Category Archives: Cool Chinese Women

November 29, 2014 — Year in Review (Part 2 — New York in June)

New York in June could only be made pos­si­ble by the hos­pi­tal­i­ty of long­time friend Peer Just. A free place to stay in New York meant that I could fun­nel some of our funds towards film­ing two cru­cial inter­views with Asian Amer­i­can schol­ar Judy Wu and the award-win­ning author Danke Li. Both pro­vid­ed impor­tant insights into Li Ling-Ai’s moti­va­tions and how World War II trans­formed the every­day lives of women in both the Unit­ed States and Chi­na. Answer­ing the last-minute call for cam­era help were our New York go-to DP Frank Ayala and anoth­er long­time friend Ruth Bonomo.

Leaving NYC home base for a day of production on Long Island -- first the subway, then the train, then the ferry.

Leav­ing NYC home base for a day of pro­duc­tion on Long Island — first the sub­way, then the train, then the ferry.

 

Judy Wu, author of DR. MOM CHUNG, took time out from her Port Jefferson vacation to sit for a great interview. Ruth Bonomo pitched in as DP on short notice, providing wheels, camera and lights. Judy's family fed us a great spaghetti dinner beachside. Signing K for KUKAN!

Judy Wu, author of DR. MOM CHUNG, took time out from her Port Jef­fer­son vaca­tion to sit for a great inter­view. Ruth Bonomo pitched in as DP on short notice, pro­vid­ing wheels, cam­era and lights. Judy’s fam­i­ly fed us a great spaghet­ti din­ner beach­side. Sign­ing K for KUKAN!

 

DP Frank Ayala with Danke Li, author of ECHOES OF CHONGQING, WOMEN IN WARTIME CHINA

DP Frank Ayala with Danke Li, author of ECHOES OF CHONGQING, WOMEN IN WARTIME CHINA

 

A vis­it to New York also meant I got to hang out with Calami­ty Chang, who has vol­un­teered to record tem­po­rary voice over lines that allow us to edit our his­tor­i­cal scenes. Calami­ty con­stant­ly inspires me by her will­ing­ness to embrace her per­for­mance instincts and bare it all in her won­der­ful­ly tongue-in-cheek bur­lesque shows. She also knows her Chi­nese his­to­ry and pro­motes projects like ours that bring it to the fore­front. Her musician/photographer hus­band Mike Webb put in hours of free time as our sound man while dog Chewie qui­et­ly put up with our intru­sion. After a super long record­ing ses­sion on a sun­ny Sun­day after­noon, we all need­ed a New York spe­cial­ty cocktail.

 

Going over scripts with Calamity Chang.

Going over scripts with Calami­ty Chang.

 

Musician and Photographer Mike Webb pitches in as sound man to record our temporary voice over tracks.

Musi­cian and Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Mike Webb pitch­es in as sound man to record our tem­po­rary voice over tracks.

 

Chewie after a long recording session

Chewie after a long record­ing session

 

One of the killer cocktails I had in NYC featuring cucumber and gin

One of the killer cock­tails I had in NYC fea­tur­ing cucum­ber and gin

 

Just being in NYC is a real shot in the arm for a film­mak­er. Visu­al stim­u­la­tion is every­where and so are oth­er artists whose very exis­tence and work are like cheers from the sidelines.

 

Inspiration from Steven Salmieri and his wife Sydney Michelle

Inspi­ra­tion from Steven Salmieri and his wife Syd­ney Michelle

 

Inspiration from artist, hat designer and jewelry maker Carol Markel

Inspi­ra­tion from artist, hat design­er and jew­el­ry mak­er Car­ol Markel

 

Inspiration from my husband Paul Levitt who is designing a book with Dana Martin about his visit with Man Ray

Inspi­ra­tion from my hus­band Paul Levitt who is design­ing a book with Dana Mar­tin about his vis­it with Man Ray

 

More inspiration from a screening and Q&A with D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus

More inspi­ra­tion from a screen­ing and Q&A with D.A. Pen­nebak­er and Chris Hegedus

 

Before my New York trip I got word that I received a fel­low­ship to go to Chi­na to join a group of high school edu­ca­tors form Cana­da and New Jer­sey on a World War II cen­tered study tour. It would be my first trip there, so Chi­na was on my mind.

 

Looking ahead to China in July at the Ai Wei Wei exhibit in Brooklyn

Look­ing ahead to Chi­na in July at the Ai Wei Wei exhib­it in Brooklyn

 

Imagining China

Imag­in­ing China

 

China Kitsch

Chi­na Kitsch

 

Li Ling-Ai’s spir­it is also close at hand when I am in NYC. Her great friend Lar­ry Wil­son offered to point out the third floor apart­ment where she spent most of her life on West 55th street. The breeze picked up and the trees out­side the apart­ment did a dance as we looked up to the third floor.

 

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The Power of the Press, Part 2 — Roy Cummings

A blog in sup­port of FINDING KUKAN’s 10K in 10weeks “Keep This Film Alive Campaign”.

How was the pio­neer­ing female reporter May Day Lo con­nect­ed to KUKANs co-pro­duc­er Li Ling-Ai? Leads to that ques­tion had dried up for me a long time ago. Then last Novem­ber Hon­olu­lu Star-Adver­tis­er reporter Mike Gor­don wrote a big fea­ture arti­cle about FINDING KUKAN. I received a num­ber of enthu­si­as­tic emails about the arti­cle and one strange phone call.

