Thursday, December 31, 2009

How to eat Jackfruit

If you are a city person like me, you may be puzzled by the jackfruit. I was. I noticed we had all this huge, bloated jackfruit and I kept telling Alan we had to get them down - they look like they were about to burst. We chopped a few down but - they were not yet ripe! I opened one up and spat it out because it tasted raw: it was hard, tasteless and had this sticky feeling.

So we thought, maybe it is like other fruit, just leave it and it'll ripen. After about a week, the fruit started to go black and I panicked, so gave one to the neighbour and the two left to Phoen, the tuktuk driver. He said it was edible and tastes good when it was that colour. I asked him when was the right time to get the fruit down and he said you can cut the fruit down once the leaves around it have started to decay (you can see the dead leaf in the next photo). Our neighbour said we can pick the fruit once it starts to give off a sweet smell (jackfruit smells quite strong). But it was already smelling when I chopped it down. I guess it has to really smell before you can eat it.

Then the landlord came and chopped down a couple more. He left a giant one for us. He said we should eat it only a few days later when it starts to smell. Then he wedged a bamboo stick in the centre of the fruit. I think the bamboo stick was stuck in there to help the food ripen. By the way, that's Nessie smelling the stick and Buster looking on.

This is the top view of the stick stuck into the jackfruit. You can see the decayed leaf and the sticky, gummy jackfruit being pulled apart by the bamboo stick. (That's Austin's nose in there).

And this is what the jackfruit looks like cut open. The landlord first cut it in half, then quartered the two halves. You can see the yellow flesh and the seeds. The bit you are supposed to eat is the yellow flesh covering the brown seeds. I'll show you that in a sec. And that's Austin again. Don't you just love his white-tipped tail? He reminds me of Sylvester the Cat sometimes.

Jackfruit seeds and flesh. This is what you are supposed to eat, the flesh covering the seeds. Uncover the flesh and you will find oval seeds which can be boiled and eaten. They taste just like potato. That's Nessie and Sooty greeting each other in the background.

After digging out the seeds, you are left with this. The yellow flesh is short and stringy, but tastes just like the stuff covering the seeds, so I asked the landlord if it can be eaten - seems like a waste to throw it all away. He says it can be cooked in soups. I just picked at it and ate it. It's nice, but an awful lot for 2 people! In the end I gave most to Kagna, our shop assistant. And that's Austin and Nessie in the photo. They are our first 2 dogs. We'd adopted them in Phnom Penh in 2006 when they were mere pups and they braved the rain and sun with us on the 8 hour drive to Siem Reap in 2007. We had rented a lorry and whenever it rained, the driver would cover us with tarp and we'd huddle together. I love my dogs.

Our Cambodian landlord

is one of the kindest, nicest people I've met. A good landlord is actually one of our criteria for renting houses because of all the horror stories we've heard. These range from landlords who make up stuff to keep your deposit to counting the number of mangoes on the tree to make sure you have not stolen any (this was told to us by the former tenants of a house in BKK1 in Phnom Penh we were thinking of renting).

Mr C is super nice and when we first moved into his house in Siem Reap, spent over USD200 to add an aluminium fence above the concrete wall to save us from the ugliness of our neighbour's backyard. (The backyard's just a tip, it's not particularly ugly). He also invited us to his house for dinner, and his wife and relatives made a scrumptious feast of BBQ meat and the best amok we've eaten in this country.

Mr C is around my age (late 30s) but looks older because of his hard life. His faced is creased and he is thin and tanned and very muscular.

He had told us during the family BBQ he was a soldier during the civil war, fighting against the Khmer Rouge (he was vague about which side he was on; there were a few parties jostling for power). I wondered after that if he'd killed anyone, but I did not dare ask. Or maybe I did not dare find out. To be honest, I think the probability of killing someone in a civil war is quite high.

We did not talk much about the war as is my experience with Khmers who suffered through it. I've always had to pursue the topic until you can see my Khmer host has had enough and then I feel sorry for asking. In my defence, I seldom ask. And when I do, it is because I want to learn. I guess I want to know the truth from the people who know.

I worry sometimes my Khmer friends think I'm just a voyeur, wanting to hear horror stories. But honestly, the worst stories you can get in books (And they're not limited to wars. Have you read anything about slavery - in the US and elsewhere? Absolutely disgusting. Whenever people tell me the Japanese, the Germans, the Cambodians are extremely cruel in war, I point out you get evil people everywhere, just take slave owners. And this is in times of peace, when their hands are not forced, so to speak. They do it for personal profit, or pleasure. And at least war conduct is regulated by the Geneva Convention; slaves were regulated by legally authorised violence. And if you think scale makes the difference, think again: 12 million Africans were shipped to the Americas from the 16th to the 19th centuries. This is not to excuse the atrocities committed by the Japanese, Germans, Cambodians and what have you; it's merely to point out atrocious behaviour is not limited to these few peoples.)

Back to Cambodia. My landlord in Phnom Penh was the first to talk to me about the war, about the forced marriages (they're still married and have 3 kids, that landlord and his wife), the starvation, the sickness and the false medicine, the death of family members. He admitted his kids do not believe him when he tries to tell them their history. Because the older generation tries not to think and talk about the war, the younger generation knows little about what their parents and grandparents went through. That plus the stories their parents tell must seem so surreal. I mean, I can hardly believe these stories even though I know them to be true.

Many of the women who work at Bloom are middle-aged, so they were children during the war. They smile when they tell me about their childhood, about being hungry and eating whatever they could find, about losing their parents and siblings to murder and illness.

It is hard for foreigners to understand how the Khmers can be so smiley about something so serious. I am always puzzled when Cambodians smile while relating bad news. But maybe it is a sad smile, like, "It's a sad story, but don't be sad." Maybe they are trying to spare our feelings?

For me, it's one of the many mysteries of this culture.

Anyway, the other day Mr C came over to cut the huge jackfruit (many of them) and showed us how to cut the jackfruit. We ended up talking about the war.

I learnt his whole family perished under the Khmer Rouge: his parents, two older brothers and two younger ones. He survived because his mother sent him to hide with a monk when she knew the KR were coming. He started living on his own since he was nine.

As city folk in Siem Reap, my landlord's family were considered enemies, "new people" who were "leeches", as Mr C told it, because they had no idea how to make things, grow things. By contrast, "old people" were the people who worked on the land, who had helped the Khmer Rouge when they were in the jungles fighting a guerilla war against Lon Nol's corrupt government. (Very quickly, Lon Nol was the Cambodian puppet general installed by the US government who wanted an ally in the US's fight against the communist Viet Cong in North Vietnam).

Anyway, Mr C says to the Khmer Rouge, all that the townies knew was to work in offices, pushing pencils, serving foreign masters. The KR thought these "new people" were more than useless; they were parasites, so eliminating them was actually a good thing.

His brothers were killed as they were accused of being spies. And here Mr C said "You know the KGB? Like in James Bond?" I could not believe even children (his brothers) were killed for being thought of as spies. He said yes, of course. If your mother is a spy then you must be a spy too. He said later on, the KR could not understand why their programmes failed and concluded it must be sabotage, by their own people, which is why the party turned against its own and started killing KR soldiers as well.

I think Mr C was using the word "spy" loosely, to mean "dissenter", anyone who was not sympathetic to the KR's cause. Educated people, i.e., those in the towns, were murdered because they were likely to be dissenters, which means trouble-makers.

It's a common tactic among governments. If you dissent, it must be you are a spy. In Singapore, groups critical of the ruling party are often challenged to reveal where they get their funding from. The insinuation being you must be an agent provocateur, a "spy", for some foreign government.

We had given Mr C a can of Angkor beer while chatting and at this point, while talking about his family, he quickly gulped to finish the beer and stood up to leave. The conversation was over.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

8 ft Giant Catfish found in Cambodia

Awesome! I just saw this 2 year old piece of news.National Geographic pic and story:
"The fish shown in this exclusive photo was likely moving from the Tonle Sap Lake to the Mekong River via the Tonle Sap River—a classic migration pattern for many species of Mekong fish.

"For the Mekong giant catfish, northern Thailand is a spawning ground, whereas the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia is a rearing area," said U.S. biologist Zeb Hogan, who studied the fish pictured for his Megafishes Project, which is documenting the world's giant freshwater fish."
Via detailsaresketchy

Annoyed with Facebook - Part 1

Ok, I headlined this "Annoyed with Facebook - Part 1" because I am sure there will be other things that annoy me about the social networking site.

But this is the big one. I am pissed off with Facebook for not helping users like me convert our Groups into Pages.

Some of you may know Pages is a later application compared with Groups. Back then, FB Groups were more common than Pages and the Bloom Bags Facebook Group was created by a friend of mine in Singapore (actually an ex-colleague who, even though nags me now and again about getting a job, totally supports my crazy social enterprise dream).

I wasn't too bothered because I thought a Group was just as good as a Fan Page and I had read there were some problems with Pages. People were protesting they were made into Fans when all they had done was join a Group. Then I did some research and found there are some advantages to having a Page (see screenshot below facebook-group-vs-facebook-fan-page-whats-better).

Then--and this was what sealed it for me--Facebook changed its interface to make Pages more visible than Groups on users' Information page. Having a Page would help Bloom Bags be more visible because a Group tends to get buried in amongst the others (to see the difference, check out the screenshot below, taken from my "Information" tab).

So ok, I thought. Let's migrate the Bloom Bags Group, which now has almost 530 members, to a Page. And, I thought, if any Bloom Groupie decides not to be Fan, he/she can remove themselves from the Page - surely that is possible.

I found out it is impossible to migrate a Group to a Page. The only way is to invite people all over again. Start from scratch and ask your pals - one by one - to be fans. You can view the forum on itself and see the frustration of other users like me.

In May I posted this on the forum: "Trying to convert my group to a page too. Seems that latecomers to FB who started out with pages have better luck than us old-timers.... Is this any way to reward early adopters?!"

I was seriously pissed off that late-comers to FB were able to set up their Page with ease while early users like us had to face this obstacle. It reminds me of all those companies that give freebies to new subscribers but who say "Promotion only for new subscribers; not available to existing subscribers." Translation: we don't care about you loyal, long-time subscribers - we've already got you!

Another poster on the same forum wrote:"Hit the 5000 mark for the Facebook group and the major features (esp. personalized msg-ing, invites to all members) were disabled. Now the group has grown to 18,000+ members and I've no idea how to encourage the members to transfer to the fan page. It's an impossible job."

At that point (in May), I gave up because I did not want to start building the Bloom support group from scratch - and annoy and confuse Groupies by inviting them to join yet another Bloom Facebook application. But as I said, the new FB interface has convinced me I need a Bloom Page, so here I am again. In fact, I started the Bloom Eco-Bags Page just 20 mins ago and Bloom already has 17 fans! (Thank you, my wonderful friends!)

Apparently, the Facebook team used to help do this conversion for Groups. College web editor was able to do this, but FB has since stopped this service.

So obviously the FB team can do the conversion; they just choose not to. I wish they would explain why instead of ignoring forumners in this way. Was it because of the complaints I alluded to earlier (Groupies being forced to be Fans)? Or is it FB's strategy to have as many groups on its site as possible?

Cos just last month, someone started yet another Facebook group - Convert my Facebook Group to a Fan Page Please!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Siem Reap clinic vs hospital

Yesterday was a stressful day, but I finally got to experience Siem Reap's notorious Royal Angkor International Hospital. I have heard so many stories from travellers and expats about outrageous fees (you can read one customer's experience here). One expat told me, for instance, the hospital often recommends patients do an MRI scan, whether necessary or not. The impression many Siem Reap expats have of this hospital is that it is out to make as much money as possible from insurance companies. And, after yesterday's experience, I have to say, I left feeling the same.

This was what happened.

A Malaysian man working in Singapore had come to Siem Reap for a four day holiday with his Thai girlfriend. He wrote to me about hiring Phoen the tuktuk driver. On the first evening they went to see the sunset at Angkor and then ate at one of the restaurants at the Old Market itself after trying to get a table at Khmer Kitchen. The next day, W messaged me at 9am to say he had stomach pains and could I let Phoen know to pick them up a bit later. He felt better and they went to see the temples.

