Entertainment Spotlight

  • Catching Up: Santana, Taj Mahal and a déjà vu ‘Blue Christmas’

    Posted by Ben Fong-Torres

    By Ben Fong-Torres It’s short shrift time. I have a life that’s ripe (and slightly wrinkled) for blogs and tweeting; for facebooking and updating. I’m just no good at it. My last column here on AsianConnections was about the memorial in late July for my sister Shirley. My last posting on the authors’ site, Redroom, was about a radio promo tour I did (20 stops, all on the phone...

Like a Rolling Stone Articles

  • The Magic of the Radio by Ben Fong-Torres

    Posted by:

    December 28, 2011

    This one is all about Asian connections.

    It began at Bellaken Garden, a skilled nursing care facility in East Oakland, where my mother, Connie, has been staying since August. I’ve been visiting there twice a week, crossing the Bay Bridge from San Francisco and popping in with potstickers from a nearby takeout restaurant.

    For months, I’d seen this thin, white-haired woman seated in the lobby area, across from one of the dining rooms. After a while, we’d exchange smiles and hellos. I’d noticed her mainly because she always had a transistor radio with her. Being a radio columnist and occasional DJ, I asked what she was listening to. “Baseball,” she said. She was an avid San Francisco Giants fan, kept notes on their games, and kept their radio schedule close to her, all on a shelf of her walker. Her son, Jonathan, I would learn, works as a concessions cashier for both the Giants and the 49ers, so she was a football fan, too. We could talk.

    I decided to do a little shout-out to her in my Radio Waves column in the San Francisco Chronicle, learned her name – June Kwei – and told her to watch for the mention. She appeared delighted, although I never properly introduced myself. Bad manners. (In Cantonese, “bad” is pronounced “kwei.”) Anyway, on December 11, the item ran, ending with “Holiday cheers to June Kwei.”

    That evening, I received an email from a “Dede.” It was Mrs. Kwei’s daughter. I couldn’t believe it. Here’s most of what she wrote:

    What a delight to see the mention of my mom, June Kwei, in your column today.  I just wanted to let you know that we are huge fans of yours, and have been faithfully following you in print and radio, since the ‘70s! About two weeks ago, my mom called to say that "I am going to be in the paper." This event in itself was amazing, since being the typical Chinese mom, she only calls me after earthquakes and when she needs me to bring her more batteries for her little...

  • Catching Up: Santana, Taj Mahal and a déjà vu ‘Blue Christmas’

    Posted by:

    By Ben Fong-Torres

    It’s short shrift time.

    I have a life that’s ripe (and slightly wrinkled) for blogs and tweeting; for facebooking and updating.

    I’m just no good at it. My last column here on AsianConnections was about the memorial in late July for my sister Shirley. My last posting on the authors’ site, Redroom, was about a radio promo tour I did (20 stops, all on the phone in my home office) for my Eagles book. On my own home page, the last thing was about hanging with Johnny Depp at UC Berkley – in mid-October.

    Pathetic. But hey, when you’re busy having a life, it’s not easy stopping and writing about it -- although hundreds of thousands of people apparently do. I hear Steve Martin is an inveterate Tweeter, and he’s kind of a busy guy. But I can’t do it. Backstage with Depp, I realized that it was the perfect time to post on Twitter: “We’re about to go on stage; students are screaming already”—something like that. But Johnny and director Bruce Robinson were chatting; one must pay attention. So, no tweets from this twit.

    Bottom line: It’s time to catch up, and, with apologies, to give the following events & incidents short shrift.

    SANTANA: On Oct. 21, four days after the on-stager with Depp, about his movie, The Rum Diary, at Cal, I was at Mission High School, where Carlos Santana was a student in the late Sixties, soon after arriving from the streets of Tijuana, where he learned about music and life. That, he once told me, was his high school. But, at Mission High, joined by members of his band and special guests, including the great Edward James Olmos (whose stint as one of the villains on Dexter had just begun), Santana and Olmos imparted words of wisdom and inspiration to the assembled student body. Carlos advised that they find their passion. “We talk about jobs,” he said. “I never worked a day in my life, because I love what I do.” He jammed with members of Mission High’s guitar club on “Oye Como...

  • Remembering Shirley Fong-Torres by Ben Fong-Torres

    Posted by:

    My sister, Shirley Fong-Torres, who died June 18, 2011, was celebrated at a private memorial event on July 24, 2011 at one of her favorite restaurants, Yank Sing in San Francisco.

    During the evening, I introduced eight speakers, including family members, good friends, a tour guide at her Chinatown tour company, Wok Wiz, chef Martin Yan, and CBS5 (KPIX-TV)’s Liam Mayclem, representing her many friends in the media.

    The following are my remarks, which were interspersed with the various speakers.

    Welcome, friends and family. We are here to remember our dear friend, sister, aunt, mother, grandmother: Shirley. On behalf of our family – Fong-Torres, Watkins, Pavao, Berlinsky – I thank you for joining us.

