older / next adventure

I’m leaving on Monday for another month-long adventure in Hong Kong and China. This is my first time doing winter travel with a 22L pack (I did 19L for a month in Southeast Asia in the summer, and 50L for my last trip to Europe and Canada), and also my first time shooting exclusively film for more than a week. I’ll be off of all social media for the duration of my trip, so hit me up on WhatsApp, WeChat, or good old SMS if you want to reach me.

Reading list includes:

  • From the Ruins of Empire by Pankaj Mishra

  • How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan

  • 21st Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

  • Very Good Lives by JK Rowling

  • Gweilo by Martin Booth

Will probably toss in a few more things depending on my mood, but I’m excited to just disconnect for a bit, think about life, write, read, and absorb the world around me.

Yay, packing pics:

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thin (live) / colorado

Spent the last few days in Colorado with the family. It was a good blend of hiking/relaxing/family time, and I enjoyed it a lot. 

Some photos below: Experimenting with the slideshow because uploading each image takes forever. The main things we did were Garden of Gods, Pikes Peak, Cave of the Winds, and Paint Mines Interpretive Park. Other than a few thunderstorms, the weather was pretty much perfect. I took a lot of pics with the Olympus XA4 so there will probably be a second wave of photos at some point. Now...back to work...

fast car / southeast asia

Since I first started journaling seriously at the end of middle school, I've attempted to do trip reflections on the flight back home from any major travel experience. I spent the last month in Southeast Asia, so it only feels right to try to do the same, even though various mindless movies are tempting me from the in-flight entertainment system.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

My family really enjoys travelling. Part of that probably has to do with the dispersion of family members across the globe, but I'd been to Europe and multiple cities in China before I could even really process and understand the places I was going to. Many of my international trips have been to places where I have some grasp of the local language - China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Ireland, even Peru. This summer, I got to spend time fully immersed in unfamiliar places with near zero language understanding. We spent about ten days in Vietnam, visiting Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi, and Halong Bay. Another ten days were spent in Thailand for Bangkok, Ayuthaya, and Chiang Mai. In addition to the language factor, this was the first foreign trip I've taken since gaining an interest in anthropology and cultural understanding. More than any other trip I've taken, I found myself striving to understand the local cultures, and constantly checking my thoughts and impact as an Asian-American tourist. Full immersion was quite difficult, given the fact that we did stand out as obvious tourists, but we strived for an authentic experience whenever possible (mostly with food). Being vegan in Vietnam actually led the way to a more local experience. Many vegan/vegetarian restaurants in the cities in Vietnam that we went to are run by Buddhists, and did not attempt to cater to tourists. They were often small, very low cost, family run, and off the beaten path. Ordering and paying involved a lot of pointing and writing, but many sincere moments were found here, where bright smiles and little head nods spoke more than the languages we didn't know how to speak. These tiny moments were the highlights of my trip. In my experience, being vegan in a foreign country often does provide more opportunities for exploration and local interaction than I think I would've had if food was more widely available to me.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hue, Vietnam

Hue, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

The food scene in Thailand proved very different, but incredibly satisfying nonetheless. Veganism in Thailand also has religious roots, but I noticed that many restaurants in Chiang Mai have taken a health and animal cruelty stance. The food we had was flavorful and fine-tuned, with spectrums of tastes I sometimes didn't even know how to process. There was a restaurant there called "Vegan Heaven", and I think that's a fair title for Chiang Mai. Our interactions with restaurants there were a bit different - we provided amusement in Vietnam for our inability to handle the unfamiliar currency, but entertained in Thailand through the sheer amount of food we ordered (and finished).

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya, Thailand

Tom Yum Fried Rice

Tom Yum Fried Rice

Other than our food adventures, we spent a lot of our time visiting historical and religious sites. Hanoi's Museum of Ethnology, Ayutthaya's ruins, Hue's Imperial Palace, and the various ornate Buddhist temples of Bangkok and Chiang Mai were fascinating glimpses into the past. Unfortunately, I still don't think I had enough context to draw mental connections between history and the present, which I would want to better understand in future travels.

