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Guest Blogger: Stephanie Wu, author of "The Roommates"

The RoommatesWe all know the horror stories--the passive-aggressives, the hoarders, the oversharers--but roommates can change your life for the better, too. For my new book, The Roommates: True Tales of Friendship, Rivalry, Romance, and Disturbingly Close Quarters, I wanted to find stories that embraced the great part of living with a stranger as well. Several people shocked me with their humanity and how well they dealt with extraordinary living situations--particularly these five roommates, who truly went above and beyond.

1.    The Teenage Cousin Who Came To Her Rescue:
When recent graduate Karen* moved in with her college freshman cousin, she wasn’t sure what their roommate relationship would be--was she supposed to keep him out of trouble? One day, Karen came home to her cousin and his friends, as well as their married next-door neighbor, hanging out in the living room. As she headed upstairs, she noticed the neighbor following her. “I saw his eyes darting around to the open door to my cousin’s room, and he started trying to push me in,” she recalls. Luckily, she managed to fight him off, and he ran out of the apartment. After realizing what had happened, Karen’s cousin followed the husband and beat him up, breaking his own hand in the process. When they moved in together, Karen thought she’d be a guardian of sorts--she never realized it was her teenage cousin who would come to her rescue.

2.    The Local Student Who Helped Her Navigate A Foreign Country:
Ricki studied abroad in Botswana, where she lived with local student Keletso in a dorm. The language barrier made it hard for the two to communicate, but over time, Keletso taught Ricki how to live in Botswana--showering with a bucket, the ritualistic hair braiding, and even how to survive an attack of locust-like flying ants. When Ricki’s homestay fell through later in the semester, Keletso opened up her home, and the two became family. “Living in Botswana was incredibly life-changing,” says Ricki. “I wouldn’t have been able to process what I was going through without Keletso’s quiet guidance.”

3.    The Suitemates Who Attended Therapy Together:
During college, Rose lived with five girls in an off-campus apartment, including Sandra, who they eventually found out had been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. After a violent episode, when one of Sandra’s personalities smashed several mugs in the sink and cut her hands in the process, the roommates, at Sandra’s suggestion, decided to go to therapy together to try to cope with and understand the disorder. Slowly, the roommates figured out Sandra’s triggers--dark movies, surprises, and even church, where abuse had occurred. “When I look back on it, it wasn’t a traumatizing experience,” says Rose. “The roommate therapy forced us to bond and support one another. I’m undoubtedly closer to them than any other group of roommates I ever had.”
 
4.    The Roommate Who Lent a Hand to First-Time Parents
When looking for a change of pace, Eva, despite warnings from friends, decided to move into a new apartment with Erin and Aaron, an engaged couple she met on Craigslist. Soon after the wedding, Erin and Aaron told Eva that they were pregnant, but she was welcome to continue living with them. They assured her they would do their best to keep the baby from disrupting her life. “I got to see the new-parent experience firsthand,” says Eva. “For the first six weeks, they were like zombies.” One Saturday morning, she found Aaron asleep with the baby next to him in her high chair, so Eva dragged the chair into her room to let Aaron take a nap. “They were so embarrassed, but I knew how sleep-deprived they were,” she says. When Eva moved out, she was sad to say goodbye to her roommates. After all, in their time living together, the baby’s crying only woke her up once or twice--and pretty much any roommate in New York will do that to you.

5.    The Friend Who Cooks, Cleans, And Runs Errands
After receiving his Ph.D., Nate wasn’t sure what to do with his life. His good friend, Ben, had just bought a large house with his fiancée, Becca, and offered one of the many extra rooms to him for free. “I was expected to chip in on cleaning, cooking, and other little things around the house,” says Nate, who turned into a full-fledged household manager: planning meals, walking the dogs, helping with home renovation, and consulting on Becca’s business. Though it wasn’t what he was expecting to be doing in his thirties, it’s an arrangement that has worked out. “I get to live with my friends and hang out with them all the time,” he says. “It’s much better than moving in with your parents--the default for this generation and time.”

