Jack Lan Hong (1933 - 2013)

Jack Lan Hong - 1953

Jack Lan Hong (曾連卓) was born in China, Guangdong Province, Toishan County, Ong On Village ( 中國廣東省台山縣東安村), on October 15, 1933, and pass away a month after his 80th birthday, on November 20, 2013 in Redwood City, California. He was the second son of Hong Hock How, a Stanford-trained electrical engineer, educator, and business man, and Tui Goon Chu Hong.

Shortly after he was born, Jack, his parents and older brother Larry moved to Guangzhou, where his brother Paul and sister Lily were born. During China’s war with Japan, the family moved frequently and ended up in Kunming, China. There Jack's youngest sister, Mary, was born and Jack acquired his taste for spicy food. After the war, the family moved to Rangoon, Burma, where the children attended the Wah Sha School.

Growing up in Kunming, China, and Rangoon, Burma

On September 7, 2009, a few weeks before his 76th birthday, Jack recorded his memories of the past 75 years including growing up in Kunming and Burma:

"My earliest memory is in Kunming because that’s where I grew up. I had a classmate who owned a restaurant. Oh maybe, they were Muslim. They didn’t eat pork. When I would show up at their restaurant, they would give me nong. You know the [rice] crust from the big pot. So they also served me beef. I never knew if it was horse meat, because in Kunming they ate a lot of horse meat too.

Jack had a big smile from the start
October 1934

"I went to Catholic school in Kunming. All I remember is that the Catholic priests were very very tough. And if you don’t behave, you get whacked in the butt. So, when it was lunch time I would sneak out to the rice field and swim. When I came back and the teacher would look at me and say “Hey, where have you been?” All they had to do was scratch my arm, which was full of red mud. So we would get spanked on the hand.

"We knew that the war was going on because when the Japanese airplanes would fly in and were being shot down by the Flying Tigers*. So, we knew that there was an alarm that we could read from the lantern on the police station in the middle of the street. Green was clear, yellow was caution, red means that they are coming. So we had to find a place to hide.

"My mother was there. My younger sister, Mary, was born there in 1940 [1943]. We lived in a little house. I had a room all by myself. That was very nice, because my brother Larry went to school with our eldest brother who was actually our cousin^. He and my brother went to a school in the dorm. I would stay at home and go to school by myself because I went to the Catholic school just around the corner, called the (Sheng Yi) grammar school. My brothers, I remember, when they eat in the kitchen in the dining room, boy, they eat a big pot, big bowl of rice. Very little food. All they would do is eat a little rice with almost like kimchee with Laat Djiu (chili sauce).

Cousin^, Jack, and Larry - 1938    Lily, Jack, Larry, and Paul - 1940

"My father was working on the Burma Road, that’s how we ended up in Kunming, and he had a little jewelry store in downtown. Many of his classmates would come to Kunming to visit him, because they knew that he was there. One of our friends, my Dad’s student, went to Kunming come to visit us, met a girl downstairs, and ended up marrying her.

"My parents were kind of strict. My mother would spank me. I would fight back and would get spanked more. And my brother, Paul, would just stand there, let her spank him. So, she never spanked him. So, I got spanked a lot more than Paul. Well, my father, we saw him very seldom, because he was working. So, I have very few memories of him. He was away most of the time. He's a very nice guy. He taught us how to speak English. He tried to teach us. He was a very good teacher! You have a question to ask him. He will explain it from A to Z. Explain very clearly to you and make sure you understand that subject. When you’re a kid, you have your own things to do. So, you don’t remember much about your parents.

"I think we were in Kunming until the sixth grade. Because from the sixth grade, we moved to Burma. We went to a Chinese school because my Dad did not want us to go to a Cantonese school or a Burmese school because he figured out that I would be able to learn my English when we came to the States. When we went to Mandarin school, the teachers were all left over from World War II. They were soldiers who stayed behind. So they opened a school. They all spoke very very good Mandarin, excellent Mandarin. I remember they had parallel bars, and rings. So, I was very good at that when I was a kid. When people wanted to pick a fight with us, they had to fight me and my brother together. Nobody wanted to pick fights with us in Rangoon.

