Friday, December 30, 2011

Before I go ...

Just a reminder that I am still cleaning out my closet.  It's a pity, really, that so much stuff has been left in boxes for 20+ months.

Listings updated here and here.

Fraser, Colorado

I hate packing, but pack I must.

Early tomorrow morning, I fly to Denver, Colorado, where I will meet Ethan.  I think we're going to meander a bit for the afternoon and visit what he claims is a used bookshop that rivals Powell's Books of Portland (yeah right) before ascending up to Fraser, Colorado.

It will be a quiet first week of 2012.  We'll be staying with his family at their mountain house.  This picture, taken near Fraser, seems so otherworldly.

Happy New Year!  What a year 2011 has been.


All pictures stolen from a friend

I'm sure my friends and colleagues laugh at my strange, inexplicable fondness of Mongolia.  It's good, then, that, having traveled there separately, Ethan shares the same sentiments as me.  We have a running joke about living in Ulaanbaatar for a year.  He would teach; I would research.  If we crave more, we could dip into Beijing via a 36 hour train ride, or in the opposite direction on the train, go to Olkhon Island in Russia, also the stuff of dreams.  It's unlikely for a host of reasons, but mainly because after Cambodia, I need more creature comforts--not less. 

These pictures were taken by a friend during my first few days in the country.  That place really was magic.  And years later, its expansive landscapes and misty mornings still haunt me.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sea Salt Coffee

via NPR

It's amazing how much food I consume on these trips home. Considering the food choices and various ethnic enclaves scattered throughout the greater Los Angeles area, I should not have expected anything less.  With friends and  family in the past week and a half, I've had "the best Mexican food" in San Gabriel Valley, Santa Ana, and Redondo Beach.  I've had steaming bowls of ramen in West Covina and been stuffed with tamales from East Los Angeles and Cuban food from Long Beach.  I've sampled Indian in Pasadena, though Little India near Cerritos would have been my choice.  I've hopped about Korean and Taiwanese eateries in Arcadia and Rowland Heights.   

For non-Los Angelenos, those city names mean nothing.  But in those ventures, there is often a considerable amount of driving and freeway traversing - all in the name of good food.  That variety is one of the things I love about Los Angeles.  It never disappoints.

Tonight, Joseph and Jenny took me to Jazz Cat Cafe, a hotpot place in Rowland Heights, and then to 85C Bakery for sea salt coffee. The coffee was tasty.

Oh, and another thing I am no longer accustomed : long lines for restaurants.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lingering on Mondulikiri

I know this post should be about the Christmas holiday and how great it was - it really was a good holiday, one of the best I've had in years and a perfect way to punctuate what has been an incredible, if not stressful and intense, year.

But this morning, I'm not thinking of Christmas dinner, nor of the refrigerator full of tamales, carne asada, ham, brussel sprouts with bacon, mocha cake, red velvet cake, cheesecake, som tam (Thai papaya salad), sticky rice, or lumpia (egg rolls) left over from that night.

My mind is going back to the week I spent in Mondulikiri province before I flew back home, to the really strange day I was holed up in Bananas, a shack-cum-restaurant situated near the trickling river, where I ate homemade bread and Dutch meatballs served up by a German expat who had called the place home for several years.  All day, I wrote frantically, well aware that I had to fly home in less than 48 hours.  It was cold.  I had a scarf and fleece jacket one (unheard of in Cambodia), and when the wind blew, the shack shook and shook.  As you looked up, the holes in the roof were visible, light streaming in.  Around me, a hungry bulldog begged for food, while I had to move my coffee cup, to and fro, away from the two grey and white kittens jumping into my lap, onto the desk.

I thought of this because the past week has been a break from work and revisions and clarifications.  But I'm now back, working remotely.  The paper launches in Australia in February, or so I've been told.  It is crunch time, they say.

When I think of Cambodia, of colleagues and friends there, of my work and then compare  those images to my few days spent home, to the few hours in crowded malls and in busy streets lined with more modernity, affluence, and mobility than I've seen in the last 12 months, the whole Cambodia experience seems so distant and surreal.

