TRAVEL

A LETTER TO MY MELRAKKI FAMILY

melrakki family

Dear Melrakki Family,

It is Christmas night and I am thinking about each and every one of you and the memories we created in the Westfjords. It's the best Christmas present I have received this year: being in your presence, listening to your stories, and letting me be a part of your life. I feel very lucky to call you my family. I would like to start by saying that there aren’t enough words in the universe to express how much you have all impacted my life over the past month. Ever since leaving Iceland, I have felt a deeper emotional connection to the things I love: writing, photography, and exploring. I have woken up happy every day knowing that I have all of you in my life. It's a constant fuel that keeps me motivated and feels like second nature at this point. I don't want to let any of you down.

Before our epic Iceland adventure, we were all distant strangers traversing the universe in scattered places around the world. Before entering our first meeting at the Kex Hostel, I hoped that everyone was nice and kind. I couldn't have dreamed up a better outcome. On my way home, I wept tears of joy and sorrow. Joy because you all have taught me the art of getting in touch with who I really am as a person and what I am capable of. It was a healing trip for the mind and soul. Being on the road, all I can think of was how special the moments were: fleeting and trapped in the present. I think we can all attest to that. I felt sorrow because I missed all of you the second after hugging and saying goodbye. It was hard to go home. There isn't a doubt in my mind that we will find each other in a magical land together some time soon. 

After the 5-day experience, I believe that the universe has the magical ability to bring incredible people together. It was such a rewarding experience to get to know you all in the Kviar Lodge in the Westfjords, away from civilization and constant connection. We were lucky enough to experience it off the grid and connect with each other. Through the snow and the Northern Lights, we conquered the trip together. I'll never forget the small moments: nights we spent editing and admiring each other's photos, tripping and falling down the 2-inch stairs, and laughing so hard our stomachs hurt. Those are the snapshots I'll take with me for a long time. 

Lastly, I love you all. I am so, so lucky to have you in my life. Each and every one of you possesses a grand capacity for greatness. You are all so talented and I would like to thank each and every one of you: 

GUNNAR - You have the kindest eyes. Your warmth and gracious personality make people feel at ease. I am grateful for the lessons you have taught me. Thank you for teaching me the art of storytelling with photography. Also, thank you for keeping me warm with your mom's lovely Icelandic sweaters. 

STEVEN - Your sense of humor can light up an entire room. I will never forget holding down the shutter for 90 seconds with you under the Northern Lights. You have unlocked my potential to be a surgeon in my next life.

JULIAN - You have taught me the power of not taking things too seriously and the power of having fun. There's always time to get away and detach from a busy job. The backseat of Melrakki 2 wouldn't have been the same without you. 

PHOENIX - You have taught me that you can come out of every hard situation and end up on top. Your editing skills are stunning. I hope I can master Lightroom like you one day. I'm absolutely blown away by your talent and perseverance. I'm excited to be partnering with you on a project.

MICHELLE - You are a beaming ray of sunlight. You are one of the strongest women I have ever met. Our chat on our last night made me realize the importance of surrounding myself with positive people. Thank you for being one of them. I'm so glad you decided to stay in Reykjavik. I'm incredibly jealous and wish we were all there with you. 

ALDIS - You're a man with brilliant jokes. I still find myself laughing out loud to myself when I think of them. I will never forget how many cameras you packed for the trip. Thank you for rubbing salami all over your face to catch Rufus. Your love story inspired me not to overthink romantic situations.

MOR - Thank you for being an incredible roommate on the trip and allowing me to talk your ear off when I am jet lagged in hotel rooms in England. You possess great talents in healing. I think my body would have been completely shattered if we didn't practice pilates after our days of shooting. You are an incredible photographer. 

DONNA - Our last conversation in Iceland moved me. You taught me that you can’t recreate memories with the same people and that I have to cherish the present. You are wise and hilarious. We are all so lucky to have your sense of humor on this earth.

