Props: Raul Cabrera and Nomad-A

My amigo Raul, shredding some waves in France

My amigo Raul, shredding some waves in France

The purpose of writing about my friend Raul’s venture is two-fold. First, I want to publicize the amazing journey he is on, and second, I want to actually figure out what that crazy surfing-all-around-the-world journey is about exactly.

I met Raul in Japan several years ago as we were both traveling on Peace Boat. He was an English teacher. I was a reporter. Originally from Ecuador, he had been studying in New Zealand for the last few years before moving to Japan. We became friends because we found out that we had lived in the same city (Dunedin), studied at the same university (Otago) and that one of my lecturers was his best friend. Small world indeed.

Among our Peace Boat family, Raul became known for his cheeky and mischievous charm. He also had a knack for picking up languages really easily and already spoke at least five. He was also the alpha-male daredevil who would run out of the ship at each port, surfboard under his ripped arms, ready to jump straight into colossal waves that were five times taller than him. As we learned more about him, we dubbed him the International Man of Mystery because of all the adventures he’d had around the world – remarkable for someone so young (mid-20s), and even more remarkable for someone from a developing country who didn’t come from money.

Over time, we lost touch, except that I see a lot of his posts on Facebook about his new life as a husband to a beautiful Danish woman and father of an incredibly cute baby who is the face of Denmark’s largest baby food company. I’m most curious, however, about his life as a member of Nomad-A, a small tribe of surfers who are traveling the world surfing, meeting like-minded people along the way, and making a documentary from it.

According to his statement on his Facebook page: “I am originally from Ecuador a small South American country. When you are a kid from a third world country (I know not PC) and you are exposed to western TV, movies and all the crazy media. You are made to believe that the world is your oyster and that all your dreams will eventually come true…. just like in an episode of Beverly Hills 90210!!! But that is far fetched from the truth. The reality is that, as you grow up in any developing nation you realize that life is no longer a soap opera and your dreams are nothing more than a VIRTUAL REALITY! This is one of the main reasons why I started working as a teacher. ….I want to inspire the youth. Every human being should know that no matter what the dream is, you can make it happen. All you have to do is….see it , visualize it, feel it and do it…..and foremost don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. I know this probably doesn’t make any sense to you cos if you are reading this, you are among the luckier 8% of the world’s population who can access the net. Also just by reading my statement, you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world that cannot read anything at all. SO BE GRATEFUL and keep inspiring people. You never know who the next Einstein might be.”

According to the group’s Website: “In Latin America as well as many other parts of the world, financial opportunities are scarce. Sometimes we are made to believe in conformity, and that our dreams are limited but this is a fallacy! If you really believe in what you do, you can achieve it. No matter how tough or difficult it might seem, with perseverance, willpower, dedication and determination you can make it happen.”

OK, so far we’ve gathered that what these self-described ‘Nomad-A’s’ are doing is traveling around the world surfing and meeting people who are making a living out of doing crazy, nomadic dare-devilish things – world class skaters, BMXers, skateboarders etc, most of whom had to overcome insurmountable hurdles to get where they are. Their core message is to follow your bliss and never give up. And I suppose that while not everybody can just up and take off, I do admire his courage and have to admit that after watching the video below, I was ready to quit my job, and get rid of my few worldly possession, except for a surfboard and a plane ticket. Buena suerte Raul!

See their awesome trailer below!

Why Dirty Dancing Will Always Rule

dirtydancingMy friend brought to my attention this brilliant article exploring the ways in which the classic ’80’s chickflick, Dirty Dancing, is a ‘subversive masterpiece.’ In case you’re too lazy or just not interested enough to read the article for yourself, here are the author’s four main reasons:

#1: “Dirty Dancing” Is About Abortion

#2: “Dirty Dancing” Is Rife With Class Politics

#3: “Dirty Dancing” Gives The Sheltered 17-Year-Old All The Sexual Agency

#4: “I carried a watermelon.” (You really need to read the article to get this one).

This movie was all the rage when I was at primary school. I saw it with my cousin, who just two years older than me, was like my sister. She got the cassette tape of the soundtrack for her birthday and I was insanely jealous. We listened to it on our Walkmans incessantly and knew all the lyrics by heart. That was when I was about seven. Cut to when I’m 17. Dirty Dancing was still a favorite among my female peers. In fact, there was one night in particular that I remember a group of my friends and I watched it at a sleepover. Of course, being so young and stupid, we thought it would be a good idea to also drink (and by drink, I mean binge drink) cheap, nasty gin (sans the tonic) while we watched it. Anyway, to digress, I remember spending the next day at work (at McDonald’s) cowering in the bathroom, vomiting out of my nose…but still Dirty Dancing remains one of my favorite films.

Of course, the first time I saw it, the film was just a simple story about a plain-Jane girl (Baby) who falls in love with a seemingly bad guy (Johnny), who turns out to be good – an ugly duckling transformed into a swan when the alpha-male falls in love with her. All of the subversion and plot intricacies went well over my head. As I matured and developed, I began to identify with the lead character, and probably most girls did – an averagely attractive, awkward yet intelligent girl overcomes barriers to live happily ever after with her diamond-in-the-rough prince.

As the author writes:

Although Baby is definitely fascinated by Johnny [played by the sadly deceased Patrick Swayze] early on in the film, by this point she is just being herself, and to a younger version of me, the notion of a boy just liking you for who you were was kind of mindblowing. And yet here it was! On film!

Also Johnny Castle was so very hot. I mean I don’t even really like romancey movies as a rule, but Johnny Castle’s impact on my adolescent sexual development cannot be overstated. I mean, those pants. And how could it be that the searingly hot guy liked the slightly awkward, opinionated, boundary-crushing girl? How did that even WORK?

