Voyage en Corée 5. (Voyage in Corea Section 5)
Explorer charged with an ethnographic mission by the minister of Public Instruction
1888-1889 — previously unpublished text and pictures
Le Tour du Monde, LXIII, 1892 Premier Semestre. Paris : Librairie Hachette et Cie.Pages 289-368
Section Five. [Click here for the other sections in English: Section One; Section Two; Section Three; Section IV.]
A Korean menu. - Aesthetics. - Dogs and cats. - Departure from Mil-yang. - Valleys and rice fields. - Tributes to old age. - Koreans and Japanese. - Waterscapes. - The Tchung-ka-rnœ-san. - At a Japanese hotel. - Farewells from my caravan. - How the mousmes smoke. - Mandarins, Europeans and Japanese. - The four Fou-san. - Navigation on the east coast. - Gen-san and Tok-Ouen. - Tigers. - Vladivostok. - Koreans in Siberia. - A typhoon in the Korea Strait. - Nagasaki. - Conclusion.
We settle in at the inn, and as Mil-yang is the capital of a large district, I immediately send my Korean card to the mandarin who administers it and I soon learn that this officer is absent from the noble gentleman who is replacing him and comes to visit me. I offer a European collation; it seems quite to his taste, because he does full honor to it, warmly thanks me and apologizes for not inviting me to his home, his father being ill. The same evening he sends me an excellent Korean dinner served in pottery vases of great price. Here is the menu: a rich soup with wheat, pickled fish, beef cut into tiny oval slices, chicken also cut into pieces, game likewise, etc.. All this is accompanied by cooked turnip, a leek salad mixed with a pleasant yellow liquid, in addition, for seasoning other dishes, soy-bean sauce, exquisite like that manufactured in Japan, and small bowl with a delicious sauce that I am told is Chinese. The meal is completed by mouth-watering cakes, fine sweets, fruits: apples, pears, persimmon, etc. Finally, to wash it all down, a very elegant porcelain bottle filled with a delicious rice wine, similar to that which I was offered by the governor of Taikou. Korean wine, red or white, is extracted from rice, wheat, etc.., and has a fine transparency, obtained by throwing in a glowing ember at the end of the fermentation. It is much superior to that manufactured in China or Japan, and reminds me very much of our grape wine, with a kind of strange velvety smoothness that pleases the palate. Although it is very alcoholic, I find it so excellent that I want to send some to France for my friends, but I have to give up the idea because it keeps for a very short time and is not transportable. This luxurious Korean meal is accompanied by a huge bowl of boiled rice which replaces bread; the water that is removed from it is the ordinary drink, tea being an extra for most Koreans. I admit that, despite all the culinary skills that have been spent on me, I prefer, as a mere matter of digestive habit, a steak with fried potatoes to this mandarin meal, although I should add that between the elaborate cuisines, Chinese, Japanese and Korean, I prefer the latter. The same evening I send my thank you card to the noble Korean who responded in so kind a way to my European collation, and I offer the remains of my meal to my two soldiers. They assure me that they have never eaten anything better in their whole lives. I dismiss them and shut the door of my room.
My furniture is increased by a small Korean screen 1 meter high by 3, that I buy along the way. It is very old and consists of eight panels, each of which bears the Chinese character of a virtue that a man must practice: filial piety, ghai; deference, tche; loyalty, tchoug; confidence, tching; politeness, rey; probity, ry; disinterestedness, vom; modesty, tchy; these qualities are represented again, as usual, by animals or symbolic objects whose brilliant colors light up my diminutive quarters. While outside the rain falls in torrents with a disturbing continuity, I seek oblivion by admiring my screen, which, in addition to all the virtues it wishes its owner, also offers, from an artistic point of view, valuable information on the origins of Korean art. More precisely, a small purple frame rimmed with white surrounds each panel except for the lower part, which ends with a broad black band with another white, across which runs a light blue geometric design. There is the same repetition in the upper portion, where there is added a narrow black strip highlighted by a wine-red line, which circumscribes the entire panel. The latter, straw white is loaded with large archaic Chinese characters drawn largely and of rare calligraphic merit; they stand out vigorously in black ink on the light background on which are painted, below or around them in very pale colors, the allegorical attributes of each of these signs. Despite the shock of such contrasting tones, a true harmony emerges, thanks to the support of the broad black stripes of the frame. As for the attributes, in addition to their delicate nuances, they are characterized by the hieratic quality of their lines, and in the representation of flowers and even symbolic animals can be found the drawing at once geometric and vague of the artistic products of Persia and India. Such are the original sources from which the Koreans have been able to achieve a truly national art. We had already realized this as we admired the beautiful arrangement of the palaces and the main monuments of Seoul, the painting of the pavilions over the gates at Taikou, the beautiful costumes of the court of the Governor, the picturesque sculptures and architecture of Mil-yang, in short, all the manual productions and even the monologue-drama, all so alive, so human, so personal. Thereupon I blow out my candle and fall asleep smiling at the thought that people had depicted these gentle Koreans as veritable savages.
