CHAPTER III. The road to Seoul - The Mapu - Ponies - Oxen - Coolies - Currency - Mode of carrying weights - The Han River - Nearly locked out.
I left Chemulpo on January 2nd, but instead of making use of the minuscule ponies, I went on foot, sending my baggage on in advance on a pack-saddle on one of them. I was still suffering considerably from an accident I had sustained to my foot among the hairy folk of the Hokkaido, and I thought that the long walk would probably be beneficial to me, and would take away some of the stiffness which still remained in my ankle. At a short distance from the port I came to a steep incline of a few hundred yards, and crossing the hill-range which formed the background to Chemulpo as one looks at it from the sea, I soon descended on the other side, from which point the road was nearly level all the way to the capital. The road is not a bad one for Corea, but is, of course, only fit for riding upon; and would be found almost of impossible access to vehicles of any size. The Japanese had begun running jinrickshas, little carriages drawn by a man, between the capital and the settlements; but two, and even three men were necessary to convey carriage and passenger to his destination, and the amount of bumping and shaking on the uneven road was quite appalling.
These little carriages, as every one knows, generally convey only a single person, and are drawn by two men, who run in a tandem, while the third pushes the ricksha from the back, and is always ready at any emergency to prevent the vehicle from turning turtle. This mode of locomotion, however, was not likely to become popular among the Coreans, who, if carried at all, prefer to be carried either in a sedan-chair, an easy and comfortable way of going about, or else, should they be in a hurry and not wish to travel in grand style, on pony or donkey's back. Europeans, as a rule, like the latter mode of travelling best, as the Corean sedan-chairs are somewhat too short for the long-legged foreigner, and a journey of six or seven hours in a huddled-up position is occasionally apt to give one the cramp, especially as Western bones and limbs do not in general possess the pliability which characterises those composing the skeleton of our Eastern brothers.
The scenery along the road cannot be called beautiful, the country one goes through being barren and desolate, with the exception of a certain plantation of mulberry trees, a wretched speculation into which the infantile government of Cho-sen was driven by some foreigners, the object of which was to enrich Corea by the products of silk-worms, but which, of course, turned out a complete failure, and cost the Government much money and no end of worry instead. Here and there a small patch might be seen cultivated as kitchen garden near a hut, but with that exception the ground was hardly cultivated at all; this monotony of landscape, however, was somewhat relieved by the distant hills covered with maples, chestnuts and firs, now unfortunately for the most part deprived of their leaves and covered with snow, it being the coldest time of the year in Corea.
The mile-posts on the high roads of Cho-sen are rather quaint, and should you happen to see one for the first time at night the inevitable result must be nightmare the moment you fall asleep. They consist of a wooden post about eight feet in length, on the upper end of which a long ghastly face is rudely carved out of the wood and painted white and red; the eyes are black and staring, and the mouth, the chief feature of the mask, is of enormous size, opened, showing two fine rows of pointed teeth, which might hold their own with those of the sharks of the Torres Strait, of world-wide reputation. A triangular wedge of wood on each side of the head represents the ears. The directions, number of miles, &c, are written directly under the head, and the writing being in Chinese characters, runs from up to down and from right to left.
It was pretty along the road to see the numerous little ponies, infinitely smaller than any Shetlands, carrying big fellows, towering with their padded clothes above enormous saddles, and supported on either side by a servant, while another man, the Mapu, led the steed by hand. The ponies are so very small that even the Coreans, who are by no means tall people, their average height being about 5 ft. 4 in., cannot ride them unless a high saddle is provided, for without these the rather troublesome process of dragging one's feet on the ground would have to be endured.