Friday, January 30, 2009

Singapore-wired and diverse

Well, here I am in Singapore, the country where I was born. I am writing this in a coffee shop in a surburb, called Toa Payoh. Surburbia in Singapore means a cluster of government, or Housing Development Board (HBD), flats, where more than 80 per cent of Singaporeans live. Of course there are richer people who own private property (i.e., not government owned), which has led to a labelling of "cosmopolitans" versus "heartlanders".

The government builds satellite towns around these HDB flats, so each surburb will have its own centre, with a library, supermarkets, banks, clothing shops etc etc. Its extremely convenient because it means you do not have to travel far to get things done. We can even pay our bills at electronic kiosks all over the island.

I am applying for my new passport online and it takes only 3 days to get ready (my passport expires next month, which is why I am back here). I love the convenience of Singapore, and I love how wired the island is. I am surfing for free, at a coffee shop, in an HDB heartland. I took a bus here from my parents' place (where I stay when I am in Singapore, since I do not own any property), using my E-Z link card. The card is a cash card you tap onto a card reader, saving you the need to carry cash. Later, when I go to Orchard Road, the main shopping belt, I will take the MRT, or Mass Rapid Transit (if you have not already realised, Singapore is well-known for having three-letter anagrams names). The MRT is our subway, which goes under as well as above ground. It will take me fewer than 10 mins to travel 3 stations to get to Orchard Road from Toa Payoh. The train will be air-conditioned and clean. Very convenient.

I am meeting my ex-colleague and friend Pauline for lunch and also check out the new stores on Orchard Road. It will no doubt be packed with people but that's ok. One thing I love about Singapore is its diversity. The first night I returned, I was so happy to hear people speaking Malay, Tamil as well as English, Mandarin, Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese. It is something I did not think about when living in Cambodia: how homogeneous Cambodia is. Cambodians speak Khmer and it was refreshing to see the mix of people, Indian, Malay, Chinese, Eurasians in Singapore. Of course there are also Westerners, tourists and expats, just as there are in Cambodia.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Communities start making their own currency

Who's with me on starting one for Siem Reap! From
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Diana Felber brought her groceries to the checkout and counted out her cash — purple, blue and green bills that are good at only businesses in western Massachusetts.

Known as “BerkShares,” the colorful currency is printed by a nonprofit group to encourage people to spend close to home in the state’s Berkshire region. Customers who use the money also get a built-in 10 percent discount, since they can get 100 BerkShares for just $90 at local banks....

Interest in local currencies often spikes during a recession as communities scramble to promote their businesses and curb unemployment, said Lewis D. Solomon, professor at the George Washington University Law School and author of “Rethinking our Centralized Monetary System: The Case for a System of Local Currencies.”

The U.S. Constitution prohibits states from coining their own currency, but it is silent on local paper money. The courts have allowed private groups to print complementary currency, provided it does not compete with federal money and does not circulate beyond a limited area...

“If you have local networks, you can trade within them,” said Paul Glover, founder of the Ithaca program. Whether they are business, religious, neighborhood or professional groups, “there is a capability within those to trade without strict dependence on dollars.”

Free Air Guitar

Photo from I love this ad. "Excellent!""Party on, Wayne." "Party on, Garth."

Business for Sale

Outside the Angkor Market, a supermarket located along Sivatha Boulevard, there is a notice board. I took these some time back, so have no idea if the businesses are still available.

I took the photos because it was the first time since I moved to Siem Reap in November 2007 that I've seen businesses for sale signs on this board. I took them to be a sign of the times.

I took the car for sale one to show how expensive cars are in Cambodia. Of course they are cheap compared to Singapore, but not compared to cars in the US. I was told that you can get a 10 year old Merc in the US for USD8k.

The last one is an apartment for rent in case someone out there is interested in renting in Siem Reap.

For Sale

These photos were taken a month ago, the day I cycled to New Hope Centre.

These two development projects are along to way to Angkor Wat and if you look closely, you will see rows and rows of Cambodian style terrace houses, also known as shop houses, since you can have a shop downstairs while you live upstairs (in Khmer they are called "p'tyair l'wairng" or "long houses").

