Ink in our blood

2 10 2012

Once a news writer, always a news writer.

Both my friend and colleague Linda Lau Anusasananan and I are retired from working 9-5 for news and magazine publishers, but we still write regularly. Both of us post blogs—more than one each, still freelance, and we both just published books in the last two months. It was a coincidence that we both wrote independently about our families for future generations.

We follow our passions. Linda is a veteran food writer from Sunset, where I met her in the early Seventies in the editorial test kitchens. She enjoyed a long career at the magazine. The license plate on her car says “FOODIE.”

I, on the other hand, started writing the daily news at the Honolulu Advertiser. I moved to Sunset where I swapped my position at the Hawaii field office for six months for one at the Menlo Park headquarters. That is where I learned to write recipes and develop my appreciation and sense of taste for food. Later I wrote news and information about the community colleges of the University of Hawaii. I don’t have vanity plates.

Linda, my foodie friend

On Sunday Linda flew from California to share her The Hakka Cookbook: Chinese Soul Food from around the World (University of California Press, 2012) with the Chinese Hakka community in Honolulu. It was the day after the official book launch at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. It’s the start of her book tour.

The Tsung Tsin Association’s Autumn Banquet was an opportunity to provide recipes and cultural information to an ethnic population that craves the food tastes of their childhood. There is no restaurant here that I know of that specializes in Hakka food, but now, someone could open one with Linda’s recipes (hint!).

As Linda wrote in her dedication, “Most of all, this is for Hakkas throughout the world, so they can honor and preserve their roots with the foods of their ancestors.”

Interestingly, both of us wrote about our “hometown villages” in China, recounting the 2005 trip Linda made to do her research. DH and I joined Linda’s family and, as I’ve mentioned before, enjoyed all the eating.

In The Chong Family in a New Millennium, authored by my cousin James H. Kim On Chong-Gossard and edited by Rebekah Luke (Chong Hee Books, 2012), I included the article “A Visit to Our Ancestral Homeland.” This little book is the sequel to Chong-Gossard’s The Chong Family History that chronicles my maternal grandparents’ story from the orphanage in Chong Lok, China, to 1992. Our 2012 book includes genealogy charts, full-color photos of nearly everyone of six generations, unique insights by the author and essays and anecdotes about family from several other cousins.

The sure-to-be-a-success recipes in The Hakka Cookbook are interwoven with stories about the recipes, the people who shared them, and Linda’s personal journey to learn about her Chinese roots. To me, I view it as the story of everyone who’s ancestors immigrated. Lucky for Hakka people, Linda’s book documents the experience for future generations. It’s a wonderful read.

As I write this, it’s dawn before everyone else is awake, even the dogs and the baby Sofia, and Linda is sitting across the table with her laptop too. We write because we believe it’s important that our children understand where we came from. The ink is in our blood, but rather than write for the government (i.e., public relations), we write what we like.

Future generations: Linda’s daughter Lisa and granddaughter Sofia are visiting from California too. Here they are at Kaaawa Beach yesterday.

Copyright 2012 Rebekah Luke

Three sisters in Shanghai: is one my mom?

13 09 2010

Shanghai, June 9, 1935: Maybe my mother, Aunty Inez, and Aunty Yun

Hello Family (Mom’s side),

While reorganizing and recycling things from the studio, I came across this photo. The handwritten caption reads, “The 3 sisters — who is the tallest? My pumps didn’t help to make me the tallest. Ha! Ha! June 9, 1935.”

Beloved Aunty Yun is at the far right, Aunty Inez is in the middle, and at first glance I identified the sister on the left as my mother, age 18. But looking again, is it she? Maybe, maybe not.

In the 1930s after my grandfather Chong How Kong died, my grandmother Siu Chin and many of her 14 children and their young families went to China from Hawaii, mostly as tourists. Some taught at the university level or worked. With my Uncle Fan’s and Aunty Yun’s tuition and room & board support, my mother went to the University of Shanghai to study music, English, and education.

They were all there until World War II broke out in China, and they made their way back to the Islands. Otherwise they may have stayed in China, and probably I would not be here. Mom continued her college education at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, returning to Honolulu to teach and direct music when she finished.

My mother was a member of the Mid-Pacific Institute Class of ’34. According to J. H. Kim On Chong-Gossard’s writing, our family genealogist, she traveled alone to Shanghai in September 1935. If she is in the photo, then one of the dates is wrong.

I emailed the photo to Cousin Millie, asking what she thought: Fo-Tsin (my mother) or Lois (Millie’s mother)? For Lois was in Shanghai too. Of course neither I nor Millie was born yet. I just haven’t seen a picture of my mom that full of face, but perhaps at 18 she was heavier than I’m used to seeing her in other photos. I usually recognize her high angular cheek bones. Photographers loved using her as a model.

While waiting for Millie’s opinion, I went through mom’s letters, photos, and other papers I still can’t throw away, even though I have no real heirs to save them for. I guess I’ve saved them for me, for a day like today.

