Heels & Soul



October 2014



OUTFIT: Black And Gold

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I think I was meant to live along the warm coastline of California, where the weather is golden and one can actually have a permanent tan all year long from the warm sun. Now that this is the final push to graduation, San Francisco is edging its way to one of my top five preferred future homes for the future. I have a few friends who tell me to let the job take me to new places, but I’ve come to know myself well enough to say that I’d rather call home a livable city where there is access to nature and a cosmopolitan backdrop. Growing up in Vancouver, no place is quite home unless there is a vast expanse of green somewhere. In London, I loved going to Hampstead Heath for walks in the late afternoon and to take a dip in the rather murky women’s pond on warm days. It’s a way of life that has been lost in cities. We’ve opted for chlorinated pools in lieu of ponds nestled amongst trees in woods. There’s something distinctive about being in nature. May it be the stillness of being so far removed from modern society or the natural beauty of the world, there always seems to be something to appreciate. In many ways, making it to the golden sights of nature is similar to striving for a big picture outcome in life. You work your way up a mountain or through muddy terrain with the rain pouring down upon you because you know that at the end, there’s something unrivaled if only you continue to persevere.


Black & Gold – Sam Sparro



WEAR FROM: Dress – Kersh | White Wedges – BCBG | Necklace – MEXX | Earrings – Kate Spade | Watch – RADO




October 2014



Tuesday Thoughts: Our Greatest Experiences Are Our Quietest Moments

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I’ll be starting a Tuesday Thoughts series every Tuesday as a point of reflection and introspection during the week.

This week’s quote is from Nietzsche – who isn’t a philosopher that I would immediately jump to when thinking about meditation and learning how to be alone in quiet spaces, but these are his words.

As someone who has traditionally been viewed as an extrovert, people who know me on the most intimate levels (the number can always be counted on one hand at any given time) are surprised to discover that I teeter right on the extrovert-introvert line. These days, it’s what people have termed being an “ambivert,” someone who embodies both personality characteristics on the spectrum. Forbes had a neat article about ambiverts last year. There are moments when I can turn the charm on and spend days talking to people and groups, but there are also days where I simply am happy and content to turn on Netflix and to grab a pint of Häagen Dazs to kick back by myself. On those nights, the appeal of going out to see anyone or leaving my home is simply not there. With age, I’m finding that I’m actually more comfortable being alone – happily so. It’s quite difficult to actually have people understand this negotiation of being in between two different states of movements. How can someone be so social in one moment and a hermit crab in the next? But, upon reflection, I know I have been like this all my life despite always being put in a more public, extroverted role. So, I’ve accepted this about myself and am embracing it.

Why we are the way we are is fascinating. When I was living in London, one of my friends who is majoring in Psychology explained the introvert-extrovert dynamic to me. According to what he studied, extroverts are outgoing, gregarious and social because their brains are in need of stimulation, which they get from feeding off the energy and interactions amongst groups of people. Introverts already have a high level of natural stimulation, so they don’t feel the need to receive as much external stimulation which is why they are more comfortable with smaller group interactions and one-on-one conversations.

I am discussing the introvert-extrovert framework because it’s important to consider when thinking about when we want to be alone, when we need to be alone, and how to be alone. People always comment when I am notably absent from the public sphere because it is something that is expected of me – to be visible and present. However, I’ve made it a point as I’ve grown older to simply do what I need to do in the moment by ignoring all the white noise and routine worries. If I need some time to think, I’ll sit down and think. This year, I’ve been taking September as a a month off to be introspective about the phenomenal experiences that I’ve had over the past 9 months and the past 3 years. This is the first time in 9 months that I have been back in North America for a more stable and predictable amount of time. I can’t just go back to my life the way it was because I’m not the same person anymore although the core remains very much the same. I can actually truly say that I am comfortable being alone because I’ve learned how to seek my fulfillment and validation within myself and things that I have control over.

Things that I have found to really make a difference in reaching the goal of doing what you want without the background noise:

1) Meditation. Take some time daily to just quiet your mind. You would be surprised to learn how much your brain is actually ON all the time. Sometimes this is all it takes to quell those moments of doubt or to get over a mental block.

