Gibraltar, Algeria, Malta, Egypt, India, Burma, Singapore, China, Japan, Korea, Russia
May 11th, 1889
River Peiho, North China
My Beloved Angee,
I embarked on board my house boat about 3 yesterday afternoon about 3 miles up the river so that I had an opportunity of riding in a rickshaw through the thickly populated city where about a million of people are muddled together – all my baggage was put on board the boat when alongside the hotel and the servant was in charge. The river for a few miles out of Tuentsui is filled with boats of various fashion and junks so that it is quite a work to get through the sand for this reason it was suggested that I had better get on board after she had waded her way through all these difficulties. The ride through the city was lively enough too – the streets are only just wide enough for two Chinese conveyances to pass and if anything like a block happens it means the stoppage of scores of rickshaws wheelbarrows and bullock and mule carts in a moment. We had one little experience of this character arising from a fully freighted wheelbarrow meeting a Mandarin in his sedan chair and I suppose the driver of the barrow had not given all the room required for such dignitaries and a free handed fight ensued between the barrow proprietors and managers and the Mandarin's servants and they were handling each other very roughly for some time. The noise too was very loud and showed at any rate the vigour of their lungs. It ended in a defeat of the poor wheelbarrow men and an overturning of the same which made room for the mandarin and others to proceed on their way. I soon reached my boat and was curious to see the saloon accommodation not having as yet had a view of the interior. Well all speculation was soon at an end and I was face to face with my Robinson Crusoe tenement which is roomy enough being about 14 or 15 feet long – 6 feet wide with an arched roof allowing me to stand upright one half of its length is in the well of the boat and the rest covered at the side with planks allowing very free ventilation between every joint – the roof is constructed with bamboo matting and the deck a few loose boards not fastened which yield and creak finely every time I move. If there were a little more head room these would be a splendid arrangement for a springing board performance. A plank on one side forms both seat and table and upon this a four legged stool about 18 inches square which serves for a table for the meals. The proprietor of the hotel lent me a mattress and a pillow to match which is laid upon the planks forming an apology for the bed and I was not sorry when the day break came this morning for it was as much like being on bare boards as I ever experienced and mean to have my chair tonight for a change. The food is all right and the servant cooks it nicely – the table service consists of an enamelled iron tea cup and saucer – ditto plates – knife and fork is difficult to describe probably early china – the forks is simply a prong thus and knife too difficult to attempt an illustration – a black bottle for a candlestick other implements &c to match. It is certainly the most primitive affair I have ever seen and is a slight change from a P&O ship. But mind I am not murmuring for all things considered I am very comfortable and now that I have had about 10 hours' experience am getting accustomed to it. The river is very winding and not more than a stone's throw wide and we are never out of sight of boats and small junks. Chinese settlements are numerous along the banks and all the country is in a high state of cultivation but is flat and not many trees to relieve the monotony of the scene.
Our power for steaming[?] the river varies every half hour sometimes our large sail is filled with a breeze and on rounding of the bend this becomes adverse when two men jump ashore and with a long rope attached to the top of the mast pull her along – at other times they use long poles with which they force the craft through the water and perhaps against the wind. I very frequently jump ashore and walk along the bank for miles together. The weather is delightful so that I thoroughly enjoy it – I had nearly an hour's run this morning before breakfast which I did enjoy I can tell you. How I wish I could talk to these poor fellows – they were taking notice of my reading the Word this morning and one of them sitting near me uttered something I could not understand so I asked my servant and he told me it was Book they were saying he then told them that it was a book about the True God and Jesus Christ. After this I gave one of them the Gospel of John in Chinese which I had upside down making one of them smile and one took it from my hand and turned it the other way. They read some of the first chapter aloud and I hope God may give them to understand its blessed truth. They appeared to value it greatly.
Last Lord's day afternoon I spent a little time at the house of Mr Tomlin one of the China Inland Missionaries I met on board the "Ganges" two years since and was much cheered to see a Chinese sister in the Lord, who I am told is very bright in her soul and she looked it – she is only about 20 and married, with a little boy 16 months old – a beautifully bonny little fellow and wonderfully intelligent and could sing in Chinese a few lines of that hymn "Jesus lover of my soul" – he seemed much amused with my moustache and beard which he gave a good tugging.
May 2nd Evening
We have reached the stopping place of our house boat and I am thankful the first stage of this strange journey to Pekin is over. D.V. we leave by bullock cart at 7 am in the morning to complete the travel. I had a card of introduction to one of the missionaries residing here but from all I have seen of the surroundings am persuaded I had better stay on board my hut for the night rough as it is and take care of baggage. The hundreds I think I may say thousands of boats and junks we have passed in the river is really wonderful and at this place where we are now moored there is a perfect forest of masts mostly bringing up produce from the South and taking down Tea and other products of the North. The whole country for miles before we reached here is like a dessert[sic] and I can quite believe the stories of the sand storms I have heard about and which I trust not to have the experience of more than I have already tested. One might almost think we were in Egypt or Arabia for the sand and the long train of very shaggy camels moving to and fro, mostly carrying chests of Tea slung on their backs. I walked around the place just now outside the high city walls and the buzz of human life inside filled the air – I had no wish to look at it and saw enough to feel that the sooner I retreated inside my wooden hut the better and here I am sitting upon an empty narrow box and the four legged stool for a table and a solitary candle. If I may judge from the noises outside there will not be much chance of sleep for some hours at any rate. We have had a beautiful day through mercy and I have walked many miles across ploughed fields and footpaths along the river banks and sometimes on real desert sand. You may judge how thankful I am to get the exercise, although with my warm clothing it made me perspire freely.
May 4, Pekin
All the travelling I have had hitherto has been in the main what you may call straightforward but the journey to this city has been decidedly novel. To continue the story from the point I left on the last page we remained in our houseboat for the night and in spite of all sorts of noises I got some sound sleep – I only fancy how the boys would have smiled (perhaps cried) to have seen father sleeping in his Robinson Crusoe hut with a candle stuck in a bottle near his head. Well for a few hours I was undisturbed in my repose but between 3 and 4 in the morning I awoke very much alarmed at the yelling and shouting from many voices very near – what had happened was all a mystery to me and my terror was increased in hearing the report of gun and pistol shots. I thought of all sorts of things but kept quiet and my candle had burnt out so that all was darkness around. Then there was a movement among some of the planks on our boat and then I shouted pretty sharply for my servant who quickly awakened. I told him to light another candle and having done saw that it had commenced to rain a little and that all the uproar was their stirring of the men sleeping in the scores of boats along the river to spread some matting over a part of their boats they try to keep dry and I suppose the firing was a signal to awaken the sleepers. After this was over I got another nap and was thankful to wake up and find the daylight coming through the joint of my cabin. Breakfast was ready soon after 6 and at 7 am mule wagons were alongside and two were filled very quickly and some baggage still outside so a third was demanded and soon obtained. I had hoped to have had my rug bundle for a seat but alas this was out of the question and there was nothing but a thin cushion on the board and upon that I must sit – the getting in was not small difficulty. I tried first just as I should get into a bed to the great amusement of the Chinese, but found that when my head was in there was no room to turn my body so I had to retreat again and get in backward, sitting first upon the shaft and working myself back and even then my legs were outside. At length we started and went through the city Jung-chow is the name of the place and was glad enough to get through it. Our bumping soon commenced and it would baffle all my power to describe not the road for there is none but the places our wagon went over – if had not seen it I could never have believed that such a state of things could have existed in the world. You will see on the sheet of illustrations the position of the wagon and mind you this is not coloured but rather bumping every minute and you may rely if there had been any path to walk in I should soon have done it but it was deep in mud and filth. We halted at a Chinese Hotel about half way and the poor mules were certainly entitled to have some refreshment – tea was the only refreshment for us, so I had to fall back on my own stores which came in useful. The distance to Peking is about 13 or 14 miles and it was to be hoped that as we neared the city our road ways would improve, but alas they became worse and worse. They first sight of the city wall about 14 or 15 miles round was very imposing but as we drew near one of the gates the roads really alarmed me and once it seemed that destruction for us all was inevitable and I shouted to the driver and made signs for him to stop, but he only hastened our speed by giving harder whacks to the poor mule, and in a moment we had plunged into a pit and out of it again.