Sunday, March 27, 2011


CHINATOWN IN WELLINGTON. SOMETHING ABOUT "JOHN'S" HOME LIFE. SQUALOUR/ OVERCROWDING, AND SMELLS. "We'll have a look round Hainings.treet after we have done with the fruitshops," said Mr. J. Doyle, Corporation Inspector, when starting on a two-hours' tour of Wellington's Chinatown with a Post reporter. "There are over 200 Chinese in the city," he added. Although it was a* magnificent after! noon, clean and bright, the two hours spent in pottering about amongst the dark and odorous homes of John! Chinaman, were not entirely wasted. They brought to light a new and unsuspected mode of life, and at every turn there was something to wonder at and something to make one think. Stepping out of the blazing sunshine of the street we enter a neat fruit shop, and as it is not very different from -any of the others, it may be taken as typical. "Just going to have a look round," says the Inspector. "Li", all li," replies the shopkeeper, and a door at the back of the shop admits us to the kitchen. Five Chinese are eating rice and curry, and using their chopsticks with wonderful dexterity. The eating ute^rls are very clean, but the kitchen is littered with all kinds of rubbish and the floor is appallingly dirty. A strange smell of commingled Chinaman, opium smoke, decayed fruit and baiyuia sfctuks, with an elusive sub-odour, permeates the whole place. A tour of the premises reveals unsuspected dark comers, tiny rooms, and mouldy recesses, all packed with bales of tea and groceries and bags of fungus and a hundred other things. The floor is sunken in some of the mouldered rooms, the ceiiings are mossy and dTaped with cobwebs, the staircase is ateep anid unsteady, and everywhere there are dirty old coats and towels and piles upon piles of straw shoes. Most of the rooms are very dark, and everywhere the acrid smell' pursues the visitor. The backyard is a forsaken chaos of firewood, disused fruit cases, piles and boxes of discarded aud damaged fruit and banana stalks. A Chinaman glides along a pace or two behind during the inspection. "Look here, you must clear this rubbish out," says the Inspector. A voluble explanation from John that it is only that day's collection ends with "All li. Clear 'im out. Thank you." The whole of the tumbledown premises are ripe for destruction, but the Inspector explains that it is almost impossible to prove that any. given- place is a menace to the public health. Twb, three, and even four beds go to each bedroom. What strikes the visitor to Chinatown most forcibly is the large number of unsu&pected mobs of Chinese in the buildings. Some of them are perfect rabbit warcens. In one place, for instance, there were three Chinese in the shop. In the kitchen were four more Chinamen, one engaged in cooking over a huge fire, while in the yard was a little Chinese lady and her family — a crowd of jolly little childre — and an aged Chinaman. Ducks are held in high esteem by the Chinese. They form almost the only link that binds the West to the inscrutable and unintelligible East, and several fat but dirty and melancholy members of the species were packed in crates in every backyard, and quacked a dismal corroborationof their owners' eager assurance that they were only being kept for "Clismas." Some of the ducks had already been slaughtered, and in one or two kitchens their mortal remains were to be seen beautifully prepared and amazingly clean and attractive. Haining-street in the afternoon is conducive to a fit of melancholia. It consists, in brief, of two rows of cottages for the most part miserably insanitary, dark and dirty, and frequented by .listless and unclean Chinese. In nearly every house there were Celestials engaged in sorting and examining pakapoo tickets. In one place five men were engaged in playing what appeared to be a species of card dominoes, staking "cash" and shells, while a score of idle vagabonds looked on interestedly and chattered noisily, whooping at any good move. Sanitation is almost unknown in part of Haining-street. The rooms are email and dark, the furniture of the most simple and primitive sort, the beds dirty, and the floor clamouring for a wash. And over it all broods the sour smell of Asia. ' What strikes one afresh at e^ry turn is the way in which, in almost everything, the Chinaman adheres to the customs of his race. Apparently it never occurs to him to adopt the customs of the European. He only adopts the European coat and vest and pants, and he makes a concession to Caucasian prejudices by wearing shirts — dirty shirts. The strange garments and weird foods force on one a conviction of the utter immiscibility of the two races. Chinese food is supposed to be good, but it is strange and uncanny. In one cookshop the kitchen was full of mysteries. In a bawl of clean waiter there were several things that looked like the specimens that are kept in gpirits in surgeons' museums. "Fish !'* explained the cook. "What sort?" "Oh! Chinese fish !" They import these fearful-looking things as a great delicacy. Another cook was slicing up three foreign substances and making them into- sandwiches. He explained that they were pork, eggs, and some other material that apparently has no English name. In many •of the fruit shops and the squalid dens of Haining-street there Mere strange-looking banjos hanging on the walls. In one bedroom there was a gramaphone. It was in this room that there was actually a Sandow developer i The Chinese are not fond of the. sunlight, and most of the rooms -are dark and depressing. How the children can grow up healthy is one of the secrets of this strange race. Rambling through a ramshackle shop hi Cuba-street, groping along the gloom upstairs, the visitors stumbled into a large room, almost in complete darkness. A heavy blind oyer the window effectually shut out the germkilling sunlight. Four or five little tots were playing on the floor, and seated on a bed was an old, old man clasping a baby in his arms. These children grow up in the darkness and the smell and take their exercise in a tiny backyard among the rubbish. But they seem happy enough. It was in Haining-atreet that an opium den was encountered. In the darkest corner of the dark and squalid kitchen a door gaped black and mysterious. The gloom was impenetrable inside. A match brought a white-faced Chinaman to the door. Inside a white wastrel was asleep, his pipe in a limp hand, his soul in some purple Paradise. And the heavy fumes of the drug caught at one's throat. House after house was visited, -and the dirt grew and accumulated, till one'a senses were numb and dulled. At last one house was entered in which the floors were scrubbed. The rooms were papered, and everywhere, hi spite of the poorness of the furniture, there was an unusual orderliness— a neatness conspicuously distinct from any of the other premises. Marvelling, the visitors went through the house, meeting no one until the backyard was reached. There a' white woman was washing some poor clothes. Her saffron-lmed lord and master was chopping wood. Unkempt and unlovely, her past could be guessed at. Complimented on the neatness of the house, she said: "Yes, I'm glad you think it is clean. God knowe, water's cheap enough. And her eyes grew weary. plenty time. Plenty time, God knows." That was enough of Chinatown, and it was good to get back again to the sunlight and to see the ladies in their summer frocks in the bustling streets. Evening Post, Volume LXVIII, Issue 152, 24 December 1904, Page 5

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