“Brother if you don’t become a monk, you will go to hell.” –The Next Guardian

Haven’t written in a long time partially because I’ve been thinking a lot about what this blog should do when everyone and their cat is lending their voice and meows in a large, collective howl via the internet. I’m going to try not to make a big deal of the absence and might write about it some other time in a separate post. I just want to acknowledge the silence without dwelling. Onward now…


I had a chance to see a documentary called The Next Guardian through the SF Film Festival this year. Arun Bhattarai and Dorrotya Zurbo directed this slice of life from Bhutan, a region in the Himalayas between China and India. I appreciate the importance placed on symbolism in the movie because it made this viewer realize the conflict in a way that felt like a conversation tugging in various ways. The documentary had a surface-level statement about the sadness surrounding the loss of tradition. However, through signs and symbols, the piece argues with itself. Visually, the children playing and bathing in the river, interacting with rocks is an allusion to eastern philosophy. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so sad to see Gyembo’s lack of interest in his family’s Buddhist monastery because an individual’s decision in how they participate isn’t that different from watching the various ripples and bubbles within a river. Life goes on the way it will without all the drama and importance that we like to give to things. We’re all just a ripple. The river will still be the same despite its constant state of change.

Close to the end of the movie, Gyembo and his sibling, Tashi, are seen rolling rocks down a huge basin. There are piles of these spherical rocks (about the size of bowling balls) which seem to have been shaped like so because people took the time to roll them down this basin. If you think about moving water shaping these rocks as a reference frame, the scene becomes more meaningful: these kids are shaping their own future as they let go and joke about going to hell as they chat about what Gyembo will do with his life. Later, we see the two climbing layers of stone slabs for a view and I wonder if that particular scene is about overcoming such solid, deeply embedded traditions.

As a western viewer of this piece, I felt privileged to observe something subtly different (to me at least) in the way the father views change. In the car on the way to a monastery, Gyembo’s father talked about the evils of going into higher education because it is a way of life that is too expensive or time-consuming in order to achieve superficiality (hearing this about education is something new to me). He talked about how if Gyembo studied business, his life would be partially based on deception, which would bring bad karma. Even becoming a farmer is not good because Gyembo would hurt worms and other living things in the soil. Hearing this last bit seems amusing and slightly ridiculous at first but then you realize that perhaps it isn’t as ridiculous as we think given the context of Buddhism. The fears of Gyembo’s father based on his reference frame are valid and honest. I can’t help that I chuckled…but at least it happened in my mind and no one saw it. Maybe. Who knows.

Another point of appreciation: this movie is filled with bright, warm yellows and reds, children laughing, and well-timed humor despite the bleak topic and conflict between a father and son. It figures out a way to make light of the situation despite this struggle that does call for serious thought. Everyone can relate because everyone has dealt with their own similar struggle to choose between obligation and personal desire.

If you see it, I hope you enjoy it. Time to see it: Weekend, early afternoon is best. Right after breakfast when you wanted to sleep in but accidentally woke up the same time you do for work is also good.


Star Wars: The importance of the non-showy and understated

Star Wars: I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT. tl;dr: People need to stop pouting and see that Star Wars as a series is aging like fine wine/scotch so that one should sip these newer movies rather than guzzle or down as shots.

The newest movie, in line with the other newer ones, was FANTASTIC and borrowed a leaf or two from productions like Game of Thrones that show the realistic representation of good vs. evil not as black and white, but rather spectrums on both sides. Of course, this has been done in the past with characters like Han Solo and Anakin but, as with Game of Thrones, executed with more nuance and with more characters in the recent movies. It might make it harder to keep up but the upside is that it can also be a great way to keep the audience engaged.

The Disney-Star Wars collaboration is doing a terrific job developing the characters more in order to weave them into a bigger, complex story about “doing the right thing.” Very happy to see that the series is showing that heroes aren’t always the main characters or that they tragically don’t get to live to receive recognition (the movies do a great job of allowing us to feel these sacrifices that don’t get “awards” or recognition). To note, while eastern philosophy has always been promoted in Star Wars, I appreciate how long-time fans are able to see more of the ebb and flow of movements “within the universe” by connecting how characters are related to one another generationally and in relation to the cause and effect of their actions. These two points are something that Star Wars has done in the past but it’s even better this time because 1) the continuation of their attention to the generational lines through the teaching lens (even when it failed) is an important contribution to the conversation AND 2) as for the attention to cause and effect between characters, I’m pleased to see Disney-Star Wars emphasizing it with more nuance and in a slower, more patient pace. Personally, I appreciate the slower pace because it is a more realistic representation of people and how they may change as well.

