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Archive for April, 2013

Q & A at Harper College

Thursday, April 25th, 2013
Lisa and I with Judy, Richard and Sveta after the screening at Harper College

Lisa and I with Judy, Richard and Sveta after the screening at Harper College

It took Lisa and me more than two hours getting from downtown Chicago to Harper College in Palatine, a northwestern suburb about 30 miles away last Wednesday to attend the screening and Q & A of Mulberry Child. The constant rain turned the traffic bumper to bumper. We missed the opening of the show, but made it there in time to do the Q & A.

I was impressed that so many people showed up in this terrible weather (we’d learn later how many areas were flooded) and more impressed that the Q & A lasted an hour and a few in the audience continued the discussion at the book signing table, and the staff and faculty members at Harper College, including Dr. Richard Johnson and Judy Kulchawik, stayed with us and joined the conversations all the way to the end. The event was scheduled from 6 to 9 pm. By the time we left the campus building, it was well after 10 pm.

The audience was a mix of students and members from the nearby community. A few Chinese in the audience asked questions relating to advice on how to raise the next generation in the U.S. and pass on to them the Chinese heritage. One Chinese mother shared similar experience to that of ours, revealing an interesting situation in which her son has all Asian friends, but her daughter, all Americans. Puzzled, she asked Lisa if she has ever had Asian boyfriends, explaining she didn’t mean to probe into her personal life, but she was curious to know. I laughed, telling the audience this is why I love to do Q & A with Lisa, for I could imagine Lisa would roll her eyes if I ever dared to bring up such a question. These Q & A sessions have provided us a true venue to hear each other while we address questions from the audience.

Lisa and I doing Q & A

Lisa and I doing Q & A

Typical of Lisa, a professional in public relations, she answered the question diplomatically yet straightforward. The audience laughed and let her off the hook.

One young man from Greece shared his experience and asked Lisa if there was any negative side for being between cultures.

A middle-aged American couple who had just finished reading my book commented how the film brought everything live for them and asked about the filmmaking process.

A woman in her 30s, a student at Harper and has lived in many parts of the world with her parents during her growing up years, raved about the film and offered to introduce it to high schools in the area, stating how informative and educational the film will be to students.

As always, Lisa and I were genuinely touched. We didn’t get home until close to midnight, and Jiayu, a graduate student at IIT who gave us the ride to and back from Harper College, bravely battled the rain and traffic, and managed to get us all home safely (not without some dangerous maneuvering), including giving a ride home for two city residents who missed their last train.

Our sincere thanks to the Humanities Center at Harper College for hosting the event and the audience for their interest, support, and connection.

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 Jacqueline Bisset.

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Attending Ascend Midwest Student Leadership Conference (AMSLC)

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013
Ascend Midwest Student Leadership Conference in Chicago

Ascend Midwest Student Leadership Conference in Chicago

Last Friday, I attended the AMSLC in Chicago as a speaker, along with Wesley Hom and Gregg Oshita. I was quite impressed by the enthusiasm and engagement demonstrated by the students from several chapter universities in the Midwest area, including NIU, DePaul, LUC, Ohio State, Indiana U, U of I at Urbana-Champaign and Purdue.

Ascend is a national non-profit organization that empowers Asian professionals and students to develop their leadership potentials in corporate America. I got to know Ascend last year when they held its national conference in Chicago and I was invited to talk at a panel. I was immediately impressed by the efficiency of the organization running the well-attended conference and the quality of the panels and speeches that I attended. Ascend 1

Topics covered in our talks this year are focused on career advancement, namely how to overcome the “good Asian” stereotypes to be effective in communication, building network, finding mentor and sponsor, and exploring/realizing their potentials by stepping out of the comfort zone. These students are certainly taking the initiatives toward the right direction by joining an organization like Ascend and investing their time and efforts to learn and network. Shortly after the conference, I was pleasantly surprised by a few emails from the students, among them, several even requested for LinkedIn connections. They are certainly put what they’ve learned right into practice. Since I have two names, one student couldn’t locate me on LinkedIn, so she went to my book website and sent me an email from there.