The next morning, I get up very early and await a brightening in the weather in order to photograph the major landmarks and the very curious aspects of Mil-yang. After two hours of waiting, I can finally go out and start to operate, to the great astonishment of a section of the population, that my two soldiers keep at the necessary distance from my camera. A dog of medium size, with yellow hair and green eyes, as often found here, follows me everywhere, because I stroked it, something that the Koreans never do. I think I have found the reason for this repulsion, strange among people who love animals: it comes from the fact that a number of children running naked through the fields are mutilated by dogs. To reduce the frequency of these accidents, they accustom the boys to throw stones at them, so that later, having become men, they pursue and curse these unfortunate quadrupeds. They, repulsed by everyone and living half wild, then see the aversion they inspire further increased by the countless ticks, small brown spiders the size of a pea, which, armed with short legs swarm freely in their unkempt fur. They are nevertheless very intelligent, and those in Seoul know very well how to open for themselves the small flap provided for them at the bottom of each gate and the shutters that reinforce them by night. This allows them to go in and out at all hours and escape the cudgels of the Koreans, who, like the Chinese, mainly appreciate this animal in the form of stew and most especially as chops.
But it is time to move on: we set off, warmed by the sun that has finally emerged from the clouds which intercepted its rays. The entire countryside, refreshed, shines with a thousand sparks, illuminating all around us the trees, the farms with their beautifully cultivated fields, groves of trees. I look back and, taking one last look at the walls of Mil-yang, I find traces of the many battles against the Japanese they once endured. Like the flocks of birds that we often encounter heading south-east, the invaders also fled, not because of the harsh climate, but faced with a whole people that rose up to regain its independence. May we one day see such a migration in our land!
After leaving Ori-chang and passing the Sain-tang and the Kufa, tributaries of the Nak-tong-yang, we move away from the river and pass several important towns, including Tang-yori-tchou, at the entrance which we often find votive chapels erected in honor of those men or women who have distinguished themselves by their patriotism, filial piety, who fulfilled their paternal, maternal or fraternal duties, even widows whose virtue was the honor of their sex: glorious shrines destined to inspire in every heart the family virtues, that are the basis of Korean society. We are now in a vast plain, bounded by a chain of hills; the rice fields that surround us are a huge checkerboard where many workers, immersed in water up to their knees, are engaged in hard work. The curiosity excited by my passing makes them pause for barely a moment in their work, that they immediately resume, so active is the Korean farmer. From time to time the soldier who is leading the convoy asks the way or rather which of the small ridges emerging from the rice field is the one that must be followed, and seen from afar our caravan seems to be walking on water. Everyone hastens to inform us by voice, but mainly by gestures, because since we left Taikou and began moving towards the south, the language of my men is less and less understood, in consequence of the more pronounced dialect.
Here comes, advancing toward us, a great and majestic old man, walking solemnly supported by a long, very elaborately carved walking stick, in Korean called "cane of old age." At the approach of this ancestral figure, everyone, in order to free the narrow path he is following, advances without hesitation knee-deep into the rice field and respectfully bows; I too direct my horse into the water, happy, in following their example, to thus pay my European homage to the majesty of years. Old age is a doubly sacred kingship in Korea, for if the ancestor has a right to the filial piety of each one, he must also be for all and especially for his family a true father; if some selfish person fails in this, the Mandarin knows how to recall him to virtue, without lacking in the respect due to old age. I reproduce here a curious example: "Lately, wrote in 1855 Bishop Daveluy, “a young man of twenty years was brought before a mandarin for a few francs that he owed in taxes and was unable to pay. The magistrate, warned in advance, arranged the matter in a way that was much applauded. "Why have you not paid your contributions? he asked the young man. – I have difficulty in earning a living by my days of work, and I have no resources. -Where do you live? -On the street. – And your parents? – I lost them in my childhood. – Is there no-one left in your family? – I have an uncle who lives in such a street, and lives off the income from a small piece of land he owns. – Does he not come to your help? – Sometimes, but he has obligations, and can do very little for me." The mandarin, knowing that the young man spoke thus out of respect for his uncle, and that in reality he was an old miser, very well-to-do, who had abandoned the poor orphan, continued to question him. "Why at your age are you not yet married? – Is it so easy? Who would want to give his daughter to a young man without parents and in misery? – You despair of ever getting married? – It is not the desire that I lack, but I do not have the means. – Well, I'll take care of that, you seem an honest lad and I hope to find a solution; find a way of paying the small amount that you owe the government and I will summon you again soon." The young man withdrew without knowing what all that might mean. A report of what had happened in open court reached the ears of his uncle, who, ashamed of his conduct and fearing a public affront from the Mandarin, could find nothing better to do than to take immediate steps to marry his nephew. The matter was quickly settled, and the date for the ceremony fixed. The day before, when the hair of the bridegroom had already been fixed in a top-knot, the mandarin, who was kept informed of all, summoned him to the court and bade him pay the money he owed in taxes. "Why, said the mandarin, you hair is up; you're already married? How did you manage to succeed so quickly? – A suitable match was found for me, and since my uncle could give me some help, things are concluded: I'm getting married tomorrow. Very well, but how will you live? Do you have a home? – I do not try to foresee things so far ahead, I'm getting married first, then I will see. But in the meantime, where you will be staying with your wife? I'll find a little corner in my uncle’s house or elsewhere to lodge her until I have a house of my own. And what if I had a way to make you have one? You're too good to think about me, it will work out gradually. But, how much would it take to accommodate you and set you up properly? – No small amount, I would need a house, some furniture and a small piece of land to cultivate. Would 200 nhiangs (400 fr.) suffice? – I believe that with 200 nhiangs I could manage very nicely. –Well, I'll think about it; get married, get on well together and be more punctual in paying your taxes." Every word of this conversation was repeated to the uncle and he saw that unless he paid up he risked becoming the talk of the whole town, so that a few days after his wedding the nephew had at his disposal a house, furniture and the 200 nhiangs of which the mandarin had spoken." Do you know, reader, another country where the duties of the family are so well understood by all that it is sufficient, when someone forgets them, for justice to appear informed for order to be immediately restored?
