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Archive for August, 2013

Chinese Fine Arts Society brings “Rhythms of China” to Chicago

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013
Betti Xiang and Rachel Barton Pine playing Erhu and Violin (Duet)

Betti Xiang and Rachel Barton Pine playing Erhu and Violin (Duet)

From the gentle breeze of the prelude titled “Tiger grinding teeth,” to the dynamic ending piece “Monkey”, played by a drum team, with a rich revelation of emotions with scores performed on violin, erhu, pipa, piano, and flute in between, the Rhythms of China concert at Jay Pritzker Pavilion last night was a very moving and superb program.

“We’re very excited to present such a wonderful ensemble to Chicago,” Julia Ma, Board President of the Chinese Fine Arts Society (CFAS), said to me at the reception before the concert.

Based in Chicago, CFAS has had a history of 30 years. It was set up by Ma’s mother, Barbara Tiao, who was a piano teacher and was aspired to promote the appreciation of Chinese culture via music, dance, and visual arts.

Cheng Da Drum Team playing Brent Roman's "Monkey"

Cheng Da Drum Team playing Brent Roman’s “Monkey”

The entire program last night was mesmerizing. Sitting on the second row from the stage, I was able to observe the musicians in close range and hear the nuances of every tune and beat by every single instrument. I was very touched. The “Three Humoresques” played by violinists Rachel Barton Pine and Minghuan Xu mesmerized me, and my emotion was raised to another notch by “Mian Jiang Hong“, a piece composed to praise Yue Fei, a historical hero, by Pei Lu and was played by Pine and pianist Winston Choi. By the time Pine and Betti Xiang, who played Erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument, made the Duet penetrate to my heart, tears welled up in my eyes.

Yiyan Chen playing Pipa

Yiyan Chen playing Pipa

Ma introduced Conrad Tao, the composer of the Duet, as a very talented young man of 19, winner of CFAS’s previous competitions. The audience applauded with deep appreciation.

All the numbers presented last night, including Sojourners Song by Daniel Lo, Lakescape by Lei Liang, and Night Impressions by Vivian Fung were award-winning pieces. They combined the instruments from the West and East together and expressed a well of emotions—to me, mostly pride, longing, and excitement.

Ma said CFAS recently hired its executive director and is making the transition from a volunteer-based non-profit organization to a professionally run one. I wish them success and look forward to seeing more wonderful programs such as Rhythms of China to Chicago in the future.

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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Visiting King’s Hill Farm

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

gallo family

I’ve always loved visiting King’s Hill Farm, an organic farm that produces a variety of vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, and honey. It’s located near Mineral Point in Wisconsin, more than three hours’ drive from Chicago.

We’ve been to the farm a few times before, but the first time since the Gallos, Mark and Delia, took over the management of the farm this year. Between Francis’ frequent travel schedules and our other activities, we finally made it to the farm last Sunday, with our close friend Mary.

We couldn’t have selected a better time for the visit—beautiful sunshine, perfect temperature of upper 70s, and low humidity.

Mark, Delia, their two young sons, Enro and Nico, and Delia’s mother, Barbara, who was at the farm for a visit, extended their warmest hospitality to us by treating us with a home made eggplant lasagna, green salad and the sweetest “star strip” yellow watermelon I had ever tasted, with all the fresh produce from the farm.

Mark with his melons

Mark with his melons

Mark took us for a tour after lunch, accompanied by their two dogs. Rows of green onions, kale, Swiss chard, cabbage, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans (different colors), tomatoes (different varieties), rhubarb, sweet potato, onions (different variety), melons (different varieties), pepper (different varieties) and etc. extended in the field before us, not to mention many different kinds of fruit trees, including apples, Asian pears, plums, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries…. We picked berries bursting with juicy along the way and pumped them directly to our mouths.

“I want to show you some melons I’ve never seen before,” Mark said, taking us to the other side of the farm in his jeep.

The sprawling hills cover an area of over 800 acres, and they’ve only farmed a small portion.

I was delighted to see what we call ‘fragrance melon” in Chinese, my favorite, lying on top of the black ground cover. These melons are rarely seen in the U.S. We picked a few among the watermelon row and tasted one immediately when we returned to the farmhouse. The fragrance brought me back home.

 

Asian pears

Asian Pear

As Francis shared his expertise on organic farming with Mark, I took a few small containers and went back to the fruit trees to pick berries. I think I ate as much as I collected.

King’s Hill Farm does a successful Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, making deliveries to their members in the Chicago area every other week. They also set up a booth to sell fresh produce at the farmers market in Lincoln Park and Glenview. Mark gave us a CSA box to take home, with a variety of greens, tomatoes, and melons. We’ve enjoyed them and shared some with a couple of friends. They are so tasty and fresh.

Check out the farm if you are interested in a visit or becoming a member of its CSA program for next year. Enjoy the local and organic bounty!

 

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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The Enemy Within – Solutions.

