2017 annual review

Happy new year my friends!

Before we know it we have already stepped into 2018 – another chance for a new beginning! Always grateful.

I’m going to keep this year’s annual review simple by answering a few questions my inspiring friend Samantha came up with. I hope you will give these questions a try too, and if you’d like, feel free to share your answers with us. I’d love to have a read!

Look back

1. What would you say was the theme for your 2017?

Learning to love myself for just who I am.

2. What’s one new thing you discovered about yourself this year?

I don’t have panic attacks anymore! I used to have bad panic attacks for years but ever since one night about 2 or 3 years ago, when I got fed up with yet another anxiety attack and woke up in the middle of the night and found this website, I have learned to deal with the anxiety and panic attacks with what I can only describe as fully-embodied, radical, total, nonchalant acceptance. So even through the most stressful moments of my life now, my body/mind simply doesn’t respond with panic attacks anymore. Hallelujah.

3. Tell us a happy and an awful thing that happened between Jan-Jun.

Happy: I was surprised in February with a birthday trip to Bali… on business class! I was at a cafe with a friend but suddenly got “kidnapped” to the airport blindfolded; when the blindfold was taken off I was standing at the business class booth, being handed a ticket to Bali. That was truly awesome!

Awful: Nothing really awful happened in the first half of 2017, I think. It was pretty awesome actually! I started the year off with a shoot for The New York Times, then Tokyo (my favorite place) for another shoot, and then Design Hotels flew me to Taipei for yet another shoot. Got to do my first two big Singapore Tourism Board campaigns too, so early half of 2017 was epic! Oh and I also went for a Plum Village meditation retreat that greatly inspired me.

Plum Village meditation retreat

4. Tell us a happy and an awful thing that happened between Jul-Dec.

Awful: I’ll start with the awful first. On 7 July I went through a double jaw surgery. It was not really that difficult physically (I was on GA, and because of nerve injury, I didn’t feel much pain at all after the surgery and took only one pain-killer), but emotionally I was a wreck. In my post-GA state of confusion and my post-surgery state of vulnerability (I was so swollen I looked like a completely different person and since my teeth was completely sealed shut I had to eat through a syringe – only soups and finely-blended food – for a few weeks), I fell into a bad depression for awhile. So that was awful awful awful.

What an experience!

Happy: Even though the second half of 2017 started off awful with the surgery and the depression, these events reminded me of how blessed and loved I am. Being so vulnerable meant that I had to be taken care of by others, and the people around me did a great job of doing that. Things started picking up when my housemate dragged me to Tasmania a few weeks after the surgery so I could take my mind off things. Tasmania was beautiful and helped in lifting my mood slightly. After that, as swelling began to go down, I began to feel much better about myself. In September I went to Japan twice, and on a whim I decided to go to Boston to visit my friend who’s studying there and just spend two weeks there reading, writing and thinking. It turned out to be one of the best trips I ever went on. Other happy things included finally upgrading to medium format (for the camera nerds, I’m using the Fujifilm GFX 50s now) and fully switching to the Fujifilm system from Canon; learning Total Immersion swimming; discovering the joys of rock-climbing; continuing to write for this blog. Come to think about it, I did so much in 2017!

Reading under a tree in Harvard Yard and pretending to be a Harvard student

Glorious New York City… although I still like the quieter Boston more!

5. A worry that turned out to be completely unnecessary.

I was worried mainly about my face in 2017. I thought I would be no longer be loved by my loved ones since I now look a little different after the surgery. But obviously that has been an unfounded worry!

6. Any random thing you’ve missed telling us because life moves faster than fingers?

Even though I rant about social media and its pervasiveness, I’m actually grateful for Instagram and my blog and my notes and diary entries on Evernote for reminding me of just what happened this year. Sometimes life does move faster than fingers, so I think it really is important for us to keep recording the moments of our lives, so that we will never forget.

Look ahead

1. What do you want the overarching theme for the next year to be?


I am prone to thinking errors. I have been fooled by my thoughts before into thinking that A must be A, B must be B. But in reality, life can be anything. One big lesson I have been learning – and want to continue to learn – is how to be completely open to what life has to offer. This means planning less, having fewer goals. Being less rigid. In a way when I am traveling I am already doing this. When I went to Boston earlier this year, I booked a ticket and simply went there. I only knew I had a place to stay and I knew I had to visit Harvard and MIT. Everything else was fluid, and it of course turned out to be a magical trip. I ended up spending days sketching under a tree in Harvard Yard, eating ramen with a Japanese lady, stumbling into an art festival in the middle of downtown Boston, etc.

