Sunday, December 28, 2008

Fuel-efficient stoves keep women out of harm's way

In Sudan's Darfur region, where violence and genocide are rampant, women risk their lives every day performing tasks as seemingly mundane as seeking out firewood.

But, from his suburban home, one Maryland teen has dedicated himself to making life a little safer for those women.

Spencer Brodsky, 17, learned about the violence and decided to raise money to purchase fuel-efficient stoves to send to Darfur. The stoves burn 75 percent less firewood.

Brodsky reasons that if he can do something to keep Sudanese women in the camps, this would decrease the likelihood of violence.

"We need to be able to benefit them in any way that we can so they don't have to be out as many times of their compound," he said.
Click here on CNN.com to read full story.

New law on sex trafficking leads to more abuse

Or, as AFP more politely puts it in this story published on Christmas day: "Cambodia faces problems enforcing new sex trafficking law"
25 DEC 2008, PHNOM PENH (AFP):
The Cambodian government began prosecuting a new "Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation" in February after years of pressure from the United States to clamp down on sex trafficking.

Since then, authorities have conducted brothel raids and street sweeps, but rights groups complain the new law has in many ways worsened the exploitation of women.

"The law allows police of all levels to arrest and punish sex workers," said Naly Pilorge, director of local human rights group Licadho.

"The sex workers are arrested to police stations and rehabilitation centres and then they are abused."
The reporter interviewed one prostitute, Chantha, who said there was nothing else she could do in Cambodia but become a prostitute.
"If you don't even have a dollar in your pocket to buy rice, how can you bear looking at your starving relatives?" she said.

"You do whatever to survive, until you start to realize the consequence of your deeds."

Chanta, in her early twenties, was working in a small red-light district west of the capital Phnom Penh several months ago when she was arrested under Cambodia's new sex-trafficking law.

Police nabbed her in a raid and charged her with publicly soliciting sex, fining her nearly two dollars. Then, Chanta claims, the arresting officers gang raped and beat her for six days in detention.

Bruises covered her body, but none of her assailants were brought to court, she said.
I once spoke to a young Cambodian prostitute who told me she'd rather die of AIDS tomorrow than of starvation today.

And a Merry Christmas to you too.

Big surprise: Property prices fall in Singapore and Cambodia

Singapore's private home prices fall: Dec 28, 2008, Private home prices fall. By JOYCE TEO
Private home prices are falling - and they will fall even more next year.

Property developers may disagree, but there is no question about it, if you ask industry observers.

The economy has slowed considerably and there have been retrenchments and wage cuts.

Sales volume of new homes looks set to reach an 18-year low this year, while supply is far from lacking...

Manpower Ministry data already shows that average monthly real earnings - pay minus the effect of inflation - fell by 17 per cent from SGD$3,982 in the first quarter to SGD$3,307 in the third quarter.

Also, on an annualised quarter-on-quarter basis, gross domestic product growth in the third quarter declined by 6.8 per cent, continuing the 5.3 per cent contraction experienced in the second quarter...

Going forward, though, there could be more speculators desperate to get rid of their properties because they do not want to be saddled with huge loans, experts say...

Novelty Group, for one, last month cut its price for the 75-unit Luma at River Valley Grove from SGD$2,800 per sq ft (psf) to SGD$1,450 psf.
In Cambodia, speculators are the big losers as property market stalls:Dec 18 2008, Written by SOEUN SAY AND GEORGE MCLEOD:
"About 5,000 land speculators have lost their fortunes after the property market downturn brought on by the global economic crisis," said Meas Tola, managing director of Angkor Real Estate of Cambodia.

He says his company's future is in question as commissions fall to almost nothing....

"The prices in Phnom Penh have been overinflated. Everyone has jumped on the greed bandwagon. ... Now we are seeing a lot of major construction projects being put on hold or cancelled," said Naim Khan-Turk, the director of research and consultancy with CB Richard Ellis in Ho Chi Minh City.

"Cambodia is going to have a reality check. Speculators have been borrowing to buy condos that aren't built and they are not going to be able to pay the banks; then the suppliers won't get paid and everyone is going to lose," he said.

Friday, December 26, 2008

CNN Hero - 2008

I caught the programme last night on CNN. It was a repeat telecast and the winner, out of 10 nominees was:

Liz McCartney, St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana: McCartney moved to New Orleans to dedicate herself to helping Hurricane Katrina survivors move back into their homes. Her nonprofit, St. Bernard Project, has rebuilt the homes of more than 120 families for free.

I was surprised to see Cambodia's own Phymean Noun, listed as coming from

Toronto, Ontario: Growing up in Cambodia, Noun struggled to complete high school. Today, she offers hundreds of Cambodian children who work in Phnom Penh's trash dump a way out through free schooling and job training. See Huffingtonpost.com.

Noun attended the event and accepted her award for being a CNN hero on the very stage where the Oscars are given out. She wore a lovely Cambodian traditional dress and received the award from fellow Asian, Lucy Liu. Noun thanked her husband Steve (I guess he's the Canadian connection) for his support in her project.

Personally I was disappointed to learn who won. I don't mean to discredit Liz McCartney's selfless acts, and she is the perfect campaigner--articulate, focused and kind.

And I do understand that suffering is universal. But seriously, how can you compare losing your home in the US to living on the streets eating garbage? At least the Katrina victims had a home. At least they were born American. I think most people would agree they've struck the lottery in terms of where to be born. In general, Americans have a shot at a better life than someone born in Cambodia, or Mexico or Malawi. Indeed, this is why Americans voted for Liz McCartney, because "Nobody in the USA should have to live like this."

But I was not surprised, I have to say. The winner is chosen on the basis of votes cast online. Already the result was skewed in favour of US nominees, for how many in the third world have access to the Internet to vote for their heroes, with whom they are more familiar, seeing their work publicised in local media, and have a closer connection to. By the same token, McCartney won because Katrina is something close to home and the hearts of Americans; "top of mind" as we say in marketing speak.

I am sure this Internet voting system also played a part in Angkor Wat not being selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World last year. Whether or not Angkor Wat deserves to be on the list is a separate matter. The point is organisers should acknowledge an Internet poll never reflects global tastes and is just another beauty contest.

I voted for Phymean Noun, of course. But as I was watching the programme I already knew who my heros are:

Maria Ruiz, El Paso, Texas: Several times a week, Ruiz crosses the border into Juarez, Mexico, bringing food, clothing and toys to hundreds of impoverished children and their families.

and

Marie Da Silva, Los Angeles, California: Having lost 14 family members to AIDS, the nanny funds a school in her native Malawi, where half a million children have been orphaned by the disease.

Maria Ruiz crosses the border into Mexico, a car trip that takes between 1.5 to 2.5 hours each time. For the first three years of her food programme, she fed more than a thousand people each time. She continued even when her donors cut funding, cooking food in her own kitchen and making the drive herself. Watching her selfless actions, carried out for years, really brought tears to my eyes.

Marie Da Silva is a nanny and had worked with the same employer for 10 years. What was amazing to me was how this nanny used her salary to fund the school in Malawi. I mean, she is not some top corporate executive or banker earning tons of money. She's a nanny. Her other nanny friends also gave USD10 each a month to her school. Simply amazing.

Why I blog

I started blogging in Sept 2006, as a way to record my life in Cambodia. I was not very diligent, writing only 20 entries in 2006. I got worse in 2007, writing a grand total of 26 posts. I am lazy, and would rather read a book than write.

