‘Children of Men’ – Film Review and Analysis

What would happen to our world if women were no longer able to have babies? How would human society, nations, and the globe as a whole react to such a consequential event to humanity? A dystopian take on the state of a world without children is the focus of the 2006 critically acclaimed film titled, ‘Children of Men’, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. This film stars Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in its leading roles. The film is based off of a novel of the same name, ‘Children of Men’, which was written by author P.D. James in 1992.

The screenplay and the story have both been adapted from the novel but the striking visuals and the memorable cinematography make it fit for the big screen treatment. Despite a limited release and low profit earnings when it first came out, Children of Men has stayed in the public consciousness due to its timely socio-political themes on immigration, the environment, terrorism, and political violence. With the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President and the unlikely occurrence of Brexit, the message and themes of the film have turned out to be quite relevant. Although this film is set in the United Kingdom in the future year of 2027, despite the non-issue with the infertility of women, the issues that humanity is dealing with in 2017 are tied directly to different issues that the film brings up in its’ plotline.

Theo Faron, a civil servant for the British government and former activist, seems to have given up his fight for a better future. With humanity on the brink of extinction and with most of the countries’ governments having collapsed, there doesn’t seem to be any hope left. As one of the characters, Miriam, explains to Theo in the film, “As the sound of the playgrounds faded, despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices.” Theo and his ex-wife, Julian, estranged for years after the death of their infant child, Dylan, are reunited due to a refugee named Kee. Julian and the Fishes, an anti-government and pro-refugee group involved in an uprising, would like to take Kee to the Human Project.

She is known to be the only woman in the world who is pregnant with the world’s first child in eighteen years, and is very valuable. However, things are not as they seem with the Fishes and their motives for helping Kee. Theo, in this film, is a lone character who promises to help Julian to bring Kee to the Human Project to ensure the future of humanity against all odds. Instead of using Kee as a political prop to help their cause against the government, Theo decides to help her escape from the Fishes, bring her to the British coast, and protect the future of humanity. Along the way, the viewer of the film sees the consequences of a world without babies. Where once there was no hope, Theo gains his sense of purpose and faith again as he hopes to redeem himself by getting Kee to safety and away from both the British government and the Fishes group.

Starting from the opening scene where the main character, Theo, is taken aback from a suicide bomb blast in the heart of London after just having left the café where the attack happened, you get a sense of what you’re in for with this movie. There’s a sense of hopelessness, dread, and despair as the audience is thrust into the focus of the movie as it’s made clear that the youngest person on Earth was eighteen years old meaning that something seriously has gone wrong to make that a reality. Although it’s never directly addressed in the movie, a few of the characters speculate that the reasons women can’t have babies anymore vary from environmental degradation to genetic experiments to too much pollution / radiation. The reason for women’s infertility is never addressed but the film makes it clear that the world is without hope because of the fact that there are no children to carry on the future of the human race.

Humanity faces certain extinction and the United Kingdom where the film’s setting is, instead of maintaining its’ parliamentary form of democracy has regressed into a totalitarian police state. Because it is one of the few surviving nations left on Earth, the country has developed a strict anti-immigration and anti-refugee policy. Any refugees or immigrants from outside the U.K. are rounded up and sent to detention camps, which have very poor and inhospitable conditions. The situation is so dire that the Fishes, labeled as a terrorist group, are fighting a guerrilla war campaign against the government to fight for immigrant rights.

The Fishes, with Julian, Theo’s ex-wife as their leader seem like the good guys but they have nefarious intentions in mind when it comes to the righteousness of their cause especially after they discover the first pregnant woman, Kee, in eighteen years. Throughout the movie, Theo is shown to be caught in the middle between the tyrannical government and the nefarious freedom fighter groups who are both trying to get hold of Kee for their own political gain.

The Human Project, believed to be a group of the world’s leading scientists, are thought to be the best people to help Kee with the baby and to perhaps study why she out of all the women on the planet was able to give birth to a child. Theo, having seemingly lost all hope and reason for living after the death of his baby, Dylan, believes again in the cause of getting Kee to be in the safe hands of the Human Project and to keep her from falling into the hands of either the Fishes group or the government. One of the main themes in this film is Theo’s regaining of hope and his quest for redemption after losing his only son years ago with his ex-wife, Julian.

The director, Alfonso Cuaron, does a great job of setting the scene of a dystopian future where humanity has lost all hope. A pill that allows people to commit suicide peacefully called ‘Quietus’ is mass advertised, terrorist attacks are an almost daily occurrence, and the immigrants, refugees who come to Britain are kept in detention camps separate from the rest of the population because the borders of the country have been closed down. In a plot and setting so dark, the only light to hold on to is Kee and her newborn to be. In a particular moving moment, Kee decides to name her baby girl after Theo’s deceased child, Dylan, showing just how much she really cares for the man who is getting her to the Human Project. It’s no coincidence that Kee herself is a refugee from a West African nation where the first humans emerged.

One of the best scenes in the film occurs when Kee, Theo, and the newborn baby are trying to leave a bombed out building where the rebels and the government are fighting each other in an urban war. The only thing that stops the bombs from falling and the bullets from firing are the sounds of a newborn baby echoing throughout the building and the street. This particular scene is a reminder of how special the sounds of a children’s cries are to the vitality of the world and how without them, it’s likely that humanity would descend into a downward spiral of chaos and violence. When all of the soldiers stopped for a few minutes to stop fighting, they realized that there was still hope in the world and that life can continue. It’s a very special scene for a special movie.

