Raymond Douglas Chong
Great-great-grandson of Bein Yiu Chung
Interviewee: Raymond Douglas Chong (Great-great-grandson of Bein Yiu Chung)
Interviewer: Connie Young Yu and Shelly Fisher Fishkin
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: December 7, 2013
Length: 45 minutes, 54 seconds
00:10 Interviewer: Okay. This is an interview for the Stanford Chinese Railroad Project of North America and the date is December 7th 2013. We’re talking to you, Ray and I’d like you to introduce yourself and your railroad ancestry.
00:28 Raymond D. Chong: Well Connie, thanks for the opportunity be here. My name is Raymond Douglas Chong. I live in Sugar Land, Texas near Houston. This story, what I’ll be telling you, it would be about my great-great-grandfather. Bein Yiu Chung – that’s his Cantonese name. And he was from the village of Long Gang Li, village of Dragon Hill in Kaiping, in Guangdong Province. This is his story.
00:55 Interviewer: Basically, could you give some of the vital statistics – where he was born, when he was born, and how you know that he worked on the Transcontinental Railroad.
01:08 Well, as you know, back in China in old days, there weren’t that much paper records. They wouldn’t record birth certificates, very meager remnants of anything, the only thing I have confirmed was the family tree book – the zupu. I found it back around 2008 with his name on it – Generation 39. (Is it 39?) I’m Generation 43. So I found his name in the zupu. So I know of his existence, I know of his grave at the Hill of the Flying Swan, near my village, Long Gang Li in Kaiping. So, I honored him on May 8th, 2009 and my clan at that time. The story of him as a railroad worker came about on January 1st, 2013. Well my cousin, related that story from my, my father’s best friend in Kaiping about the Railroad. That he had worked in Gold Mountain where there’s no city. In other words, he was always moving around – where can he be living? – he can’t be living in San – he was working as the railroad moved forward. That’s – was – the confirmation discovery of my great-grandfather as a railroad worker here in Gold Mountain.
02:30 Interviewer: So it’s from oral history.
02:32 Chong: It’s always oral history. There’s no record, no true record, no written documents. This is all oral history. It’s very important to record, document it, because there’s nothing else. If there is any scrap of documents over time, it would have faded. As you know, in Guangdong Province, it’s very humid, very wet – paper disintegrate over time. The ink diffuse. You’re lucky to find anything of any substance of paper records.
02:59 Interviewer: So you mention the year 1865, when he first came to work on the Railroad. Could you talk about that?
03:02 Chong: Right, right. Well, because there’s a lack of – lack of true records, I make some great assumptions because the way my, my father’s best friend described seeing – seem right. That he came when the contractors from Hong Kong came around looking for workers to go to Gold Mountain. There’s “hey, you can make gold pieces. Make big money. Come and check – sign a contract with me to be a rail worker.” And that correlated with his story, my best friend’s, of my father, he said, his grandfather left together with my great-grandfather in 1865. So that’s the story that unfolded as I developed a discussion for my father’s best friend.
03:49 Interviewer: So you started a process of looking for your roots. And you have this journey you are going to describe that connects right back to your first ancestor who came to America.
03:53 Chong: Yes. Right, right. Well the story unfolds on January 30th, 2003. On that day, a friend of mine, named John Thomas Caleb, put a gun on his head, a handgun and shot himself to death in Monterey. That was the start of my journey – my paradigm shift of way. I looked at myself as an American, now I look at myself as Chinese. And before, I was different, now I’m at a different place. I’m still more of a bamboo – a jook-sing – but before, I was thinking of America, now I think forward into China.
