Monday, August 30, 2010


via David Horvitz

I did nothing yesterday, nothing but eat a falafel shawarma and read a book about the antiquated ways of former Soviet republics in the sun, and make (order) a dress made from the three meters of chambray material my Canadian flatmate left me, and thrift at Japanese Thrift, a charity that imports granny clothes exclusively from Japan, and nosh on the egg-tomato-baguette sandwich my new flatmate, an American high school teacher, made for me. My inner grandma is happy.

A few days ago, I received an email from my friend, Damian, who I met in Mongolia. In catching up, he closed by writing, "Make sure you scare yourself somehow in someway everyday!" I like that. It brought a smile to my tired face, in a way similar to these 2009 Notes, by David Horvitz, which entertained and inspired me.

But, just for the next few weeks, I'm going to be cautious about venturing off into new streets, especially dark ones: My friend Thida was mugged this weekend! Two friends in two weeks. What?!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Monsoons and Muggings, Revisited

via Deka Ray (found via Search Party)

I once had a slight obsession with monsoons and muggings in Cambodia, a fear that influenced nearly all of my packing decisions for my move. Let me tell you that what they say about torrential rain is true, all true. I realized this a few weeks ago, as Rachel, Thida, and I waded through the knee-high waters that consumed the streets of the city. On more than one ocassion, I have been held captive by the strong winds and the rain raging outside. And the other day, I purchased a "raincoat," a thin coat of clear plastic with a spray of bright yellow polkadots on it. (Becki and Cherlou, it is truly pictureworthy.) Clearly, I am adapting.

On the topic of muggings, people warned me not to bring any "nice" jewelry, not to carry a purse at night, and not to draw attention to myself otherwise. Earlier this month, Rachel and I laughed about this proffered advice (apparently, it reached those coming from the UK, as well), commenting on how silly it was.

This week, Rachel was mugged. They took her purse, her cell phone, and all the money she had on her, approximately $60 USD. This was a pity for obvious reasons, but moreso because Rachel has spent nearly 8 months of crime-free existence in Phnom Penh. She returns to London in less than two months.

Over time, this city can lull you into a false sense of safety. Just when you let your guard down . . .

That said, however, I will take my chances. Sure, I will take precautions when galavanting in the evenings, but I miss jewelry. That simple: I miss piling it on. I feel bare. It is one of the small things that reminds me of "me," though I admit that these days I look in the mirror, at the brown skin and the once-prominent freckles that now nearly blend in, and wonder who exactly that is.

Sorry, mum.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Oh, Cambodge

The week is over, and I'm sitting in a dark corner of a cafe, thankful for good music and banana-coconut creme shakes. It is pretty quiet, and the only thing I hear, besides my tapping fingertips on the keys of my laptop and an Arcade Fire album playing in the background, is the drone of the fan, as it staves off the heat of the day.

What is it with the pace of life lately? On Monday, which I foolishly thought would be oh so quiet, so quiet that, as I waited in a meeting with the Boeung Kak Lake community, I pulled out my laptop and decided to peruse pictures from Sihanouk Ville for a few minutes. As the community members trickled in, I let my wander, to the next pair of shoes I would make, to the location of my missing third care package, to my lunch plans, when, all of a sudden, we were informed that the community would not be allowed to meet to discuss their strategy regarding the World Bank project and the issue of adequate housing conditions. Government authorities arrived, doors shut, and the crowd dispersed outside, angered, emboldened, and frightened.

The crowd of several hundred marched to another meeting destination. There, doors shut as well.

Searching for some place to meet and discuss, the crowd changed direction, walking toward the lake (quite a trek in the heat), before they were stopped by government officials again. Nowhere to go.

Before I knew it, I stood in the midst of an impromptu stand-off that lasted for hours in the main arterial next to Independence Monument (how painfully ironic), in the space between the community (represented that morning by many, many elderly pissed off Khmer women, I might add), and the police, military, and a SWAT task force waiting in the near distance, slowly swelling in numbers.

Freedom of peaceful assembly? Not in Phnom Pehn on that Monday morning.

