Friday, June 27, 2008

To Taiwan.

I'm off to Taiwan! Bordeaux and I are going to be spending the next month and a half there, exploring teahouses and temples, visiting some of his old neighborhoods, and trying out some different night market foods (and, also, working). Hopefully I'll be back Monday with some photos of my weekend in Taipei. Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Erawan after dark.

The intersection of Ratchaprasong and Ratchadamri sits at the heart of one of the most moneyed blocks in Bangkok. Earl Grey is poured in tea rooms, high-end bags are passed over the counter in Louis Vuitton stores. But the scent of incense and the dissonant chime of the gamelan reveal that more is worshiped here than Prada and Issey Miyake.

Under the shade of shopping towers and BTS skytrain lines glimmers the elegant Erawan Shrine. During the day, the shrine is always busy with worshippers laying devotions, apsara dancers efforting through a routine in the tropical heat, and tourists gazing in from the periphery. After dark, the scene changes drastically. The shrine is attended by only a few pious pilgrims, late-shift workers or hi-sos of high-positions unable to visit during daylight hours. Incense is lit, green bananas and marigold garlands are laid out, as Brahma shines brilliantly from his blazing throne.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Craigslist Tourist.

I first learned of Craigslist as a senior in college, when a friend of mine was contemplating responding to an advertisement from a man who wanted to trade liquor for candy. I don't know if she ever took him up on his offer, but I will say that, without exaggerating, Craigslist quickly became one of the most influential websites in my life. I've found several jobs (including my current one) and multiple apartments through the site.

These days, Craigslist mainly serves one purpose for me: allowing me to imagine what it would be like if I lived somewhere else. Looking over apartment ads in different cities, I can calculate living costs, and get a peek into that city's domestic spaces. It also lets me consider what I like about my current apartment, and what I would like in a future apartment (a bigger kitchen, hardwood floors, a full sized oven, a garden).

Since I'm always have dreaming of returning to Los Angeles, I spend a lot of time browsing apartments there.

$1095 Slick 1920's pet friendly studio apt. w/ lots of character
This would in many ways be a dream apartment for me. It's in Los Angeles, and the building itself seems to come with Hollywood charm built in. I love the hardwood floors, the large windows, and the glass-fronted kitchen cabinets. It's in K-town, which a lot of people dislike, but I think is an ideal location right between midtown and Silverlake/Echo Park. However it's been on Craigslist for awhile now, which makes me wonder what's wrong with it...

$1395 Front view oversized remodeled studio in Larchmont Village

Aside from the beautiful flooring, well sized kitchen, and architecturally interesting details, my favorite thing about this apartment is that it's so close to Larchmont Village. Though the neighborhood is a little generic, it has a delicious bagel shop, a friendly Peet's Coffee, and there's a great weekend farmer's market.

$1100 / 1br - Great quite Echo Park Apartment
Now this one has an ideal locale- overlooking Echo Park Lake. And I even like that rather outdated exterior with its flagstone trim. I'd even be willing to overlook the typo in the apartment's headline. But navy blue carpet? And they actually advertise that they just put it in! And why are so many apartments on Craigslist photographed so that they end up looking like crime scenes?

Or what if I were to consider living in Chicago?

$860 ~Great condition, desirable floor plan – heart of Lincoln Park!
The highlight of this Chicago spot is the building itself- I really like that mod exterior. The apartment itself is a little bleak- who ever decided slate was a great default color for apartment carpeting? The kitchen however looks rather fun, if a bit cramped.

$1145 / 1br - ~ Make this 1BR Your New Home

I'm starting to think the only thing drawing me to Chicago (aside from having a wonderful friend who lives there) are the beautiful brick apartment buildings. This one at least also has hard wood floors, french doors, and a tiny but decent kitchen. What it would be like to brave the midwestern winters here?

Or how about Singapore?

SGD9500 / 4br - Designer decor peranakan conservation shophouse- Little India
This might be the coolest apartment I've ever seen on Craigslist. It costs about as much per month as my current apartment costs in a year, but oh how worth it that would be. Aside from the idea of living in Little India, I'm rather taken with that exotic shopfront exterior, the beautiful wood floors, and the bamboo shades drawn low to keep the tropical sun out.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Circus Sweets.

While browsing in Bangkok's Siam Square, I came across a small candy shop selling these unusual sweets. While the rather hard 'caramels' aren't particularly tasty, I rather liked the vintage animal illustrations that adorned their wrappers. They seem to be inspired by scenes from a circus- aside from the badger with a handkerchief, which has left me rather puzzled.

Primitive Ilustrations: Monsters of the Mekong.

Fairly soon after I moved to Bangkok, I bought a set of watercolor paints with the idea to work on a few illustrations about the places and creatures that I encountered while exploring Southeast Asia. Finally, after living here for nearly ten months, I completed my first one. And whether it was having just finished reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or the influence of Jess Gonacha of Treasuring - this painting ended up being all about fish.

