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Beaching like Royalty

This weekend we decided to take a quick trip to Hua Hin, a quiet beach resort town popular with royal and regular Thais alike. In the early 1900s, King Prajadhipok built a summer palace in Hua Hin. In the early 2000s, King Bhumibol Adulyadej had his full-time residency at the palace in Hua Hin. The beaches aren’t as beautiful as the more popular ones farther south but you won’t be inundated by tourists either. If you need a few days of peace and quiet away from bustling Bangkok, Hua Hin is a perfect choice.

Getting There

We initially had difficulty figuring out the best way to get to Hua Hin. We knew the cheapest option was a minivan for 180 baht (a little over $5) but we just couldn’t figure out exactly where it left from. A few years ago, most minivans leaving Bangkok to other locations left from a central point, Victory Monument. This would have been fairly easy for us since the BTS goes straight from our place to Victory Monument. But this point of departure is no more. Now the minivans leave from multiple bus terminals around the city, each terminal servicing a portion of Thailand: one for southern destinations, one for eastern, etc. The Eastern Bus Terminal is in walking distance of our house but reading forums on the internet, I was getting conflicting information whether a minivan left from there to Hua Hin. Finally, I decided to walk to the station and try to figure it out on my own.

I made circles around the station, carefully reading each sign. Pattaya, Trat, Chanthaburi… No Hua Hin. So I went home and waited for Halie to get back from work. We went over our other options: hour taxi ride to other bus terminal, hour taxi ride to train station for a 5 hour train ride, 45 minute taxi ride the opposite direction to the airport for a longer minivan drive to Hua Hin. None sounded fun. Halie decided we should stop by the terminal near our house one more time and try to find somebody that speaks English to ask. As soon as we walk up, a security guard comes up to us and asks if we need help. I’m assuming because Halie’s much cuter than I, she was actually asked for help. Who knows. Either way, he pointed us to a small desk for the Hua Hin minivan. Bought our ticket so we’re good to go.

Next morning, minivan ride to Hua Hin. Uneventful, so let me get to the actual vacation!

Haven Resort, Hua Hin

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Welcome to Haven Resort

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Entrance to Haven

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View from room.

Let the relaxation begin.

Finally at our resort, we decided to quickly make our way to the beach area and start ordering drinks. After a bit on the beach, we moved back to sit near the infinity pool (drink ordering continued). We watched as a storm blew in but decided to stay by the pool. The drinks were tasty, the view was beautiful, the book I was reading was enjoyable. Why leave? Here’s a Snapchat video it raining on the pool. Once the rain let up a bit, Halie had to get into the pool:

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Pulling ourselves away from the poolside, we went back to our room to get ready for dinner and the night market in Hua Hin. Halie made sure our resort had a bathtub because she misses taking baths (we only have a shower in Bangkok). Over the two days in Hua Hin, she took three baths! Anyway, we got ready, had the resort call a taxi and headed down to the center of Hua Hin. Halie found a nice restaurant name Orchid. After dinner we walked down to the night market. They had similar offering as Bangkok, just a third of the price. Which was nice.

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Hua Hin Night Market

Second Day

After checking out of the resort, we grab a taxi to a really unique shopping area named Plearnwan. It is a collection of shops in a collection of older Thai buildings. Meant to be a living museum, it holds on to the traditional Thai shops while offering modern access and wares. Plearnwan cares about social awareness, providing a living wage for Thais, the environment and the preservation of history. The food stands offered incredibly interesting snacks up and down the area. For lunch, I had the traditional Thai kuaitiao ruea, also known as boat noodles. So tasty.

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Plearnwan

Okay, okay. Time to head back towards the minivan for our ride to Bangkok. So taxis in Hua Hin are surprisingly expensive. You pretty much have to get them from a taxi stand and they give you a flat rate before the ride (for us it was 200-300 baht). No meters and high prices. Much higher than Bangkok. It was necessary to use a taxi to get to our resort since it was kind of away from the main part of Hua Hin. But heading back to the center of town, we decided to take the cheaper and way more fascinating option: the songthaew. In Hua Hin, these pick-up trucks converted to passenger vehicles drive up and down the main road. While we walked, the songthaews would honk at us to see if we wanted to be picked up. This time, we waved “yes.” You tell the driver where you’re going, they tell you the price. Our ride was 10 baht per person, which is about 30 cents. You jump in the back, sit on the bench if there’s a spot or stand on the lower step if there isn’t. Halie and I stood. Snapchat video of Halie on the back of the songthaew. So cheap and quick and fun. Highly recommend.

