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Archive for May, 2013

The Enemy Within

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

U.S. Congress Picture

 

While we worry about terrorism, drugs, securing out borders, unemployment, North Korea and the endless slaughter in the Middle East, our biggest challenges are from within our own country.

What is the biggest challenge we face to our economic growth?  The answer is the U.S. Congress.  Congress is supposed to represent the people, but our elected representatives are only interested in one thing, getting reelected. Our economy today reminds me of a vision of Uncle Sam climbing up a mountain, pushing a very large boulder.  The large boulder of course, is Congress. The parties’ differences are no longer about policy, which would be understandable and indeed Democratic, but about politics rather than policy. Following this path has not only proved to be detrimental to our economic recovery, but also threatens our economic future, and position in the world. 

 The western front of the United States Capitol...

 

What is the biggest challenge to our national security?  The answer again is the U.S. Congress. If they could pass any legislation at all, which is doubtful these days, their decisions are influenced by the lobbyists that represent the defense industry, and other players. Senators and Congressmen with an eye to the next election cycle are keen to fall into line regardless of the cost to the country, and whether the decisions and votes that they take are truly in the US interest. We have by far the most expensive, technically advanced, and bloated security structure in the world. We continue to pour billions of dollars into our military, to fight conventional wars that no longer exist, and any effort to curb these programs brings an outcry from one side or the other.

What is the biggest challenge to our democratic system? The answer again regrettably, is Congress. There has been so much gerrymandering of districts, and there is so much money poured into election campaigns, corrupting our elected officials, that we have created a situation where in the not too distant future elections will be pointless, because one party or another will have locked up their district, making it useless for the other party to even mount a campaign. Campaign finance reform has failed again and again to address these issues.  Because of “The Citizens United” decision, we could foresee in the future an attractive but compliant, TV savvy, celebrity candidate backed by millions-upon-millions of dollars in mostly negative advertising, being elected as our President. The American public, can be easily manipulated particularly through TV sound bites,partisan news networks, and negative stories about the opposing candidate whether true or false. Not a happy prospect.

How do we address these problems and what are the prospects of making changes before permanent damage is done to United States and its citizens? This is something that can be addressed in a future blog.

 

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

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Huangshan—trip to China (3)

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

 

Glimpse of Huangshan in fog

Glimpse of Huangshan in fog

It took us more than two hours on a bus from Hangzhou to Tunxi, a town not far from Huangshan, Anhui Province. We had a local tour guide met us at the bus station with a van and a driver. After checking into a local hotel and a quick lunch, we visited the “Mysterious Grottos” at Flower Mountain, about an hour away from the city.

No one knew when and why the enormous man-made grottos were made. Supposedly there 36 of them, of which, four were developed for tourism. The size, design, supporting pillars, and carving patterns indicate the mastery of geology and science in ancient times. Many speculative theories about their usage and time, but none conclusive. Quite an amazing sight.

With Lisa at Huangshan

With Lisa at Huangshan

What is most impressive was of course the visit to Huangshan, or Mount Huang, one of the sacred mountains in China. We left for the mountain early the following morning, about an hour’s drive from Tunxi. Lisa and I wanted to climb up instead of taking the tram, but Francis and our tour guide opposed it.

“You still have 7.5 kilometers to walk on the maintains today,” Jiang, our tour guide argued. “You won’t be able to make those steps up and down the mountains if you climb up.”

In the end, the arising fog solved our dispute. Since we wouldn’t be able to see much in the thick fog, we all got into the tram, regretting not being to see the steep cliffs on our way up.

But the mountain delivered wonders in front of our eyes: once on top, a breeze of the wind quickly opened a pocket, revealing the beauty of pine trees planting themselves firmly on rocks, as we marveled at the sight and took pictures, another wave of fog covered them, making everything mysterious. We felt like walking in the clouds, enjoying the clarify of one moment and the wrap up of the fog the next.

"Welcome Pine"

“Welcome Pine”

Jiang was right. The walk was quite demanding. The stone-paved trail went up and down, leaving many tourists panting on the side. We made numerous stops to take photos and catch our breath. The “welcome pine”, the signature tree serving as a symbol of Huangshan, looked more resilient and strong than “welcoming”, with an extended branch being interpreted as a waving arm.

We were lucky that as soon as we reached our hotel on the mountain at about 4 pm, it began to rain. We settled down and had a nice dinner at the hotel and admired the photos we had taken. Despite the rain, a forecast of 60% chance of seeing sunrise was predicted. So the following morning, we got up at 4:30 to go to a nearby peak to see the sunrise. With the large crowd and numerous trees in the way, I must say the sunrise on Lake Michigan that I can see from my bedroom most of the mornings is more beautiful and grand.

"Ocean of clouds" on Huangshan

“Ocean of clouds” on Huangshan

Jiang took us to various sights of natural beauty—the ten magnificent pine trees, the formations of rocks that are interpreted for different meanings, and the observatory dome that does research and predicts weather in the mountain areas. The walk downhill was not any easier. But we learned that all the food at the hotels and restaurants on top of the mountains were carried up by farmers on their shoulders, as we walked down, we saw quite a few of them, climbing up with bamboo poles and heavy loads of a hundred pounds or so on each side of their shoulders. Seeing them humbled us and minimized our own challenges. I tried to keep up with Lisa, a prize I paid with sore calves and thighs the following day, despite an immediate foot massage upon returning to our hotel in Tunxi.

