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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 Flick, a Rock Fantasy, and An Alternative to the Laptop
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.


Last time out, I wrote about the South By Southwest film, interactive and music conference in Austin, Texas, in March. Because it is absolutely impossible to do everything you want at the SXSW, I missed a screening of an intriguing new Asian American film, "Charlotte Sometimes." The director, Eric Byler, was kind enough to send me a screener (industry lingo for a video), which left me impressed -- and puzzled.

Impressed because Byler and ensemble had produced an intriguing story centered on romance, loneliness, and loyalty - with a dollop of racial sensitivity, and with a central character (Michael, portrayed by Michael Idemoto) with whom I identified - perhaps a little too closely. When I was younger, I, too, longed for someone I just couldn't seem to have. Hey, you, too?

Eugenia Yuan, Charlotte Sometimes

Anyway, he's a studious mechanic who rents a flat out to a young woman friend, Lori (Eugenia Yuan, pictured). She's only a friend, and Michael gets reminders of that almost nightly, as he hears her sexual bouts with her half-Asian boyfriend (Matt Westmore). He juggles his feelings for Lori with those for another woman (Jacqueline Kim) who pops into his life. Although Michael is overly Ozu (too silent, too often) for my taste, he's part of an excellent cast of actors who do justice to Byler's intriguing story.

As for the puzzler: I learned that "Charlotte Sometimes" has been having a devil of a time getting into Asian American film festivals. Sure, the SXSW fest is a plum, but Byler had been snubbed by several APA fests. One film web site took to conjecture on why that was so. "Perhaps it's because more emphasis is placed on story and character than race, or perhaps, as Byler seemed to suggest [at a Q&A session], it's because the film feature as a relationship between an Asian girl and a half-Asian man. One can only guess."

Those sound like poor guesses. In emails to me, Byler expressed disappointment with the festivals, but reported happily that in Austin, "Charlotte" tied with another film for the Audience Award. A few days later, he wrote again to say that two Asian American festivals had invited him to screen his film, after hearing about or seeing it in Austin. "Charlotte" may yet get the indie version of a Hollywood ending ...

The Lion in Spring

As I say every year when I co-anchor the S.F. Chinese New Year Parade broadcast on KTVU, I've loved lion dancing since I saw it as a kid in Chinatown in Oakland. Recently, I had a reunion with a former girlfriend - my first girlfriend ever, actually. Jeanie Low (whose identity I cleverly hid as "Janie Lee" in my memoirs, "The Rice Room," is married to John Low, an interior architect who's long enjoyed doing sketches. His family, led by daughter Kelly, collected two decades of his work into a privately-issued book, "Retrospective." From detailed sketches of a pine tree in Pennsylvania to a sampan in Amberdeen; from the stone lion at Forbidden City to a lion's head, it's a marvelous portfolio of work by a man who obviously doesn't think of drawing as work. Thanks, John.

The Lion in Spring

The Toys of Summer

So, OK, it wasn't summer when South by Southwest hit Austin. But, at 83 degrees and climbing, it felt like it. And there certainly were enough toys in the expo portion of the four-day music conference at the Austin Convention Center.

My fave was Music Playground, a software program that takes karaoke one step further: Now, besides singing over background tracks, you can play guitar, bass or drums along with rock and roll hits. And, just as you don't have to be able to sing well to do karaoke, you don't need to be able to play a lick to be in the band. As long as you have a reasonable sense of rhythm, you're set. Using the Music Playground's V-pick, you strum onto any hard surface-at the Expo, they used a tennis racket-and the software makes certain that you're playing the right notes and chords.

Pretty amazing. For now, the Playground is tethered to computers, and the playlist is just getting going, and focused heavily on rock, where karaoke roams through almost all music genres. Still, it's cheap at $29.95 (you can pay more to get drums and more tunes), and the Playground booth drew plenty of visitors in Austin. Odd, considering that most conference goers were supposed to be actual musicians. There must've been a lot of publicists, managers, writers and others who can't play, but would love to at least look like they can rock. All wannabes are advised to beat it to www.rockplayground.com and get jammin'.

Laptop Dancing

If you're a road warrior and need to write documents away from the office, but don't want to bother with a laptop PC, and all the money and learning such a machine requires, you might want to check out the QuickPAD Pro (www.quickpad.com), which sits between a PDA and a portable PC. It's the size of just the keyboard portion of a laptop, with a 2 1/2" by 8" LCD screen above the keyboard. That's enough to display about 16 lines of text. (A student model, the QuickPAD IR, shows up to four lines.) After you're done writing, you can save your piece in the computer, or to a flash card, or-best of all-transmit it to your office PC with an infrared link.

Besides the word processor, the QuickPAD Pro includes spell check, calculator, a spreadsheet program, and a personal organizer. If you're already Palming or Handspringing, it's doubtful you'd use this instead, but it's a handy addition. All this comes at a pretty low cost, about $329 for the Pro; $199 for the IR model, and at a light weight (1.5 and one pound, respectively). They're powered by simple AA batteries, good enough, says QuickPAD, for 400 and 100 hours, respectively. And the manual is only 28 pages!

So, what's the downside? With its old school LCD display, the text is hard on the eyes, especially in low-light conditions. The Pro model can show a larger font size, at eight lines maximum, and most people don't write in the dark, anyway. So it's 'way more pros than cons with the QuickPAD Pro. Whether on the road, on the subway, or around the house, it's a nifty writing machine.

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


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