Saturday, March 14, 2009

::[sierra leone II]::

yes! i have not abandoned this travel blog. i've actually been storing away photos for months, fully intending to update thedoxa.com when i got the chance. well, these back-dated posts are my meager attempt to catch up on my travels. blogs away!

a view of freetown's harbor, during my recent trip back to africa this past january. i first lived in sierra leone during the summer of 2006, and blogged about it here. i returned in january to conduct some follow-up research with my ngo, Timap for Justice, as well as get back in touch with old friends. it was wonderful seeing everyone again, and astonishing to discover all the changes the country has gone through in my three-year absence. freetown actually has electricity for most hours of the day!

i was in sierra leone during barack obama's inauguration. the ensuing celebrations were insane! you would never have guessed that it was anyone other than their own president being sworn in.

although i spent more of my time in towns and cities conducting interviews this time around, i got the chance to revisit my old office in the rural village of kaniya.

home sweet home! my old village of mofwe, near the house where i used to live, and a few of the neighborhood kids. they've all really grown up!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

::[new years in seattle]::

happy new year!! for our final night in washington, sam and i took the ferry over to seattle and watched the space needle explode into fireworks from nate's apartment. it was a dazzling show! click on the image for a closeup...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

::[xmas in poulsbo]::

sam and i spent the holiday season in his rural hometown: poulsbo, washington, across the puget sound from seattle. as a midwesterner, i am unaccustomed to the towering and dense coniferous forests that seem to cover every last inch of land here - the roads carve their way through the trees as if they were trespassing. i have to admit: i was intimidated by the snow-laden giants, especially during the dark, misty night-time drives.

despite the new environment, we spent a very relaxing holiday with sam's grandmother, parents, sister, brother, and niece. it was only my second christmas away from my family (the first being in 2004, when i was living in chile), but it was definitely a pleasure. i was a bit starved for sunlight by the end, though - i never realized what a dozen consecutive days of overcast weather can do to your energy level...

i grew up in a household that has used the same fake plastic tree for the past twenty years, so it was a new and exciting experience cutting down a real christmas tree for the first time. this is something that the kinas do every year. i felt kind of bad hacking away at the little guy in the tree farm, but it did smell wonderful in the home, and was much decorated and celebrated.

some christmas lights strung on a tree in the kinas' backyard.

Monday, October 27, 2008


for my first trip to the middle east, i traveled with other students in the harvard human rights clinic, on a joint fact-finding project with law students at the al quds university in the west bank. the palestinians and israelis i met and worked with were all absolutely amazing. i am indebted to them for their hospitality, generosity, and all they have taught me. nevertheless, the things i was forced to witness and undergo there made it the most difficult and shocking experience of my life. it left me shaken as no other place has left me before. while i remain committed to the work i started there, i'm not sure how i feel about returning to israel. the place does horrible and crushing things to my spirit. i've never had to say this about any place in all my travels, but i don't think i have the fortitude to stay there for extended periods of time. i suppose i work best within my comfort zone of post-conflict developing countries. i admire and praise those who spend their lives in pursuit of a humane peace in this corner of the world; i will continue to support you every way that i can. salaam and shalom.

the view of jerusalem from the palestinian side of "the wall". we spent most of our time in the west bank and east jerusalem, but also spent a couple days in haifa, nazareth, cana, and bethlehem.

walking through the old city.

three birdcages in cana.

sunset over jerusalem.

