Greece is the word

We don’t sit still for long. We’ve only been in London a couple of months, and I’m already feeling my feet start to itch. I’m plotting a road trip in France, a weekender in Berlin, and maybe even a stint on the slopes. (Let’s hope the freelance cheques start rolling in soon then, yeah?)

But I knew that after moving back to this side of the world, my first port of call (quite literally) would be Athens, to see my big sis Sarah. Partly because I haven’t seen her in two years, and partly because she’d have bated me if it wasn’t.

Not content with simply sorting a date with her and booking a flight, I decided to rope in some partners in crime in my Mam, my Dad and Marko, and we hatched a plan with my sister’s boyf Dimos. Two weeks ago, we rocked up her driveway, knocked on her front door, scared the bejaysus out of her, and a stream of profane consciousness ensued.

It was marvellous. I love nothing more than surprises (when I’m in on it, of course) and if you know my sister, you’ll know she likes to be involved. She loves the run-up to big events, and she’s the best hype-girl when it comes to getting everyone excited. So I did feel (a tad) bad about depriving her of that part. But I loved how well Dimos took to all the plotting, and I was thrilled that my parents were so game to take a trip all the way to Greece via London.

Our family has had something of a turbulent year; this month marks a year since my Mam was diagnosed with cancer. My mam and dad have been rockstars over the past twelve months, and now she’s on the mend, I think that should be celebrated. And what better way than a family reunion?

It sounds strange to say out loud that I hadn’t seen my sister in two years (apart from an all-too-brief 12 hours we crossed paths in Dublin last year) but I guess it’s a credit to Skype that we didn’t really feel it. But of course, no interweb catch-up can make up for memory making and photo taking, so we did a lot of that.

Near hourly photoshoots, an inflatable banana fight, 80s-style packed car journeys, six attempts at a Kris Kindle, a shopping spree in a pound shop, wine, cheese, cake, more wine, more cheese and more cake, and a late night (and rather tipsy) debate about why I wasn’t allowed to go to Syntagma Square. We climbed the Acropolis and we had a paddle in the Ionian Sea.

It was all too short, but it was pretty magic. The food is incredible, the bars are very cool, and the parts of the city I saw were beautiful. I can’t wait to go back and explore a little further, but for now, here are some pics.



To the 111 TDs who voted No to the Medical Treatment Bill 2012…

To the 111 TDs who voted No to the Medical Treatment Bill 2012,

As an Irish citizen and as a women, I wish to express my anger, sadness and dismay that the archaic nature of our abortion legislation has lead to the death of Savita Halappanavar. Legislation, that each of you has stunted by voting no last April. How many more women need to die, and how much blood needs to be on the hands of the Irish people before you are compelled to act?

I have spent the last 18 months living abroad, where I have spoken at length on this issue with women from both developed and developing nations, all of whom were appalled that in a country, which sends the best and brightest graduates out into the world, which is home to some of the most cutting-edge technology brands in the world, which is known the world over for its rich culture, still hasn’t handed over the control of women’s bodies, and still holds their health, and in this case their lives, in the palm of its hand.  

Ireland is a progressive country in so many ways, but for a government that spends so much of its time keeping up appearances both politically and economically, this is an embarrassment. I am not often compelled to make a stand but when I woke up this morning and read about Savita Halappanaver I was ashamed be Irish and I was angry. I am ashamed to be from a country where a women was allowed to suffer, to cry out in pain, and to die, in the name of out-dated, ill-advised, and inhumane legislation. 
We can be presidents, we can be CEOs, we can be mothers, but we can’t make our own choices about our own health.
I could be Savita, my sister could be Savita, my best friend could be Savita, or if this farce continues for another twenty years, my daughter could be Savita. This is no longer about religion, this is about life and death. Whether it’s to help a teenage girl with a crisis pregnancy or a married woman who wanted to save her baby to the bitter end, enough is enough; it’s time to legalise abortion in Ireland and trust Irish women with their own bodies.
Forget the party line, forget small town politics, remember Savita Halappanaver and fight for the rights of women in Ireland.
I don’t often get vocal about politics, I tend to be a laid-back kind of dame. But I woke up this morning enraged that the dinosaurs we have for leaders in Ireland, have dithered for so long that the inevitable has happened. A women is dead and a man has lost his wife. Below is a list of the TDs I sent the above email to, all of whom voted, last April, against the the bill that would prevent this exact thing from happening. (I must note that I noticed a few of our more prominent politicians were absent for the vote). If you think Irish women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies, these men and women are the folks you need to convince… 

Three months, four countries and a new home…

A very apt poster in Singapore

Since I last blogged I’ve taken eleven flights.

No I haven’t traded places (and other halves) with Victoria Beckham. And I haven’t scored a gig as a jet-setting, high-flying travel journo (yet). I’ve just come home, headed off to find a new home, then headed back again a few times to make sure the old home was still there.

How talented is my Dad?! Khmer-style script and everything

For those who aren’t privy to my all-too-often Facebook updates, Marko and I have left Siem Reap for the less-tuk-tuks-more-taxis streets of London (via stop-offs in Singapore and Dublin along the way).

The last few weeks have been choca with gut-wrenching goodbyes, jubilant hellos, then more of those pesky goodbyes again.

Leaving Siem Reap was like breaking up with a boyfriend you know it’s time to break up with; you know it’s the right thing to do, but you’re going to have a cry about it anyway. I plan to do a more comprehensive eulogy of my time in Cambodia soon, but for now, as with any amicable break-up, I left a little piece of my heart there, and I still miss it every day.

Next we get to the rebound fling; Singapore. Big, bold, rich, shiny and beautiful, can you think of any better traits a rebound could muster? The only problem was I fell a little too hard for the place, I loved the glossiness of it all, the people were friendly, the vibe was multi-cultural; it somehow feels like the centre of the world, yet no place specific all at the same time. The perfect rendezvous between Asia and Europe.

I was only home a few hours and we were out digging potatoes. How Irish?

The most incredible peas from my oul fella’s allotment

Then we got back to Dublin, back to the warm bosom of friends and family, back to the familiar and back to the downright lovely. Seeing as I’ve started this analogy, I guess I better continue. Arriving to Dublin is like getting back with the safe ex, the one you know it would be grand to get married and have kids with, your life would be happy, but would it be exciting? I love Dublin, it’s home and someday, I hope I’ll live there again. But at the moment, Marko and me, we’re still getting around.

Back with my buds

Is there really anything more wonderful than wine, cheese and chats with old friends?

Which brings me on to the new love our our lives, London. The next chapter in our great adventure. It may only be an hour from Dublin, but after a year in Cambodia, it still feels like a world away.


Our first night in the new flat

It’s looking a little better, 15 boxes, three Ikea visits and a lot of flatpacking later, it’s nearly ready.

Old friends, new city – our London posse



Lantern Town

So I’m a little bit obsessed with lanterns (just check out my Pinterest boards). Paper, silk, candles or even just fairy lights; there’s just something about the way they can light up a room/street/garden, creating a vibe that’s festive, romantic, fun and exotic all at the same time.

So you can imagine the inner conniption I had on arriving in a town that’s basically one giant lantern-filled-pretty-fest; the buzz of a carnival, the allure of the Orient and the charm of a European town.

I came to Hoi An planning to buy a bag load of clothes and I left with a bag load of lanterns…Don’t worry though, I still got some dresses too…

Peace and Love

So we’ve been to Vietnam and back, and it was rather wonderful. I took at least a gajillion (that’s a word, right?) pictures, and I’ll be steadily getting them up here over the next week or so.

But first I really want to share these pictures from the War Remnants Museum in Saigon. The museum was formerly named The Museum of American War Crimes. That’ll give you a good idea of the tone of the exhibits.

Outside are choppers and tanks, left abandoned around the country by US troops, inside are guns and torture devices. Upstairs are horrific photography collections paying tribute to victims of Agent Orange and napalm; there’s even malformed foetuses to give further impact to the already shocking and distressing exhibits.

But I don’t want to show you any of that.

Among all the horror is a small corner of hope. An area dedicated to the global anti-war effort that took place throughout the Vietnam war. The pictures are incredibly heartening; photos of people standing up for the rights of those they’ve never met. But it was also rather poignant. Firstly, because these people were ignored – despite many extreme protests and self-immolation – and secondly because I wonder if my generation would fight so passionately.

