The last email from India

Dear Kevin,dear kevin jpg

I was sitting in the common area of B&C when I was sending you this email (another long one from me you must guess). I met Bibesh and Simar a few hours ago and they were shocked to see me again, tattered after my 17-hour bus ride from Manali. It’s unbearably hot here. The heat put me into a lethargic state in which I couldn’t function properly. The sky of Delhi was still blue maybe because of the wishes you keep sending me. I was lucky enough not to see the grey polluted Delhi sky in any day I stayed here (it must be because I didn’t stay here long enough :P).

It’d been already two months since I met you the first time here but it seemed like everything had just happened the day before. Since then I had met more people, been to more places in India and grown quite a lot. Like a tree, I keep absorbing sunlight and water and I keep branching and changing leaves. It’s a beautiful process. I didn’t have to use any tips you and many other friends told me in order to survive in India. The country and its people treated me so well until my last day. I met some of the kindest, nicest, and friendliest people here. I also met the most humble, welcoming, and caring people in this country. I want to tell all of my friends who still doubt about traveling to India that, “hey, just come here, experience it, and make your own stories, don’t listen to other people’s stories”. I feel blessed, grateful, and happy that I’ve been to this place.

And I came back to this city from which I ran away. I didn’t regret the choice at all. I never regret any of my choices. Different choices lead to different paths and each path has its own beauty. I have learned to embrace the choices I have made and myself for making these choices.

That day when we watched my first sunset in Old Delhi (and your second last sunset in India), we talked, we connected. I didn’t remember much of our conversations which took place in an old building in Old Delhi, in Haus Khaz village, in metros, in the kitchen of B&C, and in many more places but I would never forget those moments of being emotionally connected to another human being. They are just very beautiful. It’s so easy to talk to you, Kevin. Today, on my last day in this country, I decided to meet up a friend again, whom I didn’t have so much time to talk to when I met her the first time, or the second time, or the third time. We had a good but short conversation the last time I met her randomly in Dharamsala, and I knew at that moment that she’s someone I had to talk to again, to get in touch with, to get inspired from, and to learn from. And Kevin, I was right. We laughed, we made fun of life and people, we sympathized with each other’s stories, and we were connected. We are two women who never think of ourselves as women but simply as human beings. It frees us from social norms and it gives us bravery and courage to travel alone as a woman. It doesn’t take much time to get to know someone. I’m glad I decided to meet her again. I’m glad we did spend time together until late night. On the way back, I was on a metro full of drunken old men. Some looked happy some look miserable. I was wondering for a second what their lives were like. Bonobo’s music was on replay and my mind was filled with thoughts. I still couldn’t believe I was about to leave this place soon. But I was happy and content.

I notice that I become generous with my words not only to myself but also to the people I’ve met on the road. Here is a part of a conversation I had with that friend tonight:

Me: “So it doesn’t matter if it’s Kevin or Peter or Tom whom I write to. At first I wrote to Kevin as if I wrote to myself because I feel comfortable doing so and because it’s easy to write to someone whom I feel connected with. But then I started to meet more people with whom it’s so easy to share my ideas and thoughts. I write to another friend about my thoughts, those weird philosophical ones, thoughts that I used to keep only for myself because the magic they hold would disappear if I say them out loud, I used to believe. Then I started to realize I became more open to people. I share my thoughts more. I have learned to express those indescribable thoughts into words. I have learned to express my emotions in ways that everyone could understand. I have learned so much about myself through the act of traveling.”

Friend: “It’s fascinating!”

I caught changes in her facial expression. I knew she listened to every single word I said. And she was busy with her thoughts, too. I guessed she related my words to herself. We have parts of our souls that are so similar that help us to sympathize and connect to each other. It amazes me. It fascinates me. People like us, people like me, people like you are everywhere once we venture out to see the world, once we accept who we are,  adopt unknown parts of our selves, and once we are open to other people.

