Friday, December 24, 2010


I missed the lunar eclipse on Winter Solstice because the rain clouds obstructed my view. Bummer, indeed.

Winter Solstice has always appeared magical for me. Marking the longest night of the year, this event was believed by ancient tribes to signify the victory of light over darkness. In other traditions, you were urged to enjoy yourself as much as possible during the solstice and to surround yourself with as much "lightness."

With my cultural upbringing, this celebration attached itself to the holiday of Christmas. And so every year, no matter where I am (or will be), this holiday makes me want to journey back home, to my crazy family.

Today, I am cooking, cooking, cooking with my Mum and my grandma. Family and friends are coming over later tonight, and I am hoping we can finish the several bottles of wine that have been languishing.

I wish you and your kin a wonderful, warm holiday!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ermie Lookbook

Confession: Design people/artists/people who create things seriously amaze me.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Out and About (or, Culture shock, phase two.)

My week or so here has blurred. Time does that a lot these days. I took a few shots to document, to remember. Here goes:

Fallen leaves and rain, rain, rain in Los Angeles.

A day with Cherlou. She was right: Bld serves up some of the best breakfast hash and blueberry ricotta pancakes I have had in a while. Is there anything cozier than a delicious hot meal and a hot cup of coffee, shared with a dear friend, on a rainy Los Angeles day?

3rd Street and Magnolia Bakery: Yum. The peanut butter cake was something else.

Le Labo: I have mixed feelings about this place. Perhaps it was too soon and too much "Los Angeles" for me to handle at the time, but the thought of purchasing a bottle of oil "mixed on the spot for me" for $300 (standard size) seemed a bit ridiculous. Still, the Bergamote 22 scent lingers on my mind.

Monday, December 20, 2010


After two and a half hours of line-shuffling through immigration and customs, I walked out of LAX to a rainy and cold (to me) Los Angeles. A week and a few moments of adjustment /culture shock later, I'm continuing to enjoy time with family and friends. Everyone keeps asking me what it is I feel like doing, feel like eating while I'm back. I really don't know - just being here with people I know and care about is sufficient.

I am looking forward to spending a few weeks sitting at home with blankets and pets. And, going to the cinema. (I'm excited for Sofia Coppola's new movie, partly because it showcases some of my favorite tracks from Phoenix.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Culture shock, phase one.

I'm in Seoul, enjoying the free internet at the airport. It is a cold day in South Korea, so cold I could see my breath as I stepped outside, so cold that the windows on the bus glazed over with a thick fog as we traveled the hour and a half from the airport into the city center, so cold that my leggings and sandals weren't quite suitable attire. No images to share today; no fully formed thoughts either.

An extended layover provided me with an opportunity to explore the city, and I accidentally ending up in one of city's main shopping areas. Today, as I watched the life on the streets, I felt a similar sensation to that when I traveled through central Russia and finally made it to Moscow. It's how I felt wandering through the city--one stocked with high-heeled women who could (amazingly) do stilettos on ice/snow--in the grubby travel gear that sustained me through the Siberian winter: out of place and wayyyy under-dressed, an outsider.

This morning, I sat and just stared for what felt like hours. Fine, I stared in appreciation at all the great shoes and coats women wore. I noticed how well-kept they appeared. I noticed how the streets were clean, how movement was orderly. I noticed the seatbelts in the bus (wow). I noticed how much more expensive food and transport were. And it became really evident to me that I've been living in a third world country, without much of the modernity and creature comforts to which I had grown accustomed, for a good chunk of the year. And I will continue to do so next year.

I wonder how Los Angeles will feel. My plane boards in 30 minutes.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Leaving on a Jet Plane

In less than 48 hours, I will be leaving for Los Angeles, in a sense circling back to the journey I started 7+ months ago, when with two suitcases packed full of dresses, shampoo and other "necessities," I made the move to Cambodia.

I'm not, however, staying in Los Angeles. I've signed another contract that will keep me in Phnom Penh for a bit longer. Opportunities that I could not have foreseen at the time of my move just popped up. And simply, I fell in love with the work. There's no other way to say it.

