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   Chapter 17 No.17

Two Years in Oregon By Wallis Nash Characters: 13003

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


State and county elections-?The Chinese question-?Chinese house-servants-?Washermen-?Laborers-?A large camp-Supper-? Chinese trading-?The scissors-?Cost of Chinese labor-?Its results-?Chinese treaties-?Household servants-?Chee and his mistress-?"Heap debble-y in there"-?The photo album-?Temptation -?A sin and its reward-?Good advice on whipping-?Chung and the crockery-?Chinese New Year-?Gifts-?"Hoodlums"-?Town police-?Opium.

In the summer of 1880 there occurred an election of Senators and Representatives to the State Legislature, and also to the county offices of clerk, sheriff, assessor, coroner, surveyor, and commissioners.

The whole apparatus of caucuses and canvasses was put in operation, and the candidates nominated on both Republican and Democratic "tickets" perambulated the county, and addressed audiences in every precinct from the "stump."

The Greenbackers had the courage of their opinions and put candidates in the field. Indeed, one of the precincts in the burned-woods country, of which I have already discoursed, enjoyed the proud distinction of casting more votes for the "Greenback" candidate than for either of the two great parties.

I attended some of these meetings and listened to the stump-speeches with much interest. That which caused the current of eloquence on all hands to run fastest was the Chinese question. How vehemently have I heard denounced the yellow-faced, pig-eyed, and tailed Mongolians who were spreading like locusts over the face of the country, and ousting the poor but honest and industrious white laborer from those employments to which he is specially adapted-how they sucked the life-blood of the people in order to carry their ill-gotten gains across the seas; how their barbarous language and filthy social habits "riz the dander" of these orators, while the audience loudly applauded every strong stroke of the brush! At the torch-light processions which closed some of the evening meetings, transparencies were carried about by citizens staggering under their weight, which depicted Chinamen in various conditions of terror flying from the boot-tips of energetic Americans; or, on the opposite back, the poor but honest white man prostrate on the ground, while a fat Chinaman sat heavily on his breast.

Such an obvious current of popular opinion set an on-looker to rub his eyes, and feel if he were dreaming.

For, go into nearly every house inhabited by a family, in or near any town in the State, and you will find one or more Chinamen doing the house-service. Walk through the streets, and you will meet a blue-coated Asiatic with a big clothes-basket of clean linen on his shoulders. Here and there in the streets hangs a sign: "Hop Kee," "Sam Lin," "Lee Chung," "Ah Sin," "Washing," or "Chinese Laundry," and "Labor provided," or "Intelligence-Office," and through the steamy windows you catch a glimpse of white-shirted Chinamen, bending over their ironing, and a mixed gabble of strange "Ahs" and "Yahs" strikes the ear as you pass by.

CHINESE TRADING.I went up the Columbia River to the Dalles the other day. At the Dalles was a camp for the night of about five hundred Chinamen, being transferred by the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company from work higher up the river to some of the heavy rock-cutting and tunneling between the Dalles and the Lower Cascades. I stood and watched them at their suppers. Divided into messes of twelve or fifteen each, they had supplied themselves with beef in the town. Holes were dug in the ground, sticks lighted in them, and large pans set on to boil, and, with plenty of salt and pepper, a savory smell soon arose. Large pans of rice were boiling by the side, and before long each man's portion was ladled out into a real China basin, which he held in one hand close to his mouth, while the chop-sticks moved at a terrible rate in the fingers of the other hand. Such uncouth figures!-bronzed in tint, short and heavy in form, clad in thick blanket-coats, with knee-boots; turbans round most heads made of heavy scarlet woolen comforters, and a few old hats among the crowd; and a constant gabble of voices, nearly deafening in the aggregate. Their little tents were pitched on the river-bank close at hand, and a huge pile of their unmistakable baggage lay heaped, with their shovels and axes, on the deck of the great scow hard by. The town was full of them, buying or bargaining in every store. I marked a group of four who wanted a pair of strong scissors. They were asked fifty cents in a store. They examined the scissors and tried to cheapen them in vain, and then left. They tried four stores in turn, but found no better article, and the same price; then returned to their first love, and strove hard for a reduction in vain. Again they went the round; again they came back: on the fourth visit the patience of the Jewish gentleman behind the counter gave way, and he told them to take it or leave it, they should not see the scissors again. Most unwillingly, and after a vast amount of breathing on the blades to see how quickly the vapor disappeared, the half-dollar came forth and the scissors changed owners. They are the closest buyers in the world. The next morning by seven o'clock the tents were struck, the Chinamen on board the steamer, and in the afternoon we passed them hard at work, spread in a long line on the face of a terrible rock, which looked as if five thousand Chinamen might work at it in vain for a year to make a fit passage for the train.

But without them how would these great works get done? Later on I intend describing some of the undertakings in progress in the State. Delay in them-still worse, the stoppage of them-would be a calamity indeed. After all, the Chinamen work for about eighty or ninety cents a day, and out of this sum the contractor has to find them food. The food, save the rice, is purchased in the State; the material of the clothes they wear is manufactured and sold in the United States; the tools they work with also. So that it is only the profit on their labor's price which goes to China; and some of that goes to pay their passage in the ships which transport them to and fro. And their labor remains-its results felt by every passenger and freighter on the railroads, and every Oregonian directly or indirectly interested in increasing the population of the State.

Naturally, it is easy to have too much Chinaman. I should grieve to see them multiply so as to dominate the State. Excellent servants,

but bad masters.

