Local Hero Dr. Allen Chan Preserves Asian Pacific Heritage
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month 2014 Honoree
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Dr. Allen Chan leans in to explain to his guests, comprised of three adults and three children, the Chinese custom of finger tapping when served tea. We are sitting around a rather large, round table at the Jasmine Seafood Restaurant enjoying a bountiful meal of Dim Sum, and we also lean in order to better hear him above the din of the packed restaurant.
The story he tells, with the authority of someone who has shared it many times before, unfolds like a fine gift, carefully unwrapped to reveal layers of respect, honor and tradition. Chan describes how it is customary for the younger generation to pour the tea for their elders and, in return, gratitude is shown by curling the pointer and middle fingers and gently tapping on the table twice. It is a tradition that goes back to the Qing Dynasty, with the curled fingers representing how the people would kowtow to their emperor. When he finishes the story, Chan then asks the children in the group to honor the ritual by serving the tea. They do so with mixed results, as lifting the teapot is a feat in itself.
Chan is the CEO and owner of the Jasmine Seafood Restaurant. He also is a chiropractor, with a medical practice adjacent to the restaurant (his main office is in Rancho Penasquitos). Originally from Hong Kong, Chan, who's lived in the States for more than 40 years, has made it his mission to preserve Asian Pacific cultures through education and empowerment. He is respected in the community for his dedication to helping those in need, whether it be the victims of the typhoon in the Philippines last fall or the patients at San Diego's Children's Hospital. A leader and a visionary, Chan is also a 2014 Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Local Hero.
Three days a week Chan can be found greeting his customers at the restaurant and slipping out, now and then, to attend to a patient next door. When asked which role he prefers, that of doctor or restaurant owner, he only pauses for a moment.
“It's about the same, because both professions give me the same job satisfaction," he says with a smile. "I help people get well. Patients come in on crutches, or can't even stand or sit. I examine them and give them treatment. They can walk out. People come in to the restaurant and they're hungry. They taste the food and they're happy, and they thank me for having the restaurant here. Same job satisfaction.”
When he first arrived in the States, his plan was to study pharmacy and find work in the field. But after working as a pharmacist in Los Angeles, he found it just wasn’t challenging him. Around that time he met a chiropractor and became keenly interested in the profession. So he enrolled at the Los Angeles College of Chiropractic, and obtained his license in 1986. The decision to open his own practice eventually led him to San Diego.
“I found it so beautiful—small hills, trees and red tile roofs,” Chan remembers. “It looked like a postcard. I finally decided on Rancho Penasquitos. It has a large concentration of Asian Americans and I got the word out by going around and introducing myself and my first patient came from those visits.”
During college, Chan had supported himself by working in Chinese restaurants, and the experience taught him what it took to run a restaurant. One day while having dinner in a newly-opened Chinese restaurant in San Diego, he found himself impressed with the manager's style of serving.
"So I casually said, 'You're good. If you ever want to open a restaurant, make sure to call me up.' It was just for fun, saying that, but two years later, in 1992, he did call me. I couldn't take my word back, so I got involved as a silent partner and investor. A friend had suggested we call the restaurant Jasmine, after the tea, which is a good name to remember. The grand opening was January 1, 1994. Four years later, my partner passed away and I took over the management of Jasmine's."
Chan's first fundraiser was for Children's Hospital. Since then, he has held many fundraisers at his restaurant. He founded Beyond Productions, the charity arm of the Jasmine, and also became founder and charter president of the San Diego United Lions Club, which thanks to him, is the most active Lions Club in San Diego.
"I called it United Lions Club because my club is a diverse club," he says. "The U.S. is great because of the diverse cultures we have here. I'm a believer that as immigrants and descendants of immigrants it is our obligation to promote the best of each culture. That’s why everything I do is multicultural."
His most recent effort has been "The Lions Village" project, helping the victims of the typhoon in the Philippines last fall.
"The area that got hardest hit is the poorest area, and there are still lots of people living in tents," Chan notes. "We are partnering with Gawad Kalinga, a Filipino organization, as well as the Lions Club chapter there, to raise the money to buy all the materials needed to build 20 houses, concrete buildings that will be able to sustain future typhoons. Our program also will teach the people a skill so that they can earn their own living.”
Chan is also engaged in civic life. During the U.S. Census in 2010, he helped increase participation among the Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Laotian and Cambodian communities. His involvement in the census led him to co-found APAC (Asian Pacific American Coalition), a non-partisan organization designed to cultivate civic engagement in the Asian Pacific American community .
"Right after the census job, we started to organize the community to present the case for Asian Pacific representation on the city council,” Chan explains. “We fought hard and succeeded in developing District 6, which includes portions of Rancho Penasquitos, Mira Mesa, Sorrento Valley, Miramar Base, Kearny Mesa, and Clairemont Mesa. This means, for the first time in San Diego history, we will have an Asian American City Council Representative representing an Asian Pacific community. The last time an Asian American served was Tom Hom councilman over 50 years ago, but he didn’t represent the Asian community."
Chan, who is married to wife, Janet, and has two daughters and two grandchildren, doesn't show any signs of slowing down. Plans are underway for the Inaugural Asian Pacific American Heritage Gala on May 23rd, to be hosted at Jasmine’s, and the restaurant recently participated in the Asian Cultural Festival of San Diego.
“Everything I have is because of the San Diego community," notes Chan. "It's just natural that I want to give back. I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to come to the U.S. and have a better life for myself and for my family. Doing charity work isn't only limited to people who are rich. We all can contribute our talent, our time, our money, whatever we can afford. When we join, united together, we can do something bigger.”
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