Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to cut the grass in your Cambodian garden

We have 5 Cambodian dogs (Austin, Nessie, Sunshine, Buster and Sooty). For this reason, we rented a house with land. We are lucky to have fruit trees, sweet potatoes, beautiful bamboo etc. The only problem is keeping the garden tidy. It is a lot of work, weeding, cutting the grass and overgrown shrubs and trees.

Bamboo is crazy - if you have ever had bamboo you would know it just grows and grows. Also, snakes like to sleep under the bamboo because the shed leaves make a cool bed. I took these photos last year at the very spot - they show a green snake trying to swallow a gecko. There is also a 2 metre black snake which hunts for small animals in our garden, which really freaked out our helper.

I don't mind the snakes. I think they're more afraid of us. The only thing I worry about is the dogs getting bitten because they like to annoy the snakes. Austin once bit a smallish one and swung it around before flinging it. Amazingly the snake survived. Our landlord says the only snake we should be afraid of are cobras (!)

Anyway, snakes also hide in the tall grass, so my mom convinced me we had to cut the grass when it was overgrown. The landlord recommended I hire some Khmers to do it. The cost? USD25 a day for a couple to do the work.

Of course I overpaid. It does not sound like a lot for a foreigner, but you have to remember this is a country where most people earn USD1- USD2 a day. And grass cutting is unskilled labour, using sickles. Indeed, subsequently 3 young men offered to do it for 15,000 riels (USD3.75)--that is in total, not each.

Our landlord is not a mean man, on the contrary, he has been very kind to us. A few months ago, he volunteered to cut our rent because "the economy is bad". I don't think for a second he intended to rip us off. What I think is he was just trying to help his relatives, which is a very common Khmer trait.

Anyway, I also explored the option of buying a strimmer (string trimmer). My landlord picked me up on his motorbike to see the shops, along the road to Psar Leu. There are petrol and electric ones, but you can only get petrol ones in Cambodia, which go for USD90 new (made in China) and USD40 second hand. There is also a Japan made "Honda" that you can get for USD200 new.

The landlord advised me against getting a second-hand one because he said "you pay 40 dollars, but it works only 40%". I find in general, richer Cambodians have an aversion to second-hand things, whereas I always think second-hand because I want to save money. Maybe they are speaking from experience though, who knows?

I got a friend to compare prices in Singapore and found electric strimmers to be cheaper than the petrol ones found in Cambodia. On the other hand, the petrol ones in Singapore are more expensive, twice the price, but they are good ones.

Usually people use electric ones for their homes, because most people live in a country where land is expensive. Electric ones are not available in Cambodia because land here is cheap and many people own large tracts (our rented place sits on about 16,000 square feet of land).

Anyway, I had a spot of good luck recently. A woman came and asked if she could cut the grass to feed her cows. We had already considered this as a solution: letting in a few cows to eat our grass. Except our five dogs go barking mad when they see the placid creatures (Austin was kicked by one for annoying it).

Here are the photos of the woman at work. You can see curious Sunshine looking on and also how the woman transports the cut grass home, in a basket on her bicycle. She came twice this week. I wonder how many cows she has?

Pirate Bay sold to software company

Interesting. I wrote previously about Pirate Bay getting its 22 million users to pay a buck each for its legal fees and how one of the co-founders, Anakata, was rumoured to be in Cambodia. Well, here's the latest.

From torrentfreak.com:
The Pirate Bay Sold To Software Company, Goes Legal
Written by enigmax on June 30, 2009

According to gaming company Global Gaming Factory X (GGF) , it is in the the process of acquiring The Pirate Bay for $7.8m (SEK or Swedish Krona 60 million). The acquisition is scheduled to be completed by August and will see the site launch new business models to compensate content providers and copyright owners...GGF claims to have the biggest network of internet cafés and gaming centers in the world.

The changeover of ownership is scheduled for August 2009, whereby GGF will take over the operation of the site...

“The Pirate Bay is a site that is among the top 100 most visited Internet sites in the world. However, in order to live on, The Pirate Bay requires a new business model, which satisfies the requirements and needs of all parties, content providers, broadband operators, end users, and the judiciary,” said Hans Pandeya CEO.

What happens when today's teen uses a Walkman instead of an iPod

I love, love this BBC Magazine experiment! What a great idea!

Pictured is 13-year-old Scott Campbell, from Aberdeenshire in the UK:

"My dad had told me it was the iPod of its day. He had told me it was big, but I hadn't realised he meant THAT big. It was the size of a small book...

"It took me three days to figure out that there was another side to the tape [Side B--haha!]. That was not the only naive mistake that I made; I mistook the metal/normal switch on the Walkman for a genre-specific equaliser, but later I discovered that it was in fact used to switch between two different types of cassette.

"Another notable feature that the iPod has and the Walkman doesn't is "shuffle", where the player selects random tracks to play. Its a function that, on the face of it, the Walkman lacks. But I managed to create an impromptu shuffle feature simply by holding down "rewind" and releasing it randomly - effective, if a little laboured."

Hahahaha! I remember my Walkmen (yes I had a few). This does bring back memories, including the time I was so desperate for music while backpacking alone in Europe for 3 months, I bought a metallic pink Walkman in the UK.

iPhone: Khmer unicode, water proof and porn

In February, channelasian asked on discussions.apple.com when the iPhone will support Khmer unicode. This led to a back and forth with another user who insisted to: "You bought a hacked phone. There are no authorized resellers of the iPhone in Cambodia at this time which is also why you don't have language support." [You can get officially unlocked iPhones in Cambodia, imported from Singapore.]

Another user weighed in: "You can keep track of where the iPhone is available here. Cambodia is not yet anywhere on the list. As for Khmer, this script is not yet included by Apple in the full version of OS X, so I think support on the iPhone is quite a long way off. But tell Apple you want it apple.com/feedback/iphone."

But all is not lost, channelasian noted "now there's someone can build khmer font and keyboard for iphone, but he sell too expensive. it's not the real version from apple."

Cool. Where there's a will, there's a way.

I found this youtube video where a man using his iPhone 3G S accidentally dropped it into a pool--"Wait, it still freaking works!"

Chanroeun (currently doing his PhD in Australia's ANU), who also left a comment on my earlier post, reviews the phone here: "unbelieveable latest iPhone 3G S".

A poster to the video says this is what to do if any phone, including your crummy non-iPhone falls into water:

"Take it out of the water as quickly as possible, do not press any burrons, turn it off, or any of that - get some uncooked rice and a ziploc bag, fill the ziploc up half way with the uncooked rice, place your phone inside the bag, fill the rest of the bag with rice. This will suck the moisture out of your phone overnight and has worked for everyone I know who has tried it."

Finally, there was a chance Cambodia would not be able to enjoy the iPhone. Anyone remembers Prime Minster Hun Sen's ban on 3G networks in 2006, a few months after operators started offering the service? All because his wife received porn on her phone. It made international news:
According to Reuters, Hun Sen announced the clampdown today to an assembly of Buddhist monks in Phnom Penh, with: "I have written to the Minister of Telecommunications to delay the use of certain mobile phones. We can wait 10 more years until we have managed to improve morality in society."
Hahahaha! I have no idea when this blew over but thank goodness we didn't have to wait 10 years to get 3G back. [For some great comments on this see CNET].

iPhone 3G S in Cambodia: $1100 for 16GB (!)

"Khmer" (you can't see his blogger profile so no point linking him) left me a comment on my post iPhone in Cambodia. He says the iPhone 3G S is available in Cambodia! You can find it here and here.

But there is a price to pay, specifically, USD 1100 for the 16GB and USD 1270 for the 32GB (!!). This is how much it costs in the US: USD199 for the 16GB version and USD299 for the 32GB. (But of course you have to sign a contract with AT&T...) But still, you would be paying 5.5 times more to get the 16GB iPhone 3G S in Cambodia.

