California: a pleasure trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate,
April, May, June, 1877.
By Mrs. Frank Leslie.
Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33
SUPPER AT A CELESTIAL RESTAURANT.
"THERE were about one hundred and fifty gambling-houses in China Town a year ago, and I suppose there are fully half as many now, and I wish I knew the precise address of one of them," remarked officer MacKenzie pensively, as we stood once more in the open street. "When the outcry against Chinese cheap labor started up, the authorities made a raid upon all sorts of little games down here, and managed, not to cure John of gambling, for that can't be done, but to teach him to hide himself so cunningly that no one but the Father of Lies himself can find him out. If we hear of a house and make a descent upon it, we never find anything but the sleepiest, honestest, smilingest old Chinaman, just getting out of bed and maybe offering us a cup of tea because it is such a cold night. Every gambling-house has three street doors to pass through, and at each one sits a man with the string of a bell close at hand, and the minute there is trouble, the bells ring, the porters disappear, and the company inside scamper away like rats into their holes. It don't pay to look'em up, and in a few months things will get back about as bad as ever!"
"What is their favorite game?" asked "our" artist with interest.
"They tell me it is a game called Tan, very much like the game of
`Faro,' if you ever happened to hear of that, young man," replied the
detective, coolly; "but they can take a hand at euchre."
"Yes, Ah-Sin played at that, played it on William and me in the game he did not understand," put in somebody else; but our guide, more realistic than poetical in his temperament, suddenly paused, and pointing to two alleys branching off at right angles from the court where we stood, informed us that one was Bull Run, and the other Murderers' Alley, so named by the Spaniards, who had given this locality a bad reputation before the Celestials dawned upon it. Our friend had been a policeman here in those days, and said it was unsafe for any man to walk through these alleys after dark. "And just about this spot," said he, "we used to find a man almost every morning before breakfast, served up all stark." It made one's blood run cold to hear such things so spoken of, and then to look up between the dark rows of frowsy houses to the stars whose cold, clear, eyes had looked down upon all these scenes.
We wandered on through little alleys lighted only from the provision shops which abound, and crowded by Chinamen talking, laughing, singing, shrieking the wares they carried for sale, hung in baskets from the end of long bamboo poles, or else gathering in knots to gaze at and discuss the strangers. Nobody seemed to think of going to bed or to sleep, although it was now very near midnight.
We went into one more shop, a gold and silversmith's, where five or six men were as busy as if at mid-day, drawing the gold out in wire, beating it into thin plates or engraving and chasing. The lamps illuminating this midnight toil, and indeed almost all the lamps we saw in China Town, were common glass tumblers, filled with oil, in which floated a substance like vermicelli, and said to be a weed, imported from China for this purpose.
Weary in body and mind, we accepted the suggestion of our guide, and were conducted to the best purely Chinese Restaurant in this quarter of the city, although finer ones are to be found a little out of China Town, to which the wealthy merchants are in the habit of inviting their customers and friends. Our desire, however, was more to see the true national cuisine than to indulge in a feast, and we presently stopped before a house with a provision shop occupying the ground-floor and the two stories above used as saloons and refreshment rooms. The furniture was all of carved ebony or some other black, polished wood, very rich and tasteful, and the rooms were divided by archways. On one floor was the great saloon used for banquets, with an alcove for musicians who were not there, although the musical instruments hung ready upon the walls; queer little round guitars covered with serpent-skin and a little drum mounted on a tripod to beat time.
Outside the window hung a little balcony filled with flowers in pots and tubs, and from it we enjoyed a wide and wonderful view of China Town, with the brighter gas-lighted streets of the city beyond.
We seated ourselves at several small tables, and were first served with tea prepared in little Chinese cups with covers to them, and drank without sugar or cream, and not acceptable to a palate educated to their use; although we meekly bow to the decision of those tea-epicures of our acquaintance who insist that tea is not tea unless taken au naturel , and that Chinese tea prepared by Chinese hands, and drank from a cup with a cover to it is the only true realization of this sthetic beverage. The tea removed, an army of little blue Canton china plates was presented, containing squares of white cake, with a white glazing covered with red characters, olives, salted almonds, candied water-melon, little white cheeses, several sorts of dark and dubious-looking sweetmeats, and a good many unnamed and uninviting compounds of a gelatinous and saccharine nature. We tasted the cake, the sweetmeats and some of the anonymous dishes, and found everything strange and disagreeable, having a prevailing taste of lard, and that not of the freshest. The banquet finished by a dessert of fruit, and an orange was as refreshing as if it had not been called channg , and the grapes bore up well under the ignominy of being styled po-tie-chee , and the bananas were none the worse for the name heong gav chew .
