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.

a blur

I blinked and two weeks flew by. It seems like it was yesterday when I Khmer-danced around the ribbon and balloon-adorned room, with colleagues and communities. But I know that was last Wednesday.

It seems like yesterday when I sat in a circle with colleagues at Sotheary's rooftop home, munching on home-cooked Vietnamese food as I watched the fireworks display blast across the city sky. But I know that was last Friday.

It seems like yesterday when I sat with Mark at Java Cafe, discussing the nuances of human rights work in this country, a scene dominated by many strong-willed, passionate players, who often have conflicting personalities and agendas. But I know that was last Monday when I was reminded of how much I still need to learn about working in this country.

It seems like yesterday when I sat with an ADB specialist to discuss my findings, to relay the stories of impoverished communities living hand-to-mouth, of families scavenging for water, of disempowerment. But I know that was Tuesday when I tasted frustration.

Somewhere, sandwiched in between those days, blurring now, is Kampot and sleep and laziness.

Life moves quickly here. I can't remember if it was like this back home.

Also, I can't believe I'm going back to Rabbit Island this weekend. Oh, what I do for friends.
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