Then sometime this year (was it in July?), I installed sitemeter and found people were actually reading the blog. I had actually been of two minds about blogging--part of me believes that a diary should be private. But another part of me saw the potential of the blog as a way to spread awareness about Bloom and why I believe in workers' rights. I also blog about touristy stuff about Cambodia because I myself have benefited whenever I do online research before travelling, so it is only right I share such information. As I've said before , the best thing about the Internet is that it exists as a platform from which we can all share information and work together on common causes.

Then one day I logged on to the blog and saw that someone had said they follow the blog. Andrew and Amanda in Europe was the first follower of Cambodia Calling. It was amazing to me, that people were actually interested in what I was doing in Cambodia and my thoughts about this country. An incredible 14 people now are followers of Cambodia Calling. I say incredible because Cambodia is a small country on the world stage and Bloom even smaller. It just goes to show this world is so large, there will always be people who share your interests.

I was happy to read in Scientific American a while back that blogging is actually a good for health: "Besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not."

And few days ago I received this email, which, together with everything else I have mentioned, has inspired me to keep blogging:

Hi Diana!

My name is Monica and I live in Sweden. I came across your blog while searching for information about Cambodia. because me myself is going to Cambodia in January for an exchange programme I'm taking part in about hiv/aids. I found your writings, thoughts and opinions very interesting and helpful to get an idea about the society and people in Cambodia. Especially the entrances about NGO:s were very thoughtful, since I'm studying human rights and wants to work with right work and development in the future. I just wanted to say that I like your blog.

Merry Christmas!

Sincerely
Monica

Fire at Angkor Trade Centre


There was some drama on the 23rd of December: a shopping centre (one of two in Siem Reap that has escalators) caught fire, due to an electrical fault. At the time, I was having dinner with Alan and Jim, the Australian who lives on boats at India Gate restaurant on Sivatha. We heard the siren screams and saw two fire engines go by. The owner of the restaurant told us about the fire.

After dinner, at around 9pm, we walked to see for ourselves. By then the fire, which has started a half an hour ago, had been put out (by seven fire engines, it seems). All we saw were many people milling about and black smoke rising from the third floor of the building.

I apologise for the lousy photos--I have been having problems with my camera, but only for night shots, when I get many round spots on the photos. I looked this problem up online at forum.digitalcamerareview.com and found that: "Those spots are most likely caused by a lot of dust in the air. The light reflects off of them causing them to show up as spots. Because of the difference in distance between them and the actual point of focus (they are close to the lens while the point of focus is the wall in front), they are rendered as discs of light of different transparencies. This is a common "spirit orb" phenomenon in "ghost hunting"."

Siem Reap is an incredibly dusty place, and it is worse during the dry season. No wonder I never had this problem until recently.

Anyway here is the report by the Phnom Penh Post on the fire. It seems fire police shot at the glass in order to make holes for water to be sprayed in, something I don't quite believe.

Fire ravages 3rd floor of Angkor Trade Ctr
Written by Erica Goldberg
FRIDAY, 26 DECEMBER 2008
Siem Reap

A FIRE Tuesday night devastated the third floor of the Angkor Trade Centre in Siem Reap, causing a large crowd to gather and watch as firemen doused the building with water.

The fire began at about 8:30pm and was caused by an electrical malfunction on the centre's third floor, which has recently undergone substantial extensions and renovations, sources in the Siem Reap Fire Department told the Post.

Meas San, chief of the Fire Unit at the Siem Reap Police Department, said seven firetrucks were called to the scene, and efforts to extinguish the blaze were coordinated by authorities from the commune, province and the governor's office.

A woman who owns a shop inside the centre, which includes a supermarket and a Swenson's ice cream shop, was caught in the fire and suffered emotional trauma after fleeing the burning building, Meas San said, adding that the woman was taken to a clinic but suffered no physical injuries.

Future uncertain
The Angkor Trade Centre remained closed on Wednesday, and its reopening will depend on individual shop owners, Meas San said.

Ke Sovannipsey, a local resident who arrived on the scene as flames erupted on the centre's third floor, said he saw fire officials shoot their guns at windows on the third floor so that water could be sprayed into the building.

Horse (and souls) for sale in Cambodia

I was dismayed to learn on Monday that Isabell, the vet we see, has decided to go home to Germany in March. She will be leaving with her husband Kai and their Jack Russell terrier, Yoyo.

Unfortunately, she is unable to take her Cambodian horse home with her, so is planning to sell it. She tells me horses go for USD1-3k here. Currently Izzie’s horse lives on the Happy Ranch.

The first time we met a year ago Izzie and Kai had already wanted to leave, but they had decided to stay on for the sake of Yoyo. Yoyo is more than 10 years old and they were worried quarantine would be hard on her. But now it seems she does not have to be on quarantine, as long as she is certified healthy and lives for an extra three months in Cambodia after the papers are submitted to the relevant EU bodies.

Izzie said it was time to go home. “Seven years in Cambodia is enough, too long.” When they first arrived, people were friendly and kind, she said, “Now, all they want is money.”

It is something I have heard before. Travellers who have been to Siem Reap before tell me how the place has changed, how the people have changed, with the tourist boom. People here have become greedy and money-minded.

Of course Khmers are not unique in this regard. Recently I was talking to the husband of a Bloom customer. This couple live in Patmos in Greece, famous for its monastery which was declared a Unesco heritage site in 1999. When the tourists starting pouring in, the town’s people and character changed. “It’s all about money now. It’s criminal, I tell you, to buy something for one or two dollars and sell it for twenty dollars,” thundered the husband.

I told him I don’t think prices are marked up that high in Siem Reap, but he said one child book-seller tried to sell him a book for USD20. (The books sold by street-sellers are all “copy books”, some say fake books, meaning they are photostatted, or Xeroxed, copies of original books. There is no way any of them would be valued at USD20, more than what most of the originals would cost! As a matter of fact, the book-sellers buy them for between USD2 and USD3.50 each from a large bookstore here. A fair price would be between USD4 and USD7, which is what Douk sells them for.)

I said that USD20 is outrageous. He nodded vigorously and complained, “They think we tourists are stupid! They must think we are stupid!”

I met another woman, from France, who came on a three-week trip, to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. She was here on research: her husband is a pediatrician in Australia and she came to see if her family could move to Cambodia where her husband’s skills could be used. She had such a bad time in Cambodia, her answer is: ‘No’.

I asked why. She said everywhere she went, people tried to rip her off. She never got an honest price. Even a Cambodian friend-of-a-friend ripped her off, charging her USD20 for half a day to the main temples (usual price: USD15 for a whole day).

It got so bad that this lady would not take any tuk-tuks or even buy from local shops. She would walk everywhere and patronise only foreign-run establishments. She said she just did not want to have any dealings with the Khmers.

More recently Alan and I had dinner with Jim, a traveller from Australia who lives on boats. He loves Thailand and spent a week in Cambodia on route to Laos, where he planned to stay for a month. He, too, found Cambodians very pushy and aggressive in touting their services. If they hassled tourists less, more would visit, he said. “The Thais have learnt to be more relaxed, if we buy, we buy, if we don’t, they don’t bother us. I wonder if Cambodians will learn this.”

