the BIGGER picture


Just a glimspe. Susan's Perspective.

Guest Post: The Japanese Canadian

In the wake of the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster; I think I speak for most of us when I say my heart goes out to those affected by the ongoing “controlled chaos”.

Today’s guest is not only a dear friend of mine, but also a brother whom I’ve grown up with in Toronto.  The author of ‘The Japanese Canadian’ relocated back to Tokyo a few years back, and yes, he survived the earthquake.  His firsthand accounts of the disaster are chilling and heart-wrenching.  Check out his blog for more real stories from a very real person.

Three weeks… is how long it has been since the earthquake hit the east coast of Japan.  It has been such a learning experience.

  • I learned that Japan could probably withstand the worst earthquakes, and still remain standing.
  • I learned that all the damage which comes to Japan with earthquakes, happens immediately after the earthquake.
  • I learned that Japanese people can still come together as a community, even at times of duress.
  • I learned that I have a hard time being a part of that community.
  • I learned that no matter how many years I am here, I am Japanese-Canadian, and not Japanese.

The damage in Japan has been colossal, with almost 30000 dead or missing.  The television broadcasts censored bits of information regarding the recovery efforts and the people who are coming together to help the community.  Indeed it’s a great scene to know that people are helping each other out, as that positive effort is what the community needs to see.

In Tokyo, I still see the daily affects that the earthquakes has on the city of Tokyo.  The shelves at the grocery store and convenience stores are empty.  In certain stores, soft drinks are still available, but in others, there is no water, no drinks and no alcohol.  The daily things such as toilet paper and tissue paper are still relatively scarce, and there are limitations on many things that people can purchase like water.  The land in certain areas which are man made, have buckled under the pressure of the shaking from the earthquake.  The shortage of power in the Greater Tokyo Area has caused many people and industries to go on stand-by for rolling black outs.  Although the everybody has playing a big role in helping to save energy, with so little lights, every night is a reminder that Tokyo is also on life support, still not fully recovered from the damage.

Then there’s everything else with political parties, elections and nuclear power plants, but honestly, everyone has a different stance on that, and everyone is entitled to their opinion about it.  It’s too serious and too touchy to discuss on here, so I will leave that debate for another time.

I felt strongly, that life is precious, and I shouldn’t plan for things that don’t matter to me.  Every single day of my life, I should be striving to be the best that I can be, and I should strive to make my surroundings feel that I am able to contribute to by being my best.  At the same time, if I am unable to gain understanding for my goals and aspirations, and be told be the image that someone believes me to be, then I have to make a choice of whether I should hold faith in the life that others promise me, or to take control of the path I feel that I should be going on.  There’s many uncertainties, and many will say, “you should be doing this” or “you shouldn’t be doing that”, but the only true answer is “what “I” want to do”.

“What I want to do”, and “where I am now” are the two answers that I will strive to have an answer for.  Everything in between is what I “should” be doing.


Filed under: Canada, Japan, Life, Photography, Quotes, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , ,

Revolutions Are Bittersweet: Travels From Yemen

With the recent developments in Northern Africa and the Middle East, I cannot but feel inspired by the unity and courage that the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain etc. are showing. However, I worry for those that will end up sacrificing their lives in the name of a revolution. Why must revolutions always come at the cost of so many lives? No one will ever know.

I visited Yemen in 2009 and for lack of a better excuse, at the time I was “too busy” to blog or share my images from my experiences with the country and its hospitable people.

So here are some memorable moments from one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, a UNESCO site – Sana’a (pre-demonstrations).

Food for thought: Yemen has been battling water shortages for years. Experts say the capital, Sana’a, could run dry in 14 years. Check out

Curious Yemeni boys come out to welcome me as I explore the narrow streets of Sana'a photographed by Susan Wong

My Yemeni friends and their families were so hospitable!  During their lunch breaks they’d meet me somewhere in the city to show me around!  Here are some curious boys that greeted me while we explored.
A man waits to be seated inside a restaurant during the busiest times of the day at the market in Sana'a, Yemen photographed by Susan Wong

No one can turn down the fragrant smells of Yemeni spices during lunch time.  Here’s a man waiting to enter a crowded restaurant.
Yemeni wearing black robes, bourga’a and balto, while in pubic in Sana'a, Yemen photographed by Susan Wong

Most Yemeni women wear black cloaks and veils, better known as balto and bourga’a.  I met some expats (women) working in the country and they told me that it was imperative to wear one in order to gain trust from colleagues etc.

Skyline view of old Sana'a, Yemen photographed by Susan Wong

The distinct skyline of Old Sana’a which is a UNESCO site and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world!

Merchant selling dates in Sana'a.  Dates are an integral part of the livelihoods of the Yemeni.  Photographed by Susan Wong

Dates are loved by everyone!  You can even have your fortune read through date pits.  So don’t just trash them.

Yemeni sweets photographed by Susan Wong

Yemeni sweets fresh out of the fryer!  I swear everyone had a sweet tooth to the Nth degree!  Dentists in the country must make a lot of money!

Kebabs are essential to the diet of the Yemeni photographed by Susan Wong

All sorts of kebabs and the seafood was sooooo fresh from the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea!

Once a moat surrounding the Old City of Sana'a, it is now a modern highway that divides the old from the new photographed by Susan Wong

What use to be a moat protecting the Old City now is a crowded essential highway for commuters.

Saturday morning market in Sana'a, Yemen photographed by Susan Wong

Busy market day on the weekends.  Yes, this picture only features men.

Have a great week!

P.S. Remember the wise words of MLK: “Injustice anywhere, is a risk for injustice everywhere!”

Filed under: Life, Photography, Quotes, Thoughts, Travel, Yemen, , , , , , , , , ,


I believe everyone has the innate willingness to give. Though sometimes we may feel intimidated and hesitant with the concept of selfless giving, but once you start helping others, you just can’t stop. Giving is simply infectious. And, most importantly, we all have it in us.

Today [2 weeks ago] was an incredible day. Actually, it was exhilarating! Prior to my visit to Toronto, Tadeese, the Director of Bright Hope Bright Future Kindergarten had informed me that upon my return to Addis Ababa, a reception in my honour would be held. I really didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t donate these chairs and tables to be recognized, nor did I want the attention. This was just my humble attempt to inspire others, and to do something for these incredibly joyful children and their financially-stricken community.

When I heard about the numerous confirmed guests, I was in total shock. It turned out that while I was in Canada, Tadesse was able to successfully invite members of the community, all of the students’ parents, government officials, children’s sponsors, journalists, representatives from businesses and colleges, and finally potential sponsors.

Today [2 weeks ago], as I walked through the gates of the school, I was overwhelmed by the outpour of gratitude, appreciation, and support. As my gaze fell on the 100 or so strangers awaiting my arrival on this early Sunday morning, I couldn’t help but question whether or not a sense of disappointment had ever crossed their minds. They took timeout of their busy lives for me, whom seemed to be young and naïve?! They probably imagined the guest of honour to be much older or at least someone who looked wiser. When all of the children welcomed me loudly and waved with illuminating smiles, it was clear, I was the ‘Suzan’ they had spoke about. A simple 23-year-old young Asian woman…um, surprise?!

In addition to presenting the books, crayons, pencils, sharpeners, games, and numerous other donations that were donated by my friends and family to the school, the program also included an awards ceremony for the top 3 students in each class. As the morning went on, random people in attendance began to raise their hands and pledge their support! There were many who pledged to sponsor some of the children, and there were others who decided to donate 1000birr in cash! These generous people had always had it in them to give, but because of all of your donations, YOU HAVE INSPIRED OTHERS TO HELP TOO!

GIVING, IS SIMPLY INFECTIOUS. It’s easy to get cynical when you’re stuck in cyclical bureaucracy and surrounded by people and organizations that have lost the passion to advocate. But, with a little inspiration and some momentum, realizing our social responsibilities is as easy as 1-2-3.

Let’s continue….to work together….and to inspire one another.

Susan Wong in Ethiopia Visiting a Kindergarten March 23, 2008

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Ethiopia, Life, Photography, Quotes, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , ,

God’s Energy-O-Meter

 For the past week and a half, I’ve been overcome by the fatigue-bug. My worst enemy. Susan, tired?! Impossible! Well, I am.

I’ve been having late nights almost daily and I haven’t been sleeping like a rock as per usual. Perhaps my body is overwhelmed by the flea bites, or maybe it’s just my fault for trying to keep up with my social network. I can literally feel my energy-o-meter dipping. I really need some rejuvenation, physically and spiritually.

Unusual events have happened to almost all of my friends. It ranges from sickness to misdiagnoses to surgery to harassment to extremely unexpected news; I suppose I’m just waiting for something to happen to me. I’ve escaped so far, but I know, eventually it will be my turn.

I’ve been in one of my “self-evaluation” phases. When you’re far away from home, alone, and away from what you’re familiar with, feeling vulnerable is inevitable. All of the superficial and corrupt layers of big-city life are stripped away, and in the end you’ve only got the gist of who you are – what you’re really made of.

To be honest, when I said my “Goodbyes” during the week prior to my departure from Toronto, tears fell every single time. My tears were not because of sadness or fear, rather I knew they fell because of joy and excitement. I knew I was saying “Goodbye” for the last time as “Susan-before-Ethiopia-happened”. When I see those same faces again, a different Susan will be standing before them.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, it’s simply to enjoy even the moments of uncertainty. Because, even in uncertainty I’ve found stability. I had always found it hard to “wait on God” when I was in TO. Perhaps it’s the busy lifestyle that brainwashed me. We all have plans for the future. Whether it’s pursuing higher education or preparing for retirement with purchasing RRSPs, we take things into our own hands. We forget to give credit to where it’s really due – our Lord. But in Ethiopia, I am totally at the hands of God’s mercy. There was nothing that could’ve prepared me for this life I have begun to love living. It’s incredible. A life where complete trust in God’s plans underly every choice, every thought, every prayer, every relationship, every hope, every goal… Unshakable stability.

When you are stripped of everything you know, exposed, and feeling cold and naked, you can only depend and surrender at God’s feet. There’s just no other choice. If you’re afraid of revealing who you really are, that’s ok, because acknowledging your faults and imperfections is the first step to experiencing and being amazed by real Grace.

You don’t have to take my word for it, just see for yourself.

p.s. Thanks to Beniam for the tips and encouragement!

Harar, Ethiopia “Blooming Clarity” by Susan Wong

Filed under: Ethiopia, Life, Photography, Quotes, Thoughts, Travel, , , , ,

Through My Eyes


%d bloggers like this: