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Photo: ABC/Rick Rowell.
Paul and Millie Cao, the subjects of a short documentary contender in 2020, pose with filmmaker Laura Nix and Colette Sandstedt. The 92nd Oscars was broadcast in February, right before the pandemic.

Walk Run Cha Cha was a 2019 American documentary short with an inspiring message about the multicultural role of ballroom dance in America. It was directed by Laura Nix of the New York Times, which distributed the film. Ada Tseng wrote about it for the Los Angeles Times.

“It’s a bustling weeknight at Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio in Alhambra. The disco lights flicker over couples scattered across the dance floor, and the speakers blast Mandarin-language pop.

“Chipaul and Millie Cao, who come at least four nights a week, practice the routine they’ll be performing for their anniversary party. It’s a jive and cha-cha number set to a medley of Michael Jackson songs.

“They are planning a January party to mark three milestones: their 30th wedding anniversary, Millie’s birthday and Chipaul’s 40 years in the United States.

“This month they got another reason to celebrate: Walk Run Cha Cha, a 20-minute short documentary directed by Laura Nix about the Caos’ real-life refugee love story, made the Oscar shortlist for documentary short. …

“The Caos met the director when she stumbled upon Lai Lai while researching mini-malls in the San Gabriel Valley for another film project. Intrigued, Nix started taking group classes. …

“Chipaul works as an electrical engineer, Millie as an auditor. They didn’t start taking ballroom dancing classes together until about seven years ago, but they have gone on to perform in dance competitions and events all around Southern California. …

“The Caos, who are ethnically Chinese but were born and raised in Vietnam, met as teenagers in the 1970s. During the war, a Vietnamese government ‘morals code’ banned dancing even in private homes. Parties were held anyway, and Millie still remembers a shy Chipaul reaching his hand out and asking, ‘Shall we dance?’

“But only six months after they met, the young lovers were separated. The Viet Cong came to power, and Chipaul knew he and his family had to leave.

“Unlike Millie, who lived in Saigon, Chipaul’s family lived in a small town where it was obvious who was Chinese Vietnamese. He went to a Mandarin-language school, his mother was a businesswoman, their community had money and property to be confiscated. They soon became targets. …

“Chipaul, 20 at the time, and his family took an early boat out of Vietnam and stayed at a Taiwanese refugee camp before coming to America.

“It took six years for him to figure out how to get Millie here. The process involved sponsoring her on behalf of her long-estranged father, who was living in the U.S.

“ ‘I came by plane, after two unsuccessful attempts by boat,’ she says. ‘That is something like God arranged, because if I escaped like the boat people, I probably cannot survive.’

“Nix’s short documentary tells the Cao’s love story as a series of new beginnings — how they had to restart their relationship after Millie came to the U.S. and how they’re now just learning to enjoy their lives and reconnect through dance after decades of being in survival mode. …

“She describes a moment before a performance, as Chipaul nervously takes off his Patagonia jacket to reveal a sequined costume.

“ ‘The crowd went, “Wow!” ‘ Nix says. ‘And then they dance, and the place went crazy. People were crying. They gave them a standing ovation.’ …

“The full-length feature will have more of the Caos’ backstory as well as more fantasy sequences that express what they are feeling emotionally through dance. Because, to Nix, Walk Run Cha Cha is more than a love story. It’s about the importance of remembering and celebrating the history of immigrants in the U.S.

“ ‘You have Eastern Europeans teaching Latin dance to people in the Chinese diaspora from Vietnam,’ says Nix, who is French Canadian and English. ‘To me, that’s the best version of America.’ “

More at the Los Angeles Times, here.

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Photo: Yenvy Pham.
The owners of a Seattle Vietnamese restaurant, Phở Bắc, came up with the idea of a “Pho Now” cup and a “Pho Later” meal kit during the pandemic. “Survival mode is in our blood,” says Yenvy Pham.

