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Archive for July, 2010

Online Research

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

By Jian Ping

I just attended a two-day “Online Research” seminar at the Summer Institute for Teachers that was run by the Chicago Humanity Festival (CHF) at DePaul University’s downtown campus. Attendees were primarily teachers from private and public schools in the greater Chicago area. Since I had been giving talks to students at a number of schools and had attended the summer writing seminar offered by the same institute the year before, I received the invitation from CHF to apply. I did.

Paula Dempsey, Coordinator of Reference Services at DePaul University, was the instructor. She was truly wonderful—clear, patient, knowledgeable, and related to our group’s needs and level very well. With a smile on her face, she made the few approaches she selected to demonstrate for online research comprehensible to those of us who were technically challenged, to say the least. She emphasized using Google as a tool, not a source, distinguished research goals of “speculation and investigation,” and compared the differences and values of “traditional” research vs. digital. She showed us how to use Zotero, a powerful program for online research, how to use +/- to weed out unwanted sites and utilize “scholar” and advanced search to limit searches to site:org or site: gov or filetype:pdf  for more reliable resources. She also showed us how to use Chicago Public Library’s database—wonderfully organized, paid information at our finger tips, only if we know how to get access to them!

I walked away feeling thrilled and empowered. I could hardly wait to get on my computer and use the skills I just learned.  

I want to give my heartfelt thanks to Julia and the staff at CHF for putting together such a productive and well-organized program. And of course, a big applause to Paula, who, with grace and efficiency, showed us the basic tools to untangle the overwhelming information in the cyberspace.  I’m sure many students will benefit from the tools their teachers have learned to use.  

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

Death, Dying, and Green Sprigs

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

By Nancy Werking Poling

author of Out of the Pumpkin Shell

Taking a break from sitting at my computer (I hesitate to suggest I was writing, as I spent most of the time staring at the screen), I wandered around the wooded lot of our new home. The builder conscientiously worked at destroying as few trees as possible. Our lot slopes, so in spite of the crew’s efforts, roots were disturbed, trunks scarred, branches broken.

As I walked around I noticed two trees that did not come back to life this spring. Their branches are leafless, yet in a few places along the trunks clusters of green sprigs erupt. Though these trees are practically dead, they cling to life.

In South Korea I frequently saw old decrepit trees being supported by wires. I recall that in a busy sector of Seoul the sidewalk made a detour around one. A plaque identified it as a National Treasure. In the U.S., I know, the tree would have been cut down long ago, partly because it stood in the way of progress, partly because its condition demanded time and money more effectively spent elsewhere. Whether trees or people are involved, Koreans have a quite different attitude about age than we do.

As I consider the trees on our lot and ones in Korea, I am reminded of how my mother-in-law is tenaciously holding on to life. At ninety-eight, she is blind and deaf and has been hospitalized twice in the past six months, both times with infections that would kill many younger people. While we were moving, the clothes for her funeral were in a garment bag, ready for us to grab should she die while our circumstances felt so disorganized. Yet she holds on to life, telling my brother-in-law not long ago that she still has “things to do.”

We often hear of costs incurred in the later years. Old people are expensive, requiring extra care and medical procedures. Without being direct, we imply that there comes a time when it’s better to quit offering medical treatment.

Yes, I’m sure my mother-in-law’s care has cost insurers and hospitals dearly. But who is to say that her life isn’t worth living anymore? Perhaps she does have more to do, more thoughts and memories to sort out before she dies.

Like the two trees in my yard, she sends out sprigs of green, holding on to life as tightly as she can.

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Talking to A Korean Rotary Club

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

 By Jian Ping

Jim Hahn and me, photo by Dr. Jae Ro

I visited several Rotary Clubs in the greater Chicago area recently, talking about my memoir Mulberry Child and today’s China. Elizabeth, a club member at Barrington, introduced me to Jim at the Korean Club after my appearance at her club.

I exchanged a few emails with Jim and set the date on July 19th. Jim was very detailed oriented and extended his hospitality by picking me up from the Metra Train Station at Arlington Park. We chatted on our way to Woo Lae Oak, a Korean Restaurant where they had their meetings. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that nearly a third of their members were Korean women.

Rotarians at other clubs I had been to were mostly casual. I was amazed to see all the Koreans, men and women, appear in formal attire—men all had a jacket, and some even a tie, in this hot summer day. Each of them came over to make a self introduction as they arrived and addressed me as Ms. Ping. Apparently, they had been well informed of today’s program. I was impressed. I also noticed how extremely polite and friendly they were, not just to me, their guest speaker, but also to one another. One woman, Rose, told me she was not a member, but came specially to hear me talk. We chatted and compared notes on raising children in the U.S.—we certainly had similar experiences.

A Presentation on Mulberry Child

The club meeting started with the ritual of the National Anthem, followed by a pledge, which I always found touching. Then the language changed from English into Korean, beginning with a prayer. I watched Jim take center stage and assumed he was making announcements of their activities. Suddenly, the familiar sound of Jian Ping, Jennifer Hou Kwong, and even Tsingtao Beer caught my attention. I realized he must be introducing me. I smiled. The foreign syllables sounded like music to my ears. I was no stranger to conversations that I couldn’t understand—and they were not even conducted in a foreign language. Over the last decade, my husband and I had spent our Christmas with my in-laws in San Francisco. They spoke Cantonese and Tai Shan dialects, and I spoke Mandarin. Since they knew little English, and my understanding of Cantonese or Tai Shan was next to zero, we smiled and gestured, but couldn’t talk without an interpreter. I learned to fit in without the help of language. The benefit? No conflicts, ever!

At this Korean Club, most of the members knew about the Cultural Revolution or had experienced China firsthand. So I rushed through my talk and left some time for questions. I nodded to the first gentleman who raised his hand. “One, what compelled you to write the book?” he said. “And two, is Tsingtao Beer really started by Germans in China?” Everyone laughed, including me. The two-way dialogue became casual and easy afterward. “Why is it titled Mulberry Child?” “What’s your daughter’s reaction to the book?”…. We carried our conversation over dinner.

I also learned quite a bit about them and their culture. James, who sat next to me, told me about how he learned Chinese characters when he attended school in Korea. “A total of three thousand words,” he said, writing down “天”“heaven” and “地” “earth” in Chinese, but pronounced them in Korean. Brian, who sat across the table asked me the meaning of my name and wrote the correct Chinese characters on a piece of napkin—his handwriting indicated a good training in calligraphy and was much better than mine! Again, I was impressed.

I was honored to sign copies of Mulberry Child for the attendees and found my book bag nearly empty when it was all said and done.

A few members walked me to the door. Rose came over to bid farewell.  “I’m so honored to meet you,” she said, her expression genuine and touching. She had asked me to sign a copy of Mulberry Child to her daughter. We shook hands as if we had known each other for a long time. “Send me an email,” I said to her as we parted our way. “I will,” she said, waving.  

Jim, thank you and your club members for having me. I really enjoyed the unique experience. 

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

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The Banksters are Back!

Monday, July 19th, 2010
The New York Stock Exchange as seen from Wall ...

Image via Wikipedia

 By:  Ellis Goodman

After the 1929 Wall Street Crash, the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency was established to identify the actions and causes that led to the Depression.  This Commission in their hearings humiliated many of the leading bankers of the era, coining the phrase “Banksters” in describing their gangster like behavior.  The Commission led to a number of Wall Street reforms, including the creation of the SEC, which was followed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated investment banking from regular commercial banking.  These reforms kept Wall Street bankers and financial institutions under control for over sixty years. 

However many of the 1930’s reforms were gradually undermined.  Perhaps the most disastrous, was the repeal of the Glass- Steagall Act in 1990, allowing traditional banks to become investment bankers, traders, brokers, and insurers.  In the first decade of this Century, a lack of fiscal policy, deregulation, and deliberate weakening of the SEC, coupled with Wall Street greed and an explosion of new high-risk financial instruments brought this country to the brink of bankruptcy.

