Happy Accidents

When I arrived in Asia a year ago, I was told I was brave to have no plan, to follow the wind. Nowadays, I find it harder to breeze through life, to not succumb to the stresses of purpose, career, and status.

Sometimes I wake up, aware of this directionless and titleless place I’m in, and I can’t tame the malaise that starts in my stomach and stops me mid-breath. Sometimes, it morphs my thoughts into something not my own.

Moments where I lost sight of mindfulness or mishandled my love, that malaise spread. The same malaise that plagued me two years ago, that left me feeling so powerless and unloved.

Yet while this thing remains within me, my responses to those moments are different. Yes, I’ve had those bed ridden days where all I can do is cry, those instances where I bruise my heart out of foolishness, those moments where I run away to find my peace of mind.

But for once, for once I really do think I’ll figure it out.

It’s never been a dream of mine to call this place home. To explore my heritage, that’s something I frankly didn’t care about. It simply came to me. And in an unexpected way, I feel like I’m living the dream.

Last week, I visited my grandpa in Nha Trang. As I said my goodbyes, he did something he’s never done before. He muttered, “Six years old,” grasped my hand, and gave me a warm hug.

I was six years old when my father, my grandpa’s only son, passed away from cancer. It’s been years, possibly decades since I’ve received something resembling a father’s embrace.

Since my move, my grandpa has given me a notebook of his poetry, gems I’ve yet to understand. Everytime I visit him, I also take a book from my father’s collection from when he was young, from over 40 years ago, before the war plagued his history.

Unplanned moments like these keep me here in Sài Gòn, where I’ve been living for the past three months. Here, I have no real job nor clear direction. I spend my days living, learning, and exploring. I let my heart and intuition lead the way for once.

I guess this is my way of saying hello, I’m back. It’s been weird and happy and difficult these past few. But I’m still standing, knees bruised but dusted off, ready for the next leg of this marathon. What a privilege. What accidental bliss.

Nha Trang for Tểt, January

Saigon Cà Phê, February

Sài Gòn Đẹp Lắm, sketched by Foxtly, April

Ride or Die, Sài Gòn, March

“Best” Friends in Huể, April

Chasing sunsets, Cần Thơ, April

Some of my favorite Viet Kieuties, Cần Thơ, April

My new calling, Đà Lạt, May

Just a regular non-best-friend in Đà Lạt, May

More coffee, what Vietnamese blood is made of, May

2016 Wasn’t Terrible

Last year, I was focused on healing the heart and conquering depression. I basically ran a lot of half marathons and got super self-helpy. It was pretty great despite all the crying. (Thank you to all my Yay Area friends who helped me during this time, you know who you are).

I wanted 2016 to be about content creation, consistency in health and productivity, and closeness with friends, family, and culture. While I got unnoticeably fatter, I also became a better artist and human being. I will always be a work in progress, but it’s pretty exciting to see growth year over year.

Things I’m Proud Of

  • I quit my corporate job. Suck it fear.
  • I moved to a different continent.
  • I sang all by myself with my ukulele. In front of people. For money.
  • I discovered my roots and got closer to family.
  • I discovered girl power, from Gap Girls, to 3.5 Asians, to Yayas, and the Musketeers. Oh, and all of Harpswell.
  • I collected stamps on my passport. Six languages surrounded me this year, which is pretty nuts.
  • I dated people. I liked some of them. I ghosted others. Don’t worry, karma did its thing.
  • I read 17 books, 2 less that last year. But Steve Jobs was really long. And I also read a textbook on Educational Psychology…
  • I had a good grasp of my sadgirl and figured out ways to uplift myself.

Things I Failed At

  • I got sidetracked and didn’t focus on my work. Given the opportunity, I should be doing more.
  • I didn’t create as much as I wanted to. There’s still a bit of fear and doubt that linger even though two fortune tellers have told me not to worry about it.
  • I wasn’t consistent with my health. At all. I blame it on the humidity.
  • I didn’t keep in touch with people as much as I wanted to. The Pacific Ocean really creates distance, doesn’t it.
  • I let anger get the best of me a few times instead of letting gratitude do its thing.

Next year will build upon these last two. Build your community. Make more things. Jump off the (metaphorical) cliff.

How to Conquer Fear

Step 1: Quit job.
Step 2: Move to another country.
Step 3: Discover roots.
Step 4: Continue to not have real job.

I stripped myself of a title, salary, and 401K. I tossed out my curling iron, deleted Yelp, bid adieu to infrastructure and moved to a developing country. I trekked the land of my parents to see what I could discover, and followed that with a solo trip around Asia to see what else I could learn. Now, I’m working on personal projects, living a nomadic lifestyle that most people dream of.

