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A Russian fleet of 27 ships—with 8000 men, women and children on board—left Vladivostok in October of that year, as the whole of Siberia was falling to the communists. Many of the children were orphans whose fathers had been killed in the civil war; they were, it could be said, Asia’s first ‘boat people’, looking for a refuge from civil war and oppression. The Russians first landed in Pusan in Korea, but the Japanese authorities there did not allow them to stay. 55 With Christmas fast approaching, the fate of the refugees—and the presence of a large number of children among them—softened WHORE OF THE EAST • 33 the hearts of the foreign community in Shanghai.

The city was first noticed as an ‘excellent entrepôt for commerce’ by Hugh Hamilton Lindsay of the British East India Company, whose ship, Lord Amherst, docked there in 1832. He had sailed to Shanghai from the Portuguese enclave of Macau on the South China coast, then a centre for European trade in the Far East. 19 These restrictions, imposed by the Chinese government, infuriated the British, who saw China as a huge, almost untapped market. Business was flourishing in Guangzhou, but the overall China trade was nowhere near its potential.

When I entered the hot stream of humanity, there was no turning back had I wanted to. On the first floor were gambling tables, singsong girls, magicians, pick-pockets, slot machines, fireworks, bird cages, fans, stick incense, acrobats and ginger. One flight up were the restaurants, a dozen different groups of actors, crickets in cages, pimps, midwives, barbers, and earwax extractors. The third floor had jugglers, herb medicines, ice-cream parlors, photographers, a new bevy of girls their high-collared gowns slit to reveal their hips, in case one had passed up the more modest ones below who merely flashed their thighs; and under the heading of novelty, several rows of exposed toilets, their impresarios instructing the amused patrons not to squat but to assume the position more in keeping with the imported plumbing.

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