My experience is a little different. Of course, living in Siem Reap means I am subjected to the same touting: “tuk-tuk, madam”, “you buy book, madam”, “massage, madam” etc etc. And convenience stores routinely shortchange customers here because most tourists cannot be bothered with the riel, the “small money”, allowing the cashiers to “keep the change”, so to speak.

For me, I realised Cambodians were becoming greedy and money-minded even while I was living in Phnom Penh. There was a discernible change within a year from relocating to Phnom Penh from Singapore in June 2006.

By chance, I had moved to Cambodia at a time when the country was experiencing very good economic growth. The economy grew by 10.75% in 2007 and 13.5% in 2006 according to the IMF, and many Cambodians I knew in Phnom Penh were talking about so-and-so earning USD600, USD1000 a month, made tens of thousands from selling their property, etc etc. There was much envy and jealousy. People who, only a year ago, would have been grateful to have a job, now wanted more pay, more perks. They wanted to share in this booming economy.

I pointed this out to Srey Roth, who was working at the Bloom shop then. For months Roth and Sipha would bug me to buy the shop in the Russian Market. They used to gang up to tell me about how we would make more money if only we owned the shop, instead of renting it.

It is such a silly idea I get tired just thinking about it. In the first place, at that point, property prices were already very high. If I wanted to invest in property, I had missed the boat. Secondly, it would not be a good investment parking Bloom’s money in the shop for goodness knows how long when that money would be better spent on the business, which could generate better returns and more importantly, cash flow. But the main reason I don't want to buy property here is because gambling on property is not the reason I came here: If I wanted to make money that way, I could have stayed in Singapore.

I tried explaining all this to the two women, but they thought I was being stupid with my money. Their thinking is: you will never lose money on property. Try telling that to people around the world who owe more in mortgage than what their property can sell for and those who bought property at peak bubble prices and will never see their property worth as much again.

I’ve said this before: the problem with this country is it has only see growth since the 1990s. They have only seen prices rise, not fall. The ordinary Cambodian does not know what a bubble is and when I try to explain to them, they do not believe me. What they believe is what they see, and they will quickly learn, next year, when property prices come crashing down.

Anyway, I said that to Roth that I had noticed Cambodians becoming more and more obsessed with money, to the point where they do not want to work for their money, but come up with all sorts of get-rich-quick schemes. Obsessing about money is not good, I told her, because you lose sight on what is important in life. You should not sell your soul just to get rich.

Roth pursed her lips, as she does when she disagrees with me. She said, loudly, defensively, what is wrong with wanting to be rich? People everywhere in the world want to be rich. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be rich; “It’s not like we kill people,” she said.

Roth is a funny person. Unlike Sipha, Roth has never hid the fact she likes money. She used to tell me frequently, “I love money”. I am very fond of Roth, because she is so honest and charming. Unlike Sipha, who hid her avarice and eventually was caught stealing from Bloom, Roth is dead honest. I used to take her out all the time, for shopping and meals. Our favourite haunt was Super Pencil mall near the riverside in Phnom Penh where we scored USD2 bargains on jeans and shoes. On my last trip to Singapore, I even bought Roth a Vidal Sassoon electric hair straightener because she would spend a fortune on that at the hairdressers.

Roth left to go to Malaysia to work as a domestic helper in August this year because she worked out she could save much more money that way, since as a live-in helper, living expenses are taken care of. Her dream is to open a business when she returns. I will definitely help her, if I am still in Cambodia by that time. We had worked together in Bloom for over a year and Roth called me once to ask how Bloom was coming along. She still sends me messages occasionally. Her last one was how much she misses Khmer food and how she has already lost 4kgs.

New Hope Centre




On Tuesday, I went to take some clothes to an NGO here in Siem Reap. Wenning, a friend from secondary school had come for a visit and she kindly brought over a big bag of used clothes at my request. She had posted the request on her Facebook profile and got a whole lot in no time.

I had found out about the New Hope Community Centre from a Swiss customer, Simone, who has been volunteering there. Simone is a nurse and volunteers her time to treat sick people in the village where New Hope is located.

We took off on our bicycles and rode far past the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital, past the Angkor authority park and then turned right onto a dirt road. This is Mondul 3 Village. Here you can see karaoke shops where young girls work at night.

Besides the sick room, New Hope centre also provides English, sewing and computer classes, the last one taught by monks.

I accompanied Simone and another French volunteer to see a woman and her two year old daughter. New Hope gives this family rice and vegetables every few days.

It was a 10 minute walk through a narrow path and along the way, we bumped into two old women. One was very chatty. She grabbed my arm and kept telling me in Khmer to get Simone to learn Khmer, because she really wanted to be able to communicate with Simone. This old lady, perhaps in her 60s, was so cute. She said if Simone switches on her TV to channel 5, she can learn Khmer. She was sure Simone would enjoy the Cambodian dancing (“ruam”) on that channel.

Then we passed another old woman and the old woman whom I had been chatting with whispered, “This poor woman, she has no house, no land, and one day somebody stole her child and sold it for $500”. Then she put her finger over her lips to signal we should not talk more about it.

We finally arrived at the house. It was not as bad as some I had visited in Phnom Penh. It was a large single room, even though it was made completely of leaves. And it had no latrine. The woman’s two year old stood at the door. She was tiny, and had a distended stomach—obviously malnourished.

I spoke to the mother and learned she has 12, yes 12, children. Some are in Bantey Manchey, three in Phnom Penh, and some are working in Siem Reap, as what I do not even want to know, since they have no education and are desperately poor.

The next two younger ones, a 14 and 18 year old, were working as domestic slaves for the neighbour opposite. I asked if they get a salary and the woman said no. However, the NGO suspects the girls are also forced to work at the karaoke bars at night to earn their keep and this is the most worrying thing.

The woman said she had to send her daughters away because at least they get food and lodgings, which is more than what she, as their mother, can provide. I was told this woman is crazy, sometimes screaming, howling at the moon. And who can blame her. She is probably mentally ill from the stress of providing for her last child, thinking of her future and guilt-ridden at the thought of the suffering of her older daughters.

I do not blame the woman for having 12 children, even though she is obviously not in a position to take care of them. No, I have imagination and can emphathise with this woman, dirt poor and uneducated, having to depend on a man, her husband, to take care of her. I can imagine what it must be like to be her, to live with someone who insists on having sex without thinking about the consequences, creating children they clearly cannot bring up, even as one after another is given away. This is why one of the best things we can do for this country is to spread awareness on contraception. When a woman is in control of her body, she will be in control of her life.

But I do blame the man. Unless he does not know how children are formed, he has to accept responsibility for his family’s situation. Even if he cannot afford condoms, as is likely to be the case, surely practicing the withdrawal method is something within his power to do.

Yes, I blame her husband. A moment’s pleasure turned into a lifetime of hell for his children, all 12 of them.

An interesting point is the frequent response I get when I assign blame in this country: “You cannot blame so-and-so, they are poor.” For instance, when Sipha stole from Bloom and when Ming Vee, our housekeeper stole from me, I was told by many people, “You cannot blame them, they are poor; it’s the survival instinct.”

Of course I can blame these people. There are many poor, yet honest people, Cambodians included. Let’s be clear: it was not poverty that drove Sipha and Ming Vee to steal—it was greed. And in Sipha’s case, it was greed coupled with arrogance, the belief that she would get away with it, as she had done in previous instances.

