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.
DMAE: What I wonder too is so many people who stay in small towns because they can be who they want to be. And you can also be special.
BARLOW: Yes, and they were special. I mean, there’s no question about that. I know, I have many of these doctor friends in Portland they’re special in their own way, but they are not the only successful medical practitioner for three days’ buggy ride around.
DMAE: And people did travel from far away, didn’t they?
BARLOW: Yeah, people came from all over. We mapped their medical territory and it was extensive. Partly, it was due to Lung On. They would proscribe by mail. Now, that was fairly astonishing to people in the 1970s, it seemed to be entirely impossible. But we’re back to it today, only now we’re using the web and email for the same kind of medical practice. There were many letters from people who had been in the area and had moved out, or had heard of Doc Hay in one way or another and they would write in and explain, sometimes we think Lung On wrote back and would ask a few more questions and then Doc Hay sent herbs. Many of their recipes are take out, if you will. A little sack with Lung On’s careful handwriting, telling you how to put these recipes together on your own stove.
DMAE: I was also struck by…so many of them were women and for a woman to go to a Chinese doctor in that time period, and they talked about private things, you know.
BARLOW: I think that’s a really good question. And I think, that’s one of the issues that I really wish we knew more about and that’s sex and gender. Because you always wonder about someone who was as vital as Lung On really was and Doc Hay for that matter and in the Chinese pulse herbal health position, sexuality is very important. It’s a natural part of life. A Chinese doctor will think nothing of telling you that you’re not making love enough or too much depending on what they think is wrong with you, you know. But to wind up being celibate is a challenge for a Chinese person, it’s not seen as natural. There are roles that you can fit into as a celibate and perhaps Doc Hay saw himself as a Taoist practitioner who was saving his essence and heightening his longevity and goodness knows, they both lived to be very old men, so maybe it worked, but I wish we did know more about that part of their lives and if there is a part of their lives that is pitiful, that may be it. But I rather imagine that like many older men in modern American culture that Doc Hay and Lung On had their flings in the cities.
DMAE: But I was getting at very few Western doctors at that time knew much about women’s medical problems.
BARLOW: Right. And let me say a little bit. I think there are two other elements in which I find them remarkable and certainly one of the elements, or one of the parts of the story that are sad, if you want to look for tragedy, is the fact that they couldn’t have children. They clearly loved children. Kem Wah Chung is full of pictures cut from magazines and candy ads of stereotypical children. Some of them are blond little American girls advertising chocolates from the 1930s and some of them are Chinese children clipped from calendars or from annual publications of one sort of another and so clearly we know that they regretted not being able to have children and the way that they treated local children – all of the memories, or many of the memories that you have are childhood memories from John Day and they are memories of children who never once went into the store but they were given a piece of candy. And of course it was a very romantic place, maybe when you first went in to be a little frightening and no doubt Doc Hay sounded a little strange and his blindness must have been somewhat frightening as well, but everyone really came to love their childhood experience of interacting with these men, so we know that’s an important element of their identity. Now, one of the things that Ing Hay could do was to examine women without violating their privacy, because this of course was very worked out in the Chinese medical tradition. In the Chinese medical tradition, and there are several wonderful books on women in the Chinese medical tradition. Charlotte Firth has given us a great deal of information that lets us reconstruct the practices of the 19th and earlier centuries. So there were any number of questions: there were the Chinese medical model dolls for example, often in ivory, today in plastic, of women, so that a woman could point to the affected area. If there was such a doll in the Kem Wah Chung, and I’m morally certain there was, it was probably one of the first things stolen. We lost some of our important artifacts. For example, we know that traditionally the building had a lot of firearms in it. In part because firearms were a daily tool and in part because apparently they took in firearms to pay for groceries and supplies and maybe even medical practice. Because they were valuable – they were commodities that could be exchanged for money. So that may be one reason. But there were none left. By the time we opened up the building in the 1970s there were bullets, shells, parts and pieces of guns but simply nothing left. So if there was a medical doll of that sort it was probably stolen, if only because it was nude. A nude woman and that would have been a big find for one of those boys, ransacking through the darkness for fireworks. Gee, look what I found, you know. But in addition to that Doc Hay could, by feeling your pulse, diagnose what were delicately known as feminine problems. So he didn’t have to probe. No disrobing, none of the annual pain of having your checkup as a woman in our culture because he could feel your pulse and tell you how many children you’d had, let alone if you were pregnant. He would know that without touching you, according to what we’re told. So I think he was for women a resource. Now, he was also a resource for men because a very common ailment during that period was syphilis, and sexually transmitted diseases. Now we don’t know how successful he was at that but we do know that there were herbal cures as well as any number of patent medicines. One of the diseases that we encountered when we first got there and made ourselves expert in 19th and 20th century medical lore was gleet, G-L-E-E-T, so if you had the gleet, you had a sexually transmitted disease, and it was probably, might have been any number of possibilities but really we don’t know. And there were pills for gleet and whether they helped or worked in that period, I don’t know, but it was a very common issue.
DMAE: That’s what they called it, it’s not a real name.
BARLOW: No, it’s not a real name. They had their euphemisms, just as we have ours for…although our television commercials are getting more and more upfront about these illnesses and problems, shall we say. In that period there was still an element of shame in the whole thing so men who could go in and talk to Doc Hay and get treatment – typical treatment in that period for syphilis was a dose of mercury. Which was likely to be as debilitating as the disease itself. So if he was able to do anything… we did talk to people who were treated for sexually transmitted diseases and said that he helped them, but we don’t know the precise nature of the diagnosis.
DMAE: Now, is there anything else that you want to…
BARLOW: No, I think that might do it, Dmae.