"Birds build a nest, lay their eggs, hatch the eggs, feed their young, and teach their young to fly away. What then becomes of the nest?" asks Uncle Gee. "They abandon it forever," reply the children. "But humans are the highest kind of animal on earth," he says. "We do not abandon our nest, the family. That is why you see, among Chinese-Americans, grown-up children coming home every weekend to have dinner with their parents, why you see so many grandparents in Chinatown caring for their grandchildren, and why you see so few Chinese elders in nursing homes. In the Chinese family, the nest always has life, laughter, and love." This is a typical dialogue between Chinese Culture Center docent Stanley Gee (affectionately called "Uncle Gee") and the children who go on his Chinatown Walks.
Or again: "Why do you see Chinese eating at round tables?" "Because they can reach the food more easily?" "Yes, but more than that. The round table represents the unbroken chain of familial unity." Uncle Gee emphasizes three Chinese values to his young auditors: family, respect, and education. At the end of each walk, he "tests" them to see if they can recite these values. But lest he seem too serious, one only need eavesdrop a little longer to hear something like this: "Before we leave the Center, children, you should know that there are no restrooms in Chinatown, only fire hydrants! So if you need to go, go now."
Uncle Gee is good at what he does, but beware of offering him a tip! A lawyer tried it once, but Uncle Geeís immediate response was: "I donít want your tip, but Iíll take your daughterís." "My daughterís?" "Right. I donít do this for money, but when your daughter gets home, Iíd like her to write me a letter. Thatís all the tip I want." He got that letter, and has a huge binder filled with fan letters and photographs, too.
Born in Chinatown Lane at 874 Washington St., Uncle Gee knows what itís like to be poor. So when his group is visiting a fortune cookie factory, if some children cannot afford to buy a bag, he asks the boss for a big bag and lets the kids help themselves.
Stanley Gee has been docent par excellence at the Chinese Culture Center since 1996. It is not easy to find weekday docents, but he has found five docents for the Center by visiting numerous associations and clubs for retired people in San Francisco, where he gives a short speech and passes out Walk brochures and docent applications. He follows this up by having an informal coffee-and-donut meeting here at the Center with interested applicants, who then accompany him on a Walk to see how the Master does it. After studying a Docent Training Packet on the history of Chinatown, following a few more walks as trainees, and attending several lectures by scholars in various fields, they are ready to go on their first Walk.
Where does Stanley want to go with future Walks? He wants to draw in more conventioneers by a reciprocal arrangement with the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. Other plans include doing an art tour at a local museum; adding an evening dinner to late afternoon walks; visiting a local gallery during a walk to observe an artist at work and get a few pointers on Chinese painting; doing a combination Chinatown/North Beach Walk (with perhaps an Italian-speaking docent for tourists from Italy) which could focus on the many similarities between Chinese and Italian cultures; dropping in at a music center at the end of a walk to hear some live Chinese opera or classical music; and having a cooking demonstration (in addition to the dim sum lunch presently included) at a local restaurant during a Culinary Walk.
Although our Walks program is successful, it still has an unrealized potential, and needs to be built up. Uncle Gee is therefore on the qui vive for new docents Ė friendly people who are good communicators, who have a sense of humor, who are willing to learn, and most of all who love kids.
Interested in becoming a docent? Contact Stanley Gee, Marketing Manager Chinese Culture Center 415-986-1822