Wednesday, September 30, 2009

City living for small animals

One of the things I like about living in Siem Reap is the nature and small animals I encounter at home and in town. These are animals that are mostly gone in the concrete jungle that is Singapore now. We had a small garden when I was a child in Singapore and I remember catching small grasshoppers exactly like this one so I could feed them with blades of grass. They actually ate the grass out of my hand. This one I found on my laptop bag one day in the house in Siem Reap.

This small toad was found on our mop one day I guess because the mop was still wet. Once we saw a completely white frog at the taps on our bath. I wish I had taken a photo because I never saw it, or another albino frog again. I think it was albino, or maybe it was camouflage because our bathtub is white.

These one I saw one night on the way home, just outside the Maybank in town. The grasshopper was in camouflage mode, trying to blend it with the rubble where some construction work was ongoing. What a magnificent creature. I hope it managed to flit away and find some grass.

And this is what happens when you get too close to Man. This was a rat, now roadkill. It's a common sight in Cambodian roads in the cities.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Labour Start: where trade unionists start their day on the Net

Photo from The Hankyoreh showing a Korean woman holding a copy of a 1,000 Won note to campaign for an 1,000 Won (80 cents US) increase in the minimum wage in Seoul.

I am one of 60,000 email subscribers of because I support trade unions, also known as labour unions, in principle. (There are practical issues with unions of course and I will go into that later). is a great resource for people interested in workers' rights. Below are some of the articles for Cambodia 2009:

- Retrial in unionist's killing set for Aug 17 2009-08-11 [The Phnom Penh Post]
- Angry Workers: Drawn-out fight over Naga hotel layoffs 2009-07-29 [The Post]
- Garment employees back on the job as protests end 2009-07-19 [The Phonm Penh Post]
- Xing Tai garment workers protest factory conditions 2009-07-16 [The Phnom Penh Post]
- Govt rejects union data on jobless workers 2009-07-14 [Phnom Penh Post]
- Parliament OKs deal to send migrant labourers to Kuwait 2009-07-14 [Phnom Penh Post]
- 600 workers at Camko City protest over pay 2009-05-14 [The Post]
- Did the ILO really help Cambodia's garment industry? 2009-03-30 [CSR Asia]
- Union critical of Gov't silence on payouts to gambling industry 2009-03-26 [The Phnom Penh Post]
- Teachers Union says PM's claims about pay increases dubious 2009-03-24 [Phnom Penh Post]

A trade union is simply an organization of workers who group together to achieve common goals, usually better pay and working conditions. The union representatives negotiate terms with company owners which are binding on members. You can see how trade unions have an important role to play especially in countries with weak labour laws to protect citizens. If you think about it, if the law is not on their side, strength in numbers and collective action is often the only way many workers can demand fair treatment from their factory owners, if these owners are exploitative, as many are.

But this is also why corporations have always sought to limit the existence of labour unions (and tolerate them if they can't get rid of them). This is also why many governments have sought to eradicate labour unions, in the pursuit of making their country's labour cheaper and thus more competitive.

History is full of examples of brave men and women who try to demand justice, in the form of fairer pay and working conditions, for their fellow workers. Cambodian trade union leader Chea Vichea who was murdered in 2004 in broad daylight is the most famous of these brave Cambodians.

I remember watching a documentary a long time ago on the incredibly brave and tenacious South Korean women labour activists who were beaten, had feaces thrown at them etc.

In one incident
"In August 1979, 200 young women employees of the Y.H. Textile and Wig factory staged a peaceful vigil and fast to protest the company's closure of their plant. On the fifth day of the vigil, more than 1,000 riot police, armed with clubs and steel shields, broke into the building and forcibly dragged the women out. One 21-year-old worker was killed during the incident. It was her death that touched off widespread rioting throughout South Korea and crystallized the opposition that eventually forced President Park Chung Hee out."
Source: "Women in the Fray"

The struggles of the women activist have been documented as facilitating (1) the rise of the opposition consciousness, (2) the growth of radical ideology, (3) the mobilization and consolidation of opposition groups, and (4) the expansion of the concept of human rights and democracy.

These mainly blue-collared women protestors transformed how labour issues are viewed in South Korea: now as political problems to be taken seriously by the government. Some of these women also became labour full-time activists. They laid the foundation for the waves of protests in June 1987 in South Korea, when white-collared workers such as journalists and teachers demanded democracy. The nationwide protests put an end to the tyrannical rule of Chun Du-hwan's regime and opened a new chapter in South Korea's contemporary history.

So you can see, if true to its cause or raison d'être (reason for being), trade unions can be a very powerful tool for democracy.

But trade unions can also be subverted for personal gain. I had the opportunity to speak with a senior member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Phnom Penh who explained to me that things are not always what they seem. In garment factories in Cambodia, for example, there are fake labour unions that are really mafia gangs who try to extort money from company owners.

Some men (it's always the men; i think because women don't have the courage. I think this is one of the reasons why many factories choose not to employ men, seeing them as potential trouble-makers) see a trade union achieve small wins in the factory and decide to form their own gang. Of course this undermines the real trade union and now, there is internal fighting as well as the fight with the company owners. At stake is money.

There is much to say about trade unions, and I'll have to pick up on the topic another day.

I had only wanted to tell readers about Labour Start and the contest for the Labour Photo of the Year but as usual I get distracted. So far, 97 photos have been submitted. (You can see them on Flickr) and the deadline is 1 Oct. You can send any questions about this competition to Derek Blackadder -

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Over two-thirds of world's illiterate are found in just 8 countries

(World Literacy Map, UN Human Development Report via wikipedia).

While researching for a story on education in Cambodia I came across this:
According to CIA World Factbook, "over two-thirds of the world's 785 million illiterate adults are found in only eight countries (Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Pakistan). Of all the illiterate adults in the world, two-thirds are women. Extremely low literacy rates are concentrated in three regions, the Arab states, South and West Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa, where around one-third of the men and half of all women are illiterate."
A number of the Bloom women are illiterate, which is unsurprising, since we employ middle-aged women who were young children during the Khmer Rouge era. But the country has made improvements.

The 1998 Census adult (people over the age of 15) literacy rates were estimated at 76.25 per cent for men and 45.98 per cent for women.

Today, overall adult literacy rate is 74% while youth literacy (people between 15 and 25) is 83% (UNESCO figures, data taken over a 5 year period, from 2000-2004). More adult men are literate, 85% compared with 64% of adult women; and more young men, 88% are literate, compared with 79% of young women. Source.

This is unsurprising, because when money is short, it is the boys who parents choose to send to school. Many young Khmer women are forced to stop their education and instead help out in the house or get a job.

