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All the Light We Cannot See

July 29th, 2015 by Jian Ping

book coverOur book group’s pick for this month’s reading is Anthony Doerr‘s award-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See, released in 2014.

The 500-page hardcover book looks and weighs like a brick, a little daunting, I must say.

I didn’t start reading it until last week, with less than 15 days to our book discussion date. I must say, I was immediately hooked by the style and short chapters—each feels like a scene in a film, presenting the lives of people on the opposite sides of WWII.

I plunged in, being mesmerized by the shifts in time and the separate narrative lines between the two main characters, a blind French girl, Marie, and a German orphan, Werner. I wondered when their path could cross and how they would connect.

DoerrThe short chapters are refreshing and the pages turn quickly, yet a third into the novel, I got a bit wary—the shifting in time, back and forth, feels like too much and the two characters’ worlds didn’t cross until almost at the very end. Then, after surviving all the trials and redeeming himself by saving Marie and her uncle, Werner died meaninglessly by stumbling into a land mine while trying to go back to Germany, after being captured and treated for his illness.

Really? He could just walked off from a tent after being delirious from high fever for days?

Maybe it doesn’t matter how he died—so many people, soldiers and civilians and children, died during the war. Maybe a meaningless death makes it more powerful in presenting the futility of war.

Nevertheless, I was drawn into the story and glad to see the pace picks up in the second half and there is a depiction of life after the War. I stayed up late and kept reading, until I finished it today, with three days to spare and ponder.

I wonder about the symbolic meaning of the gem, the Sea of Flames, that serves as a string connecting the stories, and characters like Frederick, Werner’s school friend, who dared to say no during his training, Rumpel, the Major who goes after the gem, and Etienne, Marie’s uncle, who went “crazy” because of WWI and eventually found his courage by carrying out resistance during WWII.

Many layers to peel from, and many nice, detailed descriptions to savor. A good read. I can hardly wait to hear the comments of others in my reading group this Sat.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning doc film. Jian, aka Jennifer Hou Kwong, is directing a doc film on Art Paul titled The Man Behind the Bunny: Art of Playboy.


June 16th, 2015 by Jian Ping

cover225x225My book group, which meets once a month, selected Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for June, a novel, published in 2013, tells the story of a Nigerian woman who comes to the U.S. to study and eventually returns to her native country.

It’s a love story between Ifemelu, the female character, and her high school boyfriend, Obinze. Through her experiences and blogs in the U.S., she examines and writes about racial discrimination and explores identities of people striding between cultures.

It took me a while to get into the book, however, partially because of the narrative structure at the beginning, but a third into the story, or maybe earlier, I found myself mesmerized by Ifemelu’s blog and story—her blogs sharp, reflective and brave, though not without humor. Through her comments, racial issues that would make many people cringe are addressed, and people’s hypocritical behaviors, both in the U.S. and back in Nigeria, are exposed explicitly.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I’m delighted that the author didn’t stop when Ifemelu embarks on the journey back to her native country—the story continues to explore the life she sees and experiences as a returnee, now with a different perspective. She continues to be critical, about those “returnees” who were nostalgic about their experience abroad and complain about Nigeria, and some locals, including some of her friends or colleagues, who live as mistresses to rich men and appear to relish their borrowed lifestyle. Racial issue losses its pivotal point back in Nigeria and Ifemelu turns her blog to day-to-day life.

The book is fun to read and compelling in ways that make readers ponder deep into racial and identity issues. Highly recommended.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning doc film. Jian, aka Jennifer Hou Kwong, is directing a doc film on Art Paul titled The Man Behind the Bunny: Art of Playboy.

Lakefront trail, a blessing and joy

June 13th, 2015 by Jian Ping
City capped in fog

City capped in fog

I experienced the saying that “if you don’t like Chicago weather, wait for ten minutes” for two days in a row.

