"Men of few words are the best men." - William Shakespeare, King Henry V, Act III, Scene II

Friday, November 4, 2011

Travelogue of Mycroft Webb (Episode I) :

In a bid to spread the good word of Quincey Morris to those less fortunate than themselves; the fraternity of the QMBC dispatched one of their most capable officers (Mycroft Webb) on a round-the-world tour to win the hearts and minds of heathen masses towards the advancement of contrarian-elitist literary ideals .... and where possible to increase the standing of the pudding course in lesser cultures. As part of his missionary work, he has agreed to record a travelogue; of which, regular excerpts are reproduced here to serve as a permanent record for those who would follow in his footsteps. 

Arrival in Peking (39.909341 N, 116.4095 E) – November ‘11

Adequately rested after my international travels and with the freshly talcum-powdered nethers of a newborn, I stepped on to the platform at the Central train station in Peking as if I was about to buy the blasted place, tear it down, and turn it into my own private billiard hall. In that regard, I knew something was amiss almost instantly; there were no waiting footmen or representatives from the city’s international hostelries to usher me through the unknown and potentially feral streets to the sanctity of a comfortable hotel lounge with a decent drinks cabinet and a host of freshly-pressed (albeit dated) periodicals.

Unhappy with such shabby treatment at the hands of a foreign power, I decided to immediately register an informal complaint to the city’s aldermen and officials by breaking wind with as much gusto as I could present at that hour. Such an early show of strength to the natives was the advice of a military man at my club named Farnsworth who swore that similar tactics got him through some pretty hairy scrapes in the Crimean. The Crimean, no less! 

Brigadier Clifford Farnsworth. 
Before my departure for the Orient, old Brigadier Farnsworth, the sot, hollered these words at me across the steps of the Savoy before he was bundled into a waiting hackney cab: “Webb, when it comes to dealing with the Bud-Buds, you have to let them smell you boy!  Let the buggers know what you’re made of by Jove”. At that moment, I imagine the attending Orientals must have been of the opinion that I was composed chiefly of hard-boiled eggs and piccalilli. I rested a sturdy brogue upon my trunk momentarily to allow the gentlemanly miasma dissipate further through the crowd. It was but a matter of seconds before a gap-toothed Chinaman dressed in the native fashion presented himself for duty with a bow. He was a swarthy looking brute, nearly as broad as he was tall and his face was home to a grievous looking scar that gave him a most unwholesome air. That said, I could tell that this was no time for due diligence into the man’s background, I flashed some currency from my billfold and saw his eyes light up. I tapped my hardwood cane on the trunk and pointed to the street, striding toward to the exit with unusual conviction - my dangerous new factotum in tow.

The Raffles Hotel - an oasis amidst the savagery!
There and then, I had a fancy to christen the fellow Passepartout after the character from Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty days” but deemed the implicit comparison of myself to Phileas Fogg a bit too vainglorious and instead opted to name him “Finbarr” after an Irish setter that I owned as a boy, finding it to be an altogether more suitable monicker. Upon reaching the street outside, I engaged a sizeable rickshaw and petitioned the driver to take us to the Raffles Hotel with all due haste. On the journey through the streets of Peking, I caught a whiff of the pungent aroma of cabbages and piss water that seems to permeate the air. I thought it was no wonder so many of the city’s inhabitants walked around with masks on their faces.

Squatting like Chinamen, literally. 
At every street corner, I could see men squatting on their haunches, smoking and chatting contentedly. It seems that the Chinese have yet to master the stool or the chair and I immediately made note of my first import/export opportunity in my notebook; making a fortune here would be like taking butter-candy from a toddler. Those individuals not reduced to squatting on their haunches walked the streets clearing their throats and hurling wads of phlegm in all directions; seeming to be in competition with each other to do so at the greatest volume. The facemasks were making more sense with each passing minute.

Impervious to my disgust, Finbarr, who now hung from the rear of the rickshaw with some abandon, gave birth to the most prodigious piece of expectorate I have ever observed. He lobbed it with great aplomb onto a brazier where six chicken skewers now hissed wildly. He grinned at me from ear-to-ear and I smiled back somewhat anxiously making a note to eat nothing outside of the hotel dining room and to invent some form of hand-sanitisation system immediately. I knew then that the coming weeks were going to be different, possibly fatal but definitely different.

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