Roxane Wong……………………….22-year-old great-granddaughter of Wong Wei Jing
Wong Chin Foo……………………………Chinese Immigrant and Civil Rights Activist
Wong Wei Jing………………………………………………….Niece to Wong Chin Foo
Denis Kearney…........................................................Irish Immigrant and Union Organizer
Liam Keller……………………………………………………..Nephew to Denis Kearney
National Archives Data Center, San Francisco, 2002
The place for examining original documents at the National Archives Pacific Region offices looked very much like her old high school library reading room. She’d expected something larger than a room with eight tables to accommodate potential researcher requests for the 250,000 documents that were the Pacific Region’s holdings, yet during her frequent visits there had never been more than three researchers like her in the room at any one time.
Roxane Wong kept her visitor’s identification card around her neck attached to a red cord with a green Chinese-style knot fashioned in the shape of a Celtic cross by its anonymous weaver. The cord and the cross belonged to her late great-grandmother, her “bok bok,” Wong Wei Jing. The family found the knotted cord after bok bok passed away. Wong Wei Jing kept the knotted cord with her Certificate of Identity locked away in a safe inside an armoire in her bedroom. The safe remained unopened for decades—bok bok lost the combination and it wasn’t till after she passed away that the family drilled open the safe and discovered its contents. No one in the Wong family understood the significance of the knotted red and green cord. Everyone in the Wong family knew about the Certificate of Identity:
This piece of paper was Wong Wei Jing’s pass to enter the United States.
With the odds against her entering the country with false papers and an assumed identity as a paper daughter, and pretending to be one of her deceased father’s merchant partners’ children, Wong Wei Jing as paper daughter Chiu Yook Lon fooled the United States Immigration Service, won an exemption to the restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and assumed a false identity for the better part of her 92 years in California. That slim piece of paper guarded so closely through the decades determined the fate of so many—indeed created the present character and occupation of researcher Roxane Wong behind a desk scanning documents at the National Archives on an autumn afternoon 104 years later.
Wong Wei Jing’s home was replete with Chinese gods and goddesses and dragons and phoenix and foo-dog symbols in every corner of every room. They were there for luck, for good health, for good fortune—to bring money into the house; to keep evil spirits away; to make sure when the apple pie came out of the oven the crust was light and flaky. Roxane wore the knotted cord for what luck it might bring her in her search for clues about her enigmatic great-grandmother. So far it brought her bok bok’s Immigration Service interview from her 1898 arrival in San Francisco. At the bottom of a stack of half a hundred yellowed but otherwise well-preserved papers from that interview was a studio portrait taken in a place called Gong Moon City the year before Wong Wei Jing left home. The photo shows a seventeen-year-old girl with power and direction beyond her years. She looks out from the century-old portrait with an expression in her eyes that tell of an old soul at work in a young woman’s fiery heart.
Are Made Of
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA, OCTOBER 26, 2002
Roxane Wong finished her shift at the Tapioca Hailstorm café at 1 AM.
At midnight she served the last customer of the night his order of fried squid heads. The customer was an impossible old gentleman who spent the past quarter-hour haggling with Roxane in broken Hong Kong Chinese about the price. He entered the café with a half-off coupon for squid from some other T-place and insisted the coupon should be honored at Roxane’s shop. “Payable to the bearer on demand, good business practice!” he argued while waving his coupon around the empty café. Roxane rolled her eyes and muttered a chant to Kwan Yin and gave up and took his coupon, “Oh for goddess sakes I’ll pay for his squid! I just want to go home.”
“Do-Jeh, Missy” he said after receiving his half-price squid heads, “Hold up your hair, let me read your forehead.”
Roxane laughed to herself while paying the till. The old man reminded her of the late civil rights activist Wong Chin Foo. This old guy certainly had Chin Foo’s stubborn character. She could almost see him in 19th Century Chicago shouting out from the crowd to the speakers’ platform at Workingman’s Party leader Denis Kearney, demanding equal rights for Chinese and challenging Kearney to a duel with Irish potatoes as the weapons of choice.
Roxane held up her bangs, leaned across the counter and said “OK geomancer man, read away…”
The old man concentrated on her forehead, whispering to himself as his eyes darted back and forth across her brow. The café was empty. An S.H.E. song, “Wo Ai Ni,”played from the café’s speakers. The area surrounding the café turned grey and fell out of focus. Roxane felt a buzzing at her forehead. “Who is this guy!?” She wondered while remembering something from a distant past about this man she’d known for only eighteen minutes—it was something about him, something about him and something about a history of Chinese Americans waiting to be rewritten by her generation, the ascendant generation of Chinese in America. She tried to make sense of this while an old man with a bag of spicy-flavor squid heads read her brow and said “Lucky you! You will live a long life, a rich life, a double-happiness life!”
Roxane acknowledged his reading with a sardonic half-smile and paused for a long moment before waving him goodbye. The old man bowed a solemn bow in her direction, smiled, winked, and left the café. The door closed behind the old man. The café returned in-focus and the buzzing at her forehead abruptly stopped. Roxane watched in silence while the old man disappeared into a dense fog rolling into the downtown streets.
Tapioca Hailstorm Café, Mountain View, California October 27, 2002, 1:00 AM:
It is closing time.
Roxane Wong carries a tub of day-old tapioca pearls from the Hailstorm Café kitchen through the fog to the greenwaste bin at the end of the Castro Street alley. “Damn, this thing is heavy tonight!” It is quiet in the dark deserted alley. The fog captures all of downtown like a Hello Kitty in a snow globe. With each step toward the greenwaste bin the tub of pearls becomes heavier and the fog so thick that Roxane loses attention to everything except her next labored step forward on the damp pavement till she discovers she is unable to take another step. The fog holds her in place.
“What the hell is this!?” Roxane tries another step. It is like walking through mud in a South Bay salt marsh at low tide. Roxane is held in place by forces unknown. She pushes against the fog with the twice-as-heavy tub and forces a step and stumbles forward and the tapioca sloshes round inside the bucket. She cannot find the greenwaste bin… “It should be right here!” Roxane is lost in a Tule fog in downtown Mountain View. This in itself is strange. Tule fogs are common in the San Francisco Bay region, but this Tule fog is one mile inland. It shouldn’t be happening here.
Now the air is changing.
It is at first almost impossible to discern, then it is stronger and unmistakable—the air smells of salt and fresh steamed rice and something like sage or alpha-alpha hay. A ship’s bell sounds from an unseen place. Roxane hears gulls crying and the sound of waves slapping against a pier. From behind Roxane a horse whinnies. Roxane regains the use of her legs. She turns with a start in the lifting fog. There is a horse behind her! It pushes its nose against her shoulder. Roxane jumps away from the horse and the horse jumps away from Roxane while jostling against its harness and wagon. A voice from behind the wagon swears and shouts in her direction, “Foon Yen! Foon Yen! Get a move on! Can’t you see these hungry men?”
Roxane pauses like a doe in the headlights of Time. She can see a line of disheveled Chinese people dressed in old style Chinese clothes. The line stretches from the Embarcadero waterfront to the darkened recesses of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company detention shed at Pier 40, San Francisco. Everything around her looks like it did when it was new in 1898. She knows about this place from the history books and the only known photograph from the day.
She discovered this place from her classes at university. At school she tried to imagine what it was like for over 350 men and women living crammed “like sardines in a tin,” as one contemporary report described it, in a place no larger than a four-bedroom cottage with no light and stale air for months on end while waiting for a government official to decide if you could live in America or go back to China.
Roxane discovers the source of the steamed rice smell. It is in her hands attached to wooden handles. It is a cast iron tub filled with just cooked rice, twice-as-heavy as the now nonexistent plastic tub of day old tapioca pearls that in a later time is destined for a greenwaste bin in Mountain View’s Castro Street alley—an alley now 35 miles and 104 years away from her current controlled panic of a holding pattern on the less than safe for a Chinese person late 19th Century San Francisco waterfront.
Roxane’s clothes are no longer the blue and orange uniform and apron of the Tapioca Hailstorm Café. In their place are a rough loose fitting pant and a plain raw cotton cheongsam top. Her baseball cap is gone and in its place a coolie cap rests smartly on her head. “And what is pulling at the back of my head? Is it this hat?”
Roxane places the vat down and reaches back to discover her hair has grown out about four times its 2002 length and is braided into a queue. The queue is interwoven with raw silk and drops down well beyond her lower back—Roxane’s jaw drops somewhere past south of Market Street. She stares in awe with a more surprised than frightened joy at the enormous braid of hair growing out of her head.
Roxane shivers at a sudden gust of wind and turns full circle to better view her new surroundings as the first rays of morning light break westward through the fog toward a Golden Gate across a San Francisco Bay without bridges. She stands in front of Pier 40 as it was a century ago. She stands beside a horse and wagon carrying a dozen vats of steamed rice on an old Embarcadero waterfront while a horse eats from the rice vat she placed on the ground near a crabby guy at the back of the rice wagon and a line of Chinese people wait for their serving of rice that the horse is enjoying.
“Oh Hell…” “Hey you, horse! Get away from that rice!”
Now the crabby guy at the back of the wagon is furious. “Wong Foon Yen, goddammit! Pick up that rice and get your coolie ass over here and get to work!”
Roxane pushes the horse away from the rice vat while using the sleeve of her cheongsam to skim off the top part of the rice that the horse had touched toward where the horse can reach. Roxane guesses from the surprised look in the horse’s eyes this is clearly an unexpected gift from a contract food service employee of the Pacific Mail Steam Ship Company.
With about two seconds to adjust to the news she is living in California’s late 1800s—and with about the same time to assume the character of an inconspicuous Chinese girl before anyone gets suspicious—she is already drawing a curious stare from a policeman on the opposite side of the street—Roxane puts on her best inscrutable face and walks the rice vat to the serving area like this is her whole life’s purpose.
Roxane comes round the back of the wagon face to face with the crabby guy who turns out to be Chinese and about twice her age. He speaks good English to her and not unkindly but in more of a tough love and world weary way that gives Roxane the impression she has caused him prior similar past exasperations. “Lucky you no one saw the horse eat the rice, niece! You can start a riot with a stunt like that. You feel OK?”
“Sorry Uncle,” Roxane bows deeply and quickly, “I am well thank you. The horse grabbed at my queue, that’s all.”
“Don’t stand so close to General Zu next time. OK let’s serve, chop-chop!”
“So this is my uncle,” Roxane thought, “Now who the hell am I?”
Roxane ladles out rice to the empty bowls held in the hands of the residents of the shed. The line moves silently past the cart and doubles back on itself as the throng returns with their meal to the wooden building. There is so much to take in of her new surroundings, but Roxane can only focus on serving rice to the hundreds of people in front of her. This repetitive action at least has a calming effect while she tries to put into perspective having in the last quarter-hour navigated through a portal in the space time continuum to land in 1898 or a really well put together version of the Dickens Faire.
San Francisco Waterfront 1900
General Zu the rice-eating horse set a slow steady pace along the Embarcadero waterfront. Roxane’s anonymous Uncle leaned back in the wagon and held the reins more on general principal than to steer a vehicle which appeared to run on auto-pilot. General Zu seemed very familiar with the route home.
Roxane sat quietly next to her Uncle on the shotgun side of the wagon, looking down with her hands folded in her lap and maintaining an outward calm until the sudden appearance of a group of kids chasing them and hurling insults and invective and the occasional piece of rotten fruit set her blood boiling as she reached for a box of table scraps to pay them back. Roxane’s Uncle never took his eyes from the road. With his free hand he held the box of table scraps down on the floor of the wagon against Roxane’s attempt. “Don’t even think it! You want to go back to China?”
Roxane redirected her anger into a white-knuckled rage and a censorious stare at their tormentors as the Little Rascals from hell disappeared onto Market Street. The wagon jolted to a stop after hitting a bump on Embarcadero at Clay Street. Roxane’s rage left her as suddenly. What promised to be one of her classic three-day blows was abandoned when they turned the corner at Clay Street and Roxane got her first clear view of the road ahead. What lay before her quite simply took her breath away. Rising up before Roxane was pre-Earthquake San Francisco’s Chinatown.
“Oh Mother Goddess in Heaven… it’s real… I’m really here and it’s all real!”
