Thursday, March 31, 2011

San Francisco Social Diary

THE CHINATOWN PARADE: Before the Dragon came into view, you heard the noise and smelled the smoke, causing parents to cover their children’s ears but building a sense of excitement.
by Jeanne Lawrence

A Perfect Time to Visit San Francisco

You don’t need to fly halfway around the world to China to enjoy the colorful, 15-day Chinese New Year celebration.  Plan on visiting San Francisco instead.  You’ll find temperate weather and exotic, enticing events; and you’re sure to have unexpected, serendipitous moments that will add to the fun.


Juan Quan was named the 2011 Miss Chinatown USA Pageant queen.
This year, I went to as many Chinese New Year festivities as I could find.   That included the 2011 Miss Chinatown USA Pageant, which I decided to attend after watching the last year’s coronation ceremony.

The program began with a short, environmentally themed film, “Natural Beauty, Now and Forever,” whose topic was the beauty of the natural world and why it must be protected.

Kenny Tse, President of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, and Masters of Ceremonies Kevin Ho and Julia Tung addressed the audience.  Despite my Mandarin lessons, I didn’t understand a word, doubtless because, as I was later told, they were speaking Cantonese.

From the Chamber, I learned the Cantonese dialect has historically predominated here because for the past 150 years, most Chinese immigrants have come from southern China and Hong Kong.

In the Chamber-sponsored Miss Chinatown USA Pageant, as in the Miss America competition, young women vie for prize money and scholarships in a series of events. Immediately after the women introduced themselves, they appeared in the crowd-pleasing swimsuit round. 

June Quan of San Francisco was ultimately named Miss Chinatown USA. She and her court were presented at the annual black-tie dinner-dance, Harrah’s Coronation Ball, which leaves everyone smiling.
This year’s Miss Chinatown pageant was held in the auditorium of the Palace of Fine Arts, where the first pageant was held more than 55 years ago.
The Palace building was part of the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915, a world’s fair.
The evening Pageant kept the audience captivated. (photo by Aaron Logan).
The current Miss Chinatown posed with her many admirers.
Miss Chinese Chamber of Commerce 2010 was happy to pose. Miss San Francisco Chinatown 2010 with an admirer.
The Pageant contestants for 2011 competed wearing environmentally conscious themed dresses.
The costumes were almost as gorgeous as the girls wearing them.
One contestant’s gown was made of her mother’s calligraphy practice paper and another was made of plastic bags—“From garbage to fashion,” said a spectator. A tantalizing Tahitian dance won the biggest applause. One contestant’s gown was made of her mother’s calligraphy practice paper and another was made of plastic bags—“From garbage to fashion,” said a spectator.
Pageant hopefuls competed in beauty and fashion segments, and in the talent portion, some played the piano, sang, and danced. Though everyone drew enthusiastic applause, the audience response indicated some girls from the Bay Area had the lion’s share of supporters.
The 2011 contestants looked elegant in sequined versions of the sleek gowns called cheongsams in Cantonese.
The winner of Miss Talent 2011.
Other winners in the pageant.
June Quan, Miss Chinatown USA 2011, hails from San Francisco. Miss Chinatown and her court celebrated at the black-tie Coronation Ball a few days after the competition.
Arts of Pacific Asia Show

The opening night celebration of the annual Arts of Pacific Asia Show was a benefit for the Asian Art Museum. Everything from the music to the dim sum buffet carried out the Asian theme.

The Arts of the Pacific Asia Show offers museum-quality antique and contemporary selections for every taste and any—well, almost any— budget.
For opening night of the annual Arts of Pacific Asia Show, children performed a traditional Chinese fan dance that originated in ancient times.
Guests arriving at the historic waterfront Fort Mason Festival Pavilion were greeted with charming performances.
Ribbon dancers flicked and twirled long colorful silk streamers to create graceful patterns in the air.
The impressive array of items displayed at the Show included ceramics, antiques, jewelry, Buddhist artifacts, objects from India, kimonos and pottery from Japan, Oriental rugs, Tibetan artifacts, Han figures, porcelain, artworks from Southeast Asian, and rare books. 

It’s so enjoyable to browse such an impressive display without the pressure of walking into a store and to learn from the knowledgeable Asian art specialists.

Dealer Patsy Lee Donegan told me that her colleagues from around the world come to buy from other dealers, taking advantage of their expertise in having culled the finest works.
The Pacific Asia show brings more than 10,000 exquisite antiques, textiles and art from Asia Europe and North America to the Bay Area.
The enormous and unusual exhibition of Japanese kimonos and textile, “Dreams of Empire,” was curated by Diane Hall and Alan Marcuson of Belgium.
If you had any Asian clothing in your closet, this was the night to wear it. Many of the woman wore antique Chinese dresses and some of us reminisced about the elegant Cecilia Chang (founder of the much missed Mandarin Restaurant) who always wearing vintage dresses she found in China.

