Friday, July 30, 2010
We were stranded. That morning, the small boats would not shuttle us back to Kep, would not make the 30-minute passage. The water was too choppy, they said. We took refuge from the wind in a three-walled restaurant, ate warm banana and nutella pancakes, salted fries and grilled prawns. We conspired with other stranded travellers, caught up on our reading, and napped in net hammocks.
Once, we took a stroll to a small cove.
And once, I took a walk by myself down the beach, past the empty hammocks swinging idly in the wind, and stared at the frothy grey water lapping at my toes, at the cold grey skies above, and at the cool sand collecting on my skin.
In end, the boatman came. We boarded the small boat, with cheer. But our cheer soon dissolved into shared glances of worry, then frantic laughter, as we braced ourselves against the water that swelled up and grabbed at us, threatening to capsize our small boat, one violent wave at a time. And it was then, as I sat soaked to the skin, wiping the sea water from my eyes and watching the shape of the island grow more indistinct with each rise and fall, that I told myself: Next time, I will check the weather report before making a boat trip to a remote Cambodian island. Sorry, mum.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
First, the verdict in the Khmer Rouge trials came down, the first in a series of trials. After surviving 30 years of impunity, Kaing Guek Eav (a.k.a. Duch or Comrade Duch), the Khmer Rouge leader who was responsible for the murders of more than 14,000 people and who ran S21, the high-school-turned-torture-prison, which, incidentally, I live near (oh yeah, some pictures of the prison and victims above), was found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to 35 years. Not unlike many Khmer and non-Khmer across the country who anticipated this day, we crouched in front of our television in the morning sun, sipping on hot tea and allowing the fan to cool us down, while we tried to pick words out of the judgment. Mainly, however, I stared at his face on the gritty television screen, the wrinkled face of a 67-year-old man, now frail-looking and silent, dwarfed by the black computer monitor placed before him, who committed some of the most monstrous acts I've ever heard of.
Second, I'm still thinking about my escape from Rabbit Island. Oh my.
P.S. The Court took into account his years served while awaiting this trial, so he may be out in less than 19 years.
Friday, July 23, 2010
The weekend has arrived, and I'm off to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island).
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Lately, my Canadian flatmate has been rabid with dressmaking requests. Nine dresses. Lunch breaks and hot afternoons spent fabric shopping and tailor hopping. Bedtime thoughts of dress patterns. I don't blame the lovely thing -- she leaves for New York City soon enough.
I have dresses on the brain, too, though right now it is this Wiksten number. Heartbreak. Utter heartbreak.
Monday, July 19, 2010
In the soft morning light just before sunrise, Phnom Penh is an entirely different city. The streets are not teeming with the movement of tuk tuk drivers and moto traffic. There are no strange, offensive smells competing for your attention. Instead, there is a delicate veil of stillness suspended over the city, cloaking the ache of reality, transient and engulfing, blighted, this morning, only by the sight of families walking and the occasional egg vendor pushing his cart on the cool, jagged pavement.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
In fact, when speaking to family and friends, I don't usually go into detail, unless specifically prompted, about how normal it now feels to watch childhood cartoons, such as Peter Pan, dubbed in a high-pitched Khmer voice, or how I've grown accustomed to the sun beating on me as I walk the short distance to the office every morning, or how, with any exertion of my body, I now expect beads of sweat to well up and tenaciously cling to my golden-brown skin, or how the sight of saffron-robed, umbrella-toting monks wandering the streets, floating in and out of the fray, no longer holds my prolonged gaze. No, I tend not to speak about how I've become very conscious, at work especially, of only wearing dresses that cover my thighs and shoulders, or how I've somehow learned to tune out the constant calls of the tuk-tuk and moto drivers on the streets, and simultaneously, learned to tune into the nuances of Brit and Aussie written english when reviewing documents. Nor do I speak about how, at about two o'clock in the afternoon, after returning from my nearly two-hour lunch break, I expect a blanket of rain and wind to sweep across the city, violently uprooting and flattening everything in its path, like a child throwing a short-lived tantrum, before begrudgingly giving into the calm of blue, translucent skies.
And, in this manner, in quiet complicit observation, the last two months of my life have passed. I'll do better.
Anyway, that's enough for now. I have a dinner party to attend, and a pair of custom made shoes to pick up.
P.S. And, I forgot to mention that neither the sight of women wearing full set cotton pajamas out and about all day nor the vision of small babies being held on motorbikes fazes me. Well, kind of.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
I don't own a grill. I don't even know if peaches are available in Phnom Penh. They probably are, though with a hefty price tag. I only know that I am craving quiet, lazy days this weekend. And simplicity.
Last week, after a day's journey to northern Cambodia, my colleagues and I met with this community and the Khmer facilitators to discuss indigenous land rights under Cambodian law, a knowledge base that will become increasingly important as these parts of the country are targeted for shiny, mining prospects.
What lovely, courageous people! I am a fan.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
All this I did quickly -- and, within a day, without thought -- so as not to miss my morning meal of wild boar or fried fish and rice. Thankfully, it was only a short, sweat-inducing walk down the dirt path to the community's wat, where the villagers waited for us.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Sunday, July 4, 2010
Today is July 4th, a day usually spent watching fireworks displays with a barbecued-something in hand. And, in various parts of Phnom Penh and in equally varied ways, celebrations are slated. Despite the comical allure of a very American celebration at the US Embassy (think: grilling hot dogs and hamburgers on the US Embassy lawn with an American quartet singing in the background, or so I've been promised), I passed, opting instead to attend a small get-together, thrown, incidentally, by non-American expats (Canadians or British maybe, I'm not so sure)-- that is, if I can get everything sorted out in time to attend.
Early tomorrow morning, I leave with two colleagues for the Prey Lang forest, via a six hour bumpy bus ride north, a two hour speedboat up the Mekong River, and then another hour or two journey into the deep jungle. My ikat sarong is packed -- I will need it to bathe in a pond -- as is a very safari-looking hat that makes me wince, two bottles of mosquito repellent, a can of sunscreen spray, and my anti-malaria pills. I still have to pack, thoughtfully: I've been cautioned not to wear anything that will "distract" the locals. I will be there for a week to meet, and work with, indigenous communities who have been trained on relevant aspects of Cambodian land law. This should be interesting.
Happy Fourth! See you next week.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
via Toronto After Dark
My week: rose wine and laughter with colleagues and friends; my first care package from the US (thank you, Mami!); an amusing night of World Cup and World Cup fanatics watching; an irrational crosstown search, in the rain and via overpriced expat grocery stores, for tortillas; a botched up attempt at vodka tomato penne; an artfully done--and I daresay, heart-warming, in a Swedish horror movie kind of way--vampire film (that's the trailer above); night dancing on an island; learning the hard way that, in Cambodia, crossing your fingers denotes a lewd act; and continued fabric hunting and dressmaking complicity with my Canadian flatmate (who shares my current love of all things floral and kitsch).