A new effort at reform and constraint of the excesses of Wall Street has now worked its tortuous way through Congress, and a Bill focusing on giving existing regulators additional powers has been passed.  However if these regulations and new agencies become “toothless,” as the SEC became during the Bush administration, we will see a repeat of the excesses that led to the 2008 financial crises.  It is disturbing that the Securities and Exchange Commissions’ allegations of fraud against the global-banking group – Goldman Sachs – which we’re informed may be followed by other similar charges against other big Wall Street operators, has been settled by the payment of a fine of $550 million, a tiny fraction of Goldman Sachs profits.  If they choose to continue these dubious practices in the future, it seems that the penalties would not be too burdensome.

Bankers and their lobbyists and well-funded campaign-financed recipients in Congress have been fighting vigorously against the proposed legislation.  It is reported that Goldman Sachs alone had forty-six lobbyists from more than a dozen firms working hard to kill the legislation.  Now they are focused on working around the new regulations.  The new watered-down Bill opposed by all but three Republicans, leaves much of the work to be completed over two or more years.  A future Republican administration could easily negate the Bill’s effects by changing the senior regulators.

When the Committees’ leading Republican member of the Senate Banking Committee, receives checks totaling more than $34,000 from Goldman Sachs employees, and the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, receives over a number of years, more than one-million dollars of campaign donations from Wall Street, we should not be surprised at the level of obstruction and posturing there is against any financial reform.

Our leading bankers today have no interest in being in the banking business.  If so, how will the private sector be able to pull us out of this recession?  More than three-quarters of the profits of our major banks now come from “trading.”  These profits are gleaned through fees and trading in derivatives and other complicated financial instruments.  These are high-risk-bets, so much so, that one of the complaints against Goldman Sachs in the fraud charges was that it even “bet” against the instruments that they were selling to investors.   

Are our bankers really bankers anymore, or has Wall Street become one giant casino in a “win-win” situation –bailed out by the U.S. tax payer for their bad bets and benefitting from their Vegas style activities, where the “house” always wins?  Perhaps we will see a reemergence of the 1930s popular description of the leading bankers who created the Great Depression – the new 21th Century “Banksters.”

 

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

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Mulberry Tree

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Mulberry Tree

I’ve been riding my bike along the Michigan lakefront trail from Museum Park by Roosevelt to the 63rd Street Park since early spring. It’s a beautiful route: starting by the Field Museum, going around Shedd Aquarium, passing behind the McCormick Place…. The trail extends for miles and miles. On the east side is the vast body of water, like an ocean, reaching into horizon. Its color turns blue, green or gray depending on the time of the day and the weather. It’s never the same. On the immediate west: trees, grass, and flowers, and then the stream of cars, buzzing on Lakeshore Drive. The scene is never the same either. I hit the trail two or three times a week, marveling at the ever changing sights and enjoying the view. Magnificent!

Last Thursday, I got on the trail later than usual and stopped at the park close to 53rd street. As I put my bike beside a bench and stretched before turning back, I noticed purple spots of stains on the paved trail. My heart skipped a beat. I looked up and could hardly believe my eyes: a huge mulberry tree arching over me, beckoning in the breeze. Only a few berries were left on the branches, which explained the stains on the ground. I looked around and found another one next to it, and then, across from the trail, yet another one. For some reason, this mulberry tree was the only one still being covered with large, dark berries! I was thrilled. I couldn’t believe I had missed them all this time.

Berries

And more berries!

I went back with my camera the next day in mid afternoon when the sun was shining. The golden beam made the dark green leaves and purple berries sparkle in midair. I touched them, gently and carefully, thinking of the five mulberry trees of my childhood. These trees were much larger and healthier. As I took photos from different angles, my mind was racing with childhood memories and my mouth watering for these lustrous berries. I was overwhelmed with joy and excitement.

I knew then and there: mulberry tree, which had played a significant role in my childhood, would always have a special place in my heart.

