lifestyle, Personal, real estate, United States, Work

Open house.

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Take one look at my planner and you’ll understand why I’d like to schedule my coffee with you two weeks in advance (three weeks if it’s dinner), why my kitchen looks the way it does (horrible), and the reason I have to hit up the gas station every few days (thank the Lord for low petrol prices).

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Cambodia, Food, Personal, Phnom Penh, Travel

Good morning, Vietnam. February 7, 2013.

Over this past weekend I visited my “home land”, Vietnam, for the first time in my life.
Allison needed her visa renewed so we thought it was an excellent excuse to get out of town, mark another travel spot off our list, and have some much needed pampering. Starting Friday, King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s funeral procession and mourning period began. His cremation was this past Monday and marked a point of sadness and loss in history for the people of Cambodia. Knowing the city would be shut down for four days with streets closed, restaurants paying respect by not playing music, and the city sardined with millions of the people of the Cambodia coming in from the provinces, we decided it would be a perfect time to plan our getaway.

I had never had much of a draw to visit Vietnam, I have never lived there, spent time with Vietnamese, or had much of a cultural connection in any sense (other than my passion for Pho and Banh Mi) but the thought of taking a trip there to traipse the city for a day or two was intriguing. I knew we wouldn’t have time or energy to visit many of the country’s real history, but even the thought of being in a place where my birth mother once lived started to creep into my mind and it was a strange feeling. I would love to return for a longer period of time in the future, in a mindset of exploration and with a desire to learn. Any fears of the country hurting me were assuaged by the friendly residents, beautiful architecture, and bustling life that welcomed us.

Ritchie, Allison, Nico and I took the somewhat uncomfortable (we were seated in the back right next to the toilets and above the hottest part of the bus, but had quite a bit of space to spread out) eight or so hour trip across the border into Saigon and checked into the Alagon Hotel. It took quite a bit of convincing (towards Nico, really) that this was not going to be a “backpacker” trip and that a proper shower, room service, and air conditioning would be necessary. I think I’ve become even fluffier since living here when it comes to vacation, I really don’t want to spend vacation time puking into a cockroach infested bathroom while listening to bad Top 40 from a beer soaked hostel bar. Call me spoiled.

I am lucky enough to have friends who enjoy food as much, if not more at times, as me. And when I say foods I don’t mean delicately arranged, small tapas plates including words like “reduction” and “aigre-doux”. I’m talking cheesy, melty, greasy, American, fat -ass inspired comfort foods. Some (many?) think it’s a waste to be in Vietnam and track down a Dominos Pizza for the first meal, but when you’re living in the land of rice and bland fare(Khmer, in my opinion, offer some of the most boring cuisine I’ve encountered…where’s the spice? What is all that gristle?) and don’t have Ranch regularly, a good old starchy pizza rimmed in orangey oil is exactly whats on my mind. We dined on the most delicious Banh Mi my mouth has ever had the pleasure of meeting at Le Banh Mi, a minuscule cafe with excellent music and indulged in saliva inducing cheese platters, $10 steak and mashed potatoes of a normal texture (note: Cambodian potatoes are glutinous and weird) at Le Steak de Saigon, a much needed dosage of iron. Burger King had our attention at our last lunch but perfectly seasoned Pho made its way into our bellies at 11pm the first night we arrived and the decision to never allow Snake Wine into our lives again was decided all around.

On the more pleasant bus ride home, it felt as if a magnet were pulling me back towards Cambodia. Although Vietnam gave me experiences and pleasures I’ll never forget, culinary, personally, and culture-wise (and I’ll be returning soon for some serious tattoo work), there is something about Cambodia that feels something like home. The draw of the quaint side streets, easy pace, and lovely, rickety tuk tuks in comparison to the air conditioned and steely dispositioned taxi drivers, the short, squat buildings and lack of usable sidewalks brought me back with an enormous appreciation for Phnom Penh and the place its in currently. People who have lived here for the past five, ten, fifteen years share their amazement and sometimes sadness at the changes the city has been through even recently. Roads are paved, we have adidas, French bakeries and a multitude of chain coffee shops when it used to be dirt roads and small shanties of restaurants. From what I’ve picked up on, market changes, the ASEAN Summit strategy, strong Western influence, political shifts, and money are going to continue to change this place until it will likely mirror other big cities in Southeast Asia within the next decade or so. Although I am truly happy to hear of the steps Cambodia is taking towards something new and shiny and look forward to witnessing the changes to come, I hope to never forget the Cambodia I experience today.