Me with Wenxue Qu, a student

Me with Wenxue Qu, a student

She wrote: “I believe your experience inspired many of us. I really want to thank you for taking the time to talk to us.” Another wrote: “I was very moved by the panel discussion and thank you very much for all the advice.” Another wrote: “It was nice talking to you at the Ascend event. Thank you so much for sharing your own stories and experience with us.” Actually there are a few students who didn’t belong to any of these universities where there is an Ascend chapter. They learned about the event and took the extra step to attend the conference. So glad to see their eagerness and enthusiasm. Go Ascend, and best wishes for all the students.

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

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Q & A at Mulberry Child screening

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

BAC 3My daughter Lisa and I recently did Q & A after the screening of Mulberry Child at the Beverly Arts Center in Chicago. As always, the responses from the audience were emotional and deeply touching and the session ran 45 minutes long.

Among the questions raised from the audience that evening, one was addressed to Lisa. I found my grip on the microphone tightening when a woman in a front row asked in a clear but amusing voice if Lisa has a daughter, how she would like to raise her.

BAC 4I had brought up the subject in a different manner under different circumstances to her before, mostly when I got frustrated with her. I would say I wish her children would do to her what she had done to me. Lisa would laugh, telling me not to worry because she wouldn’t have any child. “Too much work,” she’d say.

I was eager to hear what she had to say to a question seriously and friendly presented.

Typical to Lisa, she joked about it: “Screw up our linear parents who have got liberal arts and communication degrees, because my daughter is going to get an engineer degree.”

The audience erupted in laughter.

“Sounds like a real Chinese mother,” I interrupted, unable to refrain from bing sarcastic.

BAC1Lisa turned serious after a good laugh. She shared her mortifying experience of starting school in New York City and was being made fun of, and how that had made her want to fit in, at the expense of shedding her origin.

“I think as our world continues to evolve and globalize, immigrants don’t look at this country of opportunity in the same capacity any more,” she continued. “You recognize your heritage and realize you need to capitalize on that… So I’d like my children to speak six languages.”

The audience laughed again.

“Being Chinese is part of my heritage,” Lisa added. “It will be remiss and an incredible shame if they don’t feel about China the way I do.… In part because I was born there, just like America is an intricate part of who I am.”

I was very touched and pleased to hear her say that! If I were not concerned about embarrassing her, I would have leaned over to give her a hug right there and then on the stage.

I always enjoy doing Q & A with Lisa, despite having to watch more carefully what I say when she is around, because she loses no time to dispute what she doesn’t agree. Not only her insight and humor make the discussion more lively, but also that listening to her addressing to the audience, I can always gain a bit more understanding of her, and her, me.

Thank you all for giving us the opportunity of sharing our story and reaching a better understanding of each other.

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.

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Roger Ebert, the Chicago Icon will continue to live

Friday, April 5th, 2013
Roger Ebert, american film critic.

Roger Ebert, american film critic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The news of Roger Ebert‘s passing came as a shock despite my being aware that his cancer had come back and the situation was grave. Maybe he would won again this time, with his will, passion, and strength, as he did before, I thought.

When I came out of the Chicago Urban League‘s office building after giving a talk, I saw a text from my daughter, Lisa: “OMG, did you see the news that Ebert died!”

I sat in the parking lot in shock.

I searched my email and sure enough, I saw the statement by Chez, Roger Ebert’s wife, which was forwarded by a friend of Chez. It was a short but very loving statement about his passing and his life.

I had never met Roger Ebert in person, but had the good fortune of receiving his review of Mulberry Child movie and a rating of 3 ½ stars in January of last year when the film based my life had just come out.

I still remember my director Susan‘s reaction in front of the audience in a packed theatre after the screening of Mulberry Child when she talked about it meant to her.

