Sunday, October 31, 2010


Halloween may just be my favorite holiday. In Cambodia, this holiday coincides with the King's Birthday, just another holiday of many in the October month.

Halloween and the King's Birthday brought me back to sleepy Kampot. My American flatmate and Brazilian friend accompanied me. After we fired the share taxi driver when he tried to squeeze two drivers into the small driver's seat for the 3-4 hour journey and my Brazilian friend cursed the driver and his family (literally, as in, "I curse you and your family."), the three of us jumped into a bumpy minivan to the small town.

In Kampot, it rained and the wind blew all day. For the rest of the afternoon and well into evening, we watched the wind stir the river's waters from the veranda, as my flatmate and I sat swaddled in blankets, the house cat squeezed in between the two of us.

The next morning, we caught a share taxi back to Phnom Penh.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ermie Prints

via Ermie

Some of my favorite Ermie textiles.

brunch bites

Brunch at Rachel's. Sun. Hot, crispy baguettes transported on moto bikes from Comme à la Maison . Naps.

A Dutch friend tried her hand at American pancakes, all the while convincing me that what I should be cooking is savory Dutch versions, with cheese, bacon and apple filling. (She gaffawed when I told her that we sometimes eat an entire stack of these pancakes for breakfast.)

Off topic, I'm wondering how much I'm processing of this experience. While I've been fortunate to experience bright and warm moments here (and sometimes those moments just bowl me over with their intensity), it is still Cambodia and my work is . . .

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Some recent fabric finds from Russian Market. What to make?

Note to Self: Packing for Siberia

Cashmere leggings and yoga pants, even when paired together, don't insulate the bitter bite of Siberian winter, its chilly embrace bleeding through every bare thread, into every pore. Ah, it was an interesting attempt.

Mongolia, your images still haunt me!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Slowing it down

The 1010 Project:

10 photographers. 10 photos each. All taken on 10/10/10.

A single day represented in 100 photographs.

No special occasion, no big event, just the essence of daily life captured through ten lenses.

The 1010 project was devised as an antidote to everything in modern life always having to be bigger, better, louder and brighter than what’s been before.

It’s an opportunity to slow down and appreciate the simple, everyday things that make life beautiful.



This past weekend: Khmer BBQ dinners. Brunch at Rachel's. Somewhat painful hour-long foot massages. Cambodia International Film Festival crashing. Dancing barefoot at Meta House to the tunes of the Phnom Penh Hippie Orchestra (gypsy music love). Late dinner conversations and even later after-dinner strolls in quiet, darkened streets. Birthday shenanigans. Farewells. Prolonged hugs. Restrained tears.

I hate that life in this city necessarily comes with so many goodbyes.

And with each farewell comes promises of next meetings, of visits. And gifts of misfit items from homes, evidence of their daily existence here: wayward pots and pans, dishes, books, so many books, food, moto helmets. In the end, a bit of their life is folded into mine. So goes the cycle.

I am spent. It is only Tuesday afternoon. The rain outside is deafening; it muffles everything.

Pictures later. Just thoughts for now.

Monday, October 25, 2010


That's right. I nearly forgot.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Cultural Exchange

Yesterday afternoon, I introduced my young, very sweet colleague, Thida, to my blog obsessions. Namely, we poured over Jeana's closet visits, which are just killing me on a weekly basis. Wide-eyed, Thida stared, commenting now and then on the shapes and lines of the shoes and the textures. And I and my starved eyes were quite content, in those moments, to dawdle in the heat of the stuffy room, drawn to images on my laptop screen.

Also, those black sandals will be my next experiment in Cambodia shoemaking. Maybe a different color? With a zipper in back, instead? Ease of putting on and taking off shoes is a key consideration here. My laziness aside, unless I'm going to a UN meeting or something equally posh, I usually take my shoes off when entering an office.

Of Pancetta and Prostitutes

via NYT

Last night was a lovely night. Balmy Cambodian nights are best paired with pancetta and melted cheese-anything, and with a glass of kir (black currant liquer topped off with white wine). The rain, no matter how I dislike it, has brought substantially cooler temperatures to the city so much so that, the other night, I complained to my flatmate that I needed a sweater. Actually, I said, "I am freezing," (gasp) to which he gave me a quizzical look before noting, "No, this is how it feels when you're not sweating from overheating."

Point taken.

Against this background of cooler climate and delicious food, Alex, Sotheary, Rachel and I enjoyed one of Rachel's last evenings in this city. (Early next week, Rachel moves back to London. Boooo.) All evening, Alex kept mumbling something about how "magical" this small restaurant felt, while Rachel and I oooh'd and aahh'd as the food came out. For a few hours, we forgot we were in Phnom Penh. It felt quite strange.

And then, somehow, the conversation turned to Alex's work. A recent transplant from France, she works in a health clinic/drug outreach program, which puts her in touch with many HIV-positive populations and, in particular, sex trafficking victims. She shared a story about how she recently became aware of the alarming trend of baby trafficking in Cambodia (some sell at $500???).

And that is how dinner ended. With a reminder that we are, in fact, in Cambodia, where light dinner chitchat invariably turns to these heavier topics.

Outside, the cool night air stirred.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I miss you.

I miss you, Portland. Your Stumptown coffee. Your VooDoo Donuts. Your food carts on SW 10th Avenue. (I swear this isn't just about food and drink.) Your Laurelhurst Park, Forest Park, all those parks. Your crisp, fallen leaves. Your cold, foggy mornings. Your drizzle and downpour. Your clean, paved streets. Your logic and order.