21 Sept: Peace One Day

I am ashamed to say I have not heard of the global "Peace One Day" initiative until this morning. I am so glad I caught this BBC documentary "The Day After Peace" and I really recommend you watch the entire show here on youtube. It's remarkable what one single individual can achieve if you persist. Most of us have strong beliefs, even dreams, but don't have the will to see out our beliefs.

"Peace One Day" is the idea of one British man, Jeremy Gilley, who against all odds, manages to create an annual global "Peace Day", where all fighting would stop, just for one day. The day is not just symbolic, but pragmatic - when the fighting stops, food and medicine can reach the victims of war; people can have a breather from the daily uncertainty of whether they'd get bombed or killed; and just that one day of peace may ignite a desire for more such days.

The BBC show charts Gilley's remarkable journey and how difficult it was to get a ceasefire, anywhere in the world, just for one day. His idea for a global day of peace started in 1998 at a WOMAD music festival. He learnt that a UN resolution would be the best way to establish this global day. His persistence paid off. In 2001, the UN adopted a resolution to have a day of peace.

The biggest success took place in Afghanistan in 2007. Helped by the British actor Jude Law, Jeremy Gilley managed to get agreements by the Afghan government, NATO, and the Taliban to stop fighting on the 21st Sept so that the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF, and the Ministry of Public Health would be able to enter areas of the country that were otherwise inaccessible and to provide 1.4 million children with the polio vaccine.

It's a remarkable, remarkable journey and Jeremy Gilley: "I salute you". I have not been so inspired in a long time.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Palm Leaf Dog - handmade in Cambodia by Bloom!

Check out this cutie! I am so pleased with this cute doggy which was fashioned out of dried palm leaves by one of the Bloom staff members. I had bought a Chinese handicraft book on weaving and another one on Chinese knots to inspire the women and one of them succeeded in making this! We stuck on the eyes with scotch tape because we weren't sure how to create the eyes - marker drawn or button eyes. We'll keep experimenting. What do you think?

If money is no object, you may prefer Vivaterra's Recycled Rover, made out of corded recycled newspaper for a cool USD$129.

Bloom Puppy will cost less than 5% of Recycled Rover. If there is demand for our puppy, it will be another income-generating project for the villagers. Yay!

Monday, September 21, 2009

How to make coconut (and watermelon!) wine

I just found this! I like wine. By the way, I have no idea what Sauterne wine yeast is and if anyone can buy some as well as acid blend and Campden tablet, please let me know where from. Better yet, if you succeed in making this, please send me a bottle. Heck I'll settle for a glass :) I believe in vino veritas!



1 lb dried coconut
1 lb rice
1 lb pitted dates
2-1/2 lbs granulated sugar
1-1/4 tsp acid blend
1 tsp yeast nutrient
1 gallon water
Sauterne wine yeast

Bring 1 quart water to boil and add rice; boil for 3 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the dates and mix then with the coconut in a boiler. Strain the rice, adding the water from it to the boiler containing the coconut and chopped dates. Bring to a boil and hold for 15 minutes. Strain the water over the sugar, yeast nutrients and acid blend and stir until dissolved completely. Allow to cool to room temperature, transfer to primary and add activated yeast. Cover and ferment until initially vigorous fermentation subsides, then transfer to secondary and attach an airlock. After 3 months, rack into clean secondary with crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up and refit airlock. Wait 3 additional months and rack, top up and refit airlock again. After additional month, stabilize, sweeten if desired and rack into bottles. [Adapted from recipe by C.J.J. Berry]

What a great site. There is even a Watermelon wine recipe!

Acid n Peppery beef noodles from China

I buy instant noodles because they are easy to cook and handy when I'm hungry. I know it's bad for health because of all the preservatives and what not but I am lazy and a lousy cook to boot. I love 麻辣火锅 "ma la huo guo" (literally "sesame and chili hotpot") and still drool when I think of 水煮鱼 "shui zhu yu" (literally "water cook fish"), a Sichuan dish I had in Beijing. Don't let the second name fool you, "water cook fish" is a dish with slices of tender fish cooked in chili oil, with a whole lot of chili on top. It is very, very spicy but my mouth is watering as I type this. I am Singaporean and we like our chili! Sadly, you can get "ma la huo guo" in Singapore but not "shui zhu yu"...

So I was excited when I found this at Lucky Supermarket. On the packet of the instant noodles it says The Flavours of Yunnan China- I've never been to Yunnan so was interested. The flavours I chose were "hong shao niu rou" 红烧牛肉 (red braised beef) and "suan la niu rou" 酸辣牛肉 (sour and hot beef). In English, it said "Beef with Brown Sauce" and "Acid and Peppery Beef".

Fortunately I knew what the makers were trying to say with the acid beef but I did wonder if the name hurt sales...

Then today I visited a blog by another foreigner in Cambodia and he had a photo of a flashlight from China which said "powerful, weak, blinker, siren, amplifier, rechargeable, easiness schlep."

The writer was nonplussed, as I must say, I am. He makes a great note:
But I still marvel at how a word from a language spoken mainly by Jews of Eastern European origin (with speakers numbering a little over 3 million people) found its way onto a Chinese-made flashlight, and then into the hands of a police officer in rural Cambodia. No, it is not the first example of nifty global linkages which I have ever seen. But it is indeed one of my favorites.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Chinese babies stolen by officials for foreign adoption

"The man from family planning liked to prowl around the mountaintop village, looking for diapers on clotheslines and listening for the cry of a hungry newborn. One day in the spring of 2004, he presented himself at Yang Shuiying's doorstep and commanded: 'Bring out the baby.'"

Very sad story from the LA Times:
"Since the early 1990s, more than 80,000 Chinese children have been adopted abroad, the majority to the United States...

"Parents who say their children were taken complain that officials were motivated by the $3,000 [about six times the annual income in rural China and usually handed over in new $100 bills] per child that adoptive parents pay orphanages.

"Our children were exported abroad like they were factory products," said Yang Libing, a migrant worker from Hunan province whose daughter was seized in 2005. He has since learned that she is in the United States."
The US government stopped allowing its citizens to adopt from Cambodia since 2001, citing concerns over Cambodia's "child welfare" (read: "child trafficking") system. Here is a 2007 update from Cambodia adoption connection:
"Cambodia has begun this process with its accession to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption in March 2007. However, the U.S. Government continues to wait for Cambodia to take further steps towards Convention implementation as well as to make progress on updating its overall child welfare system. The U.S. Government will continue to urge Cambodian officials to develop significant and much needed reforms that could eventually lay the groundwork for a resumption of intercountry adoptions between Cambodia and the United States."
One of my friends is unable to go back to the US with a few of her adopted Cambodian children because of this ban on Cambodian adoptions.

