A BUDDHIST IDEAL
AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY WITHOUT EGO
by Frank Chin
Albert Saijo is known for Trip Trap (1972) a collection of haiku by Saijo, Jack Kerouac and Lew Welch. The poems describe a road trip from California to New York the three men take in 1959.
Saijo and Kerouac become friends, bound by a shared appreciation of Zen Buddhism and Gary Snyder. Snyder’s wanderings in Japan, guide them to timely connections to cool jazz and alcohol across the United States of America. In 1962 Kerouac fictionalizes Saijo as a minor character “George Baso" "the little Japanese Zen master hepcat sitting crosslegged in the back of Dave's jeepster" in his novel BIG SUR.
Beat Zen of Kerouac is White. The Zen school run by his girlfriend as refuge for old worn out Beats. Two of the school’s teachers Zenned to the highest degree of poetry and fiction, tell me to my face I have no right to call Maxine Hong Kingston a liar and no right to read the real BALLAD OF MULAN in Chinese and English, and no right to read a Singapore comic book translation of the short poem and my 1952 translation from the 6th grade of Chinese school.
Saijo rejects the world and retreats to Volcanoes, Hawaii pads off into nature and is gone until Bamboo Ridge of Hawaii publishes Saijo's only solo collection of poetry, Outspeaks: A Rhapsody in 1997. He is 71 years old. Unwittingly, Marie Hara of the Hawaii Herald is the first Japanese American writer to write a letter of inquiry to a Nisei Beatnik poet. The year is 1998. He writes Marie Hara back. It’s a letter of his war years, Heart Mountain, and the 442nd.
In 1949 young Albert Saijo writes a piece critical of the Zen sensibilities of Toshio Mori’s YOKOHAMA, CALIFORNIA, as “childish”. Saijo admits own , post Korean War writing with Kerouca ad Welch has been called “childish” and worse. Lafcadio Hearn is a White man last from America, who comes to Japan, and his translated Japanese stories are accepted as Japanese by the Japanese Academy. One of the Japanese stories he retells,THE OLD WOMAN AND HER DUMPLING. An old woman sells rice balls or buns, at a busy crossroads. One bun rolls away. She chases the bun that disappears down a hole in the earth, leading to an underworld. She goes down the hole. Oni, demons, sense her presence. She hides behind a Jizo, the protector of stillborn and aborted children. The Jizo capture and force her to cook for them using a paddle that stirs endless rice. Oooh! Endless rice! The old woman thinks. She gets the Oni drunk on rice wine. Grabs the spatula and crosses the river. The Oni wake up . She taunts them. They drink up the river, a little water is no barrier. She makes faces, tells jokes, gets the Oni to laughing and laughing and they laugh up the river they drank and get washed away.
She returns to her bun stand by the busy crossroads with the ladle of endless rice.
Did Lafcadio Hearn translate or raise the story from nuisance mice to savage Oni? Is there a children’s story with a Jizo protector of stillborn and aborted children being told at the same time as Hokusai did his spit print in two-pages, of KAKURE-SATO, ‘The mythical hideout of mice. James Michener, another White man accepted as an expert on Japanese art, writes for the multi-colored panel of experts on Japanese , Japanese art and Katsushika Hokusai. In 1958, Michener includes in the opinions he summarizes , accompanying the prints, are his own opinions.
"...Here the boss sits atop rice bales and works his abacus. Others haul in a sackload of gold coins. Three keep books on the riches, and others weigh baskets of coins."
"The well-known tale of 'The Rolling Rice Cakes' tells of a man who was lucky enough to penetrate in the Kakure-sato. He had gone to his fields to gather firewood and while eating lunch allowed one of his rice cakes to roll into a hole in the ground. When he kneeled down to retrieve the cake, he heard tiny singing voices. Overcome by curiosity, he dropped all his rice cakes int the hole, and ended up by tumbling down himself. He was bedazzled by the rich kingdom he had uncovered, but the mice, although grateful for the rice cakes, insisted that he return home. As a present they gave him a very small bale of rice and dismissed him. But when he reached home he discovered that the tiny bale was a wonderful and magic gift. It always remained full to the top, no matter how much rice was taken from it."
Toshio Mori, a Nisei retells the same story, in his THE OLD WOMAN WHO MAKES SWELL DOUGHNUTS, with a Nisei change of age, and setting. The crossroads is the Southern Pacific mainline a few blocks away. The dumpling or bun stand is Grandmother making doughnuts . The kids are multi-racial. (typical Oakland) The demon Oni are the sounds of trains, Grandmother says that chug hope and travel in the wistful future, without the constant threat of White Racist intimidation.
Toshio Moriʼs retelling of the getaway bun rolling from a crossroads, to the underworld, rolls from Japan to Japanese America, as well as, or better than Lafcadio Hearn bridges the cultures of Europe and Japan.
Japan is grateful for the revival of the Japanese story as a form, a stranger stiimulates. He is accepted by the Japanese populace as a Japanese folk artist- scholar. Japnese artists make book, books, movies of Lafcadio Hearnʼs Japanese stories. Meantime, The Whites of the American Academy are stalwartly White Racist stupid.
These days Albert Saijo matter of factly admits his writing is different from 1949 . Here is where a critic would help. Is the “childish” simple no frills fact after fact writing of Toshio Mori, like Albert Saijo’s writing now? He admits to his mistake in literary judgement.
I believe Albert Saijo’s letter to Marie Hara achieves the impossible. He has written an autobiography that observes the facts without a care for self-interest- that seems an achievement of –dare I say it: Buddhist enlightenment. The Augustinian form of Confession & Redemption is gone, simply does not exist in Saijo’s letter. The letter is released to our reader’s eyes, because Marie Hara published it.
