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G.E. Morrison

Being the Narrative of a Quiet Journey Across China to Burma

by G.E. Morrison

I sold the mule in Yunnan City, and bought instead a little white pony at a cost, including saddle, bridle, and bells, of £3 6s. In doing this I reversed the exchange that would have been made by a Chinaman. A mule is a more aristocratic animal than a pony; it thrives better on a journey, and is more sure-footed. If a pony, the Chinese tell you, lets slip one foot, the other three follow; whereas a mule, if three feet slip from under him, will hold on with the fourth.

In the first week of February, 1894, I returned to Shanghai from Japan. It was my intention to go up the Yangtse River as far as Chungking, and then, dressed as a Chinese, to cross quietly over Western China, the Chinese Shan States, and Kachin Hills to the frontier of Burma. The ensuing narrative will tell how easily and pleasantly this journey, which a few years ago would have been regarded as a formidable undertaking, can now be done.

Three hours later we were in Tali. A broad paved road, smooth from the passage of countless feet, leads to the city. Rocky creeks drain the mountain range into the lake; they are spanned by numerous bridges of dressed stone, many of the slabs of which are well cut granite blocks eighteen feet in length. At a stall by the roadside excellent ices were for sale, genuine ices, made of concave tablets of pressed snow sweetened with treacle, costing one cash each - equal to one penny for three dozen. We passed the Temple to the Goddess of Mercy, and entered Tali by the south gate.

The agreement was brought me in the morning; all the afternoon I was busy, and at 8 p.m. I embarked from the Customs pontoon. The boat was a wupan (five boards), 28 feet long and drawing 8 inches. Its sail was like the wing of a butterfly, with transverse ribs of light bamboo; its stern was shaped "like a swallow's wings at rest." An improvised covering of mats amidships was my crib; and with spare mats, slipt during the day over the boat's hood, coverings could be made at night for'ard for my three men and aft for the other two. It seemed a.

The three men who had come with me the six hundred and seventeen miles from Chaotong left me at Tali to return all that long way home on foot with their well-earned savings. I was sorry to say good-bye to them; but they had come many miles further than they intended, and their friends, they said, would be anxious:  besides Laohwan, you remember, was newly married.

At daylight, on March 1st, we were abreast of the many storied pagoda, whose lofty position, commanding the approach to the city, brings good fortune to the city of Wanhsien. A beautiful country is this - the chocolate soil richly tilled, the sides of the hills dotted with farmhouses in groves of bamboo and cedar, with every variety of green in the fields, shot through with blazing patches of the yellow rape-seed. The current was swift, the water was shallow where we were tracking, and we were constantly aground in the shingle; but we rounded the point, and Wanhsien was before us.

Today, May 7th, we crossed the River Mekong, even at this distance from Siam a broad and swift stream. The river flows into the light from a dark and gloomy gorge, takes a sharp bend, and rolls on between the mountains. Where it issues from the gorge a suspension bridge has been stretched across the stream. A wonderful pathway zigzags down the face of the mountain to the river, in an almost vertical incline of 2000ft.

After passing through the gorge known as Tung-lo-hsia ten miles from Chungking, the laoban tried to attract my attention calling me from my crib and pointing with his chin up the river repeating "Haikwan one piecee," which I interpreted to mean that there was an outpost of the customs here in charge of one white man; and this proved to be the case. The customs kuatze or houseboat was moored to the left bank; the Imperial Customs flag floated gaily over an animated collection of native craft. We drew alongside the junk and an Englishman appeared at the window.

I was given a comfortable room in the telegraph offices, but I had little privacy. My room was thronged during all the time of my visit. The first evening I held an informal and involuntary reception, which was attended by all the officials of the town, with the dignified exception of the Brigadier-General.

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