I’m so mad!” Those were the first words Susan Cum­mings said to me. “I’m sure he knew her. If only he were still here, he could tell you.” She was refer­ring to her hus­band who was no longer alive. To tell you the truth, I thought Susan might be a rav­ing lunatic. But as we talked longer I real­ized that Susan’s late hus­band was Roy Cum­mings. He’d been a reporter at the Hon­olu­lu Adver­tis­er in 1937, the same year KUKAN’s direc­tor Rey Scott start­ed work­ing there. Like Rey Scott, he had roots in Mis­souri. Roy was also notable for try­ing to union­ize the Adver­tis­er at that time. Susan told me he was fired for doing so, was almost run over in a park­ing lot, and black­balled by the Hon­olu­lu Star-Bul­letin too. It would take Roy Cum­mings anoth­er 12 years to estab­lish the Hawaii News­pa­per Guild in 1949. He seemed just like the kind of guy that Rey Scott would grav­i­tate to.

Roy Cummings

Roy Cum­mings found­ed the Hawaii News­pa­per Guild in 1949 (pho­to cour­tesy of Hon­olu­lu Star-Bulletin)

 

Coin­ci­den­tal­ly Roy’s first wife Mar­garet Kam had been a “per­son of inter­est” to me when I was try­ing to hunt down the real life inspi­ra­tions for the detec­tive Lily Wu. Because Mar­garet was a col­or­ful char­ac­ter too – a Chi­nese actress and reporter in Hawaii who had the gump­tion to mar­ry a white guy at a time when tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese fam­i­lies still frowned upon those things.

Margaret Kam (center) mans the all female copy desk at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin during WWII (courtesy Susan Cummings)

Mar­garet Kam (cen­ter) mans the all female copy desk at the Hon­olu­lu Star-Bul­letin dur­ing WWII (cour­tesy Susan Cummings)

 

Once I made the con­nec­tion, the con­ver­sa­tion with Susan start­ed spark­ing with names and sit­u­a­tions from Roy Cummings’s past. I men­tioned that I had been try­ing to find infor­ma­tion on the Star Bul­letin reporter May Day Lo, and Susan exclaimed, “May Day Lo was Roy’s first love!” It turns out that Roy and May Day went to jour­nal­ism school togeth­er in Mis­souri. Roy fell in love with May Day and fol­lowed her out to Hawaii.

May Day Lo and Roy Cummings (center) gather with fellow University of Missouri journalism students in downtown Columbia

May Day Lo and Roy Cum­mings (cen­ter) gath­er with fel­low Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri jour­nal­ism stu­dents in down­town Columbia

 

Now I was the one who was mad that Roy was no longer alive. I felt sure that he’d been acquaint­ed with Li Ling-Ai and Rey Scott in one way or anoth­er. He prob­a­bly could have pro­vid­ed some inter­est­ing sto­ries about the two of them and the mak­ing of KUKAN. Susan gra­cious­ly invit­ed me over to her house in Lanikai to look at Roy’s pho­to­graph from the time peri­od – the next best thing to meet­ing the man in person.

Susan Cummings with portrait

Susan Cum­mings with Wyeth portrait

 

Susan Cummings hunts for clues her husband's photo albums

Susan Cum­mings hunts for clues in her hus­band’s pho­to albums

Roy’s pho­tos put more flesh and blood on what had pre­vi­ous­ly been mere­ly names on a page. They also gave me some insight into the lifestyle Rey Scott must have expe­ri­enced when he first arrived here.

Aloha Tower in the mid 1930s (photo courtesy Susan Cummings)

Alo­ha Tow­er in the mid 1930s (pho­to cour­tesy Susan Cummings)

 

Roy Cummings's Waikiki Shack

Like Roy Cum­mings, Rey Scott holed up in Waiki­ki when he first got to Hawaii. Could his room have looked like this? (pho­to cour­tesy of Susan Cummings)

 

But the pho­tos didn’t do much to fill in the gaps of the KUKAN sto­ry. In fact they brought up more ques­tions than answers. Susan her­self was mys­ti­fied as to what hap­pened between May Day Lo and Roy. Why had he mar­ried Mar­garet Kam instead of May Day? She’d nev­er thought to ask Roy about it when he was alive. I want­ed to know if any­one had saved May Day’s papers and if Ling-Ai’s let­ters or clues to KUKAN were amongst them.

Roy Cummings and May Day Lo in downtown Honolulu

Roy Cum­mings and May Day Lo in down­town Hon­olu­lu (pho­to cour­tesy Susan Cummings)

 

Egged on by mutu­al curios­i­ty Susan and I exchanged a flur­ry of emails and research find­ings in the next few weeks. Susan proved to be a will­ing and able sleuth, and togeth­er we found out some very inter­est­ing things which I’ll share in future posts. For now I want to pay trib­ute to the “father of the Hawaii News­pa­per Guild” and thank the ghost of Roy Cum­mings for putting Susan and I togeth­er. Of course the “pow­er of the press” had a lot to do with it too.

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The Power of the Press: Part 1– May Day Lo

A blog in support of FINDING KUKAN’s 10K in 10weeks “Keep This Film Alive Campaign”.

