Tag: A Cautionary Tale

Book Cover (r.4) (1)

4 out of 4 stars


Review by Scerakor

What I liked most about this book, however, is that after a few chapters pass, the genius of this story comes out in droves. Like an onion, once you rip off the outer layer that is the simple childhood game, you are rewarded with layer after layer of sub-text. There is the (still light-hearted) suggestion that this group of kids not only “invented” the game of tag, but in the process of doing so, also “invented” many other childhood games we know and love. There is the witty banter between the naïvety of the old man and the sassy, but not exactly wrong, little Lizzie. This banter reeks of a battle between the super-ego and the id. There is a dark and foreboding layer that outlines how low humanity can stoop simply by imposing rule after rule upon its occupants. This layer is eerily redolent of books like Animal Farm or, even more so, Lord of the Flies. Finally, there is also that silent warning layer that screams how difficult (if not impossible) it is to pull out the deeply rooted traditions, prejudices, conventions, and preconceptions that are littered throughout our society. It shows how, despite being pestilential to our very existence, it is extremely difficult to change how we think and feel once we have an idea in our head and are willing to fight for it. – OnlineBookClub.org

Top 25 list for 2016.
Everyone needs a Little Lizzy & old man friend. – Tony Parsons

A Good Read Indeed! – Amazon Customer

A perfectly timed read with infuriating characters and unbelievable events that somehow represent what the United States (and much else of the world) seems to be going through more and more these days. This story gives light to the incoherent and twisted perspective of those who abide by the Just World Phenomenon and should motivate those who don’t share that view to get off their butts and change the conversation. A good read…Read More
A perfectly timed read with infuriating characters and unbelievable events that somehow represent what the United States (and much else of the world) seems to be going through more and more these days. This story gives light to the incoherent and twisted perspective of those who abide by the Just World Phenomenon and should motivate those who don’t share that view to get off their butts and change the conversation. A good read indeed!
 

Available for purchase at

http://emsapublishing.com/books/tag-a-cautionary-tale/

and Amazon.com

Opening

The old man shuffled his way to the foot of the great hill where sat a smooth boulder, protruding from the ground. He arrived every day, at precisely at 7:01, with the precision of a German engineer, as if he’d just disembarked from a bus or a train somewhere around the hill, and taken only the time needed to waddle over to the rock, and sit in the indentation worn into it by his butt over the years. He’d become a slave to this routine over the years, sitting there, on rock at the foot of a burnt out hill, undisturbed by the people who passed him as they moved about their day. They probably didn’t even notice him, seeing as they had other priorities to possess their time.

The man remembered a time, long ago, when the hill possessed the highest peak in the town. If a person climbed to the top of it, he could look down and take it in at a glance. But progress had seized the town, and large buildings soon grew to obscure the view, until the hill served as no more than the outline for the roundabout, designed to take busy people to their busy places. If any of them ever took the time away from their busy pace, how many of them would wonder how this old man found his way across that busy street to sit on his rock?

The current aesthetic labeled the hill an eyesore, an abomination, best residing on the other side of the tracks. If any of the fools ever put forth the effort, they’d march up to their representatives in the city hall and demand that the
representatives move it to the place where it actually belonged. No doubt those representatives would get right on the task, filing injunctions, posting notices, and writing bills about the town’s eyesore. And still the hill would remain as the busy people rushed their way through the roundabout towards their destination, never considering the state of the hill’s dilapidation. The representatives did, however, get around to putting a chain-linked fence around the hill with imposing ropes of razor sharp barbed wire on top, to keep out all the busy people who never wanted to go in in the first place. The fence marked, to all who cared to notice, the speed of “progress”.

After all these years, the hill remained. Nothing would grow on it. No one would walk on it. Not even the birds would feign to fly over the flimsy, metal barrier to land upon the hill’s desecrated domain. No one else seemed to even care about it but the old man, and he cared enough to visit it on a daily basis. So often had he visited the hill that he’d almost became a permanent addition to it. Except for the fact his clothes would change from day to day, people might have mistaken him for a statue.

He sat on the rock leaning heavily on the cane he carried with him, craning to get a better look at the nothingness the hill had to offer. What had begun as a mild interest in the hill had grown to such an obsession, that he would often squint his eyes at it, as if hoping to read the words somehow typed into the typography. His bald head protruded from his shirt collar so much that an onlooker might mistake him for a turtle, taking its first trembling steps onto the sands of some foreign beach, if, that is, they stopped long enough to notice. He thought he might need to find a place to rest his weary head, or it would fall from his body. Instead it came to lie on the gnarled and knobby hands he’d wrapped around the handle of his sturdy oak cane.

Day in and day out he sat, fearing any change in his routine, until Little Lizzy showed up to change that routine for him, having found her way across the traffic to the burnt-out oasis of the hill. Her blonde curls bounced giddily as she skipped her way over to where the old man sat on his rock. She wore a pink dress barely long enough to cover her chubby knees. She carried a box in her hands, about the size of a Bible, which she brandished with extreme importance.

The old man watched as Little Lizzy made her way around the fence line to approach him. When she noticed him, she stopped and stared at the sight, as if she found it hard to believe another soul had found his way over to this parcel of land. She dropped the box in her hands and it disappeared in the shadow of the rock. Because items not in the immediate view of children are seldom remembered, the box remained there as she slowly walked towards the ancient anomaly.

The old man sat there, unmoving. Little Lizzy approached with caution, as if she feared chasing him away by her approach.

First, she waved at him from a safe distance; the old man did not move.

Then, she skipped into the old man’s peripheral view and tilted her head; still, the old man did not move.

Finally, she took a spot in-between the old man and the object of his attention. She grabbed the sides of her fluffy skirt and twisted it right and then left, wearing a pouty expression on her face. At last she said, “Hi.”

The old man responded, “Go away.”

She took a step closer and said, “My name’s Lizzy.”

“Go away, Lizzy.”

Little Lizzy looked at the old man closely, then turned her head to follow his gaze. “Whatchya looking at?”

“Right now? A little girl who won’t go away.”

Still Lizzy was not deterred. She ignored the slight and went on with her questioning. “What were you looking at before that?”

The old man lifted his head from his crooked hands, and looked at Little Lizzy with renewed interest. “You’re not going to leave me alone, are you?”

Lizzy also ignored the man’s attempt to change the subject. “Are you looking at that hill?” she asked.

The old man finally gave into the girl’s interrogation. “Yes, I’m looking at the hill. Now, go away.”

“Why would you want to spend all day looking at that hill? It’s sure an ugly hill. Not even weeds grow on it. It is probably the most worthless plot of land in the whole town.”

The words of the young child enraged the old man. He stood up from his seat and used his cane to point at the hill. “How dare you call Arbella Hill a worthless plot of land? If it wasn’t for that hill, this town would never have existed. It’s thanks to that hill that you see all this around you.”

“Why?”

“Why? Why? WHY?”

Little Lizzy looked at the exasperated old man as if wondering why her question would illicit such a response. “Yes,” she said, undeterred. “Why?”

