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:

"SOCIETY HONORS PIONEER CHINESE-AMERICAN ACTORS":

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

SOCIETY HONORS PIONEER
CHINESE AMERICAN ACTORS

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!.........read 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 www.asiancemagazine.com, 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?

Perhaps...

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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

777

Saturday June 14, 2008 was a day of "firsts" for Jet Airways, a major Indian airline.

The airline announced their new San Francisco to Mumbai via Shanghai daily flights from SFO, featuring new Boeing "Triple Seven" airliners.

As an invited member of the media (there were about a dozen of us), I was given a first-hand look at the new plane's seats -- and they were very nice.

First off, the economy seats featured something called a "foot net" underneath rather than the traditional foot rest. The "foot net" allows passengers to slide their feet under the seat in front of them for extended leg comfort while providing for a slight elevation of the legs to reduce circulation problems. It's a rather ingenious new invention, which is the first of its kind.

Additionally, the seats include neck rest supports that hold the neck firmly in place comfortably. The seats also recline 6 inches to provide more "open" and "spacious" seating similar to being in first class. TV monitors are also built into the back of every seat so that passengers can watch movies, television or use SMS ($5 per message) and email. For additional fees, they can also make phone calls in flight. There are also power outlets provided for U.S. and overseas plugs.

The First class seats, known as Premiere Class were also state-of-the-art, featuring fully adjustable bed seats that lay flat with a 80 inch length. They can be adjusted 180 degrees to simulate laying in bed. Passengers can also watch TV on 15 inch monitors or use their laptops. The seats also provide privacy from the next passenger with cubicle like walls.

As for the Luxury class seats, they were extremely nice. Like having a private compartment. Large trey table with room for two and a large 25 inch TV monitor and reclining chairs.

Later, we were taken to the boarding area to watch as the first flight arrived from India. Due to a weather delay, the plane arrived a bit late. But we were treated to wine, drinks, and gourmet candies provided through Gate Gourmet, which was being organized by International Chef Jimmy Zhang.

Zhang also carved a beautiful centerpiece with the company name Jet Airways carved into a watermelon sculpture for the occasion.

The airline, which started in 1993 with just four Boeing 737 airliners has since grown into a major carrier to India. Approximately 25 new employees will head up the new SFO flights.

To bless the inaugural first flight by an Indian airline from the U.S. West Coast, the company brought in several priests of various denominations including Hindu and Catholic. Prayers were offered in Hindi and ritual mantras were recited to bring success and blessings to the new employees and the airline.

Highlighting the arrival of the first plane was a fire cannon water salute by two fire trucks.

Linking major financial centers such as San Francisco, Shanghai and Mumbai with daily flights would seem to be a jackpot slot pull for the airline.

Perhaps those new "Triple Seven" planes will translate into seven-digit revenues soon.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Strange Travel Suggestions

My friend Jeannie invited me to see Jeff Greenwald's one-man show Strange Travel Suggestions at the Marsh in San Francisco on Friday the 13th. Seeing as how I'm traveling to Malaysia in July on a travel tour, I thought it'd be a fun Friday the 13th thing to do.

The show was a series of improvised monologues based on Greenwald's adventures. The title comes from one of Kurt Vonnegut's books. The actual Vonnegut line is "Strange travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God."

Utilizing "The Wheel," designed by his friend Jim "Can Do" Kelly and painted by another friend of his, artist Mark Wagner, Greenwald had audience members get up on stage, talk about their travels and spin the wheel -- kinda like playing Wheel of Fortune without Vanna White.

Depending upon where the wheel landed, Greenwald would choose a story from his extensive collection of stories gathered through years of travel writing. From what I remember, his emphasis for travel was "The Fool" card from a tarot deck -- and "The Fool," being a metaphor for someone, such as himself, living life as a leap of faith.

On this night, our faith was rewarded with Greenwald sharing his own personal version of The Hitcher. His tale of hitchhiking through New Mexico with his girlfriend during the 70's was equal parts Zabriske Point, hippie-dippy road trip, and Badlands, psycho killer couple on the loose. A must for any fan of good road trip stories.

Actually, Greenwald's story reminded me of the movie Kalifornia, the story of a journalist duo who go on a tour of serial killer murder sites with two companions, unaware that one of them is a serial killer himself.

The psycho serial killer was played Brad Pitt with his girlfriend played by Juliette Lewis (who I actually met, of all places, at a Scientology center in Hollywood) and David Duchovany starring as the journalist. (I actually worked on Duchovany's new show Californication last summer as a background extra. Does anyone know what's up with him and using California in the title of his movie and new show?)