You can read more about this here, or here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sihanouk Ville

Some Sihanouk Ville images from our visit last week, borrowed from a colleague:

1. The presently-derelict Sihanouk Ville railway station.
2. Grilled lobster, prawns, and fish -- cheap eats for lunch.
3. A young boy from a recently evicted family.
4. Sihanouk Ville beach, at dusk.
5. I really want one of those flower wreaths to wear.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I want to dance.
I'm still clumsy, uncoordinated me.
But I have stopped caring.

This weekend, I attended my first belly dancing course, which was taught by an Italian woman, who kept saying, over and over again, with a mischievous smile on her face: "Move your hips the way you were taught not to, darling!"

And the rain, in a non-stop, violent downpour, held the five of us captive. So, she made us dance in a frenzied, Egyptian belly-dancing way for hours.

It was insane, and a little bit awesome.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Scratch That

You scratch off where you've been! You clever people, you.

The Railway

The last week has felt like three weeks rolled into one. The pace has been intense, with so much back and forth, up and down, several bumpy bus rides, and too many moto rides in the incessant August downpour. I spent the weekend in Sihanouk Ville, a coastal city that is known, by most, for its promise of self-indulgence and abandon. But it was no vacation for me. I went there to meet with families evicted from the ongoing Asian Development Bank's Greater Mekong Sub-Region project, which aims to rehabilitate Cambodia's now-derelict railway system.

Fortunately, there were still lovely moments amid all the heartbreaking stories. (Yes, we have established that I have a weak heart.) For example, I will never complain about having to eat grilled lobster and prawns for lunch, or about being able to end a long day with a book in hand, my toes burrowing into the sandy beach, and my colleagues and a crimson sunset accompanying me, or about being able to see this country from an entirely unique perspective. And, of course, there was the requisite rabblerousing -- an evening of hijinks and karaoke that still makes me chuckle. (Prior to living in Cambodia, I never did karaoke.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


This small, $0.75 USD tart seems very ordinary at first glance. Certainly, it wouldn't be my first choice, not with the orange creme sitting next to it. But, as Rachel promised, under its raspberry goodness, there's rich, dark chocolate hiding. The combo. Perfect. The deserts at The Shop make me happy.

I welcome any bit of happy right now. This week has been tough, and I feel tired. My Aussie flatmate just told me that he has to fly back to Melbourne to have a medical condition checked out. I am terribly worried about him, but I believe being surrounded by family and friends will do him good. And, I've been told the hospitals in Phnom Penh should be frequented for minor ailments only. Most people fly to Bangkok for any major treatment. That is just one reality of life here.

A virtual hug to Samosas for the virtual chat yesterday!


Sunday Scrabble at Monument Books. Very serious business.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


via American Presidents Line

We are halfway through August! Can you believe it?

August: The month that marks nearly four months since I've been home. The month of many goodbyes. The month of my sister's birthday. The month of my best friend's birthday. The month of my late grandpa Felipe's birthday, my grandpa who, travelled by ship, to the United States when he was 16 years old, alone and afraid, yet unable to resist the lure of a new country; my grandpa, who visited the Philippines every few years, now and then, via the American Presidents Line's Trans-Pacific route. The company now dabbles in commercial trade, but once, a long, long time ago, its ships were part of a fleet that ferried people across oceans, to and from different worlds.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

From Russia

via Olya Ivanova

Olya Ivanova visits small Russian towns and documents their traditions with her skilled eye. Lovely.

Lately, I have had Russia on the brain again. So much. For a while, and maybe because the Cambodia move was looming, eclipsing everything with its mix of panic and excitement, with its lead-heavy weight of hope and uncertainty, my fascination with that region of the world quieted down.

It is back. There's so much Russian-something in this city: Russian Boulevard, Russian Market, Russian restaurants. I'm still trying to get into the Russian language course taught at the Russian Embassy in Phnom Penh. Last weekend, Rachel and I tried the Russian/Uzbekistan restaurant. And Shriya, in her farewell, left me several books, including "Imperium," by Ryszard Kapuscinski. His recount of his childhood, of his travels to former USSR republics, of his journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, its expanse and immeasurable vastness . . . it takes hold of me, draws me in, once again.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


poketo from jeana sohn on Vimeo.

I'm a sucker for Jeana's videos. This one is for a Target line. In case there was any doubt: There's no Target in Cambodia.

