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Archive for July, 2009

Tuscan Delights

Thursday, July 30th, 2009
Viareggio

Image by see.lauren via Flickr

 

 

My wife and I have always loved Italy.  We’ve traveled over most of Europe, but we always seem to come back to Italy year after year. 

 

For some years now, we’ve been spending a week in the old Italian resort of Viareggio on the Mediterranean Coast, just half an hour south of Pisa and Lucca.  It’s an ideal family resort location, unpretentious, but with sandy beaches and a large promenade with boutiques, Gelato Ice Cream stores, cafés and small restaurants.  Between the promenade and the road is a bicycle path.  Both locals and tourists bicycle everywhere – from 70 year-olds to 7 year-olds – and parents with one or even two children in baskets in front and behind.  No one wears a helmet, but I have yet to see a serious accident.  Viareggio also has a large park, a few hundred yards from the beach, with cafés, donkey and buggy rides, slides, and lots of kid’s entertainment.

 

All the beach areas are privately operated and split up into sections with each “beach club” often having its own swimming pool, bar, restaurant, parasols and tents on the beach, and many facilities for kids. 

 

Our family (all eleven of us) stay at the Principe di Piemonte, a beautiful hotel built in the 1920’s, but extensively refurbished a few years ago.  This is across the road from the beach areas.  We have a very European holiday – meaning everyone gets up late – we all breakfast around 9:30, wander down to the beach by about 11:00, swim, read, or take a morning stroll up and down the beach, then have lunch, a snooze – more swimming in the pool or in the sea – and then it’s drinks and ready for dinner at one of the small local restaurants, which specialize in local fish and pasta. 

 

This is often followed by an evening walk along the promenade where there is musical entertainment, jugglers, and street salesmen keeping a watchful eye out for the police, selling copies of Prada, Gucci, or Louis Vuitton purses and bags.  Our evening ends with a Gelato and a coffee in one of the cafés – a very lazy day. 

 

We have of course, over the years, taken advantage of being able to drive to see the sights of Pisa, its magnificent Cathedral and of course the Leaning Tower, and the medieval beautiful walled city of Lucca, with its squares, marble churches, and narrow winding streets full of boutiques and cafés. 

 

We have also visited the adjoining exclusive Italian resort of Forte dei Marmi.  This resort has beautiful homes and villas owned by wealthy Italians who are tanned and elegant, riding their bicycles in the quaint downtown area of up-market boutiques and restaurants. 

 

However one of our favorite local places to visit is the small village of Pietro santa, a few miles into the hills behind Forte dei Marmi.  This town is a center for the world famous Carrera Marble and the industrial plants cut large chunks of marble, which are shipped all over the world and eventually form kitchen and bathroom counter tops and grand entrances to apartment and office buildings.  The old walled-center of the town, however, is a medieval gem, which attracts many artists and galleries.  There are always major art exhibitions going on in the main square, which is surrounded by large cafés.  From the square, branches out a number a number of narrow streets with no motor traffic, but with little arts and crafts stores, boutiques, and restaurants on the street. 

 

Right in the entrance to the old town, we visited a restaurant cut into the main wall of the town called the Gotto Nero (Black Cat.)  This restaurant, with a capacity for approximately 100 people, had tables and chairs out onto the cobblestone street.  The food there is magnificently Tuscan.  There is no menu, but you are offered appetizers such as green figs with Parma Ham, antipasti – home-made salami and other meats, home-made corn and barley soup, local mussel soup, prawns or small lobster legs, and of course a variety of pasta dishes.  The main courses include calf’s liver with onions, veal picata, charcoaled grilled veal chop or steaks, grilled sea bass, bream, or dorade.  Local house wine, was only six Euros per bottle ($8.50 per bottle), and desserts included wild strawberries and raspberries, and home-made cherry, apricot, or chocolate flan.  We loved this restaurant so much we returned for a second helping later in the week.

 

We feel we have participated in a typical European holiday.  Unlike American frantic activities, the Europeans just laze around eating and drinking, for a week in the sun, and we felt right at home. You should try it some time.

