8mm Review: The Last Repair Shop

As I mentioned on my post on Nai Nai and Wài Pó, I also screened The Last Repair Shop. Although this 40 minute short documentary is not necessarily Asian American related, I did want to review it and give it a shout out because the film is amazing! What is this film about?  Here is its YouTube description:

In a nondescript warehouse in the heart of Los Angeles, a dwindling handful of devoted craftspeople maintain over 80,000 student musical instruments, the largest remaining workshop in America of its kind. Meet four unforgettable characters whose broken-and-repaired lives have been dedicated to bringing so much more than music to the schoolchildren of the recording capital of the world.

The documentary profiles four craftspeople (out of the 12 who work there) who volunteered for the documentary.

This review captured my thoughts perfectly:

“Throughout this film, which, if you have a beating heart and a kind soul, you will feel the stories deeply, you begin to understand that dealing with an ailing piece of musical equipment comes with a sense of anxiety and grief. Playing instruments teaches the students, and the listener, more than just a series of meticulously arranged notes. Something happens with the sound vibration that connects with our own. It helps us to see and feel things inside of ourselves, and it can aid not just in coming-of-age, but it sustains us as we grow.”

The Last Repair Shop filmmaker Ben Proudfoot was in a Q&A with Nai Nai and Wài Pó filmmaker Sean Wang at the screening I attended, which I recorded here.  Both of these shorts are nominated for an Academy Award.

Nai Nai and Wài Pó and The Last Repair Shop reinforce this thought of mine: everyone has a story to tell, but too often we are not listening, not taking the time to listen or not providing the platform to enable us to listen. These two documentaries are a great platforms for those in the films to tell their stories. Please consider watching them!

You can watch the film online for free here on YouTube:

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Taiwanese CEOs: Jensen Huang

By Travis Yen

Renowned in the computer world, Jensen Huang is best known for his leadership as the CEO and co-founder of NVIDIA Corporation, one of the top producers of graphics processing units (GPUs). Huang, who was born in Tainan, Taiwan, on February 17, 1963, has emerged as a major figure in the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) and graphics technology.

According to Times, Huang’s academic endeavors marked the beginning of his successful journey. He attended Oregon State University to obtain a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, and then Stanford University to pursue a master’s degree in the same field. The groundwork for his future contributions to the tech industry was built by his scholastic background.

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Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó: Review and Q&A with Oscar Nominated filmmaker Sean Wang

Delancey Street Screening Room, San Francisco, California

One of the things I have loved about living in the San Francisco Bay Area since I had moved out here in 1999 has been attending CAAMFest, or what it was known previous, as the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) [changed in 2013]. When I started blogging for 8Asians, I was eventually afforded the opportunity to get a press pass for the festival (like this past May). I remain on a public relations agency’s email list to get invited to opportunities like interviewing Randall Park, More recently, I got to screen ‘Nai Nai & Wài Pó (Grandma & Grandma),’ which was recently nominated for a 2024 Oscar for Short Documentary film). In addition, I met filmmaker Sean Wang again for the forementioned film on February 13th.

Back in December 2023, I had the opportunity in San Francisco to screen not only Nai Nai and Wài Pó with filmmakers Sean Wang, but also screen the The Last Repair Shop (also now nominated for an 2024 Oscar for Short Documentary and reviewed here in an upcoming post) and meet with Academy Award® winning director Ben Proudfoot.

So much had happen to Sean between the time I first met him in December 2023 to February 2024, that it was highlighted in a recent New York Times piece, Young Filmmaker Lives His ‘Fairy Tale’ at Sundance:

“Sean Wang, a first-time [feature length] director, received an audience award for his coming-of-age film, “Dìdi.” He also got the ultimate prize: a distribution deal. …

Mr. Wang, a 29-year-old filmmaker, was dressed in a black suit and white Vans (a nod to his skateboarding roots). He grabbed his chest in a show of how fast his heart was beating as he introduced his film, “Dìdi.” It is a coming-of-age story about an angsty, insecure 13-year-old Taiwanese American boy trying to find his place in the world.

Now, after slogging away on his script for six years and finishing the film, Mr. Wang is taking his first steps into the spotlight thanks to Sundance. The moment coincided with promotion of his short film, “Nai Nai & Wài Pó,” about his two grandmothers. That film was recently nominated for an Oscar in the documentary short category and will soon [now, as of February 9th, 2024] become available on Disney+.