There are even more along the way, and I was told last month that they were going for USD600 a month, where earlier in 2008, they would have fetched more than a grand.

When I was looking to rent a house in Siem Reap in late 2007, 3-bedroom houses were going for around USD400. Yesterday someone told me of a 5 bedroom house going for USD200, which is about right, as analysts estimate the local property market has plunged 40 percent to 50 percent since it peaked in mid-2008.

A beautiful blog

Photo by: UNHCR/KD17506/ Refugee Camp II/Thailand 1984, courtesy of Ron.

I just discovered this blog, Ron is a Cambodian who grew up in Canada and now travels the world taking beautiful photos. Ron left me a comment a few days ago and is a follower of this blog. Initially, I thought he's a Westerner, because of his name, but today I explored his blog and discovered this:
"In July of 1979, my parents escaped the slave camp they were in. Walking for 3 days without food or water thru dense jungles littered with landmines, they finally made it to the safety of a UN refugee camp along the Thai-Cambodian border. In December of 1980, I was born."
It's from an entry called "Between Heaven and Earth: kd17506", which is the name of the family photograph shown above, taken at the refugee camp, where the multitude of human beings were identified by assigned numbers.

Ron writes beautifully and this other entry "Between Heaven and Earth: Reincarnation" really moved me.
"By all accounts, I had a normal upbringing. And today, if you were to look me straight in the eye, you'd never believe my story. You'd say I'm lying. You'd say I'm full of shit. But believe me when I say this: "war is no lie."

It's not easy telling your friends that you're a child of war. While growing up in Canada, I never did. I hid it deep within me. I was ashamed. I was ashamed to be called a refugee, an immigrant, a minority. I was ashamed to say I am Cambodian. My face would turn red and I'd stare at my feet while the other kids laughed and giggled in amusement. Cambodian. Where's that?

My parents worked twelve hour days, seven days a week. When I got home from school, I'd cook for myself, vacuum the house and made sure the meat was defrosting so mom could make supper when she arrived. On weekends, I'd go to church when my neighbors invited me. When it was a Buddhist holiday, my parents would take me to a temple. They never discriminated. I was taught to love, to cherish each other and to forgive. They never cared if that message came from Jesus, Buddha, or Allah. A far cry from the world they had left behind.

It's interesting when you think about it. They've gone through so much pain and suffering, yet, they still find it in their hearts to forgive. To forgive the soldiers who killed their families, robbed them of their childhood and raped them of their freedom. To forgive, but never forget.
In light of the fighting in Gaza, I wish all children could have parents like Ron's. If you are interested in Cambodia, or just in humanity and the power of the human spirit, I encourage you to visit Ron's blog. I know I'll be following his journey.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

One way to beat the recession

Here is an idea for cash strapped rich people: rent out your villa to film production crews. In LA, you can get USD1-3k a day--up to USD5k if you're willing for your home to be used as a location set for activities usually reserved for the bedroom. LOL. Read the Bloomberg story here.

Broken Window Theory

This is so interesting and relevant to Cambodia.

Scientists in the Netherlands show in an experiment how "ordinary people are more likely to violate rules in situations where other rules — even completely unrelated ones — have already been broken," according to an article called"Chaos Begets Chaos" by SEED magazine. "This might form the basis of a social model for understanding how disorder spreads," the writer notes.

Kees Keizer, Siegwart Lindenberg, and Linda Steg (University of Groningen) stuck an envelope visibly containing a five-euro note out of a mailbox on a sidewalk. Thirteen per cent of passersby stole the money. But more than double, or 27 per cent, stole when the same mailbox was covered in graffiti.

In another experiment, 27 percent of passersby walked through a gate which had a sign that said (a) do not walk through and (b) do not chain your bike to the fence. But when there were bikes already chained to the fence, a whopping 82 per cent walked through. One violation led to another.

The results lend weight to the "Broken Window Theory (BWT), first proposed by James Wilson and George Kelling in 1982. BWT suggest that disorder in the form of broken windows, litter, and graffiti can encourage delinquent behavior. So to tackle "big" criminal behaviour like theft, fix "smaller" problems like litter and graffiti first. It seems that former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani subscribed to the theory and to cut crime in the big city.

