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The Civilized, Chapter 20 - English Translation of Les Civilisés

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English Text

The Bayard steamed into Hong Kong from the western approaches, her knife hull cutting smoothly through the waves. The crowds of sampans and junks scurried about like ants to give her place, and the cannons of the forts boomed out in response to her salute.

Mountains surrounded the harbor like the walls of a crater lake. Inside the ramparts, ships from every corner of the world floated gaily on the turquoise waters. Hong Kong was a vast Asian bazaar that formed a bridge between Asia and Europe. As soon as a ship nosed into the port the legions of vessels beckoned on all sides: sailing ships anchored all along the cliffs, enormous three-masted sailing ships heavy with rice that cast long reflections in the placid waters from their green, pink, white, our sky blue hulls, tinctures to put any water color artist to shame. Afte them, docked at the first piers of the outer port, there were the coal ships, darkened soot black, so low in the water that only the masts and the chimneys stuck up above the waves. They were the advance guard of the steamships, the bulk of ships in the vast port, scattered across the vast expanse of the harbor - dirty and ugly steamers, a few unloading noisily, offloading their cargo into sloops or junks, most inert and dead like abandoned factories. By contrast, white ocean liners, shining like yachts, reared up like castles among the sordid factories.

Le Bayard steamed forward, quickly, to the moorings for warships off in the distance at the end of the harbor, the ships proudly arrayed in perfect vertical lines.

Sampands nearly grazed against the hull as their sculls flashed up and down in the water. The braided bamboo sails hung from the yards and the Chinese boatmen stood out against the waves, ugly with their smooth hair studded with green jewelry. At their feet, on dirty planks, yellow babies played about among rice and tipped over bowl. Gag inducing wafts of air emanated from these floating dumps.

But now that they were finally reaching the end, nobody had eyes for anything but land. Hong Kong's mountains seemed to be thrown up from the seas, since they were a steady even slope to their summits. Across the continent's side reared up in successive planes towards a blue mountain chain which lost itself in the sky, while the island was shaped steeply and precisely like a crater: the villas proudly placed halfway up seemed to be perched on the rock like birds.

There were swarms of these villas. Their multi-level terrasses coated the mountains. Cliff roads snaked crazily along to join them, supported by airy arches that gave them the feeling of Roman aqueducts. A frighting funicular, as vertical as any tower, soared up to the highest peak. And the city, squeezed in between the sea and the mountain, stretched out beyond sight along the coastline, its brightly colored houses thrown up wherever they could find a hold, wood, stone, and brick soldiers charging up the cliffs to seize the positions on the slopes.

Hong Kong was beautiful, teasingly veiled by great trees, and crowned by its mountain like an extravagant emerald diadem. A city that never slept, with its bustling docks, its dazzling arsenal, its carriages, its sloops, its quays bustling with yellow hued Chinese.

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The sight of a great maritime city is a stunning and moving sight. Few visions are better made to cheer up a worried or depressed attitude, and to turn it instead to joy and cheerier thoughts. And so on the poop deck of the Bayard, elbows resting on the gunwale, Fierce watched the city of Hong Kong grow ever closer like it was the one that was coming to him.

French Text

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