Soon we leave the rice fields and come closer to the hills by a semblance of road that many Koreans are taking. Thus, as we come closer to the sea, a movement of increasingly intense human life follows our almost complete isolation in the mountains. In the villages through which we now pass, all the agricultural implements used to prepare the rice are in motion. The feverish activity prevailing in this district comes from the fact that its inhabitants, who alone escaped the drought, are hoping to help the neighboring county, where soon famine will spread in all its horror. At last we reach the direct route from Seoul to Fu-san, and there before me, to my great amazement, I see the telegraph poles recently established in Korea, like in Japan and China. From time to time we meet some Japanese merchants from Fu-san who have come here on some business. These little men, usually very ugly, wearing long dresses with wide belts, boots of Pont-Neuf style and small round bowlers in Belle-Jardiniere manner, have a strange effect on me in the midst of this tall and strong population in their very particular clothes. It seems to me that before long we will see that the Koreans are in no way inferior to their neighbors when it comes to progress. Although the Japanese, of whom they were once the educators, today surpass the Koreans in the point of view of industry and the arts, they will soon catch up and go beyond them, through their moral superiority. That is attested by the admirable organization of their family, their solidarity, their energy at work, and finally the amazing progress they have made in recent years, as evidenced by the telegraph, the civilizing lines of which will soon spread throughout Korea.
We are now surrounded by lovely hills, from which escape hundreds of streams that spread across the valley, where they form a watery landscape, so that we are all the time fording a multitude of small rivers, where my horse nearly drowns at one point. We stop for lunch at Sang-san-natri, in a hostelry at the end of the village and close to a wide creek in which some peasant women are washing clothes, which is not a small matter, given the many undergarments of Korean women and the white clothing worn by almost all the men. All these clothes, laid out on the ground to dry in the sun, give at first view the impression of a snow-covered field standing out amidst a verdant landscape; it is a delightful sight, viewed from the window of the room where I take my meal.
As soon as our horses have been fed, I hasten to set off, in order to reach Fu-san the same evening, and I do well because, after passing a series of hills, we arrive just before nightfall at the foot of a quite high pass, the Tchung-ka-moe, which stands right in front of us. The ascent is all the more difficult as there is no path through the sprawling rocks that obstruct our progress. I could not complete my journey with a more difficult pass. Twice, our caravan suddenly finds itself on the edge of a frightful abyss, which in the dark could have been our loss. We now dominate half the deep valley, over which huge rocks seem suspended, likely at any moment to fall and crush with their dark mass the small village that lies at the bottom of the valley, where a foaming torrent roars among the rocks. The setting sun illuminates this landscape, like the scenery for some great opera, with the most vivid tones; it is a splendid sight. Soon, bathed in the last rays of daylight, we finally reach the longed-for summit and enjoy suddenly, on the other side of the mountain, a night studded with stars. The descent is slow along a real road, along which we are preceded by a local inhabitant who I had taken as our guide on account of the darkness. We reach the plain and finally arrive at a wooded hillock by-passed by an avenue of magnificent cedars, from where a steep slope leads to the entrance of Fu-san. There we cannot make ourselves understood, because the dialect of the east coast is completely different from the language commonly spoken in Korea. Therefore, in a general embarrassment, all my men gather around me and claim that, having managed to travel in their country, that I did not know, I must do the same here. The case is fairly general, as our guide says that there is no inn in Fu-san. Unable to get from him, given his patois, any other information, it is with the greatest difficulty that, helped by my interpreter, I give him the order to lead us to the foreign concession. I enter with him into the city, and finally arrive at the office of the Japanese police, where a very friendly employee, with whom, thanks to writing in Chinese characters, we can finally communicate. He tells me of a Japanese hotel where I can lodge with my luggage, but the caravan will, because of the horses, have to find accommodation five kilometers away in the Korean town. A few minutes later, we arrive at my hotel.
It's time to dismiss my people, who had already received part of their pay on leaving Seoul and in Taikou. I pay the full amount due, add a large tip which is doubled for the little orphan, who, given the season, definitely needs warm clothes, and ask my men to kindly take him back with them to save him from starvation. They promise me to do so and take their leave, thanking me a lot, and it is with a real sense of sadness that I say goodbye to these good people, who seem equally upset by our separation. Then comes the turn of my two soldiers and my cook. I suggest they go back to Seoul by way of sea or by land along the direct postal route, much shorter than the path we have traveled; in the latter case, they will benefit from the cost of their transportation, their I will pay. My soldiers eagerly accept my latter proposal. I later learned of their safe arrival in Seoul, several days before the ship they would have had to wait for here. As for my master chef, he hesitates, but a few hours later, having found employment with the Chinese consul at Fu-san, he receives the price of his fare, which is thus pure profit for him. There remains my interpreter; having little curiosity about the things of this world, but being a good father, he refuses the overseas journey I offered to enable him to make with me; he prefers to receive the amount and go back to his family. All these questions settled, I go to my room, quite upset by all these farewells. Tt shows on my face, so that the two small mousmes waiting for me to serve my dinner are quite at a loss: people are so rarely sad when they arrive in a Japanese hotel!
