Thursday, June 29, 2017

1967, the Summer of Love in Hollywood: a View from a Chinese Hand Laundry

California Dreamin' 1967

In May I picked up a pristine copy of Long Beach-born Michelle Phillips' memoir, California Dreamin':  the True Story of the Mamas and the Papas (1986) for a buck at the Friends of Whittier Public Library Bookstore.  By coincidence, I began reading it on and off, and when I got to the pages where Michelle described the Monterey International Pop Festival (June 16-18, 1967), I realized it was now the actual 50th anniversary of the festival.

Hollywood, 1965 - 1968

The lazy summer days in the 1960s often found me relaxing in the rear patio of our Hollywood family business, Tan Shing Chinese Hand Laundry, with a hand-held, silver Jade transistor radio pressed up to an ear.  Fontella Bass' "Rescue Me" (1965) and the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love" (1966) received a lot of air play, and the songs offered me, a 10-year old, some early, subconscious advice on relationships.

My father must have bought the laundry business at 7555 W. Sunset Boulevard from Ling Lee in 1965, because by fall I was attending fourth grade at Gardner Street Elementary School a few blocks from the laundry.  (I transferred from Micheltorena Elementary School near Silverlake, a school that Michelle Phillips also attended.)

The Save Our Way Market was at the corner at 7551 Sunset.  My parents toiled twelve hours a day except for Sundays, so they were always around when I returned from school.  A sheltered family life -  the laundry had amenities of a kitchen, eating area and two beds for our long hours staying there until we could return home each night to Silverlake.

We were located near Sierra Bonita Avenue, about six blocks east of Fairfax Avenue.  Occasionally my siblings and I walked to the Thrifty's Drugs at Fairfax to buy comic books.  We did not venture further west towards Sunset Strip.

Us kids on several occasions got to stuff envelopes for one dollar at the photography business next door.  Around the corner on Sierra Bonita we befriended the people who rented a space to assemble movie studio lights.

Some of the laundry customers were character actors.  Once I encountered Alan Hale (the Skipper on Gilligan's Island, the TV show that ended in 1967) at the library on Gardner Street below Sunset.  Actress Stephanie Powers' brother lived nearby, too.  Actress Barbara Eden (star of I Dream of Jeannie) shopped at the Ralph's Market further east on Sunset.

It must have been 1967 when all the hippies started hanging out along the boulevard near our laundry.  In a day the neighborhood was completely transformed.  Never before was there this buzz of street activity, but all of the sudden long-haired young men loitered about, often sitting cross-legged on the sidewalks, flashing the "peace" sign to each other with their fingers.  Most noticeable were the young women because they wore extremely short, micro mini-skirts and dresses as they congregated on Sunset.

In Michelle Phillips' book, she describes the scene at the Sunset Strip after the festival ended at Monterey in mid-June of 1967:  "Now and again we would leave the Bel Air house for a drive through the greatest show on earth:  the hippie dream trail of Sunset Strip, where, on weekends, all the folks from the San Fernando Valley and other 'out of towners' would drive through, slowly, at cruising pace, curb-crawling, bumper to bumper, to see 'the freaks', the young and not so young with funny hair, long dresses, cowboy boots, jeans, all sorts of hats, and all sorts of heads under them." 

What I saw near our laundry must have been a spillover of this circus less than half a mile away.  At some point in time a colorful bus began rolling along heading west on Sunset, with its speakers blasting the song "Magic Bus" by The Who.  The bus came by often.  Was it a marketing or a tourist gimmick after the song was released in 1968?

I observed some of the commercialism of the psychedelic 60s:  the storefront next door at 7557 Sunset Boulevard was vacated by photographer Jacques De Langre and took on a new life as a short-lived retail store selling hippie paraphernalia.  The business did not last too long, and maybe it was when they were clearing out their inventory that I scored for free some "mod" 78 rpm record inner-sleeves and maybe even the Lucite ring shown below.

California Dreaming, 1510 - 1770

Scholars attribute a Spanish tale for having inflamed a curiosity among the men who first explored the Pacific Coast - the novel Las Sergas de Esplandián by Spanish writer Garci Rodrigues Ordoñez de Montalvo from around the year 1510.  Passages in the book describe an island called California ruled by Queen Calafia, a spirited, beautiful ruler statuesque in proportion.

Las Sergas de Esplandián - probably a later edition at one time on exhibit in the Lando Hall of California History
at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
(Image courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research)

A Paradise at Monterey

A Basque explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno charted the upper California coast in 1602, naming along the way place-names familiar today - including San Diego, Santa Barbara, Point Concepcion, and Monterey.  He described Monterey as the most desirable port, with the same latitude and climate as Seville, with springs of good water, beautiful lakes covered with ducks and other birds, fertile pastures and meadows for cattle and crops. 

His over-the-top description sparked the imagination of men like Captain Gaspar de Portolá, who in 1769 brought Father Junipero Serra to found the first Spanish mission at San Diego.  No sooner that they arrived that Portolá took off to search for Monterey - arriving there unknowingly, expecting the mythical place portrayed by Vizcaíno.

Disappointed, Portolá ordered Sergeant José Ortega to take another look - Ortega actually discovered the San Francisco bay instead.  Portolá, unimpressed, wrote in his journal that the scouts "found nothing".  He did, however, return to the Monterey vicinity on December 9, 1769, and he erected a wooden cross.  He and his starving men returned to San Diego by January, 1770.  A Spanish ship came in with new provisions and Portolá headed back up to Monterey (meeting Father Serra up there who traveled by ship), where the padre would establish a new headquarter for the Catholic missions, while Portolá set up a presidio to protect the mission.

Monterey was the original capital of California, as well as the religious seat, and it was the destination for the early Spanish settlers in the late 1700s.


After I finished sixth grade at Gardner Street Elementary School, a new, pint-size singing sensation, Michael Jackson, came into the school as a sixth grader in 1969.

A new school to attend for me in 1968 was Joseph Le Conte Junior High School on Bronson Avenue.  Notable students were Manuel Padilla, Jr. who portrayed Jai in the Tarzan television show while attending the school, and future actress Rita Wilson.  It is funny that the memory reaching back 50 years can recall those who made names for themselves as celebrity.

Actor and comedian Redd Fox opened an opulent Hollywood beauty salon in July, 1975 called Celebrity Beauty Salon and later re-named Redd Foxx Hairstyling Salon.  The storefront he took over was our former laundry.  The salon closed in 1979.

John Denver, who arrived in Los Angeles in 1964, was part of the soon-to-be-diminishing folk music scene.  He would go on to become the biggest recording star of the following decade.  He broke millions of hearts when he, the avid aviator, died upon plunging his experimental plane into the Monterey bay in October of 1997.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Ocean Liners: in Times of Peace and War

Asama Maru...Coming to America

Grandpa immigrated to America in 1929 on the maiden voyage of the Japanese liner, Asama Maru.  The $6,000,000 passenger ship carried over 800 persons:  between 222 and 239 first class passengers (accounts vary), 96 persons in second class, and 504 in third class.  It was the first Japan-made diesel engine ship and one of the fastest at the time traveling at 21 knots.  It took a little over 12 days from Asia to California.

Los Angeles Times display ad October 29, 1929
(Image courtesy of ProQuest Historical Newspapers)

This blogger's father's father arrived in San Francisco on October 24, 1929, six days before the crash of the New York Stock Exchange.  He mostly likely traveled from the starting point in Hong Kong on a third class ticket.

The next port call for the Asama Maru was Los Angeles on October 29th, and the anticipated arrival of the ocean liner brought with it economic optimism of closer relations with the Far East.  There was no way to foresee the ship's future:  employed in the Second World War as a "mercy" ship, then as a hell ship and then its sinking by a torpedo in 1944.

On its first time arrival in L.A. the ship was publicly opened to visits by the more than 15,000 people before it set sail back to the Orient on November 1st via San Francisco and Honolulu. 

Los Angeles Times article dated October 28, 1929
(Courtesy of ProQuest Historical Newspapers)

The Asama Maru's interior décor was a blend of western and Oriental rooms.  The ship sailed through the decade of the 1930s.

From 1939 brochure
(Courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research, GC-1094)

1936 brochure
(Courtesy of the Seaver Center, GC-1094)

1930 ad
(Courtesy of the Seaver Center, GC-1094)

1930 ad reverse side with travel agent stamp out of Pasadena, Calif.
(Courtesy of the Seaver Center, GC-1094)

March, 1938 sales brochure
(Courtesy of the Seaver Center, GC-1094)

March, 1938 sales brochure
(Courtesy of the Seaver Center, GC-1094)

March, 1938 sales brochure stamped with still hopeful reminder of upcoming Tokyo Olympics
(Courtesy of the Seaver Center, GC-1094)

This 1940 brochure provided a Notice that due to the war in Europe, the Japan-Europe Service route was not in operation
(Courtesy of the Seaver Center, GC-1094)

Some History of American Ships on the Pacific Coast

Pacific Mail Steamship Co. operated several side-wheel steamers in the 19th century.  The SS Colorado (1864-1878) inaugurated in 1867 the company's first scheduled service to Hong Kong, with stops in Japan.  According to an anniversary calendar, the Colorado took travelers in search of fabric, tea, and spices.  Chinese migrant workers headed to Gold Mountain (California) made the return voyage.

From APL sesquicentennial calendar 1848-1998 picturing the SS Colorado
(Courtesy of blogger's personal collection)
Pacific Mail Steamship's SS The Great Republic (1867-1878) was among the last of the wooden side-wheelers taking passengers across the Pacific to Japan and later to Hong Kong (9.5 knots speed; 1,450 passengers of which 250 were first class).

Dollar Lines was another enterprise which in the early 1920s counted upon 90 percent of its transpacific passengers from Asia.  In 1925 Dollar Lines bought Pacific Mail Steamship.  During the Gilded Age, it operated luxurious ships boasting fine crystal, china and silverware in its dining rooms, grand pianos in the first class lounges.  By 1931, Dollar's SS President Hoover was the largest U.S. built passenger liner, with a telephone in each stateroom and private baths in first class.  It carried 988 passengers in four classes at a speed of 20 knots.

Air travel during this time was new - passenger flights began in the summer of 1929 by the Transcontinental Air Transport, Inc. (later to be named TWA).

Dollar Steamship Co. became known as American President Lines (APL) in 1938.  During the Second World War, APL managed ships for the War Shipping Administration, including its own APL liners.

Another line, Matson, concentrated on mainland to Hawaii service.  In 1927, its SS Malolo (1927) was the fastest in the Pacific Ocean at 22 knots.  Three other luxury Matson ships built between 1930 and 1932 were SS Mariposa, SS Monterey and SS Lurline.  Once the U.S. joined the war, Matson liners became a part of the war effort.

War Ships

Japan joined the Axis powers on September 27, 1940.  Japanese ships were conscripted into war service.  Similarly, when the United States joined Allied forces after December 7, 1941, American ships were adapted as troop carriers, hospital ships and freighters.

Mercy Ships of War

The Asama Maru had a role during the Second World War in the exchange of civilians among countries.  The Gripsholm Exchanges involved the return of citizens behind enemy lines, and the first took place with the Asama Maru in 1942 transporting American diplomats and their families, as well as some South Americans, who had been imprisoned since December 8, 1941.  Another ship, the Italian Conte Verde, simultaneously swept up Americans stranded in China.  The Asama Maru left Yokohama, Japan on June 25th, making further pickups at Hong Kong, Saigon and Singapore, where it met the Conte Verde.  Both ships departed for Lourenco Marques, Mozambique, with all of their lights on, illuminated crosses on the hind deck, and with the word EXCHANGE painted in large letters on the sides, arriving July 23rd. 

Arriving also was the Swedish MS Grispsholm which had carried Japanese nationals from New York and Rio de Janeiro.  The exchange took place on the 24th.  (In comparison to the Asama Maru that was Japan's first diesel-fueled passenger liner, the Grispsholm was a 1925 cruise ship and the first diesel-powered one to cross the Atlantic Ocean.)

Asama Maru was sunk by an American submarine USS Atule in the South China Sea on November 1, 1944.

Hell Ships of War

Among the luxury Japanese liners from the era of the 1930s, this blogger finds a brief web mention that the Asama Maru served as a hell ship.  These Japanese ships transported WWII prisoners-of-war from Japan-occupied lands - their intent to ship these POWs to Japan and other occupied territories for slave labor.

Another liner, Nitta Maru, formerly serviced the Japan-Europe passenger route (referenced in a previous image above), was converted during the war and served as a hell ship (documented is the transport of Allied soldiers from Wake Island to Japan in January of 1942).

Many other Japanese military ships served as hell ships, and this blog post serves to bring attention to the Arisan Maru that transported 31st Regiment Infantry Private Charles G. Vargas who hailed from the L.A. area.

(Image courtesy of J. Adame)

The Arisan Maru was a military ship, never a passenger liner, that set out carrying over 1,780 prisoners from Bataan, Philippines on October 11, 1944 destined for Formosa.  The men had already endured several years of hardship, brutality, and torture by the hands of their Japanese counterparts since the fall of the Philippines in 1942.

As the men were crammed onto the ship, they faced starvation, dysentery and continued torture.  Many began dying while the ship detoured for several days before the journey north.  The ship did not bear any signs indicating the transport of American and Allied POWs and other civilian prisoners, and on October 24, 1944 friendly fire torpedoed the ship.  Five soldiers survived, but Private Vargas and the rest all perished .  This was the greatest number of fatalities in a single instance at sea.

Private Vargas is remembered as a young resident of Simons, California, the brick-making company town near Montebello in L.A. County.  His profile in the American Patriots of Latino Heritage website states he was born in Santa Monica (Simons Brick Company had a plant located in Santa Monica, and quite probably Vargas was born there.)  Also listed are his three brothers, the oldest Alexander (born in Simons, 1920), and Charles' two younger brothers, Salvador (born in Santa Monica, 1926) and Ismael (born in Santa Monica, 1928) - the three brothers survived the war.  Out of all the profiles in the Latino Heritage site, this blogger only found a couple of soldiers who died on hell ships, one of which was Private Vargas.

At the war's Pacific Theater, the Death March of Bataan, the prison camps and the hell ships were bleak episodes in humanity, where war produced heinous and atrocious crimes by otherwise civilized men in otherwise peaceful times.  It is a mournful memory even 73 years later.

Grandpa was living in L.A. before he was drafted as a civilian worker following the attack at Pearl Harbor.  He worked in Kaneohe, Oahu.  Found in an old suitcase, he saved what appears to be a memento of his time on the island:

Pillow case souvenir

Friday, June 9, 2017

L.A. Chinatown Ephemera

Undated business card

The store sold miniatures, too.  This business card is miniature -
the actual size is 1" x 1 3/4" as compared to a coin below

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Asian Americans in Film

Bruce Lee - his presence on the big screen was short-lived - he died in 1973 when this blogger was in the 11th grade of high school.  Fear not for also admired was Peggy Lipton of the TV show Mod Squad.

There must have been quite a dry spell without Asian Americans in film.  Then a theatrical production, Paper Angels, aired on public television in 1985, and this blogger must have ordered this poster afterwards.  The play explored the experience of Chinese immigrants entering at Angel Island near San Francisco, the west coast version of Ellis Island.

(All images from this blogger's collection
except as noted)

Occasional high points of movie-going in the 1980s and 1990s were The Last Emperor, released in 1987, and The Joy Luck Club in 1993.  The year 2000 brought Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon proving the marketability of Asian actors albeit international stars Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, as well as the films starring Jackie Chan.

This blog posting covers many productions viewed through the years, including screenings for independent documentaries entailing Asian American stories.

In the year 2000 comedian Margaret Cho, survivor of a short-lived TV show, released a live comedy film I'm the One That I Want.  It was screened at the Nuart, and Margaret was at the door with a no-nonsense demeanor collecting tickets from attendees as we filed in.

Although the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival has been around since 1983 (originally under the name VC FilmFest) this blogger did not take notice for decades.

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam was shown at the Arclight in Hollywood during the 2004 festival.  Here is the description of the film from the National Film Board of Canada: 

"This feature documentary offers a whimsical tour through the history of Chinese magicians and performers in the Western world. Long Tack Sam was an internationally renowned Chinese acrobat and magician who overcame isolation, poverty, cultural and linguistic barriers, extreme racism and world wars to become one of the most successful acts of his time. Filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming travels the globe searching for the story of her great-grandfather, the cosmopolitan Long Tack Sam. A celebration of the spirit of Long Tack Sam's magic and art, this richly textured first-person road movie is an exhilarating testament to his legacy and a prismatic tour through the 20th Century."  The film can be viewed at the National Film Board of Canada website.

Not owning any memento on this film,
this blogger almost forgot about this screening
(Image courtesy NFB of Canada)

At the 2006 film festival, The Queen from Virginia, the Jackie Bong Wright Story was an enjoyable documentary following a Vietnamese woman as she competed in the Ms. Senior America Pageant.

A Brief Flight, Hazel Ying Lee and the Women Who Flew Pursuit, was a 2003 film by Alan H. Rosenberg.  It was shown at an event hosted by the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, based in Chinatown Los Angeles.  The screening date might have been a year or two after the film was finished.  Hazel was the first Chinese American woman to fly for the U.S. military, for the WASP (Women's Air Force Pilot) program.  She crashed during a mission resulting in her death.  She fulfilled her life's goal to fly, but racial discrimination nearly followed her to the grave as hometown  Portland, Oregon, objected to her burial in an all-white cemetery.

(Image courtesy of Pinterest:
Chinese Americans in the Military)

An autographed DVD was snapped up following a live performance at the Aratani/Japan America Theater in Little Tokyo in September, 2006 by the Kims of Comedy at the annual AADAP (Asian American Drug Abuse Program) fundraiser show.  The four Korean American standup comedians were Steve Byrne, Dr. Ken Jeong, Bobby Lee, and Kevin Shea.  (This blogger recalls a couple of Korean American standups from an earlier generation: Johnny Yune and Henry Cho.)

The 2008 film festival prompted attendance at two documentaries.  Long Story Short, Not Your Typical Song and Dance was a tribute to actress Jodi Long's parents, nightclub entertainers who also garnered an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.


Filmmaker Arthur Dong released his documentary Hollywood Chinese, the Chinese in American Feature Films in 2009 or 2010 but not as part of the film festival lineup.

Another independent film widely screened in L.A., Hawaii, and many cities around the country was Cory Shiozaki's look at Japanese internment history through the Sierras freshwater fishing in The Manzanar Fishing Club.  It first came out in 2012 (?)

Its original working title was From Barbed Wire to Barbed Hooks.

In recognition of the Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month for 2015, the Japanese American National Museum presented a double feature in Little Tokyo:  a new documentary, On Gold Mountain, with a historical look at four Chinese American women; and The Curse of the Quon Gwon, a restored silent film with a new music score, thanks to filmmaker Arthur Dong.  Curse is the earliest known work by an Asian American director, who happened to be a woman, Marion Wong.  Here was my previous blog post on that terrific screening written in conjunction with admiration for artist Milton Quon.

2016's film festival screening of Tyrus at the Aratani Theater brought a full audience that included the subject himself, Mr. Tyrus Wong, who lived to see the Pamela Tom documentary.  Sadly, he died seven months later at the age of 106.

This year the 2017 film festival offered Robin Lung's Finding Kukan which prompted the blog posting from last month and continues to inspire for this current post.  Lung uncovers the story of the previously unheralded woman behind the making of the 1941 Kukan which was among the first documentaries to received Oscar recognition.

Asian Americans in film are gaining an inch of ground.  This blogger admires several actors, particularly as they have been able to attain roles that are not necessarily color-bound:  Ken Jeong, Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh, Gedde Watanabe and B.D. Wong.

Yet still a recent viewing of 1961's West Side Story on DVD brought a double-take, and nearly a jaw drop, as one of Maria's Puerto Rican friends, Francisca, was acted and performed by Japanese American Joanne Miya (real name Nobuko Miyamoto).

Finally, this blogger regrets to not have yet seen Linsanity from 2013.  The well-received film about phenomenal Taiwanese American NBA athlete Jeremy Lin is on the bucket list.