Packing Recap


Now that our tour is over, we’ve identified some things we would have changed regarding our packing strategy (see photo to right). We often felt like we were a rock band traveling the country during this tour. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any roadies to help carry our gear! So, because it’s just the two of us, we have to be extra vigilant and ruthless with regards to what we bring with us.

Packing - What We Brought

If you recall from our previous post, Rae carried our clothes and toiletries in her REI Traverse backpack, and I carried all the computers, mobile Internet, camera flash, and power adapters in a Rickshaw Bagworks Medium Commuter Messenger Bag. We took turns dragging around a single Pelican 1510 Carry-On Case that contained 300 DVDs, assorted cables, papers, and my 5D Mark II camera. So, what worked and what didn’t?

For starters, we would try to leave the Pelican at home next time. While ultra-durable and somewhat capacious, it’s also quite heavy and bulky to travel with. When fully loaded, the 1510 tired one’s arm after prolonged periods. Similarly, the Rickshaw bag held a surprising amount of gear, but it too became very heavy to wear over time, even with the critical cross strap (used to distribute the weight more evenly on my body). For the next trip, I think I would try to load everything into my LowePro CompuTrekker AW camera/laptop backpack. I would have to reduce the number of DVDs that we bring with us, but at least 120-140 would fit comfortably along with one computer, my camera, flash, cables, modem and accessories.

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University of Pennsylvania Screening Recap and Photos


Rae and Adam outside the Annenberg Center at UPenn.

Our last stop was at the University of Pennsylvania. Following the screening at the Evergreen Senior Club in Delaware, Uncle Don drove us to Philadelphia. World Series fever was in the air, as we saw many banners for the Phillies, as well as people sporting Phillies jackets, hats and shirts.

We had an intimate screening, similar to our first stop on this tour in Madison, Wisconsin. Despite the small size, the audience was very enthusiastic about the film; I bet the cold weather and World Series fever contributed to the small showing; next time, we’ll mobilize and get those Women’s Studies and Chinese Literature professors to require their students to watch the film! Rae and I have definitely taken notes on how to get more people in attendance at our screenings; we’ll be testing out our theories in the ones coming up at Stanford (November 30) and Berkeley (December 3).

Among the audience members was my Stanford friend, Andreea. The two of us were the Theme Associates in La Maison Française our senior year. I have fond memories working with her on in-house classes, wine and cheese nights, and movie nights at the French House. Good times those were back in 1996-1997! Andreea is now an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the university. Her field of research is in Several Complex Variables, which is one complex variable too much for me!

On this tour, we’ve had all sorts of cuisine — Japanese, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Kosher, East Coast Seafood, Afghan, American, Indian, Farmer’s Market, Dorm Food, Mediterranean, Chicago-style Pizza, New York Street Food and Vietnamese — but not African. Following the screening, Uncle Don, Andreea, Rae and I had dinner at Abyssinia, an Ethiopian Restaurant near the UPenn campus. Though I really wanted to get a Philly Cheese Steak from some street vendor, the lure of injera and doro wot was too hard to pass up!

And with the UPenn screening, we were done! 17 tour stops in 25 days! Rae and I were supremely tired but very happy with the outcome of our tour. Recap of the entire experience to come soon, but in the meantime, some photos from UPenn!

Evergreen Senior Club Recap and Photos


Evergreen Senior Club screening of Autumn Gem

About two weeks ago, Rae’s dad told us to call one of his friends from college who now lives in Delaware. Professor Charles Ih (from the University of Delaware) was very interested in showing Autumn Gem to the Evergreen Senior Club at the Chinese American Community Center in Hockessin, Delaware. The only time that we had available was on the October 28th, our final tour date. We arranged to have the screening at 11:00 am, which would give us enough time to drive over to Philadelphia for our 4:00 pm screening.

We got back late the previous evening from our New York screening. Sleeping only a few hours, we woke up bright and early to drive two and a half hours from New Jersey to Delaware. The drive fortunately was uneventful, unlike the rain storm we drove through coming back from Boston the previous week. The CACC building also houses a Montessori School and Child Care Center during the weekdays. We saw lots of little kids and their parents running around during the screening.

From the CACC web site, the “Evergreen Senior Club is open to Chinese American Community Center (CACC) members 55 years old or older. The club meets weekly at CACC on Wednesday from 9 AM to 6 PM. The mission of the Evergreen Club is to provide activities and services to support and enhance the quality of life of its members and to promote Chinese culture.” When we arrived, the members were busy singing; I bet they enjoyed listening to the three choral pieces in Autumn Gem.

