My Philosophy on Life
Life is made up of little moments. Don't spend all your energy, attention and hope on the so-called big things, the milestones and the end results. Destination, knowing where you are heading and working toward, is important but the little steps and everything you encounter along the way, and every bit of effort matter. Don't let life pass you by while you fix your eyes on your goal only. Celebrate the little successes that will eventually lead you to your goal and do not forget or discredit any failed attempts as lessons and opportunities for growth are disguised in stumbles, obstacles and challenges. Stay positive, stay humble, be kind, be compassionate, be respectful, be hopeful, have gratitude, have a sense of humour, work hard. Everything will fall into place the way they are destined. And even if things don't go the way you want, know that through the trials and tribulations, you become stronger than you ever were before the struggles and the fights.
There is a certain mystical healing power in nature. Whether it is hiking in the mountain, walking through a forest, skipping bare foot on grass, looking into a clear lake trying to see the bottom, staring at a sunrise with dropped jaw, catching clouds turning from white to pink on an evening commute, or simply looking up the sky and seeing all the patterns, shapes and creatures the clouds form, it always gives me a sense of serenity and puts me in a better mood. I am not only mesmerized by the spectacular exhibitions nature showcases after a grueling hike or a few hours of driving, I am also constantly fascinated by all the little things nature offers around us. I am often caught looking up, gazing at clouds with a smile on my face like an idiot. Or taking photos of oddly arranged tree branches on the sidewalk like a weird tourist who's never seen a tree before. There's just something alluring about trees and leaves and stones and clouds and, and, and everything natural. I don't even remember when nature began to have such an impact on me. I didn't grow up being close to or knowing much about nature, let alone appreciating it. I believe this fascination started when I was going through some rough time in my life about 10 years ago. I don't remember how my love for nature started but I sure am glad it did.
I wonder if it's because when you're in nature, it feels like you're being embraced by Mother Earth. It's like being comforted by your mum. The instinct of feeling loved, warmed and nurtured by a mother. A mother who can also whip your ass with a gentle strike. I fortunately have not experienced any major natural disasters but I'm sure that is nature's way of reminding us to not mess with her and to put us in our place.
Being in nature, feeling connected to the environment is not only comforting, it is also a good reminder of how small, how insignificant we all are in the grand scheme of things. No matter how invincible, how important or superior we think we are, how disastrous we think our problem is, how stressful or overwhelming a situation feels, in the presence of Mother Earth, we are only a speck, and so are the issues we are facing. It helps us shift our perspective and thus change our thinking. It helps us see that perhaps we should be more humble about our existence, make lighter of our heavy burden, and take a step back from the centre of our problem and see it from more objective and more effective way. And that perhaps the situation we are in is not that dire after all and that perhaps whatever we cannot stop fretting about, whatever we cannot find a solution for will resolve itself in its own way, or the solution will come to you when you least expect. And that everything will work out in the end. When we allow nature to work its magic and allow ourselves to flow with flow of things we cannot control, we let the mystical creator take charge. When we connect to and connect with something so simple yet powerful, we allow healing to begin. The best things in life are usually the simplest, the most natural and yet the most beautiful, the most awe-inspiring and most exquisite.
I started travelling late. I had been to several cities in Canada, the US, Japan and Hong Kong before but I was always with someone. I was following the other person. Everything, where to go, when to go, how to get there, where to go next, was all planned out before we even reached the city. It was cool and all seeing a new place, going to museums, memorials and stores with a set itinerary and transportation plan. Travelling then was, ok. I liked it but 'travelling' was not a thing on my mind.
Being the 'great at reading and writing but can't speak or understand a word' type of language learner, I made a decision to go to Italy after studying Italian for three years and still couldn't order a cappuccino in Italian without getting butterflies in my stomach between lining up at the counter and actually ordering, then of course messing it up. After saving up for almost two years, I requested for a leave of absence from work, applied for a summer job in Tuscany and got a six month working holiday visa for Italy.
In May 2011, I went to Europe for the first time. I went by myself on a return ticket with six months in between. And I went without a plan except for a one night reservation at a hostel in Amsterdam and a one week reservation at a hostel in Rome. I thought about what countries or cities I wanted to see but there was no solid plan. I didn't know what I was doing or where I was going as the summer job I applied for was not a guarantee. I didn't know when I would start or, if I would start. I planned my time in Italy in intervals of three, four days. I spent a week in Rome, a week in Naples, another week in Rome before I started my four week gig as an English camp counsellor/English teacher/activity facilitator in a beautiful little Tuscan town called Castiglion Fiorentino. After my assignment, I spent a few days poolside at a campsite in Rome - hooray for €11 per night accommodations - perusing my Lonely Planet Europe guide and booking hostels for the next month on my little 16G iPhone 4.
For the rest of my first solo travel trip, I would book my accommodations days or weeks ahead of arrival. Train schedules were usually looked up a day before departure. For some, that may seem disorganized, stressful, or procrastinatory but for me, I enjoyed the flexibility and freedom. The thrill of not knowing and not planning seemed almost nomadic and romantic to me. That was how I liked to travel. Not having cellular data, phone network or GPS made me rely on me. I became more resourceful, reliable and resilient. Not having a way to contact me if I'm not at my hostel or in a wifi zone made making plans with people more real, more solid, more committed. Not following a predetermined or planned itinerary and exploring a place by feel and mood, going with the flow and whatever might happen, getting lost and not knowing where the hell I was, made my travel a real discovery, of both where I was and who I was.
I strongly recommend solo travelling to others. One should try it at least once in their life time. It will completely change your travel experience, it will also change you. When you are by yourself, you are all you've got. You force yourself to make decisions, to navigate, to stand up and fend for yourself. When you are discovering a foreign place, you really take it in because you're not distracted, talking to your travelmate. When you internalize what you see and feel, you are communicating with yourself. You are getting to know yourself better and developing a relationship with yourself through these experiences. You also meet and talk to more people because you're not attached to someone you are familiar with or dependent on. You open up yourself more because when we don't have company, we tend to be more willing to open up to others, to reach out, so that we have that human contact we miss while being on the road. Of course there are also perks such as going with your own plan, doing what you want, going where you want, when you want. There are so many advantages of travelling with someone and sharing that experience but there are also many numerous benefits to solo travelling that most people wouldn't think of doing or want to try.
Where you travel alone can also make a huge difference. Recently I discovered that travelling solo in Bali was not an experience I enjoyed that much. I had to rely on my husband and his motorcycle when I was with him. When I was by myself, I had to rely on group or private tours because I am too incompetent and chicken shit to ride a bicycle, let alone a scooter. I felt like I was stripped of my independence because of the lack of reliable public transportation and places I wanted to see were not of walkable distances. I liked Bali; I just prefer to go there with somebody.
I am always dreaming of going somewhere. My heart always feels like it should be somewhere but here. Not because I don't like home or where I am. I love Canada. I love Vancouver and all my people here. But I would also love to be somewhere else and see what's out there. It's oxymoronic but I think my constant craving to be elsewhere is because of how home makes me feel. Home doesn't push me away but rather, makes me feel that I can always come back. It will forever be a safe haven when I return from wherever and however long I've left it for. That, is a pretty incredible feeling.
Life is Beautiful
I love seeing the countless decorations many things unintentionally adorn before our eyes: autumn leaves landing on top of a bus shelter, spiral staircases, an infinite bike rack, spools and spools of thread in various colours, ominous squiggly leaves, ceiling of an airport terminal, rows and rows of resting birds, cotton ball clouds at sunset, creepy crawly vegetation, an army of dandelions growing vertically along a wall, or groups of chandeliers at a community gathering place. They are everywhere. Life is beauty-full. I promise.
This is my hometown, Vancouver, through my lens.
Like the rest of Vancouverites and Canadians, I used to also make fun of this city as no-fun-couver. I can't remember why, though. I think it was the lack of an exciting night life and people didn't have much to do? I think I myself was just boring. And so are the people who said that now that I think about it. Yes, we don't have a razzle dazzle nightlife like New York, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Berlin or Bangkok but we have so much more to offer. I now think people who think Vancouver is boring is because they are boring.
