In Honor and Celebration of International Women’s Day 2014

“International Women’s Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women’s Day is a national holiday.”

In honor and celebration of International Women’s Day 2014, these are some of my favorite photographs that I have taken of women in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Bhutan. To me, all these women are beautiful and inspirational.

International Womens Day Vietnam Mekong Delta

International Womens Day Vietnam Black Dzao

International Womens Day Vietnam

International Womens Day Cambodia Silk Weaving

International Womens Day Cambodia Rice Paper for Spring Rolls

International Womens Day Cambodia Pottery Making

International Womens Day Bhutan Laya Woman

International Womens Day Laya Bhutan

International Womens Day Bhutan Laya

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day on March 8 is “Inspiring Change…for greater awareness of women’s equality…for more women in leadership roles…for equal recognition of women in the arts…for growth of women owned businesses…for increased financial independence of women…for more women in science, engineering, and technology…and for fairer recognition of women in sport.”

Sweet Travels!

Quotes and information from International Women’s Day 2014

Pictures are from my previous blogs:
Visions of Vietnam: Women, their Smiling Faces, and their Clothing
Silk Weaving Women in Cambodia
Creating Rice Paper for Spring Rolls, by Hand, in Cambodia
Walking in Perfect Circles: A Woman Creating Pottery in Cambodia
The Unique, Beautiful Women of Laya, Bhutan

Cambodia: To the Peaceful World

Cambodia Peaceful World

When I visited the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek Memorial, and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, I was speechless. Without going into details of the atrocities that happened in Cambodia in the 1970’s, I was in disbelief, saddened, angered, and shocked, to say the least, about what I learned when I toured these two memorials. I cannot even write a blog about it really. And as I walked around, I could not, just could not, take any pictures there.

Cambodia Peaceful World

Cambodia Peaceful World

Cambodia Peaceful World

Except for taking these few pictures of this refreshing art exhibit at the Genocide Museum towards the end of my emotional visit. Reminding me, and all of us, about peace. Created by children both in Cambodia, and in Okinawa, Japan, let’s fly the seeds of peace.

Cambodia Peaceful World

Cambodia Peaceful World

Cambodia Peaceful World

Cambodia Peaceful World

Cambodia Peaceful World

Here’s to the peaceful world!

Sweet (and peaceful) Travels!

My (Almost) Wedding Dress from Cambodia

Wedding Dresses Cambodia

Visiting the Local Market in Phnom Penh is an experience in-and-of-itself. It is not like going to a grocery store back home. It is not like going to a department store or a mall back home. It is not even like going to a superstore. No, going to the Local Market is like going to every store, restaurant, and specialty shop imaginable and possible all in one place. One-stop shopping. Literally. With everything you need. Need some toothbrushes? You got it. Need some flashlights or car parts? You got it. Need some shoes or jewelry? You got it. Need some linens or clothes? You got it. Getting hungry from all that shopping? You got it. Need a wedding dress? You got it!

I’m getting married this summer. When we got engaged last year, I decided that I didn’t want to wear a traditional white dress. I wanted to wear something different and non-traditional. So when I traveled to Cambodia several months ago, I thought it might be fun, unique, and different to come home with a wedding dress for the special occasion.

Wedding Dresses Cambodia

Upon arrival in Cambodia, I was fortunate enough to have my first guide be a female. I told her of my engagement, and I asked her if at some point during my travels could we please go shopping for a wedding dress. She was not only accommodating about my request, but she was also very enthusiastic.

On the second day of my tour my guide took me to the Local Market in Phnom Penh to shop for dresses. While I could have spent hours wandering around this market, we made a beeline right for the shop that sells some of the most beautiful dresses I have ever seen. All colors imaginable. There were so many dresses to choose from. While they had a few white dresses, I thought with all these colors, I could certainly find a dress that is definitely non-traditional for my wedding.

Wedding Dresses Cambodia

There were several dresses that I liked at first glance, and asked if I could try a few on. I did, right there, over my clothes. These first few didn’t quite work out though. However, there was one dress in particular that I really, really liked, but it was too small for me to even try on over my clothes. I was told though, that they could make it bigger for me so that I could try it on if I would like that. Really? How? When? Wouldn’t that take a while to make some alterations? I didn’t have that much time in Cambodia.

