1994.007.006 Oral History Interview with Kwok-Wai Chan 1993/04/17


In this interview Kwok-Wai "David" Chan relates his experience as a Chinese immigrant to New York City. He describes his reasons for emigrating, the family arrival to Brooklyn, and hardships faced soon after. He discusses his education and the value his family places in higher education --something he calls a Chinese value. Chan details his career as an entrepreneur; including failures, challenges, and accomplishments. Throughout the interview, Chan discusses the community changes he has watched over the last few decades. Interview conducted by Mary Lui.


LUI: OK, interview with [unintelligible] David Chan at Chinatown History Museum, 70 Mulberry Street, the date is April 17, 1993. Interviewed by Mary Lui. Please introduce yourself, and tell me where you were born.

CHAN: I was born in China, and at around one and a half years old, I went to Hong Kong. When I been nineteen years old, I have been in the United States.

LUI: Can you tell me what year you were born?

CHAN: 1955.

LUI: And you were one and a half years old--

CHAN: One and a half years old. I believe it was 1956 when my mother and me went to Hong Kong.

LUI: What part of China were you born in?


CHAN: [unintelligible]

LUI: So, after you went to Hong Kong, did you go back to China at all?

CHAN: No, not until the 1974.

LUI: 1974?

CHAN: Yes, on that period I stayed in Hong Kong.

LUI: So you basically grew up in Hong Kong.

CHAN: Yes.

LUI: Was all of your family in Hong Kong with you?

CHAN: Only my parents. The rest of my family, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents, still stayed in China.

LUI: Today, they are still in China?

CHAN: Yes. All of them stayed in China.

LUI: So how many children are in your family, besides yourself? Did you have brothers and sisters?

CHAN: Four all together. I have two more brothers and one more sister.

LUI: Older or younger?

CHAN: Younger. I am the oldest.


LUI: I see. So then all of your brothers and sisters were born in Hong Kong?

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: When did you come to the United States, did you say?

CHAN: I believe it was in 1975. 1975 -- February 11th, on the day of the Chinese New Year. It was on that year's Chinese New Year.

LUI: Was that planned?

CHAN: No. I was pulled from the US Embassy. My aunt is over here. She bought the ticket for us already. It was a real rush, only with two weeks since I know I am moving here. I only have the two weeks. Everything was rushed.

LUI: You mean two weeks in terms of travel, but you knew for a long time that
you were going to come to the United States.

CHAN: I knew for a long time, around a half year, because we apply for the immigrant, for passage. I know I would be in the United States, but until I know the time, I only had the two weeks.

LUI: Who made the application arrangements?

CHAN: My parents.

LUI: It was through your aunt who was here in the country? She applied for you to come?

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: How long had she been here?

CHAN: I believe she had been here since early of the 1960, but I don't exactly the date.

LUI: So aside from your aunt, was there other family who was here?


LUI: She was here in New York City?

CHAN: Yes.

LUI: Um, so, before coming, what were your ideas or impressions of what the United States was going to be like?


CHAN: In the United States, I feel I have the opportunity to get a higher education in the United States, and to get a better future for myself and for my sister and brothers.

LUI: Did you know how that was going to happen?

CHAN: Ok. For my own parents, ok, they believe we must have the high education to get a future, but in Hong Kong, we don't have that kind of chance.

LUI: Why is that?

CHAN: In Hong Kong, there are only two universities: Hong Kong University and Hong Kong Chinese University, but both of them, even if we can get in, we don't have the finances, my parents cannot support us. But in the United States, I have that chance.

LUI: So how old were you when you came here?


CHAN: Nineteen.

LUI: You finished--.

CHAN: High school in Hong Kong.

LUI: And you were ready•••

CHAN: I'm ready to the college.

LUI: You had already applied before coming?

CHAN: No. When I been in United States, I was working in the Chinese supermarket on Mulberry Street. I was working there for about two and a half years, something like that.

LUI: What was the name of the supermarket?

CHAN: United. Just around here. After that, I went to the Lower East Side High School, something like that, in the City Hall. By now, they moved to Delancey. It's for the bilingual. Because in Hong Kong, I studied in Chinese in High School. It's not an English High School. It's a Chinese High School.

LUI: What was the name of the High School?

CHAN: [unintelligible] High School in Hong Kong. When I be here, I work in the
supermarket support my family. Otherwise, by the time everything was settled
down, and I go back to the school to start again, but not in college, I was 23 years old already.

LUI: Where did you live when you first came here?

CHAN: I lived in Brooklyn, in Caton Avenue and Flatbush Avenue.

LUI: That was the first place you lived in?

CHAN: Yes, right. I lived in Brooklyn. When I have been in the United States, I live in Brooklyn. I lived over there around 20 years. The whole building was on fire. Everything was burned down.


LUI: Your home?

CHAN: Yes, my apartment.

LUI: Oh, my goodness. When did that happen?

CHAN: I believe in 1976.

LUI: After you'd been here for how many years?

CHAN: Around one year.

LUI: You lived there with your parents?

CHAN: Yes, I lived there with my parents, my whole family - I didn't say that. In the morning, I don't know what's going on. It just burned down, the whole thing.

LUI: Were you at home when the fire happened?

CHAN: Yes. I'm sleeping already, in the morning, you know? It was not from my apartment. It was from another apartment. It come in and burned down the whole building.

LUI: So, uh, Everybody was okay though?

CHAN: Everybody was okay. Physically, everybody was okay. But the rest of us, all our things were burned down.

LUI: So, what happened? How did you manage to get by after that?


CHAN: After that, Red Cross helped us a lot. We get a chance. They gave me the apartment in Chinatown's [unintelligible] project, over there on Madison street. They get us an apartment. They give us financial help. It let us start again. I can say that.

LUI: Okay, let's back up a little bit. Why did you move to that part of Brooklyn as the first place that you came to live in?

CHAN: Because my aunt and my uncles were living around there, and they help us. Before we came here, they rented an apartment already. It was not our choice. It was their choice.

LUI: Did you know that you were going to be living in Brooklyn?

CHAN: I don't know, until I am here.

LUI: Had you ever heard of Brooklyn before?

