Los Pinos

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Los Pinos Cultural Center; Mexico City, Mexico

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Three Tips for Public Safety

A recent incident and rather close call as well regarding my personal safety reminded me of how important it is to take certain precautions when you are out and about especially in an unfamiliar setting. If you’re in a new city or a new country, you’ll want to double down even more on your own safety when you don’t know your way around or are not able to communicate well in the local language. Urban environments tend to be the most difficult safety wise which is why I am compiling a list of these three public safety tips that I often use and which you may also find useful.

Now, these three tips may not be able to keep you 100% safe, but they will lower the odds and substantially minimize your exposure to risky situations and potential danger. One tip that should be common sense to begin with but which I sometimes neglect is to always be on your guard in some measurable way. To let your guard down even just for a little while can be all someone needs to attack, harm, or rob you in some way. The most important thing you can do in an unfamiliar setting is never let your guard down and to stay vigilant.

These three tips add on to that basic philosophy and will help you in additional ways. While I am far of a safety expert and am not a security professional, I give these tips based on my own experiences and reasoning. I hope that you find them useful and are able to utilize them for your own personal security. While this is definitely not an exhaustive list, I definitely believe that these three tips are some of the most common sense and reasonable out there when it comes to exercising caution in public.

  1. Keep away from the sidewalk curb or edge

You may not see this tip as being very important, but I find this is an underrated one when it comes to staying safe in public. You’ll want to maintain your distance from oncoming traffic as much as possible and I find that it’s safer to be closer to the building than to the curb. These days, you simply never know if a car, bus, or even a truck could lose control and end up mounting the curb to cause serious harm to you or another person.

Also, if you happen to be in a city where snatch-and-grab robberies can happen quickly, you want to make it as hard as possible for those robbers in a car or in a motorcycle to nab your personal items. You will want to keep away from them as much as possible when walking on the sidewalk. It makes it easier for them to grab your purse, bag, backpack, or phone the closer you are in proximity to the street.

Lastly, regarding events in the past, intentional attacks by criminals or terrorists using vehicles while a very remote possibility is something you could keep in mind by staying away from the street traffic. You should maintain awareness when you’re walking on the sidewalk as well which will lead me to my next point in a later tip. If you have a loved one with you whether that’s a romantic partner or a family member who might be more vulnerable, consider putting yourself closer to the street and have them be at your side closer to the building. If they’re older, don’t move as well, or have to take a call or answer some texts, it would be the wise thing to do to have them walk by your side away from the street especially if they’re distracted by something else. While this tip isn’t very popular, I find that it makes a lot of sense and can enhance your awareness.

  1. Face towards the entrance of the café or restaurant

Maybe you’re out at a café enjoying a nice coffee or at a restaurant celebrating your birthday, regardless of the circumstance involved, I recommend that when your sitting at a table or a counter or a bar, try to always face towards the entrance or exit to be aware of what’s going around you. Restaurants, cafes, and bars can be loud, distracting, and disorientating but it’s key to your personal safety to know where the entrances and exits are at all times in case of an emergency. Emergencies are unlikely to happen in these public settings but it’s better to be safe than sorry by knowing who’s coming in and who’s leaving. It’s also good to scout out the additional entrances and exits of the place you’re at if you can do a walk-around after you arrive.

If you are in a big group or a larger party of people at a restaurant or bar, try to do your best to sit facing the exit as well. It can be more difficult, but most people are not aware of this safety tip, but it shows that you are being responsible in caring for the safety of the group by looking at what’s going on around you. While it is extremely unlikely that anything bad would happen in a restaurant or a bar or café, you are at a significant disadvantage to react to any situation if you are facing towards the wall or towards the kitchen. What would even be worse leads me to my third tip involving using the smartphone at these kinds of places instead of minding your surroundings or paying attention to the people with you or around you.

