In the 1900, a small town in the north east of Guangdong province South China named Fuling, home of the Hakka (in my dialect or Kejia in Manderin) people, my grandfather was one of the well-known martial art master. During this time, martial art masters earned their living through performing from town to town and village to village. Besides, performing kicks and punches, one of the popular martial art performances is lion dancecompetition. It’s one of the most beautiful but also difficult moves in martial art, because you have to have both strength and durability to hold up the heavy lion head and do many martial art moves.
My grandfather won many competitions, and got more students from neighboring villages. Eventually, he couldn’t escape the jealous and vicious competitor who wanted him gone for good. They played dirty tricks during the lion dance and gave him a brutal kick in the chest and he was injured from the internal organ damage. He die shortly after the competition.
My father was still very young when his dad died, so he grew up without a father. After the age of 18, he went to Vietnam to look for his uncle, who had a Chinese medicine business, and became an apprentice working in his uncle’s factory of making herbal pills. He worked and learned Chinese Medicine from his uncle until he got enough experience to open his own herbal shop. He started a Chinese herbal shop in a small market place in My Tho after the age of 20. His herb shop happened to be next door to a small shop of apharmaceuticalinjection. The owner of this shop was a nurse and he had a daughter who later on became my mother.
After my dad got married and had a daughter they moved their shop to Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam around 1960. Ever since, he built his family on that herbal shop for a living for about 30 years. When my dad first got to Vietname, it was still colonized by the French. He said that at the time, the French made everyone pay an anual income tax of amount equivalent to 300 US dollar today. This amount was very large and difficult for most of the Vietnamese, therefore this is one of the reason that they wanted to rebel against the French colony and gain back the control of their own country.
After 1960, the Vietnamese won the war against the French and got their governmental control of their country back, but the United States came over and divided Vietnam into North and South Vietnam, and created the cold-war. North of Veitnam was reign by the Communist Government and South Vietnam was managed by the so-call the Republican of Vietnam. At the time, a lot of young men were draft to go to war to fight against the Communists, and Chinese immigrants were free from the draft. Lives in the South Vietnam was much better at the time compared to life back home in China.
After World War II against the Japanise invasion ended, the two parties of government, the Chinese Communists ran by Mao and the the so-call Democratic government led by Jiang resumed at war against each other to gain control of China. Then Mao eventually won the war the pushed Jiang to the island now called Taiwan. After Mao united China and formed a new Communist Country, he created a Close-Door policy for China, and no one could come in or out of China for at least 30 more years. Therefore, my father and many other Chinese got stuck living in other countries, such as Vietnam and were not able to go back into China again.
For the last 30 years, my father had built a stable Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) store and gain a lot of trusted in the neighborhood, and became very popularity. He and my mom had 5 kids and even sent us all to Chinese School to learn Chinese in the City of Saigon. When life is too good to be true, the North Communists fought against the South Vietnam and won the war in 1975. The US retrieved its troops in 1975, and once again, the North Vietnamese had liberated the South Vietnam and got back the control of their country. Immediately after the new regime, the very first thing the new government did was to take over all businesses in the south Vietnam to eliminated privatization. However, Chinese Medicine (CM) was left alone, because CM requires training and there were no expert on CM available from the officials. Besides, CM was much needed to treat the sicks besides the traditional biomedicine from the hospitals.
A year later, the Chinese are the Vietnamese government, who were once allied and friends, then entered into political disagreement, and it became domesticated issues with the local Chinese people in the South Vietnam. it means no more Chinese schools and private own businesses, and most Chinese owned businesses. Lives were getting more difficult and restricted for both Chinese and South Vietnamese by the day. Like many others, my folks had decided to leave Vietnam to look for new opportunity elsewhere. Finally one day, they got tickets for each of us to leave the country on a small fishing boat, and it cost them a dozen of onces of gold for each ticket, and we have 10 people in our family. This happened to be in 1978, and there’s no guarantee that we would survive on the trip to search for freedom. There were 110 people on a 100 meters long and 10 meters wide wooden boat, and we were packed together like sadine. The adults had decided to look for the opportunity land in Malaysia, because they knew that there were other people escaped the country and were rescued to an island in Malaysia.
During president Jimmy Carter’s regime between 1977 to 1979, like many Vietnamese refugees, our family had got accepted to the United States of America. After living on a refugee camp on a wild island of Malaysia called Pulau Bidong for almost a year, our family immigrated into United States of America in Oct 1979, and we started our new lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My folks went to school to learn English as a second language for couple of years and later my dad worked in a Chinese restaurant as chef and my mom worked for a cloth company as a tailor. For almost 50 years China had a Closed Door Policy, and finally it opens its door to let foreigners come in after president Nixon visited China in 1972. Acupuncture was introduced to US for the very first time in history. In 1984, I graduated high school, and for the 1st time in my life, we folks took me to visit China.
Shortly after we got back from China, my dad quit his job and started a herb store in Minneapolis for couple of years. However, my dad thought the Asian population wasn’t big enough and they don’t live in a concentrated area, so he felt the business wasn’t as good as it could be. Hence, he decided to move to Chicago and had stayed on 243 Cermak road ever since he came to Chinatown in 1986. He custom made an old fashion Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) cabinet with 81 wood draws with the original business in Minneapolis and moved them all to his Nam Bac Hang herb store. His design of the store is not only traditional, but also efficiently functional. As a result, half of the store still remains unchanged as you can see it as is today.
At first, my folks only thought that they were catering their services to only Asian customers, but without their intentions, over the years they had given services to mostly non-Asian folks. What makes Nam Bac Hang so attractive to American is not only the old-fashion traditional look of mystical Oriental, but also more importantly the care and love for his patients. He has the patience to listen to his patients’ needs and understand their suffering, and he gave them the right amount of herbal remedy which would relieve their suffering with limited budgets. Many old folks just absolutely appreciate my parents, since many of them were not able to get out of the house, because they were so much in pain that disable them to walk. My parents had retired since the year 2000, yet I still hear customers tell me how much my parents had help them in the past after 13 years.