Cambodia isn’t the only thing going through a lot of change at the moment. I feel a shift in lifestyle, friendships, family, and overall viewpoint as February wears on. I understand that my mom may not be in Cambodia long term, she is taking things day at a time and if by July she finds something back in the States she may just do something a wild as take back to her roots and become a cattle rancher or something equally bizarre and awesome. My social circles have changed, who I spend the most time with and what we do. Gone are the weeks of staying out five hours past my bedtime and feeling like death warmed up the next day or the hazy Friday nights trying to grasp a connection with any other foreigner trying to make a life in Southeast Asia. Almost forgotten are the thoughts of moving back to Washington by the year 2014 and fresh are the ideas of starting a life here, a real existence with responsibilities unfathomable but nonetheless thrilling. It’s a calming place to be, to be able to step into a schedule that you’d never have the chance to experience during your life back “home”, yet feeling the happiness and repose of someone finally finding those creature comforts in a new place. I remember some of my best writing coming from tear soaked nights, confused and questioning with dry bottles of wine and sometimes feel as if I’ve lost that sad passion in my writing because I’m in such a place of overall peace. I was told that maybe I’ll have a new audience, one that can feel the ease and satisfaction of my day to day. I won’t jinx myself though, my next entry may just be one borne from frustration.

For now, let’s just hope for the best, and expect…the best.

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Cambodia, Fashion, Phnom Penh, Travel

WUPPS!

WUPP! December 2012

The gorgeous Laura Joy Kiddle

Seems I forgot to post the articles I did for December’s WUPP! issue.

ur artist: BLACKSTAR

During one of my beginning weeks in Phnom Penh, an English woman came into my place of work and the first thing she barked at me was ‘why would you ruin yourself with those?’, waving about at my tattoos. Instead of a sharp response about her own grave state of physicality, I gave her my brightest smile and replied “because I think they’re fun.”

Opinions of tattoos go completely across the board: tacky, sexy, dangerous, ugly, exotic, cheap, beautiful, interesting…everyone is absolutely entitled to their own opinion of them. After my talks with Sun Kang, Korean tattoo master at Black Star, you may gain new perspective into the world of body modification and art.

In Korea every young man must join the army for the minimum of 2 years unless they come from extreme poverty, are severely disabled, or heavily tattooed. For this reason, tattoo parlors are illegal so that men can’t go get tattooed to avoid being drafted. Another reason tattooing is so looked down upon in Korea is if one is tattooed it usually means they have status as a gangster. As a rule of thumb, heavily tattooed individuals in Korea have spent time in prison and when are released get inked to represent the time the spent there. Sun explained that if I went to Korea and they didn’t know I was a Westerner, they would “think I’m a very, very bad girl” or be “very afraid because I am daughter of Yakuza”.

Sun began his apprenticeship with a Japanese tattoo master 17 years ago in Korea, regardless of the law. He had seen a tattooed individual and thought the piece had such beauty and artistry that he wanted to be able to create the same thing on other canvasses of skin. His passion for tattooing and their meanings are obvious and I respect the seriousness in which he takes his craft. His favorite style is traditional Japanese and although he does a fantastic job with other styles, admits he cannot do everything and will be honest about what he can and cannot do well. After two years of apprenticing with his Japanese master and practicing on his own body, as testees were obviously hard to come by, Sun opened his own secret parlor in Korea. Ninety five percent of his clientele were gangsters and the favorite piece he’s done is a full torso, chest, and arm piece on a man who had served eleven years for murder. After eleven years of tattooing in Korea, he came to Cambodia for vacation and like many of us, fell in love with the country. He decided he wanted to take a “quest” and instead of returning home, had all of his equipment shipped to Cambodia. With no English or Khmer language skills, he created an entrepreneurship here with a tattoo shop in Sihanoukville for a year with his current partners, Eddie Newman and Paul Ouk, and then moved to Phnom Penh where they have now run Black Star for 3 years.

