Remembering Joseph Wong

Joseph Wong at Vonnie and Eugene’s wedding (August 1998)

Joseph was born May 1, 1937 in Faat Au Village, Toisan, Guangdong, China to Wong Yow and Yue Kam. He learned to be independent at a young age. In 1950, when Joseph was 13 years old, he boarded the “American President” steamship in Guangdong, China and crossed the Pacific Ocean. He landed at Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco. In January 1951, he was able to reunite with his father in Minneapolis.

Joseph Wong could accomplish anything he set his mind to do. As a teenager, he had a passion for building things. He enjoyed fixing cars, motors, and all things mechanical. He graduated from Minneapolis Vocational High School in 1954. One of his fondest memories is buying a “clunker” car with a rusted floorboard. Together with his cousin, they fixed it up and drove (sometimes pushing) the car around town and making trouble.

His hobbies included, fishing, stereo systems, listening to Chinese opera, flying airplanes, playing games – Pacman, shooting pool, placing bets sports games, eating well, telling jokes, and taking road trips. Mr. Wong served in the army from 1956 to 1960. Stationed in Ladd Army base Fairbanks, Alaska, his service included flying Cessna planes from Ladd Army base to Fort Lewis (Tacoma Washington).

After being discharged from the Army, he turned down a job offer to be Northwest Airlines pilot. Instead, he chose to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a restaurant entrepreneur. He had a strong work ethic often working 12-18 hour days to build his restaurant business. He did the best for his family and was proud of his ability to send support to his mother and sisters abroad while providing for his own family in the United States.

Joseph had a big heart and often provided financial support to those around him who needed it. He believed that many times, people sometimes just need a boost to get them over the hump. And, with this in mind, he never hesitated to offer assistance when asked.

Over the next 35 years, he operated several successful restaurants which included Lan’s Garden Café (Minneapolis), Wong’s Teahouse (Mound), Statesman Restaurant and Bar (Chaska) and Jerry’s Restaurant (St Paul).

After selling Jerry’s Restaurant, he retired in 1997. Not being able to sit still in retirement and having a desire to hit the open roads, he took on a part time job driving busses from Minneapolis to Chicago. In 2001, he entered full retirement and found his 4th career as grandpa. He enjoyed walking, traveling, meeting up with his friends, watching the news, and spending time with his grandchildren.

On Monday, November 9, 2020 at the age 83, he passed away peacefully following a fast moving liver infection complicated by low blood pressure at North Memorial Hospital.

Joe’s pride and joy were his children and grandchildren who learned from him that food, life, and love are interconnected.

This obituary was written as a collective effort by Joe’s children with support and input from his wife Zenaida Wong.

Joseph Wong, RIP

On a cold snowy morning, November 9, 2020, Joseph Wong peacefully transitioned from this life. His son, Wymond Wong, was by his side holding his hand in the hospital.

My father-in-law was many things, but first and foremost he was a family man who cared deeply about his family.

Here is the obituary and notice of the memorial service which will be held on Tuesday, November 17th.

Snapshots of Joseph Wong’s life.

It was Christmastime 1989 when I walked off the plane at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport and I met the family.

As I came out of the jetway and into the gate, I am greeted by all the Wongs, big-eyed and excited and I get hugged and welcomed to Minnesota.

This was back when visitors could go all the way up to the gate. Before 9/11 changed things.

The entire Wong family had come to pick me up not just Vonnie. If you have ever traveled to Asia or China, you know that this is how our people receive you at airports.

And this is how the Wongs do it—they come as a unit to greet you, to welcome you, to love you, and to check you out.

Dad was a restaurant guy who had recently sold his restaurant, the Statesman, and hadn’t yet bought his next restaurant, Jerry’s.

“Do you like steak?” he asks.

Because we’re in Minnesota, the heaviest snowstorm this California kid has seen is happening outside with snow that looks like a ticker tape parade down Wall Street.

Undeterred or maybe even unnoticed, Dad puts on his parka, shuffles out to the garage, opens the garage door, and fires up the barbecue. He proceeds to grill ribeyes in the garage, filling up the place with smoke.

In the oven, he has ten pounds of crab legs slowly roasting in a butter bath.

