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In the memory of my father

Friday, September 6th, 2013

It’s Sept. 6 again, a day that marked the passing of my father five years ago.

father's tombIt felt like yesterday. An urgent message from my sister Xiaoping, followed by a phone call home. The first sentence my mother said on the other side of the line was “Your dad is gone.”

I rushed to Changchun, China, less than two weeks from return for a visit there. Having been able to spend some time with my father shortly before his passing didn’t provide any comfort to ease the pain.

I was thankful, however, that my sisters in China arranged everything for the final farewell and the burial of his ashes.

I still remember the sharp pain, emotionally and physically, in my heart for more than six months, missing him desperately and talking with my sister, Xiaowen, in China several times a week.

My father had been fighting with lung cancer for over three years and he was 86 when he succumbed to it. But the expected end didn’t reduce the terrible pain of the loss—only a person who has gone through the experience of losing a parent can feel the weight of the blow.

For a long time, I clang to the pain so as to keep him alive in my heart. I thought of him numerous times a day and carried silent conversations with him, especially early in the morning when I was swimming. I envisioned his face in the blue sky or behind the floating clouds, and imagined hearing his voice, with a heavy Shandong accent, hearty and loud.

Since then, every year when I went to China to visit my mother and my sisters, we would pay a tribute to him at the cemetery, bringing flowers, fruits, his favorite liquor and cigarettes, and telling him what was going on in our lives.

With each passing year, the pain eased, and the tender and fond memories of him filled its place.

Today, as my brother and all my sisters went to his tomb to pay another tribute, I resort to words from afar, hoping above hopes that he would take comfort in knowing he is dearly missed and loved, wherever he is up there.

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 more information.

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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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September 6th

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Four years ago on September 6, I was on a plane rushing from Chicago to Beijing, via a transfer in Toronto, the only route I could get a seat within hours of learning the news that my father had passed away.  I was very shocked despite having seen him in Changchun, capital of Jilin Province where he lived less than two weeks before ago when I visited him and my mother and knew he was very weak.  The impact of losing him hit me so hard that I couldn’t stop the tears and couldn’t breathe without feeling the physical pain in my chest.

Four years later on the same day I was on a plane again, this time from Chicago to New York City. I was on my way to attend the premiere of Mulberry Child, the feature-length documentary based my book, at the Quad Cinema. It was a coincidence that the week-long screenings in NYC would start in early September. Personally I dedicated the occasion as a tribute to my father.

Four years have gone since his passing, but he is alive in my heart and his influence on me still goes on just as if he were still with me. I have and will always remember him as a man of integrity, a dedicated public servant, and a loving father. His passion toward life, his optimism facing all kinds of adversity, and his strength, both mentally and physically, will stay with me and inspire me forever. I cherish the memory when, as a child, I used his arm as a swing; and in his 80s, I still couldn’t beat him in arm wrestling. And I’m grateful to this day that his firm no against my joining the army before finishing high school changed the path of my life.

My father passed away on September 6, 2008 after battling with lung cancer for three years. He remained a fighter to the last day of his life. Upon learning the news of his diagnosis in 2005, he was silent for a week and then decided his way of living the last phase of his life: no operation, no chemo therapy, and no hospitalization. He wanted to control the quality of his remaining days without drugs, and he wanted to live with dignity, and with his mind as clear as he had always been. And he did, enduring a lot of pain without any complaint.

He expressed two last wishes during that time: live to see the Beijing Olympic Games and the Shanghai Expo. He was able to fulfill the first.

Many readers of Mulberry Child expressed admiration for him. I was touched and pleased. He would have liked hearing those comments. I took comfort in the fact that I was able to present a hardcover copy of my book to him in August 2008 when I visited him, and in September when I went back to attend his funeral, I saw my book on a prominent position on his desk. Longing to have the book accompanying him, I placed that copy under his pillow when he was wheeled away for cremation.

He would be pleased to know that the film Mulberry Child had been produced, well received at film festivals, with three awards under its name so far, and resonated with many viewers at theatres. I’m looking forward to the premiere in NYC, a place I had once lived for five years and my father had visited before.

