Betty Yuen, Lois Yuen, and Eddie Yuen

Recorded March 5, 2009 Archived March 5, 2009 01:21:17
0:00 / 0:00
Id: SFB000220


Betty Yuen, 85, tells her daughter Lois Yuen, 45, and her son Eddie Yuen, 43, about growing up in Minnesota, being a stewardess, traveling to India alone, and meeting their father, Hoh-Kun (Donald) Yuen.

Subject Log / Time Code

Betty grew up in Minnesota during the depression, her family ate well and had chicken every Friday
Betty talks about being a stewardess and a scary experience when traveling to Chicago through a Thunderstorm
Betty took a freighter to India by herself, traveled to Karachi (Pakistan), New Delhi, Bombay and the Himalayas
Betty retells a visceral memory from India where she rode a rickshaw through a village
Betty’s first date with Lois and Eddie’s father was ice skating, they eventually moved to Berkeley together


  • Betty Yuen
  • Lois Yuen
  • Eddie Yuen


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00:01 What you want to talk about?

00:06 Okay, my name is Lois Ewen and I'm 45. This is March 5th 2009. We're in the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, and I'm here with my mother Betty Yuan and my brother at the UN.

00:25 And my name is Eddie you and I'm 43. It is March 5th, and I am the son of a mother who is here and and my sister little sister as well and I'm 85 and today's date is March 5th 2009, and we're in San Francisco and

00:58 And her mother to Dolores nedy.

01:07 Okay. Well, I guess to get started you were born in 1923 and and Minnesota. Could you tell us a little bit about your you know, growing up there and in the 1920s and 30s?

01:24 I would say I was really born in Robbinsdale. That was a suburb of Minneapolis and my mother bought this house from her brother and it was a total loss. I mean we couldn't sell it and we didn't we couldn't afford to live there. So we moved back to Minneapolis. I was just a baby and to live with my grandmother and

01:52 So anyway, we lived through the depression and

01:56 And of course, it wasn't hard on me at all.

02:01 Cuz I was just a kid, but my parents did.

02:06 I did.

02:08 You know, they're the ones who had to deal with with the finances and up.

02:15 Anyways, as as children, we had I think we had a pretty good time. We ate well.

02:22 And we are checking every Sunday and we were still a go out in the car and drive on Highway.

02:33 Anda to buy chicken so we can go buy a buy a firearm and they went with his sign their the said chickens 1 Delaware Fresh So it stopped and then they would kill the chicken and would take it home enter address at home.

02:51 And I wasn't in a truck traffic at all on the highway set that time. And so anyway, I'll ride this is something that's to be ashamed of. But anyway, we was dead just throw our garbage out the window.

03:11 Panda cuz I don't think they had any garbage service at that time. And so anyway, that was one thing and then we my sisters and I my older sister and I would sell cookies go from door-to-door and my mother made delicious oatmeal cookies and and then the course.

03:39 Etsy

03:42 So I knew I had we I was just at Sea bills for a theater and that was and I had free pass and not a free pass to passes a week to go to the movies. And and then what I was that say

04:01 I got my bicycle when I was about 11 years old.

04:06 And we we moved away to st. James, Minnesota.

04:13 But I was born 11.

04:16 And at that time we even told groceries our grocery bill for a whole year and and we owed rent for a year.

04:25 And that we never did pay either one.

04:31 So

04:34 So anyway, I could see.

04:40 I remember you said that you had pet chickens backyard full of chickens about 12 and they all had names and then when we moved we finally had to kill each one and eat it and the course that was heartbreaking, but I'll have to admit they were delicious.

05:00 And let's see what else.

05:03 About the depression. What about you and you what are your earliest memories of I don't know of a plane say with Louise and Mary and I know you who played outdoors. I was smart close to Louise cuz she was two years older and then my mother would take in children to take elocution lessons and she would wish you would get free lessons for Louisa today and if she could get enough children to come to the house and so we did that about every week and we would memorize the story and it was elocution lessons of the we had to dramatize it and it was very good experience. I thought

05:49 And there was another woman who took in a children for a really religious instruction and she would give us a $0.05 ticket to be redeemed at the store for candy or something at her place was packed with kids and and the course all they wanted was a $0.05 coupon. So who is teaching the elocution lessons who is teaching the elocution lessons? That was what was what was your mother teaching the elocution when she was a woman her name is mrs. Rice, and she would come to the house and with a whole a satchel full of these stories and should pick them out and I can still remember them.

06:41 So anyway that we kind of made fun of her cuz she was very

06:47 Unusual

06:49 And did you I mean, I would love swimming. Did you swim in the lakes or?

