Every year, March 8 is International Women’s Day. And since 1987, March has been designated National Women’s History Month here in the U.S. When you travel with Classic Journeys, we take it a step further as we celebrate the ingenuity, social contributions, skills and heritage of women on every trip year round.
Nowhere is that truer than in Asia, where we regularly encounter truly remarkable women in all walks of life. It’s possible because our amazing and well-connected local guides go out of their way to introduce us to their friends in everyday life who protect — and also challenge — their cultural traditions. Here are just a few examples.
In Cambodia, an entrepreneur offers the “silks of the Mekong.”
Siem Reap is famed for Angkor Wat. It’s also home to Chhorvin Liv, who manages the Soieries du Mékong boutique. Spend any time with her and you quickly find she’s more than a retailer. Chhorvin’s true passions are dressmaking and modeling. She first studied sewing as a 12-year-old and continues to refine her craft. Today, she designs and creates her own fashions with an eye to launching her own brand. To support her passion, she models for other labels and a number of photographers. Chhorvin’s story is reminiscent of a theme we encounter around the world: women who once would have been constrained by old traditions who now turn those crafts into springboards to the bigger world.
Female sushi chefs? In this Tokyo restaurant, absolutely!
If you’ve eaten in a sushi restaurant anywhere in the world, you’ve probably only seen male chefs. Because, well, that’s just the way it’s done. Except at Nadeshiko Sushi, located in the Akihabara area of Tokyo, where all of the chefs are women. The restaurant opened in September 2010 with the mission of helping Japanese women broaden their horizons and break down stereotypes. The chefs here are super creative, assembling delights that include fresh black pepper ground over fatty tuna, plum sauce and citrus over flounder, and a tasty ginger and mackerel pâté served in a martini glass. Whenever the stars align for us to eat there, we have a memorable culinary experience…and a chance to better understand the strict traditions that rule so much of Japanese life — and what a brave and exciting act it is to step away from the norm.
Thailand’s “Beautiful Boxer”
Did you see the famous 2002 movie “Beautiful Boxer?” It’s the story of Parinya Charoenphol (Khun Toom) who was the first Thai transgender Muay Thai boxer. Her first victory was in 1998 when, as a make-up wearing 16-year-old kathoey, or “lady boy”, she defeated and then kissed a larger, more muscular opponent. Against all odds, the Muay Thai establishment embraced her. These days she teaches Muay Thai boxing to anyone who loves the sport, including children and women. Through the art of Muay Thai boxing and a creative-based education, Parinya’s Muay Thai goal is to provide wellness, empowerment, and cultural preservation. Even today, some children as young as five are pushed to fight and make money to support their families. But at Khun Toom’s school, children are only taught boxing for fitness and self-defense. They’re also offered opportunities to pursue an education, thereby giving them a better chance at success in the long-term. Her high-profile success is an especially vivid example of something we often see, as the people we meet work to change the worlds into which they were born in extraordinary and remarkable ways.
The challenges of being a female artist in China
In Beijing, the 798 Art District is a well-known commercial area that many tourists visit. We’re more fond of an artist village called Caochangdi. The name translates from Mandarin as “grasslands”, and the lively, slightly more out-of-the-way village has a completely different vibe. From their studios here, freelance artists – including some with international reputations – create remarkable works. When we visit, we like to spend time with some of the female artists. They are sculptors, painters, photographers and performers, too, and we meet them in their studios, not public galleries. It’s revealing to talk with them about their lives and aspirations, and the ins and outs of being an artistic woman in China. These conversations — like the ones our guests have with women in the arts from Peru to India — are eye-opening, as they reveal the determination and ingenuity that their calling demands.