In addition to great directing, and great acting, Children of Men has some of the best cinematography of any movie in modern history. The single tracking shots, and there are quite a few throughout the film are ridiculously well done and help the viewer feel the tension and suspense in every scene. The soundtrack, the setting, and the messages of the film are extremely powerful and relevant to today’s world. I believe the director does a great job of asking the audience about how susceptible we are to either the rule of a totalitarian government or to the whims of absolutist extremist groups when societal collapse is imminent.

When there are no children or future generations, what is there worth fighting for? How also do we prevent ourselves from scapegoating other groups when things go bad? Maybe the issue is not infertility per say but rather climate change, the rise of artificial intelligence, or war between nations, how do we prevent ourselves from losing hope when things look bleak? The film, Children of Men, makes the argument that we should never lose hope especially in dire times. The future must be protected however especially as shown by the role the character, Theo, plays in helping Kee in her quest to meet members of The Human Project.

Ironically, there have been news stories out about the precipitous drop in men’s sperm counts over the past forty years in countries such as the United States. While this may not lead to total infertility, researchers labeled it as a cause for concern due to the overall trend of less fertility in men. In addition, birth rates are down below replacement level rates in multiple Western countries causing concern among scientists. Similar to the theories laid out in ‘Children of Men’, it is unclear why male infertility may be on the rise but it may be due to a number of factors, both environmental and otherwise. Where as Children of Men focused on women being infertile and not being able to have babies, the possibility of men being infertile in the future should be a cause for concern. (Source: http://www.newsweek.com/2017/09/22/male-infertility-crisis-experts-663074.html)

It is difficult to see why Children of Men did not win any of the Academy awards that it was nominated for. It’s an excellent, thought-provoking film that raises questions to the audience that are difficult to answer. If you have the chance to rent or buy this movie, please do so because it is widely regarded as one of the best movies of the 21st century.


‘Batman Begins’ – Film Review and Analysis

I know what you may be thinking as you read out loud the title of this blog post. You’re probably wondering why I would choose to review and analyze a movie based off a super hero from a comic book series. It may appear to be juvenile but I made this creative choice for a couple of good reasons.

  1. Batman is not just any super hero. He is often ranked as being the most popular and well-known super hero worldwide up there with Superman or the ‘Man of Steel.’
  2. Batman isn’t your traditional super hero to make a movie about due to the fact that he has no super powers, and is an ordinary man who strives to be extraordinary.

A superhero who has been around since the early days of comic books in the early 1930’s, Batman is a popular cultural figure who until the 2000’s came around was never done justice on the silver screen. I remember as a kid watching the overly cartoonish and god-awful early film adaptations such as ‘Batman Forever’ and ‘Batman and Robin.’ The best film up until ‘Batman Begins’ was Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’, released in 1989, and even that movie was a bit goofy and contrived at times. Luckily, Batman on film earned a well-needed revival due to the masterful directing, screenwriting, and casting for Batman Begins, which was released over a decade ago in 2005.

Christopher Nolan, who directed Batman Begins, and helped to write the screenplay, did an amazing job in bringing Batman to life again as a superhero that comes from a realistic setting. Compared to The Avengers or X-Men, this is as close to reality as a superhero film can get. Compared to all of the comic book movies I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a good amount, ‘Batman Begins’ is the most realistic. It never gets too fanciful, and it takes itself seriously as a film that falls under the ‘drama’ genre.

For those readers who are unfamiliar with the origins of Batman, ‘Batman Begins’ does a great job of setting up the rise of this super hero from his childhood to his 30th birthday. You can see how much Bruce Wayne evolves into the role of the masked dark knight due to the painful tragedy that befalls him at an early age.

Bruce Wayne is a boy who grew up with everything a child could ask for: a loving family, a safe home, and a bright future. He has it all taken away from him when his parents are gunned down in front of him by one of the people they were trying to help. The Wayne family comes from immense wealth and they are tied to Gotham City through the generations. The Wayne’s are great benefactors to the city and try to help it out financially so that citizens can gain economic opportunities even during hard times.

The death of Bruce Wayne’s parents is the true beginning of his path to becoming Batman. This film does a great job in showing the phases that Bruce goes through after suffering a trauma such as the loss of his closest family members: his mother and his father. For many years, Bruce turns his deep-seated emotions onto blaming himself to feel the full guilt, the relentless anger, and the deep sadness fully. He is unable to use those powerful emotions, and turn them into constructive action.

An ever-present theme throughout ‘Batman Begins’ is Fear. As a young child, Bruce fell into a deep well near his parents’ mansion, and was unable to get himself out after experiencing a wave of bats surrounding him as they flew away into the sunlight. During an opera performance one night, young Bruce asks his father if they can leave the theater for a little while because he is frightened by the performers pretending to be bats in one of the play’s acts. Because of this fateful decision, for many years, Bruce blames himself completely for his parents’ death because they ended up being shot and killed by the mugger, Joe Chill, after Bruce asked them to leave the theater, and head into the nearby alley.

Bruce seeks out vengeance against the man who killed his parents and wishes to kill Mr. Chill as he leaves the courthouse. He buys a gun one day and wants to take justice into his own hands like a vigilante. Before he is able to do the grisly deed, Joe Chill is killed by one of Carmine Falcone’s men, a Gotham City mob boss. Although Mr. Falcone didn’t kill Bruce’s parents, the corruption befalling the city’s institutions, the unrelenting crime wave, and the lack of a respectable police force have led to more injustice than ever that has left Gotham City a shell of what it used to be.

