Happiness is …

Happiness is being mistakenly given an extra-large iced Americano when you ordered a large. And not being charged for it. On a Friday. Casual Friday. And it’s a slow day.

I’m a STAR

I received a pleasant surprise in the weekly staff meeting this morning – a completely unexpected Staff Appreciation and Recognition (STAR) Award for the fiscal year of 2017-18. I was told that is was for my effort in training our new staff and taking over responsibility for educating and advising our international student population on all federal and state tax-related matters.

I won’t divulge the amount of the award, but let’s just say that Maia’s and my trip to Guadalajara and Lake Chapala this November is now entirely paid for. GOOOOOAAAALLLLLLL!!!

(Not So) Short Review of Chungking Express

chungking express

Like I suppose a lot of people did, I performed a few Google searches in the aftermath of Anthony Bourdain’s passing* in what started as a retrospective attempt to find clues that he may have left of his despair, but then quickly turned into a time of revisiting old stories and clips about his life over the past couple of decades.

(* – I promise this will be the last post about the topic.)

Knowing that he was a big movie buff, I decided to google “Bourdain Top Ten Movies” which led me to this page …

https://www.criterion.com/current/top-10-lists/152-anthony-bourdain-s-top-10

… a 2011 list of his top 10 movies

  1. The Friends of Eddie Coyle
  2. Eyes Without a Face
  3. The Battle of Algiers
  4. Chungking Express
  5. Kiss Me Deadly
  6. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
  7. Withnail and I
  8. Army of Shadows
  9. House of Games
  10. Sullivan’s Travels

I have to admit that before last weekend I hadn’t seen any of these movies but I figure I can take his word for it that they are worth seeing. And so, as a small way of paying homage to his legacy – and a chance to see some good movies – I have decided to watch as many of them as I can over the next few weeks and offer my thoughts. And with that, I’ll start with the one that I watched on Sunday – Chungking Express.

Let me just start by saying that, if you are the type of person who likes a good story with well-developed characters, then Chungking Express is not the movie for you. The movie is only an hour and 43 minutes long and instead of one story, the director (Wong Kar-Wai) included two. The result is two underdeveloped story arcs and a group of characters with no back story – they are simply introduced to the viewer during a brief episode (two, actually) of their lives and when those episodes are over, so is the movie.

That’s not to say you won’t enjoy the characters. They are quirky and fascinating to watch as they deal in their unique way with loneliness and disappointment, hope and hopelessness, and infatuation and longing. A thought that crossed my mind is that people from the Western hemisphere might find their approach to problems a bit odd. I don’t know – you tell me after you watch the movie. As for me, since I lived in Asia for 17 years, I did not find them out of the ordinary.

(I know that there are some who will read this who will want to know what the movie’s about … because I’m lazy I’m just going to copy and paste a description from the movie’s Wikipedia page):

“The film consists of two stories told in sequence, each about a lovesick Hong Kong policeman mulling over his relationship with a woman. The first story stars Takeshi Kaneshiro as a cop obsessed with his breakup with a woman named May, and his encounter with a mysterious drug smuggler (Brigitte Lin). The second stars Tony Leung as a police officer roused from his gloom over the loss of his flight attendant girlfriend (Valerie Chow) by the attentions of a quirky snack bar worker (Faye Wong).”

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chungking_Express)

But none of that matters, because Chungking Express wasn’t meant to be enjoyed for its story. Its brilliance is in its camerawork. Its visuals. Its motion, colors, and location. Concerning his filming style, the movie’s cinematographer, Christopher Doyle (who coincidentally shot the final episode of Parts Unknown in Hong Kong just days before Bordain’s death), said,

What I’m trying to do is make the camera-work lyrical rather than fragmentary. It’s a dance between the camera and the actors.

And without a doubt he succeeds.

To be honest, it took me about fifteen minutes before I began to appreciate the subtleties of the camera work (I am a person who likes a good story, after all). But then I started noticing how the camera was in a constant state of motion, zooming in and out and darting about as it set up the actor’s next line or movement or even thought. It’s at times frenetic and at others subtle. You can get a sense of it in this video made from clips of the movie:

There were two other things that I enjoyed about Chungking Express on a personal level. The first was its portrayal of Hong Kong. Typically, when one thinks of Hong Kong, they picture skyscrapers and Kowloon Bay. Wong takes the viewer to ground level – to the grimy, pulsating, in-your-face action on the street. The life of the city.

The second is that the movie was released in 1994 – only a year before I arrived in South Korea for the very first time – and it brought back a lot of memories. Special impressions and wonderment that I had of Asia as a much more naive man. This movie was a big hit in Korea and when I heard California Dreaming playing over and over (and over) in the movie, I remembered the time when I heard it virtually everywhere I went in Seoul for the first couple of years I was there.

Ah, yes … mid-90s Asia. A time when Asian cinema was establishing its reputation on a global scale; and the course of my life made its most consequential turn …

… but I digress.

I give Chungking Express a 4 out of 5. I subscribed to FilmStruck to watch it, but if you want to see it for free you can find it in two parts at DailyMotion.

Enjoy!

The Lessons of Anthony Bourdain

I was a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain. I wrote on my Facebook page that to me he represented an amalgam of the personalities and characters of people I met while living and traveling abroad. I have always had a nomadic spirit, and when I watched episodes of No Reservations it stoked an already burning desire to explore new places, peoples, and cultures. I suppose I saw my approach to the world as similar to his, though on a much, much smaller scale. I frequently related to the scenes where he dined and drank and laughed and philosophized and drank some more, always in a new locale. It was as though we were existing in parallel universes (mine not nearly as cool as his, of course).

So it hit me pretty hard when I learned of his death; doubly so when I heard that it was by suicide, as I too went through a deep, dark period of uncontrollable depression a few years ago and I saw up close how threatening it can be.

