by Marianne Tong


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781456724856
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 02/15/2011
Pages: 284
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Born in Germany before World War II and immigrating at age thirteen, the author has experienced a great variety of events, both personal and historical. She married a U.S. military man of Chinese descent and became the mother of four children. Her interest in learning the English language as well as her husband's heritage have led her to the University level of research. As a storyteller, she has translated the documentation and her observations into narrative easy-to-read form. The author lives with her husband in Northern California within easy driving distance of all her children and grandchildren.

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A Collection of Short Works
By Marianne Tong


Copyright © 2011 Marianne Tong
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4567-2485-6

Chapter One

The Chinese Merchant's Wife

Chapter 1 In the Village

"You are my wife, and you will go with me!" declared Wong Hoo Chun to the eighteen-year-old trembling in front of him. There were no tears.

Ng Shee's beautiful face revealed none of the terror in her heart. She had been brought in a Sedan chair from Nai Yau, her family's village. As the only daughter of a village elder, she had bound feet because she was not expected to work hard. Servants and concubines would be doing the cooking and other housework. Her only duty would be to please her husband, a man thirty years older than the young bride.

"Yes, husband," she whispered dutifully as she wondered where they would be going. She had been told that she would be living in Hoo Chun's house in the Yew Tin village. Where were the servants? A young girl peeked shyly through the kitchen door.

"This is my daughter, Kum Hing," declared Hoo Chun matter-of-factly. "She will be going with us."

"Where are we going, father?" at nine years old, Kum Hing was quiet but unafraid to speak up. She had inherited much of her father's spirit in facing the unknown. Kum Hing had grown up with the teasing and rough-housing of her two older brothers, Mo Yin and Yoke Choy. Their mother, Ng Hai, had died just four months earlier. While the boys secretly expressed their resentment of the young bride in angry whispers, Kum Hing accepted Ng Shee as a new-found friend.

"It is not your business to know such things!" Hoo Chun dismissed the young girl sternly. "You will tend to your clothing, and prepare to take a long journey!" he added with a wave of his hand.

Kum Hing disappeared back into the kitchen. An elderly woman was nervously stirring the juk (rice soup). "Por-por, is the soup almost done?" Kum Hing was always full of questions. "Do you know what father is talking about? Is he leaving again? Will he come back?"

Yow Ping just shook her head, "Child, ever since your mother died I've been helping here in this house, but he tells me nothing. You must do as your father says. First go feed the chickens, and then come in to eat. Later we will take care of your clothing."

In the tiny parlor, Hoo Chun had lowered his voice in an attempt to calm Ng Shee. "I will explain my situation to you, but do not ask any questions. My business is not to be interfered in. Do you understand?"

Ng Shee nodded. She was well aware of her position as the third wife even though the others were no longer living. "I am prepared to do what my husband expects of me," she replied.

Hoo Chun smiled. He had chosen well. Perhaps this woman would be the companion he had needed in the faraway land on the other side of the vast ocean. He called into the kitchen, "Yow Ping, bring my wife a cup of tea. We have some important matters to discuss."

Settling down at the tiny table, Ng Shee could feel the tension leave her. Perhaps this man would protect her after all. What mystery was about to be revealed?

Hoo Chun cleared his throat. It was not in his nature to discuss events with a woman, but it had to be done. "You know that I have been away for a long time. I have been in America. In 1880 I left this village of Yew Tin and sailed on a ship across the ocean. In San Francisco, I worked in a medicine shop called Fook Wah Tong as a bookkeeper. Soon I became manager and was called a merchant. A Chinese merchant is an important person in America. Laborers are not important. Laborers are not allowed to bring their families to America; however, merchants are allowed."

Ng Shee's heart was beating a bit faster. Was he talking about her sailing to America? What would she do there? Would she have someone to help deliver her babies? Would she understand the language? She tightened both her hands around the tea cup to hold it steady.

Not seeming to notice his wife's anxiety, Hoo Chun went on, "Next month we will take the train to Hong Kong, and then we will sail on a beautiful ship to America. Perhaps the winter weather will make great waves in the ocean, but the tickets are not so expensive in January. My daughter Kum Hing will come with us, but my sons are not welcome. Their place is in the home village. They must make their own fortune!"

Relief mixed with the terror in Ng Shee's heart. Kum Hing had been friendly ever since her wedding, but the boys still smirked at her whenever they thought their father was not watching. Ng Shee's mind reeled with the information she had just received. Thinking wildly, "One month! Sailing on the ocean in the winter! I must have warm clothes!" She looked shyly at the imposing man who now sat silently across from her.

"Very well, husband. Will there be time to go to my village and take leave of my family before we travel?" She spoke so softly that he barely heard her.

"I will go with you to Nai You on the second day of next week. On the way back we will stop in the Sun Tong market district to make some necessary purchases," he had assumed his authority again. Ng Shee could tell that the discussion was over. She silently sipped her tea and waited patiently for dinner.

Chapter 2 Angel Island

Kum Hing bounded into the cabin. "You must come! I can see a city in the distance!" Despite the biting cold, she was excited and eager to show her discovery.

Hoo Chun grumbled, "Yes, yes, I've seen it before. It's San Francisco, but we won't be allowed to land for several days."

Throwing a warm shawl around her shoulders, Ng Shee caught some of Kum Hing's excitement although she was walking slowly because of her feet. "Are we close? Can you see your father's store?"

Kum Hing laughed, "There are many buildings and many boats, but I can't tell what I'm looking at."

Most of the other passengers were crowding onto the deck. After a long cold voyage from Hong Kong, they were as eager as children to get a glimpse of land. Luckily the fog had already lifted on that February morning as they sailed into the Bay.

"Why aren't we going to the city?" Kum Hing was confused. "I thought we were going to San Francisco," she complained.

"Don't you remember what your father told you about Angel Island?" Ng Shee reminded her. "The ship will stop over there first. Then we must answer questions before we can go to San Francisco."

"But why?" Always inquisitive, Kum Hing asked for an explanation.

They had reached the railing where they could get a good look at the island on one side and the city on the other. "Your father told me that this country has a law. Not all Chinese are allowed to land here. I really don't understand everything he told me, but it has something to do with Exclusion." Ng Shee was trying her best to explain.

Kum Hing had already lost interest. "You are speaking words I don't understand," she said as she started to move away. "Besides, the people are making too much noise. I just want to watch the ship sail into the harbor."

Ng Shee was trying hard to remember what Hoo Chun had told her about Exclusion. About sixty years earlier there had been a discovery of gold in California. Many people came to mine the gold. Even more people came to California to grow food, to start businesses and to build cities. Then other people wanted a railroad across the whole country so they could travel back and forth. There were not enough people to build the railroad, so they asked people in China to come work on the tunnels, bridges and tracks. Many Chinese came to do the hard work. These were the laborers who were not allowed to bring their wives, and they were not allowed to marry American girls. They were expected to go back to China after the work was done. The immigration laws of the time allowed people from other countries to come to America with their families, but the Chinese laborers were excluded. Certain Chinese, however, were allowed to stay in America and even bring their families from China. For instance, a merchant who did no other work on a railroad or in the fields was allowed to stay. That is why her husband Hoo Chun, who was a merchant, was allowed to bring his wife and daughter. He had explained everything to her. He told her to be very careful when the inspectors asked questions. He said the Exclusion Law was very strict, and they might have to stay on the ship and be sent back to China! Ng Shee shuddered. She wanted to be back in her village, but the thought of another three weeks on the ship back to China did not appeal to her. Besides, she would shame her family if she returned.

"Look, look! There is a mountain right in front of us!" Kum Hing was tugging at her sleeve to bring Ng Shee out of her reverie.

"It looks very nice, but we won't be allowed to get off the ship today. First we must answer lots of questions," Ng Shee explained. Kum Hing was already skipping away.

