Chinese Cafe Owner Fears Hexes
REDMOND, Ore. (AP) _ It’s noon at Stockton’s New China Cafe, where the lunch crowd is a lone man who wanders in among the empty red booths. He discovers there’s no spaghetti on the menu and he’s out the door.
Owner Qing Wha Chan thinks something sinister is at work here: a curse conjured up by a competitor.
Two years ago, Chan found a bowl full of rice with pennies on top placed on her back doorstep. Many Chinese see the offering as a bad omen, meant to bring meager fortunes to its recipient.
Chan suspected Emily Lin, owner of the Full Moon restaurant two blocks away. The rice and pennies were left 10 other times. Chan also has found cooking oil splashed on her door and windows _ more bad news, according to legend _ and her 12-year-old son, Chiu, said he once saw Lin running away from the back door after one of the deposits.
Chan can’t prove any of it, but she said the spell already has taken its toll on her little diner. The lunch hour is a total loss and maybe three families will come in for dinner.
``I’m beginning to believe in this stuff,″ said Connie Heflin, the only waitress at Stockton’s. ``I didn’t used to. Not even a black cat crossing my path.″
The feud peaked earlier this year when Chan was arrested for vandalizing the Full Moon. Police said she was seen throwing dirty water and spitting on the front window of the restaurant April 24.
Shortly after midnight on Sept. 18, police caught Chan sneaking down the alley behind the Full Moon. Officer Tom Jones found oil splattered on the screen door. After he found Chan carrying a styrofoam cup of cooking oil in her jacket, she was arrested for criminal mischief, a misdemeanor.
Police say Chan admitted to splashing the oil, but she now denies having anything to do with it.
``She crazy,″ Chan said of Lin. ``She call 911, and they call me a liar. I say, I not liar. I don’t understand why they do this to me.″
Lin declined to comment.
The feud is concentrated among the few Chinese residents in this central Oregon city of nearly 12,000, about 100 miles southeast of Portland. Still, police aren’t taking it lightly.
``If this wasn’t a racial issue, it would be humorous,″ Chief Jim Carlton said.
Chan is scheduled to enter a plea Dec. 1 to the mischief charge, which has been downgraded to a violation. Her lawyer, Michael Seidel, is trying to bring his 42-year-old client and the 34-year-old Lin together to resolve the matter in mediation. The two have never met.
At Stockton’s, Chan’s husband, Michael, sits on a bucket in the kitchen, no cooking to be done. His wife, meanwhile, tries to drive away the curse with prayers and offerings to Buddha.
Every morning, she sets out a tray of food and opens the back door toward the morning sun. She says a few words and doesn’t allow anyone to pass by the tray until she feels the god has had his fill.
It may be too late. Chan has put the restaurant and the apartments upstairs where she and her family live up for sale. If business doesn’t pick up, they plan to move to Portland.
Business hasn’t been the same since the cafe was run by Johnny Young, who took over Stockton’s after World War II and ran it for 40 years. Chan has run the restaurant since the mid-1980s.
``Johnny was a hard act to follow,″ said Linda May, a real estate agent who is ordering soup and spicy beans at Chan’s (no relation to Qing Wha) _ the third Chinese restaurant in town and indisputably the most popular.
Many locals believe Stockton’s is having problems not because of hexes, but because of the good food at Chan’s.
Chan’s owner, Li, is staying out of the feud between her competitors _ and she doesn’t buy into ancient superstitions.
``If I find a bowl of rice with pennies, I take the pennies,″ she said. ``I like money.″