No one will ever really know what exactly was going through his head in the moment he made that severe, irreversible decision to end his life, but on some level I think I can imagine what he felt. Because he was a man who possessed such passion and curiosity about the world, it’s hard to understand why he would opt to remove himself from it; but on the other hand, such intense passion and curiosity bring with them high expectations, and when depression takes over the mind it becomes increasingly difficult to have those expectations met – no matter how exotic the next day suggests itself to be. Finally, I suppose, one reaches a place where you are convinced those expectations will never again be met and, that being the case, what’s the point of carrying on?

I’ll miss Anthony Bourdain; especially with the state the world is in today. I’ve heard more than a few people say that. Now more than ever we really could have used his inspiration and his example. But what’re ya gonna do?

Actually, I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do – I’m going to do what I think he probably wanted us all to do. I’m going to read more, learn more, watch more movies about the human existence, take more culinary risks, travel more, move more, delve more deeply into the stories of other cultures, look more closely into the eyes of those people in faraway places we hear about in the news. Strive to understand more. Celebrate more what we share in common.

Live in the moment. Appreciate our shared existence.

Feeling sick as a single parent

It’s rough as a single parent when you’re sick, ’cause the little one needs no less care or attention and doesn’t turn the energy down.

The Lessons of 2014

One year ago today I wrote that 2014 was either going to be the best or the worst year of my entire life. It turns out I was wrong – I chose the wrong superlatives to describe my expectations for 2014.

2014 was not the best or worst year, but the most impactful … the most meaningful … the most pivotal year of my entire life.

After a year of hopelessness and stress in 2013, 2014 was a year full of blessings. My six-year nightmare of a marriage finally reached its end (I know, this sounds harsh, but you just have to take my word for it). After a full year of searching for the right job, then ANY job, I was lucky enough to get two great jobs – the first in sports journalism (how about THAT?) and the second in the field that I most love: international education. After serious doubts about the direction my career path would take after returning to the States, the future now holds vast potential. Most importantly, I was granted full custody of my dear Maia – my absolute everything.

But none of this came easily. The results were great but the process was excruciating and, as most of you know, caused me many sleepless nights and impacted my health. This was not a good thing. Moving forward, I need to shift my focus to improving my health so that I can enjoy the gifts I’ve been blessed with this past year.

Finally, 2014 reminded me of the cold reality that we are mortal and the eras of our lives are transitory.

One year ago today my brother Mike – recognizing the difficulty I was going through – commented on my year-end post,

“You are always in my prayers, keep your faith, here’s to a fantastic 2014.”

One year from that day I am left with memories of him.

I suppose there will always be moments of sadness at the times I miss my brother the most or regret lost opportunities to express my love and appreciation for him. But that is the lesson that I have learned – to not take my own life for granted (“get healthy so you can enjoy it, you idiot”) and to fight the complacency that hinders our ability to appreciate the moments, weeks, years, and eras while we are in their midst.

My wish is for everyone to make the most of their 2015.

To my friends and family, I love you.

Godspeed.

Go Hawks!!!

Here it comes!

I’ve been a Seahawks fan since the start and I can name quite a few early-years Seahawks off the top of my head – Jim Zorn, Steve Largent, Kenny Easley, Jacob Green, Jeff Bryant, Michael Jackson,  Fredd Young, Efren Herrera, Steve August. I could name more, but I think that’s enough to establish my credentials as a long-suffering Seahawk fan.

As a life-long Seahawks (and Mariners, and Sonics) fan, I know as well as anyone that we have had our share of lows. Way more than our share. As as result, we’ve never had a reason to truly be optimistic in the face of the unknown. In the face of a challenge.

Until now.

What’s different this time? We have got a large collection of players who are not overwhelmed by “the moment” – in fact they rise above it. They are poised for greatness. Wilson, Lynch, Baldwin, Harvin, Sherman, Chancellor, Thomas, Wagner, Wright, Bennett. They are all the type of competitor who hears what fans and media around the country say and figuratively “spit in the face” of such commentary. They KNOW that they are destined for greatness.

This is a quality the 2006 Super Bowl Seahawks didn’t possess. Hasselbeck? Alexander? I loved those guys, but please.

The closest team that Seattle has had to this Seahawks team for swagger would be the Sonics teams of Payton and Kemp. The problem for them was they ran into the GOAT, Michael Jordan.

I believe that won’t be a problem for this Seahawks team. Their opponent is the Denver Broncos, led by Peyton Manning. While he has had a record-breaking season and is a first-ballot hall-of-famer, it’s important to remember that just a few short weeks ago the national debate centered around whether he was the biggest choker in the playoffs. Victories over a 9-7 Chargers team and a patchwork, post-spygate Patriots squad may have removed Manning’s name from the Greatest Choker of All Time hat, but I’d hardly say that paper with his name on it has floated into the OMG He’s a Cutthroat Competitor Who Wins All the Big Games bag.

At the risk of looking completely foolish in a couple of days, I’m putting it out there:

The Seahawks are going to win Super Bowl XLVIII!

Peyton Manning is great, and I give him much respect, but I believe the world is about to discover that these Seahawks are destined for greater things on the big stage than Manning.

Predictions:

Final score: Seattle 30, Denver 20

Russell Wilson will win the Super Bowl MVP while passing for around 200 yards and being responsible for two TDs.

Sleeper MVP – Jermaine Kearse

Seattle’s defense or special teams will be responsible for one touchdown.

Richard Sherman will get an interception.

He will shout (a little) during and after the game.

The Seattle D will have three interceptions in the game.

Bobby Wagner will have at least a dozen tackles, force at least one turnover, and collect the defensive MVP.

GO HAWKS!!!