Countless Journeys

Chop Suey Nation - Ann Hui

Episode Summary

Growing up in Vancouver as the child of immigrants from China and Hong Kong, journalist Ann Hui had a very specific idea of what so-called authentic Chinese food was. “We would go eat in Chinatown. We would have wonton noodles, we would have dim sum, you know, really elaborate banquets. There were so many different ways of eating Chinese food, in my understanding of that kind of cuisine,” Ann tells host Tina Pittaway in the season premiere of season four of Countless Journeys. But on the occasions that Ann got outside of the urban setting of Vancouver, she was fascinated by the small town Chinese restaurants that are common across the country. “There would always be that one restaurant on the main street. It was always called Fortune something or Garden or Panda or Jade, something.” Similar in décor, and with menu items that were a mystery to Ann – things like moo goo gai pan, chicken balls, and almond chicken, dishes that were created for local tastes – she wanted to learn why, in pre-internet days, so many of these restaurants were so similar to one another. So when Ann was hired as a food writer for the Globe and Mail back in 2016, she set out on a road trip that took her from Victoria to Fogo Island in search of answers. Her series eventually became the subject of her book, Chop Suey Nation: The Legion Café and Other Stories from Canada’s Chinese Restaurants. Part personal memoir, and part cultural history, Ann shares not only the stories of the people who own these businesses, but also the stories of the historical forces that in part led to these Chinese restaurants' creation, including an infamous piece of legislation, commonly referred to as the Chinese Exclusion Act, which became law 100 years ago in 1923. Countless Journeys is brought to you by the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, located at the Halifax Seaport.

Episode Transcription

[00:00:00] Tina Pittaway: When it comes to evoking memories of home, there's nothing quite like food to send us back in time.

[00:00:11] And for many who've created lives in new countries, the foods of home are the first things to share and the last things that are held onto. This season on countless journeys, our table is set with a wide variety of stories of food and its place in the lives of our guests.

[00:00:31] We'll hear from celebrated Vancouver chef Vikram Vij. 

[00:00:35] Vikram Vij: All of our chefs represent either our grandmothers or our mothers or our aunts or the land we come from, or the place we grew up in. And we put ourselves on the plate.

[00:00:47] Tina Pittaway: As well as from a trio of siblings in Toronto, whose Iranian restaurant on Queen Street West has fostered a deep sense of community in a tumultuous time.

[00:00:57] Samira Mohyeddin: We made a conscious decision to expand our culture and our cuisine to a community that has never been exposed to it. And I think that that was something that we really, really wanted to do. 

[00:01:10] Tina Pittaway: And we kick things off with Anne Hui. 

[00:01:13] In her book, Chop Suey Nation: the Legion Cafe, and Other Stories from Canada's Chinese Restaurants, Ann sets off on an 18 day road trip in search of answers to her many questions about the hundreds of Chinese restaurants that are a mainstay in pretty much every city and town across the country. 

[00:01:33] Ann Hui: Obsessed is probably not too light of a word for it. I just thought that they were fascinating places and I wanted to know more about them.

[00:01:40] Tina Pittaway: I'm Tina Pittway and Ann Hui joins me next on Countless Journeys from the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax. 

[00:01:54] Ann Hui's book Chop Suey Nation began as a series of articles for The Globe and Mail, where she's been a reporter since 2016. Ann's journey takes her from Victoria to Fogo Island. It's part family memoir, and part cultural history. In it, Ann shares not only the stories of the people who own these businesses, but also the stories of the historical forcest hat in part led to these Chinese restaurants' creation, including an infamous piece of legislation, commonly referred to as the Chinese Exclusion Act, which became law 100 years ago in 1923.

[00:03:33] I spoke with Ann from the Offices of the Globe and Mail in Toronto. 

[00:03:37] Now Ann, your journey across Canada, it began as a series of articles for the Globe. What did you want to learn at the outset of that series? 

[00:03:47] Ann Hui: So this was 2016 and I had just started a job at the Globe, as a food reporter. And so I had this long list of subjects, story, ideas, possible pitches, and on this list of something like 15 or 20 story ideas, I had one line that just said Chinese restaurants.

[00:04:08] And that was my very succinct way of kind of condensing this really lifelong obsession with Chinese restaurants. You know, I grew up in Vancouver. I come from a Chinese Canadian family. My parents immigrated to Canada in the 1970s from South China and Hong Kong, and my understanding of Chinese food as a Chinese person in Vancouver was a very specific thing.

[00:04:36] You know, we had access to really what we would consider authentic Chinese food. We would go eat in Chinatown. We would have wonton noodles, we would have dim sum, you know, really elaborate banquets, there were so many different ways of eating Chinese food, in my, in my understanding of, of that kind of cuisine.

[00:04:56] But whenever we would leave Vancouver, whenever we would leave that kind of Chinese bubble, that urban bubble and go to these small towns, I would come across this very different idea of a Chinese restaurant. You know, in a small town there would always be that one restaurant on the main street. It was always called Fortune something or Garden or Panda or Jade, something.

[00:05:18] These restaurants, you know, no matter where we were, they would all kind of look the same, you would have those red, uh, place mats, paper place mats. You would have red lanterns hanging from the ceiling. You would have, you know, plastic, red banquettes. The food all looked kind of the same. They had all of these very similar menus with, again, very similar menu items with dishes that were all of them entirely new to me as a Chinese person.

[00:05:46] You know, moo goo gai pan, almond chicken, chicken balls. These were as far as I was concerned, entirely foreign or exotic dishes. So these places were always kind of a bit of a mystery to me. I, I couldn't understand how all of these restaurants somehow existed all across, it seemed the country and seemed to be so similar.

[00:06:10] There was the sameness to them that I didn't understand. I was very curious about the people who ran these restaurants. You know, most of the time it was pretty obvious that they were the only Chinese people living in those towns. Probably the only Chinese people for many, many, many, many kilometers out.

[00:06:25] What were their lives like, you know. So different from, again, what I grew up with and what I understood as a Chinese restaurant. And so I had always just been really obsessed is probably not too light of a word for it. I just thought that they were fascinating places and I wanted to know more about them.

[00:06:41] Tina Pittaway: So you plan a road trip and set the stage a little bit. Um, what's the scope of it and who will you be traveling with? 

[00:06:54] Ann Hui: We understood that this was a peculiarly Canadian, but also extremely Canadian story you know, and I knew that, you know, a lot of these really, really small, really tiny remote places were really only accessible by car.

[00:07:16] The problem of course, well for me is I hate driving. I just do not like it. It fills me with such anxiety. Um, But lucky me, I had a husband who loves to drive. I have a husband who loves to drive, he loves to go on road trips, he loves to explore. So, um, it was kind of the perfect arrangement. The two of us 18 days, uh, from Victoria BC straight across to Foggo Island, Newfoundland.

[00:07:43] Tina Pittaway: And why Fogo Island? What was the, what, what led you to kind of make that your end point? 

[00:07:49] Ann Hui: So I had, I chose Fogo specifically as an endpoint because I had come across a photo early on in my research that someone had taken of a woman who runs a Chinese restaurant on Fogo Island, Newfoundland, and what I knew of Fogo Island at the time, and I think what most people know if they know of Fogo at all, is that it's an extremely, extremely remote place in this country. It's literally, you go all the way to the east coast of Canada as far as you can get, and then you take a ferry or an airplane to a tiny little island.

[00:08:29] You stand on the coast of Fogal Island, you literally feel like you have reached the end of the earth. So this idea of this Chinese woman who I learned from the caption of the photo, ran this Chinese restaurant 365 days a year in this tiny little town on this very remote island that really captured my imagination. I thought to myself, I need to know her story. 