I am and will always be a mulberry child.

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

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Banking and the Economic Recovery

Monday, July 12th, 2010
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 14:  Pedestrians walk past ...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

By:  Ellis Goodman

Don’t look to the nation’s banks to help us out of this economic recovery by lending to small, medium, or even large businesses, supporting entrepreneurial ventures, or financing new construction.  The unfortunate truth is that our banks are no longer bankers.  They have become traders. 

I’ve just had a personal experience that has convinced me of this situation.  I bank with J.P. Morgan Chase in Chicago and served for nine years on the Board of one of their former subsidiaries, American National Bank, a very successful “middle-market” bank serving a wide range of Chicago based businesses.  I own a real estate investment company, which banks with J.P. Morgan Chase and they also handle my personal accounts and my not insubstantial family assets.  On that basis, I thought I was a pretty good customer.  I recently approached the bank for a short-term bridging loan on a real estate transaction, involving commercial real estate in central Chicago anchored by national tenants including – J.P. Morgan Chase!  I was seeking this short-term loan on a 60% LTV (loan-to-value) basis.  However, I was informed by their real estate department that they currently had “no appetite for commercial real estate,” and that this particular transaction, which I admit was somewhat complicated, did not fit their “strategic platform.”  I was very unhappy with this response. 

After further meetings, and volumes of email communications with various departments within the bank, they finally came forward with a proposal which provided an absolute no-risk scenario to the bank, but required me to personally guarantee their proposed loan and indemnify them against any possible risk.  Since I already have two other offers, which are not as restrictive as the ones from my bank, I have declined to move forward on this transaction with my bank.

I have to admit that, in seeking support from my bank on this particular transaction, I was really creating a “test.”  Does J.P. Morgan value long-term personal relationships?  Are they interested in middle-market business?  Are they truly my bankers or are they only there to charge me fees and try and sell me a wide range of higher-risk products? 

Regrettably, I found out that personal relationships do not count anymore.  J.P. Morgan Chase does not really want to be in the middle-market banking business.  It’s boring and far less rewarding than trading with my money and the other public’s bank deposits on which they pay us virtually 0% interest, but on which they are earning substantial trading returns.  Of course they are gambling with our money, but the past two years have shown that, even if they make bad bets, because after all they are “wagering,” they will be bailed out by the government – i.e., us the tax payers. 

Now I don’t really care if J.P. Morgan Chase want to be traders.  That’s fine with me, but I don’t think it should be part of their banking business.  I think these activities – dealing in derivatives and other complicated instruments – should be separated from a bank’s business through a legal entity that would not be able to use depositors’ money for this risky activity. 

Until we address this issue – and I’m not sure that the current finance reform bill going through tortuous hearings in Congress will deal with these matters satisfactorily – we will have to face the fact that our banks will not be leading any economic recovery in the United States for the foreseeable future.

 

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

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A Personal Reading

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Last week I read Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, a memoir by Bich Minh Nguyen. She came to the U.S. with her family in 1975 from Vietnam as a refugee and grew up in Grand Rapid in Michigan. I enjoyed her writing style, resolving around food, culture, and her alienation in the midst of predominantly white girls with blond hair and blue eyes, girls she desperately wanted to be as a child. She renders her family’s immigrant stories without self-pity and reveals her childhood experiences with a light touch, enough to draw a smile from me, with a certain level of resonance, as I thought of raising my daughter as a first-generation immigrant mother.

I was with the author, especially through her early childhood. What surprised me was the ending, when she, as an adult, visited Vietnam with her grandmother. After growing up in Midwest, being fully conscious of her yellow skin and black hair, witnessing her grandmother’s devotion to Buddhism, and enjoying the Vietnamese food her grandmother cooked, she found no resonance with Vietnam or her relatives in the country.  “Sitting with my aunt and grandmother, I did not feel a rush of love. I felt regret, exhaustion. I felt like an outsider, and I knew I would always be just that. I would fly back home to the United States and perhaps never see them again.”

