| The Yee Fung Toy
Chinatowns and Communities
「大聯盟」經過兩年來的努力、開會研究，時至今日，仍然沒有做到當時的「三大目標」，而且亞美發展協會已退出「大聯盟」，改為做發展二 十四地段乞臣街的「發展商」。最近，所訂出的發展計劃，與華埠居民所需求，相差很遠，其中，尤其是「可負擔住屋」，將大波士頓居民入息，與華埠居民入息， 同樣比率計算，即是華埠居民平均一年入息，要有六、七萬元，才有資格入住。試問今日華埠六、七千居民，能有幾人一年入息有六、七萬元？其實，大波士頓地區 居民的入息，比華埠居民入息高出約三倍，政府是知道的。兩個地區居民的入息不同，對租金亦要不同，才是合理。
因為新建樓宇租金，比原有舊樓宇地價高漲。隨著，政府地稅也「水漲船高」，最後，業主必然將上升租金，加諸住客身上。試問華埠升斗市 民，何來能力長期支付昂貴租金？因此，華埠居民自然相繼被迫搬出華埠，如無補救？若干年後，「華埠」不是最多數或變成少數華人居住的地方，到時「華埠」這 個名稱，豈不是「名存實亡」！
Our Chinatowns, Our Communities
Welcome to the Yee Fung Toy Chinatowns, bringing you stories
of interest on developments in the Chinatowns of the Yee Fung Toy
chapters. A related theme is the involvement of our World Yee Family
members in their local Communities.
We look forward to your feedback!
L.A.'s old Chinatown of
family shops and traditions is grudgingly giving way to galleries and
lofts. Even Quentin Tarantino is buying in.
During the day, the faded red lanterns that crisscross Chung King Road in Chinatown dangle listlessly above a row of Chinese antique and trinket shops that have seen better times.
But on a recent Saturday night, after the gates on the Chinese shops were pulled down, another Chinatown sprang to life near L.A.'s downtown.
Modern art galleries that have filled Chinatown's storefronts in recent years opened, and the red lanterns were illuminated. A mostly bohemian crowd jostled to view abstract drawings and photographs of Brazilian prostitutes. Amid the fashionably dressed visitors drinking Mexican beer and smoking cigarettes, an elderly Chinese woman scoured the street for empty cans, even accepting ones out of the hands of art patrons.
These days, there are two Chinatowns — one on the rise, the other on the decline.
The old Chinatown — the one established as an entry point for Chinese immigrants, made up of long-standing family associations and shops that celebrate China's traditions — is struggling. The population is aging, merchants are starved for shoppers and the associations can't attract younger members.
The new Chinatown — the one of art galleries, loft developments and trendy boutiques celebrating modern Asian fashion — is booming. It's a community more about style than tradition, created by a mix of white artists and second- and third-generation Chinese Americans who came from the suburbs to form their own vision of Chinatown.
The transformation has been occurring gradually over the last six years but now appears to be shifting into overdrive. Loft conversions, mixed-use projects and luxury apartments are on the horizon. Director Quentin Tarantino has even bought an old theater where he plans to show Asian films.
The situation has created a culture clash. Some old-timers complain about the rowdy behavior of the new patrons. There are periodic flare-ups over art shows that some longtime Chinatown merchants consider too racy. Some elderly residents worry about being pushed out by gentrification.
"They're North Pole and we're South Pole," said Michael Han, a jade cutter whose jewelry store, Win Sun Co., has been a mainstay on Chung King Road for 30 years. "There's no way for the two to get together. They've got people with nose rings, earrings, all those things. They come in here asking if they can use the restroom. I'm not offended; it's just the trend."
In the back room of his jewelry store, Han was playing a noisy game of mah-jongg with three elderly friends and bantering in Cantonese. The septuagenarian also speaks Mandarin, Taiwanese and Toisanese — a true mark of an old-timer, because some of Chinatown's earliest settlers were from an area in southern China's Guangdong province where it is spoken.
Though he is ethnically Chinese, Han grew up in Burma and left for the U.S. in the 1960s. He landed in Chinatown, like most Chinese immigrants of that time. He fondly remembers the 1970s, its boom period.
"It was so busy I never had a chance to have lunch," said Han. "Jade was very fashionable."
Han's store is on the ground floor of a peach-colored building. He rarely sits behind his glass counters, which display hundreds of jade and gold necklaces, earrings and bracelets. He's lucky to get one customer on some weekdays, so playing mah-jongg in the back room has become part of his daily routine.
Han still sends out 500 Christmas cards each year to the regular customers he's accumulated in three decades of business. Many haven't been to the store in years.
In Chung King Road's golden era, Han's business was one of many high-end dealers in art, furniture, ceramics and jewelry. But by the end of the 20th century, many patrons had passed on, and reproductions of Chinese antiques were being mass-produced.
Most of the merchants' children have college educations and little interest in taking over the stores. Han's son is a robotics engineer and his daughter is a teacher.
Shop after shop has closed on Chung King Road, leaving behind only some of the more well-known businesses, such as F. See On, the Jade Tree and Fong's Oriental Works of Art.
By the late 1990s, property owners were desperate to lease out the empty storefronts, so they took a gamble. They lowered rents and leased the spaces to rising artists, who considered the rents a bargain compared to places like Santa Monica. Over the next few years, the scene took off.
Today there are about a dozen art galleries on the street. They have formed one of the most talked-about contemporary art scenes in the world.
Han and other merchants were optimistic when the galleries arrived, hoping they would bring more customers. But they soon realized that the galleries were not going to substantially boost business, in part because many drew crowds only for Saturday night exhibitions.
At times, the two cultures cannot appear to be further apart. Wounds are still fresh from a controversy last year, when one gallery displayed nude paintings of men having sex. Locals were outraged. The gallery agreed to obscure its artwork by frosting its storefront windows.
The remaining Chinese merchants obsessively count the new galleries, looking for the familiar clean whitewashed walls and studio lighting. They peer inside the spaces and struggle to comprehend the meaning of the abstract art and the prices the pieces demand.
"What is it?" asked Alex Cheung, owner of an antiques store, jabbing his finger at a newspaper clipping showing a tub of steaming tar used for an art installation at a nearby gallery several years ago.
"It's so weird," said his wife, Lily, surrounded by amber-colored Chinese furniture and blue-and-white porcelain in the couple's store. "I once saw a hand-carved wooden flower for $20,000. It was just hanging on a wall. Maybe we should get into modern art?"
Later, Roger Herman, an art instructor at UCLA whose Chinatown gallery is in a former kung fu studio, visited Cheung's store. Herman was looking for more of the same ivory necklaces he had bought there before.
"He's a dying breed," Herman said of Cheung, who at 56 has run the store more than half his life.
Herman and his business partner, Hubert Schmalix, have begun collecting rare Chinese pottery but say it is hard to find in the new Chinatown.
"Too many art galleries now," Herman said.
"Are these galleries here for the long term?" Lily Cheung, 50, asked Herman.
"I think so," Herman said. "I think the galleries have reached critical mass."
The Cheungs have reason to be nervous. They used to have twice the space, but the landlord raised the rent when more galleries came calling. So the immigrants from Hong Kong canceled the lease on a space next door. It has been taken over by art dealers from London and Berlin.
"I'm lucky to have a few old clients, but we're still struggling," Alex Cheung said, standing behind his counter. On the wall behind him is a framed black-and-white photograph of him shaking hands with the late county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn.
Herman said he is keenly aware that he helped create the scene that now is pushing out merchants like the Cheungs.
"I wish we had more art dealers from China here," Herman said as he paid and prepared to leave.
Alex Cheung walked out onto Chung King Road and stared at the lanterns and a tan-colored loudspeaker screwed to the wall across from his shop.
"We used to have Chinese music play on the street," he said. "It's very sad. They stopped it when the art galleries came. Their heart isn't in it like us."
If there's one place where a visitor can simultaneously witness Chinatown's demise and promise, it is Central Plaza.
The square offers ample postcard fodder with its neon-tinted gate off Broadway, stone wishing well, pagoda and curved tile roofs.
Storekeepers, many of them the owners of the buildings they work in, spend hours behind their counters, often selling not much more than soda and noisemakers.
Across the way, the street scene bursts with life.
There is Via Cafe, an always busy Vietnamese diner that's popular with artists; Ziyi Art in Fashion, a gift shop owned by a recent Miss Chinatown contestant; and Munky King, a devilishly decorated art-toy store that sells rare pieces by underground artists from Asia to America.
Roger Hong, who until last year owned the buildings those businesses are in, has spent much of his time pushing for new blood in Chinatown.
"We felt that the children who left Chinatown would come back if things were more trendy," Hong, 63, said over dim sum at Empress Pavilion. "Chinatown doesn't have to perpetuate an identity of being a self-protective enclave. They have to change."
Hong's family has deep roots in Chinatown. His father was famed immigration attorney You Chung Hong, the first Chinese American to pass the California bar exam. He became a pillar of the community when Central Plaza was opened in 1938.