(Also, let’s not forget David Bowie in the Labyrinth – my all-time favorite film. Just to remind everyone of his hotness in this film, I have plucked a few quotes from a fan website: Everyone found David Bowie in the Labyrinth sexy – I’m a straight male and I was still attracted to him…I would personally become his slave and do anything for him. And wreck him horribly…“KILF.” (Like MILF, but with a King)…The moment that David Bowie appeared in those tights, he devirginized the whole world).

Before I get too carried away, the point I’m trying to make is that as we grow and mature, as our brains develop, we can see things in a different light and recognize complexities that our seven year old self never could’ve dreamed of. It is seeing the same landscape with new eyes, or peeling another layer off an onion. So, next time I watch Dirty Dancing (and there WILL be a next time), it will blow my mind. In the meantime, there are some Youtube clips involving puppets that urgently require my attention.




Swallow the Red Pill

neo-matrix“This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill: the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill: you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Sound familiar? Indeed, it is the now fabled dialogue from the first Matrix film in which Morpheus entices Neo to take the red pill.

Full disclosure: I only saw the first film in The Matrix trilogy and most of it went right over my head. In fact, if I’m perfectly honest, I only watched it because Keanu Reeves is so incredibly easy on the eyes.

However, I cannot remain ignorant any longer. More than a decade after this film made waves by forcing a mainstream audience to consider the nature of reality and question their own lives, it has become entrenched in both our psyches and popular culture (including rap music – holla Kanye!). How do I know this? Because I hung out a little bit with my good friend Google, and also my human friends keep making obtuse Matrix references in conversation. And I kind of get the gist of what they’re saying, the point they’re making. But I wanted to explore the notion of the pills a little further.

So, recently, I was hanging with my friend, who is also foreign, along with two Korean university students who have never left Korea. We were talking about traveling. Both my aforementioned friend and I have traveled. A lot. We encouraged our Korean friends to go and expand their horizons beyond their own borders. Then, my friend said, “But do it at your own peril. It’s like in the The Matrix, you take that pill and you will never be the same. Your life will change. It won’t all be good, either.” I piped up, “Yes, and you can’t put the genie back in the lamp, or squeeze toothpaste back into tube.” (Which, incidentally, was completely lost on them with their limited knowledge of English).

Anyway, according to Wikipedia, “The blue pill and its opposite, the red pill, are pop culture symbols representing the choice between the blissful ignorance of illusion (blue) and embracing the sometimes painful truth of reality (red).”

Everyday, we must decide which pill we will take – whether we want to be ignorant little hamsters running around on our wheels, or if, instead, we want to keep questioning, examining, searching for the truth, ripping off the veil of illusion and striving to understand how the world really is. Rabbit hole, anyone?



The Faux Guru

Hipster and Prankster Vikram Gandhi

Jaded, cynical and anti-religion film maker Vikram Gandhi is out to expose the commodification of spirituality in America and comes up with a brilliant yet ethically dubious social experiment: what if he were to start his own Indian religion, find some followers and capture it on film to show how gullible and foolish people can be?

With the help of an orange robe, a blingy Gandalf-worthy staff, and some feral facial hair, the transformation of New York hipster to Indian guru (known as ‘Kumaré,’ a variation of his middle name, Kumar), is complete.

Kumaré travels to Arizona with two pretty actresses who act as his assistants. He is a striking and charismatic figure who exudes charisma and serenity. He soon attracts a dozen or so followers who engage in chanting his name, devour every word he speaks (“I am not who you think I am. What you see is an illusion”), practice his made-up yoga and welcome him into their homes.

Fake Guru in Action

The plot thickens when halfway through the documentary Vikram/Kumaré starts to feel uncomfortable with what he is doing and questions his motives. He becomes fond of his devotees, feels connected to them and genuinely enjoys their company. He decides to unveil and come clean with the truth. However, he can’t go through with it. “As I sat in that circle,” he tells us later, “I realized I’d connected more deeply with people as Kumaré than I ever had as Vikram.”

I won’t spoil the ending, as it really is a film worth watching. But, there are several striking aspects of the film worth briefly considering:

  1. Seriously, who (apart from Sash Baron Cohen), would have the gall to undertake such an unethical project and deceive people like that?! Especially vulnerable people who are seeking some kind of spiritual comfort (or is that what ‘real’ gurus do anyway?)
  2. Wow, is it really that easy to start your own religion and are people really that trusting and gullible?
  3. Vikram’s own transformation as he comes to relate to his devotees and question his own (lack of) faith. It is interesting how his new persona takes over and he comes to identify more with his made-up self than his original self.
  4. What happens to his devotees during the course of their relationship with him is very interesting. As his followers, they start to make positive changes in their lives, aided by his support and encouragement. One woman loses 30 kgs, another follows her dream of becoming a yoga teacher. An attorney starts to meditate everyday and vows to get out of debt. A couple in a rocky relationship re-commit to each other.

Kumaré puts this down to a concept in Buddhism – the idea of killing the Buddha. That is, you should not become fixated on a leader or guru. You must realize that he is empty, an illusion and you are seeing what you want to see.

As ‘Kumaré’ states on his Website: “The person you see before you in the mirror each morning can be very convincing, but do not let your reflection define you. You must visualize your desired self, emanate it, and become it. Take control of your destiny, and you can accomplish anything!”

That’s right. He has his own Website complete with teachings and workshop information. I don’t know whether this is a part of the prank or if Vikram is being serious and has really become Kumaré. I guess the joke is on me.