Monday, July 22, 2013

Sweet Karma by Henry Ong


The actors needed a break behind the curtain before they took their final bow, that was clear from Briones' face. The best word to describe Sweet Karma is intense.

I'd read about the play in the LA Times. Anything with the word Cambodia gets my attention, of course. Unfortunately nowhere in the article was it mentioned that Sweet Karma is a play that really people should go see. I guess the controversy falls under the adage that any press is good press. I drug my boyfriend and his brother out to see it.

Sweet Karma is about Haing Ngor, the doctor-turned-actor who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Dith Pran in The Killing Fields. Audiences who watched Ngor act in the film had no idea that this story of upheaval, genocide, and utter devastation closely paralleled his own life. Ngor survived the brutal Khmer Rouge era too. He lost his wife and unborn child. After escaping across the border into Thailand, Ngor immigrated to the US. He was working in Los Angeles' Chinatown as a social worker when he was spotted by a casting director, and plucked out of obscurity to portray the famed journalist, Dith pran. Ngor was killed in Chinatown in 1996. Many suspect the gang-related robbery and shooting was somehow connected to the Cambodian government, who disapproved of Ngor's public criticism of their actions.

The controversy came last year when the playwright, Henry Ong had a screening in New York. Members of Ngor's family were present and have distanced themselves from the production ever since. They have attempted to bring legal action against the playwright, but because Ngor has already passed they cannot sue for defamation. To temper their disapproval, Ong changed the lead character's name from Ngor to Lam. The rest of Ngor's story seems to be true to life. Ong has said that he was scrupulous in adapting Ngor's life for the theater.

My guess for why the family is objecting to the play is the use of Ngor's infidelities. However, this aspect of the story is not at all callous. In fact I was really impressed with Ong's handling of the subject matter. Infidelity is not just another trait of an unlikeable character. Ong uses it as a tool to explore the choices and regrets that every human must have at the end of their life. So by including this aspect of Ngor, Ong makes for a really moving and emotionally absorbing story.

Perhaps the Ngor family would like to say, no, this is not our Haing! He would never cheat on his wife. They would understandably want his memory and public persona to be unblemished. I would argue that a complex character is a much more important persona for people to look at, and up to. Ngor still did some extra-ordinary things with his life, but he was not perfect. Ong does an excellent job of giving us communion in our collective imperfection through this story.

As for the infidelity, I don't know much about the man outside of the small bits that I've read, but I don't doubt the infidelity for a second. It doesn't have anything to do with him personally, it's more to do with him as a Cambodian man. I hate stereotypes, but when I was in Cambodia, I saw more male infidelity that ever in my life, and was even targeted for it several times. The women of the older generation seem to sadly condoned it. But the new generation, who see that not all relationships are so lopsided, are intent on wedding Western men because they feel that at least there might be a chance their partner could be faithful.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Back on the wagon



I've started working with AP again writing their newsletter remotely. It's nice because I get to check in with Skype and see what's going on. I feel like it's been way too long. Even though I still correspond with the kids off and on, and miss Cambodia quite a lot, I've tried to be here, present and happy where ever I am, which is nowhere exactly. I have been doing some traveling, last year I went on tour doing costume design, and earlier this year I climbed Kilimanjaro with some friends. I've become an avid rock climber and aspiring mountaineer. I'm hoping to do some Himalayan climbs if I can up my income in the next year or so.

But I think I will have to make it a priority to squeeze out a trip to Cambodia this year. These kids are no longer kids : ( Now I see why adults are always saying, "they grow up so fast."

The school is now dealing with the wild uncharted territory of teenagers. I hope they are able to stand by them as they make teenager mistakes.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Khmer victory


I went to eat at my go-to Cambodian restaurant with some friends on Saturday. I ordered Somlor Machu Kreung. Maybe I said it properly because the waitress asked me what kind of meat I wanted.. in Cambodian. I didn't have time to think about it, because I'd heard the question a lot before I answered automatically in Khmer! I realized afterward and got a private minute of victory for myself. I take what I can get. You know what I mean?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

big mosquito

so much fun, miss this little tyke

Tuesday, September 25, 2012



Hello Cambo blog,

After a long time of neglect I have some good news for you. I have a gallery show coming up and will be displaying a lot of art associated with Cambodia. My journal pictures will all get scanned and everything will be organized. See, that's my main problem. After Nader passed, I was still writing and drawing a lot in my book, but I didn't really share anything. I have lots of things that I want to put up just to only have a full picture. So now thanks to gallery show, it will be organized and I'll post it (back logged to show when it was done) into this blog. Also if anyone is interested, I'll have some drawings available for sale.

Still missing Cambodia terribly, but at least I get to see all of the mementos while I get ready for the show.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

 Sinn Sisamouth - Cambodian rock star 

When you talk about Cambodia most people know about the Khmer Rouge, but usually they have no idea what Cambodia was like prior to the take-over. The surprise, and yet another reason why the KR was so tragic, is because Cambodia was hopping!

