Sunday, November 29, 2015

Chinatown Neighborhood Council Election

Today from 9-5 is the election for the Chinatown Neighborhood Council at 61 Harrison Avenue.
"Are there write-ins?" I asked Felix Lui, who I know through playing Chinese dulcimer and is running unopposed. "I was going to vote for myself." 
"Sure you can try." 
"There's a sample Ballot." said Pamela Lee who is number four on the ballot.

I voted for both of them in their categories because I know Felix and even though I don't know Pamela, she was standing right there. I wrote myself in for two categories. "Other" and "Organization." I believe I should qualify for organization through my work with Woo Ching White Crane and the Kung Fu Federation. 

Here is a picture of Pamela and Felix. They told me I could interview them later so I will get their entire story in later posts. 

So what does the CNC do anyway?

Felix answered, "Mostly it is a way for the community to have a line to the city.  (The issues are) development, liquor licenses, and some of these clubs opening down here are kind of crazy.... the meetings are every second Monday of the month at the CCBA (that's the same building as the Library and Woo Ching White Crane on 90 Tyler Street) at 6pm."

It's open to the public?

"Yeah you can come." Felix said. 

What about the CCBA election? Do you know anything about that?

"That's this Tuesday."

Holy Crap that had snuck up on me. The CCBA election has always seemed to be more important somehow in my little Chinatown world. Not everyone can vote, only the businesses, family organizations and non-profits that belong to it. For instance the Wang YMCA has a vote on it. But I have to really find out more details. 

Of the other categories of people where I couldn't vote I ended up voting for Nick Chau, who ran unopposed. I might know him if I saw him, but actually I just felt like ticking off the box for fun.  Some say that this election, and even elections in general are an exercise in futility. I like to think of them as a ritual and a way to organize. For instance, I see a lot of people post stuff on Facebook about protesting or boycotting, or taking up arms etc. Election are not just about choosing a leader or a council or whatever. They are like a show of force. A protest that is 100% sanctioned by society and is a way to show you are organized. For instance, if a group of people can't even turn out to vote, it doesn't really matter how many legal or illegal guns they have at home. They will unable to organize into any sort of militia. However if a group of people who regularly turn out and are involved.. they already have leaders and organizations and a means to rise up. So you have to take that group seriously.

White Americans may surprised to know that elections are actually very important to Chinese Culture. The underground rebels groups had them even in the Qing Dynasty. And it is this type of "power to the people" that is organized and quiet and functions within society that Chinese people show their force. (Yes I'm generalizing but let me use a story that is in a lot of older Chinese men's minds.) 

When the British (or maybe some other foreign group I forget) attacked Guangzhou the Qing army made a terrible show of it and actually just dropped their weapons and ran. It was the regular people who ended up fighting back and repulsing them. Some government people asked why this was possible. The response was that the people practiced Kung Fu and that's why they were organized. (They were also organized as the Triads but at that time Kung Fu and Triads were probably just one in the same whereas there is some distinction now. Triads were the ones that held elections etc.) At one point Kung Fu had sort of been illegal under the Qing government, or any type of gathering for that matter. Then it was kind of just legal, but after this incident the government actually promoted and encouraged Kung Fu. Even now there seems to be this patriotic thing about Kung Fu in regards to Ethnic Chinese Pride. Kind of like Sports for Americans. The American Flag is very prominent at Baseball and Football games. (And back in the day the Confederate Flag was very prominent in southern Football games. Look at some old footage.) The Civil Rights movement was largely about voting rights. And even when Blacks couldn't vote, it was showing up en mass to protest peacefully that brought change. 

90% of Kung Fu (or taking up arms) is just showing up regularly.... and that's what voting is. Just showing up and checking a box. 

And an election is a perfectly safe way to show that your group of people, are organized.  Plus you can get baos or noodles afterwards.

Now for a modern story. 

A Taiwanese friend of mine, a woman, flew back to Taiwan to vote in the election because she didn't like the opposition leader or something. Now she didn't fly back just to vote.... she had family to visit etc. But she did make sure voting was part of her visit. 

All this stuff went through my head on my trip back to JP. 

Any Asian in Massachusetts can vote in this Chinatown Neighborhood council election. And any Chinatown resident of any race. I voted for myself in the "Other" and "organization" category. I hope everyone will go vote (and buy something in Chinatown afterwards) and consider writing me in on the categories that I qualify for. Maybe I'll even win. If not... I probably will still behave as if I did. 

After this election we get to talk about the CCBA election, which is even more fun in some ways. 
 Share and give me ideas in the comments. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The CCBA Library is freakin Awesome

We stopped by Moh Goon and nobody was there, so I just made Shao do his sup ji and stick forms in the hallway, and started him on his new form. Since it was raining outside I couldn't bring him to the dinosaur park (the one I clean on Wednesdays) so instead we checked out the Library on the CCBA's first floor. (notice how everything I do for the Chinatown community somehow helps me directly. But that just means more people have to help themselves by helping the community) The children's section got a lot bigger and better and there is even a cataloging system. But personally I'm not interested in taking books out, just reading them to Noah to pass the time. We read Captain Underpants quietly while too old Chinese men read newspapers.

