On the Scene: Wong Wanderings Abroad and At Home

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No matter what your age, there is no better place for sight-seeing than the Bay Area.  For the young families in tow, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a great place for a Summer Night Sleep-Over, and so is the California Hall of Science in San Francisco.  It is a completely unique experience: wandering the halls and exhibits without the crowds blocking your view or docents bombarding you with facts—a nice relaxed atmosphere. You can sleep near the penguins and your favorite fish tanks, too.


At the finale of the Pixar in Concert with the San Francisco Symphony, the whole audience burst out with a standing ovation, not wanting Conductor Sarah Hicks to stop. I had never seen such an enthusiastic response at San Francisco’s Davies Hall this season. Little ones, teenagers, baby boomers, and seniors alike responded to a wonderfully produced collaboration of symphonic background music with visuals from Pixar’s many popular movies. From the very moment Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios Chief Creative Officer John Lassiter walked on the stage to tell the audience about the concert collaboration (three years in the making), the audience was revved with excitement. The enthusiasm never dimmed once throughout the evening’s offering on screen and stage. I hated to admit to my grandchildren, Garrett and Braden Wong and Melissa Matsuura that grandma had never seen a Pixar animated feature before, but after the night’s introduction, I’m bent on finding and renting all the movies I saw snippets of—including all the Toy Story movies, Finding Nemo, A Bug’s Life, and Wall-E. An exciting treat for the audience was the introduction of Michael Giacchino, who composed the scores of  Pixar hits Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Cars 2, and UP, the latter of which won him an Academy Award. Many Pixar executives were in the audience, and I had the opportunity to personally congratulate Pixar in Concert Creative Editor David Tanaka.  Bunches of bouquets were handed to the San Francisco Symphony for bringing innovative programs to audiences of all age groups, especially this collaborative premiere event with Pixar.  It is my hope that Pixar and other symphonic orchestras around the world will pick up on this initial successful concert and present it to other locales.

Pixar in Concert fans Garrett and Braden Wong, with Melissa Matsuura congratulate composer Michael Giacchino

On stage in San Francisco, Ballroom with a Twist featured dancers from the Dancing with the Stars television show: Anna Trebunskaya, Jonathan Roberts, Peta Murgatroyd and Dmitry Chaplin, together with a troupe of equally fine ballroom dancers, thrilled the San Francisco audience, gyrating and gracefully dancing with precise skill on the smallMarines Memorial Stage. A fast paced production choreographed by Louis Van Amstel, this show is for lovers of ballroom dancing performed by top professionals in the field.  Let’s hope they come back for a repeat performance if you missed them this time around.

In Palo Alto’s Lucie Stern Theatre, the renowned TheatreWorks company kicked off its 43rd season with the world premiere of Upright Grand, the story of a father and daughter brought together by their love of the piano. Dan Hiatt was masterful as the aging songwriter dad, and Rena Friedman convincingly portrayed a daughter who outshined her father with her acclaimed career as a concert pianist. Though he was the force nurturing her talent, he struggled as he watched her grow up, drift away from him, and eventually surpass him in musical talent.  Kudos to TheatreWorks for bringing new works to peninsula audiences.

Pura Vida Costa Rica 

Calvin Wong family arrive in Costa Rica.

That’s the saying in the small country of Costa Rica that means “Life is Beautiful”, and life in Costa Rica’s wilderness is, indeed, beautiful.  If you’re looking for a family adventure in the green outdoors, Costa Rica is your ideal vacation destination.  My family consists of three college and two high school teenage grandchildren with parents just as young-at-heart and adventurous. They sometimes feel hovered over by aging but dauntless grandparents—Calvin and me. We are all busy people with demanding school and work schedules, so Americans Gretchen and Justin Hamel of Pacific Trade Winds, (headquartered right in Costa Rica, for more info contact: info@EnterCostaRica.com) which advertises “Affordable Vacations Made Easy” took us under their experienced wing and did just that. We told them the price point which grandparents’ wallets could handle, the short 10 day time frame, and all the activities we wanted to experience. They immediately had wise suggestions and itineraries for us to consider. The individual private attention you get from this company is ideal when you are travelling with a group and want to maximize your time and ease of travel while enjoying the privacy of your own togetherness.  We traveled in the comfort of a 20 person van for the 10 of us. Though we sometimes had to use what locales love to call their “massage roads” (translation: bumpy and gravelly twisting 2 lane highways), the air conditioned comfort of being able to spread out and stop when you wanted was ideal.

