It’s been more than five years since my last visit to Shanghai. I could hardly recognize the city. There are a few places such as the Shanghai Museum and the Shanghai Arts Museum, both located at the People’s Square, that I wanted to see. So I started from there. Read more
Role Model (June)
On Saturday, I allowed myself to be indulged in a birthday celebration that marked the start of another decade. My daughter Lisa and husband Francis arranged the activities for the day: a brunch in Gold Coast, a leisure afternoon at my will, a delicious dinner at cibomatto in the newly opened Wit Hotel, and an evening show at the Goodman Theatre, the Sins of Sor Juana, a bit heavy, but a joy to watch because of the wonderful story and great performance. Read more
Will Power (June)
I was in Los Angeles for two days in the middle of this week, meeting with my film director Susan and her team over casting and setting and interviewing PR firms with my executive producer. My body continued to operate on Chicago time, which meant I was awake at 3 A.M. local time, 5 A.M. central time when I usually get up and do my routine workout of swimming or a bike ride along the lakefront trail. When the weather is not cooperating, I’d settle in the fitness room on the elliptical machine or treadmill. Read More
Talking at Women's Group in Barrington (June)
Yesterday was the 2nd time in three weeks I went to Barrington, a northwestern suburb of Chicago. The first time was to give a talk at a Rotary Club on May 13. The Metra train ran late that day, so my husband had to give me a ride in the pouring rain early in the morning so I could make it to the 7 A.M. breakfast meeting. Yesterday, my appearance was at a women’s book group. I was much luckier—Sharon, my friend Joyce’s cousin, came all the way from Michigan to attend the talk and stopped by in downtown Chicago to pick me up! And the event started at 12:30 P.M. Read more
Organic Kingdom (May)
Last weekend, my husband Francis and I went to King’s Hill Farm at Mineral Point, Wisconsin, the organic farm we had visited several times over the last three years. We were very pleased to see that Jai and Joel Kellum, who have been managing the farm, have transformed the place into an organic kingdom! More
Joyce and Laurie, who I had been in communication with, greeted me upon my arrival and took me to the room where all the faculty members who would be seated on stage were waiting for their line-up. I had the opportunity to meet President Garanzini, Dean Fennell, and others. Although I had obtained two graduate and one undergraduate degrees, I had never attended any commencement ceremony dressed in academic apparels. I was quite excited. More
Mayor Daley's Open House (May)
I went Mayor Delay’s open house at City Hall this morning. Reportedly 3,000 people received invitations to attend the morning session from 9 a.m. to noon. I must say I felt honored to receive an inviation for working with the Mayor’s Office one way or another over the years. In the afternoon, from 1 to 4, the open house is open to the public. As was the custom after each of his six inaugurations, Mayor Daley is ending his administration by hosting an open house to thank his supporters. More
Talking at Central DuPage Rotary Club (April)
I gave a talk about my book Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China to the Central DuPage Rotary Club early this morning. They meet every Wednesday at 7 a.m. over breakfast. I left downtown Chicago before 6 a.m. and got to the Cantigny Golf Clubhouse in Wheaton just on time. Rick Nelson, Program Chair of the Club, met me at the door and introduced me to the group. More
Talking at AAUW (March 2011):
When Diane contacted me to give a talk about my book Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China at the Tri-City American Association of University Women (AAUW) in the western suburb of Chicago, I readily agreed. My grandmother, Nainai, and my mother are two of the most influential role models of my life. And I’m always enthusiastic to share my story with other women.
The branch of the Tri-City, St. Charles, Batavia and Geneva, organized the event at the St. Charles Country Club. By the time I got there for the event scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. last Saturday, most of the registered attendees were already there. Diane and I had communicated via emails many times. When I finally met her in person, I felt as if we had been friends for quite some time. More
The Tale of Genji (March 2011):
We just finished our winter quarter at the University of Chicago. This year, our focus of study is on Japan, mostly literature and Zen Buddhism. The Tale of Genji, an ancient classic describing the romance of court life in Heian Japan in the tenth and eleventh centuries, was of the books we covered in class. The book was attributed to a single writer, a court lady by the name of Murasaki Shikubu.
