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Archive for May, 2009

Memorial Day – For the Living

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009
American Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie...
Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

The deeply moving events and the extensive media coverage of Memorial Day prompted me to think of some chilling statistics and the development of problems that perhaps have not received the attention of the Military establishment in previous wars.

 

The current Iraq War has claimed the lives of approximately 4,300 of our servicemen and women. Nearly 33,000 have been wounded (often severely from roadside bombs and suicide bombers).  In Afghanistan, the numbers so far, are much smaller, but are likely to rise in the months and years ahead.  

 

These numbers however do not take into account those servicemen and women suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which according to recent reports, has affected one in five of those who have served in Iraq.

 

I’ve been thinking about these issues.  Is it the horrors of high-tech modern warfare that have brought PTSD to the forefront, or have the veterans of previous wars always suffered from these problems, but without getting the attention and help that they needed?  These injuries to the mind were undoubtedly present in all of our previous wars.

 

In the First World War where mass slaughter was the result of trench warfare and major set- piece battles, hundreds of thousands of soldiers were treated for what was then described as “shell shock.”  It would certainly be understandable if virtually every participant in those gory years had some form of PTSD.

 

After World War II, one did not hear too much about these issues, but I was struck some years ago when my father-in-law, who had landed in France on D-Day Plus 1 and went all the way to the Rhine, was talking to my son about his wartime experiences.  He has an upbeat, jovial personality and so I was truly surprised when, as he got into the description of his battle experiences, tears welled up and he started to cry.  I wondered at that time how many millions of combatants had bottled up their feelings and the traumas that had produced them.

 

In my recent novel, “Bear Any Burden,” the lives of the three main characters were permanently impacted by their World War II experiences.  The lead character, Sir Alex Campbell, had been a nineteen-year-old Lieutenant in the British Army Intelligence Corps. at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945.  The horrors that he saw, caused nightmares for four decades thereafter.

 

Anna Kaluza, daughter of an aristocratic Polish family, had never met her father and had been born in a Russian Collective Farm Labor Camp in 1940.  She lived in camps for the first eight years of her life, and her elder brother provided the protection and support that was a substitute for her father.

 

Professor Erik Keller was fifteen years old when the Germans marched into his home town of Tarnow in Poland in September 1939.  He witnessed the cruelty, abuse, and ultimate destruction of the Jewish population, including his family, and even nearly forty years after the end of the Second World War, he was still living a life which hid his true background and identity.

 

Unintentionally, I realized that my characters, were all suffering from some form of PTSD.

 

For some of our servicemen and women returning from Iraq, PTSD is likely to have an impact on the rest of their lives.  The human and financial cost of these tragic issues is incalculable.

 

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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The Last Voice Performance at the Art Institute

Monday, May 25th, 2009
Art Institute of Chicago Building North Lion
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For years, one of my most favorite programs at the Art Institute of Chicago is the lunch-hour, 45-minute “Voice Performance.” While a featured artist’s works—paintings or sculptures or photographs—are projected on a large screen, a professional actor or actress, pending on the gender of the featured artist, speaks on the stage, voicing the words written or spoken about art or his/her own work by the artist. It is so well-done that many times I found myself touched into tears.

I was shocked by the announcement that the program would be shutdown when I was there attending Pablo Picasso performance last Thursday. “Next week’s program will be on Matisse. It will be our last performance. Please say ‘Thanks’ to Mary Sue Glosser, director of the program. She has run the program for twenty years…” The announcement was made after the introduction of that day’s performance, without any fanfare.  I’ve attended many sessions of the program introduced, or sometimes, even performed by Mary Sue. She is a wonderful speaker and has always produced a very informative and inspiring performance. She was not there making the announcement last week. I felt terribly sad about the loss. All year round, no matter what kind of weather, there would be at least 40 or 50 in the audience. No reason was given for the cancellation. With the recent opening of the new modern wing, I was looking forward to more exciting programs. I was and still am very disappointed.

I’ll be out of town this week, therefore, won’t be able to attend the last performance. If you are in Chicago, I strongly recommend that you stop by and enjoy the performance on Matisse and hopefully meet with Mary Sue.

I’d like to salute to Mary Sue Glosser for her long-time contribution. It was her program that initially drew me to the museum and turned me to be a museum member.  