07:00 Cuz that's what my dad would take us when we were young notes and then later on the course when I went to.

07:08 Which of the University don't you know, I'd anyway I went when I got a car I didn't get a car until I was a stewardess.

07:17 And I was one of the first ones to get a car. Otherwise, everybody took the streetcar or a cab.

07:26 So anyway when I got out of

07:30 High School

07:33 I went up to work at this Lodge for inside Lodge and

07:39 I knew that I will anyway, I was quit. I knew that I wanted to be a stewardess. So anyway, I applied for that and I got it and where did you want to do this? What what what to do what to do to the profession of being a stewardess.

07:58 What for what reasons did you want to be a stewardess? Why? Why did you want to just do it as yet?

08:13 So it but anyway I told when they interviewed me eyes I said that it was.

08:19 Because I like helping people which is true. But one time a passenger asked me why I like the job. I told him the time off but he just laughed at that. He said that's amazing. You know, I mean, you couldn't believe that that that that was my reason what years were you flying then that was from 1947 to November 1948 to 1940. If not in about a year-and-a-half.

08:51 So in those days not too many there weren't very many people flying and it wouldn't it was quite well if they could travel so there was just very few people and probably very few flight attendants as well. Yeah. Yeah what there was usually everybody wanted to be one. So it was

09:15 I was lucky I considered myself lucky to get in and then at the time I enjoyed it so much when I was hired that I always said that I would work for nothing.

09:26 But they really developed altitude fatigue. So I and I was tired of wearing that uniform so I decided I'd rather go back to paint a secretary.

09:41 So those were flying on on pressurized EC3. Is there a test for us and you had to serve 44 people and I could carry two trays one at each hand and it all the way down the aisle which was which was an accomplishment. But I know one time on a DC-3 I spilled a cup of hot coffee out of man. He was going to Duluth and of course if he was very unhappy about that, but he took it as a good day to Italy.

10:22 And I sympathize with him.

10:24 Then you had a few scary experiences at one time going to Chicago. We went through a Thunderhead and we climbed up. I mean we were throwing up about fifteen hundred feet and then down to a thousand feet. I mean we lost Delta to that and I was really scary one woman wanted me to come and sit with her, but I asked course I wouldn't and I was strapped in my seat and all the casseroles with food from the back of the plane ended up at the front of the plane and the magazines are front ended up in the back.

11:07 El yeso. Anyway we did get to Chicago and the pilots were scared and so we were going to head back to Minneapolis, but then I want to make up just

11:18 Boy short ways out. They decided to go back to Chicago. We stayed there all night.

11:24 So we could look out the window and see the black Thunderhead.

11:29 Was that the night then they'll be playing did take off that trash out that night another plane went down and the people on the crew that plan.

11:43 So

11:47 Can I ask about the haven't talked much about over the years that your experiences in college? What was your favorite things about University of Minnesota or your memories of that. I always I considered myself lucky to have a girlfriend.

12:09 But anyway, I just I enjoyed it very much. In fact, I enjoyed High School. I hated to graduate. So so anyway, I went to you know for years of college and then I worked part-time on the campus as a stenographer and and then after that I just kept on taking courses postgraduate courses and I liked anthropology and humanities.

12:44 The best

12:48 What was the name of your friend a best friend at the time? That was Doris all weather and how did you meet her you remember? Oh, well, I know her from kindergarten leave them for grade school and we have to run into each other. I think the first day and so we had it off because we were able to always laugh together. We would laugh hysterically and I've never

13:14 Had that experience before.

13:17 Would go to the union and head start laughing.

13:21 And so then we also went to the

13:25 Will the campus cafeteria sort of odorous and had she had Coke a lot when we all had coax, but that was Titus 2.

13:39 And then we will sometimes went to student dances.

13:44 And

13:47 Etsy

13:53 And I just go back to the last year to remember other things that made you laugh together into in general about but

14:09 But you know, she had that contagious laugh and that got me started and then the two of us couldn't stop.

14:17 But I don't know. I imagine it could have been laughing about coincidences. I mean circumstances. I know she said once I got we got out of the streetcar on the LA conductor said I gave him a dollar I know about it and he said tokens and I said what else is she always quoted me on that. She thought that was very funny and the

14:44 We have our picture in the paper once because we had showed up. There was a strike on campus and we had to show it up. It was way below zero and that was in the paper that the newspaper took a picture of us waiting for the streetcar.

15:02 And in the but she and I used to play in the backyard otters win and red throw a rag back and forth and we do that on our lunch hour.