The sepia photographs of old Chinatown taken by Arnold Genthe were among Roxane’s favorite images from this place that now presented itself as it had appeared then to the legendary photographer.
Back in her future with Genthe’s album in hand Roxane would take early morning walks through the streets and alleys of 21st Century Chinatown and search for what latent energy might remain in the poured stone and metal and earth still extant from Chinatown’s past. The Roxane of 2002 knew she could never come close to sensing what life was like in the 19th Century. Still in the early mornings before new Chinatown was fully awake Roxane could get this close to her ancestors and offer what honor she could to their memory by touching the ground at Clay Street and Grant Avenue in her hiking sandals in the same way bok bok did in her jade-green & red rocker-soled shoes. At age nine Roxane found the shoes in bok bok’s armoire during an expedition to her bedroom. Roxane remembered great grandmother let her try them on. Roxane tried to walk in them, but all she could do was tilt forward and back. Now Roxane was watching women on DuPont Street in the Chinatown of 1898 moving with ease in the same rocker-shoes. Roxane checked herself from staring at the women’s feet to see what it was the time vortex had given her in the way of footwear. She still had on her canvas high-top “Domo” basketball shoes. Her period work pant legs hid the Domo character image inside the cuffs. “How is it I can be wearing something from the future while being someone from the past?”
It was then Roxane reached into the folds of a hidden pocket in her cheongsam and felt a familiar square shape in the palm of her hand. She was holding her iPod. Roxane tapped at the iPod. It was working with a full charge on the battery. Roxane quickly shut down the iPod while hiding it in the sleeves of her jacket. “I wonder what else is mine from the future that’s in 1898…” With no time to think about the inconsistencies of her present situation in the past, Roxane stopped thinking and gave herself over to the joy of a bumpy ride in a rice wagon while General Zu began the ascent up Clay Street to their destination and the return of the rice vats to the boarding house restaurant under contract to the steam ship company. The wagon stopped in the alley at the corner of the boarding house restaurant. Roxane sounded out the characters on the sign at the front, “Empress Of China.” Roxane studied the building location on Clay Street while helping her Uncle unload the wagon. She saw an address on an apartment house across the street facing the alley. She knew that house number from future memory as the address in great grandmother’s Immigration file that was bok bok’s first destination in America. “This is bok bok’s place! Will I see her?”
Roxane’s uncle called out to her while throwing her a brass key.
“You go on up and rest niece, I have other work.”
“Thank you Uncle.”
Roxane watched her uncle walk down what in her time is called Hang Ah Alley. She watched him go upstairs at a building entrance where she heard the sound of clattering Ma Jong tiles from an open window. She looked at the brass key in her hand. She looked toward the apartment building. The key had no marks to indicate where it belonged. She couldn’t be sure this apartment building on Clay was the right apartment building. Less certain about everything than she had been since arriving, Roxane took a deep breath and walked toward her great-grandmother’s place. As she started up the stairs a woman’s voice in Cantonese called out from a third-floor window.
"Foon Yen! Foon Yen! Help me with Gizzy! He jumped in your room again! Come up and let him out!" Roxane exhaled, “Oh thank you Iron Goddess of Mercy!”
“Coming Auntie,” Roxane replied in the same Pearl River dialect, hoping that was the right thing to say.
“What’s a Gizzy?”
Roxane charged up the three flights of stairs like she was running the steps at Foothill College. Half out of breath, she met Auntie in the hallway. She handed the key to this mystery aunt while leaning back against the third-floor corridor.
“Here Auntie, let Gizzy out while I catch my breath.”
“Don’t hurry so much Foon Yen. You hurry too much.” Auntie mystery took the key from Roxane and opened the door to Roxane’s apartment. Out bounded a white cat with crumpled ears and a loud and insistent meow. Roxane laughed while addressing him in Cantonese, “Hello Gizzy, you rice bug, you cat burglar!”
“What the hell happened to his ears? The top of his head looks like Mount Diablo.”
Aunt returned the key to Roxane.
“Get some rest Foon Yen. I’ll bring you dim sum later.”
Gizzy and Auntie walked back to the next door apartment. Gizzy had his nose to the air. He stretched to reach the door knob with his paws while aunt opened her apartment door. Gizzy ran toward the dim sum smells coming from Auntie’s kitchen. Roxane was suddenly starving. Sleep was the last thing she wanted.
“Hey Auntie let me help in the kitchen,” Roxane said while inviting herself to Auntie’s place. “What can I do to help?”
“How about just visit with me in the kitchen. Help me eat dim sum.”
Auntie’s kitchen window was open to let smoke escape from the cooking stove. This window also served as Gizzy’s escape hatch. From there it was a short leap for a cat onto the balcony leading to Roxane’s apartment. Auntie had two places set at the kitchen table, clearly expecting Foon Yen to invite herself in to eat and catch up on news of the day.
“Now if I can get Auntie to do all the talking.”
Five minutes into dim sum together, Roxane discovered the only challenge was getting Aunt to keep quiet. Roxane was ahead of Auntie and Gizzie three to one in pork buns and mackerel while Gizzie meowed constantly and Auntie talked nonstop about everything from the weather to the price of a bolt of fabric in the garment district. “Thank you Auntie whoever you are. You are a time-traveler’s Fodor’s guide to Chinatown.”
Uncle returned at mid afternoon from his session with the tiles and at the end of dim sum. In the course of her conversation with aunt, Roxane found out his name, Wong Shee Quong. Roxane did not yet know aunt’s name till Shee Quong greeted her upon arrival.
“Nei hou,Kim! Did the cat save me anything?”
“I bet he saved you more than you lost upstairs today. How’d it go? Did you lose Foon Yen to those tong barbarians?”
Uncle Wong emptied five silver dollars from a small leather bag onto the kitchen table. The last one rolled off the table and across the kitchen floor to stop at Gizzie’s metal bowl with a clink that made the cat look up from his nap for a moment before returning to his cat’s dream.
“They’re the ones that have to worry about locking up their nieces, Kim Gook. And they’re not tongs—just other workers like us.”
“If they worked as hard as they played we’d have a better place to live.”
Aunt and Uncle went on like this back and forth while Roxane ate and watched and listened and absorbed till exhaustion from a full day of time travel and serving rice to hundreds caught up with her. She excused herself from her newfound ancestors to return to her apartment.
Her own apartment.
To have her own place as a Chinese girl in 1898 in San Francisco was not a thing Roxane thought generally available to single women of this era. “Someone in this family has indeed done well in Gold Mountain to provide a daughter with digs like these.” Roxane crosses the threshold of her new old place and surveys the surroundings. Most everything is wood. Wood floors, wood walls, wood tables and chairs, a metal sink and a coal burning stove and a tile floor in the kitchen, a futon bed on the floor lying next to an armoire and steamer trunk and a worn leather armchair, a woman’s portrait sketched in pencil -- framed and placed on the wall next to a half open window with a view of Hang Ah Alley. The sky is fading pink to grey as the buildings cast long shadows interrupted by the glow of red lanterns. Roxane looks out the window. She looks up at a night sky more brilliant than she ever witnessed in her time. Roxane’s face is wet from a gentle fog that passes her window while rolling up Clay Street. Her face is wet from tears at the beauty of it all. She weeps in silence for this mystery card she’s been handed. She weeps at homesickness for her past & future life. She weeps at this unexpected gift from the gods and goddesses of Time.
Roxane falls back on the floor mattress too tired to undress.
“Give me a minute… I’ll change in just a minute…” Roxane promises herself before falling asleep.
Late 19th Century Chinatown, photo taken by Arnold Genthe
San Francisco, October 28, 1898:
Roxane awoke to her new name of Foon Yen from a room at the top floor of a three-story apartment on Clay Street in Chinatown. The window to her room is open halfway to let in a foggy morning breeze through stiff calico curtains. From the window Roxane has a direct view of Hang Ah Alley. The sun is parting the fog and emerging through the alley to Roxane’s window. A flock of pigeons flies from the alley up past the window to the top of Roxane’s apartment. Roxane peeks out the window to look at them and gets pooped on the head.
“Oh thank you bird… I guess that’s welcome to Chinatown.”
Roxane wipes the pigeon poop from her forehead. She turns to the open steamer trunk. She tosses her yesterday’s work clothes in a low-maintenance pile that spills from the trunk to the floor. The trunk is half full of clothes, a pair of earrings, a bangle, a Chinese knot in red cord, a couple of books in Chinese characters and a big brown accordion style envelope held closed by a piece of twine.
Roxane changes into clothes from the steamer trunk, taking care to hide her Domo sneakers at the bottom of the trunk along with her iPod. She stares for a long moment at the red cord with the familiar Chinese weave knowing perfectly well its meaning. The knot is in the same pattern as the one discovered in bok bok’s safe in Mountain View in 1990, “…but without the Celtic cross…” Roxane opens the door to the armoire. A half-dozen nice cheongsams hang inside. The potpourri of rose and lilac inside the armoire is the same as that in bok bok’s armoire from 2002. Roxane gathers up the cheongsams at their hems to explore the back of the armoire, “just like I did when I was nine…” She raises the hems and a pair of rocker-soled shoes fall out at her feet, “jade-green & red…” Roxane slips into the rocker shoes, "they fit you Cinderella Wong..." Roxane reaches to the back of the armoire and removes a small red box with a delicate sliding bolt. She opens the unfamiliar box and removes Certificate of Identity 53603, issued to Chiu Yook Lon. Roxane turns the certificate over expecting to see the familiar attached picture of her bok bok.
Wong Wei Jing’s picture on the Identity Certificate is no longer yellowed with age, “…and this is not the same photo...” Unlike the photo in the national archives this photo of Chiu Yook Lon shows her hair braided in a long queue interwoven with raw silk and draped over her left shoulder… “How did bok bok get permission to show her queue in the ID photo? The government never let that happen…”
Roxane returns to the steamer trunk for the big brown envelope. Her hands shake while she fumbles with the binding. The envelope contents spill onto the futon: an exit visa issued to Chiu Yook Lon from Hong Kong with the American Consulate stamp, a ship’s passenger ticket for the SS China dated February 10, 1898, an attached portrait of her great-grandmother’s mother, the same one copied out in the pencil sketch at her apartment window.
The fog hides the sun and feels cold through the open window. Roxane closes the window and for the first time since arriving in 1898 she sees her reflection in the window pane.
The person staring back at her is Wong Wei Jing.
Roxane reaches for the certificate. She sets the ID photo next to her reflection in the window. She walks in a numbed silence to the mirror inside the armoire.
“So if I follow correctly, according to this paper, I’m my own great grandmother… And that will make my daughter my grandmother. And when my grandmother has my mother and my mother has me will I be twins or my own half-sister?”
Aunt Kim knocks at the door.
“Foon Yen wake up! Are you ready for your make up photo?”
“I’m ready Aunt.”
Roxane opens the door to Aunt Kim’s instant disapproval.
“This won’t work! You’re queue is out! You want to go back to China? Hide it!”
Roxane takes a guess this must be about a re-take of her Certificate of Identity photo. “So this is how it changes when I find it in the archives… I’m about to be photographed for the picture I’ll find in bok bok’s file in 2002… How cool is this!? ”
Roxane tucks the queue inside her cheongsam. “Better now Auntie?”
Aunt Kim shakes her head.
“Let me do something with the rest of your hair, but let’s get walking. I’ll fix your hair while we walk.”
The photographer’s studio is on Market Street. Roxane and Aunt Kim stop enroute at Portsmouth Square. Aunt Kim finds a semi secluded spot at a park bench and sits Roxane down for an eleventh hour hair appointment and assimilation lecture:
“Really Foon Yen, after all the white men have put us through, why this game playing with your queue? You really have your Uncle Chin Foo’s warrior’s blood and his same impulsive appalling sense of judgment. We will make our way in this country a lot faster without this kind of confrontation. You’d do well to remember that a better tactic lies in the deception of acceptance.”
Roxane keeps still while her blood boils for the second time in the 19th Century. She holds still while Aunt fixes her hair for the satisfaction of the US Congress and Denis Kearny. She whispers a chant to Kwan Yin and stares forward from her place on the park bench at Portsmouth Square and looks out across the Bay at Angel Island. Just at this moment the army base on the Island at Camp Reynolds test fires their long-range cannons that aim toward the Pacific Ocean and Roxane jumps at the sound as she replies to Aunt Kim, “Auntie Kim I really have trouble pretending to surrender to barbarians just because they have all the guns. I’d rather go down fighting.”