The Occupy Movement was indeed influential, and the Arab Spring, inspirational, but I wonder would people around the world protest for each other, about issues that don’t concern them. Mass-protests these days are often about economics or about something that’s happening within our own country. What I loved reading about the anti-war effort was how poverty stricken people in Calcutta, joined forces with privileged students in Washington fighting for the same cause.

Here are some of the anti-war posters I liked best…


This day last year an airplane spit us out in Bangkok. We weren’t sure how we felt about Asia. It was hot, it was sticky and I saw a rat within my first ten minutes. It took all the strength I could muster (which was a lot cos I’d been carrying some really heavy luggage) not to hightail it back to the airport. Let’s just say there were more than a few tears shed in a skybar that was full of screaming kids, smelled like popcorn and charged for the view in the price of a cocktail.

Arriving in Siem Reap was the first time I knew we’d made the right decision. Like so many people who pass through and never leave, it instantly felt like home. (I swear that has nothing to do with the $1 tacos we discovered on our first night in town). A large part of that was down to the blooming wonderful people we’ve met here.

While we’ve still another few while to go yet, this week sees us say farewell to our little gang of pals that have been with us since the start. Mike, Nat, Lucy, Richard and Miranda have been an enduring force of drinking buddies, mani-pedi partners, sounding boards and cheerleaders.

Among floods and mossie bites, homesickness and culture shock they were the dollop of familiarity we needed; a constant reminder of why we we’re all here, and why a dash to the airport was never an option.

I have little doubt that our paths will cross again, but until then guys…thanks for the memories.

Off to the Seaside

So last week we were supposed to go to Laos for Khmer New Year. In a series of events which involved Marko and I not actually ever discussing it, we realised the night before, when we finally, and simultaneously, ‘fessed up, that we didn’t actually want to go. It wasn’t that we don’t want to see Laos, we really really do, but we don’t want to half-ass it. So we’ll go back when we’ve the time, and resources, to do it properly. ‘Sure we’re only young.

So, with a whole week at our disposal and a few quid in our pocket, we got out the guidebook and decided to head for the beach. We bought our bus ticket from a very drunk man – it was New Year’s Eve after all – packed our swimmers and hit the road.

Over the week we stayed in Phnom Penh; amazing tapas, Serendipity Beach; kinda gross, Koh Rong; a paradise island and Otres Beach; in a hut ten feet from the sea. It always amazes me how many sides there are to this country, that you can go from a town of temples to a cosmopolitan city, to a backpacker boozefest to a tropical hideaway, all in one day. It’s rather incredible.

Despite all our travelling, our week was filled with lazy days spent between the sea and the hammock. But I did manage to haul my ass up and take a few pictures. Here are the results which heavily feature drift wood, blue water and sand. Lots and lots of sand…

And just in case you missed it, I finally made it into a broadsheet while I was away. Check out my Cambo story in the Irish Independent, here and here.

Playing Dress-up

So our incredible, gorgeous, wonderful friend Julie came all the way to Cambodia to visit us. We had an amazing time visiting temples at Angkor, fist-pumping in Phnom Penh, shopping in the markets, mani-pedi-ing up a storm and climbing a particularly cumbersome mountain on a particularly rough morning. One of the highlights however was when Julie and I joined my Cambo pal Miranda and her mate Rachel from London to get all dolled-up, Khmer wedding style, and photograph the evidence. This was the result, as published in last Friday’s Phnom Penh Post

Our before shots...

...and then after.

Yesterday I got poked in the eye, stabbed in the back and pulled by the hair. And I paid for the pleasure. No, I didn’t join a fight club, I got dolled up; Khmer wedding style.

For a foreigner living in Cambodia, the Khmer wedding is a mystifying phenomenon, from the pink traffic-blocking marquees and the early morning chanting, to the never-ending supply of Angkor beer and the generosity of envelope-stuffing gift-givers.

But the thing that enthrals me most is the bride. Her 3am start make-up ritual, the powder, the lashes, the lipstick, that hair. The reams of costume changes, pinks, oranges, yellows and blues, and then the crowning glory (quite literally in some cases), the bling; gilded sashes, heavy belts, earrings, necklaces, bangles, bracelets and tiaras. More is most definitely more.