Calvin and Gerrye Wong are enjoying la pura vida with their Wong grandchildren. Horwl Villas Playa Samara Resort.

Arriving in the bustling town of San Jose, we were met by Transportation Costa Rica (www.transportationcostarica.com) owner Enrique Companioni who was our delightful guide, entertaining us throughout the four hour ride to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve with stories and interesting information about everything Costa Rica. Our nature-loving family reveled in the butterfly garden preceding a rain forest hike, with an abundance of unique flora and fauna, each patiently pointed out by naturalist guide Roy who carried his own tripod telescope so we could see the birds which he described but were perched at distances too far for the naked eye. Next, my adventurous husband joined the young ones on a 16 platform canopy ziplining adventure with zips up to 600 meters long, soaring over 80 meters high. Once, as he was suspended from his backside, he swung face forward with widespread arms Superman style, above the canopy of the rain forest and ensuing canyons below. The Aventuras Canopy Zipline Tour personnel named him the oldest guy they’d ever seen attempt the Monteverde area zip line adventure; he felt especially proud to have survived in one piece (much to the relief of his less-than-confident grandkids). My son Mike experienced a treacherous mountain bike ride, while others hiked to waterfalls and a hummingbird feeding area where dozens of buzzing birds swarmed all around.

Kelly and Melissa Masuura, Gerrye Wong enjoy finding iguanas in the garden of a popular tourists spot.

A night nature hike introduced us to the work of the poor leaf carrying female ants who trudge all their lives breaking a teeny morsel of leaf to carry back to their nest, sometimes walking for blocks along endless trails of struggling workers. Ladies, you will never complain about your lives and household chores again after seeing what these female ants accomplish. We saw the forests’ endless frogs, big and small, and snakes of all sizes and danger levels (those safely in glassed in displays). The special night adventure, however, was patiently waiting at a secluded beach one night to watch turtles trudge up the beach to find safe nesting spots, dig a hole, and begin laying up to 100 eggs; they finish the process by carefully covering the nests to camouflage the area against predators, then exhaustedly head back to the Pacific Ocean, all usually done within the span of an hour. On a bus ride, we stopped at a restaurant which once fed 4 iguanas and now has over 400 surrounding the restaurant’s garden, an attraction all tourists must stop at, of course! Cano Negro Riverboat Safari was amazing, enabling us to see spider, howler, and the whiteface monkeys happily cavorting among the trees, birds of all sizes and colors, and caiman lazily waiting for prey in the water. Whether your outdoor pleasure is kayaking and snorkeling in the warm waters of the Caribbean or Pacific Ocean sides of Costa Rica, hiking through rain forests or the volcano areas, animal and bird watching, or just laying back as we did at Minor Castro’s Arenal Springs resort—with its many hot springs amidst the lush green scenery of la pura vida—Costa Rica may be the destination for you. My family, spanning 15 to 82 years young, came home thinking not only is life beautiful, but so is Costa Rica.

Pacific Tradewinds owners Justin adnd Gretchen Hamel welcome the Wong family on their private party tour of Costa Rica, their company’s specialty.


Don’t forget to join Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation for the dedication of its Immigrant Heritage Wall Saturday, September 8, on Angel Island.  Ferry and trams info available at www.aiisf.org.

The Third Annual Immigrant Heritage Awards dinner is Friday, September 28 at the San Francisco Hilton, Financial District. Proceeds will go towards reconstruction of the historic hospital that has stood for over 100 years, and during the immigration station’s opening, was the infirmary for ill detainees.  Mark those calendars.

Asian Women’s Resource Center fundraising dinner August 24 is scheduled to be held at the Far East Restaurant in downtown SF Chinatown.

Supervisors David Chiu and Eric Mar learn from Linda Frank and Gerrye Wong about upcoming Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation fundraising dinner on September 28.

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