*All names have been changed

How One Nation Is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture

The Birth of Korean Cool reveals how a really uncool country became cool, and how a nation that once The Birth of Korean Coolbanned miniskirts, long hair on men, and rock ‘n’ roll could come to mass produce boy bands, soap operas, and one of the world’s most important smart phones. Here, the author, Euny Hong, gives a guide to modern Korean etiquette.

1. It is never considered rude to ask someone’s age—technically, instead ask, "What year were you born?" Without knowing which party is older, no one knows how to act or speak. One central tenet of etiquette in Korea is that you have to pay attention to who you are in relation to those around you: Man or woman? Older or younger? Professional rank? Etc. etc. You base all of your actions on hierarchy. If someone new enters the room, you have to recalibrate your behavior.

2. Food and drink are to be consumed whilst sitting or not at all, and indoors unless you are sitting on a picnic blanket. Do not carry around food or drink; not even a bottled water. And definitely not coffee. That would be like walking the streets with a pint of Guinness. And for crying out loud, don't bring beverages into the subway. You don't want to be the jerk who spills liquids on someone's Samsung Galaxy smartphone while they're live-streaming their morning TV programs.

3. Corollary to above: Under no circumstances should you bring your refreshment into someone else's home or office. I don't care if you still have a 3/4 cup full of iced latte; you have to toss it before you cross the threshold. By bringing your own insolent beverage, you have denied your hosts the chance to offer a refreshment. They will per custom offer you a coffee even though you have one; you are obligated to say yes and you will end up with two coffees. If you refuse, your hosts can’t have any coffee either.

4. Do not pour your own alcohol. If you want your glass topped off, hint at this by pouring alcohol into someone else’s glass, whether this person wants it or not. That person must then offer to pour some into your glass. A second and very important rule is that when you are pouring alcohol for someone, pour with your right hand and use your left hand to hold your sleeve. This will assure your drinking buddies that you will not stab them with your free hand.

5. If you are out drinking with friends or colleagues, it's not considered sporting to go home until everyone does. Nausea is in no way a good reason to go home. If you must vomit, go off and do it in the bathroom or alleyway, then return and repeat the self-poisoning/purge process. It is totally within bounds to ask a friend to help you barf.

6. If you are a student at a public K-12 school, never raise your hand in class. No good can come of it. If you have to use the bathroom, wait till after class. If you have a question, let it go. If the teacher is horribly wrong about something and you are trying to correct him/her…you are mistaken. Also, jackets are to be zipped/buttoned up or not worn at all.

7. Your pockets are no place for your hands.

Above the Dreamless Dead

Chris Duffy, editor of the World War I graphic novel, Above the Dreamless Dead, answers some questions about the haunting and beautiful marriage of poetry set to art by some of today's top cartoonists including Garth Ennis, Pat Mills, and Stuart Immonen.

ATDDQ1: Above the Dreamless Dead is an anthology of WWI poetry from a specific movement, 'trench poetry.' Can you tell us a little about that movement?  What were those poets trying to do with their poetry?

Chris Duffy: I should clarify to start with that I am an amateur on his topic -- it can be kind of embarrassing when I'm talking to someone who does know it well. The book wasn't my idea -- I was asked if I wanted to take it on as a freelance job. At the time, some research had been done by the publisher and they thought it seemed like a good idea. Just a little reading of the poetry from WWI convinced me it was a VERY good idea. The poetry is vivid, compelling, and for some reason, unknown to most people. Nothing really brings home World War I (or any war) more than the poetry or prose of those who lived it.  Any book that brings these works to more people is valuable. In the end, I did not become an expert on the topic -- but I'll try to answer these questions and hope that anyone interested seeks out more work on the topic.

During the war and immediately after, "trench poets" referred to many English soldiers who wrote poetry about the war -- especially the ones who made a name for themselves with war poetry. These days, the term is used by many to refer to a larger variety of poets who wrote about the war. As far as I can tell, though, no matter who the term refers to, trench poetry was not a movement -- the poets came from different classes and religions; they didn't share one style or literary goal.

A few of the poets are considered to be part of the Georgian poetry movement. That movement is known for a straightforward lyrical style, often speaking of the English countryside and tending to extol hedonism. But it's safe to say that Georgian poetry is not trench poetry.