So it was with this fascination and genuine curiosity that I and three of my friends decided to join the latest sweep of tourists and expats who go to photo-studios to get Khmer-style makeovers.

But we didn’t do it to make fun of the Khmer way of doing things. If anything we did it to learn and understand more about it, to check out the ritual first-hand and see how the heck they wear so much make-up without looking like a melted candle.

As we entered the dressing room the first thing that caught my eye was a silver tin foil-like dress Lady Gaga would struggle to pull off. I was afraid.

Me with Miss Tennessee 1994...who was pale enough not to need the talc-to-the-face treatment.

But before we could choose our outfits it was time to sit in the make-up chair. First came the foundation. My eight months in Cambodia have given me a sun-kissed tint I’m rather chuffed with, but that was gone within minutes under a layer of thick white powder. It’s not the most pleasant experience to be caked in powder while simultaneously breaking into a sweat.

I went to scratch my nose, but was swiftly scolded by my makeover magician.

Next came the rouge cheeks, the pink eyes and the brown lipstick. Every make-up tip I’ve ever read in a beauty magazine was banished with the swish of a make-up brush. Heavy liner was applied to my eyes and then came the spidery false lashes followed by several licks of mascara.

I looked up and before me was a person that resembled someone who maybe sort-of used to look like me. While my friends had more complementary shades, I think my reddish hue hair had thrown the heavy-handed make-up artist, so she’d decided to just have fun with my face as a palette instead. The worst was yet to come.

While a stunning Khmer girl beside us had her hair back-combed, crimped and clipped for her real pre-wedding shoot, we, as barangs, understandably received a swifter treatment. Fake hair was applied. Out came all manner of pieces, from giant buns to curly ponies. The blond and brown curly one was mine. Like I said, I had reddish hair, and it’s straight too. A quiff was coiffed, a wig clipped and a tiara, rather painfully, stuck to my head.

Myself and the gorgeous Princess Miranda

Back we went to the Lady Gaga dream dressing room. The silver dress was surrounded by an array of fabulously crafted, jewel encrusted gowns and bodices in every colour imaginable. We were asked to select a corset-style top; I went for blue but was daunted by the size. I don’t think I had a waist that small for my real communion, and I’ve little hope of having it for my fake wedding.

Luckily with a little pin pricking and a lot of pulling, the bodice went on, though not before the girl had a squeeze of my comparably ample chest and said “La-aw na”: very good. The beautiful matching sarong took a while to put together and I was really mesmerised by the skill involved in tying it and creating a ruffle effect on the front.

Then came the best part for my inner magpie; the blingification. I already had a tiara, but more hair accessories were added. Then came a whopper neck piece, an upper-arm adornment (not flattering for those of us with bingo wings),
Apsara-style wrist bracelets, and chunky gold, jewelled sash and belt. Rap superstars don’t rock this much ice.

Here we are rocking some wicked witch footwear

Up I tottered in my pointy shoes and after an hour later of preening, I was ready for my close up.

Now my close friends would tell you that I’m incredibly particular about my clothes. I don’t like having my make-up done and I am terribly fussy about people being at my hair. So up until this point I was really surprising myself.

But what my close friends would also tell you, is that, more than all of this, I don’t like getting my picture taken. Especially when it’s in a posed studio session, and especially when I can’t look at the screen and choose to either press delete or make it my Facebook profile pic. I’m a self-conscious person: stick me in front of a camera with an unflattering dress, and I’m unlikely to shine.

All my mam's "sit up straight" badgering finally came in handy.

We were moulded into various poses by the pedantic photographer who cocked our heads awkwardly and positioned our hands just-so, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing, sometimes holding urns or each other. It didn’t matter that I
wasn’t loose for the camera. In fact in this case, the stiffer the better. A slight giggle and it was camera down, while our poses were twisted and altered again.

Standing in a line, with my pals lined up in a pretty row, I felt more drag queen than beauty queen. Ever seen that show Toddlers and Tiaras? Well I looked like that, gone wrong.

The Duchess, The Princess, The Beauty Queen and Me, the eh, Drag Queen.