I like to have a pipeline of possible articles in case I draw a blank some morning. But after Covid changed so much, it seemed like a good idea to check whether last year’s stories were still relevant. So I did a search on the restaurant in today’s article and found that the Covid innovations described here really worked.

In June 2020, Ashley Nguyen wrote at the Lily that Seattle’s Phở Bắc pivoted fast. “On March 13, Yenvy Pham went to New York City to celebrate the grand opening of her friend’s new Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon Social. But as the coronavirus spread, Helen Nguyen — Saigon Social’s chef and owner — decided to cancel.

“By the time Pham flew home to Seattle on March 16, Washington Gov. Jay [Inslee] had ordered restaurants and bars to cease in-person dining. Pham and her siblings, who own and operate several restaurants called Phở Bắc in Seattle, saw sales plummet. … They instituted new safety precautions, made sure their employees had masks and gloves and started pivoting.

“Phở Bắc’s namesake dish is not something people typically order to-go, Pham said. To appeal to their customers, the Pham siblings introduced a ‘Pho Now’ cup that people could eat while sitting on a nearby curb, on their walk home, or in the car. They also began selling a ‘Pho Later’ meal kit, complete with broth, separately wrapped ingredients and assembly instructions. The restaurant started delivering orders using an old parking enforcement vehicle dubbed the ‘Pho Mobile.’

“As it became clear that the pandemic wasn’t going to end anytime soon, Pham and her siblings had to start making tough decisions. They closed two of their four Phở Bắc locations, and they were forced to reduce staff. … But if any of Phở Bắc’s current or former employees need something, the restaurant owners try to help: ‘My restaurant dynamic is very Vietnamese,’ Pham said. ‘It’s very practical. If [workers] need money, help [or] loans, we just kind of do what we can.’

“Operating multiple restaurants during a pandemic isn’t easy, but ‘survival mode is in our blood,’ Pham explained. Her parents, Theresa Cat Vu and Augustine Nien Pham, opened the first Phở Bắc location in 1982, a year after they came to the United States. Ultimately, Theresa and Augustine created a nourishing landmark in Seattle’s Little Saigon: The restaurant takes the shape of a red boat.

“Yenvy Pham and her Phở Bắc partners, siblings Khoa and Quynh-Vy, are dedicated to supporting fellow business owners in Little Saigon as economic fallout from the pandemic persists.

‘It’s my neighborhood, my Little Saigon,’ Pham said. ‘For me, business comes and goes, but the vibe of the neighborhood is so important, and so are the characters here. You’ve got to take care of your own people.’

“They recently donated $5,000 in proceeds from the Pho Mobile to the International Community Health Services clinic, where their sister works as a primary care doctor, and a small business relief fund for business owners in the Chinatown International District. …

“The siblings are also collaborating with other business owners. They added Hood Famous Bakeshop’s mini Filipino-flavored cheesecakes to their menu. Pham let Mangosteen — a traveling Texas-style barbecue joint from chef Thai Ha — take over one of their closed locations to sell brisket and wings with specialty sauces for pickup.

“The pandemic has given people more time to take stock of what’s important, Pham said in late April.

“ ‘I like the world stopping for a second to reassess our morality and get us out of this state of complacency,’ she said. ‘We’re doing powerful thinking about each other, ourselves, about the world. … We’re being more creative too and helping each other out,’ Pham added. …

“Despite the unknowns, Pham is confident that everything will work out. In her family, ‘we either fix it, we take care of it, we accept it, or we move onto something else.’ ”

More at the Lily, here.

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What a treat to be outdoors in the Greenway again! Flowers and trees are starting to bloom, and there is always something new to observe.

Although I don’t use my phone on my walk, except to take pictures, a new amenity provided by Fort Point neighbor Life is good is likely to be welcomed by many visitors. I saw one phone-recharging kiosk near the Dewey Square food trucks and one near the Boston Harbor Hotel.

Got my lunch at the Vietnamese food truck Bon Me and ate outside in the sun.

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