The old man considered Little Lizzy’s question with a new respect. He placed his sturdy oak cane back on the ground, and snuggled back into his groove in the rock. “Well, that requires a complicated answer, little girl.”

Lizzy’s eyes brightened up. “Does it involve a story?”

“Yes, and what a story it is!”

Lizzy took this as an invitation. She sat down Indian style on a soft patch of grass in front of the rock, smoothed her skirt out, and rested her chin in the crag of her fists.

The old man’s eyes grew foggy, as if looking at a faraway place. He cleared his throat and began.

“This place once looked quite different than it does today…”

Chapter One

Back then, roads didn’t exist. Big buildings didn’t block out the blue sky. Even the cars didn’t hurry off to the places where cars hurry off to. Tall trees circled the expanse of the field. Of course, a few stray trees here and there offered their shade to those in need on sunny days, and shelter to those in need on rainy days. Arbella Hill stood over there, the steep sides of it also covered with trees. On the top of it stood the mightiest of all trees, a proud oak. And, of course, this rock I’m sitting on sat right here.

Back in the day, we didn’t call the hill Arbella; that name came later. We only called the hill, “The Hill”, just as we called the rock, “The Rock” and each individual tree, a tree. We didn’t spend a lot of time naming things back in those days. We had more important things to do. We had a big field.

I couldn’t tell you where everybody came from, but we came, none the less. We all wandered out of the woods and across the horizon, drawn by this majestic mound. It stood above everything else on the plain, rivaled by no other formation in its beauty. On it, assorted fruit trees and tall pines pointed their peaks towards the heavens, wondrous wildflowers blossomed, rearing their heads to the world, animals scurried under the protection of the hill, peeking their happy heads out whenever they saw fit. If they ever noticed us looking at them, they would dart back into the shadows. They didn’t know they had nothing to worry about because we cared about them as much as they cared about us. We had many more exciting things to do, besides.

We ran. Not to or from a specific place—doing something like that didn’t interest us much. We ran more for the why, rather than the where.

What was the why, you ask? Well, why not?

But just imagine a huge field stretched out before you, soft and supple grass growing just tall enough to tickle your toes as the drops of dew danced upon your bare feet, the subtle sun warming you as you wind your way through the maze of dandelions. And if ever its heat gets too hot, the shade of a nearby tree is there to comfort you. If you’d rather continue on your run, the wind was there to blow a refreshing breeze your way. As far as we were concerned, the field had been created just for our pleasure, and we took every opportunity to partake in that gift.

As was the case with the hill, the rock, and the trees, we didn’t bother with each other’s names. We didn’t even bother to acknowledge each other’s presence. We weren’t very social at that time—running occupied most of our time.
We didn’t care about speed or direction—some of us sprinted from one end of the field to the other; some of us twirled in circles, arms outstretched; some of us darted this way and that; and some just meandered from place to place, spending more time taking in our surroundings than those who surrounded us. It probably helped to get it all started, I guess.

The first uproar was caused by two kids of opposite natures. I later learned that their names were Tommy and Franklin, but I just knew them as the Fat Kid and the Focused Kid.

Tommy ran with purpose. He focused directly on where he wanted to run and when he got there, he turned right around to focus on getting back.

Franklin didn’t run so much as meander all about the place. His head constantly turning to observe the world around him, darting from place to place, to stoop down to look at a wildflower, or up to the sky to watch an eagle fly. Rarely was his head in what he was supposed to be doing down on the field.

As in all other aspects of life, when you have two opposites such as Tommy and Franklin, they are destined to clash, and clash, they did.

Franklin backed into Tommy one hot Thursday afternoon, too busy watching a wild turkey dart across the field while trying to get out of its way, running backwards, not really looking where he was going. Tommy, on the other hand, was so focused on where his run was taking him that he didn’t see Franklin coming. Franklin weighed more than Tommy, and it was he who took the tumble and landed flat on his butt.

Tommy wasn’t much of an orator at that early age, but of course none of us were. Later, Tommy would become the great speaker you may have heard about, but on that fateful day, he looked at where he’d landed in that big field of grass, and said the only thing he could in that situation: “I’s It.”

Rather, that’s what Franklin thought he’d said, for even though Tommy talked as if he’d marbles in his mouth, he wasn’t one to practice such bad grammar. He also didn’t back away from a confrontation, particularly one spurring from an intrusion concerning his right to run.

Tommy stood up, and walked over to where Franklin was standing. Franklin tried to stammer out an apology, but was unable to articulate the thought before Tommy pushed him, and Franklin landed on his butt.

Franklin could not believe Tommy capable of performing such an act of anger. He looked up at his antagonist, hoping for an apology he knew wouldn’t come. Instead, Tommy responded with a retort that would endure in the cannon of our consciousness for all eternity.

“You’s It!” he said.

Interlude One

“And that’s where it came from.”

“That’s where what came from?”

“Why, Tag, of course, Sarah.”

“Lizzy!”

“Whatever. Tag started that day.”

“What’s Tag?”

“What’s Tag?”

“Didn’t I just ask that?”

“I can’t believe that you haven’t heard of Tag.”

“I can’t believe you were there to see the beginning of this so-called Tag and you still can’t tell me what it is.”

“It’s a game.”

“And the object of this game is to push each other over?”

“No! You’re not listening to what I’m saying”

“I am. You said all they did was to push each other over, so they would sit.”

“It was a little more complicated than that.”

“It doesn’t sound that complicated. I push you down and say, ‘You sit,’ then you push me down and say, ‘You sit,’ and apparently, if I get really tired I can sit down and say, ‘I sit.’ It sounds more boring than complicated to me. Maybe you should have called it Sit instead.”

“We called the game Tag.”

“Well, I like Sit.”

“Well, that’s just stupid.”

“Like calling a game Tag when all you do is sit isn’t?”

“No, you don’t understand the game.”

“What don’t I understand? I mean look. I sit. You sit. We all sit. It sounds like a game my mom would make up when it’s her Special Juice Time.”

“The game had rules.”

“Like how to sit?”

“No! Just…listen, okay?”

“Okay, but this had better get interesting quick because skipping sounds a lot more exciting than this story does.”

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The Challenge

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Books are important. Any educator will tell you that. You might even be able to dig that answer out of the more obstinate P.E. teacher with the help of healthy snacks and lot of hand signals. But those reluctant P.E. teachers would constantly complain that there is also value to their contribution to education that should not be ignored. Not every educator will feel the same when confronted with that idea. That pretentious English teacher with the curly mustache that he always needs to pet will be the first to tell you that anything you need to know can be found in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. And as much as I would like to agree with the opinion of that stuffy English teacher, I do have to give it to the P.E. teacher in this case. Some times you need to put the book down, and go out to experience life.

I have talked about this type of learning before, and I still believe strongly in the importance of it. The last school I worked in used experiential education to show at-risk students the value of putting their addictions to the side and seeing the world for what it has to offer. The strange thing is that this is the same thing that the Korean students I am teaching now need as well. The addictions are a little different though. One involves a bong; whereas, the other involves a book.

