CAFAM Newsletter — May 2014


News & Updates

  • Upcoming CAFAM Picnic
  • CAFAM Membership: Online Renewal Now Available!
  • NYT Documentary on CAFAM Family
  • Smithsonian Displays Maine Woman’s Chinese Clothing
  • Christianity & Confucianism in China

Upcoming Events

  • CAFAM Chinese School: Dragon Boat & Dumplings
  • CAFAM Potluck in the Park
  • Cultural China: Language Classes & Conversation
  • Chinese Language & Culture Camp
  • Chinese Art: “Spaces & Places” at Colby Museum

Recent Events

  • Chinese New Year Celebration
  • Maine Chinese Restaurant Talk
  • Honoring Craig Dietrich

Language Corner

  • Story of the Spring (Chinese Song)


  • Craig Dietrich on Writer Eileen Chang


Potluck in the Park


CAFAM’S summer potluck is scheduled for June 14th from 11 am to 3 pm at Winslow Park in Freeport, which proved to be such a pleasant spot for the event last year.

Winslow Park features a beach, walking trails and playground. We hope to see many folks come out for food, fun, kite-flying, beachcombing and more. Also, the annual election of CAFAM board members will take place at the event. Prospective new board members should contact CAFAM board member and event organizer Amanda Szala at

CAFAM Membership & Donations

While we are in transition from the print-only newsletter to this e-newsletter format, we are relying on our trusty CAFAM members to be self-motivated in renewing your membership. Beginning this year, the annual membership period will be from September to September of the following year. If you renew your membership at any time in 2014, it will be good until September 2015. Please act now so that you won’t forget!

Xiexie. Thank you!

Because we are trying to save on printing and postal resources, we are unable to mail reminders to renew your membership. If you have not paid your dues this year, please mail your payment to the address below.

Chinese and American Friendship Association of Maine

P.O. Box 10372, Portland, ME 04101

Or, if you prefer to pay online, we are introducing our new PayPal service. Just click RENEW CAFAM MEMBERSHIP to join or renew your dues electronically. If you would like more information on membership, please click here.

Anyone who is interested in supporting our organization’s efforts to promote and support Chinese culture and language in Maine is welcome to click DONATE TO CAFAM. We welcome any amount of support!

If you have questions, please contact Susan Lieberman at

Documentary: “Chinese On The Inside”


Last year, Salt Institute for Documentary Studies student Liz Mak, from California, asked CAFAM to help her identify a family that she could feature in her documentary photography and film project. She connected with Marilyn Thomas and Barbara Cough, whose two daughters are originally from China. Both Barbara and Marilyn are CAFAM members (Marilyn is on CAFAM’s board), and their daughters Catie and Kimberly attend CAFAM Chinese School.

Liz got to know the family and spent a good amount of time in their home, getting to know them and capturing them on camera. She exhibited the resulting photos as her final project at Salt Institute last May through July. Then, this March, Liz’s documentary story of the family was featured online in a New York Times op-doc titled “Chinese on the Inside.” The feature tells the family’s story through film segments and photos, exploring how Catie and Kimberly feel about their mixed identities as Chinese-born girls growing up American.

In the New York Times piece, Liz’s narrative states:

“The couple’s effort to expose their children to Chinese culture is markedly different from that of many Chinese-American families, like my own: For Barbara and Marilyn, their challenge is to pass on a culture that they appreciate, but have not lived firsthand. Meanwhile, their daughters will need to determine how much they want to affiliate with a culture they come from — one that they’ve been taught to appreciate, but to which they have little daily connection.”

To read and view the full story, click here.

Maine Mother’s Silk Outfit Displayed by Smithsonian

GoonThe traditional Chinese clothing worn by Maine’s Toy Len Goon, who was named America’s Mother of the Year in 1952, is now on exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Toy Len Goon’s daughter Doris Wong, now in her 80s, recently visited the museum to see her mother’s clothing on display. Her mother’s outfit is made of “mud silk,” a rare textile that was popular in Guangzhou province in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Smithsonian was eager to acquire Goon’s clothing for its historical significance.

