Tuesday, August 30, 2011

WikiLeaks does it again

Cambodia: Menu offering Fried Crap
For the second time in as many months (see 'WikiLeaks') WikiLeaks has released US embassy cables including some from the embassy in Phnom Penh. And like last time, WikiLeaks has failed to scour the confidential sources from those cables, this time revealing the name of a foreign human rights activist in Cambodia who had spoken candidly with the US embassy (see NYT: 'WikiLeaks Leaves Names of Diplomatic Sources in Cables.') At a time when human rights abuses are on the rise and NGOs in Cambodia are under fire from the government for their human rights activities (see PPP: 'NGO 'Incitement'') WikiLeaks may have exposed this human rights activist to serious repercussions.

Unlike the WikiLeaks cable release of two months ago, this time they claim that publishing the names was 'accidental' (see here,) though that is likely of little help to those they have exposed. And while this time may not have been intentional, it is unsurprising that such an 'accident' could occur as WikiLeaks puts very little weight on protecting the names of informants. Mr. Assange stated earlier this year:
Well they’re informants…So if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.” (see here)
Whether due to a political agenda that WikiLeaks feels outweighs the possible human costs, or to a dogmatic adherence to some deontological ethics, or to just plain unprofessionalism, WikiLeaks' repeated disregard for the human consequences of their actions is at the very least incredibly irresponsible, perhaps worse.

Friday, August 26, 2011

iPhone 5

Our guard brought this to the house today, proudly claiming that he had just purchased the new iPhone 5 at the market here in Phnom Penh - the "Chinese version," as he said. "You can't get these in America yet. China is ahead of America now." Well, in a sense, I guess it is.

Admonishing me for having paid hundreds for my 3Gs a couple of years back, he tells me he only paid $31 for his iPhone5, new and in the box. And, after playing with it a bit, it feels and works as well as one would expect of a $31 telephone, maybe even a $35 phone.

He let me toy with it a bit, 'toy' being the operative word here. In hand, it feels almost like an empty box, weighing less half of my 3Gs. Perhaps that's a good thing. It does seem to function. The telephone works, and if you bang on the touch pad hard enough, so does everything else - the camera, notepad, calendar, etc. - albeit extremely slowly.

iPhone 5 knock-off: front
Bpple iPhone 5 - Front

iPhone 5 knock-off: back
Bpple iPhone 5 - Back

iPhone 5 knock-off: serial number
Bpple iPhone 5 - Serial. Note the nod to international trademark law, the makers changing 'Apple' to 'Bpple.' I'm sure that makes it all alright. It's not a knock-off, it's a Bpple. I can't quite figure out how to pronounce it though.

iPhone 5 knock-off: camera mode
Bpple iPhone 5 - Camera mode

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Exsqueeze me?

Found in my travels around Cambodia over the last few months:

Cambodia: Menu offering Fried Crap
From a menu at a crab shack in the Kep Crab Market. When I saw it on the menu, I pointed and asked the waitress if the crap was meaty today. She assured me that the crap was very meaty and sweet that day. I asked if Fried Crap was a very popular dish and she told me that the tourists who come there all like to eat crap. So I ordered a big plate. And I must say, it was good shit. Recommended.

Cambodia: Sign for massage and discount mount
From a massage & spa place in Phnom Penh. 50% off every mount on the 1st. I wonder if this might give potential customers the wrong idea...or the right idea....

Cambodia: Menu offering Bopiled Port and Moodles
From a little Vietnamese café in Sihanoukville. That day I had the bopiled port and a small moodle. Wasn't that good, especially the moodle.

Cambodia: Menu offering Fried Sfrim
From a Thai restaurant in Phnom Penh. Thank goodness for photo menus. 

Cambodia: Sign for some kind of doctor

Cambodia: Menu offering Chocolate Mouse
From a French restaurant in Phnom Penh. I didn't have the Chocolate Mouse because I don't like their beady little chocolate eyes.

