Greece is the word

We don’t sit still for long. We’ve only been in London a couple of months, and I’m already feeling my feet start to itch. I’m plotting a road trip in France, a weekender in Berlin, and maybe even a stint on the slopes. (Let’s hope the freelance cheques start rolling in soon then, yeah?)

But I knew that after moving back to this side of the world, my first port of call (quite literally) would be Athens, to see my big sis Sarah. Partly because I haven’t seen her in two years, and partly because she’d have bated me if it wasn’t.

Not content with simply sorting a date with her and booking a flight, I decided to rope in some partners in crime in my Mam, my Dad and Marko, and we hatched a plan with my sister’s boyf Dimos. Two weeks ago, we rocked up her driveway, knocked on her front door, scared the bejaysus out of her, and a stream of profane consciousness ensued.

It was marvellous. I love nothing more than surprises (when I’m in on it, of course) and if you know my sister, you’ll know she likes to be involved. She loves the run-up to big events, and she’s the best hype-girl when it comes to getting everyone excited. So I did feel (a tad) bad about depriving her of that part. But I loved how well Dimos took to all the plotting, and I was thrilled that my parents were so game to take a trip all the way to Greece via London.

Our family has had something of a turbulent year; this month marks a year since my Mam was diagnosed with cancer. My mam and dad have been rockstars over the past twelve months, and now she’s on the mend, I think that should be celebrated. And what better way than a family reunion?

It sounds strange to say out loud that I hadn’t seen my sister in two years (apart from an all-too-brief 12 hours we crossed paths in Dublin last year) but I guess it’s a credit to Skype that we didn’t really feel it. But of course, no interweb catch-up can make up for memory making and photo taking, so we did a lot of that.

Near hourly photoshoots, an inflatable banana fight, 80s-style packed car journeys, six attempts at a Kris Kindle, a shopping spree in a pound shop, wine, cheese, cake, more wine, more cheese and more cake, and a late night (and rather tipsy) debate about why I wasn’t allowed to go to Syntagma Square. We climbed the Acropolis and we had a paddle in the Ionian Sea.

It was all too short, but it was pretty magic. The food is incredible, the bars are very cool, and the parts of the city I saw were beautiful. I can’t wait to go back and explore a little further, but for now, here are some pics.



Lantern Town

So I’m a little bit obsessed with lanterns (just check out my Pinterest boards). Paper, silk, candles or even just fairy lights; there’s just something about the way they can light up a room/street/garden, creating a vibe that’s festive, romantic, fun and exotic all at the same time.

So you can imagine the inner conniption I had on arriving in a town that’s basically one giant lantern-filled-pretty-fest; the buzz of a carnival, the allure of the Orient and the charm of a European town.

I came to Hoi An planning to buy a bag load of clothes and I left with a bag load of lanterns…Don’t worry though, I still got some dresses too…

Peace and Love

So we’ve been to Vietnam and back, and it was rather wonderful. I took at least a gajillion (that’s a word, right?) pictures, and I’ll be steadily getting them up here over the next week or so.

But first I really want to share these pictures from the War Remnants Museum in Saigon. The museum was formerly named The Museum of American War Crimes. That’ll give you a good idea of the tone of the exhibits.

Outside are choppers and tanks, left abandoned around the country by US troops, inside are guns and torture devices. Upstairs are horrific photography collections paying tribute to victims of Agent Orange and napalm; there’s even malformed foetuses to give further impact to the already shocking and distressing exhibits.

But I don’t want to show you any of that.

Among all the horror is a small corner of hope. An area dedicated to the global anti-war effort that took place throughout the Vietnam war. The pictures are incredibly heartening; photos of people standing up for the rights of those they’ve never met. But it was also rather poignant. Firstly, because these people were ignored – despite many extreme protests and self-immolation – and secondly because I wonder if my generation would fight so passionately.

The Occupy Movement was indeed influential, and the Arab Spring, inspirational, but I wonder would people around the world protest for each other, about issues that don’t concern them. Mass-protests these days are often about economics or about something that’s happening within our own country. What I loved reading about the anti-war effort was how poverty stricken people in Calcutta, joined forces with privileged students in Washington fighting for the same cause.

