Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Soft Focus

A few nights ago, we took my grandma Elpidia to the airport. Another trip to the Philippines, this one a long time coming. She was so excited.

I realized, standing in that newly-renovated, starkly cavernous terminal where multilingual announcements blared and people shuffled in line, pushing their oversized "balikbayan" boxes, that many moments of my childhood and my adult life have been spent in airports. I've spent many moments waving farewell to family departing on their bi-annual trips, many moments waiting. Now, I see that airport frolics were a constant in my family, expected like Christmas and birthdays, yet another marker noting the passage of time. As a result, I associate airports (LAX specifically) with a sort of melancholic-excitement, a concurrence of sadness and a stir-crazy excitement, of the unformed. Whatever these memories and associated feelings may be, that night, at the airport, they warmed me like an old blanket.

Being at the airport also did another thing: It snapped me into focus, like a slap across the face. I am moving to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Writing it out helps.) Friends and colleagues often ask if I am not scared, and, when they do, I sometimes wonder if they think I've been imbued with some magical strength that makes me impervious. Of course, I am scared. I am scared of living in a country where I know not a soul (except for the other international and local lawyers who I met briefly in December); where I expect to stumble as I navigate the language, the culture, and the legal system; where the likelihood is high that I will contract worms and/or some other ailment that makes my skin crawl at the very thought; where any Western glorification of human rights lawyering will probably dissolve into a darker reality; and where I will learn about all these things and more, in painstaking detail, alone. (Writing it out does not help.)

And yet, the potential gain from this rare opportunity weighs on me more heavily than the growing list of warnings, eclipsing everything. I've wanted, for a long time, to explore law, legal systems, or the lack thereof abroad, but I swallowed whole the idea that such experiences were saved for later times in life, that such were luxuries you allowed yourself only after you had worked at the billable system for 20-30 years, only after . . .

So, what happens when you deviate, when you voyage out? This year and this move, to begin with, are my experiment. Now, if only I would focus. Hopefully, this picture of Bagan will help.

And, on that note, I'm off to cut my street urchin locks and to grab lunch with Cherlou.


  1. I think you already know the answer to that question and you will be OK. Lovely haunting image.

  2. Thanks, Yoli. This post is a result of many recent conversations, playing catch-up, and the realization that oh my gosh I am leaving soon. I'm really excited about this opportunity, but nervous too. Yes, I love this image. Sometimes, I need a visual kick.

  3. Such a well- written and heartfelt post. What happens when you deviate, when you voyage out? Good question. Trying to find the inner resources to find that out for myself.

    On a more frivolous note: I'm totally curious to see your new haircut!

  4. Deviations can be good and I'm sure you'll have a good experience. You'll have me as a neighbor! I've been hearing more and more about Bagan- apparently, it's the new hot spot around here.

  5. Thanks for the support, ladies.

    Jennifer: Yes to tapping inner resources. After this post, there was a flurry of emails from the org, about my work, recent developments on housing issues there, and logistics. Hello, momentum. And frivolous is grand. I chopped off 4 inches and got bangs again. I'll post a picture if I'm captured ... I've a wedding and many brunches/lunches this weekend in Portland.

    Tee: You will be my neighbor! Really, about Bagan? Here, I get strange looks when I say I'm headed there. I understand some of these strange looks - military junta and all -- but I've made an informed decision to travel there and to do so responsibly. And my goodness, by the way the Burmese and others who have been there described it, that country sounds downright magical.

  6. It's always scary taking that first leap into the unknown, but that inner ambivalence makes the experience (usually in retrospect, of course, and unfortunately) that much more vivid and memorable. You are a strong, adventurous woman! Rawr!

    (Just remember, Bangkok is a hop, skip and a jump away. Safety nets are available!)


  7. Another're not deviating, but returning to what you have always wanted to do. It only feels like you're deviating because it's off the beaten path. Bravo! I don't normally watch Oprah, but my sister told me about this past Wednesday's show. She interviewed people who have "dream jobs". All of them started out doing the same thing: do what you love and you'll never feel like you're working a day in your life.

  8. Gorgeous post...I'm really looking forward to hearing what it is like there.

  9. More sweet comments!

    Bangkok J: I was warned that I would crave cities like Bangkok and HK after a few weeks. I suppose that won't be too bad; Airasia keeps things cheap.

    CK: Thanks, friend. Perhaps you're right. I never thought I'd see the day that you quote Oprah. ;)

    Samosas: Thanks.


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