CHAN: No. Before I came to the United States, I didn't know Brooklyn. I only
know New York.

LUI: What did you hear about New York?

CHAN: New York, I can say that it is a famous city, especially in 1960, 1970, on that period, in the whole world. United Nations, Empire state Building, everything is in here. Wall Street, everything is in New York. You know - Statue of Liberty. When I hear about the United States, I say New York. That's what I know. Besides that, my uncle and my aunt, they live in New York.

LUI: But you hadn't heard of Brooklyn?

CHAN: No, to tell you the truth, I had not, until I am in the United States.

LUI: So what did you first think of Brooklyn, of where you lived in Brooklyn? Did you like Brooklyn?

CHAN: I am surprised.

LUI: What surprised you?


CHAN: Before I came to the United States, I believed the United States is a very modern country. Everything is new. By the movie, I can see that. By the movie or TV, I can say that. I only see the good side.

LUI: These are American movies or Chinese movies?

CHAN: American movies.

LUI: Like what American movies?

CHAN: I forget. There were so many movies in Hong Kong. All the movies show are the tall buildings. The people are just nice, is very polite, OK? That is what I get from the movies. When I came here, I was travelling on the highway on the way to my apartment. In Brooklyn, my apartment--

LUI: You mean from the airport?

CHAN: From the airport. I feel a little bit surprised in that moment. Oh, that
is the United States. That is New York. Especially when I get to the apartment,
because it is an old building, at that moment more than a hundred years old. On that building. When I get in the building, I said "Oh, my God, it's older than the place I lived in Hong Kong." But very quickly, I get used to it already, used to the environment and everything around me, around my family. We take it step by step. For the first, I working hard. Even my family, we worked hard to get everything settled down. But, suddenly just a fire. Everything is start again.

LUI: Did you ever think about going back to Hong Kong when the fire happened?

CHAN: No, no, no. On that moment we never think about going back to Hong Kong.
On that moment we never think about going back to Hong Kong. At that moment, I
had the plan already: we get to high school - Lower East Side - to get the bilingual. I started to learn English. When I have been here, my English is not that well. Even right now, I can hear the accent. I can change it, but I can't help it, because when I have been here, I grew up already. Everything was settled down already. I feel I must get to the college. When I go back to Hong Kong, I don't have that chance. After three years, I went to SUNY at Buffalo.

LUI: As the oldest child, did you feel like you had a lot of responsibility?

CHAN: Definitely.

LUI: Can you tell me a little bit about that?

CHAN: For the old Chinese family, you know the traditional ok, the oldest one
should be take care of the youngest, especially in the financial.

LUI: So you mean that you worked hard to make sure that--.

CHAN: Everything must go through [unintelligible], right.

LUI: Did your brothers and sisters go to school?

CHAN: Yes.

LUI: Where did they go to school when you first came?

CHAN: They went to the Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, on the Flatbush Avenue. Right now, my youngest brother is working at Chase Manhattan, for the computer programming.

LUI: So he graduated. So everybody's already through with school?

CHAN: Yes. My sister right now is unemployed, because she was working in the insurance company for the computer programming. My other brother is working for
the air conditioning mechanic.

LUI: What do your parents do?

CHAN: Same as all the Chinese. My father is working in restaurant, and my mother working in the garment factory.

LUI: Here in Chinatown or in Brooklyn?

CHAN: In Chinatown.

LUI: Why do they work in Chinatown and not Brooklyn? If you live in Brooklyn, wouldn't it just be easier to work there?

CHAN: No, they living in Chinatown.

LUI: But you live in Brooklyn.

CHAN: I live in Brooklyn.

LUI: Okay. So now everybody lives all over the place.

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: But your brothers and sisters are still living in New York City?

CHAN: One lives in Queens, one lives in Brooklyn and another one lives in New Jersey.

LUI: So they all moved?

CHAN: They all moved out.

LUI: Okay, I see. Alright, I guess we should go back. So you said that you had a
plan, that you were going to learn English and go to school. Did you know what
it was that you wanted to study? Did you have an idea of what career?

CHAN: First, my career, I tried to study for the biochemistry. But later, when I got to college, I feel that I will study accounting.

LUI: When you were in Hong Kong, did you think of studying biochemistry too?

CHAN: Yes.

LUI: What made you change your mind when you were in college?

CHAN: When in college, it was basically the language problem. With biochemistry, I feel there is so much terminology. On that part, I believe that I can't go
through, first of all. Second of all, when I think of biochemistry for the
future, I don't know what kind of job that I need to apply.

LUI: So that's when you decided--

CHAN: That's why I changed to accounting, because my mathematic background is so strong, and I believe that I can handle it. [inaudible] [unintelligible]

LUI: So at that point, this is when you were at SUNY Buffalo, and your family was still living in Chinatown. So you left them to go to college. How did you feel about that?

CHAN: Even since my childhood, I am very independent. My parents let me, where
do I need to go. They feel if I have that goal to achieve, to go through it,
they let me go. They support me. They support my decision.

LUI: Did you come back a lot?

CHAN: Yes.

LUI: How many times would you say?

CHAN: Two times in the semester. When have the chance, I came back to New York.

LUI: Was it hard to adjust to being in school in Buffalo?

CHAN: What do you mean, difficulty in the school, or what do you mean?

LUI: I guess more sort of socially, whether it was sort of strange to be out of Chinatown?

CHAN: No, it's not. I'm very easy to get used to the new place.


LUI: After you graduated from college, what did you do?

CHAN: Okay, this is very bad. At that moment, same as today, the economy was so bad, almost 40% of the graduating class cannot get a job. I am one of them.

LUI: What year did you graduate?

CHAN: I graduated in 1982 or 1983. At that moment, it was very bad. When I was in college, worked part time in restaurant, as a waiter.

LUI: What kind of restaurant?

CHAN: Chinese. I cannot sitting in the home and do nothing. So I went back to the restaurant, to the waiter job, and a couple of years. When I get in the restaurant, it's hard to-- day by day, you know, I get used to it again. I start
from the waiter to the captain, to the manager.

LUI: This was in Buffalo.

CHAN: No, in New York City.

LUI: American restaurant or Chinese Restaurant?

