Monday, August 31, 2009

Protest Away!

I've said it before: one of the best things about Bloom is that it puts me in touch with like-minded people, people who see many things wrong with the world we live in and therefore want change.

One of these people is Francis Irving. He's got a first class in mathematics from UK's Oxford University. The degree included advanced courses in Complexity and Cryptography, Lattice Theory, Relativity and Gödel's Theorem. Eeeps! Very intimidating.

Among other things, Francis is the founder of Public Whip, a popular democracy website which makes it easy to find out how an MP has voted in the UK House of Commons. The site was the Winner in the New Statesman New Media Awards in 2004. He's also given his relatives, as Christmas presents, a year’s education for a girl in Africa.

But I find him also very quirky (or "whimsical", as a friend used to label me because she found me strange) - he likes Copenhagen's bicycle culture, street fashion from the Sartorialist and, Cambodia.

I like people like that: smart but with a sincere interest in life, people who are men and women of action, and not just interested in theories and theorems.

Francis is also a big believer in environmental protection. I get a lot of my information on climate change and what to do about it from his news feed

For instance this one by's Dave Pollard: "The Fallacy of Climate Activism: Adam Sacks writing in Grist explains eloquently why climate activists are misunderstanding and misrepresenting the core problem causing climate change: it's not greenhouse gas emissions, it's our entire industrial civilization that needs to be stopped."

Pollard also quotes Keith Farnish's An Uncivilized Solution, which tells us to
1. Reconnect with the real world, so that we can understand our close relationships with it in everything we do. The more you connect, the more you will realise how unreal civilization is.
2. Live in such a way that we do not contribute to the expansion of the global economy, reducing our impact on the natural environment in the process. Be aware that authority figures within the system, such as political leaders and corporations, will attempt to provide you with ‘green’ advice: this advice is designed to ensure that civilization continues, and should be ignored.
3. Create the conditions so that others may also change through education and, even more importantly, undermining the tools that civilization uses to keep us part of the machine. Don’t waste time protesting: this changes nothing – that is why it is legal.

I disagree with the last point. Protest does make a difference, sometimes. Francis has proof.

This is what happened at one protest he took part in:
"Then, a security guard comes in, and asks me to stop handing out the leaflets. I’m quite shocked, angry, but I immediately and intuitively know that he can’t stop me....It’s nothing to do with you being right, and much more to do with how the story would look in brief summary form in the headlines of a newspaper. “Parliament tries to stop people copying the speeches made by their own MPs” is never going to look good. Nor “Thrown out of Freedom of Expression seminar for handing out leaflets”.

"I raise my voice, and step towards the remenants of the panel chatting to people from the audience. “I’m in a Freedom of Expression seminar. You can’t stop me handing out leaflets.” I refuse to leave, he knows I could make more fuss than he could deal with in such a sympathetic crowd, and he leaves. The last leaflet goes to the last person and the job is done. Now I’m friends with Tim from CAAT (Campaign Against Arms Trade), and we leave together."
Eventually, Francis and fellow campaigners succeeded in forcing Reed Elselvier, the publisher of The Lancet and New Scientist, to ditch its subsidiary business running arms fairs. Super. Protest away, people!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

New iPod on the way

Apple Authorised Resellers have told Ars Technica that stock of current iPod models is running dry and new ones aren't coming in anytime soon. Which points to a new model of iPod on the way!

Gifts from Singapore

I just found these photos. The only thing I miss - Singapore food. The best, yummiest food on the planet!

So how? No chwee kueh, chicken rice, laksa, wantan mee, bakuteh. Ta-pao lah! (Singaporeans planning to visit, please don't bother asking me what I want. I only want food from home...!)

My friend Swee brought all these goodies when she visited me in Phnom Penh in 2007 (the Brahim's kuah rendang or rendang paste is for Alan, whose favourite food is curry).

Trimmings from Little India in Singapore. Swee actually went around the Indian shops to look for ideas for me. She bought me these beautiful trimmings, which are sold by the metre. Swee suggested we add these lace and beaded trims to our bags to make them stand out. Unfortunately these and more lace and beaded trims that I subsequently bought from a large home decor store in Johor Bahru in Malaysia were all stolen by our first helper, Ming Vee, the widow from Baray district in Kampong Thom. So we never did make bags with beaded trims. Wonder how they would have looked like?



Micro view of the Walled World.

This one is entitled "Capitalism" posted by hans1193 on reddit.

Inventors killed by their inventions

Irony defined. List of Inventors Killed by their own Inventions, including:

Marie Curie (1867 – 1934) invented the process to isolate radium after co-discovering the radioactive elements radium and polonium. She died of aplastic anemia as a result of prolonged exposure to ionizing radiation emanating from her research materials. Radiation's dangers were not yet well understood at the time.

Thomas Midgley, Jr. (1889 – 1944), the inventor of leaded gasoline and chlorofluorocarbons, contracted a severe case of polio, possibly in part due to an immune system weakened by his exposure to lead and other chemicals in the course of his chemistry career. This illness might well have killed him were it not for the pulley-operated system he designed to help move his debilitated body into and out of bed, which entangled him in one of its cords and strangled him to death at the age of 55.

From wikipedia via reddit.

Asia's dirtiest hotels

I have the dubious distinction of having once stayed at - ta-da! - dirty hotel #1.

I am not above slumming it and once stayed alone at Bangkok's First Hotel because of its central location and cheap rooms. I don't remember it being filthy - I once stayed in a worst place in Johor Bahru, the Malaysian town just across Singapore's borders. What I do remember about Bangkok's First Hotel is how thin the plywood door was. Seriously, even I could break the door down. I did not dare sleep because I did not feel safe. Since then I've always asked to look at door.

Anyway, check out the list as voted by readers on Trip Advisor. Squeaky clean Singapore has three hotels on the list, LOL. Good to see no Cambodian ones made it!

Dirtiest Hotels - Asia (Pacific)
(based on TripAdvisor traveler reviews)
1.First Hotel Bankok, Bangkok, Thailand
2.Hotel Grand Central, Singapore, Singapore
3.The Imperial Hotel, Hong Kong, China
4.Royal Peacock Hotel, Singapore, Singapore
5.Woraburi Sukhumvit Hotel and Resort, Bangkok, Thailand
6.Colmar Tropicale, A French-Themed Resort, Bentung, Malaysia
7.Oxford Hotel, Singapore, Singapore
8.City Gate Hotel, Hanoi, Vietnam
9.Royal Parkview Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand
10.Aseania Resort, Langkawi, Malaysia

Ducking duckling- a Cambodian fishing aide

Photo Credit: Mendhak on Flickr.

I came across this really cute story by Mendhak and I wanted to share with readers. Mendhak writes:
"I passed some fisherman by the Siem Reap river, who had this duckling hanging from a fishing pole, and a hook behind it. He'd dip the duckling in the water, who would immediately start paddling to get away. The paddling would churn up the water which would in turn attract the fish who then got caught on the hook. I don't think the duckling was liking it very much.

The process went: lower, dip, duckling paddle, 3 seconds, lift, repeat."
And here is one comment:

adamneilward says
"Surely duck meat tastes better than some skanky old trout from a turd infested stagnant stream in the middle of a desolate 2nd world hellhole?

Eat the bird in future!"

What a moron. Of course the fisherman will eat the bird - as well as the fish. And people say Cambodians think short term.

Well, this is where a Cambodian fisherman in "a desolate 2nd world hellhole" is smarter than adamneilward, who no doubt considers himself a product of the "first world".

Friday, August 28, 2009

Afghanistan: more votes than voters

Photo of Britney Spears being used to register a voting card in Afghanistan. "One Afghan man in a village not far from Kabul had a sackful of cards buried by a stream at the back of his house, for sale to anyone who asked — but he’d prefer if they were used to vote for President Hamid Karzai". Reuters via

And I just read this from The Economist:
"Across Kabul, turnout was sluggish. But at Haji Janat Gul the lack of voters had not dented the tally of votes. Only an hour after voting began, 6,000 had been cast. Yet not a voter was in sight. Staff insisted that the 6,000 had all come at 7am, when polls opened: “The Taliban said that they would cut off the fingers of people voting so they came early.”