  1. Put the phone away in public as much as possible

Your smartphone can be a big hindrance to both your awareness in public of potential dangers and hazards as well as making you an easier target for theft or robbery. While it is usually safe to use your phone in most places, depending on the city or country, you may want to leave it at home or wait until you’re at a café, bank, or a restaurant to use it. To walk around with it and advertise its value is an increased risk which you may want to do without. While it can be helpful in mapping out your location and where you need to go next, it can highlight the fact that you are a tourist or are not aware of your surroundings even more.

On top of that, walking with your phone out is not a good idea because you will be completely unaware as to what is going on around you in terms of cars, buses, bikes, motorcycles, or potential street hazards. Having your phone out not only compromises your safety but your awareness as well. Try to memorize your immediate area so you will not be tempted to use your phone as much. Also, even when you are out at a restaurant, café, or bar, it is best to use your phone sparingly so as to not distract yourself from your surroundings or from your friends or family who are out with you. Your phone is a great tool, but it can take away from your public safety very easily if you use it too much or make it obvious as to how much street value it has.

My key point in writing this article is to make sure you don’t fall victim to some sort of accident or tragedy because you weren’t paying attention. You should always be striving to be aware of your surroundings and to make it a personal priority to maintain vigilance in public. Things can happen very quickly and it’s extremely important these days to stay ready in case something happens unlikely as that may be. Use these tips at your own discretion and if you would like to add your own public safety tips, please feel free to do so in the comments section.

English Corner – The Utility of One-on-One Practice

When you are learning a new language especially one where you don’t have a lot of access to native speakers of that language, your ability to learn the foreign language can suffer as a result. Even if you are learning from someone in your country who speaks with advanced proficiency, there is still a discernible difference between a native speaker who also would likely be a qualified teacher for foreign students and one who is a teacher but is still a non-native teacher.

Now, there are a lot of great foreign teachers of second languages including the English language out there who are non-native speakers but I think that if a student has the chance to work with native speakers especially if they have taught before and are certified, your odds of getting better at the target language will increase exponentially. Most group classes or formal class settings for language learning instruction place an emphasis on a comprehensive strategy involving reading, grammar, vocabulary, and listening comprehension. However, while there is a little bit of speaking and writing practice, it is often not enough and there is also no time spent on the individual student and their own strengths and weaknesses.

If you are in a class of 25 to 30 students, one teacher will not be able to effectively work with each student as much or as effectively to improve either the speaking or writing skills in such a constrained time period. If you have four or five hours of English language instruction per week, the chances are high that out of that amount of time, there will only be 30 minutes to an hour dedicated to either speaking or writing instruction, which is very little.

While group or class settings can be ideal for addressing certain proficiency needs such as the aforementioned reading, listening, grammar, and vocabulary practice, such a large setting is often not conducive to conducting good lessons related to addressing speaking or writing practice. In order to boost a student’s proficiency levels specifically with regards to their speaking or writing needs, then you’re going to have to go smaller to get the best results. Any student of the English language must take it upon themselves to find one-on-one practice because that is the best way to help them achieve the best results when it comes to improving their English especially when it comes to speaking or writing.

Even if a student has no access to one-on-one practice, an admirable alternative would be small group sessions or roundtables of no more than five students so they can get as much individualized attention as possible. The key point to make is that one-on-one or small group practice will help the individual student advance a lot more in English than in a large classroom setting. Large classroom settings can benefit ESL students in some ways especially for socialized learning and group practice, but it lacks that kind of one-on-one correction and encouragement that a foreign language student often needs to succeed.

If the English student in question doesn’t have the funds or the time to research private options, it would be ideal for the school or learning institution providing his class study to provide him or her with some outside options for additional learning, especially online if the student is able to do so. While funding private one-on-one learning may not be possible for the academic institution, to improve their students’ performance, they should do their best to make one-on-one tutoring as cost effective as possible.

If it cannot be offered within the institution, then it should be subsidized as much as possible and referred back to other trusted learning centers or individual teachers who will do a great job in assisting the student in one-on-one tutoring. One-on-one learning, especially for speaking and/or writing purposes is extremely effective for a number of reasons. The greater amount of attention, the ability to correct the student quickly and show them how to fix their errors, and the ability to have a longer, more in-depth conversation or writing session is key to helping the student than they could receive instead in the classroom setting.

To have the ability to study the language on a one-to-one basis is a key part of becoming a better English speaker and writer. To have an hour or two of one-on-one practice will do wonders for the student’s self-confidence, their comprehension, and their ability to cover more topics than they would in a class with 25 other students. The next best option that the student has without spending any money is to attend a language exchange event if available in their city or town where they can practice English with another speaker in exchange for sharing their native language with another student or more. These language exchanges are a great way for language students to meet each other, practice their native and foreign languages, and build a community of like-minded students. While these are not specifically one-on-one practice events, you are likely to be speaking to one other person at a time as you rotate to talk to other people at the event as they likely go for a few hours each time.

By practicing one-on-one, you are not able to hide from your language ability and will put them to the test. Overall, that is an excellent way to develop your English proficiency and to do it more quickly. In a classroom, you can hide as other students answer questions and do work on shared projects but there is no hiding in a one-on-one practice session. While it can be intimidating to work with a teacher or a peer one-on-one, it’s not only good for the student’s English language skills but also for their personal development and socialization.

An added bonus to this is that the student can learn from a native speaker perhaps or a person from a country where the language is native to them. Lastly, with the advent of digital learning, it is now easier to work online with a native speaker from halfway around the world in English or another language for free with a peer or with a paid tutor for anywhere from thirty minutes to a couple of hours each week.

Group lessons and classroom learning are key to being better at English but if you really want to develop your proficiency to the highest level, you should consider learning and practicing on a one-on-one basis as much as possible. You’ll be putting yourself out there and may mistakes but that is a natural part of any learning process and you will definitely grow as a result of being accountable for both your failures and your successes as a language learner.

Monte Albán

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Monte Alban Archaeological Site, Oaxaca, Mexico

Movie Recommendations – Volume II

  1. The Mule (2018)

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A normal man of the middle class is pushed to his limits and takes serious risks that could backfire on him. This is essentially the premise of legendary actor and director Clint Eastwood’s latest film in which he stars and directs as an octogenarian horticulturist turned drug mule named Earl Stone. Based on true events, this unreliable family man and an even worse husband, Earl has sacrificed his love of flowers for the love of his daughter and wife. More at home on the road with his drinking buddies and colleagues than with his own family members, Earl has spent over thirty years doing what he does best much to the chagrin of those who care about him including his soon to be wed granddaughter.

Earl is faced with the unsettling reality of the crippling economic recession beginning in 2008 and the subsequent rise of eCommerce outlets when his horticulture lifestyle and flower gardens go out of business. All Earl has left is his love of the road, his ability to never get a speeding ticket, and a lot of debt that he’s not sure how to get out of. Earl has the utter misfortune to run into people who are shady yet loaded with cash and Earl, being as desperate as he is to stay afloat economically goes ahead and trusts them anyway despite not knowing about the illicit cargo, he is transporting around the country for them.

You are left feeling bad for Earl because despite putting work first all those years and missing time with his loved ones, he partly did it to feed his family and give them a good life even if he was away most of the time. Eastwood who plays Earl in the film is not an innocent lamb and deserves punishment for what he did, but he is simply a manipulated fall guy and another casualty to the endless ‘war on drugs.’ Pursued by federal agents and cartel criminals, Earl ends up between a rock and a hard place and you have to wonder how we can live in a society where an old man such as himself has to resort to be a drug mule in order to get by financially and create a good life for himself and those close to him.

Overall, this is a good movie that I would recommend for its questions about morality, family, and the consequences economic hard times can have and are still a reality for so many people who choose to take illegal means or are forced to do so in order to survive or get by. It’s clear from the movie that crime doesn’t pay but we are left to reckon with the absurdity of an eighty plus year old man needing to work for the cartels in order to thrive economically.

  1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

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It may not be Tarantino’s best but it’s certainly not his worst. With a stellar cast of characters including Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, etc., This film does a great job of invoking the nostalgia and uniqueness of Hollywood in its heyday during the late 1960’s. Set in a time when hitchhiking was normal to partake in, hippies were hanging out in ranches, and the Manson family was beginning its reign of terror, Tarantino has an uncanny ability to bring those cultural tenets together to produce a satisfying film.

Between the cars, the outfits, the egos of the actors, you get a real sense of what it must have been like to be in Hollywood during that golden era. Even still, Tarantino as in his other films, likes to put his own spin on history and without revealing too much, the last thirty minutes of this film are among the most satisfying that he has put to the big screen.

It would not be a Tarantino movie without some craziness and shocking moments occurring. One of the best parts of ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ is the chemistry between Brad Pitt’s character, Cliff Booth, a stuntman who does all the dirty work with a smile on his face and Leo DiCaprio’s character, Rick Dalton, an actor who is struggling with the notion that his career may be on the downslope.

While the film gets off to a slow start and certain scenes are drawn out way too long, the writing is well-done, the characters are interesting to see develop, and the payoff of the ending is way too satisfying to not recommend this film. Especially if you are a fan of Hollywood history and the era of the 1960’s, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

  1. Blinded by The Light (2019)

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Brrrrrruuuuucccceeeeee! Springsteen fans are going to love this film. I know I did and it’s for a couple of reasons. The actors are really likable in this one and the story they’re telling is one as old as time but in a setting and an era that I found pretty compelling. There are some similarities between the coming of age of someone like a Bruce Springsteen and the film’s main character, Javed Khan (played by Viveik Kalra). Even though they are from different countries, different races, and different religious beliefs, there is a universal truth that underlies what Javed and Bruce went through as younger men. Dealing with overprotective or absent fathers, searching for one’s own identity, trying to find true love, and figuring out how to make their dreams come true These are the powerful themes of the film that are timelines across cultures and across borders.

Also timeless is the fight against hatred, bigotry, and intolerance among those who don’t accept others who are different living in their communities. The film is not just about Springsteen’s music and how it relates to a young man’s search for his place in the world but also about a family’s immigrant dream to create a better life for themselves in a community that can be rather cruel and mean at times. Not only is Javed trying to make his dreams come true but his family are also trying to fit in to a town, Luton, where they are minorities, and are discriminated against.

I particularly like how ‘Blinded by The Light’, while it followed the formulaic story of similar films, it has its own identity and its own unique setting and characters that make it a rewarding watch. There are some lessons to be taken from this film beyond just enjoying the music of the Boss. It’s about balancing family responsibilities and your own independence and desires, and also about what your priorities are in life.

Music isn’t everything but it’s the sweet, fulfilling topping that will get you through hard times when things look bleak. That is part of the appeal of Bruce Springsteen’s music and it’s why his music is so powerful and resonant from Asbury Park to Luton and from New York City to London. If you get the chance, see this film even if you don’t like Springsteen. It is more than just a musical and at its core, it’s about the triumph of love over hate and of dreams over despair.

Oaxaca de Juarez

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Oaxaca de Juarez, Oaxaca, Mexico

Life’s Fleeting Moments

Why is that sunrises and sunsets are often so captivating and moving? Perhaps it’s the uniqueness of the colors blending and merging together to form a painting-like setting that can’t be reproduced elsewhere. Maybe it’s the sense of satisfaction that comes from seeing a new day born or see the old day fade to its end. However, I tend to think the beauty of these happenings lies in another part of its overall appeal.

While some aspects of sunrises and sunsets bring a lot of beauty and perspective to life, I think the main reason why sunrises, sunsets, and even the random rainbow appeal to the human psyche is because these events represent fleeting moments that last for only a few seconds or minutes. They are impermanent, awe-inspiring, and hard to experience often. Sunrises and sunsets are ephemeral events that can be easy to miss and require one’s full attention to really appreciate them.

These sunrise and sunset events are what I like to call ‘fleeting moments’ and they are truly special. I say this because they do not last, and they require you to really pay attention and let your distractions float away. You have to be in the moment and that is increasingly difficult for most people to do nowadays. We are constantly bombarded by sensory overload that is often man-made and unnatural. Advertisements, loud noises, screeching vehicles, bumps in the roads we drive, these can cause us to lose sight of what’s truly important in life. Taking measure every now and then of why these fleeting moments are important to experience not only reminds us of the beauty of life but also how impermanent our time here really is. When you compare the fleeting moments of life to the routine moments in life, it really is no contest to as to which kind of moment is the preferred option to experience in full.

Categorically, the rewards of these fleeting moments are among the best in life because we all know that they are not common. Among the daily monotony and chores that encompass our routines, taking a few moments to appreciate being alive and being at peace are really what we all should be striving for even if these moments are fleeting. The fleeting moments are hard to capture but when you do, they bring the most joy and happiness that you can possibly have. As I mentioned in a previous article, there is a rule of diminishing marginal returns that we should be aware of and that’s why the more common we experience certain things in life, the less we really value them.

It’s quite a paradox when you think about it. The most enjoyable moments in life are the ones that we cannot plan for or anticipate, but that is part of the beauty of life and of living. Going back to my sunrise and sunset example, if they happened every hour instead of every day, that would be boring, right? You would probably start yawning after the fourth sunrise and the third sunset. Fleeting moments are special inherently because they are temporary, and you may not be able to enjoy them forever. Fleeting moments can also be part of your daily routine but ones that can only last a few seconds or a few minutes.

For some of us, it could be the first sip of a fresh cup of coffee at the beginning of the day or for others, it could be a hot shower after a long day of hiking. We know that the 2nd or 3rd cup of coffee like the 2nd or 3rd shower would not be as pleasurable or as enjoyable because then it becomes routine and our mind adjusts to it happening. However, the fleeting moment when your lips touch the coffee or when your face is enveloped with shower water, then it’s almost pure ecstasy for your body and mind. While these moments are definitely fleeting, they are the most enjoyable. Keeping them as part of your routine is important so that you will feel better both mentally and physically.

What we should all keep in mind is how to maximize the most enjoyment from these temporary moments because we know they don’t come around every minute or every hour of each day. My thinking on this is to really put all distractions away for those moments so you can be living fully and freely. When you are having a nice dinner with friends, make a habit to engage yourself in the conversation rather than daydream about what you’re doing afterwards. When you are watching the sun rise or set, put the phone away and just watch the colors merge together to form the painting-like canvas. Let your stress and worries melt away as much as possible to really enjoy these moments. There are so many distractions out there, but your sense of contentedness will be much higher if you are able to have the willpower yourself to be in the here and now wherever that may lead you.

Laughter among friends, patting a baby’s back, a spontaneous rainbow, a beautiful vista after a long climb, holding the hands of a beloved family member, these are the moments you want to remember throughout life. They are fleeting in length and a small amount of sand in the hourglass known as one’s lifespan, but they are precious and powerful. If you can take the time to work, to play, to sleep, to eat, then you can take the time to live in the moment and appreciate beauty and joy when it comes your way.

Being able to live fully by being in the moment will set you on a path of fewer regrets the further you go through life. Letting yourself experience moments of happiness and joy without distraction or worries will improve your well-being. It is a conscious effort to stay in the moment, but the rewards are well worth it. If you have to meditate, exercise, or even do yoga to help yourself stay present, then do so but don’t let life’s fleeting moments pass you by.