Ed Wah – June 1, 2004
D: If I could have you lean into the table a little bit – we’ll just get started.
E: All right.
D: I might have to have you redo something if it stops. Okay, I would just like to start off and have you say your name, you know, and I guess what you do now and what your relation to Doc Hay is.
E: Well, my name is Edward Wah and I am sort of I guess you’d say grand-nephew of Doc Hay and we moved into John Day in 1942, that was during the war. And I found John Day to be a very backward type of community at the time. Coming from Idaho there where we had running water and everything in the Chinatown part of John Day they didn’t have running water yet. They didn’t have a sewer system yet. And so that was sort of an experience. The Chinatown part of John Day was made up of the Can Wah Chung (?) building and several small shack-like residential homes around there. I guess at one time a lot of Chinese resided there and they had sort of a community and a community truck…garden. And there was a caretaker there when we arrived and he sort of took care of the property and raised some vegetables and everything and of course right behind the John Day, or Chinese area there were just rock piles where they had the dredging. The gold-dredge came through and just left piles of rocks. And they had ponds and the canyon creek went by there and everything. It was sort of interesting for us because as children we went back in there and played. We had the creek and had the dredge ponds and everything so it was a fun time for me.
D: How long did you live there?
E: Well, I as I said went in there in 1942. I went through the primary school and the high school system there. Graduated in 1950 from the Grant Union high school. Then I was off to college for about seven years so I then during that period of course I was just in and out. My parents lived there and my dad took over Doc Hay’s herb practice so he took care of Doc Hay and the property there until Doc Hay passed away.
D: Recycling truck coming…is this window open by chance? It’s not. Okay. Probably have to wait until the truck moves.
D: Okay, so where did you live in John Day?
E: When we first got there of course it was during the war. And we, my dad couldn’t build a home or anything like that so when we first arrived we stayed in the Can Wah Chung building. And my dad and mom stayed behind the kitchen there, there was a bedroom there, and then my brother and I stayed in the two bunk beds in the kitchen. And that lasted for about a year and my dad was very innovative. He, since we couldn’t build a new home, we could remodel an older home. So he bought a smaller home, had it moved over to the site that it’s presently at, and added-on and expanded on that small home and that took, I would say, roughly a year during the war there because of material scarcity and everything. So we continued to live with Doc Hay in Can Wah Chung building and I remember after school splitting firewood, carrying it across to do the cooking and everything, and when we arrived there was a water pump right out in front of the Can Wah Chung building, another water pump in the kitchen, and that gave us our water. We had to heat the hot water. We had to pump the cold water that we used. There was no, as I say, no water system at that time connected.
D: But there were 4, 5 people living there then?
E: Ah, yes. Yes. Doc Hay had his private bedroom and we all ate in that front room, in that central room there. And there were friends in the city that would come down every once in a while and we would invite them to dinner and it was just sort of an ongoing thing – whoever was there at the time of dinner, we just sat down and had dinner. But yes, all five of us lived there for about a year.
D: So, I wonder, what was he like at that time? What do you remember about him?
E: Well, when we arrived, of course, he was blind and he had just lost his business partner, Lung On (?), and dad being a relative felt obligated to go there and take care of him. And knowing some herbs from China, he very quickly took up the practice that Doc Hay had there and with Doc Hay’s expertise and his knowledge in reading Chinese, he read all the herbal books and so he gradually took over Doc Hay’s practice. And we took care of Doc Hay for several years there while he lived in John Day but my remembrance of Doc Hay was that although he was blind, he knew everybody that came in. He would recognize their voice and just “Ah, yes!” he just identified the people just immediately. And he loved his cigars and he had a big soft chair in the front room there and he’d sit there and smoke his cigar and fall asleep. Well, after we had moved from the building across the street to our new remodeled home, he didn’t immediately go over with us, he wanted to stay there. Well, one evening he fell asleep with his cigar and nearly burned the place down, so after that we said, well, you’re going to have to come move over with us because it’s just too dangerous this way. So he consented to do that. But unfortunately he fell and broke his hip and that was his downfall. We had to bring him into Portland then and put him into a rest home where they could take care of him, because he was too much for dad and mom to take care of. And I think he lived there for 2, 3 years and then he just decided there’s nothing to live for, so then he passed on. But he was a wonderful man. He knew everybody, he took care of a lot of people and as I think history would show, money didn’t really mean much to him. He had these checks that people wrote for the herbs and he’d just stuff them away, thinking they were usable like cash and if he needed money he’d just go cash one and that was him. He had enough to take care of himself and that’s all that mattered. Wealth was not a big thing with him.