Friday, May 30, 2008

::[new york]::

for the first half of summer '08, i worked at a law firm in new york - my first taste of life in the private sector. my goal was to gain a different perspective of international law and development work, so i found a firm with active international arbitration and project finance teams and leaped in. it was all very eye-opening and educational; i think the exposure was invaluable to helping me frame my work as i move forward.

for lodging, i managed to snag this steal of a sublet in soho, a block away from the west village. i rented from a vacationing artist who had bought the studio thirty years ago for dirt cheap and was still holding onto it, even though all the other units around her were selling for hundreds of millions of dollars. new york is a colorful and crazy place, with amazing food, eclectic entertainment, and lots of style and personality. overall, living the relative high life in the big apple was a very different experience from my normal summer gigs...except for time when the water pump in the apartment building broke down, and we were out of running water for a few days. it felt just like old times again. =)

this was the neighborhood i lived in over the summer. i love how new york can be so massive, yet its individual neighborhoods still have a very comfortable, intimate, and old school feel to them.

looking out onto the empire state building from the lobby of my law firm. the building was one of the tallest in midtown, right off of times square, so the lawyers' offices had some of the most spectacular views of the city.

besides meandering aimlessly and talking to strangers, my favorite way of getting to know a city is eating my way through it. sam is of the same mind. so, armed with my mind-boggling summer associate salary, we went on a raging dining tour of the city, trying as many restaurants as we could that piqued our curiosity. many of our meals are chronicled here, on our food blog. yum.

Thursday, August 30, 2007


on the way back from east timor, i stopped in japan to visit kyle for a few days. i got the chance to see kobe, kyoto, himeji, and osaka, which all seem to blend together into a sprawling urban metropolis along the coastline. japan is an utterly fascinating place: supremely orderly, clean, and immersed in technology, yet steeped in tradition and instilled with a respect for the natural and spiritual world. i can't wait to go back and see more...

the view from kiyomizudera, the temple of holy water. you can drink from a spring there, whose water is said to have healing properties. whatever its true powers, the water tasted really fresh and good!

the gion the district in kyoto. the windows are all shuttered here because apparently that's where all the geisha entertain their clients. i liked it because there is a peaceful little stream that runs along the road to the side, with trees lining its ledges.

kobe and osaka as seen from kyle's apartment, which is up on a hill. it's a pretty impressive location! this photo was shot from his balcony.

while kyle was away at work, i would rent a bicycle and explore the city. it was a great way to get around, especially because kyoto has many smaller roads and alleyways that are fun to explore. of course i rocked the obligatory japanese peace sign in my photos.

whenever i needed a drink while biking, i would stop at one of the countless outdoor vending machines that sold all sorts of fun beverages with exclamation marks on them. they are conveniently placed all over the streets, so you are never caught without one! and each machine sells a variety of different products. despite my mission of buying a different drink every hour, i didn't come near to sampling the entire array available.

kyle and i testing out the greatest invention of the japanese thus far. "purikura" - photobooths where you get to deck out your photos with all sorts of fancy frills and words that make no sense at all. japanese teens go crazy for them and paste them everywhere. it sounds silly but it's kind of ridiculously fun. i'm in love.

i couldn't afford many souvenirs from japan (phew - not a cheap place), but i did get a small good luck charm from kiyomizudera temple. it has a small bell inside and hangs over my desk.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

::[bday riots]::

so, the east timorese government decided to announce their controversial new prime minister on my birthday. i had originally planned a little get-together for that evening, but in the end no one could come on account of the fires, stoning, and roadblocks. i ended up passing the time on the balcony with my housemates, watching the fires throughout the city with an overabundance of wine, cheese, crackers, and birthday cake.

the media is having fun whipping themselves into a frenzy, it seems. we've seen sensational headlines like: "East Timor erupts in violence after new prime minister named"... "Police fire tear gas at violent mobs in East Timor"..."New PM appointment sparks East Timor rioting"...and "Violence as Gusmao named E. Timor PM"...

i assure you that, while tense and certainly no vacation, the situation is under control. there are enough international security forces out here to make you dizzy, and they're not going to let anything get too out of hand. it's true that there are only so many places they can be at once, which resulted in the unfortunate burning down of the customs building last night. today, things are still a little on edge - i passed the smoking husk of customs on my way to work, but was sent home early when the office closed at noon. there are still some pockets of unrest meriting caution this morning, but as long as you are prudent about where you travel, you shouldn't run into any problems. in the end, they really are just sporadic episodes of youths with a taste for blazing barricades acting up...as news of the PM grows old, i imagine they'll settle down again.