 

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com

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Carbon Nation

Thursday, May 21st, 2009
Film poster for An Inconvenient Truth

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I attended a preview last night of a new Documentary called “Carbon Nation” produced and directed by Peter Byck (L.A. based – “A Fish Called Wanda,” “Garbage”).  This movie is about the solutions that are available to us in the U.S. right now, to the many challenges presented in Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”  The gloom and doom of that award-winning movie, while probably accurate, painted a bleak picture with no solutions other than a plea to act boldly and act now.  Carbon Nation provides some of the answers, and that in itself is uplifting. 

 

While the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, it accounts for 25% of the pollution pumped into the air.  As the population and affluence grew over the past 50 years and industry expanded to meet the people’s needs, we consistently ignored the damage we were doing to the planet and indeed to the earth’s atmosphere.  Successive administrations were slow to act, and indeed the last eight years of the Bush administration dramatically added to our problems by its continuing denial of the impact of global warming, and liberalization of pollution controls on American industry.

 

It is now an irrefutable fact that the planet is facing global warming; and, as such, will inevitably face a rise in sea levels, an increase in dramatic weather patterns – either floods or drought – and the resulting movement of millions of refugees and the dangerous social upheavals that could arise.  It is thus quite clear that global warming and the results thereof are becoming as big a threat to our national security as global terrorist groups.

 

Carbon Nation, however, sets a positive tone.  It focuses on our energy use as a creator of CO2 and looks at the heavy costs, both environmental and financial, of a continuing reliance on fossil fuels.  It examines solutions that are there for us right now – Wind Power – a whole new industry, providing good quality jobs for a low cost solution to a reduction in our reliance on oil.  In addition, it looks at Solar Power and the fast-moving technologies that can reduce the cost thereof and make it a viable alternative for both residential and industrial use.  The movie also considers Geothermal Heating, with its recent breakthroughs in lowering the level of heat requirement through enhanced Geothermal systems.  And of course, the movie considers the growth of Hybrid autos, plug-in technologies, and even the creation of energy through the harvesting of Algae.

 

One of the more interesting elements of this outstanding documentary, was the recognition that the Pentagon, the largest recipient of the U.S. Annual Budget, has been focusing on ways to cut reliance on oil, while cutting costs, providing a better living environment for our troops, and eliminating the risk of moving large quantities of oil around hostile areas. They’ve come up with a number of solutions, including leading edge insulation, which can substantially reduce temporary building temperatures in Military camps in the Deserts of Iraq or Afghanistan, and the use of Solar Power and more efficient small generators.

 

The premise of the movie is “Yes, we can.”  The technologies are available, the factories are available, the skilled labor force is certainly available; and, if we have the will, the encouragement and potentially the profitability, the U.S. can once again become a world leader of the “next big thing” while dragging us and our trading partners out of recession.

 

As one of the interviewees in the movie says, “We’ve done a lot of talking, we’ve done lot of analyzing, and we know where the solutions are.  Now let us stop talking and just do it.” 

 

I couldn’t agree more. 

 

“Carbon Nation” will be in distribution across the country in the fall.  Don’t miss it.  It will provide you with an uplifting feeling that you can really make a difference.

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

Clearing Library Appearance

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
Libraries almost invariably contain long aisle...
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The weather was perfect in Chicago today: bright sunshine, warm, and pleasant. I thanked everyone who attended my book event at the Clearing Library branch on the southwest side of Chicago. Janette, who works at the Harold Washington Library and has coordinated all my Chicago library events, appeared in person.  She introduced me to Mary, the Clearing branch manager. Mary’s warm welcoming manner and friendliness made me feel right at home.  

Listening to readers resonating with my family members, especially Nainai, my grandmother, my mother and father, was most gratifying. How I wish Nainai could hear their comments about her caring and strong personality up in heaven. The love and attachment I feel for her today is as strong as they were when I was a child. I’m so pleased many readers feel the same love for her as well.  

I was very impressed by the questions people in the audience raised: from my siblings’ names , the hardships our family members were subjected to, the stoic manner of my mother, to the political situation of the time. Apparently, they had read the book carefully and drilled into issues that required deeper examination of the culture and tradition. Their care, resonation and understanding warmed my heart.

The event lasted for an hour and a half. A few people stayed behind and continued our discussion. By the time I walked out of the library with Janette, it was almost 9 PM.  We started talking about the next event during the Book Festival Month upcoming up. I felt privileged to participate in the programs of the Chicago city libraries.  Reading and cross cultural communication and understanding are very important elements of our lives today.