What it says to me is there are people in this country rich enough for money to be no object in getting the latest coveted toy. Children of government officials, anyone? The last time I was in Phnom Penh (March, I think), I saw a teenage girl driving a huge, black Mercedes (not a baby Benz I can assure you, more like the 500 series). Phnom Penh's different from Siem Reap in that way. Siem Reap has more of a middle class, but Phnom Penh, where the seat of government is, is where you see the really rich Khmers.

The iPhone 3G S was available in the US just over 2 weeks ago, on June 19 and already it is available in Cambodia. Cambodia is not even on the list of scheduled countries:

June 19
United States
United Kingdom

June 26 (just a week later…)

July 9 (nearly three weeks later…)
Czech Republic
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Hong Kong
New Zealand
South Africa

August 9
Central Africa
Ivory Coast
Saudi Arabia
United Arab Emirates

Source: simonblog.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Building collapsed in Shanghai - awesome pics

This building collapsed in Shanghai yesterday. One workman was killed but no one was injured when the 13 storey building fell. It is a new building. More pics here.

In last year's Sichuan earthquake, a disproportionately high number of school structures collapsed, especially in rural areas of Sichuan. Chinese netizens have since invented a new term "tofu-dregs schoolhouses" (Chinese: 豆腐渣校舍) to mock the quality of these school buildings. The tragedy was all the more poignant because families lost their only child, due to China's one-child policy.

Swaminathan Krishnan, assistant professor of civil engineering and geophysics at the California Institute of Technology said: "The earthquake occurred in the rural part of China. Presumably, many of the buildings were just built; they were not designed, so to speak."

Sounds just like Cambodia--buildings just built, not designed (architecturally, not aesthetically, he means, although one can make a case for both in Cambodia!). I am sure many Cambodian buildings don't have proper foundations, especially with the double storeyed houses in the villages where zero piling goes on.

Fortunately, though, they don't build as high in Cambodia, although they are starting to. I just hope the buildings, built mostly by foreign companies, are built properly.

Black or White

Yesterday I wrote Chhun Hy said this about Michael Jackson: "You are saying before he is black man?"

I was thinking if you just look at MJ's recent photos without knowing anything of his past you wouldn't have a clue he is black.

Well, today I just saw this: young smoke, a 20 year old white guy from the US who thinks he is black. He writes in his My Space profile under "Ethnicity", "Black/African descent". Hahaha! Thanks to Redsnow for adding to Reddit.

Angkor Thom Issue 27.7.09 - final installment

The magazine also has more "serious" articles, like this one on Tuol Sleng or S21, the genocide museum in Phnom Penh. This was one story Thyda did not read, but she told me the headline says the authorities are planning to move the museum. I could not find anything online to confirm this speculation.
The next one is about politics: the story says Cambodia suffered in the past because it was blacklisted by the US. Because of this, foreigners did not invest in the country. The thrust of the story is Cambodia's resilience and how the country overcame the dark times to become a destination for foreign investment.
These are photos of a beautiful Cambodian celebrity. I forget if she is an actress or a TV host/compere. Regardless, this celebrity has a travel agency in Siem Reap and is divorced. The story is about her upcoming second marriage. Thyda says this lady has had plastic surgery on her boobs, bum, nose and chin (!). I don't know anything about this celeb or what she looked like before, but I guess a trip to Bangkok and enough money is all it takes if someone really wanted to change their looks in this town.
Oh, this story was quite interesting. This lady owns a restaurant and one day a man opened fire in her restaurant over a dispute with the security guard. You can see the words AK in the article and I asked Thyda "are they saying it is an AK47 he used?". She said yes.
In addition to Horoscopes (many of the Bloom women like to read the horoscope page), you can find global entertainment news. Many young Cambodian women I know think Rain, the Korean singer, is hot, so there he is. Khmers are also keen on Angelina Jolie, since she has a connection with the country (her first adopted son is Khmer). There is also something on Jennifer Lopez's pregnancy. I had to ask who the woman is in the top right and without missing a beat, Thyda said "Jordan, you don't know her?" Sad to say, I do.

Angkor Thom Issue 27.7.09 -part 2

This story really made me laugh. This is a Cambodian police man who is famous for making traditional medicine for what Thyda calls "the linga", "Linga" being the Hindu word for "penis". Apparently his traditional herbal concoctions work so he is famous and has many clients. As a point of interest, Andy Brouwer has photos of Cambodia's largest linga, built in worship of Lord Shiva. The 4m long phallus is found in Phnom Bok, 25km north of Siem Reap.
This story is about a brother and sister who had children together. The whole family and their house is pictured. The next photo tells the story of a young woman who claims she and her brother are the re-incarnation of a pair of star-crossed lovers. In one of their previous lives, the couple were lovers who killed themselves over their families' disapproval of their love (every culture seems to have a Romeo and Juliet). Before they committed suicide, they vowed to return as brother and sister, so they could be together.
And this last photo shows readers how nursing mothers should express milk. It is funny, in almost every issue there is a story on breastfeeding...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Angkor Thom Issue 27.7.09 -part 1

This is the cover of the wildly popular
Angkor Thom
magazine which was available on newsstands yesterday, the 27th June. Thyda tells me the magazine is sold out within a day. Once she went to 10 stalls to find a copy just one day after the magazine was published but they were all sold out.

The cover always has photos of Cambodian songstresses, actresses and other beautiful, famous, Khmer women. This issue had a scandal (see the bottom left hand corner). A female celebrity was caught on camera with her lover, and Thyda expressed shock because this particular celeb has always had a good reputation. (Female artistes in Cambodia usually have the reputation of being kept by rich men).
Now we get to the features and you will understand why the magazine is so popular. This story is about a mother-in-law (top left) who slept with her son-in-law (bottom left). The big picture on the right is the wedding photo of her daughter and son-in-law, and the passport sized photo is the woman's husband whom she is divorced from.
This other story is about a stepfather who slept with his stepdaughter (the one in blue) and got her pregnant. The woman in the smaller photo is the mother. These are just two of the features, I'll upload some others in Part 2.

I can't read Khmer so it was Thyda who explained the stories to me. I kept asking two questions: is it real and where is this? The first one took place in Kampong Thom and the second in Battambang, she said. She got a little impatient with me, thinking it is irrelevant where the incidents took place. "Everywhere in Cambodia it is like this," she said. And every time I expressed scepticism, she would be impatient. "Yes, it is true. Many, many stories like this in the magazines."

Gossip magazines and newspapers routinely make up stories to sell copies which is why I doubt the veracity of these stories. I can just imagine the reporter paying some poor person in the countryside and dressing them up for the story. (Maybe some are even photos of dead people.) How hard would it be to find poor people in the countryside who would be willing to do this for a few dollars? Magazines like Britain's OK and Hello magazines are willing to pay millions for some celebrity's wedding or family pic, because it makes financial sense. The millions translate into a lot more.

The other reason why I think some (not all, some are probably real) of the stories are made up is I am sure the magazine is not even available in more remote, rural parts of Cambodia. So what shame is there in participating in this charade?

Who knows, maybe I am wrong, but it's amazing how the magazine unearths sex stories all over the country three times a month (we're not done yet with this issue's--I have a part 2!). Perhaps luckily for Angkor Thom magazine, Cambodia does have an endless supply to sexual deviants.

Cambodian Reality Show: You're the Man!

Just saw this ad in the "Angkor Thom" magazine. "You're the Man!" is a Cambodian reality show in which 6 Khmer men take part in an adventure.

The show is funded by USAID's PRASIT programme ("Prasit" means "effectiveness" in Khmer), and is the acronym for the project name: “Project for HIV/ AIDS Strategic Technical Assistance. I guess they are funding it in the hopes that the show will somehow get their message on HIV/AIDS out ("I'm a real man! I use condoms!) I wonder in what ways, maybe through ads? I hope it will be more imaginative than that.