04:47 So it’s been a transformation since that time. A journey of over 10 years now of looking for my roots. Before that, I never knew nothing about my family, other than box – shoe box of pictures, black white pictures, hidden stories that unfolded over the past 10 years that I finally figured out, “oh, that’s what’s – the relationships – those were the secrets they didn’t tell me about. I found so many secrets the past 10 years – I could be considered the black sheep because I know so much now. But because those were the dark days, that before January 30 of 2003, my background was an empty white canvas. No context, no texture, because it was a dark secret, a hidden secret that our family did not talk about. Never. I was just living myself as a ABC – America born Chinese – as a jook-sing, bamboo. I knew I was Chinese, but my elders never told about the stories – about the paper son, discrimination, the second woman, the second wives, things of that nature. I had to – after their deaths – figure out what the truth is.
06:03 Interviewer: So could you start with the generations – the first generation, the second, and then the third would be your father’s generation.
06:11 Chong: Well the generation actually goes back to 778 A.D. When I got the zupu, the family tree book, from my cousin in 2008 – we go back, myself, I’m Generation 43. I go back to Generation 1 in 778 A.D. Fast forward to my village, Long Gang Li, Village of the Dragon Hill, is, is the 1466 A.D. Fast forward today, now, I’m here, Generation 43, my father before was 42, my grandfather before that was 41, my great-grandfather was 40. So the gentleman we’re talking about, my great-great-grandfather was Generation 39. Bein Yiu Chung, the railroad worker. That is our genesis and why we’re meeting here today.
07:06 Interviewer: So after, could you describe how your, how your railroad ancestor Ð Bein Yiu Chung – how he came to America, the years that he worked here – what you know about the years that he worked here.
07:23 Chong: Because it’s a recent knowledge, I knew about that, that my great-grandfather was a rail worker, I know about it, it’s not a complete story yet. At this point, what I know is that he was here, he was with my best friend’s grandfather at that time – and it’s just what – they toiled along the railroad tracks when there’s no city. There’s a camp, every night is a camp. There’s a moving camp. There’s no city. What I know is that they came back as Gold Mountain men, with pieces of gold, to build their Gold Mountain houses. To reunite with their wives and family or maybe marry a second woman to become their second wife. Because they had wealth, they had the opportunity to build Gold Mountain houses. Those are the stories that were told to me.
08:14 Interviewer: Do you have, uh, the archival records? Have you been to San Bruno to see when they returned? Uh, when the ancestors returned?
08:23 Chong: Well, before 1882, there was no formal system of documenting arrivals, departures. The only remnants or trace would be ship logs – whether who is departing, who is arriving, and most of the time, they messed up the names, the actual transliteration of the names. And sometime, they just treated Chinese as cattle. 10 Chinese, 20 Chinese. And the records could also get lost, destroyed over time. So it’s very hard to retrace that. You can get a rough inkling – what kind of ships they arrived, what ships they departed, a system of what was in place, but it can, it can be very difficult to find exact time when he arrived, the exact time when he went back.
09:05 Interviewer: So he, your ancestor, Chung Bein Yiu, he returned to his village and he build a home there. So he was going back, to retire?
09:20 Chong: A Gold Mountain house. Or retired, one, number two, get married to the second women. Before they left for Gold Mountain, it was traditional for a guy to make sure he comes back to the village, was to marry a woman to have a rationale or connection to come back. So he married the first woman, then he married the second woman which turned out to be a second line of my family I discovered in 2008. Another trace of my family roots.
09:51 Interviewer: So are your roots from the first wife or the second?
09:55 Chong: His first wife. With my great-great-grandfather.
09:59 Interviewer: Could you talk about your great-grandfather then?
10:02 Chong: My great-grandfather, Hoy Lun Chung. He was born in the village, around 1870 or so, based on my reckoning of my, my, when my great-great-grandfather came back. He came, he went to here, Gold Mountain, my reckon was around 1892 or so, because I figured my grandfather, Moi Chung, was born in 1892 so my reckoning that he left with his brother in 1892, to go to Boston eventually, Boston, Massachusetts. Most likely he went via San Francisco, then heard about good fortunes beyond the West, to go to Boston for a great opportunity.
