Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas cheer in Phnom Penh

Secret Santa gifts under our anemic office Xmas tree!
Our office Christmas tree, which droops a little, is covered with joke editions of our newspaper. It sits in front of the desks of me and my colleague, so it's nice to be a little bit cut off by the busy-ness of the newsroom.

Her name is Pinglinda.
My Secret Santa got me a giant pink pig, which is kind of awesome. It's now sitting at the corner of my desk -- my colleague says it should remain there as our corner mascot. The EIC said, "You don't seem like a stuffed animal type of girl. You're too serious." He's half right, I suppose, so he gets half a credit for that.

There were plenty of other really great/hilarious gifts. Our editor-in-chief got a watch with the prime minister's face on it, one of the Khmer editors got two bottles of soju and a gangnam style T-shirt, and one of the copy-deskers with long hair (and some dreads) got a hairbrush. Booze and mugs was a favorite though for the Secret Santas. And only one person got a crappy pen! (which was incidentally in a box that was beautifully gift-wrapped) -- so we can say that it was a successful round of Secret Santa.

I've been through a couple of these office Christmas parties, but this one was actually really fun. Everyone seemed pretty excited about the gifts, which were all nicely wrapped (surprising to me, since Khmers don't really celebrate Christmas). Since we had all filed our stories, we just hung out and drank beer, shot the shit while our poor editors wrestled through our don't-give-a-fuck-because-it's-Christmas-bitches copy.

I do miss New York desperately though, and wish I could experience a cool Christmas. I guess I'd just have to make do with Phnom Penh's dropping temperatures. It's down to seventy degrees now. And it's windy!

So cold I had to wear a scarf with my thin T-shirt!
I signed up for Cannonball Read 5 for next year, so hopefully this means more posts to this blog. I've more or less neglected it (as I always do) but not having Cannonball Read this year was a real lack -- I missed being a part of the reading community and staying on top of commenting on other people's reviews. And besides, it motivated me to read, so why the fuck not, yea?

Anyway, Merry post-Christmas and Happy New Year!

(PS. Crappy image quality is due to me taking the photos with an iPhone.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

buildings in the sunrise

I love this video, absolutely love everything about it. I love that it has the streets of lower Manhattan and bars of Brooklyn. I love that the frontman and his bandmates remind me of the Boys I know in New York (even if they would hate me for making this comparison) and I love that they are eating gyros at a street cart. I love the soaring anthemic Carry Onnnn as they slide across the marble floors of Grand Central, and I love the piano in the bar, and I love the fist-pumping to the chorus. I love the view of buildings (Water Street?) as dawn arrives.

Maybe it's because I've been feeling impossibly heartsick for New York, and the repetitive chorus probably punched a little harder with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I don't know, don't care – I just love this song and I love this video.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


"This is one more piece of advice I have for you: don't get impatient. Even if things are so tangled up you can't do anything, don't get desperate or blow a fuse and start yanking on one particular thread before it's ready to come undone. You have to figure it's going to be a long process and that you'll work on things slowly, one at a time." 
Murakami, Norwegian Wood.

I met someone a month back who told me that he's seen too many young reporters drop out of the industry too soon, give up too quickly, duck for cover before anything's even been shot. He said it's a pity because you just never know what could have happened. Nowadays, I just keep holding that in my head. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Here's a Cambodian legend (provided with no comments)

I've been really lax about updating my blog. Can't promise this will change (mostly because I always do and it never happens, so we know what good it does) but this particular story has been nagging at me. It was just begging to be retold. 

My Khmer teacher and I were talking about the Mekong dolphins. They live in the Mekong river and can often be seen in the northeastern Cambodian province of Kratie. He asked me, "Do you know where the dolphins come from?"

"No," I said.

"Well, a long time ago, there was beautiful Cambodian girl. She was the most beautiful girl in her province and her parents were afraid that she would be stolen away so they kept her in the house. Because she was never in the sun, she had the most beautiful white skin."

(I'm jumping in to say that Cambodians—and Asians in general, actually—are obsessed with having fair skin. Women here would wear sweaters and gloves to keep the sun from marring their skin, even in 90-degree weather.)

"There was a giant snake who lived in their village that everyone believed was a magic snake. It was very big and beautiful. So the girl's parents decided that she should marry the snake."

And I thought, "Woah, this story got weird quick."

"So they got married, and the parents made the girl sleep in the same room as the snake. But the snake was hungry in the middle of the night and he ended up swallowing the girl whole."

"What the fuck does this have to do with dolphins?" I wondered.

"In the morning, the parents found the snake with a giant stomach and they realized that their daughter had been eaten. So they took a knife and cut the snake open. And the girl was still alive!"

"Oh, good..." I said.

"But the inside of the snake had made her dirty. Her skin was very black and no matter how much they tried to wash her or clean her, they couldn't get her skin to be white again. So her family disowned her as she couldn't be married anymore. She was very sad so she went to the Mekong River, put a bottle over her head, and then walked into the water."

I was stunned silent.

"And that's why we have the Mekong dolphins! That's why the dolphins have heads that look like bottles," my Khmer teacher finished with a smile.

"Wow. That wasn't what I was expecting," I said, totally traumatized.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A more-or-less productive Sunday

I took the time to restart my news blog (what news blog?) for this incredible Wal-Mart corruption story by NYT's David Barstow. So please read his piece first, which is just damning.

And here's my write-up on it.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Craving coffee in Vietnam

Sitting in a coffee shop in Hoi An looking at my photos.
When we were in Vietnam, we kept going on a search for good, Western-style coffee. While I enjoy the thick, sweet-flavored coffee that are usually served in most places in Vietnam (and also in Cambodia), we started to miss the familiar kick of espresso. In Hoi An, we found this little coffee shop that actually had a Lavazza machine! The first we've seen in Vietnam!

