In the East there are opportunities for women to do typewriting or school teaching, act as children's nurses, shop-girls, hospital nurses, or undertake millinery and dressmaking, especially the making of evening dresses. And they may be stenographers at £150 to 280 a year, but it must be understood that openings are hard to find, and they must be found in England. Openings for Stenographers
If it be remembered that natives are not to be relied on for keeping professional and business secrets, it will not be wondered at that the Government offices, lawyers, and large trading firms prefer to entrust the typewriting of documents to safe hands. In many large firms male stenographers are kept, but as a rule Englishmen brought out to the East for this purpose do not care to remain in this position, as there is little prospect of future advancement. The salary expected is also too high for the value of the work done, some of the large American firms paying as much as 400 a year to the chief stenographer.
On the other hand, many firms employ Eurasian men and women, or Portuguese, as they call themselves. The Eurasian is a half-caste, one parent white and the other coloured, and is supposed to have all the vices of both nations and the virtues of neither. The smaller firms employ Eurasian girls entirely. The Eurasian girl has usually a slim, willowy figure of medium height, dark yellow, brown, or slightly tinted skin,' large brilliant dark eyes, thick black hair, and she dresses in European fashion. She is often exceedingly pretty and much admired by newcomers to the East. She, however, is by no means dependable, but she is smart and clever, and the rapidity with which she works is almost equal to that of her European sister. There are at the present time (1911) a few Englishwomen holding good posts in the larger ports, and there is room for many more. The salaries are large, in Hong-kong for example, varying from 150-200 Mexican dollars a month. The value of the dollar fluctuates from time to time, but recently has maintained a steady average of about one shilling and ninepence. A salary of 150 dollars would then at the present moment be equal to 13 2s. 6d. a month, and 200 dollars be equal to 17 10s. a month, very much larger salaries than are paid to stenographers of average abilities at home.
This fluctuating value of the dollar has in the past often been a great hardship in cases where the salary is paid on the gold basis. Thus, for example, a salary of 10 a month would, if the dollar were one shilling and ninepence, yield 125 dollars; but if the dollar was to rise to two shillings would only yield 100 dollars. But as the price of food and other commodities is arranged to cover such variations and fluctuates very slightly, if at all, it follows that the spending value of 10 a month would be much less when the dollar is high than when it is low. For small salaries, it is advisable to arrange to be paid in dollars, for the spending value of the dollar remains very much the same, and the risk is great of the dollar rising in value to such an extent that all possibility of saving might be at an end. Of course, on the other hand, the benefit of a fall in the value of the dollar would also be lost, and those who have the gambling instinct developed are all in favour of salaries paid on a gold basis. No doubt there is much to be said on both sides of the question, for if money is to be sent home then, if the salary received be paid in gold, it will always have the same value in England, which to some people is more satisfactory.
In the Straits Settlements the value of the dollar is fixed at two shillings and fourpence, but in Shanghai it also fluctuates, although not necessarily identically with the fluctuations in South China.
So far as Englishwomen are concerned, the climate in the Straits Settlements, Singapore,
Woman's Work and Penang is so enervating and unhealthy that it takes away all inclination for work, and only the very strongest can hope to keep well over a period of years. Yet there are many English hospital nurses in the Government hospitals there, and it is often commented upon that the standard of health among them is greater than among women of leisure. No doubt this is the direct result of the necessity to work, for unless so compelled, men and women alike tend to become lazy and indolent, and spend the day in a long chair thinking only of the heat and mosquitoes, and caring for nothing but another drink.
But although much may be said about the compensations of life in the tropics for married women, or single women living with their own families, nothing can be held to compensate the woman who has to work for her living for loss of health, energy, and good looks. After even a short period of residence in Singapore or Penang it is noticed the skin becomes yellow or pasty white, the complexion muddy, and the general appearance unhealthy in the extreme.
View of Singapore
No one need hope to keep pink cheeks, for, as it has often been said, there is not a complexion in the Straits. In Singapore and Penang the climate is the same all the year round, the temperature, as a rule, rising to about 90° or more in the day and falling a few degrees in the evening. The sun shines eternally, but there are rain showers every day with frequent thunderstorms, and the nights are cool compared with the day. No doubt many people will say Singapore is a lovely spot; and so it is. But for the working woman it is a paradise to be left as quickly as possible.
In Hong-kong, which is outside the tropics, the climate is very different. The island itself rises almost sheer from the water, and the houses are perched on the hillsides up to the very summit.
The most common exclamation of people arriving for the first time in Hong-kong is "What a beautiful place!" And the longer one lives there the deeper the impression that is made. The climate is not, however, all that could be desired. The cold season from November to March, it is true, is almost perfect, the temperature from about 390 Far. to 68° Far., and the sun shines almost every day and all day. But the spring, with its damp, steamy white fogs and grey skies, is depressing in the extreme, and makes even a London fog seem cheerful by comparison. April, May, and June, although not the hottest months, are, owing to the dampness, perhaps the most unhealthy. July, August, and September are very hot months, having a temperature ranging from a maximum of -970 Far. to a minimum of 780 Far.