 I found myself flared up in disappointment, or even anger. While I understand that she left Vietnam as an infant, I expected her to identify more with her roots. I felt like hearing my daughter tell me she was all American, and her being born Chinese was irrelevant. I closed the book with a feeling of distaste. Was I too judgmental or biased? I wonder.   

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. For more information, visit www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com.

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O’Hare Welcome

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

 

 By Ellis Goodman

Last week, I went to Chicago O’Hare Airport to welcome my daughter, my son-in-law, and granddaughter, who were visiting us from Paris.  Since I have family in London and Paris, I am not unfamiliar with the process of greeting friends and family as they come through the arrival hall. 

There are two roped-off greeting areas – Exits A & B – where members of the public, family, and friends can greet their loved ones or others upon their arrival in Chicago.  These areas compare favorably with most major city international airports, but to a certain extent Chicago is somewhat unique, when one contemplates the large variety of ethnic backgrounds of the Chicago greeters eagerly awaiting the opening of the automatic doors through which the passengers exit.  Last week was no exception.  There seemed to be Chicagoans of every possible nationality. 

There is always a sense of excitement and anticipation coupled with some anxiety as to whether the person or persons you are there to greet is actually going to come through that automatic door.  You can check the arrivals board, to see whether your flight has landed, and also through which door you can expect them to arrive.  This has proved to be more or less accurate, but not always 100%, so one is always nervous that maybe you’re standing in the wrong area. 

Behind the ropes last week, I was amused to see a Polish family, including two scrubbed blond children carrying small Polish flags with their father holding a welcome balloon, and their mother a bouquet of roses.  In addition, there was a large Indian family – some eight or ten persons.  The ladies in bright-colored Saris and the handsome men and their children dressed in loose shirts and pants, reflecting the Chicago heat. 

Through those automatic doors, comes a regular or sometimes not-so-regular stream of arrivals, weary travelers pushing their carts laden with luggage sometimes with bewildered and slightly anxious looks on their faces.  The stream includes young students with backpacks, returning American ones with big smiles as they see their family members, many of them blonde, tanned and healthy looking.  Other students in groups or individually are anxiously looking for their contact upon arrival.  And then there are the Filipinos – at least I think they are Filipinos – usually with large cardboard boxes containing appliances as well as suitcases wrapped in twine.   Weary people looking for their Filipino relatives in Chicago. 

Of course there is always much hugging, kissing, smiles, laughter and sometimes tears of joy.  Often presents abound, and the weary traveler emotionally drained is presented with flowers, chocolates, or other gifts.  Squeals of delight are heard from little children greeting family members or maybe Grandpa and Grandma. 

And then to finish the parade, there are always the air crews, smartly dressed in bright colored uniforms, wheeling their sensible overnight bags.  For them, it is just another day’s work and probably all they are looking forward to is a hot shower at the end of a long, tiring journey.

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

4th of July

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Waking up early this moving, I made a mental list of things I needed to do for today’s party—our annual party for the celebration of July 4th and the joy of watching fireworks along the lake from our balcony.

I went for my routine morning swim at 6 A.M. and was pleased to see a number of American flags on display around the rooftop garden by the pool. I remember the first time the flag touched me to the core. It was right after 9/11. I was on a business trip in Boston. After four days’ attempts to reschedule a flight back to Chicago, I picked up a rental car and drove all the way back. I don’t think I had ever seen so many American flags in my life—residential houses, gas stations, restaurants and stores—American flags waved in the air, in defiance against to the attach on the nation. The juxtaposition of the two World Trade Tower collapsing and the American flags standing high and up brought tears to my eyes. It was the first time I felt so strongly to be part of America, to identify with America.

The American flag has taken a personal meaning of strength, defiance, and justice to me ever since.

Today, we will have close to two dozen of friends at our party—Chinese and Americans—to celebrate the country that provides security and abundance for us and an enriched life I would never have dreamed of as a mulberry child.  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. For more information, visit www.moraquest.com, www.mulberrychild.com