December 18, 2012

  • No man is an island, at least without a bridge built to the main land.

    This is not an unfamiliar sight for my car.

    A little backstory. About a month or two back, I became obsessed with finding a high end compact camera to carry around with me, just to encourage me to shoot more of my personal life. I had gotten a new dSLR this fall to better my freelance photography- better wedding photos, better newborn photos, better family photos. But I wasn’t shooting much in my personal life. I don’t mind lugging my clunky dSLR everywhere, but often, it’s not practical. So I have been scouring the internet for the best compact camera, and it would run me $600 or so to do so.

    Except I knew Christmas season was coming and it wasn’t in my budget at all to spend on a frivolous thing like that. Because, I mean, I had a cheap old compact camera, but it just wasn’t cutting it in quality. Did I really need a $600 digital camera? No. Just like my decade-long search for a high-end laptop for editing photos- I just couldn’t spend that much when I had a perfectly fine desktop in my room. I had put the camera in my cart several times, and even ordered it when I saw it go on sale for $550, but canceled the order shortly after. Christmas presents first, extension of photography in the future.

    On Saturday, I had just finished shooting a college friend’s kid’s 1st birthday party. My car had been giving me some problems earlier in the week and I had planned on taking it to the mechanic after the shoot. Except it turns out I was going to do just that- the hard way. I had replaced the battery (in hindsight, needlessly) earlier in the week thinking the battery was on the fritz. It turns out the starter was actually the culprit, and I was stuck in the Galleria waiting for the tow truck to the mechanic that day.

    I’ve grown up mostly trying hard to be independent. My dad is the kind of nice guy who never liked to bother people but always went above and beyond out of his way to help others. A more “do-it-yourself because other people are busy and it’s not so bad doing it yourself anyway” mentality which I took to heart growing up. I remember sometimes I would spend an hour taking the bus to the grocery store in college because I didn’t want to bother my friends to spend 15 minutes driving me there. But on Saturday, as the tow truck pulled into the mechanic’s lot, I was helpless. I asked a friend for a ride from the mechanic which was probably a 20 minute or so drive from the galleria area (meaning an hour of their time round trip and back to their place), and I was driven to a friend’s housewarming that night. I’ve always been adamant about driving- I’m going some place ANYWAY, so I can just pick YOU up. Guys always drive, it’s courtesy and a hardfast rule I live by (which is actually one of my pet peeves when guys don’t at the very least offer to drive). But here I was unable to drive and dependent on others.

    And you know, it was hard for me to ask for help. Because people live busy lives, and asking for help meant asking them to interrupt their time to help me. But to paraphrase my friend, true friends aren’t just the ones you go out and party with, but the ones who are still there in the morning. And so I had to let myself be okay with being driven around instead of driving. It was a really strange feeling- almost a guilt for relying on others- but it was also a nice feeling knowing that people are also there for you when you need them.

    On that Monday afternoon two days later, I picked up my car and looked at the bill- $600. Precisely the amount of the compact camera that I had been obsessing over but couldn’t budget for. And it was also several photo gigs’ worth of income gone in a swipe of a piece of plastic at the mechanic’s. I was sad, but when I think about it, I was really lucky too. If my car had died at any point prior to that photo shoot on Saturday, I could have been stranded in Dallas or I could have completely missed shooting my friend’s kid’s 1st birthday party. The spot that my car had died in was in a PERFECT position for towing easily, so that was another huge plus.

    If I focus on the good, I can chalk it up to a $600 lesson in humility and being okay every once in a while with letting people in to help me. And that feeling of knowing people are willing to go out of their way to help you when you really need it is something that could never be fully conveyed through a photograph from any new camera.

December 3, 2012

  • Post-birthday thoughts.

    When you were younger, everything was simple. The good guys wore white, the bad guys wore black. You could clearly place people into “good” and “bad” categories- people who were good did no wrong in your eyes, and people who were bad had no redeeming qualities to them whatsoever. And all you had to do when you met someone new was ask them if they wanted to be friends- BEST friends even- and a resounding yes meant you were on your merry way to actually becoming those best friends.

