Friday, November 18, 2005

Ball Arrives in Hong Kong

The last time we'd heard of American Dr. Benjamin Lincoln Ball, he had just survived a fearful typhoon in Hong Kong in 1848. As one of the first travelers to write about his experience in the new colony of Hong Kong, his recollections are incredibly interesting. Allow me today to share with you a few other choice diary entries of his from his August 1848 trip, which are not so different from personal blogs in this day and age. Here is one of his voyage over:
I was soon awakened, for the third time, by a loud crash, - a large sea having struck the ship astern. I looked into the cabin, and saw the captain spring from the transom, soaked through for the second time; and we had considerable merriment at each other's expense. He, however, had received the largest libation of the briny element, the cabin windows being several times larger than those in the staterooms. I enjoy salt-water baths, but like to choose my time for taking them.
Dr. Ball was a man of good humour, evidently. He kept his humor up, albeit at another's folly, when his arrival in Hong Kong was not unlike a stroll down the Tsim Sha Tsui end of Nathan Road:
>Thursday, August 17th - I arose this morning full of hope, expecting to see Hong-Kong and was not disappointed. We all beheld it with much interest, it being the first Chinese land we had seen. As we approached, several Chinese fishing-boats, lying outside, presented a worse appearance than the Malay boats we had left behind. During the forenoon, having sailed in among the islands, and nearly shut out from the main sea, we saw one of their boats making directly for us, and it soon was alongside. A Chinaman, holding on to the mast, was crying out, "Capem, hab pilort? Capem, hab pilort?" almost as fast as he could speak. Poor fellow! one minute he was happy, smiling and gesticulating excitedly, with the expectation of getting his pilotage, and the next he was angrily shaking the rudder, and jabbering away to his men. His hopes were suddenly blasted, for his boat caught on the boat-cranes of our ship, which broke his mast, and the sails fell on his deck. A striking change came over his countenance; he looked first on his crew and shattered sails, and then at us, as we left him behind, and he burst into a furious storm against his wife, who had had charge of the helm. The last we saw of him, his boat was pitching up and down in the same place, while we were keeping on our way. At twelve n. another pilot boat appeared, and was more successful. Two Chinamen came on board, and the captain inquired their price for piloting into Hong-Kong. After some hesitation, one answered, "Twenty-five dollars." The captain laughed, but made no answer, and the celestial [a rather ironic, somewhat derogatory term used for Chinese at the time due to the failing Manchu dynasty being known as the Celestial Empire - Ed.] pilot diminished the price, five dollars at a time, twenty dollars, and an agreement was made for five dollars. The captain offered to send us into Hong-Kong by the pilot boat, which would go much quicker than the ship; but we preferred staying with the vessel to going aboard of that Chinese craft, with the whole family on board, and no place to sit. It was a dirty, rickety thing, with fish scattered about to dry, and smelling bad enough to produce cholera.
And so began another oft-vaunted episode of East-meets-West. It is natural that the first contacts between two civilizations, at least in the 19th century, were never going to be between worthy scholars, but between businessmen and purveyors of basic services. It is easy to see, therefore, why many casual Western visitors to the exoticised 'East' came away with rather low, dubious opinions of the people they met, particularly with power relationships between East and West being what they were in the colonial era.

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