Turns out they can do the alterations right there, in the sewing shop where the sewing machines were, a few aisles down and back in the Local Market from where we were. Of course, why didn’t I think of that?! But first, and here is the “catch,” we had to agree on a price of the dress because if I liked the dress after the alterations were made we all would know the price. Ok, so what is the price of the dress, I asked?

Wedding Dress Alterations Cambodia

$60 was the asking price. What?!? Did I hear that right? $60? Only $60! You can barely find a wedding dress back at home for ten times that amount. Some women probably pay a hundred times that amount. I thought for that amount, sure, if I liked the dress that much after I tried it on, then for having this experience of buying a non-traditional wedding dress in Cambodia, it was worth every dollar. (Even if for some reason I ended up not wearing it at my wedding.)

Then the negotiating began. Not by me. By my guide. She told me that it was common to bargain, which I knew, but because she could speak to the shop owner in their language, I just stood and observed. $50 my guide offered to the shop owner. Apparently, she didn’t go for that price. However, half way in the middle is $55, so there it was. Try on the dress, and if I like it, $55!

We walked back to the sewing machines, and I sat and watched this woman doing her magic on what could be my wedding dress to make it bigger. Then I tried it on. Yes, I liked it! It still didn’t fit quite right though, so the woman made a few more minor adjustments on the sewing machine to make if fit better around my body. Another woman then sewed the shoulder straps, by hand, so they would be the right size to fit over my shoulders. As I was waiting for these alterations to be done, I found out that the dress was hand made, including all the bead work at the top, one bead at a time. How unique is that?!

Wedding Dress Cambodia

I tried it on once more to make sure it was perfect. Well, it still wasn’t quite perfect, but by this time, the entire market area was closing, and I decided that I could have more alterations done at home. So, voilà, my non-traditional wedding dress. For $55 where else can you walk into a Local Market, pick out a dress, and watch women alter it while you wait? While all around you, other local people are doing their own shopping as well.

To be honest with you though, when I got home, I tried the dress on again, and unfortunately something just was not right about it in how it looked on me. Even with further alterations done, I wasn’t sure I would be completely happy wearing it. I decided to search for a different non-traditional dress to compare to the one I bought in Cambodia, and I have found a different dress that I am going to wear instead. Thus, my “almost” wedding dress from Cambodia.

Wedding Dress Cambodia

I know you might think I’m crazy for not getting this beautiful dress altered and not wearing it at my wedding. In some ways I do feel like I should wear it, because it is quite unique, and especially with a story like this. To be honest though, the dress that I am going to wear is quite beautiful, and non-traditional, and fits me perfectly. Sorry, I can’t quite include a picture of this dress in this blog because I don’t want my fiancé to see it yet. Take my word for it please – both dresses are beautiful, and the one I am going to wear is perfect!

Oh, and later on during my travels in the country, I was able to go to a traditional Cambodian wedding. Albeit it was for about a half an hour, when some traditional Cambodian weddings actually take three days! I happen to have caught the bride and groom at a relaxing time. I’m sure that their shoes were just as elegant as they were.

Wedding Bride Groom Cambodia

Sweet (and non-traditional) Travels!

Silk Weaving Women in Cambodia

Silk Weaving Silk Island Cambodia

Silk Island outside of Phnom Penh. Appropriately nicknamed, because as one bicycles around for what could be hours, you are able to see some amazing women sitting at their looms, weaving silk into beautiful pieces of material. Watching these women silk weaving is like watching a well choreographed dance, as they effortlessly and gracefully use their hands, feet, and bodies to blend the silk together.

Silk Weaving Silk Island Cambodia

There is so much action going on in their silk weaving process that I could not quite follow what these women were doing. Basically, they would push a roll of silk through the strings of silk that were already placed lengthwise on the loom. They would move various parts of the loom at the same time to push the strings together to make a tight weave. Row by row by row the material was created.

As you can see in the three photos below, this woman’s body moved into many positions as she weaved. It was beautiful to watch.

Silk Weaving Silk Island Cambodia

Silk Weaving Silk Island Cambodia

Silk Weaving Silk Island Cambodia
The woman’s foot was also in action. In the three pictures below, she would move her foot from the back pedal, to the middle pedal, to the top pedal, over and over again, as she wove the silk together. Like a concert pianist tapping the pedals of the piano creating the perfect sound.