It is obvious to many people that there will be a pot problem in the high schools of Colorado, but nobody thinks that there could be a problem similar to it in South Korea. For many years, South Korea has been on the top of the list for the best educational system in the world. Sometimes it is number one, but sometimes it slips to number two behind Finland. Both countries have great educational systems, but they both take different approaches to education. Finland thinks that less is more, and South Korea doesn’t believe that it can ever get enough. Students are required to work exceptionally hard in school and when they get out for the day, it is traditional for them to go to hagwons, a kind of specialized tutoring center, where they are asked to study even more. Some of my students spend up to sixteen hours a day with their studies. They are constantly tired, and have a hard time keeping awake. From middle school until they graduate high school, these students spend their time in their books. It is their addiction.

Granted, a lot of this is due to their culture and history. Americans can take a lesson from the South Koreans about how to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get back on their feet. South Korea turned around their economy faster than any other nation in the world. They used to have one of the worst economies in the world, but now have the eleventh biggest one. The craziest thing about this is they accomplished this feat with very limited resources except their greatest one, hard-working people. This is where the notion of needing to work hard comes from and why the Koreans continue to push their children in this effort.

Now as a writer, I am always going to say that books are the greatest thing that has ever been, but like anything else there is a danger to them. Besides the obvious danger of introducing new ideas into the world, and pushing people’s thinking, there is another danger, getting addicted to them. The desire for learning is great, but when it comes at the expense of a person’s health, and takes away from them the chance to actually live their life, then education has gone too far. You can only get so much out of books. You get a lot more out of experience. A book will tell you how to do something. An adventure will require you to do it. That is where these trips come into play. We take our students out of their comfort zone, the safe world of stuffy books, and out into the world where they don’t know exactly what is going to happen.

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It is amazing to see these kids take to the challenges presented to them. They climb mountains, traverse rope bridges, ride on mountain bikes, and paddle on makeshift rafts. For many of these kids, they have never been able to experience this kind of life. Their existence was limited to the confines of the big city and their ideas of the world around them were only learned from books. Even though the intellectual challenges that they gain from this style of learning is great, they still never know how far they can take themselves and what mountains they can conquer until they are out scaling those stony cliffs.

This specific group of students took it even farther. They not only learned what they could do for themselves, but they also learned how they could work with each other. There were many times on the hike where I saw students helping each other out to make sure that they all got down the path safely. They cheered their peers to as they took the challenges that the adventure course offered to them. But the area that I saw them work together the best was on the pond with the rafts. My students were broken up into different groups and sent out onto five rafts with about eight students on each one. The four teachers that were chaperoning the event were placed on a separate raft. It took us awhile to get on the pond; whereas, the students had a little bit of time to figure out how to maneuver the boats around and how to splash each other. Of course, by the time the teachers got on the pond, we were the targets of their new attacks. The way they organized the boats on the pond made it difficult for us to escape their attack. Even though I knew I was about to get soaking wet on a cool spring day, the moment made me really proud. I was able to see a good portion of the sophomore class come together to work against a common enemy. It showed that the learning that we wanted to take place was actually happening.

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For these students, these trips are traveling through a dark long tunnel which sometimes does not appear that it will ever end. But halfway through that dark tunnel they start to see a small pinprick of light far away. So they keep on traveling to see if they can reach that other end. As they get closer to that end, the light gets bigger and bigger until they get to the other end. When they emerge from that tunnel the feeling of joy is huge. They can’t help but smile. For the most part, this is the same way that many people would describe their high school experiences.

For the teachers, these trips are the moments that they can guide the students through these new experiences. They can watch their pupils learn new skills as they go through these challenges. In the process, they get closer to their students and each group is able to learn about the other because we get to see each other out of the classroom environment. It all translates well when everybody gets back to the school. The students have experienced something new that they could never have learned from books and they trust their teachers even more and are willing to do the work that is asked of them. The teachers get to apply what they teach to something bigger outside of the classroom, and create those lasting relationships with their students.

With all of these benefits, you begin to wonder why more schools don’t try to create programs like this. Some day they will come around to this kind of thinking and each school will become the powerhouse of education that they can be. Until then, they need to continue to walk down that dark tunnel making their way to the guiding light.

My Side of Paradise

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Paradise.

It is the place that we always think about while we slave away at our various jobs throughout the year. We want that place we can go to that will allow us to forget the worries always piled on us. In most people’s minds, it is the same kind of place. There is usually a beach involved where somebody can come out to serve you various kinds of fruit concoctions. The weather is always warm, and there is not a piece of responsibility to be found anywhere. It is the lifestyle that we wish we could subject ourselves to on a daily basis, but we are lucky enough to be able to enjoy it for one week a year. A short list of places come to mind when we think about paradise: Maui, Manuel Antonio, Cancun, and the place that I traveled to over my Spring Break, Boracay.

This sliver of an island is a part of the Philippines and is a huge tourist destination for many of the people living in Asia. Thousands of people flock daily to the sandy beach, sunny skies, and laid back attitude of this slice of paradise. It is hard not to lose yourself to the culture that this place has to offer as there are many fun activities to do during the day: swimming, paragliding, diving, paddle boarding, and sailing. And there are many ways to lose yourself to the nightlife: great restaurants, wonderful bars, strong drinks, and fire dancers. Instantly, when arriving here, you forget about the cares you have and indulge in the fantasy the place has to offer.

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During our stay there, we weren’t able to stay on the beach itself, but that did not mean that we couldn’t find a place that had spectacular views. It required a little bit of a workout to get there. 224 steps up from the beach to the patio of the villa we rented made the hike worth it. This was what I had to wake up to every morning. It was great to have my morning coffee while watching the morning storms blow in to cleanse the island of all the dirt that had collected the night before. Also being so far away from the beach but still being able to enjoy its view forced me to ease into my day instead of attacking the relaxation that I believed possible at the place.

Too often when we go on vacation, the idea of squeezing all the fun out of the moment is all we think about. We try to pack our days with so much stuff to do that we forget that we had come to this place to relax. This is exactly what I did on this trip. Of course, I needed to plan a little bit before I left my villa every morning. If I forgot something back at home, I would have to trudge up those 224 steps to get it and that would have ruined the whole purpose of this trip. So after the morning rains turned into the afternoon sunshine, I would grab my beach gear and a good book and make my way down to the lounge chair that was waiting for me somewhere on the sandy landscape.

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That left me time to enjoy the important things in life — drink and food. Even though when you think of the Philippines you don’t necessarily think about the cuisine, Boracay offers a wide selection of dishes. There are a couple of dishes that are from the area, and they usually come with fresh fruit, but if you don’t want to try this, there are many other restaurants there that serve any kind of dish. There was anything from Indian to Italian. Restaurants would serve burgers to baba ganoush. It just meant that I would never get bored with what I was eating.

