Tuesday, December 23, 2014

See and share "Operation Marriage"

Here's a gift to you from everyone who made Operation Marriage the movie possible:

Quentin Lee, director
Alan Reade, producer
Reach and Teach, Derrick Kikuchi and Craig Wiesner, publishers
Lea Lyon, illustrator
all of our generous donors and supporters

To see the film (about 10 minutes), go to:


Click the video (and enlarge if you like). And share it with your friends, family, and enemies...we want it to go viral.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Holiday greetings for 2014

Holiday Greetings 2014!

Joshua, Peter, and I are doing well (sort of, if you don't count Joshua's back injury and walking pneumonia and Peter's shoulder injury and and their sleep apnea.) So what's perfect?

Joshua's now a 6th grader at Summit Denali charter school in Sunnyvale where each kid gets a personalized learning plan and a Chromebook. I continue as a publications manager at Oracle (my 11th year at Sun and Oracle). Peter's managing a home remodel, which has temporarily stopped to work on long-overlooked health issues. Vanessa skypes with me weekly from Kunming, China and has had adventures in Thailand and Laos as well as in southwest China.

Earlier in the year, I hosted a lunch in memory of my mother, Nancy Wong Chin-Lee, who passed away in October 2013.
Cyndi and Aunt Doris at my mom's memorial in Palo Alto

Friends, Faith and Hayden Lee

Second cousin Debbie Larkin, Aunt Frances Chan, Cyndi, Uncle Peter Lee, cousins Mike Chin, Lydia Bartlett
Miriam Rhew, Cyndi, Brian Lee, Joshua
Samantha Chin-Lee, Vanessa who as back in the US for two weeks (she's usually in China)

Although we decided not to join the cohousing group in Mountain View, we build community in other ways. I'm active at First Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto where we get together often with other families. Here are some of the families and the kids from middle school to college.

Kids from the church covenant group send another one to college. Yes, that is Joshua on the far right.
The parents don't get old; only the kids.

This year, I had several trips back East to see my dad and for a family reunion on his side of the family. I also got a quick trip while recruiting for Oracle at Carnegie Mellon University.
My second cousin Heather and me on the way to the Chin Family Reunion in southern Maryland.

Joshua, Peter and I made our bi-annual trip to Family Vacation Center in Santa Barbara.
Whoa, that's a big one.
First time surfing lesson for Joshua
Joshua made some friends from Taiwan.
Joshua, Peter, and me at the beach at Santa Barbara.

Partying with other parents at the Family Vacation Center, Santa Barbara
This was the year of the movie of Operation Marriage. Quentin Lee, director, and Alan Reade, producer drove up to Palo Alto in the spring to create a promotional video. Thanks to many of you we raised the money by August and filming took place at the end of August. The director has submitted the short (it's about 10 minutes) to the Academy Awards and to film festivals. The movie will be made public and free in June of next year.
Kathy Merkle-Raymond, whose family was the basis of the story, is being interviewed for promo video with Alan Reade in blue and Quentin Lee aiming the camera
Director, Quentin Lee, me, Derrick Kikuchi (publisher), and Producer Alan Reade at the LA premiere of Operation Marriage, the movie.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

How my book, Operation Marriage, became a movie

Joshua Ching, my son, with the book
Blockbusters like Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, or classic favorites like the Lorax or the Secret Garden get to be movies. So was I surprised and delighted when Quentin Lee of Margin Films called me to see if he could make a short movie from my picture book, Operation Marriage. It started with a connection.

Howard Fong
Many years ago Howard Fong an actor, showed up at a book signing I did in the Bay area for my first book, It's Who You Know. It was one of those signings where two people show up and it’s such a relief that anyone comes at all. He’s been a friend ever since, always trying to keep me in the know with Asian Americans in media and entertainment, stuffing my mail slot and now my email inbox with articles and links. Howard knew about my book, Operation Marriage (Reach and Teach, 2011).

Some time in November 2013, he emailed me a link to a short video/public service announcement, called the Wedding Plan  about a gay man and a lesbian, who pretend to marry in order to get their parents off their back. The wise mom of the gay man confronts the pseudo-couple urging them to be themselves. I was impressed by the production values of the video, the honesty of the acting, and its authentic message. I’m not gay (though I sometimes call myself a wannabe lesbian!); I’m a straight ally. As a Chinese American and a Sinophile, I loved seeing this video set in contemporary China.

I sent the link to the Wedding Plan video to the Lambda email list, the Oracle LGBT network. For those who don’t know, I’ve worked as a technical writer or publications manager at Oracle and Sun Microsystems (acquired by Oracle) for over a decade. I thanked Howard for sharing Quentin’s video with me and didn’t think further about it.
Quentin Lee
Several weeks later, I got a call from Quentin. I remember it clearly because I was not at home in California, but in DC with my father, right after the passing of my mom. Quentin loved the book and asked me if it would be OK to make a movie of it. I was thrilled, of course, and told him I had to talk to my publisher, Reach and Teach. The owners of Reach and Teach, Craig Wiesner and Derrick Kikuchi, agreed it would be a good thing for the book and contacted Quentin.

