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Archive for the ‘life philosophy’ Category

calling all hipsters, wannabes and fans…

Or just people looking to check out new neighborhoods in London 😉  I grew up fairly poor by western standards in the 1980s.  That decade became associated with Donald Trump, jerks on Wall Street and conspicuous consumption – and there was some of that.  In many places, though, it was a decade of recession, runaway interest rates and social strife.  That was the decade I lived in.  It was a time when there were thrift stores instead of vintage boutiques and if your jeans had holes, it was because they were old and you couldn’t afford a new pair…

It was an interesting time and possibly one of the best decades in history in which to be young.  I was fortunate to meet and date a lot of people who had a phenomenal impact on my life (many still part of it) and, without them, I would likely not even be IN London, let alone so much like a local that I was searching for new neighborhoods to keep the experience fresh.

I began the decade about as far from cool as one could be but, by happy accident and forcing myself to acquire better social skills, I inched a little further in that direction during a summer spent in Calgary.  Calgary is hardly a major international center of chic but it was the biggest city I had ever lived in at the time and it was exciting.  Toronto was even more exciting.  My father was very well read so I knew about Bay Street but the idea that I was now WORKING on Bay Street.  OMG!  It was a childhood dream come true.

What was even better was that I had an amazing boyfriend who had grown up in the city and was a fan of indie rock back in the day when you whispered the names of bands like insider secrets.  I still remember the party where someone said, “you need to listen to The Smiths.  They are amazing”…

There was a lot of music to love in the 1980s but the most radical part that changed my life is that indie rock bands were poor so they played in scruffy venues rather than glossy stadiums.  Long before the word gentrification was even coined, I was hanging out in the neighborhoods that would fall prey to it.

It’s made the new century very interesting for me.  I will never be any part of the hipster universe but I hang out with them a lot because I love exploring cities and know that the east side (almost always…) is the more interesting place to be.  I like character and action, living in the real future rather than the fake past.

If you are coming to London for the first time, the best place to hang out is the West End if you can afford the tariff.  If you are looking for something cheaper but super comfortable, Earl’s Court is a popular option.  If you are OK with a little edge – or have a tiny budget – head east to the London of Jack the Ripper and the working class.

beautiful graffiti

At minimum, stop by for dinner.  That was my initial foray into Shoreditch.  London is very old place.  Shoreditch has been through several centuries of history and its star has risen and fallen.  These days it is definitely on the rise.  London is one of the great cities of the world.  I have lost count of the number of times I have visited but it is so vast in both geographic size and scope of things to see and do that there are still plenty of things I have not yet done.

The first time I set foot in the city of London was 28 years ago.  I got my first passport to visit my boyfriend who was travelling through Europe on an extended trip I couldn’t afford but I discovered the airfare to London wasn’t too bad so I could buy a backpack and make a short visit since we could sleep on the sofa at his Australian friends’ flat in Earl’s Court.  Back then, it was best to just stick to an English cooked breakfast and fish and chips.  Pretty much everything else was cooked to death and tasted a little like cardboard.

Luckily, I have found lots of reasons to continue to return to England’s capital so saw the rise of British cuisine first hand.  For a long time now, I have been fortunate to have at least one friend living in London and it makes me an especially privileged tourist.  We’ve been going to Shoreditch for dinner for a few years now so I decided it was time to see if I could STAY in Shoreditch and expand my knowledge of the city.

There are a few options.  I decided to stay at the Hoxton.  I would highly recommend it if you are comfortable with hipsters 😉  It’s very lively.  They have done a

hangin at the hoxton

good job of being part of the neighborhood while catering to tourists and it’s packed on the weekend.  I spent some time with my friends but was also at the hotel alone at points so could go into observation mode.

exploring the ‘hood

It was quite hilarious.  In my normal life, I don’t spend a lot of time with hipsters so had not appreciated how little individuality there was.  Practically everyone looked the same, especially the men.  For sure, curated facial hair, often a man-bun.  Expensive sneakers with little personality.  Untucked shirt, invariably white but possibly black.  Skinny jeans.  It was a little creepy, like looking at a version of youth programmed as Stepford Wives.

While the concept of individuality may have gotten a little lost, there was a lot to like once you indulged in conversation.  It’s a great bolthole from which to experience Shoreditch and environs.