If Cambodia starts prosecuting people for the small things like littering and peeing in public, who knows how the country will change for the better?

Pigs fly into Cambodia

This is such a funny story--a royal reception in Cambodia for "genetically advanced pigs" from the UK. Pic and story: KI-Media.
United Kingdom-Yorkshire pigs arrive in Cambodia -18/01/2009,

PIGS MIGHT FLY, indeed they did from Yorkshire last week.

The Yorkshire company ACMC Ltd, who specialize in breeding genetically advanced pigs, flew the first consignment of pigs to Cambodia last week, as the first shipment in a multi million pound deal.

There was a Royal reception for the pigs at Phnom Penh Airport in Cambodia, complete with garlands of flowers and dignitaries from the highest level of government.

This was the start of a 20 year franchise agreement, and is the first time Cambodia have imported such a large number of breeding pigs into the country.

The pigs including ACMC’s specially created Meidan breed, plus Volante and Vantage sows and boars, which will form the nucleus of a herd in a new 5 hectare pig unit that plans to fatten over 20,000 pigs per week.

The CEO of the MRT Group, Stephen Curtis said, " This is a massive boost for the company and the British pig industry, which has come out of 10 very bad years".

The company is currently exporting pigs to Thailand, China, the Philippines and Cambodia.

Keeping your property secure in Siem Reap

I took these photos of the types of gates and fences Cambodians use to keep their property secure. This first one is a handmade wooden fence with gate. And the second one is just metal plates (I am not sure how they are held together). The third one is common, barbed wire strung in rows.

The next two are photos of razorwire, which is placed above walls to keep intruders out. I had never seen razor wires until I came to Cambodia. In Singapore, I've only known barbed wire. Razor wires are more lethal and scary. The house we lived in, in Phnom Penh, had razor wires, but that still did not stop thieves from trying to break in.

See this last pic with the busted gate? Even metal gates will not stop thieves here in Cambodia. This property had some metal lying around and I guess that was what the thieves were trying to get.

No culture? Make your own!

I just met a couple of dancers from Rawdance who came into the shop. Rawdance is a US dance company founded in 2004 and the two dancers arrived in Cambodia from Singapore, where they had performed for the annual M1 Singapore Fringe Festival.

The team headed to Singapore for the premiere of Fallout: "An exploration of the dissolution of the nuclear family as envisioned by 1950's McCarthyism, and our current struggles to redefine family ties in today's tense and sensationalist political climate. Complete with white picket fence, a battle of the oven mitts, and full bottle of vodka."

It sounds so interesting, I wish I was there. One of the things I miss are cultural events, especially if they are about politics. There are very few cultural events in Siem Reap, although it is getting better. One performance I enjoyed was by a Ghanaian dance troupe sometime last year, held at Abacus restaurant. Then there was the Angkor photography exhibition.

This reminds me of the time I met a Frenchman in a small tea shop in Pokhara in Nepal (if you haven't been, you must! Pokhara is beautiful and another place I want to live). He was married to a Tibetan woman and had lived in Pokhara for a decade where he earned a living as a paragliding instructor.

The Frenchman was fashioning a musical instrument out of a plastic pail, a piece of rope, and a wooden broom handle (turn the pail upside down for the base, and the broom handle holds up the rope, which is the string to pluck--just like a cello!). He said, "There is no culture here, so we make it." I was so impressed with his creativity. Although I cannot remember how he made different sounds by plucking the string, I do remember he succeeded.

I forgot to get their names but the Raw dancers from San Francisco said that while Singapore was very organised (it was the only place where everything worked on time and worked well, they said), they felt uneasy, like outsiders. Mainly it was because of the city's consumer culture.

They were not surprised when I told them about Singaporeans' obsession with the 5 Cs: Cash, Credit card, Condominium, Car, Country club membership. One of them said as dancers, they live at the bottom of the money pile, and have had to struggle to pay rent etc as they do what they love, instead of simply pursuing money.

But there are Singaporeans like them, albeit very few. I used to know a Singaporean woman, a friend of a friend, who gave up a lucrative law career to work behind the scenes in theatre. I used to know people like her when I was in university, as some of my friends were arty types.