We crossed completely Kyeng-Syang-to, so let me say a few words about this beautiful province. It is bounded on the north by Kang-Ouen-to, on the west by Tchyoungtchyeng-to and Tyen-la-to, on the east by the Sea of Japan and on the south by the Korea Strait. It is contained to the north by the mountain chain of Syo-Paik-san, on the west by the Song-na-san, who also has other names, and to the east by Oun-mou-san, which also has various names. All these chains joining to surround it on three sides and form the basin of the Nak-tong-kang with its many tributaries and sub-tributaries. The natural products of this province are very similar, as we have seen during the course of our trip, to the products from Japan. There are many ancient architectural remains that indicate the important role it has played in the history of Korea: in fact, it is the ancient land of the Tchen-han, who later became the Kingdom Sia-lo, whose founder Ao-ku-sse made of Taikou his habitual residence and installed his court there. Some authors believe rightly that the kingdom of Sia-lo is none other than the Si-la where the Arabs established important trading posts in the tenth century. It was the bulwark of Korea at the time of the great Japanese invasions, especially in the third century, during the expedition commanded in person by the Japanese princess Zin-gul, who had donned the clothing of her husband, and those of the famous sio-goun Hideyosi in 1592 and 1597. This province is now divided into 4 fok (mou) or large prefectures; —11 fou or departmental cities; —14 kou (kiun) or principalities; —1 rei (ling) or jurisdiction; —34 ken (kian) or inspectorates of mines and salt works; —11 yk or postal directorates; —24 fo (phou) or strongholds; —2 generals commanding the troops; —2 kou-kö (yu-hsou) or dukes; —2 Navy commanders; —2 prefects of general police; —10 man-ho (wan-hou) or heads of 10,000 men; —6 directors of customs. The population is estimated at 430,000 inhabitants according to the official documents of which we have spoken. It can be almost doubled for the reasons given above.
While I put in order the notes taken during my trip, my two little mousmes sitting on the floor look at me curiously, offer me, when it is needed, a light for my cigarette, and, as I have authorized it, smoke their own tiny pipes. When they have lit them, there is nothing more curious than their pretended assaults of politeness: they gently wipe the pipe end with tissue paper, offer them to each other with a smile, make the exchange with a graceful bow of the head, then inhale a long breath of smoke and let it slowly escape into the air in the most flirtatious way in the world, in short, while they play this little elegant-Japanese game, they are delightful. But now the paper-lined door slides open in its groove; my interpreter appears and tells me that the two mandarins representing the Korean government in Fu-san have come to visit me upon receipt of the card that I had the honor of addressing them. I invite them to come in, thank them for their kind visit, and invite them to take with me a European collation. They agree, and I have no need to explain anything because, having lived for some time in the concession, both are accustomed to our habits. They congratulate me on my journey, made by a European for the first time, and offer their services in any way possible while I am in Fu-san. I express my gratitude, and they speak to me of Europe, ask me a thousand questions, particularly if I have photographs of my country. I tell them no, but I can show them some of America. Our mandarins are absolutely stunned by the houses of ten and twelve floors in New York and ask me to explain how it is possible to build such monuments, the height of which they can perceive, thanks to the people they can see at the windows. So we spend a delightful time together, and they withdraw after inviting me to take tea the next day at their home. I responded to this invitation, and I could see once again how quickly the Korean adapts to our customs, for they received me in European style, even offering me champagne. I think this is a new business opportunity for our rich province, for I found in all the mandarins a fondness for that most gay of our French wines. Our guests have only just left when I am handed the card of Mr. Civilini, of the Korean customs service and in charge of the port of Fu-san. Delighted to meet a European, I go out to welcome him. This excellent man had just met my caravan and having thus learned of my arrival, had hastened to inquire how he could help me, ready to help in any way, he said, after the curious journey I have ventured to undertake. I warmly thank him for his kindness, and at my request he gives me, with a slight Italian accent, the following information on the maritime communications of Fu-san with the neighboring countries. There are only two services regularly established: one Chinese, the other Japanese; the first begins here, follows the coast of the peninsula, calls at Tchemoulpo, then Chefoo, from where people can travel on to Tien-tsin or Shanghai. This route passes through all the cities I have already visited; I therefore renounce it in favor of the second line, which from Nagasaki stops successively at Fu-san, Gen-san and Vladivostok, thus allowing me to complete my visit to Korea and reach Siberia. I express my gratitude to Mr. Civilini for his valuable information and, after exchanging a few toasts to the union of our two countries, we part, delighted to have made one another’s acquaintance. My two small mousmes then spread on the floor the ftons, light mattresses between which one slides, and I soon form with them a true human sandwich. A few moments later I enjoy in the dark all the softness, tranquility, and charm one experiences when feeling reborn to life after long deprivations of all kinds.