We’ll continue the Shoreditch adventures… and eventually I will write more about London… but to get you started I am going to defer to TimeOut.   I can vouch for Lyle’s and Andina.  I have been using TimeOut guides for most of my adult life.  I can’t remember if I discovered it in London or in New York City.  Like so many things, it has gone from cool entrepreneurial quirk to ubiquitous corporate presence but it’s still one of the best resources for travellers who like the path less travelled…




the beauty at the end of the world

Patagonia is not a land for wimps.  I had been drawn to visit by a travel article that made the trip to Cape Horn sound like an adventure.  The Australis team is very zodiac-experienceprofessional and you feel that you are in safe hands.  It will be an adventure but draped in first world safety standards.  Quite different to being trapped on a runaway elephant sans driver in the Thai jungle…

It was my first time on a zodiac though and I had seen enough of the Strait of Magellan by then to know I did NOT want to be in that water!  First you are suited up in lifejackets.  You then go through detailed instructions, which are repeated every time.  It isn’t particularly difficult but you do need to follow the procedures to avoid tipping the raft.  It’s an adventure for small-a adventure people.  People who likely don’t swim with sharks, climb Mt Everest or paraglide over the Grand Canyon.

We all got on the zodiac without incident but everyone was pretty quiet and there wasn’t even a lot of photos being taken.  No one wanted to tilt us into the Pacific Ocean.  The zodiac driver employed only modest speed and tried not to scare us.  I am always fascinated watching pampered first world travellers morph into greater adventurers.  Even by the return trip to the ship, you could see people were relaxing on the zodiac and the driver gunned it once he knew we could handle it.

That was probably because the harder hike was indeed harder.  By Navy Seal standards, a walk in a particularly pleasant park but we had been expecting something more 60+ friendly.  Everyone made it but our tour leader just quickly led the way without paying too much attention if everyone was right behind her.  There was enough elevation for heavy breathing and. in some places, you had to pull yourself up by grabbing a rope and making your way along its length, frequently through enough mud to destroy your footwear for any other future purpose.

22-stunning-patagonian-landscapeIt was all quite exhilarating and the view from the top made it totally worthwhile. And this is a luxury cruise, so all physical efforts are rewarded with hot chocolate, whiskey or both.

There is a lot of time on the ship to chill out – or be brave and take photos in the frosty air.  I did a lot of the latter.  Luckily, I grew up in one of the coldest places on the planet so freezing my fingers off for a photo seems a fair trade-off.

In the afternoon, we got to put our zodiac skills to use a second time.  This time we just cruised around a couple of islands admiring cormorants and penguins.  It’s always amazing to see wildlife in abundance IN THE WILD in our over processed modern world.  Patagonia has done a good job of maintaining its natural splendor.

cormorants posing for tourists ;)

cormorants posing for tourists 😉

Part of the credit goes to Doug Tompkins, one of those rare local hero types who can actually turn money made from being a good businessman to money spent actually doing something good for the entire world.  He was the guy who created, along with his first wife, The North Face and Esprit.  He first travelled to Patagonia in the 1960s and in 1968 did a famous trip with Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia Inc.) where they put up a new route on Mount Fitzroy.  Growing disillusioned of the environmental impact of the fashion industry, he channelled his Esprit profits into conservation.

yes I know I'm cute ;)

yes I know I’m cute 😉

He moved to Chilean Patagonia.  At first, he explored the wilderness of the region, eventually setting up the Foundation for Deep Ecology, The Conservation Land Trust and Conservacion Patagonia.  He also married Kristine McDivitt Wear who had been the CEO of Patagonia Inc.  North Face meets Patagonia… quite the love story.

Not surprisingly, they both shared the same retirement goals – land conservation, environmental activism and biodiversity.  Tompkins used his retail riches to buy up land in Patagonia to save it from mercantile uses.  This land grab by a foreigner was regarded with suspicion by locals.  He was at various points accused of being a spy, of buying up land to create a Zionist enclave, and of planning to ship Chile’s fresh water to parched lands overseas.

Instead, his goal was to turn the land into national parks working with the national governments of Chile and Argentina.  It appears he has made great progress in convincing everyone that there is benefit for everyone in creating national parks in Patagonia along with wildlife protection, biodiversity and sustainable organic farming practices.  It all sounds a little too good to be true but go to Patagonia and see for yourself.  The end of the world is a stunningly beautiful place full of fresh air and star-studded skies.