The reality show is sponsored by Starcell, Angkor beer and Southeast Asia Globe magazine.

Meet the contestants here: Panna, Socheat, Venvitou, Mony, Sesothea and Vichet. They age from 20-34. Looks like we can expect a good fight!

Dating rituals

I have always thought an online dating site for Cambodians would work well. Cambodians have a strange (to a foreigner, anyway) way of getting to know the opposite sex: wrong numbers.

In the 3 years I have lived in Cambodia, I know two young Khmer women who met their husbands this way. The guy calls their phone number, knowing full well it is a "wrong number" (they ask for someone who is not associated with the number). They end up chatting; they guy calls regularly, sometimes a few times a day; they meet up finally and end up married. I also have Khmer friends who met their boyfriends this way.

Sometimes, the caller does not even pretend to be calling a wrong number. He comes right out and say it: "Srey Sa-at ["pretty girl"] blah blah blah..." I know because I have had to deal with such calls myself. I always say in English, "I'm sorry, wrong number" and then hang up. I can't be bothered to waste my precious time on such things. Some callers are persistent and call back (thanks to caller ID you don't have to answer the call a second time). I wonder if Cambodian men really think this would work on a foreigner? Has a female barang ever been picked up this way in this country? Do tell me if you know.

Young people also get to know each other via classifieds in magazines. You advertise what you are looking for and then list your phone number. Interested parties will then call you.

Anyway, these are low-tech versions of online dating, which is why I am convinced there is money in an online dating site.

Another way Cambodian young men and women meet is during festivals. One young man I know met his girlfriend during the water festival, when many young people throng the streets to party. Groups of young men get to know group of young women this way.

This is what it says on wikipedia's entry on Courtship, marriage and Divorce in Cambodia:
"Though adolescent Cambodian children usually play with members of the same sex, boys and girls take part in group games during festivals, offering them the opportunity to begin looking for future mates. Virginity is seen as highly valued in brides, and premarital sex is deplored. A girl who becomes pregnant out of wedlock is seen as bringing shame to her family....

Courtship patterns differ between rural and urban Khmer. Attitudes in the larger cities have been influenced by Western ideas of romantic love that do not apply in the countryside. A man usually marries between the ages of nineteen and twenty-five, a girl between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two. Marriage between close blood relatives is common. After a spouse has been selected, a go-between meets with the parents and broaches the subject of marriage. Then each family will investigates the other to make sure its child is marrying into a good family."
I think it's not easy meeting members of the opposite sex (with the aim of finding a partner, I mean) in any country and different societies develop different dating rituals to get a mate. Surely ranking among the most bizarre are the Kyrgyz. From The New York Times:
"More than half of Kyrgyzstan's married women were snatched from the street by their husbands in a custom known as "ala kachuu," which translates roughly as "grab and run"....

Kyrgyz men say they snatch women because it is easier than courtship and cheaper than paying the standard "bride price," which can be as much as $800 plus a cow....

Brutal as the custom is, it is widely perceived as practical. "Every good marriage begins in tears," a Kyrgyz saying goes
I should point out "ala kachuu" is illegal in Kyrgyzstan but the law is rarely enforced. One woman describes how in desperation, she told her abductors, she was "no longer a girl", a euphemism meaning she was no longer a virgin. The lie worked. Loss of virginity is a deal-breaker in that central Asian country, as it is in Cambodia.

There has been an increase in matchmaking or dating agencies in developed countries. As people spend more and more time at work, they find it increasingly difficult to meet a mate. So they outsource their dating life, to a professional, they hope. And why not? They already outsource cleaning their house, walking their dog, cooking their meals etc.

Singapore, always serious about being the best, even has a government sponsored matchmaking agency, the Social Development Unit (there's a euphemism if I ever heard one). From wikipedia:
"The SDU is a government matchmaking organisation in Singapore. It was established in 1984, aiming to change the cultural/social mindsets that continue to stand in the way of graduates getting married in Singapore society. As of 2006, more than 33,000 SDU members had been married because of the help they received from this organisation. The SDU has been criticized for promoting elitist ideology as it is available only to university graduates. Graduates from other tertiary and vocational institutes are ineligible."
I checked the site and in an effort to sound more romantic, the organisation's website is now called lovebyte.org.sg. It says, "Ultimately, we hope you would be looking forward to an enriching marriage and a fulfilling family."

It's all part of the Singapore government's plan to get Singaporeans to procreate. In Singapore, it pays to procreate, literally. The government website is even called babybonus.gov.sg--hilarious:
The cash payouts are S$4,000 [US$2750] each for the first and second child, and S$6,000 each for the third and fourth child. The Singapore government also contributes a dollar for a dollar matching the amount of savings that parents contribute to their child's savings in the Children Development Account, which is capped at S$6,000 each for the first and second child, and S$12,000 each for the third and fourth child, and S$18,000 each for the fifth and subsequent child.

A number of friends did joined the SDU but all came away disappointed. Their complaints were all the same: the women were beautiful but the men were ummm....They also told me during the buffet lunch, the Singaporean men would make a beeline for the table, ignoring the women, while the women looked on in dismay.

But I do know women in Singapore who found their mate through the Internet...

Cambodian reaction to Michael Jackson's death

I was surprised when Thyda, a Khmer friend, excitedly told me yesterday "You know the singer, Michael Jackson? He is dead!"

I always switch on the TV to watch the news when I wake up so had already known. I'm not a big fan of MJ's songs, although I liked the Thriller MTV because I like zombies and zombie movies. The coverage of MJ's death reminded me of Princess Diana's.

So I asked Thyda and her friend how many people in Cambodia know Michael Jackson. They say, many, many. It turns out it's not for his music that MJ is known in Cambodia; it is for his plastic surgery.

Thyda, for instance, has known about MJ for more than 10 years, she says, because he is always in the Cambodian magazines. His nose, his skin has been featured numerous times.

The photo shows a page I took from the Cambodian magazine, "Angkor Thom", which hit newsstands just yesterday. The article follows Victoria Beckham's boob jobs. The main pic says she has gone for a breast reduction, from 34DD to 34B.

Cambodia is not beyond the reaches of Hollywood.

Update: I just spoke to Chhun Hy and he told me he knows who Michael Jackson is. He asked me if MJ is rich and I said yes, but he was also lonely. Chhun Hy asked why and I said maybe everyone wanted his money or maybe it has to do with the fact he looks strange, always changing his nose, chin and whitening his skin. Chhun Hy was amazed. He said, "You are saying before he is black man?"

Who flies into Cambodia?

Some queries are so weird!

I laughed when I saw this. Someone from Auckland, New Zealand googled "who flys into cambodia" and landed up on my blog entry Pigs Fly into Cambodia!

Mu Sochua in the USA

Yesterday I met a family from Orgeon in the USA. They came in to buy a bag and while chatting with them I found out they are good friends with Mu Sochua, Cambodia's former Minister of Women's Affairs and her husband, who is a US citizen. Mu Sochua and her husband met while they were volunteering at the refugee camp in Aranyaprathet. The family actually stayed with Ms Sochua (pronounced "So-Ku-a", not "So-Ch-ua", as I always thought) in her home in...well, I won't disclose where, just that it's not in Phnom Penh.

The family told me Mu Sochua is now in the USA where she is among the guests of honour at a performance of the play "Seven", which depicts the lives of 7 amazing women, including Mu Sochua's. The women are all members of the Vital Voices network, a non-governmental organization which offers disadvantaged women training and the opportunity to become leaders. You can read here for CNN's coverage. There is also a Facebook group on "Seven" and it has updates on Ms Sochua current defamation suit against Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The family told me the Cambodian government lifted her immunity on Monday the 22nd, on the very day she was to fly to the US for the play. (Mu Sochua has a US passport as well as a Cambodian one as Cambodia (unlike Singapore) allows dual citizenship.) For the whole day she was kept in suspense as to whether she would be arrested on the way, or at, the airport. Fortunately, nothing of the sort happened.

The Phnom Penh Post reported last week that "The president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, Rong Chhun, said parliamentary immunity would be worthless if it could be lifted so easily, and threatened mass protests if the Assembly went ahead with the move. "If Mu Sochua is arrested, we will lead mass demonstrations throughout the country with teachers and workers." Read the full report on ki-media.

I told the family Mu Sochua to me is Cambodia's Aung San Suu Kyi, a brave woman standing up for her people and the father said "I think she will like that you said that". I also told them to let Ms Sochua know she has supporters even among Singaporeans.

Friday, June 26, 2009

LA band Dengue Fever

A while back I received this email:

"Hi Diana,

My name is Larry Kraut and I am a social media marketing manager for the company M80 based in Los Angeles. I just wanted to tell you that I really like your blog; I've always found casino culture to be so fascinating, and I don't even know what to do with that description of Century Eggs!

Given your unique perspective in Cambodia, I also wanted to let you know about a new documentary that I really think you would enjoy. Sleepwalking Through The Mekong chronicles the Los Angeles-based rock band Dengue Fever, and their fascinating tour through Cambodia in 2005. The film delves into the unique relationship that Cambodians have with music due to the intellectual genocide overseen by the Pol Pot regime and marks the first time an American band has ever played Khmer music in Cambodia.

The film is slated for DVD release on 4/14, so let me know if you are interested in checking out the documentary and reviewing it on your site; I would be more than happy to send you a copy of the DVD and original soundtrack. You can find more info on Dengue Fever, including video clips, photos, music and more here: denguefever

Thank you so much for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you."

For those of you who have not heard of the band, you can read wikipedia's entry: "Dengue Fever is a six-member band from Los Angeles who combine Cambodian pop music and lyrics with psychedelic rock. They were formed in 2001 by Ethan Holtzman and his brother Zac after Ethan was inspired by a trip to Cambodia. As Ethan and Zac were searching for a vocalist to sing in Khmer, lead singer Chhom Nimol was discovered in a nightclub in Little Phnom Penh area of Long Beach."

The DVD was sent to a friend who works at a luxury hotel here in Siem Reap, as the house I live in, in a small village, has no house number. I will be getting the DVD today- finally! and will review the documentary soon!

iPhone in Cambodia: 8GB for USD599

I went to check out this special offer by iOne in Siem Reap. There are banner ads advertising this deal. The iPhone was going for USD650 previously, it says.

The phones come from Singapore so they are "officially unlocked". What this means is you can pick your network and get full use of the handset and all its official functions no matter which carrier you choose. Contrast this with iPhones bought in the US where you can only use one carrier, AT&T, or in the UK, where you have to use the carrier O2. (The apple store in Hong Kong sells officially unlocked phones for USD579, just USD20 less.)

It seems there is one caveat with the unlocked phones. After inserting your SIM card, and connecting to a 3G network, you need to connect to iTunes to complete activation. But at least one person is having problems with his iPhone in Cambodia. Pisethdara Keo on Twitter: "Buying iPhone in Cambodia is crazy!!! you'll never be able to access itune store or even get free application!!!! 7:09 PM Jun 18th from TwitterFon"

I drool over my friends' iPhones. It is so great to be connected all the time. I remember checking out digital cameras in Singapore and my friend promptly started Googling the models I was interested in, to read reviews. As you can imagine, it was most helpful in helping me make my choice.

Anyway, as with a previous post on cameras and printers, the cost of the gadget is one thing, and subscription or other on-going costs, another. In Singapore, you can even get free phones as telcos try to get you to sign on to a contract, from which they extract more money than they could with a one-off sale. Anyway, phones, like printers and PCs, are commodities, and prices just go one way.

So, what are the additional costs to owning an iPhone in Cambodia? 3G has been available in Cambodia since 2008 despite Prime Minister Hun Sen's ban of the technology in 2006, because his wife received porn on her 3G mobile phone. Hahaha!

Borin chose Cellcard over Cube (or QB). I was told by the staff at iOne that I would have to pay USD30 (or was it USD35?) a month for 1.5GB data download. That killed it for me. Not much point in having the phone if I can't surf much. 1.5GB is nothing and I am on a budget.

The alternative if I really wanted a mobile Internet device is the iPhone touch, which you can surf with wherever there is wi-fi. Not much point in that for me. I'd rather get a netbook.

Update 30.06.2009: 3G S is available in Cambodia, more than 10 days before Singapore, Malaysia etc!

The World Diabetes Foundation replied!

I love, love the Internet.

Ok, so we can get proper help for Chhun Hy's father, finally. After my email to the Foundation's Communications Director, I received an email from the Hospital Director at Kampong Thom.
Dear Diana Saw,
I got your message forwarded from Dr. Varoeun, Chief of Diabetes program in Cambodia asking the contact number and address for Kampong Thom Diabetes clinic. The Diabetes clinic in Kampong Thom is located in the compound of Kampong Thom Provincial hospital along the Stung Sen riverside in the midle of Kampong Thom town. The chief of the clinic is Dr. Nget Bochum. His contact number is [...]. You can directly contact with him or write a message to me via my e-mail address [...] . Don't worry about the cost of treatment it is cheap. But one thing I have to tel you that if the condition of the patient is not serious, he or she can just take medicines home if not they have to be admitted in the hospital for intencive care.

Yours Sincerely

Dr. Srey Sin, Hospital Director, Kampong Thom
Super. To all those who helped at the Foundation - thanks so much!

I removed the phone and email address cos I don't want the good doctor to be spammed, but if you need the information, please do email me.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Panasonic camera now identifies Panasonic battery

Just saw this "important notice" from panasonic.jp:
2009, June, 24

Panasonic Digital Still Cameras now include a technology that can identify a genuine Panasonic battery. For the protection of our customers Panasonic developed this technology after it was discovered that some aftermarket 3rd party batteries do not meet the rigid safety standards Panasonic uses.
Of course it is for the protection of customers.

I have a panasonic digital camera and I use the cheap USD1 (Cambodia price) alkaline batteries, Duracell or Energizer and never had problems. The only time the battery failed was in Nepal when I bought some unknown cheapie battery. But my camera did not suffer from that incident.

This Panasonic announcement is just like the printer companies who tell you only original printer cartridges will work with their printer. Obviously it is another way to make money. Sometimes an even bigger revenue stream, as "The great printer scam" discusses:
Have you ever related the extremely low printer prices with the extremely high prices for cartridges? Have you noticed how ads go out of their way to underline how low are the entry prices for extremely advanced printers? And how seldom (if ever) do they care to report the price of the INK CARTRIDGE (the toner)? And how many pages can you print with an ink cartridge? What is the cost PER PAGE of a given printer?

The Lexmark Z11 is a very interesting example: this colour printer sells for so little (around 100 Euro) that many manufacturers bundle it with every computer sale. But its ink cartridges cost almost HALF of the price of the whole printer (around 40 Euro)."
The other way printer companies try to make more money from consumers is by setting expiration dates to the cartridges. See this PC World article:
A couple of months ago George Siegel, a buddy of mine, e-mailed to complain about an old HP Business Inkjet 2230:

I bought it maybe three years ago for a specific project, but ended up leaving it in the box for 18 to 24 months," he said. "When I finally installed it at home, the black ink cartridge died after about a week. I figured it was empty (undersized cartridge) and replaced it. Then about a week later the cyan cartridge died. I knew I hadn't done much color printing so I got suspicious.

I've had e-mail from readers who have refilled their inkjet cartridges encountering the same situation.

I'm guessing you've figured out what the problem was. Yep: The inkjet cartridges had expiration dates.

There have been lawsuits against HP about this (and no, I couldn't find anything recent). As I researched the issue, I saw an upsurge in 2005 of angry users complaining about expiration dates."

Anyone know the phone number/add of diabetes clinic

in Kampong Cham? I just read this: "In addition, with funds more recently allocated by the World Diabetes Foundation, three provincial centers at Pursat, Kampong Cham and Prey Veng were established in 2007. The four clinics (Siemreap, Battambang, Pursat,and Kampong Thom) will provide the structureplanned by the Cambodian Diabetes Association(CDA) for its so-called “Great Lakes Project.” The two clinics at Prey Veng and Kampong Cham will cover the CDA’s “Mekong Project,” once a clinicat Kratie has been established. Together, these two projects will provide diabetes care for a population of almost 10 million people."

My email to the two most junior members on the World Diabetes Foundation contact list did not garner a response, so I emailed the communications manager who had visited Cambodia with the Managing Director in 2007. I hope he'll at least tell me the phone number of the clinic.

I also managed to find this doctor, "cochinjew" who wrote about "Doctoring in Kampong Cham": "It is amazing how little visited are the places outside Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are. I was invited to visit the local doctor in charge of Diabetes at the Kampong Cham Hospital. It had the lazy feeling of an erstwhile colonial town, the main streets are broad and there are very new buildings including the new hotel. The hospital buildings are from the colonial times and the new diabetes clinic is ready to be open. I plan to be back in Kampong Cham."

I sent Dr cochinjew a message too. It really should not be too hard to find the new clinic. If no one replies my emails, I have told Chhun Hy to go to the hospital in Kampong Cham. I am sure the local doctor in charge of diabetes there will be able to refer his father to the specialised clinic.

People I don't want on my blog

You have to click on the images to see what I'm talking about. I wrote previously in an entry called "who's reading who" about being able to see who visit this blog and how they come upon it. According to Statscounter, there were 120 unique visitors to this blog yesterday and 139 page loads. There were 13 returning visits.

These two screen grabs show in detail how visitors come to cambodiacalling. Pic 1 is someone from Middletown, New York, US who had used search.yahoo.com to find "Khmer girl for sale" and landed on my post "Khmer girl's eye gouged out by brothel owner". The guy came at 9:45pm yesterday and viewed 2 entries for a total of 19 seconds. Obviously he did not find what he was looking for. I was surprised he even bothered to view 2 entries. Usually assholes like this take one look and see this blog does not cater to them and make a quick exit. You can also see his IP address.

The second screen shot shows someone from Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada. This person googled "Cambodian teen brides" and stayed for 20mins 15 secs reading my post "18 year age difference on average between Khmer brides and Korean men" and another entry. You can also see his IP address.

I know of bloggers who use Google Analytics but I am happy with Statscounter. Fellow bloggers: go install one of these things --sitemeter is another one--it's useful to know who your audience is and why they come to your blog and what blog posts are most popular.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Diabetes and Cambodian witch doctors

Chhun Hy, the young man who works with me at the Bloom shop recently took a week off. His parent came all the way from Kampong Cham province, about a 4 hour bus ride, to see a witch doctor here. His father has diabetes and despite seeing doctors in Phnom Penh is not getting better.

Chhun Hy spent in total USD60 for this trip for his parents. They paid 30,000 riels per person for a return shared taxi from Kampong Cham to Siem Reap. Their guesthouse was USD6 a night and there were also meals. The actual witch doctor fee was only 5000 riels (USD1.25).

For the 5000 riels, Chhun Hy's father was burned in four places with an incense - 3 times in the back and one time on his leg. I have no idea what is going on in Chhun Hy's mind as we have told him enough about witch doctors and superstitions and he himself has agreed with us on some of these matters. In fact, I just showed him this article in today's Telegraph newspaper. In China, a woman boiled a man's head to cure her daughter's psychiatric problems. I told him this is what happens when you don't use your brain and just listen to rubbish.

But I am sure he was just being the filial son to desperate parents who heard about this witch doctor. The man is in his 70s and lives in a big house. Chhun Hy's father was told to return to see the witch doctor once a week--indefinitely, until he gets better. Chhun Hy says about 200 people see him everyday. I worked it out for Chhun Hy: 5000riels x 200 = 10,000,000. 10 million riels, or USD250, a day. Which works out to USD7,500 a month. Nice work if you can get it.

You can imagine how annoyed I am to learn about this. Chhun Hy keeps saying in Cambodia you need money to get better. He says the medicine given by the Phnom Penh doctor is not good because it is cheap. I told him that is not necessarily the case. It does not mean cheap medicine is rubbish and expensive medicine is good. "Tell me the name of the medication." But he does not know.

So I googled and found that in February 2007, the World Diabetes Foundation inaugurated two diabetes clinics in Cambodia. The site says this is because "a surprisingly high number of the adult population has diabetes although the Cambodians are not obese by international standards".
"The prevalence of diabetes in Cambodia is today surprisingly high and the factors ultimately leading to a diabetes epidemic are present. A recent epidemiological study published in The Lancet in 2005, estimates that a total of 255,000 people live with diabetes in Cambodia. About two-thirds of all cases of diabetes were undiagnosed before the survey."

"Economic restructuring, globalisation and the fast growing tourist industry leaves a trail of motorisation and changing food habits in the population as can be seen in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. On top of the previous hunger and deprivation period ending in the 1980’s, this extreme change in lifestyle may play an important role in the development of an epidemic of chronic diseases, including diabetes."
The symptoms include: frequent trips to the toilet, unquenchable thirst, lose weight without trying, weakness and fatigue, tingling or numbness in your hands, legs or feet. This is what Chhun Hy reports his father has.

Anyway, the two centres are in Kampong Thom and Battambang. Kampong Thom is closer to Kampong Cham so that is the one I tried to find. I had to email the contacts listed to get the phone number and address as I could not find it online. I hope the representatives I emailed from the World Diabetes Foundation will respond, so we can get Chhun Hy's father proper treatment.

Chhun Hy seems pessimistic. He keeps saying you need money to be saved in this country. He told me about newspaper articles reporting how patients are routinely turned away by doctors because they have no money. One pregnant woman was turned away because she could not pay the USD10-USD20 medical fee to have her baby delivered. She died and her husband told his story to the papers.

Chhun Hy says, "My country very very bad. The doctors, the teachers- the same. If you have no money, the teachers will not teach you and the doctors will not help you."

I asked, "I thought Cambodians are Buddhist. Aren't you supposed to help people?" He replied, "Before, yes. Now they only want money."

Cambodians are so used to seeing people die, they have a different perspective. They are resigned at worse, sanguine at best. Chhun Hy says many of his neighbours in Kampong Cham have the same problem as his father and he thinks his father will be dead in 4-5 years, because that is how long his neighbours with the disease lasted. His father is only 45.

Friends NGO and Hikikomori

In March I had the opportunity to meet Sebastien Marot, the founder of the Cambodian-based NGO, Friends, also known as Mith Samlanh. I went for a visit to the Friends headquarters in Phnom Penh with the group of students from INSEAD, the business school.

As followers of the blog would know, I am not a fan of NGOs in general, having seen too many inefficient, corrupt and lying ones in my time here and in Singapore (hello, Singapore National Kidney Foundation). But I have to tell readers Friends is a great project. Since that meeting, I've directed many tourists to the Friends shop in the Old Market here in Siem Reap. They have a brilliant, well thought out project going which I'll write in detail in another entry.

Friends works with Cambodian street children and youth and have been so successful they have been invited by government agencies elsewhere in the world to provide advice on how to deal with street kids. In developed countries, they are not called street kids, but "marginalised urban youth", said Sebastien. These young people who drop out of society and shut themselves out (or in, as the case may be) are also a problem for society and government agencies are struggling to understand and deal with them. It is in this context that an agency in Hong Kong has approached Friends for help.

