National Geographic : 1931 Aug
ALONG THE OLD MANDARIN ROAD OF INDO-CHINA BY W. ROBERT MOORE AUTHOR OF "AMONG THE HILL TRIBES OF SUMATRA," "CORONATION DAYS IN ADDIS ABABA," ETC., IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE With Illustrations from Photographsby the Author MAPS frequently provide interest ing suggestions. Make a cut-out design, follow ing the outline of the boundaries of French Indo-China, paste it on a neutral back ground, and you have a rough caricature of the profile of an old tribeswoman in the Indo-China hill lands bending over eastern Siam (see page 159). The Province of Laos, where a large number of these primitive hill people live, forms her face, wrinkled throat, and nar row chest; her nose, however, by the plas tic surgery of boundary treaty, is her one un-Mongolian feature and is thrust far into Siam. Tonkin Province forms her tall, peaked bonnet, decorated with tufts of fur, beads, and other ornaments, in the true fashion of the Kaw tribeswoman's headdress. Coastal Annam constitutes the back portion of her neck and curved back, while Cambodia and Cochin-China form portions of her crouched body as she sits with her knees thrust well up, as natives in the Far East dearly love to sit. But the long motor road which car tographers have sketched across our map woman's body and extended up her spinal column to the crown of her tall bonnet is also suggestive of a possible motor jour ney-a challenge which for varied interest cannot be lightly disregarded. For some I,600 miles the Route Colo niale No. i threads its way through thick jungles, numberless widespreading rice plains, and up and down the hills along the picturesque coastline, from the Sia mese frontier to the China Gateway. Although this route has been of fairly recent construction under the French co lonial program, much of it was but the widening and reconditioning of the old Mandarin Road. Down this route once marched the power and culture of China's emperors, which became centralized in the Imperial Annamese Court at Hue. Along this route, too, are the ruined towers of the ancient Chams, and on a short detour from its lower end stand the magnificent carved stone monuments of Angkor, built by the Khmers between the 9 th and 13th centuries.* The Cham and Khmer civilizations have long since crumbled, and in the latter half of the last century the Manchus were forced to relinquish whatever claims they may have had to suzerainty over the An namese throne when the French estab lished colonial protectorates over the sev eral provinces. But what of the life to-day, along this highway so strewn with historic memories ? I went to see. MEN AND WOMEN DRESS AND WEAR THEIR HAIR ALIKE On our sight-seeing journey we boarded an early morning train leaving Bangkok, and by mid-afternoon reached Aranya Prades, the railhead on the eastern Sia mese frontier, whence began our motor tour up the length of the Mandarin Road to the Gate of China. Crossing the border, and with passport formalities fulfilled at the little French outpost of Poipet, we sped on to the vil lage of Sisophon. Near Sisophon we met a thoroughly happy group of Cambodians, dressed in brilliant blouses, long gay scarves, and sampots, that bloomerlike lower garment formed from a length of cloth wrapped around the body, with its ends caught up between the legs and fastened in back. The men and women of the party were scarcely distinguishable from one another, so similar were their costumes and their uniformly short-cropped pompadour hair, glistening with coconut oil. They were just returning from a tem ple festival, most of them afoot, but a number crowded in among the musical in struments in the open howdahs on three shuffling elephants. * See "The Four Faces of Siva: The Mystery of Angkor," by Robert J. Casey, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for September, 1928.