Gung Gung's uncle, Quon Mane, was basically a good, well-meaning man and he treated Gung Gung decently at first, but personal misfortunes had left him bitter. When he saw Gung Gung do well in school and how poorly his own sons measured up (although the uncle was older than Gung Gung's father, his sons were younger), he feared for his sons' future welfare. Watching this nephew emerge as the natural inheritor of the family business, the uncle soon began to feel resentful. He would put Gung Gung down and try to discourage his ambitions.
Gung Gung for the first time began to consider going to college as a way out of this unhappy and promising family situation. His uncle scoffed and told him he wasn't "the college type". He was doomed to failure: "Look at your face in the mirror. It's got failure written all over it. Neih mouh yung! ("你冇用！")
Much as Albert hated such put-downs, his own children say he perpetrated the same on them. "Muk taau" (木頭）or "knucklehead" (lit. "wooden head") was the usual phrase.
Gung Gung was undaunted and quickly replied that he knew he had many shortcomings, which was why he wished to attend college––to try to improve himself. But should he fail, he would accept his doom. In his 1998 telling of these stories, Gung Gung expressed bitterness at his older brother Frank, who would side with their uncle, chiming in that Gung Gung was a good-for-nothing and rapping him on the head with his knuckles. Gung Gung said that his English name, "Albert", was given to him by a kind Mrs. Waldo who worked at the Chinese Mission where Gung Gung took some kind of remedial English lessons when he first arrived/to help him get through school. Her own son was named Albert. Asked how his brother Frank got his name, Gung Gung said in 1998 that he had no idea.
The Chinese Mission, c. 1920. Albert is in the middle row, seated far right. The lady in the middle is probably Margaret Fanton, but possibly Anna Waldo.
Gung Gung's uncle had turned sour as a result of the unhappy end of a second marriage. His first wife back in the village had failed to produce any offspring. While in the States, one of his brothers, then living in Foshan, arranged for a second wife to be sent to him. She was a pretty girl, handmaid in a well-to-do household with which this other uncle was acquainted. It was agreed that the girl could go, but only if she were provided with her own 15-year-old servant girl, as she was herself used to a life of comparative ease to what would await her in the States. Well, the new wife was trouble from the day she arrived. She caused quite a stir in the mostly male Chinese community of San Diego, as well as among the American women who treated her like a pet and dressed her up. This young wife quickly took a liking to Western clothes among her other fine tastes. Worst of all, she didn't produce a son, but a string of girls.
Eventually Gung Gung's uncle decided it would be best to send her back to China. He personally took her back to the village where his mother and first wife were living. As it turned out, back in the village, she eventually bore him a son, King. two sons, Ben and King, while the first wife remained childless (or was the story that both wives became pregnant and the first bore him and Ben, and the second King?).
Gung Gung remembered the second wife vividly. She always had a trinket or story of the US with which to delight the boy. Indeed, she again caused quite a commotion when she told him some story (that Uncle Mane had another wife in the US, which is why he wasn’t remitting much money?) which Gung Gung related to his mother. She eventually admitted to having made up the story to tease young Gung Gung, and he was forbidden to visit her house anymore. She finally met a bad end.
In one version, Gung Gung said that village life broke the spirit of the second wife who was used to the fine things and had seen a bit of the world. The first wife lorded over her and eventually she hung herself. In an extended version, he recounted that always eager for amusement, the second wife went one day to an opera performance, where she fell prey to a huckster who claimed to be a friend of her husband’s, sending over a tray of dainties for her to nibble on and inviting her to join his party on a boat.
Once aboard the boat, he got her drunk, took advantage of her, and later sold her off to a brothel up river. She managed to find her way back to the Quon household, but despite all entreaties was told that she could not rejoin the family. She asked to be able to gather up some of her belongings, locked herself inside one of the rooms, and hung herself. She was discovered to be pregnant at the time.
Whatever the exact story, Gung Gung says that his uncle never got over her death and continued to feel deeply responsible for her sad end. This on top of the woes of his San Diego shop where business wasn’t prospering.
While Quon Mane told immigration authorities that his older son Ben was the son of his 2nd wife, it is believed that was a convenient simplification, when he was in fact the son of Quon Mane's first wife.
Read Story #7 for a more detailed retelling of this aunt's story. Remarkably and sadly, a not dissimilar fate befell the second wife of Albert's older brother Frank.
In addition to his uncle, he also had an auntie who joined in in the psychological undermining of Gung Gung. Gung Gung says life at the store was hard in any case. He slept in the storage loft on a bed roll on the floor, rose at 5:30 to sweep up and wash the windows, and spent the rest of the day doing heavy work, often lifting and moving big wooden packing crates from Japan. One of his little fingers still has a bend it in it from an accident when a large wooden trap door slammed down on it. In 1998, Gung Gung says that his finger was smashed in the trap door of a fine new outbuilding that his grandfather had built with a flat-topped roof so that grain could be dried on it.
At one point, Gung Gung bought a broken skate from a friend for 25 cents and fashioned what he calls the first skate board. He attached the wheels to a board to make a dolly to help him shift the packing crates. You would have thought his uncle would have been impressed by his ingenuity, but his reaction was typical of their relationship by this time. He started yelling what was Gung Gung messing around with a skate for, wasn't that just like him, always shirking his work or trying to find some lazy short cut.