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Archive for February, 2011

Talking to Women’s Book Club

Monday, February 28th, 2011

By Jian Ping

Beverly invited me to talk to her women’s book club at noon today in Downers Grove, a western suburb of Chicago. I readily agreed. I knew the area, close to where I used to live in the western suburb of Chicago.

Beverly advised that her group had been together for many years and some of them were friends since high school. I always enjoyed talking to book clubs—they would have read my book by the time we meet and the questions they raise are always more thought provoking.

The 15 or so of women were already at Beverly’s home by the time I arrived, thanks to the traffic jam on I-55. Beverly greeted me at the door. I felt like I had known her for a long time. She said she was a “planner”. I was certainly impressed by her timely follow up and attention to details ever since she approached me via email—she provided me with detailed driving directions, sent me a list of questions that she’d like to ask, and made a comprehensive list of events that happened to my family and China in chronological order. Even today, to go with the China-themed discussion, she offered Chinese food: eggroll, orange chicken, rice, and of course, fortune cookies.

Our talk started at noon, followed by lunch and our continued discussions on Mulberry Child and China in general. I was planning to leave at 2:30 p.m. but didn’t depart until nearly 4 p.m., making it the longest appearance I had ever had at a book club! Our discussions went from the happenings to my family, mother-daughter relationship, parenting, to the development of China today. I very much appreciated their genuine interest in my story and China, and enjoyed our discussion and interaction.

It is moment like this that makes me realize why I write.

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

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The Oscar Mysteries

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

 

By Ellis Goodman

I’m certainly a film buff and have been all my life.  But my interest and excitement about the annual Oscar presentations has waned over the past few years.  Given the other multitude of award programs – the Golden Globes, BAFTA, etc., the Oscar winners are, to my mind, more or less a foregone conclusion.    My forecast for this year includes: Best picture – The King’s Speech;  Best Actor – Colin Firth;  Best Actress – Natalie Portman, and I don’t think I’d be far out with the rest of the nominations as well.

The fact is that the major blockbuster movies from the studios – the science fiction spectaculars, special effects, animated movies, and the Harry Potters, etc., are often let out of the nominations even though this is where the industry derives its income.  The nominations therefore usually cover what are considered the “art” films and smaller less costly productions, promoted and hyped mercilessly by the likes of Harvey Weinstein – an expert at the Oscar game.

However, there is still one category that is not a foregone conclusion – the Documentary Awards.  Since I’m the executive producer of a documentary feature in current production, “Mulberry Child,” and am involved in another successful documentary, “Louder Than a Bomb,” I was intrigued to read this year’s nominations and responses from their respective directors, producers, etc.  The expected “big name” documentaries such as “Waiting for Superman,” and “The Tillman Story” did not make the grade.  The contenders turned out to be smaller budget movies from lesser known or unknown filmmakers and include “Waste Land” about a Brazilian artist working in a massive garbage dump in Rio de Janeiro.  Then there is “Gasland,” one of the many investigative movies about the dangers of natural gas drilling, which apparently has created a tirade of protests from the gas industry.  The life of the mysterious artist, Banksy, a successful London street artist, is reflected in a movie called “Exit Through The Gift Shop.”  But the most likely winner is the more commercially successful documentary, “Inside Job,” the investigation of the economic crisis and financial meltdown. 

The producers and directors of these movies have been speaking out on the Oscar nominating process described by one director as “arcane.” There is a Documentary branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with its own executive committee, but many of the nominees have described the nominating procedure as a mystery, even for people in the business.  The New York Times in a recent report on the Oscar documentaries, included a response from one of the directors of a nominated documentary as saying, “You don’t get to peek behind the curtain.” 

Who are the jurors and how do these movies get nominated?  How many documentaries are viewed?  Is it just through a number of votes or does the executive committee make the final decision?  Who selects the jurors and who votes for the executive committee?  How close are they to the major studios or major filmmakers?

