Cheap produce and $60,000 bottles of cognac

September 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

Photo by Erica Mu

A customer surveys the pricier end of the cognac aisle at Hawaii Supermarket in San Gabriel, CA. Photo by Erica Mu

This story was originally featured on American Public Media’s “Marketplace

Fifteen minutes east of Marketplace’s Downtown Los Angeles studios is Hawaii Supermarket, a modest Chinese grocery store where one can buy eight pounds of watermelon for a dollar — or a bottle of cognac for $60,000.

You read that right. One bottle, at $60,000, is more than a lot of annual salaries.

But for Hawaii Supermarket’s wealthy shoppers from China, high-end liquor is its own kind of currency. « Read the rest of this entry »

San Gabriel Valley’s Evolving Food Scene

June 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

Photo by Gennia Cui // Creative Core

Photo by Gennia Cui // Creative Core

This story was originally featured on KCRW’s “Good Food

Chinese food is one of those cuisines that most everyone knows, and yet hardly anyone really knows. Egg rolls? Yes, please. Orange chicken? Don’t mind if I do. Chow mein? Love it.

You might be rolling your eyes at the aforementioned offerings, but finding “real” Chinese food is much more complicated than one might imagine, even in Los Angeles, home to one of the most competitive and diverse Chinese restaurant industries in America.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Catching up on six months of Hear Here

November 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last year around this time, I had a moment of transmedia inspiration that came from living in the Bay Area. Pop-up stores and restaurants were (and still are) hugely popular in San Francisco and Oakland because they take a space and make it multifunctional, surprising, and refreshing. So I asked: How can we as producers rethink the bounds of radio? (Brick and mortar storefronts seemed like a wildly appropriate analogy for the institution of public media.) And so Hear Here was born: a very ambitious, multifaceted project that experiments with different ways of collecting and distributing audio stories.

For the past six months, with support from the Association of Independents in Radio and in conjunction with KALW, I’ve been leading the experimental project that is Hear Here. That journey has not only taken me to all corners of San Francisco and Oakland, but has reshaped the way that I perceive the process and distribution of audio stories. The 10 projects that were chosen by AIR were asked to address the gap between public media and the communities it claims to try to serve. Through some very direct means which I will delve into in future blog posts, we’ve figured out how to discover and amplify some wonderful local voices that would likely have been missed by a reporter or producer on a normal beat. Here’s a sample of the people that we’ve met, and their stories:

The International Asian American Film Festival turns 30

March 8, 2012 § Leave a comment


Thirty years ago, the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival was born. At the time, it was just a small traveling road show. Today, the festival spans 10 days and 12 venues all over the Bay Area. I sat down with festival director Masashi Niwano to get a sneak peek into this year’s festival for KALW’s “Crosscurrents.” « Read the rest of this entry »

A history built on hearsay: Tales of the early Chinese settlers

February 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Artistic director Rene Yung (right) gives instructions to the proxy storytellers during a rehearsal of the theater and oral history project “Chinese Whispers.” Photo courtesy of Chinese Whispers

In the mid-1800s, the Gold Rush brought enthusiastic settlers westward, from across the United States. At the same time, another migration was flowing eastward.

Over three decades, the country’s Chinese population grew from 4,000 to over 100,000. The immigrants who landed on California’s shores followed the Transcontinental Railroad across the state, building pockets of community along the way.

A hundred fifty years later, artist Rene Yung is developing a theater production based on the stories passed on from that time. She’s traveling along the Transcontinental Railroad; and at each point along the way, she’s sharing the tales she’s gathered from that region, on stage. She calls the project “Chinese Whispers,” which is actually another name for the game of Telephone – a game in which stories change from teller to teller, often until they’re unrecognizable. « Read the rest of this entry »

New YBCA art director strives for creative risks

February 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Many creative types in the Bay Area, from writers to radio producers, performers and artists, are managing multiple jobs to feed themselves these days. It’s a struggle for many, but for some, wearing different hats isn’t a matter of survival – it’s actually a way of being. Marc Bamuthi Joseph is one such man: He’s a poet, scholar, dancer, educator, director, and performer. He helped found Youth Speaks and the Living Word Festival. He’s also the new performing arts director of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. KALW’s Erica Mu sat down with Joseph on the stage of the Novellus Theater to learn more about the aesthetic future of the San Francisco arts institution. « Read the rest of this entry »

Old school artform meets new school audience with Opera on Tap

December 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

San Francisco Opera on Tap co-founder Indre Viskontas organizes the opera performances at Café Royale. Photo by Erica Mu


Long before Beyonce decided to redefine “diva” for pop culture, the term was associated with high culture. Nevertheless, divas of then and now have maintained a reputation, as late comedian Anna Russell explains, “…you would need to be a glorious-voiced, independently wealthy, sexy, politically motivated, backstabbing bitch.” « Read the rest of this entry »

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