Chinese Laundry Kids grow up to be writers, professors and community activists:
Friends of Foo's Ho Ho launches another successful event combining Chinese Canadian history with local cuisine and issues of the global Chinese diaspora. When Committee member Elwin Xie discovered that author Judy Fong Bates was coming to speak at UBC, and that she was reading from her memoir about growing up in a chinese laundry – a light must have gone off.
Elwin quickly remembered that retired psychology professor Dr. John Jung had expressed interest in coming to speak to the Friends of Foo's Ho Ho committee, after learning about their effort to save Vancouver Chinatown's last restaurant serving pioneer style Cantonese cuisine. A community activist with an interest in Vancouver's Chinese Canadian history, Elwin had also ordered books by Dr. Jung about Chinese restaurants and laundries. It turned out that like Judy Fong Bates, Dr. Jung had also grown up in a Chinese laundry – but instead of Canada, Dr. Jung had grown up in Macon, Georgia – deep in the American South. Elwin's interest was keen, because he had grown up at the Union Laundry, owned and operated by his parents in Vancouver.
Event host Todd Wong, with featured guests Dr. John Jung, Judy Fong Bates and Elwin Xie.
Guests began arriving at the 6pm reception time. Books by Dr. Jung and Ms. Bates were for sale, and the authors were set up to sign copies for the evening's patrons.
The event started off with a 10 minute film about Chinese laundries in the United States. This really helped set the tone for the evening, showing pictures of laundries, the laundry machines, and even some of the racist cartoons and songs of the times.
Soon the first appetizer dish of deep-fried squid, pork and chicken wings arrived. Yum Yum, some good food to accompany the hearty conversations that filled the upstairs banquet hall.
Elwin Xie was the first speaker. He gave a power point presentation with pictures of his family's laundry that included himself as a little child. He described how he was encouraged to climb into the giant washing machines to find coins, only to figure out many years later that he was “exploited” because of his small size.
Dr. John Jung was the second speaker. He also had a power point presentation that featured pictures of both Chinese laundries and restaurants from across North America. It was really interesting to hear how he grew up in the only Chinese family in Macon Georgia. An especially amusing story was how the family became media stars one day. In 1943, they were asked to come out and attend a media photo opportunity with Madame Chiang Kai Shek, the First Lady of China, came to visit Macon. As the only Chinese family, they had been invited to help welcome the wife of the Taiwanese leader, who had grown up and attended Wesleyan women's college in Macon, before marrying Chiang Kai Shek.
My role as the evening's emcee, was to make sure the presentations flowed smoothly and try to keep the evening running on time. With John's stories, it was a good way to illustrate that no matter where Chinese had settled in Canada, USA or even Scotland, their stories all had universal themes. As John had talked about the influence of the Church during his growing up, I shared that my own family was descended from two Chinese Methodist missionaries Rev. Chan Sing Kai and Rev. Chan Yu Tan. While Yu Tan stayed in Canada and ministered in Vancouver, New Westminster, Victoria and Nanaimo, his elder brother had ministered in Oregon and Nevada, before settling in the Los Angeles area. Similar to John discovering that he had distant relatives operating a Chinese restaurant in Sasketchewan, my grand mother's cousin Dennis ran a restaurant in Prince Albert SK. John had even seen the CBC documentary about Dennis' daughter Janice Wong, returning to Prince Albert to sign copies of her book CHOW, about growing up in the restaurant.
Judy Fong Bates reads from her memoir “The Year of Finding Memory”
Judy Fong Bates was the final speaker of the evening. She remarked how a friend had described the evening's program as “sexy”! Judy read from her memoir about how her family had come to Canada, and how she had grown up. Like John and Elwin before her, she also commented about the racism against Chinese that had permeated the social issues of the day, and how growing up in a laundry also had a stigmatism.
It was a wonderful evening with an appreciative audience. The evening had unfolded with discovered stories that one attendee had had his wedding banquet at Foo's Ho Ho Restaurant 38 years ago. Another woman, my Aunty Sue, was also a Chinese Laundry Kid, with her family involved with Keefer Laundry in Vancouver.