A Smile’s Value


It was pouring rain outside, as should be expected. May through June were the monsoon months in Nanjing, and the days alternated between being hot and sticky or torrentially down-pouring. Outside, beyond these monsoon winds and rain, a family friend of my brothers was waiting to treat us all to dinner (again!). The plan was for my mother, sister-in-law, Meng, baby nephew, Adam, and myself to meet at the restaurant at seven, while my brother would join us after he finished work at 7:30.

non-verbal communication
 This picture is a few years old, but it’s just as good.

It would be terrible to take the baby out in this rain, we all decided; however, it was already too late to cancel dinner and my mother and myself could not find the restaurant ourselves. Meng asked the grandmother of one of my brother’s students – who was waiting in the apartment living room until her grandson’s class ended – if she could guide us to the restaurant. Not knowing a word of English, she happily agreed to take my mother and myself – who in turn knew no Chinese – out in the rain. Why wouldn’t she? She had spent the last hour sitting with my mom, laughing and gesturing, not understanding a word the other said.

Two days later, my brother’s upstairs neighbor and her granddaughter – Spring – came to the apartment for a quick visit. Although Spring was only four, and again knew no English except “hello” and “bye bye!” we managed to have a wonderful time coloring on my brother’s white board.

Three days later, we all went out to dinner with Meng’s parents. Again, they knew no English; however, the mother-in-law could not have been happier to see my mom. The two hugged, smiled, laughed, and held hands throughout the meal. They would try to speak to each other, failing, and would then in turn laugh and gesture,

non-verbal communication

They say upwards of 70% of communication is non-verbal. At first I always shrugged off these claims – not realizing that that motion, itself, lent credence to the statistic – not truly believing them, or imagining that the percentage must be highly inflated. After all, 81.5% of statistics are made up on the spot.These experiences in China highlighted everything for me. Suddenly it all clicked, and I really understood a smile’s value. No matter where you go, at least in my experience, smiling is a universal feature. It’s just always warm, and happy, and above all communicable. I suppose that is a major reason why – on those days you feel storm clouds rolling in – a smile, even if just from a stranger in passing, can be so strong.

A smile’s value is infinitely more than I gave it credit for, because, after all, it is more than just a facial expression; it seems to say to everyone around you – consciously or not – “things are good, and you are part of it.”

That is, unless the person stops smiling when they see you…


Three Americans Get Into a Rickshaw


So, these three Americans get into a rickshaw, right? Doesn’t it sound like the beginning of some bad joke?

Well, after the dinner that we had with Mrs. Wang we were in a rush to return to my brother’s apartment to help take care of the new baby – who knew that it took two people to wash a baby comfortably? Not I…

Unfortunately, hailing a cab on a Friday night in Nanjing is torturous, and we had no success. At least, that is, until a motorized rickshaw drove by. Not wanting to miss this chance, my brother, my mother and myself all pilled into the back seat as best we could. I’m glad we did! The video I managed to take gives a decent – though a tad shaky – view of what downtown Nanjing is like at night.

Fine Chinese Dining


[imagebrowser id=2]

“Are you excited to be returning home?” I asked the man sitting next to me on my flight to China. He was a recent college graduate – my age – and we had struck up a friendly conversation during the take off of the plane.

“Very,” he said. “This is the first time in two years I’m going home. I can’t wait for the food. In my hometown, people know how to eat – not like in America. In America, people eat very fast and can barely enjoy it. In China, my father takes a few hours to eat dinner and enjoys every part of the fine Chinese dining.”

“Americans eat just to eat,” I agreed, thinking of all the times I rushed through a meal to get to class, or work, or a movie on time.

“You’ll see. In China, you will eat very well.” He had no idea how correct he would be.

I can safely say that the majority of my time in the Middle Kingdom was spent gorging myself on some delicacy at some banquet my brother’s friends, colleagues or clients were treating us to.

On my second night in Nanjing, an old professor – Mrs. Wang – of my brother from Nanjing University took us all out to a fancy and delicious Cantonese style dinner. In general, Cantonese food tends to be sweet and savory, compared to the saltier styles of cooking in Northern China. Whereas this meal may have lasted an hour or so in America, in China it carried on at its own leisurely pace. In waves all small the dishes were brought replacing ones that had been finished earlier.

