Thursday, September 22, 2011

Let's talk about yurts.

It's another Friday morning in Phnom Penh.  I had a lovely morning. Heather and I made it to another 6:30am yoga session (I'm so proud of myself), where friend and amazing-woman Lee was also in attendance.  After the yoga session, Lee and I shared coffee and muffins at Brown Cafe.  We chatted for several hours and were later joined by her colleague, who shares my love of brogues, vintage eyeglasses,  brightly patterned scarves, and weathered cognac -hued briefcases. (Those interests, especially among colleagues, are so rare in Cambodia, and such a treat!)

It's also the beginning of the Pchum Ben holiday, a (for me) nine-day holiday that empties the streets of Phnom Penh and creates longer than usual travel routes to the rest of the country.  This is a time for Cambodians to visit their families in the provinces and to offer prayers at the local pagodas.  Last year, Connie and Spence visited me to find a near empty city, with very few restaurants open.  That feels so long ago.  

This year, Ethan and I are taking a short trip to Bangkok, Thailand.   We leave tonight.  I'm going to search for beauty products at the shiny malls and hunt for items at Topshop.  But mostly, we're going to eat, and wander.  I'm not taking the entire holiday, however, as I need to write.  (Stress levels just shot up.)

Oh, but this post was intended to be about yurts - or gers, as Mongolians say.

In August, after Kashgar, we traveled south to Karakul in western China, to a Kyrgystan lakeside village that sits about eight hours from the Pakistan border.  As we drove along, the scenery climbed up and up, dotted only with  road construction and military checkpoints, where we were questioned about our nationality and our intent to travel through the region.  Prior to the Kashgar incident, one could travel independently to Karakul via a cheap bus ride and then find a family to stay with.  That was not the case at the time of our travels.  We were required to hire a driver and to purchase a permit, which we flagged about at each and every checkpoint.

Once at the lake, I realized that the elevation was much higher than I had expected - I had slight altitude sickness.  It was also much cooler - I slept under 6 thick blankets, though I was severely underdressed (skinny jeans, button down shirt, 3.1 Lim bag, scarf). The yurt smelled of camel or sheep, or some smell that brought me back to my travels in Mongolia.

And, the morning after: bright and crisp, with an errant goat making trouble.  I snuck out of the yurt and drank all the images in.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Looking at:

Wendy Nichol Aztec Bullet Bag. Too rich for my blood at the moment, but I can look.

No. 6. I think I will finally have to give in when I'm back in the States, although I wonder how many cognac-whiskey-colored clogs, boots, and heels I have stashed in a box back home.

Case in point.  An old pair of lace up Devotte boots, tucked away in one of the many storage boxes back home.  I am so looking forward to wearing boots and warmer weather attire in December!

I have an entire day devoted to writing and then a few friends are coming over to cook dinner this evening.

(Images link to source.)


I'm going to say it - how ridiculous is it that assisting people to access legal recourse is considered "incitement" or a disruption to "public order"?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Kashgar Street Markets, Ramadan Fiesting

I need to get my head out of the crazy drama at work.  Let's look at pictures of the Kashgar street market, shall we?  Right.

Since it was Ramadan, observant locals ate once before dawn and fasted until sunset.  During the day, the local street markets were relatively quiet.  As sunset approached, however, the scene slowly started to become busier, and busier, and still busier, before finally bursting into an frenetic pace as families bought food for their evening meal.  The streets: People yelling and jostling, sheep being herded around, electronic motorbikes buzzing through the crowds.  Then, just as quickly as it began, it dissipated and darkness fell.  It was quite a treat to see.

Ethan and I started most days strolling.  For lunch, we would buy fruit, bread, yoghurt, cake, and drinks from a street market vendor and then return to our guesthouse, where we would sit and read until we decided a nap was due.  That was how we beat the heat.

After the nap and sunset, we would find a local place to eat dinner and then walk over to Id Kah Mosque,  to  a small eatery on the square that sold frozen yoghurt cones for 1 RMB.  Steal!  We'd sit on the steps and watch the children play.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur: Asian Development Bank Denies Requesting Action Against NGOs

via M&C

Phnom Penh – The Asian Development Bank on Monday dismissed accusations that one of its consultants asked Phnom Penh to act against groups monitoring one of its infrastructure development projects. An internal investigation found ‘no evidence’ of any request for action against two rights groups that advocate for people affected by a 142-million-dollar railway rehabilitation project, ADB country head Putu Kamayana said. 