Australian Idol did not see a cent of estimated $3m profit

Australian Idol winner had Australia's highest selling album of 2007 but got nothing from the estimated $3 million profit. via reddit. Do I have to say it? This is one of the reasons why some people disagree with copyright laws. We are told to buy original because the creator, in this case Damien Leith (and don't tell me the studio is the creator - what would they create if his voice was not part of the album? People buy the album primarily for Damien Leith, not the session players, the recording studio etc). How does buying a record in this case support the artiste?

Kro-lyiang - a Cambodian berry

I was offered some "krolyiang" the other day. The whole bag pictured costs just 500riels or USD0.125 cents. It's a kind of furry berry which is rather tasteless. The fur feels weird on your tongue. It is very small, and has a hard seed. It looks like the wolfberry/枸杞(gou qi) but I'm not sure. I tried to google to find the English name but had no luck.

I did find this interesting site listing tropical fruits by scientific name. Many of the links have photos so I had an interesting browse. Click on Morus Nigra or Black Mulberry - it looks like a stubby caterpillar!

Anyway, the tree must be common enough. There is even a market here in Siem Reap, Psar dum krolyiang, which is named after the fruit tree. If anyone knows its English name, please let me know :)

Styrofoam city

So sad when I stumbled on this while taking a detour the other evening. A beautiful pond ruined by rubbish. I am thinking of making flowers with recycled styrofoam boxes...not sure what else we can do with it. But something has to be done. Sigh.

Phone Shop Street

This is a row of 8 (count 'em) phone shops, all selling the same things on a street to my house in Siem Reap. The one at the end gave up and is now a second-hand shoe shop. There is a similar row of shops in Phnom Penh in between Wat Mohamotrey and the Olympic market. They are all pharmacies selling mostly the same drugs. Incredible.

I remember a street in Hong Kong which sells all toilet bowls and other toilet fittings.

No doubt it is the copycat mentality. B sees A doing well selling phones so decides to do the same and then C too, takes advantage of the fact that people are already visiting that place for phones, so sets up his own phone shop. And on it goes.

One also thinks of price fixing, i.e., the shops, whether explicitly or implicitly, sell items at the same prices. It would be hard for one shop to stray far from the prices of the rest because he'll lose business to the competitors next door.

Is this an Asian thing? Do shops in the West operate in the same way? A row of shops all selling the same thing? I don't recall but maybe I am wrong.


I saw this the other day and was amused to see cigarettes being offered to the gods/ancestors, in addition to longans, noodles and Khmer cakes. Not sure what was under those leaves though...Also thoughtful was the small plastic cup of water!

Vintage Mercedes

Cambodia is a treasure trove of vintage stuff. Here is a gorgeous vintage Mercedes I spotted in a car workshop in Siem Reap. It says 322 on it but when I googled, Mercedes 322 seems to be a bus! No matter. Check out the cool number plate.

Dead rat and how to dispose of carcasses

I could not believe it when I saw this on my way to work at the Bloom shop. Residents of Siem Reap may recognise this lane, around Pub street which is used by this restaurant to prepare food and wash dishes etc. The young woman doing the washing seemed oblivious to the dead rat lying just a short distance from her. I wonder who will pick up the dead rat. Actually now that I think about it, I wonder how dead animals are disposed of in this town. My neighbour buried his dead puppy and I think most people burn rat roadkill and the like.

Just the other day, our vet, who lives in town and has no access to a garden where you can start a fire, asked if we could maybe help dispose of a body for her. It was a cat she was operating on which may not live. Apparently the rubbish company told them it is illegal to throw carcasses into the rubbish bin.

Luckily no cat bonfire was necessary.

Pub Street on Pchum Ben

I took these photos close to 1pm yesterday, the most important day of Pchum Ben. I was amazed. This is the only time I have ever seen Pub Street so quiet. There was absolutely no one around and most shops were closed in Pub Street and the Alley south of it. This was at 1pm. By 8pm of course the street was bustling once again.

Pchum Ben is one of the three most important festivals in Cambodia, the others being Khmer New Year in April and the Water Festival in November.

Pchum Ben ("Ancestors' Day") is when Cambodians pay their respects to deceased relatives. Khmers, if they can, will leave their jobs at the cities to return to their hometown to pray for their relatives at their local pagoda. The Bloom sewers were off from Thursday so they can return to their hometowns, in Svey Rieng, Prey Veng, Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom, Kandal etc. Chhun Hy has also returned to be with his family in Kampong Cham, which is why I am here working in the shop, in the hopes of selling some bags even though the place is so quiet. Everyone will be back at work only on Tuesday.

Phnom Penh must be the same. I loved the peace and quiet during Pchum Ben when the streets are empty of cars and motocycles. I lived round the corner from Tuol Sleng Museum or S21 in Phnom Penh, and I remember in 2007 there was a big "bon" (celebration/festivities) at Toul Sleng as Cambodians paid their respects to those who died in that former schoolhouse. The people who came to pay their respects included some "m'nu thom" (important people) and the access to the museum was blocked by huge Lexus's (Lexi? haha).

Pchum Ben 2006 was spent with my friend Sophon and we visited a pagoda with him where he gave food to the monks. Later we went to his house for a meal, which I remember to be delicious. Yesterday Pheon, my tuktuk driver here in Siem Reap, came to the shop to pass me four big rolls of glutinous rice cake stuffed with yellow beans made into a paste (I think they are mung beans). I love that Khmer cake. More expensive versions have some fatty pork in the centre, which is also delicious.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bloom - 3 workshops in 2 years

I just found these pictures of us Bloomers (I always laugh because I think of large underpants when I say this). We are sewing some sequins on our recycled fishfeed bags. It was early days, and the workshop was in our house on St 330 in Phnom Penh, where the guesthouse and restaurant Changiville is now. From left, Neang, Sareoun, me and Sipha.

The room looks out into the garden and it was nice to look at the greenery while working. There were also sewing machines in the porch because it was airy. We stayed in that beautiful villa until Nov 2007 when Alan and I decided to move to Siem Reap for a quieter life. I have to say looking back we were crazy to have rented such a big place. It is the typical mistake foreigners make. When you first arrive in Cambodia, you think everything is cheap because you are comparing things with back home. We rented this 3 and a half storey villa for less than we did for a small condominium in Singapore so we thought it was a bargain. Then you live in the country for a while and you realise what real prices are for Cambodia.
Included in the third photo are Edany and Sophea (the one in the red shirt). Of the lot, Sipha was the former manager who was asked to leave. Sareoun left soon after. He told me he was going to rear pigs, but it turned out he was doing what Sipha did, i.e., sew the recycled bags on a piece-rate basis for other shops in Phnom Penh. The difference is Sareoun had the decency to not take a salary from Bloom while making our designs on the side. Early this year, the shop in BKK1 stopped ordering from him and Sareoun called to ask if he could re-join Bloom. Unfortunately by that time, I already had replacements whom I was happy with and could not take him in. I like Sareoun a lot because he's responsible and basically a decent chap.

