Thursday, March 24, 2011

San Francisco/Shanghai Social Diary

In front of Davies Symphony Hall, the Laughing Buddha, a symbol of happiness, greeted us.
by Jeanne Lawrence


“Gung Hay Fat Choy” (as they say in Cantonese) or “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (in Mandarin): Best wishes and congratulations! Have a prosperous and good year!

One of the most important holidays for Chinese families is Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year. According to Chinese astrology, 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit, and the two-week celebration began this year on February 3.

Welcoming Chinese New Year in Hong Kong is on my bucket list, but in the U.S., there is no better place to do it than San Francisco, home to one of the country’s oldest Chinese communities.
The Gala Committee for the Symphony Chinese New Year Concert .
Holiday events include feasting, a special program by the San Francisco Symphony, the Miss Chinatown U.S.A. Pageant and Coronation Ball (which I wrote about last year), the Chinatown 10-K Run/Walk, and the Flower Market Fair (for buying blossoming quince and tangerines, auspicious choices for the New Year).

It culminates with a Community Fair in Chinatown followed by a spectacular New Year parade of floats, lion dancers and acrobats that is the largest of its kind outside of Asia.
The event celebrated the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit.
The newly appointed Mayor Ed Lee and Mrs. Lee surrounded by friends.
Mayor Ed Lee, Mrs. Lee and Jeanne Lawrence. Families enjoyed the Sunday afternoon festivities and concert.
Dinner co-Chair Jennie Chiu brought her family to the event.
Joy Venturi Bianchi, Lisa Grotts, Diana Wang, and Keith Scott.
Many volunteers deserve credit for help making the day happen.
San Francisco Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony presented its 11th annual Chinese New Year Concert and Celebration on Saturday, January 29 in Davies Symphony Hall.
Diane Schaffer chaired the free, family-friendly reception prior to the concert.
The lively affair included dancing, Chinese calligraphy, face painting, and children’s arts and crafts.
Along with the games, there were buffets of traditional food, desserts, and tea stations.
On stage, looking stunning in a traditional quipao or cheongsam, Goretti Lo Liu, chairman of the entire event, welcomed the audience and introduced San Francisco’s first Chinese-American mayor Ed Lee, appointed to replace Gavin Newsom when he became Lt. Gov. of California.
Chairman of the event, Goretti Lo Liu, in a traditional qipao, introduced Mayor Ed Lee.
The Concert

For the fifth year, Conductor Carolyn Kuan, a native of Taiwan, led the orchestra. The program included modern and traditional Chinese and Western classical music, and Kuan’s “user-friendly” introduction to each piece was a nice touch, much appreciated by many in the audience.

Guest soloist Li Bo, from Mongolia, played a ‘‘morin khuur”—the Mongolian horse-head fiddle that was traditionally made with real horsehair. He performed his own composition, “The Tale of Matou Qin,” based on the folktale of a boy and his horse.
The concert began with the traditional Chinese dance of the dragon, meant to drive out evil spirits and bring good luck and good fortune.
The kids loved the rousing, flamboyant lion dance; versions are performed all around the city.
Violinist Ray Chen gave a beautiful performance of Beethoven’s “Romance for Violin and Orchestra No. 1” and Sarasate’s “Zigeunerweisen.” Among the other traditional selections on the program were “Fun Yang Drum Song” and the evocatively titled “Plum Blossoms in the Snow.”

I particularly enjoyed “Overture: Dragon and Phoenix” from renowned composer Tan Dun's 1997 symphony “Heaven Earth Mankind,” commissioned for the ceremonies involved with the Hong Kong handover.
The richly adorned Chinese lions signify courage and superiority and are also meant to chase away evil spirits.
I’ve met Tan Dun—who scored “Hero” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (for which he won an Oscar)—and attended his concerts in Shanghai, where he lives with his family.

During intermission, we gathered around Mayor Lee, who had recently attended the White House State dinner in honor of visiting China President Hu Jin Tao.
The rousing sound of the drums, gongs, and clashing cymbals added to the lively scene.
Elegant Imperial Dinner

An Imperial Dinner followed the Symphony performance across the street in the City Hall, whose exterior was lit in pink for the occasion. The Rotunda, decorated in red and black – even the red carpet had black trim—looked sophisticated and dramatic.

The dinner co-chairs were Jennie Chiu and Yurie Pascarella. Yurie wore an antique hand-embroidered coat (originally a caftan) that she bought in Istanbul and which she paired with Chanel slacks and top.