What a great thing to have on a rainy day. I know you can access anything via internet if you live in Tai Tung, and it's pretty easy to get to the Central Branch Library. But say you're kind of trapped on a rainy day after Yum cha or something or you want a change of scenery, CCBA's library is a great place to go.

I really have to start a story time there or something. (or someone should. Preferably someone who can read English and Chinese) I mean, wouldn't it even be cool to have one of those Jin Yong aka Louis Cha,  Kung Fu novels read to you in Chinese?

Henry Yee

I was told that if I was going to do this blog, I had to interview Henry Yee. aka "Yee ji jik." (Chairman Yee) to anyone who passed through Woo Ching White Crane and the Kung Fu Federation. Everyone in Chinatown sort of knows Henry Yee on some level. "He was old when I was a kid." Mentioned a friend of mine who is a generation above me.

His voice is a very distinct high pitched and yes annoying voice. And it is everywhere. When I was a teenager it was telling me inside the lion head  "No don't throw away the orange give it over here." (come to think of it, his voice pierced right through the sound of the drum gong and cymbals.) Or, "Come help me post up flyers." which meant running around Tai Tung village.

That might be an interesting story to white people. People at my fancy prep school often wondered how to gain access to apartment buildings without a key. So easy. You push all the intercom buttons. Using fingers is too slow so we often utilized the bottoms of our sneakers in Kung Fu kicks which pushed many intercom buttons at once. It only takes one person to let us in. We would open the door to hear confused, "Wai Wai?  Ah sui ah?" from old Taishanese ladies.

Even boyscout work in Chinatown is done with Gu wak jai style. 

This is where I would learn that the elevator only stops on every 5th floor. So if you are a Senior Citizen that lives on the 12th floor, you have a choice. You can take the elevator and to the tenth floor and walk up two flights. Or you can take the elevator to the 15th floor and walk down to flights.

"It's not that bad," people will tell you, "They make sure the really old people live on a floor with elevator access." Indeed this may be the secret to old Chinese longevity.. the need to use stairs and calculate the easiest way to get home depending on distance vs. work.

But seriously, ask anyone OUTSIDE of Chinatown or this little Tai Tung world if they think it is normal for an elevator to stop on every 5th floor and they will think you are pulling their leg. They won't believe you. They will wait patiently for the punch line or the math problem you are about to give them. Shoot. Maybe that should be a tourist attraction. Does anyone know of ANOTHER group of buildings in the United States that has an elevator that only stops on every 5th floor?

Anyway, back to stuff Mr. Yee would make me do as a teenager.

  "Move this giant refrigerator that is no longer being used as a refrigerator but being used as a book shelf." I think I went to Chinese school with his granddaughter. I think she was even  older than me.

The point is he is old. And old people know everything that's gone on in a personal level. They lived it. Whereas I only heard or read about it. And Henry Yee not only lived it, but was involved in protesting and organizing the whole way through.

But old people are also senile.  I am told, that way back when, before I even joined Woo Ching White Crane, that Henry Yee was clear minded. He says he is 87 years old, and he is still a major figure at all the community events, going to protests, testifying etc. He's pretty strong fr that age. Independent. But since I was a teenager, he was always sort of idiosyncratic and strange, and telling me what to do in that old person kind of way.

Henry Yee came Boston from Hong Kong in 1966. He did restaurant work he didn't (and doesn't) speak English. "Da Jahp" bus boy? "Che Yi" Is that pushing dim sum carts? He lived on #6 Hudson Street before it was torn down. (So he was one of the people that actually got displaced and then moved into Tai Tung.
His wife worked  sewing clothes in a garment factory. Henry Yee was not that strong in body and the restaurant work almost killed him. He had a heart attack and had to have surgery. After that he weighed about 90 pounds. He stopped working. Instead he got involved in a whole host of community work. His business card lists 20 something organizations that he is a part of and he says he didn't even list a lot of organizations. All of it is volunteer work.

The Garment Factory closed down and his wife started to work for an airline.

That was as far as I got. A) I started to run into a wall here interviewing him because we had sort of made it up to the present and yet no anecdotal story had come up. B) Mr. Yee had also recently had a surgery and he is still recovering. So I have to call him some other time and continue to interview him. But what else is their to ask? I have to ask some really specific questions if I am going to get stories out of him instead of just lists.

Lydia Lowe mentioned three major chapters in Chinatown Activism, i.e. stuff to fight.

There was the Highways. Then there were Institutions (that's the Parcel C stuff where Tufts wanted to build a giant garage where BCNC now is. I remember  going to those protests. I must have been Dai Dai's age (4 or so, maybe 5) And then finally now the fight is against Luxury apartments and Condos. That's the activist view of Chinatown's history. And Henry Yee is definitely an activist. But he is also a resident.

I guess I want to ask more about his wife's work at the garment factory. (She, btw is very strong and healthy.) It's weird because I know we see the world very differently. But at the same time, it's almost like I', becoming this guy. I also don't work. I also am starting to be involved in all these organizations as a volunteer. And the more I do that, the more this blog sort of becomes boring.

For me Chinatown will always be more about Hing Yee than Henry Yee. I mean if you your going to be running all around, it's important to get some sort of enlightened world view out of it... or at least look cool.
As I start to morph into this person that has a bunch of organizations and cards and blogs, I need to make sure that I don't lose myself in meaningless volunteer titles.

Shoot this guy has a lot of stories, but I'm not asking the right questions. Help me out reader. Tell me what to ask? What do you want to know?

I also remember for the Kung Fu Federation, that Chan Buk Fahn (spelling) and him were a team. Together, they had a ton of stories. Chan was more Yang, hard and masculine, and Yee, was soft and Yin. It was a great team. I remember I made a rough Chinese Opera song about them because they just occupied so much of my time. Any time I was meditating or practicing they would barge into the school with something. In fact it was that constant Taishanese shouting in the background while I was trying to gain inner peace through Mein Lei Jum Chi Gung that is one of the reasons why I speak Taishanese.

"Gua Lun Chau!" Chan would say about some sort of paperwork with the Federation or some other Chinatown issue.

And Yee would say something back quietly... I don't know you always learn the swears in a language first.

Unfortunately, Chan passed away before I started even thinking about doing this blog. So it's important I get some sort of story from Yee.

"I want you to write this thing on the internet" he said. He didn't want me to think that he was pretending to be weak to get out of it. He gets that this blog can be a voice for residents. But the voice has to tell an interesting story, and that's where I am running into trouble on the activism side.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A house divided

A lot of stuff in the newspapers shows hand ringing about Chinatown being a victim to outside greed, outside developers, and "Market Forces." But I'm beginning to see that many problems come from within.
It's hard to talk about others, especially when names are named, so let me start with myself. This is a garden in the Castle Square area. My mother was on the Castle Square Tenants organization when they worked to put this thing together, and my mother helped a lot with the design. There was a lot of racism in anything that went on in these projects. My mother said that while trying to  get some of the plans for the garden through, one of the management guys (white) commented, "A Jap garden is the came as a Chink garden anyway.. who cares." It just gives an idea of what kind of environment these types of initiatives to make your own community better, take place. 
Some people reading this will say, "These projects are in the South End, not Chinatown." But Amy Guan (That's Uncle Frank's sister) said to me when I made a similar comment , that no, this was Chinatown. Why? These projects were built for the displaced Chinese and Syrian families when the Highway cut through Chinatown, knowking down one of the On Leong Buildings. There were two before. Now there is one, that says "Welcome to Chinatown."
This one.

Here is the Berkeley Community Garden also in the South End, technically. You used to be able to walk through here all the time. Now it is a community Garden, but I think you have to know someone to get in.  In anycase, we could have more of these (smaller versions) all around Chinatown. This is across from the projects I grew up in, which may not even be projects anymore, but market rent, high end condos. 

Here is my old address. I here it's pretty fancy inside. 

When I went away to Groton, Debbie White (African American) went to my mother (who was white) and said to her, "We need to stick together or all these Chinese people are going to push us all out." Chinese being said like a curse upon the tongue. My mother found it strange that people could forget so easily that her own son was Chinese. But in the end, it is not the Chinese who will be pushing out. Again, these projects were built for Chinese and Syrian Families who needed affordable housing and couldn't move to Brookline and Newton (which is where a lot of Chinese moved after the Highway displaced them. And more continued to follow because of schools and the trend for Chinese to move into the same areas. Castle Court was very racially divided. There were two girl scout troops, one for Blacks and Latinos and one for Chinese. This segregation didn't come top down. It came from within. And before you start blaming racist Chinese, the Blacks and Latinos were just as much part of it. Why? I don't know the details. But I've see in it in other projects where I taught Kung Fu. Of course, I end up being immune to anything from both sides, personally because I speak Chinese and do Chinese stuff, but I am adequately American and even WHITE and even though  "the white man" as an idea is a good target for frustration, an actual white person in front of you rarely is (in my recent experience anyway.)

I actually got pushed out of these projects. My mother had just died, and the  management wanted the apartment, for market rent of course. The woman in Charge was African American. "Now I know your mother and she is with God and with us and we all have to love and pray and know that her spirit with us." Then pushing a paper that would have me sign away the Section 8 apartment towards me. "Now sign." She explained that since my mother hadn't been working (because she was busy dying of cancer) that for those months I owed market rent. $1,400 a month as opposed to the $300 my mother had been paying.  (Interestingly $1,400 is the amount that is now considered to be affordable housing at One Greenway and the proposed St. Francis house. I think Market rent is $2,400)

"Don't sign that paper." said a woman who worked there in Cantonese. "Don't ever sign that paper. Go back and talk to people and make sure, but don't sign that paper." Because she spoke in Chinese the African American non Chinese speaker assumed the Chinese woman spoke with her and not against her. "We can ruin your credit. You don't understand. But in a few years when you try to buy a house you will. You need to sign this paper right now."

What went through my mind? I cursed that I hadn't been more involved in street gangs in my teens because now that I wanted to purchase firearms I didn't no where to go. That's what went through my mind. But I was quiet and polite. In the end, after talking to people. I did sign. Stonehill sent Katisha Brown with me (yes she is Afro-Carribean-American.) She agreed that it was shady, what was done. But I was young and a college student and had a lot more potential than to fight for a section 8 apartment that, even if I was rich, was not mine. Most people of color, including Chinese people who aren't ABC, think I should have fought the apartment even at the expense of college. 

