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Shawn & JaeEun – A Los Angeles Engagement

A couple of months ago, my younger middle brother Shawn (I called him Hoàng Chương) had planned an elaborate proposal for his then girlfriend JaeEun.  He had been going back in time and arranging to have their ten first dates backwards, where he would propose on their first date.  This kind of elaborate planning is signature for the kind of thoughtful and detail-oriented man that my brother is, always wanting to deliver his best for the people he loves.  And one thing is for sure, he loves JaeEun.  A lovely and soft-spoken girl (who we already saw as part of the family), she made him the happiest guy by saying yes.

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So fast forward a few months, and we planned a family outing to do a photo and video shoot for them.  My youngest brother Travis (I called him Hoàng Thắng), the owner and principal at 8 Kinds of Smiles wedding films, and his girlfriend Anna, me and Apollo, all went to UCLA & Santa Monica and we had a blast hanging out and shooting.  Shawn & JaeEun started out a little shy in front of the camera, but by Apollo’s directorship and Anna’s encouragement, in no time they were naturals, and gave me and Travis some great shots to work with.

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We are so looking forward to their wedding and officially welcoming Jae into our family.  Here’s the awesome trailer that Travis shot for them (with some really cool drone shots).

{travel diary} Disney Animal Kingdom

I’m often a little conflicted to visit nature parks, due to the lack of transparency about animal treatment that a few of these parks have displayed in the past.  When Apollo and I were in Orlando this past time, I wanted to return to Disney Animal Kingdom, since I had enjoyed it so much last time.  It is quite a fun place to spend the day, since the variety of wildlife there is wonderful.  Here are some images that I loved from that day.

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Merry Christmas 2015

Presents 2015

What’s the perfect time to blog when you don’t really blog anymore?  The holidays of course.  Happy holidays to you and your beloved!  I am out delivering presents today and then back home to cook and drink with my family.

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Zara shoes | Club Monaco sweater | Aritzia culottes

Spring Neutrals {again}

I have fallen in love with minimalism for about a year.  It all began with decorating our Los Angeles home – exploring modern decor with a partner who is grey-partial invariably nudges you to push the boundaries of neutrals – thus I’ve come to understand that “fifty shades of grey” concept – in design!  So without me even noticing, my closet started to gain many pieces of neutrals, and it continues to do so.  When we were in Monterey eating a picnic lunch at Nepenthe gazing out to the coast of Big Sur, I wore these romantic pieces of neutral pastels that were infused with Spring.

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Anthropologie sweater | Asos skirt | Urban Outfitters hat | Miu Miu heels | BCBG bracelet

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{travel diary} Chiang mai, Thailand. Chapter 2.

Before we left for Chiang Mai, many people recommended a visit to Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for rescue elephants and rehabilitation center where you can volunteer and visit to help.  The organization has rescued dozens of elephants from a life of logging, street abuse and land mine accidents.  They now have a thriving elephant herd, many with very resilient personal histories and yet charming personalities.

elephant nature park, chiang mai, chiang mai travel, inspirations along the way, anhdao ava do travel blog, thailand travel blog, rescue asian elephants

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We signed up to “pamper a pachyderm” for a day.  We started the day feeding the elephants with watermelons, bananas, and sugarcane.  Muoy, the leader of the herd, assigned me to take care of Happy, who is a loving and energetic lady in her 60’s.  Her teeth are not so good anymore so the team trimmed watermelons down to only soft parts for her.  You would never know her age from her appetite.

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It was an unforgettable experience, getting to know the elephants, having the privilege to hear their stories, the tragedies they survived and the resilience they carry to this day.  There was a baby elephant who was rescued from begging on the streets of Bangkok, the past owner withheld food until enough people gave him money.  It was a traumatizing experience for him.  Elephants use their feet to feel and see, the vibrations and chaos created by car traffic must have terrified him.

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Another female elephant had stepped on a land mine, you can see it in her walk as one of her legs does not work and she falls behind in the herd.  I observed her irrepressible spirit as she trekked on.  A friend of mine quoted Graydon Carter, “we admire elephants in part because they demonstrate what we consider the finest human traits: empathy, self-awareness, and social intelligence. But the way we treat them puts on display the very worst of human behavior,” that really resonated with me.

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The park also provides a natural environment for elephants, dogs, cats, buffaloes and many other animals under their care.

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After feeding, we walked the elephants across a river and up the hill where the park’s staff had cooked us a beautiful meal of delicious vegan Thai food.  Then it was time to bathe the elephants, we filled buckets full of water and splash them with it while they gorged on more food (yes, elephants eat a lot!).  It was incredibly fun to get wet and get the elephants wet.  I felt like a child again running around in the monsoon rain of my childhood.

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My favorite part of the experience was having the privilege to be testimony to the elephants’ past sufferings.  As a former social worker and immigrant, bearing witness is a part of me.  When I returned to the US, I was very motivated to tell the elephants’ stories so that there would be more awareness of the issue and thus more change to their condition.  To my surprise and bewilderment, many people didn’t want to hear it because it was just “too traumatic”.  I don’t often travel in web circles where trigger warnings are part of the conversational landscape, and I don’t think I believe in this mentality of swaddling oneself from real experiences around the globe.  How can we change the world if we are not willing to get to know it?

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