CHAN: Chinese restaurant.

LUI: Near Chinatown?

CHAN: No, not in Chinatown around this area. It's not in Chinatown. Someplace in midtown, someplace in New Jersey, someplace in Long Island. Because my background is in accounting, I studied the economy, I start my business, in export, import. I put four partners together, me, myself is Chinese
[unintelligible]. Another one is American. We started a company in import from
Hong Kong, from Mainland China. But it was so bad, you know, it failed.

LUI: What year was this?

CHAN: 1987.

LUI: How did you know these other partners?

CHAN: They were my friends in the restaurant. They came to my restaurant a lot. We knew each other through conversations. They knew that I had that kind of background and they wanted to do something. We pulled together lots of money, but it was so bad, we failed. At that moment, we lost around $300,000. It was a lot. We start again. That kind of thing happens. I was still working in the
restaurant. A couple of years ago, I went to Puerto Rico, in 1990, because my
cousin was there. He had a couple of restaurants over there. It was a better chance over there for the Chinese restaurants, but my wife cannot get used to over there, and I came back to New York City.

LUI: How long were you in Puerto Rico?

CHAN: Nine months, and then I came back to New York. My partner in the pharmacy, he is my pharmacist. We decided to open a Chinese pharmacy on 8th Avenue,
because at that moment, there were no Chinese pharmacies in that area. We are
the only one.

LUI: When was this again?

CHAN: 1990. We started in 1990. We opened my store on May 28.

LUI: It was just you and one other partner, right?

CHAN: We have three partners all together.

LUI: So you have the accounting background, and the other two--

CHAN: Pharmacists.

LUI: So the other two are pharmacists.

CHAN: No, one. The other one is the silent partner. He is not working in the pharmacy.

LUI: So the two of you work in the store. You said there hadn't been another Chinese pharmacy then. So what made you think that that community needed a
Chinese pharmacy?

CHAN: Before I went down to the Puerto Rico, we started searching in that area already. At the end of 1988 and the beginning of 1989, we kept an eye on the 8th Avenue already, because at that moment, the population over there is booming. The stores were one by one opening. Another of my partners, Kevin, he's pharmacist, he's living in that area ten years ago, ok? He knew that area. In
that area, on 8th Avenue, the Chinese population was booming. All the business
opened up. Only the pharmacist, no. On the corner of 57th street, there was one pharmacy, but it was run by Americans. But they had a language problem. They can't understand the terminology about the medication, especially. When they get a medication, when they went to that pharmacy, they have that kind of language problem. We started in 1989 to put together research, to get data to get everything on that area. The Chinese immigrants need that kind of service, too.
After we opened, I can say that a lot of Chinese tell us, "Thank God you are
here. It helps a lot."

LUI: So in 1989, you were already doing research in the area, before you went to Puerto Rico?

CHAN: Yes. Before I went to Puerto Rico.

LUI: Did you know that you wanted to open a pharmacy or was it just any business?

CHAN: At that moment, we were thinking about a pharmacy and a stationary. That's why right now we combine it. In my pharmacy I can say that beside the medication, I still have the stationary, still have the toys, but not that much. I still have the supplies for the kids [unintelligible]. A lot of my customers,
not even just the Chinese, the Americans too, that come to my store, they always
say to me, "Thank God you are here!"

LUI: Where is your store located?

CHAN: My store is at 8th Avenue and 55th street.

LUI: Why did you pick that location?

CHAN: Because I still think that way, even today, I believe for the future, maybe two more years, that area will be the center of 8th Avenue.

LUI: What area in particular?

CHAN: My store area. Around 56th to 54th. Because in that area is the one big restaurant, the [unintelligible] on the 55th corner, and the supermarket on the 56th corner. That's two major things over there. The people will be around that
area. I believe right now that 8th Avenue, the Chinese population, that store
will be still going. Start from the 56th, 55th, 54th, 53, all the way down until the end of 8th Avenue, around 43. It maybe take around five more years.

LUI: When you moved in there, was the supermarket and the restaurant already there?

CHAN: Already there. But the Chinatown on that area ended on 55th street, but today, it ends on 53rd or 52nd street already.

LUI: So that's something you see that's changed in the last two years. What else
have you seen that's changed in the last two years?

CHAN: Two years? The Chinese community has changed a lot. Same as the Paul Mak of the Chinese BCAA. Paul Mak actually did a very good job. He helped a lot of
the Chinese community. To bring out a program for the senior citizens, to try to
get a program for the young kids, try to get, I know that some people are looking for [Interview interrupted.] too. It's step by step, but in the future, I have the feeling that in Brooklyn's Sunset Park, things will go much, much better than today.

LUI: Than before, you mean?

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: Why do you think people are moving to Sunset Park?

CHAN: It's available. That space is available. In that area, the rents are still
lower, than in Chinatown. The stores are available for the Chinese people.

LUI: I have heard that the prices are going up though.

CHAN: That's true, in two years. Two years ago, the rent is not that high. But today, the rent is much higher than two year ago. Maybe a couple of years later, not much higher than today. But if the business, the [unintelligible] is building up, the people can still can move in. Always the new immigrants, nowhere to go. In Chinatown, Manhattan right now, I believe it is very difficult to find living [unintelligible] space -easily. I mean, if you just want to find
a room, or something like that, you still can find it. But the decent living
space, it's not that easy in Manhattan right now. And in Flushing [unintelligible], same situation. That's why they left. Sunset Park, I believe, is the choice for the new immigrant.

LUI: So you think a lot of new immigrants are moving there as the very first place they live?

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: Have you seen that in terms of your customers?

CHAN: I can say undoubtedly, because I've met so many new immigrants, even from Hong Kong, even from the mainland China, even from all over the place. But not that much from Taiwan. The people from Taiwan, mostly they take up the [unintelligible].


LUI: You said before that Americans come into your store too, not just Chinese.

CHAN: Both. Right now, I consider my customers about 50/50, Chinese and non-Chinese.

LUI: Do you see that changing in the future?

CHAN: I can feel it for the future. This will change.

LUI: In what way?

CHAN: More Chinese than non-Chinese. The ratio will be changing.

LUI: Why is that?

