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Archive for July, 2011

The Future of Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services - M...

Image via Wikipedia

by Nancy Werking    Poling,

author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman

and Out of the Pumpkin Shell

I daresay that politicians making decisions about Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security are unfamiliar with the lives of those who daily provide them with services necessary for their comfortable life: the stock man at the grocery story, the woman who cleans their home, the Mexican dishwasher at their favorite restaurant, the Korean couple who washes and irons their shirts, the single mother who delivers The Washington Post to their door before she gets the children off to school and goes to a second job.

Maybe it’s living in the South where folks seem freer to tell you their story. Maybe in retirement I take more time to notice those whose work makes my life easier. It could be I’m more aware because small-town living doesn’t separate the classes the way urban living does.

Last winter a neighbor borrowed our snow shovel. She planned to buy one the next time she got paid. Tears welled in the eyes of the young man installing our kitchen cabinets, as he told me he had thirty-five dollars to his name when he got a refund on the double-wide trailer home that made his son sick. With the help of a neighbor out of work and the generosity of others, who gave him plumbing fixtures and kitchen cabinets, he was able to build a three-bedroom house for $25,000.

A few weeks ago two veterans in their late fifties, who have temporary housing at the nearby Veterans facility, were grateful for the work when we hired them to build a stairway up the steep bank behind our house. Our neighbor’s decision to build a wooden fence employed two men whose construction business had gone bust. All around our community men and women will perform any odd job for meager pay.

And there are the immigrants. The young Vietnamese couple who run the local nail spa work six and a half days a week. The young Mexican man who keeps his tiny store open every day gets up at 3:00 a.m. three mornings a week to drive to Atlanta for fresh fruits and vegetables.

My financial future, as a retiree, feels uncertain right now, yet I can’t help but worry about these people who have not had extra money to put into a retirement plan, whose employers provide no benefits, who cannot afford health insurance. (Imagine the people I’ve described paying $680 a month for Medicare and supplemental health insurance, as my husband and I do.) I see sixty-year-old waitresses, sixty-year-old men doing strenuous manual labor. How will they survive when their bodies can no longer maintain this effort?

Entitlement programs, we call Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, often inferring that people who have worked hard feel unduly entitled to money they have not earned. Those who stand all day, carry heavy loads, and in other ways physically tax their bodies deserve no less than I the right to adequate housing, food, and medical care in their later years.

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Visiting China—“Thatched Cottage of Du Fu.” (杜甫草堂)

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

by Jian Ping

South entrance to Du Fu's "Thatched Cottage"

The most memorable time in Chengdu is my visit to the “Thatched Cottage of Du Fu”, in Chinese, 杜甫草堂。

Du Fu (712-770) is one of the most well-known poets in China. He lived in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and moved to Chengdu at 47.  He built a hut in the then outskirts of the city, which he fondly referred to as his “thatched cottage.” He spent about four years there, composing more than 240 poems, a most productive period of his life. I was first exposed to Du Fu’s poems when I was a child. Today, children in China start learning his poems in elementary school, if not earlier. His classical, rhymed poems are powerful, expressive, and soul-touching. Du Fu’s poems reflected everyday life and events, and he was considered by many as a “social historian.” I was struck with awe as I stood in the rehabilitated “cottage,” imagining this great poet, a genius, once walked the same ground.

Du Fu and his poem Spring View

In one exhibition hall, a life-size Du Fu stood in front of a horse-pulled cart. It was during the period of An Shi Rebellion (755-763). The eight-year war was brutal, claiming the lives of 32 million people, two-thirds of China’s population at the time. On the wall behind Du Fu was a painting of a battleground, accompanied by his famous poem about the war written at this cottage:


国破山河在, 城春草木深。

感时花溅泪, 恨别鸟惊心。

烽火连三月, 家书抵万金。

白头搔更短, 浑欲不胜簪。

Another Du Fu Statue

     Spring View

The nation has fallen, the mountains and rivers still stand;

Spring greens the trees and grasses in town.

Flower petals shed tears of sorrow;

Birds’ chirpings startle the souls at parting.

Turmoil of war goes on three months in a row;

A letter from home is worth a fortune in gold.

Scratching the white locks makes them thinner;

A hairpin can hardly be held in place.

Du Fu's poems writen in caligraphy along the hallway

I remember reciting the poem as a child and revisiting it numerous times as an adult. But standing there next to Du Fu’s statue, I felt the power of the words and the emotion of the poet more than I had ever before. Tears welled up in my eyes.

I wanted to check out every pavilion, garden, exhibition hall and pagoda surrounding the “cottage,” an area of 59 acres. Three hours later, I was still walking back and forth. I captured many photos of tall bamboos, ponds full of golden fish, and well-kept bonsais, along with hangings of Du Fu’s poems in beautiful calligraphy and huts and cottages built in the style of the Tang Dynasty. As the time came for me to leave, I found myself very reluctant to go.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit, for more information. Mulberry Child has been turned into a feature-length documentary film by award-winning director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

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Visiting China – Chengdu

Monday, July 18th, 2011

By Jian Ping

Mao at Wang Fu Square

I made an unexpected stop at Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province. Since I only had one full day in the city, a place known for its rich culture and beauty, I set out to do my exploration early in the morning, armed with a detailed city map.  

I was surprised to see a large statue of Mao extending his waving arm toward the large square when I emerged from the subway at Wang Fu Square. As in any other cities in China, construction cranes were visible in every direction. I wondered what Mao would be thinking if he, not his statue, were watching such drastic changes.

For sale sign at "Silver Seekers"

The first site that I stopped by was the Wide and Narrow Alleys, a district similar to “Tian Zi Fang” (田子坊)in Shanghai. The walls of the houses and courtyards were built with traditional gray bricks, and the gates, mostly made of heavy wood, were topped with curved tiles. But despite the man-made old aura, the inside of the cafes and restaurants along the alleys were contemporary, giving the place a sense of “dual,” if not conflicted, realities. Everything is commercialized and seemingly proud to be so. One store even names itself “Zhui Yin Zu” (追银族), “Silver Seekers.” A small board, which was placed out front, declared in crippled handwriting: “Father’s love is limitless; Mother’s love is boundless.” Under the line was a for-sale announcement of 20% off on its entire jewelry inventories. The message couldn’t be more blunt.   

A vendor selling food at Wide & Narrow Alleys

As I walked toward my next destination, I passed a grand gate guarded by half a dozen soldiers. I saw a slogan on the tall wall that stated something along the line of “soldiers are not to be violated!” I thought it was quite odd. Soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army had always been claimed to be the “sons and brothers of the people.” The signage projected a message that was quite foreign to me. I took out my small point-and-shoot camera and wanted to take a photo of the slogan. I heard a loud shouting even before the cover of my camera opened.

“No photo taking!” a uniformed soldier by the gate shouted in a fierce voice.

I was surprised by the hostility. Just as I was about to put away my camera, another soldier ran to me in record speed. There was no sign indicating what organization was behind the gate and no language stating photos are prohibited. Besides, the place was very close to the center of town. My puzzled look didn’t slow down the soldier’s demand to take a look at my camera. He didn’t leave until he was assured I didn’t take any photo. I felt offended by the rude treatment and asked a street vendor half a block away what was behind the tall walls.

“It’s the army,” she said without lifting her head.

Ba Gua at Qing Yang Temple

I sought solace in my next stop, Qing Yang Si, a Taoist temple. The walled area was much larger than I expected, with meticulously maintained gardens, pavilions, courtyards, and temples that contained numerous statues of Taoist immortals. The symbol of Ba Gua, the eight trigrams which was explained in I Ching, an ancient divinatory text, was mounted on the walls, carved into the concrete platforms, and even shaped on the bushes. Visitors burned incense and kowtowed on the cushions placed in front of the immortals. There was a sense of peace and reverence in the air. I lingered much longer here, examining the images of the deities that I had heard of in bits and pieces over the years.  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit, for more information. Mulberry Child has been turned into a feature-length documentary film by award-winning director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

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Visiting China—Two Days in Shanghai

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Shanghai Museum

It’s been more than five years since my last visit to Shanghai. I could hardly recognize the city. There are a few places such as the Shanghai Museum and the Shanghai Arts Museum, both located at the People’s Square, that I wanted to see. So I started from there.

Over the past few days, I had realized that every park, temple, or special site that I visited was imposing hefty entry fees. I was prepared to pay, only to be pleasantly surprised that both museums were free. I spent hours in there, savoring the exhibits from relics of jade, ceramic, money, to calligraphy, digital photo and embroidery. They were eye-opening and impressive.

