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On New Years and Gambling

February 16, 1916: “No boats run now – no shops are open – no post office – nothing – for it is New Year’s for the Chinaman who eats & drinks and gambles. Not a coolie lifts his hands. Every body wants a cumsha and one sees the gift baskets going everywhere. I did not mention the assorted Christmas gifts that agents along the Canal presented to me. Yung Chong gave me a basket of oranges, one of apples, three cakes, 4 boxes of Manila cigars, 20 tins of cigarettes, H.O. Wills Westminister, each tin containing 50 cigarettes, 24 quart bottles of Shanghai beer, and a Chinese food concoction known as Hsüh Ngo. This mess of stuff was enhanced by a lot of other junk from other agents which included teak tabourets and flagon of Kuliang. So of course I had to reciprocate to a slight degree when Chinese New Year’s came around, so I sent Yung Chong by my servant, two tins, containing 100 cigarettes each, of Felucca, the best cigarette in China, and a basket of assorted liquors, peppermint, sherry, cognac and gin. The only parties that get any benefit from this lavish exchange of gifts are the servants who take the presents to the reciprocant. The poor bum who is receiving a wheelbarrow load of some native cake has to tip the servant several dollars. So they get you coming and going and the servant is the only one who prospers.”

January 26, 1917: “Just now it is New Year’s time and the Canal cities have cut out all business as usual for a period of some two weeks. The Chinese at the present time are doing nothing but gambling, day and night. They are the most wonderful gamblers in the world. They sit for hours without an expression of sorrow or gloom even though they may be rapidly getting rid of their spare cash. From my boat here I can hear them going to it up on shore. They have hundreds of games but the one most played on a quiet evening is a very queer game of an assortment of bamboo backed ivories & dice. These rascals not only play all day long but all night too & you can never tell when they are through [or] who has won or lost. Chinese New Year’s is the time when gambling is the official recognized thing, and from the smallest urchins of five & six years old throwing dice into a bowl on the street for a cash or piece of sweet to the greatest official playing in his Yamen for thousands of dollars, everyone is at it. I used to worry a bit about my clerks keeping it up day & night but have realized that the only way to keep a Chinaman from risking his last dollar is to hit him with an axe. The scamps will gamble.”

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