JOE - Your humor makes my stomach and jaw hurt. You have changed my outlook on life. Over the past month, I've become more positive because of you. I feel much lighter in the way I navigate the universe. I feel forever indebted for everything that you have taught me. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to come along on the trip. P.S. You're my sartorial style icon. 

The best days are yet to come. Thank you for sharing your heart and soul with me. I hope our paths and cameras cross soon. 

Love,
Mia

TRAVEL

ON TRAVELING ALONE IN NORWAY

When I'm traveling, I'm met with temporary spaces: hotel rooms, hostels, and Airbnb apartments. After dropping my bags off onto the floor, I put a bit of effort into making the temporary space feel like home. I’ll unravel the sheets, pour myself a glass of water, and make sure the temperature is just right. In every living space, comfort is a priority.

In September, I packed a duffel bag with five outfits, a pair of trusty hiking boots, and a rain jacket for two weeks of worth of travel. Bergen, Norway was my first stop. I sought out a place where I could find silence and solitude. I chose Norway specifically to escape from the noise of the city and a place to be simply left alone.

Airports are one of my favorite places. The idle time sitting in airports leaves room for people watching and observation: parents calming their children, couples falling in and out of love, over packers, minimal packers, and eavesdropping on interesting conversations. When we allow our minds to wander we discover something unique about ourselves. Traveling has the power to soften my understanding and eliminate preconceptions I have about the world. It allows me to engage and connect with other people for short periods of time. Small talk conversation in airports can be viewed as mundane, boring, and even callous, but they have a potential to bloom into something unexpected. I have exchanged laughs and cries over stories from strangers on my travels. Stories are one of the best souvenirs you can take home. As humans, we are wired for story. They’re tiny delights that carry on.

I prefer to travel alone. As an adolescent, my worldview was built from fantastical places I read in books and watched in movies. Upon my arrival, I was met with the Osterøy Bridge basking in its afternoon glow. Every aspect of what I was seeing felt fictional. I was met with the deep mountain ranges and bodies of water surrounding it. Everything was illuminating with radiance. When I am at home, there's a sense of hardness comes along with living in a city: ambulances, police sirens, public transportation delays. It goes on. As I have gotten older and more mindful of the effects that environmental stress has on our bodies it becomes an inherent need to retreat to natural places to escape. 

A sense of immediate calm rushed over after stepping out of the airport. I was greeted with the crisp, cold air. There wasn't a trace of anyone feeling rushed. I took the Skyss Bergen Light Rail from the airport to the Airbnb. I spent the half hour journey on the train eavesdropping on other people’s conversations in foreign languages. I studied the architecture of homes: colorful, cozy, tucked away from stress. I admired the mountain ranges surrounding the city. I wanted to study the mountains, become their friend,  and leave no trace.

After settling in, I spent the afternoon tracking down a grocery store, pharmacy and explored the Fish Market. If you decide to visit, I would advise that you don't breathe in too deeply while walking through the Fish Market. The smell is pungent. You can find fresh salmon, caviar, roe, live crab, crab legs, and anything else you can imagine. I tried the fish stew with salmon and it didn't disappoint. I was also surprised and happy to see how many people were outside eating McFlurry’s and soft serve ice cream. 

The next day I packed my backpack with a bottle of water,  a notebook and pen, and some snacks for my 2-hour train journey up north to Myrdal. Hazy eyed, I tried my best to stay awake before the train conductor came to inspect my ticket, but I ended up falling asleep and missing a few views along the way. I arrived and embarked on my walk through the trails without a sense of direction. No one was around. I didn't know what I would find through the steepness of the trails. Along the way, I was met with untouched wilderness, roaring waterfalls, and an incredible view of the rich fjords. It was a place to be still and quiet. 