D: I was wondering what his importance in the community was. Could you, as, even as a child, could you tell? Did people like him? How was he respected, you know?
E: Oh, yeah. He was well-liked in the community. He, people would go down there and he always had candy kisses for them, little taffies, peanut-butter taffies. And everybody that comes down there, they always were given some taffy or something to go home with. And as I said, it was sort of a community meeting center for a lot of the people that come down and at dinner time, they knew about when dinner was and if you want to come down and have a Chinese dinner, they’d just come down.
D: People would just come and eat?
E: Yeah, they’d just come down and visit with him a while and stay for dinner, and after dinner they’d go home. And there were several families of people that…mainly the husbands come down and visit with him with my father and mother there and we’d just invite him to stay and have dinner and they always were glad to do that because at that time there were no Chinese restaurants anyway in town, and my dad was a pretty good cook. So, yeah.
D: Now, I was told that maybe when he broke his hip that he was cooking a chicken or something because maybe it was like, they found a chicken when they opened it up that was cooking and was abandoned, when they opened the Can Wah Chung building?
E: That I’m not sure of because yeah, that all happened after I left for college so I’m not so sure of the circumstances of how he fell and broke his hip but all I’m aware of was the fact that that had happened and back then, you know, they didn’t put screws in joints to help the healing and of course it never did heal right and he was never able to get up and walk again and, but…
D: Did your dad ever tell you stories that go further back before you, at all, about Doc Hay?
E: Well, they lost contact with one another. For a long period of time – we just knew that he was there, but they didn’t know much about him because he was doing his thing, dad was doing his thing. And he had a business partner then and they were doing well, so there wasn’t any worries. But when his partner died and him being blind and everything, there was just a need for him to go back there and take care of him, at that time.
D: Did Doc Hay every experience any prejudice or anything that you know of?
E: From what I have heard the community accepted him quite well. As a matter of fact, I guess they were quite the, what would you say, quite the ladies man, Lung On and he were in their early days. And he wasn’t always blind. I don’t know the circumstances that led to his blindness, but I do know when my father got there in 1941 he went ahead of us and so he started getting some herbs for Doc Hay and he got to the point where he could see for a while and he had enough sight to walk up to the town and get a haircut and walk back, and that was quite an accomplishment I thought. Cuz he had been totally blind for many years. And he enjoyed that for a while, but then gradually he lost it again. But no, he, everybody that I know of liked him. I understand that there were some, I don’t know whether it was prejudice or just some problems with the medical profession. They didn’t like his practicing medicine and tried to shut him down, but there were enough resident supporters that they knocked it down every time they brought it to court and they never were able to get anything with that.
D: So the medical profession was trying to shut him down?
E: Yeah, yeah.
D: So what did the people do?
E: Well, the people supported Doc Hay, of course. Because they always got well when he treated them and they did not get necessarily so otherwise. That was I think where he gained a lot of his support and reputation. He was the source of last resort. And oftentimes they were pleasantly surprised with cures. And I know when I was a kid growing up around there and seeing some of the patients, I’m a believer of Chinese herbs. If he were here today, breast cancer would not be a problem with him. They were able to take care of that very simply.
D: Did you see any of those examples first hand?
E: Yeah. I mean, I didn’t see them first hand, but dad talked about them and he just cured them.
