Saturday, October 29, 2016

A look at the past... Kathy's parents

Kathy referred to her parents as Mom and Dad, for me it was Mu-chin and Fu-chin, and for our daughters they were referred to as Pao Pao and Gung Gung.  Here is some information from the past, learned here over time, but limited in depth now.  Pao, the Mom, and Gung, the Dad, will be used as their names here.

They met at the University of Missouri* in 1947, where Gung was working on a masters degree in political science and Pao was taking undergraduate courses.  Being from China, they came from well to do backgrounds, but very different ones.  Gung was from from a Cantonese family that had moved to Fiji from the mainland sometime in the late 1930's possibly.  His father was successful in business and the family was part of the commercial and political class.

Pao was part of the Mandarin class and lived in the Beijing area, at times in the Qingdao area, and in summers at a mountain retreat for the wealthy.  At that location, they lived near Chiang Kai-chek and Pao told us that when he took his regular morning walks he would stop by their house or yard, and pat her on the head as she was a child. Her father was at some point the mayor of Qingdao and he became the Head of Transportation for the nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek.  Kathy has a photograph of that family from when Pao was young, a photograph in front of what can only be called a stone mansion, with a large 1930's Buick parked out front(that photograph is on the wall of the "library room" in our basement now).

In 1948 when Mao took over control of China, and Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan, the parents of Pao and Gung both told them to not come back to China.  History books tell us that there were approximately 5000 Chinese in the U.S. at that time in their situation, and they were allowed to stay and seek resident status.  Pao and Gung were married around this time, when and where is not known.  They left school when their access to funds dried up, and first moved to California and found the only jobs they could, basically the equivalent of migrant workers.  That was not attractive so they found their way to New York City's Chinatown area where Pao's family had contacts.

They eventually moved to a row house in Queens but started out living in Chinatown.  Gung initially worked as a busboy, then a waiter, which is hard to imagine, and told me that when they first moved to New York that he "didn't have a damn nickel to buy a Coca Cola".  Finally he opened a small store on Division St. in Chinatown selling various types of food and items of interest to those who lived there. In the back of the store, using a few large barrels, he grew beansprouts to sell.

In the meantime, Pao had their first child, a daughter.  The order of all of this is not completely right, as that daughter may have been born in Columbia, Missouri, which bumps some of what has just been written above up a year or two.  Generally speaking, what is written is accurate but the timeline might not be.

As the incredibly hard working Gung began to prosper, they did move to Queens and he and Pao became well known in the New York Chinatown community.  Pao also established and expanded contacts with people with mandarin backgrounds who had moved to the U.S., pre-Mao or just after somehow.  They knew of her family and a few had known them in China.  They created a tight knit community of friends.

With Gung's success, he bought a building at 142 Mulberry in the mid-1950's and built a bean sprout factory in the basement with imported German machinery that handled all of the water that was needed.  He was on his way*.  This building in Little Italy was across the street from the Columbo family's discreet headquarters which may have been awkward, but family lore, definitely accurate, is that rival Italian gangsters started beating up the Columbo head's son on Mulberry Street, and Gung went out and fought them off.  A mad Gung Gung in a fight would have likely been unstoppable, even if he was a small wiry man.  The Columbo's treated him like one of their own after that.

Pao and Gung had a second daughter in 1952 and a son in 1954.


That's it for today, subject to edits.


*apparently the University of Missouri was known at that time for being hospitable to students from China and there were a number others there as well, 25 or 100 or somewhere in between,  I have no idea.

second*  By the mid-1960's, 142 Mulberry was the largest producer and distributor of beans sprouts in the northeast, distributing not only to restaurants but to grocery store chains like Waldbaum's. They were sold under the name "Sun-Mee Sprouts".

Postscript:  in the early 1960's the family moved from Queens to suburban Roslyn on Long Island.




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