Cambodia: Spa offering a special of the rapists
Ran across this one just today. A train wreck of a brochure for a spa in Phnom Penh that managed to outdo itself by promising a "special of the rapists." That's something I think I'd care not experience, even in a "place for relaxation."

Monday, August 22, 2011

21st century ghosts


Hungry Ghost Festival: Ghost money
Last Monday (August 14th) was the 'Hungry Ghost Festival' (中元節 / 中元节 / Tết Trung Nguyên), a Chinese holiday not officially observed here in Cambodia but still kept amongst the country's Chinese, Chinese-Khmer and Vietnamese communities. My neighbors here in Phnom Penh were burning joss paper on the sidewalk several times that day and had me over to take a few photos for them.

Celebrated on the 15th day (half-moon) of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar, the Hungry Ghost Festival is the Chinese version of the Khmer P'chum Benh, that time of year the gates of the underworld are opened and the spirits released to roam the Earth, if only briefly. During this period the living (at least the Chinese and Vietnamese ones) make offerings to these souls at the pagoda and at home, both to aid and appease their ancestors, as well as other loosened spirits.

In one of the most apparent manifestations of the festival, believers burn joss paper and place offerings to the spirits on tables and blankets in front of their homes - on the sidewalk, the balcony, porch or just inside the open gates.

Hungry Ghost Festival: Burning ghost money
The spread of offerings is often centered on a roasted red pig, candles and burning incense, and may include things such as rice, sugar, fruit, drinks, candy, cigarettes, snacks, etc. Apparently the afterworld is similar to this one and the idea is to provide for the welfare of the deceased to help ensure a comfortable afterlife. Providing for their financial needs, joss paper, including 'ghost money' is burned, the process sending it to the dead for use as ghostly tender.

Traditionally, joss paper offerings were gold and silver colored paper and later stylized Chinese currency ('ghost money.') It could also include paper representations of clothing, fabric, houses and other practicalities. But times change. As the neighbor showed me the various joss offerings he was preparing for the fire I discovered that 21st century ghosts get to enjoy the niceties of modern consumerism and even the trappings of conspicuous consumption, not unlike Phnom Penh's upper crust of 2011.

Most of the following are examples the various joss items my neighbor had on hand. Most of the interpretations of what they represent come from my Chinese-Khmer neighbors, who were not in complete agreement with one another about what it all meant. I am sure it would be easy to get the answers at the market or the pagoda but I haven't followed up.

Gold and Silver

Gold and silver paper, representing the metals, are the most traditional of the joss paper offerings. The gold paper is intended for ancestors and the gods. The silver is meant for ancestors exclusively.

Chinese joss paper
Traditional gold and silver joss paper. Smooth gold and silver leaf or paint on coarse bamboo paper. 9cm x 14cm. 

Phnom Penh, joss paper for sale at market Phsar Oreussey
Gold joss paper at the market. Phsar Oreussey, Phnom Penh

Chinese joss paper
Gold ingots and coins. Printed on light newsprint paper.

Chinese joss paper gold bullion
Left and center: Modern gold bullion bars, .9999 pure. Made of light cardboard, embossed. No printing. 
Right: Silver and gold on bamboo paper. 

Chinese joss paper gold bullion
Gold bullion bars, .9999 pure. Made of light cardboard, embossed. Left in Vietnamese. Right in Chinese..

Chinese joss paper
There was some debate about this one - coins or a fabric with pattern. Most felt it was coins. Printed on reclaimed paper or scrap paper from print houses, often old newspapers and office materials. Many of these had the old Cambodia Dailys on the reverse. 

Currency (copper)

Classic 'ghost money,' i.e. ghost currency/bank notes,  has been used since at least the 19th century AD. It is usually denominated in Chinese Yuan, often in absurdly large denominations, and sold in bundled stacks. The face of the note very often sports a portrait of the Jade Emperor, and the reverse an image of the 'Bank of Hell.' The note is often signed by the Jade Emperor and the King of Hell (Yan Wang/Yanluo.) Ghost money is said to be 'copper' as differentiate from gold and silver that is sent to ancestors. It is meant for use by the more recently dead (as opposed to distant ancestors) and other relatives and as an offering (if not better termed a bribe) to the Judge of the Dead (also Yan Wang.)

The use of the English word 'Hell' in e.g. the 'Bank of Hell' and 'Hell Money' is probably an imperfect reference to the underworld and the court of the dead. Upon death, all souls, regardless of their merit or lack thereof, are first sent to the underworld where their eternal fate is determined by the judge Yan Wang. The ghost money is intended, in part, as a gratuity of sorts to the judge in the hope that he will adjudicate their ancestors case favorably and/or lighten the length of their stay in the underworld. My neighbor, in trying to explain it to me, smiled wryly and called it "corruption money for God."   

These are a few examples the neighbor happened to have on hand.  

Chinese ghost money
100 yuan note. Jade Emperor on front. The Bank of Hell on the reverse.

Chinese ghost money
Joss money with dragon on the front and Bank of Hell on the reverse.

Chinese ghost money
10,000,000 yuan note. Hell Bank note. Jade Emperor on front with signatures of Jade Emperor and the King of Hell. The Bank of Hell on the reverse.

Chinese ghost money
1,000,000,000,000 yuan note. Jade Emperor on front. The Bank of Hell on the reverse. 

Chinese ghost money
100,000,000,000 yuan note. Jade Emperor on front with signatures of Jade Emperor and the King of Hell. The Bank of Hell on the reverse.19cm x 43 cm. 

Chinese ghost money, 20 baht
20 baht note for those traveling in the Thai quarter of the Hereafter. The design on the front is loosely based on a new style Thai 20 baht note, with '20' in Thai script.

Chinese ghost money, Vietnamese dong
50,000 dong for those in the Vietnamese section of the afterworld. Jade Emperor on front and the Bank of Hell on the reverse. The design of the bill seems loosely based on US currency. 

Chinese ghost money, US$100 bill
Perhaps the most common non-Chinese ghost money, the US$100 is still the universal currency even in the Hereafter. A pretty good replica of a US$100, though the paper and the print quality is far inferior to even the crudest counterfeit bills. The only design difference from a real US$100 is on the reverse where 'United States of America' has been replaced by 'Abode of the Dead Bank,' which is presumably a reference to the underworld as the word 'Hell' on other notes.

Chinese ghost money, 50 Euro
50 Euro note. Jade Emperor on face. 

Phnom Penh: Chinese ghost money for sale at markt
Ghost money at the market. Phsar Oreussey, Phnom Penh

Clothes and fabric

Joss paper clothing and fabric seems to be the next most common paper offering. Some of the clothing paper contained other symbols (cups, hat?, boat? cups, ect.) about which my neighbors could not agree on the meaning.
Chinese joss paper clothing
Clothing. A set of traditional clothes and a set of modern clothes. Also what appears to be a bell, a vase, drinking cups scissors, a leaf or feather, a hat(?) and a boat (?.) Nobody knew the story behind the cups, scissors, feather, etc. Printed on light newsprint. 16cm x 21cm. 

Chinese joss paper clothing
Clothing. A set of traditional clothes and a set of modern clothes. Also what appears to be a bell, a vase, drinking cups scissors, a leaf or feather, a hat(?) and a boat (?.) Nobody knew the story behind the cups, scissors, feather, etc. Printed on light newsprint. 16cm x 21cm.

Chinese joss paper clothing
Clothing. Two sets of traditional clothes. Also what appears to be a bell, a vase, drinking cups scissors, a leaf or feather, a hat(?) and a boat (?.) Nobody knew the story behind the cups, scissors, feather, etc. Printed on light newsprint.16cm x 21cm.

Chinese joss paper fabric
Large pieces of paper fabric. In folded bundles of five different colors. Made of very light crepe paper.

There was some diagreement but most thought this was fabric for making clothes. Made of light crepe paper.

Travel and Banking in the Hereafter

Chinese joss paper travel set

Chinese joss paper passport
Fold over passport made of Cardboard. Form on the inside with space for name and personal details. Accompanying visa paper in passport. Visa for 'Hell & Paradise.' 

Chinese joss paper air ticket
Air ticket on the 'Hell & Paradise Airline,' first class of course. 2 parts. Cover and separate passenger detail form.

Chinese joss paper bank book
Bank account book for the 'Bank of Hades and Heaven.' Insert left and cover right, both fold over. The insert is made of light paper. The cover is made of cardboard.

Chinese joss paper credit card
Ghost Vesa Card. Portrait of the Jade Emperor.

Chinese joss check book
Cheque book including blank checks for a ghost account at the 'Bank of Hades - Heaven Main Branch.' 

Chinese joss paper toiletries
Toiletries, personal items and travel kit for the well-prepared ghost. All made of paper and light cardboard. Slippers, wallet (Adidas) with US$200, iPhone and one million dong cell card, glasses, watch, comb, razor, pen, Zippo lighter and a pack of cigarettes (555 Gold.) The cigarette pack bears no health warnings. Personally, I think this would be one of the greatest benefits of being dead - smoking without fear of health consequences. Unfortunately, next to the mountains of precious metals and stacks of cash being sent to the afterworld , it appears that there are comparatively few cigarettes being forwarded to the dead. If the law of supply and demand holds in the afterworld, gold silver and currency would be in great oversupply, common as paper and probably very cheap, whereas cigarettes would be rare and, if smokers are the same there as here, worth their weight in... well, their weight in gold, so to speak. Wouldn't that be the ultimate rub for the smoker - cigarettes could be enjoyed without adverse health effects, but cost a mountain of gold per pack.  

Ghost Bling, Luxury Vehicles and Phones

And for the 21st century ghost, the trappings of a nouveau riche Phnom Penh lifestyle - black Lexus, iPhone, bling and more.

Chinese joss paper Lexus
Ghost car. Black Lexus LX 330 with a Phnom Penh number plate and chauffeur.  

Chinese joss paper iPhone
Ghost phones and cell card. Nokia and iPhone. Cell card in Vietnamese, 1,000,000 dong. Made of folded cardboard.

Chinese joss paper bling
Ghost bling. Gold watch (Omega.) Gold bangle. Gold ring. Gold money clip. Gold coins (?.) Gaudy gold necklace. Phone (Nokia). Made of folded and embossed cardboard.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Old Maps - Kampot

An extraordinary collection of 19th century Khmer maps of provincial Cambodia - the earliest known Khmer cartographic representations - is currently on exhibition at the Centre Culturel Français (CCF) in Phnom Penh. The 54 maps on display represent a rare historical resource from a sparsely documented period of Khmer history, and many of the maps are in themselves unique works of Cambodian art. The exhibition at CCF will continue through August 28.

All of the maps were hand drawn sometime between 1884-1892, probably crafted by provincial level Khmer functionaries at the behest of the French colonial authority. Most of the maps cover the area of a single province or district, and the full collection encompasses all of Cambodia's 19 provinces of the time. 

The maps on display at CCF are actually high resolution digital reproductions, which were presented to King Sihamoni in France last year. The originals still reside in Paris at the library of the Ecole Française d'Extreme Orient.

Each map is a unique creation, perhaps every one the work of a different cartographer. A wide range of artistic styles and mapping criteria were used, the final products ranging from quasi-schematic line drawings to intricately and artistically detailed illustrations.

