Chapter 16:

The Tribulations of a Chinese

(English version of “El Filibusterismo”)

In the evening of that same Saturday, Quiroga, the Chinese, who aspired to the creation of a consulate for his nation, gave a dinner in the rooms over his bazaar, located in the Escolta.  His feast was well attended: friars, government employees, soldiers, merchants, all of them his customers, partners or patrons, were to be seen there, for his store supplied the curates and the conventos with all their necessities, he accepted the chits of all the employees, and he had servants who were discreet, prompt, and complaisant.  The friars themselves did not disdain to pass whole hours in his store, sometimes in view of the public, sometimes in the chambers with agreeable company.

That night, then, the sala presented a curious aspect, being filled with friars and clerks seated on Vienna chairs, stools of black wood, and marble benches of Cantonese origin, before little square tables, playing cards or conversing among themselves, under the brilliant glare of the gilt chandeliers or the subdued light of the Chinese lanterns, which were brilliantly decorated with long silken tassels.  On the walls there was a lamentable medley of landscapes in dim and gaudy colors, painted in Canton or Hongkong, mingled with tawdry chromos of odalisks, half-nude women, effeminate lithographs of Christ, the deaths of the just and of the sinners—made by Jewish houses in Germany to be sold in the Catholic countries.  Nor were there lacking the Chinese prints on red paper representing a man seated, of venerable aspect, with a calm, smiling face, behind whom stood a servant, ugly, horrible, diabolical, threatening, armed with a lance having a wide, keen blade.  Among the Indians some call this figure Mohammed, others Santiago,[1] we do not know why, nor do the Chinese themselves give a very clear explanation of this popular pair.  The pop of champagne corks, the rattle of glasses, laughter, cigar smoke, and that odor peculiar to a Chinese habitation—a mixture of punk, opium, and dried fruits—completed the collection.

Dressed as a Chinese mandarin in a blue-tasseled cap, Quiroga moved from room to room, stiff and straight, but casting watchful glances here and there as though to assure himself that nothing was being stolen.  Yet in spite of this natural distrust, he exchanged handshakes with each guest, greeted some with a smile sagacious and humble, others with a patronizing air, and still others with a certain shrewd look that seemed to say, I know! You didn’t come on my account, you came for the dinner!

[1] The patron saint of Spain, St. James.—Tr.


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