We all have favorite local businesses. I believe the best are those where we almost forget that buying and selling have anything to do with it, where we exchange something meaningful and the money that changes hands merely supports that exchange. Sometimes I describe such places with words like atmosphere, service, or quality. But my new favorite, Maria Empanada, reminds me that the key is the inexplicable chemistry of love—not mushy sentiment, but the love we feel when we share with others the simple pleasures that give us joy.
I teach dance in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and one of my Khmer friends from work asked me to present a contemporary dance duet at her wedding. Leak was having two weddings: one for her family in Battambang and one in Phnom Penh. I asked one of my dance students, Dara, to perform with me. We practiced our routine for weeks, then off we went to Battambang for the first edition:
The day begins at 5:45 a.m., but while my 18-year-old student Dara and I are bleary-eyed, the wedding tent has already taken over the street and music is blaring when we arrive. I’m ushered inside to find my friend Leak being turned into a goddess by a team of makeup-and-hair artists.