In 1994, my friend Khim and I volunteered to do the PR for two performances by this Singapore company The Toy Factory (at that time it was known as tfte, which stood for the Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble). One was called Qfwfq by an Italian author, Italo Calvino. It was a bizarre dance performance and I didn't get it. But it didn't matter. I had a lot of fun hanging out with the dancers, all bilingual in Mandarin and English, and so passionate and committed to their art.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What a pregnant cow looks like

The stomach of a pregnant cow expands sideways to accommodate the baby calf. It's quite a sight to behold. This was taken along the road to our house. We often see cows being led to graze on fields in the area where we live, which is "semi-countryside", not quite countryside and not quite town. We used to see many water buffalos but these are now gone because the ponds have been filled with sand for building houses.

Tattoo in Siem Reap

Siem Reap is becoming more and more like a resort in Thailand. To cater to Western tourists, Cambodians who travel to neighbouring Thailand have figured out what it is that tourists like--massages, manicures and now, tattoos.

This tattoo parlour opened on Sok San road about 6 months ago. The artist is something of a pioneer in this town--I have not seen tattoo parlours before this. That hasn't stopped Western tourists from getting artwork inked on their skin. I've seen male and female Westerners sitting in the shop.

I expect it will not be long before we see hair braiding done in Siem Reap like you get in all tourist towns in Thailand.

Primark caught again for lying

Last year, I wrote about the BBC exposing the lies of Primark, a UK high street retailer and how there are similar lying organisations in Cambodia.

At that time, Primark apologised and sacked three of its suppliers. Well, here they are again, up to their old tricks. This time the BBC caught a Primark supplier paying immigrant workers in the UK, 40 per cent less than the minimum wage.

The supplier is TNS Knitwear Ltd, based in a former Victorian mill in Manchester, which supplies clothing to several high street fashion chains.

A BBC reporter went undercover and was paid £3.50 an hour, and not £5.73 an hour, which is what the law dictates and what Primark's own code of conduct promises: that workers are paid a living wage. In addition, workers had to work in the bitter cold in their coats as TNS Knitwear provided no heating.

"This is the importation of third world working conditions into Europe and in this case into the UK," Neil Kearney, of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation told the BBC. "There's no such thing as cheap clothing; somebody has to pay and in this case it's the workers in Manchester who pay."

Following this latest BBC expose, Primark was forced by ETI (Ethical Trading Initiative) to remove its branding from Primark stores and websites.

You can read the full report and watch the programme on the BBC's website here and you can click here to find out more about Primark.

I just saw the interview I gave for the site I mistakenly assumed it's Singapore-based but it's actually an international collaboration. From the site: "A Developed World is an action-oriented social publication that uncovers the stories behind the work of social entrepreneurs and visionary leaders, who are changing lives around the world."

You can read the Bloom's story here.

The site is worth exploring and there is an impressive list of interviews with social entrepreneurs and volunteers from all over the world. I was interested to read about the work of the The Freedom Theatre in the Jenin Refugee Camp. The Freedom Theatre tries to help children in Palestine heal from their traumatic experiences through creative writing.

It reminds me of the time we had some visitors to Singapore who were from the former Yugoslavia. I honestly cannot remember the ethnicity (whether Bosnian, Serbs, Croatian) of the teenagers who came to Singapore to act out their lives in self-written plays. They had visited Yio Chu Kang secondary school to meet with Singapore counterparts to share their experiences and my friends and I had volunteered to organise the programme. This must have been 10 years ago. What I do remember is how every single one of the Yugoslav students knew someone who had died in the war. I wonder how they are now.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Where are the Middle Eastern tourists?

I was musing how I have not seen or met a single tourist from the Middle East. Because Siem Reap draws in tourists from all over the world who come to see Angkor Wat, I meet foreigners all the time, recently a few from Chile (on working holidays in Australia), Polish, Danish and even a couple of young American women who live in Mongolia as teachers. But I have never met anyone from the Middle East (I have met a lovely American couple who live in Bahrain but that's another story).