The war poets are literally just that -- people who wrote poetry about the war, no matter their point of view. Usually that point of view is a soldier's -- and often on the Western front -- but sometimes it is from the vantage point of a soldier on his way to war; from a civilian in England, from women working with the wounded in France or England.

Continue reading "Above the Dreamless Dead" »

Comics, Wrestling and Telling the Story of Andre the Giant

Box Brown, the author of the new Andre the Giant graphic novel talks about the similarities between the art of comics and professional wrestling and his admiration for the subject of his new book. AndretheGiant

Comics and wrestling seem like a natural fit to me.  When, as an adult, you tell someone you’re interested in comics you have to be prepared to defend that.  I think there can be a lot of misconceptions about what comics are and what comics can be, like that they’re only for kids or perhaps a generation of older men still living in their parents’ basements.  As a comic artist (and reader) I know this just is not the case.  Comics is a medium capable of an infinite range of expressions—an art form.  I believe that pro-wrestling is an art form too.

Surely then, if pro-wrestling is an art form, it has had no greater master than Andre the Giant.  Andre had a condition known as acromegaly, which caused him to grow too large for his own good.  When he was told he wouldn’t live past the age of forty, he decided to live the life he had to the fullest.  Andre had a leg up in the pro-wrestling business, because he was a huge man who was naturally foreboding. But he didn’t rest on that.  He knew how to work a crowd the way great comedians and MCs do.  He knew how to play both a “babyface” (good guy) and “heel” (bad guy) to perfection.  He also worked constantly for many many years to develop his craft. 

In pro-wrestling when two wrestlers are developing a match they say they are telling a story in the ring.  So, in addition to all the storylines that go into a pro-wrestling television show, the two athletes in the ring are telling a story.  It’s a sequential story that has the qualities we look for in the greatest works of literature.  The hero sets out on a quest and is tested and beaten down and eventually he rises to the occasion to defeat and overcome his detractors.  Each story is different and can be a drama, tragedy or comedy.  Each wrestler has his own unique style and way to depict his character.  Is it that different from using a brush and ink (and Photoshop) to tell this type of story on the comic page? 

I think of Andre’s story as a tragic one.  He was disabled for a large part of his life and he died at only forty six years old.  He was mostly portrayed on TV and spoken of as a kind man with gentle heart.  But Andre was only human.  He had all the flaws and personal idiosyncrasies that we all have.  He was imperfect at times.  He spent a lot of time in pain.  I think he felt disconnected to this world that he didn’t quite fit in.  Every aspect of his life had to be special fitted for him, from his clothes to his cutlery to his cars.

Towards the end of Andre’s career he was in a lot of pain. People said he probably should have retired and he could have, financially, but instead he persevered.  I think this is what I admire most about him.  I think those moments when he was in the ring creating stories were extremely important to him and really made him happy.  I hope one day when I’m nearing the end I continue to persevere and create the way Andre did. 

 

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The Time of the Finite

Philippe Squarzoni, author of Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science asks, “How can we--each of us in our own sphere--handle the fundamental contradictions between our lifestyle and the needs of the environment?” ClimateChanged

In 2006, while I was working on my previous documentary graphic novel, I began to look into the issue of global warming. I realized that, probably like most of us, I didn’t know a lot about it, and I decided to explore it more seriously.

I grasped, then, the nature of the climate crisis, the gravity of the situation, and the enormity of the changes that would have to be put in place to escape the worst consequences of climate change. And it became clear to me that it could not be just a few pages devoted to it, but an entire book itself, to which I committed six years of work.

The IPCC reports, scientific books on the subject, and interviews with experts and journalists paint a rather bleak picture of our collective future. While the first part of my book details the causes and consequences of climate change, in the second part it addresses possible alternatives and the energy scenarios that will allow us to escape this as best as possible.

It’s both this growing understanding and the questions that are posed on an individual level that Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science recounts.

How can we—each of us in our own sphere—handle the fundamental contradictions between our lifestyle and the needs of the environment?

If the magnitude of the changes that must be made far exceed the capacity of our individual actions, then true change must be made on a much broader, structural level—these must be political decisions, where, unfortunately, inaction is the order of the day.

Each of the past three decades, the surface of the earth has been successively hotter, compared to all other decades since 1850. Greenhouse gas emissions are now higher than in the most pessimistic predictions.

