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




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)

An Irish Christmas and a Cambo New Year

How do I love three? Ireland v Cambodia

So we’ve been back in Siem Reap for about ten days. It was odd coming back because it wasn’t odd. Like arriving back in Dublin in December, it felt like we’d never left, like we were coming home. I instantly went back to enjoying sunshine, eating curry and cycling my bike as swiftly as I snapped back to working layers, eating cheese and driving on the left in Ireland.

At the moment Marko and I are pondering our next plan of attack, deciding where the adventure will take us next. I’m pushing for Burkina Faso, he’s egging-on Boston, but we both have a bit of a draw to London too. As unexotic as it seems after a year in South East Asia, I think it would be nice to be closer to home for a while, somewhere I can speak the language. At the same time it’s one of the most exciting cities in the world and there could be amazing career prospects.

Luckily we don’t have to make a decision just yet (and all suggestions are welcome) but in the mean time here and the pros and pros (I’m not a fan of cons) of life in Ireland versus live in the Kingdom…

Irish Pros
1. I can understand (almost) everyone when they speak.
2. I can get (almost) everyone’s sense of humour.
3. You don’t have to shake out the toilet roll every time you use it, for fear of what might bite you in the rear end if you don’t.
4. Milk tastes like milk.
5. Cheese.
6. Ovens. And their ability to melt above cheese and bake cake.
7. Superquinn sausages.
8. Tayto and Cadburys (I’m sensing a food theme emerge).
9. Penneys and other stores where the adults clothes don’t come in children’s sizes.
10. The radio.
11. High heels.
12. Nights out – they’re just not the same without the aforementioned heels.
13. No mossie bites.
14. The utter lack of things crawling on me.
15. The utter lack of paranoia about even scarier things that could crawl on me.
16. Wine abundance – you can get it here, but the beer is so cheap, and so are we.
17. Duvets.
18. Being able to just call people up for a chat without fear of it being 3am.
19. Taking deep breaths of air – particularly of the sea or mountain variety.
20. Scarves, cardigans, tights, jackets – I’m a bit fan of loading up on layers.
21. Sandwiches (back to food).
22. Make-up and the ability to wear it without looking like a waxwork that stood too close to a bonfire.
23. Calling to our parents when we’re too broke to cook dinner.
24. Long evenings that stay bright ’til 11.
25. Being able to see my family and best friends whenever I want to.

Cambo Pros
1. I have a constant reminder of what the sun looks like.
2. Even when it rains, you know you’ll be dry again in minutes.
3. Monks. Still a novelty every time I see one.
4. Children. Kids in Cambodia scream hello when you pass. Kids in Ireland scream abuse.
5. The beer is really good, and only costs 50c.
6. The cocktails are really good and only cost $2.50
7. The curry is really good and only costs $3.00
8. Everything is really cheap.
9. Getting to wear flip flops every day.
10. Drinking sugarcane juice from a bag.
11. We have a swimming pool. And it’s hot enough to use it.
12. We can go out for dinner whenever we want.
13. We live ten minutes away from some of the most incredible temples in the world. (And ten minutes away from monkeys.)
14. Everybody smiles and nobody talks about the recession.
15. I can get mani-pedis and massages for less than a tenner. Not those kind of massages.
16. It feels like we’re on holiday most of the time.
17. We get to meet awesome people and make incredible friends.
18. We are constantly amused by Asian oddities. (Today our supermarket cashier made us enter a lucky dip. We won a bag of crisps. )
19. I have no idea what’s in fashion at the moment, and I love it.
20. I haven’t applied fake tan in seven months.
21. I take Friday afternoons off, because I can.
22. Happy hour is legal.
23. Happy hour lasts all day.
24. I cycle almost everywhere and there’s no wrong side of the road.
24. I get to have “holy crap” moments. Every time I realise I live in Cambodia.

P.S. My blog has just reached 2000 views (can I get a woop woop?). I know at least 1990 of them are my parents, but for the other ten you you thanks for reading. I know I’ve been patchy with the upkeep and shady with the writing, but I’m getting the hang of it now so the only way is up. Right?

Pic from thebigharumph on Etsy.

Belated Snapshots

Living abroad, it is of course the people you miss first. But after that the next big thing is all the little things…the crunch of toast only Brennan’s bread can provide, the smell of the coffee percolator around Christmas, the taste of Superquinn cocktail sausages that no one else on the planet has managed to master, the way my Dad, so pedantically, hangs the decorations just so.

