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Archive for July, 2012

Lost in Central Park

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

I went to NYC earlier this week, meeting with the team at Quad Cinema to arrange for the details of the weeklong screening of Mulberry Child in September (9/7-13). I took advantage of the opportunity by getting up early the following morning to jog in Central Park.

I’ve always loved Central Park ever since I worked in the city in the late ’80s and early ’90s. In the middle of the dynamic city where people rarely show any patience, the Central Park presents a different world. Cyclists take over the roads in the morning when motor traffic is kept at bay; joggers and walkers occupy the cycling paths; and dogs gather and run without lease on the lawns. Always a lovely sight.

A dog walker in Central Park

I got into the park from the east side and joined the stream of people on the trail. I jogged at a leisurely pace and admired those who passed me left and right, some with beautiful strides, and others not so admirable, but commending solute for their spirit and effort. Before long, I had no idea where I was. I planned for an hour and believed eventually I would end up returning to the east side. 45 minutes later when I emerged from the midst of trees and saw a major street not far away, I ran over to check my position. I was surprised to find myself at 7th Ave. and 100th St, totally the opposite direction I had intended to be. Not even the morning sun could give me enough clue where I should turn. I asked a woman adjusting her music player which path I should take to get back to the east side. I picked up speed, knowing if I should lose track of my direction again, I would be late for my 8 a.m. meeting.

It was a perfect day, mid 70s and very low humidity. Every direction I turned to, I took in the large trees, ponds, playgrounds, huge rocks, and various trials with a deep sense of appreciation. Dog walkers chatted while so many large or small dogs ran free. There was no hassle or haste of NYC in here.

It took me another 45 minutes to find my way to my friend’s place and I ended up 10 minutes late for my morning meeting. I mumbled a few words of apologies, but I knew I’d do it again when I’m back in the city for the screenings in Sept.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for details.

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“Can you hear me now…” AT&T

Monday, July 16th, 2012

 

You know those TV cop shows, when the detective is outnumbered by the bad guys and is in the basement of some derelict building, and calls for backup which usually arrives just in time. In my case, I would be one dead cop, because my iPhone is linked to AT&T, and I would probably get a signal that said “no service” or “network busy,” or “call failed” – the most common occurrence. So I’m amused when I see on TV or in a movie people having no trouble in communicating on their cell phones with instant response, clear messages, and no “can you hear me now?”

My AT&T service is beyond a joke. My colleagues and I office in one of the most prestigious Class A buildings in Chicago, built in the early 1990s. All of us who use the iPhone with AT&T have difficulty in making connections. Our landlords had written to us many months ago, advising that AT&T would be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade their systems so we could enjoy a better service within the building. So far nothing has been achieved.  In fact on making recent enquiries we find that the work hasn’t even started. I’m no better off at home. I have poor performance on my cell phone within my own house and no connection in my yard or in the streets around my house. Complaints to AT&T, who always respond politely and courteously, as if their personnel are trained to deal with protests about their poor service, confirm that they do not have adequate towers within our area to service our needs. Driving from my home to downtown Chicago invariably results in dropped calls when I use my Bluetooth connection.  Very frustrating!

However nothing can match the poor performance of AT&T in international markets.  I have just received a massive bill for $888, which covered a period during which I was travelling in Europe and in particular the Baltic countries. I had paid for 50 MB Global add-on at a cost of $24.99, plus data unlimited at a cost of $30, plus AT&T world connect $3.99 and AT&T world traveler at $5.99.  All of this however was to no avail. I was billed for 343 minutes of roaming charges at a cost of $599.17.  The main problem was that I was unable to retrieve my e-mails in most countries I visited, and I resorted to phone calls back to the US.  When I put on my data roaming, the little icon went round and round minute-after-minute but never connected. This is a frustrating experience. I only retrieved my e-mails by finding a Wi-Fi café in the cities that we visited. I was instructed to turn off data roaming when not in use. Firstly, you have to remember to do that on every occasion; and, secondly sometimes when you turn it off, it comes back on. The telephone service is hardly better. On many occasions a “no service available in this area” appears.  But my wife’s T-Mobile Blackberry worked perfectly.  She paid a total cost of $19.99 and had no trouble retrieving e-mails or making calls. We were often standing in the same location while she had a clear connection to the US and I couldn’t get through, or she could receive all her emails and I got none.

When I told my sorry tale to my European friends and family they invariably laugh.  It is hard for them to believe that, in this day and age, AT&T, the leading US phone provider, is unable to service my calls or provide email connections.  As one friend said in London, “What is happening in America? The US used to lead the world, but is now falling behind most developed countries.” This applies in many areas – transportation, education and communications and is regrettably true.

Wake up America, before it is too late.

 

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

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Special Exhibition at the Oriental Institute

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago

I accepted my friend Ling’s invitation to attend a special exhibition on the ancient near east without hesitation. It was at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park. For four years, I had attended the Asian Classics class at the U of C’s Hyde Park campus for three hours every Saturday and passed the Oriental Institute from time to time. But I never stepped inside.

The event was organized by the International Women of Chicago (IWC), of which, Ling was a member. I had been invited to talk to the Asian group of IWC a couple of times before, and many of its members came to the screening of Mulberry Child at the Gene Siskel Film Center when the film was shown there. I was pleased to meet a few of them at the museum, though a bit embarrassed that I recognized their faces, but not their names.

I had no idea how big the museum was—from the outside, the red-brick building never gave the impression of its capability of housing all the exhibition halls and a large collections of ancient near eastern artifacts, some enormous in size. I was struck with awe.

The special exhibition (Feb. 7-Sept. 2, 2012) was titled Picturing the Past: Imaging and Imagining the Ancient Middle East. Our tour guide, also a member of IWA, was so knowledgeable that everyone was very impressed. She said she had been a volunteer at the museum since 2000. She certainly gave us the impression that she was a specialist in the area, not a volunteer.

The 45 pieces of work at the exhibit included ancient architectures and their reconstruction based on photos or imagination resulted from pieces of artifacts or ruins left. It was quite fascinating to have a glimpse of the research process in the area and the technology used to recreate the past. It’s certainly worthwhile to take a look if you are in the Chicago area.

We quickly walked through a couple of other exhibitions before leaving and were just as impressed by the collection. It felt like discovering a hidden treasure.

Thanks Ling, for opening a door to the fascinating near east.

By Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper

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White Nights

Friday, July 6th, 2012

 

 

My wife and I recently completed a tour of the Baltic, which included St Petersburg.  Having grown up during most of the Cold War, visiting St Petersburg behind the Iron Curtain, was a great thrill in itself. It is truly a fascinating and an intriguing city.

We did all the usual tourist things, and we were both overwhelmed by the size, color, ornate decoration and beautiful architecture. The city was built as a showcase for Russian art and beauty and over the past 20 years has enjoyed a resurrection, based on the restoration and beautification of its buildings and treasures.  Our small cruise ship was able to moor at a dock on the Bolshaya Neva river right in the center of the city.

We visited the Cathedral of Christ’s resurrection, also known as the Church on Spilt Blood, an incredibly decorated structure built at the turn of the 20th century, and also St. Isaac’s Palace with its beautiful cathedral.  I was fascinated to learn that the Astoria hotel, which is located overlooking the cathedral, was chosen by Adolf Hitler to celebrate his great victory over Leningrad in the Second World War.  He was so confident that his armies would quickly overrun the city that he issued invitations to a special banquet. Leningrad however did not fall, but was subjected to a brutal siege lasting nearly 1000 days, during which one million people died, most of them from starvation. The Germans got within a few kilometers of the center of the city, completely destroying the incredible Catherine’s Palace, which however has now been totally restored. This magnificent building with its golden domes and enormous facade was based on the design of Versailles but is more than twice as large. Wandering through the rooms with paintings, furniture, and ornate decoration and even table settings, it is impossible to comprehend the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by Catherine and her court, in the midst of the abject poverty of her people.  However we now enjoy the ornate decorations and the incredible Amber room where the walls are totally covered by Amber, and the beautifully landscaped grounds and gardens and lakes.

We also visited the enormous and overwhelming Hermitage Museum, which houses the largest collections of art and sculpture in the world. Visitors can only absorb a small amount of the total treasures housed in its basements. A vast collection of paintings through the ages include French Impressionists and twenty-four Rembrandts!  Many of these were captured during the Second World War from the Germans, who in turn stole them from private collections and museums throughout Europe.  A long and drawn out controversial battle to get the Russians to return these treasures has made no progress.  Other areas that we visited included the Peter and Paul Fortress on an island in the middle of the city which has its own Cathedral, the Boathouse, other beautiful buildings and gardens. We also spent time on the main street, Nevsky Prospekt, which gave us another reminder of the Second World War. Signs are still on the buildings on the street, warning citizens, “During shelling, this side of the street is safer than the other.”

St Petersburg is an undoubtedly beautiful city with its restored monuments and highly decorated buildings painted in a variety of bright colors.  However I got the impression that this beauty was just a facade, and behind all that lavish ornamental, extravagant decoration was a tough gritty city with often, surly people, looking for a quick profit.

 

But our experience was enhanced by the fact that we were visiting in June. It is still daylight until 11:30 PM and beyond, every night, and then a pale twilight ensues until about 2 AM when the sun rises again. This period is called White Nights, which we found quite unnerving, particularly when I woke up one night to see the sun rising, looked at my watch, which thought I showed 6:15, until my wife pointed out it was really 2:30 a.m.!!

 

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

“China in Ten Words”

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

I finished reading Yu Hua‘s “China in Ten Words” this morning, giving out a heavy sign when I closed the book.

The book is well written, with a light touch on sections about his growing up during the Cultural Revolution, with essays titled “people,” “leader,” “reading,” “writing,” and “Lu Xun.” He didn’t pass direct judgment, but no reader would miss the irony and absurdity of the era. It was the writings dealing with current situation, in which he compared the similarities between the happenings today to those of the Cultural Revolution that sent chills down my spine. “Disparity,” “Grassroots,” “Copycat,” and “Bamboozle” reflect so much of today’s chaos under the surface of prosperity. Incidentally, a friend emailed me two writings today, (both were claimed to have earned “zero” point at the college entrance examination this year), with one in prose under the title “Time Flies” and the other in poetry. Both expressed despair and rage at the current situation in China—the disparity in society, the corruption, and the lack, or rather none existence of values from the top to grassroots. It made me feel China is walking on eggshells.

Looking at the last 60 years of China under the Communist Party, Yu observed that Mao’s Cultural Revolution gave the grassroots the chance to “press for a redistribution of political power” and Deng‘s economic reform, the chance to “press for a redistribution of economic power.” The striking part is, despite the differences in time and content, many methods people utilized to achieve their goals in both movements were very similar, and Yu drew many parallels in his ten essays!

To understand the impact of the Cultural Revolution on China will help people understand many phenomena in the country today. Check out the book and you will for sure gain some deeper insights.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

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