Around the World in Seventy-Two Days, by Nellie Bly

Chapter 12.

British China.

WE first saw the city of Hong Kong in the early morning. Gleaming white were the castle-like homes on the tall mountain side. We fired a cannon as we entered the bay, the captain saying that this was the custom of mail ships. A beautiful bay was this magnificent basin, walled on every side by high mountains. Once within this natural fortified harbor we could discern, in different directions, only small outlets between the mountains, but so small, indeed, they appeared that one could hardly believe a ship would find space large enough for passage. In fact, these outlets are said to be dangerously narrow, the most vigilant care being necessary until the ship is safely beyond on the ocean blue. Mirror-like was the bay in the bright sun, dotted with strange craft from many countries. Heavy iron-clads, torpedo boats, mall steamers, Portuguese lorchas, Chinese junks and sampans. Even as we looked, a Chinese ship wended its way slowly out to sea. Its queer, broad stern hoisted high out of the water and the enormous eye gracing its bow, were to us most interesting. A graceful thing I thought it, but I heard an officer call it most ungraceful and unshapely.

Hong Kong is strangely picturesque. It is a terraced city, the terraces being formed by the castle-like, arcaded buildings perched tier after tier up the mountain’s verdant side. The regularity with which the houses are built in rows made me wildly fancy them a gigantic staircase, each stair made in imitation of castles.

The doctor, another gentleman, and I left the boat, and walking to the pier’s end selected sedan chairs, in which we were carried to the town. The carriers were as urgent as our hackmen around railway stations in America. There is a knack of getting into a chair properly. It is placed upon the ground, the carrier tilts the shafts down, and the patron steps inside, back towards the chair, and goes into it backward. Once seated, the carriers hoist the chair to their shoulders and start off with a monotonous trot, which gives the chair a motion not unlike that of a pacing saddle-horse.

We followed the road along the shore, passing warehouses of many kinds and tall balconied buildings filled with hundreds of Chinese families, on the flat-house plan. The balconies would have lent a pleasing appearance to the houses had the inhabitants not seemed to be enjoying a washing jubilee, using the balconies for clotheslines. Garments were stretched on poles, after the manner of hanging coats so they will not wrinkle, and those poles were fastened to the balconies until it looked as if every family in the street had placed their old clothing on exhibition.

The town seemed in a state of untidiness, the road was dirty, the mobs of natives we met were filthy, the houses were dirty, the numberless boats lying along the wharf, which invariably were crowded with dirty people, were dirty, our carriers were dirty fellows, their untidy pig-tails twisted around their half-shaven heads. They trotted steadily ahead, snorting at the crowds of natives we met to clear the way. A series of snorts or grunts would cause a scattering of natives more frightened than a tie-walker would be at the tooting of an engine’s whistle.

Turning off the shore road our carriers started up one of the roads which wind about from tier to tier up the mountain.

My only wish and desire was to get as speedily as possible to the office of the Oriental and Occidental Steamship Company to learn the earliest possible time I could leave for Japan, to continue my race against time around the world. I had just marked off my thirty-ninth day. Only thirty-nine days since leaving New York and I was in China. I was leaving particularly elated, because the good ship Oriental not only made up the five days I had lost in Colombo, but reached Hong Kong two days before I was due, according to my schedule. And that with the northeast monsoon against her. It was the Oriental’s maiden trip to China, and from Colombo to Hong Kong she had broken all previous records.

I went to the O. and O. office feeling very much elated over my good fortune, with never a doubt but that it would continue.

“Will you tell me the date of the first sailing for Japan?” I asked a man in the office.

“In one moment,” he said, and going into an inner office he brought out a man who looked at me inquiringly, and when I repeated my question, said:

“What is your name?”

“Nellie Bly,” I replied in some surprise.

“Come in, come in,” he said nervously. We followed him in, and after we were seated he said:

“You are going to be beaten.”

“What? I think not. I have made up my delay,” I said, still surprised, wondering if the Pacific had sunk since my departure from New York, or if all the ships on that line had been destroyed.

“You are going to lose it,” he said with an air of conviction.

“Lose it? I don’t understand. What do you mean?” I demanded, beginning to think he was mad.

“Aren’t you having a race around the world?” he asked, as if he thought I was not Nellie Bly.

“Yes; quite right. I am running a race with Time,” I replied.

“Time? I don’t think that’s her name.”

“Her! Her!!” I repeated, thinking, “Poor fellow, he is quite unbalanced,” and wondering if I dared wink at the doctor to suggest to him the advisability of our making good our escape.

