Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best Albums of 2015

2015. A good year in music, I believe. Each year I realize more and more how my music-listening habits and preferences are largely influenced by my station in life, which albums I happen to pull the trigger on and actually buy (greatly improving the chance to making this list), critics' recommendations, and what I feel like listening to when working on my laptop in my office. The chance to see the artist live (Chvrches and Purity Ring) also helps and, sometimes, I like the album even if I happen to buy tickets to the concert and simply decide not to go day of (Tobias Jesso Jr.). Beach House and Panda Bear got a lot of spins while trying to do work. Kendrick would have topped the list if I was judging purely by merit, influence, skill, creativity, and credibility. And Sufjan easily nabs the album that actually had an emotional impact on me and is nearest and dearest to my heart.

10. Grimes - Art Angels
I'm not going to lie. Electronica-pop, female vocal music is totally in my wheelhouse and I've given Grimes' previous album a ton of listens. While Art Angels is less solid front to back as it's forerunner, the hits are top-notch and I'm counting on this one to continue to grow on me with time.

9. Bad Bad Hats - Psychic Reader
This is a little bit of a wild card for me. Bad Bad Hats is a band we're considering bringing to campus in the spring and in my investigation of the band, I got completely hooked. Their album is free (!) on their website. They're breezy, they're fun. I love it.

8. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
"She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes / And the malaprops make me want to f**king scream / I wonder if she even knows what that word means / Well, it's literally not that"
This moody, judgmental, misinformed stanza alone qualifies this album for my list. Also, the Master of None episode (season 1, episode 3 - "Hot Ticket") where they go to the FJM concert is probably my favorite episode.

7. Tobias Jesso Jr. - Goon
Yeah, why not this album?
6. Purity Ring - Another Eternity
See above on my thoughts towards electronica-pop with female vocal acts. Purity Ring has a stellar sophomore album that lives up to their first. When seeing them live, they restored my sense of youth by starting their set at midnight and I didn't fall asleep.

5. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
I'm not going to try to unpack this one as there's already a million think-pieces out there. I will say, it's about as dense as you can get and people of all colors should listen to it and consider it and internalize it. We'll be referencing this one twenty years down the road.

4. Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
I haven't listened to much of Panda Bear's stuff in the past but I found myself playing this album almost every day early on in the year. There's something edgy about the sounds produced and the repetition of it all and then it gets stuck in your head, not so much in an annoying way but more in a way that makes your head bob up and down.

3. Chvrches - Every Open Eye
Lauren Mayberry, the lead singer, has been outspoken about her thoughts on gender and sexism over the last few years. This was on display when I caught Chvrches live in Philly this fall. Between songs, some guy threw something on stage or yelled something and Lauren gave a quick response then began the next song. She nearly ended the song too early, her timing off. Afterwards she said, "Typically I allow myself thirty seconds to be angry and then I get over it but this really pissed me off." Then she went on to publicly tell off the guy. Chvrches' sophomore effort is more of the same great stuff; though a little more sure of themselves.

2. Beach House - Depression Cherry
I"m not sure how Beach House can continue to maintain the same sound yet make each album feel like a progression. Anyhow, Depression Cherry is superb. (Perhaps I'm being unfair but I couldn't get into their second release of the year; perhaps too-much-too-soon for me?)

1. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
This was the emotional outlet I needed all year. I'm welcoming Sufjan's return to the stripped down sound. I listened to this waking up in the morning. I listened to this while traveling on a bus in India feeling far from home. I listened to this when feeling unsure what I was doing with my life. Sufjan beautifully sings about a very specific relationship and experience with his recently deceased estranged mother and yet I feel completely in tune with where he's coming from. Sufjan knows how to communicate universally through his finite, heartbreaking ruminations. Keep them coming, Suf.

Honorable Mention
Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
Best Coast - California Nights
Carly Rae Jepsen - E.MO.TION
Jose Gonzalez - Vestiges and Claws
Leon Bridges - Coming Home
Lord Huron - Strange Trails
Son Lux - Lanterns
Vince Staples - Summertime '06
Wilco - Star Wars

Saturday, August 1, 2015

IBI Update: Shanghai, Dalian, & Beijing, China

Like India, I didn't have much context for China outside of what I'd seen in the media and thus the experience was consistently revealing. The people that we came in contact with (hotel & restaurant staff, people around the city, tour guides) appeared to be concerned with detail but arrived at solutions in very different ways than I would. There seemed to be a frantic-ness to everything, punctuated by the tonal inflection of the language. Relative to India, there wasn't as much of a friendliness but there were signs of strong communal practices such as "family-style" dishes being served at every meal. Some stereotypes were affirmed for me, such as China's issue with smog in the major cities and their love of selfies. Overall, we had a great time in China though were definitely ready to be home by the end. Here's a recap of each city we visited.
Shanghai, China
We visited Shanghai for just a few days but packed a lot in. Day 1 included a corporate visit with GM and a US-China trade expert meeting. We followed that up with a trip up the Shanghai Tower known as the "bottle-opener," attended an acrobat show, and roamed the streets at night. Day 2 involved the China Art Museum, a city center museum, tea show and shopping in the old part of town, and a boat ride to see the skyline from the Yangtze River (pictured).

Shanghai has the world's largest city proper population with twenty-four million. It's big. It's also best at night. The city glows. It's like Times Square on crack. Driving around or walking the city streets is an experience in itself. Everywhere was crowded. There was a lot to see. Our tour guide called out "sticky rice" when the group wasn't close enough. One of the coolest cities we've visited.
Dalian, China
In China, each city has a specific tier ranking measured by cultural significance, infrastructure, and economic impact. Dalian is a tier-2 city though still has a population over three million. The students spent the majority of their time taking a week long finance class in the hotel. Jorjette and I would roam the nearby mall and outdoor market, eat at Pizza Hut, then come back  to our room and read or watch one of the same six movies that played on the one (English) movie station. This is the point where we became ready to come home.

We were able to stop by the Olympic square which, as I just now did a quick Google search, I find was not the host of the 1966 Olympics despite having the Olympics rings, a statue of a runner, and a building with the sign "Olympia 66" on it. [More research.] Aha, apparently Dalian is home to China's first ever Olympic athlete and the "Olympia 66" building is a mall. Curses!

Other highlights included: stopping by the coast for a few minutes (pictured) and going to a  knock-off Olive Garden named Olive Garden and a restaurant named Brooklyn, both of which had pretty good food.

Beijing, China
Our final hotel miraculously had a Papa John's on the ground level. First highlight. Garlic butter tastes delicious no matter if on EST or China time.

I found the Great Wall (pictured) to be pretty amazing. The section we were at started from a fairly low point and climbed up. The stairs were uneven, crowded, and China has a suffocating heat (and smog) issue that's on full-force in late July. There were little towers every couple hundred meters, tantalizing you to climb one more section. Once I made it past a few towers, the crowd lessened and I eventually made it up to a little peak. I only climbed for an hour but was on the verge of puking for 90% it. The view from the top was limited in scope by the smog/fog but it was incredible looking back on the section I climbed and marvel at the immensity and breadth of the wall. From my two hours at two respective modern Wonders of the World: The Taj Mahal is a wonder of beauty, symmetry, and sense of peace. The Great Wall is an experience of endurance.

Other Beijing moments: final corporate visit (Lenovo), Kung Fu show, Tienanmen Square and Forbidden City, Olympic Village/Bird's Nest, and karaoke.


With traveling, time seems to move along both slowly and quickly. Arriving in Germany two months ago seemed like forever ago and yet I can't believe two months have passed and I start work on Monday. And yet, we've reached the end. As I write this, I'm sitting on my couch, fairly awake at 2am though still slightly exhausted from the nearly thirty hours of traveling it took to get home. The summer was a good one filled with some incredible traveling and a lot of time with some pretty cool students. I'll miss the discovery of new places and the relationships formed with students but it's good to be home.

Thanks to anyone following along on the blog and sorry for its lackluster quality. Like my Facebook photo albums, there wasn't much editing or structure to the posts but rather I was primarily wanting to log some of our adventures. Okay, back to Pennsylvania life.

Monday, July 20, 2015

IBI Update: Chennai, Agra, & Delhi, India

Movies like The Grand Marigold Hotel and Million Dollar Arm give a romantic sense of India. And it has its charm, to be sure. But it is also a vast, hot, diverse, poverty-stricken, thriving country that is just so foreign from my western thinking brain that it can't be summed up in (or experinced) in any sort of "snapshot." So I wanted to say that. I'll also mention a few stray observations and then give a short recount of what we did while in India for roughly two weeks. 

