The monsoon started with fierce thunderstorms the like of which I had never seen before, and were quite fascinating in their fierceness and intensity; great flashes of fork and sheet lightning across the sky with enormous rolls of thunder through the valley and against the mountains. Then we experienced what force and how much rain they produced. As the rains came so did all the paddy fields fill with water and the peasants set to and planted the rice that as it grew transformed the valley.
The Hakka People
Out here in the Territories nothing had changed for the Hakka people who still retained all the ways and traditions of the centuries old China. They lived in small walled villages, each with its head man, a duck pond with its water fowl and its trees, used water buffalo and the women did the bulk of the work in the fields. They all wore black “pajamas” and had huge black veiled straw hats on their heads. They ignored us.
Their traditions included the veneration of their ancestors. On many of the hills were small grotto like constructions and urns containing remains which we would come across when up there. What surprised us one evening were lines of fire extending up the hillsides and then fires lit on all the hills around lighting up the night sky and a clanging and a banging. We found these were processions of mourners with lighted torches and the event a celebration of the dead. For a time we were alarmed. It made a wonderful sight.
Back to the Rains
But in one tremendous storm we got flooded out. Off the hillside and through the terraces rushed the muddy water until several inches filled each tent. Squaddies were out in it hastily deepening the trenches and making ineffectual dams. The terraced site worked against us, the water cascaded down through one series of tents into those below. We were all wet, our kit was soaked with dirty water and everywhere was a sea of mud. None of us had any dry or clean kit. But the event raised morale considerably.
It was impossible with the rain and humidity to keep anything dry and our clothes were constantly damp with molds growing overnight. The sun shone brilliantly and hotly between these storms and things did dry out but the humidity remained.
For clean uniforms and for their washing there was in camp a ‘dhobi’ – a laundry run by a Chinese contractor, Mary Chang, who had the concession. Employing the the most primitive methods, there were, of course, no washing machines or dryers the Chinese nevertheless got good results. The water came out of the same concrete channel we used for washing, it was heated in drums over a fire and the clothes washed by beating them on a stone. Our ‘greens’ being returned to us well pressed and starched. I think we paid a small sum for extra attention to our uniforms prior to guard duties or special occasions.