I went out for a jog early yesterday morning. A slight drizzle caressed my face when I got out, making the air cool, moisturized and refreshing—a striking luxury for my throat and lungs after a long trip to China. By the time I jogged behind the Planetarium, the drizzle became small drops of rain. I watched the geese and ducks in the lake staying put without a fuss and continued on my route. The rain went on and off, and by the time I made a loop and got on to the stretch toward Monroe Street along the lake, the rain came down hard. I turned back but got inspired by other joggers, or I should say, runners who didn’t seek shelter. I got home soaking wet, a mixture of sweat and rain, but felt great. In about an hour, when I rode my bike to my office, the sun was peeping out.

Higher level of water at my favorite beach

Higher level of water at my favorite beach

Early this morning I went through another drastic change: when I started jogging around 6:30 am, a heavy fog enveloped the lake and the buildings nearby, making them vaguely visible. There was no wind, and the peaceful surface of the lake made me long to dive into it for a swim—I could hardly wait for the outdoor swim season to start. I ran over to my favorite beach and touched the water to feel the temperature—not as cold as I thought it would be. The water level is very high this year, reaching almost to the staircase at the beach I used to swim. This morning, only a lonely goose was there. Hope I will be able to join the goose in the Lake in a week or so. Maybe with the rapid change of Chicago weather, I don’t have to wait that long.

The lone geese

The lone geese

What a blessing and joy to have the lakefront trail and park, extending about 20 miles, all to the public!

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning doc film. Jian, aka Jennifer Hou Kwong, is directing a doc film on Art Paul

titled The Man Behind the Bunny: Art of  Playboy.

Pulled back by desire and perhaps, discipline

June 12th, 2015 by Jian Ping

Talking to Art and Suzanne at the Art Paul exhibition

It’s hard to believe that the recent busy schedule, at least, it feels like “recent,” has been going on for months and I haven’t posted any blog since last October when I was covering the 50th Chicago Int’l Film Festival for Xinhua News! It’s time to get back and be disciplined to write with consistence.

A lot has happened over the last eight months, among them, the most important:

With George Lois in NYC, after interviewing him for the doc film on Art Paul

With George Lois in NYC, after interviewing him for the doc film on Art Paul

  1. I’ve embarked on a challenging and yet exciting project: make a feature-length documentary film on Art Paul, an iconic figure in the U.S. or I should say, in the world. He is the bunny logo creator, the founding art director for Playboy for the first 29 years, and a fine artist in his own rights. Among the prominent people I’ve interviewed, up to now, include Hugh Hefner (at the Playboy Mansion in LA), George Lois, Steve Heller, Brad Holland, Richard Hunt, Roy Schnackenburg, Bob Lostutter, Lanny Silverman, Kerig Pope, and of course, Art Paul and his wife Suzanne Seed, and many more;
  2. Interviewing Lin Zaiyong, President of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music during the SSIFM in Shanghai

    Interviewing Lin Zaiyong, President of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music during the SSIFM in Shanghai

    I’ve successfully brokered a groundbreaking cultural exchange programs between WFMT Radio Network, my client as a consultant, and several parties in China, including the Shanghai East Radio, the Shanghai International Music Festival (SSIMF) and China Radio International (CRI). Concerts by major U.S. symphony orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, have been broadcast on Shanghai East Radio (Classical 94.7 FM) since Jan., and a series of eight two-hour programs based on the latest SSIMF (held in April and May) will be produced and broadcast in the West. And we are fortunate enough to get Abbott underwriting these two programs.

  3. I spend three weeks in China in May, attending the SSIMF (one concert a day for the 10 days I was in Shanghai!) and meeting with management teams at several radio stations, symphony orchestras, and the Beijing Int’l Music Festival, exploring several other major cultural exchange programs! All very exciting.

The list can go on, but I’ll save some for later when more development is made.

Even in the U.S., if you download an app called Qing Ting, and listen to the broadcast of U.S. concerts in Shanghai at prime time: Friday evening from 5 to 7 p.m. local time. The app will broadcast the program for 24 hours, and the radio station’s website will stream it for a week. Enjoy and Chao for now.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning doc film. Jian, aka Jennifer Hou Kwong, is directing a doc film titled The Man Behind the Bunny: Art of Playboy.