“And that’s just what you’ll get Niece. You’ll get the satisfaction of going down before the white man, and he will write it up in their history books as a great victory of the Anglo Saxon race over the heathen Mongol horde. Tell me Foon Yen, in what tactic resides the lasting victory? These westerners are two thousand years behind us! Why accord them equal status by engaging them on their battle field? They’re not the “supreme race” for all of their pretensions. And China…, China is immortal! We can outlast this insult. If nothing else we have time on our side.”
Roxane sits quietly while Aunt Kim finishes her hair. She cannot bring herself to agree with Aunt about feigning surrender to these bastards who make her hide her queue just because they feel like it, and she cannot find an argument to counter what Aunt said about China and about Time.
“I guess I just hate losing an argument, especially this one…”
Aunt pulls Roxane up by her hands from the park bench, and sensing she had said more than Roxane wanted to hear, winks and says to her “Now you’re ready to face the white devil, girl!”
Roxane laughs, “Thank you Auntie. Tell me about this guy who’s re-taking my picture.”
Roxane and Aunt Kim walk to Market Street. The photographer is a man from near her family’s village in China, a place called Gong Moon City. He came over 16 years earlier – just before the Chinese Exclusion Act passed Congress, and through long odds he established a steady business outside Chinatown. Roxane sits before the camera while aunt and the photographer make last minute changes to Roxane’s hair and positioning while admonishing her to keep still.
Child of the digital age she is, Roxane knows something about holding a lengthy pose from her summer job as an artists’ figure model at university. That work experience helps now while Roxane looks into a camera lens she last studied at an exhibit of early photographic equipment at the Exploratorium in 21st Century San Francisco. Twenty-first Century Roxane views her work in figure modeling as a way to get paid for doing yoga, with the added benefit of not having to worry about what to wear on the job. Now sitting for a portrait she’ll next see in four generations, Roxane wonders about why Aunt and Uncle keep calling her Foon Yen. “It sounds a little like Wei Foo… Maybe a pet name? I wish I could figure a way to ask without making them worry about why I’m asking… For now I’ll have to roll with the tiles and just wonder…”
Roxane jumps at the loudest and brightest camera flash with an accompanying puff of smoke she has ever seen – to the anguish and distress of the photographer and Aunt Kim.
“Oh for goddess sakes Foon Yen! You’ve had your picture taken before, why the big surprise? Now we have to pay twice!”
“Sorry Auntie… Try again and take it out of my pay at the rice wagon? Sell me to the tongs?”
Aunt Kim scowled. “I’d try that if I didn’t think the tongs would make me pay to give you to them or sue for damages when they brought you back… Hold still this time!”
Roxane did as she was told, ready this time for the flash bang.
Aunt paid twice and Roxane waited outside, adjusting her eyes to the hazy midday sun after leaving the darkened studio. She sits on an improvised chair made from wooden crates and watches life on Market Street 1898.
“I thought Market was a mess in 2002, but this is total madhouse time!”
People, animals, vehicles of all description save the yet to be introduced automobiles are traversing Market in all directions. Dusty roadways, cook fires, livestock and poultry sounds and smells of all sorts. A policeman walks unfazed and nonchalant past the chaotic scene repeated block after block toward the Ferry Building and Roxane guesses no one is breaking the rules because there aren’t any. Market functions in this time like a race-class-gender-cultural neutral zone governed by an unacknowledged recognition of the universal color of money as that thing that holds them all together.
Aunt joins Roxane on Market.
“Let’s shop Foon Yen.”
Liam Keller’s diary for October 28th, 1898:
She tried crossing Market at the worst time of day… actually any time of day is the worst time of day to cross Market, but today some lads with a movie camera on a trolley were driving to the Ferry Building and creating a greater fuss than what is generally accepted as the usual standard… So she crosses in front of a trolley just as a horse-drawn fire-engine overtakes—what else could I do…. It was instinct to reach out and grab her and pull her over to the sidewalk. It wasn’t till she turned around that I realized she was Chinese, and when I had my first proper glimpse of her, I found myself staring at the most beautiful creature I’d ever laid eyes on…. She stared back at me with a mixture of shock, surprise, and then she smiled at me…. “Do-Jeh” she said bowing and half out of breath… and then her mother, I think it was her mother, grabbed her by the arm and said something that sounded like “…no fan man…” they ran up Market toward the Ferry Building, and disappeared into the crowd, but before they disappeared she turned and looked straight at me and said, “Erin Go Bragh!” And I don’t know what to do now except go to Chinatown and find her…
Roxane and Aunt Kim return from the high up parts of Market after shopping for fabric and non-Chinese knick-knacks. The 19th Century’s version of Burning Man remains in full swing on the outlying streets and alleyways. Roxane tries her best not to engage it like she’s walking through the Renaissance Faire or calculating how much any one obscure thing from this time would make for her if she could bring it back to the 21st Century and put it on eBay.
At Second Street Roxane encountered one of the many newsies hawking daily papers. Unlike his colleagues this kid was not selling the Chronicle or the Call. In his mixed race hands he held out to Roxane a copy of “The White Man” a newspaper self-described as devoted to the movement for the exclusion of “Asiatics” from America. Roxane declined the earnest offer from the newsie of a copy for purchase while saying to him “Sorry kid, I’ve already read that one (“in a museum library in 2002”).”
Aunt Kim caught Roxane’s attention with a raised hand, beckoning her to cross Market. Roxane looked beyond Aunt Kim toward the middle of the street where a five-week-old tabby kitten stood crying in the road in the middle of the noise and confusion.
Without another thought Roxane dashed past Aunt’s confused expression to the middle of the trolley tracks on Market. Roxane faintly heard the sound of hoof beats and a clanging bell and some shouting and swearing in the near distance. Using a shawl Aunt Kim had just bought her Roxane scooped up the kitten from the roadway and looked up to stare face to face at an oncoming charge of a team of horses at full gallop pulling a fire engine toward the Ferry Building docks.
Liam Keller is a horse ambulance driver for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He is on a break at Market and 3rd when someone tells him about a stray kitten in the next block. Liam starts his approach in the ambulance when he hears the familiar sound of a fire engine bell and a team of horses. He is about to pull his carriage over when he sees someone stooped over in the middle of the road ahead.
“…She was staggering under the weight of who-knows-what Chinese goods in a wicker basket that blocked her line of sight and her hearing too—she never took notice of the team pulling the fire engine as it raced toward her… I reined-in and put the brake on the ambulance and ran across the street to drag and half carry her to the sidewalk just before the fire company passed us with its bell clanging in a trail of dust and smoke. All this time she never let go of the basket—holding the bundle like a fullback! I remember saying to her “…Jesus-Mary-and-Joseph girl, didn’t you hear them coming!? She turned to face me and holy mother in heaven she’s Chinese. Where’s her queue, I ask myself. She’s got it hidden, I guess because she thought someone would cut it off? Anyway her mother all but tore her out of my grasp and looked at me like I was something to be angry at and scared of all at once—but the girl! She spoke to me in Gaelic—where does a China girl learn Gaelic? And all I know now Kevin is I’ve got to go after her, but where the hell do I begin in Chinatown?
Kevin O’Rourke, proprietor of the public house the Lady Kildare, listened to his young cousin Liam’s lament at his pub in the Irish quarter at the far side of half past eleven at night in their South of Market Irish Catholic neighborhood. This was an altogether familiar rendition of an oft-repeated theme that was Liam’s ongoing unrequited love life. “What is different about this girl from the several score others is that this one is Chinese, and illegal in California to marry. What on earth is compelling you to pursue this Liam? Oh don’t tell me I know the answer already. She’s said something. She’s done something. She’s looked at you a certain singular way like no one else before her… Maybe she just needs reading glasses. Maybe she can loan them to you to see your way in this more clearly before adventuring in Chinatown. For god’s sake Liam, you’re Irish. You’re Kearney’s nephew for Christ’s sake! Forget it and find your last week’s Colleen and start raising nine red-headed hellions…”
Chinese in California 19th Century
Late Afternoon, Dupont Street, Chinatown, San Francisco
October 28, 1898
Roxane and Aunt Kim walked quickly and without speaking from Market & 2nd to Portsmouth Square. At Portsmouth Square Aunt sat Roxane down at the same park bench as this morning. Roxane pulled the Market Street kitten from inside the sleeve of her Cheongsam, and held him up to the fading sunlight.
“So Auntie, Gizzy has a playmate now!”
“Oh Joy!” replied Aunt. “We have other things to discuss. What were you doing seeking death on Market Street? Just what was that just now with you and the white boy? And what was that you said to him in his language? And you are not yourself since yesterday. What is going on with you?”
Roxane took a deep breath and bit her upper lip. Bowing deeply to Wong Kim Gook, she replied “Aunt Kim, I know how much imposition I am to you and to Uncle. I am sorry for the troubles I’ve caused and …”
Kim interrupted Roxane. “Stop it niece! I’m not the immigration service. Put away your coaching papers and talk to me. Uncle and I love you. We love our brother your Uncle Chin Foo. Our promise to him to take care of you after your father died is not a burden to anyone. I’m asking you what is going on because I want to know what you want for yourself first. You are—all of us are—changing in this place almost by the hour. There is nothing wrong and everything right about that in the new land called California. Everyone is here to break with the old ways to try new things. But trying new things doesn’t mean giving up the old ways. It means reinventing them. So what I’m saying when I’m asking Foon Yen what is going on with Foon Yen is not a judgment on your choices. I ask you this to know your mind, to better understand, and to get ready for what’s coming from around the corner from my favorite niece, just to get my husband Shee Quong ready for the shock of the new.”
Roxane wants to tell Aunt Kim everything about what has passed in the last two days—about 2002 at the Tapioca Hailstorm, about the Tule fog that brought her to 1898 two days ago to take the place of her great-grandmother who arrived in Gold Mountain from Hong Kong seven months and eighteen days ago, about time travel and divine intercession and the practical application of the improbable, but she just cannot trust to the fates the consequences of this admission, or that such a direct confession to Aunt Kim might land her in Donaldina Cameron’s Chinatown mission for wayward girls.
“Auntie I’m really OK. Just exhausted at this crazy new place that I’ve landed. There is so much to discover and so many choices, and sometimes I think all I can do is make the wrong choice about everything. I love you and Uncle for helping me make a place for myself in Gold Mountain. I promise you no big changes for twenty-four hours, and I promise you I am OK.”
Aunt Kim shook her head and smiled. “Thank you niece. A day and a night of no surprises from you is a good bargain for our household. Let’s go buy a fish for Mr. Second Street...
No Matter Where We Go, Here We Are.
Gizzy took an immediate parental interest in the new kitten Second Street, holding him down with one paw and grooming him while Aunt made dim sum and Roxane unpacked the shopping and examined her retaken Certificate of Identity photo.
“This is indeed the photo of bok bok at the National Archives. Roxane, girl, what is this web of twin selves you’ve spun? Is this what the Geomancer Man meant about a double life?
Shee Quong returns home and comments on how lovely the retake photo appears,
“This is why they called you thepretty one back home. What’s this other blurry one next to it?"
“That’s me paying twice for Foon Yen’s retake” replied Aunt Kim.
Roxane closed her eyes and turned her head away pretending a shame that everyone in the room including the cats knew was not real. She returned to her room after dim sum to go through the papers in her steamer trunk. She finds her exit visa papers from the U.S. embassy in Hong Kong. Her eyes stop at the listed reasons showing her exempt status from the Chinese Exclusion Act: “Minor daughter of a domiciled Chinese merchant… Student, studying English...”
Roxane read through this document in 2002 at the National Archives and laughed at the “student’s exemption” part. Bok bok never attended school in America. School had never been an urgent matter after she married great grandfather—he was a native born US citizen, she then became exempt through marriage—going to school ceased to be a condition for exemption.
Now with her merchant father deceased and that part of her exempt status null and void in the eyes of the Immigration Service, Roxane of 1898 starts to wonder and to panic at the thought of being deported for not attending school. The bok bok of Roxane’s time avoided deportation by marrying the son of a Chinese person born in the United States—another way past the Exclusion Act, but Roxane has no desire to pursue marriage in the 19th, 20th or 21st Centuries.