Here are excerpts from the note that Doris wrote to CAFAM after her recent museum visit:

“I was met at the museum by Nancy Davis, the Curator of the Division of Home and Community Life, who led me directly to Mother’s exhibit. It was very moving to see this one mud silk outfit sewn by my mother beautifully set out on a mannequin with nary a wrinkle after being folded and put away for decades. It brought back to me the essence of my mother. It reminded me of her incredible sewing ability. It brought back to me the dimensions of her body. What I would have given to be able to give her a hug and a kiss right then and there.

There was a plaque accompanying Mother’s outfit:

‘Woman’s tunic and trousers: 1918-21. Brought to the United States from China. In 1952 during the early years of the cold war, a Chinese immigrant was chosen American Mother of the Year. Toy Len Goon moved to Portland, Maine, from Canton, China, with her new husband, Dogan, in 1921. They had eight children and ran a laundry business. Toy Len continued it on her own when Dogan died in 1941. She made this SilkOutfitMay14CAFAMmud silk outfit in China but began wearing Western-style clothing as soon as she arrived in the United States.

–Gift of Doris O. Wong’

I would like to acknowledge the huge part that Gary Libby has played in bringing my mother’s amazing story to light. Because of his efforts and interest, our family has donated many articles concerning Mother to the Maine Historical Society. The Society has also exhibited Mother’s clothing and artifacts in past years.

During this process back in 2003, Jacqueline Field-Robert, a silk expert, was asked to help select a suitable outfit for display at the MHS. That was the time she first saw the mud silk outfits that belonged to Mother. She chose an appropriate outfit made of cotton/wool for the MHS display at that time but never forgot the mud silk.

Two years ago, Ms. Field-Robert contacted me, asking if the family still had the mud silk. I checked with my sister-in-law Amy Guen who along with my brother Edward were the ones Mother entrusted with her keepsakes. Amy did still have them, and I brought them up to Portland for Ms. Field-Robert to evaluate–and the rest is history!!

My siblings and I all thank you both for making my dear mother part of American history, an incredible honor that is treasured by her descendants who now number well over a hundred.”

 Christianity and Confucianism in China

ChineseChristianityMay14CAFAMCAFAM recently heard from former member Fenggang Yang, who used to be with University of Southern Maine’s Sociology department and is now Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University in Indiana. Prof. Yang made reference to an informative article on Christianity and Confucianism in China today: click here for full article.

The same resource (China Source) also includes an interview with Professor Yang himself discussing Confucianism. Prof. Yang’s interview comments cover: the groups of people among whom Confucianism is growing; the influence of New Confucianists from overseas on Chinese society and thought; and concrete signs that Confucianism is growing in China: click here for the full interview text.



CAFAM Chinese School: Dragon Boats & Dumplings

Chinese School families and anyone else who is interested will gather to simulate dragon boat races with canoes, flags and fun. Delicious dumplings will be for sale at the event.

CAFAM Potluck in the Park

  • June 14, 2014; 11 am to 3 pm
  • Winslow Park, Freeport

Enjoy the beach, playground, food and camaraderie at CAFAM’s annual picnic, which includes the annual board election. Bring food to share, beach gear and maybe even a kite!

Cultural China: Language Classes & Conversation


This five-week beginners’ class is focused on conversational Chinese (Mandarin) with an introduction to the phonetic and writing system. The goal of the series is to establish a strong foundation for the language–framed by a wider conversation about the current state of Chinese contemporary art–with related vocabulary and discussions of leading artists and events. Co-taught by Connie Zhu, currently teaching at Waynflete, and Clare Morin, a Portland-based writer on Asian art.

Chinese Language & Culture Camp


Part of Breakwater’s summer camp program, this two-week session offers campers the chance to learn Chinese language, art, cooking, calligraphy and more. Also taught by Connie Zhu, the session aims to cover basic Chinese phonetics, vocabulary and conversation. This is a combo camp, with Chinese program in the morning and an additional arts or sports program in the afternoon.

