Monday, September 29, 2008

the sun shines in september

In a span of a month, I had my second highest number of artworks sold in my gallery by the Passage (the most would be in April this year). Normally, September is a very quite month here, but just last week, a man walked into my gallery with his wife and decided right then and there to shop for art. That man turned out to be the owner of Formula 1, and apparently, one of the wealthiest men in the universe.

He bought a total of 10 artworks - six of them from my Khmao or black series

Four of them were from my Saffron Spirit and My Asia series. They found me through my friend Don ( who happens to be the curator / artist extraordinaire of Hotel de la Paix where they were staying. I hurriedly packed the ten artworks in time for them to stuff them into their private jet the next day. They also commissioned ten paintings from Khmer artist Em Riem who was exhibiting at Hotel de la Paix's Arts Lounge.

I also sold a diptych to a couple from Venice, Italy a couple of weeks ago from my new series - Faith of Our Fathers.

Two nights ago, I also sold a bigger print (100cm x 100 cm) to a lovely American couple from San Francisco. This one is from the same series that I brought to Beijing.

Just last night, I was also able to sell another print from my Linga Bar exhibition to a couple from New Zealand who are now based in Singapore.

The unprecedented sales from my artworks and the amount of connection I have made to different people from all walks of life through my art has been truly amazing, especially during the time that you would least expect it - and I am so much thankful for this gift!

The sun really shines in September!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

journeys with yesterdays

I have been blessed with so many great friends - but these are two who are definitely worth blogging about... For my art exhibit in China last August, two long time friends who also happened to be my classmates since kindergarten all the way to primary school and high school (in college, we all went to the same university as well, but different departments) went all the way to Beijing to join me in my exhibition... We had been out of touch for a long time after moving abroad, but when I broke the news to them of my olympic invitation, they all found a way to meet up!

Karl, one of my best buddies, traveled around 10,388 kilometers from Auckland, New Zealand to Beijing and spent almost a day on the plane. He took time from his work in the land of Frodo and Middle Earth where he has been living for the past three years. Among us, Karl had the most relaxing journey to China - flying with ease onboard Air New Zealand bringing with him a bagful of exotic cheese as pasalubong for us!

Karl has the least possibility among the two to come because he had just came from a month-long vacation in the US and his boss is definitely not giving him another break from work... but with much persistence and convincing, his boss agreed and he even extended his China trip to a couple of days in Japan! Details are sketchy of what he did to his boss to get an approval, but he made it!

Elaine on the other hand, traveled from Iloilo to Manila, then Manila to Hong Kong - covering around 1,561 kilometers. From Hong Kong, she journeyed by train to Guangzhou, stayed a day, then took another train again going to Beijing. The train ride alone covered a distance of 1,887 kilometers and took her almost 24 hours! On the way back, since most of the train seats were fully taken because of the closing of the games, her trip had to take twice that long because she had to do stops in a couple more cities around China!

Among the three of us, her journey was the most gruelling and nerve wreaking (not to mention plucking heaven and earth just to get a measly 7-day Chinese visa in Cebu!) - and I truly admire her for that... think of it as a field training for her as she is preparing to move to the United States in a couple of months...

After my own gruelling journey of crazy flights (Siem Reap - Phnom Penh - Hong Kong - Beijing) covering around 3,490 kilometers, we met up in Beijing in the hotel and spent a couple of days roaming around - reminiscing how we used to take these crazy trips together back when we can only afford weekend trips to Boracay, Tagaytay or Manila!

Two years ago, when I started working in Cambodia, these two also took an arduous journey from Iloilo to Manila to Bangkok. Then, they took a seven-hour bus and taxi ride to the Cambodian border and all the way to Siem Reap to see me and my family (my baby was just born then)!

Since this has become quite a tradition for us, we are saving up for a trip to Vancouver in 2010 for the Winter Games and in London in 2012 for the next Summer Games! Since I ALWAYS pay for their hotel, Elaine has "promised" to buy our airfares to Vancouver and Karl has also "offered" to take care of London. Right, Karl and elaine???!!!

Now where do you get friends like them?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

of fried frogs and dancing shrimps

My friend Don (together with blog buddies Kawadjan and Gibo) recently came from Laos and was raving about their trip, from the photo shoot, to the stench-ridden 6-hour journey to Viang Veng and the food… oh yes, especially the food. It got me thinking about my last trip to Laos in Vientiane where, I was unceremoniously “forced” to eat some wonderfully exciting (read: super exotic) food that would give Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom a run for their money.

I was there for a photo assignment and overall redesign of a corporate identity of a backpacker hotel and the owner made sure that I try everything out that Laos has to offer…

The adventure started with a trip to the market where we looked at stuff to photograph for the brochure. While we were going around the wet section, I chanced upon a pile of live frogs and got curious about it. But sadly, curiosity not only kills the vegetarian cat… it feeds them food they are not ready to eat! At the hotel, the frog was deep fried in garlic. I couldn’t say I didn’t enjoy it, but it I don’t think I’ll gorge on it with fries anytime soon.