Paul, Jack, and Hock How - 1949

"There was a lot of big differences [in Rangoon], because in Kunming we don’t have anything because we were kind of poor. Nobody has anything at that time in Kunming. But in Burma we had a chauffeur to pick us up in the morning and bring us to school. At lunchtime we’d have lunch at home then bring us back to school again and pick us up after school. So, we always had a chauffeur to pick us up. So, life was very very good. We had servants who clean us up and one cook, one nanny. We lived in a compound. We had a guard, an Indian guard, who carried a knife and walked around there at night. We’d hear him coughing at night.

"We’d see our father every day because my dad would like to have a dance and party at the house. My mother would also like to have parties too. So, we’d have dance parties there. But I didn’t like to dance. You know we don’t care. So, later on my mother would have some of her friends come over and we would have dancing.

"I also wanted to buy a bicycle in Rangoon. So, Paul and I wanted to get some more money. We had Lai See**, but we don’t have enough. So, we told our dad. So, he said "okay, why don’t we gamble." So, we let Paul play poker with him with me on the side watching them play. Paul ended up to be pretty good, a pretty good poker player. We keep winning, winning, winning, winning from my dad. So, we won enough money and went out there and bought a bicycle. Take it home. My dad wanted us to lock up the bicycle because he didn’t want it to be seen because there was tension around in the street that you know. But anyway after a while we showed him that we really know how to ride the bicycle. So, he let us ride the bicycle to school.

"My father had a business. He had a distributorship for General Motors to sell Packers. Later on he also had a distributorship from National Truck and got several other things too. He had to sell refrigerators and so forth. But I remember when the car came in from the States, we had to assemble it together. So, they dumped the car in our compound where we live. The workers would come in and help him put it together. Add a little gas and a little oil then drive to the showroom which my dad had in downtown, called Chang Hong Company. He sold General Motors there.

Moving to the United States

In 1949, Jack and Paul moved to America following their father and grandfather’s footsteps. The brothers lived in Chinatown, and in 1952, Jack graduated with honors from Commerce High School, where he was a championship swimmer. Jack attended the City College of San Francisco where he was the Chinese Club president in 1953.

"When we came over here to the States in 1949, we flew over on Pan Am to San Francisco. Well, anyway, I had to come over here before age 15. So, I was here entering Commerce High School in San Francisco, and we do not speak any English. My Dad said don’t worry, you guys will learn English in no time. So, true enough, Paul and I came over here and learned English.

"Oh, boy, [at first] it was rough, rough, rough because we don’t speak English, and we gotta study. My first book that my teacher sent me was on world history. Oh, that was so thick, thick… I had to translate every word in the chapters. I can’t take that. So, they dropped me out of the history class, and gave me a choir set. So, I was able to sing Christmas songs. I didn’t worry about the rest of the subjects. Math I will always get A’s and B’s. English I will eventually get B’s and C’s. and I ended up in the honors society. I decided to go to City College because Berkeley is kind of expensive. I enjoyed it very much. At City College, we had a Sweet Heart Ball, and I mixed in with the group very very well.

Paul, Larry, and Jack - San Francisco Civic Plaza 1951

"My brother [Larry] came over here already during World War II. Larry came on a boat and stayed with my dad’s partner Mr. Kwan in New York. My eldest brother [Jack's cousin] did not want to come because he wanted to fight the Japanese. So, he joined the Air Force, the [Nationalist] Chinese Air Force and became a pilot.

"I want to remember Mary back then. She was small and Lily was small. Because Lily and I were about 5 years different and Lily and Mary about 5 years different. So they were small. But all I remember was Paul and I were going [to the U.S.] together. Larry was in New York state because he was going to school there. We didn’t see much of him until he came to stay in San Francisco.