In the Lily Wu detec­tive nov­els by Juani­ta Sheri­dan one of the col­or­ful side­kicks is a female reporter named Steve (Stephanie Dugan) who fun­nels infor­ma­tion to her two ama­teur detec­tive friends Lily and Jan­ice. Since many of her fic­tion­al char­ac­ters are based on real life peo­ple, I won­dered if Sheri­dan based Steve on some of the ball­sy female reporters who were break­ing into news­rooms in the 1930s. So my ears pricked when I heard that Li Ling-Ai had a jour­nal­ist friend in the 30s and 40s named May Day Lo. Yes, that is her real name, and no she was not even born in May.

May Day Lo at the University of Missouri (photo courtesy Susan Cummings)

May Day Lo at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri (pho­to cour­tesy Susan Cummings)

 

In the mid 1930s May Day Lo made his­to­ry by being one of the first Asian Amer­i­can women hired to report for a major dai­ly news­pa­per. The pro­gres­sive Hon­olu­lu Star-Bul­letin hired Lo and Ah Jook Ku after they grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri Jour­nal­ism School. May Day Lo also broke ground at Jour­nal­ism School by being the first “exchange stu­dent” accept­ed there (remem­ber, Hawaii was still a ter­ri­to­ry and not offi­cial­ly part of the Unit­ed States).

May Day Lo Exchange Student at University of Missouri

How does a girl from Hilo get to Mis­souri in 1933?

 

Notably, in 2010 when the Asian Amer­i­can Jour­nal­ists Asso­ci­a­tion put togeth­er a list of pio­neer­ing Asian jour­nal­ists, a major­i­ty of them were from Hawaii. AAJA his­to­ri­an Chris Chow com­ment­ed, “Hawaii was more open to mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. There was recog­ni­tion that this is an impor­tant mar­ket and you’d bet­ter well serve them (Asian-Amer­i­cans) if you want to make any money.”

Back in the 30’s, the Star Bul­letin seemed to cov­er sto­ries about local Asians more com­pre­hen­sive­ly than the rival Hon­olu­lu Adver­tis­er.  And May Day Lo’s byline was on sev­er­al ear­ly arti­cles writ­ten about Li Ling-Ai, includ­ing the one that prob­a­bly prompt­ed Adver­tis­er reporter Rey Scott to call Li Ling-Ai into his office for an inter­view on that fate­ful night in 1937 when plans for mak­ing KUKAN were first hatched.

 

Li Ling-Ai appears on the front page of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1937

Reporter May Day Lo gives front page cov­er­age to fel­low Chi­nese Amer­i­can pio­neer — Li Ling-Ai (aka Gladys Li)

 

I love know­ing that a petite Chi­nese woman who was raised by a rev­erend in Hilo was the first exchange stu­dent at the pres­ti­gious Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri School of Jour­nal­ism and that the pow­er of her pen brought atten­tion to anoth­er pio­neer­ing Chi­nese young woman in a way that changed her life for­ev­er. I want­ed to find out more about May Day Lo, espe­cial­ly when I found an intrigu­ing let­ter from her to Li Ling-Ai:

July 31, 1941,
Dear Li Ling Ai,
Now that I am home again, it all seems like a dream that I met you and all the oth­ers in New York and had such a won­der­ful time…. Please give my Alo­ha to Mrs. James Young, Rey Scott and Mr. Rip­ley when you see them.

May Day Lo had been in New York right around the time when KUKAN pre­miered at the World The­ater just off Broad­way! She had met both Rey Scott and Robert Rip­ley – two key play­ers in Li Ling-Ai’s life at the time. Could May Day hold clues to some of the unsolved mys­ter­ies sur­round­ing KUKAN?

Unfor­tu­nate­ly May Day had died in a trag­ic car acci­dent in 1986. May Lee Chung, edi­tor of the ACUW pub­li­ca­tion that doc­u­ments so many pio­neer­ing Chi­nese women’s lives (see oth­er posts about this “Orange Bible”), could remem­ber clear­ly the cir­cum­stances of May Day’s death. But she did not know what had become of May Day’s only child David, some­one who might be able to tell me more. The trail remained cold until the Pow­er of the Press struck again in 2011. Stay tuned…

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Soo Yong – Another Chinese Woman We Should Know More About – Part 2

A blog in support of FINDING KUKAN’s 10K in 10weeks “Keep This Film Alive Campaign”.

A fam­i­ly sto­ry often told about Soo Yong (born Ahee Young) is that when she was four or five years old her father became grave­ly ill and sum­moned the fam­i­ly to hear his last words.  But Ahee was miss­ing.  The fam­i­ly searched all over for her. They final­ly found her in Wailuku town.  She was com­plete­ly mes­mer­ized by the per­for­mance of a Chi­nese opera troupe who had come to town.  This is Soo Yong’s ear­li­est dra­mat­ic memory.

Chinese Opera Performers in Hawaii

Chi­nese Opera Per­form­ers in Hawaii

 

Si it must have been a dream come true for Soo Yong when in 1930, at 28 years of age, she was cho­sen to accom­pa­ny the most famous Chi­nese opera star of all time on a six-month tour of America.