This was impossible. Typically it takes four minutes to vote. For 6,000 to have voted in an hour at the 12 ballot boxes, they would have had an average of seven seconds each. The Electoral Complaints Commission later received allegations that the ballot boxes had been stuffed for President Hamid Karzai before polls opened, at the instigation of a local MP and tribal leader." ... Some Western officials reckon 20% of votes nationally may be fraudulent.
It makes you wonder about the first elections in Cambodia after many years of war. It was held in 1993 under the auspices of UNTAC (UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia).

Some people claim more than 90% of the people registered to vote. Here is one which says "The process was launched in October 1992 and concluded in March 1993 [so in 5 months] when 4,764,430 Cambodians, or over 96% of the eligible population, had registered to vote." Inter-parliamentary Union.

People say it is testament to the courage of the Cambodian people who want to have a say in restoring peace and democracy in their country. I don't want to take anything away from the Khmers who actually turned up to vote, but 96% registered voting just seems to me to be incredibly high. It is more than likely if Cambodia's 1993 elections was like Afghanistan, where one person could, and did, register numerous voting cards on behalf of his favoured party.

Anyway, I found this interesting organisation: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) which produced the following infographics. It says Cambodia's last three parliamentary elections since 1993 were "Not Free". 1993's was "Partly Free", presumably because there were UN observers.

But take heart Cambodians, Singapore's elections are not any better. Out of the 10 elections analysed, only 3 were rated "Partly Free by IDEA. This is the "lek mui" ("number one") Asian country you always refer to.

Cambodian youths out of control

Today's Phnom Penh Post had two great stories. The youth of Cambodia have the higher-ups wringing their hands. They seem to be at a loss at how to cope with recalcitrant young Khmers.

Here are two proposed solutions, one for girls and the other, presumably, for boys:

Girls curfew proposed for girls under the age of 16 from going out alone at night because "We want to promote the morals of girls in our society." The downside, as one spokesman pointed out, is that "it violates the human right to mobility".

Anti-gangster strategy was designed by top police officials. "During a three-hour discussion, we outlined the goals of cracking down on crime in a smooth way, a legal way and an efficient way, in order to guarantee security, safety and civil peace in Phnom Penh," said Chev Keng, director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

No details were given of the strategy, which aims "to prevent youths from terrorising local communities and to educate them".

Thursday, August 27, 2009

USD1000 reward for 2 lost passports

I saw this sign a while back. I guess two tourists must have lost their passports in Siem Reap.

I tried to find out how much stolen passports are worth on the black market and found this July 5 report Alarming Rise in Stolen Passports from Ireland's Tribune News.

Apparently Canadian passports are the most in-demand, with the Irish coming in on a close second. More than 5,000 Irish passports were reported stolen in 2008.
Once a passport is stolen, it is passed on at a very minimal fee of between €30 (around USD43) and €40. It is then sold to what are known as "trade contacts" who buy the documents for between €300 and €400. The passports are then shipped abroad and sold for an estimated €2,000-€3,000 on the international black market.
This British report from the Centre for Immigration Studies says there are about 7 million records of lost and stolen passports in INTERPOL and other databases.

Cost of passports
I was told a Cambodian passport costs around USD130, a sum out of reach for the majority of Khmers. It will take a month to get the passport. If you need the passport urgently, it will cost USD220 and this will take a week or so.

For comparison, this is how much a passport costs in other countries:

New Zealand - NZD 150 or USD94
Denmark - around USD100
Italy - USD120
Mexico - USD140
USA - around USD130

These figures are shared by posters here.

In Singapore, passports used to cost $60 (less than USD40) for 10 years. It is now it’s $70 for 5 years, so a more than 100 per cent increase. The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority blames the higher cost on the new biometric feature, and the shorter time-frame on "new technologies" which the department hopes to be incorporated in the Singapore passports when they are available.

How Helen Keller learnt to speak

This rare, 1930 newsreel footage shows Helen Keller and her companion Anne Sullivan demonstrating how Keller learned to speak. Amazing. Source: Hat tip to wanger banger for posting link on reddit.

The Cambodian Naga

The Cambodian Naga looks different to other Nagas in India.
When I first researched Wikipedia's Naga entry, I thought I must have got the name of these sculptures wrong because the first few pictures on Naga look nothing like these.

But read on and you will see that in Cambodian mythology, the Princess of the Nagas, a reptilian race of human beings, married an Indian Brahmana and from that union was born the Cambodian people. "Therefore still Cambodians say that they are "Born from the Naga" (called "neah" in Khmer).

From Wikipedia:

"Nāga (Sanskrit: नाग, IAST: nāgá, Indonesian: naga, Javanese: någå, Khmer: នាគ neak) is the Sanskrit and Pāli word for a deity or class of entity or being, taking the form of a very great snake—specifically the King Cobra, found in Hinduism and Buddhism. The use of the term nāga is often ambiguous, as the word may also refer, in similar contexts, to one of several human tribes known as or nicknamed "Nāgas"; to elephants; and to ordinary snakes, particularly the King Cobra and the Indian Cobra, the latter of which is still called nāg in Hindi and other languages of India. A female nāga is a nāgī or nāginī.

"The Seven-Headed Nāga serpents depicted as statues on Cambodian temples, such as Angkor Wat, apparently represent the seven races within Nāga society, which has a mythological, or symbolic, association with "the seven colors of the rainbow". Furthermore, Cambodian Nāga possess numerological symbolism in the number of their heads. Odd-headed Nāga symbolise the Male Energy, Infinity, Timelessness, and Immortality. This is because, numerologically, all odd numbers come from One. Even-headed Nāga are said to be "Female, representing Physicality, Mortality, Temporality, and the Earth."

Cambodian spotted gecko

This gecko was on our kitchen wall and I was lucky enough to take a photo before it escaped. The geckos here are beautiful - green with red spots. They are larger and different from house lizards, the smaller beige (sometimes black) creatures we find in Singapore and in Cambodia. I love the geckos, they make this sound which gets progressively louder :uh-oh, Uh-Oh, UH-OH!

Global Angkor Wat

Here is a hotel on National Road #6 with an interesting take on Angkor Wat. The owners have stuck a globe in the centre of the temple, presumably to signify "Angkor Wat and the World". They also have flags of China, the USA and Cambodia out in front.

Handsome Man shop

I took these photos a while back when this shop opened near my house. It is a clothing and accessories shop for men and it is called "Handsome Man". Beneath the signboard name is the tagline "To be a Handsome Man" in a nice cursive font. On the street is a vertical banner with a photo of a "handsome man".

Advertising in Cambodia tends to be straightforward - no beating about the bush here. See this other one: The Easy & Fast Aircon shop, just next to the Easy & Fast Air Ticket shop, both on Sivatha Boulevard.

This reminds me of a friend of mine who used to design ads in Singapore. She would complain to me how many of her clients, Chinese businessmen of SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises), only wanted "My Product, Big, Big". My friend was frustrated because she felt she had no room to be creative. All she had to do was blow up the businessmen's "product, big, big".

This was about a decade ago. Presumably ads are now more subtle back home. But I dislike some of these subtle ads, ads I find too clever by half. It seems to me the people behind the ads are trying too hard. And they do try hard, often creating free ads just to enter into advertising competitions where they may win prizes from their peers who appreciate and reward such subtlety more.

On the other hand, I quite like being told at one glance what the shop is about - Easy & Fast Air Tickets!

The other thing I notice about shop advertising in Cambodia is the owner will usually be the one in the ad. There is a hairdressers near my house whose lady owner is pictured in the banner in her fine traditional Cambodian dress with full make-up and hair-do. The only thing is, she is not, shall we say, the most attractive looking model. Still, you've got to give it to her - truth in advertising! You too, can be transformed, with her help!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ministry of Interior's website hacked by Ukrainians

I was trying to find Cambodia's land traffic laws which took me to the Ministry of Interior's website.

I was on the welcome page reading the welcome address by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sak Kheng, who suggested I visit the "Q & A" page, "which is one of the active and objective pages to engage the public in a useful discussion about issues of mutual concern."

Click on Q&A and you will find this:
We are providing a Q & A page where you can post any question that other users might want to know about. Our information department will reply to questions posted here.

You agreed, through the use of Q & A page, that you will not use to post any material which is knowingly false and/or defamatory, inaccurate, abusive, vulgar, hateful, harassing, obscene, profane, sexually oriented, threatening, invasive of a person's privacy, or otherwise in violation of any law. Advertising of other commercial website(s) or chat server(s), pyramid schemes, and solicitations are strictly prohibited.
Then read the posts: CheapAirJordans, MPEG Converter, Wholesale Jewelry, Designer Handbags etc. Give it a minute and the site will be transferred to a Ukrainian website

It is hilarious. Obviously nobody is paying attention. The Ministry must have stuck it up because it looks good to have a Q&A section and then promptly forgot about it. They don't even know the site's been hacked (I wonder how long ago?)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Acid attacks in Asia

Photo of Cambodian woman, a victim of acid throwing, from wikipedia.

I just read this New York Times article by Dexter Filkins. He writes of Afghanistan:
"The men came on three motorcycles, each one carrying a driver and a man on back. They wore masks. Each of the men riding on back carried a small container filled with battery acid. The masked men circled for several minutes as the girls streamed to school. Then they moved in."
The Taliban throws acid on young girls to punish them for going to school. We should not be surprised, as this is the country that allows a husband to starve his wife if she refuses to have sex. (Which makes me question the current Afghan elections: How can you have democracy in a feudal country?)

In South Asia, acid attacks are usually by men, when the object of their desire turns down sexual advances or offer of marriage. Sometimes it is over the dowry or some other domestic quarrel.
The attacks occur in societies where women are controlled by men and often carried out when a woman decides that she will no longer be obedient. Perpetrators intend to send a message to the entire female population that will terrorize them back into submission. “At heart is the notion of woman as object, and the exercise of punishment against women who are seen to exercise autonomy or agency,” says Mridula Bandyopadhyay, author and researcher on violence against women in South Asia.
(Source: vitalvoicesonline).

Acid attacks in Cambodia are different from those in South Asia and in Afghanistan. They are usually done to women by women.

The typical acid attack is by a vengeful wive on her husband's mistress.
''I'll throw the acid now!'' [the wife of a military colonel] shouted as her friends pinned her victim to the floor. [The mistress] Miss Som Rasmey had been nursing her 7-month-old daughter and had just time enough to toss her out of the way.
So reports Seth Mydans in this 2001 NYT article Vengence destoys faces and souls in Cambodia.

"[16 year old] Tat Marina (pictured) was yanked to the ground, kicked and kneed in the chest repeatedly until she passed out. She was then doused with more than a liter of nitric acid. Soon after the attack, the district police chief identified the prime suspects as Khoun Sophal the wife of Council of Ministers Undersecretary of State Svay Sitha, and two bodyguards. In late December a municipal court judge issued an arrest warrant for Khoun Sophal."
From a 2000 Cambodia Daily report (warning: graphic photos).

Despite the warrant Khoun Sophal was never brought to justice. Relatives of her victim say Mrs. Khourn Sophal telephones periodically to insult the young woman. Mydans writes:

These are battles among the oppressed, the harsh intersection of mutual tragedies -- woman against woman. In Cambodia, power belongs almost exclusively to men. The philandering husbands are almost never the targets of attack.

''The wife does not want you to die,'' Maniline Ek, an American volunteer at a women's shelter here [in Cambodia]. ''They want you to live and suffer. It's torture. People look at your face and they say, 'Oh, she took someone else's husband.'''
But it is not so clear as "she took someone else's husband". This is a country where rich and powerful men can force young women to "go with them", as my Cambodian friends put it. There are times when the young woman gives in to the persistence of the rich, married man. Som Rasmey, the one who was nursing her baby when she was attacked, said she was imprisoned in a small house when she tried to leave the military colonel.

There is one especially powerful man in the country who is notorious for threatening to kill the woman and/or her family if she does not give in to him. The first time I was told this I found it hard to believe (I don't even know why because of course it happens, to whatever extent).

I have tried to verify this story since then, and every Cambodian I have asked have said the same thing. I don't know if it is just a well-spread rumour, but as we say in English, there is no smoke without fire. In Chinese, we say "ruo yao ren bu zhi , chu fei ji mo wei" - if you don't want others to know what you have done, the only way is not to do it.

(My Cambodian friends have told me of a former and now deceased governor of Siem Reap. A tyrant, he took whichever woman he fancied. Fathers would lock their daughters in the house. King Sihanouk who came to hear of this was furious.)

“They live neither as a human nor as a ghost"

Take a moment to consider the effects of an acid attack. It destroys not just the person's body, but also her spirit. ''I have the soul of a dead woman now. My body is alive but my soul is dead," one Cambodian victim told Mydans.

I contemplated life after an acid attack when my former manager (a woman) threatened me after I had sacked her for theft. Well, actually, I did more than that - I put her photo in the Khmer newspaper with a notice that she is no longer employed by Bloom. That was all, nothing about why she was no longer employed. I was advised by a Khmer friend to do this because she had been going around to suppliers buying materials claiming it was for Bloom and not paying up. The Cambodian woman was furious because, it was later explained to me, she had lost face. So she threatened me. Apparently I had literally to lose my face because of her imagined loss of face.

I asked Alan would he still be with me if I lost half my face to an acid attack. He said yes, but how can anyone be sure of this. How can you still think yourself loveable when you look like a monster?

There is a woman who sells books at the Russian Market in Phnom Penh who is a victim of acid attack. I talk to her whenever I am in the market visitng the Bloom shop there. She is someone I admire. She is one tough lady, going about her business, talking to tourists to get them to look at her and her wares. She does this because she has to look after her children and she chooses to work, than to beg.

Unlike the disfigured man outside Tuol Sleng Museum who asks tourists for money. I used to give him USD1 each time (he was unhappy when I gave him riels one day) because of course you feel sorry for the guy. One day I saw him zipping down Monivorng Boulevard in a USD1000+ motobike and I decided I would donate my money to other people because he is obviously doing ok. Let the tourists with their foreign earned dollars help this guy. Me, I'll stick to giving money for wells and food.

Elsewhere in Asia:

My father told me acid attacks were common in Singapore in the past (I guess the 50s and 60s?). I tried to google but only found isolated incidents, the latest in 2005, when a 41-year-old man splashed acid on his ex-wife who, thankfully, only suffered minor rashes. The man was sentenced to two years jail and six strokes of the cane. I wonder if the Singapore government managed to radically reduce the crimes through harsh punishments.

In Cambodia, though, the attacks appear to be on the rise. Human Rights group Licadho recorded 44 cases of acid attacks between 1999 and 2003, but the recent record shows 114 new cases for the past five years according to Ung Bunthan, who compiled the report and who also said acid victims "live neither as a human nor as a ghost". Read the March 2009 report which says actual figures are higher because many cases of acid attacks go unreported in Cambodia.

In June, an unidentified person in Hong Kong hurled an acid-filled bottle from a building onto pedestrians below. 24 passers-by were injured by three attacks in six months.

In July, the Indian government proposed to equate acid attack with a crime that involves causing grievous injuries using deadly weapons, an offence which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

As for the Afghan schoolgirls hurt in the Taliban attack, said one of them, Shamsia: “My parents told me to keep coming to school even if I am killed."

Take Action
If you would like to support the brave women of Afghanistan, you may like to contact NYT writer Dexter Filkins ( as he has up a bank account for the girls. Any money he's received will go to helping Shamsia and her school.

And to support Cambodian acid burn victims, please visit Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cambodian Body-Builder wins 4th Place

Photo credit: SOVAN PHILONG, published in the Phnom Penh Post.

28 year old Sok Sopheak, also known as Polo, came fourth in the 2009 Asia Bodybuilding and Fitness Championship held August 11-17 in Pattaya, Thailand. I loved this Phnom Penh Post story - what a testament to focus and commitment. Cambodians should be so proud of Sopheak.
"I didn't know clearly what food was necessary for bodybuilding," he said....Polo remembered meeting a Thai athlete in Hong Kong last year, who set him straight on the correct way to balance his diet. "He told me what food to eat and what not to eat."

Moreover, Polo noted that his food requirement was extremely expensive, with six daily meals including eggs, fish, vegetables, fruit and chicken breast, costing between US$15 and $20 per day. "My mother always scolded me because she was not sure what my money was spent on when she gave it to me," Polo revealed.

More on Siem Reap's motorists

I was told this great story by an expat friend the other day. She was having a meal at the Blue Pumpkin when suddenly this French man rushed into the cafe, screaming his head off, yelling at the counter staff to call the police. Customers were confused by this commotion but the facts soon emerged.

