Amoy, China

Friday, September 6, 1929

It was still rough this morning though better than yesterday. By nine-thirty we were in the shelter of some coastal islands, and shortly thereafter Amoy came into view.

The European residents, I think, live on a small island where several gigantic boulders shove themselves up high above trees and buildings. Rounding the island we came into full view of the native city located on a promontory of the mainland a short distance from the island. A conglomeration of junks, sampans, and small craft crowded the shore. In the channel between the two settlements several cargo vessels lay at anchor, loading or unloading, and nearby two gray British gunboats were swinging back and forth with the current—reminders that Amoy is a treaty port and British rights are to be protected.

Hardly had a cable been fastened to the buoy than out swarmed the flat-nosed, prong-stemmed native craft, their “eye” guiding them through the traffic, the oarsman standing at the back rowing. This is done in a clever way and a good speed can be maintained. A long oar is fastened to the back end of the boat, and the end of the handle is secured by a several-foot rope to the bottom of the boat. By working the oar back and forth and at the same time twisting the blade to one side, then the other, the boat is propelled through the water.

The Chief Engineer let me read Shanghai Nights by Tasman Ile. It is a story of life in Shanghai and very nearly represents true conditions according to the ship’s officers—so true in fact the book has been banned and recalled. It is a good story and tells a lot about Shanghai night life and the Chinese. Here is an excerpt:

“….landed in what is known as the International Settlement, entering its logical front door, the entrance to one of the world’s greatest side-shows, Nanking Road, main thoroughfare of this hybrid city extending from the waterfront five or six miles through the city and the exclusive residential area, to come to an abrupt end among acres of paddy-fields and rice-patches. In fifteen minutes one can leave behind the second-largest bank building in the world and stand beside a mud-hut with scrubby little natives caressing mangy, mongrel dogs.

“South of it is one of France’s territorial acquisitions, the French Concession, dotted with palatial residences, luxurious private clubs, spacious parks and sporting grounds, the abode of the wealthiest. Still further south—the Chinese City. Its filth, lawlessness and lack of civil administration become evident from its first yard of river-front, for like its neighboring communities, it also extends to the harbor-front, a mile south. Few residents of Shanghai ever venture more than once across its boundary-road of greasy, refuse-littered cobblestones. Just a maze of dismal, dirty, narrow streets, with few footpaths and fewer street lamps, it stands as a fair example of Chinese ignorance of municipal administration.

“But we are not finished yet, for away to the north of the International Settlement is still another member of this strange and subdivided community and perhaps, when speaking of this, the Chapei and Paoshan district, one speaks of two-thirds that is evil in Shanghai for here is the hot-bed of all that typifies the Chinese criminal, the home of the outlawed, the manure heap from which spring a myriad of germs of hate, revenge, revolution, and bloodshed.

“Like its twin south of the foreign settlements it struggles, year after year, through corrupt administration, foul-smelling and unsafe, the greatest, filthiest cess-pool of humanity from Peking to Singapore. It is here that armed devils in human shape concoct their fiendish schemes and campaigns of terror which they carry out in the neighboring settlements, and it is here that they flee when pursued, disappearing within the maze of ill-lighted, tortuous alleyways, to evade the stern reality of the foreigner’s law.

“Forty-four nations represented a cosmopolitanism without peer. Thirty thousand foreigners dwelling among nearly two million Chinese. Inside the settlement boundaries—law and order. Outside—graft and corruption with the goddess of justice completely fettered by the old Oriental game of graft and the power of  the purse. All types from red-hot Bolsheviks to calm, serene south of England parishioners, one and all dwelling under Far Eastern skies for his own known purpose, virtually dwelling among the peoples of every civilized nation, yet harmoniously—a veritable League of Nations.

“Surely a fitting stage for presenting one of the greatest, cruelest and most bitter-sweet dramas of the Orient, with players—some of our own race and color, some of that mysterious, unfathomable East and one, a bewitching blending of both. They meet where our fancies, our dreams and most colorful imaginings have rested since earliest youth, in a city which both fulfills our desires and shatters them with a single blow; in the greatest cradle of Western imagery and Eastern reality—the capital of Eurasia, the reputed port of missing men, the so-called ‘sink of iniquity,’ yet the gayest, greatest and most terrible city East of Suez and West of Panama.” . . .

“Perhaps in no place outside of Shanghai is there greater disillusionment awaiting the modern traveler from the West. So much has been written and told of the mythical ‘Call of the East’ that it has generally been accepted as an indisputable fact. But the longer one studies the supposedly insistent magnetism of the Far East, the more will one come to realize upon contact that it is mere idle fancy.” . . .

“It is only that itinerant class which, pleasure-bent, skips through the cities and countries of the East to return home to write wholly fanciful stories of its glamour and charm, who so wrongly refers with affected conviction to the ‘Call of the East.” They neither felt its call themselves nor found anybody in their travels who claimed its existence. But with the perversity of those who will not see, they will not be denied their little imaginings.

“‘The Call of the East’—Bah! ‘Boy!’ That is the real call of the East. From the moment Suez is left behind until the Pacific coast of America is reached it dins in one’s ears from rising sun to jading moon. It is upon the tongues of thousands of white men and women and at its sound thousands of Indians, Chinese, Malays and Japanese jump into action, for it is a word of command as magically effective as the ‘Open Sesame’ of the Arabian Nights.

“Usually emitted with a note of command (the acquirement of almost every foreigner who wanders beyond the blue waters of the Mediterranean), it electrifies its addressee into swift action, imbuing its utterer with a false sense of his own importance. It is as the Lamp of Aladdin, conjuring up whisky and soda, shoes, hat, golf-clubs, or conveying a chit with more speed than the telegraph. It is the magic word which summons one’s own particular and personal djinn, which vests one with the power of a caliph, a sheik, or a maharajah; the power to command and be obeyed.

“Boy! and an iced drink is within reach to cool for a moment the heated brow, all with that speed and silence which adds pleasure to the deed and clears one’s life of tiresome and worrying details. Should the brown or yellow djinn fail to respond immediately to the summons, it must be repeated with emphasis. One must thump the table or clap the hands. One cannot on any account be kept waiting, for is one not as a Sultan, to be waited upon at all times and in all places?”

True as day follows night and a chaser follows a stiff drink.

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