    … I had a dream about Shirley last night. She was guiding a tour group around Heaven. And at the end of the tour, they all bought copies of her book. Pretty sweet.

    Well, one sympathy card said it all: It’s always too soon.

    And one word said it all, about Shirley. It came up in the CBS 5 news report of her passing. She was, the anchor said, a Bay Area “treasure.” In facebook messages and emails, the word kept popping up. She WAS a treasure, of Chinatown, the Bay Area, and around the country and the world, wherever people enjoyed learning about Chinese food and culture.

    The first report on SF Gate.com, by Jeanne Cooper, spoke of her love of all things Hawaiian. One of our speakers today, Martin Yan, may tell you about adventures in Hong Kong.

    My friend Tom Gericke wrote from Sydney to say that Keith Floyd, a food and travel personality Down Under, mentioned Shirley in his writings. Sure enough, in a book about his travels through the U.S., he wrote about “Shirley Fong-Torres, fluttering like a brightly colored butterfly through the bustling streets of Chinatown, flitting from cookie factory to tea emporium to dim sum palace, explaining, joking, greeting friends—half in Chinese, half in English, without drawing a breath.”

    Yes, she was a...

  • Meeting, and Googling, a real Asian Pioneer by Ben Fong-Torres

    Posted by:

    May 30, 2011

    What a great way to end a terrible month. Here it was, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and I spent most of May with a cold, a bout of laryngitis and general misery.

    But I saved up energy for a couple of events, including a birthday bash for my pal Sherry Hu, the veteran reporter at KPIX-TV (“CBS 5”) who just retired after 34 years there. She and husband Karl Nichols chose to celebrate with about 60 friends at the Silver Dragon restaurant in Oakland.

    And at our table, there were Art and Mary Fong. Sherry’s cousin, Bob Wong (a classmate of mine in junior high school) is married to Sheryl Fong, daughter of Art and Mary. Got it?

    Across the table, Art waved at me, so I went over and learned that he’d seen me on various broadcasts of the Chinese New Year Parade and at community events. Now, finally, we were able to say hello.

    Fong, who is 91, encouraged me to Google him. “Art Fong, HP,” he said. HP—as in Hewlett Packard. Long before it became known for its printers and computers, this company, beginning in the late Thirties, specialized in electronic test equipment. Art Fong would become one of the most valued engineers at what became one of the most inventive tech companies in war time. And, as he told me, “Back prior to 1940, it could not have been done.  It took WWII for them to let us do these things.”

    What “things?” I did as I was told. I Googled Art. Talk about your Asian Pacific Heritage.

    In 1946, Fong, a native of Sacramento, had just left MIT, where he was a key figure in the Radiation Lab, doing radar research for the US Department of Defense. Soon, he got a call from Bill Hewlett, who had started a high-tech engineering company in Palo Alto with partner Dave Packard. Hewlett had heard of Fong’s radar and microwave work; HP, his daughter Sheryl told me, wanted to get into the microwave business. Fong also did some moonlighting at the Browning Laboratories, where he was credited with developing the first...

  • Cherry Blossom Time: Hello Kitty and Rally Thongs by Ben Fong-Torres

    Posted by:

    It was Cherry Blossom Festival time here in San Francisco in mid-April – the 44th such celebration in Japantown,and, once again, my buddy George Yamasaki served as the public address announcer, telling the crowds gathered along Post Street about the various contingents, floats, and dignitaries, from mayors and mayoral candidates to Hello Kitty and anime characters.

    After 40 years of handling commentary duties on his own, George, an attorney and a pianist who accompanies me on my occasional singing sortieson unsuspecting audiences, asked me to sidekick. That meant reading a fewof the descriptions from the script, and dashing onto the street and doing a couple of interviews.

    Mayor Ed Lee was one of them, and I wanted to ask him for the best and worst aspects of h is time in City Hall, which began in February as an interim appointment and ends when the next elected mayor takes office in January. Mayor Lee, who’s proven to be an effective and popular chief executive, waxed so rhapsodic about the “best” stuff that I gave up on the worst. Still, as we passed the VIP seats, where a bevy of beauty queens and princesses were perched, I asked, “Is the second best thing getting to walk by all these lovely women?” No, he said. But only because some of them had already dropped by City Hall for a photo op.

    Later, State Sen. Leland Yee strode up to chat. We’d seen each other at various community events, including a Jerry Garcia Day concert, where he reminisced about the good old days in Berkeley. “Hey,” he said, “how come you keep looking younger and I keep looking older?” “It’s all the drugs you didn’t take,” I said. I’m so diplomatic, I should be in high office. But not too high …

    Yee was one of several office-holders jockeying for position in an already crowded election for our next mayor. Supervisors David Chiu and Ross Mirkarimi and city attorney Dennis Herrera were among the others. Also doing The Wave: Supervisor Eric Mar and...