Archive for the ‘video’ Category

As promised, I’m now posting some short videos from the Tiger Girl launch party at Books Inc., including a short reading and excerpt from the Q&A, a song by the amazing Cambodian American singer Laura Mam, and a 30-second video that gives you a feel for the event!



Much thanks to everyone who came to the launch at Books Inc./Opera Plaza in San Francisco! And I hope these videos can give a feel of the event to those who could not come in person.

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I had a fabulous time at the 8th Annual Asian Heritage Street Celebration in San Francisco this past Saturday, May 19th.

at the Asian Art Museum of SF

The Asian Art Museum opened its doors for the festival and had free admission all day! There were splendid Southeast Asian dance performances (loved the children’s dances), art demonstrations, and even a flash mob dance performance. I enjoyed seeing the Phantoms of Asia contemporary exhibit exploring concepts of the supernatural past and present. And it was a thrill to be able to see Apichatpong Weerasethekul’s short “Phantoms of Nabua.” I’d seen this visually stunning film online but it was even more powerful on a big screen. (You can watch it online here: Phantoms of Nabua.)

Larkin Street from Civic Center Plaza through the Little Saigon District was filled with vendors and hundreds and hundreds of visitors. Smoke from the many barbecue stands formed a wafting cloud on one side street:

And the Asian fusion food trucks that are super popular in the city also set up for the day. The line in front of Chairman Bao Buns was running half-way down the block at one point. I managed to get some fabulous Korean bulgogi tacos at Seoul on Wheels!

It was a great celebration indeed. Even the weather cooperated. It was sunny but windy, which really made the Breathing Flower lotus sculpture in front of the Asian Art Museum come to life!

This street fair was a great way to celebrate APA Heritage Month and brought many diverse communities together.

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Saw the most thrilling concert by the Kronos Quartet and Wu Man, the famed Chinese pipa player, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

First they performed “Ghost Opera,” an original work composed by Tan Dun (1994) and a new multimedia work entitled “A Chinese Home.”

I had heard “Ghost Opera” on CD but nothing compares to the live performance. The musicians from Kronos Quartet started out playing from various sections of the small gallery theater at YBCA while Wu Man sat stage right, later moving to center stage where she performed behind a long, ghostly white veil.

“Ghost Opera” combines traditional Western-style symphonic music and Chinese pipa solos as well as Chinese opera vocalizations. There were snippets of a Chinese folk song as well as lines from Shakespeare, shouts (meant to evoke the cries of a traditional shaman), the shaking of paper, gongs, and dripping water as the musicians dipped their hands into clear bowls of water positioned around the stage.

I personally love “Ghost Opera” and find its music transcendent of any place or time, although of course it strongly evokes many Chinese musical traditions. But like many of Tan Dun’s more experimental works (for example, his score for the opera “Peony Pavilion,” which had its debut in Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall in the 1990s [available on CD as “Bitter Love”]), the music stands as its own uniquely modern composition, a hybrid that would have been impossible in any other time period.

The second half of the performance was a newer, multimedia work called “A Chinese Home,” inspired by the rebuilding of a traditional Chinese house that was shipped and re-assembled in the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts. The musicians played in four segments, each meant to evoke different periods of time in Chinese history while video images flashed on the screen behind the performers.

Personally, I found the video distracted me from the music, especially in the first segment, called “Return,” which was meant to evoke “traditional” China. The images showed contemporary scenes from rural China and minority groups living in China’s southwestern provinces. Furthermore, the handheld video was shaky and a little hard to watch. Yet the screen was so large, it was hard to ignore the video and watch the live performers, which was a shame.

The second segment was entitled “Shanghai” and featured some of the great jazz and pop music of Shanghai in the 1920s and 30s. Here Kronos Quartet and Wu Man seemed more clearly to be playing music meant to “accompany” the images, which ranged from the U.S. Deparment of War’s newsreel footage of the Japanese bombing of Shanghai in 1937 (edited by Frank Capra) as to clips from the best of Shanghai’s silent films from the 1920s and 30s. Here I didn’t even try to focus on the musicians; the images were too compelling and featured both scenes of actual suffering as well as some of the era’s most famous movie stars. The emphasis on suffering (as opposed to the hybrid quality of life in Shanghai or open-minded nature of its residents) did not account for any of the creative brilliance that was clearly evident in the music. To juxtapose the suffering of war with the brilliance of Shanghai’s culture is an artistic choice that I’ve seen a lot of recently in Chinese mainland works about Shanghai.

The third segment, “The East Is Red,”  opened with a quote from Mao, and featured images of kitschy Cultural Revolution operas and ballets while the musicians played rollicking folk music that seemed to come directly from the era. There was no hint whatsoever of the suffering of the Chinese people during the Cultural Revolution or Mao era.

The final segment entitled “Made in China”  had the most sophisticated, abstract video imagery of China’s fast-growing cities, featuring modern skyscrapers, billboards, Shanghai monorail, and people engaged in leisure activities from singing to sitting to shopping, but there were also hints of destruction in the image of China’s ubiquitous wrecking cranes. While the Kronos Quartet literally unleashed boxes of Chinese-made electronic toys that crawled across the stage, Wu Man plugged her pipa into an amp and synthesizer and literally rocked it like an electric guitar!

I still need time to think about this exciting program.

Meanwhile, “Ghost Opera” with its delicate and nuanced score will remain one of my most precious musical memories and I feel infinitely grateful that I was able to hear and see it performed live. Perhaps the abstract quality made it easier for me to appreciate than the almost documentary nature of the second program.

However, I also have a purely personal reason to love Tan Dun’s work. When I was a student at Nanjing University in 1988, our American coordinator for CIEE (Rich Lufrano) played for us a casette tape of music recorded by Tan Dun called “Mong Dong.” In those days, Tan Dun was not famous but rather happened to live down the hall in New York City from Rich (who was a Ph.D. student at Columbia) and they had become friends. As a result, Tan Dun had given Rich a copy of his composition. The name is made up of invented, nonsense characters, and the music included chanting, moaning, singing that evoked not only Han Chinese musical traditions but ethnic minority music that Tan Dun had heard when he had traveled in the south of China. I loved “Mong Dong.” As we listened in our unheated classroom to the crackly tape player, I was transported by the power and inventiveness of this new kind of musical composition. In those days, I never imagined that one day Tan Dun would become a famous, Oscar-winning composer nor that I would get to hear Tan Dun’s music performed live by amazing musicians like the Kronos Quartet and Wu Man as I sat in a chair mere feet from the performers. Such a life seemed very far away.


The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts also opened to concert goers its gallery exhibit by Chinese contemporary artist Song Dong “Dad and Mom, Don’t Worry About Us, We Are All Well.” The exhibit featured video displays of the artist’s family and a spectacular full-room installation of literally 10,000 items his mother had been hoarding in their house in Beijing. (For the New York Times review and photos of the installation “Waste Not,” click here .) The artist was able to get his mother to give up the items after his father died by promising to turn her possessions into a work of art. And indeed he did. From balls of ordinary twine, displays of bottle caps, neatly arranged pairs of shoes, hats, shirts, even shopping bags, Song Dong has made a beautiful tribute to his mother, his family, and to a generation of Chinese who learned never to throw anything away because of the terrible shortages they faced. (In fact, seeing the mother’s collection of styrofoam containers, I thought of my own grandmother, who had survived the Sino-Japanese War and Civil War in China when starvation and deprivation were common. Even after immigrating to the U.S., she could not bring herself to throw away newspapers, twist ties, old clothes, slippers or even styrofoam containers. These items of so-called “junk” stand as a testament to the suffering of people who have lived through war and hardship, but also the resilience of women like Song Dong’s mother and my grandmother, who saved everything and lived so thriftily so that their own children would have a better life.)

The exhibit is open until June 12. I highly recommend it.

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Around the world, Chinese in the Diaspora and in China are spending the start of the Lunar New Year (February 3, 2011) by celebrating the arrival of the Year of the Rabbit!

Families gather to eat hearty meals, give red envelopes with lucky money inside to children and unmarried young people, and set off firecrackers (originally to ward off evil spirits, now to celebrate the new year). Here in San Francisco, over the course of the entire month there will be street fairs, lion dances, the Miss Chinatown USA Pageant, and the largest Chinese New Year Parade outside China.

But for hundreds of millions of Chinese in China, the Lunar New Year (a.k.a. Spring Festival or chun jie 春莭) is also a time to leave the cities where they work–in factories or  on construction sites or in other jobs that city dwellers don’t want–and return home to the countryside where their families must live and wait. This is the only vacation these migrant workers are allowed in order to visit their families. Some families are separated for years on end. (For example, see the essay Waiting for Chinese New Year written by a 14-year-old girl whose parents have not returned home in three years.)

This mass movement of Chinese workers is the largest annual human migration in history. This year according to People\’s Daily, an estimated 230 million Chinese will be traveling home…mostly by train.

In honor of these arduous journeys, I am posting below a series of links to articles and videos, including the trailer for the award-winning documentary “Last Train Home,” that convey in words, pictures, song and video this annual phenomenon.