The man had parked his four wheel drive outside the Siem Reap Book Centre, which is just next to the Blue Pumpkin here in the old market area. The man ignored the shop owner's request to move his vehicle. A stupid move, as he was to find out. (Nobody messes with the Siem Reap Book this guy new in town?)

Staff at the book shop returned with a piece of wood with nails stuck in it and started slamming the wood into his car. Hence the screams.

I laughed when I heard the story. This is because I've had to tell expats and Khmers to move their vehicles when they park directly in front of the Bloom shop, blocking the entrance. It drives me crazy because these people are so inconsiderate. We run a business - how would they like it if someone else blocked the entrance of their place of business or house?

Most people are nice enough when I politely ask if they could park their cars somewhere else. But many argue and it is always the same story: There is nowhere else to park.

One time it was a woman from a conservation project (her organisation was emblazoned on the vehicle). She looked annoyed and said to me, "There is nowhere to park at the market."

I agree, but, how is that my problem? If you can't find parking space, get a tuk tuk for your weekly trips to the market.

Fortunately she understood when I explained that I pay high rent for this shop and I really need to attract customers. We agreed she could park her huge vehicle before the shop opens (see, I'm not unreasonable).

A week later, I found myself in the same situation. This time it was a French man in his 50s or 60s. "Great," I thought. "Do I really want to pick a fight with an elderly French man?" I was so sure he would cuss me, yelling why don't you speak French etc etc.

But because I spoke to the woman, I thought, as a matter of fairness, I had to speak with the man too.

It always starts out the same, the drivers avoiding my attempts to get their attention. And again the same argument: there is nowhere to park at the old market. "Madame, it is difficult to everyone, uh," he said in his French-accented English.

I beg to differ. It's only difficult if you choose to drive your car to the market. It's not difficult for me and many others who walk, or take a moto or tuktuk. It is the same problem as in any other country - some areas just lack parking space, so you take the bus or other form of public transport (let's not even mention carbon emissions driving your 4WD).

Sometimes I think expats here think Cambodia is a lawless country and so do as they please.

Well, the man who parked in front of the bookshop soon learnt there are laws here too, however arbitrarily and infrequently they are enforced. His car was towed away by the police, who took care to photograph the process, as evidence they had treated his car with care. No doubt he had to pay a fine to get his vehicle back.

Siem Reap motorists protest police actions

Motorists and tuk tuk drivers staged a protest against the traffic police this morning. The protest took place on the road to Psar Leu here in Siem Reap.

I was told this is in response to the police confiscating motorcycles and demanding to be paid USD250-USD300 to release the bikes. If true, it is an outrage, as the fine (see below) for driving a vehicle without a licence plate is stated to be between 25,000 and 200,000 riels (USD6-48). Furthermore, new bikes cost less than USD2000 and second-hand ones as little as USD400 and a license ordinarily costs only USD30 for motos and USD60 for cars.

[Update 26 July: Another reason for the protest, it was reported in yesterday's Khmer newspapers is the exorbitant vehicle taxes. Thyda's sister's new motobike for instance, costs USD950 but she is expected to pay USD600 in taxes because hers is a newer model (2007). She had bought the bike imported from Thailand for USD950 but if you buy from a retailer in Cambodia, the retailer will include the taxes and the motobike will cost at least USD1600. The people are upset because the police do not care even if you had paid USD300 for your second-hand motorcycle. As long as it is a 2005 model or newer, the tax is USD600. The people say if they had this kind of money, they would have bought a better bike in the first place. They are asking for taxes to be reduced: USD50 for bikes older than 2003 and USD100 for those newer than that.

The protests were more organised than I had realised - they took place in other provinces in Cambodia, not just in Siem Reap. The other towns were at the border with Thailand and Vietnam and one more I could not confirm.]

Since Aug 1, traffic police all over Cambodia have been aggressive in their efforts to enforce the land traffic law. I have noticed the policemen all over town now, even standing guard at the entrance of the dirt road leading to my house. All in the hopes of pulling over recalcitrant drivers.

"We are not just imposing this law out of nowhere," Interior Minister Sar Kheng told the Phnom Penh Post (Vehicles to be confiscated, July 31). He noted that the law had been approved by the National Assembly in 2007 and that his ministry had issued a directive in June stating that it would step up enforcement of the law on August 1. "The people should know. We informed them one month ago to be cautious."

Quoted from the Post:
Motorbike drivers caught riding without helmets will be given the option of purchasing a helmet on the spot or having their bikes confiscated.

Any vehicle being driven without a licence plate or side mirrors will be confiscated, and drivers will be required to pay fines for infractions as well as a fee of 20,000 riels (US$4.75) for vehicle storage. The vehicle will only be released when it is fully equipped with a license plate and mirrors.

Under Article 79 of the Land Traffic Law, driving a vehicle without a licence plate incurs a fine of between 25,000 and 200,000 riels ($6-$48).

Under Article 88, driving a motorbike without a helmet incurs a fine of 3,000 riels."
Sar Kheng had anticipated many infractions and asked then for 1-2 hectares of land to store confiscated vehicles.

Apparently he was not wrong. Traffic law nets 60000 vehicles (out of which 300 are cars), reports the Post on the 17 Aug.

Of course it is a good thing trying to initiate some order on Cambodia's roads. Road deaths in Cambodia average 4 a day. If you stop to think about it, in general, accidents happen because people don't follow rules. If people followed rules, we'd be able to anticipate their actions and respond accordingly.

But some are in denial. Hem Ya, deputy chief of the Phnom Penh Police Commissariat, tells the Post in the 17th Aug interview: "I think that so far, 80 percent of Cambodian people respect the traffic law" '. 80% - surely you jest, sir. Don't they say admission of the problem is the first step to a solution?

But I was glad to see some are paying attention:
[Mayor of Phnom Penh] Kep Chuktema said he believed City Hall needed to implement additional measures to make the roads safer, including relocating businesses set up on city sidewalks.

"The people running their businesses on the sidewalks park their cars on the roads next to them, which makes the roads in Phnom Penh become narrow," he said. "This is a problem we have to solve in order to avoid traffic congestion."
It's time something was done to these inconsiderate drivers who park their cars and motorcycles on sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to step off the curb and into traffic. The worst are those that park their precious cars under the shade on sidewalks, so pedestrians have to walk in the rain. You get these idiots everywhere, including Singapore.

The tuktuk drivers tell me today's protest did not produce desired results so another one is planned. I'll go with Phoen when that happens.

Lamborghini Revention

The Lamborghini Revention.

It ranks as the most powerful and expensive Lamborghini road car to date, costing one million euros. The official press release stated that only 20 vehicles would be released to the public, with one additional car (marked as 0/20) produced for the Lamborghini Museum.

The thumbnail looks like a cartoon but the ruling Khmer elite can check out pics of the real thing here. As one poster Anna says:
Feed the poor and stop feeding your selfish ego.

I changed my mind, eat the poor and continue to feed your ego.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Good discussion on piracy

"Am I the only one sick of music downloaders acting like they are crusaders for the greater good? I love music. I don't like paying for it. I steal it. Simple as that. I am no hero. Those that want to protect their investments are not Nazis." ( submitted 1 day ago by damron

Good, long, discussion follows:
"ItsAConspiracy 311 points 1 day ago: A lot of people really do feel that the copyright regime has been vastly overextended. It used to be 14 years with an optional 14 year extension. Now it's effectively unlimited, because the Supreme Court said it's ok to extend the term retroactively. It also covers a lot more derivative works than it used to, and has nearly eliminated fair use rights.

Some of us even think copyrights should be done away with entirely. A business model based on limiting the right to copy is simply obsolete in the face of a technology that can copy information without limit, for free, and store it at a cost far lower than the license fee.

There have been several successful experiments already in collecting funds from the public in advance of releasing the work. Even if that didn't work, people make and publish art in all forms for free. People can't help themselves. If all that were available in the public domain, easily accessible on the Internet and legally reusable, we'd see a flowering of art the likes of which the world has never seen.