We have an amazing food culture. We have cuisines - authentic, creative or fusion - from all over the world. And most of them are divine. We also have a delectable selection of vegetarian and vegan places that could turn a meat lover to contemplate on becoming a vegetarian or vegan. Many restaurants, bakeries and eateries also cater to those on a gluten-free diet. Those who love to walk and sip - me included - will not be disappointed by the many coffee shops, smoothie places and bubble tea chains here. Don't even get me started on the delicious ice-cream, popsicle and frozen yogurt options around the city. I'm always in the mood for a good London Fog ice-cream on a waffle cone. There is also an overwhelming number of food trucks with unique food ideas that would give 'dining out' a new definition.
Besides satisfying your belly, there are also lots of options for the great outdoors. We cannot be prouder for our many hiking trails with breathtaking views. Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and snowtubing are also popular winter activities. We also have a silly number of parks for picnics, sunbathing, reading, relaxing or just hanging with friends.
We are not totally artsy and cultured (yet) but give us some time. We just had our second annual Vancouver Mural Festival and it's given parts of this city a much needed facelift. We just look so much cooler already! I have always loved murals and this new tradition just makes me feel even more proud to be a Vancouverite. Besides murals, there are numerous beautiful things and places in this multicultural city waiting for you to discover.
Raincouver? Sure. That is indeed true. It does rain a lot here and it can get a little gray. But then again, it is also your state of mind that determines your view of the external world. I find the sounds of raindrops pitter-pattering on the window calming. The sensation of raindrops touching the skin revitalizing and therapeutic. The sight of raindrops falling into a puddle, creating ripple after ripple beautiful and mesmerizing. What about you? Do you feel the rain or just get wet?
Roy G. Biv
Red. Orange. Yellow. Green. Blue. Indigo. Violet. Colours that are commonly described as what make up a rainbow. I love how people - most people - still get excited when they see a rainbow, even adults. There is a certain indescribable enchantment to a rainbow, no matter how faint or short it is. Double rainbow? Don't even. Most people would think it is a sure sign of a miracle about to happen. I myself feel an indescribable elation when I see a rainbow, be it an arc in the sky or a random prism rainbow on the floor. To me, it just feels like a good mood booster that instantaneously makes me feel happier by momentarily taking away any worry. Think floating on clouds with pastel coloured cotton candy and little baby unicorns flying around. A bit psychedelic but that is the effect this dainty phenomenon has on me. Perhaps it symbolizes hope after a struggle; the sun coming out after the rain and clouds subside like the light at the end of a tunnel.
Black and white photography will forever be my very favourite but I also have a soft spot for photos with colours that pop. It's shameful that the colours of the world can never be truly captured in a photograph but I'm glad to have found the Jane lens and Love 81 film combination, as well as the Jane lens and Blanko film combination in the Hipstamatic app on the iPhone that enhance the colours of my photographs without much exaggeration. The colours in my photographs are almost as vibrant as the real deals. As much as I secretly hate Hipstamatic now after their many updates which have caused painfully slow start-ups of the app each time I use it, as well as freezing my phone periodically, and crashing the app so often it makes me want to throw my phone sometimes, I also openly love love love the app. It's a damn love-hate relationship from which I cannot part. I love the challenge and the thrill - when the bloody app works properly - of not knowing what my photos would look like until a few moments after I snap the photos. I also love how the effects are applied before I take the photos because I don't like changing the photos too much after I capture the images. This app, albeit the frustration it often brings me, makes me love photographing more and more.
That's meeeee! I just have so much love and respect for animals, so it frustrates me when some people think that human beings are the 'superior species' and that they can rule over or mistreat animals, or make them work for them under inhumane conditions. Yes, we can read, speak different languages, can operate machinery, can write books, can look up 'what does it mean if my cat ignores me' on the internet, can stitch up a wound or prescribe antibiotics. Yes, we had mastered the art of eating and turned survival into gourmet restaurants, creative cooking and Gold Plate winning dishes. For me, honestly, that only makes us different. Our brains are designed to think differently and our bodies to operate and function differently from other animals but does that make us more superior? I cannot agree with that.
Have you ever watched a TV program or documentary on how animals live, move, hunt, mate, reproduce, and survive? Have you ever found yourself thinking 'what? How? How do they do that? What, they do what? That's crazy!' The way animals do their thang is beyond us. For me, that is a different type of intelligence. We are different species and therefore are wired and designed differently. It would be preposterous to think that because they can't do what we can, we are of higher intelligence. We as human beings would never be able to replicate what the animals do so why are we putting that same flawed logic on them.