Spaces & Places: Chinese Art from the Lunder-Colville Collection and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

A wide range of objects drawn from all periods of premodern China—from paintings to ceramics, textiles to sculptures



Chinese New Year CelebrationNY-joyteachgirl

CAFAM’s Chinese New Year celebration on February 8th at the Westbrook Center for Performing Arts was a festival of food, music, dance, arts & crafts—and fun! Many thanks to the generosity of this year’s sponsors, as well as USM’s Confucius Institute, for helping CAFAM and all those who participated give a rousing welcome to the Year of the Horse!











To order a copy of the New Year 2014 Dance performance, please contact Kelli Pryor at CAFAM Chinese School. Here is a trailer for your preview:

Maine Chinese Restaurants

FriedRiceMay14CAFAMWhen CAFAM board member Gary Libby gave a talk on the history of Chinese restaurants in Maine, he didn’t expect the standing-room-only crowd who came to the Maine Historical Society in Portland to hear his stories. Libby engaged the audience with his detailed descriptions of the colorful people, buildings and dishes that made up the Chinese restaurant scene of years past—and present. When he mentioned items like a red-colored fried rice at Pagoda restaurant, many heads nodded in fond remembrance. Libby, who is an attorney, amateur historian and author, offered the talk as part of Maine Restaurant Week in March.

Chair Man Craig Dietrich

Longtime CAFAM board member and newsletter editor Craig Dietrich was recently honored for his years of service and leadership. CAFAM’s board presented Craig with a gift of a chair during a special dinner event in March. Craig expressed his gratitude in this note:

Dear Board,

Many, many thanks for the honor, the dinner, and the chair. I thought that the food at Zen was truly top notch. More importantly, I was reminded again of what wonderful people make up CAFAM. To be associated with such a group for so long is truly an honor.

We will surely be crossing paths many times in the future (when I’m not relaxing in my chair, that is).

All the best,



Story of the Spring

春  天  的  故  事

Chūntiān de  Gùshì

The spring is finally here in Maine. And here is a lovely Chinese “oldie” that may bring back memories of youth (青春qīngchūn = green spring days) for some of us “old” folks. For the younger readers, it is never too late to learn about Taiwan’s folk music that was all the rage in the 1970s and eventually spread to mainland China in the 80s. Mostly composed or performed by college students, they are also known as “campus songs” (校園歌曲xiàoyuán gēqǔ).

“Story of the Spring” is written by Lee Tai Hsiang (李泰祥) and performed by Chyi Yu (齊豫), both well-known musicians from Taiwan. Unfortunately, Mr. Lee passed away earlier this year at the age of 72. In the song, “I” took a walk to the creek at dusk and saw a beautiful young woman, lovely and pure. “I” couldn’t help asking her for a story of the spring. She smiled, shaking her head, and handed me a little “copper bell” flower.




Greta Garbo from Shanghai: Some Thoughts on Eileen Chang

By Craig Dietrich


In 1995 a Los Angeles building manager discovered one of his tenants dead in her apartment, an elderly, reclusive Chinese lady; an obscure widow, it might seem. In fact this was Eileen Chang, one of the outstanding writers of the twentieth century, with a huge readership throughout the Chinese speaking world and among English readers as well. She was often dubbed a Chinese Greta Garbo. One expert once declared that, had circumstances been different, she would have won the Nobel Prize.

How did she end up here? And why was she famous?

Some would say that Eileen Chang was born a lucky girl. Her father was the grandson of the most famous Chinese statesman of the nineteenth century. She was chauffeured to school in a limousine. But her childhood was far from ideal, mostly due to her father, an opium addict. His concubine’s antics drove out Eileen’s talented and well educated mother. When Eileen was 17, her father punished her severely for disrespecting her step mother, even denying her medical treatment for dysentery. Not surprisingly, a central theme in her fiction is the predicament of women in the traditional family.

In 1941, the Japanese assault on Hong Kong interrupted Eileen’s college career there. The young writer returned home to Shanghai where she quickly became the literary toast of the town. Her stories, essays, and columns were eagerly read. She had a gift for language and a knack for commenting on everyday life. She was photographed in stylish clothing and hairdo. She uttered the famous line: “Better to be famous when young.”

