controversial land development companies lives. The road was lined with cars and motorcycles and filled with uniformed police loitering about. Dozens of them, with more arriving by the minute. At first I thought there might be a problem of some sort, but soon realized there was a New Year party going on at the home of the land developer and these were the guests. I was ready for a caffeine break anyway so I stopped at a café a couple of doors down, ordered an ice coffee, went back outside and sat down with the parking guard to watch the happenings.
The uniformed men stood in small knots in the street in front of the party house, smoking and chit-chatting. The mood was light and festive. I couldn't see anything of the party for the tall walls surrounding the place but could hear the sounds of traditional lion dancing and then an enormous string of firecrackers going off. It went on continuously for several minutes, punctuated by gunshot-like M-80 blasts. Drawn by the noise and goings-on, a group of poor folk gathered across the street – kids, women, old men with walking sticks - country people, street people, (evictees?,) hard to say who they were exactly. Perhaps 40 or 50 in all, quietly gazing on at the activities from the sidelines.
The uniformed men took turns going into the party. When they reemerged through the front gate, each had a big smile and a bright red ung-bao envelope in his hand. (Part of the Chinese New Year tradition is to give ung-bao envelopes containing token gifts of money.) They stood in the street together, tearing open their envelopes, holding out the money and comparing gifts. The poor people watched and tittered amongst themselves. The parking guard next to me speculated that they were hoping for a hand-out from the house.
A couple of the party goers walked nearby, opened envelopes in-hand. The guard asked them how much they got. “Everybody got 50,000 Riel (US$12.50) each,” one said, adding, boastfully, that over 1300 police had attended the party. If he was correct about those figures, that’s more than US$16,000 in little red envelopes.
The party wound down. Within an hour most of the uniforms were gone and the street was clear again, except for dozens of torn and empty ung-bao envelopes blowing around in the road. As the last of the attendees left and the front gate snapped shut, it became apparent that the party was over.
Nothing was given to the poor.
The group of poor lingered briefly, then slowly thinned, moving off in different directions, disappearing. When I left, a few, maybe 4 or 5, were still there holding out. Perhaps hoping against hope that a few crumbs may still fall from the table. Or maybe they just didn't have anyplace else to go.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Monday, January 23, 2012
Ushered in the new Year of the Dragon at Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh a couple of hours ago. The crowd seemed a bit bigger than last year. I didn't see any foreigners there besides myself. Like last year, the beggars were conspicuously absent and there seemed to be fewer incense vendors. Like every year the smoke from burning incense was overwhelming and the threat of being burned or set alight by an errant joss stick was constant. Note that many people in the crowds are wearing helmets. It's not because they're all responsible motorcycle riders. It's to protect against burns. The following are a few photos from earlier this evening at Wat Phnom around midnight.
A gong rang. People looked. It was midnight (or about 12:04 by my watch.) The Year of the Dragon Enters. The gong stopped. People cheered, then the crowd made a mad rush to escape the smoke filled pavilion. Not sure if it was part of the tradition or just a desperate dash for oxygen.
Arriving at Wat Phnom. Incense smoke rises.
Overlooking the pavilion madness, a churning mass of people packed sardine tight, covered in a thick cloud of incense smoke.
At midnight people jostle aggressively to get their personal joss stick in the pagoda incense pot at the most auspicious moment. Afterward they take the joss stick and burn it at home.
The crowd on the pavilion.
Lady Penh Shrine. (Legendary 14th century founder of Wat Phnom. Name sake for the city.)
Sunday, January 22, 2012
|Newly completed Phnom Penh Tower, the city's second highrise.|
2010 At the end of last year, the on-going conflict with Thailand over Preah Vihear was probably the most talked about issue of that moment and perhaps the year. A decades old dispute, the flare up of the last few years was largely the result of Thai political instability stemming from the 2006 coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. After months of deadly border skirmishes in 2010, political and military tensions had begun to ease in December, only to spike again with the arrest of a Thai politician and yellow-shirt activists on the Cambodian side of the border. And so began 2011.
Preah Vihear: the Thai-Cambodia temple dispute
New developments in the Thai-Cambodia conflict (Dec 30, 2010)
Guardian: Before you pay to volunteer abroad, think of the harm you might do
Telegraph: Volunteer holidays 'do more harm than good'
Inside the thriving industry of AIDS orphan tourism
Taking Aim at Voluntourism
The Independent: Cambodia's orphanages target the wallets of well-meaning tourists
When Children Become Tourist Attractions
all of BlogSpot was suddenly blocked and ISPs initially affirmed then denied knowledge of the blockage, the outage narrowed, leaving only the highly provocative KI Media and Khmerization permanently unavailable through some ISPs in Cambodia. Both the government and the ISP’s denied responsibility. The media squawked about it for a month or so, but the story has since been relegated to NGO reports. The blocked sites are still unavailable through many, perhaps most ISPs in Cambodia. That said, Cambodia still has some of the most unrestricted internet access in Southeast Asia, significantly better than its immediate neighbors.