All in all we had a great time playing dolls for the afternoon. In two days I’ll get the pictures, the grey screen will be replaced by a beach or maybe a palace and the photo-shopping will blast me beyond recognition. I also have a new-found respect for Cambodian wedding parties, the changing, the make-up, the heat. Prancing around in the big white gown now seems a dawdle and I’ll never moan about being a bog standard one-dress bridesmaid again.

I jest, I moan and I guffaw in the mirror, but in truth it was fun, enlightening and painless. Well, aside from the eye poking, back stabbing and hair pulling of course.

This one has to be my favourite.

Cambo Catch-Up

The Old Market area in Siem Reap

So my buds on Facebook and Twitter are kept well abreast of daily musings, drab details and frequent photo uploads of life here in Cambodia. Thus the blog, which was supposed to be a Dear Diary-type, permanent record of my time here, gets sadly neglected. As I vow for the seventeenth time to be a better blogger, here’s a pictorial catch-up of all that’s been going on over the past month or so. I could have written more words, but as we all know, I’m in the wrong profession, reading is for chumps and people prefer books with lots of pictures…

So this month…

...The Phnom Penh post set up a mini-supplement, here's the first issue featuring my interview with the might Cambojam.

...Marko's parents came to visit and we had an incredible time. Battambang was the best part because we got to hurtle down the tracks on this hunk of junk.

...We also brought them to Phnom Kulen which was really spectacular. I got in under the little waterfall but was way too chicken to take a shower in this.

...We also nabbed swell seats for the Giant Puppet Parade, which was incredible. Me thinks the Dublin parade could learn a lot from these kids, they built the floats in just three weeks.

...Speaking of kids, I'm just obsessed with Cambodian ones, they're just the best. So happy, so spirited and so smart; no wonder Angelina stuck one in her suitcase.

...We had some swish events, one was the Eric Raisina fashion show at Hotel De La Paix, a rather extravagant affair, and not the kind of thing I expected to be attending in Siem Reap. This is Marko and I getting a tuk tuk for the occasion.

...We celebrated St. Patrick's Day at an I Heart Cambodia party.

...But managed to sneak in some cheeky beers.

...And rather ironically saw our first snake.

...I didn't eat the snake, but I did have this cricket. Unfortunately his roachy mate got me back karmically today by creeping up on me during lunch and putting me off my food. I deserved it.

...Has been whopper hot. People say it's the hottest March in yonks and it's set to get worse in April. I've been improving my tan, but mostly just earning more freckles.

...I've been missing my family and pals at home tonnes, Skyping up a storm (though not quite enough) and plotting potential visits from some of them before the year is out. (Pic; Taken at Christmas by Sarahlee.)

...Biggest news of all, we've decided to move to London in September. We don't have jobs yet, so if anyone would like to give me one, I'm cheap, I'm enthusiastic and I'm available. That's all any employer wants, right?

But enough about me…how are you?

P.S. Click the links for more about the Giant Puppet Parade, bamboo train and the Eric Raisina Emotions show.

Media Bashing

I’m having a bit of a love/hate relationship with my chosen profession lately. From the Leveson Enquiry in the UK to the Kate Fitzgerald scandal and “Magda” mess in Ireland, media bashing has become something of an international sport, and justifiably so.

At a time when citizen journalism is on the rise, websites like Storyful and obviously Twitter are creating news faster than journalists can open a word doc, old media is becoming somewhat redundant. Of course there’s still a place for traditional media – this isn’t another one of those debates – online content is often churned out, unsubstantiated and biased (and with frequent spelling mistakes and shady editing if this blog and my Twitter feed are anything to go by). But going by recent revelations, newspaper articles are often churned out, unsubstantiated and biased too. Old media, if it wants to keep it’s tagline as the “writer of history”, needs to tell people more than they can be told from a Google search or hashtag. Twitter, Facebook and the internet in general are fantastic news sources, for journalists as well as media consumers, but the journalists are obliged to go a little further.

The thing I’ve always loved most about being a journalist (aside from the occasional freebies, and being able to show my Mam what I did at work, rather like a five-year-old coming home from school with a painting) is that is gives me a licence to knock on doors. To call people up and say “Hey, what’s going on.”

