Greetings, readers!

After an incredibly long hiatus – due mainly to the Blawgirl questioning the purpose and value of this blawg and blawging in general – the Chronicles of a Blawgirl is up and running once again! The Blawgirl still questions the value of blawging, but thinks that it would be fun to write down her experiences with her third and final year of law school, and with the California Barzam, for her mom and posterity.

You’ll notice there have been some minor changes around here, notably the addition of a “Clipbook” to the navigation bar, and a handy, dandy bar at the bottom of your browser that allows you to find/stalk the Blawgirl on the Interwebz if you so choose.

This post finds the Blawgirl several weeks into the first semester of her final year in law school after a summer of sitting/broiling on the freeway to get to her internship at the ACLU of Southern California office in Downtown L.A. All in all, she would take the busyness of these first several weeks over having to crawl on the 5 freeway any day.

These past weeks have seen her celebrating her 20-ish birthday, organizing the in-house competition for the mock trial team, reading/briefing cases in her remedies and constitutional law classes, learning the ins and outs of California’s Domestic Violence Protection Act for a clinical class, piecing together documents for her Moral Character Application, and putting together this loverly website.

Somewhere in there, she’s also started reading book three of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, started swimming at Corona del Mar, continued Turbo Kickboxing and Zumba-ing, and picked up a road bike to start riding on the Santa Ana River trail here in Orange County, Calif.

Dayyum. It’s even tiring just reading about it! Anywho, the Blawgirl will mosdef add blawging to the list of things she will be doing. She can’t promise that she will post every single bowel movement of her mind, but she can promise to try to be as regular as Jamie Lee Curtis.

Photo via icanhazcheezburger.com

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Mr. Popoy cuts a tragic figure: salt and pepper hair; one arm resting on the protruding belly of one well-past middle age; one arm outstretched, fingers grasping for the warmth of human contact; and the forlorn, faraway look of a king who has lost his country.

His tragedy is in no way lessened by the fact that Mr. Popoy is not of our species: He is a gibbon, a member of the ape family.

I met the sad-looking simian recently when I visited the Phnom Tamao Zoo and Wildlife Rescue Center, which is located 44 kilometers – a two-hour tuktuk ride – outside Phnom Penh. Story is Mr. Popoy was once the other half of a gibbon pair – which mate for life, according to our tour guide – that had been rescued from the wilderness from poachers who hunted gibbons for use in traditional medicinal remedies.

For a while, Mr. and Mrs. Popoy lived happily ever after in their little kingdom, a large cage in Section 1 of the rescue center, presumably doing the things that gibbons like to do: swinging from tree branch to tree branch; flirtatiously lobbing fecal matter at each other in a mock snowball fight; perhaps even engaging in acts that could have produced little gibbon babies.

But the happy ending did not last, and life, or, rather, death happened. Mrs. Popoy got sick, and Mr. Popoy was left alone.

Keepers tried to find Mr. Popoy another friend, but other gibbons would not do: they were female, they were fertile, but they were most definitely not the Mrs. Now, Mr. Popoy can only find comfort in his caretakers and the tourists who walk through the wildlife center who are benevolent enough to find sorrow in his story, bold enough to brush the thought of monkey cooties aside, and brave enough to take his outstretched hand.

Photo: Julie Anne Ines / Flickr “Chronicles in Cambodia” (New photos added!)

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A tarantula! This was served as an appetizer at Romdeng, a restaurant run by the Mith Samlanh organization that helps train Cambodian street children in service careers. On Friday, me and a couple of friends decided to check out the 15th Anniversary party being thrown by the organization and chose to order up some Cambodian grub. Among the dishes we ordered and chose to share at the really charming, surprisingly fancy restaurant were three of these creepy crawlies – one for each of us.

Much like the cricket I ate several weeks ago, this arthropod was similar to a soft-shell crab in both flavor and texture, which makes sense because they are in the same phylum. Unlike the cricket I ate several weeks ago, this sucker was huge and most definitely had a little buggy face.

The favored method of eating the arachnid was to gingerly nibble at its hairy, crispy appendages, either dipped in a mixture of lime juice and Kampot pepper or without any adornment, which is what I ultimately preferred. Of course, the sole male in the group, my co-worker, decided to man up and ate the whole torso of the little beast after making short work of its legs. Again, not to be outdone and to say that I too had eaten a tarantula, I followed suit.

It wasn’t too bad, and, actually, quite edible save for some prickly bits, which I assumed were portions of its fangs that had not been clipped. However, as I relayed to the folks at the table, I feared that what happened after my feast of crickets (well, one cricket actually) would happen after I noshed on the tarantula.

