Page:A Wayfarer in China.djvu/151

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109
ON THE MANDARIN ROAD

coolie class, but they were often not unattractive. Sometimes they were substantial buildings open to the street, and set out with tables on which were ranged dishes of vegetables and curries and cakes, while in the background was a big cauldron of rice cooking over the fire. Occasionally the tea-house was nothing more than a section of the highway roofed over with mats or leafy boughs. On a handy bench was placed a basin of steaming water for the visitor to bathe hands and face before drawing up to the table. It gave me a pleasant surprise to see the Chinese making of the daily repast a jolly social function, instead of each squatting on the ground in a corner, devouring his solitary bowl of rice as is the fashion of most Eastern peoples.

I found much interest in noting the food of my men, the variety and cost of it, and I whiled away many an hour of waiting, in questioning innkeepers and provision dealers. A good bowl of rice, called "cat's head " and costing twenty cash, or one cent gold, was usually the pièce de résistance. This in hand, a man fished out with his chopsticks tidbits from various dishes set out on the table, beans, cabbage, lettuce, peppers, etc., all cooked. Good hot boiled potatoes in their jackets were sometimes to be had at four cash each, or a bowl of stewed turnips at the same price. Beans in some shape were an important part of every menu. You could get a basin of fresh