Eventually a local Chinese wine was ordered to, to help supplement the tea, and then desert was added to the mix. Interestingly, desert in China does not seem to be served after the rest of the meal is finished – rather, the dishes can be served at whatever time they are ready. So, we continued to gorge on an assortment of fried pumpkin bread rolls, danta (egg custard tarts), as well as finishing up the sweetly roasted pork and the enoki mushrooms and beef.

In all the meal took about two and a half hours to complete. With a mixture of jet lag, wine, and a slight food coma setting in I felt perfectly content. Conversation picked up again, until my brother realized the time and had to end the meal so we could get back to his apartment to help his wife give his son a bath. We said our goodbyes and thanks to Mrs. Wang and headed out.

On the way back to the apartment, after we had parted from Mrs. Wang Laotzu, my brother comically noted how it was Chinese custom to order more food than your guests could possibly eat. Unfortunately, Mrs. Wang severely underestimated how much we could tuck away.

There was nothing left.

Note: I just wanted to mention how cool the enoki mushrooms and beef were cooked. The food was brought out, wrapped in silver foil. It was then placed in a bowl of baijio – Chinese hard alcohol – which was set alight. A waitress then moved the silver foil bundle around, ensuring that the contents inside were cooked thoroughly.

Back to Nanjing!


Tomorrow morning I’m heading back to Nanjing, China to visit my brother, my sister-in-law, and my brand new – and first ever – nephew!

gone traveling

This will be the fourth time I have gone over to Nanjing to visit my brother, and unfortunately, this is also going to be my shortest visit; however, this is also the first time I’m seeing my nephew! Hopefully I’ll manage to take some real quality pictures and share my experience with all of you!

Back to Nanjing

Back to Nanjing

As of right now, I’m just struggling with the decision of whether it is worth staying up for the five remaining hours until I need to wake up and head off to the airport – I am dreading this upcoming 15 hour flight. Oh well! Ideally I’ll end up being so delirious from exhaustion that I’ll just manage to sleep the entire plane ride… the fact that I already feel the delirium creeping in is not a good sign.

Those were some stereotypical pictures of China I took the last few times I was there, that I think I am legally obligated to post. Likewise, here is a generic Chinese gem of wisdom, from Lao-tzu: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” He must be onto something – just look at how big he is!


I should definitely get some sleep…


Versatile Blogger Award


Versatile Blogger Award

Many thanks to Letizia, from reading interrupted, for nominating me for a Versatile Blogger Award! Her blog is a wonderful assortment of all things literary – from sharing her favorite poems to mulling over the phrase “dog eared.” I love it!

As part of having won this award, you are meant to pay it forward by highlighting 15 other bloggers who have intriguing/interesting/innovating/mind bending blogs. So, without further ado, here as some of my favorite bloggers (in random order) who deserve some recognition!

  1. Reading Interrupted – is it in bad taste to renominate? Oh well…
  2. Feel Happiness – a great blog that looks into what it means to be happy, and how best to achieve this elusive goal
  3. Jennifhsieh – a personal life and style blog
  4. The Professional Hobo – an amazing blog about how to travel for, well, life
  5. 1,000 Awesome Things – an old, big, blog about life’s amazing joys
  6. Mondo Musings – this is what I aim for BendedBrains to be like
  7. Marviiilous – beautiful pictures
  8. Music That’s Nu2Me – constantly updated music blog with tons of great finds
  9. Urban Bamboo – more wonderment and awesomeness
  10. The “Why?” Blog – lots of philosophical questions you’d never think to ask
  11. Philosophy Bro – philosophy made simple, eloquent, and entertaining
  12. Bros Like This Site – a breakdown of bro culture, by the numbers
  13. Poetic Parfait – wonderful poetry
  14. Completely Overrated – a great movie and media review blog
  15. Hyperbole And a Half – absolute hilarity. Always.

Apparently to accept this award, I also have to share seven intriguing facts about myself. Here goes nothing:

  1. I can speak Turkish conversationally, although I am always embarrassed. Hopefully I’ll overcome this when I move to Turkey in September.
  2. I have an irrational desire to be addicted to something. It seems nice to have to have a crutch.
  3. I’m actually finding this much harder than I anticipated.
  4. I’ve watched the original five seasons of Futurama way more than is good for me. I can quote the majority of every episode.
  5. Spiders terrify me, but I get a weird satisfaction from looking at pictures of them online.
  6. For some reason, Top 40 music always sounds really depressing to me.
  7. My childhood officially ended for me when I found my long lost collection of Star Wars action figures – deep in my basement, covered in grime and detritus – and I had to throw them all out.