The next day I pay visits to the mandarins, to Mr. Civilini then to Mr. Hunt, Commissioner of Chinese Customs, and his kind assistant, Mr. Watson, who, thanks to a letter of recommendation from the excellent M. Piry, of Beijing, welcome me in the most charming way and provide all the services in their power. They even pay me the honor of coming to lunch together with Mr. Civilini in my hotel. The meal is accompanied by pleasant music played in the next room, where several Japanese are celebrating in the company of delightful geishas, young people who are at the same time poets, musicians, dancers, etc.. We greet them at the end of the meal then I go to visit the city, or rather the European concession, because there are actually four Fu-san: the ancient city, located furthest to the south, and today nothing but ruins, was a stronghold, occupied for several centuries by the Japanese, who had made it a veritable trading center, a warehouse for all their goods. This is followed by the Korean Fu-san, located further to the north and also fortified, then the European concession, of which I will say more. This is certainly the most important port in Korea, less picturesque than Tchemoulpo, it nevertheless offers magnificent views from the top of the green mountains that frame the huge bay beautifully. The city is dominated by the hill covered with cedars that we bypassed the day before. At the top stands a charming little Japanese temple lost in the foliage that can be accessed by rustic stairways and scenic trails. It is dedicated to the guardian deities of the sea and a large number of votive offerings decorate it. These represent the many shipwrecks where Japanese sailors miraculously escaped death by the powerful intervention of spirits or goddesses. All these paintings, which are reminiscent of those in some Catholic chapels, may not be masterpieces, they are very interesting, given the sense of faith and gratitude to the gods that the artist often represents very truthfully, by the expression on the faces and the attitudes of the shipwrecked mariners. At the foot of the sacred hill extends the concession. Recently built by the Japanese, this is truly a city of their country, and they monopolize the whole trade of the port. Businesses are so successful that some dealers sometimes earn, I was told, more than a hundred thousand francs a year. Yet despite this, there are here, apart from the customs employees, only two or three Europeans. What I might call the Korean maritime Fu-san is more than a league from the commercial port. It is reached by a road along the coast, which from the top of a succession of hills overlooks the sea in a most picturesque manner. The native city, very miserable, is partly inhabited by fishermen; their houses are located on the Strait of Korea, and are usually preceded by large circular holes about three meters in diameter and one meter deep, dug in the ground and covered with clay. Four pillars two meters high, placed perpendicularly square around these tanks carry a light thatched roof to protect the sardine-fertilizer that is prepared for export in large quantities in Japan, where it is used to fertilize the land. The prohibition under penalty of death to have any dealings with foreigners which lasted for centuries prevented Korean sailors taking to the high seas, so today most of their fisheries are still installed on the shore. Huge wooden fences are erected, with a single entrance, toward which the fishing boats push the frightened fish, then they close the opening and take all the prisoners.
On returning to the hotel, I learn that the Takachiho Maru on its way to Vladivostok arrived a few hours before and will leave immediately. I hasten to settle my account at the hotel, take my ticket and board the ship just before her departure. MM. Hunt and Watson, whom I found there, present me to Captain Walter, to Poli, customs clerk, on vacation, who will make the trip with me, and to Mr. Brageer, of Scottish origin, on his way to Gen-san to replace one of my compatriots, Mr. Fougerat, whose five-yearly leave is due. A whistle sounds, I thank once more the friends who are leaving me; they get into their boat and we wave our handkerchiefs as they return to land in the boat of the customs, while we take the sea in the direction of Gen- san. Soon night falls, the lights are lit, our steamer glides gently on a sea without waves, the air is warm and soft to breathe, and sitting on the deck, we enjoy the serenity of this beautiful evening, abandoning ourselves to the poetry of a blue sky full of millions of stars, then Captain Walter graciously invites us to take a cocktail with him. We go to his cabin and enjoy a few pleasant hours, for the commander is as amiable as he is jovial, and my two companions are in no way inferior. Thus, after finding myself for so long away from any European, this trip is a true festival for me. The next morning I visit our ship: it is almost new and beautifully equipped, the crew consists of Japanese, excellent sailors then, so everything is for the best. We follow the Korean coast at a short distance, the coast being formed by a series of hills parallel to each other and to the shore, generally low, but very beautifully shaped. Suddenly everything disappears, we are in fog and need to stop soon, for fear of striking an island that serves as a landmark for navigation. The sea is smooth as a mirror, not the slightest breeze; prisoners of the thick fog, it is only after sixteen hours have passed that the wind blows at last, clears the atmosphere, and we recover our freedom. once our location has been identified, the ship quickly heads for Gen-san, where we arrive late at night; these delays in the off-season frequently occur along the shores of Korea.
Mr. Fougerat comes aboard and takes us to M. E. Greagh, the Commissioner of Customs, for whom I have a letter of recommendation. He welcomes us in the most charming way, he congratulates me on my journey through Korea, highly approves my visit to Siberia from an ethnographic point of view, and even gives me serious information about Vladivostok that was most useful there. We finish the evening with a sort of declamation contest in French, Italian, English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean, the latter being preferred for its sonority in the opinion of all, even the Chinese and Japanese consuls come to visit the very friendly Mr. Greagh. As I was leaving he surprised me by graciously offering me a plan of Gen-san produced by a local artist, as well as a piece of cloth of incomparable finesse, brilliant and beautiful as silk. This fabric, produced locally with some white nettle fibers that grow in abundance, is an absolutely national product.