"There's no need for Chinatowns anymore," Hong said. "It's not a place just for the underprivileged anymore."
Perhaps the most stylish store in Central Plaza is Realm, a home accessories business nothing like the neighboring trinket shops. The wares are trendy and often expensive. Some offer a modern twist on Asian culture, such as the cocktail glasses bearing Andy Warhol-like impressions of Japanese Emperor Hirohito.
Realm is the vision of Richard Liu, a Chinese American architect who sees the store as a metaphor for what Chinatown should become. He's part of the new generation of younger Chinese Americans who say they want to change Chinatown's image as a sleepy place where one can get cheap food and bargains on kitschy items such as back scratchers and silk robes.
"We need to break out of thinking that Chinatown is dirty, cheap and crowded," Liu said. "People should go to Beijing and Shanghai today and see how different it is. There's state-of-the-art architecture, merchandising and technology. This has to be represented here."
Liu, a 49-year-old USC graduate, grew up in Silver Lake. He moved into a former bank building in Central Plaza four years ago, when the gallery scene was in its infancy.
Liu is sensitive to the complaints of old-timers that Chinatown is losing its Chinese identity. But he sees his store and others as introducing a fresher look at Asian culture: "For this area to survive, we needed people who were willing to come in and sacrifice their time to try something new."
Something new definitely is occurring. On weekend nights, Chinatown's narrow walkways are filled with young people of many ethnicities.
Downtown loft developers have caught the vibe. "Chinatown is one of those best-kept secrets," said Kate Bartolo, senior vice president for Kor Realty Group, which is planning a development.
On a recent Saturday night, Central Plaza's main square was rented out for a non-Chinese wedding, the first of its kind at the location. Seniors at the Hop Sing Tong Benevolent Assn., accustomed to playing Chinese checkers and mah-jongg, instead pulled out chairs and sat in the courtyard. They watched with curiosity as party-goers in suits and gowns chomped on bok choy and pot stickers and listened to a DJ spinning records.
Forty three years ago (1962), the city government of Boston wanted to change the appearance of the city, therefore dismantled the houses on a part of Chinatown Hudson(Parcel 24) to build a motor road. At the time, the unreasonable compensation was only one third [of the value]. Residents from three hundred households lost their homes and were forced to leave their hometown. Their misery was beyond description. Being wordless to ask God, they would only sigh for the pain caused by helplessness and fear.
Chinatown residents have multiplied generations after generations. Because of the growing population, the working class in Chinatown is unable to find a place to live. In the meantime, the continuous arrival of new immigrants who have a language barrier and thus difficulties in finding work makes this tiny Chinatown even more crowded and there is hardly any place to walk.
Parcel 24 today was Hudson Street forty three years ago. Now the government wants to make changes in the traffic plan on Hudson Street again, which would transfer the vehicle traffic underground. The resulting vacant surface is planned to be used for new buildings.
Two years ago, five groups, i.e., Asian Community Development Corporation, Chinese Aggressive Association, Chinatown Resident’s Association, Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, and Chinese Economic Development Council formed the Coalition to reclaim Parcel 24 Hudson Street for Chinatown Development. The three goals set by the Coalition at that time were:
After two years of efforts, meetings, and studies, the Coalition still has not reached the original three goals. The Asian Community Development Corporation has withdrawn from the Coalition and become a developer for Parcel 24 Hudson Street. The recent development plan tremendously deviates from Chinatown residents’ needs, especially in affordable housing. The same income percentage is applied to both the residents in the greater Boston area and those in Chinatown. This means a Chinatown resident must have an average annual income of $60,000 to $70,000 to be eligible to live there. How many people among the six to seven thousand Chinatown residents make $60,000 to $70,000? In fact, the government already knows that the average income in the greater Boston area is three times more than that in Chinatown; therefore it is just reasonable that the rental fees are different in these two different areas.
The rental fees for the new buildings are several times higher than those for the old ones, directly affecting the property value of the old buildings. The boat rises as the water goes up, so does the tax by the government as the property value goes up. The property owners will definitely raise the rent on renters. How can the Chinatown residents who live from hand to mouth afford the high rent for a long time? The Chinatown residents will be forced to move out of their home town one after another. If no remedy is made, years later, the majority living in Chinatown will not be Chinese and Chinatown will even be a place where very few Chinese live. At that time, Chinatown is just a name, not the reality.
We are the residents of Chinatown and have the right to express our opinions on the development in Chinatown and its vicinity. Again, I want to emphasize that we advocate building more housing units that are affordable for most Chinatown people with working class income. On the contrary, if the needs of the residents are not taken care of, there will be adverse impact and we will surely oppose to it. The Chinatown residents do not want to be forced into protest in the streets again. They only want to maintain stability and prosperity in the community and fight for the rights and benefits they deserve.
Finally, we request BRA, MTA, and government officials to re-examine the development proposals for Parcel 24 Hudson Street together with the developer to draft a new plan, meet with the Coalition and Chinatown residents, and listen to their opinions in order to find a common ground, which will bring benefits to Chinatown to help its residents live and work peacefully and happily. Such kindness knows no bounds and will receive praises to be sung for a thousand years.
The original Association of Chinese Organizations (ACO) was formed at the turn of the 19th Century in San Francisco to unite, among other factors, 60+ Chinese organizations, strengthen togetherness, combat discriminations and foster harmony. It was ACO members who offered Dr. Sun Yet Sen shelter and support during his rigorous campaign against the incompetent Qing Dynasty. The United Chinese Welfare Association of Houston was formed in 1965, independently, and was later registered as Association of Chinese Organizations of Houston (ACOH), a non-profit organization in 1971. Currently, ACOH has 20 organizational members.
Yee Fung Toy (YFT) Family Association of Houston was established in 1987 and then promptly joined ACOH. Co-Chairmanship, drawn from two ACOH organizational members, is elected by rotation annually. David Chung, chairman of YFT in 1995, duly served as co-chairman. William Yeh of Sun Yet Sen Studies and I were sworn in as 2005 co-chairmen.
Year 2005 was quite an eventful year in terms of natural disasters. ACOH helped raised $16,000 for the Tsunami Relief Fund for Southeast Asia. YFT led all members first to donate $500 coming exclusively from YFT officers. As usual, ACOH held its annual banquet at Ocean Palace in March. YFT committed two tables for the 75-table banquet. In addition to all the logistics associated with a banquet of this size, as chairman, I also donated a top prize for the ruffle to offset banquet expenses. Later, I shared half the appreciation dinner cost for the volunteers. In that capacity, I also attended numerous banquets, at my own expense, more for courtesy than for necessity. It was my duty to attend such functions as Double-Ten, Dr. Sun Yet Sen memorial and flag raising ceremony on New Year day. Year 2005 also witnessed the passing of former Taiwan Foreign Affair Commission Chairman Mao Tsung Lin. I was honored to be the pallbearer at the State funeral service. Former ACOH co-chairman Bill Quan also passed on.
I was instrumental in reactivating ACOH website, www.ACOH.org and used it extensively for parliamentary proceedings, meeting agendas, minutes and notices, a practice that I firmly believe we need to use more often for communications today. I even designed the database for CCC delegates to facilitate future printing of ACOH directory, contacts, email and mail out.
Katrina hit New Orleans on August 26 and the whole city was flooded two days later. Houston was swarmed with evacuees, of which a few were of Chinese (Taiwan, PRC, Sino-Vietnamese) origins. Per ACOH founding principles, we, Chinese, as a group, are to lend a hand in the time of distress. I, therefore, moved for an emergency motion to solicit pledges from ACOH members for monetary donations to organizations giving direct financial aid to Chinese evacuees. This motion was carried, via telephone polls, by September 1 and a check of $1,000 from ACOH was handed over to Katrina Care. YFT was the first to donate $500 toward that cause. Subsequent checks of $1,000 to HARK and another $1,000 to Katrina Care were given to respective agencies for both Katrina and Rita evacuees. Sadly, not all ACOH members lived up to their pledges. YFT officers were quick to reimburse the YFT $500 through their spontaneous donations.
Cantonese, Putonghua (Mandarin) and English are freely used at ACOH meetings. Putonghua, the official PRC language, appears to be more in use nowadays. I pride myself on being able to give a speech in Putonghua at one ACOH meeting, after only two months of learning at Zhong Shan Chinese School every Saturday morning. One has to upgrade oneself to meet the demand and challenge. There seems to be a push among some ACOH members to loosen the restrictions of current ACOH bylaws to welcome more members. The future of ACOH rests with the willingness of current members to open the door for constitutional changes.
It is my pleasure and duty, as YFT chairman, to serve ACOH. It has been an expensive but worthwhile adventure. The experience I gained was valuable. I encourage future YFT chairman to do likewise when called upon, by rotation, in about 10 years depending on membership. While members speak different Chinese dialects, there is but one common language—togetherness and harmony—for all Chinese organizations, the basic principles of ACOH.
January 12, 2006