The story of an Epiphany

[ Article written in September 2014, in San Francisco]

I want to tell you the story of an ‘Epiphany’ I experienced in February 2014.

I love this word, the origin of which is the celebration of the visit of the wise men to Jesus newly born, in other words, the manifestation of the divine to the common people. In English it is more commonly defined as a sudden revelation of the essential meaning of something often initiated by some simple common occurrences. It is actually the reason why I am here in San Francisco.

In February 2014, I decided to go on a trip to Asia as a way to turn the page of a finished relationship. I was, as well, at a turning point in my professional life. I was kind of worn-out by my work environment, after 22 years at Air Liquide company, and was trying to figure out my motivation for the next 20 years of my working life.
In this context, I decided to travel alone. I wanted to leave my mind open and available to random encounters and to my new environment. I did well..

In this context I decided to travel alone, not allowing  a friend to accompany me. I wanted to leave my mind open and available to random encounters and to my new environment, and I did well.

This is how I set off on a trip to Laos and Cambodia.

I met a few people there. Surprisingly, they didn’t realise that what they were telling me was unwittingly going to change the course of my life …and I didn’t know it either!

# The trigger point for a change of life

I met Christophe and Olivier in a restaurant in Laos at the border of Thailand. They both had settled in Laos a few years previously and were so happy about their new life there. I was actually very intrigued and envious. I asked them what the trigger point had been for taking action, I was actually obsessed by this question. They had both spent some time in Laos, were attracted to its quietness and simplicity. They had both been at a turn in their lives when they felt a strong desire for change. Christopher told me this anecdote: “I was in the Parisian metro and smiled spontaneoulsy at a woman sitting in front of me. I gave her a passing gaze and she responded by turning her face away and pouting. I could not put up with this fearful closed-minded behaviour anymore.” (Everybody knows Paris is the capital of pouting faces whereas San Franciso is that of fake smiles…). They also talked me into going on a ‘Gibbon experience’ trip. So, I set out to do just that the next morning…

# The job I would have loved to do

The Gibbon experience was created by a French man to raise people’s awareness about the preservation of the jungle in Laos and its last remaining Gibbons. It is a 2-to-3-day hike in the jungle, using an exceptional zip line cable network throughout the forest, enabling the visitors to glide above the canopy of trees. Guests sleep in tree houses at night, with breathtaking views of the forest. The fear I had about this trip was being surrounded by young Westerners. My fears were confirmed. Nonetheless, it appeared that those young people, mostly from South Africa and the United States, were English teachers in Bankgok or Seoul and told me about their jobs. I found it so awesome, it was like a thwarted desire that came rushing back to the surface. I started thinking how wonderful it would be to do such an exciting and rewarding job. I remember thinking to myself at that time “I would have loved doing that!”, as if it were too late for me to contemplate such an endeavor.

# Daring a total change of job

I met Mary on the boat trip from the Thaï border to Luang Prabang: a 2-day tourist trap boat trip for Western backpackers. However, the journey remained impressive for we did not cross a bridge during the two days of the trip, nor a town, rarely a village, sometimes wooden houses scattered in the countryside, mainly endless wild forest (this reflects the level of industrialisation of the country). Mary was a 30-year-old German woman from Berlin, sitting just behind me. We had time to talk. She was actually in the process of changing jobs. She wanted to study sustainable environment and quit her job in the tourism industry that had led her on luxurious ships throughout the world, but she found it too perfunctory and was seeking more meaningful work.

The same thing happened with a Korean woman I met later on, during a boating trip to Nuang Kew fishermen’s village. She wanted to leave a job in web advertising which she found meaningless for a job in tourism where she thought she could find more meaningful human connections. Alas, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. However, I was really impressed by this turning point they both had decided to take in their professional lives.


# Children are a lifelong burden

When I arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, after a 10-hour bus trip, it was nearly midnight. I hadn’t made any hotel reservation, and it appeared that the hotels were rather full. Exhausted I asked the first rickshaw to take me to a place he recommended. “Cheap place” he said. I ended up in a gloomy room without any window, nor bathroom, just a mere water hose over a toilet to take a shower. In short, this place was awful. It was too late, and I was too exhausted to make a move. However, the young Cambodian woman, who was in charge of the hotel rooms, made up for the ugliness because she was so sweet. She offered me fruit, as I had not eaten a bite for hours, offered me use of the open air kitchen sink to brush my teeth. She asked me the common question: ”Do you have children?” To which I answered no. Surprisingly her reaction was: “You are so lucky, you are free to go wherever you want, you can travel and discover the world. I am stuck here with my two kids.”
A couple days later leaving Phnom Penh for Siem Rep, I was in a bus sitting next to an Indonesian family who was there for a family vacation. The man of the family asked me the same question, to which I gave the same answer. His reaction was: “Good for you, children are lifelong worries. You are free!”
Well, that was an insight!

All those people were the stones that paved the way to my epiphany.

When I returned home, my company was offering a severance package, including training to learn a new job. Then it became clear what I was going to do, I could change my job, become a teacher and settle in South East Asia. It was so clear that it frightened me for a while ‘Am I insane?’. It felt like a tsunami. Nothing could stop me.


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