[00:08:54] Tina Pittaway: And when you say 365 days a year, you really mean 365 days a year? 

[00:08:59] Ann Hui: I really mean 365 days a year and, and labor is certainly a major theme in the book and really in the story of Chinese immigration to Canada. The very first Chinese men, and they were all men who came to this country in the mid 19th century, came as Chinese laborers.

[00:09:20] Many of them first were involved with the gold rush, but then later of course, uh, were very important to building the railway and, you know, an important piece of Canada's history. Many of them were recruited in large numbers from China as a source of cheap labor in order to build this railway that was going to unite our country.

[00:09:43] They were given the most dangerous jobs, usually if it meant, you know, tunneling into a mountain using dynamite those were the jobs that the Chinese men were expected to perform. They were paid a fraction of what the white laborers were paid at the time, and really lured here, um, with the promise of work.

[00:10:03] The thing is that after many years of Chinese immigration, mass Chinese immigration to Canada and after the railway was built, white Canadians suddenly looked around them and realized, oh wow, we have this large number of Chinese - mostly men - here now, cheap labor and, and that made them nervous.

[00:10:27] And so we started to see a whole long list of very much discriminatory policies aimed at keeping these Chinese men out of the labor force. You know, the, the local laborers were worried about being replaced by these men. And so they actually put in place laws that would prevent Chinese men from entering most not even white collar workplaces, but most, uh, general workplaces. Um, this was the era when we saw things like the head tax put in place. We actually saw the Chinese Exclusion Act put in place across the country in the early 20th century. And that remains the one and only time this country has ever barred an entire group of people from this country based solely on race and ethnicity.

[00:11:17] And so what that left the remaining Chinese men in Canada was really just what was considered women's work at the time. So they could work in laundromats, they could work in convenience stores, or they could work in restaurants. 

[00:11:32] Tina Pittaway: And this is sort of the genesis for the rise of all these restaurants across the country.

[00:11:38] Ann Hui: Yes. Whether they serve Chinese food or not was, was another case entirely. But you started to see these restaurants pop up all across the country. And it's also no coincidence that a lot of those restaurants tend to be concentrated around what used to be railway towns, because that's where a lot of these workers were left.

[00:11:58] And so that, you know, that that idea of work, of labor, continues even today, you know? The, the main source of work for newcomers to Canada, uh, newcomers who maybe don't speak the language, newcomers who maybe don't have formal education or training that's recognized here in Canada, restaurant work is often seen as the easiest way, to start a new life here.

[00:12:30] And so that's a big part of why we still see, you know, so many Chinese restaurants, uh, Chinese restaurants or restaurants in general as the places for new immigrants setting up their lives here. 

[00:12:43] Tina Pittaway: Can you talk a little bit about the demands on families running these restaurants? Because there's so much pressure and the margins are so thin, uh, it, it's really tough, isn't it?

[00:12:54] Ann Hui: Mm-hmm. So restaurant work is grueling. Um, Chinese restaurant owners who I met on this road trip and who I've known, uh, in my life are people who often work, you know, 14, 16 hour days, 365 days a year. Many of these Chinese restaurant. Owners and families who I met actually live in the restaurants that they work in or, or that they own.

[00:13:25] You know, often there is an apartment above the restaurant where the family lives or there's an apartment in the back, or even sometimes the basement. Often these restaurants, you know, on their off hours when the restaurant is closed, serve as the family's dining room for their own dinner time, for their own breakfast time.

[00:13:42] There is no such thing as work-life balance when you live in a Chinese restaurant, you know, so the, the Chinese restaurant kids in particular who I met, you know, they talk about coming home sometimes at lunchtime, during school, and helping out with the lunch rush. You know, they would wait tables, they would pour coffee, they would help wash dishes in the back of the restaurant.