CHAN: Mostly because the Chinese are moving in and the non-Chinese are moving out. That is the way. When they are moving out, they don't come back to this area that often.

LUI: You said it's available, there are places to live, but you don't live in
Sunset Park.

CHAN: I'm not living over there.

LUI: Does any body in your family live in that area?


LUI: Why is that? Why have you decided to work there, but not live there?

CHAN: It depends on what's available, you know. In Sunset Park, it's good, the area, but [unintelligible]. I just bought a house in Staten Island, that's why I tell you. I will be moving out to the place I bought. Why I'm not living over there, I don't know why. Because I can't find another apartment. There's nothing wrong. When I open my place over there, I look in the area around there, but I cannot find the right place for myself.

LUI: Where were you living at that time?

CHAN: I was living in Chinatown. When I moved to the Brooklyn, I was still
looking for the area, but at that moment, I can't find the right place, the
apartment or the house.

LUI: You now live in -?

CHAN: 15th Avenue.

LUI: What's that are called?

CHAN: Bensonhurst. Just around there.

LUI: So do you drive to work?

CHAN: Yes.

LUI: And parking is easy?

CHAN: I can say that it is very easy, compared to being in Chinatown.

LUI: So you moved to Bensonhurst, but you were trying to find a place in Sunset Park?

CHAN: I did it before, but at that moment, when I started looking for a place, I can't find the place that I want. [unintelligible] It's okay for my family. I feel comfortable. But, at that time, I couldn't find anything. What I wanted was
not available.

LUI: What did you want?

CHAN: Just a decent apartment or a decent house, two or three bedroom, that's it. I looked a couple of places around my store, but I really didn't like it. They were on the first floor, or a little bit old. I would need to change a lot of things.

LUI: You said you were married. Do you have children?

CHAN: Yes.

LUI: How many children do you have?

CHAN: I have two.

LUI: How old are they?

CHAN: One is two years and four month old. One is three months old.

LUI: New baby?

CHAN: New baby, yeah. That's a new baby.


LUI: So that's why you wanted all of these rooms.

CHAN: That's right. That's why I wanted. That's why I decided to buy my own house on Staten Island. Today it is still affordable to buy the house over there. It has two big bedrooms. Easier for my family.

LUI: So will this be the first house you own?

CHAN: Yes, right

LUI: Are you excited about that?

CHAN: Not really. The house is not that big. It's not a really huge house with an underground swimming pool. It's not that kind of house, just a decent townhouse.

LUI: Does your wife work in the store too?

CHAN: No. My wife works in Chinatown.

LUI: What does she do?

CHAN: She works for a window factory. The factory is in Flushing. The store is
in Chinatown.

LUI: It sounds like you spend a lot of time in this Chinatown. You spend also a lot of time in 8th Avenue, but would you say you usually work and shop in 8th Avenue, or do you work in 8th Avenue, shop here? What kinds of things do you do differently in one place, as opposed to the other?

CHAN: Usually, if I can find the things in 8th Avenue, in Brooklyn, Sunset Park, I will buy from there. There is no reason for myself to go to another place and buy if the things are available in Sunset Park. It depends on whether the thing is available or not.


LUI: Not because of price?

CHAN: I can say that the prices are better in Brooklyn.

LUI: Really, it's better?

CHAN: Yes, the prices are better. But the things, they may be available or not be available.

LUI: What is never available? What would you have to come here to get?

CHAN: Hard to say. No particular item. Some things may be available there, but it's not the thing you want.

LUI: If you were to compare the two Chinatowns, how would you compare them?


CHAN: In what way?

LUI: Let's say, you talked a little bit about that it's good to live in 8th Avenue, you think. You just couldn't find a house, couldn't find a good place to live. You said a thing earlier, that this is not such a good place to live. It's hard to find good, affordable, decent housing.

CHAN: OK, it's not -- OK, I clear on that one OK, In Brooklyn, in Sunset Park, when you get around 9th Avenue and Fort Hamilton Avenue, on that area, you get a lot of new house, the houses are very good. At that moment, what I was looking for, can not available. It's not mean not that great. But comparing the living area, Brooklyn Sunset Park is much better than Manhattan Chinatown.


LUI: What is better?

CHAN: In Brooklyn Sunset Park, usually, is the two story house, semi-attached. Mostly, it's like that. Every room has a window. You can see the sun, everything. In Chinatown here, a lot of the buildings are more than 100 years old. A lot of things, I don't know how you say [unintelligible] and not every room has a window, not every apartment has the bathroom. In Chinatown still, you must take a shower in your family room, something like that. For the living
space, I can say that Brooklyn Sunset Park is better than Chinatown.

LUI: What about safety of the neighborhood?

CHAN: I believe the same thing. Almost the same thing. You cannot compare which one is better and which one is worse.

LUI: It's all the same.

CHAN: I believe that Chinatown in Brooklyn is basically the same thing.

LUI: So in other words, you don't think 8th Avenue is very safe, or anything like that.

CHAN: No, no.

LUI: Has your store ever had any problems?

CHAN: Thank God, not yet. Thank God! Hopefully, we are very careful about things like that. For the store owners, for myself, try to make everything safe. For
the open hour, and the alarm. We install all the alarms already and try to be
ready for when that kind of thing happens.

LUI: Do the merchants, do the store owners on 8th Avenue have an organization?

CHAN: We are just starting the Brooklyn Chinese Business Association. We just registered. The merchants will be starting very soon, the next couple months.

LUI: What's the goal of the organization?


CHAN: I don't know yet, because I just attended one meeting. I don't know the details about it.

LUI: When did it start?

CHAN: Just right now! Just within the last couple of weeks!

LUI: Why didn't one start sooner? I mean, there's lots of businesses on 8th Avenue.

CHAN: I don't know. They are around only for two years around there. Why don't we start sooner? Because the [unintelligible] not that much business people around there. But two years ago - but today there are many more businesses than two years ago. Right now, day by day, new stores are opening.

LUI: Do you feel at this point, 8th Avenue has everything, or are there still a lot of shops and services that still need to be there?

