John Hsia, Sarah Hsia, and Jonathan Hsia

Recorded November 16, 2008 Archived November 16, 2008 01:25:06
0:00 / 0:00
Id: LMN000883


Jonathan Hsia and his sister Sarah Hsia interview their father John Hsia about their family in China and how he met their mother.

Subject Log / Time Code

Relationship with Japanese in China.
John on meeting their mother.
Sarah is opposed to Prop 8 in California; she compares it to illegal interracial marriage in some states when her parents married.
Their honeymoon in Denmark to visit ex-girlfriend and her husband.
Jonathan tells his father that he hasn’t talked much about his Chinese heritage. Jonathan’s Chinese American identity.
Sarah talks about links to their Chinese family.
Their expectations for their future trip to China.


  • John Hsia
  • Sarah Hsia
  • Jonathan Hsia

Recording Locations

StoryCorps Lower Manhattan Booth


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00:07 My name is Sarah Shaw and 33 today is November 16th 2008 in Foley Square New York at the storage core boost and I'm here with my dad and my brother.

00:18 My name is Jonathan Charles 32 years old today is November 16th 2008 in New York City with my sister and my father.

00:26 My name is John Shaw. I'm 77. Today is November 16th. So I'm in downtown storycorps and I'm here with my daughter and son.

00:39 Okay, so that one of the big reasons why I wanted to do this session with you is cuz we're planning this trip to Shan Dong in the spring and as part of that. I think we're thinking about getting back in touch with some of your cousins who we haven't.

00:58 Seen or been in touch with him a long time.

01:04 Can you tell me about why?

01:07 We fell out of touch with them.

01:10 Yeah.

01:14 What does main reason that the main reason is? Of course?

01:20 Play

01:22 This was during the time of them communist Rule and relations with the states were not great. And I was working in jet engines and GE security clearance, and I guess also at Smithsonian. I have secured a secret security clearance and it just wouldn't have done to have

01:46 Contact with relatives in China.

01:51 So I just didn't didn't communicate with him at all and they would write occasionally through my brother-in-law asking for money and I used to send them a little bit of money through my brother-in-law again. So we have no direct communication but then request started getting sores outlandish and that time they said over they wanted $15,000 or something to build a bridge in their Village and we thought that this was probably the government putting them up to getting foreign exchange from the relative. So I stop giving the money in the end.

02:34 That my brother-in-law passed away and I didn't know how to contact them at all. So if that's been that's why I thought that was a primary reason second reason and it was really something which I'm still having somewhat second thoughts except for you. I'm going is that they're they're really quite distant relatives that the oldest member of the family now living is my second cousin once removed.

03:08 So

03:10 His children, I guess there you are third cousins and that's that's getting pretty distant if you think about it, so I thought you know, what's the what is the point in getting in contact with them? Are we going to continue a relationship? But what is it we're going to do with them.

03:33 Is there any point in going there and and saying Ohio of establishing a relationship and then dropping it? One of the reasons that made me think about going there in the first place was that I thought well if there were young people whom I could help in terms of helping with their education or do something like that the few dollars in our country would make I mean in our currency would make a big difference for them and that tongue if there's some way I could help the family that might be money well spent in terms of yo are Confucian Heritage or whatever but it turns out that even the Next Generation they're all well in their twenties and from what I can gather things are okay with them. So, I don't know really how much that is. So that was some

04:33 List of white why we would go in the first place and the third was some

04:42 That I think my what is now my second cousin's

04:47 I came to live with us with some two of them came to live with us in Shanghai when when I was a child.

04:58 This will send 1939-40. I actually cannot before that. So maybe 38.

05:09 They were they were treated sort of.

05:15 Well poor relatives. This is is is too kind I think they were they didn't live they lived in her house, but they live to serve in the servants quarters. They didn't eat with us.

05:29 Say they were very sore fly come servants and I'm one of them would ride the bike with me to school when I was a child.

05:41 And they serve did chores around the house. Send.

05:47 So I thought well I didn't really know.

05:51 How they felt about that. I am think maybe they they were being taken care of and I suppose in that way. They may have been grateful but on the other hand I can imagine after they got 10 home by my stepmother.

06:08 That they may have had some thoughts that we're not too charitable. But I I really don't know what their expectations were or yo, so but know now the time has gone by and I don't know what stories have been told down. They did that don't seem to have any animosity and the village the family Elder seem to be access to have us go and so I guess that may not have been a problem.

