“Don’t let go, even if you are killed” -Tadashi Ishii

Good evening, friends! For those who’ve visited this blog before: Welcome back. For those who’ve not, welcome! Chào mừng! I first created this blog at the pressing ofvietnamrap

my college English teacher. For years it’s been an outlet for my curiosities and more recently it’s collected dust on the virtual shelves of the internet. It shall now be my preferred way of updating friends and family of my travels through Viet Nam.

Last year, Quynh and I went for our Viet wedding and had a an absolute blast! Let me tell you– I struggle with English most days; my Viet is TERRIBLE! It improves with time & booze, but as of this moment my tones are all over the map. So here’s the deal: I’m flying out Saturday, Feb 2 and returning on Feb 23. I have a 3 hour layover in NYC and a 5 hour layover in Korea. I will post an update daily (more depending on level of hilarity), and I’d sure like for anyone reading to comment! Ask questions, leave a shite comment, whatever!

Looking forward to sharing my travel, my family, and my world with the lot of ya!


Joe & Q

Q and I apparently offend the gentleman behind us.

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Shots Fired

Two years since I’ve written here; I’d better blow the dust off! Friends, I write to you tonight with a mind full of excitement, a heart full of anxiety, and a cup full of booze. This weekend I will be filming my first episode of my new vlog, OneSweetHairline Sees The World. For years I have aspired to start my own travel show, and for those same number of years I have stepped on my own toes while getting it moving.

My wife and sister got to bonding one morning and decided I needed to follow through with it. Thus it shall be, OneSweetHairline takes some initiative. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world and meet some great people. I’m keen bring my world to everyone else if for no more than a great laugh.

I welcome all of you to my new project!


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Once upon a time, a fella stopped making excuses…

…and started putting things into action. Dear readers, this month I turned 30. This [likely] quarter-life crisis hit a few weeks earlier when I was thinking about all the things I’d like to learn and how little I had done to effect this learning.

For those who don’t know me, I’ve never been able to answer (to the satisfaction of the inquirer) “What is it you want to do?”

Somehow the answer always becomes everything.

I want to build a schoolhouse in Cambodia. I want to teach somebody to read and write English. It would tickle me to solve a crime, speak fluent Mandarin, or pen a novel. Each time I pass an airport I consider all the jobs therein that would be an excellent fit for yours truly.

With these wants and wishes, I’m holding myself to going back to school. I don’t believe a degree will suddenly land me the perfect job, nor do I expect to attain enlightenment. What I’m looking for is to satisfy my curiosities and hone skills I can do good with. One question keeps popping up, though: How the hell do I pick a program of study?

After much debate, I’ve chosen a degree in Journalism with a few forays into Tourism & Travel. Why? Everybody should know how to investigate, document, and communicate. Also, I reckon I could make a few bucks writing here and there while doing what little I’m able to change the world.

Someone a lot smarter than me once told me (as I paraphrase): “If you’re ever in a rut, take a step in any direction. It doesn’t matter what the direction– just change it up.” Here goes nothing!

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My Crown is in my heart, not on my head: Not deck’d with Diamonds, and Indian stones: Nor to be seen: my Crown is call’d Content, A Crown it is, that seldom Kings enjoy

Good evening, Dear Readers! In digital pen I scribe to you, four days from joining the love of my life in shaping chapter 2 of “The Triumphant Misadventures of Joe-Joe and Q.” Like the scent of fruits at a farmer’s market, myriad words and emotions float through my mind. The peach and indigo panorama outside my window is interrupted by the occasional bus, but only serves to bring me back. I’m lost, you see– not so much geographically as nostalgically. While each of us follows our own path to contentment and enlightenment; after 29 years, could the secret to mine be as easy as… a smile?

For those who don’t know (and those who do), I am not a particularly wealthy man. I don’t own a [real] Rolex. I’ve never been free of debt in my adult life. I’ve had bill collectors call (sorry, AmEx). Yet, since the day I met my soon-to-be wife, I’ve become the richest man on Earth. China may have the largest collection of millionaires and billionaires, but all their wealth combined couldn’t buy the feeling I get from a gentle hand squeeze as “Anh Joe Joe” hits my ears. For years I tried to find contentment in electronics, cars, food, suits, booze– you name it. How strange and silly it feels to admit that these things failed in satisfying me. We’ve all heard the cliche “Money can’t buy happiness”, and maybe we all laugh and go with it because we’re too nervous to really understand what that means. I can tell you, friends– the happiest I’ve ever been is broke and in love.

