Shans have been found in many other parts, even as far north as the borders of Tibet. But a Shan, owing to the similarity of his language in all parts of Asia, differs from the Chinese or the Yuen-nan tribesman in that he can get on anywhere. It is said that from the sources of the Irawadi down to the borders of Siamese territory, and from Assam to Tonkin, a region measuring six hundred miles each way, and including the whole of the former Nan-chao Empire, the language is practically the same. Dialects exist as they do in every country in the world, but a Shan born anywhere within these bounds will find himself able to carry on a conversation in parts of the country he has never heard of, hundreds of miles from his own home. And this is more than six hundred years after the fall of the Nan-chao dynasty, and among Shans who have had no real political or commercial relation with each other.[BE]
I found them a charming people, peaceful and obliging, treating strangers with kindness and frank cordiality. For the most part, they are Buddhists. The dress of the Chinese Shans, which, however, I found varied in different localities, leads one to believe that they are an exceptionally clean race, but I can testify that this is not the case. In many ways they are dirtier than the Chinese—notably in the preparation of their food. And I feel compelled to say a word here for the general benefit of future travelers. Never expect a Shan to work hard! He can work hard, and he will—when he likes, but I do not believe that even the Malay, that Nature’s gentleman of the farther south, is lazier.
As servants they are failures. A European in this district, whose Chinese servant had left him, thought he would try a Shan, and invited a man to come. “Be your servant? Of course I will. I am honored.” And the European thought at last he was in clover. He explained that he should want his breakfast at 6:00 a.m., and that the servant’s duties would be to cut grass for the horse, go to the market to buy provisions, feed on the premises, and leave for home to sleep at 7:00 p.m. The Shan opened a large mouth; then he spoke. He would be pleased, he said, to come to work about nine o’clock; that he had several marriageable daughters still on his hands and could not therefore, and would not, cut grass; he objected going to the market in the extreme heat of the day; he could not think of eating the foreigner’s food; and would go home to feed at 1:00 p.m. and leave again finally at 5:00 p.m. for the same purpose. He left before five p.m. Another man was called in. He was quite cheery, and came in and out and did what he pleased. On being asked what he would require as salary, he replied, “Oh, give me a rupee every market day, and that’ll do me.” The person was not in service when market day rolled round, and I hear that this European, who loves experiments of this kind, has gone back to the Chinese.
Chiu-Ch’eng (Kang-gnai) was going through a sort of New Year carousal as I entered the town, and everybody was garmented for the festival.