Friday, April 30, 2010

Female sex tourism

In today's Female sex tourism in Senegal attracts women who will pay for romance.

"Moussa flipped through a stack of photos. In one image, an overweight, Spanish woman — his first "girlfriend" — has her arms around his small frame. She gave him $500, he said, before heading home. Another photo is a self-taken shot of him with an Italian woman who he said gave him the $650 to open his souvenir shop in Dakar where we now sit, drinking spicy Touba coffee.

He pointed out the gifts tourists send him: CDs, USB drives, a guitar, an MP3 player and a DVD player.

“I don’t ask for money," he said. "We go out. They pay for everything. We have sex. Before they leave, they give me a bit cash to help me out."

Some call it male prostitution, while others say it's just women doing what middle-aged men have been doing for centuries: Taking up with someone half their age and giving that new friend an all-expenses-paid ride in exchange for sex and a new lease on life. [...]

But, others in Senegal say it is not that innocent. It's exploitation on both sides, they say, and sex tourism has sullied the country's reputation and corrupted its youth.

But, closing up his shop back in Dakar to head off to drum practice, Moussa said he's not worried about what other people think.

"I haven't met her yet," he said, "The woman who's not so old, who loves me, who's willing to do anything. The woman who will get me a visa and a plane ticket out of here." [...]

"I saw quite a few young men there with old, white women. I began to question my morality. What are you doing with this old woman? She could be your mom. You've become a gigolo, someone who doesn't have ambition, someone who is ready to do anything for money,” he said.

Years ago at a club in the Gambia, Pape saw a young man gyrating sexily in front of three old white women. One of the women reached out and patted his butt before shaking her head no, like it was a piece of fruit in the market.

"That memory comes back to me often lately," he said, stamping out one cigarette and lighting up another. "Once I find a good job, I will get my dignity back. But for now, I'm a prostitute."

According to Wikipedia, destinations for female sex tourism in southeast Asia are Bali, Indonesia and Phuket, Thailand. No mention of Cambodia, but of course it takes place here as well because of the wealth disparity between the locals and the visitors.

I have a funny story about a friend of a friend, a female sex tourist who likes to sample men from all over the world. This Dutch woman slept with a Cambodian man, a waiter at her hotel, while she was on holiday in Battambang. Later, she complained about his small size. We were amazed that she actually told the guy: "It's ok, don't worry. We Europeans are bigger, that's all." (I am sure she was just "unlucky" though, as other friends have told me otherwise!)

I also met a motodop (motocycle taxi driver) who told me about his Japanese "girlfriend". She came to holiday in Siem Reap for a week and spent one night in his family home. She told him she loved him and asked him to wait for her after she leaves. Meanwhile, he sends her emails but she is busy, he says. The Japanese woman takes about a month to reply to his emails. He said she has asked him to go to work in Japan but his mother does not want him to go. He will wait for her for 5 years, he told me. He has not seen her in a year and a half.

According to the wikipedia article, "Social reasons for women seeking promiscuous and no-strings-attached sex abroad include the dating war, as typified by extreme competition between the sexes in schools, the workplace, while dating, in marriages, and even in contentious divorces. The dating war appears especially to drive sex tourism by Australian and Japanese women, and to a lesser extent, German and Scandinavian female tourists."

In Singapore, Japanese women have a reputation for wanting "Sun, Shopping and Sex" while on holiday. I had heard how one of the bird trainers at a local attraction, the Singapore Bird Park, used to entertain Japanese women at the park--after hours of course. But there is a difference with someone like the Singaporean bird trainer who does not do it for the money and a man who feels a sugar mommy is his way out of poverty.

So we can make a distinction when Jeannette Belliveau, 51, a former sex tourist who remarried, and who wrote the book, Romance on the Road, says : "There is the view that these women are guilty of hypocrisy and that they are exploiting poor men. This is nonsense. Sex between two adults that doesn't harm either partner is without question a good thing." I learnt so much from it. It healed me after a painful divorce."

Sex between two consenting adults does not always mean no one is hurt. Just ask Pape from Senegal who said: "Once I find a good job, I will get my dignity back. But for now, I'm a prostitute."

KFC Denmark's website hacked

Just took this screenshot from No doubt KFC will try to fix it soon.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cellcard giving out US$10,000 every day until May 7

Since Friday 23rd April, one Cambodian has won US$10,000 daily! The lucky draw winnings are like nothing Cambodians have seen before and the daily broadcast of Cellcard Mobitel winners is the talk among my Khmer friends (I don't know why the Phnom Penh Post did not report this. Can't talk about the Cambodian Daily since the dinosaur does not even have a website.)