Most white people said that of course college came first. 

It's not like I could have owned that apartment and then sold it at Market rent. In the end it wasn't mine. It was never mine.

My situation though pales in comparison to the situation a lot of tenants in Chinatown are in. A lot of (Chinese!)  landlords are kind and smiling on the outside., but are the brutal slumlords once you are a tenant. The nature of the relationship reminds me of an abusive marriage. "He yelled and swore at me! Yelled at my parents.. yelled at my wife. Adam I'm telling you somebody yells at my wife and my parents I want to punch them in the face. But I had to just swallow it. Every time we came to them about the rats, the fire alarm, which would go off and drive away customers he would swear and stick his finger in our faces saying 'You people...' Adam, 'YOU PEOPLE are so annoying.' But if we don't go to the landlord who are we supposed to go to?"

Another man, who is himself a landowner in Chinatown, so he knows what the responsibilities are was talking about another building. "Adam just hearing about the conditions in that building would make your skin crawl. I've had employees who lived there and they told me. It's disgusting."

You know, a real journalist, a real white guy, who has no ties to Chinatown, would actually be able to write about these things more openly. But I can tell you that whenever a name comes up of some landlord or something that has sinned egregiously,, chances are I know the name and have some sort of connection to them. The type of connection where I will have to see them again and shake their hand again. So how am I supposed to write this stuff. (Hidden in my own boring story where hardly anyone will read it because they are just skimming that's how.)

Here is another example of an internal problem. I saw on twitter that this store has been accused (and I think is being prosecuted for) allegedly (did I get that right?) selling stolen goods. Goods that were stolen from the area. Now I saw this on twitter so I don't know any details. But does "other stores in the area" mean Chinatown or Downtown? Here's the thing. I can guess how this happens. Because you always see these guys. (white and black guys with the walk and the talk and the baggy pants and twitching movements) who come into your store, or bakery, or Kung Fu school trying to sell you something. Watches, clothes whatever. Shop lifted and cheap. I see it all the time. But how do you catch a store for doing this? What brought about the investigation? Did another store make a complaint? What got them caught? A cop posing as one of these guys went into the store selling stuff that was supposedly stolen, but was not?
Here is another issue. This guys stuff is here
and here... because I, through my cleaning, basically kicked him out of the Playground. Wednesday, when me and some Senior Citizens (my old teachers) finished our cleaning early, we decided to go across the street too. But what do we do about this?  I mean, yeah it's dirty and it's on the street, but it's someone's stuff, potentially. It was weird. We sort of cleaned this guy's room. We threw away the milk and empty applesauce and chicken salad containers (which are definitely food for the kids at an after school program, and yeah I'm glad this guy ate it instead of it getting thrown away.)  But we left the other stuff. But eventually... it's gotta go. And he's gotta go. A) because he'll freeze to death in the winter and B) because you can't have all of Chinatown looking like this. This guy needs housing. There needs to be a program to fix this somehow. Because it makes it so that even if we want to clean the street, we can't.  I mean were trying "clean" like boy scouts. Not "clean" like Nazis. 
And if you think about it, How much money do we spend on prisons? What if, okay this sounds crazy as hell, you only locked people up for 6 hours at time. And then hot bedded those cells. What is prison guards just showered and fed people, and then your back out. Maybe even 4 hours, because let's face it, if you're homeless you can survive on four hours. What if that was the focus of these big buildings that housed people. I bet there would actually be less crime... and no homeless people. Especially if part of the other 20 hours was some sort of paid work (like the street sweeping I am doing for free) or I don't know, a whole host of other things. And this could get you on your feet and there could be an educational component. I mean prisoners have classes now... why can't we just do things a little differently? Is it that hard. (probably.)

Well this is where voting for Neighborhood Council is this Sunday. Apparently other neighborhoods do this thing really differently. There is no elected position. People just show up. After all the council has very little power. It's just a platform for people to talk to actual people in power. And nowadays I think the 311 number and Citizen's direct APP takes the place of this. But I still want to see what it's about.

So go vote for me on Sunday and I'll blog about it and we'll all find out about it together.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving at Moh Goon

Back at the old Kung Fu school we Thanksgiving was a pretty big Holiday. Basically because many of the Restaurant workers who didn't yet have family here would get a Turkey from their restaurant. So the Kung Fu school would end up having all sorts of Turkeys lying around to eat. There was Turkey that was cooked like Char Siu and all kinds of experiments. People would ask me (since I was white) what was the deal with this holiday. In Chinese Thanksgiving is actually called "Fau Gai Jeet" or Turkey holiday, or actually fire bird is the word for turkey.

Sifu mentioned there was some sort of wild bird in China that is similar to the wild bird that the turkey was bred from here.... that it was rather hardy and could handle cold weather. Before most people will look at me like I have two heads when I say this though.

In recent times you actually see more American wild turkeys crossing streets in JP.