“Go get me more butter!” he asks Wylie, Vonnie’s brother. The butter comes in 1 pound sticks because that’s how restaurant people cook.

We had the best surf and turf dinner that Christmas.

Dad was an immigrant and his father, Vonnie’s grandfather, was also an immigrant. And so his story is also the story of America.

Joseph Wong was born in Toishan, China, a region in Guangdong province. His father was already in Minnesota and would come back periodically to visit his family every few years.

Joe immigrated to the United States when he was 13 or 14, getting on an American President Lines ship and landed, as many Chinese people did, at the immigration detention center in San Francisco. He was not a paper son in the true sense but was caught up in the mistrust, bureaucracy, and barriers that the government put up for immigrants who don’t come from Europe.

Immigrating to the United States before 1965 was an arduous and awful process.

I will miss how he would call us—with concern and care in his voice–when he saw on the news of something bad happening in California. It didn’t matter that the actual thing happening might be miles away.

We would get a phone call:

“I heard there was an earthquake. The bay bridge collapsed. Are you okay?”

“Oh I saw on the news that the fires are bad.”

“Be careful, I heard there was a shooting nearby.”

I will miss how much he loved dim sum and beef chow fun. We would inevitably be on the hunt for a dim sum restaurant whenever and wherever we went on vacation with him.

I will miss how he would drop into Toishan to speak with family and friends from the village. It was, in many respects, when he seemed most at home.

I will miss his unwavering love for his kids and grandkids. He worried about them and bothered them to make sure that we were taking care of ourselves.

At his 80th birthday celebration

Joseph Wong, age 83, is survived by his wife, Zenaida Wong, five children, ten grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Rest easy, Dad.

Toilet Paper: An Existential Thought Exercise

In the bathroom this morning, I started thinking about hoarding and impulse buying of toilet paper.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, toilet paper was plentiful and bountiful. Full stacked aisles were available at Costco, Target, and even at the neighborhood corner store.

No one worried about where they would get their next roll.

Then came COVID-19.

Toilet paper went from something you didn’t think about to a the Great Toilet Paper Panic of 2020.

1/ Toilet paper was never that scarce.

The shortage came from panic buying, not from reduced production or supply. People got anxious and felt like they needed to get as much as they could while the getting was good.

The problem with this mentality is that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It wasn’t scare until the people who were worried about it being scarce, made it scarce.

You imagined scarcity and got scarcity. Surprised? You people suck.

2/ Stores began rationing how much toilet paper a customer could buy.

Because customers didn’t have self-control and general consideration for others, stores needed to step in and regulate how much toilet paper customers could buy.

Buy what you need, but leave enough for others to get their share as well.

Stores are saying: “You have enough—leave some for your fellow shoppers.”

It turns out limiting how much toilet paper any one household could accumulate is a good thing.

3/ Many people who had toilet paper shared with people who needed toilet paper.

Meme: Sponge Bob next to a big pile of toilet paper
“Hey grandma what’s up with all the toilet paper in the garage” Grandma: let me tell you about the Coronavirus of 2020.

I was heartened to see in my social media feeds and texts, messages from friends and neighbors willing to share their stashes toilet paper.

I saw instances of friends telling others which stores had it in stock and even offering to buy some and drop off.

People had toilet paper and were willing to share toilet paper with others in need.

Are you with me so far? It seems almost laughable that toilet paper would be thought of in these ways and receive so much attention.

But I want to draw your attention to a thought exercise that stirred in my brain this morning.

Take out the word “toilet paper” and swap it with “money” instead. Reread what I wrote with that in mind and be prepared to discuss.

Your homework assignment is due tomorrow.

How to Play “Celebrities” over Zoom

No, not that Celebrity game.  We just played this shelter-in-place style over Zoom and it was loads of fun.

What is it?

Celebrities is a party game introduced to me by friends, Jean Cheng and Eric Chou. It’s super fun and we realized with a little effort, it can be adapted to be played over Zoom. These instructions are written by Jean, with an assist by me (Eugene).

Celebrities is a guessing game where players secretly submit a celebrity name. After hearing the full list of names, players take turns guessing who submitted which name until all celebrity names are revealed.

Why play?