“Yes, the other woman; she is going to win. She left here three days ago.”

I stared at him; I turned to the doctor; I wondered if I was awake; I concluded the man was quite mad, so I forced myself to laugh in an unconcerned manner, but I was only able to say stupidly:

“The other woman?”

“Yes,” he continued briskly; “Did you not know? The day you left New York another woman started out to beat your time, and she’s going to do it. She left here three days ago. You probably met somewhere near the Straits of Malacca. She says she has authority to pay any amount to get ships to leave in advance of their time. Her editor offered one or two thousand dollars to the O. and O. if they would have the Oceanic leave San Francisco two days ahead of time. They would not do it, but they did do their best to get her here in time to catch the English mail for Ceylon. If they had not arrived long before they were due, she would have missed that boat, and so have been delayed ten days. But she caught the boat and left three days ago, and you will be delayed here five days.”

“That is rather hard, isn’t it?” I said quietly, forcing a smile that was on the lips, but came from nowhere near the heart.

“I’m astonished you did not know anything about it,” he said. “She led us to suppose that it was an arranged race.”

“I do not believe my editor would arrange a race without advising me,” I said stoutly. “Have you no cables or messages for me from New York?”

“Nothing,” was his reply.

“Probably they do not know about her,” I said more cheerfully.

“Yes they do. She worked for the same newspaper you do until the day she started.”

“I do not understand it,” I said quietly, too proud to show my ignorance on a subject of vital importance to my well-doing. “You say I cannot leave here for five days?”

“No, and I don’t think you can get to New York in eighty days. She intends to do it in seventy. She has letters to steamship officials at every point requesting them to do all they can to get her on. Have you any letters?”

“Only one, from the agent of the P. and O., requesting the captains of their boats to be good to me because I am traveling alone. That is all,” I said with a little smile.

“Well, it’s too bad; but I think you have lost it. There is no chance for you. You will lose five days here and five in Yokohoma, and you are sure to have a slow trip across at this season.

Just then a young man, with the softest black eyes and a clear pale complexion, came into the office. The agent, Mr. Harmon, introduced him to me as Mr. Fuhrmann, the purser of the Oceanic, the ship on which I would eventually travel to Japan and America. The young man took my hand in a firm, strong clasp, and his soft black eyes gave me such a look of sympathy that it only needed his kind tone to cheer me into a happier state.

“I went down to the Oriental to meet you; Mr. Harmon thought it was better. We want to take good care of you now that you are in our charge, but, unfortunately, I missed you. I returned to the hotel, and as they knew nothing about you there I came here, fearing that you were lost.”

“I have found kind friends everywhere,” I said, with a slight motion towards the doctor, who was speechless over the ill-luck that had befallen me. “I am sorry to have been so much trouble to you.”

“Trouble! You are with your own people now, and we are only too happy if we can be of service,” he said kindly. “You must not mind about the possibility of some one getting around the world in less time than you may do it. You have had the worst connections it is possible to make, and everybody knows the idea originated with you, and that others are merely trying to steal the work of your brain, so, whether you get in before or later, people will give you the credit of having originated the idea.”

“I promised my editor that I would go around the world in seventy-five days, and if I accomplish that I shall be satisfied,” I stiffly explained. “I am not racing with anyone. I would not race. If someone else wants to do the trip in less time, that is their concern. If they take it upon themselves to race against me, it is their lookout that they succeed. I am not racing. I promised to do the trip in seventy-five days, and I will do it; although had I been permitted to make the trip when I first proposed it over a year ago, I should then have done it in sixty days.”

We returned to the hotel, where a room had been secured for me, after arranging the transfer of my luggage and the monkey from the Oriental to the Oceanic. I met a number of people after tiffin, who were interested in my trip, and were ready and anxious to do anything they could to contribute to my pleasure during my enforced stay.

Having but the one dress I refused to attend any dinners or receptions that were proposed in my honor. During the afternoon the wife of a prominent Hong Kong gentleman waited upon me to place herself and her home at my disposal. She was anxious that I should make her home mine during my stay, but I told her I could not think of accepting her kindness, because I would wish to be out most of the time, and could not make my hours conform to the hours of the house, and still feel free to go, come and stay, as I pleased. Despite her pleadings I assured her I was not on pleasure bent, but business, and I considered it my duty to refrain from social pleasures, devoting myself to things that lay more in the line of work.

