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Bicycle culture

August 7th, 2014 by Jian Ping

bike racks and bikersDuring my recent vacation in Europe, one striking impression was the popular use of bicycles as a means of transportation by people young and old.

Double-layered bicycle racks in Amsterdam and Leiden, as shown here, are common scenes, so are small children following their parents, or taking a free ride with the help of an adult’s hand.

a well loved bikeI like those heavy-duty bikes. Apparently such feeling is not mine alone. I saw several bikes with decorative flowers. This one is at the train station in Enkhuizen, a small town about an hour’s train ride from Amsterdam. All the sidewalks and streets are paved with red bricks in this ancient town, but the bumpy road didn’t prevent bikers, mostly silver-haired elders, from their bikes. While in Leiden, a college town, I noticed that most of the bikers are young men and women.

Vienna imprea well loved bikessed me not only by its beautiful historical buildings, magnificent churches, and rich cultural life, but also the well-connected bike lanes, most of them are next to the pedestrian path. I was very pleased to see so many people on their bikes in this large city.

In Frankfurt, Germany, our last stop, after a pleasant trip to several cities in Romania, I saw many bikers on the streets as well, sometimes, the entire family in a group. I felt vindicated for riding my bike to most of the places I need to go in Chicago.

Bike riding is fun and good forelder bikers taking a break our health and environment. I do hope, with the promotion and support from the City of Chicago and the allocation of more bike lanes in city streets, more people will feel comfortable to get on their bikes in the metropolitan area, especially in the beautiful summer season as we are in right now. If you haven’t tried, get on a Divvy bike and take a ride, at least on the lakefront trail. I guarantee that you will love the experience. It would be great that we pitch in and create our own cycling culture.

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. The film was on national PBS in May 2014.

Summer in Chicago

July 8th, 2014 by Jian Ping
Lakefront trail

Lakefront trail

Summer is always my most favorite season in Chicago. Besides all the outdoor concerts, sports venues, and other events, what I like to do most is biking along the lakefront trail or swimming in the Lake.

Biking always starts earlier. This year, I was out on the trail since late April when the air was still chilly and patches of snow were still blocking some segments of the trail. In less than a month, I watched the trees turn color, the leaves emerge, and all of a sudden, the budding flowers cover the entire trees with brilliant yellow, red, white, or pink. The long trail was filled with a sweet, intoxicating fragrance. Depending on the weather, I either rode my Trek hybrid, which has thicker tires, or my Cannondale road bike, light and fast.

Flowers in early spring

Flowers in early spring

I started noticing swimmers with wetsuits in the Lake in early June, at a stretch between Grand and Chicago Avenue. Despite the extra protection, I bet their exposed limbs and face would feel the bite of the icy water, like being stung by jellyfish. I admired and envied them, but stayed away. Then one day in mid June, I saw two men swimming in their regular swim trunks. “Yeah!” I hailed as I sped by on my bike.

I didn’t plunge in until late June. To my pleasant surprise, the water was not as cold as I expected, and I was able to swim for 45 minutes. I felt like kicking myself for not getting into the water earlier. But the warm water didn’t stay for long. The next day when I went back, I felt the change of temperature the moment I stepped in. It must be below 60 degrees. I managed to swim for 30 minutes and rushed back to take a long, hot shower. But I went to swim in the lake every day, enjoying the amazing energy the live water was able to give me. It is definitely worth the challenge of the cold.

For those of you who haven’t tried swimming in the lake, I strongly recommend taking a plunge. It’s magically refreshing and energizing. I hope you’ll love the experience as much as I. So blessed to have the vast lake nearby.

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. The film was on national PBS in May, 2014.


A Visit to the Museum of Science and Industry

July 2nd, 2014 by Jian Ping
Underside of U-505 at the Chicago Museum of Sc...

Underside of U-505 at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I visited the Museum of Science and Industry on my birthday last week. It’s been quite a few years since I was there. Probably because it is close by and I feel I can go there anytime I want to, the visit keeps getting postponed. I took the visit as a treat that day.

I must say I was totally impressed. A treat indeed.

There were many children in the museum that day since schools are off during the summer. Different from the Field Museum I had visited the day before, the atmosphere here was so lively and dynamic, as many people, especially the young, were so engaged in various interactive activities.

It was my first time to visit the Exhibit U-505 Submarine. I was taken back by its enormous size, all housed in door, and the bravery of U.S. heroes who risked their lives capturing it during the WWII.

The Museum of Science and Industry building on...

