CHAPTER VIII. CHINA.
MACAO - HONG-KONG - VICTORIA - VOYAGE ON BOARD A CHINESE JUNK - THE SI-KIANG, CALLED ALSO THE TIGRIS - WHAMPOA - CANTON, OR KUANGTSCHEU-FU - MODE OF LIFE PURSUED BY EUROPEANS - THE CHINESE MANNERS AND CUSTOMS - CRIMINALS AND PIRATES - MURDER OF VAUCHEE - PROMENADES AND EXCURSIONS.
A year before my arrival in China, it would have seemed hardly credible to me that I should ever succeed in taking my place among the small number of Europeans who are acquainted with that remarkable country, not from books alone, but from actual observation; I never believed that I should really behold the Chinese, with their shaven heads, long tails, and small, ugly, narrow eyes, the exact counterparts of the representations of them which we have in Europe.
We had hardly anchored, before a number of Chinese clambered up on deck, while others remained in their boats, offering for sale a variety of beautifully made articles, with fruit and cakes, laid out in great order, so as to form in a few seconds a regular market round the vessel. Some of them began praising their wares in broken English; but on the whole, they did not drive a very flourishing business, as the crew merely bought a few cigars, and a little fruit.
Captain Jurianse hired a boat, and we immediately went on shore, where each person on landing had to pay half a Spanish dollar (2s.) to the mandarin: I subsequently heard that this imposition was shortly afterwards abolished. We proceeded to the house of one of the Portuguese merchants established there, passing through a large portion of the town on our way thither. Europeans, both men and women, can circulate freely, without being exposed to a shower of stones, as is frequently the case in other Chinese towns. The streets, which are exclusively inhabited by Chinese, presented a very bustling aspect. The men were in many cases seated out of doors in groups, playing at dominoes, while locksmiths, carpenters, shoemakers, and many others were either working, talking, playing, or dining in the numerous booths. I observed but few women, and these were of the lower classes. Nothing surprised and amused me more than the manner in which the Chinese eat; they have two little sticks, with which they very skilfully convey their victuals into their mouths. This process, however, cannot be so successfully practised with rice, because it does not hold together; they therefore hold the plate containing it close to their mouths, and push it in by the aid of the sticks, generally letting a portion of it fall back again, in no very cleanly fashion, into the plate. For liquids they use round spoons of porcelain.
The style in which the houses are built, did not strike me as very remarkable; the front generally looks out upon the courtyard or garden.
Among other objects which I visited was the grotto, in which the celebrated Portuguese poet, Camoens, is said to have composed the Lusiade. He had been banished, A.D. 1556, to Macao, on account of a satirical poem he had written, Disperates no India, and remained in banishment several years before receiving a pardon. The grotto is charmingly situated upon an eminence not far from the town.
As there was no business to be done, the captain resolved to put to sea again the next morning, and offered in the most friendly manner to take me as his guest to Hong-Kong, as I had only agreed for a passage as far as Macao. I accepted his invitation with the greater pleasure, as I had not a single letter to any one in Macao; besides which, it is very seldom that there is an opportunity of proceeding to Hong-Kong.
On account of the shallowness of the water, our ship was hove to at rather a long distance from the shore, where it was exposed to an attack from the pirates, who are here very daring and numerous. In consequence of this, every precaution was taken, and the watch doubled for the night.
As late as the year 1842 these pirates attacked a brig that was lying at anchor in the Macao Roads, murdering the crew and plundering the vessel. The captain had remained on shore, and the sailors had carelessly given themselves up to sleep, leaving only one man to keep watch. In the middle of the night a schampan - which is the name given to a vessel smaller than a junk - came alongside the brig. One of the rowers then came on board, pretending he had a letter from the captain; and as the sailor went near the lantern to read the letter, he received from the pirate a blow upon his head which laid him senseless on the deck; the rest of those in the boat, who had hitherto remained concealed, now scaled the side of the brig, and quickly overpowered the slumbering crew.
In our case, however, the night passed without any incident worth noting; and on the morning of the 10th of July, having first taken on board a pilot, we proceeded to Hong-Kong, a distance of sixty nautical miles. The voyage proved highly interesting, on account of the varied succession of bays, creeks, and groups of islands which we had to pass.
The English obtained Hong-Kong from the Chinese at the conclusion of the war in 1842, and founded the port of Victoria, which contains at present a large number of palace-like houses built of stone.
The Europeans who have settled here, and who are not more than two or three hundred in number, are far from being contented, however, as trade is not half as good as they at first expected it would be. Every merchant is presented by the English government with a plot of ground, on condition of his building on it. Many of them erected, as I before mentioned, splendid edifices, which they would now be glad to sell for half the cost price, or even very frequently to give the ground and foundations, without asking the smallest sum in return.
I resolved to stop only a few days in Victoria, as it was my wish to arrive at Canton as soon as possible.