“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Shanghai – First Impressions No.7 – Whitey Smith Comes to Not Make a Million, 1922

Posted: August 26th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Shanghai was not Just a Dream – Whitey Smith – 1922



Arriving not to Make a Million

We were off for China!


Aboard with us was a fiddle player Mr. Ladow (1) had picked up to play at the Carlton. I remember him as Benny. Also the president of the China Mail Line, an old Chinese gentleman by the name of Mr. Chen, I think it was. He and his family were going back to the homeland to retire.


We made a stop at Honolulu in the Hawaiian Islands, then up to Yokohama and Kobe in Japan. The most interesting stop on the trip was the next Japanese port, Nagasaki. The good ship Nile had to refuel there.


The Nile was a coal burner. Refueling was done the hard way from barges alongside by means of a human chain of Japanese women, children, old and young men carrying baskets. They crawled up the side of the ship on a rope ladder. They dumped their baskets and crawled back down again to the barge on another rope ladder. I thought the moving chain looked like a huge black python on the prowl for a drink of water.


Mr. Chen told me each link in the human chain for fifteen cents a day, working from early morning until dark. It my first astonishing impression of Oriental labor.


The operation was very dirty. By the time we pulled anchor for Shanghai the passengers were almost as black-faced as the Japanese who carried the coal.


The Nile’s skipper, Captain Kinley, took an erratic course for Shanghai. He told me they were dodging around trying to escape a typhoon. We hit some rough weather but on September 14th we steamed up the Woosung River into Shanghai harbor, tying up at the Merchants Wharf.


My great adventure was opening out before me and I felt like an awestruck, happy kid. Mr. Ladow had found out somehow that this was the date I was born and as we walked down the gangplank an American band was playing Happy Birthday. Right then I knew I was going to like Shanghai, just as sixteen years before I fell in love with San Francisco when Papa Schmidt took us on a cable car up Market Street.


I wish I had the words to describe Shanghai as it was then, a great sprawling colorful stately city of contrasts with a fascination of its own. There was never anything like Shanghai in its prime, and I guess there never will be again. Years later I picked up a book written by Dr. Anne Walter Fearn (2), who became my good friend. Dr. Fearn had a couple of paragraphs in her little privately printed uncopyrighted book that recalled Shanghai exactly as it appeared to me that first day.


She said it was here that East met West in a jumble of cooperation, misunderstanding, struggle and friendship. She wrote that Shanghai was a city of hustling, bustling, hurrying, jostling millions. It was a city of noise and confusion. Tramcars clanged their gongs, motorcars tooted their horns, coolies sing-songed as they trudged under great burdens, “ah yee, ah yee’.


Chinese men walked the streets in long silk gowns, blue cotton ones or in the latest Western styles. Some Chinese women were beautifullygowned with smart waved hair, side slit skirts, silk stockings and high-heeled shoes. Some wore the divided skirts and embroidered jackets of tradition. There were Japanese, Indians Americans, Ammanese, and Europeans, a conglomeration of every nationality under the sun.


She described the traffic in all its varieties – pedestrians, rickshaws, handcarts, wheelbarrows, bicycles, motor cars, buses and trains. Occasionally a passage had to be cleared for a patrol of mounted Sikhs on shining groomed horses, carrying lances from whose tips floated red and white pennants. They would be on their way to head some parade. And the crowds of Chinese, not only moving about the streets but silent, gaping crowds, obstructing every moving things.


That was the way it looked to us, too.


Whitey Smith, I Didn’t Make a Million, Manila: Philippine Education Company, 1956




(1) The Mr Ladow referred to was



(2) Dr. Anne Walter Fearn was a long term resident of China working as a medical educator in China. She was born on a Mississippi plantation, went to China at 25, founded a coeducational medical school, a school for American children, the Fearn Sanatorium in Shanghai.


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2 Comments on “Shanghai – First Impressions No.7 – Whitey Smith Comes to Not Make a Million, 1922”

  1. 1 charles dirik said at 1:21 am on June 18th, 2014:

    I met Whitey Smith in Mnila in 1964 and he sighed copy of his book for me.

    charles dirik

  2. 2 Paul French said at 1:53 am on June 18th, 2014:

    amazing – very jealous – got a scan of the signature?

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