[00:14:03] Many of them would come home after school. Maybe they would help out with the restaurant for a few hours before they would go in the back store room to do their homework. Um, one of the restaurant owners I met in Stony Plain Alberta, William Choi, he talked about how, uh, that that's a quite a rural town at, at least in the time when he was growing up.

[00:14:22] He talked about how when he would go to his friend's houses, most of them lived on farms. And so they would play in the barns and climb bales of hay. And when his friends would come over to his house to play, it would be the restaurant and they would play in the basement where, you know, there would be stacks of, uh, big bags of rice, you know, stacked up.

[00:14:39] And they would climb on top of the, the bags of rice or the, the boxes full of soy sauce. You know, that's just the way that that life was. And I think underpinning that work ethic for a lot of these Chinese restaurant owners in particular was this idea of we understand that we are facing discrimination and that we have all of these challenges that face us, and so we need to work harder in order to not even get ahead, but just to survive. 

[00:15:19] So there was very much this idea that, you know, We need to keep the restaurant open 365 days a year. We need to be open on Christmas when no other restaurants are open in this town if there are, in fact other restaurants in this town. We need to be open that day for those families who, you know, maybe Jewish families who don't celebrate Christmas or whoever, you know, we need to be open later than everyone.

[00:15:46] We need to be open earlier than everybody. It was just this idea that we need to outwork everybody because that's one of the few advantages maybe, that they felt they had. 

[00:15:57] Tina Pittaway: And also of course, they, they had to adjust the menu and the food, like you, as you said at the outset, that so much, uh, that's on the menu really wouldn't resonate or ring familiar, um, in a traditional Chinese restaurant.

[00:16:15] Can you talk a little bit about the Canadianization of, of many of these dishes and, and uh, there's a lot of creativity as well that goes into kind of making it palatable to pallets that aren't at all, um, accustomed to anything kind of out of the ordinary. 

[00:16:34] Ann Hui: So in my book, I differentiate between quote, authentic Chinese food and authentic is a loaded term.

[00:16:42] By that I mean the kind of food that I grew up with or the kind of food that you might find if you actually went to China. And this other kind of Chinese food that I describe as authentic Chinese, and by authentic Chinese food, I am referring to this whole repertoire of Chinese food that you're not gonna find in China, but you'll find in many Chinese restaurants in North America and really all around the world, this is food that's sold as Chinese and yet, Wouldn't actually originate from Asia, or certainly not China.

[00:17:22] Many of these dishes were created right here in Canada. Many of them were also created in, in San Francisco, in, in the US uh, around the time of early Chinese immigration as well. You know, these were dishes that were created by those first Chinese restaurant owners who as I was talking about before, you know, they came as laborers. They came as railway workers. They weren't necessarily cooks, they weren't necessarily restaurant workers. They didn't even necessarily know how to cook when they first started a restaurant, and so they had to learn very quickly how to cook food that people in Canada would want to eat. And of course most of the people coming into the restaurants at the time would not have been Chinese people, so they had to consider the pallets of the locals.

[00:18:15] They also had to consider what ingredients what ingredients were available to them at the time. You know, even things like soy sauce in the early 20th century may not have been widely available in Canada. Certainly not the array of Chinese vegetables that you could easily find you know, in a city like Vancouver, Toronto now would not have been available at the time.

[00:18:36] Even things like egg noodles, you know, not necessarily easy to find in that period. And so there was a lot of improvisation happening. There was a lot of making things up on the fly, but with ingredients that they had available to them. And that wouldn't be too exotic or too weird or scary or off-putting to, you know, these, these, these unfamiliar pallets to these locals.

[00:19:02] And so that's when we started to see dishes like chicken balls that were deep fried, uh, and served with this bright red sauce. You know, we saw a lot of ketchup being added to dishes. We saw a lot of deep frying happening because, you know, french fries were very popular, and what if we made these beef strips taste something like french fries?

