Gareth Jones

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Light on the Way to the Philippines

Far East Contents

By Gareth Jones
March 1935 

Like a ghost vessel, the liner which was taking me from the port of Yokohama, with its modern semi-skyscrapers, to Manila, capital of the Philippine Islands, glided from the quay, passed the great broken all breakwater, many of whose mas­sive stones had been hurled into the sea by earthquakes, and skirted the Japanese coast. 

I scarcely saw a soul on board until the dinner-bell rang, and I descended to find a German and an American at table vigorously discussing the Japanese. 

“They just copy, copy, copy, proclaimed the German, “but we Germans were too clever for them once, when they tried to steal some of our plans,” and he chuckled: “A Japanese firm wanted a boat to be built by a German firm.”  He continued: “So the Germans showed the Japanese representatives the blue prints. The Japanese said, ‘we want to study the plans before accepting. May we take them back to the hotel?’ “Certainly,” said the Germans. 

Vessel Overturned 

After many days of study the Japanese brought the blue prints back and said that they did not wish to order the vessel. They returned to Japan and built themse1ves a boat on exactly the same lines, which they had seen in the German blue prints.  

“The day of launching came, but at the dramatic moment the vessel over-turned.  The Germans, suspecting that the plans would be copied, had omitted, on purpose, one or two of the essential details!” 

The next time I heard that story, however, it was told about British plans; so there is a touch of the legend about it. 

Mr Grunberg, from New York, was not to be outdone: “I’m in the silver­ware business,” he said, “and there’s not much about cutlery which your little friend Grunberg don’t know.”  He paused for effect, nodding proudly.  “ But the Japanese nearly put one over me.  I went to the Hotel Imperial, Tokyo, and at dinner I looked and said: “If that isn’t 1847 Rogers silverware!  That’s swell!  I looked again, and on the back of the ware was ‘Tokyo ‘— a wonderful imitation.” 

With such experiences we passed the time.  Next day we reached Kobe, a fantastic place where there are streets packed with cinemas advertising Japanese films, the one more bloodthirsty than the other, and all glorifying the thrills of battle. 

American’s Prophecy 

At midnight we sailed from Kobe, and next morning I woke up to see the magnificent Inland Sea with its islands its hills, and the slopes covered with the picturesque Japanese pines. 

As we went through the Straits of Shimonoseki, an American passenger prophesying future events in North China, said:  “A Japanese told me that the next step would be an independence movement organised in Shantung, which is already very strongly influenced by the Japanese and where Tsing Tao is already another Dairen.  In Shantung they will declare that they want to join Manchukuo, but this movement will, of course, be Japanese paid.  Already masses of Japanese goods are entering Shantung without paying duty, and the politicians there get bribed for it by the Japanese.”

On Tuesday morning, a dull, misty day, I woke up to find the boat stationary in a yellow, muddy river where hundreds of Chinese junks and sampans were lying.  A launch took me through the mist to the Bund at Shanghai, where the modern European buildings stand.  A rush of rickshaw coolies came at the arrival of the launch. 

 A little Chinese beggar child, her pigtail tied at the back with a red ribbon, repeated with a mischievous smile and in a strong Cockney accent: ‘Gimme copper! No papa, No mama! No whisky soda’ 

Crashes to Come 

A rickshaw carried me into the French Settlement and I called on a Chinese banking family.  When I asked about the bank crashes in Shanghai the young banker’s son said:  Crashes! The crashes are still to come.  Conditions are terrible, here in Shanghai.  President Roosevelt by his silver policy has drained us, of silver and we are suffering for his madness.” 

Walking past the fine-statured Sikh policemen, past the beggars and the women with their deformed little feet, I called on some of Shanghai’s journalists, with whom l lunched and dined.  They told me that Japan wanted to control 90 per cent. of China’s trade and that they wished to send 3,000 Japanese officers and N.C.O.’s into the Chinese Army and get rid of all the German advisers.  They said that the Japanese were smuggling great quantities of goods through their wharves into China and that the Chinese merchants were furious with this subterfuge. 

I learned that the Chinese industrialists were in a bad way, that there a was too much “squeeze,” that their machinery was out of date, that it would be a very long time before they could build up a strong Chinese indus­try, and that the silk trade, unable to compete with the Japanese, was smashed. 

Tributes to Dictator

I heard tributes to the Dictator, Chiang Kai-shek, who was succeeding in bringing some kind of unity to China by crushing the local governors, suppressing the war lords, and defeating the Communists in Kiangsi.

At one o clock at night I sailed for Hong Kong where I arrived a little over two days later.  In this rocky, mountainous island, which in the beginning of the last century was a famous pirates’ lair, a great city has been built, and here I met a fellow countryman in the colony, Mr. David Davies, chief clerk to the Colonial Secretariat.  He drove me to the magnificent Repulse Bay, whose deep blue waters lie between high wooded hills.  I heard many tributes in Hong Kong not only to his official services, but also to his con­scientious work for humanitarian causes. 

There was great activity in Hong Kong. Volunteers were preparing for long all-night route marches.  Destroyers were speeding past the islands.  It was a time of manoeuvres in case there should one day be conflict in the Pacific. 

It was cool in Hong Kong, but two hours after sailing towards the south the liner entered a sudden wave of heat, which was a rapid contrast to the Hong Kong weather.  Next day a hot sun burned down and I had entered the Tropics.  As we were nearing the Philippines flashes of lightning filled the sky. 

On the tenth day of the voyage after leaving Yokohama, Manila came in sight and soon I was on United States soil again, arriving on a historic occasion, for President Roosevelt had just signed the Constitution which will in time give national freedom to the Filipinos. 


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