CHAPTER XVIII. THE "WHITE WATER"
October had slipped into November when we left the temple and shifted camp to the other side of the Snow Mountain at the "White Water." It was a brilliant day and the ride up the valley could not have been more beautiful. Crossing the gangheisa or "dry sea," a great grassy plain which was evidently a dry lake basin, we followed the trail into the forest and down the side of a deep canon to a mountain stream where the waters spread themselves in a thin, green veil over a bed of white stones.
We pitched our tents on a broad terrace beside the stream at the edge of the spruce forest. Above us towered the highest peak of the mountain, with a glacier nestling in a basin near its summit, and the snow-covered slopes extending in a glorious shining crescent about our camp. The moon was full, and each night as we sat at dinner before the fire, the ragged peaks turned crimson in the afterglow of the sun, and changed to purest silver at the touch of the white moonlight. We have had many camps in many lands but none more beautiful than the one at the "White Water."
The weather was perfect. Every day the sun shone in a cloudless blue sky and in the morning the ground was frozen hard and covered with snowlike frost, but the air was marvelously stimulating. We felt that we could be happy at the "White Water" forever, but it did not prove to be as good a hunting ground as that on the other side of the mountain. The Lolos killed a fine serow on the first day and Hotenfa brought in a young goral a short time later, but big game was by no means abundant. At the "White Water" we obtained our first Lady Amherst's pheasant ( Thaumalea amherstiae) one of the most remarkable species of a family containing the most beautiful birds of the world. The rainbow colored body and long tail of the male are made more conspicuous by a broad white and green ruff about the neck. The first birds brought alive to England were two males which had been presented to the Countess Amherst after whom the species was named. We found this pheasant inhabiting thick forests where it is by no means easy to discover or shoot. It is fairly abundant in Yuen-nan, Eastern Tibet and S'suchuan but its habits are not well known. Although the camp yielded several small mammals new to our collection, we decided to go into Li-chiang to engage a new caravan for our trip across the Yangtze River while Heller remained in camp.
The direct road to Li-chiang was considerably shorter than by way of the Snow Mountain village and at three o'clock in the afternoon our beloved "Temple of the Flowers" was visible on the hilltop overlooking the city. As we rode up the steep ascent we saw a picturesque gathering on the porch and heard the sound of many voices laughing and talking. The beautiful garden-like courtyard was filled with women and children of every age and description, and all the doors from one side of the temple had been removed, leaving a large open space where huge caldrons were boiling and steaming.
We sat down irresolutely on the inner porch but the young priest was delighted to see us and insisted that we wait until Wu arrived. We were glad that we did not seek other quarters for we were to witness an interesting ceremony, which is most characteristic of Chinese life. It seemed that about five years before a gentleman of Li-chiang had "shuffled off this mortal coil." His soul may have found rest, but "his mortal coil" certainly did not. Unfortunately his family inherited a few hundred dollars several years later and the village "astrologer" informed them that according to the feng-shui, or omnipotent spirits of the earth, wind, and water, the situation of the deceased gentleman's grave was ill-chosen and that if they ever hoped to enjoy good fortune again they must dig him up, give the customary feast in his honor and have another burial site chosen.
Every village has a "wise man" who is always called upon to select the resting place of the dead, his remuneration varying from two dollars to two thousand dollars according to the circumstances of the deceased's relatives. The astrologer never will say definitely whether or not the spot will prove a propitious one and if the family later sell any property, receive a legacy, or are known to have obtained money in other ways, the astrologer usually finds that the feng-shui do not favor the original place and he will exact another fee for choosing a second grave.
The dead are never buried until the astrologer has named an auspicious day as well as an appropriate site, with the result that unburied coffins are to be seen in temples, under roadside shelters, in the fields and in the back yards of many houses.
Any interference by foreigners with this custom is liable to bring about dire results as in the case of the rioting in Shanghai in 1898. A number of French residents objected to a temple near by being used to store a score or more of bodies until a convenient time for burial and the result was the death of many people in the fighting which ensued. Mr. Tyler Dennet cites an amusing anecdote regarding the successful handling of the problem by a native mandarin in Yen-ping where we visited Mr. Caldwell:
The doctor pointed out how dangerous to public health was the presence
of these coffins in Yen-ping. The magistrate had a census taken of the
coffins above ground in the city and found that they actually numbered
sixteen thousand. The city itself is estimated to have only about
twenty thousand inhabitants.