Just then Hoo Chun walked up behind Ng Shee. "It will be good to tend to my business again," he casually commented. Ng Shee noticed that his face had a completely changed expression. There was an excitement that had nothing to do with him looking at his young and beautiful wife. He was already preoccupied with managing Fook Wah Tong & Co. He had left a good man in charge, but the business required his own steady hand. Surely, his customers would appreciate dealing with him personally again. Also, his members were waiting for their dividends.

The ship had stopped and was being tied up at the dock. "Who are those men coming up the ladder?" asked Ng Shee with nervous anticipation.

"Those are the inspectors I told you about," Hoo Chun answered. "They will call each and every one of us to a room. It will take a long time, maybe several days before it's our turn."

Two days later, Hoo Chun was called to testify. An interpreter posed short questions, and Hoo Chun gave concise answers. It was clear that the inspectors were familiar with his case. He had already made one trip in 1895 back to China, returning in 1897. One of the inspectors was studying his file. The photographs matched, and the answers matched. Hoo Chun was cleared for landing.

"Tomorrow they will call you," he told Ng Shee. "Just tell them the truth. If you don't know an answer, say so."

Immigration Inspector Gassaway noticed her nervous shaking as she walked into the interrogation room. He pointed to a chair, so she quietly took her seat and waited.

"What is your name?" he asked in a kindly voice. The interpreter translated.

"Ng Seung Yee," responded Ng Shee. Her given name had been replaced by the general term for a married woman, Ng Shee.

"How old are you?"

"Nineteen today," her birthday was of no significance. Her husband had not even acknowledged it.

A hint of a smile passed between the Inspector and the Stenographer. On the previous day they had questioned her husband Hoo Chun who admitted to being forty-seven. After a few more questions, she was dismissed.

Inspector Gassaway's handwritten letter to the Inspector in Charge of the United States Immigration Service, Chinese Bureau stated,

"I have taken the testimony of the Applicant, the husband and the daughter by the first wife, they all state the applicant and Wong Ho, were married in 3rd month of last year. —there are no material discrepancies in said testimonies. This woman has bound feet, and seems to be a very respectable person. The testimony of husband and daughter will be found in cases E.S. 3425 and 3427 of this same steamer."

On the next day, permission to be landed in the exciting city of San Francisco was granted to Ng Shee.

Chapter 3 Dupont Street

Baby Ging Ching had been cranky most of the night. She was a little over one year old and usually slept through the night. What could be wrong? As Ng Shee comforted the child in her arms, she felt the new life stirring within her. She didn't mind living in the cramped room behind the Fook Wo Tong store, but it was difficult to keep the little girl quiet. She stared out of the window into the dimness of the pre-dawn, gently rocking the baby in her arms. Another movement rocked her whole body. Then a chunk of the plaster ceiling fell just behind her.

The loud sound woke Hoo Chun, "Can't you keep that baby under control?" he yelled from his makeshift bed.

Ng Shee was confused, "It wasn't the baby!" she said just as the building began to tremble even harder.

In one jump Hoo Chun reached the window, "It's an earthquake. We must leave." Grabbing the bag with important papers, he started for the door in his night clothes. "Come, wife! Bring the child."

Ng Shee stood rooted to the floor. Even though she was swaying with the movement, she held the baby even tighter. Her eyes were mesmerized by the red glow starting in front of the window. Finally she forced her legs to move toward the door. The shaking had stopped, but things were still falling all around her. At the door, Hoo Chun yelled, "Kum Hing, wake up, we must leave! The building is burning!" Wrapped in a blanket, Kum Hing, grabbed Ng Shee's hand to lead her out.

People were gathering in the street. Hoo Chun was already shouting orders. "The fire is blocking our escape to the north! Go south toward the ferries!" Suddenly he remembered his wife and daughters. He saw them coming through the store, "Stay close to me. There are too many fires. Many people will crowd into the streets. We shall go to the waterfront."

Scores of people, some still in their night clothes, flooded into the street. Dupont Street had been their home, and now it was on fire. Shouts and screams streamed like a wave toward the waterfront. In the general hubbub, all their possessions had to be abandoned.

"Husband, what shall we do?" The truth began to sink in. Kum Hing was still hanging on to Ng Shee's hand as they arrived on the dock.

