A Letter From Melville Jacoby's Best Friend

I was digging through the collection of materials I have at my place related to Melville Jacoby and found a photocopy of a lovely letter written to Mel 74 years ago today. The note was sent by Chan Ka Yik, one of Mel's best friends. The two were roommates at Lingnan University in Canton (now Guangzhou) while Mel was an exchange student there.

"The flight of time is like an arrow," Chan writes on university letterhead.

The letter responds to an earlier mailing Mel had sent. It describes Chan's fondness for his roommate, and, in many ways, is the sort of letter anyone might send to catch up with an old friend. But these greetings are described against a backdrop of war. Though calm seemed to have returned when Chan wrote the letter, it was clearly still a presence.

"Maybe it is so lucky that no bombs dropped in Lingnan or very near Lingnan so far, although the firing of anti-aircraft guns and the explosion of bombs of somewhere around Canton came to our ear quite often," Chan writes. "Mel, I should thank you so much for your sympathy to our country."

In recent months I've tracked down Chan's daughter, Emmy, who now lives in the Bay Area. During a phone call a few months ago Emmy told me how her father thought of Mel as one of his best friends and how he clearly thought of those days together at Lingnan as some of the happiest of his life. That comes through clearly in his letter.

If Chan's name sounds familiar, by the way, that's because after he emigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s he helped open what became one of San Francisco's best-known Dim Sum restaurants, Yank Sing, though he sold his interest in the business long ago. Still, this is one example of how as I tell Mel's story I'm also eager to explore what happened to the other people whose lives he touched.

"Mel, I am very anxious to know something about your home and college life," Chan writes. "You are a rich, smart, stout and handsome boy so that your life will be cheerful and romantic."

For a short time, it was.

Assignment China

Also, today I was excited to learn more about "Assignment China." That's a project at my graduate alma mater, the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and specifically its USC US-China Institute. Their effort to describe how journalists have told the story of China's evolution since the 1940s has so much relevance to the story I'm trying to tell about Mel. I'm thrilled to have found them. If you're at all interested in China or Journalism do check out their fascinating "Assignment China" documentary on YouTube.