You mentioned “love” in your last email. Yes, I am in love. But not only with that one person had I mentioned in my previous email. I am in love with people: my family, my friends, strangers, and with myself. The feeling called “love” I’m experiencing is indescribable. It controls my heartbeat, my breath, my thoughts, and my senses. It makes me emotional, sensitive, patient, mindful, and wise. I feel “love” even when I am not with people, when I spend time on my own. I am both the lover and the beloved. This love always resides within me. I was searching for it without knowing it’s here, always here. Love. Life. Life is beautiful beyond words.

I’m coming back home! It’s been almost seven months since I left. I told you I’d come back in Nepal after India but because of the recent earthquakes, I think it’s better to go home and see my family first before I venture out again.  The idea of coming home spontaneously came when I was on a bus from Dharamsala to Bir – a famous spot for paragliding (yes, I did fly in the sky!!!). I was nervous, a bit intimidated, but also excited to come back “home” – a place I’ve rarely been for the past five years. It’s weird that I don’t feel like I belong to a place where I was born and grew up. The city keeps expanding while my love for it keeps fading away.

So, I didn’t go to the famous Taj Mahal, or Varanasi. Among all the places you suggested me go I only went to Jaipur. But it doesn’t matter, as I said in my previous email, I’d been to other beautiful places and I’d met a lot of beautiful people there and I’m satisfied. I found myself moving from one small town to another one. Each of them was one paradise of mine. I’d love to come back in India and I hope we could meet here again, when both of us come back to this magical land.

Hugs

An

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Illusion is mine – Ling toshite shigure

Minolta x570, Fuji Superia 200 (expired)

I have a soft spot for (indie) J-rock (and anything related to Japanese culture haha). This song found me a few months ago and after a week of having the replay button abused, I haven’t listened to it ever since until tonight. It stirred up many levels of emotion in me and before I realized brought tears to my eyes. I remember the nights this song accompanied me and my scooter through the emptied streets of Saigon. The act of being embraced in absolute solitude with music and speed is so satisfying yet haunting. I stopped myself to listen to the song when I came to realize that I couldn’t handle how emotional it caused me and how my hidden fears were brought to the surface. It is undeniably a beautiful song.

: )

Đà Lạt

Hereunder are some photos I took with my film camera during my last trip to Dalat, a city located in the southern part of Central Highlands region of Vietnam. The city used to be a French playground during the French colonial period in Vietnam thanks to its cool climate. That explains a large number of French architectures in the city. Some people even call it the little Paris of Vietnam even though I’d say the two cities aren’t that comparable : ). It’s a good place for a weekend getaway from Saigon (it often takes 6 hours by bus from Saigon). I’ve witnessed many changes of the city for the past 10 years since the first time I was there. The last time I was there I was kinda afraid that tourism might someday sweep away the pleasant vibe that made me fall in love with the city in the first place but maybe I was just worried for nothing. There’re many hidden charms of this city that have been yet explored : )

dalat skydalat

accident double exposure

A double exposure by accident. I gave my camera to my friend’s uncle and he accidentally rewinded the film.


yxuan huong lakexh lake

 

The brat

When I’m at home, I spend a quality amount of time playing with my dogs. My morning routine these days starts with taking them out for a walk around my neighborhood.

There’re many photos of Nhí, the youngest kid of my family in my collection so I thought I’d share some of them here. She’s smart but naughty, cute but overactive: a bad kid that needs lots of training and teaching. I love it how I can spend time with my dogs when I’m home! : )

 

 

I’ve already had a couple of blog posts scheduled to automatically publish themselves and I’m taking photos daily now (either with film or digital), which means I’m not short of topics and photos for the blog! I take my camera with me all the time now and wish to shoot more : D.

Only the last two photos are taken with film.

Something I don’t

1. I don’t have a smartphone. I feel bad thinking about buying a new phone everytime my 6-year-old buddy gets crazy. The foremost reason to have a smartphone is to take some quality impromptu snapshots and selfies (haha). I also need GPS but my Nexus 7 takes care of the GPS need now and I also prefer to use a real map (to easily get lost : P). Hence, I still don’t know if I need a new phone until my phone dies.

2. I don’t use leather. Yes, my belts, shoes, camera straps, bags… all are leather free. And because I don’t know how to tell the difference between real and faux leather, I avoid them altogether. When I was in Europe I didn’t wear leather boots. It sounds crazy but my feet didn’t feel the winter cold with just a pair of canvas sneakers : ). I have a pair of leather high-top sneakers which I didn’t realize they were leather until a few months after I’d bought them.