 

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com 

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Bilingual Talk

Sunday, May 17th, 2009
chicago, chinatown
Image by see phar via Flickr

I’ve made many appearances at book groups, schools and libraries since the release of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. But never once did I have the need to address the audience in both English and Chinese. I was surprised when Ms. Chen, the Branch Manager of the Chicago Chinatown Library, asked me if I could give the talk in both English and Chinese. Somehow, it never occurred to me there might be such a need.

I have done much translation work before, both written and oral; however, at such occasions, I was either able to look at the text or take notes before I converted them from one language into the other. Translating my own talk was a totally different experience. I realized that I spoke too long in one language before I caught myself and switched to the other; and when I did so, I was not able to do a “translation”—the spontaneous talk couldn’t be recaptured word for word. Instead, I recreated the talk that covered similar content, but not in the same order or words.

However, I managed to switch from English to Chinese and vice versa. I was quite amused by the process and appreciated the patience of the audience, especially those who were only fluent in one language. When it came to the question and answer session, all the Chinese raised their questions in Chinese, no matter how fluent their English was. I translated the questions into English for the non-Chinese and proceeded to address the question(s) without pause. It was not until the end of the session that I became aware that I addressed most of the questions in English, with only a brief summary in Chinese! I was grateful that no one seemed to mind.

A few Chinese stayed behind after the event and continued our discussion. A Chinese woman who called herself Jane had lived through the Cultural Revolution in China. She urged me to turn the book into a film and let more people know and remember this episode in history. I certainly enjoyed our chat in Chinese.    

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.  Visit www.mulberrychild.com

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Panel at FAPAC Annual Conference

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

FAPAC, Houston. From left to right: Alice Wong, Chau le Williams, Jian Ping and Charles Fan

From left to right: Alice Wong, Chau Le Williams, Jian Ping and Charles Fan. FAPAC, Houston. May 12, 2009

It was inspiring to be at the Federal Asian Pacific American Council’s annual conference (24th) in Houston earlier this week. The theme of this year’s week-long conference is Leadership to Meet the Challenges of a Changing World. Mr. Farook Sait, President of the Council, addressed the attendees several times during the two days I was there. He is one of the most eloquent and inspiring speakers I’ve ever met. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet and talk with him in person.  

I felt honored to be a panelist at the conference and delighted to meet with many people. Among them, Mr. Kin Wong, Co-Chair of the Conference, Mr. Charles Fan, Immediate Past President of the Council, Ms. Alice Wong, Senior Advisor at the State Department who introduced me at my panel, Ms. Marina Milton, Chair, Program Committee, Mr. Pushparajan Arokiaswamy, Executive Secretary, Ms. Chau Le Williams, former President of the Council, Mr. Hillol Ray, Poet Laureate, and more.  Many talented, high achievers. In fact, it was the first conference I had ever attended in the US that had so many Asians under one roof. I felt the energy and bonding of the group and became more conscious of the role that each of us should play in our daily life and responsibilities as an Asian, an immigrant, in this adopted country that we now call home.

I was the sole panelist on the plenary “Yes, You Can, Overcoming Adversity.” I talked about Belief and Optimist, Persistence and Patience. I also encouraged everyone to cast away the limitations we tend to set over ourselves and pursue the dream(s) and passion we possess. The one-hour-and-fifteen-minute session flew by. In the end, many people in the audience left their names and e-mail addresses for further communication. I felt privileged and encouraged.

I had to leave the Conference to get back to my work in Chicago. I wish I could have stayed longer, attending some sessions and engaging in more inspiring discussions.

 

 

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.mulberrychild.com.

Hollywood Dissected

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009
Hollywood Sign

I was in Los Angeles with my wife a few days ago, and we had dinner with Steve Eich, Theatrical Producer and Director (“Picasso at Lapin Agile”), Russ Smith, Co-founder with John Malkovich of Mr. Mudd Productions (“The Dancer Upstairs,” “The Libertine,” “Juno”), and Susan Morgan Cooper, Documentary Film Director of the recently acclaimed “An Unlikely Weapon.”

 

Naturally as we were dining in West Hollywood, the conversation turned to movies pretty quickly.  Russ made the point about how the movie business – like many other industries – is being chopped up into specialty niches. The major studios look to their summer blockbusters, catering primarily to a teenage audience, to produce the “big bucks”.  This summer’s current offerings include: “Terminator Salvation,”  “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and “Star Trek.”  These are all Sci-Fi special effects spectaculars, and the word on the “street” is they will all do well.

 

Another niche is the star-studded major-studio productions.  Anything with George Clooney or Brad Pitt or other big stars would fill this bill.  Perhaps, this summer’s “Angels and Demons,” with Tom Hanks also qualifies, but this production prequel of “The Da Vinci Code” will have to do a lot better at the box office.

 

As Russ pointed out, the studios also like and need productions that might not be for the mass market, but which may qualify for awards.  Often, these come from overseas with fine actors and directors such as “The Queen” with Helen Mirren, and this year’s Academy Award Winner, “Slumdog Millionaire.”  A further niche is filled by the independent movie makers, of which Mr. Mudd Productions is one of the more successful companies.  However, current financial constraints and problems obtaining distribution have had their affect on the amount of independent productions that are hitting the market. Foreign films particularly from the UK, Europe, and now China and India always have their following.

 

And finally, there are the documentaries often for the movie purist, which have been gaining in popularity due to the successful productions by Michael Moore (“Sicko,” “Fahrenheit 9/11”) and Al Gore (“An Inconvenient Truth”).  But for the most part, documentaries struggle to get adequate distribution.  Susan described the hard work, which has led to the success of her latest Documentary, “An Unlikely Weapon.”  This is, she believes, primarily because of excellent publicity, television interviews, and strong newspaper reviews (The New York Times) which have helped her to obtain distribution bookings across the country.

 

I listened intently as the conversation flowed about the trials and tribulations of achieving success in the movie industry today.  I couldn’t help but think that, despite the glamour, movie making like so many other businesses is a real tough business, particularly in the current economic environment.

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

 

 

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Food for Thought

Friday, May 8th, 2009
Organic cultivation of mixed vegetables in Cap...

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There is an enormous amount of media coverage – newspapers, books, magazines, and television – on the green revolution in the U.S.  It’s about time.

We are certainly behind the Europeans in this area, particularly as it relates to organic food.  However, I was pleased to read recently about the growth of organic food consumption in the U.S.  It is now a $20 billion per-year business, accounting for nearly 5% of total consumption.  The major U.S. food corporations are getting in on the game.  They now recognize that this market is growing and has excellent future potential, and have been buying up successful organic food brands and are bringing their major marketing muscle to bear on them.   

Last week when my wife and I were in Wisconsin, we had the opportunity of getting a first-hand look at an organic farm.  We visited Kings Hill Farm near Mineral Point, Wisconsin, which specializes in the growth of organic vegetables.  The farmers, Joel and Jai Kellum, showed us their greenhouses, washing, packing, and storage facilities. They also detailed their commitment to permaculature methods, which allows their fields to retain their natural nutrients, reject pests and birds, and provide the highest quality of organic vegetables.

 

We were certainly impressed and are looking forward to this summer’s produce, which they are supplying to various CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture).  For $35 a week, you can collect a large box of certified organic, freshly picked vegetables every week (or biweekly if your needs are less) at a number of pick-up sites in the Chicagoland area, including The Chicago Botanic Garden, with whom Kings Hill have a partnership.  They will also be a regular at the twice-monthly Farmers Market at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

 

The CSA allows the community to support local organic farmers by applying for a membership, which funds their seeds, labor, and utility costs and then provides the member with a beautiful box of freshly picked vegetables every week.

 

If you’re interested, contact Kings Hill Farm at http://www.kingshillfarm.com/

 

If we want to provide for our family’s health and preserve the planet, we have to support and actively engage in every part of the green revolution.  A CSA Program is a simple, healthy and sensible way of participating.

 

 We wish you healthy eating.

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

 

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Notes from China (3)

Friday, May 8th, 2009
Location of Changchun Prefecture within Jilin
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The time to return to Chicago has come and I’m reluctant to leave. I have established a routine of writing, jogging, taking a walk with my mother and a swim with my sister and brother-in-law when they return from work, plus the indulgence of a daily massage. Between family gatherings and delicious meals prepared by my sister Yan, I also squeeze in some time to meet with a couple of old friends. Mother starts calling me a “buzzing bee.” “Don’t you feel tired?” she asks, laughing.