2) Not giving a (#$%. In life, regardless of what you are doing, people will have something to say about it – negative and positive. People will offer you unsolicited advice and advice when you need it. There will always be critics, people who don’t like the way you do things, people who don’t support you, people who think your ideas are unrealistic and people who find reasons to dislike you for no apparent reason. To all of this, I say, “Don’t give a $%(#!” At the end of the day, you are going to have to silence the white, background noise when you have to make important decisions regarding YOUR life. Don’t let society or others constrain you by formulating standards for what you think you should be doing or what you think people are expecting from you. Oftentimes, you will be your worst critic and your greatest obstacle. You wake up to yourself and your mind every morning. There is no one else who is inside your head and who wakes up to the choices you make other than you. Make the time between you and your mind worthwhile.

3) Get out of your space, especially comfortable spaces, every once in awhile. For example, here at Bates, we tend to be in a bubble. Talk to a friend with a car, plan something out and go!

4) Learn how to be alone. I cannot stress how important this one is. I have become so much better at this over these past four years, and learning how to be content being alone is a lifelong process, but once you are comfortable thinking on your own, learning how to be on your own and just being in the state of being alone, I honestly think you will be less likely to make decisions that aren’t well thought out. Oftentimes, people gravitate towards the wrong causes or people because it’s the cop-out concept of “I’d rather be with X rather than to be alone.”

Some of your greatest moments will be your quietest ones. When I was watching the Northern Lights at 2AM surrounded by mountains in Iceland, it was a quiet awe that I felt seeing the streaks of color dancing in the sky. In Morocco, I sat sipping an overly sugary mint tea as the only woman in a hidden café nestled on a roof as the sentimental strums of guitar drifted down to the maze of souks below. Sometimes, there are moments of kindness that only I and one other person will know of. There are moments of vulnerability and overcoming that only I know of. For me, the quiet is not only in the sense of the ambiance and atmosphere. The greatest experiences in my life are oftentimes my most quietest moments because they are so deeply personal that it would be a bit of a disservice to attempt to explain them or to publicly share such a specific moment of magic in time. I couldn’t recreate the alignment of circumstance and situation again and even if I were to retell it as a storyteller, the profound feelings would only be understood by being there. Being present.

Have a great week!






September 2014



Apple-Picking and Frolicking in Maine

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This will probably be my last year living in Maine for some time. My roommate and I have always discussed the possibility buying a cabin here at some later point in our lives as one of my professors recently did when her twin sons decided to pursue public education instead of our heftily priced private liberal arts tuition. Maine is a beautiful state and I wish that I had only appreciated its candid splendor and nature at an earlier time. However, like all things in life, the only way is to look forward and to correct those mistakes so I’ve made it a conscious goal to spend more time outdoors and to use my weekends to soak in as much sun as possible before the skies become a semi-permanent grey.

Since the founding of the Asian-American Students’ In Action (AASIA) group at Bates College, we’ve been taking students and members apple-picking at the Wallingfords Orchard as an annual fall trip. Truly, few things capture the transition into fall as well as well as being on an orchard. It’s a place of concerted nature, so there are an abundance of colors and change in preparation for harvest and the opportunity to enjoy the last few days outdoors in shorts, flip flops and tank tops. In my life, I have always somewhat taken for granted the four distinct changes in seasons. I always appreciated the explosion of popcorn on trees that is otherwise known as a lovely Vancouver spring when my neighborhood is lined with Japanese cherry blossoms. Summer was always too short in the climates that I’ve lived in, but that’s why summer evokes such a nostalgia in people. It’s a fleeting season in this part of the world, but it is probably one where people come together and relax the most. Good weather often equates to good dispositions (in my opinion). Autumn was full of leaf-raking in my house and combined with the notorious Vancouver rain, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see orange maple leafs tracked onto the floors of schools and stores. I never truly understood what a bitter winter was until I came to Maine. In Vancouver, we rarely ever got snow, but I never minded this because my friends and family would always go up to Whistler to ski, which meant that we selectively chose when we wanted to be in snow and that we didn’t have to deal with the consequences of it in our backyard. To me, the four seasons that I have experienced yearly in life are how I measure and indicate change and growth, but when members from Las Vegas and Seoul said that they had never been on a farm before or gone apple-picking, I was quite surprised because my childhood was riddled with fruit-picking. Even though I will try to choose somewhere much warmer than Maine after I graduate from Bates this year, there’s something to be said about the beauty of each season. For now, I’m feeling that 21 years of winter has been enough for a temporary hiatus!