There were other "holiday" foods at Moh Goon during thanksgiving that had nothing to do with Chinese or American Culture and everything to do with circumstance. For instance, at 4:00 am there was often a guy coming buy to sell illegal fish. And sometimes restaurant workers who had ventured to out of state places like Maine would come back to Moh Goon (there closest thing to home and family) with wild game like beaver, that lo fahn hunter/trappers had brought into the Chinese Restaurant to sell. These White guys were interested in the fur only and knew that Chinese could do something with the meat. A lot of Americans think that Chinese restaurants serve that stuff and they turn their noses up thinking it is somehow gross. But Chinese don't serve it because wild game meat is special... too special to serve. That type of meat was brought to Moh Goon for home cooking. The soup kept you warm in a way domesticated meat didn't.

Now of course I've watched some documentaries and I know why laws were passed against this type of fishing and hunting and I'm not encouraging it at all.

Another thing about Thanksgiving is that it is traditionally one of the few days off for a Chinese Restaurant worker. And so it had become a time when the Casinos capitalize on this. In fact they even try to draw large crowds of Chinese through concerts with famous Hong Kong Singers performing at Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods. This actually seems sort of fitting since these concerts and casinos are on Indian Reservations. (though I doubt the tribes maintain full control anymore.)

 What are your Thanksgiving traditions? Are they traditional Turkey Dinner? Or is there something particularly Chinese-ish about your Thanksgiving?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Community Spaces

Fred (not real name) had talked about a great spot where old people use to get a free bowl of rice and some salty fish or whatever and sit and socialize and watch Chinese soaps. He talked about how great it was.. but that somebody has to pay for it.

Now there are probably still some places like that in Chinatown. I may just not know of them as being the central place. Our Kung Fu school is a lot like that actually. And members of our team have joined because being knew to the States, they were dropping off their grand kids at the Phillips Brooks House after school across the hall and walked into our school. Seeing a group of Old Chinese men, they asked if they could sit down and talk with us too. And then later on, when we had lion dances we called him up too, and he has come to be an integral member of our team. There were other older people that pretty much did the same thing but came in more to learn Kung Fu. Later they lost interest and decided to stick with Ping Pong or whatever. For sure, the CCBA is a place of gathering for many Chinese for various activities. Not all of them are free, but a great deal are inexpensive.

The Chinatown park is a space that is free and it is great. But there isn't free rice and in the winter it is damn cold. Do people still hang out there? I guess they do, but there should be a place indoors too.

There probably is. Just like there is a Library in Chinatown, that nobody knows about. It's in the CCBA.

A lot of services are provided in Chinatown, but people don't necessarily know about it. So when I say something like, "If I were neighborhood council guy I would bring ______" fill in the blank. That would be bullshit because actually there is a lot of places already. What we need to work on is constantly letting people know about it.

I guess I can do that without being elected anything. So I'm really running for that Neighborhood council seat.... for what? I'll tell you. It would be an IN for people outside of Chinatown.

"High Boston Latin, I'm Neighborhood Council Member Cheung. Can I give a lecture to some students?" I mean I guess I can do that as Blogger guy too... but I'm going to try the whole Neighborhood council thing. If nothing else it will be material to Blog about. But if I lose, I can still blog about that and blog about who one. In a way... I can't lose.

But one of the campaign points should be these Community Spaces. I'm sure One Greenway has one, I'm sure their around, but i get a sense of nostalgia for older ones that aren't here. Maybe I am just uninformed. But a lot of people, who are in the fabric of Chinatown, are also uniformed. So that's what this blog is about.

Here is a an except from a post about the Mary Soo Hoo Park in the Summer. The Man at the Gate... and some other stuff that happened in Chinatown too.

So I'm running for Neighborhood council, not because the people on the council are doing a bad job. I'm sure they are doing their best. Could I do better? Well the main difference is I'm going to Blog about what I do so everyone will know what I am doing and what I will be pushing for. I mean this is the type of stuff we should be pushing for. Are we? Does it make sense too on that council? Maybe it doesn't even come up. But if that is the case, why doesn't it come up. I'm running to learn more about it. And then I'll tell you about it. And if I win, the next election, I'l try to pull someone else in for my position and I'll blog about them. Because I feel that's how these council things are supposed to work. Is that how it works? I don't know. I bet very few people really even know about this council at all.

But anyway. That's another thing I am pushing for. These community spaces where old people can get together and drink tea and eat rice. In the winter it's gotta be indoors. The gambling houses provide a lot of this (That's not a good thing really.) And I'm sure there are other places I don't know about. But I should know about it, easily. I shouldn't have to find out. Because how is someone who just got to Chinatown going to find out? We, who know stuff, should be reaching out to people to let them know about Libraries and Yuan Chi Dace groups etc. Selling it to them. Selling whatever work the Neighborhood council is doing. That's part of what this blog is for.  And it's part of why I am asking people to write me in on Sunday for the Chinatown Neighborhood Council.

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Not enough people appreciate the contributions that Chinatown offers the city" -Howard Passman

I met Howard Passman walking through Chinatown (he is to the left of Hung Goon, the current CCBA President. There is an election coming up in December and I will be sure to cover that for the blog.) But anyway, Howard seemed very interested in talking (which is not usually the case for everyone in the Chinese Community) so I thought, sure, if what is covered in the interview doesn't relate much to Chinatown, then I can always put it in my other blog Kung Fu Dad. 

