Tag Archives: india

Bollywood Unmasked: The Director’s Chair

Today I have a guest article published in The Director’s Chair online magazine, an online E-Zine with Film Directing Tips, Film Making Articles and Online Resources for the Independent Filmmaker.

Bollywood Unmasked: The Real Potential of BC Film and Media Collaborations with India

In the five months I have spent researching the Indian film industry, I learned that there is huge potential for more film and media related business between British Columbia and India. With a grant from Western Economic Diversification (WED), I went to India twice with the SFU India Initiative to look for ways to increase ties with BC and the Indian film industry.

With no previous knowledge of India and coming from a Scottish-Canadian background… Click here to continue reading

 

A big thank you to Peter D. Marshall for the opportunity.

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Finding Chocolate Boy

“Please put up your backrest, miss”

I was in the last row of seats before the washrooms with nobody sitting behind me. My seat was reclined by about two inches.

Nevertheless, I silently brought up my backrest to it’s original, leaning slightly forward position while the non-English speaking man next to me pretended to not understand as if he’d never flown on a plane before. His seat remained reclined the full five inches with his tray table down.

The South Korean steward moved forward through the rows of seats and Ravi Shankar started to play on the speakers. Korean Air knows how to introduce you to India gently, and it works well with the dark, musty red carpets leading you to the baggage claim of BOM (Mumbai’s international airport).

But as the plane started to tilt downward, I suddenly felt a big wad of anxiety forming around my solar plexus. I chastised myself. “Why are you so nervous all-of-a-sudden? You have been dying to come back to Mumbai since you left 6 months ago.”

Within my sparsely packed suitcase, there was a bag of gifts for my friends from my first and most recent trip to India who had really left an impact on me. I had met so many great people, especially because my friend Sara and I were on a networking mission to learn more about the Indian film industry. However, there were a few who really went out of their way to help us on our trip and these people became good friends. Because I have an innate guilt that nothing in this world should come free, I have brought payment for their friendship in the form of maple syrup, Canadian flags, and handcrafted dream catchers.

I let my mind rest on this bag of Canadian kitsch and I tried to remember what I had bought for whom. I hoped I hadn’t forgotten anybody important. Still, the anxiety wouldn’t go away and I didn’t know what was causing it. As someone who analyzes themselves as a hobby, I felt I should think about it a bit.

Three months previously, I had started this blog and online portfolio so I could have a more visible presence on the web. Fake it ‘till you make it became my new motto. WordPress has a great dashboard for your blog so you can see how many people visited your page, how many clicks, what links are most popular, etc. However, I get the most entertainment from seeing the Google searches that have led people to my website. Some of the most recent favorites are: “awkward look gif”, “shaved my eyebrows off”, and “don’t worry bus, we all make mistakes”.

Ironically (I think) the day I get on my flight to Mumbai somebody has searched “mcglynn died on plane”. In order to counteract this scary prediction I post about it on twitter. If I acknowledge it, it’s way less likely to happen… and if it does, then it can go down in history that I predicted my own death.  So I get on my plane anyway and don’t tell my poor mother and father about it.

Final Destination: Mumbai.

However, I know that this anxiety isn’t caused by fear of flying. The last year I probably spent around 70-80 hours in flight, not including airport time and layovers. I actually love flying, because it gives me a very good excuse to watch 6 movies back to back and not feel like I should be doing something more productive like working on my screenplay. Surprisingly, the trip was great because I had a moment of inspiration after watching “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and rewrote the whole structure of my current script (based in Mumbai of course).

I had travelled so much because the last year included 5 months of travelling from May to November. Vancouver – Chennai, Chennai – Vancouver, Vancouver – Toronto, Toronto – Johannesburg, Johannesburg – Cape Town, Cape Town – Johannesburg, Johannesburg – London, London – Vancouver, and now Vancouver – Mumbai.

I fell for Mumbai in a big way. I fell in love with its chaotic energy; it’s people, and its buzzing potential. I was told many times before I first planned my trip to India, “You either love it, or you hate it”. For Mumbai it became “you either love it, or you hate it, or you become obsessed with it.”

I’m not ashamed to say that when I left Mumbai, I shed a tear. I was intoxicated with whiskey and Mumbai, but mostly whiskey… or was it Mumbai? I got back to Vancouver later and was buzzing with unbridled energy. I could feel the twinkle in my eyes, and I had made a resolution to return to Mumbai in the New Year by any means possible.

So there I was. The plane hit the tarmac smoothly and we all coasted toward the baggage terminal at 2:45 am on the dot. The anxiety dulled as I stepped into the spiced air, then revved itself up again while I got stuck between a family of six taking up the whole corridor rolling their bags and dragging their children. I realized that this was a new frontier for me and I was feeling so anxious because I had reached uncharted territory in my life. While I had lived in Mumbai for a month and a half, never before had I returned to a foreign country with the intentions of living and working. I was going into the unknown.

“Oh my god, does this mean I’m no longer a student? Am I finally all-grown up and making big life decisions?” Sure I hadn’t technically graduated from University yet, but I hadn’t been taking classes for 6 months and planned to finish my degree via correspondence (only 5 classes to go!)

It was an exciting and daunting thought that carried me through to the baggage carousel. My bag arrived at the same time as me, and I could feel jealous stares as I cruised in and picked up my bag like it happens all the time (it never happens to me). With that little sign from the universe, I started to feel like my cocky-self again and as I went through customs I critiqued the outfits other white people had chosen to fly in. Are your pajamas really going to make your seat any more comfortable? Classic internal monologue of a person so aware of their own insecurities they have to criticize others privately because they know how ridiculous they’re being.

So why was reaching a new point in my life more scary than exciting?

Canadian-Breath-SprayI thought of one of my gifts, a Canadian spearmint breath spray with a lumberjack on the package, the sort of thing you pick up in a joke store. I was planning on giving it to a very special friend who probably had no idea of my name. During my first stay in Mumbai I was living in Colaba, a beautiful part of town with equal parts beggars and tourists, taxi drivers and merchants. That was where I met my little chocolate-boy Rahul, and keep on reading before you jump to conclusions about my British heritage and how racist I must be.

I first met Rahul when I was walking around the Colaba causeway, a street lined with shops and merchants selling their wares (Same shit, different block). Children often target white elephants like me and ask for money, rice, or milk and play up on their cuteness to get what they want. I was getting accustomed to saying no when Rahul came up to me and asked me for chocolate.

“Sorry, I don’t have any chocolate on me”

“Chocolate”

“I don’t have any chocolate”

“Chocolate, ma’am”

“I told you I don’t have any chocolate!”

I started walking faster to try and lose him, but he kept on following me.

“What do you want?”

“Chocolate”

I stopped, and took a moment to look at him. He was not dirty like the other kids of the street, and had an adorable smile with white teeth and big brown eyes.

“Do you live around here?”

“School” he said, pointing down the street and looking up at me with his sweet smiling face.

I realized he just lived around here and he spent his time after school playing with the other kids in the area and getting free candy from tourists. However, it was off-season and there weren’t many tourists around so I found I was getting quite a bit of concentrated attention whenever I went out for a walk. This monosyllabic boy was somehow making an impression on me.

“Sorry, no chocolate today. Maybe tomorrow”

“Ok” he shrugged, and he let me walk away.

I kept of seeing him every day and each time I didn’t have any chocolate. After a week of this, I decided to buy a chocolate bar and keep it in my bag for a surprise. Of course I couldn’t find him anywhere after that. I would scour the street every time I went out, and I even started making special trips to walk around and look for him.

After a couple of weeks of this chocolate bar melting and re-melting in my bag, he turned up again.

“Hello” he said. He started walking next to me.

“Hey chocolate boy! I have been looking for you”

He kept smiling as we walked together. He doesn’t ask for chocolate.

“Is there anything you want?” I asked.

“Rice”

Was this kid mocking me?

“I thought you liked chocolate”

“Yes” he said.

“So would you like rice or chocolate?”

“Rice” he answers with a smile.

“Well, too bad. I only have chocolate for you today.”

I reached into my bag and give him the semi-melted bar of chocolate. A group of kids saw this and they got up and came over.

“Thank you” he said. He took off just a scraggly-haired little girl came up to me with her palms out.

