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On the Scene - TIME IN TENNESSEE

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On the Scene    by Gerrye Wong
 
TIME IN TENNESSEE

Seeing interior of Dolly Parton bus at Dollywood Park, Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
 
When questioned by many why I was heading to experience the hometown area of Dolly Parton, I replied it was just another of my quests to See American First. So off I went leading fellow adventuring travelers Dr. Clifford and Susan Chang of San Rafael, Dr. David and Jayne Yee of Orinda, and Los Altos resident Sylvia Eng to discover what Pigeon Forge and its neighboring cities of Sevierville and Gatlinburg could offer to California Asian American seniors.  We found a week full of wonderful new experiences that could interest any age group. The Dollywood Theme Park is the major draw to town which even brings two busloads of travelers from China each week from New York and Chicago. For youth, there are heart thumping rides in one section. In another section one can ride a meandering old style steam train, and enjoy three entertaining musical shows for restful times inbetween walking to the different sections of the park.  One even got to go inside the bus Dolly once travelled throughout the country in because of her distaste of flying.  I am sure in the summer high season, throngs of all ages come to enjoy Dollywood Theme Park with its usual shopping and food booths which attract up to 40,000 visitors daily.  We spent a full busy day there enjoying  our first taste of southern fried food and enjoying the Nations Pavilion which featured products from countries around the world.
We capped off the day seeing the very entertaining and different Dixie Stampede Show with its performing horses and clowns. Here we all sit at tables surrounding a large performance area below where the horseback riders prance up and down for an enjoyable performance while we eat our friend chicken dinner WITHOUT utensils to give us that true stage coach life experience. Confederate flagged performers  lead the audience into a raucous north vs south competition while the horse racing skills are performed below.  Fun show for children and adults alike.
 

At Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies,  Mark Indelicato showed Gerrye Wong a horse shoe crab in the inter-active exhibit
 
 Spring is a great time to visit because the crowds are sparse, the roads void of California type traffic, and the neighboring Great Smoky Mountains National Park crowds so quiet, we actually saw a black bear come close to the roadside during one of the one to two hour motoring trails pointed out to those not willing or able to hike. An entry point to the Smoky Mountain National Park is the city of Gatlinburg at which we were fortunate to meet its chief proponent, Marci Claude of the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau who led us immediately to the city’s pride and joy, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, once voted one of the top 5 aquariums in the US and the world by Travelers Choice Trip and Trip Advisor. Here we experienced interactive exhibits where Aquarium Marketing Director Mark Indelicato held up a sand crab I could touch as well as a jellyfish, watch diving and penguin feeding shows, and walk the underwater tunnel of a spectacular shark habitat tank. Marci, a former Miss Tennessee contestant, was a wonderful enthusiastic story teller of all of Gatlinburg’s pleasures, and I agree this is a nice get-away place to visit for families of all ages.
 

Marci Claude of Gatlinburg Visitors Bureau takes us up tram ride to Ober Galinburg Amusement Park and Ski Area
 
From there we climbed aboard the Ober Gatlinburg aerial tramway with its 1500’ vertical rise in 10 minutes to 2675’ up the mountain for great views of the Smokies and lots of activities on top for skiers, and non skiers all year round. Your family of young people would love the Water Raft Rides, Alpine Slide on a day track simulated  1800’ Bob Sled ride, and Kiddie Land rides. Our guide Randy says he works with young interns from China and welcomes groups of visitors from China weekly, who enjoy his walking city ofGatlinburg with its street long town of restaurants, breweries and shops nestled right there in the Smoky Mountains.
 

California group meets talented magician, Darren Romeo at Pigeon Forge Grand Opry Theater
 
Neighboring Pigeon Forge is alive with musical entertainment up and down the streets of this small town.  The FEE/HEDRICK FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT GROUP brings to visitors a wide variety of shows to enjoy and we were fortunate to meet Deborah Fee Newsom and husband Tom who along with brother David Fee are the ones who put Pigeon Forge on the entertainment map. Their 1400 seat Smoky Mountain Opry Theater’s Sixth season kick off in March introduced some great shows we enjoyed.   Their 2016 Smoky Mountain Opry is the largest and most attended musical variety show in the Smokies where we enjoyed all styles of music from country to 50’s, 60’s, 70’s music from Motown, Rock Gospel and Big Band entertainers. Besides comedians, aerialists and breathtaking side effects, you are introduced to a 500 pound 10 year old rare white lion, one of only 300 in world existence, no less. Another production drawing crowds it the Magic Beyond Belief show starring Darren Romeo whose magic show is highlighted by his singing throughout. Darren is a most personable young man, who was once a protégé of Siegfried and Roy in Las Vegas, but it is his singing while performing his masterful illusions, I think that sets him apart in the world of magic, and as close up as we sat to see his act, how he did all of his masteries were still a mystery of illusion to us all and kept the audience enthralled for his two hour show.
 

Charlie Bob Smith, versatile country singer, of his Smith Family Variety Show,  greet Jayne Yee, Gerrye Wong, Sylvia Eng and Susan Chang following his morning show.
 
Other shows from the Fee/Hendrick group included the Smith Morning Variety Show featuring Charlie Bob Smith doing special musical impersonations, and southern style country and gospel music. Fun for family was their HATFIELD & MCCOY DINNER FEUD SHOW, where as you ate a true Southern Fried Chicken dinner, you became either a member of the Hatfield or McCoy clan to re-enact this feuding fable with a lot of laughs.  For my fun loving group, it was the Comedy Barn show that proclaims 22 years of clean family comedy that really tickled our funny bone. Between its dog performances, and audience participation adventures on stage, it was a laugh a minute in good clean family enjoyment. No wonder it is considered the most attended and successful clean comedy theater in the world. Seeing the Fee/Hendrick variety shows rounded out a great week of entertainment from the four shows we saw, so kudos to this Family Entertainment Group, seen as one of the largest show production companies in the southeast.
 

Donna Huffacker shows Gerrye Wong around the Old Mill section of Pigeon Forge, which was historically the first settlement of the town in the 1800s.
 
Beyond being a great entertainment town, there is a lot of history to learn about the city, and Donna Huffacker was the perfect person to show us around the Old Mill Section where the town’s products were first milled there with the aid of the large water wheel  bringing power from the adjoining river. Donna, a native of the area and former Miss Tennessee contestant, led us to visit  pottery rooms where artists fashioned not only the city’s logo bear, but beautiful hand crafted pieces sold in its shop. We saw how corn was milled into corn meal, and visited the quaint craft shops in this historic section of town. We had another taste of Southern cooking at the Old Mill Restaurant with Donna, who still shares her baton twirling skill teaching young people in town.
 

Sevierville Golf Club Professional Ashley McGaha sets Gerrye Wong off on golf cart to experience this popular city course. 
 
Of course we golfers had to experience Tennessee golf so the Sevierville Golf Club was recommended as it features two courses. The Highlands winds through lush rolling hills, but Head pro Ashley McGaha  chose the River Course for us , which as you can guess gave us many water challenges to lose balls in the adjoiningLittle Pigeon River.  The course is relatively flat  but unfortunately its fairways had brown Bermuda grass fairways, which Ashley told us doesn’t turn green until the evening temps rise to the 60s at night.  Pigeon Forge also has the Gatlinburg Golf Club for golfers to enjoy in between the other sightseeing delights this Tennessee area has to offer.  Tennessee seems a long way from California, but for adventurers looking for an area that has a combination of musical entertainment, exciting theme park family adventure, and the Smoky Mountain National Park for outdoors people to enjoy – this may be your next vacation choice.  Our group admitted we had busy days trying to see it all, and found it a new novel destination point to recommend to friends.
 

South Bay Chinese Club President Randy Sabado, Joe Woo and Board of Equalization member Fiona Ma greet  high school grant awardees  at 2016 Scholarship Awards Banquet.
 
At the annual South Bay Chinese Club Scholarship Awards Banquet 18 lucky high school seniors were awarded grants towards their college tuition costs.  Co chairs Joe Woo and Dr. Clifton Der Bing  along with committee member Willy Yichoy made the award presentations following guest speaker Fiona Ma’suplifting message to the young people.  Memorial Scholarship Funds were presented by the families ofRobert Lee, Bing Gee and Dick Szeto.  Receiving awards and speaking of their future plans to the 150 member audience were the following:  Nina Chang, Andrew Chen, Deborah Chen, Sophia Cheng, Iris Cheung, Jenny Chiu, Allison Du, Emily Gosti, Ji Guan, Alan Huang, Sarah Jensen, Jared Lee, Kelsey Leon, Felicia Lin, Yuechen Liu, Isaac Tong, Monica Wen, Wan-Ting Wu and Levana Zhang.  Congratulations to you all.
 

Happy winners of the South Bay Chinese Club scholarship grants gather together following the Award Night Banquet
 
Chinese Culture Center (CCC)announced the finalists selected to the St. Mary’s Square Public Art Projectand from May 10-14 invite the pubic to view and submit comments on the three finalists’ proposals which will be displayed at the CCC Visual Art Center.  The permanent public art piece will be installed in a new rooftop park, situated on the fifth story of the office building at 500 Pine street, with direct and open access to St. Mary’s Square.  This building site is the former location of the Kong Chow Temple, a historic building operated by the Kong Chow Benevolent Association, founded in 1854by immigrants from China and continues to function today as a cultural and social gathering place for its members.  CCC Visual Art Centeris located at 750 Kearny St., 3rd floor, San Francisco, CA. CCC welcomes everyone to view the proposals and make recommendations.

Duane Kubo, Executive Director of San Jose J-TownFilmFestannounced May 20-22 will be the time to come and view the twelve films featured this year. DIGGING TO CHINATOWN is a documentary about the story of Heinlenville, the original Chinatown buried under today’sJapantown which was produced by Connie Young Yu teamed with documentarian Barre Fong and historical preservationist Leslie Masunaga.  A special highlight will be the showing of “The Wash” and recognition of its screenwriter Philip Gotanda.Contemporary Asian Theater Scene will honor his achievements with their firstIMAGE HERO AWARD.  The Wash was filmed in 1988 in San Jose’s Japantown.   For info: www.jtownfilmfest.com.
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