Berkeley Reflections 2016

Berkeley, 2016
Berkeley, 2016

Dear friend,

I only got two weeks left in Berkeley. Here are some reflections I have in life and my time here, before I head off to Vietnam for around 2 years.

Cherish everyday

Berkeley, 2016
Berkeley, 2016

In the past, I had a severe case of “wanderlust”— I was dissatisfied with my life, and I felt that somehow traveling and seeing the world would cure my nagging sense of discontentment.

In reality, traveling didn’t cure my life’s problems. When I came back home, I was still the same person as I was when I left.

Of course traveling helped expand my world, and learn certain “truths.” For example, people are more similar than dissimilar. Every country thinks that their people are less friendly than other countries. In reality, we are all loving and friendly people— part of one global community.

Furthermore, traveling helped me get beyond my American mind— I realized that other cultures had certain values that I was able to integrate more to my American life (subtlety in thought, focus on the family, and being less opinionated).

I’m also grateful for all the amazing friends I’ve made while I traveled— you guys rock.

Make the best out of today

My mom and Cindy's mom having fun in Paris, 2015
My mom and Cindy’s mom having fun in Paris, 2015

But coming back home— I realize that we need to take things one day at a time. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We don’t know whether we will get laid off our job, get a new job offer that will relocate us to somewhere else, we don’t know if we have an “oops baby”, whether we get a book deal, whether our photos go viral, whether we injure ourselves, or whether we get some sort of fatal diagnosis.

Everyday it is a constant struggle for me to find satisfaction and a sense of purpose in my life. But rather than stressing about all this— I’ve found that just being grateful for everything has brought me more tranquility and peace.

For example, I’m grateful for Uber— the fact that I no longer have a car, but I’m able to easily travel from point A to point B. I’m grateful for the internet— giving me access to all of humanity’s knowledge (without having to step into a library). I’m grateful for all my loving friends and family— for the love they give me, and also the love I can offer them.

I’m grateful for this blog— to have a platform to share some of my personal thoughts, and have the chance to empower other photographers.

I’m grateful for the fact that we live in a society where we’ve got rid of (almost all) fatal diseases, that we’re able to feed ourselves on relatively little, and everything is so cheap and affordable nowadays (except maybe for housing).

Above all, I’m grateful for life. I’m grateful that I’m alive, and I have a body that is working okay, that I can use my energy to help mankind.

## Who knows what is going to happen?

Cindy making linocuts at home. Berkeley, 2016
Cindy making linocuts at home. Berkeley, 2016

We’re always taught that procrastination is a bad thing— but in some ways procrastination can be a good thing. Sometimes by delaying something as much as possible, the decision tends to make itself, and things are taken care of.

When I first moved to Berkeley 2 years ago (after living in Michigan for about 1.5 years), I had no idea what life here had in store for me.

I was lucky that I met one of my closest friends in Berkley, Walter, who also shares a love of coffee and photography (and film).

I’m grateful for my friend Brandon, and how chill he is, and how I feel like I can share everything on my mind with him.

I’m grateful for my best friends Justin and Grace; how they’ve been through me through all the thick and thin, and how excited they were when I decided to move back. I’m also grateful for all the time I’ve been able to spend with them.

I’m grateful for all the time I’ve been able to spend with Cindy at UC Berkeley— for all the good coffee at the new “Equator” coffee shop on campus, and the super fast wifi necessary to upload all these new e-books I’ve published.

I’m grateful for the SF/Bay Area photo community— there are too many to name, you guys know who you are. You all inspired me to take my photography to new heights, and all the students who have come to the workshops— you keep my passion alive.

Family comes first

Family snapshot
Family snapshot. Lake Tahoe, 2015

Above all, I’m most grateful to spend more time with my mom and family. As time goes on, I think my #1 takeaway point is that family comes first. My mom is starting to get older (she just turned 60 recently), and she is the most amazing individual in my life. She is the one who struggled with 3-part time jobs to get my ass through high school, and supported the family. She has endured mental and physical abuse, and her strength, magnanimity, and perseverance truly inspire me.

I’m also grateful for all the powerful women I’ve been influenced in my life— from my mom, grandma, teachers, Cindy, her friends, and friends. I am excited that my future children will live in a world with more gender-equality. If I have a boy, I want to teach him to respect women. If I have a girl, I want to teach her to stay empowered and never second-guess herself.

Personal photography

Berkeley, 2015
Berkeley, 2015

In terms of photography, I’ve been shooting less “street photography” in the traditional sense— in the sense that I spend most of my time in Berkeley just going to coffee shops, having lunch with Cindy, and doing domestic stuff at home. But I’m starting to savor and enjoy the beauty in the “boring” and mundane parts of everyday life— that every personal moment is precious.

I’ve loved just photographing Cindy, and using my camera as a tool to appreciate the gifts of my life. At the end of my life, I know the photos of my friends and loved ones will matter a million times more than any photos I’ve shot of strangers.

The camera as a tool of love

Busan, 2013
Busan, 2013

I think before I leave Berkeley, what I want to do is to spend as much time with friends and family as possible. While my work is very important to me, I’m realizing that because I’ll probably be away for 2 years— who knows if this is the last time I’ll ever see them.

So friend, cherish your friends, family, loved ones, and community. And use your camera as a tool to show appreciation and love.


Sunday, May 1, 2016 @ Philz Coffee, Berkeley

Learn about “personal photography”

Fort Bragg, 2015 #cindyproject
Fort Bragg, 2015 #cindyproject
  1. The “Personal Photography” Manifesto
  2. A Photographer’s Search For Meaning
  3. How to Find Your Passion in Photography
  4. Find out What to Photograph, Not How
  5. Why Do You Take Photos?
  6. Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself
  7. Do You Like Your Own Photos?
  8. Simple Contentment
  9. The Cindy Project
  10. The Things That Matter Most
  11. The Point Isn’t to Be a Good Photographer, But to Enjoy Life
  12. How to Make More Interesting Photos
  13. Social Media 4.0
  14. Express Yourself
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