Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Romantic Comedies Ruin Relationships?

According to relationship experts at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, romantic comedies give people unrealistic ideas about love and sex, and cause them to "fail to communicate with their partner." Here's more:

Psychologists at the family and personal relationships laboratory at the university studied 40 top box office hits between 1995 and 2005, and identified common themes which they believed were unrealistic.

The university's Dr Bjarne Holmes said: "Marriage counselors often see couples who believe that sex should always be perfect, and if someone is meant to be with you then they will know what you want without you needing to communicate it. We now have some emerging evidence that suggests popular media play a role in perpetuating these ideas in people's minds. The problem is that while most of us know that the idea of a perfect relationship is unrealistic, some of us are still more influenced by media portrayals than we realize."

Do you think this is true? Is real-life romance a big ol' letdown? Sure, lots of people like the idea of a perfect man or "happily ever after," but does that mean we're all unable to separate fantasy from reality?

Also, have you ever had an experience that could have been right out of a romantic movie (think John Cusack holding up a boom box)?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Toi Maori: Small Treasures

Small Treasures arrive at de Young Museum
By Ed Moy

The Toi Maori "Small Treasures" exhibition opened following a sacred exchange of indigenous peoples from the Native American Ohlone tribe and the Maori from New Zealand in front of the de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park last month.

Local Ohlone tribe member Chuck Striplen met with Toi Maori representative Derek Lardelli in a traditional ceremonial greeting to "connect with the spirit" of each peoples.

The Maori are native to New Zealand, which is also known as Aotearoa, "the land of the great white cloud".

Stripen called it the ceremony a way for local "indigenous people to recognize other indigenous people arriving here in the Bay Area."

During the opening ceremony, Lardelli chanted several Maori invocations asking his ancestors to bless and look after the gifts and treasures brought to the museum for the exhibit.

"It's a beginning point for creating a sacred thread," Lardelli said of the meeting, which connected the Maori and Ohlone people together.

The exhibition of contemporary Maori art, which included works for sale from some of Aotearoa's top Maori artists, is a collaboration between Toi Maori Aotearoa, Pataka Museum and the de Young Museum. The three-day exhibition (Oct. 10-12) included taa moko (native tattoo art), gallery talks, a presentation of Maori garments and weaving demonstrations.

Toi Maori Aotearoa first established relations here in 2005 when a Maori waka canoe sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge as part of the Maori Art Meets America exhibition. The goal for Toi Maori Aotearoa is to create new markets for Maori artists in America.

Lardelli added: "When you enshroud things in mystery, you no longer survive, but if you demystify them there is understanding."

Friday, October 3, 2008

Scoring in Hollywood

Scoring in Hollywood
By Ed Moy

Since performing at Carnegie Hall with the Houston Youth Symphony as a high school student,
Asian-American film composer George Shaw's love for music has led him to pursue his dream of scoring music for Hollywood movies.

In recent years, Shaw has orchestrated on a number of films, including Ghost Rider (2007) (starring Nicolas Cage), The Darwin Awards (2006) (starring Winona Ryder, Joseph Fiennes), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) (starring Val Kilmer, Robert Downey Jr.), Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles (2007), and Chasing Ghosts (2005) (starring Michael Madsen).

Recently, Shaw
released his own CD album, 'Legendary Warriors,' which is filled with epic themes,meditative music, and pounding drums. The music blends cinematic orchestra with traditional instruments from China and Japan, including erhu(Chinese fiddle), bamboo flute, guzheng (Chinese string zither), taiko drums, and many more.

Inspired by his love of martial arts films from Asia, Shaw states that with this album, he wanted to 'compose music that would evoke images of warriors from the past.'
To see Shaw's 'Legendary Warriors' behind-the-scenes interview on youtube, go to:

After studying composition and film scoring at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music and taking part in its world-class Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program, Shaw also participated in the 2004 ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop and the 9th AnnualBMI Conducting Workshop. He was a 2007 fellow in Film Independent's Project: Involve, a filmmaker mentor ship program that paired him with Emmy-nominated composer Christopher Lennertz.

At the 2001 Emmy Awards, Shaw had the opportunity to sing on stage with the USC choir accompanying Barbara Streisand.

'I'd never sung in a choir before,' Shaw recalls. 'I had absolutely no vocal training whatsoever. I was taking my first semester of choir because it was required for my degree, and suddenly the USC Choir gets invited to sing in the opening and closing of the Emmys.

Shaw also plays clarinet for the Golden State Pops Orchestra, which is probably the only orchestra that primarily plays music from films and videogames.

'We have even had a lot of big time Hollywood composers come and speak/conduct at our concerts,' Shaw points out. 'What I'm especially excited about, is conducting the world premiere of my own piece, J-OK'EL: LEGEND OF LALLORONA, at our next Halloween concert. It's a suite based on themes from my score to J-OK'EL. It'll be my LA conducting debut. I'm also excited about performing a bunch of other cool pieces from King Kong,Nightmare Before Christmas, Twilight Zone, and more.'

Shaw recently spoke about his Asian American heritage and current projects:

Q: What ethnic heritage are you?

A: I thought I was Chinese...but a few Thanksgivings ago my cousin mentioned our Grandma is Japanese. I was like, 'no way, how come no one told me?' So it turns out I'm also a quarter Japanese.

Q: How many films have you composed music for?

A: I've scored 10 feature films so far. The most recent being ASIAN STORIES, which stars James Kyson Lee, who is known as the character Ando on HEROES. It is the funniest film I've ever worked on, though one of the toughest to do schedule-wise. I think I had about 2 1/2 weeks to write almost half an hour of music. I was also writing in a lot of different styles (rock, latin jazz, ambient, suspense, cheesy tunes,ethnic drum beats), some I had never written in before. I'm reallyproud of the film though, it had a one week theatrical run in LosAngeles and Hawaii, and is out on DVD now.
I've lost track of how many short films I've done. I do about half adozen or so each year, and they are always fun. Short films are a greatway to try out different genres, and experiment with new things Ihaven't done before.

Q: You're currently working on Treasure of the Templars, an IndianaJones Fan Film. Tell us how you got involved with the project and yourinterest in it.

A: Kenneth Gawne, who is producing and starring in a new feature-lengthIndiana Jones fan film called TREASURE OF THE TEMPLARS, emailed meseveral years ago about the project. He liked the music on my website,and noticed I had a real affinity for writing in the style of JohnWilliams, the original Indiana Jones composer. Anyways, a couple yearspassed before I heard from him again, and I was really excited aboutwhere they had taken the film. I met with the director, Jonathan Lawrence, and talked to him about howexcited I was about doing the project, and how to produce the musicwithout much money. Fortunately by now I've had some experiencecreating great sounding orchestral scores with little money from allthe low budget films I've worked on. I've been raising money from fans (see my website for more info ifyou're interested in donating), and I've secured a soundtrack deal withMoviescore Media to release the score as well as partially fund therecording sessions. But most of all, I'm having a lot of fun working onthe film. The film was started out of frustration that there wasn't an upcomingIndiana Jones 4. That was years before Kingdom of the Crystal Skullcame out. Fans have been calling Treasure of the Templars the 'RealIndy 4'. It's an exciting prequel to the original trilogy, featuring ayounger Indiana Jones, and an interesting take on the background of alot of characters from the trilogy.

Q: What kind of musical score are you using for Treasure of the Templars?

A: Obviously you can't have an Indiana Jones movie without the iconicheroic theme. That will be in the movie, but on the CD release, I'vewritten a clever parody of the theme. Everything else will be alloriginal themes that I've composed and inspired by the orchestral styleof John Williams' original scores.

Q: What are some potential Hollywood films you maybe working on in the future?

A: I haven't been offered a Hollywood studio film yet, but I'm workingpersistently to get to that level. I'm certain many of the talented upand coming filmmakers that I work with will succeed in making studiofilms and bring me along. As with many other successful composers, allit takes is one big hit film to catapult someone's career into bigmainstream film work. For now, I'm just grateful to be working with thetalented people that I am working with.

Q: Tell me about your involvement in Marcus

A: I composed the music for this small award-winning psychologicalthriller/horror film. My job was relatively easy, I only had to writeabout 20 minutes of music, which is unusual, since most horror filmsscored with wall-to-wall creepy, moody, dissonant music. MARCUS is acharacter driven piece, and the acting was terrific. I mostly stayedout of the way and let the actors' performances carry the tension inthe movie. The DVD was just released on DVD by Warner Home Video, andincludes an interview that I did for the behind the scenes features.The soundtrack album was also just released by Moviescore Media, andcan be downloaded from or iTunes. My favorite trackis from the climactic ending of the film, where I did a dark andviolent arrangement of the Christmas tune, Carol of the Bells with myown theme superimposed over it. The soundtrack also features selectionsfrom other films I've done to fill out the album, and showcases avariety of different genres that I've worked in.

