VICE: The Strange Tale of ‘Shrimp Boy,’ the Old-School Chinatown Gangster Being Sent Back to Prison

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Kwok Cheung Chow, a.k.a. Raymond Chow, a.k.a Shrimp Boy, at the Ghee Kung Tong headquarters in San Francisco in 2007.

VICE (by Max Cherney):

Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow was convicted by a San Francisco jury Friday on 162 separate charges. Prosecutors painted a picture of him as a dangerous thug who ran a well-oiled crime machine dealing in drugs, illegal booze, and cigarettes—a heartless operator willing to murder in cold blood when necessary. As a result, Chow is likely facing life in prison, though he plans to appeal.

The conviction brought to an end nearly two years of legal wrangling and drama that was extensively followed by the local media. At one point, Chow’s lawyers made headlines by trumpeting court documents they said implicated local government officials in unethical behavior at best and criminal corruption at worst—though none have been formally charged.

Twenty-nine men and women, including Chow, were named in the initial charging documents—a lurid 137-page affidavit that included the now-convicted former State Senator Leland Yee‘s apparent aspirations as an international arms trafficker. The now-disgraced Yee pleaded guilty in 2015 to a single racketeering count centered around his alleged arms business and propensity for taking bribes from government agents. (He’s awaiting sentencing.)

I was closer than most to the case, covering it for a local magazine, a blog, and a weekly newspaper. I first met Chow at the San Francisco county jail, a soul-sucking compound in the belly of the city’s “tech district,” South of Market. The metal stools, thick glass windows, and ongoing clang of gates smashing shut made for onerous circumstances, but Raymond and I continued a dialogue throughout his trial. I always found him irreverent and upbeat—Chow’s longtime girlfriend told me after the verdict that he’s “insanely strong” and “very Buddha-like.”

He was willing to candidly discuss the government’s accusations, proclaiming his innocence and describing Ghee Kung Tong, the local organization the feds say was involved in all sorts of illegal activity, as a “private self-help group.” (Tongs are fraternal organizations for Chinese-Americans and are sometimes accused of being fronts for crime.)

It’s a weird way to get to know another human being, through glass and over a telephone, via conversations the government is likely recording and will almost certainly use against the prisoner if possible. “I don’t want to make friends like this,” Chow told me during one visit. He later offered to cook us dinner when he got out.

I have never shaken Shrimp Boy’s hand, but know more about his life than many of the people I talk with regularly on my current business reporting beat. That might have something to do with the way Chow throws out details of his life in a manner that seems almost reckless: During the trial, he admitted to doing blow, “cut[ting] someone up” at the age of nine (he details the experience in an unpublished memoir he shared with me), buying sex after getting out of prison, and even taking money from undercover FBI agents—though he maintained that he wasn’t taking the dough in return for overseeing criminal behavior of his alleged associates.

Chow has undeniable charisma. He’s big-mouthed and big-hearted and always (if you believe him) looking out for the immigrant community he’s a part of. According to those close to him, the man is broke enough that he had to live with relatives and his girlfriend upon getting out of prison in 2002, his most recent stretch in the federal pen. (Somehow, though, Chow always seemed to wear tailored, two-piece suits on the outside.) If he does have millions of dollars, even his lawyers have no idea where all the cash is—they took on this marquee client pro bono.

Chow is represented by the office of famous defense attorney J. Tony Serra, which is how I started covering him in March 2014. I was lucky: Curtis Briggs, an associate of Serra’s I had previously worked with, was angling to bring Chow on as a client. The man trusted me, and invited me over to listen to the call as he pitched Chow from their offices in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood—a building that reeked of weed. (“We do things differently,” one of Serra’s staffers told me.)

Tony Serra, right, an attorney for Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, pictured at left, listens to speakers at a news conference in San Francisco, Thursday, April 10, 2014. 

I watched and listened as Briggs, a tall, handsome ginger in a suit, reeled in Shrimp Boy. The lawyer worked with a frenetic intensity and passion, and as we waited for the call, Briggs and former-gangster-turned-community-leader Eli Crawford offered their take on the local character.

To hear Chow’s defenders and friends tell it, he’s a community worker of sorts—Crawford described how he and Chow had been giving talks to the city’s troubled youth. In Chow’s memoir, he writes about speaking to high schools, middle schools, and at-risk youth—all to stop kids from following in his footsteps. He also writes that he partnered with a local politician and organized a series of talks about Chinese culture and heritage, for which the city presented him with an award honoring his contribution.

Of course, Chow also has a history of criminal activities including armed robbery, arson, and assault. In his early days, he was a gang enforcer and describes in the book the surgical precision he deployed when hurting enemies. “Beating someone down for a living is a science, ain’t nothing random about it,” Chow writes. “You appraise the target for strengths and weaknesses…. Inflicting injury is a delicate balance, like a recipe you season to taste. You have to be able to evaluate the level of damage you’re doing while you work, and you can get pretty damned good at figuring in the cost of an injury right there, heat of the moment. Most importantly though, you have to know when to stop.”

