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Town of Hokow — Its situation, trade, and great importance — Bohea mountain chair — Mountain road — Beggars by the wayside — Beautiful scenery — The priest and his bell — Town of Yuen-shan — Appearance of the road — Tea coolies — Different modes of carrying the tea-chests — Large tea-growing country — Soil and plantations — My first night in a Chinese inn — Reception — Dirty bed-rooms — I console myself, and go to dinner.
HOKOW, or Hohow, as it is called by the southern Chinese, is one of the most important inland towns in the empire. It is situated in latitude 29° 54' north, and in longitude 116° 18' east, on the left bank of the river Kin-keang, down which I had come. Judging from its size, and comparing it with other towns, I imagine it contains about 300,000 inhabitants. It is the great emporium of the black-tea trade. Merchants from all parts of China come here, either to buy teas, or to get them conveyed to other parts of the country.
Large inns, tea-hongs, and warehouses, are met with in every part of the town, and particularly along the banks of the river. The boats moored abreast of the town are very numerous. There are small ones for single passengers, large passage-boats for the public, and mandarins' boats gaily decorated with flags. Besides these there are large cargo-boats, for conveying tea and other merchandise either eastward to Yuk-shan, or westward to the Poyang lake. Hokow is to the inland countries of the west what Shanghae and Soo-chow are to places nearer the sea.
On the day after our arrival I proceeded to a hong, or inn, in the town, and engaged a chair and coolies to take me across the Bohea mountains to the town of Tsong-gan-hien, near Woo-e-shan. One of the men was to carry our luggage, including the large package of grass-cloth. When we were making our agreement with the innkeeper for the men and chair, he informed us that the distance between Hokow and Woo-e-shan was 320 le, and that, as the road was very hilly in many parts, we should require four days at least for the journey. As I had been frequently consulting my map and measuring the distances, I was surprised to hear that we had so far to go, but when I gave the matter a little consideration I had reason to believe that the innkeeper was perfectly correct. In calculating my distances I had not taken into consideration the many hills and mountains we had to cross on our way, which not only impeded our progress, but made the road much longer than it appeared on the map.
It is no child's play to cross these mountains, and therefore, before we started, the chair had to be examined and made as strong as possible. Chairs used for long journeys of this kind are constructed in a different manner from those seen in towns and in the level districts of the country. The common mountain-chair, which consists of little more than two stout bamboo poles and a cross-bar to sit upon, is very well for a short journey, but it would be rather inconvenient to travel in one for 300 or 400 le, exposed to a fierce sun, and oftentimes to heavy rain.
The Bohea-mountain chair is constructed with more attention to the comforts of the traveller. It has above the seat a light bamboo frame covered with oiled paper or glazed cloth. The seat has a back to it formed at an angle of 45 degrees, and as the chair itself, foot-board and all, is generally about four feet long, the traveller can recline and sleep if he chooses to do so. Some soft article, such as the wadded bed-cover in common use, is generally spread over the bottom and back of the chair, which makes it very comfortable.
Having made all our arrangements, I got into my chair, and we left Hokow, travelling in a southerly direction across the valley, which I have already noticed. A small river, which rises on the north side of the Bohea mountains, and which falls into the Kin-keang near Hokow, comes winding down this valley, and was crossed several times on our way.
Leaving the valley of Hokow we gradually began to enter a hilly country, and now and then our road led us up hill-passes of considerable steepness. In going over one of these passes my chair was besieged by a host of beggars, the most importunate I ever met with. Another traveller, who was a few yards in advance of me, had them all about him for some time. I could hear him protesting that he had no cash in his pockets, and beseeching them to go away, but this seemed only to render them more importunate. Whether he gave them anything or not I cannot tell, but they left him and came to me. I had not a single cash in my pocket, and, Sing-Hoo being far behind, I did not know what to do. I, however, closed my eyes, and feigned to be fast asleep. When they held out their baskets for alms I was of course sleeping most soundly. "Loi-ya, loi-ya," 1 they bawled in my ear, and did their best to awake me; but finding the tongue of no avail, they beat the sides of the chair with their hands, and at last got hold of my clothes. I have a great horror of being touched by a Chinese beggar, who is generally filthy beyond description. Starting up, I nearly capsized the chair, greatly to the annoyance of my bearers, who immediately forced the beggars to desist and to go away. When we reached the top of the pass I desired my bearers to put me down and to rest themselves. There was a pretty little house, or traveller's resting-place, just on the summit, from which I obtained an excellent view of the country.
In the valley beyond me lay a small town, named Yuen-shan. At first sight it appears to be completely encircled by hills; but this is not the case, for the mountain stream which I have just noticed passes the town, and winds round the hills on its way to Hokow.
Descending the hill on our way to Yuen-shan I had another encounter with beggars, but having provided myself with a few cash I easily got rid of them. Many of them were lame and blind, but somehow or other all managed to get close to my chair.
We now came to an archway erected over the road near the base of the hill. As I was passing through this archway an old man, a priest, came out and struck a bell three times. Whether this was done in my honour, or to propitiate the gods for my safety and success, I cannot tell, but it was evident the priest expected something for his trouble, and Sing-Hoo, who pretended to be a good Buddhist, gave him a few cash as we passed under the arch.
We now entered the town of Yuen-shan. It is about 60 le distant from Hokow, and stands on the banks of the mountain stream. Though not large, it seems a flourishing place. It is on the highway from the black-tea country of Fokien, and nearly all the teas brought thence on the backs of coolies are here put in small boats and conveyed to Hokow. Owing to there being a water-communication between these towns, I did not observe much traffic on the road. I was now, however, about to enter upon a crowded and bustling thoroughfare, like that between the sources of the two rivers described in the last chapter.
As it was mid-day when we entered Yuen-shan, I went to an inn, and had some refreshment, while the coolies had their dinner. When we resumed our journey, we found many travellers on the road, going and returning from the tea-country in chairs. All of them seemed to be sound asleep. This is a common practice amongst the mountain travellers, the chairs being constructed so as to enable them to do so comfortably
Coolies were now met in great numbers, loaded with tea-chests. Many of them carried only one chest. These I was told were the finer teas; the chest was never allowed to touch the ground during the journey, and hence these teas generally arrive at their destination in much better order than the coarser kinds. The single chests were carried in the following manner. Two bamboos, each about seven feet long, had their ends lashed firmly to the chest, one on each side. The other ends were brought together, so as to form a triangle. By this means a man could carry the chest upon his shoulders, with his head between the bamboos in the centre of the triangle. A small piece of wood was lashed under the chest, to give it an easy seat upon the shoulders. The accompanying sketch will give a better idea of this curious mode of carrying tea than any description.
When the coolie who carried his burden in this way wanted to rest, he placed the end of the bamboos upon the ground, and raised them to the perpendicular. The whole weight now rested upon the ground, and could be kept in this position without any exertion. This was very convenient in coming up the steep passes amongst the mountains, for in some of them the coolies can only proceed a few yards at a time without resting, and if they had not a contrivance of this description the loads would have to be frequently put down upon the ground. When stopping at inns or tea-shops for refreshment, the chests carried in this way are set up against a wall, and rest upon the ends of the bamboos.
All the low-priced teas are carried across in the common way; that is, each coolie, with a bamboo across his shoulders, carries two chests, one being slung from each end of the bamboo. Whenever he rests, either on the road or at the inn, the chests are set down upon the ground, and consequently get soiled, and do not arrive at their destination in as good order as those carried in the other way.
The route we pursued was now in all respects a highland road. At one time we were passing through a beautiful valley, at another our road wound round the mountain side, and frequently it boldly breasted the hill, and led us over into another valley beyond. As we went over the passes we always rested while on the highest point, from which we obtained a view, not only of the valley through which we had come, but also of that to which we were going. The long trains of coolies laden with chests of tea and other produce, and with the mountain chairs of travellers, presented a busy and curious scene, as they toiled up the mountain side, or were seen winding their way through the valleys. These were views of "China and the Chinese" as they are seen in everyday life.
