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Book Review: I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

I just finished the book I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella and it is absolutely marvelous! This is probably the umpteenth (not literally) book I have read by this author and I swear, every time I read her books she spellbinds me with her writing. I devoured this book like her other books, a sweet devil’s food cake. It is about this young woman named Fixie Farr who runs a small shop with her brother, Jake, her sister, Nicole, and her mother. The family is struggling to cope with the death of their father and Jake’s ego gets the best of him when he threatens to revamp the shop so they can cater to a wealthier clientele, meaning that a lot of the inexpensive goods Farr’s would sell wouldn’t sell anymore and that pricier goods would replace the old ones. Moreover, Fixie’s ex-boyfriend, Ryan, who is just as egotistical as Jake, moves back to London with no money and no job after a failed attempt to make it as a film producer in Los Angeles. It gets worse when Fixie goes to a coffee shop and the ceiling collapses on her, leaving her soaking wet. A mysterious man named Sebastian has her watch his laptop, and mystically, the laptop goes undamaged even when Fixie herself is soaking wet from the damage. Sebastian not only thanks her in person for saving his laptop, he gives her a coffee sleeve with the letters “I.O.U” so that he will repay the favor to Fixie someday. Sebastian teaches Fixie a lot of important life lessons, the main one that while it’s ok to do nice things for others, you also have to do nice things for yourself and create some boundaries with others. Otherwise you just burn yourself out and cannot make yourself happy.

Take for instance, Nicole, Fixie’s sister. She doesn’t do much around the house and when Jake lays out his plan at a family dinner while their mom is on vacation, Nicole says that they should not only tear down the merchandise that’s already there, they should have a yoga studio in the store and an Instagram page. But the Instagram page ends up just being Nicole taking photos of herself and not of the store’s merchandise. Nicole is so used to Fixie doing everything that she doesn’t make any real contributions to the household. Even though my struggles weren’t the same as Fixie’s, I can relate to her personality because she is an empath. I am an empath myself and the women in my family are empaths, too, and while being an empath helps me experience the world in ways I wouldn’t normally experience it, and while it helps me awaken to the beauty that life can hold, being an empath can be a mental and emotional drain. I think that’s why Fixie has a hard time accepting that she is in a loving mutual relationship with Sebastian where the two give to each other as much as take from each other. Fixie feels like she should do all the cooking, cleaning, and other stuff, which is how Ryan viewed their relationship (i.e. the woman does all the household stuff and takes care of me while I try to become successful and get a lot of money again). Sebastian, however, respected Fixie and knew how to take care of himself and his own business (he even makes her fudge. Ryan doesn’t even cook, let alone clean).

This book is truly awesome, and I crieda lot towards the end because Sebastian and Fixie’s chemistry was amazing, and how Fixie grows closer to her family by honestly communicating with them about how they give her most of the responsibility. Fixie also comes to terms with the fact that you can’t please everyone and can’t solve everyone’s problems. Ryan bullies Fixie to get him a job because he finds out about the I.O.U. from Sebastian, and Fixie gives in because she thinks Ryan will break up with her if she says no. Fixie has this idealistic vision of her and Ryan in a long-lasting beautiful commitment, and yet her friends warn her that Ryan is flaky and does not like commitment. Fixie doesn’t listen though and gives Ryan the benefit of the doubt, only to realize that he really doesn’t care about her and the only reason he comes over is because he doesn’t want to work hard for his own money or take any responsibility for his own life. Jake eventually realizes that he is in debt due to his excessive lifestyle and that he spent so much time trying to impress others that he hasn’t take the time to reflect on himself and what really makes him happy in life. He eventually goes back to not taking himself so seriously, and this helps humble him.

I can kind of relate because I had this lofty goal of getting into a professional orchestra, and I sort of put on airs about it, but I didn’t have any full-time work. I was also getting rejected by a bunch of other jobs, and at the same time looking down on people who worked jobs in the service industry (ok, not really looking down, but I was pretty indifferent to working in food service). So it’s little surprise that the universe sent me a magical gift: I got a job at a coffee shop, and while I did apply to coffee shops because I needed the money, I expected them to reject me, too. Working this job at the coffee shop really taught me that while I should work hard and do my best at work, I shouldn’t take myself too seriously or else my job wouldn’t be fun. When Jake trades in his expensive lifestyle for full-time work at the shop during the holidays, he is funnier and feels a lot better and more relaxed around his family. When Nicole, Jake and Fixie communicate honestly with each other, they develop a deeper bond than before, which showed me how important genuine communication is. Genuine communication isn’t as pretty as sweeping stuff under the rug, but it is way better than holding in all these negative feelings and letting them fester until it becomes a problem and the person holding in those feelings takes out their anger on themselves. Like Fixie, I bottled up the anger I felt when I felt like I was expounding too much energy taking care of someone else’s mess, and like Fixie, I blamed myself for not making everyone happy and fixing their problems. But eventually I had to realize that you can’t please everyone, and that when you realize this your life actually becomes more fulfilling.