The Tale of Genji, a novel of more than a thousand pages, felt like a brick. I was not that keen in reading it at the beginning of the class. Romance and court life, not to mention the time distance, didn’t sound very interesting. More
Time Passes Fast (March 2011):
My girlfriend WJ called earlier in the week. We used to get together frequently when I lived in the western suburb of Chicago, but over the last year or so, we didn’t keep in touch.
I was very happy to hear her voice and eager to receive the updates of her world. I couldn’t believe her daughter had graduated from university last May (I thought she’d graduate this year) and her sister’s older daughter, whom I saw every time we got together, had been in college for nearly a year. In my mind, the images of these two girls were still that of a teenager, if not younger. More
Coincidentally, the day I finished reading Chua’s book, the Chicago Tribune featured stories of local high school students in an article titled “How 3 students succeeded, without ‘Tiger Moms’”. The Asian mother in the feature, Ms. Leung, said she was reading Chua’s book. “It’s embarrassing me,” she said. Leung’s daughter plays piano and recently earned perfect scores in her ACT and SAT tests. “That lady (Chua) is a little crazy,” Leung said. More
An Evening of Outstanding Performance (March 2011):
Last Friday, the Confucius Institute in Chicago (CIC) invited Dong Fang Chinese Performing Arts Association to give a performance of Chinese dances and singing to a select group of administrators, teachers and students of the Chicago Public School (CPS). It was an evening of sharing cultural heritage and celebrating the Year of the Rabbit. CPS offers Chinese in 43 of its schools, with more than 12,000 students in the Chinese language program.
I made my way there, partially to learn more about Dong Fang, and partially to watch one of my close girlfriends dance. I must say that I was blown away by the high quality of the performance! More
Talking to Women's Book Club (Feburary 2011):
Beverly invited me to talk to her women’s book club at noon today in Downers Grove, a western suburb of Chicago. I readily agreed. I knew the area, close to where I used to live in the western suburb of Chicago.
Beverly advised that her group had been together for many years and some of them were friends since high school. I always enjoyed talking to book clubs—they would have read my book by the time we meet and the questions they raise are always more thought provoking. More
International Breakfast (February 2011)
Chicago Sister Cities International (CSCI) hosted its third annual “International Breakfast” yesterday at the Cultural Center. All attendees were members of CSCI or the Chicago Consular Corps (CCC), including representatives of all General Consulates located in Chicago. The large Yates Gallery on the 4th floor of the
Cultural Center was completely full. Samuel Scott, Chairman of CSCI made the introduction and Patricia Maza-Pittsford, Dean, CCC and Consul General of El Salvador, gave a keynote address. Read more
Wang Anyi's The Song of Everlasting Sorrow (Februray 2011):
Recently read Wang Anyi’s widely claimed novel The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, a novel that covers the protagonist Wany Qiyao’s life from the 1940s to modern day China. I must say I find the writing less than satisfactory.
Yes, I do like Wang Anyi’s description of Shanghai at different times, the gossip, which is core of life in the Nongtang (neighborhood) of the city, and the fashion in old China and now. However, I find the main characters fleeting, if not superficial, and many happenings, such as playing Mahjong in the 50’s, Wang Qiyao surviving by selling gold bars she received in the 40’s and living an unscathed life during the Cultural Revolution, not to mention her free association with men of different age in her apartment as a single woman with an illegitimate child, all quite farfetched. Read more
Happy Chinese New Year (Feb. 2011):
There is a saying in Chinese: “propitious snow brings a bountiful year.” Hope that applies to the blizzard that hit Chicago on the eve of the Chinese New Year—the Year of the Rabbit! In Chinese, the start of the lunar year is called “Spring Festival,” the celebration of the upcoming spring. I’d like to put a positive spin on the over-zealous abundance of snow and interpret it as an indication of a dynamic and productive year! Read more
Reading Mo Yan (Jan. 2011):
I watched the film Red Sorghum, written by Mo Yan and directed by Zhang Yimo, years ago. I loved the presentation of the down-to-earth, yet heroic life of the peasants. But I never read the book.