Anyway, Greenwald's story takes place when he's a 21-year-old hippie from San Francisco traveling with girlfriend Fern and bumming a ride back from Mexico. The duo meet up with two escaped serial killers with a stolen Monte Carlo and eventual find themselves becoming friends with them as they drive towards the Grand Canyon!

I won't give away the ending, but it was classic. You gotta go hear Greenwald tell the tale!

Another of Greenwald's stories revolved around his traveling around the world in order to write his book The Size of the World. Somehow, he got himself aboard a merchant ship traveling across the Atlantic along with his Benson & Hedges smoking ex-girlfriend Sally.

Suffice to say, Greenwald's recollections of watching Jean Claude Van Damme movies with the ship's crew, which for some odd reason consisted of Filipino sailors and German officers, while fighting back seasickness was hilarious.

Coincidentally, I met Greenwald's friend Chris sitting in the front row of the show. An avid paraglider from Ashland, Oregon (Shakespeare festival country), Chris invited us all to join Greenwald after the show for drinks at a local bar.

Our conversation with Greenwald was all over the place, with topics brought up ranging from last word's on gravestones to eating monkey brains, the Canadian tv show Slings and Arrows, and an Indian Guru named Papaji.

On the subject of gravestones, my friend Jeannie was lamenting about not having enough time to read, so Greenwald suggested for her tombstone: "Finally, time to read." While, Greenwald's would read: "I knew this would all lead to something."

Interestingly enough when I looked up Greenwald's interview with Papaji, I found out they discussed "Who are you?" And I don't mean the Who song.

The text is actually available online at realization.org. Greenwald asked the guru "Who are you?"

To which, Papaji replied: "I am That from where you, me she, he, and all the rest emerge. I am That."

In any case, I also looked up a friend of Greenwald's named Prince Gomolvalis and found a huge blog site filled with hilarious entries worth reading.

I also met Greenwald's friend Jim Kelly (no relation to the Buffalo Bills quarterback or the black martial artist from the Bruce Lee movie Enter the Dragon.)

We also found out that Chris and Jeannie would probably enjoy swapping lives. City girl Jeannie goes to the farm in Oregon and Country girl Chris comes to the big city.

The night ends with a quiz (free dinner and drinks if we guess the right name). Greenwald tells us that the grave site next to Marilyn Monroe's is being held for a famous celebrity. Who is it?

It's a bit of a stumper. My guess was Arthur Miller. But, no. Then we toss out Joe DiMaggio. No again. He's already dead. So's JFK. Finally, Greenwald gives us a clue. He's well-known for sexy images and sexual appeal. Thinking it over I go back to a name I had dismissed in my mind... Hugh Hefner? And of course, I was right. (Funny thing, I've met director Brett Ratner's uncle George, and apparently Ratner is planning a Hefner bio-picture.)

So that was my Friday the 13th.

Oh, and did I mention the "Penis Sadhu?" Well, now you'll just have to go see Greenwald's show to find out about that one.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Free Falling

Here is a story I wrote many years ago for my college magazine. It is still one of my personal favorite travel articles that I've written over the years. Enjoy the ride...

A heart beats over the soundtrack... "Raiders of the Lost Ark" fanfare blares... a group of people in colorful jumpsuits plunge out from the belly of a large cargo plane. I watch as they free fall gracefully through the sky. In my mind, I wonder what it feels like. That's when Scott Keasey stops the videotape. It's time to suit up and board the plane. I'm about to find out for myself exactly what it feels like.

A 24-year-old college student, Keasey works behind the counter at Skydive Monterey Bay, a popular skydiving center in Monterey Bay, California. What I've been watching is a ten-minute video introduction to skydiving. Having signed a bunch of waivers releasing all liability of death or injury, in just a few minutes, I will be free falling from 14,000 feet at 120 m.p.h.

"People think 'God, you have a death wish to do that,' and it is the exact opposite... skydivers are afraid of not living. We are not afraid of dying," says Steve "Raff" Rafferty, a 52-year-old skydive instructor with over 5,000 jumps under his belt. A former Marine, Rafferty worked for 27 years in Silicon Valley, but didn't make his first jump until 1988 at the age of 40.

"It bit me hard and fast," says Rafferty. "I was a weekend instructor for a long time, but then in 1996, I decided 'Jeez, I don't need this high-tech stuff anymore.' I looked around and said, 'Someday, I'll be a long time dead,' and I got a little more passionate about my daily routine."

For Rafferty skydiving became his daily routine and part of his life . "You don't find many people who do a couple of hundred skydives and then stop because while it may not be for everybody, for those of us involved in it, we are very passionate about it," he says. "It becomes a way of life."