After leaving the town of Yuen-shan we entered a large tea-growing country. The shrubs were dotted on the lower sides of all the fertile hills. Sometimes they were growing on level land, but that was invariably dry, well drained by its position, and much higher than rice-ground. The soil of these plantations consisted of a red-coloured loam mixed with a considerable portion of gravel and sand. Many of the tea-farms had been but lately formed, and the cultivation of the shrub in this district is evidently on the increase. Tea grown and manufactured here can of course be conveyed to the great export marts of Shanghae and Canton much quicker and more cheaply than those from the southern side of the Bohea mountains.
We were now approaching the end of our first day's journey from Hokow. The day was far advanced, and we intended to put up for the night at Chu-chu, a small town near the foot of the Bohea mountains properly so called. During all my wanderings in China I had never yet slept in a Chinese inn, and could not help indulging in various speculations respecting it. Calling Sing-Hoo, I desired him and the coolie with the luggage to go before, and look out for a respectable place in which we could pass the night.
The town of Chu-chu is built on the two sides of a mountain stream. It is a small, poor place, supported by travellers and coolies passing to and from the Bohea mountains, and by the trade in the tea which is grown and manufactured in the surrounding districts.
My chairmen followed Sing-Hoo down the main street of the town for some distance. He had been making many inquiries by the way, and at last entered one of the numerous inns which abound in the place. Having hastily inspected it, and seeing it would suit our purpose, he returned to the door to give me this information. After being received in due form by the landlord, I walked through the outer part of the premises into the reception-hall.
This inn, although somewhat smaller than the one formerly described, was built upon the same plan. The part fronting the street was perfectly open, being entirely composed of pillars and shutters. Mine host, with a cloth in his hand, hastily wiped a table and chair, and, bowing politely, asked me to be seated. He then placed a cup of tea before me, and brought a joss-stick to light my pipe, and, having done so, he retired and left me to my own reflections.
I had now time to take a survey of my quarters. In the front part of the building a number of persons were dining at tables placed there for the accommodation of travellers. I had given them a slight glance as I passed through, but was now able to examine the groups with more leisure. My chair-bearers and coolie were already seated at one of those tables, evidently enjoying their evening meal after the fatigues of the day. Sing-Hoo was bustling about with the landlord, making himself quite at home, and ordering the materials for my dinner. Perhaps this had a tendency to turn the landlord's attention more to his own business than to that of his guests; but be this as it may, he never appeared to have the slightest idea that he had a foreigner under his roof, and asked no troublesome questions.
On each side of the hall in which I sat there were a number of small sleeping apartments — I can scarcely call them bedrooms — and in one of them my luggage had been placed. It was about twelve feet square, and had two beds and a table in it. It had no window, nor any aperture of the kind for the admission of light, but the front boarding was not carried so high as the roof, and hence an imperfect light streamed in from the top, or through the doorway when that was open. Add to this an uneven earthen floor, and the walls besmeared with the remains of tallow and dirt, and a fair idea may be formed of the place in which I was about to pass the night.
In ordinary circumstances these appearances would have been very discouraging. But I had "counted the cost" of all these things before I began to travel in China. I never expected to find my way strewed with luxuries; I knew the people were not very remarkable for cleanliness in their dwellings, and I was therefore in some measure prepared for all the inconveniences to which I was subjected. The only way was to make myself as comfortable as the circumstances would admit of.
I therefore called Sing-Hoo, and desired him to sweep my bed-place before he unpacked my sleeping mat and other articles for the night. Whilst this was going on the host informed me that dinner was ready and placed on the table in the centre of the hall. The fare was plain and homely. There was a large basin full of boiled rice, with other smaller ones containing fish, eggs, and pork. The vegetables consisted of cabbages and bamboo. The latter I thought extremely good, and always ordered it during the remainder of our journey.
I did full justice to the rice, eggs, fish, and bamboo, and left the other articles for Sing-Hoo, who seemed to enjoy them with equal relish. Dinner being over, the dishes were removed, and tea set upon the table. Our labours for the day being over, pipes were lighted, and the smoke rose in wavy curls to the roof of the inn.
1 A term applied to a mandarin or government Officer.