WONG, Larry

Author Tags: Chinese

Larry Wong was born August 1938 in Vancouver’s Chinatown and attended the University of British Columbia for two years.
His career was with the Federal Government which took him from Vancouver to Ottawa to Toronto and back to Vancouver. He was a financial planner with a background in accounting and computer.
After his retirement he became a member of the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop and wrote a short play, Siu Yeh, which was produced at the Firehall Art Centre in 1995. Siu Yeh was part of the Go For Broke Revue, a forerunner of Asian Heritage Month.
He was also the writer, researcher and co-host, along with Nancy Li for Rogers' Cable Chinatown Today; he served on the boards of Tamahnous Theatre, the Federation of B.C. Writers, the Westcoast Book Prize Society and the Vancouver Public Library, One Book, One Vancouver.
He was asked to join the Chinese Canadian Military Museum Society as a director and became their curator and historian.
He also became a director of the Vancouver Historical Society. He was the vice-president for several years and was their programming officer inviting guests highlighting the city’s history at monthly meetings opened to the public at the Museum of Vancouver.
He was the founding director of the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of B.C. in 2003 which was formally a registered society the following year. He continues to be active in the society with his blog, Ask Larry and participating in the UBC Chinese Canadian Stories.
His stories of early Chinatown appeared in a 2007 anthology, Eating Stories: A Chinese Canadian & Aboriginal Potluck which was reprinted in Learning Chinese Canada.
His latest book, Dim Sum Stories: A Chinatown Childhood was launched September, 2011.
He has served on a number of heritage committees and as a mentor, consultant and resource person for a number of writers and scholars.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Dim Sum Stories: A Chinatown Childhood


Dim Sum Stories: A Chinatown Childhood (Chinese Canadian Historical Society of B.C. and Initiative for Student Teaching and Research in Chinese Canadian Studies, UBC, 2011). $25.00 978-0-9783420-7-4

[BCBW 2012]

Dim Sum Stories
Review (2012)

In 2001, there were an estimated 425,000 Chinese in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, so it’s no wonder the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia (CCHSBC) has joined forces with UBC’s Initiative for Student Teaching and Research in Chinese Canadian Studies (INSTRCC) to launch Gold Mountain Stories, a new series to represent Chinese experiences in North America.

“When my father first arrived in this country,” recalls Larry Wong, a founding director and then president of the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia, “he was greeted by young boys that shouted, ‘Chinky-chinky Chinaman!’ It was a welcome he’d never forget.”

But there arose a second generation of Chinese in B.C. with a much less divided sense of Canada, and a greater breadth of experiences. Larry Wong knows Vancouver’s Chinatown from the 1940s to the 1960s as well as his school close friend Wayson Choy, author of The Jade Peony.

Born in 1938, Wong attended Strathcona School, Vancouver Tech High School and UBC, leading to a career with the federal government, and success as a self-described Yellow Banana, one colour inside, another out.

After rediscovering his Chinese identity in middle age, then retiring in 1994, Wong became active organizations such as Tamahnous Theatre, Federation of BC Writers and the Chinese Canadian Military Museum. His school tours of Chinatown have led to his blog called Ask Larry, at www.cchsbc.ca.

Now Wong’s Dim Sum Stories: A Chinatown Childhood ($25) recalls his Chinatown roots and the family dynamics of his upbringing. Wong explains at the outset that dim sum means “a little bit of heart.”

“It is relatively easy to write history from the outside,” says historian Jean Barman, “picking and choosing from among past times what appeals to us and then crafting events into a story we hope others will enjoy.

“To do the same from the inside, authentically and with feeling, is far more difficult, and this Larry Wong has achieved with Dim Sum Stories. We don’t just visit Chinatown vicariously, we share with him the smalls, the sights, the sounds, the everyday life of his childhood. We experience the inner working of a Chinatown we only otherwise glimpse.

“Larry’s childhood occurred in the 1950s, but it might as well have been much earlier. Chinese men had long left home in search of employment enabling them to support their families even as they made their way in a new land. In 1931, when Larry’s oldest siblings were young, Vancouver’s Chinatown contained 8,000 men in comparison to just over 200 women.

“Only a few men has been as enterprising as Larry’s hardworking tailor father to get enough money together to bring over a second wife, even as he continued to support his first family in China. Larry’s mother Lee Shee died when Larry, the youngest of six, was little more than an infant, and so his childhood reverted to the older ways of life that sustained the community.

“His acquaintances and minders were mostly the aging single men, to whom the young child must have given a glimmer of how different lives might have been in other circumstances.”