The Season for Gratitude

“What are you grateful for?”

Gratitude is an important attribute that often gets overlooked nowadays with the fact that the instant gratification and fast-paced living of our culture takes precedence. However, in light of the recent terrible and horrific events that have occurred in Beirut, Paris, Ankara, and elsewhere, it’s important to take note before the upcoming holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the upcoming New Year of what we should be thankful for having in our lives.

It is relatively easy for people to take for granted the luxuries and conveniences that we have in the modern world. Most of us should look inwards to realize just how lucky and fortunate we are. There are people within our own country and other countries around the world that still struggle with poverty, homelessness, disease, violence, war, environmental changes, and terrorism. While we may not all suffer from the same problems depending on the country, we share the planet together and the empathy to understand that the whole of humanity is still in this together. I plan to use the upcoming holiday season, especially Thanksgiving, to reflect on what I am thankful for in this world and to reflect on this past year.

That is the true spirit and meaning of these holidays. It is the chance to spend time with loved ones, enjoy great food and drinks, but to also reflect and think of how fortunate you may be in this crazy world of ours. The new iPhone or the next gadget is not what makes the holiday season special. It’s our strong connection to our friends and family, our ability to reflect on the recent changes of our lives, and to be thankful for how good the world can be sometimes regardless of how ugly it can look to us at other times.

Here are the reasons why I’m thankful in 2015:

-I have a great family and a solid group of friends who will have my back and support me in whatever I choose to pursue, even if I decide to move halfway around the world on a whim. My parents, my brother, and other close family and friends help me to be a better person and inspire me to achieve more and set my goals higher.

-I live in a great country, which affords me a lot of opportunities if you work for them and have an open mind. It may have its flaws like any country does in this world but I’m proud to be a citizen of this nation and I’m grateful to have been born and grown up here.

-I have access to clean water, electricity, good food, and great health facilities that allow me to stay healthy and live well compared to others in this world that aren’t as fortunate.

-I can read countless books, educate myself in various subjects, and access the Internet to help me understand the world better and learn more to obtain more knowledge, make myself smarter. I don’t know what I would do without access to the Internet but for countless millions, they still aren’t able to take advantage of this precious resource.

-I enjoy making money from a profession that helps people in different countries around the world and it is a fulfilling job that I really like and has benefited my life in different ways.

-I am glad that I started this blog of mine two months ago, which has helped me to develop my writing abilities and make this hobby of mine a reality. I have some big plans for this website in 2016 and I am looking forward to sharing my future plans with my loyal readers very soon.

-I am happy to have had the unique ability to travel to many countries around the world so far at my age and I have learned so much from those experiences. It’s provided me great insight about different histories, cultures, foods, and societies, which is why it is so important to get your passport and get out there. Not many people are able to travel unfortunately and I hope that will change in the future as the world becomes more and more globalized. However, I’m not done traveling yet and I am looking forward to continuing my adventures in 2016 and beyond.

I will be taking a bit of a hiatus from my blog over the next two weeks to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with my family. In the meantime, check out my blog entry archives, look at my travel photography, and get in touch with me if you would like to.

I wish my readers in the United States a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving(!). For my international readers from around the world, I encourage and implore you all to realize the importance of having gratitude within you and to share it with your fellow man and woman.




The Culture of Dressing Down

Personal appearance is very important to how human beings generally judge one another even before we have a chance to open our mouths to to say something verbally. That’s a harsh truth for some to deal with but it is absolutely correct that what you wear can leave a positive or negative impact on how you are perceived by others. A major factor that plays into our overall appearance is how we dress ourselves. I am no fashion expert by any means but I have noticed recently and many others have as well that our culture has embraced dressing down in almost every situation, whether in a public or private setting. Instead of putting some work into our style and our appearance, most people today do not put in any effort at all and it’s very disappointing to see on a daily basis.

"Women in the 1940's - Fashion"
“Women in the 1940’s – Fashion”

Going back to my parents’ and grandparents’ generations by looking at old photographs, watching old movies from that era, and seeing the attire that both men and women committed themselves to, it’s quite impressive to witness when compared to the lack of effort that most people subscribe to nowadays. Whether it was going to the supermarket, watching a film or play, and especially going out to a restaurant, both the rich and the poor, the young and the old, did their best to look their best. I would say that it’s becoming increasingly rare for most people to dress up even if its’ just to go out to dinner or to see a live show.

There was a recent news story that caught my attention where it showed the photographs of people in line to go see ‘Les Miserables’ on Broadway in New York City but instead of wearing suits and dresses, the photos showed most of the theater-goers wearing cargo shorts, tank tops, and flip flops. I can’t fault these people for not knowing how others dressed in the past to watch plays, or enjoy the opera but it shows a lack of awareness of the situation and type of event that you’re going to. When you’re going to the theater or the opera, you shouldn’t be dressing up like you’re attending a baseball game.