"My dad was able to find his old student in San Francisco, who was working as a clerk in a hotel. We stayed in the hotel until we were in 12th grade. When he moved out, we found an apartment in San Francisco right above Stockton Street at the tunnel. Then we were taken care of by this Mr. Wong and his girlfriend, the one that he met downstairs at our place in Kunming.

"Chinatown was...at that time had the bus going through the tunnels. So, it was very very noisy. Every night Keith, when they finish work, they come knock on the door or throw a little rock on the window and say Jack let’s go Siu Yeh I say oh we can’t go. It’s late already, past 12 o’clock. So, he says I’ll treat. So, we went out for Siu Yeh all the time. Keith, at the time, he didn’t speak much English neither. But anyway he and I got along really well. Keith, Keith Soo, my classmate.

"And also another friend was Jone Chin. He, when the Korean War came along, he didn’t want to get drafted. So, he volunteered for the Air Force, and stayed in the Air Force for 20 years. After 20 years he got out and he got work for the airlines."

Swimming Champ Flexing at the Beach    Front: Tui Goon, Larry's daughter Jean, Mary, Lily
Back: Jack, Larry's wife Marie, Paul
- 124 23rd Ave. San Francisco 1955

Military Service

After City College, Jack served in a United States Army as a medic and interpreter from 1955 to 1957. He was stationed in Texas before being posted to the DMZ in South Korea. 

"I got drafted by the Army to go to Korea. I was in training at Fort Ord, then later training at Fort Sam Houston as a medic, then we shipped over to Korea way up to the 38th parallel to a small compound. So, I became a member of a team as a translator and also a medic in the compound. We had about 12 GI’s and the rest were all Koreans. We had two or three teams. A team consists of either a captain or lieutenant or a major and then me and another translator.

Jack near 38th Parallel in Korea - 1956

"So, we were spying. We'd go up to the 38th parallel make sure nobody on the other side moves. This was supposed to be secret, but anyway after 30 years, 35 years I guess it’s not secret anymore. I had some folks that helped me do the work and I lost all of them. Each one captured by…by…by the North Koreans. These were Chinese [from the Republic of China]. They would skip across the 38th parallel and go look at the troop movements across the line. They were Chinese soldiers, acting as officers, captain or major and ...lieutenant colonel. This was supposed to be top secret, and we were not supposed to tell anybody.

"After my service, I shipped back and went to City College for a semester just to get used to studying again."

First Full-time Job

After he was discharged, Jack earned his bachelor's degree in industrial engineering from San Francisco State in 1959. Jack’s first job was working for Continental Casualty selling insurance plans to brokers. In his first year, Jack won an award for being one of Continental’s top sellers. In spite of his success, Jack felt that a career selling insurance was not for him and joined the State of California as a savings and loan examiner.

"I come out [of college] and can’t find any job in industrial engineering in the industry. Then people say oh we need someone with experience. How can I get any experience without getting a first job? Anyway, I looked at the newspaper. There was a guy looking for some production manager. It was an insurance company, Continental Casualty. So, they hired me right away when they interviewed me. So, you’re hired. She said you’re the first Chinese we’ve hired as a Chinese agent, insurance agent. My job was to go around, call up the Chinese brokers and try to tell them to sell my insurance for me. We got a couple of good Chinese agents working for me. But I learned to sneak out of Chinatown to go call on Caucasian brokers, and I started bringing in business from Caucasian brokers. The reason I took up selling was on the recommendation of my tour guide which was you can always do something if you know how to sell.

"So, every Monday morning my boss says hey we have a test this week or this month. The winner will get to keep his job. So I was coming in yeah well I have the Chinese broker business here and the Caucasians, but these were good business and my boss wanted to let me go and call on Caucasian brokers. So I stayed there for three years, and I said hey what am I going to do again. I don’t like selling.

"Anyway I go to night school, finish my accounting, and I looked up where I can find a job. But [public accounting] firms at that time, they don’t hire Chinese. They don’t like Chinese. So I ended up taking a test with the City, the State, and Federal governments. At the time the City, the State had the best paying jobs. I was interviewed by the state utility company, and I got also interviewed by State Savings and Loan department. I ended up working for savings and loan. That was a fun job too. I kind of liked that job very very much. So, I stayed there for 12 years."