Nonetheless, a heady dose of excitement and fear accompanied my decision. But for now, I won't entertain that din because I am going home to see my family and friends. OMG.


via WSJ

Over the past few months, WSJ has written two articles (that I know of) about the forced eviction issue/populations in Cambodia:

Another resource for urban growth issues and sustainable architecture in Cambodia:

Wee sweaters

So it has finally hit me that Christmas is looming close. These wee sweaters - I'm a fan of the mustard and persimmon above- make me think of friends and their little ones, namely Rene's Evangeline and Cherlou's Little Jocy.

: Little Jocy would really dig one of these, don't you think?

Prints and Patterns

Some interesting finds at Japanese Thrift (yes, a thrift store stocked only with donations from Japan) and Lunch Box (my favorite new vintage dress shop).

Unrelated: Happy belated birthday, Dad! (Not that you read this, even though you are technically obligated to do so.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Kep and Rabbit Island, pt. 3

Kep and Rabbit Island Top 6 Moments.

1. Evening. Floating in the ocean, in my purple ikat sarong (because I was told it would be inappropriate to just do a bikini), feeling the waves lap up and around me, swallowing me. Staring up at the velvet black sky and twinkling stars above.

2. Evening. Late late evening. Following my friends/colleagues out to the ocean, in darkness. Standing in chest-deep cold water, screaming. Watching the phosphorescence explode in lights and then slowly dissipate with each movement of my limbs, my hands, my fingers.

3. The two giant (and I mean, GIANT) karaoke speakers we lugged onto the small coconut boat. The startled faces of those on the island as we pulled those speakers out of the boat. And even better: the sunset serenade by our karaoke-obsessed colleague, as we jumped, danced, waded, attempted to swim in the distance.

4. Napping in the hammock after a good read.

5. 10+ kilos of crab at the Kep crab market. Corn waffles.

6. Getting lost in the bullet-riddled creepy mansion. (Kep was a major stomping ground for the Khmer Rouge.)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mayle Pop-Up, West Coast

via Mayle

I still have tonight's dinner plaguing my thoughts, but I just received an email from the Mayle pop-up shop.

Must remember to breathe.

I may be in Los Angeles for the brick-and-mortar shop. Here's hoping.

Other thoughts: The idea of pants and/or a coat seems very novel to me right now, very otherworldly.

Stirring the Pot

source: The NYT

Last night, I made a bolognese sauce. Specifically, I spent an inordinate amount of time dicing/hacking/cursing vegetables to little bits, and then browning them, and then reducing the mixture in milk, and then stirring, stirring, stirring (fine, only occasionally), now and then throwing in some of the red wine I was drinking.

All of this work is for my Khmer colleagues, who I've invited for dinner tonight. I promised them a barang (foreigner) dinner, a spaghetti night actually, though by, the looks of the sauce (hearty, thick), a big rigatoni noodle would be a more suitable companion. I'm not much of a cook, so I laugh at how my good intentions always end up with stressful hijinks over the kitchen stove, late into the night. (I recall, very vividly, one night in undergrad spent making tabbouleh for 40 people. I did not own a food processor.)

I made the sauce last night, hoping the flavors would settle in by this evening. I hope I made enough. I must feed them more bread, just in case. Wish me luck.


5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3-4 tablespoons butter

1 carrot, finely diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 onion, diced

1 celery, diced

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 pound beef, ground

1 pound pork, ground

1/4 pound pancetta, ground (Note: I used bacon, as pancetta isn't always on offer Phnom Penh.)

1/2 tube tomato paste

4 medium sized tomatoes, sliced

1 cup milk

1 cup dry red wine

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating


In a 6- to 8-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the carrot, onion, celery and garlic and sweat over medium heat until the vegetables are translucent and soft but not browned, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the beef, pork and pancetta and stir into the vegetables. Add the meat over high heat, stirring to keep the meat from sticking together until browned.

Add the tomato paste, milk and wine and simmer over medium-low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and remove from the heat.

When ready to use, cooked pasta should be added to a saucepan with the appropriate amount of hot Bolognese and tossed so the pasta is evenly coated. Serve topped with grated cheese.

Serves 4 to 6.