Several days after my cricket escapade, I was eating breakfast and felt a little tickle on my foot. When I looked down, I saw a large cricket chilling on my sandal, and the first thing that popped into my mind was an apology for eating his mum, dad, niece, nephew, etc.

Yup. Definitely not looking forward to seeing one of these guys on my foot as it was an adventure enough seeing one on my plate.

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Unlike most days, I’m all by my lonesome in the NGO office right now. My boss currently has me working on an overview of the Cambodian media landscape, but I decided to take the opportunity to take a picture and do a quick blog update just so y’all and my family know that I am still alive.

Photo 24

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tunnelAfter an almost six-hour ride on a crowded bus perfumed with eaux de backpacker, I arrived in Siem Riep on Friday afternoon so that I could spend the three-day holiday weekend celebrating the birthday of the queen (Vivat regina!) jumping over temple ruins in Angkor International Park, a must-do on any trip to Cambodia according to all the guidebooks.

Right now, I’m sitting in my adorable little room in a boutique guesthouse that cost only $13 a night, tax free. I haven’t been blogging as much as I’d like, but the Internet speed here sometimes leaves much to be desired, making uploading photos difficult. Still, y’all can look forward to hearing about this weekend, other past awesome weekends, and the fact that I keep getting mistaken for Cambodian in posts in the near future on this blog.

Till then, off to see the ruins!

Photo: Itchyfingers

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As promised, here are photos of The Place, a nine-story building that houses a gym on the eighth, seventh and sixth floors. In addition to a cool gym, The Place also boasts one of the best views of the Independence Monument on Sihanouk Blvd. — the tall monument that you see in the background of photos two and three — that I’ve seen in Phnom Penh. If you work out during the day, you can see the tuktuks, SUVs, motos and bike riders negotiating traffic below. At night, you can see the monument lit up in lights and hear the honking of horns.

If gorgeous views aren’t your thing, you can hang out in the Internet cafe on the sixth floor, check your email on some nice desktop Macs, and order a juice or coffee drink, or hang out in the lobby on the eighth floor and watch Cartoon Network on the flatscreen televisions nested in the ceiling.

Apparently, the building is somewhat exclusive, as the gym is the one of choice for some of the wealthier folks here. A two-month membership was fairly affordable, but check out the warnings posted next to the elevator. You can’t bring your gun, your bodyguard, boxer briefs or your Doberman. Fancy.

I also noticed that you can’t bring a camera. Whoops.

Photo: Julie Anne Ines / Flickr

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Photo 21 Walking the streets of Phnom Penh is one of the best ways to get a sensory feel for the city. The busy streets, shops and food stalls are often a cacophony of rumbling moto and tuktuk motors, different languages and visitors haggling over prices.

And the smells that greet your nose cover the entire spectrum of exotic and pleasant, like the smoky scent of incense and burnt baby powder, and jasmine flowers drifting over from the temples, to the not so pleasant odors of trash laying out in the streets and sewage drains.

The juxtaposition of scents embody the character of the city: there are some unpleasant parts, but the mystery, grace and moments of surprising loveliness – like sitting in a cafe while thunder rolls overhead and rain pours down at an angle – are sometimes enough to overcome the bad.

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4658438854_100f72195aSince my last video post, I’ve been thrust into the media law work that OSJI has planned, which includes learning about the separate laws that govern defamation prosecutions of journalists and private individuals here in Cambodia. Apparently, United Nations transitional laws, the Cambodian press law, the Cambodian Constitution, the penal code and international agreements all influence the outcome of a case in some way. It’s a lot of reading, but very interesting stuff. Yey, research!

On top of all the laws and reports I’m going through to try and make some sense of the legal situation, I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that government officials can just remove offending publications from newstands, that newspapers themselves have to be registered with the government, and that any sort of “incitement” can be met with a fine or even jail time. Sometimes it seems the laws have been pulled from the law books of some authoritarian goverment from some science fiction novel, but the law is all too real for those who have been jailed or fined by the government here.

I’ve also had some time to meet and have a couple of beers with the other intern – also a first-year law student – who is working with OSJI. I mentioned before that many of the students and volunteers who pass through the city are super worldly, knowledgable and educated, and this dude is no exception. He has studied and worked in Japan – where he met his fiancee – and can both read and write Japanese. This wouldn’t be so unusual except for the fact that he stands 6 feet 2 inches tall and and has a shock of red hair. He had some interesting stories to tell about Japan, and I look forward to hearing more. Yey for cool people!