This is absolutely cliche, but I just don't think I'll ever be the same.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


It feels good to be home, even though today at Sephora with my mom, I was absolutely overwhelmed by the crowds of people and the abundance of shiny things.  I must have walked down those streets in Old Town Pasadena so many times as I grew up in the area . . . Nonetheless, I cannot complain:  good Indian food, a hot cup of chai masala, and a chat with my mom are always welcome. 

While I am here, I'll be doing some closet cleaning in the next few weeks.  Take a look here and here.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

10 hours in Seoul

It was -9 degrees Celsius in Seoul today, quite a difference from warm Phnom Penh.  Last year, I had the same layover and left the airport.  I remember feeling overwhelmed by everything I saw: the modernity, the apparently higher disposable incomes of the middle class, the shops, shops, shops, the cold.

This year, perhaps because I've already visited, perhaps because as I promised to myself earlier in the year, I managed to travel outside of Cambodia when the opportunity was there - for whatever reason - I was not as overwhelmed, and I welcomed eating and shopping in downtown Seoul in the same way I will welcome my experiences in neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Portland.  

But something is new and disconcerting:  On the tuk-tuk ride to the airport last night, I realized something in me has shifted since my last trip to the US.  I cannot put my finger on it yet.  I don't even know if it's good or bad.  I only know in the same way you can tell when you wake up in the .morning and, straight out of bed, you know something is a little different with your body, something is outside the range of what you've considered normal for most of your days.

Maybe I'll figure it out on this trip? 

By the way, I was on the bus back to the airport when news broke of Kim Jong II's death. It was all in Korean, but by the the constant replay of his images, I suspected he had died.  What a year it has been for world news!   Wow.

I am exhausted.  I'm looking forward to in-flight movies, a meal, a glass of wine, and some sleep.  When I wake up, I'll be back home.  

Friday, December 16, 2011


via Amazon

I'm back from Mondulikiri via a bumpy 8 hour bus ride.  I'm feeling a little ragged right now.  I leave for Los Angeles tomorrow evening, but there's so much to do before then.

There's the writing I haven't finished, brunch in a few hours with two lovely ladies, a meeting with the editor, and, oh yeah, gift shopping!  The feeling of Christmas, of holidays, has presented itself in an unsteady trickle.  One night, Ethan (who does not have the same fond associations with the holiday as I do) and I found ourselves humming and dancing around the flat to cheesy holiday tunes.  That was nice.  Another day, at Daughters of Cambodia Cafe, the sweet barista brought me a sugar cookie in the shape of a Christmas tree.  In general, though, the lights strewn about and the lit-up Christmas trees inside shops  feel very artificial  and strange to me because, to the vast majority of Khmers, this holiday is clearly a Western import.  To me, this holiday has always held strong associations with family time, eating and laughter - and I've made a promise to myself that no matter where I am in the world, I will go home for the holidays.    

I'm starting off the day early, with a cup of coffee, sweetened with honey.  I'm thinking of getting my sister, Jack, a french press from Russian Market.  I do not know how I ever lived without one!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Amusement from Mondulikiri

NYC's new set of Haiku traffic signs: awesome.

Unrelated:  I am in Mondulikiri this week, a far eastern province in Cambodia.  Here, the soil is red and the climate is cool.  When people speak about this part of the country, one often hears comparisons to the English countryside.  Sen Monorom, the main town, has a handful of streets that wind up and down the hills, and a river that cuts through it. 

The night sky tonight was amazing, the stars twinkling so brightly, the moon shrouded in clouds. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Note to Self: On Working in Cambodia

When I first moved to Cambodia, a colleague took me to my first meeting UN meeting on land rights.  As I sat around the table, listening to updates on land disputes and forced evictions within the country, I noticed that people laughed at really awful things. "That's what happens when you've been here a while," my colleague whispered to me, after noticing that I sat there, silent, mouth agape.  At the time, it weirded me out.

I understand now:  People cope, in any way,  by any means they can, and sometimes that involves laughing at some of the political and social realities, many of which are ridiculous, disheartening and frustrating to no end.  For other expats, it means drinking themselves silly;  yet, for others, leaving the city whenever the opportunity arises.