The Museum of Science and Industry building once housed the Field Museum of Natural History. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I also watched the film “D-Day Normandy: 1944″ at the theater. The large dome made the experience almost felt like three-dimensional. The entire theatre was packed, and the applause was long and loud at the end of the show. (The film will be shown till May 2015. Strongly recommend it.)

There are a number of other exhibits and films at the museum. I browsed a few more sections, including the exhibit of bicycles, the Transportation Gallery, and You! The Experience. All amazingly done. I left the museum three hours later, wowing for a return sometime very soon.

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. The film was broadcast on national PBS in May 2014.

Inspiring cultural programs in Chicago

June 9th, 2014 by Jian Ping

photo 2What is more amazing with the start of the summer season, however, is the variety of cultural programs this wonderful metropolis has to offer. Last Wednesday, the free weekly film series presented by the 50th Chicago Int’l Film Festival officially kicked off at the Cultural Center. Grill Point, an award-winning German film directed by Andres Dresen, started the series, to a packed audience. The film focuses on the relationship between two married couples and is presented with a super realistic touch, but not without humor, even though the subject matter is quite serious. Simply a jewel. A talk back after the screening led by a professor made the experience complete.

photo 1From now to October 1, a total of 17 films from different countries will be shown at the Claudia Cassidy Theatre at 6:30 every Wednesday. Strongly recommended.

Of course, the Millennium Park‘s 10th Summer Anniversary brings an array of wonderful programs as well, with its official start at the beginning of June and ending at the end of September. Last night, I enjoyed a beautiful performance by the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra (CYSO) at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. The Blue Man Group joined them at the end of the show, adding a comic and innovative touch to the classic music repertoire. The large crowd gathered at the Pavilion and on the lawn in the back stayed all the way to the end. An amazing sight. I had the privilege of interviewing the music director and executive director in back stage before the show for a Xinhua coverage. Eighty-four members of CYSO, aged 14 to 18, will participate in a “Tour to China” performing trip departing this Thursday. They’ll give concerts in Beijing, Xi’an, Hangzhou, and Shanghai. The performance at Millennium Park was their “send-off” party!

photo 1As if these were not enough, the weekend also presented the Printers Row Book Fest. Many literary events took place simultaneously at the Harold Washington Library, the University Center, Jones College Prep, etc., in addition to all the tents and vendor booths that were lined up along several blocks in the center of Printers Row district. I attended a couple of panels and browsed the streets that were literally filled with new and used books. It was book feast.

photo 4Did I mention I also watched Ask Aunt Susan, a play at the Goodman Theatre (till June 22) over the weekend as well?

You get the idea. There are so many programs at various venues offering mind and body nourishment in this beautiful city in the summer. Get yourself out there and enjoy!

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. The film was broadcast on national PBS in May 2014.


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My Asian Mom

May 27th, 2014 by Jian Ping

Asian mom 1

No mother is perfect. The fierce love and care a mother gives, especially an Asian mother in the midst of American culture, can be cause for conflicts with her American-raised children. “Are you my mother?” the prologue that starts the My Asian Mom, a series of “tug of wars” between “Asian mothers” and their children, reveals the love and resentment between them.

This is the second year that I’ve attended the show “My Asian Mom.” Despite certain anticipation of the “typical” conflicts between Asian mothers and their children, which I can testify with my own experience, these episodes present issues that are familiar yet with a personal touch and refreshing look. Via laughter, one can resonate, to different levels according to their connection or understanding of the Asian culture.

I laughed when a Chinese “son” can no longer stand the plastic covers on sofas, tables, and even a lamp shade that his mother places. He finally rips them off during a visit home from college, creating havoc. Perhaps, it’s because of the heavy dust in the air that so many Chinese families cover their furniture with plastics in China; or perhaps it’s out of frugality so the furniture can be preserved forever, in a brand new shape when the cover is lifted; or perhaps out of convenience for cleaning. Whatever the reason, despite the discomfort (the sofa and chair slippery) and unappealing sight (the fine furniture appear cheap), the customs get carried over to the U.S. I have seen them in more than one Chinese home over the years. But the son in the play eventually comes to appreciate his mother’s intention.

Asian mom 2Other episodes show different aspects of confrontations between Asian mother and her son/daughter, including an arranged marriage that aims to build family alliance, a look into why we mistreat “our Korean mothers,” and in many cases, reconciliations in the end between mothers and their Americanized children. The entire show is consisted of eight unrelated stories from different Asian backgrounds. Quite entertaining and refreshing.

The performance, with Cary Shoda as curator and lead director, and Hope Kim and Joe Yao as producers, will open for one more weekend, from Friday, May 30 through Sunday, June 1 at the Chicago Dramatists theatre. Check it out. You won’t regret. Visit for more information.

