Lawrence Wong

Transcription of Lawrence Wong
Interviewee: Lawrence Wong
Interviewer: Sarah Altinbasak
Date: May 16, 2014
Place: Chicago, Illinois
Transcriber: Sarah Altinbasak
Total Time: 34:00

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

SA: Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like growing up in Canada?

LW: Ok, well, as you know, as you just said, I was born and raised in Western Canada. I was born in a small country town of about 350 people, just North of the city of *** Alberta, I don’t know if you know where *** is but it’s quite well known in Alberta province, and I was born in this town of 350 people and almost during the depression years, because 1932 would be depression I believe. And of course my parents went through this town called *** from China. This is where I was born and raised and went to school in ***, small town of 350 people. Then during World War II my parents for health reasons, my parents moved to *** which was a larger city with more doctors and medical facilities and so on and so forth. And so our whole family moved there. I was I believe in sixth or seventh grade when we moved to ***. At that time was a city of about less than 100,000. It was 95,000. Incidentally now, today 2014, it’s a city of almost, a metropolitan of almost a million people. So you can see how its grown a lot - because of the oil boom they had in Canada a lot of people got rich, but not necessarily us. But we were there where it happened. And so then as I said before we moved when I was in sixth or seventh grade to ***. I went through elementary and high school there and graduated from high school in ***.

Then I came to the United States to Berkeley California to go to University. And I went there to in the University of California in Berkeley for years but it was such a huge school. At that time I believe their attendance was about 50 or 60,000. It’s very big anyways. And I found I didn’t adapt to well to a big school. It was just too big. So after two years I transferred to a smaller school closer to Alberta, which was the University of Montana, in Montana. So I transferred there. It was, for the last two years. I graduated with a degree in Business Administration from the University of Montana. Then from that time after that I, let me see…. I’m trying to remember. It’s a long time ago. I graduated from there in 1955. And, so oh I know what it was, after that I graduated, I got a job doing time keeping in a kind of office work in a construction company.

SA: In Montana?

LW: No, in ***, in my home, not in Montana, I went back to where I was from originally, to *** Alberta, where my family was and a lot of them still are. And, I did that for two years and I thought, “No. This isn’t for me.” It’s kind of been settled and I always did like drafting courses and drafting, you know what drafting is?

SA: Uh huh.

LW: Drafting plans and things like that, so I went to this small school in San Francisco and took a two year course in what they called structural drafting. It was drafting these plans and things like that.

SA: Uh huh.

LW: And I got a two year certificate in drafting from there so after that back to *** looking for a job again. So I went to *** to look for a job and I took a lot of jobs was it, United States? Well we always referred to American instead of United States. The Canadian always said American Company instead of U.S. Company, and at that time it was Amoco Petroleum.

SA: Uh huh.

LW: I got a job there as a draftsman. Finally I found the, more or less what I was looking for, all of my…. That’s the kind of work I like doing; drawing maps and things like that, drafting.

SA: Uh huh. And that was back at home?

LW: That was in ***. So I worked there I believe it was eight or ten years, I’m not sure the exact number, and I transferred to the Amoco Oil. They had offices all over the U.S. I transferred to their office in Denver, Colorado - which being single and wanting to see the country and everything - was ideal. So, I went to Denver and worked there for Amoco for I believe it was close to two years. Then at that time they had a need for the type of drafting that I was doing tin their head office here in Chicago which is called the Standard of Indiana. That’s the parent company.


SA: Uh huh.

LW: So, I transferred from Denver to Chicago the head office. We put this in the building downtown, the Standard Oil building which was called the AON building and…

SA: And what year was that?

LW: That was in 1959. Either ‘58 or ‘59…

SA: Ok.

LW: …’50, around there. Then, I worked here and I’ve worked with Standard Oil ever since. During that time, a year after I moved here from Denver, I met my better half who’s sitting right here, here in Chicago. And we got married and have been here ever since. I kept on working with them with coal and finally after I get a retirement age with the company, oh, in between, between the time I retired and the time I came here, I became a naturalized U.S. citizen because I was on a green card here working in Denver being Canadian citizen. I was in Denver on a green card and I was also green card when I came to Chicago.

SA: Uh huh.

LW: But, this was, I thought that it’s time for me to become naturalized, I’m earning my living here, and showing everything here, so finally I got naturalized U.S. citizen, and as I say I put it in when I got close to age sixty, I retired form Amoco, I had put in thirty two years, and here I am.

SA: Ok. So when you came to Chicago, where were you living first? Did you come straight to Edgewater?

LW: Oh. No, I lived in Chinatown, there was a Chinatown in Chicago and I had a just found a single person dwelling there which I rented.

SA: Uh huh.

