A Chinese American Odyssey

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This blog provides updates about other fascinating experiences I had while researching, writing, and speaking about my books on Chinese American history and ethnic identity after the publication of A CHINESE AMERICAN ODYSSEY in 2014.

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Zoom-ing About Life in the South During Jim Crow

Posted by John Jung on September 11, 2020 at 8:45 PM Comments comments (1)

With the pandemic turning the world upside down or inside out, Zoom has proven to be a godsend for allowing large numbers of people all around the country, or even the world, to safely communicate in real time. I was privileged to participate in a Zoom panel presentation,

An Untold Past: Chinese Americans in the South Panel Discussion

 sponsored by the Chinese American Musuem of Los Angeles (CAMLA) with my friends, Baldwin Chiu and Larissa Lam, filmakers and musical performers.

This panel was the first of a planned series, Untold Past, about little known aspects of Chinese American history such as the lives of Chinese in the Deep South during the era of Jim Crow segregation.

You can view the program on YOUTUBE.  https://youtu.be/sPQUGHv0-TI?t=93

A Book About Chinese Laundries Written in Chinese

Posted by John Jung on May 28, 2018 at 1:55 PM Comments comments (2)

One fascinating discovery when I wrote "Chinese Laundries: Tickets to Survival on Old Mountain"  was that when telling their relatives in China about their livelihood in the U. S., laundrymen saved face and avoided describing their business as a "washing clothing store," which accurately described their work. Instead. they omitted "washing" and described their business as a "clothing store," which was much more impressive.

It is likely that many Chinese who were supported by remittances from overseas Chinese who toiled long hours washing, and then ironing, other people's dirty clothes never imagined the hardships and diificullt lives of their benefactors. It was suggested to me that a Chinese translation of my books on Chinese American history, especially my laundry book, would be of interest in China, Taiwan, and other countries with large Chinese populations. Although the idea had merit, I never pursued it for lack of time, and lack of contacts in China to bring it into completion.

Over a year or so ago, a professor of history, Christine Chin-Yu Chen, at National Chung Hsingin Taichung, Taiwan contacted me. She had read my book and was writing a book in Chinese about the lives of Chinese laundrymen and wanted permission to include oral histories from my book, I was excited by news of this prospect and happy to help with it to spread information about Chinese laundrymen to a much larger audience.

Last week Dr. Chen sent me a copy of her book,

"Eight-pound Iron: The Chinese American Laundryman in the Isolated Society."

Since unfortunately, I cannot read Chinese, I can't comment much on the content; however, inasmuch as Dr. Chen included many historic images from sources like the Library of Congress that depict the virulent racism toward Chinese laundrymen in particular, and all Chinese for that matter, it is clear that her book is a valuable contribution and will help enlighten Chinese about the place in history of the achievements of Chinese laundrymen and, for some, their famiiies.

Recovering From Cancer

Posted by John Jung on April 21, 2018 at 9:00 PM Comments comments (3)

Growing up, you learn about cancer and its devastating effects, but since you think it is something that old, not young, people develop unless you know someone close to you who develops a cancer, you go about your life and hardly worry much about it.

In the fall of 2016, I was at Wiiliams College in Massachsetts to attend a performance of a modern dance creation of the H.T. Chen Dance company from New York Chinatown, "South of Gold Mountain," a tribute to the small number of Chinese immigrants who settled in the Deep South.

While I was in my motel room waiting for a ride to the auditorium one evening, I chanced to rub my neck and was surprised to feel a solid lump on the right side, a lump which was not present on the opposite side.  Needless to say, as soon as I got back to California I immediately saw my doctor. Imaging scans revealed that I had stage-4 nonHodgkins lymphoma, an aggressive form of immune system cancer.

This finding was a shock especially since I was feeling fine with no obvious symptoms. Fortunately I had a reassuring and capable oncologist who, based on the tests, felt that I had a good prognosis and put me in a chemotherapy regime of 6 treatments, one every three weeks. I have now been "in remission" for a little over one year, thankfully.  Also, aside from losing all my hair, I had few serious side effects from the chemo while I was being treated.  However, after chemo ended, my feet and ankles became very swollen, a worrisome condition that lasted several months before subsiding.