Later, Chow claims in the unpublished book, he founded a band of home invaders that robbed people all over the Bay Area. He also claimed to have run a brothel and siphoned $250,000 in profits from that operation into a growing coke distribution business back in the 1980s.

But according to Chow and his supporters, that criminal life ended in the 1990s. Indicted on racketeering charges in 1992 and convicted in 1996, Chow was part of a massive case that sent an atomic shockwave through the West Coast crime world. The feds disrupted what might have eventually become the largest heroin trafficking ring in America: The crooks’ plan was to unify disparate gangs and start shipping in smack from the Golden Triangle in huge quantities.

Chow was released from prison in 2003 after cutting a deal with the feds and testifying against his former boss and mentor Peter Chong. (Chow claims in the memoir he had no choice because Chong betrayed him by paying for Chow’s lawyer to take a lavish trip to Macao, sending her off with $60,000 worth of designer handbags—and an agreement to drop Shrimp Boy as a client.)

At the time, Chow recalls in his memoir, the decision to testify against Chong challenged his view of the world. “Some 30 years before, as a child, I’d set out to become a gangster,” he writes. “I sacrificed 20 of those years—the prime of my youth—locked up, a key player in a world that completely vanished beneath my feet. All the gang leaders, dope pushers, scandalous ex-cons and tough guys I’d known were long forgotten and out of the game. Everybody I’d come up with in Chinatown had flipped or cooperated somehow. Once upon a time, they all believed in our code and lived by it. Now every last one had shattered it.”

Those claims may have contributed to Serra taking on Chow as a client, since the attorney doesn’t usually represent people who might be called snitches. “I represent a beautiful man who 12 years ago transcended a lifestyle most people never have the courage to walk away from,” the defense attorney told me when I was writing for San Francisco. He experienced a true epiphany after prison and became a role model for many unfortunates. He has devoted his life since then to bona fide social causes.

As a free man, Chow rubbed shoulders with celebrities, talking loudly and publicly of making a film about his life story. In 2006, after a community leader named Allen Leung was gunned down, Chow took over his post as top boss, or Dragon Head, of the Ghee Kung Tong. (Chow was convicted for arranging Leung’s murder on Friday.)

Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow with a man his girlfriend says was a federal undercover in 2011.

Federal prosecutors vigorously argued during the trial that Chow’s work in his community was nothing more than a disguise, offering him cover to oversee a group of old-school Chinatown thugs and their illicit money-making schemes. The gang allegedly trafficked drugs and untaxed hooch and smokes, plotted murders, laundered money.

For their part, Chow and his lawyers maintain the case is bigger than the one-time crook—and insist the investigation shed light on how power in San Francisco really works. They say Judge Charles Breyer was prejudiced against the defense from the start, chopping down their witness list from 48 to less than ten and refusing to consider evidence that implicated city officials. Briggs called Breyer an “attack dog whose sole job was to guard the elite’s secrets and to usher Chow as quickly as possible to life in prison.”

It took a lot of balls to do this with America watching, but that is an indication of just how comfortable the people he is protecting really are, and it illustrates their time tested trust in him,” Briggs added.

Both Serra and Briggs have vowed to appeal, and Briggs argues they have a good shot, though Friday’s verdict was obviously a resounding win for the prosecutors—a victory observers were pretty much anticipating. As Stanford Law Professor Robert Weisberg told the San Francisco Chronicle, “If you have tapes that are perfectly consistent with informant testimony, then juries convict a great deal of the time.” He added that he expects the verdict to be upheld.

Whatever happens with the appeals, Chow is going to spend years behind bars, an environment he knows well by now. And the networks of local political power and crime he spent much of his life in will hum along without him. Shrimp Boy supposedly got his nickname from his grandmother in Hong Kong, who apparently believed that a pseudonym would protect the short kid from evil spirits.

KCET: How senior fashion is turning heads in San Francisco’s Chinatown

You Tian Wu 82, about his fashion philosophy: “When you’re young you don’t have to care about fashion. But when you’re old, you have to.”

(Photo: Andria Lo/Chinatown Pretty)

“Perspective”-Shot with Sony A7s over San Francisco

The Sony A7s has proven to be a very capable camera, with features surprising for its little frame, making the camera quite popular with photography amateurs and enthusiasts alike. Able to record in 4K resolution, Sony Alpha Rumors takes the camera on a high flying trip to further test its capacity. With a Movi M5 stabilizer and Atomos Shogun video monitor, the Sony A7s captures a dynamic and detailed video above San Francisco.