Made it back to Bangkok Sunday afternoon. Back in the traffic and city lights, back to work.

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Posted by on September 6, 2017 in bangkok, Life, Original Work

 

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One Day in Chinatown

Last Saturday Halie and I decided meet up with some friends and spend the day in Bangkok’s Chinatown. Starting at the beginning of Chinatown at Wat Traimit, we walked the 3km to Wat Suthat outside of the neighborhood, winding our way through the market alleyways between Yaowarat and Charoen Krung Roads.

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Looking down from Wat Traimit.

As I said, we began our adventure at Wat Traimit, the home of the largest gold Buddha statue in the world. Not only is it the largest, it might also have the coolest story. At some point this statue was covered by plaster to hide the true value from attacking Burmese armies. This was either done leading up to the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 or possibly in an earlier war. Well, over time, it was forgotten that there was gold under the plaster. It wasn’t until 1955 (!!) that the statue fell during transportation, knocking off some plaster and revealing a bit of gold. After removing all of the plaster, they discovered that the statue was the largest gold Buddha and one of the most valuable statues in the world.

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Wat Traimit

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The Golden Buddha, 5 meters tall.

Next we began our trek into Chinatown proper. Walking along Yaowarat, we stopped for a quick, tasty lunch at the Canton House. After a few blocks we finally decide to turn into one of the side streets and begin attempting to navigate the open markets of Chinatown. These small streets, like most of Bangkok’s sois, are an assault to all of your senses simultaneously. It’s an invigorating and slightly frightening experience to be inundated by the smells of food vendors selling all meats and vegetables (raw and cooked), by the sounds of motorbikes honking at you to get out of the way and shopkeepers announcing their wares. To taste the sweat on your lips intermingled with the exhaust from vehicles of every size and shape and to bump into every person and every thing as you struggle through the orderly chaos with your eyes open wide the whole time to behold it all. I love every bit of it.

Blurry Snapchat video of a reprieve I had in a less dense intersection.

After surviving the markets along the sois, we began the last stretch of walking towards Wat Suthat. The main temple was covered with scaffolding for repairs so I was unable to get a good picture of the facade. Really, I didn’t take many pictures walking around the grounds because it was such a beautiful, peaceful area that I just wanted to experience the calm. Dusk was upon us, the people were praying. A few pictures cannot encompass the serenity of the grounds surrounding a major Buddhist temple.

After leaving the temple, we grabbed a taxi to bring us the a BTS station and then took the train to meet some friends for dinner. Got to the restaurant just as the rain began to fall. With dinner complete, we spent some time walking around the Patpong Night Market. We haggled over a few purchases then headed home. I’d say it was a successful Saturday.

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Sun setting outside Wat Suthat.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2017 in bangkok, Life

 

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Thailand – One Month In

สวัสดี!
(Hello in Thai, pronounced “sawadee”)

Sorry it has been so quiet around here for a few months. We’ve been crazy busy with preparations for the move. We sold a lot of our belongings in Philadelphia. Packed what we wanted to store for a few years in boxes. Packed what we wanted to bring to Thailand in suitcases (Halie and I each had two rolling suitcases, a duffel bag and a backpack). Then we moved out of our Philly rowhome and spent a few days driving to Texas. We had four weeks in Texas to spend some time with our families, go on a quick vacation to Mexico, finalize last minute documents for visas and prepare for the big move. Finally, a month and a day ago, we loaded up on a Korean Air flight and headed across the world. One day later, July 23rd, we were in our new home: Bangkok (or in Thai: Krung Thep).

It has now been a month. We’ve moved into a condo downtown. I’ve set up my desk area at home for work. Halie has two coworkers that she shares a cab with every morning and evening for work. Next week the Thai tutor we hired will begin seriously teaching us the language. We are finally settling in to our new lives as farangs in Thailand.

So what does that mean, our new lives in Thailand? Well, we get up really early because Halie’s school is out in the suburbs and we live downtown. We walk to the end of our “soi” so Halie can grab a taxi for school and I can grab breakfast. This lady makes these incredible crispy pancake things with sugar and condensed milk on them. And they’re only 5 baht (15 cents)!! I start off every day with at least two. If I need to grab some water or cokes for the house, I go across the soi to another little shop for that. My walk back brings me across food stands selling prepared lunches and whole fish off a grill, past monks receiving donations from the devoted, fruit and vegetable stands and many other shops. All the while I’m dodging taxis, bikes, motorcycles, soi dogs and other vehicles. What a way to start every day!