Considering Black Star is the only tattoo shop in Phnom Penh that uses a professional grade autoclave, sanitation that passes Western standards, and the overall atmosphere of the shop is welcoming and clean one can understand why his business does so well. Foreigners make up eighty percent of his clientele and the other twenty percent are Khmer. People have come from all over Cambodia, even the world, to get tattooed by Sun and some have even called two to three months in advance to get booked for an appointment. He now has an apprentice of his own, Charly Han, who has proven to be just as skilled and interested in the craft and will continue apprenticing until he can build his own clientele. Sun enjoys his current workspace as he’s the only artist at Black Star at the moment who books many appointments and never wants to get overwhelmed to the point where he cannot perform at his highest, but may one day expand to a larger shop if he finds other artists skilled enough to join his team.

Having found such a skilled artist and interesting person, it will be a pleasure to grow my small collection of tattoos with Sun and look forward to designing my first large piece with him.

ur ride/tuk tuk of the month: Narak Kun

“Michael Phelps drives a tuk tuk”

Narak: 017 558 075

The next time you’re stressed out because you have a lunch meeting at Raffles, a hair appointment at three, need to send a dozen emails, and have cocktails with the girls at seven I’d like you to keep in mind Mr. Narak Kun.

Narak begins his day at seven, Monday through Saturday, as the assistant coach for swimming at iCAN British International School until four, then drives his tuk tuk from five until ten, maybe eleven at night. After his normal coaching schedule on Saturdays, he continues on to ICS School until three where he continues his swimming coaching.

Sundays are his day of most rest, where he coaches at Sunrise, an NGO for orphaned children, for four hours in the morning.

The desire to support his family of six in Kampong Cham moved Narak to Phnom Penh and keeps him determined to continue his more than busy schedule in hopes to one day open his own restaurant and become head coach of a competitive swimming team.

On the path he’s currently taking, I see future achievements even beyond what he may hope for. A previous member of the Cambodian National Swimming Team, competing in Thailand five times although training has been difficult in Cambodia, his drive and dedication prove him to be extremely successful in his endeavours; the boys team he coaches have been victorious in their most recent competition, placing first through third in breaststroke and the one girl he trains in second place.

Although Narak is new to tuk tuk driving having only started three months ago, he is setting up his trade professionally with business cards and although he’s only studied English for the past three years, has quite excellent understanding of the language. He is available on call, but spends most of his time near Sothearos awaiting customers. Narak’s hopes to continue his entrepreneurship are apparent and with his perseverance, I believe Phnom Penh will one day be dining at his establishment and seeing the names of his trainees on trophies.

ur shop/ Paperdolls
Brunswick Street, Melbourne. Broadway to Sixth, New York. Camden, London. Via Monte Napoleone, Italy. Street 204 ½, Phnom Penh? We may just have found the start of Phnom Penh’s street of best shopping.

Hidden away in this little alley of wonders is Paperdolls, a mashup of all things fun and whimsical in Phnom Penh’s trend driven world. This clothing and accessories hideaway holds everything from kitschy jewelry and gorgeous pop surrealism prints to filmy pastel dresses and studded clutches.

Opened recently in May 2012, branching off Dollhouse Salon, Paperdolls has quickly cultivated its own following. According to Brandon, one of the partners in this treasure trove, the established Dollhouse Salon clientele were “moaning about (the salon) not having a proper store” and “ending up at parties wearing the same dresses” as other expats.

