Fabulous Philippines > Yesterdays in the Philippines > Chapter 1(a)

Leaving "God's Country". Hong Kong. Crossing to Luzon. Manila Bay.

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Chapter 1

"I wouldn't give much for your chances of coming back unboxed," said the Captain to me, as the China steamed out from the Golden Gate on the twenty-five day voyage to Hong Kong via Honolulu and Yokohama.

"That's God's country we're leaving behind, sure enough," said he, "and you'll find it out after a week or two in the Philippines. There's Howe came back with us last trip from there; almost shuffled off on the way. Spent half a year in Manila with smallpox, fever, snakes, typhoons, and earthquakes, and had to be carried aboard ship at Hong Kong and off at Frisco. Guess he's about done for alright."

And as Howe happened to be the unfortunate whose place in Manila I was going to take, you know, I heeded the skipper's advice and looked with more fervor on God's country than I had for some days. For it was a dusty trip across country from Boston on the Pacific Express; and because babies are my pet aversion every mother's son of them aboard the train was quartered in my car -- three families moving West to grow up with the country and all of them occupying the three sections nearest mine. I got so weary of the five cooing, coughing, crying "clouds-of-glory-trailers," that it seemed a relief at San Francisco to wash off the dust of the Middle West and get aboard the P.M.S. Company's steamer China bound for the far east.

But the Captain, like the whistle, was somewhat of a blower and liked to make me and the missionaries aboard feel we were leaving behind all that was desirable. And how he bothered the two score or more of them bound for the up-river ports of Middle China! When, after leaving the Sandwich Islands, the voyage had proceded far enough for everybody on the passenger list, to get fairly well acquainted with his neighbours, these spreaders of the gospel followed the custom established by their predecessors and made plans for a Sunday missionary service. Without so much as asking leave of the skipper, they posted in the companion way the following notice:

Service in the Saloon
Sunday, 10 AM.
Rev. X. Y. Z. Smith, of Wankiang, China, will speak on mission work on the Upper Yangtse.
All are invited.

But they counted without their host. The Captain had never schooled himself to look on missionaries with favor, and he accordingly made arrangements to cross the meridian where the circle of time changes and a day is dropped early on Sunday morning. He calculated to a nicety, and as the passengers came down to Sabbath breakfast they saw posted below the other notice, in big letters, the significant words:

Sunday, Nov. 29th. Ship crosses 180th meridian 9.30 A.M., after which it will be Monday.

In Yokohama and Hong Kong the wiseacres were free in saying they wouldn't be found dead in Manila or the Philippines for anything. They had never been there, but they knew all about it, and seemed ready to wave anyone bound thither a sort of never'll-see-again farewell that was most affecting. It is these very people that have made Manila the sidetracked capital that it is and have scared off globetrotters from making it a visit on their way to the Straits of Malacca and India.

Hong Kong, the end of the China's outward run, burst into view after a narrow gateway, between inhospitable cliffs, lets the steamer into a great bay which is the center of admiration for bleak mountain ranges. The city, with its epidemic of arcaded balconies, lies along the water to the left and goes stepping up the steep slopes to the peak behind, on whose summit the signal flags announce our arrival. The China has scarcely a chance to come to anchor in peace before a storm of sampans bite her sides like mosquitos, and hundreds of Chinawomen come bustling up to secure your trade, while their lazy husbands stay below and smoke.

Hong Kong rather feels as if it were the "central exchange" for the Far East, and from the looks of things I judge it is. The great bay is full of deep-water ships, the quays team with life, and the streets are full of quiet bustle. It is quite enough to give one heart disease to shin up the hills to the residence part of the town, and it took me some time to find breath enough to tell the Spanish Consul I wanted him to vise my passport to Manila.

This interesting stronghold of Old England in the East is fertile in descriptive matter by the wholesale, but I can't rob my friends in the Philippines of more space than enough to chronicle the doings of a Chinese tailor who made up my first suit of thin tweeds. Ripping off the broad margin to the Hong Kong Daily Press, he stood me on a box, took my measure with his strip of paper, making sundry little tears along its length, according as it represented lengths of sleeves or breadth of chest, and sent me off with a placid "Me makee alee same plopper tree day; no fittee no takee." And I'm bound to say that the thin suits Tak Cheong built for $6 apiece, from nothing but the piece of paper full of tears, fit to far greater perfection than the system of measurements would seem to have warranted.

The voyage from Hong Kong to Manila 700 miles to the southeast, is one of the worst short-ocean crossings in existence, and the Esmeralda, Captain Taylar, as she went aslant the seas rolling down from Japan, in front of the northeast monsoon, developed such a corkscrew motion that I fear it will take a return against the other monsoon to untwist the feeling of her passengers. On the morning of the second day, however, the yawing seas; the skipper said we were under the lee of Luzon, the largest and most northern island of the Philippines, and not long after the high mountains of the shore range loomed up off the port bow. From then on our chunky craft 1,000 tons steamed closer to the coast and turned headland after headland as she poked south through schools of flying fish and porpoises.

By afternoon the lighthouse on Corregidor appeared, and with a big sweep to the left the Esmeralda entered the Boca Chica, or narrow mouth to Manila Bay. On the left, the coast mountains sloped steeply up for some 5,000 feet, while on the right the island of Corregidor with its more moderate altitude, stood planted in the twelve-mile opening to worry the tides that swept in and out from the China Sea. Beyond lay the Boca Grande, or wide mouth used by ships coming from the south or going thither, and still beyond again rose the lower mountains of the south coast. In front the Bay opened with a grand sweep right and left, till the shore was lost in waves of warm air and only the dim blue of distant mountains showed where the opposite perimeter of the great circle might be located.

It was twenty-seven miles across the bay, and the sun had set with a wealth of color in the opening behind us before we came to anchor amid a fleet of ships and steamers of a low-lying shore that showed many lights in long rows. Next morning Manila lay visibly before us, but failed to convey much idea of its size, from the fact that it stretched far back on the lowland, -- thus permitting the eye to see only the front line of buildings and a few taller and more distant steeples. Not far in the background rose a high range of velvet-like looking mountains whose tops aspired to show themselves above the clouds, and on the right and left stretched flanking ranges of lower altitude.

In due season my colleague came off to the anchorage in a small launch, and we were soon steaming back up a narrow river thickly fringed with small ships, steamers, houses, quays, and people. It was piping hot at the low custom house on the quay. Panting carabao -- the oxen of the East -- tried to find shade under a parcel of bamboos, shaggy goats nosed about for stray bits of crude sugar dropped from bags being discharged by coolies, piles of machinery were lying around promiscuously dumped into the deep mud of outyards, natives with bare backs gleaming in the sun lugging hemp or prying open boxes, and under-officials with sharp rods were probing flour sacks in the search for contraband. Spanish officials in full uniform, smoking cigarettes, playing chess, and fanning themselves in their comfortable seats in bent-wood rocking chairs, were interrupted by our arrival, and made one boil within as they upset the baggage and searched for smuggled dollars.

Here, then, was the anticlimax to the long journey of forty days from Boston, and those were the moments in which to realize the meaning of the expression made by the Captain of the China as he left the Golden Gate: "Take a last look, for you're leaving behind God's country."

Before arrival, while yet the Esmeralda was steaming down the coast, I was resolved to refrain from judging Manila from first impressions. I felt primed for anything, and was bound to be neither surprised nor disappointed. At first,.I may admit, my chin and collar dropped, but on meeting with my new associate, I gave them a mental starching and stepped with courage into their ricketty barouche that, drowned by too small and bony ponies, took us to the office of Henry W. Peabody and Co., the only American house in the Philippines.

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