Adding to the swirl of excitement was Mr. Wang’s Oscar nomination for his documentary about his grandmothers. He flew back from Utah to watch the early-morning nominations announcement with his family at his childhood home. When “Nai Nai & Wài Pó” was announced as the final nominee in the short film category, Mr. Wang buried his head in his grandma’s lap then fell to the floor.

“I will never get used to this,” he said later in an interview.

“Dìdi” ended up winning the prestigious Sundance audience award, a prize that in years past has gone to movies like “CODA” and “Whiplash.””

Sean Wang and I in San Francisco, February 2024

 

Being able to see Sean again after all of this had happened and to congratulate him was a pure honor and pleasure. Because of the Oscar nomination of ‘Nai Nai & Wài Pó’ and Sean’s success at Sundance, he returned to the San Francisco Bay Area (he’s a native – raised in Fremont, California) for another special screening. I’ve captured  the pre- and post- screening introduction and Q&A below, along with a brief review.

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Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender – Episode 1 Review

The long awaited Avatar: The Last Airbender live action show from Netflix finally released, and all 8 episodes are out. Here are my impressions of Episode 1.

Story: Very good. There was already solid source material to work with, and the way they decided to start with the backstory first actually works, chronologically easier to follow. Although not exactly the same frame by frame, so far, it is generally staying pretty true to the original story, and honestly, anyone hoping for a frame-by-frame exact equivalent is just not being reasonable. One little tweak I’m very pleased with is the change in Ang and Kitara’s relationship at the beginning of the story. In the animated series, Ang’s little crush on her always felt really awkward and uncomfortable. They’re just comrades now, and even though I’m not fond of their pairing, at least their relationship can develop with a little more sincerity without the creepy weirdness.
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Island in Between: Review and Q&A with Oscar-Nominated Director S. Leo Chiang

I live in Silicon Valley, and one of the benefits is that I live about five miles from Stanford University, where are often quite a few events of interest to me that are open to the public. Recently, there was a screening of recently 2024 Oscar nominated short documentary ‘Island In Between’ by S. Leo Chang:

“I [S. Leo Chiang] was born in Taiwan, grew up in the United States, worked extensively in China and now live in Taipei. This mix of experiences has given me a front-row seat to the complex, decades-long dance between these nations. Lately, the world is paying considerably more attention to my homeland, especially after the former U.S. House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, visited in August 2022.

Kinmen, also known as Quemoy, is a group of islands governed by Taiwan that were the front lines of the first and second Taiwan Straits Crises decades ago. They lie just a few miles from mainland China, and these days, locals are unsure what escalating tensions mean for the future.

Taiwanese voices are often drowned out by Chinese and American narratives, overshadowed by the global power plays going on around us. Few people outside the region understand what life is actually like for the Taiwanese people caught in between two superpowers. I made this documentary to show life in Taiwan through the eyes of the people who live there, including me.

At this moment, as we struggle to make sense of the horrors of war, I hope this documentary can play a small part in advocating for peace.” – Film and Text by S. Leo Chiang

I had heard of Kinmen, but I didn’t realize that the Taiwanese island was so close to mainland China. It is so close that there is a swimming contest between Kinmen and the city of Xiamen – about 3.7 miles / 6 kilometers). One can see the cityscape of Xiamen’s skyscrapers from Kinmen. I learned about the history of Kinmen and the people on the island, which is about 130,000 residents.  Supposedly, half of that number only reside part of the year there.

Even though Kinmen is so close, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was never able to take over the island. There were also diplomatic considerations, especially in the 1950s, with the United States having fought Chinese troops in the Korean War and the growing U.S. presence in Vietnam. This just demonstrates that any amphibious assault of Taiwan would be treacherous and even more dangerous and challenging than D-Day, as U.S.  World War II planners had considered when the Japanese occupied Taiwan.

I have seen S. Leo Chiang’s previous documentaries, A Village Called Versailles, as well as Mr. Cao Goes to Washington (about the first Vietnamese American elected to Congress). I had met him a while ago so it was a real pleasure to see Leo again after so long. Leo spends most of his time in Taiwan.

