10/28/11

A Return Visit to Speak at Delta State University

On Sept. 20, I made a visit to Cleveland, Ms., where I had previously talked in 2008 at Delta State University about the history of Chinese in the South. We decided to depart from a more standard lecture presentation with powerpoint slides and use a more informal format in which I would be interviewed in a conversational style. Dr. Albert Nylander, my host, served as the interviewer and asked questions directed toward understanding what led me to write my books on Chinese American history in the South, what the process entailed, how the books were received, and what I felt was the significance of my findings.

My Visit to the University of Memphis, Confucius Institute

I had an opportunity on Sept. 13, 2011 to give three presentations about the history of Chinese in the Deep South that were sponsored by the Confucius Institute at the University of Memphis.  This program funded by the Chinese government focuses on providing native speakers of Mandarin to public schools for language instruction. Many other universities in the U. S. and other countries have similar programs.

My most challenging audience was a class of 5th graders at the Campus School. At first, I was reluctant to make this presentation because of the young age, but realizing that it was important for young people to be introduced to the history of how Chinese immigrants were mistreated in the U. S., I welcomed the opportunity.  I was pleased with the attentiveness and curiosity that these youngsters showed during my talk.  One child was particularly interested in the example I showed of one of the poems that an immigrant had carved on the wall while interned at the Angel Island Immigration Station.  He wanted to know where he could read some of the other poems that were discovered when the barracks were about to be demolished after the station was closed.

A second talk in the afternoon attracted a general audience of students and faculty and generated considerable interest in the topic of how Chinese came to settle in Mississippi and Georgia, how they earned their living, and how they were treated in the segregated South.

The audience for the final talk in the evening consisted of students in the Honors Program. I spoke about my memoir, Southern Fried Rice, which described what it was like to be a member of the only Chinese family in our city, Macon, Georgia, during the 1920s-1950s.

10/23/11

Talk on Chinese in the South at Ole Miss, Sept, 2011

    The Sociology/Anthropology Department at the University of Mississippi in Oxford sponsored my presentation, On Being Chinese Where Everyone Else is Either Black or White, about some of the experiences of Chinese living in the Deep South during the era of Jim Crow laws.
      After the talk, I enjoyed Southern hospitality with delightful company at the well-known Ajax Restaurant on the town square, which features delicious Southern food.  I also had the opportunity the next day to be interviewed on Mississippi Public Radio about the lives of Chinese grocers in the Mississippi Delta during that period.


6/30/11

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to My Retirement Home, Chateau Cupertino, June 11, 2011


A variant of a talk about my adventures after retiring from college teaching in writing and speaking about Chinese American history that I first presented in April at California State University, Long Beach.  My audience consisted primarily of college students, and some former colleagues not yet retired, in the Department of Psychology. It played well, and served to tell students that they don't have a corner on the life of the mind, and not to dismiss us retirees as 'over the hill' intellectually.

Speaking at Chateau Cupertino (just down the street from a well-known computer company), I faced an audience at the opposite end of the age span, some even older than I, and all in some stage of retirement. I gave essentially the same talk, but the implicit message was different. For some of them, the message was "it's never too late!"  That is, using your life experiences and wisdom, you might have some meaningful things to write about that you could share with others.  

6/20/11

Sweet & Sour @ Culinary Historians of Northern Calif, Omnivore Bookstore, S. F. June 9

It was a special treat, and challenge, to discuss the history of Chinese restaurants with a 'foodie' audience at a wonderful 'foodie' bookstore rather than a predominantly Chinese audience. A friendly crowd packed the confines of a charming bookstore which allowed eye to eye contact with each person, which was essential since I could not display any slides or graphics to illustrate important points.  One surprise was the unannounced appearance of my good friends, Joe and Liz Chan, each of whom have contributed valuable narratives to my books, with Joe writing about his life growing up in his parents' Oriental Restaurant in Ft. Wayne, Indiana for the "Sweet and Sour" book and Liz sharing memories of her life growing up in her parents' laundry in Louisville, Kentucky, for the "Chinese Laundries" book.  Joe gave me a precious gift that I was honored to receive, a stainless steel serving dish, complete with cover, used in the Oriental Restaurant probably over 50 years ago!
    A highlight of the evening was Nellie Wong's recital of 3 of her poems about working in her parents' family restaurant in Oakland, 2 of which she generously gave permission for use in "Sweet and Sour."