This journey has been inspiring and delightful, with a little bit of strange. Countless times I’ve uttered, “Damn, this is going in my memoir.”

You’d think that I’d be brave, a champion for the fearless, at this point. And yes, tackling the projections of what society expects of you in order to find your individual frontier imbues strength, patience, and a deeper understanding of yourself.

But as the dust settles and static makes a reappearance, I realize that I’m still scared, perhaps even more anxious and frightened than before. My tarot card reader told me to let go of my fears, and while the words came out of her mouth so easily, I struggle to find the answer key.

I’ve always seen the edge of the cliff from afar but never dared to wander close to see what laid beyond. My journey has led me closer and closer to the fringe of this cliff, now with a clear view of the panorama before me for the first time. I realize to move forward, I need to jump.


Siem Reap

This was such a magical place in my Cambodia experience. My connection to the city, temples, and people shifted my thoughts of the country. I hold fond memories of this trip in my heart, with a red thread bracelet from Angkor Wat on my left wrist to remind me of the fortune that is coming my way as I take the next leap.

siem reap buddha

angkor wat jennie le

angkor wat jennie le

angkor wat jennie le

angkor wat jennie le

angkor wat jennie le

bayon jennie le

bayon jennie le

ta prohm jennie le

siem reap buddha

angkor-wat-2-jennie-le

Give & Receive

We hear so much about the importance of giving. There’s plenty written about the science of generosity and happiness, with more listicles and pop psychology articles here, here, here, here, and here. You get the point, giving is important.

In acting, I learned the importance of giving and receiving. To make scenes come alive from their scripted unrealities, you had to listen to your fellow actor, to receive their words and intent, in order to give something back and build the dynamics of the scene. And the first thing you learn in improv is “yes, and”, as in “yes” I heard you, “and” here’s my response to that.

When you stop receiving, your scenes don’t make sense, your sketches fall flat, you miss out on the subtle cues that could awaken the words on the page. Giving and receiving are a cycle, and if you disrupt one, you inherently disrupt both. So, I find it interesting that less is written about the importance of receiving.

Why does any of this matter? It doesn’t quite frankly. My tarot card reader just happened to call out that I needed to learn how to receive more, and only then would I be able to give my fullest. One could call this bullshit “juju advice”. But one could also elicit curiosity and try to figure out what meta thing this might mean.

I’ve received a lot these past six months in Asia: exposure to a completely new culture in Cambodia, memories and reflections on Vietnam, and the sights and scenes of a handful of countries. I feel like I’ve been given so much with these adventures and stories of a lifetime.

What else could I be gifted?

thailand-bangkok-air

I planned on visiting the temples of Gyeongju alone, but as fate would have it, I hopped on the same bus at a different stop as a hostel mate. We ended up trekking together, and I had an awesome time. I could have lost out on receiving conversation, observations from a second set of eyes, and the merriment of wandering with a companion. I learned that solitude isn’t always the right choice, and as humans having connection is perfectly normal. The ultra independent lone wolf in me has a hard time accepting this.

gyeongju korea

In Bangkok, another travel buddy brought carelessness and provoked my anger, which nearly ended our friendship. However, as I put aside my emotions, I also recognized the honesty, affection, and childlike lightheartedness that had been given to me during the trip, that I had overlooked and taken for granted. Yet again, I received the lessons of letting go of my anger and finding gratitude that I had previously failed to recognize. It’s easy to miss the seemingly tiny things that make life delightful, like sidewalks or good people.

So with that, I challenge you to receive the gifts that come your way, even if they seem small or shitty. They don’t always come in a box. Accept that breath you just took, the heartbreak you’re mending, the time spent with your family. To receive is to acknowledge the lessons and gratitudes manifested before you. With this comes awareness and strength, which are pretty dope gifts in my opinion.


This is the second of a three-part series. Check out part one. Tune in next week for the last bit of my tarot card reading, word garbage, and basic ass photography.

Let’s Get Lost

My tarot card reader says that I will create my life’s best work somewhere in East Asia. Call it confirmation bias, but I think she’s talking about Seoul.

I’ll preface by saying I spent five months in two developing countries prior to landing in Seoul, so I’m quite biased and jaded from nearly half a year of mosquito bites and shitty infrastructure. Also, I understand the country isn’t without criticism, from its political drama to its mad consumerism and its insane education and work cultures.

That said, I learned a lot from being alone and getting lost in South Korea. Busan, Gyeongju, and Seoul were lovely backdrops to the questions and contemplations in my mind, especially post-motherland. What impact do I want to create? How does Vietnam play into that? Should I have 떡볶이 again for lunch? What are my biggest dreams? How about my fears?