Rafferty trains about a hundred new skydivers a month. Many of those students take a "tandem jump." A tandem jump is one in which the student and instructor are harnessed together in a parachute built for two. They jump from about 14,000 feet. After about a 60 second free fall, the student can then pull the ripcord (if they so desire), and together with the instructor steer and land the parachute.

"Tandem has been around since the mid-80's," says Dave Stewart, a 48-year-old instructor with over 6,800 jumps. "It used to be if you wanted to skydive, you had to go through a long class."

Stewart believes tandem jumping is a great way for beginners to experience the sensation of freefall. "It's similar to going up in a high performance aircraft. I like to make the analogy of a F-15. It's a dual yoke aircraft where you can sit in the airplane with an experienced instructor. He'll kind of guide you through the takeoff, do some real high performance maneuvers, and let you fly it for a while. All within the realm of safety and fun."

Another way beginners learn to skydive is through the accelerated free fall program, which Stewart calls a "more intense learning environment." Referred to as AFF, it's a seven-level program for those wishing to become licensed skydivers. An AFF student first attends a fiver-hour ground school class that covers all the different aspects of the parachute system, aircraft, free fall, and landing. Following the ground school, the student takes a series of seven dives with instructors guiding them and assessing their progress.

Both Stewart and Rafferty work as independent contractors at Skydive Monterey Bay. Stewart runs his own skydive operation in Montana during the summer months. They were also participants in a world record skydive formation last summer in Chicago involving 247 people.

"It took us 24 attempts out of 25," says Rafferty. "We started with 300 people and slowly decreased that number till we found a workable formation.

On this Saturday, though Rafferty won't be setting any world records, but he will do about 12 to 15 jumps with beginners. "Training is such a high," says Rafferty. "We can never do our first skydive again, but we get to share that experience over and over."

Following her first completed jump as part of the AFF program, Linda, an electrical engineer from San Jose shares that experience with Rafferty and Stewart.

"God, what a sensation." says Linda.

Stewart and Rafferty are questioning her to see what she recalled from the experience. In order to become certified students must prove they understand and execute proper technique.

"What color was your parachute?" Rafferty asks.

"Purple," Linda responds, confident in her answer.

Rafferty and Stewart are pleased. She's correct, which isn't always the case. "It's amazing how many people have no clue," says Rafferty.

Aside from her parachute blowing in the wind and dragging her along the dirt, Linda's jump was technically excellent according to Rafferty and Stewart. After debriefing, they head inside the jump center to watch her skydive on videotape.

Through the magic of video editing equipment, the jump footage has been turned into a short music video featuring the Lenny Kravitz song "Fly Away." We watch as Linda waves to the camera before stepping into position and jumping out of the plane.

"Calmness," says Rafferty. And Linda does look very calm on the video replay. She's very relaxed and comfortable. Stewart even calls her jump "textbook."

Watching the video, I couldn't help believe the free fall lasted only 60 seconds. It seems like she was in the air forever, but as the pilot for Skydive Monterey Bay, Chris Schnidler puts it: "In skydiving three seconds is an eternity."

As we ride a shuttle bus out to the landing zone to watch a group of jumpers, I again ask Linda what the free fall feels like. "That was so awesome," she says. "There's just no words. A feeling you just have to experience."

At the landing zone, a grassy area at the end of the runway, we watch as canopies open. The little specks in the sky float down towards us. A group of experienced jumpers makes very graceful landings in front of us.

"They make it look so easy," says Linda.

A cameraman lands standing up on the runway next to our shuttle bus. I look skyward for the two instructors, who are guiding down a pair of tandem jumpers. Their parachutes are huge because they must support two people. They land perfectly in the grass. Big satisfied smiles on their faces.

I ask them to describe the feeling, the sensation of free fall, but they're nearly speechless, and definitely a little breathless.

"Woo!" yells Arun Kumar, a 24-year-old computer programmer from Santa Clara. "I'm going to do this the rest of my life. I loved it. It was great."

His friend Srujan Kumar, a finance programmer, proclaims, "Top of the world... the moment you jump it's the most amazing thing you feel."

Left wondering for myself if free fall really is a feeling that you just have to experience to fully comprehend its affects, I see Rafferty walking over. "There's only one way to find out," he says, offering to take me on a tandem skydive.

Accepting the invitation, I ride back to the jump center on the shuttle. Rafferty tells me that he's taken quadriplegics, paraplegics, cancer patients, and a 95-year-old man on tandem jumps. He talks about a tandem jump with a blind man a few weeks ago.