    When you get older, things get less clear cut. You’ve had enough life experiences to learn that not everyone is absolutely good and not everyone is absolutely bad, though you still want to categorize them as such. You filter and dwindle down the groups of people you can trust and jettison those you don’t. You like to think you’ve narrowed it down to a group of good, honest folks- you’ve done away with those who are selfish, flaky, arrogant, deceitful and cheap and are left with the warm, the generous, the inspiring, the reliable. In doing so, it still all boils down into you categorizing people into “good” and “bad” groups.

    Yet the lines become blurred often- some people are good to others, maybe not to you. Maybe they cheat on their significant others, but they treat you just fine. But social groups entwine people together to make you interact with everyone whether you want to or not. And so rather than think of someone as only “bad”, you kind of weigh their black with their white and decide if they’re someone you want to keep in your life. And thus, everyone is really just different gradations of grey, and figuring out how much grey you can tolerate/overlook becomes the deciding line in some cases.

    Obviously you want to think highly of the people you keep in your life, and it’s always disappointing when your expectations of their character that you thought so highly of does not hold up. And we ourselves are not truly white either. Everyone has their own selfish choices they make- you may be the judgy asshole to someone just as someone else is equally an asshole to you. It’s just a matter of balancing how much effort you want to put into others versus how much you want for yourself.

    But I still haven’t lost that glimmering, slightly fading feeling of when we were younger- many times when I meet someone new, they’re still that untarnished white. They could be a potential new good friend and I’ll get excited to get to know them, which my friends jokingly have said that I “love too hard”. But then again, I have been extremely fortunate in my life to meet those who are just plain good people who make you happy to be around them. There are people in my life I know and have known for years, and even though I’ve seen them hundreds of times, they can still brighten up the room when they walk through the door. The way you see some people, their light never quite fades, and these are the people who bring others up with them.

    May you yourself unknowingly be the light that brightens up a room of people, and may you be surrounded by the same.

November 19, 2012

  • On Body Image.

    Once a while ago, a friend and I were discussing how guys can tell they’re attractive, because attractiveness is a very subjective trait, and while one can say they find themself decently attractive, you can’t really gauge your attractiveness without feedback from others. This discussion led my friend to conclude that she supposed guys could gauge their own attractiveness by how “successful” they were at getting girls.

    A little while later, I was reading a discussion thread on whether women check out men, and there was one comment that over two thousand commenters could relate to. And it went as follows:

    Check, check, check it out:

    You’ve likely been told you’re beautiful, hot, etc. by men and boys from a young age. You’ve seen men and boys blatantly check out your body from a young age. Men way too old to be looking at you that way saying things they shouldn’t be saying. And while the media bombards you with the message that unless you’re a 5’10″, 115 pound waif, you’re fat; unless you wear Maybellene, you’re ugly; men will tell you and show you that you are, in fact, attractive. It’s been going on so long that it’s just annoying now, but it happens.

    Now, imagine if no man ever looked at you your whole life. No man ever told you how pretty you look today. You can count on one hand how many times a man has looked at you or complimented you in that way. But, dig this, the media’s still telling you you’re unattractive. The difference now is that you have constant reinforcement that they’re right, they’re absolutely right. No man truly finds you attractive, your boyfriends and lovers just told you you are because that’s what they’re supposed to do.

    That’s what being a man is like. Women don’t tell us we’re attractive out of the blue. Women don’t stare at us. And the media tells us that without P90X we’ll forever remain unattractive. And we don’t receive any contrary experiences. Girlfriends and lovers tell us we’re attractive because that’s what we want to hear, not because it’s true.

    As one person commented, “A girl randomly told me I looked good over 3 years ago. I still remember that and think about it fondly to this day.”

    I found the discussion thread amusing, but also a little sad, because of how many people- including myself- could relate on some level to the comment. I can actually count on one hand the number of times I have been complimented on my looks. I’ve always been skinny growing up- mostly I joke because I’m such a spaz, partially thanks to a decent metabolism, but I can’t seem to buff up. It’s different if you’re large- you can turn that fat into muscle. But if you’re a chronically skinny guy, it’s hard to make gains.