I dodged the rest of the kids and got back to my friends house where I was staying, and was dying to fill them in after weeks of my search for chocolate boy. That Sunday we visited the slum kids a few blocks away and brought a soccer ball and a big bag of candy to give every little chocolate boy and girl a fun day.

As we made our way into the slum, chocolate-boy joined us and I finally learned his real name. Rahul the chocolate boy led us through the slum and helped give out candy to the children and told them in Hindi that they could come play soccer. He was our guide and middleman who made sure the big kids weren’t stealing candy from the little ones, and that it was evenly distributed. We found a good patch for the soccer match and it rained, which only made the whole thing more fun.

The day I left Mumbai, my sandal broke and Rahul found me limping my way back to the house. He took me to a cobbler on the corner and we talked as my shoe was being fixed. I told him I would be back, and that I would find him again. He asked about Canada and when we should meet and I said I didn’t know what day I would be back but I would look for him.

So I found myself back there, 6 months later with some joke breath-spray, a Canadian flag, and 500 rupees ($10 CAD) wrapped up in a plastic bag so the other kids wouldn’t see his gift and try to take it from him. The anxiety from the plane ride had abated because I realized the cause. I am afraid of big changes because generally my life is pretty good, and although I don’t have much to lose I know that things can stop going my way and get a lot worse. This new stage of my life had a lot of potential to go wrong regardless of how much I wanted it to go right, and I am scared of the unknown whether or not it’s failure or success that takes me there.

I made a special hour and a half trip to Colaba from my hostel in Andheri near the airport in order to track down Rahul and give him his gift. I had a night out planned with my old troublemaker friends in the area as well, but I came early in the afternoon to find my chocolate boy. I know that the gift would probably be a little underwhelming for your average kid, but I know from experience that a lot of Indians are cautious of getting close with foreigners because they come to India, say they’re coming back, and disappear. It is the same reason why I used to never go out of my way for a tourist besides giving directions. But when someone goes out into the unknown and invites a stranger in transit to be their friend, it really makes a huge difference to their trip. My best memories from travelling are all because of my experiences with locals, and my top activity for every country is to have a home-cooked meal at someone’s house.

Tree-lined street, Colaba. Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Again, it is fear of the unknown that we avoid making new connections. The fear of losing time we invest into a new friendship, or the money we spend on their drinks at the bar, or the energy we put into making them happy. Nobody wants to be taken advantage of, so it meant a lot to me when my friends in India took the risk and gave me their time and friendship, and I know part of the gift was the mere fact that I came back.

I walked through Colaba… the usual streets I would find Rahul and couldn’t find him. Very conscious of how much I looked like a lost tourist, I tried not to wander around in circles too much (again trying to avoid confrontation and potentially meeting new people). As I walked through a back road fairly close to the slum, I passed a large group of young boys with a cricket bat. I peered closely at the shorter ones and saw one I thought looked like Rahul. One of the older boys spotted me, and asked if I wanted to join the game. Surprised at the invite, I looked up and saw they were all watching me. I said no, only because I was tired and it was very hot but I appreciated the invite. I asked if they knew a boy called Rahul who hung out in the area. I gestured his height by placing my hand, palm down at my belly button.

“Rahul?” the tallest one repeated.

The boys looked at each other. I could hear the name Rahul being repeated amongst them. Nobody said they knew him.

“Sorry, he’s not here” the tall boy said.

I thanked them and walked away disappointed I hadn’t found him.

I sat down for a fresh lime soda at a hotel near the Gateway of India and paused in the middle of the book I was reading to analyze their response. “Sorry, he’s not here”. Did that mean that they did or didn’t know him? Did it mean he was there earlier? Did that mean he moved away? Was he dead?

I stopped myself there. I didn’t want to over-analyze it anymore; another unknown area that can only be discovered if it’s explored. I gave up the search for the day, but I knew I would be back.

Chocolate-boy has disappeared again, but I know he will turn up when I least expect it. I will go back with his photograph and ask around if I have to, because I promised Rahul that I would be back and find him and I can’t bear to give the lumberjack breath spray to anybody but him. My mission to find Rahul has become a small-scale and more palpable version of my life right now. I will only know when I find him whether or not he trusted me to come back. I am still scared of the new path I’m on, but if I have learned one thing this year it’s that fear is no reason to hold yourself back. Fear of finding out that I’ll never see Rahul again is mixed with fear of some strange new life that awaits me. And so I venture forth into the unknown, with my fear tucked away and wrapped in plastic with the rest of my baggage.