[00:19:24] It was this idea of somewhat foreign, but not too foreign. You know, somewhat exotic, not too exotic. A melding of, you know, new and old. There was, uh, a, a huge emphasis on things like texture and flavor. You know, uh, something crunchy, something crispy, something sweet, something sour. Uh, It was just a lot of improvisation and out of that came some of these dishes that I think are now, you know, some of the most beloved dishes to, to a lot of people who grew up eating them.

[00:19:58] Tina Pittaway: In terms of that dexterity, I suppose, of appealing to a local clientele you also wrote about the use of cabbage in Newfoundland in a specific dish. What was, what was that? 

[00:20:11] Ann Hui: Mm-hmm. So when I arrived in a town called Deer Lake, Newfoundland, we went to a restaurant called the Canton Restaurant um, to have lunch and to interview the owner there, a man named Richard Hong. And as soon as I approached the restaurant door, I noticed a sign that had printed, been printed on a piece of computer paper, and it said, Our Chow Mein is made with cabbage, and I thought, what?

[00:20:47] Because Chow Mein literally in Cantonese it means fried noodles. And so I was very curious about this and when I spoke with Richard, the owner there, he explained to me that in Newfoundland, the default way of preparing Chow Mein is not with noodles, but with thin strips of green cabbage. And that is because in the early days of Chinese restaurants in Newfoundland in particular, uh, Chinese ingredients would've been very, very, very difficult to come by, and that would've remained the case in Newfoundland for far longer than most other parts of this country, of course, because Newfoundland, um, is, is an island.

[00:21:33] And so even until relatively recently, it was very difficult to get egg noodles there. So what the early Chinese restaurant owners there, there did was something very clever. They just, you know, sliced very, very, very thin strips of green cabbage so that it looked something like noodles, um, and treated that as their egg noodles, or treated that as their noodles.

[00:21:56] And so the default again, At most restaurants in Newfoundland when you order Chow Mein, is going to be this plate of saute, uh, green cabbage. But I just think it's such a cool example of, again, the, the adaptability of this cuisine, the ingenuity of these restaurant owners, um, and this very cool origin story of, of cuisine, of this cuisine.

[00:22:20] Tina Pittaway: Did you order any?

[00:22:22] Ann Hui: Oh yeah, absolutely. 

[00:22:23] Tina Pittaway: And what was it like? 

[00:22:25] Ann Hui: It was actually quite delicious. And you know, people react to that with some skepticism, but you have to remember that this was towards the very end of my 18 day road trip, eating almost nothing but chop suey Chinese food. My body um, my body was craving vegetables, like every, every, every, every cell of my body was screaming for something green.

[00:22:53] And so here was this nice man giving me a, a dish of just sauteed green vegetables. It was delicious. I, I actually like cabbage. I know not everybody does, but I really like cabbage. I like depth and umami of, I'm saying that cringing because I I would cringe if I heard somebody say that. But the, the umami that the, the cabbage lends to that the dish was, was actually quite delicious.

[00:23:22] I mean, the texture was completely different. And so if what you really want is chow mein um, you're probably not going to be satisfied with it. But it, it as a dish alone. It was very delicious. 

[00:23:33] Tina Pittaway: You also, uh, uh, mentioned the first Chinese food buffet restaurateur in Canada. Who was that? 

[00:23:41] Ann Hui: That was a man named Bill Wong, uh, from Montreal, Quebec.

[00:23:46] He is actually the father, was the father of, uh, former Globe journalist, Jan Wong. 

[00:23:52] Tina Pittaway: Oh, okay. 

[00:23:53] Ann Hui: Um, but he was just a very clever and industrious, uh, Business owner, restaurant owner at the time, and he saw that, uh, smorgasboard restaurants, uh, were just starting to become very popular in different parts of the continent.

[00:24:12] You know, that was an idea that was imported from Europe and this idea of having, you know, lots of different kinds of food for people to access and try at once. Um, this was you know, the period of multiculturalism. Canada was just opening itself up to outsiders, to new ideas, to foreign tastes, to, uh, exotic foods.