We stand, in a way, in the intermediate period between two moments in history. A first one where the riches of nature were considered infinite, unlimited resources, a period of perpetual growth. This was the time of promise. But we must move now into a second period, where the constraints of the climate are imposed on us—the depletion of resources, the limits of the planet. This is the time of the finite.

In Montana, “brown season” is a name for a fifth season, a period of transition between winter and spring. A period of uncertainty, from which we must now move on.

 

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Americans Interned

"Gaijin" Summary: With a white mother and a Japanese father, Koji Miyamoto quickly realizes that his home in San Francisco is no longer a welcoming one after Pearl Harbor is attacked. And once he's sent to an internment camp, he learns that being half white at the camp is just as difficult as being half Japanese on the streets of an American city during WWII. Gaijin

When I was ten years old, I read a big stack of books about children and the Holocaust. I was horrified at the thought of children like myself being locked up in those terrible camps. One day my mom told me, “You know, we have family members who were put in an American prison camp during World War Two.”  I didn’t believe her. “America would never do something like that.” I said.

She sat me down and filled me in. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, by the Japanese navy, Americans became very frightened of all Japanese people, even those who were U.S. citizens. In 1942, the government took those fears to an extreme and imprisoned more than 112,000 people of Japanese ancestry in prison camps across western America. Over half of those interned were children and two thirds were U.S. citizens.

The camps were situated in extremely harsh country—mostly high desert, which was very hot in the summer, very cold in the winter. People were made to live in uninsulated tar-paper shacks. My mom told me that my great-aunt Adeline, her daughter, Mary, and Mary’s young children were a just few of those who were forced into one of these prison camps during the war—a camp called Manzanar.

I am not of Japanese descent; my ancestors came mostly from Ireland. So, I didn’t understand: How did my Irish American relatives end up in camps for Japanese Americans?   

Continue reading "Americans Interned" »

Guest Blogger: Gwyneth Paltrow

WithinGwyneth Paltrow is an Oscar winner and author of the New York Times best-selling cookbook, My Father's Daughter. She is a mother and an actress, splitting her time between London and New York.

When my latest cookbook, It's All Good, was nearly complete, I was still searching for someone to write the foreword.  Because the book included amazing recipes based on a particular healing diet I had been prescribed by my physician, I immediately thought of Dr. Habib Sadeghi.  Not only did he understand the medicinal qualities of whole foods, but also the spiritual partnership we have with the earth that provides them to us.  I was extremely grateful when Dr. Sadeghi agreed, and even more so when I recently received the opportunity to return the favor and write the foreword to his incredible new book, Within.

What struck me immediately about Within is that it’s so universal.  Yes, it focuses on the goal of losing weight, but it does so with principles that can be applied to anything we want to achieve.  It’s really a life map instead of a diet.  In fact, it isn’t a diet at all because he never mentions food or even exercise.  The world doesn’t need another carb counting lecture.  It’s really a healing workout for the soul, and that seems only fitting since people often call him the Old Soul Doctor.  

They say that over a lifetime, everyone has at least one story or experience that will break your heart. If that’s true, then Dr. Sadeghi has enough for three lifetimes.  He’s an old soul not because of what he’s been through, but because of how he survived and thrived on the other side of those difficulties. In Within, he shares the tools he used to get through those experiences and the wisdom he earned in the process. 

That’s why I was so proud to write the foreword to Within.  Who hasn’t wanted to change their life in some significant way and felt totally lost as to how to make that happen?  Dr. Sadeghi isn’t a motivational guru.  Even better; he’s somebody who’s “been there”.  If direct experience is the only real teacher in life, then Dr. Sadeghi has a PhD in getting your life off life support.  You’ll feel his compassion on every page and he never talks down to the reader.  Instead, he approaches every subject with the same intuitive empathy that makes him so successful as a physician.

I highly recommend Within, no matter what kind of change you’re seeking in your life.  Just be prepared for a paradigm shift in the way you think and feel that only comes from fearlessly “stepping into your loving”.