Q: You scored the Korean American romantic drama Purity. Tell me about that.

A: I had a lot of fun working with NaRhee Ahn on her first feature,Purity. It was refreshing to write lush romantic melodies and even alove song (which can be heard on my myspace page,, after having worked on several very dark,moody, and violent films. The music won an award at the Park City FilmMusic Festival for best impact of music. I was very happy with how itturned out, and self released the score through The film is about the 19-year-old daughter of a Korean Americanminister who falls in love with a bad boy. It has had good audiencereaction from Asian American audiences as well as non-Asian audiences,with people laughing in the right places. But the film has haddifficulty finding distribution. It doesn’t have enoughsex/drugs/violence for mainstream audiences, and too much for Christianaudiences. The film’s official myspace page is

The Golden State PopsOrchestra Halloween Concert will be held Oct. 25, 2008 at 8 p.m. at the Warner Grand Theater in Los Angeles.

For more information about the concert or to learn more about Composer George Shaw's music, please visit:

Friday, August 22, 2008

Food prices rising

I read this online today. Are we headed towards a breaking point? Gas prices, food prices, global warming...

Food prices to post biggest rise since 1990: USDA

By Christopher DoeringWed Aug 20, 5:43 PM ET

U.S. consumers should brace for the biggest increase in food prices in nearly 20 years in 2008 and even more pain next year due to surging meat and produce prices, the Agriculture Department said on Wednesday.

Food prices are forecast to rise by 5 percent to 6 percent this year, making it the largest annual increase since 1990. Just last month, USDA forecast food prices would climb between 4.5 and 5.5 percent in 2008.

"It's a little bit of a surprise how strong some of the numbers were in July," USDA economist Ephraim Leibtag, who prepared the forecast, said in an interview.

"We've been waiting for some moderation, but especially with some of the meat prices and how much has come through relatively recently (at the retail level) leads me to believe the overall number may be a little bit higher for the year," he added.

Leibtag said he expected food prices to moderate, but the timing depends on what happens to volatile energy and food ingredient costs.

Prices are expected to rise by 4 percent to 5 percent in 2009, lead by red meat and poultry. The forecast, if correct, would be the third straight year where food prices have surged at least 4 percent.

In its latest food prices report, USDA said the increase for 2008 was due partly to higher costs for meat, poultry and fish, which make up about 12 percent of total food spending. Overall, costs for these items are forecast to rise 3 percent compared to 2.5 percent estimated last month.

Prices for fruits and vegetables, which account for more than 8 percent of food spending, will also rise 5.5 percent versus 5 percent predicted in July.

USDA also forecast increases this year of 9.5 percent for cereals and bakery products, a 14 percent surge for eggs and a 13.5 percent hike for fats and oils.

A broad range of commodities posted record highs this year, including corn and soybeans. Prices have since backed off as concerns over smaller crops due to a wet spring in the U.S. Midwest have largely dissipated.

In its first estimate of the fall harvest, USDA last week forecast a corn crop of 12.29 billion bushels, the second largest on record.

Despite the near-record crops, farm-gate prices for this year's corn, wheat and soybean crops, while lower than earlier forecasts, will still set records.

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said last week he did not see any relief for food prices during the remainder of the year.

The cost of energy -- used to transport, package and process foods -- is still boosting food prices, even though energy prices have dropped. Oil has slumped from a record high above $147 a barrel on July 11 to $115.

"We haven't seen those prices reflected in the finished products yet," Schafer said.

Americans spend more than $1 trillion a year on groceries, snacks, carry-out food and meals in restaurants. Farmers get 20 cents of the food dollar and the rest goes to processing, labor, transportation and distribution.

(Editing by Christian Wiessner)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Who Killed the Electric Car?

I finally watched this film. Wow... what was with GM? They recalled all the EV1, dismantle and crushed them! Weird! And there was actually electric cars nearly 100 years ago?! Huh?!

Government supporting hydrogen cars instead of electric cars?


Check out the website:

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Is TV dead?

I read this online today:

Is the Internet finally killing TV?

More than 80 million Americans have watched a TV show online. By 2013, a research group says, scheduled programs will account for less than half of all video viewed.

By Christian Science Monitor

Is this the summer that the Internet finally kills television as we once knew it?

Most industry observers are stopping short of that prediction, citing some significant hurdles still in the way.

But the growing number of new deals and new devices being announced suggests that a profound change in the way people watch video -- and what video they watch -- is under way.

The line between "television" and video via the Internet already has blurred and may disappear in coming years.

At least one industry analyst has declared "TV is dead" and welcomes Americans to a new age of video everywhere.

Increasingly, Americans are watching video when they want to, and on the screen that suits them at the time. And more programming is from new sources that threaten to unlock Hollywood's domination of content.

Video is now delivered on displays and devices of every shape and size, from gigantic theater screens and ever-larger home projector screens to flat-screen HDTVs and from desktop and laptop computer monitors to tiny personal screens such as those found on iPods and mobile phones. Meanwhile, NBC Universal is touting its coverage of the Summer Olympics in Beijing as "the single most ambitious digital event coverage ever." Along with video coverage on several of its cable TV networks, NBC is streaming 2,200 hours of live competition in 25 sports on the Web site.

"The Olympic viewer will be able to define his or her own Olympic experience like never before," said Gary Zenkel, the president of NBC Olympics, in announcing coverage plans last month. Media coverage has speculated that heavy viewing of Olympics on workplace computers would cause systems to bog down or crash.

"NBC is certainly taking the right approach by stepping back and trying to look at (the Olympics) as a holistic suite of (video) offerings and then trying to figure out what pieces best go where," says Kendall Whitehouse, senior director of information technology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The big disconnect

How do you get all that interesting Internet video onto your nice big-screen TV? Walt Mossberg, personal technology columnist at The Wall Street Journal, has some ideas.

NBC concedes that this unprecedented blanket of coverage across TV, Internet and mobile devices amounts to a giant experiment. "I have no idea how people are going to use this stuff," Alan Wurtzel, the company's research chief, told The Associated Press.

This spring and summer, deals to make video more ubiquitous across screens have popped up with more and more frequency:

* Netflix (NFLX, news, msgs), the video rent-by-mail company, has struck several new agreements to deliver its content online. A new $100 box from Roku the size of a paperback book lets users stream any of about 10,000 movies from Netflix to their TVs (though the vast majority of Netflix's library will still be available only through DVDs by mail). South Korea's LG Electronics announced it will offer a high-definition (HD) disc player that also will be able to access HD-quality movies from Netflix via the Internet. And Microsoft (MSFT, news, msgs) will stream Netflix video to its Xbox 360 videogame consoles. (Microsoft owns and publishes MSN Money.)
* Sony (SNE, news, msgs) says it will offer a movie and TV show download option for its Playstation video-game console.
* Apple (AAPL, news, msgs), which sells millions of videos online through its iTunes store, relaunched its Apple TV player, which can send that content to a TV set.
* (AMZN, news, msgs), the online retailer, is offering Amazon Video on Demand, which will give users immediate streaming access to 40,000 movies and TV shows. This video is now available only on a computer.
* At least a half-dozen TV manufacturers, including Sony, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ, news, msgs) and Samsung, have said they will sell sets that are continuously connected to a broadband Internet network, allowing Web content, including video, to move easily to the biggest screen in the house.
* TiVo (TIVO, news, msgs), the digital video recorder, will supply video from YouTube, the online video site famous for short, often amateur videos.
* Hulu was launched in March as a Web site offering free, ad-supported streaming video of TV shows and movies from NBC, Fox and other networks.

While these new services get video moving to new screens, none is a complete solution on its own, says the Wharton School's Whitehouse. "There are a lot of different companies supporting different file formats," he says. What you don't have is the one device that can "get content from all the major services like Hulu and Netflix and iTunes."

There's a kind of convergence between TV and Internet that's happening, "but not really a friendly one (for consumers), I think," says Bobby Tulsiani, an analyst who tracks developments in internet video for JupiterResearch.

TV networks, he says, have a time-tested model for making money through advertising and the fees cable TV companies pay to carry their programming. Online distribution presents potential new revenue sources, but also the danger that viewers will slide online, where profits are less certain.

YouTube has popularized video viewing online. But the conventional wisdom has been that people won't watch anything longer than two or three minutes on a computer screen.

That assumption has been proved wrong with the huge popularity of TV series online.

"We've moved from TV on this biggest screen to TV on this middle screen," the computer, says Tulsiani. It's "a critical change," he says. "That's the fastest-growing segment of who's watching TV content."

