Amsterdam in 500 Words

(3 Minute Read)

Amsterdam isn't just the smell of marijuana and window shopping for sex. Yes, you can buy both, but my guess it that most people don't buy either.

IN A NUTSHELL

The Van Gough museum is super famous.

The Anne Frank museum is a must see. You can stand in room where they lived in hiding. It's sublime.

The Heineken experience is a tour of the factory. My brother loves Heineken and he thoroughly enjoyed the three beers that came with it.  

A'DAM Lookout is an elevator ride up to an aerial view of the city. There's also a swing ride on top! My biggest regret was not doing it. 

Canals run block by block at "The 9 Streets". You'll see a ton of selfie sticks.

There's are shopping areas for tourists, the red-light district is bizarre, and stoners chill at the coffee shops. By the way, a cafe is where people go to drink coffee and tea. Coffee shops are for weed. 

GETTING ALONG

The first time I went to Amsterdam was with my brother back in 2014. We visited the Anne Frank museum, a diamond museum, checked out the coffee shop, and went to a bar. We also spent two uncomfortable minutes walking through the red-light district. Just not my thing.

This time, I focused on photography and walked around getting lost and being lead by the streets, sites, and scenes.  

At one point, I saw a photographer shooting with an old Hasselblad film camera. We got along instantly. The amount of jargon we used proved that we were both deep in the film photography community. He pointed me in the direction of a camera store and I ended up spending a blissful hour talking with the store owners about cameras, film, and learning stuff about darkrooms. We all got along because we were part of the same niche.

People with things in common tend to get along. And a niche is like a modern day tribe.

Trust is what built tribes. Humans are social animals and the ability to trust each other is how we organized complex social structures. We dominated as a species because you could go hunting and you trusted the tribe to watch your kids. Today, we drop our kids off at school and go to work all day.

AMSTERDAM IN THREE WORDS

Dope, because of how it the city looks and smells. 

Antique. Everything in Europe is antique. Once you step into the city, you're blown away by the style of the old, tall buildings. The "suburbs" are packed with buildings that resemble hipstery mini-hotels. 

Whimsical, because the definition is "playfully quaint or fanciful, especially in an appealing and amusing way". In one square block you can see a red-lit sex shop, an ancient church, a coffee shop full of stoners, and romantic couples enjoying a picnic on lovely boats. Where else can you say Anne Frank, marijuana, Van Gough, prostitutes and Heineken in one sentence? Maybe in a kooky joke. 

Next stop, Oktoberfest!

  5 Minutes from the Amsterdam   Central Train Station taken with my iPhone

5 Minutes from the Amsterdam Central Train Station taken with my iPhone

  One of many canals in Amsterdam taken with iPhone

One of many canals in Amsterdam taken with iPhone

16 Hour Layover in Iceland

(3 Minute Read)

It's 4:00am here at KEF as I write this and I have a couple hours until my flight to Brussels. So, I'm starting blog series! I'll probably write as I go and post about my first impressions, things I learned, and a few travel tips. This post will be a bit longer than the others because of the backstory and the travel "plans" I've got.

Here's my rough itinerary so far: 

19th - Hangout in Maastricht with Justin
20th - Day trip to Amsterdam
21st - 22nd Couchsurf in Brussels?
23rd & 24th - Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany
25th - 29th Explore the Netherlands
29th - Fly home 

I might squeeze in a quick trip to Spain, but we'll see if it fits in the budget.

My main intention with this trip was to visit my brother Justin. He's currently studying abroad in Maastricht, so he hooked it up with some floor space for me to sleep on. I also wanted to take advantage of the time I had before I start my first full-time job. So, I booked the flight the day after I accepted their offer.  

Anyway, my first stop was this 16 hour layover in Iceland, so I rented a car to photograph the landscape and do some exploring.

With the five hours of daylight I had, I drove to Thingviller National Park and also checked out a cool waterfall called Seljalandsfoss. After sunset, I drove around Reykjavik to get a feel for the city. I started to get sleepy around 11pm so I dropped the car off at the airport and napped on a bench.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

If I could describe Iceland in three words it'd be: vast, green, and serene. 

Most of the time I drove down a two lane highway. To my left and right were miles of green fields with mountains in the distance. Peppered along green pastures were groups of horses and sheep. It was also nice admiring the quaint, cottage-like homes along the way.

If you want a sense of serenity coupled with an appreciation of vast green landscapes, you won't be disappointed with Iceland. I drove for hours and soaked in the peaceful, yet humbling emotions of being one tiny human in a quiet land. It was dope af. 

TIPS AND TIDBITS

In 2010, a volcano erupted in Iceland and caused a ton of problems with flights over Europe. Tourism took a huge hit. So the country responded by focusing on marketing Iceland. They created a campaign called, "Inspired by Iceland" which had a website where people shared travel stories, pinned spots to visit on a map, and was shareable on social media. 

Since then, tourism has been booming. In 2016, Iceland subsidized flights by making it free to stopover for a short time. 

If you're ever stopping in Iceland, here are some spots that are relatively close to the KEF:

Þingvellir National Park
Strokkur - a Geysir
Seljalandfoss - waterfall
Gljúfrafoss - waterfall
Skogafoss - waterfall

You can also see the Northern Lights during from September - mid-April. You need to go North enough and they only appear for a couple nights a week if the sky is dark and clear enough. 

Bring a rain jacket!

A QUICK SHOUTOUT

My buddy Henry Chen had his honeymoon in Iceland earlier this year, so I pretty much planned everything according to his advice. Thanks Henry! 

"So there's a whole lot of nothing. Everywhere. Sometimes the nothing is beautiful, other times it's just nothing." - Henry Chen

Now, off to the Netherlands!

A Website for Yourself

(1 Minute Read)

If you were a blacksmith back in the day, a majority of your business would come from locals. Today, much of the marketplace is online. 

As telephones, cars, planes, and the internet came along, the world shrunk and our relationship to time and space has changed.   It's almost like we live in two worlds. We live in the physical world and there's a second world online. That's why I think it's great when people "buy some land" online and create a website. 

A website is a great place to showcase parts of who you are. Because of this, having a website invites you to ask yourself questions about who you are and who you'd like to be. It's a great place to for introspection and expressing yourself.  

A website is easier to make than you think!  The internet is still in the early days. If you can get your name as a domain, I'd encourage you to snag it! 

Cheers.

