a very happy anniversary

Toย  my relationship with this amazing city, Bangkok ๐Ÿ˜‰ย  A momentous year which has forever changed my attitude, outlook and aspirations on life and what’s ahead.

I’d like to begin with finally, a massive update for the month of July.ย  The past month has been very busy. To say the least.

Momentum, Multi-tasking & Mindfulness, the 3 M’s that has been the most prevalent theme for this month. As I look back on the life I was living prior to my journey abroad, I remember always being “busy” multi-tasking between two jobs and school but mindfulness and momentum was nonexistent as I had no clue where any of my efforts was leading me.

It’s been an an amazing journey from the moment I decided to start a social enterprise. So where am I at now? I have spent the last month continuing to intern and spending every evening (often losing track of time until the crack of dawn) working on various tasks and trying to figure out the next steps. This, has been the most exciting yet terrifying aspect of this journey because every step of the way is brand new. Unlike a conventional job, no one tells me what to do so I must constantly figure out what needs to be done next, making sure each effort takes me a step forward, fully utilizing all my resources, asking endless questions and keeping myself motivated (mostly by rewarding myself with yummies) and constantly reminding myself why I’m doing this.

Other than the desire to live a life that is fulfilling in my own terms; there is my mother. I mean, can you imagine how that woman reacted when I told her I’ve decided not to come home and instead made the decision to sell pillows for peace? Bless her.

My 62 year old, immigrant mother who journeyed to America thirty years ago, only to have her daughter back track and want to work with rural artisans. Due to my limited Vietnamese vocabulary I can not explain the concepts of social enterprise to her, so instead I tell her that I just want to sell pillows for peace and I hope she can be supportive. Besides, her reaction is just priceless.

As a reminder of what I am doing again. I am starting a social enterprise that offers fair trade pillows to promote peace building initiatives in developing communities. The company is called Oimei Co. & our tagline is “pillows for peace”

What we’ve accomplished this month: (I say “WE” because I’ve managed to recruit a couple of people who are just as passionate and excited as I am to at least try….to make a difference) Yea I said it…I’ve got myself a team. woooo hoooo !

So this month, we (Josh & I) endured a rather exhausting but fun nonetheless; 14 hour, 3rd class train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai to visit the tribal weaving villages. A primary aspect of our company is to shed light on the beautiful (sustainable) craft of hand weaving and the artisans. We strive to learn how our help contributes to their self sustainability and their community. So, we spent a few days traveling to different villages within the Northern region of Thailand and got to see firsthand, a peak into the lives of the tribal villagers. We learned the natural dying process of the fibers (which is an incredible and quite therapeutic process), treatment of the fibers and then the weaving. We were welcomed into their homes and community. With just a few days spent with them, it reassured us how important it is to keep this craft alive by helping them gain exposure to new markets. To us westerners, their primitive lifestyle may appear worthy of pity but in my eyes they have such beautiful lives. The weavers each have a hand loom right in their homes so they work from home, doing what they love, being close to their spouse and children and if they get hungry they walk right outside to pick themselves fresh produce and fish in their fish pond.

After getting some product in hand (finally some tangibility!!); it felt a little more real ๐Ÿ™‚ We spent two separate days this month doing photo shoots at local hotels in Bangkok. Was a great time spent with good vibes, creativity, fun and stunning results!

Meanwhile all of this was going on, Iโ€™ve been trying to teach myself how to build a website using a pre-made template, which has been quite daunting because I am no tech wiz. Today, we have registered the domain and our website (with most content unavailable until we launch) at www.oimeico.com. For now, there are a few photos from our photo shoots and a gallery of some of our products. Enjoy!

The next big step for us is to launch our campaign on a crowd funding platform. For what? to get some money! As much as we have enjoyed the journey thus far, weโ€™ve been working with minimal funds and in order to proceed we are hoping to raise awareness and seed funds to keep it moving! Weโ€™re in the process of getting approval to post our campaign on Startsomegood.com. As soon as this happens we can open our web shop and start getting our goodies out there!

Here is some footage from our โ€œworkโ€ this past month.

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Back to the 3 M’s. Momentum, Multi-tasking & mindfulness. I am constantly reminding myself of this everyday to keep myself motivated, grounded and productive. Personally it’s been a lot easier to say than to practice. Living in such a fast paced society I find it so easy to fall into the multitasking trap.ย  Suffocating in all the demands throughout the course of a normal day. Juggling phone calls, texting, emailing, facebook, online distractions, family demands and personal needs; it can get extremely overwhelming at times. Not only is it exhausting but I found it difficult to identify exactly what is the purpose of it all? What I’ve definitely learned this year is to have conscious awareness of what I’m doing now, not what happened yesterday or the day before and not worrying about tomorrow or next week (this is the most difficult for me), just being fully aware in the present moment. By adapting to this mindset I get things done quicker and more efficiently, my creativity has increased, things get done (eventually ๐Ÿ˜›) and I don’t stress nearly as much as I used to. I’ve become a lot better at eliminating certain interactions, activities and thoughts that are not positive and instead gearing my energy towards a direction I’d like to see myself in. And as a result of this, the momentum comes in. Good thoughts, good vibes, good actions = overall good environment. Perhaps I’ve spent a little too much time alone thisย  year but these have been the reoccurring thoughts in this noggin’ of mine. ๐Ÿ˜›

By no means do I know what is in store for me next, especially with the social venture. No matter which direction it goes; I am still very enthusiastic of where it’s gone so far, how much I’ve learned, the people I’ve met and the gracious support I’ve received. The biggest lesson I’ve learned thus far is never to let fear hold you back. I’ve been petrified from the moment I decided to go abroad, to travel, to opening myself up to new people, to developing this idea and mostly putting it all out there; but it just feels right. I would’ve never learned as much as I have this year had I allowed fear to get the best of me. So, with that being said I will leave you with this quote & dare you to face your fears.

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’
You must do the thing you think you cannot do. “

~ Eleanor Roosevelt


Moving forward

When I set off to study abroad initially I could hardly imagine how I was going to survive 4 months away from home. Well it’s been nearly a year,ย  two semesters later instead of one and I am now on to the next phase of my life here in Bangkok, Thailand. As expected I’ve been asked many of the same questions repeatedly by family, friends and even acquaintances. Questions that I, myself am still trying to figure out but I will strive to answer some of the most common ones especially for those who are also curious but haven’t managed to ask me. Also in hopes of inspiring some of you to consider a slight change of scenery…as it just may be one of the best experiences you will ever have.

1. One of the most common questions I get is; How have you managed a year abroad, financially?

Well, I must say that my savings is looking rather bare right now :p But it’s all about priorities. In the past few years, I was working two jobs and spending my money frivolously and always had some excuse as to why I would never have enough to fund such an endeavor. Looking beyond all my excuses, I saw that none was legitimate enough to hold me back from my dreams. The next step was a little challenging but I took it one step at a time. Cut back on my spending!! duh ๐Ÿ˜› Started saving but towards a specific goal, not saving just to save. Applied for a handful of scholarships, received two (one of which is the Benjamin A. Gilman Intl. Scholarship) and voila! I had a little more than enough to survive very comfortably for half a year here but as I decided to stay longer, I had to stretch my funds a little further. Good thing I’ve adopted a very simple lifestyle which has resulted in being told that I’m beginning to resemble Yoko Ono….oh how suiting!

2. Don’t you miss home?

More than ever I understand the importance of having a place to call “home” especially after being abroad and traveling for a year. But I think home would be a lot more fun when I have a clearer understanding of how I can best situate myself in this place called home. So, yes I miss home and I assume I will know when it’s time for me to book that flight back.

3. and your boyfriend?

