A Delightful Climate - Imprisoned Fever Germs - "Pidjun" English - Hong Kong Harbor - Prosperity of Hong Kong - Rampageous Criminal Classes - Circumspice!
THE PALACE, VICTORIA, December 29.
I like and admire Victoria. It is so pleasant to come in from the dark, misty, coarse, loud-tongued Pacific, and the December colorlessness of Japan to bright blue waters crisped by a perpetual north wind - to the flaming hills of the Asian mainland, which are red in the early morning, redder in the glow of noon, and pass away in the glorious sunsets through ruby and vermilion into an amethyst haze, deepening into the purple of a tropic night, when the vast expanse of sky which is seen from this high elevation is literally one blaze of stars. Though they are by no means to be seen in perfection, there are here many things that I love, - bananas, poinsettias, papayas, tree-ferns, dendrobiums, dracenas, the scarlet passion-flower, the spurious banyan, date, sago, and traveler's palms, and numberless other trees and shrubs, children of the burning sun of the tropics, carefully watered and tended, but exotics after all.
It is a most delightful winter climate. There has not been any rain for three months, nor will there be any for two more; the sky is cloudless, the air dry and very bracing. It is cold enough at night for fires, and autumn clothing can be worn all the day long, for though the sun is bright and warm, the shade temperature does not rise above 65 degrees, and exercise is easy and pleasant. At night, even at a considerable height, the lowest temperature is 40 degrees. It is impossible to praise the climate too highly, with its bright sky, cool dry air, and five months of rainlessness; but I should write very differently if I came here four months later, when the mercury ranges from 80 degrees to 90 degrees both by day and night, and the cloudy sky rests ever on the summits of the island peaks, and everything is moist, and the rain comes down continually in torrents, rising in hot vapors when the sun shines, and people become limp and miserable, and their possessions limp and moldy, and insect life revels, and human existence spent in a vapor bath becomes burdensome. But the city is healthy to those who live temperately. It has, however, a remarkable peculiarity. Standing in and on rock, one fancies that fever would not be one of its maladies, but the rock itself seems to have imprisoned fever germs in some past age, for whenever it is quarried or cut into for foundations, or is disturbed in any way, fever immediately breaks out.
Victoria is a beautiful city. It reminds me of Genoa, but that most of its streets are so steep as to be impassable for wheeled vehicles, and some of them are merely grand flights of stairs, arched over by dense foliaged trees, so as to look like some tropical, colored, deep colonnades. It has covered green balconies with festoons of creepers, lofty houses, streets narrow enough to exclude much of the sun, people and costumes of all nations, processions of Portuguese priests and nuns; and all its many-colored life is seen to full advantage under this blue sky and brilliant sun.
This house is magnificently situated, and very large and airy. Part is the Episcopal Palace, and the rest St. Paul's College, of which Bishop Burdon is warden. The mountainous grounds are beautiful, and the entrance blazes with poinsettias. There are no female servants, but Chinese men perform all the domestic service satisfactorily. I learn that for a Chinese servant to appear without his skull-cap is rude, but to appear with his pig-tail wound round his head instead of pendent, is a gross insult! The "Pidjun English" is revolting, and the most dignified persons demean themselves by speaking it. The word "pidjun" appears to refer generally to business. "My pidjun" is undoubtedly "my work." How the whole English-speaking community, without distinction of rank, has come to communicate with the Chinese in this baby talk is extraordinary.
If you order a fire you say something like this: "Fire makee, chop, chop, here, makee fire number one," chop being quick, and number one good, or "first-class." If a servant tells you that some one has called he says, "One piecey manee here speak missey," and if one asks who he is, he very likely answers, "No sabe," or else, "Number one, tink," by which he implies that the visitor is, in his opinion, a gentleman. After the courteous, kindly Japanese, the Chinese seem indifferent, rough and disagreeable, except the well-to-do merchants in the shops, who are bland, complacent, and courteous. Their rude stare and the way they hustle you in the streets and shout their "pidjun" English at you is not attractive. Then they have an ugly habit of speaking of us as barbarian or foreign devils. Since I knew the word I have heard it several times in the streets, and Bishop Burdon says that before his servants found out that he knew Chinese, they were always speaking of him and Mrs. Burdon by this very ugly name.
[Victoria is, or should be, well known, so I will not describe its cliques, its boundless hospitalities, its extravagances in living, its quarrels, its gayeties, its picnics, balls, regattas, races, dinner parties, lawn tennis parties, amateur theatricals, afternoon teas, and all its other modes of creating a whirl which passes for pleasure or occupation. Rather, I would write of some of the facts concerning this very remarkable settlement, which is on its way to being the most important British colony in the Far East.