I don't view the content industry as Nazis. I view them as buggy-whip makers, protecting their investments by getting the government to pass laws against automobiles."
Click on link to read arguments, including this one:
"The problem is not piracy, although as a former musician I have to say it's kind of rude to steal someone's work. However that work is essentially stolen by the labels. If you look at most recordings it says "all rights reserved" What most people don't realize is that those rights are held by the labels and the publishing companies and that the artist get only a tiny fraction of the revenue, by and large. So what we need is a more equitable market, I believe it's coming but the labels and their promotional arms and the publishing houses, the FM radio stations, Live Nation, Ticketmaster, are going to have to die first. They have to be taken out of the equation because they are bad on just about every level. The labels are responsible for all the me too crap and total rubbish that chokes the airwaves right now. So keep up the piracy everyone should do it until these fucks are bankrupted out of existence. Then we can start again."

Seven Crimes That Will Get You a Smaller Fine than File-Sharing

Jammie Thomas was fined $2 million for downloading 24 songs. Thanks to the Mechanics blog at Gapers Block, here are seven crimes that will get you smaller fines than file-sharing:

1. Child abduction: the fine is only like $25000.
2. Stealing the actual CD: the fine is $2,500
3. Rob your neighbor: the fine is $375,000
4. Burn a house down: The fine is just over $375,000
5. Stalk someone: The fine is $175,000
6. Start a dogfighting ring: the fine is $50,000
7. Murder someone: The maximum penalty is only $25,000 and 15 years in jail, and depending on your yearly salary, would probably be far slighter a penalty that $2 million.

prefixmag. Thanks to rabidmonkey1 on reddit.

The Walled World

Click on image.

"The Walled World - 73% of World's Income, 14% of World's Population vs 27% Income, 86% Population. Walls, fences and high-tech border surveillance are under construction in order to secure the citizens and their high quality of life within this system.
Submitted 12 hours ago by natezomby to worldnews on reddit.

You know the facts, but this infographic makes everything so clear.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bloom Bags Facebook Group: 500 members and counting!

This is amazing! We now have 500 members on the Bloom Bags Facebook Group. Wow. I am blown away. Thank you so much, all of you, for showing your support of our little project here in Cambodia. It means so much to me and the team to know people understand what we are trying to do. More than that, you actually put your names and faces to show that support. September 13 will mark Bloom's three year anniversary, and this is great encouragement to keep us going. Hugs to all from sunny Cambodia, Diana

Friday, August 21, 2009

BBC show on Cambodian food - with recipes

I just heard from a Dutch customer turned friend, Kirsten, who pointed to this BBC production: Rick Stein takes the viewer on an epic culinary journey by sea, down rivers and overland to explore the Far East's diverse food cultures, which have soared to the heights of popularity the world over.
"He begins his odyssey in Cambodia, a country still recovering from the regime of the Khmer Rouge. Nevertheless, tourists are beginning to return to this land dotted with sugar palms, paddy fields and small villages. Rick discovers the joys of freshly caught swimmer crabs cooked with green peppercorns from Kampot, once the king of pepper. He learns how to cook the most famous dish in the country, fish amok, made with lemongrass and coconut, and he samples lok lak, an extremely popular and delicious dish made with stir-fried strips of marinated beef. Rick visits the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat temple before joining a rice barge to take him down the mighty Mekong River to the border of Vietnam.
Click on the link to watch Stein's gastronomical adventures (you have 20 days left to watch!). You will also find recipes for

1. Stir-fried crab with green Kampot pepper
2. Spicy green mango salad with smoked fish and a sweet-and-sour dressing
3. Cambodian marinated beef with a lime and black pepper dipping sauce

Yum. I have not had dinner and this is making me drool.

"Forty Acres and a Dream", the farming cycle and cooperatives

I'm a fan of Al Jazeera's Witness documentaries and this is one reason why. "Forty Acres and a Dream" traces the vanishing history of black-owned farms in the US. The title is a play on the phrase "Forty Acres and a Mule", based on
"General William T. Sherman's Special Field Order Number 15, issued on 16 January 1865, which set aside a thirty-mile tract of land along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts for former slaves and promised the army's help securing loaned mules. In addition, the Freed-men's Bureau initially was authorized to divide abandoned and confiscated lands into forty-acre tracts for rental and eventual sale to refugees and former slaves. Despite the efforts of Radical Republicans during the Reconstruction period, however, significant land redistribution measures ultimately were abandoned, and virtually all southern lands were returned to white owners. The resulting sharecropping system left the social and economic structures of slavery essentially intact in the South."
(Lori Askeland, Dictionary of American History, found on

In "Forty Acres and a Dream", documentary photographer John Ficara sought to capture the stories and struggles of black farmers before that way of life dies. Notes from the documentary: "Black owned farms peaked in the early 1920s with an estimated total of 15 million acres and over 900,000 farmers. Today there are only 2.2 million acres owned by black farmers. These farmers are losing their land three times faster than white family farmers and a recent study by the university of Michigan predicts that within the next ten years there will be virtually no black owned farms."

It was while watching "Forty Acres and a Dream" that I learnt about the farming cycle. At the start of planting season, it is crucial to have funds to purchase seeds. This is one area where odds were stacked against black farmers who say they were often turned away from banks because of their colour.

This led me to think about farmers in Asia and how they cough up the money for seeds. This is a good summary of the farming cycle:
"The debt cycle is as follows - in the beginning of the season the farmer goes to moneylender to borrow money for seeds, fertilisers, pesticides. The moneylender is also the shopkeeper so not only does he lend money at an enormous interest, he also charges more than the market rate for the seeds etc. Additionally, he enters into a contract with the farmer that the entire produce shall be bought by him at the end of the harvest. The price for buying the produce is fixed by the moneylender which is invariably less than the prevailing market rates. In order to further secure his money the moneylender mortgages the land."
This explanation, posted on, is by Paromita Goswami, who founded Shramik Elgar (The Marching Army of Working People), a 6000-member union of rural workers in India. Goswami also founded the Elgar Women's Credit Co-operative Society and is also an advisor to the board of Global Integrity, which produces information on governance and corruption trends around the world.

One popular focus on breaking the poverty cycle for farmers is getting rid of the middlemen along the supply chain (sometimes called "value chain") in food production. The idea is that if only farmers were linked to markets, they would be able to profit.

"However, increasing the efficiency of a value chain does not automatically result in benefits for poorer farmers," notes Gertjan Becx, director of Resilience, a consultancy firm based in Wageningen, the Netherlands. He bases this on the experience of more than 1200 smallholder farmers in Ghana in West Africa who were interviewed for his study, which he talks about in June's issue of Leisa Magazine, the magazine of ILEIA, or the Centre for Information on Low External Input and Sustainable Agriculture.

Says Becx:
“In our Ghanaian investigation we discovered four clusters of interconnected constraints that restrict entrepreneurial development of smallholder farmers. The first cluster includes constraints related to production and processing. Lack of capital, little access to (micro-) credit, poor soil or seed quality, lack of water, uncertainty about land entitlement, shortage of adequate labour, lack of traction, and lack of knowledge and technology, all hamper productivity increases. Moreover, because of chronic hunger, people are mentally and physically weak, so they cannot work to their full capacity." (my italics, because this is something people tend to forget).

The second cluster is the uncertainties of the external environment such as climate, corruption and fluctuating markets. The third is the lack of incentives to invest. This is the case of farmers who do not own land and also of farmers who think the government, their extended family, or other patrons, will claim the bulk of the fruits of their labour.

The fourth cluster deals with the mindset of subsistence farmers: they tend to consume rather than think of the future. Importantly, subsistence farmers deeply mistrust their local, regional and national governments. “We found that poor farmers have difficulties with long-term planning, markets and profit as many of them have developed ‘coping strategies’ in response to difficult circumstances."

Many people point out this is the mindset of poor, uneducated and rural Cambodians: to think short term, rather than long; to spend what they have today rather than save and invest for the future. When I first came to Cambodia, the books I read and the expats I spoke to, all told me not to give a Cambodian money, as he/she would spend it the moment he/she can.

As you can see, it is not just Khmers, but it is the mindset of subsistence farmers everywhere.

“We concluded that agricultural entrepreneurship is necessary for small-scale farmers to escape the cycle of continuing poverty," says Becx. "But this will only be possible if they organise themselves into farmer-based organisations. Value chain development must take the constraints described above into consideration if they are to work for poorer farmers. Value chains can only overcome the cycle of poverty if they are deliberately designed to improve farmer livelihoods, so to be ‘pro poor’.”

