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  • Shawn & JaeEun – A Los Angeles Engagement
  • {travel diary} Disney Animal Kingdom
  • Merry Christmas 2015
  • Spring Neutrals {again}
  • {travel diary} Chiang mai, Thailand. Chapter 2.

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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).

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{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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{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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{travel diary} chiang mai. chapter 1

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If it seems that I’ve stopped blogging for almost a year, you’re right, I have.  Other projects have gotten in the way of style and travel blogging, projects that involve my main occupation, which is being a mentalist and business owner.  And I’ve gotten out of visual diary journaling for a bit of time.  But since we just went to a land that changed me for the better, I thought I would share some photos of Chiang Mai, Thailand here with you.

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Chiang Mai is in northern Thailand, a walkable town filled with beautiful temples and tasty northern food.  Being that we visited Chiang Mai right before the monsoon season, the heat was incredibly sweltering, but it did little to keep us from exploring and falling in love with the charming town and friendly people.

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{Travel Diary} Venice. Chapter 2.

My Venetian Must-Dos:

Stroll: One of the most famous sites of Venice, Piazza San Marco is the social hub of the floating city.  People have been gathering here since the 9th century and continue to do the same in modern day.  Escape the crowds by strolling during the twilight hour and you’ll catch the most enthralling light passing through the majestic columns and illuminating the classic Venetian street lights.

Gaze: There are beautiful and elaborate cathedral domes all over Italy, but few float on the Grand Canal like the ones in Venice.  No one is completely sure how long these architectural marvels will be above water to be admired, which makes Venice all that much more urgent to be visited.

Float: Venice is composed of islands, 118 of them to be exact.  Transportation is either on foot or by boat.  There are the popular gondolas complete with boisterous and stripe-shirted gondoliers, but also the charming little boats of the Venetian locals, floating around on alley canals.

Dine: The Venetian cuisine is best experienced near Venice’s famous fish market, where catches are acquired that morning and served that afternoon in the most endearing restaurants, some only accessible by small bridges.

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