And if I didn’t feel like partaking in what the restaurants had to offer, there was a market where I could pick up some freshly caught fish. There was a grill at our villa that we could use, and it was nice to be able to BBQ again. This is not a luxury that you can find if you live in an apartment in a big city, so it just added to the atmosphere that this small treat was made available to us. I did spend one night grilling a chicken that was probably killed and plucked that day, and we were going to do the same thing with some fish. This was until the maid that we had working in the villa came in and grilled the fish for us. It wasn’t the way I would have cooked it, but it did give us an opportunity to try it the more traditional Philippines cuisine.

The drinks in Boracay are also good. Beer is not what the country is know for, but on a hot day, a cold San Miguel is a welcomed refreshment. Most of their mixed drinks come with fruit juice that was squeezed that morning, and if the drink required coconut milk, the bartender could grab one that had fallen from one the nearby palm trees. I don’t know if it was invented on the island, but it was the first time I had ever encountered a drink called the weng weng. It had seven different types of spirits in it mixed with various juices. It reminded me of those drinks I used to be able to find at college parties usually mixed in a large trashcan. People at these parties would bring a bottle of something that would be poured into the mix followed by more juice. The juice would tone down the alcohol, so it made it feel like you weren’t drinking anything at all. The sad thing would be a hour later after sucking down a few of these drinks you would be reminded that you had been drinking all along. This was also the power of the weng weng. It could make an evening very interesting or shorten it up altogether.

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Despite the cultural experience that could be found in a weng weng, around certain corners, you could find little gems of the culture that is offered on this island. Statues of lions, and other cultural icons could be found everywhere.

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The sight of these statues made me wonder more about the culture of the area. I feel that something has been lacking in my education when I travel in the Pacific and Asian countries. The American-centric view of the world makes me wonder how a whole culture can ignore such a large population of the world. The history here and the culture is just as rich and probably even older than anything that Europe has to offer the world. But the only way that I can experience it or learn anything about it is by visiting these countries because this little corner of the world is ignored in the history text books back home.

It is not the only thing that is ignored out here. Even though there is slice of paradise out on this island, there is another aspect of it that is not often talked about. It requires people to look through the cracks to find it.

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Even though the sun might always be in the sky, and the sandy beach seems to stretch on forever, the people who live here aren’t always given the opportunity to enjoy it the same way the people visit it do. In 2014, one out of every four people in the Philippines lived below the poverty line which was slightly higher than it was the previous year. Things are not getting better, but in fact they are getting worse. There are always signs of this problem wherever you go. Children on the beach yell at you to give them some money because they are hungry. Mothers with their newborns wrapped in their arms sit outside stores with a cup to collect unwanted coins. In fact, if I looked out the back window of the villa we stayed in, I was welcomed by a different sight than when I looked out my front patio.

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The reality of the situation is more people live like this, but the tourist industry does not want you to think about this when they create a picture of the paradise you can visit out here. They don’t want you to think about the people who have made shelters out of any scrap that they find lying around and then call it a home. They don’t want you to think about the hungry mouths and unclothed people. They do want you to think about the great time you will have by visiting this paradise. And there is the fact, that when you do come out here to visit you pump a lot of foreign currency into their economy. But if tourism was the solution to this problem then the poverty rate would be declining instead of rising.

It has to be even worse for the people that do live here. Every day a new shipment of visitors come in with huge wallets ready to ignore the poverty all around them. They sit on the beach, consume the food, sip on fruity concoctions and go back to their first world problems to quickly forget about the struggles that other people in this world are experiencing. The people who live here are reminded every day what it is they will never be able to have.

Does that mean that I am a contributor to this problem by being one of these tourists that comes and enjoys their time while ignoring the plight of the Philippines’ people? What could I do? Throwing money at the problem won’t solve anything because it will only end up in the hands of the people who don’t really need or it will just continue to serve the poverty by giving the ones who live there a meal without showing them the way out of it. How can I make the world a better place and eliminate this debilitating social disease?

Well, it can always start at home. An honest person would look at their own community and admit that poverty exists there as well. We can not solve all of the problems of a country half a world away, but we can make a dent into the problems that we have at home. The only chance that these kids have of rising themselves out of the lot they found themselves born into is by becoming a productive part of the work force, and this can only be obtained by a good education.

During my days on the island, I saw lots of children playing in the cool water and on the beach when they should have been in school. They were getting a personal education when they were rewarded for their begging, and even though this was an easy solution to their problem, it would never help bring them and their country out of poverty. They need to be in that classroom, and the classroom needs to be well supplied and have a great teacher at the helm. There they will learn about the truth of their situation and gain the tools needed to fix it.

This same solution works for the children struggling with poverty in your corner of the world. If they are given the tools to succeed, then most of them will. You will always have the ones that fight against the charity given to them, and there is not a lot you can do about it except to not encourage the damaging attitude. For the most part, most children want to make something of themselves and are grateful for the opportunity.

This is where you come in. Support public education in your community, and country. Respect the professional attitude of the teachers, and understand that they are doing their work for the right reasons. Fight against the standardized tests because there is no job in this world where filling in the appropriate bubble on a piece of paper is considered productive. If you do this then every child who works their way out of poverty will make the whole place a better one to live in. This way when you make it out to paradise, you won’t feel guilty because of the poverty that is hidden behind the beauty that you came to see in the first place. The trickle effect of your contribution to the world will make all places into true paradises.

Best Movies that didn’t Win Best Picture

Citizen Kane

#1 – Citizen Kane

Often referenced as the best movie ever made, Citizen Kane, was Orson Welles first movie. He has said that he didn’t know exactly what he was doing, so he took every cool trick that he learned in film school and applied it to this movie. This is the movie that you watch to see what can be done with film, but it still did not take home the best movie trophy in 1942. This was a case where the academy awards really got it wrong as they gave it to How Green was my Valley instead. It doesn’t really matter though because Orson Welles’s classic is still study by millions of film students still to this day.

The wizard of oz

#2 – The Wizard of Oz

In 1939, movie goers were introduced to a new technology. No longer would their stories be told in boring black and white, but instead the magic would happen in color. The Wizard of Oz was the first movie to bring this technology to audiences everywhere. It literally brought us from  black and white Kansas to the colorful world somewhere over the rainbow. You would think that it would not hold up very well after almost 80 years since its release, but people still enjoy this masterpiece today. What movie could have beaten it out for best picture that year? That would go to another iconic movie, Gone with Wind, so even though it did not win the coveted award, it is a little easier to swallow this bitterness knowing that another great film took its place in the top spot.

boyhood

#3 – Boyhood

I know that this movie is not considered a classic yet, but I do believe that it was snubbed in 2015. If there was any movie that I wanted to win over it, it was Birdman, but the idea behind this story was so original that it will never be repeated. It is interesting to watch this movie and understand the cohesion that Linklater created by recording slivers of time. It is not just the story of this boy growing up in America during 9/11 but it is also a story about us, who we are, and the culture that we have created.