Recipe adapted from Mario Batali.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Another quick thought: I have lived and worked in a third world country for 6+ months now, in a field that is as meaningful and intellectually stimulating as it is emotionally challenging, doing advocacy and legal work that I could not have dreamed up before my move, with experiences that still floor me (and I am relatively numb to these things now), that make me laugh, shake my head in disbelief and, sometimes, in anger, in hope, in mind-boggling, eye-opening amazement.

That is where I stand today, incidentally in the only Mayle dress I brought along (not that others would find that very blogworthy, but I heart Mayle).

And in about a week, I go home to visit family and friends.

P.S. Actually, it has been 7+ months. Time flies.

the holidays in Phnom Penh

It's beginning to look like Christmas in Phnom Penh. As my bus came back from Battambang last week, I could not miss the lights strewn about, the Christmas trees, the silver tinsel in storefronts. Yesterday, at brunch with Alex, Sotheary, and Will at Java, I even had a gingerbread cookie.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


This feeling comes and goes. Now and then, it rears its head, only to be lost in the din of daily life, dissolving into forgetfulness. But I'm holding onto it for a minute more, and today, I am documenting it. To remember.

In our big meeting this morning with the "big" stakeholders, as I munched on buttery cake, I thought: All the pouring over documents, laws, and legal memos; all the drafting and re-drafting, the agonizing over one word; all the site visits to impoverished communities via bumpy bus rides, to communities where, when you sit still for a moment, a swarm of flies attacks, where the heat is unbearable, where you are fatigued so quickly; all the women crying to me with their stories, with their half-naked children in their arms; all the evidence gathering.

SOMETHING -- and I don't know the contours of that "something" yet -- has come out of this, grown from it, from my work.


These pictures are from my trip to Japan with Mami last year. We were in Kyoto, on a cold afternoon that was quickly turning to evening. I remember walking through the park that floated above the city, staring at the reddening trees, above and below.

Not related. But this is kind of sums up how I feel this afternoon.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Taking a moment

Goodbye, November. What a crazy, back-and-forth, go, go, go month this was. (And on this last day, I find myself back in Battambang. Yes, I was here just three days ago.)

One more month left to the year -- and what a year it has been.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Kep and Rabbit Island, pt. 2

Images from the Kep crab market:

1. After a bit of haggling, we purchased 10 kilos of crab at the market, filled two big bags full of the boiled treats, and called it an afternoon. (An afternoon nap, under the shade of the trees, followed.)
2. Kampot pepper (Samosas: We grind this up, dilute it with lime juice, and use it as a dip.)
3. Dried fish
4. The tools of the trade

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A belated Thanksgiving

My plans for a big Thanksgiving dinner at my house did not pan out. A Japanese colleague, from an organization that does similar work on ADB projects, planned a visit to town, so off we went to the provinces, back to Battambang and to the border town of Poipet (on the Thailand-Cambodian border).

On Thanksgiving day, I found myself hanging on to the back of a motorbike, as we made our way through the narrow, intricate alleys of a slum community in Poipet. For most of that day, we bumped along the non-paved road near the derelict rails, I (somewhat successfully) ducking as we weaved in, out, and beside makeshift homes pasted together from from stray wood scraps and rubber, vegetable stalls bursting with greens, sewing shops, semblances of village offices, staring children, scratching dogs, cats, chickens, and the occasional bicycle vendor. All this life teemed, cramped together in these small spaces, a vibrant community built on the rails.

This Thanksgiving dinner may go down in my memory as one of my seedier ones. Poipet is a necessary stop on the overland border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia. Most people will tell you not to stay, as hustlers abound. I don't disagree -- the city is a mix of neon-lighted amusement parks, casinos, and general squalor; wares and women are pushed into all hours of the night.

That evening, my colleagues and I sat on the man-made river, taking in the bright lights with a meal of papaya salad, larp, sticky rice, and sauteed fish. I tried to explain the Thanksgiving tradition of going around the table and giving thanks, but my request to do so fell flat.

Nonetheless, I shared briefly what I remain thankful for: My incredible family and friends, who have been overwhelmingly supportive of me, my new friendships in Cambodia, and the unexpected adventures life takes and the opportunities it presents.

P.S. That's a picture of my grandma, who I will see very soon! So excited.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My week

My family and friends emailed me when they found out about the Water Festival stampede, an incident on Diamond Bridge that left almost 400 people--mostly from the provinces and many children and adolescents -- dead from suffocation, internal trauma and, now, we're hearing electrocution.

