CBC Radio documentary, “Chinese laundry Kids”

Produced by Yvonne Gall of CBC-Radio, Vancouver, this downloadable 1-hour  broadcast Chinese Laundry Kidsexamines the experiences and memories of several Chinese who grew up working in their family laundries. It aired in April, 2011and on May 2 appeared on their website.

The origins for this program started last May at a fund raising event at Vancouver’s historic Chinatown family restaurant, Foo’s Ho Ho where ‘laundry kids’, Elwin Xie, Judy Fong Bates, and I spoke about our experiences growing up and working to help our parents run laundries. Yvonne was in the audience and found a compelling story in what she learned.  A few months later she came to southern California to interview me and to make a visit to West Los Angeles to visit one of the last fully operational Chinese laundries in town.  (Laundries should not be confused with “laundromats,”  which are not at all the same).  Yvonne is to be commended for the outstanding program that she produced for CBC-Radio.

If you miss the program, listen to a downloadable audiofile Chinese Laundry Kids

      Following the interview, we visited two of the few remaining Chinese laundries in the Los Angeles area.  The Sam Sing Laundry in W. Los Angeles is one of the last standing Chinese laundries in 2011. Jon Wong acquired it from a Chinese in the 1950s, and retained its name. He never had any hired help, relying entirely on family members to run the business. Albert Wong, his son has continued the operation the Sam Sing Laundry for the past 20+ years.

      Albert Wong describing operations of the laundry

Some of the pressing machines, vintage 1950s, are still used daily at Sam Sing Laundry.   The “Prosperity” brand pressing machine on the left is a shirt press and the two on the right were for pressing flat articles like trousers, sheets, and table cloths.        

The two vertical machines behind the front counter are used for pressing long sleeves on business shirts.     This view from behind the front counter looks into a storage area. Beyond that area is the kitchen and eating space at Sam Sing Laundry.

Yvonne Gall of CBC Radio interviews Albert next to his commercial washing machines in the back of the laundry.

We also visited a second laundry at West Pico Chinese Hand Laundry, 10, 516 W. Pico, Los Angeles that was once owned by Chinese but now is operated by a Korean couple.  It is not really a ‘hand laundry’ as it may have been a generation or two ago. Despite strong racial hostility toward Chinese and their laundries, hand laundries were often preferred over white-owned steam laundries because clothes were better ironed and less likely to be damaged.  Chinese laundries retained the “Hand” in their names long after they became steam laundries.  Amy, a Korean, and her husband acquired this small laundry from the previous Chinese owner about 20 years ago. They hired 2 employees to help. Although electric irons have long since replaced the 8 lb. charcoal heated irons, there are 2 or 3 traditional ironing tables in a column along the left side.  In the past, some laundrymen would use them as beds after the long workday ended as many of them lived inside their laundries.