By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The suspense ended at the Seattle Chinese Post (SCP)’s 30th anniversary dinner on April 22 at the House of Hong Restaurant. The questions were, “Could the organizers pull it off? Would it be a full house? Who would be willing to pay for an “expensive” ticket at $39.99, while most Chinatown community dinners cost only $30 per person? Why should people care to support the Seattle Chinese Post, while there are other Chinese media outlets here? Who would be the VIPs present, U.S. or Chinese officials? Is the Chinese community known to be stingy and divisive? And why have the event in the International District (ID)?
Why in Chinatown?
Even though I am the publisher of the Seattle Chinese Post and main organizer of the celebration, I didn’t know the answers to many of these questions until the night of the event. However, I knew why I wanted to have this event in the International District. My time in the Chinatown-International District dates back to 1982, when I started the first Chinese newspaper in the Pacific Northwest. There’s no better place to celebrate SCP’s 30th anniversary than the ID, the birthplace of the Seattle Chinese Post. In this dire economy, we have to support the community. Hosting the event in Chinatown means that the paper’s journey has come full circle. I was an outsider when I started. The ID is now my home. I’ve since become deeply rooted in the community. Some even call me the watchdog and critic of the community. I’ve grown to love these labels.
Ambitious goals for one night
We wanted to do so much in one evening that it is amaz -ing that we succeeded, and that we did so on time. The trick is to start on time and not allow long speeches. I’m proud to say that we started our dinner at 7:10 p.m. and ended at 8:35 p.m. Our goals for the night were showing appreciation to our attendees and giving back by fundraising for the International District Emergency Center (IDEC). We showed appreciation to 25 organizations and to new and old immigrants, and American-born attendees. The 25 organizations represent communities from China, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. We said “thank you” by giving each guest a reusable gift bag with Chinese sausages, noodles, candies, crackers, ginseng tea, and a copy of the Seattle Chinese Post. We also included a Seattle Chinese Post 30th anniversary edition 45-cent postage stamp. Our event raised $8,888 for the IDEC, with members of the audience raising their hands to pledge donations.
Nine magical calls
Do you recall the disappointment of finding junk inside a gift bag? We knew that just handing out a reusable bag to our guests was not good enough for Seattle Chinese Post’s 30th anniversary dinner. So I made 10 phone calls, and I got nine yeses. I couldn’t believe the donors were so supportive and generous. The first call was to Kam Yen Jan, a Chinese sausage company. I had never met the owner. The only connection between us was that he has read the Northwest Asian Weekly, SCP’s sister paper. What I learned is that a phone call is better than e-mails and text messages.
A month of hardships
It is not easy to sell 430 seats in a month. When we planned the anniversary dinner, I thought I had March and April to organize it. It turned out that I barely had a month to prepare for the event due to my father’s passing. I went to Hong Kong for the funeral on March 8. When I returned, we had sold only seven tables. Then I was sick for a week. To make things worse, our former Northwest Asian Weekly editor gave me her resignation notice before I left.
Fortunately, my son and the resigning editor helped me find a new editor for the Northwest Asian Weekly by screening all the applicants and picking three finalists for me to interview.
430, not 300
Our initial goal for the number of attendees was 300, which we considered a decent and appropriate number for the celebration. But one supporter said, “No, you need to pack the place. You need to help the restaurant’s business.” So we raised our goal to 400. Miraculously, we sold more than 430 tickets for the banquet. Despite the chaos, the response to the dinner was immeasurable. Seattle Chinese Post put out a beautiful, 40-page, special anniversary issue.
Everything surrounding this event exceeded my expectations. After all the chaos, the lesson is that every cloud has a silver lining, and this lining was much more spectacular than I had ever anticipated.
China was in, Taiwan was a no-show
If you attended the SCP dinner, you might think we invited only Chinese officials and not anyone from Taiwan.
Wrong! We did.
However, negotiations for representatives from Taiwan to attend broke down. To entice Taiwanese representatives to come, I created two head tables and planned to seat U.S. officials at both. The highest ranking U.S. official to sit with Chinese officials was Attorney General Rob McKenna, while the U.S. official at the other head table to be seated with Taiwan officials was Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzales. To my surprise, the Taiwanese officials rejected the idea.
One pro-Taiwan supporter said to me, “You should not have two head tables. You should have one head table with the Taiwan and Chinese officials sitting left and right by your side.”
Excuse me! You seem to forget that the Seattle Chinese Post is an independent American newspaper written in Chinese. It doesn’t belong to Taiwan or China. What a missed opportunity for Taiwan that night!
From the other Washington
Phillip Yin, Chinese TV anchor of Washington D. C., flew in to attend the SCP anniversary dinner. What an honor it was to have him! Originally from Seattle, Yin sat with his parents and friends at Dr. John Yam’s table. Yin was selected as the best dressed man in the audience. He also made a $300 donation to IDEC. I was thrilled when he said yes with a smile. The other two winners donated, too.
Three languages in one dinner
Traditionally, many Chinese dinner events have a bilingual master of ceremonies.
That’s why Chinese events take so long. It’s especially boring for an audience member who understands Cantonese, Mandarin, and English, when the emcees translate word for word. Cantonese and Mandarin, although they are dialects, are almost like two different languages.
We made sure not to translate. Instead, we mixed the three languages interchangeably during the program. There was not a single slow moment. An attendee asked if we ever had a rehearsal, and we never did. Yet everything ran smoothly, thanks to emcees Sam Wan and Li Ying Wang.
The luckiest person
A few days before the event, my friend from California asked me, “How many guests are coming to your anniversary dinner?”
“Over 400,” I replied.
“Do you know that you are lucky?” she said. “Always count your blessings.”
Her words made me feel wonderful. Even those who supported the Seattle Chinese Post 30 years ago attended. What a joy to realize that we have many friends! (end)
Assunta Ng can be reached at email@example.com.