Stray observations:
We were staying in very nice hotels and the service was thus extraordinary. But India is also a service and hospitality oriented culture and that could be sensed in every restaurant, church, store, etc. We spent most of our time at a resort and someone would stop by our room a few times every day to make sure we had everything we needed. Our bags were always taken to our room by hotel staff (no matter if it was a slower process). It was disarming and felt weird but very appreciated.
India is hotttt. They've had heat waves recently that have killed hundreds. By the time we arrived, it was somewhat cooler. Meaning we had highs in the low 100s with some crazy humidity.
India provided some of the nicest hotels and a compassion sand we also witnessed the highest level of poverty. It's disarming when you witness people sleeping on the streets a few yards away from a five-star hotel. 
There was security at every mall, hotel, airport (just to get in), and subway. The alarm would always go off and nothing would happen. I didn't get it.
Chennai, India
The students took a one week intensive at a beach resort in Chennai which left Jorjette and I with a week to sit by the pool and relax. This was very welcome after a busy end to our time in Europe. The change in cuisine, jetlag, and busy schedule also wiped out a bunch of students with a few sick every day and one with some issues bad enough to fly home. But mostly, Jorjette got tan, I used spf 50, and we both got massages at the end of the week. 

We were about an hour outside of Chennai so we were only in the city a few times. We went shopping, we visited the tomb of St. Thomas, we explored some ancient temples, and we had a dance party/karaoke on the final night. 
Agra & Delhi, India
A couple hour flight north brought us to Delhi where we promptly took a four hour bus ride to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. We visited in the morning, posed in a bunch of Indian people's pictures (a common occurrence), then visited a marble shop similar to how the Taj was created. For those wondering, the Taj is absolutely majestic and amazing. Once you see it, I'm not sure there's anything else to do in Agra, but wow, it's beautiful.

Delhi provided some time to go on a bicycle rickshaw ride, visit the largest mosque in India, and visit a Ghandi museum. We also met a snake charmer. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

IBI Update: London, England

London, England

"Cheers" - Immigration Officer 

As we arrived in England (by boat!), I realized I knew relatively less about the city of London as compared to many. I knew that London had Big Ben, red things such as double-decker buses & coated guards & phone booths, and was home to driving on the wrong side of the street. Let's make a deal: USA switches to the metric system and England and all their "colonies" drive on the right side of the road. Everyone will be happier. 

All that said, I felt at home in London. It's amazing what a common language and wide acceptance of credit cards does to make one feel comfortable. Our residence also had solid wi-fi, a factor I'm ashamed to say adds to my sense of belonging. 

We had two free days in London and we hit it hard. It was hot to the extreme and, excluding many of their museums, everything is expensive, including the Underground. 

We walked FOUR SWELTERING MILES to a grouping of museums our first day, stopping to wait in line for discounted theater tickers (to find out our desired show - The Curious Incident... - was sold out), a view of Buckingham Palace, and a cool walk through Harrod's. We visited the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Naturual History Museum, and the Science Museum. By reaching the Science Museum we didn't especially care about science. That said, the museums were free and two of the three were air conditioned well. We took the Underground ($6-ish!!) closer to our residence, grabbed some fish and chips (at least I did), and did the Eye. It is now owned by Coca-Cola and feels like a London themed version of Atlanta's Coke Museum. Not really but sorta.

Day two consisted of laundry in the morning. We visited the Tate Modern Museum while we dried our clothes - not something I get to say very often. This was my favorite museum of our travels so far, we got to use real washer/dryers, and I also got my haircut. It was a productive morning. The rest of the day included a walk by Big Ben then an overpriced visit to Westminster Abbey, home of many dead royalty and famous British people. We took the tube closer to the London Tower Bridge (though not close enough; why would you name the bridge next to the London Tower Bridge the The London Bridge?) and walked to and across it before we headed back to our residence on the South Bank of the Thames. 

All in all, a full and good visit to London and, perhaps in another life, I wouldn't mind living on the South side of the Thames. It seems like a happening place. 

Next stop: Chennai, India

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

IBI Update: Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Brussels, Belgium

Spent an afternoon here eating fries and visiting the EU parliament. It was nice.

