The moment Dewy Ip affixed his Hong Kong television logo to his office in this little Los Angeles suburb, the telephone began to ring as if possessed.
More than 8,000 miles of ocean separated Monterey Park's one-story shops and green lawns from Hong Kong's back alleys and needle-stack skyscrapers, but once word spread that Hong Kong television programs could be seen here, 5,000 people called to ask if it were true.
With airlines ferrying thousands of new residents from troubled Hong Kong and Taiwan, California looks a little more like Asia every day, and the first Chinese-language cable channel in the United States has found instant success. It is another dose of Asian culture expected to spread quickly to the rest of the country.
Monterey Park, population 54,300, has just been named an " All-America City" by the National Municipal League, showing how much the definition of all-America has changed. In the Monterey Park mall that houses Ip's Jade channel, a product of Hong Kong Television Broadcasts (USA) Inc., these increasingly all-American retailers also reside: Hoa Binh Supermarket, Chan's Jewelry, Sun Computers, their signs rendered in Chinese and English.
Ip, a short, stocky bachelor who works 12-hour days, has been here less than a year as station manager. Already he has 2,500 customers paying $17.95 a month for 7 1/2 hours a day of Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese entertainment and news, this despite the fact that Falcon Communications, the southern California cable company carrying his channel, does not cover Los Angeles' Chinatown or a score of the area's other Asian immigration centers.
In Hong Kong, where 4.5 million Chinese find television one of the few escapes from days and nights of noise and assembly lines and crowded sidewalks, the Jade channel draws about 85 percent of the audience. In the United States, most large cities, including Los Angeles, offer two or three hours a day of Chinese-language programming on some free channel, nothing compared to the evening slate of soap operas, comedy and song Ip offers. Even Vietnamese refugees here, many of them Cantonese-speaking ethnic Chinese, are eager for Hong Kong programs.
Ip's company is negotiating with cable systems in San Francisco and San Diego and has set its sights on New York and Chicago.
His company, with kung fu film czar Sir Run Run Shaw as its chairman, began to perceive what a fertile market America might be when its videotapes of Cantonese mini-series began renting rapidly here. At the same time, Falcon Communications programming director Alan McGlade noticed that "the Asian and particularly the Chinese population was increasing dramatically in our area, . . . yet it was tough to sell HBO Home Box Office to someone who doesn't speak English."
In July, Falcon and TVB, as the Hong Kong company is called, made a deal to bring Chinese television to eastern Los Angeles communities such as Monterey Park, whose population is now about one-third Asian. The new channel number, 38, was selected carefully.
"In Hong Kong, 3 means longevity and 8 prosperity," Ip said. By opening day they had a schedule to fit the workaday lives of their emigrant audience, with programming from 5:30 to 10 p.m. and repeats until about 1 a.m. "A lot of Chinese work quite late. They're self-employed and don't get home until 10," Ip said.
A typical day on the Jade channel begins with "Space Shuttle 430," a children's program to entice young Chinese Americans to keep up their Cantonese; "Women Today," a talk show for housewives, and "Hong Kong '84," a situation comedy about a family running a fast-food shop in Hong Kong's noisy Causeway Bay district.
Scriptwriters use snatches of everyday life to create "Hong Kong '84" plots. But they have strictly avoided larger and more depressing issues, such as what will happen when the Chinese communists take over Hong Kong in 1997 under an agreement with the British government.
At 7:15 p.m., the Jade channel has a patriotic dimension: "The Duke of Mount Deer," a drama of 17th-century resistance to the Manchu invasion of China. Cantonese news follows at 8 p.m. and the evening's highlight, "Enjoy Yourself Tonight," at 8:15. In its 17 years, this amalgam of song, comedy, celebrity interviews, dance and glitter has created its own stable of stars.
A drama of feminine resistance to the Manchus, "Qiu Jin: A Woman to Remember," airs at 9:15 p.m. in the mandarin dialect spoken by Taiwanese and mainland emigrants.
The mandarin speakers ask for more in their language and more-affluent emigrants want more new late-night programming. Ip says he is preparing to provide both.