All the maps are on a 49cm x 63cm sheet and drawn within a black border. Most employ multiple colors and some are filled with tiny illustrations of the areas represented - houses, pagodas, animals, lakes and mountains, etc. The map title is written twice, once in Khmer by the map maker and again in French (in large red cursive,) presumably marked later. The two labels are often oriented in different directions, neither necessarily with north at the top of the map. At this exhibition the maps were hung to accord with the Khmer titling.    

The maps were all exhibited at their original size with a few choice examples blown up to double-size and displayed without glass, including the map of the Kampot area, which was a nice map to stop and dwell upon for a bit.

The Kampot map is not as colorfully illustrated as some maps, but is on the other hand a comparatively accessible map. It displays several readily identifiable geographic features (e.g. the Elephant Mountains, Kampong Bay river and Kampot town,) making it easy to orient to a modern map, it is a clearly and precisely detailed map and incorporates some attentive artistic touches including finely jungled mountains and abstract patterning in the ocean.

The Kampot map covers the area from modern day Sihanoukville (formerly Kampong Som)/Gulf of Kampong Som in the west, across central Kampot to what is now the Kampong Trach district border in the east. The body of water to the south is the Gulf of Thailand. As the map was displayed, north is to the right and south to the left. The map is not to scale. The farther from Kampot, the greater the scale. In particular, the Kampong Som peninsula in the east is greatly shrunken (and distorted) by comparison to the Kampot area. Interestingly, the Kampong Som peninsula gets short shrift on the Kampong Som map (not pictured) as well. Excluding the Kampong Som area, the Kampot map covers the approximate area of modern day Kampot District (and Kampong Bay District) within Kampot province but not the entire province.

Kampot area map comparison. Modern map on bottom, 19th century Kampot map on top. The 19th century map is rotated from its display position so that north is at the top. Note the Kampong Som area is compressed and the Kampong Som peninsula distorted on the 19th century map.

Zoom on 19th century map of Kampot.  Entitled 'The Body of Kampot.' The map includes landmark geological features (mountains, ocean, rivers, streams, etc), political boundaries and settlements (villages, district and provincial boundaries, etc.) and important roads. Water, ocean, rivers, streams, etc are in blue. Roads in double line red. The coastline is very approximate. The focus is on the interior, not nautical concerns. As the map is oriented here (as it was displayed,) north is left and south is right.

A quick and unproofed translation of the Khmer on the 19th century Kampot map. Some of the place names have remained the same over the last 125 years - Kampot, Kep, Kampong Bay, Phnom Pre Nup, Veal Renh, Prek Teuk Sap and others. 
Prek = stream/river. Phnom = mountain. Phum = village. As the map is oriented here, north is left and south is right.. 

Zoom on Kampot Village/Kampong Bay area.

Zoom on Kampong Som peninsula

Red pencil titling in French and Ecole Français d'Orient Extreme stamp on Kampot map

Zoom on mountain, Kampot province. Note the trees on the mountain.

Modern map left, 19th century map right. Both maps oriented with north at the top. Area near Kampot City. 
Note the two fork river. The squared off 'Banteay Run Kampong Bay' (the 'fortress of Kampong Bay') sits conspicuously where modern Kampot City now sits. Whereas the area marked 'Kampot Village' is located on the other (east) side of the river near the left fork of the river. Also note that the 'Road to Phnom Penh' and the 'Road to Peam' sit in approximately the same places as modern day National Route #3 and Road #33, respectively.

Some other maps and bits of maps from the exhibition:

Choeung Prey Province

Khsach Kandal Province

Tiger stalking pig, Khsach Kandal province

Khsach Kandal Province

Buffalo, Choeung Prey Province

Kratie Province
Ba Phnom in Prey Veng Province



'A Personal History,' Cambodia Daily Weekend Supplement, Issue 967, July 23-24, 2011

'Rare maps on display at the CCF next month,' Phnom Penh Post, July 06, 2011

'Rare Cambodian map exhibition in Phnom Penh,' Travelfish.org, August 18, 2011