Hanoi Diary #1: Leaving to Vietnam/France for 2 Years

Downtown LA, 2013
Downtown LA, 2013

Dear friend,

I’m currently at Dripp coffee shop in Fullerton, California— waiting for Cindy’s younger sister Jennifer to get out of class, then we are going to have “in and out” burger for lunch. Today is our last day in America before we move to Vietnam/France for the next 2 years, and I think this is a good chance for me to start an ongoing series of letters, journals, diary entries, and meditations. I have no idea what the next 2 years of my life is going to look like. I’m partly afraid, but partly excited. This is going to be one hell of an adventure.

Cindy and I have had an incredible summer. We’ve enjoyed 2 beautiful years at the university housing at UC Berkeley in Albany, and Cindy was able to successfully finish her oral examinations (which meant, reading around 300 books within 3 months, and getting tested on all her knowledge). I fondly remember nights where I spent quizzing her, feeding her, cleaning up the house, and supporting her.


Not only that, but things were pretty insane trying to also plan our wedding in SoCal. Plus, we needed to move out of our apartment. Thanks to the love and support of friends and family, we were able to successfully move from Berkeley down to Garden Grove (in SoCal), and stayed with Cindy’s family at their house for around 2-3 months.

The wedding was amazing, and I was glad that I photographed it. It was a beautiful chance to see all my old friends and family, and when it was over, I was relieved. Wedding planning consumed our life for around 2 months (and we were thinking about it for nearly 2 years). It was a beautiful day of our life, but I was excited to move forward.

Wedding, 2016

Cinderic Wedding-2

Cinderic Wedding-3

Cinderic Wedding-4


Cinderic Wedding-9

Cinderic Wedding-8

Cinderic Wedding-6

Cinderic Wedding-5

Cinderic Wedding-10

Knowing that we were going to leave for 2 years made every day with Cindy and her family valuable. I enjoyed every time we went to see a movie, every time we went to go eat Korean BBQ, visit the grocery store, or the mall, or any other simple pleasures of family life. I was so happy to see Cindy’s niece (Amelia) grow up, and it excited me to have a beautiful child with Cindy one day.

Living in the suburbs the last 2-3 months has been interesting— daily life is pretty much going to coffee shop to coffee shop, being stuck in traffic, and enjoying time with family. The only “exercise” I get in terms of walking is going to the mall, or shopping.

Yet my time here has been incredibly productive. I recently met with my buddy Todd Hatakeyama, who inspired me to make more YouTube videos (he encouraged daily “vlogs”). At first I used to hate being at the family house (I prefer to be outside), but I realized the benefit of being home was that I could record videos. Not only that, but I got a lot of useful suggestions from Cindy’s older sister Kim — who asked a lot of beginner questions on street photography, which gave me a lot of good ideas to record tons of videos.

Which made me realize a lesson: the importance of always staying a beginner, and having a “beginner’s mind.” The problem I’ve faced is over the years, I’ve thought too much about being an expert, that I forget the basic questions in photography. I realized I never really covered videos on technical settings in street photography, what makes a good street photograph, lighting and exposure, and other fundamentals.


Furthermore, seeing Amelia grow up as a baby was the biggest inspiration. To a child, they are always curious about the world, and always learning. To them, they are in awe of everything. But as adults, we are so jaded by the world, and unmotivated to try new things. I try to remind myself, “If I’m not busy being born and learning, I’m dying.”

Trying to figure out what to bring (and what not to bring)

The last 5-6 years after intense travels (domestic and international) I’ve become pretty minimalist when it comes to traveling. But still, I have a fear of not bringing enough stuff. I still have a problem of over-packing, but I always try to bring less than I think I need. Worst-case scenario, I can always buy things abroad.

Currently this is what I have in my backpack (ThinkTank Retrospective 15):

  • 13’’ Macbook Pro
  • Bose QC 15 Noise Cancelling headphones (I like using the microphone on this to do YouTube videos)
  • Ricoh GR II (I’ve decided to only bring a digital camera, for lightness, to practice shooting digital more. The film Leica MP is going to sit at home for the next 2 years).
  • 2x 128gb Transcend SD cards
  • 250GB flash external hard drive (from my old laptop)

In my duffel bag for clothes:

  • 3x Uniqlo Airism V-Neck Mesh Shirt (Black)
  • 3x ExOfficio Boxer Briefs (Black)
  • 3x Drymax Quick-dry running socks
  • 1x dress shirt (linen)
  • 1x Quicksilver “Amphibian” shorts
  • 1x Uniqlo “Jogger” pants (for colder weather, apparently Hanoi gets cold in the winter)
  • 1x Uniqlo Down Jacket (also plan on being in Korea/Japan in the winter)
  • 1x North Face Travel/Rain Jacket (Vietnam rains a lot)
  • 1x Gym Shorts

For my daily clothes (shirts, boxers, socks)—I just plan on washing them in the shower every night, and just hang-drying.