His comments contradict a June 17 letter from Minister of Finance Keat Chhon to Prime Minister Hun Sen, a copy of which the German Press Agency dpa has seen. Keat Chhon wrote that an unidentified ADB consultant had asked the government to act against the groups STT and Bridges Across Borders Cambodia (BABC). In his letter, the minister asked Hun Sen to ‘nullify (their) eligibility.’The ADB consultant has drawn the attention of the government officials to be careful with these NGOs, and requested the government take immediate action on this group of foreign NGOs because (the) ADB is also under political pressure caused by these NGOs,’ he wrote.

Within weeks the government suspended STT for alleged paperwork violations, and warned BABC for ‘discrediting the government’ and inciting people against the government, a criminal offence. Two other groups monitoring railway resettlement were similarly cautioned. Keat Chhon also wrote that ‘local and international consultants’ from the ADB had said the main goal of the non-governmental organizations was to cancel the railway’s construction. 

Cambodia is rehabilitating its railway, which fell into neglect after years of conflict. When completed, the new railway will close the gap in the regional rail network and link Singapore to the city of Kunming in China. The ADB’s Kamayana said the bank was aware of the allegations and had carried out a ‘thorough internal investigation.’ ‘No evidence was found to substantiate alleged misconduct by any ADB consultants,’ Kamayana said by email.

However, the ADB earlier declined to provide a copy of its investigation report, saying dpa could apply for it through the bank’s formal information channels. A formal request on September 13 has so far not been answered. Kamayana said the ADB hoped the NGOs would be allowed to continue their monitoring work, which was ‘integral’ to the project’s success. In his letter, Keat Chhon also recommended banning any advocacy work by foreign NGOs and foreigners in local NGOs.

He also said the government should rapidly pass and implement the controversial draft NGO Law. The bill has riled some donors and hundreds of civil society groups who say it will impose burdensome restrictions on NGOs, and increase the power of the government over them. Keat Chhon’s letter carried an annotation from Hun Sen on June 19 approving its contents. Keat Chhon and staff at the finance ministry could not be reached for comment. Officials at other ministries declined to comment.

The ADB has provided 84 million dollars for the railway rehabilitation project, while the Australian government’s development arm AusAID has provided 21.5 million dollars. STT and BABC have worked for nearly two years with villagers facing resettlement under the rehabilitation. ADB rules say people who are resettled must not end up worse off. In a letter to the ADB last year the groups targeted by the government criticized conditions at a resettlement site where two children drowned. David Pred, BABC’s executive director, said by email that the ‘dire circumstances’ of many resettled families showed the bank’s consultants had failed in their duties. Referring to the June 17 letter, he said he was ‘deeply disappointed’ that ADB consultants appeared involved in actions against the NGOs. The authorities have crossed swords with STT and BABC before, notably over the groups’ advocacy on behalf of villagers at the controversial Boeung Kak lake project in central Phnom Penh, which is being developed by a prominent ruling party senator. In March, the World Bank suspended lending to Cambodia after a slew of evictions at the lake saw thousands of residents displaced with what rights groups said was inadequate compensation.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Streets of Kashgar

I took a few pictures off of Ethan's camera.  Why does our Kazakhstan/China trip seem so long ago?  Isn't it amazing how quickly you sink back into everyday life?

I'll post more from the Kashgar market and Karakul Lake, where we stayed in a yurt in a Kyrgystan village (loved it, loved it). I just finished a 6:30am morning yoga session (yay for me!) and have to go to the office for a community meeting.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Currently craving sunsets outside of the city.  Pchum Ben holiday approaches, in just 9 days.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, China

My camera is not working. I used Ethan's camera for the majority of the August trip and still have not uploaded pictures.

Something today triggered a memory of Kashgar.  The city of Kashgar is in Xinjiang province in western China. It is home to the largest population of Uyghurs in the country.  We reached it via 24 hour train journey from Urumqi, China, a drab sprawl of a city.

As our luck would have it, we arrived in early August, just days after the incident in Kashgar that left at least 19 dead.  Media was blocked, so we had no clue.  All we knew was of the incident in Khotan, another city in Xinjiang, a few weeks prior.