CHAN: Yes. There is still a lot that needs to be there: the doctor's office, the
cleaners, the bank, the lawyer's office. The travel agency. A lot of things are
still not available over there. The thing I can say is that a couple of banks are very interested in that area. They keep an eye on there, and they get a search around for an available place. I don't know how soon, but they should be there starting right now.

LUI: You mean a Chinese bank?

CHAN: Both.

LUI: An American bank too?

CHAN: Chinese and American banks.

LUI: There's no bank there now?


LUI: So where do people bank?

CHAN: Not in that area. Some people banking in Chinatown right now. Some people around that area, shopping to Bay Ridge or maybe Bensonhurst.


LUI: Where does your store do its banking?

CHAN: I bank in Bensonhurst.

LUI: So you have to take things -- ?

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: So you're looking forward to having a bank come in to the neighborhood.

CHAN: Sure.

LUI: So you said that there are clinics that aren't there.

CHAN: There are two clinics, but it's not enough. I get a figure from Paul Mak. In that area, Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Sunset Park, there are roughly 100,000 Chinese in that area. Can you think about 100,000 Chinese over there, how many clinics they need, that kind of services. They need a lot. But there are only the two clinics. It's not enough.

LUI: In the part of Bensonhurst that you live in, are there a lot of Chinese there?


CHAN: Yes, a lot.

LUI: What do you mean by a lot? Can you give me an idea?

CHAN: Every block, at least one or two families are Chinese.

LUI: Is that why you moved out there? Because there were Chinese?

CHAN: No, because, at that moment, I went through the paper, looking around the Brooklyn area, for a place that is right for us.

LUI: Which paper, an American paper?

CHAN: No, Chinese paper. Both, I can say that I was looking through both. But that place is owned by the Chinese -- that building.

LUI: It is an apartment building?

CHAN: It's not. It's only two stories high. On the ground floor is a store, and the second floor has two apartments.


LUI: So is the other family also Chinese?

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: And the store is Chinese too?

CHAN: That's right. Owned by the owner. That store is owned by the owner.

LUI: How do most people get an apartments in Sunset Park? Is it through the Chinese paper, or through friends, family? Do you have a sense of how people are moving out there?

CHAN: Every way. By friends, family, and by newspaper. I believe the newspaper did a lot.

LUI: So when you were looking, let's say, in that area, where did you find them?

CHAN: My store?

LUI: Yeah, the store.

CHAN: The store, we go by the listing agency.

LUI: A Chinese real estate agency?

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: That's in Sunset Park?

CHAN: Yes.

LUI: Are you renting or you bought the store?


CHAN: We rent.

LUI: Who owns the store?

CHAN: Chinese.

LUI: He owns the whole building?

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: Would you say that in 8th Avenue, a few people own a lot of property, or do a lot of different people own the property?

CHAN: I think a lot of people, different people, own the property. I am not sure.

LUI: That's okay, it's just your own sense, as a businessperson.

CHAN: A lot of different people own the buildings. Some people own a couple of buildings.

[Interview interrupted.]


LUI: OK, so, um, most people - are people investing in the 8th Avenue area? Are they buying property and working there, buying property and living there, or are they just sort of buying the property and renting it to other people, but they don't have anything to do with the community? What sense do you get?

CHAN: Most of the people, if they can buy the building, they buy. If they cannot buy, they rent, depending on the financial situation. But some people just buy the building for the investment. Some people just doing the business to buy the building.

LUI: You and your partner, are you trying to buy the building, or are you just renting?


CHAN: [unintelligible] We cannot afford it. We are thinking about it, but I cannot right now.

LUI: But you would like to stay in that location?

CHAN: Yeah.

LUI: Would you move the store if you could find a location that you could buy?

CHAN: I don't know yet.

LUI: So how do you think -- people are coming in, mostly new immigrants, you said. Most of the people who start businesses, do they usually come with some business background?

CHAN: No, I don't think so.


LUI: But they're just sort of trying.

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: Were you nervous about starting your business?

CHAN: Very excited. We just started on our new business. This is my first time in retail. A lot of things we don't know. How much for our future and how can we do it. I think we still don't know. We just try to as much as we can, to do the business, and to take care of the customer. But day by day, we learn from the experience, we learn from our mistakes. Right now, a lot of people we knew in
that area, and they came to my store. Most of them, they still really appreciate
it, "Thank God you been here. You help a lot."

LUI: Your other partners didn't have the experience of running a pharmacy?

CHAN: He is in the pharmacist, but most times, he worked in the hospital. For the retail business, we do not have much experience around that.

LUI: It's been like an experiment.

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: Do you think it's been pretty successful?

CHAN: How can you say what is very successful? We are still looking for ways to
get better and better.

LUI: How would you define -- what would make you say, "Yes, it's been successful."

CHAN: I don't know. What my feeling right now is we still need to push up, because the economy is not that good right now, and we don't know for the future, how it change.

LUI: So you feel you have to be sort of cautious?

CHAN: I don't know if I can use that word or not, but we still keep an eye on, very carefully, to do the every step, how to take care of my customers, how to do the business, we still put a lot of time in that.


LUI: How many people work in the store?

CHAN: Totally, or most of the time? Most time, most is four people working in the store.

LUI: Counting yourself and your partner, all together is four.

CHAN: Yes.

LUI: What are the other positions?

CHAN: I mean, not totally, together we have eight people, but working together in the store at the same time, we have four. I cannot afford any more. A couple of people are part time. Most of the kids, they study in the school. After
school, they come to my store.

LUI: These are high school kids, from the neighborhood you mean?

CHAN: Only one in high school. The rest of them are in college now.

LUI: Do they live in the neighborhood?

CHAN: Yes.

LUI: I guess what I am trying to ask is how did you find the people who work in the store?

CHAN: We put in the newspaper, Chinese and English, both of them. Some people call in, and we try to find those people we were looking for. People who were living around that area, we hired. I feel that if the people were chosen from
another neighborhood, from Queens or Manhattan, it's not good for them, for the
traveling. I wanted to help the community a little bit. You know with the kids in the school to get the jobs, something like that.

LUI: So that's your way of helping out the community. Do you require that people in your store speak Chinese?

CHAN: Yes.

LUI: Cantonese, Mandarin?

CHAN: Doesn't matter. At least it's Chinese. Mostly it's Cantonese. Up to 50% of the Chinese can speak English. When they come to store, they only can speak Chinese. They don't understand. We can't do the business.

LUI: How good is their Chinese?

CHAN: I don't require perfect. They must know, when somebody asks you simple
things, you must know how to answer them. That is the basic thing.

LUI: So, in other words, you don't have any family members who work in the store?


LUI: Is that common, because it seems to me that a lot of people who own businesses, it's like a lot of family people together in one business?

CHAN: I don't know about other people, but for ourselves, because I have the Chinese partners . What I feel, is that if I hire other people, it's easier to control.


LUI: Than if it was family, you mean?

CHAN: Yeah. Easier to handle the situation.

LUI: Why is that?

CHAN: I don't know. It's my feeling. There's a lot of things involved in the family. But for the business, I don't want my family involved in my business. That's it. I want to separate them. The family is the family and the business is the business. When I deal with the business, it's the business.

LUI: Ok, um, I noticed that when I was down in 8th Avenue for the New Year, there were a lot of firecrackers that were being set off, and then some people had put things out of the window for the lion to come through. Did you do that
at your store?


LUI: Why not?

CHAN: We just put in some fireworks, that's it, to make the noise and to make the atmosphere, you know. The people come here the lion dance, you need the atmosphere. Otherwise, I'm not really crazy about that.

LUI: It looks like a lot of businesses do that.

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: But it's not the merchant's group pooling together?

CHAN: No, no, it's not

LUI: Um, OK, we talked a little bit about language. So people in the store mainly speak Cantonese or English-- and Mandarin?

CHAN: Mandarin I can handle, but it's not perfect.

LUI: Do you have a lot of people come in and speak Mandarin and nothing else?

CHAN: Right now, around five to ten percent.. Around five perfect. Right now
five percent At the time we opened the store, it's not that much.

LUI: Mostly, what language is spoken the most in the store?

CHAN: Cantonese and English.

LUI: Because when I call on the phone, you answered the phone in English, not in Cantonese.

CHAN: That's right. In our state, in New York, English is still the major language. I don't know who is calling. My feeling is that answering in English is easier for every people. If the people pick up the phone, when they speak Chinese, immediately I change back to the Chinese to answer the question.


LUI: But the policy is to just answer in English?

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: What does that, do you think -- reflect -- the entire community? Most people speak Cantonese. The language used in your store is the language used in the community. Is that the same relationship?

CHAN: What do you mean?

LUI: I guess you said that in your store, mostly you speak Cantonese or English. I guess I just mean the community in general, 8th Avenue. Would you say it's the same thing?

CHAN: It depends on what kind of store. Some stores can't speak English. They only speak the Chinese, the Cantonese. [unintelligible.] Basically, most stores
are the same as us, Cantonese and English. Some stores are only Chinese. It
depends on what kind of business they do.

LUI: What kinds of business tend to only be just Chinese?

CHAN: Chinese groceries.

LUI: Is there another Chinese pharmacy in the community right now?

CHAN: Yes, another one just opened up last year.

LUI: So now there is a total of two?

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: Do you see that there is competition?

CHAN: We are not thinking about over there. We are still thinking about our store competing with anywhere. Even though we are not competitive with the competition over there, people still compare it, competition with Chinatown over here.


LUI: So, in other words, you're not competing with that store over there, you're really competing with all of Chinatown?

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: What do you do to make yourself competitive with the stores in Chinatown?

CHAN: A lot of things. The people living in Sunset Park, they live around there. If they need the medication, if they came to Chinatown, fine. But, do they really want to travel every time to Chinatown? They may not, so they sometimes can choose my store. When they came to my store, we take care of them a lot. We answer any question about the medication, if we can help them. Some people come to my store with a cough or something like that, they ask me, "What am I
supposed to take?" because they don't know the medication on the shelf. We can
introduce or give them ideas which medication they are supposed to take, and they take it, and most of them, they come back. "Thank God, it's good." They appreciate it. That's what we do to be in business, to keep people coming back to my store.

LUI: Are most of your clients, when they come to get their medication, have they seen a doctor on 8th Avenue or have they seen the doctor here, in Chinatown?

CHAN: Anywhere. Some people Queens, some people Chinatown, some people in
Brooklyn, but most of them are not in Brooklyn. They only can choose between two
clinics over there. This is not enough.

LUI: No private doctors?

CHAN: Two private doctors. I can say this is not enough. We have to deal with the Lutheran Medical Center, and we help them a lot, for the people. They came to the store a lot. We take care of the Medicaid. We take care of the Health Care Program, all the major medical, even for the senior citizen [unintelligible], we still take care of them. That's why a lot of senior citizens come to my store.

LUI: Um, alright - I am going to ask you some general questions about the
neighborhood, OK? I know that in the 8th Avenue area, there are not just Chinese
who live there. There are other people. What other people are in that community?

CHAN: I am not quite sure. There is a lot. From the Middle East, from the Indian, from everywhere, I believe.

LUI: Do these people come into your store?

CHAN: Yes. That's what I am talking about, 50/50% Chinese and not Chinese.

LUI: What do you think the relations are like in the community, with all the different people?

CHAN: It is comfortable. It's okay for us. That's what I mentioned in the beginning. When the people come to my store, they feel comfortable. They like to come back to our place.

LUI: Aside from the store, what do you think? Outside of the store. Out in the community?


CHAN: In the community, I didn't see anything conflict. The people still are -- Chinese are Chinese. I didn't see anything that there is a conflict or something like that. I didn't see.

LUI: So what would you say, if you were to just tell me sort of how Chinatown, not Chinatown, but the Chinese community in 8th Avenue, like goes from what street to what street? The boundaries.

CHAN: Right now, the boundaries around 8th Avenue are from the subway, I believe 62nd Street down to around 53rd. 10 to 12 blocks in that area.

LUI: What about 7th, 9th, 6th?

CHAN: I didn't see that much.


LUI: That's the business center or the whole community you're talking about?

CHAN: The business center.

LUI: What about where people live?

CHAN: I believe down to 4th Avenue.

LUI: A lot more spread out.