One of the best scenes of ‘Batman Begins’ highlights the fact that Bruce has more to lose than he knows and should protect the people he cares about. He decides to use Batman as more than just a man flying around in a cape, but more as a symbol to be feared by criminals everywhere, and that anybody can become Batman if they have the will to act. Bruce is wise to use his fear of Bats and turn that fear into a powerful symbol, which criminals will one day fear themselves.

Despite the personal tragedy that befell him, men like Carmine Falcone lecture the young Bruce Wayne regarding his naivety about the world. “You always fear what you don’t understand”, and “people from your world have so much to lose.” Before becoming Batman, Bruce decides to travel the world, learn about the psychology of criminals, train himself in various martial arts, and harness the power of stealth to strike fear into the hearts of Gotham’s underbelly.

In order to learn fully about the evils of the world, Bruce has to go out there himself to experience what actually drives criminals to do what they do. He has to push himself physically and mentally in order to be able to stop them. In order to become Batman, he has to develop a strong moral code so that he can be incorruptible, and more than just a vigilante taking justice into his own hands. In this film, Batman doesn’t kill and he desires to make sure that all criminals face true justice to prove that it’s more than just vengeance for him.

In order to fully develop into Batman, he must complete his training under the tutelage of Henri Ducard (played brilliantly by Liam Neeson). Henri and Bruce have both suffered personal tragedies at the hands of ruthless criminals, but they decide to use their anger and pain to motivate them to strengthen, develop, and confront their adversaries whomever they may be. Bruce becomes Ducard’s best student and excels in different areas of physical and mental training. As Ducard imparts on Wayne, “Your training is nothing, the will is everything. The will to act.”

Batman Begins does an excellent job of showing the physical dexterity and the mental will needed to become a hero like Batman. In addition to that, the training scenes are spectacular in highlighting how Bruce must use deception, theatricality, and stealth in order to overcome his enemies with fear. Most similarly, he must play the role of an actual ninja. “In order to manipulate the fear in others, you must first master the fear within yourself.”

Batman is a symbol that cannot be bought off, corrupted, or killed. Ducard reminds Bruce Wayne of the fact, “If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can’t stop you…you become something else entirely…A legend, Mr. Wayne.” However, Ducard and Wayne have a fundamental difference of belief regarding the nature of criminals that puts them on an adversarial footing with each other, which leads to an inevitable confrontation later on. Bruce desires to bring criminals to justice but with the support of the police and the criminal justice system. On a fundamental level, he wants to uphold the institutions of Gotham City to be free of corruption in all of its’ forms.

We find out that Mr. Ducard is no fan of granting any leniency to criminals and wants them to be punished without any hesitation or limits. For Ra’s al-Ghul, Henri Ducard, and the rest of the League of Shadows, an organization that helped train Bruce Wayne to become Batman, crime cannot be tolerated and that criminals thrive when societies indulge themselves by not having them pay the ultimate price of death. Even if the criminal is a despicable murderer, Bruce still believes in the rule of law, wants them to be tried in a fair court, and does not desire to become a singular executioner.

Batman wants to save Gotham City in the right way even though he finds it to be an almost insurmountable task given the lack of allies he has. However, he discovers that he has help with the incorruptible Officer James Gordon of the Gotham City Police Department and his friend, Rachel Dawes, a district attorney who won’t be bought off.

Batman comes up against another villain who desires to strike fear into the heart of Gotham’s citizenry: The Scarecrow (played by Cillian Murphy) who uses fear toxin gas to poison people, and make them do horrible things to each other out of their fear of each other. Bruce Wayne must lead a double life, keep his secret safe, weed out corruption, and be able to combat two villains who use fear to prey on the fearful (Scarecrow and Ra’s al-Ghul).

Instead of using fear against the citizens of Gotham, Batman uses his terrifying appearance to strike fear into the hearts of criminals and villains everywhere. While he understands that justice is never ensured for all criminals, he does not want to be a murderer himself who decides the fate of all those enemies he fights and stops.

‘Batman Begins’ is a deep superhero movie that asks some philosophical and psychological questions regarding the nature of true justice, and how far individuals and a collective society should go in order to stop crime. The film also probes the feeling of ‘fear’ and how a person can master their own fear in order to become mentally and physically stronger.

Christopher Nolan asks the question of how do we control our own fear and keep it from controlling us. Batman is a flawed superhero, but he is able to control his fear to become a legend. His symbolism helps Gotham City to rise up against corruption, crime, and to fight injustice. While he is only just a man without any real superpowers, he is able to inspire others to fight the good fight with his moral example.

In a movie where there’s not much hope, the Batman inspires others to believe in themselves and their city again. He is a regular man, driven into action after going through a terrible tragedy. Instead of being broken by what happened to him at a young age, he uses his pain and sorrow to motivate himself so that others don’t suffer the same kind of tragedy in life of losing a loved one. As a superhero and as a film character, Batman sets himself up as an example to follow for the audience even if it is a fictional story.

Making a super hero film is an extremely difficult process, which is why director Christopher Nolan should be given a lot of credit. Mr. Nolan has directed a lot of great films including Inception and Interstellar. Batman Begins is the first of three movies in the Dark Knight film series, and it may be the most underrated of them all. He and his team did a great job of bringing this character back onto the big screen in a big way.

