Minnow Park

Journal

The Leica Q

Craig Mod:

A product has to earn its place in the world. Especially a product that’s being commoditized and attacked from all sides. It has to function not only at absolute peak performance (in this case, infallibly take great photos), but it has to do so while simultaneously delighting us. I’m a stickler for that: the delight.

A beautiful ode to a beautiful camera. It reads at times almost like a love letter. 

Write to Think

Alan Jacobs:

"Write to think. Don’t try to know where you’re going before you start writing, but write to find out what you think, or find the story you need to tell. Never expect that a particular time-unit of writing will produce a given number of publishable words. You must learn to think of your writing time as a period of discovery, in which you find out what you think, or what images and rhythms tend to emerge from your mind, or where a story seems to want to go. If you focus on discovery, then something worth sharing with others will emerge, in its own way and on its own schedule. But that’s not the kind of thing that can be forced. Allow yourself the freedom to explore."

It doesn't make the process easier, but I welcome this perspective because it's a more self forgiving way to look at writing; less masochistic and feeling like a martyr for your craft.

Traveling Biases
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Growing up I rarely traveled. Part due to my parents working 70 hours a week with out PTO, and also because they are naturally homebodies, we just never really traveled. The only traveling I did was short trips to do charity work through church, or college organizations, never been to Disneyland/world/cruise/etc. 

It wasn’t until college I started to travel. I toured with a band, went to Cambodia, China, and an impulsive trip to Ireland 5 years ago, which is still one of the best memories I have of my fast paced and blurry 20’s. That trip was the perfect mix of good company and spontaneity. I’ve never laughed so hard about something that you-had-to-be-there-for. And I still have nightmares driving through the Irish countryside as I tried not to crash us while driving on the opposite side of everything. 

Since then, these past few weeks have been the first time I went back to Europe. We went to Nice with my brother and his family, and then Becky and I went to Paris for a few days. Yes, Paris is beautiful. As a friend put it, it’s as if you’re in a movie; a movie made up of the most romantic and beautiful parts of every scene ever.

A few observations that are at the top of my mind: 

  • It seems like everyone smokes there. Constantly. 
  • Traffic lights and street crossing rules are chaotic. 
  • You can’t ever over hype the food there. 
  • It’s as dirty as it is romantic. 
  • Walk around as much as you can. We walked around 45 miles for the four days we were there. It’s like NYC that way and one of my favorite things about the city. 

Boys to Men

But what really stands out is the gravitas of being in a country with thousands of years of history behind it. I realized how young and immature the culture and arts are here in United States compared to France (and probably the rest of the world). We’re the strongest, wealthiest, and most innovative country in the world, but also the most childish in that way.

Because as someone who understands art rather than science, stepping into France I realized we just have echoes of what they take for granted everyday. That fancy new brunch place in Soho that sells $20 avocado toasts took a slice out of the French Bistro on Rue Taylor. The cobblestone streets that we prize around the city? It’s there in every alleyway and street in Paris.

And the architecture! I was obsessed with them while I was there; the buildings, the streets, the way the light danced around the neighborhood. Each fence had a different design, the colors of the buildings were imaginative and tasteful, and every restaurant had outside seating where the chairs closest to the street were faced ouside so that you can take your time to observe, think, and enjoy (and smoke).

Then there’s the everyday, more subtle rituals, that I really appreciated. For example, each restaurant we went to placed our check on a small plate, and presented it in a way where we had to unfold the paper to see the total amount. It’s as if they were saying, “thank you for your patronage, we hope what you will pay in a few minutes is worth what you’ve experienced here and much more.” 1 I heard Alton Brown say in an interview that going to a restaurant can be this beautiful expression of hospitality and craft. French brasseries have that built into their DNA.

When I went to Seoul (my motherland) and Tokyo, I didn’t feel this way about a country. But in France, even though the language is so foreign 2 and we looked at maps all day to get around, I really want to go back as soon as I can. 

Judging a Book by its French Covers

But really none of that may be true about France, or any country I visit. I’m describing how beautiful and tasteful the cover of this book is, but when I actually read it, the book might be entirely different. I may end up not liking the book at all. 

That’s the beauty and lie about travel. How much can you really know about a country when you only spend a few days there. How much can you research, read, and know before you get there? Not much at all, especially if it’s a place that’s been around since the Iron Age. 

I know understand the adage that the real benefit of travel isn’t for us to get to know the world, but to get to know ourselves better through the world. It’s hubris to think that we understand the world better by traveling. Just like thinking spending two weeks building home, is changing the world. We learn more about ourselves and change in the process than anything we could do for them. 

We get to walk away with selfies and stories, while the country accommodates and tries its hardest to not be too inconvenienced. How selfish of us. 

France was amazing but that’s because it was amazing on my terms. Coming back with these observations I want to be a more thoughtful and hospitable person. I need to make an effort to slow down and not let my 30’s be a blur. 

Always face the chair towards the street. 
Always give more value than you receive.
And even when you are building the 1000th fence, build it with care and creativity. 