I was able to stay positive during this ordeal; being responsible for taking care of my wonderful dog, Rufus, definitely helped me improve. And prior to being diagnosed with lymphoma, I had also committed to giving a talk at the Emeritus College program of Saddleback College in Orange County. It was scheduled for a date in January, 2017, that was in the middle of my chemo program and i was not sure how I would be physically, and mentally, at that date. However, I was determined to give this talk partly because it would be to a huge audience of several hundred educated retirees who were almost entirely nonAsian, a population that I felt was important to address about the history of chinese in America.

Fortunately, I was well enough to give the talk, one which was well received, a factor that was therapeutic and uplifted my morale since I had not given any talks for many months. It gave me confidence that I would be physically and mentally able to give more future talks. And, I did give two short talks later in 2017, and two longer ones in January and March of 2018.

I have also resumed research with two papers published in books edited by others. I also have copy edited a 4 volume set of books, "A Legacy Magnified: A Generation of Chinese Americans in Southern California: 1980s-2010s." about the achievements in many  fields of endeavor by Taiwanese Americans in Southern California. It was a eye opener for me as I was uninformed about the considerable impressive accomplishments of this other population of Chinese Americans.

I am currently writing an article about the 'migration' of the 1870s of Chinese from the west into middle America: working title: How and Why Chinese Made Their Way to Places Like Topeka, Kalamazoo, and Peoria, a question that has not received much attention but is an imortant one...these Chinese did not just pop up overnight in these remote (from the west) places where no previous Chinese had lived before them.

So, my "Odyssey" continues, and may possibly lead to a sixth book! Who knows?



Are Talks Better When You Don't "Powerpoint?"

Posted by John Jung on March 23, 2018 at 6:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Over the years of giving talks about Yin & Yang Press books and presentations about other Chinese American issues, I came to rely on Powerpoint as a means of displaying visual images.  One advantage of using Powerpoint is that aside from the information on the slides, it takes the focus on the audience off of you. A disadvantage, however, is that overreliance on Powwerpoint can make your presentation feel more "canned" or less spontaneous. Most speakers are content to rely on using Powerpoint, but what would happen if an entire talk was devoid of visual aids?  Would that force the speaker to find other ways to engage the audience and would it lead to a better or poorer talk?

At a recent talk I gave in Arizona at the Gilbert Historical Museum, about the long lasting adverse effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943), I gave a "powerpoint-less" talk, but not by design.  What happened is that I had computer challenges with my Powerpoint file, which would simply not load. After several minutes of trying, I decided it best to forge ahead and give the talk without Powerpoint. 

And, although my talk did not follow my planned sequence and content, I managed to cover at least 90 percent of my material plus some ad-libs in about 40 minutes in an off-the-cuff talk. I breathed a sigh of relief at the end. I really felt that my talk was actually better than if I had relied on my Powerpoint slides. Perhaps the stress of the computer disaster helped raise my arousal to a level that made me more "animated" and have more eye contact with the audience, which was not seated in a dark room as they would have been if I had been able to show my slides.

My Article On Chinese in the South and Death Rituals That, To My Surprise, Got Translated into Chinese

Posted by John Jung on March 16, 2018 at 1:05 AM Comments comments (0)

       Another example of how establishing a reputation helps you get more opportunities to promote your work. A fascinating web magazine, South Writ Large, which features articles about all aspects of life in the American South, invited me to write an article about practices of Chinese in the South related to death and funerals. I must confess I am not an expert on the topic, but felt I could write a brief overview. Here is the opening for the Fall 2015 article, 

To see the entire article:





Much to my surprise, recently I learned that someone had translated my article into Chinese and posted it on a blog.  I ca't read Chinese, but I was pleased that now Chinese who could not read English would be able to read my article.  Here is the beginning of the article.

To see the entire post in Chinese:   http://blog.sciencenet.cn/blog-1122825-1097443.html

The Confederate Soldier Statue in Macon, GA.

Posted by John Jung on February 14, 2018 at 11:00 PM Comments comments (0)

The terrible events at Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, 2017, suddenly raised questions about the value of Confederate statues that permeate the Deep South and neighboring states. I was born in Georgia and lived there in Macon until I was 15.  Confederate memorials were held in high regard and unquestioned as to their legitimacy.