Monday, August 19th, 2013

U.S. Congress Picture 

My recent blog about Congress being “The Enemy Within,” threatening our economy, national security, and even our democracy received a wide positive response. Perhaps this is not surprising given that the overall public support for Congress is at an all-time low of 17%. However while it is easy to identify the complete failure of the current Congress and its inability to get anything done, we need to identify solutions to our problems. So here are some of my thoughts.

The Economy. The failure of Congress to support public expenditure programs, that have a proven historical record of improving the economy, particularly during a recessionary environment, is not only due to the Republican obsession of denying approval to any Obama administration proposal, but is also a symptom of the corruption of Congress caused by the power of the lobbyist. There are hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by numerous industries or lobbyists. Over recent years these industries have contributed, so much money to lobbyists, that the dispersal of these funds is little short of bribery of our legislators. We need to see new restrictive legislation to curb the amount of money being poured into lobbying firms and their ability to contribute to the campaign funding of our legislators.  An obvious example is our banking industry.

We clearly need Bank reform, that would ensure that the near collapse of the global banking system caused by the excesses, greed, and the creation of paper trading products and the fees resulting therefrom, should never again be a threat. Unfortunately, very little has changed from the disastrous behavior that caused these problems in 2008. The Dodd/Frank reform package, which in itself was considerably watered down by the lobbying of the Banking and Finance industry, continues to suffer setbacks and efforts to redefine the law. Consequently, we could easily see another banking crisis in this country and possibly around the world, because we have not addressed many of the basic problems that led to the great recession. What is the solution? I believe Paul Volcker the former Fed Chairman was right from the start. Traditional banking and investment banking should be separated. Our banks have become bookmakers, gambling with the public’s money and focused on fees, trading profits, and the sale of an ever-increasing and complicated range of products to investors and even other banks. As a result, we see the vast majority of bank profits which have dramatically increased over the past year or two coming from trading and fees. In the case of JP Morgan Chase this is 75% of their published profits. The actual percentage of profitability from traditional banking loans has been declining over the past decade. This is a recipe for future disasters. So the solution is to separate banking from trading. We need to do it now and we need to do it quickly if we are to avoid the next crisis.

National Security.  We are engaged in the Third World War. This is not a conventional war with Armed Forces and high-tech weaponry, but a medieval war of car bombs, religious Jihadists, and security threats at home and abroad. That is not to say that the 1.3 billion Muslims around the world, are all supporters of the terrorists organizations that wish to destroy the infidels, being the Western nations, and their culture. However it is Muslim terrorist groups with whom we are engaged in a long-term armed struggle. Those groups get their funding primarily from Arab oil resources. The Western world’s reliance on fossil fuels, continues to fund these terrorist organizations. Although the US is spending billions of dollars on this war, it is our Congress that is aiding and abetting our enemies. They continue to support billions of dollars of defense contracts, once again pushed by the many lobbyists from the defense industry, for high-tech military hardware that is unlikely to be used in our current war against terrorism. In fact it is the opposite to what is required for us to win that war. Congress also rejects long-term planning to replace the reliance on foreign oil, by renewable energy. The solution is to fund our efforts to develop renewable energy and crack down on the oil and gas industry lobbying.

 

125 Picture o fUS Congress 0815 2013

 

Our Democracy.  How democratic a nation is the United States. We take pride in our freedom and democracy and compared to the majority of countries around the world we are extremely fortunate. We live in a country which is still democratic, and still provides freedom of speech and opportunity.  However Congress is eroding both our freedoms and our democracy. Our representatives and their party machines have gerrymandered virtually every constituency in the country, rearranging the boundaries to such an extent that the votes, Democratic or Republican, are assured. We therefore find ourselves with elected representatives, who are sure of a secure future. Is this really democratic? I don’t think so. A major reform of our electoral process is necessary before we find ourselves with a virtual dictatorship, or a number of puppets swinging on the strings of industry lobbyists and Super PAC money.

There are simple solutions to many of our problems, but in order to tackle them we need the political will. What is the point of electing a President based upon his pledges, campaign promises and manifesto, only to find that he can get nothing done, because he does not control Congress or his Party and so political gridlock stops the country moving forward. The past five years have been a shameful exhibition of Congressional failure.

I would like to think that the simple solutions which are available to us will be enacted and that our Congress will start thinking about what is best for our country, and not about their own re-election and the funding of their huge campaigns.  Policy must come before politics if we are to survive and prosper.

 

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

A new perspective on Lake Michigan

Thursday, August 15th, 2013
English: Chicago Lake front bike trail

English: Chicago Lake front bike trail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been riding my bike along the lakefront trail in Chicago for the last seven years from spring to late fall, averaging about 60 miles or so a week. I marvel at the brilliant reflection of sunrise on the lake, the green, gray or blue color of the water each time I take a look from a different angle or location, and the rocks and beaches along the lake that receive the thrashing water as if eager to embrace it.

It was not about a month ago that I began swimming in the lake that I got a different perspective on it.

