Maria Koh and Audrey Koh

Recorded November 25, 2008 Archived November 25, 2008 01:08:58
0:00 / 0:00
Id: SFB000063


Audrey, 51, interviews her mother, Maria, about growing up in Shanghai, immigrating to the United States, and her family.

Subject Log / Time Code

Born in Shanghai, 9th child. Became nutritionist because during the war suffered infection because she didn’t eat vegetables.
In 1949, Communists invaded and went to Taiwan. In 1951, took slow freight to U.S.
Seeing “white” and “negro” signs in St. Louis. Seeing “dogs and Chinese don’t enter here” sign in Shanghai.
Chief librarian in Pennsylvania one of biggest influences.
The children growing up.
Grandchildren, hopes for grandchildren.


  • Maria Koh
  • Audrey Koh


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00:08 My name is Audrey Koh, and I'm 51 years old is November 25th to 2008 and we're in San Francisco.

00:18 And I'm the daughter of the person who I'm going to interview.

00:26 I'm a really cool. I'm done.

00:30 Today's date is November 25th 208 and I mean San Francisco and my relationship to the interviewer is a mother to daughter.

00:43 So Mom, I thought I'd start by asking you something about your growing up where you grew up.

00:51 And about your childhood, I am born in Shanghai China. I am the ninth child with v one being a stillbirth, but we still kept his rank. So they are full brothers and sisters at one time together.

01:10 So that was a big household for girls and for boys.

01:15 And so what was it like being in that big house hold with all those kids live in the memory of my father, but my mother was more less than can't keep up a very fat and very independent who had always wished that we were loved and taken care of with the education being the first criteria and my eldest sibling the brother wanted to individual Isis. So his wishes is for all of us to have a college education of different profession so such as turn. My elder sister is a empty by their it Ridgid training through University of early and I'm the youngest one decided to be medical nutritionist because during the war time I suffered infection because I didn't like the rest of us didn't have a lot of people didn't have

02:15 Vitamin B. So in our case, we ate the good polish rice. Tell me the story about the rice.

02:23 Unfortunately in the entire generations of grandparents Center, what have you with other siblings in the maids and servants, we cook riced with half the polished rice for the so-called Hartford family members and the ones that waited on us the brown rice to the ones that develop very very other nutrition deficiency of what the hot tub. I keep us the wicked.

02:54 So what you thought was going to be the the better rice the the white rice actually put people in your family got very Berry in the servants who got the what was thought to not be such a great rice exactly. I was really taken that story. Seriously. I smiled and I took major in nutrition. That's great.

03:16 So when you're in Shanghai, then what what was your school like enough to be very westernized whereabouts I was totally committed myself like the teenagers not to worship the western style of living and I read books. I like little in my Heidi and auto Stuff Etc and I succeeded very well very competitive environment. But we had I remember school for the free neighborhood kids. So I assert Iva Middle School managed to teach the you know pulverized.

04:03 People in the neighborhood that came to a crashing on text row houses.

04:10 So that taught me how to be a stage producer for more kids.

04:21 So growing up in Shanghai. What's do you have some favorite memories for a favorite memory from childhood Hill. I thought I have sometimes told you Audrey. I live with sharing bedrooms with my older sibling sisters and later. I moved to a westernized house totally different from the big fellows. We had in that so-called English colonize the Shanghai. So then I had my own bedroom and then I became very very multitasking. I remember four weeks. I will finish my homework, but read my favorite novels and turn on the only radio there was in the house always classical music and then I wouldn't it at the same time. We didn't have knitting machine Spin and then I had a ball off a peanuts. That's my entertainment. So I finished

05:21 Something very rewarding to me listening with my ears. And then unfortunately, I remember there was a rule that I had to have a maid they watch me to go to bed on time, but I crave you.

05:47 So then you were in high school and then but then at some point you left Shanghai, right? Yes, including that I had to leave because they're coming this China invaded from the north. So we are talked about to talent because the Nationalist China had to take her Escape. Okay, so you did part of your high school there and are they somehow managed to self educated until I skipped to high school grades to enter the national Taiwan University as a freshman.

06:25 And the succeeding and then they die in 50 and 51. I had a chance to get the admission to the United States because at the time of America college is suddenly open doors to the undergraduate size from a foreign countries for the quote, right? So, how did you how did you get to the United States Sister Sister bought me expensive but very protective. What's a slow boat from China that went from Hong Kong to San Francisco, but it stopped and all the parts to another cargo so to speak so it took me about 31 days vomiting nausea, but I became Weston is a little because every night we got to dine with the captain drinking wine and my underage child.