Overall, I loved this book and because there is so much happening in the world today, I needed some fiction to calm me down. So thank you once again, Sophie Kinsella, for your wonderful writing. I wonder how this book would be if it became a film, but the films don’t always do justice to the books (probably for copyright reasons). I could read this book again; it is truly a treasure! 🙂

I Owe You One: A Novel. Sophie Kinsella. 435 pp.

Book Review: Peace, Justice and the Poetic Mind by Daisaku Ikeda and Stuart Rees

I just finished this amazing dialogue between Soka Gakkai International president Daisaku Ikeda and Stuart Rees, who is the former director of the Sydney Peace Foundation and professor emeritus at the University of Sydney. This dialogue was published just last year and we need dialogues like it more than ever.

I needed to read this dialogue because there is so much happening in the world. The trade war between the U.S. and China, Britain threatening to leave the E.U. and recent mass shootings, as well as the damaging that has been done to the planet and is just getting worse. But then I read Peace, Justice and the Poetic Mind, and I can honestly say how empowered I feel to be a part of the movement to foster a more just and peaceful society. What I love about this dialogue is that Professor Rees and President Ikeda go deeper than the surface level definition of peace, which usually means no more war. Because, as Ikeda and Rees agree upon, the discussion around peace and justice is more complicated than just stopping wars. It involves bringing peace and justice studies into our schools’ curriculum, finding ways to take care of the planet and giving voices to marginalized individuals. They also emphasize in the dialogue the need for more discussion around the history of settler colonial countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia, where Indigenous populations faced genocide and greed at the hands of white European settlers. Climate justice should involve Indigenous voices because this was their land first. Indigenous communities still face a ton of injustice today at the hands of the state, and while the communities of persons have fought so hard and so long for their sovereignty to the land’s resources,and while individuals in the U.S. and Canadian and Australian governments have spoken out against this injustice, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

That is the thing, I guess, about social justice. You have to keep talking about it. It’s not something you talk about and then all the problems of the world are gone. And more people are aware of this reality. In Nichiren Buddhism, if you want to understand what is happening in the present, you need to look at the past, and in order to understand what will happen in the future, you need to look at the present. Individuals create karma throughout their lives, and so this collective karma that we have with settler colonialism, global warming, the trade war, gun violence, injustice against immigrants and poverty, is because certain individuals created the cause of abusing their power and after many years, the effects have shown themselves in ugly ways. Which is why art is so important, because while I need to be nice at my day job, I don’t want to be so nice in my art. It’s why I painted a picture of an elephant and a polar bear standing on melting ice caps and sweating while the sun, which has a hole in its ozone layer, beats down on them. I was angry with the status quo and wanted to do something about it, and watching how Greta Thunberg fought hard to address climate change showed me that even as an introverted person, I can still speak up about these issues through creative means. Rees, in the dialogue says, that “artists break down the walls of habitual practice and promote visions of world citizenship. In this way, they touch the hearts and minds of so many people.” (p. 59 of Peace, Justice and the Poetic Mind) As an artist, I need to speak out. And as a human, I need to be willing to have the tough conversations. I need to also use my art and my pen to create art that will move the human spirit, inspire a dialogue about the tough stuff.

Peace, Justice and the Poetic Mind: Conversations on the Path of Nonviolence. Stuart Rees and Daisaku Ikeda. 2018. 218 pp.

Movie Review: Elephant

Last night I watched an incredibly harrowing film called Elephant. Although the film came out in 2003 (aka more than a decade ago) it is still very much relevant today, especially in the wake of the recent mass shootings across the U.S. Elephant takes place at a high school in Oregon on a typical day, showing the events leading up to a brutal school shooting on campus. What is interesting about this film is that it is not just from one perspective but from the perspectives of both the survivors and the shooters. There also isn’t much dialogue in the film, so the silences give the film its unsettling quality, and also force the audience to deeply reflect on the meaning of the film. It reminded me of this PSA that Sandy Hook Promise, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about gun violence and the toll it can take on people (in 2012, a gunman named Adam Lanza murdered several children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut). The PSA features several students showing off their back-to-school supplies and using the supplies to protect themselves from an active shooter in the school. At the end there is a chilling scene where a girl is hiding in a bathroom stall and texts her mom “I love you” with her new cell phone before the shooter enters. Honestly I have seen some scary PSAs, but this one seemed to say, “We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. Our kids shouldn’t have to fear going back to school.”

