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Memoirs of Robert Dollar
Vol. 2 - Chapter Three


On the 24th of May, 1917, I got a rude awakening by receiving a cable from the British Commodore in Hong Kong informing us that he had commandeered all our steamers and asking when and where we would deliver them. I replied asking if it would be of any use my going to see him with a view to modifying his order. He replied he would be glad to see me any time but gave no indications as to what he would do. The Bessie Dollar was ready to sail from Shanghai, so I went with her, and on arrival in Hong Kong immediately went to see the Commodore. I asked him if he was at liberty to tell me what he intended doing with the vessels. He was very nice about it and told me frankly that he wanted our vessels to carry coolies from North China to Vancouver for transportation to France.

I asked, "Would it be satisfactory to you to allow me to do the work for you, and use the space in the ships not otherwise needed?" He said such an arrangement would be entirely satisfactory, but that I had overlooked a very important part, and that was the compensation. I then dictated a letter to him reciting what I had agreed to do, and stating that I would leave the compensation entirely to the Admiralty in London. He was a very much surprised man, and asked, "What if they pay $1.00 for each ship?" I replied that this was war time, and I would stand by my offer. The following day he sent for me and said he had a reply from London, and that in justice to me he had cabled my entire letter. Their reply was entirely satisfactory, in fact, was considerably more than I would have asked.

In the meantime I had turned over the Bessie Dollar to them, and they were rapidly transforming her mto a troopship. The business went so satisfactory to the British Government that at the close of the war the Admiralty ift London sent 11s as nice a letter as they could write, thanking us for the

service and congratulating us for the very satisfactory manner m which we carried out our part of the agreement to its fulfillment. We also carried a lot of coolies hack from France and Vancouver on the termination of the war. This business, along with the freight which we carried, was most satisfactory to us as well as to them. No prospect could have been more dismal than the loss of all our ships, with the resultant total paralysis of all our Far Eastern business, so I repeat the old sayings; "The darkest cloud has often a silver lining," and "all is well that ends well."

The weather was intensely hot and the difficulty of successfully carrying on the business at this time was very great, so I had anything but a picnic. However, the ultimate success well repaid me for all the hard work and harder thinking. I visited Manila to endeavor to work up more business; bought a lot on which to build a house for the manager. I found it difficult to increase the business, but we must keep right after it.

We seem to have far better success in China than in the Philippines, but I do not know why this is, although I believe that if the Philippines are properly developed they will become a great country. It has always been my claim that Java is the most fertile island in the world; and although it is small, it supports over thirty-five millions of people. If Luzon had the population and they worked like the Javanese, it would produce more, as I think it has more arable rich land than in Java. Then there are the other islands having millions of acres of rich uncultivated land. The Hollanders compelled the natives to work, which has given them industrious habits, that the Filipinos lack, and which the American Government did not instill in them, but spoiled them by paying higher wages than are paid in any of the East Indian countries, and at least double, if not three times more than in any nearby country. This caused idleness, as they could earn enough in one or two days to keep them a week, and as the mass of them only work to keep body and soul together they only work-about one-quarter of their time. The early educators did not teach them that no nation can become truly great except by frugality and hard work, but allowed them to believe that when they got a smattering of education and wore shoes, the world owed them a superior living and that they did not have to work.

I visited the fine large school at Capiz on the island of Panay, and was surprised to find that no effort had been made to encourage industry. Sometime after this I learned that the educational authorities had thoroughly awakened to the mistake that was made, and have adopted a system whereby the boys are taught that no success in life can be assured with out industry, and that it is not dishonorable to work, but highly honorable. To our youth at home this advice is unnecessary, but it has to lie pounded into the Malay mind. I understand far better results are now obtained. The Chinese are the merchants of the Philippines, brought about by their industry and intense, hard work. At this time the cost of stevedoring was nearly three times as large in Manila as in Hong Kong, and about half as fast. This has since been changed, but not altogether, as there is still plenty of room for improvement, both in the cost as well as in the rapid handling of cargo.

I was in Shanghai on the fourth of July and attended a reception at the Consulate, and an inspection of marines and sailors by the Admiral and the Consul General, viewing the parade from the reviewing stand. This is the first time in Shanghai that all nations joined heartily with the Americans in celebrating their national holiday. I was real glad to see it, as it was a demonstration of friendship and a puling together brought about to a great extent by the European War. I hope this feeling may continue, especially with the English speaking countries, as I believe a co-operation and an under standing between us will have the same effect as the league of Nations would have had, if it had been possible to have successfully put it through.

We went up the river to Hankow, where we thoroughly investigated our business, which I found to be in an excellent condition. I visited the Wuchang Y. M. C. A., which is now under the management of a secretary paid by the Robert Dollar Company also investigated the necessity of a building for this work.

It being July, the weather was intensely hot, but I managed to meet all whom it was necessary to see and made sufficient investigations into business conditions to satisfy myself as to how it was conducted. We then went to Peking, but many of those I wanted to see were out of town at summer resorts to avoid the intense heat. However, I saw all there were in Peking who were interested in our business. Thence we went to Tientsin and found our business in excellent shape and very prosperous. At Tientsin we own two half city blocks of improved land, but buildings have gone up around us to such an extent that the land has become too valuable to use for a lumber yard, so in anticipation of increasing values, we purchased a block just across the river Pei Ho, in the Russian Concession, which will suit us just as well for a lumber yard and we can ultimately dispose of our present yard for building sites.

While in Shanghai I drove around the city trying to get a correct understanding of its growth since I first saw it, less than twenty years ago. I located the boundaries at that time and noticed the growth and the expansion that has taken place since then; and unless I had obtained that correct viewpoint, I never would have believed that the growth had been so great, it was easily 30% to 35%. This was particularly true along the river front, where there has been built wharves, factories and public works of many descriptions. One of the biggest changes has taken place in Nantoa, between the walled city and the Bund. Good and permanent building has been done by reclaiming the fore shore. Many permanent improvements have also been made at Pootung, across the river as far up as our wharf, which is now practically at the head of deep water navigation.

Amongst many others, the Young Men's Christian Association has developed from nothing to a tremendous power in the city. This institution is crowded to its utmost capacity both day and night, and its religious work has also increased correspondingly. While at Pootung I witnessed a most remarkable bad storm. The hail stones were so large they went right through the tiling of roofs, and made round holes similar to bullet holes. The destruction of glass was so great that a sufficient quantity to repair the damage could not be obtained for weeks. The sizes of the stones I measured were six inches in circumference and two inches in diameter. Fortunately the storm did not last long. On the 5th of August we sailed for home after a few mouths of real hard work and of great pleasure in being able to accomplish it.


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