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 and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film is on PBS nationwide in May 2014. Visit


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Mulberry Child on PBS

May 17th, 2014 by Jian Ping
Jian Ping, Ellis Goodman & Lisa Xia greeting attendees

Jian Ping, Ellis Goodman & Lisa Xia greeting attendees

It feels unreal to watch my life story on television. In Chicago, WTTW (Channel 11), the local PBS station, broadcast Mulberry Child three times. I watched it twice. The first time, half of the film, and the second, in its entirety. I tried to watch the film from an “objective” perspective, as if I were watching someone else’s story. It worked at certain parts, but at some very strong personal moments, such as scenes in which Lisa and I get into an argument, images of my father waving gently, a few days before his passing, and my mother, pushing open a door to look out, as if expecting her grown up children to come back, tears still welled up in my eyes.

What touches me most is the outpouring of emotion and support that I’ve received from viewers and friends, and they are still arriving in my email on a daily basis since the broadcast of the film and online streaming on started on May 1. The flash page of Mulberry Child on PBS doesn’t have my email address. Many people went out of their way to locate it from my book or film website to send me their thoughts and comments. I received many emails before, mostly from friends and viewers in Chicago where the film had more than twenty screenings at different venues, including a weeklong engagement to the public at the Gene Siskel Film Center. But it feels so differently when the emails come from strangers throughout the country.

At reception

At reception

The broadcast of Mulberry Child, which started on May 1 on PBS, will continue nationwide through the month. Each PBS station has its own schedule, and in addition, the World Channel, an affiliation of PBS, scheduled multiple screenings in many cities. The first email I received was on the first of broadcasting, from a woman named Sanviki. “I just watched Mulberry Child on PBS,” she started. “It is difficult to express my exact response—thoughts and feelings at this time; all I can say at this time is that the movie had a profound affect upon me… I felt compiled to write to you, I needed to let you know that your work is important and that I bid you the inspiration to continue in your journey of awareness, self-expression and truth—especially as it relate to deepening the development of love for yourself, your daughter and others.”

Many more followed.

Lisa chatting with attendees

Lisa chatting with attendees


“I wanted to personally thank you for sharing your profound life story of resilience and hope.”

“I watched your movie and my heart went out. I would love learn more and see more.”

“My wife and I just watched Mulberry Child. It moved and reminded us emotionally to appreciate the gifts and sacrifices by our parents.”

“I watched Mulberry Child documentary on PBS this morning and was moved to tears more than once. Watching you with your daughter made me miss my mother terribly so I cried for that loss. I also cried for the trials of your family and for those of all the Chinese people during that terrible time.”

Jian with Grace and He

Jian with Grace and He

I don’t know where these viewers live or who they are beside their names, but their resonance with Mulberry Child and their sharing of emotion touched me deeply. I made sure to respond to everyone’s email personally.

When WTTW in Chicago premiered at 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 8, we held a reception and screening at Ganz Hall, Roosevelt University, celebrating the milestone with appetizers, wine, and Tsingtao Beer. About 150 people attended the event. Once again, I was touched that quite a few friends who had seen the film more than once, including a recent screening at the Harold Washington Library Center on May 1, came again to show support.

I was thrilled that my daughter Lisa, who had moved to work in Frankfurt, Germany since March, happened to be back in Chicago and was able to join me at the reception and conduct the 40-minute long discussion after the screening with me. People connected with our story in different ways, based on their background and experience. But the outpour of emotion was so moving. Several viewers in the audience paused to chock back tears when they made comments and raised questions. Lisa shed tears, too, and I had to exert more control to suppress mine.

Moments like this made me realize that it’s certainly worthwhile to throw our personal life on to the screen. I feel so fortune that our story is inspiring others on their personal journey and relationships, not to mention that the process of making and showing the film has brought Lisa and I much closer!

My heart-felt thanks to you all.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary movie by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The movie is shown on PBS nationwide in May, 2014. Visit for more information.

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A mysterious and great photographer: Vivian Maier

April 15th, 2014 by Jian Ping
Maier in one of several self-portraits she too...

Maier in one of several self-portraits she took on the streets of Chicago (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I watched the documentary film Finding Vivian Maier at the Landmark Century Cinema last week and was mesmerized by the mystery and talent of Vivian Maier.

Maier was a nanny who took more than 100,000 photographs, including many self-portraits, in her life. She was born in New York in 1926 and settled in Chicago in the 1950s until her death in 2009, alone and unknown, even to those who knew her. In the film (directed by Charlie Siskel and John Maloof), we followed the footsteps of the filmmaker to find who she was and through the interviews with those who hired her or were taken care of by her, we came to know her as someone who was eccentric, faked a French accent, and remained single and secretive all her life. No one seemed to know her background or the reason why she took so many photos yet didn’t get them out, or even develop them. Her works were hidden in storage lockers.

