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A Chinese character in Carson City

Becky Bosshart
Appeal Staff Writer
Kevin Clifford/Nevada Appeal Nevada State Railroad Museum volunteer Katie Pollock stands inside a joss house Friday. The joss house is part of the Chinese railroad workers exhibit that will be torn down as the museum remodels. Pollock will have a free presentation called "A Chinese Character in Nevada" at the museum on Wednesday in which she will discuss the achievements and hardships of the Chinese American railroad worker.
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Katie Pollock’s Chinese name – spelled out phonetically it’s “Lun-Laap-duk” – means the “virtue of exactitude.” It’s fitting, she said Friday, that her parents gave her such a name.

While teaching, Pollock said she seldom strays from her notes. She doesn’t want to miss key points. Her memory isn’t as good as it used to be since finishing chemotherapy treatments three years ago. Pollock, 65, is a colon cancer survivor. It’s taken this long for things like her memory, and her sense of smell, to come back.

“It is a challenge for me. Even after being a teacher, every lesson is a challenge. If my lesson is successful, I say ‘Oh, I enjoyed that.'”

Pollock considers her lesson a success if the students learned something new. She teaches not just because it’s what she loves to do, but because that’s how she is.

“I say that it’s typical for a teacher to want to impart wisdom to others.”

She was born in Hong Kong, and when she was 3, her family was placed under house arrest by the Japanese, who had captured Hong Kong from the British in 1942. The family was sent to the United States in 1943 as part of a prisoner exchange.

Pollock taught for 11 years in San Francisco before moving to Carson City in 1972. She was the city’s first Chinese teacher, and taught in several elementary schools throughout the district.

At 4 foot 11 inches tall, Pollock jokes that she would only teach children who were shorter than her.

Her black hair is turning gray. She wore a reddish-orange flower-embroidered gown, which a Chinese person would normally wear to a special event.

Since retiring from Fritsch Elementary School in 2002, Pollock has spent her time speaking to civic groups or classrooms about the Chinese-American experience. Her Wednesday evening lecture at the Nevada State Railroad Museum corresponds with the museum’s exhibit on Chinese workers who helped build the Virginia & Truckee Railroad.

“The railroad workers showed us the spirit of the Confucian philosophy of a higher standard of discipline and decency,” Pollock said.

To simplify that, she quoted Mark Twain: “I never met a lazy Chinaman.”

The Chinese who came to Nevada to work on the rails saw an opportunity. The whole state benefited from their labor. Pollock said it was commonly known by rail workers in the 18th and 19th centuries that the Chinese could build tunnels faster than any other workers. This job paid more than others, but often the Chinese still received a wage lower than American and other immigrant workers.

“The Chinese railroad worker was paid $5 a week, and they could only get $3 a week as a house boy,” Pollock said. “I understand the Irish may have been paid about the same, but they were provided room and board on a traveling car. The Chinese had to fend for themselves.”

Pollock’s free lecture, “A Chinese Character in Nevada,” is at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the museum, 2180 S. Carson St. For information, call 687-6953.

n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart a bbosshart@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.