A Quick Shoutout

My buddy Alan Chan just made a website! He studies mathematics and is also interested in writing, music, art, programming, and design. I feel a kinship with him because I too, am drawn to many things. I think his site is a perfect example of using a website to discover, create, and express yourself. 

www.alanlchan.com

Writing and Talking

(2 Minute Read)

Writing is hard. A pair of studies done in the late 60's (Mehrabian & Wiener, 1967 and Mehrabian & Ferris, 1967) dissected communication into three parts:

55% = Nonverbal (Body Language/Facial Expressions)

38% = Tone

7% = Words

The exact number doesn't matter. What's interesting is that most of communication is body language and tone. For example, two people can use the same words but mean different things.

Imagine someone yelling "I hate you!", after you killed their fish vs. a friend who whispers, "I hate you", after you push them in the pool at the end of a sunny day in Riverside. Same words, but their body language and tone both aid in clearly expressing their emotional truth behind the words. It's what acting teachers call "reading between the lines" when looking through a script. 

On the other hand, how easy is it to misinterpret a text message? (Here's a hilarious Key & Peele clip that captures this point exactly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naleynXS7yo )

Of the three, words make up the smallest portion of communication. I switched my major to creative writing so I can learn to use words better. It's been tough and I haven't written a blog post in a while. I guess, learning to communicate with precision is a lifelong endeavor. 

That's just one reason why I'm starting a podcast! Woah that came out of nowhere. Oops. With a podcast, not only do I get the words, but I also get the tone of voice. Yay, that covers ~45% of communication!

Also, I've recorded a handful of conversations already and I was surprised at how fun it was to converse with someone for 2 hours with no distractions at all. The microphone creates a space where people care what they say and how they say it. It sounds like the perfect space to practice communicating. 

Here's to learning how to become a more effective, efficient, and creative communicator.

Cheers.

 

Modern Disconnection: On Pain and Power

(5 Minute Read)

One of the most impactful classes I took at UCR was a philosophy class called, "Ethics and the Meaning of Life". 

One thing we talked about in class was "pain we should endure" vs. "pain we should avoid". Imbedded in this question is another one, "Is there pain we should endure?" Which really asks, "Can pain be good?"

The argument is that some "pain" (the pain we should endure) provides an opportunity for "grace" to show up in our lives. As technology advances and allows us to "endure less pain", we lose opportunities to encounter "grace" in our lives. What's this mean?

Here's an example, we used to have to "endure the pain" of waiting for seasonal fruits and vegetables. We couldn't get strawberries all year long, so we had to endure the "pain of waiting". Out of this "pain" came harvest festivals. These festivals were a celebration of the particular fruits and vegetables that came with each season. Is this pain we should endure? I don't think so.

Has agricultural technology given us so much power that we take seasonal fruits and vegetables for granted? Do we forget to appreciate what we have? Maybe. 

Let's stretch this exercise. We used to have to endure the pain of walking. Then technology came along, and we can drive everywhere. Does this remove the "grace" of experiencing the beauty of the world and fresh air that we used to get by walking? Should we get rid of all cars and "endure the pain" of walking? I don't think so. In this case, technology helps us. 

However, this doesn't mean we should avoid the pain of walking entirely. We need to move our bodies to stay healthy right? So although technology has given us the power to remove all the pain of walking, doesn't always mean we should be riding go-carts with baskets in our grocery stores. It's a balance.

My TA in that philosophy class observed something similar in his own life. He said before Facebook came along, he used to call his friends on the phone more often to catch up. 

I understand that any point made about social media is a gross generalization, just like any point made about men, women, or Chinese people. Ultimately, it's individuals who decide what their relationship with tools like Facebook looks like. 

That being said, I don't think individuals are thinking as carefully as they could about their relationship with technology. 

Let's look at the evolution of social interaction. First we only had face to face interactions. No technology gave us the power to do otherwise, and we had to endure the "pain of waiting" to be in the same room as someone to interact with them and have a conversation.

Then came mail and the telephone. With the addition of both of these technologies, we were given more "power", and had to "endure less pain". Now we could interact and converse with people miles away. As the power increased, did it remove more pain? Yes. Did it remove some opportunities of grace? Maybe. Was it worth it? Yes. We still had deep interactions and both mail and the telephone fostered those connections. Are there exceptions? Always.

Then came the internet which offered us instant messages and texts. It's basically mail on steroids. It gave us more power and less pain to endure. The key distinction between this and the next jump, is that it's still an active process. We send messages and recipients respond. 

Then social media came along. It became a passive tool. We post things about our lives through photos, a status, and short videos through Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. We can passively "stay up to date" on so many peoples lives by tuning into their page. We're given even more power. Within a few minutes on Snapchat, you can literally see what dozens of people have been doing for the last 24 hours. That's a pretty close look. This power removes even more "pain". We don't have to call, or even send a message to find out information about people's lives. For the first time, we can passively and indirectly be involved in someone's life.

But most of the time, it's a one way street of consumption. Not conversation. 

When does too much power take away grace? As technology advances we need to ask the questions of whether or not the power is taking away pain that we should endure. Should we endure the pain of awkward silences in face to face conversations? Should we take away the pain of rejection? Of the complexities in human relationships? 

Less pain and more comfort is not always the answer. There's a saying that goes, "Growth happens outside the comfort zone." You can probably remove the word, "pain" from this post and replace it with "discomfort". Discomfort is underrated. Going to the gym is very uncomfortable, but putting your body under that kind of stress is good for you. You grow. 

In what other ways can discomfort cause growth in our lives?

So, I'm putting this out there and saying I want to have more meals with people. I'm going to set a goal to host one barbecue, big or small, once a week at my house. 
 

On Technology: Some Food For Thought

(3 Minute Read)

I lost my iPhone at Coachella last week. It turned out to be a strange blessing in disguise. Or maybe I tricked myself into thinking that it was a good experience. Either way it worked.

Taking a break from my cell phone for just one day is surprisingly therapeutic. This time I was forced to go a full week. For that week, I indulged in an emotional experience that I hadn't truly felt in a long time-- boredom.

With a smartphones now, I rarely feel bored. Like really bored. At any moment I begin to feel the slightest inclination of boredom I find myself automatically and unconsciously being sucked into the flashy screen of my iPhone. 

Today, we live in something called the "Attention Economy". Because of the current advertising model, the more attention a platform gets, the more money it will make. Makes sense right?

There's a hidden side effect of this: Although Facebook tries to "create a more open and connected world", it doesn't measure it's success by that mission statement. It measures it's success by how much time people spend on Facebook. 

Virtually every online platform operates this way. This is great if and only if the site you're spending time on is intrinsically good, for example an app that convinces you to exercise or to meditate daily. 

However, when asked in surveys most people report that they regret spending their time on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. And the reason why those platforms are "succeeding" is because they are the best at persuading us to spend more time on their site.

Some of the techniques these platforms use are designed to give us anxiety when we haven't used them in a while. Think about how you feel when you get the notification that says, "Your friend tagged you in a photo". 