This is Sareoun working on quality control in the second Bloom workshop near Wat Mohamotrey, near Olympic Market. We moved into this new workshop after Alan and I left for Siem Reap. I did not want to force the women to move with us, as they have children who go to school here in Phnom Penh. So I rented a new workshop and we were there from Nov 2007 until Aug 2008. That's Neang behind Saroeun. This photo and others were taken by a New York based photographer Corey Torpie. Corey followed the Bloom team for a day, even visiting the women at their homes. I'll upload her gorgeous pics next. Already you can see the difference between this photo of hers and the rest taken by me!
And this is Sina, Sareoun's replacement. I am very lucky to have met this young man, first as a waiter whom I hired for the now defunct Bloom Cafe (it's now the afore-mentioned Changiville). He's a super young man and here he is oversee-ing the move to the next, and third workshop. He is trying to figure out how to pile the small table onto the tuktuk. We had to move workshops because of the bad blood involving Sipha. I ended up losing the deposit because I did not fulfill the contract but it was more important that the women feel safe working in a new place where they would not be harassed by Sipha (yes, there was plenty of drama). We quickly found the third thanks to my super tuktuk driver and friend, Sophal.

You can see the rice and fish feed bags all piled onto the tuktuk. There are 2 types of tuktuks and this kind has long padded benches on both sides of the carriage. They're different from the tuktuks that carry tourists, which have cushioned seats positioned like those in a horse carriage. This is the way we move things in Cambodia. There is another vehicle similar to this tuktuk but without a roof, and that allows you to transport tall items. It's called a l'morque. When Alan and I moved to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh in November 2007, we rented a lorry and driver for USD170. The trip took about 7 hours. Chhun Hy moved with us, as did our two dogs Austin and Nessie. Sina joined us on that trip because he had never been to Siem Reap and we could do with an extra pair of hands. We arrived at our new Siem Reap home at night and the next day I gave Sina and Chhun Hy some money to visit the temples and have a day of fun. They loved Angkor Wat. They had their photo taken by one of those freelance, roaming photographers but, to their dismay, the guy never turned up when it was time to collect the pics.
And this is our third and current workshop in Phnom Penh, and we've been there for a year now...yes, Bloom is 3! The workshop is in a little lane off Norodom Boulevard near the Ministry of Fisheries. I took this just as Kamhut turned around to say something to me, haha. Here we are making the 1000 bags for Amnesty International. That's Chanthy on the left with Sophea at the machine behind her. Neang is on the floor drawing. Not pictured: Sina, Edany and Theary. This workshop is also in a good location and the women were happy because it is closer to Chhbar Ampou across the river, where most of them live. A couple of the women are staying at the workshop as there is a room upstairs. I allowed them to do so because otherwise they'd have to cycle for an hour each way to go to their homes at Pochentong, where the airport is. I have been lucky finding houses and workshops in Cambodia, in that landlords are always kind and prices always reasonable.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It pays to be a lawmaker in the US

Members of Congress are not prohibited from insider trading and their returns beat the average investor by 12% annually. Source: marketplace.
Alan Ziobrowski is a business professor at Georgia State University. Using hundreds of personal financial disclosures from the 1990s, Ziobrowski analyzed more than 6000 stock transactions by members of Congress going back up to 15 years.

ZIOBROWSKI: The real danger here, of course, is that you are going to have in some cases congressman that will literally vote or act against the interests of their constituents in favor of their portfolio. And right now there is virtually nothing that would stop them from doing that.
Thanks to sunkid via reddit. Here is a relevant article:

The Rich Still Run the USA :
"Corruption takes many forms in different countries and locations. Here in the United States it may not be as common to pay off a judge or a customs official as it is in most low- and middle-income countries, but we do have quite a bit of legalised bribery, especially in the form of electoral campaign contributions. The most obvious current case is that of healthcare reform, where the powerful insurance, pharmaceutical and other lobbies are in the process of vetoing some of the most important parts of the healthcare reform that most Americans want and need."


"Some are doing remarkably well – Goldman Sachs, a recipient of billions of dollars of taxpayer assistance, is expected to pay bonuses averaging $700,000 each to 30,000 employees. The vastly over-bloated financial industry that brought us this calamity has shrunk by only 7.7% in terms of employment, far fewer than the percentage of jobs lost in manufacturing (14.6%) or construction (31.6%), since the recession began.

"When I give food to the poor...

Hélder Câmara was a Brazilian Roman Catholic Archbishop. In 1973, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). He also wrote a short tract in 1971 called "Spiral of Violence" in which he links structural injustice (Level 1 violence) with escalating rebellion (Level 2 violence) and repressive reaction (Level 3 violence).

Here is an excerpt:
The authorities and the privileged are alarmed by the presence of agents coming from outside whom they call 'subversive elements', 'agitators', 'communists'.

Sometimes they are indeed people committed to an ideology of the extreme left who are fighting for the liberation of the oppressed and have opted for armed violence. At other times they are people moved by religious feeling, who can no longer tolerate religion interpreted and lived as an opium for the masses, as an alien and alienating force, but want to see it at the service of the human development of those who are imprisoned in a sub - human condition.

The authorities and the privileged lump the two groups together. For them, those who, in the name of their religion (whether they are clergy or laity), are working for fundamental reforms, for a change in structures, have abandoned religion for politics, are foundering in leftism or, at the very least, are innocents preparing the way for communism.

There are two main counter - arguments to this attitude. The authorities and the privileged pretend to believe that without the presence of 'agitators', the oppressed masses would remain with their eyes closed, passive and immobile.

Today, with all the means of transport and social communication available (including the transistor radio), it is ridiculous to think that one can prevent the circulation of ideas or the spread of information.

And secondly, monolithic and obsessional anti - communism is responsible for many absurdities. The prime one is maintaining injustices because tackling them 'might open the door to communism'.
Yes, the authorities and the privileged (the powerful and the rich) are predictable. Câmara was proved right once again 16 years later, in Singapore. In 1987, a group of Singaporean Roman Catholic activists were labelled "Commnunists" (or more precisely "Marxists"), and imprisoned by the government in The Marxist Conspiracy.

Replace "communism" with "socialism" and you have the USA today.

As for aid (Cambodia is due to receive USD1 Billion for 2009):
"Aid is necessary, but not enough. Until someone has the courage and intelligence to undertake a complete revision of international trade policy, the poor countries will continue to get poorer and to enrich the wealthy countries more and more."
Not only will poor countries enrich wealthy countries, but the poor within those countries will enrich their elite.

