Every sunday night my Twitter timeline and Facebook home page used to be filled with statuses and tweets about Breaking Bad. People would often post about their amazement at an episode’s ending, their emotional distress, and anticipation of future events. Truth be told, I didn’t care much initially. Considering how little Television I’ve watched for years, it wasn’t a big shock that I wasn’t aware of the big fuss. About a month ago, a few days after series’ finale, the temptation to check the show out finally beat me, and with Netflix being ever present, I was set. Fast forward a month, and I couldn’t be happier with the decision I made.

I don’t want to go into details of the show, but rather Breaking Bad itself. It was an absolute roller coaster. Its unpredictability and well-thought out pace throughout was pure joy. It had you on the edge of your seat in some scenes, only to provide a much needed comic relief a few minutes after. I loved and hated most characters on the Series. For me, if you love and hate something/someone, it means you actually love them. I think the more you love someone, the more you dislike them when they anger you. Throughout the movie, I found myself rooting for different characters at different times. It was near impossible to maintain some consistency. Even the bad guys mostly had something extremely likeable about them. Take Gus for example. A ruthless drug kingpin, who at the same time is the most professional and polite character in the entire series. It’s utterly brilliant, how can one not love Gus Fring ?!

Breaking bad had everything. Each character was required to provide a new dimension to the puzzle to make it all work and I think Vince Gilligan got the balance spot on. Whenever the show was getting too dark and dramatic, there was always Skinny Pete and Badger to bring the tempo down. If not them, Saul Goodman would step up. The show had pure crime and blood provided by ruthlessness of Salamanca family and Neo-Nazis. Intelligent crime management and authority by Gus and later Walt. Pragmatism and hypocrisy by Skyler and emotional drama mostly suffered by Jesse (You may consider checking a doctor out to ensure if you’re a human being, if you weren’t cheering for Jesse in the very last episode). Every once in a while, we got reminded of Jesse’s emotional turbulence and deep love for children as first demonstrated in season 2 episode “Peekaboo”. The character development was what made Breaking Bad great. You compare Jesse and Walt we knew in the pilot, to the ones we saw in “Felina” and the transition has been nothing short of spectacular.

I personally love it when an ending leaves the audience to answer some questions for themselves. I think Breaking Bad does that. Yes, we know Walt dies, but no one can certainly answer the million dollar question which is: “Is Walter White the winner/loser in the end?” There are plenty of arguments for both parties, but I believe Walt wins. His self-actualization is what makes him the winner. He realized his dream of being respected and admired. Something the Walter White we knew in the pilot was severely missing. Walt wanted legacy and recognition for his brilliant mind and expertise.  He gets those. He ensures his legendary blue meth dies with him, while he financially secures his family using Gretchen and Elliot (threatened by two and the best hit men in West Mississippi- Badger and Skinny Pete- perhaps one of my favourite scenes of season 5) . Walt takes revenge from everyone who took advantage of him at some point, be it the society, Neo-Nazis, and himself. He dies at a meth lab, where he feels most alive. In his mind, he has no unfinished business left and that’s why I believe it’s a happy ending for Heisenberg. A bit controversial after all the terrible things his loved ones have gone or will go through, isn’t it?!

Breaking Bad will go down as one of the best TV series ever produced and rightly so. If you’re feeling special and hipster by not watching it, then I suggest you change your mind. I certainly don’t regret it myself. There is plenty of stuff to look forward to. You’ll shout, laugh, and cry on this memorable journey. In case you found yourself wanting more or needing help, don’t hesitate and ……CALL SAUL !

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Every four years, a spectacular occasion takes place that captures the attention of the entire world. It generates interest from all over the world, from all genders and age groups. People follow it very closely even if their country is not a participant. It simply has an irresistible universal appeal. Yes, I am talking about FIFA World Cup.

Last tuesday saw plenty of countries book their flights to Brazil. It was quite a ride. History was created, celebrations followed, drama was ever present, hearts were broken, and tears were shed. Bosnia finally edged over the line and qualified for their first ever World Cup. This achievement was hailed as one of the most important accomplishments in the Bosnian history. Sarajevo was going wild as people partied until early morning to greet their national heroes at the airport. It’s fair to assume the bar and club owners generated an all-time high midweek revenue. Iceland, isolated near the north pole, mostly known for its volcanoes and snow also created history by qualifying for their first ever play-offs. They are now 2 games away from the big stage. It’s an incredible achievement for a country with population a little above 300,000, especially if you consider how hard it is to play football there for half a year. Over 1% of the entire Icelandic population traveled to Oslo to witness history being created. Outstanding, isn’t it?