Nearly 80 million Americans (43% of those who go online) have watched a TV show on the Internet, according to a February survey by Solutions Research Group in Toronto. Just a year ago, the figure was 25%.

Total video viewing will rise from about six hours a day today to a projected eight hours daily by 2013, Solutions forecasts, and fewer than four hours of that will be spent watching conventional TV.

The Internet is producing more and more polished original content. This summer Joss Whedon, creator of the critically acclaimed TV shows "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel" and "Firefly," produced "Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," an Internet-only "TV series" that's become an online viewing phenomenon.

It's also the kind of Internet video that viewers may wish they could easily shift to their TVs so they could watch from their sofas.But not everyone is convinced that Internet video and TV are about to converge. "It's the most overrated, over hyped story in the tech world today," says Phillip Swann, president and publisher of "It's simply not convenient yet."

Swann also disputes the idea that network TV schedules are going out the window as people call up online video whenever they want it. "People like routine, they like to able to know what is going to be on at 8 o'clock," he says.

Also standing in the way is the need for true HD-quality video to be available over the Web. "They're a long ways from that," Swann says.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lightning GT Electric Sports Car

I read this article about a new electric sports car. Will it happen? Is it real?
Does it work?

New Lightning GT electric sports car promises 700bhp

By Quentin Willson,

British International Motor Show

This week's London Motor Show was a muted affair. Both mood and visitor numbers seemed low to me.

One of the busiest stands was in the green eco area where enthusiasts, who would once have been drooling over the Ferrari 599 Fiorino, were swapping mpg figures for the Mini Cooper Diesel and new Lotus Evora.

Most supercars seemed impossibly irrelevant, but there was one that made the most incredible promises.

If its maker's claims are true, the British-built carbon-fibre bodied Lightning GT isn't just a hugely desirable and sexy performance coupe, it could also hold the technology that will change the way we drive forever. With an electric motor at each wheel, the battery-powered Lightning is said to push out a massive 700bhp and can run for 200 miles on a 10-minute charge.

These Holy Grail numbers, which have yet to be independently tested, are due to the Lightning's revolutionary nano-titinate batteries that have a 12-year life expectancy, retain 85 per cent of their charge after 15,000 cycles and, unlike conventional hybrid batteries, are free from heavy metals, toxins and graphite.

And the Lightning lives up to its name. Sixty comes up in an unfeasible four seconds, but top speed will be limited to 130. It looks infinitely prettier than Tesla's much-vaunted electric Roadster, and comes with ABS, traction control, regenerative brakes and electric doors. You can even programme it to make the exhaust note of a throaty V6 or V8.

To be honest, it all sounds too good to be true, while the rumoured £120,000 price tag means we won't be seeing them in supermarket car parks any time soon. If the Lightning's incredible battery technology actually works, and can be produced at a lower price, the future of fast cars (or indeed any cars) might not be as grim as we all thought.

Engine: Hi-Pa Drive electric
Power: 700bhp
0-60: 4.0 secs
Max: 130mph (limited)
Price: £120,000
In A Word: Will this dream come true?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Japanese Car Runs on Water?

I was researching Hybrid-Electric Cars today and found out about this Japanese Car that runs on water? Do believe it or not? Is it a scam?

June 14, 2008

Japanese company Genepax unviels car that runs on Water

I would not believe it, if news would not be carried by Reuters. And if I did not see their video coverage. Also in my experience Japanese companies usually do not lie, and would not go public, if this was a hoax or not a completely working unit. Company CEO Kiyoshi Hirasawa presented their eco-friendly car that runs on nothing but water in a test drive. genepax h20 water carWhile test car is one of smalles (like Smart), the company is in talks for mass production of engine unit (converter from water to hydrogen), production of which currently costs 15.000 USD, but as soon as next year with right quantities it could be lowered to below 5.000 USD…

Big advantage of this solution is that there is only water in car's tank, and hydrogen is produces on needed basis. So no difficult hydrogen storage questions, and safety concerns… Genepax is alread in talks about mass production with another Japanese manufacturer.

The car has an energy generator that extracts hydrogen from water that is poured into the car's tank. The generator then releases electrons that produce electric power to run the car. Their new "Water Energy System (WES)," generates power by supplying water and air to the fuel and air electrodes using a proprietary technology called the Membrane Electrode Assembly (MEA). The secret behind MEA is a special material that is capable of breaking down water into hydrogen and oxygen through a chemical reaction. Exact details were kept secret, but new process, while based on existing technology, is expected to produce hydrogen from water for longer time than any method currently available. Furthermore, WES does not require a hydrogen reformer, a high-pressure hydrogen tank, or any special catalysts to get the job done. Acording to Genepax's results, one liter of water (and you can use any kind of water, even sea water) powers the car for about one hour, with top speed of around 80 km/h.

During a recent conference, Genepax unveiled a fuel cell stack with a rated output of 120W and a fuel cell system with a rated output of 300W—and there are plans for a 1kw-class generation system for use in both electric vehicles and houses sometime in the future. At this point, the cost of production on the water-powered vehicle engine itself is around about ¥2,000,000 (US$18,522), but they hope to drop the price to ¥500,000 (US$4600) or less if they succeed in bringing it into mass production.

I Am A Money Magnet

Looking for some Money Magnetism! So I found some online! Here you go!

Say each 10 times and feel it:

I am a powerful money magnet
I am receiving $25,000 of unexpected income
I love money
I am wealthy now
Money comes to me effortlessly
My connection with Infinite Intelligence is yielding me vast amount of money
I thank you for all the money you have given me and my friends. Thank you for my neighbors new truck
I am a money magnet and money comes to me effortlessly and easily

• Visualize and imagine yourself spending all the money you want, as though you have it
• Do not speak or think of the lack of money for a single second.
• Be grateful for the money you have. Appreciate it as you touch it.
• Make lists of all the things you will buy with an abundance of money.
• Appreciate all the riches around you, including the riches of others. Look for wealth wherever you go, and appreciate it.
• Be certain that money is coming to you.
• Love yourself and know that you are deserving and worthy of an abundance of money.
• ask yourself often during the day, am I attracting money now or pushing it away with my thoughts.
• Always, always pay yourself first from your wage, then pay your creditors.
(in that single act, you are telling the Universe that you are worthy and deserving of more).
• Do whatever it takes to feel good. The emotions of joy and happiness are powerful money magnets. Be happy now!
• Love yourself!

Wealth is a mindset.
Money is literally attracted to you or
repelled from you. It's all about how you think.

Now Let go of your thoughts and focus on the moment

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Palm Jumeirah

I saw this today on MSN. An artificial island owned by the government of Dubai.

Amazing to look at, but how will it all turn out?

According to the press material from the developers, the Jumeirah Palm island will feature themed boutique hotels, three types of villas (Signature Villas, Garden Homes and Canal Cove Town Homes), shoreline apartment buildings, beaches, marinas, restaurants, caf├ęs and a variety of retail outlets. Over 30 beachfront hotels will be opened by the end of 2009.

From Wikipedia: The Palm Jumeirah was created by pouring sand fill onto the 10.5 metre-deep seabed using dredgers. Above sea level, 3 metres of the reclamation were achieved by a dredging technique known as "rainbowing," in which the sand fill was sprayed over the surface of the rising island. Calcareous sand was used for the reclamation. The island includes a curved breakwater using natural rock, intended to encourage the creation of a natural reef and provide habitats for sea life. The land form was reclaimed by the Dutch company Van Oord, who are world experts in land reclamation. Total cost reached US$12.3 billion and maintaining the island is a costly expenditure.

Costly to say the least. I don't know that this project will turn out well. It's been delayed for the last two years. The workers are being mistreated. The temperature in Dubai averages close to 117 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. And there have been numerous environmental concerns about the project.

I found this revealing article from Guardian UK

Pitfalls in paradise: why Palm Jumeirah is struggling to live up to the hype
Low-paid workers and villa gripes cast a cloud over 'eighth wonder of the world' in Dubai

By Robert Booth in Dubai
The Guardian, Saturday April 26 2008

Dubai's sheikhs have claimed it is "the eighth wonder of the world", and seen from space the tree-shaped sand and rock formation of the Palm Jumeirah looks exactly that.

But after the hype about David Beckham buying a mansion here and the novelty of living four miles out to sea has faded, that claim is starting to look shaky. It seems there is a little trouble in paradise.

Four thousand "Palm pioneers" have moved in and are getting to grips with life in the sweltering Arabian Gulf. This week, when the Guardian visited, the gripes were as common as the plaudits among the Brits who are in the vanguard of this new community.

Multimillion-pound villas have been squeezed together "like Coronation Street", air-conditioning bills are hitting £800 a month and persistent snags have led some to joke it is more "eighth blunder" than "eighth wonder".

