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!


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.


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.


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!


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!


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.

About Me