Why do people stay?  How do they continue to do this work?  These are questions I myself have tried to answer this year, though unsuccessfully.  I believe that people who work in this sector in Cambodia burn out quickly - over the course of the year, I have met four lawyers, all of whom have independently warned me about the intensity of land rights/human rights work here, how it can affect you.  For each of those lawyers, the answer to continuing their work in Cambodia came in the form of moving out of the country and working regionally on these issues, finding a home base that is safe and comfortable:  Geneva, Chiang Mai, Melbourne, Manila.  As much as I can surmise, the answer came in establishing distance, drawing boundaries.

Over a year later, I do not have answers.  I only know that somehow, at this time in my life, this work clicks with me.  As idealistic as it sounds, I feel fortunate to be able to contribute through my profession. 

But this year has been so very intense.

To be continued . . .

A growing list

all images via Of a Kind

I would be lying if I didn't say that I have had a long list of items I want to pick up when I'm Stateside.  On that list are random household items, little pleasures that make life in Phnom Penh more comfortable: blue corn tortillas, pine nuts, Mexican spices, maybe some GT 1000s Curried Green Tomato Pickles from cheesemonger-store Foster & Dobbs in Portland (oh my goodness, their Fromage D'Affinois sandwich, with a buttery rind cheese, is delicious).

Also on the list are some Erin Considine, Dream Collective and/or Mociun & Krantz pieces.  These may be old news to people in the US, but I have been waiting to see these pieces in person! By the way, the Portland in me digs that Erin Considine uses natural dyes in her work.

This may be my only chance in the next 8-9 months because I will be in Cambodia for most of next year.  As I write this, even I cannot believe it, particularly given the shady stuff that I/we had to deal with this year.  (Umm, hello Govt crackdown on human rights NGOs!) Earlier this year, I was almost certain that I would not return to Cambodia next year.

Life is so strange.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Portland Jones #1

Becki, let's grab cappuccinos at Crema, my favorite light-filled renovated warehouse coffee shop in Portland, and then saunter across the street to Una to look at Mociun & Krantz necklaces!

There's a wave of giddiness that comes and goes, that washes over me when I realize that I will be in Portland very soon.  It's been too long since I've seen dear friends, or had a cup of Stumptown coffee (another one we should go to, Becki).  There's been so much life that has passed in this year for myself and loved ones, and there were many times when I wished I could share in those moments more intimately with those who live thousands of kilometers and a vast ocean away. 

Wedged between me and Portland, however, are several long days and nights of writing, writing, writing and then revising, revising, revising - and technically, a shopping layover in Seoul, some time in Los Angeles, and mountain cabin time in Colorado.  


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wednesday Inspiration

all images via Beatrice Valenzuela

Shoe-maker Beatrice Valenzuela's blog is full of inspiration.  There are snapshots of her colorful meals and accompanying recipes, of her home.  All this makes me really miss tortillas.  Did you know I haven't had a good tortilla in all my time in Cambodia?  It's very easy to take good tortillas for granted, until you end up in Cambodia.  My southern California upbringing has spoiled me.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Daughters of Cambodia

All pictures via Daughters of Cambodia

And just like that, November is gone.

Thanksgiving Thursday flew by without turkeys or cranberry sauce.  Although Ethan and I went out to dinner that evening, the day just felt off.  Unlike the Christmas holiday, which I never miss, I haven't spent most Thanksgivings in California with my family.  There were several years in Portland, when, due to law school, extreme cram sessions and small bank accounts, I could not make it home.  Last year, I spent the holiday in Poipet, the lovely Cambodian slum known for drug trafficking, neon-signed casinos lighting up the night sky, and really weird abandoned amusement parks.  

Despite the absence of many adult Thanksgivings at home, I missed my family so much this year, and I thought I would give anything to be able to watch ridiculous Law & Order SVU (I am lame) marathons, as my grandma Elipidia cooked.

Such is life abroad, I suppose.

Life these days feels similar to those cram sessions I did in law school and at the firm.  One good thing about my recent holing-up is that I've discovered a little gem of a cafe in Phnom Penh, Sugar 'n Spice (run by Daughters of Cambodia), where proceeds go to supporting victims of sex trafficking in Cambodia.  The food is delicious and the comfy seats enable me to plop down and write for long stretches. I figured I was spending in the upwards of $15 a day in other Phnom Penh coffee shops.  My money can go to a better cause.