SooYong & Mei Lanfang

Soo Yong acts as Mis­tress of Cer­e­monies for Mei Lan­fang’s 1930 tour of America

 

Mei Lan­fang was also idol­ized by Li Ling-Ai whose dra­mat­ic inter­ests were stirred up by Chi­nese opera per­for­mances her father took her to when she was a young girl. Dur­ing his 1930 tour Mei stopped in Hon­olu­lu and Li Ling-Ai had a chance to meet him.

Members of Hawaii's ACUW greet Mei Lanfang

Pho­to from the ACUW pub­li­ca­tion TRADITIONS FOR LIVING

 

A year or so lat­er Li Ling-Ai left on her sec­ond trip to Chi­na and told news­pa­per reporters she intend­ed to study with the great man – a lofty goal for a recent grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii.  I won­dered if Soo Yong’s insid­er posi­tion embold­ened Li Ling-Ai to approach the great Mei for lessons.

 

Honolulu Star Bulletin article about Li Ling-Ai

Hon­olu­lu Star Bul­letin Arti­cle from August 6, 1932

 

I found no sub­se­quent men­tion of Li Ling-Ai study­ing with Mei Lan­fang.  But sev­er­al biogra­phies of Li state that she stud­ied pri­vate­ly with the famous dancer Chu Kuei Fang.  It was hard to find any men­tion of Chu Kuei Fang on the inter­net and I began to doubt Li Ling-Ai’s claims.  But in Soo Yong’s per­son­al scrap­book that was donat­ed to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii, I dis­cov­ered Chu list­ed as a per­former in a 1930 pro­gram for Mei Lanfang’s tour.

 

1930 Mei Lanfang Tour Program

Chu Kue-Fang per­forms on the same pro­gram as Mei Lanfang

 

Chu must have been very accom­plished to share stage time with the great Mei Lan­fang.  I won­der if this old pho­to, found amongst Li Ling-Ai’s pos­ses­sions, is of Chu Kuei Fang.  If any­one can pos­i­tive­ly iden­ti­fy the man in the pho­to, please let me know.

Li Ling-Ai with Chinese dancers

Could the man behind Li Ling-Ai be Chu Kuei-Fang?

 

Soo Yong and Li Ling-Ai also shared a pas­sion for help­ing their Chi­nese home­land dur­ing the Japan­ese inva­sion of the coun­try.  As ear­ly as 1937 Soo Yong was per­form­ing in ben­e­fits to aid Chi­nese refugees.

December 1937 Soo Yong hosts tea for China Relief

Decem­ber 1937 Soo Yong hosts tea for Chi­na Relief

 

1937 was also the year that Li Ling-Ai sent Rey Scott to Chi­na so that the sto­ry of the peo­ple of Chi­na could be told in pho­tographs and film – the film would even­tu­al­ly become KUKAN.  Whether Soo Yong was a role mod­el for Li Ling-Ai or sim­ply anoth­er extra­or­di­nary Chi­nese woman who became a polit­i­cal activist when war came we might nev­er know.  But one thing’s for cer­tain — we should def­i­nite­ly know more about her than we do.

 

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Soo Yong: Another Chinese Woman We Should Know More About — Part I

Could the Chinese American actress Soo Yong have been an inspiration for the fictional Lily Wu? (photo courtesy of Barbara Wong)

Could the Chi­nese Amer­i­can actress Soo Yong have been an inspi­ra­tion for the fic­tion­al Lily Wu? (pho­to cour­tesy of Bar­bara Wong)

 

I’m start­ing a 10-week blog-a-thon in sup­port of our 10K in 10weeks “Keep This Film Alive Cam­paign”. The goal: get us back into the edit room on Octo­ber 15 to fin­ish a rough cut of FINDING KUKAN. What bet­ter way to kick off that effort than to re-vis­it my search for LILY WU – the fic­tion­al detec­tive cre­at­ed by author Juani­ta Sheri­dan. Accord­ing to Lily’s friend and Wat­son-like com­pan­ion Jan­ice Cameron, “Lily is a chameleon. She can change effort­less­ly into what­ev­er char­ac­ter the occa­sion requires…” Lily is also smarter, sex­i­er and more world­ly than most of the Cau­casian char­ac­ters she runs into.

 

Chinese Women Pioneers in Hawaii

This book, pub­lished by the Asso­ci­at­ed Chi­nese Uni­ver­si­ty Women of Hawaii, is a won­der­ful col­lec­tion of short bios


While try­ing to locate the real life inspi­ra­tions for Lily Wu I recall por­ing over what I now think of as THE ORANGE BIBLE (see pho­to above) and stop­ping short at the entry for Soo Yong. Why? Because Soo Yong was a Chi­nese movie star from Hawaii! She appeared glam­orous and gut­sy, run­ning away from a restric­tive small town life in Wailuku, Maui for the more cos­mopoli­tan Hon­olu­lu where she put her­self through school at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii and then Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty in NYC. She was just the kind of woman who might have inspired Juani­ta Sheri­dan to cre­ate Lily Wu. 
But my inter­est in Soo Yong tailed off when I dis­cov­ered that Soo Yong had left Hawaii before Juani­ta Sheri­dan arrived there, mak­ing it unlike­ly that the two women were friends. 

My inter­est in Soo Yong was re-ignit­ed when Li Ling-Ai’s sole sur­viv­ing sis­ter men­tioned that Ling-Ai had spent time in Hol­ly­wood and had been friend­ly with a Chi­nese actress from Maui. Sure enough, a key­word search through the Los Ange­les Times brought up a 1936 arti­cle plac­ing Soo Yong and Li Ling-Ai togeth­er in Hollywood:


“East is east and west is west, and the two of them met last Tues­day after­noon at Joine Alderman’s Salon. The east was per­son­i­fied by a love­ly Chi­nese lady whose name and voice are poet­ry itself, Li Ling Ai. Clad in her native black satin robes, embroi­dered in gold and sil­ver and shin­ing col­ors, she told the forty or so debs who com­prise the salon about her native coun­try. … And her words about the beau­ties of Pekin and her stud­ies in ancient phi­los­o­phy were trans­lat­ed to the debs by anoth­er Chi­nese-robed lady, Soo Yung.”


The gos­sip col­umn inac­cu­rate­ly assumed that Ling-Ai could not speak Eng­lish and Soo Yong was there mere­ly as a trans­la­tor, but it whet­ted my appetite to learn more about Soo Yong. Could she have been a men­tor or role mod­el for Li Ling-Ai?

 

Clark Gable and Soo Yong in The China Seas

Clark Gable and Soo Yong in The Chi­na Seas

 


Being an old movie nut, one of the first things I did was rent one of the Clark Gable movies Soo Yong had been in, Chi­na Seas. Although the movie depicts most Chi­nese in stereo­typ­i­cal coolie roles, Soo Yong con­vinc­ing­ly plays a high-brow Chi­nese aris­to­crat who out-class­es Gable’s ex-girl­friend played by Jean Har­low. This small 1935 role would lead to Yong play­ing two parts in the 1937 hit The Good Earth. She was also Jack Soo’s moth­er in Flower Drum Song and had sup­port­ing roles in Sol­dier of For­tune with Clark Gable, Peking Express with Joseph Cot­ton, and Love is a Many Splen­dored Thing with Jen­nifer Jones. Why we don’t know much about her may be because she was nev­er able to have a full-fledged Hol­ly­wood movie career.

In 1935 Soo Yong advised islanders that Asians have "A Chinaman's Chance" of breaking into Hollywood.

In 1935 Soo Yong advised islanders that Asians have “A Chi­na­man’s Chance” of break­ing into Hollywood.


In the 1930s Soo Yong was inter­viewed by Loui Leong Ho
p for the Hon­olu­lu Star-Bulletin:

When asked about the pos­si­bil­i­ty for local-born ori­en­tals to break into the talkies, she sim­ply said, “A Chi­nese has a Chinaman’s Chance.” Explain­ing fur­ther on this point Miss Young stat­ed that at present the Hol­ly­wood stu­dios are name crazed. If there’s a pro­duc­tion which required an ori­en­tal to play the part, the Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­ers would invari­ably select one of their more famous actors or actress­es.”

Unfor­tu­nate­ly not much has changed in Hol­ly­wood, and Asians still strug­gle to find star­ring roles on the big screen.

SooYong Lecture brochure

Soo Yong, Inter­preter of Chi­na to America


Soo Yong would even­tu­al­ly make a liv­ing on the lec­ture cir­cuit, per­form­ing enter­tain­ing Chi­nese mono­logues to edu­cate audi­ences around the coun­try about Chi­nese cul­ture. As of this date Soo Yong does not even have a Wikipedia page, but we should def­i­nite­ly know more about this pio­neer­ing Chi­nese Amer­i­can actress. Stay tuned for part two of this blog where I’ll write about some amaz­ing dis­cov­er­ies I found in Soo Yong’s per­son­al scrapbook.

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April 25, 2013 — Major Archival Discovery Starts with a Party

It was my hus­band Paul who con­vinced me that I should have a fundrais­ing par­ty.  So last Octo­ber I got many vol­un­teers togeth­er to throw one.  Ter­ry Lehman Oli­val helped by send­ing press releas­es to the local media and got the atten­tion of Star-Adver­tis­er reporter Mike Gordon.

 

Mellanie Lee, Debra Zeleznick, Robin Lung and Terry Olival at "A Night in Old Shanghai" fundraiser

Mel­lanie Lee, Debra Zeleznick, Robin Lung and Ter­ry Oli­val at “A Night in Old Shang­hai” fundraiser

That might be the coolest sto­ry I’ve heard in a long time,” Mike said, and promised to write an arti­cle on it.  The more Mike found out, the more he want­ed to know.  His arti­cle grew and grew.  My fundrais­ing par­ty came and went; my Kick­starter cam­paign came and went.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporter Mike Gordon signs his support  fpr KUKAN with a "K"

Hon­olu­lu Star-Adver­tis­er reporter Mike Gor­don signs his sup­port fpr KUKAN with a “K”

Final­ly the opus turned up – a 3‑page spread on the film, com­plete with col­or pic­tures, showed up in the Sun­day news­pa­per and drew response from peo­ple as far away as Kentucky!

Mike Gordon's article "Reel Obsession" appears in the November 18, 2012 Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Mike Gor­don’s arti­cle “Reel Obses­sion” appears in the Novem­ber 18, 2012 Hon­olu­lu Star-Advertiser

DeS­o­to Brown, cura­tor at the Bish­op Muse­um, also read Mike’s arti­cle and some­thing clicked.  He remem­bered a dona­tion of lantern slides made to the muse­um by Bet­ty Li, Li Ling-Ai’s old­er physi­cian sis­ter, back in the 80’s.  In fact the slides were marked as being relat­ed to KUKAN!  Ear­ly in my research I had read that KUKAN’s direc­tor Rey Scott lec­tured with a group of slides, but no one in his fam­i­ly remem­bered see­ing them or hear­ing any­thing about them.  I had giv­en up on find­ing them.

Lantern slides of 1937 Nanking taken by Rey Scott during pre-production for KUKAN

Lantern slides of 1937 Nanking tak­en by Rey Scott dur­ing pre-pro­duc­tion for KUKAN

So I was on pins and nee­dles last week when I final­ly con­nect­ed with DeS­o­to at the Bish­op Muse­um and had a chance to exam­ine the slides myself.  They didn’t dis­ap­point — 97 images of 1937 Nanking, includ­ing some with Rey and Bet­ty Li, brought Rey’s first trip to Chi­na to life for me in a thrilling way and helped answer some of the mys­ter­ies that had been plagu­ing me for years.

1937 Nanking bomb shelter.  Dr. Betty Li and Rey Scott (far right) with Betty's son Andrew Li

1937 Nanking bomb shel­ter. Dr. Bet­ty Li and Rey Scott (far right) with Bet­ty’s son Andrew Li

Bishop Museum curator DeSoto Brown becomes a fellow investigator on FINDING KUKAN

Bish­op Muse­um cura­tor DeS­o­to Brown becomes a fel­low inves­ti­ga­tor on FINDING KUKAN

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October 3, 2012 — Michelle Scott Delivers a Knock Out with her KUKAN SERIES

When I first made con­tact with Rey Scot­t’s grand­daugh­ter Michelle Scott and filled her in a lit­tle about the sto­ry behind KUKAN, she felt a need to trans­fer that sto­ry into paint and shared with me a vision she had for cre­at­ing a whole room of paint­ings ded­i­cat­ed to her grand­fa­ther and KUKAN.  It seemed like a far-fetched dream back then.  So I was more than a lit­tle excit­ed to go to Atlanta to wit­ness the open­ing of Michelle’s solo show — THE KUKAN SERIES.  Michelle had­n’t shared any images of the new work with me, so I was­n’t pre­pared for the visu­al sweep and emo­tion­al pow­er of the work.  It lit­er­al­ly brought me to tears.  Here are a few choice pieces from the show.  WARNING — these pho­tos do not do the pieces jus­tice.  The real pieces have an almost three-dimen­sion­al qual­i­ty that allows the view­er to enter into the scene and expe­ri­ence a lit­tle of  Rey Scott and Li Ling-Ai’s world back in the late 30’s.

Michelle Scott with "Start of a Journey" from the KUKAN Series

Artist Michelle Scott with “Start of a Jour­ney” the exclu­sive pre­mi­um avail­able for a $5,000 Kick­starter pledge (par­tial­ly tax deductible).

 

The 36“X36” piece that Michelle cre­at­ed exclu­sive­ly for our Kick­starter fundrais­ing dri­ve is dis­played right in the front win­dow of 2Rules Fine Art in Mari­et­ta. Casu­al strollers walk­ing down the side­walk can’t help but be pulled in to find out with the imagery is all about.  For close up details of this paint­ing go to our Kick­starter home page.

 

"The Story of Kukan" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

The Sto­ry of Kukan” 48x84 is the sig­na­ture piece of the show

 

The KUKAN Series con­tains a few gor­geous trib­utes to Li Ling-Ai the Chi­nese Amer­i­can author who was the uncred­it­ed co-pro­duc­er of KUKAN with Rey Scott.

"On a Dream on a Dare - Part 2" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

On a Dream on a Dare — Part 2” 48x36 fea­tures Rey Scott and Li Ling-Ai

 

The work below con­tains images of Li Ling-Ai from three dif­fer­ent decades and three dif­fer­ent loca­tions (the old Hon­olu­lu Acad­e­my of Art, Bei­jing Chi­na, and New York City)

"Heroine (Miss Li Ling Ai)" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

Hero­ine (Miss Li Ling Ai)” 60x34 is a gor­geous trib­ute to a remark­able woman

 

There are also fab­u­lous pieces that pro­vide a visu­al mon­tage of the Chi­na wit­nessed through Rey Scot­t’s cam­era.  He took both stills and 16mm col­or movies.  Some of his old cam­eras are on dis­play too with the orig­i­nal stills.

"Chungking Burning" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

Chungk­ing Burn­ing” 48x25

 

"Rise" Mixed Media from Michelle Scott's KUKAN Series

Rise” 60x34

 

"What about the Children?" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

What about the chil­dren?” 40x40

Rey Scott trav­eled all the way to Tibet and filmed some of the first col­or footage of prayer rit­u­als there.

Michelle’s take on the orig­i­nal KUKAN lob­by cards for the Unit­ed Artists ver­sion of the film.

 

"Rules of Engagement" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

Rules of Engage­ment” 24x36

 

"Guerillas" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

Gueril­las” 24x36

 

"The Miaos Tribe" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

The Miaos Tribe” 24x36

 

"Burma" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott for the KUKAN Series

Bur­ma” 36x36”

Rey Scott also filmed the famous Bur­ma Road as it was being built.

 

"Shui" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott for the KUKAN Series

Shui”

A reminder of the British influ­ence in Hong Kong which fell to the Japan­ese in 1941.

"Lone Ranger" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott for the KUKAN Series

Lone Ranger” 32x50

 

 

"The Panda Man" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

The Pan­da Man” 34x60

A whole movie could be made just about the baby giant pan­da bear that Rey Scott brought from Cheng­tu to the Chica­go Zoo. Orig­i­nal­ly chris­tened “Li Ling-Ai” by the for­e­ing jour­nal­ists in Chungk­ing, it was lat­er named Mei Lan when it was iden­ti­fied as a boy pan­da bear.

 

"Portrait of a Lady" and "For Him" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

Por­trait of a Lady” and “For Him” are the first two pieces that Michelle Scott made in the KUKAN Series

 

There are many more gems in this show. But the emo­tion­al high­light for me was being able to see the first two por­traits of Rey Scott and Li Ling-Ai that Michelle did. I first saw them on her web­site before we even knew each oth­er and before she even knew who Ling-Ai was. This was the first time I was able to see them both in per­son. Since the pieces had been sold to dif­fer­ent col­lec­tors sev­er­al years ago, this was also the first time they were reunit­ed in the same room for quite some time — a sym­bol of hope for me as I con­tin­ue to seek fund­ing to fin­ish FINDING KUKAN.

If you are in the Atlanta area make an effort to see this his­toric show — up only until Octo­ber 26, 2012

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July 11, 2012 — Cheongsam Dreams

Li Ling-Ai, the Chi­nese Amer­i­can author who lured me into FINDING KUKAN, was known for always wear­ing a tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese dress known as a cheongsam (or qipao in Mandarin).

Photo of Li Ling-Ai in jade green cheongsam circa 1941

Li Ling-Ai in jade green cheongsam cir­ca 1941

I did­n’t always have an appre­ci­a­tion for the style since I asso­ci­at­ed it with my elder­ly grand­moth­er who lived with us when I was a teenag­er in the 70s.  Her old-fash­ioned Chi­nese ways and insis­tence on wear­ing a Chi­nese dress every­where was a cause of angst and embar­rass­ment to me at a time when appear­ing too eth­nic or Asian was just not the cool thing to do.

Photo of Polly Ching

My grand­moth­er Pol­ly Ching in front of Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty in the 1960s

But my atti­tude has changed over the years along with the fash­ions.  All the rage in the 20’s and 30’s when Chi­nese women were express­ing new­found free­doms, the cheongsam was banned in main­land Chi­na dur­ing the Mao era and lat­er con­sid­ered too old-fash­ioned by Chi­nese women who were going for more mod­ern West­ern looks in the 70s and 80s. Accord­ing to this excel­lent arti­cle by Babette Rad­clyffe-Thomas, sexy Chi­nese movies like IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE have recent­ly inspired a nos­tal­gia for the cheongsam.

movie still from IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE

One of the exquis­ite cheongsams fash­ioned for Mag­gie Che­ung by IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE art direc­tor William Chang

Madon­na, Nicole Kid­man and Kel­ly Pre­ston have all been caught wear­ing the style to glam­orous effect at red car­pet events.

photo of Nicole Kidman in cheongsam

Nicole Kid­man takes on the cheongsam

To hon­or Li LIng-Ai and the revival of the cheongsam (and also divert myself from writ­ing grant appli­ca­tions), I’ve been col­lect­ing cheongsam pho­tos on my Pin­ter­est board.  Here are some of my favorites.
— No con­tent found.
— Check your ID and board name.

Have a favorite cheongsam of your own?  Post in the com­ments or send me a link to your pin and I’ll put it on my board.

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June 28, 2012 — A Visit to Yale and Chinese Exclusion

The recent FINDING KUKAN shoot at Yale Uni­ver­si­ty brought out the per­pet­u­al stu­dent in me.  You can’t help but be awed by the vault­ed ceil­ings and Knights of the Round Table atmos­phere of the Hall of Grad­u­ate Stud­ies where my inter­view with Yale Pro­fes­sor of Amer­i­can Stud­ies Mary Lui took place.

Photo of Yale Graduate Studies Building

Yale Grad­u­ate Stud­ies Build­ing on York Street

The build­ing reminds you how much his­to­ry has come before you and how much you are igno­rant of.

Photo of Robin Lung at Yale

Direc­tor Robin Lung at Yale

 

For­tu­nate­ly the halls of learn­ing at Yale are pop­u­lat­ed by peo­ple like Mary who ded­i­cate their lives to gath­er­ing knowl­edge and dis­sem­i­nat­ing it to peo­ple like me.

 

Robin Lung interviews Mary Lui for FINDING KUKAN

Robin Lung inter­views Mary Lui for FINDING KUKAN

 

In try­ing to under­stand the social cli­mate that prompt­ed Li Ling-Ai and Rey Scott to risk mon­ey and life to make KUKAN, Mary Lui remind­ed me that the behav­ior of Chi­nese Amer­i­cans like Li Ling-Ai was still gov­erned in part by prej­u­di­cial immi­gra­tion laws enact­ed against the Chi­nese — the most infa­mous one being the Chi­nese Exclu­sion Act passed in 1882.