It's a Wonderful Life

#4 – It’s a Wonderful Life

Before Ted Turner obtained the rights to this classic, every American associated the Christmas season with this movie. Every channel was able to have rights to this movie, and they used that right to show it at least once during the holiday season. The weird thing was that even though you knew it was going to be on at least twenty times during the month of December, you would somehow catch all twenty showings of it, and never be disappointed that you wasted your time watching it again. It is not only a great story, but it is an iconic piece of the American culture. It just shows that sometimes the academy gets it wrong.

pulp fiction

# 5 – Pulp Fiction

Quentin Tarantino has always been one of my favorite directors. When Pulp Fiction had come out in 1994, Reservoir Dogs and True Romance had already topped my list as two of my favorite movies. I had sat through Natural Born Killers earlier that year and was blown away by its story, and I found out later that he had written the script for it. But it wasn’t until I sat in the movie theater and experienced this new exploration in filmmaking that I realized what power a movie might hold. It was an instant classic and redefined the movie industry for years to come. It will always top my list for greatest snubs of all time.

Shawshank Redemption

#6 – The Shawshank Redemption

I don’t know how many times I have been at home on a Saturday flipping through channels and this movie comes on. For some reason, I always catch it at the very beginning, and I can’t do anything until I finish it. I never get bored with the story, and am thoroughly satisfied with the ending even though I know exactly what is going to happen. The story entranced me so much that I actually sat down once and read the novella by Stephen King, and this is the one time that I can say that the movie is better than the book. Why didn’t this movie win best picture? Well, 1994 was a good year for movies and even though this makes the number six spot on the list, it wasn’t even my second favorite movie that year.

Dead Poets Society

#7 – Dead Poets Society

Anybody who knows me knows that this is one of my favorite movies of all time. The ending gives me chills every time I watch it. It is the story that made me want to be a writer. It is the story that made me want to be a teacher. It is the story that taught me to take chances in life, and make the most of it. I don’t remember which movie won the year that this gem was in the running, but I do remember being mad that it wasn’t this one. It holds up really well too. Every generation discovers and falls in love with this movie.

The Graduate

#8 – The Graduate

Every year, the Academy Awards likes to nominate at least one comedy. In 1968, this was their pick for that honor. There are rare occasions where the comedy takes home the coveted prize, but just like in 1968, it does not happen. That does not mean that the movies are not incredible, and worth watching over and over again. It is also hard to compete against the socially conscious In the Heat of the Night which took the top honor that year. It just shows how good the field was in 1968.

Apocalypse Now

#9 – Apocalypse Now

When talking about the greatest movies ever made, this one usually makes the list and ranks high on it. So what great picture took down this classic look at the madness that is within each of us and the journey we need to take in order to wrestle with that issue? Kramer vs. Kramer took the top nod in the year 1980, and it just shows that sometimes the academy does not always get it right. Apocalypse Now, even with all of its production problems and behind the scene stories, has held up well through the ages and will always be analyzed and discussed for years to come.

A Clockwork Orange

#10 – A Clockwork Orange

I am actually quite proud of the fact that the Academy nominated this movie for best picture. Of course, it could never win. It was a seriously disturbing piece of cinema back then, and even by today’s standards, it still makes people cringe just to watch it. But the genius of this story lies in the fact that it is not just about the horror and gore, but there is a deep message imbedded within the story even though Stanley Kubrick didn’t know about the final chapter of the book when he created this masterpiece. If you have not seen this movie yet, sit down and watch it. Just make sure there are no small children present when you do because you will scar them for life.

Good Fellas

#11 – Good Fellas

Sometimes an iconic movie doesn’t win the Best Picture category because it is up against a juggernaut that year. This was the case with Good Fellas. It was up against the heart wrenching and socially conscious Dances with Wolves. There was still hope held in the hearts of many that this would Martin Scorsese would finally win that coveted prize and this could easily be considered his best movie he has ever made, but it just was not to be. The funny thing though is this movie is still discussed as one of the best pictures of all time whereas Dances with Wolves is hardly ever referenced. This movie still garnered some awards with the best speech given by the winner of the Best Supporting Actor, Joe Pesci, when all he said was, “Thank you.”

Saving Private Ryan

#12 – Saving Private Ryan

In the year 1999, many people believed that this gritty war epic was a shoo in for the Best Picture win giving Steven Spielberg his second real academy award. But as all the years before as he sat in the crowd and watch somebody else take home the prize, he had to do the same this year as Shakespeare in Love won. Many people still cry out bloody murder for the way this movie got passed over. Never has D-Day been portrayed in such a way that we understand what it felt like to actually be there. Because of this alone, it should have won best picture.

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It has been awhile since I have done a list, but now is the perfect time to get started again. The Academy Awards were just held, and after each year, there are complaints about who won and who didn’t. Granted all the movies represented are great works and should be applauded, but there is always that one who got robbed. That is the list I would like to create this time around. What were the best movies that were nominated for best picture but did not win. Spend some time thinking about it and send me your lists to jacollings44@gmail.com. The final list will be compiled by March 31st, and will appear in April.

The Staycation

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Our lives are busy.

I’m sure many of you are screaming at me for wasting those five seconds you spent reading that statement to be told something you already know. I’m sorry to state the obvious, but it is something that we all need to recognize from time to time. The big question is what should we do about it once we admit to ourselves that we need a break from our daily routine.

The conventional wisdom tells us that we should go on a vacation to some place fantastic so we can tell everybody about it. They will be jealous and will start to make plans about going to the same place. How do we know this happens, well, they start to ask us things about what we loved, and the things we would have skipped if we were given the opportunity to do it all over again.

The crazy thing though is we come back from these incredible vacations more exhausted than when we left. It is because we don’t stop with our busy lifestyles while we are on vacation. We just change the focus. We tell ourselves that we need to squeeze in as much fun as we can while we are at these places or the effort of traveling half way around the globe wasn’t worth the experience.

You know this is true. I’m sure many of you have made the statement that you need a vacation after you return from your vacation.

Why do we do this to ourselves? We know we need a break, but yet we go on vacation and run ourselves ragged in order to get it.

There is another option that more people are considering, a staycation.

What exactly is a staycation? It is where you pack a bag, find a hotel in the city you live in, and go and stay there instead of making yourself crazy by rushing to the airport, driving across the country, or making other travel plans that leave you more worn out than when you began.

It might sound like a cop out for really going on a vacation, but I am here to tell you that there are many benefits for enjoying this kind of break. Don’t get me wrong, I love going out and seeing the world, but I find myself not knowing much about the city that I live in. In fact, you probably have said sometime in your life that it take others to come to town for you to really go out and see the sights of where you live.

It also is less expensive than taking a vacation further from your home. You don’t have to pay for that travel expense. You just have to find a way to make it to the downtown area of the city you live in. For most people that means hopping in their car and driving there, and if you live in a big enough city, it means just getting on some public transportation and finding the route that takes you to your destination. The money you save on transportation costs, you can use on getting a little nicer place to stay and still save a bunch of money. It also means splurging on some better food.

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Add into this mix a national holiday, and you have something really special about your staycation. I know you are thinking that the holiday would have to be the Super Bowl, but the city I live in really doesn’t care much for that game (Yes, there are places out there that don’t care). The people of Korea were getting together to celebrate the Year of the Monkey. It was my first Lunar New Year in Asia so I wanted to go out and see how they celebrate this event. We picked a place downtown which we haven’t explored much of, Myeongdong, and got a hotel room right next to the subway entrance.