Silk Weaving Silk Island Cambodia

Silk Weaving Silk Island Cambodia

Silk Weaving Silk Island Cambodia

The homes on Silk Island, called Koh Okyaheti, are built on high stilts. The looms are thus actually located outdoors, underneath the houses, so as you cycle around, you can bike right up to the home to watch. To get to the island, there is a short ferry ride crossing the Tonle Sap River. As you board with your bicycle, you are surrounded by locals on their motor bikes making their way back home. There are other aspects of the island to explore as well, such as villages and farmland. All in all, an excursion to Silk Island makes a wonderful way to spend at least a half a day.

Silk Weaving Silk Island Cambodia

Silk Weaving Silk Island Cambodia
Silk scarves and other items made out of silk are available for purchase, not only on the island, but in other places in Phnom Penh as well. Cotton is also used for the weaving process, and at times the material might be a silk-cotton blend. I was very lucky and actually got to purchase some freshly woven silk right off the loom. I will need to make something out of my material, but I haven’t decided just what yet.

This blog actually finishes a series of blogs about amazing women in Cambodia who do some interesting work with their hands. In addition to these silk weaving women, there were the women who created rice paper for spring rolls, by hand. The woman who sealed and labeled bottles of wine, by hand. And the woman who created pottery by walking in perfect circles, by hand.

Sweet Travels!

Creating Rice Paper for Spring Rolls, by Hand, in Cambodia

Rice Paper for Spring Rolls Pheam Ek Cambodia

As you drive along the road through the village of Pheam Ek near Battambang in Cambodia, you can literally see hundreds of round circles placed on grid-like trays, leaning against the edge of the greenery of plants and trees, out in the sun. They are the specialty of this village, made in family workshops. They are rice paper for spring rolls.

Rice Paper for Spring Rolls Pheam Ek Cambodia

As I stopped in this village, I was able to watch two women hard at work making these rice paper circles by hand. One by one by one, into the shape of perfect circles. It was hot out, and I’m sure that the heat from the cooking process made their work even hotter. Yet they were intently working away, as I watched in amazement, and took photos. And tried to figure out their process…

Rice Paper for Spring Rolls Pheam Ek Cambodia

In front of one woman who was sitting, there were two cooking trays. In a seamless motion, back and forth, she would create each rice paper circle. As you can see in this photo above, in the tray closest to the front of the picture, the woman had just dipped that silver bowl into a batter that is made out of rice flour, salt, sugar, and water. After she poured the batter onto the tray, she used the back of the bowl to spread it into its perfect circle. Meanwhile, in the tray in the back of the picture, covered with a wok-type lid, an already-shaped rice paper is being cooked by steaming.

Then the lid is transferred to the rice paper that was just formed so that it can steam for a few moments, as in the photo below. The rice paper that has just finished cooking is carefully removed from the tray using something that looks like a wooden spatula.

Rice Paper for Spring Rolls Pheam Ek Cambodia

While the front tray is still covered and cooking, a bowl of batter is spread around the back tray, into its perfect circle.

Rice Paper for Spring Rolls Pheam Ek Cambodia

Finally the lid is removed from the front tray, transferred to the back tray, and the cooked rice paper circle is once again removed with the wooden spatula.

This process repeats over and over and over again, creating perfectly formed rice paper circles.

Rice Paper for Spring Rolls Pheam Ek Cambodia

If you look closely in the background of the above four pictures, there is a contraption that has four wooden cylinders shaped like a plus sign. When the rice papers are removed from the cooking process, the woman places the rice papers on these wooden cylinders.

Another woman then takes each of these cooked rice papers and carefully transfers them from the wooden cylinder to a bamboo rack. She seems to know exactly where to place each rice paper on these racks, as I counted that each rack can fit 70 rice papers!

Rice Paper for Spring Rolls Pheam Ek Cambodia

Finally, once a bamboo rack is filled with rice papers, the woman carries the entire rack out to the road so that the rice papers can dry in the sun. And so that as you drive along the road through the village of Pheam Ek in Cambodia, you can literally see hundreds of round circles of rice paper on their bamboo racks, placed against the edge of the greenery of plants and trees.

Rice Paper for Spring Rolls Pheam Ek Cambodia

Rice Paper for Spring Rolls Pheam Ek Cambodia

Rice Paper for Spring Rolls Pheam Ek Cambodia

Perfect circles of rice paper created by hand. Just like the perfect circles of a woman creating pottery by hand. And just like the inspirational women who silk weave and label wine bottles at the only winery in Cambodia.

Sweet Travels!