|Posted by John Jung on March 16, 2019 at 7:40 PM||comments (0)|
I remember it like it happened yesterday. I was at an Asian American Studies conference in 2005, Branching Out the Banyan Tree, in San Francisco held in Japantown. I had just published a memoir about growing up in our family laundry in Georgia and was giving a presentation on it at this event. It was my first venture into Asian American history as my entire career previously was in Psychology. During a break I went to see the book exhibits when I noticed someone waving in my direction. I assumed he was trying to get the attention of someone else since I did not know anyone at this meeting. However, he called me over and told me his wife had interest in my book, Southern Fried Rice: Life in a Chinese Laundry in the Deep South, because she had grown up in Louisville, Kentucky where her parents had a laundry too. Liz Chan was my very first book sale, and I was excited to meet her. Turns out that her husband, Joe, came from nearby Indiana where his parents ran a restaurant in Fort Wayne.
A few years later, I benefited from my association with the Chans when I wrote books on the experiences of Chinese growing up in Chinese laundries and restaurants as they both wrote about these personal experiences for my books on laundries and restaurants. The Chans live in the San Francisco Bay area, and have devoted many years volunteering as docents at the Angel Island Immigration Station where many Chinese immigrants, including my parents and those of the Chans, were detained when they came to the U. S. Such dedication and involvement by the Chans required taking a ferry from the north bay to Angel Island, not always a smooth ride over the waters.
I was delighted to recently learn that the Angel Island Immigration Station will recognize andthank them for their years of service as docents at a gala event next month in San Francisco. I am proud to have such wonderful friends as the Chans who have supported and encoraged my ework for 14 years! Congratulations, Joe and Liz!
|Posted by John Jung on June 26, 2018 at 5:20 PM||comments (0)|
Growing up, I did not spend much time with my father because he was busy with work in our laundry from sunrise to sunset six days each week. On Sundays, he liked to sleep longer in the morning but sometimes he had to use Sundays to make repairs or do maintenance on equipment,
When he took rest breaks to read the Chinese newspaper or smoke a cigarette, he was probably too tired to spend much time with me. Moreover, we did not have much in common since he did not really understand many American customs and values or appreciate the things that his Americanized son enjoyed such as comic books, sports, and American games.
However, I do recall special moments that are quite remarkable, in my view. On a hot summer day, father and I were sitting on a bench in one of the narrow parks that ran down the middle of several of the wider streets in the business section of Macon similar to the one in front of our laundry on Mulberry Street in the photogragh below. But one evening that was a special memory for me was one hot evening when my father and I were sitting in the Third Street park directly across from the Bibb Theater which primarily screened grade B western movies.
For reasons unknown to me, he asked if I would like to go to the Bibb Theater to watch a movie, or picture show as we called them back then. It was the first time I had ever seen a cowboy movie and it captured my imagination. This Tex Ritter movie made me an instant fan of all cowboy movies, and soon I was going every Saturday to the Ritz Theater, which showed a double feature of cowboy films plus a Three Stooges episode or a 15 part serialized film such as Dick Tracey or Superman that left the hero in danger at the end each week to entice you to come back the following week to see how the hero survived, which he always did. I nagged my mother until she bought me a straw cowboy hat, and over the next year or so, I bought probably a dozen cap pistols so my brother and I could pretend we were "cowboys."
Why my father chose to take me to see any movie was a mystery to me because I really don't think he had ever seen a movie previously, or subsequently, because he would not have understood the plots and content of a typical American movie.
Another memorable occasion I experienced with my father was in the laundry. One day a World Book Encyclopedia salesman came to the laundry to try to sell us a set of 26 volumes. Father called me over to examine the display volumes. Father must've seen the excitement on my face as I examined the beautifully bound books because he asked me if I thought having a set would help me with my schoolwork. Much to my surprise, without hesitation, he immediately placed an order which must have been an extravagant expenditure, because I usually had difficulty getting a nickel or a dime from him to buy a Coke, ice cream, or newspaper for the comics.
I also recall time spent with my father on an occasional two hour train ride to visit his brother in his laundry in Atlanta on a Sunday when our laundry did not open. I often got nauseous on the stuffy trains with musty seat uphostelry, stale air, and jerky arrivals and departures from towns between Macon and Atlanta. I would usually throw up as soon as we got off the train in Atlanta. In truth, aside from getting a change of scenery, these trips were really rather boring as it was not much fun for a kid to sit in uncle's laundry for several hours listening to, or ignoring, conversation in Chinese between the two brothers before heading back to the train station for a two hour ride back to Macon.
