Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review of "The Kindness Diaries" - Netflix Series, The Book, and Not-So-Random Thoughts

If there is a travel show, we are watching it. From our comfy reclining sofa and easy access to snacks, we can freely explore the globe. Generally, a good travel show will have a goal. It may be to eat the slimiest critter in the ocean, go to the best massage in Sweden, or find the lost bones of a forgotten civilization. On Netflix, I came across “The Kindness Diaries,” which boldly claims the goal to find and cultivate kindness around the world.

 

What You Need To Know

Leon Logothetis is a former broker who decided to trek the world on a yellow motorcycle without any cash. He relies on strangers to give him food, shelter, and gas. And, sometimes, when the spirit moves him, he repays people with gifts that have potential to change their lives. He travels for 6 months to 20 countries and the experience is effectively recorded by his silent camera crew and in his book. 

What You Need To Do

  • Watch these episodes in order. Do not flip around to “Oh, he’s in Italy now, let’s watch that.” No. You need to go in order to witness Leon’s own growth and self-awareness. The man in Los Angeles is not the same one in Cambodia. By the time he made it to Southeast Asia, he had been beaten down and uplifted so many times. His reactions and approaches change as he learns how to navigate this social experiment in each country.
  • Wear a long sleeve shirt or keep a box of tissues, whichever you prefer. You will cry. No, it’s not a downer - it’s a good cry! You will see the happiness and joy in people and a little bit of that spirit comes into your heart and makes you cry. Unless of course, you have a stone cold heart, so this will just chip away at the ice. 
  • Do not binge on this. Yes, it is tempting watch each 20 minute episode back to back until you’re done. Yes, you are done. What will you do then? Ride your own bike around the world? Therefore, the only way to watch this is in small batch of 1-2 episodes. This is the special Willy Wonka chocolate bar with the Gold Ticket. It’s rare, sweet and you want to eat a little bit at a time, and share it with Grandpa Joe. 

 

What It Did For Me

I found this in February of 2017, when I was continuously absorbed with social media, consuming articles about politics and analysis about the future. It was also a particularly dark period of loss for my family, as well. This is on top of the dealing with strong personalities at work and overall physical and emotional support for family. Therefore, when I sit down to watch TV, I watch with the intent “to turn off my brain.”

I found this show and it was such a respite from all the noise. I do not want to hear anything negative or wrong -- this is what is right in the world.

My father once quipped, “You have the US, and then you have the real world.” I felt like this show brought the real world and people forward. It made the rest of our worries seem so inconsequential, when people are trying to survive day to day.

I watched the Cambodia episode twice – the second time with my family – and I cried again. There’s no randomness in meeting strangers in your path. Leon was supposed to meet the girl who brought him to her village to help someone there. 

In this time of uncertainty, this was a small reminder that we’re not just floating alone. We’re connected to each other and we can rely on others. I do believe some people come into our lives for a purpose. They serve a function for as long as they stay, which may be moments or years, and then they leave us, helping us for our next step.
A greater lesson is that we shouldn’t underestimate the value of kind word or gesture. What seems small to one person, can mean the world to another.

A few years ago I did the social experiment of 29 Gifts in 29 days. I kept a list of what I gave to others every day. It may have been physical item such as bringing food to coworkers, passing extra magazines to a friend or, it may have been intangible such as forwarding a meaningful email or a compliment. After reading inspiring stories from others, I upped my giving and organized a holiday food drive at work for local organization. However, the more you give, the more you receive. After that period, believe it or not, I won the office Super Bowl pool. Now, everyone knows I do not watch football let alone bet on it. Because I was in the spirit of giving, I doled out few dollars for the pool, and I won $200 back. Yes, a lot of people were shocked and I bought pizza with the winnings. Here's a link to another blog post about other random gifts.

Anyway, this whole Kindness series just took the social experiment to the global level.

On Leon

So, I found the Facebook page for the series and I chimed in on a discussion. I was shocked that Leon responded to me in appreciation of my comment and said he would send me his book if I messaged him. I was an extremely giddy fan-girl when I wrote back! I've had NPR personalities respond to me, but not a Netflix one! We chatted and he sent me a copy of his book about the tour!

Yes, I know he didn’t personally mail it, but someone from the publisher distribution department who got a list to ship. Yet, I was excited! By the way, he has a high responsive rate for acknowledging comments on the page himself, which is really a good practice for public relations.

