Chinese laundries, horoscopes, and Donald Trump!

set of sam lee laundries

I suppose you can take several ideas or topics at random and find some way to show that they are more or less “connected” but I was somewhat startled to find someone had posted a comment entitled “21-22 Degree Sagittarius: A Chinese Laundry (and Donald Trump’s Moon) to one of my blog posts that connected Chinese laundries with Donald Trump via the horoscope

21 to 22 degree Sagittarius locates in the Leo decadent (10-degree divisions within a sign) and the Leo duad (2.5 degree sections within a sign). It is the 21st degree of Sagittarius and 1st degree of the decadent, therefore carries the energy of numbers 3, 7, (3×7=21), and 1.

People and matters contacting this degree identify themselves passionately with –or against – an individual, a ethnic or social minority group that’s underprivileged or prosecuted. The social climate that supports such discrimination and injustice is often prejudiced, hypocritical, unreasonable, and going against the universal value of fairness and equality.

Due to Leo’s influence, there is also a strong dramatic element associated with these unjust events. Spreading of falsehood, or some sort of a “creative” effort, is often involved.

On the opposite side of same coin, this symbol speaks of the bitterly oppressed and those who take on the thankless job of cleaning up the aftermath of epic misdeeds. At its higher expression, this degree allows profound understanding of the deep rooted injustice and societal wrongs, and take courageous action to counter such atrocities.

Some famous people with 21-22 Sagittarius degree in their chart are:

  • Donald Trump (moon), whose hard-line and controversial stance of deportation of illegal immigrants marks the flagship issue of his presidential campaign.


Early Chinese Laundries in North Carolina

NC laundry rev map

Chinese laundries across the state of North Carolina in the late 19th and early 20th century sometimes received newspaper coverage. Some stories simply reported the opening or relocation of a laundry, while others dealt with human interest accounts of  some of the laundrymen and their lives. Some laundries paid for small advertisements of their services and prices in some towns. Other articles covered grim topics such as a suicide, homicide, assault, or robbery as well as gambling or drug and narcotics use and sales.  These articles provide evidence of the extent of Chinese laundry presence in this part of the country that is greater than what census records might suggest.  For example, in 1900, 37 Chinese were listed in the census, almost all were in laundry work, but usually 4 or 5 men (often listed as sons, cousins, brothers, nephews) worked at a given laundry.  Thus, one might expect  no more than 10 laundries using this staffing estimate. A 1913 International Business Directory of Chinese businesses listed only two Chinese laundries in North Carolina but that is misleading because a fee was probably required for listings.

Inside A Chinese Laundry

CBC  (Canada) Radio Visits The Sam Sing Laundry

I met producer Yvonne Gall of Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) Radio when I spoke in Vancouver at a fundraiser for Foo’s Ho Ho Restaurant  in 2010.  She was intrigued by the descriptions I included of what it was like to grow up in a Chinese laundry, which led her  to decide to make a documentary about the experiences of children in Chinese laundries.

Sam Sing window

In 2011 Yvonne came from Vancouver to interview me at my home in southern California. Afterwards, I took her to visit to one of the few remaining Chinese laundries in the area, the Sam Sing Laundry.  Present owner Albert Wong, a third generation descendant of the original owner, showed us the interior of the laundry.

cbc radio

The interior space of Sam Sing Laundry, as the photographs below attest, is cluttered and cramped from wall to wall, a condition that  was fairly typical of Chinese laundries.  Laundrymen, like other Chinese immigrants, were frugal and pragmatic as they struggled to survive.  Nothing was discarded if it might possibly be eventually useful.


Albert also spoke briefly about the history of Sam Sing Laundry, which is included in the hour long CBC audio documentary, Chinese Laundry Kids. 

 Scenes from CBC Radio Visit to Sam Sing Laundry

RTHK-TV Hong Kong Visits Sam Sing Laundry

rthk vid

In 2012,  RTHK Hong Kong Television made a 5-hour documentary on Chinese in North America.  I served as a consultant for producer Annie Yau who created episode 4, which dealt with Chinese laundries and restaurants.    The Sam Sing Laundry again proved to be a valuable resource as it is a living “museum” or laboratory for examining the work and living space that Chinese laundries served for hundreds of Chinese immigrants over many decades.

I took Annie and her film crew to the Sam Sing Laundry where they filmed my conversation with Albert Wong’s father, Jon Wong, who operated the Sam Sing Laundry for many decades.  He spoke about the history of this business that was started by his grandfather in 1900, which is a small part of the hour-long 2012 RTHK video documentary.