“What to do… What to do…”
October 29, 1898, Chinatown
“Aunt Kim, I want to go to Stanford.”
“That takes all day on the train” replied Aunt Kim. “Why not go to Golden Gate Park for a picnic?”
“No Auntie, I want to go to Stanford to register for the winter quarter. I want to go to University. I want to go to school.”
“They won’t let you in. You’re Chinese.”
“I’m not so sure they can refuse, Aunt. My certificate says I’m here as a student. If I pass the entrance examination, how can they not let me in if the Government says I’m allowed here to go to school?”
“Stanford is a private school. Rights or no rights, you need round eyes to get past the door.”
“Auntie, let me try.”
From The Evening Post, San Francisco, October 31, 1898:
ALMOND EYED DAMSEL CREATES ON CAMPUS STIR
First Chinese Person Admitted to Stanford University Is Female
Prof M. R. Smith Sponsors Application
Says She Is In U.S. To Study English Language & Literature
The Erudite Moon Eyed Maiden of the East Enters Roble Hall
Palo Alto, October 30:
Chow Yoke Loon of Chinatown arrived here this morning to apply for admission to Stanford University, claiming her exempt student visa allows her certain rights not usually accorded Chinese in this country. Miss Loon arrived by train and without preamble submitted her credentials to the surprised admissions office staff. The registrar was called to make a decision about processing this certain applicant, and was about to deny the dark eyed vixen of Canton, but word having spread like wildfire across campus of the excitement at the admissions office had in its turn reached the ears of that celebrated apologist for Chinese Immigration, Professor Mary Roberts Smith. Prof Smith maintains a decided New Englander’s opinion of the Celestial race, and proceeded forthwith to the Office of the Registrar. Using her rank and privilege Professor Smith won for Miss Loon a place at the entrance examination hall, and not in the Oriental’s standard role of domestic servant.
Miss Loon to her credit amidst all the hoopla maintained an even-tempered bearing, politely sat for her examinations and passed with a more than adequate qualifying score.
We await the results of the winter quarter with keen interest.--Our Correspondent
November 1, 1898, Chinatown, Clay Street Apartments:
“So, ChowYoke Loon, congratulations.”
“Do they ever get the spelling right on our names, Aunt Kim?”
November 1, 1898
2500 16th Street, San Francisco
Liam Keller sat at the back of the horse ambulance on his lunch break reading Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days for the twelfth time in as many months. It was a busy morning dealing with the city’s stray animals, and Liam found Mr. Verne’s novels to be the perfect escape antidote to the sometimes traumatic events that were part of his regular workday. Liam imagined taking a balloon ride high above the bay and out across the ocean beyond the Farallon islands, maybe even to Hawaii. This had been a recurring dream of his since discovering Verne’s 80 Days novel, and until five days ago he had imagined this balloon voyage a solo journey. Now he imagined navigating a balloon across the ocean with the Gaelic-speaking girl from Chinatown.
For the past three lunch breaks he walked like the smitten dead from the South of Market to Dupont Street searching every lane and alley in the hope he might cross paths with her. For three days he found nothing but cautious and curious stares from the locals, and on one occasion was confronted by a member of the Chinese Six Companies and accused of being a spy for the Department of Labor. The few residents who responded to him in English said from his description of her she could be any of the many young women of Chinatown and none of those known to the locals had ever heard a Cantonese girl speaking Gaelic. Liam assured the few who would listen that he was not with the government, or at least not with that part of the government that concerned itself with the status of landed Chinese, “…Only landed kittens. Tell her if she needs help with the kitten to ask for Liam at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals… Tell her Liam says ‘Canton Go Bragh’…”
By the end of Liam’s third day in Chinatown the story of the peculiar Irish boy who smelled like horses seeking the girl with the raw silk queue that reached her ankles had reached very nearly every ear along Dupont and the alleys, including the ears of a geomancer man with a penchant for squid heads who parked himself in 19th Century San Francisco from 21st Century Mountain View about an hour before Roxane’s arrival…
November 2, 1898
Clay Street Apartments, Chinatown, San Francisco
Roxane Wong sat at a makeshift study table fashioned from vegetable crates. She read the data collected by Professor Mary Roberts Smith on the detention shed at Pier 40. After Professor Smith’s eleventh hour intervention in Roxane’s successful application to Stanford University, Roxane was hastily recruited by Professor Smith to assist in a research paper on Chinese immigration. When it was revealed that Roxane was in fact part of the food service detail to the shed, a delighted Professor Smith asked Roxane if her Uncle Shee Quong would allow her to visit the shed in exchange for free labor serving rice to the multitude. Shee Quong readily accepted--shaking his head at the value academics placed on such a place.
“It’s important, Uncle! Professor Smith is sympathetic to the plight of the Chinese in this country. The shed is an insult. It’s inhumane. It’s barbaric. It’s bullying by a strong country taking advantage of a weak country. How can it not be important to tell the world about it?”
Uncle sighed, “I know what the shed is, Niece. Before I was allowed to land they held me in San Pablo Bay on a derelict steam ship that makes the shed look like the Forbidden City. I just hope Professor Smith is doing this for something other than the publicity. If her research makes a real change, I’m for it. If this is just another kind of writing that the white people read for amusement entertainment, I’d rather Professor Smith write about P.T. Barnum or the Chinese Family exhibit at the World’s Fair, because it isn’t changing anything, this country will not be shamed by anyone into changing its behavior. America only does things when it pleases America to do things. Any collateral positive effect is just a random thing.
"Oh, and do you know about some Irish guy walking the neighborhood looking for a Canton girl with a stray kitten? I think he’s asking for you.”
November 3, 1898
Roxane Wong walks tall and proud with kitten in cheongsam to 16th Street and the offices of the San Francisco SPCA. Liam Keller is at this moment returning from field work. It is late afternoon. The sun is waning into early autumn twilight. The front office sends a runner to the back of the building to tell Liam about the Chinese girl with the kitten waiting at the front desk. A small crowd of animal shelter staff are trying very badly at unobtrusive behavior in the front office as Liam arrives at the front desk to face for the second time the Gaelic speaking Chinese girl. Liam places both hands together and bows deeply to Roxane. Roxane’s heart skips a beat at the sight of this attractive round eyes Irish American guy. She catches herself before putting on her poker face and addressing Liam.
“Good afternoon, officer. I am here to place a found cat report.”
Liam is too on his sleeve with his heart to be as coy as Roxane. If it weren’t for the fact he is on the clock he would be dropping to his knees before this Lady, this goddess personified. As it is he can just form words intelligible enough to make sense. Together he and Roxane fill out the found cat report.
“Thank you Miss Lon. We will let you know if anyone comes looking for the kitten. After 30 days he is yours if no one claims him.”
Do Jeh officer. I will take good care of him at home.”
“I have no doubt of that. I only wonder what a cat gets for dim sum…”
Roxane smiles at Liam’s comment.
“How does an Irishman know about dim sum?”
Liam smiles at Roxane’s reply.
“Where does a Chinese person learn to speak Gaelic?”
“Have dim sum with me and we can explain it to each other?”
Liam’s heart skips a beat.
Sunday, November 6, 1898
Roxane Wong met Liam Keller at Portsmouth Square at 1000 AM. From there they walked a few short blocks to a place that in Roxane’s time is called Sam Wo’s. Roxane ordered dim sum for two and they returned to the square for an east meets west exchange.
Liam: “God she’s beautiful. I wish I could think of something to say that’s not stupid…”
Roxane: “This Irish boy is cute. I hope we talk about something beyond steamed pork buns and chicken feet…”
Their conversation evolves past Chinese & Irish cuisine but not before Liam invites Roxane to visit his neighborhood for corned beef and cabbage.
They talk about the weather, about why they came to America, about anti-Chinese oppression by the Irish American community, about anti-Irish oppression by every community in America except the Chinese. They discover in the course of their conversation that her uncle Chin Foo challenged his Uncle Denis Kearney to a duel and that his uncle refused the challenge with the usual racist language of the day. Roxane tells Liam about her admission to Stanford, and suggests to him he apply for admission.
“I’m not university material, Chiu Yook Lon.”
“If by that you mean you’re not educated, or smart enough to apply, I don’t believe it. From everything we’ve talked about you’ve got the brains to get in, so why Officer Keller do you not think you are university material?”
“It costs money to go to Stanford—money I don’t have, and before you start with costs I know they only charge for board and books, but I cannot afford even that. Miss Lon, when you come to my neighborhood you’ll understand what I’m talking about. I cannot afford the luxury of a student life. I am on my own here and doing work that I love in the most beautiful place on earth, God’s country to be sure—only God and the Pope can afford it.”
Roxane smiles at Liam.
“Officer Keller, can I tell you something about my name without you reporting me to the Labor Department?”
“Only if you stop calling me Officer Keller,” call me Liam.”
“OK Liam, but understand what I give you now can send me back to China. Have you ever heard of a Paper Daughter? I’m one of those. My real name is Wong Wei Jing. I came to America on forged papers from one of my uncles’ merchant partners. I don’t know how much you follow news from China, but it’s worse than unstable since Japan beat us in the war three years ago. The reforms that some of us were trying for this year have been reversed, and the reformers who could not escape to America to avoid the wrath of our angry Empress Cixi are now dead. So when you tell me Liam how impossible it is to go to school and work at the same time, I can only wonder how my comrades in China manage to work, go to school, and dodge bullets at the same time—they’re triple-tasking. Why can’t you multi-task?”
Liam sighs not unhappily. He smiles back at this remarkable Chinese girl. His voice is suddenly more serious.
“Maybe I just lack ambition Wei… Wei Jing. This life, the way I see it, is too short to be focused on two or three things at one time. I like my one-thing-at-a-time life. You’re right about it not being about the money. But maybe it’s not about lacking ambition either. Maybe I just like being a horse ambulance driver in San Francisco. And a horse ambulance driver in San Francisco who sometimes saves lost kittens if a Gaelic speaking lass from Canton doesn’t get there first.”
Roxane laughs, “Bravo, Officer Liam.”
They walk together to the edge of Chinatown and toward south of Market to where it’s safe for Roxane to walk home unescorted. Roxane notices a poster on the wall of a vacant lot. She points toward it while asking Liam, “Tell me it isn’t too much multi-tasking to drive an ambulance and take a girl out for dinner and a kaylee dance?”
“I wouldn’t call that multi-tasking. I’d call that good Cantonese.”
Roxane hides her smile and bows deeply to Officer Keller.
“Do Jeh, Liam. Thank you for this morning.”
Liam bows as deeply, and takes her hands in his.
“My honor Miss Wong, I will see you at seven on the evening at this very place.”
Roxane and Liam lock gazes for an instant as Liam lets go of her hands like he’s releasing a butterfly to heaven. She watches him disappear into the neighborhoods, distracted from all else until she cannot see him in the distant crowd.
It is then she discovers in her hands a green cord in a Chinese knot in the shape of a Celtic cross.
Post Dim-Sum, Portsmouth Square 1898
Roxane floats through Portsmouth Square. She takes a pose like The Goddess of Democracy at the patch of earth on Portsmouth Square where a sculpture will stand of that selfsame Goddess in about another 90-years’ time. In place of the Goddess’ torch Roxane holds in both hands at her fingertips a Chinese knot in the shape of a Celtic cross. She arches her back and raises her clasped hands to the sky while she looks to heaven to speak to her familiar Iron Goddess of Mercy:
“Lady Quan Yin, today I am Wong Wei Jing, but they call me Chiu Yook Lon, they call me Foon Yen. I don’t understand why and I don’t care. I’m really Roxane Wong, but that belongs to another time. And I don’t know how to explain it to Aunt and Uncle for their approval, but like it or not I’m going on a date with a cute Irish boy who makes me feel alive in a way I’ve never felt till now.”
“Dojeh missy, welcome to your double happiness life.” Roxane turns to look across the square at geomancer man.
Roxane stumbles and recovers her balance and walks toward her erstwhile squid head customer.
Roxane bows to the old man, less surprised at his presence in the 19th Century than their absence from the 21st Century. She holds up her bangs for him and asks, “Is this my bok bok’s forehead?”
“It’s your forehead missy. It’s your great grandmother’s forehead. It’s both.”
“How can I be both? Am I here forever like this?”