- WE GOT THRU THE DEPRESSION IN FAIR SHAPE – CHICKENS IN THE BACK YARD, TEACHERS AT JAPANESE SCHOOL GOT PLENTY OF VEGGIES FROM PARENTS OF STUDENTS – FATHER WITH CHICKEN & EGG BIZ –MOTHER TEACHING JAPANESE SCHOOL & WRITING A DAILY COLUMN FOR THE KASHU MAINICHI ONE OF THE LARGE VERNACULAR NEWSPAPERS OF LABASIN – HER COLUMN WAS TITLED SEKAI NO UGOKI – WHEN SHE WASN’T WORKING OR DOING CHORES SHE WAS WRITING –SUMMERS WE WOULD BE IN THE FIELD PICKING BERRIES TOMATOES ONIONS ETC. ON A NEIGHBOR’S FARM SHOULDER TO SHOULDER WITH THE MEXICAN FAMILIES- WE GOT BY MOM POP BIG BROTHER ME YOUNGER SISTER – WE DID OK- THEN CAME THE WAR –SUDDENLY JAPANESE PART OF MY LIFE WAS GONE – NO MORE JAPANESE SCHOOL NO MORE KENDO PRACTICE NO MORE J SCHOOL BEACH PARTY NO MORE KENJINKAI PICNICS BON ODORI CHAMBARA MOVIES IN LOCAL HS AUDITORIUM WHEN AT THEN END OF EACH REEL THE PROJECTIONIST WOULD SHOUT INTO THE DARKENED ROOM RIGHTO PREASE – SUDDENLY MY MOTHER AND FATHER ARE WORRIED ABOUT GETTING PICKED UP BY THE FBI – DIG BIG HOLE IN BACKYARD – IN GOES ALL JAPANESE LITERATURE & ANYTHING THAT COULD BE CONSTRUED AS PRO JAPAN – BURN EM BURY EM –ELDERY RETIRED ENGLISH COUPLE NEXT DOOR IN SMALL COTTAGE STOOD IN THEIR YARD & WATCHED SMOKE RISE INTO SKY – ANTI JAP PROPAGANDA FLOODS NEWSPAPERS & RADIO & MOVIES – RACE HATE HYSTERIA – I KNEW IT WAS SERIOUS WHEN OUR CLOSEST JAPANESE NEIGHBOR DID SOMETHING I THOT WAS FAR OUT –A FARMER – 11 KIDS – 80 ACRES UNDER FULL CULTIVATION AT ALL TIMES – MRS TOOK CARE OF FARM – TINY WOMAN ORDERING AROUND BURLY WORKERS – MR WAS A DREAMY GUY – HIS JOB WAS LOAD UP HARVESTED & CRATED PRODUCE ON HIS BIG TRUCK & DRIVE IT INTO LA WHOLESALE PRODUCE MARKET AT THE END OF EACH DAY- ON HIS OFF TIME HE PAINTED PICTURES – HE NEVER WORKED IN THE FIELD – HIS MASTERPIECE WAS A PORTRAIT OF EMPEROR HIROHIT0 – IN THE MIDDLE OF AN ORANGE ORCHARD THERE WAS HIROHITO IN FORMAL REGALIA WITH PLUMED HEADWEAR MOUNTED ON A WHITE HORSE – THE PAINTING WAS HUNG IN THEIR LIVING ROOM – SHORTLY AFTER THE WAR STARTED AS THE HYSTERIA GATHERED HE TOOK HIS PAINTING OFF THE WALL & BURNED IT –I THOT THAT WAS FAR OUT- THEN FDR SIGNED EXECUTIVE ORDER 9066 MAKING LEGAL THE FORCED EVACUATION & INCARCERATION OF ALL JAPANESE CITIZENS & ALIENS ALIKE FROM THE WEST COAST – THERE WERE NO ACTS OF VIOLENCE AGAINST JAPANESE IN THE VALLEY – AT SCHOOLS THINGS WENT ON LIKE NOTHING HAPPENED – NO ONE TALKED ABOUT IT –EVERYONE KNEW WHAT WAS HAPPENING – AT HOME IT WAS BUSY & DESPERATE GETTING READY FOR THE DAY WE WERE TO BE INCARCERATED – SELL WHAT WE COULD SELL OF OUR PERSONAL PROPERTY & WHAT WE COULDN’T JUST LEAVE – DUTIFULLY WE SHOWED UP AT THE TOWN PARK TO BE CARTED OFF IN ARMY BUSES TO POMONA ASSEMBLY CENTER - THE ASSEMBLY CENTER WAS BUILT ON THE DIRT PARKING LOT OF THE LA COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS IN POMONA – ROW AFTER ROW OF JERRY BUILT WOOD BARRACKS – CRACKS BETWEEN THE WOOD PLANKS OF WALLS & FLOOR LET IN DUST OF DUST STORMS THAT SWEPT ACROSS THE CAMP- OUR FAMILY OF 5 HAD A ROOM PERHAPS 12 X 12 – COTS WITH STRAW MATTRESSES – WELCOME TO CAMP USA – BEHIND BARBED WIRE WITH GUARD TOWERS & ARMED GUARDS – BUT IN SPITE OF THE OBVIOUS DOWNER SUFFERING SIDE OF THIS CATASTROPHIC SOCIAL EVENT FOR THE JA COMMUNITY & MY PARENTS & FAMILY I PERSONALLY AS A 15 OR 16 YR OLD KID WITH NEWLY MATURE BODY & BRAIN THOT IT A GRAND ADVENTURE – EVERY HAPPENING WAS FIRST TIME & NEW – RIGHT OFF TO BE RELEASED FROM PECULIAR MORES OF WHITE DOMINANT SOCIETY WITH ITS WEIRD SOCIAL NUANCES WAS ODDLY LIBERATING EVEN IF IT WAS BEHIND BARBED WIRE FENCE – NOW ONLY BASIC HUMAN QUALITIES COUNTED – THERE WAS NO RACIAL CONSIDERATION BECAUSE EVERYONE WAS SLANT EYE – I COULD MOVE IN ANY DIRECTION SOCIALLY – FREEDOM & ADVENTURE EVEN IF IT WAS BEHIND BARBED WIRE – FREEDOM FOR ONE THING FROM FAMILY –THERE WAS NO LONGER A NEED FOR FAMILY – HAD A BED – EAT IN COMMUNAL MESS HALL –COMMUNAL BATH HOUSES - YOU SPENT YOUR DAYS WITH FRIENDS ROAMING IDLY THRU CAMP – GO HOME ONLY TO SLEEP –IT WAS FASCINATING TO SEE ONLY JAPANESE WITHOUT WHITES & MEXICANS – I HAD NEVER SEEN SO MANY JAPANESE TOGETHER IN ONE PLACE AT ONE TIME - BIGGER THAN A KENJINKAI PICNIC BY FAR OR NISEI WEEK IN LIL TOKYO LA – 1000’S –ALL HUMAN TYPES – ONE DAY I WAS ROAMING ALONG THE FENCE WHERE THE BACHELORS WERE HOUSED – GOING BY AN OPEN DOOR I LOOK IN & SEE A MAN PAINTING A PICTURE OF A WOMAN RISING LIKE A MOON ABOVE A LANDSCAPE OF OPEN ROLLING HILLS – HE TURNED & SMILED A GAP TOOOTHED SMILE – HE HAD A MOUSTACHE LIKE THE MEXICAN ACTOR CANTINFLAS & A THIN LINE OF BEARD REACHED FROM HIS LOWER LIP TO HIS CHIN & HE HAD LONG HAIR TO BELOW HIS SHOULDERS – I HAD NEVER SEEN A JAPANESE HUMAN LIKE HIM BEFORE – HE REACHED BEHIND HIS CHAIR & PULLED OUT A PAPER BAG FULL OF FRUIT – HAVE AN APPLE ORANGE BANANA HE SAID –DAYS PASSED SOMETHING NEW EVERY DAY – LEARNING EXPERIENCE IF HERE EVER WAS ONE – THAN ONE DAY WE TRUSTINGLY GOT ON TRAINS THAT WERE TO TAKE US TO A MORE PERMANENT CONCENTRATION CAMP FAR INLAND – WE HAD HEARD THEY WERE BUILDING CAMPS IN COLORADO WYOMING ARKANSAS ARIZONA UTAH IDAHO & A COUPLE IN CALIFORNIA – WE WERE TOLD WE WERE GOING TO A CAMP IN WYOMING – HEART MT RELOCATION CENTER IN THE CORNER OF THE STATE –THE TRAIN RIDE FROM POMONA TO WYOMING WAS A SUPER ADVENTURE – I HAD NEVER BEEN OUT OF CALIFORNIA TO THAT POINT IN MY LIFE – THESE RR CARS WERE OLD – PULLLED BY OLD STEAM ENGINE LOCOMOTIVES MADE OF WOOD –YOU COULD OPEN THE WINDOWS & LEAN OUT – WE PASSED THRU TOWNS & DESERTS – THRU FORESTS OVER MTS & ALONG RUSHING RIVERS – THRU TUNNELS – OVER HIGH PLATEAU TILL WE REACHED THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE – HEART MT RELOCATION CENTER WITH ITS OWN RR SIDING – BIG SKY – DISTANT MT RANGES – I MILE SQUARE SURROUNDED BY BARBED WIRE WITH ENUFF BARRACKS TO HOLD 10,000 PEOPLE – SAME GUARD TOWERS & ARMED GUARDS LIKE POMONA – BASIC SET UP SAME AS POMONA – EXCEPT BARRACKS WERE TIGHTER FOR FRIGID WINTER WEATHER WITH HIGH WINDS – THE ROOMS WERE OF VARIOUS SIZES – ONE FAMILY PER ROOM - OUR ROOM WAS ABOUT THE SAME SIZE AS POMONA - EACH ROOM HAD A POTBELLY STOVE THAT BURNED COAL - COMMUNAL MESS HALLS & TOILETS – UNLIKE POMONA HEART MT HAD SCHOOL BUILDINGS – LIFE FELL INTO ROUTINE OF SCHOOL HANG OUT GO HOME SLEEP- FOR ADULTS THE MORE PERMANENT SET UP AT HEART MT WAS RELAXING AFTER THE HARD INITIATION INTO INCARCERATION EXPERIENCE IN ASSEMBLY CENTERS LIKE POMONA – VEGETABLE GARDENS & SMALL JAPANESE STYLE GARDENS IN FRONT OF FAMILY ROOMS APPEARED – A CLUB FOR EVERY IMAGINABLE INTEREST SPRANG UP – HAIKU CLUBS TANKA CLUBS GARDEN CLUBS HUNT FOR POLISHED DINSOSAUR GULLET STONES CLUB SPORT CLUBS THE OLD KENJINKAI CLUBS – THERE WERE BUDDHIST & XTIAN CHURCHES ETC – A WORLD 1 MILE BIG - MY FATHER STARTED A CAMP CHICKEN RANCH THAT EVENTUALLY MET THE NEEDS OF CAMP – MY MOTHER DID A LOT OF WRITING - SHE COULD WRITE WITHOUT INTERRUPTION - BUT LOST THESE WRITINGS IN BIG POST CAMP MOVES CROSS COUNTRY – HEARTBREAKING – I RARELY SAW MY OLDER BROTHER BECUZ HE PRACTICALLY LIVED AT A RECREATION HALL GIVEN OVER TO ART CLASSES & COMMUNAL PAINTERS STUDIO – MY BROTHER STUDIED PAINTING THERE WITH YOU GUESSED IT THE GUY WITH THE FUNNY MOUSTACHE & BEARD I SAW IN POMONA – BENJI OKUBO WAS HIS NAME – IN HIS 30’S HE WAS HEAD OF THE ARTSTUDENTS LEAGUE OF LA – THERE WAS EVEN A ZEN MONK IN HEART MT – NYOGEN SENZAKI – I LATER STUDIED WITH THIS MAN IN LA – HEART MT WASN’T A PLACE WHERE YOU COULD HAVE DIED FOR WANT OF SOMETHING TO DO - IN OTHER WORDS IT WAS A LIVELY PLACE – THE 1ST WINTER WAS A BLAST – TEMPERATURES 20 BELOW & LOWER – THIN ICE PONDS WERE DUG IN ALMOST EVERY BLOCK – AH TO GLIDE OVER FRESH ICE – EVERYONE SENT OFF FOR ICE SKATES THROUGH MONTGOMERY WARD & LL BEAN CATALOGS – NO HT MT WAS NOT ONE OF THEM NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS – I WAS EDITOR SCHOOL NEWSPAPER HT MT ECHO – I GRADUATED IN FIRST GRAD CLASS AT HT MT HS – I STARTED WRITING CALL EM VIGNETTES OF CAMP LIFE NOW FORTUNATELY DISAPPEARED – LOST- AROUND THIS TIME THE GOV’T DECIDED TO ALLOW PEOPLE TO LEAVE THE CAMP & GO TO ANY PLACE IN THE US EXCEPT E & W COASTS – AFTER I GRADUATED HS THRU THE QUAKER FRIENDS SERVICE COMMITTEE I GOT A JOB AS BUS BOY IN THE U OF MICHIGAN FACULTY CAFETERIA - I THOT I’D TRY GETTING INTO U OF M EVENTUALLY BUT SOON AFTER MY 18TH BIRTHDAY IN ANN ARBOR MICH I WAS DRAFTED INTO THE US ARMY – I SPENT OVER 3 YEARS IN THE ARMY AT CAMP SHELBY IN MISSISSIPPI & THEN IN ITALY WITH 442 – MY STORY IS TYPICAL – LOTS OF NISEI MY AGE LEFT CAMP ABOUT THIS TIME WITH ITS ODD SECURITY AND WARMTH - WE LEFT CAMP & THE WORLD CRASHED IN ON US & OUR ADOLESCENCE RAN OUT & WE WERE CARRIED FAR FROM INNOCENCE OF HIGH PLATEAU SURROUNDED BY MTS – FAR FAR FROM PRE WW2 SAN GABRIEL VALLEY -
He is fascinated by being a Japanese among Japanese and nothing but Japanese. Camp is a Japanese Shangri-la for 16 year old Albert Saijo. A new world different from the America of the San Gabriel Valley. He charts his trip from:
“IT WAS FASCINATING TO SEE ONLY JAPANESE WITHOUT WHITES & MEXICANS – I HAD NEVER SEEN SO MANY JAPANESE TOGETHER IN ONE PLACE AT ONE TIME”to
“LOTS OF NISEI MY AGE LEFT CAMP ABOUT THIS TIME WITH ITS ODD SERCURITY AND WARMTH - WE LEFT CAMP & THE WORLD CRASHED IN ON US & OUR ADOLESCENCE RAN OUT & WE WERE CARRIED FAR FROM INNOCENCE OF HIGH PLATEAU SURROUNDED BY MTS – FAR FAR FROM PRE WW2 SAN GABRIEL VALLEY”
I detect no bitterness, no rage, no vengeance. No personal desire. The amused Buddhist observation of nature (of man) without ego or desire. The wrong of camps, is obvious, from the nature of his universe. White racism obviously exists in the nature of America. He’s not an emotional man. He’s intense. We met in Hawaii. I’d only read his 1949 criticism of Toshio Mori written with upper case and lower case letters and punctuation. He wrote a lot of stupid stuff as a youngster, he said. He was at Heart Mountain. I mention the mountain of mimeographed bulletins from the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee.
I can’t explain his not reacting to “Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee.” I can’t explain why the Fair Play Committee Issei man, Guntaro Kubota doesn’t pass by with kids pulling at his shirt tails in the parade from Albert Saijo’s memory of camp. Perhaps he left Ht Mt camp for Ann Arbor in 1943. Perhaps he volunteered in 1943, before 1944 and the reinstitution of the Draft.
“AROUND THIS TIME THE GOV’T DECIDED TO ALLOW PEOPLE TO LEAVE THE CAMP & GO TO ANY PLACE IN THE US EXCEPT E & W COASTS – AFTER I GRADUATED HS THRU THE QUAKER FRIENDS SERVICE COMMITTEE I GOT A JOB AS BUS BOY IN THE U OF MICHIGAN FACULTY CAFETERIA - I THOT I’D TRY GETTING INTO U OF M EVENTUALLY BUT SOON AFTER MY 18TH BIRTHDAY IN ANN ARBOR MICH I WAS DRAFTED INTO THE US ARMY”
Albert Saijo the poet reduces language to combinations of the simplest meanings, stripped of dazzling punctuation and vocabulary, the tools of the poet, tossed out as the sixth patriarch breaking a Buddhist scripture in a flash of enlightenment. Enlightenment is achieved in Indian and Chinese Buddhism through reading Buddhist text. A Buddhist tearing up a text makes as much sense as enlightenment striking a man splitting bamboo, or a man plucking a shrimp out of the water. Albert Saijo looks like Liang Kai’s stomping Buddhist tearing up a sacred book.
A lot of Chan and Zen writing and painting in Japan throws unexpected art at the pretensions of uniform and stable Academy. I would ask the Yellow art critics, if there were any to ask, if Albert Saijo does not blend the line of the hand and the line laid by the brush with the instinct of the pencil or typewriter and writes an act an action of Buddhist selflessness that strikes a flash a wash of enlightenment from nature one step, maybe two, into English?
Art but not the art of one artist, even an artist that engages me, can tell the whole of the people’s story. Albert isn’t in camp in 1944, when the USGOV starts drafting Nisei out of camp.
Chinese-American art is broken. Asian-American art is broken, unformed, declared by pretenders but unproved by Yellow critics, and declared by foreign critics of foreign newspapers for the approval of foreign audiences, for foreign purposes. Chinese , Korean and Japanese histories and cultures are continuous, not foreign or opposed. As Korea and Japan developed written Chinese into written Korean and Japanese languages to reflect their separate and distinct development, they became politically opposed. The Chinese were lines and squares. The Koreans siimplified the squares into circles and changed the shape lines to a different taste. The Japanese write symbols for the sound. Their language might say terrible things but the terribe things will flow on beautiful language.
Chinese were detached from art from their arrival to the California Gold Rush in 1849. The Japanese militarists snobbed away from the Chinese subhumans in the 1920s and acted with arms against the Chinese in the 1930s. The politics and namecalling were opposed. The people of China and Japan weren’t that different. Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the “George Washington of China” married Soong Ching Ling at the home of Japanese supporters in Tokyo. The host was a camera buff and took the happy couple’s picture. Culturally we are, for better or worse, intertwined and continuous. But, politically, China and Japan were opposed.