The Curious Case of the Banning that Wasn't
LICADHO Condemns Censorship of Web Sites Critical of Government
Sam Rainsy Mid-March, Sam Rainsy was stripped of his seat in Parliament. It seemed much less of a story than it would have been in years past.
Cambodia opposition leader loses parliamentary seat
US Maintains Ban on Cambodian Adoptions There has been a US imposed ban on the adoption of Cambodian children by Americans since 2001. After reconsidering the ban in March, the US ultimately declined to rescind it.
Cambodia Law Blog: Can expats adopt Cambodian children? Dispelling the myths
K440: Happy Hippy smacked
The Cows of Spring On Royal Plowing Day in May the Royal Oxen ate beans and corn, eschewing the rice and other offerings.
|Phsar Thmey and wart|
Preah Vihear In July elections were held in Thailand. The Pheu Thai party won. Thaksin’s sister became PM, Thailand’s political turmoil eased a bit, the yellows quieted, and the Preah Vihear situation has been getting better ever since. Come the end of 2011, Thai activist Veera remains in Cambodian jail.
Cambodia congratulates Pheu Thai Party on election win
Yingluck's visit to improve relations: Cambodian deputy PM
Cambodian PM stresses good relations with Thailand
|DVDs at Russian Market|
Cambodia Law Blog: New moves on pirated movies
Tonle Sap Prime Minister Hun Sen continued to make the health of the Tonle Sap a priority, apparently with significant success. Illegal reservoirs and fishing lots were ordered shut down and the orders were enforced. Initial reports indicate the annual total fish catch is way up.
Fishing licenses around Cambodia's Tonle Sap Lake revoked
Hun Sen extends Tonle Sap fishing lot closure
AKP: Large Scale Crack-down of Illegal Fishing in Tonle Sap to Come
|Former brothels on 63|
A Brief Tour of the Cambodian Sex Industry Best article on prostitution in Cambodia by an international journalist in recent memory. I don’t agree with everything he wrote, but unlike many of the weepy, sensationalistic, pre-scripted reports in the international media of late, he drew his conclusions from the evidence rather than looking for evidence to support his conclusions.
Faintings There was a spate of mass faintings at several different garment factories and even a couple of schools in Cambodia. Many observers were understandably quick to cast a suspicious eye on factory conditions, but the cause is still a matter of investigation. The mass faintings began suddenly and have occurred over a relatively short span, the only obvious commonalities being most happened in the factories and were exclusively amongst the laborers. It would be an extraordinary coincidence for such a cluster to occur, yet not have some common cause or link between the incidents – e.g. some new chemical, pesticide or product in use, a new ventilation system, a illness of some sort being passed around, longer working hours or increased production requirements, some new practice common to all of the affected factories.
Different causes have been suggested by investigators and labor advocates. In fact, there have been almost as many possible causes cited as there have been fainting incidents – chemicals, smells, ventilation, long hours, hunger, food poisoning, dehydration, etc., but nothing definitive and nothing new and common to all of the affected facilities. Working conditions in the factories appear to be pretty much the same as they have been for years.
In lieu of evidence of a common cause I am inclined to agree with Time Magazine. The mass fainting are, for lack of a better term, ‘mass-hysteria,’ but by that I don't mean to diminish their significance. These factory workers are largely poor young women, often rural girls accustomed to rice farming and country living, now working in gray, stuffy, unpleasant conditions, feeling homesick, pressured by family (for money) and harsh supervisors, and doing mind-numbingly repetitive work for very little compensation (averaging $55-$61/month,) often for long hours. Though the factories are not 'sweat shops,' this is still the kind of work that is undesirable enough to drive some young women to choose prostitution in preference. In my opinion, for whatever reason that first mass fainting happened, it sparked a chain reaction of all the faintings that followed - it was the spark for a sort of involuntary protest by these young women against the unhappy and oppressive circumstances in which they find themselves.
Hundreds sick in mass fainting at Cambodian factory
Mass Fainting In Garment Factory
Mass faintings at H&M factory in Cambodia
What's Causing 'Mass Faintings' at Cambodian Factories?
|Siem Reap, September 2011|
Flood reports, photos and links
Cambodia's rice yield stable in 2011 despite flood devastation: PM
Most self-absorbed article of the year Amidst stories of captive Cambodian women jumping from upper floor windows to escape Malaysian recruitment agencies and of repeated allegations of abuse, torture and rape of Cambodian maids in Malaysia, the Cambodian government has banned its citizens from working as maids in Malaysia. Reporting on the ban in ‘this article’ the Malaysian press complained of a “dire maid shortage”in Malaysia and of how the ban will hurt their recruitment agencies. "Dire." Never mind the abuses suffered by these maids in Malaysia or captive women jumping from windows to escape these so called 'recruitment agencies' in Phnom Penh, it sounds like tough times in Malaysia. It's dire. They're having to make their own beds and there's nobody to do the dishes.
