Pak Hup Tom


Pak Hup Tom was born in Toisan, China in 1932. He and his wife immigrated to the United States in 1967, had three children, and spent their early lives in Boston’s Chinatown. Pak Hup was a reserved man of few words who preferred to focus on hard work and giving his children a chance at the “American dream.” He never spoke of his 35 years in China, the communist takeover, or the hardship he endured to come to the United States. He was a chef in a Chinese restaurant, worked his way to become a master chef and ultimately owned his own restaurant. He imparted his values through action—often working 13 hours a day, seven days a week.

When you meet Pak Hup two things immediately stand out. First, he’s very fit and energetic, walking tall and independently. Second, he’s a noise machine! Constantly grumbling and making sounds. At first it seems like gibberish. But he makes intense eye contact as you talk with him and he always responds to questions—not in English or Cantonese—just in gibberish. But gibberish that seems to make all the sense in the world to him.

I asked him about being a chef and he showed me his hands, talking away. He finally stopped talking for a second or two when his daughter, Lola, put her arms around him for a portrait. He couldn’t communicate with her the way he wanted to, but it was enough. A warm, loving smile came across his face. A short, small moment of peace and gratitude. A small moment that meant everything.

Beginning at the End:
Portraits of Dementia by Joe Wallace

© 2020 Joe Wallace

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