Speaking of cool, since it’s too darn hot to actually even think of running in the city, I decided to join a gym, which is just a quick jaunt around the block from the hotel that I’m staying at. Apparently, this gym – which sits in a building called The Place (creative, I know) – is the place that most people want to be at if they do join a gym in Phnom Penh. I can’t argue with that. The gym at the place has it all: very cold air conditioning, leather seating, free classes, free Internet access, cable television, weights, all manner of exercise equipment that you would find at 24 Hour Fitness, and possibly one of the best views of the Independent Monument in the city. Photos to come!

Photo: Open Society Justice Initiative office, Phnom Penh Center Building / julieanneines Flickr

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mosaic692048a6f788904cb185edacb51f0f2d784f0c63Chronicles in Cambodia: Dispatch 3

Bar review Phnom Penh style

One of the great things about having hundreds, maybe even thousands, of NGO workers living and working in Phnom Penh is the fact that a whole host of restaurants and bars have sprung up to give them something to do when they’re not doing something NGO-ey. I didn’t know it at the time I booked my hotel, but the street I’m staying on, Street 278, is one of the more popular streets for these restaurants and bars.

4648957882_da270547b1So, after doing more shopping at the Central Market on Wednesday and visiting The Killing Fields at Choueng-Ek on Thursday (click on photo on right for Flickr photostream), I decided on Thursday night to check out the Equinox Bar, Restaurant and Gallery, which is just a stone’s throw from my hotel. The scene was pretty quiet when I first arrived, with handfuls of foreigners congregating around small tables, and nursing imported and domestic beers while catching up on the goings-on of the day. The bar did pick up a bit when swing music started blasting over the sound system, and several men and women stood up to dance. Apparently, a group of expats get together after a swing dancing class to practice their moves at Equinox.

Earlier in the day, I had gotten a hold of a local cell phone number with the help of a super-nice photo shop owner, and found out that one of the California students I met at the airport, we’ll call him Econ Dude, knew the exact bar that I was at. So Econ Dude grabbed a tuktuk driver and met me on the second floor of the bar, where I had been doing some people watching.

Since Econ Dude had done a lot of traveling before and was more familiar with the streets of Phnom Penh, I asked him to confirm many of the suspicions that I had about certain things that I had come across during my brief travels. Yes, your tuktuk driver is metaphorically taking you for a ride if you pay any more than $5 for just one trip. Yes, the business owners only want fairly new, untorn and unmarked American money and will refuse to take blemished bills. Yes, there is a separate price for locals and foreigners on goods and food in the market. Yes, you have to negotiate the price for everything or risk being overcharged. And, yes, the beers of Phnom Penh, Angkor and Anchor, both taste like light beers and go easy on the alcohol.

Of motos and meetings

The day after the Equinox bar review (Friday) was the first day that I had to report to the Open Society Justice Initiative office, which is located in one of several large office buildings in Phnom Penh. Once again, I hired Mr. Black, my unofficial tuktuk driver, to take me where I needed to go.

When I arrived at the office at 7:45 a.m. for an 8 a.m. call time, I had to hang out in the hot and humid hallway of the building for a bit until about 8:15 when a small, bespectacled girl gripping a motocycle helmet came in and asked if I was the OSJI intern. I said “yes” and she ushered me into the small office that housed OSJI’s Cambodia operations. After making several calls, she told me that she would now take me to a meeting, and grabbed her keys and helmet off the table. Yup, I would be taken to the meeting on the back of her moto.

This wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t received a lengthy email from my law school professor, who had been to Phnom Penh many times before, about some of the dangers one might encounter in the city. One of these things was getting on the back of a moto, as there is a possibility that a bag snatcher will attempt to grab your bag and drag you off the bike into Phnom Penh traffic. With this in mind, it was a little daunting getting onto the back of the bike whilst gripping the messenger bag that carried my Macbook, but, after I got over the initial fear, the ride was quite thrilling.

After a 10 minute ride through the streets of Phnom Penh, I was deposited at a place that upon first glance looked like a private home, but turned out to be the office of another of Cambodia’s many NGO groups. I sat in on a meeting with some important people, met my project coordinators, went to lunch, sat in on another meeting with some very important people, and was told to get ready to work on Monday (more on that later). For some reason, those meetings in the comfort of air conditioning were so much more tiring than wandering about Phnom Penh for an entire day, but it sounds like the project I will be working on should be fun.

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