A Journey Through Southeast Asia

A fisherman on his boat at Ubien Bridge | Yangon, Myanmar

A fisherman on his boat at Ubien Bridge | Yangon, Myanmar

Muddy rivers, mountainous views, smiling people in villages. The longest drives I have ever taken, the constant smell of fish, rice shared over long tables, a familiar culture spoken in an unfamiliar tongue. These are my memories of Southeast Asia.

I spent three weeks traveling across Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand volunteering as a photographer for In Better Hands — a non-profit organization that helps trafficked children or children in danger of being trafficked in the area. I visited local churches, villages and safe homes located deep in the mountains and rural areas. It was one of the most difficult trips I have taken as an adult and one that I will not forget too soon.

I learned about Cambodia, the corruption related to human trafficking, and the poverty that results in children being sold by their parents. I traveled across Myanmar and learned about the ongoing civil war that has been raging in the country for 70 years. I read about the Rohingya refugees that are still under persecution and visited safe homes that used to be war zones a decade ago. I photographed children in safe homes that were lost without names and family as a result of the war. The hardest part of Thailand was witnessing young women that were just like me, working on the streets working in occupations that pretty much broke my heart. The worst was understanding that the trafficking industry is largely supported by tourists like you and me.

Group photo of a safe home in Tachileik, Myanmar. Each home consists of a pair of house parents and 10–12 children that are brought in from each area.

Group photo of a safe home in Tachileik, Myanmar. Each home consists of a pair of house parents and 10–12 children that are brought in from each area.

Girl with Thanaka makeup(Burmese sunscreen). Everyone wore traditional clothing for the photo shoot

Girl with Thanaka makeup(Burmese sunscreen). Everyone wore traditional clothing for the photo shoot

During my trip, I experienced a lot of self-doubt. A lot of wondering “How can something like this exist in the world?”. Some days it felt like the injustice was too much to take in and the easier thing to do would be to stay in my room and refuse to acknowledge these terrible truths. Yet as a photographer and someone who was raised half of my life in Asia  — I felt a sense of responsibility to share about what goes on outside the comfort of our daily lives.

Documenting a safe home in Pyin Oo Lwin village, Myanmar. Many of these children lost their homes to due to the civil war that has been going for the last 70 years. Most of these children don’t know their names, age or where they are from.

Documenting a safe home in Pyin Oo Lwin village, Myanmar. Many of these children lost their homes to due to the civil war that has been going for the last 70 years. Most of these children don’t know their names, age or where they are from.

Despite the harsh conditions — my photo shoots were filled with the brightest of smiles

Despite the harsh conditions — my photo shoots were filled with the brightest of smiles

The things I took away from this trip was that is was okay with not be comfortable, and understanding that it will always be a challenge working on issues that are easier to ignore. I grew in empathy and listening to people that are from cultures different than mine. I grew in compassion   for people that live in places far away and for people that are close to home.

The beautiful Khutodaw Pagoda in Mandalay, Myanmar

The beautiful Khutodaw Pagoda in Mandalay, Myanmar

Kitty resting in the sun

Kitty resting in the sun

Southeast Asia was beautiful. It is a place that is raw, mysterious, and pure. There were moments where I found contentment walking through the countless pagodas, scouting locations, and enjoying the hospitality of the locals. There are beautiful places that are yet to be touched by western culture. It is a place where people value simple things — family, food, shelter. A job to provide all the above.

To conclude, I am encouraged coming back to North America. People have asked me what I took away from this trip. My answer is — be here now, be present, love people that are in your life now. Read Everybody, Always by Bob Goff. Start where you are.

Travel is really understanding that that world is immensely beautiful and broken. It is finding an urgency and purpose in creating beauty and knowing that your voice matters. It is making a choice to keep reflecting what is good, beautiful and true.

It’s going to be good.

Sunset at Ubien Bridge, Mandalay

Sunset at Ubien Bridge, Mandalay

Learn more about my GoFundMe project here or directly support the organization In Better Hands here.

Postcards from New York

A quiet moment from Washington Square Park, NYC

A quiet moment from Washington Square Park, NYC

Hello from Taipei, Taiwan!