My Khmer friends in Siem Reap are peeved because they say the winners are all from Phnom Penh (I'm not sure if this is true). Kagna was so funny. She said one woman she saw on telly was super-excited and kept asking, "where can I get the $10,000?" But some other winners were not very impressed, leading Kagna to conclude that these people in Phnom Penh must be "very rich, so $10,000 not important for them".

We started talking about what we would do if we won the money and Kagna, who works with me in the Bloom shop, said she would give some to poor people, and put the rest in a bank. I said I would invest it in Bloom. And Ratha, a young woman working in another shop, said she would put everything in a bank. Kagna joked - why not share some with me?

To enter the lucky draw, which lasts for 15 days until 7 May, users have to SMS ‘10000’ to 8888, at US$0.15 per SMS. The more SMSs you send, the greater your chances of winning. Plus, every dollar you top-up from April 23 to May 7 is equal to 1 entry, so the bigger the top-up, the more entries you have.

So US$10,000 every day for 15 days, that's US$150,000 the company is giving out. At 15 US cents per SMS, Cellcard Mobitel would have earned US$150,000 if subscribers send a total of 1 million SMSs. But I don't know what it costs Cellcard to operate the service (or what the promotional activities is costing them) so I've no idea how many SMSs they would need to breakeven.

In any case, we need not worry for Cellcard Mobitel, owned by Cambodian tycoon Kith Meng, who is also president of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce (pictured). His company made the news last year for winning a US$100 million loan from the International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank. "Our vision is that people should have the opportunity to escape poverty and improve their lives," states the IFC on its website.

According to this 13 March 2009 report by the Phnom Penh Post, "The IFC believes the US$100 million project will increase service coverage to 75 percent of the Kingdom's population by 2012. Mobitel reached 62 percent of the country at the end of last year, company data show."

Callcard is Cambodia's leading telecom operator by market share, with 2.172 million subscribers as of March 2009.

It is trying to ward off competition from the aggressive Metfone, the mobile service operated by the military-owned Vietnamese mobile operator, Viettel. Metfone attracted 500,000 subscribers in the first three months of its trial service.

Cambodia has one of the most competitive telecoms market in the world, according to Gary Foo, chief marketing manager of Hello, which is owned by Malaysia’s Axiata Group. He told Voice of America his company was facing its toughest competition since it arrived in 1997.]

“[Cambodia] is one of the most competitive markets in the world, actually, just because of the fact that there are too many players in the market,” he said. That has led led to a slowdown in new subscribers, Foo said.

More from VOA:
Prior to 2008, only four mobile phone operators existed in Cambodia: Khmer Royal Group’s Mobitel, Thai Shin Satellite’s Mfone, Axiata’s Hello, and Applifone’s Star-Cell.

One year later, five more players entered, Cube, owned by Cambodian-Israeli Cambodia Advance Communication; Excell, owned by Cambodia’s GT-TELL; Metfone, owned by Vietnamese’s Viettel; Smart Mobile’s Latelz and Beeline, with investment from Russia’s VimpelCom.

That’s nine mobile phone operators for 14 million people, compared to China’s three state-run companies for 1.3 billion people, or four companies each in Vietnam and Thailand, which have, respectively, 80 million and 60 million people.

(More than 4 million Cambodians use mobile phones, an increase of 1 million in the past year alone.)

And here is a hilarious blogpost comparing the service of the 9 telcos in Cambodia. It is translated by Google translate from Chinese so it is not very grammatical (the original Chinese version is here):
Arrogance's largest telecommunications company Mobitel
If you have insufficient balance in the pull out, then you will hear "your number is insufficient balance, please refill, otherwise your number will be on X is X day X years removed from the system!"

Metfone is the most progressive companies
Metfone 097 is Cambodia's major competition to provide mobile telecommunications company, first appeared in Cambodia, one year, 894.6 thousand in the people. It can be said to be "third boss", and its fee is not expensive. A Sim Card 3 $, out $ 2.5 to buy a Sim card.