until then, i have them to thank for the serenade of roving helicopters and blaring security radios on my 27th birthday, as well as the unfortunate city lightshow.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

::[scuba doo]::

i went scuba diving for the first time today!! it was absolutely mindblowing, the unimaginable diversity of coral and teeming sealife that lies just meters from the shore!

suiting up and getting our gear ready for our first dive at dili rock. from left to right, my international team was made of jumar from the philippines; caroline from guyana; david, our instructor from germany; jose from portugal; yoko from japan; and me, the US rep... =)

east timor is reputedly among the best divespots in the world, due to the unspoiled condition of its immense reefs, its brilliant colors and great visibility, and the abundance and accessibility of its wall dives (sheer underwater cliffs bejeweled with prolific coral growth that drop off into nothingness). to top it off, the practically nonexistent tourism industry here means that you get these incredible visions all to yourself!

entering the waters laden with our equipment. we started out with five, but unfortunately lost three to a panic attack, motion sickness, and breathing troubles. by the end of the day, it was just jose and me with our instructor david.

i couldn't believe my eyes, and wish i could have taken a thousand photos of the sea turtle we ambled after, the school of bannerfish that swirled around us, the vast array of coral tabletops, wells, fans, etc., and the families of clownfish that darted at our fingertips. i guess my memory will have to serve until i graduate to underwater photography...someday...

Saturday, July 28, 2007


just returned from a brief interview trip to oecussi, an enclave district of east timor tucked away in the middle of indonesia's west timor. the only way to get there (unless you are UN staff with access to exclusive helicopters) is a twice-weekly, overnight ferry from dili. the trip there is an adventure in itself - picking a path through a human patchwork of sleeping bodies...under the moonlight...on a rocking boat...poses quite a challenge!

throngs of people crowding their way into the ferry as the tide comes in.

a few passengers waiting at the ferry port against the mountainous backdrop of pante macassar, the capital of oecussi.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

::[need for speed]::

at the enthusiastic behest of several friends who have been rallying for this photo, i am finally giving in. i hereby present you with a picture of me on the motorbike that i've rented to get around dili during my time in east timor. i have to admit that i get a real kick out of scooting around the city on my new wheels. still, at every turn, i await the inevitable First Big Spill, which simply has to happen, given both my luck and the general non-observance of traffic regulations in this country. so, even though it is ninety degrees out here, i always ride around in full-length jeans and a sweatshirt like a paranoid eskimo. i've dressed down a little for this racy pinup, however. enjoy...

Monday, July 23, 2007


while disturbances happen pretty regularly during dili nights, they are mostly limited to isolated rock throwing and fights. last night however, things stepped up a bit. my housemates and i were eating dinner when we heard a few minutes of gunfire rattling off. pretty soon after, the security forces rolled out; armored personnel carriers thundered by our house, and unlit helicopters started roaming the skies to conduct some night vision recon. when we went up to the balcony for a peek, we could see an enormous plume of glowing smoke coming from a few blocks away. it turns out that gangs had been setting fire to houses, tires, and even the australian helipad and military base. the peacekeepers eventually had to use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse everyone. things didn't quiet down until the morning, but are pretty much back to normal now. let's hope they stay that way. for more about last night and its context, check out this article in the international herald.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


now, a geography lesson! unlike the rest of the islands in its archipelago, east timor is not volcanic, but rather a product of the battling asian and australian tectonic plates. it is literally the border between the two continents. east timor's topography is characterized by long, high mountain ranges crossing the middle of the island. over 44% of the country slopes at more than a 40 degree angle! east timor boasts of beaches, sandalwood stands and teak forests, hot springs, waterfalls, a landmark cristo rei statue, crocodile lagoons, and traditional architecture...for some examples, see below!

a traditional house perched on a ledge in the mountainous inner regions of the island.

the village of kaikua, near the seashore, where we visited and interviewed a former legal aid client.

sunrise over the cristo rei statue - a statue of jesus much like the ones in brazil and portugal (east timor is a former portuguese colony). you can see the statue's distant silhouette on the leftmost peak of the peninsula - there! this shot was taken from the beach in front of my house...

