cait +tiff

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C+T / Alchemy Design, revisited

Tiffany Tsang

In January of 2015, we did our very first interview for the blog with the guys at Alchemy Design, a reclaimed wood furniture company in Phnom Penh. A few months ago, we caught up with Jonathan at their new-ish showroom in BKK1, and talked about how the company has changed since our first meeting, and all the fun stuff that lies ahead.

Tiffany Tsang

Before we start, you should know that they are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to, well, kick-start their international reach. Please, do yourself a favor and fund this campaign. There are very few companies that we have faith in like we do this group of awesome humans, and to have their work around the world would make this big blue marble even better.

The past few years have been full of growth for our friends at Alchemy, and when we first met, the company was basically three guys who liked making stuff, working on projects in the front yard when they had free time. Fast forward, and Alchemy is now one of the most recognizable and well-loved brands in Phnom Penh, ready to go international.

Tiffany Tsang Tiffany Tsang

The team has changed a bit, and that is no surprise in a city with almost constant turnover. Out of the original three, Jonathan is the only one still living in Cambodia, while Joel works from the US, and Willem is now back in Holland, no longer working with the group. They have grown substantially, and now have a team of 20 employees, working between the showroom and the workshop.

Joel now leads the design side of the business, and prepares the mood boards and overall design concept for all new pieces. Initially, the Alchemy “look” was industrial and rugged, with lots of re-bar and unexpected accents. They have kept some of those elements, but have shifted into a sort of Scandinavian-mid-century vibe, and it works.

Jonathan leads the production team and manages the in-country logistics, expansion, and probably a million other things. In some recent projects, they have partnered with lovely local interior/graphic designer, Nataly Lee, who has a crazy eye for beauty and detail. This combination of super powers has proven very successful.

Tiffany Tsang

Tiffany Tsang

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When Alchemy first started out, they focused mostly on custom home furniture, but that has changed as well and they are now working mostly with commercial spaces. They will continue to make furniture for home use, but the model is shifting to a more traditional retail set up, where they have options, and you decide if you want that thing. The amount of growth and reach in Phnom Penh is impressive, and you can see their footprint all over city, from the gorgeous Tonlé shop at the airport, to the clean lines of The Tiger’s Eye, and the uber-cool, always boozy, Elbow Room

Future plans are to keep roots in Cambodia, but to expand internationally, hence the Kickstarter. They have stayed true to their original mission, and are still sourcing wood from right outside of Phnom Penh, with an NGO that helps with resettlement. A number of Cambodian families are making the switch from traditional wood houses, to more sturdy concrete houses. The NGO connects Alchemy to the families so that they can purchase the wood, rather than the family have to pay for the junk yard to clear it out. They are also now working with an NGO in a nearby province, providing projects for capacity building in woodwork.

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When we were talking to Jonathan, he mentioned something remarkable. The traditional style of furniture in Cambodia is shiny, shellacked to an unnatural shade of orange, and usually has an elephant carved into it somewhere. Needless to say, the Alchemy style is a touch different than this. A few of the local team members in the workshop have started to refer to the Alchemy pieces as “awt saat” which literally translates to “not pretty.” It’s become somewhat of a team joke, but this new style of production has allowed these craftsmen to explore other styles of wood working, and become more involved with the design process. He says that many of them work on their own projects during breaks, and are constantly evolving. How cool is that?

Alchemy Design, we love you, and we think you are saat naa (very pretty). Keep going.

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All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.  We’re not liable for the sudden accumulation of wood in your house.


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C / le tired

Hey team. This week kicked the bejeezus out of me. There have been an unusual amount of storms circling lately, both physically and emotionally, and I am tired. Jobs + life feelings + other people’s feelings + politics + love + hospitals + wedding dresses : sleepy panda. I finally took Tiff’s advice and crashed for a nap today.

I spent the week at the hospital with one of my favorite people, Mama Heang. She went in for appendicitis, and is out of the hospital now, so I can breathe again. You would have never guessed it, but emergency surgery in this country is not a lot of fun. It’s a circus, and the worst circus you have even been to. Where instead of cotton candy, you get to wait in lines, have hack doctors talk to you like you are an idiot, be lied to, and sit in tuk-tuk traffic for a few hours every day. Almost as bad as the actual circuses with sad elephants.

The biggest takeaway from the week is that you need to get health insurance. If you don’t have it, go get it right now. RUN. If you feel like complaining about Obamacare, ever, don’t do it to me.

Apologies for rant and bizarre metaphors, but that’s sort of all I have right now. That, and the promise of seeing Ghostbusters tonight. I am of the mind that Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jone, Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig can fix anything, and that is separately. I can’t wait to see them together.

