is proud to present the adventures of Ben
Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster,
and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine. This
guy's our hero! Ben was a featured character in the movie "Almost
Famous," the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning film by Cameron
An "R" rating
for the Chinese New Year Parade? That's what raced through my mind
when we saw the topless dancer on the Forbidden City float.
She was partly
hidden by fellow dancers holding feathered fans, and when she turned
around, she cupped her hands around what needed to be cupped, so
she showed no more than, say, 'Lil Kim or Jennifer Lopez.
Still, it was
the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade, a 45-year tradition and
the most-watched parade on the West Coast, next to the Rose Parade.
We were shocked.
are what make it fun to co-anchor the TV broadcast every year.
Julie Haener, was making her parade debut. Her day job is co-anchor
of the 6 o'clock news on KTVU (Fox 2), the station that has aired
the New Year soiree for 13 years now. This was my fifth year (I
date back to the Ox year), and, although I had a new partner, and
we were working with a new director and writer, the parade was the
same nerve-wracking experience that it is every year. It is, after
all, a live broadcast, two hours long and loaded with surprises.
City dancer was by far the most pleasant. Others are more mundane
- a contingent that falls out of order; a band not playing on cue;
sudden orders, over the headphone, to skip pages of script and go
to the next parade unit, or to ad lib for ten, 30, or however many
seconds before we got our next marching orders.
But the unpredictability
of the parade makes it that much more fun. And, year after year,
it's a great spectacle of lion dancers braving thousands of firecrackers,
and of dragons, endless snakes, and classic contingents like the
St. Mary Chinese Girls drum and bell corps, dressed in red and gold
outfits and playing "The Bells of St. Mary," just as I remember
from my own childhood.
slithered through the two-mile parade route because, as the San
Fransisco Chronicle noted, "This is the Year of the Snake, and there
were snakes and serpents galore last night among the more than 135
floats, cable cars, autos, trucks, stilt-walkers, marching bands,
dancing squads, martial arts academies, church groups, business
associations, corporate sponsors and elementary school kids in the
The 135 units
are chosen from among more than 5,000 applicants every year. One
celebrity who made the cut was AsianConnection's
own Martin Yan, who was
perched atop a bright red convertible and either miming chopping
with cleavers or playing air drums. I'm guessing the former.
represented Vietnam, Laos, and Korea; UC Berkeley, Stanford (with
its wacky marching band) and Pi Alpha Phi, the first Asian American
fraternity in the nation.
it was the Forbidden City float, sponsored by, of all institutions,
the Chronicle, that made the biggest splash.
City was the first nightclub to feature Chinese American performers.
Opened by Charlie Low in the late Thirties in downtown San Francisco,
just around the bend from Chinatown, the club, which became an international
sensation, featured a revue of singers, showgirls, tap dancers,
and fan dancers. A star strip-teaser was known as "the Bubble Girl."
Atop a mammoth
float, high school students and members of Reincarnation, a local
swing club (as in swing music, I'm pretty sure) recreated
the nightclub scene. On the firecracker-carpeted Stockton Street,
dancers did the jitterbug, while on the float, others, including
beautiful young women in short-sleeved cheong-sams, re-enacted
a stage show. And that's where the Bubble Girl, circa the Year of
the Snake, popped out.
"Oh, my," Julie
exclaimed. "Good thing it's a warm night tonight!"
temperature was, it got just a little hotter.