“The Symphony is a great platform to embrace the city’s many vibrant and diverse cultures,” said Goretti.
The Imperial Dinner followed in the Rotunda of City Hall, brilliantly lit for the celebration.
Many of the high-profile Silicon Valley crowd drove up for the occasion. At my table were Yahoo! founder Jerry Yang and wife Akiko Yamazaki; YouTube founder Steve Chen and wife Jamie; and actress Jean Chen (“The Last Emperor” and “Lust, Caution”) and her cardiologist husband Peter Hui.

Co-chair Jennie noted that the event was held on a Saturday rather than a weekday, so “Many who don’t live in the city are able to attend.”
Chair Gorretti Lo Lui’s sequined qipao, from Hong Kong’s Blanc de Chine, changed colors under different lighting.
The attendees mixed easily, and the festive multi-cultural event felt cozy and intimate.
Honorary Chair Yi-Hui Lo said of the evening, “It capture so much of the art, music and culture that defines the Chinese people. The energy and excitement is unlike any of the other galas.”
(On a side note, a week later, I ran into Steve Chen again, this time at the downtown restaurant Yang Sing restaurant, known for its dim sum. I was there because I’d been yearning for Xiao Long Bao, the special Shanghai soup dumplings. Steve and I discussed food rather than hi-tech topics and agreed we’d like to bring one of our favorite Shanghai restaurants, Din Tai Fung—a Mecca for dumpling-lovers—to San Francisco.)
Goretti Lo Lui with Imperial Dinner Co-chairs Yurie Pascarella and Jennie Chiu. Elliott Lui, Goretti Lui, and Justin Lui.
Ray Chen, Jamie Chen, Steve Chen, Gorretti Lui, Jerry Yang, Akiko Yamazaki, and David Chiu.
Symphony Executive Director Brent Assink and Jan Assink, with Mary Jo and Dick Kovacevich.
Chair Gorretti Lui, Musician Li Bo, and actress Joan Chen.
Jeri Wong, Jocelyn Sandler, Ye-Hui Lu, Sharon Seto, and Conductor Carolyn Kuan.
Lawrence Lui, Sherry Chen, Jamie and Steve Chen, YouTube founder.
Mongolian Musician Li Bo, surrounded by admirers, has given more than a thousand concerts around the world.
Leslie Tang Stilling (Board of Regents, Univ. of CA) and Alexander Stilling. Ted and Maggie Hazelrig.
Yahoo! founder Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki, with Jan and Brent Assink.
Carl Pascarella, Nancy and Joachim Bechtle, and Yurie Pascarella.
Kasey O'Connell, Annie Woods, Jocelyn Sandler, Violinist Ray Chen, and Diane Triffo.
The theme of the dramatic décor was red and black, and even the red carpet had a black border. The handcrafted glass dragon came from the Liuli Gallery of Glass Art (SF and Shanghai).
During cocktails, guests enjoyed stuffed buns from gigantic wooden steamers and Shanghai-styled noodles seasoned with peppers and chives.
Nancy Nishimuro and Jay Xu, Asian Art Museum Director.
Writer Jeanne Lawrence, actress Joan Chen, and Angeline Chang of the Liuli Gallery.
David Chiu and Margaret Liu Collins.
Teresa and Mark Medearis. Rada and Kent Brooks.
Ben Fong-Torres, Dianne Fong-Torres, and David Chiu.
Dolly and George Chammas, Angeline Chang, and Arthur Yue.
YouTube founder Steve Chen, Jeanne Lawrence, and Joan Chen.
All ages came to celebrate.
Jennie Chiu, Gorretti Lo Lui, and Yurie Pascarella drew for the prizes.
Asian music and entertainment kept the crowd enthralled.
China Prep Visits San Francisco

At the concert, I met a group of eighth-graders from Lake Forest Country Day School visiting San Francisco as part of a program called China Prep.

My neighbor in Shanghai, Brantley Turner-Bradley, founded China Prep in 2006, with the goal to connect Chinese and Americans. Brantley believes it’s important for the groups to have a deeper understanding of one another.

We were introduced by our New York friend Melissa Bradley (no relation), founder of the exclusive travel service Indagare.
At the Symphony concert, I met with the China Prep group visiting from Chicago.
I love Brantley’s energy and what she’s doing professionally. A Brown graduate with a degree in East Asian Studies, she was at one time a market researcher studying Chinese youth, and she speaks and reads Mandarin fluently.

Along with Lake Forest, New York’s Dwight and Collegiate schools, Groton in Massachusetts, and LA’s Brentwood school have participated in the program.

The Chicago group of China Prep, led by Kelly Brooks, spent five days in San Francisco, focusing on using their Mandarin skills and learning more about Chinese culture. I was amazed by how much they did and saw.