Friday, July 20, 2007


over the past couple weeks, i've been holding interviews in various offices and verandas throughout the eastern districts. did you know: the word "timor" bears a close resemblance to the indonesian word for "east" (i.e. "timur"). which means that the name "east timor" in bahasa sounds very much like "east-east". this, in turn, means that visiting the eastern districts of east-east is about as far in that direction as i can go, i figure.

anyway, here are some portraits of the people i have come across during my trips...

men dressed in timorese tais taking a rest near maubisse.

a girl peeks out of her house in baucau, east timor's second largest city.

waiting patiently along the road for a ride in the afternoon sun.

these kids couldn't wait to have a photo snapped of them! they live in the village of behali, in manatuto district.

Friday, July 13, 2007

::[east timor]::

riding in from the airport on the asia foundation truck.

so i finally arrived in east timor and am settling into the rhythm of life here. the island is astonishingly beautiful, with its crown of green mountains fringed with white sand beaches. time seems to run in slow motion because of the bright and striking heat. the city itself is pretty diffuse: cement buildings interrupted by dusty lots, strands of magenta flowers or palm tree clusters, and the occasional IDP camp. last year's crisis generated upwards of 120,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), most of whom are still occupying makeshift tents strung up in clusters throughout the city.

a dili street.

an idp camp near my home.

i've been using these past few days to catch up on east timorese current events and learn about how the asia foundation (TAF) operates in-country. for the remainder of my time here, i will be visiting TAF's legal aid partners throughout the country and interviewing former clients, in hopes of gaining insight into their experiences, their problems, and the impact that legal or mediation assistance has had on their lives.

gety, the asia foundation's lead program officer, translated my first interview with rozinda, a lawyer working at the dili-based legal aid clinic Lembuaga Bantuan Hukum Ukun Rasik An.

the sun sets over timor-leste...

on my first day here, i dropped by a beach outside of dili, where i saw the clearest, most brilliant sunset of my life: molten gold pouring down the horizon into a gentle, silver sea. i was kicking myself for having forgotten my camera in my jetlagged state, so the next day, i went back to the beach, only to come across a completely different kind of sunset. The tide was out, the sea was still, and the sun washed the entire sky in an incandescent red. i'm looking forward to enjoying many new and different skies during the next couple months...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

::[airport tour '07]::

five planes, four layovers, and 64 hours - that's what it takes to get from guatemala to east timor. i left for the guatemalan airport at 4am friday morning, and arrived in dili on monday at noon. the only thing that kept me sane during the long and exhausting journey was a personal project i had invented to distract myself: a little photoessay of airports of the world! it turns out that airports are actually quite compelling when you are exploring them with a purpose. i ended up with quite a few interesting images...here are just a few to give you a sense of my trip.

top to bottom, left to right: tokyo narita airport, japan; lobato airport, east timor; la aurora airport, guatemala; singapore changi airport, singapore; tokyo narita; la aurora; ngurah rai airport, bali, indonesia; los angeles international airport (LAX), united states; tokyo narita; la aurora; LAX.

Friday, July 06, 2007


No sé que extraña flor
es mi corazón.

Echa raíces
de la tarde a la mañana,
en cada despedida
hay que arrancarlo

y cómo duele.