John Maloof, doing research on Chicago history, bought a box of her negatives at an auction, was intrigued by her works, therefore, started the search journey and eventually helped “discover” Maier as one of the 20th century’s greatest photographers, yet as an individual, she remained a mystery to us all.

Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows

Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows (Photo credit: wordsnpix)

There is another documentary on Maier titled The Vivian Maier Mystery, which will be shown in the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium at the Harold Washington Library Center on Thursday, April 24, at 6 p.m. If you can attend the screening, arrive earlier to take a look at an exhibition of Maier’s work in the Special Collection Exhibition Hall on the 9th floor. I went there last week and was pleased to see some of her work in print. The exhibition puts the photos in “the context of her life” from the 1950s through the 1970s, featuring a selection of her recognized street photography. Click link here for more information.

In addition, the Chicago History Museum is also having an exhibition, Vivian Maier’s Chicago, through the summer.

Maiser is an amazing street photography. Check out the films and exhibitions—well worthy of your time.

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 Golden Globe Winner Jacqueline Bisset. Visit for more information.

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 Golden Globe Winner Jacqueline Bisset. Visit for more information.

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US Democracy. For Sale to the Highest Bidder

April 14th, 2014 by Ellis Goodman

McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission


The Citizens United, Supreme Court ruling in 2010, created the Super PACs, and their financiers who are using hundreds of millions of dollars in funding mainly negative TV ad campaigns, to promote their own political agenda for the future of the US, and further corrupt our political system by threatening Senators and Congressmen alike with the withdrawal of campaign donations and the support of candidates whenever they choose.

Now however the Supreme Court has passed a ruling in the McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission which will eliminate long-established contribution limits to the Federal political campaigns, and add additional hundreds of millions of dollars to the corruption of our system. Amazingly, Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. wrote that in his opinion, “There is no right more basic in our democracy.” To my mind, these rulings are killing democracy in this country. Our legislators spend most of their time fundraising from the day they get elected, in order to build a war chest to pound any opponent that might dare to run against them at some future election. Once they become an incumbent, statistics show, that they are likely to raise four times the amount of money, than any challenger.  It is thus clear, that money wins elections. Not policy, not a vision, not a desire to improve conditions in this country for the majority of the people, but the quest for re-election and maintaining their seat at any cost.

The combination of the legal corruption of our legislative process, with Super PACs, lobbyists, wealthy campaign donors, and of course redistricting constituencies, and the outrageous disenfranchisement of thousands of voters, have already led to the elimination of true democracy in the United States. Hundreds of millions of dollars are now spent by outside interests, special or political, mainly in negative television advertising. Apparently “the American people” to whom our legislators often refer in warm and almost tearful respect, are just there to be manipulated and pounded with negative messages which if shouted long enough they believe.

Money-Dollars 050

Does all this money mean that Washington will actually tackle some of our true and important issues? Highly unlikely. Immigration, education, tax reform, tort reform, the environment, climate change, reducing the U.S. reliance on fossil fuels, the deficit, bank reform, and of course campaign financing will receive NO attention in the next couple of years. What we will hear about is an ongoing battle to repeal Obamacare, and replace it with nothing apparently, and continue the battle on abortion, and that other earthshattering issue affecting the future of our country, same-sex marriage. I’m sure we will hear endless speeches and heart pounding over these issues while the true problems are ignored.

Where will this all end? How long is it going to be before we elect a handsome puppet, empty-headed, inexperienced, naive president, who will be managed by a billionaire non-tax paying casino owner, or a couple of billionaire non-tax paying oil and gas tycoons. Do not believe this could not happen. This latest Supreme Court decision shows that we’re well on our way.


Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden:

Can China rise peacefully?

April 12th, 2014 by Jian Ping

John Mearsheimer, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, gave a talk on China last week at an event organized by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He predicts that China’s economic growth will lead to its military growth, which in turn, will result in conflicts between the U.S. and China in the future, be it 20 or 30 years from now.

“It’s a myth that many China scholars and policy makers think China is different from the U.S. and other European great powers,” said Mearsheimer.

He argued that when China grows more powerful economically, it will translate that economic might into military might and will try to dominate Asia, and meanwhile, the U.S., the hegemony in the West Hemisphere, “will go great length to prevent China from becoming a regional hegemony in Asia.”

Mearsheimer said his theory on the power of states in international politics is based on the following five assumptions:

  • principal actors in international politics are states;
  • all states have military offensive capacity;
  • the intentions of the states are hard to predict and measure;
  • principal goal for every state is to survive; and
  • states will maximize their chance for survival.

He said these assumptions lead states to three forms of behavior, namely

  • states fear each other;
  • the best way for a state to survive is to protect itself; and
  • the best way to do the prection is to be very powerful.

“China has been a highly aggressive country in history, just like other great powers in the world,” Mearsheimer said.

The international forum is an anarchy system, he emphasized, citing that the fittest survives.

“When China was weak, the other great powers took advantage of it,” he said. “It’s that experience of humiliation that makes it perfectly clear to China that it can’t let it happen again.”

He said the best way to ensure that is for China to be very powerful.

“To put it in slightly different terms, it’s for China to dominate Asia.”

But the U.S. and other countries in Asia will try to prevent China from dominating Asia, he said.

He stated that in its effort to maintain its hegemony, the U.S. succeeded in dismantling other great powers in history, including the Imperial Germany, the Nazi Germany, the Imperial Japan and Russia. It will try to contain China as well.

As China continues to grow and become stronger, the competition between the U.S. and China will be more intense. It will eventually escalate to conflicts, he concluded.

“Anything the U.S. does to defend itself will be offensive to China, and vice versa,” he said.

Mearsheimer disputed the theories of co-relation balancing, the importance of economic ties, and the “myth” that Confucian ideology deems China a peace loving country. He said at time of conflicts, politics trumpets everything.

“I’m not anti China or anti America,” he declared. “If I were an advisor of national security to the President of China, I would tell him to get the U.S. out of Asia. By the same token, if I were an advisor to the President of the United States, I would advise him to keep China out as well.”

He warned that “If China continues to grow as it did in the past 30 years and becomes a giant Hong Kong, it’s going to be unstoppable.”

“I hope China will stop growing,” he said to me when I interviewed him, and several times during his speech.  That sounded quite anti China to me.

For more information on his theories, check out his book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.

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 Golden Globe Winner Jacqueline Bisset. Visit for more information.

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Getting Ready For The Big One

April 8th, 2014 by Ellis Goodman
San Andreas Fault in the Carrizo Plain, aerial...

San Andreas Fault in the Carrizo Plain, aerial view from 8500 feet altitude (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


My wife and I are snow birds. We have a home in Southern California in the Desert, where we flee from the Chicago winters. This year we believe we have been particularly fortunate. We have enjoyed one of the warmest and driest winters in Southern California for many, many years, while Chicago has suffered through one of the most brutal winters in its history. Southern California is suffering from the worst drought in decades while Chicago has suffered the most snow and brutal cold in decades. We believe that climate change has arrived and these extremes may well be the norm in the future.

We live on the San Andreas Fault line, and so little rumbles and earthquakes are quite common. In our area there has been a push recently to make sure that the population are prepared for the “big one,” which could happen within the next 30 years or in the next 300 years. My wife and I have not given much thought to this possibility, but recently went to a meeting about “being prepared.” Of course when you get down to it the prospect of a major quake in our area is pretty scary. We found out that in the recent Northridge earthquake in LA a few years back, most of the deaths were as a result of fire, caused by flying electricity cables and ruptured gas mains. We were told about the dangers of flying crockery pots, pans, knives and forks in our kitchen, blocked doors, fire hazards, contaminated water, and the perils of broken glass. We were convinced, that it would be stupid not to have some sort of preparedness within our home in the event of the “big one” coming along.

Emergency Kit for Earthquakes

Accordingly, we purchased a three-day emergency kit which includes food bars, 18 water pouches, emergency blankets and ponchos with hoods, a deluxe medical kit, two sets of light sticks, a flashlight, whistle, waterproof matches AM/ FM radio with battery, a multipurpose tool for turning off the gas and electricity, and breaking down doors. A pair of work gloves, dust masks and hygiene and sanitation sets completed the package. We also purchased a dozen 24oz cans of drinking water with a 30 year life, and some water purification tablets.

We were also instructed to place next to our beds sweat suits, some old sneakers and a warm sweater in case an emergency did not allow us to get to our normal clothes. Finally we decided to purchase a fire extinguisher, which currently we don’t have in our house.

A few days after making this decision and purchasing the basic kit, there was a 5.1 earthquake in our area. Not particular frightening, but we were in a restaurant, and the chandeliers were swinging, the plants jumping up and down and some people got quite nervous.

Just a gentle reminder of the power of nature.  There can be no real argument about being prepared.


Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden:

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