CHAN: That's right. They are spreading out right now. But right now, still around 8th Avenue, from 9th Avenue to 7th Avenue, in that area.

LUI: What do you think are some of the major problems or just problems that the community is facing right now? It's still very young and you said they still need some services. That's one thing. Anything else you can think of?

CHAN: I think that most people living around here, when they first come here,
they come to that area and settle down. When they have the ability, they move
out. A lot of new immigrants moving in. But for these couple years, the Chinese bought the house. They really bought the house. When they bought the house, they settle down over there. They try to get wider service, the same as the Chinatown over here. All the services, the bilingual service, and the English class. But the new immigrants, they don't have the program already. They step by step to do it. For the future, I can say that the community will be able to help a lot of
the new immigrants. But how can that community do it? I don't know. It depends
on the support of other people. But for the problem, I believe it is everywhere, the gangs. The people have the mob on the street. Something like that. That is the problem. I believe there is that kind of problem anywhere in the inner city. It's not particular to Sunset Park.

LUI: Are these gangs that are just in Sunset Park or are they connected to the gangs in Chinatown?

CHAN: I don't know.

LUI: Any other problems?

CHAN: I can't say anything right now besides that.

LUI: Do people see things like the robberies or the gangs, are they likely to
talk to police?

CHAN: Depends. The Chinese tradition, because the Chinese don't speak English. The see a robbery, they tell some people, they don't talk to the police. They don't know how to talk to the police, but a lot of people in that area, Paul Mak, that kind, they have people who try and translate it. If they go to that office, they will help them to go to the police to make a report, but I don't know how many people do it.

LUI: Do the police have good bilingual services?


CHAN: I don't see it right now.

LUI: So it still depends on a lot of the organizations in the community to do that?

CHAN: That's right. They depend on these organizations to help the people.

LUI: I'm going to change the topic again. After leaving Hong Kong, have you gone back to visit at all?

CHAN: Yes, once in 1984 and once in 1987.

LUI: Both times, for what reason?

CHAN: In 1984, just to travel, basically, just go back there to see my family. During 1987, it was business.

LUI: What business did you have there?


CHAN: That's what I told you earlier. It was import/export in China. But certainly, we had bad luck. Then we failed.

LUI: How did it feel to be back in Hong Kong? Did it feel strange? It had been a few years, right?

CHAN: No. Comparing Hong Kong and New York City, for the everything, for the transportation, for the living standards, for the shopping, that kind of thing, I feel a little bit that Hong Kong is better than New York.

LUI: Why is it better?


CHAN: In Hong Kong, I feel it's more aggressive, the people. They try to do better and better, but in New York, I didn't feel that way. I don't know. This may be my own personal feeling.

LUI: You mean the Chinese who are here?

CHAN: No, everybody.

LUI: Why do you think in Hong Kong people are more aggressive?

CHAN: It's very general. It's only my own opinion. In Hong Kong, you can see it. Even if you don't come from Hong Kong you can see it. From 20 years ago, 10 years ago, that period in Hong Kong, it's changed a lot. Generally speaking,
Hong Kong has changed a lot. The people get an education that is higher and
higher. The people in Hong Kong try to get better and better. The other thing, in Hong Kong every people is working class. They try to get better and better. They try to do a better job. In New York, I'm not saying people in New York don't want to get a better job, I'm not saying that, but for everything, the subway, the education system, I feel Hong Kong did a better job.

LUI: Do you think that the new immigrants that are here are very aggressive and work very hard?

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: Like the people in Hong Kong?

CHAN: Like the people in Hong Kong. I can say that. The new immigrants are very
aggressive. They try to get a better living, try to get a better education, they
try to get better and better. Generally speaking, in New York, a lot of people, you know -- I don't know.

LUI: Do you see a difference between the new immigrants from China and the new immigrants from Hong Kong?

CHAN: Yes.

LUI: Can you explain what the differences are?

CHAN: The people from Hong Kong, they usually get a general education. Usually, they understand. The people from Mainland China, usually the education level is not that good. Generally speaking, it's lower than Hong Kong.

LUI: Other than that, anything else that's different?


CHAN: From the basic education level, you get a lot of differences. In Hong Kong, usually the financial background, usually the people in Hong Kong is better than in Mainland China.

LUI: Anything else?

CHAN: That's a very big difference, for the educational level, and the financial background. In Hong Kong much better, generally.

LUI: You're saying that the new immigrants from Hong Kong have it easier?

CHAN: Yes, I can say that. When living in the United States, they can easier to
do it. Some new immigrants from Hong Kong, especially for these last couple of
years, they may go back to Hong Kong, because they feel that in Hong Kong, they can do a better job. It's getting easier than in the United States.

LUI: Have you seen people do that, go back?

CHAN: Yes.

LUI: What about you? What do you think for yourself and your family?

CHAN: I don't have the chance right now, but for the future, I don't know.

LUI: So it is a possibility?

CHAN: If for the business, basically. You know what I'm saying in China and in Hong Kong, they do the business and make it better than in the United States.

LUI: Even though in 1997 -- people talk about that?

CHAN: It doesn't matter.

LUI: Why don't you think it matters?


CHAN: A couple of years ago, I was concerned about 1997, Hong Kong back to Mainland China. But right now, what's the difference between Hong Kong and Mainland China. There's no difference.

LUI: That's from what you see?

CHAN: Yes. Especially, the Chinese, they don't want Hong Kong getting corrupt. They want Hong Kong still keep going.

LUI: So why is it harder here than over there?

CHAN: The government. The city. In New York City, they don't want to try to help the small business, they just want to kill the small business. That's it. That
is true, that is a fact. You can talk to the small business association, they
say, "so many taxes." The city wants to get it from the small businesses. In Hong Kong, there is no tax. It's not that way. They give chances for the small businesses to start to grow.

LUI: So it's been really hard to get the business going in Sunset Park is what you are saying?

CHAN: I can do the [unintelligible], even in Sunset Park. All the people, all the merchants, in the business in Sunset Park. It's not that easy. It's not the way that the people think, oh, I really have the good business. A lot of
merchants, they are-- just doing so-so. They are not doing really, really good.
It's not that well.

LUI: What is that because of?

