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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Promoting Chicago as a film hub

Monday, October 21st, 2013
Panel on Producing: The Chicago Way

Panel on Producing: The Chicago Way

The daylong Chicago Film + Media Summit opened with long lines at registration tables yesterday at the Chicago Cultural Center. Quite a sight to see all the people interested in filmmaking, distribution, writing, and etc. gather here, along with dozens of exhibitors on the second floor.

The Dept. of Cultural Affairs and Special Events presented the event, along with a number of organizations that helped put the event together.

“I am very pleased to welcome you to the first Chicago Film and Media Summit,” a greeting from Mayor Emanuel states. “Our goal today is to foster the ever-evolving film community right here in Chicago by providing new opportunities and connecting filmmakers with experts in the field.”

I was surprised by the number of people attending it, from 10 in the morning till 6 in the evening. A variety of panels on topics such as producing, distribution, and fundraising were offered.

Panel on Decoding Distribution

Panel on Decoding Distribution

I attended two and a half before rushing off to CIFF to catch a film.

The Producers Series held at the Claudia Cassidy Theater were fully packed, at least for the two I was present. Speakers and moderators include Laurel Ward (Ice Harvest), Bob Teitel (Barbershop), Albert Berger (Nebraska, Little Miss Sunshine), Zak Piper (The Interrupters), Steven Jones (The Harvest). By the questions people raised in the audience one could easily get a sense that many people are engaged or interested in producing films in Chicago.

I found the panels quite informative on a number of fronts, including fundraising and distribution.

The State of Illinois provides good tax credit for filmmakers to shoot and produce films in the state, and Chicago is a site frequently used in many films. It makes sense for the city to promote it more systematically and help build the network that eventually help keep the investment money in film from Chicago spent in Chicago.

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 for more information.

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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 for more information.


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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 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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“Wealth and Power”—talking with Orville Schell

Monday, July 29th, 2013
Orville Schell at Kellogg

Orville Schell at Kellogg

I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director at the Center on U.S.-China Relations of Asia Society, during his recent trip to Chicago. He was in town to talk about his new book Wealth and Power ()—China’s long march to the twenty-first century, co-written with John Delury.

After his talk to a group of Kellogg’s alumni at Northwestern University, he signed a copy of his book for me and chatted with me about his view on China’s extraordinary rise from the “sick men of Asia” not that long ago.

“Westerners often misinterpret what China wants,” he said. “China doesn’t want Western democracy, but to be strong.”

Orville looked to China’s history to illustrate his point that since the Opium War, China was weak for centuries. It was humiliated and beaten (“落后” “挨打”), and has therefore associated power with wealth.

DSC01343Over the last 30 years, China has developed rapidly and accumulated extraordinary amount of wealth and a wealthy class of people. He addressed in his book how China has emerged from the weak to the strong, and moving forward, why China needs to go global and “integrates itself to the rest of the world.”

He addressed the problems China is facing, including corruption, environmental degradation, disparity between the rich and the poor, health care and welfare, but hailed China’s unprecedented development.

One thing he particularly pointed out, however, was the “victim mentality.”

“It’s a very deep and very powerful force,” he said. He cautioned that China should be careful not to overuse it. Nationalism over conflicts with other nations can make China sacrifice recent development, he said.

I look forward to reading Wealth and Power, which examines the lives of eleven important people who made great contributions in creating the China today.

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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Hurun Report (《胡润百富》)

Saturday, July 13th, 2013
Rupert Hoogewerf, Hurun in Chinese, at interview with author

Rupert Hoogewerf, Hurun in Chinese, at interview with Jian 

I’ve heard about the Hurun Report and the China Rich List before, but never read the magazine or the list. Rupert Hoogewerf, Hurun in Chinese, founder and Chairman of the Hurun Report, visited Chicago last week. I had the honor of listening to his talk and conducting a one-on-one interview with him.

The fast accumulation of wealth by leading Chinese entrepreneurs has become an astonishing phenomenon. Hurun started the report in 1999, tracking the top 1,000 wealthiest Chinese, with top ones worthy of more than US$10 billions.

According to Hurun, there are 263 billionaires (US$) in China on record. He estimated that the real number is about 750, because many Chinese don’t want to showcase their wealth.

“With every billionaire known publicly, there are two hidden,” said Hurun.

He pointed out that all these billionaires now have one thing in common: “They are all going global,” he said.

These top net worth individuals accumulated their wealth largely from manufacturing, real estate, investment, natural resources, retail, entertainment, etc., according to Hurun.

Hurun said the image of these super rich had gone through a dramatic change in China, from totally negative, related to corruption, to a recognition of their ability.

“You can get lucky only so many times,” Hurun said. “You get to have the ability to develop and manage your business.”

These super rich are going global now via acquisitions and investment.

“It’s a personal insurance policy and a vehicle to provide better education for their children abroad,” said Hurun.