Thanks Marx051 for adding the image to reddit so I got to know about Hélder Câmara. You can read "Spiral of Violence" here . The book is out of print but Alistair McIntosh scanned it so we can still read it. I love the Internet community.

Anonymous blogger outed by lawsuit

This is blogger Rosemary Port, who ran an anonymous blog calling model Liskula Cohen (below) a "ho" and a "skank". (Photos and story from NY Daily News).

Cohen sued to have Google (which owns blogger) release the identity of the anonymous blogger in order to pursue a defamation suit. New York state supreme court judge, Joan Madden ruled in Cohen's favour and Port was outed. Now the 29-year-old Fashion Institute of Technology student plans to file a $15 million federal lawsuit against Google.

Of course there are many instances when anonymity is important to blogging, like when you write in country ruled by a repressive regime. How else would we find out what was really happening in Burma, Tibet or Iran? But why should the law protect someone who anonymously goes after another? We're not talking about a one-off insult. This woman had an entire blog dedicated to slamming another person. In my view the judge did the right thing.

As for trying to sue Google - nice try at trying to save face, Ms Port. *Rolls eyes*. Another great example offrivolous American lawsuits , wasting yet more taxpayer money.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sex and Siem Reap city

So one of my Khmer pals has a young French man pursuing her. He's not the first one. My friend has never agreed to go out with barang men because she is suspicious of them -- with good reason. One of her friends has been dumped by a string of Western expats after going to bed with them. One of these men left her with a child before returning to his country of origin. The poor Khmer girl keeps asking what is wrong with her, why do men all leave her. It does not occur to her to stop seeing the expat men she favours.

It is clear writing this that it's not just a problem in Cambodia. There are women all over the world who get used by men and don't understand why. I remember one episode of "Sex and the City" where Carrie and Jon Bon Jovi's character, both fellow patients at a shrink's, just had sex.

Carrie: So why are you in therapy, seriously.
JBJ: I'm really fucked up about women....after I sleep with them I completely lose interest.
JBJ (pauses, turns to look at C): How about you? What's your problem.
Carrie (to herself): I believe, in therapy, this moment is called "The Breakthrough".
Carrie (Rolls over and looks at the ceiling, answering): I pick the wrong men.

In the case of my Khmer friend, a very pretty young woman, the young man's persistence won the day. He would come in a few times a day to the shop where she works. One day he said to her: "Why do Cambodian women all say no when I ask them to have dinner with me? Or they say yes but they are not free today?" Anyone could have told him "It's cos the women are just not that into you." But of course my friend is too polite to tell him so.

Instead, she agreed to go on a first dinner date with him, which turned into another meal, and a trip to the swimming pool (!) of a posh hotel on the third date. It was also then that he also told her he would be leaving Cambodia at the end of the month. He is working as a manager at one of the shops here in Siem Reap but has to go back to France to resume his university studies.

By this time, unfortunately, she has developed feelings for the guy. I always wonder at how easily women fall for men after sampling nice dinners. Being poor makes you more vulnerable. My friend cannot afford to go to the expensive places the French man is taking her to and it is hard not to be impressed with the service and ambience at some of these places. I guess one might say he makes her feel like a princess.

She reminds me of this friend in Singapore who was pursued by an American expat. My friend was bowled over by the expensive dinners and "romance". The guy took her on a boat cruise down the Singapore river and showered her with wine, flowers and chocolates. She said she would never date local men again, because expat men know how to treat a woman and are more imaginative and romantic. After a month of seeing each other, the guy persuaded her to take a trip to Bali with him. You know what happened next - he never called her after bedding her. My Singaporean friend changed her mind about expat men.

My poor Khmer friend is depressed because she knows this will not last yet she likes him. She does not dare tell her family because they will scold her. She told me she said to the man, "Why did you ask me out since you are leaving?" He said, "What can I do, I like you." She is flattered and takes him at his word, although it does occur to us he only stepped up efforts three weeks before his departure. They have known each other for much longer.

I tell her to use protection but she giggles, embarrassed. Maybe it will not come to that, but I just want her to be safe. Another Cambodian friend of mine is in the countryside where she has just given birth to a baby boy, after the baby's father dumped her. He is a Khmer, not a barang--so let's be clear, there are bad men of all sorts, and not just barangs. The unwed mother tells me there is no good food in the village (there is only vegetables and fish) and she misses "the good food in Siem Reap".

By the way, the photo of the four Khmer actresses and singers which reminds me of NYC's famous four are: Som Mana, Keo Pichpisey, Sok Pisey and Doung Zorida. Source:khmer-chitchat.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Countries with Universal Healthcare

Red - Iraq and Afghanistan universal health coverage provided by US war funding
Grey - Countries with no universal health coverage
Dark Green - Countries with some kind of universal health coverage
Light Green -Countries attempting universal health coverage

"Keep in mind: this is a simple list of countries that have some sort of publicly sponsored health care system. For instance, Sri Lanka may be far from having a true, working universal health care system like France, but prescription drugs are provided by a government-owned drug manufacturer. This qualifies as "some sort of publicly sponsored, universal health care system."

Universal healthcare is simply health care coverage for all eligible residents of a political region where costs are borne in the majority by government-funded programs. I am not sure why Singapore is not coloured dark green though.

Household Sticky Tape gives off X-Rays

This is so awesome:

"Unwinding household sticky tape in a vacuum emits radiation strong enough to X-ray a human figure, according to a new study in the British journal Nature.

"As the tape peels, a charge builds between the opposite charges of the sticky adhesive and the tape and creates an electric field. At reduced pressure in a vacuum, this accelerates electrons on the adhesive to very high speeds and when they whack into the positively-charged tape roll, X-rays result. The pulses last for a billionth of a second, with an intensity of 100 milliwatts."

"It could be possible to create inexpensive x-ray machines for third world countries where electricity is expensive [me: like Cambodia!]," said [UCLA researcher Juan] Escobar."
Full story Thanks to hoges for adding to reddit!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dr Norman Borlaug who taught the world to feed itself dies

From the New York Times:

“More than any other single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world,” the Nobel committee said in presenting Dr Borlaug with the Peace Prize. “We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace."

Dr Borlaug was 95. He is an inspiration, walking away from a promising job at DuPont to help farmers in Mexico improve their crops. His advances led to spectacular success in increasing food production in Latin America and Asia.

Among his discoveries was a gene found in a wheat strain. The gene could shrink the wheat plant creating a stubby variety whose head did not shrink. This means a small plant could produce a large amount of wheat. "On the same amount of land, wheat output could be tripled or quadrupled. Later, the idea was applied to rice, the staple crop for nearly half the world’s population, with yields jumping several-fold compared with some traditional varieties."

It wasn't all smooth sailing, as people took time to accept his ideas.
At the invitation of the Indian and Pakistani governments, Dr. Borlaug offered his advice. He met resistance at first from senior agricultural experts steeped in tradition, but as the food situation worsened, the objections faded. Soon, India and Pakistan were ordering shiploads of Dr. Borlaug’s wheat seeds from Mexico...Harvests soared: the Indian wheat crop of 1968 was so bountiful that the government had to turn schools into temporary granaries.
Dr Borlaug was not without critics:
"In a characteristic complaint, Vandana Shiva, an Indian critic, wrote in 1991 that “in perceiving nature’s limits as constraints on productivity that had to be removed, American experts spread ecologically destructive and unsustainable practices worldwide.”

Dr. Borlaug declared that such arguments often came from “elitists” who were rich enough not to worry about where their next meal was coming from. But over time, he acknowledged the validity of some environmental concerns, and embraced more judicious use of fertilizers and pesticides. He was frustrated throughout his life that governments did not do more to tackle what he called “the population monster” by lowering birth rates."

Woman sues university cos she can't get a job

Only in the US. Associated Press article. Imagine if this happened in Cambodia.

The US is well-known to be a litigious society, with Americans suing for even the minutest thing.
"Americans collectively spend twice as much on civil litigation than they spend on new automobiles – and more than any other industrialised country. As a fraction of GDP, litigation expenditures in the United States are three times greater than those in the UK; 3.3 tort suits are filed in the United States for each 1,000 inhabitants compared with only 1.2 per 1,000 in England."
"The key difference is that under the British and continental European systems, the loser in a suit has to pay a substantial portion of the winner’s legal fees, while under the American system, each party pays their own legal fees.

The ‘all pay’ nature of the American system explains why the United States has been dubbed the ‘litigious society’. While the American system results in lower legal expenditures on a per trial basis, the incentives to go to trial are much higher under the American system than under the British and continental European systems."

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

PhD scholar turned cabbie in Singapore

Article from DNA India by Venkatesan Vembu.

China born Cai Mingjie lost his job last year with the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology at Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Now he drives a taxi, paying SGD77 (USD 53.55) a day rent for the car. He makes on average SGD 30-50 (USD21-35) a day after working 12 to 15 hours.
Many people might see a transition from professor to taxi driver as "moving down" in life, "but I look at it differently", he says. "I feel happier as a taxi driver than in my last two years as a professor. I often felt sorry for myself for having to work in that environment [at A*STAR, where he says he had to deal with "domineering, manipulation, incompetence" -- and politics]."

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Cambodian man "telepathically opening car door"

This Cambodian man Nhean Phaloek tells reporters of his telepathic ability to open car doors. Look ma, no hands! What's the bet there's a midget opening the door? LOL.

Haven't the reporters heard of automatic doors and remote controls? Good grief. And what some people would not do for a bit of fame. Pathetic.

You want to see some real magic? "Breaking the Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed" tells us how magicians and common tricksters perform illusions as suspending a woman in the air and levitating and making an army tank disappear. Cris Angel himself shows you how he performs street levitation - with help from a couple of fake feet and cleverly cut trousers.

In my opinion the show producers should get a public service award.

Also give an award to India's "Guru Busters", men and women who go around India exposing the many Indian charlatans who claim to be medicine men and women, people who make a huge amount of money from poor and uneducated peasants. The brave men and women from India's Science and Rationalist Association have been busting fake fakirs and the lot since 1985. They are brave because they get attacked by the furious frausters who sometimes turn violent after they are exposed.

Jyotimroy Dutta, a Bengali writer and former Hindu philosophy professor at the University of Chicago, told The Independent: What stands out is the courage of these Rationalists against the whole jungle of Hindu superstition. Some of these godmen are very powerful even Communist politicians visit them. In a way, the plasticity of Hinduism leaves it open to hoaxers. As Khushwant Singh, a leading Indian author and Rationalist, explained: Hinduism is a very liberal belief. You can say there is one god, a million gods, no god, or that god is a phallus, and get away with it.

"I saw how people were being fooled," Prabhir Ghosh, the now 64 year old President of the Rationalists, said. "And I saw how this fradulent spiritualism was being used to exploit the poor.

But it is not just the poor who are ignorant. Former Prime Minister, P. V. Narasimha Rao was the laughing stock when he was moved that guru Sai Baba produced a gold watch supposedly out of thin air. But watch the video below, played back in slow motion and you decide if it is magic or just sleight of hand.

"Several Indian Prime Ministers had close links with gurus. Jawaharlal Nehru had a guru, as did his daughter, Indira Gandhi. Mrs. Gandhi's favorite, Dhirendra Brahmachari, fell from favor after his habit of having holy messages appear on blank sheets of paper was exposed as a new application of an old high school science experiment involving the use of invisible ink. When the guru, attempting a comeback, greeted devotees with electric shocks, the rationalists stormed his ashram and exposed a car battery with wires beneath the guru's throne." From the New York Times' Guru Busters debunk all that is mystical.

I have sympathy for poor and uneducated peasants but it's hard to have any for these supposed educated people. It's just pathetic, really.

Now if only we had Guru Busters in Cambodia. I am determined to learn a magic trick (from Breaking the Magician's Code, of course!) and then show Chhun Hy so as to prove to him how trickery can be used to fool people. "The trouble is, Mr Singh, the writer, commented sadly [to the Independent], you can have explicit proof that these godmen are up to no good, but it doesn't seem to shake the faith of their devotees."

Saturday, September 05, 2009

How 136 people became 7mil illegal file sharers via Reddit.

The Radio 4 show More or Less - which is devoted to the "often abused but ever ubiquitous world of numbers" - decided to examine the Government's claim that 7m people in Britain are engaged in illegal file sharing...

Fudged figures
As if the Government taking official statistics directly from partisan sources wasn't bad enough, the BBC reporter Oliver Hawkins also found that the figures were based on some highly questionable assumptions.

The 7m figure had actually been rounded up from an actual figure of 6.7m. That 6.7m was gleaned from a 2008 survey of 1,176 net-connected households, 11.6% of which admitted to having used file-sharing software - in other words, only 136 people.

It gets worse. That 11.6% of respondents who admitted to file sharing was adjusted upwards to 16.3% "to reflect the assumption that fewer people admit to file sharing than actually do it." The report's author told the BBC that the adjustment "wasn't just pulled out of thin air" but based on unspecified evidence.

The 6.7m figure was then calculated based on the estimated number of people with internet access in the UK. However, Jupiter research was working on the assumption that there were 40m people online in the UK in 2008, whereas the Government's own Office of National Statistics claimed there were only 33.9m people online during that year.

