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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Appreciating life

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

photo 1Chicago’s lakefront trail is most dynamic on Saturday mornings from spring through the fall. If you are up early and get to the trail, you will feel the pulse of the city right there. I have seen and participated in various activities in one form or another many times, yet I find myself deeply moved each time I am back on the trail, and feel very fortunate to be part of it—living, embracing, and appreciating life to the fullest.

On a Saturday a few weeks ago when the weather was still very warm, I rode my bike north on the trail after my early morning swim. I encountered many people running along the trail, some in groups, and others solo. Perspiration dripped from their back and arms, giving their skin a healthy and radiant glow.  As I passed them, admiring their strength and spirit, I noticed a young father pushing a baby stroller ahead of him as he ran. Despite the extra weight, he was going at a good pace. I raised my thumb on the handlebar.

photo 3I was happy to see more people were using the blue Divvy bikes, the Chicago bike sharing system, on the trail. The front and back lights on the bikes flashed in white and red as if to render a friendly greeting.

The trail got more crowded as I moved north. Once I passed Grand Avenue, the mile-long swimming section along the raised concrete sidewalk came into view. There were quite a few people in the water swimming long distance, with the majority wearing wetsuits.  I slowed down, watching their arms alternating in and out of the water and admiring the power and speed of these strong swimmers, both men and women.

photo 5As I turned the curve and headed toward the Oak Street underpass, I saw many people playing sand volleyball. They all looked young, nicely tanned by the summer sun, and healthy. Right off the sandy beach, children and adults were enjoying themselves on the beach.

Everywhere I looked, I saw the joy of activities and movements. It was the beauty of life at its best.

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 is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was on national PBS in May 2014

Vitus, an entertaining and enlightening film

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

VitusVitus, a Swedish film by director Fredi M. Murel, is very sweet, entertaining, yet enlightening film. The film was released in 2006 and shown at the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) the same year and won the Audience Choice Award. Vitus, a young piano prodigy, and genius in many other areas, wants to be “normal” and control his own growing up path, vs. being dictated by his well-meaning parents. There is no villain in the film, and no tragic ending, despite the accidental death of Vitus’ grandfather.

The film was shown at the Chicago’s Cultural Center last night to a packed audience, followed by a nice discussion led by Ron Falzone, professor of film at Columbia College. It was part of CIFF’s Annual International Screenings Program.

I like the film because of the multiple levels of relationship presented—Vitus with his parents, and the real connection he has with his grandfather, his disconnect with his peers as a talent child, and his clever way of out-smart his controlling mother. Unlike many films that present “dis-functioning” families, Vitus’ parents love each other and love him, he loves them. His faked fall from their apartment building not only manipulated his way out of his mother’s tight grip, but also the perception of the audience. It was not because he didn’t want to practice piano, but practice the way he sees fit.

Vitus (film)

Vitus (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the end, Vitus lets go of his cover and performs brilliantly with a first rate symphony orchestra, to the fullest satisfaction any parents could have. That, along with the surreal happenings in which that he helps his grandfather realizing his pilot dream and helps his father restores his dignity and company position. But what lingers in my mind most is the relationship between his nurturing grandfather and him. Very sweet and touching. Highly recommend it.

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.

Fear

Thursday, August 14th, 2014
The following is the author's description of t...

The following is the author’s description of the photograph quoted directly from the photograph’s Flickr page. “Blue Chicago ” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After one day of a perfect calm surface for swimming, choppy waves flared up at my favorite beach in Lake Michigan again this morning. I measured the length and strength of the waves with my eyes when I arrived at the beach and decided to give it a try. After all, I was already there.

It was not the first time I toyed with the waves. Last week, three out of the seven days I encountered choppy water, though didn’t feel threatened (I did go to a more sheltered beach to swim one day.) I knew and fully respect the formidable power of the Lake and swam closer to shore. I was prepared to reach land with one strong kick if I got chocked with a strong tide. While I concentrated on my strokes and speed during calm days, I focused on the ups and downs of the waves in times like this. Occasionally I’d swallowed a mouthful of murky water. However, if I stayed calm—not let the fear of being crushed by a sudden wave overwhelm me, I could maneuver my way quite well.

“You are an hero,” an older man said, raising his thumb at me when he walked by the shower facility on shore where I was rinsing.

I laughed, telling him I’m an idiot flirting with the power of nature. I certainly had no intention to be an hero.

I knew the rest of the day I’d feel the motion of ups and downs as if I were still in the water. But I had no regret.

The season of swimming in the Lake is so short in Chicago, and the water has finally turned warm and comfortable. The joy of being in this body of live water and the energy I feel it gives to me make it worthwhile to keep at it every day.

Of course, there is always a sense of fear lurking in the back of my mind. Today, for some reason, that feeling was gnawing at me all the time.

The Portage Lake Michigan shore looking across...

The Portage Lake Michigan shore looking across the lake to the Chicago skyline. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I chickened out by turning back half way across the beach area. With a buffer from an infrastructure on one end, the waves at the north half of the beach appeared less choppy. I did four half rounds, conscious of the power of water trashing me up and down. I changed to breaststroke from time to time to get a better bearing of my location. As if to make matters worse, I noticed a couple of seagulls looming above, sometimes hanging dangerously low over me as if ready to attach me as their prey. Through my blurred goggles I could see their opened beaks. I turned to freestyle and made huge arm swings in an effort to keep them off.

Eventually the fear of waves and the birds made me retreat to a small, sheltered enclave. The water was much calmer here, but I had to make back and forth turns frequently as if in the confines of a pool.

I managed to do a total of 45 minutes. As I was riding my bike home on the sidewalk by Columbus Ave., I encounter a family of bikers coming my way. I moved to the right side and slowed down. A little girl, probably about 5 or 6, was riding beautifully in a straight line before she saw me. She panicked and zigzagged toward me when she found me moving toward her direction. I had to brake hard and jump off my bike to avoid her. I waved to calm her as she waggled by. I knew it was the same sense of fear that made her lose balance.

I had swum in more choppy waves in the Lake before. I was careful but not so fearful. Today I returned feeling somewhat defeated because I allowed that fear to dictate me.

How many times we don’t accomplish things we are capable of doing because we allow the external threat to compound with our inner fear? Confidence is certainly a major factor in success, whatever the undertaking.

Hope I’ll do better tomorrow, with or without the choppy waves.

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.

 

 

 

Bicycle culture

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

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

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
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.

 

Inspiring cultural programs in Chicago

Monday, June 9th, 2014

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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A mysterious and great photographer: Vivian Maier

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014
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 www.mulberrychildmovie.com 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 www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

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New Year, New Start

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

photo 2 The snow that comes with the arrival of the New Year in Chicago added “color” and excitement for the new start.

There is a saying in Chinese, “瑞雪兆丰年,”meaning propitious snow will bring an abundant year in harvest. Hope it also means a year of good health, happiness and efficiency.

I have sensed a level of excitement in anticipation of the immediate projects I need to work on with the start of the new year: teaching another course on China, making a 15-min documentary for the 10th anniversary of an institution in Chicago, and taking upon more consulting business related to China. Of course, with Lisa moving to work in Frankfurt, Germany in March, I have begun thinking of plans to visit her a couple of times during the year, and while there, taking the opportunity to tour more Eastern and Northern European countries as well.

photo 1On New Year’s Day, thanks to technology, I had a video conference with my mother and sisters in two cities in China, my brother in Rochester, New York, and me, here in Chicago. It is wonderful to see my 85-year-old mother on the screen and hear the voices of my siblings, as if they were sitting beside me. I feel very grateful that two of my older sisters live close to my mother and spend a lot of time with her, including playing mahjong, her favorite game, with her every week. My mother’s smiles and talk brought numberswiki.com

so much comfort and warmth to me. My brother and I immediately talked about scheduling a time when we can visit her at the same time so our entire family can have a “complete” gathering, “团圆”in Chinese. I look forward to that. With a bit of luck, I may be able to stay a little longer this year.

I read a column by Mary Schmich marveling at the existence of live on the Chicago Tribune, speaking aloud to herself “I’ve alive,” and expressing gratitude about it. I feel the same—so lucky to be alive, be connected with my loved ones, and do things I value and enjoy.

Another year has already on its way, and I bet that it will pass quickly, more so than we would like to see. A few things that I would love to do more in the new year include playing more table tennis, my favorite sports; swimming more in Lake Michigan during the summer, doing more reading and writing, and spending more time with family and friends.

A friend of mine recently told me an effective way to manage time is to block out hours for designated tasks. I will try to do that and be more efficient and disciplined.  Certainly want to live a more balanced and full life. I shall have to see what the new year brings and whether my resolve holds!

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. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

 

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A touching naturalization ceremony in Chicago

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013
Mayor Emanuel speaks at the naturalization ceremony/photo courtesy of Rudy Urian

Mayor Emanuel speaks at the naturalization ceremony/photo courtesy of Rudy Urian

The large winter garden room on the 9th floor of the Harold Washington Library is flooded with sunshine and packed with people from 26 different countries. The weather may be cold outside, but in here, the room is full of warmth and anticipation.

It is the naturalization ceremony for 73 new citizens, accompanied by their family members and friends.

The ceremony started solemnly, with Paul Phillips, Supervisory Immigration Services Officer at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services serving as master of ceremonies. Rey Colon, Alderman for the 35th Ward in the city and Brian Bannon, Chicago Public Library Commissioner, delivered welcome remarks. Students from the George Westinghouse College Prep Color Guard did a wonderful job in conducting the Presentation of Colors and National Anthem.

Taking Oath of Allegiance/photo courtesy of City of Chicago/Brooke Collins

Taking Oath of Allegiance/photo courtesy of City of Chicago/Brooke Collins

Then we all joined the audience to take the Oath of Allegiance and the Pledge of Allegiance.

I was deeply touched. Fifteen years ago, I was among those sitting in the audience and being sworn in as a U.S. citizen. When it was my turn to deliver the “congratulatory remarks,” I shared my feelings and thoughts.

I congratulated them from the bottom of my heart, knowing well the long process each of them had to go through in order to arrive at this stage.

I shared with them the journey I had taken, coming to the U.S. as an international student in the mid ’80s and speaking “Chinglish” that was difficult for everyone to understand. But the U.S. is a country largely built by immigrants and it embraces diversity. I was very lucky to receive a lot of support and help from many American friends, mentors, and even strangers.

Indeed, all of us are truly lucky to be in this land of freedom and opportunities. Here, in this open and welcoming society, we can overcome many hurdles and flourish. We should all take advantage of the opportunities to set up our goals and work hard to achieve them. We should all join our fellow Americans and make our contribution to this country. Of course, we should all join force in helping other immigrants in their effort of obtaining their rights and becoming American citizens as well.

New citizens!

New citizens!

Mayor Emanuel delivered a very personal and moving speech. He talked about how his grandfather came to this country at a young age and welcomed everyone.

“Whether you are from China or Chili, Poland or Pakistan, … you can call Chicago home,” said Mayor Emanuel. He said Chicago is the most American of American cities and generations of immigrants have come here to give themselves and their children a chance that they could not have had anywhere else.

I walked away feeling elated and inspired. Judging from the buzz among the crowd, I knew I was not the only one feeling this way.

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. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

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Attending the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Event

Friday, November 22nd, 2013
A photo of all the authors featured at the event

A photo of all the authors featured at the event

It’s hard to believe the glamorous event took place almost a month ago. It felt like yesterday.

More than 750 people gathered together to honor the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards recipients: Isabel Allende (fiction), Michael Lewis (non-fiction) and Christine Sneed (21st Century Award). Over 70 authors in the greater Chicago areas or have written about Chicago were also featured at the award dinner event. I have always loved Allende’s writing, and her memoir about her daughter Paula especially touched me. I felt so honored to stand on the same stage with these literary giants.

photo 2The event is also the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s largest annual fund-raising dinner. Each author hosted a table of ten, and a total of 1.5 million was raised for the evening. Quite impressive.

It was a very exciting evening for me, meeting other fellow authors and talking with the M.C. of the event, Bill Curtis, who has been a supporter of Mulberry Child movie.

Chicago Mayor speaking at the event

Chicago Mayor speaking at the event

The guests on my table happened to a group young professionals—most of them lawyers. They are open and curious and eager to learn more about China and my experience growing up there. I very much enjoyed the evening and the sharing of our life stories growing up in different parts of the world.

I had the opportunity to exchange a few words with each of the award-winning authors and had them sign copies of their books respectively. I walked away feeling very much inspired.

Link to the photos of the evening event:

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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