A majority of our lives is spent in a habitual, automatic, and unconscious fog of chasing the next stimuli. Here's the illusion: We think that by satisfying each craving as it arises, that will somehow accumulate into a fulfilling life. 

I'm not pretending that I have some kind of answer to this but I think the Amish are onto something.

The Amish are basically just late adopters. In fact, they're the latest adopters. It's not that they have zero tolerance for technology, but instead they're extremely intentional with what they allow into their lives.

In some Amish communities, there's actually one person who is appointed to "test" certain technology. If approved, that person will start to use said technology, and the rest of the community will carefully observe that person. They want to make sure that piece of technology is truly adding value in their lives. So before allowing it into entire community, they see how it affects one person's life. 

Now, contrast that with the way average Americans chase the newest piece of technology. Computers sat on our desks, moved into our pockets, and are now on our wrists. We invite them into  the privacy of our lives without any question at all. 

So, I don't really have any answers, but I hope this was some food for thought. 

Writing is just an attempt to understand myself as an individual. It's also an attempt at trying to answer questions about what it means to be a human being today, how that's changing, and how that change affects what it means to live a "good life". 

I guess life is just an attempt at that understanding until we're on the other side of the ground. Sounds good to me!

 

P.S. Listen to Sam Harris podcast "Waking Up" episode 71 "What Is Technology Doing to Us?" for more where I got a lot of this info from. 

Who would miss you if you were gone?

(30 Second Read)

Isn't that what it boils down to?

I mean, at the basic level, I'm a son, a brother, a boyfriend, and a friend. I hope to be a good one. 

The impact you have on other lives is just one way to measure a life.

There are countless ways. You can count the number of dollars you accumulate in your bank account. Or how many patents you have. Or buildings you built. 

Or the number of people at your funeral.

But just like how the best things in life aren't free, it's the things you can't count that matter most. I just hope a lot of people miss me when I'm gone.

Is that selfish? 

It’s good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end.
— Ursula K. Le Guin

(Question posed by Seth Godin)

Meditating for Ten Days

(19 Minute Read)

"A paradox of life: The problem with patience and discipline is that developing each of them requires both of them." - excerpt from The Practicing Mind by Thomas Sterner 

We experience life moment by moment. You can notice this if you anchor your attention somewhere in your body. You can try it right now if you'd like. See if you can notice the location of the feeling of breathing. It could be your chest, diaphragm, or maybe your nose. Notice the personality of your breath right now. Are your breaths deep? Or rushed?  Take a moment to pause and notice any sensations. 

If you want to understand the mind, observe it. 

*** 

December 22, 2015. 

My high school friend Johnfavour and I were on our way to our first ten day meditation retreat. The retreat was in Occidental, a two hour drive from our hometown in Fremont. It was cloudy and the sky was grey. Johnfavour's family was from Burma and meditation was something he'd been familiar with as a kid. I meditated on and off for five to ten minutes a day for the last couple of years. We both heard of the retreat from my ex-girlfriend. She said it was one of the most profound experiences of her life.  

"So, what do you want to get out of this?" I said.  

"I don't really have any expectations."  

"That's impossible." I thought to myself. 

"How about you?" He said. 

"I guess I want to increase my self-awareness and also build momentum for a solid habit of daily meditation."  

"Cool." 

I slept for most of the ride. When we got there, I looked outside the window. The sun had just set but I could still see the redwood trees surrounding us. 

***  

All day long we stir a dirty pool of murky water. When we sit in silence, we stop stirring and eventually the dirt settles and the water becomes clear.  

*** 

I arrived at the retreat center. We grabbed blankets and pillows from the supply closet and went to our assigned rooms. Each room had six wooden bunk beds, a small heater, and two windows. We unpacked our belongings. Johnfavour and I were assigned the same room. Our bunks were next to each other.  

After getting settled in, we turned in our cellphones, watches, and anything else that could be a distraction. The men and women were separated to opposite sides of the cafeteria. We ate a vegetarian dinner. 

An old Indian man played an instructional recording on a small portable speaker. The deep voice of S.N. Goenka and his thick Indian accent echoed through the cafeteria. He explained the five precepts for the course: 

1. To abstain from killing any being; 

2. To abstain from stealing; 

3. To abstain from all sexual activity; 

4. To abstain from telling lies; 

5. To abstain from all intoxicants. 

He also explained "Noble Silence". "Noble Silence" meant that all communication with other students was prohibited for the duration of the course. That meant hand gestures, written notes, sign language, talking, physical contact, and eye contact were all prohibited. 

The schedule was given to us as follows: 

4:00 am                   Morning wake-up bell 

4:30-6:30 am           Meditate in the hall or in your room 

6:30-8:00 am           Breakfast break 

8:00-9:00 am           Group meditation in the hall 

9:00-11:00 am          Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teachers'         instructions

11:00-12:00 noon     Lunch break 

12noon-1:00 pm        Rest and interviews with the teacher 

1:00-2:30 pm            Meditate in the hall or in your room 

2:30-3:30 pm            Group meditation in the hall 

3:30-5:00 pm           Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teachers' instructions 

5:00-6:00 pm           Tea break 

6:00-7:00 pm           Group meditation in the hall 

7:00-8:15 pm            Teacher's Discourse in the hall 

8:15pm-9:00 pm       Group meditation in the hall 

9:00-9:30 pm           Question time in the hall 

9:30 pm                    Retire to your own room--Lights out 

The longest meditation session I'd done up to that point was twenty minutes. I thought a meditation retreat to be a peaceful experience. It would turn out be a mental marathon. I heard that some people would leave midway because they couldn't handle it. I was scared.  

*** 

Some people go fishing just for fun. They call it "catch and release". When you catch something, there's no need to worry, just remember to release it.   

*** 

After the instructions on the first night we returned to our rooms and instructed to return within fifteen minutes for our first group meditation session. I grabbed a light jacket to keep me warm. I saw Johnfavour grabbing his clothes from the corner of my eye. It felt strange to not acknowledge his existence. 

We entered the meditation hall. It had high wooden ceilings and the place looked like a giant triangle shaped wooden cabin. Blue cushions that measured about two square feet were placed in rows like a chess board. They were about two feet away from each other in each direction. Half the room was for the women and the other half was for the men.  

We received instructions to meditate from the speakers. Our job was to notice the sensation of breathing, but only on the area above the upper lip where a mustache would be if you had one. Our first session was about forty-five minutes long. I crossed my legs and closed my eyes. The room was mostly silent, but every now and then I heard a sniffle or a cough. I wasn’t sure how to react to the noise. I tried to stay focused but my mind was scrambled with thoughts. After about twenty minutes or so my back started to hurt so I quietly shifted into a kneeling position instead. I probably spent over forty minutes lost in thought with only a few minutes of focused attention on my breath.  