Despite my plans to stay away, I was in town that day. I had just arrived back from quiet Siem Reap. In fact, I was out that night, enjoying dinner near the river with my Aussie flatmate and his friend. We were only several kilometers from that bridge.

But I didn't hear about the incident until the morning after. The community is horrified, angered at authorities. I am horrified. Families in the provinces travel to Phnom Penh to look for relatives' bodies; most bodies remain unclaimed, a day after the incident, sitting in the open air; the weather is hot and humid. Plastered on newspapers and on the television are pictures of the deceaseds' clothes and sandals littering the bridge. Yesterday, 400 saffron-robed monks lined the riverbank by Diamond Bridge to pray for the spirits. I didn't see it, but it would have been a sight to see.

As you walk around the city, offerings of burned incense and food line the streets. Incense smoke fills the evening. Tomorrow, Thanksgiving holiday for Americans, has been designated as a day of mourning--everything is closed.

And I am in Battambang again, meeting with resettled communities. Tomorrow, I leave for the Thai-Cambodian borderlands.

What a week.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Like new

I'm dusting myself off from the workings of the week. I had a slight spring in my step this morning as I walked to the office. It's truly amazing what a new (vintage) dress can do. I'm a new woman.

Tomorrow morning, I'm off with my American flatmate, off to Siem Reap (changed our mind about Sihanouk Ville) to do tourist things. We are going to have Burmese food, ice cream, and cake. And, while he temple-hops, I am going to get a massage and catch up on my reading.

We are going to escape the colorful mayhem of Water Festival in Phnom Penh.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kep and Rabbit Island, pt. 1

Nearly two weekends ago, I spent a few days on Rabbit Island with friends and colleagues. Rabbit Island sits right off the Cambodian coastal town of Kep. The island can be described as "rustic" insofar as there are no fancy or even moderate hotels on this island, just several straw bungalows offering running water and generator-powered electricity (which shuts off at 9pm), chickens, dogs, blue fishnet hammocks tied to coconut trees, and a handful of restaurants on the sand.

In all honesty, I did not look forward to this trip because my memories of that island -- from my shenanigans in July -- are dominated by a flurry of rain, wind, and salt water tearing away at my little boat as I traversed the choppy sea back to the mainland, my white-knuckle grip grasping for anything I could hold onto.

I'm glad I gave Rabbit Island a second chance, if only because it allowed me to spend time in the company of dear friends, one of whom will soon be leaving Cambodia.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


As for our shoemaking conspiracy, here's our inspiration. I own several of the flat sandals in this picture, designed by now-defunct (boo) Brooklyn label Devotte.

These shoes are so walkable, so comfortable, that I literally wear them all the time. Salty sea water, coupled with the grime of walking day after day on streets of Phnom Penh and on the unpaved ground of the Cambodian provinces have not helped matters along. I now need replacement pairs.

(Cherlou is making the brown/blue sandal.)

I'm quite happy to support this neighborhood shop, which I walk by everyday on my way to and from work.

A Visit to My Local Cordwainer

Cherlou and I have been conspiring over email: shoe ideas have been discussed, pictures have been sent, measurements taken, sandals, boots (not for me because it makes no sense in this climate).

Cross your fingers.


I love railroads, trains, and overland border crossings via this mode of transport. The thought of sitting in a train compartment for hours or days, staring outside as the scenery slowly dissolves with the trains' slow sideward movements, makes my heart skip a beat. For me, few things will ever match the experience of trans-continental train travel.

And so it is ironic that I spend so much of my time on a project that would potentially halt the development of an inter-Southeast Asian railroad system, a system of linked rails that could one day transport me from Singapore to Scotland.

But this idea of economic development can-- must --be done responsibly, yes? It's very difficult for me to meet the oft-silenced communities living on the rails, in their makeshift tin or wooden homes, in absolute squalor (or, equally, to meet those already relocated to sites, who relay stories of their children scavenging for food and water) and then turn around and accept that the answer to my question may be "no."

It makes me very tired. Today, I am very tired.