In the afternoons we sometimes will meet other teachers for happy hour or dinner. We use the foodpanda app to order dinner some nights. Other nights we either walk to a restaurant or pick up dinner from a food stand. There’s one particular stand on our soi that for only 35 baht (a little over a dollar) you can get rice with two different dishes on top. My favorite Thai dish currently is the minced pork stir fried with basil and peppers, called pad kra pao. It’s so tasty and spicy and also good with chicken.

And of course, the weekends. This is when we really get to explore the city (or attempt to, it’s so freaking huge). The major road we live off of, Sukhumvit, is a perfect place to begin. One reason is because the BTS sky train is on Sukhumvit so using that (and it’s connection to the Airport link and the metro), we can reach much of the city. Sukhumvit is a shopper’s paradise. Everything from fancy, stupid-expensive malls to street markets line Sukhumvit from one end to the other. This is also a large expat area so any type of food at any price is just a few kilometers away. You can get anything you want and pay anywhere from 35 baht to 3500 baht (if you prefer). Farther down the BTS is also numerous Buddhist temples (called wats), cultural landmarks like the Victory Monument and museums aplenty. Many nights, we end up at a rooftop bar because they’re incredible for viewing the night skyline, there are so many of them and… we like bars.

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Day trips are also easily accomplished on weekends. We recently took a trip to Ayutthaya, the capital of Bangkok from 1350 until it was burned down by the Burmese in 1787. It’s a great collection of ruins of temples, stupas, royal buildings and much more. We also visited the current royal summer palace at Bang Pa-In then finished the day off with a riverboat cruise back to Bangkok. Here’s a collection of a few pictures I took that day. 

Another major reason for living in Bangkok is our close connection to the rest of Southeast Asia. Suvarnabhumi Airport is a major international hub with cheap flights all over SEA and the world. A second airport, Don Mueang, will get you places even cheaper. As we get settled in, we’ve been planning our trips around holidays and long weekends. In September, we have flights up to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. With a week off in October, we’re planning on spending most of it in Vietnam. October also has a three-day weekend that we want to go to one of the numerous islands along the Thai coast that contain some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Anyway, I’m not completely sure what I was trying to accomplish with the blog post. I just felt obligated to give you guys an update and felt bad about not posting anything for a while. Hope you enjoyed my update and I’ll make sure to include more pictures next time. If you want to see pictures more often, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat. I’ll post something somewhere…

Until next time!

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2017 in Life, Original Work

 

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In Preparation of Thailand

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If you follow me on any social media platforms, you might have seen the big news. Halie and I are moving to Bangkok this summer!! I’m really excited to move to a new country and experience a different culture and be immersed in a different language. But to prepare myself for this, I wanted to conduct a literary crash course in all things Thai. I wanted to tell you about a few books I read (titles are links to Amazon):

A History of Thailand by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit

51-twjc45jl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Of course I had to start with history. While looking for a book to begin I realized that there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to Thai history written in English. Plenty of travel books, not much history. But this one had good reviews so I decided to begin my literary journey here. And what a journey.

Thailand’s history is a rollercoaster ride of monarchy and democracy and military coups. Thailand is unique in being the only country in Southeast Asia that was not colonized by a Western power. They were left as a buffer between French Indochina (Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) and the British Empire in South Asia (India and Burma). During World War II, Thailand tried to stay neutral but with pressure from Japan (and subsequent invasion), they allowed free passage for Japanese soldiers and declared war against the United States and the UK. But by the end of the war, Thailand had emerged as an ally of the United States.

While the Cold War raged around the globe, the United States saw Thailand as the bulwark of “democracy” amongst all the communist nations of Southeast Asia. Because of this, the United States funded the Thai military and police. This caused political instability, military coups and the weakening of the monarchy’s power for decades well into the 1980s. Although Thai politics began to be more stable by the constitution of 1997, there has still continued to be political unrest and military coups. The most recent military coup was in 2014 and Thailand is still run by the military junta.

Theravada Buddhism by Diana & Richard St. Ruth

51uskueijul-_sx321_bo1204203200_I decided next to move from history to religion. 95% of Thailand’s citizens practice Theravada Buddhism, a sect of Buddhism that began in Sri Lanka and spread throughout Southeast Asia. This short guide explained the beginnings of Buddhism, the division of Theravada from other sects and the practices of the religion. I believe this has been very helpful in understanding some of the cultural practices of Thailand. Their interactions with their monarch, the temples and shrines everywhere and their relationships with each other can be explained in the context of Theravada Buddhist practices. The only issue I have with Buddhism is all the numbers! The Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Threefold Discipline, the Seven Purifications… It just gets to be a little too much counting for me!

Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj

51qamujhwql-_sx322_bo1204203200_Published in the 1950s, this fascinating book follows minor nobility through major transformations of Thailand. Told through the point of view of a girl (and later woman) named Phloi, we follow her life during four different kings of Thailand, spanning the years 1890-1946. We get to see Thailand become a part of the global political world and part of the modern world. The end of the absolute monarchy and the introduction of the first constitution in 1932 is seen through the eyes of the citizens of Bangkok. We see, through Phloi’s experiences, when Japanese soldiers start marching through the streets during World War II and the different reactions of people depending on their place in Thai politics. The story ends with Phloi’s death at about the same time as her fourth king, Ananda Mahidol.

I would love for there to be a sequel, maybe titled One Reign, that follows a character similar to Phloi during the next king’s tenure. Bhumibol Adulyadej began his reign in 1946 and at the time of his death in October of last year, was the longest serving head of state (70 years). He was a much loved king that was a sign of stability for the citizens of Thailand during the tumultuous politics of the Cold War and into current events.

Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

51wmtw359wlSo I didn’t talk about every book I read but I wanted to end my literary research (for now) and my blog with a modern Thai book. This debut book published in 2005 is a collection of seven stories. They are all set in modern-day Thailand, some in Bangkok and some in the Thai countryside. Most of the stories have young children as the protagonist and they all beautifully depict a different side of life in Thailand.

“Farangs,” the name of the first short story and the word for foreigners, gives us a picture of the interactions between tourist and Thai. “Sightseeing,” the fourth story, is a gut-wrenching example of the difficulties of growing up, especially with an aging and sickly family member. “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place” is a hilarious and touching story of an American father who becomes handicapped and forced to move to Thailand to live with his son and Thai daughter-in-law. As you an tell from the title, he’s not too excited to be there. “Priscilla the Cambodian” gives us a short look into the life of Southeast Asian refugees that are forced to live in Thailand. Really, all the stories are well worth reading. I’m excited to see what Lapcharoensap publishes in the future.

 

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MLK, Jr. Day

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Martin Luther King leading march from Selma to Montgomery to protest lack of voting rights for African Americans. Beside King is John Lewis, Reverend Jesse Douglas, James Forman and Ralph Abernathy. March 1965.

Every Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I read his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” I think it is one of the most important and most powerful letters ever written and every year, especially recently, I feel like it becomes more and more relevant. Please, click the above link and read the whole letter. It isn’t too long and it’s incredibly moving.

The letter deals a lot with the idea of the “white moderate” who agrees with the cause of civil rights but disagrees with the actions. This quote from King is very damning of the “white moderate:”

First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

But before the above passage, he deals with people telling him to wait. People telling him that this is not the right time for action. His response brings me to tears every time I read it:

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

 

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2017 in History, Quotes

 

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Favorite Albums of 2016

December is here and the temperatures are dropping. Amazon.com is getting all our money. But more importantly, it’s time for my annual list of favorite (not best) albums that were released throughout the year. Last year I started doing 20 albums instead of 10 but #s 20-11 had only a music video posted. The top ten will have comments by me with a video or two. Also, the titles will be links to iTunes (but please purchase/stream however you prefer). I guess let’s get started.

20. Regina Spektor – Remember Us to Life

19. clipping. – Splendor & Misery

18. Dr. Dog – Abandoned Mansion 

17. Snow Tha Product – Half Way There…Pt. 1

16. Nick Jonas – Last Year was Complicated

15. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – This Unruly Mess I’ve Made

14. Haley Reinhart – Better

13. Wilco – Schmilco

12. Gallant – Ology

11. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

10. Norah Jones – Day Breaks

So finally, some words. So back in 2002 I watched VH1 before school. I enjoyed the music videos and the variety of music they played. One morning a beautiful voice sang to me over some jazz piano. That moment, I fell in love with Norah Jones. Fast forward 14 years through multiple albums spanning multiple genres (loved them all) and we get to 2016. I saw she was releasing a new album and the first single was up on Youtube. What I didn’t know before watching was she was using this album to harken back to her first jazz-driven album. The nostalgia of 2002, the sultry melodies and tinkling of the keys hit me in the stomach. The album releases and I quickly listened to it. And it’s perfect. It has the structures of the simple jazz pieces she wrote for her first album but the music itself borrows from all the experimentation with country and folk and pop and rock and hip-hop that she has delved in through the years. It blends seamlessly and I can’t get enough. So to the music, here’s the first single,”Carry On,” that knocked me out so surprisingly:

9. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered. 