10:51 And I have a little more history. I have picture of him, of my great-grandfather with my father back in 1923. I have – he was a rich man, a man of knowledge, wisdom. He came back to Long Gang Li as a rich man, plenty of gold pieces, he became – eventually became, chief of the village. His legend grew and grew – because of his astuteness as a businessman, as a business person. Because of that, legacy, when I went back to the village, in November 2007, they knew who I was. They had my house – my ancestor’s house. The 9th house in the 6th Alley. They knew who I was – oh, so amazing when I went there on that day – unannounced, they didn’t know I was coming, I just dropped in.
11:42 Interviewer: Were you called Gum San Hak – did they use that term? The guest of the Gold Mountain?
11:44 Chong: Gum San Hak? Oh, you mean that, nah. Yeah, yeah. Right. Gold Mountain, yes. Or a Fallen Leaf. There’s another term that they use. Because they consider when you leave China, you gonna come back, route back to your place, your home land. You’re a Fallen Leaf, floating around, somewhere beyond China – Gold Mountain – then, when you return, you come back to root again. So, in some aspects, I am the – the next generation of that Fallen Leaf, going back to the home village.
12:24 Interviewer: So, your grandfather, probably would have some records from Angel Island if he went back and forth.
12:30 Chong: That’s been the biggest challenge. I have references of property transactions, business transactions of his name. I have not been successful yet to find his true NARA Chinese immigration file yet. I’ve been working with some San Bruno, with Boston, with Los Angeles, Sierra. I think the challenge is the variation of the names. It’s, it’s, that’s an onerous part. The variation. Because the custom guards, the immigration officials, would kinda figure the name, but it would never be the exact, consistent transliteration. Because the guy in Boston may write a different way from the guy from Los Angeles and that’s been –
13:14 Interviewer: The Chinese characters are the same.
13:17 Chong: It’s always the same.
13:18 Interviewer: It’s Jiong.
13:19 Chong: Yes. And it could be written – *laughter* – my, my name is Zoeng but it could be Chong, Ceng, Zheng, so many variation. That’s why it’s so hard to find the exact match.
13:28 Interviewer: Except in China, which has a different way of documenting it.
13:30 Chong: Right. Right. Definitely.
13:34 Interviewer: So back to the railroad worker. Do you know how many children he had?
13:41 Chong: Um, two. My great-grandfather and my great-grand-uncle. And that was the second line, which I discovered. So he had two sons. The women, I don’t know whether he had daughters, but traditionally in the family tree book, ladies were not part of the system. So I have not been able to capture that.
14:06 Interviewer: Is there, is there any knowledge, any record, any information about the skills that your great-great-grandfather might have had?
14:15 Chong: Well, there are, from my father’s best friend, they had – what you call – they brought back some old tools, back then. And over time, people thought it was junk. So eventually, it got thrown away. Because it was considered junk. But now, you look at now, it’s a present, it’s a treasure. And that was my purpose of my last journey back to Long Gang Li to find some physical evidence of anything else I could find.
14:45 Interviewer: Now he was a laborer. But is there evidence that he could read and write Chinese?
14:50 Chong: That I don’t know. Most likely because he was a farmer, because the system being the low caste [sic in the] system, I doubt it, because it requires money to go to school. So I would suspect not. He was basically a farmer. That’s my sense.
15:06 Interviewer: Did your village have a village school though? Ê
15:09 Chong: Yes they did. It was actually held in the ancestral hall. And that’s where my father learned his, his Chinese, his history.
15:18 Interviewer: And is the house that your great-great-grandfather built still standing?
15:23 Chong: The place is still standing, but unfortunately that house, over time, got disintegrated and got demolished in the 1950s. And when it happened, some guy came in along and just needed the material and demolished it, and then somebody else came in to build another house around 1950s. I did – looked at it – I saw the site, but of course, it’s over almost hundred fifty years, the original house is not there, it’s another house, but I went to the site.
