Coping with severe RCS (reverse culture shock)

I’ve been back home in California for exactly a month and haven’t written a blog post for over two months –my only excuse is the overbearing reverse culture shock I’ve been experiencing. I won’t even call it an excuse because I don’t believe in those —  rather, it’s a result of my choices. But I’ll tell ya, it really does exist and it’s no joke!

After living and traveling abroad for sixteen months (4 times longer than I initially planned); I decided to go home. Reasons being my mothers’ relentless guilt trips about me being away, one class left to complete at uni, to get rid of all the stuff I no longer need nor want and to see some familiar faces again.

I was already experiencing the reverse culture shock a few weeks before heading back– just through observation of the environment which I once called “home.” A reoccurring message I kept being told from my loved ones  back home was that I must be “prepared for reality” — which was a bit discouraging but I was determined to help them understand my new outlook and aspiration to continue seeking truth and meaning in life.

This determination alone was probably the one thing I was excited most about. I couldn’t wait to share with my friends & family how I’ve self-evolved; hoping they’d be excited and inspired to open their minds to the world beyond themselves.

Okay Okay, so my expectations were a bit high.

I came home and the exact opposite happened — With new eyes, a refreshed mind, a light heart and an abundance of gratitude — I was now deemed a looney.

If you’ve traveled or lived away from home long term; you probably understand exactly where I’m coming from. Before I went abroad I was living my life in accordance to those around me, striving to please my family and “fit in” to the whole of society as I understood it.

Being far away from home and out of my comfort zone for 16 months — I felt a pure sense of liberation where I was able to bare my soul and fully be myself. Where I can wander to seek local foods and flavors to feed my mind, my heart and my soul. Where I was able to gain a new perspective and pursue a fresh vision for my life and my passion. Where I was able to find endless sources of inspiration and motivation.Where I was able to thrive at my own speed while expanding my boundaries. Where I would meet amazing new people; some of whom are now lifetime friends that share similar goals and dreams. Where I was able to play and experiment to my heart’s desire. Where I was able to meet and become acquainted with the most important person in my life – myself. All of which contributed to my personal growth but most of all taught me the true meaning of self love –

the kind of love and gratitude which can only be shaped by developing one’s consciousness (the intangible).

Then, I come home and it’s as if time stood still. Everything appears the same and even topics of conversations haven’t changed much (with the exception of Kim Kardashian’s 72 day marriage (Like, OMG)). I was having difficulty adjusting to the culture which I grew up in! I haven’t had a TV my entire time abroad and decided to check out what’s on TV these days…..I’ll tell you what, Pain killers! lot’s of them!! Do you have a headache coming on? Tranquilizers! If you don’t take them, you’re gonna be nervous! Oh gosh, why am I suddenly so nervous? Anti-aging and anti-cellulite creams, oh shit I’m getting older, I should be using them, NOW! Food, more food, the best food, McFood! Insurances! You have to insure everyTHING, from your toilet paper to your home & life, OR ELSE you’re screwed, because what if…?! Inflation, economic crises, currency ups and downs! We must save, invest, multiply, we have to have more, to have…! — Off goes the TV.

Thank goodness I’m too cheap to pay for cable now…… I can sense this paranoia all around me: don’t touch it! don’t trust! watch out! and I can see why….I observe around and I see people running around stressed, unaware, anxious, unkind, impatient and unloving. We run around racing for delusional “achievements,” fancy titles, bigger and better things, striving to maintain and/or alter our external appearance, racing to appear better, powerful, respected?….  and then, we die.

This is the response I want to tell my friends and family when they ask me why I’m not readjusting to my “old” life or why I’ve changed so much. The truth is — I don’t want to “readjust” and regress because that defeats the purpose of progressing. I believe that life is about moving forward, it’s about living truthfully, doing things and living according to your values. It’s about cultivating relationships. It’s about sharing the good and the bad; doing what we can to help those around us realize their purpose. It’s about recognizing that we are all ONE, everyone — seeking a sense of belonging and empowerment while facing the same struggles.

It’s about REALIZING that life is a beautiful gift and we should seek not only to experience it but to LIVE IT.

People create their own questions because they are afraid to look straight. All you have to do is look straight and see the road, and when you see it, don’t sit looking at it – walk.
Ayn Rand

Despite this tiny obstacle I’m facing with reverse culture shock — I have a clearer idea of how I want to live my life, even if it means being a looney.  – until the next destination, I’ll be enjoying good ol’ California!  ;]

Do you have a similar experience with culture shock or reverse culture shock? Please share!

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A good day

a must see!

While I was having dinner with a friend at a street stall last night; we were approached by a middle aged man who was selling miscellaneous accessories and typically I’d refuse but I asked what it was for and he said it’s because his home is flooded. So, I took a look at these little charms and asked if he has a rabbit because that is my Chinese astrology sign. He spoke English very well which was quite unexpected and told me “ah, you are born in the year of a rabbit — you are a very lucky girl and you will live a very happy life.” We continued to chat for a bit and before he left he said to me, ”

“…live everyday as if it was the first day of your life AND the very last day.””

We’ve all heard this before but I think for most of us it’s a challenge to fully embrace it. Coincidentally, as soon as I got home I decided to check out what’s new on TED and the video above was the first video I watched: A TED talk by Louie Schwartzberg on “Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.” Which had the same exact quote within the talk and it was such a nice coincidence — so, I had to share it 😛

Thanksgiving was a couple days ago but it didn’t really feel like it since I am far far away from home again this year. However — I did ask myself a few times what I’m thankful for and I just could not pin point one thing in particular.

After seeing this beautiful TED talk — I’d say, I am just so thankful to be alive.

So grateful for the chance to witness beauty in it’s purest form — all the new places, flavors, people, cultures, languages, colors, sounds, laughter & love.

So, incredibly thankful for life. and all the simple things that make it so beautiful. Including you!

Judge your successes by which you are enjoying peace, health and love

…because these are the intangible things which will remain within your consciousness.

A few photos from a very “successful” year. enjoy.

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The best trips are unplanned

Here is a little peak into my “plan” of spending 7 days in the North of Vietnam and instead spent 17 days traveling from North to South of Vietnam.

A couple weeks ago I planned a trip to Vietnam to renew my Thai Visa, visit an artisan village which employs victims of human trafficking and to see a bit of Northern Vietnam. After finding a round trip ticket for 70$ I was set to leave for a solo trip to Vietnam! A good friend of mine wanted to join as he has never been to Vietnam and upon arriving in Hanoi at the airport I met two Austrian guys traveling through South East Asia for 4 months and an awesome couple from Spain ending their travels in Vietnam — we shared a taxi into town, spent a day wandering the old quarter of Hanoi and decided to continue traveling together.

In one week, we traveled together to Ha Long Bay and spent a beautiful sunny day on a boat to ourselves sailing through the bay for 20$ — The scenery here was surreal with an incredible seascape of limestone pillars.


Hooray for $1 canoeing!

The same night we took a night bus back to Hanoi and on to another public bus to Ha Giang (approx 300km further north). There, we rented a few motor bikes and continued to head further north in search of Mrs. Mai’s Village and boy was I glad they came along because I would’ve never made it there on my own — at least not with MY motor biking skills O_O

After many months of sharing stories and posting photos of my visits to these various villages — it was very special to have a few friends there with me. They were amazed with the entire process of traditional textile weaving, village lifestyle and the generosity of the people — Mrs. Mai showed us around her village, introduced us to some of the women she employs and her entire weaving operation; we ended our day at the village with home cooked pho by Mrs. Mai & her neighbor.

I was inspired by an article written about this woman and her husband created a weaving co-operative over 10 years ago to support and employ victims of human trafficking. I feel very fortunate that we were able to find her remote village and the chance to meet her. Now — I am thinking of how to help her and her co-operative. Read about her story here!


Having Pho with Mrs. Mai and her neighbor

The same day; we had to say good bye to Mila & Miguel who were headed back home to Spain after a year abroad. Tor, Ronnie, Walter and I continued on to the furthest Northern province in Vietnam, driving through some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve seen in SE Asia –passing through Don Van Market, several tribal villages, stopped at a school in a remote community and spent some times with the kids — overall a great ride through gorgeous natural scenery.

Don Van market. This market was full of charm, vibrant ethnic minorities in their beautiful traditional clothing.


A small school in a remote community.


Rice fields in Ha Giang

A day before I was to go back to Bangkok I received an e-mail from my sister to contact my paternal grandfather. I’ve had no relationship with my dad all my life and knew nothing of my paternal family…so I was rather shocked to discover that I still have a grand father alive. I called the number and nervously told my auntie  who answered the phone — “I am grandpa Duong’s 24 year old grand daughter”……many questions followed and eventually I decided to post pone my flight home and make my way to Saigon to see my Grandfather and paternal relatives. My pals Ronnie & Walter had planned to travel by motor bike from Hanoi to Saigon and invited me to come along if I just pitched in a bit for gas and steer them away from restaurants serving thịt chó (dog meat) — and of course I agreed.

My wonderful traveling buddies for a few days and trusted motor bike drivers — all packed and ready to head out from Hanoi.

