Today we are shining a spotlight on Yu Zhu (Jamaicasianbaby), a multi-talented Resident with an impressive array of skills, from photography to vlogging to styling, and even landscaping!
How long have you been in Second Life and how did you first hear about it?
I have been in Second Life since 2011. Actually, I can't quite recall the website where I first saw the ad for Second Life, but I do remember that it immediately caught my interest because I’ve always enjoyed playing life-simulation games, like the Sims, since I was quite young.
Your Second Life photos are amazing, do you have a background in photography, and what are some of the tools you use to enhance your images?
Thank you, and unfortunately, I do not have any background in photography. I was raised by very traditional, well-intentioned parents who preferred that I attended dental school instead of art school. My late older brother, who passed away in 2020, was actually able to become a photographer/videographer. He was always very skilled with computers and gadgets from a really young age. He was the one who introduced me to the program Adobe Photoshop when I was around 12 years old and he taught me how to select objects in an image to remove the background.
When I was under a tremendous amount of pressure during dental school, I was able to use SL photography as an escape and an outlet for some of the frustrations I felt at the time. As much as I hate to admit it, I am sort of a pushover by nature so I found some satisfaction in portraying a more assertive and endearing character through photos of my avatar. My aim when editing snapshots was to enhance the realism of this character and the scenes as much as I could. I started with the old skills that my brother had taught me and I continued to polish those skills, learning mostly by trial and error since I didn’t know of many SL photo editing tutorials at the time.
Around 2013 I was introduced to Flickr and that was where I started sharing my work. I soon started blogging and enjoyed it for a few years. This experience pushed me to experiment with different ideas and concepts, which then in turn helped me to further develop my skills with SL photography. After some time I started receiving requests for portraits and store advertisements. In the past, I used to be more active with accepting clients and have done ads for various stores like Addams, Bad Unicorn, Cold Ash, The Forge, and others. I have drastically reduced my client intake since then because my hobby started feeling too much like ‘work’ rather than something fun and creative. In any case, I have no regrets about the experiences as I was able to learn a lot through them and met some really great folks along the way.
Recently, my partner upgraded me to a custom gaming pc so I was finally able to start playing around with Black Dragon viewer. After having used Firestorm viewer for years on my laptop, I was blown away by the quality of graphics on Black Dragon and how it’s able to significantly augment the overall aesthetics in Second Life. This viewer definitely helps to enhance images and make them more realistic with less requirement for post-editing of snapshots in Photoshop. It does take some time to become familiar with all of the settings. I am still in the process of learning myself, but I have really grown to enjoy using this viewer to capture my raw images.
You have your own YouTube channel, can you tell us how you got into creating videos, what kind of content you focus on, and what are some of the tools you use?
I think the moment that triggered the chain of events that led me to start my channel was around the end of 2022, when I logged into SL after a long time and was going through my inventory with an intense feeling of guilt. I couldn't believe the embarrassing amount of unused items that were just sitting in my inventory, some that have not even been unboxed yet. Around this time as well, I was watching various architectural and home decor videos on Youtube because I had just married my SL partner in RL and we were attempting to design our first official home together. I felt spontaneously inspired to attempt a little virtual home tour video with a skybox that I had set up at the time and that was the very first video I uploaded to Youtube.
There are so many things I enjoy doing on SL that I personally can’t always capture through a snapshot, like decorating and landscaping. Even when it comes to fashion. I play dress-up with my avatar on a regular basis and I go through tons of outfits that I often don’t get the chance to take pictures of. I take a decent amount of time to edit each image and I have my limits when it comes to tastefully capturing an entire outfit from head to toe in a single photo. I figured videos would be a nice way to showcase many full outfits and pretty much all the rest of the things I like to get into on SL. I wanted to create fun and aesthetically pleasing videos that I could look back on and perhaps others would enjoy watching them as well. So far it has also been a nice way to share in more detail about what I do on SL with my RL friends and family.
I guess you can describe my content as 'vlogs' as I focus on the things I do on SL/how I spend my time on SL. The topics range from fashion to creating shapes to landscaping and interior design to photography and photo editing plus more. I use a free screen recorder from ScreenRec.com to capture my scenes. The first video editing program I tried out was Shotcut, which is free and pretty straightforward to use. But then I learned about Filmora shortly after and tried the demo version of it. I had so much fun using this video editor and learning all the features that I went ahead and got the full version.
You also co-own the Bamboo destination in Second Life. What inspired it and what can Residents expect when they visit?
Bamboo originally started off as a homestead and my private home with my partner, Jin Zhu. We’re both Asians living in the Western part of the world, so we wanted to design our SL home in a way that would represent our traditional cultures. Jin has roots in China, while mine are in Myanmar (a country in Southeast Asia). We wanted to create a home where we could feel nostalgic and relive familiar experiences from our childhoods. As we worked on materializing our vision, our passion quickly grew for this personal project and soon we expanded our homestead to a full sim and made it open to the public on March 18, 2022.
Although we are both quite aware of the many unique differences between each Asian country, we can also appreciate the vast similarities that the majority of Asian cultures share. An often humid atmosphere, the rich smell of earth after the rain, the intense singing of insects and wildlife that thrive in lush vegetation, dense forests of ancient bamboo trees, and the sizzling sounds of fragrant foods cooking around street market vendors, are just a few examples of the similarities among Asian countries. Buddhism is also a prevalent religion in most of Asia. In many towns, one can find Buddhist temples and it is common for homes and places of business to have shrines and statues of Buddha. From our own personal recollections, we found that most countries in Asia are also especially similar when it comes to rural landscapes and villages. We pulled inspiration from memories of our travels back to our motherlands in order to create a place on SL that, in our perspective, showcased the essence of a rural far-eastern environment.
Visitors may also stumble upon a hidden memorial on our sim that Jin kindly helped me to curate. This memorial was set up to pay tribute to the thousands of heroes that have fallen at the hands of the Myanmar military since 2021 - some as young as 1 year old, some even younger. Not very many are aware of what has been happening in Myanmar as these events have been overshadowed by the major war between Ukraine and Russia. Nevertheless, the crimes that have been committed against humanity are equally abhorrent. We wish to promote awareness of the current events that are still unfolding in Myanmar and the resilience of its civilians in their resistance against a well-established dictatorship. A cruel dictatorship that confiscated and withheld oxygen, medical supplies, and services from civilians during the peak of Covid-19 outbreaks. My own paternal uncle and cousin, who were both residing in Myanmar during this time, were not able to get access to the oxygen they needed and eventually lost their battles with the virus along with thousands of others. I am now constantly worried about losing more loved ones. Those who are resisting the military are mostly young high school students, nurses, doctors, teachers, farmers, and activists among many others. Innocent human beings, most of whom have never seen a weapon in their lives before these events. They are fighting for the freedom to hold onto their dignity and dreams, things that we often take for granted in democratic countries. The only thing that is keeping this current revolution alive is the conviction of those fighting for peace and their hope for a brighter future. The story of Myanmar is full of beauty, inspiration, tragedy, and heartbreak. I sincerely implore anyone who may be curious, to dive into its rich history and learn more about it.
Needless to say, our Bamboo sim holds much sentimental value for both me and Jin. It is a space to honor those who stood for peace during their lives and it further serves as a place to nurture and find peace within one’s own current life. This is what Residents can expect if they do decide to visit the Bamboo Destination in Second Life.
How has Second Life impacted your life?
Perhaps this may be considered taboo for most people to say but I have to admit, Second Life has been more than just ‘a game’ for me. It somehow evolved into something bigger and has integrated into my life where it will forever serve as a historic foundation for the person I am today. When I signed up with the most uncreative username that I could come up with in two seconds, I was not expecting that SL would pretty much change my entire life.
Second Life gave me the creative outlet I didn’t really have growing up. Through this platform, I was able to explore my creativity and get through difficult times by being able to express myself in a variety of ways that would not have been possible in reality. 2020 was an especially tough year and with the travel restrictions, it was nice to be able to do things on SL like building places to escape to or taking pictures at beautiful locations that you can get to with the click of a mouse.
I usually would never share any of my artwork with anyone I knew in RL but the warmth and encouragement I received from the Second Life community for my work really helped me to start believing in my own creative abilities. I am sincerely grateful to those who have been so kind and supportive to me over the years because it helped me to open up more in RL. My brother was the first person in my life with whom I shared my SL photography and landscaping work and it is now one of my most cherished memories with him. Since his passing, I finally gathered enough courage to share my work with my parents as well. I think many people who have grown up around western culture but under strict traditionalist, Asian parents can relate when I say, opening up to our parents is one of the hardest things to do. I’m pretty sure my parents didn’t understand much of what I was showing them but their acceptance and support for me that day has also become one of my most cherished memories in life. In a way, SL helped me to break many boundaries with my family.
Last but not least, I met my now real-life partner in Second Life. I actually already knew about Jin Zhu before we even spoke for the first time in 2018. Dynasty was one of the very first stores I discovered and loved on SL as the items invoked feelings of nostalgia for me and especially because in my early days on SL I did not come across many items with Asian themes. At the time I would have never expected that one day the creator would personally reach out to me, much less that I would end up marrying this amazing, talented, and kind individual. Jin and I were really able to connect and learn about each other through our creative endeavors on Second Life. We were able to talk a great deal and got to know each other while working on different projects and over time, precisely three years of long distance and a lot of traveling later, we both had the profound realization that there could be none more compatible than we were for each other. Jin proposed to me in Jamaica, where I grew up since I was 2 years old, on November 18, 2021. We have been married as of September 28, 2022, and I am now living in a whole new country and have a totally different life than what I could have ever imagined before I signed up to Second Life with a silly username.
Tell us about some of the other Residents in SL that inspire you and whose work you admire.
This question is the most difficult to answer as there are many talented and inspiring residents in SL. A few of my favorite stores that I can list off the top of my head, other than Dynasty, of course, are .Shi, BBQQ and [SAU] Motors. The creators behind these stores are all amazing individuals who are always so humble and supportive. I also admire artwork by Petra Messioptra (PM), who is one of the first artists/bloggers that I started following when I joined Flickr in 2013. William Weaver was also a great inspiration to me in my early days on Flickr, but unfortunately, I can no longer find his work on the platform. Some of his videos can still be found on Youtube. I've also enjoyed videos/blogs by Strawberry Singh, which I find to be quite detailed and informative. There are so many amazing residents in SL and I could fill many pages if I were to list them all here.
Where can people see your work? Please share links to your sites and social media accounts.
Watch this fantastic video submitted by Yu Zhu for this Spotlight feature.
Thank you, Yu Zhu, for sharing your life-changing experiences with us.
Each of our Spotlight posts features a different Resident to showcase the spectrum of experiences and personalities found in our virtual world. If you have created something inworld that you’re proud of, or have had a deeply meaningful experience that could brighten someone else’s day, please sign up! More info here: https://second.life/spotlight-signup
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