6/4/11

Sweet and Sour, Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, June 1, 2011

The Chinese Historical Society of Southern California holds its meetings in the historic Castellar Elementary School in Los Angeles' Chinatown amidst many restaurants that feature traditional Cantonese based cuisine, a great setting to talk about the history of Chinese family restaurants. As a member of this vital organization, and well-acquainted with many of its members, I was pleased to share my findings with them. 
I had made 2 previous presentations about my other books on Chinese American history; in fact, I can pinpoint the exact moment that I was directed toward researching Chinese grocers in the Mississippi Delta.  


I had just finished talking about my memoir of growing up in a Chinese laundry in Macon, Georgia, where our family were the only Chinese in town.  A former resident of the Delta, Roland Chow, thanked me for my talk, and urged me to consider writing a history of Mississippi Delta Chinese, a topic that I had never considered writing about simply because I did not feel I knew enough about it.  However, with the encouragement of Roland leading me to do some research for several months, I became engrossed with the topic and recognized the urgency for someone to try to write on the subject which had been ignored since the 1970s work of James Loewen, Mississippi Chinese, and Robert Quan Seto, Lotus Among the Magnolias.  Thus,  the idea for "Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton," published in 2008, was born at Castellar School.


5/28/11

Q & A after Chicago Talk about "Sweet and Sour." May 21, 2011

         It was a delight to be back in Chicago's Chinatown to speak again at the rebuilt, better than before, Chinese American Museum of Chicago.   Chicago Chinatown is  significant to me on a personal level because when I was working on my Ph.D. at Northwestern University I would occasionally take the L train from Evanston to get some 'soul food' from a Chinese restaurant down there.
        

5/27/11

Sweet and Sour, Chinese American Museum of Chicago, May 21.

This jewel of a museum in the heart of Chicago's Chinatown is one of my favorite venues.  It has a dedicated and energetic group of volunteers to support its competent staff.  I was delighted to talk about my Chinese Laundries book there three years ago because the classic book on the topic by Paul Siu was based on Chinese laundries of Chicago in the mid-20th century. A few months later, the museum suffered a major fire that shut it down for over a year.  Due to the determination of the people of CAMOC, it was not only restored, but even enlarged.  I was privileged to be able to return there last week to speak about Sweet and Sour, which included some historical facts about early Chinese restaurants in Chicago and narratives from two people who grew up in their families' Chinese restaurants.  One of them, Bill Tong, still lives in Chicago and was willing to make a 'cameo' appearance during my presentation to speak about the history of Tong's Tea Garden, his family's restaurant.

5/4/11

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Retirement Home, (CSULB April 27, 2011)

I got a chance to speak about my 'retirement' career at Calif. St. University, Long Beach, the very place from which I retired after 40 years as a professor of psychology.  Instead of talking about the "content" of my four books on Chinese American family businesses, I described the remarkable sequence of events and people I've met that facilitated my success in a field about which I knew very little until I retired from academia. I wanted to impress upon the audience, which consisted of many students, that with a little bit of luck, many contacts, and some moxie, it is possible to have an impact with one's writing and publishing. Over the past 6-7 years, I wrote and published 4 books and gave over 35 talks across the country and once in Canada on the life experiences of Chinese immigrant families in their self-run businesses during most of the last century when racial prejudices denied them employment in many more lucrative occupations and professions.
The "take home message" to students is that life doesn't have to end in retirement if one seeks and embraces new challenges: expect the unexpected!