CHAN: The economy. You can see it from the figures for March, they jumped up 1% for retail in the nation. But in Sunset Park, they dropped 5 to 7%.

LUI: They dropped?

CHAN: They dropped.

LUI: Do you think it's at all because it's difficult to do business in a community that's made up of new immigrants?

CHAN: Yes.

LUI: Can you explain that?

CHAN: First of all, the new immigrant doesn't know what's going on around here. They don't know the law. They don't know how to do it. They're just thinking
about when they open the business, they have the business. They open, and then a
couple of months they close down. I saw it a lot. They open it, they close it up, they open it, the close it up. I saw a lot.

LUI: Were you afraid that might to your business?

CHAN: That's why in the beginning when you ask me, "Do you think you're successful now?", I don't know how to answer your question. That's what I mean. We still very careful, you know, step by step to do it. How do we can a better job? How can we give better service? We still are in change.


LUI: How do you feel as a small business owner, that you can make it more stable?

CHAN: Hard to say. You know -nothing can make it more stable. It's hard to say, in that way.

LUI: What's your sense of the community? Is it going to be bigger, more stable?

CHAN: They will mature. They will get bigger, the Chinese community and the businesses around here, bigger and bigger. The more people will go to that area to do their shopping, for the future, if the bank is open on that area.

LUI: So you think it's probably going to be permanent, or do you think there's a chance that it may just sort of--?

CHAN: No, no. It's for permanent. I can say that even though for these couple of years, the economy's not that bad, but it's got the chance of going back. The
business has been going up. That's why I still be there. For myself, I still
very strong believe that area have that better chance.

LUI: Do you think other owners share your ideas?

CHAN: Yes, most of them, they can share with my idea.

LUI: I think that's all I have to ask. Is there anything else you want to add that I might not have asked you?

CHAN: I don't think so, because I don't know exactly what you want to know. As
much as I can, I help you, but I don't know how much I can help.

LUI: I guess what we're interested in is knowing what life is like out in Sunset Park.

CHAN: Life in Sunset Park, the Chinese community is still going up and I join with the, I'm the APO of the 72nd Precinct. You know what that means? Auxiliary Police. I get training over there and I try to participate in that area. But I cannot attend all the meetings. In that area, I still feel the Chinese
community, step by step, is growing up. Even the new immigrants, they lived
there a couple years ago, maybe when they settle down, they move up, but a lot of people bought the house over there. Started a couple years ago. They bought a house over there, they're living over there. Later on, when their second generation is growing up, they own that area already. So what I'm thinking about is that area has a very good chance for the whole 8th Avenue is Chinese, but for how many years, I don't know. A couple years later, you can see the difference between today and later on.

LUI: You said you started doing the research for the store in 1989. Before then,
you didn't really notice the community?

CHAN: Why I was interested in that area is because my friend opened a restaurant in that area. When he opened a restaurant around there, I went to that place. I went to 8th Avenue. I figured something changed, something new.

LUI: When was this?

CHAN: 1988-1989. That's what year it was. End of 1988 and beginning of 1989. In that period. I went there then I feel that that may be something for us. We kept an eye on it. We asked some people and some bakery, they did research already. How many restaurants, how many big factories, the garment factory, and how many
people working around there, we have to figure already. We did research. We sent
some people sitting over there, counting how many people pass by on the plaza for each hour.

LUI: You did this?

CHAN: I did some parts and somebody did something else.

LUI: This was for your business?

CHAN: Yes. We just count how many people walking in that area, and how much chance for us to do the business over there. We figured on that moment, we are not thinking that that is the right time to do it. That's why we went - , I went down to Puerto Rico. When I came back from Puerto Rico, we did it again. At that moment, we compared the data, from a year before and one year later. We felt it
was growing.

LUI: It was a big difference?

CHAN: It was not that different, but I can see the difference between the two years, and that's why we started the business over there.

LUI: Do you remember what the data was like about counting the people going by?

CHAN: On the first time, we count every minute that at least one person passed by.

LUI: This was the 55th Street?

CHAN: That's right. Around a year later, within two minutes, around two or three people passed by. This meant that the people were growing up. Second, of all, in that moment, actually, no Chinese pharmacy in that area. We were the first one.
That's why we thought we had a better chance.

LUI: So you already had this partner who was a pharmacist?

CHAN: That's right.

M: And how did you meet him again?

CHAN: We are classmates in high school.

LUI: In Hong Kong?

CHAN: No, in the United States,

M: Over at the Lower East Side?

CHAN: Lower East Side.

LUI: And you managed to stay in touch?

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: And he went off to school.

CHAN: He had more interest in that area than me, actually.

LUI: So he had to convince you to do the business?

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: Does he live in Sunset Park?

CHAN: Ten years ago, he lived around here. But right now, he lives in Queens. He bought a house in Queens.


LUI: So you compared the data, and then you realized it was time to start?

CHAN: That's right.

LUI: Do you know of other people who have done the same things when they were trying to figure out whether or not to start the business?

CHAN: I don't know.

LUI: So what gave you the idea to count the people?

CHAN: [laughter] From my background. I have an accounting background. We were not going to just do it. We did some research, to get the data.

LUI: OK. I think that was all I was going to ask you. Well, aside from asking you about Chinese New Year, which you already talked about, are there any other holidays that are celebrated in the community?


CHAN: No, not really. Basically, just Chinese New Year.

LUI: Do you usually go on New Year's Day, down there?

CHAN: Yes, I'm in there, my store is open.

LUI: Oh, you work on New Year's Day?

CHAN: That's right. No, on New Year's Day we're closed, but on the celebration day, I'm there.

LUI: Instead of being with your family?

CHAN: My family is there. Everybody comes in on that day.

LUI: So really no other holidays? Not just Chinese, but Chinese or American holidays that have community celebration?

CHAN: Not really.

LUI: Do you think the Chinese celebration for New Year's Day is Chinese, Chinese American--?


CHAN: All the people living over there, they are very interested in it, even the non-Chinese.

LUI: Why do you think they are so interested?

CHAN: A lot of people, people on the street, they buy the fireworks, no Chinese like this, even among Chinese. They would like to see that.

LUI: I think that's it. Thank you.

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