Thursday, August 28, 2014

Grand Rapids' inaugural Midwest Climate Ride cruises toward success

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Rapid Growth Media
August 28, 2014

Photography by Adam Bird of the WMEAC team

This is no casual bike-for-a-cause event. Next weekend, the Grand Rapids team riding in the Midwest Climate Ride will bike from Grand Rapids to Chicago. Along the way, they'll raise money for several local organizations who are working to combat climate change right here in West Michigan. Zinta Aistars finds out what makes this group spin.

Emily Loeks responded without thinking when a friend told her about Midwest Climate Ride: “That’s crazy!”

And it was. Wasn’t it? A bike ride of approximately 300 miles (that’s 60 to 80 miles per day), from September 6 to September 9, beginning in Grand Rapids and finishing in Chicago, Illinois, would bring innovators, entrepreneurs, and everyday people together to support more than 60 environmental and active transportation organizations, locally and nationally, working in the areas of sustainability, renewable energy, climate change, public health, and bicycle advocacy. Some 150 bicyclists had already signed up to participate.

Two nights later, after a bit of tossing and a bit of turning, Loeks woke with a revised thought: “That sounds awesome!”

Loeks, the director of community affairs for the chain of family-owned movie theatres known as Celebration Cinema, trotted down her basement steps to look for her old bike. It was down there somewhere …

“I’m going to be riding that same bike,” Loeks smiles. “It’s been in the basement for about ten years, but I turned 40 this year, and I thought, well, why not? I’d always enjoyed riding.”

The bike got dusted off and tuned up, odometer attached and new tires put on. Loeks hopped back on her bike, and her 6-year-old son, Joshua, was watching.

“Joshua rode his bike along with me, and on his first time, he took right off!” Loeks’ pride in her son shines through.

Her pride in the cause that inspired her to get back on her bike shines through, too. A Grand Rapids resident, Loeks loves her city and her community. She serves on the boards of two of the beneficiaries of the Midwest Climate Ride, and she has chosen to raise funds for four organizations: Local FirstWell HouseGreater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition, and West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

Loeks says: “I care passionately about the place my children are growing up into. Climate change has become a hot button issue—but it seems obvious to me that climate is having an effect in our area. Science bears it out. We have to look to the long term.”

Looking to the long term is what Tom Tilma, executive director of Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition, does best. Seven team members from GGRBC will be on the Midwest Climate Ride.

“We advocate with and advise local governments with the goal of building a bicycle-friendly infrastructure,” Tilma says. Participating in the Climate Ride, he says, “benefits our work in Grand Rapids, benefits the economy, the health and environment of our area, and it underscores our commitment to make Grand Rapids a more sustainable region.”

Yet another benefit of participating in the Climate Ride, Tilma says, is ...


 Photography by Adam Bird.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Collapse of the Soviet Union and Brotherly Love Featured in New Novel

by Zinta Aistars
Airing on WMUK 102.1 FM Radio
August 19, 2014

Josh Weil

Josh Weil will debut his novel, The Great Glass Sea, Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. atBookbug in Kalamazoo along with friend and author Mike Harvkey. Weil describes his book as a "fraternal love story."
It's about two Russian brothers whose parents are unable to care for them and so they become each others' support in life. But when they near adulthood and the Soviet Union collapses, the brothers are desperate to hold on to the close relationship they had as kids.
The Soviet Union and Russia
Weil spent some time in Russia and noticed that the people he talked to there were still trying to grapple with the dramatic change between Soviet Russia and modern capitalist Russia. Weil says there are several characters that represent different factions in this tumultuous time. There are old communists, anarchists who are anti-work called the 'leisurists,' and an oligarch that represents capitalism. Weil says oligarchs were able to thrive under capitalism because they had been involved in the black market and knew how the system worked. Though there are many philosophical issues in the book, Weil says he is careful not to...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Author features karate and anti-government extremism in new novel

by Zinta Aistars
Airing on WMUK 102.1 FM Radio
August 19, 2014

Mike Harvkey

My interview with author Mike Harvkey for WMUK 102.1 FM, Kalamazoo, Michigan's NPR affiliate, airs today at 7:50 a.m., 9:50 a.m., 4:29 p.m., 5:44 p.m., and Saturdays after "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me!" or listen online at

Mike Harvkey will debut his novel, In the Course of Human Events, Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. at Bookbug in Kalamazoo along with friend and author Josh Weil. Harvkey's book is about a 20-something man named Clyde Twitty living in the Midwest in the shadow of an economic recession.
When he meets charismatic karate teacher Jay Smalls, Clyde begins to feel like he has more control over his life. But there's a dark side to Jay's teachings and soon we see Clyde drifting into radical, anti-government extremism.
Real Life Experience with 'The Militia'
Harvkey grew up in a small town in Northwest Missouri and knew a couple of people who would slip into this anti-government extremism from time to time. Harvkey says one of his closest friends was heavily impacted by a book called Behold A Pale Horse. The book warned of things like the repeal of second amendment rights (gun ownership) and that every U.S. citizen would one day be tracked by bar codes on their skin. Harvkey says one conversation about this book lead to Harvkey's friend pointing his new handgun toward Harvkey's head. Harvkey says situations like this sparked his interest in how a book or a pamphlet can lead to extremism.
Control and the Key to Happiness
Harvkey says that, as humans, we either want control or to be controlled. He says being controlled is often the easier way to live because everything is taken care of for you. Harvkey has a black belt in karate. And he says, even as a teen, he saw how martial arts could be used at its worst to direct students to the teacher's own ideologies. 
What Freedom Means
Harvkey says, for him, freedom means ...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Zip in and go at Ziingo