At 2pm the pains were back and I told Phoen to take him to Ly Srey Vina, a clinic I'd been to. I assumed he had eaten something bad.

W called to tell me it was his appendix and to fix it would cost US$1200. I still had no idea how serious it was until Phoen came to my house because he wanted me to see W. I left on his tuktuk for the clinic. It was about 5pm.

W seemed ok and was able to sit up, but the doctor told me his appendix had ruptured and they recommend immediate surgery. It was highlighted in blue on the medical report that they consider this an emergency.

One problem was the clinic does not have credit card facilities and W wanted to pay with his card. Seriously, how many people carry around US$1200 with them on a short holiday?

As W has travel insurance, I suggested we try the Royal Angkor International Hospital for two reasons. Firstly, because I stupidly believed it's a proper hospital and would have better facilities and secondly, I thought, it's a good idea to get a second opinion. (A lesson I learned from this experience is sometimes you just have to trust your Cambodian doctor - some of them really do know their stuff).

We took the Ly Srey Vina car to the hospital which is just before the Siem Reap airport. The drive down National Road #6 was just 5 minutes. The driver called the hospital to tell them to get ready for an emergency and we alighted at the hospital's emergency entrance.

At the hospital, a young man in a white coat started asking W the same questions: did you have diarrhoea, when did the pains start, do you have any drug allergies. By now, W was in serious pain. I got annoyed and said we brought along the medical report from the clinic, which we had given to the nurse. Why don't you read that. He then said, "Yes, ok, the doctor will be down in a minute." I thought I heard him say "I am only an M.O (medical officer)."

Ten minutes later, the doctor came down from the third floor. He read the report and said "We can operate but we have no anaesthesiologist."

You've got to be kidding. What kind of hospital advertises "24-Hour Accident & Emergency service" with no anaesthesiologist on hand? How is it a small clinic down the road can have an anaesthesiologist and not an "international" hospital?

I asked if he could get an anaesthesiologist from another clinic to assist him, since this was an emergency, but he said "Cannot. Not qualified."

The doctor, who is Thai, then said, "We go to Phnom Penh for the operation". I asked how? Are you flying him? Amazingly, they had planned to drive there. Phnom Penh is 315km from Siem Reap so even if we sped at 100km/hr, it will still take us over 3 hours. Three hours on the road for an emergency. Seeing how worried I was, the doctor told me "You don't worry, I go with him, I do the operation."

(Later, W's Thai girlfriend told me the Thai doctor had said to her, while they were conversing in Thai, that he is a "nose doctor" and would not be able to work on W. I thought I had heard wrongly and clarified with her: she repeated he was a plastic surgeon. I suppose the hospital has a plastic surgeon on hand for accident cases (smashed face, anyone?) - but even then, what good is that without an anesthesiologist?)

I asked about flights and they said we can book a flight with Cambodian Angkor Air but they were not sure of the flight times. It was about 6pm by this time.

I asked about Bangkok and he said medivac (medical evacuation) to Bangkok will cost US$15,000.

Finally we decided to return to Ly Srey Vina and I told the Thai doctor so. W was in much pain by now (he had already been given one morphine jab at the clinic but clearly it was not enough). W decided to take the hospital's ambulance back to the clinic as the pain was unbearable. We were informed the cost was US$50 which we had to pay in advance. Ly Srey Vina charged half that. I had already told the couple to expect huge fees, so none of us said anything.

The nurse volunteered (I guess she is used to trying to justify the cost): in addition to a driver, we would have a hospital staff member would sit with us in the ambulance. (I wondered how much the drive to Phnom Penh would have been - a thousand dollars?) I went to the counter to help the couple settle the bill as they prepared to board the ambulance and we left.

Later, W's girlfriend told me she was given a form saying consultation was US$120 (so, up 20% from a year ago, according to what this customer said ). The girlfriend was upset, saying "We pay US$120 for nothing."

She had assumed I had paid the consultation fee in addition to the ambulance fee, but I told her I was only charged for the ambulance. We wondered if the hospital waived its fee because they did nothing of use, or in the drama, simply forgot to charge us. Frankly, I think it was the latter.

Five minutes later, we were back at Ly Srey Vina, where Dr Vuthy, a former war surgeon, would operate on W. Dr Vuthy arrived at the clinic about 10-15 minutes later, by which time, the girlfriend was in tears. She said W had turned very pale - but where was the doctor?

Dr Vuthy had removed a small lesion from Alan previously and he did a good job so I felt confident. He explained he would have to clean the abdomen of pus as the appendix had already ruptured. The surgery would take an hour.

I got us coffee from the Caltex down the road and sat waiting for Dr Vuthy to give us news. An hour and a half later, he emerged to say it went well and our friend would be ok, but W would have to stay in the clinic for a few days for observation and to ensure there was no serious infection.

Later, another doctor at the clinic told me if W had waited another hour, it would have been very serious indeed - and later reading on the Internet about appendicitis, I was so thankful we chose to return to the clinic for the op.

About appendicitis:
"The classic symptoms of appendicitis are abdominal pain and loss of appetite. Abdominal pain usually begins in the center of the abdomen, around the area of the navel. Later, the pain may move downward and to the right, to an area called McBurney's point, which roughly corresponds to the location of the appendix....

There is no specific incubation period (the time it takes for symptoms to develop) for appendicitis. Once the appendicitis symptoms appear, it can take as little as 48 to 72 hours for the infected appendix to rupture. If the appendix ruptures, the infection will likely spread to other areas of the abdomen, increasing the risk of serious complications and making treatment more difficult."
I am so glad W is fine. It's a terrible thing to be ill on holiday, and worse if you have a major sickness in a third world country. Thank goodness W and I had been in contact. I doubt if tourists know where to go in case of an emergency. No doubt they would be taken to the Royal Angkor International Hospital if they ask their hotel or tuk tuk driver, simply because most people in Siem Reap know of this hospital because of its advertising efforts.

This is why I am writing this blog post. There are alternatives to the Royal Angkor International Hospital and in case you need an anesthesiologist at 6pm on a weekday, the hospital may not be your best bet.

