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Remembering Marysville's Chinatown
Reception for 2013 Bok Kai Exhibit: Year of the Snake — 5 p.m.-7 p.m. at the Yuba-Sutter Regional Arts Council, 624 E St., Marysville. Call 742-2787.
5K run/walk — 9 a.m., registration at 8:15 a.m., starting at First and D streets, Marysville. The entry fees are $10 and $20 on the day of the event. Call 300-7352.
Crafters area — 9 a.m., Second Street, between D and C streets.
Children's craft area — 10 a.m. at Yuba County Library parking lot, Second and C streets. Free.
Parade — 11 a.m. on D Street starting at Sixth Street in Marysville, turns east on First Street, then north on C Street, ending at Third Street.
The parade is followed by a lion dance in front of the Hop Sing Building.
Bomb Day — 4 p.m. at First and C streets.
Janice Nall points to faint lines on a brick wall along First Street near a doorway that led into her grandfather's store, ones that marked her growing height.
"That's where I'd spend my days after American school," Nall said.
Born and raised in Marysville, Nall remembers the tail end of the city's active Chinatown. She is the first female elder of Suey Sing, a fraternal society whose building sits along First and C streets. Her father and grandfather are pictured in black-and-white photos inside the building.
"In the old heydays, we'd have so many banquets here," Nall said, noting there would be several eating times for visitors, some held as late as midnight and 1:30 a.m. "This place would be full for Bok Kai."
The 133rd Bok Kai Festival will celebrate the Year of the Snake this weekend. The parade starts Saturday at Sixth and D streets and concludes at Third and C streets. Bomb Day festivities — where firecrackers are lit and preselected participants rush to grab rings shot into the air — Sunday at First and C streets.
Nall's aunt, San Jose resident Emily Chin Yue, 78, left town at age 18 or 19 to go to the University of California, San Francisco. She grew up in Chinatown during the 1940s and said it was a close-knit community with more than 100 families.
"Nobody had food stamps ... we just helped each other," she said about the wartime days when neighbors shared eggs and vegetables. "Men would go over the levee to fish and share their catch. I don't recall being hungry during those war years, because the community was so self-sufficient."
Mothers in the community would roll bandages for war relief, she said. There weren't many Chinese soldiers, but for those who came to town, families would invite them in for home-cooked meals.
Along with the streetcar that ran between Marysville and Yuba City, Yue also recalled social activities for the children that were centered on the Presbyterian mission, once located on C Street.
"It was wonderful to be introduced to so many things," Yue said. "Our parents went to the temple, but they did not forbid us to attend the mission. We were introduced to Easter egg hunts, weenie roasts, things that were very American compared to our Chinese culture."
Two schools: American and Chinese
Janice Nall, 61, attended the Chinese school, as did Sahm Fow Chinese Community President Gordon Tom, 72, to learn reading, writing, some history and speaking.
"The teacher was strict as could be," Nall said.
A sign in front of the school, in the 200 block of Front Street, indicates it's "circa 1940," though the school closed in the 1970s. Tom said students would attend American school until about 2:45 p.m., go home for dinner, and then attend Chinese school from 5 p.m.-8 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m.-noon. Nall said Cantonese was taught at the school, but most of the families came from a peasant area in China where the Toisan dialect is used, so it didn't match what students were used to speaking at home.
An empty lot near the old school is where children used to play baseball, football and enjoy the swings, Gordon Tom said.
"It's important for us to redo the Chinese school, that's where we'd like to hold meetings," Gordon Tom said.
Emily Chin Yue attended the Chinese school on C Street that preceded the one on First Street. She recalled sitting on long benches with tables, and said the youngest students had priority for sitting close to the pot-belly stove.
"As you got older, you moved further away because supposedly you'd keep warm that way," Yue said.
The students also served as janitors on Saturdays, Yue said, sweeping and cleaning the bathrooms after school memorization's and tests.
Director of the Chinese-American Museum of Northern California Brian Tom said his father, Dr. A.M. Tom, was a Chinese herbal specialist.
His first office was at Sixth and D streets, though he later moved to Fifth and F streets. Herbal medicine often involves treatment of internal organs, he said, and that his father had a lot of patients. He was one of the first Chinese-American students to enter the Marysville public school system.
"I still meet people that come into the museum that remember my father," Brian Tom said.
People remember him for being a Chinese doctor, but he was also a local businessman who owned the Marysville Furniture Store, the Golden Eagle gas station and three Savemor department stores.
CONTACT Laura van der Meer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4771. Find her on Facebook at /ADlvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADlvandermeer.