Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Experiments with linen

Erica's post about linen shirts - which can be alluringly crumpled, easy and chic - inspired my recent trip to the Cambodia tailor.  Linen is one of the most breathable fabrics out there, and it tends to get softer with each washing.  Plus, it is quite substantial, so it can take the wear that Cambodia dishes out.  (My clothes are taking a beating here.)  I don't know why I was never a fan of linen before.  

I didn't go to Monika, my usual tailor, but tried one of the many sewing stalls in Toul Tumpong, a.k.a. Russian Market.  I purchased the fabric - linen in an uncharacteristic (to me) shade of raspberry.  The tailor took my measurements.  I asked for a looser fit, but with fitted sleeves that I could roll up.  Two weeks later, I picked up the shirt and paid the fee, $7.  The quality was better than I had expected.   

Monday, February 27, 2012

2012 Goals

This weekend, I took a stroll around Tonle Bassac area, near the pagoda where Khmer barbers provide haircuts.  This is an area that is also facing evictions in the future.

As my time continues in Cambodia, it becomes increasingly more difficult for me to take in the small wonders of the city- daily rituals take over, work takes over, thoughts of the future take over.  Time passes this way.    So it came to me as a small surprise that we are on the threshold of March 2012.  How?

Before the rest of the year gets away from me, I want to list my resolutions and  small goals, if only to hold myself accountable.

1. Complete manuscript on journal article
2. Relearn the art of summer vacation, without guilt
3. Learn to claim ownership over my work and achievements
4. Learn to draw boundaries at work
5. Learn how to make human rights law work more sustainable (i.e., move out of Cambodia to ____)
6. Do a better job of keeping in touch with friends
7. Ride a bicycle more often
8. Incorporate more music and art in daily life
9. Learn how to cook the "basics" really well


[Post-edit: Added a cooking resolution, too.]

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chocolate Ice Cream (sans ice cream maker)

When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with making ice cream. Obsessed.  

The following recipe for homemade chocolate ice cream posted by Joana is too tempting to pass up. The next week is littered with time in the community, so it will be long, hot days sitting on concrete floors in pagodas and listening to translations. (It's surprising how tiring translations can be.)  Chocolate ice cream would be a nice treat ...

Recipe: The Best Chocolate Ice Cream You'll Ever Have
Inspired by Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer

Makes almost a quart

1 can (14-ounce/400 grams) sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup (180 grams) whole milk
3/4 cup (175 grams) heavy cream
6 ounces (170 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely
1/4 cup (25 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (or two tablespoons freshly-brewed espresso)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
A pinch of fine sea salt
5 teaspoons (12 grams) cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water

In a heavy-bottomed large pan, whisk sweetened condensed milk, whole milk and heavy cream until combined. Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.

Take off heat and add the finely-chopped chocolate, cocoa powder, instant espresso powder, vanilla extract and salt. Whisk until the chocolate melts and the cocoa powder is completely dissolved.

Mix cornstarch and cold water in a bowl with a fork until completely dissolved, and add to the ice cream base. Whisk until combined.

Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook, whisking constantly, scraping the sides and the bottom of the pan to prevent burning, until thickened, for 8-10 minutes.

Transfer to a heatproof bowl and set aside, uncovered, to cool for half an hour. Don't worry if a skin forms on top. When the bowl is cool enough to handle, cover with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly--preferably overnight--in the refrigerator.

Before transferring the chilled ice cream to the freezer, stir or whisk to dissolve the skin on top and scrape into a container. Cover with plastic, this time pressing the wrap against the ice cream to create an airtight seal; put the lid on (or cover with an additional layer of plastic wrap) and freeze until firm enough to scoop.

Friday, February 24, 2012

fired up.

No. 6 (all images via still the sky is blue)

Last  night, I landed a short consultancy researching Cambodia issues for an exciting global project housed in a big NYC institution! (Vague, I know.)   Assuming I am on schedule with the research, this project timeline should work beautifully with my July and August trips to Indonesia and India (i.e., should not interfere).  It will also mean more focus and work from me in the next 2 months, and invariably, some frustration.

Sometimes, and this was the case in private practice as well, I felt like such an impersonator in law school, at the firm, in court, with clients.  It boggled my mind that I was being paid to read, write, research, and argue.  I felt like one day they'd find out I really couldn't do it.   I've spoken to many people since then and I wonder if this fear of our ability to contribute is not more common, as many female lawyers confessed to me the same feeling. 

Well, with international human rights lawyering and research, I've had a similar fear.  Who am I to be able to do this work? What do I know?  Being around amazing, speak-five-languages, globe-trotting lawyers, researchers and academics can be intimidating. 

And so I was a little shocked when I was contacted immediately for this small consultancy and then hired.  Me?!  Yay to me.  This is a project that would have been completely out of reach two years ago.