It’s a realistic take on the Batman, and its’ a film franchise that has produced three excellent, unique films. For myself and many other fans, Batman Begins is more than just a simple superhero movie. It is a morality tale about hope overcoming fear, how to overcome adversity to become a stronger person, and how to set an example for others to follow in your footsteps.

Batman has survived in our popular culture for so long because you get the sense that he is a relatable character for many people despite the fiction behind it. Ultimately, he is a man who has his strengths, his weaknesses, yet he is ultimately fallible. Still though, he is a powerful individual that strives to fight for justice, hope, and wants to bring the best out of others. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to become a superhero like Batman to emulate those characteristics. You just have to do the right thing and be a good person.

Reaching The Gold Standard

‘The Gold Standard’ is a popular term that is used to describe the best quality and ideal that you can hold yourself to. The term of ‘gold standard’ has often been used to refer to the finance, medical, and other industries where people are trying to get the best outcome and live up to high expectations. The gold standard can also be a benchmark that can be set for yourself or a company that is trying to reach a goal that would be difficult to achieve but is still within the realm of possibility. Often times, when it comes to the gold standard, you’re going to be comparing two different options together and seeing which one falls within a closer range of that needed benchmark. According to Google, the official definition of a gold standard is when something or someone is “the best, the most reliable, or most prestigious kind of thing of its’ type.”

The correlation between something being golden and something being the best has been linked as being one in the same for a couple of decades now. It is often considered to be an analogy to the literal definition of a ‘gold standard’, which is when the value of a currency is defined in terms of its’ overall worth in gold. In this case, there are many different standards with gold being one of them when it comes to the finance world, especially when currencies are being compared to gold in terms of overall value. Since gold was seen as a reliable resource to base value off of, it was held to an increasingly high standard, which other currencies were able to base their own value on and see how much gold they could own on the world market. The gold standard can be defined when it comes to both economics but also in terms of behavior as a scientific factor.

As for the first modern usage of the gold standard, it is believed to have occurred originally in a written paper from 1979, explaining the scientific usage of the word. The paper was titled, “In search of the gold standard for compliance measurement.” In this same academic paper, the gold standard is linked directly to the ideal standard of being compliant. The excerpt from this article states that, “While other methodological problems are involved, these four highlight the absence of a real gold standard for compliance, the ideal standard would be…”

While the gold standard is often held as the ideal for currency exchanges, for medical advances, and for statistical accuracy, it can also be referencing a person’s behavior or conduct especially when it comes to business or personal matters. While the gold standard phrase may have been invented with finances or medicine in mind, the expression has become mainstream over the past couple of decades and is now used quite regularly when it comes to people’s achievements.

For example, if you are an Olympic athlete whose competing in a number of events, you are also being held to a ‘gold standard’ as you compete for a gold, silver, or bronze medal. The gold standard here is definitely the ideal standard that is held not just for athletes that are competing in the Olympics for all major sports.

In order to be the best, you need to hold yourself to your highest standards and work you’re hardest to win the gold medal. In our society, even before the phrasing of ‘gold standard’, striving for gold was seen as an endearing quality and that it often symbolically represents the best that you can achieve as an athlete who is competing in a tournament or championship. It seems to be no coincidence either that most of the trophies that you receive for coming in first place or for winning a competition are made out of gold, whether it is real or fake. The gold standard in sports is a concept that has been around for many decades and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Winning gold medals or trophies in competitions is strongly linked to being the best of the best, making it a significant part of the idea of the gold standard.

Beyond signifying personal achievements and athletic success, the idea of holding yourself personally to a gold standard of behavior is quite common in our society. When it comes to having the ideal behavior, you’re going to want to hold yourself accountable for your actions, and you need to have such qualities as being honest, fair, responsible, organized, and hard working.

Many businesses and companies, when they decide whether or not they are going to hire someone as their new employee evaluate if you hold yourself to a high standard of behavior or ethics. They do not want someone who is going to lie, cheat, and steal to make the company and your colleagues look bad. The idea of holding yourself to a gold standard is quite popular in many of today’s companies. Many contracts and work agreements come with behavioral clauses that lay out the do’s and don’ts of what they require of you as an employee when they decide to hire out. If you do not hold yourself to a ‘gold standard’ of behavior at work, you may be out of a job much quicker than you had imagined.

Outside of your work life, setting the gold standard of behavior in your home life is a good habit to practice. As an individual, you need to set the standard for your friends and your family as to how to act and behave as a member of a society. You need to show them that being kind, honest, hard-working, organized, and reliable are good qualities to have both at home and at work and that these are personal characteristics that should be emulated, and spread around as much as possible.

If your children or other family members see you behaving well at the grocery store by saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to the workers as well as when you leave a nice tip for the waiter or waitress at a restaurant, you are setting the gold standard for them by acting as a good example of how to behave and act as a regular person. Sometimes, you have to set your own gold standard and to have it be a high one in order for other people to follow similarly. If you are able to follow your own rules and ways of conduct, you will make yourself more of a leader and a person who is to be respected by others.

By having a gold standard whether it is in the field of athletics, statistics, science, economics, finance, etc., there are a lot of benefits to holding yourself or holding others to a very high level of standards. If everyone in society just did the bare minimum, then not much would change or advance. By being responsible, using sound judgment, working hard, and striving to be the best we can be, we become better people and we develop a strong code of conduct. You don’t need to have a gold standard in order to be a good person or a good worker but it certainly helps in setting some key boundaries, rules, and ethics that should be followed in order to get the most out of yourself and out of others.

