September 7, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

It seems to me that the key to success for any endeavor boils down to one common trait – pride.  Parents learn that they should instill a sense of pride in their children for their accomplishments in order to motivate them for the future.  An artist’s greatest sense of pride comes at the point where they can stand back and bask in the glow of their creation.  Pride is what makes each of us aspire to a higher purpose, whether it’s going on to college, climbing Mt. Everest, or running for governor after being a professional body builder and the world’s highest paid action star.

Yet, pride can come in several forms.  Pride for a genuine achievement is a good thing.  Pride for pride’s sake – not so good.  You can see the two faces of pride every week on the TV’s American Idol.  For every talent like 1st season winner Kelly Clarkson who has earned the right to be proud of her achievement, thousands of other contestants are motivated by their own false sense of pride at their own perceived talents – and often humiliated for their attempt.  Unfortunately for the Asian American community, William Hung’s recent turn in the limelight is an extreme example of this – let’s let it go at that.

Sometimes the difference between genuine and false pride is just a matter of going too far.  For example, a genuine sense of pride can be seen from a father who shows off to his kids a birdhouse he built out of an old wooden crate and a broom handle he found in the garage.  A false sense of pride comes when the father takes pictures of the same birdhouse and submits them to Architectural Digest for review.

I admit that I have been a victim of my own false sense of pride.

Some time ago I needed to find a dentist to fix a few chipped teeth.  A good friend recommended his dentist, and I set up an appointment for the following week.

As I checked in, it became apparent to me that everyone in the office – the receptionist, the dentists, even the patients, were all Chinese.  Furthermore, as I was led to the dentist’s chair, the assistant spoke to me in Chinese, and even handed me some dental literature – again, all in Chinese.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that my Chinese is good enough to exchange pleasantries, order lunch, ask where the bathroom is, or get directions to the nearest airport.  Ask me my opinion on say, nuclear proliferation, and my eyes start to glaze over.

As the dentist starts asking me what I need and starts discussing what he will do, any practical person in my position would either a) Tell the dentist that your Chinese isn’t that good and ask them to speak English or b) Lunge for the nearest exit as quickly as possible.

However, seeing as how my false sense of pride was in total control (after all, my friend, even though he was from China, used this dentist, therefore, so could I), I proceed to nod repeatedly and respond by saying “Hao” (“Yes” in Chinese) no matter what the dentist asks me.  I kept nodding even though what I was hearing sounded like, “First I’m going to yadda yadda yadda, followed by yadda, but yadda yadda hurt much.”

In the end, the dentist did manage to fix my chipped teeth by capping them.  Unfortunately, I had inadvertently asked that one cap be done in gold, the other in porcelain, and the third in something silver-colored.  But hey, I’m still proud of myself.

I’m proud that on clear days, my teeth can tune into some pretty cool radio stations.

Chan – From Noodles to Burgers & Back

September 7, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

I am witnessing a metamorphosis.

Like millions of other Chinese Americans, I grew up in a family where my parents were born and raised in China.  They moved to the United States to find a better life and it was also where they met, fell in love, got married, and ultimately had me – their most “cherished and prized progeny”.

OK, maybe I’ve never heard them use the term “cherished and prized progeny”, but I digress.  Let me get back to my point.

The point is, both my parents completely embraced the ideal that America was the grand social experiment, the place where the diversity of America is part of our national identity.  It is the place where we would be both Chinese and American.

Despite having to learn English and the intricacies of Western culture, both my parents excelled in what they set out to do.  My mother started out as a nurse before becoming the head of a library in a major University.  Likewise, my father started out as a professor of Electrical Engineering at a University before starting several successful businesses.

Without forgetting their culture or values, they embraced Western culture.  We rooted for our favorite football team every Sunday.  We bought a station wagon with faux wood paneling on the side of it and went for rides on Saturday afternoons with no particular destination.  On weekends, Dad would roast a whole side of beef just to feed the four of us.

If America ever had a melting pot, our family was swimming in the deep end.

Nowadays, my Mom is retired and my Dad is semi-retired.  Yet, it has come as somewhat of a surprise to see the transformation I’ve observed over at my parent’s house over the last couple of years.

It started out slowly, when I noticed that the coffee table in the family room started getting stacked with piles of Chinese newspapers.  Then I started noticing that nearly every evening that I dropped by, one or both of them were watching Chinese soap operas.  The next thing you know, Mom and Dad cancelled their opera tickets and have become aficionados of Lang Lang, the Chinese pianist who plays mainly Chinese music.

This last week, despite the fact that Mom knows virtually nothing about computers or networking, she managed to install an internet service that connects to their TV and allows them to get Chinese programming direct from China and Taiwan.

What is going on here?  It’s as if the melting pot is no longer stirring and all the ingredients have decided to “go their own way”.  If America’s acculturation really is a grand experiment, apparently my parents have decided to “revert to their original state”.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m as proud as anyone of my Chinese heritage, and I’ve spent the last 25 years trying to understand where I came from and the history behind it.  But, they brought me up in this country (Refer to “Cherished and prized progeny” above) and raised me to value both sides of my cultural identity.  I don’t like seeing either side getting short shrift.