06:38 But I I guess what really sold the deal was you're both wanting feeling that you really wanted to do that and that you had no second thoughts about that. And I said well if you felt about that way about it, then by all means we should go and I think it's some point I'd like to serve explore that with you a little more to see about your feelings because some of the things that you said took me back a little bit and I didn't really

07:10 I don't fully appreciate it or understand it. So I want to ask you about that some point this.

07:19 Tell me a little bit about Margie and when you first met her and and what was your what was your reaction to her? What was your relationship like? Oh, it was not good. I don't think it was terrible. She was something she was almost 9 years older than me.

07:41 I see little things that I remember with their she would take her Cod Liver Oil Soap mixed with syrup.

07:56 And I took my car liver oil straight.

08:00 Take a cutting from a syrup. What a sissy and I remember it being in Hong Kong and we would have served verbal arguments in.

08:16 So I didn't I didn't really have that much to do with her and see if she had and I wouldn't really have not fight but no they weren't there was enough age separating us that we really don't have that much.

08:31 And see

08:35 When in 1941 for 24042 towards the end of the war she decided that she wanted to go to the interior meaning Trucking to join free China and to do that. She had to travel quite a way if you think about from Shanghai to 220 n + 4 part of that way. She had to go on foot. So so through the countryside and and that was raised to my esteem for her and she went to chunking sheep got a job working for unrack you and relief Rehabilitation agency. And so she came back. I thought oh boy. She's really quite quite neat and so my feelings for a girl.

09:31 Quite different than I thought. She was pretty pretty neat. How old are you at that time?

09:38 Let's take him back with some 1945 us. Probably 13 right before you left for your Yap a year or so before we left.

09:48 You think that was you think your admiration for her you're changing perspectives on Margie was due to the fact that she had undertaken such an Endeavor was it politically related to political? It was just that she done something and she was no longer this useless relatives that had to take her coffee.

10:12 I remember you telling stories about animosity towards the Japanese at that time to

10:20 Well

10:23 They were there were just I can't think of just necessarily animosity and me they were the occupying Force. I'm in you so I didn't want to get in trouble with them at all. And some of them would cruise around breaking in the houses and raping the women we heard stories about that. So we had a place in back of the garage behind the whole pile of furniture for womenfolk to to hide if if that ever happened

10:58 But I did I don't recall any overt animosity. I mean engage in small acts of resistance. Not at all at school or anyting. Oh, well, we had to learn Japanese and I want my resistance was not practicing as he was studying it and we also cheated for exams. So it warmed up my I want that not learning in Japanese, which was really too bad because it would have been good if I'd been able to speak some Japanese, you know, but they didn't really

11:44 I'll do anything for us not to cheat.

11:50 What other family do you remember to digital your mother have any family that you ever knew a blessed Soul. She was just I've never seen her angry at one point. She may have been.

12:12 Upset about something. I remember that she looks so sad. But I've I've never seen her lose their temper or say anything mean or nasty. She was just the most wonderful woman just shut down feet. So it's hard for her to get around and see what's in their 80s and she would spend the morning picking vegetables and see what we could sit on the strongman. We'd sit down in the yard and weed the garden always did something useful.

12:45 To make cloth shoes for me and those Chinese cloth shoes. The sole is some layers of of from Material stitched together. She had to have an all the stucco hole through that and put the thread through. I mean she was just wonderful woman. Do you have a vivid memory of her?

13:08 I do I do I I can picture her and I'm and yeah, she made no sense of dishes for us.

13:20 Any other cousins are closer relatives than the folks and shun them but social butter.

13:35 I don't know. You must have been a distant cousin also need didn't he look like he didn't look Santo but I don't know really what is relationship was.

13:49 There was one cousin who was in the army or something.

13:53 Oh, this is on my Stepmother's son cousins from who are american-born and this one cousin was with the Marines and and Shanghai. He's the one that played basketball and he and he played the trumpet.

14:11 And I used to think he was kind of cool cuz he could do tricks with a basketball bounce it hit it to me with his elbows could raise his eyebrow. Oh, yeah. He's the one that had this nervous tick raising one eyebrow, and I used to practice practice and I finally was able to do that to 1:30 came to visit and I proudly raise my eyebrows back at you just like that at all.

14:41 Study of the delighted

14:49 What do you think your dad taught you about being a dub?

15:01 I don't know I did.

15:06 Sony I very seldom or never have thought about well, what would my dad have done in this situation I deserve

15:18 Good things to write to me or or whatever and I didn't.

15:24 I didn't really.

15:29 They were so no lessons learned that I had in the Forefront of my Consciousness that I thought. Well, I should do it this way because Dad did it this way.

