I sit here in an extremely air conditioned room, filled with deep dark cherry wood, Egyptian cotton bedding, the sounds of garden parties filtering through the window, the faint smell of coconut rolls and green apples in the air. The soft lights illuminate my surroundings perfectly and Jesse Morrow croons from my laptop as I type. I write from Le Meridien Hotel in Siem Reap, a delightful and unexpected getaway mixed with some business and a lot of leisure.
It’s been a long twenty three days since I’ve last posted, every single one of them filled to the brim with adventures, lessons, excitements, moments and thoughts that simply cannot be given justice by my novice writing. The ability to sit down and compile my feelings and thoughts left me for the past few weeks and to force anything would have resulted in something less than. This past Thursday I had a saccharine sweet, always inspiring, and much needed dinner date with Ms. Ashley Louise aka Dear Lady Expat and after not having spent quality time with her for several weeks, had much to catch up on. Between bites of the tenderest pork filet mignon, nutmeg infused carrot puree and fluffy homemade madeleines drenched in a honey sauce at Ze Foodiebus (also sips of my favorite white wine I’ve had since living here, UBY) we picked through every detail of our holidays spent in Phnom Penh, the painful lows and the ecstatic highs that we’ve somehow quickly left behind in the whirlwind of the now present New Year. After undressing and discussing every moment we could possibly think of that stirs importance in our minds, Ashley asked what word I would use to describe last year, and which word I would choose for this upcoming 2013.
We both agreed that last year’s were a mixture of change, transition, adjectives of that sort. Recently having seen The Perks of Being A Wallflower, the quote “we were infinite” struck a chord deep within me. It could be the timing, the place I am in life or the nostalgia it evoked from taking in that book so many years ago at age ten, but the words rang true. When I told her my word for two thousand thirteen was “infinite”, she had to take a deep breath and ponder for a moment. We both did, and hopefully we will get the rest of the year to figure out what it means to us and why.
On January 2nd I accepted a position as English Editor at Ladies Magazine. Ladies has up until now been a 99% Khmer publication, focusing mainly on reaching the local Khmer audience but overall ignoring the rapidly increasing expat population making their way to Phnom Penh. With the expected growth of the city in the next five to ten years with a strong influence from international brands and hard hitters in the fashion industry, Ladies wisely decided to take their publication bi-lingual. There is much to be done for this magazine, as much of it (to me and my peers) feels dated, unpolished, and at time completely irrelevant. It seems like a massive project to take on, but with my co-workers recently hired and the dedicated team who has been here for years ready to learn and progress, I’m confident that in the next year Ladies will have a new face, audience, and outlook on the market, industry and everything in between. Not to shock my dear family and friends back home, I was somehow coaxed into doing the magazine’s first self styled and shot lingerie spread, a big move for a publication in Cambodia as their stance on sexuality is so skewed (more to come on this soon, a heavier topic to be regarded) and tattoos are extremely uncommon in mainstream Khmer culture. We’ll see how the photo spread turns out, I’ll post once the issue has been released (sorry Mom!) The photographer Dylan Maddux, a fellow American hailing from LA, was comfortable to work with and although I was in a room filled with stylists, assistants, and the like in nothing but my knickers, felt utterly at ease. As much as I do love wearing actual clothing and being surrounded by beautiful things, the every day focus on Alexander McQueen, handbag trends for the next five years and Louis Vuitton’s newest checkered print does tend to bore me after about the fifth hour. I’ve never considered myself a true, die hard fashionista as Carrie Bradshaw and I have extreme differences and spending $700 on shoes seems like a sin. I prefer oversized tees and worn in boots and I’d rather be reading Gourmet magazine than ELLE, so luckily we have Prom Vorleak (designer and owner of JaVo’s Jeans) as the new Fashion Editor to take the reigns on the heavy pulp of the fashion and trend following work. Not only is she a skilled stylist, she’s become a good friend at Tiger Media and one to share the feelings of taking on a magazine as new editors, both the good and bad. I feel extremely blessed to be allowed as part of this transition and although I am sure trials will surface, I hope to move forward at warp speed.
Janauary 1st I moved into a new apartment in BKK3, a neighborhood across town from my previous residence in Tonle Bassac. Although a quick 10-15 minute tuk-tuk ride from good old Mischke No. 12 not during rush hour, the scene has changed drastically. Gone are the numerous chain coffee shops mirroring Starbucks, the English speaking drivers and shop keepers, the boutique restaurants and pharmacies stocked with brand name tampons. Welcome are the street side noodle shops, markets bustling with action and smelling of rank fish and filled with jewel toned fruits, kids on bicycles full of laughter and life, and plentiful are street cats ready for the chasing. The top floor flat with a spacious and much used terrace is shared with three friends and although it took a few weeks of settling time and we are no where close to being finished with the nesting process (SO MUCH TO DO, BUY, AND ARRANGE) I feel that it’s slowly becoming a place I can call home for the next year until the lease needs to be resigned. At that point, who knows what I’ll be doing.
Allison Kuester, of course a necessary living partner, stays in the room furthest from mine but that doesn’t stop us from basically sharing a room at all times other than sleeping, a bathroom, clothes, snacks, and everything in between. We’ve freely shared and defragmented our experiences, fears, joys, failures, and successes with one another and the friendship we had twelve years ago has only taken on a form stronger than ever. It’s a beautiful thing to hear someone out at a restaurant that you barely know say “wow, you guys must be really good friends”, simply by watching our interactions. There are some confidants, friends, and companions you find you can’t live with as they end of irritating you or invading your space or your lifestyles simply don’t mirror one anothers enough to feel comfortable, Allison is not one of those. Living together has only brought us closer in this adventure of living in the wild, wild Southeast and I look forward to seeing her at the end of every day and every morning when she brings me a cup of piping hot coffee in bed. Amazing much?
Peter Adams also resides with us and although it’s difficult to catch him between work, many trips traveling abroad, his rigorous physical activity training between kickboxing, basketball, and regular stuff that buff people do- we enjoy every moment spent with him when he is around. His positivity catches easily and you definitely feel safe with his 6 foot 7 frame around.
*I’m not sure if he’s really 6’7″, but it sure feels that way when you’re down here around 5
John Shakespear (aka Shakes, ShakinitsallIknow, Dancing Bug) and yes that is his real name, has been a wonderful person to add to our friends circle. His laid back demeanor, beautiful musical skills, and overall sense of humor makes him a welcome addition to any evening out and about or just seeing his face during the day always brightens things up. It’s always a treat to go watch Durian, the band he plays in, get the crowd going insane at Equinox and I look forward to upcoming excursions with this fellow.
There are plenty of non-official residents at The Pepto Abyss (a name lovingly given in reference to its bright pink walls) like Nico, Ritchie, The Colonel, and Colitis the Cat who continue to make every day one to remember.
To recount the last month in one entry would be an insult, but to forget them with time would be a slap in the face. New Year’s Eve was spent with some of the most fantastic people I’ve had the pleasure to meet and have in my life atop Eclipse Sky Bar, downing Absolut with a view of the city and finally making our way down (aka falling) 22 flights of stairs in heels, leather pants and generally being happy in the haze of a drunken hour. A day trip to Oudong shook up the “regularity” of our schedules, which are anything but regular. There is little more thrilling than being on a motorcycle going 90mph on a primarily dirt road to ancient temples grazing trucks overloaded with cabbages and fellow travelers, watching monkeys doing things creepily similar to that of your friends, climbing steps crumbled with time, and sharing a meal of fried rice on a wooden dais surrounded by people you love. Delirious Friday nights at La Croisette listening to Arcade Fire and The Runaways and The Kinks, put on by some of the most dashing Scots in town, dancing about like maniacs and laughing like hyenas. Some of the best times remembered in Phnom Penh are spent four on a moto going on late night Sour Cream and Onion Pringles and Power Cap runs to VIP Mart and the most mundane of errands will rest firmly and happily in our memories for years to come.
There have been draining, sometimes anger-inducing, tired gaps in time also, though never lasting longer than a few hours. Psycho hose beasts trying to lurk on my parade, seemingly incompetent landlords ignoring contracts and basic housing requests, bouts of sickness and the occasional nightmare…these things pale in comparison to the blindingly wonderful moments that find their way into my days and nights.
I’m ever grateful that my mother lives here, and that only continues to grow as my time spent here increases. On her first day back from the States, she lunched with Ritchie, Nico, Allison and I at Willow, listening to our adventures and ridiculous stories with rapt attention, hilarity, and overall genuine motherly love. We enjoyed a riotous and endearing showing of This American Life at The Flicks 1, a more than perfect welcome home. I begin to understand some of what she’s explained to me in the past of living overseas, of the richness of it unexplainable to anyone who hasn’t experiences it firsthand. Her relationships and dreams become more real to me and even as she struggles through her own personal battles, always has time to counsel the ones who are important to me and listen with wise looks and knowing nods to everything I have to say with patience, love, soft questioning and sometimes grim understanding. Her strength this past year continues to amaze me and I hope that the traits she holds will somehow magically be transferred to me. I remember visiting her here in April of 2012, during her fourth month residing in Cambodia. It’s strange at this point to think that I have now lived here longer than she had at that point, she was so comfortable with her surroundings and seemed to feel absolutely at home. I can state with confidence that I’m well on my way to the same mindset. Make sure to visit her BLOG, the insights are thought provoking and her ability to let readers into her life is admirable.
2013 has treated me more than kindly. It’s difficult to believe we’re not even one month into the year, with the amount of beauty I’ve been allowed to be a part of. They tell me at the magazine that it’s the year of the Snake. I was born in the year of the snake and according to my coworkers, I’ll be married and pregnant by the end of the year. Here’s to hoping this is just their vision of success and bounty, as I’m pretty positive twenty thirteen will put me on a road less traveled.
As Nico would say, for every toast, any night and will continue to do so until after Khmer New Year,
“Cheers to 2013.”