I wish I could write a more coherent view of this film, but I am honestly still processing it. At the beginning I wasn’t sure how I would like it, but by the end I had to stop and think and reflect, and this is what this film wants you to do. If I gave away a lot of plot summary it would ruin the film, to be honest. All I can say is, it is a moving film even if it doesn’t have a lot of gratuitous violence. The violence is hard to watch towards the end of the film (if you need a warning, it’s the last 15 minutes). I think the fact that Gus Van Sant had the film be from multiple perspectives makes it a scary film. Ironically I can’t watch slasher films like Chucky and Saw, and yet I can sit through harrowing films like this and 12 Years a Slave and not be scathed. It is scary because it happens in real life, and after hearing about the El Paso shooting, the Odessa shooting, and a number of other mass shootings, I had to go to my keyboard and write how I truly felt about this issue. Because it had been an elephant in the room for the longest time, this senseless violence, and it was time for me to speak up about it through my writing.

I had a talk about world peace and non violence in a philosophy group yesterday, and I brought up one scene in the movie that stuck with me for a while. One of the two shooters in the school is threatening to kill one of the teachers and the teacher asks why he decided to do such a thing (aka kill innocent people) and the student told the teacher that he didn’t feel like him or any of his teachers listened to him or supported him in any way. This shows how violence isn’t random; it is caused by a series of events leading up over time to one huge brutal event (aka the violence). At the beginning we see some kids in class throw spitballs at one of the kids who becomes a shooter at the school, and we see this kid go through the cafeteria and plot something on a pad of paper (which we later find out is his plan to blow up and shoot everyone at the school). There is also a scene where the two shooters are at one of their houses, and one is playing a Beethoven piece on piano (which would have been beautiful except for the fact that while the kid was playing Beethoven, the other kid was playing a computer game where he shot various people and plotted their plan to kill everyone at school), and then we see them watching a movie about Hitler and looking for guns online (there was actually a shooting that happened a couple of years after the movie came out and people blamed it on the fact that the shooter watched Elephant. So of course, some people might be prone to watching this movie and imitating what the characters did. But there were probably other factors in the shooting, too, so it probably wasn’t just the fact that they saw this movie and suddenly wanted to kill people. I saw this film because I wanted to contribute to the conversation on non-violence). This film also makes a commentary in a way that most of the shooters who have committed these murders are young white men who feel like no one respects them in society. In the New York Times yesterday, there was an article on the front page that talked about the mass shootings that happened this summer and mentioned that young white men committed most of these shootings. The film avoids coddling the young men, while a lot of real life reports tend to say things like, “This guy was just an innocent kid, really nice, really sweet”, but it still doesn’t forgive the fact that these guys who kill people in these shootings are dealing with an anger that goes much deeper than surface level early childhood memories. Like I said, violence isn’t something random; it builds up over time, and it’s why, during the discussion, I mentioned the scene where the shooter says he didn’t feel listened to, and everyone said they agreed that schools and homes should be places where youth feel like they can communicate honestly with their family and teachers.

Elephant. 2003. 81 minutes. Directed by Gus Van Sant. Rated R for disturbing violent content, language, brief sexuality and drug use – all involving teens.

Eclectic Playlist, Pt. 2

  1. “Down Boy”: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  2. “Blue Ain’t Your Color”: Keith Urban
  3. “Treat Me Right”: Grace Potter
  4. “A Change is Gonna Come”: Wayne Brady
  5. “One and Only”: Adele
  6. “Fall in Line”: Christina Aguilera ft. Demi Lovato
  7. “Be Your Love”: Bishop Briggs
  8. “No Peace”: Sam Smith ft. YEBBA
  9. “I Believe It To My Soul”: Joss Stone feat. David Sanborn
  10. “XXX”: Kendrick Lamar
  11. “Freaks and Geeks”: Childish Gambino
  12. “Mask Off”: Future
  13. “All the Shine”: Childish Gambino
  14. “Immortal”: J.Cole
  15. “Here Comes the Hotstepper”: Ini Kamoze
  16. “All Night”: Big Boi
  17. “Sons and Daughters”: The Decembrists
  18. “Ambitionz As a Rider”: Tupac
  19. “Natural High”: Tosca
  20. “I Got 5 On It”: Luniz
  21. “Lebanese Blonde”: Thievery Corporation
  22. “Memphis Soul Stew”: King Curtis
  23. “Mandou”: Salif Keita

Eclectic Playlist of the Week

  1. “Flow”: Sade
  2. “French Letter”: J. Walk
  3. “Desert Rose”: Sting
  4. “Blessings”: Chance the Rapper
  5. “How Come You Don’t Call Me”: Alicia Keys
  6. “Addictive”: Truth Hurts
  7. “You Know How We Do It”: Ice Cube
  8. “Sway”: Rosemary Clooney
  9. “Bossy”: Kelis
  10. “Throw It Back”: Missy Elliott
  11. “Sound and Vision”: David Bowie
  12. “King of Sorrow”: Sade
  13. “Fountains Abbey”: Yorkshire
  14. “Boyz N The Hood”: Easy E.
  15. “He Woke Me Up Again”: Sufjan Stevens
  16. “Spy”: Nyles Lannon
  17. “Gagging Order”: Radiohead
  18. “The Past and Pending”: The Shins
  19. “Late Arriving”: Greg Laswell
  20. “Tables and Chairs”: Andrew Bird
  21. “Melancholy Hill”: Gorillaz
  22. “Halal”: Mazzy Star
  23. “Knife”: Grizzly Bear
  24. “Past in Present”: Feist

Eclectic Playlist of the Week: Courtesy of Pandora

  • Bucky Done Gun: M.I.A
  • Shove It: Santigold
  • Lion’s Mane: Iron and Wine
  • Chicago: Sufjan Stevens
  • Bravado: Lorde
  • Stay Alive: Jose Gonzalez
  • Young and Beautiful: Lana del Rey
  • Psychopath: St. Vincent
  • Romulus: Sufjan Stevens
  • The Turn Down (ft. Pharrell): Thundercat
  • Everyday People: Oddisee
  • Manifest: Andrew Bird
  • Brave New World: The Foreign Exchange
  • D’Evils: SiR
  • God Lives Through: A Tribe Called Quest
  • I’ll Be Missing You: P. Diddy
  • Faded from the Winter: Iron and Wine
  • Sleeping Lessons: The Shins

Book Review: Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs

Well, I officially have finished my 40th book of my 50 book reading goal this year, thanks to this savory (yes, pun intended) novel by Kate Jacobs, author of the equally-as-savory The Friday Night Knitting Club and Knit Two, its sequel. This novel is about a fifty-year-old chef named Augusta “Gus” Simpson, who is a New York-based widow with two daughters and a cooking career that is going down the toilet when her show’s ratings go down. Alan, who helps manage her show, forces her to team up with Carmen, a model from Spain who tries to outdo Gus in cooking so that people stop focusing on her looks and value her for her love of food. Meanwhile, Gus’ daughters are grown and one (Sabrina) is engaged and still torn about getting back with her ex-boyfriend Troy, while the other (Ammie) isn’t interested in finding love yet and is still figuring life out. Hannah is Gus’ neighbor and a former tennis player who suffered a major career throwback and rarely goes out in public, and while she doesn’t cook much herself (she is fond of candy) she often eats many of Gus’s delicious dishes. Oliver is Gus’s assistant on the show and he slowly develops a romantic interest in her. While at first it is a disaster for Gus to have everyone on her show and while many times the characters fight and disagree on a lot of things, they end up finding out they have more in common than they thought and come to realize how much the art of cooking can bring them together despite the differences in their expertise or lack thereof.

I also got this at the same bookstore that I got My Sister from the Black Lagoon and A Long Way Down. I had been meaning to read Comfort Food for a while, but like many other delicious novels, never got around to it. I devoured this one in days like all the delicious meals that make their way into the novel’s pages. For some reason I kept envisioning Martha Stewart as Gus, John Cena as Oliver (because he is over six feet tall in the book) and Sofia Vergara as Carmen, only because I recently saw Sofia Vergara in the film Chef, which, like Comfort Food, is about cooking. Overall, this book was amazing and hopefully I will get a chance to read more books by Kate Jacobs! 🙂

Comfort Food: A Novel. Kate Jacobs. 328 pp.

Book Review: My Sister from the Black Lagoon by Laurie Fox

Like A Long Way Down, I got this at a book sale. The cover looked interesting so I thought I would read it. At first I wasn’t going to get it because I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but then I figured, Hey, I get a great deal at this booksale, so I might as well make the most of it. So I got it.