15:54 Interviewer: So about the, the building that your grand – your great-grandfather, the next generation, so he returned and built, uh, one of the towers?
16:06 Chong: Oh, he, came back, he built his Gold Mountain house, which is the 9th house on the 6th alley. It’s a gold brick house, two stories, two bedrooms, a loft, a central area for cooking – for living. It’s still intact, still there. It has a leaky roof but it’s still there. It’s actually my house now, since by default, I assume the ownership of that house. It is still intact. It is still there, in Long Gang Li. Roughly the late 19th or early 20th century.
16:47 Interviewer: And then the following generation came back. I want you to describe the towers and why they were built.
16:55 Chong: Oh, the, well, by the early 29th century, there’s a lot of chaos in China. The Revolution. Criminals, bandits. So all scattered in that area because people had heard stories about Gold Mountain men having wealth. Well, they said, “hey, it’s easy prey. Let’s kidnap, ask for a ransom.” And things got serious in 1920s. So at that point, the village and the Gold Mountain men donated money to build the Kaiping Diaolou – which is the long stone sentinels as a guard tower. My great-grandfather contributed, my grandfather contributed, within the that Diaolou, is a plaque, showing all who donated, inscribed, see my, their names, my grandfather and my great-grandfather’s names. That was in the early 1920s.
17:54 Well, my great-grandfather had the foundation for his sons. And in this case, it was Hoy Lun Chung my great-grandfather. With that legacy, he was able to go to Gold Mountain, in around 1892, establish a business in Boston Chinatown, in the gambling trade, and opium trade. Because at that time, there’s more opportunity to be wealthier in getting that.
18:28 At the same time, he needed protection from the tongs, from – at that time – you have to be part of system. You have – not the approval of the local tong – you cannot do a business. Or if you are a part of another tong, there might be rivalry of that nature. One story about that was one of my cousins around 1907 was involved in a murder in Boston Chinatown. And I’m trying to – we trace the facts of that situation because from the 1870s to 1920s, all across America, East Coast, West Coast, there are constant tong wars. And it was very bloody with knives and guns.
19:10 So that was my great-grandfather, stepped that basis, leading to my grandfather, Moi Chung, to go to Gold Mountain in 1912 and arrived on the SS Mongolia at that time in San Francisco. And on that basis, he went to school to learn his English, went to my – stayed at business store that was owned by my great-grandfather here in San Francisco Chinatown, on Grant Avenue. A dry goods store here on Grant Avenue. I found the place, I confirmed it, I saw the names of their record, I had a presence of it. Because of the connection to the roots. Being in a clan to a key thing to survive in Gold Mountain. You cannot trust the American Anglo-Saxon people. You need to stay together. There was two ways to stay together one as by the village connection or by your surname connection. And it’s very important for that Kaiping connection to the Jung family that my grandfather came along here and established his roots in Gold Mountain.
20:21 Interviewer: So this is in San Francisco. So you have this merchant establishment in San Francisco. There – are there records of that?
20:29 Chong: Yes. Right. Yes. Evidence of my great-grandfather owning a share of that of business. Evidence of eventually my grandfather buying a share of that business too. And also because, when he first arrived, he actually had to stay in the back room and then during the daytime learn his English at the same time.
20:46 Interviewer: And what was the business?
20:47 Chong: Dry goods, like herbal stuff, teapots, things that you could easily preserve and maintain well. From the China. Goods.
20:58 Interviewer: So from, then your father, was born in San Francisco?
21:04 Chong: No. He was actually born – because the sad thing, as you may know is, the federal government the American people only welcomed the Chinese to do work. They were considered guest workers. You could not have a – what you call – permanent residence. They were cruelly discriminated by law and in society. And the cruelest thing was, you could not bring your wives, you could not bring your children – unless you were a merchant.