“Child, walk with me.”
Roxane and Geomancer Man walk from the Square to the top of Washington Street to a place with an unobstructed view of the Golden Gate. It is clear to the Farallon Islands with patches of fog blowing in toward Angel Island to rest at the top of what will one day be called Mount Caroline Livermore. San Francisco Bay is a forest of masts of sailing ships of every size and description. The midday noise of an active port city is muted from their vantage point. Roxane turns to look down the Peninsula toward her 21st Century home. The scene before her is a rolling foothills meadow of chaparral and grassland and scrub oak and coast redwood of every shade of green and gold and edged by a turquoise blue San Francisco Bay marshland near double in size to what she knows of her year 2000 environs. She shakes her head at the beauty of this high up 19th Century view and for the second time in this time her face is wet with tears. Roxane drops to her knees weeping uncontrollably, not sure why she’s breaking down at this moment beyond the fact that it’s the first convenient moment she’s had since arriving to break down. Geomancer man pats her shoulder not in sympathy but in comradeship.
“I did the same thing here missy my first time.”
“Your first time?”
Yes, my first time. I’ve been here—traveled through that weird fog—eight times now, and I cried the first time I saw this view. And I guess you cry for the same reason. You and I know what’s coming between now and our time, and for obvious reasons it makes us cry. This is part of why I brought you here.”
“And the other part?”
Geomancer man sighs and takes a deep breath.
“The other part. The other part is this:
This moment is the oldest you have ever been.
The youngest you will ever be is tomorrow.”
The Goddess of Democracy at Portsmouth Square, San Francisco, California, USA
Saturday, November 12, 1898
Irish Kaylee Night
Aunt and Uncle agreed readily enough to Roxane’s out of the blue announcement about attending a dance in the Irish part of town with Liam Keller. Aunt picked out the green and gold cheongsam in Roxane’s armoire less out of a sense of fashion and more with a sense of pragmatism.
“The Irish so inclined will think twice about harming a Chinese girl wearing green and gold.”
Roxane raised her eyes to Kwan Yin.
“Aunt Kim, this Irish boy is my pass to enter his neighborhood. He wouldn’t agree to take me there if he thinks I am at risk. Still I like the choice of outfit—it’s like East meets West, like the Pearl River joins the River Shannon.”
Aunt Kim fixed Roxane's hair up with a pair of chopsticks engraved with an entwined phoenix and dragon.
“That may be so niece Foon Yen, but let this fan yan round eyes know if the Rivers join too close there are some things that three Our Fathers and Six Hail Marys cannot undo.
Roxane laughed at Aunt’s words.
“Next you’ll tell me Uncle has hired a tong escort.”
Roxane attached the red cord to her knot-work Celtic Cross and tied it round her neck and aunt replied, “I told him to send them back. You should have seen the five he hired. They’d start a war if Gizzie looked at them cross-eyed.” Aunt changed her tone and suddenly sounded worried, “I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into Foon Yen. You really like this Liam Keller, I can see that, and I will not stand in your way in your pursuit of happiness in America. Just remember not everyone here is so tolerant of other people’s joy.”
“I understand Aunt, and I will be safe and careful tonight.”
“Is there such a thing as safe and careful at a kaylee?”
San Francisco 1898
November 12, 1898, 8:00 p.m.
The Lady Kildare Pub, South of Market, San Francisco
Liam met Roxane and Aunt Kim at the Clay Street side of Portsmouth Square in November twilight on a clear evening under mild skies. Roxane formally introduced Liam to Aunt, and Liam shocked surprised and charmed Aunt Kim (and Roxane) with his Irish-accented Cantonese greeting. With Roxane translating, Aunt Kim asked, “Officer Keller, where does an Irishman learn Chinese language?”
“There are many in Chinatown willing to teach Cantonese, Aunt Kim” said Liam.
“Yes for a price too high” replied Aunt Kim. Do you have enough left to provide for my niece this evening?”
Roxane translated and included her own scolding to Wong Kim Gook, “Auntie stop it! We’re OK. OK?”
Liam answered, bowing to Kim Gook, “Aunt Kim, I promise to make your niece’s care greater this evening than my own. Do Jeh sincerely for your entrusting her to me.”
Aunt Kim returned Liam’s bow and Roxane could see Aunt blush beneath her mask of inscrutability.
“I thank you Officer Keller. Bring her home before midnight.”
Roxane and Liam walked along DuPont to where it stopped at Market near the Chronicle Building. From there they turned toward Mission and stopped at Third and Bryant at the Lady Kildare Pub.
Liam pointed out places to Roxane unfamiliar to most Chinese in this part of town. As their walk progressed Roxane noticed the cultural shift from China to Ireland, and had to remind herself she was still in California.
The kaylee dance, at a rented hall kitty-corner to the pub, was playing something that sounded like something from Riverdance. Liam opened the swinging doors for Roxane and led her by the hand into the Lady Kildare.
The immediate and absolute silence greeting Roxane’s appearance was an historic moment of quiet the likes of which had never been heard at the Lady Kildare. Kevin O’Rourke looked up from his place behind the bar serving pints and whispered a prayer to Saint Christopher that nothing would get broken tonight…
“Greetings Liam and Miss Chiu Yook Lon!” boomed Kevin’s voice as he rounded the bar to show the illegal mixed race couple a corner table against a wall facing the street. “So this is the Lass who saved a kitten on a busy street and registered for the winter quarter at Stanford with one hand tied behind her back. You are welcome to our house tonight…, drinks all around on me!”
The tense and deafening silence Kevin spoke into was in the next moment replaced with a heartfelt cheer at the news that Chiu Yook Lon’s visit had prompted a free round of drinks.
Liam breathed a not so hidden sigh of relief and sat with Roxane at their table.
Liam walked to the bar, returning almost immediately with two pints of pale ale that looked to Roxane a lot like… “This is a local brew, they call it steam beer on account they cannot refrigerate the stuff,” said Liam.
“Oh! Anchor Steam,” replied Roxane, “I’ve had this before…”
Roxane caught herself at Liam’s confused expression, and she remembered that the last time she drank a steam beer was in a time that hadn’t happened. “Is this what geomancer man means about tomorrow is my youngest hour?”
Roxane shifted her thinking to the 19th Century.
“Surely you cannot be surprised at what can be brought into Chinatown, Officer Liam?”
Liam Keller shook his head and replied, “Not in recent days, no Miss Wong.”
Roxane raised her glass, “A toast: to Denis Kearney and Wong Chin Foo, may they live to see the day of a united Ireland and a united China.”
Liam responded, “May Wong Chin Foo and Denis Kearney live to see the day they have more in common with each other than their mutual dislike.”
Roxane smiled, “We really are alike as a people, are we not?”
Liam smiled back, “We really are alike as a class of people, Wei Jing. If only we didn’t look so different to each other, or so different in a way that makes us want to go to war against each other, we would never have a thing like the Exclusion Act to divide us. We would be a coalition of Chinese and Irish Labor leaving Stanford and his minions shaking in their gold standard. Think of it Miss Wong, a united national labor movement that abandons the fine-haired sons of bitches on the hill, leaving them without recourse to anyone in our own group to divide us. What else could they do but negotiate fair contracts with labor in such a State?”
Roxane stared at Liam, part incredulous at what she was hearing from Denis Kearney’s nephew, part wanting to recruit him into engineering a jail break at the Pacific Mail Shed, part wanting to forget all of this talk and go dance with him at the kaylee.
Roxane looked into the soul of Liam’s eyes, “Let’s decide for ourselves tonight, Liam. What’s the most important thing for us tonight, Liam Keller? How much does it matter if the Irish and Chinese join together to score a victory against the privileged in America if it means a lost evening plotting a political coup that will best achieve a victory that will last until the next administration revokes all our efforts? Please let tonight be more important for us to enjoy a moment together at a dance without bringing in our uncles to spoil our date?”
Liam spoke into the brief silence between them.
“May I have the next dance Wong Wei Jing?
Roxane Wong & Liam Keller entered the kaylee with some trepidation. Both knew they were pushing the envelope to appear in public as a couple where one belonged to an outlawed race and the other to a race that had only legitimized itself through blood and iron and the extensive manipulation of wards and districts. Youth and attraction has a way of wonderfully rationalizing away the risks in such a moment. The crowd at the kaylee was at first taken aback by the appearance of a Chinese girl in green and gold, and there was an awkward silence just like that witnessed at the Lady Kildare. It was a silence not hostile and more at pains to make welcome to a Gaelic speaking girl from Canton wearing the green and showing nothing but respect for her hosts and more than a little attraction for her escort. It was a silence that gave way to exuberant dance as a way to cast caste and protocol to the four winds and join together as bodies in motion through space and time to a place where the way you looked in a moment mattered less than the way you behaved in a moment.
And so Roxane and Liam danced.
Portsmouth Square, kaylee night, 11:30 PM
Roxane and Liam walked arm in arm from his neighborhood to her neighborhood till they stopped at Portsmouth Square at a place where a statue called The Goddess of Democracy would one day stand. Liam was acutely aware of the hour and of Aunt Kim’s admonishment about Roxane’s midnight curfew, Roxane less so.
“…Aunt is forgiving about a small lapse in time, Liam. And after your greeting her in our language you’ve bought yourself some license to have me back home before midnight.”
“Wei Jing, there is no way I will be late returning you home to your Aunt and Uncle. I’m not taking chances on being refused permission to escort you to Stanford on your first day of school.”
Roxane turned her head sideways while giving Liam a questioning look.
“Do I look like I just fell off the turnip cart, Officer Liam? I can hold my own hand going to Stanford.”
Liam smiled at Roxane while taking her hands in his.
Staring deep into each other they drew together close to midnight.
They ignored the chill of the low fog rolling past them beneath a night sky canopy of shooting stars that was the Leonid meteor shower of 1898. Roxane sensed Liam’s embrace tentative, cautious in a way like he was cradling her like one of his frightened strays, and Roxane whispered in his ear while watching the meteor rain,
“The place my family comes from in China is called the Town Of Iron. You can hold me tighter Liam. I won’t break."
Liam let go of his worry with a nervous laugh, “I’m sorry Wei Jing… I wasn’t sure till now…”
And so the Pearl River and the River Shannon joined courses.
On the train from San Francisco to Palo Alto, January 3, 1899
Roxane took the first train out of San Francisco enroute to the start of the academic quarter at Stanford. The days and weeks between her date with Liam and this moment on the train were spent in a whirl of activity finding a replacement for her shift at the rice wagon and adjusting her schedule to accommodate her obligations to work for her aunt and uncle.
And then there was the matter of Officer Liam.
Try as they might to keep their relationship secret to everyone in San Francisco save aunt and uncle and the denizens of the Lady Kildare, the news of an Irish American boy and a Chinese American girl forming an alliance both personal, passionate, and political traveled like a wraith from Twin Peaks to China Basin. Roxane’s uncle Wong Chin Foo was already enroute to Chinatown with the sole purpose of grilling his late brother’s daughter and Liam Keller in a way that would give sober men in the Labor Department pause. Denis Kearney sent a letter to Kevin O’Rourke informing in no uncertain terms that his nephew’s choice of colleen would best be kept out of the popular press. Uncle Denis included a personal note in a sealed envelope for Liam’s eyes only. Kevin passed the envelope to Liam at the end of his work week and after his second pint.
Liam opened the envelope and read his Uncle’s salutations:
Word having reached my ears of your exchanges with a member of that group intent on changing our way of life prompts this correspondence.
America is a place fought for, forged, and sustained by Our People. Because it appears you have of late forgotten who Our People are, let me remind you that Our People are Irish People.
Not the English, not the Natives of the Five Points, not Leland Stanford and his industrialist’s double-dealing ways, not anyone without a vested interest in the value of a fair wage for workingmen, not anyone with an agenda to accommodate China.
Please do not give me reason to return to San Francisco.
Your late father’s brother,
Liam paused a moment, took a deep breath, crumpled Uncle Denis’ letter into a wad, and threw it into the wastebasket behind the bar.
Kevin O’Rourke observed the action with approval.
Roxane arrived at Palo Alto station in the middle of a crowd of Stanford students, most of them returning from winter holidays. As far as Roxane knew she was the only one starting fresh. Climbing aboard a twelve-passenger wagon pulled by a horse named Marguerite, she wondered how easy it would be making friends as an entry student at midterm. Roxane settled herself in the carriage while observing another girl about her age struggling with a steamer trunk just outside the station, “and she’s Japanese...”