We had a terrific response at the club. Since the club is comprised of people from our parents’ generation, many of them already knew the story of Qiu Jin. There was one gentleman, however, who grew up near where Qiu Jin lived, but who had never heard of her until now! Better late than never! We always get a lively response from audience members familiar with Qiu Jin’s life. Many of them only knew about her nationalist work rather than her feminist work, but they all agree that she is a heroine to the Chinese people.

Rae and I are often asked what motivated us to do Autumn Gem. Growing up as American Born Chinese (ABC), we had never know about Qiu Jin; the idea of a strong, female hero isn’t the first thing that pops in one’s mind when thinking about China. Thus, bringing her story to the Western world and to people from our generation was one of our biggest goals. Doing the film also helped us connect with our own past and the past of our parents and their parents. This has been one of the more rewarding benefits — we’ve been able to develop ever closer relationships with our parents.

Following the screening, we had lunch with the Evergreen members before driving an hour over to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for our final stop on the 2009 Midwest/East Coast tour of Autumn Gem.

Here are photos from the Evergreen Senior Club screening.

Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center Screening Recap and Photos


Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center - 885 Washington Street

Our third week on tour concluded with a screening at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center in Boston, Massachusetts. The BCNC is celebrating their 40th anniversary of serving the Chinatown community this year, and the organization is having a celebration gala in a couple of weeks on Saturday, November 7, 2009 at the center’s two buildings at 885 Washington Street and 38 Ash Street. When Rae and I arrived, we initially went to the Washington address and were confused when we couldn’t find anyone who knew about the screening. Fortunately, a passerby told us to go across the street to the other BCNC location. Apologies to anyone who came to the screening who first went to the Washington address!

After setting up the projector and tinkering with the image and color settings, we were ready to go around 12:40. Following an introduction by Carmen Chan from the BCNC, Rae and I gave our 10-minute presentation before starting the film. We had to duck out during the screening to be interviewed by a reporter from the World Journal. We were also interviewed by the Sing Tao Daily after the screening. We’ll try to pick up copies of the newspaper when we’re in New York tomorrow.

We had our most spirited discussion during the Q&A session. There was considerable debate among the attendees about the role of feminism versus nationalism in Qiu Jin’s life. Which was more important of the two? Could the two exist separately or were they intricately entwined within each other. This is the question that scholars have been asking for years about Qiu Jin, and there is no right or wrong answer; it’s up to interpretation and one’s own opinion! It was great to see the guests debating each other during the Q&A; it shows that people are reacting to the film! Here’s a video from the discussion:

In addition there was one scholar in the room who pointed out some potential mistakes in the film that we may want to address in a future screening (and DVD) version of Autumn Gem.

Following the screening, we had a late lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant with my high school buddy, David, and his friends, Jessica, Dawn and Arnold. Aside from my friend Rod in Denver, David is the person whom I’ve known the longest — since elementary school! We reminisced about Spreckels, Country Day, San Diego, playing pool, and about old friends now in high places. I’ve said it many times on this blog, but one of the great benefits of taking Autumn Gem on tour is that we’ve been able to see so many of our friends and relatives. That alone is worth the price of admission!

After lunch, Rae and I braved hard rain and strong winds over nearly five and a half hours as we drove back to New Jersey from Boston. We’re now on the homestretch for this tour, with three more screenings on the docket. We’ve added another screening in Delaware at the Chinese American Community Center in Hockessin on Wednesday. On Monday, we’ll be spending our free day in New York City. Any ideas on what to visit?

Here are photos from the screening at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center. Additional photos are provided by Anh Ðào Kolbe.

University of Massachusetts, Boston Screening Recap and Photos


UMass Boston Autumn Gem

On Friday, we had a great time at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where we participated in several seminars before our screening of Autumn Gem at 4:00 pm.

At most of the screenings on this trip, we don’t have too much time to wander around the school and talk with the students. We have typically arrived at the venue an hour before the screening in order to test the projector, screen and speakers. Following the screenings, we return to the road to reach the next venue. This is why Rae says, “It feels like we’re in a band… minus the roadies!” At UMass Boston, however, we had scheduled two additional events before the screening, giving us time to connect with the faculty and students. Kudos go to Shirley Tang, Professor of Asian American Studies and American Studies at UMass Boston, for organizing these extra events. It’s something that we’ll definitely suggest to other schools that we show Autumn Gem at in the future.