As if being poor is the get-out-of-jail card. As if being poor absolves you of all responsibility for your actions. There are some things that are still blamable: as I said, even if the husband cannot afford condoms because he is poor, it is within his power to withdraw, and even abstain. At some point people have to take responsibility for their actions and the rest of us have to make it clear to them, instead of giving excuses for their behaviour. How else are people going to learn that being poor does not entitle you to be selfish or greedy or behave in any other way that causes harm to others?

This lack of blame, of social stigma and the lack of enforcement to hold people responsible for their actions contributes to social breakdown in this country. In a "proper" country with proper laws, a man who abandons his family will be prosecuted by the law; he will be held legally responsible for abandoning his family. In this country, he can just up and leave with no consequences. In a proper country, he will be tracked down and brought to court, but in Cambodia, he can create a new life for himself elsewhere, sometimes with another woman, often starting yet another family. As I mentioned in another post, a Cambodian man tried to dump his seven children at an orphanage so he could start a new family with a new wife.

My Khmer friend Thyda tells me many marriages are informal because many do not get legally married. Marriage licences are a recent phenomenon. Previously people would get married without that piece of paper. Part of the problem is ignorance of the law, but I am sure another part is that it costs money to get legally married. Chhun Hy tells me "it is not so expensive, maybe USD5 or USD10" to register your marriage with the sangkat (local police), but even USD5 or USD10 is beyond the reach of many poor Cambodians who live in the countryside.

This is the other problem--the police here, because of their low pay, try to make money however they can. Many of the laws exist as ways to extract money. I cannot say enough how corruption ruins this country.

But on to more practical matters at hand: What to do about the teenage daughters and others like her? You can contact New Hope here if you would like to donate money or volunteer with this NGO.

For me, the best thing I can do for women like these, and they are everywhere in Cambodia, is to provide good jobs.

I don’t know if people know but that is the reason why I am here and why my target group was originally single mothers—because children of single mothers are especially vulnerable to being trafficked. A World Bank consultant who interviewed me on Bloom for their “Pro-Poor Tourism” project expressed surprise that I specifically chose single mothers around 40 years old. Everyone else she spoke with wanted young women, between 17 and 23. Well, she has pinpointed the exact reason: because this group of women is the one who find it hardest to get jobs.

I have to say I have expanded the criteria and Bloom now also hires young women, women such as Theary, who was hired from Riverkids , the anti-child trafficking NGO run by my friends in Singapore. Theary is a polio victim and is the daughter of a single mother, a blind woman, who also has a son.

As for this woman’s two teenage daughters in Mondul 3 Village, I am thinking if New Hope can train them to sew, I am happy to sponsor a sewing machine. I cannot, however, guarantee income for these two young girls, as I know Bloom will not be immune to the financial meltdown. Next year will be tough for us, as it will be for many, many businesses.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How to prevent a tree branch from falling onto your house




I took these photos one morning when I saw a neighbour in a kroma on a tree. He was trying to cut down a branch of this dead tree because he was afraid the rotting branch would fall on his house. At first I thought he was trying to make a pulley to pull the offending branch. But he made a wooden bridge and then proceeded to chop down the branch.
And this is what the magnificent tree looked like in July, against a stormy backdrop.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Free the Slaves!

In a previous post, I had quoted an observation by Dr Kevin Bales, described by Wikipedia as "the world's leading expert on modern slavery".

I was surprised and happy to receive an email from Dr Bales who pointed out an important fact: in absolute numbers there are more slaves now than ever, but in proportional terms, there are fewer slaves. What this means is that there are fewer people who are enslaved as a percentage of the total population on earth.

He also says the war against slavery can be won. He did not say in detail why in the email, but others have pointed out that slavery has intrinsic problems that make it unviable. Specifically, slavery is not as profitable as paid labour. Like so many things in life, slavery is about money. According to the economist Adam Smith, slavery was abolished by the British, French and Americans in 19th century, not because of the goodness of people, but because it was uneconomical: slaves would only work when closely supervised and owners had to use violence, or its threat, in order to get slaves to work. Capitalism is much a more more efficient system--wage earners have an incentive to work in the way that slaves did not.

It is an interesting topic and I think worth exploring. But for now, here is Dr Bales' email:

Hi Diana,

I tried to comment on your Cambodia Calling blog, but I wasn't able to ... so perhaps if I drop this to you in an email you'd like to add it?
All best
Kevin Bales

comment:

Thanks for a great posting. I understand how coming to grips with the size of modern slavery can leave people feeling overwhelmed. But there's an interesting paradox about the 27 million slaves in the world - yes, it is a huge number, the largest ever in human history, but it is also the smallest fraction of the human population to ever be in slavery. Likewise, the amount of money slaves pump into the world economy is big, around $50 billion a year, but it is also the smallest fraction of the global economy to ever be represented by slave labor.

The truth is that slavery has been pushed to the edge of its own extinction and working together we can tip it over the brink. I hope you'll visit and share our website www.freetheslaves.net, and maybe look at my book on how we can bring slavery to an end in 25 years, it is called: Ending Slavery: How We Free Today's Slaves.

All best wishes,
Kevin Bales
(President, Free the Slaves)

Dr. Kevin Bales' 1999 book Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and has been published in almost a dozen languages. He had written the book based on first-hand study in five different countries: Thailand (prostitution); Mauritania (water selling); Brazil (charcoal production); India (agriculture); and Pakistan (brick making).

Out of this book, Free the Slaves a not for profit organization actively trying to reduce, if not eradicate, slavery, which it powerfully describes as "a dark slash across the heart of all humanity".

He is optimistic we can wipe out slavery because the "the cost of actually helping people out of slavery is very low". To play a part, we can spread awareness and take action.

Please visit Dr Bales' organisation to see how you can help. There is also a Facebook group where you can share information on slavery and how to stop it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cambodian-born US felons sent back to Cambodia

Source: America's Felons Deported to Cambodia, written in 2003 by Richard S. Ehrlich.

I actually met one of these "Returnees". He was a weird one. This Cambodian man said to me the first time we met in Phnom Penh that he never dates "Asian chicks", only white women. He had a short-lived marriage to a Finnish woman with whom he had a child. In the end the woman left and went home to Finland with the baby.

"One of the weirdest cases occurred when a Cambodian man was busted in Houston, Texas for urinating in public, which was interpreted as a sex crime similar to exhibitionism — taboo especially because children might see it. [By the way, urinating in public is a commonplace activity here in Cambodia].

Five years into a six-year parole for the crime, cops caught him again pissing in the street. Urinating in public was not a major crime, but his breaking a law while on parole was a felony.

So he was deported to Cambodia despite being a construction site supervisor in Houston.

At least 67 felons are currently in Phnom Penh and other Cambodian cities, including many who display street gang tattoos, baggy pants, colored bandanas and sweatshirts common in America but curiously freaky in Southeast Asia...

The felons from America are now either peacefully blending into Cambodia's traditional, Buddhist-majority society or establishing themselves as the newest, roughest gang in town.

Many find shelter at RAP, the Returnee Assistance Project recently set up by Bill Herod, 58, an American who has spent many years in Cambodia working on projects designed to mend this country's social wounds....

"There are 67 returnees in-country now and about 1,400 to come. We expect the U.S. to send 12 to 15 people a month for the next 10 years," Mr. Herod said.

Trees

This photo shows how a barber built his little hut-business around these two trees. Instead of cutting down the trees, he had cut holes in the zinc roof around them. At the time when I took the photo, the barber was cleaning his customers ears out with some long instrument, as they do in Cambodia. The barber has a headlight strapped to his forehead, much like a miner, while he does his job.

This other pic shows palm leaves being used as shade, to protect saplings from the scorching sun. This building development had planted the young trees around its compound. It is the dry season now and there is absolutely no rain (there will not be any for three months or so) so the trees need help so they do not wilt.

Monk Scam in Siem Reap


This post is to alert tourists of the fake monks walking about in the Old Market Area here in Siem Reap.

There are two of them now, dressed identically, in saffron coloured robes with matching bag. The older is pictured but there is a younger one. They are NOT Cambodian Monks. Cambodian monks do not wear these tunic like robes, rather, they wear robes that are wrapped around the body, with one end slung over a shoulder. These costumes are worn by Chinese, possibly Taiwanese, monks.

There used to be a woman in grey coloured robes, pretending to be a nun. She would always approach Alan, because he is white, and never me (the monks do the same). One day I confronted this woman, when she had the gall to follow us into the U-Care Pharmacy to pester Alan. I spoke to her in Mandarin, asking what she wanted. She replied in Mandarin, telling me about her lucky bookmark (which is what the thing she held up looked like). I asked her whether she is Chinese or Taiwanese and she said the latter. I then proceeded to tell her off: Why are you here trying to cheat tourists' of their money? Why don't you go home to Taiwan and cheat people at home?

She looked at me open-mouthed, and did not seem to know what to say. I walked away in disgust. The woman does not ply her trade her any longer, but the two Chinese monks do.

It is the same trick. They show you a gold card and say it is for luck. One day I heard a woman tourist tell the monk that she did not have USD20. USD20!! All he has to do is find a couple of mugs and he'd make over a thousand bucks a month (in a country where average wages are USD50 a month!).

I was so disgusted I immediately whipped out my camera and took these two photos. One day a customer told me she saw a tourist handing over USD20 to the monk. So there are actually people who fall for it. :(

There are more slaves now than any time in history

"There are now more slaves on the planet than at any time in human history. True abolition will elude us until we admit the massive scope of the problem, attack it in all its forms, and empower slaves to help free themselves."

From foreignpolicy.com. Article by E. Benjamin Skinnerm the author of A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery (New York: Free Press, 2008). Thanks to Pikon via reddit.

Highlights:

1. In Haiti, 600 miles from the United States, and five hours from Manhattan, Skinner successfully arranged to buy a human being for 50 bucks.

2. For every one woman or child enslaved in commercial sex, there are at least 15 men, women, and children enslaved in other fields, such as domestic work or agricultural labor.

3. Slavery scholar Kevin Bales estimates that a slave in the 19th-century American South had to work 20 years to recoup his or her purchase price. Gonoo (a slave in Uttar Pradesh in India) and the other slaves earn a profit for Garg (Gonoo's "owner" and one of the wealthiest men in town) in two years.

4. The seed of Gonoo’s slavery was a loan of 62 cents. In 1958, his grandfather borrowed that amount from the owner of a farm where he worked. Three generations and three slavemasters later, Gonoo’s family remains in bondage. The debts are illegal, a fiction that Garg constructs through fraud and maintains through violence.

5. The United Nations, whose founding principles call for it to fight bondage in all its forms, has done almost nothing to combat modern slavery. There is little to suggest the United Nations will be an effective tool in defeating the broader phenomenon.

6. What has helped are grassroots organisations such as:

(i) Uddar Pradesh, India: Pragati Gramodyog Sansthan (Progressive Institute for Village Enterprises, or PGS) which has helped the Kol form microcredit unions and won leases to quarries so that they could keep the proceeds of their labor.

(ii) India: MSEMVS (Society for Human Development and Women’s Empowerment). In 1996, MSEMVS launched free transitional schools, where children who had been enslaved learned skills and acquired enough literacy to move on to formal schooling. The group also targeted mothers, providing them with training and start-up materials for microenterprises.

(iii) Thailand: the Labour Rights Promotion Network which works to keep desperately poor Burmese immigrants from the clutches of traffickers by, among other things, setting up schools and health programs.

(iv) In the remote highlands in the southern Haiti: Limy√® Lavi (“Light of Life”) whose activists reach otherwise wholly isolated rural communities to warn them of the dangers of traffickers and to help them organize informal schools to keep children near home.

And in Cambodia, there is Riverkids Project which works through education and skills training and Afesip which rescues trafficked sex workers through brothel raids and then rehabilitate the women.

Douk the Bookseller


I have lived in Siem Reap for more than a year now. When I first moved here, I used to see this Cambodian man, short and stout, with no forearms, walking around the Old Market area, trying to sell books to tourists.

I wasn't friendly in the beginning, because I did not have a good experience with the handicapped and child book sellers in Phnom Penh. The worst of them were abusive when you did not buy from them and the best of them were, well, users.

So I had no desire to get to know another Cambodian book seller who had no interest in me, the way I took an interest in him or her, but who only wanted to me to buy his or her goods. (I am that way now, I don't go out of my way to find out about poor-looking Cambodians and figure out how to help them. I keep to myself and try to focus on helping the Cambodians who work at Bloom).

I don't know if Douk is the same as the rest, but I started talking to him about six months ago when my mom was here and she nudged me to buy a book from Douk because she pitied him.

After that, I would buy him soft drinks because I saw he liked them. Then one day, I decided I would try to do more for him. I told him he should sell bestsellers, not only touristy books, because all the booksellers on the streets sell Angkor Wat and Cambodia books. No one sells bestsellers and he'd have an edge.

I gave him a book I had read recently and which I did not want to keep (I am normally very possessive of my books and find it hard to part with them). The book was "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. I told him to use this as an experiment. He sold it the same day.

Douk then came looking for me, asking me how much I wanted in commission from the sale of the book. What? I said. No, no, it's for you, I gave it to you, for you to test the market. Anyway, after that we went around town trying to find bestsellers for him to sell but it's not that easy in this town. We found shops that wanted to sell us some but at too high a price.

Then two weeks ago I suggested he leave a basket of books at the Bloom shop. I had decided would give him shelf space for the books. And Chhun Hy (our shop assistant) and I would sell for him for free. I wanted to help him because the basket he slings around his neck is very heavy. Honestly I could not even lift it when I tried. Poor Douk must suffer from terrible neck and shoulder aches.

You can read Douk's story if you click on the second photo. He has four children and he works hard to take care of them. I respect him because even though he is a landmine victim, he does not beg. He sells books and joins a Cambodian band at night on Pub Street (It's not guitars and drums! It's Cambodian music with pipe and xylophone-like instruments.)

"I know you see a lot of misery around you and you cannot help everybody in Cambodia," it says on his sign. "I do not expect your money because I am not a beggar but a proud man. If you buy my book, you will help me to stand like a real man."

Exactly what I am trying to do with Bloom--I want to help Cambodians stand up for themselves by selling bags that people want to buy instead of simply asking for charity and donations. And for this I need to set an example, which is why I set Bloom up as a social enterprise with my own money, instead of setting it up as an NGO with other people's money.

Giant spiders and hot pink millipedes

Photo credit of the Pink Millipede: Discover magazine.
Photo credit of the Huntsman Spider: Petra and Wilfred via Wikimedia Commons.
The last three photos are the Blue Spotted Tree Frog, the Green Pit Viper, and the Laotian rock rat (thought extinct for 11 million years). These three photos by EPA via The Telegraph.



