MRS. TIMM'S BOARDING HOUSE,
BUBBLING WELL, SHANGHAI,
I arrived in Shanghai on the 4th Inst., and am staying at the above address, or, rather, I take my me~s here. It would be untrue to say that I sleep here, because I have only lain down at night and scratched myself so far, but hope for the best, as I have ordered a new mosquito curtain.
I find that it is necessary to have a mosquito curtain with a small mesh. My old curtain had a large mesh, through which the hungry pests could easily obtain access to the cuticle of the would-be sleeper; the result of which was inflammation and profanity.
Having stolen what little nourishment I have been aMe to obtain from a boarding-house diet, the mosquito, with its paunch distended at iny expense, was unable to pass out again.
Here everything is very, very strange as to customs, and even language, into which latter many words are intrdduced that one never hears round about Roehampton. For instance, the local inhabitants call a person who has not had time to have his constitution destroyed by the climate, his stomach ruined by the food, and his good temper utterly spoiled by Chinese servants, a "griffin." A]though they affect to despise any such, one can see that they have a sneaking regard for the newcomer, who is as yet free from the awful disabi]ities under which they themselves suffer.
Do not think I am decrying the local residents, as this is the jast thing I would do, even if only from a feeling of pity; for who could suffer as these poor people do and be amiable? Consider the conditions-mosquitoes that are capable of thought and ingenuity, and that possess bodies as ]arge as snipe; thermometer 1020 in the shade; a very limited and poor diet on account of the fact that each and every article of food, except haricot beans, places one in imminent danger of a distinct complaint peculiar to itself; constant and unremitting drenching with Carlsbad salts (which sell more readily than piece goods), and servants possessed of an inherited guile, improved and perfected through thousands of generations, combined with the bland, shameless mendacity that one usually associates only with the vendor of a rubber plantation.
As if this state of affairs were not bad enough, there are quite a number of Scotchmen settled here, who, as is almost invariably the case, thrive, because they drink nothing but whisky (which is safer than the water), and, having survived a draughty, blue-nosed upbringing in the Land 0' Cakes, can stand anything in the way of climate and food; further, the mosquitoes (being, as I said before, intelligent) do not bite them, because their skins are so hairy and tough, They are in great demand as managers of businesses and superintendents of shipping lines, because they never give anything away, even to their relations.
Ladies are very scarce, and are spoiled, as a natural result; probably on account of the fact that the unmarried ones receive, so I am inforined, an average of four propos~s a week. As they never accept any one with less than 400 taels per month (which expression I will explain later) and a relation on the Board of Directors or in the firm, as the case 'nay be, they acquire, from the habit of continually rejecting suitors, a kind of "Wha' for?" expression of countenance, which is very disconcerting to a stranger, and makes one get off the pavement when they approach, even if there is plenty of room.
After they are married, however, they become quite nice, especially to any one who is a member of the Country Club, and who has a motor-car or a houseboat and a lot of discretion, coupkd with a placid temperament.
I am of opinion that the tael is retained as a method of calculating payment and receipt by the Chinese principally on account of the fact that it does not actually exist, and in consequence cannot be faked or counterfeited. Anything that does exist is imitated, adulterated, and othervvise used as a method of deception by nearly every Chinaman over three years of age.
Money goes further here than anywhere else in the world. My salary this month is out of sight already, but the "compradores " (native cashiers) are always willing to advance anything one requires by paying one's bifls, because they are so adept at working out the exchange and getting commissions on accounts paid.
The town is not at present prosperous, and one reason for the bad times now existing is that the Chinese cheat the foreigners in every conceivable way, and also in every inconceivable way, and if caught, which is seldom, are fined $5, or get a week's imprisonment and immediate re-employment on release Even in prison they are generally better off than out of it. The penalty is so small that they consider the reward well worth the risk, corporal punishment being now abolished.
Should a foreigner, bowever, be discovered trying to cheat a Chinaman, he is awarded a long term of imprisonment which means ruin, of course; and if he happens to be a German, an American, or a Britisher, he is lucky to escape with his life.
This remark does not app~y to promoters of rotten companies, for whom, as you are aware, no adequate punishment can be designed until the advance of science enables our legislators to administer a severer correction than the death penalty.
This muddled state of affairs is principally owing to the fact that all Chinese have to be tried at a place called the Mixed Court, whieb title it has acquired because everything about it is so mixed up that no one understands what to do.
Any Chinarnan can bring a suit against a foreigner before that foreigner's Judge or Consul, but in cases where a foreigner has an action to bring against a Chinaman his only resort is the Mixed Court. The Mixed Court is designed to form a happy medium between the law of nations and the abom-inable, muddle-headed corruption of China. In this Court sit a fdreign assessor of the same nationality as the foreign litigant whose case is down for hearing, and the Mixed Court Magistrate, a Chinaman, who is chosen by the native authorities on account of his uncompromising Chineseness. The judgment of these two arbitrators must coincide, and the time of the Court is mostly taken up by the Chinese Magistrate's efforts to make the foreign assessor's judgment coincide with his own. This can never happen until China has an army and navy sufficiently strong to make the Powers see the force of her arguments, whether they are reasonable or the reverse. Chinese arguments being usually the reverse, her only hope of getting the better of a discussion is by force, even as we did in the days of those persuasive debaters. Raleigh, Drake, Clive, Phip and Dampier.
The Germans, Americans, and British consider it their duty to administer justice tempered with mercy, not to say generosity, to the man who is lodging a comp]a~t ctgainst any of their nationals, a diplomatic arrangement of which the wisdom is apparent to all-who happen to live at home. As the Chinese idea would appear to most distinctly favour their own nationals in the Mixed Court, the whole arrangenlent is a hopeless failure, and- like every other hesitating concession of a higher civilization to a lower-obstructive to advancement by reason of the activity of opposing forces.
The continual bickering and disputes which charructenze the procedure at this Court culminated in a riot sonle five years ago, and one incident occurred which goes to prove that there is humour even in riots.
Many of the volunteers were stationed at the Country Club, and one citizen soldier showed such keenness to get to work that his eagerness was the cause of some speculation. when questioned as to whether be had any especial cause to desire wholesale slaughter, be reNied, "Oh, no, it's not that exactly, but if they will riot rm going to look for my Chinese taflor. I owe him $160."
The Japanese is the only foreigner who can indulge in a misdemeanour with impunity, as in his case drunkenness and an assault on the police are only punished by a severe caution and perhaps $1 fine.
This is on a par with the open-door policy asapplied to their recently annexed territory; the door is wide open, but it is so small that only a Jap can pass in.
Not that I have a word to say against the Japs, for nothing could be farther from my intention, but they do love themselves with such an all-absorbing passion that they have no sentiment to spare for other races.
I will bear in mind what you say about saving money, so soon as I get any material to work with; meantime, if you have a couple of racing saddles to spare, with weight cloths, please send them along.
Having only just time to catch the mail, I must now condude, and, with love and duty to mother and all at home, subscribe myselt,
Your dutiful son,