21:33 And you had a circumstance of a bachelors’ society created out of that and that drove the single men into gambling, prostitution, all kinds of – other illicit. I think that they needed a way to relieve the tedium, the boredom. Imagine 10 guys, out of 10 guys, there were only one woman available. So you can see the circumstances of that, the angst of the men, longing for the wives, for the children. It was not, I would call, an ideal way to live here in Gold Mountain. Ê
22:08 Interviewer: So about your father’s generation.
22:13 Chong: That’s Generation 42. My father Gim Suey Chong, it was his turn to go to Gold Mountain. At age of almost 10 years old, he left in 1932 to go to Gold Mountain via Hong Kong on the Empress of Asia and arrive in around late April 1932 on the Empress of Asia at the Port of Vancouver. From Vancouver, he went across Canada on the imperial train across the plains of Canada and took a boat from Yarmouth in Canada, Nova Scotia and arrived in Boston in 1932.
22:55 Well at that time, my grandfather, Moi Chung, had established a business called Imperial Restaurant over in Central Square in Cambridge. Because of the legacy of my great-grandfather, great-grandfather, the connection to money, he was established a white table restaurant, catering to the Anglo-Saxon market near MIT. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I have pictures of that too. I have a story about that too, separate from that.
23:27 Interviewer: Then, how did he come to San Francisco, or why did he?
23:32 Chong: Well, during the Great Depression, it was a struggle to have a – to survive in business, for their restaurant. Eventually by 1936, my grandfather had to close the business or sell the business. Because of the family connections, my father and grandfather left Boston to Los Angeles to go to a friend’s, a cousin’s place, called the Yuk Hong Lo Chop Suey Cafe in Little Tokyo Los Angeles. Another different story from that. But, the key thing – they were clan members from the same village. They are all related. They all protect each other, they support each other.
24:12 So by that time, my father and grandfather were living in Little Tokyo, surviving at that time. My grandfather was a bartender, waiter at that time. And eventually, we connected to the Far East Cafe, the one in Los Angeles, it’s very famous because, again, village clan members were from that. We all support each other and that’s how from there Los Angeles came about. Then eventually, my father, Gim Suey Chong, graduated from Belmont High School in 1940.
24:46 World War II came about, he became an aircraft mechanic for the China Clipper. He went to San Francisco in 1943 to become a mechanic on Treasure Island, right over here, serving the seaplanes during the World War II. So that was the initial connection he got back to San Francisco. He went to Hawaii around 1944, over at Pearl Naval Air Station at that time. And he went back eventually up to San Francisco to work down here in Millbrae, which became San Francisco International Port, serving the seaplanes at that time.
25:27 Then after, when the war ended in World War II in December 1945, he had free time to figure out what to do next in San Francisco. So he became a junior partner of a nightclub called the Kubla Khan. Did a restaurant at the gateway of Chinatown on Bush at Grant, with the irrepressible Eddie Pond. So my father worked as a waiter, bartender for Eddie Pond from 1946 to 1950 as a junior partner of Eddie Pond at that time.
26:03 Interviewer: So was Eddie Pond part of this clan?
26:07 Chong: No. He was just a guy who was born in Macau via to Hong Kong. Portuguese Chinese extraction. He arrived here in America around 1923 with money because his family had a monopoly in the rickshaw trade in Hong Kong, like here you have a monopoly for taxi cabs, well, they had monopoly of rickshaw. Because they are well off in Hong Kong, they send their son, Eddie Pond, to Gold Mountain at that time.
26:37 Interviewer: So your father was his partner?
26:40 Chong: Yes.
26:41 Interviewer: And it was also a very successful spot, wasn’t it?
26:45 Chong: It was for a time. Especially during the heyday of World War II, a lot of people, soldiers, Navy people, celebrities going through Chinatown. And it was a coming scene. You got dancers, singers, and strippers. You got chop suey cuisine, great time, entertainment, three night shows a week, plenty good food. It was a place to be, here in Chinatown, back in the 1940s.
27:14 Interviewer: So, you were born San Francisco.