On the Book

I received "The Kindness Diaries"book and quickly read this after I had seen most of the show. This part is tricky because the book is about the travel experiences. Having seen the series, there are parts I felt I could skip and this book could just be a companion to the series. However, he moves very quickly through some of those travel stories. The benefit to the book is that that the introspection on his motivations and soul searching. The series omits his relationship with his girlfriend, while the book brings it up freely. She feels he is “running away” from her, while he’s trying to find himself. It’s intriguing how he makes the Odysseus and Penelope connection eventually.

I was happy to see him acknowledge that much of the success of this trip is due to being a white Englishman. Of course, people are open to the English accent! That is how the British conquered the world. This social experiment would not have left Los Angeles if the traveler were a dark-haired Jose or Sanjay. I also believe a woman would not have taken this much of a risk on a world tour without money. Obviously, many women travel alone, but they would probably have a backup plan for where to stay the night.

He also acknowledged the advantage of having a film crew with him, which gave him a sense of importance. I would love to see an FAQ section – where did the film crew stay, did they offer him food or gas at all, what was their experience like in the villages, what exactly is the mileage on Kindness One?

Anyway, Leon was a stockbroker before, which is a career that is driven by risk and adrenaline of uncertainty. There’s also a sense of boldness – asking what polite folk do not ask. Can I be in the show? Can you teach me karate? Can I touch your gun? Because each new situation is unpredictable, humility and flexibility is key. There’s no American arrogance around him – “I cannot sleep on that” or “I need Ranch dressing or I can’t eat.”

By the way, since this book was a gift to me, I'm going to pass it along to someone else.

On India

I made multiple attempts to engage my family to watch this show, and was able to lure them in when I was on the Turkey to India episodes. My husband, like many Indian immigrants, was dismayed at how India was portrayed. I don’t have a problem with this – it is hot, dirty, inconvenient, overwhelming. However, Indians feel it often becomes one-sided depiction and the positive aspects get lost. I mean, who wants to continually see their home depicted so negatively, that this becomes the mainstream perspective?

Anthony Bourdain says in his book “No Reservations”:
"There are two types of visitors to India: There are those who quickly find themselves frustrated, irritated, frightened of the food and water, intimated by the great masses of humanity, overwhelmed by the all-too-evident poverty, ground down by the heat and the crowds, perplexed by the behavior of Indians..."

"Others, like me, are charmed... You have to redefine words like 'beautiful,' 'magnificent,' and 'gorgeous' when you travel through India... I love India. I just don't know whether I can handle India. Whether I can wrap my tiny brain around its past, its present or its future."

Leon definitely is the latter as he writes:
"India will always feel flat in words, because it isn’t contained by language. It is written in color. It is drawn by sound. India breaks through all of the senses because India is filled with people. So many people."
He definitely embraces the culture and the people. Man, he went into the river at Varanasi!  My Indian friends would never dip anywhere outside of their Marriott hotels when they’re in India. I’m actually glad he stayed with the common people, and did not venture into the high-end bubble that exists in major cities. I’ve been to bars and malls in Mumbai that are beyond what I’ve seen in NYC and Las Vegas. However, you walk out into the streets and face stark humanity at your feet.

The most important part of traveling and entering new cultures and countries is put away judgments and criticism, and simply open hearts and minds.

What's Next?

Since I found the series, I’ve been encouraging many friends to watch this for a feel good show. I get emails that friends are crying and everything. The positive part is that even though the series is over, Leon still around. He’s also doing a number of live chats and speaking tours. I hope he does come to my town and we can be good friends.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

That's a wrap, 2016!



If you have been alive in the US, there’s never been a year that rocked the country to the core as 2016. We all hoped that Trump would be gone by Iowa Caucus and the adults could continue. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be and we went from ecstatic optimism on November 7th to dark depression on November 8th. We lost some of our greatest inspirations such as David Bowie, George Michael, and Prince. I wrote about David Bowie, who someone said was like an old boyfriend. George Michael and Prince were in the soundtrack to my high school and college years. We debated over what the heck is “Father Figure” about and my sister and I parodied “I Want Your Sex” with “I Want Your Granola.”

However, we need these bitter moments in order to value the sweet moments in our life. I want to remember 2016 for these special ones.

Year of Travel

In 2015, I flew to Kentucky for 2 days and we drove 7 hours to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This year, I had many good opportunities. Even when I travel for business, I try to make a few hours to do personal sight-seeing so it doesn’t become only about work.