“Roger Evert is my god,” Susan said. “This feels like getting god’s approval.”

She wiped away surging in her eyes. The audience applauded for her.

I’ve read his review numerous times since Jan. of last year when his review first came out. Each time it touched me on a personal level. He caught the essence of the film and the relationship between Lisa and me with deceiving simple, down-to-earth description.

“There’s a universal story here about immigrant parents and children, and how American culture can swamp family traditions, and make parents and children culturally unrecognizable to one another,” he wrote. “This is a powerful and touching film….”

As I read the review again today, tears well up in my eyes. I felt so honored and fortunate that the icon of Chicago, or rather, the best known film critic in the U.S., if not the entire world, wrote about the film based on my life and gave it a high rating.

This morning when I read the Tribune and listened to NPR, I learned more about him, and was very moved by the stories about him that so many people wanted to share.

Roger Ebert has touched so many people’s lives in so many ways that he will continue to live with us and be cherished deeply in our heart.

Below is a link to Roger Ebert’s review of Mulberry Child:

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120118/REVIEWS/120119987

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

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MADAGASCAR 2012

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

 Paul w Children

 

By:   Paul Goodman

The adventure began before it started. I was in Paris with Sara and Emily making last minute preparations the night before my scheduled overnight flight to Antananarivo (Tana), Madagascar. Flashlight, check. Sleeping bag, check. Malaria tabs, check. The pre-trip thrill and anticipation was in full throttle. I decided to confirm the flight details on my iphone flight app but to no avail. It wasn’t registering the flight. Maybe it was listed under a different flight number. Sara decided to check the flight on the Air France website. A mild panic started to set in when we discovered that my flight the following morning was either cancelled or did not exist in the first place. Or maybe there was a misprint buried somewhere in cyberspace. After a flurry of clicking through the website, we made a frantic call to the Chicago travel agent. ‘Yes, the flight has been canceled. Weren’t you notified?’ Anger and frustration was seeping through my gasps of incredulity. The agent told us that Air France had canceled the flight and apparently we did not get the memo. With Sara’s help I was able to get a flight on Air Madagascar two days later. The original plan was that I was to meet with Steve Goodman (Chicago’s Field Museum biologist and resident of Madagascar) and his team in the capital upon my arrival and that we would drive to Mahajanga on the northwest coast the following day. Since my schedule had now been rearranged I had to make a connection from Tana and fly directly on to Mahajanga. Twenty-two hours later I arrive bleary eyed in the sweaty, sandy coastal town.

Mahajanga (or Majunga) is one of the most important seaports on the west coast. It is a popular tourist destination for Malagasy tourists and has a sizeable Muslim population with influences from the Comoros islands off the northwest coast of Madagascar. A French woman, Martine, who along with her husband was in Madagascar on a medical sabbatical, accompanied Steve at the small airport. I tossed my backpack into the back of his truck and pulled myself into the passenger seat. We arrived at Hotel Pharma moments after draining the last drops of milk from the coconuts that Steve bought from a roadside stand.

I met the team. There were the two French neighbors; two cameramen (Serge and Manuel) from the island of La Reunion, who were there filming a documentary on the islands of the Indian Ocean (more specifically the parasites that thrive within the various bat populations in the Indian Ocean); and Steve and his researcher colleagues – Erwan Lagadec and Beza Ramasindrazana. Erwan, a skinny and affable French biologist, was conducting his research on an organism that is passed through to bats and is suspected of being a vector of disease to human populations. One particular disease he cited was the outbreak of ‘chicken guinea’ (chikungunya) disease that wiped out a third of the population of La Reunion.  Beza, one of Steve’s PhD students from the Vahatra program, was pursuing his thesis in bat ecology. A caveat at this point in the story should be inserted: from the moment I arrived in Madagascar practically all conversations were in French. My French was rusty to say the least but improved somewhat as time went on.