4/25/11

Sweet and Sour, Monterey Park Library, April 16, 2011

Sweet and Sour offered me a chance for a second visit to speak in Monterey Park at their public library. Unfortunately, the turnout was not as good as it was for my first visit last year to talk about my two books on Chinese in the American South.  You win some, you lose some, I guess.  One of the many challenges in doing book talks is the difficulty of predicting turnout. The topic was interesting as several other venues have had large attendance for a talk on the same book.  Perhaps holding the event at 10:30 in the morning was not as good an idea as we thought it would be. Or maybe there was some competing activity that day.  On the plus side, at least I didn't have far to travel to get to this site and afterwards I got to feast on some old style Toishan comfort food with friends at a nearby 1950s decor Chinese restaurant!

4/12/11

Foster City Library, April 9, 2011 Talk on Sweet and Sour

My second talk in Foster City, a place close to my heart where my sister Mary and her husband, Ed, and their family lived for many years. There was an engaged gathering of about 40 in the audience, some who had been to my other talks in the region in the past so it was nice to see familiar faces among the new ones. Several people who had been associated with Chinese restaurants in their families were present and shared their observations and experiences. And, my friend and contributor to the book with a narrative about her family's Oakland restaurant, artist Flo Oy Wong participated again sharing a lively account of that experience through her drawings and poetry.

4/7/11

U.S.-China People's Friendship Association, Long Beach, April, 2011

About a year ago, Hazel Wallace from the Long Beach chapter of the U.S.-China People's Friendship Association attended my talk on Chinese family restaurant history at the Cerritos Library. She must have liked it, as she referred other members including Stanley Yon and Rose Mary Thompson to one of my other talks, all of which led to an invitation for me to speak at one of their lunch meetings, where else, but in a Chinese restaurant!
I have given talks at restaurants before, and sometimes the configuration of the dining room does not lend itself well to powerpoint slides. There is also stray noise coming from other parts of the restaurant that can be distracting or disruptive. My prior restaurant talks have been in an enclosed section and lighting can be lowered so slides can be readily viewed. However at the Long Beach presentation at the Forbidden City Restaurant, the space used was a partially enclosed patio area, so that there was the danger that the slides shown in early afternoon would not be easily viewed. Actually that part of the slide presentation was better than I feared, but there were a few anxious moments at the outset because they did not have the right cable to connect the projector to the laptop. This is not an uncommon problem, i.e., computer glitches, etc.
On the plus side, the audience was large (over 70) and eager to learn about the topic. The afternoon was most enjoyable, and a very nice way to spend my birthday!

Hazel Wallace, Past President of USCPFA-LB was generous in her compliments:
"Bravo! Wonderful talk on my favorite of all of your books! Thank YOU for being the object of our overwhelming attendance and I hope you sold a few books to the attendees! The food was good at the Forbidden City, the ambience was great, and you proved that you were the "man of the hour"! Thank you for "being" our event."

3/18/11

Pasadena Talk to International Food Service Exec Association, Feb. 2011


        The International Food Service Executive Association (IFSEA) was a different type of speaking venue for me. Initially, I had been in touch with an organization I had spoken to about 3 years ago in Phoenix, Desert Jade Women's Group, that my friends, Joe and Liz Chan, had set up. Their schedule was already full, but there is interest in having me come next year.
          However, through this contact person, I was given a new lead for a talk as she 'recommended' me to her friend, Toye Tang, a lively 87-year old leader of IFSEA, a food services organization in southern California who invited me to come to a buffet luncheon in Pasadena to speak briefly at their event. It was a lot of fun and I got to meet chefs, culinary school students, food vendors, and even lawyers!

3/17/11

A Fourth Visit to the Berkeley Chinese Community Church, Jan. 25, 2011!

Definitely one of my favorite venues! I have had the privilege of speaking on each of my four books to this engaged and friendly group of Chinese seniors who have a weekly morning meeting of exercise, singing, and hearing presentations before enjoying a nice lunch.
I was not at all jaded yet, being that this was my 3rd talk on the same book in 4 days. In part, it was because of the wonderful welcome I always receive here but also because another contributor to the book from a family restaurant upbringing, Julie Wong Hornsby, volunteered to share some of her memories. She brought her 2 teen sons and some friends (even though they had all attended the San Francisco talk just 2 days prior). She gave a wonderful account that was warmly received and enhanced the whole presentation.