One experience in Lake Michigan back in 2007 when I was doing a writer’s residency at Ragdale in Lake Forest shunned me away from the lake until recently. I remember joining a couple of fellow writers to swim in lake. It was a hot summer. During the July 4th weekend when I was there, temperature reached 91 degrees. I was taken by surprise by the icy cold water. I kicked and pushed as hard as I could but couldn’t stop shivering. I ran out of the lake in less than 20 minutes and never ventured back again.

English: Map of Lake Michigan. Category:Michig...

English: Map of Lake Michigan. Category:Michigan maps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A friend of mine recently told me how much he enjoyed an early morning swim in the lake, saying the water was warm. A lover of outdoor activities, I decided to give it another try. How glad I was when I realized what he said was true: the water was warm and nice. More, the lake water seems to have so much more vigor and life that I felt energized ten times more compared to my swimming in the heated pool of my building. I was immediately hooked and went back to the lake the next day and the next.

I was lucky that my first couple of days in the lake the water was calm and warm. On my third day, the lake turned choppy, but I managed doing my route, finding it challenging but fun. I got bolder and dived into the lake the following day when a stronger wind created waves in the water. I got disoriented twice and felt as if I was rocking with waves the rest of the day when I was working at my desk. I got a taste of the power of the lake.

Since then, when I ride my bike first thing in the morning along the trail, I begin to pay attention to the movement of the water in the lake. The peaceful ripples feel like an invitation to the lake, and the choppy churning, a warning. When waves push one after another until they crash forcefully on the shore, I know better not to step into the water.

It takes a lot more concentration and strength swimming in the lake. I’ve learned to flow with the waves, cautious and sometimes a little fearful; I’ve learned to appreciate the calmness when I can do backstroke; and I’ve learned not to panic when I chock on a gush of water. Wearing a pair of goggles, I look down deep into the lake. On a day when the water is clear, I can see long stretching plants wavering in certain areas, and when the water murky, I sense the mystery and power underneath. Because I swim early in the morning, long before the lifeguard comes on duty, I’m always alert and welcome the sighting of another swimmer in the water or any jogger or cyclist on shore.

A guy by the name of Frank has become a familiar sight, but he swims way out at the edge of the circled swim area. I also get to know a gentleman named Larry, who, on a wavy day, volunteered as my lifeguard. There is a fisherman standing on the edge of a concrete platform every day. From a distance, he looks like a statue against the rising run, but provides me with a level of comfort nevertheless.

To touch the water, feel the power of the lake, and be energized by it certainly give me another perspective on the lake and a deeper level of appreciation and awe for it. Try swimming in the lake if you haven’t done so. You, like me, will realize what you have missed and will enjoy the wonder that the mighty lake provides.

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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A stranger’s kindness

Friday, August 9th, 2013

beach 2

I ventured out to swim in the choppy water of Lake Michigan yesterday morning after a few minutes of hesitation. The wind was a bit strong, and the water, wavy and murky. When it crashed onto shore, white foam erupted and then receded, until the next wave hit again.

I knew it would be wise to leave, but I was there at the beach already, I heard a voice in my head arguing. I saw a comparatively less choppy area against the concrete wall on one side of the beach and decided to swim small loops in that area.

Usually there are two other people at the beach in the early mornings. One is a great swimmer who ventured all the way to the edge of safety mark, and other, usually sat on the stairs to the beach reading a newspaper or listening to his radio.

beach 1As I stood there trying to make a decision, I saw the strong swimmer came out of the water. He said he did one loop and was exhausted. He usually does four.
“The waves are too strong today,” he said.

I said hello to the man on the stairs before getting into the water and learned his name is Larry.

The sun was shining brightly despite the wind and the water was warm. A strong wave nearly knocked me down as I stepped into the lake. But I forged forward.

“Be careful,” I heard Larry say. “I’ll watch out for you.”

I thanked him, expecting him long gone before I finished swimming, as was the case over the last couple of weeks.

As I fought my way in the choppy water, I realized that Larry’s figure on shore became a source of security and comfort as I glanced toward shore to get my bearing of location from time to time. I must say that despite the high alertness of my mind to the potential danger, I enjoyed the adventure and challenge. Instead of free style, I did breaststroke most of the time so as to flow with the rising waves. For a while, I noticed Larry standing up and shielding one arm against the sun facing the lake.

I managed to swim for nearly 50 minutes. When I finally stumbled on shore, Larry was still there.

“For a while I couldn’t see you, I was concerned,” he said. He told me he used to be a competitive swimmer and didn’t want to leave me alone in the water.

I was very touched by his kindness and thanked him as he rushed away.

It reminded me of my bike rides along the lakefront trail. Many times fast bikers would give a warning shout passing from the left. Instead of the usual “On your left,” some would say “Good morning,” or “Thank you” instead, generating a totally different feeling.

A stranger’s kindness and polite gesture touched me deeply. I know I should follow their example in bringing a smile or a bit of comfort to others.

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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