[00:24:32] And so while people were curious, they probably didn't have a ton of knowledge about these kinds of cuisines. And so the smorgasboard, the, the buffet was kind of a perfect way for, uh, introducing, you know, new Chinese restaurant lovers to this cuisine. You know, they could pay a set price and try many, many different kinds of food at a time.

[00:24:57] Um, it also made things a lot easier for the Chinese restaurant owners as well. You know, they knew exactly what they had to cook any given day. They knew what ingredients they would need to have on hand. They could kind of do everything in big batches. And it really lightened the workload for a lot of these restaurant owners where, you know, suddenly they didn't have to be spending 16 hours at the restaurant any anymore.

[00:25:18] Tina Pittaway: That's fascinating. 

[00:25:20] Ann Hui: Thank you. I think so. 

[00:25:21] Tina Pittaway: So within this road trip, uh, and the photo, uh, that you saw of this woman on Fogo Island, uh, bring me into your journey to the Kwang Tung restaurant. 

[00:25:32] Ann Hui: The last day of our trip, we arrive in Fogo Island, Newfoundland. We drive up to the Kwang Tung restaurant. I'm feeling nervous because I had not called ahead.

[00:25:47] Um, I wanted to keep our visit fairly spontaneous, and so as we were pulling up to the restaurant, I realized all of the things that could go wrong, including of course, That this restaurant that I had pinned so many of my hopes on and, and really designed this whole road trip around that it might actually be closed, right?

[00:26:07] Um, so I open the door, uh, luckily the restaurant is open, and quickly find myself face-to-face with this woman, Ms. Huang. In between serving other customers and serving us uh, she slowly started to tell me bits and pieces of her story. Ms. Huang told me that she had come to Canada from, uh, Guangdong Southern China.

[00:26:37] Uh, she had come here with her husband and young daughter at the time, two young daughters. They came to Canada after one of their daughters had become very sick, and they realized that, you know, the kind of village hospital that they were able to find for their daughter in China was just not the kind of life that they wanted to be able to offer to their children.

[00:27:01] And so, uh, her husband had a cousin, I believe, who was already in, in Newfoundland, uh, already running a Chinese restaurant on Fogo. And so, uh, they decided to go there. Um, Over the many, many years, Ms. Huang and her husband eventually took over the restaurant on Fogo. Um, her husband found another Chinese restaurant in a town on mainland Newfoundland Twillingate, to run.

[00:27:35] And they realized two incomes would mean a better life for their kids. And so they decided to live separately in different towns. Eventually, Ms. Huang's children had grown up. They had gone to university and moved away, and now here she was in Fogo alone running this restaurant 365 days a year, living in this apartment behind the restaurant. She spoke very little English. She had made a few friends on the island, but for the most part, spent most of her time alone. No cell phone, no car. Um, and that was her life. And on the face of it, it. You know, it, it was still astounding to me these facts that she was relaying to me in the same way that that photo had astounded me.

[00:28:31] You know, if anything, it just seemed even more lonely, even more isolated than I could have possibly imagined. But then she took me for a tour into her apartment in the back of the restaurant, and she showed me her walls where she had photographs of her kids, you know, displayed. She had her daughter's university graduation photo prominently displayed.

[00:29:02] She showed me photos of her other daughter who was living in Toronto, um, you know, who, who had a master's degree. And, you know, all, all of her kids graduated university. Good jobs, better lives, and in her telling of this, she was just so obviously filled with pride and joy and that moment -you know, I, I, I heard over and over and over on the road trip, we did it for our children, we did it so they could have better lives, and they could have said that to me over and over and over again. And they did say that to me over and over and over again. But in that moment with Ms. Huang in her apartment, her showing me those photos, that joy, that pride in her face, that really drove it home for me.

[00:29:56] Tina Pittaway: And, uh, upon your return to Toronto, you actually connected with her daughter, who was actually the sick baby, uh, that whom they nearly lost, uh, when they were living in China. That, uh, and that experience, uh, ultimately, um, propelled them to, to move to Canada and to create that better life. Can you talk to me about what you two talked about?

[00:30:21] Ann Hui: So in the months after my road trip for the Globe, I received a lot of response from people. Uh, who had read the story about the road trip and the globe and wanting to share with me their stories. And, and I really realized if I hadn't already realized, you know, this is something big, this is something that people feel connected to.

[00:30:44] And around that same time, I was spending a lot of time back home with my own parents, uh, in Vancouver. My dad was sick. He had recently been diagnosed with, um, with cancer, and I knew that there was very little time left. And so I really wanted to spend a lot of that time learning his stories, learning more about, you know, the same things that I had asked all of these restaurant owners across the country.

[00:31:08] You know, what brought you here? Um, what was your life like before you came to Canada? What was it like when you first came here? Now what I knew of my of my dad going into those conversations was that he had run restaurants all my life as well. But the difference had been that he had run these, what I considered Western restaurants.

[00:31:28] Um, he ran these like almost kind of western diner style restaurants. And then for most of my childhood, he ran a catering company where he would serve, you know, a hundred plus people, buffets, cold cut platters, giant lasagnas, um, chick chicken a la King, that kind of thing. But in these conversations now with my dad, he started referencing this one restaurant in particular that he and my mom had run before I was born a restaurant called the Legion Cafe. 

[00:31:59] And it was in these conversations that I finally realized that the Legion had actually been a Chinese restaurant, and I hadn't known this. I had never known that my parents had run a Chinese restaurant. I hadn't known in this whole time that I had been doing this road trip and asking all these other families about their lives and about their Chinese restaurants that my own parents had in fact run a Chinese restaurant.

[00:32:23] Um, and that just made it very clear to me in that moment that I was very ignorant to have not thought to have asked these questions sooner. Um, you know. Woven in with that desire to know these stories um, I understood very clearly that I as a second generation restaurant kid, uh, as the, the, the benefactor of this immigrant experience as the person whose parents had done this very hard thing of moving to a new country and starting a new life and making all of these sacrifices for their children, their children being me. I wanted to know where that left me and what my duty was to my parents, what my responsibility was, and really what do I do with all of this privilege that I've been given?

[00:33:30] And obviously my dad being sick was just again, this very real kind of, um, ticking clock in the background. And so that was really what I wanted to talk to, to Stacy about - Ms. Huang's daughter in Toronto. 

[00:33:43] So that's what we talked about. We talked about whether we felt the same sense of guilt when, you know, we would see our parents saving up every single penny that they had.

[00:33:58] You know, my mom, my dad, just like her mom, her dad never bought new things for themselves. Her mom, just like my mom was still wearing hand-me-downs from us, from our teenage years. You know, I go back to Vancouver now and I see my mom wearing things that I used to wear in high school. Um, so that very specific, I think, sense of guilt, that very specific searching for what do we do with this? Who do we pass it onto? What do we owe them and what do we owe ourselves? 

[00:34:41] Tina Pittaway: And in your conversation with Stacy, she recounts to you a conversation that she had with her own dad. And he asks her a question, do you remember what that question was?

[00:34:54] Ann Hui: She talked about how her dad had called her recently. And in their usual calls, in their usual conversations, the one of the only things, all of the questions her dad would ask her generally were very, uh, practical things like, have you eaten yet? Um, how is your work going? Uh, do you have enough money to survive?

[00:35:17] Those kinds of very practical, logistical almost questions. But more recently, she said her dad had called her and he had asked her the question, are you happy? And she found that very moving. Um, because I think that for many of us, again, second generation immigrants, that idea of happiness is really a privilege that our generation gets to have, because the previous generation our parents, the ones who first arrived here, their lives have been almost entirely consumed with just survival. Just the idea of being able to put food on the table, being able to raise their children, and hopefully one day being able to have them ask the question, are you happy?

