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Sylvia Lim Tsang

Great-granddaughter of Lim Lip Hong

Interviewee: Sylvia Lim Tsang (Great-granddaughter of Lim Lip Hong)
Interviewer: Connie Young Yu and Barre Fong
Date: March 26, 2013
Location: San Francisco, California
Length of the Interview: 27 minutes, 41 seconds

00:10 Sylvia Lim Tsang: Okay. I’m Sylvia Lim Tsang, I’m the 4th generation of Lim Lip Hong family. I’m descended from Lim Lip Hong’s first son, Lim Sing, and his son, Kwong Lim. What else? I was born here in San Francisco. And interestingly enough, my mother’s address was listed on my birth certificate as the address in Potrero, Potrero Valley, uh, Potrero Hill. And, uh, it was the 123 – 1243 or 1234 Minnesota Street. And so I think that was the time when they sold that house and move to Berkeley.
01:07 Um, I think they moved probably when I was about 1. That would be 1943. And, um, the brothers all got together to buy two houses in, in Berkeley. One was my father’s house and one was for the our grandparents – Lim Sing and his wife. And my mother went into the hospital with TB when I was just under two. And so I lived with my grandmother and my grandfather, Lim Sing and his wife, on Stanage Avenue in Berkeley, and I lived there until I was five. And I don’t remember anything.
01:59 And, well, I do remember a story that Vic already touched on. It was about the Lim Lip Hong living on the farm, in, in San Francisco and on Potrero Hill. And, uh, when, when Lim Sing got married, and Lim Lip Hong brought, no, wait, brought his wife and the lived with Lim Sing in the house. And Vic said, she was a bitch. And one of my other aunts said that he was, uh, a ne’er-do-well. Lim Lip Hong was, he actually worked for people now and then, but he never did any of the work on the farm. Auntie Fan said that all he did was smoke opium in the backyard. And so finally, my grandmother, Lim Sing’s wife, um, kicked him out, kicked him over to Berkeley where Lim Sing’s other brothers lived.
03:14 And, um, there are all kinds of stories about Lim Lip Hong’s wife, living with Lim Sing and his wife. And one of them is that she lived downstairs, I guess, Lim Sing’s family lived on the second floor and she lived below that. And in those days the floors didn’t have sub-floors. And my Auntie Jane remembers that Grandma would be getting ready to leave the house and she would get a big pail of hot water to clean the floors before she left because she, you know, she had to leave to let the floors dry. So she sloshed the water all over the floor, knowing that it was going downstairs. It was kind of a revenge for the way she was treated by her mother-in-law.
04:22 Oh, okay. Um, the house they lived in, on Minnesota Street, was moved to a piece of property given to my grandfather by Tubbs. I can’t remember which Tubbs. There are two Tubbs brothers. It was Tubbs Cordage, the factory was right there. They made those huge cables for ships and they were that big round *hand gesture*. And, uh, Mr. Tubbs, evidently liked my grandfather so much that he gave him a piece of land at the house is moved over to that piece of land. And later on when some of the other brothers were getting older and, you know, having families, my grandfather built another house on that same property or right next door. And I have pictures of that. And one of the brothers lived in that, another brother lived upstairs and I don’t know where the third brother lived – there were four of them. Oh, the third brother I guess was Uncle Arthur, I guess. He was, he went to, I guess he went to China. Yeah. So after, just before the war started, they sold those houses and they hadn’t, by that time, you know, they didn’t have much money anymore. And so the brothers Alan and Roy and my father Kwong got together and bought two houses in Berkeley. And that’s when they moved over to Berkeley. It’s when I was probably about 1. At that time, I think my father was already in the service as a flight surgeon. And that was when Vic’s dad flew him home, kidnapped the plane and flew him home to see my mother. And anyway, the house, the houses were sold. I’d like to see the property records on those, because property had to transfer from Tubbs to my grandfather at some time.
06:33 So I lived with them for five years, no four years or something like that. And I remember our grandmother, Lim Sing’s wife more than I remember my grandfather, because he died when I was about five. And I remember her sitting on a chair in the living room with me in her lap, telling me all kinds of stories. They were, you know, the Chinese Legends. And one story that I recognized from hearing more recently was the story of Baak Sou-zing, the White Snake Lady, the one that turned into a white snake. And I don’t remember the story that well, but I remember, you know, the parts of it that I heard from my grandmother. And I heard a lot of legends which I don’t remember, a lot of fairy tales.
07:33 And um, I remember that my grandfather was not well at that time. And he liked to smoke in the house. And grandma wouldn’t let him do that. And so she’d send him out to the garage. And he’d smoke out there and he’d play solitaire. So I guess when I got in her hair, she’d send me out there. I’d sit on his lap and he taught me how to play Solitaire, that one that looks like a Christmas tree and you take off cards.
08:08 Um, and, uh, I remember when he would leave for work, he would walk down Stanage Avenue, on down the side street there, onto Stan – San Pablo Avenue, and he’d take a bus over to Oakland, I guess it’s – I can’t remember the street – 40th or something like – in Oakland, where the train was and take that to San Francisco. And then he’d go to work at the Far East Cafe. And as he left, my grandmother would be tying my shoes and sending me out the front door to run after him. And every single day, I remember running after him, catching him by the legs, and saying, “be sure to bring home the filet.” Meaning the fillet mignon I guess, and of course, grandma said “phi-di,” “bring home the phi-di.”
09:13 After my grandfather died, grandma had a stroke. And I don’t know exactly when that was. She had one stroke and she still stayed in that house on Stanage. And then she had, a little bigger – I think she had three altogether – and Vic might remember that. The first one she stayed in the house. And my dad and I lived across the street from my – this is after the war – my mother was still in the sanitarium at that time. And, uh, after the second stroke, she moved in with my Uncle Alan and Aunt Lily – that’s Vic’s parents – in El Cerrito. And she lived there and, but I was going to school by then, grammar school. And that was Franklin School in Berkeley. And after school, the black lady who took care of me would take me on the bus over to Vic’s House. And I’d stay there until after dinner, my dad would come home probably about 9, 10 o’clock. Everybody’d be asleep and he’d pick me up, put me in the car and bring me back to Stanage Street, or Stanage Avenue, whatever it was. And that went on for years and years. I went to Vic’s House for childcare, that’s what it was. And my Aunt Lily took care of me and she basically raised me. I cook like her and I eat like her. Most, most kids, you know, they eat the way their mothers eat, that’s what Auntie Lily always told me. And so my kids eat the way I eat, but I eat the Auntie Lily eats.
11:09 I guess my mother came home when I was about 12 or 13. It’s a really bad time for a mother to get together with a daughter. We didn’t get along very well. Um. Went to high school in Berkeley, I went to Cal Berkeley. I didn’t graduate. Um, then I married Wally Tsang. Oh, that’s a story too. My dad, when he came home from the War, was looking around for a practice. A medical practice. And James Hall, Dr. James Hall, talked to him, and they kind of made an agreement to go into business together, but my grandfather, Lim Sing, warned my dad against it, and said that that guy’s a crook. And so they went into business together but they did not form a partnership. And when Dr. Hall is exposed as having cheated my dad out a lot of money by the, one of the nurses – she was the one that told my dad about it – they broke up and he started his own practice in Chinatown. And it was in, it was on Jackson Street. And James Hall’s office was on the downhill side of the building. Henry Tsang’s office was on the uphill side of the building. And they were just two offices right there on Jackson Street. So my dad moved over to Henry Tsang’s side and they shared the office. Shared the other office then. And Henry Tsang was a great golfer. And now and then, my dad would go and play golf with them too. And families got to know each other. And that’s how I met Wally. It was not an arranged marriage. Wally is way too old for me.
13:36 Um, let’s see, and then, I have four kids. We moved down to Saratoga, or Santa Clara, after the – Wally was in the Air Force too. And what did we do? Oh, we were in Massachusetts for 2 years, came back to Santa Clara, I had four kids, we moved to Saratoga. When we were in Santa Clara, Connie’s and my kids all went to nursery school together. We carpooled, we were only about 2 blocks away from Connie. And that’s how our kids know each other. Um, one year, three of us. Connie and Faye Chang and I each had a baby, they were all boys, and it was – my son was Jeffrey, Connie’s was Marty and then Faye’s was Robert – and we got pictures of them sitting together on a sofa. Then we move to Saratoga. And my favorite way describing the family was we had two cats, three dogs, four snakes and five kids including Wally. And we were there, we’ve been there for 40 years. What else is there to say.
15:02 Connie Young Yu: Talk about your son Brian going to Stanford?
15:05 Tsang: Oh, my son Brian went to Stanford with Connie’s Jennifer. Well, they went to nursery school together first. And then, they were at Stanford together. And Jessica also went to Stanford but my Karen went to Santa Cruz. And Jeffrey went to Berkeley. And David was supposed to go to Davis that he took his own life when he was 23. And, that’s, uh, you know –
15:42 Yu: We have a third-generation doctor in your family.
15:48 Tsang: Yes, aha, a third-generation doctor, Brian. And he’s in Massachusetts. He’s an emergency room surgeon, I mean, not surgeon, emergency room doctor. And he built a house out there and I don’t know if he’s ever coming home to California.
16:09 Yu: I was thinking about the spirit of Chinatown. I always felt that you were very – you had a lot of the Chinese American culture.
16:17 Tsang: Yeah, having lived with my grandparents, I do speak Chinese. Though my vocabulary is not all that good, I can speak everyday Chinese. I couldn’t, I would never be able to listen to the news. And tried to start teaching my kids a little Chinese and sent them to Chinese school for a little while and they hated it and so didn’t send them anymore. And then later on, when we went to China in 1995 and took Jeffrey with us, or rather, he took us to Nepal first and we met him in Nepal and then we went to China with Jeffrey, and we went to the village where our grandfather, my great-grandfather came from – Lim Lip Hong. And the area is just absolutely beautiful. It’s like Highway 49 in California, in the Gold Country, the windy highway that goes quite a bit, quite a distance down California. And it was just hills and green trees, rivers, it was just absolutely spectacular. And so my son Jeffrey who had just gotten out of college and worked for one year said, “I’m going to retire here.” He hadn’t even started working yet. He loved the area, but now he’s back here and –
17:48 Yu: They have a sense of their ancestry-
17:51 Tsang: Yes, they did. And while we were there, he was impressed that Wally and I could speak to these, the people in the village. And he says, why didn’t you force us to go to Chinese school? There’s no forcing a kid to go to a school he felt ostracized at because he could not speak that well. And he had only a few words of Chinese and definitely wasn’t going to learn how to write it. So, but I think that’s the, the thought a lot of generations of Chinese have is why didn’t I learn more. And, I could have learned to write but I decided to go fishing with my dad instead. Because he went fishing on Wednesdays, Wednesdays was when Chinese school was in Berkeley.
18:47 Yu: So this village was in Toishan-
18:51 Tsang: Yeah, it was in, it was, what’s the name of it – **Chak Sui** – I can’t remember rest of the name. It was named **Chak Sui** and we went there and we walked around awhile. And we saw the school there and watched all the little kids coming out of school. And Jeffrey listening in all babbling in Chinese and wishing he could understand them. And then we went to Wally’s village, to his family’s village, and it was all semi-industrialized. It had been taken over by factories and things and it was just not as pretty as **Chak Sui** was. Actually, Andrea found out recently that – was it you that found out or – one of our other cousins found out that it was not exactly in **Chak Sui** that our great-grandfather came from but, uh, **Dailong** something Road.
19:59 And so, um, bringing back to my life, my daughter was married to a young man and then they got divorced. And she had a Mexican boyfriend who was here illegally and she went down to Mexico to be with him and she was there 6 weeks and they murdered – she was murdered by most likely the boyfriend, because her bank account was cleaned out. And so I’ve lost two children.
