Heels & Soul

Monday

28

July 2014

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OUTFIT: Colorblocking Pastels in the Saigon Summer

Written by , Posted in Home, Outfits, Style & Fashion

 

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❤ ♬ Baby I’m Yours – Artic Monkeys ❤ ♬

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WEAR FROM: Dress – Found in Vuon Chuoi Market | Sandals – Nine West | Sunglasses – Marc Jacobs | Blue Bracelet – Oxford University | Watch – RADO

Bright and early at 8:00 AM, the telephone in my room rang as I was marking some of my students’ essays. I ignored it the first time because the call is usually from one of my Aunt’s dental patients and she is always the point person to pick up the phone. However, when a second call came, I picked up and received a command to come to the Vuon Chuoi market near my house immediately. My Aunt and Mother had picked out some dresses from a woman who sold clothing in the market and the dress in this post is the first one that I saw in the pile that was a definite yes. Linens are so easy to wear in this hot and humid climate. The colors are light, summery and playful so I matched the dress up with another pastel pink-toned pair of sandals to create a casual afternoon look.

It’s summer so I’m trying to enjoy the dresses and sandals for as long as I can before I settle back into the cold climates of Maine. Summer is too short.

Bis,

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Saturday

26

July 2014

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Teaching at the HCM University of Social Sciences & Humanities

Written by , Posted in Home, Ideas, Soul Food

My class at Cafe Lang this morning for English discussion.

My class at Cafe Lang this morning for English discussion.

Teaching is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences I have had to date. I find it such a shame that teachers often don’t receive a proper amount of respect nor appropriate compensation for all their diligent work. In Asia, there is a great deal of respect given to the teaching profession and many women in my family were teachers before progressing on to careers in business.

To mould a future generation is no mere task and dedicated teachers set the foundation for a future shaped by inspired youthful optimism. Good teachers not only teach theory but they encourage you to critically think about how to put theory into application. When I think back to my favorite professor at Bates College, Professor Emily Kane, I now understand how much effort it must have taken for her to support her advisees and students the way that she did. All our emails to her were responded to promptly and with the most detailed responses. To see her type away at her computer at breakneck speed before a meeting with you was a common sight. What I loved about her classes was that we studied relevant topics that could help benefit and build up a society of citizens engaged in finding solutions to the world’s problems by using economics, psychology, sociology and a wide cross-disciplinary base of knowledge. We were taught to analyze our personal experiences in a broader context and to see how our lives are connected to other lives. We were encouraged to reflect upon why we think the way we do. Groupthink was never a problem. There were outliers, questioners and those who were simply complacent. One of the only things that I missed most about the US during my time abroad was the incredible rigor of Professor Kane’s classes and her extreme dedication towards her students. I didn’t find that in the UK and most professors were far too busy to ever connect to us on a more intimate level. Not to mention, our class sizes were too large for there ever to be an intimately shared nature between the students and the professor. I appreciate the liberal arts education even more after studying in London.

Now that I am teaching daily, I realize that you have to be impeccably organized as a teacher. It is altogether an entirely humbling experience and few things can bring you such joy and satisfaction as sharing knowledge, thoughts and ideas with other people. I also have to be patient and empathetic because I want to be sure that my students can understand me. In a class where so many different levels of English ability exist, I have to figure out how to cater to everyone’s needs which means that compromises happen quite often. It’s so rewarding and fulfilling. Every time I get an email from a student, I can reaffirm that what I am doing is valuable and meaningful to society. I had a student who wrote to me saying “Thanks for the most fascinating class ever,” and others who write to me to thank me for my time. Those small messages make everything so worthwhile. There are some days when I’m exhausted after work and other days when its pouring rain, but if my students can make it – so can I.

Whoever said teaching was easy was wrong. It isn’t. It requires you to use all your abilities to help your students as best you can. You not only have to understand concepts, but you have to explain them in a way that is easily understood and internalized by twenty-three students who each learn differently.

Keo Chi - a sticky candy that my students invited me to taste.

Keo Chi – a sticky candy that my students invited me to taste.

