Saturday, April 01, 2006

Instant Yang v.9: Why Asians rule poker; eating dogs redux; the Cantoboyz; support the SKA Foundation

Back again, with more biweekly info-nuggets for your approval.

As you may remember (or not) from the last episode of this splog, I was headed to Vegas for some, uh, research on the fast and loose world of high-stakes poker. Well, the funds I'd set aside for first-person research vaporized within 15 minutes of my arrival in Sin City, so I'm afraid I can't offer a thrilling account of my adventures as a gamblin' man. I can, however, attest to the splendor of the Wynn Hotel & Casino buffet, which I partook of twice. The roast lamb is particularly excellent.

On the other hand, I did get to take in quite a bit of local color--not to mention soak up some reflected glory from the high rollers who were in town to play in the Bellagio Festa al Lago poker tournament.

This week's SFGate col looks at the startling dominance of Asian players on the pro poker circuit--something which might not be surprising to anyone who's visited the so-called "Asian Rooms" of any big casino, but which has been surprisingly underreported by mainstream media. Put it this way: Poker and women's golf are the two games that we *own*.

by Jeff Yang, special to SF Gate
If you're a poker buff, you know that some of the biggest names on the money tour are Asians--like legendary two-time World Series of Poker champ Johnny Chan and refugee-turned-rounder Scotty "The Prince" Nguyen. Meanwhile, a new generation of Asian American card sharks are beginning to deal themselves into the game. Jeff Yang checks in with some of the reigning Asian kings and queens of the pro poker circuit.

Now, I don't want to minimize the problem of gambling in Asian communities--fortunes have been lost, and families have been broken by gaming addictions. But poker has become such an incredible, all-encompassing phenomenon--as a sport, not just a leisure pursuit--that there's something to be said for the fact that we have a stake in the action. So to speak.

I might add that it was a real kick speaking to Johnny Chan and Scotty Nguyen, two of the reigning heroes of the game--and real, true characters. Those passionate about poker should also definitely check out Joe Sebok's writings on the subject; he's not just a serious, up-and-coming player, but an avid blogger and essayist, a Berkeley grad, and the survivor of five or so dot-com implosions. You'll probably learn more about the poker life by browsing his stuff for an hour than reading two or three books.

Lastly, Liz Lieu rocks. She's not just a rising star, she's also an unusually sweet person, given her ability to crush you like a bug at the tables. She says she'll be playing in the Foxwoods tournament in a few weeks, so East Coasties might want to go up and cheer her on...

And now, some responses to the last column on dogs in Asia: Noted film critic and all around sage David Chute pointed out a few Chinese movies that explicitly depict dog-eating:

"I notice that in older Chinese movies, like some of Li Han-hsiang's, eating dog stew is used as a male bonding ritual and as a sign of salt of the earth lack of pretension, proof positive that the person has not lost touch with his peasant roots. I also recall that in an HK gangster films a few years back there was a scene set in an underground dog meat restaurant: the experience begins when the still squirming puppy is brought to the table for the diner's approval...Isn't there also a dog meat gag in the opening scene of Once Upon a Time in China 2?"

And also, as David points out, a lengthy dog-eating scene in Jet Li's classic debut, SHAOLIN TEMPLE. It's odd--those scenes had skipped my memory, or perhaps I've unconsciously blocked them out...

On the "Next Big Viral Email Craze" front, catch this set of dubiously talented (but certainly hilarious) lipsyncers on videosharing site

A pair of Chinese guys wearing Yao Ming jerseys (they look like college kids in a dorm room) lip-synch strenuously to hits like the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way"

Not sure what I think yet--is this the next William Hung or is the joke on America for having such cheesy, generic pop music? More viral lipsyncing, only in reverse: A friend pointed me to, which allows you to record your version of cheesy, generic pop hits and get a virtual avatar to sing it for you. Pretty fun--though I'm not sure what it has to do with Yogurt Burst Cheerios.

And finally, a serious and important note.

Those of you who know Curtis Chin know that he's a great guy, a talented writer, and an important leader and pioneer in the Asian American community. Among other things, he founded the Asian American Writers Workshop, and has been instrumental in organizing Asian Pacific Americans for Progress (and remains a director-at-large of that important political outreach group).

He was also my roommate years back when he lived in New York, and my coworker for a time at Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, as well as a founding editor of aMagazine: Inside Asian America.

Last week, he experienced a sudden personal tragedy. His parents were in a car accident that seriously injured his mother Shui Kuen and killed his father Allen.

Curtis' family, who were among the first Asians in Michigan, opened Chung's Restaurant in 1940, and their family business served as the center of the Chinese American community there for many years--even being included in a small part of the documentary "Who Killed Vincent Chin?." Curtis' father was picking up supplies with his wife to start a typical day at the restaurant when the accident occurred.

In memorial of their father, the Chin family, working with Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, a national nonprofit based in San Francisco, has established the Shui Kuen and Allen Chin Foundation to offer a $1,000 scholarship each year to an Asian American college freshman whose family comes from the food service industry.

Here's a quote from Curtis: "We felt this was not only part of our own identity, but also a statement about the Asian American community....My father always stressed three things: education, hard work and good food."

I urge you to make a tax-deductible donation to the fund or suggest other ways that you might help. Donations, which should be made out to AAPIP/The Shui Kuen and Allen Chin Foundation, can be sent c/o Curtis Chin at 215 S. Santa Fe Ave., #3, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

You can also e-mail Curtis at

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