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Golden State Warriors 2024 Lunar New Year Celebration Night

Lunar New Year is a big deal in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it’s also a big deal with the Golden State Warriors. I couldn’t make the celebration night last year, but did back in 2022. This is the Year of the Dragon, and this year’s celebration was another fantastic night at the Chase Center with the Warriors playing the Clippers. There were some nice giveaways to the first 10,000 fans in attendance: a Lunar New Year Bucket Hat, courtesy of Cache Creek Casino Resort:

During one of the time outs or breaks, the Warriors played this video on the big screen with the players guessing what zodiac signs some of the players were based on the characteristics of the zodiac:

Stephen Curry was fittingly born in the Year of the Dragon, just like San Francisco born Bruce Lee!

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Traveling Japan: Narita Omotesando and Shinsho-ji

When they built the Narita International Airport out in the Chubu Prefecture back in the 70s, the idea was to decongest the main Haneda airport in Tokyo and establish a more spacious, higher capacity, and cost efficient alternative to flying into the main Tokyo city area itself. Since then, it has become the primary gateway to Japan for most visitors, with convenient trains that take you right into the heart of Tokyo or wherever in Japan you might be aiming to go.

As a result of its positioning, this international hub is located out in a rather remote area of Japan’s main Honshu island, which means surrounding it are rather quaint countryside and suburban destinations. Everyone knows about Narita Airport, but few think about the Narita City housing said airport that has many quintessential traditional Japanese experiences just a short 20 minute train ride away.

This makes Narita City the perfect place to get a taste of authentic Japan during a long layover or as the relaxing start or end to your Japan adventures.

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8Books Review: Valley Verified by Kyla Zhao

Celebrate Valentine’s Day by curling up with Kyla Zhao‘s latest novel, Valley Verified.

Will fashion writer Zoe Zeng be able to hack it (pun intended) in the startup world of Silicon Valley? After years of “paying her dues” only to still be underpaid and overworked, Zoe is offered a job that will take her from the mean streets of New York into the tough world of tech. As the brand new VP of marketing for FitPick–an app that allows users to poll on OOTD options–Zoe has her work cut out for her. A new field, coworkers skeptical of her reason for being there, thousands of miles from her best friends . . . has she made the right choice or will she fall flat (and lose her job)?

Zoe is a delightful protagonist. And though this is published by Berkley, so you know there’s romance, it’s really about Zoe’s growth, how she navigates the ups and downs and advocates for herself and her vision to make fashion more inclusive. The female friendships she develops (shout out to Bern) are warm fuzzy hugs — as worthy a Galentine’s Day read as a Valentine’s Day read. And Zoe makes some questionable judgment calls, but you cheer her on, even while you wait for the other shoe to drop. And Zhao doesn’t shy from dealing with some of the bad sides of tech, or honestly the workplace in general, including a storyline about sexual harassment (with the front of book heads up that has become more and more common).

Overall: Valley Verified is a verified cozy winter read.

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Third State Books – A New Publishing House Amplifying Stories from Asian America

Living within five miles of Stanford University, I often attend talks there that are  open to the public. I recently went to a Stanford Asian Pacific American Alumni Club (SAPAAC) and Stanford’s Asian American Student Association sponsored panel discussion: Owning our Narrative: Conversations with the First Asian American Publishing House, Third State Books, This talk featured the founders and authors of Third State Books, a new publishing house focused exclusively on amplifying Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander voices and stories.

The panelists included (above: from left to right):

  • Charles Kim, Co-Founder and President of Third State Books and a Stanford lecturer.
  • Stephanie Lim, Co-Founder & CEO of Third State Books.
  • Eric Toda, Third State Author, Global Head of Social Marketing at Meta
  • Dion Lim, Third State Author and a two-time Emmy Award–winning TV news anchor and reporter for ABC7 News in San Francisco
  • Norman Chen, CEO of The Asian American Foundation, a Third State Books Partner

Before the talk, I didn’t really know that much about the book publishing industry except that I was briefly involved with ebooks back in the early 2000s when I worked for Adobe (and was even quoted in a Harvard Business School case). Charles Kim has been in the publishing industry for over thirty years and first gave a high level overview of the industry hat really got me fired up early in the event. Here are some facts he cited about the U.S. publishing landscape and how consolidated the book industry is:

  • Big 5” publishers control 60% to 70% of English-language book sales
  • Publishing is centered in New York City – majority minority (over 70%+ non-white, but the “Big 5″is 85% white)
  • 80% to 90% of book agents, editors, marketing, librians, etc are white – and are more white the more senior the role in the book industry
  • African Americans are approximately 14% of the U.S. population and there are over 100 publishing houses focused on African American authors and stories, etc.
  • Asian Americans are growing to almost 7% of the U.S. population – and Third State Books is the first publishing house focused on Asian American authors and stories.
  • Book publishing is a $26 billion industry in the United States (U.S. domestic box office theater revenue in 2023 was $9 billion, peaked at $11 billion pre-pandemic)

This got me really mad, like almost like when I first started going to political events in the San Francisco Bay Area and not seeing any politically active Asian Americans (which has started to change). As Charles had stated, there should be more!