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It was the perfect place to experience this holiday. There was a huge shopping market right around the corner, which is not something I am usually excited about especially in Korea. They are interested a little too much in fashion which doesn’t excite me as much. It also doesn’t help that the clothes out here are a little small for me. But there was plenty of street vendors offering my favorite Korean cuisine, street food.

Koreans know how to do street food very well. They have a sweet bread that they cook an egg on top of. They will twirl a potato into one log chip and poke a stick through it. They then lightly bread it, fry it and roll it around powdered cheese. They will make a banana pancake, fill it up with Frosted Flakes, and Nutella. It all spells delicious. If you find yourself as one of those guys who have to stand around while your wife or girlfriend looks at shoes or clothes, you can always run out to the streets and partake of some of the local fare that is offered. The Koreans have figured out how to please both genders with the shopping experience. The only real problem was it was still cold, so I wanted to run back inside every moment to warm back up.

But Myeongdong has you covered there as well. There are various restaurants around that will satisfy your hunger that the street fare only tickles. There are offerings that show what Korea has to offer to world culture, such as Korean BBQ, and chicken and beer places. But if  you are in the mood for something else, you can find sushi, Indian, Thai, Italian, burgers, Chinese, and even pizza. My favorite was the Italian place underneath the CGV movie theater called Mad About Garlic. There are two locations that I know of in Seoul, and this is the second time that I have eaten at one. The atmosphere in the one in Myeongdong isn’t as nice as the one in AK Plaza, but the food is just as good. A little warning for those of you who don’t like spice, when Mad About Garlic says something is spicy, they mean it. For those of you who like spice, enjoy.

After you have eaten, are there places where you can enjoy the evening? Yes! What would an outdoor shopping place be like if you couldn’t have a few drinks and enjoy it a little more? The stores like it as well because it makes people spend more money. There are bars that make strong cocktails, and the craft beer movement has even seeped into the streets of Myeongdong. You can find a good IPA, or a hearty stout. And if a beer is not enough for you, you can always go with the traditional Korean drink, soju. It might be a little more expensive to buy it at one of the bars than the dollar fifty you will spend at a convenience store, but it is still a lot less than a beer. It makes the next experience you come across even more fun.

And yes, there is culture down here as well. You can take in the longest running play in South Korea, Nanta. If you don’t speak Korean, you don’t have to worry about it because it is blend of physical comedy, drumming, and audience interaction. It is a lot of fun no matter what your language barrier or your age might be.

Another fun little thing to do if you don’t mind making a fool of yourself in front of your friends is to go to a norabong. This is Korea’s answer to karaoke. You rent a room, and are given a book of songs you can sing. A waiter comes in dropping off cans of cheap beer while you shout into the microphones, and laugh at the scores the computer gives you for your performance. If you have lived in Korea, or just visited, and have not made it to a norabong, you have not lived yet.

If these activities are a little too low brow for you, there are some other places you can go that are more worthy of your sophistication. A short subway stop away is the Korean War Memorial. This museum gives perspective to America’s forgotten war. I will admit that what I know about this conflict comes from the TV show, M.A.S.H., and I don’t think that is very accurate. A visit to this place will clear up what you might have thought happened and what really did happen. So far, with all my experience in South Korea, it is the one museum that has moved me the most.

All of these experiences have made my first ever staycation a wonderful and relaxing experience. I have also learned more about the city I live in. I would recommend to other people that this is something that they should do as well. So the next time you need to recharge your batteries and are thinking about the place that will help you do this, start thinking about it from a different perspective and just…

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Stay.

My Pilgramage

As I once told one of my old co-workers, we are all geeks.

Just as he did at the time, I am sure there are some who are offended by this sweeping statement, and the negative connotations that are usually associated with the word, geek. My old co-worker told me that there was no way he could be a geek because he was too athletic to be one. He demonstrated this by showing off the various college football t-shirts that he owned and talking non-stop about the history and the importance of the SEC. This outward display of his passion for college football just proved my point; he just first needed to realize what a geek is.

A geek is someone who is so insanely passionate about something that he or she will obsess over it, and know everything there is to know about that one subject. This is usually displayed in the media by those who attend Comicon every year to debate which is the better series Star Wars or Star Trek. But this passion does not only need to be reserved for the ones who enjoy science fiction and fantasy. There are food geeks, and there are fashion geeks. Probably, one of the biggest contingencies of geeks out there are the ones who obsess over sports. There is nothing wrong about this. These people should be proud of the fact that they have a passion for something because if they did not, it would mean that they were a hollow people waiting for some form of inspiration to give them a reason for living. At the same time, they shouldn’t claim that they are superior to other people because they don’t want to admit that what their passion is makes them a geek. They geek out as much as the stereotypical geek as portrayed in the media.

Considering that I believe that every person holds this pension for geekdom within themselves, I can’t exclude myself. There are a few things that I geek out on, but one of the biggest ones is The Lord of the Rings. I am a huge fan of that story. In fact, the whole history of Middle Earth has been a passion of mine ever since I first saw the Rankin Bass version of The Hobbit when I was in first grade, and I had nightmares that Gollum was going to come and gobble me during my sleep. At the same time, I was always fascinated by the character. When Peter Jackson released the movies, it was a dream come true for me because here was one of my favorite stories coming to life on the big screen. I had some reservations about it: would they be able to create a believable Sméagol, would they make sure to stay original to the text, and most importantly, where would they find a location that demonstrated to me what the world of Middle Earth actually looked like in my mind?

At the time, I knew that there was a country called New Zealand. Beyond that, all I knew was that the people who had visited it considered it beautiful, and if I ever had a chance to go visit during my lifetime, I should do so. I always had it in the back of my mind that I would make it there someday, but it wasn’t until I saw the scenery in the movies that I knew that I needed to make this one of my life goals. It was the place I always imagined while reading the novels here it was on earth. The only problem was it would require a lot of effort to make this trip a reality, and it wasn’t until I moved to South Korea that this effort would be minimized to the point where I would be a fool if I didn’t take the opportunity to visit and fulfil one of my greatest desires, visit Middle Earth.

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So this Winter Break, I boarded a jet plane to travel to the other side of the world, and see the wonders that New Zealand held. I would search for the locations that had been made famous from the movie and see first hand what it was like to travel through Middle Earth to destroy to one true ring. This had become more than a quest for me; it had become a pilgrimage. It would be a religious moment. I would be able to witness first hand what the vision of Tolkien was supposed to look like much like the pilgrims Chaucer wrote about in his most famous work as they traveled to the site of that famous martyr they respected so much. It threw me off even more when I encountered a Canterbury while traveling around the country, but this wasn’t about the bones of that holy saint, Thomas a Becket, but instead about the spiritual connection I had come to make with the land of the elves, and orcs, and most importantly hobbits.

