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  • 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...

A Parade for the Tiger (No, Not THAT Tiger!)

Ben Fong-Torres

Our very own Ben Fong-Torres ushers in the Year of the Tiger as he co-hosts the largest Chinese New Year Parade in the western hemisphere.

It was a near-perfect parade, and that was the problem. I'm writing, of course, about the San Francisco Chinese New Year Year Parade, which roared and firecrackered its way through a mile and a half of city streets and about 500,000 spectators on February 27.

Once again, I got to co-anchor the telecast on KTVU, which was covering the two-hour parade for the 23rd year. It was my 14th time around, and my tenth with news anchor Julie Haener. Most years, if memory serves, we've fallen behind on time, for one reason or another, and hurried to end on time. At least once, we went a half-hour over.

This time, the parade went so smoothly, one contingent after another, with barely a lag, that Julie and I rarely heard the director telling us to stall for time while he waited for the next group to get into the TV zone.

Thus, the problem such as it was. I had prepared a dozen or so fillers, things to talk about for just those dead moments. Not just the trivia about Chinese new year rituals and customs, or why red is a big color, or why those 12 particular animals popular the lunar zodiac. It was more topical stuff, and, in some cases, personal things. I did wedge in a couple of the obligatory shout-outs to family, and especially to the youngest: grand-nieces Maggie and Stella Pavao; grand-nephew Haden Berlinsky. Also, the annual relaying of my mother's wishes for the new year: Everything good; everything lucky.

But there was so much that didn't get in. there was no time on television, but there is some space here on AsianConnections. (By the way, Suzanne Joe Kai, AC's co-founder, attended the parade with her documentary crew, and also missed out on these fillers. So, for her, for the KTVU audience, and for you, here they are.)

ANOTHER TIGER: I know, it's the Year of the Tiger, and you're thinking of a certain Tiger who's been in the news. Well, Tiger Woods is, as it turns out, a Rabbit, born in 1975. Rabbits are, among other things, articulate, trustworthy HMM clever, caring, noble, ambitious, well liked and lucky. But they can also be selfish and aloof.

THE FIRST QUEEN: I had the pleasure and honor of meeting the very first Miss Chinatown USA the other night. She's Penny Wong, Miss Chinatown 1948, and she was at the gala opening of the exhibit called Swingin' Chinatown, the Golden Age of Chinese Nightclubs , at the Old Mint. I was MC-ing, and there she was! She said her doctor urged her to try out; he was president of the sponsoring organization. And the first pageant took place around a swimming pool at the Hearst Ranch in Pleasanton. On the Fourth of July! So there've been just a few changes but Penny Wong is still lovely; still Miss Chinatown!

AMY TAN: Amy Tan's birthday is always around the Chinese New Year, so happy birthday, Amy. She was honored a couple of times last year, including getting the Barbary Coast Award from Litquake. She'll be at Yoshis on Fillmore tomorrow night to see her friend and discovery, the French cabaret singer Pascal Toussaint, so drop by & say Nee-Hao. She won't know what you're saying, but it'll be a good time.

HIM MARK LAI & RONALD TAKAKI: This past year we lost two eminent historians of Asian-America. Him Mark Lai was considered the Dean of Chinese American History. And Ronald Takaki's important works included the book, Strangers From a Different Shore. We salute Mr. Lai and Professor Takaki.

CHINESE HISTORICAL SOCIETY GALA: This is not the end of Chinese New Year. In early March, the Chinese Historical Society of America will celebrate a new exhibit, The architecture of San Francisco's Chinatown, and a new book by the historian Phil Choy. Go to CHSA.org for more info on this excellent book and event.

RECOMMENDED READING: By the way, if you'd like to know more about Chinese and Chinese New Year customs, we recommend "Good Luck Life" by Rosemary Gong, Year of the Tiger Tales of the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin, and Raggedy Chan, a graphic novel about a half-Asian, half-Euro child, which comes with a Raggedy Chan doll, by Camille Picott.

TIGER MUSICAL CELEBS: Duane Eddy, Tina Turner, Connie Francis, Glen Campbell, Peter Yarrow, Ben E. King, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, MC Hammer, Chrissie Hynde, and Kirk Hammett of Metallica!

TIGER SONGS: The tiger is one animal that gets a lot of songs written about it: Hold That Tiger, Eye of the Tiger Tiger Rag.. I've Got a Tiger by the tale (Buck Owens)Ride the Tiger by the Jefferson StarshipTiger Rose by Robert HunterTiger in Your Tank by Muddy Waters and, of course, Tiger by one of the first pre-fab teen idols, Fabian!

S.F. SYMPHONY: I was on the festival committee for the San Francisco Symphony's 10th anniversary Chinese New Year Concert and Imperial Ball which is going on just about now at Davies Symphony Hall. It was fun helping to plan the festival reception with Sharon Lee Seto leading the committee. Good work, gang! Now, on to the Black and White Ball with Tony Bennett and my Chinese friend, k.d. lang!

So, none of that got used. I am sure k.d. lang is beside herself. Maybe I'll just change tiger to rabbit and use them all next year.

Maybe not.

Make video montages at www.OneTrueMedia.com

AsianConnections columnist Ben Fong-Torres is a true Renaissance man. The former Rolling Stone writer and editor is also an Emmy Award-winning broadcaster, writes the radio column in the San Francisco Chronicle, and is the author of eight books, including The Rice Room: Growing Up Chinese American.