I had dinner on the Oriental. As I bade the captain and his officers farewell, remembering their kindness to me, I had a wild desire to cling to them, knowing that with the morning light the Oriental would sail, and I would be once again alone in strange lands with strange people.

That evening the purser of the Oceanic, another acquaintance and I were carried in chairs up a winding road, arched with green trees, on which the leaves hung motionless and still in the silent night.

Our lazy voices, as occasionally we spoke softly to each other, and the steady, monotonous slap-slap-slap of the bare-feet of our carriers made the only break in the slumbering stillness. All earth seemed to have gone to rest. Silently we went along, now getting, by dim gas lamps at garden gates, glimpses of comfortable homes in all their Eastern splendor, and then, for a moment emerging from beneath the over-lapping arch of verdant trees, we would get a faint glimmer of the quivering stars and cloudless heavens. The ascent was made at last. We were above the city, lying dark and quiet, but no nearer the glorious starlit sky. A little rush through a wide gate in a high wall, a sudden blindness in a road banked and roofed by foliage, a quick lowering to the ground at the foot of wide steps that led to an open door through which a welcoming light shed its soft, warm rays upon us and we had reached our journey’s end.

Inside, where a cordial welcome awaited us, was a bright wood fire before which I longed to curl up on a rug and be left alone to dream-dream. But there were friends instead of dreams, and realities in the shape of a splendid dinner. A table, graced with a profusion of tropical blossoms-a man, handsomer than an ideal hero, at its head-a fine menu, guests, handsome, witty and just enough in number to suit my ideas, were the items of what made up an ideal evening.

It is said people do not grow old in Hong Kong. Their youthful looks bear ample testimony to the statement. I asked the reason why, and they said it is because they are compelled to invent amusements for themselves, and by inventing they find, not time to grow blasé, but youth and happiness.

The theatre in Hong Kong knows few professional troupes, but the amateur actors in the English colony leave little to be desired in the way of splendid entertainments. The very best people in the town take part, and I believe they all furnish their own stage costumes. The regiments stationed there turn out very creditable actors in the persons of the young officers. I went one night to see “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” as given by the Amateur Dramatic Club of Hong Kong. It was a new version of the old story filled with local hits arranged for the club by a military captain; the music was by the band-master of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The beautiful and artistic scenery was designed and executed by two army men, as were the lime-light effects. Spectators came to the theatre in their chairs instead of carriages.

Inside, the scene was bewitching. A rustling of soft gowns, the odor of flowers, the fluttering of fans, the sounds of soft, happy whispering, a maze of lovely women in evening gowns mingling with handsome men in the regulation evening dress-what could be prettier? If American women would only ape the English in going bonnetless to the theatres, we would forgive their little aping in other respects, and call it even. Upon the arrival of the Governor the band played “God Save the Queen,” during which the audience stood. Happily, they made it short. The play was pleasantly presented, the actors filling their roles most creditably, especially the one taking the part of Alley Sloper.

Afterwards, the sight of handsomely dressed women stepping into their chairs, the daintily-colored Chinese lanterns, hanging fore and aft, marking the course the carriers took in the darkness, was very oriental and affective. It is a luxury to have a carriage, of course, but there is something even more luxurious in the thought of owning a chair and carriers. A fine chair with silver mounted poles and silk hangings can be bought, I should judge, for a little more than twenty dollars. Some women keep four and eight carriers; they are so cheap that one can afford to retain a number. Every member of a well established household in Hong Kong has his or her own private chair. Many men prefer a coverless willow chair with swinging step, while many women have chairs that close entirely, so they can be carried along the streets secure against the gaze of the public. Convenient pockets, umbrella stands and places for parcels are found in all well-appointed chairs.

At every port I touched I found so many bachelors, men of position, means and good appearance, that I naturally began to wonder why women do not flock that way. It was all very well some years ago to say, “Go West, young man;” but I would say, “Girls, go East!” There are bachelors enough and to spare! And a most happy time do these bachelors have in the East. They are handsome, jolly and good natured. They have their own fine homes with no one but the servants to look after them. Think of it, and let me whisper, “Girls, go East!”

The second day after my arrival, Captain Smith, of the Oceanic, called upon me. I expected to see a hard-faced old man; so, when I went into the drawing-room and a youthful, good-looking man, with the softest blue eyes that seemed to have caught a tinge of the ocean’s blue on a bright day, smiled down at me, I imagine I must have looked very stupid indeed. I looked at the smooth, youthful face, with its light-brown moustache, and I felt inclined to laugh at the long iron-gray beard my imagination had put upon the Captain of the Oceanic. I caught a laughing gleam of the bluest of blue eyes, and I thought of imaginary stern ones, and had to smother another insane desire to laugh. I looked at the tall, slender, shapely body, and recalled the imaginary short legs, holding upright a wide circumference under an ample waistcoat, and I laughed audibly.