I have this funny feeling that I have to be in a new city before I can process and write about the previous one. It is wonderful being back in Taipei. There is much inspiration in revisiting old places and some days it feels like I never left. Although it is interesting living in the grey area between a local and a foreigner — I have never felt more clarity that I am in the right city at this time of my life.

This season will be spent working on a personal projects (hint: hedgehog book) while taking on freelance photo shoots. Between jet lag, stuffing my face with Taiwanese eats, waking up super early and navigating this familiar and unfamiliar city — I am slowly discovering a handful of local and international creatives. Excited for the next season and trying not to book a flight to Japan anytime soon.

Sunset with Lady Liberty from Brooklyn Bridge Park

Sunset with Lady Liberty from Brooklyn Bridge Park

Now, back to New York City — the city of creativity, art, thunderstorms, scorching metro systems, and galleries you can spend a lifetime exploring with crowds as dense as any major Asian city.

Studio visits with    @yokocca

Studio visits with @yokocca

I love a social media friendship turned into an afternoon of conversation with homemade jam and chiffon cake. It was a delight being able to visit Yoko's studio tucked away across the water in the quiet of Long Island City.

Akari and Kaisei are the most adorable active kids. I could have spent a long time taking photos of them.

Akari and Kaisei are the most adorable active kids. I could have spent a long time taking photos of them.

artist_portrait_C3_brooklyn_new_york_city_portraits-1.jpg

Della Orrey — my talented musician friend and sister in Christ. It was inspiring getting to see her work at C3 Brooklyn. Getting to experience New York from a local's perspective was also an eye opening experience though I got reprimanded a couple of times for being too much of a tourist.

The talented    Mark Leubbers    at Le Labo in Williamsburg

The talented Mark Leubbers at Le Labo in Williamsburg

Chasing light on the streets of New York. The light and shadow on fire escapes get me every. single. time.

Chasing light on the streets of New York. The light and shadow on fire escapes get me every. single. time.

Interiors from the Guggenheim. I love you Frank Lloyd.

Interiors from the Guggenheim. I love you Frank Lloyd.

Shop visits with    Natala Nalata

Shop visits with Natala Nalata

It was wonderful meeting the shop owner and fellow Canadian in the city. The ceramic exhibition from husband and wife — Momoko and Tetsuya Otani was also a pleasure to experience.

iced_matcha_new_york_city.jpg

I am really getting into matcha these days and New York had so many matcha shops to offer. My favourites — Cha Cha Matcha and Ippudo New York.

Next week I will be heading down South to tropical Kenting for a creative retreat. I look forward to spending time by the ocean, getting my feet in some white sand and unwind from the last season of work and travel.

Till next time x

Photos from Bangladesh: A Campaign with World Vision Canada

An afternoon on the streets of Dhaka

An afternoon on the streets of Dhaka

I remember my first day waking up in Dhaka. The world's most densely populated city with 14 million people—a city filled with blaring horns, faded concrete walls, the smell of dust, yellow curry and the serene calls of prayer five times a day.

I had partnered with World Vision Canada on their No Child For Sale campaign where we would visit area development projects in the slums of Bangladesh and visit communities deep in the country. Our goal was to gather resources on child labour involved in the supply chain and how it leads back to consumers in North America.

I remember visiting countless night schools, interviewing five-year-olds that worked as waste pickers on garbage mountains and meeting children with stories that seemed too brutal to exist. Along the way, I was also cared for by staff that treated me like family and meet people that were working as hard as they possibly could to improve those situations.

When I tell people that I have travelled to Bangladesh most people reply with "Why would you go there? It's so chaotic and dirty." or "You must feel super grateful now when you see the way people live there." Both are true and both are perceptions that barely scratch the surface of what is real and what it was like being there.

Mukta and Bhabna both worked as waste pickers at a very young age to help their families. Through attending the learning centre that World Vision partners with, they were able to learn skills and pass exams to enter the local school system. Mukta wants to be teacher and Bhabna wants to be a doctor. Both of them love being able to attend school.

Mukta and Bhabna both worked as waste pickers at a very young age to help their families. Through attending the learning centre that World Vision partners with, they were able to learn skills and pass exams to enter the local school system. Mukta wants to be teacher and Bhabna wants to be a doctor. Both of them love being able to attend school.

dhaka_bangladesh_no_child_for_sale_world_vision_canada.jpg
Children from the village and visiting boys that work at machinery shops in Jessore.

Children from the village and visiting boys that work at machinery shops in Jessore.

Creatively, this trip really made me realize the beauty of photography and how it gives me the ability to document stories and be a voice for people that need to be heard. Along the way, I also realized that it was less about me fulfilling my creative vision but about being a person that cared more than taking a great photo and walking away.

I remember being anxious about how gruesome the environment was and doubting my ability to pull off the project. This trip really stretched that idea and my hope for these photos is to share snapshots of beauty I found in this country and translate what it was like meeting the Bangladeshi people in real life.

jessore_bangladesh_no_child_for_sale_world_vision_canada.jpg
Babu and Sabir, two brothers we met in Chila while visiting a group of porter boys. During our visit, Babu never let go of Sabir's hand and piggy-backed his younger brother from the bus station all the way to our shoot location.

Babu and Sabir, two brothers we met in Chila while visiting a group of porter boys. During our visit, Babu never let go of Sabir's hand and piggy-backed his younger brother from the bus station all the way to our shoot location.

To think that you can love someone you’ve met for 10 minutes and care for a nation of kids on the other side of the world is impossible. But I want to share that the Bangladeshi people I met there were people just like you and me. They are warm, they are welcoming, they are funny. They love, they get frustrated over daily life and they love ice cream. They don’t view their living situations the way we do but work at it every day with much dignity and love for those around them.

Tanya lost her mother to a remarriage nine years when her father was blinded during a terrible incident. Since then, Tanya works night shifts from at the shrimp factory to support her handicapped father and younger sister. Tanya lead our team in a terrific Bollywood dance during our visit and says she dreams of being a dancer one day.

Tanya lost her mother to a remarriage nine years when her father was blinded during a terrible incident. Since then, Tanya works night shifts from at the shrimp factory to support her handicapped father and younger sister. Tanya lead our team in a terrific Bollywood dance during our visit and says she dreams of being a dancer one day.

What I am trying to point out is that these trips have given me a capacity for compassion and boldness to talk about issues that seem better kept in the dark. The decision to go on this trip was to challenge myself and take on a project I believed in; knowing that I had to be prepared, to be honest about my experience and have the courage to speak out. Now that I know about these things, it seems quite foolish to stay silent.

bangladesh_world_vision_canada_child_labour.jpg
Visiting girls at the shrimp processing depot. These girls spend long hours picking shrimp heads in this tiny dark space.

Visiting girls at the shrimp processing depot. These girls spend long hours picking shrimp heads in this tiny dark space.

bangladesh_world_vision_canada_child_labour.jpg
Children we met at the villages in Khulna. These boys spend long hours in the water collecting shrimp larva that they sell to shrimp farms which are later exported. Every day, these children face the dangers of water snakes, floods and malnutrition while making less than a dollar a day.

Children we met at the villages in Khulna. These boys spend long hours in the water collecting shrimp larva that they sell to shrimp farms which are later exported. Every day, these children face the dangers of water snakes, floods and malnutrition while making less than a dollar a day.

There is a deep imbalance about the way we live in developed worlds and the way people live in countries like Bangladesh. After putting a face to these stories and knowing these people that can use our support, I believe that we should all do our part in creating change.

A simple decision can really make a great impact on a child’s life. There are children working in terrible situations and getting paid half of what they deserve because they are young and in situations that make them very vulnerable. By refusing to support brands who are not transparent about their manufacturing process, you might be giving a child a chance to go to school, to make their own decision in marriage and a chance to have a better life.

world_vision_canada_child_labour_campaign.jpg

My travels in developing worlds have taught to be more aware of brands I support as well as educate myself and others about transparency in goods we consume. To learn more about the campaign I worked on, visit www.nochildforsale.ca and see on how you can take part in creating change.

Toronto City Guide: 10 places to eat, visit and photograph

cn_tower_visit_toronto_canada.jpg

Taking in the city from the CN Tower

The last time I was in Toronto was two decades ago when my parents took us on a family holiday to Niagara Falls shortly after we moved to Canada. I remember being drenched in my raincoat under the falls and the thrill of knowing I was in a place where everything seemed new and exciting. It was wonderful to be back and experience the city as an adult, this time accompanied by my camera.

