7000 Islands: A Food Portrait of the Philippines

Story by Kristine Ortiz. 

Australian-born Filipina Yasmin Newman used to visit the Philippines as a child, but it wasn’t until she became an adult that she discovered a true passion for Filipino food. Today, she presents the Filipino Kitchen Conversation program on Australia’s SBS radio, and her new coffee table book, 7000 Islands: A Food Portrait of the Philippines, is a lush collection of Filipino food, life and culture.

With stunning photos (she took them herself!) of not just native dishes but people and places that lend a richness to the recipes within, the book offers juicy cultural tidbits like the tradition of pasalubong (small souvenirs you bring home for friends and family), local fables and lore, and a bit of historical context for a full, well-rounded picture of Filipino life and cuisine. Our favorite part of the book is her take on local dining culture, excerpted here.

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How to Eat in the Philippines (excerpted from 7000 Islands)

Take in what’s on offer.
A lot of preparation has gone into this meal and a simple glance will often miss a delicious dish hiding in the banquet.

Pile your plate with anything (and everything) that takes your fancy.
A little bit of this, a little bit of that and definitely some of that over there. Don’t forget the rice.

Sit back and let the elements blend.
Multiple dishes offer more than just choice — Filipinos believe food tastes best once different flavours have combined on the plate.

Eat with gusto.
Don’t be shy! Use your hands to dip food into sauces. Feel free to move from a savoury to a sweet dish, then back to savoury — there are no rules here.

Always go back for more.
Lest your host think you’ve not eaten enough. One serving will not suffice.

Leave a little remainder on your plate.
Lest your host think you’re not full!

Let the gossiping, jokes and laughter begin.
Not much talk takes place at the start of a meal — Filipinos are too excited by the food. Once stomachs are sated, smiles can be seen around the table. Don’t rush off; here, family and friends hang out to chat for seemingly hours on end.

Details Hardcover, $39.95, available April, rizzoliusa.com.
Excerpted from 7000 Islands: A Food Portrait of the Philippines by Yasmin Newman, Hardie Grant, 2014. Food photography © Jana Liebenstein and location shots © Yasmin Newman; no images may be used, in print or electronically, without written consent from the publisher. 

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here.

 

Phyllis Chen Proves Toy Piano Ain’t No Child’s Play

Story by Jimmy Lee. 

When you tell people you play the toy piano professionally, hearing snickers or getting a blank stare just comes with the territory. It’s something Phyllis Chen is not unfamiliar with.

“People used to turn their noses when they heard I played classical music as well,” says Chen. “But that’s OK. That’s not a major concern of mine.”

The more pressing matters on her mind include finishing her latest commission, a composition for string orchestra and toy piano, which she will debut in April in Austin, Texas.

Chen is just one of a few musicians demonstrating that the toy piano is not just a plaything for children. “When I touched it, it was like how I felt about the piano. I just loved the tactile experience of playing it and fell in love with the bell-like sound,” says Chen, who first came across the miniaturized instrument when she was 21 (it was being used as a prop in a puppet theater). Now she’s composing new pieces and releasing CDs highlighting the toy piano. “I knew that there wasn’t a lot of music out there for it, and it made me feel like I can create new repertoire for something that doesn’t have boundaries and the traditional thinking that is expected in classical music.”

There is, however, a lot of misconceptions about what Chen does. For one, she is not anything like Schroeder of the Peanuts comics and cartoons, playing Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on her toy piano. And she’s not the child whom producers from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno assumed she was when they inquired about her appearing — they weren’t interested in adult toy pianists, apparently. And some people who venture into one of her concerts might walk in with wacky expectations, like the one time a few audience members told Chen they thought she was going to be a miniature pianist (as in a small person).

“It’s a profession filled with misunderstandings,” says Chen.

Another refrain she hears often is that people who hear toy piano automatically assume it’s music meant for kids. But what she’s playing is verging on the avant-garde, and could even be construed as too arty; it’s music not for the masses. One of the first pieces she performed publicly was written by John Cage, the master modern composer most notorious for “4”33’,” which is 4 minutes and 33 seconds of the orchestra sitting in silence.

So how does a classically trained pianist, who started playing at the age of 5 and has music degrees from Oberlin (undergrad) and Northwestern (master’s) and is nearing completion of her doctorate from Indiana University, end up behind a toy piano? For Chen, it started with tendinitis that affected her hands. The doctors told her to take a break from the piano. “In a way, it was a blessing in disguise. It gave me the actual chance to do my own thing,” says Chen.

Her hands, since childhood, have gravitated toward sonic-producing objects. She was the one who wanted to start the piano at age 5, not her immigrant Taiwanese parents, who moved Chen, born in Schenectady, N.Y., and her brother to the South when she was 1, after her father became a professor at Virginia Tech. “Now, thinking about it, I rented bassoons, oboes, clarinets and flutes — all these things when I was a kid. I just wanted to get my hands on them and play them,” recounts Chen. “It was again the tactile experience.”

She does still play the piano, often with the International Contemporary Ensemble that she co-founded. She has also tackled the violin and yet another keyboard instrument: “I was completely in love with the accordion, and I totally thought I would become an accordion player,” says Chen. She even joined a klezmer band, but bearing it on her shoulders was too much while dealing with her tendinitis. The toy piano, on the other hand, “was an easy instrument to play because of the light touch.”

Chen exhibited that touch at a concert last September at New York City’s Joe’s Pub, while seated on a short stool. Yet she still loomed large over two toy pianos, one in the shape of an upright and the other a baby grand. You not only hear the bell-like tinkling of the notes she plays, but also the movement of the keys as they’re being depressed. And it’s really noticeable when Chen’s fingers are flying across the few octaves that fit on the keyboards. Her instruments project a clangy sound that dissipates quickly. There are no rich, resonant tones that you’d expect from a concert Steinway. And Chen is perfectly fine with that.

“[Toy pianos are] really kind of like a voice. They all have their own weird quirks,” says Chen. “It’s funny, but I’ve met instrument makers who say, you should put this into maple wood, and I could tune it for you [to make it more like a real piano]. Well, then, it’s not a toy piano if it’s perfect, beautiful sounding.”

With the toy piano, there are no unwritten rules to be bound by. Rather, the toy piano is pushing Chen to be a better artist. “I don’t feel as musically stuck anymore, or stifled by the classical tradition,” she says. “Now I could finally give myself the permission to do whatever I want and take responsibility for it.”

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here

FAKY: A Multiethnic J-Pop Group On The Rise

Story by Taylor Weik.

Japan has produced a number of girl bands over the years. You have Perfume, the vocal trio who formed in 2000 out of the talent academy Actors School Hiroshima. Then there’s AKB48, the 88-member group that has sold more than 21 mil- lion CDs worldwide. But no J-pop band has ever been compared to other international vocal groups, like Britain’s Little Mix or America’s Fifth Harmony. FAKY has been likened to both, and they have only been in existence for about a year.

It was last April at Avex Academy, a Japanese school for performing artists, that the five-member girl group formed. Tina, Lil’ Fang and Anna (at 21, the oldest and so-called leader of the group) had known each other through dance classes; Mikako was a part of the same program in a different region in Japan; and Diane was the winner of Avex Audition MAX 2013. Their name is “a combination of ‘fantastic’ and ‘Tokyo,’” says Tina, the youngest at 16. “Even though it sounds like ‘fake,’ we like to think we’re the most real group here in Japan.” Since FAKY’s formation, they have already released two music videos for their iTunes chart-topping singles “Better Without You” and “Girl Digger” (they sing in English and Japanese), and are currently putting the final touches on their debut album, due out in April.

Tina says she represents the reason why they consider themselves to be so “real” — the teenager is biracial Japanese American, born in Atlanta, Ga., where she lived for four years be- fore moving to Japan. There are two other bilingual members of the group: Diane, who is also biracial Japanese American, and Anna, who is Japanese but born in New Zealand. Though Lil’ Fang and Mikako were born and raised in Japan, they’re both learning English to help establish FAKY as a global sensation.

“What sets us apart from other J-pop groups is our independence,” says Tina, acknowledging the comparisons to various international groups. “We don’t wear the same clothes like others do. Each of us has a different personality and we’re multiethnic. We’re not identical robots!” Indeed, each member boasts varying vocal inspirations: Anna is a Britney Spears fan, Tina and Lil’ Fang prefer the strong vocals of Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé, Diane leans more Lady Gaga, and Mikako is heavily influenced by J-pop bands.

Their fans are surprisingly diverse as well. FAKY takes special pride in the fact that their fanbase is largest in Turkey, and they hope to be able to visit the country one day on a world tour.

Right now, the girls are concentrating on voice and dance lessons, flying out to Los Angeles last October for training and to establish themselves overseas in the U.S. FAKY’s biggest goal as a girl group is to become role models for young girls, the demographic they most appeal to. “We want to encourage girls to be independent and not feel pressured by society,” says Tina. “As multiethnic girls, sometimes it’s hard for Diane and me to live in Japan. There are moments we feel like outsiders there, and even when we come to America, where I was born, we still feel like we don’t belong. We’ve grown to have strong cores, and we want to help others do the same.”

faky 2



This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here.

Audrey Column: SLUT SHAMING AND THE 30-YEAR-OLD (NON) VIRGIN

What happens when you tell your mom you’re not the virgin she assumed you were? As O.D.D. (Online Dating Diary) Girl found out, hilarity does not ensue. 

“You’re a slut who has wasted both her degrees. You’ve ruined your life.”

Those were the very words my mother uttered to me one night in my car after I revealed to her I wasn’t a virgin. Just minutes before, she had asked me about the guy I had been dating for a couple of months — specifically, why I was staying overnight at his place when I could just sleep in my own bed.

Like many traditional Asian mothers, my mom had chosen to believe that her daughter had remained a virgin for all three decades of her life. Most of my friends were puzzled as to why I chose to disclose that detail about my life to my mom, but in that instant, I didn’t want my mom to think that she still had a hold over my virginity — my body was not hers to keep the chastity belt on.

Then it got weird when she demanded that he ask her for permission for me to sleep over. It was as if she needed to hand over my body to him to hold and protect, like one of those traditional Asian marriages, where the groom offers a dowry to the bride’s family, except the dowry was him offering my mom some peace of mind that he would take care of me.

It’s no surprise that my parents never had the talk about the birds and the bees with me (thanks, school and cheesy romance novels). My mom knows that I know about sex because I was the one who talked to my younger brother about practicing safe sex with his girlfriend. But this was the first time that I shared private details about my sex life with my mom. Of course, sharing those details backfired on me (I shouldn’t have been surprised), but I was surprised that she actually slut shamed me. Because I wasn’t a virgin anymore, I became a failure in her eyes.

Slut shaming in society really only extends to women. The word “slut” is so easily tossed around these days. I’ll hear conversations between guys about how a girl “was a slut” because she turned one guy down, but was dating another guy. If a woman chose to have a one-night stand, she’s labeled a slut, and yet men aren’t susceptible to this label because somehow men are lauded for being sexual conquerors. Even worse, women slut shame each other for all sorts of reasons — or even for no good reason at all.

Of course, for my mother, me not being a virgin was not really about me. It was about keeping “face” and honor for a family name within a community — and that’s even more crucial because my community is small. My mom repeatedly talked about how his parents could know our family, and that it would have dire consequences (what they were, she was quite vague) for our future. We’re not royalty, and we don’t have some secret family fortune tied to me being a virgin, so I wasn’t sure what she was getting at. But what made it worse is that the males in my family are freely able to do what they want when it comes to sex.

I’ll admit, it’s hard to change the traditional views of many Asian parents out there. But I’m more concerned about the lack of safe spaces for Asian American girls who grow up in a slut- shaming culture. This idea of what and who is a slut gets passed around from individual to individual, whether it’s from our parents or passing male commentary. We internalize it, and what if, as we get older, we still end up calling our daughters sluts for doing what our sons do? It’s a big issue for women in general, but I think it’s incredibly important for women of color, as we pass on our values and ideals about sexuality and our bodies within our own communities.

So I will say this — I don’t regret telling my mom anything. I think it opens up opportunities for more conversations about topics that may have remained behind closed doors. While I feel my mom’s views haven’t changed overnight, I can say that she doesn’t really think I’m a useless slut who has wasted her degrees anymore.

The other day, I told my mom I was taking an exotic dance class. She wasn’t sure what that was so I bluntly told her, “It’s a stripper dance class, mom. We’re learning stripper dance moves.”

I thought she was going to jump on her slut-shaming tirade, but her response? “That’s nice. Have fun.”

I guess we’re making some progress then. Until next time … — O.D.D. Girl

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here

‘America’s Next Top Model’ Filming in Korea

Story by Cassandra Kwok. 

Supermodel Tyra Banks and the newest contestants of reality TV show America’s Next Top Modelwere spotted roaming the streets of Seoul, causing a “frenzy” among local media, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Local residents have been reporting on the group’s whereabouts on social media, after host Banks and her crew arrived in Seoul on March 21. The group reportedly visited various city landmarks and popular tourist attractions, including City Hall and Gwanghwamun at Gyeongbok Palace, while filming the 21st iteration of the modeling competition, which will be coed this season.

Various entertainment sites reported that 17-year-old Korean model, Lee Jin-yi, could possibly be a competitor this season. Lee is the daughter of actress Hwang Shin-hye. In addition, K-pop group BtoB will appear on the show as dance judges.

The reality TV show is known for traveling to extravagant locations with the latest trend-setting fashion. Filming of the show will continue for next two weeks under tight security.

Residents of Seoul will be seeing much more than just models wandering their streets as South Korea has been taking center stage for several international productions this year.

In just a few weeks, the filming of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron will be shutting down the streets of Seoul as reports have stated closures of many major roads and specified locations.

Earlier this year, ABC’s reality show The Bachelor filmed several episodes of its season in Korea, with contestants participating in a K-pop performance with idol girl group, 2NE1.

America’s Next Top Model will air on the CW in August.

This story was originally published on iamkoream.com.

Justin Bieber’s Korean Tattoos Elicit Mixed Reactions

Story by Ruth Kim. 

Singer Justin Bieber has come a long way from the clean-cut Canadian 15-year-old who wooed teenage girls the world over. The pop star is declaring his bad boy reputation one tattoo after another, and his recent choice of inked art directly appeals to his Korean fans.

The Canadian singer avowed his love for Korea, posting on Instagram on March 25 a photo of his new Korea-inspired tattoo, accompanied with the caption “I love you Korea.” The image reveals a traditional Korean Hahoe mask tattooed in black ink, with his name inscribed below in Korean, 비버, which is pronounced “bee-buh.” Close enough.

Popular Toronto-based Korean tattooist, Seunghyun Jo, inked the tattoos for his fellow Canadian, and also shared a photo of the two on his Instagram. He said, “Thanks @justinbieber for inviting me to your studio! It was a long night of tattooing you but worth it! See you soon brotha you are crazy talented.”

Reactions from fans (and non-fans alike) were mixed. Obviously, hardcore Beliebers were unflinchingly supportive of their favorite pop star, leaving a slew of positive comments on his Twitter and Instagramaccount, like “I love you” and “obsessed”. South Korean fans, especially, are enthusiastic; one Korean Instagrammer commented, “omo yesss South Korea all the way man!”

However, more negative remarks are mixed in, with some fans disapproving of his tattoo spree, pleading him to stop. Others insult the singer, saying he is nowhere near Asian pop star level.

One disgruntled reader writes, “Ugh, gosh. I bet he’s just doing that because everyone knows that kpop is going to be the next big thing around the world and he’s trying to get on the korean’s good side so he can get “positive comments” about him and all that crap.”

They continue, “비버…more like 바보”, the latter phrase translating to “stupid” in Korean. Positive and negative comments aside, let’s be honest—the Canadian pop star had that particular play on words coming.

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This story was originally published on iamkoream.com.

Get Your Greens On

Story & Photos Christina Ng. 

With the exception of bok choy, most people are not all that familiar with Asian greens. But with springtime just around the corner and perhaps the novelty of salad waning, maybe it’s worth looking into. Asian greens are chock full of vitamins and contain a wide variety of textures. Unlike their western salad cousins, Asian greens are rarely eaten raw and can be quite filling as a dish. The best thing is most of these greens can be prepared in minutes and can satisfy whatever flavor mood you’re in.


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SAVORY: YU CHOY 

Yu choy or choy sum is a favorite in Chinese households. Both its mild flavor and firm yet tender texture make it an extremely versatile green. Depending on how old the yu choy is, the stalks can become mildly bitter and usually require a slight trimming before cooking. It’s usually sautéed with oil and garlic and topped off with a dollop of oyster sauce, which really brings out the yu choy’s sweetness. Yu choy is packed with iron and vitamins A and C, and has been referred to as a super green.

Yu Choy with Oyster Sauce

-Blanch yu choy in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute depending on how crunchy you want the greens.

-In a pan, heat oil with chopped garlic until fragrant.

-Toss in yu choy and turn off the heat.


-Top with 1-2 tablespoons of oyster sauce and serve. 

 

 


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SWEET: CHINESE WATERCRESS

Chinese watercress is very similar in flavor to western watercress. The juicy stalks and peppery leaves lend itself well to soups, which is how the Chinese love to prepare watercress. As the watercress cooks, the pepperiness mellows and the leaves become sweeter. Watercress is known to be an anti-cancer superfood and is high in vitamins A, B, C and K and also in minerals like iron and calcium.

Sweet Watercress Soup

-Simmer 1⁄2 pound of cubed pork, a small handful of goji berries and a small handful of jujubes or dates with a quart of water for about 1 hour.

-Add in watercress and some cubed tofu and continue to simmer for an additional 20 minutes.


-Add salt to taste. 

 


Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.24.02 PMBITTER: BITTER MELON 

Bitter melon is similar to a lumpy, bitter cucumber, so by no means does its appearance or taste seem appealing, but surprisingly, bitter melon is very widely eaten across Asia. It’s packed with vitamin C and is used regularly in herbal medicines for digestion and diabetes. It’s also good in pork dishes, and many people will cook the melon with sugar or a sauce to diffuse the bitterness. Do remember to scoop out the center of the melon, as the insides are quite tough.

Bitter Melon with Minced Pork

- In a pot of boiling water, cook two bitter melons cut into 1⁄4-inch slices for 2-3 minutes.


- In a frying pan, brown 1⁄4 pound of minced pork with a teaspoon of minced garlic, soy sauce and rice wine. Add salt, pepper and sugar to taste.


-Toss in bitter melon and sauté for 30 seconds. Remove onto a plate.


- Deglaze pan with several tablespoons of water mixed with a little bit of cornstarch. Cook for 30 seconds until sauce thickens.


- Toss sauce with the meat and bitter melon. Serve warm.

 


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SPICY: TONG CHOY

The Chinese also call this water spinach kong xin cai, which literally translates to “hollow vegetable.” Tong choy is known for its crunchy, straw-like stalks. In the past, the green has been known to grow in waterways and canals, giving it the reputation of an unclean or unhealthy green. However, today tong choy is grown in farms across the U.S. and is a good source of vitamins A and C, folate and other minerals like magnesium and iron. Tong choy is traditionally eaten with fermented tofu, which is slightly fishy, spicy and creamy, and can be found in your local Asian grocery store. Some quick tips when cooking tong choy is to wash the stalks thoroughly as it does get very sandy. Also when cooking, try to put in the stalks first because it takes a little longer to cook than the more delicate leaves on top.

Tong Choy with Fermented Tofu

- Wash stalks thoroughly and cut stalks in half so that the bottom stalks are separated from the top leaves.


- In a pot of boiling water, cook stalks for about 3 minutes. Then put in leaves and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.


- Drain and add several cubes of fermented tofu into the greens. Mix until cubes are creamy and well combined
.

 

 


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SOUR: SUAN CAI 

Sometimes referred to as the Chinese sauerkraut, suan cai is a lacto-fermented mustard green. Lacto-fermentation is different from pickling in that it doesn’t use vinegar, but instead uses the vegetable’s natural bacteria to ferment itself (like kimchi and sauerkraut). There are numerous health benefits associated with lacto-fermented foods, as it introduces good bacteria back into your body. The Chinese use it as a condiment, mixed with pork dishes or sprinkled on top of noodles. A word of caution: Although suan cai translates into “sour vegetable,” it is also very salty, so feel free to rinse the fermented greens prior to serving.

Minced Mustard Greens

-Chop packaged mustard greens into a fine dice.

-Put on top of noodles, mix with ground meat or use as a condiment. 

 

 

 

 

 

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here

Haikus With Hotties: Dante Basco

Story by Ada Tseng. Photo by Craig Stubing, unwrittenfilms.com.

We’re excited for our latest haiku exchange with Filipino American hottie Dante Basco, not only because we know him from characters including Rufio from Hook, Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation from Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender, Ben Mercado from The Debut, breakdancer Ramos in Take the Lead, “Dante Basco” in Hang Loose with KevJumba, and an evil version of himself in the upcoming web series Awesome Asian Bad Guys (AABG) — which you can read more about it here — but also because it’s the first time we’ve had a real poet for Haikus With Hotties. (His book, Dante’s Poetry Lounge, was published in 2010, and a second edition is in the works.) All we can say is: Bring it on, Basco.

Prince of Fire, King of
Comic Conventions. Hottest
cosplay costume is…? 

Dante:
Anime is cool
Sexier even when, Girls
Dress like Rufio

Which “Dante Basco”
gets the girl? AABG,
Hang Loose or real life?

Dante:
We’ve all been lucky
I’m stuck with the character
And he’s stuck with me

How you ripped off your 
tie for Take the Lead tango …
You do that at home?

Dante:
Maybe once or twice
In the middle of the night
I’m always dancing…

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This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here

Don’t forget to check out HAIKUS WITH HOTTIES with:
Freddie Wong
Godfrey Gao 

Audrey’s Women of Influence | Princess Soma Norodom

Story by Jody Hanson. Photo by Brad Callihoo/Billy Otter Productions. 

“It is all about education,” the gregarious Soma Norodom exclaims with infectious enthusiasm. “It is the only way out of poverty. Particularly for girls, so that is why the [Soma Norodom Foundation] is going to give scholarships to 10- to 16-year-old children from very disadvantaged circumstances, so they can study.”

Surely a noble mission, but how did the all-American Soma — homecoming princess, sports commissioner, commencement speaker of her graduating class of 1988 — end up starting a not-for-profit foundation in Cambodia?

The modern history of the Kingdom of Cambodia is best described as one of civil war and chaos. Tucked in between Vietnam and Thailand, the country was in constant danger of being swallowed by its neighbors. When the Norodom family succeeded to the throne in 1860, King Norodom I allowed the French to establish a protectorate. It wasn’t until 1953 that King Norodom Sihanouk declared independence. He was overthrown by a military coup in 1970, and this paved the way for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror.

In 1975 — Soma was 5 at the time — Pol Pot invaded Phnom Penh and the Norodom family fled to the United States and settled in Long Beach. “I didn’t want a title, because in America it doesn’t matter,” remembers Soma. “Who cares if Sihamoni Norodom — the current king — is my cousin? None of my friends even knew about my family history or that I was a princess. I lead a normal sort of life. My hobbies are eating, playing sports and shopping. How American is that?”

Her situation changed in 2010, however, when her father, Prince Vatvani Norodom, decided he wanted to die in his home country. As the oldest daughter, Soma returned to Cambodia to be with him and provide family support until he passed in December 2012. “I really didn’t want to be part of the royal family,” she says. (The Cambodian monarchy was reinstated in the ’90s.) “They are constantly in the spotlight, and people expect a lot.”

Instead of hanging out in royal circles, Soma made it her project to study the language (she is now fluent in Khmer), learn about the history of her new home country and educate herself about social and cultural issues. “Honestly, I had no idea about anything when I first arrived,” she says. “But I threw myself into it. A steep learning curve for sure, but it was a good experience, and I bonded with Cambodia. I became a dual citizen in the total sense of the word.”

When Soma was outed as the “royal rebel” by the local press, she could no longer stay under the public radar, and she ended up a columnist for the Phnom Penh Post. Some of Soma’s articles annoyed the government, but she didn’t pull any punches, even though she was criticized.

“My platform has always been education, so I wrote a lot about it when I was working for the newspaper,” she says. “Every chance I got, I tried to put in a plug for education for the poor, particularly the girls.” In addition to writing, Soma volunteered her time for events like International Day of the Girl and served as ambassador for the Happy Tree Orphanage, an NGO that looks after children who are HIV positive. “We can learn a lot from these kids,” she says.

