It’s 3:00 in the morning, we’ve just finished the last leg of our 18 hour journey, we’ve landed in a foreign country, our minds are as disheveled as our bed head and Jet-lag has become a new four letter word. The thought of smiling was as foreign as the country we were now in – but that was all about to change. Waiting for our bags at the Bangkok Airport my soon to be 2 year old son Gavin had decided that the middle of the walkway was as good as a place to take a nap as any. While I was mortified and trying to maintain some sort of composure, an unusual thing happened. The local staff began surrounding us and smiling saying hello and asking “Can I take a picture?” . “Huh?” I asked. A sweet girl then said – “Of the baby.” I had to giggle, these people we all deeply entertained by my son and his choice to lay down on the floor. Not ten minutes after we had landed Gavin had acquired a fan base. The laughter began to uproar as soon as he realized that if he made a funny face or performed some sort of trick people would laugh. And this was just the start of our journey. Everywhere we went at least 5 people asked if they could take a picture or hold him. While at our hotel in Chiang Mai the girls there came just short of knocking on our room door and asking if Gavin could come out and play. As we drove up the entire staff would run to the van “Gavin!!” they cheered. He would then be whisked away and given candy and toys and delight as the girls all smiled and laughed when he’d perform one of his silly tricks. Not only was Gavin’s picture taken, and gifts were constantly bestowed upon him, he also received three surprise birthday parties! We had cake and candles in Cambodia, cake for breakfast in Krabi and cake for desert in Koh Lanta. Everywhere we went girls surrounded Gavin, I felt like Justin Timberlake’s mother (but much younger!) Now that we are back home Gavin can not quite understand why he can’t illicit the same attention while wandering through the market – although I think he’ll continue to try.
It’s all fun and games until the gecko eats the baby!
Living in Cambodia you get to love geckos: they eat mosquitoes, they are pretty cute and they make a cool sound that reminds you that your life is different. In fact, in our bedroom we have an accidental terrarium that I love. When they house was built at the top of each wall they built vents, areas for air to move in and out. When we took over the house we glassed these in so we could use the AC. The glass still lets out the light so at night bugs gather here and so do the geckos. It’s essentially an all you can eat buffet for geckos and we get some large gatherings sometimes. There are love affairs, fights, naps, in fact I often find myself ignoring the TV and instead watching the Gecko Soap Opera. Anyway, we had heard one particular gecko on our back balcony for a long time; he often made his chuck, chuck, chuck, ge-cko, ge-cko, sound while we were having drinks with guests. I had commented that he sounded big, but Brandon had laughed at me, saying it was just a gecko! Then one night, when Callie was about 3 months old I went in to check on her before bed. As I glanced around the room I saw a huge shape on the floor. Grabbing Callie I ran screaming from the room and into ours. Bursting in I screamed at Brandon that there was a crocodile in Callie’s room!
Brandon leapt out of bed and ran to see what I was talking about. His reaction might surprise you, most husbands would probably say I was imagining things and roll over, but you see the possibility of a crocodile in our house wasn’t as far fetched as it sounds because we lived next door to a crocodile farm. They raise them for meat and the skin in Cambodia, we actually have our own farm…but that’s another story). Anyway, though unlikely, it was not as improbable as in some of our past homes. Brandon rushed into Callie’s room and spotted the culprit, not a crocodile as it turns out, but rather our extremely large back balcony gecko. Turns out I had been right and it was big, huge in fact, the Godzilla of geckos! Brandon closed the door and headed off to fin reinforcements. My dad, who was visiting, was quickly drafted, and Brandon also rounded up our two nighttime security guards, Puan, a Cambodian kick boxer and tough guy and Samboon, who we affectionately referred to as Jungle Boy and could have weighed more than a buck ten with his clothes on. All four men (you are always a man when dealing with reptile or rodent issues) headed upstairs and opened the door to peek inside. The gecko still lay in the middle of the floor staring back at them. With a scream Puan turned and ran. Not just out of the room, but out of the room, down the stairs and out the front door, only stopping when he reached the end of our driveway and the main street. Having just lost his biggest “man” Brandon once again closes the door and goes to figure out why. Turns out Puan was deathly afraid of geckos and not even Brandon threatening his job could get him back into the house. Puan had thought he was being called upstairs for one of my regular spider or mouse requests, both of which he was happy to oblige, but a giant gecko was a whole other story. Down to three my dad, Samboon and Brandon went back in and cornered the beast before throwing a blanket over it before carrying it outside to freedom. I like to think that it was a bit Crocodile Hunteresque with Brandon holding the head down, my dad straddling the body and Samboon being whipped back and forth by a giant tail. They assure me that it was nothing like this, but I think they’re just being humble. The gecko was released in the back yard and we all went back to bed, but every now and then I still think I hear him and I keep the kids close!
Writers Note: Even gigantic geckos are not dangerous and no B&B guest has ever been harmed by one, we look forward to having you to stay =)
Last weekend (sorry, I wrote this awhile ago and have had trouble with uploading, it is more like last month…) we visited Koh Ker, a rural area about 3 hours from Siem Reap were we proudly own 22 hectares of farmland. Brandon wanted to go out to check on his land so I thought he would enjoy having the kids and I tag along and have an adventure. My cousin Tom and his cousin Iona were also visiting so we all loaded up and headed out. Koh Ker is starting to become a tourist attraction because of the pre-Angkorian temples there. I love visiting these temples because they are always empty of tourists and because my magic man is there. The magic man is a legend in Cambodia. Covered in tattoos the story is that he has been blessed and can now repel bullets and mines. He will show you the scars where bullets have burned him, but then bounced off and he will tell you in his own words how he has stepped on land mines twice, both times with those around him dying and him walking away without a scratch. He attributes this to the magic tattoos he has all over his body that protect him. I love seeing him and hearing his stories. Now the head of police in Koh Ker you can usually find him in a hammock outside the main temple where his wife runs a noodle soup shop.
After visiting him and the temples we headed into town. Imagine if Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, David Beckham and Mr. Ed showed up in your town, together. That’s what it’s like showing up in Koh Ker. We took some rooms at the local guesthouse where we were briefed on the 6 to 9 electricity rule. They have electricity from 6 at night to 9 at night, most nights. I took the kids for a walk and let the locals get an eyeful. Most of the kids ran away when they saw us coming, but a few paused on their bikes to watch…they looked ready to pedal like hell if we made any sudden moves. My kids take it all in stride, even lunch and dinner at the town’s “best” restaurant, where the choices were rice or noodles didn’t seem to phase them.
We had a fun night four-across in the bed. We kept the windows opened so when the fan stopped at 9 we had some fresh air, but at about 4 in the morning when the rooster started crowing I actually opened my eyes to make sure he wasn’t in the bed with us! Even Callie rolled over and muttered something about Old McDonald. In the morning we drove out to visit our land and meet the nice family squatting on it. My kids commandeered their kids toys while the Cambodian kids hid. That night we got back to Siem Reap and celebrated with a little AC and our own beds!
During my grueling 48 hours of travel from New York to Hong Kong to Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, I experienced my own version of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (minus the humor of Steve Martin and John Candy). The Asian version: “Puddle Jumpers, Airbuses and Tuk Tuks” was scripted with a different sense of humor—or dread, depending on your perspective—and came to its cinematic end when my nauseated stomach touched down in Siem Reap.
Andrea and Brandon gave me a wonderful welcome and thankfully I didn’t give them a car full of half-digested plane food on our way home from the airport.
My first two days have been a jumble of new people, interesting places and an overwhelming amount of Cambodian smiles. Coming from New York I was ill-equipped for this level of daily cheek strain, but Siem Reap is like Smile Boot Camp and Narla (pictured below) is the Commander in Chief. I’m getting the hang of it pretty quickly.
My husband is an ADDtrepreneur. This is an entrepreneur with ADD. He is always looking for new ideas and often has several going at a time. Journeys Within, the B&B, JWOC, Nikaya, all of this came from Brandon’s head. Now I’m not saying he makes all of these ideas come to fruition, he is also smart enough to surround himself with hard working people who can take his many ideas and make them happen, but still, the ideas are his. The interesting thing about Brandon is that he has very little ego attached to his ideas. Other people can steal them and call them their own and Brandon just rolls with it. I generally take full credit for the tour company and he never bats an eye! It is actually really fun to be around him because you can always see him appraising things – researching ideas, listening to people talk, keeping an eye out for new projects. Most of our staff, Khmer and Western alike, think he’s crazy, I don’t necessarily disagree entirely, but I also think he’s brilliant, he’s the reason my life is so interesting! Here are some of his projects:
Journeys Within. We now have offices in the US, Bangkok, Cambodia and one coming in Laos, we also have people working for us in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar and it all started when we met a moto driver in Siem Reap 6 years ago whom Brandon wanted to hire.
Journeys Within B&B. I liked this big house and Brandon said, “why don’t we turn it into a B&B, I bet that would cover the rent.” Our team has grown a bit!
A Crocodile Farm. So I didn’t say all his ideas were brilliant! It does make for cool stories though!
JWOC. Brandon started helping a small classroom near our house in Siem Reap. Now, three years later it runs two schools, has installed hundreds of wells, is providing college educations to underprivileged students and has brought many families out of poverty with the micro lending division.
Tire Repair. Really the Michelin Man of Cambodia this deserves its own post. Maybe the best Valentine’s Day present ever, definitely the most creative.
Koh Ker. We are now the proud owners of 22 hectares of farm land in Koh Ker. Brandon is working with a land management NGO to determine the best crops to grow. Most of his ideas I am able to make happen, for this one he’s on his own, I draw the line at farming!
Nikaya. From when we first moved to Cambodia Brandon has talked about marketing some of the beautiful products you can get here to the world. This year he hired a director and we started Nikaya, a fair trade company that will offer Cambodian made products to individuals and retailers in the US. Look from some awesome purses and beautiful home décor coming to our website this summer!
I think there are some smaller projects I am missing, but there are the ones that come to mind. It does mean my life is a bit busy, but, always, always, interesting! I advise anyone bored with life to find themselves an ADDtrepreneur.