After that session, I still felt proud of myself for completing my longest session of meditation. We filed out of the room and walked along a dirt path back to our rooms. I paused and looked up at the stars with a sense of positive anticipation. I breathed in the fresh air and appreciated the nature around us.  

*** 

Notice your pet dog or cat if you have one. Or notice the birds outside. They don't dwell on the past or worry about the future.  See how present they are. We can learn from them. 

*** 

At the end of each night, we watched a lecture by S.N. Goenka. He talked about the philosophies behind the technique and told parables from Buddhist teachings. He repeatedly reminded us that we didn't have to be a Buddhist, convert to any religion, or even have any religious beliefs to get the benefits of meditation. 

On the first night he came on the screen and said, "The first day is now over. You have nine more to go." A hush of laughter sounded through the building. It was a gut response to the insanity that we all signed up for. Meditating for ten hours that day was hard enough. Nine more days to go.  

*** 

We think about home life when we're at work. Then when we get home, we think about our work obligations. At the movie theater we think about our homework assignment. When it comes time to do homework, we think about the movie we watched. Wherever you are, be there.  

*** 

For the first three days, we learned to "sharpen our minds" by focusing on the area above our upper lip. We were instructed to breathe in and out through our nostrils and to notice anything we felt as we inhaled and exhaled. He would say, "Notice any sensations: warmth, coolness, prickling, tingling, stinging, itching, burning, throbbing, pulsing...any sensation. Notice any sensation in the area above the upper lip."  

I noticed that the air above my upper lip felt cooler on the inhale and warmer on the exhale. It was subtle.  

This training brings the focus of your mind to the present moment. This close attention to your bodily sensations forces you to notice and examine what you experience in the present moment. Our body and our breath are tools we can employ for this focused training at any given time. 

*** 

Clouds are always moving, forming, and shifting. Some are huge and occupy a ton of space in the sky. Sometimes they seem to unravel slowly across the sky. Other times, they seem to flow quickly like a river. Notice the nature of the clouds. It's a constant flux.  

*** 

It was the third day. The four a.m. wake up bell sounded. I quietly got dressed. Most of my roommates went back to sleep in their bunks. I felt a sense of quiet pride since I had gotten up each day so far and made it to the hall to meditate at 4:30. I was here to work. It was early and the sun had not risen yet, but I was eager to sit and wait. The sky was grey with fog. 

This morning felt different. I was getting used to the vigorous schedule. I sat down on the cushion with my legs crossed and settled into a comfortable posture. I noticed my breath. I placed my focus on the area between my upper lip and my nose. I searched for any sensations. Every session felt unique. 

I noticed a subtle pulse or vibration of some sort just underneath the surface of my skin. With the attitude of a scientist using a microscope, I noticed and examined any sensations I was feeling in the small area above the upper lip. 

The pulsing grew stronger. It felt like layers were peeling away and revealed a vibratory force that seemed to expand through my entire body. I thought I could feel the river of blood flowing beneath my skin. 

There were moments when the sensation was so overwhelming, I felt like I was disappearing. In those moments I pulled back, my body shook and I snapped out of the trance, only to return to the peeling away of deeper layers. My eyes rolled back. The sensation was pulling me into a blissful state of hypnotic disorientation.  

It felt great. Since then, I've never experienced anything quite like it.  

The breakfast bell rung and people around me stood up, stretched, and began to line up for breakfast. I didn't move. I needed some time to process what just happened.  

I sat there as a flood of questions filled my mind. I concluded that the I must've experienced what all monks and other experienced meditators feel whenever they sit down to meditate. What a joyous discovery!  

I was naive. I didn't realize that I developed a craving towards this pleasant sensation. 

***

Throughout the retreat, they taught us to be mindful by noticing any bodily sensations, pleasant or unpleasant. The voice recording of Goenka encouraged us to, "Remain perfectly equanimous as to not develop any cravings or feelings of aversion. To remain perfectly equanimous."  

Equanimity is important.  

The key is to notice and observe the mind without getting lost in thought or overtaken by strong emotions. If you felt pain in the body, we were told to examine that pain objectively. Similarly, if you felt pleasant feelings in the body, they encouraged us to remain calm and composed. It was important to not to develop any craving for any feeling.  

We took on an objective attitude similar to a scientist observing natural phenomenon. We would ask and examine where the center of the pain was. Was it burning? Was it stinging? Was it a sharp sensation? Where in the body does the pain start and end? 

They say that suffering comes from both craving and aversion. When you crave something so bad and don't get it, that creates suffering. Likewise, if you're currently experiencing something, like pain, and you have strong feelings of aversion, that begets suffering too.  Craving and aversion translate into being dependent on external circumstances for your well being.  

You say, "I wish it was sunny outside! Why can't it be sunny? This sucks!" Craving. Or you say, "I hate the rain. Why does it have to rain? This sucks!" Aversion.  

The coin of suffering has two sides.  

*** 

A monkey grabs a vine in the forest. It swings and leaps onto another vine. Every time the monkey latches onto a vine, it swings forward towards a new one. The forest is thick with vines. 

*** 

In the afternoon of the third day they taught us the Vipassana technique. Vipassana means "mindfulness" and it's the oldest form of meditation.  

For the first three and a half days, we focused on the area just above the upper lip. This was to sharpen our minds. For the next seven days, we were instructed to move our attention slowly from the top of our heads all the way down to the tips of our toes. Our attention hovered over the surface of our entire body.  

We focused on one part of the body at a time. We started from the tip of the head, to the scalp, the back of the head, forehead, down to the eyebrows, eyes, nose, cheeks, ears, jaw, upper lip, lower lip, down to the chin and we kept moving our attention slowly throughout the entire body until we reached the tips of our toes. Then we would go backwards from our toes back to the top of the head. We moved in the same order every time. 

We were also instructed to not move at all for that entire hour. These sessions were called, "Sits of strong determination" and they were scheduled three times a day for the remainder of our time at the retreat.  

 Since we were learning the Vipassana technique, the schedule was adjusted and that session would go for two hours. I crossed my legs and closed my eyes. I was eager to experience the state of vibrant bliss I felt earlier that morning. The voice on the speaker came on and started to guide us. The first instruction was for us to place our attention on the tip of our head. I searched for any sensations. It probably took about twenty minutes or so just to move down to our left shoulder. By this time, I was starting to get impatient. Another ten minutes or so passed and we were starting to get to our forearm and still had the rest of the body to scan through. I could feel the pain in my back heat up. The three days of sitting were starting to take a toll on my body.  

By the time we were halfway through, my back was burning with sweat and my kneecaps felt like they were going to explode. It was the most painful hour at the retreat. My mind was a flurry of anger, resentment, pain, and rage. I silently cursed at the teacher. I clenched my jaw so hard my head was shaking.  

When the session finally ended, I heard people groan and get up to stretch. We walked our of the room in a line and people ahead of me were massaging their backs and knees. At the end of the day, Goenka came on the screen and said, "The third day is now over. You have seven more to go." No one laughed. 

*** 

If you're washing dishes but thinking about a peach you're going to eat later, when the time comes to eat the peach, you'll be thinking about something else and you won't enjoy it. Be here now.  

*** 

The only time you are allowed to speak during the course is if you have questions that you want to ask a teacher to help you practice correctly. The teachers were available for one hour during the day, and also at the end of each day. There was always a long line of students. 

On the fourth day, I told the teacher that I think I developed a craving towards the pleasant experience I had the previous morning. I admitted that the next meditation session was such a pain.  

"It's no coincidence that happened" He said.  

I realized that the craving and expectations was the source to my suffering. It felt so profound. 

"If we're not supposed to have cravings or aversion, then how do we go about our daily lives and pursue our goals?" I said. 

"Great question. There is a difference between a craving and a desire. Let's say you desire a piece of chocolate, but you don't get it. Do you get depressed? If not, then that's okay." 

I smiled, said thank you, and left the hall to return to my room. As I walked back, I took my time and tried to notice how every step felt. I looked at the trees along the path and stopped to admire the nature. I walked along the same path a dozen times, but that day things looked different. Maybe I was different.  

*** 

"Mystery is not about traveling to new places, but looking with new eyes," - Marcel Proust 

*** 

On the last day of the retreat, the "noble silence" was lifted and we were allowed to talk. Goenka called the last day a "shock absorber" as a cushion before we went back to our normal lives. 

When the morning session ended, the teachers quietly got up, didn't say a word, and left. 

We looked around the room for instruction. Was it really over? One guy stood up, stretched out his arms and said, "Happy New Year!"  

The "Noble Silence" was over. It took me some time to get used to the strange sound of my voice. My vocal cords were dormant for ten days and had just awoken.  

We went back to our rooms sat on our bunks and began to share our experiences with one another. The guy to my right said, "They only gave us six hours to sleep and had us meditate for ten hours a day. That's fucked up man!" We all laughed.  

I asked my roommates, "Did you guys hear sleep talking too? It was so weird, since we couldn't talk. But you can't really control that" 

"Yeah, I heard a guy sleep talking in German!", one roommatesaid. Another guy said, "I heard someone in the middle of the night say, "What do you expect? Heat rises!" We all laughed and continued talking about our experiences. It was refreshing. 

One guy told us that his family called the retreat center. He found out that his father was in the hospital. 

When the retreat manager pulled him aside and told him he said, "Stop. Now notice any sensations. Take the rest of the day to think about what you would like to do." 

He meditated for the rest of the day and decided, "If I never got to see my father again, I would regret not telling him that I love him." So he broke the "Noble Silence" and spoke with his father. He found out that his father was going to be okay.  

*** 

When a seed is planted, it's just that, a seed. It doesn't wish it were a flower. It's not even aware of what a flower is. All it knows is how to be a seed. When it sprouts, it's just that, a sprout. It doesn't wish it was a seed. All it knows is how to be a sprout. When it flowers, it's just that, a flower. All it knows is how to be a flower. And when it inevitably dies, it settles back into the soil and turns into nourishment for other seeds.  

*** 

For the very last discourse, Goenka told us that the ten day retreat was our first step taken firmly on the path of the practice. He encouraged us to develop a daily practice, for this was was the most important. 

His parting instructions told us to meditate daily for an hour in the morning, and an hour in the evening. This was way too much for me. I settled for a thirty minute session to start the day and no evening session.   

Last year in 2016 I bought a yearly calendar and for every day I meditated, I crossed off that date with a big obnoxious "X". I stole the idea from Jerry Seinfeld, who famously used this method to start the habit of writing jokes everyday. He said that the key was not to break the chain. 

I lasted a month.  

 In May, there were only three days marked with an "X". I started to realize that any amount of meditation was better than nothing, so I thought about lowering my standard from thirty minutes to just fifteen minutes a day. I settled on an even lower standard of ten minutes. Baby steps. At the end of the year, I saw that I meditated for 154 out of the 366 days. Even though it was less than half the year, I was glad I was making clear progress.  

Later that year in September, I went on my second ten day retreat at Twentynine Palms in Southern California. I hope to go once a year. 

This year in 2017, I started the year strong. I'm already at 79/81 days for the year. Just a couple weeks ago in March, I broke my longest meditation streak of 93 days. For someone as inconsistent as I am, this was a big deal. I was disappointed and surprised but mostly proud of my accomplishment.  

Whenever my meditation streak got to being around a week or two, I noticed that my baseline level of anxiety would drop. In tiny moments when I was standing in line, or waiting in traffic, I would catch myself being more patient than before. I remember Goenka telling us that if you come across ten situations that would make you angry, but only get angry nine times out of ten, that's a huge improvement. It was encouraging.  

Every time I sit down to meditate, even for just ten minutes, it's still a challenge. Some days my thoughts are frantic, other days they're calm, and some days I get a taste of that pleasant sensation I felt two years ago. I try to remember that "the goal is the path and the path is the goal." 

 

 
 

 
 

 

On Travel

(2 Minute Read)

Traveling keeps the mind agile.
— Kevin Kelly

When you travel, you constantly adapt to new environments because every new place brings a new set of rules. Every single day, you deal with new situations that you've never dealt with before. And as you adapt, you keep your mind agile.

This happens over and over all day long! And the fun part is, you never know what's next.

All of a sudden, you find yourself sounding out a foreign language as your bladder is about to explode in t-minus 30 seconds. An hour later, you're getting advice from a stranger about where to get the best gelato on the planet. It gets dark and you rush back to your hotel but your friend wants to stop at a local bar. What do you do?

All of life is process of traveling. In 2012, I left home and "traveled" to Riverside to pursue a degree from an American College. I'm "stationed' here for another 6 months as I finish the degree. Last summer, I "traveled" to Pasadena and was "stationed" there on a "work project" for three months. I have no idea where I'll go next, but I'm sure I won't be there forever. 

I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them
— Andy from "The Office"

That quote is a reminder for me to stay present and enjoy the process wherever I am. Even though I'm eager to graduate and start working, I should savor the time I have left in this stage of life.

Last week I turned 23, I couldn't help but think, "One year closer to death." Which leaves me with the only sensible thing to do, carpe diem! As Jim Rohn says, "A day is a piece of the mosaic of your life!"

Mystery is not traveling to new places but looking with new eyes.
— Marcel Proust

Obviously, traveling isn't always sunshine and rainbows, but it always brings new opportunities to learn if you listen

You don't have to go far to travel. You can be a tourist in your own town.

Just an hour from where you live are countless options that can lead to great memories. Find a friend who's always down and invest a day out there. Who knows if it'll be worth it, but as the cliché goes, "There's always one way to find out".

So as the weekend gets closer, rather than staying home, go somewhere new and keep your mind agile. 

Adventure is out there!
— Up

Experiments With Fasting

(5 Minute Read)

Starving for a couple days can be a pretty miserable. I hate to admit that I'm already really skinny. Plus, gaining the weight back is a whole different challenge in itself. So why do it?

The Science

My friends will tell you that I'm illiterate when it comes to science. So, here are a few things my buddy Google told me:

For the body, fasting speeds up metabolism. It improves the immune system by regulating inflammation and slows cancer cell formation. It lowers bad cholesterol. It stimulates the release of growth hormones. It also resets some hormone levels and insulin resistance. 

I barely know what these even mean, but I trust that it's some good stuff.

For the brain, fasting boosts the production of a protein called BDNF (brain-derived nuetrophic factor) which protects brain cells from age related cognitive decline. Sounds good to me!

For more info check out Tim Ferriss' podcast interview with Dr. Dom D'Agostino. Dr. Dom deadlifted 500 pounds for 10 repetitions after a 7 day fast! What a beast. 

Or ask Google yourself. 

The Spiritual

A lot of ancient and modern religions use fasting as a spiritual practice. Growing up in church, it was common to hear about other people fasting.

Ancient followers of Stoic philosophy would "practice poverty" for a few days by: 
        - not showering
        - not changing clothes
        - only eating cheap food (like plain rice and beans) or not eating at all.

Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’
— Seneca

Stoics believed that by practicing poverty, they could tame their attachment to their fame or riches. They didn't want their identity to be consumed by their fame or riches and so they tested who they were without those conditions.

If you fear losing everything, practice living it.

My First Experiment

My first attempt was a one day fast back in the summer of 2007. It was encouraged by people at church to try it and so I did. It sucked. I gave up by the first night and had dinner with a side of headache.

Round Two

In March of 2016 I did a three day juice fast. I drank coconut water, tea, and three fresh juices made up of fruits and vegetables. No solid food.

I didn't take a proper shit for a three days. It was so weird.

The highlight of that fast were my morning meditations. Ten minutes into a session felt similar to being days into a meditation retreat. It was truly sublime. 

On the other hand, I also had random headaches and felt lightheaded at times. I experienced hunger like never before. But each day got easier. 

The first meal I had after 3 days was steak paired with a glass of red wine and cheese. That was "Josh being a dumbass".

Overall, the three day juice fast gave me a greater appreciation for food and a small confidence boost knowing that I made it.

This Year in 2017

One of my goals this year is to fast for two days every month.

With some research, I learned a couple things that help:
        - You can have a bit of coconut oil and still get all the benefits of fasting
        - Putting a dash of salt and lemon in water replenishes electrolytes and eliminates headaches

Let the games begin.

January

On the first day I thought about food so much I slow cooked beef broth to enjoy after the fast. I put beef oxtail, carrots, celery, and onions in a crock pot and slow cooked it for about 20 hours. Every few hours when I got really hungry I would lift the cap and smell the broth. It was torture, but the anticipation was probably 80% of the fun. Is that a little neurotic? 

Whenever the hunger seemed unbearable I tried asking myself, "Is this the condition I feared?" Those were profound moments. I actually felt like it wasn't that bad.

I felt strong. My morning meditations were deep. I had mental clarity and felt energetic throughout the day. 

The toughest part was feeling so hungry I couldn't fall asleep the first night and on the second day my right ear plugged up for a couple hours. Strange.

I broke my fast a few hours early because a party-sized bag of Lays won me over. They were so damn good. The bone broth was delicious. I wanted to sip on it all day from a coffee cup.

My Fast Last Week

Last week I completed my first 48 hour fast! (I almost missed my mark in February)

It was the best one yet and was the overall experience was a lot more profound. For those two days, my personal well being and feelings of happiness were surprisingly high. Listening to my self talk throughout the day was also fascinating. I complained so much more than I'd like to admit.

I was more productive because of all the time saved from planning, prepping, cooking, and cleaning meals. 

It was a humbling, challenging, and a massively sobering experience that's tough to explain through words. I highly recommend any healthy person try it once just to see what life is like under different circumstances. 

For my next month, I'm going to try to go 48 hours without complaining about hunger at all. We'll see how it goes!

A Few Parting Thoughts

I hope this was post was anticlimactic enough to at least illicit some curiosity about fasting. If one person tries it, I would be very impressed.   

I enabled comments on all my blog posts so I can interact with readers! I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post of any other post! 

My goal with this blog is to force me to write and learn to communicate better. Thanks for reading!

 


 

The Five Percent of Life

(3 Minute Read)

Life Through Social Media 

For many people, social media is a place to display our highlight reel; it's a collection of all our peak experiences. Have you ever had this experience? Your food arrives at the table, and just as you pick up your fork, your friend across the table tells you to wait so they can - I don't even need to finish the sentence. 

I'm not saying it's wrong to share tiny slices of your life on social media. We all have the desire to be seen, understood, and to connect with others at some level. However, sometimes we forget that social media is just a filter. 

And we look at all these highlight reels and compare them to our daily lives. 

We might see a friend's pictures from their latest travel adventure and make the mistake of thinking that they must be happier that we are. 

The Other 95 Percent

What you don't see is the other 95 percent. You miss the daily grind, the struggle, and all the challenges they face. So what if they got to go to Thailand for a three month vacation? You didn't see the four months of sixty hours workweeks. 

Barely anyone post pictures from halfway up the hike. They post pictures from the top.

I've heard some fiction writers say that it took them ten pages of shitty writing just to get one good paragraph. Those pages were not a waste. It just took them ten pages of writing to get in the zone of unobstructed creative flow. The word "essay" means "to attempt" and it's in those repeated attempts, shitty or not, that lead to something beautiful. 

My Portfolio

About five percent of the photos I make are "good" photos. All this means is that there are about 5 out of every 100 photos actually make me feel proud. If you saw the other 95 percent, you'd see how much more I have to learn.

Within a few months of starting photography, I realized that it's probably better to show 10 great photos than to show a mixed batch of 30 photos. If you only show the best, you'll be perceived as a better photographer, artist, writer...etc. This is how great portfolios are made.