Recently, at the suggestion of a friend, I obtained the English translation of Mo Yan’s novel Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out (生死疲劳). With three other books I was reading simultaneously, I was thinking to cover two or three chapters a day, at the most. Read more
Last night, China’s President Hu and his delegation attended a welcome dinner hosted by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. My daughter Lisa and I, along with 15 or so bi-lingual people, mostly members of Chicago Sister Cities International, provided help to the event at the request of the Mayor’s Office.
It was the first visit by China’s President and Mayor Daley stated it as a “big, big, big, big deal!” Read more
Parenting (Jan. 2011)
Amy Chua’s recent Wall Street Journal article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” created a lot of controversy. The day it appeared in the paper, I received two emails from my Chinese friends, with one telling me his son called Chua “a monster,” and the other, a mother, saying she was enraged that Chua calling her “extreme disciplines and demands” in bringing up her children the “Chinese way.”
“Where is the feeling of love?” my friend asked.
I was also astonished, despite my understanding to a certain extend. Many Chinese parents are strict with their children and push them hard to realize the parents’ high expectations. I must say I was no exception. However, even I found Chua’s behavior disconcerting. Read more
Stranded in New York City (12/10)
I went to New York City (NYC) over the Christmas weekend with my husband Francis and daughter Lisa. I lived in NYC for five years in the late 80s and early ‘90s and have always cherished a special feeling for the Big Apple. Ever since I moved to Chicago in 1994, I have visited NYC two or three times a year.
This time, we made our plans for a short excursion to NYC in early December, flying over on Friday, Christmas Eve, and returning on Sunday, right after Christmas. As time drew close, we heard the forecast of a snowstorm, but took off as scheduled nevertheless.
Manhattan always generates a kind of unique buzz and vibration, one that always make me feel excited the moment I enter the city. The pace of people moving in streams, the noise of speeding cars, and the voices of different languages heard on the streets—nowhere else is as dynamic as NYC. For me, I also loved the sweet smell of roasted peanuts, chestnuts and almonds, permeating the air from street vendors’ wheeled carts.Read more
I’ve been to quite a few cities in Europe, including London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Prague, Florence, and Milan, but never anywhere in Spain. So during a recent weekend when my husband Francis and I sat in front of his computer to make travel plans, we selected Madrid. Compared to Barcelona, we believed Madrid had more cultural and historical heritage.
We flew from Chicago to Madrid right before Thanksgiving. I read a travel guide on the seven-plus-hour flight and was ready to check out the city when we arrived early the following morning. As we always did when visiting London or Paris, we bought two ten-ride tickets for the Metro and took the train to the Regente, a local hotel on Gran Via in the center of town.
A Visit to Asia (11/10)
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.Read more
During a recent Thursday, I gave two talks in two states, a record. The first one was a talk at a Rotary Club over lunch in Deerfield, IL; and the second, at KazooBooks to a book group and the public in Kalamazoo, MI. Despite the rush—I forgot about the one hour time difference between Illinois and Michigan and committed to start the 2nd event at 5:30 P.M. local time. But despite the rush, I enjoyed both events.
Deloris at the Deerfield Rotary Club invited me to speak at her club and introduced me to her fellow Rotarians. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Deloris had read my book before contacting me. She gave a detailed description of my book to the audience, along with her comments—a better job than I could ever do. I proceeded from there, using a few visuals to illustrate the stories covered in my book and the atrocities of China’s Cultural Revolution. Since I just received permission from my film director Susan Morgan Cooper to use photos of the documentary based on my book (production is scheduled to finish in early 2011), I eagerly shared images of three reenacted scenes that had been filmed recently in Los Angeles—images of Nainai, my grandmother, Father and me at six in the mud house we were forced to live in.