 

On the contrary, I’m full of energy. I don’t get enough sleep because of my jetlag, but the daily massage rejuvenates me. A neighborhood massage parlor becomes my favorite place. For 320 RMB, about US$50, one can get a pass for 10 sessions of 80-minute full body massage or 20 times of 40-minute partial massage, with focus on shoulders, back or feet. Three blind men work at the parlor as masseurs. Every time I visit Changchun, I’d get one or two passes and invite my sisters to join mer. The masseurs were trained at different schools for the disabled and had been doing massages for more than ten years. They live at the parlor: sleep on the massage tables at night and have meals cooked and served to them at the parlor. They have come from different smaller towns in the province and only visit their homes several times a year.

 

My sister Wen and I were there last September and both of us are amazed that one of the masseurs calls my sister by name on our first return visit. The condition at the parlor is quite primitive: three narrow massage tables jammed in one room, and the edges of the table worn, and the windows are coated with so much dirt and dust that there is no need for a curtain. The masseurs work on their fully clothed clients over a layer sheet. But the bedding is clean and a freshly washed sheet is placed for each client, and more importantly, the deep tissue massage is first rate.

 

Through the introduction of a friend, I also meet with Mr. Zhao, the editor-in-chief of the City Evening Post, one of the four similar newspapers in the city. I’m told the newspaper has a circulation of more than 300,000 and is circulated throughout the province. “Only 80 people out of a thousand read newspapers,” Mr. Zhao tells me. “We still have plenty of room for further development.”    

 

We discusses about my contributing to the “Supplement Section” of the paper on a regular basis. “You are free to write on anything of your interest,” Mr. Zhao says. “The only limitation is the length of each article.”  

 

Mr. Zhao looks very young for his position. The newspaper is changing to a new layout the day we meet and our conversation is interrupted several times by incoming phone calls or knockings on his door, all sounding urgent to my ears. But Mr. Zhao resumes our talk in the same calm and friendly manner. I like him right away. I am looking forward to our cooperation. 

 

Mother’s eyes are filled with tears as I bid her goodbye. “Don’t be sad, Mother,” I murmur into her ear as I give her a farewell hug. “I’ll be back again in October.” My voice is as cheerful as it could be. Mother nods. She tries to smile without success. In the end, she raises one arm and waves for me to leave.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com

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Notes from China (2)

Thursday, May 7th, 2009
A market in Changchun
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Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province in the northeast, is the place where I call home in China. I was born in the city and my mother and two of my sisters live there today. I took an overnight soft sleeper train from Beijing to Changchun and arrived at 6:30 A.M. Despite my insistence on not meeting me at the station during a weekday, I heard the familiar voice of my sister Wen the moment I stepped out of the train station. My regret for taking the train and negotiating the push and pull of the Labor Day holiday crowd in Beijing dissipated when I saw the smiling faces of Wen and her husband Mingfu. I knew I was home.

 

As always, everywhere I turn to look, there seems to be changes. In addition to the new buildings and streets that emerge like mushrooms in the city, the most striking sight that catch my attention this time are the gated communities, with civilian guards lifting automated bars for passing vehicles and residents using magnetic cards to go through the side metal doors. The Aviation Garden where my sister and mother live follows suit as well. The muddy construction site three years before is now neatly lined up with nine 11 or 12-floor condo buildings, complete with paved roads, blooming trees, small parks, and of course, a guarded gate. The ground level of the three buildings facing a busy street is designed for commercial use and most of the space has been occupied by restaurants. From the 5th floor of my mother’s apartment I could see their flashing neon lights. I’m relieved that the smell of the stir-fry dishes permeating the air below doesn’t reach this high.

 

Thanks to my jetlag, I’m up at 4 A.M. every day. I write for a couple of hours before taking off for a nice jog in the South Lake Park nearby. I start each day with anticipation: the sudden rise in temperature bring the blossoms of cherry and lilac trees; the dirt on the side streets being dug up one day and filled with bushes the next; the green produce spread out on the ground at a nearby farmer’s market, and the fresh tofu I pick up each morning on my return from the jog. I observe everything with the curiosity and excitement of a visitor. Part of me feel right at home, but the other part is keenly aware of the land that I’m no longer so accustomed to.    

 

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com.

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