Brandon and Ryan collaborate in the buying process, which is a perfect match according to Brandon; Ryan tends to gravitate towards the edgier and trendier and Brandon’s aesthetic appeal is toward the more practical and conservative. This blending attracts a wide base yet still keeps things interesting. Paperdolls’ goal is to source things throughout the world, from India to Colombia and Korea so that each item is one of a kind in the area. Along with keeping Phnom Penh stylish, Paperdolls’ focus is to support new designers in the area by reserving sections of the shop for designers to display their product on a commission basis. Allowing this space gets their product on a shelf in an attractive boutique, subjects them to market research, and lets customers experience the product without the designers having to expend their resources on their own shopfronts. Paperdolls makes attractive adorning accessible to everyone, so keeping price points reasonable and keeping products fresh and new is of great importance.

Make sure to keep an eye out for this partnership and I can assure you, walking out of Paperdolls emptyhanded is simply impossible.

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Cambodia, Music, Personal, Phnom Penh, Travel, United States

November 21, 2012. Human After All.

It’s these rainless, humid nights when I still feel cold that confuse me the most.

I ask myself, “Am I being emotional or am I being hormonal?” Oh, the joys of being a so called woman.

It seems this evening, after a more than lovely dinner with Miss Ashley Louise aka Dear Lady Expat, is the first night I do believe I’m feeling this thing called homesickness. They said to expect it; I didn’t believe them. They said it will come; I thought t wouldn’t. But here I am, alone pondering existentialism on my front porch, glaring at this toad who thinks its funny to come into my line of vision even though I can only assume he knows of my deep loathing towards him, drinking a tall glass of Pastis, and listening to Death Cab for Cutie and Bright Eyes.

I truly believe I haven’t made a mistake moving to Phnom Penh, I am confident that my decision to relocate was one necessary for the continuous molding of my psyche and an allowance to experience a life beyond what I had envisioned for myself. I sense this even more strongly as my dear mother joins me outside to share a thin cigarette, promising to not say anything and assuring me it’s not completely rude to keep my headphones in as she watches me type. I know that these moments will be few and far between after her monumental life change approaches, our life change, hurling towards us like a romantic Molotov cocktail.

You know it’s not so easy when you’re all alone.

I realize now that in many ways I’m experiencing a loss, again. I’ve dreamt about my father several times these past few weeks, which I had gone months without. This sudden onset of reminders of my true home I spent my terrible adolescence in that I cherish so deeply, the way things were, has jolted me into the present with wide eyes and an increased heart rate. No longer do I have the heat of a cat at the foot of my bed, a warm body next to me-so casually there, so unobtrusive. The knowledge of my apartment; the places the floorboards creak and where each draft was coming from and when the terrariums needed to be watered and the long nights in the kitchen, preparing asparagus risotto with freshly shaved parmesan and sipping Lambic from my favorite champagne coupes; all now fond memories. The ease of going to work that I was actually good at, truly found pleasure in is a distant thought; instead it’s been replaced with constant worry that I may not actually be as desirable in a workplace as I thought. In my core I don’t believe these negative things, I’ve been created to do good things and love people and give myself to the world but nights like these, oh, they’re painful. But how good to have that ache. How fortunate I am to have these memories, these things to hold onto as I step into this strange new chapter.

What will keep me here, I cannot pin point. It may be the thunder storms that wake me in the night that give me more comfort than an arm around my shoulder. The ability to disappear into myself like a dying star without anyone asking why or where I am. The promise of endless possibilities that I may or may not grasp. The nights where the roads are so flooded the moto driver stalls half a dozen times and it doesn’t matter that I’m sobbing for reasons I can’t quite explain but there’s someone there to tell me its really all going to be okay because they’ve gone through the same loss. The countless places to indulge in pho. The relationships that continue to strengthen every day, even if its with my favorite tuk tuk driver. The ability to order a cheeseburger to my door. The delirium that overcomes me as I walk home from the gym, dripping with sweat and remembering that I do not have a home; that as painfully cliche as it sounds, home is where the heart is.

I just have the simple task of locating exactly where that vital organ is in this vast world.

I really am, human after all.

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