They say love is icing and life is cake. Without the icing, the cake is a lot harder to get down. I’ll never know how each day will end, I only know I’ll be smiling the whole time. As the great Sidney once said, “Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice– pull down your pants and slide on the ice.”

Apologies for the sappy pre-wedding rant!

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“Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.”

Part Two of Three:

Plato hit the nail right on the head. Essentially, if a mind isn’t accepting of knowledge– if the cup is not empty– the information won’t stick. In my first article, we examined the type of creative minds we are fostering [or stifling] at home. Now we’ll take a look at what expectations we have of our teachers. Are they realistic?

The most basic of amenities.

Our country boasts some of the proudest citizens in the world. We grow up with freedoms, liberties, and protections many governments balk at– freedom to worship without fear of the government shutting down your church, freedom to demonstrate without being shot to bits; Hell, we can question Obama’s leadership without being Shanghai’d into a political concentration camp. These freedoms we take for granted have led us to become quite the entitled people. Whenever we travel, we expect “You can do that, I’m an American citizen!” to get us out of most sticky situations. We take that same entitlement and bring it to our education. We tout ourselves as technology leaders, saviors of the democratic free world, and non-traditional thinkers; yet among the top 50 countries, we are only 17th in education. We’ve even fallen behind Poland… and after all those jokes…

But really, what do we expect out of our education system? All things being equal (they’re not), many universally expect a safe environment, fair and equal treatment, and for their children to learn the skills necessary to move on to a great post-secondary school. Each family will have its own unique expectations based on individualized history, but it goes without saying that all expect an education befitting of a, nay, the world’s greatest superpower.

So where’s the hold up?

I’m fortunate enough to have grown up with a lot of friends who’ve become teachers. Thanks to social media, I’m exposed to myriad gripes and ventings regarding parents, students, culture, budget, standards– things that generally fall out of place during a standard school year. Hearing all of it got me thinking, so I took it a little further than Facebook and asked a few face-to-face of what’s going on. It would seem nationally and locally– many teachers are experiencing the same frustrations.

1) Lack of respect from students.

A new Harris poll finds that of 2,250 people surveyed, 31% felt as though teachers were respected by their students. This poll is unscientific (citing how adults recalled their school dynamic versus students of today), but not far-fetched. Single-parent families, kids who don’t know how to deal with adversity– nor the value of a job well done, modern distractions, and unrealistic popular culture all contribute to a breakdown in the hierarchy of respect and power in the classroom. Disruption among students (particularly those who’ve not developed a strong maturity) is a contagion easily spread.

2) Lack of funding

It’s no secret: we place great importance on education. If we didn’t, every job wouldn’t require a baccalaureate, 5.3 years of obscure space research experience, and working knowledge of ancient Minoan language (written required, spoken preferable). It may surprise you to learn that though we place such stock in higher education, since the 2008 crisis only Maryland and Delaware have increased their dollars-per-student spending (of the mid-Atlantic state budgets). All other states in the region have cut spending,  Virginia cutting back by $695 per student since ’08! To compare nationally, North Dakota increased their spending (per student) by $1116, while Alabama cut their spending by $1242.

These cuts in spending don’t go unnoticed. Fewer supplies in the classroom, fewer arts and linguistics, fewer cultural field trips– just… fewer! A 2010 survey by the National School Supply and Equipment Association found 91% of teachers say they need more supplies or better equipment for their classroom. Where will it come from? Well, that same survey found teachers [on average] spends $936 of their own money on classroom supplies. This may not be limited to pencils, paper, etc. Don’t forget, 15.9 million children in the US live in “food insecure” households– it may be that the snack a teacher provides his/her pupil is the only food he/she will eat that day.

3) Lack of Parental Support

It’s one thing to not have the respect of your students, but it’s another conversation entirely to lack the support of their parents. Recently, one of my friends found her prize box had been rifled through and several prizes had grown legs. A fellow teacher and several students observed the culprit and informed the teacher of the wrong-doings. The child would not (and did not) admit to it, so the teacher phoned the parents. The parents heard out the case and responded with an apathetic “Ok.”

Another teacher made a pupil’s parents aware that their child was behaving inappropriately in class, that it was destructive as well as distracting, and that it needs to be brought up at home. The teacher was verbally accosted by one of the parents, being accused of everything from favoritism, to racism, to downright ineptness. We put our teachers through the ringer: background checks, four-year degrees, state-level certifications, federal performance testing, in-class observance, and annual surveys– yet we’ve lost our trust in their capacity to know how to prepare the next generation for what lies ahead? Seriously?

