Golden Flower of Prosperity

Man-O-Man! I slept great last night... I can't remember when I last had as good a nights sleep. Dar too, she tells me. I didn't stir until almost 8am, and I was up before she was. The almost total absence of outdoor lighting may have something to do with it. And maybe the deafening silence, all night long, is part of the answer too. Whatever it was, I'm looking forward to getting this entry posted and hitting the sack again, hoping for a replay of last night. This may not seem like much of a big deal, but, hey, it's my blog, and I'll write what I feel.

I was expecting to see rain this morning, but it never materialized. You know, there's a pattern forming when it comes to weather forecasts out here and I'm beginning to pay attention to it. When they say it's probably going to rain... it probably won't. Whatever they say, the opposite has a good chance of happening. I guess life will go on regardless of what the atmosphere decides to do or not do, so maybe I should just stop paying attention and do what I decide to do or not do. I've been advised to just buy a weather stick. The way it works is this: you poke it into the ground, at a 45 degree angle, just outside your front door before bed. When you wake up go out and check it. If it's casting a shadow, it's going to be nice. If it's wet, it's raining. If it's covered in white stuff, it's snowing. If it's missing, it's windy. After absorbing all this scientific weather data, go about your day as you would have anyway. You get the picture.

So after a slow morning, we decided to head into town, John Day, and get a feel for the place. Dar even said she'd treat me to lunch if I could find an eatery that she'd like. The Outpost Pizza, Pub, and Grill looked good from the outside so I made it my choice, she liked it, and I got a free lunch.

A number of people suggested we stop and explore the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site, which was just down the road and around the corner from our lunch spot. It's a small landmark and museum that preserves early Chinese culture in Oregon. Ok, we're here, there's not much else to do in town, so let's check it out.

Everyone knows or has heard of the California Gold Rush. But in the second half of the 19th century, Oregon had a gold rush of it's own. Gold was discovered here in 1862 and the area around John Day and Canyon City, just to the South, was the center for these early mining operations. In fact, Canyon City was at one point the most populated city in the State, and probably the bawdiest and rowdiest too. Because much of the man-power needed for these mines was pre-occupied with the Civil War during the early half of the 1860's, mine owners started advertising abroad, China in particular, for workers. With things not economically or politically great in China during those years, a large number of Chinese emigrated to the USA and filled these back-breaking jobs. They lived apart from the white population, in a Chinatown within John Day, and were paid a quarter of what white workers were paid.

About 1887, enter a couple of talented Chinese guys... "Doc" Hay and Lung On. Doc Hay came from a family of Herbal Doctors in China and was quite talented in his healing skills. A combination doctor, pharmacist, and herbalist, he began his practice in a small building in Chinatown that he bought with the other man, Lung On, who was a merchant and opportunist. The little building they owned together served as their home, Lung On's General Store, Doc Hay's Apothecary and Doctor's office, a small rooming house, and, reportedly, an opium den for a period of time. They called it Kam Wah Chung & Co., which, loosely translated, means something like "Golden Flower of Prosperity". Both were successful in their respective businesses and became well known and accepted, by Chinese and White alike, in the community.

That little building, Kam Wah Chung, was stuck in a legal limbo for many years, but eventually it became the property of the City of John Day. It then languished, forgotten and untouched, for almost 20 years -- until the City began surveying for a new city park. Inside, it was like a time capsule that had been sealed for many years. The artifacts, furniture, supplies of herbs and medicines... all of it was just as Doc Hay left it the last time he closed the door. It was a rare find that preserved and documented the 19th century Chinese culture in America. The Chinese are gone now, from John Day. But their story can still be told.

The City tried for years to make a go of it as a museum. But realizing they had more on their hands than they could handle, they offered it to the State of Oregon, which put some money into restoring, safeguarding, and preserving it. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2005.

Because of the lack of tourist traffic in this part of the world in late October, we had an excellent tour guide to ourselves. We explored both the historic building, complete with it's original artifacts, as well as a nicely done museum that explained more about the Chinese and their culture in America. It was an enjoyable stop, made better by friendly and knowledgeable museum staff who were eager to share.

After a quick stop at a grocery store we made it back to camp with enough time to spare for a good walk along a nature trail here in the State Park. We finished the day with a blazing campfire under a nearly clear sky. The wind was calm, the temps cool, but the fire and our lively conversation kept us warm.

Thom Hoch
Clyde Holliday State Park near John Day, OR.


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