Tag Archives: San Jose

Newest 85°C Bakery Café

Taiwan’s 85°C Bakery Café opened its first store in northern California in November. Over 300 fans of the company waited patiently outside the Newark store for its grand opening despite extremely cold conditions. Long popular in Taiwan, the new location was an instant success.

The pictures below show some of the bakery’s colorful cakes and baked goods and the long lines that are still evident, in both Newark and Taiwan (last two photos). The bakery just completed building centralized kitchens in Brea (Southern California) and Newark (Northern California), so they can open new stores much quicker, allowing them to dedicate more space for seating and less for the kitchen area.

Named 85°C (185 degrees Fahrenheit) because “Coffee holds its flavor best at a steady 85 degrees Celsius” the company wanted its name to reflect its devotion to providing its customers with the highest quality products.

Just this year, the company opened four new locations in California. Next year, 85°C Bakery Café will open at least ten more stores, with two planned for San Jose this coming spring.










With growing Asian residents, Taiwanese Americans are well represented in the Bay Area

While visiting Taiwan with his family this January, Edwin Lee received a telephone call from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors asking him to consider becoming the city’s acting mayor. Lee, whose ancestors are from Guangdong province, China, grew up in San Francisco’s Chinatown, previously worked at the Asian Law Caucus and maintained a sterling reputation while employed in various city departments. Very much a dark horse in the selection process, Lee would eventually agree to become the year-long interim mayor. In the same month, Jean Quan began her tenure as Oakland’s mayor, thereby establishing a strong presence of Chinese American politicians in Northern California’s two largest cities.

A powerful message  

“Now we have two leaders from our community who are leading the entire city. That’s a powerful message for young people. It tells them we don’t need to be in the shadows,” said David Lee, the executive director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee told the San Francisco Chronicle. In the same article, Harry Lim, the former president and current board member of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, said he believes the two Asian American mayors will help close the centuries-old chasm between the immigrant community and the broader community.

In addition, San Francisco’s top leadership positions are also well represented by elected officials of Asian descent. They include the public defender (Jeff Adachi), the assessor-recorder (Phil Ting) and four of the eleven Board of Supervisors – David Chiu, Carmen Chu, Jane Kim and Eric Ma. In fact, four of the mayoral contenders who are vying to become San Francisco’s next mayor are Chinese Americans.

In the early twentieth century, there were roughly 300,000 overseas Chinese living in the United States. Today, there are about 700,000 ethnic Chinese people living in the Bay Area alone. And with such a large demographic, it is reassuring to see it reflected in the community’s leaders.

While Asians remain underrepresented in politics elsewhere in the United States, this is not the case in the Bay Area. Currently there are seven Taiwanese American elected officials in the Bay Area. Statewide, there are many more. Among the most prominent, is John Chiang, the controller for the State of California. If you happen to live in California and are one of the lucky ones to receive a state tax refund this year, then the check bears John Chiang’s signature

Embracing the difference

Born in New York City in the early 1960s, Chiang spent much of his childhood in a suburb of Chicago. Chiang’s father came in the 1950s for graduate school. Growing up, his parents spoke English to their four children, but a mix of Taiwanese-Japanese-Mandarin to each other. He didn’t even realize they were speaking three languages until his aunt pointed out to him that he was mixing his languages when he spoke.

Chiang’s formative years were spent mainly in a predominately white neighborhood. When asked if he felt discrimination directly, he acknowledged that kids did make fun of him because he looked different. Nevertheless, it should be noted that he must have been a popular student since he was elected the vice-student body president during high school. In comparing the different treatment of his childhood to today, he dwells very much on the positives. “America has made such phenomenal progress. Americans have become more open. As you engage, the walls tumble down. You have people in different mixes and the stereotypes start to disappear.” He mentioned that many of his friends’ children and his own godchildren are mixed-race and concluded, “We have different heritages, and we should embrace our differences for our benefit.”

Like most Taiwanese families, his parents placed a great deal of importance on education. In the Chiang household, “Studying always came first.” While other kids were out playing, the Chiang kids were expected to complete their studies and music practice, even if it took five hours. He would go on to study finance at the University of South Florida and continue on to receive a law degree from Georgetown University.

As one of the highest ranking politicians of Asian descent, Chiang spoke of the challenges of representing the interests of 38 million people. In pushing public policies, he added, one of the difficulties of his job is getting his message out without it being distorted. He does not mind the disagreements or differing views, but has little respect for dishonesty.

Getting a seat at the table

In 1976, Taiwan-born Kansen Chu arrived in the United States to go to graduate school. He received his master’s degree in electrical engineering from Cal State Northridge and started working for IBM in 1978. He also opened up a large Chinese restaurant. Through his restaurant, he hosted many community events, becoming acquainted with various local leaders. However, he credits his interest in public service with his involvement in the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA), an advocacy group which works on elevating the political influences of Chinese Americans. Chu would eventually serve as the president for the Silicon Valley chapter of the OCA.