There’s a certain rightness about the Panama’s being the center - the moral center -of the all-Chinese student protest conference. The Panama Hotel was built by a Japanese from a Japanese American design, and was occupied by White workingmen, and Japanese awaiting clearance from Immigration, Japanese waiting for their bride’s boat to land from Japan.
Artists real and fake, collectors of history, the organizers don’t realize they’ve put together a mix of Yellow artists and Yellow intellectuals and the Yellow curious that seethes and needs just a word to spark into Yellow art historians with history, Yellow art critics who read, and Yellow people proud of Yellow and anxious to know why? I wish I had that word. Cruel Qin Shi Hwang’s unifying the characters of the written language means that Chinese everywhere could read the historian’s history, the critic’s criticism, and the people’s reaction in the writing, when writing was feeling and painting was painting and writing all done with the brush and flicks of the wrist. Louis Chu, John Okada, Lawson Inada, Albert Saijo have taken the line from Asia and made it work on the typewriter and brought the art of the line, their line, to American English and America.
Blatantly activist art works, written by Japanese Americans to rouse Japanese Americans to express what’s still real and unsaid from camp. The artists respond to rousing to the call of the artists, for artists. Aren’t they? Nobody’s saying there’s nothing left to be found in the dim, much less the recent past. Why does Jack Tono refuse to shake Frank Emi’s hand? Did Frank Emi and Jim Akutsu in earnest conversation of his view of affect him? Did a Chinaman presence at a Nisei event at Heart Mountain affect him? Where were the JA critics? Where were the JA readers? Where were the people?
The rain in Seattle stops and, puddles, steams on the sidewalk and the black asphalt shines black and buttery under morning sun. Up the slight incline of Jackson Street, I see a tiny old woman stumble or dance like a new born bird in the morning steam off the sidewalk in front of the old Higo Variety Store. She’s broken an ankle or an elbow? “Look!” she calls to me. A big bare head, all eyes, wobbles on a dangerously thin neck. “Look at this,” she says.
Through the window of the old Higo drygoods that used to be owned by two beautiful Murakami sisters, who never married. I see they kept the name and the look of the first hometown business to open since camp. . Kobo at Higo is a museum of the late 40s and optimistic 50s, a Zen temple of peoples art, a store that shows what it sells. I see a printed sign “The Fox’s Wedding” that describes what’s before my eyes: six white clay foxes 14” to 39” inches tall, dressed for a Japanese wedding in the long front window. The six white foxes are displayed against a roll white paper dropped from the ceiling to the shelf under the fox feet of the six foxes. Left to right: a shabbily dressed fox with a sinister smile on his face, and a sack of baby rabbits over his shoulder is turned away from the wedding party. A vixen bride. A Fox groom. A musician playing what looks like a rattle. A drummer. A Shinto priest. All smiling. Plain white clay fox faces and fox bodies walking like men and splashes of blue signifying various sized rain drops on the skirts of their clothes. Netsue Makino is the artist.
“I am so excited! I just have to tell somebody! I recognized something I have never seen but always looked for when I grew up in Japan.”
“What? What?” I ask looking her over for wounds, blood, limbs bent unnaturally. She was skinny and rickety but whole and unbroken.
She is impressed by the accuracy of the imagery of the farming countryside. What imagery of the countryside? The sign tells me there are six white clay foxes 14” to 39” inches tall in the long front window, and no countryside in the yonder of the store shelves.
“I wonder if artist Makino is local,” she says. “I hope she is. She has captured the feelings of Japanese so accurately”
Feelings in the window?
“In the summer when there is a rain shower and the sun is shining through the falling rain they say the fox is getting married. Bad is supposed to happen to anyone who sees a fox in a sunshower. We hide in behind the trees to watch anyway. Any woman alive, dead, or ugly when occupied by a fox, has the powers to seduce any man silly. We never see a live fox become a beautiful woman. We never see a fox spirit bring a dead woman to life. We never see the fox get married. When the rain stops any wedding there disappears. And now I see it all and can look and look. That is art!”
I look in the window. All I see is a roll of white paper hanging like a sail from the ceiling and threatening the clay figures with tumbling if a freak wind blows through the front door. White staples secure the white paper to the low wall and keep the clay foxes are safe from having the rug pulled out from under their feet.
“Mmmmm,” I make a sound acknowledging the fact I heard her, and leave the bird where I found her and walk on uphill to the corner of Jackson feeling I’m being cruel leaving her where I found her, even though she was happy and chirpy.
The rickety baby bird precisely picks her way up the one step into the airy Panama Hotel Coffeehouse. She brings the bright of the morning sun in with her. Jan Johnson , the tall and sleek owner, comes from around the counter to greet her and introduce me to Kiko Dewa –a fabric artist from Japan who settled in Seattle and worked in the Japanese community in and around Seattle. A fabric artist? Jan directs my attention to the purple thing that looks like a yarn rendering of crumpled showercap on Kiiko Dewa’s head. She makes fabric of things like the sculpture show made of woven tampons, Jan says. Kiko Dewa sinks into the pillowed cushions of a wicker chair and disappears. She talks of her childhood in Japan and foxes in the rain. I tell her of Chinese fox spirits who destroy men by occupying the bodies of beautiful women and seducing them.
2005- HAVANA CUBA- THE SOCIOLOGY OF CHEUK KWAN and THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF POK CHI LAU: Same place. Same time. Different Chinese eyes different sights.
CHINESE RESTAURANTS is a 15 1/2 hour tour of Chinese restaurants around the world.
Pok Chi Lau is an Emeritus Prof at the U of Kansas, in Lawrence.
Two Chinamen in the same Havana, Cuba: at virtually the same time. They did not see the same thing on the same streets.