We were in Portland, OR for a week, so we went into the city a few evenings. I was able to check out Powell’s bookstore and Voodoo Donuts. On my trip to Tampa, our attempts to go to the beach didn’t work out, until a few hours before my flight. We went to Joe’s Whiskey Bar for lunch and could enjoy the blue water of Florida. I went to Salt Lake City, UT and we had to check out the Mormon Temple and buildings. Of course, the mountains around city was just beautiful. I made a second trip to Portland in December, which was too brief to enjoy anything.

Our biggest trip this year was to India for 3 weeks. We spent two weeks in Mumbai with family and we had a chance to recharge our body and spirits. It had been at least 7 years since my daughter and I had gone, so it was wonderful to reconnect with family. Our 12-year-old nephew and I found a common interest in Harry Potter and spent an evening working on spells. It was great meeting cousins from Chicago and friends from Pennsylvania who were visiting too. We tried out cool restaurants and strolled the malls as well.

Another week was spent in Leh, Ladakh, India. This deserves its own blog (coming soon), but it was a week of adventure. We overcame our fears of heights and dingy toilets, and realized altitude sickness is a real thing that doesn’t go away after 5 days. We rode camels in the desert, climbed through ancient Buddhist monasteries and slept in a cabin by a turquoise lake. 

On our way back, we stopped in Paris for 24 hours (again, blog post coming soon). We took walking tours and my favorite moment was having breakfast at a boulangerie in Place de Victor Hugo. The bread, the cafĂ©! C’est la vie merveilleuse!
 

Experiences

If you’ve read my blogs, you’ll know I’m an enthusiastic Obama and Hillary Clinton supporter over the years. With this crazy political year, I got to participate in a few of the rallies and had amazing once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 
  • In June, Bill Clinton, Gabbie Gifford and Mark Kelly came to speak at a local school. I was excited to shake Bill’s hand over the crowd, just a touch.
  • My sister and I waited in line for 3 hours to see Hillary Clinton and Katy Perry perform. Her music ended up being in my head during the whole election and aftermath.
  • My friend and I took our daughters to Philadelphia to join 20,000 others to greet the Obamas and the Clintons, as well as Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.
More posts about the Election are on my other site.
On personal front, we enjoyed celebrating weddings for close friends (wait, how did we become ‘that auntie and uncle’ at the wedding?) and welcomed babies into our families.

My family has gone through a lot of medical challenges with my father’s health, and it’s one more year that we’ve been blessed to have together. I’m always inspired by my father’s spirit to keep on writing, no matter what and my mother’s strength and focus to keep everyone going. In February 2017, they will have their 50th wedding anniversary, which is unbelievable (oh yes, the 50 years was such a breeze!)

Oh yes, “The Gilmore Girls”! I spent my summer watching the series every evening after work; I found it relaxing and bit of escapism to see a daughter who was so diligent about everything (sorry, mom of teen snark). We finally got Netflix to watch "The Gilmore Girls" update. I’ve also fallen for “The Crown” and “Grace and Frankie,” they’ve become like friends.

Looking forward to a new year where my intention is to step out of my comfort zone more often and  engage with new people, as well as maintain connections with the old friends. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My Other Blog Site

Just letting readers know that I have my other blog site to check out: Laptop Prophet

Both blogs are active, in addition to Dancing Leaves.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Hieronymus Bosch "Garden of Earthly Delights" Interpretation

Hieronymus Bosch, a Dutch painter from the Middle Ages, had painted the "Garden of Earthly Delights". I came across this interactive exhibit of the painting and am obsessed. Why couldn't every painting of significance have an interactive narration like this? They have two options - a narrated tour through 15 key sections, or Freely Explore numerous hot spots on the painting where audio notes are presented. Zoom in. Listen to the audio. Click on other links. The experience is absolutely lovely. It's like being in a museum and listening to the curators on the headsets, except you don't have to fuss with the back and forth buttons on the device.

This is a perfect mix of art history and technology. This is what online galleries need to do.

Also, I'm personally blown away by the details in this painting. We zoom into the details and everything is perfectly shaded or positioned, and has significance. When you zoom into the details, you see the mermaid and the mer-knight in the middle of the water. There are the birds in different sizes and performing different activities. Who..How.. Why? I can imagine this becoming full time mission for historians to dissect these components, all the while enjoying the beauty of the painting.

Yes, I'm obsessed.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Portland Visit Reviews

I'm returning from a week in Portland, OR for a business trip and did get to explore around a bit. Here's a recap for future reference.

Where we ate: 

Swagath

The first night, we hit Indian food. I was excited since I had been traveling the whole day and just arrived to a rainy and chilly Portland. For me, Indian food is comfort food. Get me some naan and dal, and I'm good to go!