If the BPI-commissioned [BPI is British Phonographic Industry, the British record industry's trade association. Its membership comprises hundreds of music companies] Jupiter research had used the Government's online population figures, the total number of file sharers would be 5.6m. If the researchers hadn't adjusted their figures upwards, the total number of file sharers would be only 3.9m - or just over half the figure being bandied about by the Government.

"It's not just the job that stops. Everything else stops with it."

Some people in the USA are learning what most of us already know.
"Those who were living at the at the top of the heap and who have fallen to the bottom, they don't know where to go for help, they don't know how to get that help. There's anger and frustration and a sense of entitlement," says Corky Senecal, who heads emergency housing services for Neighbor Impact, and has 30 years experience of providing services for the poor.

"The middle class is where it's really been decimated," she says.
Seven and a half million Americans have lost their job since the start of the recession.

Read the full story on the BBC.

Friday, September 04, 2009

76 year old destitute woman in Singapore

"This is an AFP video about a 76 year old Singapore street scavenger who became destitute after paying for her late husband’s medical bills. The Government in Singapore subsidizes only 36% of healthcare, compared to 50% to 85% for other developed nations."

She collects rubbish to survive and says the price of recyclables have fallen dramatically. It is the same here with the ait-jai (rubbish collectors in Cambodia). Previously aluminium cans used to fetch 200 riels (USD0.05) for 3. Now, they go for 500 riels (USD0.125) for 10 cans. Which works out to 150 riels for 3 cans, a drop of 25% in income. Which means the children rubbish collectors and their parents have to work 25% as hard to make the same income as before.

Dangerous Cambodian Job #12

Gold Seller:

"In the past two weeks, there were six cases of gold and other jewelry robberies in the city, and two gold sellers were shot to death."

Hundreds of policemen were deployed in Phnom Penh to combat the rise in robberies in Phnom Penh.

How to sell Cambodia to foreign investors

Photo of Sok Chenda Sophea from World Investment News.

I just read this interesting interview in Asia Sentinel with Sok Chenda Sophea, Secretary-General of the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC).

The CDC is similar to Singapore's Economic Development Board (EDB). The objective of both is to attract foreign investors to the country. Singapore's EDB hires hundreds if not thousands of graduates. A friend of mine was deployed to Boston, where she had to make cold calls to companies in the US city, many of which had no idea what Singapore was, let alone anything about the city-state's industries. You can imagine how hard the CDC's job is.

But Mr Sok is confident about Cambodia's charms:

Roger Mitton: How do you "sell" Cambodia to investors?

Sok: I tell them to look around. Not only do we provide excellent fiscal incentives, but we are the only place in the region that allows total foreign ownership. Here, they can they run a 100 percent foreign-owned bank, insurance company, telecoms company, even a newspaper. It is amazing. You cannot do that in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, even Singapore – don't mention that place. We are quite unique. Also, I tell them, yes, as a businessman, you can go to London or Tokyo with your wife or your girlfriend, but what can you do? Most sectors there – energy, transport, construction, they are all covered. They don't need you. But here, there are so many untouched sectors, so many opportunities. And it is easy to set up here.


Mitton: You've been quite critical of the international donors.

Sok: Well, personally, I, Sok Chenda, do not agree with some of their programmes. They have their agenda, but do they really think about the needs of the Cambodian people? In my opinion, only if you create jobs so that people make money, will you reduce poverty. It will take time, but it's the only way. So I tell them: Gentlemen, save all the money you spend on your programs for social development, human rights, democracy, whatever. Let's get to the point and don't blah blah. [Ho Ho Ho!]

I mean, consider their attitude to the Special Economic Zones. They ask: Where are they located? I tell them: Well, they're not in the middle of Central Park in New York, if that's what you think. They're far outside Phnom Penh, in the remote provinces, near our borders with Vietnam and Thailand. There, they'll create jobs that will keep villagers near their homes and help them get more qualifications. Then, because there's a shortage of skilled labour, businesses will go there and we will prevent the classic urban migration problems of prostitution, drugs, crime and so on. In this way, I told the donors, you will save the money you would spend trying to fix these problems. Perhaps I am being a bit simplistic, but perhaps I am right.

[At one time I considered moving our bag operations into the provinces for two reasons: provide jobs and the belief that costs would be lower. But they are not, when you take into account the cost of transporting materials to the province and then transporting the finished goods back to the cities to be sent overseas. Also electricity costs are higher in the provinces and supply is probably unreliable to boot. Many foreigners assume Cambodia is a cheap place for manufacturing until they learn about such costs. The good news is the government is aware of these things. Says Sok: "You look around and the first place you cross out is Cambodia because the price of energy is too high. To remedy this, we are buying a lot of electricity from Vietnam. What else can we do?"]

On Singapore:

"And when I say this, I am not accusing anyone, I am just speculating. Because in this region, if you look at transparency, Singapore is always number one. But Singapore has policemen and jails for a reason – because they also have people who are corrupt and who cheat the tax department. So they are not all angels in Singapore."

"Lee Kuan Yew. He never tolerates criticism. I just tell you because Singapore is a piece of stone, a piece of rock. It's not a country, it's a city state."

I suppose being called a rock or stone is a step up from being called a booger, LOL. In 2004, Taiwan's Foreign Minister Chen Tan-sun said of Singapore: "Even a country the size of a booger brazenly criticized Taiwan and former president Lee Teng-hui in the United Nations." He was incensed at Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo's speech at the UN General Assembly which warned that an independence drive in Taiwan would lead to war with China.

50 things being killed by the Internet

The Telegraph via reddit:

13) Memory
When almost any fact, no matter how obscure, can be dug up within seconds through Google and Wikipedia, there is less value attached to the "mere" storage and retrieval of knowledge. What becomes important is how you use it – the internet age rewards creativity.

14) Dead time
When was the last time you spent an hour mulling the world out a window, or rereading a favourite book? The internet's draw on our attention is relentless and increasingly difficult to resist.

36) Mr Alifi
Twenty years ago, if you were a Sudanese man who was forced to marry a goat after having sex with it, you'd take solace that news of your shame would be unlikely to spread beyond the neighbouring villages. Unfortunately for Mr Alifi, his indiscretion came in the digital age – and became one of the first viral news stories.

38) Viktor Yanukovych
The Orange Revolution in Ukraine was organised by a cabal of students and young activists who exploited the power of the web to mobilise resistance against the old regime, and sweep Viktor Yushchenko to power.

Tankless water heaters

Photo of tankless water heater from Wikipedia. This is the way we heat water in homes in Cambodia and in Singapore and I have never experienced any problems of hot water running out, which apparently is the main concern for US home owners.

"They look at the unit, and it's so small compaired to a tank water heater, and they can't comprehend that it will produce enough hot water for them to take multiple showers at a time," EZ Tankless employee Mike Pavuk told Pavuk adds "tankless technology has been around for 50 years, but it hasn't been widely available in the United States."

