By Carol Tannenhauser
Herman Chung is still processing the death of his father, Hing Chi Stephen Chung, 71. Stephen Chung was the manager of Jing Fong UWS, who died on April 25th, a week after being hit by a delivery cyclist in the Amsterdam Avenue bike lane, near West 78th Street, in front of the restaurant where he worked.
The details of the accident are somewhat unclear — no eyewitnesses have come forward and video cameras on the street apparently weren’t in position to capture what occurred. What is known, according to Calvin Ho, Jing Fong’s assistant manager, is that “Stephen was unloading vegetables for the kitchen” from his parked car, when he was struck.
“I’ve honestly just been keeping busy with funeral logistics and sorting through his belongings,” Herman Chung wrote to WSR. “It was a long week of tempering expectations with no improvements in prognosis, so I think I braced myself sufficiently. I’m sure there will be some stuff to work through personally once the dust settles.”
Herman offers “apologies in advance” if some of the notes he sent for his father’s obituary “end up being a bit unstructured narratively, as I expect non-sequitur recollections to arise throughout.” He is in his early 30s, a conductor for the Long Island Rail Road. His mother died 11 years ago, when he was in college. He has no siblings. Lightly edited, here is the tribute he wrote for his father.
My father, Hing Chi Chung, or Stephen as many of his friends and associates knew him, worked in the restaurant industry his entire life since arriving in the United States from Hong Kong in the 1980s. He worked in various positions, a majority of the time as a waiter at various levels of seniority. Through his befriending of chefs in the industry, he began to take up cooking as a hobby and became quite proficient as a recreational chef himself. His earnest eagerness to learn about and from others coupled with his incredibly gregarious nature I think is ultimately what made him so valued and beloved by his numerous employers and friends throughout his life here.
While perhaps not a community leader/organizer in the traditional sense, what the overwhelming outpouring of sympathies and attendance at my father’s funeral showed me was that he was at least a vitalizing force within it. I remember nights after returning from work when he would set out to prepare dishes to help cater community events in Chinatown. Among those events and community organizations, the ones which I remember most vividly and I think he prided himself on the most were the community Chinese Opera groups. Beyond his personal interest, he was also very aware of how important such cultural identity-driven art communities are to its members, a great number of whom were retirees/elderly first-generation immigrants who would otherwise not have had as culturally genuine and therefore emotionally healthy ways of passing their time. He also saw them as a means of preserving a cultural identity and art form that always feels so ready to be eroded or outright lost among waves of conformity required by later generations.
Of the myriad of anecdotes told to me by my father’s countless number of friends, one from his lifelong friend Keith stood out (loosely translated): “Your father never forgot anyone, and was always looking out for professional and personal opportunities for the people he knew. I would be dying impoverished if he didn’t push me to a union job, and alone if he didn’t push me to pursue my now wife.” My father would always look to bring in new arrivals to grow the network of support and opportunities. That quiet newcomer to the industry/country? He would be the first to offer them a chance to become friends/support. I think that encapsulates who my father fundamentally was, and why so many of his friends, employers and colleagues are very heartbroken to see him gone so soon. Surely it’s a loss for the industry, but even more so for his communities.