In an effort to get Chinese Americans more involved in politics, the OCA began to lobby for a Chinese-English ballot. Although San Jose had bi-lingual ballots, they were only available in Spanish and Vietnamese at that time. “During these activities, it started to dawn on me on the importance of Asians to be involved.” It’s difficult to play a part in the decision making process when you’re outside the room. “If you are in the room, you could make policies to affect other people. Getting a seat at the table is not only important for us, but also for our children,” Chu said.

Chu attributed the OCA for broadening his view of Chinese American issues. In particular, he spoke of his work to preserve the local Chinese American legacy, in part sparked by the events in the late 70s and early 80s.  During that time, some Chinese artifacts were discovered at the construction site of the Fairmont San Jose Hotel. As it turned out, several generations ago, the site was home to a Chinatown before it was burned down. He would find out that San Jose has had five previous Chinatowns, each one burnt down, and not necessarily as a result of accidents. In order to commemorate the site, Chu and the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project began raising money to rebuild a temple that once stood there. The result was the Five God/Goddess Temple, combining the gods and goddess of the early immigrants.

In talking about the hurdles faced by his office, he mentioned the budgetary concerns in re-negotiation with 11 different unions and 7,000 city workers. In speaking about the under-funded healthcare system in particular, he said, “Healthcare was so cheap, so everyone could have it. In the old days, they never asked the retirees to contribute to their healthcare after retirement.” This is no longer the case, Chu said. The skyrocketing realities of the past five to ten years have hurt both sides, current and past employees. Among the 11 council members who represent San Jose, Chu said, “We have different beliefs and priorities. We are just trying to find the common areas.”

We know how to study hard

Only a few miles away from San Jose is Cupertino. According to the 2010 census, Cupertino’s population is almost two-thirds Asian and Councilwoman Kris Wang is definitely a reflection of the people living in her city. Wang came from Taiwan to the United States for graduate school, eventually earning an MBA and concentrated her graduate study in computer science. Being more outgoing and vocal by nature, she is the antithesis of the quiet, soft-spoken Asians often seen in the Silicon Valley meeting rooms. While working in the private sector, she would see many Chinese engineers, but the managers were usually white. As someone not afraid to take the lead, it eventually put her on the management track, becoming a senior manager before she transferred her energies to the public sector.

In 2003, Cupertino Mayor Michael Chang’s term in office was coming to an end, and all eyes turned to Wang to replace him. She was asked to consider a bid for his city council seat, but she was initially hesitant, not wanting to be in “politics” with already so many other commitments.  She would eventually run and win, continuing on to be re-elected again in 2007. During her terms, she would also serve as the city’s vice-mayor in 2006 and its mayor in 2007 and 2010, elected there by her peers on the city council.

Initially, adjusting to leading such a public life was difficult and she thought of throwing in the towel. Instead, she redoubled her efforts, applying herself even harder to what she needed to know in order to excel at her new responsibilities. Referring to her slight accent, Wang said, “We may not speak as well, but we know how to study hard.”

In reflecting back, Wang can still recall the feeling of excitement during her inaugural ceremony as Cupertino’s mayor, “I never thought that 27 years later I would stand there… as a mayor in a US city. I knew my dad would be really excited, being a new immigrant from Taiwan.”

Although only a small city, Cupertino has a very stable revenue base with anchor companies such as Apple, Oracle and Hewlett-Packard.  With some of the best public schools nationally, the area continues to be popular with parents, especially Taiwanese American parents. When Wang’s son started kindergarten in 1987, Asian students accounted for 22 percent of the school district, now they account for 99 percent.

Even though Wang does not spend much time dwelling on her legacy, she did mention that one of her sons was elected as the student body president during all four years of high school, being only the second student to hold that distinction.  One can say that the apple does not fall far from the tree.

Advocating for ourselves without losing our cultural distinction

It is apparent that Chiang, Chu and Wang are excited to work towards making lasting policies that can impact people’s lives for the better. “Everyday, I wake up and figure out how to help people,” Chiang said. “Asian Americans and people of every background have a chance to participate in government.” This is now a global economy, a global world. Chiang believes that their actions cause ripples that extend beyond the United States. And the sense of how Asian Americans succeed is clear in that they have to honor everyone’s opinions.

In applauding how local Chinese American leaders have assimilated into mainstream American society, it is also important to add that their diverse cultural background gives them added dimensions in dealing with public policy issues. As an example, Jack K.C. Chiang, the director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco, noted that California is the first state to legalize acupuncture because of the strong support from ethnic Chinese politicians and their voters. And in the case of banning the sale of shark fins, Chinese American politicians have shown their “dominant influence” on both sides.

During last month’s opening ceremony of the Taiwan Cultural Festival sponsored by the Taiwanese American Federation of Northern California at San Francisco’s Union Square, both Mayor Lee and Supervisor Chiu were present. The mayor spoke to the thousands of spectators telling them of his love of the island’s hot springs, and suggested a booth featuring Taiwan’s hot spring at next year’s festival. Chiu, whose parents emigrated from Taiwan, also told the audience of his high regard for Taiwan.

In talking to Taiwan Insights, Jack Chiang mentioned that California has the country’s largest Chinese American population. There are ethnic Chinese state senators and congress members in the state legislature. And in San Francisco, ethnic Chinese residents account for one third of the city’s population. Chiang hopes ethnic Chinese voters, including Taiwanese Americans, can be united on a future and take a more active role in their community. He added, “I expect there will be an elected ethnic Chinese mayor at the end of this year.”

Tzu Chi lends helping hand to Haiti and others in need

On January 12, Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake that has crippled the entire nation. Countries around the world have rushed to send rescue workers and aid to help the people of Haiti. Among the humanitarian workers, in their distinctive white and navy blue outfits, you will see Taiwan’s Buddhist Tzu Chi volunteers. As one of the world’s biggest volunteer-based organizations with many seasoned disaster volunteers, you can be sure that they have already mobilized to collect funds to supply necessities to the victims of this latest natural disaster. And, when other countries eventually begin to pull out of Haiti, don’t be surprised when you continue to see Tzu Chi still there offering their own brand of compassionate care.

This month, Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation opened its new facilities for the Northwest region at 2355 Oakland Street, San Jose. As Taiwan Insights walked through the sprawling three-building complex with Mr. Minjhing Hsieh, he talked enthusiastically about the expanded services that can now be offered thanks to the additional space. Hsieh is the executive director of the Northwest region and like many at Tzu Chi, he is also a full time volunteer.

Tzu Chi is Taiwan’s largest charity. Started by a Buddhist nun in 1966, the foundation has offices in 47 countries and has five million sponsors. Tzu Chi means “compassionate relief” in Chinese and it is something the Foundation’s one million volunteers strive for when working in: charity, medicine, education, culture, international relief, bone marrow donation, environmental protection and community volunteerism.

After major disasters, you will see neatly dressed Tzu Chi volunteers working side by side with other international relief organizations. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Tzu Chi arrived to help. Within a matter of months, they gave away US$3 million to 17,000 families. In many cases, after other organizations have left, Tzu Chi remains to help rebuild. Three days after Sri Lanka’s devastating Tsunami in 2004, Tzu Chi flew in twenty medical doctors, 2,000 pounds of rice and 300 tents to the heart of the damage. Six months later, Tzu Chi volunteers were still there building 649 new homes at the cost of US$100 million.

Master Cheng Yen, Asia’s Mother Teresa

Tzu Chi was founded by Dharma Master Cheng Yen. Considered the “Mother Teresa of Asia,” she has been a repeated nominee of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Born as Wong Chin-yun, she was adopted by her uncle as a baby and grew up to be a devoted daughter. At the age of 15 , her mother suffered from acute gastric perforation, an extremely painful condition. Surgery was an option, but often deadly and not very successful in those days. Praying and chanting “Compassion, Buddha,” she promised to become a vegetarian and to give up 12 years of her life if her mother was spared. Her mother would later make a full recovery without surgery and live to a ripe old age. Upon becoming a nun, Chin-yun was given a Buddhist name of “Cheng Yen.”

In 1966, after realizing there were no organized Buddhist charities, Master Cheng Yen started the Buddhist Tzu Chi Merit Association. She asked her initial followers, 30 housewives, to save fifty cents a day (about two US cents) in bamboo piggy banks. By pooling their savings, they were able to start a charity fund to assist the poor. Much of Tzu Chi’s successes can be attributed to Master Cheng’s ability to see a need and to fulfil it, despite the insurmountable obstacles in the way. One example of this can be seen in Tzu Chi’s efforts to build its first hospital.

Upon realizing that the root of poverty often stems from ill health, Master Cheng decided to focus on medical care and set out to build a hospital in Hualien. Estimated to cost NT$800 million (US$25.2 million), many thought the hospital was an impossible dream. At that time, the annual Hualien County annual budget was only NT$100 million (US$3.1 million). It would take her seven years to realize her goal, but in 1986 the hospital was finally completed. In order to attract quality healthcare professionals to the area, the Foundation would later build schools, homes and a medical school. In 2005, Tzu Chi completed its sixth hospital on the island.

The Foundation growing internationally

In the United States, Tzu Chi is divided into nine regions overseeing 62 offices and 19 academies. In Tzu Chi’s Northwest (TCNW) region, the Foundation has 13 offices and four Academies offering a variety of classes and services. To see their scheduled programs for the Northwest, please visit: www.tcnw.org.

