In the daytime, Saigon is as hot as that last bourne whither all evil-doers wander—Englishmen and dogs alone are seen abroad between nine and one. But in the soothing cool of the soft tropical evening, gay-lit boulevards, a magnificent State-subsidized opera-house, alfresco cafes where dawdle the domino-playing absinthe drinkers, the fierce-moustached gendarmes, and innumerable features typically and picturesquely French, induced me easily to believe myself back in the bewildering whirl of the Boulevard des Capucines or des Italiennes. Whether the narrow streets of the native city are clean or dirty, whether garbage heaps lie festering in the broiling sun, sending their disgusting effluvia out to annoy the sense of smell at every turn, the municipality cares not a little bit. Indifference to the well-being of the native pervades it; there is present no progressive prosperity. Every second person I met was, or seemed to be, a Government official. He was dressed in immaculate white clothes of the typical ugly French cut, trimmed elaborately with an ad libitum decoration of gold braid and brass buttons. All was so different from Singapore and Hong-Kong, and one did not feel, in surroundings which made strongly for the laissez-faire of the Frenchman in the East, ashamed of the fact that he was an Englishman.
Three days north lies Hong-Kong, an all-important link in the armed chain of Britain’s empire east of Suez, bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh of Great Britain beyond the seas. The history of this island, ceded to us in 1842 by the Treaty of Nanking, is known to everyone in Europe, or should be.
Four and a half days more, and we anchored at Woo-sung; and a few hours later, after a terribly cold run up the river in the teeth of a terrific wind, we arrived at Shanghai.
The average man in Europe and America does not know that this great metropolis of the Far East is far removed from salt water, and that it is the first point on entering the Yangtze-kiang at which a port could be established. It is twelve miles up the Whang-poo. Junks whirled past with curious tattered brown sails, resembling dilapidated verandah blinds, merchantmen were there flying the flags of the nations of the world, all churning up the yellow stream as they hurried to catch the flood-tide at the bar. Then came the din of disembarkation. Enthusiastic hotel-runners, hard-worked coolies, rickshaw men, professional Chinese beggars, and the inevitable hangers-on of a large eastern city crowded around me to turn an honest or dishonest penny. Some rude, rough-hewn lout, covered with grease and coal-dust, pushed bang against me and hurled me without ceremony from his path. My baggage, meantime, was thrown onto a two-wheeled van, drawn by four of those poor human beasts of burden—how horrible to have been born a Chinese coolie!—and I was whirled away to my hotel for tucker. The French mail had given us coffee and rolls at six, but the excitement of landing at a foreign port does not usually produce the net amount of satisfaction to or make for the sustenance of the inner man of the phlegmatic Englishman, as with the wilder-natured Frenchman. Therefore were our spirits ruffled.