Saturday, July 31, 2010


Fruit in Cambodia.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Note to Self: Escaping Rabbit Island

The storm raged without pause. From what I could make out through the blue mosquito netting under which I lied awake, outside my bungalow window the wind and rain blew until night blurred into morning, ruffling everything in sight, except the white cow that, I swear, was grazing on the green grass – in that same spot! – the evening before, an impervious fixture.

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

Two Things

This morning, two things crowd my mind.

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

Sex Trafficking Cupcakes

Random snaps from my week:
1. We celebrated Vanessa's birthday at the office. I ordered, for delivery, sex trafficking cupcakes, or, cupcakes baked by women who were formerly victims of sex trafficking. Chocolate cupcakes with vanilla icing. Simple and yummy.
2. Street food, the noodle place kitty-corner from the office.
3. Street food condiments, this time from the breakfast vendor.
4. My morning walk.

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.


via Anica

Apparently, my fascination with tie-dyed silk continues. Shabd, you're killing me.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Early bird

I stumbled out of bed at five o'clock this morning, struggling to shake the sleep and soreness from my limbs and cursing my decision to attend the early morning exercise sessions at Olympic Stadium. With more haste than thought, I threw on black leggings and a t-shirt, the one Adrian sent me in his care package from Los Angeles, and ran down the two flights of stairs to the court yard, fully aware that sauntering down the street to my office, to meet Rachel and Vanessa, in such form-fitting clothing, might be slightly inappropriate and very un-Khmer. I did so anyway. Laziness trumped.

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.

In our shared tuk tuk, we followed a friend's recommendation to take the entrance "near the smelly lake." Once on foot, we entered the stadium, making our way up the hill to where the line of silhouettes moved, in unison, against the brightening sky, their arms and legs outstretched. And as we walked among, and eventually joined, the crowd, I was struck by the music pouring from the speakers and echoing against the concrete steps of the stadium, and the wide age range of people who moved with the beat, and the spectators drinking in the crisp morning air, and the city's landscape unfolding below me in splashes of soft orange and blue, its wats (pagodas) lit with sun. I was struck by the richness of it all.

And then, we had a pork and rice breakfast and a glass of lime juice.


via the ever-inspiring Forever is Today

Now, this is my idea of summer.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


It was only today, as I sipped gingerly on a cup of coffee with one hand and skyped with Cherlou with the other, that I realized how remiss I've been about conveying, to family and friends, the differences, the minute details and cultural adjustments of life here. It's almost as if, as soon as my plane descended onto the streets of this city, I took everything that the promise of life here held as is, unquestioned and in whole.

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

If Only

Summers in Portland meant many things to me: strolls in Laurelhurst Park, bright evenings, Saturday mornings spent at the farmers' market, an afternoon spent under St. John's Bridge at the summer jazz festival, and grilled peaches with a dollop of vanilla-specked creme fraiche.

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.

The Kui

What usually floors me each time I travel to a place are the people I meet. And the Kui, one of several indigenous communities that call the sprawling jungle of Prey Lang home, were no exception. For the most part, this indigenous community has called this forest home for generations, subsisting on rotational farming and fishing on the Mekong River. There was, of course, a blip during Khmer Rouge Cambodia, when all were separated from their families and relocated to various labor camps, where they were forced to work until the fall of the regime.

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

Mornings in Prey Lang

By six o'clock, I was usually awoken by the rooster's cries, and, besides, the sun filling the house, streaming through the glassless windows and the spaces in the floorboards, could no longer be ignored. Still embraced in a hazy stupor, I would roll off the mat-covered hard wooden floor and stiff flower-printed pillows, on which I hoped for sleep the night before (and several before that); climb out of the mosquito net that encased my "bed"; stumble, with eyes still shut, into the dressing room to change into my red and saffron tribal-print sarong; and scurry down the sparsely-spaced wooden steps into the yard, past the sleeping dogs and cats, the running chickens and the curious eyes of children, straight to the giant clay jars, which held the rainwater that I would use to bathe.

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

En route.

On the way to Prey Lang. A crammed car ride. Boat rides. Freshwater dolphin watching. Mid-day work breaks on the sand.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Fourth

I am playing hide-and-seek with the rain. I am hiding in what is fast becoming a constant in my Sunday routine: Java Cafe, where I can savor a proper Italian, but wholly American-priced, cappuccino, reliable internet, and a fennel and poppy seed baguette.

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

The Cambodian Co-op

Growing up, I always had access to fresh vegetables and fruit. My dad hails from a line of avid gardeners, and, in my childhood home, nary an inch of arable soil, in the backyard, front yard, or anywhere in between, was wasted. Grapevines graced the trellises of our backyard, where I searched for lady bugs and observed ants marching obediently in line. Under the undulating sun, my sisters and I played amid red tomatoes clinging tenderly to vines, ever-purpling eggplants, and golden squash tinged with green.

In other words, I've got a bit of a soft spot in my heart for farm-fresh produce, an endearment that was encouraged by many leisurely Saturdays spent at Portland's many farmers' markets. And so when, sometime last week, I found a Khmer co-op on the same block on which I worked, I was hooked. Instantly.

My week

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).

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