Tropical rivers have always held a fascination for me, and few regions are as defined by their waterways as Southeast Asia. There's the muddy, empire strewn Chao Phraya; the life giving Tonle Sap; and of course, the monstrous, epic Mekong. Part of what makes these waterways so mysterious is the strange creatures that it conceals.

So, in simple stylized forms, I depicted some of my favorite aquatic creatures. In a style inspired by scientific murals (like the one at the Maputo Natural History Museum, pictured above) and the 'Freshwater Fish of Thailand' chart that I had in my classroom, I set them out to display their bizarre forms and shapes. The star of the piece is of course the star of the river itself, the Giant Mekong Catfish.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lesotho portraits.

Though I don't think twice about looking ridiculous when I photograph stray dogs or cups of coffee, I get pretty shy about approaching people to take their picture. As a result, there aren't a lot of portraits in my photography collection. However, while traveling in the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho, I found people so friendly and approachable that I had no difficulty asking them to take their picture.

And I'm definitely glad I did, because those kids knew how to work a pose.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Istanbul style.

In response to a recent entry, I received the suggestion that I should move to Istanbul. Though my plan is to stay in Southeast Asia for the immediate future, the idea is pretty tempting. One of the things I liked most about Istanbul was the distinctive sense of style that seemed to permeate the entire city. It wasn't just in the ornate decor of the Topkapi palace's harem, however. It was present in the city's everyday objects and spaces....

... from the jade green interiors of the commuter trains...

.... to the retro public pay-phones...

... to delicately painted alley walls.

*For more Istanbul style, check out these glamorous shots over at 'From the Faraway, Nearby.' It'll have you buying a ticket to Ataturk International.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Durian shakes.

We're approaching the end of durian season in Bangkok, and soon the sidewalks will no longer be crowded with their giant, spiny shells. Though I was rather put off the first time I tried it, I've since developed a taste for it. So on the way home from the market, I picked up two pods of the durian's fruit.

On the way out of Cambodia, Bordeaux and I had picked up a copy of From Spiders to Water Lilies at the Phnom Penh airport. A cookbook from the chef's behind Romdeng restaurant, it features regional recipes from all over Cambodia. We bought the book partly for its beautiful photos and partly because Cambodian cookbooks are rather hard to come by, but I think neither of us expected what a great cookbook it would be. We've already more than half a dozen dishes from it: soups, curries, salads and stir-fries that have all come out brilliantly. One of the recipes that looked the most intriguing to me was for a durian shake. So when I got home, I blended the durian with palm sugar syrup, condensed milk and ice, and made two durian shakes.

It was perfect. Somehow, the shake emphasized only the best aspects of durian: its smooth texture and sweet creamy flavor, with only the slightest undertone of an overripeness, which gave it a subtle complexity. Anyone want to try?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Neighborhood market.

Now that we're not working full-time anymore, Bordeaux and I have been able to more fully explore our neighborhood. One of the best spots nearby is the local wet market, where we've started going to do most of our shopping. Shopping at the grocery store was often a vaguely frustrating experience, as even groceries in Bangkok seemed not to stock the things we needed to cook Southeast Asian food. But at the market, we never have problems finding turmeric root, sawtooth coriander or lotus stems, as there are mountains of fresh local vegetables and herbs.

But perhaps the best thing about the market is the fruit. Tempted by the piles of colorful, cheap fruit, we often have the problem of wanting to bring home too much. We returned from the market yesterday with a papaya, two chunks of durian, a dragonfruit, a bushel of lychees, some egg bananas, and a huge bag of furry rambutans (below), which are currently in season- and only 15 baht (50 cents) a kilo.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


One of my hobbies while traveling is photographing people I don't know in touristy poses. Hopefully some day I'll have enough to put together a whole album.

Penguin Popular Classics.

Though most of the reading material I pick up in Bangkok comes from used bookstores, these cheap editions of Penguin Popular Classics have given me reason to buy new. Aside from the fact that they're a very affordable 100 baht (about $3US), I'm really taken by their simple, classic aesthetics, from the uncoated apple-green covers to the iconic 2 pound price tag printed in the corner. And for the literary traveler, there are a number of adventure titles, with works by Kipling, Melville, Verne, and Conrad.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

View of Lion's Head #7.

All life is scaled down under the deep blue gaze of Lion's Head.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

LAndscapes: The Silverlake Reservoir.

In thinking about my next move and potential future homes (thanks for all of the suggestions- Istanbul and Nepal would be awesome, and Vietnam is actually right at the top of my list), my mind drifted to all the things I love and miss about my previous place of residence.

When I last lived in Los Angeles, my apartment was right at the border between Mid-Wilshire and Korea Town. Though I was a little skeptical of the location at first, I came to really like being centered there. It put me within easy driving distance of both East and West LA, was practically next door to the Farmer's Market, and was near great diners and shopping. But one of my favorite things was that it put me just around the corner from the Silverlake Reservoir.