It also frustrates me watching videos of people teasing or laughing at animals because they react in a different way from what a human would in the same situation, or put animals in a situation where they would not be able to succeed. It frustrates me seeing humans want to dominate over an animal when the animal is clearly in distress. Animals have feelings, too. Like us, they also have moods, emotions, preferences, likes and dislikes, experiences, memories, stresses and traumas, and we cannot discredit or devalue that. Just because they cannot speak in our language and tell us what they think, how they feel or what happened, it does not make it ok for us to ignore these emotions, sensations and thoughts of theirs. Their joys, their sadness, their pains are just as real to them as ours are to us. Imagine yourself being in a foreign culture where the people there do not understand your language or you. They point at you and talk about you amongst themselves. They ignore your saying you don't like broccoli and they keep forcing you to eat broccoli. They say you are ungrateful for not eating what they provide. They give you a bizarre looking object to play with but you're not interested. You leave it and these people laugh and call you stupid for not knowing what to do with it. You are not feeling the mood to be social and just want to be left alone but they keep on poking you, petting you, taking photos with you, throwing more things for you to play with. Does this sound like a fair and compassionate way of treating someone? If your answer is no, then you probably understand what I'm trying to get at here.
Seeing working horses and donkeys in my travels also make me sad. I understand that for some countries, horses and donkeys are equivalent to our pick-up trucks but at least pick-up trucks regularly get oil changed, maintained, and get their tires rotated, hopefully. The horses and donkeys I see are skin and bones. The loads on their backs are often so heavy it looks like they could break the animal's back. The cargo they haul are so large and full it looks like the animal could be lifted up like the lighter end of a seesaw. I see the animals being dragged around with legs shaking because the weight they bear is so overwhelming. When they are not working, I see them exposed for a long time under the scorching hot sun with no water. Yes, they have hay for food but in 36℃ weather, one would think the importance of staying hydrated would come to mind. I feel like if people took better care of these animals, it would make a world of a difference in their justification of having working animals. Donkeys already have a natural sadness on their faces. Seeing them in such poor working condition just breaks my heart. Perhaps to some, this is a first world concern or not a big deal at all because the welfare of an animal is probably the last worry on the minds of people whose living condition forces them to use working animals. Although I understand this very notion, I also think that is not an excuse to not be respectful or compassionate toward another being on the same earth as us.
My first love in photography has always been street photography. I love capturing candid, authentic moments. For me, they are not only real and natural and most of them tell stories, I also love the challenge of street photography because a lot of these moments would never happen again. Not in the same way anyway.
Photos in this gallery are of people, animals, moments and emotions I captured while travelling. Landscapes and buildings are captivating and breathtaking but these candid moments are what tug at my heartstrings. To me, these photo subjects are what made the place special or memorable. A photo of a giant arched door may be beautiful but a photo of a giant arched door with two men sitting in front of it adds a bit of 'what are these two men doing in the middle of the day, sitting and lounging?', 'what are they talking about?', 'are they friends, neighbours, relatives?', 'are they waiting for someone to go somewhere together?', 'how many travellers have they seen sitting there today?', 'do they speak English?', 'are they going to tell me to not take photos of them?', 'are they going to wave hello and say "welcome to l'oudaya"?', 'are they going to offer me a tour for a handsome fee?' I love how instantly, the photo becomes more than just an image of a place because of a possible story behind it.
The Strength Within
We are all strong. Don't ever underestimate your strength. You don't know how strong you are until you need to be. And strength is not necessarily the force to keep on going. It also takes strength to let go. It takes strength to stay. It takes strength to walk away. It takes strength to be vulnerable. It takes strength to be invincible. It takes strength to cry. It takes strength to apologize. It takes strength to be humble. It takes strength to not crumble. It takes strength to speak up. It takes strength to stay silent. It takes strength to stand out. It takes strength to blend in. It takes strength to start. It takes strength to stop. It takes strength to lead. It takes strength to follow. It takes strength to tell someone how you feel. It takes strength to face changes. It takes strength to fight back. It takes strength to forgive. It sounds all too paradoxical but life is full of paradoxes and opposites. For this push and pull, tug and shove keep us moving, keep us balanced. Strength is a sign that you are alive and you can make the conscious effort to overcome something you once thought you couldn't.