“You were so different to what I imagined you would be,” I said afterwards, when we talked over our first meeting.

“And I could not believe you were the right girl, you were so unlike what I had been led to believe,” he said, with a laugh, in a burst of confidence. “I was told that you were an old maid with a dreadful temper. Such horrible things were said about you that I was hoping you would miss our ship. I said if you did come I supposed you would expect to sit at my table, but I would arrange so you should be placed elsewhere.”

The Captain took me out to see “Happy Valley” that day before we separated. In jinrickshas we rode by the parade and cricket grounds where some lively games are played, the city hall, and the solid, unornamented barracks; along smooth, tree-lined roads, out to where the mountains make a nest of one level, green space. This level has been converted into a race-course. The judges’ stand was an ordinary, commonplace race-course stand, but the stands erected by and for private families, were built of palms and were more pleasing because they were out of the usual.

During the month of February races are held here annually. They last three days, and during that period everybody stops work, rich and poor alike flocking to the race-course. They race with native-bred Mongolian ponies, having no horses, and the racing is pronounced most exciting and interesting.

“Happy Valley” lines the hillside. There are congregated the graveyards of all the different sects and nationalities in Hong Kong. The Fire Worshipers lie in ground joining the Presbyterians, the Episcopalians, the Methodists and the Catholics, and Mahommedans are just as close by. That those of different faiths should consent to place their dead together in this lovely tropical valley is enough to give it the name of Happy Valley, if its beauty did not do as much. In my estimation it rivals in beauty the public gardens, and visitors use it as a park. One wanders along the walks looking at the beautiful shrubs and flowers, never heeding that they are in the valley of death, so thoroughly is it robbed of all that is horrible about graveyards. We rode back to town through the crowded districts, where the natives huddle together in all their filth. It is said that over 100,000 people live within a certain district in Hong Kong not exceeding one-half square mile, and they furthermore positively affirm, that sixteen hundred people live in the space of an acre. This is a sample of the manner in which the Chinese huddle together. They remind me of a crowd of ants on a lump of sugar. An effort is being made in Hong Kong to compel owners to build differently, so as to make the huddling and packing impossible, for the filth that goes with it invariably breeds disease.

Queen’s road is interesting to all visitors. In it is the Hong Kong Club, where the bachelors are to be found, the post office, and greater than all, the Chinese shops. The shops are not large, but the walls are lined with black-wood cabinets, and one feels a little thrill of pleasure at the sight of the gold, the silver, ivory carvings, exquisite fans, painted scrolls and the odor of the lovely sandal-wood boxes, coming faintly to the visitor, creates a feeling of greed. One wants them all-everything.

The Chinese merchants cordially show their goods, or follow as one strolls around, never urging one to buy, but cunningly bringing to the front the most beautiful and expensive part of their stock.

“Chin chin,” which means “good day,” “good bye,” “good night,” “How are you?” or anything one may take from it, is the greeting of Chinamen. They all speak mongrel English, called “pidgin” or “pigeon” English. It is impossible to make them understand pure English, consequently Europeans, even housekeepers, use pidgin English when addressing the servants. The servants are men, with the exception of the nurses, and possibly the cooks. To the uninitiated it sounds absurd to hear men and women addressing servants and merchants in the same idiotic language with which fond parents usually cuddle their offspring; but even more laughable is it to hear men swear in “pigeon English,” at an unkind or unruly servant. Picture a man with an expression of frenzied rage upon his countenance, saying:

“Go to hellee, savey?”

Pidgin or pigeon, is applied to everything. One will hear people say: “ Hab got pigeon,” which means they have business to look after; or if a Chinaman is requested to do some work which he thinks is the duty of another, he will say: “No belongee boy pigeon.”

While strolling about the Chinese localities, seeing shops more worthy a visit, being more truly Chinese, I came upon an eating house, from which a conglomeration of strange odors strolled out and down the road. Built around a table in the middle of the room, was a circular bench. The diners perched on this bench like chickens on a fence, not letting their feet touch the floor, or hang over, nor “hunkering” down, nor squatting crossed-legged like a Turk or tailor, but sitting down with their knees drawn up until knees and chin met; they held large bowls against their chins, pushing the rice energetically with their chop-sticks into their mouths. Cup after cup of tea is consumed, not only at meals, but at all hours during the day. The cup is quite small and saucerless, and the tea is always drank minus sugar and cream.

