Handmade Candy Canes at Hammond’s Candies

After TBEX2012, I made the most of my remaining time in Denver by visiting Hammond’s Candies.  This place has been making candy since 1920.  What’s truly remarkable is that the hard candy — candy canes, candy ribbons, lollipops, pillows, and sticks — are still  largely made by hand.  See how they make candy canes in my short video below!

Hammond’s Candies
5735 N. Washington Street
Denver, CO 80216
(888) 226-3999
http://www.hammondscandies.com
Free factory tours are available.  See website for details.

Sunday Signs & Symbols: Laughing Buddha and the Number Eight

Today, I am attending a wedding. This ritual of joining two people together in marriage is full of rich symbolism.

Several months ago, I attended a wedding where the groom was of Chinese descent and the bride was of Filipino descent. They incorporated important symbols from each of their cultures into their special day. As I entered the dining room at the reception, I was greeted by an army of laughing Buddhas all arranged neatly in lines. Each Buddha had its arms raised, holding up a small piece of paper. On these slips of paper were the names of each guest and the table number they were assigned to sit in. How lucky of me to be assigned to table 8!

Buddhists believe that Buddha achieved enlightment and his image came to embody this state of being. In turn, the Chinese culture projected ideas of health, happiness, prosperity, and longevity on to the Buddha. Rubbing the Buddha’s belly is considered to be lucky.

In Cantonese and regional dialects, the pronunciation of the word “eight” is similar to the pronunciation of the words “wealth” and “prosperity”. Because of these similarities, the number eight has become synonymous with these words.

Years ago, we worked with a Chinese-American realtor when my husband and I looked to buy a house in a neighborhood with a significant Asian population. We learned that a house on the market with a price tag of multiple 8s or ending in an 8 meant the seller was Chinese. When our realtor put a bid to purchase her own house, her figure included three 8s at the end.

As the Summer Olympics in London approach, I think back to four years ago when China hosted the Summer Olympics. The Opening Ceremony was held on August 8, 2008 or 8/8/08 as close to 8:08:08 pm, Beijing time. How fortunate for the Chinese to work these logistics in their favor! It all makes sense.

TBEX 2012 in Keystone, Colorado

I attended my very first TBEX, Travel Blogger Exchange, last year in Vancouver.  During the conference, I attended a writing workshop where we were assigned homework for the next day.  We were instructed to write a short piece, no more than 500 words, on our journey to TBEX2011.   Here’s what I wrote:

The rising sun awakens me each day.  Even if my eyelids are heavy, they are forced open by the harsh morning light.  I blink several times and my eyes wander to that one paint scab on the ceiling, a patch of yellow exposed in a sea of white.  “I really need to repaint this room.  Maybe that shade of blue that reminds me of the waters of Bermuda,” I think to myself.  I push aside the thought and swing my legs off the bed.  Other things take precedent.  Phone calls, emails, reports, projects.  My mind churns out the ticker tape of today’s to-do list at work and I know I will execute these tasks with perfunctory efficiency.  I can do this in my sleep.

Today, I am not at home and the light here in Vancouver is different.  Perhaps it is a function of the time of day.  The afternoon sun casts a warm yellow glow on me as I sit by these windows that are triple my height.  It easy to feel connected to the world outside the Convention Centre.  There is a Holland America cruise ship docked next door.  From here, I see housekeeping staff cleaning the exterior balconies in preparation for the next cycle of passengers.   I am reminded me that boats are not meant to be tethered.  They are meant to sail.

Rick Calver, CEO of BlogWorld

On year later, in June, I landed in Denver, Colorado to attend TBEX2012.  Traveling from sea level to approximately 11,400 feet above sea level in less than 24 hours proved incredibly difficult.  I suffered from severe altitude sickness (symptoms included: pounding headaches, loss of appetite, nausea, throwing up, lack of sleep) during the entire conference.  It was difficult to focus, learn, and network when I was not on top of my game. Despite this disappointing setback, TBEX 2012 served as a useful benchmark to look back on what I accomplished within the past year.  It was also great to catch up with old travel friends and make new ones.