Sadly Doug Tompkins died in 2015 while on what he thought was an easy kayaking trip with a bunch of old friends.  No doubt it was probably a manner of death he would have chosen for himself.  Kristine continues on their legacy and the future looks promising.  According to The Guardian, the Chilean government announced the day after Tompkin’s death that Pumalín Park, one of Tompkins’ earliest acquisitions, would become a national park in March 2017 but the website suggests that it is already open.

Writing about Doug and Kristine is a great antidote to thinking about the US election and how most of the rich people spend their money.  I am incredibly hard to impress but Doug Tompkins goes on the hero board.  What a wonderful world it would be if this is what all billionaires did with their riches…


the danger of modern mythology

I wonder if we should have quit breaking his cigarettes… my sister and I grew up in the era when medical research had proven that smoking was BAD for you… toxic… a carcinogenic addiction with no potential health benefits like red wine or dark chocolate.

Our teachers had told us smoking could kill you so we broke a package of cigarettes to save his life.  It did not go down well 🙂 and we stopped…

He didn’t officially die from smoking but 66 is really young to die in the 21st century and – whether he accepted it or not – smoking chipped away at his mortality… as did his opposition to entering a kitchen to do anything but eat and his aversion to vegetables.

With better habits, today he would likely have turned 75… and I would have done something cool to celebrate.  It’s a tragedy that we can’t.

In many ways, it is surprising that my father was a smoker.  He was the first intellectual to grace my life.  He may have quit school at 15 to make some money but he had a natural intelligence that he fed constantly so that by the time I could have an intelligent conversation with him there was lots to learn.

A large part of the success I have had in life can be attributed to lessons I learned sitting on the carpet in front of my father’s leather recliner discussing matters of importance – politics, history, sports…

how it all began :)

how it all began 🙂

A lot of it felt like being a student of Plato laying out the laws of the universe.  I question everything and only hold opinions that I can support by facts because of my father.  It’s a bit funny because he veered off script at times… the student became the master… My father’s advice was tantamount to that of a great statesman… of course, saying is easier than doing 😉

In life, though, what is most critical is just being exposed to great advice.  If you adopt it, you will prosper and can rise above your station in a way you have never imagined.

For me, what is wonderful about my father is the confidence and critical thinking he instilled in me at such a young age that I was counselling other seven year olds to follow their own path and not get caught up in the hysteria and misguided aims of the masses 🙂

I can’t remember him ever saying he was proud of me and our relationship was complicated enough it might make a great melodrama but – even when I wanted him to behave differently – I was always grateful for the incredible life philosophy he had instilled in me from the time I was capable of human language.

He represented critical thinking, compassion, ingenuity, bravery and hope.

He was the guy who made me political even though I never knew whom he voted for.  There was a beauty in that – that the political process was about ideology not the dirty business of politics.  I still remember watching Jimmy Carter get elected with him.  A President that never gets enough respect.

I am sure my father would have been appalled by Trump and the forces of hate that have brought him to power.  I wish we could talk about it.  But – fingers crossed – sanity will prevail and I can drink a toast to hope in November – as I will to my dad tonight.

I wish you had paid more attention to your health but I am grateful for everything that you taught me.  To all those dads out there who inspire their daughters 🙂

navigating the world…

I still have lots of travel stories to write about but I finally had time to finish a book I have been inching my way through for a very long time.  It is an astonishing book but it is dense and full of information and philosophy so it is best to read slowly.  Since I bought the book Samantha Power became the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

The research she did for the book definitely prepared her well for the role.

I have always been an idealist but I have grown more pragmatic as the years have passed.  I wish idealism worked the way I imagined when I was ten but too many people make their choices based on misinformation and emotion.

The world is a complex place and you will never be successful with simplistic strategies.  The book is called Chasing the Flame and it is about Sergio Vieira de Mello.  It will make you feel bad about your own life and accomplishments and how little you are doing in comparison with Sergio but you should read it anyway 😉

What is really powerful is that Samantha doesn’t gloss over his flaws and presents the world and Sergio in all the complex glory that both deserve.

What was especially powerful for me was Sergio’s comments on how foreign powers need to tackle problems in other countries.  They need to listen and be culturally sensitive.