“They Deceived Us at Every Step”
Recruiters Round Up Cambodians to Work in Malaysia
Rice wine deaths There were several mass poisonings attributable to bad batches of homemade rice wine. A regular motodup on my street died a couple of months ago after being poisoned. In one tragic case the better part of a village was wiped out. One poisoning incident:
12 Cambodians died of wine poisoning
Top Ten Tycoons The essential Who’s Who
Land Next to the floods, the rampant land-grabbing and mistreatment of evictees was the story of the year. So much has been written on the subject I am not sure what more is to be said. The problem continues and is growing. It is involving ever more people and confrontations between evictees and authorities are becoming more violent. In terms of politics, it is a gift from the ruling party government to the opposition. While I accept it is unrealistic to expect there will not be evictions as the city and country develops, I don’t understand from either a human or political POV why it is being handled so badly and the evictees treated with such callous inhumanity. It is sowing the seeds of dissent and future conflict in ever growing numbers. As one Kampong Speu evictee put it, "If there was still a Khmer Rouge hiding in the jungle, I'd join." In the long and even medium term, these pitiless evictions don't make moral or even Machiavellian sense.
NGO Law The government wants to regulate NGOs and has proffered a law. The NGOs are suspicious of the government’s intent but split between those who say the proposed law needs modification and those who say there should be no law at all. Much ink has been spilled on the subject with the highlight being an exchange between Elizabeth Becker and an anonymous commentator at AKP, the government media mouthpiece. The proposed law is currently in its fourth draft and the debate continues. The Prime Minister recently calmed the debate by saying that there was no rush, that they would work as long as necessary to craft a law acceptable to both sides. But, of course, this also takes the ‘no law’ option off the table.
Catalogue of artcles related to the NGO Law
Hun Sen Calls for More Talks on NGO Law
Elizabeth Becker/AKP exchange
Silencing Cambodia's Honest Brokers By ELIZABETH BECKER
AKP: Commentary: Elizabeth Becker and the Campaign to Put NGOs above the Law
Response To Anonymous Critique by Elizabeth Becker
|The King, King Father and Queen Mother on the occasion of the 90/20 celebration.|
Birthday of King Father Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia
Mu Sochea proves to be a continuing force, making her mark (and political hay) taking a hands-on approach and focusing on issues that directly affect the poor and disadvantaged such as land grabbing and maid trafficking. Like I said last year, keep an eye on this lady, especially in the coming election year. She’s going places.
his favorite anti-trafficking NGO in Cambodia. His dramatic tweeting of the raid probably did more to raise public awareness of his questionable ethics in the reporting of sex trafficking than anything he has done since purchasing two underage girls in Cambodia in 2005.
Nick Kristof to the rescue!
Nick Kristof Live Tweets a Raid on an Underage Brothel – And Not Everyone is Thrilled
Fighting back, one brothel raid at a time
A human trafficker defends Cambodian sweatshops
Be Aware: Nick Kristof’s Anti-Politics
Laos threatens to construct the first hydropower dam on the Lower Mekong.
Laos' Mekong Xayaburi dam plan delayed again
@Faineg Tweets KR trial The KR trials continue under a darkening cloud of criticism from disparate quarters. Growing feelings that the trials may be fundamentally flawed, talk of UN incompetence, accusations of government interference, a judge resigned, acrimony between the government and UN, and that's just the now of it. Case 002 is underway. Nuon Chea (Brother #2) has been on the stand and has put on quite a show, well-worth a hundred million, see-sawing between denying knowledge and blaming Vietnam. In an innovative and powerful use of Twitter, Faine Greenwood, aka @faineg, (and others more sporadically,) has been live tweeting the proceedings from the courtroom. This is journalism. ( Recently @KRT_Monitor has taken up the blow by blow.)
Plane to Sihanoukville Cambodia Angkor Air began regular flights between Siem Reap and Sihanoukville in December. If memory serves, this is the first regular air service to Sihanoukville since Royal Air Cambodge stopped flying to Sihanoukville in late 1997…except for PMT’s short-lived ill-fated venture on the same route a few years back.
Tourism grows and grows At year’s end the government announced that tourist arrivals were up 14% over last year, Vietnamese leading the way. Tuk-tuk drivers in Siem Reap complain that the increasing numbers of Asian tourists, often on packages, is driving down local transport prices. Still, Siem Reap is booming and some of it is spilling off to Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh.
Cambodia's foreign tourist arrivals up 14% in 2011
|Gold Tower 42, The Phnom Penh Tower and The OCIC Tower|
|New bridge to Koh Pos, Sihanoukville, 2/11. Construction is now complete.|
Cambodia pardons Russian in paedophile case
Phnom Penh Post: Petition to deport pedophile Alexander Trofimov
Ten Cambodia Tweeps to Follow
Cambodia News and Info on Twitter
New Cambodia Blogs of Note
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Tonle Sap River, Phnom Penh riverfront
Left: October 18, 2011 (Water level 9.9m at Phnom Penh Port)
Right: December 31, 2011 (Water level 3.6m at Phnom Penh Port)
Right: December 31, 2011 (Water level 3.6m at Phnom Penh Port)
Photos taken from almost the same spot, standing at the edge of the river. Note the stairs, covered in water to the top step in the left photo, the entire stairway exposed down to the river in the right photo.
Also see my posts on the Cambodia Floods 2011