When old dear friends reach out // serendipity and life choices

  • Her: Hey! When are you gonna be in Europe? [Redacted] and I just decided to spend three months in France. I'm going to be working on building a digital monastery and she's going to work on the monastery's farm! We might have two weeks off in early Aug
  • Me: Wow! That's major news!
  • Her: Yes, fun and a great spiritual foundation for us!!! So excited to be invited by the brothers and sisters.
  • Me: How's [redacted]? How's her life plans?
  • Her: Excited to be working n a farm. Gonna do stuff with food, just doesn't know what. How r u?
  • Me: Woa you crazy kids. I turned 35 today, not sure what that means
  • Her: Damn I am so happy. U know what a freaking honor it is to be invited to work on this project?!
  • Me: And I'm tip toeing into my love of food and history
  • Her: Yeah I know I love ur blog and book project!!! Forwarded to a few friends. Wait! What? Happy birthday you old fart
  • Me: Ha! What's your internal anchor? Center point? jeez. Farming sounds incredibly awesome
  • Her: Fuk u know how hard the last months have been?
  • Me: Yeah I can guess
  • Her: I refuse to live a lifestyle I don't buy into. So sometimes I see myself falling into that trap. And I just try to stay open.... And follow my heart. Really totally ignore my head... And listen and watch the signs around me. Other people guide me a lot!
  • Me: Heh, yes.
  • Her: I'm rooting for you too!
  • Me: We shall see but I'd rather things be hard but have someone there with me and a goal worth fighting for than easy and live half asleep
  • Her: Ok! Happy bday!
  • Me: ok thanks for letting me know xoxo sending you good vibes all the way to SUMMER IN FRANCE
  • Her: Ciao!
  • Me: Au revoir!

It was 2006. Dusty and sweltering in Hanoi. I was hacking it as a travel writer after quitting 4 jobs in 5 years post graduation.

Vietnamese television piped only a few English language stations through the Star Asia network at the time.  CNN International. Star Movies. MTV. It was the final days where music videos could ask for advertisers’ loose change.

On a loop every 45 minutes was Korn, Jay-Z, Robbie Williams, James Blunt, Jack Johnson, Jamie Cullum and Oasis.

I watched this Oasis video of “Let There Be Love” whenever it came on. The fan whirred half-heartedly. The flies too tired to fly. I, mesmerized.

Lyrical.

The lyrics were treacle, but the video was on point. This was the tail end of Oasis’s greatness as a band. Already there were signs of fracture. But in slow motion and black and white, everything is sublime.

My idled brain rewound and fast forwarded the video daily, sculpting it to my own tastes, trying to pick the lock at why I was fascinated by a bland pop song.

Augmented chords were always a favorite of mine.  The bridge was a welcomed shock to the general malaise of the melody. The lyrics had bits of  imagery to float despite the heavy sentimentality: “hole in the sky”, “world come undone at the seams”.

There was a point after the first verse where you expected a reversion back to the initial hook — but instead, the chord progression kept climbing and climbing and up and up until it just grazed the canvas. I’m reminded of that scene in the Truman Show where Jim Carrey sailed the boat as far out as he could, survived the storm and crashed into the very real, very tangible horizon. I could imagine the band saying “fuck it, let’s just get to the climax sooner than later” when they composed the song.

Perhaps I liked the start of things too much. The “let there be love” refrain was the weakest part of the song - but how the song started, with the lyrical imagery, with the off-melody, with the confident, even aggressive, attitude of “Here I am, everyone is at class, but I’m sitting outside smoking a cigarette contemplating bigger things”, worked. The beginning 1/3 saved the rest.

If I heard it on the radio, I wouldn’t be captivated.  There’s a reason why music videos were so popular in the 90s that goes beyond the mechanics of technology or distribution: as media objects, they’re wonderful pieces of emotional narrative. The visuals grabbed me then, as they do now. This video was one of the early markers in my adult life, and it pointed me toward a love affair with photography and video ever since. 

I loved most the shots of undulating crowds. Alone in my Hanoi apartment, I missed the US - my friends, my family, my culture - terribly.  And I missed my college years, even then. Already, nostalgia was a blanket I carried too comfortably. I missed having friends nearby. To belong. The crowds, frenzied in real time, was rapturous in slow motion.

There was a funny bit at the climax where only the legs of a guy upside down in the mosh area was visible. What was going through the director’s mind there?

The song was aspirational. Preachy even. The band, disintegrating. The crowds didn’t care. The video got to the essence.

2006 was a good year.

Alaric and I started SelfieIM a few months ago as a fun little experiment. We’ve been blown away by the response. It’s now a fun daily habit for so many dedicated people around the world.

What’s next? Oh man, I am excited! It is the biggest idea we’ve ever had. 

Soooooon.

The Burma files:

Christen and I bought a one way pass on the ancient Burmese railway from the hill station of Maymyo in December on a lark. We bounced up and down the hard seats for the day, and its a wonder the train didn’t fall off the tracks, but in return, we were rewarded with incredible once in a lifetime views.  

A highlight was the Goteik viaduct - a man-made structure that shouldn’t  be safe to travel across but somehow still is standing after all these years.

As a traveler, nothing really beats the view and experience from a train.

In December, christenduong and I dropped by a Palaung village classroom in the highlands of Burma.

It’s not every day that you can wake up before dawn, head out to a sapphired lake, and hang out with fishermen doing their thing as they’ve done for generations - casting nets with their hands and paddling with their feet.  
The first thoughts that came into my head was “how silly does growth hacking seem” when I’m watching these guys go through their perfect dances, followed by “there is a line between fishing and growth hacking”, followed by “I want to punch myself in the face” followed by “shut up brain, and enjoy the moment”.
Off the grid, indeed.

It’s not every day that you can wake up before dawn, head out to a sapphired lake, and hang out with fishermen doing their thing as they’ve done for generations - casting nets with their hands and paddling with their feet.  

The first thoughts that came into my head was “how silly does growth hacking seem” when I’m watching these guys go through their perfect dances, followed by “there is a line between fishing and growth hacking”, followed by “I want to punch myself in the face” followed by “shut up brain, and enjoy the moment”.

Off the grid, indeed.