Surprise Finds: Jeremy Loops and Greenpop

It was on a boring afternoon at work when I stumbled upon an amazing musician from South Africa. He’s name is Jeremy Loops. He was playing a show at World Cafe Live, my favorite music venue in Philadelphia. Curious, I looked him up on YouTube and immediate fell in love with the music and bought a ticket to a show. Basically, he was one heck of a talented dude. A loop peddle, guitar, harmonica, with which he played with such skill and passion. I was addicted. The show was not to disappoint either. I managed to stand in the second row and I had a wonderful night. Afterward, Jeremy was so generous to meet everybody.

When I got home that night, with a photo, a night I will never forget, and a sense of curiosity, I googled Jeremy and discovered that he is one of the co-founders of a non-profit organization called Greenpop. They plant trees in deforested areas in South Africa and Zambia to create sustainable futures for local communities as well as bring people together from all over the world. Every year, Greenpop hosts the Zambia Festival of Action, a two-week long project to bring trees back into a country with one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. Recently, I finished reading Omnivore’s Dilemma, which talks about the ecology of our foods and makes a strong argument for a need for human to be more mindful of the planet and our impact on it. It seems that Greenpop aims also to reconnect people with nature and remind us that our actions are not without consequences to the environment. How amazing would be to get involve in this.

A Recap of Philadelphia via Photos

My year in Philadelphia is coming to an end. Here are a collection of photos I took that showcase that beauties and quirks in this city.

Philadelphia is breathtaking from the air.

I will never get sick of looking at City Hall.

This is Quince St. One day I will own a house here.

One time, I got a free t-shirt from a New Balance vending machine.

View of the city from the Ben Franklin Bridge.

This picture is now my phone background. So quaint!

Cafe Ole has 8 kinds of chai latte to choose from. My favorite is the green tea. Also, starting at 6 pm everyday, all foods from the display are $5. What a steal!

Free live shows in a living room. Basically my happiest place.

This is truth.

The crosswalks at Locust and 13th. Love wins after all.

I walked by this building every morning on my way to catch the subway. It is beauty and a source of motivation from the green monster.

Wilted Greens toast (wilted greens, baby portobello mushroom, goat cheese, and oven roasted tomato) from my favorite cafe in the city, Toast.

This will be the color of my future house.

Thank you Philadelphia for a wonderful year. Until I return, you shall be missed.

Karl Might Just Be the Smartest Idiot

Recently, I stumbled upon a show called An Idiot Abroad (available on Netflix). It’s a British travel documentary where Ricky Gervais (the guy from the Office) and Stephen Merchant send their idiot friend Karl Pilkington to exotic places in the world, places that most people would die to travel to. They created the show so they can watch funny things on the Telly since Karl has no interest in traveling. They put Karl through the more ridiculous situation and they feed on Karl’s misery. Karl’s simple-mindedness and idiot-behavior is what makes the show so funny. He tells like it is, he has no filter, and he manages to say some of the funniest yet most profound things.

Many of the show’s episodes are in fact quite thought-provoking. It manages to point out many important issues without dwelling on them for too long. This show is also so classically British. I  just love how British humor has a way of poking fun at an object or person without making the object of person the butt of the joke.

Karl is also very relatable and if we looked a little closer we can all see bit and pieces of ourselves in him. He says things that normal people would think and wonder but are too polite or afraid to say it. Through Karl, we see the world for what it actual it and are forced to reflected upon the social constructs that we, sometimes, unnaturally and unwillingly abide by.

Anyway, in Season 2, after a long journey through Russia and Mongolia, Karl ends up in China where he visits a village of dwarfs. It turns out this place is called Kingdom of  the Little People, an amusement park started in 2009 that employs little people to put on performances. There are no special skills required as long as they meet a height and health requirement. In addition to free room and board, they earn a self-supporting salary and get the opportunity to live with other little people.

Unsurprisingly, this theme park has been under a lot of criticism by disability advocacy organizations like the Little People of America and Handicap International, calling it segregation and exploitation. Some go as far as to call it a human zoo.

In the episode, Karl has a phone conversation with Warwick Davis, who strong disapproves The Kingdom of the Little People. Karl defends it saying that the people looked happy and tells him of a women who’s only been there for a month and already has her own little mushroom to live in (just another one of Karl’s brilliantly funny comments). In fact, there are many strong arguments for why the Kingdom of the Little People is not as offensive as it appears. In China, people with disabilities have very slim chance of finding employment and living fulfilling lives. Without the Kingdom of the Little People, little people in China would be left to beg on the streets and face blatant discrimination on a daily basis. Here, at least,  they earn a good salary, live in housing that are specifically built for them, and connect with others who are like them and understand them.

As a strong advocate for disability rights, I was initially baffled that such a park even exist in the first place. But really, is it so wrong after all if it provides food, shelter, and comfort for these otherwise marginalized individuals. All that really matters is that they are happy. Who are us tall people to judge their happiness? I agree with Karl on this point.

Such a themed park would never exist in the U.S., where everything has to be so politically correct all the time. We are so offended by everything all the time. But being easily offended just reveals that we are not as open-minded as we appear to be.

To take an anthropological standpoint, one should not judge another culture based on one’s own culture. That’s called ethnocentrism. So by deeming the theme park as unethical without taking into consideration of those who actually live that life is ethnocentric and judgmental. Sure, performing to tourists is probably not the dream job these little people had pictured for themselves. But at least it’s better than being a beggar and have no friends, otherwise they would not be there. Yes, China needs to be better at supporting disabled people. But that is going to take a lot of time, money, and education. I hope that one day Kingdom of the Little People would be as offensive in China as it would be in the U.S. and that little people can do whatever job their heart desires. But for the time being, Kingdom of the Little People is the best chance they have at a good life.