"...if they organise themselves into farmer-based organisations". Paromita Goswami explains in her post on how a cooperative has helped farmers get out of the traditional farming cycle:
"The cooperative as a legal entity has multiple benefits. For example our cooperatives have procured licences as distributors for seeds, fertilisers and pesticides. This means that we will distribute these things to the farmers at the market rate plus carting costs.

Then, the cooperatives are registering with the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees which means that they shall be able to buy the produce from the farmers at the prevailing market rates. Apart from this, the cooperative can raise upto 12.5 times its share captial through bank loans which an individual farmer cannot access."
Super. What a great grassroots project.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rice Production in Cambodia

It has not rained for a week in Siem Reap. This should be the rainy season, which lasts until Sept/Oct. But it is hot like April (the hottest month in Cambodia), and we are all wilting. I just checked the site for the temperature and it says 34 degree celcius.

No doubt it's global warming.

Chhun Hy tells me in his province, Kampong Cham, there has not been regular and sufficient rains for the past 3 months, which means the rice shoots do not have a chance to survive. "The small rice plants all die," he says. The last time Chhun Hy's parents saw a drought (in relative terms) like this was 15 or 20 years ago. At 24, Chhun Hy cannot remember those times. He tells me the provinces of Kampong Cham and Battambang are the biggest producers of rice in this country.

An Australian tourist told me she saw lots of brown land from her view on the airplane when I told her it is not normally so hot at this time of the year.

Chhun Hy's parents who are farmers in Kampong Cham have told him many people from that province have left to look for work in Phnom Penh. But there is little work available in the capital city because of the economic downturn. I asked if they will try to come to Siem Reap and he says because they don't have education and cannot speak English, the country folk will find it hard to get jobs. They can only do odd jobs, and many end up as construction workers earning a couple of dollars a day, if they are lucky.

According to Cambodia's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries figures, 85 percent of Cambodia's population relies on agriculture for a living. The country produces 6 million tons of unhusked rice annually and there are 2.3 million hectares of rice paddy land. (Source: Xinhua).

They will be alright this year as Chhun Hy's family has rice left over from last year's harvest. The problem will come next year, if this year's crops fail. If there is not enough rice, villagers will borrow rice from wealthier neighbours or merchants who normally charge 50% interest, so if you borrow one sack of rice this year, come next harvest, you will have to repay 1.5 sacks. Chhun Hy says in his province rice is harvested only once a year - rice planting season starts in May and the rice is harvested in November, during the dry season.

But I read that Cambodia has actually two rice crops each year: a monsoon-season crop (long-cycle) and a dry-season crop.
"The major monsoon crop is planted in late May through July, when the first rains of the monsoon season begin to inundate and soften the land. Rice shoots [the small rice plants Chhun Hy refers to] are transplanted from late June through September. The main harvest is usually gathered six months later, in December. The dry-season crop is smaller, and it takes less time to grow (three months from planting to harvest). It is planted in November in areas that have trapped or retained part of the monsoon rains, and it is harvested in January or February....

"In addition to these two regular crops, peasants plant floating rice in April and in May in the areas around the Tonle Sap (Great Lake), which floods and expands its banks in September or early October. Before the flooding occurs, the seed is spread on the ground without any preparation of the soil, and the floating rice is harvested nine months later, when the stems have grown to three or four meters in response to the peak of the flood (the floating rice has the property of adjusting its rate of growth to the rise of the flood waters so that its grain heads remain above water). It has a low yield, probably less than half that of most other rice types, but it can be grown inexpensively on land for which there is no other use.

Today it was reported Japanese scientists have developed high-yield deep water rice, providing hope for better rice production in lowland areas that are affected by flooding: "[Project head Motoyuki] Ashikari said his team already successfully tested the gene on a Japanese "Japonica" rice, and his team now plans to create a flood-resistant long grain rice in three to four years for use in countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Cambodia."

However, advanced technologies do not necessarily mean farmers will be better off. Here is what happened in Thailand:
"New technologies also pushed up the entrance cost of rice farming and made it harder for peasants to own their land and produce rice. Farmers that already had somewhat large scale operations or could afford all the new chemicals, rice strains, and tractors benefited greatly while the normal peasant was turned from a land owning rice producer to a manual laborer on others land."
(Source: wikipedia).

In addition, the Thai government's annual taxes, even in a bad year, meant that many peasants were unable to keep their land, so ended up being tenants, paying rent on the land. So while advances in technology have helped improve overall production of rice in Thailand, many Thai peasants were left worse off.

In this 2007 news article, Pu Kea, chairman of the Rice Hulling Mills' Association in Cambodia's Battambang province, told Xinhua News that huge profits went to the exporters from Malaysia, Singapore and African (this surprised me) countries, while the farmers and the mill owners could only make limited incomes from simple processing procedures.

In 2006, Prime Minister Hun Sen called on Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam (those along the Mekong River, which together produce more than 10 million tonnes, almost half the world's annual rice exports) to join hands with Cambodia to form a rice producing cartel, much like the Middle East's OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The association could have say in rice price adjustment and play a role in balancing OPEC's influence, Hun Sen said then - "If they want cheaper rice, then they should decrease oil prices."

Fair enough, if you ask me.

Naga Casino and Elixir Gaming Tech

My blog post on Cambodian casinos was quoted by someone discussing Elixir Gaming Technologies, Inc (NYSE Amex: EGT). EGT, formerly known as VendingData Corporation, supplies gaming machines to Phnom Penh's Nagaworld, a five-star hotel luxury casino resort in Cambodia and the only licensed full service casino in and around the capital city of Phnom Penh. EGT manufactures its machines in Guangdong Province, China and Melbourne, Australia.

The discussion thread on Yahoo Finance had the subject "Naga World already paid?"

Apparently it is in reference to Naga's new purchase of an additional 200 electronic gaming machines from EGT. From Business Wire:
"Elixir Gaming currently operates 237 machines at Premier Club at NagaWorld, which have been achieving average win per unit per day (WUD) of over $200 during May, June, and month to date in July."
I am no expert on the casino business, but this is what I gathered: In gaming parlance, the "win" is what a consumer is willing to pay for the excitement and experience casino gaming offers. It is quantified as win per unit per day (WUD or WPUPD). According to an Aug 13 press release by EGT, the company's average WUD for the Philippines and Cambodia was $58 and $197, respectively, up 2% and 156% on a quarterly sequential basis.

156% quarterly sequential growth! No wonder these Yahoo Finance posters are excited. EGT, the company they have shares in, will be raking it in, as they will get 100% of the WUD from the additional 200 machines until, says Business Wire, "it has received the total accumulated WUD of US$7.3 million (the commitment fee plus Elixir Gaming’s 20% share of the WUD). Revenues from the Additional Machines will be settled and collected daily by Elixir Gaming."

Here is what one poster wrote: "Yes, but EGT keeps 100% of revenue until 120% of what they laid out is reached, so as soon as the machines go in, we start collecting, so a good chunk of cash will be returned in the next quarter, and much more in 4th quarter, so cash flow is not a problem. 15 machines are actually going in by the end of this month. Total will be 600+ machines, that's a huge chunk of daily cash, more placements and chip orders to come IMO, I see green by year's end, and agree completely with the other poster that believes the funds are now loading up, the trading action supports that too."

The posters are understandably concerned about saturation of machines in NagaWorld. One calculated there are currently 640 machines at NW. 200 were there before EGT, which later installed 240 then another 200 machines.

(NagaCorp which operates NagaWorld, holds a casino license issued by the Royal Government of Cambodia, which gives the company the rights to operate the casino for 70 years commencing January 1995 with 41 years exclusivity within a 200 kilometer radius of Phnom Phen (except the Cambodia-Vietnam boarder area, Bokor, Kirirom Mountains, and Sihanoukville.) NagaCorp Ltd. is incorporated in Cayman Islands with limited liability and its securities are listed on the Main Board of The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Don't even reply!"

I just browsed this hysterical site don' which reduced me to tears - it's so funny! The site's tagline is "emails from an asshole" which is a pretty accurate description. These are my favourites:

1. Jurassic Park truck
2. Soccer Escort
3. Expired Phish Ticket.

Thanks zinite for adding to Reddit. I love Reddit!

Cool pic - car gets stuck after bridge opens

Photo credit: Dustin Fritsch.