About 2 percent of last year's 2.15 million visitors to Cambodia come from the Middle East, reports That works out to 43,000 people. Where are these people? How can I be so blind as not to see them walking around town? In Malaysian resorts, I would see Arabs all the time. They like holidaying in Malaysia because Malaysia is a Muslim country. I remember once when I tried parasailing in Penang, there was an Arab woman in her black Hijab (the Arabic word for "curtain / cover") and jeans who wanted to have a go.

Anyway, tourism Minister Thong Korn said he believed more tourists from the Middle East would be coming to Cambodia. Perhaps many from Kuwait, as Hun Sen is currently in Kuwait to ink deals, including a tourism agreement, an agreement to initiate direct flights and a memorandum of understanding for the construction of an irrigation system and a hydropower project in Kampong Thom province. The last project is worth more than USD300 million.

Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al-Ahmed al-Sabah visited Cambodia in August 2008 and during that trip, the oil-rich country pledged nearly $550 million (the second-biggest aid pledge ever received by Cambodia) in agricultural loans in exchange for food supplies. Kuwait also agreed to provide Cambodian officials with technical training for the petroleum industry, according to the Post.

Cambodian casinos

There are numerous casinos in Siem Reap. In fact, there is a Malaysian-owned one just in front of the Bloom shop here. It is called SOHO and is a favourite with my father. Whenever he visits, he can be found gambling in the casino. His favourite game is Bacarrat because, he says, of the low house edge (only 1.06%). (I myself dislike gambling).

Except for Naga casino in Phnom Penh, the casinos in Cambodia are smallish, and to draw in customers, they all provide free food, drinks, including alcohol and cigarettes. Many in Siem Reap are Korean own and are patronised by Korean tourists. In November, a Korean man committed suicide in a hotel in Phnom Penh after gambling away his fortune.

I had been to Naga once before, when a Singaporean friend's aunty came for a visit and invited me to join the group, which had been flown in free from Singapore just so they would gamble at the casino. They were also put up, free, at a hotel, and had free food vouchers at the casino. The food was delicious and expensive, with prawns, fish--the best you would find in an upmarket Chinese restaurant. All this to draw them to Cambodia to gamble. (The ploy worked as that group of Chinese aunties from Singapore lost on average USD1000 per person).

Naga, located by the riverside in Phnom Penh is fairly large, and is owned by Malaysian tycoon Chen Lip Keong, ranked #21 on Forbes' list of richest Malaysians. From Forbes:
"[Chen] Founded NagaCorp in 1995, the year he obtained 70-year gaming license in Cambodia; eventually built country's largest gaming resort, NagaWorld. Listed in Hong Kong in 2006. Serves as economic advisor to Cambodia's prime minister. Controlling shareholder and president of Malaysia tourism company, Karambunai. Trained medical doctor, headed Composite Technology Research, aerospace outfit owned by Malaysian government, for 7 years.
When I visited Naga in 2006, I was blown away. It was surreal, going from the hot streets of dusty and dirty Phnom Penh and into the cool air-conditioned glitzy punter paradise. The lighting was mellow and there was a lot of plush, red furnishing. I saw many ethic Chinese (from all over Asia), some Thais, but no Cambodians. Naga does not allow Khmers inside. Malays are also barred from casinos in Malaysia but that is because of law. Malaysian Malays are not permitted to gamble because Islam forbades gambling. On the other hand, Malaysian Chinese or Indians or Eurasians are allowed into local casinos.

Recently, Cambodia made similar moves. My Khmer friends tell me Cambodians are now banned from casinos. My father, who is here on a visit, also mentioned how there are no more Khmers in the casino, where before easily half of the punters were local. One casino here had to let go of 15 staff members because of the fall in punters and business.

It seems the concern is with slot machines (aka jackpot machines and one-armed bandits) as sports betting is still permitted. In late December, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the closure of 15 unlicensed slot machine centres:12 slot machine centres in Phnom Penh, two in Sihanoukville and one in Kandal province.

PHNOM PENH, Camboidia -- As reported by The Phnom Penh Post: "The government has ordered all slot machines at entertainment clubs to be removed, but will allow them to remain in many of the Kingdom's hotels, saying the change will improve security and public order.

