October 14, 2019
It is always nice to be back at Barcamp Phnom Penh. This year was more special as we had a reunion of the early Cambodian digerati. Back in 2007, I joined an event that gathered Cambodian bloggers and technology enthusiasts. Some of them came back today to share their impressions of the changes in the online space since then.
October 10, 2019
Travels with the Korean fish
Travels with the Korean fish. I used to give away these little hand made, fabric fishes whenever I encountered a kind person in my travels. I used to buy them in bulk from a Korean gift shop.
They were inexpensive yet attractive and made a nice accessory for the flip phones. Once the world moved to smartphones, the Korean fishes went extinct.
October 10, 2019
The sento, the public bath
There was a time when I afraid to go to a Sento, a Japanese public bathhouse. My initial reluctance was because one has to be totally naked, and surrounded by strangers before one dips into the pools of hot water. But now I am addicted to such public baths.
I found a new public bath just around the corner from the place I often stay in Saigon.
In Japan, the locals do not talk to stranges much in a sento. But here in Vietnam, the Japanese customers are happy to see a non-Japanese trying out the sento, and they like to chat with you.
The sento can be a good end to your night after a night of eating and drinking at the Japantown.
October 1, 2019
A few weeks back, as I waited for some gyoza at a Japanese cafe, I looked around only to stop at a girl sitting on the far stool by the counter, talking to the owner. It looked like an interview. The owner was often distracted by the customers, but the girl maintained her poise. She would glance across, trying to absorb the place. I could detect half a smile aimed in no particular direction on her elegant face, only to return to seriousness when the owner came back to talk to her. It was an interesting face. I started to sketch.
I wanted to draw her like a princess, a bold but kind princess, sitting on a high throne dressed in jewels and golds. I figured that I need not draw such adornments. Her composure was more precious than any gold or diamond.
Last weekend, a couple of alleys away from that cafe, I was looking for dinner. A boy at an Izakaya called out to me. He tried to explain the food. I heard a voice in English. I turned around to see another member of their staff. She calmly explained the menu. I recognised her the girl in my sketch. I pulled out my phone and showed her the sketch, expecting her to kick me for my amateur depiction of her charm. Turned out she was pleased with it. You can travel half the world. But there is no point if you can’t make a stranger smile.
August 22, 2019
The child of all nations
I recalled the phrase “Anak semua bangsa” when I heard Mita speak Bahasa Indonesia. Mita is the adopted Indonesian name of a young Vietnamese person I met in a small alley in Saigon. I remarked to her that I rarely hear a Vietnamese speak such fluent Indonesian. Mita replied that her curiosity about cultures and religions led her to explore Indonesia. She lived in Surabaya for a year and fell in love with Indonesia.
Most South-East Asian teenagers are keen on Korean or Japanese popular culture. But often in Vietnam, I meet young people who are interested in Indonesia, India or Myanmar. They are the true “Anak semua bangsa” - the child of all nations (the phrase is the title of a novel that is set in Surabaya). I miss another Saigon friend who loves Indonesia. We sometimes used to go to the Indonesian/Malaysian enclave to eat Mee Goreng. And I miss Indonesia. What time is the next flight to Jakarta?
August 3, 2019
The eyes have it all
As I move through different lands, one observation I have is about eye contact. Almost always, eye contact (or the lack of it), is directly proportional to the affluence of the place. In richer places, I find that strangers do not make eye contact unless they are in a defined space and it is considered alright to talk - for example at an event or a meetup. In less affluent places, people easily make eye contact.