The military presence in the city was astounding - and intimidating.  Battalions of armed men were positioned in the central mosque area.  Caravans full of military men slowly cruised down the streets, monitoring.  Traveling into the city and out, we encountered checkpoint after checkpoint, after checkpoint.

But I digress.

We stayed in the center of Old Kashgar, a crumbling labyrinth of mud-brick buildings, narrow streets, hat shops, spice stalls, dried fruit vendors, and small tea shops.  It is an incredible city.  If you allow yourself to get lost in its maze, you come across small mosques and curious eyes, you pass women wearing brightly colored ikat-print dresses, glimpse low-slung courtyards . . .

Directly outside of our guesthouse were food vendors, where, in the dry August heat, men sold fire-baked bread.  The one pictured is similar to naan, but much thicker and sprinkled with sesame, onion, and spices.  Locals eat it as a snack, or use it to pull off bits of spicy lamb from a sizzling pork kebab.

At the time of our visit, it was Ramadan, and our guesthouse asked us to refrain from eating or drinking on the streets.  As such, we had to buy food and slink away, like little street urchins, to dark corners to take sips from our water bottles and to nibble on snacks. It was over 100 degrees, an unforgiving dry heat.  If I didn't eat, I would surely pass out.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

pill-popping and other coping mechanisms, Pt. 1

It's Friday afternoon in Phnom Penh. I'm sitting at Cafe Living Room, housed in a colonial -era building, trying to work out a few things about the research findings, trying to write. The page in front of me -it's minimized right now because I'm using my blog as a distraction, using "urgent" Skype work messages as a break - only has a few words on it. Oh. my. gosh. I'm sipping on a honey latte. It is delicious.

This morning, I went to yoga. It's rare that I have enough motivation to do any form of intentional exercise. Even the act of dressing for the exercise tires me. There was , however, a summer in Portland when I was obsessed with Bikram yoga (26 postures in a 105 degree room), and, for three months, I managed to do yoga three times a week. The idea at first sounded less appealing: me, sweating profusely, in a stuffy hot room with many other people who are also sweating profusely. Images of stepping in, even slipping on, a stranger's pool of sweat plagued my mind. Nonetheless, I was soon addicted. I felt so good that summer. A stranger even commented on how my skin glowed? Really? Was it the increased circulation? In sum, it was the best shape I've been in my recent adult life.

I tried yoga once in Phnom Penh, on the rooftop of Nataraj, with a small fan blowing and an orange sun setting in the background. I think. I do remember it was really warm, almost Bikram-warm. Through no fault of the instructor, I lost interest. It was also $9/session, and maybe I am cheap, but I shy away from paying Western prices in Cambodia.

Only recently have I seriously considered how I take care of myself. Fine. It's the shady NGO crackdown. It's the stress at work. But also I am getting older and I realize I need to put as much intention into taking care of myself as I do about other things, such as travel and dress-daydreaming.

The yoga this morning was done at the Flicks, which is a community movie house in Phnom Penh. They hold a morning session a few times a week, for $5/session. My muscles hurt. TheyAustralian instructor helped me do a headstand (i.e., he held my feet up for 3 seconds). It was good - I'll go again.

Another thing I've done to take care of myself is to take vitamins. In many ways, I eat healthier in Phnom Penh - I eat less processed food, I bake, roast, sautee much more, I almost exclusively buy fresh ingredients. And yet, I don't have access to all the foods I love eating. (No weekly sushi trips with Mami to nosh on seared salmon.) Cheryl's post on skin supplements piqued my interest, and, voilĂ , shipped those babies to Cambodia, on the cheap. As opposed to my firm job in Portland, I am in the field more these days, interviewing and meeting with households affected by the ADB Railway Rehabilitation Project. I don't mind more freckles, but my hair is parched, my skin so-so.

Oh, and the random picture: ice cream on a hot day in Almaty, Kazakhstan, a brief stop while on a stroll through the city with Ethan. These days, I don't skimp on small treats.

Radio Australia re NGO Crackdown. Or, How Work Continues to Distract Me.