Worshippers at Jing An Temple

To get a better feel of the city, I walked along Nanjing Road next to the Art Museum all the way to Jing An Temple, about a couple of miles. Nanjing Road is a major shopping street, a large section of it close to Huangpu River is pedestrians only. I noticed that all the major international brands, such as Gucci and Cartier, have glamorous shops there. Then, in the midst of the metropolitan clamor stood Jing An Temple, with many believers of Buddhism and well-wishers burning incense or praying. A peaceful view, except that many people, especially the young, rushed in, kneeled down, threw some money into the donation boxes, and in a matter of minutes, were on their feet to leave. Watching them, I was disturbed by the seemingly pragmatic nature of their actions.

A trendy bar at Tianzifang

I got together with my friend Jamason, a native from Shanghai who lives in Chicago now. He happened to be in town to visit his mother. Jamason graciously took up the role of host: he showed me Tianzifang, a local district that had preserved all the old buildings and lanes, but had transformed itself to a trendy place with all the contemporary bars, restaurants, and small shops, quite an amazing site. To make comparison, he also took me to another district called New World, which, in a similar style, created an aura of old Shanghai, but had everything in a much grander scale. A large “tent” was set up at the entrance to the area, with two guards by its door. Inside, a post-modern exhibition created a surreal feeling, just like the drastic changes and happenings in the city. A couple of blocks away, a two-story Apple Store was packed with young people. I had never seen an Apple store of this size.

Inside the exhibition "tent" at New World

Jamason took me to a local restaurant to try some typical Shanghai “snack food”: steamed stuffed-buns, pot-stickers and noodles. From there, we walked to a rooftop bar by the Huangpu River. The temperature was in the upper 70s and the skyscrapers lit up the sky and the river. I would not have found this place without him, for there was no sign on the street, or even at the entrance of the building, to indicate such a nice place was located on the top. Apparently enough people knew its existence, for the place was packed.    

I left Shanghai for Chengdu the next day, with a longing to come back to the city and explore more.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit, for more information. Mulberry Child has been turned into a feature-length documentary film by award-winning director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

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Finding Historical Detail for a Black-White Love Story on the Internet

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Image via Wikipedia

by Nancy Werking Poling



Writing the book was the easy part. Sure, there were those afternoons of staring at one paragraph, recognizing its lack of pizzazz but unable to get my fuzzy brain out of neutral, mornings when my characters seemed as flat as paper dolls. Yet what a difference the internet has made since I first worked on this project twenty years ago. In six months I was able to make revisions that otherwise would have taken me well over a year to research.

Thanks to the internet, Before it was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987) is now richer in detail. What might Robert, a young black man, have worn on his first day at Earlham College in 1927? Perhaps a straw boater, tan and white spectator shoes, a waistcoat from the Sears Roebuck catalog. And Lois, a white woman—what would have been her attire on a train from Indiana to New York in 1938? I settled on a pale blue suit, the skirt straight, mid-calf in length, with a slit in the back; a jacket, broad shouldered, pulled in at the waist by a narrow belt. White gloves, a perky blue beret with a bow on the side, and open-toed white shoes would have completed her outfit.

A year later she drove her newly purchased (but used) car into a ditch on the way to her first job. Sure enough, Google located a picture of a ’36 Chevy coup. I mentioned the running board in telling how the farmer got her car back on the road. I thought the reader might appreciate a physical description of Dr. Dennis, the president of Earlham College who reprimanded Robert for walking alongside groups of white girls as he headed home. Based on an Earlham website showing pictures of past presidents, I described the intimidating man behind the giant oak desk as “in his early fifties, with a wide forehead and graying hair at the temples.” In the 1950s Robert was accused of being a communist after hearing Paul Robeson sing at a union convention in Chicago. Locating addition information about Paul Robeson was simple, even for this technophobe.

Several websites dealt with rationing during the war. Even though three women shared a house and combined their rations of sugar, coffee, etc., I’m guessing they still learned to drink their coffee black. But with gas rationed, how did Robert and Lois manage to drive a car from Richmond, Indiana, to Minneapolis in 1945? Websites led me to think that his employment in the defense industry might have qualified him for a green B sticker, which permitted the car owner to purchase eight gallons a week. And maybe he received a dispensation when transferring from one plant to another.

Convinced African Americans were intellectually incapable of operating machinery, International Harvester would only hire them as janitors. After Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, the company was forced to allow Robert, a college graduate, to work the machines. I found the executive order on the internet: “There shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin.”

Yes, the internet made revising Before it was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987) much easier. Finding a publisher—now that’s the real challenge.


Note: While working on this book I’ve put blogging aside but hope to get back on board now. But don’t anyone hold me to this.

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NOT Singing in the Rain

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

By Ellis Goodman

I know that I’m a fair weather person.  I love the sunshine and the warmth, blue skies, the sun-dappled lake in Chicago, and I like my summer vacations to be sunny and warm. 

