Welcome to Toisan Pride

Toisanese (Hoisanese is the REAL pronunciation; and Mandarin speakers call it "Taishan" or Taishanese") were among the first Chinese-Cantonese immigrants to hail to the United States from the Guangdong/Guangzhou Province of Southern China in the Pearl River Delta, west of Hong Kong.

Many Hoisanese immigrants came to the U.S. starting in the 19th century to help build railroads, and eventually stayed to establish laundromats, restaurants, etc. and worked hard to build a better future for their families. Some famous Hoisan folks include: U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Chef Martin Yan (Yan Can Cook); Hawaii Senator Hiram Fong, Hong Kong Martial Artist Donnie Yen (star of IP MAN), Actor James Hong, Former California Treasurer Matt Fong; Actress Anna May Wong. For more Toisan/Taishan background history, click on Wikipedia.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Some day, I plan on updating it but Blogger isn't the greatest with blog templates so I appreciate your patience! I welcome comments, stories, photos, Toisanese/Say-Yip history, anything about our wonderful people to toisangirl@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Grandview Park

Riding in mom's green Buick
on a sunny summer day
Lush green olive trees swayed and
lined the street to Grandview Park.

I was six years old.
I sat next to ah gung
feeling sad
because he couldn't go swimming
with me.
My brother Calvin said he'd take me,
but it wasn't the same.
I wanted ah gung.

Shing Ho Lee was his name.
A gentle and kind man who possessed a quiet strength.
A simple man with worn leathery hands,
gold-rimmed glasses perched on his nose.

He usually donned blue jeans from Sears,
and smiled with a twinkle in his eye.

Tai-chi master.
Bread baker.

He taught me how to shoot pool
with the boys at the old folks home.
He'd rise early
to practice tai chi
at Lincoln Park.

As I left the French Hospital in L.A. that afternoon,
he waved his hand from the hospital bed as if to say,
"Don't worry, I'll be fine."
It was the last time I saw him alive.

Ah Gung - you were my favorite grandpa.
Miss you.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Pontificating Parker Pens

When I graduated from high school, my dad gave me a velvet box containing a silver Parker pen and mechanical pencil with gold-plated clips. It was an unexpected gift choice from my father, whose Chinese immigrant survivor-mentality dictated practicality and very few luxuries in our family's lifestyle.

On most birthdays, my mom usually handed me a card with a red lay-cee with $20 in it scotch-taped to a package of wafer cookies she'd bought from 99 Ranch Market in Monterey Park. I'd watched as other kids in school received shiny new cars, a senior trip to Europe or $500 for graduation but was resigned to the fact that that was not in my future as our family was typically frugal and practical, and would save that sort of money toward college tuition.

I remember collecting a few Sanrio Hello Kitty pens and pencil boxes when they were popular, which I'd buy with allowance monies. So when he handed me that small box, I didn't know what to expect. My father never graduated from high school and arrived in Los Angeles when he was 14 years old in 1951 as a "Paper Son" with his dad who was earlier detained at Angel Island and uncle (his mom's brother) to run a fruit stand in South Central Los Angeles. He barely spoke any English but quickly went to work in their family business which evolved into a corner grocery store within a few years. He was given someone else's name and told to memorize a different birthday aside from his in order to get into America "Geem Saan."

When I graduated from UCLA and ceremonies were held at the UCLA tennis center on a cool June evening. My mom, dad, two older brothers and my maternal grandparents showed up with my cute little year-old niece. Again, my father gave me another set of Parker Pens for college graduation. Unfortunately, I didn't keep any of the sets of pens and wish I had something to remember him by now that he has passed on along with my mother. It was a generous gesture on my father's part because I rarely ever saw him give gifts, not even to my own mother.

In retrospect, I believe those sets of Parker Pens symbolized a wish for a bright future for me, since to him - education was important and that he supported me in obtaining a college degree when he didn't have the same opportunity; or maybe he knew I wanted to write and could use it for my "impractical" English degree. The great thing is that he never forced me to go into a specific profession, he and my mother gave me a lot of freedom, which was somewhat of a blessing though I often wish I had a little more direction in my life (but not like a tiger mom or dad), lol.

The funny thing is, I rarely used the pens. I felt they were too matronly or old-fashioned for my taste but at the same time, I'd stash them in a drawer, thinking there would be a day when I'd be classy or mature enough, or have a special occasion to use them. The thing about being Chinese is that, we tend to save and hoard, and not use the "nice" chinaware or new things - we store them away thinking when we have a special occasion good enough, we'll use it. But I never did, and between many moves between apartments and houses, from California to Hawaii, I sadly, never used my father's gift the way I should've.

