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Asian Trip—Hong Kong

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

by Jian Ping

Inside the Aviary in Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s weather was calm and sunny when we got there. We felt very blessed. I had been coughing since the moment we landed in Vietnam and the pollution in Hanoi and Ho Chi Ming City only made it worse. I decided to take it easy in Hong Kong.

A friend took me to the Aviary in the center of the city. I had been to Hong Kong many times before but never knew the existence of this large “cage” in the middle of town that raised a variety of birds. I snapped many photos, wishing I had my long camera lens with me.

The following day, three of us paid a tribute to the “Big Buddha”, taking the long cable ride, 5.7 km or 26 minutes in mid air, to the Tian Tan Buddha Statue at Ngong Ping. Despite the haze, we had a good view of the Lantau North Country Park and the Hong Kong International Airport. The Buddha statue was completed in 1993 and had since become a visiting center for believers and tourists.

Looking down at the winding trail on the mountain ranges leading all the way to the Buddha, I told my friends we should hike next time.

“We can watch you hike from above,” one of them responded, laughing.

The "Big Buddha"

From a distance, the statue of the Big Buddha appeared magnificent and mysterious. When we got close, I was awe-struck. High up on an alter, the bronze Buddha sits on top of a lotus throne, with her right hand raised, a symbolic gesture for the removal of affliction. Her face was calm yet benevolent. Many people crowded the 268 steps to reach her on the hill top. A middle-aged woman not far from us kneeled down and covered each step on her knees.

We were not Buddhists, but standing in front of the Big Buddha, we bowed our heads, put our hands together in front of our chests and prayed for her blessing. It was a serene and peaceful moment.

The next day, I boarded United Airline Flight 896 to return to Chicago. The 14-hour flight was long enough. To make matters worse, our plane sat on the Tarmac for more than an hour after the scheduled take-off time and had to take a detour to San Francisco to refuel, “due to strong wind,” the captain announced. The stop resulted in an unexpected change of crew and we ended up waiting on the plane for more than two hours, once again sitting on the Tarmac. By the time we landed in Chicago, we were 5 hours behind schedule. It was the longest flight I had ever taken—a blemish to my otherwise wonderful Asian trip!

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit,

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Asian Trip—Ho Chi Minh City

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

By Jian Ping

A guide demonstrating a hidden entrance to the tunnel

When we arrived at Ho Chi Minh City, Typhoon Megi, the strongest in Asia for the year, was forecasted to hit Vietnam. We were very concerned and kept checking weather forecast. Luckily, Megi changed its route and skipped Vietnam and Hong Kong, our next destination.

We made usual tourist stops at the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, and Ben Thanh Market. Then, we visited the War Remnants Museum, formerly known as the Exhibition of American War Crimes. Despite the bias of the exhibition that demonstrated only the cruelties committed by the Americans and my awareness of how the war was fought, the devastation of the Vietnam War was still nerve wrecking. The impact on me was much stronger than I expected, perhaps partially due to the fact that I was standing on the ground where the war took place.

A trap with bamboo spikes

In addition to photographs of the burning of villages and killing of people, there on display were gruesome samples of “tiger cage” and deformed fetuses, resulted from the use of Agent Orange. There was no much shown about how the Vietnamese fought the war. However, when we visited the Cu Chi Tunnel the following day, we saw the weapons that the Viet Cong used, including metal and bamboo spikes in hidden traps that were designed to pierce through people feet, rib cages, shoulders, and head. The Cu Chi Tunnel, which extended to 250 kilometers in distance, was first dug during French occupation in the ‘40s and expanded during the Vietnam War in the ‘60s. Listening to the horrific battles fought around the area by both sides, I couldn’t even raise my camera to capture the images of these weapons. I couldn’t imagine the fear and pain of all the people involved in the war, including the civilians! Yet, standing right then and there, I wondered if we could ever truly learn from history given that fact that war is still being carried on in other part(s) of the world by the U.S.  I followed a guide and crawled through a section of the tunnel, bending more than 90 degrees. I felt suffocated, both emotionally and physically.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit

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Asian Trip—Hanoi (2)

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

By Jian Ping

"Honai Hilton"

 Hoa Lo Prison, or sarcastically known as “Hanoi Hilton,” was built by French colonists in the late 19th century and was used to keep Vietnamese fighting against the colonial rule until the mid 20th century. During the Vietnam War, it was used to keep American prisoners. We made a stop there during our guided tour. Our guide took us to different rooms of exhibition, but remained quiet most of the time. I didn’t know if it was because she knew we all came from America or the images before our eyes were self explanatory.

For me, standing on the ground where many prisoners of war were kept and tortured, I felt impact of shock and awareness of the cruelty of war more than I had ever had before. The prison cells were narrow, the walls were dark and tall, and doors, heavy metal bars. A tiny opening close to the ceiling let in a beam of natural light. Some room displayed clay figures of prisoners on wooden boards, with one or both of their ankles locked in long metal bars. I felt suffocating as images of men and women, in some cases, even

Guillotine at "Honai Hilton"

children, came into view room after room. Then, walking into a larger room, we came face to face with a guillotine, intact in its original shape when the French used it to execute Vietnamese prisoners. I took a picture of the guillotine and felt the chill down my spine.

Apparently, many American veterans who had fought in the Vietnam War visited the prison, among them John McCain who was a prisoner at this location. I wonder what impact the visit would have on them!  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit,

Mulberry Child is being developed into a feature-length documentary film by award-winning director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2010.

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Asian Trip—Hanoi, Vietnam

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

 By Jian Ping

A courtyard in the Temple of Literature where Confucius' teachings were taught

After being delayed for more than an hour, I arrived at Hanoi shortly before midnight. I had never been so happy to learn about the delay of another flight—the flight from Beijing to Hanoi. Five friends from Chicago were on this flight and I was supposed to meet them at the Hanoi Airport! I smiled with relief when I saw them walking to the luggage claim area shortly after my arrival.  

I looked out of the van that took us to Sheraton Hotel in the city, but could hardly see anything in the darkness. “Don’t expect much,” one friend said. “Hanoi is more like a big village.”

Skills of a motorcyclist

The next day, when we toured the city, I realized my friend’s remark was correct. Unlike the economic boom and high-rises one witnessed all over China, low buildings and streams of motorcycles filled the streets. I was amazed to see families of four fit onto one motorcycle, with one child in front of the driver, and another behind, squeezed between the driver and the adult on the back seat, or young women riding a big bike with high heels.  

We hired a tour guide for the day and visited a few major attractions: the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Presidential Palace, the Temple of Literature, and the Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the “Hanoi Hilton.” Our guide, a girl in her late 20s, gave us an introduction

Cyclo Tour

of each place. “Uncle Ho was like a father to us,” she said, pointing to Ho’s portrait at Ho’s Mausoleum. “He was so busy working for the people and the country that he never got married. We are all his children.” I watched her, somewhat incredulously. I felt I was listening to someone reciting an official line…

To her credit, we did go to the old quarters and took “Cyclo” ride. We fought our way through hundreds of motorcycles and small vendors walking with baskets of fruits on a bamboo pole on their shoulders or on the back seat of their bicycles. Small shops on each street appeared to be organized to sell similar items, from construction materials, furniture, to house plants. “It’s like Home Depot laid in the open,” a friend commented as our cyclos passed these streets. The pollution in the city was so bad that most of the many wore facemasks. Regardless, the old quarters revealed a dynamic and interesting sight of life here.   

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.,

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Asian Trip (1)

Monday, November 1st, 2010

By Jian Ping

Beijing Airport

I went to mainland China, Vietnam and Hong Kong for nearly a month in October. Running most of the time from city to city, I neglected to post any blog! Finally back in Chicago and almost over my jet lag and a cold, I’m at my computer again, and glad to be!