--Gwyneth Paltrow

Guest Blog: “It’s a Lovely, Lucky Thing to Have Children.” by Vivek J. Tiwary

“It’s a Lovely, Lucky Thing to Have Children”

51MKOlwmk1LThat’s what Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein told a distraught John Lennon, who had just learned that his girlfriend Cynthia Powell was pregnant.

As a gay man in 1960’s England, it would have been impossible for Brian Epstein to imagine ever having children. Forget gay marriage or adoption—Brian was worried about staying out of jail. Homosexuality was a felony. Brian fondly called the Beatles his “boys” and while scandal-seeking journalists have suggested that this endearment underscored salacious desires, I think it was reflective of a lovelier, though more complicated truth. For Brian, the Beatles weren’t just treasured clients—they were the children he could never have.

Like many good fathers, Brian dreamed big dreams for his boys—“The Beatles are going to be bigger than Elvis!” he proudly boasted, and “the Beatles are going to elevate pop music to an art form!” He believed that the Beatles would spread a great message of love across the globe. And he moved mountains in the service of these dreams—convincing EMI to sign the Beatles after they (and every other record label) had already passed on the band; crafting the famous Beatles’ suits, haircuts, and performance-ending bows; twisting Ed Sullivan’s arm into booking the Beatles when a British band had never made an impact in the United States; and so on. And yet the most important thing that Brian gave the Beatles was not a business item. It was, simply put, love. Engineering the great runaway freight train that was the Beatles in the 1960’s was a man who nurtured them, protected them, and encouraged them to think of their band as a family. Brian’s love for the Beatles’ was an unconditional love—the love of a father to a child. The kind of love that the Beatles sang about so often.

Luckily for Brian, the trickster amongst his boys John Lennon once said that there were only two people in his life that he actually listened to and would do what they told him to—Brian Epstein and Yoko Ono.

My own father died when I was 20, and my mother died just a few years after that. I was an only child, so the loss was devastating and exhaustive. My home felt so quiet in those years. I didn’t feel so much alone as I felt quiet… And now it’s 20 years later, I’m married to an inspiring wife, I have two delightful children—and my home is noisier than I ever imagined possible! It’s full of childish laughter, joy… and the lovesongs of the Beatles.

Tiwary_family
Vivek with his two children

I’ve loved sharing the Beatles with my children in part because it completes a circle that began when my  parents first played the Beatles for me. It feels like witnessing magic to see my kids respond to their songs almost exactly as I did, to truly see how cross-generational this band really is.

And just as I’ve loved sharing the Beatles with my kids, I’ve loved sharing the Brian Epstein story with them—because it’s the story of a man who in the face of tremendous obstacles made a spectacular dream come true. What father doesn’t want his children to grow up with that kind of inspiration?

I dedicated “The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story” to my mother and to Brian Esptein’s mother, because it’s with these fab ladies that it all truly began. But in many ways, “The Fifth Beatle” really belongs to the next generation.

John Lennon said, “Make your own dream. That's the Beatles' story, isn't it?” I suppose it is. But digging deeper than that, it’s really the story of the man who made the Beatles—the story of The Fifth Beatle, Brian Epstein.

 

 

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Guest Blogger: Alan Weisman, author of "Countdown"

CountdownAlan Weisman is the author of several books, including The World Without Us: an international best-seller translated in 34 languages, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and winner of the Wenjin Book Prize of the National Library of China.

Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? addresses a question I’d left dangling at the end of my last book, The World Without Us, a thought experiment that imagined what would happen if people vanished from our planet. The idea of theoretically wiping us from the Earth was to show that, despite colossal damage we’ve wreaked, nature has remarkable healing powers. When relieved of the pressures we humans daily heap upon it, restoration and renewal commence with surprising swiftness.  My hope was that readers, seduced by the gorgeous prospect of a refreshed, healthy Earth, might ask themselves how we could add Homo sapiens back into the picture—only in harmony, not mortal combat, with the rest of nature.

The question I’d left them to ponder was how many people can this planet really hold without capsizing it? A million more of us every 4½ days didn’t sound sustainable– was it time for us to consider gradually bringing ourselves down to a workable equilibrium with our Earthly habitat, before nature brutally did that for us?

