Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Consulting and Traveling (Repat) End of the Year 2013

Happy Holidays to you and your family from South Carolina! I thought I would send out a traditional "Xmas Letter" to those who I haven't had a chance to talk to this year and just fill you in on what probably looks like a chaotic life from afar (or on facebook!) I'm also enclosing a "xmas card" that I designed myself. As you can see, I have not re-trained as a graphic designer.

Yesterday, I completed the grueling 24 hour trip home yesterday (took me almost 4 days with a layover in Seoul, Korea and Seattle) and upon arrival, I had to rush to the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles to renew my driver's license in person (as it had been over 10 years since I had the photo taken last). It was an interesting welcome back to South Carolina and the USA (the super friendly lady at the DMV told me how teenagers don't know how to sign their names anymore since they don't teach cursive and the friendly photographer apologized for not being able to photoshop my photo)- gotta have a driver's license to exist in this country! As my friend Alec said - its not a proper license unless you look like a zombie in your photo.  In order to make it completely American, I made Alyson stop off at the McDonald's drive-thru for lunch on the way back but I was disappointed in the french fries and missed the Thai chili sauce that they serve with fries in Bangkok but there's no place like home for the holidays!

Alyson and I are going to do a little sister's road trip to Florida to see some friends after spending Xmas Eve and Xmas day in Columbia and then I'll spend 2 weeks in South Carolina and a week in the Pacific Northwest back in Seattle and maybe Vancouver before heading back to South East Asia to see what the new year brings.

2013 was a good year - I officially launched my consulting business (although I had a few consultancies in 2012) and was kept quite busy with short term work in Thailand, Libya, Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, Egypt and the Philippines. I was honored to be one of the first people in the UK government's Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative to be deployed to look at sexual violence as a war crime in Libya. I also was thrilled to present some of my work in October at the biannual Sexual Violence Research Initiative Conference in October where i got to hobnob with other professionals and meet lots of dynamic and inspiring women working to end gender-based violence around the world. Another highlight of the professional year was the opportunity to work for almost 3 months in Rakhine State in Myanmar where there has been an ongoing crisis of Buddhists attacking and displacing Muslims. I helped set up gender-based violence programs and trained people in how to respond. Myanmar is a wonderfully beautiful and interesting country -particularly with the rapid onset of changes in 2013 and I hope to go back in 2014 to work more - perhaps up in the Kachin region by the Chinese border to look at trafficking of Myanmar women into China as brides.

While I like some aspects of being an independent consultant (very little office politics and new and interesting assignments), I miss having the stability of a job, the companionship of fantastic coworkers (you know who you are), and of course - a less hectic traveling schedule. My non-stop travel caught up with me in December, I caught the flu in the Philippines so rather than doing an assessment on the needs of GBV survivors in the aftermath of the typhoon, I ended up watching lots of tv shows in a hotel room while shaking, sneezing, and wheezing through the flu for over a week. However I can highly recommend "The Americans", "Orphan Black", and "The Returned" to anyone looking to binge-watch any shows...  silver linings! As I spend a lot of time in hotel rooms and on the road, I was also able to watch all of the "House of Cards", "Breaking Bad", latest season of "Mad Men" and "Orange is the New Black" this year too... the downside is that it seriously impacted my book reading which I hope to remedy in the new year. All this travel makes it too hard to read sometimes!

I also traveled for fun a bit too - I have a tourist visa in Thailand so I can't stay there for over 30 days - this lead to good fun in Vietnam where I toured the country to check out the legacy of the US war there with my friend Mike Dumiak from high school, eating tarantulas and touring the killing fields in Cambodia, bicycling around Bagan, Myanmar street food and art tours in Penang, Malaysia with my other traveling buddy and friend from Amsterdam Jennifer Lin, relaxing at Railay Beach in Thailand, getting centered amongst the rice fields of Bali, and catching up with my college roommate, Ann-Michelle Burton, and her family in Phuket, Thailand and Doha, Qatar amongst other amazing times. All in all, I spent 223 days (and 70,000 miles) on the road. I think for 2014, I'm looking to stay in one place for a bit longer. Simon the cat doesn't like it when I travel (although my housekeeper, the lovely Khun Nee takes great care of him when I'm gone).  I want a more settled existence so I can develop some routines, spend more time reading, writing in my blog and possibly tackling that book I always said I want to write and more time cooking and entertaining with others. A boyfriend would be nice as well.