Here are some of the anti-war posters I liked best…

Off to the Seaside

So last week we were supposed to go to Laos for Khmer New Year. In a series of events which involved Marko and I not actually ever discussing it, we realised the night before, when we finally, and simultaneously, ‘fessed up, that we didn’t actually want to go. It wasn’t that we don’t want to see Laos, we really really do, but we don’t want to half-ass it. So we’ll go back when we’ve the time, and resources, to do it properly. ‘Sure we’re only young.

So, with a whole week at our disposal and a few quid in our pocket, we got out the guidebook and decided to head for the beach. We bought our bus ticket from a very drunk man – it was New Year’s Eve after all – packed our swimmers and hit the road.

Over the week we stayed in Phnom Penh; amazing tapas, Serendipity Beach; kinda gross, Koh Rong; a paradise island and Otres Beach; in a hut ten feet from the sea. It always amazes me how many sides there are to this country, that you can go from a town of temples to a cosmopolitan city, to a backpacker boozefest to a tropical hideaway, all in one day. It’s rather incredible.

Despite all our travelling, our week was filled with lazy days spent between the sea and the hammock. But I did manage to haul my ass up and take a few pictures. Here are the results which heavily feature drift wood, blue water and sand. Lots and lots of sand…

And just in case you missed it, I finally made it into a broadsheet while I was away. Check out my Cambo story in the Irish Independent, here and here.

Cambo Catch-Up

The Old Market area in Siem Reap

So my buds on Facebook and Twitter are kept well abreast of daily musings, drab details and frequent photo uploads of life here in Cambodia. Thus the blog, which was supposed to be a Dear Diary-type, permanent record of my time here, gets sadly neglected. As I vow for the seventeenth time to be a better blogger, here’s a pictorial catch-up of all that’s been going on over the past month or so. I could have written more words, but as we all know, I’m in the wrong profession, reading is for chumps and people prefer books with lots of pictures…

So this month…

...The Phnom Penh post set up a mini-supplement, here's the first issue featuring my interview with the might Cambojam.

...Marko's parents came to visit and we had an incredible time. Battambang was the best part because we got to hurtle down the tracks on this hunk of junk.

...We also brought them to Phnom Kulen which was really spectacular. I got in under the little waterfall but was way too chicken to take a shower in this.

...We also nabbed swell seats for the Giant Puppet Parade, which was incredible. Me thinks the Dublin parade could learn a lot from these kids, they built the floats in just three weeks.

...Speaking of kids, I'm just obsessed with Cambodian ones, they're just the best. So happy, so spirited and so smart; no wonder Angelina stuck one in her suitcase.

...We had some swish events, one was the Eric Raisina fashion show at Hotel De La Paix, a rather extravagant affair, and not the kind of thing I expected to be attending in Siem Reap. This is Marko and I getting a tuk tuk for the occasion.

...We celebrated St. Patrick's Day at an I Heart Cambodia party.

...But managed to sneak in some cheeky beers.

...And rather ironically saw our first snake.

...I didn't eat the snake, but I did have this cricket. Unfortunately his roachy mate got me back karmically today by creeping up on me during lunch and putting me off my food. I deserved it.

...Has been whopper hot. People say it's the hottest March in yonks and it's set to get worse in April. I've been improving my tan, but mostly just earning more freckles.

...I've been missing my family and pals at home tonnes, Skyping up a storm (though not quite enough) and plotting potential visits from some of them before the year is out. (Pic; Taken at Christmas by Sarahlee.)

...Biggest news of all, we've decided to move to London in September. We don't have jobs yet, so if anyone would like to give me one, I'm cheap, I'm enthusiastic and I'm available. That's all any employer wants, right?

But enough about me…how are you?

P.S. Click the links for more about the Giant Puppet Parade, bamboo train and the Eric Raisina Emotions show.

Cambodian Craftiness

The Angkor Handicraft Festival came to town a few weeks ago, so being obsessed with all things sweet, handmade and Etsy-esque, I of course went, twice. Cambodia has some amazing handicrafts organisations, many of whom work with local people, empowering them to learn a craft and make a sustainable living for themselves, while also re-introducing traditional techniques and art forms. Sometimes living in Cambodia, where everything is so cheap, you forget the amount of work that goes into each and every thing we buy – whether it’s a sandwich or a dress, someone had to sow the seeds, reap the crops, process them into materials and put the product together. I don’t often think about that, so it was nice to be reminded and see some of these processes in action.