The 50th Chicago International Film Festival

October 14th, 2014 by Jian Ping

photo 1The 50th Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) opened on Oct. 9, the day I rushed back from a 10-day trip to China. I cherished the hope of making it on time to cover the Red Carpet opening at the Harris Theater for Xinhua News, and had arranged for a colleague to pick up my badge. Although my flight arrived shortly after 4 p.m. and I cleared custom in record time, I found myself still in traffic on my way to the city at 6 p.m. when the celebration was supposed to kick off.

At 50, CIFF is the oldest film festival in the U.S., definitely something to be proud of. Over the years, the Festival featured many emerging directors who are now well known, with Liv Ullmann, who made her debut as director at the Festival, bringing her latest film Miss Julie to the opening evening. Kathleen Turner is here, too, presiding over the international film competition jury.

photo 2This year’s festival features more than 150 films from over 50 countries, among them, eight films from Asia. Most of the films are shown at River East AMC, with multiple screenings running simultaneously. The Festival will continue till Wednesday, October 22. In addition to showcasing a variety of films, the Festival also offers panels on filmmaking and distribution. Columbia College, the key presenter of the Festival, also offers a “Master Class,” accompanied with a film screening, in the afternoon of Wed., Oct 15.

I’ve been to the Festival almost everyday, attending panel discussions and talking with filmmakers after the screenings of their films. That’s one of the best benefit of attending film festivals—you have a chance to meet and talk with the people behind the scene. Grace McPhillips was one I

The Other One, Dir. Josef Steiff

The Other One, Dir. Josef Steiff

particularly enjoyed talking with. She is Executive Producer of The Other One, a locally made feature film. She readily shared information on the film’s budget, grassroots fundraising, and forms of in-kind donation that made the production of the film possible. I raised questions to her as a filmmaker, not a journalist, and was impressed by her openness and generosity. “Here is my card,” she said as we parted our way. “We can talk over coffee if you have more questions.” That shows so much of the spirit of the film festival.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was shown on national PBS in May 2014.

Appreciating life

September 23rd, 2014 by Jian Ping

photo 1Chicago’s lakefront trail is most dynamic on Saturday mornings from spring through the fall. If you are up early and get to the trail, you will feel the pulse of the city right there. I have seen and participated in various activities in one form or another many times, yet I find myself deeply moved each time I am back on the trail, and feel very fortunate to be part of it—living, embracing, and appreciating life to the fullest.

On a Saturday a few weeks ago when the weather was still very warm, I rode my bike north on the trail after my early morning swim. I encountered many people running along the trail, some in groups, and others solo. Perspiration dripped from their back and arms, giving their skin a healthy and radiant glow.  As I passed them, admiring their strength and spirit, I noticed a young father pushing a baby stroller ahead of him as he ran. Despite the extra weight, he was going at a good pace. I raised my thumb on the handlebar.

photo 3I was happy to see more people were using the blue Divvy bikes, the Chicago bike sharing system, on the trail. The front and back lights on the bikes flashed in white and red as if to render a friendly greeting.

The trail got more crowded as I moved north. Once I passed Grand Avenue, the mile-long swimming section along the raised concrete sidewalk came into view. There were quite a few people in the water swimming long distance, with the majority wearing wetsuits.  I slowed down, watching their arms alternating in and out of the water and admiring the power and speed of these strong swimmers, both men and women.

photo 5As I turned the curve and headed toward the Oak Street underpass, I saw many people playing sand volleyball. They all looked young, nicely tanned by the summer sun, and healthy. Right off the sandy beach, children and adults were enjoying themselves on the beach.

Everywhere I looked, I saw the joy of activities and movements. It was the beauty of life at its best.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into a feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was on national PBS in May 2014

Vitus, an entertaining and enlightening film

August 21st, 2014 by Jian Ping

VitusVitus, a Swedish film by director Fredi M. Murel, is very sweet, entertaining, yet enlightening film. The film was released in 2006 and shown at the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) the same year and won the Audience Choice Award. Vitus, a young piano prodigy, and genius in many other areas, wants to be “normal” and control his own growing up path, vs. being dictated by his well-meaning parents. There is no villain in the film, and no tragic ending, despite the accidental death of Vitus’ grandfather.