Outside of the Opera House

Outside of the Opera House

Bis,

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Wednesday

23

July 2014

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COMMENTS

OUTFIT: 60′s Vintage and Grey Saigon Skies

Written by , Posted in Home, Outfits, Style & Fashion

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Going back to the Motherland means finding a trove of treasures from the past. Before my cousins left to begin new lives in the United States, they left behind bags and bags of dresses and clothing from their office days in Saigon. I inherited those dresses from them a few years later when I was old enough to start appreciating classic cuts and tailored dresses. I don’t often wear these dresses since they are so impeccably sewn with luxurious fabrics that seem out of place in everyday life but were once la mode in another era. Thankfully, regardless of time, I can still squeeze into these tailored dresses since the age of 13. It seems as if the women in my family seem to all have a similar shape because these dresses were sewn to fit my cousin’s body like a glove but I can also shake and shimmy into one. We do share the same genes and occasionally, the same jeans, after all. This dress here has been one of my favorites for some time but I’ve been on the road for awhile and it simply didn’t make sense to wear certain outfits while constantly on the go. Since I’ve transitioned into Saigon life, I’m going to start updating the outfit section of this blog more often! It’s been raining quite a bit here since its rain season, but I’m enjoying relief from the vapid heat.

Now that I’m settled into a 7AM-8PM work routine, I’m exhausted, but it’s a good kind of exhausted. It’s the type where you get drowsy at 12AM not because you’ve been staring at the computer monitor all day in bed, but because you’ve been doing work that is meaningful and fulfilling.

WEAR FROM: Dress – Vintage dress from Saigon (tailored by a family member) | Heels – Cole Haan | Watch – Rado | Earrings – Kate Spade

Photos: Loan Pham

Bis,

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Sunday

20

July 2014

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Photographs: Street Pho and Sunday Markets

Written by , Posted in Home, Travel

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A mere 3 meters from my house.

The thing about Vietnamese families is that we aren’t quiet and demure. This morning, my Mom was jetlagged and since she was awake at an unusual hour, she went down to my Aunt’s quarters and sat in a hammock near a pho restaurant behind our home. In the early morning, she reportedly inhaled the wafting aromas of pho through the open window and started having deep cravings for it. A few hours later, I heard everyone yelling my name from three stories below. I threw my pillow over my head and burrowed deeper into my blankets because I haven’t woken up this early on a Sunday in years. I purposely did not respond because I wanted to sleep more, but the calls of “Michelle, Michelle, Michelle” were incessant to the point that I simply couldn’t peacefully sleep anymore. There’s no such thing as going to someone’s room when you need them and quietly knocking. If you’re family, you can count on all social convention thrown out the window.

Since my Mother desperately craved pho – which is the best noodles and soup combo you will get in this world – we had pho this morning in the alleyway behind my room. In the western world, pho is usually lunch, dinner or a late night joint meal but in Vietnam, pho is often the preferred meal of choice for breakfast. On our way home, we stumbled upon some street pho joints that sell directly on the street without a restaurant exterior. It’s pretty fascinating to see how simple the service is here but how fantastic the food is.

The culture around midday siestas here in Vietnam has completely curved my relationship with sleep. I have never slept this much in my entire life and am having a slight daily mini crisis about wasted daylight. Then, I realize that the heat is exhausting and everyone closes shop to take solace from the sun. After a steaming bowl of pho this morning, we headed out to the Sunday market. If you want to buy clothes in Saigon, Saturday and Sunday are the best days because its when vendors usually get new goods and when marketgoers like my family have a day or two off to browse. Every morning, my Aunt heads out to the market at around 8:00 AM to buy vegetables, fruits and meat. We eat fresh meat from the butcher everyday. I love it! After living in London for the past few months and spending over $4 for a mere 500 grams of blueberries, I am having a fruit coma every few hours because you can buy around ten custard apples for $1 USD. Western fruits such as cherries are about $15/pound here (a true delicacy), but I’m stuffing myself with all the exotic Asian fruits I can eat because I’ve spent a lifetime eating apples and oranges.

Enjoy some photographs of the Sunday market and street pho. I start work again tomorrow from 8:30 AM – 7:30 PM. I am having a fantastic time with my students at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities. They are incredibly sweet and it is so rewarding to teach and to be of service.

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Pho on the street!

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Fresh vegetables and toothpicks for sale.

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A colorful arrangement of all vegetables imaginable!

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Roasted peanuts

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The Vietnamese equivalent of tempura

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Bananas

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Live eel for you to bring home.