The book really spoke to me because as a child I also wanted to work in the United Nations.  I was privileged enough to participate in a model UN at an impressionable age and then, barely 17, travel all over the continent as part of a week in New York City the principal purpose of which was to learn about the United Nations.  We even got to sit IN the Security Council Chamber!

It was one of the highlights of my life and has always had me wringing my hands for the UN to matter.  I lived in Australia so I know about East Timor.  I was trekking through the hill tribe villages north of Chiang Mai when the Khmer Rouge were still killing random innocents.  I lived in Europe when the Balkans were being torn apart.  The father of one of my friends was a high ranking officer in the Canadian army so he spoke eloquently about Roméo Dallaire so I read his book about Rwanda.

All of this meant that Samantha’s book about Sergio spoke to me in a more personal way.

It also confirmed my own personal experience traveling all over the world even though I don’t unfortunately work for the UN.  But I do try to do work that would be worthy of the great ideals the UN concept can represent.

I do what Sergio did – but I do it because my father taught me how.  Some of it was his words but I realize now it was also his example.  He was like Sergio –  a great, flawed man who had an extraordinary impact on the people who met him.

I try to do what they did.  I constantly learn things and re-evaluate my assumptions so that I have as broad a framework as possible with which to evaluate the world.  Then I listen.  I REALLY listen.  I don’t wait to talk or get distracted.  I listen beyond just the words.  One of the most touching experiences of my life was when I was sitting with my computer in Tanzania post-safari editing pictures and I realized one of the shy staff members was fascinated by my computer so I showed him how it worked.

As Sergio said, it’s about dignity.  It’s also that simple axiom people seem to so easily forget – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  Be nice.  Be respectful.  Be interested.  You will learn so much and your life will be so enriched.  The only drawback is that sometimes people will develop crushes on you that will make for heartbreaking departures.  Maybe flirting and crushes are the real answer to world peace.  Perhaps I should tell the UN? 😉


la belle époque

Marion Cotillard’s character in Midnight in Paris would love Bucharest 🙂  I first saw the film on a flight to Paris so it will always be a little extra special.  It’s about our nostalgia for the past and how we often imagine it as better – and more romantic – than the present.  I definitely think the 21st century has done a lot to kill romance but I am not a believer in trying to relive the past.  The film is brilliant as the main character, Gil, actually gets to time travel and cavort with Hemingway and Dali in the period he believes to be the most golden, Paris in the 1920s.  Marion’s character is living in the 1920s but pining for La Belle Époque.

I’m listening to Leonard Cohen as I write this, just a random choice, but the perfect accompaniment to writing about nostalgia.  When I was younger, I tried the usual things – drinking at Café de Flore in Paris pretending I was Simone de Beauvoir, drinking a wildly overpriced Bellini at Harry’s Bar in Venice imagining I was getting soused with Hemingway, enjoying a nightcap with a friend at the Algonquin Hotel in New York wishing I was as witty at Dorothy Parker.  But I always felt like a tourist trying to channel a ghost that wasn’t present.

in the zeitgeist :)

in the zeitgeist 🙂

It was in Shanghai that I had my real epiphany.    It was 2008, just as the world was melting into financial chaos, but it was National Day Golden Week in China.  Everybody in China gets the same days off and, during this week, people flood the roads and airports.  Shanghai already had over 16 million people but Golden Week meant there were a few million more!  The biggest highlight was having a five course tasting menu in a fancy French restaurant in my hotel served mostly by an enterprising young French chef who had come to China to further his career.

It’s impossible to describe what it was like to be in Shanghai at that moment.  It was like being part of a party attended by 20 million people.  The west was predicting the next great depression.  I saw it on CNN and wondered if I should do something… but then I stepped out of the hotel and the party was in full swing so I just embraced it.  The reason we are nostalgic about de Beauvoir, Hemingway and Parker is that they were living in the Zeitgeist of their time – they were at the pulse of history.  That’s also why trying to duplicate their actions feels so empty.  Paris in 2016 is nothing like Paris in the 1920s.  The Zeitgeist is constantly in motion.  If you want to feel like Hemingway did in 1920s Paris, you need to find the future, not the past.