P.S. If anybody knows Rahul, please let me know.

Rahul posed for me while the cobbler fixed my sandal.

Rahul and the Cobbler

Mumbai, what is it about you?

I have done some travelling in the short while I have been on this earth but there is only one place with a magnetic pull where every minute I’m not there I feel like I’m missing out. I have seen many different cities and explored many countries such as England, France, Egypt, South Africa, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the list goes on. However, the one city that really left an imprint on my psyche is Mumbai.

Even though the new name struggles to roll off the tongue, the energy of the city quickly infuses your being through it’s daily do-or-die decisions like crossing the street. Those who haven’t loved India are the ones who have tried to resist being taken with the flow. The beauty of this massive metropolis is not only in the pretty twinkling lights of the Queen’s Necklace traffic at night, but also the dirt, the stink, and the pollution. Mumbai offers plenty of bad and so-called “dirty” things as any city does, but it’s intensified by its volume compared to Western cities. However, without the contrast we cannot truly appreciate the good things.

Unfortunately, I find many visitors focus on the bad things in Mumbai and fail to see the beauty that shines through the dirt. My experience was definitely influenced by having a nice, air-conditioned flat to stay in just off the Colaba Causeway and having friends who have lived in the city for their whole lives. I had it really good during my month and a half in Mumbai, but that doesn’t make my opinion any less valid. In fact, most tourists passing through don’t have the chance to see a lot of the great people and places I did, so consider my experience one of the many facets and faces Mumbai has to offer. I love this city.

To be honest, I didn’t even take the time to see most of the tourist destinations. I didn’t go into the Dharavi Slum area, and didn’t see the Dobhi Ghat. However, I caught the local train from Churchgate to Goregaon (an hour-long ride) a few times a week, got an inside look at the famous Film City, and made it out to the club more times a week than I’m willing to admit. I spent every moment in Mumbai spoiling myself and reaping every pleasure I couldn’t afford back in Vancouver. I ate delicious desserts every day from a great cafe called Leo’s Boulangerie, indulged in a couple of Thai massages, and drank all the Whiskey that came my way. This city taught me how to party, and how to get mix business with pleasure.

However, I can’t say the city whispered in my ear and told me how to talk to taxi drivers so they don’t rip me off. It was the collective energy and attitude of sucking every drop out of life that came through the people I met and shared my experiences with. It’s the personal interactions you have while travelling which are the most memorable, and I have since made a vow to help every tourist I meet by being a good host and showing them sides of the city they wouldn’t normally see by inviting them to join me and my friends and family. The best meals I have ever had when travelling have always been home-cooked.

So, needless to say, I got to enjoy a few home cooked meals during my stay. Before my trip to India, I had no idea of the variety in Indian food. Having a limited choice of Punjabi restaurants in Vancouver, I was surprised to learn about the joys of eating Idli off a banana leaf at 3 in the morning… and Dosas with omelettes and sambar from a street-side shack for breakfast after an all-nighter. There was also Sri Krishna Sweets, where I would go with my friend and buy one of everything so we could taste each one. Oh, how I dream of Ghee.

I definitely didn’t get to try everything edible, but at least I know I’m going back. The day I left Mumbai was a Sunday, and my friend and I had to catch a bus to Hyderabad that night at 8 o’clock. Our party-animal friends spent the day with us and dropped us at the bus fairly inebriated. We knew we weren’t coming back for a long time, and Mumbai had started to feel like home. A tear or two found it’s way to my eye as I looked out the window and we drove away.

I found it a lot easier to fly out of India than I found it to get the bus to Hyderabad. When I got back to Vancouver, my days were full of meetings, reunions, and work, yet somehow I felt like I was doing nothing. My body was still buzzing from the energy in India, and the pace in Vancouver felt unnaturally slow. I knew from the moment I left Mumbai that I had to go back and try to live there.
From that moment, everything I have done has been to increase my chances of moving to Mumbai. I did lots of research on Visa requirements and seriously considered signing up for a job I didn’t want just so I could be there. However, I just couldn’t get my ducks in a line for a permanent move in January, so I am going back to Mumbai for ten weeks to see what I can do. Perhaps the charm will wear off on my second visit, but I doubt it. There is something about the energy of this city that measures time by the breath. I will go back. How do I know? I just bought my plane ticket.

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The Frontier Gandhi and Other Highlights of SAFF Canada 2012

This year was the first South Asian Film Festival in Vancouver. The festival was put together by Hannah Fisher and Pat Bayes. Hannah Fisher had travelled all over the Indian sub-continent and found films from every country with the exception of the Maldives.Being a filmmaker and very interested in India and working with India, I found an excuse to attend. I managed to get some tickets to the opening gala featuring a dance performance and the film, Two Voices, One Soul by Makarand Brahme. I saw Chaitanya Chinchlikar’s Master Class videos film at Whistling Woods, and witnessed Jaya Bachchan discussing the Indian film industry.

I also managed to attend the Indo-Canadian Industry forum featuring John Dippong (Telefilm Canada), Jamshed Mistry (Entertainment Lawyer and Advocate at the High and Supreme Courts of Mumbai),  Jeet Matharru (Woman from the East), Chaitanya Chinchlikar (Whistling Woods International), and Makarand Brahme (Two Voices, One Soul). Many filmmakers attended such as Nimisha Mukerji and Meghna Haldar and I believe we all gleaned some information from the well-informed panel. There was a definite desire for coproduction between Indians and Canadians, and it showed through the questions the audience asked the panel and the passionate discussions that followed in the lobby of the Fairmont Pacific Rim.

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However, my favorite experience of the festival was watching the film The Frontier Gandhi: Badshah Khan, A Torch for Peace by T. C. (Teri) McLuhan.

The film is a historical documentary about a man who believed in non-violence in the same days as Mahatma Gandhi. Badshah Khan was a Muslim who lived in the Frontier Province which contained the Khyber Pass, the famous route that carried conquerors into India such as Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and the British. He lived among a people know for their violent tendencies, but preached non-violence as a way of life. He joined forces with Gandhi and they spoke together about using non-violence as a way to gain independence from British colonialism.

However, when India finally gained independence it was with a partition. In 1947, India was partitioned into Pakistan, India, and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). This partition was based on perceived regions dominated by either Hindu or Muslim people. This resulted in massive bloodshed and a border dispute which continues to this day. While Badshah Khan and Gandhi (A Muslim and a Hindu) had worked together for a unified freedom from the British, the British had left the country divided by territory and religion. This left both men feeling betrayed by their country. Badshah Khan returned to his home which was now part of Pakistan to continue teaching non-violence among the people in his village. However, Gandhi was idolized and branded as the man who led the resistance of the British even after his assassination.

Badshah Khan continued to live on and spread his beliefs on non-violence and education among his people, being imprisoned even at the age of 98.He spent 1/3 of his long life in jail. He was a man of love, and carried a message much bigger than himself. Because of political reasons, he was never fully recognized in the way that Gandhi was. The stories of him and his followers, the Red Shirts, were never told until Teri McLuhan tracked them down in the 1980’s.

The film was in the making for twenty-one years. Teri spoke after the film played at the Granville 7 cinema and described her journey of making the film. Through a personal drive and desire to make the film, she managed to acquire visas for herself and four Indian crew members to go under the radar and film on and off for many years. The interviews she has done are incredible, as some of the men and many of the women on screen had never been filmed before but were so passionate in their love and devotion to Badshah Khan and his message. Despite his amazing history, many people outside his region had never heard his name.

Teri is now searching for distribution, and is working toward a theatrical release in India. Teri expressed her desire to distribute the film for free on the internet but first needs to pay back her investors. Finding distribution can be difficult when a film has already been made, but when the film touches so much history that needs to be told, it is certain that distribution will come.

I think this film was the highlight of the South Asian Film Festival. When you see this film, you will realize its importance and why it needs to be distributed widely.

If you want to see the film, I encourage you to check out the website: www.thefrontiergandhi.com and spread the word about the film in order to increase its chances of getting distribution.

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The India Initiative

ImageLast May, I had the trip of a lifetime to India that was made possible by Simon Fraser University. The SFU India Inititative Program focuses on increasing collaboration between India and Canada.

“Through the generous support of Western Economic Diversification Canada, SFU is accelerating its linkages with India, in particular, focusing on mobility programs and projects that support the clean energy, life sciences, new media and film sectors. With the objective of building strong ties between BC and India, the BC-India Mobility Initiative allows scholars and executives from India to visit and conduct teaching, research or knowledge-sharing activities, supports the placement of SFU students in India, and the development of series of industry workshops.” – Taken from SFU’s India Initiative website (http://india.sfu.ca)

This particular trip involving the SFU Film Production Program was to increase collaboration and involvement of SFU with the film industry and film schools. Sara Blake and I went to India 10 weeks with the intention of networking with industry professionals, visiting institutions and organizations, and gathering information on the current state of the film industry. From May to August, we conducted one-on-one interviews with industry professionals including Anurag Kashyap, Ketan Mehta, Jayanth Paranjee, and Nimisha Mukerji to develop our understanding of the many faces of Indian Cinema and find opportunities for coproduction.

Oh we had such an incredible time. In fact, we are returning to India in order to follow up on the connections we made and further our research of the industry. Stay tuned on the blog as I will eventually release an article about the trip in full detail including our projections and plans for the future of Indo-Canadian CoProduction.

A Model of Myself

Modelling is one of the many careers that I have been interested in since I was a child. My sister became a model at 16 with John Casablancas and got an ongoing job as the Talula fit-model. When I was 14, my mom recognized my own interest and signed me up for a modelling course at John Casablancas. The course was designed for adolescent girls to develop confidence in their skills such as public speaking, and also gave workshops on posing, dressing, walking, and makeup. At the end we had a photoshoot with a professional photographer, and the models who showed promise would sometimes end up with a contract with John Casablancas.

I had a great time during the course. I made friends with some of the other girls my age, and there was an energy of excitement that lasted throughout the course with a potential modelling contract at the end of it. On the day we were supposed to give speeches to the group on what we believed in, I remember I wore a belt with my 1-inch zip Dorinha jeans that was bright red with the word “SEX” printed repeatedly along the length. It didn’t even occur to me that it was inappropriate, and I stood up and gave me speech with confidence. My mother and I were both shocked when we realized I had gone the whole day wearing this belt and that neither of the modelling coaches mentioned it.

When the course finished and I did not receive an offer to start modelling, I immediately decided that the course was a money grab designed to give hope to young girls who want to be models regardless if they have to body-type to be professionals or not. I applied to another agency and received a reply that stated that not all girls are meant to be models and that I wasn’t tall enough. Being an inch or two taller than my sister, I knew it wasn’t true. I told myself that they were too nice to tell me that I’m fat and should just give up. So that is what I did. My mother still insists that I benefited from the course she paid $2000 for. I did learn how to do my makeup in a tasteful way, and to this day my headshot is still stuck to the fridge.

Eight years later I met Shilpa Mukerji, a photographer based in Mumbai. My friend and colleague Sara Blake and I met her through her mother while we were interning at a workshop in Chennai, India. We discussed over chapatis the prospect of doing a fun and creative photoshoot together before we left Mumbai. We threw around some ideas and at the end I was super excited to be infront of the camera again.

Sara and I did a whole day modelling together for Shilpa. I found the process to be energizing and exhausting at the same time. I liken the experience to acting for films, where you must be aware of your placement and positioning and immerse yourself in the moment and feel the emotions you want to project. I took some tips from Tyra Banks and felt “through my eyes”. It’s amazing how watching reality television can teach you do’s and dont’s through other people’s mistakes.

We followed up with another photo shoot that was just Shilpa and I. Sara is a cinematographer and decided she was much happier behind the camera than infront. I was in my element again and had a blast. I thought, perhaps I really can be a model despite being a size up from commercial model body-measurements. Since that day in July 2012, I have decided that I am a model regardless if I get paid or not. I say this in the sense that someone can be a musician if they play an instrument. Our actions define us, not our paycheques. I have had a paid gig here and there, and soon I hope to be represented by an agency who will support me based on my photos and not the inches around my waist.

Shilpa Mukerji’s Website

My Portfolio