And by all means let us have treaties with China to enable the influx of these Mongolians to be regulated. Already we have laws forbidding the employment of Chinamen on government or municipal public works. And I do not see that there is any economy in the working or superiority in the labors on such undertakings.

For household service on this coast they are simply indispensable. They receive high wages: for a good Chinese cook you must pay from fifteen to twenty-five dollars a month. A laundryman and house-servant can be had for somewhat less. But our experience and observation lead us to the knowledge that two Chinese servants will do well the work of four English servants. Another thing is that, having learned to cook any special dish, you may be sure of having it always thereafter equally good.

If they are a bother sometimes by not comprehending orders, they make up for it by quaint ways. An English neighbor of ours has one Chee, a boy of sixteen, as house-servant, and a very good cook and general servant she has made of him. Chee and his mistress are on the best of terms usually; sometimes they fall out.

"HEAP DEBBLE-Y IN THERE!"The mistress was staying with us for a few days once, while her husband was out hunting in the hills, and she preferred sleeping in her own house. This Chee strongly disapproved, as it involved his going up to make the bed and clean the house, instead of having high-jinks in the China house down in the town. When his mistress went into the house, Chee pointed into her bedroom, and in a mysterious voice warned her thus: "Heap debble-y in there. Some time I make bed, I see four, fi' debble-y go under bed. Some time come catch you in night!"

Another time, his master and mistress being out, Chee amused himself with their photograph-album. They found many of the pictures shifted, and one charming young lady missing. Chee stoutly denied it all, and swore he never saw the picture. So his "boss," Hop Kee, was appealed to. In the afternoon of the same day Hop Kee appeared with a second Chinaman. This man produced the missing photograph for identification, and then Hop Kee disappeared into Chee's kitchen and administered a hearty beating to the culprit. When Hop Kee reappeared, panting, his companion explained and apologized thus: "Chee heap bad boy; but he no steal um; he heap love um picture; he sew um up his bed."

Another time Chee was pottering about in the garden when his mistress called him. He would not answer, so she called him again, and this was the conversation:

"Chee, come here." "Heap tired in foot; can' walk." "Chee, come here directly." Chee comes and gets his orders. "Wha' for you can' talk me there?" "Chee, you must not answer me like that; you speak as if I were a dog." "Well, you allee same likee one dog!" "Chee, how dare you? I tell Hop Kee what you say." "I no care." But Hop Kee comes that afternoon and hears the sad accusation, and this is his advice: "Mrs. --, you heap takee some poker; you beat him. I heap much obliged. Chee no good; you whip um."

Chee asks for his wages, and even for some in advance. "What for you want money, Chee?" "I want fi'teen dollar." "What for, Chee?" "I want buy one big watch." "How big, Chee?" "Heap big watch; he weigh ha' pound." And I believe it does weigh half a pound.

One of our Chinamen, Chung, was a sad breaker of crockery. We bore it patiently in spite of the loss, for stone-ware is terribly dear here. But one day there was an awful smash, and we ran out to see Chung wringing his hands over a tray on the ground, with broken cups and plates all about. We said nothing; but the next day he went of his own accord, and at his own cost replaced the greater part.

CHINESE NEW YEAR.All the house-servants expect a holiday for a day or two at the Chinese new year, which occurs about the 20th of January. It is a mark of good breeding and condition with them to give presents at that time to every one in the house. A little cabinet of lacquer-work to the lady of the house, a fan in sandal wood or ivory, one or two flowered silk handkerchiefs, a pot of sweetmeats, and two or three boxes of the inevitable Chinese crackers for the children, make up the list.

Each of the China houses in the town collects all the Chinamen that make it their headquarters, and prepares a magnificent supper. They spare no expense on this occasion; all the chickens in the neighborhood are slaughtered, and the sweet Chinese wine flows freely. Even a drunken Chinaman may be met in the street, staggering from one China house to another, and he will very likely be mobbed by all the "hoodlums" in the town, pelting and hustling him.

"Hoodlums"-a fine word this to describe the vagabond, rough hobble-de-hoys that swarm in these Western towns; lads too big for school, too lazy to work, an incumbrance to their families, a nuisance to all their neighbors. I am told that the word originated in San Francisco twenty years ago. There were there gangs of these rough lads who hung about the wharves, ready for riot or plunder as occasion offered. Against them the police of the city waged a constant war. These Arabs had various haunts among the hovels and sheds, the piles of lumber and rubbish, that deface the water-side of every growing and unfinished city. When the police appeared, "Huddle-um!" was the watchword that sent every skulker to cover. But the Irish element pronounced the watchword with a rounder sound, and so "Hoodlum!" caught the ear of the passer-by, and soon was adopted as the label of the tribe.

The police of our town is represented by the city marshal and his deputy, who act under the authority of the mayor and the city council. The "calaboose" is the lock-up for offenders; and work on the streets in irons is also a punishment which may be awarded by the recorder for offenses against the city laws and regulations. Drunkenness and opium-smoking are in this black list. Passers-by were edified, a few days ago, by the spectacle of one white man, for drunkenness, and two Chinamen, for opium-smoking, shoveling away at the mud, and ornamented with iron ball and shackles. It is strange to find that opium-smoking in these dens is not altogether confined to the Chinese, but some degraded white men are occasionally captured by the marshal in a raid on a China house. Such are not only punished, but scouted, and still they repeat the offense, proving the hold the practice gains when once yielded to.

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