As a child, I don't think I really could realize what a diificult life my father, and mother for that matter, had working so hard in the laundry and raising 4 children. Only as an adult did I more fully appreciate their endurance, devotion, and sacrifice for their family.
|Posted by John Jung on May 3, 2018 at 1:20 PM||comments (0)|
People sometimes ask me how I liked southern foods and are surprised when I tell them that even though I lived in Macon for 15 years I virtually never had any food other than Chinese because my mother cooked all of our meals aside from breakfast when we had cream of wheat, oatmeal, or cereal such as Rice Krispies or Wheaties (which I begged her to buy because it was cleverly marketed as "The Breakfast of Champions"). There were the lunches that the school served which were forgettable tastewise, although I did like the occasional cornbread.
The best "American" foods I had in Macon were hamburgers and chili dogs. On Saturdays, our laundry was very busy as more customers came to pick up their clothes on that day than any other day of the week. Perhaps it was because they needed clean clothes for church the next day or they got paid on Saturdays. In any case, mom didn't have time to cook lunch on Saturdays so I was sent to the Krystal burger store to buy a dozen or so of their burgers (known as White Tower burgers up in the north). Nowaday they are called sliders, but in the 1940s we called them hamburgers. I loved watching the 2 burger flippers at work on the grill, especially because I had never seen any one work as fast as them...I concluded they must have come from northern cities because I never saw any southerner ever work at such a frenetic pace. These delicious burgers were actually tiny, but as as child I guess I never realized it. Krystal burger Saturdays are one of my favorite memories.
A year or so ago I was thrilled find a photograph of the Krystal burger store in Macon. On the Internet I stumbled upon the work of a professional photographer, whose name I lost, who photographed all every downtown business street, which consisted of about 9 square blocks. Each photo overed about half a block, which let me go back in time 50+ years and see all the streets and stores where I grew up, withe the one exception, my half block of Mulberry Street with the Lanier Hotel, several stores, and our laundry, was not present.
Either he did not shoot that part of our street, or the photo got lost. My consolation prize was inclusion of the Krystal burger store next to the Capitol movie theater on Second Street, where I frequently enjoyed Roy Rogers movies, among others.
On Pinterest, I even found a photograph by a different photographer of the store interior, with its single long counter and backless stools. The grill, where I watched the hamburgers being cooked, was next to the window that looked out on the street.
I thought my joy of nostalgia was complete when I chanced to find yet another exterior shot of the Krystal store shot in 1972 on Pinterest. I was amazed to learn that the photographer, Stephen Shore, is a famous photographer who has had exhibitions of his photographs in dozens of leading galleries and art musems over the years. Yet, I wondered why this photograph was considered such a "work of art." I mean, while I love the image, and it brought back wonderful memories, but is it "great photography?" Googling Stephen Shore, I learned that his considerable body of work is noted for capturing "the mundane."
Indeed, wikipedia noted:
"Stephen Shore is an American photographer known for his images of banal scenes and objects in the United States, and for his pioneering use of color in art photography."
Here is a link to his website: http//www.stephenshore.net/
Sad update...despite getting a small measure of fame via Stephan Shore, the Krystal burger store no longer exists, replaced by a Mexican food place, El Camino.
My source for my other American food, chili dogs, was a pool hall across the street from our laundry. Children were not legally allowed in a pool hall, but i would sneak in to the bar counter at the end closest to the entrance, order my chili dogs, and then quickly exit as soon as I could with my chili dogs.
Behind this bar was the section with several pool tables. This 'back room' of the pool hall had a large chalk scoreboard where they posted the results of major league baseball games, innng by inning, as they arrived via a teletype machine. I was an avid baseball fan and wanted to know scores of games before the next day when they were reported in the newspaper. So every night, i would sneak into the pool room, quickly scan up to date scores, and then dash out of the pool hall.
|Posted by John Jung on May 15, 2017 at 5:30 PM||comments (0)|
About the most exciting event in Macon when I was growing up was a parade honoring home town hero, Colonel Robert L. Scott, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_Is_My_Co-Pilot_(film) who was a leader for the Flying Tigers, a group of volunteer American pilots who helped defeat the Japanese in air combat over control of the vital Burma Road during WWII. Scott wrote an autobiography, "God is my Co-pilot," https://youtu.be/4Kdc4yT8guw which was made into a movie starring Dennis Morgan and its World Premiere was in Macon.
|Posted by John Jung on January 20, 2017 at 2:05 PM||comments (0)|
When we left Macon, Georgia where I was born to move to San Francisco in 1952, we packed up all our few possessions worth bringing, mostly clothing, family photos and small household items that we could ship on the train as part of our baggage allotment (I think 150 lb. per passenger).
