Canton, China

Sunday, September 1, 1929

Off to a bum start. The boy didn’t call me and therefore I should ring his neck. But I woke up at 6:15, so had no trouble getting down to the train before seven, only to find I was “off” an hour and had to wait an hour till eight.

Being very uppish, I got a 2nd class ticket at practically a penny a mile. In came a bunch of American missionaries, so I had company.

The train is a good one, standard gauge, and well-appointed for comfort. Three hours and forty minutes are needed to do the 111 miles to Canton. The first hour after leaving Kowloon the line passes through a mountainous country of great beauty and through a 2,404-f00t tunnel under Beacon Hill. There is the beautiful Shatin Valley encircled by mountains on all sides. Soon the train emerges on the seashore and winds in and out along the water’s edge for seven miles—a gorgeous scene of water, islands, and mountains. It is said to rival the famous Lakes of Killarney. Even the rain did not detract much of the beauty.

Leaving the inland sea, the train plunges into a section of hills whose peaks average 2,000 feet above sea level. Soon the train stops at the Chinese frontier where a troop of Chinese soldiers are taken on—faded blue uniforms, khaki leggings, sloppy cap, and gun. Bandits from the hills are a menace to the train. There is always such danger, but no trouble has occurred for a year now.

The remainder of the distance to Canton is either through flat or slightly hilly country, intensely cultivated. In this seat of civilization live millions of people who must live, and thus there is here what is truly termed intensive cultivation—a sea of green in every direction. Hills are never cultivated for they are sacred. It is here the superstitious ancestor-worshiping population buries its dead. The graves are dug into the hillside in the shape of a parabola. A brick wall is built up about the sides, leaving a level indentation on the hill like a ship’s prow. Often an inner prow is built with the outer one. At the end is a closed door, probably leading to the chamber where the body lies.

Villages were numerous. It is difficult to estimate their sizes for the hundreds of one-storied clay-corrugated-tile-roofed brick houses are arranged in rows, leaving for a yard between for a street. Living conditions must be wretched in such places but it is a protection from bandits and a saver of ground. I suppose that after thousands of years of such unhealthy life, these people have gradually become more or less immune to many germs that would keel others over in no time. In every village the most conspicuous landmark is a tall, square, white tower, perhaps several. They seem everywhere among the hills—conspicuous in the green setting. These are pawn shops where people keep their valuables, especially their clothing as different seasons come around.

Nearer Canton the country becomes as one big garden, supplying the big city with every description of vegetable and food. Tiger Mountain—4,000 ft—lies at the back door of Canton, so to speak. Two tall pagodas are passed a few miles from the city.

No sour grapes to any other cities in Asia, but Canton is claimed to be the largest, 2,500,000 souls squeezed and packed in a city which is the center of what is probably the most densely settled region on earth. The great Pearl River flows past Canton. A river in China is really a river, and an island several miles broad and long is nothing unusual. Canton lies at a point where the river forks into two large branches. The city is entirely flat save for a lone hill at the north end of the town on which used to repose an old fort.

Not far from the city the hills begin and there is Tiger Mountain. City people will not venture into these hills though for fear of bandits who will rob them, hold them for ransom, or perhaps kill them. From what I gather, each town seems to be a complete bandit organization in itself—one means of existence. Canton not only has lovely neighbors but very ambitious citizens.

My friends, Dr. and Mrs. J.F. Karcher of Pittsburgh with their two-year-old Jimmie were returning from the Philippines. They asked me to stay at their mission which I did, thus gaining a little insight on the life of missionaries. After much trouble and bargaining in Chinese, they finally got a rambling car to haul us all to the other end of town. Before a mile was covered the thing went dead—and while the man is fixing the engine, such as it is, I shall tell myself about Chinese streets in general. About fifteen years ago Canton had nothing but alley-like streets barely wide enough for one rickshaw through. When one did go through, all pedestrians had to crowd back into doorways to make room. Today there are still hundreds of these streets, but the city has undertaken the construction of a number of wider “horse streets,” comparable to those of Europe. Here the six hundred or so autos and countless rickshaws ply their trade.

Motor fixed—off we went. A driver blessed with Irish luck for missing animals, people, and other vehicles no matter how fast he tore through the crowded streets nor where he steered. Long rows of low buildings fronting the streets, much decorated with flags, signs, and gilt paint—much the same as in Hongkong.

When at last we stopped, we were still in the Chinese section. A bearer loaded about 250 lbs. of baggage into two rope-nets, one at each end of a stout bamboo pole, and half trotted all the half mile to the Hackett Medical College with his burden. This college is located in a well-to-do Chinese section. Many of the “streets” have been remade here and widened to about ten feet. Of old, the drainage ran down a small channel under the large granite blocks of the pavement. This was getting to be a family affair for everybody brought their washing, etc. into the street and the dirty water drained down into the channel. New streets have a more modern piping system of sanitation.

A residence street or boulevard in this wealthy section consists of two continuous rows of gray brick two-storey houses—never a sign to mark one from the other. Two steps lead to a very tall doorway indented in the wall. Luckily I saw a home in the process of building, so was able to get an idea of what they are like inside.

Every home has a tall wide screen just within the doorway. The Chinese are a very superstitious people. Their peace is always upset by ghosts and such comforting thoughts. However ghosts can only travel in straight lines, so a screen before the door prevents their entrance. In this sort of hall are often seen huge colored paper Chinese lanterns, usually a yard in height and width. The door itself is curious. It consists of a tall sliding framework. At intervals of six inches are thick horizontal wooden bars. For privacy there is an outside door of solid wood with fancily carved top that operates like a shutter.