Rotterdam, the Netherlands

I think Rotterdam wins the city for the most livable (so far) besides the incomprehensible Dutch language. It's a large city without being overwhelming, it has a massive market with a ton of vendors, its architecture is crazy, and the language thing isn't that big of a deal because everyone we encountered spoke fluent English. 

We visited the zoo, we walked along the docks (the Netherlands is covered in water), and as has been the case in many of the cities we've visited, we took a boat tour. Our hotel was really quirky cool and located down the block from everything we wanted to visit.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Besides being a popular song title (Guster, Peter Bjorn & John, Coldplay), the home of Anne Frank, and having readily available weed/prostitution, I actually didn't have a bunch of places to visit here. We spent half a day in Amsterdam visiting a cheese/wooden shoe farm, a windmill park, a boat tour of the canals, and a few hours to walk around. In case you were wondering there are a ton of canals and row homes and it's a cool city besides the debauchery. 

Next: London, England 

Monday, June 29, 2015

IBI Update: Paris, France

Paris, France

I was coming into Paris as an expert. Ten years ago, I visited the city with my mom and sister for four days sooooo, I knew what I was doing. I knew of a museum or two and that the city is huge, something anyone who's read the city's Wikipedia page could also tell you. 

Ok so we had a few planned items - boat ride on the Seine, bus tour of the city - and then a full free day in the city. On the partial day, Jorje and I got off the bus near the Opera House then took the Metro over to the Champs Élysées where we promptly got soaked and it was miserable. After strolling through H&M (something that's happened in every city), we split a pizza then went to see Jurrasic World in 3D in  one of the nicer theaters I've ever been. The movie provided English language adventure and stalled until there was a beautiful, post-rain Paris. We walked to the Eiffel Tower, saw it light up at night, then were late to check-in students as we got lost on the Metro.

But that was one of the few times we got lost on the Metro and we used it a lot. 10 times to be exact. It's intuitive and gives one a feeling of being very cosmopolitan when mastered. We hit some of the other hot spots: Notre Dame, Musee D'Orsay, Sacre Coeur, Versailles, and our personal favorite, the Latin Quarter complete with boutiques and restaurants geared towards visitors but not filled with cliches. 

I loved returning to Paris. It's elegant and refined and the people were friendly and welcoming and I could use a few French words. 
First Aid Kit

Jorje had the brilliant idea to go to a concert on one of our later nights in Paris. First Aid Kit is a Swedish folk duo that we've listened to a little bit but wouldn't count ourselves die-hard fans but the draw of a concert while abroad was too strong to pass up. Openers Stealing Sheep was a great all famale pop group. Catchy hooks and infectious personalities. Great openers. 

First Aid Kit is two young women in their early twenties touring their second LP. Beautiful harmonies, white lace dresses, very sweet and charming, with a drummer and slide guitarist. They're chock full of talent and it showed. Though they had two backing musicians, they carried the sound and when they performed an unplugged song, their voices were totally on point. The concert venue was some strange circus tent place called Cabaret Sauvage in a remote part of town but it was perfect and we were close to the stage and it was a great evening. 

Up next: Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Friday, June 26, 2015

IBI Update: Geneva, Switzerland

Geneva, Switzerland
Among being the home of the Red Cross and neutrality, Switzerland is a very wealthy, and thus, expensive country. Our spending money didn't go far and our accommodations were the most "scary hostel" (though really a college dorm) of the program thus far. One plus, we finally did some laundry and reveled in clothing that wasn't suitcase smelling. Oversll, Geneva was a very nice city to visit, albeit one of our shortest and packed as well. We had two visits, the WTO and Nestle, and a day trip to Chamonix thrown in to a three day stay. I also realized how nice it was to recognize some of the language. My years in high school and college French classes are still paying off when I can say four phrases and read signs. But for real, it's nice to know the panguage a little bit.
The city of Geneva is situated on Lake Geneva so there's a beautiful view along the water. They have their famous massive fountain which is only sometimes on (we only saw it once, from a distance). Across the street from the lake is Prada and other stores too expensive to actually shop at. Their old town is on-point and, during our stay in the city, there was a music festival happening so there were lots of people out and 6-7 stages set up. We hit up the festival two of our three nights there catching a DJ mixing his own beats, a French-speaking rapper, along with a number of mediocre acts. The festival was situated around the Reformation Wall area/park. It was a cool experience, attending something we would attend if living in Europe but not necessarily a purely tourist thing.
Vevey, France
On a corporate visit to the Nestle headquarters, we drove to nearby Vevey, France. Wedged between hills of vineyards and Lake Geneva / the French Alps, Vevey was incredibly picturesque. We only had a few hours there but it was stunning and Nestle's corporate offices would probably be a contender for the most beautiful place to work in the corporate world.

