No Chinese, I knew, lived in the Valley; but I had yet to learn that so soon as the country drops to say less than 4,000 feet the Chinese consider it too unhealthy a spot for him to pass his days in. The reason why Shans control the Valley is, therefore, not hard to find.
And owing to the probability that what European travelers have written about the unhealthiness of this Salwen Valley has been based on information obtained from Chinese, its bad name may be easily accounted for. The next morning, as I descended, I saw much malarial mist rising; but, after having on a subsequent visit spent two days and two nights at the lowest point, I am in a position to say that conditions have been very much exaggerated, and that places quite as unhealthy are to be found between Lu-chiang-pa (the town at the foot, by the bridge) and the low-lying Shan States leading on to Burma.
A good deal of the country to the north of the Yuen-nan province, towards the Tibetan border, is so high-lying and so cold that the Yuen-nanese Chinese is afraid to live there; and the fact that in the Shan States, so low-lying and sultry, he is so readily liable to fever, prevents him from living there. These places, through reports coming from the Chinese, are, as a matter of course, dubbed as unhealthy. The average inhabitant—that is, Chinese—strikes a medium between 4,000 feet and 10,000 feet to live in, and avoids going into lower country between March and November if he can.
To pass the valley and go to Kan-lan-chi (4,800 feet), passing the highest point at nearly 9,000 feet—140 li distant from Fang-ma-ch’ang—was our ambition for the day.
Starting in the early morning, I had a pleasant walk over an even road leading to a narrowing gorge, through which a heart-breaking road led to the valley beyond. Two and a half hours it took me, in my foreign boots, to cover the twenty li. I fell five times over the smooth stones. The country was bare, desolate, lonely—four people only were met over the entire distance. But in the dreaded Valley several trees were ablaze with blossom, and oranges shone like small balls of gold in the rising sun. Children playing in between the trees ran away and hid as they saw me, although I was fifty yards from them—they did not know what it was, and they had never seen one!
Farther down I caught up my men, Lao Chang and Shanks, and pleasant speculations were entered into as to what Singai (Bhamo) was like. They were particularly interested in Singapore because I had lived there, and after I had given them a general description of the place, and explained how the Chinese had gone ahead there, I pointed out as well as I could with my limited vocabulary that if the people of Yuen-nan only had a conscience, and would only get out of the rut of the ages, they, too, might go ahead, explaining incidentally to them that as lights of the church at Tong-ch’uan-fu, it was their sacred duty to raise the standard of moral living among their countrymen wherever they might wander. Their general acquiescence was astounding, and in the next town, Lu-chiang-pa, these two men put their theory into practice and almost caused a riot by offering 250 cash for a fowl for which the vendor blandly asked 1,000. But they got the chicken—and at their own price, too.