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Snapshot: News-Sentinel readers rate their vacations Meet living history at China Camp Village

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Posted: Friday, September 16, 2011 7:49 am

Who: Lap and Yee Wong, Sharon Lin, of Lodi; Anna Wong, of Scarborough; Philip Kong, of Stockton.

The trip: China Camp.

Highlights: China Camp, on the southwest shore of San Pablo Bay in San Rafael, yields up a quick getaway from the city. It overflows with brackish seawater marshlands for grass shrimp and upland habitats, as well as sweeping sights of the San Francisco Bay shoreline.

As far back as the 1870s, men came from Canton, China to work as shrimp fisherman. By the early 1880s, the 39-acre China Camp Village was one of many coastal fishing villages in the Bay Area, with a population of 469 people forming a vibrant community. Nearly 3 million pounds of shrimp were caught each year, then dried in the sun and exported to China. In its heyday, the village thrived with three general stores, a marine supply store, a barber shop and a school teacher.

Despite its successes, the commission pushed the passage of devastating restriction. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 involved a federal law prohibiting the immigration of Chinese laborers and denied naturalization to all Chinese immigrants. Laws banned dried shrimp to China in 1905 and forbade using the type of stationary bag net for fishing in 1911. The residents of the camps declined to 122.

In 1915, some restrictions were eased and a vestige of traditional fishery was revived.  Frank Spenger had designed a new fishing net in 1924. Villager Quan Hock Quock come from San Francisco to run a seaside general store; his sons, Henry and George, maintained an operating shrimp fishery.

In this modern era, the Quan brothers heated the shrimp-cooking vat with fuel oil instead of wood. They ran a shaker table, winnowing machine and crusher using electricity, and experimented with drying shrimp indoors using gas-heated air in the 1930 and 1940s.

Today, you’re bound to find the old shack becomes a visitor’s center or museum. Delight to learn the processing enclave historical artifacts from that time period. Looking out from the windows, you’ll get the fisherman’s   view of the bay; the wooden pier stretched across muddy shallows to reach fishing boats in deep water, roughly built houses and sheds crowding the shore, as well as visitors frolicking in a pebble-strewn gentle tide beach.

I had a chat with 86-year-old Frank Quan, the last person living at China Camp village, who was also born at China Camp. People intrigued him. “History with shoes,” he said. Frank still catches shrimp on weekdays, but runs the snack bar on weekends.

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