Enjoy some photographs!




Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It – STARS









September 2014



OUTFIT: September Blues

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 ❤ ♬ Sweater Weather – The Neighbourhood ❤ ♬



WEAR FROM: Fringed Skirt – Zara | Embroidered Shirt – Picked up in a Saigon Market | Fringed Flower Knit Vest – Kersh | Brown Leather Heels – Burberry | Knit Knapsack – Gift from Sapa, Vietnam

I’m back in the United States now in the good ol’ state of Maine. The weekends have been spent bridge-jumping and apple-picking in clean, fresh air. I forgot how pleasant it was to have smog-free oxygen devoid of much pollution. Maine is a great state and I would not be opposed to building or buying a cabin here at one point. Sunsets here are a brilliant pink tinged with swatches of orange. Not to mention, I have missed seeing stretches of stars at night. There were only a couple of nights in London where I could look up in the sky and see anything twinkling. Santorini in Greece was still far too bright to see much in the sky, and while we were there, a torrential downpour of rain came cascading down and all I remember was trying to wait it out in the restaurant we were eating at. After an hour’s wait and a paid bill, we decided just to go for it and it was a mad 10-minute dash up the pebbled alleyway back to our house. Water was everywhere. Since the restaurant was at the bottom of the hill, by the time we ran up to the top, our feet were soaked through. It was like running through a heavy stream.

I’m living in this great big house with two friends, and there is probably far too much space for us to use, but it’s nice to have a place of solace and I’ve become a bit of a hermit during these past few weeks because the weather has become nippier at night and few things are better than lighting a candle and enjoying some conversation with friends. I’ve been so busy these past few days trying to figure out what the plans are for the following day and the following year. It’s a semester full of commitments, but I’ll come through as always! I’ll be restarting this blog in all due time!

Stay tuned.





September 2014



Film Photographs: Morocco

Written by , Posted in Home, Travel

I’m back in the United States now and I just stumbled on an old link to my film photographs from Morocco that I never got around to uploading until now! Near the end of my Vietnam trip, my Yashica film camera started to act up so despite having stacks of Kodak film in my room, I haven’t had the chance to snap any film photos since coming back to North America.

Here in Maine, I’m trying to adopt the perspective of enjoying all the warm sun and nature before the bitter cold settles. I realize that there is so much to this state that I have yet to explore before leaving in May. I haven’t seen a lighthouse yet nor have I seen all the phenomenal nature that gives Maine its affectionate title of Vacationland. This past weekend, I tried to remedy that by heading out to Nezinscot Farm in Turner where my roommate ordered a gigantic waffle and I happily wolfed down some chocolate chip pancakes topped with the freshest whipped cream I have ever tasted. What a dream! I can’t go back to canned whip cream after having a taste of the other side. The farm to table concept of eating is fascinating and better for our environment. Frankly, everything tasted better! After stuffing ourselves, we headed to Turner bridge to do some bridge jumping and swimming.

♬ ✩ In My Life – The Beatles ♬ ✩

I am absolutely terrified of heights, but of course it was my idea to go jump off a bridge for fun. I was once on a cable car in London and had a panic attack when we reached the highest peak, so once my toes were over the edge on that bridge, I could already feel my heart pounding right out of my chest. Thankfully, two of my friends held my hand and when we reached “GO!” the momentum of their jump also propelled me forward so I flew straight into the water. Needless to say, once was enough for me but perhaps next time I’ll overcome my fear of falling and take the plunge once more.





