I don’t mean this in the brash-hack-calling-to-the-door-of-a-murder-victim’s-family kind of calling, I mean when there’s an event, a new business, an interesting organisation or a fascinating person, my job requires I dig a little deeper. I always liked knowing things first, I always liked finding out more and I always liked spreading the word, all traits that come in pretty handy with this line of work. This week for example, I spent a morning with a women who changes the lives of impoverished children yet counts royalty among her friends, I also got to root around a rice mill, and see how rice can be sustainably created to protect wildlife. Citizen journalists can tell the story as it appears from out front, journalists are often given a key to look inside – of course, many do a bit of pilfering while they’re in there.

I recently felt the brunt of the media-bashing contingent. I was the bashee if you will. I wrote a story, which I still stand over, about the Siem Reap Expats and Locals Facebook page. Trivial content you may think, but in a small town, where everyone knows each other, people are understandably protective of how they are perceived. I had led the story with the topical issue of a 1000 Member Party the page was hosting. As a balance to that, I wrote about how the page often took nasty turns, frequent spats were becoming increasingly personal, a page that’s very essence was community spirit, seemed to be somewhat lacking. I sent the story off, and it was chosen for the cover of the magazine – my first cover – so far so wonderful.

The day the paper came out, the words “Anti-Social Network” were emblazoned on the cover, “Facebook Face-Off” was the headline. The spat was played up, the party played down. None of the story was false or inaccurate, but it was certainly less diplomatic than I would have presented it myself. I like to write positive angled stories, but I know, they’re not always the most interesting. The piece got a lot of buzz, more than anything I’ve written about the new businesses and fascinating people here in town.

I understood why some people got annoyed. I got why the people involved in the story were let down. But others were so nasty (ahem* thus proving the point of the story) that I literally spent a weekend in hiding, mortified that my name was being bandied about as some kind of unqualified, inexperienced intern who was under the thumb of the editor and didn’t have a clue what my job was about.

The problem was, they didn’t have a clue what my job was about. Everyone was talking about the nasty online arguments, yet they figured the newspaper shouldn’t have relayed that chatter in print, that it should have a higher brow than the people reading it. Needless to say it was character building. My editor gave me a pep talk. I’m not here to write what people want me to write, my job is to write what’s actually happening, what people are talking about, he told me.

But you see, I’m the kind of person who likes people to like me. People-pleasing I know, isn’t the most appealing of traits, I’d rather be a feisty individual who didn’t care what people thought about me, but my spine is rather lacking in that department.

So I’m torn on what to write about, torn between pleasing readers, interviewees, my editor and myself.

In this instance, people were quick to jump on the media bashing bandwagon. It’s an umbrella excuse for people who don’t agree with what they’re reading. The media needs to be accountable, but people also have to read between the lines and consume critically. While much media is advertiser driven, and management (mogul) driven, they also give the public what they want – there’s a reason why the Daily Mail is the world’s most popular news site.

People call for something that’s well-edited, articulate and accountable, yet they’re consuming the sensationalism, the news with mass appeal. I have a great want to tell “real” stories, to write about about “real” people. The thing is I’m not sure there’s a huge market.

I sent pitches to no less than 15 newspapers when Cambodia was flooded, Bangkok was making headlines, why weren’t we? Every single one that responded asked me about the Irish death-toll, whether Western industry was effected; no one would care until perhaps the factories in Phnom Penh could no longer ship their H&M jumpers, maybe then we’d have a problem.

This has turned into a rather long-winded, round-about, thought-hashing post, and despite all my years of training in writing structure, I’m not quite sure it has an ending. I blame Siem Reap and it’s dang paradoxical nature. On one hand there’s art galleries and cocktails, long brunches and quirky boutiques. Then on the other there’s incredible people doing amazing things, and inspirational survivors working with wonderful organisations. Living in Siem Reap has made me both enjoy the good life and crave a little more sophistication yet feel a severe obligation to rough it, to tell these harrowing or uplifting tales. Do I comply with the tabloidisation, or be a radical gonzo?

It’s kind of like that job meme that’s doing the rounds right now – anyone else the the journo one is crap? – except the differing perspectives are mostly just my own.

I’m currently in a semi-disillusioned, semi-zealous limbo, caught between knowing what I want to write about and not being sure how, but enjoying the licence I have to knock on doors and be nosey until I find out.

(Pic from here)