3. I don’t wear perfume but I like to buy perfumes as gifts for some people I love : )

4. I don’t wear high heels (but platform sneakers are okay) : D

5. I don’t like to judge people on first impressions. I prefer the idea that people are complex changeable creatures. We’re not fixed and many aspects in us are even unknown to ourselves. That’s why I’m not so keen on using labels and adjectives to describe someone. That makes conversations somewhat confusing but more interesting : )

Chum cafe

Last weekend, one of my friends and I spent hours talking in this café (we actually had stayed until it’s closed lol). I don’t really remember all topics we went through but we did talk a lot about Studio Ghibli anime. She told me she was crying watching Grave of the fireflies which made her eyes all puffy the next morning when she went to work and her colleagues made fun of her. It’s not too late to find my friend this cute now, is it? xD

I told her about Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises) and she eagerly watched it the following morning. I saw the poster of this anime when I was in a cinema in Paris (Going to a cinema when you travel is something that might bring you joy and surprise. I watched Frozen in French without English subtitle there and even though I couldn’t understand the whole thing I still enjoyed it. One of the most memorable moments in Paris was me and friends singing Let It Go – French version on the subway back home : P). Kaze Tachinu does not only fictionalize the life of a famous aircraft designer but it’s also a story about a dreamer with a beautiful love.

The studio will release a new anime soon, When Marnie Was There. The theme song of this film was sung by one of my favorite artists, Priscilla Ahn. You can watch the official trailer here

And yeah, right, how could I forget that on that same night I kind of inspired my friend to explore the world of film photography? I’m a beginner myself so I simply told her my thoughts about film cameras and how different I think film is from digital. My friend had already considered about owning a camera and learning to shoot seriously. When she saw my Minolta, her eyes brightened and I found myself bombarded with questions in a few hours after. We went through the next few days looking for a camera. It’s been a long time since I saw my friend this determined about something and it strangely makes me thrilled! :D

Analogue photography is much more popular in Saigon (and Vietnam) now than it was a few years ago so getting a good and cheap film camera isn’t a hassle anymore. The problem is that there’re many to choose and we were both confused. We both come to the simple conclusion that the camera isn’t that important, it’s just a means to an end and it all depends on us who take photos.

I was editing this post a couple of hours after we’d got her a Zenit ET with a legendary Helios lens. This Russian camera was built like tank and it feels steady in my hands because of its weight. It’s also very beautiful and has an edgy look that I like (I have to admit that my Minolta looks girly haha). I noticed that it’s kinda different to use this camera than mine because of the light metering system. It seems that more effort should be spent to shoot with the Zenit and I could see that it’d be my friend’s good companion to photography. The hard way is the better way, right? She was kind of hesitant about buying the camera at first but finally she got it and we both felt so excited. I might be even more excited than she is haha. I hope to see her photos as soon as possible and can’t wait to switching our gears *heh*. I’m in glee!!!

 Some interesting reads lately

1. A family moved to an Arctic island in Norway for a year leaving behind their stable conventional life without any plans and they came back, happier, making us wonder about the meaning of our lives.

2. A meaning behind Brazil’s national dish – Feijoada: from this TED talk

Black bean: African population
Rice: Europeans
Red chili sauce: indigenous people
Green: great giver of life to Brazil and the world – the Amazonian forests
Manioc (yuka): the big Japanese population in Brazil (over 1 million in Sao Paulo)

Now World Cup 2014 was over but it isn’t too late to want to know about this vibrant country in South America, is it? :)

(About WC 2014: it’s over leaving me unsatisfied with Germany’s victory. I was rooting for Holland, then Argentina (I’ve been in love with them since the Euro 2004) so bad that I wanted to cry when Argentina was defeated by Germany. I know it’s just a game and by looking at Germany’s performance in previous games, one should not be surprised about their championship. But still, I don’t think football fans are the most reasonable fans. We hope and dream for the impossible, don’t we?)