 

The biggest drama of the night, however, came from Central America. Mexico were seconds away from shock elimination whereas Panamanians were getting ready for a nation-wide party. Mexico’s only hope was a big favour from their eternal rivals, the United States who, on paper, didn’t have any motivation or interest in spoiling the Panamanian party. The reality proved otherwise though. United States equalized with seconds to go and it kept Mexico alive. Some would argue, this is probably the biggest gift the US has given Mexico since NAFTA. Panama were left heartbroken and in disbelief. Football is a cruel game and you wouldn’t see a better example of its cruelty in the near future. It’s rare to be angry at your country for scoring two goals in stoppage time in order to win a World Cup qualifier away from home, but there were plenty of Americans upset with what went on in those couple of minutes. Will Mexico return the favour one day? Time will tell.

Often international football is condemned by some fans of the beautiful game. Some dislike internationals as they see it as an excuse to practice nationalism and pour money into greedy pockets of FIFA. I, however, disagree. In the end the drama and emotions created by international football surpasses anything and that’s why we love the sport after all. The events and consequences of an important international game goes beyond football. It involves absolutely everyone, including people who don’t even follow the games. There is a group of people who every four years become football experts during the World Cup, despite not following the sport at all between those periods. There is a reason behind this. Everyone wants to be associated with this phenomenal event at some capacity. The World Cup hype is truly on its way and there is no stopping it. Countdown for the much anticipated draw on December 6th has begun and it remains to be seen whether we will see a another debutant other than Bosnia. In any case, it is bound to be exciting. There is a reason that almost half the world’s population watched the last final live. You read it correctly. Half the entire world !

Person X: “ Hey, where are you from?”

Person Y: “ American. I am from the US”

Person X: “ Hmm, No offense, but are you sure? You don’t look American.”

Person Y: “I was born and raised in Colorado. I have been contributing to the American society for decades. I’ve represented United States in many international conferences, and yet you proceed to question my answer because I happen to have small eyes and yellow skin? Unbelievable!”

Situations like the one demonstrated above happens quite often. It is exactly why “Where are you from?” is one of the most controversial questions out there. There is no set criteria for a universally accepted correct answer. It creates a battle between a person’s genes and blood ties against the environment and culture in which he has been raised. Think of a person who is born of Chinese parents in Stockholm, has gone to school in Sweden all her life, and has Swedish friends in and around her all the time. What would her answer to the infamous question of “Where are you from?” be. It has always bemused me. Individuals are usually judged, rightly or wrongly, based on their looks and behaviour. Behaviour is the work of culture and the environment one has lived in for majority of his life. Genes ultimately decide a person’s looks, but some argue one’s parental cultural influence still outweighs the influence of his living conditions. This has been going back and forth for a while now. Who is right ?

In some cases, these situations create mass controversies if the person in question is some sort of an athlete or celebrity. Speaking of sports, In the past few days there has been a lot of talk about the future of Manchester United midfielder, Adnan Januzaj. Based on FIFA rules he qualifies to play for the national team of a host of countries including Belgium, Albania, Serbia, and Turkey. In 2 years, he will be eligible to play for England national team as well. It is ridiculous. I’d love to know how Adnan will fare when asked where he is from. In my opinion, one should be qualified to play for the national team of countries in which he has either been born and raised or those which his parents are from. That’s why I find the concept of neutralization completely wrong. It’s as bad as the conversation in the very first paragraph of this article, just the opposite extreme.

Now that both extremes have been discussed, it’s time to come to a conclusion. If an individual is born and raised in a country, which differs from those of his parents’, then he is from that nation. Culture and environment beat the genes. One of my very best friends is from Korean parents, but born and raised in Canada. If you sit down and chat with him for an hour, he is a lot more Canadian than Korean. Of course the way parents raise their kid in a foreign nation makes a difference, but the influence of external factors are greater in my opinion. It is more of a telling factor to determine the national identity of someone.

Despite all the above, I absolutely despise “Where are you from?” It’s boring and unimaginative. It is too limited. My least favourite answer to that question is by those who make their nationality into fractions and end up with tens of nations. Give me a break! If I had to come up with a better question which might achieve the same aim, I’d opt for  “Tell me your story!” ; Now, This one is great. Open-ended question that leaves all the options in the world to the answerer. No reason to complain here, eh ?!

Everyone has a list of “must see” places which they’d like to visit in their lifetime. It’s fair to assume that most lists include likes of Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, St Petersburg, and of course New York City. I had never had the chance to visit New York before, but things changed last week. The opportunity finally arrived and the timing could not have been more special. It was a very long journey, but well worth it as I consider New York, the Capital of the world.

New York is a special city; always busy and under the spotlight. It’s even more in the headlines every September when the leaders of all nations around the world come together for United Nation’s annual assembly. The security check at the American border is usually very strict. It’s even more strict when you intend to go to New York as the UN assembly is taking place. After all, they must make sure likes of president Obama, Rouhani and Netanyahu can deliver their speeches in peace. Upon entering the American soil, the entire structure of the roads change. Gas prices get cheaper and cheaper as one gets further away from Canada, whereas the number of paying tolls for literally every single road, tunnel or bridge increases. To put in context, it costs more to cross the bridge that connects Manhattan to Queens (Approximately 1 mile) than to book a flight from Warsaw to Stockholm through WizzAir.

In the past, I had heard a lot of people likening Toronto to New York, branding it as “a smaller version of New York”. I was never in a position to judge this notion, as I hadn’t been to New York, but now I can confidently say it’s far from truth. The only obvious thing both cities have in common is their multicultural nature. New York is galaxies ahead of Toronto when it comes to intensity and liveliness. Dressing style, work trends, and entertainment habits also differ greatly in both cities. I wasn’t in New York long enough to judge the old saying of “the city that never sleeps”, but I can guarantee you that Toronto gets a good sleep most of the time. If I had to liken New York to another city I’ve been to, London would be my choice without doubt.

It’s impossible to mention New York and not immediately think about Manhattan. The sheer number of people, their intensity and their interactions with one another in Manhattan area is staggering. One can see people of many difference races and nationalities on the street, but the real Americans easily stand out. It’s pretty easy, at least for me, to spot an American from a crowd just by the way he stands or walks. One gets bombarded with flyers, business cards and brochures about city tours, musicals, and other night events. My personal favourite was a guy shouting: “Come on gentleman, ladies are waiting for you tonight. Dalce gentlemen club, you wouldn’t want to miss it”. Yes, indeed ladies are waiting; To laugh all the way to the bank. My favourite part of the city was the 5th avenue. Forget all the famous brand stores, and speciality shops for a second. What fascinated me the most was people’ outfits on 5th avenue. Most people looked as they were going to a wedding. Some of the dresses worn were vastly superior to anything I’ve ever watched on Fashion TV. I’m sure likes of Yvan Rodic would thrive in a place like that. As an individual who is highly critical of casual dressing in public, I certainly enjoyed what I witnessed on 5th avenue. There is a lot of life about Times Square after the sunset. It’s absolutely incredible. A sea of people sitting on table for a cup of coffee, relaxing after an anxious day of corporate life, interchanging opinions and observing others who are likely to be doing the exact same thing. It is an awesome sight, and one that I will miss most about New York City.

New York was always a mystery case for me. Being a hardcore Seinfeld fan, an enthusiastic reader of the New York Times, and a business student once interested in financial markets and wall street, New York really was a must visit on my list. It of course isn’t all rosy and nice, but the city is inspiring for the most part. It’s hard to imagine a boring day there as it’s extremely busy and tense. As Bob Dylan put it, New York is a city where you could be frozen to death in the midst of a busy street and nobody would notice. One would walk for hours without realizing the calories burnt along the way and it’d be a daily routine. No wonder the average Newyorker weigh less than the average American. It’s New York City after all. What’s not to love?!

Bookstores- Simply Heavenly

Posted: September 23, 2013 in Other

Everyone has their own few places which makes them feel home. They can spend hours there without being fazed by what’s happening around them. They feel comfortable and assured in those places. Some find this feeling in underground clubs, some in bubble tea shops, some in malls, and others in various other places. My personal favourite are the bookstores. It is truly a fascinating place with multiple dimensions to it and often I find myself wandering around for hours making some interesting observations. Bookstores are usually very organized, neat, and spacious. They smell good, contain a cafe inside, with some decent music playing. In short, the settings is nearly perfect for someone to step inside and last there for a few hours. It happens to me most of the time. Here I want to discuss a routine day at a bookstore and everything that comes with it.

There are some little things you always notice at a bookstore. The “Sexuality” section often produces quality entertainment. It’s rare to see someone spend more than five minutes  looking at the “Sexuality” section books, yet everyone likes to pass by it to get a peek at some of the titles. A couple of days ago, I came across an unexpected book in that section. I really didn’t expect a book to have been written on this particular subject. The title of the book was “The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex For Women”. Are there actual demand for these books? Can you imagine a girl buying it and enthusiastically read every chapter of it? You would have thought internet would have solved the need for such books by now. It was a quite thick. I’d love to know what’s written inside there.

There is always at least one person at the bookstore who has no clue what he wants. You keep bumping into them every half hour and they are holding a different book every time. First he’s reading “Dating for Dummies” , then you see him reading travel guidebook for Thailand, and finally he ends up leaving the bookstore with Stalin biography book. I believe I am guilty of this at times. Some of the options offered by the bookstore are simply too good to decline even if you initially had no intention to get involved with them. The Self-help section is another one to keep a close eye on. One of the strangest books I’ve seen in the self-help section is the “Dating Notebook”. The title got me curious and I decided to have a look. The book is aimed to help two people know each other better and is presented as a gift idea. In reality though, I doubt anyone over the age of 16 would benefit from it. It was incredibly cheesy and stupid. Imagine going up to a girl you’re meeting for the second time and asking her to fill a few pages on that notebook. It’s as she is doing a job application and you’re the HR manager determining whether she’s worth being asked out on a date or not.

I always wonder about the life of someone who works full time at a bookstore. The most intriguing question is of course how often they read. Often, when people have a unique privilege and opportunity they seem less enthusiastic to use it, because they take it for granted. I would have loved to work at a bookstore at some stage during my teen years. I believe you will get the chance to engage in quality conversations with some genuinely smart people. It’s an opportunity that is becoming more and more rare in North American society. Though not as bad as United States, I find the general knowledge of an average Canadian citizen thoroughly shocking. Spending a few hours a week at bookstores may change that. Bookstores are a lot more effective than libraries for me. Libraries are all over the place, over stacked, over crowded, and messy. I can’t stand them. As long as purchasing a book is not a requirement, I prefer the calmness and class offered by a bookstore over anything a public library offers.

Bookstores offer a very unique setting to their visitors. Unfortunately, bookstores may become history in the next few decades considering the e-book revolution. Bookstores bombard you with sources of information in various shapes and colours and they don’t ask for much in return. It puzzles me why people don’t go there more often. As Jerry Seinfeld pointed out, at the moment a bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking. Let’s appreciate them !

 

I often wonder how other people value life and what they want to accomplish in theirs. Every culture has its unique life routine, but it’s the details and what you do and learn between those routines that make everyone’s life different. Traveling, in my opinion, is one of the biggest game changers here. In this article, I want to share some of my observations regarding some people’s traveling habits in Canada.

Pictures below show resorts in Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Cancun. Almost identical, aren’t they?

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Every time I open Safari to surf the net, I get exposed to the 12 web pages which I visit most frequently. Unsurprisingly, Facebook is one of them. Upon entering my Facebook homepage I get exposed to all sorts of news and activities that my so called friends have been involved in. Photos, status updates, and check-ins usually give away the biggest news, including traveling. I know a large number of people travel to Caribbean 3 times a year, every single year. They’d go for Christmas, Spring break, and in the summer. To me, it’s baffling. It’s nice to get away from the corporate world and all the work stress and anxiety that comes with it to spend a week on the beach once in a while, but to allocate so much monetary resources every year without even considering the alternatives is madness. When you book a resort in Cuba, Cancun, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, and other places of this sort in the Caribbean, you are essentially going to the same place all the time even if the names of the countries are different. The main ingredients of the trip in all those cases are the beach, cheap rum, salty burgers, girls in bikinis, and open bars at the swimming pools. You meet more foreign tourists than locals, go to parties every night, and in most cases you have a lot fun. The trip, however, doesn’t have any long-term gains or take-aways for you.

I went to Cancun in 2011. I had a great time there for 7 days, but never since then I have craved that sort of atmosphere again. I think the point of traveling is to learn different life styles, behaviours, cultures, and routines. Going to resorts in Caribbean countries every few months doesn’t expose you to those things. It’s a waste of travel and resources in my opinion. I’d personally much prefer to spend my $1200 budget to go and visit Iceland for a week, as opposed to a comfortable party resort in Dominican Republic. You travel to see the unexpected. To explore and to be involved in adventurous situations and stories. To have something insightful to take-away and share with others. Learning a new culture is like learning a new way of life. It makes your world bigger and that’s the most important point of traveling. It’s a lot more interesting to hear about one’s adventures in Congo DR, Finland or North Korea as opposed to some beach in Cuba.

I’d rather be a traveler than a tourist. I’d rather challenge myself in an unfamiliar environment than go somewhere that’s designed to make me feel comfortable. In the words of Augustine of Hippo, the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. Personally, I prefer to read as many pages and chapters as possible and fully comprehend them, as opposed to reading the same god damn thing every time.