"According to a directive signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on December 2, 'the government has agreed in principle to open entertainment clubs equipped with slot machines at hotels in cities and some provinces.'

"To control abuse, the government will require companies running slot machines to get licences from the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and only hotels that have certifications from the Ministry of Tourism will be allowed to house the machines, the new law stipulates.

"If a company refuses to move their machines into hotels within six months, the ministries of the Interior and Economy will withdraw their licenses.

"The prime minister's directive clearly reiterated that Cambodians are not allowed to go to an area designated for slot machines, adding that if this law is broken, the offending company's license will be immediately withdrawn..."

There are there are 50 licensed casinos and more than 200 gambling centres in Cambodia, Son Chhay, a lawmaker from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party told the Phnom Penh Post.

Son Chhay also claimed the Cambodian government collected USD10 million from casinos in 2008. It was funny reading his description of how the government's attempts at banning Khmers from gambling have failed:

"I still see luxury cars carrying government number plates parked outside [slot machine] clubs. The cars clearly belong to senior officials," Son Chhay said.

Meanwhile in Singapore, the government reversed a two-decade long opposition to casinos in style. The "Integrated Resorts" or IRs will be the world's most expensive casino resorts constructed, costing up to US$6 billion. The Singapore resorts will need to produce annual earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of $1 billion, nearly double the EBITDA at the world's most successful casino, a source told Asia Times Online. The expectations are likely to fall short, as the IRs, scheduled to open this year, do so in tough economic climate.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Steung Siem Reap

This is the front courtyard of the Steung Siem Reap Hotel. "Steung" means "stream" in Khmer. I took these photos because the garden has these cute animal scupltures. The hotel facade reminds me of Chanel's Egoiste TV ad.

English classes in Cambodia

These are signs for English language classes at a pagoda here in Siem Reap. Chhun Hy attends English classes at New York International School, a private school, for USD12 a month. This is for an hour of English classes, 5 days a week. Pagoda lessons are slightly cheaper and some are taught by monks.

Chhun Hy also learns English for free, for an hour every day, 5 days a week, at Wat Preah Prom Rath, a pagoda (wat) near the Old Market Bridge. These classes are taught by a Khmer man, Peter, who was born in the US. Peter gives free classes every weekday from 12pm to 1pm.

The textbooks used are Oxford University Press' Headway. The books are photocopied of course, because Cambodians cannot afford to buy the real thing.

Some students also pay to learn how to read English language newspaper and they can choose from the Cambodian Daily, the Phnom Penh Post and the Bangkok Post.

Cambodian Fire Police shoots at building to make holes

I was wrong! I had written in an earlier post how I found it hard to believe that Cambodian fire police shot at the Angkor Trade Centre in order to make holes for them to spray water into the building. Here is photographic proof they did indeed shoot at the building!

You can see the bullet holes in the wall and also the broken glass windows. And these are photos of the building after the fire destroyed the top floor.

Theft in the workshop

This happened a month ago. I received a call from Sina, Bloom’s manager in Phnom Penh that “something bad” had happened at the workshop in Phnom Penh. My heart stopped, thinking the workshop had been broken into and that thieves had stolen our machines and materials.

It turned out that two of the women sewers had their gold stolen. I had allowed these two women to live for free at the workshop because they live in Pochentong, near the airport, far from the city where the workshop is located. The two women used to have to cycle for an hour each way, every day, to come to work at Bloom.

More recently I had allowed Theary to live at the workshop. Theary, who has polio, was living with her blind mother and abusive brother at Chrouy Changvar, near the Japanese bridge. Because of her bad leg, she cannot cycle to work and has to pay a motorcycle driver to take her to and from work, at USD1.50 to USD2 a day. I did not want her to spend her hard-earned money that way so suggested she move in with the other two young women already staying at the workshop. All three women got along fine until the bracelets went missing.

That was when one of the victims told me when I spoke to her on the phone (remember I live in Siem Reap, a six-hour bus ride away) that she suspected they were taken by Theary. She said Theary is the only one who knows where the gold was kept and recently, she had stayed in the workshop alone one night when the other two went out for dinner. Because of her bad leg, Theary often stays behind at the workshop when the other two women go for dinner.