But Chinatown is not an island. 

What is you background anyway?

"I'm a Sicilian Jew so I'll either get you with a gun or a lawyer. You ever hear that one?" he joked.  Howard had served in the Military, been an honorary Black Panther, and had been part of anti-war protests after serving. He had a lot to say  about a whole host of subjects. 

It was pretty cold outside so we went to look for a building where we could sit down and talk outside of the wind. Howard happens to be a Mason. So we went into this building.

A funny story about Masons and the Chinese Freemasons (A.K.A Hung Mun.)  This Link to a Columbia Yukon Chapter has some history. Although there are Chinese Freemasons who are also Masons. The two organizations are unrelated. I've heard of some White Freemasons trying to go up to Hung Mun and being met with blank stares. But apparently Hung Mun started using the Freemason symbols a long time ago on ships. I only read that somewhere though I don't really know. I should probably do a story about them because the Boston Chinese Freemasons are an integral part of Boston's Chinatown and I'm confident that in 50 years, even if everything else turns into high rise condos, that the Hung Mun's building will still be there.

So what brought you into Chinatown to campaign for Michelle Wu?

"Not enough people appreciate the contributions that Chinatown offers the city, And Michelle.. I met her through other things I do with small businesses and things like that... but Michelle and folks like her can educate the other politicians to make them see how important the Chinatown Community is to Boston."

"Education is the Key."

"Tiger mom.. is that the term? Well I think the Chinese borrowed it from the Jewish mom. I don't want to get into names, but in my family there was a nephew and his favorite Uncle had died. But his mother told him that nobody was to say anything. His sister called and asked how this favorite Uncle was doing. 'Oh yeah he's fine. He's busy now.' Meanwhile we're all sitting Shivas (the Jewish ritual of mourning for seven days after a death.) but the sister wasn't told because she would then tell the brother and he wouldn't be in the right state of mind for taking exams. I mean is that a Tiger Mom or what?"

"I mean Academically you guys in Chinatown are doing fairly well. But I have an expression. 'Two generations to forget and 20 years to repeat.' America is forgetting it's roots." Howard listed all the old neighborhoods in Boston and how changes and shifts because of highways and developers and other forces moved things around. 
"Chinatown could be that last centerpiece of how Boston used to be."


"And sure maybe things should be more modernized to try and bring more people in to come and enjoy the culture and the restaurants." 

(To be fair I have seen restaurants shift and change and become more hip. So this is happening. But is it happening as a well planned out community effort? I think it is more that certain business owners are taking the lead and some community organizers have ideas. But the way it is all coming together is not as fast as the neighborhood is gentrifying. Is there room for improvement? Sure. But it is coming together organically in a way. It's just not clear to someone watching whether Chinatown is improving, or falling apart.)

Chinatown is the Key to make Boston Better?

"The Chinese bring a sense of community and a focus on academics that could actually somehow improve the Boston School systems and maybe even make thing sbetter for other ethnic groups somehow.... you look shocked." Howard noted. 

Well I had never thought about Chinatown in this way. I had thought, yeah we provide food and cheap childcare where your kids can learn Mandarin. But I hadn't thought of the Chinese Community as being a catalyst for bringing up a City or a school system. But when I thought about it. There is some truth to this statement. Is there room for improvement in selling this point and also maybe making it more true? Of course. But it will be something I have to look into in the future.

(Boylston Street T Station near Emerson. I took a picture of this skateboarder because I had never seen a female Skateboarder before.. let alone an Asian Female Skateboarder.... and right near where Gund Kwok, the all female Asian lion dance troupe,  practices. I guess I should do a piece on them too because they might not always be located on Boylston.)

(This is what is left of the Combat Zone. So instead of Naked Eye, there is Centerfolds. The Glass Slipper is right next to it. But it doesn't look seedy on the outside. Even ten years ago this alley still looked sketchy. Now it is clean and crisp. Even the pavement is well maintained.)

"How many people live in Chinatown?"

I talked about how I had seen the number 5,000 thrown around. But that was just near Tufts. After all across the street one way from where we were talking was the Boston Common. The other way was where Gund Kwok Lion Dance Troupe Practices. 
As is this building, which is supposed to be developed to house low income residents in the Chinatown area

And this is part of where the RMV was. It's not a Chinese restaurant. But some place fancy. There is a Gallery showing the girly dancing shows of the 1930's and of course we are where the Combat Zone was. I talked about growing up in the Castle Square Projects which is technically the South End. But those projects were built to house displaced Chinese and Syrians after the highway cut right through one of the On Leong buildings and a ton of houses. Is that Chinatown or not?

I said that I guess it depends on how you draw the lines. 

"How you draw the lines? What are we in the 19th Century? What does that mean drawing the lines?" Howard paused and looked at me. "Segregation right? We just got out of that. And I wish there weren't any lines to be drawn."

Sunday, November 22, 2015

More Community Gardens In Chinatown. (Why you should write in a vote for me Next Sunday 11/29 for Chinatown Neighborhood Council.)