Chamonix, France
We took a day trip to this little mountain town because, well, Mont Blanc. The city was cute and had plenty of shopping and eateries but we were pretty stoked to take a cable car to one of the peaks. As has been the case for much of our time in mountains, there were clouds obstructing our view of anything. But it was still crazy scaling the cliffs and standing on a little structure built on a rock wall. I'm realizing that I'm now more afraid of heights than in my youth (I should be a dad) but it was cool to say we went to the top. There were a bunch of people parasailing and climbing the snow-covered mountain ridges, but we stayed safely on cable-cars and coach buses.

Up next: Paris, France.

Friday, June 19, 2015

IBI Update: Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck has a quaint feeling to it. It's located among Austria's Alps with the mountains always visible except when exploring the pastel painted old town buildings along the Inn river. Innsbruck hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and '76 and we actually stayed at an Olympic training facility sandwiched between a stadium and practice fields and rinks. A ski ramp was visible from our room. Not bad. Except for the wi-if and the one drunk woman who hassled us on our last night.

The fist half of our stay in Innsbruck was dominated by Jorje getting violently ill. Whether it was a 24 hour bug or food poisoning, it was pretty awful. But we had time to stay in bed for a day and I appreciated the rest and Jorje was grateful it didn't hit while riding the coach bus. Then a student got similarly sick and another student thought he might have broken his foot playing soccer. So we took a little field trip to the hospital and everyone turned out to be ok, just needed liquids and ice, respectively. Also, the students payed hardly anything for the excellent medical attention. Socialized health care!

Jorje and I were able to explore the town a little bit but it was pretty rainy throughout. We took a cable car to the top of a mountain and saw nothing. But the town was pretty and had a Northern Europe vibe to it that I was all about.

Our one corporate visit was to Swarovski to visit Crystal World, the equivalent of Hershey World in PA or Coke's museum in Atlanta. EXCEPT IT WAS A MILLION TIMES COOLER. Crystal World had fifteen or so exhibits indoors that out-do almost any modern art museum I've visited. Everything from dancing animatronic legs to crystal installations to great use of neon. Then the park portion had a five-story playground (inclusive of adults), a cluster of crystal trees over a reflecting pool, and a garden maze. All this was surrounded by mountains and you should go as soon as you can.

Next up: Geneva, Switzerland.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

IBI Update: Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic

As usual, I've got a bunch of other Prague posts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook with the #InterHATionalSummer hashtag.

I've heard from a number of people just how cool Prague is. It has a bunch of cultural significance being the home of Franz Kafka, influential cubist artists, and a thriving music scene to this day. It's a city that survived WWII and came out of communism with buildings intact and an economy and culture ready to engage in the developed world. The city fulfills every European fantasy as far as cobble stone streets and beautiful architecture but then also has a weird, off-kilter edge that satisfied my modern self as well. From a visitors standpoint, the city revolves around the river and the Charles Bridge (pictured above). The winding city streets are confusing but add to the charm of exploring the city; while we may have walked in circles a couple times, we also found a few uncharted streets each time we ventured into town. 

As for our visit, we were staying on the north side of the city, up on a hill near a castle and monastery. We were easily able to take a tram in and out of town which was helpful because my skinny leg muscles about died after footing the trek back the few times we did. The whole group received a tour of the city and the students visited nearby Stanley Black & Decker and heard from a marketing exec. during our stay. It was a full week but Jojette and I are still very much enjoying our time with the students. Prague did provide us with our first trip to the hospital for a student visit but all is well and antibiotics were acquired.

Jorjette and I owned the town on our free days, walking some crazy amount of steps (a FitBit counter would have been good for walk-bragging). The daily struggle is staying hydrated for all the walking without drinking too much because you never know when you'll find a bathroom and who even knows if they'll have change for your cash. Anyhow, we hit up one of the National Museums (New Building with exhibits on Death and Noah's Ark), the Grand Orient Cafe (the first cubist building), the Museum of Modern Art,
 took pictures in front of the John Lennon graffiti wall, climbed the Starom Radnice tower and Petrim Observation Tower, and fit in lots of strolling - or in Jorjette's case, power-walking - the streets. 