A year after the release of the critically acclaimed and amazingly wonderful To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar surprised everybody by releasing a collection of demos and tracks from the recording of Butterfly. And although it’s supposed to be demos, untitled unmastered. has everything we loved about Butterfly. The experimentations with jazz, funk, soul, etc. are still there. The politically-driven lyrics are still there. The window into Lamar’s psyche is still there. This has to be one of the most solid collections of demos and outtakes from any band/musician. The first track from this album we heard was actually before the release of Butterfly on the Colbert Report. Here’s “Untitled:”

8. The Avett Brothers – True Sadness

A part of me feels like the Avett Brothers can do no wrong. They just keep pumping out great albums. Songwriting is consistently spot-on no matter what variation their albums take. We’ve seen them go further into country, into punk, into rock, into folk, pop, bluegrass. But they’re still two brothers that love to write the words that need to be written with the melodies that need to be sung. Some fans get hung up on what these words and melodies are placed over. Is the recording too polished? Is there too much drums? What’s with all the extra musicians now? Who cares. Let’s just enjoy the gift of their craft that they keep on giving us. “Ain’t No Man,” the first single:

7. Ariana Grande – Dangerous Woman

So one day I came across the video of Ariana Grande playing “Wheel of Musical Impressions” on Jimmy Fallon’s show. It was too good. After it ended, I said out loud, “Well, hell. If she can sing that good, I guess I gotta give her album a listen.” Luckily, she had just released Dangerous Woman so I pulled it up and gave it a listen. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised at how good the album was. Even though she’s obviously a powerful singer, she uses that whispery voice a good amount of the time. At first it somewhat annoyed me but listening through the album, I realized it made the moments she really belts it out more powerful. You get the drastic variations in her vocal range. I kept listening to the album and I still love it. I still listen through it about once a week. One of my favorite tracks of her album is the title track, posted below.

6. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

I won’t spend too much time on this album because I wrote about it back in May. But I’m still listening to it pretty regularly. It’s just so upbeat and happy. Chance is young, talented and taking over the world. Watch any late night, SNL, awards shows, and you’ll probably see him pop up. Daytime TV? Sure. He performed on Ellen. So since you can read my last blog, let’s listen to a song. Let’s chill the vibe a little with a live performance of the last track off the album, “Blessings (Reprise):”

5. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

So everything surrounding this album perfectly encompasses Kanye West as a person. On one hand you have genius production, religious undertones, incredible features and samples that blow your mind. Then on the other: disastrous release, editing songs and changing tracks after the release, obviously misogynistic lyrics and cancelled tour dates because of mental health issues. While it’s not always easy defending Kanye, these dichotomies make him who he is. And his final products always speak for themselves. “Fade:”

4. Various Artists – The Hamilton Mixtape

So if you’ve been around me at any time over the last year or so, I probably talked to you about the Broadway musical Hamilton. I’ve been obsessed with the cast recording since it released. Halie and I saw the play on Broadway a few months ago. I pre-ordered and devoured the Hamiltome. All this led up to the release of the Mixtape a few weeks ago. Consisting of a few covers by pop and hip-hop stars, a few original songs influenced by the musical, demos cut from the play and covers of other demos, the album has a little bit of something for everybody. If you’ve listened to the cast recording as many times as I have, the covers might seem lacking. But the original tracks influenced by the play are incredible. And the covers of demos make me wish they were never cut. Before we hear a song, let me list a few artists on this mixtape: The Roots, Nas, Usher, Sia, Regina Spektor, Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keys, Wiz Khalifa, John Legend, Chance the Rapper, etc. I know, I know. It’s crazy. Here’s “Wrote My Way Out” featuring Nas, Dave East, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Aloe Blacc:

3. DNCE – DNCE

So November was hard for a lot of people for…obvious reasons. Before that, Philly’s public transportation was on strike so I had to bike to work for a week. So I really needed something to get me through the rest of this year. And DNCE provided. They released the most fun album this year and I can’t stop dancing to it. From the first to the last track. From the upbeat to the chilled. They are all fun. They’re sexy, musical ear candy. Oh, and the lead singer is a Jonas Brother. So do what you will with that information. “Body Moves:”