A statue of a Confederate soldier atop a small mound stood in the middle of one of the main intersections, Mulberry and Second Streets, right across from the Bibb County Court House, and as I recall, it was decorated on "Confederate Memorial Day" at the end of April each year in memory of Confederate soldiers who died in battle. 

In the wake of the Charlottesville confrontation between white supremists and anti-racists, many southern towns debated the question of removing Confederate monuments, and some took such action. Living in California, I wondered what actions had been taken in Macon.

Almost 15 years ago, I had an intriguing, experience of a different nature in connection with the physical location, and not the legitimacy, of the Confederate soldier statue, which I described in my memoir, A Chinese American Odyssey: How A Retired Psychologist Makes A Hit as an Historian, and I include here.

Did the Confederate soldier statue get moved, and why? One of the most surprising experiences of my first visit back to Macon, in 2004, was seeing the old Confederate soldier statue that I recall passing every day on my way to and from Whittle School had apparently marched on to a new site. It had stood, since 1896 or thereabouts, atop a small mound of grass “smack dab,” as locals would say, in the center of the intersection of my street, Mulberry, and Second Street, only a block away from one of the main streets of Macon.
But in 2004, the statue was not where I remembered it. Instead, it stood on a nearby triangular plot of land where Second St. collided with a diagonal street, Cotton Ave. only about 50 to 75 feet away from its original site.


Still it seemed to fit there so well in this location that I began to wonder if my memory could have failed so badly. Looking at the middle of the intersection of Mulberry and Second Streets where I believed the statue used to be located, I saw that in its place, left turn lanes had been installed to permit cars on Second St. to more readily make left turns onto Mulberry Street.


Follow the arrows in the diagram to see where the statue had been and where it was relocated. Confederate Soldier monument was a block from our laundry. Aha, now it all made sense. When “push came to shove,” the modern need to keep traffic moving triumphed over the sanctity of monuments to the past. Our Confederate soldier had to yield to the convenience of motorists!

2020 Update

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement that grew rapidly after several young black men were killed by questionable circumstances and actions by police in different cities, the call for removal or destruction of Confederate war monuments spread across the South. The Cofederate soldier monument in Macon was targeted and defaced but not destroyed. Proposals to relocate it from the center of town are being evaluated but as of the fall of 2020, nothing has been finalized.

Speaking Invitations Can Be By Chance

Posted by John Jung on January 31, 2018 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

I am occasionally asked how I get invited to speak, whether all my expenses are covered, and other questions about giving talks.  There is no one answer.  Sometimes I initiate by letting a group or organization know I am available to speak; other times, a group will contact me with an invitation. If the venue is local or within easy driving distance, I usually accept and don't expect any compensation although I often receive a nice dinner or lunch. If the venue is across the country such as in Boston, New York, Atlanta, Mississippi, or Chicago, i have been fortunate that my hosts have provided an honorarium and found me lodging at someone's home if not in a hotel.  But if I am going to visit a city for other reasons, I don't expect an  organization to pay my travel expenses since I would be there anyway.

You can never predict when an invitation will be made as organizations have their own schedule and preferences for topics or speakers. Recently, I had two totally unexpected invitations to speak in the San Francisco area.  A good friend, Philip Sun, who had invited me twice several years ago to speak in Houston called me in October 2017 to ask if I would give a short keynote speech at the Asian Community Mental Health Services 43rd Anniversary Celebration at the Berkeley Country Club. I always accept any opportunity to visit the Bay Area, so I readily accepted. I have several friends in the area, so lodging was not an expense.

My address was well-received, so well in fact that afterwards I met Francis Kong who was quite excited by my comments and asked if I would be available in January, 2018, to speak at an event he created, Imagine Talks, at which a dozen speakers from different fields who were successful but not without setbacks and difficulties spoke about their journey to serve as inspirations to the 100 or so millenial Asian Americans in attendance.