These are some of the stranger animals found in the wetlands and rainforests in Greater Mekong area, in Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and China. According to World Wildlife Fund in the last ten years, two new species a week have been identified in the Greater Mekong. Among the more spectacular is this shocking pink Dragon Millipede. Its colour warns potential predators to Stay away! Cynide Inside! The photo is from Discover magazine.

Another one found is this huntsman spider, named Heteropoda maxima, which was found in caves in Laos. It measured 30cm across and was described to be as large as a dinner plate by The Telegraph, which reports:
The discoveries documented in the WWF report First Contact in the Greater Mekong include 519 plants, 15 mammals, 89 frogs, 279 fish, 46 lizards, 22 snakes, 4 birds, 4 turtles and 2 salamanders.

Stuart Chapman, the director of WWF's Greater Mekong programme, said: "We thought discoveries of this scale were confined to the history books. This reaffirms the Greater Mekong's place on the world map of conservation priorities."

Among the 15 mammals discovered in the region was the Laotian rock rat, Laonastes aenigmamus. It was thought to have been extinct for 11 million years but a researcher spotted the corpse of one on sale in a food market in Laos in 2005.

Moon closest to earth in 15 years

I took this photo on the night of Dec 12, when the moon was closest to earth in 15 years. At the time I took the photo I had no idea of this fact. I was just struck by how large the moon was and how bright. I was so entranced, I was almost hit by a tuk tuk!

The moon's orbit is elliptical, following an oval path and that night, it reached the point where this oval orbit is nearest to the Earth. According to NASA, the moon on that night was 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full moons this year, as reported by the BBC.

Rare vultures found in Cambodia

Photo credit: Discovery Channel
I just stumbled upon this Discovery Channel article:

Feb. 7, 2007 - Researchers in the remote forests of Cambodia said Wednesday they have discovered the only known colony in Southeast Asia of slender-billed vultures and scores of other endangered birds. The colony was discovered last month in the jungles east of the Mekong River in Cambodia's Stung Treng Province....

The Slender-billed vulture is one of several vulture species in Asia that have been driven to the brink of extinction in the past 12 years after eating cattle carcasses tainted with diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory painkiller that's given to sick cows and is highly toxic to vultures....

Because diclofenac is almost entirely absent from use in Cambodia, the WCS said the country remains one of the main hopes for the survival of the species. Even so, the birds face numerous other threats, including lack of food due to the over-hunting of large-bodied mammals, loss of habitat, and poaching.

Cambodians and dogs

Friday was a terrible day. A neighbour's dog has a litter of seven or eight puppies and one of them came into our garden and was attacked by our three smaller dogs. The 6 week old puppy was bitten on its back and its belly. Its owner came to take it back and when Alan handed it over to him, the owner said the puppy would not survive.

I refused to believe it and asked to take it to the vet. The Cambodian neighbour said, no need, Madam. He showed us its belly which had a puncture. He said there was water coming out of its stomach: he was trying to explain to us that the injury was internal.

I called a tuk tuk and jumped in with Ya, our new helper and the puppy which I had put on a towel in a basket. Unfortunately, our German vet Izzie had gone to Sihanoukville for a few days. Some people there had bought a horse and paid for her to go to teach them all about horses. The neighbour told us there was a vet about 2 km away. But it turned out that the shop, which had a sign with painted farm animals and a cross (the international symbol for "hospital") only sold animal feed. The cross stood for a human doctor, not a vet. But the lady in the shop told us where to find a vet. It is across the river from the Old Market and near a pagoda.

Ya explained to the Khmer vet, "ch'kai kam ch'kai" (literally "dog bite dog"). Without examining the puppy thoroughly, he opened his bag and stuck three syringes into three different bottles. He then proceeded to inject the puppy with the liquid, into its back (just behind its neck). I asked what the drugs were--antibiotics perhaps? And he said "vitamin". Only after he had injected the obligatory "vitamins" that he examined the dog. He said the dog may or may not live because of its stomach injury, but told me to come back for the next three days. That gave me some hope.

When I brought the dog back, I walked over to explain to the neighbour what the vet had said. Alan called out to me, "You're not giving it back to them, are you?". He was sure they would have just chucked it in one corner. I took the puppy indoors after telling our neighbour I would look after it.

The puppy was making small noises and moved out of the basket. I thought it was good it had the energy to move. Whenever I stroked it, it would make louder purring noises. I really thought it had a chance.

The puppy died an hour later. Alan had already suspected that it would not live because the puppy started giving out a strange smell. To me, it smelt a little metallic. It was a sign that the body is eating itself for energy. Ketosis is a process in which your body converts fats into energy. Ketones is a by-product of that conversion and has a sweet, fruity smell, like alcohol. But our puppy smelt more like ammonia, which meant the body had moved to breaking down protein, since there was hardly any fat--it was such a scrawny thing.

(It is interesting that with their keen sense of smell, dogs have been known to detect cancer from urine samples, as reported by CBS's 60 Minutes).

We wanted to bury it but Ya said the land in our house is too hard to dig since the puppy had to be buried deep enough so the dogs don't get to it. In the end, she suggested we give it back to the neighbour who would bury it. I was in no mood to speak with the neighbours so with one hand, Ya lifted the puppy up by its hind legs, just like you would a chicken or rabbit (as I've seen on telly). I had to tell her to use both hand and to hold its beneath its neck as well as legs.

I was very angry and upset. All the Khmers--the neighbour, Ya, the tuk tuk driver said "ot mian panyahar, ch'kai slup" ("no problem, dog die"). The tuk tuk driver was the worst, he started laughing and saying "broken tyre" when he saw the puppy's punctured stomach. He also in English: "This is street dog, no problem." As if there is a difference in the value of the life of a street dog, versus a "foreigner dog" ("ch'kai barang") which is what Cambodians call pedigree dogs.

I do understand that life is cheap here and people do not have the time or money to care about their animals. In fact, Ya told the vet that "M'jah rowool" ("owner busy") when he asked why the owner was not looking after the puppy.

I was angry because apparently this was not the first time one of their puppies wandered into our garden. It emerged that just the day before, while Alan and I were out, Ya saved another puppy from being attacked by our dogs. Not only did she not tell us, our neighbour too, did not tell us. If they had told us, we would have added fencing to the gate to block puppies from coming into our garden. We have a gate but obviously the gaps are big enough for puppies to wander in.

In fact, while I went to the vet, Alan started fencing up our gate. If our neighbour is not going to look after his pups, we would at least prevent this from happening again. If only someone had told us about this when it first happened, this small yellow puppy would not have died needlessly.

I was also wracked with guilt. Is it because we do not socialise our dogs enough? But this is normal pack behaviour--the dogs attacked something that was not of their pack. I was thinking this would not happen in Singapore. But of course it does. Bigger dogs sometimes attack a smaller dog even as the dog is on a leash, being walked by its owner.

The problem is worse when you have five dogs--they are more likely to behave as a pack. If you have one or two dogs and you introduce a new one, I think the new addition would be better accepted.

I could have killed our dogs for being so vicious, but I know it is not their fault. It is also not our fault that the puppy came into our garden. I did what I could by taking it to the vet and trying to nurse it. No, it is the fault of our neighbour--for not looking after their dogs and for not telling us when the first puppy was attacked. It was also Ya's fault for not telling us. It must be such an unimportant thing that they don't even think to tell us.

Yet, I was the only one who apologised--to the owner and to the puppy. I had already determined I would keep it if it survived.

Friday was just one of those days when I just want to give up living in Cambodia.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Angkor Dog Show



Last weekend, we took Austin and Nessie to the second AngkorDog Show. It was organised by our vet, Isabell, who runs Pets n' Vets, and she encouraged us to show our dogs in the beauty contest. The show took place at The Happy Ranch, a large piece of land where you can taking horseriding lessons given by Isabell (tempting!).

If I am not wrong, our dogs were the only mutts and the only Cambodians. There were a number of labs and golden retrievers who were beautiful. Nessie and Austin took part in the small dogs (10-20kg) category and Nessie came in last of 4 dogs! Izzie said she would have been champion if not for scoring zero for "attitude!". Yes, Nessie is a right little monster, and growled when the judge tried to pat her. She is actually a very funny and affectionate dog, very, very affectionate, like a lap dog, always jumping on our laps or snuggling in between our legs!

Austin came in second and won a bag of dog biscuits! Izzie said to us later she thought he was very well-behaved. The champ in that round is a long-haired Jack Russell, Scamps, who came all the way from England via Bangkok. I found out from the owner they walked across the border from Thailand into Cambodia freely. There are no quarantine laws in Cambodia. She also told me you can also cross the border from Cambodia into Thailand with your dogs and there is no problem. It seems Cambodians sometimes bring their dogs to Bangkok to participate in Thai dog shows.

I don't have photos of our champs at the show because I could not take photos while handling them!

Cambodian Spider!

I laughed when I watched a spider freak Mark Beaumont out somewhere in Australia. Beaumont's attempt to smash the Guinness World Record for cycling around the world was shown on BBC recently. The spider he found on his backpack, while definitely dangerous looking, was smaller than this one living in my house...If you click on the image you can see its eyes, shining green!

I actually like spiders. Those we find in the house are mostly harmless and eat insects. I googled poisonous spiders in Cambodia but all I could get were spiders as food in Cambodia. Skuon is a province famous for its hairy edible spiders and you can see a picture of it and read more here weirdmeat.com.

I have tried the spider - just the legs though, I did not dare eat what I imagined to be its gooey stomach! My friends and I tried it at Romdeng restaurant in Phnom Penh and I have to say I liked the legs. It's crunchy and tasty and the hairs weren't a bother. Bon appetit!

Bloom on Singapore radio

I was interviewed by Stanley Leong of News Radio 93.8 in Singapore this morning. It was a 'live' interview, which was interesting--no opportunity for edits!

A friend of mine taped the interview halfway when she realised I was on air and she even made a video. You can listen to it here on youtube. I'm sorry for saying so many "umms"!

The programme is called The Living Room and I was interviewed as part of a series on Cambodia. You can find out more about the radio programme here.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Floating toilets in the floating village

Photo credit: Channel News Asia.

Follow-up from a previous post World Toilet Day:

A Singapore charity is introducing floating toilets to residents living on the tonle sap.

"It is actually a simple system… We're going to use locally available buckets where they can collect the faeces. We are going to use some locally available agent to dry the faeces, that is, using ashes and other local material," said the CEO of Lien Aid, Sahari Ani.

To increase participation, local residents have to build their own toilets.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chinese companies--welcome to Singapore!

...Singapore--a home away from home for your business! In Singapore, it seems you can:

- Tear up contracts whenever you want!
- Arrest and intimidate troublemakers!
- Rule of law? A figment of the imagination! (or) A story we tell our children!
- A direct link to the Government Help Service via the Ministry of Cahoots!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Argentina's Workers' Cooperatives

From chicago.indymedia.org:
"After the 2001 economic crash in Argentina, around 200 bankrupt and closed-down business were occupied and then taken over by their workers. Most of these workers formed cooperatives to manage the business without the boss, and run it themselves. Eventually, dozens of these "recovered" businesses were granted legal recognition by the government, which used eminent domain to transfer ownership from the original owners to the worker coops, giving a 20-year mortgage at favorable lending terms.

As it turns out, "recovered" businesses are doing rather well. They've discovered that the previous owners were pretty much unnecessary for running the business; ditto with top management. Most of the working people are paid at least as well as they were before the takeover, and many are getting paid more. In any case, it seems to be a good way to put a business back to work quickly, in a way that preserves peoples' jobs. Basically, the state settles the bankruptcy on its terms, in effect nationalizing the business, and then appoints the productive workers to run it. Perhaps the 20-year loan could be based on the amount of the outstanding credit settlement."


You can read more about how Argentina's workers' took charge and put bankrupt factories back into business here on globalexchange.org.

Naomi Klein, author of anti-corporate brand bible "No Logo" has also co-written a forward for the book "SIN PATRON: Stories from Argentina's Worker-Run Factories". Klein and her husband Avi Lewis write, "Argentine workers borrowed the slogan, "Occupy, Resist, Produce" from Latin America's largest social movement, Brazil's Movimiento Sin Terra, in which more than a million people have reclaimed unused land and put it back into community production."

I had written in an earlier post about Cambodia's property speculators and how these people are helping to destroy Cambodia's economy, by creating a lot of unproductive land, land which could otherwise be used instead of just left "sitting there" waiting for the price to rise. Governments should tax property speculators, or "flippers" because land should be used productively, to create jobs, because, as the globalexchange.org article mentioned above notes: "Work is key to staving off poverty".

Chinese woman goes deaf from kissing

From the BBC.
Chinese girl gets 'kiss of deaf'

A young Chinese woman was left partially deaf following a passionate kiss from her boyfriend.

The 20-something from Khuhai in Guangdong province arrived at hospital having completely lost the hearing in her left ear, said local reports.

The incident prompted a series of articles in the local media warning of the dangers of excessive kissing.

"While kissing is normally very safe, doctors advise people to proceed with caution," wrote the China Daily.

The doctor who treated the girl in hospital was quoted in the paper explaining what had happened. "The kiss reduced the pressure in the mouth, pulled the eardrum out and caused the breakdown of the ear."

The chorus of warnings was echoed by the Shanghai Daily, which wrote: "A strong kiss may cause an imbalance in the air pressure between two inner ears and lead to a broken ear drum."

The young woman is expected to regain her full hearing within about two months.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Colonisation of Singapore-Part 2

A few days ago I wrote about China's invasion of Africa and its intentions in Cambodia, and I included this quote by Charles Darwin's cousin, Sir Francis Galton (Quoted from ThisisLondon.com):
"My proposal is to make the encouragement of Chinese settlements of Africa a part of our national policy, in the belief that the Chinese immigrants would not only maintain their position, but that they would multiply and their descendants supplant the inferior Negro race,' wrote Galton.

'I should expect that the African seaboard, now sparsely occupied by lazy, palavering savages, might in a few years be tenanted by industrious, order-loving Chinese, living either as a semidetached dependency of China, or else in perfect freedom under their own law."
I realised that Sir Francis Galton's vision did come true in one place: Singapore!

The British did manage, by design or by accident, to replace the indigenous Malay population with the Chinese, who have also replaced the British as the new rulers of Singapore. [Before anyone accuses me of racism against the Chinese, let me declare that I am ethnic Chinese, but one must always speak the truth.]