Those who strive to be the best are rewarded with reaping the benefits of the gold standard in many different fields. If you’re able to hold yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally to different ideals, you’ll reach the high standard that is set for yourself. The gold standard is not for everyone because not everyone can reach that highest level of human conduct and action. However, the purpose of the gold standard is for people who have the means and the drive to be the best can do just that if they set their minds and bodies to that illustrious goal.

To put it simply, if there were no gold standard or no standards at all to hold yourself or others to, society would not be as civilized and humans would not have as advanced as much as we have to the present day. While the gold standard is for the best of the best, there are other standards that we accept and implement whether it is an employees’ code of conduct from any regular company or the Constitution of the United States. Regulations, rules, and codes of conduct can be difficult to follow and observe at all times but they are necessary in order to keep society functioning well.

Those people who disregard these norms of behavior are often castigated and are excluded from being the best of the best. If you lie, cheat, or steal, you won’t meet any normal standard let alone the gold standard. The gold standard is aiming for all of us to achieve the best of human nature and to do so in different fields of work and in life. While we may not successfully get to the gold standard in finance, medicine or in athletics, we always have the chance to reach the gold standard in our personal behavior and conduct.



The Wonder of Machu Picchu

“The hardest yet most rewarding part of my visit: Hiking to the top of Huayna Picchu mountain.” 

There are few places in the world, which you can truly regard as being special and awe-inspiring. We describe these places as being a ‘wonder’ of humanity and one that represents our brief yet influential time on this planet. Before I came to Machu Picchu, I believed that the only other place that would classify as a ‘wonder’ to me would be the archaeological site of Petra in southern Jordan. A ‘wonder’ both of history and of architecture that goes back thousands of years is what sets apart places like Machu Picchu in Peru and Petra in Jordan. These places that touch on the cultural and historical legacy of man are what drive us to be resolute in protecting these artifacts of mankind and making sure that they are around for future generations.

I consider myself to be incredibly lucky to have visited Machu Picchu just recently a couple of days ago. For those who don’t know, Machu Picchu is quite isolated from any major modern city or town but is possible to get to by train and bus due to the wonders of modern technology. Situated between towering mountains and located alongside the flowing Urubamba river, Machu Picchu is not only a wonder of Incan architecture and construction but is also a natural marvel due to the backdrop it has with the surrounding green mountains, wispy clouds, and the numerous kinds of plants that inhabit this part of Peru.

Among the things that stand out about Machu Picchu is that you feel isolated from the rest of the world. It may be the towering mountains that surround this archaeological site or it could be the fact that wispy clouds envelop your presence but you feel very that you’re secluded from other kinds of environment. The higher you climb in elevation, the world gets much quieter and you’re able to reflect more on not only the site of Machu Picchu that lays before you but also about life or whatever is on your mind in general.

I’m far from being an expert on ancient civilizations, especially the Incan civilization of which I know relatively little about but you have to give the people of this group considerable admiration and awe by the fact that they were able to build such a city in the most remote of places. The fact that it was possible for them to create an infrastructure out of rocks, stone, and wood in order to sustain themselves under ever-changing weather conditions is quite remarkable.

To be able to plant and harvest food, create a running water supply, and be able to construct encampments to house hundreds of Incans is very impressive to consider. Not only was there a high risk of death or injury to climb these mountains with heavy rocks or stones attached to your backs, it is likely that you would be on your own if you sustained serious injuries given that there were no modern medicines or hospitals or rely upon.

It is difficult for me to list a favorite thing about my trip to Machu Picchu. I really enjoyed climbing to the top of Huayna Picchu at 2,700 meters in total altitude despite my exasperated breath and tired knees. The views from this perching point above Machu Picchu are extraordinary and are something that I will never forget. Besides being able to take a bunch of pictures, it was great to sit and reflect on the wonder that lay before me. At a couple of thousand meters in the air, all your problems dissipate for a moment and you can truly hear the sound of the wind and the movements of the clouds. You can close your eyes and hear nothing but the sound of your own thoughts if you are so lucky.

Thanks to the efforts of the Peruvian Ministry of Culture, Machu Picchu is amazingly well preserved and should be around for future generations to enjoy. A limited amount of tourists, a couple of hundred in total per day can visit Machu Picchu and is a good idea to make sure that none of these famous Incan ruins will be damaged, tampered with, or destroyed. To lose such a precious treasure such as Machu Picchu or any other wonder of the world would be a tragedy for humanity and its’ history on this planet. While it was not cheap to get to Machu Picchu, I can fully understand why we as tourists pay the costs of admissions to visit these beautiful sites.

We do it to make sure that other people have the chance to experience these places firsthand and are able to share it with their children and grandchildren. I am quite lucky to have been able to visit such a wondrous place and I will remember my day at Machu Picchu quite fondly. If you’re reading this blog post and desire now to visit Machu Picchu, I would recommend that you do it with the knowledge that you do some research about the place, respect it during your visit, and do your best to take the experience in not just through your camera lens or smartphone but through your own eyes and ears.

To me, Machu Picchu is more than a lost Incan city of hundreds of years ago; it is a beautiful and awe-inspiring place of natural scenery. With its’ many mountains, huge river, and hundreds of diverse plants, this place can help you reflect not only about the past but on the present and future of yourself, humanity, and the planet itself. With any tourist site that’s located in a unique location, precautions and steps must be undertaken to make sure you have an enjoyable visit. Please make sure you bring some sunscreen, an umbrella, appropriate clothing and a lot of water. The weather can be quite unpredictable at Machu Picchu and it would be good of you to prepare to experience all four seasons in just one day at the site. Best of luck to you reading this post if you decide to take the journey to Machu Picchu. I promise that you won’t regret it.