I thought I’d be in Asia for Christmas, so when we made a last minute dash home, I decided to wreck my parents’ heads and capture every little detail in case I’m away next year. Here are some of pictures I took from around the house on Christmas morning…

The cards…

The table…

The presents…

The Cambo elements…

The decorations…

This last one is pretty special, it was made by my friends Niall and Trish in Japan

Home (bitter)Sweet Home

So it’s been six weeks since I’ve blogged.
Sorry about that. (New Year’s Resolution #52: Be a better blogger.)

In that time I’ve been back to Ireland for a too-brief stint. Also in that time I entered and won an Expat Advisory emigrant experience writing competition, the winnings of which will go straight into the pot for the trip.

It’s been amazing to be back and I’ll go into more reflections on my sabbatical in the motherland soon. But in the meantime, here’s the piece which also doubles up as my explanation for the impromptu journey home…

Ten Thousand Kilometers

Last week my mother told me she has cancer. She lives 10,000 kilometres away. On Tuesday my mother was poked, prodded, scanned and operated on. She lives 10,000 kilometres away. Yesterday my mother told me they don’t think they got it all. She lives 10,000 kilometres away.

I’m new to this expat lifestyle. I’m only six months on the job. And I was finally getting good at it. From initial months of homesickness, house-hunting, job searching, friend making, acclimatising – then acclimatising again once the rain went away – I had finally found my stride. “Check me out, I live in Cambodia. Those 10k km? They ain’t got nothing on me.”

I’m a Skype pro, a Facebook fiend, a Twitter addict and a resident on Gchat. I’ve got that whole trans-continental-communication thing down. I don’t let time difference get in the way (I’ll happily wake you up at 6am) I’ve worked out the most flattering web cam lighting (on the sun-soaked balcony for extra effect) and I end up telling my family the local news I’m so abreast of it (“Oh you didn’t hear who’s getting married?”).

But this past week, simultaneously the longest and the shortest in my life, with all its new emotions, revelations, mini victories and massive defeats, has brought it all home how far away from it I really am. Those ten thousand kilometres, may as well be a million for all the good I can do so far away.

“Sure you’d only be sitting here looking at me” my mam says when I apologise for my, in hindsight, ill-timed move – though that’s probably more of a reference to my poor Dad, who I can imagine has spent much of the last week doing just that; sitting, and looking at her. But that’s what you do on such occasions. Just be there. Make endless cups of tea (or is that just Ireland?), make small talk about the weather (just in Ireland again perhaps?) all the while avoiding, never mentioning, completely shoving under the carpet the gravity of what’s really happening (okay, that one’s definitely just in Ireland, right?).

I can’t make the tea over Skype, but I can chit chat about the weather and waffle on about everything but what really matters. But that point that eventually comes, the bit where the wall collapses, when the sadness, the anxiety and the sheer fear comes spilling out, that’s the part that Skype can’t really transmit. No one wants to be a blubbery face on a computer screen. Staring at another blubbery face 10,000 kilometers away.

So instead, the nattering about nothing continues. Until we make our excuses, say our goodbyes, press the little red phone at the bottom of the screen, hear that funny hang-up sound the computer makes and then, once we’re sure the line has dropped, once we’re sure there’s no need to hold it together for a second longer, we break down in tears. Simultaneously, equally, but 10,000 kilometres away.

My mother doesn’t say I love you. It’s not that she doesn’t think it – or at least I hope not – it’s just that gushing emotions aren’t really her style. “It’s a bit American” she reckons, akin to seeing a therapist, having a boob job, or getting divorced. She’s a strong Irish woman, and saying such things is maybe frivolous and unnecessary.

My mother has said I love you at least a dozen times this week. She doesn’t realise, this is utterly disconcerting to me. It shows me she’s petrified, and it makes me petrified too. It shows me she’s sad, and it makes me sad too. And it shows me, she’s not just my mam, she’s a human too. And this is the most heart-breaking, gut-wrenching part of all.

Because all I want to do is give my mother a hug. But she lives 10,000 kilometres away.

MOAN!(And a few words on homesickness)

My thought for the day (pinched from the very lovely

So this week I’ve been under the weather. So far under the weather, I’m practically lying face-down on the ground – I think they call that planking?

You see I don’t get sick very often. In fact, since I stopped using the daily services of the fabulous people at Dublin Bus a few years ago, I’ve barely been sick at all – not in the blow-your-nose kind of way anyway. But what with last week spent wading about town, going from wet to dry to wet again several times a day, I picked up a germy combination of tonsillitis and the common cold. But when you live in Cambodia, there’s nothing common about it.

