Indigenous and Prodigenous – A Case for Authentic, Local Experiences

A few months ago, I wrote a post about what Star Trek has taught me about travel. It remains one of my favorite posts to date. I love the way the crew of the Enterprise sought to interact with the indigenous population (especially when they were either green or furry), without leaving a trace, taking away only a better understanding of a foreign culture. There’s something to be said about traveling like a local.

Something that I’ve tried and loved is renting an apartment instead of a hotel whenever I can. I adored the little apartment I had for a week in a working class Prague neighborhood. I ferreted out the nearest supermarket and not only did I save money by buying meals from the hot food counter or making meals myself, but there’s something to be said about wandering the … Read More »

Phnom Penh, My Friend

Posted on July 26th, by James in Cambodia, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh, Travel, Vietnam. 10 comments

There’s something to be said about old friends.

Sure, new friends are great, too. There’s that whole period where you’re just getting to know each other and every new detail makes that person seem that much more awesome. Wow! Really? You’ve been to Antarctica? That’s just so awesome. And you used to be in a band? More awesomeness. Then you start noticing all their idiosyncrasies. Ugh! If he starts off with “There was that time I was in Antarctica one more time…” And “OK, Bryan Adams, you were in a band. That was so 1981. Let it go”.

Old friends are simply better. They know all your foibles. Yeah, so you get cranky when you don’t win at Mah Jong. (That is purely hypothetical, by the way.) Or maybe you only own one cutting board so anytime anyone wants to cook, it’s … Read More »

Cambodian New Year – Asia’s Groundhog Day

Posted on May 2nd, by admin in Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Travel, Travel Tips. 3 comments

For the last 10 years, I’ve been in the strange position of ushering in the new year not once, not twice but three times a year. That’s a lot of resolutions, people.

There’s International New Year on January 1, followed by the Chinese / Vietnamese Lunar New Year that’s usually somewhere between the end of January and the end of February. And finally, Khmer New Year that falls on the same days as the Thai Song Kran in mid-April. Kind of like Groundhog Day, only better, because I got all those days off work. Because so many Cambodians have Chinese ethnicity somewhere up the family tree, hardly any students ever showed up for class during Chinese New Year, even though it wasn’t an official holiday. The others just used it as an excuse to play hooky. Finally my school decided that … Read More »

Will Work For Travel

Posted on September 21st, by admin in Cambodia, Sihanoukville, Travel Tips. 9 comments

I’m officially unemployed. Wow. It feels weird to say that out loud. I know we all consciously resist the idea of letting what we do define who we are, but is that really possible when it’s always the 2nd or 3rd question that people ask you? Wonder how I’ll answer that inevitable question now when it comes up. But strangely, I’m not all that worried. Alternating between being a student or an employee or at times both, it feels liberating to just “be”. Sure, not knowing where my next paycheck will come from or weighing the pros and cons of whether or not to shell out for health insurance or still having to pay monthly bills is a tad disconcerting. But not having to get up at a certain time or constantly having unwelcome work issues seeping into my non-work … Read More »

Where Feather Dusters Are Born

Posted on August 15th, by admin in Cambodia. No Comments

I’m always intrigued by finding out how things are made. And because labor is so cheap in SE Asia, an incredible array of things are made by hand that you would never expect.

For instance, ever wonder where feather dusters are born?

Well, I found out one morning when I came across a tiny old woman cradling a big bowl of duck feathers which had been washed and dried. She painstakingly selected similar sized feathers and using a long needle, strung them onto a sturdy thread. When she had a string of about 2 feet, she wound it around a wooden handle. Selling price for this labor-intensive effort? 1,500 riels or about 40 cents. Her gnarled fingers were able to make about 2-3 per day. What I found amazing, though, was her attitude. She was happy to be able to work from … Read More »

“Just Say No” to extra wontons

Posted on August 7th, by admin in Cambodia, Travel Tips. 4 comments

It had to happen sooner or later. The world economic downturn took the better part of a year to really find its way to Cambodia, but when it came, it came with  a vengeance. One report said that within 6 months, 51,000 of 350,000 garment factory workers were laid off, this in Cambodia’s leading export industry. When I first came to Cambodia 10 years ago, I remember a student saying that she couldn’t afford to buy petrol because it had gone up by 500 Riel (about USD $0.13). At the time, I thought she was exaggerating, but in one of the poorest economies in Asia, a seemingly insignificant rise in prices is hard felt by many…

I’ve taken my own stand against rising world food prices! I almost always have breakfast out (rice and pork, Vietnamese pho, wonton with noodles, etc.) … Read More »

Why Asia Makes Me Mad

Posted on July 30th, by admin in Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville. 17 comments

It’ll soon be my 10th anniversary of living in Asia and more specifically in Cambodia. Being ethnically Vietnamese, a lot of things have come really easy.

Looking Asian: My Western friends get stared at anytime they do something interesting. Like riding a bicycle. Or walking along the road. Or breathing. It’s nice to kind of blend in and avoid the in-your-face curiosity which is sometimes unnerving.

Learning the language: While Khmer and Vietnamese are totally different in almost every way (Vietnamese script has been romanized while Khmer script has roots from the Brahmi script of ancient India and looks similar to Thai / Laotian), the syntax is similar. So when I don’t really know how to say something in Khmer, I’ll piece the words in the same order as Vietnamese and it usually works out…

Getting local prices: Unless I open my mouth, … Read More »

$5 Seafood Smorgasbord in Kep, Cambodia

Posted on June 18th, by admin in Cambodia, Food, Kep, Travel Tips. No Comments

Now that I know I’ll be leaving Cambodia at the end of the year, I have a sudden urge to visit all the places that I was too busy traveling outside of Cambodia to actually visit. This weekend, I hit Kep, a sleepy coastal town, with some friends for a fun-filled mahjong weekend. Bus tickets from Phnom Penh run about $4 for the 4 hour ride. We booked the scenic Veranda hotel with its huge saltwater pool and delicious homemade fries with garlic mayonnaise. There’s even a bakery on site. The hotel is known for its tastefully decorated eco-friendly bungalows, each connected by wooden walkways, but far enough away from each other that you could stay there all weekend and never hear another guest (although how they felt about us shuffling mahjong tiles may be an entirely different story!)

Another … Read More »

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