Visit to AHA

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Last week in Siem Reap I visited the Angkor Handicrafts Association, a cooperative market and open studio for local artisans.  They’re out of town, so they don’t get anywhere near as much traffic as the stalls near Pub Street and the Night Market.  It gives the venue a nice tourist-free feel, but it’s terrible for their margins.  There were one or two people working – at sewing machines, making bags out of flour sacks, running the pottery wheels – but most of the stalls were unsupervised.

Souvenir shopping in Siem Reap, like so many other parts of the tourist industry, runs on a referral system: tuk-tuk drivers and tour guides get a commission to bring their charges to certain shops and markets.  AHA doesn’t currently have a cohort of drivers, so it doesn’t get traffic and can’t make sales.

Potato (and Eggplant) Stamps

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on a mural with the kids at the center.  I came up with the idea of using potato stamps to cover the surface quickly, and then experimented with eggplant stamps.  as it turns out, an eggplant cut lengthwise does a decent impression of a banana leaf.  The results were pretty solid, although we still have some surface to cover.  One of the kids who worked on the upper section said his efforts looked “like a peacock:”

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Floodplain

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This morning I met a friend for a late breakfast in Toul Kork.  She and I were in Cambodia together during our first stints in 2009-2010.  She was an ESL teacher at a local school, and I was a volunteer English teacher at a local NGO.  I was miserable for a lot of that year – exhausted, ill, fighting a chronic infestation of headlice – and she took to bringing me to a favorite cafe for Sunday breakfast.  She always paid.  We went to The Shop, a Belgian-owned cafe on Street 240, locally famous for its miniature fruit tarts.  They had mango-passion fruit crepes on their all-day breakfast menu, and I’d always order one with a capuccino.  And then she would listen to me complaining.

This year, she came back to a job at the same school, and I came back for a research project and some part-time volunteering.  We decided to meet at The Shop’s new location in Toul Kork, an area near Stung Mean Chey that is rapidly expanding from sprawl into city district.  The flagship Shop was small, tucked away in a narrow street of silk boutiques and expat bars.  This one sits on a large garden plot, and has a terrace and broad lawn.  She and I talked about how we were both doing – much better – and what we hope for September.

I caught the tuk tuk driver who waits outside The Shop, and he took me across a lattice of sidestreets to Toul Toum Pong.  A few blocks were still flooded from the heavy rains last night, and he drove the tuk tuk through half a meter of muddy water.

Now I’m at the center, and the rain has started again.  There are no classes today, and so my students are out on the front drive playing in the rain.