"He sounded exactly like every other person who does a skydive," Rafferty recalls.

Having done over 2,600 tandem skydives, Rafferty adds that "it's a rare thing" when somebody doesn't jump. He has had one guy not jump. The guy went up only because his girlfriend wanted to go.

Back at the jump center, Arun and Srujan watch their jump video. The footage was captured via helmet-mounted camera by jump photographer Jennifer Packer, who says she likes the idea of "getting paid to do something you paid to do."

Packer, a 34-year-old Information Technology Manager for Clorox, remembers being "very scared" on her first jump, but now it's "just fun."

"People think it's going to feel like falling, but it doesn't," Packer says. "It feels like flying."

But the words don't register a true idea of what the sensation will feel like to me. I'll just have to find out for myself. After going over their jump with Arun and Srujan, Rafferty tells me it's time to suit up.

I slide a tight-fitting, bright-colored jumpsuit over my clothes. Rafferty tightens a harness around me, and we head out to the plane, a "Super Otter," which holds up to 22 jumpers carrying them 14,000 to 18,000 feet high in 15 minutes or less.

Aboard the Super Otter, Rafferty tells me to breath. So I start taking slow deep breaths. My heart rate steadily increases. I can feel it beating against my chest. We climb higher.

At over 10,000 feet above Monterey Bay, Rafferty has me get up on my knees to lock the harness in place, and connecting us to each other. He will ride on my back much like a pair of wings. He tells me to lean back into him. I slip my goggles down over my eyes. I can feel his belly contracting and expanding with each breath. The pilot gives a signal to open the door. Wind rushes through the plane.

I watch as the first jumpers depart. As the last jumper exits, Rafferty has me slide to the edge. I dangle my feet over the side. I look down. The roar from the plane's engine is deafening. He tells me to fold my arms across my chest and lean my head back to the side.

And we jump.

Plummeting at 120 m.p.h. towards the earth's surface there's a strange tunnel effect. The wind rips past me. I can't hear the plane engine anymore. All I hear is the wind. Everything below looks microscopic. Suddenly, three seconds really does feel like an eternity.

Rafferty has me spread my arms out and bend my knees up. We spin around in a circle. I can barely hear myself trying to yell. Then he leans close to my ear. I hear his voice reassuring me that we're okay. He gives me a thumbs up signal. I nod acknowledgment and give him a thumps up.

Next thing I know, the parachute opens. I tense up thinking we're literally slamming on the brakes, going from 120 m.p.h. to 5 m.p.h. I forget to look up to see the parachute open, but thankfully it's there.

The parachute ride down is peaceful, almost serene. There's lots of time to enjoy looking out at the ocean and the view of Monterey Bay from above. Our landing is gentle. My feet touchdown softly.

The first thing I hear is Rafferty asking me how it felt. I pause a moment to catch my breath.

"Intense," I tell him with a big satisfied smile on my face. But the word doesn't begin to describe the actual sensations my body is experiencing.

Returning to the jump center, there's a euphoric kind of high, a tingling sensation running up and down my body. Slipping out of the jumpsuit, I find myself still breathless and unable to find words to articulate my experience and what I'm feeling inside.

I hand the jumpsuit to Demetria Traves, a 21-year-old Broadcast Communications Major from nearby Monterey Peninsula College. Her roommate Dawn Traego and friend Rose Coleman are here with her. She tells me she's doing this for "spontaneity." The trio seems giddy and excited. They're eager to get in the plane and jump. They want to know what it's like to jump.

I take a deep breath, thinking back to what Rafferty said to me: "There's only way to find out."

Coleman shows me a family photo she's been carrying in her back pocket and confesses," My husband hates the fact that I'm going. "

Nearby, a group of jumpers that have been doing "relative work," a term used to describe groups of skydivers jumping in formations, are together reviewing video footage of their last jump. I catch snippets of their conversation.

"Legs closer together."

"That was great."

"Cut loose the dead weight."

And on the video playback, we see the group break formation. The tape ends. I ask them how many times they go up in a day.

"As many times as we can," says their leader, Gartec Holder, an Englishman with over 5,000 jumps. Before I can even form another question they head off to catch the next plane. They're going again.

Welcome...

Welcome to my new blog page. I've always thought of creating a blog, and have been told to do so many times, but finally got around to doing it today.

I'll be posting my writing clips, samples and writer's journey entries here periodically.

In addition to freelance writing for several online and print publications, I'm also an aspiring screenwriter -- and so I'm always looking to expand my network of contacts and associates.

Feel free to message me if you feel a connection to my work, have a story idea for me, or just want to say, "Hi."

Peace,
Ed