Marriage and Family

On March 18, 1962, Jack married Rose Sen Chin of Oakland, CA at St. Paulus Lutheran Church in San Francisco, CA. They moved to San Mateo, CA in 1963, and have remained in their Eichler home in the Highlands neighborhood ever since. Their first child, Carole Lisa, was born in 1965, followed by their son, Kenneth Jeffrey, in 1967.

Jack and Rose - March 18, 1962

"[How did I meet Mom?] Well, after I graduated from school in 57, I figured, oh, I'll get married maybe 3 years later. So started fooling around, and I met her when I went to crash a party. 

Next day, I call up, "Hey Rose, want to go out with me?"

"She says 'Who are you?' She doesn’t remember who am I.

"I say 'I’m Jack Hong. You know the guy who wears a hat.' At the time, my boss always wanted us to wear a hat. As a matter of fact, the first contest I won my boss said here is the prize for it… the winning prize for me to buy a hat.

"I show up at her house. Her mother looks at me and says. 'Jesus, where is this guy coming from? This old man.' All because I wear a hat at that time.

"Anyway her mother likes me so then I propose to her. So we got married. I know her father passed away in 1950, I think. I never see her father. Ah, Rose was also studying at [San Francisco] State College too. And at the time she also got a job with the County Health Department in Alameda. So she was working there. But anyway that’s how I met Rose. We go around for about 3 years. We got married 1960, I think ‘62, ‘61. [1962]

"Well, we saved money. We’ll save all our money, every check comes along we dump our money in the savings account. After we got married, we decided not to have any children until 3 years later. So, the first child to come along was Carole, then Kenny two years later. We wanted 4 children. Rose got pregnant for the third time but she lost it. She lost a little baby. She got a miscarriage.

"She said, 'ahh, I don’t want to have any more children.'

"I said, 'okay, if you don’t want to have any more children.'

Carole, Jack and Rose - 1965
   Rose, Ken, and Jack - 1969

"Having children is not too bad, because our two kids, they’re pretty good. They come home and study. Their grammar school teacher called me one day to say 'Hey, your son is fooling around school disrupting his class.' I said, 'why?' I tell Rose to go ask the teacher if he get enough homework and does he finish the homework. Yeah, he finishes the homework in class, and decided to disrupt the other students. So, I said, well why don’t you give him more work. So, he gives him more work. I had a little talk with Kenny. He never had any more trouble at school. Kenny was able to do a lot of extra work."

Career Civil Servant and CPA

During this time, Jack decided that the best way to provide for his family would be to have the option to “hang up his own shingle”, and started to study to be a Certified Public Accountant. While continuing to work for the State, Jack built a private accounting and tax preparation practice, and went on to obtain real estate broker and financial planning licenses to round out his offerings. He was an honest and hard working man, who gave his advice freely to help others gain save money and build their wealth. Jack, like his siblings, spent most of his career serving the community and our country. By the time Jack retired in 1996 after 33 years of service, he was the Chief of Audits for the State Department of Health Services’ Northern California Division and had attained the highest rank possible in the State of California for a non-political appointee.

"When I was [at the Savings and Loan department] people asked me, 'Jack, what are you?'

"I said. 'I’m an examiner.'

"'Are you a CPA?'

"'No, I’m not a CPA.'

"So, I got tired of people asking about my CPA, and went back to school and to a review class and took the exam and passed the exam, all four parts. Not all at once. The first part, I took it the first time, I wasn’t quite prepared. I flunked everything. Within 3 times I passed everything. I got my CPA certificate.