Alright, enough of this wandering no-topic post. I am going to put on some pants and go deliver a wedding dress that I am super excited about. More on that next week.

Happy weekend!

Oh, and in case everything about me didn’t make it totally obvious, I’m with Her. 



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T / Keeping My Skin Happy in this Heat

Happy-Skin-HeaderIt’s so hot, I’ve switched over from Celsius to Fahrenheit.  Sorry metric system, I’ll get back to you when I move back to north.  Basically, when the mercury decided to go past 100 over the past few weeks, I decided it was time to implement my “hot season” mental health routine again.  I’ve spent the past eight years in the region, with varying levels of humidity, air pollution (I’m looking at you, Manila), and dustiness all getting together in some form of hot.  I honestly started doing all of these things with a view to calm down and cool down during the hot season and only recently did I realize the skin-side benefits of it all.  And since it went up to 115F yesterday, I thought it would be a good time to share.

My most recent discovery comes by way of our lovely JaneIn person and over her Snaps, she’s been extolling the benefits of snail slime! (Read more about that here)  So when I stumbled upon these masks in our local Japanese grocery store’s toiletries aisle (for 90 cents!), I went a little nuts.  Here’s the lowdown: snail mucin, the stuff that keeps our slow shelled friends mobile and happy, contains hyaluronic acid.  (Sidenote: This is the point at which my science geek/undergrad major goes nuts).  Hyaluronic acid is part of the extracellular environment which holds everything together and keeps our skin supple and elastic.  Our bodies makes it on its own, but as we age (hello 30s), that whole process slows down and that’s when our skin might start to get all saggy and wrinkly.  But there are two ways of getting it back in you. I’ve been a fan of eating beef tendon, cartilage (always yummy in pho) and all that connective tissue to get collagen and hyaluronic acid back into your body (which will also help your joints too!).  Bone broth is also a great source.  But if you’re not so into those (yummy) bits, you can get it through your skin.  And my new favourite way is through these amazing little snail slime masks.  Produced by plenty of high quality Korean beauty brands, you can infuse your skin with the stuff as part of your daily face routine.  And if you stick the masks into the fridge for a couple of hours, it is beyond heavenly when it’s +100F outside.


Photo Credit: Lush

I’m no longer pedalling and sweating my butt off (well, sometimes).  But I do get hit with a lot of dust and all that fun particulate matter that comes with living in an emerging Asian city.  I renewed my love for Canada-based Lush products when I lived in Manila.  The combination of poor air quality and humidity was a total bummer there and my skin was feeling it.  That’s when I was re-introduced to Lush’s trove of organic and environmentally friendly products.  My two faves are their Cup O’Coffee and Mask of Magnaminty masks. They are the best two-for-ones: scrubbing out all the bad stuff you get exposed to during the day, and giving your skin a nice healthy glow.  Resting with a minty-fresh or coffee-scented mask for 10-20 minutes isn’t a bad thing either. I also keep these guys in the fridge to prevent them from deteriorating in this heat, which means they’re also going to keep me cool in this heat.


Photo Credit: CocoKhmer and Origins

Cocokhmer also comes from two places I have lived and loved: Canada and Cambodia.  Founded by fellow Canuck, Rob Esposito and produced with a social enterprise mind in Cambodia, Cocokhmer products combine locally processed coconut oil.  I’ve got their stuff all around my house.  But the one I’m constantly replenishing are their Body and Foot Scrubs.  The combination of coconut oil and sea salt with organic lime and ginger flavours is such a pleasant way to start or end the day.  Plus the coconut oil leaves you nicely moisturized.

My final secret weapon is Origin’s Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask.  It’s also the most powerful of all these products. I didn’t really realize it’s benefits until I moved to Asia, but not only does the mask seriously do some deep pore extraction of toxins and general bad stuff, but it is probably the mask I look forward to the most when it’s terribly hot.  I keep this guy in the fridge through the year, so when I do slather it on, the combination of that pore extraction and cool mineral feeling gets me feeling terribly calm.  It’s like a big exhale for your skin and mind.

And even if it isn’t over one hundred effing degrees where you are, I still recommend all of these.


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Happy Everything 

Happy Christmas, everyone.  If you don’t celebrate Christmas, happy Friday! We hope you have a wonderful day, whether you are playing in snow or sand. Either way, don’t eat the yellow stuff.

Now get off the internet, put on some sweatpants and hang out with people you love. Or just watch Elf.

(Don't let the look fool you, Tiff is actually festive in this photo, she just might have been too festive the night before)

(Don’t let the look fool you, Tiff is actually festive in this photo, she just might have been too festive the night before)

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C / super famous pop stars (and me)


One of my favorite people in this city is Laura Mam. She was raised in California, says “hella” a lot. She moved to Cambodia a few years ago, where her family is from, but was forced to flee from the horrible garbage war 30-ish years ago. She is a crazy talented singer, and she is opening for Jessie J in Phnom Penh tomorrow night. She’s kind of a big deal.