I found one of her report cards from the University of Shanghai dated February 19, 1935. Another records that she entered the U. of Shanghai in Spring 1935.

I also found a letter she wrote to Aunty Nyuk in California, dated January 12, 1934, from Peiping [now Beijing]. Aunty Nyuk kept all of the correspondence, and after she died, the letters found their way to me. With all of my 14 aunties and uncles and their spouses now passed, it’s like piecing together a puzzle to get a fuller picture.

Some things are nice to keep. Unless Cousin Millie thinks that’s Lois on the left, I’ll gladly say, that’s my mom and my aunties!

Copyright 2010 Rebekah Luke

Epilogue: Millie says not her mom.

What is family, island style

13 09 2009

Today might be a good day to talk about my family, or shall I say families. I’ll at least start. I am an only child, and my bloodline ends with me. Sometimes people feel sorry for me because of that, until they discover, “Oh, you have Family!”

Today might be good day to talk about family because we’re having Sunday dinner with my hanai family at our house, and I’m cooking. It’s our turn, and it will be a coming out party for 4-month-old Ayla (see my post “Miss Marvelous discovers her toes”), who is the daughter of my step-daughter.

My hanai (adopted) family came into my life about the time I transitioned from high school to college, well, earlier when I met Margy the first day I was a 9th grader. We remained best friends through Punahou. During my parents’ divorce when I was 17, Margy’s  parents—a doctor and his wife with six children—welcomed me into their home where I roomed until I landed my first job at The Honolulu Advertiser as a general assignment reporter. With that job I earned enough money to pay for my own apartment on Lanihuli Drive and moved out.

Family dinner is usually at Mom’s house. This is typical everywhere, as long as the matriarch is living, isn’t it? After that, the family sort of breaks up and the next generation of matriarchs takes over.

We’ll see who shows up: My nephew might have a flag football game. I’m told he is one of the better players. His dad who followed his father’s footsteps and became a physician—stay with me, now—might be on call. My sister, who competes in dressage, is showing her horse for the first time in a two-day event this weekend and hopes she will have the energy afterward to drive out to Kaaawa from Waimanalo. And ditto about the energy for a brother and his family who have a lunch party to attend at Bellows beach.

Some of my hanai family in the summer of 2008 in Washington, D. C., the year our mom Ivalee received the Jefferson Award.

Mom, who doesn’t drive anymore, will be catching a ride with Becky. Becky and I were each others’ first roommates in the Lanihuli apartment, and she’s family too. In any case, I’m making food for 15. Everyone wants to see and meet the baby.

Today might be a good day to talk about family because on Reiki Friday I saw a client from glee club who read my post “Sweet memories and coming home, part 1” and asked if I was related to Uncle Harry and Aunty Edna.

It is a growing fashion these days where I live to address anyone older than you, if even by a couple of years, as Uncle and Aunty whether you are related by blood or not. I’m sure it is done out of respect, but some people use the names almost as if they are punctuation marks in a way that, in my opinion, dilutes the title. I tend to agree with an authority on Hawaiian naming at Kamehameha Schools who prefers not to be called Uncle unless he is your real uncle. That’s okay, you can call me Aunty, but I prefer Aunty Rebekah.

So when my client asked if I was related to Uncle Harry and Aunty Edna, I thought to myself, yes, that’s why they are Uncle and Aunty, but I understood why she asked. Then I saw her resemblance to Harry. It turns out that Harry and Edna were her uncle and aunty too, and we’re related!—by marriage.

“We used to drive to Wahiawa to get lychee every year,” she said.  As they say, small world. Through family ties that extend all the way back to Kohala and the Basel Mission in China’s Kwangtung province, she explained how she knew many of my first cousins on my mother’s side of the family. My mother was the youngest of 15 Chongs. But that is another story, a story told in The Chong Family History by J. H. Kim On Chong-Gossard.* I sent my client off with a copy. “You’ll enjoy this because you know all of the people in it,” I said.

We are One.

My maternal grandparents and 13 of their 15 children in Kohala. My mother, seated front row and center, ws the baby of the family.

These are my ancestors: my maternal grandparents and 13 of their 15 children in Kohala in 1920. My mother, seated front row and center, was three years old and the baby of the family. Edna is the tall, darker complected girl on the right in the back row.

Copyright 2009 Rebekah Luke

* The Chong Family History by J. H. Kim On Chong-Gossard (Kaaawa: Chong Hee Books, 1992, ISBN 0-9634186-0-2, soft cover, 172 pages) is a five-generation family biography, or Jia Pu, of Chong How Kong and Pan Siu Chin and their descendants. Copies sell for $35 and are available from the publisher Chong Hee Books, P. O. Box 574, Kaaawa, HI 96730.

For information on Reiki Friday, click REIKI HEALING BY OELEN in the menu bar.

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