2. Sia – This is Acting

So some of you might have forgotten about this album because it came out at the beginning of the year but Halie and I jam this an embarrassingly amount of times. Even though it’s a collection of songs Sia wrote for other pop stars that they ended up not using, this album sounds more cohesive than most artists’ releases. From beautiful ballads to infectious pop songs, I just can’t stop listening to Sia sing…anything. My favorite song, “Reaper,” was co-wrote with Kanye:

If you’ve watched any of her music videos, you probably know a little about Maddie Ziegler. She’s the young girl that does all the incredibly weird dancing for Sia. Whether it’s in a video or a live performance, I enjoy watching her dance almost as much as listening to Sia sing. Recently, Sia released a deluxe version of the album with the single “The Greatest,” a song and video honoring the victim’s of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting.  Watch it:

1. Beyonce – Lemonade

This should be on the top of every “Best Of” list. It has some of the best songs written in a long time and by far the best songs this year. The album encompasses pop, hip-hop, rock, country. And she does it really, really well. She released a complete visual album to go along with every song and introduced us to the great poet from Somalia, Warsan Shire. She opened her heart and her anger to the world about the pain of dealing with a cheating husband. But ultimately the album just has one incredible track after another. I can’t stop listening. Also, all the features on this album were exactly what each track needed. Jack White, Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd. Loved it. But let’s get to some songs. In “Hold Up” we get to watch Beyonce walk down the street with a bat. You can guess what she’s doing with it:

Sometimes a whole song is really good but there’s just one small section, one little musical aspect that makes it your everything. For this next song it’s the slight use of horns. They always show up right when you need them. Here’s “All Night:”

And let’s finish this out with the most powerful track from the album. This was the first single and ended up being the last track. To some, this song was controversial but they’re just looking for something to get upset about because I loved it as soon as it was released. I loved the biographical lines, the glimpse into her and Jay-Z’s relationship. Mainly I just loved the brashness of this track, “Formation:”


Well, there you go. Another year down, another list complete. Let me know what you think or what I missed in the comments. Here’s to a great holiday season and a new year. To new adventures!

 

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2016 in Lists, Music, Music Review

 

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Why #BlackLivesMatter

So I’ve been contemplating writing a blog about #blacklivesmatter for some time. I’ve been torn. On one hand, I’m white and I do not want my voice heard over any person of color’s. The whole point of BLM is that their voices, their experiences, aren’t being heard. They should be, need to be, heard. Their stories are what we should be listening to right now. But on the other hand, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” To not speak up about an injustice seen is to condone said injustice. So I refuse to be silent.

Here’s what I hope to accomplish with this post. First, explain why the #blacklivesmatter movement is needed. Second, attempt to answer a few criticisms of BLM that I’ve seen around. And third, hopefully illustrate why those who say #alllivesmatter or #bluelivesmatter are not helping, and why they are missing the point. Let’s get to it.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHntlGbjBak/?taken-by=jessiefox_

Image from @jessiefox_ on instagram.


Systematic racism exists. There is no way around it. It exists in our judicial system and in our employment. It exists consciously and subconsciously in many of us, from police, lawyers and judges to individual citizens throughout this country. It has existed since before the founding of our nation and has continuously been worked into our laws and customs and procedures. And most of us ignore this. Let me attempt to prove it exists. First, to do this, I am going to quote a few sections from an incredible article written for the New York Times last year titled “The Disproportionate Risks of Driving While Black.” If you have a chance, read the whole article. If not, here’s a few key points:

“Here in North Carolina’s third-largest city [Greensboro], officers pulled over African-American drivers for traffic violations at a rate far out of proportion with their share of the local driving population. They used their discretion to search black drivers or their cars more than twice as often as white motorists — even though they found drugs and weapons significantly more often when the driver was white.”

“National surveys show that blacks and whites use marijuana at virtually the same rate, but black residents here are charged with the sole offense of possession of minor amounts of marijuana five times as often as white residents are.”

“In the four states that track the results of consent searches, officers were more likely to conduct them when the driver was black, even though they consistently found drugs, guns or other contraband more often if the driver was white. The same pattern held true with probable-cause searches in Illinois and North Carolina, the two states that carefully record them.”

There’s also a damning graph in the article that’s based off the information of the four states that best track their traffic stops (Connecticut, Illinois, North Carolina, and Rhode Island). Across the 14 different agencies throughout the four states, every agency pulled black people over more often. The highest difference being the Chicago Police Department at 5.2 times more often, and the lowest being North Carolina State Highway Patrol at 1.5 times more often. The second graph compares the chances of black and white drivers that were searched carrying contraband. Out of the 14 different agencies, only the Rhode Island State Police found contraband on black drivers more often. Illinois State Police found contraband in equal amount and the other 12 found contraband on white drivers more often.

