Conversations with a Hungry Ghost: Memoir of a Reluctant Medium has been out for a few weeks now, and the reviews have been great. I am thrilled that so many people are interested to learn more about the Chinese culture, about what it’s like talking with a ghost, and about being a medium. I love all of the questions that people ask and the stories they share about their own experiences.
My story begins with my family, but as I started writing, the story took on a life of its own. It was and continues to be an adventure of a lifetime.
Even though we had gathered together individually, our family reunion in 1989 was the first time my brothers, sister and I had been together with our Dad, James On Louie. Read about our strange gathering in Chapter 3.
My father died one year after the reunion, but as you will discover his ghost came to me and began a conversation unlike any we had when he was alive.
Have you ever been to a Buddhist funeral? It’s fascinating and quite different from other funerals.
For many years, these were the only images I had of my family’s life in China, but with the help of my father’s and ancestors’ spirits, that was about to change.
Last year, I was successful in finding files at NARA, the National Archives in San Bruno, that helped me paint a picture of my family’s sojourns from China to the “Gold Mountain.” From their small villages in Taishan, they travelled to Canton (Guangzhou) in the 1800s and established a trading company, Fong Sang Lung. From Canton, they ventured across the Pacific to the bustling “Big City” (San Francisco) as merchants. Sometimes, I think we take for granted what these places were like “back in the day.” These photos speak volumes: top and middle paintings are Canton, bottom photo and drawing are San Francisco – both in the 1800s.
Only a few families were allowed to enter America. They were solace to the many men whose family’s remained in China. My grandfather’s younger brother dared to bring his wife to San Francisco where their next three children were born.
Our family continued to import “fancy goods” from China and Japan and sold them in their retail store on DuPont/later Grant Avenue and wholesale to American merchants such as G.T. Marsh.
They traveled many times back and forth; they jumped through legal hoops first on the docks at San Francisco and then at the detention center on Angel Island; they persevered with the help of the family association, Caucasian friends, and even lawyers and a Senator.
Records of the company’s partners’ list reveal a well-organized business. I love reading the lists and what they tell me about the family. Twenty-two thousand dollars doesn’t seem like a lot today, but when converted from the value of $22,500 in 1890 to today’s dollars, it amounts to over half-a-million.
Merchants provided services as well as merchandise, such as sending letters and remittances to family back in China and across the United States.
What did Huang Ti (the Yellow Emperor) and Louie Jo (legendary Chinese empress and wife of the Yellow Emperor) have to do with my story? According to tradition, Louie Jo, aka Leizu (Chinese: 嫘祖; pinyin: Léi Zǔ) discovered sericulture, and invented the silk loom, in the 27th century BC.) Lazlo Montgomery’s research helped me learn more about their story. Check out his podcast, The Ancient History of Silk, on The China History Podcast (Teacup Media).
The Silk Empress and many other stories are still a mystery to me. Whether their stories are fact or myth, there is something about them that resonates with me. My journey of “Rooting for Truth” continues. Who knows where it will lead me next.