Me with Scott Jordan, CEO & Founder of Scottevest. Thank you so much for my complimentary red Scottevest! I love it!

With fellow petite friend, Jodi Ettenberg (Legal Nomads)

With Matt Kepnes (Nomadic Matt). I love that he’s happy to see me!

My roommates at TBEX: Irene Lau (@i_on_food_drink) & James Clark (NomadicNotes).

TBEX2011 confirmed what my heart had been telling me for some time: take the leap of faith, leave my office job, and start the path to self-employment. Three months after Vancouver, I followed through with my decision and went to LA to become certified as a Bikram yoga teacher. In the 9 months since I left the comfort of a steady paycheck and amazing benefits, I sometimes get discouraged and berate myself for not being 10 steps ahead of where I currently am. Am I not organized, disciplined, creative, or good enough? James Clark of Nomadic Notes reminded me that this feeling is normal among self-employed people no matter how long they have worked for themselves. “Do you know how many people do what you did?” he asked. “Many people spend their entire lives dreaming and talking about pursuing their passions but almost all of them never do it. The step you took was the biggest and hardest one.” When I catch myself being too hard on me, I remember his sage advice.  Thank you James.

It’s been more than a year that I’ve actively blogged under ActionJoJo, focusing on my three main interests:  1) the NYC borough of Queens, the most diverse county in the United States and my home; 2) my travels; and 3) Bikram yoga.  Despite these broad topics, I still need to work on branding ActionJoJo.  Chris Gray Faust (@CAroundTheWorld) and Janice Waugh (@solotraveler) offered excellent advice in their session “The Branding of You”.  They suggested to examine the interests and talents that make you unique.  Check.  Then, identify your primary niche and focus on it to eventually be considered an expert in your field.  Hmmm, must make a decision on what my primary niche is.  Develop trust between you, your readers, and sponsors.  Working on it by sticking to a regular blog post schedule.  Market your brand and benefit from it.  Needs work.  Set goals and create a strategy to achieve said goals.  Needs work. 

The picture below inspires me to work through these issues.  It was a joy to see fellow travel friends wear t-shirts with my logo on it at TBEX this year!

Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere (r) fulfilled his promise last year to wear my t-shirt to this year’s TBEX! James Clark (l) got a t-shirt too for being a great friend.

The path ahead has yet to be defined yet I am excited to come up with creative answers to who ActionJoJo is and what my website strives to be for the world at large.  At the very least, I hope people come to know ActionJoJo as someone willing to try new experiences.  Despite the altitude sickness, I couldn’t give up the opportunity to ride a mechanical bull for the first time at the Expedia-sponsored, cowboy-themed BBQ dinner.  As I climbed onto the machine, a young boy helped me by giving me an important tip: engage the inner thighs and never stop squeezing them together.  I was encouraged!  As a yoga student, I know how to engage these muscles!  I am proud that I managed to stay on that bull for 31 seconds as it spun and bucked.

Photo courtesy of Irene Lau

I suppose riding a mechanical bull is a metaphor for my life right now:  get on a ride you want to try, utilize rarely used muscles to make them strong, and get back on or try something else if I get thrown off.  For now, I’m going to stay on this ride despite the bucking and spinning.  I’m going to learn to flex new muscles, grip tight when I’m about to fall off yet know when to let go when the time is right.  My goal?  Smile during this whole process and enjoy the ride.

Photo Courtesy of James Clark

Sunday Signs & Symbols: Hindu Temple?

What I love about the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights Elmhurst, Queens (besides the fact that I grew up in Elmhurst) is the fact that that it is a melting pot of so many different cultures.  The local hospital, Elmhurst Hospital, apparently has staff that can speak approximately 80 languages and dialects to serve the community.