3. About privacy: “…that there is no final, satisfying way to balance our need to be known with our need to be alone. The balance is always uncertain and provisional; it’s always a matter of dissatisfaction, give-and-take, and sacrifice.”

From this article on the New Yorker (the comments are also very interesting)

4. 10 common GMO claims and what scientists say

5. It all began when a couple found a cardboard box with 5 tiny kittens…

(yes yes yes, I have a soft spot for these cuties : )

 

The joy of shooting film

First, I have a story to tell about the digital cameras I’ve laid my hands on for the past 3 years. Last summer, I had to return the Pentax Kx I’d been using to my sister after our one-year camera exchange. My sister always thinks the exchange is unfair (haha). I exchanged my Lumix lx3 (a point and shoot camera) for her Pentax Kx (a dSLR camera). After one year, a friend of mine M helped me bring my sister’s Pentax back in Vietnam from the States while another friend K brought lx3 to Holland from Vietnam. It’s kinda complicated, isn’t it? But that didn’t end there! I lent my lx3 to that friend K when she went to Belgium during last year winter break and it was stolen at Brussels train station. I never saw my “Dế con” (or “little cricket”, yes, this is how I call my lx3 haha) again. It’s really sad because I hadn’t spent much time with him after he made a long journey to come back to me. Now I’m using my dad’s Nikon D5100, which is a good entry-level dSLR.

Even though I like taking photos with all of the mentioned cameras, there’s something missing that I couldn’t explain that leaves me unsatisfied.

I bought my film cameras from ebay last summer when I was in US. I decided to take photography seriously and I thought film photography would give me something I need, something that digital photography couldn’t. The film cameras were really cheap and I also needed something to replace the gone Pentax.

 

 

This image is from the roll of film that had stayed in the Canon AE-1 for 3 years. The roll was expired and it’s one of the least damaged photos. It makes my eyes a bit teary looking at this photo because Tít isn’t here anymore…

 

I got all of the films in my Minolta X570, and Yashica GSN35, and my dad’s Canon AE1 (this roll stayed in the camera for 3 years…) developed and scanned a couple of days ago. I use Minolta the most among the three. I got two rolls taken by this camera developed and printed last summer when I was in Holland. The first roll told me the camera worked perfectly. But it took me so long to finish the second and third roll.

 

I feel the joy of shooting film when my heart beats so fast every time an image appears in front of my eyes. Those bits and pieces of my life from last year become vividly alive. Time flies! I never feel this way with digital photography. Maybe because with film, after a shot is taken anticipation is built in a really special way. You’re all excited loading a new roll of film. You take a photo but unable look at the outcome immediately. You keep shooting until the roll is finished. Sometimes your busy life keeps you away from the camera for a while and you kind of forget about the unfinished roll. You come back to finish it someday because you desperately want to know, to see, to remember what you have seen through the lens of the camera. But you still have to wait until it gets processed. The whole process of shooting, waiting and more waiting does actually exist this hurry world and it makes a film photo precious to look at. Film isn’t just a medium, it’s a lifestyle. It’s all about delayed gratification. I’ve never been a patient kid but with time I have learnt the art of waiting. : ) (But it seems that I instead made my films wait for so long this time haha).

These film photos are “old” but they are also “new”. How amazing is that?

 

 

 

 

There’re many failed exposures due accidental shutter releases, light leaks, and poor focusing. There’re some shots I don’t even remember having taken. I took my Minolta to a camera repairman yesterday and I’m so glad that it’s still working after I dropped it so hard a few months ago (I was so shocked back then seeing the filter broken but the camera was still in one piece!). I bought a new filter for my lens yesterday and a customer there looking at my broken old filter saying that he’d been shooting for more than a year but never dropped his camera or his lens. I can see the “WOW!” in his eyes when he’s looking at me. Thanks to the filter there’s no damage on the lens. I’m super lucky!

 

 

 

I think I should have some sort of film shooting diary to note the time, film type, and camera that have been used. It’s got confusing already with just a few rolls!

 

 

Speaking of which, I still have a roll of film lost somewhere in my warehouse which was taken on my 10th birthday but never got developed. Should I be looking for it now? Or is it too late? : D

 

Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeps! : P