Friday, April 06, 2012

Jailhouse Rock ... or Being Locked Out of Your Cell on the Other Side of the Planet

Okay, now I am committed to relocating to Cambodia … not because I have landed the fulfilling, leverage a bit of my seasoned skill set salaried position that will cover the nuts on both sides of the Pacific ... but because tomorrow I purchase another BlackBerry Torch 98something.

Not for the $49 AT&T charged.  No way naturally. But waaaaaaaaaaaay more.

Why? Went to the phone store today on Sihanouk Boulevard in the shadow of Independence Monument celebrating the victory from French rule.  Mobitel. THE one all my darling new friends recommend.

Waited for the mostly English-speaking sales person, waded trough the options in curlicue Khmer and bit the bullet to purchase a 60 day package. $20 bucks + $2 for the 3.5G SIM.  Twenty-two dollars. American.

What are our mobile phone providers thinking? Not going there.

Anyhoo ... after I purchased that 3.5G SIM for my old tried and true purchased-on-eBay-for-a-song quad band Motorola Razr, we discovered that my unlocked, spend no money backup is, in fact, locked. Tighter than a steely bar door along a dark and dingy jailhouse cell. Block, that is.

With butterflies in my stomach I acquiesed, said ‘no problem, why not’ this is the new me, the bold, courageous travel across the world to a frontier nation adventurere ... removed the virgin SIM card nervously from my BlackBerry.  Drum roll. Not only is it locked (so much for the AT&T and CrackBerry online unlocking tutorials) but someone threw away the key.  Lock, stock and barrel.

When I slipped the SIM gently back into its cradle it doesn’t recognize it.  Flashing notice on my screen: New Sim Card! Need password to access.

Okay. Easy. Have it memorized.  I gingerly entered the correct passcode NINE TIMES. One more time and my phone goes on permanent lock down. Gheesh.

Nevermind that I am 8500 miles from the closest 800 number access to any help line, but Internet is down  all afternoon at the charming boutique hotel where I am temporarily residing.   

So tomorrow at 8:30 and not a moment later, Tony (my very own Cambodian tuk-tuk driver ... AKA chariot with the red leatherette seats) is taking me to get a new BlackBerry Torch activating e SIM. Beaucoup $$$ but frankly with all that I am going to do here (got an email from one of my PP contacts re starting a consulting firm) feel this is the right way to go.  

The proud owner of yet another smart phone. Smarter than me. And with my new besties in Ha Noi this weekend no one to walk me through the laborious procedure of setting up four email accounts.  No assistance. None. Nada. Rien. K'mee-un ay dtay.

Not going to sweat the small stuff. 

Not at all.

Finally able to fill in the blank of my computer generated business cards. And with luck the Khmer-god kings will smile from on high and I will stroll gracefully into my first work week in my almost new home.

Cheers from the lemongrass!



Tuesday, April 03, 2012

My very first guest blogger!! Skip! One Fabulous Part of the Gabi-Skip Dynamic Duo. My new besties in Phnom Penh!

Crazy feeling, this notion of packing up and, well, spiriting halfway around the world? Leaving snow, and four seasons, and a weird presidential primary featuring Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney? (Not since Larry,  Moe and Curley have three goofballs taken such front and center in the American psyche, in my book). Leaving NE clam chowder, a warm fireplace and a finger of single malt on a Saturday night to ward off the persistent New England cold of March, which to me always felt the most stubborn and unforgiving month of the year?

For what?

For this:

Sultry days when the sun drives nearly everyone to the shade mid-day and most Cambodians head for their own special version of siesta, which means a nice nap lying wherever they can - in tuk-tuks, on motorbikes, in their office chairs, on floors, on sidewalks.

Every kind of food imaginable representing most of the world's cultures, some that defies description and some with descriptions you'd rather not read.

The chaos of a Phnom Penh street, with tuk-tuks, motorbikes and cars coming at you from every direction, all driving by blank-faced Cambodians with cell phones glued to their ears, oblivious to the fact that they're driving on the wrong side of the road straight at a pedestrian with a horrified end-of-life look on her face.

