Chinatown. - Accompanied by a fellow-reporter, we made a trip through our Chinese quarter the other night. The Chinese have built their portion of the city to suit themselves; and as they keep neither carriages nor wagons, their streets are not wide enough, as a general thing, to admit of the passage of vehicles. At ten o'clock at night the Chinaman may be seen in all his glory. In every little cooped-up, dingy cavern of a hut, faint with the odor of burning Josh-lights and with nothing to see the gloom by save the sickly, guttering tallow candle, were two or three yellow, long-tailed vagabonds, coiled up on a sort of short truckle-bed, smoking opium, motionless and with their lusterless eyes turned inward from excess of satisfaction - or rather the recent smoker looks thus, immediately after having passed the pipe to his neighbor - for opium-smoking is a comfortless operation, and requires constant attention. A lamp sits on the bed, the length of the long pipe-stem from the smoker's mouth; he puts a pellet of opium on the end of a wire, sets it on fire, and plasters it into the pipe much as a Christian would fill a hole with putty; then he applies the bowl to the lamp and proceeds to smoke - and the stewing and frying of the drug and the gurgling of the juices in the stem would well-nigh turn the stomach of a statue. John likes it, though; it soothes him; he takes about two dozen whiffs, and then rolls over to dream, Heaven only knows what, for we could not imagine by looking at the soggy creature. Possibly in his visions he travels far away from the gross world and his regular washing, and feasts on succulent rats and birds'-nests in Paradise.
Mr. Ah Sing keeps a general grocery and provision store at No. 13 Wang Street. He lavished his hospitality upon our party in the friendliest way. He had various kinds of colored and colorless wines and brandies, with unpronounceable names, imported from China in little crockery jugs, and which he offered to us in dainty little miniature wash-basins of porcelain. He offered us a mess of birds'-nests; also, small, neat sausages, of which we could have swallowed several yards if we had chosen to try, but we suspected that each link contained the corpse of a mouse, and therefore refrained. Mr. Sing had in his store a thousand articles of merchandise, curious to behold, impossible to imagine the uses of, and beyond our ability to describe.
His ducks, however, and his eggs, we could understand; the former were split open and flattened out like codfish, and came from China in that shape, and the latter were plastered over with some kind of paste which kept them fresh and palatable through the long voyage.
We found Mr. Hong Wo, No. 37 Chow-chow Street, making up a lottery scheme - in fact, we found a dozen others occupied in the same way in various parts of the quarter, for about every third Chinaman runs a lottery, and the balance of the tribe "buck" at it. "Tom," who speaks faultless English, and used to be chief and only cook to the Territorial Enterprise, when the establishment kept bachelor's hall two years ago, said that "Sometime Chinaman buy ticket one dollar hap, ketch um two tree hundred, sometime no ketch um anything; lottery like one man fight um seventy - maybe he whip, maybe he get whip herself, welly good." However, the percentage being sixty-nine against him, the chances are, as a general thing, that "he get whip herself." We could not see that these lotteries differed in any respect from our own, save that the figures being Chinese, no ignorant white man might ever hope to succeed in telling "t'other from which"; the manner of drawing is similar to ours.
Mr. See Yup keeps a fancy store on Live Fox Street. He sold us fans of white
feathers, gorgeously ornamented; perfumery that smelled like Limburger cheese,
Chinese pens, and watch-charms made of a stone unscratchable with steel instruments,
yet polished and tinted like the inner coat of a sea-shell.* As tokens of his
esteem, See Yup presented the party with gaudy plumes made of gold tinsel and
trimmed with peacocks' feathers.
We ate chow-chow with chop-sticks in the celestial restaurants; our comrade
chided the moon-eyed damsels in front of the houses for their want of feminine
reserve; we received protecting Josh-lights from our hosts and "dickered"
for a pagan god or two. Finally, we were impressed with the genius of a Chinese
bookkeeper; he figured up his accounts on a machine like a gridiron with buttons
strung on its bars; the different rows represented units, tens, hundreds, and
thousands. He fingered them with incredible rapidity - in fact, he pushed them
from place to place as fast as a musical professor's fingers travel over the
keys of a piano.
*A peculiar species of the "jade-stone" - to a Chinaman peculiarly
[reprinted in Roughing It, chapter 54.
return to Enterprise index