I miss having clean feet. You don't have that here. Ever.

BUT . . . there are so, so many.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cambodia International Film Fest

via CIFF

I have no idea what's on offer here, but I never missed the Portland IFF.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I feel really loved.

Last week, I raced the rain to the central post office to pick up a care package, sent from Mami weeks ago and lost in the Pchum Ben shuffle. Once home, I tore it open. Its contents made me laugh and cry, and I called Mami right away, waking her from her much-needed sleep. And then, mid-conversation, my phone ran out of minutes. Silence.

A sampling of this package's contents:

Truffle salt

Random catalogs from J. Crew, Anthropologie, etc. (until now, my starved eyes forgot how good it feels to pour over something as simple as a mail catalog)

Sea salt caramels from Cacao (when I still worked at the firm, some afternoons, I would walk across the street to this chocolate shop, grab a bag of these caramels or a cup of drinking chocolate, and then bury myself in my office, doors shut, head in a document. These days, I will share them with my colleagues. But just a few pieces.)

A rain bonnet, rain poncho, and rain hat (all to be worn together, of course)

Nail polish, eyeliner and mascara

Shampoo, foot cream and aloe sunburn gel

Seasoning packets: tacos, fajitas, hollandaise sauce

BBQ sauce (the best sauce, she claims)

Different forms of granola

Japanese tea (barley?)

A postcard from Portland

Among many, many other things, this move has taught me that I have the best friends. I am so lucky. I can only hope to support them and be there to celebrate their choices.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yes, please.

via Domahoka (spied via Ermie)

I need no excuse to wear this in dusty Phnom Penh. None at all. Via Rachel Comey. Of course.


This little jar of marionberry jam caused a little ruckus at the airport security check. So I was told by CK and Spence, as they sat in their Phnom Penh hotel, relaying their day of overland border crossings, a trip that took them from a small island in Vietnam into the Cambodian countryside via boat rides and bus rides, with livestock and human passengers. The jam fiasco involved an airline attendant, CK putting her foot down, and eventually some dear friends and the jar of jam being escorted to the plane (or something like that). I am touched.

Thank you, dear friends, for bringing with you your gifts of marionberry and boysenberry preserves (not available in Phnom Penh), hot cocoa (two varieties, taking into account the availability of milk here), pasta and pasta sauce, cast-off New Yorker magazines and news of Portland life. And for your warm company.

I'm sorry the streets were empty and too quiet. That most shops were closed. That the shoemakers were closed and the dressmakers too. But I enjoyed playing tourist with you in this city I now call home.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Phnom Penh: A Waltz Through High Water from Todd Brown on Vimeo.

Having lived in Portland, Oregon for six years, I am no stranger to downpours. But this is just something else. The streets here can flood quickly, holding you captive on a small piece of pavement.

Rain, rain, rain.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Pchum Ben did, in fact, empty the streets of this city. I almost didn't know where to take CK and Spence! But the holiday is over, and the sounds, sights, and smells of movement have returned.

Today, the city also smells like rain. Dark rain clouds hang heavy in the sky.

More pictures from my visit to Battambang last weekend.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Channeling helmet chic. Is it possible on the streets of Phnom Penh?
And three things:

1. My Aussie flatmate is back after almost two months of medical treatment in Melbourne. With a clean bill of health. Last night, until 3am, we caught up with a few others on our balcony, as we enjoyed his imports from Australia: a few bottles of red wine, vacuum-sealed salmon, capers, baguette, brie.

2. The streets are filled with golden baskets and other gifts for sale. And already, the city is emptying itself of its Khmer residents, who are all flocking to the countryside to celebrate Pchum Ben with their families, and of its foreign residents as well, who are enjoying this extended holiday in the Cambodian countryside, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Bali, etc. I've been told this is the exact opposite of the Water Festival, in November, when the entire countryside floods this city. Literally.

3. I, however, will stay in the city for Pchum Ben, because CK and Spence are visiting! Yay!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Burma Blue

Back in Phnom Penh. On my mind today: memories from the streets of Yangon.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A new month

Hello, October.

On this day last year, I sat in my Portland apartment, frantically packing my bags for a last-minute trip to Beijing, scheduled to leave early the next morning. I had found very cheap airline tickets, and, needing no excuse for travel then, I was determined in Beijing to catch the Trans-Siberian Railway into Mongolia and Russia, eventually to St. Petersburg. In between jobs, I told myself I would take a few weeks tops, and then go back to my life in Portland. Quite straightforward.

But it didn't work out that way. I eventually made it to St. Petersburg and back to Portland, but not to stay and not to go back to my life there. Because on that epic train journey, many things changed. Out of that trip grew my decision to finally leave Portland (for a while). And, out of that trip grew the most peculiar decision to explore international human rights law positions abroad.

A year later, I find myself in Battambang, a sleepy town in northern Cambodia with an even sleepier river, flanked by decaying French architecture and wide palm-lined streets on which youth bike. This afternoon, I found myself wading through neon-green rice paddies, sludging through mud and trying to keep my balance, barefoot, under the weight of my bag, as I walked to the lake where, earlier this year, two children drowned while they attempted to collect clean drinking water for their evicted family (who should have been provided running water at the resettlement site!). This weekend, I will meet with families evicted, or soon to be evicted, by the Asian Development Bank-funded Railway Rehabilitation Program, a project aimed at rehabilitating Cambodia's 650+ km of derelict railways.

I've said this before, but I never saw this twist in the road. Even so, here I am.

So, what will October bring? Life these days, though stressful, seems full of so many possibilities. It is all very strange.
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