On the Scene: Finding Our Roots

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Happy Wong family members find their ancestral home in Toishan village

Happy Wong family members find their ancestral home in Toishan village.

Happy New Year.  It seems as one gets older, many of us find a need to look back into their family history to find their roots. This was the motivation for members of the Wong family to seek out the family village in China where their father and grandfathers once lived. So Scott Wong flew from Singapore to join his father Ivan Wong of Alameda, CA. Dr. Ira and Ellie Wong came with their son Jason from San Mateo area, and Denise Deal from Portland met daughter Libby from Washington DC in Hong Kong. Joining them were another cousin Dr. Vernon Wong from Menlo Park and cousin Wendy Wong from Boston, and the eager clan met up at the border town of Shenzhen, China to begin their trek to the ancestral village.

Denise Deal and Eleanor Wong arrive at Garden Phoenix Hotel in Toishan

Denise Deal and Eleanor Wong arrive at Garden Phoenix Hotel in Toishan

My husband, Calvin had grown up in their village, and we had visited it with his parents in the 1980s. In 2006, we brought our children and grandchildren to see where their ancestors had emigrated from.  So he happily offered to share this part of the Wong history with these second and third generation cousins and arranged their three day visit back in time to Toishan Province.  A three-hour bus ride through the countryside was an eye opener for some, seeing a modern freeway filled with many automobiles and trucks surrounded by sometimes primitive farms and villages set right amidst modern factory and high rise buildings.

Cousins Calvin and Vernon Wong find tree they played in as boys.

Wong cousins stand before their great grandfather’s village home.

Upon arrival to the city of Toishan, we are astonished to find a fancy high rise, the Garden Phoenix Hotel, as our home base. Entering from its large circular driveway, we are greeted with an opulent marble entry lobby with curved ceilings of painted images, reminiscent of Rome’s Sistine Chapel, no less.  Our lunch at the hotel’s gourmet Chinese restaurant was just as fancy as its setting, and the wonderful menu of dishes displayed in our large round 18 person table were specially selected by the restaurant owners, Mr. and Mrs. Chin, who were old friends and original owners of our favorite restaurant, Bamboo Garden, in hometown Sunnyvale before they returned to China.

Cousins Calvin and Vernon Wong find tree they played in as boys.

But the family villages were our prime purpose to come to Toishan, so our trusty 36 passenger bus and efficient bus driver, led by local relatives, bravely left the paved highway to take us down narrow dusty roads, surrounded by rice fields, to find  the Wong village.   As we got closer, the roads became too narrow for the bus, so we walked through rice fields and dirt paths to come upon a series of homes set close together with their common gray brick walls that have stood for over 100 years.  Alongside the path was a water-filled canal bordered by yards of yellow rice being dried right out in the open

Upon reaching the home where Ira, Ivan and DeeDee’s father Edward Wong once lived with their grandfather, snap snap went the cameras of their childrenScott, Jason and Libby, who seemed enthralled with knowing they were in the home of their grandfather and great grandparents. Wendy Wong felt a true kinship upon finding a picture of her father in a frame hanging on the wall of this now-empty home which still had the original sparse furnishings that were used some 80-100 years ago by their ancestors.   Followning tradition, they all quickly paid respect by bowing three times before the table ladened with incense, cooked chicken, and other foods.. Lighting the firecrackers and burning paper money completed the tradition of sending food and money to their family ancestors.   Cousins Calvin and Vernon Wong took a nice walk down memory lane outside the village, remembering a day some 75 years ago when village boy Calvin welcomed HK visitor Vernon and they played under the large still-standing tree together. They gave each other a hug of remembrance, reminiscing how far away their paths had taken these two little boys to America and a much easier life than had they remained living in the village.

A final tribute to the Wong ancestors was made trudging up a hillside filled with brush and ant hills in search of the tombstone of their Wong grandfather/great grandfather. Although almost completely covered over by heavy growth of sharp weeds, Libby found it first, furiously kicking away the thorny branches so they could finally see and read the tombstone. Tired from the long difficult hike up, they all agreed this ancestor must have wanted to make sure he was on top of a hillside, all by himself, hidden and safe from any human predators or enemies because his choice certainly made it hard for them to find his final resting place.  After a visit to the city of Toishan with its bustling pedestrian street as well as its loca lMcDonald’s restaurants, the group of Chinese Americans who had crossed the ocean to search for their roots had completed their wish and admitted this was an experience they will never forget. They pondered whether some 20 years from now when they bring their own children/grandchildren to find the village of their forefathers – will it still be there and still the same?  We will never know for the modernization of China is the fastest moving of the world.  Life does move on in a changing world.

BACK ON THE HOME SCENE…….

Dobbs Ferry Chef Mike Yakura and Manager Dennis Ngai welcome patrons Sylvia and Roger Eng.

Dobbs Ferry Chef Mike Yakura and Manager Dennis Ngai welcome patrons Sylvia and Roger Eng.

Throwing aside new year’s resolutions to diet, and instead making a 2013 resolution to try new dining options in the great eating town of San Francisco as much as the wallet will allow, we found an ideal pre or post opera/ballet/symphony place to enjoy good food in pleasant surroundings at Dobbs Ferry in nearby Hayes Valley District.  Its thirty eight year old executive chef Mike Yakura was named SF Chronicle’s “Rising Star” and has appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef, and Feast or Famine, a culinary reality show he co-hosted for three years. Divided into two distinct areas, Dobbs Ferry bar/lounge has high-top tables, elevated banquette and bar counter seating for casual dining whereas the private dining area is attractively decorated with a glassed-in area of festive holiday lights or a natural winter scene as the seasons change. . Dobbs Ferry is a small village in New York, hometown of owner Scott Broccoli, so they like to say DF is a California bistro marrying West coast cuisine with small town New York nuances. My favorite dishes were the Chicken Scarpariello “Shoemaker Chicken” with Italian sausage, sweet peppers and crispy fried potatoes., which was enhanced with a glass of Hahn Syrah.  The roasted pumpkin and ricotta stuffed ravioli with duck confit, pecorino cheese and sage was another winner paired with Acrobat pinot noir wine. For the hearty meat eater, the short ribs were very tasty.  As we rushed off to a SFS Davies Hall concert 2 blocks away, the very amiable managerDennis Ngai waved us off with a neat cone of Strauss Farms soft serve ice cream – yummy end to a delightful Dobbs Ferry dinner. www.dobbsferrysf.com; (415) 551-7700.

WOW ladies Gloria Hom ad Muriel Kao meet Urban Tavern chef Colin Duggan.

WOW ladies Gloria Hom ad Muriel Kao meet Urban Tavern chef Colin Duggan.

My WOW sisters spent our annual holiday outing to San Francisco .  For the curious, WOW stands for “women of the world”  (not whiny old women!)  and we Silicon Valley-ites opened the day seeing Jerry Yang’s Calligraphy exhibit at theAsian Art Museum. We enjoyed ogling at the jades, bronze and the new Batik exhibit and agreed, there is too much to see in one sitting so we must return again to this hidden jewel of San Francisco.  Off to downtown, we headed to Urban Tavern, adjacent to the O’Farrell Street Hilton Hotel.  Five hours of free parking, such a premium in busy San Francisco, while dining, is definitely an Urban Tavern hallmark and is a wonderful complement to a great meal for diners who might also want to combine theater or shopping to the day. Executive Chef Colin Duggan’s kitchen showcases contemporary American cuisine prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients grown within 100 miles of the Bay Area. Striking highlight is the tall horse sculpture welded together from tractor, motorcycle and car parts, underscoring Urban Tavern’s juxtaposing old and new, rural and urban.  Our hearty lunch included a wide variety of sandwiches, soups and salads, perfect for a busy day battling tourists and natives on busy San Francisco shopping streets. At 333 O’Farrell Street near Mason St., one uses the Hilton Garage for the validated parking, and it is only a couple blocks to Macy’s and Union Square,which the WOW’s invaded  and then departed on an open air double decker bus in a very chilly night to see the Lights of the City Tour. Brrrrrrrr  WOW  sisters braving the cold winter wind were Lovelle Shak, Madelene Schwabacher, Pat Lum, Muriel Kao, Dali Jones, Pauline Fong, Gloria Hom and myself. 

- Chinese Historical and Cultural Project 25th Anniversary dinner co-chairs l to r; Gerrye Wong, Brenda Wong, Patrick Kwok, Carol Fong, Sylvia Eng

Chinese Historical and Cultural Project 25th Anniversary dinner co-chairs (from left to right):  Gerrye Wong, Brenda Wong, Patrick Kwok, Carol Fong, and Sylvia Eng.

Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI) held a reception in partner Los Gatos Art Museum which is a quaint old house much like many Los Gatos single one story dwellings just a block from Santa Cruz  Avenue downtown.  At this private reception for present and past donors , AACI exec.Michele Lew and assistant Anne Im welcomed all and announced the special plans being made for 2013, the year of AACI’s  40th anniversary.   AACI has a lot to celebrate for it is the largest social service/medical service agency in Santa Clara County.  To serve its large client based patrons, AACI has outreached to communities serving  those in need of special services, such as senior classes, youth activities, domestic women center,  medical wellness and illness.

Supporters meet at AACI reception. l to r. Gerrye Wong, Randy Okamura, Lillian GongGuy, Jim Beall, Anita and Angela Chan.

Supporters meet at AACI reception. From left to right Gerrye Wong, Randy Okamura, Lillian GongGuy, Jim Beall, Anita and Angela Chan.

There’s still time to get your reservation in for the CHINESE HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL PROJECT’S 25TH anniversary dinner gala 6pm  January 12 at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara.  Honorees are Friends of Children with Special Needs, the Y.K. Fong Family, Synopsis, Rodney Lum, Pearl Lee, Nicol Herris and Anita Kwock. All proceeds go to bringing technology into their Chinese American Historical museum exhibits at the History San Jose park. Reservation  Info: (408) 264-8432 to not miss this chance to help and celebrate this non profit organizations 25 years of bringing Chinese American history to Bay Area children.

Margaret Abe-Koga and Emily Wu admire Los Gatos Art Museum decorated kimono exhibit

Margaret Abe-Koga and Emily Wu admire Los Gatos Art Museum decorated kimono exhibit

Congratulations to O3 Restaurant which has become a most sought after reservation for neighboring City Hall, SF Opera House and Louise Davies Hall workers and patrons.  Tai Truong welcomes all with a friendly smile, knowing everyone will love the food of the chef.

O3 Restaurant manager Tai Truong and Chef Joseph VIllanueva show off latest dishes

O3 Restaurant manager Tai Truong and Chef Joseph VIllanueva show off latest dishes.

Joseph Villanueva’s menu. Many Asian fusion dishes are popular favorites of sophisticated SF diners, Asian and non-Asians alike.

Kudos to Mae Bakken and Fidelia Butt who founded the HatWalk fundraising dinner to raise monies for their cancer network organization. Their 2012 show was a fun fashion show with many models being cancer survivors themselves.

Dr. Fidelia Butt, 2nd from r, HatWalk Benefit dinner organizer, with high school volunteers at annual Fairmont Hotel event.

Dr. Fidelia Butt (2nd from right), HatWalk Benefit dinner organizer, with high school volunteers at annual event.

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