A Chance Encounter

When it comes to traveling, most people often remember the places they’ve been, the food they ate, and the fun activities they did during their trips. However, what often gets lost in the shuffle is the ability to appreciate and remember the interesting people you meet during your travels, usually at the most random of times and in the most random of places. The best part of traveling can often be those chance encounters on the road that lead to you gaining a new friend, who might be a local from the country you’re visiting or another fellow foreigner who’s exploring the same places as you by coincidence.

One such encounter happened to me very recently during my first trip to Peru. I got up very early at around four in the morning to catch the train from the Peruvian village of Ollantaytambo to the town of Machu Picchu, which is located a couple of hundred feet below the famous ruins of the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu. Running on just five hours of sleep and anxious to make sure that I had all my paperwork in store for the visit to Machu Picchu, I was not in a talkative mood and feeling pretty lethargic.

I boarded the train at around 5 am and was even more dismayed by the fact that I was assigned an ‘aisle’ seat instead of my usual preference for a ‘window’ seat. Rather than being able to view the beautiful, cascading Andean mountains and the river running through them beneath the train tracks, I would only be able to glance a peak of the scenery by arching my head over, behind, or in front of the person next to me who would soon be occupying my prized window seat.

Still though, I reminded myself internally to not be such a downer and to be grateful that I would soon be departing for one of the wonders of the modern world, which very few people get to visit during their lifetimes. I am also a big fan of train travel, and Peru Rail provided quite a comfortable ride to and from the town of Machu Picchu. Eventually, a man carrying two big toys in his hands asked in Spanish, “Con permiso” politely as he motioned that he was coming through to sit down in the open window seat next to me. I obliged politely and looked on with curiosity at he placed these large two toys on the tray table in front of him nonchalantly.

I thought to myself at the time that it was a curious sight to see a grown man holding two toys that a child would play with, and to especially be sitting by himself with them and not with a son or daughter nearby. The toys themselves captured my attention because they were two of my favorite toys that I owned when I was a child myself. If you have ever seen the ‘Toy Story’ movies, you’ll know that those characters were popular when I was growing up in the 1990’s and even until today due to the series’ recent surge in popularity.

I loved ‘Toy Story’ as a kid and I still do especially given the fact that I saw the movie ‘Toy Story 4’ a couple of years ago and that was just before I graduated from college. The two toys themselves were replicas of the two main characters, Buzz Lightyear and Sheriff Woody, who I had owned in my younger days. I spent many afternoons watching Buzz lift off and having Woody swing his plastic lasso around like a real cowboy would do. Some toys, even when you’re an adult, hold a deep connection for you and bring back a lot of memories that have since receded a long time ago.

Now, suddenly, my interest had been peaked in the man sitting next to me due to the toys that he was bringing with him to Machu Picchu. I started by telling him in Spanish how I used to love playing with those same toys of Buzz and Woody when I was a child. He was very friendly in responding to my curiosity and stated that; yes, he likes the toys a lot too and bought them for his two-year old son recently for his birthday. That put in place another piece of the puzzle for me as I realized that this man was not traveling to Machu Picchu by himself but was sharing this unique experience with his wife and his children.

For being such an early time in the morning to have a conversation, the man whose name I learned was Jorge (first name changed for privacy reasons) was polite, friendly, and patient with my imperfect Spanish. It’s one thing to speak in a foreign language when you’re fully awake in the middle of the afternoon and it’s a much more challenging task to be coherent in a foreign language at 5:30 in the morning when you are lethargic and groggy. However, I was able to communicate with Jorge pretty easily and he was able to practice some of his English as well. Like myself, Jorge also works in the education sector. He is a secretary at a primary / secondary school in Peru, and has been doing this job for over ten years. He is passionate about education and was curious about my experiences as an English teaching fellow in Medellin, Colombia.

From what I could tell about Jorge, he was a caring husband and father. He showed me pictures of his two young children on his iPhone with the traditional ceremonies that they would go through at their primary school. It was pretty interesting to see how they would dress up these little kids in traditional Peruvian clothing for these school events. Jorge must have taken a liking to me because even when one of the cabin crew for the Peru Rail train asked Jorge if he would like someone to move from the other row so he could sit with his wife and his children, he politely declined as I think he was really enjoying the conversation we were having. It also didn’t hurt that his family members were only sitting a row behind him so he could easily reach them if there was anything they needed, including if his little boy happened to want to play with Buzz and Woody again.

It was extremely interesting for me to hear from Jorge as a local and native citizen of Peru about his experiences visiting different parts of his country. He gave a lot of interesting insights about the regional differences between food, people, and the culture depending on where in Peru you were visiting. On this recent trip, I was only able to explore Lima and Cusco, but due to Jorge’s recommendations, I have a pretty good idea of where I would go in Peru for my next visit. I was happy to chat with Jorge about what it was like to grow up and live in New York, as well as talking about popular American music and movies that we both have a mutual fondness for. Despite having been born thousands of miles from each other on different continents and with different cultural backgrounds, we were able to bond as human beings because our similarities in terms of personality and interests were greater than our inherent differences of culture and country of birth.

