You Live in a Paved Paradise

Berkeley, 2014
Berkeley, 2014

Dear friend,

I’m currently sitting at my desk, facing outside. There are beautiful trees, a soft breeze, the sound of birds chirping. I have a “HappyLight” on my left (which helps me wake up in the morning), I have some beloved books to my right, and I’m enjoying a lovely espresso, while doing a little bit of typing.

Life is perfect.

Never forget: you’re living in a paved paradise, heaven on earth.

Think of all the blessings we have in our life:

  • Running water (imagine all the kids in developing country without access to clean water)
  • Freedom from hunger (our problem is that we have an over-abundance of food, at least in the west)
  • The internet (if someone told us that we could have the entire collective knowledge of humanity in the palm of our hands, we would’ve said they were crazy even 20 years ago)
  • Smartphones (yeah I hate it when people text while talking to me, I do it sometimes too. But imagine what a blessing it is to have this miracle device)
  • Digital cameras (has opened up so many opportunities to our photography, whereas film is so expensive, takes a long time to learn, and quite elitist)
  • Healthy eyes to perceive the world and reality (some people are blind, and have never had this pleasure)
  • Ears to hear the sound of our friends and loved ones, and to listen to some sweet soundtracks on Spotify
  • The feeling of touch, so we can hold beautiful photography books, feel the texture, feel the weight, and the lovely feeling of flipping the pages
  • Coffee (I think good coffee is proof that a “God” exists)
  • Family & friends (as long as we have 1 loving family member or friend, it is sufficient for our happiness)
  • Roofs over our head (imagine how shitty it would be to be starving, and getting frostbite on the streets of Russia in the winter)
  • “Free time” (no matter how busy we are with our 9-5 jobs, most of us have at least 30 minutes-1 hour of leisure time a day, to do whatever the hell we want)
  •, where we can see all the photobooks of the masters online for free (without having to buy them, as they can get damn expensive)
  • Online social media photo communities where we can share our work, get our work critiqued, offer feedback, and have the opportunity to bridge online communications to offline ones (in the past, you would only ever share your photos with 1-2 friends who were local)
  • Mechanical birds (planes) which allow us to travel to foreign countries, which might have taken 3-6 months by boat a few centuries ago
  • To be alive in this present moment, without any major illnesses or sicknesses (imagine all the people enduring chemotherapy, dying in hospital beds, or suffering from aids, gunshot wounds, other miserable and horrible conditions)

Okay I know I’m being a bit dramatic; but just realize that we live in the best time ever in history. Even though I’m having a shitty day, feeling depressed, or not feeling good about myself, I have nothing to complain about (my ancestors were probably dealing with hunger, famine, droughts, and death). Not only that, but the greatest blessing in modern society: the internet.

Know that we live in a “paved paradise” — that sure it isn’t all roses, flowing hills of green, and unlimited apple trees for us to survive on. But in our “paved paradise”, we have people on the streets we can photograph and interact with, we have libraries and photobook stories where we can look at images and be inspired, we have the ability to walk in public places and experience life on the streets, and to have technology (cameras) to document it.

I know I’m just babbling on, but this letter is also a reminder to myself. There are so many things that I wish for in my life, and things that I am dissatisfied about. But I need to remind myself of all the positives, not the negatives.

If we see our lives as “paved paradise” — the world is like our own jungle gym to explore, to have fun on, climb up and down, and sometimes fall off.

Paradise isn’t some far-away foreign country or city, like India, Tokyo, Paris, New York, San Francisco, or LA. Paradise isn’t some nice sandy beach, where we can drink a Corona with lime. Paradise isn’t having a little mountain cabin in the woods, surrounded by trees and deer. Paradise isn’t being a millionaire and not having to work a day of your life.

Paradise is the life we currently have. The friends that we have. The relationships that we have. The food in our fridge, the coffee we can enjoy in the morning, the camera that we currently own, and the freedom of time we have to make images. Paradise is the hug of our child, of our partner, the high-five you give a stranger, the smile that a stranger gives to you, someone letting you merge in traffic, or the one person who left you a comment or “like” on Instagram.

How to Experience Heaven on Earth

Lately I’ve been trying to practice “walking meditation” — which is essentially walking mindfully, and not being distracted.

I am constantly distracted; which prevents me from appreciating this “paved paradise” we have around us.

So I have been removing all the distractions from my life, as much as humanly possible, by trying to do fewer things in my day, to turn off my phone when I’m walking around, not listening to music while walking, and certainly not texting-while-walking.

When I practice “walking meditation”, I try to walk about half the speed I am normally used to, and I try to notice all the beautiful small details around me. The little crack in the pavement, the little birdsnest in the nook of my apartment roof, the sound of the birds chirping outside, the gentle hum of traffic passing me, the feeling of the pavement pushing against my shoes, and noticing the way that the light and shadows hit cars, peoples, and reflect.