We finished with a course of Chinese liquor corresponding with our whisky, and which we tasted in tiny glasses and found fiery to the taste, and now as it was well on toward morning and about half the party declared themselves thoroughly worn out, the dauntless spirits who still clamored for more sight-seeing were compelled to give in, and we presently stepped from Jackson Street into Kearney, from the Celestial and flowery kingdom back to our American Republic, from an Oriental dream into a very wide-awake reality.
We did not organize another as formal visit as this to China Town, but made various little raids and exploring trips to the less objectionable portions' and heard a great deal of most conflicting testimony about the Chinese question from our acquaintances in San Francisco. Nearly all housewives agree that Chinese servants are the best in the country--neat, quiet, apt at learning and reliable in emergencies; per contra , they are, above all flesh, deceitful, devoid of personal attachment, and suspected of cultivating the most odious vices beneath a demure and discreet exterior. Of course, there are good and bad among Chinese servants as among all other classes of men, and the virtues of the good are patent upon the surface; unfortunately no man has penetrated sufficiently beneath his smiling and subtle exterior to tell with certainty what underlies it, and I think that, after all, my own greatest personal objection to the Chinaman is the arriere pensee of which we were always uneasily conscious when in his society; so that on the whole one would not wish to set up a house in a lonely neighborhood with a numerous retinue of Johns. One might take to reading the old letters from India which told at first of the skill and faithfulness of Ali, and Nana, and then of the horrors of the Sepoy rebellion, and then came no more! In all branches of industry the Chinese workman ranks above the average. Having once been thoroughly shown the details of any handicraft, he carries them out with a patient fidelity and exactness seldom possible to the more nervous and speculative temperament of the European or American; and although he copies the errors as faithfully as the perfections, he may be trusted to "do as he is bid," unwatched and unwearying as long as he holds to that form of employment. The cry of "cheap labor," so furiously raised against the Chinese, principally by the classes to whom any labor is abhorrent, is as unfounded as it is malicious. A good man-cook in a family gets $35.00 per month, and a waiter $25.00; nor are the wages of inferior servants, mechanics, laundry-men, or laborers below the average of white labor in the Eastern part of the country. What makes Chinese labor cheap is its excellence and reliability, the absence of a disposition "to strike," and a quiet and gentle acceptance of the disagreeabilities of labor and poverty which many of our native workmen seem disposed to treat as unmerited hardship and injustice on the part of their employers.
Meek, gentle and unobtrusive, John is, withal, persistent; whatever business he edges and glides into, he generally ends by mastering and excelling in, and so simple are his wants, and so close his economy, that a little capital is soon amassed from the wages an Irishman would eat and drink in the jolliest possible manner, and at the end of his career we find John modestly drawing his little account from the savings' bank and setting up for himself or buying a small store in some established business.
Whether we like him or not, the Chinaman in California has become a fixed
fact, and one not to be done away with except by giving the lie to our own
Institutions, especially to that clause of the Constitution which declares all
men to have a right to life and liberty "and the pursuit of
happiness," and to those laws which welcome the emigrants of the world to
our shores and offer them a share of that freedom and manly self-government we
are so justly proud of. Accepting the fixed fact, therefore, and giving up any
great hope of modifying it, since very few Chinamen have ever been
Christianized, and only the weaker brethren have consented to exchange the
social customs of their forefathers for ours, all that remains is, for us to
make the best of it as it is, and treating John liberally as a man and a
brother, cultivate such of his qualities as we esteem, deal with what we do not
like, justly, impartially, and honorably, and wait for Time, the great
assimilator, to soften the differences, subdue the Heathen's vices, and elevate
the Christian's charity until it becomes the law of the individual and of the
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