Anyway, I was thinking of Friends after reading this New York Times article on Japan's hikikomori, young men and women who shut themselves in their rooms playing video games or being online all day. South Korea and Taiwan have also reported the same problem.

From the NYT article:
"Japanese young people are considered the safest in the world because the crime rate is so low," Saito said. "But I think it's related to the emotional state of people. In every country, young people have adjustment disorders. In Western culture, people are homeless or drug addicts. In Japan, it's apathy problems like hikikomori."
Cambodia has the homeless and drug addicts, but as Cambodia becomes more urbanised, I wonder if they'll also have hikikomoris--young people who cannot cope with the system, or choose not to. In Singapore, I knew of a 30-something man like this. He would not get a job, lived with his parents who eventually gave up on him but yet allowed to him to continue as he did. Occasionally he would buy expensive things using his parents' credit card--without permission of course. I always wondered why his parents did not throw him out of the house.

I have met middle-class Cambodian mothers who say their sons, while not shutting themselves out, take to drink and drugs and in general live off their parents' wealth, without a thought of the future. I wonder if they'll grow up or will they form another class of social deviants Cambodia will have to deal with.

Was it a communist plot?

Qn: "Why was Karl Marx buried at Highgate Cemetery in London?" Answer:"Because he is dead." Hahaha! ...Or was it a Communist plot? See Original Pic here. Thanks to Fleezie for adding to reddit. This one really made me laugh.

The girl who does not age

This baby-looking girl is actually 16 years old. Brooke Greenberg has the size and mental capacity of a toddler. She is a unique medical mystery. Her body has not aged in coordination, but individual parts age out of sync with the rest. Very strange and amazing. Could she have the key to immortality? Photo and story from abcnews.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Language and Music

An English friend pointed out to me I speak three languages now - English, Mandarin, Khmer. Actually five, if you count the Chinese dialects Cantonese (spoken in Hong Kong) and Hokkien (also known as min nan yu 閩南語 when spoken in Taiwan), which I can speak conversationally, however badly. I wished I could speak Teochew (潮州話) though as most Cambodian, as well as Thai, Chinese speak it. You can read here about the Teochews.

This came up after I told her about my stereotyping nationalities after working in the Bloom shop for almost 2 years. I won't go into it here but I mentioned I was twice told off by French people for not being able to speak French. One woman said in English, "Why can you not speak French? Don't you know there are many French tourists here?!" [Cambodia used to be a French colony for those of you who did not know]. The other, a man, said, "I dislike Anglo-Saxon people because they think we should all speak English. Why do you speak English?!"

I pointed out to the two of them as we are in Cambodia, I am happy to speak Cambodian to them--but, can they speak the language? As for why I speak English and not French, well, I was born in Singapore, an ex-British colony, so we learnt English. I said, yes, it's a pity the French did not colonise more countries (including the big one, the USA), or more of us would be speaking French (haha!).

The point is we need a common language to communicate and whether we like it or not, English is it. (Again, if another nationality had conquered the USA, we would no doubt be speaking the language of that nation). And I *have* learnt how to say the numbers in French, which is to say I do make the effort.

I really should point out I have friends who are French so this post is not about French people. One of my closest friends in Cambodia is a French woman working in Phnom Penh. And one Parisienne lady who shares the family name of a certain famous furniture designer and I ended up being email friends after meeting just once in the Bloom shop.

There was another lovely, lovely lady born in France but now living in Australia. She helped me decorate the shop while she was in town and even bought me massage oil and an oil burner for aromatherapy, and took me for breakfast at the FCC, because she thought I needed looking after. [Liza, if you're reading this - thank you and get in touch please! I can't find you online! I hate the thought we were just two ships passing in the night.]

One of the cook helpers whom I hired for Bloom cafe in Phnom Penh used to live on the streets. He was in his early 20s and refused to learn to speak English. He argued that we should all speak Cambodian, since we are in his country. I told him, that's fine, and I agree, which is why I learnt Khmer (on my own, I should add, with the help of Franklin E. Huffman's Modern Spoken Cambodian). But, I explain, if he does not learn English, it is not me who suffers, it is he. He won't be able to get a better job and earn a better living. That is not to say speaking English is a guarantee to a good job, but at least it is an additional skill which will open more doors.

Anyway, this post is supposed to be about language and music.

I listen to English and Mandarin songs in the shop. Sometimes Thai (only one, really, a teenybopper type song I find cute), Japanese, French (I like French language and music). I play it off my MacBook so it is not particularly loud, since laptop speakers are crap.

What is interesting to me is how people react to the music. Often Western people will hesitate to enter the shop if a Chinese song is being played. And just yesterday an Indian lady was most uncomfortable, maybe even a little annoyed, by the Chinese pop/rap song (I love Taiwan's Jay Zhou, 周杰伦).

It is not just Westerners, though, Koreans and Japanese too, do not like the Chinese music. On the other hand, if I play Western music, it attracts a certain sort. Young people, usually. (On my iTunes playlist is The Violent Femmes, Band of Horses, Beautiful South, Placebo, the Cure, Coldplay, Alan Ke, Sinead O'Connor and 80s hits, like the Boomtown Rats "I don't like Mondays".) There was one time this group of English girls came in and started singing to Amy Winehouse, Dido etc and would not leave!

Anyway, because of this cultural difference and reaction, I have considered playing only English language songs. But I decided against it. One of the good things about being a shopkeeper and having your own business is you can do what you like.

I don't please everybody, but that's ok. I am who I am and Bloom is what it is--a multicultural business.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Most magnificent trees in the world

Photos from sessionmagazine.com. Cambodia's large Banyan tree roots at Ta Prohm temple is ranked number three. Number four is the awesome Tule Tree in Mexico. The Tule tree
"has the largest trunk girth at 190 feet (58 m) and trunk diameter at 37 feet (11.3 m). For a while, detractors argued that it was actually three trees masquerading as one - however, careful DNA analysis confirmed that it is indeed one magnificent tree. And number one is the Baobab or monkey bread tree, which can grow up to nearly 100 feet (30 m) tall and 35 feet (11 m) wide. Their defining characteristic: their swollen trunk are actually water storage - the baobab tree can store as much as 31,700 gallon (120,000 l) of water to endure harsh drought conditions."

Statistics show Iran's elections very likely rigged

Photos from cryptome.org.

The Washington Post uses statistics to show Iran's elections were rigged.

"Each of these two tests provides strong evidence that the numbers released by Iran's Ministry of the Interior were manipulated. But taken together, they leave very little room for reasonable doubt. The probability that a fair election would produce both too few non-adjacent digits and the suspicious deviations in last-digit frequencies described earlier is less than .005. In other words, a bet that the numbers are clean is a one in two-hundred long shot."
I have been watching the Iranian protests on TV. My first thought was Iran is more democratic than Singapore. But that's not true. What it is, is that Iranians are braver. Singaporeans care too much about their property prices to take to the street in large numbers to protest anything, even on government policies that many disagree about.

This is why some people think we deserve the government we get.

I once met a Greek visitor to Cambodia who said while he admired what I was doing, he would never do the same because he does not feel responsible for the Cambodians. They have to fight for what they want, he said. Greece has had a turbulent history, too, fighting the Turks, then civil war, military dictatorship (1967-1974). The country's peace and prosperity only started in the Dec of 1974 when, with a national referendum, monarchy was abolished and parliamentary republic established. His point is the Greek people have had to fight to get what they wanted, and so should the Cambodians.

That may very well be true, but it will take time in Cambodia, since the usual instigators of revolution - the intellectuals - were all but killed off in the Khmer Rouge rule (1974-1979). As for why I, a foreigner, am in Cambodia doing what I do, I have written a lot about it elsewhere so won't go into it here.

Anyway, you can watch this youtube video to see how Iranians are standing up for what they believe in and what it means to take on the state, with all the police, weapons, etc available to it. You can see the courage required to do something like this.

