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Family ghosts Los Angeles Travel

Birthday Boy

As the crow flies, it was a stupid idea to include Los Angeles on our round-the-world itinerary. For one thing, we were headed for Down Under. For another, Los Angeles was far from exotic or new to me. If you’re a born and bred Angeleno, there are only so many surprises the Southland can offer. […]

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California Chinese language Family ghosts Taiwan

Tap tap tap

My grandpa loved his typewriter. He used it to tap out notes to his children, share thoughts with his US immigration lawyer and conduct church business. Luckily for me, he preserved all his correspondence using carbon copies. Even better, he wrote in English so that his ABC granddaughter could read his letters a century after […]

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About Karen Kao Family ghosts Los Angeles

Montebello

Montebello, California: once upon a time the home to Franciscan monks intent on Christianizing the local Indians. From ranchos to citrus farms to oil fields, Montebello is a microcosm of how Los Angeles developed. Even William Mulholland, the infamous water developer, had a hand in naming my hometown after its beautiful hills. Our hill In […]

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Family ghosts

Auntie May

Auntie May was born in 1919 to the eldest son of a pearl merchant. The family home was close to Tai Lake in Zhejiang Province. Auntie May’s life was molded by an extraordinary period in Chinese history: the final death throes of the Qing dynasty, the rise of Shanghai as the Paris of the East […]

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Family ghosts

Quota

The US quota for Chinese immigrants used to be 100 souls per year. This was in the early fifties, soon after the fall of China to the Communists. This was when my grandparents, father and all his siblings were trying to enter and remain in the US. It never occurred to me that our family’s […]

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China Family ghosts Shanghai War

School days

Today is Dad’s 97th birthday. He’s not around anymore to tell us his stories but I find new ones every day. About his school days in China, for example. China in the late 19th century didn’t have an established higher education system, but rather scattered private academies that helped train scholars to pass the imperial […]

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Family ghosts

Knoxville

Knoxville seems like an odd place for a Chinaman. Yet that’s where my father landed as a college student in 1950. It was his first taste of America. After Dad died, Mom showed me his diploma from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Dated 19 December 1952, it awarded to my father his Bachelor of […]

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Family ghosts Los Angeles Travel

Road Trip

Whenever I come to Los Angeles, I spend a lot of time on the road. It is, after all, the Californian way of life. To sit in your car for hours at a time to get to and from work. Then spend a few hours more to arrive at dinner, a movie or a night […]

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China Family ghosts Los Angeles Taiwan

Ivory

My brothers and I are busy getting rid of stuff. I suppose that this, too, is a part of death. I can remember doing this for my mother-in-law. Now, I’m doing it for Dad. Clothes, medical supplies, lots of paper. There are treasures, too, among the detritus. In his desk drawer, under the paper clips […]

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Family ghosts Shanghai

Church

When Dad was a kid in Shanghai, he listened to music all the time. A British marching band used to practice up on Jessfield Road. Downstairs were his sister and her piano teacher, a White Russian princess who smelled like cats. Dad sprawled on the floor of his father’s study to listen to records on […]