LW: I was only here for two years until I met my wife here. We got married a year after I got here so I moved in with her. Great huh?


SA: Yeah! So, how long were you in Chinatown?

LW: Uh, probably three…two or three years. Then we decided it was getting too sparse, or too densely populated and hard to find parking places and so on. So we started looking and so we rented an apartment in Edgewater. Actually it’s just a few blocks from here. It was, I forget the name but… 5455 N. Sheridan. It is down in Edgewater condominiums, and they were turning into condominium at that time…

SA: Uh huh.

LW: …this was about 1977 or so.

SA: Ok.

LW: And we had a choice when we were renting there. We had a choice of either buy a place there since they were turning the condo or look for another place. So we didn’t want to particularly buy the place we were in, so we started looking around every place and we came upon Malibu East here, which was had only been opened about four or five years. And we found the present place in the unit were living in.

SA: And this was all the way back in 1970?

LW: 1977.

SA: So you’ve been here awhile?

LW: Yes, we’ve been in this building in the same unit since 1977. And we love it here.

SA: And that was my next question. How do you feel about the Edgewater community?

LW: Oh, we like it very much and the people are so friendly here, except Dominick’s three blocks from here got sold out recently. Now were stuck looking for a place to do our shopping, but those are minor things that we overcome.

SA: Shopping.

LW: This is a real nice area to live in as far as we’re concerned. The people are nice in this area and transportation is excellent. We walk right across the when we want to go downtown, which we do occasionally for lunch and so on.

SA: Uh huh.

LW: For appointments and so on. Walk across the street, get on the bus and we’re downtown in twenty minutes.

SA: That’s true.

LW: And the same thing coming back. Get on the #147 on Michigan Avenue, and were back here in twenty minutes. I mean other than rush time.

SA: Right. Yeah.

LW: But other than that, it’s excellent. We do have a car and we like to go to the shopping centers and malls and things, occasionally on weekends. So, that’s pretty about all there is to tell about myself.

SA: Um, would you say that you feel at home in Edgewater compared to like being at home in Canada?

LW: Oh yes! Because I’ve lived here for so long since I came into this country in 1957.

SA: Uh huh.

LW: And it’s almost like growing up here. I do still have some, a few nieces and nephews in Canada. But I was the youngest son in our particular family and the others all being older than myself, they’ve all passed on, except my parents because I don’t know if you can figure out my age from myself. I don’t care anyway, but you can probably figure out from my age that there wouldn’t be too many of our family left other than nieces and nephews. If you didn’t catch it I’m eighty two.


SA: You’re eighty two?

LW: Yes.

SA: I was told that you were seventy.

LW: Common.

SA: No, in the email Betty sent it said that you were seventy.

LW: I don’t know where Betty got that from but…

SA: I don’t know. She was being very kind.

LW: Yes, yes, so, we like it here. Very much, my wife and I. I speak for both of us.

SA: Ok. Um, you had said that your parents came to Canada from China?

LW: Yes, they came. My father - if you want a little bit of history- my father came with another friend, Chinese friend of his. They were teenagers, buddy buddy. And they came over with a lot of the immigrants to Canada. At that time a lot of them came from China to Canada to build the Canadian Pacific Railroad, which is sort of the equivalent of the railroad they built in San Francisco going east.

SA: Uh huh.

LW: A bunch of them went to Canada and a bunch of them went to the U.S. I guess whatever was the easiest country to get into at the time. So instead of working on the railroad like most of these people, this friend and my father they decided to go to the city of ***. They had heard about it I guess, and rather than laboring on the railroad and stuff… somehow they got enough finances, money here or there, that they started kind of a general grocery store in this town of three hundred fifty people. And this, you can just picture it, that teenagers coming to a strange country that can’t speak the language and everything, I give them a lot of credit.

SA: Sure.

LW: And so he that’s how he came to go to this little village of **** which is just forty miles from *** which is now the real big metropolitan city in Alberta of just under a million people. It was 96,000 when we moved there, and he opened this general grocery store there. There were only three other grocery stores in this town, because only three hundred fifty people there, and all of most of farmers. They had to get their supplies from somewhere. So they got their supplies from one of these three stores that were available. Why it was I don’t know. But my father, he trusted a lot of these people and they trusted him. Because he gave them credit on their groceries until they could sell their crops and get their money, where the other stores wouldn’t - it was cash and carry.


SA: Right. Well that’s nice.

LW: It’s between the two stores and that’s how he did so well there. He trusted the people and they trusted him. Because what he would do was he had, he got these groceries sent in from *** from the distributer like they do here. They would get their supplies and things and he wouldn’t expect them to pay until after they had sold their crops for the year. They would come in and pay their debts off and they trusted each other.. That’s how he was in business for forty years I think before we moved to ***. Because my mother’s health was deteriorating and that’s what I told you before when I moved to *** with them I was sixth or seventh grade.

SA: Uh huh.

LW: So that’s how we came to be there and to give you a little bit about our family. We had five boys and four girls in our family of which I’m the youngest son, boy. I have a younger sister. We were the only two survivors so far. The others have all… they’re all… they went all over the country; all over Canada, different schools and different things. But I still have a lot of several nephews and nieces there. Of course they are younger than me. We do keep in touch and we try to get back and visit them occasionally.

SA: I was going to ask, do you visit there often?

LW: We try to go once a year, like summer vacation for a week or two.

SA: So are you a dual citizen?

LW: Here’s how the dual citizen works. The way that dual that works is I was born Canadian.

SA: Uh huh.

LW: So that means I have a Canadian birth certificate. When I became naturalized here in the United States, I went through the process of learning U.S. history and so on and so forth and learning what this country and taking these courses for new immigrants. Finally I passed. You go through this thing where you get examined by the inspectors to see if you see if you are worthy of being a U.S. citizen, pass the naturalization test. It’s kind of a funny thing; then the inspector came to me when it was my appointment. He asked me several questions, like we’re talking, like now, and he asked where I went to school and so on and so forth, and he says, “Oh you’re passed. You can speak perfect English!”

SA: Ok. That’s what they were looking for?

LW: Evidently. So, anyways I got became U.S. citizen and at the time when you get sworn in as a U.S. citizen. This is something between Canada and the United States. I don’t know if it’s the same with other countries, but certain countries. Once I give up… I swear allegiance to the United States, which I do when I became naturalized, you know this thing, I swear allegiance and so forth, I from that point on I am a U.S. citizen for travel anywhere. If I want to go overseas, London, or Europe, or Asia, or China, I am officially a U.S. citizen and I go on United States passport. And I am no longer Canadian from that point. But I am dual in the fact that if for any reason I want to move back to Canada, then Canada still recognizes me as Canadian. As well as U.S.

SA: Ok, so the United States doesn’t recognize it but Canada does?

LW: As far as I know, I’m not exactly 100% sure of that. But I do know that as long as I’m in the United States, I’m a US citizen. I have US passport and that’s only one I can use. In other words, I cannot use the Canadian passport even though I can have one. Anytime I…They still recognize me. Let’s put it this way, looks as if the Canada recognizes me as dual citizen and like you just said, I’m not exactly sure if I revoke that U.S. if I did, which I don’t plan to. But if I did, and I do know that there are some Canadian people in the same circumstance that move back to Canada and they collect their United States Social Security there. So the U.S. government does evidently send it across the border if they are allies I guess.

SA: That’s really interesting.

LW: If that’s true, but don’t quote me on those things.

SA: No, no.

LW: Rules and regulations as far as I know. So in that way I am a kind of a “dual citizen” (like this).


SA: Right. As long as it’s according to them.

LW: Yeah. And I don’t plan on right now. I have no plans to go back to Canada so I’m U.S .citizen. I’m happy to be.

SA: Sure. So growing up you only spoke English or did you speak any other languages?

LW: No, my parents, my mother only spoke Chinese. She never did learn English, even though she raised nine of us kids there. But the kids, my parents always taught us kids to speak Chinese for her benefit because she was raising nine kids, she stayed home. She not, my father, would be every day running this store, and of course he had to learn English or he could run his business.

SA: Uh huh.

LW: And so because of my mother not speaking very much English, we had to speak Chinese. And we did, and were glad we did too because it’s nice to be able to speak the mother language.

SA: Sure.

LW: Even though it’s not that much but still, I know enough of the to speak but I can get by in a conversation but you get a little bit deeper and I’m lost.

SA: What dialect is it?

LW: Oh it’s um ****. It’s near uh, the *** part, the one of the most popular. It’s not the newest one now is Mandarin.

SA: Uh huh.

LW: And we don’t speak Mandarin.

SA: Cantonese?

LW: My wife speaks Cantonese, so that Cantonese and *** are about equal in popularity, well not popularity that’s not the right word, but in usage.

SA: So would you be able to like completely understand if you were speaking different dialects?

LW: Not in Mandarin, but I could carry on a real good conversation in *** which is our language and I could get by with Cantonese because they are very similar the root words and *** and Cantonese are quite similar. I could get by in Cantonese, but not Mandarin.

SA: It’s totally different?

LW: It’s complete, totally different. Even my wife who comes from the China, she speaks Cantonese, she cannot converse completely in Mandarin. She’s like I am with ****, with these things, she can understand them but she can’t carry on a conversation with it.

SA: Interesting. I didn’t know they were that different.I didn’t know much about it.

LW: Yeah, this Mandarin, to get ahead in commerce and business and so on in China, everything is Mandarin now.

SA: I didn’t know that.

LW: Not everything but mostly.

SA: Uh huh.

LW: So you have to. In fact I understand a lot of the high schools here in this country are teaching Mandarin.

SA: Oh are they?


LW: Yeah, like Lane Tech and a lot of these kind of schools have regular Mandarin, classes in Mandarin. Looking ahead for the economic thing was trying I guess.

SA: Uh huh.

LW: And a lot of the students take an interest in the labor market.

SA: Sure.

LW: Not me!

SA: People who didn’t grow up with two languages, it’s always nice to learn another language, especially a very useful language.

LW: Yes, yes. So, what else can I tell you?

SA: Let me see what other questions I had. Oh, do you have any… like I know. Growing up your parents were from China, do you still feel that you have some cultural values that you would consider Chinese versus American?

LW: Not really because there was such an age difference between my generation and that generation. The people nowadays, the younger generation of Chinese, they’re cool!

SA: Ok.

LW: You know what I mean. Where we old fogies don’t even know how to use a smart phone. So there is very little differences like that. I guess you would say I am from the old school. I don’t know if at my age if I’m going to catch up with all these new-fangled things or not but I feel comfortable just the way we are.

SA: So do you ever cook Chinese food at home or have anything specific that’s culturally different.

LW: No. We just cook the regular thing. We don’t do eggrolls and things like that, because that’s not really Chinese food.

SA: I had a feeling that a lot of the Chinese food that you get is not Chinese food.

LW: No, no. I think eggrolls were invented in this country actually. I mean what my wife cooks a lot it’s just vegetables, Chinese vegetable, stir fry. Things like stir fry and vegetables with sliced beef and things. Just a couple of different things like that, and a bowl of rice which is traditional, but nothing like these… here like they say egg foo young.

SA: I guess I meant like do you cook food that’s from where you are from, not necessarily what we think of as Chinese food, like anything that’s culturally that you have taken with you and you have in your own home.

LW: Oh yeah. We do all of our we do a lot of shopping for the Chinese type of vegetables and things on Argyle here, which is just ten blocks from here. They have a mini Chinatown. They have these markets there with traditional vegetables like bok choy and Chinese broccoli and bitter melons and different, real Chinese type vegetables. That’s what we do, where we do most of our shopping.


SA: Ok.

LW: We do that. And then one other thing. We do, since we moved from Chinatown to this neighborhood, usually on Friday’s my wife and I like have an outing to go to the old Chinatown where we came from. Have you ever been there on Cermak?

SA: No not yet.

LW: Ok, its fairly big, and about ten blocks long. It’s a regular Chinatown more or less sort of, and we go there usually on Friday because they publish two or three different Chinese language newspapers locally with news of the local Chinese people, different organizations in China town, what they are doing, and special events and things, and different people we know. We still know some of those people because my wife lived there, originally met her. We do know some people and we get these newspapers and keep up with the comings and goings of some of our old friends happenings.

SA: Very cool.

LW: So…

SA: So…

LW: That’s it.

SA: What would you consider your cultural identity to be now in this point in your life? If you had to pick something. I know it’s a tough question.

LW: Well, because I was mainly born and raised here I would consider myself more Americanized or westernized than I don’t know a lot of the ancient or the old customs from China, I never having been there even.

SA: You’ve never been to China?

LW: I’ve never been there since my wife came here in the 1950’s. She hasn’t even been back because she was an only child. She no longer has relatives living there. So other than that….We’re both getting up in age. We can’t keep up with these tourist things. If they ask us to walk and go from here to there, we would be left so far behind that I just don’t think we would want to attempt something like that. So, being that, be that as it may, I guess were more or less westernized.

SA: Ok.

LW: That’s … and we love to come and here the top of all being westerners, we love to go to Las Vegas.So does that…

SA: Nice…

LW: Although the Chinese are notorious for the gambling and things and they love gambling. What I meant is, it seems like most Americans that the Canadian influence. The call Americans U.S. citizens, or U.S .people or United States people. They say Americans. It seems like that’s the goal of most American people, like, “Hey, let’s go to Vegas!” So we’re part of that group.

SA: Ok. Is there anything I didn’t ask that you might want to bring up or did we cover everything you wanted to talk about?

LW: I think we covered almost everything.

SA: Ok.

LW: Unless there was anything more that you can think of?

SA: No, I think I hit all my questions, so thank you for sharing.

LW: Oh, any time, I hope it’s of value.

SA: Absolutely!