The villas were developed by the government-owned Nakheel Properties, and many residents believe the company's slogan, "Our vision inspires humanity", which flutters on flags around the place, is beginning to look over-egged.

It is not all bad news. The blue seas which lap the man-made shores are teeming with rays, hermit crabs and baracudas. Away from the ongoing construction, which has four years to run, life in the middle of the ocean is incredibly peaceful.

But for Rachael Wilds, 42, an exhibition organiser from Surrey who moved in with her family to a palatial villa on one of the Palm's "fronds" a year ago, it was not what she expected. She found her £3m property squashed against a neighbour's and set in a barren, almost treeless, landscape. "It was absolutely nothing as it was depicted in the brochure," she says. "There was a massive gap between the villas and it was full of lush tropical gardens. We were totally shocked at the closeness of the villas."

Despite summer temperatures of 48C and high humidity, access to centralised air conditioning was not included in the purchase price of apartments, and residents are rebelling against plans to ask them to pay extra. More seriously, there is evidence the low-pay and hard conditions endured by the thousands of migrant workers who built the area are driving many into despair and debt.

It has made for an awkward start for a development that is far more than a whim of the Dubai royal family. Palm Jumeirah is the testing ground for the United Arab Emirates' strategy for life after oil - big-scale tourism. Once complete, there will be homes and hotel rooms for 65,000 people.

Crucially, the Palm adds 40 miles to Dubai's coastline. The sheikhs are gambling this will keep the visitors coming back. Two even bigger man-made islands are under way along the coast: a replica of an existing island called The World and another called The Universe.

The lab rats in this experiment are a strange mix. They include England footballers, a battalion of middle-class Britons from places such as Salisbury and Weybridge, and even, it is said, Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, who is thought to have a house opposite Kieron Dyer, the West Ham midfielder.

Raffaele Cannas, 47, a British property consultant, was one of the first to pick up his keys in late 2006 and found himself squeezing a couple of England players into his Mini after they'd asked to see how he had decorated his apartment. "I didn't know who they were at first, but I had David James doubled up in the front seat and Andy Cole tucked in the back," he says.

After the Brits came the Russians, and a growing number of rich Iranians. Many aspects to life here are undeniably good. Residents can soak up an incredible amount of sunshine - some years it never rains - and the beaches are groomed at least twice a week.

But this is no picture-book desert island. Its size is the most arresting characteristic for newcomers. An eight-lane motorway is at the Palm's trunk, and each frond is a mile long. Meanwhile, there is yet more expansion, with 40 hotels being built on the breakwater.

At times it is also a harsh environment. Lawns routinely wither without intense watering and the tallest trees are, in fact, mobile phone masts dressed up to look like palms.

Just 18 months after moving in, Cannas is thinking of leaving for New Zealand. "The marketing machine was so powerful, calling the Palm the eighth wonder of the world, that people's expectations went through the roof," he says. "It hasn't turned out like that."

For many soaring property prices have softened any discomforts. A "signature villa" which went for £750,000 in 2002 is now worth £3m.

A nagging guilt for some is the quality of life of the migrant construction workers who built all this. Most are from India and Bangladesh and they travel in bus convoys from labour camps in the desert each morning.

A typical labourer earns £25 a week, and many are in debt to agents in their home countries who paid for their passage. KV Shamsudheen, a workers' rights activist in Dubai, says interest rates can be as high as 120% a year.

One hundred migrant workers killed themselves in the Emirates in 2006, and the trend is rising, he says. Alcohol is a growing problem, with workers racking up debts to buy drink.

In Jebel Ali, a dusty camp almost 10 miles from the Palm, 30,000 male workers live up to 12 a room in prefabricated blocks. "I am not happy," says a Bangladeshi carpenter known locally as Sofiull, 52. "The company said I would earn £60 a week, but I am getting £30. They have delayed my pay two months and it's a great problem."

Mohamed Mahboub, 30, has been in Dubai for three years. He hasn't seen his daughter since she was a baby, but sends £30 of his £45-a-week supervisor's salary home. "I miss her, but I am a poor man and I owe money, so I cannot go back yet," he says.

It is a world away from the exclusive gated fronds back on the Palm, where the only sound is often the splash of a paddle from a kayak, the favourite pastime of Palm dwellers.

"Life here is 150% better than in the UK," says Donna Dempsey, 46, a ballet teacher from Kent. "We have our garbage collected every day, we have clean streets, we have low crime. You can really chill here. Sometimes it's hard to go to work."

In numbers

The number of litres of desalinated drinking water the Palm Jumeirah uses when at capacity

Bottlenose dolphins have been flown in from the Solomon Islands to populate Dolphin Bay, an 11-acre lagoon

The cubic metres of sand used to build the Palm Jumeirah

The site has doubled the natural 42-mile coastline of Dubai

The Palm is four times the size of Hyde Park in central London

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Dark Knight

I finally got around to seeing The Dark Knight over the weekend.

And wow... the film looks nothing like the previous Batman movies.

In fact, it looks more like a Michael Mann movie.

The Chicago location gave Gotham a much more realistic city atmosphere than we've become accustomed to seeing in the previous Batman movies.

And when I read that one of director Christopher Nolan's biggest influences for the film's style was the movie Heat, which starred Al Pacino and Robert Deniro, I wasn't surprised.

Anyone viewing the two movies will immediately see this in the cinematography and editing styles. There's even a nod to Heat with the cameo appearance of William Fichtner as a Bank Manager during the opening robbery sequence.

In fact, if The Dark Knight wasn't a superhero movie, I'd swear it was a crime drama along the lines of Heat, Thief, Miami Vice or Collateral. From the use of the color blue as a motif to the glass window offices, penthouses and buildings of Gotham's inhabitants, the film just felt like a Michael Mann crime drama.

Heath Ledger's performance was excellent. It was dark, brooding and scary. I can see how he may have fallen into a depression after dwelling in the mind of such a psychopathic character.

As usual, there were some fun supporting character turns from Morgan Freeman and Micheal Caine, as well as a more nuanced performance from Gary Oldman, who I can't help but think looks like The Simpson's neighbor Ned Flanders when I see him wearing that mustache and glasses.

Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal also turned in first-rate performances that could easily have translated into more conventional crime drama movies.

The Dark Knight's grim and tragic sensibilities also gave it a totally different viewpoint than your standard superhero flick. Whether this is good or bad depends on the viewer.

Now, don't get me wrong. I loved the film. I'm a huge Michael Mann fan. And I applaud Nolan for a job well done.

I'm even convinced this is a better approach than the comic cartoon versions turned in previously starring Clooney, Kilmer, et al.

But all of this does bring up the question: Is this going to be a trend we can expect to see more of in American superhero action films?

Friday, July 25, 2008

PS2 game console incites real war?

I read this today online:

Playstation 2 component incites African war
Console war reaches past the couch and into the Congo, claims report.

Has the video game industry dug up its very own blood diamond?

According to a report by activist site Toward Freedom, for the past decade the search for a rare metal necessary in the manufacturing of Sony's Playstation 2 game console has fueled a brutal conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the center of the conflict is the unrefined metallic ore, coltan. After processing, coltan turns into a powder called tantalum, which is used extensively in a wealth of western electronic devices including cell phones, computers and, of course, game consoles.

Allegedly, the demand for coltan prompted Rwandan military groups and western mining companies to plunder hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the rare metal, often by forcing prisoners-of-war and even children to work in the country's coltan mines.

"Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms," said Ex-British Parliament Member Oona King.

So where's the connection to Sony? According to Toward Freedom, during the 2000 launch of the PS2, the electronics giant was having trouble meeting consumer demand. To pump out more units, Sony required a significant increase in the production of electric capacitors, which are primarily made with tantalum. This helped drive the world price of the powder from $49/pound to a whopping $275/pound, resulting in the frenzied scouring of the Congolese hills known for being ripe with coltan.

Sony has since sworn off using tantalum acquired from the Congo, claiming that current builds of the PS2, PSP and PS3 consoles are sourced from a variety of mines in several different countries.

But according to researcher David Barouski, they're hardly off the hook.

"SONY's PlayStation 2 launch...was a big part of the huge increase in demand for coltan that began in early 1999," he explained. "SONY and other companies like it, have the benefit of plausible deniability, because the coltan ore trades hands so many times from when it is mined to when SONY gets a processed product, that a company often has no idea where the original coltan ore came from, and frankly don't care to know. But statistical analysis shows it to be nearly inconceivable that SONY made all its PlayStations without using Congolese coltan."

Currently, the Playstation 2 is the best-selling video game console of all-time, having sold through over 140 million units.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Toursim Malaysia

I'm back from Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. Despite some torrential tropical rain showers, I spent a fun weekend at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak near Damai Beach Resort where I took a swim in the South China Sea.