There were a few areas that were given over to tourists but many of the streets were just authentically wonderful and perfect for exploring. Due to its location in Central Europe, the city wasn't too expensive and the people were friendly. I loved Prague. You should go. Or I'll go again or whatever. 

Up next: Innsbruck, Austria.

Friday, June 12, 2015

IBI Update: Heidelberg, Germany

It's my intention to post once for each city we visit on this summer's two month long trek around the world with business students from Messiah College and other various CCCU schools. I'm slow to post on our first stop but hope to get into the swing of things soon. Also, sorry for the mundane nature of these blogs; I'll try to liven them up as much as possible but no promises. 

Heidelberg, Germany

For live pics and snarky comments, check Instagram and Twitter. And Facebook will house full photo albums.

For those unaware, Heidelberg is a medium sized city located in a valley alongside a river. It's known for the overlooking crumbling castle, old town area, and it's plethora of universities - most notably Heidelberg University, the oldest in Germany.

While I believe the city gets a lot of visitors from the neighboring countries and is home to many college students, I don't think it is necessarily a destination for many from outside the country (besides us, of course). Jorjette and I explored the old town a number of times, toured the castle along with the students, and obviously made it to their zoo but otherwise we mostly spent our time adjusting to European life.

European (and city) life includes but is not limited to:
  • Lots of walking. 
  • Paying for bathrooms.
  • Paying for water.
  • Drinking better coffee. 
  • Eating ice cream every other night.
While the city was very pretty, it was also very hot. Deterred by the heat, we spent multiple mornings in bed adjusting to the time change and avoiding the heat. That said, most of our time revolved around finding places to eat. Due to the college crowd and number of tourists, there were many options in addition to the traditional German though we did get schnitzel and bratwurst in order to not get harrassed by others. One last thought on Heidelberg: it is a very dog friendly place. If you would like to vacation with your dog, Heidelberg approves. There were dogs everywhere and Jorjette was happy. 

As for our students and role as program coordinators, we have a fantastic group of 41 students. No major issues as of yet though a few "free-spirits" that are fun to round up when on tours. In Germany, we had one corporate visit to Deutsche Bank but otherwise we have devotions in the mornings, the days to ourselves and hold nightly check-ins with the students to verify they are alive. We've got a pretty good gig on our hands.

We're still going strong and excited for what's to come. Prague update next!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Summer Travels

Setting the Stage
The semester has ended, students are gone, loose ends are being tied up, and I can now start to throw some mental energy forward to the summer. Jorjette and I are going on a little trip around the world, accompanying business students from Messiah College and a few other CCCU schools on a program called the International Business Institute. Forty-one students in total, one director, rotating visiting professors, and Jorjette and I filling in for the "program coordinator" positions, meaning we'll be in charge of checking students in at night, assisting the director in various administrative duties, and making sure everyone stays alive. Most importantly, we have the chance to spend some time with some adventurous students and travel the world. Because everyone loves lists these days, here are a few as it relates to the summer travels.

Cities/Countries to be Visited
We travel all over. By plane, bus, and ferry. Here's the rundown.

  • Heidelberg, Germany
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Innsbruck, Austria
  • Geneva, Switzerland
  • Paris, France
  • Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • London, England
  • Chennai, India
  • Delhi, India
  • Shanghai, China
  • Dalian, China
  • Beijing, China

I've spent more time thinking about media than the cities we visit. Obviously, I need to do some research on where I'm traveling to but summer is my time to get my read on. Anyhow, I'll listen to a bunch of music and watch a lot of movies on planes. But here are the books/audiobooks* and Podcasts I've got lined up. And I definitely won't finish the list.


  • Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (ha)
  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler [audiobook]
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova [audiobook]
  • Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang [audiobook]
  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini [audiobook]
  • Daring Greatly by Brene Brown [audiobook]
  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson [audiobook]


  • All Songs Considered
  • Pitch
  • Pop Culture Happy Hour
  • TEDTalks
  • This American Life

Miscellaneous Anecdotes

  • Start date: June 1st
  • Suitcase weight limit: 44 lbs.
  • Packing for: business professional, business casual, casual, travel wear, cold Alps, hot Indian beaches, etc.
  • Devices: iPhone 5s, classic iPod, iPad, external hard drive, old-school Kindle, Bose headphones
  • Travel accessories purchased thus far: sink plug, clothesline, international outlet adapter, inflatable neck pillow, headphone splitter, packing cubes, remote charger
  • Medication taken: typhoid, malaria, hep A/B, travel nausea, and any/everything else
  • Number of cats traveling with us: zero
  • Most excited about: Prague
  • Plan to update: Twitter, Instagram, this blog (?), 
  • Hashtag: #?????????? #InterHATionalSummer
  • Return date: July 31st
Cool. That's all. Let me know if you have travel advice.

