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The Rice Room: Growing Up Chinese-American from Number Two Son to Rock 'n' Roll

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  227 ratings  ·  44 reviews
The Rice Room is a brilliant and moving memoir of growing up in Oakland's Chinatown, by one of America's preeminent journalists. Ben Fong-Torres was the third child of first-generation Chinese parents. His father came to America via the Philippines, adding "Torres" to his name to convince immigration officials that he was Filipino, since there were strict limits on the num ...more
Paperback, 260 pages
Published May 1st 1995 by Plume (first published April 1994)
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JiaMin Luo
This book is about a Chinese family, Fong, who migrated to San Francisco. It talked about how hard life is for the Fong in a different country.

The most mesmerizing part of this autobiography is when the author talked about how his traditional Chinese cultures had hindered his life. The Fong had a family business and all the children in the family (including the author, Benjamin) were required to help out afterschool. Because of this restriction, the children felt trapped. They couldn't live a no
I enjoyed this biography. Although the stories of children of Chinese immigrants have a similar sort of story to tell, this is the first one I've read from the male perspective.

As in many of these I have read, Fong-Torres' parents have a restaurant business which uses all the family members as employees, with long grueling hours. The children were still required to achieve top grades in school despite their work requirements and the necessity of daily evening attendance at Chinese school.

Denise Kruse
Son of immigrant Chinese parents, Ben Fong-Torres tells about growing up in the Bay Area in the 50s and 60s as the 3rd of 5 children, right in the middle, respectfully working and living in his family’s restaurants. He knows what he likes, pop music and writing, and ultimately rebels against his parents’ career choices for him– but his work ethic and timing help become a very successful writer and broadcaster– a Bay Area celebrity of sorts. He seems to have always been in the right place at the ...more
Hayward Chan
Done celebrating the Asian Pacific Heritage Month. Granted, the story of the Fong-Torres family is as unique as their last name. Who has a brother killed by Chinatown tongs and a sister who ran the most popular Chinatown tour business, and himself was an editor of the college paper of San Francisco State in the troubled/colorful 60's and editor of Rolling Stones who interviewed so many celebrities? Yet, this book strikes many chords of me, a millennial, still fresh off the boat in the US.

Most Ch
Yi Wang
This book is about a Chinese family, the Fong family immigrated to San Francisco. It likes other Chinese books it also talked about how hard life is for the new immigrated family in a different country. I can actually relate to many things that were in the book, maybe because I am Chinese, so we shared many culture in common. Especially I remembered the book were talk about how is a traditional Chinese culture that children were required to help out afterschool for their family business. In this ...more
Catherine Woodman
I read this book to my son, who was assigned it for his Understanding American Culture class in college--it is a great desctription of the experience of Asian Americans in the peri-WWII time period. His parents emigrated at a time that the country was fairly hostile to their immigration--they came in illegally. Fong-Torres had a foot in two worlds--he was on the one hand growing up in San Francisco at the time of the birht of rock and roll. On the other, he was the son of immigrants, who had a w ...more
This is a memoir from Ben Fong-Torres, the music journalist whose well-known among music fans as one of the great journalists from Rolling Stone's early days.

Despite the title of this book, I expected/hoped it would focus heavily on Fong-Torres's time at Rolling Stone—the rock stars he interviewed, the crazy things he saw, etc. It says a lot for Fong-Torres's writing and personal story that, though the book didn't deliver much of that, I was hooked. His story is, at heart, the same as a lot of o
The author gives a background on a plethora of topics such as Asian-American history, San Francisco & Oakland history, rock & roll music, journalism, and others. If one wants to consider this piece a must for Asian-American history study, I wouldn't disagree. If the reader prefers to read this book from a less-serious slant, then "The Rice Room" is still light-hearted enough to engage the casual reader. The author's adolescent and teenage years has elements that remind me of the TV show ...more
Being fairly young and not terribly hip, I didn't know who Ben Fong-Torres was before picking up this book. It was given to me by a friend.

That said, I enjoyed it a lot and found the way that he wrote down his memories to be refreshingly chronological, clear, and unpretentious. I've read a few memoirs recently that really jump around or try too hard to pull off some crazy literary feat, and this is not one of them--it reads like what it is, a memoir written by a journalist.

I found the story of
The Rice Room by Ben Fong-Torres was one of the best non-fictions I’ve read in a long time. I haven’t read a memoir in a long time so I decided to give it a try. This memoir is about Ben Fong-Torres’ life as a new immigrant in America with his family. Since there were strict rules about the amount of Chinese immigrants allowed into the country, his father added “Torres” to his name to convince the people that were working at the immigration place that he was Filipino. When Ben goes to an America ...more
Memoir of Ben Fong-Torres. I found this fish-out-of-water story fascinating, as I generally find most books involving clashes between two different cultures very interesting. In this one, Fong-Torres describes his parents' strong adherence to Chinese culture even after living in America for decades, and his own (and his siblings') significant branching off from that into mainstream American culture. In his case, the branching-off was pretty extreme since he was a reporter at Rolling Stone in the ...more
Aug 30, 2007 Tiffany rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Bay People
This book is chock-full of SF and Oakland references, which makes it fun if you're from or have spent time in the bay. Interesting description of what it was like to grow up as a first generation chinese-american. The author does a good job of describing the frustration of not only cultural but also language barriers he has with his parents, considering they only speak cantonese and he has a limited, or childish cantonese vocabulary. The book also describes the formation of The Rolling Stone (as ...more
This was a quick read. Almost Famous, a Cameron Crowe film, must be one of my favorites and Ben Fong-Torres was a brief, but memorable character in the film. So when I heard a friend had read his auto-biography, I quickly grabbed it. Two things interested me about this book - one that Ben was raised in the Bay Area. I'm always interested to learn more about the places I lived/have lived, especially recent tales of history which are easier to imagine because you can still visit many of the locati ...more
Margaret Rosen
I enjoyed the local color and his story is interesting, but this seemed very superficial to me. I wish he'd gotten more in-depth about his family relationships, time at Rolling Stone, etc. He is such an engaging guy with a fascinating life, I might have to go see if he wrote a more detailed autobiography later.
Sue Williams
This was really interesting and well written. I got totally sucked into his life story. Definitely worth the time to read it.
This could have been so much more interesting than it was. The writing did not draw me into the lives of the characters or make me relate. I really wanted to like this book too, since I love reading about different cultures and the concept behind the Chinese/Amercian assimilation issues are fascinating. He just couldn't step out of his own body and examine the words from a viewpoint of someone that did not live his life. I was disappointed. I couldn't even make it through to the end.
A good book for experiencing the point of view of a Chinese American growing up and working hard in California while trying to meet his parents traditional and at times racist expectations but also staying true to himself and his passion for journalism and people of all ethnicities. It's nice to read about the 60's/70's music scene and political turmoil through the eyes of Ben Fong-Torres, a hard working, talented writer, with a cool headed multicultural perspective.
Fong-Torres' memoir was definitely journalistic in style rather than literary; the writing was functional, but not beautiful. Still, this is a thoughful and interesting meoir. I enjoyed it both as a look at a Chinese-American family--with the parents strongly but futilely resisting the Americanization of their children--and as a look at Bay Area culture in the 1950's, 60's and 70's.
Very evocative of northern California/San Franciso. Great childhood stories and tales of the 1960s rock and roll universe. Gave me a lot of insight into the beginning of these subcultures. B F-T is a lesser-known creator of Rolling Stone Magazine, which was originally a counter-culture rag. I'll be willing to guess that my stepdad partied with him. Lots of funny details.
David Gleeson
Fascinating account of cultural/ social conflicts during the sixties as seen from a nascent journo's POV - a journo whose name is as synonymous with Rolling Stone as Jann Wenner. I stumbled a few times on the overly meticulous listings of girlfriends and apartments, but ultimately that sets up the events surrounding his brother for a heartrending story.
I also read this for a sociology class at BYU-I. This book gives an interesting look at a Chinese family growing up in America. It explores the clash between the parents, who are very strict in their culture, and the children who become "Americanized." It was pretty good but has some really bad language and other things some might find offensive.
Sarah Lin
Apr 08, 2007 Sarah Lin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Chinese American men
Excellent book. A memoir about a man who defies expectation and becomes a radio rock deejay..the son of immigrant Chinese parents who grows up in the back of a restaurant that his parents own. The book explores identity, racism, living b/w two worlds, and living one's life in a way that feels authentic. This is a hopeful book.
This was a very interesting and well-written memoir of an immigrant finding his place in American society. Equally interesting are his descriptions of coming-of-age in 1960s San Francisco and working as one of the earliest staff members on Rolling Stone magazine.
This is the first book I read that captured the experience of growing up in a Chinese restaurant family. It accurately captures the conflict between familial responsibility and desire to pursue one's own ambition. An entertaining read through and through.
This book was what most would call "heartwarming" and/or "lovely" but I say it was pretty KICK-A**. I could relate to much of the story, from the Cantonese words to his trip to China. I loved this book!!...even though some parts are a drag.
Jun 07, 2008 Maria rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: aspiring journalists, longtime San Franciscans, kids of Chinese immigrants
Recommended to Maria by: saw it on an inlaw's shelf
He's the iconic Rolling Stone editor with the funny name portrayed in Almost Famous, one of my favorite movies. But who knew that he juggled working overtime for Rolling Stone with waiting tables at his family's Chinese restaurant? Crazy, man.
Kristi Bumpus

I really enjoyed this memoir, which is only partly about growing up Chinese-American (though, of course, that is a big part). I've enjoyed his writing style for years, and this "immersion journalism" story of his life did not disappoint.
This is a good description of what it was like to be an immigrant. Some parts, such as going to the Chinese school on Saturdays, reminds me of our own family's situations. Also, very good visuals of living in the bay area during the sixties.
I thought this book was interesting and well written, but didn't have much culture beside American. Ben is a Chinese- American, but his life in the book would have been characteristic of any American living in the era.
Katrina Fraley
This is a wonderful account of growing up Chinese-American, growing up in the 1960s, and just growing up in a culture where Rock 'n' Roll is so powerful. I loved this and couldn't put it down!
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Benjamin Fong-Torres (Fāng Zhènháo) is an American rock journalist, author, and broadcaster best known for his association with Rolling Stone magazine (through 1981) and the San Francisco Chronicle (from around 1982).

Due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, Fong-Torres' father, Ricardo Fong-Torres (born Fong Kwok Seung), changed his surname to Torres and posed as a Filipino citizen in order to emigrate t
More about Ben Fong-Torres...

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