Category Archives: Latin America

The Year of the Dragon

Happy Lunar New Year! I heard a fellow New Yorker once say this interesting observation, “New York City celebrates three New Years: Gregorian, Jewish, and Chinese.”  (By the way, Koreans and Vietnamese also celebrate this Lunar New Year.)  While New Yorkers from other cultures–Tibetans, Bolivians and Peruvians of Incan descent, for example–celebrate their respective new years too, the most prominent ones are these three.  As if to confirm this observation, the Empire State Building was lit red and yellow on Jan 23 to commemorate the arrival of the Year of the Dragon.

Chinese astrology assigns a different animal to each year for 12 years and after the twelfth year, the cycle repeats again.  Similar to the Western zodiac signs, personality traits are attributed to each animal and it is believed that individuals born under each sign exhibit such traits.

My Komodo Dragon Mug from Starbucks

I was born in the Year of the Dragon and an Aries. These two signs are often said to be the cultural parallel of the other since they supposedly share similar traits. Dragons and Aries are often described as leaders, risk takers, and adventurous while also being assertive, judgmental, and quick tempered. I was never one to believe in astrologers nor have I ever had my palm or tarot cards read. Yet somehow, I am strongly drawn to my astrological signs for their seemingly accurate descriptions of my personality.  I like to think that being both signs makes me doubly potent!  I swell with pride at all of my supposed positive traits and feel encouraged to act in these ways in times of uncertainty.  The negative traits serve as excuses to support my bad habits such as my proclivity to start many projects without finishing one.

A new year means a clean slate full of endless possibilities. When I was a child, I always loved the start of the school year in September: the smell of fresh crayons in the box, newly sharpened pencils all the same height, and unwritten composition notebooks waiting to be filled. But by October, I would be bored of them because the luster was gone. As an adult, I still act that way today in many aspects of my life.

Months ago as a bikram yoga teacher trainee, we were required to memorize a dialogue—a script if you will—for each of the 26 postures that we teach in class. A large part of training was spent in posture clinic, where each trainee recites one posture as three fellow trainees demonstrate. This recitation was done in front of 40 fellow trainees and [at least] two teachers who provided feedback at the end of each recited posture. Posture clinic lasted for 6 weeks and it was the part of teacher training I dreaded the most. Every time I went up, my goal was to deliver verbatim dialogue. I needed to be flawless.  I needed to be perfect.  Yet just like everything in life, I never finished reciting the end of each posture:  either I blanked out or never bothered to learn those last few lines.  Teachers often gave me the same feedback:  finish what you started.

I blamed it on my Dragon-Aries personality.  Was it a lack of focus, a lack of desire? Later, a teacher back home suggested that I choose not to finish things because I don’t want my end-product to be judged for fear of not attaining perfection. It was a breakthrough moment for me. This thought never occurred to me but it makes a lot of sense.

Dragon years are considered to be very lucky and are a great time to take huge risks or undergo incredible change.  For people born dragons, 2012 is full of promise and highly fortuitous.  Big changes are coming to ActionJoJo this year that include: a website overhaul; greater and more consistent print and video content creation; and more engagement with both my local and online communities. Heck, world domination is another goal! There, I said it.

I left an office job to create a life of freedom and flexibility to do what I love. However, I need to earn a livelihood to make this new life a sustainable reality. In order for me to achieve these goals, I have to remember to strive for action and not perfection. Heck, my online name should serve as a daily reminder. It will be hard work to overcome my bad habits but I will use my positive Dragon-Aries traits to attempt to trump them.

Welcome, Year of the Dragon! I’ve been waiting for you.

Dragon Meets Dragon in Lima's Chinatown (Peru 2003)

Evacuate, Escape!

As the protests in Egypt continue, my heart goes out to the people.  What must be going through the hearts of Egyptians as their country remains embroiled and embattled?  What will be the outcome?  Will a new Egypt emerge out of these demonstrations?

But there are other people to think about too.  Foreign journalists in the last several days have told audiences around the world that they have been harassed, attacked, and detained.  And of course, there are other foreigners:  the tourists, the expats, the students, the volunteer workers.  What has happened to them?  What happens when events within a place occur without a moment’s notice and the decision between staying or leaving becomes extremely urgent?

The New York Times recently wrote an article about stranded Americans in Egypt.  The United States State Department created a public service announcement (PSA) and tweeted evacuation instructions for American citizens wishing to leave the country.  I travel overseas at least once a year and as I prepare for my trip, I always pause to consider registering my name with the US Embassy in the country I am visiting.  Then I usually shake my head and shove the idea aside because really, what could possibly go wrong that the embassy would need to know my presence in country X?

Well, Egypt has reminded me of the reason why I should do so.  It is an extreme case of what is possible.  Highly unlikely, yes.  But possible nonetheless.  Besides political unrest, I can think of other instances when the need to escape while traveling becomes compelling.

Natural Disaster: In 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean caught people completely by surprise along the coasts of several Asian and even African countries.  Devastating tsunamis struck and killed hundreds of thousands of people, most of them in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand.

Mechanical Difficulties: US Airways Flight #1549 departed from NYC’s La Guardia Airport and shortly after take-off collided with a flock of Canadian geese that resulted in a loss of thrust in both engines.  Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger successfully landed the plane in the Hudson River.  All 155 passengers and crew survived.

Disease Outbreak: In 2003, an outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) began in mainland China and spread to other areas such as Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Acts of Terrorism: Sadly, this is the reality of the world we live in — the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, the 2008 coordinated attacks in different parts of Mumbai,  and just last month a suicide attack in the Moscow airport.

I am so blessed and very grateful that I’ve not yet found myself in a situation where I’ve had to evacuate.  The closest I’ve come to civil unrest was in La Paz, Bolivia in 2003 when my bus was re-routed because a group of strikers blocked the roads.  Despite these possibilities, it has not deterred me from traveling.  In fact, it can be argued that these devastated places are precisely the ones we should travel to because they could benefit greatly from our tourism money.  I recall the Kenyan safari companies encouraging all Westerners to visit after ethnic violence erupted in 2008 due to the controversial outcome of the presidential election in December 2007.

In your travels, were you confronted with a circumstance that required you to decide whether to stay or leave?  What happened and where?  What factors led to making your decision?  Please share your story in the comment section below.  I look forward to hearing them.