Roxane excused herself from the horse cart to help what she took to be a fellow student with her luggage.
The woman with the steamer trunk looked up at Roxane’s approach with first startled then relieved recognition at the sight of another non-Caucasian face while addressing Roxane,
“Anatawa Chunqwajen des ka?”
Roxane bowed and replied in her limited Japanese,
“Watashiwa Chunqwa-Americajen des.”
“So you speak English!” replied her Japanese fellow student.
Roxane laughed at her response,
“My English is wakari mas ne. My Japanese is not so good.”
“Your Japanese is not so bad. She bowed to Roxane, “I am Ito Megumi.”
“I’m Chiu Yook Lon.”
Roxane helped Megumi load her steamer trunk on Marguerite’s cart, and Megumi thanked her while they took seats together at the back of the cart and away from the other students on the wagon, who with some visible discomfort were attempting to avoid them.
Roxane and Megumi shared a knowing look and Roxane said,
“Something tells me we’re destined to become roommates at Roble Hall.”
Megumi nodded and said, “Perhaps our countries will someday look at this as the start of a rapprochement after the late war?”
Roxane smiled and nodded at Megumi’s remark while remembering all that would happen between now and 2002.
Roble Hall, Stanford, January 4, 1899
Roommates Roxane and Megumi attended their first day of classes at Stanford without incident. Their fellow students had little time to waste and even less energy to devote to any ingrained anti-Asian sentiments at the start of the winter quarter, their professors less so.
The one class Roxane and Megumi shared was Professor Smith’s Anthropology lectures. Professor Smith was cautious to a fault not to show preferential treatment to her two international students, and Megumi and Roxane gave her no reason to treat them any differently than the ethnic majority.
Roxane and Megumi walked toward Palo Alto at the end of their first day of school.
“Buy you a sarsaparilla?” Roxane offered.
“Domo Arigato, Yook Lon-San!”
The walk from campus to downtown along Palm Drive was a half mile of hayfields, scrub oak, and eucalyptus saplings under crisp winter skies and off shore Pacific breezes cooled by a marine layer crowning the coast range foothills. Roxane and Megumi talked about the chain of events in their home countries that led them to their walking a shared path in California, with Roxane leaving out the details of time travel and tapioca. When Megumi’s turn came she said
“I’m an unclaimed picture bride.”
Roxane stopped in her tracks.
“…Mother Goddess in Heaven! A real Picture Bride!”
The Japanese Picture Brides were part of Roxane’s research studies at university in 2002.
The internet dating of its day, Picture Brides were women in Korea and Japan who agreed to marry their expatriate countrymen in California on the basis of photographs and biographies sent by their prospective suitors in the Golden State. Ito Megumi, a quiet, studious twenty-something yearning for romance and adventure, accepted such a proposal from a prosperous Inland Empire hop farmer, not expecting the handsome twenty-something in the tintype photo was about twenty-something-years older than represented.
“How is it a picture bride goes unclaimed?” Roxane asked Megumi.
Roxane knew it was not exceptional for picture brides arriving in America upon seeing the un-retouched reality standing before them to refuse to land and request passage on the next steamship home. In her limited research at the National Archives Roxane knew of no case files of picture brides going unclaimed.
“Yook Lon-San, such a thing happens when an intended husband drops dead on the Mail Docks at the first sight of his anticipated wife. That was three months ago. Since then the YWCA in San Francisco has helped me with my choice to stay in America. They helped me enroll at Stanford. So I am now a picture widow, Yook Lon-San.”
“And truly drop dead gorgeous, Megumi-San.” Roxane winked, knowing the phrase was about 90 years ahead of schedule.
Megumi stopped, stared at Roxane, and laughed out loud at the remark, “Yes, truly drop dead gorgeous—Pindar would call me the “fair-cheeked Medusa” of my people…”
California Avenue, Mayfield California, January 4, 1899
Roxane and Megumi, unable to receive service at establishments along University Avenue Palo Alto, walked south one half-mile to the less refined and rough-around-the-edges town of Mayfield for their sarsaparilla.
Mayfield, the town that Leland Stanford wanted to serve as the business center for his University, if only they would close their twenty saloons, refused the California Senator and renewed the saloons’ business licenses and watched in quiet apprehension when Senator Stanford padlocked the gate to the only road leading directly from their non-dry town into Campus. In the ensuing years business remained steady in Mayfield. People still attended the horseraces. People still patronized the bars. The saloons even noticed a rise in business during the academic year. The Mayfield town fathers exhaled and counted their blessings and tried their best to ignore the padlocked gate while the population of Palo Alto rose in sharp contrast to Mayfield’s static advance. “We can handle this.” The town fathers told themselves.
“We can handle this.”
Roxane and Megumi found Mayfield a more accommodating resource for two Pacific Rim girls in search of liquid refreshment. Politely declining several offers of complementary beer from the young men outside a shooting gallery, Roxane and Megumi made their way back to Palo Alto along a footpath next to the train tracks. As they approached University Avenue at Palm Drive, Roxane noticed a yellow Labrador dog in the roadway.
Roxane noticed the dog walked with difficulty, appearing arthritic, and the arrested movements in his gate seemed to get worse with each step. Roxane broke from Megumi into a run toward the dog as it suddenly went rigid and collapsed to the ground.
“He’s in some kind of arrest!”
The dog’s jaws locked tight against Roxane’s attempt to open them. Dismissing the thought of a trachea obstruction, Roxane began cardiopulmonary resuscitation the way she was taught in her first year at 21st Century veterinary nursing school. Roxane was dimly aware of shouting and confusion surrounding her as she applied sixty compressions per second while she formed a tight seal around dog’s muzzle to breathe into dog’s lungs. The dog’s arrested state relaxed to a pace where the dog could breathe again with an even heartbeat.
“Doctor Baldy, help my dog!”
Roxane looked up from her place on the ground to see a man who identified himself as the town veterinarian. He appeared momentarily startled at the first sight of a sweaty and disheveled Chinese woman looking up at him from over the now recovering dog, but regained his composure almost instantly while asking, “Prognosis?”
Roxane blinked at the question, but recovered almost as quickly as Dr. Baldy.
“Some kind of seizure doctor; like he’d ingested something toxic, or something that created an obstruction. He went into momentary paralysis, but then relaxed during CPR.”
“C P R?”
“Oh shit!” Roxane thought. “This isn’t even the 20th Century…”
"He relaxed while I applied chest massage, Doctor."
Dr. Baldy hesitated a moment, looked at the dog, at Roxane, and replied “Well done, young lady. Someone help me lift this dog into my cart. Let’s get him to hospital.”
Megumi worked her way through the crowd to join Roxane.
“Domo arigato gozaimasu, Roxane-chan! You are a hero to animals!” Megumi bowed deeply to Roxane while the family belonging to the dog thanked Roxane profusely before rushing away to join their pet at hospital.
Roxane shook off the post-traumatic stress of the moment and graciously thanked Megumi for her accolade. Together they returned to Roble Hall.
Down on the Farm, 1899
Roxane engaged the winter quarter at Stanford with all the enthusiasm of a college freshman in pursuit of a dream. She braced herself daily for anti-Chinese harassment from the locals—a harassment that never transpired—and gradually let her guard down and redirected her energy to homework and term papers and the social whirl of college life. She discovered her fellow students’ awkwardness about her had less to do with racism and more to do with not knowing how to engage in a way that would not offend. Stanford in 1899 seemed to attract a type of person looking to break away from tradition and to redefine what it meant to be human before what it meant to be American. The campus surprised her at the level of political activism she overheard and engaged on a daily basis. The University President, David Starr Jordan, was the subject of heated discussion among her classmates in the recent matter of the dismissal of a much loved professor. Dr. Ross was a pro-labor, pro silver-standard member of the Anthropology Department whose lectures offended the sensibilities of Jane Stanford, who in her turn instructed Dr. Jordan to dismiss Dr. Ross. Dr. Jordan, knowing on which side his bread was buttered, obligingly dismissed Dr. Ross, who subsequently received a martyr’s welcome at a prestigious university in the Midwest while David Starr Jordan found himself vilified in academia from coast to coast.
Poor Dr. Jordan!
With no hope of advancing beyond his station at Stanford to somewhere like Yale or Harvard after this remarkable episode with Dr. Ross, Jordan now found himself in the sudden and unexpected ill graces of the widow Jane Stanford.
Back in the 1880s Jane Stanford accepted her late husband’s preferences for Professor Jordan while keeping her misgivings to herself. There was something self-serving about the man that always gave Jane Stanford pause about the wisdom of hiring him to run their University. She let these concerns go in deference to her husband’s wishes. Now with the old man gone, and Dr. Jordan’s reputation placed in question in a way that was creating a sudden downturn in admissions applications, Jane Stanford proposed to the University Trustees that a recruitment drive begin for a new University President. Jordan could stay on in the Zoology Department—his ichthyologist’s skills were second to none—but running the University after the Ross Affair was out of the question.
When word of this reached Jordan’s ears the man was inconsolable. He had done exactly what Jane Stanford wanted. He fired Ross as ordered by the Boss. Now having done her bidding, she was prepared to cast him to an insignificant non-tenured position in Zoology while someone else took his place in the history books as the Father of Stanford University. And what if she tired of his presence anywhere on campus? His reputation in the academic world ruined as Jane Stanford’s dog, David Starr Jordan couldn’t get a job emptying wastebaskets at Boise State after the unfortunate episode with Dr. Ross.
What to do… What to do…
Roxane Wong found a lost kitten on University Avenue on her walk back to Campus. She hurried over to the Palo Alto Dog Pound, hoping she could make it before closing time. As she approached the office of the Poundmaster, she could hear an animated conversation taking place between two men. Roxane hid herself behind a bale of hay stacked near an open window outside the Poundmaster’s office…
The President entered through the back gate at twilight and walked quickly and quietly across the dusty expanse of the Town maintenance yard to the Poundmaster’s office. The sky was a cloudless purple. Barn Swallows living in the rafters of the public stables at the train station made their final pass of the day above the combined warehouse-repair-shop-stores-and-dog-pound that served as the Town’s official public works yard. Jordan tapped lightly at the smudged windowpane. Looking in, he could see an oil lamp casting nondescript shadows from a worktable at the opposite end of the room. John Lewis leaned back in a padded leather chair with his feet propped up on the worktable and his back toward the window, a copy of the Palo Alto Press in his outstretched hands. He twirled an unlit cigar between the index and middle finger of his left hand—the hand that was missing the first digit of the middle finger since last year when a stray bulldog pressed its advantage during a botched impound last autumn. For a long moment, Lewis twirled the cigar against the flickering lamplight without responding to the tapping at the window. Without turning his attention from the paper, he addressed the President “It’s open Doctor J…”
David Starr Jordan entered the smoke filled dog catcher’s office wearing his hat turned down to hide his face. Lewis, still at his paper and cigar, addressed the President of Stanford University. “May I offer you a brandy, sir? What brings you here this fine January evening?”
Jordan did not respond to the invitation for a drink with the dogcatcher. It was all he could do to not brain Lewis with the brass-end of his walking stick, take what he had come for, and make the whole thing look like some distraught dog owner had at last settled accounts for one of the half-dozen family pets that had ingested strychnine over the past six months.
“You know why I’m here. Is it ready?”
Lewis seemed genuinely taken aback by the short reply. “I meant no offense Doctor J. I just want to show my gratitude for this comfy chair, the newspaper subscription, and brandy and cigars.” Lewis extended the cigar box. “Care for one?”
“Thank you I don’t smoke. And drinking is illegal here. And stop calling me ‘Doctor J.’
Have you the material?”
Lewis chuckled sardonically and with a little less patronage, “Oh dear me, Doctor J, my apologies for the offensive tobacco and the illegal drink, Mr. President. We surely don’t want to be breaking any of the Town’s precious laws now. After all we are both of us public officials. Why, we’re now in the same line of work: getting rid of troublesome dogs…”
Jordan took a deep apoplectic breath, “We have nothing in-common and how dare you speak of Mrs. Stanford that way. Just give me what you’ve been paid for and no more words!”