I was also pleased to meet some amazing foodie people in Bangkok this year as well and have enjoyed in the short time I've been there some great dinner parties, food excursions, and farmer's market trips which I hope to do more of in the new year.  I love having guests in Bangkok (whether I'm there or not) so I encourage you to come see me in the new year - although I am looking at finding someplace a bit closer to the US and a more stable lifestyle than this visa situation allows for the new year. I'm going to apply for my UK citizenship finally and also consult an astrocartographer in the new year to see where is the best place for me!

That's it for me for 2013. Looking forward to South Carolina cuisine (barbecue! black-eyed peas! catfish! sweet tea!), the pleasures of America (Mexican food! driving! good music! On-line shopping for underwear that fits me!), and catching up with friends while stateside until January 20th. I hope you'll drop me a line and let me know what you've been up to as well! I love facebook because it lets me peek into your lives and I miss all of you dear friends and family. This nomadic existence that I lead makes me long for roots and connections so please feel free to share your news and baby photos and other things that we can't share together as the miles separate us.

Sending you my love,

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A year in movies: 2013

(A short list of all the movies I saw in the theatre or on airplanes this year)

The Good: 
Pacific Rim*: Disappointingly i had to watch it on the airplane but it was good cheesy fun with a strong female lead. Robots! Giant monsters! Hope to see it on the big screen one day.

Gravity - IMAX 3D - what a sensory adventure. I saw it after 3 months living back in time in Burma and was just blown away. Well worth the extra money for IMAX.

Catching Fire: The Hunger Games 2- very good escapist and dark but still moving. Love the female lead. Curious to see how they will do book 3. And I'll miss Lenny Kravitz.

Which Way to the Front Line: Documentary on Tim Hetherington - really moving but perhaps more for his friends as a way to remember him than a real expose on his work. But I wept to see his promise ended so soon.

Zero Dark Thirty: Also very intense and gripping. It was a good film and well acted. A bit too close for comfort with the Pakistan explosions.

Mud: Great movie and performance by Matthew McConaughey. Really Oscar worthy - and great child actors too. Made me sort of home sick for South Carolina.

Silver Linings Playbook: Such a great movie! Bradley Cooper can act! Jennifer Lawrence was great but mostly I just love the director David O. Russell.

Bernie*: Saw on the airplane to Tokyo - really funny, really well acted, hysterical and so true of the South.

End of Watch*: Great performances by Jake Gyllenhal and Freddie Pena. I was really moved by this movie.

The Okay: 
Wolverine: I liked it more than i thought I would because it was set in Japan and I went there this year. But I didn't understand the end at all!

Despicable Me 2: Cute and good for some giggles. I liked the minions and the Macho villain.

World War Z: So disappointing compared to the book but on its own - it stands up as okay. B-. But WHO saves the world??? God help us.

Warm Bodies: Surprisingly romantic - saw it on Valentine's Day in Bangkok surrounded by 100 couples.

Jack the Giant Slayer: Could have been more charming but still fun

Mama** (actually saw it on the bus on my visa run to Cambodia but it was still playing in the theatre!) Good gothic fun and creepy premise.

The Boring: 
Midnight's Children: What a long and rambling boring movie.... I'm sure the book was much more interesting. The actors were not good, the plot was a bit draggy, and all of the interesting things got glossed over.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters* - too gory and not nearly as much fun as it should have been. I find Jeremy Renner very dull and don't think he should be a lead.

Side Effects*: Was hoping that Jude Law would lift it but Rooney Mara is such a dull actress. I didn't buy it at all.

Bachelorette Party: Boring, crass, borderline offensive. But Kirsten Dunst is awesome!

Frank and the Robot: Not funny, not a crime caper, and instead a really depressing take on Alzheimers.

Beautiful Creatures: Set in South Carolina, supernatural romance between two hot teens, sultry scenary chewing by Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson but still dull dull dull.

Still hoping to see before the end of the year: 
American Hustle

The Hobbit 2

12 Years a Slave

Inside Llewyn Davis

The World's End

Favorite Xmas Songs (playlist)

Glitzy Christmas Trees of Bangkok

I made a playlist of all my favorite Xmas songs that I play on my iPod throughout the holiday season. I sort of have a thing for Xmas songs - mostly soul and country music but with a big dose of pop from the 80s! I hope you enjoy it!

Favorite Xmas Songs (playlist)