The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Dragon Head

More on the tong in San Francisco. Below are excerpts. The full articles may be read here, here, and here.

Enter the Dragon Head

Raymond Chow says he's left his gangster days behind to help bring peace to Chinatown's streets. Is he for real?

By Mary Spicuzza

published: August 01, 2007

Raymond Chow ducked the instant rival gang members opened fire. But he suspects he survived the Golden Dragon Massacre, a shooting at a Chinatown restaurant that left five dead and about a dozen people injured, because of seating preference. He and his fellow gang members always sat in the corner.

The infamous 1977 massacre was not Chow's first shootout, and it certainly wasn't his last. "Pretty much every street in Chinatown I have been [in a] shoot out, I have had a gun battle from the past," Chow said, walking along Waverly Place on a recent sunny afternoon. For him, it all comes back to this narrow street that dead-ends at the old Golden Dragon, which has since been renamed Imperial Palace Restaurant. "All that pretty much started in this alley," he said, pointing out various shootout locations from his past.

Back then Chow was an ambitious rising star in the Hop Sing Boys — a gang linked to a fraternal organization named the Hop Sing Tong. The Hop Sing Boys were then fighting for control of the streets of Chinatown with rivals like the Wah Ching and Joe Boys.

Many knew him by his nickname, Shrimp Boy. His grandmother had given him the moniker as a boy to ward off evil spirits — in the belief that evil spirits can't find little children if they don't know their names. Chow, who now stands about 5 feet 5 inches, also happened to be the smallest of five brothers, and the nickname stuck.

Shrimp Boy built his reputation as one of Chinatown's most notorious gangsters, one with an extensive rap sheet including everything from extortion and armed robbery to attempted murder and involvement in the heroin trade. Then he got busted in the 1990s while reportedly trying to unite different Asian criminal organizations, or triads, to create an international empire with Peter Chong, a reputed crime boss with a group named Wo Hop To.

It looked like Chow, who had spent most of his adult life in prison, was going to grow old there. That is, until Chong — who'd fled to Hong Kong — was extradited to the United States to stand trial. Chow was freed about four years ago after testifying against his former partner in crime.

Now Chow says he's changed his ways — or is at least making different choices — and leading a law-abiding life. He says he wants to help the community he used to "terrorize" by working with youth to help keep them out of gangs. And he's also the new leader, or Dragon Head, of a prominent tong, the Hung Moon Ghee Kong Tong ("Supreme Lodge Chinese Freemasons of the World").

Chow's appearance has changed, too. He still wears a couple of earrings in one ear, but his head is now clean shaven and his tattoos are usually barely visible under his conservative business shirts and Chinese tops. Still, walking toward Uncle restaurant last month, he said his notorious reputation made for a rough transition when he was released from prison. "When I come out of jail and I walk [down the street], everybody scared to say hi to me," he said. "Nobody really want to talk."

Now it seems as if the opposite is true. Each time we walked together around Chinatown, Chow was met with smiles, waves, and greetings called out from street corners and shop windows. Many called him "Big Brother," or "Dai Lo!"

"Now, today, they call me Dai Lo, as love, it's respect, it's to honor me," the 48-year-old Chow explained. "For the older people, to honor me like that, I'm grateful. And I take them as my teacher, my friend, and my family."

Of course, it's a word that Chow (born Kwok Cheung Chow) knows quite well. In the world of Asian organized crime, Dai Lo has another meaning: crime boss.

Mayor sinks 'Shrimp Boy' market

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Former Chinatown gangster Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow is once again a man without a job.

No sooner did Chow's offer to run the city-funded Chinatown Night Market at Portsmouth Square for a mere $1 a year come to light than Mayor Gavin Newsom's office killed it - along with the market itself.

Citing a "significant change in the control of the Chinatown Neighborhood Association," which ran the market, the mayor's economic development czar pulled the plug on the venture by withdrawing $35,000 previously committed to the group.

The "change" to which czar Michael Cohen referred was the recent addition of six members of the Chee Kung Tong - run by Chow - to the group's board of directors and the subsequent naming of Chow himself as the summer outdoor market's new manager.

"As a result," Cohen wrote, "we have no choice but to terminate the grant agreement, effective immediately."

Chow - who has spent much of his adult life in prison in the United States in connection with gang activities - told us he had no problem with stepping aside. But he said it was unfair to punish the Chinatown community by stripping the funding for the street market.

"Why not be up-front and just say you don't have money for it?" Chow said. "But they (blame) me, and that's totally not cool. I feel like I'm the scapegoat."

Chinatown gang ties no hindrance to award in S.F.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A convicted Chinatown gang member who faced possible expulsion from the United States -- and who came under scrutiny earlier this year when a well-known community leader was shot to death -- just got a surprising star on his resume, thanks to a San Francisco supervisor.

Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow and his tong are the proud recipients of an official certificate of honor from the city, an award arranged by Supervisor and state Assembly candidate Fiona Ma.

This is the same Raymond Chow who was active in a Chinatown tong called Hop Sing until he and two dozen others were indicted in 1992 on racketeering charges for their alleged involvement in everything from underage prostitution to the international heroin trade.

Chow subsequently was convicted of gun charges and given a 25-year prison term -- but he was released in 2003 after he cut a deal with the government to testify against a high-ranking associate.

San Francisco police, however, have since concluded that he's once again associating with members of Asian gangs, in violation of his deal, and the feds have been trying to get him deported to China.

That apparently hasn't stopped Chow from getting around. He's just been named as the local head of the Chee Kung Tong, or Chinese Freemasons, replacing his slain predecessor. And for his installation ceremony last weekend, Ma's office arranged for the tong -- which has chapters on five continents -- to receive the certificate of honor from the Board of Supervisors.

"Raymond Chow says he's learned his lesson the hard way and wants to be a positive influence on the lives of young people," Ma said. "I'm an optimist and want to believe that people mean what they say, but only time will tell."

Members of the Chinese community we spoke with were reluctant to comment on record. But San Francisco gang task force Inspector Henry Seto, who was among a handful of officers who monitored the fireworks-filled installation ceremony from the street, said he wasn't surprised by the certificate.

"I wouldn't be surprised by anything that happens in San Francisco," Seto said.


walt said...

Interesting to see references to places I used to frequent. What's your connection to these stories?

I have no experience with any sort of organized crime, and only know what I read in the papers. But I'm going to guess that it's not so easy to "go straight" if you still live in the old neighborhood, surrounded by all the same players. Just my take.

Rick said...

Hmmm. I may well ask what's YOUR connection, as you've been on the scene there.

A friend of mine grew up in SF Chinatown, and I find mob related stories interesting. He still lives in the area and sends me local articles from time to time.

walt said...

I mentioned to you that I learned tai chi from Kuo Lien Ying; he taught in Portsmouth Square, just a block off of Grant Avenue, which is the "main street" running through Chinatown. Also, I worked just a few blocks from there. And I lived in the SF-Bay Area most of my adult life.