Thursday, June 30, 2011
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
I dropped off my visa application at the Kazakhstan embassy on Tuesday morning and begged that the 5-working day rule be expedited. I'll find out tomorrow.
After running that errand, the rest of the day was ours for the taking, and we wandered past "embassy row", into and around a 100-degree Kuala Lumpur, and eventually into the shiny shopping center sitting at the base of the Petronas Towers, where I literally fell over myself into the Topshop. After apologizing to Ethan for what would soon become a rabid response, I ran around trying this and that on, enticed by all the punchy colors and patterns, all reminiscent of hazy summers, all eye candy I've deprived myself of for the past year in Cambodia. [Note: My time working in Cambodia has no doubt resulted in a heightened sensitivity to anything resembling decent clothing.]
I have (not surpisingly) managed to stay on top of online work conversations, but not managed to really write anything.
To remedy that, we moved, via 2 hour bus ride, to the much quieter, portside town of Melaka, a lovely World Heritage site.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Step 1, a.k.a. the Chinese visa, is done.
Step 2, a.k.a. the Kazakhstan visa, is a big headache for me.
None of the travel agencies in Phnom Penh can help me. One option is to use a visa processing service I've previously used in the U.S., but that would require FedEx-ing my passport to Washington D.C. - a bit ridiculous.
I am left with two feasible options -- the Bangkok consulate or the Kuala Lumpur consulate. I've heard that the service in Bangkok is really iffy, with the consulate open only two hours a few days a week, with strict 5-working-day processing, strict application processing, and payment that would require me running to a bank and back to the embassy with a pay slip in the two-hour business window. Impossible.
So I am off to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia tomorrow. I am working remotely. Maybe this will force me to write! The past few weeks have been rough for me. The meetings with shareholders have been deflating, with affected community stomping out, frustrated by the process and lack of progress. I'm attempting to buckle down next month, to focus on field research -- invariably long, draining days.
Ethan is coming with me to Malaysia. Next week, he flies from Kuala Lumpur to Paris, France to meet his family. He will traipse around Europe for the month of July, with a small climb up the Matterhorn with his brother. If all goes according to plan, we meet in Almaty, Kazakhstan in August.
My heart is a little heavy. I'm listening to Nouvelle Vague to pick me up, or calm me down.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
It might just be that time again, when I am in desperate need of new jewelry because: (1) I have been rummaging, like crazy, in my armoir, hoping that a forgotten trinket will pop up, and (2) when not doing the aforementioned, I am searching for pieces online.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Apparently, this is what I do on a Saturday night in Phnom Penh - raise a glass for the Asiatic Black Bear. I hear there will be an iced bear sculpture with flowing vodka. It sounds very strange, but the rooftop views at the Foreign Correspondent's Club cannot be missed.
P.S. There was, indeed, an ice bear sculpture with flowing liquor. And lots of dancing and conservation-folk mingling.
Friday, June 17, 2011
Nearly a year ago, I experienced my first big shock with working on land and housing rights in Cambodia. I had been in the country for about a month by then. I shared that experience with my friend, Paul, who I had dinner with that night, and it resulted in a friendship.
I haven't spoken to Paul in months, but his love of Shugo Tokumaru, a Japanese song-writer, has stuck -- his songs make me a tad happier on days like this. A year later, I remain fascinated by the work, but also I am more entrenched. And it is a long journey, this experience. I'm learning how important it is to draw boundaries from this work and to take time out.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Saturday, June 11, 2011
Thursday, June 9, 2011
It's nearly 7am on a Friday morning. The week flew by so quickly. The trip to Poipet to accompany a review mission was met with the same sweltering days in the Railway communities, hours spent in some of the most dismal living conditions I have ever witnessed: wooden shacks jammed next to each other, upon stilts surrounded by green and black water, smells upon smells. A summer intern, from a law school in Virginia, was sent along with us, and he asked me on the 8-hour ride to the border,"What's Poipet like?" I wanted to prepare him, wanted to explain that this was a far cry from shiny Seoul, where he had lived and worked for 5 years prior, but I just kept quiet. Later in the afternoon, when we sought shelter from the angry rain in a resident's home, I caught his eye as he watched the children run naked in the mud; he murmured, "Incredible."
Two and a half days, back and forth, to that community. Back in Phnom Penh. Then meetings, and a "big" meeting with major stakeholders that was a bit deflating. No concrete progress.
Anyway, it is Friday. And I have been listening a lot to the Kinks. This video from the Darjeeling Limited is my tribute to train journeys. I'm planning one right now for August, if only I can find a way to get my Kazakhstan visa without leaving Cambodia.
Sunday, June 5, 2011
Ahh, I am headed back to Poipet. Again. The communities there are being resettled, some 500+ affected households. Time to go back.
Anthony Bourdain returned to Cambodia recently to film an episode. Clarisse is certain that, in a previous episode some years back, he ended up in the bordertown of Poipet. I can't find that episode, but I came across this one, in which he visits Kep and Kampot, with the help of Dr. Kek, an amazing, amazing woman who runs one of the countries oldest and most effective human rights NGOs.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
May was a crazy travel month for me -- I was out nearly 3 weeks, on various trips to less desireable places like Poipet, to Malaysian Borneo and Brunei, to Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Anna took this picture the other day, as we sat aboard a little boat on the riverside, just before it floated along the river. It was a night of goodbyes, of laughter on a boat, of karaoke antics.
I've been in Cambodia a year. An entire year. How crazy is that?
The year flew by quickly, but certainly not painlessly. The first months were a novel love affair dotted with saffron monks, colorful wats (pagodas), too much dancing and island adventures, but soon that shiny veneer faded, little by little, partly because of my work, partly because of the need to cope with everything, to adjust. Six months turned into one year, into who-knows-how-long.
I came to Cambodia to learn human rights law. I honestly didn't know what that meant when I stepped foot in Phnom Penh, but I was intent on finding out. I brought with me expectations that the law would function in a similar way as it does in the States, that lawyers would, more or less, perform similiar tasks.
I was wrong. The work of international lawyers in Cambodia is so much more dynamic and flexible, more multi-facted than traditional law practice, at least as I know it. It has to be because there's not much of an enforceable legal framework, though, sure, there are many legal words, many ambitious laws, many would-be institutions that were created to enforce these mechanisms.
A year later, I have a better picture of what this work entails. I'm blown away by what I've been given the opportunity to do. I'm growing so much. But I also realize that I can only scratch the surface here. I'm a foreigner, after all.