If you look close enough, the seeds of success are found within every failed attempt. Any "success" I might have had is pretty much a pile of garbage rearranged into an art piece. People think that success lies in one direction and failure is in the other direction. The truth is you actually fail your way to "success". 

There really is no way to fail, because every "failure" is just an opportunity to learn something. How much do you learn when everything goes right? 

It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts - Zig Ziglar

A Short Piece of Writing

(1 Minute Read)

 Taiwan, 2015 #35mm #film

Taiwan, 2015 #35mm #film

[Untitled]

For dinner tonight, Justin seared tuna for us at home. He hates when people use too much salted butter and you end up with stiff, dark edges as a dish. He prefers when the flatbed of the freshest slice of tuna is set to dry, and then seared to a perfectly pale orange. He prefers to serve it just as it arrives at its finest moments of delicacy. He delights in the fleeting window of time as flavor peaks alongside temperature and texture. And that is when he sets the plate six inches from my chest. I take a bite to taste, and when I look up at him, he sees me, and grabs the salt.

93 Years Old: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

(5 Minute Read)

The Good

 Taipei, 2016 #35mm #film

Taipei, 2016 #35mm #film

 

My grandparents have been around for a long time. As I'm typing this, he's 91 and she's 93. Before they retired, my grandpa was a postman and my grandma was a teacher. When government workers retire in Taiwan, they get a hearty pension. As a result of this, they have a stable retirement and can afford to hire a caretaker who's lives with them full time.

I even heard my grandpa say they couldn't finish spending all their money. Good for them. I grateful that my grandparents have financial security and don't burden their kids with money problems.

The best part is that I get to visit them. Once a year for the past three years, I got to see them for a week or two, and last December was the only time I had to pay for the flight myself! My relatives are extremely generous.

One of my favorite things in the world is being a goofball and making my grandma laugh. When she realizes that I said something silly, she gently looks up at me with this adoringly slow reaction and smiles so wrinkly it warms my soul. 

I love kissing her loudly on her cheeks, warming up her cold bony hands with mine, or telling her how pretty she looks with that fur coat on.

Lucky for me and my brother, we are her favorite grandkids. It wouldn't surprise me if, literally, the only time she smiles all year is when my brother and I go to visit. It's a sad thought.

The Bad

 Taipei, 2016 #35mm #film

Taipei, 2016 #35mm #film

My grandma cries every time we fly back to the states because she's scared that our goodbye's really mean goodbye. And the truth is, she might be right.

Thankfully, for the last three years, she's been wrong. Somehow, she's held on. It's sad to see her health decline so rapidly. In just one year, she seemed to shrink in half.

She's dying. 

All my life I felt removed from the idea of death. I mean, I still don't know what being at a funeral is like. Growing up as a kid, I tried to wrap my head around the idea of life, death and the existential questions would shake me to the bones. I couldn't believe it. I denied the fact that one day, this would all end. How could this powerful force of life just stop in its tracks? It didn't make any sense. 

But that's life.

The Ugly

 Taipei, 2016 #35mm #film

Taipei, 2016 #35mm #film

The truth is, most of my family has a hard time dealing with my grandma. And I don't blame them. She's demanding, complains a lot, and nothing is ever good enough. 

She's in physical pain, but even worse, she suffers from self-induced mental and emotional pain. But, my grandma has always suffered. 

Through adulthood, she lived in a negative state most of the time. When things were wrong, and they always were, she was quick to fire off a slew of blaming and shaming. Because of this, my grandpa got depressed and had to move out for a while. 

At the end of our lives, our true character shines through. It's rawest form takes place.

Who knows how we'll deal with dying? You just don't understand. You don't know what it's like to feel so weak you can't even put on your own socks. Or to struggle just to take a shit. And then need someone to wipe your ass for you. You can't really prepare yourself for that.

But if you've always suffered, you'll keep suffering. What's worse is you'll bring other people down too. What we do and who we are affects other people. A lot. 

Life is not just about us. 

Every choice I make affects the people around me. I hate the fact that my sloppiness irritates my brother, or how my poor spending habits worry my mom. Sometimes, pain can motivate you to change.

The Silver Lining

 Taipei, 2016 #35mm #film

Taipei, 2016 #35mm #film

For the last two years, every time I said goodbye to my grandma, I rejected the thought that this could be the last time I said those words to her. Instead, I forced a smile and said, "Don't worry grandma, I'll be back next year!" 

This year was different. This year, I sat with her and cried. 

It was painful, and as I cried, I pushed away the fact that she's really dying. But I couldn't deny it anymore. I saw it happening right in front of me. 

Then came a beautiful moment. It happened when I accepted that she was dying and for that split second, I looked into her teary eyes and felt a peace so serene you could hear a pin drop. It was as if every drop of fear left me for a single moment. 

I wish I could cage that feeling for safekeeping, but I can't. 

Death is really weird. We spend our whole lives embracing, magnifying, and experiencing this ever changing force of life. It’s the same force that flows through a seed and pushes it to sprout and grow. It's almost like our body is just a shell for life to borrow.

Anyway, for the last three weeks, I lived with my grandparents, and the whole experience was one big reminder. That life is too goddamn short to suffer. It sure was sobering.

I should call my mom and dad more, cause one day they'll both be grandparents too.

Thinking About Starting Photography? Here's One Person's Journey

(9 Minute Read)

The Beginning: Pokemon and Geese

 San Diego, 2016 #travel #35mm #film

San Diego, 2016 #travel #35mm #film

As an Asian kid growing up, Pokemon was everything. I had a Nintendo 64 and played every Pokemon game I could get my hands on. "Pokemon Snap" was one of them. In this game, you played a photographer who drove through different safaris and habitats where wild Pokemon ran far and wide. The goal was to snap photos of all the Pokemon you saw. If your shot looked like a giant pink Jigglypuff in the middle of the frame, you scored high. If your shot looked like Jigglypuff was alone in the corner and depressed, you scored low. Although I think kids today would rather eat grass than play a game like this, I loved it.

I enjoyed playing so much I once beat the entire game in a single afternoon. Upon completion, I proceeded to start over and beat the entire game again, all before it was time for dinner. I think this is where my interest in photography was subconsciously born.

Fast forward five years and this might sound strange, but when I was a fourteen I was also obsessed with geese. I'm hoping you didn't close your browser because I'm kidding. Keep reading, I'll explain.

I was at a random picnic with some family friends at Lake Elizabeth and I noticed that one of the adults was taking pictures with a cool looking camera. After asking him a bunch of questions he eventually let me use it. I looked around, saw a flock of geese and took my first few shots. I gave him his camera back and he sounded pleasantly surprised when he told me that the shots I took were actually "good"! I felt like everything I touched would turn to gold, and I was young King Midas himself. That day I told myself that I would buy one of those cool looking cameras before my 20th birthday.

