Jeffrey Barlow, professor, Pacific University #2

Barlow #2 5/24/04


BARLOW: The important lesson then is to see these people as individuals. Now, we can see their lives as tragic. There are times when I think of Lung On and Doc Hay sitting in that dark Kem Wah Chung building, kerosene lighting, until well into the 1940s, though it’s important to realize that Lung On was very “go ahead” in the terminology of that period. A lot of the conveniences in the Kem Wah Chung went into that building before they went into any other building in town. But nonetheless we can see them as sort of the isolated, dying remnants of Chinese culture, if we wish, and that’s sad. But on the other hand we have to see their lives against the options that were available to them in China and also in terms of the images they created for themselves. They became, Ing Hay and Lung On, who were they when they were home alone talking to each other, I really don’t know. Did they have their fears and their doubts, their anxieties. They had, I think, opportunities to communicate with China and chose not to do so. Now after 1949 and the Chinese revolution and the on-sweep of Communism in that area, they were probably as caught up with the red scare as anybody else in America and would not have wanted to go back to China. But they chose not to see themselves as Chinese. When you see their graves today in the cemetery on this hill, near the Kem Wah Chung, they were given Mason’s funerals. Their headstones are very interesting. They’ve got Chinese characters on it, showing their names, their place of origin, and then they also have their American names, and the fact that they were members of the local Masonic lodge and were held in very high regard. I don’t see them as victims at all. I see them as men who came out of a terribly difficult environment into another equally challenging environment and totally mastered it and I don’t see that, I don’t know whether it was their gods or our gods, gave them a wonderful opportunity and they seized on it fully. And for me it’s hard to see them as anything other than incredibly successful. In a quiet way kind of heroes. Not the kind of stand up and shoot it out heroism, but heroism that comes to learn a foreign culture and a language and adapt to foreign ways. They were cooking that chicken western style, not Chinese style. Became very successful – the townspeople to this day still remember them. There’s an annual festival built around the Kem Wah Chung building. And I think if you were to visit the building today, and I would recommend it to anybody. I once drove 12 hours out of my way in British Columbia to go to the Drum Heller dinosaur museum up there and it was a wonderful day, no question about it. Kem Wah Chung may only be slightly smaller than a dinosaur as a building, but it is well-worth visiting and I think what you see when you go in there is the lives of these individuals over a long period and I always feel in that building a sense of humor. I don’t know how to explain it. I think I would have really liked Lung On and Doc Hay. And that their spirit lingers on there as well as their legend. Read more...