For a little while, I thought that I might need to alter my behavior to keep things in balance.  Perhaps I could spend a little time savoring various aspects of Americana as the “yin” to the “yang” of my parent’s recent “re-calibration” to their roots.

I would do this by going on a road trip, driving a Chevy pickup, visiting various baseball stadiums on my way to Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of fame while only listening to CD’s of Woody Guthrie and stopping to eat only at roadside diners that served hamburgers, chocolate malts and apple pie.

In the end, I decided not to make the trip.  First of all, it’s nearly impossible to find someone who will rent you a Bassett hound for a road trip, and secondly (and most importantly), I realized that even with all the Chinese videos and newspapers they have accrued, Mom and Dad remain quintessentially Chinese-American.

How do I know this?  Easy.

Look at where they decided to live their lives.

Chinese Timeline in San Diego

September 3, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

1870’s – Chinese begin arriving in San Diego, towards the end of Northern California’s Gold Rush.  Many who came to San Diego worked as contract laborers on the state’s railroad system and other infrastructure projects.  Others became fisherman along San Diego’s coast and south into Baja California, using skills they practiced in China’s Pearl River Delta.

1880’s – Out of a total population of 8,600, 200 were 200 Chinese, most all living in an area called Stingaree, which is now known as the Gaslamp Quarters.

1881 – Approximately 150 Chinese live in San Diego, many working on the construction of the California Southern Railroad between National City and San Bernardino.

It was also at this time that Ah Quin, moved from Northern California to San Diego, working from San Francisco and went on to have 12 children as well as become a prosperous business owner.  He became known as the “Mayor of Chinatown”. He died in 1914.

1882 – The U.S. enacts the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, specifically designed to end all immigration of Chinese citizens into the U.S. In the year before the legislation was passed, 39,579 Chinese entered the United States. One out of every 10 citizens in California was of Chinese descent.  In 1887, only 10 Chinese citizens immigrated legally.  The law was repealed in 1943.

1885 – The Chinese Mission School of San Diego was established by Lee Hong (local resident) on the corner of 13th & F Street.  With the support and help of Dr. William C. Pond of the American Home Missionary Association who worked with Chinese immigrants throughout California, the Mission taught the several hundred (mostly) male Chinese residents in San Diego to read and write English.

In late 1885, an anti-Chinese group was established to persuade local businesses to replace Chinese workers with Caucasians.

1887 – The Coronado Beach Company recruits Chinese workers from San Francisco to help in the construction of the Hotel del Coronado.

1888 – The Scott Act permanently banned the immigration or return of Chinese laborers to the United States and ended the cross border process. The bill received overwhelming support by both houses of congress and led to mass celebrations throughout California.  As a result of the Scott Act, the Chinese fishing industry effectively ended since Chinese fisherman in San Diego could no longer travel to Baja California and legally come back.  Many of these workers switched to farming jobs, many located in Mission Valley.

Early 1900’s – Mrs. Margaret Fanton, who was known to San Diego’s local Chinese as “Mother Fanton”, worked for over 40 years first as a teacher at the Chinese Mission of San Diego, but also as a superintendent.  She was the first social worker for San Diego’s Chinese population.

1935 – The Hall of China, located in Balboa Park, was officially opened on May 25, 1935. Now known as the House of China, it was the Chinese community’s effort to participate as a part of the 1935-1936 California Pacific International Exposition held at Balboa Park, San Diego.

1962 – Tom Hom, a native San Diegan was elected to the San Diego City, served as deputy mayor, and later won a seat in the California State Assembly, the first for a Chinese-American in San Diego.  He is currently the patriarch of one of San Diego’s oldest Chinese-American families and is a principal member of the Tom Hom Group, a development company in San Diego .

1996 – The San Diego Chinese Historical Society was dedicated in January, located in what was originally a Chinese mission designed by Irving Gill in the 1920s.

2000 – U.S. Census figures show that 22,762 Chinese live in the city of San Diego, making up 1.86% of the city’s population.

2003 – Archaeologists have uncovered thousands of items during excavation and construction of the new Downtown Ballpark that offer a glimpse into San Diego’s Chinese Community at the turn of the 20th century.  Some of the items include china dishes, old medicine bottles, and rice bowls.


Murray K. Lee, A Short History of the Chinese in San Diego, California (1977)

Elizabeth MacPhail, San Diego’s Chinese Mission, (The Journal of San Diego History, 1977)

Charles J. McClain, In Search of Equality: The Chinese Struggle Against Discrimination in Nineteenth-Century America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994)

Shih-Shan Henry Tsai, The Chinese Experience in America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986)

Jonathan Heller, Artifacts point to San Diego’s unsung past (San Diego Union Tribune, 2003)