Rupert Hoogewerf talking to Kellogg's alumni at the Northwestern University

Rupert Hoogewerf talking to Kellogg’s alumni at the Northwestern University

Hurun will release its China Rich List in August. For 2012, the top capped at over US$12 billion, and cut off at 1,000 is US$288 million. Hurun said a survey indicated that 14% of the top wealthy individuals are in the process of applying for immigration, and 46% are seriously considering immigration. But the common practice is they get their children and/or spouses immigrant status, while they remain in China.

He said 80% of them intend to send their children abroad to study.

China’s newly rich are having a major impact on the consumption of luxury goods in the world. It has passed Russia (No. 2) and Japan (No. 3) to become the No. 1 luxury good consumption country.

Hurun is here in the U.S. visiting business leaders and municipal officials in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, developing relationship with them so as to provide better services to the Chinese entrepreneurs on his list.

“Hurun Report is acknowledged authority on China’s top entrepreneurs and high net worth individuals,” said Elizabeth Harrington, who has taken the role of Hurun’s U.S. publisher at large. “We’d like to work with Hurun to attract these Chinese to Chicago.”

“Hurun is not a traditional publisher,” said Bill Liu, who works with Harrington on Hurun’s business relations in the U.S. “They have developed personal relationship with their clients. We want to conduct research on these Chinese as they come here.”

Chicago has taken many initiatives to attract Chinese business and investors, vowing to make it the “most China-friendly city in the U.S.”

Several Chinese companies have set up operations in the greater Chicago area, including Goldwind, Wanxiang, and Huawei Technologies.

Hurun, or rather Hoogewerf, met with Mayor Emanuel and Former Mayor Daley during his stay in Chicago.

China has begun to change the flow of investment from not just coming in but also going out. Many countries and cities want to attract part of that wealth to boost their economy. It’s a phenomenon unimaginable one or two decades ago.

Of course, not all the pictures are rosy. China is facing increasing challenges in many areas, including severe environmental degradation, corruption, the huge gap between the rich and the poor, food safety, health care, and welfare, to name a few.

Despite the challenges, China has emerged from what Orville Schell called “a basket” to a world economic power, and along the way, has produced an incredible number of “self-made” billionaires within an astonishing short period of time.

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 for more information.

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Mahal, an immigrant story in Chicago

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013


photo-53A team of seven actors took turns bringing the story of a Pilipino American family in Chicago alive on stage. The family’s loss, the conflicts between two cultures and generations, the price of assimilation, and the process of reclaiming their identities, all presented in a well-performed, dramatized story.

The play not only examines “what it truly means to be an American family”, but also the universal theme of immigrants adapting to the new country and their descents’ gripping with their roots and identities.

As a first generation immigrant from Asia, I fully understand the father’s expectations and the older brother’s request for respect from the young, America-raised brother, and the quest of the sister, who is immersed in both her country of origin and the new world, to keep the family together by juggling between the two. The play, written by Danny Bernardo, has good dialogues, and the plot, a bit overdramatized, grips the attention of the audience all the way to the end, and the performance, some parts spoken in Tagalog, was genuine and touching.

It’s a serious story presented in a comic and humorous manner. Strongly recommended it.

The show is run from June 28 through August 3 at Stage 773,1225 W Belmont Ave., Chicago. Check it out here.

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. Visit for more information.

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Happy Independence Day

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

English: Chicago Lake front bike trail

A glorious sunrise started this July 4th with the beauty of serenity. I looked at the golden beam in the sky above Lake Michigan and watched the American flag by the Field Museum—my indicator of the day’s weather by its waving in the air. It stood almost still early this morning, with a poise that was touching and peaceful.

I took it as a beckoning to get to the lakefront trail and celebrate this special day starting with a bike ride. There were people cycling, jogging and walking on the trail, and right behind the Field Museum, a variety of flowers in purple, yellow, pink, and red filled the air with a sweet fragrance and a vibration of life. I slowed down, taking in the smell and color.

“Happy July 4th,” a smartly dressed cyclist shouted as he passed on my left. It sounded so melodious to my ears than the usual “on your left” warning usually heard on the trail.

“Thank you,” I murmured after him, knowing he wouldn’t be able to hear me.

“Thank you,” I said again, this time louder into the air.

English: Chicago Lakefront Trail near Gold Coast

I remember the new meaning of the American flag to me right after 9/11. I was in Boston on a business trip when the attacks happened. With all the airports shut down, I rented a car and drove back to Chicago from Boston. What touched me most was the waving of American flags in front of so many residential and commercial buildings. That sense of defiance and patriotism were so deep and genuine that it put tears into my tears and made me feel proud to be part of this great country.

Today, as I speeded along the lakefront trail, enjoying the cool air, the ripples of waves on the lake, and peaceful surrounding, I felt ever more appreciative of the life this country had provided for us all.

Thank you, America, and happy July 4th, happy independence day!


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

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Trip to China

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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