Signature Page of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act

Sig­na­ture Page of the 1882 Chi­nese Exclu­sion Act

Meant to keep cheap labor from enter­ing the US, the exclu­sion laws end­ed up doing much more than that. From restrict­ing the for­ma­tion of Chi­nese fam­i­lies, to ren­der­ing the few Chi­nese women around at the time exot­ic crea­tures with ques­tion­able back­grounds the Exclu­sion Laws had neg­a­tive reper­cus­sions on even the rich­est and most edu­cat­ed Chi­nese Amer­i­cans.  It’s no won­der that with so few Chi­nese Amer­i­cans around that stereo­types and mis­con­cep­tions about them would form.

Vintage Valentine Card

Vin­tage Valen­tine Card

 

I came back to Hawaii much bet­ter pre­pared to appre­ci­ate the his­toric bill recent­ly passed by Con­gress to offi­cial­ly apol­o­gize for the prej­u­di­cial laws that tar­get­ed Chi­nese and oth­er Asians in Amer­i­ca for over 80 years.

 

Judy Chu

Judy Chu intro­duced Apol­o­gy Bill for Chi­nese Exclu­sion Laws

 

One of the stereo­types I had about my own eth­nic back­ground was that Chi­nese don’t make waves and pas­sive­ly accept their fate, let­ting bygones be bygones.

Action Call Post­ed by the 1882 Project

The coura­geous efforts of peo­ple like Con­gress­woman Judy Chu and orga­ni­za­tions like the 1882 Project belie that stereo­type and bring a new val­i­da­tion to the his­to­ry of Asians in Amer­i­ca that will hope­ful­ly prompt more sto­ries about an era of exclu­sion that we still don’t know enough about.

Are there ways that exclu­sion laws have affect­ed your life?  Let us hear from you.

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February 15, 2012 — A Fashion Interlude

Recent­ly I had the good for­tune of meet­ing one of Ling-Ai’s nieces who had saved many of Ling-Ai’s papers and pos­ses­sions.  I am cur­rent­ly por­ing through doc­u­ments and pieces of paper, look­ing for clues that tell more about the mak­ing of KUKAN.  It can be a tedious job.  So I took an after­noon off to explore some of Ling-Ai’s fash­ion acces­sories that had been painstak­ing­ly packed away.  Ling-Ai had an obvi­ous flair for fash­ion.  And the vin­tage clothes lover in me went gaga as I opened this eye-catch­ing tres MOD turquoise hat box. 

Photo of Li Ling-Ai's Hat Box.

Li Ling-Ai’s Mod Turquoise Hat Box could be a fash­ion acces­so­ry in itself

 

The con­tents of the box did not dis­ap­point.  I dis­cov­ered three exquis­ite­ly craft­ed lit­tle num­bers.  A pink bro­cade small saucer hat with a stun­ning plume was my favorite.

Photo of Li Ling-Ai's Nick Savage pink brocade hat.

Plumed pink bro­cade hat by Nick Savage

 
I had a lot of fun imag­in­ing the type of occa­sion Ling-Ai chose to wear this hat to.
 
 
Photo of pink brocade hat.
 
Photo of Nick Savage pink brocade plumed hat owned by Li Ling-Ai
While pho­tograph­ing this hat, I noticed the amaz­ing crafts­man­ship that went into it’s construction.
 
Photo of detail from pink brocade hat by Nick Savage

Detail of pink bro­cade hat.

A signed label was sewn into the inside lin­ing of the hat.  Nick Sav­age appears to be the tal­ent­ed milliner who made it.
 
Photo of inside of pink brocade hat
These next two pieces were also made by Nick. And are equal­ly exquisite.
 
 
Photo of gold ponytail hat by Nick Savage.

Gold pony­tail hat by Nick Savage.Gold-banded camel­lia hat by Nick Savage

 
 
 
Photo of gold-banded camellia hat by Nick Savage

Gold-band­ed camel­lia hat by Nick Savage

 

The lit­tle details are mar­velous. Check out the sep­a­rate braid­ed strands that start this gold pony-tail plume.

Photo of gold ponytail saucer hat by Nick Savage

 And the per­fect posi­tion­ing of the bro­cad­ed fabric.
 
Gold ponytail saucer hat by Nick Savage.
The camel­lia on this inven­tive piece was a lit­tle a squished, but I imag­ine it was pret­ty sump­tious when Ling-Ai wore it back in the day.
 
Photo of gold-banded camellia hat by Nick Savage
Gold-banded camellia hat by Nick Savage
 
I could­n’t find any infor­ma­tion on the inter­net about the tal­ent­ed Nick Sav­age.  But I did find a lit­tle label in the inside of this camel­lia hat. 
 
 
 It had a New York City address — 350 East 50th Street — from Google Maps it looks to be a build­ing just off Lex­ing­ton Ave.  If any fash­ion­istas have any more infor­ma­tion on him, please let me know.  I have Mr. Sav­age’s millinery gifts, Li Ling-Ai’s fash­ion sense and her niece’s fore­sight to thank for a won­der­ful after­noon spent in a world of gamorous fantasy. 
 
Black velvet rhinestone and pearl studded hat from Li Ling-Ai's collection.

Black vel­vet rhine­stone and pearl stud­ded hat from Li Ling-Ai’s collection.

 
To top off my post I’ll leave with a few shots of anoth­er gor­geous top­per in Ling-Ai’s col­lec­tion (by an unknown maker).
 
 Detail of Velvet Hat
 

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