So next Sunday, in 7 days there will be an election for South Cove/Chinatown Neighborhood council at 9am to 5pm at the Santander Bank on 61 Harrison Avenue. I announced on Facebook that I was running and even though it is short notice and you will have to write me in, I am not joking. Even if somehow you're vote won't count if you write me in, I still would really want everyone to show up and do that... write in Adam Cheung. Because it would say something, even if it didn't count. I mean could say that a lot of elections don't count and are more of a ritual. But this will count because I have learned through this blog, that I can make stuff happen even without a position with a title. So imagine what I can do WITH a position with a title.

But anyway, Grace said my next 7 posts should be about why I should have a spot on the neighborhood council. 

So what would I be pushing for? 

Well this probably won't come up much on the council unless I scream about it but my main thing that I have fire in the belly about are these simple things.

1.Community Gardens
2. Composting bins.
3.Play areas for kids. 
and the last one sounds like a crazy stretch but would you believe I've already started planning for a school. A new middle school that will seek to bridge the gap between the gentrified parents and the new immigrant parents... a way to keep the culture in Chinatown even if the faces are more diverse. And actually a version of that can grow right out of community gardens

So yeah this picture is in Jamaica Plain, not Chinatown. Yeah there are closer Community Gardens to Chinatown. The one I know best is that one in the South End across from Castle Square. It kind of looks yuppified now. But we could always use MORE community gardens. There are a few empty lots that could be used, that are disgusting. There are probably some plans for it already. But look at these kids, having fun with gardening.

My friend form the Dudley Square Street Initiative, Adrian Rosello-Cornier, worked on setting up a farm in the middle of the city. It's run by a local farming company, and some plots are for residential gardens. He said a lot of the people moving into Chinatown would probably love organic food in their Chinese restaurants. And guess what, Old Chinese ladies love gardening. It's just one of the stereotypes because... they may have actually done some farming back in China. It would empower them to do this and to teach this to the next generation... along with stories and culture. 

It could happen. It's a big deal. But where would we put a garden go? Well... how about here. 

Yeah that land probably is being developed as we speak, but to tell the truth a lot of the land that is owned by projects would be better as community Gardens. And not just for the residents who would garden on them.... but also for the companies that manage the property. Why? How much money is spent in the upkeep of such a place? Chemical fertilizers, sprinklers that water's a lot of work and a lot of money. It would look good for those companies to help host a community garden, and it would also be good for them. Another place is that Public Tufts Park. Someone mentioned that it felt like it didn't belong to the community. Well Why not push for a Community Garden there too?

And look at this park that just got built.
It looks fantastic, (the park) but the picture is of the sprinkler water  going into little panda's playground. A good deal of water was just watering cement. The water was spraying nonstop in frigid weather for three days. That's a waste of money. Taxpayer money. City money.  Built some boxes out there with dirt. Bam Community garden. Who would garden it? The poor and rich a like. You would have new immigrants, Pau Paus who don't speak English and young hippies gardening together. 

And okay maybe people really like this park. But how much does it cost? And the first time I saw it I thought, "Where the hell is the Community Garden?"

There are reasons people give for not having these gardens. "Drunks doing drugs. People having sex in there or shooting up or relieving themselves."

Maybe it won't be as Utopian as I describe. Maybe people will argue about stolen Pumpkin Greens and fungus caused by Sunflowers. But overall, it will be a good thing. And the city will save money. Can I get it done? I don't know. But remember I did help get this done.
Not by myself of course. 

There are quite a few community leaders in that picture and many more whom you don't see. This was a combined effort by AACA, Chinatown Main Street, Tai Tung Village, and the Boston Police and Parks and Rec. But it kind of was me who pointed my finger at this playground and started doing something a little crazy and drastic. I called a dump a dump, and I decided to do something which seemed futile. Sweep up once a week for 20 minutes to an hour. The first time... was gross. Look at this link to my first post about a sweep. But yo... I did it. And part of what I wanted to do with this is get younger people involved. 
Most of what the Neighborhood Council will do is probably just vote on propositions for new condos, restaurants and clubs.... that sort of thing. But yeah I'll push my agenda too. which is what you see in this blog post. And honestly as Lydia Lowe said, "The neighborhood Council was once seen as the voice of Chinatown. And that is no longer true." But I know I can do something with that position. 

Because I can do something without any position. 

Imagine if every Asian kid over 16 in the surrounding high schools and colleges can and voted for me by writing in? I would win for sure. Because not that many people vote in these elections. 

I would do my thing serve my two years or whatever, and then tried to pull someone young who is better than me at this social media game into this. And then next time they'll run and carry that one. (I mean I'll still be around, but my aim is not to just sit on this position if I win. It will be to get all the younger people involved.) It will create a movement for change in Chinatown that really is grassroots and where more young people are involved. But through these community spaces and gardens, the old people will have a very important role too, and the culture won't just be swept away. 

The sweeping away will be for the heroin needles and feces in the park. And maybe we can get some compost bins for the leaves. 