"A motorist sits precariously on the Maple-Oregon Bridge in Sturgeon Bay [in Wisconsin] after getting stuck on the bridge as it opened Thursday. The motorist safely went on her way after the bridge was lowered. Police are hoping she’ll call to explain how she managed to get stuck in that position."

Full story here. Thanks to mrthingy for adding to Reddit.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Indonesian visitor brings joy

Photo of Borobudur as seen from the east from wikitravel.

My blog posts here and here on Phoen, my tuk tuk driver in Siem Reap, were read by tourists planning to visit the town. Touched my Phoen's difficult life and wanting to help him somehow, two people emailed me. One is Danti from Indonesia, and the other is someone from France whom I've lost contact with. I hope the French person who emailed me will employ Phoen.

Danti did. Not only did she hire Phoen's tuk tuk for 3 days to the temples at Angkor Wat, she visited his home and family. She also brought me gifts from Yogyakarta in south-central Java where she is from. Yogyakarta is about 40 minutes south of Borobudur by car. I have not been to Borobudur or Yogyakarta, but would like to. Borobudur looks awesome, something like the temples at Angkor.

I am surprised that many Western tourists I meet here in Siem Reap do not know Borobudur. One said to me Angkor Wat is the only large religious monument in Southeast Asia. He had never heard of Borodudur.

According to wikitravel: "The first archaeological study of the site was initiated in 1814 by Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore. First restored in 1907, the monument suffered from neglect and war and was once more in effect rebuilt in the 1970s under the guidance of UNESCO, who designated Borobudur as a World Heritage Site. The massive restoration process involved the removal and refurbishing of over one million blocks, rebuilding the foundation and adding drainage systems."

Adanti tells me it is very cheap to live in Yogyakarta, where fried noodles (mee cha is what it is called in Cambodia) costs just USD0.20, compared with USD0.50 (local price) here in Siem Reap. Adanti has a Masters in development and has worked for Handicapped International, AUSAID etc. It was very interesting talking to her about my challenges working in Cambodia. The issues are the same in Indonesia, issues of motivation and encouragement. She tells me success rates in her town is between 1 and 3 in 10, i.e., for a good project, only 3 in 10 of what she calls "beneficiaries" get out of the cycle of poverty they are in.

Adanti brought me many presents from Indonesia, all handmade. The Indonesians are amazing, turning water hyacinth, bamboo, banana bark and coconut husks into handicrafts - things I have not seen in Cambodia. She was surprised to see in Cambodia coconut husks being thrown away after locals drink the water. She says in Indonesia people would be saving them to make bags and jewelry. I hope our Cambodian team will be inspired by the objects when I show to them - they're really a clever way of recycling, of turning trash into cash. Adanti said "My people are poor so we have to think how we can make money." Respect.

She's now back home and just sent me this email:

"Hello Diana,

Sorry, I late reply your email. Thank you very much for your kindness :) I'm really happy when I visited Siem Reap. Siem Reap is the best!

I want visit Siem Reap again. hang out with you & Deb [Deborah Groves, my photographer friend who founded an NGO here in Siem Reap called Helping Hands].

I want to know better Phern family. I'm touched with his kindness. So, I gave him my rain coat, torch light and t-shirt. It's important to him wear good rain coat, since I've seen his rain coat not appropriate to cover his body.

I will meet coconut shell producer to find out how to make it. I think I have the process producing pictures. I'll send it to you :)

Ok Diana...I hope I can visit you & Phern ASAP. See you. Give my warm regards & big hug for Phern Family."

Friday, August 14, 2009

New movie about Cambodia: "Same Same But Different"

I just heard from one of our customers in Germany, Heike in Dusseldorf. There is a new movie about Cambodia opening in Germany in January. It's called "Same Same But Different" and you can see the movie's site here.

Heike tells me the movie is a German production, but made in Cambodia, which I think means it was filmed wholly in srok Khmer. She writes: "The story is about a young German boy (David Kross --- a very famous, good and young german actor) who backpacks through Cambodia and falls in live with a Cambodian girl. After a while he knows that she is HIV-positive. I don't know how the story ends. But I think that the movie will be very, very good."

"Same Same But Different" was scheduled to be shown at Cambodia's biannual National Cinema Festival this year, but the festival was cancelled. "It is not because we lack money. Rather, it is that we are lacking in productions, and the quality is still low," Som Sokun, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts told the Phnom Penh Post.

The producers of "Same Same But Different" had this to say: "The Boje Buck Production is convinced of all the human resources and the acting skills of Cambodian people and hope that soon the National Cinema Festival can be hold and that there are more Cambodian productions. We had a great time and just due to the great support of all Cambodian we could realize the movie."

Heike is excited because she recognises many of the places where the movie was filmed when she visited Cambodia a month or so ago. She asked me: "Do you know the old house with the open stairways in Phnom Penh? We loved the scene and took a picture of it." I don't know which old house Heike means but Phnom Penh is full of beautiful, old villas built during French colonial times.

Phnom Penh has great architecture which I learnt from my friend, Alison, an archeology PhD student living in Phnom Penh. Check out Alison's blog Alison in Cambodia. You can also do tours with Khmer Architecture Tours.

While in Phnom Penh, Heike visited our workshop and brought the women many gifts, including vanishing cream which the women loved. Heike started selling Bloom bags online but has recently secured a retail outlet in Dusselfdorf, which is exciting. (German customers please visit Heike's shop kleine-botschaft here).

I would love to visit Heike's shop one day. I dream also of visiting Berlin.

I like Germans - the ones I've met strike me as reflective, thoughtful people. I made a good friend, a young German photography student named Dorit, while backpacking in Europe about a decade ago. We met in Amsterdam where we hung out for about a week. One night we almost got locked out of our dorm which shuts its doors every night at midnight, because we were in the red light district.

Recently I tracked Dorit down on Facebook (through another Dorit who also comes from Stuttgart). Dorit is now a professional photographer who has exhibited her photographs. I am so glad her dream came true! I like Facebook for this reason - imagine meeting someone you spent only a week with in a strange country and then hook up a decade later to find that we are still the same people living or pursuing the dreams we once shared with each other.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sorry for the Scientology Google Ads

I have just spent today trying to get out of my blog. I noticed it a while back and I am sorry if any readers clicked on the deceptive ads only to find themselves on the scientology website. The ads advertise themselves using "Love" and other warm, fuzzy, words to attract readers. If you click on the flash ads they will take you to

I tried to block the ads following Google's instructions on banning ads. The instructions are far from clear (read the section "Finding the Ad URL" which caters only to IE or Netscape users). And what is worse, nowhere on this page is there this warning (which I found only on another page): "Please do not click on your own ads to determine the destination URL, as this is a violation of our program policies. To determine the URL to filter, please review our Competitive Ad Filter Guide."

How stupid is that? Instinctively that is what users would do to try to find the ad URL. That is what I did - not that it helped at all. In the end this was what I did in case you want to do the same: Go to your adsense account, click on adsense setup, then type in the URL you don't want - in my case

Hopefully it will work but not according to this Computerworld writer who wrote a month ago Why is Google adsense doing the bidding of Scientology?":
"My Google AdSense seems to be infested with Scientology ads. I am not sure why but I can't get Google to remove them from my site. It's not a random ad, either. It seems like every single time an ad comes to my site from Google, it is Scientology.

I am not necessarily anti-Scientology...But this is outrageous. Scientology is every ad block 24 hours/day for over a week now. My readers have rightfully started complaining and I'd really like Google to stop. If they are paying Google an exorbitant amount to advertise, I am not seeing any difference in my CPM rates. So, I've tried just about everything in my power to get them removed.

Google being Google, they haven't made removing specific ads very easy. I've done the requisite posting on AdSense forums with strangely no answer. I've also researched competitive ad filters and put every Scientology URL in the filter. To no avail. The Scientology ads keep coming...I've also tried to call someone at Google. If you have ever tried this, you know that is a joke. I can't even get past reception. Way to serve the 99% of your revenue base!?!?

I don't want to get into conspiracy theories but Google also removed the Anonymous AdSense account. Anonymous was the group that was exposing some internal Scientology stuff (I don't follow this stuff too closely). Google also killed a Youtube account of an anti-Scientology crusader who was about to publish an expose on Scientology. They also removed, another anti-Scientology website's links.

I don't think Google is doing the work of Scientologists. I just think they are getting a lot of cash from them and don't want to deal with their litigation tactics.