Lewis was worked-up now. This was not a difficult thing to achieve under sober circumstances with the popular poundmaster. Jordan, taking notice of the sudden change in demeanor, a revolver lying in an open drawer, and the diminished contents of the crystal brandy decanter—that part of Lewis’ payment that was originally a gift to Jordan from the president of Cornell—took a half step backward as Lewis swung round from his chair.
“I never said anything about Mrs. Stanford! That was you talking. You came here to pick up some rat poison as I remember it, and I’ll thank you to stop putting words in my mouth that suggest I’m an accessory to some ill office.
And while we’re at it, I don’t care for your tone…”
Jordan took another deep breath, and replied in something approaching a calm voice.
“You are acting above your station, Poundmaster. Now do you have my order or do I take my gratitude elsewhere?”
It was Lewis’ turn to get defensive. “And America is sold to us as the land of no privileged classes, so how does anyone here rise to a nonexistent station of the sort you describe?”
From a drawer below the worktable, Lewis removed a small sack marked FLOUR and tossed it toward Jordan. The President dropped his walking stick to catch it.
“I wouldn’t bake bread with that, Professor. Have a nice walk home.”
Jordan left without a word, almost spilling the pale green grain from the flour sack in his haste to retrieve his cane. On the long roundabout return walk in the dark to the President’s House through the creeping shadows of the Arboretum—at this hour it was still too easy to be seen on Palm Drive—Jordan began his own slow burn. If Lewis’ quick temper appeared and disappeared like ball lightning, the slow rolling thunder of Jordan’s wrath was a creeping and all-encompassing danse macabre. For a moment, the First Lady of Stanford University was not the primadonna occupying his thoughts about who needed to be taken care of. This time it was Palo Alto Poundmaster John Lewis who fueled Jordan’s fire, and for that Doctor J would repay John Lewis in ways that should later be rewarded with good brandy.
Town Poundmaster's Office
Sometime after closing time, January 1899:
Not daring to move a muscle, Roxane curled herself in fetal position between the hay bales while the stray kitten slept in the folds of her cheongsam. The lamp inside the Poundmaster’s office went out and Roxane listened while the door was padlocked shut. Lewis walked past the bales of hay, hesitating for a moment at the muffled sound of a mewling kitten from somewhere alongside the building. The poundmaster walked away from the building, his footsteps on the gravel courtyard growing faint and disappearing against the noise of crickets and a lone Great Horned Owl in the rising dark of a mild January night. Roxane held her pose longer than any she ever assumed at art school. Slowly, painfully, she unfolded herself from her hideout, feeling her body awaken from a stinging numbness while the kitten purred and slept. Sliding between a gap in the courtyard gate, rushing back to Roble Hall, then climbing an arbor to the second-floor window of her dorm after alerting Megumi with a few tossed pebbles at the window pane, Roxane passed the kitten through the window into the hands of her not entirely surprised house mate before climbing through herself to Megumi’s complaint at how challenging it had been to forge Roxane’s name in the Roble attendance book before curfew.
Roxane explained everything she heard to an increasingly incredulous Megumi.
“We have to warn Mrs. Stanford, but who can we trust with the knowledge, Megumi-chan?”
Megumi clapped her hands twice at the small shrine at her study table, whispered a chant to her ancestors, and looked at Roxane with a measure of fear and wonder and resignation.
“This is a battle of warlords, Yook Lon-chan. We are standers-by in something which we ultimately have no control. We can warn Mrs. Stanford and the sheriff, but with what for evidence, and who will take our word, your witness, over the certain denial of two accused white men? And then what happens to us? Something tells me the Burlingame Treaty has little influence in this country.”
Roxane bowed her head in agreement while walking to the window. The bell tower at Memorial Church sounded in the quiet chill of late evening against the suddenly soulless, hellish lines of Memorial Arch.
Jane Stanford and David Starr Jordan were among Roxane’s least favorite people. Yet armed with certain knowledge could she really be a stander-by in the certain destruction of the school Matriarch? The newspapers reported Jane Stanford’s death by strychnine poisoning while she vacationed in Hawaii in 1904, having gone there to recuperate from an earlier assassination attempt by strychnine. The culprit was never found, the only evidence being the toxic residue from the just consumed bottle of mineral water from Jane Stanford’s personal stores. The Hawaiian coroner’s verdict was publicly discredited at the time by the surprisingly zealous inquisitive actions of Professor Jordan. The Professor for some years now took regular summer excursions to Hawaii under the pretense of Ichthyologic research. Between fish discoveries Jordan found time to immerse himself in Island politics to the extent of making public statements encouraging California to annex Hawaii as a county of the Golden State.
The public discrediting of the report of the medical professionals assigned to Mrs. Stanford’s case by an ichthyologist who for inexplicable reasons amended their finding of death by strychnine to death by heart failure remains to the 21st Century an enduring work, arguably equal parts Machiavelli & Murdoch.
The elephant remains unseen on Campus to this day.
Arriving at Stanford Palo Alto 1896
January 28, 1899
Southern Pacific Rail Station, 4th & Townsend Streets, San Francisco
With yet another kitten hidden in the sleeves of her cheongsam, Roxane met Liam at the train station in San Francisco. They ignored the disapproving stares of passers-by while they embraced as Liam swung Roxane 360 degrees in San Francisco’s foggy midmorning sunlight.
Roxane explained to Liam the circumstances of the stray kitten, and why after witnessing the exchange between Lewis and Jordan she could not in good conscience turn the kitten over to an uncertain future at the Palo Alto Pound. Liam agreed without objection and promised to give the kitten the best suite at the SPCA cat ward.
From the SPCA Liam and Roxane traveled in the horse ambulance to Golden Gate Park in response to a call for a fallen mare with colic pains. Upon arrival the horse was standing upright and Roxane walked with Liam while he walked the horse for an hour around Stow Lake until it appeared the horse was past its ordeal.
Liam returned to Roxane at the ambulance after reuniting horse with owner. From the back of the wagon Liam removed a blanket to reveal a picnic basket and an ice bucket with a bottle of champagne. Roxane and Liam walked to the top of the island that sat in the middle of Stow Lake. San Francisco unfolded before them while they picnicked and lay together and emptied the contents of the bottle of Veuve Clicquot in fading winter twilight. In the distance Roxane could make out the lines of the rooftops of the Embarcadero waterfront, her eyes stopping at the distinct outline of the Pacific Mail Dock.
“I want to let everyone out of the Shed.”
Liam, at rest in Roxane’s lap, looked up at her warily from under his hat. If anyone else made that suggestion, Liam would put it down to equal parts hubris and wine, but in his small time with Roxane, Liam knew words all too often translated into action.
“And then what? Wei Jing, say you get them out past the guard without him sounding the general alarm. What happens after you release upwards of 400 fresh-off- the-boat Chinese nationals onto the unfamiliar streets of San Francisco and into the heart of my less than cordial south of Market neighborhood? The lucky ones will get a ticket back to China. The rest will likely get a hole in the ground at City Cemetery.”
“Oh Mr. Keller, surely you can schedule a Kaylee diversion for the rougher edges of your neighborhood to attend at the appointed hour. From the Mail Dock it’s twelve blocks up 1st Street to Portsmouth Square and sanctuary.”
Liam sat up and filled their glasses, “And what about the tongs?”
Roxane’s heart sank.
The tongs, the gangs of Chinatown, had never entered her thoughts. Most of these men from the Shed would fall prey to one or another of the gangs, or find themselves conscripted into an unfair labor contract at the mercy of the less equitable sub-factions of the Chinese Six Companies.
“I’ll ask Uncle for help with the tongs, and with the Six Companies. He has enough pull with both sides. He can negotiate a truce for something like this.”
Liam’s heart sank.
“Holy Mother in Heaven, could you have sent me a less complicated colleen?”
“OK Wei Jing let me know when you want this to happen. And I will book us passage to Canton after all of us are found out—and I don’t mean Canton, Ohio.”
Roxane laughed and pulled Liam’s hat over his head.
“You think too much, Mr. Horse Ambulance Man.”
Liam drove them in the ambulance back to Clay Street.
Meeting The In-Laws
Clay Street Apartments, January 28, 1899:
It is evening.
Roxane let herself in to her apartment without knocking at Aunt and Uncle’s door. She was still a little buzzed from the champagne and did not want to reveal her transparently obvious inebriated Asian features to Kim and Shee Quong. She just wanted to curl up in bed with a book and have an early night, but the sudden appearance of Gizzy and Mr. Second Street on her balcony window demanding to be let back in to Aunt and Uncle’s place forced her change of plans.
Escorting the cats back to their apartment, Roxane quietly opened the door just enough to let them enter, hoping she could as quietly close the door behind them and return to her place. Gizzy reached at the door knob and pushed the door wide open. Roxane could see Aunt and Uncle in the kitchen, and a third person who turned and greeted her.
“Nei-hou-maa, Foon Yen.”
Roxane froze in a backward step, held herself steady at the doorframe, and caught her breath at the sight of her famous Uncle Wong Chin Foo.
She knew since her arrival in this time she was the niece of the editor of the Chinese American Newspaper, the founder of the Chinese Equal Rights League, the Association of Chinese American Voters, and the most prolific writer and lecturer on Chinese suffrage in late 19th Century America, but it never seemed quite real till this instant.
Now in her present beet red state of tipsy-little-China-girl it seemed more real than she could have wanted.
Roxane bowed deeply.
“Uncle Chin Foo. What a surprise!”
“Not as surprised as I am about my late brother’s daughter's relationship with Denis Kearny’s nephew.
So when will I meet him, and more important, when will we have a families’ meeting?"
Roxane looked at Aunt Kim in silent appeal. Kim Gook spoke into the silence.
“Invite him to New Year dinner next month, Foon Yen. Invite both of them.”
Wong Chin Foo laughed out loud.
“Denis Kearny in Chinatown for Lunar New Year and without a shillelagh in his hands! Congratulations Niece. You’ve managed to accomplish more in a few weeks than I have in decades.”
Roxane held herself against the door frame while trying to fathom this ongoing exchange and respond with an articulate sentence.
“What do you mean invite both of them?”
Uncle Shee Quong answered.
“You don’t know? Denis Kearny arrived in town last week. And I don’t think he’s here for a Sandlotters meeting.”
Roxane sat at the table with aunt and her uncles and poured herself a large tea. She wondered if right now Liam was enjoying a similar examination from his famous uncle at the Lady Kildare. Roxane spoke into the silence.
“Uncle Chin Foo, Aunt Kim, Uncle Shee Quong, I will meet Liam and his Uncle Denis tomorrow and invite them to New Year. I am sure they will be honored to attend.”
“Or we will at last witness a famous duel between China and Ireland:
Chicken buns and corned beef and cabbage at ten paces.”
South Park, South of Market, Bryant & 3rd Streets
Sunday, January 29, 1899
It is morning.
Roxane and a moderately sleep-deprived Liam Keller meet in Liam’s neighborhood prior to meeting Liam’s Uncle Denis. Roxane has a picnic basket with dim-sum for two. The fog is in. Roxane shivers in her grey Chong Sam. Liam throws his coat over Roxane’s shoulders.
“Better now, Juliet?”
Roxane laughs a nervous laugh.
"Why didn't you tell me yesterday?"
"It slipped my mind... No that's not true. I didn't want it to get in the way of our Saturday."
Roxane's heart skips and smiles at her protector and his overprotective ways.
“So how is your Uncle with all of this?”
“I’m not sure he’s ever had dim-sum. I don’t know what he likes.”
Roxane looked up at her goddess, then at Liam.
“I’m not talking about the dim-sum, you wombat. I’m talking about the number one item on the menu at the new Irish/Chinese place in town.”
Liam laughed and sighed.
“He’s a different man from his Chinese-Must-Go days Wei Jing. Not as different as we might like—he still agitates for Exclusion—but his fire is out. He came to the City last week, and the newspapers gave more attention to a story of a mother cat incubating a nest of chicken eggs in the Mission than his presence in town. He booked our assembly hall for a talk about the current state of Chinese Exclusion. Twelve people showed up. Five left early. Two fell asleep in their chairs. Five applauded enthusiastically and asked him if there was free beer at the end. He owns his own drayage company. He’s speculating on real estate and playing the stock market. He’s as far away from being a workingman as we are from the moon. His big worry about us is how it might affect his business contacts in San Francisco.”