15:13 And that was great school that was different from what they doing. Now, it'll we would come home to eat. I had Shredded Wheat Thins and bananas and then we would play with that and we were at that was this until we we were maybe 8 and 9 to 10 years old we moved away when I was 11 and then my father had put up this ring or so the backyard this group it on high or low for a tree and then I could do as well. We all did acrobatics but Lewis said I was the best and a good swing up, you know.

15:50 Do all kinds of things swing by my legs and climb the Rope up to the top of the tree.

15:59 And them about Louise over the years. I know she moved out so during the. When you were in school or a stewardess, did you see her very often, but no she was she

16:19 Jose

16:21 After we were in st. James Yoshi. Where were there in St. James for about one? Here are then my father lost that job and he got a job in St. Paul Minnesota this way move there and Louise had her own bedroom, and I always envied her cuz I had to share at 1 with Maryanne. But anyway, he is was a socialist and my father was outraged. So he threw all her books down there.

16:52 Stairway and then he kicked her. He just told her to leave and at the time to do some sort of feel caught in the middle between them. I was rather shy and why didn't say much but I knew what was going on and I but I didn't I wasn't old enough or strong enough in my convictions to do anything cuz I was a see how old was I I must have been about eighteen then but she moved Minneapolis to her own apartment.

17:29 And the

17:36 So then my father died down there in 1944 and Louise had moved in the meantime to New York City.

17:48 He was very sick and I help take care of him and he when he was at veteran's hospital and he was in what they call that death row and all the cancer patients were there but he doesn't have cancer but he was very sick. So anyway, I was there with my sister Mary Ann on my mother when he died.

18:10 That was a terrible thing to witness.

18:15 And if she probably would have survived that if he'd been a few months later because it wasn't that penicillin if they had had penicillin he could have lived but all of that penicillin, but for the Army the doctor said and so he had an empyema or emphysema.

18:38 Elsa has a cavity no just filled up with liquid fluid and I had to empty that everyday or change his bandages and of course he cried and it was very

18:54 Yeah, it's very upsetting to go through. So anyway, my mother went to work as clerking and Saint Paul and she had a small pension.

19:08 And then that's when I

19:12 I think I became a list. Anyway while I was after I resign from being a stewardess and the stewardess friend of mine asked me to go to Acapulco if someone canceled.

19:27 So I went to Mexico and that was a wonderful trip.

19:33 And I change my life as it cuz that's when I became interested in India.

19:40 Excel how did going to Acapulco in Guatemala get you interested in going to India? Well as it was just another country, I guess. I mean I was I had friends go to a Mexico, but then I just I don't know if you're so I started reading about India and then that I guess but anyway, I haven't I met Indians on the campus and then from there I just took off after did the Indians on the campus make get give you contacts in India to visit then.

20:21 Was I interested? No did the Indians you met on campus give you contact to visit in India. Yes, I only indirectly it. One of them to dictate a letter is to meet with his friends in India, and I I took advantage of that.

20:42 Go to one of them.

20:44 Angela so then

20:48 So then

20:51 So I had that was The Correspondents to that correspondence. I went to India and it cuz I wanted to go and he was he was going to be my host.

21:01 And so that's what happened. I took a freighter.

21:06 Elda and I did go into the travel agency and told her I wanted I wanted to buy a ticket and I wanted to go on a freighter cuz I had seen the ad and one of these pulp magazines $500 to buy freighter to go to India. So I told her I want wanted that she's she said that why you sure you want to go now because it's a lot of work for me to take cuz that everything was done with tip by Telegram.

21:34 Every letters. I said, yes, so that's what took a lot of time and all the time. Anyway, I'll book passage on a freighter and went by way of the fire at say France in Italy and then I thought that was how they us constitute know that you are Queen Elizabeth and others so

22:02 Then I took a freighter out of Italy.

22:05 And that took three weeks. We went through a severe storm. And I I said to that person that you know, I'm just going to stay here on bed. Now the rest of the trip because it was so awful. You could hardly stand up and you said Oh, no, you're not. So anyway we did survive at but it would I I thought that we would just be blown overboard.

22:29 And that's who anyway we got to Karachi and then I have friends.

22:35 From a friend from Minnesota met me there and then the next day he took me to the airport and I then the other friend met me in New Delhi.

22:48 I was in India for 5 months. Did you ever think about staying there longer know I wanted to go back and then I tried getting a ticket, you know, a New Delhi in the man said well, it's going to take awhile if I found out he was just lying to me. So I don't I wrote to a later on after I wanted to get back. I wrote to two or three ships. Well.

23:16 Shep's Ave. I got three response at this so I had a chance to buy three tickets to get back. So I chose one. I was going to be at the soonest and then when I got to New Delhi, I had been up and similar at the time when I got back to New Delhi. I told that band at the Phil sa travel agency that I just forget about By Request out cuz I have a ticket to go back though. He said you Americans are so efficient. And now I realize he was later that he wanted a bribe, but I was completely innocent. I didn't think of bribing people.

23:57 So anyway, I took left I left New Delhi by train and went down to Palm Bay and took this.

24:09 Wella light ocean liner

24:13 It was a it was an Italian one, and I took sat and

24:20 I just remember I found a fountain pen out at the first day and I turned it into the person and the fellow Indian fellow who lost it was. So happy you came to my cabin and thanked, but and then I said today today.

24:37 To the office there with you know, they opened up the cashier.

24:44 Cash register I said that just hold it open so that I can see that money cuz I had been so broke. I was even thinking of cutting out bread and I are just eating bread while I was in India cuz I

25:02 But anyway, he left the register open. I could just look at it. That looks so good. So and I took an American ship back to New York and then I from New York. I went back to Minneapolis.

25:19 Betty can you tell me what it was like when you got to India for the first time? What did you feel? What did you see was it what you thought it would be did it blow your mind. But yes, well, first of all of this Indian fellow who met me I had told him I would send him money to come up to me the app that could to come to this country and he said the first thing he said is promise me you'll marry me cuz I said no, I'm not going to promise you that I'm going to just leave you right here and I was all like everybody else on the other people were speaking Hindi and it was a foreign country and I was just petrified. So I said, okay then I'll marry you. So anyway, so we went to another friend's house for the for the night, but the fruit when I got to the

26:19 House of there, but they were of course English speaking and professional people. He was English Professor, but I said I wanted to meet your staff.

26:31 All your servants so that he took me on back and I was so happy. I mean, this is what I had to come to India for to see to see to see the people.

26:45 So anyway

26:47 He told me to be careful watch my things because they're very poor as I made it take things. But I know that night this friend of mine took me out on a auto rickshaw over to call out anyway, bicycle at all, and we went through the village and it was dark and all these lanterns were out and people were stealing food and and

27:18 You could hear the tinkling of the bicycle pedal. So even know it brings me back.

27:25 The smell

27:28 So anyways, the next day's on the my house one of my hoes to cussed out of elephant ride to another town.

27:39 Contour so we wrote on a on a elephant one of them is one of the Wyatts in myself and and that's how I did a lot of sightseeing in it and it was

27:55 It was so, you know exactly what I want and what I expected but you got up into the Himalayas to write you also had you saw so much poverty in the beggar's as well and India in India, there was so much poverty to of course or just hang out to my heels or hang on to my skirt Narvaez Latin I do whatever I guess it was my heels at the shopkeepers would chase them away.

28:37 Angela

28:41 So yeah, there was there was a lot of poverty and a better that I you know, I always smiled at them and I know one time and one time when I had bought a little Clay Pot I took it back home and then I broke it I fell and broke it. So I took it back the next day and gave it as showed it to him and he just laughed so I mean that I enjoyed it all exchanging laughter with them. So I bought another part.

29:11 When you came back, did you feel the difference? Did you feel that I change your life in some way when you came back to Minnesota. Do you feel like a different about the next day but so easy to find work and a

29:30 And of course, I was just amazed at the modern kitchen, you know, this office had a beautiful modern kitchen and everything was so spick and span and that impressed. I mean that really it was a shock because of India's on one of the young fellows took me to where he worked and it was a small office full of typewriters rows and rows and rows of typewriters all Emmanuel out. He said this is where I work as I so that impressed me another time. They took me to a dentist office and he just pulled out teeth right and left and threw the tea.

30:07 Bloody bloody tears into a into a pail

30:14 And let he left when he did attend a woman was grimacing and pain. So I mean that's why I did was exposed to something so that I bet a lot of some Indian families. Could I stay at about seven or eight different homes, but they were all professionals.

30:33 And they all had a cook.

30:37 Did you ever want to go back to know I didn't want to travel anywhere after I got that because I had lived out a suitcase for 7 months. So I just didn't feel like ever traveling again. Will you also fairly malnourished when you came back by right said my fingernails were white and some of the neighbors thought. I looked all for the lost 10 lb

31:03 But in Mexico, I also lost 10 pounds.

31:07 And then a Mexico, you know, I caught a the sailfish and it was weighing it weighed 95 lb and I weighed 95 lb, so I told this professor that we bought it was an equal match. We both want the same and he said, oh, no, it wasn't Betty cuz you didn't have a fish hook in your mouth.