"Men in the 1950's - Fashion"
“Men in the 1950’s – Fashion”

Some may say that how we dressed in previous generations was conformist, boring, and dated but you cannot doubt that those same folks displayed class, sophistication, and attention to detail at the same time. No generation is perfect or has all of the answers but the fact that they put effort into their appearance and how they looked everyday says a lot overall. ‘Dressing Up’ didn’t use to be for only a special occasion but was a day-to-day ritual for most. I also believe that nice dress clothes were more affordable back then and, the major clothing companies encouraged their sale to the American public. It’s only been since the 1960’s and onwards where casual became cool and wearing blue jeans, shirts, and shorts out in public became normal and culturally acceptable.

"Compare and contrast the fashion today with that of the 1940's and 1950's..."
“This picture is a great example of how not to dress when going to the theater…”

I have to admit that I am guilty of not dressing up for most social occasions these days but it is something in my own life that I am going to start changing. Recently, I’ve made it a point to look my best if it’s for a dinner out on the town, a theater play, or another classier type of social gathering. I don’t envision most people suddenly changing their ways too much where men will wear suits to the grocery store or women will wear dresses when going to the dry cleaners but I think that a balance between casual and formal wear has to be struck.

Instead of wearing a tank top, shorts, and flip flops when you’re shopping and/or running errands, try to wear a button-down shirt, a pair of khakis, and a nicer pair of shoes. You may be surprised on how much more seriously people will begin to take you in your personal and professional life if you start taking care of your appearance and your style. Regardless, if you’re attending a nighttime gala or heading to the local supermarket to get groceries, clothes will always make the man or woman.


Book Recommendations – Volume II

Being the voracious reader that I am, I have a couple of great selections for my readers out there who are looking for some excellent books to devour through during this upcoming winter. Hopefully, you’ll find Volume 2 of my recommendations as enjoyable and as entertaining as I did. Thank you.


1.) Modern Romance: An Investigation by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg is an intriguing and insightful new book that looks at how romance and dating has been affected by the digital age. I have been a huge fan of Aziz’s comedic talents for a few years now but I was skeptical when I first purchased this book believing that he wouldn’t be able to dive that deeply into a subject as complicated as examining human relationships in the 21st century. However, he pulls this challenge off with the help of renowned sociologist, Mr. Eric Klinenberg.

Part of the appeal of this book is that its authors are serious with their research using surveys and graphs to push the argument forward but it’s not too dense so as to confuse or bore the average reader. The levity and humor added by Aziz every now and then to lighten up a heavy subject is also appreciated and is enough to keep you flipping through the pages. In addition to exploring the rise of dating apps such as Tinder and OKCupid, Aziz and Eric also travel to different countries like Argentina, Japan, France, and elsewhere to examine the cultural dating differences and similarities when compared to the U.S. For anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of today’s dating climate and how its’ vastly different from that of your parents and grandparents, then this book is for you.


2.) Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan, PHD and Cacilda Jetha, MD is an extremely fascinating book with an underrepresented and well-argued take on how and why humans mate with and stray from each other. Diving deep into our ancestral origins, Dr. Ryan and Dr. Jetha argue that in pre-agricultural / hunter-gatherer societies, men and women were more suited to sharing everything with each other such as food, water, child care, and even sexual partners.

‘Monogamy’ was not the basis for how early humans acted towards one each other in expressing sexuality. In addition, the authors’ conduct detailed research on how close humans in our physical and physiological makeup are to our closest genetic relatives, the Bonobos and the Chimps. The mating system of early humans before agriculture was very close to the way bonobos and chimps mate as well. What I found most reasonable from this book was the conclusion that the deep communal, close bonds between pre-agricultural human tribes was a less stressful, more peaceful, and overall a better way of living than what would come later in history as a result of agricultural and industrial development.


3.) Purity by Jonathan Franzen is another excellent offering by this well-renowned and talented author who previously wrote ‘Freedom’ and ‘The Corrections.’ Unlike his other novels, ‘Purity’ is a truly global novel in terms of its settings and its characters. From a squatter house in Oakland, California to a secretive compound in the highlands of Bolivia, Mr. Franzen jumps from locale to locale while following the characters that make up this intriguing story.