While being a royal in the Kingdom does have its downside, it also positioned Soma to meet the right people. So when she started her foundation, she was able to get key players for the board of directors. “They are all respected, well-connected people with backgrounds in education and business,” she says.

“Unable to afford to go to school in Cambodia, these illiterate kids have to scavenge through the garbage to find recyclable things to sell,” she continues. “With the scholarships from the foundation, they will have their school fees paid and have uniforms and books. It will give them a chance for a better life. Remember that in Cambodia there aren’t many social services. So if you are born into a poor family, chances are that is where you will stay if you don’t get an education.”

In addition to working with existing NGOs, such as A New Day Cambodia, Soma is going back to her American roots, specifically the California State University system, to help her foundation. A member of the Fresno State alumni, she is working with the university on a program to bring interns from America to Cambodia for three months to help with business plans and learn about the culture. “As well as helping poor kids get an education, we want to expose Westerners to what it is like in the developing world,” she says. “It will be a learning experience for many people at various levels.”

When asked what is going to make the Soma Norodom Foundation different from the thousands of other NGOs currently in Cambodia, Soma answers without a hint of hesitation: “I live here. The foundation will be a hands-on experience for me, and I’ll be able to see exactly where the money is going and what we are able to accomplish with it. Further, I will be able to monitor the value added.

“Too often people set up NGOs and then go home — or hide out in BKK1, the expat suburb of Phnom Penh — and forget about the original mission,” she continues. “I’ve become Cambodian and I care about what happens to the uneducated paupers. I’m not afraid to get down and dirty with the people from the Stung Meanchey garbage dump.”

The foundation may still be in its early days, but there are already expansion plans in the works. “We are going to start off with the 10- to 16-year-olds. As they get through secondary school, we would like to extend the program to include university education as well,” says Soma. “Cambodia is a developing country that desperately needs professional people: doctors, teachers, pilots. There really isn’t a middle class here — people are either rich or poor — and we need to create one. Once again, it all goes back to education.”

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here. 

ON THAT NOTE: Clara C

FULL NAME Clara Fisher

HERITAGE Korean American

AGE 26

CLAIM TO FAME After an eventful year (she got married, hence the name, and she released an acoustic album, Organika), the New York native singer-songwriter is currently working on, in her own words, “*drum roll*… Brand Spankin’ New Songs!”

Go-to karaoke song: “Forgot about Dre” or “Always Be My Baby.”

Last time I cried: Laughing with my friends.

Always makes me laugh: Stand up comedy.

Go-to comfort food: Ramen. No joke. I’m an addict and recently gave myself an intervention.

Last thing I ate: Garlic brussel sprouts, roasted butternut squash and agedashi tofu.

Currently on “repeat” on my iPod: Pharrell’s “Happy.” Trying not to listen to it too much because I don’t ever want to feel annoyed by hearing it.

A guilty pleasure I don’t feel guilty about: The. Spice. Girls.

Current favorite place: Any tropical waterside location. I dream of moving to Hawaii.

Favorite drink: I’m a whiskey lover with a growing collection.

Current obsession: DIY things. I’ve been building my own furniture, and it’s so addicting. It’s arts & crafts meets functional avant-garde artistry!

Pet peeve: Bad smells (breath, body odor, feet, etc.).

Habit I need to break: Hot Fries, Hot Cheetos, Hot Cheetos Puffs … the whole damn Hot Cheetos family needs to leave me alone! Or rather, I need to leave them alone.

Hidden talent: Latin ballroom dancing, i.e. salsa, mambo.

Talent I’d like to have: Drawing. Although my stick figures will give yours a run for their money.

Word or phrase I most overuse: I try never to over- use words or phrases. Keep it fresh on the daily.

Someone you follow on Twitter we’d be surprised about: I just logged in to see and I have no clue why or when I started following Harry Styles of One Direction.

Greatest fear: Spiders. Nasty little buggers.

Motto: Live, love, learn, laugh.

What’s cool about being Asian: Getting cash- money on New Year’s and Korean food.
My job in another life: Actress!

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here