Professional writers, found in nooks and recesses of prominent thoroughfares, are interesting personalities. Besides writing letters for people they tell fortunes, and their patrons never go away without having their fates foretold. I noticed when paying for articles, merchants invariably weigh the money. It is also customary for merchants to put their private stamp upon silver dollars as an assurance of its legality and worth. Much silver is beaten into such strange shapes by this queer practice that at first I was afraid to accept it in change.

I saw a marriage procession in Hong Kong. A large band of musicians, who succeeded in making themselves heard, were followed by coolies carrying curious looking objects in blue and gilt, which, I was told, represent mythical and historical scenes. A number of very elegant Chinese lanterns and gorgeous looking banners were also carried along. I was told that in such processions they carry roast pig to the temples of the josses, but it is afterwards very sensibly carried off by the participants.

It would be a hopeless thing for a man to go to Hong Kong in search of employment. The banking and shipping houses, controlled by Europeans, certainly employ numbers of men, but they are brought from England under three and five years’ contracts. When a vacancy occurs from a death, or a transfer, the business house immediately consults its representatives in London, where another man signs an agreement, and comes out to Hong Kong to work.

One day I went up to Victoria Peak, named in honor of the Queen. It is said to be 1,800 feet high, the highest point on the island. An elevated tramway is built from the town to Victoria Gap, 1,100 feet above the sea. It was opened in 1887. Before that time people were carried up in sedans.

The first year after its completion 148,344 passengers were carried up the mountain side. The fare is thirty cents up and fifteen cents down. During the summer months Hong Kong is so hot that those who are in a position to do so seek the mountain top, where a breeze lives all the year round. Level places for buildings are obtained by blasting, and every brick, stone, and bit of household furniture is carried by coolies from the town up to the height of 1,600 feet.

At the Gap we secured sedan chairs, and were carried to the Hotel Craigiburn, which is managed by a colored man. The hotel–Oriental in style-is very liberally patronized by the citizens of Hong Kong, as well as visitors. After the proprietor had shown us over the hotel and given us a dinner that could not be surpassed we were carried to Victoria Peak. It required three men to a chair ascending the peak. At the Umbrella Seat, merely a bench with a peaked roof, everybody stops long enough to allow the coolies to rest, then we continue on our way, passing sight-seers and nurses with children. After a while they stop again, and we travel on foot to the signal station.

The view is superb. The bay, in a breastwork of mountains, lies calm and serene, dotted with hundreds of ships that seem like tiny toys. The palatial white houses come half way up the mountain side, beginning at the edge of the glassy bay. Every house we notice has a tennis-court blasted out of the mountain side. They say that after night the view from the peak is unsurpassed. One seems to be suspended between two heavens. Every one of the several thousand boats and sampans carries a light after dark. This, with the lights on the roads and in the houses, seems to be a sky more filled with stars than the one above.

Early one morning a gentleman, who was the proud possessor of a team of ponies, the finest in Hong Kong, called at the hotel to take me for a drive. In a low, easy phaeton behind the spirited ponies that seem like playthings in their smallness but giants in their strength, we whirled along through the town and were soon on the road edging the bay. We had a good view of the beautiful dry dock on the other side, which is constructed entirely of granite and is said to be of such size that it can take in the largest vessels afloat. I thought there were other things more interesting, so I refused to go over to it.

During our drive we visited two quaint and dirty temples. One was a plain little affair with a gaudy altar. The stone steps leading to it were filled with beggars of all sizes, shapes, diseases and conditions of filth. They were so repulsive that instead of appealing to one’s sympathy they only succeed in arousing one’s disgust.

At another temple, near by a public laundry where the washers stood in a shallow stream slapping the clothes on flat stones, was a quaint temple hewed, cave-like, in the side of an enormous rock. A selvage of rock formed the altar, and to that humble but picturesque temple Chinese women flock to pray for sons to be born unto them that they may have some one to support them in their old age.

After seeing everything of interest in Hong Kong I decided to go to a real Simon-pure Chinese city. I knew we were trying to keep the Chinamen out of America, so I decided to see all of them I could while in their land. Pay them a farewell visit, as it were! So, on Christmas eve, I started for the city of Canton.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31