Sea Salty: The Man and the Crab

Former Marine mess cook John Gun Pin knew how to handle a cleaver. Harley Spiller (a.k.a. Inspector Collector) remembers his old friend  -- who he met at Schroon Lake’s Idylwold Boys Camp --  and the last dish he prepared: cured crab, or ha cha. Story:  Courtesy of the Asian American Writer's Workshop.

By Harley Spiller

July 13, 2012 |

Donghai to the core, Yeh Gum Pei had a diminutive physique and a distinctive personality. I was just a teen at a weenie roast when he yelled: “I ask for da fuggin’ mussid and you gimme da godamma kechuh.” Once I entered his kitchen in a tattered t-shirt―he severed its fringes with a colossal cleaver. When a dentist quoted a high price for extraction, Mr. Yeh tied his molar to a doorknob and slammed the tooth out.

After U.S. redenomination, John Gun Pin broiled NY sirloins for the Young Men’s Philanthropic League on East 80th Street in Manhattan, and summered as head chef of Camp Idylwold for Boys on Schroon Lake, where we met in 1969. Years later, when John spoke of sailing in the U.S. Merchant Marines and cooking whatever was netted, I asked “How did you know what kind of crab you had?” Disbelieving my naiveté, the decorated veteran of the 135thMedical Mess Detachment snapped, “A crab is a crab.”

You can read more of the story, here.