15:39 But I'm I'm sure there must have been unconscious things that that came came through, but he always some

15:52 I think he was I can only remember once that he

15:57 Was really angry at me know I would say where he really disciplined babe and he disciplined Me by withdrawing contact and I was I still remember what the situation was was that

16:14 Something about reading a book that I shouldn't shouldn't have been reading and it's asked me not to do and I said, okay and then he caught me doing it and I melted this argument of denial sing. Oh, I didn't do it at a certain became rather disrespectful to him saying, what are you saying?

16:39 Lying

16:40 And so he wouldn't speak to me. And so this went on for a couple days and then

16:49 I talked to my stepmother and she said well maybe you ought to apologize to him.

16:55 And I did that was that was it. How old are you?

17:00 No, I must have been.

17:03 12 is 13 something like that.

17:07 It was clearly wrong. I was clearly disrespectful and you know, I think he just felt that he had to teach me a lesson and it wasn't certified.

17:19 The TV was actually not feeling as if he loved me or anything like that. It was but it was just too.

17:27 Well, it did teach me a lesson.

17:35 Only time it's ever spank me.

17:39 What's the fight don't remember what it was that I did but it was in Hong Kong and I was with 6 or something like that and it was the usual you have to start. It hurts me worse than it's going to hurt you.

17:56 But you were

17:59 Kind of separated from him at a pretty young age.

18:05 I was

18:09 And I didn't really

18:14 Didn't really think much about it because it was so much going on in my life. And then I think for once and he he came over yet mean he came over and they were living in Montreal and yeah, I see the vacations and it wasn't until they were actually going back that I suddenly realized that I was going to be separated.

18:38 Dubstep

18:48 Tell me about when you first met mom.

18:57 What you probably know the story, but are we had a mutual friend named Clara? When was Clara Wayne right now?

19:06 And

19:08 She invited me to New Year's party.

19:14 Would you like to bring anybody or shall we surprise you and said I was surprised me was it was it commonplace of that time to be sore set up at a party?

19:25 Oh, I don't know. I mean set up it just I guess they're mostly couples. And so that we shouldn't have to say anything but she asked if I bring anything and if you could have just said are you going to bring somebody in and I could have just said no, and she probably would have invited somebody just to even it out, you know.

19:48 So it turned out.

19:53 The mum was down with the flu or something that she couldn't go. So I was the odd man at the first party and

20:03 Then I called up Mom and said well we didn't get together. We were supposed to meet at the New Year's party. So how about we meet on our own?

20:14 So we didn't start off from there to remember where you want your first date now, I don't.

20:26 Manston

20:29 I may have been to some.

20:32 Dance

20:37 Well, it was nothing. What's up opening of some?

20:41 I'm one of those.

20:44 Play and brought dance places make a nightclub, Seattle.

20:56 And then yeah, I think that was the first state to know. What went through your mind when you first saw her.

21:06 When I first saw her I I didn't wasn't introduced us to admit I met her before. Oh, yeah.

21:15 I think a couple of times if I didn't I wouldn't I didn't know I'd matter but I knew that she was with that group of people. And the first time was when Don Freeman had a Christmas party in and usually it was a group of people sort of my age or so and this time I guess I was

21:40 Maybe closer to 30 maybe the late twenties or something like that in the other group of teeny bopper. So I don't know. What's it doing hard and fighting these teeny bopper son. Mom was part of the teeny bopper group.

21:55 Yeah.

21:57 I love next time I guess what's in the Cambridge seven witches architectural firm Christmas party and I think I met her there also seen her there. I may have been introduced but I did remember when was this what year?

22:21 I can't I can't remember that say she she grabbed out of design school in 67.

22:33 So that I met her the year she got out of design school.

22:38 67

22:40 Were you conscious at all that?

22:44 At that time in some states. There were laws prohibiting interracial marriage still admitted loving versus Virginia wasn't decided until 1967.

23:04 No, I didn't I didn't realize it at the time.

23:09 Do remember meeting her parents for the first time?

23:18 No.

23:24 No, I can't remember.

23:30 No, I have no clear up memory of that member anything about them at that time before as your recording?

23:38 Well

23:44 Well, you know that Mom was rebelling against that whole scene out there.

23:51 Bye bye scene with surf North Shore wasp Community, you know coming out and all of that social stuff you mean w Top Model of modern.

24:10 And dumb

24:14 I live in her parents were always very cordial to me and her mother or father was drinking at the time, but I mean I've never seen them.

24:27 Terribly Tron

24:30 I didn't think I didn't really think much about it. But if it was it may have been difficult for them, but then never never showed any signs of that. Do you ever recall it being an issue interracial dating?

24:53 I don't I can't think of its being an issue. I've never served and I don't know how become an issue except if the parents objected or something like that.

25:06 But I suppose if the if the women didn't want the day of this when they're giving any signs of wanting to know me so but no no comments on the street and no remarks from passers-by. Not that I ever not that I ever saw.

25:27 Money-wise I find one of the issues that's so

25:33 Prominent on my mind these days. Is this Proposition 8 in California? And when I when I think about it and I think about why I'm so strongly opposed to it. What would a curse to me? Is that just as you guys were meeting and getting married there were States in which you could not have done that and

25:57 Pretty powerful thought that

26:01 You know we wouldn't exist.

26:07 I never thought about that damn in one of our neighbors in Shanghai.

26:13 The husband was Chinese and his wife was American. This is Jerry way who happened to be in the same fraternity at end of my tears. I went to climb into our neighbors from check out that I'd met free yours just happened to to be there soon.

26:38 Did you know right away that this was the woman that you wanted to marry?

26:45 No, no, I thought this was a woman that I was attracted to I like to Spirit. I like to have a sense of humor intelligence and see what I thought. She was quite beautiful.

27:05 And in her way, I just said.

27:09 I think I wrote to Nick and Judy or something that I'd met this this girl and that she was some I went to scribers being pretty but I thought that she was beautiful.

27:24 Actually, I was rather.

27:30 Little scared of the commitment part of it

27:35 And so we went together for quite some time. And finally I think Mom was the one that said what are you or what we are we are to do something and I don't know what kind of put it but it's tipped me over the edge for a sec. Okay. I don't remember how it happened but

28:07 So you got married?

28:09 Yea yea, what were the first few years of marriage like

28:16 Well it was.

28:22 The first

28:24 Arguments and disagreements started serve just right after we got married. I thought so now her true colors shipping.

28:34 But it I guess turned out because she quit smoking on the day. We got married and I think that you know, I can remember when I got quit smoking.

28:48 She said that my purse whole personality changed. She she thought I had a brain tumor that it was it was so bad, but I can remember just getting really really angry. And you're there were there were nights where that have to walk out of the house and walk around the block to serve get control of my anger.

29:09 So

29:15 Start off.

29:17 Changing things

29:19 But it wasn't the first for your sweet. I mean we have the case law remix a text, but it was

29:29 Redfin

29:31 What was your favorite memory from your honeymoon?

29:37 If it meant having the memories that I remember where yeah, we went we went to Denmark to visit.

29:52 And I remember we woke up one morning. I guess it was Christmas morning. I said, oh my God, you know, I don't have a Christmas present for you.

30:01 It's just that I don't have for you either and so I'm never was sure whether she said that just to make me feel better or whether it was really true. But I think it was true and what we've just gotten married a week a week before then. So, I don't know I guess we hadn't thought about Christmas presents or something.

30:26 I mean

30:31 That was sort of a mermaid had did you end up getting each other Christmas present think so.

30:38 But I don't know.

30:42 How did you come up with the idea of going to visit your ex girlfriend for the Hun?

30:52 Really were friends. We knew them and they were living in Denmark and that's some place where I thought it'd be nice to go and mom thought so too. Oh my god, really Tomlinson.

31:10 Couldn't before the time Runs Out. Can I do a talk a little bit about?

31:16 Remember Jonathan. Are you somebody somebody I think you said that?

31:24 Survive not

31:27 Passed on to you

31:29 Your Chinese Heritage that somehow or other that's been kept from you in something that you've missed errors. I would least something like that. I'm not sure what it was. He said I think what what I said was that you don't you don't talk about China very often and your experience in China and that it's something that I want to know about her and I wanted to feel as a part of my history as well as part of, New York.

31:56 I know from time to time. I've gotten the feeling that your sense of identity in terms of. Well, are you Chinese or American or are you neither time America is something like that has been an issue unless you know, I thought I just hadn't gotten onto that before because I was too nice not felt comfortable in Chinese. I never thought about how you might feel about it. So I was just wondering you know.

32:32 Are there anything set aside from tell you more about China or things that you wish I could have done and within your upbringing that would make you feel more sense of identity. I know that Mom tried very hard to do things and and preserve the Chinese traditions and much harder than I did. Are there any things which you wish?

