Boyle McCauley News

Since 1979 • February-March 2024 • Circulation 5000


Local Pharmacist Discovers His Writing Talent

Whistle in the Dark: A Memoir by James Wu explores loss and life.

James Wu. Erin Wu

James Wu, a pharmacist at Market Drugs Medical on 97th Street, was devastated when his older sister, Fay Ying, died suddenly in January of 2016. The loss was so great that he had to quit work and seek medical help. One of the doctors suggested that he try writing as therapy.

“I was writing on sheets of Kleenex,” Wu says. “I constantly had a box of tissues beside me to wipe away the tears. Later, I looked at the wads of scribbled notes and thought, “There might be something here’.”

This is how Wu’s compelling and well-told memoir began. Then his wife and daughters encouraged him to publish, and a daughter’s friend, Belinda Ungaro, agreed to be the editor and publisher of what he calls a “Wu family COVID project.”

Wu’s parents and sister lived in a village in the impoverished farming region of Hoi Ping, China. When the leaders of the Maoist Revolution threatened to seize their land, the family decided to emigrate to Canada, landing in Vancouver, where James was born.

The family’s life as immigrants was arduous, poverty-stricken, and difficult in all sorts of ways. They prevailed, but when Wu became an orphan at age 13, Fay Ying – who was now married and living in Edmonton – took him in and helped him get an education. His pharmacy studies involved many part-time jobs on top of a heavy course load, but he did it, and he gives his sister credit for that success.

The book’s title refers to the way people summon up courage in the darkness by whistling. Which is what the Wu family had to do.

Wu says, “I was hesitant at first, but after doing a lot of soul-searching, I decided to ‘put myself out there.’ In my wildest dreams, never did I think the book would come this far. But if I could use our story to help others in any way, I think my sister would have approved.” 

The book, available at, has sold nearly 200 copies so far at the time this article was written. All proceeds are being donated to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, in honour of the city where Wu grew up and all of the memories it holds for him.

For more about Market Drugs Medical, click here.

Anita Jenkins is a retired writer and editor who lives in Boyle Street.

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