Daughters also has a small craft shop and nail salon onsite.

Monday, November 21, 2011

slowing down.

Tuesday morning.  The week is already starting to improve: cooking, wine-drinking, no crazy, push-push-push deadlines looming in the next few days.  I made this  galette two nights ago, sans a food processor and in my mini electric oven.  Yum. Plums aren't easy to come by in Cambodia, and they also aren't cheap. Well worth it, I say.  I adapted the recipe, using Cambodian palm sugar (kind of like brown sugar) and limes, from my lime tree, rather than lemon.  I prefer a little more substance to my crusts, so I may play around next time with different flours.

Recipe for the crust here.  Plum galette recipe here.


via Ermie

How wonderful is Ermie's new collection? I am very tempted by the silk tee in the Talitha print.  Jennifer has been just lovely, answering my questions about caring for the silk Ermie pieces - in Cambodia, I do not do dry-cleaning.  I've lost many a silk blouse here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday errands.

When, as last week, the pace of work is nuts, everything runs off-kilter for me. I don't have time to cook or bake. I don't have time to run my errands.  Sleep is irregular.  There's no space for myself.

The upcoming week may be a repeat, but I spent the Sunday baking granola, laughing with Ethan, and slowly putting small things in order. Some thoughts today:
1. I am loving this SFS Circle Top, which shipped from Gravel & Gold in San Francisco.
2. I picked up my new glasses.  Long overdue.  There's this "secret eyeglass shop," as some locals refer to it, near Central Market, where you can pick up old refurbished vintage frames and prescription lenses for $30-$40.  The inner Gladys in me is happy.
3. I'm digging the selection of French toiletries at the Thai Huot grocery store.  This line of body washes and simple soaps gets me every time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

365 days, weeks #44-46.

How is it mid-November?  Someone please tell me.  For the past 3 weeks, the pace of life has been go,go, go. I'm almost at a loss for words, but in my attempt to document, here are a few thoughts today, disjointed just like the images above:

1. It's the early morning of day 3 of a crazy week, filled with: me kicking unethical journalists out of meetings, who I then chided for endangering already threatened community members; me and others just completely frustrated by the lack of progress by key stakeholders, by an apparent absence of due diligence (wish I could say more here, but I cannot); me writing frantically, harkening back to the late nights I often pulled working as a lawyer at a firm, except this time the subject matter is so emotionally taxing, the mechanisms unpredictable, inaccessible.

2. Last week, craving urban space, Ethan and I took a circuitous route through Koh Kong, Cambodia, with its verdant mountains, crossed the border into Thailand, and headed into Bangkok.  Again!  It was like many of our journeys: one of movement.  I've been fortunate to travel as much as I have this year, while working as much as I have - this would not have been possible except for the crazy Cambo holidays that riddle certain parts of the calendar.  In Bangkok this time, we observed the flooding preparations (sandbags, new concrete mini-walls in front of shops), and I probably had the best bowl of ramen since my last trip to Japan two years ago. I also scored a pair of yellow Worishofer-esque clog/sandals.

3. I started taking cyclos around the city, when I can find them.  They are much slower on movement, but I don't know how these men, usually much older, compete with the ubiquitous motor bike operators. I associate cyclos with Yangon, Burma.  One memory I have is of riding around one in the city after sunset, pitch black because of the common black-outs, the high-pitched cyclo bell ringing, cutting through the dark.

4. I really hate farewell parties.  

5.  I picked up my SFS Circle Top at the post office. It arrived in Cambodia from San Francisco in less than 1 week, although it took the Cambo post system some time to inform me.  Score 1 for the US Post.  The top is airy, the print is lovely.  

6. In one month, I travel home.  Wow.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cambodian Weddings and Granola Making

It's Sunday morning.  Last night, it rained like mad, toppling the small plants on the terrace, including the chili plant that seems to be dying, despite my attempts to water and sun it.