Toronto was fast-paced, it was cold, grey and diverse. I stayed in the heart of downtown where high rises loomed like giraffes and everyone seemed like they had a place to go. The city felt a little overwhelming for a newcomer but the temptation to explore was far too great to keep me at home. I loved the excitement of knowing there was so much to see and enjoyed discovering the pockets of peace and quiet in a bustling city.

Here are a few of my favorite places:

baddies_cafe_toronto.png

Eat

1. Baddies Cafe

The story behind Baddies is that Alex (the owner) found himself with the space after his dad passed away without realizing his dream of opening a cafe. Needless to say, that was exactly what Alex did. The words "You Beauty" written on the walls are favorite quotes from his dad, whom you can find in photographs on the cafe walls. The chia pudding tasted as delicious as it looked and the smashed avocado on polenta with chili jam reminded me of India and all that is well in the world.

the_drake_hotel_toronto_brunch.jpg

2. The Drake Hotel

I have always been a fan of The Drake General Store and was extra excited to visit the hotel known for brunch and quirky interiors. The chicken and waffles were delicious and meant to be shared with at least two friends.

art_gallery_of_ontario_toronto.png

See

3. Art Gallery of Ontario

The AGO was by far my favorite place in the city with it's an abundance of exhibitions, the beautiful space designed by architect Frank Gehry with a little cafe to sit and watch the city go by. If you are an art nerd like me don't miss out on the AGO.

aga_khan_museum_toronto_ontario.png

4. Aga Khan Museum

I could have spent an entire day at the Aga Khan marveling at the architecture and reading books on Persian folklore in the museum library. I am always amazed by the intricacy of middle eastern art and the space is beautiful with a great curation of artifacts and modern Islamic and Persian Art. The museum is a trip out of the city but definitely worth the trip.

toronto_sugar_beach.jpg

5. Sugar Beach

I am in love with the water and look for it wherever I go. Here I found a peaceful corner of Toronto and stood here taking in the sunset, beautiful even in the cold of winter. I can imagine coming here often in the summer.

university_of_toronto_chapel_visit_toronto.jpg

6. University of Toronto

The interiors of the Trinity Chapel was what drew me to this location. There is so much history about the campus grounds and the university felt like another city to explore in itself. The campus is best to walk around with a local friend.

Do

7. CN Tower

If it's your first time visiting Toronto I recommend checking out the cityscape and nearby islands from 180 floors up in the sky. The view is breathtaking and the CN Tower is next to the Aquarium which makes it a great outing for families and children.

8. Ripley's Aquarium

If you love sea animals and fish Ripley's is your ideal place to visit. The stingray tank was like a giant lake and I loved the underwater tunnel and interactive areas where you get to pet sleeping sharks and hold tiny shrimp.

Shop

souvenir_studio_store_toronto_.png

9. SOUVENIR

A minimalistic boutique shop and studio on College Street run by Danielle. An inspiring place for the creative. The area reminded me so much of New York and here I found familiar brands from Vancouver and a beautiful curation of gifts and souvenirs. Queen Street is also a lovely place with shops like Old Faithful, Warby Parker, and countless boutiques. My favorite concept lifestyle store Mjolk Shop is just a little further away.

Stay

the_hazelton_hotel_toronto_brunch.jpg

10.  The Hazelton Hotel

If you're looking for a restful night at boutique hotel in Toronto, this is it. I spent an evening at the Hazelton with my sister and had a restful time. The neighborhood is beautiful though I have to say nothing beat the blueberry pancakes that arrived in the morning. The staff was very personal which made it a great stay.

Other than that, Ossington, Koreatown, and The Distillery District were places I wish I had more time to explore. The diversity of Toronto is amazing and despite being fast-paced, everyone seems very willing to stop and point travelers in the right direction. I felt tiny in the city but found comfort in discovering areas that reminded me of home and connecting with an array of interesting people. I hope to be back again.

Till next time, Toronto.

Story and photography created in partnership with Tourism Toronto.