Globe-trotting—With a Pen in My Hand
Molly Frances McGill ’05
My head snaps forward in that Was-I-sleeping? yank. The recycled on-board air has cooled to a chill. Was I snoring? I survey my fellow passengers for a hint. No one is laughing or pointing, so I must be safe.
“Madam?” says a petite Thai woman, standing bent at the waist, leaning toward me in her purple uniform. She has heavily made-up eyes. Mine are sticky with sleep. “Duck wit noodles or om-el-et?” she asks, blinking at me in wait.
“Omelet, please,” I answer as sweetly as I can.
I’m only an hour into my flight to Bali, but having had to get up at 5 a.m. to beat the Bangkok traffic over Sarasin Bridge was rough. If your timing is off, you can end up sitting in gridlock, helplessly watching the minutes tick by while the exhaust from two-cylinder motorbikes surrounds you in a cloud of blue smoke. Luckily, by rising early, I avoided all that and now find myself in transit, staring at rubbery eggs and a small beige hot dog. And, my sleepiness aside, I’m feeling pretty content.
The latest edition of Asia-Pacific Tropical Homes magazine is bundled and wrapped in brown paper in the belly of the plane, stuffed into my least suspicious travel bag. It’s the second edition that I’ve worked on as associate editor, and in the 10 months that I’ve been on the job, I’ve gained a wealth of knowledge. Actually, my experience with the magazine has been more of a crash course introduction to publishing than something as refined as the words “schooling” or “training” might suggest. But, then, what does one expect when one leaves the comfort of one’s home country and familiar work ethic to cross the globe in pursuit of a dream? And, besides, I wouldn’t have as great a story to tell if things had been easier.
The travel bug bit me when I was young. I was raised hearing stories of faraway and exotic places from my godfather. He’d return from across oceans with gifts each time, and before the age of 13, I had collected a multinational entourage of dolls—those in kilts lined up next to those in fur-trimmed dresses made of animal hide, one with braided hair sitting next to the doll with a puff of dark curls. My parents had their own fairy tale travel story of their first meeting. They were both at a hostel in London and my Canadian father approached my American mother on a whim. As the story goes, he asked her, “Hey, baby, want to make me some pancakes?” Smooth.
I dreamed of traveling to every country in the world at a young age. I even went as far as buying a large map of the world to record my adventures in the small, colored heads of pushpins. When the pomp and circumstance of my Champlain College graduation approached, passed, and gradually faded, I felt lost, clueless as to what a “professional writer” was actually supposed to do. I felt green and naive, young, inexperienced, shy, intimidated, and a failure before I’d even started. I came home to mounting bills and pressing student loan payments. I was desperate for a change...
“Time to get up. The time is sev-en for-ty-five,” says the electronic female voice of my cell phone alarm.
“Ah , shut up, Betty.” I paw at the side table for the rubber-covered body of the phone. I’ll skip the morning aerobics, thank you. I change the alarm to eight forty-five and bury my face back into the pillow, trying to block the streaming sun glaring through my slated windows, until I hear her muffled nag come through my sleep again.
A cup of loose-leaf Chinese tea and a fat-free yogurt with muesli later, I hop into the shower to rid myself of the sweat that’s already forming. Chompoo, my cat, yowls in greeting and tangles herself in my footsteps as I make my way to the front door. A quick dose of water to the hanging orchids on the verandah and I lock the padlocks to my gate. Squinting in the morning sun, I stroll toward the car parked on the uneven concrete with my keys in hand.
The neighbors mill about. One washes his car. Another is walking her 14 dogs up and down the soi (lane), with a parade of strays following behind. “Sawadee Ka,” I call in greeting and they smile, nodding their heads as I drive slowly down the road, trying to avoid the white fluffs of dog. Piggles, my favorite of the soi-dog brigade, sits defiantly in the middle of the road as usual. Three large black cows, chewing wisps of grass twisted in trash, look on as I honk my horn and struggle to go around the hairless mutt. Just another morning in Phuket, Thailand.
Growing up, I was taught that when opportunity presented itself, you have to jump on it, and the worst a person could say was no.