 

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

 

 

 

 

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Our Frank Lloyd Wright New York Visit

Thursday, July 30th, 2009
Ceiling of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

Image via Wikipedia

 

 A little over a month ago some three hundred people gathered in the soaring atrium of the striking white spiral that is the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to honor the memory and (141st) birthday of its architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.  It was also the 50th anniversary of the museum’s opening and the 50th anniversary of FLLW’s death which happened a few months before the museum actually opened.

 

We were there to view an amazing collection of original FLLW drawings and plans, many of which have not been out of the FLLW Archives for decades, and to inspect tantalizingly detailed and newly created models of some of his most famous projects.  In addition, we were also able to walk through a chronologically organized display of the work of the apprentices at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. The school, by the way, awards both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture and has been in continuous existence since 1932.  The apprentice show detailed the shelter design projects the students participate in and featured work from the earliest to the most recent of apprentices.

 

Finally, we were there to partake in an amazing benefit dinner, the proceeds of which would support the educational programs of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation which was a co-sponsor with the Guggenheim Museum of the exhibit.   

 

Despite some criticisms from the architectural critics community, the exhibit was memorable and historic.   Yes, some of the drawings appeared faded, some of our favorite buildings were not included, and some of the more technical aspects of the display failed to catch our imagination.  But, so many of these old Wright projects tackled such 21st century issues, and with such contemporary vision.  Many of the new models were a delight to inspect and wonder at—the edges of the pillars in the Unity Temple model come immediately to mind.  Finally, much of the apprentice work achieved FLLW’s educational philosophy of ‘learning by doing’ and creatively reflected his principles of organic architecture.  All this made many of us feel the trip to NY was well worth our time.

 

I always look up when I first enter the Guggenheim—how can one not—but this time I was seated in the atrium for hours during which looking up was truly easy.  It is not just a flight of fantasy to wonder if  FLLW intended exhibit viewers to become part of the architecture as they walked the spiral.  Looking up at the clean lines of the design, repeated arcs reflecting delicately and differently in the light, the movement of the viewers seemed to add a charge to the scene, as they slowly wound their way up of the ramps.  The amazing display of the Hilllside Theatre Curtain designed by FLLW to reflect his vision of the Wisconsin River valley at Taliesin just hit a high note.

 

The exhibit closes on August 23rd and reopens at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain on October 21st.  It is well worth seeing and one can wonder just what he would have been designing if he was still alive.

 

Sandra Shane-DuBow,     Author of academic books and articles on judicial decision making  

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London’s National Theatre

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009
Royal National Theatre
Image by fun3MD via Flickr

I have never been an admirer of the architecture of London’s Royal National Theatre on the South Bank.  I’ve always thought that it looks like a military bunker or high security jail.  I’m not alone in my negative view of the building. 

 

Jonathan Miller described it as an impossible place, which was a cross between “Gatwick Airport and Brent Cross Shopping Center.”  This ugly monstrosity has received many efforts over the years to soften its image – most recently with a variety of colored lighting on the external walls, which softens the gray concrete and greenery planted on its terraces.

 

Luckily, the three theatres inside and the various other facilities are much more agreeable and user friendly. 

 

The first proposal for a National Theatre was made in 1848.  It took until 1937, when a site measuring 16,000 SF was purchased opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum. This would not be the final location for the Theatre; and, in 1942 that site was exchanged for a new site on the South Bank of the Thames.

 

Architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens and Cecil Masey, designed a grand twin-towered building for the site, but the Second World War intervened.  Throughout the 50’s and 60’s, plans were created and abandoned as successive governments argued over whether to fund the National Theatre project, which required a special Bill in Parliament.

 

The late 1960’s saw a new plan for two buildings to house both the National Theatre and Opera House.  Eventually because of cost constraints, the Opera House plan was abandoned. 

 

Various committees, prompted by Laurence Olivier slowly pushed the plans forward and eventually the National Theatre opened to its first production in 1976.