We are all resilient individuals with the ability to grow. Life will not get easier but we will become stronger. We are not what happens to us but how we choose to act. I saw a quote recently that paints an adorable image - mmm fooooood - but is also very insightful. The author of the quote is unknown but it goes a little something like this, "the same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg. It's about what you're made of, not the circumstances." I will end my thoughts on Strength with this quote. I hope you also find it inspirational and self-reflection evoking.
Love. Where do I begin? It took me a long time to find it, or shall I say, for it to find me. I was looking for it for a while and was always disappointed. Then I learnt to love the person most important in my life, the person who will be with me forever, through all the good and bad, ups and downs, unknown and familiarity, success and failed attempts. I began to love me. And following that, everything just fell into place. When you love yourself, take good care of yourself and be kind to yourself, you are content and happy from within. You don't place blames on the external world for your sorrow and dissatisfaction in life. You are able to love life. Once you are well nourished from within, spiritually and mentally, you are healthy with a good dose of self-esteem and you know your place in life does not require another person's approval. When you are strong spiritually, mentally and physically, you are able to take care of those around you, if they require your care. Always put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others. This is not selfish. This is to ensure that you have not only the intention but also the capability to care for others. This is why loving yourself is so important. Because there is only one you. You begin with you and you end with you. If you don't love yourself more than anyone else could, you are doing a disservice to both yourself and those around you because when you don't love yourself, when you don't think you're worthy of being loved, those around you need to work extra hard to constantly and endlessly convince you and remind you of that. When the onus is on someone else, it is exhausting for them and it is unhealthy and unsustainable for you to rely on others for validation of your own worth.
It is true that love spreads. It is true that love can heal the broken. It is imperative that it begins with yourself.
I've always been fascinated by walls. It could be a mural, a coloured wall, a tiled wall, a vined wall, or just a wall with certain texture. It could be because walls are like giant canvases with art on them. I also have a thing for brick walls, especially orangey red ones. To me, there is an indescribable beauty to them. Maybe because they remind me of old European buildings.
I've always loved street art (non-discriminatory, non-racist, non-offensive) in the form of murals, whether it's sanctioned or not. When I travel, I always look for murals because we have such a lack of them here in Vancouver. Thankfully last year we had our first annual Vancouver Mural Festival and the one this year was even bigger. Through these public art installations, I believe close to 100 public spaces are now cooler than ever, thanks to some amazing visual artists. A good friend of mine, Sandeep Johal, was amongst the contributing artists this year. I could not be any prouder of her! Her contribution to the Vancouver Mural Festival is 'Girls are Fierce Like Tigers' in the 8th photo.
I have a bit of an obsession with reflections. I first thought it was just reflections on water or mirrors. I later realized that a lot of my photos are symmetrical or quasi-symmetrical images. I cannot think of a profound explanation for my obsession with symmetries and reflections, or try to see if I have a possible subconscious desire to find balance. They are just aesthetically pleasing to me and I am drawn to their systematic beauty.
Black and White Photography
As much as I love colours that pop in a photograph, there is nothing that can replace my love and passion for black and white photography. I always find it interesting how my eyes would sometimes go 'yeeeah, that one won't look good black and white. Shoot in colours' because I quite often do shoot in black and white.
My monochrome of choice is usually black and white, or off black and white with a hint of brown but not quite sepia. I feel like the emotion is so much stronger and story told so much more compelling through a monochrome image. It forces you to stare at the lights and deal with the shadows. Black and white photographs make your eyes see things differently and help you be more creative. There is no hiding of flaws or distraction by colours, exaggerated colours by filters. The lighting, the subject/object, the composition and framing will be key elements to making your image work. Black and white photographs also have a nostalgic, timeless quality to them. To me personally, black and white photographs just have a more striking beauty to them.
Most of the photographs I take are street photography, candid photographs of people, of animals, of nature, of a happening, of an emotion. There is just something so alluring with these brief and authentic moments in life such as light hitting a tree in a certain way, the way an old man staring out, the placement of a pedestrian walking on the street, a flock of birds flying above a cable, etc. I just love catching beauties in the most simple, most ordinary, most overlooked things and moments.