The nightly explosion of activities in each and every park in the city, when people pour out of their homes to exercise. There are aerobics classes, with frumpy middle aged women side by side with skinny guys with their pants falling off their skinny butts, all gyrating and shimmying to the ear-splitting beat of techno pop. There are groups of men in circles, kicking a shuttlecock back and forth in awe-inspiring displays of hand-eye coordination and athletic prowess which defy their potbellies. And everywhere - everywhere - are young couples, sitting on motorbikes, curbs, benches, talking, joking, primping, positioning.

You're also arriving coincidentally with the 12th ASEAN forum, which is a massive gathering of political leaders from all over SE Asia. The Chinese president and his enormous entourage (what would one expect?) are here now, and the streets are packed with assault rifle-toting soldiers who close main street seemingly forever while one of the countless brand new BMW and Mercedes sedans race by with gawd knows who inside. (It's fascinating that this cash-strapped government with its $2.7 b annual budget miraculously came up with the dough to buy an enormous fleet of luxury vehicles for the event I wonder if they'll have an auction after the bigwigs have gone home?)

You'll find the fountains alight, the trees adorned with millions of tiny flickering lights, the streets cleaner and the homeless and beggars swept to the side (for the time being) in a magnanimous gesture of nationalist pride PR.

Pay no attention to the folderol: it'll all pack up and be stowed away until the next big party, and life will return to biz as usual in the Penh. (It will forever amaze me how a country which struggles so mightily with the basics of health care, education, infrastructure and food supplies can roll up its collective sleeve and roll out a red carpet unlike anywhere I've seen, but I guess that's part of the package.)

But what really matters is this: You're going to find a gateway to your new home, to an amazing country of resilient, warm, engaging and accepting people who will accept you for what you are and regard you as someone they want to be close to and get to know.

And you have us. We are so excited to have you join the fray, and you have a ready-made circle of friends, associates, miscreants and n'erdowells eager to help you onto the launch pad which is Phnom Penh.

Days, now. We're psyched. Enjoy your flight, time with Charlie, and we'll see you in a few short days.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

How lucky am I to be landing in the arms of this dynamic couple who share aligned sensibilities, zany perspectives and a sense of the absurd in the normalcy of life in the 'Pearl of the Indochina' on the banks of the Mekong River, tuk-tuks whirring by? 

Cheers to my darling new friends, Gabi and Skip (she hails from England, he from Boston), in the enchanted, incongruous Kingdom of Cambodia!  Look forward to the wild ride and joining the coterie of kindred spirits who ventured to Phnom Penh before me.

Imagining the possibilities, always ...

Monday, April 02, 2012

Indochina Beckons

In the morning I excitedly leave the comforts of my charming antique home near the coast of Maine, warm loving family and delightful lifelong friends for the excitement of contributing to a new life in Phnom Penh, Cambodia land of the killing fields and opportunity where precious new friends await, the heat of the sub-tropics dauntingly real (hello, Rosanna-danna hair) and an economy poised to emerge in its rightful place in regional Southeast Asian and the global arenas.

Ah but first, after a sixteen plus hour flight over the pole, an airport rendez-vous with my beloved Charlie and his darling friend amid the hurried bustle of Hong Kong as global travellers en route as they criss-cross the planet.  A leisurely lunch, a kiss and a bear hug and we are off. Him to the jungle paradise of Laos; me to my new home dusty but coming alive from the horrors of their recent past and a millennium of slow growth ... a confusing juxtaposition of sophisticated culture and rancid poverty amid the lemongrass and golden palace at the confluence of three rivers.

Over the coming weeks and months, these pages will recount tales of the absurd, nuanced glimpses into this ancient society still living much as it did in the 9th century ... impressive, poignant observations of the Cambodia that both enchants and haunts, presented with sensitivity and compassion as the Khmer move forward with gentleness and hope. 

Bear with me as my voice emerges balanced with a wry sense of the absurd intertwined with a compassionate heartfelt perspective. At times bittersweet. Others hilarious. Some insightful and compelling. But always, always respectful if not a bit irreverent. Maybe a little irrelevant. Pick and choose. Join me on this wild ride through my beloved Indochina where the aroma of freshly baking croissants mingles with the stench of garbage piled high, the sounds of ancient Khmer are tinged with a bit of Franglais and the town comes alive with the patois of foreign expats and the beat of jazz. Listen to the beat of your own drummer pounding an internal message ever so quietly ... and think about visiting this enchanted land of dichotomies.

So, courageous co-travellers, fasten your seat belts and place the tray tables into their upright locked positions.  In two days (if the stars align properly) we'll be on the ground in my beguiling, enchanting, zany home across the globe sipping a dry Hendricks martini three olives up ... and hanging on tightly to a batik fabric loop in the tuk-tuk adventure of a lifetime!

Wahoo. Let the games begin!

Indochine ... ici je viens avec contentment et plaisir!!! Come visit, you are always welcome!

Cheers!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Count Down Narrows

In a few short days, I squeeze the final accroutrements and requisities for life in a third world country into my overpacked bags and leave behind the conveniences of our Western world to venture across the globe, roll up my shirtsleeves and contribute to the economic development of Cambodia as a volunteer (expert no less) at a rights-based NGO promoting a transparent media, the free flow of information and empowering its citizens to understand their role in a democratic society.

Here's to finding a bit of magic in the sparkly, gritty, rain-soaked Kingdom of Cambodia.

Imagining the possibilities, always.

Cheers!

AF's Crazy, Zany, Whacked Out (not so) Adventure into Cambodialand: Reactions and Comments!

You asked for it … how my darling friends and family reacted to the news I am spending a few months in Phnom Penh with the hopes of securing that salaried position that eludes me here and relocate (semi?) permanently in the fall.  So I am sharing their comments. All unbelievable supportive. I am blessed. Truly.

Cheers!

Mom:
Allie...What can I say that I already haven't?  Wonderfully written epistle and one to be envious of "Oh The Places You Will Go".  Saved in my Family file and to look back on at the end of the summer.  Proud of you in every way and my love, confidence, caring, prayers
will be with you all the way from my heart to yours.  Devotedly,  

MFB:
I am proud of you.  This will be an experience of a lifetime few will know.  The organization's mission is vital.  How challenging to be a part of the effort to support free press in this new democracy. 

LMH:
Good, good luck and have the time if your life. I'm jealous that you get to actually live out your dreams. Few of us are fortunate( or brave) enough to do so. So take lots of pictures and email frequently to let us see a little bit into your adventurous world.

TML:
Well! My memories of Phnom Penh were those of a place that very few outsiders would ever be heard from again if they ended up by chance on Terra Firma in that part of the world! Times change. And once you are settled there and hopefully successful in your business endeavors, we wouldn't mind coming for a visit. I must say  that I admire your "bravado" if not outright audacity in taking on this challenge! Do the Cambodians do business in English? Do they even like Americans in their country? As you can see I have no idea of what the culture or political attitudes are at this time. I am very open to being educated in this regard, so please keep me on the "update" list.  I am truly fascinated  in your quest. Seems like you will need a little Hutzpah and a lot of deodorant!

D/M W:
So very proud of you and excited for you.  I absolutely love your spirit, and always have.  You'll have to post lots of pics on Facebook, or send them via email so we can live vicariously though you!  Excited that you'll be closer to Charlie too.  You're such a cool mom. Thanks for sharing the news and your perspectives.  We both love you so much and are very excited for you!

KF:
What a great and exciting adventure.  You go girl!!! I’ll be anxious to hear more.

TSH:
I am in awe of your gumption and chutzpah!  I hope that you will be able to email.  I will try to follow your blog.  Best of luck.  I will bet that you will have a pay job within a month, if not sooner!!!

BBD:
You are such an inspirational, brave woman. I love how you grab life and fight for yourself!  Have a wonderful adventure!!!!!

ML:
You sound wonderful, energized, focused, and open to the possibilities ... I popped on the site for a minute and will explore more later ... Oh my.. what you will get regardless of the specific outcome... Definitely motivation for me to  get Skype up and running...

PJC:
WOW... Wow and more Wow!
Go for it ... We all knew this would happen sooner or later.  I admire your determination and know it will keep you in good stead.  We stand ready to serve in any way possible...may The Force remain with you,  Stay in touch and God Speed.