Some days, my husband reminds me that it's good to enjoy the present and achieve a balance between saving for a rainy day and enjoying what we have here and now. I wish that was something I could have shared with my late parents to show my appreciation for all that they did. But I know they did the best they could with what they had at the time to support me and my brothers in living the American dream, and I'm thankful.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Mother

Me & my mom in Long Beach, I look like a little boy...

My mother was beautiful. I was five years old and in my eyes she could do no wrong, and was all I needed in my world. Youthful, beautiful, and kind, she had a somewhat ethereal quality to her. In the morning, I’d watch her coif her long black hair into a perfectly-formed princess bun on top of her head as scents of Jergens lotion and Jean Nate cologne lingered in our downstairs bathroom.

She had dark almond-shaped eyes and porcelain white skin that complimented her petite figure. I held her hand as we walked down Oakmont Street to La Merced Elementary School to my kindergarten class on my first day of school. I cried so hard when I realized she was leaving me there. I had never been away from my mom before and so the thought of separation drove me to tears. I remember crying for what seemed an eternity in Mrs. Shaw’s class when a brown-haired Mexican girl asked "Do you want to play with me?"

With one question, she broke my concentration on bawling and snapped me out of my reverie. I replied, "Me, you want to play with me?" So we played, we laughed, napped, ate snacks and I discovered kindergarten wasn’t so bad after all. I didn't miss my mom after all. When mom returned to pick me up, we walked hand in hand up back up Oakmont Street along sidewalks that fronted manicured middle-class homes that led us back onto 4th Street to our house. At home, I sat on a yellow vinyl stool in our avocado green kitchen while my mom made me a Chicken of the Sea tuna sandwich with mayonnaise on white Wonder Bread. I just remember it tasting so good after my first day of kindergarten.

In fifth grade, my idealized image of my mother began to unravel. One day, she told me “Keep some secret, don’t tell people everything about us.” Our conversations became stilted and her mind seemed preoccupied as if she were millions of miles away. I began to lose my trust in sharing my thoughts and feelings with her. Sometimes she’d ask me about my day but it was seldom, so I retreated to my journals and into my room to pour out my hopes, fears, and guarded thoughts.

Another time, she whispered to me, “We can’t talk in here, there are cameras and recorders set up in our house to spy on us,” so she’d insist on lecturing me in our backyard or front yard. Her beautiful mind was spinning into paranoia and I was confused. I knew something was off.

As a child, I didn’t care about money too much since we always seemed to have enough for dinner or I simply didn’t know any better. But there were ensuing arguments between my parents night after night about money or other things. I’d kneel by my bedside and pray to an unseen Christian Protestant God asking him to bring peace to our household.

It never came.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Let's Help Alan Chin's Toisanese Project!

Just a few more days to kick in a few dollars to help NY Times Photographer Alan Chin with his Kickstarter Project on Toisan (or is it Toishan?): 


Monday, June 24, 2013

San Francisco - Hoisan City

Ross Alley in San Francisco Chinatown
It's been a while since I've posted. I recently returned from a family trip to San Francisco, it’s been more than 10 years since I’ve visited the city by the bay. As a child, my dad really liked San Francisco and New York City and now I understand why.

In the bustling streets of Grant and Stockton and at Portsmouth Square in Chinatown San Francisco, I relished the fact that I heard Toisanese spoken nearly everywhere! From the merchants in the mom & pop stores to the elderly Chinese men and women sitting around the benches at Portsmouth Square or in passing on the street, hearing my native tongue gave me such an amazing sense of comfort and belonging.

At New Asia Restaurant (suggested by Howard Chan and Cousin Joey), where we had dim sum, one waitress commented “You’re a Toisanese girl.” For a split second, I felt proud that she recognized my dialect, and then my thoughts were dashed by the thought, “She thinks I’m a country peasant…” Isn’t that awful how I’ve been conditioned and brainwashed by our own people’s stereotyping and bias? But I got over it and was thrilled to converse with people in Toisanese. I loved that I could be understood! Having grown up in the San Gabriel Valley area of Southern California for 30 years + where I rarely heard Toisanese being spoken (except at home), I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging in SF Chinatown.

At the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Ross Alley I chatted in broken Toisanese & Mandarin with the elderly man greeting visitors and handing out samples of flattened fortune cookies - and he tossed in freebies with our purchase. We dodged kung fu students practicing their moves along the alley and I reminisced about how wonderfully Chinese everything was - so different from my typical Americanized everyday life in Honolulu.

Growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, I grew accustomed to being an outsider as an ethnic Chinese; I looked Chinese but couldn’t communicate in Toisanese at the restaurants or stores in Monterey Park or Los Angeles’ Chinatown since everyone spoke Hong Kong Cantonese or Mandarin (from the influx of Taiwanese), so I’d speak English. But here, I felt at home.