And so I saved money from Christmas, birthdays, and lucky for me, Chinese New Year too. Once I had the money, my next step was to convince my mom to let me pull the trigger on the purchase. When my mom heard the question, she paused for a moment and responded with a challenge. I had to make a powerpoint that listed all the reasons why it was a good idea.

So I made a gigantic "pros" list and a tiny "cons" list that consisted of just one item—the price tag. With a huge smile on my face, I showed her the powerpoint and told her that the camera would last me ten years and that I would be able to capture memories of our family that could last forever. She was convinced and it felt like Christmas Eve.

So at sixteen years old I bought a Canon Rebel XS. It was the most expensive thing I had ever owned. I took shot after shot and never learned to pace myself. (This lesson didn't come until college when I once pre-gamed the entire game).

A Couple Early Lessons: Education and Creative Constraints

 Google Campus, 2016 #people #35mm #film

Google Campus, 2016 #people #35mm #film

In the beginning, I took pictures of every stupid raindrop on every stupid flower I could find. I think often that's the first step in learning any art, to copy what you think is great. One time, I even used a spray bottle to make fake rain in my front yard.

There were two major influences on my learning process during that first year.

The first was reading, "The Digital Photography Book: Part 1" by Scott Kelby. I actually sat on a couch in Barnes and Nobles and read the whole book before I ever thought about buying a camera. It spoke plain English and taught you "how to get this type of shot" and covered portraits, landscapes, and other subjects. Another great resource that helped me learn was digital-photography-school.com. This site exposed me to great images and articles on elements of craft, like exposure or composition.

The second was a creative constraint. In my attempt to copy the greats, I wanted my flower pictures to look like a rose in focus, but with a background looking like a smooth buttery blur. So I sold the only lens I had and bought myself a 50mm f/1.8. With this new lens, I traded the ability to zoom in and out with the ability to achieve that buttery goodness.

For an entire year, I shot with just that lens. With a fixed lens (no zoom), I had to actually move around to frame each shot and this forced me to try harder.

If you're ever in a creative rut, creative constraints can be a simple way of removing the paradox of choice. The paradox of choice states that the more choices we have, the harder it is to make a decision. For example, it'll probably be more intimidating to face a blank canvas with unlimited possibilities than to experiment with the color red just for today.

With a creative constraint, the question of "What should I do?" disappears and the path becomes clear.

Too Much of Something Good

 France 2015, #iphoneography

France 2015, #iphoneography

For years I carried my camera around everywhere I went, in search of the perfect shot. As my friends climbed trees and rolled around I was always in the back taking photos. My camera was my ball and chain and I felt like it took away my freedom and the spontaneity I once had. As I approached my senior year of high school, I began to resent being "the photographer" all the time and since I was going to college, the desire for freedom and adventure was stronger than ever.

So upon graduation, I sold my camera and all my gear.

Once college started, I honed my craft in "iphoneography" instead of lugging around that ball and chain. (You can still see some of my old iPhone shots if you scroll down on my Instagram page @probablyjosh)

The Pivot

 Joshua Tree National Park, 2016 #travel #35mm #film

Joshua Tree National Park, 2016 #travel #35mm #film

Although I didn't have a cool looking camera anymore, I never stopped trying to make beautiful photos, even with the iPhone. (The camera is pretty damn good now). I wanted to start shooting again, but I didn't want to spend a thousand dollars on a new shiny DSLR. What other options did I have?

The idea of "vintage" always appealed to me, so naturally, I looked into film photography. I learned that film was still comparable to the quality of cameras we have today. It didn't make any sense. How could a vinyl record emit sound quality that compares to today's technology? How did the ancient Mayas make a clock as accurate as the clocks we have right now? And how could a six-year-old MacBook be called a dinosaur?

As I was surfing the web, I stumbled upon a great little documentary on youtube called, "Long Live Film". It resonated with everything I loved.

I loved that I could travel abroad and couldn't spend my nights on a computer looking at the shots from the day. I loved that I didn't have to worry about charging a battery. I loved that I could snap a shot and return to that moment of life happening right in front of me. I loved the simplicity. I loved that every click of the shutter carried a price tag, which meant I had to be careful with every shot.

So in September of 2015, I bought myself a Canon AE-1 with a fixed 50mm f/1.4 for a little over $100. It came in the mail just in time for my Taiwan trip.

In those ten days in Taiwan, I shot a total of 11 rolls of Fujifilm 400. When I got back home, I paid over $150 to get them developed/scanned and was eager to get the results back. They were horrible. And I was ecstatic. Most of my shots were way too dark, and I knew I had learned a valuable lesson.

I continued shooting film all year in 2016 in major cities like Prague, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. I also got to go to a couple National Parks like Joshua Tree and Zion. It was just the beginning.

Problem or Challenge?

 Joshua Tree National Park, 2016 #Bianca #35mm #film

Joshua Tree National Park, 2016 #Bianca #35mm #film

Film developing/scanning services in California cost about $13-18 a roll depending on where you go. I didn't have any plan to pay for it all, but I didn't want to stop shooting.

At the time, I also read Eric Kim's blog post on, "What I Learned Processing 164 Rolls of Film After Waiting a Year".(http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2015/03/23/what-i-learned-processing-164-rolls-of-film-after-waiting-a-year/)

The idea of letting my film "marinate" before getting them developed intrigued me, but honestly, I didn't have the money anyway. So I kept shooting. One day, I counted the pile of film I had in my shoebox and realized I was approaching 50 rolls of undeveloped film. The cost would be about $750 to see my shots.

I didn't know how I was going to pull it off. But one day, I literally had a lightbulb moment when I was driving home and my tail light suddenly exploded. I was so mad I cried. Okay, nothing really exploded and I didn't cry, but when I got the answer, I felt like I heard the voice of Morgan Freeman.

Taiwan was the answer. I knew a lot of things were cheaper there since I had visited in the past. I did some asking around and found out that the cost was about $5 to get a roll developed/scanned. The best thing was, I already booked a flight a few months before for a trip at the end of the year. Everything was falling into place.

Concluding Thoughts

 Joshua Tree National Park, 2016 #travel #35mm #film

Joshua Tree National Park, 2016 #travel #35mm #film

Finally, here I am publishing this website and kicking off my blog with this post. I'm still not sure where the journey will take me and I've played some ideas of learning to shoot weddings or creating fine art wedding albums or shooting babies and families (with a camera of course), selling prints, or perhaps teaching workshops.

The latter sounds exciting, but we'll see where this year takes me. I have no idea what's ahead, but I've never been more passionate about this art form than in this moment as I write these final words.

Thanks for reading!