07:24 And I had all the cheese send all the Western us the dentist. So I was kind of memory but I arrived the Audrey on Columbus Day, October 12th to be exact and I font at the San Francisco Port what's all empty because it was evident a national holiday in San Francisco. And so the only piece of identification I had to get from a suitcase was my big chest x-ray because at that time. Health officers were there to make sure the foreignness quote-unquote didn't carry any chibi or any germs into this country. Right? And then I stay overnight at The Bishop's house for some lucky reason and then bought the tickets immediately through Midwest to my destination School in Pennsylvania. And one thing I think I repeatedly told you it's

08:24 Eat my flesh back. That way I change training us and Louis Missouri area. I Saw 2 actress the Army and did I tell you one set white? I'm quite sure Allison negro and I didn't quite know that word of the Dead Uncle Tom whatever store so I didn't know which I should the antis through. So I think I walk in between that because I cut my vivid memory. Yeah equal justice we had in this country and then surprised by that I was shocked by that because I didn't quite know exactly what race was.

09:15 But I got to Pennsylvania. Yeah late, but they are actually what you just said about the train station that reminds me of something you told me about the park in Shanghai.

09:29 Oh about okay. Well at that child in Shanghai. Okay, like I said that the independent living with one bedroom house that my family managed to separate the heck. Is that several bedroom the several bedroom house, but you had your own bedroom was after the Opium War considered the French territory. So vividly we seldom visit the park but the one afternoon on Sunday I saw distinctly that sign Chinese and dogs don't enter and I think then I told my eldest brother who was are always mascot lovingly holding my hands do I go through or do I not he said let's do it because we live in this public park area.

10:22 Wow, that's it. Brought me the hesitation off. How come you know, I came to this westernized country of the United States of America and there were the same separation of people keep on the wall by David DNA, right?

10:40 So that was shocking in the right in the early 50s.

10:47 In the United States. Yeah.

10:50 Kind of taught me to be in a study hard to be.

10:56 Pissed off with respect and that's how I got to study.

11:05 So you then you went eventually got to your college.

11:12 In Pennsylvania, and there you were and you didn't know anyone and who were some of the influences for you when you you know in this country. I could think of number one was my chief library because somehow or did I study so I decided Library app for hiding because I didn't have to socialize on Saturday evening was influenced by the chief librarian. Not only teaching me the Dewey system hotrock books from science to religion to philosophy what have you but she said very comfortable encouragement Maria don't ever be afraid to ask at the library. Whatever. You don't know you like Ali with Auntie answer and this live up to the state why I support other public libraries

12:12 Equal opportunities systems right now with all the media search and the internet and all the internet in the library. I think it's really a big blessing for public education's right?

12:29 And I'll that lives through my life took a clearly. That's one of your main loves her at the library system because it taught me so much.

12:48 So for your other influential people for you?

12:57 Highlight of my life was when I finished my higher education graduate schools and all I got a very unusual note from the immigration office that I'm done with my skoolie. So I should be deported and I didn't even know what exactly I was at that the political status. I don't have a home. I wasn't the refugee. I couldn't go to Taiwan because I didn't really have any so-called people. I'm a independent. Now lie back are so luckily my department head after Medical Nutrition in Ohio State University sponsor through G+ message Nelson Louis being her name Senate bill to tag. My really cost at the time. I wasn't really into a unbelievable send a bill right and some heart.

13:57 Vs offer delaying and what have you passed and then I could have official employment before I survive on the National Science Foundation grants and scholarships.

14:19 Could send it then you were officially immigrated. Yes. Yeah that I have.

14:29 Then employment opportunity right up off of smell and I moved to Seattle Washington and immediately became to advocate for all the land of opportunity in the equal of so-called freedom for everybody. So race or gender or what-have-you in the health education. So I remember grassroot at the Cancer Society and then I'll Quinn's Seattle wanted to have bilingual education I went on and I was mostly when I was in charge of her Chinese information service center because the Chinese immigrants were growing, you know, plenty more and more of them you phones and put some ice Mary Gates who was in charge of United Way and how did he influence you

15:29 Very determined. She meant told me to say Maria don't be afraid to ask for any mission that you think what's good for the majority of the time. I was trying to apply for the senior meal programs like all the other seniors in the neighborhood Seattle that we're getting through the city and the through the county. So I said, okay, I'll try for the Asian Community quidditch through her and courage my succeeded through the funding and so up to this day in Seattle. We had that Asian meal programs just to be suitable for the agents who may have lactose intolerance diet. What have you so they were very much helped because of question courage to carry on.

