Hongkong, 22 July 1893

In the morning we were greeted by the usual rain which did not stop me to go on land where I happened to come to an anatomical museum by chance. I soon was convinced that these presentations are as abhorrent as similar ones in Europe. The sight of all these horrors that are presented to the visitor in these museums creates as an after-effect the releasing good feeling when seeing the most common things as long as they are not hideous or abominable.

To improve my affronted aesthetic sensibilities as quickly as possible by pleasant impressions I stepped into a shop which offered artful and all kinds of other products from Japan. Even though the visit of this interesting country was still pending, I already bought here a nice collection of characteristic objects among them namely vases, lacquerware and bronzes and not to be forgotten, the delightful kimonos that we are used to see in the operetta „Mikado„. The shop owners, the brothers Kuhn from Hungary, had soon discerned who we were and seemed to find it repeatedly necessary to assure me that they would not try to take advantage from me.

The deeply felt need for a bit of fresher air made us climb Victoria Peak. At first we visited a Chinese managed bar modelled on the American type and then weaved in palanquin on the spry shoulders of rushing coolies to the station at St. John’s Cathedral from where a funicular railway led to Victoria Peak.

The English spare no effort or cost to improve the comfort of life where ever they own colonies in order to make the stay as agreeable or at least as tolerable as possible. Thousands of the sons of Albion venture out each year for a long time, sometimes forever, into the colonies where relief from the sometimes quite bleak territory, assistance against adverse climates, the possibility of recovery after a day’s toil has to be provided. English energy has been known for being triumphant in ameliorating and refurbishment. Hongkong is in more than one way an excellent example for it, so too is the colony created on the heights of Victoria Peak that owes its existence and development to such a healthy understanding and practical endeavor. The governor and other dignitaries have their domicile here for a good part of the year in comfortable villas. Members of the armed forces recover in a military sanatorium built in 1883 and large hotels offer the possibility to the inhabitants of Victoria to stay in airy heights during the hot season or to breathe in fresher air in the evening after the daily work has been completed. When dull mugginess is laying over the city, all who can will drive to the Peak during the evening hours to partake in the enjoyment of the difference in temperature of about 10° C in comparison to Victoria.

Victoria Peak has extremely steep slopes and drops abruptly down to the city. The funicular railway’s tracks are laid as audaciously as this situation demands and has to surpass great terrain obstacles even if not such slopes as on the Pilatus railway. It therefore can be justly called a marvel of technology. The railway ascends the slopes of Victoria Peak through the villa quarter where the richer Europeans have created agreeable places to live in their tasteful country mansions surrounded by delightful gardens. From the station next to a small Anglican church the trace is extremely steep up to the Peak. During the journey one has a panoramic view of rare beauty which increases in splendor in scope and picturesque beauty the higher we ascend. It nearly seemed like the sea of houses of Victoria was vertically below us and muffled, finally barely perceptible the accompanying noise of a pulsating life of the great city reaches our ear.

We ascended ever higher up until the city and the harbor with its countless ships lay below us like a Liliputian world and the proud „Elisabeth“ seemed to have been reduced to the dimensions of a small ship model. From the heights our glances swept far over the infinite sea and all surrounding islands of Hongkong, the harbor, the city and the Chinese mainland which was plastically highlighted in front of a dark wall of clouds. The fantastic picturesque landscape we were marvelling about here looked in their attractive strangeness like those audaciously imagined images that contain the fancy allure that Chinese  and Japanese artists know to weave into their rugs.

Unfortunately we could not enjoy the view of this splendid panorama for long as a rainstorm was growing. Pushing fog and rain toward us, it soon made the magical images at our feet disappear, and we were in the midst of the rainstorm. Despite the bad weather we felt quite comfortable up there as we could for once breathe in mountain air! Only somebody who has spent months in the tropical seas may appreciate the full greatness of the delight offered by mountain heights and fresh air. „Freedom dwells in the mountains“ — the freedom from the oppressive, tiring mugginess of the low lands, of the cities. But homesickness too which never fully leaves a traveller on such a long journey also dwells on the mountains and stronger than for a long time it affected me in these airy heights.The mountains of home rose in front of me out of the ocean and it seemed to me that no landscape was more gorgeous than our Austrian mountains.

The funicular railway ends at Victoria Cap, but not at the highest point of the Peak whose top still extends 70 m higher and is crowned by a signal station. Halfway there lies Mount Austin Hotel whose giant dimensions and equipped with all comforts does not only host permanent guests but also numerous Europeans in the evening who drive down to the city in the morning to engage in their professions. We celebrated our mountain trip with a Lucullan meal which was quite tasty, even if produced from English cooking, and made the return trip in a happy mood to Victoria which was illuminated in a sea of lights.

In Singapore I could not visit a Chinese theater due to my tropical fever that had taken hold on me. I therefore wanted to make good this lapse in Hongkong. But we found all art houses, we drove to one after another, unfortunately closed. We plainly did not consider that it was Saturday, a day the severe English police instructions prohibited any theatrical performances.

We therefore used the time to visit one of the numerous opium dens. In contrast to India where opium is generally consumed in forms of pills or as a liquid solution, in China it is customary to smoke opium. While it is proclaimed that the usual consumption of opium in India is said to increase the body’s performance and courage and prevent diseases — if at all, these effects must be due to the low dosage and only at the beginning — only negative effects are known about the smoking of opium. When we entered into the selected den it was still to early to observe the actual opium intoxication. At least the smokers were already in the preparatory stages. The opium smoker requires multiple pipes to obtain the desired state of intoxication which he smokes in certain pauses filled with smoking tobacco or dreaming idleness.

The narrow room contained wooden beds — „cots“ — each of which had a low mount made out of wood or clay to serve as a pillow.

Half-naked men lay extended on the no less than luxurious daybeds and each had the tools for smoking opium at his side, especially the pipe which always consists of a bamboo tube and the conical pipe head that has a small opening for putting the opium inside. In front of each smoker also sits a vessel filled with viscous opium and a small lamp. The smoker puts a portion on the opening of the pipe which he lights up with the lamp in order to breathe in the intoxicating scent in long puffs. This is repeated until the desired effect is achieved and the smoker is carried away from reality with all its worries and all its misery and caught in a dream world, surrounded by delightful illusionary images in which he enjoys pleasures of all kind and all his desires are fulfilled. But at which price does this short flight from earthly misery into a land of sweet dreams come? Like ghosts with haggard bodies, fixed stares, pallid cheeks and lips the opium smokers stumble to an early death. The smokers laying in front of us had only reached their third or fourth pipe but their facial expressions showed without exception the mark of a horrible aberration, one of the miserable men had even reached the desired Elysium — he lay unconscious on the balcony of the house.

There exist by the way also opinions that not all smokers will suffer the fatal consequences from consuming opium that one is used to accept as a general rule and that we could witness in front of us. The level of negative effects is said to be considerably dependent on the passion with which the victim gives in during the consumption of opium, to the pleasure of this narcotic agent. From this it is concluded that the promotion of the opium trade and the fiscal exploitation of opium is not worse in terms of morality than the promotion of trade of spirits and its use as a source of tax income. Whether this is right, what I have seen in this den, gave me the impression that smoking opium is one of the most lamentable human aberrations. The prevalent temperature in the dull room, the horrible perspirations of the penned up humans, physical disgust and moral repugnance soon drove us out into the open air.

Another tour of these dens of vice in these active night life quarters proved soon so nauseatic that I quickly returned on board.

Links

  • Location: Hongkong
  • ANNO – on 22.07.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is closed for summer until 15 September. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing a ballet „Die goldene Märchenwelt“.

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