Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Interview With Number One Cousin - Walter Wan Chang

On April 15, 1982, at 3:15 in the afternoon, I recorded an interview with Walter Wan Chang, who was Chang Apana's Number One favorite cousin. As a young boy, and man, Walter had a very, very close personal relationship with Apana.  According to Rose Chang Murakami, Walter had a special place in Chang Apana's heart.  Rose told me to get in touch with him, as Walter knew details about Apana's life that was unobtainable elsewhere.  The interview was conducted in the China Emporium. It used to be located at 1029 Manunakea St., in downtown Chinatown, Honolulu. Walter was the proprietor of that establishment, as he had purchased it previously from his older brother.  The China Emporium was a place that felt to me, to be out of this time, and space.  When I walked into the shop, my space-time displacement had  shifted eerily, and I was back in the 1940s,  which by-the-way, is my favorite time period.  It was dark inside with a rather low ceiling, and the air was permeated with the redolence of incense and teak.  Along the walls were figurines and statuettes of Kwan Yin, Buddha, and the Eight Chinese Immortals.  Display cases were full of decorative plates, especially those with a rose pattern.  What was of particular interest to me were the large ornamental vases that were placed like ever vigilant Chinese sentinels, on the floor along the walls.  To say that the Chinese Emporium was thickly atmospheric of things and places long gone by would be an understatement.  It was the classic curiosity shop.  And, there was Walter, sitting behind a large desk in the middle right of the store, against the wall.  He was dressed in a dark gray suit, and looked like a distinguished apparition from the past.  What struck me though, was his frailty.  I thought to myself, "Oh man, this interview is not going to last too long."  He appeared to be ill, and I later learned that he was suffering with an advanced case of emphysema.  But as Walter began to speak, an enigmatic transformation manifested itself.  His voice got stronger and stronger, and at times, it seemed as though Chang Apana himself were speaking to me in a ghostly first person.  A glimpse was allowed "Behind That Curtain" of time; almost fifty years had elapsed since Walter last spoke to Apana.  Walter was also known as the "Mayor" of Chinatown.  I want to thank the family of the late Walter Chang for providing me with this very rare photo of him.  Walter was a very private person, and only a few photos of him are known to be in existence.  There will be more photos of him in my forthcoming book.  I'm in regular contact with Walter's immediate family, and they have given their blessings to my book.  The narrator of the book, will be Walter himself, in his own words, that I extracted from my extensive interview with him.  Walter Chang passed away on November 13, 1984 at the Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.  He was buried at the Hawaiian Memorial Park Cemetery, Kaneohe, Hawaii.
The former site of the China Emporium As It Appeared On November 6, 2010 (INSIDE)

The former site of the China Emporium As It Appeared On November 6, 2010 (OUTSIDE)

Below you will find a very short, transcribed, excerpt from that interview. The actual interview was about 45 minutes long, and most of it will be included on a CD, that will packaged with my forthcoming book, "Charlie Chan's Hawaii". To just read the interview is not enough, you need to hear the wonderful tone and inflection of W. Chang's voice. It is a voice from out of time, from the shadowed mist of the past, and is completely charming, and wonderful to hear. Click on the eSnips link at the bottom of this post to hear an MP3 of this excerpt.


"His father, and my grandfather, are brothers. So we are close; are first cousins. OK. So you ask me now. He's a man very strict. He likes us. He likes his own relative. You can't beat him. Before, when we was sick, or hurt, he always, everything, prepared, his house; everytime, luncheon, everything. You know. And when we grow little bigger, he don't want us to do anything that violates the law. He no like that. He don't like us gamble. He don't like, like that. You got into trouble, some other time, maybe you get traffic, or other kind, you know; he help. You go up to him, he help, he help before those days. Sure you know what I mean, you see?"  Click on the video widget below to hear an excerpt of the interview with Walter Wan Chang.  Safe journeys to all the fans of Charlie Chan's Hawaii, wherever you may be.

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