 

Over the years, I was privileged to see in one or other of the three Theatres – the 890 seat Lyttleton, the 400 seat Cottesloe, and the 1,160 seat Olivier – superb actors such as John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Peggy Ashcroft, Paul Scofield, Albert Finney, Judi Dench, Michael Gambon, Ian McKellen, and Julia McKenzie.  And some outstanding productions of which I remember particularly, Anthony Hopkins in “Pravda,” “Richard the III,” with Ian McKellen, and the musicals, “The Threepenny Opera” and “Guys and Dolls.”

 

The National Theatre continues to produce outstanding plays year after year, with some of the best acting talent in the world.  The bars, restaurants, foyer entertainment, and creative use of the spaces make a visit particularly pleasant.

 

As is often the case in Britain, endless delays and frustrations to complete a grand project plagued by cost constraints, labor disputes, and sometimes poor architecture do not always produce the best results.  But in the case of the National, the quality of what goes on inside the Theatre spaces overrides all other issues.

 

 

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

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Mourning a Loss and Celebrating a Life

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009
More Orchids @ HK airport
Image by Swami Stream via Flickr

My husband Francis and I went to San Francisco to attend the wake and funeral of my father-in-law Marvin last week. All his children—three sons and two daughters—and five out of seven of his grandchildren gathered together. We went to his wake at the Duggan’s Serra Mortuary shortly after our arrival.

I was awed by the sight the moment I stepped into the room where my father-in-law’s body was placed. Rows of large flower wreaths from family members and friends surrounded him. Most of the flower arrangements were in white, light pink or yellow tone, and consisted mostly of orchids and lilies. They varied in size and shape, but all appeared pure, serene, and beautiful. They filled the room with a strong, soothing fragrance. We observed the tradition of paying our respect by bowing three times to him. Later, in front of all the relatives and friends, each of his children and their respective spouse laid a silk blanket over him, followed by his grandchildren—they were supposed to keep him warm in the unknown world. Marvin had his favorite hat and glasses on and looked peaceful and content. A portrait of him in his forties stood beside him, an image I had never seen before. He wore a tie, a pair of black rim glasses and dark suit, looking like a college professor. Marvin came to the US in his early forties to make a living to support his family in Hong Kong. He worked at odd jobs all his life, mostly in Chinese restaurants. I wondered what his life would have been if he had the opportunity of attending college. All his children, however, emerged from poverty and are doing well, with two sons having doctoral degrees. And all his grandchildren either finished colleges or are college bound. He got to be proud of his achievements.

We returned to the Mortuary the following day for Marvin’s funeral. Sylvia, one of his granddaughters, took out her long flute and started the procession by playing the Amazing Grace. Francis and Arthur, a grandson, each gave a short but touching eulogy. The mourning for his loss turned into a celebration of his life. As Sylvia returned to the front and played the moving Shenandoah, my emotions went up and down with her melodies. Tears ran down my face, for Marvin and the beauty of his continued life through his descendents.

May peace be with him, forever.     

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

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Facing the End

Thursday, July 16th, 2009
None - This image is in the public domain and ...
Image via Wikipedia

My 84-year-old father-in-law Marvin passed away yesterday. He had been battling with a number of ailments for months—diabetes, kidney problem, high blood pressure, and in the last week, pneumonia. The last few days of his life was sustained by life-support system—a ventilation machine pumped air to his lungs and a feeding tube went directly to his stomach. To prevent him from accidently pulling out of the tubes when he awoke, he was tied to his bed. He drifted in and out of sleep, or unconsciousness in the intensive care unit. He shook his head left and right a few times to his visiting children one time when he managed to open his eyes. What was he trying to say? Bidding farewell or asking them to take away the machines so his pains would not be prolonged? Despite the effort, he passed away in the middle of the night two days after that.  

The news of his passing brought back grief and memories of the loss of my father less than a year ago. My father was diagnosed with lung cancer three years before. A week after he received the diagnosis, he declared to his family: there would be no operation, no chemo treatment, and no hospitalization for him. “At age 85, every day is a bonus to me,” he said. “I want to be in control of my life and my dignity.” True to his words, he kept his daily routine of walking, reading, and occasionally playing mahjong until the last moment. He was rushed to the hospital the last day of his life when he suddenly began to throw up blood. He passed away in ten minutes after his arrival at the hospital.  