Personally, I am always on the lookout for these items to wear on special occasions, but now they’re difficult to find in China today.
Judy Wilbur, Jay Xu (Director of Asian Art Museum), and Patrice Wilbur. Diana Sao.
Hillary Liang. Yoon-Kyung Kim, Sidney Baek, and Marc Shin.
Fred Levin, Nancy Livingston, Diane Anderson, and Frank Caufield.
Joan Vinson and Jerry Yang. Michael Chu and Dessa Goddard.
Cynthia Schuman Banks, Dan Banks, and Kathy Bissinger.
Martha Hertelendy and others in the crowd were inspired to wear an Asian design. Arielle Andreis and Ralph Hertelendy.
Music filled the air.
Opera star Zheng Cao Larson and Dr. David Larson. Stephanie Theodore and Mark McLoughlin (COO, Asian Art Museum).
Gorretti Lui, Selina Cha, and Rosina Sun.
Dennis and Carol McManus. Skip Whitney and Aew Whitney.
John Sias and Bill Sias. Brendan Joyce and Victoria Pham.
Even at the end of a festive evening, the fun and lively entertainment continued as valet brought us our cars.
The Chinatown Community Fair and Parade

The annual Chinese New Year Parade has been a San Francisco tradition since 1860, during the era of the Gold Rush.

As the day of the Chinatown Parade was cold and rainy, I expected a small turnout, but more than 650,000 adults and children came. When the weather is good over a million spectators come to celebrate.

Billed as the largest Chinese New Year’s parade outside China, the San Francisco parade, is one of the few held at night. It runs from 5 until 8, and we arrived just in time to find our reserved bleacher seats on Kearny Street.   
The Chinese New Year celebration for “The Year of the Rabbit” in San Francisco began in the beginning of February and continued for 15 days. Could this be the original Buddha Bar that has inspired Buddha bars around the world?
Though my Nob Hill apartment is just a five-minute walk from Chinatown’s main street, Grant Avenue, I’d never before visited the Fair.
Even in the rain, the crowds seemed to enjoy every minute of the event.
Until the very last minute, the figures for the float remained under protective wrap.
After several hours working around, we were delighted to have time for a Chinese foot massage. (I do miss the bargain-priced Shanghai versions!).
Many folks had come prepared for the weather, some huddled under enormous umbrellas, foul-weather jackets with hoods, tarps, and even plastic to cover the wet bleachers.  Though I had an umbrella, hat and gloves, I wished I’d brought along a blanket!

Even when we became hungry and cold, we stayed on, and so, it seemed, did everyone else, with no complaints.

If the youngsters in the parade—some surely no older than five—could brave the elements in their costumes to perform for us so graciously, how could we not be there to support them?
By 5 p.m., the SF Fire department estimated that 650,000 spectators (even in the rain) lined the 1.5-mile route that ended in Chinatown.
Though it’s usually possible to find a good vantage point, and you can even bring your own chair, we bought $30 bleacher seats.
In previous—rainless—years, more than a million people have come to watch the parade, for which thanks are due to sponsor Southwest Airlines.
Even with its 5,000 participants of all ages and nationalities, 100 parade entries and 26 colorful and dramatic floats, the parade charms with its small-town feel.
Spectators cheered the Fire and Police Department members, many of whom marched with their families.
Since this was the "Year of the Rabbit," there were lots of “bunnies” in costume marching.
When the float featuring Lou Seals, mascot of the Giants, passed, crowds went wild, taking civic pride in the team that won the World Series this year.
Spectators waved back at local politicians and dignitaries marching the route, among them Mayor Ed Lee (this year’s Marshal) and Kenny Tse.
Hey, wasn’t the Year of the Tiger last year?
Several of us chuckled when we overheard a child parader prompting his group, as they passed the stands, “Do your best now; the TV crew is filming,”
We also smiled when a joker called out to one of the dignitaries’ drivers, who was making a cell phone call, “You’re not ‘hands-free,” and a second person mock-threatened, “We’re going to ‘out you’ on YouTube.”
Besides, the American-style marching band parade is fabulous.  What makes it unique are Asian-inspired themes and performers—the elaborately costumed dragon and lion dancers, martial artists, stilt walkers and Chinese acrobats, Ribbons dancers, who are part of the spectacle.

And the grand finale is worth a wait:  An explosion of 600,000 firecrackers (set off in a protected areas) heralds the appearance of the glowing, dancing Golden Dragon (gum long).

As it snakes along the parade route, it brings everyone peace, prosperity and good luck. Now, that’s my kind of Dragon.
Lots of applause greeted the float carrying Miss Chinatown USA and her court.
The fiery, flowing Dragon appeared—so long (250 feet) that 100 people had to carry it.
We were swept along in a group that followed the Golden Dragon for a while, but then the scent and open oven of a pizza parlor beckoned.
We stopped to warm up and enjoy a bite to eats, a perfect ending to a spectacular Chinese New Year celebration.
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence, David Yu, Drew Altizer, and Laura Morton.

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.