My wife and I have just returned from our annual pilgrimage to Europe where we meet up with family, old friends, and acquaintances, try to attend some events in London, see some plays, and usually land up for a few days in the South of France and Italy.  Our plans this year were no different.  We arrived in London on May 24th and, on May 26th we were invited to have a private tour of the Royal Gardens at Kew, followed by a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show – an extremely popular and glamorous event.  We struggled through the traffic to Kew but a series of short, sharp and heavy showers cut short our tour of these ancient gardens, science facilities, and incredible Victorian Greenhouses. 

We were then taken to the Chelsea Flower Show where the Curator of Kew was kind enough to give us a private tour of the exhibits inside the main tent.  While we were in there, we were aware that the heavens had opened up – the rain was pounding on the top of the tent which filled up to capacity with other members of the public, running for cover from the display gardens outside. 

After completing our tour, we ventured outside into the soggy, muddy surrounding paths and display gardens which are always magnificent.  However within a minute or two, the monsoon started, and we had to run for cover again – this time to a tea tent where we spent the next two hours, cowering from the most ferocious storm with what appeared to be three million other people, as the rain pounded the roof, and we all waited for the whole tent to collapse.  We were lucky that this did not transpire. 

A car had been ordered to take us back to Kew Gardens where our own car was waiting.  This is a distance of about five miles.  The rain was pouring down and it was rush hour.  However I think we even broke a record for London in the rush hour.  It took one hour and fifty minutes for us to cover this short distance.  This was not only due to the rainy conditions and enormous amounts of traffic, but also to the fact that every road in London is being dug up as the City makes a frantic effort to put its infrastructure in working condition before the Olympics in 2012.

To say that the weather was a dampener on our spectacular day out is an understatement.  It rained for the next few days in London off and on, and so it was with some relief that we went off to Nice in the South of France to meet up with our daughter and granddaughter, who live in Paris, and were going to spend five days with us.  My eight-year-old granddaughter arrived eager for the beach, and we were all suitably attired ready to enjoy the balmy Mediterranean sun.  However out of our five days together, we only had one-half a day when we could go on the beach at all.  Every other day was cold, damp and rainy – how frustrating!

After this adventure, it was with some trepidation that we headed to Lugano in Switzerland where we were meeting friends from London and Chicago, to spend five days together in a lovely hotel overlooking the lake and the mountains.  The only problem was you couldn’t see the lake or the mountains because the clouds were low and the rain kept coming down.  We tried to do the tourist bit, but after two days of wandering around town with umbrellas up, we gave up and decided to head to Milan where we thought the weather might be better; and, even, if not, the rain wouldn’t matter so much.  This was true.  Being in a large city like Milan, it doesn’t really matter too much if it is wet.  We had a little sun, and it was warm and humid, but of course we had the inevitable rain as well.  We did however have a chance to see some museums, exhibitions, and my wife and I enjoyed an evening with some old Italian friends at La Scala, which was spectacular.  The next afternoon however, we not only had rain, but hail the size of golf balls.  Our friend, Paolo, who had lived his whole life in Milan, said he had never seen hail in June, and certainly had never seen hail of that size. 

We returned to London in the hope that the weather would improve, but it was not to be.  A visit to friends in Sussex was a washout, and we could not escape the cold and damp climate.

Finally, we flew back to Chicago after 28 days in Europe of which we had rain on 27 days.  Our adventure, however, was not over.  We had just gone to bed a few hours after our arrival, tired and jetlagged, when the Village tornado siren went off, and we scurried to the basement for an hour or so.

Now since I am a fair weather person, you will understand that I was not particularly happy with this trip.  I took no comfort from hearing that there’d been a drought in England throughout April and most of May and that there were water restrictions in the whole eastern part or the country.  My daughter’s tales of the most beautiful Paris spring that she’d encountered in years also did nothing to encourage me.

I firmly believe that anyone who does not believe our Planet’s climate is changing needs their head examined!

But having .now returned to Chicago, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that summer will arrive soon and that these soggy memories will disappear fast.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden:

Visiting China–Yunnan Province

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

by Jian Ping

Kunming University

I flew from Beijing to Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province in the southwest of China, bordering Burma, Laos and Vietnam. Due to its high elevation, Kunming is known for its beauty and nice weather all year round.