We left behind our two "devices" for home entertainment, a small Philco radio that let us listen to comedy and drama programs as well as play by play broadcasts of football games and a hand cranked phonograph similar to the one pictured below. We had only about ten 78-rpm records, none of them purchased by my parents but were left by the previous occupant of our living space.
One recording that I enjoyed a lot even though I didn't really know what it meant had an amusing (to me at the time) refrain that I misremembered as, "Henry, who's that knocking on the hen house door." Decades later, in a fit of nostalgic search for childhood memories, I searched online music lyric databases in vain to try to find that song.
Then, lo and behold, the other day as I was decluttering my possessions, I discovered a folder that held four of these 78-rpm records that for reasons I can't imagine, we had brought along with us from Macon to San Francisco over 50 years ago. And, it brought tears to my eyes when I found the 1926 recording of "Knocking on the Hen House Door"....there was no Henry in the song after all. Moreover as the image of the record below shows, the banjo performer and composer was identified as Doc Walsh....someone I had no information about but google informed me that he was a well regarded country music performer of the 1920s.
Knocking On the Hen House Door
And, miracle of miracles, YouTube actually had a recording of Knocking on the Hen House Door, but I warn you that in the 1920s, the term, nigger, was commonplace in referring to black people.
In the refrain of the song, the singer repeatedly asks the !*# "nigger" to stop knocking on the hen house door.
Our One Chinese Record
We did have one Chinese record that my brother George and I played incessantly. It has a martial air, and we marched around the room as it blared forth. Learned later it was composed in the 1930s as a tribute to the Chinese resistance against the Japanese in the 1930s before WW II. Known as the March of the Volunteers, it was later adopted as the National Anthem of the People's Republic of China.
|Posted by John Jung on August 10, 2016 at 4:15 PM||comments (0)|
Unable to read, write, or speak English well even after living in the U. S. for over 25 years (mostly in Macon, Georgia), a few years after moving to San Francisco mother decided to learn how to read and write English so she could apply for citizenship.
It was not easy, but she was determined and spent countless hours doing homework late in the evening after her Chinatown class. Most of the words and phrases they learned for becoming a citizen were not especially interesting or relevant as illustrated below.
When she took the citizenship test, she had to indicate she would be willing to bear arms for the U. S. or was ever a member of the Communist party.
That was bad enough but she also had to deny ever being a prostitute or had ever been a narcotic addict.
Mother voted in the national election after she became a naturalized citizen in 1964. However, once she was on the voting rolls, she received a notice summoning her for jury duty, something that was too intimidating for her, she never voted again.
Somehow, one day in 1972 she got to meet the Mayor of San Francisco, Joseph Alioto, in a photo op, which was surprising as she was not much of a political person
|Posted by John Jung on August 10, 2016 at 2:55 PM||comments (0)|
After father died in 1973, mother decided that she would apply to sponsor her young brother to come over from China. She left China in 1928 before he was born so she had never met him but her strong sense of family obligation led to her sponsorship of her brother and his family to the United States. It was not an easy process as she had to go through a lot of red tape in making the application started in 1973 but which was delayed for many years before it finally was approved somewhere in the late 1980s, as i recall.
here is an affidavit of her petition in 1973 to sponsor one of her nephews, 30 year old kwan wai ping.
mother and her brother having lunch in chinatown.
in a later photograph, mother and her brother are seated on the left, with his 2 sons, daughter, a daughter-in-law, and their children after they arrived in san francisco.
|Posted by John Jung on August 27, 2014 at 1:00 PM||comments (0)|
Last year, I had the unexpected pleasure of being interviewed by Grammy-nominated jazz singer, Neena Freelon, and documentarian, Lana Garland who are producing a multi-media theatrical tribute, The Clothesline Muse, to the black washerwomen of yesterday who earned meagre incomes to help support their families by washing clothes for whites. Freelon and Garland contacted me to learn the history of Chinese laundries, which they recognized as an imporant aspect of the societal context in which the black washerwomen toiled.
|Posted by John Jung on March 19, 2014 at 8:45 PM||comments (0)|
by D. G. Martin about my writing of Southern Fried Rice.
Southern Fried Rice.
|Posted by John Jung on October 10, 2013 at 12:25 AM||comments (0)|
D.G. Martin interview of John Jung on WCHL-FM