May Kaidee Vegetarian Cooking Class - Chiang Mai, Thailand

May Kaidee Vegetarian Cooking Class - Chiang Mai, Thailand

In addition to Vietnam and Thailand, we spent a bit of time in Hong Kong and half a day in Seoul. In Hong Kong, I was fascinated in the role of language, and how the use of Mandarin, Cantonese, and English can change how locals treat you. My family speaks Cantonese, but my parents chose to teach me Mandarin as it's a more "universal" language. Mandarin is not well-received in Hong Kong due to the political resentment of mainland China, so I often attempted Cantonese or spoke in English in an effort to distance myself from tourists from China, who I felt very little connection to despite my ethnic background. The tension between languages was interesting, and I wonder how the relationship will continue to develop in the coming years.

Mongkok, Hong Kong

Mongkok, Hong Kong

In Seoul, I was fascinated by the society wide obsession with cosmetics and fashion. I think it's fair to say I've never felt as physically insecure as I did walking through the subway stations of Seoul, where the first thing after the ticket turnstiles is a full-length mirror. I didn't spend enough time to really understand the obsession with appearance, but it was definitely the place I felt most out of place in during the trip.

Vegan ramen from Huggers in Itaewon, Seoul.

Vegan ramen from Huggers in Itaewon, Seoul.

I found the past month to be a wonderful learning experience. Packing as lightly as I did was exciting – being able to move from one hostel to the next with a small backpack made travelling a lot less stressful. As with most fun experiences, it ended too quickly. Next pre-work adventure: Alaska!
 

Lantern festival - Hoi An, Vietnam

Lantern festival - Hoi An, Vietnam

heirloom / one bagging

Hello friends! I'm headed off to Vietnam/Thailand/Hong Kong/Seoul (24 hours) in about a day, and I thought I'd show my blog a bit of love before I take off. I've loved traveling since I was a kid, but with my love for traveling also comes a love for...packing. I'm weird, I know. My mom has let me pack my own bags since I was super young, which I've appreciated as a way for me to learn how to plan for trips. I remember the first time she let me do that, I forgot to pack any underwear and had to hunt for tiny children's underwear in Vancouver. I've come a lot further since then (hopefully). For the last few years, I've become pretty obsessed with the idea of traveling only with a backpack, and recently realized there was an entire online community dedicated to "one-bagging". For me, packing only a small backpack forces me to think critically about every object that I bring, and also forces me to do research about the places I'm going and to think about potential situations I will have to deal with. I have really sensitive shoulders, so it also greatly reduces the weight I have to carry, and therefore makes traveling significantly more enjoyable. It's definitely a mindfulness exercise, and the overall process of choosing exactly what to bring is incredibly enjoyable to me. Below is (mostly) what I'm bringing on my 4 week trip, all packed in a 19 liter backpack (for size comparison, the standard Jansport backpack is 25 liters...this bag barely fits a 13 inch laptop!).

The packing cube contains all of my clothes, and I didn't include my toiletries in this picture.

The packing cube contains all of my clothes, and I didn't include my toiletries in this picture.

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Here's a complete list of what I'm packing:

  • 2x Uniqlo Drape Pants

  • 1x Board Shorts

  • 1x Running Shorts

  • 2x Tank Tops

  • 4x Underwear

  • 2x T shirts

  • 2x Ibex Bras

  • 1x Patagonia Houdini

  • 1x Linen Cap

  • 1x Swimsuit

  • Skinners (they're like socks with protective bottom...nice for flights!)

  • Shamma Sandals Jerusalem Cruisers

  • Fuji X100T + charger + 2 batteries + various SD cards

  • Moto G4

  • Jelly Comb keyboard

  • Kindle

  • Audiotechnica Earbuds

  • Gorilla Pod Tripod

  • Anker Charger

  • Toothbrush

  • Toothpaste

  • After Bite

  • Soap

  • Shampoo Bar

  • ACV Powder (conditioner)

  • Nail clippers

  • Tweezers

  • Menstrual Cup

  • Hand sanitizer

  • Baking soda/cornstarch mix (deodorant/dry shampoo)

  • First aid kit (Advil, antihistamine, band aids, wipes etc.)

  • Mesh bag (for dirty clothes)

  • Dry bag (doubles as a laundry container, pillow when filled with air, camera protector in the rain etc.)

  • Silk travel liner (can also serve as a blanket on cold flights)

  • Grayl filtration bottle

  • Muji pocket notebook

  • Zebra SL-F1

  • Linen towel

  • Money, passports!