Iranian women are not shying away either. "For days now, I’ve seen them [Iranian women] urging less courageous men on. I’ve seen them get beaten and return to the fray. “Why are you sitting there?” one shouted at a couple of men perched on the sidewalk on Saturday. “Get up! Get up!” New York Times.

This graphic video shows a young Iranian woman who died on the street. I was quite shaken watching this one, and quite shocked at how much blood a human being has. I know it's about 8 pints, enough to fill a bucket, but it's still shocking watching it.

Moussavi may not be any better than Ahmadinejad but that is irrelevant. The point is the people are demanding to be taken seriously. As someone who once had as the tagline for this blog: "People should not be afraid of their government; the government should be afraid of the People" (from the movie "V for Vendetta"), Iranians have my respect right now.

AsiaLIFE Vietnam Vs New York Magazine

Photos from wildwildeastdailies.

Ho ho ho! Who stole whose cover? According to the site linked above, it's New York magazine. But read the blog and you will find the managing editor of AsiaLIFE (Vietnam, which is separate to Cambodia's AsiaLIFE Guide) saying:

"the editorial staff actually has little to nothing to do with the design of the magazine." - "I will say that I did see the cover before we went to print, but neither Ginny nor Tom did, so again, your allegations about the New York editorial staff are patently inaccurate." - "If you’d like to call out AsiaLIFE for having inadequate checks and balances, you’d be well within your rights." - "but if you’re going to criticize a magazine for being lazy on design and creativity, I think you should hold yourself accountable for being lazy on fact-checking and in drawing conclusions."

What a weird comment. Is he saying New York magazine did *not* rip off their cover? Which means AsiaLIFE Ho Chih Minh ripped off NY mag's instead? Most confusing.

I suspect though, the original cover is New York magazine's. I am pretty sure the original heart would have been red. The green one is probably the rip off. Also, the tag line "Reasons to love" fits intuitively with the heart. Yup. I'm certain the original is the one from New York.

Kung-fu star Jet Li is now Singaporean

Photo from wikipedia. Beijing born action star Jet Li has taken up Singapore citizenship. He follows in the footsteps of another mainland Chinese star, Gong Li (no relation to Jet Li) who became a Singapore citizen last year.

Jet Li bought a 22,723 sq ft bungalow for SGD19.8 million (USD13.62 million) where he and his wife, former actress Nina Li Chi and the two daughters will stay. It seems in 2001, a party was thrown in that very house where two models claimed in media reports to have met football star David Beckham and later had separate trysts with him. Hahaha!

Foreigners cannot easily buy a landed home here as the Singapore government restricts foreign ownership of residential property, but of course, Jet Li is a star.

His kids will attend the Singapore American School, supposedly the most expensive school in the country. It is rumoured the Prime Minister's son attended the SAS.

shanghaiist posters were debating why he moved to Singapore. The consensus seems to be a more convenient passport, off shore banking laws, good food and low crime.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Singapore Prime Minister holidaying in Cambodia

(Wiki Photo). On Thursday four of us Singaporeans bumped into the Singapore Prime Minister at Khmer Ceramics. We were there for a look-see and were surprised to see Mr Lee Hsien Loong in the small shop. He was there with his wife and a young man whom my dad reckons is his son.

(We have never seen photos of his son in the papers so have no clue what he looks like. Mrs Lee, or Ms Ho Ching, was until recently, the head of Temasek Holdings, which owns and manages the Singapore government's direct investments, both locally and overseas. So we all know what Mrs Lee looks like.)

Because I did not actually see the PM's wife, I had assumed the young man was a civil servant. I have many friends who work in the civil service, even a cousin, and they tell me how they have to facilitate or accompany ministers on their trips.

I was the first to see the PM as I was leading the way into Khmer Ceramics and he looked up as I was saying something to my dad. Must have been the Singaporean accent. Anyway, I saw him and it was weird. My first thought was "He looks exactly like on TV". I imagine this is what it is like to see say, Brad Pitt, in person. Surreal. Someone you only ever see on telly and then you see him in the flesh and he looks exactly the same.

(This reminds me of the time this beautiful man walked into the Bloom shop. He was born in Paris to Thai parents. It is funny - I actually thought: what is one supposed to do in the presence of such beauty? It's surreal to see someone so perfect. Anyway, despite how I sound, I'm not one to be star struck and the guy and me got along well. He would come to the shop everyday while he was in town and one day I said to him, "Eh, you can be a model." To which he replied, "I am. In Paris." Hahaha!)

Anyway, back to the story. I turned and said to my dad and friends: "Our PM." Both dad and my friend thought I was referring to the Cambodian Prime Minister, Mr Hun Sen! (My dad later said he thought his daughter considers herself Cambodian...!) My friend explained, which is more likely, seeing Hun Sen or Lee Hsien Loong in Cambodia? Of course they thought it was Hun Sen. Haha!

We were all surprised to see the PM because there was no security to be seen, no bodyguards. Just a new, white tourist van parked outside. I saw Serge, the owner of Khmer Ceramics and said to him,"Singapore's Prime Minister", because I don't assume everyone knows what he looks like. Serge said, '"I know, Richard (must be the guide or attendant) told me. But today he says he is not Prime Minister..."

Mr Lee stuck his hand out to shake hands with dad first and I was thinking how Singaporeans are so respectful of the older generation (or is it just politicians who appreciate their loyal supporters, people of my dad's generation being more enamoured of the People's Action Party than the younger generation).

I found him very nice and humble and later Serge said to me he thought Mr Lee to be very humble and polite too. I mentioned I'm Singaporean living in Siem Reap and was a little surprised there was no interest from him on what I was doing in Siem Reap. Usually I find Singaporeans very interested to know what their compatriot is doing in another country.

My friend thought Mr Lee was "socially awkward". May very well be true, he may be a typical shy, introverted person. We were laughing that I should have handed out the Bloom name card (I don't carry name cards with me - very un-Asian) and invited him to the Bloom shop. I laughed because I could just imagine it: just like Tea Club, a Malaysian restaurant in Phnom Penh that struck gold with Malaysian customers after a visit by then Malaysian PM Mohamad Mahathir.

Song Saa villa- yours for only USD450,000!

Sometime back I signed up for google ads for my blog and today I saw an ad for Song Saa resort: "Exclusive Private Island
5 overwater 2br villas for sale on Song Saa Island Resort - US$450,000 songsaa.com.

This is what the site says: "In Cambodia's untouched Koh Rong Archipelago, two pristine islands lie side by side. They are known locally as Song Saa - Khmer for 'The Sweethearts'. With empty white beaches, sparkling turquoise waters, fringing reefs and virgin rainforests - just 30 minutes by boat from the new international airport - Song Saa is a rare but accessible tropical paradise.
We are offering a discreet collection of private villas, subtle in style and uncompromising on high-end creature comforts, to like-minded investors looking to acquire their own exclusive island hideaway."

The developer is the Brocon Group, founded by Rory and Melita Hunter, an Australian couple. Mr. Hunter, 34, holds the title of chief executive, and Mrs. Hunter, 35, is the creative director. The Hunters and their US$2000 rented home in Phnom Penh were recently featured in The New York Times .

Twitter has a place in society

I slammed Twitter a few days ago, for spamming my friends. While I'm still not interested in Tweets, I recognise its value in letting the world know what is going on when governments try to restrict access to information.

In case you live under a rock, I am talking about Iran.
"Attention Twittering Redditors! Help the Iranian bloggers: change your twitter settings so that your location is TEHRAN and your time zone is GMT +3.30. Security forces hunting for bloggers using location and timezone searches. If we are all 'Iranians' it's much harder to find them. (self.worldnews) submitted 9 hours ago by dopesomniac to worldnews [on reddit]."

Also, on Iran: On Friday, Google started translating Persian, also known as Farsi, in a move that could dramatically help spread information on the Iranian election crisis.

