1857 West Coast Chinese Pidgin English: Dr. Lola of Sutterville


On the subject of Americans’ familiarity with Chinese Pidgin English, I was struck that the following newspaper piece only bothers to explain one word.

wide west

Can you understand the rest of it?

china doctor

China Doctor.

     Last Sunday we wandered out on a pedestrian tramp as far as the somewhat noted city of Sutterville — a prospective one at one time, but now retrospective in its character altogether. As everybody knows the history of the period when, during the conflagration of this city in 1852, and its subsequent overflow by the river, a sudden idea sprung up that Sutterville was destined to supersede Sacramento, and a mania for buying lots in that quarter, and building improvements, succeeded, all of which excitement blew away like a mist of the morning when Sacramento was rebuilt and a permanent levee constructed, we shall not dwell upon that subject. Suffice it to say, we found a number of comparatively new but abandoned and desolate brick buildings, standing here and there in “solitary grandeur” on the site of what was expected to be that mighty city of the occident. There stood a gigantic mercantile building, full (if we may be allowed the phrase) of emptiness. No busy clerks were at the counter, no customers asking prices, no goods upon the shelves. The winds, like spirits, whispered in its walls, and, with invisible hands, slammed and banged the doors. Yonder stood a meat market, which we approached, but found neither mutton, pork nor beef — not even the ghost of a butcher was visible, and eaters there were none, save ourself and companion, and we were not hungry. Other edifices, for different purposes, but apparently never used, were scattered in different directions. Everything bore evidence of an immense sacrifice and waste of money. One or two of the houses on the outskirts of what would have been the principal part of the city, were occupied, but the contrast only added desolation to the scene, and sadly burlesqued the extravagant dream of those who founded this mighty rival of the Queen City! The principal object, however, in the desert picture, was an enormous brick edifice, designed for a hotel, and capable of accommodating the immense traveling public that would naturally pour into the great emporium of the interior. Over the front door of this edifice, which was wide open, we noticed the following sign : “Doctor Lola.” Strange name, thought we, and strange locality too for a doctor. We could not for a moment imagine that the mysterious physician, whoever he might be, was ubiquitous enough to occupy the whole house, notwithstanding it was labeled as his office, aud we determined to find him. While we were musing on the subject, a Chinaman, dressed in American style, but rather ragged and dirty, issued from the door and approached us. “How d’ye do, John?” said he to us, and “how d’ye do?” said we to him. [Chinamen consider the word John a mere term of friendship in our language, and invariably address Americans in that way.]

dr lola 1

“Do you live here, John?” we asked. “Yes;” he replied, “me Doctor Lola.” The mystery then was solved — there stood before us a medical sage of China — a young sage, however, for Doctor Lola is not more than twenty-five or thirty, though much dried up aud besmoked with opium, and humped over, it may be, with the weight of knowledge and reflection. “Well, Doctor Lola,” said we, “do you doctor a heap of people?” “No, leety, leety, not muchee. Me doctor, no Chinaman, me doctor Melican man leety. Me makee wellee one [holding up his finger] Melican man muchee sickee his eye. Me makee wellee one, he no eatee, he no sleepee — he say, “John, me no git wellee, me die; how muchee you chargee me makee wellee?” Me say talee (three) dollar. Goot, goot; talee day muchee eatee, muchee sleepee, no sickee no moe. He pay me talee dollar. He say ‘heap cheapee you doctor; Melican doctor, he chargee me pipty dollar, you chargee me talee — wellee goot, wellee goot!” He talked for some time much in the same style, evidently with the intention of impressing upon our minds the fact that he cured sick people at a much cheaper rate than “Melican” doctors were in the habit of doing.

     Finally we asked him to show us his office. He took us up a flight of stairs, and led the way along a dilapitated [sic] passage until away up at the two hundred and fiftieth door of the spacious, but desolate establishment, he paused, took a key from his pocket, turned the lock and ushered us into the sanctuary of science. There stood an old rickety table, upon which were piled half a dozen of, (as he told us) Chinese medical books. Two of them we discovered to be Chinese-and-English dictionaries. On a rough bench in the corner were his medicines, the same being piles of roots, snake skins, salves, etc. There appeared to be no mineral medicine around, and we therefore set down Doctor Lola as a vegetable practitioner. Lastly, in another corner was the bed whereon the sage reposed his wearied limbs, after the science-devoted hours ol the day or night were over. True, the cot was shaky, the tick a little ragged, and the blankets not remarkably clean, but who could expect a man of science to have things differently? We asked the doctor why he did not locate in Sacramento. He gave us to understand that he was too poor to pay for rent, and on the score of economy established himself in the country, and in that building, which did not seem to belong to anybody in particular. While we were in Lola’s office, several white persons, residing in the neighborhood, came in, and we learned from them that John really did get some practice in that vicinity and had very good success indeed in curing diseases.

     Upon taking our leave of the Doctor, we told him we were “a newspaper man,” and would speak of him. He sabe‘d immediately, grinned from ear to ear, and showered upon us a number of “tankee sirs, tankee sirs,” which came, we verily believe, from the bottom of his soul, showing that a Chinaman knows the value of a puff as well as other folks.

     We have not space to dwell upon the merits of Doctor Lola, but, in accordance with the promise we made him, we will say this, that if anybody wants a Chinese doctor they can find one, for some time to come, at Sutterville. As an inducement to any of our readers to try him, we will add, that Lola assured us that he went on the system of no cure, no pay; or in his own manner of expressing it: “Me no cure he, me no chargee he nutting.”

— from The Wide West (San Francisco, CA) of March 8, 1857, page [1]?, column 7

Kata mika tumtum? What do you think?