At noon, Rae and I conducted a martial arts demonstration at the Campus Center. Rae performed her mantis form and taught wushu basics, whereas I went through the first few steps of the Tai Chi 24 form. Here’s a video of the two of us performing and teaching, along with student reactions following the workshop:

Afterwards, we visited a core set of Asian American Studies students and talked about our background and how we got to where we are today. These students had all completed their own short films, many of which tackled very personal topics. I hope that Rae and I were able to inspire the students to continue their media projects and create their own feature-length documentaries on the subjects they care deeply about! Shirley was saying that the program encourages students to create media more than they consume media; I heartedly agree with that!

The screening was well received, with over 65 people in attendance. Like at Whitewater, the room had dual projectors, so everyone in the long classroom had a good view of the film. The crowd asked some good questions that were well-documented by Professor Peter Kiang; we’ll try to get these up in the future (and add to our growing FAQ list).

Today, we have a final screening in Massachusetts at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center; after that, we’ll be returning to New Jersey for the final leg of our four-week trip.

Here are photos from the U-Mass Boston screening.

Connecticut College Screening Recap and Photos



Nearly a year and a half ago, Rae, JP, and I went to the East Coast to interview two scholars, Amy Dooling from Connecticut College and Lingzhen Wang from Brown University. Three weeks into our Midwest and East Coast tour, we have returned to both of these schools for screenings of Autumn Gem. Our first stop this week was at Professor Dooling’s Connecticut College. Driving around New London, I remembered the roads to get to the university. The weather was a lot different this time around; back in June, 2008, it was overcast and raining, but in October, 2009, blue skies and autumn leaves greeted us. As we were walking around campus, we saw people playing ultimate frisbee, soccer, and running. We haven’t been exercising as much as we would have liked on this trip; I think I’ve gained a couple of pounds, pounds that I’ll have to burn back off when we return to the Bay Area next week!

It was great to see Professor Dooling again in person; watching the documentary over and over — both in our house during editing and at screening venues across the country — we feel like we’ve been seeing her a lot over the past year and a half! She brought to the screening a sizable contingent from Chinese classes. Several other students and faculty members were also present at the screening, which was held at the Blaustein Humanities Center. Also present was my friend from high school. Melissa’s been out in Connecticut since college, and the last time I saw her was back in 1996 when I visiting France and England during Winter Quarter. Catching up with friends has been great, and there’s a few more people that I’m looking forward to seeing at our Boston, New York, and Pennsylvania screenings.

Rae and I received notification of the first PayPal payment for the Autumn Gem DVD today! Thanks to A. Gung for being the first buyer of our DVD!

Tomorrow, we’ll be leaving Connecticut to go up I-95 over to Brown University, where we have a screening at 4:00 pm. Following the screening, we’ll drive further north to Boston. After Saturday’s screening at the Boston Chinese Neighborhood Center, we’ll be heading back down I-95 to New Jersey. The finish line is in sight for this tour, but we’ve still got several more stops along the way!

Here are photos from the Connecticut College screening of Autumn Gem!

New Jersey Chinese Community Center Recap and Photos


Autumn Gem at New Jersey Chinese Community Center

Our final stop in our seven screenings in six days week was at the New Jersey Chinese Community Center. Thanks to Tien-Fang Hou for bringing a great crowd to the screening. Coincidentally, Tien-Fang’s grandson trains at the same wushu school as Melissa, the girl who played the young Qiu Jin in our film. Small world! All in all, we had about 75 people at the event, which was well organized by my Uncle Don.

Screening venues have varied on this tour; we’ve shown the films in theaters, classrooms, and auditoriums. Whenever possible, we have tried to stagger the chairs in the latter two to reduce the amount of heads moving laterally back and forth to read the subtitles. Often times, the people in front are blocking the view of the captions in the film. I really liked how Slumdog Millionaire moved the subtitles away from the traditional spot in the bottom third of the screen. Though I don’t know if it would be effective in our film, given the amount of text being displayed on-screen, but it’s something I certainly keep wondering about. With films, there’s always that “one last change” that you’d like to make. Eventually, however, you have to put your foot down and say, “No more changes!”

We’ll have four screenings coming up this week. Connecticut College, Brown, University of Massachusetts, Boston, and Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center. Though it’s a far cry from the seven in six days, we’ll be traveling a much greater distance. We’re renting a car tomorrow morning to head up from New Jersey to Connecticut. Almost a year and a half ago, we went to interview Professors Amy Dooling and Lingzhen Wang for the film. Now, in just a few days, we’ll be screening at their respective colleges!