Instead, homes in the US typically use the storage water heater system (Drawing and text from the US Dept of Energy, linked here):
"It operates by releasing hot water from the top of the tank when you turn on the hot water tap. To replace that hot water, cold water enters the bottom of the tank, ensuring that the tank is always full. Because water is constantly heated in the tank, energy can be wasted even when a hot water tap isn't running. This is called standby heat loss. Only tankless water heaters—such as demand water heaters and tankless coil water heaters—avoid standby heat losses."
The US Department of Energy says tankless or demand water heaters are up to 24%–34% more energy efficient than conventional storage tank water heaters. This is how the tankless system works:
"When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. Either a gas burner or an electric element heats the water. As a result, demand water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. You don't need to wait for a storage tank to fill up with enough hot water. However, a demand water heater's output limits the flow rate."
To encourage home owners to switch, the US federal government offers a 30% tax credit for people who purchase a tankless water heater, according to the article linked above.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

To the doctor's

I went to see a doctor yesterday for some, shall we say, female problems. I am saying this up front for the sake of queasy male readers who may wish to stop reading. But I am going to write about it because women readers may find it useful.

The clinic I visited here in Siem Reap was recommended to me by an English woman friend. It is called Ly Srey Vina 2 and is located on National Road number #6, just before the junction that turns into Salina Hotel. The clinic is an associate of Singapore's Raffles Hospital.

I was very lucky to have been able to see Dr Ly (pronounced Lee) herself since she is usually in Phnom Penh. Initially, I was asked to wait 15 mins for a male doctor, but Dr Chubby didn't exactly inspire confidence and looked kind of pompous, the kind of doctor who expects nothing less than deference from his patients. No doubt I am just finicky since there were Khmer women there who saw Dr Chubbs. Because I am a troublesome "jon jiat" (literally "nationality" but is another Khmer term for "foreigner") I asked for a female doctor, and the receptionist called Dr Ly who came over in 15mins.

Dr Ly was extremely friendly and greeted everyone the moment she stepped into her clinic, unlike the other doctor who did not even glance at us patients. Dr Ly was very nice and patient and spent so much time with me. Alan, who accompanied me to the clinic, remarked how we would never get so much time with a doctor back in Singapore. Ten minutes, tops. Or you pay through the nose.

At 37, I am apparently at the age where "hormones are strong" (I think she means out of whack?), and Dr Ly suggested I do a full body check up, including blood, urine and stool tests to assess my problem. It was USD62 which I found very reasonable. I did the Essentially Hers package when I was in Singapore in April this year and it cost me about SGD220 (USD152). The package included a pap smear but not an ultrasound because, the doctor explained, government polyclinics do not have the ultrasound machine, which I found shameful in wealthy Singapore.

So I did an ultrasound here in Cambodia, which cost only USD15. The machine is a Honda (they make everything!) and looked ancient (it had that yellowish plastic shell you see in very old 486 PCs). But it worked which was all I cared about.

Another doctor operating the ultrasound machine (they call it an "echo" here in Cambodia) put some gel on my stomach and moved the probe around my stomach. Lo and behold they see something. It is a fibroid in my uterus. I was not surprised because the women in my family have the same problem.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, "about 20 percent to 80 percent (what a strange statistic - do they mean "up to 80 percent"?) of women develop fibroids by the time they reach age 50". It seems fewer than 50 percent of women who have fibroids develop symptoms, so many don't even know they have it. I have a very minor symptom but a symptom nonetheless which is why I took action.

(I guess the male equivalent would be the enlarged prostate, where there is a 50 percent prevalence after 50. "By the time you get to men in their 80s, nearly 80 percent or more have some degree of BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia)", CNN reports. Like the fibroid, you only do something about BPH if it causes you problems.)

One problem is fertility. Dr Ly said with the fibroid it will be difficult to conceive, although I read this pamphlet (PDF) which says it is rare for fibroids to inhibit pregnancy. Dr Ly was amused at my happy exclamation, "Really?", upon hearing this. "Why you don't want children?" she asked. "You still can."

It's not something I think about, I said. I'm not alone. In my country, I told her, the government has resorted to offering us cash to have kids. It was recently reported the Baby Bonus programme hasn't worked despite a record SGD230 million (USD159.6 million) given out last year, up from USD55 million just five years earlier.

Dr Ly who was last in Singapore in August 2008 to attend a medical conference told me she knows about the country's low birth rate. Dr Ly has five (!) children herself and told me although kids can be a handful at times, they make her " see the world in pink colour". I guess the English version would be looking at the world with rose-tinted glasses. Dr Ly spoke to me in perfect English so I had to ask Thyda afterwards what the Khmer expression is. She said Khmers say when you have children, "jivert sroh tlah" ("everything in life is fresh, beautiful").

Chhun Hy tells me Khmers like children because there will be people to pray for you and celebrate festivals like Pchum Ben (the festival to honour the dead). By the same token, they feel sorry for people who have no kids because no one will be there to pray for and honour you when you are dead.

I am sure it will change though. I am sure as the country develops and women have financial independence and higher education, they will have fewer children. (Of course just because you are educated and well-off doesn't mean you won't want kids. Dr Ly is a perfect example. What I mean is that these things give you options.) Already some of my Khmer women friends are saying they don't want any. This is the story with my family: grandma 11 kids; mom 3; me and younger sister, zero--each. Haha. (My parents do have one grandchild - my Greek sister-in-law gave birth to a supercute baby girl).

Anyway, Dr Lyna called in the very evening of my tests to give me the results. So efficient! It takes two working days in Singapore. I am in the pink of health! Except for the fibroid of course.

Dr Ly suggested I go back to Singapore at my earliest convenience to get the fibroid removed. The male doctor who ran the ultrasound mentioned a hysterectomy which I thought was a bit severe. Dr Ly says full hysterectomy is easy and can be performed in Cambodia. Partial hysterectomy, which she thinks is more appropriate for my case, is more difficult and not many doctors in Cambodia are skilled in this, so she suggested I go home to Singapore. I guess because I indicated I did not want kids, a hysterectomy was proposed.

Because my fibroid is only 30mm or 3cm, I was thinking keyhole surgery could be the answer.

But then I get an email from an American friend, a registered nurse with decades of experience and who herself had a fibroid. She told me hormones can sometimes shrink the fibroid. Since I am still in my reproductive years, I could also consider a D & C or a Dilation and Curettage, to remove just the fibroid.

I am going to do a bit more research since there is no urgency. My concern now is insurance. I am covered for accidents and "critical illnesses" and I'm guessing my fibroid is neither.

In that case, I will check out hospitals in Malaysia's Penang or Thailand's Bangkok, places that are trying to promote medical tourism.


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