Admittedly, I am a skittish and unreliable social media animal. I am either too involved in what I’m doing to think about documenting it or I need time to reflect, and write thoughtfully about that amazing moment when…. This is my attempt to make up for long lapses with a casually curated upload from the whole year.
While I took my usual jaunts to Beijing and Shanghai, two other international trips really stood out.
Xinjiang Province: A location scout took me to the wild, wild northwest of China – Xinjiang is the largest province in China, which borders Russia and Mongolia to the east, Kazhakstan, Kyrgzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India to the west, and Tibet to the south! It is populated by many ethnic groups, and boasts terrain ranging from snow-capped mountains, to dense forest, to huge expanses of desert.
The project is about a lost kingdom called Loulan, along the Silk Road, where one hundred years ago, they discovered a mummy with totally Caucasian features?! It was a bucolic, peaceful kingdom, and then suddenly disappeared.
Life today in Xinjiang is still somewhat nomadic –- horsemen living in yurts, camels, sheep abound. I often like a nomad myself, so no wonder I felt quite at home.
Israel: As a child, growing up in a Jewish neighborhood, I believed all Americans were Jews. So I had a lot to learn about the history of a people who were unwitting nomads. I mostly wanted to better understand the nature of the current, ongoing conflict. (The cookbooks of brilliant Israeli chef, Yotam Ottolenghi – PLENTY and JERUSALEM — gave me further impetus!)
The hosts of our trip — apparently we were the first Asian-American delegation sponsored by the government — took us absolutely everywhere. Golan Heights, Masada, Galilee, Dead Sea, Tiberius, old city of Jerusalem. We saw it all. The Old City of Jerusalem is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
(The silhouette figures in combat are not real people. But the sign posts most definitely are.)
I came back not leaning any closer to a side or solution, but feeling the deep intensity with which so many people lay claim to this palpably sacred land. Paradoxically, to live there means being confronted with constant conflict, while being offered a plethora of touchstones for spiritual enlightenment.
Family life is shockingly free of drama. That is because my son Yahn is the single most good-natured person I know — he lets me regale his friends with stories of his crushes from elementary school! His smile lights up my heart, and his height at 6’6″ makes him easy to find in a crowd (but hard to take pictures with!). Most of all he has an amazingly mature life philosophy which I mostly agree with — but why did it take me a whole lifetime to figure out the same?
I admire the ease with which he juggles his friends, academics, (though he admits Junior year with AP classes and testing has meant he has to really work for the first time), and his multiple leadership/student government positions. Yes, empty nest is creeping up, but it happens gradually. My two towering duties — cooking and chauffeuring — are already severely diminished. Between friends who now drive and Uber, who needs Mom??
Fortunately quality time is found on trips! And this year we had occasion to attend the weddings of three of my seven gorgeous nieces! So off we were to Aspen for Sara’s elegant wedding, then to eat our way through both Chinese and Italian buffets at Kelly’s in Bridgehampton, New Jersey, and finally a visit to hip Austin, Texas for Lindsey’s wedding. They, and all my other nieces and nephews are truly amazing and diverse, and I’m constantly astounded by this genetic pool in which my son swims!
Other highlights of the year?
Here is my list of “Raindrops on Roses….These are a few of my Favorite Things!“:
FAVORITE NEW PEOPLE IN MY LIFE:
- Jose Antonio Vargas: Jose found me. I was then privileged to help him with his film, DOCUMENTED, which chronicles his journey as an unknowing undocumented immigrant from the Philippines at 12, to a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, to now an activist (DefineAmerican.org) who searingly and humorously discusses his life in absurd limbo. He has given voice to the over 11 million undocumented in this country, and I don’t doubt that his efforts spurred President Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration. Now there is finally hope that he can see his mother after more than 20 years. Bravo to his bravery!!
2. Shannon Lee (Brucelee.com): I’ve known Shannon since I had the idea to make a movie about her Dad, Bruce Lee, as an executive at Universal over twenty years ago. But now, years later, with all the rights back in Shannon’s hands, we are working closely together on a number of projects. I have deep admiration and respect for how pure her intentions are in preserving her father’s legacy, and how elegantly she can translate his messages.
