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Chapter 25: China Town.

A seventh part of the population — a seventieth part of the surface — of San Francisco is Asiatic. All Orientals pack closer than Europeans. A man may see big crowds in many cities: Russ and Tartars at Nishni-Novgorod, Copts and Armenians in Jerualemr, Arabs and Algerines in Cairo; but in neither Russia, Syria, nor Egypt cal he see such crowds as we find packed in the Asiatic quarter of San Francisco.

The term Asiatic quarter may suggest a separate portion of the city, walled off from the remaining parts like China Town in Moscow; but the Asiatic quarter in San Francisco is an open colony, like May Fair in London, like the Second District in New York. The Chinese have squatted in the very heart of San Francisco.

Lock Sin's tea-house in Jackson Street may be [260] regarded as the heart of this new Asiatic empire in America; for in Jackson Street, grouped around Lock Sin's balcony, lie the Chinese banks and stores, the Chinese stalls and markets, the Chinese theatres and gaming-hells; while off this thoroughfare, to the right and left, extend the blind alleys and nameless passages in which reside the Chinese rogues and thieves, with their unfailing complement of female slaves.

Here, bright with paper lanterns, glare the two great tea-houses, kept by Lock Sin and Hing Kee, in which you sip green tea and watch the dancing girls perform their rites. Here, rich in red and black flags, and musical with gongs and cymbals, stands Yu He Un Choy, the royal theatre, in which a grand historical play, a chronicle of the Ming Dynasty, has been going on for three weeks past, and is to run on briskly for about nine weeks yet to come. In front of us, hardly less rich in red and yellow paint, hardly less noisy with shawm and tom-tom, rises Sing Ping Yuen, the new theatre, in which lighter pieces are performed, not lasting more than thirty or forty nights. Hereabouts lie the tan cellars and thieves' gaming cribs, in which sallow [261] wretches and their hideous partners of the other sex indulge in the lawless pleasure of staking their bottom dollar on a domino. About these cellars lie the opium dens, to which the gamesters come in their frenzy, and snatch the still more fearful joy of staking their health and manhood on a fume of poppy-juice. Round that corner stands the great joss house, a large room, hung with screens and banners, dazzling in red and gold, in which an idol squats; not a Mongolian god, with flat and shaven face, and turned — up Tartar eyebrows, but a Teutonic master, with straight nose, fair moustache, and pointed beard. Before this foreign idol, tea-cups hiss and fuzees burn by night and day..

China Town is running over San Francisco, spreading to east and west, to north and south. The Asiatics have seized a good part of Dupont Street and Kearny Street, swarmed into Pine Street, invaded Stockton and Pacific Streets, and got their feet in California Street. Some houses in these streets are owned by Mongols. When Asiatics get their feet inside a door they drive the Europeans out. A European cannot stand the fume and stench, the dirt and din. Thus, shop by shop, and street [262] by street, they crawl along, a swarm of clean and unclean things, so oddly mixed that White men shrink from them, in fear and wrath, as from a company of lepers. No White man likes to sleep under the same roof with a Yellow man; no White woman likes to pass through Jackson Street. A rookery and a cesspool drive off decent folk.

Let us drop into some of these houses, no fear of lepers in our hearts, and see these Asiatics in their homes.

Not far from Lock Sin's tea-house stands a big edifice, first used as the Globe Hotel; a house four storeys high above the ground, six windows to the front, and boasting of rooms enough for fifty guests. Including vaults and attics there may be sixty rooms in all. Surrounded by the Chinese rookery, this Globe Hotel, no longer fit for decent visitors, is let to Lee Si Tut, a rich Chinese, who re-lets his apartments to Chinese residents of the better class — to shopmen, waiters, clerks, and agents. Lee Si Tut takes care to have no tenant of bad repute. A thief, a rag-picker, a night-prowler cannot hire a bed in his hotel. No painted women pass his door. Tan and other lawless games are forbidden. No [263] wrangling or fighting is allowed within the house. So far as order can be made by rules, order is said to reign among Lee Si Tut's tenants; and the Globe Hotel in Jackson Street may be regarded as the royal khan and summer-palace of the Chinese empire in America.

Pass in. Oh, Lee Si Tut! A sickening odour greets your nostrils on his steps. A reek comes out of every door, and dirt lies heaped on every landing-stage. The dust of years encrusts his window-panes. Compared with this Globe Hotel, under Lee Si Tut, a Turkish or a Spanish prison is a desert place. The bannisters drip; the passages sweat. A black and fetid slime runs down the walls. And then what press and multitude of tenants on the stairs and in the rooms! Men swarm at every door, and crowd down every stage; each pale and melancholy wretch vomiting his narcotic poison in your face. A nameless horror seems to brood in every corner of the house, for out of every corner glare the spectral eyes of beings fevered by tan and stupefied with drugs.

Each room, arranged for the accommodation of a single guest, is either parted into six or seven sections [264] by a string of mats, or shelved in tiers all round the walls. Shelves are preferred, since no one cares to pay for privacy; and a room that will only sleep six or seven in sections may be got to sleep a dozen on shelves. From vault to attic, each room is foul with smoke, and black with dirt, and choked with men.

