Cambodia: The Sugar Man

As Cambodia modernizes with WiFi cafes and electric tuk tuks, simple pleasures like candy makers are slowly disappearing from the streets of Phnom Penh. Here is the article I wrote about the last of the candy makers, I call the Sugar Man.

The Art of Sugar Diamonds

A crowd of young children gather around a small vendor in the midday sun, each holding a 1,000 riel note in a tiny fist. They cluster to see a skinny man working meticulously on molding colored, melted sugar into figurine works of art.

Kim Han is one of the last candy artists in the Kingdom.

“There is only one other person I know who does this and he is in Siem Reap,” the 58-year-old man said. He pursed his lips as he concentrated on making a tiger by mixing three different types of sugar and twisting it to form stripes.

Aging and tired, he does not often sell candy on the street, but caters parties and does custom orders. He circulates the Wat Botum area, transporting his wares from the village of Baek Chan (Broken Dish), 20 kilometers out of town on his kart motorcycle.

Pieces of candy art cost between 1,000 riels ($0.25) to $3, depending on how detailed they are. A batch of sugar can suffice for 100 or 150 pieces. But he often tires after a few hours on the street.
His fingertips are numb and burnt from working with hot glass and kilns as a young man. He learned how to fashion tiny people and animals from a teacher he still affectionately calls “Grandmaster Teurn.” The idea for Candy Diamonds or “Skaw Pich” developed when he travelled to Thailand as a young man to do construction work on a Chinese temple. There, he saw many candy makers and knew he could do the same.

Years later, Mr. Kan’s kart is always surrounded by customers. “I always have many customers and even have special orders to make candy for events,” he said. His next customer, a young woman from a school across the street, quickly orders a pig loudly against her friends’ giggles. As the pig head forms with a snip of his small scissors, the crowd watches as his nimble fingers gave birth to an animal from sugar. Holding up a caramel piglet, he asked the young girl if it met her standards. Her answer: “I don’t know, as long as it’s pretty.”
The man looked around him, smiling at the wide eyes watching as he pulled more red sugar into a clump. Money has always been scarce in his life. “I am hardly happy,” Mr. Han said. The quick  minds of students inspire him to keep working. “I am selling to Khmer like me, I will not sell for a high price,” he stated firmly. “Kids have no money, so I keep my prices low.”

“Many foreigners appreciate my work and are willing to pay more for bigger pieces, but not many Khmer people understand my art,” said the man who plies his trade in the center of the city.

Despite his willingness to lower prices, he lamented the fact that many Cambodians will pay up to $23 for a big novelty lollipop at Sorya Mall, and haggle with him over the price of his homespun sugar confections. Working tirelessly to save money since he started working in sugar art in 1981, he now is just $2,000 short of fulfilling his dream to open his own sugar-art school for 50 students a semester.

Kim Han, the last of the Sugar Diamond makers

Kim Han, the last of the Sugar Diamond makers

He wants to open this small school on the outskirts of the city, east of Chroy Chavar. Ready to retire from the trade soon, he hopes he can make enough money to open his school – and teach the next generation.


India: Goddess Durga in the Hills

While in the mountainous area of the Indian state, Arunachal Pradesh, my travel party came across the local villagers celebrating the Hindu goddess Durga in a colorful parade down the street. Curious, I set to sit and chat with the women, dressed in an array of colors and of different ages. While much of the hill tribes and ethnic majority in Arunachal Pradesh are Christian, there are still many camps and villages who are more Hindu — celebrating the traditions as their ancestors did, with a party. Check the link below for the article I wrote for the Khmer Times, an English newspaper in Cambodia.



Japan: Getting Lost in the River City

In April, my sister and I decided to follow a travel vlog into this place known for its river flowing throughout the city. Dropped off in the middle of the highway by bus from Takayama, we found our way to the quiet town of Gujo Hachiman with my limited Japanese and my sister’s mapping skills. This city was peacefully humming with the sound of the river as its residents fished, biked and greeted visitors to their countryside town.

India: The Northeast

In August 2015, I was invited to the India Tourism Mart held in the mountain city of Sikkim, in Northeast India. After a 4 hour, heart-thumping fast car ride up the mountain, I reached one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Not only did the buildings cling to the sighing curves of the mountain side at frightening heights, the cold weather woke me out of my tropical slumber. The link below is one of the articles about my trip, focusing on how the Sikkim was the first state in India to go all organic.—–india—s-first-state-to-go-all-organic/