Another item on the menu was fried river snake which was also seriously good because of the drizzle of fried garlic.

The dancing shrimp salad was another adventure on its own. A trip to the countryside by the Mekong River brought us to this floating restaurant which served a salad which you had to eat quick because it's ingredients are jumping back to where they came from!

This used to be a Jurassic Park-looking fish from the Mekong river, but with a dash of red wine sauce, steamed vegetables and fries, this became on of the most decent meals I had.

Although I wasn't brave enough to eat these pile of crickets, I watched my hosts gorge them like Pringles on a sunny afternoon in June.

Apparently, these plates of insects are a popular snack item.

Any exotic food experience in Laos can only be enjoyed justifiably with their national drink - Beer Lao. Light and mild but equally tasty, I can drink this with any meal!

After a spin of exotic food and Beer Lao, take another spin around the city with this tuktuk...

...and venture out to bsorb Vientiane's sights like their national treasure and symbol... the That Luang stupa painted in gleaming gold.

Pathouxai is the "Arc de Triomphe" of the city. Often called the vertical runway, this monument was built using US funds originally meant for the building of their airport.

Wat Sisaket is the city's oldest surviving temple and is home to a huge collection of Buddhas.

Laoatian smiles and faces...

They say Vientiane is nothing compared to the world heritage city of Luang Prabang, but for me, this adventure was good enough as an introduction to a country as exciting as Laos.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

missing mom

My wife has just started working for a new company this month - a fantastic boutique hotel called The Sothea. As Senior Sales Manager, part of her work is traveling around the globe for sales calls. Last week, she was in Bangkok and she went home to Cambodia just to dump her used clothes then pack again for Saigon and Hanoi. Already, she has planned trips to HK, Singapore, New York, London, Cannes and Berlin.

I was so excited for her at first - to be able to trot around the world for free, but for the past couple of days and nights, me, my son and nannie are starting to feel the emptiness in the house. Also, Don, our dinner buddy extraordinaire and myself are also running out of ideas where to dine next as we owe a big part of our decisions to my wife's cravings. Last night, my son Freedom said his mommy is taking a very long time in the shower (he doesn't believe mommy's showering in Saigon) and it just breaks my heart.

Before, she used to complain a lot when I do trips abroad because I don't call, email or even send an sms to give her updates where I am. Now, she is on my shoes. She left last Sunday but until now, she hasn't called or given us any sms message of how she is. All I got was a short email asking me to pay up our credit card as she has maxed it out of oblivion. Now, I know how she feels!

This is becoming a bit uncomfortably difficult, but then again, I know she's gonna bring Freedom a huge Thomas the Tank Engine train set and the Louis Vuitton Damier Graphite Keepall that I've always had my eyes on...

...wabs u palangga... puli na di!

Friday, September 19, 2008

dinner with the gods and kings

Do you know that for a price, you can actually rent out any of the temples of Angkor and relive the golden age of the empire? Well, with the modern conveniences of course- like a generator set, mist sprays and luxurious portable toilets. So if you are probably someone who has some scandalously big cash to burn and have a couple of nights in Cambodia, try these out for a change... real value-for-money dinners at the world heritage temples of Angkor!

(I shot these from different catering photography assignments from various hotels and events)

The experience begins with a symphony of lights...

Then the intricate set-up is laid: from candle-lit tables, wine bars, Michelin-star chefs at your beck and call and all that jazz... this is a full dinner setting at the Prasat Kravan temple

A courtyard dinner at the Thommanon temple where you are blanketed by the jungle...

A lounge set-up at the Banteay Samre temple by Amansara

A dinner set-up at the Terrace of the Leper King

Ice sculptures guard the gates to the inner sanctum of Wat Attwiya

The dinner set-up inside Wat Attwiya with classical performances on the temple's causeway

Cocktails and wine by the Bayon temple, Angkor Thom

Classical Cambodian dance performances or music can be arranged... or if you fancy to be serenaded by U2 or Madonna, it's your call.

...or perhaps float a thousand candles on coconut on the temple's moats?

Rental prices for temples range from $2,500 for smaller, far flung temples while Angkor Wat can cost as much as $20,000 for a 3-hour dinner schedule! And that doesn't even include your dinner yet! Dinners usually start at around $300 per person. For most Cambodians earning an average of $2 a day, dinner alone is equivalent to their life savings. Rental price in Angkor Wat can actually build you a house here...

A couple of years ago, a year before I came to Cambodia, Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor held a dinner at Angkor Wat with performances by tenor Jose Careras, a full philharmonic orchestra and the Cambodian Royal Ballet. Dinner cost a measly $2,000 per person. Not bad for a two-hour spectacle. Very very affordable indeed.

