Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Starting the day

Thank goodness for yummy breakfasts.  Today: left-over frittata that Ethan made from veggies we have at home (potato, zucchini, tomato, onion, lots of garlic), topped with torn French basil.

I cannot wait for the weekend.  I am so exhausted this week.

Monday, May 28, 2012

La femme vintage finds

images via la femme vintage

I am in purge mode. But if I wasn't, and if I wasn't moving to a city known for vintage finds, then I would be very tempted by these gems, both of which can be found at Desiree's shop. The first bag would be perfect to carry around items I find at the farmers' market or - more my case - Chatuchak weekend market!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

My weekend

Last week was not a good week. It was one of those stressful, knock-you-down kind of weeks. Fifteen Boeung Kak Lake residents (all, but one, women) were sentenced to two and half years imprisonment after a snappy three-hour trial. Shockwaves jolted the land community in Cambodia. 

During the last few days, I have witnessed anger, shock, and frustration flash in colleagues' faces. These people, many who have been working on the case/campaign for nearly five years, have confessed to me that they have not slept; they cannot eat.   I'm not nearly as involved in this case.  But having worked on land issues in this country for over two years and having worked with some of the women imprisoned (who are lovely and strong - mothers and daughters), the imprisonment of these activists impacts me. I see this as indicative of the shrinking democratic space in which we function.

It is so surreal.

On Saturday morning, a large group visited the prison.  We walked the dusty road from the pagoda to the prison gates, people chanting, yelling, holding lotus blossoms and demanding the release of residents.  In front of one of the prison gates, I remember looking down at the ground, littered with pink lotus blossoms and the remnant stems, all wilting under our feet.  I think I will forever associate lotus blossoms with that day.

[Note: You can read up on Amnesty International's Urgent Action: Cambodia Women Human Rights Defenders Sent to Jail. The Urgent Action sets up more of the background on the case and ways to take action.]

And then, as so happens in Cambodia, the day shifts and things quickly become, well, quite ordinary: trips to the coffee shop, a visit to a new artsy space/pop up market, and sitting in a garden until the sun goes down and the sky turns red.

Early on in Cambodia, I was jarred by this disjointedness.  Since then, I've reconciled my love for this work with my love of good cheese and vintage dresses.  I've also grown more adept at switching from one environment to the next.  But the frequency and starkness of the back-and-forth still shakes me.

Maybe that's not such a bad thing? 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rethinking product

Before my move to Cambodia, I agonized about packing.  In the end, I brought with me two suitcases full of dresses, shoes, and products (including two bottles of industrial size Bumble & Bumble shampoo and conditioner - which I am still working on!) that I thought I could simply not live without.  Believe me, my list of "essentials" was relatively long.

Looking back, I have to chuckle at it all.  Let's be clear: it is very difficult to get certain products in Cambodia. You must venture off to Bangkok, maybe Ho Chi Minh City, and of course there is Kuala Lumpur.  But you tend to find substitutes.  And even more likely, your needs can change.  For instance, all my field research last year took a beating out on my skin - my SPF30 no longer cut it.   

As I face a move this summer, I'm considering what products I actually use and what I can leave behind in Cambodia.  Over the course of two years, my product regime has changed to accommodate humidity and sun exposure -  and my general laziness and increased travel.  There are products that I swear by and others that I have chucked.  A few current favorites, below:

1. Jan Marini Green Papaya Skin Enzyme Mask:  My favorite exfoliation mask. Period. I've tried many and this remains the best for my skin: gentle and yet effective.  I have one application left, and I will save it for an occasion when I want my skin to glow.  It's hard to come by in Cambodia, as no one will ship it internationally. 

2. Josie Maran Argan Oil:  I, too, would like to switch to more natural products.  I keep this one not because it's the best moisturizer I have used, but because it does the job and is multi-purpose!  I use it as a substitute for lotion, as a face moisturizer at night, or as an oil for the tips of my hair (especially if I'm traveling without my preferred shampoo and conditioner)!  I do, however, think it is over-priced.

3. Kanebo Impress SPF50: This was my first foray into Asian beauty products - high SPF, a touch of "brightening" (not whitening, thank you).  I like the consistency of this daily sunscreen and one bottle has lasted me for over a year. 

4. Giorgio Armani - Eyes to Kill Mascara: This is a little expensive, but I've found it's the best one for my eyes.  It's a once-in-a-year splurge for a little bit of luxury.