As I pondered the way we inevitably have to face our end, I read in the New York Times about the assisted suicide of Sir Edward Downes, one of Britain’s most renowned conductors and his wife Joan. Sir Edward, 85, was “increasingly blind and deaf,” and Joan, 74, his wife of 54 years, was diagnosed with a terminal cancer several months before and was given a few weeks to live. They decided to die together before being consumed by pains and medication. They went to a Zurich clinic in Swiss and died holding each other’s hands. Their death, especially Sir Edward who was not suffering from a “terminal illness,” caused debates and even a police investigation. It is legal in Swiss to assist terminally ill patients to end their lives, but no legal in Britain.

Put legal or moral issues aside, let’s face it: there is no good way when it’s time to deal with death—our loved ones or our own. Hard as it is, I’d favor maintaining dignity and control at any time.

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

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Letter from London – 3

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009
London Theatre Breaks

     

My wife has always been a theatre buff, so any visits to London, always include the theatre. 

On this trip, we went to three shows.  The first was Ronald Harwood’s “Collaboration” at the Duchess Theatre, starring Michael Pennington.  Harwood is an excellent playwright and screenwriter, best known for “The Dresser”, “Quartet” and the movies, “The Pianist,” and “The Diving Bell and The Butterfly.”  Ron Harwood’s awards included an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the “The Pianist,” (2003) and an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for “The Diving Bell…” (2007).

 “Collaboration” describes the close working relationship between Richard Strauss, (1864 – 1949) the famous German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras, and, Stefan Zweig, a famed Austrian novelist, playwright and journalist. Strauss and Zweig cooperated on the creation of an opera, and had a close friendship and enviable professional relationship for many years.

 

However, when Hitler came to power, Strauss was gradually pushed into severing his collaboration with Zweig, an Austrian Jew.  Initially, he objected and refused, but gradually he succumbed to the Nazi pressure under threat to his daughter-in-law and her family, who were Jewish.  Zweig, a brilliant but introverted artist, despaired for the future of mankind, as the Nazis spread their evil net across Europe and pursued their relentless persecution and subsequent annihilation of the Jews.

 

Zweig fled Vienna in 1934, first moving to England, maintaining communication through correspondence with Strauss, who tried every possible means to persuade him to participate in a further collaborative operatic venture, but then moved to Brazil as the Second World War progressed – eventually committing suicide in 1942.

 

This complex relationship examines the still unanswered question of how a cultured intelligent society could fall under the spell of a Nazi dictatorship.

 

My wife and I both enjoyed the play, but I felt it could have had a little more meat in showing the years leading to Zweig’s unexplained suicide.

 

The second show to which we also invited our three grandchildren was the musical comedy, “Sister Act,” based upon the successful 1987 movie.  This was an explosive, fun, all-singing and dancing show, headed by the stunning lead actress, Patina Miller, who comes from South Carolina and was raised by her musical family on rhythm, blues, and gospel.  She is definitely destined to be a star, and I’m sure this well-received outstanding musical event will soon be seen on Broadway.

  

Finally, we went to the Lyttelton at the National Theatre to see the J.B. Priestley classic, “Time and the Conways.”  This study of time and life’s struggles covered a period from 1919 to 1938, during which we see how the optimism and hope which Mrs. Conway, wonderfully played by Francesca Annis, and her five children – three daughters and 2 sons – fail in all aspects to achieve their hopes and potential in a post World War I era of dramatic social changes and economic slump.

 

J.B. Priestley’s plays often depict the mysteries of time.  This play first performed in 1937 had an added impact for me, as I wondered whether our own economic times and challenges would come to reflect the 1930s.

 

Theatre in London is always a treat and if you have a chance to see any of the above, I believe you will not be disappointed.