*How does everyone feel about audiobooks? I'm generally in favor when it comes to memoirs or other books that rely on personal story-telling. I haven't ventured into the world of non-fiction or more complex narrative. But the audiobook allure is strong to work through some books while taking a bus through the mountains without getting sick by reading.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Best Movies of 2014

Here we are, two weeks into 2015 yet the movies of 2014 are under scrutiny. Throughout the year, there's been a steady stream of good, solid movies released - and I would contend that there was a higher quantity than the previous few years. I'm still unsure on how many classics we have on our hands though I said the same thing in introducing my list of last year's Best Movies of 2013 and I would now count Her, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave as classics. So who knows, maybe a few months is all it takes for a movie to be solidified in my brain as somehow timeless or relevant beyond the two hours it takes to watch the movie.

As I looked over my list of movies for the year, I had plenty of thoughts but I would like to mention three themes that came up this year. The first is the use of time. From the quiet moments touched on over a twelve year span in Boyhood to the life-altering car ride in Locke to the video game level of lives found in Edge of Tomorrow (a.k.a. Live. Die. Repeat.) to the use of time-travel in Interstellar, it seemed as though movie producers were all about compressing, expanding, repeating or traveling through time in this year's movies. Gone Girl structured itself in a dichotomous before/after the crime. Oh, and Ida and Finding Vivian Maier were two movies fascinated with uncovering the long ago past in personal and moving ways.

The second very prominent theme I noticed was the use of doubles. Not your usual stunt double or use of a mask (a la Mission Impossible 2) but rather plots revolved around main characters interacting with alternate versions of themselves. Examples include The Double, Enemy, and The One I Love. And, if you're into Lifetime-like movies, The Face I Love. These are all indie-leaning movies but, none-the-less, an interesting quirk in this year's releases.

Finally, some of this year's best movies created a sense of unease that rival any horror movie (though none fit the traditional horror genre). Gone Girl used the unease to manipulate the viewer's perspective on the marriage. Nightcrawler's Lou Bloom is off from the beginning though you can't help but see some of his rationale ringing true. Whiplash created an emotional unease that left me asking more questions than answers. And, well, Foxcatcher had my heart pounding from start to finish.

I have plenty more to say about the year in movies but we'll get to the list. As with last year, I've included an Honorable Mention and a Highly Anticipated list with the latter certainly containing a few titles that could be added to my Top Ten or HM (lists... an imperfect system despite my addiction to them).

10. The Grand Budapest Hotel
While TGBH maintained Wes Anderson's aesthetic, complete with intricately detailed sets, quirky costumes, and dialogue that follows suit, the movie felt, perhaps, set apart from the rest of Anderson's left-field emotional hipster-family dramas. Even more distinct than his stop-motion, Fantastic Mr. Fox. That said, the adventurousness and crime/whodunnit? plot was pure fun.

9. The One I Love
I'm not certain what genre this one falls into. The rom-com(?), comedy(?), sci-fi(?) explores the relationship between the lead couple, played wonderfully by Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass, as they encounter the ideal version of their spouse. Would we rather be with the one that caters to our needs? Or do we have it in us to allow our spouse to be their own person, even if it's the harder path? While I enjoyed the relationship exploration, the movie was a lot of fun to follow as well. Well done.

8. Ida
Perhaps the most beautiful movie of the year, Ida tells the story of a young woman in 1960's Poland who is about to become a nun. As she prepares to take her vows, she learns about her past and embarks on an exploration of her past, discovering more about her heritage and, ultimately, herself. With understated performances and purely cinematic shots, Ida was a wonderful surprise.

