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Ben Fong-Torres
The Facts on Larry Ching
May 2003

'Better Luck' This Weekend
April 2003

Old Memories, a New Museum
March 2003

'Twixt Teen and Michael Jackson
February 2003

In a Confused State of Mind
January 2003

In the Trenches with Trent, Jon Lovitz, and Johnny Rivers
December 2002

The Pioneering Performers of The Forbidden City
November 2002

A Letter to Writers, and How the Wiest was Won
October 2002

A Singing Career? I Think Not.
September 2002

Sheryl Crow: All She Wants to Do is Have Some Lunch
August 2002

Bruce Springsteen: Still the Boss
July 2002

Commencement Speech at Thurgood Marshall College
July 2002

A Senior Moment and a Reunion with a Pop Star
June 2002

We Love New York, Part 2002
May 2002

A Flick, a Rock Fantasy, and An Alternative to the Laptop
Apr 2002

March Madness, the Musical, and a Joint Effort with Willie Nelson
Mar 2002

Bringing in 4700 with a Parade of Wild Horses
Feb 2002

Taking a Q from Quincy Jones - It's His Party
Feb 2002

Asian American Males on TV: Old News is Bad News
Dec, 2001

Life's Lessons from a DJ and a Songwriter
May 2001

Gawk and Roll at the Hall of Fame
Apr 2001

Shakin' It Up at Harvard
Mar 2001

Creole Ladies and Crazy Times Down in New Orleans
Feb 23, 2001

A Parade of Dragons, Lions, Serpents -- and Strippers?
Feb 5, 2001

A Parade of Dragons, Lions, Serpents -- and Strippers?
by Ben Fong-Torres

AsianConnections 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 Crowe.

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.

But surprises are what make it fun to co-anchor the TV broadcast every year.

My co-host, 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.

The Forbidden 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.

The serpents 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 parade."

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.

Other units 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.

But it was the Forbidden City float, sponsored by, of all institutions, the Chronicle, that made the biggest splash.

The Forbidden 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!"

Whatever the temperature was, it got just a little hotter.

 

 

For more insights by Ben, visit his official website at www.benfongtorres.com


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