Even though it's from a foreigner's perspective, Jon Swain paints a picture in his memoir River of Time that makes you wish you could travel back in time. Rock music was the happening thing and Sinn Sisamouth was for Cambodia what our Elvis was in the US.

 This song Mou Pei Na by Sinn Sisamouth was featured in the spider video below.


Correct me Khmer speakers, but I think the first few lines say something like.. where ya from.. where ya going to? 

Sisamouth sang often for government events, so when the KR took over he became an enemy. Like all artists, singers, dancers, monks, business people, doctors, and anyone else who wasn't a farmer, the KR killed him.

But Sisamouth and his fellow musicians are not forgotten. The Khmer/American band Dengue Fever has pulled some of these old songs from the archives, remastered them, and brought them to the masses again!



And I spent some time digging out the lyrics and then practicing them in my notebook.
Makes pretty cool art, yeah?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Spiders in Cambodia!


from Metropolis website:

If you are curious about the spiders in the Cambodian markets, this little video will be very entertaining. They follow a woman who harvests, cooks, and sells spiders! Watching the spiders crawl on everyone gives me the heeebbee jeebees. I wonder if they will go extinct...

Monday, April 23, 2012

There was no doubt that Cambodia called me, and perhaps is calling me again...

But the main reason that I went several years ago was because of my friend: Victor Shibata.


Dr. Victor Shibata was a revolutionary doctor brought up during the time of the civil rights movement, his ideas were always focused on community and helping those that struggled in the way that the Barefoot Doctors worked in China. Dr. Shibata worked out of his house and treated most of his community, many of the elderly for free. Skilled in acupuncture, Chinese medicine and chiropractics, Reiki, muscle testing and a form of energetics pioneered by Kam Yuen, he was effective and changed many lives including mine.

I was immediately curious about the forms of medicine he used. After several meetings, he asked me if I wanted to learn. Of course, I did. He was very serious about taking on a student, and said he needed to know more about my outlook on life to determine whether I was a good fit. I tried feebly to describe my world view, something I had thought about a lot, written about equally as much, but had never tried to verbalize in a succinct paragraph before. I tried. And off handedly mentioned that I was Quaker.

Whether he had faith in me or my Quaker ideals, I began attending classes at his house once a week. Learning the basics and then practicing throughout the week. Before long my best friend came to join us.

This began the years that we would spend together talking about medicine, politics, history, and everything in between. Staying up late into the night, the three of us would sit down at his house laughing, hearing all of his stories from the movement, and unraveling the unexplained mysteries of the universe. He became more than my mentor. He became our best friend, my family.


Dr. Shibata talked often about his medical trips to Nepal and Vietnam. He loved those areas of the world. His cousin had recently taken up a position in Thailand so we discussed taking a medical sabbatical to that area of the world. For me, it would mean some vital hands-on experience. I started looking in Thailand and even found some very good connections. Those fell through when we couldn't all agree on a departure.

I let the idea wane for a bit, but began looking again in early 2008. In February, I found a job in Cambodia, I thought this would create a good base for us, if I found a position at an organization and was able to make proper connections, we could easily set up a clinic in both Thailand and Cambodia.

The organization was Aziza's Place. And I eventually went on my own. The rest is history, written in pieces on this website.

But we never lost the dream of making those clinics a reality. I was able to apply some of the knowledge that I learned with Dr. Shibata., working on minor injuries and headaches. Nader was fascinated by the vitamin testing that Dr. Shibata taught me. This proved many ideas that he had theorized on his own. It was one of the reasons that Nader and I got along, sitting out in the courtyard dissecting the seen and unseen worlds.

My whole experience in Cambodia began with Shibata. In many ways, I owe it to him.

He passed away last week, very suddenly. I've been sitting around my house in a stupor all weekend. On the one hand I do not want to disturb the memories, they seem too sacred to tamper with. But on the other hand I want to recognize what an impact he made on the world.. and on my world.

This Cambodia journey finds its roots in him.

Thank you Shibat for everything. There are no words for how much I will miss you...


Thursday, December 8, 2011

friends from Cambodia all across the world

This post is not so much about Cambodia as it is about the people that I met in Cambodia and our fun in the past month. Life long friends!


These past two months have been a blizzard of travel. I've been working as a costume designer for a touring musician, which has put me on the road. What has been particularly nice about touring, is seeing all of the brilliant friends from Cambodia scattered all over the globe.

While in London, I got to see Amjad and catch up on all of the happenings at AP. If you are just tuning in, Amjad is the co-founder, funder, and staple of AP. We've been through quite a lot together, so seeing him is always like seeing family. Things at AP sound exceptionally good. There are tons of volunteers and projects in full swing. The kids are all growing. I got to see for myself. Amjad pulled out Skype while I was there and I got to talk to all of the kids. It made me cry. 