What’s the big picture?

In addition to the issues encountered in class and at home, those entering the professional side of academia find themselves looked down upon by others. “You’re too smart to be a teacher.” “All that education; you do know there’s no money in teaching, right?”

That last comment highlights the issue perfectly. We’re asking public educators to bust their asses day in/day out to develop the next Einstein, Curie, or Livingston; but they [teachers] can make just as sustainable living as a bartender, with fewer student loans, and less stigma!

As far as I can understand, there’s no single corrective action to bring us around to where we need to be. Some suggest longer school days, others suggest starting school later. Without correction at home as well, it would be nothing more than a feather in a politician’s cap to say “I supported our students growth by making school start times later!” In my next and final piece on the subject, I’ll take a look at what other countries are doing successfully, what others are suggesting we do, and figure out if the whole damned thing can work.

Thanks for reading!

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“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.”

Part One of Three

Teachers. Our first heroes (after mom and dad, of course), our first nemeses— adjudicators of our scholastic fate. But teachers provide so much more than I suspect many appreciate. If you truly deconstruct today’s teacher, their role is that of a highly-skilled babysitter entrusted not just to look over your children, but teach them to be cultured, productive members of society. Why? Because as a working parent you don’t have the time!  We often hear the shared gripe that teachers are paid too little for what they’re expected to accomplish. What is it, exactly, that they need to accomplish? What goes in to educating a child?

It Starts At Home

Learning for proficiency requires one ingredient above all else: curiosity. A need to know, a yearning to understand– lack of settling for what is! We’re all born with it– just watch an infant. Their eyes are wide and scouring their environment for information; thirsting for knowledge of the world around them. This bewilderment never leaves us, but instead becomes dumbed-down or distracted.

Prior to the millennial generation, children went to school, played sports, and helped with chores around the house. Prior to certain laws being passed- they might have even been earning a living. From the 30’s to 90’s, comic books existed as the chief facilitator of procrastination. The 90’s introduced us to console games 80's Kidsand computers, which paved the way to where we are today: cheap laptops, streaming this, cloud-based that, and 1,000 channels of absolutely nothing. Worrisome parents tell their children not to go outside because of sun, smog, high cholesterol, and saving the African Snow Geese. Sports are too competitive and encourage bias, nature is too dangerous, and God forbid a child walks home from school: if they’re not abducted, they’ll be heroin-addicted gang members within three blocks.

Please, dear reader, don’t misunderstand– I had Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and cable TV growing up. The way it was regarded, however, was significantly different from how we’re seeing things today. Back then it was a reward. There was still only one, maybe two TV’s in the house. You had to fight the other family members for that oh-so-glorious vacuum-tube powered machine. Today, a decent TV costs about $200, cell phones are are more powerful gaming machines than even my first laptop (and seemingly belong in the hands of every American over the age of four). Kids are handed DVD players and handhelds to keep from being rowdy or distracting mom and dad, essentially putting blinders on them. Whatever opportunities a child has to learn about their world are now lost into an ever-accessible digital world.

My parents grew up in the age of Ted Bundy, Charles Manson and the Zodiac Killer. My sister, brother, and I all walked home from school with two marching orders: 1) Don’t take candy/rides from strangers and 2) If you come home and the door is locked, we’ve moved– don’t come looking for us. None of us are addicted to heroin (though caffeine is an entirely different story) and to my knowledge, the Brookeville Mafia is not active in organized crime.

Those who are unaware they are walking in darkness will never seek the light.” – Bruce Lee

Simply put, if we’re not pushing kids to discover what they don’t know– how can we expect to ignite their curiosity? If they are not given the opportunity to experience and question the world around them, how will the next great “ah-HA!” moment arise? Just like constructing a house that will stand the test of time requires a great foundation and planning; constructing a great mind starts at home with right opportunities.

Stay tuned for my next piece analyzing the trials and tribulations of educators in the classroom!

Thanks for reading!


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I’m Back!

My friends, followers, and passers-by… I’m back! More to come this weekend. Joga bonito.

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“Fight on, brave knights! Man dies, but glory lives! Fight on; death is better than defeat! Fight on brave knights! for bright eyes behold your deeds!” -Walter Scott

A man I respect very much once asked me: “McCoy, (don’t ask) what’s standing between you and your goal?” I rambled out a bunch of answers- not enough time, not enough money, etc. “You’re telling me why you won’t do it, but can you identify what’s really standing between you and your goal?” Nope. I guess I couldn’t. “It is you. Keep a positive attitude and don’t let anything derail your efforts!” His logic was completely sound. I was telling him every reason why I wouldn’t give it my 100%- every detail of my self-fulfilling prophecy, but I wasn’t really identifying the problem.