27:17 Chong: No, I was not. Eventually because the Kubla Khan failed or went bankrupt in 1950, my father went back to Los Angeles and he lived in Los Angeles Chinatown near the famous Little Joe’s Italian restaurant on Broadway with my, with my grandfather near the heart of Chinatown in 1950. He went back and he worked for Lockheed Aircraft Company in Burbank as the aircraft mechanic. He already had the skills as the mechanic for the China Clipper plane, so he worked for Lockheed. But during the weekends, he worked for the Far East Cafe, serving the best China meshi [to mean Cantonese dishes in Chong’s memory, more likely a Japanese reading of the hanzi ?], a Japanese version of chop suey, of the era in Little Tokyo. So because of the connection he had, he worked there.
28:11 Interviewer: And then you were born, okay.
28:13 Chong: Yes. And I was born, myself, in a French Hospital on Broadway in Chinatown in Los Angeles, in Los Angeles Chinatown. So that was where I was born.
28:31 But for myself, I grew up as your typical all-American kid. I lived, actually lived in Barrio of East Los Angeles, so it mostly more Hispanic flavor, more tone to that. I went to the family gatherings, the Chinese New Year celebrations, the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Family Association Annual Dinners but during that time, to me, it was just a party.
29:00 And to me, I hated to go there because they were talking in gibberish, in their Hoipingwaa, I thought, it was not very, it was backwards, ancient. I were embarrassed to be among them because it was just to be, it didn’t feel right to be American, to be associated with that – at that time, when I was growing up.
29:20 Interviewer: And then your mother, was she born here in the United States?
29:23 Chong: She was actually born pretty close to my father’s village. She’s from the Yee association, I mean Yee clan in that area and that’s a different story too. When my grandfather on my father’s – on my mother side – Sun Yoke Tong arrived in 1921 through a paper son arrangement too. So.
29:45 Interviewer: So you have a brother? Your own family?
29:49 Chong: Oh yeah, I have a younger brother, named Michael George Chong. He was born the same year I was born but we’re not twins. Okay? Let me clarify that point. I was born January 56. He was born December 56. So he knows our story a little bit but I know the most story.
30:05 Interviewer: When you were growing up, were you aware of all of the Chinese being pioneers in America?
30:14 Chong: Vaguely by – the – reading the history books. I knew about it. But as I was, as I mentioned before, it was – for my elders, my father and above that, these were deep dark secrets that they could not tell. They were paper sons. There are sad stories. Why would they want to share all this bad situation, why would they want to tell – bring shame to the family. I did not know my father was a paper son. I did not know my grandfather had a first wife. I didn’t know anything about my great-grandfather being an opium den owner or a gambling hall owner. I did not know my great-great-grandfather was a railroad worker. I knew nothing at that time, until, since the past 10 years in this journey of discovery of my roots.
31:10 Interviewer: I would like to ask you a question about your journey and if you felt there was any connection in the village that you went to and, you know, surrounding area to the Transcontinental Railroad. Was there – are there any legends of people, of the workers coming back and wanting to build the railroad in China? The *Sunning* railroad?
31:31 Chong: I am familiar with that story but I don’t know whether it’s just contacts – connection of that. I don’t know – have that background at all.
31:39 Interviewer: Were there other families that also have family members who would come here to build the railroad from your village?
31:45 Chong: No. It’s only my great-great-grandfather and my, the other gentleman. Those were the two confirmed, direct connection from the village itself. There might be some other people around the village like. At that time, in 1865, it was my great-great-grandfather and my best friend’s grandfather with two other guys left around 1865 as a part of a contract to work in Gold Mountain as railroad workers.
32:14 Interviewer: Is there a sense of the importance of the, the railroad in America in the villages? I mean did you feel that when you talked about your great-great-grandfather working on the railroad was there any recognition among the people today? That this was important, that this was American and global?
32:38 Chong: I think the recognition is recognized by the older generations who are dying out. They were directly associated with those people who went to the Transcontinental Railroad to work there. But over the next generation it fades away, fades away. There’s a lack of documentation, there’s a lack of physical evidence. It dies with the next elder. Over the past six, seven years, as I have gone to the village, I say, “where is he now? The next elder?” “Oh, he’s gone.” The next year a different elder is gone. But I’m fortunate to know my, my father’s best friend. He’s still alive. He’s a principled man who has related whole story, of the Transcontinental Railroad story. He may not be exact because of context of the years, the time, it’s faded away, but these are oral stories. It’s the only – what do you call it – true physical evidence that we have in my village per se of that time, that era.
33:41 Interviewer: Did you ever record him telling that story?
33:44 Chong: Yes, I do. It’s in that video tape.
33:46 Interviewer: It’s in the video.
33:48 Chong: We have traces of that. He, he’s pretty colorful guy. He loves to talk.
33:53 Interviewer: What is his name?
33:55 Chong: *Yum Yoom Sum**
33:56 Interviewer: Okay, I have to write that down.
33:57 Chong: Yes. I have that.
34:01 Okay. During the course of my journey, I had many memorable moments. When I first went to my house in Long Gang Li, I went up to the loft, and there was a – a cabinet of dishes. Among the dishes, I found the wedding dishes of my grandfather and grandmother that was inscribed with some characters in 1921. This is the dish of their wedding in December 1921. To find that treasure.
34:40 Interviewer: Actually it looks like an antique.
34:44 Chong: It does.
34:45 Interviewer: Even older than 1921.
34:47 Chong: I cannot, I’m not versed in this type of stuff. But all I know is that I know there’s a inscription there and that’s from that wedding. In my recent trip, I found this picture here in an old traveler wood box that was sitting there for I would say 80 years in my cousin’s house – the 7th house on the 6th alley. This picture here, I had it restored. But when I found it, it was very worn, it was faded, there was a lot of marks. But I found it in that wood box, and it was right in the box – imagine sitting there for 80 years. This gentleman in the, in the Chinese gown, is related to the second line of the family. He is my grand-uncle. So the gentleman on the – on to your right – Êis the relative. The gentleman to the left, to you, most likely because of his western suit, a Fallen Leaf, a Gold Mountain man. So that’s some kind of village connection right there that picture. And this was found last month, last October 2013. So that’s, that’s a story by itself.
36:18 And then, on May 8th, 2009, on, at Friday, late Spring of May 2009, I went back to the village, to Long Gang Li. To do what you call – Cing Ming – which is to honor one’s ancestors. Not for me to worship, but to honor the generations. Within that cluster of graves are five generations of my clan, dating to, I would say the 17th century. Five generations, including Bein Yiu Chung. Including Pi Lun Chung [Hoy Lun Chung]. They are buried there, here, in that village near, in this ancestral hill. The Hill of the Flying Swan.
37:12 And from that moment, then, from May 8th, 2009, I had this subliminal moment where I was thinking in Kaipinghua. I was speaking in my tongue. I dreamt in Kaipinghua. A hundred percent. So absorbed, in that moment. And from that moment on, I’ve been writing poetry, over a thousand poems, as of today. Before that, not a single poem at all. But since moving forward from May 2009, I’ve been, you could say, obsessed with poetry, kind of reflection, inner, introspection of myself, poetry in love and ancestral thinking.
38:07 And this one here. This is a part of my journey up to ten years. Whether it’s in China or in America. This steel box may look like a piece of junk, a rusted steel box, but it has a box full of memories. This box was my father’s locker box back in the forties, when he was living in San Francisco working for Pan-American Airlines for the China seaplane, and also when he was working at Kubla Khan. And this was his box – he left with my aunt in 1950. She kept it in her bedroom for 58 years. It just sat there in her bedroom. She died.