Extreme Vengeance – An Oldboy Review

Oldboy Review
Image from thefilmist.wordpress.com

Conventional knowledge holds that “revenge is a dish best served cold.” Why this is true is never fully explained, and I’m not sure if I agree with the thought. What’s the rational? Is revenge best cold due to the fact that the perpetrator of said revenge has ample opportunity to obsess over the harm done to them, while slowly nursing their wounds? Is it the idea that if you delay vengeance, the pain slowly becomes a part of you making it that much more cathartic when you do finally manage to serve your dish – so to speak.

These explanations seem to come up short for me. For instance, if you spend your life raising the idea of exacting revenge, what do you do when you finally achieve your goal? Who do you become after everything is accomplished? What is Inigo Montoya’s purpose in life after he screams “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die!” one last time before vanquishing the six fingered man?

Oldboy Review
Photo credit at remycarreiro.com

These are the types of questions that keep me up. I would feel worried asking myself this, except for the fact that everything I have asked has been explored in unparalleled strokes of cold artisitic genius by Park Chan-wook in his masterpiece of a film, Oldboy. The film follows the exploits of Oh Dae-Su, a man imprisoned for fifteen years without explanation and then suddenly released, and his quest for understanding and revenge.

Trying to write an accurate Oldboy review without ruining any of the suspense or turns the movie takes is a difficult task. It is surely a movie about revenge, as is evident from the fact that the movie is the second installment in the thematically linked Vengeance Trilogy; however, whose revenge we are watching unfurl, and why anything happens the way it does, is not always completely apparent. In keeping with this ambiguity, the film is extremely graphic.

Usually I am able to watch films without flinching – not so for Oldboy. There were several times throughout the film – and still, now, after having seen it untold times – in which I will squirm. What separates this movie from common pulp is that none of the violence is gratuitous. Everything you see, although you will earnestly wish it never flashed before your eyes, has value. It demonstrates the extremes people will go to in the effort to correct wrongs they think have been done to them.

Oldboy Review
Photo credit from blog.thephoenix.com

Oldboy isn’t simply a gory movie focused around revenge. It is also a deep psychological study of how easy it is for people to lose sight of their own humanity if they are pushed far enough. Throughout the film, without spoiling anything, there is a strong motif of the battle between the inner monster lurking in all people and their desire to suppress it. By the end of this film, you will fully understand that struggle.

There are really no heroes or villains in this movie. By the time the credits roll, the only real emotion one could possible have for any of the character’s is sympathy. They were all so wrapped up in their own destruction, that it became impossible for them to escape.Rating: Extremely worthwhile. Watch it on the first chance you get. Be warned, though, this movie is not for the weak stomached.

Favorite quotation out of context: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.”

Subscription Error


Hey All!

Just a quick announcement – for anyone who tried to subscribe to my blog through the “Follow” button on the bottom right of the screen, unfortunately your request did not go through. The plugin was buggy and didn’t work; however, have no fear! You can still subcribe to all my juicy posts via the “Subscribe” option in the right hand column.

That plugin is 100% BendedBrains tested and certified to work.

Thanks for following along!


A Moralistic Gold Standard

moralistic gold standard
Photo credit at contemporarycondition.blogspot.com

Our drive down to Bonnaroo was divided into multiple stops, the first of which was Pittsburg, PA. Each part of the drive was punctuated by listening to new music, epic sax man on loop, or various types of scintillating conversation. For this leg of the journey in particular, I ended up talking about morality and the possible existence of a moralistic gold standard with my friends Tim and Mike – Mike, by the way, also has a wonderful blog worth checking out.

Morality is always a difficult concept to discuss, since everyone automatically has a different reference point. Tim, for example, pointed to the fact that he believed strongly in a Nietzschean style of morality – essentially, there are no such universal truths such as good or bad. What really only exists is the overall pursuit of a personal happiness and meaning. Of course a vast number of people would take issue with this, and I am not entirely sure if even Tim would stick to this moralistic standard for the rest of his life; this realization lead the three of us to an interesting conversation.

People’s morality change over time, as they are exposed to new ideas and new experiences. I doubt anyone reading this views morality in the same way now than they did even a year ago. The mind constantly adapts to new experiences – to compensate for this, so too must our way of dealing with the world. This constant change and flux can lead to stressful

moralistic gold standard
Photo credit at sophlylaughing.blogspot.com

situations for individuals. For example, if someone has a strict moral code and is unable to live up to it they may experience some painful cognitive dissonance – a feeling of psychological discomfort which occurs when someone’s actions don’t live up to their world view.

It is for this reason that I believe it would be best if people, instead of dealing in absolutes, chose to live their lives according to a moralistic gold standard. No matter what your moral code may be, you will always be put in situations that make it near impossible to live in complete compliance with your own standards. To compensate for this, people should instead realize that the world does not work in absolutes but in degrees.

Essentially, instead of having an uncompromising ethical standard for yourself set yourself a gold standard to shoot for, knowing full well that you may fail to live up to these goals. That’s fine! It is the aiming for perfection is what truly matters, not the actual achievement.

Morality should never be uncompromising – no matter which code of ethics you subscribe to. At the same time as having a moralistic gold standard, allow yourself to live with an open mind. You should be confident that your morality is correct and best fits you, but you should never shut yourself off from debate and new ideas.

Through discussion, who knows what new things you may learn? Not all ideas are inherently inimical to various belief systems, and with an open mind you may be able to combine various disparate standards into a more all-encompassing whole.


The Car Link


My road trip down to Bonnaroo (detailed in depth here) taught me a lot of things – music festivals can be fun no matter what, sushi is delicious everywhere, and the North East is by one of the unfriendliest places I have ever been. Specifically, one thing I really got out of my trip, perhaps sadly, is how useful it would be to have someone invent a car link. We drove down in two cars, and being able to stay in site of each other – while not vital – was always preferred.

Car Link
 Photo Credit at 99traveltips.com

For those who have never driven in tandem – either leading another car, or worse, following someone else – driving can be a somewhat harrowing experience if you are in a high traffic area and only one car knows where it is really going. Luckily, during our trip, we never really had any problems beyond having to cut off a car every now and then to maintain site of the lead (we were almost always in back).

Of course, constantly having to weave in and out of traffic to maintain visual contact with the car you are following poses inherent risks. What happens if you cut off a car that can’t stop in time? What happens if you need to speed to catch up with the people you’re following? It would just be inherently easier if you could signal to other cars on the road that the two cars are somehow linked.

Of course, this car link can’t be anything physical, otherwise you would be adding all sorts of dangers to the road. Instead, the link should just be something visible that signals to other cars that you are driving in tandem – sort of like a reminder. Perhaps the best way to do this would be through some sort of light.

Just as cars signal (hopefully) when they turn or change lanes, so too should there be some sort of signal to indicate you are following someone else. I am not a scientist or an engineer, so I can not really come up with the specifics of what it would be like, but I imagine it would be some sort of light link between the two cars… although, having written this, I think I might have been watching too much Sci-fi recently.

car link

Ideally, this connection would exist (without the fear of blinding other drivers). There should probably be some sort of security feature, too, to stop someone from randomly being able to start following someone else – we have enough stalking through Facebook, already. I guess to prevent this, then, cars could have some sort of onboard computer that would have to accept each car link request.

I don’t know how doable this is, but it could be a nice feature to reduce some driving stress.

14 Quick Lessons from Bonnaroo


For the past two weeks I have been road tripping from my home in New Jersey t0 Chicago, then to Bonnaroo in Tennessee with some great friends. Although I am not yet back from my epic Bonnaroo road trip, I feel the need to write this post before some of the Bonnaroo lessons I learned completely vanish. Not all of these lessons are completely related to Bonnaroo, and they aren’t in any particular order, but here they are none-the-less (this will be in no way an exhaustive list)!


  1. My first stop on the way to Bonnaroo was Pittsburg, PA. I was partially amazed by how beautiful PittsburgBeautiful Pittsburgwas…what really surprised me, however, was that according to a waiter we had (before he began to make fun of us for our lack of geography knowledge) the city considered itself part of the Mid-West.
  2. The North East is extremely unfriendly compared to the rest of the country – amazingly so. I’ve always considered myself a friendly person, if a little reticent about being outgoing, but no matter how friendly I may be it can’t compete with Mid-Western or Southern hospitality. Seriously, those people are so friendly it put me slightly on edge…
  3. Having said number 2, I have never felt more welcomed anywhere – in a general sense – than I did at Bonnaroo. Although the festival has 80,000+ people attending, most likely all for very different goals, everyone was unified in the ideal of being friendly and welcoming. It didn’t matter if you were volunteering or just there for a get-away, or if you’re a hardcore Phish-head; no, the only thing that mattered was your general disposition. Simply put, the number of Bonnaroovians I saw – and experienced – carrying around super soakers in the middle of the day to help cool people off was astounding… and fully appreciated.
  4. Going along with this, water is awesome. I generally only drink water throughout the day anyway, but I never realized how great it was until I was in the middle of Tennessee at 2pm.
  5. Technology is overrated. Seriously. The four days at Bonnaroo when I had nothing to worry about – no working phone or computer or e-mail – were some of the least stressful and enjoyable of my life. If it wasn’t for this blog I might become a Luddite.
  6. Always make sure to prepare! Prior to Bonnaroo I did very little research of my own about what to experience, and instead relied on a friend to advise us about what to buy…luckily, he knew what he was talking about! We almost didn’t bother buying a canopy before we arrived, which would have been a huge mistake. Shade quickly became my best friend.
  7. It always pays to try something new and look from a fresh perspective. In general, I can be a semi to complete germaphobe, not to mention being freaked out by insects and spiders. Not anymore! I got real dirty at Bonnaroo, as did everyone else – it’s inescapable. You know what, though? I’m completely fine. I was stained by dirt and dust, Bonnaroo Gateand survived; I had insects crawling all over me and slept in a flooded tent one night and survived. Hell, I thrived. I now know that, although I generally prefer a life of comfort, I can put up with using port-a-potties for four days and be fine with it. This might be one of the most important lessons for me since, in two months, I am heading out to Eastern Turkey for nine months and I have no idea what my living situations will be like; however, I am sure I will manage to thrive there too.
  8. There is a real, intrinsic, desire in people to see the things they love succeed. Radiohead may be my favorite band – and the band I was most excited to see at Bonnaroo – but Phantogram was by far the most emotional show for me. I first saw them perform at Rutgers over two years ago, where they played to maybe around 200 people. Seeing them now at Bonnaroo, performing for thousands, was a truly wonderful thing to see.
  9. Completely unrelated to anything else, but Indianapolis has surprisingly good hipster-Cajun food.
  10. If you’re ever in Nashville, make sure to go to Sam’s Sushi Bar. Although he flipped me off when we first came in – he notoriously hates new customers and large parties, both categories we unfortunately fit into – he slowly warmed up to us and decided to serve us. The food was amazing, and came in huge portions. Sam was also incredibly friendly once he realized we had no evil ulterior motives…or something… He also gave us the valuable life lesson of not starting bar brawls in Nashville since, apparently, everyone carries guns with them.
  11. It is always worth it to pay it forward. By making sure you help others when you are capable, you create good feelings which well may work it’s way back to you. If not, at least you help to increase everyone’s net happiness.
  12. Radiohead continues to put on the best light shows I have ever seen.
  13. Beef jerky is the food of the gods and should be treated as such. It is also great for camping, where it will give you plenty of energy and will not go bad.
  14. Festivals are a great experience, and I thoroughly encourage everyone to go to at least one. Seeing so many disparate people managing to work together to create something amazing – basically a wonderland – is inspiring and gives me plenty of hope for the future.
There are probably a lot more Bonnaroo lessons I’ve learned, experiences I’ve gained or stories I have to share. Unfortunately, I can’t really think of anything else right now – and this list is pretty large as it is. Although reading this might not be worthwhile, Bonnaroo itself absolutely was.
Bonnaroo Lessons

Last Life in the Universe


In September I am heading to Turkey to teach English for nine months. Before then, my girlfriend – Jen – and I have been trying to get through a huge, and growing, bucket list of activities we have. The activities range from the mundane – getting lahmacun, a type of Turkish food – to the intense – visiting Australia. Yesterday, we managed to watch a movie on our list, Last Life in the Universe.

