Q&A With Calvin D. Sun
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Q&A With Calvin D. Sun
This weekend I have the honor of doing a Q&A with a very special person. Not only is Calvin D. Sun the author of the novel “The Monsoon Diaries,” he is an emergency physician in emergency medicine. Calvin has provided care to patients in New York City when Covid-19 first broke out. Calvin is also the CEO of the travel company also named “The Monsoon Diaries”.
Q: What made you want to write the memoir “The Monsoon Diaries”?
A: Out of pure happenstance I was approached by a couple of literary agents in January of 2021 and asked if I would be willing to transform my past 17 years of writing — and especially the past 3 since the pandemic — into a memoir.
They felt what I had already written could be suitable for a broader audience in a published book. I said “sure!”, went with the flow, got them everything they needed when they asked for it, and soon got acquired by HarperCollins to publish The Monsoon Diaries in September of 2022!
Q: How do you juggle being a doctor, an author and having the travel company? I admit all of those are very impressive.
A: Thank you! One of the most powerful forces in our lives are the habits we form.
During medical school I decided to continue a habit out of daily writing while traveling, and developing a new habit out of taking micro-trips: If I had 2 consecutive days off from school or work, I would try not to see those 2 days as another regular weekend to recharge, but rather an opportunity to make an international trip possible.
For example, if you can get on a flight out on
a Friday night, you can reach almost anywhere in Europe, the
Caribbean, Central America, or South America from the East Coast USA by Saturday
morning. You can consider the same for west coast USA to Asia, southern USA
to Central or South America, or the Midwest USA to Europe. Then the next 36
hours anywhere is enough to explore most medium-sized cities and towns before
you have to return Sunday night.
My trip to Ireland in 24 hours with 7 people best exemplifies this. Even The New York Times has an entire column how to travel “36 Hours” for a weekend trip.
Once I became an attending physician after medical school and residency training, I had more autonomy and control over my schedule, so I traveled even more. And because I continued my habit of always documenting what I was experiencing, I already had 17 years of writing to transform into a manuscript by the time I was approached last year about turning it all into a book.
Striving to fail: I understand there are
those of you who may feel exhausted reading about this in the first place,
thinking that these micro-trips “not be worth it” and “I’ll wait until I
have more time.”
Is it fear that’s compelling the negative response? For fear never got us anywhere unless we reframe it as another challenge that we use to push our limits: The biggest risk you can take is to take none at all. Or rather, what I usually say, strive to fail — meaning, if I’m not pushing myself to one step away from figurative failure, then I’m not doing enough with my life.
We all feel fear — what matters is what each of us does with that fear. Perhaps fear shows us what the next step is to push our limits, existing also to motivate us to achieve things we never thought we could. I guess that’s another habit I’ve formed.
Q: What advice do you give to those who want to go into the medical field and have a travel company like you do?
A. Know yourself first before you jump into anything. Perhaps go on a few solo trips on your own and see if you truly can be your own best friend in a space where you don’t know anyone in a 100-mile radius, don’t speak the language, can’t read any of the signages or what’s on TV, and nobody knows you in a 100-mile radius. If you can’t take care of or be comfortable with yourself even in the loneliest of settings, you’re not in an ideal position where you can take care of anyone else, let alone a medical team or a group of travel companions in a foreign land away from home (both of which may feel even lonelier and more challenging if you’re not as ready as you can be).
Travel authentically. Channel and even celebrate your inner Forrest Gump that’s jogging around the country — doing it because you “just felt like running.” — then maybe that’s a sign you’re jogging in the right direction.
Finally, the irony I learned the past 12 years is to never do anything for the money. The less you look to make a profit and recognize true value from within when you travel, genuinely, the more the right people will seek you. And perhaps in the grand irony of life, the powers that be may reward you for that authenticity.
Q: While writing your first-hand account of events, were there parts that were particularly difficult to write down?
A: Not particularly as everything I’ve written was documented in real time as they were happening; we needed to show the world what we were experiencing on the frontlines of a pandemic. Otherwise the feeling of and regret over not writing them down would have been even more difficult to fathom!
Q: At what point in your life did you realize you were called to be a doctor as well as a writer and having your travel company?
A: Around the middle to latter half of my residency training in Emergency Medicine.
Travel, and writing while traveling, is like stepping away from a beautiful painting you’ve been staring up close for too long. Getting away regularly – whether physically or emotionally – allows you to reset your perspective and see more clearly what you already have at home. In other words, you don’t leave home to find something beautiful you don’t have, but rather realizing that the daily routine of what you already have at home — and may take for granted — is already that beautiful thing. And it’s okay to travel to relearn that again and again and again. That’s why they call it a “practice.”
Travelling with this new perspective allowed me to return to work every day feeling more capable, armed with that true fulfillment I always long sought; from a medical student who was never sure if he really wanted to become a doctor, regular travel led me to finally recognize how I had the best job on the planet in the emergency room by the latter half of my residency training.