I was in the neighborhood one day and walked by this Sunoco gas station on Roosevelt Avenue & 72nd Street, I realized that there was one sign out of place from the rest.

Amid the signs for gas prices, state inspections, and washes there was a sign for what I’m guessing is a Hindu temple?  I didn’t have time to explore further so I can’t say exactly what place this sign is advertising.  I will have to come back and find out and let you know!

It is a little odd that a sign like this is mixed in with the gas station signs but maybe for this neighborhood, it makes a lot of sense.  If anyone can read the text, please let me know what this sign says in a comment.  Thank you!!!

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic. Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Sunday Signs & Symbols: Hindu Temple?

What I love about the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights Elmhurst, Queens (besides the fact that I grew up in Elmhurst) is the fact that that it is a melting pot of so many different cultures.  The local hospital, Elmhurst Hospital, apparently has staff that can speak approximately 80 languages and dialects to serve the community.

I was in the neighborhood one day and walked by this Sunoco gas station on Roosevelt Avenue & 72nd Street, I realized that there was one sign out of place from the rest.

Amid the signs for gas prices, state inspections, and washes there was a sign for what I’m guessing is a Hindu temple?  I didn’t have time to explore further so I can’t say exactly what place this sign is advertising.  I will have to come back and find out and let you know!

It is a little odd that a sign like this is mixed in with the gas station signs but maybe for this neighborhood, it makes a lot of sense.  If anyone can read the text, please let me know what this sign says in a comment.  Thank you!!!

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic. Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Reflections on Bikram Yoga Teacher Training: Top 5 Things I Learned About Indian Culture from Watching Bollywood Movies

3 a.m.
LaLa and I squeezed ourselves into the cramped elevator.  I no longer had the patience to wait another 5 minutes.  We stood like statues shoulder to shoulder in the tiny confined space, silent because of exhaustion but grateful for sleep to come soon.  We exited and slowly dragged our bodies back to our room as if moving through molasses.  It took every ounce of strength to stay up the additional few minutes to brush my teeth when all I wanted to do was collapse on top of the bed.

Bikram’s evening lecture ended at midnight and when staff readjusted his chair to face a screen lowering from the ceiling we knew it was going to be a Bollywood night.  I shoved earplugs into my ears as fellow trainees settled into their uncomfortable chairs.

Prior to teacher training, I never watched a Bollywood movie even though I grew up with many South Asian friends.  The first thing I learned about these films?  They are never short.  Averaging 3 hours in length, the plot usually revolves around three interrelated themes:  falling in love, class and caste struggles, and family drama.  Actors also break out into elaborate duets and choreographed dancing, stretching out the movie even longer.  Sometimes, the dance sequence is so over the top that it involves several costume and location changes.  Think of Bollywood movies as two-thirds Spanish telenovela and one-third Broadway musical. Here is a great example from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham where Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol go from India to the Egyptian pyramids to a lake area to a private residence.

The curriculum includes memorizing dialogue, studying anatomy, and learning the philosophy of yoga.  Fundamental to understanding the history of yoga is understanding the culture that created it.  The culture of India may be very foreign for the majority of trainees who were raised in the West and movies may serve as the fastest and easiest introduction to a culture.  I think of my father who grew up in the Philippines and watched American movies such as:  Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, The Seven Year Itch, Rebel without a Cause, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and Godfather I and II.   Movies visually dramatize important cultural values and traditions.  They give us an impression about a place, or a group of people.  In Bollywood, Hindu concepts of karma and reincarnation, for example, play out in the plot.

Bikram introduced our first film Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai by saying, “In the West, people think they can get away with things especially when they think no one is watching.  In India, people know that God is always watching.  If they cheat others and cheat themselves, they will eventually have to settle the debt one day.  When that day comes, they will pay that debt back with interest.”