The neighborhood around the Silverlake Reservoir has a relaxed, almost rustic feel, with wood houses peeking out among the tree-shrouded hillsides. There were several independent cafes and design boutiques in the area, so it was a great setting for spending a relaxed Sunday drinking lattes and window-shopping. Even while running mundane errands to Trader Joe's or the video store, it was always a treat to drive under the shadows of pine-trees as I curved around the placid emerald-green waters.

Monday, June 09, 2008

In transit.

We're getting used to living out of our backpacks.

In April, Bordeaux and I gave notice at work, and as of May 11, we left our jobs as English teachers in Bangkok. We decided to leave our jobs for a variety of reasons, but I think our decision reflected a desire to make some changes in our lifestyle. We were living in one of the most amazing cities in one of the most incredible regions of the world, and yet we were spending most of our time in an environment that we didn't like.

Surprisingly, we've been far busier since we left work. We've both had family visit, we've travelled around Thailand to Sangkhlaburi, Khao Sok, Krabi, and Ko Samet, crossed the border to Cambodia, and we've been swamped in work as we try to piece together a living from freelance writing, tutoring, and travel research.

And it seems to continue from here. Currently on the agenda for the future is spending July and August teaching in Taiwan. Once that is over, we need to decide how long we want to stay in Thailand, and where we want to go next. As much as I am tempted to return to Los Angeles or Cape Town (or to try a new part of the world), I still feel there's so much I want to see and do in Southeast Asia that I'm not ready to leave yet.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Off to the beach...

Though I've just wrapped up my coverage of Cambodia, I've actually been back for several weeks. The past few months have been pretty insane- family visits, major life changes, and a lot of new work. There's a lot to catch up on- but for now, I'm off to Ko Samet to relax for a few days so I can try to catch up with myself. See you next week!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Khmer things I ate.

The awkwardness of this entry's title was intentional, as it was meant to evoke the haphazard nature of my food 'researches' on this trip to Cambodia. Though I had really looked forward to exploring the nuanced flavors of Khmer cooking, we traveled at such breakneck speed that there wasn't much time for culinary exploration. More often than not, meals had to be worked into the schedule, either between seeing the sights or after a long day of temple gazing. In the end, many of our meals were at tourist-oriented restaurants serving Khmer food. Even so, I did have some amazing meals and a few dishes that really made me consider making the move across the border. At the very least, my un-sated curiosity provides more than enough reason to return some day. So, I now end my series of post on Cambodia with a few of the dishes that I tried over this visit to Cambodia.
a. This dish really was one of the best things I ate in Cambodia- so good, I completely forgot to write down its name. It was notable for being one of the freshest, healthiest meals I had: a salad of white fish, peanuts, raw herbs, and lime juice.
b. Beef lok lak, a stir-fry of beef served over a salad of tomato and onions and topped with a fried egg. It was tasty, but greatly enhanced by the peppery sauce it was served with.
c. Very similar to some vegetable cakes I've had in Bangkok, these golden fried discs of fatty noodle were filled with dark green chives.
d. Though I originally thought it gave me food poisoning, the only fault of this tasty bowl of chicken pho was that it didn't stave off a wicked flu.
e. One of the simplest dishes I ate, Khmer noodles, tasted great with the addition of a little chili sauce.
f. How traditional was this samlor? I couldn't tell- I knew only that it tasted like a cousin to Thailand's tom yum.
g. One of the most interesting dishes I had was a small bowl of prahok, a fermented curry paste. Eaten off the edge of crisp lettuce and bitter eggplant, it had a deep, salty flavour.
h. Sitting by a seaside window, getting splashed by the waves, I sampled this tasty vietnamese soup. Though partly sour, it was given a nice sweetness thanks to chunks of golden pineapple.
i. The last dish, a plate of yellow curry crab with fresh green pepper, was so delicious that I intend to devote a full entry to it sometime in the near future.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Cafes of Phnom Penh.

One of the worst things about only having a few days in Phnom Penh was that there was not nearly enough time to get to all of the cafes and coffeeshops that we wanted to. When Bordeaux and I first visited Phnom Penh, we had been traveling for the two months previous, and we were thrilled to be able to recharge in so many different wonderful cafes. But more than just relief from homesickness, Phnom Penh's elegant cafes offer delicious baked goods, well executed meals, and, most importantly, excellent coffee. On this visit, we nostalgically visited a few we'd made it to last time. We had breakfast at Java, a second floor art gallery/cafe that makes strong Vietnamese drip coffee and serves an excellent bowl of muesli, yogurt, and locally sourced honey. We made it back to The Shop, a bakery and deli where I tried the decadent crepe with mango, banana, and passion fruit. We also made time to try a new place, Chocolate, where we paired a dark chocolate brownie with equally dark coffee.