The Chinese Laundry

by Bill Newman

Every neighborhood had a what was commonly known as "the Chinese laundry." This was simply a laundry that was owned by a Chinese man. I am sure if was owned by an Italian man it would not be called an Italian laundry. The connotation was that this laundry did good work, fast and charged reasonable prices.

Most Chinese laundry owners spoke little or no English. Pidgin English, sign language, and pointing to a price list and calendars were the main forms of communications.

The names of the laundries fell into three categories the owners name (usually Young, Lee or Chin) something American sounding such as the Eagle Laundry and sometimes just Hand Laundry.

The one in my neighborhood was "Young's Hand Laundry". The owner, George Young, worked harder and longer than anyone should have to. His purpose was to amass enough money to send for his wife and family.

I became friendly with George as I passed his shop everyday on the way home from school and would sometimes stop in to say hello. George and I spoke of many things though I am not sure what they were. George spoke very little English and I spoke no Chinese.

At Christmas time I always got a present from George, the same things each year a calendar, a box of lychee nuts and a blue jar filled with crystallized ginger in syrup. To this day I cannot find the same ginger.

I never knew what happened to George. I hope he realized his goal of having the family with him. How nice it would have been if I could have given George some little gift at Christmas time. That would have given him something to write home about. I guess I thought of this 60 years too late.


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