 

Steve with Bat

Upon my arrival at the Mahajanga hostel, Steve and his two colleagues were in the process of ‘destroying’ and collecting various blood and tissue samples from a number of live flying foxes that were hanging upside down in a basket in our hotel room. One of the world’s largest species of bats, the Madagascan flying fox (pteropus rufus), is endemic to Madagascar weighs about 2 lbs, about a foot long and with a wingspan of 10 inches. It is also one of the few species that has a ‘dog-like’ face with large brown eyes; so it was particularly haunting to see these remarkable and quite beautiful creatures sacrificed for the good of science.  In fact the sacrificial ceremony was not fun to watch at all. Because the blood congeals rapidly when the animal is dead, Steve had to pierce an artery in their necks to draw blood while the animal was still alive. Sometimes this procedure did not go according to plan and Steve had to add an anticoagulant within the area he was drawing blood. Once the blood was extracted the animal was then killed by suffocation and the body was methodically dissected, with various parts labeled and summarily dispensed in an assortment of laboratory containers. 

Like so many species, flying fox populations have been declining due to the loss in habitat and the ease with which they are harvested from trees in which they roost. Despite the illegality of this practice, the rules are rarely enforced and the meat is routinely prized by locals and sold at market. In fact my journey to Mahajanga would not have been complete had I left without eating flying fox; and that is what I did the very first night.  Two large round charbroiled ‘pebbles’ sat next to the bed of lettuce and rice. They looked and tasted like steak and certainly gave my jaw a good workout!

The following day I woke early to the sounds and rhythms outside. Roosters were cawing and the lemurs in the cage next to the bedroom window were cackling amongst themselves. I went for a walk down to the beach with my camera and saw the fishermen preparing their nets and fishing boats – colorful wooden dhows with patched sales. When I returned, Steve and his cohorts were busy preparing more specimens, this time from the from the smaller bat family Molossidae. The team left the encampment the next day for the Caves of Anjohibe, an area inland where many bat species have been collected and catalogued over the years. Yet due to a cyclone that hit the island just weeks before and the threat that another deluge would flood the tracks and trap us, Steve decided to postpone the mission for a later date and modify the schedule. Instead we set our sights on returning to Tana for a couple days and then headed to another cave near the village of Fandriana, a few miles from the town of Ambositra. The area was far different from the salty and spicy hot northwest of Mahajanga, where a mixture of Indian, Swahili and Sakalava (a coastal Malagasy tribe) influences permeates the markets. Ambositra, on the other hand, is a town set not too far from the highlands and is influenced by the Betsileo and Merina tribes. The vibrant and pretty town is also the arts and crafts capital of Madagascar where woodcarvings, raffia baskets and polished stones are sold from the tall, redbrick Betsileo houses that dot the rolling landscape. This is where I bought some local art and wild silk scarves (soie sauvage) from local women loitering outside the Hotel Sokely. The objective of the Fandriana mission was to capture bat specimens from a cave but first we had to get permission from the local tribe chief known locally as Le President. When the vehicles reached an impasse (a bridge that had been destroyed after one of the previous cyclones) Steve dispatched us on foot while he remained guarding the vehicles. This time the cameramen from La Reunion accompanied us and took several takes of Erwan and Beza trekking along the paths and at the edge of the rice paddy fields that dotted the landscape. Entering the cave at first felt a little surreal. It was dark and in the cold we felt the soft cushion underfoot of guano that had piled up over the years. Once the eyes acclimatized better to the low light levels I could begin to make out the shapes of the small bats fluttering around the darkness and hitching on to the sides of the cave. My headlamp would shine into the small black eyes glancing back at me. Amid the fluttering and despite the wings coming so close to my head, I constantly reminded myself that the bats navigate their world by echolocation and avoid objects faster than a blink of an eye. After leaving the charming environs of Ambositra, we headed towards Isalo National Park in south central Madagascar. The park is set in a savagely beautiful place of unusual landscapes, where flat, yellow savannahs give way to craggy pinnacles of terracotta rock, valleys, waterfalls and canyons. We set up a camp for a few days. At night we would go on treks through the forest and encounter frogs and chameleons and on one occasion we came across a boa constrictor crossing our path. We even had the chance to hold it as it slipped and slithered through our hands. This was also the place where I had an encounter with a hook-billed vanga (vanga curvirostris), a beautiful black and white bird.