We went to the one in Hillsboro and I loved the rich ambiance. There was a painting of an elephant that I wanted to steal because it was so amazing. The chairs are heavy wooden antique style, that require 2 hands to move due to the weight. Copper tins abound. Definitely an impressive place.

For the menu, it had pretty traditional options. I liked that they did have a section where you pick your chicken/lamb/shrimp, and then select the style of cooking (karai, tikka masala, etc). The samosas were freshly made. We requested varying degrees of spiciness so that could be adjusted.

I skipped the gulab jamun because I only eat my mother's recipe. However, the masala chai was warm and creamy. The lassi is served in a tall milkshake glass, so that's a good sized portion.

Jake's Crawfish
The next night we wanted something more traditional to Portland. Jake's has been there for 110 years and right in the heart of the city.

The menu is predominantly seafood so I'm assuming vegetarian requests would be off-menu. The selection of seafood is varied and they identify the region that sources the product. I had a blackened salmon (swordfish was out) and the dish was enjoyable. Personally, I wasn't blown away, but it was a good solid dish. My colleagues did enjoy their selections.  We were looking to get regional specialties for Northwest, which we did.


Red Star Tavern
Now we've ventured toward Pioneer Plaza area. Streets are lined with high-end and low-end shopping, movie theaters, hotels and restaurants. It was raining that evening (surprise, surprise). We couldn't really walk around so we ducked into a Hilton and asked the concierge for restaurant recommendations. He suggested we check out Red Star Tavern for the Northwest regional cuisine. Umbrellas out!

Their website says: "Farm-to-fabulous, organic, local, and meticulous preparation with West Coast cachet -- it’s all here."

Definitely a beautiful chic place that has a male vibe to it. Dark furniture, secret bookcase to a private room/speak easy. I ordered a Saint 75 cocktail (Aviation gin, elderflower, lemon, sparkling wine) and it was delightful (Isn't that the only word you can use when you have sparkling wine?).

Their dinner menu is pretty tight. Barely one page of content. They have small plates, sides, entrees. There are nods to vegetarians. The Oregon rock fish was very good and flavorful. Two colleagues chose the Chef's dinner, which included starter and desserts.

This would be a good place to experience those dishes you see on "Top Chef" (now, what exactly is a Hamachi Crudo with apple, fresno chile, carrot, salmon roe?)

Paley's Place
For our last proper meal in Portland, we stumbled upon the northwest area of Portland with rows of restaurants and bars. We had lots to choose and randomly picked French cuisine at Paley's. This restaurant is inside a house, so it has a cozy atmosphere. Of course, when it's cozy, you need to wait for a table. Fortunately there was a spot at the bar and we could try out some wines and their cocktails. Their Bermuda Triangle was warmed rum and cider, nicely mixed with cinnamon and lime. On a cool evening, this was good way to warm up.

The menu doesn't have any vegetarian options, so I'm sure one would need to request off-menu. There's creative meat options for sure including sweatbreads, escargots, rabbit and marrow. For the sides, the roasted beets were fabulous and I need to know the recipe so I can make it every day. Colleagues loved the lamb special.

The one odd thing for the group was the vegetables were served as a 2nd course, while we thought of them as a side with the entree. It threw some people off, but the staff was understanding to our expectations. By the way, the staff was uber-attentive and the bartender was charming and knowledgeable. They work hard to make it a good experience.

Voodoo Doughnuts
We're not just doing fancy schmancy restaurants. We're doing doughnuts, baby!

I had a running corny joke with my Portland colleague for so many years. Whenever we had a conference call, I'd say "I'll bring the coffee, you bring the donuts." So he had told us they had a famous place in Portland and they did maple bacon donuts, were on the Food Channel, etc.

When I learned I was going out there, I told everyone I must go to Voodoo Doughnuts. So, we had that on the agenda every day and finally made a stop Wednesday evening. We all chose different ones - Rice Krispies and peanut butter atop chocolate frosting, a mango tango cream, a maple bacon and one covered in mini M&Ms.

 I was excited by the ambiance too - the large doughnut  on the ceiling is outrageous. If you visit their site and click on their Doughnut list, they have all their crazy flavors noted.

By the way, the next day a colleague grabbed a tray of doughnuts from another bakery. Those were spectacular too! Portland takes it's doughnuts seriously.

What We Did

Powell's Books
So, it's not just about eating. The next essential element for life - at least for me - are bookstores. Someone directed me to Powell's and we are grateful.

I don't want to describe the store because I won't do it justice. It's not slick and shiny. It's laid out in a fashion that must be learned by experience of walking through the shelves. Yes, as first time visitors, we were lost and weren't sure which level was coming and going, and where exactly are adult fiction. They tried to color code sections, but we were still not sure.

