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Chief Cook

I came to Canada on a Japanese ship in 1912, when I was twenty years of age. There were about ninety people on board. I borrowed money to pay the $500 head tax on Chinese immigrants. I came to Canada primarily because my best friend talked me into it.

I disembarked at Victoria, B.C., where through one of my friends, I found work in a grocery store.

After a while my godfather sent me transportation fare, so that I could move to the town where he lived and ran a restaurant with a friend. I worked in their restaurant until it closed, one and a half years later.

For the next two months, I worked as a dishwasher in a hotel in Lastwood, Saskatchewan. The new head chef like me and asked me to work as a room cleaner. I worked at that for over a year, but then I decided to leave. I felt that my salary of twenty dollars per month was too low.

I couldn't find another, better kind of work, so I was once again forced to work as a room cleaner in a small-town hotel.

Later, I was trained as a baker; at the same time, I worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant for twenty-five dollars per month.

In 1915 I found a job on a wheat farm for $3 per day. After working there for about a month, I earned $100 -- enough to enable me to move to Calgary.

In Calgary I first worked as a household baker, but that lasted only a few days because I only knew how to bake cakes and didn't understand English. By then I was about twenty-three years old.

I next worked as a waiter in a hotel, on land now occupied by the Calgary Convention Centre. After a few weeks I left because the salary of seven dollars per week was not even enough for me to buy cigarettes.

Fortunately, the owner of the wheat farm where I had previously worked, liked to employ young Chinese workers and rehired me. During the first year I earned $40 per month; in the second year I earned $45 per month. I hoped that by working there for several years I could save enough money to pay off the $500 I had borrowed in China to enter Canada. But, only six months later, the wheat farm was sold and I was forced to return to Calgary.

During those years most Chinese employers only hired their relatives or people who had the same surname. Even if you were hired by an employer to whom you were not related, as soon as he found a relative to take your place, you would immediately be fired. Thus, over the years, I moved around to many towns and cities, including Youngstown, Drumheller, Munson, Chinook, and Edmonton. I was very poor, but fortunately I met friendly, kind Chinese restaurant workers who would give me food to eat and a bed to sleep in. They always refused any payment in return.

During my first ten years in Canada, I worked mostly in small towns. Whenever I was unemployed, I travelled to Calgary and lived upstairs at the K-- S-- store in Chinatown.

After that, I worked as a cook at the N-- C-- Restaurant in a small Alberta town. A year later I was forced to quit because of poor health and moved to Calgary to recuperate.

Some time later one of my friends, whom I had met in Medicine Hat, opened a restaurant in Calgary and offered me the position of chief cook. I supervised approximately ten people and earned sixty-five dollars per month. Because of an incident that occurred a few years later, I decided to leave that job.

I then found work in Saskatchewan, but I left after only two months because my employer was unsatisfactory; so, I returned to Medicine Hat. I met a friend there who offered me a job as chief cook at ninety-dollars per month. I stayed at that job for sixteen months.

Reprinted from The Chinese Experience In Canada: Life Stories From the Late 1800s to Today by J. Brian Dawson and Nicholas Ting with permission of the authors.

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