So what are you waiting for?

Live it like the kings!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

celebrity clicks

The great thing about being in Cambodia is being able to meet great personalities that not in my wildest dreams would even think of rubbing shoulders with - how much more having a chance to take their photos!

These are a compilation of recent portraits and photography work I've done with for the past couple of months...

I was official photographer for Ricky Martin's outreach visit in support for kids around the world through his Ricky Martin Foundation - the Cambodian leg, that is... He is just genuinely a very noble person! The only funny thing was people started asking for his autographs... on pirated cd's!

I did a photo shoot with Philippine Senator Loren Legarda on location at the 15th century temple Wat Attwiya... her top is by Ilonggo designer Jaki Penalosa and neckpiece by Don Protasio (

with Wat Attwiya monks... top is by Romyda Keth for Khmer Attitude

I asked Senator Legarda to "embroider" the flag ala Teodora Agoncillo... this shoot turned out to be really fun! My friend Don Protasio helped out with the styling.

HRH King Mizan Zainal Abidin of Malaysia at Sofitel's greens. For a king of one of Asia's wealthiest states, was very casual, approachable and low key.

Celestina designer Tina Ocampo has conquered the pages of Vogue with her ingenious designs of exquisite accessories... I took this photo of her at the poolside of Raffles Grand Hotel... filled to the brim with glowing candles as she requested for an event.

The most powerful man in Cambodia - Prime Minister Hun Sen prepares for a swing of golf at the Sofitel Phokeetra Angkor Golf Resort at the opening of the Johnnie Walker Classic Tournament

We had a great opportunity to have christmas lunch with New York designer Rafe Totengco on his visit to Siem Reap. I took this portrait of him at Hotel de la Paix when he was sketching his latest shoe designs for the 2008 season...

President Ruth Dreifuss is Switzerland's first female president. I had a chance to photograph her when I was official photographer of Raffles Grand Hotel of her official visit to Cambodia

I have never seen an army and security of that immensity prepare for an official visit than HRH Thai Princess Maha Chakry Sarinthorn.

Some of the reasons why moving to Cambodia from Manila wasn't a bad idea after all!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

a sizzling cookbook!

I'm very lucky to be part of this very exciting project - a Cambodian Cookbook of which the entire proceeds of the sales go to helping Khmer street children find a better life through the organization called Green Gecko.

Headed by Aussie Tania Palmer and Khmer husband Rem, the couple started out the project by providing shelter, food and education to street children they've met begging and loitering the avenues of Siem Reap. Now, it has grown into a well-respected institution and is now giving gecko love to around a hundred kids! Buying this cookbook will help them a loooonnnggg way!

This cookbook project was initiated by another dear Aussie friend Yvette - who got me on board as photographer, food stylist and book designer. Fellow spoolworks teammate Brewster Bonifacio did the full lay-out with Yvette. The original printing of the book was done in Australia, but after a few weeks, got sold out! So hence, a Cambodian edition was done. This proved to be a pain in the neck because color separation here is not as prime as abroad, but after changing printers THREE TIMES, it is finally out!

SEAFOOD IN KAMPOT PEPPER - The kampot pepper used here is the star of the Kmer kitchen and is one of Cambodia's biggest exports. Haute French cuisine uses this fantastic pepper thoroughly. This pepper is better eaten whole and raw.

BANANA BLOSSOM SALAD - This is definitely a beautiful dish - with the perfect balance of herbs and chili without overwhelming the taste of the banana blossom.

GLASS NOODLE SALAD - The shrimp version tastes better (since I don't eat other meats!) but I had fun putting this together on a stone knife sharpener! As in most Asian salads, the basil is the supreme flavor innovator on this dish...

FISH SALAD - This is another favorite of mine. What sets it apart from the other 'ensaladas' are the herbs and the freshwater fish!

SEAFOOD CURRY - One of India's best gifts to the world - the curry... every nation has probably a version they call their own! Our Khmer house cook makes a wicked version of this!

GRILLED SEAFOOD - It may look just like any grilled seafood, but the secret here is the marinade and the pepper sauce!

The hardest thing here was "arranging" the noodles in such a way that they curl up gracefully yet naturally. The vegetables were stir fried separately for arrangement purposes.

I purposely excluded Cambodia's national dishes - the AMOK and the LOK LAK so that leaves you to discover the book fully...

Contrary to popular belief that Cambodian cooking is a shadow of Thai and Vietnamese cooking, let us remind you that a thousand years ago, Siam and Vietnam were mere provinces of Angkor (Cambodia), that's why I don't think the similarities in their cuisine were copied by Cambodia... but whether you refuse to believe it or not, Cambodian cuisine is an adventure you should not dare to miss!