Bill Meilen
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CHANGO JADE

 

to barge, running tow-lines aboard the barges, unaware of being watched by a horde of Chinese men from the darkness of the bush as they sailed away.

These watchers then prepared themselves, commencing the journey back into the mountain fastness of the quarry, and continuing work, extracting the sacred stone that was useless to the Gwailo, to feed their families in China and keep them comfortable in their old age. The steamtug engine chuffed and pistoned, grunted and pulled and clanked, gouting steam, and the line of shallowly loaded barges began to snake smoothly away down-inlet under an ostrich plume of steam and smoke. Before the sun peered into the dark eastern end of the inlet, the water was rippling empty and the ancient cedar forest around it stood deserted.

Three days later the bargeloads of jade were towed into Burrard Inlet as part of a longer train of barges collected from stops along the way. Along the freightage docks they were moored alongside a steamship registered in Japan — Harada Maru. A Canadian customs officer checking export cargoes observed it on official documents as ‘rock ballast’. He did not observe the rock’s beautiful colour, for with the dust that covered it, it was simply hard green rock, of no value whatever to the occidental mind. Here, the pure medium-iron nephrite was carefully loaded as ballast into the deep holds of the ship before general cargo began to be loaded for Macao to complete her complement.

Three days later, fully laden with raw materials and battened down ready for sea, Harada Maru waited until a black limousine pulled up at the bottom of the gangplank to disgorge two men, one young, the other older and certainly his father. As soon as the two men and their baggage were on deck, the gangplank was brought aboard, and the vessel let go fore and aft, warping herself clear of the wharf. On the bridge, the pilot gave dry instructions in bored middle-class English to attentively polite and very understanding Japanese bridge officers, smart in starched white uniforms. There was a ringing of the polished brass engine-room telegraph, and Harada Maru began to plough her slow-boiling wake through shorebrine towards the open waters of Georgia Strait, gateway to the broad Pacific.

On the boat deck the two late arrivals watched the astounding beauty of Vancouver’s setting drop away astern. In the eyes of the young man was the shadow of what might have been regret, and not a little contained anger as his adopted country diminished in the purple of distance.

He wondered when he would return to the land in which he had grown to manhood, and under what circumstances, for he was going to a dangerous country that was virtually unknown to him — Republican China. He knew they were going right into the interior, up the river-road into China’s most remote heart, with no idea what to expect when they arrived there. Deep in his solar plexus was a cold knot of trepidation. The future was unknown, and quite unknowable.

The Source

Come drink at the spring
Which gives youth to everyone —
Memories of home.

 

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