I joked once to this group, when I had written only 3 books, that I would have to write a 4th book, which turned out to be Sweet and Sour, just so I could come speak to them again. Mission accomplished!

After the talk, I had a wonderful opportunity to have tea with, Susan B. Carter, a prominent retired professor of economics living in Berkeley who attended the talk.  Prof. Carter has done extensive research on the history of Chinese restaurants and made outstanding presentations on the subject at conferences.

3/15/11

Sweet and Sour: Main Library, San Francisco Jan. 23


We had an equally large turnout (over 50) for the Sweet and Sour talk on Sunday at the Main Library. After I started with an historical overview of Chinese family restaurants, I turned it over to artist Flo Oy Wong who gave a lively account of some of her experiences working in her family's Oakland Great China Restaurant back in the 1950s. I finished the presentation by talking about issues such as 'authenticity,' the challenges of new Chinese cuisines, and the future status of the small mom and pop Chinese Cantonese restaurants.

3/13/11

Sweet and Sour: San Francisco Chinatown Library, Jan 22, 2011

When I published Sweet and Sour, I felt that San Francisco's public libraries would be interested in acquiring copies for its large Chinese patronage so I contacted them for this purpose. Luckily, the SF Main Library was planning to have a special exhibit, "San Francisco Eats," dealing with books, photos, menus, etc. related to SF cuisine in early 2011, so I was asked if I would like to present a talk on the book. I was, of course, more than willing. In fact, I asked if I could also give a second talk on the book at the Chinatown Branch library, where it might be more likely to attract a Chinese audience whereas the Main Library might attract a more ethnically varied audience. That is the story behind how I got to do two talks in San Francisco.
As a bonus, since two of the contributors to Sweet and Sour, noted poet Nellie Wong and noted artist Flo Oy Wong, volunteered to be part of the presentation as these two sisters had grown up in their family restaurant in Oakland.
I was also excited to speak in two libraries where I had spent many hours as a high school student either studying or just hanging out with other kids.
When I arrived at the Chinatown library for the talk, the first thing I learned was that Nellie Wong had called in sick. While I regretted that she was not able to present, fortunately some of her literary friends had come (to hear her) and one volunteered to "pinch-read" some of her poems about restaurant experiences. Next, the remote control on the projector would not work, so the poor librarian had to manually advance each slide on my cue. These unexpected setbacks, I should add, came on top of the failure of the Post Office to deliver the books I had sent 3 weeks earlier, forcing me to lug a new set up on the plane, Caltrain, and the Muni bus!
Fortunately, the talk went well before a packed house... which the librarian said was one of their best turnouts. And, then at the end, I met artist Leland Wong, who had given me permission to include one of his great photographs in my book. Leland generously treated me to some Chinese soul food at a local village type cafe nearby. What a day!

3/10/11

Irvine Regional Library, Dec. 2010

Hanh Nguygen, Chi-Ah Chun, left, me, wife Phyllis,Young Hee Cho,Kim Vu.
Going from bad to worse! If I thought my event at the senior residence in Camarillo was disappointing, a bigger disaster occurred at my next event in Irvine, a city that has a large Chinese population. The talk was held in the evening, and that might have been a factor, but only 10 people turned out, one again being my wife, and four were my colleagues, professors from Long Beach State.




But there was a "silver lining," believe it or not!

For 3 of the audience members were from the Long Beach chapter of the U.S.-China People's Friendship Association that were referred to my talk by the President of that organization who had heard me speak a few months earlier at the Cerritos Public Library. My talk must have been good, because a month or so later, I received an invitation from them to speak in April, 2011 to their organization!

3/8/11

Leisure Village, Camarillo, Nov, 2010

I had such great success speaking to the seniors, mostly non-Asian, at the Chateau Cupertino last year that I decided to push my luck since a close friend lived at a senior residential complex in Camarillo. Since most of this audience would also be non-Asian, I downplayed the idea of presenting content from my books and focused instead on a case study of the process and sequence of events by which I reinvented myself in retirement by writing books on Chinese American history. It was not as promising as I had hoped, with only about 9 attending, one of whom was my friend and another, my wife. Nonetheless, most of the audience, save one, found the presentation interesting and informative.

