Sunday, April 29, 2012


I have never really explored Manila as an adult.  The last time I was in the city was for one night in 2009, en route between Hong Kong and Mindanoa province.  It was a blur of a night.  I remember only concrete and more concrete, and a long taxi ride amongst humidity.

I was fairly closed off to the idea of visiting it, having remembered the ubiquitous car culture and endless concrete, but Eunice reminded me that I should give this megacity a fair chance.

That's what I intend to do.  I am in Manila all week for work!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mi familia, pt. 2

My dearest Mom,

I have been very patient with you when you gaffaw at my choice of residence (Cambodia) and even when you and grandma comment on what a "proper [Asian] daughter/lawyer/person" would do.  But, I simply draw the line at phone calls at 6 o'clock in the morning, wherein you scream to a half-asleep me, "Goodbye! I am leaving for Norway and then I'm going to Paris! Ha!" 

If you insist on continuing this kind of behavior, I respectfully request that you bring back family vacations. 



Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Random thoughts on a Thursday

via Lost

I have a fascination with the Russian Imperium. 

Joseph Stalin (c. 1902), pre-Great Purge.  Doesn't he look like any guy you would see at a cafe in NYC or LA?

Monday, April 23, 2012


In Cambodia, if you're considerate of local customs and norms involving modesty, you swim fully clothed: jeans, t-shirt, or maybe, if you want to show some skin, shorts.  One of my girlfriends, a rather progressive Khmer woman, was admonished for swimming in a pool while she was visibly pregnant because it common knowledge that: (1) you don't swim when you're pregnant; and (2) you don't swim donning a bikini of all things.  

You also do not engage in public displays of affection with a member of the opposite sex (e.g., couples do not hold hands while strolling outside), but it's fine for two young men to hold hands or caress each other as they ride a motorbike.

Gender relations and issues in Cambodia are a topic I have not documented here before.  Let's just say it has been interesting.

Very French Gangsters

New prescription eyewear for kids via Very French Gangsters.  This made me chuckle.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Images from my week

1-3.  Too many meetings and hours sitting in Java Cafe.
4.     When I feel sick, I go right for a bowl of soba noodles and hot, yummy broth.
5.     Lights out: the black-outs in my neighborhood continue.


Last week was a bad week.  My sisters and Ryan will likely  have to cancel their flights to Indonesia and Cambodia.  Ryan's father was in an accident.  For the past two weeks, his condition was precarious, and Jen has been in Missouri with Ryan's family the entire time.  It's unlikely that they will be able to fly out to see me in the next two weeks, which sucks, but is minor.  What was harder for me was not being able to be there for my sister.  In times like this, it is difficult to be so far from home.

Then, I became sick. Very sick. Doctor visit. Medicine. Fatigue and overall crappiness. I couldn't eat, and it was just so hot and uncomfortable. (April is the hottest month of the year.)  And while I was running to the doctor and in a very characteristic-of-me state of denial, I was also running around attempting to do my day job and complete the research for my consultancy.

In the two years I've lived in Cambodia, I have seen people break. Fatigued by the work, the heat, the germs in this tropical climate, and/or the government, several friends and colleagues have cried, out of frustration, anger, and helplessness.

I hit a wall. I broke.  And, I cried to Ethan.  

He hugged me and listened and reminded me of all the good that I've found here.  

Another night, when I was sick and flat-out exhausted from the day, he made me tortillas using the recipe below. (I have been searching for proper tortillas since I moved to Cambodia.)  I was blown away by the gesture.  They would have been delicious used in this crispy black bean and feta taco recipe.

I'm on the mend.

Flour Tortillas
Recipe from Homesick Texan
Makes 8 tortillas

Two cups of all-purpose flour (he substituted one cup of whole-wheat flour for white flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
3/4 cups of warm milk

Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and oil.  Slowly add the warm milk. Stir until a loose, sticky ball is formed. Knead for two minutes on a floured surface. Dough should be firm and soft.
Place dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap for 20 minutes.

After the dough has rested, break off eight sections, roll them into balls in your hands, place on a plate (make sure they aren’t touching) and then cover balls with damp cloth or plastic wrap for 10 minutes. 

After dough has rested, one at a time place a dough ball on a floured surface, pat it out into a four-inch circle, and then roll with a rolling pin from the center until it’s thin and about eight inches in diameter.  Don’t over work the dough, or it’ll be stiff. Keep rolled-out tortillas covered until ready to cook.

In a dry iron skillet, cook the tortilla about thirty seconds on each side. It should start to puff a bit when it’s done.

Keep cooked tortillas covered wrapped in a napkin until ready to eat.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ermie Spring Tee

images via Ermie
Thoughts on this Sunday morning:

1. I'm looking forward to receiving my Ermie tee in the Spring tee cut, but Talitha print.

2. My goodness, it's been a tough week: sickness, bad news from my sisters who may have to cancel their tickets to Indonesia and Cambodia, deadlines for my consultancy, the heat.

3. Plus, I'm going to Manila next weekend.  I have nothing to wear to those type of meetings.  I may even have to blowdry my street-urchin hair that entire week.  It's a different world.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Beatrice Valenzuela


And now available online.

Cambodia has forever turned me onto handmade shoes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Nearly three days in Banlung, Ratanakiri, Pt. 3

We eventually made it up the river to explore.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Daydreaming of Cinque Terre

Is there a place that haunts you?

Before I met Ethan, most, if not all, of my travel was done alone.  While I was in serious relationships for most of my 20s, I was never paired with a traveler.  When I was 21, one boyfriend gave me an ultimatum - go to Europe for the summer and we break up.  I said my goodbye, told him I'd send him a postcard from Italy, and expressed my hope that he would be at Los Angeles International Airport upon my return.  He was. But we did not last.

The other, more substantial, relationship was with a man who didn't stop my need to travel.  He acknowledged it.  However, he also did not share my love for it.  Alone, I traveled to Europe again and parts of Asia and would come home with stories and gifts.  But very little was shared.   And broken-heartedly, I realized that was not enough for this life.

To be honest, I really loved traveling alone. But really what choice did I have?  None of my friends, at the time, shared this need to explore to the same degree - and I was simply unwilling to wait.  I  discovered very quickly that I thrived with this kind of independence.  I loved picking a destination and making my way, step-by-step, city-by-city, to that place where I would board a plane back to the United States.   For Europe, I would book a round-trip ticket to Heathrow Airport.  From London, I would then dip into mainland Europe and make my way back to London in time for my flight.  Very little was planned more than a few days ahead of time.  Train travel was usually involved. And this entire process of movement was profoundly beautiful to me.

I remember the first time I realized I was in love with travel.  I was sitting at the train stop in  Manarola village in Cinque Terre, Italy.  While waiting for my train, I was writing postcards frantically, one to Cherlou, one of my oldest and dearest friends today.  I must have been drunk from the scenery and the days before: my hikes in the mountains, my breakfasts spent on the shores, my attempted swim in the Mediterranean Sea,  my visit to the secluded nude beach (ha!), the food (oh my god, the food!), the wine, and above all else, the  realization, slowly settling on me, that I could explore the world, just like this. That first trip to Europe, only 5-6 weeks in length and my first time traveling alone, shifted my perspective.  It also changed my expectations of life.  Two years later, I visited Cinque Terre for a few nights en route from France, just to see if I would love it as much - and it was still so magical (though more laden with tourists and more expensive). 

A decade after that first trip, I still get warm and fuzzy when I think of Cinque Terre and of travels in Italy, in general.  I would love to revisit these places with Ethan. 

We are daydreaming of a trip to Paris and Istanbul next year.  We both love Paris.  And, well, wouldn't Italy practically be on the way?

Nearly three days in Banlung, Ratanakiri, Pt. 2

Our plans to bicycle to the lake were foiled.  Within 15 minutes of parting after breakfast, Anna's friend dislocated her shoulder.  She was making a turn on the motorbike and fell.  Calls to doctors in Phnom Penh were made, as were plans for her to return via taxi.  (It was kind of a dramatic first 8 hours in Banlung.)

The rest of us explored the small town of Banlung.  We visited a Vietnamese bakery, where we sampled freshly baked banana cake, which had the consistency of cassava cake and was dotted with bright purple/pink specks.  It was delicious, but would have been more perfect with a cup of strong Vietnamese coffee.

Then, after having had our fill of the town, we rented a motorbike (ever the biking enthusiast, Ethan bicycled there) and drove the distance to the lake, past buildings stained with red mud and wooden huts in which families slept. 

At the lake, we soaked in the sun, while Khmers swam (fully clothed, of course).  

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Nearly three days in Banlung, Ratanakiri

After the never-ending bus ride that dropped us off 17 hours later in Ratanakiri, we woke up to a bright glorious morning at Treetop Ecolodge.  When you live in Phnom Penh, you become quite accustomed to the lack of green spaces in everyday life.  You can also grow accustomed to a certain noise level and pace of movement.  The capital town of Banlung is also known as the "Red City."  With its bright red soil (that taints buildings and probably everything else), quiet streets, and green rolling hills, Banlung was a welcome contrast.

In truth, I was reluctant to make the journey to this northeastern province.  It is one of the longest (maybe it is the longest) bus journeys in Cambodia.  I know little about Ratanakiri- only that it sits close to the Vietnam and Laos borders, is inhabited by numerous ethnic minorities, and is a place that is increasingly attractive to the mining/extractive industry.

While I personally love overland journeys, long Cambodian bus rides on the heels of a crazy work week aren't exactly my idea of a vacation.  But when else would we go?  Especially since we are leaving Cambodia soon?

So, off we went.  No computers. Just books, toiletries, and three days' worth of clothes.

Our first morning in Banlung, we met Anna and her friend for breakfast and loosely planned how we would spend our days: a bicycle ride to, and picnic at, the crater lake?  A boat ride up the river to visit indigenous cemeteries? A Khmer New Year party thrown by a Spanish transplant?

The weekend was wide open.

Khmer New Year and epic bus rides

I have had my share of epic bus rides - the kind that go on and on, up, down and around mountains, for long distances (or just really, really long periods of time).

In fact, I associate my Burmese travels with epic bus rides.  Imagine over 100 degrees, a non-air conditioned bus, 17+ hours of travel, screaming babies, and night-time checkpoints where the regime checks identification and passports.

Or, there was last summer's travels through western China, particularly the ride from Kashgar to Urumqi, which was to take 24 hours, but really took more like 36 hours.  Train tickets were sold out for a week. We had no choice.  I recall waking up in the early morning hours, just on the cusp of consciousness but aware  enough to register that the bus was rolling back and forth. I looked around.  Except for Ethan and me, the bus was emptied of its passengers.  They were outside, pushing the bus. A fire raged outside amidst screams of jubilation. It was the month of Ramadan. The other passengers had just had their first daily meal (and last since after sundown).

This Khmer New Year, Ethan, Vy and I went to the far-off province of Ratanakiri province in Cambodia.  Our friend Anna recently moved there.  Neither of us had been before, so we thought it was a brilliant idea.

Except it was Khmer New Year, a holiday that empties the streets of the city.  And the bus depot was utter bedlam.  We were pushed off our 7:30AM bus and after a few non-confrontational responses by staff, allowed to jump onto the 8:45AM departure instead.  On the way, the bus broke down.  Our 10 hour trip turned into a 17-hour trip.

We arrived at the Ratanakiri bus station a few minutes shy of 1AM.  The Tree Top Ecolodge driver had been waiting for us for hours.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tidbits of home

second photo via LoGE

I never tire of care packages, especially the kind with chocolates and Built by Wendy.  And Girl Scout cookies?!  

And, I am probably going to make another version of this shirt at the tailor. I cannot help it.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Cooking in Colorado: Po' Boy Sandwiches

In January, I spent 6 days with Ethan's family in their vacation house in the Colorado mountains.  It was so cold and when I think about it now, I was absolutely out of my element.  Ethan grew up with skiing, snow-shoeing, and other winter activities.  I did not.  I grew up with the warmth  of Southern California, with its endless highways.  Their house has a "mud room."  I had never heard of a mud room before.  There are more examples, but I won't bore you.