Humberto Ak'abal
Poeta Maya K'iche

Saturday, June 30, 2007

::[cloud forests]::

for the latter half of my research, i've been conducting interviews in alta verapaz, the cloud forest region of guatemala. while based in the city of coban, i've been visiting surrounding villages to discuss dispute resolution practices with local leaders. because it's rainy season, billowing clouds normally drape the hills, and brief but fierce storms thunder past during the afternoons. i do take advantage of the sunny hours to take a few pictures, however.

one of my interviewees demonstrates her impressive weaving skills at her loom as her daughter looks on...or up.

like father, like son. a young one aspires to a grown man's work.

i took a break to visit semuc champey, which boasts several limestone tiers of warm, spring-fed waters. after climbing up to this lookout, i took a relaxing soak in the pools. i also went caving in nearby kanbah, which involved scrambling up subterranean waterfalls and swimming through underground rivers, led only by the flickering and unreliable light of a handheld wax candle!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

::[moys in guate]::

my parents and two younger brothers, phil and matt, came down to guatemala to visit me for a few days! i introduced them to some friends, led them through marketplaces, lakes, and winding mountain roads (much to the dismay of my carsick-prone father), then topped the trip off by scaling the active volcano pacaya and getting up close and personal with molten lava. i'll post the videos and images of that fiery adventure once i get the chance to edit them. until then, a couple snapshots...

my friend nikolas, a traditional weaver and the president of his city's security council, introduces my family to his mother before his wife and daughter join us for lunch in santiago atitlan.

amused by our hotel room's fireplace, the moy family invents its own version of "pyro-charades" - basically, images are drawn in the air with a flaming stick while family members guess what is being depicted. for more pyrotechnics, check out our gallery of fire art!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

::[greetings from guatemala]::

over the past few weeks, i've been conducting research on the indigenous and state legal systems in guatemala. no real consensus exists regarding the limits and competencies of indigenous law in guatemala, even though the peace accords of 1996 make specific reference to its formal recognition. still, the country remains in a state of de facto judicial pluralism; two forms of law are practiced simultaneously, as indigenous authorities maintain and carve out ad-hoc spaces for their practices. i've been looking into how these systems coexist on the ground, in hopes of identifying some best practices for future coordination between them.

to get a feel for the situation, i spent my first few weeks here interviewing specialists and activists in guatemala city. i followed this up with a couple weeks of conducting a case study of indigenous and state authority relations in santa cruz, el quiche, supplemented by visits to key informants in solola. i am now finishing off with a comparative study in coban, alta verapaz.

during the course of my research, i've had the chance to travel a bit and take a few photographs along the way, whether of friends, associates, marketplaces, or landscapes. here are a few of my many snapshots!

sunrise over atitlan, a crater lake ringed by volcanoes.

girls playing hopscotch in santa cruz de la laguna, a village on the shores of lago atitlan.

a view of the ruins of tikal, an ancient mayan city, from the top of the great pyramid of mundo perdido. the forest has since consumed this former metropolis; several temples are still buried in the undergrowth.

a farmer surrounded by his produce in chichicastengango marketplace.

guatemala city, seen from the highway exiting the capital.

maria and milica preparing dinner in their home. this sweet and generous family put me up during my stay in nahuala, and made sure i was more than welcome and comfortable. i only left last week, but i miss them already!

detail of the handwoven sash, shirt, belt, and rodillera (woolen skirt) of a nahualan man in traditional dress.

a group photo with the members of DEMI, a legal defense clinic or indigeous women, with whom I worked very closely during my time in santa cruz. i owe them quite a lot for introducing me to interviewees, showing me around, and being wonderful friends.

in every city, you'll see young boys carrying black wooden footrests, looking to polish the shoes of passing pedestrians. a few kids in nebaj took an interest in my camera and i let them play with it for a while. there were some natural photographers in the bunch!

measuring out miltomates for sale in solola's friday market, when the entire plaza is awash in the red and black of the huipiles worn by the women in the area.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

::[diplomat's ball]::

josh, chris, leaya, and michelle ready to paint the town for the annual diplomat's ball! finishing off the year in style.