39:09 One fall night in 2008, I was reunited with my relatives on the second-line of the family. My cousin, from the first line, said, “Hey, Ray! This is a box that has been sitting here for 58 years. Your father left it in 1950.” Fifty-eight years later. That very night, I pick up the box. This box right here, from my cousin. Nobody had opened it up for 58 years.
39:40 When I opened the box, I found a slice of my father’s life. I found his paper son certificate, certificate of identity. I found a picture in his prime, of him around 1994 Hawaii. You see how vigorous, youthful he was. Handsome, at that time. I found a picture of him working for Pan Am as a mechanic. These are blown up pictures. They are very tiny pictures, but I blew it up.
40:47 And on top of that, in this box, I found a business card of the Far East Cafe in Little Tokyo. Again, these are the connections, in the very little box right here that I was able to create more of a story about my father’s life. It may be junk to other people, but it’s precious treasure.
41:10 The moment, when I opened the box at the  at Embarcadero that fall evening, I cried. This. Because my father died in 1979. This is a fast-forward 29 years later, my father never told me any of these stories – these sub-stories. So, shell-stunned. First, because I had a reunion with the second line of the family. Met them for the very first time. That was in itself a subliminal moment to be there. But on top of that, I had a bonus moment by having my father’s steel box.
41:56 Interviewer: I think that’s very very Ð
41:59 Chong: Yeah. Well, during this past 10 years I’ve been discovering lot of interesting stuff. For example, this picture here is the photo of my grandfather’s Imperial Restaurant in Central Square in Cambridge. The Imperial Restaurant on the second floor. I found out through the Boston National Historical Society. That’s one example of my research. And over time I’ve been able to figure out pictures of my father. This was when he was going to school in Glendale to become an aircraft mechanic. And you can see among the pictures of his fellow students were mostly of Anglo-Saxon background. And he’s there, right there, in this particular picture in 1943.
42:44 Of course you were mentioning about the National Archives being a treasure trove of information. These are the picture – to the left of me is my grandfather, Moi Chung. To my right is my father in 1932. So these are precious pictures from that era. And here are – I mentioned, I was mentioning about Chinatown – I mean, or – Japantown. And these two pictures, one to my left, you see Ya Kong Lo or Ni Kong Lo, this is when they arrive in 1936, in Lost Angeles from Boston. To my right is the famous Far East Cafe. The shot was in 1942.
43:27 And this picture here is my father’s all Chinese crew working on the China Sea Clippers – seaplane. The gentleman in the cap, Lee Li Yang, that’s another story. This picture was taken in 1943, in Treasure Island, right here. Six years later, I bump into him by accident at a friend’s birthday party. I was looking for some connection and he mentioned, “oh, I’m that guy in that cap.” He knew about this picture. Lee Li Yang, he knew my father. This is six years later, after this picture was taken.
44:07 Of course, my father’s heyday was at the Kubla Khan. He did a restaurant. To my left is a typical scene of the wonderful wood, on the wood floor, Eddie Pond, the glorious dancers and their act. And to my right, sitting down in my father was a fellow waiter in 1946-47. See that.
44:34 But the connection here is the Zoeng, the surname of our family that is – ties me from here, America, to China, to the Village of the Dragon Hill. The Zoeng family. This is my surname and that’s very important connection now here.
44:56 Interviewer: Could you talk about your life? What do you do now?
44:58 Chong: Well, right now, my background, I am a graduate of University of Southern California, bachelor’s, a graduate of San Jose State University with a master’s. I’m a civil engineer by profession, working in the City of Corpus Christi in Texas as a city traffic engineer. And the course of my life, I’ve been in many other adventures, one is running a nonprofit organization here in Oakland Chinatown for 10 years.
45:23 But now, I’m more recently involved in creating product – poetry books. My intent now at this moment is to write an epic novel of a family saga, five generations of men, between China and America. That is my dream and eventually, a film. [unclear] Roots. Our Chinese version of Roots. Okay.
45:49 Interviewer: Done? Thank you. That was really wonderful. Thank you so much. Thank you.
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