In 2016, Shanghai looks a lot shakier than it did in 2008 and the Zeitgeist may have passed it by.  You never know if you were in a place at exactly the right moment until you are looking at it years later (unless, of course, you were in Berlin in 1989 when the wall started to come down – YOU KNEW you were in the Zeitgeist that week).  The point is – try new places, don’t copy, be original, be curious, search for the future and enjoy the contradictions that over 2,000 years of human history have imbued.

One great place to do all of that is Bucharest!  While Dracula hunting is very popular with tourists to Romania, there is lots to see in Bucharest.  Even better, you will be visiting a very interesting city at a very interesting time in its history (and, if channelling Hemingway really is your thing, you can drink cheaply pretty much 24/7 it seems… I am sure Hemingway would have moved on from Paris 😉  It seems the glory period for much of Bucharest was La Belle Époque.  As already noted, there is a magpie quality to Bucharest architecture, but there is also significant 19th century French influence.

I never even managed to see all the attractions in Bucharest but the ones I did see were very worthwhile.  I normally start my day in a new city by walking the streets and trying to suss out its character.  In that regard, Bucharest is very intriguing.  There are beautiful 19th century buildings in the same block as Pizza Hut and KFC.  Beautiful architecture is mixed with graffiti.  It’s clear this is a complicated place.  I knew a little of Romanian history before I got to Bucharest but my knowledge was very shallow.  I still have much to learn but what is most impressive about Bucharest – and Romanians – is how they have survived and thrived given all the crap thrown at them in the 20th century.

Bucharest in 2016 feels more like Prague in 1999 (my first visit).  It’s why you should go now.  I absolutely want the Romanian economy to improve and for Romanians to enjoy a better standard of living but that will mean Bucharest will start to look more like other cities.  With luck, the beautiful old buildings will be restored, rather than replaced, but there is no guarantee – so go now while they are still there.

One of the most beautiful is the Romanian Athenaeum.  It was completed in 1888, astonishingly financed almost entirely by money donated by the

easily rivals paris!

easily rivals paris!

general public.  Europeans love classical music, especially in the middle where most of the dudes were born hundreds of years ago.  I haven’t been to Greece yet but this is a little slice of Athens.  Marble, gold leaf, all that gorgeous over-the-top decoration so popular in the past.  The building is stunning and apparently the acoustics are also outstanding.  I wasn’t fortunate enough to hear an actual concert but did get to witness some musicians practicing.


perfect for lovers :)

perfect for lovers 🙂

Another attraction I discovered by accident on my random walk the first morning was the Cișmigiu Gardens.  It is the oldest and largest park in Bucharest and a beautiful place to stroll, partly because it is actually a gigantic garden, rather than a park, so much thought was put into the design.


It would have been a perfect place for Marion Cotillard’s character in Midnight in Paris to stroll with a lover.  Bucharest evokes La Belle Époque more than Paris.  That era was the height of its 20th century glory.  A manicured garden, rather than a wild park, is very Parisian.  This is the city nicknamed “Little Paris”.  So, if your budget is tight, skip Paris and come to Bucharest 😉  Big spenders can compare and contrast…

une lettre d’amour á Paris

The city of enlightenment… thank you, CTV. (Way better than Global News who just showed weird photos that were badly edited and had no message). I was on the internet working most of the day yesterday so I saw the breaking news when there was no information and then followed the tragedy through the day to its bitter and senseless end.  One feels so helpless and there is nothing an ordinary citizen living in a foreign country can do except hold firm to positive values and lead a life that strives for virtue.

It is arguably my favourite city in the world.  It’s like having more than one child.  I love Paris, New York, Amsterdam and Berlin equally for different reasons.  And Krakow has potential to enlarge my family 🙂  Unlike when the Twin Towers were hit, I don’t have any close friends who live in Paris.  I’ve spent so much time in Paris it feels like another home town and the attack feels more personal.  And these ridiculous acts are so inhumane, barbaric and stupid it is especially disheartening and really feels like we are moving backwards in our evolution as a species.  Friday the 13th should just be a terrible Hollywood movie, not the date of a major tragedy.

vive la france!!!

vive la france!!!

There is nothing concrete I can do right now for Paris and I can’t even tell you to get on a plane to support them since Hollande has closed the borders.  But I have spent time in Paris this year.  I wrote about it a little bit but there was a post still in waiting so I think the best I can do to honour Paris is to talk about the real Paris, not the tragic Paris.