In Jodhaa Akbhar, when the Muslim emperor offers the Hindu princess he just married the Islamic custom of khulla, the dissolution of the marriage bond, in response to her coldness on their wedding night, she denies his offer by saying, “For us, marriage binds us for seven lifetimes.”  Whaaaaat?!  SEVEN?!

We also watched episodes of the Indian television series, Mahabharat, based on the Mahabharata, an epic Sanskrit tale of ancient India.  Filmed in the late 1980s, the series of 94 episodes educates viewers on Hindu philosophy.  If you can get past the awful special effects, the message is useful.

After watching 20 hours of Bollywood,
here are my top 5 impressions of Indian culture:

  1. Modesty is held in high esteem.  You will never rarely see a man and woman kiss on the lips.  They’ll lean very closely into each other with lips inches apart, chests heaving, and eyes furtively seeking. But never will they kiss.  Instead, they passionately hug or the man will kiss the woman on the neck.  Sometimes, you’ll hear a frustrated Western trainee hiss loudly, “Kiss already! Kiss. KISS!”  And forget about watchig a sex scene.  There are no boobs and no butts; it is a G-rated film.
  2. Receiving favor is important.  Children wish to receive their parents’ blessing on all matters ranging from educational decisions, business deals, and most importantly, future spouses.  The major conflict of Bollywood usually involves falling in love with the “wrong” person.
  3. Deference is valued.  As a sign of respect, a person would reach down and touch another person’s foot considered to be the dirtiest part of the body since it is closest to the ground.  Young people observe this tradition with their elders and even wives with their husbands.
  4. The Divine exists not just in deities but also in humans.  A person holds a circular tray containing flowers, ghee or clarified butter, food, and a small lit lamp and waves it in a circuluar motion in front of another human being or a statue of a god.  This physical act recognizes and pays respect to the divine.
  5. Hrithik Roshan is simply the hottest person on earth.  No disrespect to my husband who I love dearly but seriously, what did Roshan do in his past lifetimes to be blessed with beautiful genes?  Tall and lean with an athletic body, his caramel skin and green eyes made many female andmale trainees…swoon at the sight of him on screen.  He could read the phonebook in Hindi for all I care.  He’s just that gorgeous.

    Photo Courtesy of BollyCurry.com

Photo courtesy of Katty Chaichian Bateman who owns a Jodhaa Akbar pillow!

My favorite Bollywood film that we watched at training is Jodha Akbhar starring Roshan and Aishwarya Rai.  The film has a compelling storyline without the gratuitous musical sequences as well as beautiful cinematography.  It dramatizes the story of the Mughal emperor seeking to unite the various kingdoms of Rajasthan in the 16th century.   The entire film is available on YouTube in 10 minute intervals; below is the first installment.  If you have three hours, sit back and enjoy the movie.  I promise you won’t be sorry.Even though I enjoyed watching Bollywood movies during teacher training, these three-hour films contributed to our sleep deprivation.  There were definitely times when I wished for sleep instead of a film.  Only once did I get my wish.

Photo Courtesy of Axry Bernal

I recognize that Bollywood movies reflect a certain section of culture in India.  In fact, the country has regional differences evident in the local dialect, food, and religious faiths.  However, I am thrilled that I’ve been exposed to the country’s largest producer of films.  As I walk around the “Little India” section of Jackson Heights, Queens, I can at least now recognize Bollywood actors such as Shah Rukh Khan who is considered to be the “King of Bollywood”.

The House that Ben Built: American Philosophical Society

Benjamin Franklin’s name is scattered all throughout the city of Philadelphia, from a major thoroughfare to a science museum. Indeed, it is difficult to forget that this man — writer, inventor, diplomat, and so much more — contributed so much to the city he called home and to the newly formed nation of thirteen former British colonies. Franklin, popularly known for discovering electricity with a key and a kite, was a prolific thinker who cared deeply about the development of learned thought in the colonies and later, the new nation. In 1743, he created the American Philosophical Society [APS] to cultivate such knowledge among men.  Today, the APS remains an active learned society whose members range from astronaut Neil Armstrong to writer David McCullough. I took a private tour, which allowed me to view rare items from the Society’s private collection.

Standing in a brightly lit room surrounded by library card catalog cabinets of the past, the oldest artifact presented to me was in a large frame.  It held the only known copy of the US Declaration of Independence printed on vellum. Seeing this simple object in front of me yet remembering what this document symbolizes, I imagined myself reading this manifesto nailed to a wall in a public square during the colonial period. What would it have felt like–either as a colonizer or a colonized–to read this blatant act of political defiance?

The next artifact was embedded within a series of boxes, like the inner-most doll of a matryoshka set.  The protective boxes revealed a red leather book bound at the top with the following label:

Lewis and Clark Codices
Codex J. – Clark.
Journal
January 1, 1806 – March 20, 1806

I laid eyes on William Lewis’s daily journal, one of the greatest and oldest travelogues of the United States.  President Thomas Jefferson, an APS member, commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the land west of the colonies and the Mississippi River.  His diary was neatly written, covering every inch of paper in his legible penmanship and sketches.  Looking at this object easily made me imagine the various circumstances Lewis wrote in his journal.  Even after long and tiring days of exploration, perhaps sitting outdoors by a fire, he still diligently wrote his daily observations with a steady hand.

The final paper object moved from handwritten words to typewritten words; it was a transcript of the words uttered by the first man on the moon. I discovered that Neil Armstrong’s now popular evocation, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.“ was captured incorrectly. Garbled through the radio transmission, what he actually said was, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”  Below, you can see Armstrong’s revision to the text (look for a lightly written “L” symbol between “for” and “man” in the 3rd line and look to the right margin where it says “L a”).

Thanks to support from its members and major philanthropic foundations, the APS today continues its commitment to scholarly advancement and knowledge production. One project is the organization and digitization of its collection on Native American culture. Photographs, diaries, and audio captured on old formats (like the wire recording in the picture below) need to be upgraded so as to preserve and make them accessible not only to the scholarly community but also to the Native American tribes whose cultures these items capture.  Native American tribal elders or experts serve as consultants to the APS.  Some artifacts in the collection offer previous knowledge or information that no longer exists.  For example, some Native American languages are no longer spoken today but the APS has late 19th or early 20th century recordings of these languages.

The APS recognizes its role in educating the public. Its museum allows visitors to see revolving exhibits that highlight items from its collection.  While the APS library is only available to scholars, the public can see a few small exhibits in the library foyer such as copies of Lewis and Clark’s diaries during their US northwest expedition and a copy of Ben Franklin’s editorial mark-ups of the Declaration of Independence.

A visit to Philadelphia should definitely include a visit to the APS. After you wait on the long line to visit the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall, be sure to cross the street and check out the Society’s museum to learn unique aspects of American history.

American Philosophical Society Museum
104 South Fifth Street
Philadelphia, PA  19106-3387
215-440-3400
www.apsmuseum.org
$1 Donation Requested

Sunday Signs & Symbols: US Declaration of Independence

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This sentence is arguably the most recognized sentence in the US Declaration of Independence. On July 4, 1776, the words of this document were approved. The thirteen American colonies publicly asserted their desire to separate from Great Britain and the rule of King George III.

The success of the American Revolution and the subsequent creation of a new republic based on the principles of democracy and liberalism affected the entire world at the time. Notions of equality and liberty espoused in the Declaration of Independence fueled revolutions in the late 18th century such as the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution, and in the early 19th century, the revolutions in Latin America. These ideals were used as the basis for change during periods of American history when the rights of a certain group of its citizens were contested namely, the abolitionist movement, the civil right’s movement, and the women’s suffrage and women’s rights movements. Even in the mid-20th century, these ideals were embraced by African and Asian colonies seeks independence from their colonizers. In America today, individuals and their respective political parties seeking election will appeal to voter sensibilities through the utilization of these ideals.