7. Foxcatcher
In a year full of stories of unease, Foxcatcher takes the cake. Based on the true story of wrestling gold-medal winning brothers Mark and Dave Schultz and their sponsorship by billionaire tycoon, John du Pont, this slow burner had me on edge from the first scene. Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum give Oscar-worthy performances, communicating as much with the facial expressions and physical nature as with their words. I just loved this exploration of brotherhood, power, and the desire for affirmation.

6. Whiplash
What does it take to become great? Does the process mean there's a disregard for the self or loved ones? Should the coaching push someone beyond their limits or be supportive and nurturing? These are some of the grounding questions of Whiplash and it's a fascinating idea to think about. It's also a movie made with expert, jazz-like precision. The edits are fast and feel spontaneous at times. The emotions move up or down on a dime. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons give impeccable performances as protege and mentor respectively.

5. Nightcrawler
I'm currently reading Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death but he has another book called, How to Watch TV News, that I imagine would be Postman's idea of the full degradation of TV news and its production. Jake Gyllenhaal gives an incredible 30 pound lighter performance of an amateur freelance camera man for a local news company with a singular focus: that of succeeding at what he does with no regard for others. He preys on the tragedies of others and in doing so, the largest critique the movie makes, succeeds because the viewers eat up his film. If having a conversation about what we watch on the news, or TV and movies in general, this movie is a must.

4. Boyhood
Oh Linklater. Such commitment to an idea. I intentionally watched Boyhood in a theater because I knew it would be a long rumination on boyhood. I was right in that there wasn't a ton of action or plot advancement. The "boy" of Boyhood definitely had some significant events in his life: a string of fathers (and father-figures), a brief encounter with domestic abuse, the usual adolescent moments of uncertainty and mistake making. What sets this movie apart, besides the fact that it was filmed over the course of 12 years with the same cast, is that it never really resolves any of the set-ups. There are a lot of speeches about what it means to "grow up" but none are really satisfactory. In the end, his family is still there but everything isn't solved; life continues despite our inherent desire for a resolution come adulthood. Boyhood is a landmark in film-making.

3. Birdman
Vocationally, why do we do what we do? Do we aim for success? Pure love of our field? To simply survive? What does it even mean to be successful? In the entertainment industry, does it mean having a particular quota of followers on Twitter? Birdman asks many of these questions. But it's also not a "discussion movie," only good for the questions it asks. The script is airtight, Edward Norton is fantastic, and the cinematography alone is worth the price of admission.

2. Interstellar
I've been thrilled with pretty much every Christopher Nolan movie. His blockbusters over the last 6 or 7 years have been what Hollywood movies can be. In an era where Transformer movies keep getting made or great works of fiction like The Hobbit are turned into pure CGI warfare for 2+ hours, Nolan has a penchant for creating smart action movies with moderately complex characters that buck the trend of the day. When I saw McConaughey and Chastain's involvement and the visuals included in the trailer, I was definitely hooked. I was delighted to leave the movie with as many questions as when I watched Inception or Memento. The movie was filled with pure wonder at the complexities of the universe and while I would personally point more towards a creator of said universe, the majesty remained.

1. Gone Girl
This movie had a lot going for it: The incomparable Fincher directing and Reznor scoring. A fantastic source book with original author penning the script. And a solid cast (my distaste for Ben Affleck was somehow superseded by his perfect casting as Nick). No surprise, I had high hopes going into this movie. The book is hands-down the best "page-turner" I've read in the last few years. What made the book such a thrill to read was the constant second-guessing of Nick's innocence that slowly turns into a modern, twisted take on relationships. What the movie does so well is maintain the sense of fascination with the crime while slowly allowing the unease over the crime to turn into unease over the relationship. While the movie allows Nick off the hook a little more than the book (something I wished against), both Amy and Nick are guilty parties in terms of their relationship. The conclusion of the movie leaves the viewer with dropped-jaws and many questions. Isn't that what all good movies should do?

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order)
Big Eyes, Calvary, Chef, Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Fault in Our StarsFinding Vivian Maier, Guardians of the Galaxy, How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1, The Imitation Game, The Lego Movie, Locke, A Most Wanted Man, Noah, Obvious Child, Pride, The Skeleton Twins, Snowpiercer, The Theory of Everything, They Came Together

Highly Anticipated (in alphabetical order, movies in bold have since made the above lists)
American Sniper, Citizenfour, Dear White People, Inherent Vice, Life Itself, Listen Up Philip, A Most Violent Year, Selma, Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, Top Five