In a world with the illusion of instant-gratification especially within action-oriented movies, this is refreshing to see. Happy fan here.



Many movies regarding the Holocaust focus on showing suffering at camps or the ruthlessness of the military. Phoenix differs by focusing on humanity’s initial reaction: disbelief. How could this happen? How could this be? How could people do this to one another? Instead of showing masses of people experiencing cruelty, the movie explores the depth of betrayal between a man and wife. The slow realization that our protagonist may never find complete resolution or happiness post-war–that she may never fully heal–captures the bitter void that victims feel.

Subtle, mature, and delicate acting exists throughout this film.



“In the urrent state of things, not allowing them to leave the country–or even teach them to read–would actually do them a favor…”

The young blond man at the dinner party wrote this in a book he is writing (Colonial Studies. This comes from the last paragraph of Chp.3, which starts with a bit of humor, probably as a way to soften the serious dialogue but also reaffirms the notion that foreigners in a position of power view the “indio” as second class citizens. Here’s the paragraph:

That night, among the things the young blond man would write was the next chaper in his Colonial Studies: “How a neck and wing in a friar’s plate of tinola can spoil the happiness of a celebration.” Among his observations were the following “In the Philippines the person of least use is the one who gives the dinner or party. The host could be tossed out into the street and everything would still proceed swimmingly.” “In the current state of things, not allowing them to leave the country–or even teaching them to read–would actually be doing them a favor…”

p.23, Chp.3

“A people’s prosperity or misery lay in direct proportion to its freedoms or its inhibitions and, along the same lines, of the sacrifice or selfishness of its ancestors.”

At a dinner party, Ibarra was asked what made the greatest impression on him while he was traveling in Europe. His response:

Frankly, the surprising thing about these peoples, when you set aside everyone’s national pride…before visiting a country, I tried to study its history, its Exodus, so to speak, and in the end I found they all followed a common course. In every instance I noted that a people’s prosperity or misery lay in direct proportion to its freedoms or its inhibitions and, along the same lines, of the sacrifice or selfishness of its ancestors.”

The Franciscan gave a mocking laugh,

“It doesn’t seem worth it to waste all that money just to find out such an insignificant thing. Any schoolboy knows that.”

p.22, Chp.3

What is the purpose of traveling to learn something that can be read in a book? Is traveling a luxury or a necessity? Perhaps both when you have the means to because when there is a means, it seems like a waste of life to not go and see more of the world. A book requires trusting on someone else’s experience and reference frames. Besides, what is captured by a book years ago may have changed and there is value in being your own source of knowledge. Travel challenges oneself beyond the confines and safety of ink on paper.

“When we played together, he never repeated himself. I don’t think he could.” –Yehudi Menuhin on Stephane Grappelli

Yehudi Menuhin had great respect for Stephane Grappelli, a jazz violinist whose musical upbringing was far from Yehudi’s own formal education. According to Paul Balmer’s biography of Stephane, the latter had grown up with “no training in music but with common-sense guile.” Stephane had a father who would scrounge around to find his talented son a violin and a book of solfege. Before the violin, he had put Stephane into a dance program with Isadora Duncan before he left to fight in World War I.  Stephane’s father reached out to his aristic, musical friends to guide his young son through the first parts of learning the arts. In addition to having a supportive father, Stephane learned to be scrappy. On his first violin lessons:

“I go to the street and I watched the buskers. I watched where he put his hands. That was my first teacher.”

Stephane was a quick study, perhaps as a result of having to adapt quickly to different situations. Along with his musical talent, Stephane also had a way with people:

“Presented with the intriguing instrument Stephane fumbled for a few days with its mysteries and then made a resourceful move: There were many musicians then in cafes, and I asked one to help me with tuning the violin, I think he was intrigued by this precocious child and he tuned it for me.”

p.33 in a biography by Paul Balmer