Because of the labyrinth-like layout, there's more discovery allowed. Turning a corner, you don't know what it means by Film Books until you land there and see books about so many movies and filmmakers. Being a used and new bookstore, the collections are vast and you're more likely to find an out of date book here than on Amazon.

I was tickled to see books I had heard about recently online or on the radio. Now, I could finally hold them. Because I'm traveling and my bags were quite full, I had to restrain myself from buying any excess books.

My greatest find was poster book of Sanjay Patel's deities. As I was telling my colleagues about it, I just embraced this book and said "It's mine." Fortunately it lay flat in my bag so the packing wasn't an issue.

As I browsed around, I was floored to see a huge book case of books by journalists. Then, I made a bee line for the poetry books. To see so many Pablo Neruda books on the shelf was amazing. I sat down on the concrete floor and almost cried touching all these books. I snagged "The Captain's Verses."

My colleagues also found books that they were looking for and more than they expected. I know we didn't finish the store as we had run over after dinner and they were closing at 11. 

Until next time, Portland! 




Bowie - Being a Hero Forever and Ever



Oh not, not Bowie!

The news on Jan 10th of David Bowie’s death shook the world. Obviously, other artists have passed away, and you feel a bit of nostalgia and sorrow and commemorate with a quiet “RIP So and So” in your Facebook status as a salute. With David Bowie, that would not do. 

This loss permeated through so many people. I have been deeply moved and burying myself in David Bowie videos and songs for the past weeks. I wiped away tears watching a tribute on TV at the gym. This was no ordinary celebrity. This was someone so integrated into our fibers we had to feel his loss.

If you’re not an out and out David Bowie fan, that’s ok. His music is not for everyone. However, you must give him credit for the influence and inspiration he gave so many people in music, fashion, literature, and any part of life that needs permission to have freedom of expression and self-identification. Without Ziggy Stardust kicking off glam-rock movement, we would’ve missed the 80’s New Wave to Lady Gaga. There wouldn’t be the edge in pop and rock theater. We would've perpetuated a cycle of straight forward Beatles and Rolling Stones. The world wanted and needed over the top performance artists to provoke the norm.

I believe one of the reasons everyone was so shaken is because Bowie had always been there, and we just assumed he would always be there. His music has been playing in the background of our lives. I missed the whole 60-70’s Ziggy Stardust phenomenon, so I knew him as the blond and elegant 80’s David with the baggy suits with shoulder pads. To be honest, I thought “Let’s Dance” was overplayed and “China Girl” was too silly. Then there was the Mick Jagger duet on "Dancing in the Streets," which seemed like the craziest combination.

Since it was the 80's artists that were influenced by him, I stepped away from the new stuff and went backwards. Duran Duran had remade his "Fame," which I enjoyed. However for a remake, it was too close to the original.

I learned of “Space Oddity” through Peter Schilling's song "Major Tom." I remember Kasey Kasem on American Top 40 radio show telling the story of how David Bowie sent Major Tom into space, and Peter Schilling brought him back years later. I am always intrigued by the concept of artists playing off each other. In college in the late 80’s, I had to seek out the original recording of “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie, since Vanilla Ice had captured the riff.

One of my favorite movie soundtracks is for the musical “Moulin Rouge.” I listen to the songs all the time because I love how modern pop songs are diced, spliced, and glued together for a vintage story. A favorite song is the Elephant Love Medley (sung by Ewan MacGregor and Nicole Kidman). The main chorus is “we can be Heroes, forever and ever,” as he tries to convince her character to give love a chance. I pulled it up the other day and realized how many lyrics from Bowie’s “Heroes” are actually integrated into the Moulin Rouge version. After further research, I learn David Bowie is on credits for “Nature Boy.” This is a perfect example of those moments you love him without knowing it. 

 There’s also an elusiveness to David Bowie that also makes him fascinating. He’s not out and about seeking attention for the sake of attention. He knew when to show up for fabulous parties and events. He seemed like the guy that only needed to wave his hands to bewitch and enchant.

There’s a quote from circulating online that the world is 4 billion years old, and we existed at the same time as David Bowie. It’s interesting because I thought of something similar when Princess Diana died. She will become a legend and won’t be remembered as a real person. It's these larger than life individuals that need to be remembered as humans.

Now we will have to tell stories about David Bowie not as a person, but this Starman wandered to our planet, lived among us and sprinkling his magic. This is our last dance.. under pressure.