The entry on Wikipedia notes: In January 1819, Singapore had about 880 Malays and aboriginal tribes and about 20 to 30 Chinese. In 1821, it was estimated that there were nearly 3,000 Malays and more than 1,000 Chinese.

In 2006, the population of Singapore was 4.48 million in 2006. Of this group of about 3.6 million Singapore citizens and permanent residents, Chinese form 75.2%, Malays form 13.6%, Indians form 8.8%, while Eurasians and other groups form 2.4%.

No wonder then some people from mainland China consider Singapore to be China's southern-most province (and according to reports from my friends, they are not far wrong, given the number of Chinese nationals who now work and live in Singapore).

One of my good friends, Leon, who is Singaporean of Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) descent, told me how his Mandarin teacher, a woman from China, disagreed when he said he is Singaporean. She did not believe an ethnic Ceylonese could be Singaporean.

I am not sure if China (I mean the mainland, not Hong Kong) grants foreigners citizenship. The stated policy is yes, but the foreigner must:

1. have close relatives who are Chinese nationals;
2. have settled in a part of China; or
3. have other legitimate reasons for applying for citizenship.

Singapore and China do not allow dual citizenship. I have heard of Singaporeans who, in order to purchase land in Cambodia, have secretly taken on Cambodian citizenship, while not renouncing their Singapore one. The Chinese actress Gong Li caused a furore, with Chinese citizens calling her "Traitor. Shameless. Fake foreigner" when she switched to a Singapore citizenship in November.

Golf in Cambodia 2





I've finally found photos from last year's inaugural US$300,000 Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open. It was played in November at the newly opened Phokeethra Country Club here in Siem Reap. The club is managed by the Sofitel Hotel.

My partner Alan went to watch the game. It was funny listening to him tell me about the outing. First of all, the Johnnie Walker sponsored bus which was to take spectators to the course was empty except for Alan and the Western woman who was part of the organising team (maybe in charge of PR?). So much for interest in the game! You can see there are no spectators on the course at all.

The second Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open will begin on Monday. I wonder how many people will watch it this year. Siem Reap now has two golf courses, Sofitel's Phokeetra Country Club, and the Nick Faldo-designed Angkor Golf resort, owned by Indonesian casino tycoon Holic Tandijono.

The Phnom Penh Post reports a new one will open on 14th Dec on the road to Phnom Penh. The Siem Reap Lake Resort Golf Club is owned by KTC Leisure, a Korean company. The Post reports that golf here is played mainly by Koreans, so executives at the other clubs are worried about the new competitor.

At least four more luxury courses are now in various stages of construction, says the AFP in a Dec 3 article titled "Cambodia's golf plans now face financial hurdles". The article says so beloved is golf, Cambodia's senate has its own nine-hole course. The leaders of this country have also approved plans for a luxury golf course in Bokor national park, a protected wildlife area. And "Prime Minister Hun Sen's golf scores are posted on his cabinet website, even though he has a handicap of 15."

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Golf in Cambodia 1

There is a driving range some 3.5km from our house. It costs USD3 for 100 balls and you get a free iced-tea thrown in. I don't play but Alan does (he's a Scot, after all!). Alan even went for the first Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open, held in Siem Reap in November last year (the second one will be held this year from Dec11-14). I have to get the photos from him and show readers what the golf course looks like.
This is Tim Ireland, the man behind Ultimate Golf Challenge, one of Australia’s largest golf tour operators, which helped organised Cambodia’s first pro-am tournament for Australian amateurs and professional golfers. I covered the event in October for AsiaLIFE magazine. It is such a small world, Alan actually knows Tim from Singapore. Tim was a golf coach and they would practise at the Bukit Batok Driving Range in Singapore. We had an interesting time catching up with Tim who is lucky to be doing something he loves and making a living from it.
The pro-am event saw 52 Australian seniors and club pros fly in especially to Cambodia. They played on the new Nick Faldo-designed course, the Angkor Golf Resort, here in Siem Reap. The Cambodia leg is part of the Indochina International Circuit which includes two pro-am events in Vietnam. The golfers play for a total prize of USD 33,000 cash. Here are the golfers receiving their prizes at the Victoria Angkor Resort and Spa, which put up the golfers.
Here everyone is standing up for the national anthem of Cambodia. The Aussies then broke into a spontaneous rendition of their national anthem, "Waltzing Mathilda". I don't know what Cambodia's anthem is called, but you can watch the full 2 and 21 minute here on youtube.

Our family

This is my family of dogs--I have a pride! I love dogs and Austin and Nessie have three puppies, all of whom we kept. We rented a house with a huge garden (27m by 60m) specially for them. Because Khmers eat dogs, we don't let the dogs wander freely. I know one Westerner who had his black labrador stolen by a Vietnamese run restaurant. He had to pay USD200 to get the dog back.
This is Sunshine. We called her Yoda in the beginning, because her forehead is so wrinkly. She always looks like she is deep in thought. She is white and brown and like Austin, her father, she has a white-tipped tail, as you can see from the first photo.
This is Buster, the second puppy born. He's very tough, with big bones and thick, soft fur. He has an Alsation face and is all brown, the colour of his mother, Nessie.
And this is Sooty, because she is all black. The vet says we are so lucky, to have all colours in one litter. She is the smallest of the group, and is always picked on by the rest. She is the only one with a curly tail. We think of Sooty as our autistic dog, because she always seems so spaced out. Sooty is a loner and may well be the cleverest of the lot. She's always the first one to learn a new trick or figure something out.
Puppies at play
Our kiddos.
I could not resist putting this photo up: Nessie, looking at me from our hammock.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The strangest disaster in the 20th century

Grazing cattle killed in the 1986 Lake Nyos disaster. (Image Credit: Water Encyclopedia.)

Just read this fascinating true story. This is a perfect example of how there is a scientific explanation for seemingly mysterious events.

In 1986 in Cameroon, disaster struck the village of Nyos. Overnight, nearly 1,800 people died--along with more than 3,000 cattle and countless wild animals, birds and insects. In short every living creature for miles around. What happened? You can imagine the superstitious saying the place is cursed. The real reason is far more mundane: suffocation by carbon dioxide.

Thanks to gbutin for adding to reddit.com.

When Austin met Nessie




The first dog I had in Cambodia is Austin, given to me by my neighbour. He was named after Austin Powers, haha. Austin is close to three years now and is a real sweetie. One tuk tuk driver who dropped a friend off at our place asked me for him, because Austin was jumping up and licking him, a total stranger, all over! Anyway, back in 2006, we decided that it'd be nice for him have some company, so we adopted Nessie (short for Vanessa, girlfriend of Austin Powers in the original movie).

They became great friends, even though Nessie was tiny, compared with Austin. She's hilarious, always pouncing and playing with Austin. Our dogs are mongrels and very smart. The vet told us Austin has whippet and dalmation blood while Nessie is a miniature daschund mix. I can only imagine there were all sorts of pedigree dogs back in the days where Cambodia was ruled by the French who probably imported dogs. There are more and more pedigrees now, mostly imported from Thailand. And many more backyard breeders, since a labrador puppy, for example, can fetch USD300 in this country.

They were so close. Nessie would sleep on Austin's tummy. They were so close, they became parents! That's right! Austin and Nessie have three puppies, so now we have a family of dogs! I'll post pics of the puppies another time. Anyway, we love our dogs and have no plans to leave them should we leave the country. In fact, we plan to buy a car and drive our family should we decide to leave Cambodia and move to Thailand or Malaysia.

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