Amazing photos of the yearly migration 1995-2011

Chinese New Year migration, Guangzhou 2008

Video for the song \”Afraid to Go Home for the New Year\” (with translation of the lyrics provided)

Running Naked Man … Chinese internet sensation (he’s not really naked, but this article shows how one man became an internet sensation after he waited in line for 14 hours for train tickets home only to be told he couldn’t buy any. He stripped down to his underwear and confronted the ticket office personnel at the train station…and inspired Chinese with his chutzpah!)

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We had an amazing launch party for my novel Dragon Chica co-sponsored by Books Inc. and the publisher GemmaMedia. San Francisco, live music by the Asian American band The Like Me’s, dim sum, a little talk by me about the book, and time to mingle with friends! I feel truly blessed.


photo by Jeni Fong/Grace Image Photography


For everyone who couldn’t be there in person, I’m putting up photos and videos from the event so you can check it out!

Here’s my photo album: Facebook Fan Page \”Dragon Chica Launch Album\”. (I’ll put up more photos periodically. This is all I had time to post right after the launch.)

We had a wonderful turnout. I will be posting the Q&A, but for now you can watch the videos for the Introductions, my discussion of how I came to write Dragon Chica including my involvement with Cambodian refugees in America since I was 15 years old, and the amazing acoustic version of The Like Me’s hit “Monkey, Dance Monkey.”


My dad took the videos! 🙂


I chose to read the excerpt from Dragon Chica that I thought would give everybody a strong sense of the personality of the protagonist, Nea.

It was great to see so many friends, including the writer Gwynn Gacosta and her husband Dustin Gordon, George Lew, writer Miki Garcia, Denise Kitt, Jeni Fong, Howard Wong, Madeline Tam (and her charming husband), Claudia Villalon, Dr. Herena Kim, Trish O’Hare, and many new friends!


Writer Gwynn Gacosta, me, Dustin Gordon



With Sandra Sengdara Siharath (founder of http://www.Seachampa.org)


It’s always great to see Sandra Sengdara Siharath, who founded the Southeast Asian Cultural Heritage and Musical Performing Arts Center of Oakland, California! You can check out her arts center, which offers classes in SE Asian dance, cooking, music and other cultural activities here: www.seachampa.org

And of course, we had an amazing live set of songs performed by the Bay Area’s own musical group The Like Me’s:

(I’ll be posting more of The Like Me’s songs in the coming weeks, so keep checking back!)


Laura Mam, lead singer of The Like Me's


You can follow Laura Mam and The Like Me’s online: www.thelikemes.com.

And last but not least, here is my amazing publisher, Trish O’Hare of GemmaMedia:

Trish O'Hare, publisher of GemmaMedia

Dragon Chica is now available in bookstores (you can ask your local independent bookstore to order a copy if they don’t have one in store), online,  and on Kindle.

And be on the lookout for upcoming readings at EastWind Books of Berkeley on November 13 at 3pm, the Tattered Cover in Denver, CO, on November 18 at 7:30 pm, and City Lights back in San Francisco in the spring!

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Been busy working on the final edits for my novel DRAGON CHICA. It’s a lot of work trying to get a manuscript into final shape before the book goes “into production,” as it’s called in publishing.

Dragon Chica is the story of Nea Chhim and her family, who are Chinese-Cambodian survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime. The novel begins with a miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary in the permafrost of a freezer case in East Dallas. This miracle leads to another: Nea’s family discovers a rich Uncle and Auntie have survived the Communist regime as well and are now living in America. They invite Nea and her family to come join them in “business paradise,” that is, a small town in Nebraska, to help run their Chinese restaurant, The Silver Palace. But once Nea and her family arrive, they discover everything is not as they had hoped. Secrets are exposed, and Nea must fight to save her family…

The book comes out this October from GemmaMedia. You can get a preview on Amazon: Dragon Chica on Amazon.

In the meantime, in case you’re interested in seeing something *right now* about Cambodian Americans, I found a really cool music video in honor of Khmer New Year 2010, set in San Jose, California.

It features Cambodian American singer Laura Mam and her band The Like Me’s.

The short film/music video is called “Dance, Monkey Dance.” It’s super cool!

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This video clip reminds me of imagery from a Ts’ai Ming-liang film.

Muni Waterfall

(It’s actually flooding in the San Francisco Van Ness MUNI station.)

Props to my friend, the designer George Lew, for sending me the link. He knows I love Ts’ai Ming-liang films…and ironic images. 🙂

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