This trip to Asia was quite eventful and emotional. I left on Sunday, October 3, from Chicago to Beijing, with injuries on my left knee and elbow from a bad bicycle accident, four days before my departure. Despite a close friend’s advice to see a doctor, I didn’t, believing that the scratch of a couple patches of skin should heal pretty soon. Unable to do regular workout, I even ventured to the elliptical machine in the fitness room of our condo, feeling reassured that I could still move around.

On the 13-hour flight to Beijing, I felt the intensified burning and pain of my left knee and watched with concern as the skin around the palm-sized wound turned red. As luck might have it, none of the lighting, audio or video system worked at my so called “Economy Plus” seat on United 851, leaving me with nothing for distraction. I sat in semi darkness, and from time to time, chatted with a Chinese woman by the window. She took pity on me and lifted the window shutter to let some natural lighting in. I twisted and turned in my seat and used the light the best way I could to read Mother on Fire by Sandra Tsing Loh. Loh was humorous, even hilarious at times. But under the circumstance, I found smiles hard to come by.

A flight attendant eventually came and gave me a voucher to file for “compensation.” I gave a hopeless sign. I’d prefer the equipments working. I was very much relieved when the plane finally touched down on the runway in Beijing.  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.,

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Memoirs, Documentaries, Docudramas and Feature Films.

Thursday, January 15th, 2009
Scene of Viet Cong in Saigon, Republic of Vietnam
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been attending the Palm Springs International Film Festival all this week.  This is now the largest Film Festival in the United States. This year, they are showing 208 films from 74 countries, attended by over 125,000 people.

Now in its 20th year, the Palm Springs International Film Festival has proven itself to be the source of many an Oscar-winning Best Foreign Film, discovery of new talent – both acting and directing – and of course an insight to numerous cultures through the medium of film.

The Festival always includes some high-quality documentaries. These days, we see on the screen not only documentaries, but dramatization into feature films of what previously may have only qualified for a documentary.  This year’s possible Oscar nominee – FROST/NIXON – is an example.

Yesterday, I saw a wonderful documentary – AN UNLIKELY WEAPON ( – beautifully directed by Susan Morgan Cooper about the professional career of the American photo journalist, Eddie Adams.  It was his 1968 photograph of a Viet Cong prisoner being shot in the head that profoundly influenced public opinion and changed the course of the Vietnam War.

Adams won a Pulitzer Prize for the photograph, but he expressed regret about this image throughout his life.  He felt it was unfair to the shooter in the photograph, Saigon Police Chief, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, who was demonized for this event, even after immigrating to the United States.  It transpired that the victim had shot and killed the General’s assistant and his family a few minutes before having his own life terminated.

It is often said that a “picture is worth more than 1000 words.”  In this case, a picture was able to rouse the American public into finally demanding an end to the Vietnam hostilities.  Later, Eddie Adams photographed the over-crowded boats of Vietnamese refugees as they were turned away by other southeastern Asian countries.  His images eventually resulted in the United States granting amnesty and immigration status to 250,000 Vietnamese.

During Eddie Adams long career, he covered thirteen wars and then moved into celebrity photography, producing beautiful lasting images of six American Presidents and most of the major celebrities over the past fifty years.

Hopefully, this wonderful documentary will receive the wide distribution it deserves. It could have followed other examples and been made into a docudrama or feature film, but would have undoubtedly lost the impact, understanding, and reality of Eddie Adam’s personality.  He was a perfectionist who was never really happy with his work and suffered by his own admission from wide mood swings.

As a photo journalist in the Vietnam War, he was in the thick of the fighting, on helicopters, rescuing the wounded, and crawling through the undergrowth, all part of his striving for the perfect image.

As a former Marine, he was tough and gruff, but devoted to his profession and his photo journalist peers.  Perhaps, his mood swings might today be described as post-traumatic stress syndrome from his experiences in Vietnam, which he was unable to shake off for the rest of this life.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden:

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