Sure, I’d visited San Francisco numerous times on college drives up to Berkeley or SF with roommates back in the day. My most vivid childhood memory was when I was around 6-7 years old with my pwa pwa grandma visiting SF Chinatown to see her older sister Yee Pwa, the nice chatty grand auntie with gold teeth and a warm welcoming spirit. She lived in a no-frills single room studio in the heart of Chinatown and seemed content and happy - without want for anything. Unfortunately, we never kept in touch with her kids (our cousins) and she passed away a few months ago.  
I arduously searched the SF Chinatown bakeries and the Clement Street district with cousin Joey for the famous L.A. Chinatown Queen's Bakery Shlai Keh Ma (Rice Puffs) but to no avail. We found several packaged versions from Taiwan in the Chinese grocery stores but I was hoping to find the fresh, light, chewy soft rice puffs that were once a childhood delight. I'll just have to wait till my next trip to L.A. to find the childhood pastry.

But until then, I've left my heart in San Francisco....  
RANDOM ANGEL ISLAND ADDENDUM: In 1997, I visited Angel Island Museum (former Immigration Station) via ferry in the SF/Bay Area. If you haven't heard about it, Angel Island is the Chinese "Ellis Island" of the West Coast. My paternal grandfather "Yeh Yeh" was detained along with many other Chinese immigrants anywhere ranging from two weeks up to years for the grueling interrogation required in order to enter the U.S.

When we were having a family dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Monterey Park with Yeh Yeh many moons ago, a grandpa dining with his family at the next table randomly asked about my grandpa's Chinese name. It turned out that they were both detained at Angel Island at the same time! I was amazed at this gentleman's memory after 50+ years and wished I could have captured more historical information about their experiences.

I visited Angel Island shortly after performing the role of Ku Ling in Genny Lim's "Paper Angels & Bitter Cane" play at the Morgan Wixson Theater in Santa Monica. The play was based on the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and highlighted the hardships and discrimination that many Chinese (mostly Toisanese) experienced at Angel Island from 1882 to 1943.  My Yeh Yeh passed away around that time when I garnered a "Best Character Actress" award for my portrayal of  Ku Ling.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Case of Elisa Lam - UBC Student Found Dead

So, I've been engrossed over the bizarre case of Elisa Lam, the 21-year old Chinese Canadian (University of British Columbia) student found dead in the water tanks of Los Angeles' Cecil Hotel a few weeks ago.

Maybe I'm intrigued by this case because she's a Chinese female (possibly Toisanese/Cantonese judging from her surname), and the whole case is so strange and creepy. How do you explain her behavior in the elevator security video released on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zuzp4H6V9x0.

Was she hallucinating on drugs, mentally ill, or talking to ghosts in the hotel that drove her to suicide or made herself vulnerable to a murderer?  Several people online said they saw the murderer's foot or hand grabbing her hair other within the video frame but I've rewatched it a few times and don't see it. The big news was the fact that her body went undiscovered for weeks in the water tank as hotel guests drank, bathed, and brushed their teeth with the weird-tasting water that she was found floating in (gross!)
I feel horrified and repulsed at this case and hope that the Lam family in Vancouver can seek closure. Hopefully the toxicology reports can provide some explanation for her strange behavior prior in the video (or some surmise that this was Elisa's 'ghost' in the elevator?) It just gets stranger and stranger...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Ben's Toisanese Tutorial & Pigs' Feet Soup

Want to Learn Toisanese (Taishanese, as Mandarin speakers would call it)? Then check out Ben's Cantonese Practice Journal at: http://ipracticecanto.wordpress.com/toishanese-textbook-audio/

The Download Drills in the beginning are just basic tone drills so I'd advise skipping to the Volume (I, II, etc.) Lesson download section to hear questions and phrases in Hoisan-Wah. It seems fairly extensive though there aren't any translations into English but this a good refresher for those wanting to hear the language and who already understand some Toisanese.

Pig Vinegar Feet Soup
Toisan Pride follower Jennifer is asking about a Toisanese Pig's Feet Ginger Vinegar Soup recipe AND instructions on preserving it. Once you cook this ahead of time for baby's birth - do you have to reboil it every few days to keep bacteria from growing (can't you just freeze it and reboil it when you need it?) Is there a traditional method of preparing and storing this concoction? What brands of vinegar should be used?

I never had it after delivering two of my kids so any advice from Toisan Pride followers would be much appreciated for us, thank you!  Post a comment to this blog posting or email me at toisangirl@yahoo.com. Many Thanks!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Let's Learn Taishanese!

iPhone App to Learn Taishanese/Toisanese!
I was googling for a Toisanese dictionary and discovered this app on my iPhone - WAGMob has created an app for only $1.99 to learn Taishanese (Hoisan-wah)!  Just search for it on the App Store on your iPhone.