The next morning, an east wind is blowing violently, and as the harbor is not protected against it, it is impossible to go ashore, the rough seas sending such waves breaking on the shore that no boat could reach land without being broken. We must remain on board, then, and wait patiently, taking at eight a first breakfast with chocolate, at ten, tea with forks, then at half past noon, the main lunch. As the storm does not calm down, we are consoled by an afternoon tea, the main dinner at seven o'clock, then tea; I have never eaten so much in my life, contenting myself throughout with my two meals as in Paris. Therefore, after a final cocktail, when someone suggests going to bed in order to rise early, I am the first to give the example. The next morning the wind has dropped, but the weather is overcast yet sometimes brief rays of sun illuminate for a few minutes the beautiful bay surrounded by islands with half-wooded hills. The greatest activity prevails on board, because we can now operate the unloading of the goods. The captain takes us ashore in his Japanese boat, then turning the sail, he goes with his three beautiful dogs hunting wild duck in the neighboring islands, which are most rustic.
Gen-san extends along the shore at the foot of a circle of hills planted with scattered trees. This is an absolutely Japanese city, but as it is of very recent foundation, the houses are scattered here and there between three small rivers, crossed by elegant bridges that will give a lot of character to the city when it is completed. On the right opens the tiny harbor in masonry for the customs boats, whose dependent buildings stand further back, consisting of a large wooden shed to house goods, and a pretty mandarin house where the records are kept.
At the center of the scattered dwellings of the Japanese settlers has been laid out a potential garden, it having only been planted last year. It capriciously surrounds a rock crowned with a small decorative pagoda, from the foot of which you can enjoy a magnificent panorama of the surrounding landscape, limited only by the delicious profile of the surrounding mountains with their many green sites. On the right stands the Consulate of Japan, in the middle of a huge walled yard where, if attacked, the entire colony could take refuge. For the Japanese, who know they are hated by the Koreans, take great precautions wherever they are in groups, justified by the massacres of which they were the victims in Seoul after the treaties of 1882. Finally, on the slopes of the central hill, stands the vast yamen of the governor, which is located near the house of Mr. Greagh, whom my companions and I visit, wishing to thank him by a gracious invitation to dinner. Then, leaving the concession, we head north along a road that follows the hills across the well cultivated fields. Many Koreans are at work there and they look to me like living parcels, for, given the cold, they have lined their clothes with cotton wool, giving them an extraordinary girth. The true Korean Gen-san is called Tok-Ouen; it extends over a length of more than a league, and, though populous, the city has only two long parallel streets, intersected by many side streets and three public squares, of which the main one, located in the center of the city, serves as the market-place. There must be a great trade in furs, judging by all the skins of wild animals that I see hanging everywhere; moreover, the many shops in front of which we pass contain goods of all kinds, and I take the opportunity to make various purchases. All the houses are low, but with the peculiarity that the underground conduit in which the fire is lit in Korea ends here in a really solid chimney made of wood or mats. The little garden that surrounds each property is closed in the same way: the result is a very poor overall impression. My companions want to visit a Korean inn which we are passing; they emerge again immediately, exclaiming: "But it’s horrible! How could you live there?" I try to remove this very bad impression by saying that the splendid hotel they have just visited is reckoned one of the ugliest in the country, and we walk back merrily, watching pigs trotting ahead of us, driven by children, pigs being bred here in large quantities. They are of two types: native and cross-breed; the first look very much like small wild boar, the latter are very similar to American pigs. All of them have the ears pierced, not for rings, but in order to pass the rope with which they are led. It is in this unique company that we arrive at nightfall, at the home of Mr. Greagh, where an excellent meal awaits us, served with all the comforts of old England and followed by the most delightful evening. Naturally we talk about Gen-san and the great future of this port as a result of its geographical position, which puts it in direct contact, by a road already busy, with Seoul, and by sea, with Fu-san, Vladivostok and Nagasaki, its close neighbors. I absolutely agree with these gentlemen, because I feel sure that within a few years Gen-san will have become a major international center in Korea.
We then talk about the local customs, the main products of the country, and finally the wild game that abounds. I learn that tigers flee the winter cold of Manchuria, head to the southeast of Vladivostok, and descend into Korea along the Sea of Japan, usually in pairs hunting wild animals; when they cannot find any, pressed by hunger, they come close to the villages, and sometimes penetrate by night into the courtyards, as happened shortly before we arrived to our gracious host, whose two dogs were thus taken. The number of big cats is so great in the peninsula, that each year hundreds of skins are exported, besides local consumption, which is very significant, because all the mandarins use the fur for their official seat. I inquired about the depredations of these beasts. Many natives, I am assured, are daily victims, in their property and even their person, as a result of real carelessness such as sleeping outside their house in the summer, or hunting alone in order to collect all the premium and the price of the rich fur of these animals. All of which, I tell them, confirms my ideas about this, because for me the tiger pressed by hunger attacks only isolated individuals and always flees from a group of people, unless it is attacked.
"Yet, they reply, the Prince of Wales in India had one of his elephants attacked.