D: Any specific example your dad talked about?
E: No, not really. Just people coming in who had a little cancer in their breast and he just did this, did this, and in about six, eight weeks, they were on their way for recovery. And one thing that really sticks in my mind was one winter afternoon a party came in from Burns, Oregon. They carried this lady into the house because she couldn’t walk. And dad took them back to the treatment room and worked for I think maybe about an hour and doggone if this lady didn’t walk out of there. And I was so impressed with that I went whoa, what’d he do? But I guess he scraped her back and did some stuff, I guess it was a complication of the flu or something like that that affected her nervous system of the back to the point where she just couldn’t operate. But that is still, I can remember that day that he was able to do that. And you know that kind of results, immediate results, is hard to find anywhere else.
D: And you’re in the medical profession too, so obviously…
E: Well, yeah, that’s why I asked dad about what I would need to do to follow, or to do what he was doing, and he said well, first you’ve got to learn to read Chinese. Well, growing up back there in a small town where we were the only Chinese family anyway, that was not a possibility so I at the time aspired to just become a physician, a doctor. But as we grew up in high school this best friend of mine, the Carpenter family, the father sort of had a good influence on me, I respected him very much and he said you know, you should think about going into dentistry. He said, doctors, they never have any time to themselves and you’d be doing the same good, you’d be treating patients, but you’d have more time to yourself. And I thought gosh, he might have something there. So as I went through college that became more of a thought for me and in my sophomore year in college I decided yeah, I think I’m going to go that route. So I’m a dentist instead of a doctor.
D: Well, I wonder. You know, you hear about those miracle stories of Doc Hay and you go, hum, but you say, you’re living proof, that you witnessed it.
E: Oh yes, I mean, that was not the only thing. There was another incident where a John Day rancher family that had, the Kearns family and the Oliver family around Grant county were big ranchers around there and he cut himself butchering and he got gangrene in his hand and they were going to cut his hand off at the wrist because the gangrene was moving up his arm, so he came to dad and dad treated him for I imagine about six months, and he was able to save the thumb and two fingers and they’re working today, or they were until he passed away. But he saved his hand.
D: Your dad or Doc Hay?
E: My dad. But my dad took over from Doc Hay’s practice I’d say within the first year he got there, because he just sort of turned it over to him, rather than do it himself, he just turned it over to dad. And so yeah, dad was the practitioner after that.
D: What is it like to be the only Chinese family in an area like John Day?
E: Well, as a child I never experienced anything different, you know? I immediately got acquainted with some children around my age over there and we just hit it off and it went on from there. And of course going to school there and the grade school was, what, two blocks from where I lived, and so I had no problems. But there, I would say that in the 40s there were still some prejudices, you know. I know when I was growing up in high school in the late 40s and dating Caucasian girls and like that, you could feel that there were some people that didn’t like the…so I sort of danced around it, you know.
D: Because they didn’t like the interracial aspect?
E: Yeah. But most of them – most of the families back there were just solid gold. I mean, I have no bad memories of any personal interactions. But you could just feel it in some of the people that you just know that don’t know, you know. Just people that live. Especially in some of the I would say mid-forties, after the war, after the lumber business became a big boom, a lot of southerners moved into the community and worked, and they were the ones that I felt most uncomfortable with. Although most of them didn’t really do anything personally, you could just, I don’t know, at least I sensed it, they weren’t in full agreement.
D: I’m wondering if you can imagine what it would have been like for Doc Hay and Long On to be like back in the early 1900 or the late 1800 what it must be like for them?
E: Well, I would expect that it was a similar type of situation. At first they were probably very cautious, very I guess they didn’t want to force their way in, but gradually, as their success rate and acceptance in the community grew I think that the people became more friendly and more accepting.
D: I was just struck by the bullet holes on the front door.
E: Oh yeah. I’m sure that there were people that didn’t like them. And you know you hear stories about well, there were some lynchings of some Chinese people back then. And so you don’t want to be too loud and forceful. So yeah.
