Sunday, April 25, 2010

Unconditional Love

My mom came to visit and stay with me for this past weekend. It was the first time she was seeing my new place after I had moved in September. I know she's been worried about how I've been after everything that's happened and she wanted to make sure I was living well and surrounded by good people.

I picked her up on Friday evening from the xe do (Vietnamese bus transportation). When she walked in the house, she was immediately impressed by how calm it felt, which was the exact feeling I had when I first saw it. I took her bags upstairs and gave her a brief tour, because my roommate was sleeping by this time.

The next morning, we woke up early to eat some breakfast. She was able to meet my roommate, who I consider an older sister and a kinder soul. While all three of us were talking and joking around, my mom looked at the both of us and said, "You know, when you two go out, people probably always think you're sisters." This only solidified the connection we have always felt with each other.

The plan was to go to the beach and take a walk, however, I managed to end up on Second Street in Long Beach. So I decided to give here a driving tour of my new work place in Laguna Hills instead. I showed her the mountains and hills that I love so much each and everyday I drive by and get to see and the office building. After wards, I took her to Diamond Jamboree to get some pastries and do grocery shopping at the Korean mart.

It was a lot of fun pushing the cart around and helping my mom pick out food for her to bring back to Northern California. I pointed out foods I have tried before and wanted her to try as well. It had been a long time since I've done grocery shopping with her, and it felt nice to be able to contribute opinions and suggestions to her.

By the time we were done, we were hungry and ready for some lunch. I called my roommate to let her know we were ready to meet her at Brodard, a Vietnamese restaurant in Little Saigon. They are famous for their spring rolls and I couldn't wait for my mom to try them. I suggested she get both styles of the rolls, the grilled pork and the grilled prawns. She really enjoyed both styles. I highly suggest all the rolls to anyone who enjoys the fresh Vietnamese food is and all the vegetables and flavors we use in the food.

After we had gone home to freshen up, we headed into China Town in Los Angeles to do shopping. I learned something new about my mother, she is VERY good at haggling with the vendors. She doesn't do it because she's cheap, she does it because she likes the banter of it and always made the vendors laugh and they couldn't say no. We managed to save a couple dollars, but watching it unfold was priceless.

I picked up a mini "money tree" to put into my office. These are considered lucky when you are in a new establishment, and I wanted to accumulate all the luck I can get! My mom bought a few sweater vests for my grandma and hats for my cousin, and we both considered it a very good shopping excursion.

We drove to West Hollywood to the DGA Theatre for the Film Festival. I met my friend there who had tickets and we got settled into the plush red seats. The last movie I had seen in the theater with my mother was Titanic, so this was a nice treat to share the experience with her. The movie, L'Arnacoeur (The Heart Breaker) was well done and my mom and I both really enjoyed it.

By the time the movie was over, it was getting close to dinner time. We decided to go back to Orange County to eat there. I wanted her to eat something different than Vietnamese food so we ate Tofu Soon, which is traditional tofu dish from Korea. She was surprised at all the side dishes that came with the meal and we picked through the little plates of pickled cucumbers and sauteed bean sprouts.
(Garden Grove, April 2009, iPhone)
Shopping at a few more shops followed dinner and by the time we were done, we were both tired from all the events of the day.

Today I wanted to make sure my mom was able to go to the beach, so we picked up banh mi op la (Vientamese egg sandwich) and Vietnamese coffee and headed down PCH towards Laguna Beach. I wanted to show my mom my special spot that I have gone to a few times, and each time I do, I always come back with a clearer mind and calmer soul.

When we walked down to the cove, my mom took a deep breath and said it was very pretty and peaceful. The tide was higher today, so there were a few groups of scuba divers in the distant. We sat side by side on a rock and ate our sandwiches while we watched the waves break.
(Laguna Beach, April 2009, iPhone)
We wandered the shore for a bit. I was picking through broken mussel shells looking for small rocks. The burnt brown color of this rock stood out to me against its gray background.
(Laguna Beach, April 2009, iPhone)
I pulled out my Canon SLR to take a few pictures of my mom. I can't wait to see what the pictures will looked like once they are developed. As we stood side by side, I reached over and hugged her closely. It has been a hard transition for my mom to have me leave home almost two years ago and I know she struggles with the fact that I'm not there daily. I have also missed my mom a lot and although we are not that far away from each other, I needed to embrace her at that moment. I took a picture of us immediately after to preserve our weekend together.
(Laguna Beach, April 2009, iPhone)
We visited a few Buddhist temples after wards to assure her I was close enough to them if I chose to go to them. By the time we were done with lunch in Little Saigon it was time for her to go back and pack to get ready to leave.

When I dropped my mom at the bus, I waited until she boarded safely and drove away. I missed my mom right after I hugged her and she boarded.

I met with my friend after for a workout at the gym. While driving home from Irvine, I turned off the radio and drove in silence to reflect the whole weekend. And slowly, tears started flowing down my face as I thought about my mother. I am tearing up as I right this as well.

At that moment, I really and truly understood the level of love a mother has for her child and I began sobbing as I thought about how my mom has always been there for me through my whole life. No matter how many arguments we've had, how many times I have told her to stop nagging me about things, she was always there. This weekend was the first time we have spent time one on one time together, and I was able to see a side of her I rarely see. She was just my mom, not mom and wife when my dad was around or mom and daughter when my grandma was around. This was just us and the impact it had on me was not what I was expecting.

Since the break up last summer, I have built a wall around my heart to protect it from really feeling affection because I equated it with pain. But slowly as time has gone on, I have opened up bit by bit, but today, everything came down, because I truly understood the meaning of unconditional love. My mom's love will never be duplicated nor found in anyone else and when I realized that, my heart hurt from all the times I was mad or annoyed at her. Because unlike many, even if we argue or get upset, she will never stop loving me.

All the love I thought I felt before with past friends and lovers pale in comparison with what I realized tonight. Those were conditional and ended when conditions were not met. A mother's love is truly unconditional and we take it for granted at times. My mother will always be the only one whom despite all the mistakes I have done and all the disappointments I caused her, she still sees me as someone special.

As I was crying and driving (safely, I promise), I thought of an article I read years ago that was an essay by a woman who had lost her mother. The one quote I remember from that was when she said, "I realized at that moment when she passed was I just lost the one person in the world who will always love me unconditionally."

In ending, I encourage you to reach out your mom. Spend a day or a weekend with her and take the time to learn things about her because she wants to get to know you too. And if your mom has passed, talk to her, she is always listening and watching out for you.

Good night...

Friday, April 23, 2010


 (Irvine, April 2010, iPhone)
 I've been putting so much pressure on myself lately with my photography that I end up not posting anything. I have been thinking about this way too hard. What started out as a personal journal for me to post my photography has become a dread at times because I never felt as though I had anything to show, when I forgot, this is for me to show what I take. Yes, sometimes the pictures will not be as ideal as I want, but it's all a part of being an artist and growing. Sometimes we have to work through our rough patches to get to the good stuff. How can I grow if I am constantly holding myself back through fear and hesitation.

After a few moments of serious doubt in my photography and where I want it to go, I realized, this is a love, a passion of mine and I am doing a great disservice to myself by not doing anything at all due to fear and self doubt.

I named this my Photo Journey, and it should be a journey, through the good, bad and great. I want to be able to look back at this and remember the moment the picture was captured and I strayed from that fact by pressuring myself to only put up the most perfect picture I could find of my batch while my boxes of pictures started piling up, my card reader became filled and my phone (my beloved iPhone) held thousands of images.

So this is my rebirth of my passion. This is my place to post images I have captured, same mission, different approach. These are moments in my life captured through all forms of cameras, from my 35mm SLR, point and shoot, DSLR, Hasselblad and phone...and whatever else falls into my hands.

I want to continue to always discover and grow as a person, as an artist. I'm taking this back, this is mine, my life, my moments and my time.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Day 221: Symbols and Figures

(Chicago, March 2010)

I visited Chicago about two weeks ago and visited the Art Institute Museum. This was one of my "had to see" spots when I was planning my trip. I took the train in from my aunt's house, which was about 45 minutes outside Chicago. With my iPhone in hand and Googlemaps pulled up, I was ready to explore.

Upon reaching the museum, the size of it and the architecture alone was amazing and beautiful. I checked in my coat and camera bag and began my self guided tour.

I stayed in the second level the longest, which featured Asian art. It was split into three sections, Chinese, Japanese and Indian. What fascinated me the most in the Chinese section were artifacts found inside coffins. The Chinese would line the coffin with large jade disks. The reason for these are debatable. Some say it's for the sky and heavens, others say it's for protection.

Jade is a huge part of the Chinese culture, which has influenced the Vietnamese culture heavily. My grandmother, aunts and mom each own jade jewelry. My mother gifted me a jade prayer bracelet a few weeks ago and it is very special to me. Jade is a very resilient gemstone that cannot be molded by the usual tools, but has to be grind down. Luck and protection are some things that have been associated with jade.

After I finished with the Chinese section, I made my way to the Indian section. The whole floor was filled with statutes of Buddha and bodhivista. Internally, I was confused. I felt the need to bow to these sacred statues, but here they were, put on displayed to be regarded as a work of art.

I sat down a few times to take everything. To many, these may have looked interesting and fascinating, to me, it was sacred. I imagined the temples these came from, and wondered what was left of them. I know some were rescued from destruction due to wars and for that I am grateful for. I imagined the people who used to visit these statues and wonder how they felt when they first saw them.

It wasn't until I made my way down to the end of the exhibit did I see the Buddha statue, the photograph at beginning of this post. It was truly amazing to see and I felt drawn to it.

I was born into a Buddhist family and attended the temple services every weekend. However, along the way, I chose to go a different path and find what religion means to me. I questioned whether Buddhism was for me and spent a few years studying and attending services of other religions to see if I had a connection. It wasn't until this past year, did I choose to study and delve deeply in Buddhism. Now, I feel a stronger connection to it, and when I saw this statue, I felt that pull that I can only describe as my heart strings connecting with something greater. I felt a familiar sense of calm as I've always do when I step into a temple with the smell of incense in the air. I stood there for a long time taking in the serenity of it. Others stopped by to look at it, commenting on what a beautiful piece of art it was. For me, it was a different. It was a religious connection.

As I stood there, a woman walked by and put her foot up on the platform to tie her shoes. I was slightly insulted by a display of disrespect, but I thought about context. We were not in a temple, but a museum, and to many, these were just pieces of art. Just as I see sculptures of Buddha's head in homes displayed to be part of their "zen" theme. This, I find disrespectful and insulting, but then people take crosses and use them as decorations for their necklaces or designs. These are all symbols that mean something to some and nothing to others.

When removing these figures from their religious surroundings, they are free to be interpreted by others. Buddhist statues were not produced until thousands of years after his passing. His figure is not for us to idolize. He represents a state in which we should aspire to be at, a stage of enlightenment.

We use symbols and statues to give us tangible figures to relate to. But as Buddha has taught us, all that is around us will be gone one day and we cannot take it with us. The statues will crumble, the temples will fall, but what we believe in, what we feel and connect to and what we think is the meaning of it all, will remain with us.

Before leaving the statue, I stood in front of it, brought my hands to prayer, closed my eyes and bowed.