But, you'd think that Google would be more friendly with their publishing partners. I may only serve up 3 million pageviews a month but they are practically begging/forcing me to go to one of their competitors.

And honestly, I don't care if there is an odd Scientology ad on my site. But this is ridiculous. What am I supposed to do?"
Well, unlike the writer, I do have something against scientology, which is on trial in Paris where it is accused of organised fraud.

You can read this expose of the sect by the St Petersburg Times here and this Aug 2 report More Church of Scientology defectors come forward with accounts of abuse. One woman wrote about her experience on the Cult Help website. She says Quentin Hubbard, son of scientology founder Ron Hubbard, committed suicide at age 22 because he could see no way out of the trap he was in.

Google should take a page from Wikipedia and limit scientology's use of the company's technology to push the church's agenda. In May, Wiki banned the church from making edits because they were pushing their agenda too much, thus closing the longest-running court case in Wiki's history. Because honestly, like the Computerworld writer, I will dump Blogger, owned by Google, for one of their competitors (hello, wordpress) if this continues.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Social enterprises - spreading, slowly but surely

"Diana! Just wanted to send you a quick update… As you might remember, the Cambodia trip inspired me to use some time after the MBA to “do good” (by whatever yardstick that could be measured…) So I kept in touch with Mahboob… and I am now in the Philippines working on for a social enterprise that Mahboob started here. It’s a small hotel with the aim of benefiting the community and limiting the environmental impact of the tourism in this area. Interestingly enough, I get motivated much more by the latter for some reason. So today for example, we discussed hot to implement recycling (instead of just burning all the trash, incl the plastic bottles). Also, I’d like to install solar water heaters, maybe even solar electricity so that we don’t have to rely on the diesel generator (only very limited grid electricity here). Anyway, thanks again for organizing the Cambodia trip, you see it’s multiplying!

I got this email from one of the MBA students from the INSEAD program in France. Marcus is a young German man who also spent some time at the INSEAD campus in Singapore. Like the other INSEAD students I hosted, Marcus is very intelligent and polite. He works as a consultant for McKinsey's in Germany.

It was funny, the first time I met the group at dinner I told them I had hesitated about being their social enterprise tour guide, because I've met so many MBAs in my time in Singapore. They were all the same - ambitious and careeristic - which is the reason they bother to pursue an MBA in the first place, because they believe the MBA will help them earn more money in their jobs. Their primary aim in life was to make millions so they can retire at 40. I have very little in common with people like these. I especially despise investment bankers, Wall Street types that I consider parasites. I am obviously not alone in thinking this.

(I have to confess, though, at one time I myself considered getting an MBA. I was moving on up, as they say. And to reach the next step in my career an MBA would have been useful in understanding the wheeler dealer world of mergers and acquisitions, scenario planning, different types of (creative?) accounting etc - basically corporate finance for large corporations. In the end I decided against it after a discussion with my super Australian boss Quentin. He convinced me if I wanted a corporate career I should go for the MBA. But if, like him, I planned to be an entrepreneur, don't bother with the MBA - use the time and money to gain experience instead, through the school of hard knocks. Which is what I did, as did Quentin, who now runs his own successful magazine Australian Traveller).

So it was refreshing meeting the international students from INSEAD. They did explain to me that while many MBAs are as I describe, they are different. This group had elected a module on social entrepreneurship which means they do care about society and the social good. I was impressed that some had already volunteered their time on social projects.

I am so glad I accepted the job (I did get paid for being their tour guide) because I got to know some very bright young people from all over the world who will make a difference to society. I like to think the one week we spent together in Cambodia contributed to this. :)

Sending parcels to and from Cambodia

I am sorry for not updating the blog. My partner Alan is finally back from Scotland so I feel settled now. We are taking walks and playing with the dogs again. We are also experimenting with bamboo - if we succeed I will share with readers!

I have also been busy with a diaper bag someone in the US wants us to make. I've never been a mommy so don't know what to look for in a good diaper bag. We have made one according to specs emailed to us and our customer L says it looks great. L is so committed to the environment she is sourcing for recycled straps and other things we can use to make the bag 100% (or as close to 100%) recycled.

She also sent us a sample from the US which was due to arrive at our shop in the Russian Market on Sunday but it still has not appeared. The tracker says it is in Phnom Penh...somewhere. I really hope we get it.

One time a customer from the UK sent us some ribbons she had ordered from a supplier in China. The package was sent through an agent in China and arrived in Phnom Penh. Unfortunately it was stuck in customs.

First I went to the airport in Phnom Penh. I was told to go to the big building beside it, which says customs or something. That building is a large warehouse, where all sorts of things are sent to Phnom Penh by air and duty has to be paid.

There, I was ushered to an office where people sat waiting to talk to officials behind desks. I had to fill in some paperwork signing when the stuff arrived, a description and how much it is worth. From there I was told to go to another customs office in Phnom Penh city to get a stamp or signature (I can't remember as this happened last year - I should have written about it then but my customer and me were too upset by the whole incident). Then I was to bring that form back to pay up and collect the ribbons.

I cannot remember how much I was supposed to pay for customs to release the ribbons but it was far more than what the ribbons were worth. I even got two delivery agents involved, one a very large MNC to assist us, thinking personal relationships might save the day. But no go - it was still a few hundred dollars they wanted.

In the end, we had to make the products for our customer without the ribbons. It was a good lesson.

For me, this is the reason I do not use specially imported stuff in making our bags. I just cannot be assured the stuff will get to us. While almost everything used to make a Bloom bag is imported from Vietnam (nylon straps, zips, zipper pulls, buckles, D-rings, clasps - all these are imported since Cambodia makes very little of its own), we buy them from retailers at Orussey market in Phnom Penh. YKK zips we have to order from its representative in Cambodia as YKK does not sell through retailers.

I was advised by the MNC delivery company that in the future, they should be alerted before the delivery package leaves the country of origin for arrival in Cambodia. This way, they will be able to work with the agent in the first country and customs in Cambodia so the package will arrive to us safely. Once it has arrived in Cambodia, it is too late, and we have no leverage in getting our goods out.

It seems like so much trouble for so little. At the same time, if we do not import materials, we are limited by what is available in Cambodia, and the quality of the materials imported from Vietnam is shall we say, not the best.

The other problem is the Cambodian retailers buy, I suspect, whatever is cheap. What this means is the designs of the buckle, clasps, zipper pulls etc change from month to month. We are not guaranteed the same design, because it depends what the retailers get from Vietnam.

For instance, we used to buy zipper pulls that were a fat teardrop shape and of good quality. But this is now not available. It is hard to believe the Vietnam factory has stopped making that design, which is why I suspect it is the retailers who are always on the lookout for cheaper stuff. In this case, we have to substitute the teardrop one with a leaf shaped one or the ordinary flat, oval one - same price but of lower quality. Very frustrating, especially if we have an order where the customer expects us to make the same products as per the sample.

The other big problem working in Cambodia is the expensive delivery costs from Cambodia and people can see for themselves delivery costs on Cambodia's Express Mail Service website:

One kg to the US costs USD45 which is comparable to Singapore where it costs SGD64 (around USD44) but much more expensive than Thailand's EMS (calculate the rate here. From Thailand it costs USD35.55 to send a 1 kg parcel to the US, or about 30% less than to send from Cambodia.

Most of our bags are priced under USD20 which is a problem when the courier costs as much as the bags themselves (1 kg of bags could be between 2 to 8 bags, depending on the design). It is something I have to take into account when designing our e-commerce site.

As for shipping costs, they are more expensive than courier costs, because there are all sorts of paperwork and taxes to pay. Even the shipping company advises us to just use courier because shipping is only cost-effective when you are sending big items or a lot of them. Shipping companies charge per cubic metre, and costs go down per cubic metre when you ship a lot. Even sending a thousand bags to Europe by air cost me less than it would by ship. Go figure.

A final note on the postal service in Cambodia. In 2006 my dad sent me a postcard from Singapore which never got to me. When he came to Phnom Penh a couple of months later for a visit (we were living in Phnom Penh then) dad actually went to the central post office near Wat Phnom to ask about his postcard. The postmaster there gave him the mobile number of the postman who was responsible for deliveries in our area (BKK3) but of course we never found the postcard. Still, I was impressed. Where in the world would you get the mobile phone number of your postal delivery guy?


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