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.

The evil of cold was, however, nothing as compared with the quality and variety of the food. For the best part of the week, during which I stayed at the Dai butzu, I only had an occasional glance at a slice of nondescript meat, served one day as "rosbif," and the next day as "mutin shops," but unfortunately so leathery that no Sheffield blade could possibly divide it, and no human tooth nor jaw, however powerful, could masticate it.

As luck would have it, I was asked out to dinner once or twice by an American gentleman - a merchant resident at Chemulpo - and so made up for what would have otherwise been the lost art of eating.

Chemulpo is a port with a future. The Japanese prefer to call it Jinsen; the Chinese, In-chiang. It possesses a pretty harbour, though rather too shallow for large ships. The tide also, a very troublesome customer in that part of the world, falls as much as twenty-eight or twenty-nine feet; wherefore it is that at times one can walk over to the island in front of the settlement almost without wetting one's feet.

Chemulpo's origin is said to be as follows: The Japanese government, represented at Seoul by a very able and shrewd man called Hanabusa, had repeatedly urged the Corean king to open to Japanese trade a port somewhat nearer to the capital. Though the king was personally inclined to enter into friendly negotiations, there were many of the anti-foreign party who would not hear of the project; but such was the pressure brought to bear by the skilful Japanese, and so persuasive were the king's arguments, that, after much pour-parleying, the latter finally gave way. Towards the end of 1880, the Mikado's envoy, accompanied by a number of other officials, proceeded from the capital to the Imperatrice Gulf and selected an appropriate spot, on which to raise the now prosperous little concession, fixing that some distance from the native city. In course of years it grew bigger, and when I was at Chemulpo there was actually a Japanese village there, with its own Jap policemen, its tea-houses, two banks, the "Mitsui-bashi" and "The First National Bank of Japan," and last but not least, a number of guechas, the graceful singers and posturing dancers of Nippon, without whom life is not worth living for the Nipponese.

Like the Australians generally, who begin building a town by marking out a fine race-course, so the light-hearted sons of the Mikado's empire, when out colonising, begin as a first and necessary luxury of life by importing a few guechas who, with their quaint songs, enliven them in moments of despair, and send them into ecstasies at banquets and dinner-parties with their curious fan-dances, &c, just as our British music-hall frequenting youth raves over the last song and skirt-dance of the moment.

The guechas, mind you, are not bad girls. There is nothing wrong about them except that they are not always "quite right," for they are well educated, and possess good manners. They are generally paid by the hour for the display of their talent, and the prices they command vary from the low sum of twenty sens (sixpence) to as much as two or three yen (dollars), for each sixty minutes, in proportion, of course, to their capacity and beauty.

As the New Year was fast approaching, and that is a great festivity among the Japanese, the guechas at Chemulpo were hard at work, and from morning till night and vice versa they were summoned from one house to the other to entertain with their - to European, ears excruciating - music on the Shamesens and Gokkins, while sake and foreign liquors were plentifully indulged in.

I walked up the main street. Great Scott! what a din! It was enough to drive anybody crazy. Each house, with its paper walls, hardly suitable for the climate, seemed to contain a regular pandemonium. Men and women were to be seen squatting on the ground round a huge brass hibachi, where a charcoal fire was blazing, singing and yelling and playing and clapping their hands to their hearts' content. They had lost somehow or other that look of gracefulness which is so characteristic of them in their own country, and on a closer examination I found the cause to be their being clad in at least a dozen kimonos,[2] put on one over the other to keep the cold out. Just picture to yourself any one wearing even half that number of coats, and you will doubtless agree with me that one's form would not be much improved thereby in appearance. The noise increased until New-Year's Eve, and when at last the New Year broke in upon them, it was something appalling. The air was full of false notes, vocal and otherwise, and I need scarcely say that at the "Dai butzu" also grand festivities went on for the greater part of the night.

I was lying flat in bed on New-Year's Day, thinking of the foolishness of humanity, when I heard a tap at the door. I looked at the watch; it was 7.20 A.M.

"Come in," said I, thinking that the thoughtful maid was carrying my sponge-bath, but no. In came a procession of Japs, ludicrously attired in foreign clothes with antediluvian frock-coats and pre-historic European hats, bowing and sipping their breath in sign of great respect. At their head was the fat proprietor of the hotel, and each of them carried with him in his hand a packet of visiting cards, which they severally deposited on my bed, as I, more than ten times astounded, stood resting on my elbows gazing at them.