I will be back – and you should visit.  I’m a little surprised Colbert – who pronounces his name as though he was French – and boasts a bandleader whose name sounds très français (although he is Jon rather than Jean so I think the name is not really French anymore) – didn’t talk about what went down in Paris but maybe no one told him before the show started…  I just checked the internet!  I think I need to wait for it… It’s something I have come to expect from him and Jon Stewart.  Especially with Mark Ruffalo and his honorary political agenda as a guest.

So…  Paris is all about art, fashion, design… I already wrote about the great exhibitions I saw in a more timely way in case you wanted to check them out…

What I didn’t talk about was my ongoing discovery of the right bank into the emerging arrondissements.

One of the great delights of Paris is still gorging myself on macarons from Pierre Hermé.  Luckily, Paris is very walkable and, even if you take the métro, you will still log lots of steps and stairs.  So, eat, and then exercise it off.  It’s very Parisian 🙂

french beauty

french beauty

I discovered a couple of great new boutique hotels – Hotel Paradis and Hotel Fabric.  A great way to explore the gentrifying east without giving up any creature comforts 😉



It put me in a slightly newer neighborhood and I mostly just wandered, somewhat aimlessly, as I know the city well enough I only need to pull out the map if I get seriously lost.

One of the great delights of the visit was meeting friends from Vancouver for dinner in Paris!  They are more “in the know” than me so managed to actually find a restaurant in such an obscure location even my map wasn’t really helpful… but I worked out the logic and asked people for directions and eventually got to the right place!  It’s marked like one of those places from the 90s where you are supposed to be cool enough to have the intel to know where it is without a sign – a way to keep out the riff-raff – much easier before the public got apps to access the internet 🙂

Anyway, the restaurant is called Au Passage and is highly recommended.  Just get clear directions 😉


I didn’t spend nearly enough time in Paris in 2015 but my main discovery was a re-discovery and update.  Long ago when one acquired cutting edge information from glossy magazines, I read about the 11th arrondissement and rue Oberkampf.  One of my best friends was living in Paris so I suggested we should check it out… she was game and it was kind of interesting but mostly it was just Café Charbon back then.  It was obviously emerging… but it was early days!


I re-visited rue Oberkampf a few years ago listening to some cool young French bands but then was semi-stalked by some Arab guy who wasn’t into subtle “I’m really just hear to listen to the music” so I gave up and went to my hotel.  But I knew it was a part of Paris I wanted to explore more.  The Hotel Fabric is perfectly situated for such an adventure so I could continue my exploration.  As in all of Paris, there is a seriously good patisserie a block or two from the hotel (Maison Landemaine).  What was more exciting, though, was the discovery that there are clubs on side streets off the rue Oberkampf that have live bands even on weeknights!


I would love to come back for an entire week but had a great time on nights where you don’t expect much.  Gibus Café at 127 rue Saint-Maur definitely recommended.  I obviously didn’t keep good enough notes of the place I went the second night but had a lovely evening chatting and watching the band with Surya, an Indian transplant.  At the time, I had just been in India so the connection was more vibrant.


you gotta eat - and drink - here :)

you gotta eat – and drink – here 🙂

I also checked out a wine bar/restaurant across from the hotel, which was stupendous.  The French love food and wine and these indie places in the gentrifying arrondissements are great value.  It’s called La Cave de L’Insolite on 30 rue de la Folie Méricourt.


Stephen did come through with genuine emotion for Paris and cute James opened with some heart-felt comments.  If only we could convince people black humour is better than suicide bombs.  It’s a weapon of mass happiness rather than mass destruction.

My on-going love to Paris and all the people of France who have embraced me over the years – literally and figuratively 🙂  Bisous big time!!!


New Year’s Eve in the killing fields…

I thought I should make one final post for 2014!  Still lots of travel tales that have not yet made it to the blog so will be some reiminscing in 2015… along with some new adventures and countries…  Happy New Year!

I haven’t done it as an annual rite of passage but in my twenties I developed a kind of tradition of going to see a film on New Year’s Eve.  In those days I mostly drank milkshakes and I’m far too logical so found the celebration of the New Year to be a bit underwhelming.  I have experienced a handful of memorable New Year’s Eves but generally it seems a bit overrated.

