Tam Ly and his sister-in-law Ms. Ly (who asked to be identified only by her last name) can remember boarding a small boat in 1980 to flee communist rule in Vietnam. Two of their younger family members were killed in the rough seas. Eventually the Ly family was accepted for political asylum in the United States and located by the government to City Heights.
They brought with them the knowledge of four generations of herbalists in the Ly family. Herbs have been an important part of Chinese culture for thousands of years and are used to treat a variety of maladies. These traditions were passed to the Vietnamese through hundreds of years of Chinese occupation and international trade.
The Ly family’s first business was a bakery, opened on El Cajon Boulevard in 1983, which still stands today. Encouraged by its success, the Ly’s opened Xuan Sanh Duong Chinese Herb & Tea next door. Loosely translated, the name of the store means “Spring Born Again.” It is modeled after the shop they owned in Vietnam. A bank of authentic wood drawers holds hundreds of herbal remedies. Tam even uses a Chinese abacus, an ancient calculation tool, to balance the books at the close of each business day.
All products are purchased through wholesalers in the United States with many containing both English
and Chinese instructions. Tam said most of his customers are Vietnamese and Chinese immigrants, but
he does serve customers of all backgrounds. They come seeking remedies for all sorts of issues: to help
them sleep better, develop healthier skin and hair, and relieve illnesses.
Tam pulled out one drawer with multiple solutions for treating liver problems. Other herbs are available
for relieving pain as serious as cancer.
Su Nguyen, founder and executive director of the Little Saigon Foundation and translator for this story,
said herbs are preferred by many of its users because there are fewer side effects.
The Ly family still lives in City Heights and runs both the bakery and herbal store. Some of their kids have
grown up and moved to other communities, but the Lys are committed to running the businesses until
they are physically no longer able. Su said this is the traditional Vietnamese way; they do not make plans
Xuan Sanh Duong Chinese Herb & Tea is located at 4639 El Cajon Blvd in City Heights.