—This is further proof of what I have just said.
Indeed, during the princely journey, to avoid accidents, many beaters preceded the escort; a tiger passes between them and seeing them move away, thinks he has escaped, but then arrives the main body of the caravan, it believes itself trapped and defends itself, as I said earlier.
—So for you, these big cats are not at all something to be afraid of?
—For explorers, at least, since they are necessarily accompanied by their suite.
—I wager you will not relate that in the story of your travels.
—I will, on the contrary; I know that in speaking thus, I shall deprive myself of moving stories to tell, but I shall at least have the satisfaction of telling the truth, and rarer still, of being believed, since by my return to France, I shall have traveled to many countries inhabited by these felines, including Korea, Siberia, Indo-China and India. I would add, to convince unbelievers, that despite all the legends, tigers have actually rendered even more services to explorers and especially to publishers than they have done them wrong, because we look in vain in our annals for the tragic end of one of us, finishing the course of his explorations in the belly of a great beast." And everyone laughs. "For me, I continued, the extraordinary tales of storms and the terrible hand-to-hand fights with wild beasts that I read about long ago seem to me to be the cause of the terror of our grandparents and their opposition to the departure abroad of our ardent youth, all to the detriment of family and country, just when the struggle for life makes more than ever necessary the rapid expansion of our national forces." When I had finished this little set piece each approved me. May I be as happy in France and soon see a swarm of young travelers setting forth, already encouraged by the military state through which they have all passed. The evening ended, as we walk through the fields back to the steamer, there sounds behind us in the silence of the night the sinister growl of a tiger, then another; will Il finally see one? We stop, and suddenly into our midst jumps friend X ... Who is treating us to this little family entertainment! We reply with a general meow of farewell, after which, as in the song, everyone goes to bed, some on board, and others ... at home.
Two hours later we left Korea for Siberia, where I hoped to complete my ethnographic studies in the north, as I had done in the East by passing through part of Sakhalin and throughout Japan, and finally to the West to visit China in the north, center and south; indeed, we can only know the ethnography of a people if we have some general ideas about the countries around. I was delighted with my determination, because, thanks to the kind hospitality of M. de Bussy, state adviser to the Russian court, and his outstanding work on the northern countries that he studied for several years, finally the very interesting Siberian collection assembled by him, I saw a strange kinship between ancient Siberian tribes, especially the Tungusians, and Koreans. Without going into detailed considerations, that will be developed in our volume, we will simply say here today that this affinity occurs in the most unexpected way; indeed, while we encounter almost no Koreans in China and Japan, they are counted by the thousands on the banks of the Amur and in Vladivostok, where they have taken complete control. A huge amount of trade is also being done there by the Chinese, but apart from some Russians there are very few Europeans. The city, located at the end of a huge bay is protected by picturesque hills covered with fir, larch, pine and birch with their silver trunks. The fleets of the world could take shelter in this huge harbor that, although closed by ice for two months of the year, is none the less called to a great future, just as Vladivostok, whose origin is recent, is already the queen of the north, and its prosperity can only increase. Soon, indeed, a network of railways connecting the Siberian lakes and rivers crossed by steamboat, will link it in a trading relationship not only with the entire Russian empire, but with the whole of Europe and all of North America. One rival to be feared is the likely development of the new open port that Korea has awarded uniquely to Russia on its north-eastern border, for, being ice-free all year round, it is expected to become the center of all the trade of the northern world.
After a tour around Vladivostok, we take to the sea and revisit successively Gen-san and Fusan, where our friends welcome us heartily; when will they allow me my turn to receive them as happily in Paris? For the cordiality that exists there between Europeans is really a lovely thing. As I was leaving Korea for the second time, I thought I had finished my local studies. Well, I had to experience the emotions of a typhoon in its waters. Emerging from the Bay of Fu-san by night, we find a pretty high sea running. Friend Fougerat, who has already had some experience of it and fearing the appearance of new challenges, retires to his cabin and we stay with Mr. Poli to enjoy the special pleasure of feeling ourselves somewhat rocked by the sea; at a sign from Captain Walter, we immediately join him on the poop deck because from the bridge we can see little, and up there one is at the very center of the most wonderful sea panorama. Although the weather is overcast, the opaque light of the moon passes through the thin layer of clouds that hides the sky, and all around us, the waves glow white: it is superb. After an hour friend Poli, feeling weary after our pleasures of the day before, goes to bed and I am left alone with the commander. Now the sky has become completely dark, it seems that the light comes from the sea, which seems illuminated by the dazzling foam of the waves. They break noisily, growing constantly larger, as the wind rises more and more. We are now rolling on the waves in a terrible way: sometimes our steamer points its sharp bow in the air, then plunges into the sea, as if to fathom the abyss, or caught on the side by a great wave, turns onto its side as if to die: it is truly terrifying. Suddenly the masts scream, a terrible crash is heard, and our ship, pulled backward for a moment, falls with a crash into the water at the same time as a huge wave inundates us, but the steamer straightens itself again on the dazzling peaks and we rule the raging sea. Oh! Beautiful, it's beautiful! "Good sailor,” says Captain Walter, hitting me on the shoulder. –Thank you, sir! I owe you the best show I’ve