“Those Who Do Not Learn History Are Doomed To Repeat It.”

In memory of my father – Louie Hung On, my grandfather – Louie Mow, and my great-grandfather – Louie Fat. As merchants, they were more fortunate than many Chinese who came to America. However, when I read the documents from the National Archives, I witness how they were treated. One hundred thirty-six years after my great-grandfather came to this country, I remember.
 
Now, I understand why my father was so secretive about his journey from China to the United States. In part, it had to do with the Chinese Exclusion Act, passed on May 6, 1882. Today is a day of remembrance, lest we forget.
 
I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and all of the Chinese who came to America and claimed their rights for freedom and justice. They helped make this country what it is and the United States is better for their contributions.
May 6 remembrance day
Apology for the Chinese Exclusion Act

On June 18, 2012, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution, introduced by Congresswoman Chu, that formally expresses the regret of the House of Representatives for the Chinese Exclusion Act, which imposed almost total restrictions on Chinese immigration and naturalization and denied Chinese-Americans basic freedoms because of their ethnicity. This was only the fourth time that the U.S. Congress issued an apology to a group of people.

Rep Judy Chu

“Those Who Do Not Learn History Are Doomed To Repeat It.” George Santayana

Join me on the Jamie Dawn Show – 12Radio – May 3rd @ 11:00 a.m.

I’m looking forward to joining my friend, Professional Psychic and Intuitive Life Coach Jamie Dawn on her 12Radio Show on May 3rd.    It reminds of the time I was on an NPR show where my host introduced me as “an interior designer who has designs on your interior,” and the woman who called in to say that reincarnation was nonsense. I’ve had to deal with worse, so I told her that this was my experience and I did not expect anyone to believe it or not.
I’ve come a long way since then. I finally finished the book I’ve been working on for so many years and understand why it took so long to write it. I understand that the woman who called the NPR show is on her path and I am on mine as we all are; I understand that everything is in Divine Order and it’s all about love.
I’ll share stories from the book, Conversations with a Hungry Ghost: Memoir of a Reluctant Medium, and about the process of writing and publishing it, about the spiritual journey that began when I accepted my gift as a medium.
Jamie Dawn Radio Show_X
I hope you will join Jamie and me live and call in with your questions. It’s always fun when we get together. You never know who (from the other side) is going to show up.  Just in case you cannot make the live show, it will be recorded and both Jamie and I will share it on our websites.

Ching Ming 清明节

In celebration of tomorrow and Ching Ming, a sacred ceremony to honor ones ancestors, I want to share a short/short story.

Some folks are so afraid of ghosts that they do not even like to think about them, and then there’s me. I have to confess that I was afraid of ghosts too until I began a series of conversations with my father’s ghost/spirit after he died in 1990. But now, not so much because the conversations with Dad and others have taught me a lot about life as well as death.  Those conversations inspired the following story about a conversation between a ghost and two fellow ghosts.

Ching Ming 清明节

April 4, 2000

Colma, aka The City of the Dead, south of San Francisco, CA

Sunlight broke through the fog sending rays of light onto the copper lid of the coffin. Jimmy Lei stood there as if frozen. He watched as the family left the cemetery but still he could not move.

“What a waste,” he said as he looked at the elaborately carved granite double headstone and, then, at the well manicured grounds.

‘Well, will you look at that?  What are the odds?” Ming Li tipped the pointed end of his fedora to the tombstones on each side of Mr. Lei’s gravesite. He adjusted the handkerchief in his breast pocket so that his initials were prominent.

“I don’t believe it,” W. G. Fong replied.

Jimmy said, “Who are you and what . . .” he stopped before he could finish. The man on his right died on April 5; so did the man on his left. “Wait just a minute.  I died on April 5th, Ching Ming, the day I should honor my ancestors. The last time I saw my parents was in 1931. I was a new father and widower in less than two weeks.  I had to leave my newborn son to return to America.” He looked around and saw the remnants of the Ching Ming rituals, evidence that others did indeed honor their ancestors.

“What are the odds that three people buried next to each other would die on the same day? Well, I’ll tell you. You have a better chance of winning the lottery,” Ming, who loved to gamble, said.

Mr. Fong recognized his family’s floral arrangement, the wreath with red ribbons inscribed with details about the deceased. His family, known for its beautiful calligraphy as well as its floral work, merged the Western tradition of placing flowers at a funeral with the Chinese tradition of an announcement scroll. “He must be Buddhist. See there. The words on the banner ask permission to enter into heaven and I heard a woman mumbling a Buddhist prayer as her fingers counted the beads on her mala.”

“What are you talking about?” Jimmy said.

Ming said to W.G.  “He still doesn’t quite get it.”

“Don’t be so hard on him.  You were the same, Ming.”

“Don’t remind me.  It’s as if it were yesterday instead of fifty years ago.”

“At least, you were used to this country. I wanted to go back home to die or at least to be buried. I had no one here.  In China, I had family who would honor me. I never dreamt that Huang Er, my brother’s second son, would come to the States and make good with the money I left him. I was a second son also. I knew he would be neglected in favor of the number one son. I knew Huang Er had talent but I see now that he also had ambition. He turned my little florist shop into a chain of fancy shops. When he dug up my body from the old Chinese cemetery, and had it moved here, I felt like a king. I guess it paid off to leave him my small fortune.”

“Old Uncle, you’re too old-fashioned.” Ming said. He patted the shoulder of W.G.’s mandarin jacket causing W.G.’s wispy white hair to fly up like a spider’s web disturbed by an intruder.

“Yes, but it is still an honorable thing to pay respects to your ancestors, whether you are a Buddhist like him; a rice bowl Christian, like me; or an Atheist, like you. Shou Shen, brother, Shou Shen.”

“Shou Shen – Filial Piety. You’re talking to an orphan, W.G., but I lived my life right. I did not need a parent or customs or a church to tell me right from wrong.”

“How can you be so sure you were abandoned? China was in chaos between the Japanese invasion and the fighting between Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists and Mao’s Communists. Can’t you find it in your heart to forgive them, Ming?”

“So, you did learn a thing or two from the Christian priests.”

“Yes, but, then, why am I still here? It’s now seventy years. Why didn’t I go to the pearly gates?”

“W.G., I think it’s something more than a coincidence – this April 5th thing. Hey, Jimmy, what’s your story? Why are you here and not in the Buddhist heaven?” Ming said pulling at his eyebrow hair that persisted on sticking out.

Jimmy looked forlorn. He tugged at the well-worn buttonhole of his favorite cardigan. “I made the preparations:  the roasted pig, the whole fish and chicken, the paper money and petitions to the guards of heaven to burn in the altar, the family blankets, and a band to ward off evil spirits. I did it all. You tell me. Why am I still here?” He knew these last-minute compliances to rituals could not make up for years of neglect. He knew that he had not sent money back to China, squandering it instead on gambling, drinking and women. He shut out those words – Shou Shen – because he knew he had not paid the proper respects to his ancestors. He knew now that the ticket into heaven was not words on a piece of paper, nor dutiful submission to a long list of rituals. He knew that he would have to pay dearly for his deeds in his next life.

“I was wrong,” he admitted to his new neighbors, “but I have another chance to get it right.” His broad nostrils flared, making them look even broader and his eyes even smaller. He tugged at the buttonhole like a child caressing his “blankie.”

“What are you talking about?” Ming asked.

“We are all still here – because we are stuck until we realize our karma. W. G., you would call it “sins.” I thought I got away with my deeds. I have to accept what I did wrong and make it right. I know that now. You think it’s too late but I do not think I’d be here talking with you now if it were too late.”

“If there’s a way to leave this place, I want to hear about it. Maybe, it’s time for me to look at my life. I thought I did the right things but now I’m not so sure. It was the ultimate gamble,” Ming confessed.

W.G. held his head down as he tried to hide the tears that ran down his sunken cheeks. “I went to the mission so I could eat. We were so poor.  I’d do almost anything to get some food for my family. I ate the rice in the rice bowl and I hid pieces of vegetables and meat in my clothes to take home to my family. I worked in the kitchen just so I could steal the scraps of food left on plates.

“I listened and pretended to pray. I tried to learn the English language. Of course, they taught it to us by reading the Bible. I wanted to learn the language so I could be a “Gold Mountain” man. After I came to America to find my gold, I discovered the truth. Gold was not everywhere as the traders told us. I worked hard and sent money home to China. I guess I learned enough about sinning to feel bad because I just could not believe in their Jesus. I was not a good Christian man but I did love my family.”

Something in them changed as they shared their stories. They developed an inexplicable bond with one another.

*********

April 5, 2001

Colma, CA

“Look, our families are coming,” W.G. said. My nephew is an old man now but he looks young. He has a good family and a good heart.

“As many years as we’ve been here, our families never came at the same time,” he said to W.G.

Jimmy Lei’s family passed the first tombstone. Jenny said, “Hey, guys, he died the same day as Goompa.”  Lily set the basket on the ground and, then, sorted out the incense, papers, and Jimmy’s favorite foods while the neighbors swept the gravesites and added fresh flowers.

“Hey, this guy over here, Mr. Wai Gauy Fong, died on April 5 also – but in 1920 – and Mr. Ming Li over there died in 1940. I bet they would have great stories to tell if we could talk with them. This is weird.  I have a feeling this is not a coincidence.”

“Let them figure it out, either in this life time or the next. If we can, they will also,” Jimmy said to his new friends. “Are you ready to go now?”

“Where are we going?” W.G. and Ming said in unison.

“I’m not sure but I think we need to cross that arched bridge. It wasn’t there before but I feel we need to go over it. Remember, the Buddha said the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

As if on queue, they took that step together.

Conversations with a Hungry Ghost

I’ve been a little preoccupied lately since my return from the Rooting trip to China, but it’s all good because I finally finished the Kindle of my book, Conversations with a Hungry Ghost: Memoir of a Reluctant Medium. It will be released March 25th. The print version will follow soon afterward. Watch my Events page for upcoming talks and the book launch party.