Hallelujah for all those who want to learn Taishanese! OR you can get it at Amazon for your Android at: http://www.amazon.com/WAGmob-Simple-n-Easy-Taishanese/dp/B007Y8V7J4

It's not bad for a beginner app to Hoisan-wah, there are phrases and flashcards for categories such as Greetings, Colors, Animals,  Food/Drink, Eating & Entertainment, Family, Shopping, Traveling, Dating (lol), Fruits, Emergencies, Medical, etc

I just wish every section had audio available so you could hear the true tones. Only the "Phrases" section has audio for interesting phrases in the "Travelling" Section such as: "I need to telephone England" (a little random there), or "Which platform does the train leave from?" to "Is breakfast included?" You get the picture. But there are some useful phrases - now I know how to say ambulance (vu chieh).

The flashcards and other sections only offer Chinese characters and pinyin for pronunciation (no audio). Maybe if we show WAGmob our interest and support, they'll create an advanced Taishanese app! Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happy Halloweenie...

Halloween wasn’t a big deal to me when I was a kid. My mom was a born-again Christian and a 1st-generation Toisanese immigrant to boot, so to her, Halloween was an "evil and satanic" holiday which  meant keeping me out of harm's way and staying home. I was the only daughter and youngest child. It didn't matter that my older twin brothers got to traipse around the neighborhood wearing cut-up sheets for ghostly makeshift costumes and use pillow cases as candy knapsacks. I stayed home.

As I got older, I'd stand at the doorway and dole out candy to munchkin ghosts and goblins who came by our house on North 4th Street in Montebello. After a few years, mom and dad decided to defy American tradition by shutting off the lights and pretending no one was home. On those nights inside our suburban home, I'd read books in the dark with whatever street light filtered into my room, and avoid flushing the toilet for fear of setting off trick-or-treaters who might egg our house.

A few times when mom and dad had to work late, I stayed home alone listening to the sounds of kids yelling through the street, rapping on the door, waiting and talking out loud about whether anyone was home, then shuffling away with their candy loot bags. That seems so long ago. Looking back, I didn't feel like I missed out on anything but maybe that's why I'm not real big on Halloween.

This year, my husband and I will take our kids trick-or-treating door-to-door once again to experience the "Halloween tradition." Last year, I was an In-N-Out Burger server - thanks to all the hats & paraphernalia that my brother in So Cal sent me. This year, I'll be myself -  a tired housewife donning haircurlers, a frumpy bathrobe, scary obake ghostly white facial mask (pretty frightening according to my family) and DHC undereye revitalizing pads for the beat-up look - cuz it's EZ....
Happy Halloween! That's my boy...my scary little 1/2 Toisanese "Mike Myers" lol...
Happy Halloween Everyone!  Be Safe... and I hope our East Coast friends are doing ok recovering from Hurricane/Storm Sandy.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Wonton Weekends

My 1st Attempt at Making Potstickers!
Last weekend, I tried making my own homemade potstickers (but the “pay” posticker wrapping was store-bought) and had such fun with it. When I was a college student, I used to trek home on weekends and help out at my parents’ “Chopstick Inn” fast food eatery that served Chinese cuisine AND Fish & Chips in Fullerton, California.

In addition to refilling soy sauce bottles and condiments, I’d help chop vegetables and wrap won tons for their Wor Wonton soup. I haven’t made wontons since those days and didn’t write down my parents’ wonton filling recipe. I have good memories of spending time with them while they worked to pay my college tuition. My parents came from a generation of entrepreneurs since most immigrants from Taishan didn’t have formal college educations. So many, like mine, toiled away at convenience stores, restaurants, or laundromats and whatever work they could find.

Dad ran a fruit stand in South L.A. when he first arrived in the U.S. at age 15 and went on to run grocery stores, a steak & salad restaurant, a Philly cheesesteak fast food shop, and Chopstick Inn with my mom. Sometimes I envy that independent spirit of entrepreneurship – it never taught or passed down to me. Instead I became part of the next generation encouraged to earn a college degree in order to secure a stable job (preferably with the government for “good” benefits and the promise of never getting laid off or wondering where your next paycheck came from).

They didn’t want me or my brothers to endure the hardships and emotional instability they experienced as entrepreneurs. My dad even worked at a Discount Dollar Store in East L.A. when I was a kid. He’d bring discount clothes for us and worked hard to earn every dollar so we could own our own home, have clothes on our back, and put food on the table.

But alas, I digress. I meant to write about potstickers and wontons so I could ask for input on YOUR recipes. My dad usually mixed in sesame oil (mah-yu), salt (yem), white pepper, egg (ahn), and some soy sauce (see-yu) into his wonton filling. There might’ve been other stuff like shrimp and water chestnuts, but I can’t remember. So if you have any potsticker or half-moon (fan swuah) or wonton (voon hoon) dumpling recipes, please share. Thank you very much!