ever seen in my life." And, clasping our hands tightly on the bars of the poop, we enjoy the great horror of unbridled nature, which seems to be returning to chaos. In vain the wind increases, the storm redoubles and waves rush upon us in a final assault, I am now calm and quiet, I feel that the spirit of man is finally master of the storm, he has built the unsinkable, leads, directs and guides it where he will, because the will of the captain governs it more surely than a rider pressing the sides of his mount. At the moment when, carried away by the triumph of mind over matter, I almost believe myself a God, a terrible fit coughing overtakes me and here I am, leaning breathless over the abyss. Soon a semblance of calm appears around us, and the Captain, touching my clothes soaked with water, says we should go down, and as the mate is taking charge, we go down together. Walking is really difficult, because with pitching mixed with rolling in order to advance we must wait for a movement of the steamer to allow our hands to grasp rope rushing at us or some asperity if we are not to go rolling across the bridge. Arriving in the saloon despite our perfect instability, we prepare the incredible cocktail which is to warm us up. That was no easy job, I must say! That done, the captain goes back to his post, and I, absolutely drenched because of not having worn waterproofs, I go shivering to my cabin, change completely and soon feel penetrated by the warmth around me. I am hardly in bed, when I am suddenly lifted and thrown out of my bunk, at the same time as the creaking of the wooden vessel, the panting engine, the sinister hiss of the propeller turning in the air, mix suddenly with the terrible shock of a huge wave and a loud clatter of broken crockery, then a silence followed by a tremendous beating sound on the deck. "Go up and see what's happened," Signor Poli tells me from his cabin. "All my regrets, old chap, but I have undressed and have no desire to be crushed by all the stuff rolling around up there. Good night, I'm sleeping." I try to do so despite the incredible motion of the vessel which now I feel just as if I was on the poop with the captain, who is struggling valiantly upstairs while, overcome by fatigue, I fall asleep soon, in his care and that of God. The next day, I wake up in broad daylight, get dressed quickly and cross the saloon, absolutely devastated: all the dishes broken, and two strong arms attached to the walls, which carry the lights at the corners of the room, are lying on the floor and I cannot explain how they were broken; the bridge is in an indescribable disorder: two barrels ringed with copper nearly 2 meters high, at the back, were lifted off by the waves despite four huge iron spurs that were joining them to the vessel. The sea is just undulating now, as we have passed the Goto islands, that make us safe from its fury. I go up to join the captain; he is beaming with a sense of duty done and holds out his hands affectionately, saying: "Fine storm". Oh! the good man, and how grateful I am for everything he has allowed me to see. Our ship, damaged, soon enters the Gulf. Although the sky is covered with ash-gray clouds, I still admire the landscape, which is splendid in a ray of sunshine, as indeed all the coastal views of Japan. I will not say more of Nagasaki than I did of Shang-Hai; the European concession is the Paris of the Far East: both cities are too well known. I will only say that the typhoon we suffered had extended its ravages onto the coast, because at our hotel, as in all the Japanese houses on the hills, wooden fences and roofs were torn off in part by the storm. This now earns us curious looks from those who know that we escaped. Yet in fact there is almost no danger on the large modern steamers, with their admirable facilities, and the knowledge we have now of the winds, etc.. It is, alas! in Nagasaki that I had to separate myself from the aimiable captain Walter and my two delightful companions to join a ship of the Messageries Maritimes and complete my world tour.
Some disgruntled spirits, on finishing reading this story, will perhaps accuse me of hiding many dangers, of having attenuated many hardships, embellished many things. Yes, I did so, and deliberately, because in doing so I am much closer to the absolute truth that if I had dramatized to my profit every least incident. While traveling through many countries partly unexplored, two or three times my life was in danger, but during this long journey did those who remained in Paris run less risk? Let them think of the flower pot that can fall on your head, the vehicle that can knock you down on the boulevard, the duel that the gallery requires of you, etc. while during that time the clean air of sea or mountain renewed my blood, new observations illuminated my mind every day, hard labors finally made my heart more indulgent and tender toward all. And I would add: if true explorations offer such advantages, how easy any trip to countries open to all thus becomes! Are we now going to allow only foreigners to roam through countries where we have almost everywhere preceded them, and give up the glorious career when recent examples have made of exploration a craft of princes?
It is you, mothers, I am addressing, because the fathers are already half convinced: if your son, after having made, depending on where he wants to go, the absolutely essential apprenticeship, either of the Swiss Alps, the cold winter in St. Petersburg, or the summer heat of Biskra, still wants to leave, if you really love him, rather than holding him back, excite him more in his masculine energy, and if he is respectful of the customs and the rights of all, if he takes the correct hygienic precautions for each climate, if he is chaste and especially if he is sober, he will come back stronger, more loving and more worthy. Instead of exhaustion by wearisome pleasures, the generous fatigues of travel will fortify him forever; his mind will grow by all the knowledge he has acquired, and his heart will love you more, better feeling the happiness of holding you in his arms. Then what joy to find he has become someone, still full of youth, to see him respectfully listened to by his comrades, and not only them, but by mature men and even old folk, happy to hear from his mouth while he saw, learned, brought back for himself, for his family, for the country!
Thus our fathers returned from their heroic expeditions, where everywhere they made France known, admired, loved, thus increasing her influence, wealth and greatness.