The Chinese that Missionary Donaldina Cameron (July 26, 1869 - January 4, 1968) trained Chinese to go “back to China” to become “our dear subject people” as Will Irwin wrote in his introduction to Arnold Genthe’s PICTURES OF OLD CHINATOWN, (1908) “I hope that some one will arise, before this generation has passed, to record that conquest of affection by which the Californian Chinese transformed themselves from our race adversaries to our dear, subject people.” The “dear subject people” are the people created by generations of Cameronesqe Christian San Francisco education since Pres T.R. Roosevelt’s successful negotiation of the Gentleman’s Agreement between the US and Japan, after the Japanese sinking of the band new Russian iron navy in 1905. Generations of Christianized Chinese believed the stereotype of Chinese civilization was so cruel it didn’t deserve to survive. From Yung Wing’s MY LIFE IN CHINA AND AMERICA, to THE WAYS OF AH SIN, Dedicated to Donaldina Cameron by the author Charles Shepherd. THE WAYS OF AH-SIN defines the stereotype in the words of Cameron House, to Jade Snow Wong’s FIFTH CHINESE DAUGHTER, to Maxine Hong Kingston’s WOMAN WARRIOR from Christian autobiography to Christian autobiography to the autobiographical Christian present and Cheuk Kwan’s tv series CHINESE RESTAURANTS but Sociology ends its influence in Pok Chi Lau’s photographs of the Chinese real.
Cheuk Kwan and his cameraman Kwoi go to fifteen Chinese restaurants in 15 faraway countries. In each they find the owner of a Chinese restaurant and ask for his story. How did they get here? How did this family assemble here? Why here? In Norway, Argentina, Madagascar, Cuba, Canada?
Cheuk Kwan's CHINESE RESTAURANTS is a contribution of new knowledge in the form of 15 stories from the first Chinese travelers to 15 countries, and the travelers’ families that followed. In some countries where the Chinese travelers were plentiful, the restaurant family survives and thrives, in other countries where the Chinese are few the Chinese die out, but the culture in some countries, does not. Kwan Kung lives. He guards the borders of your house and your family and ancestral shrine inside. He guards the borders of your family shrine. He guards the borders of every word you speak write or sign. He admits when he did wrong, but so what? No password, no entry.
The indicator of a Chinese presence in the neighborhood is a lit neon sign that reads "Chinese restaurant." The first family traveler founded the restaurant as the means to bring his family here. Wherever "here" was. Cheuk Kwan's title CHINESE RESTAURANTS is simple, whole unto itself, brilliant.
The travelers all fled countries –China, Vietnam, Burma - that had betrayed them. They walked over the mountains, barefooted over the deserts, were not allowed here and had no time to get there. They overcame border entry, differences in language, and exit from country to country until they found a place for their families to come to and thrive.
In spite of the fact that it is clear that all 15 have never experiencedor seen 19th Century China, because of Cheuk Kwan‘s bias toward holy Sociology, the series insists that all but one are homesick for a China that has never existed except in the fiction of White superiority.
Kwoi’s camerawork is the tipoff of White Sociological bias. The camera is always close to the face of the subject, when Cheuk Kwan asks, “Do you miss home?” The camera zooms closer to the eyes ready to see the target release a tear over the lip of the lid.
The one target s socioliogically.
In Argentina he finds 77-year old Foo-Ching Chiang his first target Chinaman who’s not homesick. Camera closes in on target eyes. Closer. Do you miss China? No tears no matter how hard filmmaker Cheuk Kwan pushes sentimental cliché weepy sounds.
77-year old Foo-Ching Chiang came to Buenos Aires in the 1960’s opened a restaurant , became the “Spring Roll King” of Argentina. opened a restaurant. After bringing his family to Argentina he built a Chinese grocery, with a Kwan Kung watching the door and the cash, and a temple, with a Kwan Kung, a Chinese school for children born here and Kwan Kungs all over the place. He has a tv cooking show, where he showcases Chinese culture, porcelain vases, dow foo, or tofu or beancake. "When blue mold sprouts on it and it looks shriveled up, here's what you do..." He's added the name of a Chinese fried donut that went all over Argentina to the Spanish of Argentina. He has created a self-suficient respected Chinatown in Buenos Aires.
"Do you miss home?" Cheuk asks. Sociology rears it's head. Kwoi’s camera closes in.
"Do you miss China?"
"In traveling all over the world and coming here, I have lost the concept of home."
Cheuk Kwan doesn’t understand, but thankfully he left the moment of his blinking confusion as the answer in the film.
What the restaurateurs did was exactly what our ancestors did in 1849.
The Argentine Chinaman is forever on the run. In what country known to Chinamen in the last two hundred years has a Chinaman felt himself a welcome presence? None. There is no country that welcomes or respects or goes to the trouble to know us to this day. If we keep our soul, we have to keep it, ourselves.
What would be a sign that a country was congenial to the Chinaman? If I saw that Poon Goo, the Giant and Nur Waw the Mother of humanity were as well known and taught in this country as the Biblical ADAM & EVE, and the English JACK AND JILL, and Kwan Kung, the Kitchen God, and the God of Wealth were as frequently accurately described in White America’s writing, as Jesus Christ appears accurately and succinctly in American fiction and non-fiction and poetry and song.
How to explain the White blindness of the thousands of 19th Century white missionaries, the Old China Hands, Pierton W. Dooner, John Steinbeck, Jack London, Earl Derr Biggers, Hollywood and every newspaper in Canada and the United States, especially San Francisco all blind to the Kwan Kung, the Kitchen God and the God of Wealth they’ve seen in Chinese restaurants and shops since 1849?
(Left: Guan Yu as a transformer towers over tiny people in downtown Shenyang, northeast China's Liaoning Province, April 20, 2011. Ctr: Kwan Kung-Thailand. Rt: Kwan Kung- an American comic book.)
The answer is simple: White racism. Whites feel their belief in the same religion organized around a mysterious all-powerful supernatural being makes them superior to the facts before their eyes: fact: Kwan Kung, the redfaced and blackbearded. Kwan Kung is a man, a murderer. The defender of the people of the country, represented by earth and 3rd brother Jiang Fei and the chosen by oath as the defender of the Han ruler Heaven the 1st brother Lowe Pei. Fact: the Kitchen god (of society & business) white faced, with a little mustache twirling over his lips, in a red robe of office. Fact: The Kitchen god of the home- is an almanac of the year- The Kitchen god and the Kitchen gods’s wife are pictured as presiding over the kitchen, gathering a daily journal that is burned at year’s end, and replaced with a new almanac. Fact: the God of wealth smiles rolling in gold.