At 6:00a.m. this morning, the sound of music, drums, cymbals even, and amplified talking poured through the windows of my home: a Cambodian wedding.  I was just writing to my good friend, Anu, about the phenomenon of Cambodian weddings, which appear to pop up more and more in the days approaching  Water Festival, another Cambodian holiday. (Yes, the upcoming week is a short work week.)  Is this an auspicious time?  It must be because up and down my street, and on the street behind and in front of my home, tents have been erected, and they are filled with people eating and dancing from the wee morning hours until more modest evening hours.  These weddings last 3 days.

Am I a horrible person to admit these loud festivities in the early morning hours annoy me?  Prevent me from sleeping past 6:30a.m. on what should be lazy weekends?  There are no zoning laws in Cambodia, or if there are, they are not enforced, so another result of these pop-up weddings is bottlenecks and bad traffic.

In any case, since I could not sleep, I woke up and made granola.  I scored a small electric oven from Dom, my friend who just moved back to Australia, and I've made a batch of very simple granola before.  I adapted the following recipe from Lauren Soloff,* of the Granola Project, using local ingredients, like Mondulikiri honey and palm sugar.

The mixture is currently baking in my oven and the house smells like cinnamon.

[Photos and recipe via Chef Speak]

Coconut Sesame Date Granola
Yields approximately 8 cups

6 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)
2 cups sliced or slivered almonds (raw and unsalted)
1 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup roasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
Generous dash of sea salt
1/2 to 1 cup agave or maple syrup** 
3/4 cup olive oil (or olive oil and canola oil blend)
1 cup deglet dates, pitted and chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine oats, nuts and seeds, coconut, cinnamon, and salt.
On the stove in a small pot combine the sweetener and oil and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from heat and add to the oat mixture.
Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and put in oven. Bake for 30 minutes or a little longer, stirring frequently. Be careful the edges do not burn.
Remove pan from oven and add the dates. Cool on a rack. Transfer to a sealed glass container.

*  I am green with envy for that heart-shaped Le Creuset.
**  I used a mixture of palm sugar and local honey instead.  Real, quality maple syrup is hard to find here and expensive.

[Post-edit: In my electric oven at least, it is easier to burn the edges, so I'll turn down the baking temperature next time.]

Monday, October 31, 2011

Eating my way through Chengdu

After the entrancing post-Soviet kitsch of Almaty, Kazakhstan and the crumbling walls of the Old Muslim Quarter in Kashgar, China, we headed east.  In fact, we had a ticket booked to fly out of Chengdu, China in late August.  We, however, underestimated the distance (over 4,300km from Kashgar) and  overestimated the availability of transport in the region (limited).  Once we left Xinjiang province, all movement west was accompanied with increasingly more crowds and tourists  - and  ultimately sold out train tickets.

Travel west was piecemeal, a series of transfers and glimpses of desert towns strung along a circuit in the Northern Taklamakan Desert.  Since the China train system does not  have centralized booking, we had to wait until we arrived in the city to buy tickets from that city onto to the next destination.  Okay...  We would arrive in a city in the early morning and head straight to the ticket counter, hoping that transport to the next destination was available within a day or so.  If we were lucky, we'd get tickets for later that evening, drop our bags at the luggage deposit, and set out to explore the small towns for the day, eating our way through local treats.

The most difficult day we had was in Lanzhou.  We had arrived via a 36-hour (or something equally taxing) hard seat train trip from Dunhuang, I think.  Upon arrival, we realized that the train to Chengdu was sold out for weeks!  Worse yet, there are no direct buses from Lanzhou to Chengdu.  Weird. 

Further compounding my annoyance, access to any pertinent internet information was limited because all the information about bus travel (or lack thereof) from Lanzhou was on Blogger-supported sites, which are blocked in China.   We were left with two options: (1) Take the tenuous route through Sichuan province, through small Tibetan towns with haphazard bus schedules; or (2) take a train to Xian, which is further west still, and hope that connections via bus or train could be made there.  And, we were running out of time.

We opted for Xian, and yes there was a bus connection there!

Long story short:  We eventually made it to Chengdu and had a few days to spare.  We settled at Sim's Guesthouse, a cozy little gem of a place, and explored the city, lamenting the end of our trip.  It was a wonderful few days of Chongqing hot-potting, dumpling eating, and Tibetan sweet yak milk drinking.  
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