Amjad and I at AP
Amjad in the financial district, just a few blocks from Occupy London
(which I ironically stopped in on later).

In the perfect weather of Cambodian December, I met Zita, a kindred spirit and also a native Londoner. Knowing I was going to be in London for work, I emailed her to meet up. Low and behold, she had moved to Sweden! And a ticket there was a hundred bucks. So fast forward a week, I found myself in Stockholm with one of my favorite people: Zita!
Nader and Zita at Angkor, 2008
Zita and I on the boat in Sweden!
She spends a lot of time on a special boat docked in the bay. We made videos and took tea on the boat almost every day.
The view across the bay - the marvelous architecture of Stockholm
The product of our 3am sessions
It's so fantastic when two artists get together. We had a blast making collages, painting, drawing, dancing and making a short video (in which I wear a cape, swooosh)!

Cape and the Viking city of Gamla Stan
The captain of the boat! He gave us Swedish lesson. 
By this point my body make-up was about 70%  black tea

Back in London for a few hours I met up with Davina at one of the subway stops. We literally grabbed something to drink and then had to be on our way. It was a lousy catch-up, but I was so happy to see her anyway.

A visit to Cambodia Davina and I made last year

When I returned to California, I was met by one of my best friends: Caitlin aka Geek the Sheik. We made last minute plans for a camping trip up north to the wonderland of Big Sur. If you have never been to Big Sur, you must, repeat must go there at some point in your life. The stretch of Highway 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles is probably one of the most inspiring things you can do on four wheels. We drove up in a blaze of Bob Dylan and Talkingheads, singing at the top of our lungs to a sunset that was unbelievable! It was squeezed right out of a paint tube, the sky and water together in biblical bonfire. Amazing. I could barely drive.

We camped at Andrew Molera. There was literally no one there (because it was fricken cold as @$#^&amp), but bonus, we found little gifts in all of the bear boxes around the camp ground: sake, a frying pan, cups, firewood. It was a sign. Good times to come.

We did some super 9-mile hiking, played our instruments, cooked food around the campfire, took pictures and basically had an awesome time.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Coffee and conversation

A delicious gift from my dear friend Janice. Khmer coffee from the source delivered to my mailbox. 
Thank you, thank you, thank you Janice! 

Well, since you are not here to converse with, I guess I will have to do all the talking. The short of it is that I've been having a time of it lately. I wish there was some cure for this state in which I find myself. I seem to be stuck in this ridiculous game, going round and round. I wish there was an explanation, some reason why it has been destined to happen this way. Maybe there is, but I’m unable to see it. I’d be able to bare this if I knew there was something to be gained from all the frustration, but as it is, there is nothing but stagnation. Empty promises. Escapism.

My father asked me last I saw him, what’s the big deal, why do you really have to go back to Cambodia. Why Cambodia, what’s so special about it? They asked me when I left the first time, why? There are good jobs here, good people here. If you really want to help people, by God there are plenty to be helped here. Why go across the world, far from family, especially when your grandparents are getting older? Can’t you be happy here?

There are many things that cannot be answered. 

My friends in Cambodia ask similar questions. And give directives: you should be with your boyfriend. Why don't you get married? Why did you come here without him? Cambodian girls my age are married or desperately seeking marriage and family life. My good friend understood that I liked her country; of course she liked it too. But given the choice, it would be easy. Stay with your husband and be a good wife. Love is all you need.
 
Love should be all you need, right?

Yet, I grow so overwhelmed with the lifestyle here. I long for things to be much simpler. The stuff, it's everywhere and owns us. The bags that keeping coming into the house but don’t leave, the abundance of junk people accumulate, the way people talk about accumulating junk, the excitement they get from imagining the junk they will accumulate, my own fear that perhaps I could be seduced into accumulating  junk – it’s troubling. I know the kind of person I want to be, who I want to become. Relaxing and enjoying fine foods, expensive clothes and five-star treatment is fine, but I never want to be attached to it, and I never want to seek it out. I have a friend who whenever luxuries are mentioned says with intent, “it will come, all in good time.” The ipads, the phones, the cars, the clothes, the computers, the newest and best – it’s all great, but I don’t care. I long for others who don’t care either. 

I feel in my heart that I am an explorer, an adventurer, an Indian Jones hunting for the truth buried under this web of civilization. I want to live. I want to give what I have to those in need. I want to be able to be myself without clashing with every value around me. This, of course, is a way of living life, not a destination. But part of living and being is getting out in the open air and being able to breathe. There are plenty of places to breathe. I'd happily go to any and all of them. But when it comes down to Cambodia, it’s unexplainable. I believe a piece of my heart has always and will always reside there. 

So there you have it. How have you been? How’s your coffee? Thanks for listening.

Always love the labeling