The other thing that relates to living an open life is to spend less time seeking for meaning or happiness in such rigid terms. This is about coming to terms with the fact that meaning or happiness does not have a specific shape. It doesn’t always look like what I think it’s supposed to look like. They can come in the most unexpected forms. One thing to remember is that life is already meaningful right now – everything I do contributes to the giant web of interconnected life. In my work, in my writing, in my day-to-day interactions with both strangers and people I love, how I behave or what I choose to do are already opportunities for me to find meaning and happiness. Again, I want to listen to my inner compass. I think that will lead me to where I need to be.

So yes, wide, wide open-ness.

2. Which personal quality do you want to develop or strengthen?

Love for others and learning to give more.

I know I am very flawed in this aspect. I have limited time and sometimes I don’t know how much to give or how to give. That’s why this is a consistently big theme in my life. Even in my love for solitude, I understand that I sorely crave and need companionship, friendship, relationships. I know at the end of the day, when all is said and done, it’s people who matter the most. Everything else is secondary and will fall away.

3. Name three goals for the next year (resolutions).

Continue to be obsessed with photography.
Be always exercising.
Be open to the possibilities of life!

4. Give a one-liner to motivate, inspire or encourage yourself in 2018. (e.g.: Don’t worry be happy)

I’m fucking perfect, and so are you!

2016 annual review


So… here we come, to the end of 2016.

I turned 30 this year, so it feels a little like I’ve rounded a corner.

I can’t help but think about what a wild ride the last 10 years have been.

It hasn’t been easy getting here, but as of now, I am very happy with the small life that I have built for myself.

After struggling for so many years, I’m deeply grateful to have found a vocation (photography) that I want to spend a long time doing. I’m thankful to be living on my own in a lovely apartment; to be the parent of two crazy cats; to be financially stable; to have so much freedom in so many aspects of my life; to be surrounded by so many people I love.

One of my two crazy cats…

But I still have a long way to go, and there are still a lot of things I haven’t learned.

Hence this annual review.

I’m borrowing this idea from James Clear, who writes an annual review every year asking himself three questions:

1. What went well this year?
2. What didn’t go so well this year?
3. What am I working toward?

I’m going to do the same thing, plus a little bit more.

But before I go on, there’s something else I want to say.

Sunrise in San Francisco, February 2016

We all want to live a good life, but what is a good life?

I spend a lot of time thinking about this question.

I’d be lying if I say that I have it all figured out, but after having spent so much time thinking about it, here’s my little conclusion:


A simple but powerful notion.

Be grateful for the life you have NOW, and you can be the happiest person on Earth.

Be incapable of gratitude, and you will find it hard to find happiness no matter where you go, what you achieve, who you meet.

I’d rather be a happy nobody than a depressed billionaire anytime.

Once you can learn to be happy about the place you are at right now, you can then begin to craft a sweet life that you love with the other lego blocks of life – good relationships, good health, financial well-being, having a career that you enjoy, etc.

Yes, those things are important, but remember, they mean NOTHING if you are intrinsically unhappy.

So, with gratitude as my foundation, let’s go through my 2016, and let’s look towards 2017 together!

What went well this year?


This year I found representation with an international photographer’s agency. That means they help to promote me and help me get big jobs with potential big clients such as NIKE, HBO, Coca Cola, etc. It’s a new thing for me and a big milestone!

And… my first photography assignment of 2017 is going to be for The New York Times. I. Can’t. Wait. It’s been a huge dream of mine to shoot for them. Will write about how this happened in a separate blog post!


A year on the road!

I visited three continents and almost twenty cities this year, from San Francisco to L.A. to Copenhagen to Budapest to Tokyo to everywhere in between. Sometimes for work, sometimes for fun.

Travel is never wasted; everywhere you go there is a lesson to pick up. Looking forward to the places 2017 will bring me to!

Here’s where I stepped foot on in 2016 – San Francisco, Portland, L.A., Copenhagen, Dubrovnik, Split, Budapest, Prague, Munich, Taipei, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Hokkaido.


I had a rude awakening about money early this year. I’d had a couple of years of nonstop working, but in January this year I realized I hadn’t managed to save much at all. So I decided to start getting better at this whole… financial thing.

I became obsessed with this topic. I scoured the internet for articles. I read countless personal finance books. My efforts finally took me to Mr Money Mustache. His writings and his life story helped to transform my mindset towards money. Not exaggerating.

Over the last year I have managed to save more money than I have ever saved over my entire life (true story). My mindset towards money has also changed drastically. I look forward to achieving financial freedom in less than 10 years.

I’ll write more on this topic in future posts (it’s a HUGE topic, and one of my favorites too), but it’s enough to say that I’m really glad this happened to me in 2016.