    While women are probably rolling their eyes at someone complaining about being skinny, spending a lifetime being told by girls you’re interested in that you’re too skinny combined with random girls always approaching your more built guy friends when you go out while you remain invisible reinforces that idea and gives one a sense of body image disorder.

    I mean, I think I look okay, but you look at what girls swoon over in the media and it’s the Matthew McConaugheys, the David Beckhams of the world. The role of the skinny guy is never desirable- you’re better off being Homer Simpson or the King of Queens.

    I’ve spent a lifetime building on my creative endeavors and reading and learning new things, but there are just times when you just want to know what it feels like to be desired and attractive. It took a long while to build up any sort of confidence about my body image and accepting that any gains I make will be meager. But it was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, and that women aren’t the only ones susceptible to the pressures of having an ideal body type by the media.

August 17, 2012

  • The dream starts off the same as it always had.

    I am in a school. Sometimes it’s my old high school, sometimes it’s an unrecognizable school with white walls and winding halls. Any generic school.

    There’s a test of some sort. And I am always late to it. And completely unprepared to take it.

    There’s the panic and anxiety, dashing past rows and rows of lockers to my classroom to take this unknown test- how I know which classroom is where I am supposed to be, I have no clue as the classmates are unfamiliar and the teacher usually is too, but I always find it.

    And then I awake in a panic, in the darkness of my room, with relief slowly filtering into my consciousness that I was not in high school, nor have been for well over a decade.

    I have had this dream every few months for as long as I can remember.

    The other night, the dream began again. Except this time it was final exams for each class, back to back to back. I had not studied for any of them. I was rushing off to my first exam when suddenly, a faint glimmer from my consciousness arose and I realized something- I was no longer in school. I had been out of school for years.

    I didn’t need to take these tests.

    It’s odd to realize this in your dream. It was the first time I had ever realized that these tests that I had been completely unprepared for and late to were, in fact, unnecessary. I left the class and wandered about in the high school and proceeded to go outside and walked around until reality abruptly called me back and informed me that I needed to get ready for work. I felt as though I had finally beaten the game, as though I had broken through some locked door that wasn’t supposed to be opened.

    I couldn’t shake this feeling though, even in those brief moments after I had woken up and my bedroom began to take shape- that even though I was aware that I was no longer in school in my dream world, the entire time, I had wondered, “Would I still pass those classes if I had failed those exams?”

June 28, 2012

  • Words.

    Converting important thoughts into words can be difficult. Doing so with another person is even moreso. Trying to get a message across is like a fire in a theater- rather than line up single file as they had been organized coming in- rehearsed countless times-, instead, all the words panic and rush out as though their lives depended on it through the one pair of double doors with no other exits available.

    The fire spreads and you try to get everyone to calm down (and it would be much safer and quicker that way), but all the words want to pour out at once, pushing and shoving to be out into the open, fresh air, some getting trampled in the process and either never making it out or losing its meaning.

    You speak faster and struggle to sound collected, but for some reason there’s an urgency to say it all at once as though it would hide the mounting embarrassment of the jumble of thoughts that seem to be escaping but don’t really seem to make as much sense as you had originally imagined it would.

    And once it’s over, you hope everything got out safely and nothing got left behind.

    In writing, it’s much different. You can go back, control the urgency of that fire, suppress it, pause, go back in time. Trying to say what I had written just now to someone would probably have come across entirely different.

June 19, 2012

  • Shorts.

    I love short films. Sometimes an idea doesn’t work out for a full-length movie, but that doesn’t mean the story is any less. Kevin Spacey’s production company had a contest where the winners would have Kevin Spacey star in their short film. This was one of the winners:

    The other two winners are different and pretty enjoyable too- The light-hearted Spirit of A Denture and the darker Envelope.


    Here’s a short, pretty cute one that’s about a minute long:

    Night Light from Qing Han on Vimeo.


    And there’s Dennis:


     And finally this one:


    I’ve noticed a lot of shorts I’ve seen have themes like social anxiety/isolation and heartbreak. I suppose they’re emotions that tend to be more easier to relate to a mass audience because everyone has experienced those at some point in their life, but not everyone has experienced the opposite.


June 7, 2012

  • Solitude.

    Living by myself is actually pretty nice, surprisingly. I suppose I’ve always been comfortable by myself.

    My next step is to hire a Portuguese maid and we will not understand each other but mean the same thing when we speak to each other in our respective languages.

    I rewatched one of my favorite movies the other day- It Happened One Night- probably one of the earliest screwball romantic comedies ever made (1934). I hadn’t seen it in years, but I had forgotten how well it stood up to time. As it’s so old, you can actually watch the whole thing on youtube (albeit in really poor quality). Anyway, I had forgotten Clark Gable’s monologue in response to “Have you ever been in love?”

    Youtube has been kinda screwy with the timing, but I think it starts at 1:11:25 with Claude Colbert asking “Have you ever been in love?” It’s towards the end of the movie, so spoiler alert. Well, as spoiler as a movie about 75 years old can be.

    In any case, I’m just updating this as a break from editing yet another wedding. Between photo obligations and a full time job, it’s literally working two jobs. I need a break to just do something creative. That gnawing is always there and I’ve got a list of personal projects that expands every day. Sometimes, I wonder what’s the point in trying to make anything, really? Does anyone even care? Am I isolating myself in my hobbies? The new life I’ve taken on I feel like has the potential for so much personal growth, like I’ll be able to produce something great one day. But doing things alone gets exhausting after all this time and I’ve taken a different path in life when I look at how all my friends are these days. I think I just need to hear someone say, “hey, you’re doing great” and give me a reassuring pat on the back.

    I suppose in the end, we’ve got nowhere to grow but up.

February 10, 2012

  • Vietnam Part 20: Mai mốt gặp lại.


    Day 12 begins with a visit to my mom’s aunt, who looks like a splitting image of my long-departed grandmother.

    That night, I met up my cousin’s friend who had been working in Vietnam for some six years or so. My cousin worked in Vietnam for some five years before becoming quite the world traveler, and he asked his friend Tuyet to kindly show us a nice night out in Saigon. I had been itching to see what the nightlife in Vietnam was like before leaving, with my only attempt being the night before, walking to the entrance of a club next to the hotel that looked like a lot of attractive young people were going into. The LilBro and I chickened out at the last minute and turned around and went back to the hotel and asked the receptionist what that place was- it turned out it was a Vietnamese concert venue and you had to buy tickets.


    So on our last night in Vietnam, we met up Tuyet and she took the family out to dinner. When my parents went back to the hotel, she took us to some film industry party where all the ex-pats hung out. We arrived a bit early so it was kind of dead and so we went off to go bowling. Bowling in Vietnam? Count me in. Bowling in Vietnam costs somewhat the same as bowling in the States, meaning if you’re a local Vietnamese, it’s probably pretty expensive.


    I am terrible at bowling. I came in last place on the first set.


    But lo and behold, I got my best game EVER in bowling the second set. As usual, I choke on the last frame. After bowling, we went back to the industry party and hopped to another place with live music before finally settling into Apocalypse Bar (or, as they called it, “Apo Bar”). Apocalypse bar is exactly like clubbing in the US- you’ve got cover charge. You’ve got the latest top 40′s music. The only difference is that the crowd is a mix of ex-pats and locals. It was a pretty fun night but we called it a night at 2 (they stay open far later than that).


    On the very last day of our trip, we finally made it out to see the Lunchlady. I had been wanting to eat at her place every single day since we touched down in Saigon as the menu changes daily, but our schedule was packed so that we couldn’t. The “Lunchlady” has made the foodie internet rounds and on No Reservations. It’s said she makes one batch per day and when she runs out of whatever she’s selling, she closes up for the day.


    Waiting for our order.


    Lookit this rooster, being all cocky.


    The kind of out-of-the-way area.


    I’m generally not a fan of banh canh, but man, this is the best banh canh I’ve ever had. There is a huge potpourri of flavors and textures running through the broth, the noodles are the perfect consistency- not overly chewy- and there’s a nice mix of meat and seafood in it. I kind of want another bowl and I kind of regret only getting to eat this at the very end of the trip. But for a last lunch in Vietnam, there’s no better way to end it.