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
August 14, 2014

Chances are good that if you ask someone what Kalamazoo-area restaurants are their favorite, Chinn Chinn will be on that list. Its owner and chef John Tsui talks with Zinta Aistars about his career in the restaurant business and his latest venture, Ziingo. 

It’s Monday morning, the one day during the week that the Asian bistro, Chinn Chinn, at 52885 N. Main Street in Mattawan, about 15 miles west of Kalamazoo, is closed. It’s so early that the last wispy shadows of dawn have yet to be swept away, streets are nearly empty, and so is the parking lot of the small strip mall where Chinn Chinn reigns supreme. Inside, however, there is brisk movement. John Tsui, chef and owner of the bistro, has been here since 5:30 a.m., as he is every single morning.

Tsui takes a moment to pour a coffee and give final instructions to a delivery man. "Monday is my day to catch up with inventory," he says. He smiles when asked how many hours he spends at the restaurant and lets the question hang in the air unanswered. He does admit to being at the restaurant until 8 or 9 p.m. most other nights, but who’s counting? 

Long-time residents of greater Kalamazoo may recall another large and always bustling restaurant on South Westnedge Avenue from the 1980s into the early 2000s, near the Interstate 94 overpass, Peking Palace. It’s gone now, replaced by an auto parts store and another restaurant, but Peking Palace was what brought Tsui’s family over the long road from California to southwest Michigan. 

Born in Seoul, South Korea, John Tsui says his father must have had some idea about immigrating eventually to the United States, as Tsui was educated in American schools. "My parents fled to Korea from the Mainland," he says. "My father was in textiles and often traveled to New York City." 

When it came time to immigrate to the United States, however, the Tsui family chose the Los Angeles area of California, where John Tsui grew up. 

"We moved to Kalamazoo in 1981, when my father partnered up with a childhood friend in Lansing to open Peking Palace in Kalamazoo," Tsui says. 

The place had long been vacant, but with extended family helping out as kitchen and wait staff, the restaurant quickly became a success. Tsui honed his own culinary skills in the restaurant’s kitchen. When his father passed away in 1988, he helped keep the restaurant going, although "the restaurant was so big, and the building so old, that all the profit went into keeping up the building."

In 2003, it was time to close the doors.       

"A developer came in and gave us, as they say, an offer too good to refuse," Tsui says. That, and the family needed some time to take a deep breath. Tsui said he and wife Michelle took a year off to travel around Michigan and savor the foods of other Asian restaurants. He was already working on his next idea. 

"I wanted to see what others were doing," he says. "All food is basically the same. You have your meat, vegetable, a hot pot and seasoning. I wanted to make food from my own culture, but not so traditional or old school. I had a mish-mash of ideas."

Chinn Chinn opened in 2004, and it didn’t take long for the lines to form. No secret, Tsui shrugs. "It’s a combination of everything: food, people, service. No one person makes a success. In December it will be our tenth anniversary, and we’ll throw a big party for staff."

Tsui gives credit to his staff, and there are 49 of them, including his aunt Amy and his mother, who returned to the kitchen after that year off, saying they couldn’t stand to stay home and do nothing. Their images decorate the walls of Chinn Chinn, outside and in. 

He also believes in sitting down together to enjoy a staff dinner, everyone at the table after business hours are done and the doors are shut. At Chinn Chinn, staff sit down to a shared meal every night.

"It gives everyone a chance to just talk. Not about what went on at Table 7, but what’s going on in their own lives. Sharing food, it’s an intimate moment. We eat together, we play together, we work together." 

Tsui admits, "Usually there’s a lot of turnover in restaurant staff. But we have people who have worked here since the beginning. Some who left for other jobs have come back."

Tsui is bringing in five staff members, which also include his two daughters, as partners in his next venture, Ziingo, to open in late September at 3830 W. Centre Street in Portage’s Woodbridge Shopping Village. The idea arose from a need to expand on his take-out business, leaving Chinn Chinn for the sit-down dinner.

"We get a lot of customers here from Portage," Tsui says. "I want to capture that market in their own neighborhood, make it more convenient. The menu will be based on what we have at Chinn Chinn, but the food will be deconstructed. The customer picks up a bowl, picks the meat, the sauces and the seasoned vegetables. Every meal will be unique."

Tsui makes a point of working with other businesses nearby. He points to a chalkboard of specials, naming ...


Chinn Chinn in Mattawan, Michigan