I was flattered that Francis invited me to join such an accomplished and energetic array of achievers to speak at the event in Silicon Valley. My topic was quite different from the other talks, which often dealt with entrepreneurial undertakings while I spoke on how my reinvention of myself during retirement as a public historian of Chinese American history unfolded and how I was able to succeed, I pointed out how I discovered so much history of Chinese in America not taught in school history books, findings that made me proud of the achievements of Chinese Americans despite considerable obstacles, and urged them to learn this history to help them understand this aspect of their identity.

My 20 min. talk starts near the 3 min. mark  of the hour long session called Reflections on Society (Note: the editor mismatched the video and audio)


So,  was my "chance" meeting of Francis Kong in Berkeley that led me to the unexpected opportunity to speak at the 4th meeting for this wonderful annual event that I had not known about previously.

Coca Cola and Chinese in the South

Posted by John Jung on November 13, 2017 at 3:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Growing up in Macon, Georgia, with its hot and humid summers, as a kid, I relished any opportunity to drink an ice cold bottle of Coca Cola. I actually enjoyed other soft drinks such as Nehi Orange and Grape, Dr. Pepper, 7 Up, and Pepsi Cola, as long as they were ice cold, but Coke was Number 1.

Imagine my excitement decades later when I was invited to return to the South in 2014 to speak on a panel during Asian American Month to employees about the relationship between Coke and Chinese in the South at the national corporate headquarters of Coca Cola in Atlanta where Coca Cola had its origins.




After our well-received panel presentation, we were treated a lunch and served, what else, but Coke, to drink followed by a guided tour of an historic archive of Coca Cola memorabilia that is not available to the public. Any thing with reference to Coke was stored in this huge archiveincluding ads, old bottles, Coke bric a brac, toys.

The event brought back happy childhood memories of drinking Coke while reading comic books or playing checkers on hot summer days!

"Preaching" Beyond the "Choir"

Posted by John Jung on February 5, 2017 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (0)

     Over the past decade, I have had more than100 opportunities to speak about the Chinese experience in America. The response has been very positive especially from audience members who have personal or indirect exposure to the mistreatment and lack of recognition Chinese have generally encountered.  Despite this positive reception, I have wanted to have opportunities to "preach beyond the choir," so to speak.  

      My audiences have been predominantly Chinese Americans, and most of them have been from older generations.  But awareness of Chinese American history is of great value to younger Chinese Americans and to non-Chinese of all generations.

        Opportunity to speak to a large mostly non-Chinese audience called this year when John Gee arranged an invitation for me to speak at part of a semester long lecture series at Laguna Woods Village sponsored by the Saddleback College Emeritus Insittute in Orange County, California.  

    Over 400 attended for a 9:30 a.m. talk on a morning despite a threat of rain.  More importantly to me, probably 98% of the audience were not Chinese or Asian. After the talk, many complimented me for teaching them about many aspects of American history they never knew and others shared their own experiences with Chinese laundries and restaurants.


Below: I am with Rob Henry, Program Faculty Coordinator, Dan Predoehl, Director of Emeritus Institute, and Gordon Hom, President of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California.

Serendipity and Yin and Yang Press Promotion

Posted by John Jung on July 1, 2016 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)
          Writing books is easy compared to marketing and promoting them. I've given over 100 book talks on Yin and Yang Press books, which is my favorite method of publicizing my work.  I recently decided to try the method used by brand name apparel. For example, Nike has its swoosh logo and "Just Do It" slogan to increase its visibility. 

So, I thought, why not try a similar approach so I created a t-shirt with a Yin-Yang symbol along with the translation of part

of my Chinese name,  

which happens to be part of a famous Chinese proverb that aptly relates to the goal of Yin and Yang Press, namely, "When you drink water, remember the source."

By chance, I wore it when I and my friend, Lynne Choy, went to see an exhibit commemorating Nixon's historic visit to Red China in 1972. My Yin and Yang Press t-shirt caught the eyes of the curator of the exhibit and the General Manager of South Coast Plaza which hosted it. To my surprise, they invited us to pose with them in front of their creative and important exhibit, displayed in a 3-dimensional representation of a Yin and Yang symbol.  

My t-shirt may not have created any sales of my books, but it did lead to a serendipitous bit of publicity for my brand!