Xinh Xinh part one

Xinh Xing. It was one of my favorite restaurants in Chinatown. When it closed. (Yep it's definitely gone now.) It was a symbol of something. The chatter started on Facebook on Twitter. Then Maxim Coffee house and Chinatown McDonald's. But the thing is, I don't know, I didn't feel like Maxim Coffe House's baos were that good. And now a hot pot place is opening there....great. But Xinh was a good restaurant.. a great restaurant. In 2008 this restaurant was called th #1 Vietnames Restaurant in Boston. Number one. Numero Uno. 
It was also #1 on Yelp. How was it? It was great, it was that hole in the wall type of place with really good food. Food that impressed you, not just filled you up. It was family owned. And as a Lion Dancer, let me tell you, on Chinese New Year, it was one of the few places..... well let's just put it this way. We would do a traditional ritual with the incense and an old woman, probably the mother of the owner, would say, "I only saw your ream do it this way, I remember when I was a little girl in Vietnam I saw the lion teams do it this way too."

So I knew there was a story here. There would be a story even if it didn't close down. But everyone wants to know. "What happened to Xinh Xinh?"

Yeah there's a story all right. More than you would imagine or more than I quite dare to write here too... unless you are already tight in the circle of Chinatown Business gossip. 

But let's start with Lam, the owner who opened up the restaurant. 
"I left Vietnam in 1978. We escaped by boat. It was 20 meters long and we had 198 people on board. We were drifting for 5 days in the middle of the ocean before an oil tanker rescued us. It belonged to Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore. They radioed the Malaysian Navy and brought us to an island, Pulau Tengar where we lived for 11 months. No electricity, no lights...just the ocean and us.... we came to Boston on May 2nd 1978.  The fabric store across the street, that's my family's too. We've been there for 33 years."

Then suddenly the place that had occupied that space, which is now empty again, opened up. What was there before? Was it Buddha's Delight? I vaguely remember something like that. I have also heard a story about a Gallery called the Oni Gallery. But I have to look into that. In any case, the block was kind of a dump at that point. The open space was an eyesore. 

The owner courted Lam's family.

"He brought over food and asked us, pleaded with us to go into that space. Because at that time we hadn't had any experience in the restaurant businesses.....if only I had known.... but anyway it doesn't matter it's over now."

Well this is just part one, or perhaps an introduction. I'm a blogger, which is not the same thing as a real journalist. But I guess at this point I really should interview some more people before continuing the story. I have to be fair right? Impartial. I have to get both sides or all sides, even if there are 15 sides to the story. Because when it comes down to it, the story of one block in Chinatown can be just as complicated thinking of all of Chinatown.

I know a lot of people who read this blog are part of the Chinatown Community and a lot of people aren't. Leads to interviews, stories, and opinions in the comments will help to tell the whole story. So I hope that people d leave a lot of comments, and that they do share this post so that people will know I am writing about it, and people can come and interview with me or perhaps write in to the blog. 

I have written several books of fiction. Often, fiction holds more truth than true stories. Why? Because when the people are made up and the places are made up... then you don't have top hold back. Hell you aren't even held back by reality. It's all about the story and whether it's interesting. But if you actually have to live in the world you are writing about, you are restricted a little aren't you?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Lion Dance at Hei La Moon take out from Ga Ga

Before the Lions go out, they have to bow to the altars inside Moh Goon. The altars are to Kung Fu ancestors (Shaolin) Kwan Gung, a deity/saint/general who lived and died during the 3 kingdoms period. The local gods/spirits, the door gods/saints, and there is a blank one for anyone else we missed (I think.)
Then the heads turn around and kiss the drum gong and cymbals. This actually was usually only done during Deem Jing. But now we do it every time because why not?

Kiss the drum Shao.

And finish with a bow to the main altar again.

Okay time to head out.

Walking through Chinatown. Oooo what's going on here? Say white people who see us. "Hey what's up guys going to Moh See (lion dance) say people who know us."

Past the gate

Across that Highway to Hei La Moon.

Shh. this lion dance is going to be a surprise sort of. 

Shao get ready what are you doing?

Are you ready?

Let's go!

"Uhh you going to show Shao what to do?"
No I think he's got it. This is not his first time. 

But I'll sit here and make useless gestures if that makes everyone feel safer about it.

And take blurry pictures of  mythical lions/nians. 

Yeah Dance! Wow, I've officially become the Soccer mom version of a lion dancer. I'm not doing anything but taking pictures from the side lines. 

Hey guys let me in too. 

And end with three bows. 

Now back to the school. Where should we get take out? I guess at Ga Ga Seafood Restaurant, where Pearl Villa used to be.  Why Ga Ga? Not sure. Because we know someone working there? These decisions don't really concern me. I'm talking about politics and nonsense and Noah is playing with weights, sword, and balls used to practice throwing oranges. The youth are sent out to pick up the food. I guess that will be Shao's job in uhh four or five years? I'll probably go with him I think.

What do we get? Whatever, mo say wai, finally we decide one vegetarian dish, for our one vegetrian. Seafood Chow Mein, Salty Fish and chicken bits fried rice, Jiu yeem fried chicken (the kind with Jalepenos. I was able to translate rambling into Jiu yeem from one of my students because thanks to Grace, I speak confused Jook Sing very fluently.) And string beans. And white rice. 

Hoi Pei.

Eat up Shao. Shao loves lion dances.