No less than fifteen hundred ghastly creatures find a lodging day and night in this Chinese paradise!

Rooms crowded and unwholesome I have seen before-at a feast in Einsiedeln, a mad-house in Naples, an emigrant ship at Liverpool, a barrack on the Nile-but nowhere have I seen human creatures packed and crushed as these tenants of the Globe Hotel are packed and crushed. Lee Si Tut lets his house, he says, to eight hundred tenants; which would give him, in a house of sixty rooms, including cellars and lofts, thirteen tenants to each chamber; but the rascals cheat him, he alleges, out of half his rent, by sub-letting their shelves to men who occupy them only half the day. Enquiry shows me that this story of subletting and dividing the room is strictly true. Ki Wgok lets his shelf to LI Ho; [265] Ki Wgok using his shelf for twelve hours, and giving it up to LI Ho for the other twelve hours. In some rooms three sets of lodgers occupy the shelves each twenty-four hours-eight hours a-piece.

Yet those who lodge in this hotel live in a light and roomy palace by the side of those who live in the labyrinth of courts and styes, yards and entries, lying round Bartlett Alley. Here some of the first White settlers in San Francisco threw up their hives. The ground is undrained. The log shanties were run up hastily and cheaply; and in these fever-haunted hovels, rotten with age, putrid with filth, overrun with vermin, the masses of Mongolians make their home. They creep into vaults, they climb into eaves, they burrow in the earth. In holes unfit for dogs, you may discover ten or twelve wasted creatures, sprawling on shelves, staring into space, and trying to smoke themselves into the opium-dreamer's paradise.

Worse still, if in the “ lowest depth” there can be a “ deeper still,” is the thieves' quarter ; a district running in and out of more respectable quarters with a rare indifference as to social forms. In the thieves' quarter it is well to have a guide and escort, [266] for the Chinese criminal has curious ways, and your ramble in his purlieus should be made at night.

All round Bartlett Alley lie the thieves' yards and cribs; foul attics, falling balconies, underground kennels; with a few spikes of joss-wood burning at every door. Rags rot on the ground and garbage poisons the air. Slush squirts at you from under every plank, and where the planks fail you, the earth appears to be nothing but a running sore. Ragshops and receiving-houses hide in old pits and hollows under the plank floors. In all these damp and loathsome holes a swarm of Asiatics wallow in the filth, their pale and ghastly faces rendered visible by the flicker of a reeking lamp. Pah!

Fear lurks in every Mongol eye, and desperation glowers from every Mongol face. In passing from yard to yard you catch the slam of doors, the shot of bolts, and feel by instinct that every ruffian standing behind these planks, alarmed by strange footsteps and loud voices in the dead of night, is listening at his door, with hatchet raised to strike or rifle poised to fire. [267]

“Open the door!” cries your guide, in a peremptory tone, stopping in front of a log cabin-“ open the door! ”

“You foolee me? You foolee me?”

“ No, no. Open the door!”

The voice is recognised within; the door is slowly opened, and you peep into the crib; a cupboard as to size, but occupied by five or six men and women. Heaps of stolen goods are on the floor; but neither blade nor gun is visible. At another crib we are repulsed. To the enquiry “How? You foolee me?” we answer, as before, “No, no;” but, instead of seeing the door open, we catch a rapid exchange of whispers inside.

“Go; you not foolee me!” cries a voice, accompanied by the click of a rifle.

“Dip and slide,” whispers our companion, and we instantly dip and slide.

In Stout's Alley, and in the yards around this sink of squalor and iniquity, lodge the partners of these thieves and murderers — the female slaves.

Let us get out into the open streets!

“ You have now seen a little of our Chinese [268] quarter,” says my companion, as we enter Lock Sin's tea-house about two o'clock, and order a refreshing cup.

“ What you have seen in San Francisco you may see in Sacramento, Stockton, San Jose, and other towns. Wherever John plants his foot, he builds a China Town, and peoples it with harlots, criminals, and slaves. We get some very cheap labour, and our financiers say they need cheap labour ” to develop the country. “ What think you of the price we have to pay for our development?”

While we are sipping tea on Lock Sin's balcony, a yell comes up from the street below. A Chinese fight is on. Ah King, a Chinese scamp, employed by the city officers, and, in the slang of his Asiatic countrymen, such a spy is called a ghost. Of late this ghost has been too busy, his celestial countrymen think, even for a paid spy; and two Asiatics, who have just come out of jail, are setting on him, one moon-face with a hatchet, the second moon-face with a knife. From every door in the street swarms out a crowd, and in an instant fifty Chinese lanterns heave and drop along the flags.

“ Excuse me!” says my escort, and before I can [269] reply, he is gone from my side. King vanishes-like a ghost. Moon-face with the knife escapes, just as my escort swoops into the murderous circle; but the fellow with the hatchet is arrested on the spot and carried to the city ward. His weapon, when examined, proves to be a long blade, sheathed in a layer of fine cloth, so that, in case of a fatal plunge, the blood might have been at once removed, and the stainless knife replaced under the white smock, as clean and innocent in appearance as the soft-eyed Asiatic who had plunged it into his neighbour's heart!

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