Early History of Sam Sing Laundry

The building that housed the Sam Sing Laundry, as was true for many other Chinese laundries, was also where owners and their families lived in other sections of the building.  Not only did this arrangement reduce expenses, but it also enabled owners to guard the premises against theft, vandalism, and fire. Living in the laundry also provided safety from physical assaults Chinese might encounter if they had to travel from the laundry after they closed to reach their residences.

The photographs  of the living quarters of the Sam Sing Laundry in the linked collection below show the kitchen and eating areas as well as the family room.  The walls are lined with family photographs including grandparents and parents in China as well as children and grandchildren. Framed diplomas of the academic achievements of the descendants are proudly displayed.


side room

Other Scenes from: Sam Sing Laundry Living Quarters

Where Did All the Chinese Laundries Go?

A century ago  Chinese laundries could be found in virtually every town throughout the United States as well as in Canada.  Today, one would find it difficult to find one because most homes have their own washer and dryer and those who do not can do their laundry at a laundromat, which unlike laundries, are usually self-service and does not offer ironing.  By the middle of the past century, Chinese immigrants were turning to other businesses such as restaurants as older Chinese laundrymen were retiring.  Their children did not take their place because many of them had obtained college degrees paid for through the earnings from their family laundries and were beginning to make inroads into professions that previously had been denied to Chinese, even though with advanced degrees from Ivy League universities.  Still, even as late at 1955, as this list from the San Francisco Yellow Pages illustrates, there were many laundries (a few on the list were not Chinese laundries) in San Francisco operated by Chinese.

But today virtually all of the Chinese laundries have faded away into history!  That is a sign of the great progress that the Chinese have made but without the sweat and toil from the laundries, they would not have made it.

A Surprise from Survey Answers of 5,000 Chinese Laundrymen in 1943

The Office of Price Administration (OPA) wanted to survey 5.000 Chinese laundrymen in New York City about prices.  Wanting to help those who were not proficient in English, OPA, with the assistance of the Chinese Benevolent Association, created a form that had questions printed side by side in English and Chinese.

Much to their dismay, when the surveys (no mention of the response rate was given) were returned, the OPA was surprised!


Last Remaining Chinese Laundries

Here is some visual evidence in L. A. of the disappearance of once ubiquitous “Chinese laundries” that could be found in virtually every town in the country . The Kimball Chinese laundry in Temple City at 9424 Las Tunas, Temple City, still has its sign (left image) but in 2011, the storefront no longer appears to be a laundry (right image).  Similarly, the second photo of the Wong Wing Laundry at 8372 Third St., Los Angeles shown in the left hand frame in 2010 was replaced sometime in 2011 by a women’s clothing shop as shown in the right hand frame.

Yick Wo, San Francisco laundryman Supreme Court victory

An animated documentary that clearly explains the background, issues, outcome, and legacy of the Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886) decision that affected the fate of Chinese laundries in San Francisco, the primary occupation of Chinese at the time.


       Yick Wo was a laundryman in San Francisco who contested the outlawing of all laundries in wooden buildings as racially biased since all Chinese laundries were in wood structures. He won the case as the Supreme Court ruled in 1886 that the law violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Chinese Laundries: Tickets to Survival on Gold Mountain

I wrote this book, Chinese Laundries: Tickets to Survival on Gold Mountain, to tell why and how Chinese laundries originated and determined the economic, psychological, and social status of the laundrymen and, for some, their families. First- and second-hand accounts of work and life in their laundries, where many lived in the back, help us see and appreciate how much they achieved despite racial prejudice, hardship, and cultural isolation.

The laundry was the best, and at one time, the only, ‘ticket’ available to Chinese immigrants who came here starting in the middle of the 19th century to seek their fortunes on “Gold Mountain.” However, denied opportunities to most types of work by discriminatory barriers, the hand laundry became their economic lifeline, the meal ticket that enabled them and their descendants to overcome the obstacles confronting them to eventually achieve success on Gold Mountain.

Chinese laundries, born of necessity, became their stereotypical occupation, and in the early 20th century there was at least one located in virtually every town across the land. Today, however, they have all but vanished into history, made obsolete by social and technological changes. Their disappearance makes it all the more important to acknowledge the significant contribution that Chinese laundries made to the history of Chinese in North America.