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Rich Ting ready to ‘widen the doors’ opened by Michelle Yeoh, Daniel Wu as SF Chinese New Year Parade grand marshal

"Warrior" star Rich Ting
via Rich Ting

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    Actor Rich Ting talked with NextShark ahead of leading San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade on Feb. 4 as grand marshal.

    Ting is known for his role as Bolo in Cinemax’s “Warrior,” a martial arts drama series that depicts the Tong Wars in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1870s.

    via HBO

    “It was a complete shock,” says Ting, who received an email and phone call from the San Francisco Chinese Parade and Festivities board about becoming this year’s grand marshal in November 2022. 

    To be asked to be the grand marshal was really an honor, but it definitely caught me by surprise. It was funny because they pitched it to me, explaining that Michelle Yeoh, Jon Chu and Daniel Wu had all done it previously. I just started laughing ⁠— whether they had or had not done it before, I still would have said yes.  

    Yeoh, Chu, Wu and now Ting are all part of the annual Chinatown parade’s long history dating back to the 1860s, when members of the Chinese community, many of whom were railroad workers or fortune seekers amid the Gold Rush, wanted to celebrate their culture. They marched down what is presently Grant Avenue and Kearny Street holding lanterns, flags, drums and firecrackers to ward off bad spirits.

    For Ting, taking on the position of grand marshal is not just a coincidental nod to one of his shows or about holding up a colossal legacy — it is about carrying his own personal history as well. 

    The “Partner Track” actor grew up splitting his time between Los Angeles and San Francisco, eventually graduating from Archbishop Riordan High School before majoring in history and humanities with a minor in Asian American studies at Yale University. 

    Ting, who is fourth-generation Chinese and Japanese, says San Francisco is a place he calls home. However, while he went to many Chinese New Year parades in the city as a kid, it wasn’t a core celebration for his family. 

    My dad’s Chinese side, we didn’t typically celebrate Chinese New Year’s in our family. I’m fourth generation. It’s been kind of not lost… but we’re just not culturally rooted in celebrating it. We barely celebrate the regular New Year.

    When asked if this made him feel imposter syndrome about taking on the role of grand marshal, Ting says it is quite the opposite.

    I didn’t grow up in a culturally Asian house, so to speak. I’ll use the word ‘organic’; it’s been a very organic learning experience, from my childhood to now. Growing up, I was always so interested in my culture, or lack of [it], so I tried to educate myself on my heritage. At Yale, my senior thesis was on the demasculinization of Asian and Asian American males portrayed in the mass media. I’d never thought I’d be an Asian American male in the mass media.

    I’ve also had opportunities to travel to Japan and China for work, which allowed me to open my eyes to my roots. As an Asian American actor in Hollywood, a lot of cultural nuances will come up that I feel very educated on. I feel that I do represent the 2023, Chinese, Asian American leading man that they would want as grand marshal. 

    For Ting, the upcoming parade is an opportunity for him to represent the new generation. 

    Growing up, I didn’t know a lot of third- or fourth-generation Chinese American kids. I think the third and fourth generation is very present right now. I feel I’m relatable to the current wave. I also want to carve the path as much as I can and widen those doors that have already been opened by people like Michelle Yeoh and Daniel Wu. So no, there’s no apprehension, there’s no pressure to feel like I shouldn’t be in the role. If anything, I feel the pressure to do it, to accept it.  

    Ting says the pressure he feels is assuaged by the encouragement he has received from members of the San Francisco community, many of whom are outside of his typical Hollywood circles.  

    Once the first article came out about the parade, a lot of old friends in San Francisco who I haven’t been in contact with reached out and said they would go to the parade. I’ve been working so much in Hollywood and doing things that are so public. My fans often reach out, but it took this event for my personal network to reach out. It kind of just shows you the magnitude of how people view this celebration. The Chinese New Year parade is why people hit me up, not some blockbuster movie.

    Words of affirmation came from people like Ting’s former high school classmates and football teammates, some of whom are now teaching or coaching themselves. Their support gave Ting a chance to reflect on his own journey.  

    It made me think back to those days. I would have never imagined how my life would have gone in this direction, in a good way, but I think this festival and [this] parade is more relatable. That’s why this speaks volumes to me. It’s something outside of the Hollywood realm. That’s what makes it more personal and a lot more touching to me, to be honest. If I’m in a new television show, that may still feel distant for people watching me.

    The parade committee told me, ‘It’s not only about what you’ve been doing lately in entertainment, but everything else you’ve accomplished.’ That’s very touching because it just shows that they respect my journey in totality. It’s been a very exhaling kind of moment for me.

    While he is flattered that his accomplishments qualify him for the role of grand marshal, he is looking forward to more responsibility as a community leader. 

    Now, not only have I already represented my family, my teachers, my coaches, everything that I’ve been through in life, moving forward, post-Chinese New Year’s, I feel that I have a greater responsibility and duty. When it becomes personal, it becomes more pressure. I will know the community, the community will know me. They’ll see me on another project or the next thing I do, so I hold myself to an even higher standard now. I bear the privilege to represent everyone moving forward. 

    In addition to his work for an upcoming sequel in a major video game franchise whose details he wouldn’t reveal, Ting’s upcoming projects include Apple TV’s “Hello Tomorrow,” premiering sometime in 2023, and a film titled “Karma’s a Bitch,” where he will play the father of actor Terry Hu’s character.

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