Page:Inside Canton.djvu/134

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133
INSIDE CANTON.

of their hull. The little boats gather together, and place themselves under the shelter of the large ones; and these changes are sufficient to render a quarter unrecognizable even to a person who has passed through it only an instant before.

There are, however, a few rows of houses which always preserve their habitual physiognomy. These belong to merchants, private persons, and sometimes to public institutions. These peaceful habitations, which could never set sail, and on board of which it would be very difficult to make use of oars, seldom change their position. They are real houses, with only one side to the water, and placed on the hull of a vessel. The entrance is at the back, if there can be said to be a back. It is left wide open so as to let the air circulate freely, and the rooms have windows furnished with nankeen blinds. The pediment of the outer door is adorned with sculpture and with large characters written on red paper or cut in relief. These inscriptions generally signify happiness, prosperity, longevity. The Chinese, who are naturally not very mystical, do not care for much beyond the happiness of this world. These trading districts, with their floating habitations painted all kinds of colours, and adorned in artistic style, have really all the appearance of Chinese streets on dry land. The illusion would indeed be complete were it not for the fact that you proceed through these streets in a boat, when you