3/7/11

Sweet and Sour, Cerritos Library, Oct, 2010

My second visit to the beautiful, no, magnificent, Cerritos Public Library to speak on Sweet and Sour: Life in Chinese Family Restaurants. Since I live only several miles from this venue, it is a breeze for me to get there, which is definitely another plus because traveling distances, worrying about arriving on time, unpredictable traffic, and lugging books for signing all make book talks mentally and physically challenging. Cerritos has a large Chinese community, which ensured that a good sized audience would be present, and I was not disappointed.

3/5/11

San Diego Book Talk Aug., 2010: Sweet and Sour

San Diego has one of the loveliest settings for its Chinese Historical Museum, and the two historic buildings are delightful spaces in which to present exhibits and hold talks. This was my third occasion to come to this venue to speak about "Sweet and Sour," my most recent book on Chinese American immigrants, and as before, it was well attended and well-received. My only problem was the terrible traffic jam on the freeway almost all the way from Long Beach to San Diego. I was really certain that I would not arrive on time; fortunately, traffic cleared up for the last 15 or 20 miles and I arrived only about 5 mins. late. If ever there is a next time, I'll start driving much earlier!

3/4/11

Association of Chinese Cooking Teachers Potluck, Alameda, June, 2010

My friend, Flo Oy Wong, the artist who grew up in her parents' family restaurant in Oakland, and contributed a narrative about that experience in my book, Sweet and Sour, suggested that I attend the annual potluck of the Association of Chinese Cooking Teachers that would be held in Alameda.  I was flattered that I might be invited, but not sure that I could handle a group of "Chinese cooking teachers."  I dealt with history and the lives of restaurant families and worried that this group would want to know about cooking styles and techniques, about which I knew precious little.  However, I was reassured that the themes of my book would be of great interest to them.
I had a wonderful time. Not only were the people delightful and gracious, but the food was delicious and plentiful in quantity. Several impressive food cooking demonstrations were presented including melon carving and noodle 'pulling.' Flo Oy and I teamed up at the conclusion to give a presentation about 'Sweet and Sour" that was warmly received.

3/2/11

Foo's Ho Ho Fundraiser Vancouver, Canada, May 27, 2010

Elwin Xie, one of the individuals who grew up in a Chinese laundry and contributed a narrative about his experiences in my book, "Chinese Laundries," is very actively involved in the Chinese community of Vancouver, Canada, where he grew up. One of his many activities has been to work with the Friends of Foo's Ho Ho Restaurant, a long-time popular old-style Chinese soul-food eateries that long-term Chinese Canadians of Vancouver treasure.  Like many other businesses in the historic Chinatown of Vancouver, it has experienced hard times as this section of town has faced a decline in popularity for many reasons, including the increased presence of homeless people and drug addicts  as well as the shift in preferences among many customers toward newer Chinese cuisines in restaurants located in other parts of town such as Richmond. 

The Friends of Foo's Ho Ho rallied behind the restaurant and has held various events to promote it and help it survive economically.  The event that I participated in with Elwin and noted Chinese Canadian author, Judy Fong Bates, was called "Chinese Laundry Kids," because we 3 all shared that life experience. 

The benefit dinner attracted about 100 guests, and featured delicious and hard to find dishes that were popular Toishanese items at Foo's Ho Ho for decades.  Elwin, Judy, and I each spoke about our experiences and/or current books for about 10-15 mins. each.  Everyone had a great meal and wonderful time sharing memories about the lives of earlier Chinese immigrants that operated laundries.

National Archives, Morrow, Georgia Keynote Address, May 1, 2010

Southern cousins and their spouses attended my talk and book signing.

Another 'chance' outcome that was greatly advantageous to me! I contacted my friends at the Atlanta OCA (Organization of Chinese Americans) to see if they might be looking for a speaker for some upcoming event.  They were not in need of a speaker anytime soon, but because I have 'performed' so well a few years ago at an OCA event, Teresa Chao of OCA recommended me to Tricia Sung, an organizer for the Friends of the National Archives in Morrow, just outside of Atlanta.  The organization was planning its first event in conjunction with Asian Pacific Islander Month in May, 2010, and felt that my work on Chinese Americans was well-suited for this event.  Over 100 people attended and two Congressmen were also invited to speak, California's Mike Honda, House of Representatives and Joseph Cao, House of Representatives for Louisiana. I framed my keynote address in terms of how the National Archives helped me track down the history of my parents' immigration to the United States in the 1920s.  The topic later attracted the attention of Jack Peng, the editor of a small journal, Chinese American Forum, that publishes a blend of Chinese American social issues, political concerns, history, and culture. I was invited to submit a paper based on my talk, "Searching for Needles in Haystacks," which aptly depicts the task one faces when dealing with the daunting tasks of finding records from archives especially when many Chinese names are misspelled, reverse, or fictitious.  A few months later, I received another dividend because based on my work on the Delta Chinese in Mississippi, I was invited to write a paper on the historic Gong Lum v. Rice (1927) case concerning school segregation against Chinese in Mississippi.

3/1/11

BIG READ, Alhambra Public Library, Feb, 2010


Alhambra Library ... I was invited to be part of the week's activities for the BIG READ event that included a variety of activites related more or less to Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club, the featured book that patrons were reading in conjunction with Chinese New Year.  I spoke about my books dealing with the Chinese American experience in the American South, "Southern Fried Rice," and "Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton."  This invitation was a chance event insofar as I had originally inquired whether the library might add my books to their collection.  By good fortune, they were planning activities for the BIG READ, and a librarian felt there would be a 'connection' between the topics of my book and those discussed in Joy Luck Club.

2/5/11

Chinese in the American South, Cerritos Library, Dec. 5, 2009

I combined information from my memoir, "Southern Fried Rice," and my social history of Delta Chinese grocers, "Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton," for my second talk at the beautiful Cerritos Library. I wanted to discuss the similarities and differences in the lives and experiences of Chinese in Georgia and those in Mississippi. Although there were a handful in the audience with southern roots, most people were unfamiliar with Chinese in the South and were quite curious about what life was like for them being neither black nor white living in the segregated South.

2/4/11

CSULB Emeriti Lecture, Nov. 2009

This talk was a unique opportunity for me to talk about how I got involved in this post-retirement career with an audience consisting of many other retired professors at my university, Cal State, Long Beach.  I shared with them some of the many unexpected adventures and surprising events that I encountered on this 5 year journey and how rewarding I felt it had been not only for myself, but for my audiences.  Typically, at my venues, I spoke to groups of older Chinese Americans, many that had immigrant parents like I did. In many ways, I could not inform them about anything they did not already know from their own experiences. In my view, much of the enthusiasm they had for my presentations was due to hearing someone speak positively about the contributions that their parents, and grandparents in some cases, had made to American society and to their children.

2/3/11

Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton, Houston, Tx., Oct. 19, 2009

I was delighted to be invited back to Houston to speak to the Chinese Professional Club. This time I spoke about "Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton," which was of particular interest in Houston where many Chinese from the Delta originally came from.

2/2/11

Berkeley Chinese Community Church Talk, March, 2009 on Mississippi Delta Chinese

This was my third invitation to speak to this lively group of Chinese seniors. Each visit has been rewarding as many of the people in the audience have personally experienced some of the topics that I talk about.
This talk was special since a contingent of Mississippi Delta Chinese, now retired and living in the S. F. Bay area attended my presentation on my book, Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton, which documented the lives of Chinese grocers in the Mississippi Delta. It was reassuring that they enjoyed my presentation and felt that I gave an accurate description of the Chinese experience in the Delta.

2/1/11

Bok Kai Festival, Marysville, Ca. Feb. 2009

       Marysville once had one of the largest Chinese populations because it was the gateway for immigrants heading from the S. F. bay area to the gold fields in the mid-1850s. An annual Bok Kai Festival each year celebrates Chinese American history in this region. I participated with several other authors of Chinese American history at the Northern California Chinese History Museum during this event that included a town parade, and the water ritual of "bombs" in which young men scramble to catch water bombs.