I met Trevor at a Whiffle ball game on the beach in the south of Phuket. He was working as a writer, a real writer. But how did he go about becoming one here, and, more importantly, how would I?
“So, you work for Phuket Magazine, right?” I asked nonchalantly.
“Yeah, it’s a pretty sweet gig. I get a car and get to meet a lot of people. I write all the time—I’m really busy, but it’s really fun .”
I could have left it at that. Jumped into the ocean and swam away. Continued playing Whiffle ball and going back to work teaching English at a kindergarten in the north of the island. But I wanted to write.
This was that classic opportunity. And I jumped on it. I had to. I asked Trevor if he could use another enthusiastic, albeit a bit inexperienced, writer on board. He said yes and gave me several contacts.
I arrive at work about nine o’clock and turn on my computer to check the day’s emails. My broken air-conditioning forced me to buy a fan, and I click it on to high to stir the stifling air. I hold my hair up and off my neck, drying the sweat in the breeze and fan myself. Chiming, my computer lets me know that my inbox is full.
The office is quiet, the rustle of the palm trees outside interrupted briefly by the sound of a sliding glass door being opened. High heels click on the linoleum and disappear down the stairs. Grabbing my mug of tea, I walk outside, breathing in the morning air as my computer continues downloading messages from all across the Asia-Pacific region.
A noise to my left catches my attention, and I go over to the chicken wire cage. “Good morning, Goldie. How’s things?” I ask the 13-foot golden python inside. The other, smaller pythons are lying about the cage. One stretches on a tree branch, its head swiveling from side to side. We’re awaiting the next batch of Goldie’s babies, so each morning I check to see if today is the day that she’ll be curled around a bunch of eggs. I let out a sigh and return inside to where my computer sits waiting for me to begin my day.
When I’m in the office, I’m answering emails, making contacts, researching, finding content for the magazine, and writing articles. I work closely with the layout artists on design, select photos and assign shoots. I join editorial meetings where we decide the content of the magazine and issues thereafter. I assign the stories, find the writers, and bug them when they don’t arrive by deadline.
I’m also out of the office a lot : assessing villas and “dream homes,” seeing if they fit our criteria for coverage. I attend openings and events, trying to make as many contacts as possible, which, in the long run, will only make my job easier. I travel a lot. I’ve been to Bali, Malaysia, Singapore, the north of Thailand, and hopefully more soon, on assignment and, again, making contacts. I’m the marketing girl, associate editor, and face of Asia-Pacific Tropical Homes (APTH) magazine.
When I began this job, I didn’t know much about homes, let alone tropical homes . I was supposed to take Trevor’s job as associate editor for Phuket Magazine when he left to return to America, but I’ve stayed with APTH , become invested in it, and become knowledgeable about housing and building trends throughout the region. I’ve read books in the office collection on traditional Balinese homes, tropical design, and landscaping. I can tell you where to buy land if you’re buying, where not to buy land, and whether to wait a bit longer. I know people in the industry and have dined with influential architects and designers—some I consider friends.
I’m largely self-taught, as the company didn’t have the manpower to teach me when I arrived. Being a “professional writer,” they assumed I’d figure it all out, and I did. Champlain prepared me—to some extent—for what lay ahead, although I’ve also failed at times and done things wrong . But that’s part of learning. And I’m learning so much more than if I were just running coffee as an intern.
I may be on the other side of the world, but Thailand has given me opportunities and experiences that I wouldn’t normally have had. Sure, the government bureaucracy here is a little messed up. Yeah, I was here for the recent coup d’état. Yes, laws constantly change, the driving is atrocious compared to western standards, and children have no bed times, but I’ve grown professionally and personally. I’ve learned new languages, eaten delicious foods, traveled, and made friends. I’ve learned patience and how to interact with completely different ways of thinking, and I am a better person and writer because of it.
I answered a calling that had always tugged at the corners of my mind, that small, suggestive voice—drive—that had made me antsy and ready to see the great, big world that lies in front of each of us. The map I had on my childhood wall became projected in my mind, the pinheads ready to be placed. I ended up sticking my neck out and don’t regret one second of it. When the opportunity to travel overseas presented itself, the worst I could have said was no.