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Notes on the Geography of China: Shantou (Swatow): Photo 34

world pictures China: Shantou (Swatow)

Curiouser and curiouser. What is it? Tess Johnston in The Last Colonies: Western Architecture in China's Southern Treaty Ports, 1997, suggests that it might have been an entertainment center. What would that be? Here's Joseph von Sternberg's description: "The establishment had six floors to provide distraction for the milling crowd, six floors that seethed with life and all the commotion and noise that go with it studded with every variety of entertainment Chinese ingenuity had contrived. On the first floor were gambling tables, sing-song girls, magicians, pick-pockets, slot machines, fireworks, bird cages, fans, stick incense, acrobats and ginger. One flight up were the restaurants, a dozen different groups of actors, crickets in cages, pimps, mid-wives, barbers and earwax extractors. The third floor had jugglers, herb medicines, ice cream parlours, photographers, a new bevy of girls their high-collared gowns slit to reveal their hips, in case one had passed up the more modest ones below who merely flashed their thighs.

"The fourth floor was crowded with shooting galleries, fantan tables, massage benches...the fifth floor featured girls whose dresses were slit to the armpits, a stuffed whale, story tellers, balloons, peep shows, a mirror maze, two love-letter booths with scribes who guaranteed results, 'rubber goods' and a temple filled with ferocious gods and joss sticks. On the top floor and roof of that house of multiple joys a jumble of tight-rope walkers slithered back and forth, and there were seesaws, lottery tickets, and marriage brokers.

"And as I tried to find my way down again an open space was pointed out to me where hundreds of Chinese, so I was told, after spending their last coppers, had speeded the return to the street below by jumping from the roof..." (Fun In A Chinese Laundry, p. 83).

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