Wednesday, October 29, 2008

San Francisco Chinatown - Part II

Wedged between two brick walls is the original Chinatown Telephone Exchange. Our City Guide, Mae Schoenig, explained that its pagoda roof structure is designed to allow evil spirits to be guided back up to the heavens.

Vintage postcard from

The telephone operators had to speak five Chinese dialects plus English in order to work at the Exchange. They also had to memorize all the residents’ phone numbers and their family nickname. Mae told us that she often did not know the names of many of her relatives. She only knew them by their relationship in the family. For example, the grandmother on her father’s side would be named True Grandma and the grandmother on the mother’s side would be Foreign Grandma. The youngest boy may be named Last Brother.

Mae explained that Chinese girls don’t inherit anything as long as there are surviving males in the lineage. When Mae’s grandfather passed away, Mae's mother dutifully passed the inheritance down to the oldest grandson, even though she was the only surviving child. When Mae was growing up, her mother reminded her that she was a guest and was raised in order to become part of the next family. Growing up in a traditional Chinese household can be a harsh reality for girls.


Relyn Lawson said...

I've been gone for a week or so and look at all I've missed. Actually, I've missed you. I just wanted to say hello. It's after midnight and my head longs for its pillow. I will return soon. Till then. Sleep well, my friend.

Relyn Lawson said...

I'm baaack....

I love the glimpses into another culture that this post provides. I just can hardly imagine the inequities between males and females. It is very hard for me to picture submitting to them so gracefully.

And yet.

I know that it is difficult for me specifically because of my raising. It's an interesting puzzle to wonder how different I might be if I were raised in a fundamentally different culture. Would my essential "me-ness" be different?

Of course, these ponderings apply not just to cultural differences. Parenting styles, addictions, abuse, so many things impact a personality, don't they?

Wow. You've really given me something to ponder. I'd be interested to to hear what you think about these things.

Dutchbaby said...

Hello Relyn,

Thanks for stopping by and saying hello even when you are so tired. Get some great rest and stop by again!


Dutchbaby said...

Welcome back, and today you even got an extra hour of sleep!

I have often been grateful that I have two sisters and no brothers because our family dynamic would have been dramatically different

I agree that culture, environment, and parenting styles all play a huge part in how we are formed.

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