Sorry for the delay in sticking these up, my internet died, then my computer died, then my internet died again.

Beautiful stonework

I think this was made of bronze

I love how the dried rice and lotus as used for display

Clay tea-light holders

I don't really know what this is for, but I like it

Coconut beads

Local textiles

A Mekong Quilts mobile

Leaf art

And this little piggy...

Lacquered elephants from Thean's House

Desk duck

A whale of a time

Crafty keyrings

I love these Goel Communuty teddies

Is it a bear or is it a cat?

The owl and the octopus...

Paper-shredder purses

A woman from Grace Gecko making a purse from water hyacinth reeds

The finished product

Skinny silk worms

Fatter silk worms

Boiling silk worms

And finally some silk voila

Some of the organisations included in the pics:
Artisans Association of Cambodia
Mekong Quilts
Il Nodo
Grace Gecko
Theam’s House
Artisan’s d’Angkor
Senteurs d’Angkor

Belated Snapshots

Living abroad, it is of course the people you miss first. But after that the next big thing is all the little things…the crunch of toast only Brennan’s bread can provide, the smell of the coffee percolator around Christmas, the taste of Superquinn cocktail sausages that no one else on the planet has managed to master, the way my Dad, so pedantically, hangs the decorations just so.

I thought I’d be in Asia for Christmas, so when we made a last minute dash home, I decided to wreck my parents’ heads and capture every little detail in case I’m away next year. Here are some of pictures I took from around the house on Christmas morning…

The cards…

The table…

The presents…

The Cambo elements…

The decorations…

This last one is pretty special, it was made by my friends Niall and Trish in Japan

Operation Take-Better-Pictures

As I’ve mentioned, I’m in the (rather slow) process of teaching myself photography. I really couldn’t be in a better place for it, what with all the saffron-clad monks, magenta flowers, emerald paddy fields and eh, white margaritas. Cambodia is indeed a feast for senses, and a feast for my shiny Canon SLR too.

So with the fact that I haven’t been snapping very purposefully – too many pictures of me drinking those margaritas – and the knowledge that I was spending too much time clicking on the Portrait and Landscape settings rather than the manual one, I figured I should get back on track with my self-education.

I did take a photography module in college, but wasn’t a big fan of the lecturer and seeing as the class was on a Wednesday morning (and Tuesday nights we’re particularly boozey in the SU bar) I pretty much did the bare minimum to get my grade. So this time I’ve been taking my cues from websites and my favourite photographers.

I’m lucky enough to include many mighty talented snappers among my friends (see Gary and Spence). One of my all-time favourite photographers just happens to be a lady I worked with at STELLAR HQ, Nathalie Marquez Courtney. In fact, we’re actually kind-of-but-not-really related.

Nathalie’s got a similar passion as me for the cuter things in life; buttons, ribbons, teapots, cupcakes, stationary, basically anything you might find on Etsy.

Her pictures are incredibly candid, always flooded with light, she can make a beer can look pretty and has blurring down to a fine art. So do I but that’s mainly due to my inability to hold the camera still.

Two themes she’s particularly awesome at shooting just happen to be a pair of my favourite things, food and travel. Whether it’s a taco or a building, she manages to make you want to swallow it whole. But what I love most about her style is how intricate her shots are, she only captures a tiny part of the picture, but in doing so, manages to show so much more detail.

So with this in mind, I set myself a little photo project. I want to stop snapping blindly like a tourist and start shooting the minutiae of life here. Capture the pretty features and gorgeous moments. So when I visited Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh two weeks ago, I figured it was the perfect place to start.

A predominantly Chinese-style Buddhist temple, it’s loaded with little details. From the man selling the birds outside – you pay to set one free but rumour has it, they’re trained to come back again – to the bundles of incense clustered everywhere and the tacky but-in-a-good-way adornments on the shrines; there’s plenty of photo-opps.

