30 December 2008


A bit too late for an explanation, but I've been on a holiday break from writing here and on Gardencore. This season in the Philippines stretches out particularly long, and it's always a flurry of parties and trips out of town.

Have a happy new year, you all.

22 December 2008

Skewered and Strung

An offering of flowers on sticks in Cambodia.

And the same stuff, only strung on abaca fiber and hanging on a Manila rearview mirror:

18 December 2008

Floor (Look Down)

Some cultures are more comfortable setting food stuff (and other things) on the ground. Their stools and beds are lower, and they live closer to the earth, literally. In those places, looking down is a very interesting activity.

Pretty lemongrass bunches tied together, waiting to get chopped.

Lotus and paper waste.

Fried Rice and Fried Rice

Garnish! Yes, they like to garnish with lettuce, which I eat.

Off to a rocky start as a vegetarian in Cambodia, I resorted to fried rice of all sorts. Not being able to explain ulam (or a savory viand, which we have with boiled rice three times a day) to my Cambodian companions, I was happy enough with what was generally rice cooked with lots of oil, chopped carrots, chives, and usually, MSG.

Closer shot of the one with so much MSG it gave me a headache.

While I would not say I was overjoyed, it definitely beat eating bread and a tomato piece or something like that. I tried to cut the extreme oil experience with vinegar and chilis, which they always have on hand, and remind me of home.

Super hot kaasiman

17 December 2008



Victims of a bizarre attempt to engineer society, remembered at S-21. The photos will make you wince-- tiny children, mothers, tearful men.

Black eyes.

But those that gave most pain were the smiling ones.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Street 113
Phnom Penh 12210
(+855) 23 30 0698
Hours: 7:30 AM- 11:30 AM, 2:00 PM- 5:30 PM

16 December 2008

Chop Chop

Sniffing around.

This grandma in Siem Reap is preparing one of the many mysterious (to me) pastes (or paste-like food thingies) of Khmer cuisine.

One of the few old women with long hair, I observe.

There are loud sounds made by the heavy knife coming down on the chopping block, punctuated by the thud of pat-pat-patting. She also makes steady conversation with the people around her, and dotes on any of the curious dogs who hop on the bamboo slats.




14 December 2008

Steamed Buns

Kept warm in the colored bun farm.

Every morning, I walk a few blocks down where I am in Phnom Penh. There is a Chinese-looking woman there (she may be Vietnamese) who sells steamed buns of many colors. I buy several everyday for breakfast, each time trying a new color (thus, a new filling). Generally, I have no idea what is happening, and the filling is a surprise. But that's part of the Mystery of the East.

The green one, the league leader in terms of number of times eaten.

Side view.

I've found that the round ones are filled with mashed beans or unidentified sweet pleasant pastes. The dough itself is fragrant, with scents of maybe pandan? I'm not sure.

The paste is the same color as the bun. That is weird.

Here is a yellow one. I fantasized it to be filled with mango, but I was wrong. It's an idea, though.


Squat Toilets

No funny smells here.

Nothing says "I'm in an Asian province" like a squat toilet. I find that I quite like using them. In Cambodia, there is widespread use of a "tub" built beside the toilet, filled with water for flushing, by pouring a tabo-full inside.

With a tabo.

12 December 2008

Khmer Suman

She sold me a whole bunch for 500 riel or 12 US cents.

I was famished, and therefore pretty lucky to chance upon a woman selling Cambodian suman-like kakanin, wrapped in palm leaves, during a bike trip. It was a bit salty, cooked in coconut milk with some munggo or mung beans. The simple taste and "lightness" (not as unctuous as the ones in the Philippines), as well as the presence of some grated coconut, made it a perfect 2-minute snack before I went another 10 km. I still don't know what it is called, but I haven't seen it around the city at all.

Unfurling the thing, wrapped vertically in palm leaves, see the red mung beans too.

11 December 2008

Fruit Stands

Fruit cross-section displays are beautiful and everywhere. They sell various juices and shakes.

And Did I Mention The Hair?

Buns, multiple frosted buns.

Damn those Khmer women have pretty bulbous special-occasion hair!

Twirled with gold lining, beside a shaggy-hard style.

A bad photo, but she also has the rolls with gold lining.

Khmer Wedding

The bride and her side, with gifts from friends and family.

I arrived in Phnom Penh in time to observe a Cambodian wedding close-up. Colorful, shiny, filled with food and flashbulbs. The ceremony took place inside a carpeted, brightly lit room. Outside, under a lacy and colorful tent, hordes of guests ate throughout the whole day, with quick turnover per table.

Guests chibog.

Outside the eating tent.

Something like a speech.

A gong.

A guest with sculptured hair, hitting said gong.

This woman putting 36 fruit and food items into a tray whilst dancing, followed by a singing man.

The musicians playing various Khmer instruments.

The groom, he looks so young.

Facing the spread.

Some kind of rice cake thing I wanted to tear open and devour.

Kissing the (hand of the) bride.

06 December 2008

The Sad Museum

Legend has it that Olongapo is named after the phrase ulo ng apo, or head of a wise elder.

Gore, fear, and injustice pepper the history of Olongapo City (or so its museum tells us), from the time it was named (after a severed head). Centuries later, while the rest of the Philippines has some bitterness about the US occupation and bases, the people of Subic and Olongapo are nostalgic about the dollars and resentful that the Americans were voted out of our islands.

Sadness at the Spanish arrival.

Running from the war planes.

An American soldier.

An angry logger trying to further cut a stump.

05 December 2008

Discount Hell

Someone painted the stars the wrong way, originally.

There is something a little tragic about Subic and Olongapo, former US Naval home in the Orient. Sterile lodging a la middle-of-nowhere California, sprawling roads, proper driving, short shorts, neon, large industrial compounds, and the desolation of a former boom town. The guide talks fondly about "the former this-and-that" and what once was.

And stripes.

Foremost in sadness are the "duty free" stores, which still carry all forms of Amerikano rubbish like corn syrup-sweetened chocolate, bad shampoo, nylon socks, Nair, and LA Gear or something. However, the last decade has seen the entry of just about every product into the market, and PX stores have gone the way of hairspray and benders. Slowly, domestic tourists stopped trekking to Subic for their fill of Poppycock. One of their strongest unique selling propositions to the outside world (especially the big spenders of Manila) was lost.

Always full.

Inside a Subic discount store, prices are symbolically written in dollars, but everyone pays in peso. The non-competitive nature of American prices now requires the use of shelf space by products from China and everywhere else. White lights, dollar-store cheese-- enough to make me step outside and hang around the shawarma vendor. It depresses the Hesukristo out of me when I'm in some sprawling US town, but infinitely more when I'm in my own country.

Ya, it makes me pretty sad too.

As our long binge on American colonialism fades, the regular Filipino's ideas of luxury and affluence will change, probably last in this place. Hopefully, some sense will creep back into Subic and Olongapo, and the place will become alive again. The revolution will not come from the halls of gyrating girls and their song-and-dance numbers. As Filipino demand reflects in the changing inventory of former discount stores, domestic tourists and inhabitants who want more than just the shadow of an occupation will hopefully reclaim this beautiful coastal mass.

Watch repair, encouraging informal economy signal.

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