I have not seen the entire interior of a furnished house. Behind this screen is a large two-storey room, lighted by some sort of a glass skylight or roof. Around the edges may be a balcony. In the rear is another and smaller room with, I believe, a lower roof. A very fancily-carved wood trellis-arch, heavily gilt, separated the two rooms.

As to furnishings—a wealthy family has a number of blackwood chairs placed around the walls and a long, low, broad blackwood table or settee on which to recline or sleep. They use no mattresses nor pillows. What other things are to be found in this room I can only guess at from the furniture and various other objects I have seen in the shops. There is another large room next to this first one but what it is used for I don’t know—sleeping and eating I suppose.

At the end of one of these ritzy boulevards, and next to a large European tropic-styled house where lives a Chinaman with his seven wives, you enter a gateway in a wall to the right and unexpectedly find yourself in a fair-sized grassy compound surrounded by buildings of the hospital, new and old. The place is self-supporting, paid for by the wealthier patients. The free clinic treats 21,000 cases a year but with six men to help. This college in conjunction with two more in Canton trains students, gives them their intern work and finally a degree sponsored by New York University.

For lunch we all went to the Sauers’ house at one end of the college. Mr. Sauers is the pharmacist and teaches a number of subjects—an energetic and very talented man. Mrs. Sauers is real nice too. Mr. French (?), another German, was also there. He is a bank official.

Later Mr. Sauers’ assistant, a young Chinaman, took me out into the tangle of streets. Canton is about the worst yet until you get the drift. When I had studied a map and viewed the city from the roof of the hospital, I began to have an idea of what it was all about.

It was rather rainy part of the time but sightseeing is sightseeing. First we went to the Temple of the 500 Genae or Genii or whatever the blasted things are called. In substance they are plaster images, a little larger than life, and have been gilt in the past. They sit in rows in a dingy old out-of-the-way building you have to squeeze through a hole in the fence to get to. Here also is an old statue of Marco Polo. The doorkeepers are as antiquated as their surroundings, but not too much so as not to raise a big kick when I gave one ten cents for opening a door twice and the other the same for standing in line as I went out. They wanted 40¢, which of course they didn’t get.

Not far away was a narrow street with many flags and cloths hung up between the buildings, serving mainly to keep the sun out. Both sides were lined with carpenters’ shops open to the street. Here you could watch the craftsmen at work making blackwood furniture and also inspect the finished product.

Next we took a rickshaw to what the Europeans call Jade Street. This street is devoted to work in ivory, jade, amber, silver, brass, etc. Again you can watch the ivory cutters at work, but the factories where most of these objects of art are manufactured are still farther away. I imagine a woman would proceed to go crazy in such a street and run wild with hubby’s money. [Humpf!] They have some exquisite pieces there and even first prices are cheap. By some miracle of fate, I didn’t buy anything, mainly because I knew I would have to pay a duty to take it into Japan and Dad would have to pay one if I sent it home. [Double bummer.]

We returned to the rickshaws by way of the street where silks, etc. are sold. That street would be another waterloo for women. It is interesting to watch them paste the parts of heavy designed silk cloth etc. together, using an old flat iron resembling an iron pan in which are placed the hot coals to keep it hot.

There are countless other things to see in this jumble of narrow passageways. Flower markets that even out-smell the neighborhood they are in—fish markets that nothing could out-smell—marble-cutters shops, restaurants in which Chinese are eating their meals a la chopsticks from small tables—narrow canals of black water threading their crooked way through the city—sampans by the scores on these filthy waterways—peddlers of all sorts, their wares in baskets hanging from either end of a pole across their shoulders—money changers—the hundreds of coolies with their broad, peaked straw hats—city police in soiled white uniforms and khaki leggings, a revolver strapped to their hip—beggars (though not many) who often have a peculiar way of begging—by doubling over on the pavement, head buried in their arms, and waiting and moaning to impress you with their needs—some young Chinese men and women dressed in European clothes, the women usually compromising by knee-skirts and high-neck collar, the dress having no belt and usually of a prettily designed and colored silk. Lots and lots of Chinese girls are plenty good looking—in fact I think that as a rule many of them can make the European women look ungainly and all out of proportion in comparison. Chinese gals are really put up.

There are the busy, smelly market places, teeming with humanity, crowded in narrow streets, the shops all open to the street, large signs of Chinese characters, flags, large cloths hung between the buildings to keep out the sun, or else a bamboo woven lattice-work for the same purpose—the women with their shiny black trousers and blouses, their jet black hair slicked back and tied in a knot or let fall in a tail—the coolies with the worn black trousers and no shirt, their bones and muscles rippling beneath their tanned skin—the children everywhere, all sorts, shapes, and sizes, but few naked, most wearing a sort of romper having no seat and thus saving much washing—mothers with their babies in a little cloth affair on their backs, young girls playing about the streets with a baby on their back—and the baby with its head way over to one side as if it had a broken neck, and always asleep no matter how much the jolting—usually pretty dirty. The Chinese are very fond of their children.

The cries of street vendors—perhaps a large paper representation of a temple, altar, or something placed on the doorstep of a deceased person’s house, to be burnt at night with much imitation paper money. They seem to spend more on a person after death to keep the evil spirits and ghosts from him, than they spend on him during life. Often a mess of firecrackers makes you jump, thinking a new revolution is starting. Deaths, and any other occasion, are the excuse for firing off a string of these. In the markets are all sorts of queer vegetables, etc. used in making Chinese food.

At six we returned to the college where again we all dined at the Sauers. Three Americans and three Germans—the latter drinking beer and the former water like true law-abiding citizens. But water or beer, there were many toasts in this jolly crew. Dinner over, we listened to some of Schubert’s and Beethoven’s operas on the victrola for a couple of hours.

I stayed with the Sauers all night.

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