Despite being out of my element, I had such a wonderful time.  What made that week so great was the warmth of his family, including his super sweet, progressive mother (I know now where he gets his patient disposition), who was happy to show me pictures of a baby Ethan and with whom I chatted one night until the early morning hours about life's twists, Cambodia, and love. To me, it will always be a week of hot cocoa drinking, fireplace-sitting, and lazy strolls in the snow - and getting to know his family. 

During that week, all of us took turns cooking.  I volunteered to make creme brulee french toast one morning, but I botched it up.  And, well, with a name like "creme brulee french toast," expectations are set high, and no amount of Grand Marnier liqueur or orange zest can fix it.

One evening, after a day of running around in the cold, Ethan made shrimp po' boy sandwiches. Yum.  But what really stood out for me was the remoulade sauce he made as dressing for the sandwiches.  It was an adaptation of the recipe below.  And it was delicious.
Creole Remoulade

Makes 2 cups.

  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions (green and white parts)
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onions
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 3 tablespoons Creole or other whole-grain mustard
  • 3 tablespoons ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Combine all the ingredients in a blender or a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until fairly smooth, about 30 seconds.

Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using. (The sauce will keep for up to one week in the refrigerator.)

Experiments with linen, Pt. 2

first image via Steven Alan

Inspired by this simple Steven Alan frock, I took another trip to the tailors a few weeks ago, this time with a striped linen fabric in hand.  I made some alterations to the dress style: I changed the neckline and made two visible pockets for holding items.  The final product is summery and crisp-and I love it.

These days, I am obsessed with linens and dress-making. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Sunday thoughts: balance and bling

The brunch with my Australian colleague was lovely.  She's a wonderful woman. How does she do it all?  Practice law, be the academic in charge of several  transnational human rights research projects  that require her to travel to developing countries, be a mother to an 11-year-old, a partner, and just plain wonderful, humble, and giving?  Her advice to me, "Pace yourself." 

I think what was so great about that conversation was her admission that early on in her practice, she knew what it took to make her life meaningful. And it wasn't a rising 6-figure salary (then at least), bonus checks, or the prestige and adrenaline-rush of "fighting" in a big firm.  As she told me, she knew she wanted a job that was fulfilling and significant, but she also wanted a balance.  She wanted a family and more "life."  She carved her path accordingly, one step at a time - and this path took her to live in Berlin, London, Kuala Lumpur before circling back to Australia.

I am fairly certain I will take that refugee lawyer job, which would place me in Bangkok for 7 months to a year, at least.  The location seems right: outside of Cambodia, but just close enough so as to allow me to dip in for my own research.  There's something niggling at me, however.  There have been a few jobs that are more a logical extension of the work I've been doing in Cambodia. It feels a little flighty to be trying this new area of law.  

But I am so excited about that work.   And, one year of my life is just that - so short in the scheme of things. 

Oh, and these rough diamond rings handcrafted by Alexis Russell are so gorgeous, no?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Railway women, again

After drinks with Mark and a few other friends, I came home and prepared myself for sleep, when all of a sudden I received text after text about an assault on the railway women, whom I just wrote about previously.  Sources say that the village chief and armed men surrounded them in their homes in the late evening and assaulted them with sticks, batons, rocks.  People were injured and after the assault, too scared to leave.  Calls were made - the UN, Amnesty, other international partners.  The next day, trips to visit those in the hospital occurred, as did visits to the site.

Is it strange to hear that you cannot just ask the authorities to cease and desist based on domestic and international conventions?  You have to go beyond, go indirectly to others, who hopefully pressure compliance. 

I fear that the situation is escalating and becoming more violent.

It's Saturday early afternoon, and I am meeting a colleague from Australia for brunch.  I'm sitting in one of my favorite brunch haunts, sipping a cappuccino.  Classical music plays in the background.  A fan blows.  It couldn't feel further away from the reality outside.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Railway women

Notice that most are women, who brought their crying babies and small toddlers in tow, as they marched to the Bank office to personally deliver the complaint.  In developing countries, land is so closely linked to life and livelihoods.  