"So-and-so, brick-layer and roof-maker. So-and-so, hotel proprietor and shipping agent; so-and-so, Japanese carpenter; so-and-so, mat-maker; X, merchant; Z, boatman," &c. &c, were how the cards read as I inspected them one by one. I need hardly say, therefore, that the year 1891 was begun with an extra big D, which came straight from my heart, as I uncoiled myself out of my bed at that early hour of the morning to entertain these professional gentlemen to drinks and cigarettes. And yet that was nothing as compared with what came after. They had scarcely gone, and I was just breaking the ice in order to get my cold bath, when another lot, a hundredfold more noisy than the first, entered my room unannounced and depositing another lot of "pasteboards," as Yankees term them, in my frozen hands, went on wishing me all sorts of happiness for the New Year, though I for my part wished them all to a place that was certainly not heaven. In despair I dressed myself, and going out aimlessly, strolled in any direction in order to keep out of reach of the New-Year's callers. But the hours were long, and about eleven I went to pay a visit to Mr. T., the American merchant who had kindly asked me once or twice to dinner. If I considered myself entitled to complain of the calling nuisance, he must have had good reason to swear at it. Being the richest man in the place as well as the principal merchant, his place was simply besieged by visitors. Many were so drunk that they actually had to be carried in by coolies - a curious mode of going to call - while others had even to be provided with a bed on the premises until the effects of their libations had passed off. A well-known young Japanese merchant, I remember, nearly fractured his skull against a table, through losing his equilibrium as he was offering a grand bow to Mr. T.

Wherever one went in the Japanese quarter there was nothing but drink, and the main street was full of unsteady walkers.

Curiously enough, on proceeding a few yards further on towards the British Consulate, one came to the Chinese settlement, which was perfectly quiet, and showed its inhabitants not only as stern and well-behaved as on other occasions, but even, to all appearance, quite unconcerned at the frolic and fun of their merry neighbours. Here business was being transacted as usual, those engaged therein retaining their well-known expressionless and dignified mien, and apparently looking down disgusted upon the drunken lot, although prepared themselves to descend from their high pedestal when their own New-Year's Day or other festival occasions should arrive.

I was much amused at a remark that a Chinaman made to me that day.

I asked him how he liked the Japanese.

"Pff!" he began, looking at me from under his huge round spectacles, as if he thought the subject too insignificant to waste his time upon.

"The Japanese," he exploded, with an air of contempt, "no belong men. You see Japanese man dlunk, ol no dlunk, all same to me. He no can speak tluth, he no can be honest man. He buy something, nevel pay. Japanese belong bad, bad, bad man. He always speak lie, lie, lie, lie," and he emphasised his words with a crescendo as he curled up what he possessed in the shape of a nose - for it was so flat that it hardly deserved the name; indeed, to give strength to his speech, he spat with violence on the ground, as if to clear his mouth, as it were, of the unclean sound of the word "Japanese."

Not even in those days could the Chinese and Japanese be accused of loving one another.

The Chinese settlement is not quite so clean in appearance as the Japanese one, but if business is transacted on a smaller scale, it is, at all events, conducted on a firm and honest basis. Chemulpo has but few natural aptitudes beyond its being situated at the mouth of the river Han, which, winding like a snake, passes close to Seoul, the capital of the kingdom; and yet, partly because of its proximity to the capital, the distance by road being twenty-five miles, and partly owing to the fact that it is never ice-bound in winter, the town has made wonderful strides. As late as 1883 there were only one or two fishermen's huts along the bay, but in 1892 the settlement contained a score of Europeans, over 2800 Japanese souls, and 1000 Chinese, besides quite a respectable-sized native conglomeration of houses and huts.

When I visited the port, land fetched large sums of money in the central part of the settlement. The post-office was in the hands of the Japanese, who carried on its business in a very amateurish and imperfect manner, but the telegraphs were worked by the Chinese. The commercial competition between the two Eastern nations now at war has of late years been very great in Corea. It is interesting to notice how the slow Chinaman has followed the footsteps of young Japan at nearly all the ports, especially at Gensan and Fusan, and gradually monopolised a good deal of the trade, through his honest dealings and steadiness. And yet the Chinese must have been, of course, greatly handicapped by the start of many years which the dashing Japanese had over them, as well as by the much larger number of their rivals. A very remarkable fact, however, is that several Japanese firms had employed Chinese as their compradores, a position entirely of trust, these being the officials whose duty it is to go round to collect money and cheques, and who are therefore often entrusted with very large sums of money.

But now let us come to the foreigners stranded in the Corean kingdom. If you take them separately, they are rather nice people, though, of course, at least a dozen years behind time as compared with the rest of the world; taken as a community, however, they are enough to drive you crazy. I do not think that it was ever my good fortune to hear a resident speak well of another resident, this being owing, I dare say, to their seeing too much of one another. If by chance you come across a man occupying only a second-rate official position, you may depend upon it you will see airs! One hardly ventures to address any such personage, for so grand is he that, he will hardly condescend to say "How do you do?" to you, for fear of lowering himself. There are only about four cats in the place, and their sole subject of conversation is precedence and breaches of etiquette, when you would imagine that in such a distant land, and away, so to speak, from the outer world, they would all be like brothers.