So here are some of my for-beginners pictures à la Nathalie, let me know what you think…

Before Sunset*

So we’ve been lucky enough to be having some incredible sunsets lately (and one sunrise – I don’t usually see that time of the morning). I’m not sure if it’s our proximity to the equator (there’s no 4pm to 11pm nightfall extremes here), the time of year aka “Winter”, or the fact that it’s been dry for the first time since we arrived in Asia, but dusk at the moment is a rather spectacular affair.

It’s only now that I realise why Asian sunsets are so renowned and why many bars, restaurants and hotels here market their sunset status. Our tribal hut in Kampot boasted two balconies (for sunset and sunrise) while the rooftop and balcony bars of Phnom Penh’s buzzing Sisowath Quay are crammed by 5.30pm with hoards of tourists hoping to catch the closing of the day. (The Quay actually faces East though, so perhaps they should market it as a moonrise location instead.)

While I could get all poetic about the caliber of Cambodian sunsets, no one wants that. Plus, with all the ramblings about amber hues and autumn skies there are in the world, words never quite seem to capture the sense of calm you get from watching a burning ball of orange turn the sky all manner of shades from cerise pink to pale lilac before darkness descends. (Okay, so that was a pretty transparent attempt at wordyness.)

Anywho, throughout all this loveliness, we’ve been making at stab at snapping the sky in all its glory. Maybe these pictures will do the Great Cambodian Sunset even a shred justice…

Here I am, taking in the sunset from Natalie's Siem Reap balcony

I think this sky looks like heaven. Well, what heaven looks like when someone paints heaven. Does that make sense?

This picture is Marko's handywork from aboard a boat on the Tonle Sap

Sunset over a paddy field in Kampot

Before sunrise*...

Nearly there...

Here comes the sun (do do do do)

The view from bed in our Kampot tribal hut

Oh dear, I very nearly forgot these ones. Sunrise from inside Angkor Wat. Absolutely magic.

Despite promising no poetry, seeing as we’re in “The Orient”, I’ll leave you with a Haiku I stumbled across:
Asian Sunset by Sonny (parents with a sense of humour) Rainshine

Pollen from saffron
blossoms and pink silktree blooms
tinge the western sky.

Eh...My attempt at being arty. Along with the Haiku of course.

* P.S. Anyone else love those films? I don’t know if I prefer Before Sunset or Before Sunrise more. Just me then? Okay.

This Little Piggy Went To The Market

Bad news: I’m a pants blogger. Good news; it’s because I am getting lots of paid work, so unfortunately the blog has had to take a back seat for a while. As I grow steadily better at the ‘ol time management though, I’ll hopefully master doing both.

In the meantime, here’s a picture post with some snaps from Psar Leur, I can’t remember what the name means but something like “main market”. It’s the biggest market in Siem Reap and sells absolutely everything from bread and vegetables to gold and fabric or shampoo and toys. It’s ma-hoo-sive. I absolutely love going to the markets here because despite the smell (just avoid the meat section) it’s the best place to really soak in Cambodia. Living in a nice apartment, online all day, mostly eating and drinking in places surrounded by other Westerners, it’s easy to forget where you are.

My favourite moments here are the ones where I look up and think, “Jesus, I’m in frickin Cambodia.”

Narrow walkway at the back of Psar Leur

Baby mandarins, absolutely gorgeous and about 75c for half a kilo (and that's the "barang" (Westerner) price)

"Fresh" has a whole new meaning; these chickens are tied down but still alive

...And here's some they made earlier

This is how a tin of Heinz looks in Cambodia

Locally made baskets

Swapping some English for Khmer with a pair of lovely gents from a fabric stall

My button obsession had a bit of a meltdown with this one

Beads; Cambodians love a bit of bling

I think these are bird feeders, lots of Khmer houses have them hanging up outside

Mushrooms, lentils, and what looks like jerky

This place has everything

The Khmer version of a butcher's shop

Live crabs

This slippery fish made a last leap for freedom. Alas, he was swiftly caught again and chucked back into a bucket with his pals

Fish laid out in the sun to dry

Piles of rice; the price of which has soared since recent flooding

Baby bananas, you can't seem to get the full sized variety here

Pumpkins; smooth and orange is out, green and wrinkled is in

The lovely stall I got scammed at - somehow paid a dollar for a carrot and an onion

And all that is just outside, here's what the inside of the massive building looks like

So comfy and only a dollar a pop...really have to work out a way of sending some to Ireland