Aboard Pong Tong

Monday, August 26, 1929

Passed a hectic night. A half dozen Saigon mosquitoes parked in here and gave my no peace till 4 AM. The more I killed the more appeared. Also, I happened to choose the lee side of the ship and so got no breeze. It was plenty hot—too hot to sleep. When I finally did doze off, the blamed steward came in with a cup of tea and a big section of semi-dried orange at 6:30. Once again I tried sleeping only to be hauled out at 7:30 by the announcement that my bath was ready—a bucket of water on a wood board laid across the top of the bathtub.

To port and 7 or 8 miles off was Annam—a long rugged coast of fringing mountains, the higher inland peaks crowding down to the sea those lesser ones—the whole enshrouded by the steel-blue mist of early morn. In places the steep walls gave way to low stretches of light sandy beaches. The deep blue white-capped sea was flecked with the sails of a score of native fishing smacks. This picturesque Indo-Chinese coast might easily be the rugged mountainous coast of Andalusia where Spain’s southernmost mountain range majestically dips into the painted Mediterranean.

Following the heavy English breakfast, I wended my way bridge-ward to lounge in an easy chair and read about what American business should and should not do. For the second time the engines have gone on the blink (the first was while coming down the Saigon River). At 11:45 we were only 137 miles from Cape St. Jacques. The boat is an old one, built in 1902, and probably needs a set of monkey glands to pep things up a bit. The second mate, who is a Chinaman and claims Hongkong as his home, assured me I can get a boat from Canton to Shanghai. Better get up on my geography—maybe there is a river. More than likely though, he means via Hongkong.

The day was a perfect one, hot in the sun but pleasant in the shade and breeze. All day long we followed the coast of Annam. The coast was recessed with many bays and sandy beaches. Again the  mountains would push down to the sea and present perpendicular, serrated cliffs often 200 feet high. There were always effective cloud clusters hanging over the chain and often obscuring parts. Perhaps you could see it raining in a half dozen places at once.

Most of the morning and the afternoon I spent on the deck. Finished the magazine and again tackled physics, but found it hard to concentrate. Had one of the sailors take a picture of the Capt., First, and myself, all of which tickled the captain. Visited the engine room, then climbed the mast to get a picture. The wisest thing I did was to get a fan put in my room. It isn’t so blamed powerful, but better than nothing. The breeze—if any—is on this side tonight.

At dinner the Chief Engineer proposed a problem to be solved that only required you to find out what time is. We continued our far-flung talk till about nine, pretty well covering things in general—physics, engineering, travel, prohibition, Einstein and his researches, the atomic theory and radio-active substances, religion, etc. The chief is a real fellow—seems to have tried a little of everything—civil engineering, mechanic, railway clerk, mechanical engineering, aviation during the war, and now sailing the seas.

Off for bed, I got half-way to my cabin when I met my Chinese friend Mr. Tso Chak Wan. We had a talk about Hongkong, Canton, and religious festivals and has given me the address of his brother in Shanghai, Mr. Tso Chak Kan.

New China probably dates its years from the overthrow of the Imperial Monarchy 16 or 17 years ago, but the real system is thus:

There are twelve months or moons to the year, all having either 29 or 30 days. Every three or four years there is a leap year of 13 months. Thus today is the 22nd day of the 7th moon. Years are counted in cycles of sixty. Once a cycle is completed a new start is again made with the year one. There are many religious festivals. One took place on the 6th day of the 7th moon—passed.

Long ago a young maiden and a shepherd boy fell in love with each other. The maiden was very good and went to heaven. (He did not tell where the boy went but it wasn’t heaven.) Every year on this day the river (The Styx?) that flows between heaven and where the boy went is bridged by a bridge, I suppose so the lovers can love more successfully. At any rate, on this day costly processions, images of this young goddess, etc. are paraded about and the young girls worship this heaven-flown maiden. Another festival, the Moon Festival, comes about the 19th of September. The Chinese Day is the 8th moon, 15th day. There is always a full moon on the 15th. On this evening one seeing parades, celebrations, etc. in worship of the nice, big, fat, juicy, prosperous moon.

And so the days roll by on a ship where H. Lippincott is no less than a first-class passenger. May we have a wind storm from the starboard side tonight.

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