I was invited as part of a sponsored group by Tourism Malaysia, which also included a couple of American travel writers from New York (Max and Sonja) and one from L.A.

There were travel agents and travel writers from all over the world at the festival, including a large number of Australians (23 total), who turned out at the Tourism Malaysia Media event on my second day. I also met a group of travel writers and travel agents from Hong Kong and the U.K.

Since 1959, Toursim Malaysia has expanded to under the Tourism Development Corporation of Malaysia (TDCM) and has helped to increase tourism income from 4 million ringgit in 1989 to a whopping 46.1 billion ringgit in 2007, along with a record 20.9 million visitor arrivals.

Being from the United States, I was surprised to find that North America was not targeted among the top 10 countries for their 2008 marketing campaign. In fact, the majority of visitors to Malaysia come from Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei, followed by China, India, Japan, Philippines, Australia and the U.K.

This shouldn't be a big shock to anyone though once you look at Malaysia's drawing points: Eco-tourism, sea sports, hiking, trekking, adventure sports, caving or spelunking, beaches, etc.

For Americans, most of those activities can be accomplished stateside. And for those that want a little more of tropics, there's always Hawaii.

But not to take anything away from Malaysia, it's a great country, I loved it. And the price is right. Currently, one U.S. dollar is worth about 3.24 ringgit, which makes for some nice bargains for shoppers. However, once you factor in the price of airfare to get there, and the fact that Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country, it kind of explains why most Americans don't travel there very often on vacation.

Aside from that, Malaysia is a beautiful country and world travelers will find it a unique destination. There's a rich history of cross-cultural exchange and a wide variety of different heritages on display, including Malay, Chinese, Indian and the local indigenous peoples in Borneo.
It's a great place to study abroad for International students seeking Homestay programs with native villagers or for those seeking educational Eco-tours at United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization approved World Heritage Sites such the limestone caves in Mulu National Park.

My favorite part of our trip was a journey into the countryside to see the Annah Reis Longhouse inhabited by several generations of Bidayuh natives, as well as the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre where we saw orangutan, which are currently listed as endangered species.

Orangutan are only found in Borneo and Sumatra. The Sumatran orangutan have black fur, while the ones in Borneo have a brown color fur. They live in nests in the trees much like squirrels do, and they eat fruit, leaves and the occasional gekko.

Since 1988, the government has established a no hunting, no eating law regarding orangutan in Malaysia. Orangutan are totally protected under the law and persons breaking the law can be fined 50,000 ringgit and imprisoned for 5 years.

There are currently 23 living at the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, including a newborn baby. The dominant male is named Ritchie and goes by the nickname "The Boss."

Interestingly enough, our guide told us that orangutan are 96 percent genetically similar to humans. They have a 50 year life span and live mostly solitary lives rather than in large groups.

What I found most amusing though was that in Malaysia, smoking is allowed almost everywhere. At the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, they had a huge urinal-like metal bin for smokers to put out their ashes before entering the park, but nevertheless people were smoking right next to the trees and foliage. Good thing it's the rainforest and wet! I doubt they'd ever allow smoking anywhere near a national park like Yosemite in the U.S.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Defenders of Nanking

I read this online. Interesting bit of history, heretofore relatively obscure to the general public:

Defenders of Nanking

By Raymond Cheung

Chinese-Americans featured prominently in the aerial defense of Nanking. Flight-Leader Capt. “Buffalo” Wong Sin-sui (Wang Xin-rui in Pinyin) of Los Angeles, California flew with the 17th Squadron, 3rd Pursuit Group, Republic of China Air Force. He is believed to have scored the first victory over Nanking on 15-Aug-37.

On that day, 20 G3M1 of the Kisarazu Air Group of the Japanese Naval Air Force took off from Omura in Japan to attack Nanking. The Chinese Air Raid Warning Network provided early warning of the approach of the Japanese planes. (This was a network set up by Claire Lee Chennault of ground observers connected to Chinese air bases by telephone).

With this early warning, the 3rd and 5th Pursuit Group defending Nanking was able to scramble a motley collection of Boeing P-26, Curtiss Hawk II and Italian Fiat CR-32 fighters to intercept the Japanese raiders. So timely was the warning that Hawk III fighters of the 4th Pursuit Group and Hawk II of the 34th Provisional Pursuit Group were also summoned from Shanghai to join the action. As a result, 4 of the Japanese raiders were shot down and another 6 damaged (some returning to Chejudo on one engine).

Buffalo Wong is thought to have downed the first Japanese bomber to fall on the Chinese capitol. Lt. Harry Low (Liu Leng-guang) of Portland, Oregon (flying an Italian CR-32) shared in the destruction of another. Japanese Navy records indicate that they were very surprised at the heavy resistance encountered.

On the following day (16-Aug-1937), Japanese bombers returned, belonging to the Kanoya Air Group flying from Matsuyama (now Sungshan) airbase in Taipei, Taiwan. Again the 3rd Pursuit Group scrambled their interceptors. This time, Capt. John Wong (Huang Pan-yang) of Seattle, Oregon and the leader of 17th Squadron, scored a major success, downing two of the Japanese bombers. First he downed the G3M1 flown by Ensign Yamanouchi before it was able to release its bombs. Then, seeing Lt. Wong Tse-tsim (Wang Ze-zhan) of Los Angeles, California, attacking another G3M1 without success, John joined in the fray. Diving below and then pulling up for a zero-deflection shot, John set the Japanese bomber alight and sent it crashing to the south of Da Xiao-chang Airfield. This turned out to be a major blow to the Japanese Naval Air Force as the pilot of this bomber was the Air Group Leader (Hikko-cho) Lt. Commander Nitta.

Lt. Art Chin (Chen Rui-qian) of Portland, Oregon chased another G3M1 all the way out to the mouth of the Yangtse in his Curtiss Hawk II biplane. Art shot up his victim but was unable to finish it off. He tried to ram the Japanese but his plane was too slow and was shot up himself by return fire for his trouble. Art managed to safely force land his plane. Japanese records show that his victim also had to force land at Chejudo. Apparently, Art had damaged its fuel tanks causing to leak badly. With insufficient fuel to regain Taipei and a wounded crew member, the Japanese pilot chose to divert to Chejudo and crash-landed there.

In a separate action on the same day, the 5th Pursuit Group, led by Col. Ding Ji-xue, shot down yet another G3M1 over Yangzhou. After suffering such heavy losses, the Japanese suspended daylight bombing raids on Nanking.

John, Art and Buffalo all became “aces” with more than 5 kills to their credit.

* Harry was killed defending Nanking on 19-Sep-1937.

* Buffalo also gave his life in the defense of China in March 1941 fighting the vastly superior Zero fighter in a Polikarpov I-153 biplane.

* Art suffered serious burns in an action over the Kunlun Pass in December 1939. He suffered through many reconstructive surgeries but survived to return to Portland after the War.

* John and T.T. Wong also survived the war. After the War, John moved to Thailand and T.T. returned to the U.S. In re-telling these little known feats I hope we will honor the defenders of Nanking and keep their memories alive. If there is interest, there will be more. Sure beats hate slanging, don’t you think!? Cheers, Raymond (Note: All the Chinese-Americans named above were Tai-shan Cantonese and their names were listed first in their home dialect which is the way they were remembered in the history books).

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Free Your Mind

I got this in an e-mail today.  Makes sense.

A Letter from Deepak

Dear Friends,

Do you love your mind? I’ve never met anyone who did.

The mind is the hardest part of ourselves to love because we so often feel trapped inside it, at the mercy of a host of uninvited guests – the fear that roams the mind at will, the dark depression that takes up residence and refuses to leave, the anger that blows through the circuits and ignites in turmoil.

Ancient cultures recognized the mind’s restless, unreliable nature. In India, the most common metaphor for the mind is the wild elephant, and in Buddhism, the mind is compared to a monkey peering out through the five senses. Monkeys are notoriously impulsive, liable to do anything without notice.

To cope with the frustrating antics of the monkey mind, the vast majority of people try to tame it – but that method never works. The mind is wild because we try to control and confine it. The solution is counterintuitive: To experience peace and calm, we have to free the mind.

When it is free, it settles down and becomes a channel for peace. In freedom, our thoughts and impulses flow in harmony with what is right and best for each of us.

How, then, can you set your mind free? The first step is understanding that your mind traps itself by spinning an elaborate story about who you are and what you believe, and then fiercely defends that story. Observing this human tendency, the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote, “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.”

The most common story the mind tells is that you are your ego, a fixed “I” that is separate from the rest of the world. If you believe this story, it keeps you in bondage. The ego is limited, subject to fear, and consumed with the idea that it has to know what is going to happen in order to feel safe. The truth is that we don’t know what is going to happen. Really feeling safe, peaceful, and content comes from knowing that your true self is pure spirit, unbounded in time and space.