Here we are, a post about a TV show turned into my rambling about a themed park in China. Karl Pilkington, you are one smart idiot and this is why I love the show so much. Karl appears to be simple, close-minded, and ridiculous, but he might just be more intelligent, more accepting, and more insightful than all of us. The world is not black and white, there is no definitive right and wrong. We are all just trying to make the best out of any given situation, just like how Karl is forced to tolerate the misery he has been put through. On second thought, if we were to believe that Kingdom of the Little People is a human zoo, Karl is merely the only zoo animal living in Ricky and Stephen’s zoo called An Idiot Abroad.

Daniel and the Lion

I  haven’t written in a while. This blog thing is hard, and when life gets hectic, it’s so easy to abandon it). Or maybe, I wasn’t trying hard enough. Anyway, here is some music I recently discovered. Folky, beautiful, perfect for a rainy day like today.

I Am Having the Best Week

I am having the best week and this is no an April Fool’s joke!

This awesome week started with Tall Heights and Darlingside’s show – I’ve just been so hyped up since the show I cannot stop listening to them. I even learned to play Ancestor – Darlingside and Learn Again – Tall Heights on guitar and ukulele.

Next comes Saturday, the day of the AT&T Back On My Feet 5-Miler. I decided to volunteer at the food and water tent so I could watch the race. It was such a freezing and windy day but the race was so fun and there was so much energy. As my shift started, boxes after boxes of Philly Pretzel Factory’s pretzels were brought in.

We had so much food! Even by the end of the race after all the runner has gotten their pretzel, I think we still have almost half of what we started with left.

Next on Sunday, I decided to hit up more coffee shops in the city. I stopped by Greenstreet Coffee Co. and got a hot chocolate. It was delicious and had the most beautiful design.

For dinner, I grabbed Honeygrow on my way home. I have been meaning to try this place for a while and found the concept of using locally grown foods and transforming them into DIY stir-fry, salads, and smoothies.

When Monday came, while I was feeling lethargic, I got up at 5 AM to run with my Back on My Feet Team. We jogged about 2 miles and it was just what I need to feel energized for the week. I even got up today go to again in the morning. Since I usually only go on Mondays this was a great accomplishment for me.

Today’s run was a special one too. My team first met up and then we jogged down to Love Park to meet up with all the other teams in the city. Then we all headed toward the Art Museum and ran up the Rocky steps. When I got to the top, I turned around and was greeted by this view:

Just this view alone made this morning so worth it and I am so glad to have joined this awesome organization and meet so many people passionate about running and social issues.

Tall Heights + Darlingside: the Most Beautiful Night

Last night, I went to see a show by Tall Heights and Darlingside at World Cafe Live. By then, I’m pretty sure my friends were sick of hearing about how excited I was. It was my first time at the venue so I was unfamiliar with its layout. We had made a reservation for a table and the waitress sat us about two tables away from the stage. And since we got there with plenty of time before the show, we had time to slowly browse through the menu, order food and drinks, while Tall Heights set up on stage. The last time I saw them was in a crowded club-type venue in DC so I really appreciated the closeness and intimacy this time.

Throughout Tall Heights’ set, they played mostly new songs and a few old ones. There are no words to describe how beautiful and magical their performance was. Their voices and the sound of their instruments just balanced each other so well. They were also so witty, intelligent, and charming. It was the perfect set.

Next, Darlingside took the stage. They were also wonderful and enriched their set with hilarious stories of being on the road.

After the show, I got a chance to chat with Paul of Tall Heights. He was so nice and laidback. I will definitely be attending more shows at World Cafe Live as this small and casual space offered the perfect setting to interact with the musicians.

It’s really hard to describe just how perfect last night was, so you’ll just have to go check out their music!

Getting Back on My Feet – Goals for Spring

Recently, I started running again after a LONG hiatus. In high school, I was on the cross country and track teams and used to run almost every day. In college, while I couldn’t run as much as I used to, I still ran pretty regularly and ran a couple of 5K races each year. For some reason though, my post-grad life had put a complete halt in my running. I had a lot of excuses — travel, long working days, general laziness, other distractions — you get the point.

Anyways, a few weeks ago came across an nonprofit organization called Back on My Feet. This organization organizes runs for people experiencing homelessness and uses running as a tool to empower and create change that leads to employment opportunities for the homeless population. Fascinated by its unique concept, I decided to join as a volunteer and subsequently made a decision that I am going to bring running back into my life.

So yesterday, I work up at 4:50 am to meet up with my team for a 5:30 am run. The group consisted of mainly residents who are now living in shelters and are on the road to self-sufficiency, and a few non-resident volunteers like me. After a round of bear-hug introductions, stretching, and serenity prayer, we set out for our 2-mile run. (Some people chose to do the 4-mile route, but I decided it was too early for that). The goal here is not to break your personal PR or to be the first one to finish, but to finish thereby accomplishing the goal that you set for yourself that morning. I ended up walking most of the way with one of the residents who was telling me about how excited he was to finally have a job and that he is planning on getting a place of his own and get a cat. Back on My Feet’s philosophy truly works and it is stories like these that will motivate me to come out to these early morning runs.

To keep in the theme of goal-setting, here are some of my running-related goals for the Spring.

1. Get my butt up for Back on My Feet runs twice a week (the teams meet Monday, Wednesday, and Friday every week at 5:30 am, rain or shine)

2. Run at least 4 times a week

3. Do the Ben Franklin Bridge Run

4. Run along the Schuylkill River

5. Run the Philadelphia Museum of Art Rocky Steps

6. Be able to run a 5-miler by the end of April (since I’m still slowly building back up my endurance)

7. Run a race, any race