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Tribute to Irving Chang, A

by Florence Meyers

Personal Perspectives

Winter Volume: 2016 Issue: 23(4) page(s): 34 and 35

Allow me to paraphrase Irving Chang’s letter to me when my mother passed away nearly ten years ago. I think about that mistle now as he has written another award-winning book. This one is titled: Chinese Cuisine Along the Grand Canal (2015). In that letter, he reminds that “our parents were freshman at Yale’s Hua Chung University in China. It was in a class so small we did get to know each other. Your mother was a biology major, your father and I majored in Chemistry. After your father’s first year, he did transfer to the physics department. During those times, the political situation in China was in great turmoil.”

He went on to say that “Hua Chung was originally in Wuchang but that city was threatened by the Japanese so they decided to move to Guilin. There was intense Japanese bombing there, too. My dormitory was bombed, another was burned down, and nearly half of Guilin went up in smoke. At that time, Hua Chung decided to move again, this time to Dali in the Yunnan Province. There, local people invited us to stay in their town and we did. We did graduate in Xizhou in Dali in 1942.”

His letter continues, “The above moves were of nearly two thousand miles taken by us students, the faculty, and the administration. We went on foot, by jeep, and by boat, and we did dodge bombs and the Japanese. Do you remember that?”

“With no GPS and no professional movers, faculty and students held classes wherever we could. When bombs came, we trekked further southwest toward the Burma Road where the Allies were.”

Aspiring to be scientists, Irving and my dad took a slow boat from Shanghai in 1948. Irving wanted to attend graduate school in the United States, my father went to one in Canada. As immigrants and prospective graduate students, they shared a double decker bunk bed on the USS General W. H. Gordon. That troop transport served the United States Navy in World War II; and after the war was transferred to the US Army. When it docked in San Francisco, Irving went on to Ohio State University. My Dad had no money and without his young wife and year-old daughter left in China, Irving lent him twenty dollars to find his way via Greyhound bus to Alberta in Canada where he did study physics.

As a graduate student, my Dad washed dishes in a Chinese restaurant in Edmonton in exchange for a cot in their basement where he slept. Because of tight immigration quotas for Asians during the McCarthy Era in the 1950s, Mom and I waited eight years until we could join him. We fled Canton going to Hong Kong on a leaky boat that left one night in 1949. We may have been illegal aliens in British Hong Kong, but with credit to Irving's loving and charismatic wife, Wonona, who passed several years after my mom did, and with some help from them and their grown children, we finally got to the United States.

I am pleased to tell you that Irving is still thriving at the ripe age of ninety-eight. He may have old Chang genes because he continues his passion for writing books such as the winning one mentioned above, and doing research on the Chinese food culture and cuisine. He also keeps up with his many friends, is blessed with good health and an active mind, and has lots of positive spirit and optimism. By the way, he swims ten laps in an Olympian -size pool most weekdays and continues to write about the Chinese food he remembers enjoying.

Many people wonder what they can do to continue living a meaningful life such as his. He, and may I add his close friend and this magazine’s editor Dr. Jacqueline M. Newman, not only live life meaningfully and productively, they both find ways to contribute to the joy of others through their culinary instincts, knowledge, and zest for life.

As new immigrants from China some sixty-plus years ago, my parents would do 'sleep overs' at the Chang's in Englewood, New Jersey. That was long before 'sleep overs' had a name. There never was a problem because they believed most problems were borne of perception.

Too many people have problems, not them. There were not enough beds so they simply put out sleeping bags in the livingroom for the kids while they got on with their Canasta games at the kitchen table. Too hot for some? They turned on the water sprinkler and let us kids run through the water to cool off. Many might wonder what they should serve when many guests arrive? They just stir-fried this and steamed that. In addition, Wonona would whip up her famous banana cake blindfolded to go with the delicious Chinese stir-fry dishes she made.

We always held hands at the large round dining table to sing praises and blessings before eating. After all, Wonona was a trained classical vocalist and recording artist so singing in their home was a must.

Another question might be what to serve for breakfast? Piece of cake. Her daughter Mei-Ming would flip pancakes as if executing her gymnastic routines.

There was another Yale-in-China alumni reunion with a gathering of forty folk at this Chang family home. It went easy because everyone brought a dish. We did have lots of ‘flavor and fortune’ at their house. Their ‘flavor and fortune’ was sharing life. Wonona cultivated a zest for life with her ‘can-do’ spirit. The richer the flavor, the more flavorful the fortunes we all shared in friendship.

By the way, the above-named transport ship sailed again with more than four thousand troops from Japan and Korea to San Francisco on January 29, 1946. After that, it was decommissioned in Oakland CA the 11th of March. In September 1949, it did evacuate more than twelve hundred people of thirty-four different nationalities.

For your pleasure, here are a couple of Irving's recipes in his recent book>.
Meyers writes she has a poignant copy of the ‘Broadcast Over Radio Tokyo’ when Japan surrendered, and says that Bishop Gilman who was head of the Yale-in-China faculty had missionaries marry her parents in Yunnan; that was in 1945. The husband of one of Irving's classmates did marry the noted journalist, Mike Peng on the Burma Road. Other tidbits, Irving shared a cot with Severeid (a CBS journalist--1939 to 1977 who was an elite war correspondents hired by Edward R. Murrow. Severeid lived from November 26, 1912 to July 9, 1992 and reported on the war. Also, Peng’s wife made a delicious Chinese doughnut stick fried in oil and served with warm mildly sweetened soy milk. Many of my favorite food memories include Irving and Wonona Chang, both instrumental in starting this Chinese food magazine.
Beef Sinew with Turnips
3 pounds beef sinew, rinsed and its skin removed, then cut into ne- to two-inch cubes
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed>br> 2 star anise
1 pound turnips, peeled and roll-cut into one-inch pieces
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 chicken bouillon cube
1. Heat a wok or pot, add the sinew, oil, garlic, and the star anise and stir-fry for three or four minutes.
2. Next, add the vinegar, soy sauce, the bouillon cube and one cup of cold water and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and cook for three hours, adding more water, half cup at a time, as needed.
3. When the sinew is tender, add the turnip pieces and simmer for ten or fifteen more minutes, then serve.
Chicken Breast with Jelly Fish
2 Tablespoons vegetable oi
1/2 chicken breast, cut into eight 2-inch pieces
1 egg white
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with the same amount of cold water
8 ounces jelly fish, soaked in warm water for one hour, then cut the same size as the chicken pieces
1/2 cup chicken soup
5 slices fresh finger
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Shao Xing wine
dash of ground black pepper
3 sprigs cilantro, as garnish
1. Heat wok or fry pan and add the oil, then the chicken soup, and stir until chicken is no longer pink.
2. Then add the wine, pepper, and the cornstarch mixture and stir once or twice, then add the chicken and stir one more minute.
3. Add the jelly fish and stir a few times, then transfer all to a pre-heated plate, garnish, and serve.

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