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It Takes A Village

As the years mount, my memories of growing up in Chinatown, San Francisco, become increasingly richer and happier.  In the 40’s and 50’s, Chinatown was like a village where there were no strangers.  People and families we did not know personally, we recognized on the streets.  The popular saying, “it takes a village…” was certainly applicable to our childhood.  Our parents worked hard and long hours; so we relied upon schools, churches, recreation centers, and neighbors to help with our upbringing.  Our extended families, relatives, played a significant role as well.  One of our ambitions growing up in Chinatown was to leave Chinatown, to be able to purchase a home somewhere in the city; and if not the city, somewhere in the Bay Area.  Of course, it wasn’t until the mid-60’s, when housing restrictions against the Chinese were relaxed that the possibility of owning a home became a reality.  Until then, Chinatown had distinct boundaries, boundaries that assured your safety as long as you remained within the safe confines of your community.  Broadway Street was the northern boundary, Kearney Street the eastern, the Stockton Street tunnel the southern, and Mason Street the western boundaries.  So we enjoyed geographical, familial, educational, racial, language and cultural influences.  Our distinct identity was shaped and formed by growing up within the borders of Chinatown.  As critical as these significant influences were in shaping our identity, there remains one continuing influence that has been as significant as any.  

My best friends from kindergarten, Roger and Preston, and I had stayed in touch all these years. Preston died this past year. Furthermore, in the above photo, Roger Lim and Tommy Lee have also died.  There were interim years when we were not in communication, the result of where we went to college, or found employment, or military service.  So there were years when we were separated.  Because of our friendship, our parents knew who we hung out with and treated us as if we were part of the family.  Whenever we are together, we easily and naturally pick up where we left off, hardly missing a beat.  Stories recalling our past still feel like it was just last week.  Over the years, we planned events to celebrate special birthdays, but mostly because of our deep friendship–house boating on Shasta Lake, renting cabins  in South Lake Tahoe and in Yosemite, a trip to Chicago which included a Notre Dame football game, Spring Training, hiking Half Dome in Yosemite, river rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, camping in Pinnacles National Park.  

Growing up in Chinatown, sports was very important to us.  Even with varying degrees of skill and opportunities, we remained evenly competitive.  We played softball, basketball, touch football at every opportunity–home room intramural competition at Francisco Junior High, competing on Junior and High school teams, Cameron House Club Program, the Rec Center.  So it comes as no surprise that in recent years, we have gotten together to play a game of H-O-R-S-E.  We even have nick names for each other—“Steph” Low, “Pistol” Quan, “Wizzard” Eng, “Sleepy” Ng, “LeArn” Low, “Klay” Chinn.

The game of H-O-R-S-E embodies everything about our friendship.  We are competitive without taking it too seriously.  In other words, we laugh a lot at ourselves and at each other.  “Pistol” brings his garbage game, challenging us with inventive shots that only he can make.  The late “Steph” Low bragged about his All-City Days even as his shooting eye was no longer reliable.  As for “Klay” Chinn, well, I’ll let my fellow competitors fill in the blanks.  Typically, we play a set of 3 games.  And amazingly, at the end of the day, each of us wins one of the games.  Most importantly, observers of our game would witness the deep love and respect we have for each other.  Growing up in Chinatown and being friends since kindergarten has everything to do with that..

3 thoughts on “It Takes A Village”

  1. Cal,
    It’s a story that resounds for the new baby boomers just entering medicare eligible, losing pals loved and missed and trying to fill the holes. Thanks for identifying Pistol.

  2. Great memories of growing up in Chinatown and staying in touch as we reached the octogenarian years. Thanks for the remembrances, klay. Excuse me, have to leave this session now to develop more “junk” shots for our next H-O-R-S-E game. lol.

  3. Is “klay” associated with Klay Thompson of the GGS Warriors” If yes, yeah! He’s a great role model for me.

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