate, his "pidgin" English in itself was screamingly funny.
One day he came to the sampan proudly displaying a piece of beef and, after a series of vocal gymnastics, eventually succeeded in shouting: "Missie, this meat no belong die-cow. Die-cow not so handsome." Which meant that this particular piece of beef was not from an animal which had died from disease.
The first stage of our trip began before daylight. We rode in four-man sedan chairs, followed by a long procession of heavily laden coolies with our cameras, duffle-sacks, and pack baskets. The road lay through green rice fields between terraced mountains, and we jogged along first on the crest of a hill, then in the valley, passing dilapidated temples with the paint flaking off and picturesque little huts half hidden in the reeds of the winding river. It was a relief to get into the country again after passing down the narrow village streets and to breathe fresh air perfumed with honeysuckle.