Hopefully this is all enough to keep me healthily thriving for about four weeks. It might not seem like a lot, but I actually couldn't think of anything else that I would want to bring - in other words, doing this isn't a sacrifice to me at all. I'll probably have to do laundry a bit more than a normal traveler, but it shouldn't be too much of a hassle. I opted for phone/keyboard instead of laptop for this trip - photo editing will be done on Snapseed and keyboard will help for writing journal entries or any extensive editing. The Kindle and the 30+ books I want to read should keep me completely occupied on any long flights.

Happy July! :)

Snap from a short hike to Red Rock Canyon in Lake Forest, CA this week.

Snap from a short hike to Red Rock Canyon in Lake Forest, CA this week.

actors

It's really strange how life can feel so different within the span of a few weeks. The last time I had some time to sit down and think, I had just returned from a short road trip through Canada with some friends. Since then, I did senior week, which only really consisted of a white-water rafting trip in western Massachusetts and a day at Walden Pond. I celebrated (or tried to celebrate) the end of my undergraduate life. I spent some quality time with family. I graduated from MIT with a  degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in anthropology. I said some short-term goodbyes to some of my favorite people. 

Walden Pond!

Walden Pond!

And now, I'm sitting at home, steeping in the bittersweetness of what will likely be the most eventful summer of my life. On the itinerary for now...Banff/Yoho National Parks, Thailand, Cambodia, and Alaska. Interspersed throughout the trips will be quality time at home, during which I'm hoping to get through a long list of books. 

Quick list of things I want to do this summer:

1) Shoot film again
2) Write regularly
3) Actually read all the books I say I will
4) Become better at running
5) Live and absorb every single moment


To go back a little, I spent a long time on my flight home thinking (pretty aimlessly) about my college experience. For the sake of mental clarity, I'll try to dump here. 

I applied to MIT as a Questbridge Scholar in September 2012. I received a call in October telling me I wasn't accepted through Questbridge, but that I essentially will get in during the early admission cycle. It was a pretty anticlimatic way of getting into college because I wasn't expecting the call at all, but it fed my senioritis quite thoroughly. I attended the MIT visiting weekend in April, and met a group of people that would more or less remain my friends for the rest of my college life. 

High school graduation, four years ago.

High school graduation, four years ago.

I was lucky to have an incredible group of friends in high school, but that made leaving home heartwrenchingly difficult. Leaving for college felt more like a breakup than like starting a new and exciting chapter of my life. It didn't help later that my freshman year was one of the most difficult of my life - between homesickness, relentless academic struggle, and the harsh realities of winter in Boston, I struggled to stay afloat emotionally, but I made it. Sophomore year proved significantly better, as I found my own place within my major and constructed a heartwarming support system. Slowly, I grew to appreciate MIT for what it was to me - a place to test my priorities and my ability to contextualize problems, both in real life and in exams/psets. Essentially, I began using MIT as a place to show myself that the environmental pressure did not have to take away from my pursuit of good health, mindfulness, self-cultivation, and personal fulfillment. There were inevitably days, weeks, or even months where I succumbed to the pressure, but I left MIT with a much stronger grasp of what's important to me on a daily basis, and I find that invaluable. Although I don't think I challenged myself intellectually to the extent to which some of my peers did, I really found a balance for my life and intellectual curiosities, not all of which involved structured learning. That experience brings confidence as I pursue a process of lifelong learning, even as a working "real person". 

When reflecting on my time at MIT, I will always remember the times with my friends the most. Although many of my new friends were less similar to me than the friends I had in high school, the friendships I made each pushed me in different ways. I've definitely become more patient, understanding, open-minded, and easy-going in the past four years. I've already forgotten most of the content from my classes, but I'll remember the stupid jokes in my suite kitchen in Burton Conner, the long talks on my bedroom floor, the cold and nervous walks on Commonwealth, and the delirious pset sessions. My memories have their tinges of darkness, but there is little I would've changed about my college experience. Ultimately, I can't imagine another environment that would've tested me to the extent that MIT did, and for that, I'm actually very grateful. I'm not sure exactly how much of my paid education I will be using in the future, but the perseverance, focus, and confidence in my own ability to survive that I have learned throughout the past four years will not be taken for granted. 

Thanks, fam! Peace out MIT!

Thanks, fam! Peace out MIT!