I want to own a bookstore in Southeast Asia.
It won’t be just any bookstore. It will be L’Etranger in Luang Prabang.
A city of 55,000 in northern Laos, Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Mekong River. It is one of the most stunningly beautiful cities in the world, especially for those who love classical Buddhist architecture. But until French-Canadian backpacker Isabel Drean wandered into town for a two-day stay in 2001, it didn’t have a bookstore.
Drean perceived a need for a multilingual shop, café and gallery. She returned home to Montreal to secure the funding, and wound up returning to Laos for 10 years to raise a family. Shen she relocated to Los Angeles to pursue a career in filmmaking, her mother continued to run the store — named L’Etranger (The Outsider) after Albert Camus’ renowned 1942 novel.
And now, she’s giving it away.
“Rather than sell the business the traditional way,” she says, “I want to show gratitude and change someone’s life. It’s time for a new chapter. So why not give this chance to someone else?”
Along with the shop, Drean will hand over $10,000 to help with the transition, housing, a motorcycle, foreign-investor status and more. In all, this “dream life” is valued at about $250,000.
“It’s like playing matchmaker for an old friend,” she says. “I’m looking to find someone who will keep the magic alive. It’s not about experience, but really about who they are — what’s their story, their passion, their dream.”
I’ve let Dream know that I’m not just interested, I really want to be the person she chooses. I’m a man of letters, a widely published writer who prefers books to television. I’m a student of Southeast Asian culture and religion. My son was born in Singapore when I was managing editor for a publishing house in the 1980s. My desire to return to Asia has only heightened since cancer took his life last summer: My strongest remaining family tie is with my brother, who lives in Japan.
But that doesn’t mean my friends and followers shouldn’t also have an opportunity to bid for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Here’s what you’ll need to do to enter the “Ultimate Dream Life Abroad” competition:
Go to the website, http://ultimatedreamlifeabroad.com. There you’ll be prompted to submit a two-minute video, or write a 200-word essay, answering the question: “Why me?”
That’s the first of three rounds of competition, which closes on June 6 of this year. The winner of each round will then be flown to Luang Prabang, all expenses paid, to plead their case before Drean and her family, and to convince a panel of judges that they can adjust to doing business in a foreign culture.
“There will be fun challenges they will need to complete,” says the filmmaker, who plans to turn this social experiment into a documentary film.
If you win the competition rather than me, I have just one request: Please carry something I’ve written on the shelves of your new bookstore.