The Best of 2021 Awards: Part II

by Just Juan
1420 views 9 min read

Yesterday was Part I of The Best of 2021. I unveiled my Best New Person, Best New Film, Best Laugh, Best New Book, and Best Restaurant Moment from this year. In today’s post, I’m unveiling 5 more random things and moments from this fast expiring year.

BEST ADVERTISEMENT. For Best Advertisement of 2021, the qualifier is a television, radio, or print advertisement that I saw for the first time in 2021. It does not mean that the advertisement was released in 2021. The nominees are:

  • The Adidas Originals “End Plastic Waste” commercial. I saw this commercial for the first time back on April 1 during the Opening Day telecast of the Dodgers and Rockies. You had Kermit the Frog sitting on a bench in what appeared to be a Melbourne, Australia park giving a monologue about being more sustainable in today’s world. You also had a cameo by Yoda…and the Adidas icon Stan Smith topping it off. A really solid commercial that featured the iconic Stan Smith sneakers.
  • Jeep’s “The Middle” commercial. During the Super Bowl, Jeep unveiled a commercial that featured Bruce Springsteen driving a CJ-5 through a snowy Midwestern city. I especially loved the score work of the ad and the message that the timeless Springsteen delivered was actually very appropriate for a nation that seemed to be tearing at the seams after the Capitol riot and the transition of power from President Trump to President Biden.
  • The Huggies “Welcome to the World, Baby” commercial. I first saw this in July. It was one of the most intriguing commercials I’ve seen in the last 5 years, this was basically an ad that introduced a newborn to the world that they would soon grow up in. I thought it was well put together and had all of the elements of what makes babies special.
  • The Dave & Buster’s “Dingiphany” commercial. D&B’s latest commercial was actually very appropriate for anyone who gets their competitive edge while in their restaurant/entertainment playground. When I made a quick turnaround in the States back in September, I did stop in at Dave & Buster’s to let loose and all of the “ding ding ding” really brought out my competitive side. I felt every piece of this commercial.
  • Spotify’s 3-month, $149000 COP promotion. For the past 4 weeks or so, I’ve been getting emails almost every day from Spotify. They are basically trying to get me to commit to their Premium service. The normal price is $14900 Colombian pesos per month but until 11:59pm local on Friday, they are giving away 3 months for that price. It’s an interesting ad and they’ve been really creative in the art they include on it. I’ll probably take advantage of it but I won’t make that decision until Friday afternoon.

And the Best Advertisement of 2021 is…Adidas’s “End Plastic Waste”.


BEST PLACE. For Best Place of 2021, the qualifier is a physical place I frequented at least twice in 2021 and always felt happy being there. The nominees are:

  • The La Candeleria neighborhood of Bogotá. The story of Bogotá actually begins here. I first visited with Mercedes and Ashton last month, when we got a very informative tour from one of the most trusted guides in the Embassy community. I went back for a 2nd time on my own last week. Learning about the history of the neighborhood from the indigenous beginnings to the Spanish conquistadors to Simón Bolívar’s liberation of the city was all very interesting. There were some interesting vendors and food spots along with one of the best markets I’ve seen in a foreign land. It was fairly safe and lively too. I’ll definitely be spending a lot of time there. And that’s probably where the 2 Years in Bogotá series will begin next week.
  • Hilton Garden Inn—Birmingham/Liberty Park. This is my go-to hotel of choice whenever I’m home in Birmingham. It’s tucked away in the woods behind Liberty Park adjacent to I-459 not far from The Summit. I stayed here 3 times in 2021 and if not for what may end up being the Most Disappointing Moment of 2021, it would’ve been 4 times. The staff is always pleasant and they always give me the respect and privilege befit of a longtime Hilton Honors Diamond member. I know that when I’m here, I’m going to be in what may be the best room in the entire hotel.
  • Groomed by Haye. I wrote about what the experience in Haye’s barbershop meant to me in the July 9th Flashback Friday Moment of the Week. It was always a fantastic time whenever I was in his shop. The entire vibe is intoxicating…from the smooth jazz music to the décor to the thought-provoking conversations I shared with the best dude to ever put clippers to my hair. I visited 8 times in 2021 and if I’m being honest, I wish I could’ve brought the entire barbershop with me to Colombia.
  • The Bogotá apartment. The famous line in The Wizard of Oz is “there’s no place like home”. As WWF/E legend Kurt Angle would say, “it’s true…it’s damn true”. From the moment my family and I walked into this palatial apartment for the first time in August, it’s been nothing short of magnificent. I really enjoy living out life in this apartment…so much so that sometimes I just don’t want to leave and go out into the world.

And the Best Place of 2021 is…the Bogotá apartment.


BEST MOMENT OF PEACE. For Best Moment of Peace in 2021, the qualifier is a specific moment in which I felt relaxed and completely at ease with life. The nominees are:

  • Sitting in my corner at the Linn-Henley Research Library. Back in July, when I was closing out all of my business in Birmingham, I stopped in at the Linn-Henley Research Library in Linn Park. I had some time to waste ahead of an appointment at the courthouse next door. While the COVID-19 pandemic restricted me from accessing the 3rd floor computer lab, I was able to find the corner on the 1st floor where I often wrote otherworldly papers that got me As in high school. It was as quiet in July as it was during the days before I landed the Domino’s gig. I felt a certain calmness being there…kinda like it was my element.
  • The onboard experience of Avianca Flight 9547. The flight back to Bogotá from my Cartagena debut in August was one of the most relaxed flight experiences I’ve had in quite some time. In fact, the peacefulness on that afternoon flight may rival my Virgin America flight from 11 Octobers ago. It only being an hour flight, I didn’t have a chance to sleep as I usually do at 30000+ feet in the sky but boy…was I ever comfortable on that plane. The seats, the right amount of air hitting my body from the HVAC, the soft hum of the plane. It was great.
  • Sitting along the Canal Walk of White River State Park. During the late June trip to Indianapolis, I found a moment to take a run in White River State Park. During said run, I spotted a bench along the canal and parked it there for about 30 minutes. All I did was look, listen, and just feel. The peaceful energy from that was incredible. It reminded me of what I would do in the Shinjuku Southern Terrace in Downtown Tokyo or Holly’s Coffee location overlooking the Cheonggyecheon in Downtown Seoul. Ironically, both were Best Moment of Peace winners in my old blog.
  • Attending the Orioles-Blue Jays game at Camden Yards. On Father’s Day, I had a chance to hang out with Martin Ayala. We took in a game at Camden Yards in Baltimore—roughly halfway from me in Woodbridge, Virginia, and him in Dover, Delaware. The Orioles were playing the Blue Jays. Neither team mattered to me but it was my first MLB game since the Dodgers Game 3 victory in the 2019 National League Division Series. I love being at the ballpark. The smell of the grass and fresh popcorn, the vendors yelling whatever high-priced products they are trying to sell, and the aura of professional baseball being played was something I missed. We had great seats along the 3rd base line and I enjoyed every pitch of the game. It felt great to be back in a place to appreciate my first love of sport.
  • The Jeep ride on I-85 South through Virginia. On the last day of June, I departed out of the DC area via The Red Wolf. I was heading for the South. When I made the transfer from I-95 South to I-85 South just outside of Petersburg, Virginia, I pushed my Jeep up to a cruising speed of 76 MPH. The next 68 ½ miles was as relaxed a time behind the wheel as I had enjoyed in over a year. It’s definitely a nominee for Best Drive.

And the Best Moment of Peace in 2021 is…sitting along the Canal Walk of White River State Park.


BEST NEW VENTURE TAKEN. For Best New Venture Taken in 2021, the qualifier is a specific new, exciting, and somewhat difficult project or activity I started in 2021 that carries a risk of failure. The nominees are:

