The passing of Korea/Chapter 18
Judged by this standard, the Koreans must be set down as among the least favoured of peoples. Throughout most of the country the roads are simply bridlepaths of the roughest description, over which it would be almost impossible for a jinrikisha to pass, to say nothing of a carriage or a cart. There are a few localities where carts can be used within a limited radius, but these are so few compared with the whole extent of the country that they merely form an exception to the rule. On the great road between Seoul and the Chinese border or between Seoul and a few of the more important provincial centres there may be an occasional and spasmodic attempt at repairs, but it is only when the roads become almost entirely impassable, and some disgusted official makes a momentary stir over the matter in Seoul, that a few hundred dollars may be given for repairs. Of this sum three-fourths goes into someone's pockets and the rest into the repairs. This sort of thing is always looked upon as more or less of a joke, and, when repairs are in progress, the country people wink at each other and ask which official it is now that has been stuck in the mud.
On ordinary roads there are frequent places where nothing wider than a bicycle could pass on wheels, and even this ubiquitous vehicle has to be picked up bodily and carried over rough places every few miles. The constant shuffling of feet along these narrow paths through so many centuries has worn the road down below the level of the ground, especially where it passes over hills, for here the wind has full play and sweeps away the pulverised earth. In the valleys the roads lie along the tops of the banks that separate the rice-fields, and so are sure to be kept from being entirely destroyed. Even between important towns the path is sometimes just a foot-wide path along the top of a rice-field bank, and it taxes the imagination to believe that such a wretched thoroughfare is all that connects two important centres. I shall never forget the curious sensation with which I passed over the road between Chemulpo and Seoul for the first time. It made me think of the sheep-paths on the old farm up in Vermont, and if it had not been for the most positive statements of my guide I should have refused to believe that it could lead to the metropolis of a kingdom of over ten million people.
Near the great centres there are a few substantial stone bridges, but for the most part the country is without permanent bridges. There is a brilliant exception to this in the celebrated Mansekyo, or "Ten-thousand Year Bridge," at Hamheung. It is almost half a mile long and is built upon natural forked timbers sunk in the sand. In the crotches of these lie the crosspieces. The floor of the bridge is made of timbers about the size of railroad sleepers, tied together with the tough vine which the Koreans call chik. Like the old-time London Bridge, it usually has many houses built upon it, but when the rainy season comes on these are hastily removed, for more than once a sudden storm among the mountains has swollen the stream so rapidly that the bridge has been partially swept away before the sleepers were aware of their danger. Almost every year sees portions of it swept away, and, as the cost of its repair is a charge upon the government, and the contract nets the carpenters a round sum, it is looked upon as one of the "good things" of the season. It was this bridge that the Russians fired in May of 1904.
The streams are crossed in three ways: by ferry, by ford and by little temporary bridges, which are not expected to survive the rains of the summer season. All streams whose permanent depth is greater than a man's height are crossed by ferry. These ferries are supposed to be government affairs, and are supported out of the finances of the district in which they are situated, but the passenger is always supposed to pay a small sum as a gratuity. I imagine that the ferryman has to depend largely upon this source of income. The ferryboats are wide, shallow affairs, and when they are loaded down with a miscellaneous crowd of loaded bullocks and pack-ponies, gentlemen's " chairs," coolies' jiggys and a score or more of men, women and children, it generally seems as if it was only by a special dispensation of Providence that the opposite bank could ever be reached. Indeed, an annual sacrifice is made to the spirits of those who have been drowned in this and in other ways.
The little temporary bridges built on small sticks, covered with brushwood and earth on top of all, are one of the curiosities of Korea. They are barely wide enough for a single animal or person to pass, and they usually have one or more holes through which the unwary may put his foot. The Korean word for bridge is the same as that for leg, and the reason for this is plain. The bridge is simply a row of artificial legs let down into the sand. Time was when the Koreans were capable of better things, for during the Japanese invasion of 1592, when the Chinese army came to help the Koreans and arrived at the bank of the Imjin River, the Chinese general refused to take his men across unless the Koreans would build a substantial bridge. The distance was fully one hundred yards, but the Koreans, in their thirst for revenge upon the Japanese, were equal to any task. On one side was a heavily wooded bluff and on the other a sandy shore. On the low bank they sunk gre"at posts, and between these and the trees on the opposite side they carried eight great hawsers of the tough chik vine, some eight inches in diameter. These dragged in the water in mid-stream; but, going out in boats, they put stout bars of oak between the hawsers and twisted them until they were brought well above the surface. On these hawsers brushwood was piled and on the brushwood clay. This was trampled down firmly, and the armies crossed upon it in comfort and safety. So far as we are aware, this was the first great suspension bridge mentioned in history. The frail rope-bridges of the Andes may antedate this, but they are of quite a different order of structure.
Korean tradition tells of one other way by which a river has been crossed, but we would hardly classify it among the regular methods. The story goes that a certain prince was banished to a distant locality and held in durance on an island in a river. One of the officials who was loyal to him followed him and took up his residence in a neighbouring town. He greatly desired to carry some food to the prince, but there was no way to cross the stream. He sat down beside it and waited, and presently the water divided, like the waters of the Red Sea, and he passed across dry-shod to the prince.
Such being the very backward condition of all roads in Korea, we are not surprised to learn that during the heavy rains of summer, when the temporary bridges are all down and small streams have become roaring torrents, travel and traffic are practically suspended, excepting in the case of that which goes by way of junk. At this season the Korean moves about but little. It is his lazy time, unless he is a farmer and has to look after the transplanting of his rice. Ordinarily he will stay at home and consume an indefinite number of melons, seeds and all.
With the exception of the railway lines from Seoul to Fusan and Chemulpo respectively, and the various Japanese steamship companies, the methods of transportation in Korea are still the primitive ones, and all but a small fraction of the carrying is done as it has been all through the centuries. These methods correspond precisely with the character of the roads, which, as we have seen, are mere bridle or foot paths.
First in importance comes the famous Korean bullock. He means more to the Korean than the horse does to the Arab or the llama to the Peruvian. Not once but many times a sweeping scourge has killed off a large fraction of the cattle in one section or other of Korea, and in each instance it has precipitated a famine. The heavy mud of the rice-fields cannot be cultivated without this animal, and in case of his death the farmer simply lets his field lie fallow. Korea can boast of a sturdy, patient and tractable breed of cattle. These bullocks which wind in and out among the hills of this country, carrying every sort of produce, are not the fierce and rampageous animals that are supposed in our own land to accept every challenge of a red rag. They are docility itself. This heavy, slow-plodding animal, docile, long-suffering, uncomplaining, would make a fitting emblem of the Korean people. How often have we seen a brutal, drunken bullock-driver vent his spleen on someone else by beating his animal with a club or violently jerk the rope tied to the wooden ring that passes through the cartilage of its nose. But the patient bullock never remonstrates or attempts to defend itself. Just so through the long centuries have the Korean people borne the burdens of their rulers and taken their blows without complaint, until at last patience has become a second nature, and the Western on-looker marvels at the amount of oppression that the ordinary Korean will endure without revolt. The bullock could turn and rend his master with utmost ease, even as the people could relieve themselves of oppression, but the patience of the Korean has reached a point where it ceases to be a virtue.
Next in importance comes the Korean pony. Nowhere else in Asia is this diminutive creature matched. The only thing like him is the Shetland pony, but, while the latter is a stocky and shaggy beast, proportioned very differently from the ordinary horse, the Korean animal is simply a miniature of the larger breed, and his proportions are often as perfect as are found in the best of our own boasted horses. History and tradition have much to say about this breed of horse. As far back as ancient Yemak, which flourished at the beginning of our era, we read that the horses were so small that men could ride under the branches of the fruit trees without striking their heads against them. From time immemorial the island of Quelpart has been the famous breeding-place of the hardy pony, and the Mongols established themselves there very strongly in order to breed horses for use in their wars. But for all this the Koreans seem to have developed no love for the horse such as redeems the character of the Bedouin. The Koreans never mutilate their animals, and the result is that, though the bulls are almost as quiet and docile as the oxen of the West, the little stallions are inveterate fighters. Even when tied head to tail in a long line they are almost sure to get tangled up in a squealing melee unless their drivers are at hand. I shall not soon forget the occasion on which the beast I was riding succeeded in getting both his forelegs over the neck of my wife's mount and proceeded to chew its ears off. It was a novel and exciting tête-à-tête.
But besides the bullock and the horse there is another "beast of burden" in Korea that outranks them both, and that is man. One could not safely quote figures here, but my impression is that more dead weight is carried on men's backs than on those of bullocks and horses combined. As a rule, it is only the large through traffic that is carried on animals' backs, and even this is often seen on men's backs. The dried fish from the northeast all come around by boat or across by pack-horse. Brushwood, grass and fagots are brought into the large centres on bullocks, horses and men's backs. Americans who are expert in throwing the "diamond hitch " have confessed that the Koreans can beat them at the game. Who can wonder, since the Koreans have been learning for the last four thousand years a - pretty thorough apprenticeship ! Not only are these people experts in adapting a load to an animal's back, but they have solved the problem of how to distribute the weight of a load on a man's back so that he can carry the maximum weight with the minimum of fatigue. It is safe to say that the Korean jiggy, or carrying-frame, is almost ideal in its construction. It is so built that the weight is nicely poised, and is so distributed upon the hips, the back and the shoulders that each part bears its proportionate burden. The result is that a man can carry any load that his legs will enable him to support. This jiggy is a unique national institution ; as much so as the samovar is of Russia, or the bull-fight is of Spain. Compare it with the methods in vogue in other lands. The Chinese balance their burden in two baskets attached to a bamboo stick. This is carried over the shoulder. The stick has to be long enough so that the swinging baskets will not strike his legs as he walks, and the weight is so applied to his body that only a small part of his strength can be brought into play. When his burden cannot be divided, he has to carry a counterbalancing weight in one basket. He requires almost three times as much room in the street as the Korean carrier. The Korean sets his jiggy on the ground, and props it up with his forked stick.
Placing the load on the frame, he ties it there securely with a cord that forms an essential part of the apparatus. Kneeling down, he inserts his arms into the two padded loops and fits them on his shoulders. Then leaning forward, he throws the weight of the load upon his back, and by the aid of the stick rises to a standing posture. He can easily rise with a weight of two hundred and fifty pounds, but if it is three hundred pounds or more, he requires the help of another man to rise. I have seen Korean coolies carry a weight of four hundred pounds in this way a distance of several hundred yards without resting. Of course such a thing would be entirely beyond the power of a Chinese coolie with his bamboo stick. Either the stick or his shoulder must break. The average load that a Korean will carry at the rate of thirty miles a day is about one hundred pounds. The pack-ponies carry about twice as much, and the bullocks from three to four times as much.Besides these, there are several special methods of transportation confined to particular kinds of burdens. Heavy stones are carried on carts if there is a road, and if it be in a part of the
Water-carriers at a neighbourhood well
One of the most conspicuous occupations of Korea is that of water-carrier. In the rural districts the women of the house generally carry the water from the spring or well to the house in jars on their heads, but in the large towns this work is done by a special class of men. Seoul is supplied with water only by the miserable neighbourhood wells, about which the less said the better. The people do not hesitate to wash their soiled clothes immediately beside the well, where the filth is readily washed back into it, and vegetables or other things are generally cleaned beside the well-curb. These wells are often very far from sanitary, and it is to them that we must trace the terrible results of occasional cholera epidemics and other infectious diseases. To supply a large city with water from this source is a work of no small magnitude, and the water-carrier is a recognised institution, which boasts of a powerful guild. The work is genuine and hard, and the pay is correspondingly high. This high pay puts a premium upon the work. The applicant for a position as a water-carrier in any thickly populated portion of Seoul will have to pay from forty to one hundred dollars for the position. Each house to which water is carried pays a monthly fee for the service. The water is carried in two wooden buckets the size and shape of an inverted firkin, suspended from a yoke which rests upon the small of the back and is held in place by straps over the shoulders. The buckets are fastened to the yoke by bamboo fibres, and the peculiar gait affected by the carrier swings the buckets just enough to make the fastenings rub together and send forth a strident squeak which, like the horrible yell of the axles of Chinese barrows, warns people to make way for the water-carrier.
In carrying ordinary small packages the Koreans do not wrap them up in paper and tie them with a string as we do. Paper is far too valuable and string is too rare to make this possible; but the article to be carried is placed on a square cloth, and the corners brought up over it and knotted. In going to the market in the morning the Korean will take a long, narrow cloth bag, open at both ends, and into this he will pour his various purchases, perhaps making a knot in the bag to keep them separate. Then he ties the two ends of the bag together, and swings this completed circle over his shoulder and goes home. His method of carrying his long, "bologna-sausage" strings of cash is most peculiar. He inserts the end of the long string beneath the cord which forms his waistband, and which precariously supports his nether garments, and, bringing the other end about his waist, he twists it again through the waist-cord. One would think this a most clumsy and uncomfortable way to carry it, but one good object at least is conserved; that is, the money is effectually concealed beneath his flowing robes, and its existence is unguessed until he chooses to disclose it. To the Westerner this precaution may seem unnecessary, but in the Orient, at least in Korea, people studiously avoid the display of wealth unless they have the influence necessary to protect it from spoliation.The subject of transportation would be but half covered if we omitted the boats of Korea. From the earliest times these people have been large users of this method of carrying. The mountainous character of the country, the miserable roads and the many possibilities of interference on the highway have driven them to the water-ways. But the high tides and the consequent strong currents on the western coast have also invited them to the water-ways. Our notion of the coast is anything but
The ordinary junk is inferior in shape and general construction to either the Japanese or Chinese craft. The cause of this is the fact that the Koreans have never attempted much on the open seas, but have confined themselves mostly to coastwise traffic; and even this has been for the most part among islands where there are harbours of one sort or another within a few hours' run of any particular point. In the matter of sailing against the wind the Korean craft is superior to either of the others, because it does not stand nearly so far out of the water, and yet the Koreans cannot be said to know how to tack. In fact, the Korean junk is merely a larger edition of the ordinary river boat. It is flat of bottom, square of end, and the bottom curves up at each end so that it looks something like a huge punt. It has two masts which stand at different angles, and give the boat a general air of having indulged in late hours. The sails are of the " square "variety, simple, oblong pieces of rough cloth fastened to stout poles or "spars" at each end. A rope is knotted around the middle of one of these sticks, and the sail is hauled up to the top of the mast. Ropes from the two ends of the bottom stick form the "sheet." It is evident that such a primitive apparatus would not allow of sailing very close to the wind. The best that can be said of it is that it helps to counteract the retarding action of the wind when the mariner wishes to go with the tide. But even so it has been the universal experience of foreigners that the junk-men prefer to anchor unless the wind is with them. The junk can make little headway against a four-knot tide. It is the same with their financial transactions as with their boats. They must have both capital and " pull " to secure a profitable " rake-off." However much capital they may have, if it is necessary to sail against the tide of influence, they are almost sure to make shipwreck.
Innumerable river craft bring the produce of the country down to the sea, the junks take it coast-wise to the mouths of other rivers, and then river boats carry it inland again to its destination. A few of the rivers are deep enough to float junks that are safe at sea, and so some of the cargoes do not have to be broken out en route. Rice, barley, beans, fish and edible seaweed are the usual cargoes, but all sorts of produce go to make up the total. Now that the government has changed its system of taxation and takes money instead of rice, and since the opening up of regular steamship lines and railways, the traffic by junk has shrunken to comparatively small dimensions. It is said that the river traffic on the Naktong River inland from Fusan has been ruined by the Seoul-Fusan Railway, which parallels the river. The railway is cheaper, swifter and safer in every way, and the temporary dislocation in industrial conditions will finally result in much good to the Korean people.
There are many kinds and names of boats in Korea, but the general pattern is the same. On the eastern coast, however, there is one style of craft that differs radically from the ordinary. If you should take two ordinary " dug-outs," tip them up on edge with their prows touching and their sterns five feet apart, and then nail planks across from the lower inner side of one to the corresponding side of the other, and complete it with a stern, you would come near this clumsy but withal effective craft. It would be dangerous but for a sort of gunwale running around the top to keep out the seas. One of the most curious sights in Korea is that of a loaded wood-boat on the Tadong River, running by Pyeng-yang. In order to save cargo space for the light brushwood, which is enormously bulky for its weight, the entire boat from stem to stern is piled ten feet high with the fuel, excepting a tiny space just at the prow, where two men sit and row. From the very centre of the boat there rises a stout mast which protrudes a foot or so above the load, and on a little platform on the tip-top of this mast sits the steersman, holding in his hand the end of an enormously long sweep which reaches into the water at the stern. The whole thing looks ludicrous enough even when the craft is loaded ; but when there is no load, the sight of two men rowing in the very prow, while the steersman sits perched upon the very top of the mast like Stylites on his pillar, with a twenty-foot tiller in his hand, is extremely grotesque.
The Koreans are great travellers within the confines of their own little country. I doubt if there are many lands where a higher estimate is placed upon the pleasure of travel. The Koreans do not rush from place to place ferreting out the notable objects of interest, but they wander about in a dreamy way, enjoying natural scenery in a wholly natural manner. Besides this there is the usual amount of travelling on official business and for commercial purposes. One wishes to know how the people get about in the absence of carriages or other vehicles.
Officials always travel by "chair." This consists of a little four-posted canopy about three feet square by four feet high, carried on two poles. The passenger sits on the floor of the " chair," and there are curtains to let down on all four sides so as to screen him entirely from view. Each of the two carriers has a pair of suspenders over his shoulders, and through the loops of these on either side of his body the ends of the poles pass. It is not an uncomfortable way to travel if one can sit crosslegged like a Turk for ten hours a day. There is very little jarring if the carriers break step as they should. There is no beast of burden whose footfall is so soft as that of a man. These " chairs " are of all degrees of elegance, just as our own carriages are. Those that are used by women are of course always closed, unless it chances to be a dancing girl. Women's chairs are distinguished by fan-shaped bangles hanging in rows on the sides. These chairs are on hire at regular stands throughout all the larger cities, but in the country they are more difficult to obtain. Most well-to-do gentlemen keep their own private chairs. In travelling long distances you pay each carrier a stated sum for each ten li of the road. The four-man chairs are used only by the highest officials. No one of lesser degree than a cabinet minister is allowed to use them. They are much like the twoman chair, but the poles are longer, and the cords that hold the poles at either end are attached to a short stick that rests upon the shoulders of the two bearers. I have never found a method of conveyance more smooth or delightful than this four-man chair. The coolies do not keep step, and so the motion is perfectly even. The elasticity of the poles add to this effect, and no railway car was ever built luxuriously enough nor were rails ever laid true enough to equal this delightful motion. In no department of Korean life is the wonderful endurance of the Korean more fully illustrated than in the carrying of these chairs. If you were in a hurry to go overland from Seoul to Pyeng-yang, a distance of about one hundred and sixty miles, you would naturally suppose that a good horse would take you there in the quickest time, but there is probably no horse in Korea that would get you to your destination so quickly as the chair coolie. Take eight men and pay them well and you will enter Pyeng-yang about noon of the third day out from Seoul. They will take you four miles an hour, sixteen hours a day. The amount of rice they will consume en route is enormous, and they will sleep for twentyfour hours after reaching the end of the journey.
Another way of travelling is by horseback or donkey-back. Though the Korean horse is very small, no Korean would think of riding it and sending his baggage by some other conveyance.Two stout baskets or boxes containing the rider's effects are slung over the back of the horse and rest against his sides. On top of this the traveller's blankets and other bedding are smoothly laid. Then a sort of frame, like the back of a chair but only eight inches high, is placed on top of all, and there the man sits crosslegged or with his feet hanging down. You stand aghast at the
TWO INDUSTRIES OF KOREA
(a) A hat-mender (b) Making "ironing" sticks
But, for all these different aids to travel, it must be said that by far the greatest part of it is done on foot. The Korean is a magnificent walker. Every foreigner who has visited this country has been struck at once by the erect carriage, the springy gait and the graceful action of the Korean in walking. In this he forms a striking contrast to almost every other denizen of the Far East. He can easily cover his thirty miles a day, and this is all he could do if he had a mount. He has no expense except for his three bowls of rice a day, and an occasional new pair of straw shoes. Thirty miles is his regular rate for long distances, but if necessary he can, and often does, cover his fifty miles a day. Most Koreans who travel for mere pleasure prefer to go afoot. Whether they get more pleasure out of it than we do out of our bicycles, automobiles and other mile-eaters is, of course, a question ; but it is a question to which they, at least, would reply in the affirmative without hesitation.
There are so many islands off the coast that the passenger traffic by boat is very considerable, but people who live on the mainland seldom patronise the junks, for it is generally found that travel by road is quicker and easier. The one recommendation for the water route was that fewer robbers would be met. When the Japanese began to run regular steamers, however, the Koreans very soon learned how much quicker, easier and cheaper this form of travel is, and at the present time the coastwise steamers carry crowds of natives. Many of these craft are small and obsolete. Not a few of them have doubtless been condemned in Japan and have been brought over to this country where few questions are asked and inspections are comparatively rare. No limit seems to be placed upon the number of passengers that will be booked for passage. I have seen little steamers whose capacity was forty or fifty people loaded down with a hundred or more. The cabin would be so full that there was hardly sitting space on the floor, to say nothing of attempting to lie down. These wheezy craft occasionally blow up and oftener strike an obstruction and founder. There is no old resident of Seoul who cannot tell you a long list of gruesome yarns about the steamers that used to ply between Seoul and Chemulpo by the river before the railroad was built. This latter is truly an eleemosynary institution, and deserves to make handsome profits.
Seoul boasts of one other vehicle which is fast becoming obsolete, but which once formed a picturesque addition to the street scenery of the capital. It is a one-wheeled chair. The seat is placed on two long poles, which are supported at the ends by bearers, but the weight of the rider is supported upon a sort of pedestal immediately beneath the seat. This pedestal rests upon the axle of a single iron-bound and nail-studded wheel about two feet and a half in diameter. The bearers at the ends of the poles simply propel the machine and keep it from tipping from side to side. It is a reasonable proposition, but at first sight it affects the risibilities of the spectator with irresistible force. Only certain high grades of officials are allowed to make use of this singular vehicle.During the past few years certain portions of the country
A beam balanced at the centre, with a trough on one end and a pestle on the other. The water enters into the trough and depresses that end, and then flowing out because of the depression, lets the pestle fall into a mortar
When the light flared up, he waited to see whether more than one was to be shown. If not, he carried to the King the message that the whole country was at peace. This pleasant sight used to be one of the features of life in Seoul in the old days, but to-day the small boys festoon with their kites the web of telegraph wires that has been woven over the city, and the uneasy burr of the telegraph receiver has taken the place of the genial flash of the evening beacon. The old-time yongma, or horse-relay system, was the precursor of the postal system, and it did its work well for over fourteen centuries. Government stables were established at frequent intervals along all the main routes, and official correspondence went by post-horse. Some of us have seen the messenger arrive at one of these stations, dismount from his jaded animal and leap into the saddle of another mount, and, with a cut of the whip and the clatter of hoofs, disappear down the road, bound city-ward or country-ward with some important missive. The trouble with this system was that the common people were not allowed to use it. The messengers were, of course, often bribed to take private letters, but as a rule the people made use of casual travellers to deliver messages in distant towns. The guild known as the " Peddlers'," a name that has come into disrepute during recent times, was much utilised for the delivery of letters. The wandering peddlers covered the country as a network, and one could very often communicate through them with distant friends. It hardly needs to be said that the establishment of steamship lines and the building of railroads is working wonderful changes in the Korean's ability to communicate with distant sections of the country. In former times it took weeks to get a letter to the northeastern part of the country, but now it is a matter of days only.