CHAPTER II. Chemulpo - So-called European hotels - Comforts - Japanese concession - The Guechas - New-Year's festivities - The Chinese settlement - European residents - The word "Corea" - A glance at Corean history - Cho-sen.
When I land in a new country a strange sense of the unknown somehow takes possession of me. Perhaps in this, however, I am not alone. The feeling is in part, I think, due to one's new surroundings, though chiefly to the facial expressions of the people, with which one is not familiar and probably does not quite understand. One may be a student of human character in only a very amateurish way, and yet without much difficulty guess by the twinkle in the eye, or the quivering of the underlip, whether a person is pleased or annoyed, but when a strange land is visited one is apt to be at first often deceived by appearances; and if, as has happened in my case, the traveller has suffered in consequence of being thus deceived, he is rather apt to look upon all that he sees with a considerable amount of caution and even suspicion.
It was then with some such feelings as these that I landed at Chemulpo. Hundreds of coolies running along the shore, with loads of grain on their backs, to be shipped by the Higo-Maru, had no compunction in knocking you down if you were in their way, and a crowd of curious native loafers, always ready to be entertained by any new arrival, followed you en masse wherever you went.
When I visited Chemulpo there were actually three European hotels there. These were European more in name than in fact, but there they were, and as the night was fast approaching, I had to make my choice, for I wanted a lodging badly.
One of these hotels was kept by a Chinaman, and was called Steward's Hotel, for the simple reason that its owner had been a steward on board an American ship, and had since appropriated the word as a family name; the second, which rejoiced in the grand name of "Hotel de Coree," was of Hungarian proprietorship, and a favourite resort for sailors of men-of-war when they called at that port, partly because a drinking saloon, well provided with intoxicants of all descriptions, was the chief feature of the establishment, and partly because glasses were handed over the counter by a very fascinating young lady, daughter of the proprietor, a most accomplished damsel, who could speak fluently every language under the sun - from Turkish and Arabic to Corean and Japanese. The third hotel - a noble mansion, to use modern phraseology - was quite a new structure, and was owned by a Japanese. The name which had been given by him to his house of rest was "The Dai butzu," or, in English parlance, The Great God. Attracted by the holiness of the name, and perhaps even more by the clean look, outside only, of the place, I, as luck would have it, made the Dai butzu my headquarters. I know little about things celestial, but certainly can imagine nothing less celestial on the face of the earth than this house of the Great God at Chemulpo. The house had apparently been newly built, for the rooms were damp and icy cold, and when I proceeded to inspect the bed and remarked on the somewhat doubtful cleanliness of the sheets, "They are quite clean," said the landlord; "only two gentlemen have slept in them before." However, as we were so near the New Year, he condescended to change them to please me, and I accepted his offer most gracefully as a New-Year's gift.
"O Lord," said I with a deep sigh when the news arrived that no meat could be got that evening, and the only provisions in store were "one solitary tin, small size, of compressed milk."
"Mionichi nandemo arimas, Konban domo dannasan, nandemo arimasen": "To-morrow you can have anything, but to-night, please, sir, we have nothing." As I am generally a philosopher on such occasions, I satisfied my present cravings with that tin of milk, which, needless to say, I emptied, putting off my dinner till the following night.
Corea, as everybody knows, is an extremely cold country, the thermometer reaching as low sometimes as seventy or even eighty degrees of frost; my readers will imagine therefore how delightfully warm I was in my bed with only one sheet over me and a sort of cotton bed-cover, both sheet and bed-cover, I may add, being somewhat too short to cover my feet and my neck at the same time, my lower extremities in consequence playing a curious game of hide-and-seek with the support of my head. I had ordered a cold bath, and water and tray had been brought into my room before I had gone to bed, but to my horror, when I got up, ready to plunge in and sponge myself to my heart's content, I found nothing but a huge block of solid ice, into which the water had thought proper to metamorphose itself. Bells there were none in the house, so recourse had to be made to the national Japanese custom of clapping one's hands in order to summon up the servants.
"He," answered the slanting-eyed maid from down below, as she trotted up the steps. Good sharp girl that she was, however, she quickly mastered the situation, and hurried down to fetch fresh supplies of unfrozen liquid from the well; although hardly had she left the room the second time before a thick layer of ice again formed on the surface of the bucketful which she had brought. It was bathing under difficulties, I can tell you; but though I do not much mind missing my dinner, I can on no account bring myself to deprivation of my cold bath in the morning. It is to this habit that I attribute my freedom from contagious diseases in all countries and climates; to it I owe, in fact, my life, and I have no doubt to it, some day, I shall also owe my death.