D: It doesn’t hurt to have a skill everybody wants.
E: That’s right. This is one thing that I think made their acceptance easier is that they had something that they could help the community with.
D: Yeah, I think it’s a different story if they didn’t have anything to offer.
E: Oh yes. I would think so, if they were just there as laborers. And back in the 18, late 1800s, middle 1800s there, there were thousands of Chinese in the neighborhood doing the mining and not far from there, the railroads. And so I know I had a relative, I guess he was about 3rd generation, great grand-uncle or something like that, he worked on the railroad.
D: Where was that?
E: That was in Idaho. But now, those people they’d probably work and quietly go home, and that’s about it. There were no intermixing in the communities much.
D: People wonder why Doc Hay never went home. You know, went to China.
E: Well, I never knew why he didn’t because he, from what I know, he’s got a wife back there and a family back there. I think he’d send them back money and all that to support them but never went back.
D: I don’t think he did, actually.
E: Didn’t? I thought he was sending money back there, but…
D: Is that? Did you hear that from your dad or?
E: Well, yeah, my dad, you know, he didn’t know what he was doing until he got over there but he and Lung On, well, maybe because of his blindness or something too he just lived out his life here. We never went into any of his personal stuff too much. I guess he just sort of left that up to him to decide.
D: You mentioned the railroad. Were they building that anywhere close to John Day at all?
E: No. No. They never, no. This was in Idaho that this relative was at. Because the only reason I knew about it was that he came over to John Day and visited a couple of times just to check in, see what was going on. When he retired he came down to Portland and retired. So, no.
D: Is there any other memory you want to share? I mean, you’ve probably been asked this a lot from people, but, anything else that you can recall?
E: Well, of course I was totally impressed with everything that Doc Hay did because, here was a blind man. He still practiced herbs. He knew where every item was in that house. If you went back there you could see in that one section there were all kinds of little boxes on the wall, and every one had a separate type of herb? Well, he knew where every one of those were. He was able to get in there and get the amount of herb which he wanted to make up the recipe that the, whatever the illness required, and I just can’t imagine doing something like that myself.
D: And he was blind. Because there’s hundreds of boxes.
E: Oh, yeah, that whole wall was just, yes, there were, I would say about eight going up and about, yeah, at least close to a hundred. So.
D: And they’re high.
E: Yeah, and he’d, just to know and not make a mistake. And to be able to effectively practice medicine that way.
D: Kind of a medical genius at that time.
E: He was, he was. He was a brilliant man and he did a lot of good work. And he cured a lot of people of a lot of bad illnesses so, and then dad carried on after him and he did a lot of wonderful work.
D: How long did he?
E: Well, my dad practiced from ’41, shortly after he got there, until ’67, when he passed away, I think it was ’67 he passed away.
D: I think it’s so interesting that at that time there was a lot of Chinese medicine when now it’s like, it’s sort of the alternative.
E: Yeah, they were the pioneers in it, I guess you might say. But during the war it was sort of limited also to just what he could get. You know, the medicine was hard to get from China because of the Chinese embargo and all that kind of stuff during the cold war period of the Communists and all that so he had to cut back on what he could do, but he tried to get what he could through Canada and through San Francisco.
D: Now, you said you had been back three years earlier. What keeps you going back to John Day?
E: Well, friendship, I guess. I went back this last time because of our reunion. We had a reunion of the whole high school from the time it was started in 1938 up to the present time. And we had a couple of hundred alumni attend and it was good to see some of those people because some of them I hadn’t seen since I graduated, and that was about 50 years ago.
D: That’s great, that’s great.
E: Some of them I recognized, and some of them I didn’t recognize. But it was a great reunion. And I still have some friends back there that live there so.
D: Did you know that they’re building a new wing for the Can Wah Chung museum?
D: Are you involved in that at all?