When you know the real you isn’t inside your head, you have been set free, like awareness itself. Embracing the wisdom of uncertainty not only frees you from the ego’s illusion of control, it puts you right in the middle of the joyful flow of cosmic creativity. That is a much more enjoyable place to live life.


Monday, June 23, 2008

The Good Doctor

Keye Luke, the comically caustic herbalist who makes Mia Farrow invisible in Woody Allen's new movie, Alice, was 86 or 87 when he died of a stroke on Jan. 12 in Whittier, Calif. When asked his age a few days before his death, he said, ''I can't remember.'' Luke, born in Canton, China, grew up in Seattle with his eye on Hollywood and broke in as an adman at RKO Pictures. With no formal training, he originated the role of Number One Son in Charlie Chan in Paris in 1935 (right) and stayed Number One through a dozen sequels; in the '60s he took up TV where, aside from some 200 guest spots ranging from The Golden Girls to Gunsmoke, he was best known as the blind but all-seeing Master Po on the ABC series Kung Fu. Luke, who lived with his stepdaughter after his wife died 11 years ago, recited Shakespeare- Hamlet, Lear, Othello -in the mornings ''as an exercise,'' he said. ''I have a little of the old ham in me.'' The actor, who made his screen debut as the physician in 1934's The Painted Veil with Greta Garbo, ended his career as he began it, playing a doctor and being a gentleman. As Alice's Dr. Yang (above), he was required to be ''gruff and irascible,'' and it almost threw him. When the director ordered him to tell Mia off, Luke related, ''I said, 'Woody, I'm not used to yelling at women.' He said, 'Well, do it now.' So I apologized to Mia, and it came out very well.'' He admired Allen's ''quiet unconventionalism'' and had a wonderful time on the movie, and the feeling was mutual. ''It was a privilege to work with him,'' Allen says. ''The whole cast and crew were entranced.''

| Published in issue #50 Jan 25, 1991

Society Honors Pioneer Chinese American Actors

I found this great interview transcript online:


Gum Saan Journal (Chinese Historical Society of Southern California), December 1977 (Contributed by Virginia Quin Kay)


By Mary and Chuck Yee

November 5, 1977, was the evening chosen by the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California to honor pioneer actors Keye Luke, Victor Sen Young and Benson Fong. A capacity crowd of over 400 persons enjoyed a delicious nine-course dinner at the Golden Palace Restaurant. President George Yee, master of ceremonies, had the group in a jovial mood with his series of jokes on Chinese-American stereotypes. Following the president's introductory remarks, the honorees were introduced to the audience; each received a standing ovation. Each of the actors was presented a plaque from the Society honoring his achievements and historical contributions to the motion picture and television industry.
The three stars have a combined total acting experience of 115 years. All have portrayed sons of "Charlie Chan" in movies at various times, but this evening was the first time the trio shared a common stage. The program included a unique slide show using six projectors and audio tapes depicting the careers of the three actors. The presentation was produced by Beulah Quo and Terry Tam Soon. The interview was conducted by Ms. [Beulah] Quo, who is a noted actress in her own right. Following are excerpts from the interview, transcribed from tapes.

Beulah: Now that my family is assembled, maybe you can start by telling us why you became actors.

Victor: Money.

Keye: Money.

Benson: Money.

Beulah: What did your families think about your going into the acting profession?

Victor: Terrible.

Keye: Terrible - Worst thing you could do.

Benson: Same here.

Beulah: What were some of the early difficulties?

Benson: To be or not to be, to eat or not to eat, to act or not to act. And how long must I wait for my agent to call? Should I stay in the business, and will I ever get more than three or four lines to say?

Victor: I agree with Benson wholeheartedly. It was not easy. When I was under contract, things were great. I got three square meals a day, a guarantee of 40 weeks work out of 52, but when that was over, it was difficult. Today it is even worse. With the advent of television the amount of work I get is very little in terms of days worked. For example, the show BONANZA - I've been all over the country, selling a book, and everyone thinks that I have worked in every show and that I am a millionaire. The truth is sometimes I work one day in a show and only get a residual for that show. I appear in about 20% of the shows over a period of 14 years, and that was not enough to sustain myself in terms of a livelihood. To live, you do other things. My good friend Al Yee gave me a job driving a truck for Air Freight. I also worked as a waiter. You do all kinds of things. Being versatile comes in handy. When someone needs me to drive a truck, I drive a truck; when someone needs a cook, I cook.

Beulah: Keye since you are the oldest among the three but look the youngest, what did your family think about you going into the acting profession?

Keye: My family didn't think anything of it, because they were in Seattle. I didn't have any intention of going into acting. I was a publicity artist for RKO and Fox Studios. At Fox, I was handling the newspaper artwork for Grauman's Chinese Theatre. It was felt that because it was a Chinese Theatre there should be a Chinese artist. My becoming an actor was mainly the result of being in the right place at the right time. When I did my first picture with Greta Garbo, I got the role because my former boss at MGM called me to his office one day. I took samples of my artwork with me. He said, "What the hell do you have those things for?" I said, "I thought you wanted to see my art work." He replied, "No! page 35," handing me the script for THE PAINTED VEIL. After I read it, he asked, "How do you like it?" I said, "It's a very good part," to which he said, "How would you like to play it?" "But, I'm an artist," I insisted. "Don't worry about that," he answered, and took me downstairs to the casting department. I waited as my friend Frank Whitback went into the inner office where the casting directors were assembled. A few moments later I heard this big booming voice, "Gentlemen, out of China's 400 million people, I give you China's greatest actor! "

Beulah: Speaking of the early days of studio work, Benson, what was the attitude of the studios toward Asians when casting actors?

Benson: Let me tell you how I got into acting in the early forties. I was in a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco with some friends. Somehow I felt someone staring at me. I was quite disturbed and asked the waiter to tell the man to stop staring, instead, he came over, introduced himself as a director of Paramount Studios and said he was looking for a Chinese to do a film called CHINA. He told me if I came to Hollywood, I would get many big stars such as Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. What young boy would pass up such an opportunity? At Paramount, the director gave me a script. I read words - not very well - but I read them. I was then given a small part; in fact it was so small that if you blinked your eyes, I was gone! Victor had a key role in that film, and was very good in it. Because my friends found out I was going to be an actor, but couldn't even find me in that movie, I thought I would stay and let them see me in a scene or two. So I stayed on, it was fun, but it was rough.

Beulah: In comparison to the days of the early 30's and 40's, are there different demands that the studio makes on you today?

Victor: I think the studios are much more stringent today. For instance, take CHARLIE CHAN, in those days we had a 35-45 day shooting schedule. Today for a television show, we do three days for a half-hour show like BONANZA. You sometimes get the script on the day before the show; when you get on the set, someone is changing it. It is really very difficult. You have to be on your toes; you have to memorize and be able to change your lines at a moment's notice. I think it is much more demanding to be an actor today because the duration of employment is much shorter, and the struggle to get the job is much more difficult.

Beulah: In the early days there were very few Asian women in the acting profession. What was the attitude of the studios toward Asian women at that time?

Benson: I feel that the only parts available for Chinese actresses were the LOTUS BLOSSOMS, or the sex objects of some Caucasian hero. Aside from these two stereotype parts, there was very few roles for Chinese actresses. There have been some very good actresses from time to time, but continued disappointments and the lack of opportunity cause them to leave the movie profession.

Beulah: Benson, what is your favorite and best performance?

Benson: I have two - the first, KEYS OF THE KINGDOM because I was young and my first character role - putting on make-up and putting on whiskers like a little boy trying to act like Daddy. Then, FLOWER DRUM SONG and for that, I have to thank Keye. I have followed Big Brother Keye's footsteps for many years, not only in the Charlie Chan series, but also his counterpart Master Wang in FLOWER DRUM SONG. I enjoyed this drama because it was a part that represented the generation gap of the Chinese people. It was a challenge to be able to depict a Chinese man who loved his children and hated the generation changes.

Beulah: Victor, what do you consider your best performance?