A farmer carries food to the top of the mountain

A farmer carries food to the top of the mountain

One surprising discovery was that iPhone took better pictures outdoors than a point-and-shoot camera. When Lisa used up the battery on her iPhone up in the mountains, I gave her mine. Unfortunately, during the 20-minute bus ride from the foot of the mountain to the park entrance where our van was waiting, Lisa fell asleep. By the time we got to a restaurant for lunch, Lisa realized she no longer had my iPhone. We went back to the bus station and got on to the number 92 bus. Where the litter of used cans and paper left behind by passengers were still on the floor, there was no sight of the black pouch in which Lisa placed my iPhone. The loss put a dent to our spirit, but we managed to let it go, since there was nothing we could do about it.

Huangshan is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited in China, and equally impressive, the trails and the park were well-maintained and very clean.

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.

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Trip to China (2)

Friday, May 17th, 2013

After spending five days with family in Changchun, we went to Hangzhou, making a quick stop in Shanghai. We were supposed to meet our close friend Mary in Shanghai and do the rest of the sightseeing together, but the bird flu in southern China, including the cities we planned to visit, made her stay put in Chicago.

Restaurants in Shanghai were packed—no sign of concern for bird flu, though a couple of American expatriates we met for dinner told us restaurants were not serving chicken at the moment. Brian and his wife Pat treated us to a wonderful meal at Ye Shanghai in Xintiandi. Lisa missed her flight connection in Beijing—not changing her watch to local time and rushing to the boarding gate 15 minutes too late. She missed dinner and more importantly, talking to Brian and Pat about their experience in China.

West Lake

West Lake

We stayed at the Marriott Hotel in city center and took the fast train to Hangzhou the following morning. I was pleasantly surprised that it only took us only an hour to reach Hangzhou.

Xiao Qiu, our tour guide, was waiting for us at the train station with a driver and mini van. The perfect temperature of 70 degrees and humility made a drastic contrast to the dry and dusty air in Changchun, and the lustrous green in the city made it immediately appealing. Our driver proudly told us that Hangzhou is one of the most beautiful cities in China, with ample variety of trees along the streets. We checked into the J.W. Marriott Hotel, and Xiao Qiu took us to a signature restaurant. Despite the local specialty of chicken and duck, we carefully avoided all poultry, but did try the famous Dong Po Pork—fat but delicious!

Qiu Jin's statue by West Lake

Qiu Jin‘s statue by West Lake

We spent the afternoon walking along West Lake and took a boat ride to observe the sceneries along the shore. I’ve learned about the beauty of West Lake from poetry since I was a child and was expecting to see an impressive sight. But nothing prepared me to the vastness of the lake, and the grand scale of the well maintained gardens surrounding it. Different colors of flowers and tree leaves added more pleasure to the eye, and the lustrous spring greens were intoxicating. We walked the legendary bridges and stopped by various statues, including that of Qiu Jin, the first feminist in China.

In the following two days, Xiao Qiu took us to Lingyin Temple, Tiger-dug Spring (the best pairing with Longjin Tea, Hangzhou’s specialty), Yue Fei Monument, and the Wetland where we discovered a small museum for the studies of the classic vernacular novel Dream of the Red Chamber. I didn’t know the original story took place in this area and the comparison of real life characters with those in the novel was eye-opening.  We also took a boat ride on the Grand Canal, the longest in the world (From Beijing to Hangzhou, over 1,100 miles) and watched the busy traffic of cargo barges moving back and forth along the Canal, as they did for more than a thousand years.

We couldn’t leave Hangzhou without taking another long walk by the West Lake.

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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Trip to China

Thursday, May 16th, 2013
Construction in Changchun

Construction in Changchun

I had the pleasure of visiting family and sightseeing in southern China recently despite the threat of bird flu. It has been more than a year since my last trip to China, the longest elapse of time for more than 20 years.

Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province where my mother and two sisters live, is catching up with the development with the rest of the country in coastal areas. Construction sites everywhere—subway is being built, roads being expanded or repaired, and various clusters of buildings shooting toward the sky, with cranes lining up like a forest, familiar sights one saw in Beijing and Shanghai a few years before. The price for all these developments? Heavy dust in the air and terrible traffic jam. I brought all my exercise clothing and was looking forward to my early morning jog around South Lake Park, which is close to where my mother lives. Couldn’t do so this year—it was difficult to breathe walking in the dusty air let alone running.

Changchun_sweet moment with momAs in Chicago, spring came nearly a month late this year in Changchun. Flowers and tender leaves were just coming out when I was there at the beginning of May, yet they seemed to be covered already with a layer of dirt. Beside a visit to Jing Yue Tan, a large park in the outer skirt of the city, paying tribute to father at his tomb, and a few massages in the neighborhood, we stayed indoor nearly the entire time. The highlight in Changchun is time spent with family. Even Lisa sat at the Mahjong table and entertained her grandmother by joining her in her favorite game.

I wonder, however, how many people die of air pollution in this city with the name of Changchun, literally translated, “Ever Green“!

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award winning feature-length documentary by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bissett.

 

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