by Marcia Lam
I was born in North Vietnam. In February 1978, as property was being confiscated and relations with China were deteriorating, my parents (like thousands of other ethnic Chinese) decided to leave with their four kids (ages 8, 6, 4, and 2) plus one in my mom’s tummy. We were accompanied by my thirteen- year-old Uncle Vincent, my Aunt Ida (who was 14 and had polio) and her sister, my Aunt Mindy who was fifteen. We took the train but were kicked off before our stop and had to walk to a river and then cross over to China. Since Aunt Ida couldn’t walk, my dad carried her on his back the entire way. Farmers took us in and gave us refuge, allowing us to stay in their pig pen in the beginning. Soon after, my youngest brother was born in China. As we settled down, my parents found housing and jobs.
We were in China until June 1979, when we found passage to Hong Kong. After surviving the boat ride, we were taken in as refugees from Vietnam. We stayed at the refugee camp while my parents found work. My mom worked in a toy factory. My dad worked in construction or whatever manual labor he could find. In February 1981, under the sponsorship of my great uncle who was already living in Oakland, we received permission to emigrate to the United States. Aunt Ida stayed in Hong Kong for another year to have surgery to correct her back so she could walk with a crutch, and Mindy stayed behind to wait with her.
I was ten when we arrived at SFO and came directly to Oakland. My great uncle helped us find a place to live. Eventually, my parents found work to make money to pay my great uncle back plus the government for the airfare, I think. My mom worked as a seamstress and got paid by pieces. My dad found restaurant work in the kitchen doing miscellaneous work and washing dishes. Given time, he learned to cook. He was able to open his own restaurant in 1990 in Hayward, CA. It was called Hong Kong Seafood Restaurant, named after the restaurant where he learned how to cook. I was going to college at that time and was helping him run the restaurant. I went to Cal State Hayward and graduated in 1994 with a B.A in Business Administration. After I graduated, I worked for Prescolite for four years and then briefly returned to help out at the restaurant. By that time, my two brothers (Peter and Greg) were stepping in to help my dad and thanks to their great service sales were booming. Eventually Peter and Greg burned out and started Superprint. At that point, since none of his kids (including my younger sister, Cinda wanted to work in the restaurant, my dad sold it in 2005 because none of his kids wanted to work there anymore.
Peter and Greg sold Superprint in 2018. Peter now works for Panasonic making batteries for Tesla. Greg works for TargetCW and is currently assigned to Blackstone Data Processing. Cinda works for SAP in New Jersey. I last worked at my dad’s restaurant in 1999 when I traveled to Beijing and studied there for three months. After that trip, I really wanted to open a tea cafe which led to the opening in 2000 of the L’Amyx on Piedmont Avenue in partnership with my sister and brother-in-law. That was followed seven years later by a second location on Lakeshore which failed – partly due to the stock market crash. In November 2010, we re-opened as Lin Jia Asian Kitchen serving the kind of wholesome food my dad cooked for us growing up and for several years thereafter, dad was one of the chefs behind the counter.