Tonight I was talking with a group of people about encouragement, and how you can’t really give encouragement if you don’t know what’s needed. With that in mind, I began to think of the people who go through their daily routines who could really use a quick positive note but won’t let anyone know, either because they’re too shy, too embarrassed, or don’t know how. My mind quickly darted to how so many have fought and died for our right to free speech and we sometimes waste it on what is truly worthless speech.

I read an article on Buzzfeed a few days ago (and again last night) regarding the recent brouhaha over the new Miss America. She’s of Indian heritage, she’s gorgeous, and she won. Instead of congratulatory tweets or any kind of positivity, many commented/tweeted/posted racist, biased, untrue, and hurtful things.

“Before you speak, ask yourself: is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence?” – Sai Baba

I find much of what I say can be ruled out using these questions. I wonder what the tweets would look like if these same people followed this advice.

There’s always a bright side.

What I’m playing at is that for the most part, I’d be willing to pose that we’ve all had our spirits lifted by an unsolicited kind word or two. Next time you’re out and about, give a compliment to a stranger walking by or praise the person bagging your groceries and see how your own mood changes. You may find that throughout your day you smile a bit more or feel a bit better. You may also get mugged by someone who hates compliments- I don’t have a crystal ball. I encourage you to try this social experiment for a week! I do this almost on the regular and haven’t gotten beat up yet.

Do you do this already? Tell me about your experiences!



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“You may not be able to read this, but I mean to extend my gratitude…”

ImageI cannot for the life of me remember how to construct a cursive ‘K’. A brief consult with Google and I’m a calligrapher. On my own? The Don Quixote of penmanship. At times doctors, the KGB- hell, KGB Doctors- have been easier to decipher than my own brand of chicken scratch. Ineptitude aside, I’ve never shyed away from putting in writing my gratitude for a job well done. In these days of automated emails, computer generated surveys and spam filters; when was the last time you introduced pen to paper and thanked someone for going above and beyond?

Anymore I’m sure the notion seems a bit antiquated. Since 2010, 87% of US states (Including MD & the District) have adopted Common Core standards that no longer require the teaching of cursive in schools. Pen and paper have been dropped in favor of the iPad, Evernote, and Microsoft Office. So, with all this technology, why bother writing a letter? What’s next? Hand-cranking the car and fireside chats?

Today’s recipient of a hand-written thank you note is given an air of celebrity amongst his/her peers. Writing an e-mail or a survey comment is great, for sure. But opening that stamped envelope, removing that textured linen note, deciphering the handwriting of somebody you made a connection with (regardless of how long) and trying to imagine them crafting this letter… like a cold beer after a job well done! Not only is receiving one glorious, but then displaying your trophy for all to revel in- now that’s properly thanking someone for a job well done!

And what of the writer? If you truly get no pleasure from brightening someone’s day, at least look at it as an opportunity to practice what is now a dying form of writing. In 50 years cursive will be an in-demand skill for those transcribing documents of yesteryear. Wouldn’t you like to have a jump on the competition?

I take pride in my assortment of fountain pens and stationery and regularly call upon them to convey my thoughts and emotions to carefully selected targets. Our handwriting can say so much about who we are and what we’re experiencing that I believe hand written correspondence to be critical to developing the personal relationships we so crave.

“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”- Erasmus

In the era of lean communication, the handwritten note has made off with the crown.

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Culture, culture, everywhere and not a thought to think…

ImageMy dear readers, I’d like to change course a few degrees away from political analysis and set the compass to a discussion on culture. If you ask one hundred people on a street corner (pretty crowded street corner, no?), you’d probably get one hundred different definitions of culture and its importance. I’ll liken this to architecture. Throughout history, many capitols and metropolises have borrowed architectural queues from each other: Greek Revival, Goth, etc. Each culture has had their own unique style that others have borrowed from and adapted to make a style unique in and of itself. Without this difference in style, ours would be quite the ho-hum world of brick and mortars everywhere you look. Translating this example to the human experience and our own unique styles; every one of us has, at some point, been influenced by a culture different from our own. Military culture, school culture, work culture. Regional culture, religious culture, ethnic culture. Whatever your background, think of who you are today and what influenced you to be that way.

As I mentioned when I created this blog, my intent is to inspire thought and spark debate. I should hope you’ll find a profound appreciation for the cultures that have built you, as well as share in my curiosity of the world around us!

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