August 2014



Travel: Baby Went Down to Amsterdam

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I miss Europe. I definitely have to move back to London permanently in the next little while.

Amsterdam was one of my earlier trips outside of England. D., C., S. and I took a red eye bus from London-Amsterdam that was full of a series of unfortunate events. Both of our buses were involved in car accidents, but we eventually made it out to the streets of Amsterdam, bright and early, after a night of limited sleep on the bus. With our matted hair, unbrushed teeth and wrinkled clothes, we immediately walked over to the Anne Frank Museum, where we lined up for nearly 40 minutes.

I remember reading all of Anne Frank’s works and diary as a child. It was staple elementary-aged reading material and I still have her books on my shelf today. If you plan to go to the Anne Frank Museum, plan ahead, because everyone who comes to Amsterdam who has read Anne’s diary wants to take a look at the house that held the Frank family during Nazi occupation in World War II. You will wait for awhile. Seeing the cramped quarters, the bookcase that hid the door to their hidden home and the windows that were once discreetly covered was so surreal. It was an emotionally-charged experience for many people visiting because there were so many undertones to the experience. I hear that visiting Auschwitz in Poland also evokes the same eerie and sorrowful feelings. It’s not so strange to feel such a deep empathy. If we didn’t remind ourselves that events like this have come and pass, initiated by other humans, then we will let history repeat itself.

Amsterdam is always a popular tourist destinations for westerners. It’s a mythical place where one can ride flower-laced bikes parallel to the the lovely canals and where the nightlife thrives until the morning and  weed is readily accessible at coffeeshops. I personally was too exhausted from the tiring commute and the hours of walking during the day, so on all the nights in Amsterdam, our group had a very PG experience. We lived rather close to the red light district, which was a bit of a damper. One night, D., S. and I went out for a walk to see the notorious area, and it was entirely depressing. I understand that the premise of the red light district is allegedly a liberating one where agency is supposed to be a strong theme. However, as women, S. and I felt so uncomfortable walking through those streets at night. If D. wasn’t accompanying us, the leers and glances would have felt threatening more so than menacing. It was essentially such a meat market, and to hear some of the things that those men were saying outside of the glass windows was a bit nauseating. That was enough to turn us off of Amsterdam by night.

Overall, Amsterdam by day is such a charming city. It would be a nice place to write books.



















 ♫ ♬  Peter, Bjorn & John – Amsterdam  ♫ ♬ 










August 2014



Small Things with Great Love

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Small things, great love.

It’s so easy for us to fall prey to social convention, materialism and the desire for “things” that we can forget that the smallest of actions bring great love and happiness to ourselves and others.

As the years are passing by and as I get busier with more and more to do, I have been trying to remind myself to leave small tokens of affection and care for people that I love. Sometimes it isn’t a grandiose gesture that people want, but rather just a simple message that they are remembered, loved and thought of. Kind intentions, thoughtful messages and small things can carry far on beyond the present time. We do not know what people are experiencing at any given time, so the simplest of actions can bring about a lot of happiness for someone going through a lot of private issues or personal problems.

When I was much younger, I used to be so much better at this, but when life got hectic, it became hard to continue with all the hand-written notes or remembering to stay in touch with people. After the past nine months of traveling and noticing how small moments can bring such gratitude and happiness, I want to begin again with the sweet, unprecedented gestures that we used to do as children.

I was reminded of this recently when I left Saigon. My oldest Aunt lives in our family home in Vietnam with another Aunt of mine who is a dentist. She is unmarried and doesn’t have any children and now that all her nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters have immigrated to countries abroad, this huge house in the center of Saigon is now quiet, lackluster in energy and strangely empty. Three generations of the Pham family lived in that house at one point while it was still lively and jovial, but now all but one of the bedrooms has a lived-in appearance. The other rooms hold remnants and trinkets of their past owners, but dust has started to collect over much of what once was. That’s the thing about upward social mobility and globalization – support systems and families start to drift apart. We move all over and we begin new and exciting lives, but often at the cost of becoming further distant from our loved ones, our culture and everything we know. When I returned back to Vietnam and saw how many brilliant young people want to leave the country to study abroad, I was hopeful and proud of all their intelligence – but I also couldn’t help but wonder and ask myself: “At what cost?”

I write this after saying goodbye to many people in my life: family, loved ones, lovers, friends, acquaintances, teachers, mentors and everything else in between. It’s become second nature for me to experience coming and going, and saying goodbye. I am not as sad as I once was to leave places, because I know that the distance between the people I love and myself is merely an airplane ticket. Despite this, I always feel a twinge of nostalgia before I must leave wherever I’ve been calling home for a short amount of time because I’ve said goodbye enough to know that even if we were to meet again, things may not be as they once were. Life as it is and moments that we experience are the way they are because of the collision of many factors under the right bearing of time. We cannot recreate what once happened naturally.

The other day, in passing conversation, I asked a friend of mine where I could buy flowers to send to my Aunt. She had been sending me photographs daily of the roses that my Mother and I had bought in the days preceding our return to Canada. Day by day, the number of roses began to dwindle in each photograph. The Saigon heat is not meant for roses – their beauty quickly fades under the harsh humidity. Finally, there was a single white rose left in the photograph. I called my Aunt and told her to buy some more flowers for the house but she told me: “There is no one here! If I buy the flowers, who can appreciate them?” Those who have lived with me or who know me, know that I often buy flowers and plants for my room. Whether I was living in England or in the US, my room always had a few plants or a vase of flowers. Plants truly do brighten up your living space! This combined with the conversation with my Aunt sparked the idea to gift her some flowers so that her days could be brightened. Who doesn’t love to walk by a room filled with the fragrance of flowers and the color it adds to a space?

When I asked my friend where I could find a flower delivery shop, he asked me why I wanted to send flowers. When he found out, he offered to buy them and deliver a bouquet to my Aunt – which was ridiculously sweet and unexpected. The following day, my Aunt sent me five emails, each containing photographs of the roses that she had just received. She told me later on that she had received 50 ROSES! Firstly, this was not what I was expecting when my friend offered to help give flowers to my Aunt. What a surprise when I discovered that he had brought her 50 roses! That was far beyond what I was anticipating! Secondly, few words can capture the emotion you feel when you know you’ve made someone happy. My Aunt told me she was completely surprised when she heard someone ring the doorbell at lunch when it was terribly hot outside. She wasn’t expecting that it would be someone bringing her flowers!

My friend kept on insisting that this was a small matter for him to help me with, but for me – it was something entirely meaningful and although he claimed that it took minimal effort, it brought about a maximum level of appreciation and happiness for my Aunt, and by association, me. These things cannot be forgotten with time.

We have the capacity to do small things that give people great love.

People make me happy. I believe that people are good.





August 2014



TRAVEL: The Ancient Town of Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

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I was completely enchanted by Hoi An during my brief visit there. My Mother was born in Da Nang, the central part of Vietnam, so returning back to Da Nang was a bit of a sojourn to the past to her childhood. After we arrived in Da Nang, Anh Phuong – Mr. Q’s driver – took us on a really splendid tour of Hoi An later on that evening. At first, my Mom and I went for a stroll in the ancient city and we were completely enamored by the stature of the old wooden buildings and the rustic, other-worldly feel of Hoi An. Once dusk passed, the streets were warmly aglow from the soft shades of hanging paper lanterns.

Hoi An is probably one of the top destinations to visit if you have a chance to go through Vietnam. Nothing about this trip went awry and it was a constant sequence of happy events and activities. Hoi An is an old trading port dating back to the 15th-19th Century that has been immaculately preserved. I am wholly fascinated at how its remained intact throughout all this time. Before sundown, my Mom and I passed this quaint bakery and I couldn’t help but be drawn to the pastries, so we walked in to the smell of freshly-baked goods wafting throughout the parlor. We ordered a passionfruit yoghurt cake, and for the middle of nowhere in Vietnam, what a pleasant surprise! It was the best cake I’d had in a few months. A few weeks earlier, I had gone to a bakery near my house with some of my students and we gorged on a huge selection of cakes, but nothing was quite like this little concoction.

If you want a short getaway to a mystical place rich in history, gentle people and a lot to see and do, Hoi An is a fantastic place to visit. You can get a suit or dressed tailored in a day for very reasonable price and by night, you can wander along the riverbank and buy a lantern or two to set sail into the darkness. I enjoyed the peaceful nature of Hoi An – it was a stark contrast from the business-oriented ways of Saigon.















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August 2014



Part III: Saigon Street Food

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At the beginning of my fellowship, Ri, the niece of Mr. Q. – the shoe factory Chairman – would tell me stories about food during our time working together. From the time I stepped onto the premises and throughout the midday siesta, we would exchange conversations about Vietnamese food. What was good? What was the traditional meal for lunch? What were some new novelties on the street? One day, her brother and her picked me up and took me to experience grilled street food in District 10 and the latest street dessert: kem xoi dua (sticky rice with coconut shavings and ice cream). What a treat! Thanks to Ri and her family, I’m headed back to Bates this September with a rad shoe collection from Lacoste! I suppose this is a perk of working in fashion – irrelevant of whether you’re working in the studio or the factory!















August 2014



Oh Saigon!

Written by , Posted in Home, Ideas, Soul Food, Travel


Now that I’m back home, I am experiencing such a deep nostalgia for the bustle of the city, the humid days under the beating sun and the incessant stream of noise. I’ve adopted an attitude over the past few years to try to enjoy where I am at the present moment. Having mindfulness and being present with your surroundings can change so much about the extent of positivity you feel about your current life and your overall happiness. For example, it is easy to visit a country like Vietnam and absolutely despise the experience. One can complain about the lack of sanitation, the high degree of pollution, the relentless mosquitoes, the pickpockets and a whole slew of negative traits. There are many people who return to Vietnam and focus solely on the bad, and therefore, how can they enjoy their experience? Everywhere they go, they will find something to nitpick at and something that is not comparable to the West.

For those who lack the ability to see beyond what lies at face value, a trip to a beautiful country like Vietnam may be less than ideal. It is no use to compare salt with pepper, because salt is inherently different from pepper and pepper in its essence is innately different from salt. It is the same to compare the standard of living in Vietnam with the standard of living in the US. Each has its own flow and pace that works for the culture and society that people in each respective country are settled into. There are some things that you can do in Saigon that simply don’t translate over to western culture and there is a way of living in the US that cannot be imitated by Vietnam. I like it that way. This is why Vietnam is Vietnam and America is America. How can one compare the beauty of a mountain with the sea?

I love Vietnam, for all its flaws and things I do not yet understand about the country and myself. I left part of my heart in Saigon and I find that my parts of my heart are now scattered around the Earth. Shared laughter, warm hugs, the meeting of tea cups, the clinking of beer glasses, the dancing, the lights, the music, the sounds, the people, the routine sounds of an early morning, the intersection between globalization and tradition. I saw my oldest Aunt, who is now 70 and other family members who were but stories in the past. I experienced generosity beyond imagination. I accepted kindness and realized that I was indebted to far too many people. I have a lifetime of giving to even out the love that has been given to me.

I am thankful to the many families that have opened up their dinner tables, homes, companies and lives to me over my short five weeks in Saigon. Had I known that I would fall in love so easily with this country, I would have prolonged my trip in advance. I am thankful to my Mother for accompanying me. She was so instrumental in helping me arrange my schedule and work related to my thesis and my fellowship. I am thankful to my Aunts for having us in the home and to the Portuguese gal pals for dropping by for what would be the beginning of a week of Saigon festivities. Lastly, to all my students at USSH and the dear friends that I made (Duyen, Trung, Ri), I hope that we all have the opportunities to laugh together again, perhaps somewhere else in the world in the not so distant future.

I have returned back to Canada humbled and inspired.

Oh Saigon.

I’ll see you again soon.

You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.