Blog

My Father Pao Peter Lee

November 9, 2015

My father was born in Beijing on December 12, 1917. He would have been 98 this year.

He was raised in the province of Wuhan. It is there he began training with his father, Linzhang Li, who died when he was a young man. Being the only son, my father worked to take care of his sisters and mother. He later moved to Chongquing where he met my mother, Fung Tsen Yee. They married sometime in the 1940's amidst World War II. Their first son Tim was born in 1946.

As the Communist revolution approached, my father moved the family to Taiwan and there my brother Dickson and sister Jean were born. He then began working with the Central Police College where he would continue this relationship till his last days. 

In 1953 he was invited to Detroit to participate in the conference of International Association of Police Chiefs. He decided to stay in the United States and settled in New York City. He planned and worked to bring his family shortly after 1955. With the help of his colleagues, he studied English at Teachers College, found work in a church as a superintendent, as a busboy in a restaurant, a counselor at a Bronx youth house, and a captain in a Chinese restaurant in Queens.

Tragically, in 1956, he would lose his first-born son Tim at the age of 9 to a brain aneurysm. But the next year I would enter my parents' lives.

Early in 1961 my father became a calligrapher for the United Nations when Taiwan was still recognized. Through his work there, he was able to travel to Europe for the first time. This experience added to his already open mind about the world. I recall how he was always examining issues from different viewpoints and would always weigh matters with great consideration before making decisions. 

It was during this time he would teach Tai Chi in the United Nations’ Diplomats Lounge on Saturday mornings. He had already started to try and set the example of balancing a peaceful mind with a healthy body and I hoped the folks at the UN could use some help.

By 1963, he and my mother were ready to pursue the American Dream to become independent entrepreneurs. They opened the Flower Drum Restaurant, a block from the United Nations. As the business thrived, he continued to remain in contact with all his UN colleagues and Taiwanese friends and established the Chinese Chee Yue Association. Through this association he presented Chinese culture to the world of chop suey eaters.

In the 1970’s the public came to know about Peter not only as a great restaurateur but also a learned scholar. He could chat about both Chinas (the People’s Republic of China took the place of Taiwan at the UN) with dignitaries and high-level executives while being open and warm to working class families. He became an innovator with the introduction of healthy Chinese food, serving brown rice and low-sodium soy sauce; he created delicious steamed dishes, honey replaced sugar and eliminated the use of MSG.

He was always ready to lend a hand to a poor artist and more than enough times because matchmaker to some of his diners. But what he enjoyed most were the Chinese New Year events when my siblings and I would perform Chinese folk dances at the restaurant. This introduced Chinese culture to a new audience. The entire family would be involved on these occasions and the pride we felt was priceless.

In 1985 he opened a second restaurant in Palm Springs, where he brought his style of cuisine and philosophy. Introducing Tai Chi to the Coachella Valley was one of his proudest accomplishments. It reinvigorated him as much as it gave the students a new and healthy perspective.

The restaurant remained successful for many years until he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2001. It was time to take care of himself. His condition worsened in the fall of 2004. He remained at home during his last days with his family nearby.

Wherever he was he felt the need to teach Tai Chi. There were no competitions to speak of because he was never competitive. It was something he always felt he needed to share with others. And so whether it was in a lounge, backyard, the dining room of our restaurant in Palm Springs, or a community center, he simply passed his legacy to others. He would have been so very proud to see how many of his students have carried on this tradition. Thank you for honoring hm.

Scholar, devoted husband, loving father, faithful friend, progressive thinker, generous spirit.

Most sincerely,

Karen Lee