Back to the streets of Phnom Penh

A few weeks before I was set to travel to Cambodia, Off-White™ opened its first doors to Sydney. I was Christmas shopping when I noticed the line outside, crowds of shoppers waiting for a chance to browse and buy Virgil Abloh’s coveted collection.

Fast forward three weeks. I’m forty minutes from Cambodia’s nascent capital, in the back streets of an underprivileged district. We’re here to visit a community of brick factory workers. They’re happy to see the bags of rice in the back of the van, and while the adults get down to the business of hand to mouth sustenance, it’s the kids that catch my attention.

I’m immediately reminded of the world I’ve come from. A world that consciously writes out a verdict on your past and future by the items on your sleeves. In more ways than one, high-end streetwear labels have come to represent the value of our existence.

On this particular visit, there’s one label that catches me by surprise. A young boy is clothed in signature yellow and white, the stripes on his shirt are sewn together to spell, ‘O-F-F W-H-I-T-E’. I let out a surprised chuckle as I continue to hold the little hands that wrap around my fingers.

Fashion was never intended to be equal – some choose to wait in line for a chance to wear half a paycheck on our shoulders, while others wait here to collect a kilogram of rice.

The proliferation of fake replicas in Cambodia is no surprise

As the hype of the day changes in the west so too does fake fashion in the developing parts of the world. Four years ago when I visited Cambodia, the standard of fake goods was disappointing. Today, the side carts and overcrowded markets proudly boast the freshest streetwear trend of the day: YEEZY knock-offs. Supreme knock-offs, Nike slip-ons, and Off-White™ shirts have made their way into the backstreets of Phnom Penh – the ubiquity of Off-White™ replicas draped on street kids in Cambodia gives ‘streetwear’ a whole new meaning.

Need to know what’s trending in the world? Take a peek at the scraps on the backs of these street kids who are unknowingly caught up in a furious scramble to keep up with the rest of the world.

Ten noteworthy #MeToo tweets

Social media ‘movements’ come and go and only few will outlive its digital lifespan. Recently, pockets of #MeToo (and #HimThough) posts have caught my eye, and undoubtedly yours too.

It was nothing more than a positive sentiment at first, but the trail of posts from friends and old colleagues have been hard to shake off. That’s the power of storytelling – one act of bravery that momentarily makes you stop and reflect on what actually goes on.

The #MeToo campaign actually started years ago by @TaranaBurke, an advocate, youth worker and blogger for women of colour. She says, the movement aims to radicalize the notion of mass healing.


It caught on after actress Alyssa Milano publicly shared her own #MeToo story and invited victims around the world to post #MeToo as a symbol of solidarity. To some extent, it’s shed light on the reality of sexual harassment and the varying degrees of it too. It’s given a glimpse of the many faces of the issue and just the sheer ubiquity of any form of harassment.

I started reading a lot of #MeToo posts

So you too huh?

Some of the stories have been difficult to read. Others have been heartwarming. But a story is still a story.

There’s no common thread of the #MeToo posts – it’s not a racial issue or even a gender issue. It’s affected men and women alike and the one simple fact that connects us all – everyone has been affected either physically, emotionally, or both.

The ‘how’, ‘why’ and ‘when’, aren’t counted in magnitude but in memories of pain and fear. For some, including myself, these memories have resurfaced with every hashtag.

Like anything else, the momentum will slow and the impact will dull. People can say the attempt is futile or your story is inconsequential but what makes a lasting impact is one degree of change – whether it’s your ability to start talking about your experience, or a sharpened sensitivity towards others, the stories speak for themselves.

From the heap of gold out there, here are ten noteworthy #MeToo tweets:

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Yangon – Sittwe Photo Diary

I’ve always wanted to travel to Myanmar. I finally booked my flight to Yangon in November 2015, coinciding with the country’s momentous elections where I witnessed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi rise to the presidential seat.

My trip began in the vibrant city of Yangon where streets are lined with beautiful buildings left behind by the British.

What did I enjoy the most? Chasing sunsets in Sittwe and exploring Myanmar by train, on the back of a motorbike, by bicycle and bus. Watch the moments here:

If you ever get the chance, soak in the colours of Yangon’s livelihood and taste the streets that tinker on the edge of old and new:

Beauty in the most unlikely of places

Entering the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) started with a desire to see and experience beauty in the north. And beauty, I did see.

You can’t venture into the DPRK half-heartedly. I chose to leave behind my phone so with empty hands and a blank SD card, we checked out of Tumen, China, and walked over a bridge to North Hamgyong province, the northernmost township of North Korea. After a mandatory bag check, our passports were stamped, marking our welcomed entry into the DPRK.

The beauty of the North Korea was breathtaking. From the winding mountains to the valleys below, each scene would steal a piece of my heart and leave a smile on my face in exchange.

My first meal in the DPRK included a second helping of a delicious seaweed soup – this would be a frequent occurrence. In fact, each meal was unforgettable –  the organic vegetables, wild roots, seafood and otherworldly Korean side dishes would put my mother’s cooking to shame. There were evenings when there was too much food leftover and although some dishes were left untouched, we always made sure the restaurant staff knew just how pleased we were and that my pants definitely felt tighter than yesterday.

We continued our journey across endless mountains and communes to Chongjin, a large port city and the capital of North Hamgyong. Chongjin is North Korea’s third-largest city with a population of over 600,000 and is known for its strategic port and its production of steel.

We visited towering bronze statues of the ruling Kim family, museums dedicated to the grandmother of the current leader and revolutionary sites, significant in its resistance against Japanese occupation. Each visitation was hosted a party official – typically a woman – dressed in her staple khaki and red uniform, providing impressive details about the design and construction of the monument.

What will remain with me is the beauty of the people. I saw it in the way high schoolers interacted with their friends, I saw it in the eyes of students, in the smiles of grandmas…

We had grown attached with our guides as they watched over us, taught us national songs about mountains and tree planting and sat side by side on our bus. There were moments when our interactions with the tour guides was so ordinary – when Mr Lee told us about the butterflies in his stomach as he first held his girlfriend’s hands, when Mr Kim laughed at my poor Chinese pronunciations, when they asked if my fever was improving or when he showed us pictures of his daughter.

The beginning moments with our guides may have been full of pleasantries and careful conversations but by the end of our designated time together, we had shared much more.

The goodbye was difficult, so tender and permanent. There was a real end in our goodbyes. It was as if we were back in time, in an age when technology was limited so people who journeyed across oceans said goodbye as if it were the last.

Australia and Nauru

What’s the matter with Nauru?

This story begins with a hint of remorse and a pang of guilt – for a long time, I wasn’t sure how to undress the complacency lurking in my mind. I recoiled at every report of abuse in Nauru or mention of ‘refugee’; it was the type of recoiling that sprouted indifference and distance. I had noticed it in others too – we were communal in our unwillingness, gracious in our neutrality.

The politics of asylum seeking has a lot to do with the emotional, spiritual and mental wholeness of a person. It’s starting to register that the consequences of ‘locking people up’ are countless and generational.

But, the dialogue surrounding refugees is complicated and multifaceted. Where do we even begin?

The conversation weaves in narratives of power, wealth, race and national identity and most of the time it creates a dangerous blend of fact and fear. It clouds the road ahead for asylum seekers but at the root of it all – is a lack of care. And that’s where this story begins…

Featured voices:

Read more from Tim O’Connor here and meet Martine Valentine here.