Little did I know that when I sat down to read this book, I would pore through it faster than I expected. It is an semi-autobigraphical novel about a young Jewish woman named Lorna Persons who lives with her parents and older sister, Lonnie, in the San Fernando Valley of California. Lorna’s family has a history with mental illness, and Lonnie herself has mental health issues. Lorna describes the day to day life she experienced with her sister and how she, along with her parents, struggled to provide support to Lonnie. Lorna grows up and finds love, gets her heart broken, then finds love again, but while this is happening she is thinking about her relationship with Lonnie and how it is going to evolve when they get older. The novel is of the coming of age genre, which is what attracted me to it because I love coming-of-age films and movies. Even though Lorna and I live different lives, I found my teenage self embodied in Lorna to some degree, namely because both of us find solace in the arts as well as our empathic personalities. Lorna’s father works in television, and so she goes to Hollywood a lot as a kid, and eventually she goes to theatre school and finds herself escaping her problems at home by throwing herself into her work as a theatre student. I also find solace in the arts, even though I don’t act and instead play a musical instrument. Although I definitely love me some theatre.

This review is short because I can’t really speak much myself about the author’s life or what inspired her to write this book, and my struggles with mental health were my own, just like Lonnie’s struggles with mental health were her own. It did kind of resonate with me though because I remember how hard my struggles with mental health were for my family. Really good book.

My Sister from the Black Lagoon: A Novel of My Life. Laurie Fox. 1998. 334 pp.

Book Review: A Long Way Down (cw: suicide, depression)

I got this novel at a book sale ($10 for a huge paper bag of used books? Count me in any day of the week!) and was not sure whether I would like it or not. Then again, this is how I approach any book I read, with a curiosity, not expecting what treasures I am going to uncover when I read the first pages. I love Nick Hornby’s other books (About a Boy, Slam, and How to Be Good) so I expected this one to be equally as awesome as they were.

So the first fifty pages or so I had to go back and reread. Maybe it was because I was sitting at a restaurant at the airport with chatter and ’80s rock music playing in the background and had ordered a $17 (yes, you heard that right, 1-7 bucks with tax) Beyond Meat burger, and was wondering when I would get it in time for my flight (I had an hour and a half to kill, what could possibly go wrong?) Or it was because I was going to miss the city I visited and was already feeling a burning desire to move there permanently even though I only spent a few days there. All I knew was that within 60 pages I was confused. Why were these random people standing on the top of a building. I got that all four of these people in the book were suicidal, but their backstories seemed jumbled. When I got on the plane, I reread a second time. Who was Chas? Then I reread those pages a third time and finally went, Ah, and kept reading. Also, I was reading for fun, whereas if I had been reading this for some class, I would have underlined and highlighted like I was never going to read it again.

Ok, so here is the summary of the book. Four people living in London all lead lives of depression and despair, all brought about by different circumstances. Martin was once a successful TV person who slept with his 15 year old co-star Penny (Martin is a middle aged married man with children) and lost his job and his marriage as a result. Jess’ boyfriend, Chas, is a jerk who doesn’t understand her, and neither do her parents, especially after her mom accuses Jess of stealing her earrings after her sister mysteriously disappears. JJ is a Chicago native who went to England, found love and success with his band, and then died inside when his band broke up and, with them, his girlfriend, leaving JJ with nothing to do but deliver pizzas and read books. Finally, Maureen is suffering because her son has a disability and Maureen feels like she can no longer take care of him since she finds it exhausting. All four of these characters end up meeting on top of a building (literally called Topper House. They explain why in the book, so no spoilers here), and are of course quite annoyed to find each other on the roof. It’s like each of them is thinking, Why can’t all these other people just let me kill myself in peace? However, they end up sorting out why they are going to kill themselves, and then they make plans to resolve the problems that are making them want to commit suicide, such as going with Martin to visit Penny and his ex-wife and getting Chas to apologize to Jess for being such a jerk to her. They set a time period where they won’t go on with their plan to kill themselves, and when they hit Valentine’s Day, the set date, they end up postponing it because they have spent so much time with each other that they find it is pointless to try and kill themselves. Each of the characters also ends up getting their friends and family together to tell them about their depression, showing how the time they spent together helped them feel more comfortable being honest with each other and in turn being honest with other people.