Here are photos from the Saturday night screening at the New Jersey Chinese Community Center.

Princeton University Screening Recap and Photos


Autumn Gem at Princeton

When I was in high school, one of my top college choices was Princeton University. Unfortunately at the time, I wasn’t accepted, and I eventually went to Stanford. Things worked out in the end, and I no longer spend any time wondering what might have been.

Our screening was organized by the Davis International Center and sponsored by Forbes College, the Women’s Center, and the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding. Thanks to Paula Chow, Jingwen and Margaret for organizing the evening’s events. Though we were competing with Parent’s Weekend, the ALCS, and the wet weather, we had 25 people in attendance.

Over the past week, we’ve gotten requests to add more stops on this current tour. While we can’t accommodate all of them, we might be adding a couple more stops during the final week. Once we’ve secured all the details, we’ll update the blog and screenings page. Rae is already starting to plan our next U.S. tour in Spring of 2010.

A pleasant surprise was seeing Hilary and Stephen at the screening. Rae and I photographed their wedding back in 2005. It was great to see them again and to see our wedding photographs adorning their apartment. Because of Autumn Gem, we haven’t shot many weddings over the past two years. If I were to shoot a wedding today, however, I would use video to complement the still photos I take during the day. With cameras like the 5D Mark II, Nikon D3S and other HD-video capable cameras, the lines between wedding photography and videography are blurring.

Here are photos from the Princeton screening!

University of Maryland, College Park Screening Recap and Photos


Autumn Gem at UM

Our double feature on Thursday, October 15, ended with a screening at the University of Maryland, College Park. The weather was really wet, and we were fearing the worst in regards to the turnout. But, by golly, thirty-five people said, “Hell no!” to the rain and wind and made it to the showing! Thanks go out to John Young, Rebecca McGinnis from the Confucius Institute, the Center for East Asian Studies and the Women’s Studies Departments for organizing the event.

We had a good mix of UM students, faculty, relatives (Tow clan was well represented), and outside people who heard about the film through various means (email, organizations, flyers and word-of-mouth).

Rae and I are creating a list of what works and what doesn’t with regards to getting more people from the outside community to attend the screenings. Extra-credit and course requirements don’t exactly work in this case! Scheduling screenings between noon and 5:00 pm works for students but isn’t so great for those that work outside the schools. We have a nighttime showing of Autumn Gem coming up in New Jersey tomorrow; we’ll see how good the turnout is for that.

Following the screening, we went to Wong Gee Restaurant in Wheaton to have dinner with our cousin, his family, and relatives. I’ll have more to write now, but we’re just about to start a screening at Princeton! Here are photos from UM yesterday.

Oldfields School Screening Recap and Photos


On the morning of October 15, 2009, we drove north of Baltimore to Oldfields School, Maryland’s oldest girls’ boarding school. The theme for Oldfields this year is, “Women Who Dare,” so it was an ideal fit for our documentary. Thanks to Maria and the rest of the Oldfields staff for having us! And, big kudos go out to the terrific students at Oldfields. They really made us feel welcome at the school. But, enough of me saying that. How about I let the Oldfields students speak (or cheer) for themselves!

Our presentation at the school was a little different than at previous screenings. Because the student body watched the film the day before, we came prepared to speak about our backgrounds and how we got to where we are today. Taking our existing Keynote presentation as a base, we added lots of fun biographical slides on us.


For instance, when I asked the students if they had an iPhone or iPod, the majority of them raised their hands. Then, I showed them a photo of me back when we got our Apple ][ computer. That must have been back in 1981! I also showed them drawings that I had made back in high school and college. Art and drawing eventually led to my interest in photographer (though it did take a long time for me to have my own camera), which ultimately led to videography and Autumn Gem.

The crowd also got a kick out of seeing our wedding invitations. They asked us question after enthusiastic question about the film, about us, and about our next steps. It was very rewarding to be able to share our film and our lives with them; it’s our hope that our example will help inspire them to work on their own creative endeavors. It’s certainly been an exciting one for the two of us!

Following the screening, we had lunch with Constantine and Maria. They were great hosts at UMBC and Oldfields! Unfortunately, we weren’t able to spend more time with them, as we had to get to our next showing at the University of Maryland in College Park. Two events in one day — a veritable double feature!

Here are photos from the Oldfields School screening.