Opium is smoked publicly in all the tea houses. The drug is cooked over an alcohol lamp and when the “pill” is properly prepared it is placed in the tiny bowl of the pipe, held against the flame and the smoke inhaled. The process is a rather complicated one and during it the natives always recline. No visible effect is produced even after smoking several pipefuls, but the deathly paleness and expressionless eye marks the inveterate opium user.
There can be no doubt that the Chinese government has been, and is, genuinely anxious to suppress the use of opium and it has succeeded to a remarkable degree. We heard of only one instance of poppy growing in Yuen-nan and often met officials, accompanied by a guard of soldiers, on inspection trips. Indeed, while we were in Meng-ting the district mandarin arrived. We were sitting in our tents when the melodious notes of deep-toned gongs floated in through the mist. They were like the chimes of far away cathedral bells sounding nearer and louder, but losing none of the sweetness. Soon a long line of soldiers appeared and passed the camp bearing in their midst a covered chair. The mandarin established himself in a spacious temple on the opposite side of the village, where I visited him the following day and explained the difficulty we had had at the Meng-ting yamen. He aided us so effectually that all opposition to our plans ended and we obtained a guide to take us to a hunting place on the Nam-ting River, three miles from the Burma border.
CAMPING ON THE NAM-TING RIVER
Every morning the valley at Meng-ting was filled with a thick white mist and when we broke camp at daylight each mule was swallowed up in the fog as soon as it left the rice field. We followed the sound of the leader’s bell, but not until ten o’clock was the entire caravan visible. For thirty li the valley is broad and flat as at Meng-ting and filled with a luxuriant growth of rank grass, but it narrows suddenly where the river has carved its way through a range of hills.
The trail led uncertainly along a steep bank through a dense, tropical jungle. Palms and huge ferns, broad-leaved bananas, and giant trees laced and interlaced with thorny vines and hanging creepers formed a living wall of green as impenetrable as though it were a net of steel. We followed the trail all day, sometimes picking our way among the rocks high above the river or padding along in the soft earth almost at the water’s edge. At night we camped in a little clearing where some adventurous native had fought the jungle and been defeated; his bamboo hut was in ruins and the fields were overgrown with a tangle of throttling vegetation.
We had seen no mammals, but the birds along the road were fascinating. Brilliant green parrots screamed in the tree tops and tiny sun-birds dressed in garments of red and gold and purple, flashed across the trail like living jewels. Once we heard a strange whirr and saw a huge hornbill flapping heavily over the river, every beat of his stiff wing feathers sounding like the motor of an aeroplane. Bamboo partridges called from the bushes and dozens of unfamiliar bird notes filled the air.