Without giving away too much of the details, our main protagonist is Pip ‘Purity’ Tyler who begins the novel seeking a direction and purpose after graduating from college with $130,000 in student debt. Seeking to escape from her neurotic mother and wanting to find out the identity of her unknown father, Pip makes contact with Andreas Wolf, a German man who is the founder of The Sunlight Project, an organization similar to Wikileaks who acts at the novel’s fictional competitor to Julian Assange. Pip and Andreas come into contact with each other through the wonders of modern technology leading to much more details about how their paths in life are intertwined along with those of their close family members. ‘Purity’ is a true page-turner that has deep characters with unique personalities. For fans of Mr. Franzen who enjoyed ‘Freedom’ and ‘The Corrections.’ I highly recommend ‘Purity’ as a must-read for all.


The Thrill of Skydiving

“When the parachute opens up, you have to remember to hang on tight but also to enjoy the    great view.”

 The airplane starts to whirl its engines and ascend slowly up into the atmosphere. I’m as calm as a Hindu cow trying to remain unaware of what I’m about to do. My instructor who is tied at the hip straps me in as tight as possible as a necessary safety precaution. I am still in denial about what is about to happen to me but it’s too late now. There is simply no way to turn back now.

It was my 22nd birthday and I wanted to do something special for it. I told my parents, my friends, and others what I wanted to do to celebrate the occasion. They all thought I was crazy but it was the daredevil in me that wanted to make this become a reality. The head pilot of the small Cessna plane indicates that they’ve reached a cruising altitude of 13,000 Feet (4,000 Meters) and it’s time for us to jump out.                                                                            

One of the instructors opens the plane door and gives the go-ahead to his colleagues who are doing practice jumps like it was the most natural task in the world. You have to be somewhat crazy to be a skydiving instructor and do this day-in and day-out but 15 minutes later; I will completely sympathize with why they do what they do for a living. My instructor taps me on the shoulder and says that, “it’s go time!” We both stand up and move intermittently to the door opening.

I’m in the front with him secured to my back. I can’t help but peer out into the abyss below and realize what I’m about to do. The only actual moment of sheer terror I had was when we were about to jump out of the plane. My mere mortality is on the line and the cold air and wind of the Atlantic Ocean hits me like a brick. My instructor and I push ourselves out into the deep blue sky at a top speed. The feeling was similar to what’s been said before in movies about how in the deep reach of space, “No one can hear you scream.”                                                          

That is also true at the altitude of 13,000 feet (4000 meters). Shock and bewilderment leads to joy and exhilaration within seconds as I cascade down towards the vast and beautiful scenery below me. The vast Atlantic Ocean is to my left, Long Island with its’ sandy beaches and green parks right below, and the outline of New York City’s skyline is in the far distance to my right. It’s an absolutely picaresque view and is amazingly beautiful to behold. I have never felt more alive in my life and the rush of adrenaline pulses throughout my body. Nothing has come close to this moment before now and nothing has replicated it since then. I’ve never felt so free as you scream, yelp into the air the sounds and vibrations that no one will ever hear. Those two or three minutes of descent before the parachute is deployed last for what seemed like an eternity as I take in the view and remain at peace among the loud blowing of the wind, and the clear blue sky.

After the parachute successfully opens up, I hang on tight as I come down smoothly with my instructor from the highs of launching myself out of a moving plane, and come to the realization of how the sea, the land, and the greenery really is. It’s the closest I’ll get to playing the role of an astronaut and that’s fine with me. What I have done is mundane compared to the years of training, and expertise, which they must achieve before being able to fly into space.

The instructor asks me about how I’m doing during the descent back to the landing zone and I simply reply, “Amazing. Absolutely amazing.” To see from the air where I grew up and spent my formative years from so high up is a great perk added on to this wild and unique experience. Descending to the ground was probably the trickiest part but it was incredible to be able to parachute down to our landing spot in only seven minutes time. My father meets me down near the landing zone where we took off only twenty minutes ago and asks me, “Well…How was it?” I tell him that it was, “The rush of a lifetime.”

It has been over two years ago now when I first decided to try my hand at skydiving. I don’t regret it and I look back on the experience very fondly. It is inherently risky and I do not recommend it to everyone. If you are not a thrill-seeker or a risk-taker, then it may not be for you to begin with. However, if you want to feel the most alive you’ve ever been, conquer a fear of heights, experience a breath-taking view or to really try something new, I cannot recommend skydiving enough. I’ll always remember the exhilaration and jubilation that I felt when I landed from being thousands of feet in the air mere minutes ago.

I’ve been lucky enough to ride in a hot air balloon while watching the sunrise, or parasail close to a group of islands, and drive a jetski at 60 MPH (100 km/h) but none of these experiences still compare to the thrill of skydiving. It’s one of the greatest thrills that you can ever have and I highly recommend this activity to my readers. Just remember to be safe, choose a reputable company, take deep breaths, and make sure you know what you’re getting into. I promise you that you won’t regret the experience or forget the memories that you made from going through with it. If the elderly folk in their 60’s and 70’s who were in my group on that sunny day in October two years ago can skydive at their advanced age, then so can you!