The first 4 weeks in Hanoi

Saigon, 2014
Saigon, 2014

2 years ago when I was in Saigon, I wrote a series called: “Saigon Diary” — sharing my daily life, thoughts, and photos.

The first 8 months in Vietnam, Cindy and I will be in Hanoi. So I guess it makes sense to make a “Hanoi diary” as well.

In terms of our schedule, it is something like this:

  • 8 months in Hanoi
  • 6 months in Saigon
  • 3 months in Paris
  • 3 months in Marseille
  • (Some other time in other places)

We have the first 4 weeks of our trip to be at a Hotel (4 star hotel, only $15 a night in Hanoi). We’re not sure whether we will end up staying in a hotel the entire time in Hanoi (it is so cheap), or whether to get an apartment.

Regardless, the best thing about living in Vietnam is that I won’t have to worry about expenses (daily living is so cheap). Which made me wonder, “If I never had to worry about money in my life— what would I do with my time, energy, and effort?”

I still have no idea what I’m going to do when I’m in Vietnam, but some ideas:

  • More writing, reading, meditating, making videos, connecting with local photographers, giving more workshops (local), giving free talks, printing photo books or portfolios, collaborating with other artists or galleries.

At the moment, the only thing I’m concerned about is internet speed in Hanoi. I know in Saigon the wifi is awesome (it is everywhere, and super-fast). Perhaps I’ll try to find a place in Hanoi with fast internet speeds (like a co-working space), so I can continue to upload videos, and be productive.

Why digital?

Saigon, 2014
Saigon, 2014

For the trip I’m not bringing my film camera, only the Ricoh GR II.


I love film, but I prefer the convenience and lightness of digital for traveling (especially living abroad). I don’t want to deal with the stress of having to keep buying film, storing the negatives, and getting them processed and scanned all the time.

I know there are a lot of great places in Hanoi to shoot film and scan it for cheap, but I feel generally — I want to transition more into shooting digitally.

For me, I am less interested in the artistry behind photography, more about the educational aspects of it— and how I can use photography as a tool to empower people.

Also, funny enough — some of my best shots have been shot digitally (on the Ricoh GR II). All of my close-up street portraits in color, many of my monochromes, and even personal photos of Cindy have been on the Ricoh— which has always been on me, ready, and trusty.

The issue I have with the Ricoh is I still can’t get the RAW files to look as good in color as I would like to. I think I just need to spend more time developing presets in Lightroom. My goal is to create the best-looking Lightroom presets for the Ricoh GR — then it would be the “perfect” camera for me.

What am I going to photograph in Vietnam?

Hanoi, 2014
Hanoi, 2014

I recently did some fashion photography, and had a good time with it. But the logistics necessary for shooting fashion put me off a little bit. I prefer having freedom, and I think what I realized is that portraiture is what I’m most interested in. It can be a “street portrait” or even a portrait of a model.

So perhaps I can do a portrait series of people in Vietnam, and perhaps chat with them. 2 summers ago, I learned some Vietnamese, and I hope to continue to keep learning how to speak. I’m not sure whether I want to do more Vietnamese classes — part of me feels that learning on the streets is the best education and use of my time. Perhaps I can use photography as an excuse to talk to locals and improve my Vietnamese?

Workshops abroad

Saigon, 2014
Saigon, 2014

I have a series of some workshops scheduled in Asia. I am really excited for them— as I feel that teaching is my #1 passion in life. While I enjoy making videos, writing — teaching and being with others face-to-face is what really lights me up.

The only thing I’m not sure about is how much teaching to do while I’m abroad. Perhaps I’ll be like a musician— spend a long time meditating, creating new content, and researching, and then go “on tour” for weeks in a row.

Oh yeah, a workshop experience you definitely do not want to miss out on in my new epic week-long travel workshop from Hanoi to Sapa Feb 8-13, 2016. It will the experience of a lifetime.


Garden Grove, 2016
Garden Grove, 2016

I’m currently reading a biography on Phil Knight (the creator of Nike) called “Shoe Dog.” The thing that inspired me the most is that he is quite inspired by Zen philosophy (like me). He also said when it came to shoes, they always aimed for lightness. More lightness meant more weight, and less weight meant more speed, and more speed meant more likelihood of success.

So I’m currently meditating about how I can add more “lightness” to my life. Lightness in terms of physical possessions in my backpack. Lightness in terms of mood and emotions. Lightness in terms of not stressing out, and learning to let things go. Lightness in terms of not being tied to a place, but being flexible.

Thank you for everything

Bien Hoa, 2014 #cindyproject
Bien Hoa, 2014 #cindyproject

Anyways, the buzz of my cold brew coffee is starting to wear off, and time to pick up Jennifer in school. Thanks for joining me in this meditation— please stay tuned for more updates.

But until then, I have a ton of blog posts and videos scheduled up — and also exciting news from Haptic Industries (stay tuned).

Lots of love,

11:07am, Monday August 29, 2016 @ Dripp coffee in Fullerton, California (with a nice nitro cold brew coffee).