PS: I’m still a work-in-progress because traveling is still one of my biggest expenses, and I LOVE to travel…


One of the happiest things that happened to me this year was getting back to writing again. I had been writing sporadically on and off on my personal journal, and I’d had many false starts with having a public blog, and things had always fallen through. Ask my friends. They know my failures the best.

But I have begun writing consistently for this blog and it’s been wonderful. Truly wonderful. What used to plague me – major writer’s block – doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore, because now I am writing for a different reason – to genuinely help other people. It has become easy to write because now I am just sharing everything I know honestly, no holds barred.

It’s a wonderfully liberating feeling.

And the best thing? When I receive positive feedback from people who read this blog, or when people very honestly share their struggles and their life stories with me.

Never estimate the power of human connection, even if it’s electronic 😉

Giving back

This year my friend Cynthea and I got together to start A Simple Day, a collective that hopes to spread happiness through the idea of simple living. But soon we will team up with our formidable friend Daniel to create something we are going to call the Happy Collective. What is it going to be about? You’ll find out soon…!

What didn’t go so well this year?


This year my aunt passed away unexpectedly from sleep apnea related complications. Our beloved, lovely friend Cheese from Taiwan also passed away from cancer earlier this year. It made me think about death. Actually, even on good days I think about death a little too much. I have a deep, deep attachment towards life, and yet have a morbid fascination for death. Which leads me to…


Spirituality was a big part of my life in 2015 and helped me through some bad times. But 2016 was a good year, so when things are good, you don’t think about praying. You don’t think about God quite as much. It’s a complicated issue. And of course, the less you pray the less you want to pray. But as I mentioned earlier, I have been struggling with the idea of loss and death (not just my own, but also that of my loved ones). In the next year I definitely want to go back to reconnecting spiritually again, in order for me to come to terms with this fear.

Health & fitness


This year I fell sick quite a bit. I also had a health scare where I had to be hospitalized and go through an endoscopy and a colonoscopy procedure. Thankfully things turned out fine in the end! And I have always wanted to experience staying overnight in a hospital, so that was (a little) fun…

Exercise-wise, I started running last year, which continued to 2016, but tapered off towards the end. I would have squash sessions with my friends sometimes, but exercise wasn’t a very big part of my life.

I also didn’t have the best diet.

What am I working toward?


I spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I have come up with a few themes that will guide me in 2017. These are the things my life needs right now in order for me to live an even sweeter, more joyful and more balanced life.

The “actions to take” are not exhaustive but are top priorities. They are there to help me create actual change in my life.

1. Health is wealth

Nothing is more important than health. I love life, so I want to live longer and live better. In 2017 I’m going to focus on my health.

Actions to take:
(a) Drink vegetable juice for breakfast every morning;
(b) cut out red meat from my diet;
(c) establish a weekly exercise routine and stick to it;
(d) meditate daily.

2. Less is better

In other words, focus on only the essential in all aspects of my life. I want to keep asking myself: What is truly important? What should I keep in my life? What should I throw out? What is the one thing I can do right now – rather than many things – to advance my career, improve my relationships, become healthier? In 2017 it must be all about subtracting rather than adding.

Actions to take:
(a) Continue to declutter my home and wardrobe until I am left with what is essential;
(b) wean myself off social media.

3. Be useful to others

This year I found much meaning and purpose and joy in sharing what I have learned with others. Next year I want to continue to do the same and create more value for other people.

Actions to take:
(a) Continue to grow and update this blog and send out my newsletter once a week;
(b) write and publish a book that can help others.

4. Do what scares me

There are a few things that really scare me. So next year I want to try doing them. Even typing them out scares me, especially the half-marathon. Yikes. I will try my best!

Actions to take:
(a) Hike across Shodoshima (120km);
(b) attend a 10-day silent meditation retreat;
(c) run a half-marathon by end of 2017.

Happiness Principles

As a way to conclude this post, here are some of my Happiness Principles that help me to live a happy life. They also help me to remember what life is truly all about, and on bad days they even help me to feel better. I hope they help you too!

Live in the present.
The past doesn’t exist.
The future doesn’t exist.
Only now exists.
Now is eternal.
Create a life you truly love (not a life that you pretend to love).
Try new things.
Get closer to the things you like.
Be balanced.
Sing in the shower.
Have faith in miracles.
Experience nature.
Accept life as it is.
Savour life.
Have less.
Give more.
Save more money.
Help other people.
Be comfortable with yourself.
Be kind to yourself.
Be imperfect.
It’s okay to be sad or to have a bad day sometimes.
Don’t try so hard to be happy.
Stop struggling.
Be effortless.

Have a great 2017 and may you experience true happiness, peace and joy in your life!

(I’d love to hear from you if you also did an annual review. Drop me a comment below!)