Here is the link to preorder at Amazon.

I created a Gallery page to my site to collect photos about my book as there are too many to include for an easy download to a e-book and more than I’ll include in the print version. The Gallery is a work-in-progress and I will continue to add photos.

Release poster for ebook

Peter and the Trolls

Writing runs in the family. Not only am I writing, but my son-in-law is a writer and now my granddaughter has joined the club.

Here is her story Peter and the Trolls. She wants me to be sure to tell you that Peter is a frog boy, just in case you didn’t pick that up in the story. ENJOY😊!

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Rooting for Truth 寻找真相 Becoming a Sojourner

Becoming a Chinese American was not my father’s goal, at least not in the beginning of his sojourns to the Gold Mountain. Like his father (Louie Mow) and his grandfather (Louie Fat), he intended to create wealth in the land across the sea and return home a successful Gold Mountain man. They intended to stay only temporarily in the United States, to build up their business for the next generation (my generation) and retire in style and comfort back in the homeland, where they intended to be buried and honored by their descendants.

 

Fate, if you believe in fate, had other plans for Dad and that is how I came to be. If my father had been able to go back to China to remarry after his first wife died, would I be one hundred percent Chinese instead of 50.3%, as the DNA test shows? Would I have been married off to a good family in a village near Gong Yick? Or would I travel to San Francisco with my husband like a few of the Chinese women and bear my children in a strange land? Would my sons carry on a generational name from my husband’s family poem? There are so many “what ifs.” I know, I’ve pondered many of them in the wee hours of the morning when the questions nudged me to find more answers.

At least, I finally have some answers about my grandfather Louie Mow, whose married name was Louie Hong Wei. I know what he looked like at different stages of his life and a few things about his success as a Sojourner as well as the twelve trips he made back and forth to China over a twenty-odd year period between 1907 and 1930s, enough time to father six children.

collage-of-grandfather-and-great-grandfather

I now know my great-grandfather’s name – all of his names. his birth/childhood name, his marriage name, the various transliterations he used and the interpreters at the immigration offices used. I know what he looked like and a little bit about his back story. I am “blown away” by his daring and tenacity.

 

Now, I am the sojourner, traveling by air cooped up in tight quarters for over half a day, but that is still a much shorter time than the trip by boat in 1881 by my great-grandfather or even the trip by my father in 1927. I am heading to a land that is somewhat strange to me, whose language I do not understand although I am picking up words here and there. And like my ancestors, I intend to return home. My journey to China, to Sam Dor Village in Guangdong Provence, has taken me years of preparation. One reason being that I did not even know the name of the village where my father was born until after his death in 1990. The name of the village was carved on his tombstone. My first clue. The search began.

dads-tombstone-1990

Patience and perseverance paid off. China has changed a lot since my family left the comforts of home, but the villages were much the same as they had been all those years ago. Going to my great-grandfather’s birthplace was surreal. Yes, we went through the motions of the rituals to honor my ancestors on an empty plot of land overgrown by Chinese squash plants. We saw the old men smoking their water pipes while all of the women gathered in the community center. A couple of women killed a snake that crept up from the pond and showed my fellow Rooters the markings that indicated it was poisonous. Others squatted around bowls making a cocoon shaped pastry and something else that was a flattened out version of a sesame seed ball. Even though they were getting the food ready for a wedding in a few days, they generously shared their treats with us. And I shared little baskets that I had crocheted from red yarn to symbolize the red thread that connects us all.

At the same time, it was as if I was floating about the scene observing everything from a bird’s eye view and then, the veil between the past and the present disappeared and I saw more. Standing in the parlor, I felt the walls around me and heard the joy of child’s naming day. Walking through the streets of the village in my mind, the vibrancy of the villagers in as palpable as was the community of women who prepared for a wedding on the day of my rooting, teasing the young bride-to-be, giving her advice, laughing as she blushed. I felt as if I’d been there before in another time.

keng_wei_hong_may_village_wedding_preparations-36

Like my ancestors who traveled back and forth between these two great countries, I want to go back again. I want to go to the house in Gong Yick, now Gong Ye, were my grandfather moved his family, where my father married his first wife, and where my half-brother was born. If it’s still there, I want to go to the marked slab on Long How Hill, aka Bock Sock, where Louie Fat is buried, to pay my respects. I want to spend more time in China, people watching, learning more about . . . well, everything. I want to track down the exhibit about the Yangshi Lei, Lei Family Architects, and anything about Leizu 嫘祖, wife of the Yellow Emperor – not the terra-cotta soldiers-famed emperor from 200s B.C. but the one from the three sovereigns fame of the 27th century B.C. They speak to me in ways that tell me I have to follow the crumbs, pull the red thread until I know why I need to know their stories.

Here’s the really beautiful thing about my sojourn and all the work that has made it possible: even though I have not always been totally accepted in the East because of my Caucasian blood nor in the West because of my Chinese blood, the really beautiful thing is that I have found that place inside of me where I am “at home” no matter where I am.