Australia asked to defend Cambodian NGOs

Presenter:Joanna McCarthy
Speakers: Lee Rhiannon, Australian Greens Party Senator

Listen to the broadcast here

The Australian Greens want the Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to publicly defend the rights of Cambodian Non-Government Organisations facing a crackdown by Phnom Penh.

The Cambodian government warned NGOs after they wrote to the Australian government's aid agency, Ausaid, about the impact of a railway project on local families being resettled.

The resettlement is being managed by Cambodia but Australia has contributed about $US20 million towards the $140 million refurbishment project.

The letter advised Ausaid and its aid partner, the Asian Development Bank, that two children had drowned fetching water at a relocation site due to a lack of proper facilities.

The Greens say these NGOs have been pivotal in highlighting other problems with the resettlement program, including claims of intimidation and forced removal of families.

The warning comes as Phnom Penh tries to pass a new law regulating NGOs, which observers fear is an attempt to silence those critical of the government.

In a written statement, a spokesperson for Ausaid says it closely monitors conditions at resettlement sites and is in frequent contact with the ADB, the Cambodian government and NGOs regarding conditions and the measures needed to improve them.

It adds that the Australian government has repeatedly made it clear to the Cambodian government that it expects it to honour its agreement to protect the rights of those being resettled.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Naked Tomato Sauce

It seems all I can think about these days, apart from the shady crackdown on my NGO and writing the research report, is food. Maybe I'm seeking comfort in small pleasures.

This weekend, I was very sick with tummy issues. That's quite common in these parts, and my Khmer colleagues will note, quite frequently with the shaking of their heads and a slight chuckle, that barang (foreigner) stomachs are weak.

It is generally true. There was a period this summer when my office stocked Anna the Swedish-Russian lawyer, 1 American law student, and 1 Canadian law student. It was as if the three did rotations getting sick from food and/or the environment. I don't mean to make light of the issue, but it is just a reality of life here. Strangely, I have never come across so many issues when eating street food in Thailand or in Vietnam. Nor did I encounter any issues eating in Kazakhstan or China this last month.

Poor Ethan had to deal with me. He made me toast, and we watched an old Woody Allen film, as I recouped. When you're feeling like crap and stressed out to bits, a hug from someone who cares, and a reminder of how beautiful and incredible you are work wonders. Nevermind that I don't actually believe it in moments like that.

I'm feeling better today. I'm going to make this for lunch. Simple tomato sauce via Smitten Kitchen. I like the idea of a pared down tomato sauce and the claim that it requires no cheese was enough to bait me. I used the same ingredients in the iteration I made last week -- actually this recipe uses less ingredients! The process is, however, slightly different. I wonder if it will make a difference.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Lephet Thoke - Burmese Tea Leaf Salad

via flickr

Two nights ago, I had dinner with two incredible women at the Burmese restaurant in Phnom Penh, Irrawaddi. Both women work in human rights law in the region and have been in Cambodia for years longer than me. We spent the evening catching up and generally laughing. I am astounded by their ability to balance their life and to remain seemingly healthy and happy. How do people stop the work from sticking?

But this post isn't about the tolls of work in this country. It's about the tea leaf salad. No lettuce - just red chili peppers, roasted peanuts, lime, cilantro, fermented tea leaves, tomato, and garlic. It doesn't sound like it, but it is good.


via Digoyo

Maybe it's just my lingering fascination with those Mociun + Krantz necklaces, but these ceramic necklaces from Digoyo are on my mind tonight.

Also, these shoes by Beatrice Valenzuela . . .

via Jeana

Joint Statement on Cambodian NGO Law

NGOs advised by the Ministry to ‘readjust’ their work

Date Issue 2011-08-19

Nature of violation Veiled threat made against two NGOs by the Foreign Affairs Ministry - Phnom Penh

Rights involved
- Right to freedom of expression, Article 41 of the Constitution of Cambodia and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

-Right to freedom of association, Article 42 of the Constitution of Cambodia and Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Brief Description
The Foreign Affairs Ministry met with two non-governmental groups yesterday, Thursday 18 August 2011, and accused them of inciting families to oppose the rehabilitation of the Cambodian rail system, ordering the NGOs to “readjust” their work.

More at Cambodian Center for Human Rights

Also, on Human Rights Watch: a joint statement from NGOs

Also, yesterday, day 1 of writing the research report, was an epic failure.

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