Each week, Tzu Chi volunteers work with the homeless in San Jose, offering food, clothes and haircuts. They also make weekly visits to convalescent homes throughout their regions. During some weeks in summer and winter, they can be found distributing up to 7,000 pounds of food in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

As part of character building, Tzu Chi also offers classes on Master Cheng’s spiritual teachings. Even though the organization espouses Buddhist teachings, volunteers need not be Buddhist nor are most of the people they serve. In fact, the majority of people Tzu Chi serves outside the classrooms are African-Americans, Latinos and Chicanos. With branches in the Central Valley, many of those helped are migrant workers.

Although Tzu Chi’s has expanded by offering more programs and services, one of its main focuses is still in offering medical care to the needy. And this is one of Hsieh’s bigger tasks ahead as he eagerly tackles the opening of a low cost medical clinic in their new facility. Currently, as part of its medical outreach programs, TCNW operates The Great Love Medical Van, which offers dental care in the Bay Area and Central Valley. The van is a full service dental office, containing sophisticated x-ray and computer equipment.

Needy schools get a boost

Shirley C. Leong is another example of a dedicated volunteer. A board of director for TCNW and a former director of the San Francisco branch of Tzu Chi for ten years, she is particularly excited about the Foundation’s work in San Francisco schools. In 2004, Tzu Chi went to John Muir Elementary School as part of the Foundation’s Give-A-Book project. Located on Oak and Webster Streets, the majority of the school’s students came from low income homes, with some living in shelters. Soon after visiting the school to give away books, John Muir’s principal called her to see if Tzu Chi could put together fifty bags of daily use items for the kids. Since then, Tzu Chi has worked with John Muir to provide more daily use bags, school uniforms, blankets, sleeping bags, “love bags” of weekend snacks and other needs. Eventually, Tzu Chi started a Friday pantry program at certain schools to distribute two thousand pounds of food each week.

In working with schools, Tzu Chi has gotten permission to give short character-building lessons to classes as well. One basic Jing Si Aphorism by Master Cheng that they try to impart to the kids is to “say good words, have good thoughts and do good deeds.”

As part of TCNW’s environmental program, students at John Muir are taught the importance of recycling and every class is given a recycling box. Each Friday, Tzu Chi volunteers collect and count the recycling. The class that collects the most is then rewarded with an ice cream party. It is a good way to teach environmental responsibility and for the classes to earn money for field trips. In 2008, when Cyclone Nargis struck Burma, the students showed compassionate relief by donating their US$500 recycling money to help Burma.

Tzu Chi is now working with Malcolm X in Hunter Point, another underperforming school in one of San Francisco’s poorest areas, with similar programs. Today, John Muir is a magnet school and considered a “model recycling school,” Leong said with pride.

Providing material and emotional needs

What makes Tzu Chi unique is their donor-base. According to Hsieh, “The bulk of the support comes from the bottom. A lot of people on the lowest rung save or even collect cans to recycle and donate.” Added to that, it is a volunteer-heavy organization, which is extremely well organized and well trained. In order to be certified as a Tzu Chi volunteer, you need to undergo two years of training.

In the Bay Area, Tzu Chi has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the International Red Cross. In time of disaster, such as a fire, flood, or earthquake, Red Cross professionals are the first response. After they assess the situation, they will often call Tzu Chi volunteers to fill in the gaps in services. Whereas the Red Cross might be able to set up beds in schools or give some aid for temporary shelter, Tzu Chi can be on hand to give away debit cards, clothes, food and blankets.

As a non-profit organization that does not accept government money, Tzu Chi is not mired in bureaucracy and can act quickly to free up needed cash. More importantly, “we are faith-based, so we carry a humanistic characteristic in our delivery of service. We offer respect to the people who receive our service,” Hsieh said. Tzu Chi tries not only to supply the material needs but also considers the individual’s emotional needs.

Although the Foundation’s biggest growth has come from Southeast Asia, this might change now that Tzu Chi is a formally approved organization in China. The Foundation has worked in China since the 1991 flood, but it wasn’t until last year that Beijing gave Tzu Chi this rare recognition. This has allowed Tzu Chi to begin a dramatic growth spurt in China as the Tzu Chi Charity Foundation.

Forty-four years ago, a Buddhist nun had a desire to start a charity. Since then, it has grown into the biggest charity in Taiwan with satellite television stations, six hospitals, 40,000 volunteers and a national recycling program that generates US$10 million a year. In the United States’ Northwest region alone, Tzu Chi has an impressive number of standing programs and volunteer opportunities. It maintains a presence in many corners of the world and stands ready to respond to the next natural disaster or humanitarian crisis.