"Opposite the Sam Yup Association and Sing Wah store.”
As I read that sentence I learned something new about Hanford’s Chinatown and my head swam with the magic of coincidences, and the flukes and quirks of life.
A friend of ours, Ken, who resides in the Bay Area, mentioned to his friend, Brian, that he would be visiting Hanford. Brian responded that his grandfather had been born in Hanford and his great-grandfather had been a butcher in Chinatown. I let Ken know that I was interested in more information on Brian’s Hanford roots.
Ken sent me records from the National Archives, based on Brian’s grandfather’s immigration re-entry to the United States at Angel Island. There are many interesting details in the records about Hanford’s Chinatown as well as the family’s journey to China and then back to the United States. Brian’s grandfather’s name is Young Yuen Kee, his grandmother’s name is Gong Shee. The great-grandfather had two names listed in the document, Young Chin and Young Sheung, perhaps simply reflecting how different stenographers recorded his name.
I began reading the sixty-five pages with a little trepidation. I haven’t visited Angel Island, yet, but I have seen photographs of the station’s cramped quarters and of the poems detainees carved into the barrack walls and have studied this painful chapter in Chinese American history – this place where Chinese immigrants were held in grim barracks, repeatedly interrogated, and subjected to invasive medical exams.
From 1910 to 1940 the Angel Island Immigration Station processed approximately one million Asian immigrants entering the United States. The immigrants were detained and interrogated. Due to the restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, many Chinese immigrants spent years on the island awaiting entry or re-entry into the United States. Many of those waiting for admission carved poetry and other writings, which depicted their longing for their homeland and fears of the future, into the walls of their barracks. Officers of the station puttied the walls over to cover these words of suffering, but in time the putty flaked off and the poetry became visible once again.
In 1964, the Chinese American community successfully lobbied the State of California to designate the immigration station as a State Landmark, and the Immigration Station is a federally designated National Historic Landmark.
While I hadn’t wanted to read something that would again trouble my soul, my apprehension disappeared as I read Young Yeun Kee’s interrogation dated July 27, 1911. It’s one of the great paradoxes of history and of immigration – out of great trials and tribulations dreams come true and that memories are made and landmarks recognized that recall both. The following passage is what charmed and thrilled me:
Q: Where have you been living since you returned to the U.S.?
Q: Whereabouts in Hanford?
A: Sue Chung Kee.
Q: How near Sue Chung Kee’s store did you live before you went to China?
A: About three doors.
Q: Do you know the names of any stores in Chinatown, Hanford?
A: Sing Wah Co.
Q: Do you know any other company?
A: Sue Chung Kee.
Q: Where was your house located when you were living in Hanford?
A: Near the store of Sing Wah
Q: Where is Sue Chung Kee Co.?
A: Our house, then Young Chow’s family, Sing Wah store, then the Sam Yup Association, then Sue Chung Kee Co.
Q: Where was your father’s butcher shop?
A: Opposite the Sam Yup Association and Sing Wah store.
Some of you know exactly the places to which Young Yuen Kee referred. But for those who don’t, here’s an explanation and “translation” using the names of the buildings as we know them today.
Sue Chung Kee was a powerful businessman in Chinatown, in fact earlier newspaper reports referred to China Alley as Sue Chung Kee Alley, probably why the response to the question of his whereabouts in Hanford is “Sue Chung Kee.”
Sing Wah was a store located in the walkway adjacent to the Taoist Temple Museum and the Sam Yup Association is the Taoist Temple building. Sue Chung Kee had a mercantile store that was located in the building where the, now historic, Imperial Dynasty cocktail lounge reigns.
This part of Chinatown’s building history I already knew from photographs and numerous oral histories, but I hadn’t known there once was a butcher shop located across from the Temple Museum and the walkway. It could have been located in building 13 or 13 ½, or perhaps it was in the herb store building before Dr. L.T. Sue set up shop there. There’s so much more to learn.
But what really made this so enchanting for me is that it is very likely that my great-grandfather and Brian’s great-grandfather knew each other. One owned an eatery, the other, a butcher shop. Their businesses were a mere sixty-four steps away from one another. For me, little pieces of information such as this are much more than historical fragments. They are significant details of a time and a place and of people who are now long gone whose stories still need to be told. They illustrate the power of place and the sense of home. Home. China Alley, Hanford, California, the only place where my great-grandfather could have stepped from the shadows and integrated his world into mine, where the lives and labors of earlier generations of mine and many other families are still etched with the buildings we seek to restore and preserve as testimony to a shared past and living history.
In honor of our newly discovered butcher shop, this week I’m sharing a recipe for cumin lamb. Lamb isn’t often found on Chinese restaurant menus, but it’s starting to become a little more common. This quick stir-fry is spicy due to the Sichuan peppercorns (although regular black peppercorns may be used) and chilis. Beef may be substituted for the lamb.
Stir-Fried Cumin Lamb
1 lb. lamb (preferably from the shoulder), cut into 1/2-inch by 2-inch slices
For the marinade:
2 teaspoons cumin powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns (regular peppercorns may be substituted)
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 – 3 dried red chilis, (1/2 teaspoon or more of red pepper flakes may be substituted)
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
6 – 8 green onions, chopped
large handful of cilantro, chopped
salt and soy sauce to taste
In a large bowl, mix the marinade ingredients. Combine the lamb with the marinade. Set aside and allow to marinate for 30 minutes.
In a dry wok or large skillet over medium heat, toast the cumin seeds and peppercorns until fragrant, about 1 – 2 minutes. Remove and transfer to a mortar and crush lightly. The side of a cleaver may also be used to crush the seeds and peppercorns. Set aside.
Heat the wok over high heat. Add the oil. Toss in the onion and stir fry until lightly charred but still crisp. Transfer to a bowl.
Add the lamb to the wok. Sear the meat until it browns and is slightly crispy. The high heat sears the meat but also keeps it tender.
Add the toasted and crushed cumin seeds and peppercorns, garlic, red chili, rice wine and soy sauce. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated 1 – 2 minutes. Toss in the onions. Remove from the heat and mix in the green onions and cilantro. Taste for seasoning.
Transfer to a serving dish and serve with steamed rice.