Being able to practice “walking meditation” has also helped my photography in the sense that I can find beauty in the small details of my “boring” city (Berkeley). Once again, I suffer from the “grass is greener on the other side syndrome” (I always think I would be so much happier in San Francisco, because it is better for street photography, more people walking around, better art scene, and it is more hip).

But I need to realize that Berkeley is my paved paradise. I have everything I need here. Rather than changing where I live, I need to change my attitude. Rather than seeing what Berkeley lacks, I need to focus on seeing what Berkeley offers me; which is everything.

So friend, if you live in a boring ass place, know that there is beauty all around you– you just have to slow down, turn off your smartphone, and appreciate the small details all around you.

Also don’t feel that you have to constantly be shooting “street photography” with people in it. Hell, if you like it– shoot flowers, landscapes, macros, whatever makes you happy. Don’t worry about not being considered a “serious” photographer. Don’t even call yourself a photographer, call yourself a human being that happens to like to take photos for fun.

Don’t take photography too seriously; don’t stress yourself out, and have fun.

So instead of going out to “take photos”, just go out for a nice walk, enjoy the nice breeze, the warm sun, and bring your camera along (just in case). Perhaps stop by the local cafe, enjoy a nice coffee, and count the blessings you have in your life.

Love always,

Thursday, September 10th, finished writing @ 9:03am after a lovely v60 pour-over and espresso. Fortunately that weird throat-swelling thing isn’t happening. Reminder to self; don’t have more coffee for the rest of today.

Random life updates:

1. The beauty of being back home in Berkeley

So being back home in Berkeley has been truly wonderful and a blessing. I’ve been enjoying the “small” and “simple” things in life; spending time with friends and catching up on random chit-chat, walking around my neighborhood (with the Ricoh GR, shooting b/w high-contrast JPEG + RAW) and taking photos of rubbish on the ground and flowers, doing chin-ups in the local park, cooking new dinners for Cindy everynight (I’ve made her a pretty bomb cast-iron garlic lamb-shank and plum-sauce duck), finally had the chance to catch up on 100+ emails this morning (sorry if it took me so long to get to you, I still feel guilty because I am not able to answer the other 100+ emails that are sitting in my newsletter email inbox), reading books that I am passionate about (Steve Jobs biography is incredibly inspirational), and having my family over (recently had a lovely family dinner with my mom, my younger sister, Cindy, and both her parents).

2. Book offer on “Learn From the Masters”

Oh not sure if I told you this, but I actually got a book offer from a small book publishing company called “Rockynook” who are interested in publishing the “Learn From the Masters” book. I am going to hash out the details with them about printing, the contract, and other legal details sometime in the next few weeks. I am really excited; I hope to put a paper-back book that I am proud of, and that can bring a lot of value to the lives of others.

The thing is that there are two non-negotiables that I plan on asking for: 1) To have a free PDF edition online for free, in accordance with the ‘open source‘ philosophy and 2) For them not to own copyright of the text (I don’t think anybody, including myself, should own the ‘copyright’ to any information). If they say “no”, I will thank them for their time, probably figure out if I can self-publish this (which might be a fun opportunity), and stick in accordance with my virtue and morales.

One thing that I learned from Steve Job’s biography is to NOT COMPROMISE. Not compromise regardless of how much money companies or people try to throw out at you.

I’m not saying that corporations are trying to control me, but I need to remind myself not to “sell out”. Apparently corporations constantly approach rappers and ask them to make rap songs about their products, and offer them a shitload of money.

And friend, I am ashamed to admit that honestly, I think all the cameras I have accepted in the past (Ricoh GR, Fujifilm x100s, x100t, XT-1 + 23mm 1.4 + 27mm f/2.8 lens, Pentax K3) has made me a slave to these camera corporations. I am a selfish human being, who cannot refuse free stuff. But the problem of receiving these free cameras is that I no longer own my own opinion, and I am being consciously (or subconsciously) influenced in promoting products.

I can honestly say that I have never promoted a camera to you that I didn’t personally like. But at the same time, I realize that it is unethical for me to accept free gifts of any kind (I also get free smartphones from Samsung, which included a Galaxy S3, a S5, a S6, Note 3, Note 4) that I myself wouldn’t spend money on. And to be frank, as much as I love the Samsung phones, if I had my own money, I would just buy an iPhone.

But sorry for the random rambling– essentially what I wanted to say is that I am extremely excited for this book offer. But if they don’t allow me to print and publish this book with them and keep it “open source”, I am going to have to say no (even though I might have the potential to earn $200,000+). I’m just making up that number, but I think morally, ethically, and based on my principles– I should accept NO amount of money that wouldn’t let the information NOT be “open-source.”

But damn, it’s awfully hard rejecting money. But at the end of the day, I don’t live for myself, but I live for the community, for society, for humanity, and for you.

Anyways, will keep you in the loop friend, until next time, Godspeed!

Oh and another note: you might have noticed that I disabled the comments. I did so because I feel massive guilt not being able to read all the comments on the blog, so for now, I will keep the comments off (until the near future). Thank you for your understanding :)