I arrived at Kunming on a Friday, the day Francis finished his business part of the trip. I joined him at Grand Park Hotel near Green Lake and jogged along the lake early the following morning. It was nice seeing locals practice Tai Chi, walk along the lake, or simply admire clusters of blooming lotus in the water.

Liping and me at Stone Forest

Liping, a friend, drove us to Stone Forest, a well-known attraction about 60 miles from the capital. The new highway was wide open and we made it to Stone Forest in about an hour. I was impressed by the stone formation, seemingly out of nowhere, and how well maintained the site was.

We had a taste of the local bumpy road on our way back to Kunming when a segment of the highway was closed. Liping remained cheerful and made good time to take us to a restaurant known for its local food—a special noodle cooked in front of you in a bowl of piping hot soup, which was served with many small dishes of fish, chicken, and veggies. We left the restaurant full and sweating.

A minority elder with a Mao hat selling snacks at Su He

We flew to Shangri-la that evening and booked a car and a Tibetan guide to take us to Pu Dacuo National Park. Yunnan boasted 26 of the 56 minorities in the country and I was pleased to find out our driver was a Xina and tour guide, a Tibetan. The “paradise” of Shangri-la fell short of expectations, and Francis suffered from high elevation (between 3,000 to 4,000 meters). One attractive site in town was the Songzanlin Temple, a Tibetan temple situated on a mountain side.

Our driver took us from Shangri-la to Lijiang, an ancient town, a day later. The three-hour drive, which passed the “first turn” of the Yangtze River, turned out much more spectacular than Shangri-la, at least to our eyes.

Tiger Leaping Gorge along Yangtze River

Lijiang is quite unique, with its old quarters preserved (or restored) in the center of town. However, it had become so commercial and so crowded with tourists that we ended up spending more time at Su He, a smaller version of the ancient town about half an hour away. It was lovely and beautiful, with local minorities selling snacks in the streets, or wandering around to pose with tourists (for a fee). We would have stayed in this charming area if we had known about the many family-run hotels with courtyards.

We watched two performances in Lijiang. One given by a group of elders, many over 80. They played traditional instruments of the local minorities. The other, stated by students from the Minority National University, was dynamic, elegant, and unique.

We saw some minorities with their colorful clothing on the streets and couldn’t tell who belonged to what. It was nice to see them being represented, each by their own descents, on the stage.   

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit, for more information. Mulberry Child has been turned into a feature-length documentary film by award-winning director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

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Visiting China — College Entrance Examination

Friday, July 1st, 2011

By Jian Ping

Parents waiting outsite an examination site

The day I arrived in Beijing was the day the three-day annual college entrance examination, gao kao, started. Gao Kao, which functions as SAT in the U.S., is still the sole criteria for student admission to college. And college education, in turn, is regarded as the essential step that one must take in order to have a future.

There were 9.3 million students took the examination nationwide this year. Xinhua reported that about 72% would enter college one way or another.

A sign states: Important Gao Kao Site, Honking Prohibited

As I rode in a taxi in Beijing on the 9th, the last day of the examination, I noticed a large crowd—parents and relatives of the students taking the exam—standing outside an examination site. They’d be waiting for hours under the grueling sun before their children came out of the morning session. Do you believe their presence could assure their children inside or improve their odds of success? I was puzzled by their behavior.

Big banners placed on the surrounding walls of the examination site stated: No honking. Gao Kao in process.

Emengency ride from a policeman

This annual examination is so important that Beijing lifted its bans on private cars on the streets so parents could drive their children to examination sites. Some cities suspended parking rules; others requested police to help students who got stuck on their way; and some constructions were suspended for certain time period so students could rest well at night and concentrate better during the exam.

Millions of people seemed to hold their breath during these three days!

The Gao Kao system was restored in 1977 when colleges reopened their doors. Ever since then, the education of the young has been focused on how to pass the college entrance examination. Three years of high school is filled with drills of exams and students pore over their books at school, in many places, starting from 7 in the morning to 6 p.m. in the afternoon, followed by private tutoring and additional homework.

Many Chinese have realized the limitation, if not damage, of the Gao Kao on the young, but no reform has touched this area as of now.

Some newly rich are sending their children abroad, avoiding the grueling process that stiffens a youngster’s creativity and independent thinking. But the majority of the high school graduates have no choice but to comply and do their best to enter the best university they can.

Seeing the drastic changes that China has undertaken in so many areas in recent years, I wonder when the Government is going to reform the education system, with a sense of urgency and efficiency—China’s future depends on the change of Gao Kao.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit, for more information. Mulberry Child has been turned into a feature-length documentary film by award-winning director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

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