Unrelated to this case: Last week, during a regional conference, three sessions on land issues and one  session on Burma were canceled due to pressure by local authorities.  The evening before (notice to cancel is always short), the owner of the hotel where the conference was to be held stormed the halls, tearing down posters of Aung San Suu Kyi and threatening to turn off lights and electricity if any "sensitive" words were uttered.

Such is Cambodia.  It is not uncommon to have police surround you when you are interviewing communities in their homes or holding meetings with community members. I freely admit, however, that the first time I realized I was being followed, I freaked out.

I've been trying to keep this space free of work-thoughts, as work already pervades so much of my daily life.  But sometimes I just have to document it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


via flickr

I've been cooking a lot with grains these days.  Last night, inspired by this photo and the dishes of gourmand extraordinaire Natasha, I made a barley dish.  I scored the barley in Bangkok because I could not find it in Phnom Penh. I soaked it in water for about 8-9 hours, boiled it, and tossed it into a mixture of sauteed spinach, garlic, onion, carrot, zucchini, rice wine vinegar, soy, and lemon juice. It was a light dinner and yet very fulfilling.  To balance this dinner, we had a red velvet cupcake and a macadamia tart for dessert from Bloom Cafe.

Tonight, Ethan and I are meeting Mark, a good friend visiting from China for a few days, for drinks.  It's much later in the evening, so before then, I am going to try my hand at a different iteration of potato gratin- gratin dauphinois, which doesn't use cheese and only a little bit of cream.  I will use this recipe from Chocolate & Zucchini (below)

Gratin Dauphinois
Serves 6 as a side dish.

1 kg (2.2 pounds) potatoes, a mix of waxy and baking potatoes (if you prefer to use only one type, pick waxy potatoes, not too firm)
500 ml (2 cups) milk (whole or part-skim, not skim)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
freshly grated nutmeg
1 clove garlic, sliced lengthwise
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives (optional)
60 ml (1/4 cup) heavy cream (use whipping cream in the UK and crème fraîche liquide in France)

Peel the potatoes, rinse them briefly, and slice them thinly (about 3mm or 1/10th of an inch) and evenly. (A food processor or a mandoline come in handy at this point.) Do not rinse after slicing, or you will lose all that precious starch.

Combine the sliced potatoes, milk, salt and a good grating of nutmeg in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, and keep simmering for 8 minutes, stirring the potatoes and scraping the bottom of the pan regularly to prevent sticking/scorching. The milk will gradually thicken to a creamy consistency.

While the potatoes are simmering, preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F) and rub the bottom and sides of a medium earthenware or glass baking dish (I use an oval dish that's 26 cm/10 inches at its widest, and 2 liters/2 quarts in capacity) with the cut sides of the garlic clove.

Transfer half of the potatoes into the baking dish, sprinkle with the chives if using, and drizzle with half of the cream. Add the rest of the potatoes, pour the cooking milk over them, and drizzle with the remaining cream.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until bubbly on the edges and nicely browned at the top. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Monday daydreams: The Darjeeling Toy Train

I haven't allowed myself to really think about our trips to Indonesia and India this summer.  First, standing between me and that trip are 3 more months of living in Cambodia, a consultancy that needs to be completed, a visit by my sisters and Ryan, and a few trips to the far-off provinces  in Cambodia, to Bangkok, and maybe even to Manila. Oh, and taxes!  In other words, there's a lot to do before then.

I am headed to the Indian Embassy tomorrow, for Try No. 2 on my Indian visa.  I was warned that the process may not be as straightforward as with other consulates.  Try No. 1 was a failure.

And with that small step, with that small acquiescence into my upcoming summer holiday, I have allowed myself to linger on one daydream.  It involves a ride on the Darjeeling Toy Train, up and up to the Himalayan town of Darjeeling. There's too much to see in India and with a little over three weeks there, we will focus only on the Northeastern part of the country ... but maybe dip into Nepal!!! 

I admit I'm a little excited.

Ilana Kohn SS12

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