  • It’s a memory and guessing game. Not only are you guessing who submitted what name, but you have to try and remember all the names.
  • It’s competitive and collaborative at the same time. You’ll see in a second.
  • Other than Zoom, no special gameplay tools or knowledge are needed.

What do you need?

  • You’ll need 8-10 people to play—and the more people, the more fun it is. It works best when each person has a cellphone that can text or message other people in the game.
  • A paid Zoom account so you don’t run into the 40 minute limit.
  • A Google form (created by the host) with one question “Submit your celebrity name:” with a short text answer field.

How to play?

Think of a famous name that other people in the room would know. It can be real or fictitious, person, animal, cartoon character…anything goes, as long as it’s a recognizable name.

When you’ve got your name, submit it via the Google Form to the host and then, in the participants tab, “raise your hand” to signal you’re done.

Once everyone has submitted, the host will read all of the celebrity names out loud exactly TWICE, without revealing who submitted which famous name. Players should listen carefully but are not allowed to write anything down. This is the only time players will hear the list of celebrities.

Starting with the person whose name is at the top of the participants tab, have them guess who submitted a celebrity name.

Let’s say it’s Angela’s turn, and she says, “Eugene, are you the person who put in Mr. T?”

If Angela guesses wrong, her turn is over. If she guesses correctly, Eugene joins Angela to form a team. Each player gets one guess per turn.

Because he was identified, Eugene is no longer an active guesser in the game and doesn’t get a turn. Eugene is now part of Team Angela.

He should “lower his hand” in the Zoom participants list to show he is now on another player’s team. That signals to the host that Eugene doesn’t take a turn to guess.

Play resumes. The next person on the participant gets to guess.

If the next turn falls to someone who has a team, they can text or message among themselves who the team guess is.

The teams are a key advantage to this game. Teams caucus to share information and collectively strategize on the next guess.

Ultimately, the team captain makes the guess.

Every time a player is guessed correctly, they are added to the guesser’s team. If they have a team, all of their players move to the new team forming an even larger one.

Pretty soon teams multiply in number and in size. The teams grow larger in membership as they consolidate through correct guesses.

Eventually, it’s down to two teams with half of the players on each.

Whoever is the last person/team standing wins!

These Days, Little Things

It’s such a slog to get groceries these days that we’ve taken to texting our neighbors before we go: “Hey, heading to the Bowl. Need anything?”

The pings and pongs of text messages land in our talking minicomputers:
“Oh yeah, some broccoli!”,
“Can you get us some sugar?”
“We’re all set, but thank you for asking!”

And they’ve been doing the same for us.

These days, it’s the little things that matter.

After one of our trips, the neighbor across the street gave us a bush frond of fennel. She’s a gardener.

We put the fennel in some water and stuck it on our counter.

A few days later, while she was washing dishes, V said, “Hey, I think there’s a caterpillar in the fennel!”

Lo and behold, meet the newest member of our family—Marty!

Marty is a prodigious eater and shitter.

Their poops are little, but everywhere.

These days, it’s the little things that matter.

Because, like the fennel that carried the almost invisible swallowtail egg that turned into Marty, these days, look for the little things that will lead you to something wonderful and beautiful.

Watching JoJo Rabbit

My son walked by the living room as we were watching JoJo Rabbit and asked, “What’s this? A Nazi boy scout movie?”

In many respects, that’s exactly what JoJo Rabbit is.

It’s a movie about, JoJo, a ten-year old boy who is a fervent Nazi and even has an imaginary Adolf Hitler as his best friend. He wears a uniform and goes out with his friends in a youth camp for aspiring Nazis.

Much mirth and hijinks ensue as they burn books and draw horrible pictures of their enemies.

This is, after all, a movie about the Third Reich. And even though you know how the grand story ends, there are moments in the film where you don’t know exactly when the actions of the villains will cross the line from caricature and buffoonery to cruelty and evil.

The movie’s star–Roman Griffin Davis as “JoJo”—gives a wonderfully earnest performance, making his character sympathetic.

I would rate it as a good, but not great, movie that deftly balances humor with pain and dread. Taika Waititi, the director and writer, calls JoJo Rabbit an anti-hate satire.

Recommended, but not a must watch.