E: Uh, not personally, no. I made a contribution for that but they’re also going to have some sort of a dedication ceremony here, this summer sometime, and I’m looking forward to that. Maybe, if I can I’ll probably run back there for that.
D: I think it’s supposed to be in July.
E: Is that when it is?
D: Is there anything else you want to say at all?
E: Well, not much else. Personally, I’ve just got warm feelings for the community of John Day and the area of Grant county, because I was always treated fairly and warmly by all the residents there. Of course I went back there and practiced for seven years after I graduated from dental school, because my mom had just passed away and I felt I should be with my dad at that time and so it was an easy way to practice because everybody knew me and loved me and I loved them and we just got along real well. But, no I just have nothing but warm feelings for all the people back there.
D: I just think it’s such an unusual story because you know, it’s unusual in that everybody does have warm feelings, you know, because history is, there was the Snake River massacre during the same time as Doc Hay, I’m sure you’ve heard about that and there were all kinds of lynchings as you said so, I just think this is a very unusual story.
E: Yeah. The Grant county people are very warm people. You treat them right, they’re going to treat you right. That’s what I’ve found. And I guess a lot of the miners, after the mining quit, they just stayed on and worked at various farms, or ranches as ranch hands, because they treated them well, so. Yeah. You almost got my history of John Day. But yeah, I have some very close childhood friends. As a matter of fact some of my very best friends are still from my days of high school.
D: People live a long time out there, I noticed.
E: Yes, yes they do. It’s good country, you know. And if it weren’t for my wife who was born and raised here in Portland, going back there to nowheres land. … that was the conflict that I ran into and it was one I had to deal with, what with the kids growing up and my practice growing and all that, I had to make a decision back in ’64 to yeah.
D: I just need to get 10 seconds of this room sound without us talking, just so I can edit later
D: Yeah, tell me about the altar.
E: Well, Doc Hay doesn’t start the day without first going there and making sure that there’s oil in there and then lights the oil light that comes from that and makes his prayer and then the day starts. And before then I guess there was a Chinese temple-like building in the Chinese community area, just on down, I would say, where is it, it’s just about where the parking lot is now, before the swimming pool, there was a building there, I heard that was a temple. But there were about six buildings around that area when I first got there. That was one of them, I guess.
D: Do you know what kind of religion? That temple is very unusual.
E: Well, it’s probably, it’s Buddhist. It’s the Buddhist religion. You’ll see it sometimes in Chinese restaurants they’ll have it set up like that and they use the Chinese punk (?) and everything, there.
D: Well, I just, I thought it was an unusual-looking altar, though, because there’s those, I don’t know, are they lanterns? Or the things that are hangings?
E: Oh yeah, they are lanterns but they’re never lit. most of the light is from the punks that they light and that light from the oil.
D: The town never had any problems with him being a Buddhist at all?
E: No, no, I mean, he didn’t try to convert anybody, he was just doing his own thing down there. No, I don’t think there were any complications or…
D: Some of the kids that I talked to said it was scary to walk in.
E: It was in that it was dark. Yeah. It was dark. They had very small wattage because, you know, he couldn’t see so there wasn’t a need for light. But, yeah, and everything in there was of dark color too. Everything was old. The round dinner table, every time we’d sit down for dinner, instead of having a tablecloth we’d just spread some newspaper, and that was the tablecloth. And then he’d have his pot of tea there, always, of course, when people came in they were offered a cup of tea and all that. Right there. But the chairs were just old wooden chairs, no backs to them. There wasn’t a lot of comfort in there but it was adequate to sit and visit a while. And they had a big potbelly stove in there to keep things warm. And the kitchen stove, of course. So everything was pretty Spartan. But yeah, it’s a different world, because anybody from elsewhere the lighting and the furniture would be different. But he always greeted them, like they said, there was always candy there and there was always tea and anyone who wanted to stay for dinner when dinnertime came up was welcome to do it. That was the way they lived.
D: Friendly, drop-in kind of place.