Yet fate denied Eileen Chang the luxury of normal times. When WWII ended in 1945, civil war erupted in China. After the Communist victory in 1949, revolutionary upheaval under Mao Zedong got underway. In 1952 she moved to Hong Kong. Later she migrated to the United States and eventually married an American writer. She continued to write: fiction, film scripts, criticism, and translations. But her alienation meant that her inspiration remained 1940s Shanghai and Hong Kong.

LoveFallenCityMay14CAFAMThere is a fair amount of literature by and about Eileen Chang. Many of her works have been translated into English, some by Eileen herself. Among scholarly books Nicole Huang’s “Women, War, Domesticity: Shanghai Literature and Popular Culture of the 1940s” (albeit a bit “academic”) would be a good place to start. A collection of Chang’s essays in English is “Written on Water.” As for her fiction, an excellent collection entitled “Love in a Fallen City” is available in paperback.

To give some idea of her fiction, two stories make for an interesting comparison: “Love in a Fallen City” and “The Golden Cangue” both included in the paperback. The center of these stories is their depiction of the stifling practices and values of the traditional Chinese family. The family theme is central to “Fallen City.”  The story also resonates with Cinderella, the beautiful but despised stepdaughter who escapes her tormenting family to become the bride of a prince. The heroine, Sixth Sister, is first seen sewing a shoe, not a glass slipper, but still …? A bitter argument explodes between her and other family members present.

Having been married off and then divorced years earlier, Sixth Sister has been living at her natal home. Her brothers have grabbed and squandered her assets. Now the family begrudges her as a financial drag. She can escape only by re-marrying.

Enter the Fairy Godmother as go-between: Madame Xu. Actually she has been working on a match for Seventh Sister, an unwed daughter. She sets up a meeting for Seventh Sister with a wealthy cosmopolitan Chinese followed by a dance party, but as fate would have it, only Sixth Sister knows how to dance. (Cinderella at the ball?) Thus begins her bumpy road to freedom, reaching a critical point as the Japanese attack Hong Kong.

The second story “Golden Cangue” on the other hand is an un-Cinderella story. Historically, “cangue” is a large square board with a hole in the center placed over the prisoner’s neck, so “golden cangue” is the equivalent of “gilded cage.” The main character Qi-qiao has married into the wealthy but declining Bai family as Second Brother’s wife. He is a sickly invalid and has no chance of obtaining a respectable bride. Coming from a lowly family that owns a sesame oil shop, Qi-qiao thus ascends to a household of luxury, slaves, and servants. But her status there is mean, and she has no way out. Her only hope is to wait for Second Brother to die and then to inherit his share of the estate. This eventually happens.

However, Qi-qiao’s nature has been distorted into something monstrous. Having been dealt a miserable life, she returns the favor by wounding and even destroying those around her, even her own children.

What makes these two stories compelling is Eileen Chang’s skill as a narrator and artistry as a painter of scenes. She brings a unique intimate voice to the discussion of family. Of course many other works are worth a read. One might mention in particular “Lust, Caution” a wartime nail-biter that director Ang Lee (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Brokeback Mountain”) made into a very x-rated film.

In most of her writing, war, politics, and especially ideology remain in the background. For this Eileen Chang has been denounced as lacking patriotism and social conscience. But she was not blind to China’s predicament. Here is a 1945 poem:

My road passes

Across the land of my country.

Everywhere the chaos of my own people;

Patched and patched once more, joined and joined again,

A people of patched and colored clouds.

My people,

my youth.

I am truly happy to bask in the sun back from market,

Weighed down by my three meals for the day.

The first drumbeats from the watchtower settle all under heaven,

Quieting the hearts of the people;

The uneasy clamor of voices begins to sink,

Sink to the bottom . . .

China, after all.



The CAFAM newsletter is jointly produced by Cindy Han and Connie Zhu with web support from Jay Collier. If you have any questions, comments or material for the newsletter, please send them to: cindyhan09 at or connie at

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