Perhaps most notable for me about getting to know Jorge was how mature he was for his age. Jorge is only six years older than me but has a steady job, a wife and two young children. A lot of people my age and older are forgoing those traditional responsibilities of life but it says a lot about a man who provides for his family and is able to do things for them like take them on a trip to Machu Picchu. Men like Jorge are admirable in that they are responsible, mature, and do not shy away from their commitments. While all men carve their own path in life, they should try to exemplify the same traits as my new Peruvian friend Jorge has done. Maturity, responsibility, and a kindness to strangers like myself; these are the best traits to emulate when you witness them in another person. That’s how you become a true adult and someone who can be the leader of a family. It’s easy to say that my hour and a half spent talking to Jorge taught me more than just about old toys, it taught me a lot about adulthood and what it means to be a good man.

As we pulled into the Machu Picchu station, Jorge was very gracious and said that if I ever wanted to experience the best of Peruvian cuisine in Lima, where he and his family live, I was more than welcome to join them in the future. I told them that I would be happy to extend the same offer to them if they were ever in Medellin or even in New York if I was back there again. We exchanged our Facebook information, said our goodbyes, and parted ways as we both left the train to our final destinations. I continued on to my full-day visit to Huayna Picchu / Machu Picchu (which was amazing by the way, but that’s for another blog post).

You may ask by now if you’ve read this whole post: Ben, why did you decide to tell me about a chance encounter with a Peruvian guy on a train to Machu Picchu? The answer to your question is quite simple: It’s because traveling isn’t just about eating new foods, seeing cool places, or doing awesome activities. I enjoy all of the above and then some but traveling is also about getting to know the locals like Jorge and learning more about their country and their culture from their perspective.

Traveling is and always has been about broadening one’s horizons and getting outside of your comfort zone. For me, I’ve always been on the shy side personally but by traveling especially by myself, I’m forced to meet new people and start a conversation. I can only say that it’s done wonders for me in terms of building my confidence, improving my self-reliance, and lowering my anxiety when it comes to meeting new people. Traveling is more than just the experiences you’ve had and the places you’ve seen but it’s also about the new people you meet. Your memories will include the people you meet and you’ll look back on those same memories very fondly one day. You may never see that person again but at least you’ll know that they made your trip a little bit more special and rewarding because you met them in the first place.

I hope that as a reader of my blog that you’ll take this story to heart and remember to not be shy when it comes to meeting new people, regardless of whether you’re traveling or are at a party where you don’t know anybody there. The best stories come out of those experiences where you can met someone cool or unique and have a good time getting to know them. You may even be able to make a lifelong friend just by being willing to open your mouth and make the words come out.


“Will humanity become more or less interconnected during the 21st century?”

When the 21st Century is over and becomes apart of the history books, it will be known as the first truly interconnected, interdependent, and entangled era of human history. Compared to past eras, borders are more open, long-distance travel is common place due to modern aviation, and global commerce is more free than it ever has been. Globalization as a phenomenon has been made possible not just through open borders and advances in aviation but also due to the wonders of the Internet.

While many human beings can not physically cross borders or take modes of transport to other countries, the Internet has helped to minimize that gap of connection by allowing people from around the world to connect virtually at an increasing frequency. As the technology continues to improve and advance, the Internet has made our planet interconnected on a scale once considered unthinkable a generation ago.

I woke up one morning in New York, had my breakfast and juice, and then was able to log-in to Skype and chat with my good friend who is living in Beirut, Lebanon about his work there and how he has adjusted to living in the Mediterranean metropolis. After that, I sat down to have lunch and finished some homework for a 1:30 PM Spanish lesson with my teacher who is originally from Mexico but currently lives in Italy. Somehow, we were able to make the six-hour time difference work between me in New York and her in Italy. Before the day was over, I had two more Skype and Google Hangout based English lessons with my students from countries like Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Satisfied with my day of both teaching and learning, I settled the rest of my affairs and went down to the kitchen to prepare my dinner for the evening.

None of these lessons or exchanges of information would be possible between persons of different countries and backgrounds without the invention of the Internet. Too often, the average person either takes for granted the capabilities that allow us to stay connected on a worldwide scale or doesn’t take advantage of using this technology to bolster their abilities personally or professionally.

Professionally, as an ESL teacher, the fact that I have been able to use the Internet and web applications such as Skype, Google+, etc. to connect with numerous students from around the world virtually has been a real treat for me. Sometimes, my students with whom I’m working with online do not have the means or ability to work with a native English speaker / teacher in person in their own city or country. Those of us language teachers who commit time out of our lives to help others learn our native languages should be commended for making this a possibility. It is truly enjoyable for me to work with those students online from different countries who will share with me interesting tidbits about their cultures and societies.

Personally, I have been able to stay in touch and meet up again with friends of mine from different regions of the world thanks to staying connected through social media websites like Facebook, CouchSurfing, Twitter, etc. The Internet has allowed me to stay connected with international friends, both new and old, thanks to the rise of social media and its applications. It is funny to think that only fifty to hundred years ago, or even before the advent of the Internet, twenty years ago, the best that you could do is send a handwritten letter by mail or make an expensive call to any location overseas. Now, such communication to an international location is often very cheap or even free of charge depending on which application you decide to use.

While the advent of globalization has its positives and negatives, which are often debated and discussed endlessly, I believe that one net positive from globalization has been how the Internet and the “world wide web” has made humanity interconnected. This one trend of “Interconnectedness” for the 21st century is one that isn’t going to reverse course anytime soon and is going to be hard pressed to find itself limited in total amount of users or overall global popularity.

According to the World Bank’s recent report titled “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends”, the number of people worldwide who have access to the Internet has tripled from about 1 billion people in 2006 to about 3.5 billion people in 2016. This recent development is an extraordinary occurrence. This means that over 40% of humanity now has some type of access to the Internet which has become increasingly possible due to rise of mobile technology and the spread of 3G and 4G cellular networks.

As more and more people connect to digital markets of e-commerce, become new entrepreneurs and start to create their own small businesses, this will also allow more students to connect and learn with me here in New York and other teachers around the world to learn English or another foreign language. The possibilities of eventually having everyone connected to the Internet would be truly endless. It could lift millions more people out of poverty and create new economic opportunities where there were none before.

Some of the big questions to be answered in the coming decades is how do we as a global community work together to connect the remaining 60% of humanity to the Internet? How do we work together as governments, NGOs, and individuals to give people the means virtually to benefit economically and personally from the advent of the Internet? These are not easy questions to answer let alone solve. However, if humanity is to continue advancing and developing into the future, we must continue to become more interconnected to each other. That is a fundamental truth of the 21st century for which we all must be aware of.


1.)  http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jan/13/internet-not-conquered-digital-divide-rich-poor-world-bank-report

2.) http://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/wdr2016

A Wealth of Knowledge

“The sharing and exchange of knowledge is easier now than it has ever been in human history.”

There has been no other time in human history than in today’s era where the average person with access to the Internet can seemingly have unlimited amounts of information available to him or her. When you truly think about the magnitude of it, untold amounts of data are being created every day. According to IBM, “The current estimate is 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day and over 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the past two years alone.”

A common response nowadays from both family and friends when I ask a question to them about a random query is not a straight-forward answer but rather an off-handed suggestion to “Google it.” Living in this era of ‘Big Data’ can be quite overwhelming to the average person but one could also look into it as an opportunity to gain knowledge and further ones’ understanding on a limitless amount of subjects with the simple click of a mouse. The Internet is an amalgamation of thousands of libraries of Alexandria at the beck and call of one’s fingertips.

Compared to past ages when information and knowledge was more exclusive and harder to come by, today’s era allows everyone with an Internet connection to search and find information to their heart’s content. Instead of going to a library to find what you need on a subject, websites like Google, Wikipedia, and other online encyclopedias have largely replaced the main role of the physical library. I remember when I was younger and in my high school days having to seek out certain books in order to write a research paper or complete a book report.

However, now more than ever, you can easily find the sources of information you need online in order to facilitate your research and evidence. While I love libraries and hope that they never go out of style, the reality is that online encyclopedias and eBooks are largely replacing their original purpose. In order for libraries to stay relevant, they need to start incorporating computers, free Wi-Fi, and technical classes in order to remain useful.

From the 18th to the 20th centuries, universities and colleges across America were the standard bearers and purveyors of higher education. Originally for the elite, wealthy, and well connected, those students who were able to get accepted and afford undergraduate and graduate studies believed that they would have an advantage in the job market and in achieving the American Dream. More recently, as colleges and universities have become more inclusive than exclusive, tuition prices have inversely risen as well.

While higher education has become accessible to more and more young Americans, it also has become more expensive especially over the past decade. These events have led to an ongoing debate as to whether college is really worth the price tag and whether the average student gains anything from earning a four-year degree. With student loan debt at an all-time high of $1.3 trillion in 2015 in the United States and tuition rates at both public and private universities continuing to rise, people are beginning to look for alternatives to the current higher education system.

Over the past decade, there has been a drastic proliferation of massive open online courses (MOOCs) provided by both private companies and traditional universities. At a much lower price and sometimes free, people from all over the world can sign-up for these courses and partake in lectures, tests, quizzes, and papers as if they were actual enrolled undergraduate and graduate students at the physical form of the university. As the credentials and certifications bestowed upon these courses continue to increase and become more widely accepted, we may begin to see ‘the end of college’ as we know it.

Examples like Khan Academy, edX, Coursera, Udacity, etc. and other MOOCs have leveled the playing field. Tech entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley have allowed students from all over the world to access unlimited online courses to further their academic knowledge at a lower price. With the subsequent rise in online university programs for undergraduates and graduates, the physical college experience of dormitories, lecture halls, football stadiums, etc. may become less appealing to students as tuition prices continue to increase. While the social and networking benefits of college life are numerous, they may not be enough to compete with this era of free information that we are living in.

Compared to past decades, we’re living in a time when access to the Internet is at an all-time high and is increasingly rapidly due to the rise of mobile technology. Traditional havens of knowledge such as the library or the public university will have to adapt to stay relevant in this unlimited information age. In a worldwide job market that is evolving rapidly and where the average child today will work in an industry not yet created, the free exchange of knowledge must continue to spread through the worldwide web.

Countless others and I have benefited from taking online coding courses on ‘Codeacademy’ to learning new languages on ‘Duolingo.’ As MOOCs and online universities continue to develop their courses and credentials, we may begin to see an era where the average person can earn a degree or two without breaking the bank. MOOCs are cheaper, less time intensive, and can adapt more easily to the rapidly changing employment market.

A well-educated population is now more possible now than ever with the wealth of knowledge and information that is available. That fact is evident but it also is up to the individual to be willing to search for that information and actually apply it. Instead of getting frustrated with people asking me to ‘Google’ the answer, I find that it’s worth the hassle because it’s often true that I will find the answers I’m looking for and in greater detail than if I were to ask a friend or family member for a quick description. That’s the power of the Internet. That’s the wealth of knowledge that we are able to take advantage of.


Sites Mentioned