The film was shown at the Chicago’s Cultural Center last night to a packed audience, followed by a nice discussion led by Ron Falzone, professor of film at Columbia College. It was part of CIFF’s Annual International Screenings Program.

I like the film because of the multiple levels of relationship presented—Vitus with his parents, and the real connection he has with his grandfather, his disconnect with his peers as a talent child, and his clever way of out-smart his controlling mother. Unlike many films that present “dis-functioning” families, Vitus’ parents love each other and love him, he loves them. His faked fall from their apartment building not only manipulated his way out of his mother’s tight grip, but also the perception of the audience. It was not because he didn’t want to practice piano, but practice the way he sees fit.

Vitus (film)

Vitus (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the end, Vitus lets go of his cover and performs brilliantly with a first rate symphony orchestra, to the fullest satisfaction any parents could have. That, along with the surreal happenings in which that he helps his grandfather realizing his pilot dream and helps his father restores his dignity and company position. But what lingers in my mind most is the relationship between his nurturing grandfather and him. Very sweet and touching. Highly recommend it.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was on national PBS in May 2014.


August 14th, 2014 by Jian Ping
The following is the author's description of t...

The following is the author’s description of the photograph quoted directly from the photograph’s Flickr page. “Blue Chicago ” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After one day of a perfect calm surface for swimming, choppy waves flared up at my favorite beach in Lake Michigan again this morning. I measured the length and strength of the waves with my eyes when I arrived at the beach and decided to give it a try. After all, I was already there.

It was not the first time I toyed with the waves. Last week, three out of the seven days I encountered choppy water, though didn’t feel threatened (I did go to a more sheltered beach to swim one day.) I knew and fully respect the formidable power of the Lake and swam closer to shore. I was prepared to reach land with one strong kick if I got chocked with a strong tide. While I concentrated on my strokes and speed during calm days, I focused on the ups and downs of the waves in times like this. Occasionally I’d swallowed a mouthful of murky water. However, if I stayed calm—not let the fear of being crushed by a sudden wave overwhelm me, I could maneuver my way quite well.

“You are an hero,” an older man said, raising his thumb at me when he walked by the shower facility on shore where I was rinsing.

I laughed, telling him I’m an idiot flirting with the power of nature. I certainly had no intention to be an hero.

I knew the rest of the day I’d feel the motion of ups and downs as if I were still in the water. But I had no regret.

The season of swimming in the Lake is so short in Chicago, and the water has finally turned warm and comfortable. The joy of being in this body of live water and the energy I feel it gives to me make it worthwhile to keep at it every day.

Of course, there is always a sense of fear lurking in the back of my mind. Today, for some reason, that feeling was gnawing at me all the time.

The Portage Lake Michigan shore looking across...

The Portage Lake Michigan shore looking across the lake to the Chicago skyline. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I chickened out by turning back half way across the beach area. With a buffer from an infrastructure on one end, the waves at the north half of the beach appeared less choppy. I did four half rounds, conscious of the power of water trashing me up and down. I changed to breaststroke from time to time to get a better bearing of my location. As if to make matters worse, I noticed a couple of seagulls looming above, sometimes hanging dangerously low over me as if ready to attach me as their prey. Through my blurred goggles I could see their opened beaks. I turned to freestyle and made huge arm swings in an effort to keep them off.

Eventually the fear of waves and the birds made me retreat to a small, sheltered enclave. The water was much calmer here, but I had to make back and forth turns frequently as if in the confines of a pool.

I managed to do a total of 45 minutes. As I was riding my bike home on the sidewalk by Columbus Ave., I encounter a family of bikers coming my way. I moved to the right side and slowed down. A little girl, probably about 5 or 6, was riding beautifully in a straight line before she saw me. She panicked and zigzagged toward me when she found me moving toward her direction. I had to brake hard and jump off my bike to avoid her. I waved to calm her as she waggled by. I knew it was the same sense of fear that made her lose balance.