But I started my consulting gig in January 2004 so New Year’s Eve 2013 held special meaning.  And, as previously noted, I had been hankering for a visit to Angkor Wat for at least a couple of decades.

What made the experience more surreal and memorable was that my first New Year’s Eve film was “The Killing Fields”.  Hardly most people’s idea of the right activity but I had a wonderfully quirky and intellectual boyfriend at the time and we had both been yearning to see the film.


It is one of those films that take your breath away and I would highly recommend seeing it if you have not.  It will make Law & Order re-runs more poignant.  That is how I discovered Sam Waterston.  I am sure it is one of the reasons I became a Law & Order fan so quickly.  It is to film as Law & Order is to television…

When I woke up in Cambodia on December 31st I definitely remembered the film – and started my day of celebrating the phenomenal changes that have occurred since the film`s time period – and my first visit to the region in 1991.

shinta mani prepped for NYE

shinta mani prepped for NYE

I would celebrate my own anniversary on Jan 1, 2014.  December 31, 2013 belonged to Cambodia.

Staying at Shinta Mani allowed me to sign up for their New Year`s Eve celebration.  You should do it!  We began with a sumptuous buffet full of fresh, local seafood.  There was entertainment.  And, post-dinner, pre-midnight, we wandered down to the river with our wish boats.

floating your dream boat on the river

floating your dream boat on the river

The tradition is to write your hopes and dreams for the new year on a piece of paper and then place it on a small boat that you will release onto the water at midnight.  A much more romantic and symbolic version of making a wish and blowing out your birthday candles 🙂

We had to cross the main street in Siem Reap to reach the river.  Around midnight it was a cacophony of noise, flags and enthusiasm, which just added to the sense of magic.  Pushing my little boat onto the water with my hopes for 2014 was one of the greatest New Year`s Eves of my life.

siem reap at midnight

siem reap at midnight

What really made the evening so memorable though was the lady who saw I was sitting alone and invited me to join her table.  Tania is a force of nature.  Her `kids` were part of the entertainment for the evening.  And she confirmed for me that the hotel did indeed do good works and support the community, as I had hoped.

Her story is astonishing.  She came from Australia to check out Cambodia because she read about the plight of street kids in a Virgin Airlines magazine.  She ended up marrying her Cambodian driver as she fell in love with the country and he fell in love with this foreign woman who was so committed to doing good in his country.

Go to Cambodia and meet her!  (And him).  Their story is so much more incredible than any soppy thing you will see on the screen.  Tania is one of those people who use their developed world skills in the developing world in a way that blows your mind and inspires you to try a little harder – or at least support those who do 🙂

You should really hear her tell the story.  I can’t do it justice – or even apply an Australian accent, which does seem the right voice for her tale of passion.  To hit some of the highlights, she went to check out the plight of the street kids in Siem Reap.  She never even saw Angkor Wat on her first visit.

Like most issues in the developing world, the situation was complex and heartbreaking with no easy solution.  She went back to Australia.  Almost everyone else would have just stayed there and felt bad about the street kids in Cambodia.

But she couldn’t concentrate on her work.  She felt she had to do something.  So she went back.  She hired a driver.  She met kids.  She talked to people.  She tried to figure out what she could do to help.

Her first thought was to feed them.  She coerced local restaurants and citizens into helping her.  With a full belly, the kids were ready for more.  She thought they needed more education.

So she went looking for a school that would take them.  But the schools told her that her kids were dirty and smelly. So she negotiated… could she have a special class for the dirty, smelly kids?

That definitely helped the kids but it wasn’t enough to propel them forward in society to make them self-sufficient.  So she created a school for them.  She educated their parents on why it was good for these children to be in school instead of begging on the streets.

When I met her last New Year’s Eve, some of her kids had gotten to the point of considering post-secondary education.  They performed some intricate traditional Cambodian boxing manoeuvres for a huge crowd.  It was a great showcase for them – and for the Green Gecko Project.  She might not technically be their mom but she cares for them as if she was and was a proud and caring parent that night.  She had even lured some friends to spend their vacation helping out (they were also at the dinner).  She is inspirational 🙂


Think about New Year’s Eve in Cambodia.  I would highly recommend it.  Stay at Shinta Mani.  See Angkor Wat. Float your tiny ship of dreams onto the Siem Reap River at midnight.  Seek out Tania and learn about The Green Gecko Project…


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