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In fact, my first stop on this trip was to the small town of Matamata which held a small farm just outside of its jurisdiction. This location was used by Peter Jackson to create Hobbiton. If you have never been there, it is a magical place that transports you to the Shire. There are hobbit holes all over the place, and they were built as if they were intended for halflings to live in because the top of the doors would barely come up to my hips. The amount of detail that went into making this place look real was intense. Small coats would hang on the edge of small plows leaning against tiny wheelbarrows. You would be able to look into the windows of some of these places and see small vases next to small wheels of cheese. There was even the party tree placed in a huge field next to a babbling stream. The whole place made you feel as if the hobbits would come out at any moment and eye you suspiciously as an invader to their peaceful land. There was even a bridge over the river next to Sandyman’s Mill that led you to the Green Dragon. And yes you could go inside and order a drink and sit next to the fire that was built out of tiny blocks of chopped wood.

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I was in pure heaven. Here I was, less than twenty-four hours out of Seoul with an ale in my hand and the summer sun shining right out a circular hobbit door. The fire was only there for effect because we really didn’t need it. The best part was the place that Peter Jackson had picked to create this reality was on a sheep farm, so it had that pastoral setting I always thought of when reading the stories. There was a connection with nature there where these little people were able to live n harmony with their surroundings instead of trying to control it. There were no combustible engines except for the one that brought us from the gift shop to this other world. If I was half my size, I would have taken up residence in this place and would have been one with the hobbits.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and they loaded us back on the tour bus to take us off the farm and back to the reality of life. Luckily, I was in the place where they created Middle Earth, so wherever I turned there was another reference to The Lord of the Rings. We spent some time searching out these spots, and sometimes re-enacting some of the scenes. Yes, I hid behind the root of a tree pretending that there was a Nazgul on the other side hunting for the one ring. And of course I made it down to Wellington.

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Wellington is most famous for the home to the Weta Cave. This is the special effects department that Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor created for all their various projects. It is one of the leading production companies in the world and it is situated in this small town on the southern coast of the northern island. These two not only work on their own productions, but they are called by many other directors to make other fantasy worlds come to life. They designed the weapons and aliens for District 9. They imagined the world of Krampus. Most famously, they put together the tall blue aliens that inhabited James Cameron’s Avatar. This was a place that I needed to visit, and it is not where you would expect it to be.

In order to get there, you have to get on a bus as it takes you over Mount Victoria to a small suburb on the other side. When the bus drops you off, you have to stroll through streets that look more like where you grandmother would live rather than the place where they would hide a major movie studio. In fact, when you get there, you find out that the Weta Cave actually belongs to one of these houses you were passing.

There were a few other people on the bus that were looking for the Weta Cave when we got on, and we all instantly became friends on our search for this magical place. We kept on scanning the horizon for some sign that we were getting close to the place, and we knew we were there when we heard from one of our group scream out in joy, “Look, Trolls!”

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Yes, that is how you know you are in the right place. Peter Jackson took the life sized models that he used for Tom, William and Bert and placed them in front of the Weta Cave. It is a little disturbing because it is right across the street from an elementary school, and there are probably a bunch of kids attending that school that have nightmares every night because of these statues. There were some kids that obviously didn’t care. One Chinese couple brought their toddler who ran between the three of them with a huge smile on his face as if these were something he would see on a regular basis. The rest of the tourists didn’t seem to care much either as they walked around the three trolls and had their pictures with them in various poses of terror and humor. For me, it was just another one of those moments that let me know that I had found a concrete connection to one of the stories I have loved more than any other in my life.

The tour was a lot of fun too. We got to play around with various props from the original movies such as battle axes, mythril, and prosthetic limbs that were used to make the different inhabitants of Middle Earth look as if they belong there. We got to view other items too, such as aliens weapons from District 9, Hellboy’s gun, and the snowman from Krampus. It was like being in movie making heaven even though the room was really small, and you would expect something more from such a big player in the movie making industry. I got to learn a lot about the production of special effects and props and it made me want to pick up a camera and start to make movies of my own. So if any of you who are reading this have a half a million dollars lying around could you lend it to me. I’ll make you a really good movie.

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The creations of Peter Jackson weren’t the only things that excited me on our trip. We found ourselves in the back country of New Zealand which there happens to be a lot of. At every turn there were more moments from the movies. It didn’t only happen on staged sets. This is Franz Josef Glacier; you can see it peeking out from underneath the clouds on top of the mountain. This was a set in itself. Peter Jackson used this location for the lighting of the beacons. It wasn’t his first choice either but the summer they were filming was extremely dry and there were fire bans all over the place. He had to use this place instead because he was allowed to light huge bonfires on the tips of these mountains. I could sit there and point out the peaks that the fire were being lit from, but something strange happened to me here. I stopped paying attention to the reference to The Lord of the Rings and started to pay attention to New Zealand. My propensity to my geekdom was causing me to miss something quite amazing. I didn’t need this obsession of mine to make this place incredible because the place was pretty amazing on its own terms.

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The landscape jutted out of the ocean in such a dramatic fashion that I needed to quit worrying about where Frodo would be on his journey, and start marveling at the natural landscape that surrounded me. There were opportunities for my own personal adventures here that I didn’t need to worry about the epic voyage of a couple of hobbits; I could make my own memories of the place.

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When I started to look at New Zealand for what New Zealand had to offer, a whole new perspective started to carve itself from the landscape. There was blue sky with fresh air just waiting to be sucked deeply into my lungs. There were some of the most dramatic mountains I had ever seen, and remember that I come from Colorado, and have spent considerable time in the Pacific Northwest and the Swiss Alps. There were river of the most beautiful icy blue coming directly from glaciers that were carving the newest sets of fjords many people this world have not enjoyed yet. It was a young land still being shaped by mother nature, and was so far off the beaten path that humanity hadn’t destroyed its beauty with its own mark. The lessons we had learned from all the other places of the world were being implemented here to make this one of the last and purest frontiers left on Earth.

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But the view would dramatically shift as I traveled along its highways. In the morning, I would be shivering next to blocks of ice floating down frozen rivers, then travel through pastoral lands filled with sheep and the occasional farmhouse, to find myself on a pristine beach soaking up the sun of the day. Even the beaches were something I had not witnessed before. The volcanic rock that made up these islands left behind a soft, fine dark sand that is not associated with beaches, and since the ocean in this area wasn’t being littered with gasoline extract of thousands of ships, the water was the clearest blue that begged to be jumped into. Of course, I didn’t do it because I was far enough south of the border to know that the water would be freezing, but it was still nice enough to dip my toes in before strolling down these amazing beaches.

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Because man had eventually learned to respect mother nature and let her thrive, many animals come to the place to enjoy moments of their lives. Rocky extensions of the shores would be covered with seals as they ate, mated, and raised families. It wasn’t always that way down here as they were hunted almost to extinction at one time, but man quickly learned its mistake, and made adjustments to live in harmony with nature instead of always trying to control it. It was this decision made by the Maori that allowed this little corner of the world to thrive before it was touched by Western thought.

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The changes in landscape didn’t only happen when I moved from inland to the coast either. There would be dramatic shifts when I moved from beach to beach. Where one beach would be filled with dark sand and my lonely thoughts, another would be covered in all types of trees giving it a feeling of a tropical rainforest rather than a cold water beach.

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And then there were the beaches that the people sought out to relax on. They were usually in a small coves that allowed the water to warm up a little more. Many people would dip their toes into this water, and the more adventuresome person would actually venture into the water to take a swim. The landscape made the beach even more impressive allowing me never to tire of the views.

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Sometimes the coast wouldn’t even allow for a place to pull out a beach blanket and enjoy the view. Rather, rocky cliffs would constantly be giving way to the waves crashing into them. It would develop into fantastic sculptures that only mother nature could create, and only man could decipher. Natural formed bridges would allow people to cross from one section of these sculptures to another part while watching the wave create a smaller bay right underneath it.

The landscape of New Zealand had so enthralled me by this point that I had stopped searching for every little hint of The Lord of the Rings. In fact if I had turned just a little to my left of the land bridge pictured up above, I would have seen another set used in the movies, and even though it was still interesting, it was this tiny bay carved into the hills of the coast that captured my imagination. I was starting to become enchanted with this land, and my original purpose was getting lost among everything I was experiencing.

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The people with their quirky sense of humor were wonderful to visit. At first, it threw me off because they were overly friendly and I was coming from a place where this wasn’t natural, but I quickly accepted it and enjoyed every moment of it. There were also funny little gems along the side of the road that forced you to laugh when you saw them. Before you even realized what it was you actually saw, you would be further down the highway laughing out loud about the way the people of New Zealand could make you laugh without even having to interact with them. Items like this sign or a construction of a Gary Larson cow would instantly put a smile on my face. It made the time I got to spend here even more enjoyable.

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If that wasn’t enough, the towns that were scattered throughout the country all held their own special charm. A small town would give you the feeling of living in the old west as it shop fronts would maintain a rustic design. Just off the beaten path from here was a river in which you could actually dig up part of the bank and sluice through the dirt to try to find some of the gold that was there. It wasn’t that unusual of a thing to do either because there were a bunch of people who were doing it.

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There were even some mountain communities that reminded me of the ones I left behind in Colorado. During the summer months, this town offered many exciting opportunities such as mountain biking, and bungee jumping; the latter of which, I found out, was invented in this small mountain town and then spread throughout the rest of the world. Though I did not partake in either of these activities here, it did not stop me from hiking around the hills and even riding a couple of luges down a cement track laid on one of the hillsides.

I could just imagine this place during the winter as well. It would still have that cozy feel that I experienced when I was there, except it would be covered in a blanket of white instead of the green canopy. People wouldn’t be walking around in shorts and t-shirts while carrying around skateboards, but instead, would have snowboards under their arms as they trudge off towards the slopes in their heavy coats and snow pants. It was the tourist destination that you always expect when you are on vacation, but with split personalities that you won’t get to experience unless you go back in a different season.

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And even though they might be modest compared to other places within the world, New Zealand even had its share of large cities. Even these places were very livable, and seeped in culture. Of course, if you still want that thrill, you can bungee jump off of the needle in the middle of town.

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Hidden within all of this is an indigenous culture that is rich in history and unique among all of the cultures of the world. Though it is believed that the Maori people originate from Tahiti, it still had been removed from those people long enough to create its own art, its own philosophy, and its own spirituality. This was a culture that was embraced by the people who moved here from Western Civilization; instead of them trying to take over the culture. A lot of this was probably due to the fact that it was the last part of the world that the European countries ever found, and some of the first people to land here, such as Cook, could see the mistakes that had been made in other places that were colonized that he didn’t want to make the same ones down here. It allowed the cultures to eventually live in harmony with one another, and not to let the Maori culture to get blended with the European one and eventually disappear. This history, though short, is very rich and should be looked at more often in history classrooms across the world, but won’t be because of the fact that New Zealand is so far away from any other country.

All of the richness of this faraway land was revealed to me throughout the course of my travels, and I might have missed it due to one of my passions. Though I would often say that you should never let anybody put you down for that thing that makes you a geek, I am now able to say to not let that passion consume you. For if you do, you will be a lot like Sméagol hiding out under the Misty Mountains content with what will come your way. You need to make it out of that cave every once in a while and experience different things. Don’t let that passion leave you because it is a part of who you are, but let other people’s passions into your heart as well.

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The voyage that you take might surprise you and what you find will become unexpected. It is what makes life worth living. Though my pilgrimage originally started out as an exploration of a great passion of mine, it turned into something even greater than I would have expected. It was for this reason that this will always be one of my favorite trips.

But don’t worry, I still got to see Mt. Doom!

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The God Organ by Anthony J. Melchiorri

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The God Organ gets a strong eight out of ten.

When I picked up this novel, it was marketed under dystopian literature, and I expected to see a bleak landscape with no hope for its characters that mirrored the problems seen in the United States today. What I got instead was a pleasant surprise. Anthony J. Melchiorri tell the story of a great mystery wrapped around the development of a new medical marvel, the God Organ.

The year is 2064, and LyfeGen, a biomedical company, has developed the Sustain, termed by some the God Organ. This medical marvel allows the person who has it implanted into their body the benefit of no longer suffering from heart attacks or strokes. It also offers the bearer a more youthful appearance for the rest of their lives which also gets extended because of this device. Preston Carter enjoys the benefits from his creation both financially, as well as physically because he was one of the first people to have this invention implanted in his body. This is until he falls victim to a stroke that sets into motion a series of events that questions the integrity of this miracle device.

Anthony J. Melchiorri does a wonderful job of bringing to light some of the modern problems facing the Unites States such as the ever-growing division between the classes, and the disadvantage this puts on the poorer members of society as they not only struggle with making financial ends meet, but also with their inability to get the medical attention that they need. Add to this the fact that the jobs usually held by the masses are being taken over by automated machines, making it even more difficult to find anything worth a person’s time and effort, except for those who have the luxury of some of the more prestigious positions. He also brings up issues with the power of religion over certain people as it takes on issues that it perceives to be against their beliefs, and the declining power of print media as fewer people read it and more of it is written by algorithms. These are real issues and Melchiorri handles them well.

The most surprising part of this novel is the way that it was written. It has lots of strong characters that at first don’t seem to have any connection with one another but in the end blend together very nicely. Each character has their own problems and their own flaws which makes none of them the perfect person and also makes them very realistic. He also doesn’t write his story as an overdone representation of what the world will look like in the year 2064. Instead, he shows what life will be like at that time making strong predictions based on the direction that society is headed in. It is refreshing to see a science fiction novel written this way.

But because of the way it is written, I think calling it science fiction is a mistake. The story has more of a feel of a mystery or a thriller, and fans of that genre would really love this story. I don’t believe the hardcore science fiction fan will like this story as much even though there is a lot there to make it worthy of that genre. It definitely keeps the reader engaged with the twists and turns that only a good mystery can take.