Also, I LOVE the spring stuff from No. 6.  The world needs more brightly-hued clogs.  I never pulled the trigger on the No. 6 zipper clogs, despite Ethan's urgings.  Something about the uncertainty of August onward chills the spending habits.  But I should celebrate small successes and treat myself.  And this certainly is a small success.

I'm so fired up right now to begin the work.  I told Ethan to remind me about my excitement when I'm cursing in about one and a half months...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Birthday Staycation

first photo via carljfearn; second via richardinsale

Last weekend was my birthday.  Ethan surprised me - he never tells me where we are going - to a staycation at one of Phnom Penh's small boutique hotels, Blue Lime.  It was a quiet, wonderful weekend of lounging by the pool, eating, reading, napping, drinking wine and even having a pedicure.  This sounds weird, but the walls were so high in that hotel that it blocked out all the noise.  You forgot you were in Phnom Penh. 

I've never been one to make a fuss over my birthday. I prefer small, quiet celebrations, though I do remember, fondly, the epic celebration I had in Portland two years ago, one that lasted days, some  days into the wee hours, with my sisters and Ryan coming to visit.  I love my sisters.

The staycation also gave me an excuse to check out hotels.  My sisters and Ryan are visiting me in May!!   They initially tried to fly out for my birthday, but scheduling was a mess.  Now, the trip is finally confirmed, and I am beside myself excited.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Thoughts: Kashgar and Away

It's Friday afternoon and I am daydreaming of Kashgar, of the little guesthouse we stayed in and the cool concrete floor outside our room, the bright windows, the noise outside (often construction at sunset), the smell of baked bread from the nearby street market, the piles and piles of dried raisins and nuts on display, the yoghurt and cake stands, the feel of a foreign place, and all the contrast and conflict that is Kashgar.  I am remembering our first night out in the city, when we sat a local kebab place, at a small table directly across from a young Uyghur  couple.  The woman was garbed in a bright yellow dress with a pink and green ikat pattern.  We assumed they were newly married, given her coy gestures as she poured the young man a cup of tea. We did not hear them speak one word to each other over dinner ... All these thoughts push into and against each other. 

I am also trying NOT to think of the upcoming summer - Indonesia and India!    In between cooking dinner/reading/walking with Ethan, I'll blurt out, "We are going to India!"  He has grown accustomed to my non-sequitur thoughts, so he just smiles.  I am very excited, but there are still 4 months of hard work between now and then, my last 4 months of enjoying Cambodia living. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Love, in its many forms

We didn't celebrate Valentine's Day the way I thought we would.  Earlier in the day, Ethan's colleague, and our friend, G, was injured in a motorbike accident.  At one point, we thought her clavicle may have been broken.  It was only a fracture (thank goodness!), but she was quite bruised.  We spent the evening with her at the hospital and then at her home. 

I sat in the hospital room and later in her Khmer home, surrounded by her friends, as she recounted the events of the day, which involved a couple of Khmer motorbike riders harassing her as she rode along.  I sat watching and listening as we all made arrangements - who would stay with her this day, who would cook for her on this day or that day, who would spend time with her.  (She lives alone.) I was struck by how love comes in many forms, this time, in the shuffling in and out of friends through cold hospital rooms and concrete Khmer houses at a time of need.

Like many others, I sometimes think this holiday is for suckers.  Intellectually, I want to say this, but the truth is: I've come around.  Ethan and I exchanged small gifts.  Our dinner plans were foiled, but he cooked me a small meal before we left for G's house bearing pastries and other goodies.  I bought him a small box of chocolates from Chocolate by the Shop, my favorite chocolatier in Phnom Penh. 

I feel very lucky.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Weekend favorites

There are two sights in the city that always make me smile. One of those sights is the Royal Palace at dusk: all the streams of color set against the gold, birds perched high above, the quiet river at your side. (I'll write about the other sight another day.)

What is it about a simple breakfast, including coffee from my french press, on a Saturday or Sunday morning that makes the day seem so yours for the taking?

Afternoon tea!  This time inside the brightly-lit Conservatory of Raffles Hotel Le Royal.  I chose a black toffee tea.

The ritual of shopping for produce at Natural Garden, after an afternoon of reading and coffee-sipping at a cafe, is the perfect way to face a new week.

Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

A palliative nurse, who has counseled the dying in their last days, recorded some of their regrets.  Top five below. Full article here.

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

My mom works in the medical field and every now and then, she'd come home and tell me the story of her young 30-something patient who just keeled over the next day: an untimely accident, a stroke, a heart attack.  It's always in those moments that I feel the impermanence of life.