 

 

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

 

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Also on Immigrants

Friday, July 10th, 2009
Economic Map of the World: Emerging Markets an...
Image via Wikipedia

It’s interesting to read Ellis’s observation of the mixed races in London and note the statistics that 50% of the population in the city is consisted of immigrants. The same can be said about the US. There are 33 million immigrants in the country who are foreign born and 20% of school children are those of immigrants. In large cities like New York and Los Angeles, immigrants are more than half of the population.

The US is a country of immigrants and for the longest time, is known as a “melting pot.” Despite the hardships, and in many cases, discrimination that most immigrants, especially the first-generation, face, this country provides abundance of opportunities for the newcomers. I am a beneficiary among them. With the composition of population drastically changing and the white is projected to become minorities soon, another term has emerged to describe the complexities of the population: “salad bowl.” The “melting pot” indicates a process of assimilation into the mainstream society, the white culture. “Salad Bowl” is coined to describe a mix, with each ingredient maintaining its own ethnicity.  

The faces of the developed countries that draw immigrants from developing countries are fast changing. Technology and fast transportation make it easier for immigrants to be connected with their country of origins.  As they adapt to the new country they call home, they can also be linked to their heritage and culture and be proud of them. It is more of acculturation in which immigrants both absorb and impact the culture of their adopted country. Of course, many other factors come into play, economic situation, education, social barriers, skills, and discrimination, to name a few. It makes harder that most of the immigrants start at the bottom of the economic and social ladder. Despite the difficulties, or maybe because of them, they strive to overcome and succeed. There is still a long way for the US or any other Western country to truly become a “salad bowl.” But the intermingle and acceptance of children regardless of their color and race, as described in Ellis’s posting, give us hope for a better future.

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

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Letter from London – 2

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009
Willesden French Market

I went to visit an elderly cousin of mine, who lives in Wembley Park about 7 1/2 miles from the center of London.  On the way back, I got caught in major traffic congestion, possibly because that is the time that all the schools get out.  It was a hot and sweltering afternoon, and there was nothing I could do but sit and wait for the gridlock to break up and watch the world go by.

I was stuck in an area called Willesden, where there is a very ethnic mix of newer immigrants.  Sitting in the car, I saw black West African ladies in highly decorated dresses, Muslim women in black Burkas, many scarf-covered women – some of them young and in jeans – a couple coming out of a internet café – tall, slim, handsome black faces swathed in long white and blue patterned garments, strikingly beautiful – possibly Ethiopian or Somali – and many men with full beards and caps on their heads, some in long kaftans, and some with western jackets over knee-length white shirts and baggy pants.

The stores advertise their wares in many languages and the restaurants promote African, Bangladesh, Pakistani, and Indian food.  I even saw a pizza bar advertising Indian and Italian pizza.  That’s a first! There are also stores selling traditional Muslim clothing and others advertising Hallal meats.  Some cafés have low seats or cushions with Shisha Pipes. 

 

Recent statistics indicate that more than 50% of the population in London was not born in the United Kingdom.  Britain has always had very liberal policies with regard to immigrants.  Since the Second World War, there has been an explosion of immigrants, mostly from former British Commonwealth countries – Afro-Caribbean primarily from Jamaica who came in the 50’s, Pakistanis who came to work in the textile mills throughout the 60’s, and a large Indian population that moved from East Africa after many of those countries, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, achieved their independence and became particularly aggressive towards their Indian population that primarily ran most of the commerce and public government services.

 

More recently, there have been an increasing number of immigrants from other parts of Asia; and, with the expansion of the European Union, an influx of Polish and Romanian plumbers, roofers, etc.  There is also a large floating student population, particularly from countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and other Balkan states, who are employed as waiters and waitresses in most of London’s restaurants and cafés.

 

These liberal policies do not mean that immigrants are easily accepted by the British population.  In fact, racism and prejudice is rampant in many parts of the country.  Immigrants are tolerated but are often considered, even by the media, as “not truly Brits.”

 

To their eternal shame, recent elections to the European Parliament sent two representatives to Brussels from the British National Party – a right-wing neo Fascist organization that campaigned on anti-immigrant policies.  The recession, disaffection with the current government and leadership often brings out the worst of these prejudices.

