Before we left Yuen-nan Fu we were assured by the Foreign Office that we would be furnished with a guard of soldiers—an honor few foreigners escape! The first day out we had four, all armed with umbrellas! These accompanied us to the first camp where they delivered their official message to the yamen and intrusted us to the care of others for our next day’s journey.
Sometimes they were equipped with guns of the vintage of 1872, but their cartridges were seldom of the same caliber as the rifles and in most cases the ubiquitous umbrella was their only weapon. Just what good they would be in a real attack it is difficult to imagine, except to divert attention by breaking the speed limits in running away.
Several times in the morning we believed we had escaped them but they always turned up in an hour or two. They were not so much a nuisance as an expense, for custom requires that each be paid twenty cents (Mexican) a day both going and returning. They are of some use in lending an official aspect to an expedition and in requisitioning anything which may be needed; also they act as an insurance policy, for if a caravan is robbed a claim can be entered against the government, whereas if the escort is refused the traveler has no redress.
It is amusing and often irritating to see the cavalier way in which these men treat other caravans or the peasants along the road. Waving their arms and shouting oaths they shoo horses, mules or chairs out of the way regardless of the confusion into which the approaching caravan may be thrown. They must also be closely watched for they are none too honest and are prone to rely upon the moral support of foreigners to take whatever they wish without the formality of payment.
We were especially careful to respect the property on which we camped and to be just in all our dealings with the natives, but it was sometimes difficult to prevent the mafus or soldiers from tearing down fences for firewood or committing similar depredations. Wherever such acts were discovered we made suitable payment and punished the offenders by deducting a part of their wages. Foreigners cannot respect too carefully the rights of the peasants, for upon their conduct rests the reception which will be accorded to all others who follow in their footsteps.
On Friday, September 23, we were at Chou Chou and camped in a picturesque little temple on the outskirts of the town. As the last stage was only six hours we spent half the morning in taking moving pictures of the caravan and left for Ta-li at eleven-thirty after an early tiffin.
About two o’clock in the afternoon we reached Hsia-kuan, a large commercial town at the lower end of the lake. Its population largely consists of merchants and it is by all means the most important business place of interior Yuen-nan; Ta-li, eight miles away, is the residence and official city.