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Traveling Taiwan: Downtown Hsinchu

Before Taipei was even a thing, there was Hsinchu, the first northern city to be developed in Taiwan in the early 1700s. Savvy international investors and world leaders have definitely heard of this rather small, unassuming town because even though it is older than the United States of America, it is practically the exclusive producer of the world’s most advanced semiconductor chips–you likely have one in your phone or computer–thanks to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) based there along with the nation’s Science Park and multiple universities specializing in science and technology.

Despite producing world class cutting edge technology and being only about an hour and a half drive away from the bustle of international Taipei, Hsinchu has some of that old Taiwan that is no longer easy to find in the capital city. If you’ve got time for a day trip away from Taipei or a long layover at Taoyuan International Airport and want to experience Taiwan’s yesteryear, Downtown Hsinchu is a convenient and storied destination.

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Asian American Commercial Watch: Ken Jeong in Popeyes’ 2024 Super Bowl Ad “The Wait Is Over”

My favorite fellow Duke Asian American alumni is Ken Jeong (’90), and he stars in this Super Bowl commercial announcing that the Popeyes fast food chain is now offering chicken wings as part of their menu:

“The year is 1972. Popeyes has just opened, and they have some groovy, far-out, and tasty fried chicken. Unfortunately, it will be over fifty years until they will offer chicken wings. Sweet ‘N Spicy, Ghost Pepper, Signature Hot, Honey BBQ, Roasted Garlic Parmesan. Crispy, juicy, and still decades away from your early seventies taste buds. Faced with this mouth-watering quandary, what would you do? How could you ensure that you would be around to taste these modern marvels? Well for one man, the answer was simple. He cryogenically froze himself. And now, the world knows his story. This is that man’s journey to loving that chicken, and those chicken wings, from Popeyes. Of course, for you, the wait is over, too. Because Popeyes finally has wings. What a time to be alive.”

Jeong loved Popeyes when he was a medical resident in New Orleans and would often go to Popeye’s after long 36 hour residency shifts. The Goldendoodle in the ad is his family’s dog “Mocha.” While he has appeared at least one other Super Bowl Ad, this is the first Super Bowl ad for Popeyes.

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Heinlenville Park in San Jose commemorates a Historic San Jose Chinatown

“Sheltering Wing” sculpture by Roger Stoller

Heilenville Park opened in October of last year in San Jose’s Japantown, but I only recently got around to seeing it for myself this past weekend.  The park is named after the Heilenville Chinatown that was located at the site. This Chinatown was created after a previous one located in current day San Jose downtown burned down, a sad but common occurrence throughout the American West at that time.

The park includes signs talking about the history of Heinlenville Chinatown. Heinlenville is named after a German immigrant named John Heinlen who leased land to the local Chinese community. From a previous historical tour, I learned what Heinlen did, but the description in the park (see picture below) was a revelation to me in terms of the amount of opposition he encountered in his plan to allow the Chinese to live there.  Given the past history of the deliberate destruction of Chinatowns, an eight foot wall was constructed around the area.

Japantown sprouted up next to Heinlenville and Pinoytown would emerge there later. As residents gradually integrated into the rest of San Jose, Heilenville Chinatown faded, and the last remnants were torn down in 1949. San Jose Japantown revived after the internment and is still there today, one of the three remaining Japantowns in the United States.

While there are some trees and a play area, but Heilenville Park seemed more like a plaza than a park. Apparently that was a design choice, as local associations wanted an open space to hold events.

The mural below commemorating Pinoytown was added recently around the corner from the park.  If you want to visit Heinlenville Park, it is located on 6th street in San Jose, between Taylor and Jackson. Documentarian Jessica Yu also created an award winning short film about Heilenville  called Home Base: A Chinatown called Heinlenville.

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