I was first acquainted with the students at the Asian Art Museum, where Docent Ann Kahn showed them some of the most important Chinese artifacts: oracle bones, ancient bronzes, ceramics, brush paintings, and Buddhist statues.
The day before, I had joined the China Prep group on a guided tour of highlights from the Asian Art Museum (in the background).
The colossal copper sculpture, Three Head Six Arms, is by artist Zhang Huan (courtesy of Pace Gallery).
Docent Ann Kahn explained the significance of the most important Chinese artifacts to the China Prep students.
A Bronze Ritual vessel in the shape of a Rhinoceros is from Shang Dynasty.
China Prep students toured the AAM to better understand the cultural history of China.
The guardian figures are from the Tang Dynasty.
The gilt bronze Seated Buddha, from 338 A.D., is the earliest dated Buddha image made in China. The Emperor’s semiformal court robe, with nine dragons, dates from the Qing dynasty (1700-1800).
These precious objects are displayed just as the emperors displayed their prized possessions in the Forbidden City.
One morning, culinary star Shirley Fong-Torres led them on a Wok Wiz Chinatown Walking Tour that touched on Chinese history, medicine and food.

It ended with a multi-course lunch. The students’ favorite dishes were sesame dough balls, fried dumplings and Sesame chicken. (Always a tourist at heart, I myself take Shirley’s tour from time to time to learn and see what’s new in Chinatown.)
Students posed at the Grant Street entrance before their Chinatown tour.
The China Prep students visited the Flower Market Fair that is part of the 15-day Chinese New Year celebration.
Shopping on Chinatown’s famed Grant Avenue.
The students also attended the Clarion Music Center for a workshop in traditional music.
Practicing Chinese calligraphy.
They participated in Chinese ribbon dancing at the Chinese-American International School.
Shirley Fong-Torres, founder of Wok Wiz Tours, organized a walking tour of Chinatown.
On the tour, students enjoyed a tea-tasting session. They were offered a choice of green, black, and Pu’er teas as well as the flowering tea that opens in the glass.
The tour ended with a multi-course banquet served Chinese family-style.
They tasted calamari and clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf, enjoyed burgers at In-and-Out and sampled chocolate at Ghirardelli Square.
The China Prep visitors squeezed in some of San Francisco’s musts for tourists, such as the Golden Gate Bridge.
Alcatraz was another tourist site they visited.
They ended the night singing boisterously in Chinese and English at a karaoke spot in Japan town.
A Trip to China?

The trip broadened the students’ knowledge of China and made them even more eager to expand their study of Mandarin. I’m sure they’ll be begging their parents to go to China Prep in Mainland China.

Their families might even come along, as China Prep now sponsors family and private travel along with an internship programs.

With such opportunities, wouldn’t we all love to be students again!
Brantley Bradley, founder of China Pep, leads her students on a tour of Beijing’s Hutongs, the traditional courtyard houses.
Beijing’s Forbidden City is at the top of the must-see list for visitors.
In the China countryside, a local teaches China Prep students the art of making dumplings.
Brantley with her students at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven (1420 Ming Dynasty).
Artist Xu Bing Talks at Asian Art Museum

I returned another day to the Asian Art Museum to hear a talk by renowned Chinese Contemporary artist Xu Bing, who splits his time between Beijing and Brooklyn.

In the audience, packed into the Samsung Room, I spotted Museum Director Jay Xu and his wife Jennifer Chen, a scholar of Chinese ceramics (The couple met when they were working at the Shanghai Museum.)
San Francisco Asian Art Museum (AAM).
Following the talk, I visited Jay in his office.
There I discovered one of the best views of City Hall.
Xu Bing graduated in 1981 from the prestigious Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing and in 2008 he was lured back to become its vice-president.

He first won international acclaim and notoriety for his monumental and controversial installation of Book of the Sky (1988), an investigation of the Chinese language that took him more than four years to produce.

The subject of his AAM talk was, “How does language define culture. What does it mean to strip meaning from language?”
Collector Pam Kramlich with artist Xu Bing.
Photo slide of Xu Bing’s installation in Beijing.
Guests line up to chat with Xu Bing after his talk.
Xu Bing and Jeanne Lawrence discussed the Chinese art scene.
Jennifer Chen, Chinese ceramics scholar. The gift shop’s merchandise includes ceramics, paintings, jewelry, apparel, and home accessories.
When I visit the Museum, I love to stock up on Chinese music and books.
Photographs by Kristen Loken, Jeanne Lawrence, Drew Altizer, and Claudine Gossett.

*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.