The owner of this little joint boasted that foreigners would come back day after day on their vacation just for their poison since theirs is the only place with a superior Italian coffee-brewing machine. Well, call us typical, but we stopped back at least once a day for the three days we spent in Hoi An.

Also, despite its sign, the place does not serve banh mi sandwiches.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I'm back! I promise!

Hi! It's been a long while! Did I mention that I went to Vietnam in February?

Fruit and flower sellers on the streets of Hanoi, near the Shoe Market.
I went to Vietnam in February! It was fabulous and I had so much fun. When I have more time, I will (try) to blog about my trip.

Until then, I got inspired by my best friend, Cynthia, to try to make an effort with this blog. The girl is blogging every day with arts and crafts or recipe ideas! Talk about motivation. You can see her work here. Some of her ideas are really interesting and fun — others seem just way too time-consuming (Or maybe it's just me because, if you haven't gathered from my lack of blog posts, I am extremely lazy.)

Anyway, I've been wanting to share some photos I took in Vietnam anyway, so consider this a primer for more to come.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Angsty angst

When it comes to my job, I find myself, quite often, veering from giddiness to just pure down-in-the-dumps. Often, the dips come because of very specific reasons that begin with "e-" and ends with "-ditors," but sometimes the lows can just be so sudden and out of left field that I'm just left questioning what the fuck I'm doing on this side of the world.

I tried my best to explain this to my boyfriend today, but I've never been good at putting my feelings into words (Goodbye, writing career!), especially if it's about things I actually give a shit about. And then other times, when I've spoken the words out loud, I wonder why I think my feelings are all that nuanced after all.

Here it is, in the best way I can describe it possible: I feel like my work feels inconsequential. (Whether or not it is or not isn't the point. It's my feeling of non-being that is putting me off.)

I talk so rarely about my job and my personal feelings here (READ BETWEEN THE LINES, GUYS!!) but when it comes down to it, I think it's really because I'm just afraid that if I'm able to fully explain how I feel about myself/my job (and believe me, so much of my identity is wrapped up in my work existence —one might add "unfortunately" at the end of that) then that would be the end of me. It would be pointless to have these stupid debates in my head about it anymore, because I've already seen, assessed and concluded. Then I would have realized that I have, once again, made something out of nothing, taken nothing and blown it out of ridiculous proportion to assure myself once again that what I do matters.

Here are the things I know for sure—the giddiness now comes from the small things (Getting one good quote from a hard-to-interview person; hell, I'll even settle for a government official picking up the phone and answering my question civilly) and the dips come from the bad moments and from in-between the good moments. Sometimes the lack of clarity in what I want to do, what I need to do and what I can do scares me.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Currently, I am sitting on an uncomfortable rattan chair in a semi-cold cafe that reeks of cigarette smoke. I'm running on three hours of sleep and trying my best not to get bitten by mosquitos. My moods are vacillating from cranky to conciliatory to affectionate to just downright annoyed.

 As my boyfriend says, I have a tendency to focus on the negatives, which is why I decided to start this post out like this so I can get that out of the way.

This semi-chilly cafe is actually in Danang airport, in Vietnam. My boyfriend and I are on our fifth day of vacation and it has been really wonderful so far. We have spent about three days in Hanoi, and also did a day trip to Halong Bay. Felt like I was in Indochine, that Old Catherine Deneuve movie.

It's just such a relief to be out of Phnom Penh. There are many things that Hanoi has in common with the Penh, but the things that differ are just... better. Neighborhoods seem more like a state of mind versus just a series of buildings thrown haphazardly together; the architecture is gloriously mismatched in a way that feels genuine - instead of the manufactured vibe that some of the refurbished French colonial buildings can have in PP - from the heavy French influence; Vietnamese people don't give a shit about what tourists do here. No attitude is given, but there is a certain feeling of "You can spend your money but we don't really need ya, so we're gonna treat you like a normal person."

I'll be returning to PP on the 14, and until then, I'll be trying my damnedest to think as little about returning to work as possible.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

CBRIII #18: Towelhead by Alicia Erian

Towelhead is a real page-turner. I picked it up thinking I'll just see what the first few pages were about, and I went through half of it in about a night. I'm not sure if I liked it per say, to be honest. It was a compelling subject matter, and the 13-year-old protagonist, Jasira, was very easy to identify with (even if at times, it pained me to admit that I identified with her) — but overall, I was left feeling like there was just something lacking.

At the beginning of Alicia Erian's novel, we learn that Jasira has just been told to move to her father's house because her mother was jealous of how her boyfriend was acting around her blossoming daughter. The idea is that her father should be able to control Jasira a little better, but that is proven to be impossible as Jasira finds herself getting drawn to their neighbor, a racist military man whose son calls Jasira a "towelhead." 

As I said before, the subject matter makes the book a real page-turner, as well as the mild-mannered way that Erian treats it. Everything is said in a very matter-of-fact way, and Jasira's dumb way of looking at things actually made me wonder if the girl had some sort disorder/developmental disability that the author did not mention. My friend Emily said that it could be Erian's way of winking at us, though I really don't want to try and understand the meaning of the wink... because like I said, I'm not really sold by it.  

I like to add that I do think this is probably a good book, but I just read it when I wasn't in a particularly great mood (Shit mood, actually). Towelhead left me in more of a funk because I just came away wishing I was more affected by Jasira and her plight/situation but instead found myself annoyed with her.