Victor: THE LETTER. I was young and under contract to Fox Studios for the Charlie Chan pictures. I was loaned out to Warner Brothers to do the part of an attorney's clerk, and had to speak with a British accent. I was polished and wore glasses and it gave me an entirely new dimension. I never considered the part of Charlie Chan's son as meek. I always considered "he's Pop, as real gung-ho as we say today." That is character, I believe portraying and developing a character on the screen takes a great deal of work, plus good director. Sometimes you have to carry that image on characterization from show to show with different director, different scripts. I like THE LETTER because it gave me a chance to really broaden my experience. At that time I was going to drama school. I finished the course but decided not to continue doing those love scenes with beautiful blondes, brunettes and redheads when they would never
happen to me in motion pictures. After all, a Chinese had to stay in his place! I discontinued going to my drama class and started roaming around Chinatown and Little Tokyo, sitting in bars, mingling and studying the people and learning characterization. In recent years, there has been a very definite and strong movement against those actors who perform a stereotype role which humiliate the Chinese image. I would like to say this: The one role that I feel has been criticized most and yet has achieved world-wide popularity in terms of a Chinese character is the part of the Chinese cook in BONANZA. A group in San Francisco has criticized me for doing the part. The story, time-wise, is set in the mid 1800s when the Chinese were here working very hard in the gold mines. Then the gold rush was over, many returned to China. Those that remained had to find other work, so the Chinese actually moved into the area of doing housework, laundry work, cooking and other types of labor no one else would do. I think it's important to indicate that this is what we did, as a means of survival. Nowadays, you have to look at the situation from a different standpoint. In projecting the Chinese image of today, you have to ask "Is this entertainment? Is it propaganda? Will it have meaning for us in the future?"

Beulah: Let's get to Big Brother Keye. What was your favorite performance?

Keye: My favorite performance was the part of Master Po, the blind monk in KUNG FU, because it appealed to my temperament. I was given the rare opportunity of speaking lines that came right from the lips of the famous philosophers of old China - Confucius, Meng-tzu, Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, whose utterances have been part of the human patrimony in wisdom and philosophy over the centuries. I was highly conscious of the fact that in a sense was sort of a trust, a responsibility to do justice to these great men, who belong not only to the culture of China, but to the world in the role of Master Po. I was given this opportunity, for which I am very grateful. It will always remain in my memory as a fragrant and golden moment in my Hollywood career. When we made the pilot for KUNG FU, we knew we had a good entertainment show, but questioned whether the public would take to the philosophy, because we had always been told in Hollywood that if you want to send a message - use Western Union! However, the public loved the wisdom that cam from the Chinese monk and the show became an instant success, running three seasons.

Beulah: Let me go back to the Charlie Chan days with you gentlemen, since all of you had the distinction of playing the honorable sons. What were your main feelings about the main character of Charlie Chan always being played by a non-Chinese or non-Asian in the movies?

Victor: We had to look at the "system" of the motion picture industry at the time, because primarily, the theatres were owned by motion picture producing organization, that produced many pictures that had to be released. It was called block-booking. As for my personal opinion I didn't think that there was an actor of Chinese ancestry who was capable of doing the role as well as Warner Oland, Sidney Toler, or Roland Winters. These three actors had a name and identity which the studio could capitalize on by starring them in other roles. I had no objection to them being Caucasian. To me they were portraying a "Chinese role."

Keye: Let me tell you the story of the Chan pictures. In 1919, Earl Derr Biggers, a writer of note, went to Honolulu for a vacation. There he heard exploits of a Chinese detective named Charlie Apana who was connected with the Honolulu Police. He was so intrigued by this character and his adventures that the idea of a fictional Chinese detective was born. In 1925 Biggers wrote the first Charlie Chan story, THE HOUSE WITHOUT A KEY. In 1926 Pathe Studios bought it as a ten-chapter serial for Allen Ray and Walter Miller, but the part of Chan was cut down to almost nothing. It was played by the Japanese stage and screen actor, George Kuwa. In 1928 Universal bought another Chan story, THE CHINESE PARROT starring another famous Japanese actor Kamiyama Sojin, who received excellent reviews. However, Universal did not carry on with the series. In 1930 Fox Studios bought BEHIND THE CURTAIN. E. L.Park portrayed the part of the Chinese sleuth, but the role was practically cut out of the script in favor of a Scotland Yard detective. In 1931 Fox Studios bought CHARLIE CHAN CARRIES ON and Warner Oland was cast as Chan. He was an instant success and thus insured the continuation of the series.

I had the great pleasure and honor to work with Warner Oland. I never thought of him as being anything else but a fine creative actor. I did not think of him as being non-Chinese. He was Swedish and Finnish and laughed about it. He told me his whole family had this Chinese appearance facially, and that they got it by way of the Mongolian invasion! Oland was an unusual actor. He was last of a dying breed, a breed of actor who could get outside of their own personality and create a living character. In fact, he spoke his Chinese dialogue himself in the Chan films.

Beulah: Benson, who portrayed your father in the Chan series?

Benson: My "father" was Sidney Toler, the same for Victor. Sidney Toler was a very fine actor; he went through pages and pages of script and never blew a line. I knew that Oland was a great actor, but when someone has to follow in the footsteps of another performer, it is never the same. The first one creates a particular role, and the public never accepts the "replacement" as well. I really felt that Sidney Toler was a marvelous actor. He was the type that got on the set and could handle any changes made. Keye, was it true that in the last two years of Warner Oland's career his dialogue had to be written on the blackboard for him?

Keye: No, it never got to that point, Benson, but there were occasions when we had about 36 "takes". Oland had the most charming and endearing excuses. If he wasn't quite on his mark, he would apologize profusely to "honorable" cameraman; or someone would rustle a newspaper and disturb him and he would chide his stand-in when the stand-in was not even on the set at the time; or pigeons were flying around his head! He was a most lovable man.

Benson: I really felt fortunate that during those years we enjoyed parts where we could speak English and not make with the accents. It was more fun to be able to speak your own language in films, and I think the Chan pictures were the only films where we were able to play ourselves.

Keye: I felt the Chan pictures were a credit to the Chinese people. Before this only menacing pictures of Chinatown were shown - opium dens, slave girls, hatchet men, climaxed by the arch-villain Fu Manchu. Charlie Chan came along and erased that image and spread throughout the world a much better picture of the Chinese. Granted it was entertainment, but the public takes the screen portrayal as the real thing, especially when it was done as convincingly as Warner Oland did it. I think that he created a better image for the Orientals, and that his "sons" helped him in that way. You can see that Charlie Chan was wise, sensitive, cautious, honest, gracious, courteous and compassionate. No one ever out-foxed him. He triumphed over everybody and everything. He was the number one man from beginning to end, and I think that did a great deal to erase the image of Fu Manchu.

Beulah: I would like to discuss another area - opportunities for Asians in the industry. How do you size up opportunities of today in comparison to your
hey-day, Keye?

Keye: I think there is nothing constant in the world but change, according to an old Greek philosopher, and the motion picture industry has changed along with other changes in the world. The attitude now toward the oriental is different from the attitude from 40 to 50 years ago. China, regardless of your politics, has emerged as one of the leading nations of the world. In culture, there has never been any doubt as to her greatness and leadership. But now, politically, she is regaining her place in the sun. I think these important changes will be reflected in writing amongst the writers. Without a play you have nothing. The writers have to seize and dramatize these new ideas regarding the Oriental up-to-date. No matter how much the actor may scream for roles, there will be no roles till the writer writes them and the producers come along who will have the perception to us these new characterization. Then and only then will we have truly fine Oriental characterizations and more acting opportunities for the Oriental actor.

Beulah: We have a few play writers among us tonight and I am sure they like your statement.

Keye: The play is the thing.

Benson: I agree with Big Brother Keye, and I would like to go deeper into this. In the past thirty years we Chinese have played the houseboy, the laundry man, the cook, and all the Fu Manchu characters. In recent years the blacks and the Chicanos have forced an enormous change in the thinking of Hollywood producers. But we Orientals have not made waves. We have been sitting back, remaining in the background, serene, dignified and hoping for things to drop in our laps. I think we should do more to help the producers see that China is the most populous nation in the world with several million overseas Chinese all over the globe who love to make movies. We are now at all levels of American society. We have four generations of Chinese Americans. They must be told and made aware that we cannot continue to keep on playing stereotype Asians.

Keye: Honorable number three brother, you have spoken words of wisdom, but may I point out one thing that I think is even more important and pertinent to what we are saying here. It is a matter of selling beans, or if you want to put it, rice. Though the Chinese have attained great eminence in various fields of endeavor, they did not constitute a majority. The theatre is of and for the majority, and in this country, the Chinese are not a large majority. The advertising industry literally owns the business; their clients buy their services and want their goods advertised on television. Numerically, we Chinese do not have the voting clout, nor do have the economic leverage to be an effective force when we tell the producer that we want more roles. Now the blacks for instance, how many are there? Twenty million? In this country they buy a lot of soap or beans or rice, and the advertising agencies say, "Yes, use blacks in your shows or commercials because we want them in the grocery stores." It's about selling beans to the most people.