31:26 Epsilon

31:31 So anyway, it was a trip of a lifetime because I was up in the mountains and

31:44 You think it made you more likely to get into an interracial marriage later, you think things like being interested in India made made it more likely to be to get into an interracial marriage later. And even though I say early in the third world, I really did it. I didn't I wasn't attracted to it very much to American men after that.

32:19 Except for this professor Grover Maxwell, but it wasn't reciprocated. So

32:28 And he was in with the philosophy of science department or physical who is I share an office with him and the philosophy Department Minnesota Center for philosophy of science. It was different from the philosophy department and

32:46 And so how did you meet our father? How did you meet our hot tub came as a visitor for three months? So he asked me to he asked me out because he ice skater. So he wanted me to ice skate. I told her I was busy playing tennis and I and he said well, when will you be through and I said when the season's over and he said when the season is over and I said when the snow flies and he said with one know that when will the snow flies I said around November so then we went ice-skating and that we went there every

33:32 Saturday and then I take care of a Sunday. We always went on a Sunday then we went to some place afterwards for a hamburger.

33:44 But too, so that's one.

33:48 So we knew each other for about 3 months if you remember what you talked about at first country and that's what I like about other other other.

34:02 Third world man or the wheeze

34:07 But Louise also criticized to look at this country now critically so identified with that and

34:20 So then after three months, will he propose we got married and and Saint Paul and then we went to a Bloomington Indiana for 3 months cuz he had a visiting scholarship there and

34:37 So we drove and

34:42 So it. After that three months then we came back to Berkeley right? But he he was working with Karl Popper. That's right and a lot of pee of science. So we also where was Karl Popper and Indiana to

34:59 And you really haven't told anyone you'd gotten married practically realized I did not just just resigned. That's all I'm left. I had to train a new girl and I had a splitting headache doing that.

35:16 And was it a tough decision to do the speed? Oh, yes. It was cuz I didn't know him that well and he did speak of it. Hello is Sheldon in it? But other than me, even then.

35:35 But I didn't I didn't criticize him for that.

35:40 In those days it was pretty unusual to be what 39 and single still so that way cuz he was never discussed age. Most women had gotten married before then. Yeah. You said you don't have to feel bad about being married cuz she was divorced and her

36:11 And then then you ended up in Berkeley in the sixties and seventies right during all the protests and you know any description I get it being so I always give him a lot of credit for that.

36:27 But what about the did you both wanted to have kids though?

36:43 Isn't it so when you came to Berkeley? I wasn't much of a change from Minneapolis.

36:52 Yeah, I guess I guess it was you know, cuz I wanted to get out of Minneapolis anyway, so it was any change would be for the better, but it was excited. It was exciting times Center so that the protest movements were starving right about the time you arrived cuz you got to go clean a 1963.

37:15 Bill, it's that's true. So the timing was very good. And so then I like and decided not to do it anymore of the philosophical writing instead. He went to the campus and just recorded everything and then a highlight was when I met Mario view of you and of course the National Guard occupy in Berkeley, and it was a nursery school. Of course, I'm at.

37:49 Would you call that tear gas National Guard gas for gas and

38:01 So it goes his school was evacuated yours to a yes.

38:07 So

38:09 Another course the helicopter stop talking once you know because he was listening to kpfa and they were the police found the helicopter overhead notified the police car. They pulled up and asked what he was doing and he said he was he was listening to kpfa and then you took us to that when we were kids. We took us to that Torchlight parade where we were chased by the cops or that's right.

38:35 And out, of course, I found the wrong way. I think Daddy took you into the union and I went a different direction. But anyway, it was kind of scary because it had billy clubs to remember what the Torchlight parade was for another occasion. It was for People's Park. I think it was take back the park. OK and of course there were also all the anti-vietnam war protests just about every social event going on with Rod Dylan said he was my hero, so I went to anything.

39:09 So anyway, he does educate all of us Center.

39:17 I think you could goes both ways, but what to do.

39:23 What did you most like about Berkeley besides the history?

39:33 Oh well.

39:36 Well, I like the climate of course.

39:39 Far better than Minnesota is what ideal climate.

39:47 Multiracial Multicultural is opposed to Minnesota that they damaged my life. Everybody here is wearing jeans, and he said he never noticed that so you talked to me a lot too.

40:01 I noticed things I noticed a lot of things said.

40:06 That he didn't notice.

40:20 No, I just I just hope you guys didn't I continue that we can continue to give me lots of questions lots of things to ask you if the future is very