3. Jonathan Wang– My t’ai chi teacher. This picture does not at all represent what we normally do in class, but I asked him to strike a distinctive pose and this is what he chose. T’ai chi is very graceful, but can be lethal too! I expect to practice to my very last days.
4. My “secret Santa”. Someone whose identity I am not yet revealing, but who has brought wonderful gifts into my life.
FAVORITE NEW WEBSITES:
- NationSwell (nationswell.com): When the bombardment of bad news can keep you huddled under your covers, go to this website. It is full of amazing acts of determination and kindness – the movement to give leftover food away, a recycling program for cigarette butts, kids who are politically empowered, etc.
- Raw World News (therawfoodworld.com): Far from being just about raw food (though I make my own nut milk religiously – salvation from dairy which many Asian can’t easily digest!), this site is like Buzzfeed but with uplifting videos of say, marriage proposals, or how policemen in a small town played Santa. And of course great recipes.
FAVORITE NEW ORGANIZATION:
China Hollywood Society (email@example.com): – Thanks in large part to the efforts of the delightful Aussie, Jess Conoplia, what was once a rag tag gathering of people who were China/film obsessed has now grown into a lively community of people who are actively engaged in China’s explosive entertainment industry. At our monthly mixers, I am assured to find countless people I want to talk to.
FAVORITE NEW ARTISTS:
- Stan and Leah Goldberg (firstname.lastname@example.org): I stumbled into a show at the Santa Monica arts complex at Bergamot station (which we must, must save!) that stilled my heart. I learned that the work is made by a married couple who together fell in love with Buddhism. I am mesmerized by their work.
FAVORITE NEW BOOK:
Violet, by Rob Ryder (available on Amazon): An incredibly touching work about Rob’s last months with his mother after he tells her she has terminal cancer. He sits with her daily, gently probes her with questions, and discovers in her ever more doses of humor and enlightenment than he knew. There is a sense of utter completion at her final lift off. My mother is now at that same age, 95, and I hope to be able to do the same with equal amounts of grace.
FAVORITE NEW MUSIC:
Alfredo Rodriguez/The Invasion Parade: I was given this CD by Quincy Jones’ partner, Adam Fell. He said he was surprised it was nominated for a Grammy because it came out of the blue. The second I heard it, I understood. It has elements of my favorite motifs – Latin, jazz, African — in a most delicious blend. I literally cannot stop listening to it.
FAVORITE NEW MOVIE:
KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON: It is the simplest of movies – no bad guys, no complicated plot twists – just a magnificent celebration of love of an individual at the purest level, and love of music. Clark Terry, a jazz great whom you may not have heard of but who taught all the giants, takes on a blind student and changes his life. Nominated for an Oscar. Again, from Quincy’s company, who himself was a student of Clark’s.
By the way, I saw this at my Favorite Film Festival, the Telluride Film Festival, in my favorite setting, which is outdoors at night. Another year, I saw Marty Scorcese’s amazing doc on George Harrison. I didn’t know until then that HE was my favorite Beatle!
- Chinese Entrepreneurs: I was meeting Jack Ma at the Entrepreneurs Club in Beijing. I had the privilege to meet him over the past year at many places – at his various offices, his “huisuo” (club) in Hangzhou, and at the beautifully appointed and meditative T’ai Chi Academy which he developed with Jet Li. But this time, we were at the Chinese Entrepreneurs Club, and I saw pictures of all the top entrepreneurs in China, in one place, all politely posed together. Each one has an amazing story. Each one is amazingly wealthy and influential. Somehow seeing them all together gave me a jolt — they are rocking China, and therefore soon the world.
FAVORITE ABSURD MOMENT:
I was invited to a private art exhibit and lecture in Shanghai. A talented Chinese artist spoke articulately about the importance of art in Chinese society. It made me so hopeful that Chinese society was moving beyond the rampant materialism of recent years. I came out of the exhibit and was suddenly whisked into the arms of two male models standing by a Rolls Royce, which sponsored the exhibit and talk. Everything about China is a crazy juxtaposition of extremes. Someone famous said that the level of our consciousness depends on our ability to reconcile contradictory information….
These are just a FEW of my favorite things. I cannot even count how many blessings I experience on a daily basis.
And with that, I bid you all the warmest wishes for a truly peaceful and joyful holiday season, and a brilliant 2015!