Arnold Henry Savage-Landor

One of the characteristic sights in Cho-sen is a private fight. The natives, as a rule, are quiet and gentle, but when their temper is roused they seem never to have enough of fighting. They often-times disport themselves in witnessing prize-fights among the champions of different towns, or of different wards in the same town, and on these occasions large crowds assemble to view the performance. The combatants generally fight with their fists, but, like the French, are much given to use their knees and feet as well in the contest.

Being now settled for the time being in Seoul, I must introduce you to the Corean, not as a nation, you must understand, but as an individual. It is a prevalent idea that the Coreans are Chinese, and therefore exactly like them in physique and appearance, and, if not like the Chinese, that they must be like their neighbours on the other side - the Japanese. As a matter of fact, they are like neither.

The physiognomy of the Coreans is an interesting study, for, with the exception of the Chinese, I know of few nations who can control the movements of their features so well as do the Coreans. They are trained from their infancy to show neither pain, nor pleasure, grief nor excitement; so that a wonderful placidity is always depicted on their faces. None the less, however, though slightly, different expressions can be remarked.

It will now be proper, I think, since I have given you a rough sketch of the man of Cho-sen and his clothes, to describe in a general way to you the weaker sex - not an easy task - and what they wear - a much more difficult task still, - for I have not the good fortune to be conversant with the intricacies of feminine habiliments, and therefore hope to be excused if, in dealing with this part of my subject, I do not always use the proper terms applicable to the different parts that compose it.

One great feature of Cho-sen life are the children. One might almost say that in Cho-sen you very seldom see a boy, for boyhood is done away with, and from childhood you spring at once to the sedate existence of a married man. Astonishing as this may sound, it is nevertheless true. The free life of a child comes to an end generally when he is about eight or nine years of age. At ten he is a married man, but only, as we shall see later, nominally. For the present, however, we shall limit ourselves to a consideration of his bachelor days.

The ground in and around Seoul is very hilly. The wall that surrounds the capital uncoils itself, like a gigantic snake, up and down the slopes of high bluffs, and seems a very marvellous work of patient masonry when it is borne in mind that some of the peaks up which it winds its way are so steep that even climbing on foot is not an easy task. The height is not uniform, but where it is highest it reaches to over thirty feet. The North Gate, for instance, is at a much higher level than the town down below, and it is necessary to go up a steep road to reach it.

In Cho-sen, as in other countries, we find not only pleasanter sights, but also those that are disagreeable or even revolting. That which I am about to describe is one which, I have little doubt, will make your blood curdle, but which is none the less as interesting as some of the others I have feebly attempted in this work to describe; I mean an execution as carried out in the Land of the Morning Calm. The penal form of death adopted is beheading, which is not, I believe, so pleasant a sensation as, for instance, that of being hanged - that is, when other persons are the sufferers.

The official life of the King of Corea is secluded. He rarely goes out of the royal palace, although rumours occasionally fly about that His Majesty has visited such and such a place in disguise. When he does go out officially, the whole town of Seoul gets into a state of the greatest agitation and excitement. Not more than once or twice a year does such a thing happen; and when it does, the thatched shanties erected on the wide royal street are pulled down, causing a good deal of trouble and expense to the small merchants, etc.

I was one evening at a dinner-party, at one of the Consulates, when, in the course of the frugal repast, one of the servants came in with the news that a large conflagration had broken out in the road of the Big-bell, and that many houses had already been burnt down. The "big-bell" itself was said to be in great danger of being destroyed.

Giving way to my usual curiosity, and thinking that it would be interesting to see how houses burn in Cho-sen, I begged of my host to excuse me, left all the good things on the table, and ran off to the scene of the fire.

One of the most interesting excursions in the neighbourhood of Seoul, is that to the Poo-kan fortress. The pleasantest way of making it is to start from the West Gate of Seoul and proceed thence either on horseback or on foot, along the Pekin Pass road, past the artificial cut in the rocks, until a smaller road, a mere path, is reached, which branches off the main road and leads directly to the West Gate of the Poo-kan fortress. This path goes over hilly ground, and the approaches to the West Gate of the fortress are exceedingly picturesque.

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