Roxane looked surprised and almost disappointed at this news.
“But I was hoping for some kind of drama. Like being wrenched out of your arms and thrown into the Shed after your Uncle swears out an arrest warrant at the discovery of an unskilled Coolie girl.”
Liam smiled at Roxane.
“You are many things my love. Unskilled is not one of them.” He looked at the basket of dim-sum. “Let’s find out what my uncle likes from Chinatown.”
Roxane walked with Liam up 3rd Street to the Palace Hotel and lunch with Denis Kearney.
“How are you getting me in to this place? They won’t let Chinese in the front door at the Palace Hotel.”
Liam took Roxane by the elbow and around the corner from the Palace at Mission and Second Streets. Out of a messenger bag he removed a beautiful green and gold Tibetan style coat and a makeup kit with red mascara.
“Put this on my Love.”
Roxane changed into the Tibetan coat and Liam daubed the red Mascara at the place where Roxane would have a third-eye if fortune and divine genetics had blessed her with such an accessory.
“What the hell is this Liam?”
Liam tucked Roxane’s queue inside the back of her coat.
“The Palace will never let in an arrogant, educated Chinese woman. They will let in an arrogant, educated Indian princess. And their management is too stupid to know the difference. In fact they will be fawning at your royal feet. So let’s get going and meet my uncle, Princess… Princess…?”
Roxane smiled inside.
“…Princess Roxane of Bactria, of the Northwest India Provence… How does that sound?”
Liam smiled outside.
“It sounds like good Cantonese!”
“Kali will make me scrub the floor of the Taj Mahal with a toothbrush after this sacrilege.”
“I’ll square things with you and Kali at St. Mary’s at Friday’s confession… Let’s go…”
The Palace Hotel Bar 1899
Stanford, Palo Alto
Monday, January 30, 1899
Roxane took the early train from San Francisco to Stanford, sleeping most of the way.
“Thank goddesses and Liam’s Irish saints I don’t have class today.”
Sunday’s meeting with Liam’s Uncle Denis went well enough. Denis Kearney had them escorted by hotel staff to a private booth at the Palace Hotel restaurant where he reserved the most out of the way corner to avoid a press that to his hidden disappointment no longer followed him like paparazzi. And Denis Kearney was gracious to a fault to Roxane—actually chiding Liam over the ridiculous attempt at disguising Roxane against the less than vigilant Palace Hotel security detail. Roxane wiped away her third eye with the proffered handkerchief from Uncle Denis, thanking him in her mixed Manx-Gaelic and drawing an unexpected and not unkind laugh from this champion of Chinese Exclusion.
Into this unexpected atmosphere of goodwill Roxane spoke into the silence. “Uncle Denis, please accept the invitation of my Aunt Kim and Uncle Shee Quong to join us as our guest for Lunar New Year with my Uncle Chin Foo.”
Liam having engrossed his attention in his first cup of coffee of the day froze in mid-sip at his first news of Roxane’s New Year’s plans. Uncle Denis took a sideways glance at his nephew and spoke into the silence.
“Miss Chiu, it is no secret about my less-than-cordial past engagements with your Uncle Chin Foo. Can I really be a welcome guest at your table in Chinatown?”
Roxane bowed to Denis Kearney.
“I would not have made this offer without unanimous approval of my household.”
Denis Kearney bowed to Roxane.
“Then on behalf of me and those who appear to have lost their voice at this table, we accept.”
Liam drank his coffee and ate breakfast while Denis and Roxane engaged in an animated discussion about the current state of labor- management relations in the United States and China and the possibilities of introducing deep fried chicken feet and Guinness stout as a happy hour menu item at the Lady Kildare. Sunday brunch progressed from the Palace to the Lady Kildare where a dumbstruck Kevin O’Rourke agreed to introduce the menu item after receiving a promise from Uncle Denis to work out a regular supply from Chinatown care of Roxane’s Uncle Shee Quong.
“And of course delivery will be made with my drayage carts. And I expect to see 15% of the profits paid for my work,” said Uncle Denis."
Kevin placed both hands resolutely on the bar while addressing Denis Kearney.
“Fifteen percent is outrageous. I have workers to pay. I’ll give you five."
Denis responded, “Thirteen percent.”
Roxane blinked at the pace of this exchange, while Liam rolled his eyes to his god and shook his head and winked at Roxane.
“My Love I forget, are you the Princess of Bactria or the Empress of China?”
Dim Sum at the Lady Kildare lasted till closing time.
Megumi met Roxane at Palo Alto Station. Bowing to Roxane, she presented a sealed envelope. Roxane noted the return address: O.C. BALDY, Veterinary Practice, PALO ALTO
Roxane opened the envelope:
“Dear Miss Chiu,
I am in need of skilled help at my practice. My brief encounter with you at the rescue of the poisoned dog demonstrates ability in the handling of distressed animals that could only complement the needs of my hospital. Would you consider a position as my nurse/assistant?
Earnestly awaiting your reply,
O.C. Baldy, Veterinarian”
Megumi bowed a second time to Roxane.
“Congratulations Yook Lon-chan! You will make a great nurse for animals!”
Roxane sighed and smiled at Megumi.
Roxane knew from her studies that the first veterinary nurses, called “Canine Nurses,” first appeared in England in 1908. Roxane wondered about how this letter from Dr. Baldy, and her acceptance of a nurse position at an 1899 veterinary practice in California, might affect conditions in her future time.
“Can it be any more affecting than being my own great-grandmother? And how can I pass up the chance to work at a late 19th Century animal hospital? Of course I’ll accept Dr. Baldy’s offer.”
Jordan invited seniors Barber and Scoville into his office.
“Welcome gentlemen. I have a favor to ask. You are sharing the boarding house off-campus that looks into the Town Yard? As you already must know, the Town has seen a number of beloved family dogs lost to some disturbed person deliberately poisoning them, and all of us know who it is. I have placed myself at the disposal of the aggrieved victims and the gentlemen of the town and they have asked me to ask you this favor. What they need is evidence to arrest and bring the Poundman to trial. What I am asking is that when you are at study if you will take note of what you see going on in the Town yard vis-à-vis the Poundman and the treatment he is according his charges, and for this you have my gratitude…”
Barber and Scoville exchanged silent knowing glances. Both men were senior classmen with stellar academic records, soon to graduate and with no desire whatsoever to contract themselves as President Jordan’s spies. Yet both men knew of Jordan’s reputation at taking advantage at the expense of anyone and anything, and being told by Jordan you would have his gratitude by agreeing with him always meant that you would not have his gratitude if you refused. The two had little choice in the matter.
As they walked from the Office of the President past Memorial Arch, Scoville turned to Barber with a lop-sided smile, “Well Rosencrantz, it’s either this or we transfer to Berkeley…”
San Francisco Evening Post, 1902
PALO ALTO AGITATED OVER ITS
Palo Alto, February 14—It only costs $5 to beat a dog to death with a shovel in classic Palo Alto.
Since the first visit of the Citizens’ Committee of Palo Alto to the town Trustees, when the Poundman was suspended, the hosecart has been twice dragged into the street in order to make room for the board to hold very important sessions.
At the first sessions the resignations of Joseph Hutchinson and J.S. Butler were accepted. At the second session Burke Corbett and T.N. Fuller were duly installed as town Trustees, they having been elected to fill the vacancies. There were present at this meeting the following Trustees: Messrs. Corbett, Fuller, Mosher, Sloan and Professor Marx.
Mr. Mears in behalf of the citizens’ committee addressed the board and presented a written complaint signed by two bodies against the Poundman.
The Poundman, as if in mockery to the recently organized Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, asked to be reinstated. After careful consideration the Trustees found that sufficient cause did not exist to warrant the continuance of the suspension of Mr. Lewis from the lucrative position of Poundman. The Trustees thereupon reinstated him to all of his ancient privileges, subject to the approval of a new bond, which the withdrawal of J.J. Morris made necessary. This action has caused the Poundman to advertise in a local sheet for two bondsmen, who are still wanted.
The peculiar coincidence that no dogs have been poisoned while the Poundman was suspended may work against Mr. Lewis’ qualifying for the job. If Mr. Lewis is not tainted with false economic and political principals as expounded by a late professor of Stanford University he may realize sooner or later the truth of the axiom that all power lies in the people, and that a public officer is only a public servant, who must depend upon the fickle public for reward, and not place too much reliance in the statement that all dogs are nuisances.
The Poundman stated to the Trustees that he could not tell them what he did with the strychnine he bought without incriminating himself. He told others that whatever he did was done in accordance with the instructions of those from whom he took orders. Notwithstanding the prudence of Mr. Lewis and his high standing with the Board of Trustees, Mr. J.C. Franklin, secretary of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had the Poundman arrested at exactly 1:30 o’clock in the afternoon following his reinstatement by the Town Trustees upon the specific charge of having beaten a dog to death with a shovel sometime in October last.
The accused official had a preliminary hearing before the Justice, and was held under $20 bail to appear for trial on Wednesday, the 12th, at exactly 10 o’clock before a jury. The hour came, as did also a special venire of about 50 townsmen. Many others also came, and it was found necessary to immediately dedicate a conveniently located vacant store into a temple of justice. This was speedily done, and the blindfolded lady, with a pair of old-fashioned scales, was ready for work. Mr. Page represented the accused and Hon. H.C. Firebaugh of San Francisco represented the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It required about two hours to impanel a jury. The accused Poundman exemplified with the aforementioned shovel how he slowly dispatched the said dog in a cruel and illegal manner, and, having convinced the jury of his own guilt, he called in a butcher as an expert on cruelty.
The prosecuting witnesses are young men who are attending college and live near the scene of the crime. They related what they saw in a straightforward manner.
The accused materially assisted the prosecution in showing the jury just how the shovel was used.
The address to the jury covered a wide field. The defendant’s attorney explained the animus of Mr. Franklin by stating that he one day did strike the accused in the back, but failed to describe how a punch under the shoulderblade blackened both of the Poundman’s eyes. Mr. Franklin paid $30 for the punch, and still thinks he got his moneys’ worth.
Hon. H.C. Firebaugh explained that a shovel is not an instrument with which a dog should be speedily and painlessly shoved across the great divide. He also cautioned the jury against the expert testimony of a butcher in such cases.
The jury retired, and, after due deliberation, returned a verdict of guilty, with a recommendation to the mercy of the court. The Justice ordered the Poundman to appear next day for sentence. The recommendation had a good effect, for the Poundman was fined only $5.
The Town Trustees no doubt approve of the verdict.
The Evening Post, San Francisco 1902
Chinese New Year 1899, Portsmouth Square
Roxane met Liam and Uncle Denis at the same park bench where Aunt Kim fixed her hair to hide her queue. Roxane bowed to Denis Kearny.
“Welcome to Chinatown, Uncle Denis. You honor us with your visit.”
Denis Kearny took Roxane’s right hand in his and kissed her ring-finger to Liam’s exasperation.
“For God’s sake Uncle, She’s not the Pope!”
Wong Chin Foo, followed by Aunt Kim and Uncle Shee Quong, climbed the short steps from Washington Street to Portsmouth Square and Roxane’s party.
Since their last meeting, a quarter century lay between the editor of the Chinese American and the President of the California Workingman’s Party. From then till now the span of time like the surf at Land’s End bore down on the rock solid obstinacy of their past uncompromising ways to transform them into something approaching ecumenical, peacemaking, pragmatic—a condition thought impossible a generation ago now crystalized in a moment brought together by an American Born Chinese woman out of place and time and a second generation Irish American man living his life out of step with the clannish traditions of his forebears.
Denis Kearny and Wong Chin Foo shook hands. The two men embraced. The passions of their old antagonisms replaced with a passion for new beginnings without regret for their past endeavors.
Denis and Chin Foo turned to the assembled family members and not unkindly dismissed them from their company.
“Apologies to all, but we have a lifetime of issues to discuss.”
Chin Foo turned to Liam. “Nephew, take care of my brother’s daughter.”
Denis turned to Roxane. “Niece, take care of my sister’s son.”
Denis and Chin Foo disappeared into the fog.
Roxane turned to Liam, "You must understand this in no way detracts from the scheduled jailbreak."
Liam looked to his Goddess. “As if I had to be told…”