On another twitter note: Twitter bath death:
A teenage girl was electrocuted after dropping her laptop into the bath as she twittered in the tub.

Police said they believed Maria Barbu, 17, had tried to plug in her laptop with wet hands after the battery died during a long session on social networking site Twitter as she took a soak at her home in Brasov, central Romania.

She was found dead by her parents with the laptop lying next to her.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cambodian pottery

Photo from Khmer Ceramics.

I have a good friend from Singapore who is on a visit and yesterday we went to see how Khmer pottery and ceramics are made. The little workshop and retail outlet, called Khmer Ceramics is on the way to Siem Reap's airport and is run by a friendly couple, a Belgian man, Serge, and his Cambodian wife.

When you visit, a Cambodian guide will explain how Cambodian ceramics are made. The process starts with 3 different types of clay: red, white and yellow. After moulding the clay on a wheel, it is fired in a modern, gas-powered kiln from 850 to over a thousand degrees. There is also a replica of a traditional kiln on the site. Coloured glazing is sometimes added to the clay and the colouring is made from natural materials like rice husks and iron. The result is blue, green, or red ceramics.

Ceramic plates have been ordered by restaurants and small containers are used in hotels to hold shampoo etc. There are also larger pieces, one vase had Khmer writing all around, which was beautiful. You can get gifts for as little as a dollar. I also spotted a vase for USD250.

There was a group of small French children who were learning from an Irishman, himself a teacher of ceramics in Ireland. There was also another customer--the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong. Meeting him deserves an entry in itself.

I am interested in the classes and the cost goes down with the number of participants so if anyone wants to join me, do email me.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cambodian Barbie Doll

I just stumbled upon this: Princess of Cambodia™ Barbie® 2004 Collector Edition
Princess of Cambodia™ Barbie® Doll wears a slim silhouetted skirt that is fashioned from teal fabric that wraps around her, cinches at her waist, and drapes over her shoulder. The wrap, which features a golden geometric floral print, comes together in a vertical layer of pleats in front. A golden braided belt secures the wrap at her waist and features a golden buckle.She has long dark brown hair which cascades down from beneath her royal crown with faux sapphires and emeralds. Her outfit is accented by many golden elements including dangling earrings, an intricate armband, a braided golden sash, and golden shoes. For ages 3+.
The doll's outfit does look very similar to the Apsara dancer's I saw yesterday. Even the head dress looks like the real thing. Check out the picture of Angkor Wat behind the princess.

Googling "Mattel in Cambodia" turned up this blog entry by Anne Elizabeth Moore, an author and activist in Cambodia:
I told them about Mattel, and we did some little bit of math: at the garment factories here, you can earn about $45 per month. An average doll, book, pet, clothing, and furniture starter set from American Girl Place [another doll made by Mattel] costs $1000. If you go without food, health care, and entertainment for two and a half years working in a garment factory here, under similar conditions as the workers have when producing Mattel products—6 days per week, eight hour days--but do not take any overtime, you will work for around two and a half years before you can save up enough money to buy the starter kit. And if you produce ten dolls per hour (I have no idea how many dolls one can produce in an hour, but let’s just say ten), in that same time period you will have produced nearly 2000 dolls.

“It is sadly,” ChanNy said after a long, long silence.
Anne Elizabeth does point out Mattel has no factories in Cambodia and this is just an example. Mattel's toys are made primarily in China and some in Indonesia (it shut its last American factory in 2002). Mattel is not the worst company to work for. According to this New York Times article:
"In the 1990s, critics charged the company with running sweatshops in Asia. Now, independent analysts, and even watchdog groups, say Mattel may be the best role model for how to operate prudently in China....

"Mattel was one of only two major toy makers that agreed to allow a reporter for The New York Times to visit one of its factories in China — or even to put an executive on the phone to discuss the issue of Chinese product safety. Hasbro, LeapFrog and Zizzle — the maker of Pirates of the Caribbean toys, among others — all declined requests. Lego does not manufacture in China, but it declined a request to visit factories elsewhere. Aside from Mattel, only MEGA Brands of Canada said it would permit a visit."
In 2007, Mattel recalled 18.2 million items from factories in China.

Cheung Shu-hung, a Hong Kong businessman in his 50s and co-owner of the Lee Der Toy Company, which had made a number of toys for Mattel, committed suicide by hanging himself at one of his company's factories, after paying salaries due to all employees and sending them home. The factory had been producing toys to Mattel for more than 10 years without any bad records before this incident bankrupted it.

This reminds me of an Englishman who told me he had built a factory after getting a contract to supply to one of UK's biggest supermarket chains. Two years later, the supermarket chain found a cheaper supplier, so the poor guy was stuck with a big factory with no orders. He had not yet recoup the investment of the the factory.

It's not a good idea to rely on a couple of big clients for business. I'd rather Bloom supplied to dozens of smaller outfits, even though it takes more effort (forget the 80-20 rule) and build good relations with them, thereby spreading our risk.

Abercrombie "banishes" girl with prosthetic arm to storeroom

Abercrombie & Fitch makes clothes in Cambodia. You can find this brand and Aeropostale, Hollister, Gap, J. Crew and H&M going for a few dollars at the Russian Market. They are smuggled out of factories. You can read how the factory workers do this and their bosses complaints here.

I love this quote by a poster on asiafinest.com: "Abercrombie and Fitch and stuff from Banana Republic also has clothes made in Cambodia, now i can dress in the style from the slavery of my people...INCREASE THE WAGES!!"

Anyway, for those of you who are Abercrombie fans, you may be interested to read on jezebel.com:
Just in case their racism, sexism, and general awfulness hasn't been enough to turn you away from Abercrombie & Fitch after all these years, here's another glimpse of the inner workings of the horrible store....

according to Riam Dean, she was forced to work in the stockroom, as opposed to on the floor, at Abercrombie's London flagship store because her prosthetic arm didn't fit the company's attractiveness standards. You stay classy, Abercrombie!...

She is now suing the company, which, by the way, already paid 2.2 million dollars to employees who felt that that the company was unfairly forcing them to buy Abercrombie's clothes in 2003. Oh, and did I mention they paid a 40 million dollar settlement in 2004, after being accused of discriminatory employment practices? Because they did!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Get Fatter, Look Younger

From Ryan, an American blogger:
"I've been reading a bit about common cultural disconnects for Americans in Cambodia. I found several quite funny.

Imagine a total stranger telling you the following -

"You're really fat!" "You have a huge nose!" "You're really white!"
He goes on to say in Cambodia, being fat means you're rich, you can afford to eat, so it's a compliment. That was what I was told, too, that being called fat is a compliment in Cambodia. But while the older generation may think like that, the 20 somethings I've met all say it's not a compliment. They like their boyfriend/girlfriend slim and think it's not sexy to be fat. No doubt they, like youth everywhere, have bought into the images portrayed in their media.

Anyway, I was thinking about this after coming across this trueslant.com article. Maybe the Khmers are on to something: besides looking rich, fatter people also look young:
...more fat in your diet could mean a more youthful appearance (as long as you aren’t a pack-a-day smoker). A few more tidbits...:

-Deprivation of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, K, E) has been linked to dry, scaly skin, skin wrinkling, and hair loss. Eat your avocado, and you’ll be more likely to have smooth skin and a full head of hair into your golden years.

-A 2009 study out of Britain compared 186 pairs of identical twins, and found that women over 40 who dropped a dress size “aged” by four years when compared to their fatter sibling. The same study found that overweight women under 40 looked older with weight gain, so so young ladies should hold off on the Twinkie-fests.

-Last year, researchers published a report on fat faces in Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. They determined that more facial fat prevented skin sagging and hollowing as one ages. In fact, injections of fatty deposits into the face are becoming increasingly popular among pin-thin women who want to plump away their wrinkles.


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