It is Monday morning, not even 7 o'clock yet.  Technically, the report launches in Australia today. It's a mixed bag, this launch, this publication.  I feel almost like there's a giant hole where the research, frustration, writing, editing once was.  I'm looking forward to my next big project, though I presume it will not be in Cambodia.  Also, there's some fear and apprehension of what the reaction will be.  I only need to remember last summer's headache.  And then, on top of that, I fear for some of the stories we highlighted, some of the faces who agreed to be named, photographed, and quoted in the publication.  Some had already been threatened.  One had to flee and leave his family for a few months in order to seek safety. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Looking back at Burma

I'm rummaging through pictures from Myanmar/Burma.  Last week, I saw a friend, who was returning to the US.  She had journeyed through the country a few weeks ago, a short 10-days sprint and from her accounts, it seems that change is afoot in some parts.

It feels so long ago that I traveled in that country.  I remember the constant power outages that left you in the  oppressive heat and darkness in the late hours of the night, the sound of the generator amping up, the fan blowing again, lulling you to sleep - random memories housed in the cramped, very simple guestrooms  in which I sought temporary shelter.

I became very sick on my last day in Mandalay, so sick I missed my bus back to Yangon, where I had a connecting flight to Bangkok.  Traveling alone, I really did rely on the kindness of strangers.  And that was present in abundance, in many corners of that country.  

Looking ahead, the next 6 months will bring a heady dose of self-selected and self-inflicted uprooting and uncertainty.  Did I mention I stress out a lot over change?  But these pictures remind me that I've never regretted the chances I've taken in life.  I've grown richer from these experiences.  Ethan and I often joke over dinner what past-life stories we would tell our children.

Still, all this moving business makes me a little nervous.  Just a tad.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mid-week thoughts

When living in Portland, I once tried to walk my cat on a leash.   I was in the process of doing so, when two ladies walked by and struck up a conversation with me.  "I never knew you could walk a cat," one mused.  "Sure, you can," I said," it just takes a little practice."  Immediately after saying that, I looked up to find that my fat orange tabby had lodged himself in the tree next to me, his nails dug deep into a branch. It took all my might to pull him down.

Seeing this picture made me chuckle.

It's Wednesday here, and I am taking tomorrow off.  I'm going to meet a friend for lunch, visit Ethan's classroom in the afternoon, and not entertain a single thought about work until Friday morning. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

The minimalist

I live, and am in love, with a minimalist.  Once, he stared around our flat, littered with clothes from my then-only-two suitcases of US-Cambodia imports, and declared, "You have a lot of stuff."  Little did he know, at that time, that he was co-habitating with a woman who, on top of those two suitcases of dresses, belts, and shoes, had approximately 15+ boxes of beloved dresses, belts, and shoes in Los Angeles, and another 9+ boxes of dresses, belts, shoes and books in my best friend's basement in Portland.  

After our visit home this Christmas holiday, he now knows.

Still, I feel a slight tinge of hesitation when I think of purchasing something new.  I'm well aware that a move is in the near horizon, and accumulating now will surely increase the likelihood of  cursing when I pack and relocate.  My reluctance these days to treat myself to beautiful things is (thankfully!) countered by the fact that my minimalist is also a staunch proponent of buying quality-made, non-throw-away goods from artisans, a choice, he accepts, comes with higher prices - investments, if you will.   

So onto my next aesthetic distraction: this Clare Vivier clutch, made in vintage floral leather, by a Los Angeles-based artisan.  It reminds me of a 3.1 Lim dress I left Stateside. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Khmer Wedding

What a week it has been!  A friend's departure, another friend's wedding, and yet another friend's return.  And in between the various gatherings and celebrations scattered throughout the week to punctuate these events, there was the publication mess, one which left me at the printers, poring over words, until 11PM on Friday evening and then most of my Saturday morning.  I spent Sunday recovering.

But let's talk about weddings, because a dear colleague was wedded mid-week.  What to say about these events?   These events always evaporate in an overload of color, taffetta, ruffles, gilded eyes and lips and alcohol.  For this wedding, the bride had 11 (yes) dress changes, each ensemble more ornate than the other.   (Foreigners should note that your Khmer counterparts will always out-dress you for these events.)  Oh, there is always Khmer dancing in a circle, around a pole.

This colleague, a young, ambitious woman who dares to dream of higher education  and a thriving career as a researcher, was wedded to a classmate, who showed up at her door to ask her parents for her hand in marriage.  After a dowry and other details were negotiated, her parents agreed. That was that, and she was informed.  Until that day, she had no idea that the young man even fancied her.

Lately, I've been thinking about the concept and assumptions related to Western  marriage.  My grandma Elpidia was party to an arranged marriage, to a man many years her senior who she had never met before.  Perhaps love wasn't there to begin with, but I will tell you that when she lost my grandpa Felipe, after  decades of marriage, rearing three children and shuttling between two continents, she was so broken at the loss of her life companion.  It broke my heart to see her that way.
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