Last Life in the Universe

I have been told multiple times that the best stories are always those that, although not necessarily the most engaging at the moment, can be dwelled while always providing new insights. I do not want to make a blanket generalization, but I feel as if this type of cinema is extremely common in Asia. My favorite film Oldboy, for example, is Korean; I have stayed up to dawn multiple nights after seeing that movie with friends discussing all of it’s intricacies.

Although Last Life in the Universe was not immediately engaging, and indeed did drag a little at times, I can not stop thinking about its overall message. The movie centers around Kenji, a Japanese ex-pat living in Bangkok, who is half-heartedly suicidal and Noi, a Thai woman who witnesses her sister die. The two characters eventually become involved, and the movie follows the development of Kenji’s emotional condition.

The way the relationship develops and is portrayed is beautiful and artistic; however, that is not the element of the movie that really captured my interest. Instead, what I fell in love with was Kenji’s tired suicide attempts. It is established in the first scene of the movie that Kenji is not truly suicidal, but instead just tired of the annoyances of the modern world. With this in mind, the suicide attempts reminded me of the French saying l’appel du vide, which translates as ‘the call of the void.’

L’appel du vide corresponds to those feelings that, I hope I’m not alone in saying, we all experience when looking from a great height or being on a bridge. It is the subtle feeling of being interested in jumping – not because we are upset, but rather because it is the unconscious longing to see what would happen. Kenji embodies this perfectly. He is alone and out of place in Bangkok, and as such, is drawn to the ideas of the sharp contrast that suicide provides.

The movie is much more than just this, and a sharp line of dark subtle humor manages to run throughout, while simultaneously being played off with much more light-hearted elements. Overall, Last Life in the Universe is beautiful and is continuing to reverberate through my mind over a day later. This movie, I say, is worthwhile.

The World’s Size


It’s funny how the world’s size changes so easily. I assume most people will agree with the general sentiment that, when young, the distance from their house to the end of the block seemed like miles – not that they probably had a good idea of how far a mile actually was. I remember once in my 3rd grade class our teacher was teaching us about distances. When we learnt how many feet were in a mile, a friend of mine was amazed and exclaimed “has anyone ever walked that far!?”

World's Size

Yesterday I was driving from from New Brunswick to Summit (both in New Jersey) with my girlfriend following me in her car. As I drove through the Watchung Reservation I was amazed at the ease of which I could pull off this drive; I was impressed with my own knowledge of how to best navigate through central NJ. Suddenly, the world’s size seemed much smaller than before.

When I was younger, my dad was always amazed at how badly I seemed to know my way around – though, to be fair, it was probably due to the fact that I hadn’t started driving yet. Slowly, as I grew older the world’s size – the distance separating everything – continuously shrank and shrank. No longer was my block miles long; instead, it had become the shortest part of my walk into the center of town 2 miles away. A walk I could do easily.
After I graduated high school, I moved to New Brunswick to study at Rutgers. Again, the city seemed dauntingly large. The first time I left campus to get hot chocolate with some friends on the main off-campus drag, I was nervous about being so far from my dorm. Then, as time progressed, I learned that this main drag was one of the best places to be – I ended up living there. New Brunswick became smaller, the distance between my parent’s houses and my own college house shrank, and the size of the world was realigned.
Now, after having graduated from Rutgers, the world’s size is again shrinking. Suddenly, the majority of my friends are no longer centrally located in, or around, New Brunswick. Instead my girlfriend lives 30 minutes west from me, my old roommate lives 3o minutes north, and one of my other best friends is 30 minutes south. Needless to say, I’m going to be getting to know the roads of New Jersey much better.

It’s just interesting – for me, at least – to see how relative size and distance really are. It’s enjoyable to now be able to think how best to travel around, how my world has expanded, and will continue to expand. As the size of the world shrinks, my perception of the world continues to grow.

Mental maps are pretty cool, on a related note.

[media-credit name=”http://www.loosetooth.com/Viscom/gf/mental_map.gif” align=”alignleft” width=”247″][/media-credit]

I never said this was worthwhile

%d bloggers like this: