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 ๐Ÿ˜›

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


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 auntieย  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 thแป‹t chรณ (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.ย  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 ๐Ÿ˜›

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰ย  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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Simple Joys

About two weeks ago, we launched Oimei Co. campaign on Startsomegood.com and I tell ya, it’s nearly consumed every waking moment of my days and even in my sleep O_O !!

Lessons learned so far: in order to stay motivated and inspired I must: do something else, really just hang out with friends AND most importantly….step away from the computer (I know this sounds like a no brainer but it’s been a huge challenge for me). After all, the whole purpose of starting something is to enjoy work. So, aside from all the campaigning, planning, e-mailing, creating promo material, reading, researching and number crunching, I’m still enjoy the little things ๐Ÿ™‚

Like getting a hair cut in Laos.

Back in Laos for the third time in the past 5 months because my Thailand student visa has expired and I had to leave the country to apply for a Thai Tourist visa which will grant me another 60 days in Thailand.ย  Looks like I’ll be home for the holidays this year, and snow boarding! Definitely looking forward to this.

After completing my Visa documents at the Thai embassy, I wandered around and decided that I will finally get myself a hair cut after nearly 8 months without one; and I must say, I’ve never appreciated a hair cut more than this one. Though it was nothing fancy, it sure felt nice to have healthier hair and be rid of all those creatures living in there.

It was a very interesting salon experience from the moment I walked in and discovered that the girl who was about to cut my hair only speaks Laotian/Thai and some Vietnamese. Me on the other hand, I speak Vietnamese some Thai and English. Once again, body gestures, pointing and laughing has saved the day. The only thing I understood when it came to describing the kind of hair cut I wanted was when she asked me if I want to look like a Korean pop star…I laughed and gave her the go. After a couple hours of silly mixed conversations between Vietnamese/Laotian/Thai and some English; I still had hair on my head with no dead ends (my only expectation) and her showing me a photo of her son: “das my son, he planking……”

Frankly I still don’t understand this “planking” lingo, so I was completely lost. I kept saying to her, “huh? excuse me? what language?” and she’d repeat…”ya, my son! he planking!” and I said..oh he’s naked? ..sleeping?! ” uncertain if she was using a Laotian/Thai or Vietnamese word that I didn’t understand. After the 20th time I finally understood, “OH!! PLANKING!” Her son…planking. Hilarious.

AFTER the hair cut I also discovered from the manager that she does not usually cut hair and for that reason, I can have the hair cut for free. WHAT the…..anyway, if this was a year ago I’d be pretty upset but of course I found it funny and gave some money to the sweet gal. Yep, a whole $6! 2 bucks more than what the hair cut was supposed to cost ๐Ÿ˜›

Learning how to bake apple pie from scratch and stealing recipes from Di Thao (auntie Thao) in Vientiane. Had the opportunity to stay with a friends’ relative in Laos and…..reconfirmed how much I miss my own mama. Woke up to Di Thao baking beautiful apple pies on Sunday morning. This amazing woman is originally from Laos, lived in France for some years and returned home. She speaks Laotian, French, Vietnamese, Thai & English so needless to say I had a little trouble stealing all her written recipes but she was very kind to share and let me in on some of her secrets. A Good Sunday.

Hanging out in good company.
I’ve been very fortunate to have a handful of friends from back home pass through Bangkok this past month. It’s always comforting to see familiar faces and a pleasure showing them around this city that I adore!

A night out in Bangkok. Friends from back home (bay area, California). There is something very special about reuniting or really befriending acquaintances in an entirely new environment. Great conversations, good vibes and unforgettable memories ๐Ÿ˜‰

What better way to discover any place than by cycling/walking. A dear friend of mine, Michael from Bangkok Vanguards organized a 75km charity ride through Bangkok, dodging through the city’s traffic, along dusty highways, incredibly scenic canals, caught a river taxi through to Koh Kret Island, through historic temples and arriving at Baan Pakret Children’s foundation.

Our Crew

Some of the kids at the orphanage. It was a very nice reward to visit the foundation during our bike ride. We had the opportunity to bring toys and candy for the kids and hang out with them for a couple hours. I wasn’t sure what to expect upon arriving at the orphanage butย  I must say that with the joy of sharing a little bit of happiness also came a lot of sadness. I was blown away by the amount of children who are without parents, a family,ย  love and affection. This experience left a bittersweet feeling inside but it’s great to know that they have a safe place to stay with food and help to search for their family. If you are ever in Thailand and would like to visit or volunteer at an orphanage, please pay them a visit at Baan Pakret Children’s Foundation in Nonthanburi province. (they do not currently have a website in English but msg. me if you’d like more details)

A date to Ayutthaya with an old friend who has moved to Hong Kong for the past year, Cathy. We’ve known each other for more than a decade without really “knowing” each other. Was a great time briefly recapping our lives and discovering all our commonalities. Always beautiful to see how traveling molds us and being able to relate experiences with others.

Speaking of traveling. One of my dearest friends’ I’ve made in Bangkok, Ta Pa Na. He is a humble design guru who has helped me a lot in developing my ideas for Oimei Co. Well, he has just received a scholarship to study his master’s in Fashion Management in Milan. He has long dreamed of studying in Europe and is now grasping the opportunity to do so. This is a drawing he made of me and what he knew of me in our brief four month friendship!! Surrounded by some of the wonderful people I met during this journey and hints of Oimei Co. Ah, this guy is amazing! Such a thoughtful gift -_-

When we are down, wrecked & worn. Beauty surrounds us. Look with eyes wide open, see the beauty and be grateful. I am grateful.

Back to work I go ๐Ÿ˜› Next post will be details about our campaign. Progress, next steps, thank you’s…everythingggg. We appreciate the continued support! Thanks for all the love!

Can’t Stop Freedom

Whilst in Vietnam I found flights on Airasia for about 60$ RT to Yangon, Burma and decided to embark on my first solo trip for a few days.

There is something intensely liberating about waking up in a completely foreign country, alone.

Trying new food.
(traditional burmese meal)
(Nangyi Thohk, myanmar tea & samosas)
(main road in yangon)
(Yangon Taxi)

(Bagan Sunrise)

(graceful myanmar woman)

(Shwedagon Paya. Stunning.)

(temples of old Bagan)

(Bagan Sunset

(Bustling market)

New Friends.

(Burmese Children)

Reflections of this trip:

  • Solo travel has been the ultimate self-indulgence. Hanging out with a monk for half a day. People watch for 2 hours at a cafe. Eat. Eat. Eat. Bike ride around Bagan aimlessly only to discover beautiful fields of crops and flowers. Taught Burmese kids how to use my DSLR, sat back and watched them snap silly photos of each other. Smiled from ear to ear the entire time resulting in loads of small talk and great conversations. Bargained my little heart out for some beautiful textiles and succeeded for less than half the price accompanied by an invite to try some Burmese treats. Read. Write. Relax. Observe.
  • Traveling in a country with an oppressive, dictatorial government where the common people are denied basic rights is disheartening. Really makes me re-think how I would like to contribute to society after I graduate and enter the workforce. How can I make a difference as a global citizen….hmmm, I think I’m a wee bit closer to discovering what I want to be “when I grow up” ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • I Love Samosas.
  • Burmese people are kind, welcoming and curious about you!
  • Visiting Burma is important. but stay at locally run guesthouses, eat at local restaurants and avoid, whenever possible, government run businesses. The people need your help.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi is truly inspirational.
  • Blast to the past in Burma: cell phones hardly exist, intermittent internet throughout the country, cassettes still in use, traditional Burmese Longyi’s worn by everyone, no ATM’s or real banks.
  • Burma is unbelievable.