"Then I started looking for a job. The Health Department said "Hey come on over, to work for us. We want you." So, I was like sure and went in there as a supervisor. Three years later I got promoted. At that time I was thinking what should I do. Should I quit. Open my own CPA [office]. I said well being a CPA, it was kind of rough, because you’re gonna… this [colleague of mine an] ex-Marine, he studied hard. Got his CPA. Then he got some savings and loan accounts. It took him two years to make what he made at savings and loan. Then I said aw, heck, I don’t want to go do that. So, I stayed with the State department for 34 ½ years, retired as the Chief of a Medical Department and a Health Department. I had doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and analysts working for me. I had two offices, one in Sacramento and one in Southern California. One in San Francisco. I had 3 managers under me. That was good. That was a good job. That was a good memory."

When his work often took him away from home, Jack stayed fit by playing tennis or jogging with his fellow auditors, and used the quiet evening hours to study.

Family Life

Home and weekends were time for family, and without fail, Jack and Rose would pack off the kids to his mother’s for dinner on Saturday, and Rose’s mother’s on Sunday. They would attend weekend sports events for Carole and Ken, first swimming, then soccer and basketball. Jack also enjoyed family ski trips to Lake Tahoe where he and his sisters had chipped in to buy a cabin. Later when his children were in high school and for several years afterward, Jack served as an advisor for the Foster City Chinese Youth Group.

Foster City Chinese Youth Group Ski Trip - 1985

"We always get together as a family on Saturday or Sunday. Always get together. We don’t go out to anywhere. If we don’t have any other activity to go to, a party and things like that. This is one of our traditions. Everybody of anybody is around. We just get together. It was nice.

"The two kids, they went swimming to the swim club because that’s all we know. Because I know about swimming, and then they learn how to play baseball or soccer or other sports. But they finally get to play a little basketball. But we didn’t get them into too many sports because we love swimming.

"Well, I tried to teach them how to save money, how to invest their money. So that they can have enough money for retirement. So that’s the concept of (compounding over) time. You guys got to save money.

"I remember, I gave them some money to go on a swim team [trip to Las Vegas]. I give them some money. Here’s the money for lunch, breakfast, and dinner, and some little more for gifts. Carole comes back, says, Dad, we got some money left and we got a gift for you. So is Ken. He got some money left too. So, they learned to manage money pretty good."

Rose, Jack, Ken and Carole - 1993

Jack had other passions as well. He loved to cook and was famous for his Char Sui Ribs and his “always too hot for everyone else” curry chicken. Strong and athletic, Jack enjoyed tennis, skiing, and golf. Jack also enjoyed roughing it on week-long hunting and fishing trips with his brothers-in-law Gene Lee and King Fong and cousin Lin Jew Hong. He was a world traveler and throughout the 1980’s was the official tour guide for friends and family visiting China. Jack pursued these activities through the golden years of his retirement.

"Later on Ken said he wanted to study Mandarin. I said not good to study Mandarin here [at the College of San Mateo]. If you’re going to study, you got to study in China. So he got a job and he and I went to China. [I] went with you. Those were my happiest times too, when Ken was in China [from 1995 to 2000].

Ken, Agnes, Jack, and Rose in Hong Kong - 1997

"Well, I guess that was the best time, I go out every year and visit China at that time. So, that first year, I went there with Ken alone. Oh, that was the best time, and now we travel by ourselves and go and eat the food on the street.

"'Dad, that is good food that you can eat now.'

"At that time, I was afraid to eat because I was afraid I might get a stomach ache.

"So, Ken says, 'oh yeah, you can eat that.'

"He showed me how to eat the Chinese food from the street vendors. So those were good times."

Later Years

Lily, Paul, Larry, Jack and Mary - 2009    Alaska Cruise with Family - 2010

In 2006, Jack's body began to be attacked by what was first diagnosed as Parkinson's disease then later as Multiple Systems Atrophy§. But Jack’s appetite for life never flagged. He still traveled albeit with his wheelchair and scooter. He still cooked even when he couldn’t he enjoy meals at his favorite Chinese restaurants with family and friends. He attended continuing education classes and CPA society meetings. He loved to watch his grandkids playing ball. Jack loved to get together with his children, six grandchildren, brothers, sisters, and in-laws even when short car rides exhausted him. He was thrilled when his grandchildren sat on his lap as they zoomed around on his wheel chair, on what they call Ye Ye rides.