   The festive atmosphere over the 2 days of talks added to the enjoyable social and intellectual exchange between the audience and the authors.  I spoke on what life was like for Chinese in the American South during the Jim Crow laws era on Saturday after the big parade that was climaxed with a double dragon dance.  On Sunday, using my identity as a Chinese American as a case study, I illustrated how this important aspect of a person is not a fixed or invariant aspect but one that ebbs and flows over time depending on the ethnic diversity of in areas where I lived over the years.

1/21/11

'Divine' inspiration for a Chinese restaurant book at a Talk about Chinese in the South, Northridge, Dec. 2008

         I guess lightning can strike in the same place more than once. Or as the master of semantic confusion, New York Yankees' legendary Yogi Berra, once exclaimed, "It's like  deja vu all other again." I was giving a talk about Chinese in the South at a Chinese church in Northridge, Ca. that was arranged by Henry Wong, the contact I mentioned in a prior post that I met at a San Diego talk I gave. After the talk, Bill Lee, his friend, commented that I should do a Chinese restaurant history book since I had already done one for Chinese laundries and one for Chinese grocers.  I had an immediate flashback to the evening when Roland Chow had hinted that I do the Mississippi Chinese grocer book, a suggestion that I took lightly at first but ended up taking seriously.  Was this going to be another book in the making?  But given that I knew virtually nothing about Chinese restaurants other than from the perspective of a hungry diner, I did not seriously consider the suggestion but Bill insisted that we meet and talk further since he, having owned several restaurants in the past, could be a consultant.
        To make a long story short, although Bill and I did not collaborate, I did become intrigued about Chinese restaurant history, and after several months of reading and researching, decided that it would be a very interesting and worthwhile project. To bring life and credibility to the book, I searched for 10 Chinese who grew up in their family restaurants across the U. S. (and one in Canada) and urged them to write narratives describing their life experiences growing up and helping with the work of their family restaurants.




    The title, of course, is appropriate for a book on Chinese restaurants since it refers to a popular dish using pork or chicken involving contrasting sweet and sour tastes. The choice for the title, however, was made to focus on the opposing conditions that the restaurants held for Chinese families that ran them.  It was 'sweet' that they provided a livelihood when few other occupations were open to Chinese, but it was also 'sour' in that their lives involved long hours of hard labor dealing with sometimes difficult customers in the dining room and the heat and time pressure cooking food in the kitchen.
    The cover conveys the 'look and feel' of many mom and pop Chinese restaurants that once could be found in towns all across the U. S. and Canada.  The cover image is not of any actual restaurant, but comes from an artist's conception that was the basis of a art gallery installation by Chinese Canadian artist, Karen Tam. How I came to find it is a fascinating story, one illustrating the power of the Internet, because I chanced to find it on a website from Manitoba, Canada, created by Sue-On and Bill Hillman.
   Enthused by the discovery of this artistic achievement, I immediately sent an e-mail to Karen Tam to commend her work.  Within a few minutes came a reply from Karen thanking me for the compliment, and informing me that at that moment, she was in the kitchen of my cousin's daughter whom she was visiting. What an amazing coincidence!

1/10/11

Sacramento Chinese Cultural Foundation, Oct., 2008

I received a warm welcome at my talk about "Southern Fried Rice" at a well-attended dinner presentation to the Sacramento Chinese Cultural Foundation. Eileen Leung was the President of this active organization. 

1/9/11

Historic LOCKE, Ca.

     In Oct. 2008, I had a book signing opportunity in the only all Chinese town in America, Locke, which now was like a ghost town. It was never more than a block or two long, but was the center of an agricultural community in the days when Chinese could not own property and had to have a sympathetic white person named Locke purchase land for them.
    This occasion marked the official dedication of the boarding house in Locke as a Museum and recognized as a State Historical site.  Several of the still living residents were acknowledged and several state officials made speeches.  A festive air prevailed with performances of lion dances followed by a barbeque lunch sold by vendors along the main, and only, street of Locke.

 

Promoting Books at Dedication  of the Boarding House Museum


About Me