5. Josie Maran Argan Color Stick - Petal Pink:  This came with one of the JM Argan Oil sets I bought over the holiday, and I am hooked, though the staying power may not be the best for humid Cambodian days.

To be continued.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Urban refugees

images via lospremiagrumi

Later this year, I will be leaving Cambodia to work as a lawyer representing urban refugees.  Urban refugees choose to live in urban areas rather than refugee camps.  I confess I don't know too much about this area of law, but I am excited to learn.  For some strange reason, being a refugee lawyer has been on my bucket list, though there's a part of me that feels very selfish for this endeavor.  A teacher, long ago, gave me that sage piece of advice, handed down again and again in countless iterations: Follow your heart. Do what you love.

That's what I am doing.

A few months ago, a photo exhibit, "See What I See," examined the life of seven urban refugees over the period of two months, as they lived their lives in the capital of Bangkok.  They came from China, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Iran, etc.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

mission accomplished.

I am not a planner.  Not at all. 

Yet, I've been scheming and plotting to throw Ethan a surprise party for the past two weeks.  It was initially planned as a surprise boat party, but the rainy season has arrived in Cambodia, and I decided not to chance it.  Last minute, I scrapped the boat party idea and opted for a small dinner party instead.

And it all worked out, without a hitch!  Except several guests were late and I had to slow us down as we made our way to the restaurant by dawdling in other restaurants along the way, stopping at the ATM, stopping at a coffee shop, and feigning sickness.

It was a fun boozy night.   Yay for me!

With that accomplished, I am staring down the barrel of the month of June.  JUNE?!   I have to wrap up things  at work and complete my consultancy before I board a plane to Indonesia in seven weeks!   Oh, and I forgot: I also need to pack up my house.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Should you find yourself in Kep . . .

My advice to you, oh lucky person, would be to:

1. Visit the line of crab shacks that hugs the coast for a sampling of local seafood.  People swear by Kimly Restaurant. Go there. Order anything with the pepper sauce - crab (their specialty), grilled fish (below), prawns.  You will not regret it.

2. Take a walk around the town.  Kep was one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge regime.  My colleague, who is my age, weaves tales of growing up in the town, hiding amongst gun battles, and surviving on a meal of rice and potatoes.  These days, the town is undergoing a wave of tourism, though it remains largely rustic.  It will be interesting to see what happens to Kep in the upcoming years.   Still, evidence of its  war-ravaged history remains: in between swaying palm trees, on verdant hills, you'll glimpse French colonial mansions, decrepit and often bombed and riddled with bullet holes.

3. Watch the sunset from the beach, glass of kir in hand.  Even on cloudy days, the sunset boasts wonderful gradations of purple, blue, and pink. Sunsets in Kep are one of my favorite things about Cambodia.

Friday, May 18, 2012

On my radar: Thread & Crescent

Jennifer turned me onto this webshop, which houses handcrafted items.  That belt may be the perfect substitute for my Rachel Comey double-closure belt - a brown leather belt is such a staple in my pre-Cambodia and Cambodia wardrobe.

Happy birthday!

Happy 30th birthday, my love!  Many thanks for sitting through meat parties with my uncle and his colleague (though you are veg), for holding my purse when I'm stumbling around lakes in China, in Kazakhstan, in Cambodia, for making the best grilled cheese sandwiches ever, and for being a voice of reason when I'm storming off, but also a reminder to take chances in life.  Finally, thank you for enduring my numerous text messages throughout the week, which are typically an iteration of: "Can you live in Tanzania?" or "Are we out of cheese?"  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The organic pepper farm in Kep

About 20km from Kep city proper, down a dusty, unpaved road of red earth, there are a string of pepper plantations, one of which is a bed and breakfast.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

I took this picture of my grandma Elpidia several years ago, as she was en route to the Philippines.  She says the funniest things, partly because she knows she can away with these things.  

Example 1:

Grandma is staring quietly at me over the breakfast table. It is a week after my first trip home from Cambodia.

Me [aware that she is staring]: What is it, grandma?

Grandma: You're not as dark as you were when you arrived.  Your skin is getting back to normal.  You no longer look like you were toiling in the rice fields.

Example 2:

Three days ago during a telephone call.

Grandma: You're old, you know.

Me: Yes. Is that news to you?

Grandma: You're old. Is this . . . is this . . . just how you are?   

(I still don't know what exactly she meant because she wouldn't elaborate, but I think it had to do with my work abroad.)

Happy Mother's Day to my crazy mom and grandmothers!  I love you.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Breakfast in Kep

This weekend, we're staying at an organic pepper farm in Kep province.  Mornings are glorious here. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ermie at Beklina

via Beklina

I am digging Jennifer's new pieces and the ease of the cuts, especially the longer hemline in the back.  While in Cambodia, the momentum to buy, buy, buy slows down considerably.  Or, at least, for me it did.  It's partly because the work keeps me busy, shipping is expensive, dress is casual, and nice clothes take a  real beating here.

While I do not buy as much in Cambodia, I've grown more inclined to buy only what I love - to invest in pieces that may be more expensive, but are more special.  Because, in the end, those are the pieces that I keep for 10 years or so.  Those are the pieces that survive purge after purge.  I kid you not: I still have a favorite pair of MJ flats and a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress that I bought, with my pennies saved, in 2001!  Some of my favorite 3.1 dresses were Philip Lim's first year out of the Development line, years ago.  And, don't get me started with Mayle...

I cannot wait to receive my Ermie spring tee in the Talitha print. Care package, where are you?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

a smattering of thoughts and images

Life. Right now.

Images 1-2: Homemade tortillas with vegetable fajita filling (random veggies sauteed with a dash of red wine and adobo chipotle peppers imported from Los Angeles)
Image 3: Shoes sitting in my closet. I must remember to wear them.
Image 4: "Cookie" - the feral kitten who has taken over our terrace.  He looks harmless, but he is a terror.
Image 5:  For the past few days, the sky has hung heavy with clouds. Rainy season is here, I suppose: green and flowers everywhere. The trailing vine on our staircase is out of control!
Image 6: I crave dim sum.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Erin Considine SS 2012

via EC

Simple lines, so clean and graceful.  Lately, I've been drawn to cleaner shapes.

The Shabd dress isn't bad either.


This was over two years ago??  Since then, some of my dearest friends in Portland have moved, switched careers from law to medicine, been hitched - and one of these lovely ladies will soon be a mother.  Today- by her doctor's count!  This is another marker of time.

Time is passing quickly.  In some ways, I do not recognize this picture of a pre-Cambodia me devouring clotted cream and lemon curd with utter abandon.  (I paused briefly  to take the picture.)  This picture brings me back to my expectations at the time in my life, what I considered acceptable and unacceptable, where I thought I would settle, etc.  In my two years in Cambodia, I pretty much took all those things and tossed them up in the air.  (I didn't throw them away, but I suspended the need to define everything now, in the most rigid and steadfast terms.)  Life has changed drastically since that day spent in the Portland-suburb tea shop and along with it, I have changed in ways I could not have imagined.  It's a strange sense of freedom and openness that is both wonderful and scary, light and weighty.

I'm aware that my time in Phnom Penh is winding down.  The meetings and receptions in Manila were, in many ways, a culmination of the work I've put into this project/case/research in the past two years.  In Manila, I was also fortunate to meet other lawyers, researchers, and advocates working on similar issues from Kyrgyz Republic to Mongolia to Sri Lanka to the United States to the Netherlands.  We are a small group of people. 

Finally, the meetings drove home the fact that this case - and this work - will go on for years and years to come.  It's important to take breaks.

I am looking forward to my break in Indonesia and India, to a summer of being a plane, ferry, and train passenger to and through countries I have never been.  I'm looking forward to glimpsing the  majestic Himalayas with my own eyes  and breathing in the crisp mountain air.  I am looking forward to sipping a hot cup of Darjeeling tea in  the hillside town of Darjeeling and to rummaging through markets in Indonesia filled with batik textiles.  I am looking forward to walking the cobblestone streets of Ubud.  And even though my heart is heavy with the thought of leaving this work for now (an opportunity to work in Manila has presented itself and I am passing), I am excited about starting our life in Bangkok, Thailand.

Monday, May 7, 2012


Back in Cambodia after the diplomat-dance in Manila all last week. There's a lot to process, but I am glad to be "home" in the sweltering heat of Phnom Penh, where my mornings are greeted by little notes and waiting cups of  coffee.
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