Because she is a wonderful friend, she asked me to make her clothes for the show. I have been working on the looks for about a month, and finishing up the details this week. Buy that, of course I mean that a lot of things went wrong. I changed the design twice, I had to get mad and a little bit mean, and the week has been total stress-fest. The final touches for the looks are going on today, and I will be happy to see the back of it. But really, the actual back of it because that is where the cool details are.

I woke up this morning at 3:30 thinking about the neckline of one of the tops, and I have looked at the pieces so many times that I actually don’t know if I even like them anymore. So have been up for a LONG time today, and I’m pretty happy to see the sun come up, and am celebrating with a lot of coffee and 80’s Michael Jackson.

I wanted to post on the looks for the concert, but I don’t want to give too much away. She has some die-hard fans that would storm the gates if I ruined the surprise, so I have included a few photos of the materials that don’g give too much away.




More on the actual looks next week!




Mama Heang’s Cookies


Not many people come to Phnom Penh for the cookies, but that’s about to change. Mama Heang’s Cookies has officially opened for business, and the dark days of Phnom Penh cookie deprivation are over.

Cait has known Heang for years, and has been lucky enough to enjoy these cookies regularly. Friends constantly request these delicious, chewy, buttery, little flavor bombs, and sometimes Cait isn’t allowed to show up to parties without them. The cookies have been used to barter for favors more than once, and fair warning, they are highly addictive. prep


All good things start with butter, and these are really good. There is nothing diet-friendly in here, and no one is sorry. They do come in two sizes, so if you need just a few bites of heaven, get the smaller size. If you had a bad day, an especially good day, or you did something that counts as exercise, go for the big ones, you deserve it.

Because the business is just taking off, there are three types of cookies offered, for now:

  • Chocolate Chip
  • Chocolate Chip + Walnut
  • Walnut + Almond

Small size: $1 per cookie 

Large size: $1.5o per cookie

The minimum order is ten cookies (don’t worry, they freeze well), and Heang will deliver them to your home or office. Orders for cookies need to be placed at least 24 hours in advance, by calling Heang at 092 958 395. Delivery is $1.




Mama Heang’s Facebook page just went live, and it would serve you well to “like” and follow along. She will be posting photos, new cookies flavors, and holiday specials. After all, cookie news is the most important news.


All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Do not lick your computer screen, that’s gross.


Guest Post / Alissa’s Phnom Penh Bucket List

Today’s post is from Alissa, who really needs no introduction on this site. She has just moved to London at the heartbreak of Phnom Penh, but made sure to do it justice before she left. 


Last week, after four incredible years in Cambodia, I packed up my life into a few suitcases and moved to London. Living in places that are not your home, you come to build a home in the people around you. True to this quote, in the time leading up to my departure, I began to reflect a lot on how lucky I was to have had this period of time, in this place, and with these people. In order to celebrate all of these things (and to distract myself from The Feels), I created a bucket list of things to do in Phnom Penh, and asked my friends to share these experiences with me as a final goodbye. The result was beyond what I could have ever hoped for: I got to spend my final weeks enjoying the city to its fullest with my favorite people.


While some items on the list were particularly memorable (ECCC trial, Killing Fields), restorative (meditation at Wat Langka), riotous (laser tag and ping-pong), or delicious (can anyone courier that Korean fried chicken to London?), I think my favorite part was how enthusiastically devoted to the cause friends became. A tremendous thanks to you all for making a goodbye as fun as possible!


For anyone who is leaving a place, I recommend the Bucket List Method as a way to process the move. I also highly recommend all of the items below for those living in or traveling through the charming city of Phnom Penh (with the exception of watching a movie in 4D, which was like getting a massage from a robot). listy-2Alissa-Grid---13-15-17

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T / home and away

HOMELYAs you may have noticed, Cait and I are on the move these days.  In the past couple of years, I’ve found myself spending sometimes two weeks, sometimes three months, and in this case, one month in somewhat familiar, yet starkly different places.  It’s generally away from loved ones, family, friends.  I’m lucky in this case as the forces that are the global economy have somehow transplanted a section of the Phnom Penh community into Yangon.  Oh right, and the Internet.

We’ve been hanging out with people who are equally movement oriented, if not more. And one thing I’ve noticed among the permanently peripatetic is the things that they bring with them.  Like Katieher yoga mat and her spices.  Unfortunately, my fore thinking only goes as far as gadgets.  Instead, I wind up looking for spaces, foods and things that I know will make me feel a little more grounded despite the impermanence.  So I thought I’d share some of those things I have found so far in Yangon.

SPACEI think I’m happiest when I have my own little nook.  I have an office in our home in Phnom Penh. But where the heck am I supposed to spend hours pinning, editing photos…and that pile of work I’m supposed to be here doing?  Thankfully this little Airbnb comes with its own impressively simplistically designed workspace complete with printer and high speed internet (in a land where only 1% have access).  I am more than lucky to be able to designate a little at-home workspace and find refuge from the persistent downpour that is Yangon right now.

NOODLESI think I’ve mentioned before that I have a thing for dumplings.  That goes even further for noodles.  My heritage just lingers.  So when Jen mentioned downtown Shan noodles, my ears lit up.  Of course I would want to sample the noodly culture of an indigenous group with Chinese origins.  And naturally, slurping up this saucy bowl of delicious would warm my heart on a rainy day.

COFFEEWell duh. I quickly learned on this trip that there is nothing worse than a bad cup of coffee at seven o’ clock in the morning. I’ve clearly been spoiled from having this place around the corner from my home in Phnom Penh.  So when my Airbnb host mentioned that he had a grinder and that I would be able to find coffee beans in the fridge, I knew I had picked the right one.  Then the coffee yoda told me to where to buy beans. So hook, line and sinker.  I am on my way to feeling homely (as in the UK definition of the word).

All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.

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T / perpetual hyphenate


Just a tiny glimpse of the chaos that’s being thrown into my bag. Travel tip: charcoal pills in tummy-risky countries are a must.

When I announced to friends this week that I’d be flying off to Myanmar for the rest of July and most of August, the general reaction was “I thought you had kissed public health goodbye?”  My response to that question has been, well if someone is going to pay me to go somewhere really cool, then why not?  So when an old boss asked me if I could be in Yangon, stat, my response was an unwavering YES!

Seven (slightly stressful) days after that fateful email, I’ve got an Airbnb waiting for me, a smattering of pals who moved there from Phnom Penh that I can’t wait to see, so many tips from Cait, and this wonderful lady (in the most beautiful of coinky dinkies) is holding a Disappearing Brew Bar at Port Autonomy in Yangon this weekend!

Plus, I hear that Burmese creatives are the coolest.

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”

On one hand, it’s like that quote from The Godfather.  Paid work from a very large international body has its benefits.  And if it’s going to satisfy a part of me that spent seven years invested in a topic, and take me to cool places that I can share with you here, I’ll say yes to that.  I don’t mind staying hyphenated because it somehow opens up so many more opportunities.  But there are some key rules that I’m following: only if it feels right.

And I can’t wait to pop my Myanmar cherry.

Photo by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.



C / progress report #1


So it turns out, if you do things you love and care about, it’s really fun. I am in my third week of school at Central St Martins and it is going very, very well. My first week of class was an introduction to London Fashion, and the instructor took us all over this wonderful city, from the Victoria and Albert Museum to Brick Lane vintage, and Portobello Market treasure hunting. I learned a ton about the history of fashion in London, and why it’s become such a hub for young designers. Fun fact: Margaret Thatcher is responsible for a big portion of the UK’s investment in the arts. She saw, early on, that Paris and Milan fashion houses were bringing in buckets of money and attracting international investment. London was behind on this at the time, so she shuffled some things around and re-allocated state funding to go to the creative industry and promoted investment in young designers. There are still programs running that she set up to search for new talent, so you go Miss Lady, thanks for that.


Homework from Alexander McQueen and a final project from John Galliano, from the CSM Museum vault.


Flowers in Shoreditch.


Finding inspiration at the V & A.

Week two was a class in make up for fashion. After taking this class, I have a whole new respect for this profession. I don’t have plans to be a make up artist, but it was great to learn the basics of make up in the industry. We did color matching and skin science, talked proportions and face shapes, and finished the week with a master class at MAC and a photo shoot. It was great for me to learn technique and terminology, and I now know how to create a “smoky eye” and avoid the “black eye” that used to happen on my face.


Make Up for Fashion final project with Kristina and Abe.


Portobello Market field trip, for research.

I’m in my third class now, Central St Martins Fashion Design Summer School. I linked to the Facebook page because if you click on it, you can see the progress and work of past and present students at the school. I will be posting on there, so I don’t flood the blog, and we will be creating a solid portfolio over the next 4 weeks. This is the core class of what I am doing here in London, and the instructor, Julian Seaman, literally wrote the book on fashion design. Actually, he has written 4 books on it. I can’t wait to dig into this course and create things every day. Will report back again in a few weeks with more show and tell. Come visit me.


Master selfie-taking-skills at Windsor Palace.


First day project from Fashion Design Summer School.