JMcG:
Ah I see you hot pink with possibilities!!!! And am happy happy for you!!!!! You are still a FREE bird with adventures to fulfill!!  Cam~bod is your new Camp~Bode! From Maine to that french/asian/young~upstart country is just for you!  I am very proud you have found a "calling" there. I feel because everything is flowing into place, there is more for you than you
know! Surprises, mysteries and miracles at every turn!  Love and joy

JJB:
Wow and bravo!  May you have great success, romance, fun, spiritual awakening (if you need that sort of thing), and altogether, all good things.  You have our support and love and whatever we can do to help.

RA:
OMG! You inspire so many of us to reach beyond our comfort zones and live! I admire that and so many other things about you and count myself lucky to call you my friend.

DRS:
AMAZING!!!!! I am so happy for you--sounds golden. I love how you describe this. Cannot wait to talk face to face.

CJF:
Well, this is exciting news.  What an adventure awaits.  I'm not sure that I would have the courage to make such a big change -- and I guess I am a home body at heart.  It's funny what 60 does!

LLS:
Bravo to you for your gutsy decision!  I mean it! 

LB (whose granddaddy came into Ponca City with Will Rogers!):
Are you making this up?!  Fortunately, Phnom Penh will not seem so strange as Oklahoma. I know you’re sane. If you had stayed in OK I’d have doubted you. This move...fabulous opportunity.  Nothing wrong with emerging Asia -- just a tad alien to this cowboy.

DDH:
Wow. We'll talk.

PN/KK:
This move sounds wonderful for you!  You have been toying with this part of the world for some time and we are glad you have an action plan.  We have every confidence that things will turn out exactly as you hope.

BAS:
No need to be envious.... you are my idol! I am thrilled for you.  I haven't known you as long as some, but a kindred spirit recognizes another. your spirit has been restless. If you have found a mission for now, leap into it! why not? You are on a course, where it will lead is the best part of the journey. If you don't, you risk your soul withering a bit.  Yes, I have a granddaughter, whom I am madly besotted with, but I will take the train someday.  You go, run, explore, fall in love, fall down, get back up, but never give up. go where the wind blows.

KBL:
What a marvelous adventure, Allie!  Have a grand and awakening time and I look forward to hearing all about it. Much love.

SF:
Good luck to you! Sounds like an amazing adventure.

CCH:
How exciting! Please keep the blog going so we can see how you are and what you are experiencing. I know you will WOW them. You go girl!

CCG:
YOU'RE AMAZING!!!  I'm so proud to call you my friend ... one that does add vodka when handed lemons!  I love how you felt called to the country, I hope this new life adventure becomes exactly what you want it to be!  When my doggie passes, I may join you, ‘cause I won't have a thing to tie me here!  (I don't have grandchildren - nor work anymore- and also feel the 401K tanking hard!  UGH!)  Best of luck, safe travels,  good wishes ... sending much love!

SB:
Wow, cousin, you really are an inspiration!  It's exciting to watch you reinvent yourself.   Flighty?  Hardly. Courageous and fearless. With such energy and willingness to engage the world.  I don't know how you do it. A month of travel and then relocating. While keeping your house?  That's reassuring, by the way, that you'll be back now and then.  Not that we've managed to see each other as we wanted, which is sad.  The four hour drive to Cape Breton is a big deal for me.  No, I'm the envious one. And a little awestruck. 

KC:
I LOVE IT!!!  You go girl.  Go take the steps so few of us take – step outside the norm and breathe in the occasional discomfort, but always eye-opening experience, of a completely different culture.  I’m so glad you re-caught the bug and are leaping towards adventure.  We truly only live once (that we know of…)  Enjoy! 

KA:
ALICE!!!   I am so proud of you!  I am reading this like I read Eat Pray Love – you have to write a book about your life especially this second half of life.  I wish you the best of luck, be safe and I will follow your blog.  Warmest, fondest, and all the best wishes of EVERYTHING (man included) going your way.

JAL:
Buon viaggio! Pace e bene!

CMT:
As they say "GO GIRL"
XXX

AET:
I think of you as brave and adventurous. I can't wait to hear the reports from Cambodia ... all about your exciting travels, and great success. It was so sweet to see you, Allie! Your go for attitude is a great inspiration to me. Who knows maybe we'll meet in Phnom Penh. Lots of Love!

MMH:
Please send many, many updates!  Post lots to Facebook and your blog!  I'm super excited for you!!!  Sounds like an amazing part of the world!! Good luck to you and your new adventure!

KK:
Allie ... I LOVE IT!   You are so very, very brave and I am green with envy.  I admire you and can't wait to hear about this adventure. 

MG:
Dear Brady Lady ... wishing you all the best!  Fly well, live well and have so much fun. I hope it all works out for you. Look forward to following your travels, work and exciting life ahead xoxo

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Alice's Adventures in Wanderland ... a flight of fancy fueled by wanderlust while imagining the possibilities

I am pea green with envy. 

Most of you have grandchildren to die for … or fulfilling careers that didn’t stop cold when the AARP card arrived in the mail simultaneous to the precipitous drop in the DOW … or nest eggs that are more on a par with breakfast at Tiffany’s than targeting Target. 

Well, pas moi!

So once again, I have polished my CV, dusted off my yellow ostrich skin brief case and am heading to Cambodia to reinvent my career.  Not swimming there (although that is a distinct possibility in the city formed by the confluence of not two but three rivers winding their way through Indochina) but in an inspired carefully planned (albeit short which is my interminable style) few weeks everything has fallen deliciously into place.

Well about my decision to go to Cambodia for a few months to test the waters for the possibility of a future relocation (in the same region as Charlie and his way down the road babies) roll my shirt sleeves up and contribute to their developing economy:  April it is. 100 degree heat. The middle of the rainy season. And me, the intrepid traveler with hair that will expand to the size of a beehive all on its own, will arrive April 4th in this land of huge dichotomy with a horrendous tragic past yet where tuks-tuks (motorized surreys with the fringe on top) bandy one around town for a $1 or $2. Yes, they use US dollars mostly!

To provide legitimacy to this journey fueled in part by wanderlust, in part by desire to roll up my proverbial shirtsleeves and contribute to this frontier economy emerging onto the regional stage, I secured a position with Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM) as an expert volunteer spearheading their Good Governance team.

During that time I plan to nose around and see whether I can leverage my bravado, my seasoned professional experience and tempt fates by relocating semi-permanently to Phnom Penh, the former Pearl of the Orient where during the last century the French brought sophistication and joi de vivre. Of course, my Maine home will be a desired retreat when the intensity of the southeast Asian sun burns a hole in my floppy hat.

In a nutshell that's it!  I have been wanting to do this for years. Need to. Have to. I thought it would be teaching business English in the motorcycle craziness of Ha Noi. Or, microlending to budding entrepreneurs sprouting throughout the Vietnam countryside replacing generations of cultivating rice with technology ventures.

Mostly compelled to follow through on the one recurring theme threaded through Lemons, which chronicled the musings and stream of consciousness of my inner-most thoughts, insights, adventures, misadventures and drivel over the decades heading to my big 6-0. 

I’ll have a major regret when I go through my life review as I close my hazel brown eyes for the final time and venture out into the great mystery. So passport, visa and gumption in hand, here I go.  Feet first. All this from a five day visit last month. But, Cambodia speaks to me in a magical way, luring me to contribute to the underlying economy in much the same way as I did when I moved in 1996 to Oklahoma. So not really so strange to me.  And hey, what can I say? C’est moi … and most of you “get” me.
There you have it.

Lemongrass may not be anything more than a few month vacation from shop girl extraordinaire and sometime strategic biz consultant. May be the adventure of my life. May open all kinds of portals.  Might not. So try not to think of me as flighty, but industriously jump-starting my career and life in a place where being over sixty is a benefit!  And the local mode of transportation a hoot.

So now I know what crazy out-of-my-comfort-zone discovery is in store for this self-proclaimed adventurer in the year 2012, when the world may slip off its axis.  I am throwing a bit of caution to the wind and in less than a week will make good on my ramblings.  Finally. 

Welcome to the enchanting Kingdom of Cambodia.  Join me on this wild tuk-tuk ride.  Let me hear from you. A
nd above all else, imagine the possibilities, always. 

Cheers!