John Coltrane: A Retrospective

“A true legend of his time, John Coltrane changed Jazz music forever by introducing free and experimental forms to the genre.”

“John Coltrane was a key figure in jazz, a pioneer in world music, and an intensely emotional force whose following continues to grow.”

This succinct description by author Lewis Porter in his book about the legendary Jazz musician, John Coltrane, is completely accurate. John Coltrane is to Jazz music what Neil Armstrong was to the successful Moon landings of 1960’s. He is revered not just by those involved in the world of Jazz but by people from around the world for his deep spirituality and his recognition and support of the civil rights movement in the early 1960’s.

To this day, John Coltrane remains to be the only Jazz musician to have become a saint post-humous, which was given to him by the African Orthodox Church. He also was one of the few Jazz musicians who could compete with the emerging Rock n’ Roll scene in the early 1960’s. His most famous album, titled “Love Supreme” released in 1964 was partially why Coltrane surged to popularity at a level equal to bands like The Beatles and The Beach Boys. What he lacked in terms of longevity in his career and sadly, his life, John Coltrane’s passion for Jazz and the spirituality his music had along with the masterful skill, improvisation he displayed playing the tenor saxophone continues to resonate today. Along with Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane is one of the few Jazz musicians to have received a Special Citation for the Pulitzer Prize in the study of music.

As a musician, John Coltrane’s contributions were immense especially during the relatively short amount of years he was on the top of the Jazz scene compared to other legends of the era. He was influential in promoting new forms of Jazz such as avant-garde and free form, which became popular during the 1960’s. Throughout his career, Coltrane was the leader of more than fifty recording sessions and then partnered along other musicians such as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. John Coltrane started recording music in 1945 right after the conclusion of World War II for which he was enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

One of the first musicians to recognize John Coltrane’s inherent musical talent was fellow saxophonist, Charlie Parker, who played and recorded together with Coltrane during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. His most famous albums included Giant Steps (1960), My Favorite Things (1961) and A Love Supreme (1965). All three of these Jazz albums that he produced with Atlantic and then Impulse! Records are some of the best-selling albums of all time. He is also noted for collaborating with Miles Davis on some of his most famous recordings including Kind of Blue (1959) and Milestones (1958). In addition, over the course of his career, John Coltrane created many standards in Jazz music such as “Moment’s Notice”, “Lazy Bird”, “Impressions”, “My Favorite Things” and “I Want to Talk About You.”

The influence of spirituality and religion on Coltrane’s life and music is what makes him unique and rememberable more than forty years after his death. While Ornette Coleman was the musician who is credited with leading the “Free Jazz” and “Avant Garde” movements, it completely changed the perceptions of what Jazz should be to young musicians like Coltrane who were originally more technical in their play originally who adapted more of a free-form style as they encountered different influences and perspectives. His philosophy on music and life in general was that it had to be “a whole expression of one’s being.”

More than most Jazz artists of his time and era, John Coltrane was a deeply spiritual and religious person who sought out the teachings and beliefs of not just Christianity but also Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. Coltrane is said to have had a religious experience, which may have held him break his heroin and alcohol addictions in the late 1950’s. When asked about this pivotal point in his life that allowed him to produce the landmark records of A Love Supreme and Meditations, Coltrane states that, “During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, which has led me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.” John Coltrane made many references to spirituality and different religions in many of his songs and albums. Specifically, those songs titles, “Ascension”, “Om” (Hinduism), “Amen”, “Dear Lord”, and the opening movement of Meditations which is titled, “the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” He studied the Bible, Qu’ran, Kabbalah and other Buddhist and Hindu texts making him more of a Universalist than a subscriber to any certain religion. He incorporated chants and sayings into the few lyrics within his songs as well. Coltrane worked with Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar and even named his first son after him.

Beyond Jazz, John Coltrane dove into an idea of a universal musical structure and to take these spiritual influences from around the world and implement them within his own play and style. He was not political but he desired for his own country to get beyond racial and ethnic differences such as those that were plaguing America during the early 1960’s. Through his music, he spoke out against discrimination and supported the civil rights movement and gave an emotional ode to Dr. King in the song, “Alabama” after his assassination. Despite his death at the age of 40, Coltrane inspired a new generation of Jazz musicians to carry on his free-form style and his ability to reach out to different genres of music. He has been immortalized in certain Christian churches as a saint and his birthday is often a cause of celebration around the world. It is clear that he was not over-rated and that his legacy will continue to go on as long as his music is played for all.