16:18 Go to ask for what you thought you really needed the top need the leadership not to be afraid to get on the table to speak for what you think is good for the majority of the citizens. Right? Right and you're visiting me now in San Francisco visiting your grandsons and they were telling me that we visited there school today and a fun thing happened there. Yes Touch by the kids from kindergarten wrong to sing the songs, but the highlight of the you know, finale was singing the song using the Confucius maltose, which said you supposed establish your own. I think it's, Harmony and I know them in Chinese. Okay after you have your own self confidence and how many of Peace within yourself you established that or expanding?

17:18 To your family members. So then you find a happiness with things that you have to coexist another one with the family and that way you have a happy family life than you can on a country you can speak up us and then on to the world to bring the coexistence of the happiness to the world. So I put it together and give it to the headmistress I said, this is exactly why I remember when I was a little kid that you first have solid grounds on your feet and then you bring happiness or establishment to your family, then you can vote as a citizen or speak up for your country's richness and a soak off the rushing flourish flourish, and then you can

18:10 Bring more peace negotiation what happened? So it's how many happiness honor your country and then you have a what did I say that were famous word holistic were peace and I felt like I was a little girl when I came over to this country and it's bringing East to the West because I worship the western civilization so much and now suddenly today I got a lesson that Eastern philosophy are but have is not bad at all because we want to see where peace right on your Pacific Metra. Thank you right there. You were hearing the the teachings of Confucius in a western School.

18:59 In California and Utah you were taught those same Confucius teachings when you were in Shanghai going to a western School in Shanghai. So it's an interesting Circle exactly where we go to truly Prince of world. Peace through negotiation and strokes.

19:26 Family Harmony Handa self-confident Center

19:32 Prince I would say, let's hope so.

19:37 Well

19:40 Since we have a little more time.

19:45 Can can you tell me a little bit more about Shanghai growing up like?

19:53 I like about you getting lessons in piano and things like that. Again. This is the family how many os a competition all the girls were Melissa implanted with the desire or wishes to learn piano because women do better on the piano benches and the boys are learned thus ending up the versions of a harmonica, which is good exercise for your legs according to mean cut his last test at home, but I had the Russian teacher like a six and two dead on my second sister anyway, and then the solar system

20:53 Aya one time was so timid because I was so Dia into my Russian. And I was Advanced quite well because of his team. He said I was playing Tchaikovsky's piano concerto 1 and he wanted to endless me into a big Auditorium service I talk and I said little Maria, how could you afford to be in the big audience? So. I'm in my life ever. I told a teacher Ally.

21:26 But pointed to my subfloor a big feel like that we live in I said that my grandmother thought and my grandmother just passed at you earlier in January or February during the winter time your daughter senior citizen Southwest faded away, July for the summer concert and they said she died and he look at me puzzled Maria at the time that you really mean that you cannot play the piano. I regretted ever since then because my other job managed to go I'll stay tuned. I stay home. And because I saw that movie Pinocchio remember that I will throw up, but my mother was safe lessons, Utah.

22:27 Through movie also any media msmc and that was my biggest lesson is that will grow a big nose.

22:36 That's funny. But education is still to me the most valuable investment as well. I like this. I think you passed that on to to me and to

22:52 My siblings in your passing it on to the grandchildren, so that's great.

22:59 What do you remember about when your kids were young? What was Audrey like?

23:05 Audrey was

23:08 My poor little slave. She being the oldest sibling of

23:15 4 but there was a h gap of she was four years older than the other three which came almost in 5 6 years apart. So she had to be a true leader in a very fair Elder sibling like my eldest brother texting. She was sacrificed after she very disciplined only did her homework to come downstairs to help me do the egg roll wrapping or whatever little task a slave to eat. She had the richest schedule of when to clean her room or what she did to the rest of the house including one time. She left me a note. I am going to escape the next morning.

23:58 I don't remember the notes. We'd regret it so much reset that. We truly consider her more than a little student. I vaguely remember having difficult to remember I had to ask my dad to ask Dad to help me tie my shoelaces so I can run away.

24:24 Do you want to say a little bit about about Barbara? Who was the one she's my sister for years younger Barbara emulator everything by including your you know words of wisdom and taught her how to write a paper with a Sperry verus Saints Row. I Remember she always was a good Rider Cobra by the way, what's the fat? She turned out to be a journalist investigation attorney if she wanted to be respected you and consider you as a personal mental.

25:05 And God took the to Jawga Boyz, which Kim surprisingly after two girls Asian family off of live worship.

25:19 If not more also look upon you are a very good example.

25:29 How would you say Trace trip right, so do you remember how?

25:36 Do you have any memories of the four of us all together but must have been a a big chore actually keeping us all organized and dressed and getting to school and said

25:49 Yeah, we had the time that we worried that there was going to be a mini depression because I think at that time the so-called don't break. The glass ceilings happened to your parents your father that was and probably in the airplane manufacturer Boeing Boeing Company and had to undergo some changes stuff. You kind of Me Reason even though he wasn't very much with the defense and that's another story. But anyway, we had to run time for you threatened that we might get a pink slip from his employment. And so we lift up forgot to take like we are facing now in the 208 is too. I'm always for the recycling and read use the greens is that you don't let any piece of paper waste it was all riding on the back of it.

26:42 The original recycler the original

26:47 Very much. So and did you know, I mean just to bring old memories you were raised from a cloth diapers, right? And even to the date David was for which was swept 8 years apart. Can I get a person that there's no such thing as a paper diapers and

27:10 That's quite a progress and that's how we had to conserve every bit of recyclable material and the possessions and I think your late grandmother taught me that is to conserve everything because she lived through the wall. Right now we're realizing that that's that's that's become popular and essential infect right now.

27:37 Yeah, I forgot to tell you I think is so well so mean that you kind of me into a survivorship. Okay. Do you agree? That's what I'm going to tell us to do pretty soon and I also think so much about obesity problem which you and I are they always like today in the math class. They were measuring just for a little survey how many people are more rectangular than the square sort of the ones that expand beyond the limit in and so anyway, I think it's important to know what we eat because I'm preaching the Chinese medicine again, the starter diseases come from overheating. Sometimes just a bacteria organic food processed food.

28:32 Bouquet

28:37 Right now I'm five grandchildren.

28:41 Okay, I have a granddaughter number one.

28:45 Melanie age 14 and next to her her siblings Christina age ten going on eleven and then they are blessed with a younger boy or brother Bryan age for and they are all dressed Titus Anthony searching Honda used 12 on the 12th 12. I'm sorry. I guess Skipper and then his sibling Alex age.

29:18 Okay. I'll see you play today. J88.

29:28 Your you growing up in in Shanghai and how it's different from their life. Now that we in China would every morning get up if it's intergeneration Levi to greet. The oldest of Survivor's first. I will go to Grandma's room and say good morning. No matter how much I'm rushed to school and then coming back. We will say it evening Health to her and to parents off causa, but right now they would like to call me probably by first name, which I wasn't very accustomed to but luckily Audrey has discipline your kids to call me Papa. I feel a little uncomfortable but I think ranks in the respect is something that me go around come back.

30:26 So you mean about respecting the elders or were you the daily ritual of greeting your family members? I think it's sort of said the order just like a we setting the earlier Confucius say if you know yourself, well, then, you know where you came from? So you kind of a hopefully respect the elders said that your teachers being your second set of parents almost according to your father's wishes.

31:03 Do you want?

31:07 Do you want to talk about any other of your memories from your boat ride over here or from your first impressions? When you got this country? Was it the time there was that big impact when you got to the train station, but how about just in general? What what did you expect when you came? What did you think you were going to see when you got here? I think I was very fortunate to have been so quickly oriented to the restaurant using the oriented way to say that I cut too and to the Western Civilization. I still find myself very humble and a very reserved in that hate to use the word Americanized a friend of mine always say that you know, I thank you and you supposed to say you're welcome. But you said I would say no. Thanks, and no, thanks and which men to you know, I accept your gratitude.

32:07 But really it's nothing even to this day, so I would still using my Chinese culture said it's a small matter don't you know, thank me, but I like to do things for the people like yesterday. I was visiting the 103 year old grandma. I said try sex right before I came to San Francisco. Another one. I said that respect of the elders is very much in my blood and just first name you call your boss by first name, not very acceptable. Maybe. I'm too much rank Honda Civic Coupe.

32:51 Okay good.

32:58 What are your hopes for your grandkids?

33:02 That they would be number one very healthy citizens that they will always watch for the necessary health-related the risks of problems another look at other human ization, especially I'm pushing you know, for all this necessary immunization the vaccination cetera know I am promoting the Asians with eight any Asian blood supposed that you make when someone born here to have the Hepatitis B vaccination, they're fully immunized Mom. I'm extending another word Utopia list to all the Asian communities. Okay that live in this country to be honest citizens and the to do this year of getting a good education in to set good examples and the to be contributing not only their special respect it filled but to speak up

34:02 The necessary at the political or Civil Society levels

34:10 Such as voting for whatever rights education of health-related gender-related programs.