Ye Ye rides with Ken's three boys - 2013

"Well, it is all arranged already. Cremation. The niche. The only thing is whether we want to have a service or not. On that it’s up to the kids or Rose if they want a service, memorial service. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m gone you know. But on a visit to China I had a fortune teller tell me, 'hey, Jack, you are going to live until you’re 95.' So, I hope. I’m seventy-five, I have another 20 years to go.

Jack's 78th Birthday with his kids, grandkids
and nephews - 2011
   Jack and Rose's 50th Anniversary - 2012

"Oh, it affects my morale quite a bit, because you’re sick all the time. You’re sick. So, this is different. It’s different. Different thought, you know. Hey, I don’t want to die you know. So, you always have that thought in mind. Tomorrow when I wake up alive, I want to do more vacationing, traveling. So if Rose wants to do that we’re happy to take her. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. I like to go on cruises. Any places I can go, to some place, we’ve been to all over the place already. I’ve been on cruises to Europe with the travel agency and Asia. We visited quite a bit of China. But China is a big place to visit. I'd like to go back to China. China is one of the best places to go right now."

At his nursing home, Jack, ever the social butterfly, knew everyone, and reached out anyway he could even if it was only with a wave or a smile or the twinkle of his eyes.

Jack helped his grandchildren distribute
Beanie Babies at Senior Living Centers and Nursing Homes - 2012

"Of course my mother, my Rose, are very important to me. and Kenny and Carole are very important to me. They both got married, and also have their own children. This is very important to me. My dad, my mom, they were very very dear to me.

"But anyway, ai yai yai, I hope my children will grow up with their own support. I hope my grandchildren will do likewise. Go study. Go to college, and get a good degree. Get a good job.

"My impression of my grandchildren? Well, Carole’s kids, Collin is 12 years old now. He’s very very quiet. He studies hard. Caitlyn is also studies hard. Camryn, she is a little girl. Yak, yak, yak, she,... I like her. Spencer is a little small, and Miles. Both kids are very lovely. I love them very much. So, is AJ. He is kind of learning how to walk right now. I kind of enjoy that.

"No, no, nothing else. Good luck to everybody."


^ Jack's Eldest Brother

Jack and Rose visiting his Chu first cousins in Guangzhou - 1997

In Kunming, Jack lived with an older cousin who was one of his mother's nephews and who they considered to be their eldest brother. Jack's cousin had the opportunity to go to the United States with Larry in 1945, but joined the Chinese Nationalist Air Force to fight the Japanese instead. In 1949, at the end of the Chinese Civil War, he retreated with the Nationalist to Taiwan. However, separated from his family, he eventually commandeered an airplane and he flew back to the mainland. He is seated to Jack's left in the photo above.

*   Flying Tigers: nickname for the First American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Republic of China Air Force. The AVG was formed as a mercenary group to help oppose the Japanese invasion of China. Operating in 1941–1942 from Kunming, China, it was commanded by Claire Lee Chennault with their Curtis P-40B Warhawk aircraft marked with Chinese colors and painted with a large, distinctive shark face on the front of the aircraft.

**  Lai See: Red envelopes presented as gifts at social and family gatherings such as weddings or holidays such as Chinese New Year. (Cantonese: 利是, 利市, or 利事; Mandarin 紅包 pinyin: hóng bāo)

  Siu Yeh: Late night meal in the food culture of southern China and Hong Kong. (Chinese: 宵夜; pinyin: xiāoyè)

  Parkinson's Disease: Brain disorder that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination. Symptoms usually begin gradually and worsen over time.

§  Multiple Systems Atrophy (MSA): Rare condition of the nervous system that causes gradual damage to nerve cells in the brain. This affects balance, movement and the autonomic nervous system, which controls several basic functions, such as breathing and digestion.


Jack L. Hong's Memorial Service at Skylawn Cemetery, San Mateo, CA. 2013.

Hong, Kenneth J. “Jack Lan Hong Interview.” San Mateo, California. 7 Sept. 2009.

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