This delicate, potentially explosive notion generated so much subsequent discussion that I realized I should investigate it fully.  It’s easy to grasp why populations of prey, predators, and forage plants have to be kept in balance in a national park, but much harder when your own species is in question.  Anticipating the cultural and emotional pitfalls, I’d need to apply objective tools of journalism to learn if the optimum number of humans could actually be determined, and if there were something we could realistically and humanely do about it.

I also had to confront three corollary questions: How much ecosystem is required to preserve human life – what species or ecological processes are essential to our survival?  And if, in order to survive, we have to avoid growing beyond 10 billion—or even reduce our numbers from our current 7+ billion—is there an acceptable, nonviolent way to convince a majority of the world’s religions, nationalities, and political systems that it's in their best interest to do so, or is there anything in their liturgies, histories, or belief systems that might embrace the seemingly unnatural idea of limiting ourselves? Finally, how might we design an economy for a shrinking population, and then for a stable, optimal one—meaning, a way to prosper without constant growth?

My research ended up taking me to 21 countries, starting in Israel and Palestine, ending in Iran, with much of Europe, Africa, the Americas, and the Far East in between. More than one expert I met commented that I was asking the most important questions on Earth—but they were probably impossible to answer.

My reply was that if these are the most important questions on Earth, we’d damn well better try.

--Alan Weisman

Guest Blogger: Bruce Poon Tip, author of "Looptail"

LooptailLooptail combines both Bruce Poon Tip's first-person account of his entrepreneurial instincts to start and develop G Adventures, an international travel adventure company, and along the way, he reveals his unusual management secrets that not only keep his employees engaged but also keep his customers  happy.

“Our purpose in life is achieving happiness.”

- His Holiness The Dalai Lama

I am not Buddhist (I get asked this all the time), but in truth, this teaching of His Holiness the Dalai Lama has helped me build G Adventures - the world’s most successful adventure travel company and evolve it into a social enterprise that elevates its customers to a higher purpose -- all through travel.

Reaching this point was definitely not easy. In LooptailI tell the story of how it all started and why at G Adventures, we’re now in the business of changing people’s lives.

My Looptail started in 1997, seven years after I founded G Adventures in my apartment by maxing out two credit cards. I had to, because no bank would give me a loan to provide start up funding for my business.

Business was not good in 1997. In fact, my fledging company was facing bankruptcy. I was in Nepal, en route to Tibet, leading a group of travelers (which was not uncommon for me at that time). I truly thought that at the end of this trip, when I returned back to Toronto, that we were going to have to close down my business for good.

Nevertheless, as my group got set to depart our hotel for the next leg of our journey, I swapped my copy of Wired, the infamous John Belushi biography for Great Ocean – the authorized biography of Ten‐zin Gyatso, the great fourteenth Dalai Lama. Little did I know that reading that unique book would not only lay the foundation of what would change me as a person (and would result in me getting thrown in a Burmese prison a few days later), but it motivated me to think in new and innovative ways about how to create a different kind of company.

Not only did some fairly karmic events happen to turn things around quickly, but soon after my trip my business began to grow rapidly. But that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted G Adventures to be so much more than JUST a travel company.

These days, we’re at a point at G Adventures where our entire global business is shaped around five core values and our business model is rooted in happiness, community and karma.

As I type this, I realize that this may sound like we’re a bunch of hippies here at G Adventures. To be honest, we do have our share of Birkenstock-wearing employees, but our business numbers don’t lie: In addition to growing profits year after year, even during economic downturns and recessions, we also maintain an incredibly happy workforce, which has won numerous awards. Best of all, we maintain a 99% customer satisfaction rating.

I recently received some amazing news - His Holiness The Dalai Lama has written the foreword for Looptail and in it, thanks me for “…making an active contribution to creating more peaceful and happier world.”  To say that I am honored and thrilled is an understatement. For me this is validation that we have grown into a true social enterprise that inspires and elevates its customers and employees to a higher purpose and have transcended our industry. This, of course, makes me very, very happy.

Looptail is a business book. The thought of this may scare (or bore) some of you, but don’t worry. Throughout the book, there are many stories of travel, adventure, interesting characters, and meaningful connections that I have encountered along my journey.

I hope that you will read Looptail and will be inspired to find happiness in your life and work. 

Peace,

Bruce Poon Tip