The Thai girlfriend said in Bangkok if you are sick, doctors and nurses would be rushing to help you, but here, everyone moves so slowly. I have to say I agree - people and processes in Cambodia move much more slowly than what I am used to in Singapore, but I am just thankful for the Cambodian doctors who helped W. It's made me more confident about healthcare options here.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Buddha shaped pears

"Hao Xianzhang, a Chinese farmer, spent six years to perfect the process by growing the pears inside moulds, local media reported. The pears cost around 50 yuan (7.32 USD) each." I don't know about you, but the little green buddhas look kindda creepy hanging from branches...

And presenting Japanese contributions to weird and wacky fruit shapes:

"These romantic cucumbers are selling at fancy supermarkets in Tokyo and as specially ordered wedding gifts at ceremonies throughout Japan. They cost 300 yen each (about US$2.50)."

Kiroichi Kimura and his wife have perfected a way of growing heart-shaped watermelons, which sell for up to US$160. It took three years to develop the process, which involves implanting a watermelon seed in a giant's heart and then slaying it and removing the melon afterward. 

Want US citizenship? Join the army!

"I never thought that non-US citizens can join the army, but then I met my recruiter and came to know about this programme." Rohan Pasricha, now a US citizen.

He and others will have to serve a minimum 5 years to keep their citizenship.

US$650 pm to work as an au pair in Norway

Photo from

Just read this on reddit and thought I'd post it in case Cambodian readers are interested. Rath, who worked in Malaysia as a domestic helper earned only US$120 a month so Norway seems like a better bet. Anyway this is what the poster said:

"While our immigration is rather strict at the moment, there is one easy way in. It is temporary (2 years), but look at it as a test-run. If Norway is your thing, you can learn the language in that time and then try another option later. My au pair from the philippines is leaving in february, if you are under 30 years old and don't mind doing my dishes and laundry for NOK 4000/month (650 USD, including meals and stay) we have a deal. I even pay for the language tuition."

The aim of the au pair (nanny) arrangement is to facilitate cultural exchange which is why the age limit of 30.

To find out more on working as an au pair in Norway, go to the official website.

This bit was interesting:

"Philippine authorities don’t acknowledge the au pair arrangement, and don’t want their citizen to be granted work permit to go to Norway as au pairs. Norwegian immigration authorities has to comply with Norwegian law, and cannot reject or refuse to process cases for work permits as au pairs based on the laws in other countries. This means that Philippine nationals may be denied permit to leave their home country even if they have been granted a work permit as au pair in Norway. Norwegian authorities are unable to assist in such case."

Can anyone explain why the Philippines don't want their people to work in Norway as au pairs? Could it be they don't return home after that?

Christmas with his fembot

This is inventor Le Trung with his £30,000 home-made fembot. The article in UK's Daily Mail, did not say how long it took Trung to build his ideal woman, who is "'in her early 20's', is 5ft tall and has a perfect 32, 23, 33 figure". But it has been at least a few years because 2 years ago the 34 year old man suffered a heart attack from stress working on "Aiko".

Aiko speaks fluent English and Japanese, and even helped cook the turkey and hang up decorations!

Le's Christmas wish for Aiko is making her walk. Apparently, "It is the most difficult thing for any [fembot!] inventor to do." Can I just say this story made my day, it's so crazy! Thanks usernameunavailable for adding to reddit.

Friday, December 25, 2009

My tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap 3

I've written about Phoen my tuk tuk driver many times and I wish I could do more to help him. This is where he and his family (wife and 4 kids) live. Since that post, a few people have emailed me wanting to hire him as their tuk tuk driver. Phoen is super honest and is a lovely, lovely old man, always on time and helping me out whenever he can. I've known him almost 2 years now and we use him exclusively. I remember writing about old people in Cambodia when I first arrived in this country, about how it breaks my heart to see these old people struggling to eke out a living, after what they've been through, with the war and all. It's a hard life for many Cambodians.

These photos of Phoen and his family were taken by Ice, a lady from Singapore, who contacted me because she would like to hire his tuk tuk for the few days in September when she would holiday in Siem Reap. She sent me an email when she got back to Singapore to thank me for recommending him. This was part of what she wrote:
"He is a very careful driver and he always took the initative to look for us whenever we came out from the temples. Unlike the driver that we hired off the street at Phnom Penh who was hiding in one corner when we visited the Russian Market. It took us 5 to 10 mins to look for him in the rain despite the fact that we had agreed on the waiting time and location."
Recently, Phoen's son fell sick and he borrowed US$200 from a neighbour to pay for the son's medical bills. Medicine can be ridiculously expensive in this country because quacks or even real doctors often try to gouge their patients. I was in Singapore when this happened and when I returned last month, Phoen told me he may have to sell his tuk tuk in order to pay back the money. The interest on the US$200 was US$5 a month.

I decided to lend him US$100. I am careful about lending money because I think I will not see it again. Also, I am careful because I need to think about setting a precedent, as I have other people who work with me. I don't want Ms X to say "Why you lend money to Ms Y and not me?" or "Why you lend Ms Y more money than you lend me?" which was potentially the case when one of the women needed to borrow money to replace the gold stolen at the workshop.

With Phoen the idea is to deduct what he owes me from each trip I take. But of course I feel bad because if he is ferrying me, he is unable to make extra money ferrying a paying customer. So I only use his tuk tuk when he is free.

If you are reading this and coming to Siem Reap for a visit, do drop me a note if you'd like to employ Phoen. In case you are thinking: I don't get any commission! I'm just doing this because I like the guy and would like to help him as much as I can.


Kite flying

Can you see the kite in the photo? It's the faint, whitish thing in the sky. I wanted to get the boy and the kite in the same photo and this was the best I did...! But so cute lah, see the other two small boys on the bicycle craning their necks to see the kite in the sky? The little kite flyer was trying to get his kite down by reeling in the string round an empty water bottle.

I took this on my way to the shop this morning. Kite flying is interesting - it's enjoyed all over Asia, from Southeast Asia, to China, to Afghanistan (have you read "The Kite Runner"? You must!). The origins are unclear - some say China, when it was flown 2800 years ago; others say leaf kites were found in Indonesia way before then, based on the interpretation of cave paintings. Whatever - I am just amazed the same toy has spread so far.

Pictured is a traditional Cambodian kite, made in 1949 with beautiful silk. Photo from (many other beautiful kites on the link). It's called a "Kleng Ek" which means "a kite with both unique sound and musical instrument". An international kite flying festival will be held in Cambodia's Koh Kong province on 6th and 7th of January 2010, it was just announced. (So fortuitous I was googling Cambodian kites!)

Later that month, January 30 and 31, Cambodian kite masters will be in Singapore, joining those from Austria, China, France, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand for the 3rd Singapore International Kite Day. You can find out more on the Singapore Kite Association website.

I joined the group for a kite flying outing one Sunday. There are only a few places to fly kites in Singapore, where land is scarce. We went to Pasir Ris Park, which was beautifully landscaped. It's not easy to fly a kite well - high in the sky. You have to run fast and let go of the string at the same time to let the wind lift the kite. I remember also from that outing, the champion kite flyer, a Singaporean lorry-driver who represents the country in competitions in Asia and who, as a hobby, makes kites out of recycled plastic bags.

He told me how to look for a good kite: the bone has to be symmetrical and while in the old days, kites were made with bent bamboo sticks, modern kites use fibreglass. Anything that is light is good. It's been a while so I can't remember everything he taught me. But I remember he said kite masters from Hong Kong were among the best, while Japanese kites are beautiful - they put a lot of effort in their kites. At kite competitions, you can see lots of beautiful custom-made kites.

After the outing I told my dad excitedly about what the kite master-maker said about using kites with strings coated in glass so as to cut down your competitors kites, something I had read in "The Kite Runner". I was amazed when my father told me he did the same as a small boy. The string was fishing string and then there was some special glue they used and they would dip the glue-coated string in fine bits of broken glass.

My father and other boys in the "kampong" (Malay for "village", different to Khmer for "port", as in "Kampong Som" or "Kampong Cham") would run after kites that had been cut down, because finders keepers and they could sell the kites back to their owners. They did not care about the small cuts they suffered to grab the kite. I'm sure it was more than the money that motivated them; it was also a chance to be champion!

The way my father described it, in what was then British Malaya (in the late 1940s) was exactly as it was in the book, which began its story in 1970s Afghanistan. I was just struck by how identical the game was, some five thousand kilometres apart.

My father described how he and his pals, small, skinny (the country was poor then) Malay and Chinese boys, running across roads, ignoring bicycles and the few cars, in their bid to be the first to the kite. I couldn't imagine doing the same now in Singapore, since the exact same roads are full of speeding cars. (My father, a Peranakan, grew up in the Katong area near the east coast of Singapore).

And here is an awesome video on how to make a Cambodian kite, using only a pair of scissors, BBQ sticks, fishing string, rubber bands, newspaper, and rice (as glue).

And one on how to fly a kite:


The Bookseller, the Cobbler and the Rubbish Collector

Merry X'mas says Douk the Bookseller! Douk has no forearms and scars on his chest, a victim of a landmine. To feed his family of four kids and his wife, Douk sells photocopied books to tourists. He also plays in a band at night, with sticks tied to his upper arms. Recently an Australian couple made a CD of Douk which he sells for USD10 - it sells quite well, I am happy to report. Another tourist left some books for him in our shop.

I took this photo of him yesterday when he dropped by our shop. Douk comes in now and again to see if we have sold any books for him, as we give him shelf space in the shop. I thought he looked cute with the hat so asked him to let me take a photo of him.

And here is Douk with our resident cobbler, who often brings a chicken, the family dinner, to work with him and who was once almost beaten up. Douk often hangs out with the cobbler, sharing snacks and cigarettes. The talented cobbler also fixes small gas stoves and you can see a couple in the picture. Chhun Hy, the young man who was manning our shop made the sign for Mr Cobbler. (Chhun Hy moved end of last month to work in Bloom's Phnom Penh shop at the Russian Market because he wanted to be closer to his brother who works in the city as a driver for the boss of a garment factory). The boy in the centre collects rubbish for recycling and is one of the many interesting characters in the Bloom neighbourhood.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cambodian new national airline makes profit

in less than half a year.

Cambodia Angkor Air just opened a new office on Sivatha Boulevard, in front of the Prince d'Angkor Somadevi Angkor Hotel here in Siem Reap (see photos which I took today, 25th Dec). Headquartered in Phnom Penh, Cambodia Angkor Air is owned by the Cambodian government (51%) and Vietnam Airlines Corporation (49%).

I was trying to see if the Cambodian carrier has a monopoly on that route and it's pretty confusing. If you Google "direct flight Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh", you'll only get flights by Vietnam Airlines. But going on, you will find that online bookings are made via Vietnam Airlines and the flights, including those by Cambodia Angkor Air all start with VN (eg VN826 or VN9881). Could VN826 be a VN Airline plane and VN9881 a Cambodia Angkor Air one? Or are they both Cambodia Angkor Air? Most confusing. Why should it matter, you ask? Well, I guess only if the two airlines buy different kinds of planes?

I will talk to a travel agent tomorrow to find out more. Sometimes, Google can only do so much.

Anyway, here is the AFP story:
PHNOM PENH: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday said the country's new national airline, Cambodia Angkor Air, had begun to turn a profit, raising hopes it would not fail like its predecessor.

The airline, which has capitalisation of US$100 million, was launched in July following the failure of a previous effort in 2001.

Cambodia Angkor Air, a joint venture between the government and Vietnam Airlines, aims to promote Cambodia as a destination and boost tourism.

"We expected the airline to make losses for two years, but now this airline is making profit because a lot of passengers are using it," Hun Sen said during a provincial ceremony.

The last national carrier, Royal Air Cambodge, folded in 2001 after running up losses of US$30 million.

Cambodia Angkor Air flies between tourist hub Siem Reap and Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City.

Tourism is one of the only sources of foreign exchange for impoverished Cambodia, which is recovering from nearly three decades of conflict that ended in 1998.

The kingdom aims to lure three million tourists annually by next year, and in 2009 attracted more than two million holidaymakers.

A number of foreign airlines, including Japan Airlines and Qatar Airways, currently operate direct flights to Cambodia.

- AFP/sc

Our electricity bill's come down!

Our landlord came over a couple of days ago to hand us the electricity bill. There were 2 pages of information attached to the bill, and it was about people stealing electricity and if you suspect this is happening to you, to contact the Electricite du Cambodge.

Our electricity bill for November was 175000 riels, around US$42. Our electricity bill has dropped by about 35% recently, so I checked the rates. It is still the same at 820 riels (over US20 cents) per kwh. So I thought maybe this is the cool season so we did not switch on the air-con at all but this did not seem to make sense we seldom switch it on anyway.

So I compared this November bill with last November's. I know what it was because I wrote about Cambodia's expensive electricity then. Our bill for November 2007 was US$65.

We have not done anything differently, if anything, we are consuming more electricity because we now have 2 laptops instead of one.

So I'm assuming we were paying someone else's electricity bill last year. Hacking into other people's electricity supply is common here and one reader wrote to me about her huge bill (More electricity woes).

I just wonder what happened. Did the family move? Anyway, I'm just happy to be able to save money and I guess to finally pay a fair amount for what we consume.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chicken farms in Cambodia

A tourist from the US told me about some big US company opening up in Cambodia to grow corn. It turns out the corn will be used for animal feed, which leads to the conclusion that industrial commercial farming will no doubt be carried out in this country.

It's always been a possibility because farming is mostly still done by small-time farmers (backyard farmers) across the country. According to Cambodia's Department of Animal Health and Production (DAHP), six per cent of the chickens in Cambodia are raised in commercial farms and 94% in non-commercial farms. For ducks the figures are 29% and 71% respectively. (quoted in this 2004 report by the UN FAO [PDF]. FAO is short for Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Chicken farming in Cambodia

A google search of poultry farms only garnered one listing: R.V.J. POULTRY FARM in Phnom Penh Cambodia.

Chicken farmers have not had an easy time this year. From a July article in the Phnom Penh Post found on "Cambodia poultry industry struggling"
Dozens of the Kingdom's chicken farmers say they have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars as they are forced to shut down. They blame the global economic crisis for their woes and now fear the possible impact of bird flu, they said...

Man Veasna, 57, lost $4,000 on his chicken farm, and said 25 other farms in the village had gone bust.

"Do you know why so many chicken farms have gone bankrupt? I can tell you that the main reason is the increasing cost of raising chickens - this has exceeded the income that can be earned from them," he said. "If we continue raising chickens, we will lose more money, and eventually our homes and our land."
Sar Sochetra, the office manager in MAFF's The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) department of animal health and production told the Post there are 237 chicken farms breeding the birds for meat, and 45 farming them for eggs. He added meat-raising farms have about two million chickens, while egg-raising farms have about one-tenth of that number.

KFC is the largest buyer of chickens in the world and it's no different in Cambodia, where they opened doors last year. Benjamin Jerome, general manager of KFC Cambodia, told the Phnom Penh Post the company buys 20 tonnes of chicken a month for its four outlets.

I hope the day will never come for Cambodia's first battery farm.

Battery Farming

According to "Battery hens and broiler chickens", an article published in,
"In the poultry industry, factory farms or "batteries" were designed to maximise production and minimise costs, through methods including high stocking densities, close control of the availability of food, water and light, selective breeding and medication."


Opponents of battery farming condemn the conditions that egg laying hens are kept in. Birds are kept in cramped and overcrowded conditions, in which they are unable to perform natural behaviours such as scratching and dust-bathing; they are frequently "debeaked" in order to prevent fighting and self-harm; they are denied darkness and food in order to encourage constant egg-laying; and conditions in sheds can be unhygienic, with hens living amongst dead birds and faeces. Laying hens have also been selectively bred to produce unnaturally large numbers of eggs - up to 330 per year. Studies have shown this breeding to have increased susceptibility to cancer. Unwanted male chicks bred in the laying industry, moreover, are gassed shortly after birth.


Conditions for broilers are marginally better, insofar as they are not raised in cages, but on the ground, but again in cramped, dark and hot sheds. Poor facilities can mean that broilers walk around in their own excreta, causing foot ulcerations and "hock burns" - black marks caused by ammonia that can sometimes be seen on chickens in the shops.

However, the main welfare problem with regard to broilers is the impact of selective breeding on the birds themselves. Broilers reach their slaughter weight in around 40 days, half the time birds took to reach full size 30 years ago. This growth rate puts immense strain on their hearts and lungs, and their legs are frequently unable to support their overgrowth bodies.
Besides the cruelty, there are also health concerns such as salmonella and hormones. A friend of mine in Singapore had a yeast infection that just would not go away, until her doctor told her to cut out chicken.

On Jan 1, 1992, Switzerland became the first country to ban battery farms. It's also banned in Belgium, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands and throughout the European Union from 2012. Battery cages will also be banned in California in 2015.

There is a chicken at my shop

Technically, it's a rooster. I know because it has been crowing non-stop since it arrive on a motorcycle a couple of hours ago. So I shot it (geddit? hahaha!)

It's not the first time the cobbler who sits just outside the shop has brought a chicken along with him. He ties it to a pole (you can see the raffia string on the rooster's left leg in this photo) and takes it with him when he goes home.

The cobbler, who was born in Vietnam but has lived here for a decade, told me he paid 30,000 riels (US$7.50) for this rooster. When I expressed surprise at the price, he said it is from Vietnam. It'll be eaten he said.

Cambodia sends Uygur refugees back to China

Potentially sending them off to their death.

"Twenty Uygur asylum seekers who fled to Cambodia after July's deadly ethnic riots in China's city of Urumqi, were deported back to China, BBC said.

The riots began in Urumqi, in China's northwest Xinjiang region, when a group of protesters demanded an investigation into the death of two ethnic Uighurs in Guangdong during a fight with Han Chinese workers. At least 197 people died and 1,600 were wounded as the result of China's worst ethnic violence in a decade.

The United Nations refugee agency condemned Cambodia authorities' decision driven by China's intense pressure, BBC said. The organization described the deportation as a grave breach of international refugee law.

The decision was taken ahead of Chinese Vice-President Xi Jingping's visit to Cambodia due on Sunday.

The Chinese and Cambodian authorities have so far provided no comment."
MOSCOW, December 20 (RIA Novosti)

Thanks to Khmerbird for the tip.

I hate "It" bags and the sheep-people who buy them

But don't take it from me. Here is Project Runway's Tim Gunn, in an interview with the LA Times :
LA Times: Fashion-wise, what's the biggest waste of money?

Tim Gunn: These days, women don't spend a lot of money on anything. But I think it's the seduction of a handbag. If you don't spend a lot of money, you appear cheap, which I think is ridiculous. I frankly have serious difficulty understanding the appeal of really expensive (and by that I mean over $600) bags. Six hundred dollars is the bare minimum when it comes to those stratospheric bags. The Hermes culture of "Well it's made by 60 people in an attic in the countryside of France" — to be blunt, who cares? And all these matching pelts. Who fundamentally cares? It's a big slouchy hobo bag. It's not as though it's a tailored piece of luggage. I just don't understand it. I say to people who really want to reach and are looking at $5,000 handbags, "Spend half that amount and give the other half to charity." I just don't like conspicuous consumption. I find it distasteful.
Exactly. When I see these stupid women and men who think simply carrying an expensive purse makes them a better (less ugly, less poor, more fashionable) person I just want to clobber them with my recycled rice bag. Especially when these morons parade their bags in Cambodia like it means something. Yes it does - it means you're selfish and indulgent (and did I mention so stupid as to be taken in by advertising and false "editorials"). Enough to spend a shitload of money on your freaking purse than to consider how else you can spend your money. Like feed a child or support her through school. These people should be ashamed of themselves. It's not just distasteful, Tim Gunn, it's obscene:
1 : disgusting to the senses : repulsive
2 a : abhorrent to morality or virtue; specifically : designed to incite to lust or depravity b : containing or being language regarded as taboo in polite usage c : repulsive by reason of crass disregard of moral or ethical principles d : so excessive as to be offensive (Merriam-Webster).

Another one of these topics that makes my blood boil. I still remember the last time this happened: when I wrote about skin colour. So many people are just so stupid.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My friend's email was hacked and used for a scam

Picture credit:

For anyone who emails from an Internet shop or hotel in Cambodia, please take care to log out properly. I've used PCs at some of the Net cafes here in Siem Reap where people have forgotten to log out of their facebook, yahoo messenger or hotmail account.

Anyway, this is what happened to my friend:

"Yesterday, my email account was hacked and an email was sent to all the contacts in my address book.

I was using the computer in a Melbourne Hotel. After i logged out from the internet, i wanted to delete the cache but an error occured, i wasn't able to delete the cookies. The next morning, i received phone calls from my friends to check if i was safe and alerted me about the scam. I was not able to send out any emails due to an 'over-limit' so was unable to inform everyone.


Below is the email that was sent out:

From: [My friend's name]
Sent: Tue, December 15, 2009 3:13:02 AM
Subject: Sad News!!!

Am sorry i didn't inform you about my urgent trip to London, i don't have much time on the PC here,so i have to brief you my present situation which requires your urgent response actually, I had a trip to London but unfortunately for me all my money got stolen at the hotel where i lodged due to a robbery incident that happened in the hotel.I had been so restless since last night because i have been without any money moreover the Hotel's telephone lines here got disconnected by the robbers and they are trying to get them fixed back i have access to only emails at the library because my mobile cant work here so i didn't bring it along,please i want you to help me with money so please can you send me 850 Pounds or any amount you can afford so when i return back i would refund it back to you as soon as i get home,Am so confused right now and don't know what to do, I had been to the embassy and they are currently looking into my case,Please send the money through Western Union Money Transfer so i will get it immediately its sent,i want you to please transfer the money as soon as possible.Here is the details you need for the transfer below,

Receivers Names: [My friend's name]
Receivers Address: 328 Mile End Road
City- London
Country- UK
Zip Code- E1 4NS

Please get back to me as soon as you have the money sent,once you are done with the transfer just help me to scan a copy of the receipt given to you by Western Union or help me to write out the Money Transfer Control Number(MTCN)

I will be waiting for your help. Thank you so much

Best Regards
[My friend's name].

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Snail pies are good for you

"A nutritionist in Nigeria says that malnutrition and iron deficiency in schoolchildren could be reduced in her country by baking up snail pie.

In a research paper to be published in the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health, she explains snail is not only cheaper and more readily available than beef but contains more protein.


Iron deficiency and a lack of protein in the diet affect young mothers and their children in many developing countries including Nigeria, according to the World Health Organisation leading to serious health problems. There is no quick fix for the problem of malnutrition in such countries, but alternative to high-cost meat products could help.

Snail meat contains protein, fat (mainly polyunsaturated fatty acid), iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, vitamins A, B6, B12, K and folate. It also contains the amino acids arginine and lysine at higher levels than in whole egg. It also contains healthy essential fatty acids such as linoleic and linolenic acids. The high-protein, low-fat content of snail meat makes it a healthy alternative food."
And I think snails are as ubiquitous as frogs...

Alien Jellyfish found in Arctic Deep

Continuing my jellyfish obsession...I present to you, Alien Jellyfish! I just saw this on National Geographic. I love NatGeo (how can you not?).

In the black depths of the frigid Arctic Ocean, scientists on a 2005 expedition found a splash of color: The brilliant, blood-red Crossota norvegica jellyfish (second one pictured).

The creature was spotted by a remotely operated vehicle 8,530 feet (2,600 meters) underwater during a two-month National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expedition to the Canada Basin, the deepest and least explored part of the Arctic waters.

And this is the weird Pacific Barreleye fish, which has a transparent domed head. It was discovered alive in the deep water off California's central coast by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

Click here to watch a video of the fish.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Taiwanese celebrities in Cambodia

Xiu Jie Kai (修杰楷) is a Taiwanese actor who's acted in a number of supporting roles in "Idol Drama" (偶像劇). Idol drama is a genre of Taiwanese television shows that feature good looking leads ("idols"). The series target teenagers but hook also many housewives, not only in Taiwan, but throughout Asia, including Japan, the Philippines and Singapore. For this reason, the male leads are also known as "auntie killers" (師奶殺手).

It all started with "Meteor Garden" back in 2001, a Taiwanese dramatisation of the Japanese manga Hana Yori Dango or "Boys Over Flowers" which propelled the good-looking cast to fame and fortune.

They were showing the series on Chinese TV when I moved to Cambodia in 2006 and I was amazed that young Khmers all knew who F4 ("Flower 4", the name of the 4 boys) were. Our then guard, Boret, a young man who was the cousin of our landlord, told me he liked the spunky female lead, Shancai. Later I saw a music video on Cambodian telly, featuring four young men who sang a Khmer version of Meteor Garden's theme song.

Many Taiwanese visit Cambodia, something I did not realise, because I meet so few in the shop. Then I noticed quite a lot of traffic from Taiwan to my blog in October, during the time of the floods. They were coming from where users had been discussing my post.

I do know there are Taiwanese who run businesses in Siem Reap, like the Bubble Tea shop near the Old Market area. The Wishing Well, a strange place for superstitious tourists to buy outrageously priced lucky charms "blessed by the highest monk" is also Taiwanese owned.

Xiu Jie Kai obviously loved Angkor enough to make a book of his photos. It's called "Border. Angkor Wat"《邊境。吳哥窟》. He has other interesting photos on his blog.

I also found this photo of Ariel Lin, a popular Taiwanese Idol, who posted this pic on her blog. It shows her with a Cambodian girl taken while she was here on holiday. Who's cuter? The one on the right, I think!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hollywood stars support Siem Reap's Angkor Hospital for children

Photo of Eva Longoria Parker, The Gossip Girls Blog;Photo of Anne Hathaway, justjared.

Check out Anne Hathaway and Eva Longoria Parker two of the stars who attended a gala dinner for the benefit of Cambodia's Friends without a Border. The dinner was held on Dec 10, International Human Rights Day, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. They were joined by Ali Larter, Diane Kruger, Kate Hudson and many others.

Friends without a Border was founded by Japanese photographer Kenro Izu and funds The Angkor Hospital for Children located in Siem Reap.

"15 years ago, I traveled to Cambodia to photograph Angkor Wat for my next project. Very unexpectedly, helplessly, painfully, I watched a child slip away, because there was no medical treatment available. And, her death was preventable. How do you go back to the life you know after that? Our event will take place December 10th, which is also International Human Rights Day. Whether you support our hospital or another charity, we need to make sure that all our children have a future," Izu said in a press release.

These were the prices for the gala dinner and there was also an auction of Khmer artifacts etc.
$300 Silver Lounge Seat
$500 Gold Lounge Seat
$3,000 10 Silver Lounge Seats
$5,000 10 Gold Lounge Seats
$1,000 Hollywood Domino Player
$8,000 Hollywood Domino Player Table (for 8)
$500 donation for a Silver Lounge Seats and a special print created by Monica Denevan. In exchange for the donation, guests received a duotone and four-color museum-quality auction catalog.
Hats off to Kenro Izu and his team. Talk about great fundraising. It can hardly get bigger than Hollywood (except maybe royalty?). I really hope Izu raised a lot of money for his project.

I also wish more people would know about and support the Bopha Angkor Hospital in Siem Reap founded by a Swiss doctor, Dr Beat Richner.

I was very touched watching a documentary directed by Australian Janine Hosking, Dr Beat and The Passive Genocide of Children", excerpted in this youtube video. It tells of one man's fight to save Cambodia's children. You can read more about Dr Beat here. For his work, he was named "Swiss of the year" in 2003.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Dear Mr Peter Unsworth, CEO, Tetley Group

To Mr Peter Unsworth, CEO, Tetley Group
Mr. Ratan N Tata, Chairman, Tata Tea Ltd
Mr Percy T. Siganporia, Managing Director, Tata Tea Ltd


Since November 19, local government officials have been distributing emergency ration coupons to workers and their families on the Nowera Nuddy estate. Tetley Tea claims adherence to the standard of the Ethical Tea Partnership, which stipulates that there be no harsh or inhumane treatment of tea estate workers. The government has recognized that the workers are hungry, the result of a policy of collective punishment deliberately inflicted to force these workers to renounce their human rights. I urge you to act to ensure that the estate is immediately reopened, that workers are paid their annual festival bonus and the back wages and rations from the period of the lock out which began on September 14, that the suspensions of the 8 workers are withdrawn and management commit to no recriminations against the workers, and that management issue an apology to Mrs Arti Oraon, whose life and that of her child were put at risk by management brutality. These are the demands of the Nowera Nuddy Estate (Tata Tea) Workers’ Action Committee, and I fully support them.

Yours sincerely,

Diana Saw

Incredibly, Tetley is a proud member of the Ethical Tea Partnership which, according to its website, "aims to improve the lives of tea workers".

This is the background to the protest organised by, the Swiss-based International Union of Food, Agriculture, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Association.
"Tata, the transnational Indian conglomerate whose wholly-owned subsidiary Tetley makes the world famous Tetley Teas, has taken 6,500 people hostage through hunger. The hostages are nearly 1,000 tea plantation workers and their families on the Nowera Nuddy Tea Estate in West Bengal, India. The workers, living in poverty and always on the edge of hunger, are locked out and have been denied wages for all but two days' work since early August.

Management of the plantation, in which Tata holds the largest ownership share and exercises control, is pushing the entire plantation population into starvation in retaliation for a worker protest in August against the punishing treatment of an 8-months' pregnant worker who was denied maternity leave, forced to pluck tea, and then denied adequate medical treatment. Workers want the estate reopened and their wages paid, but reject the suspension of 8 workers who have been singled out for protesting vile abuses. They refuse to renounce their right to peacefully protest abusive exploitation - and they need your support."
Read more here.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Anatomy of a Jellyfish

I'm find jellyfish curious creatures and have previously written about giant jellyfish taking over the oceans. Today I learnt on wikipedia the jellyfish's mouth and anus are one and the same.

This is because it has a simple digestive cavity which acts as a gullet, stomach and intestine all in one, with one opening for both the mouth and anus.

Jellyfish are fascinating.
"Their bodies have radial symmetry, which means that the body parts extend from a central point like the spokes on a wheel. If you cut a jellyfish in half at any point, you'll always get equal halves."
(From how stuff works).

They are also about 98 percent water which is why when you see a jellyfish washed up on the beach, it will have mostly disappeared, as the water evaporates. Jellyfish do not have a brain, heart or bones.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin