Bill Meilen
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CHANGO JADE

 

“You see how efficient it is to provide good food and proper work-clothes for our men?” asked the elder in excellent English, his strong, authoritative voice lacking strong consonants. “You should wear those San Francisco miner’s denims yourself. Levi Strauss. That is why we supply them. They wear for ever. Your problem, my boy, is that you always like to act like a tailor’s dummy. This is not the streets of San Francisco. There are no sleek blonde Gwailo hussies here waiting to service you.”

“Yes, Father. I realise that, Father. I am sorry.” The young man nodded wearily. How can I help what is perfectly natural? he asked himself. “They are nurses. I learn from them, sir.”

“And what do you learn? How to lose what little respect we already have for these pushers of Taiyen?”

“No Father. I want to work in western style medicine. Anatomy and Physiology.”

“Hmm. The human body. Reluctant as I am to agree to such a thought, I suppose we can learn from some North American thinking. You should like that, boy, thinking like the Gwailo, you who are so easily Americanised and led astray by their stupid seductions. You see too many talkies. Here we are forward-looking and provide everything. We know good equipment makes for higher quality product, and happier workers. Full bed and board. When the men finish their shifts, they must go and bathe themselves clean, and receive freshly laundered clothing from our company stores. Then, clean and tired, they can eat a good meal, and spend their evenings playing Mah Jong, read the Analects, or whatever else they want to do to busy their minds until they sleep until the next shift.”

“Yes, Father. That is all being done.”

“Productivity is the only thing that counts now. Everybody knows that. This vein will not last for ever, and then there’s this political situation with the Japanese. We must make the most of our good luck while we are still being smiled upon by Fortune.” He took a polished egg of rock from his pocket. “Look at those emerald inclusions. Some of this jadeite is truly of Imperial quality.”

The young man looked closely at the mottled green stone. It was truly beautiful. “Yes, Father, lovely.”

“Those men who work hardest here will benefit most in the future. They will never be without good food to fill their bellies, never need to huddle down like coolies in any Chinatown. Do you like that, Son?”

“Yes Father. Very equitable.”

“They are soon to get their weekly news in our own Chinese-language newspaper. I have made a deal with the Star Rose Friendly Society to buy a printing press from San Francisco. Expensive, but all characters, a huge machine, a miracle of modern engineering. That will be good, yes?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Do you ever, in your mind, say anything other than ‘Yes, Father’, my Son?”

“Never, Father. I am your biggest ‘yes’ man, sir.”

 

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