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Orphan Bachelors: A Memoir

By Fae Myenne Ng

Fae Myenne participated in the Bellagio residency in 2012 studying the implications of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. She is a first-generation Chinese-American born in San Francisco, who writes stories from the city’s Chinatown.

A few words with Fae Myenne:

“During my residency, Pilar Palacia and I had conversations about caring for family from afar which helped me develop thoughts about family separation. I discovered a new genre of loving – distanced and perhaps maligned as distracted care. I was moved by Lauren Abramson’s work on creating a dialogue between convicted felons and survivors of their crimes. This helped me explore the complexities of forgiveness, the heartbeat of my book.”

A Quote from Orphan Bachelors:

“The Chinese Exclusion Act was brilliant because it was bloodless. America didn’t have to kill any Chinese, the law made sure none were born.”


Orphan Bachelors is about the almost-vainglorious time in my San Francisco’s Chinatown, a sliver of time when my parents held on tenaciously to the pre-Mao culture they knew, much like how the Sicilians in Manhattan’s Little Italy preserved the world of pre–Mussolini Italy.

Families were rare and Chinatown was an intimate, insular village. Despite Exclusion being repealed in 1943, for over two decades, a quota limited the annual entry of Chinese down to 105 persons. So, our Orphan Bachelors – those left-over men without family – wandered Dupont Avenue, while our reluctant fathers entered McCarthy’s Chinese Confession Program and hollered about the injustice in Portsmouth Square.

Orphan Bachelors explores the crevices of our post-Exclusion world when Chinatown was a village but also a glitzy ghetto. It’s about living between languages, surviving childhood and escaping home; it’s about hippies arriving into our enclave, our first friendly Americans. It’s about the imperfections of love, how flaws can be steadying, and that despite separation and sibling discord, a new peace can be brokered. It’s about being in the middle of a feud when death takes my youngest brother, and the grief a few weeks later when my father dies, an immensely unfulfilled American. Life ends but memory is constant like a tortoise’s resolute gait. We are all Orphan Bachelors leaving one wild world to make another, always returning to our truly vainglorious home of America.

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Read a review of Orphan Bachelors, which calls it an “exemplary study of the past brought into the present, spanning years and continents.”