Four Sparrows: A Tale of Race and Survival in the California Gold Rush. Chapter 1, Scene 1

Here’s a sneak peak at my book. Below is the opening scene, hopefully a nice teaser. Ask for the book at your local bookstore, or hop on to Amazon to order your copy.

Happy reading!

Digitized for "Picture This: California Perspectives on American History," a project of the Oakland Museum of California Museum Technology Initiative for Educational Outreach IMLS Grant, July 1, 2010 – June 31, 2011.

San Francisco in 1850. Ships and such. Reproduction of original image, artist unknown.

Chapter One: Destination

They sailed past the Farallon Islands and he saw a whale break the surface. Jungdo waited, but it didn’t return. He rubbed his face, tired of the long journey, but relieved. His books said to expect these islands, and now he knew they were close.

During the voyage, they played games to distract from the monotony. Jungdo stretched out on a bundle of silk and watched Kan shoot French dice against the ship’s bulkhead. After three more hours, they reached land. Jungdo got up and looked out the porthole when they felt the ship tap the pier. Seagulls circled in the dark sky and fog obscured the hills. He could see the flowery flag of May-gwohk. According to his books, May-gwohk was the official name for America. He put on his skullcap and slippers.

Jungdo wore black pants and a blue shirt with red embroidery. He had an auburn face and airy brow. His second cousin Kan travelled with him. Kan was fifteen, half Jungdo’s age, and he wore similar clothes, but without embellishment. Their queues were black and heavy.

Kan shoved their belongings into Jungdo’s trunk and they heard glass break. They removed the ritual items from the broken glass jar and wrapped them in calico cloth. Jungdo breathed heavy at the burden of Kan’s exuberance.

“These are the gifts,” Jungdo said aloud. He grabbed Kan’s sleeve and hit him in the face. No other words were spoken.

They finished packing. Jungdo disembarked with a canvas bag over his shoulder. Kan followed, with the trunk on his back and a bag around his arm.

The wind picked up when they stepped on shore. They scanned the pier with square inquisitive eyes. They saw a lantern approach and sway with the tempo of the wind. Through the fog they began to see the figure of a man.

An agent from the Chinese business guild had come to meet them. He confirmed their full names, Fung Jungdo and Fung Kantau, and bowed to them. Jungdo and Kan gave a short bow in reply. The agent helped to carry Jungdo’s trunk. They headed to the guild’s headquarters, a restaurant on Sacramento Street, three blocks from the bay.

The president of the business guild, Chan Hengfu, was expecting them. He had secured safe passage for them across the sea. Wooden lions guarded the door as they entered and ornate benches traced the perimeter of the main hall. Light glowed from a room in the back, where their host was seated on the far side of a round table.

“Welcome to Gold Mountain,” Chan said. Jungdo debated whether to kowtow, with three kneelings and nine prostrations, but of course that would be too much; he must be tired from the voyage. Jungdo was many things: a father, a Han descendant, a widower and a husband. This business guild, the Sanyi Huiguan, was full of wealthier Chinese, but he was now part of this class. So he provided a polite bow and thoughtful words.

“May the prosperous light fill a thousand leagues; may the auspicious air pervade mankind.” They both smiled slightly, this was not their first meeting. This night was due to years of networking built over tea and other drinks. It was the relationships that provided opportunity more than coinage. Chan was highly regarded back home for his success in business and respect for the community. This was true currency. They sat and discussed plans to go to the gold country.

“Things aren’t as told in those books. This land is not made of gold, among other things. And its official name is The United States of America.” Jungdo tried to repeat it.

“These barbarian tongues are disordered.”

“You will adapt. A man named Woodworth is the Vice-Consul of the San Francisco port. We’ll submit the ship manifest to him before you go to Calaveras County. We already paid the customs house.”

“You’re well-prepared for us. We appreciate this.” Jungdo signaled to Kan who produced a gift in calico cloth of five small items. To represent Guangdong province, there was preserved tangerine peel, aged ginger, and hay. To round off the offering, Jungdo had included fresh bamboo and a stylized jade treasure dragon. All of this was full of symbolism, which was not lost on Chan.

“You in turn are truly thoughtful and generous. I look forward to seeing our ventures become as profitable as our relationship is strong.”

“As do I.”

“The mayor of San Francisco is named Geary and he is friendly to us. However be warned, the gold rivers have little law and less protection then even this hub of barbarism.” They talked business for another hour, discussing a variety of topics. Chan reminded them to keep their expressions blank so as not to antagonize the barbarians.

“Are they so easily manipulated?”

“Well, they are not called barbarians because they are pale.” They laughed.

Jungdo paid Chan for his assistance and joined the huiguan that night. A meal of broth and spare ribs was provided to them, along with some rice. They finished their meal with tong sui, a warm loose custard with red bean and taro. They had cots prepared for them. In a matter of hours, Jungdo not only repaid his debt, but also joined the huiguan, obtained food and shelter, and put a plan in place to find gold in the flowery flag country of May-gwohk, now called the United States.

This venture was filled with opportunity, yet he was not sure if his arrival in San Francisco was a beginning or an end. Change was the only constant. “Birth is death,” he told himself; they came together like wind and weather.

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About Daniel Roddick

Daniel has a B.A. in American History with minors in both Ethnic Studies and Sociology. He also has an M.Ed. in College Administration and Counseling. Daniel has worked in the financial aid industry for over a decade. He has presented all over the country on financial aid issues related to equity, inclusion, and access to education. He is also a writer of poetry, fiction, and this blog, all of which touch on identity.
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One Response to Four Sparrows: A Tale of Race and Survival in the California Gold Rush. Chapter 1, Scene 1

  1. Zach morris says:

    That was really good. I liked it a lot. Good job! 🙂

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