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Above the Clouds

Three Coins II - A Continuing Saga of the American West

"A Willow Tree Becomes a Forest"

The Story of Hop Lee

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A Willow Tree Becomes a Forest is a work of narrative nonfiction set in the Pacific Northwest from 1877 through 1925. It is a story of the American West with a twist and provides a new narrative for those interested in historical works.


Hop Lee is a teenage Chinese boy who came to America armed with a calligraphy brush, a blank journal, a fortune teller’s scroll that foretold his life’s journey, and a burning desire to become American


The story celebrates the immigrant American spirit but is also set against the anti-Chinese attitudes that defined the Chinese Question in the 1800s. Washing laundry, selling poultry, and growing hops brought Hop Lee success, but his dream of becoming an American was ever elusive.

"A Willow Tree Becomes a Forest" brings to life the Pacific Northwest 140 years ago. Imagined dialogue and more than 300 photographs recreate this world of Salem, Oregon when Hop Lee arrives, penniless, but with an ambition to succeed. You will join Hop on his journey as a Chinese wash house owner, poultry man, and eventually as a landowner and hop farmer. Hop Lee's outsized ambitions are only matched by his desire to become American as he accumulates bankers, newspaper publishers, politicians, and Salem businessmen as his unlikely circle of friends.

Along this road, the Chinese in Salem and across the West encounter the legislated racism of the Geary Act. They must elect to register for their "Dog Tags," or face deportation to China or two years hard labor. New White-owned steam laundries use anti-Chinese advertising to drive Hop Lee and his fellow Chinese laundrymen out of business. Somehow, Hop persists with a loyal following of Salem friends. 

Accumulating wealth turns out to be easier than finding roots in Gum Saan. Due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese women in America are scarce with a ratio of 20 men for every woman. Hop's dream of finding an American-born Chinese woman - a true rare jewel - seems ludicrous. But Hop has plans to start a Willow Forest.

"A Willow Tree Becomes a Forest" 494 pages with over 300 photographs

Above the Clouds

Salem, Oregon 1877 - 1925

Several years ago, I received a mysterious tattered scroll written in Chinese. Unopened, its message had remained hidden for over 100 years. Translations revealed that this is a Fortune Teller's Scroll that foretold Hop Lee's life's journey. Likely written in the the 1870s it describes in eerie detail the events that will take place as Hop Lee journeys from China to Oregon and finds his fortune and family in America. Hop brought this Fortune with him as his life unfolded. This small corner of the Fortune lists four dates. Only the first date, 1858, the year of Hop Lee's birth makes any sense. To understand the rest, Hop Lee must continue his journey. 

Gum Saan Journeys Publishing
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Li-Rong Cheng, PhD
Professor, Historian, Linguist, Inductee into the Women's Museum Hall of  Fame  Founder of the SDSU Chinese American Cultural Center

Chinese have been immigrating to the United States since the 1800's. They built the railroads, Chinatowns, and farmlands, infusing their culture into their adopted country. Yet, their history is not known to most Americans. This story bears witness to this history. The book has many valuable archives, documents, photos, and materials related to the experiences of a single Chinese American family. Using these primary sources, this multigenerational story takes us back to a laundry in Salem, Oregon, in the 1800s, a nearby hop farm, and into the lives of young men going off to defend their country in WWII. This novel tells an important story that fosters our understanding of a significant chapter in Chinese American history. It is a personal story about who we are and how we got to where we are today, told with great imagination and passion. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this fascinating novel, and I am sure you will too

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Sue Lee 
Chinese Historical Society
of America

"Dive into Russ Low's captivating novel, 'A Willow Tree Becomes a Forest,' where the journey of Low Sun Fook unfolds as he arrives in the US and Oregon in 1877, embarking on a voyage into the unknown with unyielding courage. As he navigates this unfamiliar terrain, Low Sun Fook's resilience, resourcefulness, and intelligence shine, shaping a remarkable new life for himself.

Unveiling the tender humanity of the protagonist is a rare gem in this narrative, infusing it with warmth and empathy. In a landscape where stories of Chinese men often remain distant, the portrayal of Low Sun Fook's interactions with his children radiates a truly extraordinary quality. This tale deviates from the norm, presenting a father who not only shares emotions but also fosters profound bonds with his children. A departure from the reticent grandfather stereotype often found in immigrant chronicles, here it's the father who exchanges love and emotion with his offspring, creating a poignant and heartwarming dynamic.

In this book, trials and triumphs intertwine, but it's the tapestry of joy, affection, and sorrow woven by this Chinese immigrant that resonates long after the final page. Low Sun Fook, known as Hop, becomes an individual you'd yearn to encounter, and through Russ Low's artful storytelling, you can now embark on this encounter. With anticipation building, readers can't help but wonder what marvels await in Low's next literary creation."

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Thomas Gregory/ tátlo
Nez Perce Language Team Leader Nez Perce Fanguage Program NeJ Perce Tribe

This novel is a joy to read. The characters had me immediately invested in them. Being familiar with the Snake River area, I was there with them as they traveled up the river to the massacre site. The Nez Perce had a stone monument installed at the site around ten years ago, as a memorial for the men who were murdered. It is in Nez Perce, -English and Cantonese. I did help with the language carved into the monument. Judging by his photo, Hop Lee could've passed for a Nez Perce. In those days, Nez Perce were not treated well by most of society, and I imagine Asian people experienced the same. Working on a Chinese owned farm was less tense than working on a White-owned farm. I also know love for fish was most likely a commonality the Nez Perce and Chinese shared.

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VIDEOS for "A Willow Tree Becomes a Forest"

Hop Lee Tells His Story

Elsie Hop Lee

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