Benson: I have to answer my brother, by all means. We Chinese may not have the population to buy the cornflakes and the beans, but there are no racist villains holding us back. We simply have not called attention to ourselves. It has taken a long time for the blacks and Chicanos to gain their precarious foothold. If we should join other minority Oriental groups, together we can form a group large enough to have clout. Instead of remaining in the background, segregated, too small to demand anything, there must be a way we can reach the producers of Hollywood. In Hamlet, the prince told the players of his company to hold the mirror up to nature. And what is nature? Isn't it a fact that the Chinese here are now in all levels of society? Why can't Steve McQueen knock on his neighbor's door and have a Chinese by the name of Victor Sen Yung open the door? Why does it have to be a white or a black or a Chicano?

Keye: Honorable number three brother has words of wisdom sometimes startling in their penetration. What are your comments, Victor?

Victor: I agree with him wholeheartedly. I think it is basically an economic problem as far as the television situation is concerned. The only other detail is whether a producer in China or Hong Kong would be able to tell a different story motion picture wise. The point I question is what actually is a stereotype?. If you do a characterization over a period of time, it becomes a stereotype. Warner Oland was a stereotype; Sidney Toler was a stereotype to me, the most important achievement in this regard is a true characterization that is enjoyable to an audience, portrayed under the direction of a fine director with a good script.

Beulah: Before we conclude this interview, I would like to ask you to elaborate on your individual quotations which were stated on the printed programs for this event. Victor, your sentiments indicate that: "There's no business like motion pictures; stereotype or true to type, acting is a wonderfully trying profession." What you have told us explains your statement very well. What about the other two brothers?

Benson: I expressed the opinion that "We should pave the road for others to walk on." I again must say that the Hollywood producers have failed to see in their mirrors that the Chinese are in all levels of society, and unless you want us to depict all of you here as houseboys, waiters or Fu Manchu characters, we have to do something to open the eyes of the film-makers to show that we are truly Chinese Americans. We must start now to pave the road for others to walk on.
Keye: My statement is self explanatory. "Bend like the bamboo, but do not break before the storms of life." That is all.

Beulah: This is a wonderful conclusion. Thank you, Benson, Keye and Victor for sharing some of your thoughts with us this evening. I wish we could go on, but I think this gives our audience a good idea of the thoughts and philosophy of our three illustrious actors and honorable Charlie Chan "sons".

The interview ended as it began, with a standing ovation. Bouquets of roses were presented to Beulah Quo for conducting an outstanding presentation, and to Helen Young for her expertise as chairperson of the banquet committee.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Chinese American Actor Keye Luke

I've been reading Ken Hanke's book Charlie Chan At The Movies and was surprised to find some great anecdotes and comments from actor Keye Luke.

Luke was known as Number One Son in the Charlie Chan movies of the 1930's. He later became the wise Master Po in the 1970's tv series Kung Fu starring David Carradine.

Apparently, Luke started out at Fox studios handling art work in the publicity department. He later got lured away to RKO where he the art work for King Kong and Flying down to Rio. It was at RKO that a producer asked him to act in a film with Anna May Wong called Ho for Shanghai.

Through his various connections around Hollywood, Luke eventually found doors opening up
for him as an actor even though he had no extensive prior training. As he tells it, the role of Number One Son came about through a former publicity boss who was working at Fox.

When Luke started getting his name in the Hollywood papers as an actor, his former boss called up and said, "Come out here and we'll see what we can do now you're a Cantonese ham."

So Luke went out there and met the casting director, Phil Friedman, who said that if Luke had come just a day earlier he could have been cast as a Japanese spy blowing up the Panama Canal, but now it was too late for that. Instead, actor Leslie Fenton, who was not Asian, but had "Oriental features" was given the part.

Luke was told to go down to the old Fox studio on Western Avenue where he talked to Jim Ryan, another casting director whom Luke knew. He said, "Keye, do you know we're going to put a Number One Son in the Charlie Chan pictures and there's no reason why you shouldn't play it."

Luke said, "Well, from the gods! That was unexpected."

As the story goes, they then called up Philip MacDonald, who was writing the script for Charlie Chan in Paris to tell him about it. MacDonald had just finished the Lost Patrol directed by John Ford and Luke had done the art work for the film so again a connection that turned out to be fortuitous.

After Ryan called up MacDonald and put Luke on the phone, MacDonald asked, "Who's this?"

Luke said, "This is Keye Luke."

And MacDonald let out a yell and said, "Oh, boy, I'll write a fat part for you!"

Luke goes on to add that MacDonald did indeed write him a fat part that went over well and the studio would sign him to a contract.

Although Luke became one of the first highly visible Chinese American characters in Hollywood films of that era, many years later Asian American and Chinese American groups have denounced the film series and the character of Charlie Chan as a demeaning portrayal of Chinese people and Asians as a whole.

As recently as 2003, Fox Movie Channel had to cancel a Charlie Chan movie festival because of protests from an Asian American group calling the Chan character the "most offensive Asian American caricature of America's cinematic past."

Interestingly enough in Hanke's book, Luke defends the movie series and actor Warner Oland, who was one of the first non-Asians to portray Charlie Chan.

Luke is quoted as saying, "A lot of people -- his [Oland's] imitators -- think that he spoke Pidgin English. And a lot of the detractors our here -- a lot of the young Chinese activists, who argue only emotionally, not with their heads, says," Oh, he talks, 'Me no savvy' and all that sort of stuff." I said," Oh, no. If you will listen to him, he as an actor, is thinking in terms of Chinese and then he has to put it into a language that is not his native language." That's why he fumbles, stumbles, gropes for a word, which all adds to the characterization. He had the genius to realize that. And his English, if you listen to it next time, syllable upon syllable, is what we call International Stage English. It's perfectly beautiful English. And so, I mean, there are a lot of things about the Chan character that these people don't understand. They think it demeans the race. I said, "Demeans! My God! You've got a Chinese hero!"

However, for the staunch Asian American and Chinese American activists who do the research they will find that the first Charlie Chan in the movies was played by George Kuwa, a Japanese actor. In fact, the second Charlie Chan was played by Sojin, another Japanese actor.

But due to Hollywood studio need to have a name on the marquee, the series producers later used Warner Oland, Sidney Toler and Roland Winters as Charlie Chan. All of which was part of the "yellow face" performances of that era.

As a Chinese American, I myself find all of this debate over a movie character rather amusing but stimulating at the same time.

I recently interviewed screenwriter John Fusco about the new Jackie Chan and Jet Li film The Forbidden Kingdom and I chose not to ask Fusco, who is Italian-American, about his choice to write the lead teen male character as Caucasian rather than Chinese American.

When the article was published online at, I found that some of the Asian American readers were upset that I didn't ask that question, which to me was unnecessary because I already knew the answer. That is John was the writer -- and it's his fantasy story of traveling back in time to meet these mystical Chinese martial arts legends. Since it's his fantasy, you would almost assume he's going to see it from his perspective as the Caucasian teenager, the outsider, who is not Asian, so why would he try to make the that character anything other than Caucasian?

So of course, in order to appease the readers, I go back and e-mail John Fusco and ask him.

ASIANCE: Why was a white teenager the protagonist rather than an Asian teenager?

This is the answer John Fusco emailed me:

The truth is: I was that kid. My son is that kid. Quentin Tarantino was that kid. It is a very real phenomenon, and what I think it speaks to is the fact that America, like Jason, is young and awkward and still trying to find its way. China is the wise master.

That said, after my third draft I had concerns and decided to write Jason as Chinese-American, playing more on an atavistic calling. Two people rejected this approach and said it was not as realistic as the notion of the white boy who wants to know Chinese kung fu. Those two people were Jet Li and Jackie Chan. They felt that I was abandoning the heart of the story that came from my own childhood.

Amazingly, someone still complained about my suggestion that Jackie and Jet were accepting of these roles -- and when you think about it, I doubt anyone forced them to take all that money to act in the movie!

To my amusement, someone actually thought that the characters played by Jet Li and Jackie Chan were "derogatory." I watched the film and could not see where this person could call the characters that at all. If anything they are fantasy cinematic caricatures of mythical characters played for laughs and to make money at the box office.

To me, this was another of the younger Asian Americans, who feel they just need to get away from anything having to do with Chinese heritage, culture or images that aren't mainstream.

But here's my take on that. Why then are a lot of Asian Americans trying to act like Hip Hop artists and Rappers? They emulate the clothes, dance moves, lifestyle and speech patterns of African American youths?

Are these young Asian Americans so alienated or disconnected from their own heritage and culture that they need to take on another culture's?


But maybe there's something to all of this? Do movie images affect the mass consciousness? Are young people really that susceptible to marketing and promotional campaigns geared to make this product or that product look more appealing?

I guess maybe if its cool, hip and trendy, that makes everything okay.