The first thing Sina did was to check everyone's bags. When that didn't work, he called me to ask for permission for everyone to go to the pagoda at the riverside in Phnom Penh to swear in front of the gods that they were innocent. This is a typical Cambodian way of handling deceit. Cambodians believe in being punished by the gods when they lie, so whenever there is a problem, people will swear in front of the gods to protest their innocence.

I said ok and I would also give the workers a chance: I wanted all of them to come to work the next morning, even though it was a Saturday, and they only work only Mondays to Fridays. The person who took the gold will be given an opportunity to put it back in its original place and we will drop the matter. If by the next day, the gold is not found, I will pay the police, as you have to in this country, to conduct an investigation (I really did not want to have any dealings with the police. I know despite paying the fee the police would never recover the items). I said I would also sack the thief.

Saturday came and went and the gold was not found. Sina called me and reported that Theary and her mother had come to the workshop, crying and pleading that she had not stolen the gold bracelets, one worth more than USD300 and the other, more than USD400.

Sina then said he had “important information”. It turns out one of the women, the one who had privately accused Theary of taking the gold, had a friend stay over at the workshop one night that week. At that point, I was not told this friend was the woman’s boyfriend. When I questioned who this person was, the woman just said “Pookmark mowk laing” (“Friend come to visit”).

It was Theary who forced the issue on Saturday when she protested her innocence. The woman sewer was forced to admit to everyone present that she had indeed had a friend spend the night. The boyfriend left for Sihanoukville the very next day.

I was angry when I found out that this woman had invited her boyfriend over to spend the night at the workshop. But I was even more angry at the fact that I had almost sacked Theary because this woman had told me all the signs pointed to Theary being the culprit.

I was so furious at her deception I wanted to sack this woman sewer. But Sina felt I should give her a chance. I did consider if I had sacked her, this poor woman--first she loses her gold, then she loses her job. But it's her own bloody fault for inviting an outsider into the workshop and for keeping this vital information from me and Sina to cover her own ass, while pointing the finger at someone else.

This woman then wanted Sina to ask me if I could lend her USD300 to buy another gold bracelet, because she was worried her parents would find out. I offered to lend her USD60 because that was the amount I had previously lent another sewer, Neang. (Neang had been going around with a gapped tooth because she could not afford the USD60 it would cost to fix it, and I volunteered to lend her the money because I saw it was affecting her self-esteem. So in order to be fair to all the workers, I lent this woman USD60 as well, even though I thought it was her own stupidity that led to the theft).

The USD400 bracelet belonged to Chanthy, who has not been to work since that day. When she learnt of the theft, she had cried and left work to see a doctor because she had stomach pains. It could be the stress and depression and when she asked for a month off work, I understood. The sad thing is Chanthy is good friends with the other woman whose bracelet was also stolen. I guess she has to come to terms with the fact that her good friend had inadvertently led to her losing jewelry.

I still do not know why the women kept their jewelry in a bag at the workshop. I have asked Sina and he thinks nothing of it. This is the way Cambodians save money--they trust gold more than banks (which is not stupid, considering the recent performance of banks vis-a-vis gold). I have no qualms about the women buying gold as a form of savings but why not keep it at home with their families or wear the things hidden under their clothes? I just don't get it.

Chhun Hy explains, "You know, they think they eat together, work together, so they can trust each other."

Sina's older sister once had USD400 stolen from their rented room. She had left the door unlocked and they believe it must have been taken by a neighbour. They too, thought, "We live and eat with our neighbours; we help each other out so we can trust them." Sina and his sister were upset of course, but they are also sanguine about it.

Chanthy, too, told me to forget about it. I had called her to ask how she was and when I told her my suggestion about giving the thief a chance to replace the stolen items, she said the plan would not work because "Cambodians are different from foreigners, if they steal, they won't give back." (I think "foreigners" are the same--they will not return what they have stolen either). She also told me not to contact the police, because all they'd want is money and they would not be able to do anything. She kept saying we should just forget the incident.

I feel sorry for the women's loss because they had worked hard for months to save money for the gold. At the same time, I cannot be responsible for the loss and thus will not compensate them for it. I just hope everyone has learnt lessons from this incident.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Cambodia tourist arrivals for 2008

PHNOM PENH, Jan. 4 Xinhua -- Cambodia received less foreign tourists in 2008 than expected due to the global financial crisis and the instability in neighboring Thailand, national media said on Sunday.

The total number of foreign tourist arrivals in the kingdom in 2008 stood at 2.15 million or so, a 6 percent rise over 2007, but much less than the expected 15 percent to 20 percent, Chinese-language newspaper the Commercial News quoted Tourism Minister Thon Khong as saying.

Around 33 percent of them came to Cambodia through Thailand and29 percent through another neighboring country Vietnam, the minister said.

In 2008, top 5 providers of foreign tourists for Cambodia were South Korea, Vietnam, Japan, the United States and China, he added.

Tourism is among the pillar industries of the kingdom, as its Angkor Wat in Siem Reap province and the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh municipality keep on attracting foreign visitors to watch the miracles of the Khmer nationality.

Khmer girl's eye gouged out by brothel owner

"Glance at Pross from her left, and she looks like a normal, fun-loving girl, with a pretty face and a joyous smile. Then move around, and you see where her brothel owner gouged out her right eye." [Photo and text, New York Times.

You can watch a video of Long Pross who is Cambodian and was kidnapped and sold to a brothel here on the NYT site.

The article was written by two-time Pulitzer Prize Winner Nicholas D. Kristof, an Op-Ed columnist for The Times since November 2001. You can find Kristof's blog here.

Cambodian Court Frees Alleged Killers of Chea Vichea

Update on an earlier post Who Killed Chea Vichea?: The two men sentenced to 20 years in prison for his murder have been released on 31 Dec:

Many Cambodians, as well as international observers, were initially pleased as well as puzzled at the unusual speed with which suspects were arrested and charged in the murder.

But the case against Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun appeared to unravel as a witness to the murder said the gunman and getaway driver she saw didn’t resemble either of the two men. Others said they saw Born Samnang at the home of his girlfriend, Vieng Thi Hong, in Neak Loeung, Prey Veng province, 40 kms from Phnom Penh, when the murder occurred.

“Almost all the people in the whole village were witnesses,” Sok Sam Oeurn, a lawyer and executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project who investigated the case, said in an interview.

“They said that on the day Chea Vichea was shot dead, Born Samnang was at Neak Loeung because it was Chinese [Lunar] New Year. The villagers there and Born Samnang’s girlfriend, who is Vietnamese, celebrated the New Year.

Former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov, who led the murder investigation before he was sentenced to 14 years in jail in July 2007 for corruption, also admitted to framing the two men on orders from National Police Chief General Hok Lundy, who was recently killed in a helicopter crash.

Goodbye Mr Bush

Photo and quotes from

I laughed aloud at some of these quotes from the soon-to-be former President of the USA. It's incredible. If you get the chance, watch Idiocracy, a movie starring Luke Wilson, the "most average" US Army soldier in 2005 who becomes the smartest man in 2505 after he wakes up from his hibernation chamber. The movie is a cautionary tale of what the USA could be like if current trends of anti-intellectualism, commercialism and cultural dumbing down continue. I think George W Bush is himself a cautionary tale. More gems on the slices-of-life website.

“The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein, and his willingness to terrorize himself.” —Grand Rapids, Mich., Jan. 29, 2003

“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” —Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004

“My plan reduces the national debt, and fast. So fast, in fact, that economists worry that we’re going to run out of debt to retire.” —radio address, Feb. 24, 2001

“I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe — I believe what I believe is right.” —Rome, Italy, July 22, 2001

“I’m the master of low expectations. I’m also not very analytical. You know I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about myself, about why I do things.” —aboard Air Force One, June 4, 2003

“If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.” —Washington, D.C., Dec. 19, 2000

“There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” —Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002

“I hear there’s rumors on the Internets that we’re going to have a draft.” —presidential debate, St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 8, 2004

“We both use Colgate toothpaste.” —after a reporter asked what he had in common with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Camp David, Md., Feb. 23, 2001

“You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.” —Townsend, Tenn., Feb. 21, 2001


Blog Widget by LinkWithin