  • Moving to South America with limited proficiency in the Spanish language. One of the nominees for Highlight Experience of 2021 is my final Spanish evaluation. Sure, I can carry a little bit of conversation about political and consular stuff—maybe even some of the general stuff that USAID does—but the Foreign Service Institute did absolutely nothing in the way of preparing me for living life in South America from a language perspective. I arrived here in July not really knowing survival Spanish. That’s definitely been a learning curve for me and I’ve struggled at times. But I’ve purposed myself to get better and I’m learning new words from the locals every day.
  • Becoming POSHO at one of the largest American diplomatic missions in the world. Earlier this month, I officially took the reins of the high-profile POSHO position here. I’ve quickly come to understand that being the lead safety officer at one of the largest posts in the world—one with an alphabet soup of other agencies with offices here, no less—is a daunting task. Embassy Bogotá—and perhaps all of Mission Colombia if you add the challenges in Cartagena and Barranquilla—is a minefield of potential occupational hazards and residential safety problems. In assuming this position, I inherited the pressure of turning around the safety culture here.
  • Becoming a one-income breadwinner in my household. It was a big ask to convince Mercedes to take on this journey around the world with me over the course of my Foreign Service career. In essence, it means that conventional job stability is a thing of the past for her. As such, I’ve taken it upon myself to essentially become a one-income breadwinner as far as the finances go in our household. It’s somewhat of a different space for us as we’ve both taken on certain financial responsibilities with the dual-income method. This isn’t to say that Mercedes is totally void of income—after all, she’s a well-paid author—but this means that I’ve decided to take on almost all of the financial responsibility on just my Foreign Service income. It’s definitely an adjustment but I’ve been known to be really good at making any amount of money work.
  • Running a 6-minute mile in the Bogotá elevation. When I found out I was coming to Bogotá last year, I wrote of my intent to chase the 6-minute mile in the high altitude here. It’s an insane physical fitness goal but it’s my goal. I’ve done some phase-in running over the past 3 months or so just to get my body acclimated to running at the highest elevation of my life. It’s a grind considering there are hills everywhere and potholes everywhere. I’m still determined to run the 6-minute mile though.

And the Best New Venture Taken in 2021 is…moving to South America with limited proficiency in Spanish.


BEST WORKSHOP, CONFERENCE, OR CLASS. For the final category in today’s post—Best Workshop, Conference, or Class in 2021—the qualifier is a workshop I participated in, a conference I attended, or a class I took that started and ended in 2021. The nominees are:

  • Data Analysis & Visualization. Back while I was in the training gap, my then-Career Development Officer signed me up for this course. I initially thought she was bonkers but the course turned out to be an absolute gem. It was basically a glorified Microsoft Excel class and going into it, Excel was my weakest proficiency amongst the major applications of the Microsoft Office suite. Over 3 days time, I learned exponentially more than I had in my history with the spreadsheets up until that point. It was a boon for both my professional and personal use of spreadsheets.
  • History & Appreciation of Art I. In an effort to cash in on the tremendous basic allowance for housing rates in the DC area under the Post-9/11 GI Bill program, I decided to enroll in a couple of classes at Northern Virginia Community College. It was a pure money grab and I had no initial intentions of taking the classes seriously. That changed in my first week of History & Appreciation of Art I. We learned about pre-historic art and I was intrigued. A class I intended to give a C- effort in all of a sudden became a class I put forth A+ contributions. My paper on Lion Gate—the main entrance of the Bronze Age citadel at Mycenae—was one of the best research papers I’ve written in the last 10 years.
  • Foreign Affairs Counter Threat. For a cold, snowy week in February, I was in the boondocks of Virginia for FACT. It was a very interesting course as I learned a lot about the dangers of this career and lifestyle. I got a chance to drive an armored SUV, crash into other cars in an effort to escape, and improve my survival proficiency in a fire emergency. I also got reacquainted with my skillset as far as tourniquets go.
  • Andean Republics & Southern Cone: Language Integrated. In the middle of Spanish language training, I took an area studies course. Along with others that were headed to South American posts not in Brazil, we learned about the checkered history on the continent. Some of it intrigued me, some of it repulsed me. In the 5 months I’ve been here, I’ve seen some of what we discussed in the course—including the classism, the systematic restrictions on Blacks, and the corruption—in real life.
  • SHEM Post Occupational Safety & Health Officers Training. This was a course I was supposed to take in January but the instructor got sick so it was scrapped. I finally got to take it in October. It was graphic with pictures and videos of real-life accident scenes. It was informative in the sense that it gave me the best practices to be the best POSHO out there. Most of all, it was collaborative. There were rookie POSHOs in the class and there were seasoned veterans of the POSHO position. I learned a little bit from all of them…evidenced by my 95% on the final exam.

And the Best Workshop, Conference, or Class in 2021 is…FACT.

Featured Image: The U.S. Foreign Service Institute logo [Source: U.S. Department of State]
Featured Image: The Foreign Affairs Security Training Center [Source: Hensel Phelps]
Image: The Northern Virginia Community College logo [Source: Northern Virginia Community College]

That’s it for today. See you for Part III tomorrow.

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