We Yellows are a disease wherever we go. Asia is all over us like fleas. Christianity in the White guise of Sociology is the favored regime of treatment. Instead of acquiring our culture and letting it mix, Sociology gets the Yellows to divest themselves of their foreign culture, and relearn it according to White rules of an acceptable White stereotype.
Cheuk Kwan guided by White fake science, sociology sees no real Chinese in Cuba. He sees the money and brains have left the island. The Red Chinese left behind are abandoned by the PRC, the Chong Wah Wui Goon has no connection to China. The Chinatown is a tourist cartoon construction. The authentic touch is a flighty homosexual who performs Desi Arnez songs.
Cheuk Kwan and Pok Chi both walk among the gleaming stacks of tin cans that hold the bones of first Chinese come to work and go home. Cuba charges a fee to go home. No fee, no home. Now, China is no longer home. Cuba forbids the burial of Chinese in Cuban soil. A number of tins have been broken into and the cleaned bones stomped on.
Still Yellow girls and Yellow boys trained to dislike everything Yellow are attracted to each other. Why are they attracted to each other when all they have in common is Yellow self-contempt? Tell me, Yellow Psychodoc.
An example of a good student of Sociology is Kwangtung born Canadian filmmaker Cheuk Kwan. Whether he knows it or not, his series of 15 half hour episodes CHINESE RESTAURANTS reveals that one thing the Chinese around the world have in common is Kwan Kung the redfaced character from 3 KINGDOMS. His color: green. Right side: armored. Left side: robed like a scholar. He appears as a god in a temple here and in the background there and in every Chinese restaurant in the world keeping his eye on the cash through Cheuk Kwan’s 15 country tour of 15 CHINESE RESTAURANTS.
Strange. In Cuba he doesn’t see Kwan Kung or anything really Chinese in a tourist street of shops the government calls “La Chinesque” or “Chinatown,” in Spanish as spoken in Havana.. Cherk found abandoned Communist ideologues grown old without women and an old homosexual who sings Desi Anez songs in the Chinesque and a Havana gathering of a few old Comunnist Chinamen, abandoned by the PRC.
Pok Chi Lau’s photos are taken in the same streets Cherk Kwan walks. His steps still might be warm. The streets are the same but Pok Chi Lau’s eye is different. Pok Chi sees a Cuba where Kwan Kung lives small, in, not exactly, secrecy. The sight of small family shrines in Cuba guarded by Kwan Kung in spite of a belief or the fact that there are penalties for family shrines in Cuba., moves me. Pok Chi snaps these incriminating images of Chinese culture in Cuba. The Cubans to who allow Pok Chi to snap images of their hidden shrines to Kwan Kung trust him not to snap a shot their faces.
Pok Chi has made photography so much a natural part of his being, people accept his camera as an auxiliary organ, like an oxygen machine. People allow him to take amazing snaps wherever he goes. His sister in the last stages of a cancer, in Canada, allows him to photograph her nude. Before she dies. All of his pictures intrude into the privacy and reveal the embarrassing truth of his subjects. I’ve seen him talk an old tongman in Tijuana into such a state he blurted out, “We were crazy for money. We jump for money money money like toads.” He told me what the old man said later. “Why did he say that?
“It was what you wanted to know.”
“You wanted to know why the 3 legged toad means money’s coming.” “We’re the 3 legged toad? The greed for gold is us?”
Photo. ©2009By Pok Chi Lau
In the United States of America, I was not penalized by the law or terror of the law for daring to say the Chinese heroic tradition and Kwan Kung was real Chinese civilization and Bill Clinton’s pet Maxine Hong Kingston and her Yellow fakettes were White fantasy Charlie Chans as women. The Whites and the Yellows of America clung to each other around Bill Clinton’s official White racist revision of Chinese facts, heroes and history with a Presidential medal of official United States policy for Maxine Hong Kingston and simply ignored me. I was shunned.
I don’t want to brag, so I won’t.
Pok Chi Lau sent me photographs he’d taken in Cuba.. It’s nice to see old men’s shrines around the world have the same je ne sais quoi look. A picture was worth a thousand words. Two thousand words!
Photo. ©2009By Pok Chi Lau
Pok wrote me “Just got back from Panama.”
I snapped lots of Kwan Kung pics in Panama, mostly in shops and restaurants. Don't be mistaken, Kwan Kung is only used as a way of protection of their property for this new generation of Chinese brought up in Communist China but has not even read or heard anything on the deity.
Photo. ©2009 By Pok Chi Lau
He had pictures of Kwan Kung lording it over Kwan Kungs being blessed for businesses in a Panama temple. Last year he was in Cuba and interviewed and photographed Caridad Amaran, a 77 year old opera singer.
Her son is married to a big Afro Cuban. They didn't come in as I was interviewing Canidad, but the grandson stayed and watch TV. I turned the TV off and made him listen though I don't think he understands Toisahnese.
Pok Chi Lau recognized a Chinese hero in the Cuban woman performer of Cantonese opera. He returns to Havana to see her. He recognizes a woman having not a drop of Chinese blood in her veins, as Chinese. She performs the operas her step-father taught her. She has infected her family and neighbors with a familiarity and affection for Cantonese opera singing.
Though she has no Chinese blood, she has more of the great spirit than the regular majong playing addicts. She spends her lifetime in the 22 blocks of Chinatown, Havana.
Her dad died when she was a year old, and her mother remarried a Toishanese. He only spoke Toishanese with her. He taught her singing and she performed since the age of 9 in operas. There were 4 troupes in Havana.
There were four Cantonese opera companies in Havana in the late 1940’s? I learn more from Pok Chi’s writing than I learn from all of Cherk Kwan’s pictures of the neighborhood Pok Chi writes about. Confucius said nothing about pictures being used to deceive.
There was a tiny Kwan Kung print next to the TV. It was a Yellow from aging. I asked about it and the big print surfaced. She had this Kwan Kung passed on to her by someone and it was below the stairwell to her attic where she and her grandson sleep. Kwan Kung is rare among the Chinese. To some Cubans (especially Afros) Kwan Kung is “San Fancon.”