We traveled approximately 600km by motor bike in total; through rain, shine, dusty traffic, cows crossing and again through beautiful scenery. We drove on average a little over 100KM each day until reaching the center of Vietnam — Hue. Along the way we stopped by a few towns to rest and explore a bit. Our frist stop was in Ninh Binh to rest for a night, spent an evening playing badminton at a sports center in the city of Vinh, experienced a very rainy ride through to Dong Ha and to Hue the following morning.  I never thought I’d get to travel through half of Vietnam by motorbike and though our bums were extremely sore — it was definitely a memorable ride and really one of the best ways to explore a country.


I had no idea what to expect of Hue since I didn’t originally plan to go there but it is such a beautiful city rich with history. Unlike Hanoi and Saigon, there was much less pollution and traffic.

Trang Tien Bridge

Hangin out at the Imperial Forbidden city to catch the sunset

Eventually I made my way to Saigon for a couple days with family before heading back to Bangkok.

Admittedly, I’d been bitter towards my father nearly my entire life because he was not a part of it. Oddly enough with all the changes that I’ve been through this year and the outlook I’ve adopted; there is not an ounce of bitterness within me and there could’ve been no better time for me to finally meet my paternal family. As I arrived in Saigon I gave them a call and my cousin came to pick me up, neither of us knew how the other one looked but as soon as we saw each other we knew we were family. As soon as I arrived at my grand father’s home and looked at all my aunties and my grand father — it felt so natural. They were all blown away that I was able to speak Vietnamese though I was born in America, shocked at how “dark” I am and that I was carrying such a large backpack, haha. Immediately they pulled out a huge box of photos and began showing me photos of my immediate family before their journey to America after the Vietnam war. I even got to see so many photos of my father throughout his childhood and as a man; I had the biggest smile on my face the entire time with endless tears falling down my face as I was overwhelmed with so many mixed emotions; mostly so happy for this opportunity but also my heart ached to see photos of the siblings I had lost. My parents came to America in the early eighties leaving everything behind in Vietnam. They lost one of my older brothers due to a severe illness; gave birth to me and about two years ago I lost my eldest sister. In total there should be five of us and looking at all their childhood photos made me realize that we never even had the chance to take one photo together.

I spent a brief couple days with them sharing so many stories and enjoying a few nice home cooked meals. While I was there I even received a call from my father and am now looking forward to welcoming him into my life.

My siblings in birth order not including myself as they have never even seen a photo of me!

My 94 year old Grand father

My pops (on the right), as a young man…what a stud!

My parents when they were dating 😛

This was definitely a “spur-of-the-moment” trip in every aspect. A year ago this would’ve never happened because I always had to know the details of what’s coming next. This trip was the longest of all my travels this year and one that I will hold dear in my heart. It allowed me to really push my comfort levels, see so many different aspects of the country which my family is from, finally meet my paternal family and mostly appreciate my Vietnamese heritage. It was such a pleasure traveling in a country where I can speak the language and introduce my pals to a few “strange” Vietnamese customs and foods; was quite entertaining 😉  Altogether, one heck of an exhausting but amazing trip. — until next time!

Oh! and I officially got sick for the very first time this year — food poisoning!! Luckily this came at the end of the trip but the five days that followed were not pretty. >.<

A few more photos of my travels through Vietnam, enjoy!

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Yes, I am a Vegetarian.

Ok ok…so I’ve kept fish as an exception for the time being so technically I am a Pescatarian but man did it feel good to say this for the very first time! It’s been one full week since I decided to make the transition and no difficulties so far.

I’ve met more vegetarians during my time abroad than I’ve known my entire life and I always admire them for being so strong willed. I finally asked myself WHY do I choose to eat meat and the only response I can think of is because it’s easier to have more options and…it’s good. Just these two reasons set against the countless reasons why I should NOT eat meat made me feel downright….selfish.

Just 3 reasons why I, personally choose not to eat meat.

  • I choose not to support cruelty to animals. (ie. factory farming)

    This is not something we’d see in America because it’s hidden from us but I saw this disturbing image in Cambodia and immediately felt ill! Poor piggies.

  • I choose not to contribute to human starvation (ie:if all Americans became vegetarian, it would free enough grain to feed 600,000,000 people (the population of India))Spent half a day with these beautiful children in Cambodia and again, felt disgusted with myself that my actions are effecting precious lives all around the world.
  • & I choose not to destroy the gift of mother nature (land energy & water). (ie:Overgrazing by cattle is destroying the land & increasing desertification)I want to continue traveling and seeing beautiful scenery like this rice field in Laos. I hope my (future) kids will have the opportunity as well.

Now, I can continue eating with a clear conscience 🙂