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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Touching Moments

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Audience at Q & A with Jian and Lisa after watching Mulberry Child

All three screenings of Mulberry Child at the Gene Siskel Film Center were sold out.  I was amazed and touched that the audiences of different ages and backgrounds connected with our life stories!

At our 2nd screening, I was pleased to see a number of Chinese in the audience. I was most eager to hear what they had to say. The moment I stepped down from the podium after Q & A, a young Chinese woman in her 20s stood up from her front row seat and hugged me.

“Thank you for sharing your story,” she said in a low voice. I realized she was crying.

I put my arms around her as she laid her head over my left shoulder and sobbed. Two of her friends stood by, their eyes welled up with tears.

The young woman lifted her head and gave me an embarrassed smile, wiping away her tears.

“It’s OK,” I said, padding her on her back as she lowered her head over my shoulder again.

Lisa and Jian addressing audience's questions

“Just call your mother tonight and tell her you love her, too,” I said, trying to make it light.

A young Chinese couple, both graduate students from UIC, waited patiently as our conversation kept being interrupted by friends who came to give their congratulations and bid farewell. It turned out that they both came from Changchun, the city where I was born.

“We never learned much about the Cultural Revolution,” the wife said. “I feel I get to know my parents much more by watching your film.”

I was deeply moved by their reaction and comments.

More than two dozens of people lingered behind and talked until the staff at the Gene Siskel Film Center called out to close the theatre at 11 p.m.

The last screening was equally moving. Only one or two people left when we started the Q & A. I felt the connection from the audience and took turns with my daughter Lisa to address their questions on China, our relationship, and the impact of the film on us.

The next day, I found one posting from a Chinese woman named Li. I remembered talking to her the night before. She was Lisa’s age. She wrote: “Every Chinese should watch this film.”

Jian with graduate students from IIT

I received numerous moving comments from my friends via email during the week after the screenings. I was so touched that I selected a few each day to forward to my director Susan and executive producer Ellis, stating these are the “love letters of the day.”

Mulberry Child was so well received by the audience that the Gene Siskel Film Center invited us to come back for a weeklong screening from March 30 to April 5, with 11 shows. The Chicago Public Library also invited us to participate in the spring’s One Book, One Chicago program, stating Mulberry Child would be a “wonderful companion” to the selected book, so we formed a three-way partnership.

I’ve committed to do Q & A with Lisa at the last screening of each day during the screening period. I look forward to connect directly with as many viewers as possible.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into a feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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Visiting China–At Tsinghua University

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

In June, I had the luxury of taking a 3-week trip to China, covering a total of six cities, going from the north to south, east to west, and finally back to the north. Over the last 20 years, I had visited China about twice a year. But my short trips were limited mostly to Beijing, Qingdao and Changchun. I was excited about this trip and would love to share some of my experiences and photos.

I. At Tsinghua University (清华大学), Beijing

The old gate, a symbol of Tsinghua University

I arrived first at Beijing, having scheduled meetings with a couple of publishers in the city. Mr. Zhao, a friend’s friend helped me set up the meetings and arranged for me to stay at a hotel on the campus of Tsinghua University. It would be more convenient for the meetings, he told me.

I had worked in Beijing for four years in the early 1980s, but had never set foot on this first-rate university in China, which the Chinese referred to as the “MIT of China.” Mr. Zhao, also a writer, sent a young man to meet me at the airport. As our taxi entered the gate of the university, I was surprised by the enormous size of campus as the young man kept giving directions to cab driver—it felt like a city inside the walled campus! Wide streets with nice landscape, canals with artistic bridges, buildings, old and new, gardens,

A pond on campus cast in the morning light

and walking trails that disappeared under the trees. Not to mention streams of students walking or on their bicycles … I was amazed by the scenes revealing before me.  

Mr. Zhao and his wife graciously took me out for a northern cuisine dinner. I retired early for the night, trying to get over my jetlag. Despite the Melatonin pill I took, I woke up at 4 a.m. the following morning. As soon as the light became brighter outside, I put on my running gear and went out to explore the campus.

A monument on campus

For the three days I stayed there, I ran for an hour each morning, taking a different route each time. Still I was not able to cover all the ground on campus. The various parks, gardens, ponds covered with lotus, with people fishing by their sides, the outdoor track fields, rows of apartment buildings, cars, and bicycles. I got lost in the maze and had to find my way back to a major pond in order to return to my hotel.

I couldn’t help from admiring the young men and women walking on campus—they are the brightest children of China and will surely have a bright future.

 Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. The book has been developed into a feature-length documentary film by award-winning director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

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Asian Trip (6)

Monday, November 15th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Enjoy a hearty meal with Tao, Yan and Mom

We arrived at Changchun about 7 P.M. My sister Yan and her son Tao were waiting for us at the train station. Tao had bought a Volkswagen earlier in the year and had been providing generous transport services to our extended families in Changchun. This evening, he was the designated driver again.

A table of food was waiting for us when we opened the door to Mother’s apartment. I was so happy to see Mother as energetic and high spirited as I left her in May. She, however, frowned at me as she saw me limping.

“You should have waited to come back until your knee is healed,” she said.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” I said. “We have a family doctor.”

It turned out Mother was right. The infection on my knee got worse. Still, I didn’t take it seriously. Limping around, I went to the “Blind Men’s Massage Parlor” the next day and bought a 20-visit massage pass. A full body massage cost 40 Yuan, about US$6, and I couldn’t pass up the treat. In fact, when I fell badly off my bike in Chicago, I was on my way to a gym for a massage. I was in a hurry and fell at a high speed two blocks from my destination. Now, as always

Yan is getting ready for a massage

when in Changchun, I urged my sisters to go with me for massage. My sister Ping and her husband Zhicheng also came from Shenyang. We went to the parlor together and chatted away while enjoying the treat.  In a neighborhood massage place like the one we went to that was run by four blind men, each room had three or four beds and the masseurs worked on their fully-clothed clients, using a small towel over the areas they worked on. They were thorough and strong. Despite the simple setting and condition, the deep tissue massage was quite good!

On the 3rd day I was home, Wen became more concerned about my infected knee and took me to the hospital she worked at. I didn’t argue—I was in pain and would travel again soon. The doctor put me on an antibiotic IV injection right away. For the next six days, I received two IV injections every day. Wen played doctor and nurse at the same time.

“You know you are not young anymore,” Wen said, struggling to put the thin needle into a blood vessel on the back of my left hand. “I don’t think you should ride your bike anymore.”

A sweet moment with Wen, Yan and Mom

“I promise I’ll be more careful,” I said. I meant it. But I didn’t tell her that over the summer, I rode my bike on the trail along Lake Michigan in Chicago for nearly 20 miles four or five times a week. I loved it and would definitely continue to do so.

Because of my knee, I spent most of the time with Mother at home. I had a great time chatting, playing mahjong, or watching television with her and my sisters. Over the last two decades, I had visited them two or three times each year, but seldom stayed for more than 3 days each time. This time, I stayed for 10 days, a record.  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com.

Mulberry Child is being developed into a feature-length documentray film by award-winning director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

Asian Trip (5)

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

By Jian Ping

It was a relief to get back safely to Beijing. The first thing I did after checking into my hotel was to take a long, hot shower. For three days, I only sprinkled cold well water on my face for a wash. The running water felt incredibly good.

Beijing Train Station--Waiting Room

The next day, I met my sister Wen and my brother-in-law Mingfu at the train station. The old Beijing Train Station located in the center of town appeared to be from an earlier era, so different from the sparkling new South Beijing Station. Travel by train is still the main means of transportation in China and the station was packed. After elbowing my way through security checks, I was swept forward in a stream of humanity into the No. 2 Waiting Room. 30 feet into the large hall, I found myself grounded on a spot the middle of nowhere, with no space to move forward or backward. As I was wondering how on earth I could find Wen and Mingfu in this crowd, I saw Wen slowly make her way forward in the main “walkway,” searching left and right with each step. She must be looking for me! I raised my hand and waved frantically to her. Miraculously, she saw me and gave me her usual calm smile. It took her five minutes to cover the 10-feet between us.

“We came early and Mingfu is waiting in front,” Wen said, equally relieved to find me.

It was challenging enough for her to move through the crowd without any luggage. There was no way I could join them. She decided to meet in our train carriage.

Our train moving at a speed of 242 kilometers per hour!

“Watch out for your belongings,” Wen said. She always worried about my carrying the bag on my back. Pocket picking was common in public places.  

The rush to go through the ticketing gate was another drama. I used to warn my American colleagues that if there were three people in front of a ticket office in China, they’d elbow their way to the front instead of forming a line. With at least a thousand people, the scene was chaotic. I grabbed my carry-on and backpack and simply moved with the flow. By the time I found my carriage and eventually reached my seat, I was sweating as if I had just finished a five-mile run.

Wen took over my luggage and placed it on the overhead rack, a space that she had taken for me with her handbag. 

“Sorry,” she apologized as if it were her fault. “I know you would have flown to Changchun if it were not because of us.”

Wen and me on the train

That was true. After a six-hour bumpy ride on a bus the day before, I was not looking forward to another six-hour train ride.

“I’d rather be with you,” I said.

Wen gave me the window seat and took out all kinds of snacks for me to munch on. I leaned against her shoulder and gave her hug. I already felt close to home.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com.

Mulberry Child is being developed into a feature-length documentary film by director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

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Asian Trip (2)

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

By Jian Ping

Wen and I at dinner in Beijing

As I feared, the wound on my left knee got infected. The pain made me grimace with each step. Therefore, instead of running around to visit a few friends I wanted to see in Beijing, I had them come to me. Gu stopped by for an hour, with a large suitcase trailing behind his heels—he headed directly to the airport going out of town that evening. Youming came for a chat before I joined Edward and Johanna for dinner at BianYiFang Duck Restaurant next to my hotel. My niece Jia and her husband Zheng, along with my sister Wen and her husband Minfu, also came.

Wen had come from Changchun to meet and join me to go visit our grandmother’s grave in Shandong Province. None of my siblings had been to the home village where Nainai, our grandma, and Father grew up. When Nainai passed away in 1974, Father discreetly arranged to have her ashes taken back to the village by a distant relative and buried in Grandpa’s grave. Since ground burial of any kind was forbidden at the time, none of us immediate family members attended the burial. Finally, 36 years after her passing, Wen and I made our way to pay tribute to Nainai at her village. Wen had contacted a niece and made all the arrangements. Two of my cousins, Shiqing and Fenqin, a son and a daughter of Father’s older brother, also traveled from Liaoyuan, Jilin Province in the northeast of China to join us. We had arranged to meet at Dezhou, the nearest town to the village.  Now, Wen, a gynecologist by training, had to play personal doctor to me, tending the wound on my left knee.

Getting on the fast train from Beijing to Dezhou

“I know I’m in good hands,” I said as I watched Wen apply medicine on the fast train from Beijing to Dezhou.

She gave me a look that said “It’s time you grow up!” She had gone to the shopping center by my hotel the day before and bought a bottle of over the counter antibiotics, medical cotton tips and bandage.

“This area is very difficult to heal,” she said. “You should have visited a doctor right after the accident!” She scolded me as if I were still a child.

I grinned and sat back, indulging myself in Wen’s care.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.moraquest.com, www.mulberrychild.com

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Filming Mulberry Child in China (final)

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

By Jian Ping

The time we spent in Baicheng, the small town where I grew up, was the most difficult.

The week before our arrival, my sister Yan had made a special trip to Baicheng, checking out the sites we needed to film and selecting a hotel (after visiting most of the reputable hotels in town) for us. Minutes after we checked into the hotel, Susan and Quyen started coughing, and my eyes began tearing up—I had been coughing all along because of a cold. There was no non-smoking room in the hotel and the chemicals used in the construction (it was a newer hotel) lingered in the rooms and hallways. Susan, who had athma, took out her inhaler immediately.

Mushroom for Hot Pot

We started working early the next day. The moment we were outdoor, the sand and dust swirled up by the strong wind whipped at us. Quyen had to replace her contact lens with her regular glasses. Memories of fighting against the wind as a child flashed back—I used to use a thin scarf to wrap around my head to prevent sand from getting into my eyes. I looked around and saw one girl wearing a silk scarf in the same manner.  

“We have two winds here each year,” Yan said to Susan. “Each lasts for six months.”

Susan laughed despite herself.   

We filmed late into the night that day, and treated ourselves to a good hot pot dinner, with a variety of green vegetables, mushroom and two large plates of thinly sliced beef.

We filmed two more days in Baicheng and Changchun and received warm reception and help from many locals. A number of incidents worked out so well that we couldn’t have planned better! Both Susan and Quyen were touched by the openness and friendliness of the people we met and filmed.

“This trip has changed my view on China,” Susan said. “I was dumb to believe in the biased opinions about China before.”

I was very happy about the result of our trip!

Yan, Wen and me play mahjong with Mother

I stayed with my mother for one more day after the departure of the crew. My mother loved playing mahjong and usually, there were not enough people to set up the game. That evening, my sisters and I played with her. She was as quick and sharp as ever before. I made her laugh throughout the evening by making faces and desperate gestures—I lost nearly all my chips to her.

It was an evening of fun and joy with family that I knew I would relish for a long time.

To prevent Mother from feeling sad about my departure, I promised her that I would visit her again before the end of the year.

I will.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.moraquest.com, www.mulberrychild.com

Filming Mulberry China in China (4)

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

by Jian Ping

My mother at interview with Susan

I knew I was home the moment I stepped out of the luggage area at the Changchun Airport to the welcoming arms of my brother-in-law Ming Fu and my nephew Xiao Tao. If it was not due to limited seats in the two vehicles, my sisters would have come to the airport as well.  

Witnessing our association with my family members, Susan decided to postpone dinner and go with Lisa and me straight home to catch our family greetings on film. I tried to dissuade her—it would be 9:30 P.M. by the time we got to my mother’s apartment and everyone was hungry. Susan wouldn’t hear any of that. I admired Susan’s dedication to work and called home, informing them we’d stop by to say hi first.

To avoid distraction, Susan and her daughter Alex, the two blonds, stayed in the car while Quyen, a Vietnamese American born and raised in the U.S., accompanied Lisa and me to my mother’s apartment. A household of people–my mother, my sisters Yan, Ping and Wen, and my brother-in-law Zhicheng, were all waiting for us. An uproar of cheers erupted with the opening of the door. When I eventually stood in front of my mother, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Mother, 83 this year, had diabetes and was suffering from dangerously high blood pressure, 200/110 mmHG that day. I was worried about her. But she looked strong and radiant. We gazed at each other, hugged, and looked at each other again. Despite my effort at control, I couldn’t stop the surging tears when Mother pulled me tightly into her arms again.  

From left to right: Lisa, me, my mother, Yan and Ping, looking at family photo album

After an emotional greeting of 20 minutes or so, we rushed to a nearby restaurant and barely had enough time to put in our order before the kitchen closed for the day. My nephew and two brothers-in-law waited for us in the front while we had our dinner, then drove the group to their hotel and took me home–we left Lisa there to be the group’s interpretor. In the following two days, they made themselves available to drive us around for filming.

“I like Chinese men,” Susan said. “They bend over to serve women.”

I smiled. I wanted to say that everyone in my family was bending over to help us—to ensure we finish our mission of filming in China without any problem! I knew they had their concerns about the content of the film, but despite themselves, they gave me and the entire crew their utmost support. I felt overwhelmingly lucky and blessed.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.moraquest.com, www.mulberrychild.com