You must now consider yourselves as fairly landed in Corea, and having tried to describe to you what things and people that are not Corean are like in Corea, I must provide you - again of course only figuratively - with a tiny little pony, the smallest probably you have ever seen, that you may follow me to the capital of the kingdom, which I am sure will be interesting to you as being thoroughly characteristic of the country. First of all, however, we had better make sure of one point.

The name Corea, or K_orea, you may as well forget or discard as useless, for to the Corean mind the word would not convey any definite idea. Not even would he look upon it as the name of his country. The real native name now used is Cho-sen, though occasionally in the vernacular the kingdom goes by the name of Gori, or the antiquated Korai. There is no doubt that the origin of the word Corea is Korai, which is an abbreviation of Ko-Korai, a small kingdom in the mountainous region of the Ever White Mountains, and bordering upon the kingdom of Fuyu, a little further north, whence the brave and warlike people probably descended, who conquered old Cho-sen. The authorities on Corean history, basing their arguments on Chinese writings, claim that the present people of Cho-sen are the true descendants of the Fuyu race, and that the kingdom of Ko-Korai lay between Fuyu on the northern side and Cho-sen on the southern, from the former of which a few families migrated towards the south, and founded a small kingdom west of the river Yalu, electing as their king a man called Ko-Korai, after whom, in all probability, the new nation took its name. Then as their numbers increased, and their adventurous spirit grew, they began to extend their territory, north, south, and west, and in this latter direction easily succeeded in conquering the small kingdom of Wuju and extending their frontier as far south as the river Tatung, which lies approximately on parallel 38 deg. 30".

During the time of the "Three Realms" in China, between the years 220 and 277 A.D., the Ko-Korai people, profiting by the weakness of their neighbours, and therefore not much troubled with guerrillas on the northern frontier, continued to migrate south, conquering new ground, and so being enabled finally to establish their capital at Ping-yan on the Tatong River. After a comparatively peaceful time with their northern neighbours for over 300 years, however, towards the end of the sixth century, China began a most micidial war against the king of Ko-Korai, or Korai, as it was then called, the "Ko" having been dropped. It seems that even in those remote days the Chinese had no luck in the land of Cho-sen, and though army after army, and hundreds of thousands of men were sent against them, the brave Korai people held their own, and far from being defeated and conquered, actually drove the enemy out of the country, killing thousands mercilessly in their retreat, and becoming masters of the Corean Peninsula as far south as the River Han.

To the south of Korai were the states of Shinra and Hiaksai, and between these and Korai, there was for a couple of centuries almost perpetual war, the only intervals being when the latter kingdom was suffering at the hands of the formidable Chinese invaders. But as I merely give this rough and very imperfect sketch of Corean history, to explain how the word Korai originated and was then applied to the whole of the peninsula, I must now proceed to explain in bold touches how the other states became united to Korai.

After its annexation to China, the Korai state remained crippled by the terrible blow it had received, for the Ko-Korai line of kings had been utterly expelled after having reigned for over seven centuries, but at last it picked up a little strength again through fresh migrations from the north-west, and in the second decade of the tenth century a Buddhist monk called Kung-wo raised a rebellion and proclaimed himself king, establishing his court at Kaichow.

One of Kung-wo's officers, however, Wang by name, who was believed to be a descendant of the Korai family, did away with the royal monk and sat himself on the throne, which he claimed as that of his ancestors. Coming of a vigorous stock, and taking advantage of the fact that China was weak with internal wars, Wang succeeded in uniting Shinra to the old Korai, thus converting the whole peninsula into a single and united realm, of which, as we have already seen in the first chapter, he made the walled city of Sunto the capital. Wang died 945 A.D., and was succeeded by his son Wu, who wisely entered into friendly relations with China, and paid his tribute to the Emperor of Heaven as if he ruled a tributary state. In consequence of this policy it was that Corea enjoyed peace with her terrible Celestial rival for the best part of two centuries.

Cho-sen, then, is now the only name by which the country is called by the natives themselves, for the name of Korai has been entirely abandoned by the modern Coreans. The meaning of the word is very poetic, viz., "The Land of the Morning Calm," and is one well adapted to the present Coreans, since, indeed, they seem to have entirely lost the vigour and strength of their predecessors, the Koraians. I believe Marco Polo was the first to mention a country which he called Coria; after whom came the Franciscan missionaries. Little, however, was known of the country until the Portuguese brought back to Europe strange accounts of this curious kingdom and its quaint and warlike people. According to the story, it was a certain Chinese wise man who, when in a poetic mood, baptized Corea with the name of Cho-sen. But the student of Corean history knows that the name had already been bestowed on the northern part of the peninsula and on a certain portion of Manchuria, and that it was in the year 1392, when Korai was united to Shinra and the State of Hiaksai became merged in it, that Cho-sen became the official designation of united Corea. The word "Corea" evidently is nothing but a corruption of the dead and buried word "Korai."


    [2] Long gown, the national dress of Japan.