'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!


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. 


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


Two Weeks and Four Talks in the Delta, Sept. 2008

What a fortnight! Southern hospitality in the land of cotton, the blues, and Chinese grocery stores. I got to visit several stores and see many of the small towns that I knew well by name. I had a sense of deja vu from all the research I had done for writing Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton, but it was still worthwhile to actually be there and see the remnants of the past as vividly sensed by seeing the empty shells of formerly active and vibrant grocery stores now deserted and crumbling.



Marin Chinese Cultural Group, June 2008

I had the opportunity to speak about Southern Fried Rice in 2008 to the Marin Chinese Culture group at a potluck dinner held in the lovely home of a member just north of San Rafael.


Chinese American Museum of Chicago, April 2008

I was in town to attend the Asian American Studies Conference the day prior to my presentation on Chinese Laundries at the Chinatown Museum. I met several of the Board members at the conference and they took me to a wonderful dinner in Chinatown that evening; the next morning I was treated to a delicious dim sum lunch. All this hospitality, and I hadn't even given my talk yet!

(more later)

Chinese Professional Club, Houston, April 2008

Philip Sun, brother of Sylvia Sun Minnick, invited me to speak in Houston. A large turnout of about 140 people showed up, the largest of all my audiences, at the dinner talk, including one of my former star students at Long Beach who was on the faculty at the University of Houston.

More later


Desert Jade Women's Group, Phoenix, March 8, 2008

What started out disasterously ended well. The talk had to be delayed a week due to a death, and then on the new date, we had to delay 30 mins. in the wake of a second funeral that day. But the talk went very well and a large audience showed up. I also got to speak to students in an Asian American studies class at Arizona State University.


Lake Havasu City Writers Group, Az

My friend, and contributor to the Chinese laundry book, Lucy Leonard, arranged for me to come speak to her Writers Group. I spoke about Southern Fried Rice and also gave a workshop on software tools for writers and the process of publishing on demand.

Chinese Historical Society of Southern Calif. Feb. 2010 Chinese Laundries Talk

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