I don’t intend to get all philosophical here but this is a quote from one of my favorite philosophers’ that perfectly summarizes my response when someone asks me, “OMG don’t you miss luke? How are you managing to be alone?! You MUST’VE found yourself a nice Thai boy! (hmmm as attractive as that sounds, unfortunately that’s not the case ๐Ÿ˜› )

Mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. Love is an active power in man, a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow men, which unites him with others; love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and sepateness, yet permits him to be himself, to retain his integrity. In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two. – Erich Fromm

Essentially, I am working on loving me. At first it was a little rocky but getting better with time, nourishment, and communication. Yes, I had to confront myself on many occasions to ask myself why I am so absurd sometimes, then reason with myself and carry on. But I reassure you, this relationship is getting stronger ๐Ÿ˜‰

4. What do you like most about Thailand?

Prior to this endeavor, I never did much traveling out of the states and I couldn’t be more pleased with my decision to live in Thailand and travel SE Asia for my first experience. I love that it’s completely different yet felt so familiar at the same time. I say this because though I was born in America, my mother raised me with Asian values and traditions which is also why I never experienced “culture shock” as I imagined I would. Everything on the exterior was pretty outrageous at first but I quickly adapted to the way of living which meant less time spent adjusting and more time spent embracing.

If I must choose one aspect I enjoy most about living here in Thailand, I would have to say that I love the people. Of course I can’t speak for the entire country but for the most part, Thai people are very tolerant, genuinely considerate and less individualistic. I find it difficult to clearly explain what I mean by this but it’s just something that is greatly prevalent and embedded in their culture. This, in itself has been the most refreshing for me and perhaps the reason why I keep sticking around.

5. What are you doing now?

Good question! I am still figuring out what’s in store for me next but at the same time keeping an open mind and enjoying the ride.

The “normal” thing for me to do would have been to go home, get a job, save some money, buy some nice “things” and then get married at some point and you get the picture. Well, fortunately for me and unfortunately for my mother, being “normal” is just no fun ๐Ÿ˜›

Instead of finding a conventional job for now, I am working as a research fellow at HDFF where I am gaining experience on what it takes to make a change in developing communities and becoming increasingly interested in human security. In conjunction with this, I am pursuingย  my entrepreneurial passions by starting my first social venture.

6. What is a social enterprise?

Since this is the topic which I’ve surrounded myself with recently, a lot of people are asking me what it is, why I’ve chosen to do this and how?

Well, my good friend Frida introduced me to this concept and mentioned it is a way to utilize capitalistic strategies to achieve philanthropic goals; I was greatly intrigued!!! So, I buried myself in researching: about social entrepreneurship, how to make an impact, successful social ventures that have helped millions of people, young social entrepreneurs, old social entrepreneurs, resources, videos, seminars…EVERYTHING you can possibly imagine that is related to social entrepreneurship contributed to many sleepless nights and caused me to have many so-called “revelations” at about 4am every morning. (my good pal Jess can vouch for that)

I had all these ideas running through my mind, very little money to get anything started, small network of friends here in Bangkok but oddly felt more empowered than ever.

“A social enterprise is an organization or venture that achieves its primary social or environmental mission using business methods. The social needs addressed by social enterprises and the business models they use are as diverse as human ingenuity. Social enterprises build a more just, sustainable world by applying market-based strategies to today’s social problems.”

7. What is the progress now?

In a nutshell, I have an idea to support rural Thai, textile artisans (and their trade) by bringing their goods to the western market meanwhile supporting peace building projects in developing communities through sales (beginning small scale of course :p). I came up with this through my appreciation for their trade and beautiful textiles which is deeply rooted in their culture and my growing interest in human security. I know it sounds like a whole lot to grasp right now….and it is even for me! haha but of course I am taking one step at a time and the big picture is quickly becoming clearer.

Here are a few photos to share the early stages of my journey which by the way has become “OUR” journey, as I’ve picked up a few pals along the way ๐Ÿ˜›

Lucky to have met a few people who are just as passionate and have also become very great friends.

Visited Lampoon, Thailand which is a northern province best known for their Brocade Silk. Spent a day learning about the production process, admired the artisans and of course blown away by the intricacy of the trade, historical/cultural stories behind the art and even more inspired to support a beautiful/sustainable trade.

Even had the artisans share their wisdom with me.

Fell in love with the organic cotton textiles โค

A little video I put together of the Silk making process:

Opportunity to attend a few conferences about anti-terrorism and organized crime helping me gather ideas for peace building projects and mingling with those committed to bringing peace in their communities.

Basically just a huge learning process and learning so much each step of the way. I am also working on gathering some solid material to share in regards to this project and will do so the moment I get the chance! I think the future needs more social entrepreneurs and for this reason I will try my best to share each step of the way. My failures, successes and most importantly…the impact. I am inspired by those who have made the effort to share their experience and through them, I have learned immensely! So, I will strive to do the same ๐Ÿ™‚

8. What made you”change” during this journey?

Most recently, the fact that I’ve become a lot more outspoken about things I believe in and my thoughts in general has made many people ask me this question. Truth is that for the most part, I’ve remained the same person just with more courage. Also, I simply asked myself really tough questions like…”What on earth are you doing with your life? and What do you want to see when you look back in 30 years AND be proud to tell your children?”ย  Okay, so not really tough questions but pertinent questions that I avoided before.

I am also aware that I may not be able to change the world but I can begin with the environment I choose to be in. I wanted to surround myself with kindness, ingenuity, humbleness, open-mindedness and nourishing relationships. Well, how selfish would I be if I just wanted all this but made no effort myself? I tell ya, sometimes it is quite an obstacle allowing yourself to be completely vulnerable but when people reciprocate in the same manner, it’s a beautiful feeling ๐Ÿ™‚

If I had to choose something that has contributed to the courage I’ve gained, I must say it’s all the amazing people I’ve met particularly in the rural communities. Beautiful people who are oppressed and without opportunity to choose even a dignified life. It’s these people who had the very least who has helped me the most and it’s these people who deserve the most help.

Bangkok Slums. People who were basically forced to migrate from rural Thailand to Bangkok in efforts to earn a living.

Khmer girl waiting for her mother to finish cleaning the Angkor temples, instead of sitting in class -_-

Laotian woman in her home/storefront. Has no idea how valuable and potential there is for her hand crafted textiles.

I can go on and on with encounters I’ve had which will stay with me forever….all of the kindest, hard working, talented and charismatic people who need our help. The precise reason I couldn’t get myself to apply for any more corporate “jobs.” at this time. After all…the jobs will still be there.

9. What’s your advice to someone wanting to go abroad?

I remember before I left home I was searching frantically for people who wrote any advice at all about going abroad. So, I will share what worked for me. First and foremost especially in Thailand, be ready to adopt their way of living and their culture. Once here I really got this sense of “this is how we do things here, so if you want your experience to be “sabaii sabaii” (easy/relaxed), then do it our way because we aren’t adjusting to you….with a smile.” In Thailand (especially Bangkok), you WILL be late even when you didn’t intend to be, you WILL put your life at risk when taking a taxi of any sort, you WILL experience unbearable air pollution but you WILL get used to it, you WILL witness corruption and you WILL laugh, you WILL see people dwelling in slums with 5 star hotels and bougie malls as the back drop, you WILL have some of the most deliciously fragrant meals and have your face go numb from the chilli’s, you WILL get double the amount of sugar in your coffee even if you requested none at all, you WILL get ripped off from time to time, you WILL see beautiful sparkling temples on your way to a pub at night, you WILL have mysterious juices drip/squirt on you whilst walking along the sidewalks and you WILL have the time of your life if you just adopt their motto: Mai Pen Rai….”never mind” or in other words….”F it”

Basically, adaptability.

10. And one question that I don’t but should get more often is, “Is there anything you want from home?”

OH, why of course. I mean you don’t have to but if you really want to….sour patch kids pleeeeeeease ๐Ÿ˜‰ and if you’re feeling extra generous, Thailand also doesn’t have sour skittles or sour belts. thanks!