32:58 Might have happened that would make you feel differently or

33:03 No, I don't. I mean for me it wasn't a question of things that didn't happen. But I think it's just a question of you know, my experience is rooted in the United States and the the exposure to China with through the filter of America and it wasn't quite as based in the

33:26 The motherland or Fatherland as it could have been and I think our trip to China in 86 and really saying that much of the country in spending good six weeks are we got was really important to me that I cherish today and I still think back about that was a good trip. And I think that's a good part of why we

33:53 We want to go back all the time to try and reclaim. Our Chinese Heritage is linked to food. That's

34:05 That's how we really explore our culture.

34:10 I've always been curious about Chinese family and I think that's why I felt so strongly about this trip was because I think I was telling you that really the only Chinese family that were in touch with is Ming and to some extent Lily and Ming is your step sister's husband's third brother's son, which is not exactly a there's always going to curiosity because you kind of come from in many respects. You kind of come from a vacuum. Your dad was kind of separated from his family early on in his life your mother. We don't know anything about

35:04 So

35:07 The part of the strip for me is really a

35:11 A desire to see where we come from peasant stock mean really?

35:22 Really meaningful to me

35:28 I mean for him to have come from literally Barefoot in the rice paddy is just amazing amazing out of here within one generation to produce a MIT graduate and

35:40 The Next Generation down is never really had to worry about a thing. It's really a credit credit to both of you guys. Well, I didn't do anything to eat. He did everything.

35:53 No told you I mean, it's just blows my mind to think about at that time. He's going around selling pots and pans knocking them doors and mrs. Believable.

36:05 Yeah, but you I mean then you've made some sacrifices to to get to where you are. And it's it's

36:13 Your story is credible.

36:18 I'm glad you think that by don't know what you're talkin about me. I suspect a few said that to your father. He might have the same react. I don't know but

36:34 Know what are your expected? I'm afraid about your expectations for the trip that it might turn out the tub.

36:44 So we meet them and we had second we ask ourselves. What are we going to do? And I'm a little apprehensive about the whole thing.

36:55 We're the only shows I know it'd be fascinating for me to see a village full of shots, but I don't really have any expectations. I mean to be honest. It sounds like we might not even be able to communicate with them very well and I'll ask them and stuff. I don't have the sort of fantasies of running across a rice paddy with arms are some cheerful reunions, but I just I would like to see where we come from. I'm kind of see what grows.

37:33 Out of that. Maybe it's nothing. Maybe we need to meet these people on their jerks and we said no see you later. Because you know, you can't pick your family, but

37:51 At the same time I feel like

37:54 I feel a little bit of guilt. I know you've you've kind of expressed us sentiment of feeling a little bit guilty that that people had different outcomes, but really, you know there but for the grace of whatever higher power you believe in,

38:14 The Austin The Village so absolutely.

38:20 I agree. I think it's a lot a lot of hard work to the main thing. It's a lot of hard work on Yaz part. I think there's a lot of hard work on your part.

38:31 But you're right in different circumstances and Sarah could be us.

38:38 But I agree. I just want to see I just kind of want to see it. I know I just kind of want to know if the cold isn't windy is it?

38:53 Bumpy, he is whipped. What do they grow there where they eat there. Where was it? Smell like was it look like

39:02 Things like that.

39:04 Maybe we could name a pavilion or I just remember this TV show my so about somebody going back to Thailand and getting in touch with a relative some the Swiss American chinese-american been going back in the hello and and then turns out that they were there was so little in common, but after the meeting and finally, I think the Chinese person said something like come and why did you come I mean

39:38 And I hope you know that sir stuck in my mind.

39:46 And if that happens I happened yet.

39:51 But that's why I'm to the next year. We can go to Malaysia.

40:03 That's where your mom's from months from foot and Malaysia.

40:15 You can visit our Justin cousins in Jamaica Black Hole Sun & Surf.

40:28 Encouraging a good stopping point. Would you if you would if you could give us each one piece of advice, what would it be?

40:42 I would say that.

40:45 I would love it if you both could serve from

40:51 Learn all ways to see the other person's point of view that

40:59 It's important to know that there are always two sides of everything and we can talk some more about that cuz we don't have time right now, but one example, is that a boss at was Bill. Lindsay was very capable adult in person. And once in a while, he'd say something. That's stupid.

41:24 And then and then I told myself back because I would say he's an intelligent person. He's not going to say something stupid. What could he possibly have meant other than what I'm thinking and then it suddenly dawned on me that it was something. I hadn't another way of interpreting what he said or that he has some other information. I don't know about or something and so, you know,

41:49 I learned that it's really am and that's just an example of how important it is to serve.

41:56 Try to understand the other person's point of view.

42:01 Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for asking for doing this. Thank you for coming down. And the reason why we need to come down here to do it.

42:17 That's about it. You said what if you put on the tape recorder and I freeze my stepmother?