Showcasing its impressive amount of resolution and dynamic range, check out the beautiful video captured and take a trip around the city by the bay.

Art News: Ai Weiwei adds Porcelain “Blossom” installation to “@Large” exhibition on Alcatraz Island

Natalie Tran on how to cook in a hotel room


In this throw-back video from 2011, Youtuber Natalie Tran hilariously shows us how to prepare oatmeal, bacon, and eggs in her San Francisco hotel room using a coffee maker, aluminum foil, and an iron.

Artist Profile: Ai Weiwei takes over Alcatraz with Lego carpets and a hippie dragon


The big man of Beijing’s new show fills the former prison with a giant rainbow dragon and Lego models of 175 prisoners of conscience, from Nelson Mandela to Edward Snowden. The artist’s bravery and commitment are extraordinary.

“With Wind”


“Yours Truly”


Entrance to the psychiatric observation rooms in the Hospital at Alcatraz, site of the exhibition @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

Artist Profile- The Making of @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz


Go behind the scenes of “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz.”

The artist raises urgent questions about freedom of expression and human rights in this exhibition of new work created for Alcatraz, on view September 27, 2014–April 26, 2015.


Artist Profile: Ai Weiwei previews his upcoming “@Large” exhibition at the Alcatraz Island

Image of Ai Weiwei Previews His Upcoming “@Large” Exhibition at the Famed Alcatraz Island

Controversial Chinese artist Ai WeiWei is set to launch “@Large” on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco this weekend. Looking to his artwork as a vehicle to speak on freedom of expression and human rights, Weiwei brings his concepts to the notorious military fortification to further emphasize ideas of confinement.

Sprawled across seven installations — With Wind, Trace, Refraction, Stay Tuned, Illumination Blossom, Yours Truly — the exhibition continues Weiwei’s audacious foray in the art world. Attendees will get a chance to roam through the famed jailhouse while immersing themselves in Weiwei’s latest body of work.


Bad Asians: A Comedy Showcase

Angry Asian Man: 


San Francisco! The Bad Asians are coming for you. On Saturday, August 9, six API comedians will take the stage for Bad Asians: A Comedy Showcase, presented by API Cultural Center, Bindlestiff Studio and The Colossal Show.

Headlining that night is Kevin Shea, seen on Comedy Central, HBO and Jimmy Kimmel Live

Here’s more info:

Bad Asians: A Comedy Showcase


Kevin Shea
Francesca Fiorentini
Imran G
Samson Koletkar
Dash Kwiatkowski
David Nguyen


BAD ASIANS – A comedy showcase comes to San Francisco featuring six of the baddest Asian Pacific Islander American stand up comics.

With performances by Kevin Shea, Francesca Fiorentini, Imran G, Samson Koletkar, Dash Kwiatkowski, and David Nguyen.

APICC – A San Francisco arts nonprofit founded in 1996 whose mission is to support and produce multidisciplinary art reflective of the unique experiences of Asian Pacific Islanders living in the United States.

THE COLOSSAL SHOW – The Bay Area’s newest variety show and incubator of eclectic comedians featuring a diverse range of sharp and scintillating performers who embrace their idiosyncrasies and explore their creative frontiers.


Saturday August 9th. 8pm.


Bindlestiff Studio
185 6th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103


General Admission: $15
Pre-Sale “knockknock” discount: $10

Tickets are $15, but enter in “knockknock” when you order online and get $5 off. For further information about the event, head over to the API Cultural Center’s website.



A sneak peek at DON’T LOSE YOUR SOUL, the music of Anthony Brown and Mark Izu, Bay Area Jazz legends.

Don’t Lose Your Soul” is a tribute to the pioneering work of Mark Izu and Anthony Brown, co-founders of the Asian American Jazz movement which, like the Latin Jazz movement before it, was a brilliant melding of cultural traditions with the freedom and power of jazz.

The film is both an intimate portrait of their 30+ year partnership in close-up, featuring interviews with the artists along with archival photographs and footage of their rich musical history, as well as wide angle celebration, culminating in one night at Yoshi’s jazz club in San Francisco‘s legendary Fillmore district. This special event, “Sanju,” brings back together the Asian American Jazz Orchestra for a musical journey spanning three decades. The evening’s highlight is a special guest performance by George Yoshida, their inspiration as both jazz musician and survivor of the Japanese internment camps.

The true ease of Mark and Anthony’s friendship and partnership is revealed in Mark’s basement studio, where the two of them reminisce between songs as they perform a special acoustic duo performance of improvised jams and dusted-off treasures they haven’t touched since the early 80s.

A journey back in time to the birth of a movement. A musical, cultural and political statement through notes that still resonate today. Two lives lived with a dedication to craft, passionate creative spirit, and a determination to honor the advice of their own song: “Don’t Lose Your Soul.