    Later that afternoon, we pack up all our suitcases and wait for the cab to take us to get ready for the 30 hour flight back. We stop off in Singapore for a few hours and we explored most of the shops at the airport (I had ordered my family a buncha Singaporean food at the airport on the way there) and this here is a shot from the butterfly garden at the Singapore airport. The rest of the trip goes by in a blur- well, as much as 30 hours of travel time can become a blur.

    And then, we’re home.


    So what can one expect to bring back from Vietnam?


    Well, for me, I have a group of friends who like to try chips from around the world, and it’s become a custom that whenever anyone travels anywhere, they’ll bring me back chips they’ve found overseas. And for this trip, I’d return the favor. Vietnam has a surprising amount of chip flavors not available in the US. You’ve got Cheetos making vanilla, strawberry, and plain/butter flavors (surprisingly good). And Doritos with fiery garlic and then some. But Lays tops the bunch, making lobster, bbq pork, pate and a huge assortment of flavors. I was glad I had brought along one empty suitcase, and it was filled to the brim with weird chips for my traveling friends back home. At Russia airport customs, it was slightly embarrassing when they pulled me aside to inspect my suitcase, only to find it was completely full of chips. They must have thought I was insane.


    I generally am not a big fan of souvenirs, so my favorite thing that I brought back from Vietnam is my coveted dau xanh. My room in Houston is right next to the door to the backyard, so any time anyone lets dogs out, mosquitoes fly into my room and torment me first. This right here is perfect for the oncoming rainy mosquito-infested months to come.


    It took a while, but my mom finally found some artwork she liked in Vietnam. Along with a few other pieces, I thought these were really neat. It’s stone art, but it’s raised and painted over. I haven’t seen anything like this before.


    And what else can I take away from Vietnam? It’s far too often that, like many travelers, I run around the world trying to soak up as much culture and history as I can in whatever place I happen to be in, but at the end of the day not having a real connection with the places I visited other than a passing feeling of entertainment and a bundle of photographs. Vietnam is as foreign a country as any, but there’s a deep rooted connection obviously with my parents, and in that sense, a familiarity in understanding the life that my parents lived growing up and turning me into the person I am today.

    The country isn’t as corrupt or scary as I had heard prior to coming there. It’s a beautiful country, the girls I met were pretty in their honesty, the guys were likeable in their friendliness. Service was always impeccable, the food was amazing, and the people from north to south were all incredibly nice.

    Vietnam is a sharp reminder that people still do have a difficult life and that just being able to be on the internet right now at 2 AM as I sit here typing up this final entry is a luxury. Too often we’re caught up in wanting the latest designer name brand gadget, and then you come back and you realize you don’t really need any of this. This, of course, is not saying one should just stop and sit and be complacent with what you have, but more a reminder that rather than spending your time trying to acquire things, invest it in the people around you instead.

  • Vietnam Part 19: End of the line.



    The next stop on the tour consisted of a medley of fruits while traditional Vietnamese singers performed. You’ve got the recognizable pineapples and mangoes, and along with that is dragonfruit (available at asian grocery stores in houston- maybe a consistency similar to cantaloupe?, but somewhat bland), lychee, and papaya (I can’t get myself to like these).


    Then they brought out a snake to take pictures with. It was kind of a neat feeling to have a snake kind of just slowly wrap itself around you.


    The final leg of travel consisted of a boat manually powered by a person with one large rear oar.


    My dad asked our rower how many boats he rowed a day. He said not many. What was there to do if he wasn’t rowing? Fishing? No, there weren’t any fish to catch in that area. And so these people’s meager incomes relied solely on waiting for tour agencies to bring tourists out, which is a scary thought if tourism suddenly dropped or if they were injured on the job.


    The boats themselves looked fairly ancient.



    The last stop on the tour was seeing how they made keo dua, or coconut candy.


    It’s a fairly labor intensive task, with all the molding, cutting, and wrapping done manually. It’s good and chewy, but it sticks to your teeth and hardens fairly quickly in storage.


    End day eleven.