I had swum in more choppy waves in the Lake before. I was careful but not so fearful. Today I returned feeling somewhat defeated because I allowed that fear to dictate me.

How many times we don’t accomplish things we are capable of doing because we allow the external threat to compound with our inner fear? Confidence is certainly a major factor in success, whatever the undertaking.

Hope I’ll do better tomorrow, with or without the choppy waves.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was on national PBS in May 2014.




Bicycle culture

August 7th, 2014 by Jian Ping

bike racks and bikersDuring my recent vacation in Europe, one striking impression was the popular use of bicycles as a means of transportation by people young and old.

Double-layered bicycle racks in Amsterdam and Leiden, as shown here, are common scenes, so are small children following their parents, or taking a free ride with the help of an adult’s hand.

a well loved bikeI like those heavy-duty bikes. Apparently such feeling is not mine alone. I saw several bikes with decorative flowers. This one is at the train station in Enkhuizen, a small town about an hour’s train ride from Amsterdam. All the sidewalks and streets are paved with red bricks in this ancient town, but the bumpy road didn’t prevent bikers, mostly silver-haired elders, from their bikes. While in Leiden, a college town, I noticed that most of the bikers are young men and women.

Vienna imprea well loved bikessed me not only by its beautiful historical buildings, magnificent churches, and rich cultural life, but also the well-connected bike lanes, most of them are next to the pedestrian path. I was very pleased to see so many people on their bikes in this large city.

In Frankfurt, Germany, our last stop, after a pleasant trip to several cities in Romania, I saw many bikers on the streets as well, sometimes, the entire family in a group. I felt vindicated for riding my bike to most of the places I need to go in Chicago.

Bike riding is fun and good forelder bikers taking a break our health and environment. I do hope, with the promotion and support from the City of Chicago and the allocation of more bike lanes in city streets, more people will feel comfortable to get on their bikes in the metropolitan area, especially in the beautiful summer season as we are in right now. If you haven’t tried, get on a Divvy bike and take a ride, at least on the lakefront trail. I guarantee that you will love the experience. It would be great that we pitch in and create our own cycling culture.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was on national PBS in May 2014.

Summer in Chicago

July 8th, 2014 by Jian Ping
Lakefront trail

Lakefront trail

Summer is always my most favorite season in Chicago. Besides all the outdoor concerts, sports venues, and other events, what I like to do most is biking along the lakefront trail or swimming in the Lake.

Biking always starts earlier. This year, I was out on the trail since late April when the air was still chilly and patches of snow were still blocking some segments of the trail. In less than a month, I watched the trees turn color, the leaves emerge, and all of a sudden, the budding flowers cover the entire trees with brilliant yellow, red, white, or pink. The long trail was filled with a sweet, intoxicating fragrance. Depending on the weather, I either rode my Trek hybrid, which has thicker tires, or my Cannondale road bike, light and fast.

Flowers in early spring

Flowers in early spring

I started noticing swimmers with wetsuits in the Lake in early June, at a stretch between Grand and Chicago Avenue. Despite the extra protection, I bet their exposed limbs and face would feel the bite of the icy water, like being stung by jellyfish. I admired and envied them, but stayed away. Then one day in mid June, I saw two men swimming in their regular swim trunks. “Yeah!” I hailed as I sped by on my bike.

I didn’t plunge in until late June. To my pleasant surprise, the water was not as cold as I expected, and I was able to swim for 45 minutes. I felt like kicking myself for not getting into the water earlier. But the warm water didn’t stay for long. The next day when I went back, I felt the change of temperature the moment I stepped in. It must be below 60 degrees. I managed to swim for 30 minutes and rushed back to take a long, hot shower. But I went to swim in the lake every day, enjoying the amazing energy the live water was able to give me. It is definitely worth the challenge of the cold.

For those of you who haven’t tried swimming in the lake, I strongly recommend taking a plunge. It’s magically refreshing and energizing. I hope you’ll love the experience as much as I. So blessed to have the vast lake nearby.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was on national PBS in May, 2014.