Siem Reap

After a hurried morning of oversleeping, panicked last minute packing, and almost missing my transport, I jumped off the motorbike and finally boarded a bus to Siem Reap with my colleague. Once on board, we found ourselves in the company of 9 others sent to monitor the attempted murder trial of 9 young villagers (trumped up charges, arising from a forced eviction). There was a young Irish film maker, who has been documenting forced evictions around the developing world, but particularly in Cambodia. There were two American film makers/trainers from Witness Brooklyn, a new-to-me (amazing) org that provides video equipment and training to human rights workers and activists around the world. There were several human rights lawyers/advocates, activists, and monitors. And a very active monk.

That evening, we occupied the second floor of a pay-by-the-hour guesthouse (read: dodgey, but, as I was informed, with very attentive staff), where we shuttled in and out of each others' rooms, in between meetings and more meetings, planning and more planning, discussion after discussion, until near eleven o'clock, when sleep finally won out.

The next morning, at five o'clock, my alarm buzzed. And, as wakefulness slowly took over, clearing the haze of sleep, my first thoughts of that day were:

I love this work.
I am so inspired right now.
I am also lying on sordid bedsheets.
How strange.
I need a latte before court.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Brogues, Baubles, and Balance

Last night, I had dinner with a few friends at an Indonesian restaurant. Amid our sharing of curried and spiced dishes of grilled eggplant and chicken, and the constant clinking of our glasses, we spoke about the torrential downpour outside, Shriya's return to the States (via Laos and India), and our ongoing need to digest our time in Phnom Penh. One friend, a French gal researching the impact of Korean mining investments in this country, has lived in Phnom Penh for almost three years. She told me that only when she leaves the country --to Korea, to France, to Sweden, to wherever she may go -- is she able to actually comprehend the toll her work and her daily life exacts on her. It is only then, she believes, that she can digest these experiences. As much as the city can grate on her sensibilities, however, she is not done with Cambodia. She hopes to stay another year.

She also cautioned me that, particularly given the nature of my work, I need to diligently try to find a balance, to allow myself the indulgence of lighter things. Hmm. Given my natural inclinations, I don't know if I can fully attribute my dress-and-shoe-making obsession, nor my numerous trips to Japanese Thrift (more on that later), to this lofty goal of finding balance. But I shouldn't be so dismissive, no?

A few lighter indulgences taking up my thoughts on this Saturday morning:

Fringe-love via Madewell

via Mohawk General Store

Tomorrow, work is sending me to Siem Reap (the random temple picture above). There will be no temple-hopping this time around, just a quick look at the workings of the judicial system. Oh my.

Right Now

I'm taking a cue from the talented Jennifer. Sometimes, I forget to take stock.

Reading: Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Again. And recently, this NYT article, forwarded to me by Connie.

Eating: Sweet, dappled pears from the local market, where my Canadian flatmate and I walked to last night, in search of fruit, despite fatigue. I wish I had a block of sharp cheddar to accompany this treat, or gorgonzola. And a hot cup of barley tea.

Listening: Camera Obscura and Grizzly Bear.

Thinking: Of yet another farewell dinner tonight. Of the Indonesian meal I will have. Of new friendships and warm farewells. Of the transience of life in this town. Of time, which seems to rush right past me, leaving me dizzy and out of breath. Of friends back home. Of my family, my grandmother. Of the pair of cognac-colored brogues my flatmate had made at Beautiful Shoes. Of Burma. Of the love letter I delivered, from the lovesick Danish girl I met there, who picked wildflowers as she walked along the hillside of Kalaw, to the engineer in Phnom Penh. Of the bird I released, in front of the wat in Yangon, as a customary blessing of luck, and how, as soon as it took flight, a hawk came down and snatched it up. Of the possibility, slowly unfolding in the periphery, that I can enjoy the idea of work, be moved by it, even find meaning in it.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


I've been sick for the past 4 days, with a presently undiagnosed, but hopefully fleeting, ailment. It is too be expected, I suppose, with all the change.

Yesterday evening, my Canadian flatmate and I worked busily on our computers, and, in between spurts of intense concentration and frenzied typing, she glanced at this new-to-me site, and I ooohed and aaahed right along, allowing the images of blazers, tights, and proper shoes, now seemingly foreign and otherworldy, to lure me in.

I think I want a pair of grey sandals made.

Le sigh.
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