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Fresh fish being prepared for the dinner table.

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My Aunt.

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Durian and Watermelon.

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Vietnam is the biggest exporter of coffee. This photo is from a stall at the Ben Thanh market.

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If you have a sweet tooth, Vietnam has a wide offering of candies.

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Dried fruits

Bis,

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Saturday

19

July 2014

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Photographs: Feeling Daring? Street Food in Saigon.

Written by , Posted in Home, Soul Food, Travel

Saigon street food is not for the weak. For Vietnamese living abroad, the steaming bowls of pho and do vat – street food you eat for fun – are nightmarish temptations that can induce serious food poisoning that leaves you without an appetite for days. When I returned to Saigon ten years ago, my parents refused to let us eat anything on the street because they feared that we would stumble upon contaminated food.  Few things turn a trip sour as much as food poisoning can, so I recall my parents bringing a suitcase full of canned food and granola bars for my brother and I to munch on while all these delicious spoils lay only meters away from us.

Fast forward to ten years later and I’m here with a stomach that has built resistance over time. Last night, I decided to put it to action. Call it being naive after my terrible dosage of food poisoning in Morocco where I vomited until the early hours of the morning and could not look at food the same way again for the subsequent days, but I figure I’m going to be here for some time so I might as well give it a go. My cousin’s cousins took me for a massive exploration of Saigon that lasted from the afternoon till the wee hours of the evening. At first, they wanted me to eat in the Park Son food court, which is a popular hangout destination for teenagers in Saigon. Park Son is an upscale, luxury shopping mall that is full of recognizable names such as Chanel and Clarins. J. had a cheeseburger at Lotteria, Vietnam’s equivalent of McDonalds, but it feels wrong to eat western food in this country famous for its savory cuisine. I decided to skip out on eating in the wealthy and “hygiene-friendly” areas in lieu of something more flavorful.

At first, J. and her sisters did not want to take me to eat Vietnamese street food because they were afraid that I would get sick. After some reassurances on my part that it would be fine, we hopped on the mopeds and zipped away into the breezy Saigon evening. Saigon is quite cool now because of the short lapses of rain that we get daily. If only the air was less polluted, I would be able to take off my face mask and breathe it all in. Few things compare to the feeling of absolute contentment, sitting on the back of a Vespa swerving through narrow alleyways and roads full of noise. The noise of people drinking in beer gardens, the noise of impatient taxi drivers, the noise of peddlers selling street food on their bikes, the noise of the hum of a thousand engines. Noise.

Our first stop was at pha lau. Pha Lau is pig intestines boiled down to a soft texture in a salty broth. We ordered ours with noodles, and in a few minutes, the entire bowl was empty. Now, I know the idea of pig intestines sounds a bit funky to those who’ve never tried this part of a pig, but its commonly eaten in dim sum and Asia. Meat is meat. We also ordered pig intestines in a grilled form and the sauce on top was similar to a sweet and sour seasoning. This second dish was dipped in the spiciest nuoc mam – fermented fish sauce – I have ever tasted, and I’ve been eating nuoc mam all my life.

Round two took place at a local eatery popular with young people. Similar to an all-you-can-eat style menu, we were given a list of foods available and we ordered by placing check marks next to the things we wanted to try and they would all come out on one plate. It’s comparable to a sampler plate. This restaurant was tucked in a hidden alleyway and unless you’re a local, it’s nearly impossible to know this place exists. Here we had fish balls, fried wonton, fried bean curd and meat wrapped in fried rice cakes.

Along the way, we stopped to get some bottles of corn milk. Corn here in Vietnam is creamier than in the US, so many Vietnamese often juice the corn and mix it with milk to create the refreshing corn milk. In the UK, they sell banana milk, chocolate milk, strawberry milk and even Skittles milk, so this is not the strangest milk and ____ combination I’ve seen.

Our last stop took place at a very shady-looking establishment that specialized in selling all parts of a chicken – especially chicken feet. In no way did this place look clean nor was the grill particularly sparkling. Now, this street vendor had alarm bells ringing loudly from afar, but in good spirits and good company, I decided to go all in.

Now, I sit and wait.

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Sugarcane juice – Vietnamese nectar.

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French influence is still clearly apparent with the use of “Jambon.” Here, this vendor is selling chicken sticky rice.

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A sign advertising street food. Everything for sale is less than 1 USD.

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J. with our avocado and saboche milkshakes.

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Pha lau with soup and noodles

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Pha Lau

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Corn milk

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Fried wonton, fish cakes and meat wrapped in rice flakes.

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Grilled chicken feet and an assortment of other chicken-related meat.

Bis,

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Saturday

19

July 2014

0

COMMENTS

Photographs: Scenes from a Saigon Market

Written by , Posted in Home, Travel

Before the first sliver of sunlight hits the Earth, the street vendor has risen to begin a new day at the market.

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“It costs money to take a photo of me. I’ll charge!”

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A young girl shaves coconuts to sell at the market.

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Buddhism.

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A woman carries her wares over her shoulder in a traditional fashion.

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Salami, cold cuts and other side dishes.

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Greens on display. There are no neat displays of plastic packaged vegetables here. You buy it as you see it.

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A peek into the closely-packed clothing area of the market.

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Fabrics sold at the Vuon Chuoi Market

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A young man buys mangosteens from a woman driving a carton of them on her moped.

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Saturday

19

July 2014

0

COMMENTS

Day 3: Friday Spa Day

Written by , Posted in Home, Travel

Friday is the one day of the week that I’ve blocked out for rest and relaxation. I woke up bright and early at 5:30 AM and went for a run with my Mother at a park nearby. When we came home, my Aunt proposed that we get a foot massage, which sounded extremely appealing after seven months of walking around different cities around the world and not heading to a single hairdresser or salon during that time.

After lunch, we headed to a spa close to our home. When I was a lot younger, I used to pay close attention to skincare routines, threading, tweezing and waxing, but when you’re busy and on the go, you don’t have time to go to the same spa every week nor do you have the energy to use a face mask and do your nails every few days when they start to chip. I don’t have time for that and it doesn’t make sense with my current lifestyle of perpetual jetsetting, so I make do with what I have for the most part.

Two spas later and a series of facials, hot oil massages, hot stone massages and all those spa things, I now fully understand the hype around such pampering after a tiring week. I wouldn’t be able to sit through it every day, but perhaps once ever week or so wouldn’t hurt.

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Mangosteens

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First spa we went to.

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Tropical assortment of fruits in our kitchen.

Bis,

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Thursday

17

July 2014

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Day 2: Where Are Your Lacoste and Barbour Shoes Made?

Written by , Posted in Home, Style & Fashion, Travel

Lacoste Shoes

When it rains in Saigon, a drum procession takes place. Millions of tiny raindrops beat against the tin roofs in a rhythmic staccato.

It’s rain season here in Vietnam and I’m entranced and in love with this country and its been only two days. There’s something oddly familiar about Saigon despite the entirety of my life taking place on foreign streets elsewhere. The sounds of bus horns, moped engines and street vendors cooing their wares away to wandering passerbys.

I have wanted to spend some extensive time in Vietnam for some time now, so I decided that I would forgo the standard junior year internship at a bank or consulting firm for a meaningful summer spent in a country I have been yearning to learn more about. After this year, It was all sealed when I received the Hoffman Fellowship to do research on factories and manufacturing here in Saigon for the summer. I was still interviewing for positions after I received the fellowship, but I quickly knew what I really wanted to do, so I stopped and said “Yes” to a summer of absolute happiness so far.

Somewhere along the way, I was offered a teaching position at the Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities, which I happily accepted because I thought it would be a great way to meet local students while being able to contribute and share my favorite English stories and literature. I taught my first class yesterday without any lesson plan, which was actually quite stressful. I am so happy that I have years of experience in last minute presentations and delivering material under pressure. Changes to plans and a dosage of procrastination have taught me well. However, I spent the night making an extensive lesson plan and I’m excited to start reading Murakami with my class today.

I went to visit my partner factory today. I am so grateful to my Aunt for the introduction. I didn’t realize the extent of the talent in my extended family until I arrived here in Saigon and realized that everyone is a BOSS (for lack of a more eloquent term). My Aunt runs her dental practice downstairs and in the afternoon she slips into her room upstairs to sew some beautiful dresses with the same hands that pull out teeth from grown men. My Aunt in Florida used to work in manufacturing here in Saigon and she also happens to look like my Mother’s twin. It’s quite uncanny how similar they sound and look. When my Mother and I visited the factory today, all the workers thought that it was my Aunt returning for a visit. When they realized that it was my Mother, they spoke so highly of my Aunt and it was so apparent that she was very well-respected. That’s the type of businesswoman I hope to work towards becoming.

It is SO incredible to see how globalization has started to change the way we consume and live. The factory owner’s wife is such a kind woman and I’ll be starting an internship in business strategy there on Monday in addition to collecting data for my research. To see the factory workers put together a Lacoste shoe from sample design to rubber soles and fabric is so fascinating. I love every aspect of it. To think that these very same shoes are going to end up on American and UK shelves in a few weeks and months is mind-blowing. The workers have clean working spaces and the office administration is predominantly all women-run. I am impressed!

Anyhow, you never know how life flows and where you’ll go.

We can make as many plans as we want, but when things happen, they happen. I can confidently say, I know I am truly happy.

Bis,

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Wednesday

16

July 2014

0

COMMENTS

Day 1: Touchdown in Saigon

Written by , Posted in Home, Travel

I’ve been through too many time zones as of the past month, but I woke up bright and early this morning to head out to the bustling Vuon Chuoi market with my Aunt. I’m exhausted after nearly five hours of teaching private lessons and a full class at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities. My research plans begin tomorrow morning. This city starts whirring at the crack of dawn before the heat starts to exhaust everyone. Similar to Spain and Italy, there is a mid-day siesta from 11-1 where businesses close for lunch and to take refuge from the maddening sun. I love Vespas and motorcycles and I spent the majority of my day transiting around on the back of motorcycles. If you can make it through Saigon traffic, you can do anything in life.

I wish I could update more, but sleep deprivation is finally beginning to catch up with me. Enjoy some photographs of my first day in Saigon!

Chicken noodles made at home.

Chicken noodles made at home.

Phuong Uyen - my niece on her way to ballet.

Phuong Uyen – my niece on her way to ballet.

Everyone wants fair skin in Vietnam because it is considered the standard of beauty. It’s 30+ degrees Celsius here and this woman still is covered from head to toe.

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Banana Che

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Portraits of our family hang on the kitchen wall. Can you find me?

Portraits of our family hang on the kitchen wall. Can you find me?

Bonbon Fruits

Bonbon Fruits

Bis,

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Saturday

12

July 2014

0

COMMENTS

Part II: Take Me To Your Cabin

Written by , Posted in Home, Travel

Looking back at those few days when I was up in the mountains, I realized that the foundations of modern society aren’t necessarily bent on conservation. It has quite the opposite effect. If you can make your bills and are fortunate to live within the walls of stable infrastructure and clean water supply, you can have water flow incessantly to water your green lawn and to take a soothing bubblebath. Even in North America, water isn’t a guaranteed right as seen in the current crisis in Detroit where water has been shutoff to 17,000 residents – some who have paid their bills. This means that there’s no water to flush the toilets, no water to clean wounds in, and no water to drink from. In America? Yes. In America. Drastic measures like this only further marginalize the poor, the children and the elderly.

We went up to Bram’s hytte with a container of water, which is all we used to drink, clean, brush our teeth until the last day when we needed some more water to wash the pots with. It sounds a bit hippie-ish, but it wasn’t. It was just all that we needed. When I first saw the container, I kept on asking him, “Are you sure we don’t need to go down to the river to get more water?” I thought it wouldn’t be enough. In day to day life, that amount of water is equal to about a 3-4 minute shower, perhaps even less.

Being out in nature is quite relaxing. Now that I’m back at home, I realize that it is so easy to fall into complacency with the way we live, connected to all our devices. I’m guilty of it. Sometimes I wish we all didn’t have technological disruptions in the flow of life so that we could have lunch without checking our email every few minutes, we could talk before we go to sleep instead of watching Netflix and that good conversations could just go on all night because time ceases to exist when your devices are put away. I basically stopped using my phone when I moved to London. I would leave my house without it when going to see friends. If I want to take photos, I recently bought a light vintage Yashica film camera that takes one shot and one shot only so that we can’t rewind and go back to see how the photo turned out. Candids.

Since I’m a product of the first digital age to ever exist in this world, I don’t want the summers of children to fall slave to machines. The best way to learn about the world around us is to sometimes go out there and be a part of it.

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Bis,

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