After leaving Saari Residency in Finland to re-enter Thailand before the border closes, I’m now safely anchored in Bangkok and re-evaluating the virus’s effect on my life and my creative studio, Made In Asia. Seems like now is a good time to resist the urge to get swept up in the ‘new normal’ and sit in some lessons I’ve learned since the last time my world turned upside down.
A little background on me:
I’ve always wanted to turn my world into a gigantic playground. I’d fall off slides pretending I could fly, added plastic googly eyes to buildings (and winked at them), and loved using my ponytail as a very inefficient broom.
That playfulness stayed with me through uni where I studied Literary Journalism and Cognitive Science. With Journalism, I got to look for the drama in everyday life. Cognitive Science helped me understand the biological tools for how people absorb these stories.
Afterwards, post graduation anxiety and itchy feet hit. I jumped abroad.
Big Shift #1: Continents
Moving to Thailand killed two birds with one stone. For one, everyday life became a grand adventure again. I learned to frogger across busy streets, make new friends, order chicken nuggets in Thai, and started my career.
Two, as a child of immigrants, I went back to learn about the sacrifice, everything our parents left behind for us. All the while, my parents were back in LA thinking ‘‘we just got here”. We learned to meet each other in the middle.
Life was great for a couple years. I wrote for the Bangkok Post, learned to navigate bicultural office politics as a product manager, then quit to freelance in communications and marketing for startups and NGOs. Digital nomad life suited me well. I scooted around different countries for a month at a time while learning to source clients, manage my time, and run a small agency. I both loved and was terrified by the responsibility.
But as life goes, I changed. Developing tactical mastery didn’t fulfill me anymore and I yearned for playful, creative, big picture work. Also, I got lonely. Traveling around meant I never settled into a community. The people I met were all wonderful, smart, curious people, but we were so similar to each other. I felt trapped in an expat bubble and needed to explore life outside everything I’ve ever known.
Big Shift #2: Gone Kerouac-ing
I hit the road again. I had to start asking myself questions like “What does freedom mean to me?” and “Could I live on the fringe?”
For 8 months, I hitchhiked from Bangkok to Bombay, visited human rights activists while helping out on a friend’s cookbook featuring cuisines from 13 ethnic minority groups in Myanmar, and couchsurfed my way through Iran, Armenia, and Turkey. I met the kindest people who refueled my trust in humanity, especially in Iran. I learned how little the politics of home matter. It’s the stories we share that bind us together.
It made me work towards being a better listener.
Big Shift #2: Reality
While traveling, I chanced upon an Oculus demo in Germany and instantly ‘a-ha’-ed. Collective myths helped humans self organize. Collective experience felt like the next step in human evolution and VR could potentially facilitate this shift.
My next big focus started to crystalize. I developed an event series called Made In Asia to create a platform for artists and storytellers from all over Asia to exhibit VR, AR, and games in Los Angeles. VR was at such an early stage that I felt I had to take this opportunity to highlight stories from creators in countries unfairly viewed as ‘copy-cat’ countries. I wanted to dispel the myth that innovation spreads from the West outwards while also allowing new creators from Asia to get feedback on prototypes.
This developed into a creative studio business that mixed workshops and consulting for businesses and events who wanted to incorporate art and tech. Work ended up bringing me back to Thailand and I felt more inspired than ever getting to know brilliant artists here in Bangkok. I was happy to highlight other stories, but as time went on, I wanted to create some of my own.
Which brings us to now
Like millions around the world, I’m brainstorming how my skill set can meet our new normal; all while taking care of underlying pandemic anxiety. I’m lucky to have the time and space to meditate on my past and remind myself of the concrete steps I took to weather those changes:
1. Understand my own rhythms: At this time, I’m incredibly sensitive to the news and am closely monitoring my mood, trying to focus on work that gives me energy and tasks that zap it. Creative work is difficult for me at the moment, so I’m tackling step by step tactical work. My optimal mix between tactical and creative work changes day to day, so I’m doing my best to check in with myself every hour. Building self awareness for my mental health helps me feel more in control.
2. Community is everything: Every week, I video chat with at least 3 people working on similar goals, projects, and questions about our changing world. We make time to brainstorm, do Pomoro sprints, and support one another. I was recently accepted to NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program and am inspired by all the makers, engineers, designers, and artists I’ve met so far.
No one could ever be ready for a global pandemic, but at the very least, I’m learning to cope and giving myself time to observe this moment. I’ve made a habit of throwing myself at the universe, and I know I’ll keep doing that once it’s safe, but for now, I’m going to let this moment distract me.