Happy Independence Day America! Read more this coming Tuesday on my trip to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia where I got to see the only known printed copy of the US Declaration of Independence on vellum.

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic. Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Sunday Signs and Symbols: Sun

In honor of the recent Summer Solstice and my practicing Bikram Yoga in Times Square that day, I think it appropriate to dedicate a Sunday Signs & Symbols post to the sun. The image above depicting a circle with a heavy dot in the middle is an ancient symbol of the sun that is often used in astronomy and astrology.

The sun is such an integral factor to life on earth and it only makes sense that various cultures, disciplines, and religions have various representations for it. Throughout history, you will find groups of people worshiping the sun to varying degrees, in either the literal, metaphorical, or metaphysical sense.

The ancient Egyptians worshiped Ra, the sun god, while the Incans believed that their sun god Inti, was birthed out of a rock on Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) in Lake Titicaca, a mountain lake that inhabits both Bolivia and Peru.

"isla del sol", "lake titicaca". bolivia, peruHiking along the top of Isla del Sol with Lake Titicaca in the background.
"isla del sol", "lake titicaca", bolivia, peruThe sacred rock believed to be where Inti, the sun god, was born.

In hatha yoga, students practice sun salutations, a series of postures done in a flow sequence. In fact, the Sanskrit word “ha” means sun and “tha” means moon and put together, “hatha” represents the cosmological balance found in the universe. In Sanskrit, “ha” represents energy, masculinity, and the right side of the body while “tha” represents serenity, femininity, and the left side of the body.

Today’s modern day sun worshipers can be found mainly in Westerners who love to soak in the sun and get a tan. In NYC, locals and tourists alike, flock annually to the streets for several days in the year to watch Manhattanhenge. I actually discovered a lesser known but equally interesting solar event in NYC that I coined Queenshenge.

Sunday, derived from “the sun’s day”, can stir up debate as to whether it is the last or the first day of the week. Nevertheless, it is a testament to our deference to the sun and the word itself embodies how we understand and measure time.

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic. Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Yoga in Times Square

The Times Square Alliance held its annual Solstice in Times Square on June 20th, the day of the Summer Solstice.  Thousands of people descended onto the crossroads of NYC to participate in free yoga classes throughout the day.  One of the classes offered during the day was a Bikram class and this year, Bikram yogis got a special treat:  Rajashree Choudhury, the wife of Bikram Choudhury (creator of the series) taught the class.

A preliminary count of 3,260 people participated in last Wednesday’s class, arguably making it the largest Bikram class ever assembled. And I was there in attendance!  I ended up practicing in the fifth row from the stage with a clear view of Rajashree and the backdrop of Times Square behind her.

Practicing yoga in the heart of Times Square with thousands of yogis was a unique and exhilarating experience.  The sea of yogis stretched from 42nd to 48th Streets.  The added challenge was to find stillness in the total chaos. Cars honked, sirens roared, large TV screens flashed, the subway rumbled underground, and passerbys took pictures with their phones.  For more than 3 years, I have practiced concentration and focus in the serenity of a yoga room.  I was pleased to discover that after several “Oh-my-God-I’m-on-TV-Do-I-Look-Cute?” moments, I set aside the distractions and found my focus.

Lying in Savasana, Dead Body Pose, on Broadway in Times Square

View of the Sky from Savasana, Dead Body Pose

Stillness of the mind starts with stillness of the body. The most effective way to still the body is to still the eyes.  As Bikram teachers, we like to say “Where the eyes go, the body follows.”  When my students struggle to find physical balance, I encourage them to pick one spot with their eyes and focus on it.

In Times Square, the best focal point in my line of vision was ironically a billboard sign of a Corona bottle.  I stared at it and found my balance. I successfully managed to tap into my inner stillness amidst the chaos.  If I can find peace in the middle of Times Square, I can do it anywhere especially in the midst of the chaos of life.