An article about the ADB-funded Railway Rehab Project of Cambodia: here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The hills

From Connie: an image of the Portland West Hills. In the many Portland mornings burned into my memory, these hills greeted me, hugged by a fog, descending slowly, threatening to consume. Brisk and chilly mornings. Me: in my coat, dress/suit, tights, running to the office, the pattering of my heels resounding on the clean, even pavement. A hot cup of coffee warming my hands. The afternoon Mami and I cleaned up my office, I took one last look at those hills, drinking in that image one more time.

I found this picture of me and Mami from my last weekend in Portland, a weekend of brunch with the girls, coffee with the lovely Becki, and hours spent examining the Portland cityscape from various vantage points . Why does that weekend feel so long ago?

You ladies are on my mind on this Sunday afternoon, in this cramped coffee shop in Phnom Penh, where I am praying for a modicum of concentration.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Boeung Kak Lake

Remember this?

Well, on the ground, it looks like this:

Homes, businesses, lives buried in a deluge of pumped sand. Erased. The villagers have no other choice but to move.

Let me be unequivocal on this point: The residents living along this lake have established valid possession rights to the land (i.e., they aren't squatters), so their forced eviction, by this means and without fair compensation or any shred of due process, is in contravention of Cambodian law.

Ridiculous. There go my Friday afternoon daydreams of red lipstick, bicycle rides and ice cream.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I've always been a sucker for delicate details, such as pintucks. All this dress needs is a good belt and a pair of cut-out oxfords.

It's Friday afternoon in Phnom Penh, a warm afternoon punctuated by clear blue skies. I'm sitting at my desk, staring at this blue sky through the several layers of obstructions -- the maroon curtain, the small metal blocks comprising the grid across my window, the glass panel, the teal building adjacent to ours, which rises up. Cool season has arrived in Cambodia.

Next week is Water Festival and Sihanouk Ville. And then, more trips. But this weekend, I have nothing planned. No obligatory dinners to attend. No trips. No parties. No meetings. No goodbyes. I like how unshaped and free this weekend feels.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


"In every fugitive vision I see worlds, full of the changing play of rainbow hues . . . "

-Russian poet, Konstantin Balmont


I heart my colleagues! Too bad this video is only in German.

I realize that foreign lawyers, such as myself, engage in this work with a certain amount of privilege and detachment. No matter how entrenched one can be, the reality is that we can walk away at any time and go back to a legal system that subscribes more to the Western system of logic, to a system of legal precedent that actually dictates, more often than not, predictable results, to impartiality, objectivity. To comfort and order.

But my Khmer colleagues . . . these are their homes, their communities being bulldozed, burned down, dismantled, under force and the auspices of legitimate authority. The rule of law in Cambodia is broken, and to advocate on behalf of your legal rights comes at a risk that I will never comprehend because I'm a foreigner.

So when I see my colleagues speaking up, telling their story to the world (as they are doing in this video), it causes me to ponder the true definition of "courage." And then I snap out of it, pondering instead how they must be acclimating to the biting cold in Germany, to the steep prices of food, to all the Western-everything I sometimes crave!

Info on the sugar industry and land grabbing issue in Cambodia, which is the crux of that video: here.

Mayle Pop-Up, Heart Palpitations

via Metier SF


I need to dig up my Mayle Fedosia jacket once I'm back in the States.
And that little blue number . . .


Return from Rabbit Island

I'm back from a weekend on rustic Rabbit Island. And it was so vastly different from the rainy, wet, gloomy, boat-nearly-capsizing, salt-water-stinging-my-eye adventure of July. It was wonderful actually. More on that later.

Unrelated: Today, my colleague said to me, "Joc, stay longer. We will miss you. You stab our hearts." (Colleague stabbing the air enthusiastically.)

You stab my heart, too, Cambodia.

P.S. Those are the sand crabs little Jake (my colleague's quite energetic son) took hostage. He told me that he kept them in the jar to keep them safe. I told him that if kept them safe for too long, they could die. At once, with what appeared to be one swift movement, he jumped off the bamboo platform on which he played onto the sand below, racing to the waves ahead, to throw his hostages into the frothy ocean. A few survived.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Montmarte's pictures from her stroll into Anica are making me crave big open spaces filled with beautiful things.
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