The rest of the article spends time talking about individual cases of black people being pulled over, arrested, beat up, tazed, and much more, for nothing more than the color of their skin. It’s worth reading.

Another glaringly obvious discriminatory practice in the United States is how the War on Drugs has been waged almost exclusively on black and brown citizens since its start in the early 1980s. I’ll try to get into some of the issues here, but if you’d like to really dissect mass incarceration, I’d recommend reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

In some of the statistics I’m about to list, it’s important to remember the demographic makeup of the USA. For our purposes: white Americans are 72.4% of the population (around 223.5 million) and black Americans are 12.6% of the population (around 39 million). When looking at drug use, black and white Americans use illicit drugs at almost exactly the same rate (6.6% of white Americans and 7.7% of black Americans). But when you look at actual numbers, it drastically changes the story of who’s using in America. With the above percentages and population numbers, we have 14.7 million white drug users and a little over 3 million black drug users.

With a disparity of over 11 million people in favor of white drug use, why the hell are black youth 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than whites!? Side note, that last article actually says “young African Americans are actually less likely to use drugs and less likely to develop substance use disorders, compared to whites, Native Americans, Hispanics and people of mixed race.”

Speaking of mass incarceration in general, 1 in 100 Americans are currently behind bars. This is a travesty of monumental consequences. This also directly creates more crime. When any of these men and women leave prison after fulfilling their punishment, they are barred from jobs, licenses, housing, and even voting in many states. They are officially a criminal, a second-class citizen, until the day they die. How do you think they are going to leave the life of crime if we don’t let them. If they can’t drive, can’t be employed, can’t vote, can’t find housing, what do you think they are going to do? The harsh measures enacted by the War on Drugs gives them few options other than resorting to measures that would lead back to prison.

And let’s break down the incarceration numbers a little more. Looking at citizens divided by gender and race, 1 in 106 of white men are behind bars while 1 in 15 (!!!!!) of black men over the age of 18 are behind bars. And with black men between the ages of 20 and 34 the ratio jumps to 1 in 9. Can you fathom that? I can’t. And this is with 11 million more white drug users than black drug users.

This huge number in incarcerated citizens has quadrupled since 1980. And this has been directly driven by the War on Drugs. As Human Rights Watch stated,

…violent crime rates have been relatively constant or declining over the past two decades. The exploding prison population has been propelled by public policy changes that have increased the use of prison sentences as well as the length of time served, e.g. through mandatory minimum sentencing, “three strikes” laws, and reductions in the availability of parole or early release.

Although these policies were championed as protecting the public from serious and violent offenders, they have instead yielded high rates of confinement of nonviolent offenders. Nearly three quarters of new admissions to state prison were convicted of nonviolent crimes….

Perhaps the single greatest force behind the growth of the prison population has been the national ‘war on drugs.’ The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased twelvefold since 1980.

A few more statistics:

-A study conducted dealing with McCleskey v. Kemp court case found that in Georgia, prosecutors went for the death penalty in 70% of cases involving black defendants and white victims. When the defendant was white and the victim was black, prosecutors sought the death penalty only 19% of the time! Now, it’s obviously impossible to start comparing criminal cases because each and every one is unique, but determining that there’s a discriminatory choice made when the death penalty is sought is hard to argue against.

-African Americans, who are 13% of the population and 14% of drug users, are not only 37% of the people arrested for drugs but 56% of the people in state prisons for drug offenses. (Marc Mauer Congressional Testimony)

-African American juvenile youth are 16% of the population,  but they are 28% of juvenile arrests, 37% of the youth in juvenile jails and 58% of the youth sent to adult prisons. (2009 Criminal Justice Primer)

The National Bureau of Economic Research found that “[w]hite names receive 50 percent more callbacks for interviews. We also find that race affects the benefits of a better resume. For White names, a higher quality resume elicits 30 percent more callbacks whereas for African Americans, it elicits a far smaller increase.”

And really, I could go on forever with statistics. But I shouldn’t have to. Experiences cover the spectrum, but disturbing trends make themselves known. In light of recent events, listen to what the Dallas surgeon who cared for victims of the police shooting said. Or Republican Senator Tim Scott talking about being pulled over 7 times in a year. Or talk to any person of color in your life. Ask them about their experiences. Learn from them. Empathize with them.


Now for the criticisms:

I agree that racism is bad, but why do you have to block roads and highways?
This has always been a tactic used by non-violent protests. From Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. to #blacklivesmatter, if their protests aren’t disruptive, they aren’t listened to. They are forcing you to hear them because they’ve been ignored for too long. And you think being a little late getting home is worse than dealing with systematic and individual racism on a daily basis?

Non-violence? There’s been violence committed at BLM rallies.
You’re not wrong. Protesters have perpetuated violence. Police officers have perpetuated violence. But the acts of a few shouldn’t disqualify the movement of many. Abolitionist like John Brown led violent slave revolts, Black Panthers committed violent acts during the Civil Rights Era, and Micah Johnson killed 5 members of law enforcement in Dallas. That doesn’t mean we should not have abolished slavery, or that the Civil Rights Movement should have been canceled, or that #blacklivesmatter does not have legitimate complaints. Really, I think Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best:

…it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.

What about “black on black” crime. Why aren’t they protesting that?
First off, using that term is incredibly racist and unnecessary. Nobody wants crime. But to put it in such a racist frame is not helpful. Violent crime is usually committed by somebody you know or live nearby. So that means most white victims had white attackers and most black victims had black attackers.

And also, it’s just a talking point not based in fact. Most leaders of #BLM are leaders in their communities that are incredibly active in anti-crime and anti-drug organizations. But more importantly, those crimes are being handled by the judicial system. Someone commits a crime, you call the police, justice is serviced (albeit possibly discriminatorily). What #blacklivesmatter is protesting is police brutality. Police should be held up to a higher standard than violent criminals. We expect violent criminals to commit crimes and we expect justice to be served. Most of the time, it is. But we expect the police forces across our nation to serve and protect their communities, not shoot unarmed citizens. And that’s not always the case. Can we not hold police to a higher standard?

They are just exasperating race relations in America!
Pointing out racism isn’t making it worse. It’s the first step in righting the wrongs of institutional racism.


This finally brings us to the issues of using #alllivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter as a response.

Using #alllivesmatter is just a way to shut down the conversation that #blacklivesmatter is trying to start. Nobody disagrees with the idea that all lives matter. If you can’t realize that #blacklivesmatter is saying they matter “too,” not that “only” they matter, I don’t know what to tell you. They’re saying, whether you believe them or not, that they feel like black lives do not matter in our society. That they are disposable. And a lot of the numbers in the first half of this blog agree with them. Let me put it in as many ways as possible to clear up any confusion:

-Saying all lives matter is like a fire department spraying water on a house that isn’t on fire while another one burns down because all houses matter.

-It’s like neglecting to give somebody food at the dinner table, and then when they ask for it, saying all people deserve food.

-It’s like telling somebody wearing a breast cancer awareness pin that all cancers matter.

-It would be like one of Jesus’s disciples responding to “blessed are the poor” with “blessed is everybody.”

-“Save the Rainforest” doesn’t mean to forget about all the other trees.

-“Save the Dolphins” doesn’t mean to kill off all other sea life.

If you truly believed all lives matter, than you would have no issue with BLM fighting against police brutality. The ideas aren’t mutually exclusive. The issue is that most people using #alllivesmatter are doing it as a negative response to #BLM, to stop the conversation.

Now I only have two points to make about #bluelivesmatter. First, it’s usually the all lives matter people that use it. I find it odd that they think #blacklivesmatter means only black lives and nobody else, but #bluelivesmatter doesn’t mean the exact same thing. I don’t think you’re saying only cops matter. So why do you think they’re saying only black lives matter?

Secondly, being a cop is a difficult job that deserves respect. It can be dangerous, and I commend each and every person who chooses to go into that profession. But that’s all it is at the end of the day, a profession. When they aren’t in uniform, their lives aren’t at higher risk. If they decide the risk is too much, they can change jobs. People of color cannot change their skin color. They are born that way. It’s not changing.


If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading and I hope you’ll click on some of the above links to dive deeper into these issues. I don’t think I’ll change the world with a few words, but if even one person starts seeing things differently, starts to realize systematic racism exists, realizes #blacklivesmatter is an important movement, I’ve accomplished what I wanted to.

This blog post was written with the desperately needed proofreading and editing help of Josh Reed, Lacy Benoit, and Tara Holtzclaw. Thanks for everything!!
 
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Posted by on July 19, 2016 in Original Work, Politics, Quotes

 

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