As I wandered, I gained empathy, confidence, and gratitude. I let go of control and surrendered to the journey. I appreciated the freedom to stray and discover, a freedom handed to me simply because I possessed a US passport. I found beauty in the unknown and the pain as I shed tears in the rain. By getting lost, I unearthed more of the world and myself.


Busan

Here, I collected my thoughts and my spirit. Ocean waves, fall leaves, and green forests have a knack for soothing the soul. Many wonderful moments, especially hanging out with 아줌마 Boonda.


Gyeongju

I have mad appreciation for how South Korea has restored and maintained its historical relics. The juxtaposition between old and new is fascinating to me. I hope that Vietnam and Cambodia can experience something like this one day. But also, fall leaves and temples, dude.


Seoul: Lines

Some say that Seoul is architecturally boring. I personally enjoy the streams amongst concrete towers, the lighting that brings life to the city at night, the rich historical buildings embedded throughout, and the safety that blankets you even when you’re alone by the Han River.


Seoul: Details

From Asian Bill Cunningham to n****ships, this city is pretty damn dope.


This is the first of a three-part series. Tune in next week for more of my tarot card reading, word vomit, and amateur photography.

A Vase, A Ukulele, A Dictionary

I leave Vietnam with more than I came with: a vase, a ukelele, and a French-Vietnamese dictionary. They’re all bulky and annoying to carry as I wander South Korea. But I can’t get rid of any of them despite their bothersome nature.

The vase was imparted onto me by my cousin in Saigon as a gift to my mother in LA. I am the courier. Perhaps I should have said no to his request or suggested a smaller, more convenient gift. But at the time, I just couldn’t. He really liked his idea, and I did too, and I think my mom will really like the vase. His gesture felt so sweet, and to reject his request to hand deliver this vase felt wrong. Because, that’s not what families do.

Families carry vases across the globe for you. They take you into their homes as their own and shower you with food, comfort, and love. They sacrifice their time and needs to take care of you and spend time with you. They drive you to the airport on their moto during rush hour traffic because that means they get to spend more time with you before seeing you off, since who knows how long it’ll be before you see each other again. They are your tribe, your ride or dies, your blood. So you carry that vase, even if it means it goes to South Korea, Thailand, and Cambodia before it makes its way to its destination.

The ukulele was purchased on my last day in Vietnam. It’s made of Vietnamese wood with a natural finish. I’m in love with it. My host in Saigon was playing hers, and I wanted one too so that I could play music again. Just like that, I headed towards Guitar Street in Saigon, walked into the shop with the nicest display, and bought one for 40 bucks.

The average monthly income in Vietnam is about $218. I spent over 18% of that on a non-essential in under 45 minutes. What a privilege. In Cambodia, before I had left on my travels, I decided to refuel my dream of making music, this time in Southeast Asia. What a privilege. For the rest of the year, I’ll tinker with beats and strings and microphones. If I fail or get bored, I’ll go back to a corporate job in America. What. A. Privilege.

The last item is the least useful but the most prized. My Vietnamese is average, and my French is terrible, and this French-Vietnamese dictionary serves no purpose in my life. Except, on the edges of the book are the handwritten names of my late father and my grandfather, inked on in 1968 by my then 16-year-old father. On this trip, I learned that my father was fluent in Vietnamese, French and English. He also dabbled in Mandarin, Russian, and Japanese. I could tell by what was left of his book collection that he was really into philosophy and literature. Predictably, he was an excellent student with a lot of potential.

The six years that I knew him didn’t really showcase that though. By that time, his main courses were Budweiser and Marlboro. After he died, no one really talked about him in a nice way. But coming to my grandfather’s house, seeing the hopes and dreams my father left behind on those bookshelves, hearing the stories of his youth from both sides of my family made me realize the tragedy of my father and mother’s sacrifice. They escaped Vietnam for a better life for themselves and their children. But they left behind their tribe, dreams, and familiarity. America provided opportunities only if you could overcome the foreignness. It appears as though my father could not find his path, and so his days ended in melancholy. As it turns out, he wasn’t a bad guy. He was just human, going through a really bad time. This dictionary represents a piece of his dream, and a reminder to continue seeking my dream in order to honor the sacrifices that have gotten me to where I am today.

With every sunset I watch in Seoul, every whim I fulfill on my travels, every choice I make out of privilege, I’m so much more grateful for everything I’ve received. Who knew all it took was a vase, a ukelele, and a French-Vietnamese dictionary to feel a bit more complete.