I think there are probably numerous other questions relating to the process, but one thing is certain, it’s going to be very difficult to foretell the winners in the Documentary category this year.  During 2011, our movie, “Mulberry Child” will be released, and hopefully we will have a shot at getting nominated for the 2012 Awards.

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

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“International Breakfast”

Friday, February 18th, 2011

by Jian Ping

Chicago Sister Cities International (CSCI) hosted its third annual “International Breakfast” yesterday at the Cultural Center. All attendees were members of CSCI or the Chicago Consular Corps (CCC), including representatives of all General Consulates located in Chicago. The large Yates Gallery on the 4th floor of the

Me with Mayor Daley

Cultural Center was completely full. Samuel Scott, Chairman of CSCI made the introduction and Patricia Maza-Pittsford, Dean, CCC and Consul General of El Salvador, gave a keynote address.

The highlight of the event, however, was Mayor Richard Daley’s welcome remarks. Since this was his last speech to this assembly as Chicago Mayor, the audience gave him a standing ovation as he walked to the podium and another standing ovation when he finished speaking. Mayor Daley played a key role in developing CSCI. In 1960, Mayor Richard J. Daley, his father, signed the first Sister Cities agreement with Warsaw, Poland. Since then, Chicago has established relationships with 28 cities all over the world, including Shenyang and Shanghai, Paris, Athens, Moscow and Delhi. Among them, the agreements with more than 20 cities were signed by the current Mayor who had recently announced he would not run for re-election this month.

The 3rd Annual Int'l Breakfast, CSCI

CSCI has many committees working on issues related to education, business, healthcare, and cultural exchange programs. I’ve been a member of the China Committee for about ten years and enjoyed working on business and cultural exchange programs. I was thrilled to hear Mayor Daley announced that Chicago would be “the most China-friendly city” during the recent visit of President Hu Jintao to Chicago. Having experienced many political movements during my growing up years in China, I had never been a fan to politicians or government officials. But yesterday, feeling nostalgic even before Mayor Daley steps down, I stood by his side and took a photo with him!

Hope CSCI will continue to flourish.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. For more information, visit www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com. Mulberry Child is being developed into a feature-length documentary film by director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

Revolutionary Changes

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

 

 

By Ellis Goodman

As one watched the eighteen-day revolution culminate in the resignation of President Mubarak in Egypt, one wondered whether the ecstatic celebrations in the streets will translate into real democratic change in that country.  Despite all the media coverage and talking heads, nobody knows what will be the final outcome, but the people finally overthrew a military dictator and his insider circle of wealthy political and economic collaborators.  The people were tired of special interests and the control they had over the Egyptian political and economic scene.  They demand jobs, new infrastructure, a more equitable tax system, a reduction in poverty, and a real say in their political future.  They want a free media and an end to state control of TV bombarding them with misinformation. They no longer want to accept the complete stranglehold held by the corporate elite and the wealthy political insiders.  They want to see an end to the private jets, the lavish vacations, the wheeling and dealing, and the bribery and corruption that infiltrates every level of society.   The Western democratic world applauds these aspirations. The Obama administration unequivocally has called for reform and free elections and believes the aspirations of the Egyptian people are reasonable. 

However, it makes me think of another country where 25% of the population is living at or below the poverty line, where the corporate elite and wealthy insiders call the tune and the politicians oblige.   Where tax breaks and other windfall benefits are available for the wealthiest of the population and the largest global corporations, and where the poor continue to suffer the reduction of services and benefits blamed on the global economic downturn.  Where corporate jets, the golf vacations, and the lavish entertainment of politicians and major campaign contributors are the norm.  And where the media is used to manipulate at best or to outright lie at worst, to the general public.  However, there is no revolution, there is no marching in the streets, there are no student uprisings and there is no indignation on television or in the press.  The public are too busy watching “Jersey Shores” and such information that they do have as to the state of their country and their own prospects is dumbed down by ever-declining serious news sources.

Those who shout the loudest and who have the looks and TV persona to create a celebrity image, finding scapegoats around every corner, are those that receive the most attention. They shrilledly   criticize but they offer no solutions.

Of course the country I’m talking about is the U.S.A.  While we are busy applauding these early efforts at democracy in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, perhaps it is time to have a good look at our own, which certainly is in need of change and reform.

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

Wang Anyi’s The Song of Everlasting Sorrow

Monday, February 14th, 2011

By Jian Ping

I recently read Wang Anyi’s widely claimed novel The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, a novel that covers the protagonist Wany Qiyao’s life from the 1940s to modern day China. I must say I find the writing less than satisfactory.

Yes, I do like Wang Anyi’s description of Shanghai at different times, the gossip, which is core of life  in the Nongtang (neighborhood) of the city, and the fashion in old China and now. However, I find the main characters fleeting, if not superficial, and many happenings, such as playing Mahjong in the 50’s, Wang Qiyao surviving by selling gold bars she received in the 40’s and living an unscathed life during the Cultural Revolution, not to mention her free association with men of different age in her apartment as a single woman with an illegitimate child, all quite farfetched.

Compared to the dynamic and lively translation of Mo Yan’s novel Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out by Howard Goldblatt, I also find the English translation rigid. Wang Anyi is one of China’s prolific contemporary writers. I’d like to check out her other books in Chinese next time I visit China, and hopefully I’ll have a better experience.

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

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Happy Chinese New Year!

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

by Jian Ping

Chicago Blizzard before the Chinese New Year!

There is a saying in Chinese: “propitious snow brings a bountiful year.” Hope that applies to the blizzard that hit Chicago on the eve of the Chinese New Year—the Year of the Rabbit! In Chinese, the start of the lunar year is called “Spring Festival,” the celebration of the upcoming spring. I’d like to put a positive spin on the over-zealous abundance of snow and interpret it as an indication of a dynamic and productive year!

The Sawyer Trail in San Francisco

I was amazed by the effectiveness of the snow removal in the city streets despite the mess of stalled cars on Lake Shore Drive, especially when compared to my nightmare experience of the snowstorm in New York City over Christmas. My husband and I were scheduled to fly to San Francisco on the lunar New Year’s Eve for a family gathering. Of course, our flight was canceled, and we were not able to fly out until the afternoon of the following day, the day of the New Year, and luckily, were able to join nine extended family members for a banquet style dinner, with the giving of red envelopes for children. Since Lisa was not there with us, I received all the money-stuffed red envelopes—indication of good luck and prosperity—on her behalf.  

A traditiona New Year Dish of Oyester and Fa Chai, "Fortune"

Contrary to the cold weather in Chicago, San Francisco had a heat wave—unseasonably warm weather in the mid 70s, with plenty of sunshine. I took advantage of it by jogging outdoor each morning for an hour. My thighs were terribly sore from the pounding on the ground, which was so different from the impact of the treadmill. But I persisted despite the pains and ran every morning for the three days we were there. I knew it was silly to inflict such soreness and refuse to take a break. Yet, at the same time, I must admit it gave me a sense of satisfaction in that I demonstrated enough will and strength to carry out what I set out to do!

At the Cemetary to pay tribute to my late in-laws

One day, we hiked for a few miles on the Sawyer Trail, part of Crystal Creek Park. Another day, all the families—four of Francis’ siblings and their children—went to the cemetery where their late parents were buried. We cleaned their tombstones and presented them with fresh flowers. We stood in line and solemnly bowed to them three times, thanking them for lives and care and love they had given to us.

I felt a usual amount of energy and excitement with the start of the New Year. Even the cold air in Chicago that pierced through my coat on our way home didn’t damp that rush of exhilaration. “It’s going to be a great years!” I murmured to myself, ready to forge forward.

Happy New Year to you all, again!

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