Four Sparrows, Chapter 1, Scene 4

A twenty-dollar tax for being Chinese was significant with unpredictable profits buried in the ground and rivers. Jungdo decided to provide supplies for new arrivals instead. He knew that job well. It was a lucrative alternative to mining for gold. The barbarians didn’t view that as a threat from what little he had observed. He could work as a middleman in San Francisco and not have to manage a fleet at all. Jungdo and Kan discussed the details their second night on the road.

“More miners are arriving each day, without proper equipment. Even non-Chinese would buy from us they are all so stricken with gold fever,” Kan said.

“I agree. With our contacts, no one can stop us. Mining supplies, staples, oh and novelty items.” They could import what they needed and return the ship to China filled with other goods.

“Maybe sea-otter skins,” Kan suggested, but those were already rare. “Or hides and tallow from the local ranches. And Manila still needs candles. The Yankees like cinnamon and pepper.”

“Yankees?” Jungdo asked.

“Yes, the pale ones call themselves Yankees.”

Jungdo counted off a list of imports: “Shovels, buckets, shoes, cloth, paper, silk, jade, porcelain.”

Kan added a number of items to the list. “Betel nuts, lychees, oranges, longan fruit, rice, tea…” They drifted off to sleep.

Jungdo missed the silk cloth upon which he would sleep. He missed reading the local paper. He dreamed of the newspaper articles and could hear the words. He imagined the ads that convinced him to go:

 

Trade is expanding along former Spanish routes. Pressures are growing to keep markets open for the sale of drugs.

 

Come to Gold Mountain, No Mandarins or soldiers, large houses!

He drifted in and out of sleep, waking to contemplate the visions before dozing off again. He dreams of his first wife Mei-Xing. She is perfect, but then she is swept away by the flooding river. He can’t reach her, surrounded by children he is yet to have.

Now he is on the Yangtze River, leading three cargo junks. Two squads of men with ropes tow the junk ships from both sides of the river. They pass a wupan boat and the water rolls it out of harms way. Drums beat, and a girl’s cry joins the cacophony. Jungdo turns to look at the crying child. He is back on land.

His first wife Mei-Xing is holding the hand of their seven-year-old daughter. A merchant takes the girl by the arm and walks away. Her little blue dress disappears behind a building.

“Liling? Liling?” He says, and wakes himself.

His dreams were turbulent as they sailed across the Pacific, but he thought they would settle down back on land. He breathed heavy.

Jungdo had dreamed of his first wife before, but not about selling his daughter. Jungdo always dreamed about his wife dying in different ways. She suffered a thousand deaths in his memory. In reality, she had died giving birth to a stillborn son.

He didn’t plan to sell his daughter into servitude, but they needed the money. Things got much worse a few months later when his wife died during the childbirth. He tried to find Liling, but she’d been sold again to a farmer further inland.

He rubbed his face to wipe away these thoughts. How he missed her gentle smile. Liling had her mother’s face, and her hair had a wave to it when it was long, also like her mother.

“Ai- yah.” he said to himself. He tried to focus on his new wife, Mei-Xing’s younger sister. She had given birth to a healthy baby boy. He planned to return when his son was old enough to remember him.

Once in San Francisco they visited the Sanyi Huiguan. They were given an advance on the business and the supplies they would need.

“See what honest labor and mutual respect can bring you? Why can’t the barbarians behave with the same honor? It’s a disgrace to their families.” He made Kan repeat it to him – “Lijie” – social harmony.

Jungdo was given the keys to a vacant business. He found an auspicious place in the back for some ancestral items, incense, tangerine peel, ginger, and hay.

His homage to his community had immediate benefits. He heard about a small vessel that crashed at the presidio before coming into the bay. He rented a cart and horse, and made two trips without attracting attention. The survivors must have abandoned their non-essential belongings.

They salvaged a variety of mining supplies, random tubs of butter and a billiard table. They also grabbed nautical supplies including some rope and a sextant, billhooks, and crowbars. Jungdo was not wasteful and he figured salvaging these items for his own use was fair given the attack up in the mining camps. The sandy soil made the trek difficult, but that’s what Kan was for. They used the billiard table as a stand for other items, not knowing what it was or its potential value.

“Kan this is a great find. It could bring instant notoriety to the business.”

“We received a lot of attention in the gold country too,” Kan said, panting.

“No Kan, this will look good to the huiguan.” Kan seemed ignorant of the sacrifice that comes with success. Jungdo decided to add nightly readings from Lao Tzu to help him learn the value of inner circles.

He picked up a round pan. “This will attract a more amiable swath of miners. Put these pans in the window at an angle. They will reflect light inside and illuminate all we have.” His business was on the corner of Sacramento and Montgomery Streets. It was just outside Little China by the water, opposite the Niantic Warehouse, a converted ship.

For Jungdo everything was immediate yet tentative. It was a way for him to keep control of the situation. A blend of logic, greed, and luck, he was a natural when it came to making a profit.

He paid enough for products to secure more quantity than quality. That’s all that was needed. Yet some wouldn’t sell to Chinese. Did they think he was some sort of slave? The Cantonese word they tried to pronounce was coolie, but that meant hired hand. He was neither slave nor laborer. He thought for a moment about the daughter he sold, the last reminder of his first wife. Things were good now, they were. He had money, a new wife, and a son.

He was happy, he told himself. “Masculine virtues flourish at present.”

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About Daniel Roddick

Daniel has a B.A. in American History with minors in both Ethnic Studies and Sociology. He also has an M.Ed. in College Administration and Counseling. Daniel has worked in the financial aid industry for over a decade. He has presented all over the country on financial aid issues related to equity, inclusion, and access to education. He is also a writer of poetry, fiction, and this blog, all of which touch on identity.
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