Life, Travel

Asia, Again/ The Happy Place

It’s hard to believe, but in less than 48 hours, I’ll be headed off to Southeast Asia again.

This is my third time over there, and while I’m visiting a few new spots, I am mostly trodding well loved territory, although this time not with my family, or alone. Ryan is coming, which should be a treat. More for him, I think.

The pragmatist in me thinks “Why are you going back there? Shouldn’t you spend your money on new experiences? What about India? What about Burma? What about Nepal?”

For a while I didn’t know how to explain it, but it occurred to me the other night as I was doing a test pack: Southeast Asia is my happy place.  I’ve worked through major breakups, death and a number of other issues there. It’s a place of intense healing for me. It’s just something about the tone of life. You can’t help but be moved by being there. I may have mentioned it before, but when I meditate or do thought exercises in therapy, the Mekong River in Luang Prabang is the #1 thing I think about to calm myself down. I mean, come on, look at this shit.



This trip was precipitated because last year I didn’t go to Vietnam, and I felt like I had made a mistake. For a year I’ve told myself that I have to get back to Vietnam.


When I visited Vietnam seven years ago I met my family that was left behind in Saigon. I learned more about life and war by looking into their hard worn faces than I’d gathered from 22 years of books and stories.

Most notably, I’d been Chinese all my life, but once I went to Vietnam, I started feeling Vietnamese as well.  (Unfortunately, this “Vietnamese feeling” does not qualify you for a visa discount at the SF Consulate). I left Vietnam changed, with two little sunspots on either side of my cheeks to prove it. I was there, it really happened. See, here’s the sun damage to prove it.


So anyways, on the housekeeping front this longwinded, winding  and maudlin post is all to say that I’m going back to Asia again for a couple weeks. We’ll be hitting Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam (oh, and South Korea too, sort of). I’m pretty excited, and hope to post a little bit here and there.

Since we’re talking about it anyways, I guess I want to mention that if you don’t already have a happy place in your heart, you need one. Think about it. Sit still for a second, and conjure up the last place where you truly felt free and happy. Think about what it felt like to be there. Try to think of a specific moment that actually happened to you. Maybe you were riding motorcycles somewhere 3,000 miles away, or maybe you were on the couch with the cat, drinking chocolate milk and basking in the late afternoon sunlight. Think about all the little details, like the burn of the sunscreen in your eyes, or the grit of the rocks in your shoes. Even if this place doesn’t exist anymore, hold on to this feeling. The more you practice remembering the moment the easier it is to conjure up in times of stress and pain.

If you do try this, tell me where your happy place is. I’m curious.


How to Find a Good Therapist: Ten Things to Consider

Gabriel Bryne

Dr. Weston would be my first choice…

What makes a good therapist or counselor?

Over the years I’ve seen a handful of therapists in short spurts to help get me through tough times, and I think I’m starting to get a better idea of what traits to look for in a counselor. Finding a good therapist can be a pain in the ass, so here are are a few things to consider when evaluating a new therapist.  I could go on and on (and on…) about this, but for this list I’ve capped it off at ten. Now, in no particular order…

1. Does it matter what kind of education your therapist had?

MFT, MSW, PHD, PSYD, I’ve tried each of these. I think you can get quality care from all of those options, but when you’re just starting out, definitely take a minute to read up on the differences in approach and schooling that your therapist undertook. More degrees may not lead to better treatment. For example I talked to a psychiatrist for a bit and all he wanted to do was give me drugs. So terrible! Then I worked with a social worker and was quite impressed with her care. It’s a crapshoot.

2. Along the same lines, before you book an appointment with your counselor, stalk their website! Who are they? Where are they from? What kind of therapy do they practice? How many years have they been practicing?

Do they have a dog? BONUS POINTS. I am not kidding. Do they lay out their interests and working approach online? This may save you a few awkward sessions where you try to weasel your way out of a commitment to a therapist who is just not a good fit. For example, when I clicked over to one possible MFT, I realized that she was a little bit too hippie dippie for me. While I liked that she took PayPal, I could tell we were not going to get on well. BULLET DODGED.

3. Do they speak your native language?

You’re going to be talking about some deep shit, you might as well be comfortable.

4. Money matters

How much do they charge per hour? Do they take your insurance? If not, will they work out a special fee system for you? Do not assume that you will pay more for a person with more education. Insurance is funny in that way. I paid $60/session for an MFT, and $20/session for a PHD. Shop around and don’t be afraid to talk cash with your therapist.

5. Do they have any testimonials on Yelp?

Yeah, I stalk all my doctors on Yelp. What?

6. Do you think that your potential new therapist can connect with your point of view and your struggles? Is your current issue one of their specialties?

It is so important to be comfortable with your therapist, and understanding your ish is part of that. Try as a they might, I don’t think that white men can really understand what it’s like to be a twenty-something Asian female. Lots of therapists will mention if they specialize in certain demographics, such as youth, chronically ill patients, or LGBTQ issues.

7. More on the approach to treatment

Is your potential new therapist goal oriented? Will they ask you to set concrete goals for treatment? Will they ask you to actively change, maybe even… give you homework assignments? Or is their approach more free form, perhaps talking about whatever you like every week? Is your therapist open to having joint relationship sessions with your partner if you are having romantic relationship issues?

8. Has your therapist lived through some shit? Is your therapist in therapy?

It’s kinda hard to snoop and figure this one out, but I think it’s so important for a therapist to have lived through some shit before they start working with you on how to get through your shit. It’s kind of like that therapist in Short Bus. What, you’ve never seen it? Save it for a rainy day.

9. Does your therapist offer remote therapy  (Skype calls, phone calls)?

Consistency in treatment is key for making progress. If you travel often, you may want to get a therapist who is comfortable offering different methods of connecting for your sessions. Phone counseling sounds weird, but when you already have a relationship with the therapist in person, you can slip back into comfort quite quickly over the phone.

10. Are you comfortable talking to your therapist? Can you be honest with them?

And obviously, most importantly, you gotta be able to talk to them. If you’re gonna grow, you have to be able to work with this person honestly, without fear of judgement.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, be cautious of therapists who end up feeling like your own personal cheerleader. Once you have a cheer squad behind you, you may feel afraid of letting them down, or telling them about your poor choices last weekend. They have become just another friend.  If that’s what you’re looking for, perhaps you should find a life coach instead. In fact, many therapists moonlight as life coaches on the side.

11. Bonus point to consider- Is your therapist financially secure? Are they on the hustle?

This sounds weird, but if you notice that your therapist is perhaps falling on hard times financially, and seems to be marketing heavily, or pushing you to increase your sessions, be careful! They need your business and their treatment may be a bit less than stellar due to their money woes. I’d never thought about this before, until I realized that my last therapist was hard up and trying to get me to do sessions when I wanted to take a break. Yeesh.


That’s all for now, but I hope this post was helpful for you fellow crazy diamonds out there. Maybe in the future I’ll write some more about how to literally go about finding and booking a therapist.