On my third day in Bergen, I took a boat tour from Bryggen's Hanseatic Wharf. I stood on the top deck of the boat in the pouring cold rain for 3 hours photographing the fjords. I seemed to be the only one on the top deck while everyone remained inside. It was worth it. If you decide to visit, I advise that you pack a reliable rain jacket and a plastic bag to protect your camera. The fjords through Mostraumen resembled a fairytale. The cascading waterfalls graced behind tiny red, white, and yellow houses and cabins. I wanted to linger for a while.

My trip was dwindling down and I wasn't quite ready to leave. On my last day, I hiked up Mt. Ulriken, the highest mountain in Bergen. As I made my way up the mountainside, the fog came rolling in and I lost sight of where I was going. I discovered grazing sheep, unoccupied cabins, and endless streams. I felt joy and gratitude. The rain came in and the trek got muddy. After getting a little lost, I was ready for a hot chocolate and some warmth. Luckily, there was a small cafe on top of the mountain with pastries, tea, beer, and hot chocolate. 

Travel can humble our everyday experiences and make us realize the things we take for granted. Traveling allows me to experience something that’s out of my control: the passage of time. It allows for me to practice patience and reflect on the ways I utilize my time. It has the power to enable the possibility of giving ourselves room to grow and discover second chances. When we allow this door to open, we can begin to uncover things we didn’t know not only in ourselves but in others.

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Ulriken
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Norwegian Fog

On Public Speaking

Our insecurities and fears debilitate us from unlocking our true, authentic selves. Heights, the dark, spiders, ghosts: words that can cause one’s blood pressure to increase. Fears haunt us in our waking life everyday and attack when we allow them to. They're alive and raw. 

When I am standing in front of a room presenting a project the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I allow a series of what if  questions to overcome my preparation: What if my mind goes blank? What if everything I've prepared is a complete waste? What if the intonation of my voice isn't loud enough? By nature, these questions diminish any form of confidence I had once built myself. It's true, we are our own worst enemies. Most of our insecurities and fears are rooted in the unknown, the possibility of not knowing what is to come, and ultimately the fear of being rejected.

A few years ago, I was asked to speak on a panel to offer advice to incoming freshman wanting to pursue journalism as their career choice. Before that I hadn't been up in front of a room to speak formerly in years. The build up caused a great deal of nervousness. I needed to appear intelligent, in the know, and confident. At the moment, I work in the world of publishing where everyone I meet is smart and well-spoken, but we all share similar anxieties and fears about public speaking. I have spoken to professionals who have been presenting for years and years and they still get nervous when they speak in front of a crowd. 

In retrospect, my participation on the panel gave me insight on how to read an audience. Not only that, but it allowed me to pay attention to my breath. When I am speaking before a room I have the strong tendency to rush through my words. Rather than being in the moment with where I am, I think: When is this going to be over? This year, I need to practice on being more patient and becoming more fluid with my speech. 

Growing up, I was accustomed to balancing and learning three languages simultaneously: Chinese (Cantonese) and Vietnamese at home with my parents, and then English when I entered school. But in order to succeed in school I had to lose my Chinese and Vietnamese accent. My parents encouraged me to stumble into the English language, embarrass myself as much as humanly possible, and grow from the experience because they did the exact same when they immigrated from Vietnam 25 years ago.

Language influences our thoughts and actions. It's deeply rooted in how we communicate and interact with our world. As human beings, we possess an inherent curiosity to share and absorb stories. It's something that is heavily hardwired into us biologically. One of the reasons why I am motivated to improve upon this skill is that I value the art of storytelling. This is how I was able to balance all three languages, and all three cultures, within myself. But because of societal pressures, I lost my accent, and therefore a part of myself, at a very young age. I felt like my value as a storyteller slowly diminished.

For my entire life, I've admired presenters who have the power to captivate and connect with their audience on an emotional level. After listening to successful presentations, I am aware that being a masterful storyteller takes practice. No one is born a public speaker. It takes time and practice. After everything I've been through, gaining and losing languages and accents and dialects, I know I have the power to shape my reality. We are able to bring the best versions of ourselves in every situation we are faced with. I recognize my capacity to improve. I'm human after all.