A Tour Guide of the Mundane

September 9, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

Each and every one of us, as San Diegans, shares a common bond.  Perhaps more accurately, we share a common role.  It is a role most of us assume with a sense of pride. It is a responsibility we all bear by living in America’s Finest City.

You have chosen to reside in San Diego with all it has to offer, and by virtue of your decision you are now the Quasi-official tour guide to all of your out of town friends and family.  When the barest of acquaintances calls to tell you they are coming to town, realize that you are what helped tip the scales in their minds when they couldn’t decide between San Diego and Orlando.

Still, we take our hosting duties seriously because we all want to show off our city in the best possible light.  Who wouldn’t need to catch their breath when they first saw the dramatic cliffs off of La Jolla Cove?  Who wouldn’t be charmed by the romance of Hotel del Coronado?  Who wouldn’t want to try a fish taco?

I know all of San Diego’s landmarks.  Whether the guests are from Boston, Los Angeles or any point in between, I can arrange a whirlwind tour of local attractions and get them back on their plane headed home, happy and most importantly, out of my hair.

The challenge comes when I host guests from Asia.  For these guests, I seem to enter an alternate universe where the attractions I take them to draw blank stares while they inadvertently stumble across a seemingly innocuous matter that ends up being the highlight of the trip.

As their tour guide, you start taking things personally.  How would a tour guide feel if I traveled to Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa and continuously admired at how straight and upright all the other buildings were?  Or if I visited the Great Wall of China only to gush over how realistic the wall looked on the silk-screened T-shirts I bought at the gift stand?

I once took a family from Taiwan to an elegant Sunday brunch.  They joked that this was the reason why Americans were overweight.    On the other hand, when they found out how much they could save by buying vitamins in bulk, the amount they brought home could stamp out scurvy in several developing countries.

Then there was the time I took my father in law to visit Balboa Park to walk through all the beautiful gardens. Yet, when I asked him what he remembers of San Diego, he inevitably will say something like, “Oh…the hot dogs at Costco are so tasty and melt in your mouth.”

When I visit Asia, you see how fast the pace can be.  Crowds await you at every turn and everyone struggles through, day in and day out.   You wonder whether their value system, like my own, might be influenced by what we experience in our own environments.   Perhaps, for those who live life in a constant rush, a simple, solitary pleasure can be the most fulfilling.

Come to think of it, those hot dogs are pretty good.

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)