I try my best not to be a moaner on the internet, and aside from the odd Facebook update, it’s a healthy habit I hope will transfer to the rest of my life, (over the past 12 months, I’ve become one of those positive-affirmation-visionboard-loving-Secret-reading types). However recent days have just taken the biscuit – biscuit of the gross, non Jacobs/McVities/Irish/UK variety.

You see I sometimes like being sick. After all, it is your body’s way of telling you to stall the ball. A guilt-free few days of wandering your house draped in a duvet, obeying the gospel according to Oprah, taking a mid-morning nap before Loose Women, and catching up with some Aussie soaps late afternoon. You’re practically drip-fed tea and toast, and if you’re really lucky, your mam might offer to pick you up, take you home and make you dinner. (If you’re really really lucky, mashed potato might be involved in said dinner).

All in all, it’s a sweet deal in exchange for a sore throat and red nose.

Here, it’s an altogether different kettle of tea. Firstly there is no tea. None that competes with the holy combo of Lyons pyramid bags and Avonmore milk anyway. Secondly duvets don’t exist, and if they did, it’d be too hot to wear them. And thirdly, I’m self-employed now, so that means any sick days I take our at my own expense. Days like the last two, where I couldn’t think straight on account of the atomic sinus pressure and bag of blades I have for a swallow mechanism, have to be kept to a minimum.

Then to top off “the week of a million tissues” our house flooded last night. Not too badly (though I haven’t been home since this morning) just our kitchen for now. There’s about 10cm more before it gets into the main house, so here’s hoping we’ll be safe.

So the point of my moany rant – if you’re still with me? – is to address something I’ve really wanted to write about. Homesickness. An illness that’s altogether more consuming than streptococcal, and takes a good bit longer to shake off.

In the midst of all my nose blowing this week, I received two amazing deliveries. One from my folks, and the other from my bestie Ciara. Between the two there I was sent about 20 chocolate bars, five bags of sweets, my all-time favourite belt (I somehow accidentally left at home), my all-time favourite hair product (Body Shop Brazil Nut Define and No Frizz – USE IT), my runners (I WILL exercise over here), a load of new knickers (Penneys’ finest) and Ciara and John’s wedding DVD.

While getting post is one of my favourite things in the world and all these goodies cheered me up no end, they also helped to spur on my ever-growing yearning for home.

Leave anyone sitting on their tod for eight hours a day and they’re bound to feel lonely. But add my under-the-weatherness, watching a video of my parents, best friend, and all her family on an incredible day just before I left, and going to ring someone for a chat and realising it’s 4am back home, all culminates to feeling rather underwhelmed with the whole living-on-the-other-side-of-the-world-thing.

(Man-I’m-using-a-lot-of-this-today. Sorry.)

I’m in no way ready to go home, and I am still so happy, excited and grateful to have the opportunity to live and work in Siem Reap and I know I’d be disappointed if I didn’t stick out at least a year – in fact, I’m kinda disappointed at myself for feeling these doubts so soon – but just over three months into the adventure, I’m finding a real longing to see my parents, my sister, Marko’s family, all our friends, my old work friends and eh, tea.

I’m sure it’s just a phase, and that a week on the couch is no good for anyone’s mental health (unless it’s that sort of couch). Pangs for home are inevitable, as too I guess, are more prolonged periods of homesickness, but I’m hoping they’ll become less frequent over time.

I really felt I had begun to settle in once I started working, the last few weeks had been going really well but suddenly I seem to have hit another wall. It’s such a horrible feeling to be homesick, one I can only really compare to a break-up; no-where near as awful as a death, but heart-wrenching and tear-inducing all the same. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels this way, but in all the people I’ve met here, and all my friends who have gone abroad, it’s something that’s rarely discussed. One friend of mine mentioned a “seven month wall” she hit during her year as a back-packer – perhaps mine has come early. Another said it took her almost a year for a pang of homesickness, and at that it only lasted a night – maybe I’m a complete wuss. While a third pal said after emigrating, it took her six months to get settled, and after that she never looked back – I’m hoping I fall into this category.

I think I need to keep in my head that this is what I want, what I’ve always wanted, and I’m not alone here at all. I have Marko, who is unrelenting in his patience with me and we’ve made some awesome new friends here. I have the kind of lifestyle I’d kill for at home. We’re moving into a new place next week (it has a swimming pool – how fancy?) and I think that will be a mid-fresh-start, fresh start. (Does that make sense?)

Until then, I’ll wallow in my pile of tissues, flooded kitchen, chocolate bars and thoughts of home, friends, tea and duvets.

But for the record, despite all my smashing new pals, smug poolside status updates and sporadic ability to stay in touch, I’m missing all you lovelies back home and around the world bigtime xxx