SKU: AM00303 Category:


Description: The two, highly descriptive letters (14 pages), written a year apart from Manila, Philippines, present an orientalist point-of-view of the East. Fred M. Oderkirk, writes to his “dear cousins”  on “Department of Commerce and Labor. Coast and Geodetic Survey” letterhead; he was one of two draftsmen/cartographers working on a report on the existing cartographic conditions of the Philippines. Fred takes a train across the US before he boards the Manchurian, traveling via Honolulu and Japan, before he arrives in Manila. He expresses a tourist’s delight with the entertainment aboard the ship, the flora, fauna and the beautiful vistas on land, but is disparaging of the unfamiliar “natives.” His uncharitable characterization of the Chinese and Japanese, despite his knowledge of their harsh, historical realities, are also anti-semetic. He first boards with a Chinese man whose wife speaks English in the “Walled City” and provides American food and later with a family in the American district.

Fred is thoroughly entertained on his voyage with concerts, dances, a fancy dress ball, literary entertainments, games, and water sports. He enjoys Honolulu’s “tropical” trees, shrubs, and  aquarium. He visits “The Temple of the Hundred Steps,” “a native theater,”and the chrysanthemum show in Yokohama; sees the Crown Prince and visits the Imperial Gardens in Tokyo; sees  Satsuma and Cloisonne ware and a geisha dance in Kobe. He compares the “very pretty” inland landscape on his route to Nagasaki to the physicality of the Thousand islands. In both letters, he includes descriptive details of the old “Walled City” in Manila and the safety measures that guarded it from “raiding expeditions” and earthquakes. For the first time, he also experiences the 3-month long, rainy season where “the bottom drops out of heaven” and everything gets “musty and mouldy.” Although he feels “no difference physically between the states and here,” he is not at home amongst the “natives.”

On the Manchurian, he notices that the 240-crew members were all Chinese (“natural borne [sic] gamblers) while the officers were white. Explains that gambling and opium were allowed onboard to accommodate “the chinks . . . [who] when properly trained . . . make the best sailors” (1911 pp. v). Of the Japanese he says, “They are dirty and have no morals whatsoever. They are poverty stricken. Men, women and children all work. American do not know what it is to be poor, the way some people are in this part of the world. In Japan the best part of the race, physically, were either killed off during the war with Russia, or have emigrated to America. . .  The Japs are a great deal more to deal with than the Jews ever were.” Comparing the Japanese with the Chinese, he later adds, “The chinks are way ahead of the Japs as merchants but they also have to be jewed down. But a Chinaman will keep his word and a Jap won’t’ (1911 p. viii), thus not only relaying his prejudice but also sedimenting existing stereotypes about race and poverty. While the “American eats the same things they do in the States, meat, potatoes, vegetables, pastry, etc.,” the unfamiliar natives  “usually eat rice and fish, but are learning to eat corn and bread. Most of them are poor half starved little devils who don’t know what a square meal is” (1912, pps ii-iii). He also expresses concern about the numerous Catholic churches, as “The priests have an awful hold on the natives here and run everything including the government.” Simultaneously, he is aghast that “Most of the natives are very poor, dirty and lazy. Their clothes don’t cost them very much. Men, women, and children all smoke. . .” (1911, pp. x). The letters are signed, “Fred.”

14 pages. Handwritten on ruled 8”x10,” ivory letterhead of the “Department of Commerce and Labor.  Coast and Geodetic Survey.” Includes transmittal envelope that bears the address: Miss Alice Shaffer, 81 W. Pine St., Gloversville, New York, U S. America. Item #AM00303

Fred M. Oderkirk (1881-1960) was a civil engineer from New York who worked in the Philippines for the Bureau of Coast and Geodetic Survey.

Condition: Mailing fold lines, otherwise letters are in very good condition. Envelope in rough condition.