Bird Photo 050

I was walking along a path back to the camp and saw it hopping from branch to branch a few inches off the forest floor. When it saw me, instead of flying off as birds do, it stayed on a branch and watched me watch it. I began clicking photos and slowly crawled towards him. But each time I expected him to flutter away he remained calm and fixed his eyes in my direction. It was a surreal moment. A family of ring tailed and brown lemurs visited our encampment daily. They were probably more interested in the food that was being consumed than the company of the humans but it did afford me the opportunity to observe them up close. While the team was dissecting specimens one afternoon I ventured off on a trek towards La Piscine Naturelle, a waterfall and lagoon at the edge of one of the massive sandstone escarpments. As part of his bat ecology research, Beza had set up a couple of curious-looking mesh tents to study the echolocation techniques used by the different species of bats he had captured. He also had a sound system that was designed to record the high frequency clicks and bleeps the bats emitted. The cacophonous sounds heard through the headphones were astonishing and indicative of the complex physiologies of these remarkable beasts.

The stay at Isalo was replete with a drive and a trek to a remote cave high in one of the sandstone cliffs. While Steve and I skirted closer to the edge of the cave, Beza and Erwan ventured deeper into the cave to trap as many specimens as they could. The guano was so thick in some spots that they both lost their footing and their feet were sucked down into the putrid, quicksand-like goop. It was certainly an amusing sight enjoyed by all. The stench was none too pleasing but it was all just a regular day’s work for my fellow travelers.

The following day we packed up all our belongings, hauled all the material back to the truck and began a two-day drive back to Tana, stopping for a night in a deluge ridden Fianarantsoa, Madagascar’s second city after Tana.

The trip was an amazing adventure that introduced to me parts that I had not seen before and reminded me again of the enormous challenges and tragedies that are befalling the ‘red’ island. On our return to the capital, Steve took me around the new Vahatra building that house the offices of the research team as well as the library and study hall. I also had the opportunity to meet each of the students who introduced themselves and described the area of study in which they were engaged. Despite the challenges that seem so insurmountable, these young intellectually curious students are the key to preserving and sustaining the island’s rich diversity for years to come and I was proud to be a part of that effort in a small way.

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Reading the Great Gatsby

Monday, April 1st, 2013

gatsby

Our reading group’s selection for last month was Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, paired with Anita LoosGentlemen Prefer Blondes. Part of the reason for the selection was that a new film of The Great Gatsby is scheduled to come out this summer and we want to have a group outing.

I’ve read the book years before, but don’t remember much of the details except the lonely figure of Gatsby standing in the back of his mansion looking out to the green light across the water. Reading it again, I was able to notice and appreciate a lot more, including the opportunities and optimism after the WWI, the prohibition, and the conflicts between “old money” and the “newly rich”.

gentlemen prefer blondesAnita Loos’ book has nothing to do Fitzgerald’s content or perspective, but it was written in the ’20s, the same time period. I found it incredible that the stories were written by a woman – they were not only mocking men, but women as well. Both books were popular and developed into films. Loos’ book was written with tremendous humor, which probably played a key role in its success. Still I found it hard to believe Loos, a very successful screenwriter of the time, wrote something of this nature. Yet the other three women in my group, all strong characters, appeared to take in the book with good humor. The era in which it was written probably saved it.

Interestingly, The Great Gatsby reminded me somehow of China’s situation today in which the newly rich is grabbing money in unprecedented speed, and at the same time, the country is going through crisis of morality, widening disparity between the haves and have nots, and a sense of spiritual emptiness under the economic prosperity.

I look forward to watching the new interpretation and presentation of the Great Gatsby film with by group.

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

 

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