"We shall wait here until we can board a ferry. I know a merchant in Alameda. We shall go there." Hoo Chun was determined not to show his fear.

Ng Shee nodded, and then she looked around. Hundreds of people had gathered at the wharf. Behind them a deep red glow mixed with the rising sunlight. Shivering in her flimsy night dress, she realized the horror that had just happened and the horrors that were to follow. Their store and home were going up in smoke. How could she care for the child in her arms and the child in her body?

Now the jostling of the crowd began to push them closer to the water. Hoo Chun stayed close to his wife and daughters. "Follow me!" he whispered. Hoo Chun had taken something from the bag. He approached a ferryman with an envelope of money. "Take this!" The ferryman quickly allowed the little family to board the ferry.

Within the hour, they were on the way to Alameda. Ng Shee handed the child to Kum Hing, "My body continues to feel the quaking," she explained. "Please take care of Ging Ching if anything happens to me." Soon she was hanging over the railing retching uncontrollably.

Hoo Chun looked away. "Am I to lose another wife?"

Chapter 4 Johnson Alley

Quan Fat Yin's grocery store on Johnson Alley in Alameda had become a refugee center. A near-by vacant lot was dotted with make-shift shelters. Although Alameda had sustained heavy damage in the earthquake that devastated San Francisco, people were willing to share what they had left. Quan Fat Yin was one of Wong Hoo Chun's customers when Fook Wo Tong and Co. was a thriving herbal shop on Dupont Street. Now he shared what little he had.

"Will your wife help Ng Shee when she is ready to give birth?" Hoo Chun resented that he had been humbled into a position of asking for help.

"We have a small room in the back of the store where Ng Shee can sleep. When will the baby be born?" Fat Yin was concerned about the coming cold weather.

"It will be November before Ng Shee needs to lie down," Hoo Chun played down the urgency.

In the tent Kum Hing was preparing a pot of juk (rice soup) for the ailing Ng Shee and the little girl who was almost two years old. A biting October storm had passed through, and coughing could be heard throughout the camp. Now the rain had stopped and the sun was spreading some welcome warmth over the misery.

Throughout the summer, Hoo Chun had been gone most of the time. He spent hours and hours each day walking the streets of Alameda and Oakland trying to find a job and a suitable place for his family to live. He noted with satisfaction that a vigorous reconstruction was taking place, but he was not allowed to take on a laborer's job. He had to be a merchant in order to stay in the United States. The ferry service between Oakland and San Francisco had become quite efficient. Hoo Chun had returned to Dupont Street several times, but it would be a long time before he could reopen his store.

Now he faced the imminent birth of another baby!


Excerpted from Mindpieces by Marianne Tong Copyright © 2011 by Marianne Tong. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


America, It's all Your Fault....................ix
Once is Enough....................1
The Chinese Merchant's Wife....................3
Wong Hoo Chun....................25
Parallel Lives....................41
Forty Steps to the Balcony....................43
A Bear Named Bowling Shoes....................51
I Dreamed a Boy....................53
Underwear Drawers....................57
Susie's Car Keys....................61
What Am I? 1985....................65
Jumping Jacks....................67
It's Not Just a House....................69
Memories of Della....................75
Betty Goldstein, Where Are You?....................79
Hans Küppers....................87
Raising a Son....................91
Tante Katt....................101
Time of Giving....................103
Thank you, Viv....................105
Happy Birthday, Dear Lisa....................107
A Letter to the Hospital Commander When Kathy was Sick....................109
July 22, 1980 Letter to U. S. President Jimmy Carter....................117
In Search of GPA (A letter to my counselor at UCB)....................119
A Sampling of Journal Entries While I Studied at UCBerkeley....................123
How to Earn an F at a University....................129
A Letter to God....................139
A Bump on the Head in Ashland....................143
A letter to President Bush and Governor Schwarzenegger,....................145
Getting and Losing a Job....................147
Four Parents are Too Many....................183
My Aunt Elsa....................199
A Story of Hardship and Survival....................249
Author's Notes....................265
About the Author....................267

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