[00:36:15] So, That was something that really struck her. That was something that she and I talked about. That's something that I think she and I both think about a lot in, in, uh, approaching our parents. Even now, my mom even now, um, is this idea of happiness. I don't know that we're entirely there yet. My mom is still wearing my hand me downs, but even the idea of introducing it, I think is is, is a really nice thing.

[00:36:46] Tina Pittaway: Absolutely. And do we know where Ms. Huang is now? 

[00:36:50] Ms. Huang's plan

[00:36:52] Ann Hui: Her plan the last time I actually talked to her was that she was going to retire somewhere in the suburbs of Toronto. Okay. She had bought a house with her husband and they were planning on moving out here together. Once they felt ready to retire, the idea that they would move to the, to the 9 0 5 to the suburbs of Toronto was because again, Stacy lives here, and so they wanted to be close to at least one of their daughters. The problem, the last I spoke with Stacy was that, uh, timeline for when they were ready to retire seemed to keep kind of changing. So I don't know as of right now whether that's happened. It seemed like she had kept putting it off. 

[00:37:38] Tina Pittaway: Your book, uh, came out in pre pandemic days, and I'm wondering how some of these restaurants fared throughout that ordeal. 

[00:37:47] Ann Hui: Yes. Since then we have seen a wave of ugliness towards, uh, Asian looking and, uh, Asian people across this country and, and around the world.

[00:38:06] And the reaction from people and policymakers often to these, you know, anti-Asian attacks have been, oh, I can't believe this. You know, how horrible - this is not who we are. But what I would say to that is, you know, the stories that my book tell is that none of this is new. You know, the the ugliness that many of these first Chinese men, uh, faced when coming to Canada, many of these discriminatory policies that I described about wanting to keep Chinese men out of the workforce, about wanting to keep, uh, Chinese men, uh, away from living near, you know, white populations because there were fears that these men were dirty, that they carried disease. Uh, there were all kinds of rumors that, you know, Chinese men ate rats or other strange things that they would cook in the backs of their restaurants. There was this real fear and distrust of Chinese people. Um, this is a, this is a, a, a period that sometimes referred to as the yellow peril, but that what, there's a very real and ugly part of Canada's history. 

[00:39:24] And you can see echoes of that, um, later in history as well, you know, in the period of the 1990s in Vancouver, when all of a sudden we saw large waves of Chinese immigration, uh, many of them coming from Hong Kong wanting to flee Hong Kong ahead of the Chinese handover. We saw a lot of rhetoric, again, anti-Asian rhetoric: we don't want, you know, these Chinese people who were buying up these, these homes turning, you know, razing our our heritage homes, uh, destroying our landscapes, building these, these monster homes. In that debate, again, we saw a lot of the same kind of, uh, rhetoric. And then, you know, fast forward to 2020 fears of Chinese restaurants, you know, rumors about Chinese people bringing this disease, about restaurant Chinese restaurants being unclean, unsafe to eat in.

[00:40:17] You know, it's so many echoes of the same thing. And so, I would just say that I think history, uh, has a lot of lessons in it, and so this is why it's important for us to know this history. 

[00:40:33] Tina Pittaway: Absolutely. Chop Suey Nation: the Legion Cafe and other stories from Canada's Chinese Restaurants is the name of the book.

[00:40:41] And it's a, it's a beautiful story and it's obvious it meant so much to you to learn about and it brings so much to those of us who read it. It's, it's a wonderful book. 

[00:40:54] Ann Hui: Thank you.

[00:41:01] Tina Pittaway: If you'd like to hear more stories like this and help new listeners discover this podcast, make sure to rate countless journeys on your favorite podcast app, or leave us a review. Countless Journeys comes to you from the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, located at the Halifax Seaport. I'm Tina Pittway.

[00:41:21] Bye for now.