Ten years ago, I landed on the dusty tarmac of the old Siem Reap International Airport (it actually looked more like a dingy warehouse then) and arrived in this kingdom – a bright-eyed 27 year old who transplanted himself from the cacophony of Manila with two huge suitcases about to start life anew in a place he has only known through five hours worth of Google searches and Flickr feeds.
I have just gotten married at that time and immediately decided to chart new territories just because of an email I have answered from Sarah Moya and Rachelle Estabillo-Canones out of fun and curiosity about working as a graphic designer for Angkor Century Hotel – an email which was not originally intended for my inbox.
I started my journey with barely $100 in my pocket not knowing what lies ahead. I left my wife back in the Philippines with the original intention of using Cambodia as a stepping stone somewhere: probably Australia or the US, Canada or the UK… wherever, but not here.
But then the unthinkable happened. Cambodia opened its arms to me and I embraced it back. I looked beyond its tourist layer and discovered its people, its harsh realities and its bright potential. Here, nobody asked me if I can do it. The only question people ask here is “Are you willing to do it?”
After a year working in the hotel, I met Narisara Murray and John McDermott who became my first design clients for their new gallery. They then introduced me to Martin Dishman of Linga Bar who hosted my first solo exhibition. The team of the soon to be opened Hotel de la Paix found me and asked me for my first brand management design work.
That ultimately led to me quitting my job to put up Spoolworks Design Studio which gave me opportunities to work on projects with Raffles, the Aman Resorts, the Orient Express and even local hotels.
I was able to save up and bought my own DSLR camera and was given incredible opportunities to be a photographer for sheikhs, queens, princesses, presidents, prime ministers and Hollywood celebrities. I did my first full interior design work for apartments, hotels and restaurants. I was able to even explore further afield by doing a landscape and environment design work for Brad and Angelina’s Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation with my mom.
But the journey didn’t stop there. Here, I was able to also discover an entrepreneurial spirit that I never thought I had. I opened our first shop called The One Shop at the lobby of the One Hotel which eventually led me to open Poetry with our friend Don Protasio, ArtDeli with Jam Jam, the 1961 Gallery and Hotel, Artillery Café in Phnom Penh, ArtDeli 2, the Ministry of Art, Potions and Metaphors with Ciarán Dionco and Leon Franco Dionco and even the rebirth of 1961 as a Coworking and Art Space with Kurt Xu and Philippe Ceulen.
Then there were art exhibitions here and in Phnom Penh that paved way for shows in Beijing, New York and back home. We were able to put up a traveling art festival called the Angkor Art Explo and even the Northern Kingdoms Poetry Festival.
Now, I am working as a general manager for a gorgeous new boutique hotel, Mane – all of these because Cambodia opened these doors for someone like me. All I did was answer that email and all because I met some amazing people and friends who made this journey such a joy.
Ten years later, I gaze back and imagine these incredible blessings. But more importantly, the most precious gift I ever have is having an amazing wife Faith Famoso Ramos, becoming the father of Freedom Ramos and coming home each day smothered with love by a pack of poodles and pugs. We don’t have much but we have enough of joy and happiness to make us stay and search for new beginnings on every bend.
So thank you Cambodia, for 10 amazing years of discoveries and dreams. They really ought to change your name to CAN-BODIA, because with you, everything is possible.