It was my 5th birthday. My mom presented me with a huge book full of maps. It was the world’s Atlas and it opened my eyes to other parts of the world. I fell in love with Europe immediately. It was awesome to see so many different nations in such a small continent. When I grew a little older, I become curious about 2 European regions. One was Scandinavia, and the other one was Eastern Europe. I always wanted to experience living in those regions, and was seeking any opportunity to make this dream come true. The Scandinavian dream came true last year  when I left Toronto to spend 5 months in Denmark for studying purposes. Next on the bucket list was “Eastern Europe”, and in the end of May I was given the nod for a summer job in a country that I used to rank as “Eastern European”; Poland. Poland has always been a curious case to me. Everything about Poland has always interested me, be it their history, geographical location, or people. Upon landing at Warsaw’s Chopin airport, I was out to discover and learn. I observed and learned for 2 months, and here I’ll share some of my most notable take-aways.

In the earlier paragraph I mentioned Eastern Europe. Most Poles are offended by that phrase. They don’t count themselves as Eastern Europeans. I got one Pole telling me these exact words: “Listen, look at the map and you’ll see that we are in Central Europe. Eastern Europe are places like Ukraine, Moldava or Romania.” Later I found out the reason they are hesitant to associate themselves with the East, is the throw-backs of communism. It appeared to me that they want to stay as far away as possible from those memories. Poles seek a unique identity for themselves. One that is well clear of Germany and Russia. “Central Europe” ticks most of the boxes in this case.

I did not expect any sort of culture shocks in Poland, but one thing stood out for me. I never expected Poland to be such a religious nation. In my second workshop, my boss warned me to avoid discussing 3 topics with my students: 1) Politics 2) Abortion 3) Homosexuality. Unreal, isn’t it ?! It’s literally impossible to run away from politics. A country’s political past or present shape the way their society behaves and functions. The economy is highly dependent on the Politics. Same applies to a nation’s culture. Abortion and homosexuality are also frowned upon in Poland. It was less of a surprise considering the huge number of Catholic people living there. Being from one of the capitals of homosexuality in the world, Toronto, encountering the opposing attitude was very challenging.

Below are images of Warszawa’s Old Town during WW II, Karol Józef Wojtyła (Pope John Paul II), and Anti-homosexuality protests in Krakow.

  

Another very interesting observation I made about Poland was big cultural gap between elders and the younger generation. The elders have been through it all. They’ve experienced communism. They’ve seen the world war and how Warsaw was destroyed. They were there for the recovery and rebuilding. They’ve got faith and they’ve been together to make the country what it is today. Last but not least, they’ve seen a Pole – Pop John Pall II- lead all the catholics all around the world for over 26 years. The younger generation are different. Those born in late 80s and early 90s will soon become fathers and mothers of the next Polish generation. They have had to deal with a lot less than their parents and grandparents. As a result, their outlook  and attitude towards life differs from their elders’. The younger generation are a lot more open-minded, and less religious. In terms of behaviour, I also found the young ones nicer and more welcoming to foreigners. I believe in 15-20 years when the current older generation fade, and the current young generation become parents and leaders, then the overall cultural picture of Poland will change. Of course, I could be wrong. Time will tell.

As a Canadian citizen, the prices in Poland appeared astonishingly low to me. It was amusing to think that a 3-bed room apartment at Old Town would only cost 3000zl a month. However, it of course wasn’t the same for people of Warsaw. Poland’s minimum hourly wage of 6zl/hour is very low. It was great for me to find out how cheap a night out costs, but for an average Polish citizen it’s nowhere near the same. There was only one item which was more expensive in Poland than Canada; Coffee! It was a big shock to me that a cup of coffee costs over 10zl. I figured maybe that’s the reason people don’t usually smile on the street in the morning. Coffee is too expensive to afford. Coffee is part of our life style in North America, but it’s fair to say its importance in Polish society is significantly lower. If I ever get some sort of power in Poland, reducing the coffee price would be one of my very first orders of business.

It’s wrong to judge other countries based on stereotypes and myths. Some people still reckon  all Canadians live in igloos and have no clue about any sport other than Hockey, the same way most North Americans associate Poland with Germany and Russia and first think of Wyborowa Vodka when Poland is mentioned. Both parties, are of course wrong. Through living in a country and observing their behaviour for a sustained period of time, many myths are busted and stereotypes are proven wrong. If you ever find yourself in a place filled with old buildings, historical museums, bars, ice cream shops, and gorgeous women, there is a high chance that you’re in Poland.