Like a Rolling Stone

Memories of Sweet Caroline, and of Oakland's Chinatown by Ben Fong-Torres

Posted by AC Team on Sunday, 17 March 2013

Memories of Sweet Caroline, and of Oakland's Chinatown by Ben Fong-Torres

Berkeley, California 

Memories of Sweet Caroline,

and of Oakland’s Chinatown 

by Ben Fong-Torres


Caroline Chin was a neighbor and classmate of mine when we grew up in Chinatown, Oakland, in the ‘50s. We went to Lincoln Elementary, Westlake Jr High, and Chinese school together.

She went on to become a teacher, an administrator and, finally, principal at (full circle) Lincoln School, in the early 2000’s, just before retiring. Under her leadership, it became a California Distinguished School, and would go on to become a National Blue Ribbon School. At her various stops, she encouraged kids and teachers alike to "work hard; learn a lot."

A large, overflow crowd--maybe 750 or 800--learned a lot about Caroline Chin Yee, who passed away last month, at her services at the First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley.

Caroline had what appeared to have been a full and perfectly balanced life. She and her husband since 1968, Gary Yee, were devoted to their church – and to traveling the world. She even combined globetrotting with teaching, once in Zhongshan; another time, in Edinburgh, Scotland.  She had wonderful siblings, two children, grandkids and in-laws. One niece, Terri Lee, introduced herself as “the oldest of her nieces. So I’m guessing I was her favorite.” 

She and others, family and friends, told of Caroline’s dedication to them, and to children in general, and to the wider community.

Caroline passed away on February 21; her memorial was...

She Bangs! She Bangs! Ooh, Baby, I'm William Hung Over!

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Wednesday, 24 March 2004

American Idol reject William Hung gets an extended 15 minutes of fame, and Kim Wong Keltner's first novel sets off an online firestorm.

AsianConnections pre- sents the adventures of Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broad- caster, karaoke nut and former writer and editor at Rolling Stone. Ben was a featured character in the acclaimed film, Almost Famous.

Ive got a feeling about this William Hung guy. Hes going to last about as long as an iPod download. Hung, of course, is the diminutive UC Berkeley student who auditioned for American Idol with a goofy version of Ricky Martins She Bangs, got featured as one of the really bad singers (and he dances like a marionette, to boot), and is going through his 15 minutes, and then some, of fame. Hung, a native of Hong Kong who moved to the U.S. in 1993, has been on big TV shows Tonight, Dateline, Entertainment Tonight, and Ellen ; hes being booked for personal appearances, hes got fan Web sites, and hes constantly mobbed on campus, where hes a civil engineering student. Best, or perhaps most frightening of all, he got a $25,000 recording contract and a CD, True Idol , coming out.

All this because, as clunky a performer as he is, he offered an innocently sweet and gracious response after the judges dissed him. I already gave my best, and I have no regrets at all.

And that was it. Because he didnt scream back at Simon Cowell, burst into tears and stomp off and because hes so bad its almost funny hes a cult...

Telling My Story, In Words and Music

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Wednesday, 23 September 2009

AC's Renaissance Man Ben Fong-Torres is invited to share highlights of his life and times to a packed audience in Mill Valley.

The idea blossomed about a year ago: It would be called Telling Your Story, and I would involve people known for their ability to tell stories to advise others on how to relate their own stories in the form of an oral history, a written memoirs, or a multi-media presentation, aimed at family and friends or the public at large.

I heard the idea from Alan Unger, a friend who was working with The Redwoods, the rather hip and radical retirement community in Mill Valley, in Marin County (natch). He thought it would be cool if Amy Tan and I could kick off the series early in 2009. I told him we were both good choices but not together. If Amy were involved, I said, it would have to be the Amy Tan show, and I would be happy to serve as interviewer.

No, he said. We want you to tell your story, too. And, knowing that I was more available than Amy (who, at that time, was mounting the opera version of her novel, The Bonesetters Daughter), he convinced me to do the premiere program, in September. This was back in January, and it was a stretch to respond, Oh, September 17th. Darn! I just happen to be busy.

And so it was that, for the first time in my 40-year career (if we peg its beginning at May, 1969, when I joined Rolling Stone as a writer and editor), I sat down for an onstage interview about me. The interrogator was a long-time friend, Kathi Goldmark, who...