“San Fancon” might be a peroration of “Sangharama Bodhisattva” one of Kwan Kung’s Buddhist names. Was Caridad Amaran’s step-father a Buddhist?
Photo. ©2009By Pok Chi Lau
The boy is the grandson of Canidad Amaran. He holds a poster of the Trio of the Oath in the Peach Garden.
The Wong-Aleman family. Havana, Cuba Photo. ©2009 By Pok Chi Lau
The Chinese-Canadian Cheuk Kwan, knows he has a legendary name but doesn’t see the heroic tradition when it’s looking him in the face. Sociology seems to have dimmed out his Chinese eye. Pok Chi Lau the Chinese- American photographer knows the heroic tradition and sees it wherever he goes.
THE NAME KWAN: from THREE KINGDOMS
to a pilfered pile of tins on Cuba island.
I have seen people I worked with bringing American writers Toshio Mori, John Okada and Louis Chu back to print, reach the point where they just refuse to read another word. Even a Chinaman writer teacher, a friend who'd been with me at Ping Chow's performance at the Fung Serng at the Pagoda in Frisco in the 80's, refuses to join me at Ping Chow's last recital, after Ruby Chow (born Mar) his wife is dead, and buried in Seattle.
The former students and colleagues raised on favorite white racist children’s stories like Claire Huchet Bishop’s The Five Chinese Brothers just turned off, or shorted out. My colleagues have grown away and grown wise in their direction of the sun. There are Chinese-Americans that cannot see the story of five identical brothers that are have one difference from each other. One cannot be burned. Two cannot be drowned. Three cannot be hung. Four cannot be cut. Five quotes the N. Y. Times claim that Huchet Bishop’s book is based on a real Chinese folk tale. She bases her tale of look-a-like Chinese to racist eyes resisting torture on the stories swapped, over drinks, by the White torturers of the Chinese.
Rather than expose Claire Huchet Bishop as a White racist, generations of Chinese-Americans bought The Five Chinese Brothers and read the story to their Chinese-American kids. They still do. They see no urgency to raise a generation on the real as well as the White racist the fakes exclusively taught in America since 1907 and the Gentlemen’s Agreement of Yellow childhood.
The Yellow PsycDoc tells us the White stereotypes of us are here to stay. What’s new is your knowledge of the real. The real was kept from you, kept off your mind. Kept out of your childhood. The real doesn’t have to be kept from your children, in their childhood.
The fake Yellows for White profit are a part of the White world. The Chinaman’s China is seen through Chinese children’s lit and the heroic tradition. How JACK AND THE BEANSTALK and the stories of White immigrants simultaneously mixed with the Chinese at the beginnings of the expressions of people’s mind, would take a childhood to tell.
Why Whites refuse to read the Chinese real, I don’t care. Why my people the “Chinese-Americans” (that’s a malignant name for Chinamen) They call themselves in the everyday conversational newspaper-ese “Chinese- American” the name explains why they refuse to read anything Chinese especially old Chinese, like their self-contemptuous presence in the city of San Francisco. The city of Ornamental Orientals. Money, comes first. Chinese-Americans race each other with new terrors from their Chinese past for money, they leap after money like toads gone crazy.
That's where I walked out of the bar to forge the uncreated conscience of my chicken race in the smithy of my soul and stopped off at bookstore in Singapore. My plane needed to catch a breath in Taiwan. I went to a bookstore in Taipei’s 101 building that looks like a tall stack of waxed paper cupcake holders. I went on a journey from the Asian unknown and the distasteful west through books. I picked up that Kwan Kung is as popular, morally if not as religiously significant as Jesus Christ, and as lovably crude and sleazy as John Wayne. He’s a man. Likely to smell of recent physical exertion. No taste for the holy and averse to not tipping his hat to a woman. He will never violate a woman. The thought brings a bitter taste to his mouth. He always asks. If he doesn’t get an enthusiastic yes, he doesn’t do it. If everyman lives within Kwan Kung’s limits, he’s ok. You’re a criminal? You’re a murderer? Kwan was a murderer. First brother of the Oath in Peach Garden says Kwan Kung had a reason. Your boss says, so. It’s so. You’re okay. The character of Kwan Kung always a man, always loyal to someone or something sanctified by his loyalty. Those protected by Kwan Kung’s loyalty become great men who all die under mean, pathetic not tragic conditions. Kwan Kung’s loyalty is his trap. Loyalty, once given it can’t be taken back. The heroes from Yue Fei, to Wong Fei Hung, to movie stars Bruce Lee all die until Jackie Chan who’s a movie star, an employee, not a hero of the reality of Kwan Kung in Cuba.
The Ornamental Orientals are visible but don’t dominate the news, talkshows, action shows on American TV. Their ornament gives the look of an ordinary show, that extra ordinary something. Ornamental Orientals are not real. They’re not artists. The Christians fear the real. They fear Chinese art. Though I’ve been woefully inadequate, the Christian Whites fear me. You will note that I am reluctant to talk about me. I talk about the Heroic tradition.
Top: Kwan Kung,L:Chow Chong(Chiang Fei) R: Kwan Ping (Liu Pei) - Mongolia.
I can only hope an artist wiser than me can find a new model hero for the times or the cause that somehow causes a reading the Chinese Heroic tradition that follows the theme of Chinese not needing China to be Chinese further than my humble reading skills. Times of hostility like ours , going on , 150 years in America were made for Chinese and Korean and Japanese artists to make sense of.
Tinned bones of Chinese.in Cuba- Photo by Pok Chi Lau
The uncreated conscience of my soul comes down to Cuba and bones broken out of Cuban cemeteries and piles of tin cans full of the bones of Kwans from a village of Kwans that are not being shipped home away from where they were never welcome.
Kwan Kung and Chinese literature will survive the century long Chinese American descent into Oriental ornaments of White conquest. I wish to live to see an American city on the West Coast blossom from a seeding of stories from the Chinese childhood and heroic tradition into a country full of folk who know the Chinese NORTH COUNTRY WOLF, as well as the Cajun Loup Garou, the English LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD, the Russian PETER AND THE WOLF.