While I found some parts funny, for the most part this book makes a pretty serious commentary on mental health and the ways in which people do and do not talk about it. All of the characters have this feeling that they are alone in their problems and that their friends and family won’t understand why they would want to take their own lives, and that people would be better off without them. Truth is, committing suicide would have just caused more pain and suffering to their friends and family. I have been to hell and back with depression, and I will tell you, it is a living nightmare. Even if you are in a room of people, you can still feel like you’re the only one who is suffering. Even when your life is great, stuff happens and before you know it, your world comes crashing down and even the worst event to happen around the world seems like a field day compared to what you are going through. In Buddhism, we call that life state the world of Hell, where you feel no one can help you, no matter how much help you may get. However, what makes this situation bearable for everyone in the book is the sheer act of showing up for each other. Even though Jess, Martin, JJ and Maureen are all depressed and suicidal, they each show up for one another even if they disagree on a lot of things (for Maureen, it’s the constant f-words and s-bombs that JJ, Jess and Martin throw around) and even if they don’t want to share their backstories with each other at first. If anything, this book has taught me that honest discussions about mental health are not something that happens in a day, and it takes courage to talk honestly about how awful and numb you feel each day. And as someone who went through depression, I can honestly tell you that showing up for someone can do a lot, even when it doesn’t seem like it’s going to cure their depression overnight. I remember people showing up for me even when I closed myself off and didn’t open up about my mental health issues for fear of seeming weak.

The characters also come to understand, through the time they spend with each other, that yes, life is hard, but it’s the imperfections that make life worth living. If everything had been going perfectly in the lives of JJ, Jess, Martin and Maureen, they would probably would not have bonded with each other (and thus Nick wouldn’t have needed to write this book). Especially in an age of social media and constant comparisons (then again, it’s human nature to compare ourselves with others and it has been around since the pre-historic age) this book is more important than ever. Although our society is more connected through social media and smartphones we are lonelier than ever, and a lot of people think that if their life isn’t perfect, that they don’t deserve to keep living. When we actually talk face to face with someone though, oftentimes we see past that facade and get to know people’s lives for who they really are.

A Long Way Down: A Novel. Nick Hornby. 2005. 333 pp.

Movie Review: Hector and the Search for Happiness

I just finished watching the film Hector and the Search for Happiness, and while I didn’t hate it, I also am cautious about celebrating it as a fun feel-good movie. It is very much along the lines of a lot of mainstream I-am-traveling-to-find-myself stories I read about in blogs and watch in movies. Now of course, I could have chosen to not watch the film, but again, I liked how it asked the question of what is happiness, and at the same time, I am coming at it from a privileged Westerner’s perspective and am aware that a lot of these travel movies that Hollywood makes tend to center around straight, cis white Westerners and often do not portray people of color in deeper more complex roles. After seeing movies like Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell, for instance, movies in which Asian people are the protagonists in the story and cultural traditions in Asian countries are not seen as some kind of prop, I felt a little uneasy letting it slide that the Chinese characters in Hector and the Search for Happiness are not protagonists and are all minor characters (also, Hector’s girlfriend doesn’t get to travel with him and just stays at home waiting for him until he comes back. Spoiler, she forgives him for his nonsense and gets back with him. This also made me cringe Of course, I know that wasn’t the film’s intent, but I still knew I needed to be careful about painting a rosy picture about this film. Then again, if a Westerner like me goes into another country, I also shouldn’t just go there with a savior mentality there because then I’m merely pitying individuals who live in those countries, and frankly, people need to feel respected, not like they are props for a camera shoot. Then again, I haven’t actually traveled to the countries Hector did, so someone watching this film might have a different perspective. Overall it was okay and also Hollywood films don’t have to necessarily stick to the white male travel narrative. In fact, the film got a little over 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and at first, I gave it the benefit of the doubt, and then after finishing it understood why I wasn’t rooting for it much either.

One of the few travel films I think where it challenges the standard Western travel narrative is Salt Fat Acid Heat. First off, the host is a woman of color, Samin Nosrat, and historically most travel documentaries have featured white males who go to these countries and act as if they are “discovering” these foods, when in reality, that’s just a form of colonialism. When she goes to Mexico, for instance, she has a genuine respect for the food as well as the individuals who make that food (many of the women featured on the show are women and people of color) and when she goes to a bee farm in Mexico with a rare species of stingless bees, she doesn’t run away but instead develops this beautiful bond with the bees and the honey they harvest in the community they are in. Not to mention the fact that she also makes the effort to speak the language of the country she is in (which is why I am working on my Spanish so that when I travel to Spain, Mexico, or any other Spanish speaking country, I can fully communicate with the people in the country).