A Nice Treat (9/12)
I was invited to talk to a women’s book group in Hartland, a suburb of Milwaukee by Karen, my friend Mary’s mother. Last Wednesday, Mary took time off from work and gave me a ride to her parents’ home. As we got closer, she took a scenic drive and showed me Beaver Lake—her parents’ home is located along its shore. I could see the glistening of water through the thicket of trees between the lake and the road. Beaver Lake, on which Mary had spent endless hours cruising and water skiing, appeared larger than I expected.
Karen came to the door to meet us. She wore a burgundy silk top and her hair was tied back with a matching red ribbon. She looked much younger than her age. Two of Mary’s relatives, Peggy and Ross, were there as well. We chatted over a table of veggies, cheese and crackers in the living room. I soon learned that one of Peggy’s sons and daughter-in-law were published writers. Later, Mary’s father Bill returned home from his golf outing, declaring his winning of $11 for the day. “Better than losing 50 bucks,” he said, laughing. He took us to his clubhouse along Beaver Lake for dinner, and I enjoyed a hearty meal of lamb chops, my favorite, and lots of hearty laughter over our conversation—it was home away from home for me, and later, I joked with Mary to ask her mother to adopt me as her Chinese daughter.Read more
Over the weekend, I finished reading Bharati Mukherjee’s novel Jasmine. It’s a story of a village girl from Punjab, India to the U.S. –her innocence, talent, love, adventurous nature and fierce resolve. The ordeals she went through didn’t diminish her and the traditional restraints on women, especially a widow, didn’t confine her. As she claims at one point: she is a survivor and adaptor. She is, in fact, much more than that.
I’ve been reading quite a bit of immigrant literature lately. From Gish Gen’s Mona in the Promised Land, Amy Tan’s The Opposite of Fate: a Book of Musings to Patricia Chu’s Assimilating Asians, I am reading several books simultaneously. While each writer has her own characteristics, Mukherjee’s Jasmine was the one that I couldn’t put down and finished reading first. Aside from the narrative that made me keep turning the pages, the indomitable spirit of the protagonist, the concise yet powerful language, and the presentation of immigrants, with a profound understanding and respect, struck me with awe.Read more
I talked with Ron over the phone a couple of times before meeting him in person. He called to invite me to speak at his Rotary Club at Crystal Lake and offered to pick me up at the Metra Train Station. As promised, at 11:30 A.M. on the day of the event, I saw a silver-haired man approach and extend his hand to me.
“You must be Jian,” he said.
It was not difficult to spot me, the only Asian, at a main street in Crystal Lake, close to the train station.
It was a hot summer day, and I was surprised to see Ron wear a jacket. Most of the Rotary Club members I had met were in their forties to sixties, professionals who gathered regularly over breakfast, lunch or dinner to participate in club activities and networking.Read more
ASPIRE, an Asian Pacific Internal Revenue Employee organization, had its annual conference in Chicago last week. I felt honored to be invited by Marina Milton, President of ASPIRE, to give a talk at their dinner banquet at the Marriott Hotel on Michigan Avenue last Thursday.
The first time I appeared at an Asian/Pacific organization was last May at the Annual Federal Asian Pacific Council’s (FAPAC) conference in Houston, TX. I was invited to give a talk at a panel. It was the first time for me to see so many Asians under one roof in the U.S. The conference offered many workshops to help Federal Asian employees and students who wanted to pursue careers at Federal agencies to advance their careers. ASPIRE served a similar mission, limited to Internal Revenues Services only.
I shared with the 150+ attendees my experiences as a first generation immigrant and told them stories of my role models—my grandmother and my parents who inspired me to overcome barriers I had encountered in my journey. I was touched when many people in the audience resonated with me, especially Harry, a Japanese descent who was born and raised in the U.S. He talked about how he felt obliged to avoid his Japanese name growing up and regretted that even his marriage certificate didn’t bear his real, Japanese name.