Quentin put the book into a script and along with Brad Stocking made a few minor changes. He created a web site on the movie project operationmarriagemovie.org. Quentin recruited producer Alan Reade and they drove up to Palo Alto from Los Angeles to shoot a promotional video in my house.

Alan Reade
Since my house was being remodeled, I asked the family, the Merkle-Raymonds, on whom the book is based if we could use their house. Kathy Merkle-Raymond, daughter Alex, and I were interviewed for the promo video. I was touched by what Alex said in her interview, something like: “If everyone else’s parents were married, we wanted our parents to be married. We thought we were normal until Prop 8. That’s when some people said we weren’t normal. We just wanted our family to be accepted like everyone else.”

Quentin and Alan posted the promotional video on the web site and they set up the fundraising site. The fundraising race began. Quentin and Alan also created a Facebook page and we tweeted, emailed, and called friends, coworkers, and family.

My sister was among the first of my family and friends to call me and to donate. Some friends and family emailed me with a terse note that they were not interested in the project. Translation: they didn’t approve of marriage equality. Those folks were far and away the minority.

Thanks to the many people who donated and worked on this labor of love, the movie (a short) premiered in Los Angeles at the send of September 2014.

Want to know more about the making of the movie? See Quentin's blog about it:

See the Facebook page for photos of the LA premiere and the Palo Alto showing and more:

Monday, May 12, 2014

My mother's legacy (a speech)

My mom and sister Sandy

Note: This is a speech I gave for the Speakeasy@Sun Toastmasters Club  speech contest a few months ago. It won first place at the club contest so I gave the speech for the District 4, Area F2 contest. It won first place there so I represented Area F2 at the Division F speech contest where it did not place.
Mom, Sandy, and my nephew Zach Hays

“Get in the closet.”

“I don’t want to, Ba.”

“Get in the closet now!”

When my mother was six years old, the truant officer came to her door and my grandfather ordered her to hide in the closet. Why? Because he didn’t want to have to send her to school.

My mother was allowed to go to school the following year because she could then walk her younger brother to school.

At 19, my mother graduated from high school in Washington, DC. A talented artist, she was asked to apply for a scholarship at Corcoran Gallery of Art Art School. She won a two-year scholarship and when she told her parents, my grandparents, they sighed and told her, “Nancy, we don’t want you to go to school. You stay home, work in the restaurant and help your brother go to college.”

Despite the discouragement, my mother’s art teacher urged her to take the scholarship. The art teacher, in fact, went to the Corcoran Gallery of Art and persuaded them to give my mother the second place prize of a 1-year scholarship and give the 2-year scholarship to another student. After that, my grandparents relented and allowed my mother to take the 1-year scholarship.

After art school, my mother worked for a few years as a mapmaker for the Navy and then married my father. She had five kids, stayed at home, helped my dad’s career and took care of the five of us. She used to tell me, “Cyndi, you will go to college and have a career. You will have the choices that I didn’t have.”

I was lucky; my parents paid for my university and my mother encouraged, almost demanded that I get an education and have a career. But many girls are not so lucky. In fact most girls don’t have the chance to get an education or even have a decent way of making a living. They may be pushed into having sex just to feed themselves. They may have no education, no social networks, and no access to financial services. So they marry early or are sexually harassed or abused.

We have the ability to help others around the world. But what is the best way to do that?

Invest in girls. Why? Because research shows that when you invest in girls, you get a better return on investment or ROI.

Educating girls can break cycles of poverty in just one generation. Research from the World Bank (1) shows that investing in girls so that they reach the next level of education would mean a gain of lifetime earnings equal to 54 percent of annual gross domestic product.

When you invest in a girl she will return about more of her resources to help her family and community. This phenomenon is so startling it even has a name. It’s called the Girl Effect.

When you invest in educating a girl, she will more likely control family planning. She will have fewer children, not more, and she will to take better care of her children. If you don’t help educate girls, they will have more children with the hopes that one of them may survive.

My mother passed away a few months ago so I’ve been thinking of the legacy she gave to me and the legacy I’d like to give the world.

I have both a daughter and a son. My daughter is grown and graduated from college. I have every intention to help my son to get an education as well.

But here is my call to action. When you give to others, such as a charity or a non-profit, consider giving to organizations that help girls and women.

Imagine yourself a girl, 11-years old in Afghanistan, whose parents are forcing you to leave school and get married. Or imagine yourself a 14-year old girl in Nepal who works as an indentured servant from 6 am to 9 pm at night. Then imagine someone you don’t know in another country sends money so you can go to school. Will it make a difference? You bet it will.

If we invest in the education of girls and we can make the world a better place, not just for the girls, but for the boys, the men, and the women, for all of us. Help get girls out of the closet and into school.

(1) Jad Chaaban and Wendy Cunningham, 2011, Measuring the Economic Gain of Investing in Girls The Girl Effect Dividend

Links to check out: