Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Saturday, September 12, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA SECRETS: Oakland Chinatown Oral History Project

Most people think of San Francisco when they think of Chinatown, but actually Oakland Chinatown is as rich and interesting, and without the tourists.

According to Oakland journalist and Chinatown native Bill Wong, Oakland Chinatown was settled in waves, the first in the 1850s following the Gold Rush. Most of the early settlers came from Southeast China near Hong Kong. The early settlers made a living however they could -- as cooks,gardeners, and laundry men, and of course as workers on the railroad.

The next wave came in 1906 earthquake when great numbers of Chinese from San Francisco, displaced by the earthquake, relocated to Oakland. Families put down roots, family and business organizations emerged and evolved, and the community found an identity within the larger Oakland community.

World War II accounted for another change and the emergence of a Chinese American Middle class in Oakland, and became home to a larger Asian American community. Japanese Americans found a home in Chinatown, as did Filipinos, Koreans, making a lively mosaic of cultures, languages, traditions, and values.

The Oakland Asian Cultural Center, located right in the center of Chinatown at the Pacific Renaissance Plaza, has recently completed an oral history project, bringing the stories of Chinatown through the words of longtime residents. The digital archive is now online and there will be a public celebration in Saturday, September 19, at 1:30 p.m.

For more information and photos about this event, check Bill Wong's blog.

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Saturday, September 05, 2009


My mother ... and her mother as well ... grew up in the Midwest where the landscape is lush and moisture hangs in the air. Though they both moved to California as adults and never looked back, they never quite got used to the western landscape. To them, a desert was simply a badland, and the golden hills in the Bay Area were just an ugly brown.

I, on the other hand, am a product of western landscape. It's natural and comforting for me to see the horizon far in the distance, either across an expanse of ocean or a wide stretch of desert. I like expansive unobstructed views where plants grow sparingly, so that each tree or shrub or cactus has its place in the landscape, without competitors. I like to watch the sun set and the moon rise when the air is crisp and dry, and then you wait a little longer and the whole sky comes alive with with stars, so many more than you could imagine if you lived in the humid east. (And yes, I'm a fan of the Dark Sky Association.)

A recent trip to Pennsylnvania took me out of my "western landscape comfort zone." I was bowled over by a total sensory experience, not just visual but also aural, olfactory, and tactile. It was the hot damp air that hit me immediately, as I stepped out of the airport. Walking through a park the sounds and smells hit me hard -- taking me back to my own early childhood in the Midwest. I guess it is the smell of cut grass, or maybe just aroma of so much plant life in a small place, that took me back to long ago when I played in the weeds and grass, my little body so small that they enveloped me. And the plant life nourishes the noisy bugs, cicadas I believe, who treat you to their own music 24/7. It's part of the landscape.

The visual impact of the eastern landscape came later in the trip, but stayed the longest. Green in the summer? Seems upside down. The foliage blends together to form a visual impression with textures, filtered light, shades of green, and layers of density. They form a kind wall between you the viewer and the horizon, so much so that I feel closed in and a little uncomfortable.

Some people are deeply affected by the physical landscape, others not at all. My trip to the east reminded me how deeply I am affected by my own physical landscape, how deeply I am a child of the West, and the West is me.