  1. After being in France and Japan where tipping isn’t the norm. I’m a bigger proponent of it. The idea that the patron has the power to rate someone’s service through money takes away the soul of dining out: hospitality. Pay your workers a decent sustainable wage so that they are free to be as hospitable as they can be. I’ll pay more for the food, don’t skirt the responsibility to me.  ↩︎
  2. I wish I learned French when I was in school. It just seemed so impractical back then. I learned Greek in junior high school because Astoria, NY has the largest Greek population outside of Athens. And I learned Spanish in high school because we live in NYC. But I wish I learned a language for the sake of learning it, and to tap into it’s culture and beauty even sooner.  ↩︎
TravelMinnow Park
Andrew Chen for Maekan

Andrew is a good friend, the co-founder of 3Sixteen, and a partner at Self Edge in New York City. But before all that, he is a husband and a father to two beautiful boys, Logan and Hunter. I had the pleasure of spending the day with Andrew and his sons as they spent the morning with building blocks, books, and a trip to the museum. The boys were excited to spend the day with their dad. And I saw how thoughtful Andrew was in steering their bright-eyed curiosity through games and art. 

The story was for Maekan, a digital media company whose aim is on educating and empowering creative culture through audio and video-based storytelling. Their goal is to tell meaningful stories that rise above the low quality and ephemeral stuff that's in our culture and media.  It's a lofty goal that they have set for themselves but working with them on this story and hearing Alex and Eugene's ideas made me believe and want this type of storytelling to exist and thrive. 

I was fortunate enough to be a part of their beta launch and if you want to read more of Andrew's story, you can go here to read and sign up. These are some of my favorite photos from the day. 

How to Make Matty Laugh

Before he laughs he has a curious, almost intense look on his face with his mouth slightly open, as he's deep in though trying taking in the scene. He looks at you with big beautiful eyes, asking you for a clue.  And then when the thought lights up in his head, once he realizes something, he smiles. A big beautiful smile that makes his eyes into a shape of a rainbow, and a laugh that you could listen to all day long.

My brother loves finding silly ways to make his son laugh, and will exploit it until he has to search again. Every time we see them, he shows us a new way he's found to make Matty laugh. In this photo, it's rubbing his face into Matty's stomach. 

PersonalMinnow Park
I've had the Best in Tokyo

Before I visited Tokyo, I was very liberal with my superlatives.

"This is amazing!"
"That movie was unbelievable!"
"That was the best _____ I ever had!" 

But now that I'm back, I've become much more conservative with my praises. Because in Tokyo, I really did have the best. The best coffee I've ever had was at Chatei Hatou in Shibuya. The best steak I ever had was at Gyu-an in Ginza. The best hotel I've ever stayed at was at the Park Hyatt Tokyo in Shinjuku. And the hands down best meal I've ever had was at Kyubey in Ginza. These are true statements, that may fall on skeptical ears because I've wasted the word "best".

And so after coming down from Tokyo's mountain, I'm going to make sure other experiences are just as high and majestic before I use such lofty words.

TravelMinnow Park
Rediscovering Seoul After Ten Years

It's been over 10 years since I last visited Seoul. I was in college and was taken around by family to different places. I also had no interested in photography then and so all I have are vague memories of playing games and eating noodles on my cousin's college campus. This time around my wife and I went with good friends who took us all around Seoul.  

The food I grew up loving was everywhere, cheap, and delicious. And places like Dongdaemun Design Plaza were some of the most breathtaking places I've ever been to. 

TravelMinnow Park
Lessons from My Grandfather

One morning, while my mother was getting me ready for school, my grandfather offered to walk me to kindergarten. My mom was more than happy to have some time to herself, so I got ready, gave her a kiss goodbye, and started out the door with him. After a few steps, my grandfather squatted in front of me and asked me to climb on his back.  I had just gotten used to him and my grandmother living with us, and so this was a big deal for me.

“Come, let me carry you to school,” he said when he saw my hesitation. “Who knows when I’ll be able to do this again.” 

I was only five years old, and even though I didn’t fully understand what he meant, I still felt the importance of the request and I said, “Okay.”

I carefully climbed on and he carried me for the ten minute walk to school.  I felt comfortable, and wondered why I was so hesitant before. I rested my head against his shoulder and tried to match my breathing with his. 

We didn’t talk much on the way there, and even though since that day our relationship never went deep enough to talk about how to stand up to a bully, or how to deal with putting a broken heart back together, least he could talk to me through this, and with every step he took I realized he was teaching me. He was telling me everything he wanted to tell me.

He told me stories about his mistakes and victories. 
He told me about the joys he shared, and the tears that he wiped away. 
He told me he was happy.
He told me this moment made him happy. 
And before it was too late, he wanted to tell me he loved me.

As we reached the front doors of my school, I gave him a hug and said, “Thank you grandpa, I’ll see you at home.” It’s been twenty years since that morning, later and he was right. That was the only time he’s carried me.

He’s 94 now, and I was able to return the favor last month when I visited him in California at the assisted living center where he lives. I pushed him along his wheelchair, held his hand while we talked, and bought him some new shoes. His memory fails him from time to time, and his legs can’t carry him anymore, but he’s happy and at peace. And I realized even after all these years, he’s still teaching me lessons of what means to live a humble, honest, and loving life.

PersonalMinnow Park