20:40 My Jeffrey, Brian is a doctor and Jeffrey is an educator. He started out being a lawyer and then burned out on that. And now, he’s, he was an educator for 6 years, I think it was. He was a principal of a charter school in New York City, in the Bronx. And, uh, he was the administrator there. And now he’s come home to California and he’s working for an education company. And, we’re still in Saratoga.
21:24 Yu: Do you feel that Jeffery has carried on this oral history?
21:31 Tsang: Oh, he is so interested in it. He’s the one that’s more interested in the history than I am. And he just sent me an article from some newspaper about how families are closer if they know their history. And that’s why he’s always asking me to write things down. And Vic was talking about a computer that has voice recognition – that would be much easier. But Brian is not so interested. He’s gotten out of it because he was never a history person in the first place. Um, he’s married to a Filipino girl or woman and Jeffrey is married to a French woman. And they have, my, I have three grandchildren. Two in Massachusetts and one here. And that brings us up to date.
22:40 Yu: I love the fact you went to the Village. And then you know, they knew the name of their ancestors, Lim Lip Hong.
22:44 Tsang: We went to the Village. Yeah. Oh yes, it was, yes, right. And when we were there, we heard that there was another Lim on the other side of the village that we couldn’t get to, because there was a river in between, um, who was **Lum Look, no, Lum Loon something or other.** Vic’s father and my father are **Lum Loon Fat,** **Lum Loon Kwong,** and the older brother is **Lum Loon Guai,** and this man had to be related if his son – if his name was **Loon** also. Because of the way they named. Okay, he was retirement age, on the other side of the river there.
23:36 Yu: I want you to say something about the, you know, Lim Lip Hong coming from that Village to seek his fortune in America because Toishan was impoverished during those years. What -?
23:50 Tsang: Yes. I don’t know much about it, but I do know that he came, he left the Village probably because he was not the first son. Because number one son always gets the land and the business. And number two son usually, what, goes in to military, I think, that’s what they say. And then number three son has got to fend for himself. So Lim Lip Hong was probably the number three or further down the line. And Vic talked about him coming over here and having an Indian family. I very much regret that I knew about that family too and my Auntie Fan, actually knew who they were, and I never asked her. Which was, just so, you know, stupid. That what it was. The reason that not all of the family know about this Indian wife, it turns out that Lim Sing’s two older sisters’ families knew about her and Lim Sing knew about her. But I got a hunch that Lim Lip Hong’s wife didn’t like him talking about them and so nobody ever heard about it, them again.
25:19 Fong: So, I’ve been asking this question to everybody that has gone back to the village, when you were there, did you, did it give you a chance to reflect about, what it would have been like had your great-grandfather not, your grandfather decided to not to -?
25:38 Tsang: I didn’t reflect on it until afterwards. When we came home, I realized, you know, what a hard life that would have been, because the little, the little houses were no bigger than this room. And I don’t know how many members of families lived in each one of these little houses. There were lots of little children around. But they were dark, they were built of stone, there were no sidewalks – it was on mud in-between all the houses. Well, it wasn’t mud then, it was dry but it was probably mud when it rained. It would have been a hard life, if he hadn’t come here. And I’m happy that he did, because I wouldn’t be here. You know, there’s so many things that could have happened. He could have married somebody back there that – and she wouldn’t have been such a bitch to the grandmother, or to her daughters-in-law, and things like that. There wouldn’t have been so many good stories either.
27:18 Okay, one more story was that our grandfather, Lim Sing, was a well-to-do and he was the only one of the Lim Family Association who was born here. And nobody else could buy property. So he bought a house or a building in Chinatown. And it was with the money of the Lim Family Association. And he was trusted enough that they gave him all this, all this money. And he bought the building, then the, the title was in his name alone. And years afterwards, I guess when, when they did something or other that the Chinese could buy land and property, he transferred it back to the Lim Family Association. And you want to know when we went to China? It was in 1995. Yeah.

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