 

After finally being released from my gridlock, I continued on my way, passing a couple of primary schools where the children were being met and being picked up by their parents. These happy screaming little kids were of all shapes and sizes, and ethnic backgrounds:  Asian, European, Middle Eastern, African – all happily mingling, screaming and shouting with glee and, I believe, totally indifferent to their ethnic backgrounds.  At that age, children are colorblind and perhaps that is a lesson and hope for us all.

 

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

 

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Letter from London – 1

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009
Roses at Queen Mary's Garden
Image by Steve Nimmons via Flickr

My wife and I are making our annual pilgrimage to London to see family and friends.  We’ve just arrived to the warmest weather that London has experienced for the past three years.  The last two summers have been very wet and cool.

 

According to Londoners, they are now sweltering in a heat wave, the temperature having soared to the mid-80s.  But when London is bathed in sunshine, it does bloom.  Not only the Royal Parks, but also residents’ gardens are ablaze with color and roses galore. 

 

This morning, I took a walk into Regents Park within which is an area called Queen Mary‘s Gardens, which has the most incredible collection of rose bushes – perhaps 500 different varieties.  They have intriguing names such as Savoy Hotel, Princess Alice, Majestic, and Ingrid Bergman. They are in full bloom and in the most glorious colors.  In the center of the Garden, there is a circle of posts between which are strung large ropes covered in climbing roses of every hue and color.  Below this circle of color, is a small lake with an Island connected by an arched bridge.  Throngs of tourists abound photographing the flowers, the elegant royal swans and ducks, and of course themselves.

 

Local residents as well as tourists are making the most of this glorious weather, picnicing in the park, gliding upon the Regents Park lakes in rented canoes, and quietly watching the world go by.

 

Over the past decade or so, London has become a café society and every other store appears to be a café, small restaurant, or traditional pub with outdoor seating, attracting workers in their lunch hours as well as tourists.  Dining Al Fresco is always a joy, and Londoners really appreciate the opportunity.  Despite the economic recession, the City appears to be bustling, and certainly this weather brings people out to savor the City’s attractions.  The summer season is in full swing, with some of the main events already completed – Royal Ascot Races, Henley Regatta, and currently Wimbledon.  These events always draw large crowds, having been established more than a hundred years ago and provide a beauty and elegance in an inimitable British way.

 

Of course, one thing that doesn’t change is traffic congestion, and in hot weather traffic jams belching out noxious fumes distracts from a lot of the beauty and interest of the City, but personally, I hope the heat wave continues, and I shall report later in the week on some of the other current attractions of the City bathed in sunshine.

 

 

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

 

 

 

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A Weekend in New York City

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009
NEW YORK - JUNE 07:  Actress Alice Ripley pose...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

To put on the best face for making another step frighteningly close to the “ban bai,” in Chinese, the milestone of half of your life, if you can live to one hundred years, I went to New York City with my husband over the weekend. Things couldn’t have worked out better—got on an earlier flight on Friday minutes before its on-time departure, being spared of downpour, two days in a row, while we were having dinner, only to walk out into the sunshine, and had a very productive meeting with a literary agent over my next book project, and more, watched two wonderful Broadway shows, one play, Mary Stuart and one musical, Next to Normal. Not to mention a leisure walk in Central Park and plenty of good food.

I have to say, except the meeting that made me very excited about the next book, the highlight is the two shows. The performance of Janet McTeer as Mary, Queen of Scots and Harriet Walter, as Elizabeth, Queen of England, was superb. And the story of Next to Normal was so intense and powerful that it drew me in, deeper into the family struggling to be “normal” with each number of the songs.  Alice Ripley gave a first-rate performance as the complicated mother. However, I like the teenage daughter’s performance even better, a wonderful presentation by Jennifer Damiano. Her voice, her passion, her love and frustration were so strongly revealed that my heart went out to her, or rather the character she performed. The power of words and stories once again touched and inspired me like magic.  

If you have a chance to go to the Big Apple, I highly recommend you to see these shows!

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

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