Hello is the most backward companies
Hello 015 016 081 is a step backward Cambodia mobile telecommunications company, for a long time in Cambodia for years, with the same old Camsin, and now only 627.2 thousand people in the use of inferior Metfone. It can be said to be "the fourth boss", and its fee is not expensive, $ 0.07 per minute. Out to buy a Sim card 1$.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bloom nominated for the Body Shop 2010 grant

I don't write about Bloom enough. Many things actually happen with Bloom but I have many interests which I blog about. Anyway, two weeks ago I received this email which made me very happy:

From: [name removed for privacy]
To: ""
Sent: Thu, April 8, 2010 7:13:38 PM

Dear Ms Saw

Your organisation has been nominated by an employee of the Body Shop International for potential funding under our Asia Pacific Grants Programme at The Body Shop Foundation, the charitable trust of the company (

We have attached a letter of invitation and an application form for you to complete and return to us by 14th June 2010 if you would like to apply for funding.

Can you please acknowledge receipt of this invitation by return email so that we know you have received our message and let us know if you will be applying for funding in 2010.

Yours sincerely
[name removed for privacy]
Grants Administrator
The Body Shop Foundation
Watersmead, Littlehampton
West Sussex, BN17 6LS

From me:

Dear [...],

Thank you so much for the email. I appreciate the email very much and am touched one of the Body Shop's employees recommended us.

Although the money would be handy, from day one, we have decided not to rely on donations, preferring to make it on our own as a social enterprise, producing things that consumers are willing to buy from us. The reason is we are really striving to be self-reliant.

Many thanks again for contacting Bloom Cambodia and Happy Khmer New Year to you from sunny Cambodia!

Best regards,


Dear Ms Saw

Thank you very much for your email. We wish you continued success with Bloom Cambodia. It looks like such a fantastic group.

Yours sincerely

Grants Administrator
The Body Shop Foundation
Watersmead, Littlehampton
West Sussex, BN17 6LS

Fee for depositing cash in Acleda bank

So a friend of mine asked me to pass US$100 to a Cambodian young woman she knows who needed the money for her studies. This friend is in Australia and was unable to transfer the money from her Australian bank to my ANZ bank account in Cambodia [why I wonder, since they are all Aussie]. In the end she deposited the money into my Singapore bank account.

The Cambodian woman has an account with Acleda (pronounced "A. C. Leda"] Bank. I took the $100 to Acleda on Sivatha Boulevard here in Siem Reap town, thinking there would be no cost to me if I deposited cash into her account. The other option was to transfer it from my ANZ to her Acleda, which would most certainly involve a fee - Australian banks are notorious for charging customers for just about anything they can get away with.

Well, home-grown Cambodian bank Acleda must have learnt a lesson from some of these greedy banks. Acleda charged me US$2 to deposit CASH into one of their bank accounts. Incredible.

When I asked why they said it was because I was depositing the money at a different branch from the account holder's. It would only be free if I went to Phnom Penh's Steung Man Chey branch and deposited the cash there. Doing it at any other branch (and Acleda has more than 200 dotted all over the country) costs US$2.

The woman at the bank did not say I was charged the fee because it is not my account, but because I was depositing money in a different branch.

So can you imagine if you are an Acelda bank account holder and you opened your account somewhere in Phnom Penh. Later you moved to Siem Reap for work (or even from Steung Man Chey to say, Olympic, in Phnom Penh). Every time you deposit money into your bank account from a different location to the one where you opened the account you are charged $2. In case readers think US$2 is a small amount - it is what many people in Cambodia work a whole day, i.e., 8 hours, to earn.

Simply outrageous.

The thing is, almost exactly a year ago I sat in a meeting with Mr In Channy, the bank's President and CEO, together with a group of students from Insead. I even asked him a question on whether he thought the bank was growing too quickly in tough economic times (remember this was last year). His answer: no - because they are focused on micro-finance and rural people are largely unaffected by last year's global economic crisis.

We were all very impressed with Mr Channy's sincerity and personal achievements and also with Acleda's accomplishments. Really, Acleda is an amazing success story. It started out in 1993 as NGO funded by the ILO and UNDP.

Today, it has more than $900 million in total assets and ranks number one in deposits at over $670 million, with over $530 million in loans outstanding. I really should have written about the day spent with staff from Acleda - we even visited some of its micro-finance customers in a village - but just never got around to it. It was one of the best organisations the team met.

After that meeting, I had two thoughts: one to open a Acleda bank account for Bloom and two, to get the Bloom workers to take out a micro-finance loan to buy shares of Bloom.

Well, now I don't know if this is such a good idea (and just as well I sat on it!).

Interrogating a Torturer

I just watched this powerful documentary on Al Jazeera. "Interrogating a Torturer" follows Uruguayan journalist, Gerardo Brusezzi, who was tortured almost 30 years ago in Argentina. He returns to the country to confront one of his torturers in a filmed meeting. He meets Julio Simon, the first torturer to be convicted for crimes against humanity in Argentina. I found this interesting also in light of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge trial.

For 27 years Brusezzi nurtured a fantasy of what he would do to his torturers, who pissed and spat in the drinking water given to prisoners, who raped the men with sticks and who practised karate on them. Brusezzi learnt karate and lifted weights in preparation of doing to his torturers what they did to him before killing the men. Upon meeting Simon, Brsezzi realised that vengeance was not what he was after - that it would not solve anything. Just like the Count of Monte Cristo.

"It's confronting those who tried to destroy me physically and psychologically," said Brusezzi. "And my only intention is to show you that you didn't destroy me, that you made me stronger."

This is the background to these two men's tragic stories:

In March 1976, a military junta headed by General Rafael Videla overthrew Argentina's democratically elected government and launched a campaign of terror against all who opposed the coup. In the following seven years, Argentina's "dirty war" saw 15,000 people executed and 30,000 'disappeared'. Two-hundred and fifty concentration camps - where so-called 'terrorists' were routinely and systematically tortured while being interrogated - were set up throughout the country. Read more and watch the full video on Al Jazeera's People and Power.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Louis Vuitton in Cambodia?

According to this Oct 2009 China Times article, Cambodia is on the list of new LV shops that will be launched across Asia - unsurprising, really, as reports of LV wanting to set up shop in Cambodia can be traced back to 2002.

The China Times article comes after the opening of LV's 440th shop in Ulaan Bataar, capital of Mongolia. Chairman and CEO Yves Carcelle said at the Ulaan Bataar shop opening: "LV's philosophy of opening shops is not to wait until there is a business district/market area (商圈) before we enter, but rather, whereever LV opens our shops, it is to create a market area."

Gossip is that the LV shop, if it does open, will be housed in the US$300 million Gold Tower 42 on Sihanouk Boulevard, supposedly Phnom Penh's poshest building. Gold Tower 42 is slated to be completed in October 2011.

But it could also open in Siem Reap. An Oct 2002 Australian Financial Review report:
"Visitors to the Cambodian temples may soon be able to buy a Louis Vuitton handbag nearby. LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton is the world's biggest producer of luxury clothing and accessories. The company's head of operations in Thailand and Vietnam, Guillaume Thery, says new stores are earmarked for Angkor Wat, near Cambodia's temple complex, and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam..."

While LVMH cannot make up its mind about Cambodia, it did open in Ho Chi Minh city in Q3 of 2007.

No doubt Cambodia's glitterati and wannabes will be thrilled to welcome LV. Sad, really. I much prefer this "LV" on a Khmer street kid. LOL.

Anyway, below is an excerpt of the Chinese text for those who can read Chinese and for New York Mag's coverage of the Mongolian shop opening (nothing about Cambodia though) click here.

更新日期:2009/10/28 02:44


LV全球主席兼行政總裁賈世傑(Yves Carcelle)在蒙古店開幕時說:「LV的開店哲學從來就不是等待商圈成立才進場,而是LV所到之處,就要創造商圈。」



Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Death penalty in Singapore; not in Cambodia

I was so sad to read this Story of a Boy, about Yong Vui Kong, a young Malaysian man who was just 18 and a half year old when he was caught making a drug delivery in Singapore. In a story that could be set in Cambodia, Vui Kong came from a poor family and ran away from home when he was just 12. He washed cars to survive, making about RM$3 (US$0.90) a day. Eventually he met a "Big Brother", who fed and clothed him, and took him to fancy restaurants. Vui Kong felt compelled to do anything “Big Brother” said. More importantly, he needed the money to pay for his mother's medical treatment.

The police found 47.27 grammes of heroin on him. A judge eventually handed him the mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking.

I remember watching French TV with English subtitles sometime in February. It was an episode of L'Editoriale and on the death penalty. The host said Singapore has the highest number of executions per capita, while the country with the most number of executions is China. I remember how horrified and disgusted I was when later I told my French friend about it over dinner. She could hardly believe it, since Singapore is supposedly a "first world" country.

[From wikipedia: Singapore had the highest per-capita execution rate in the world between 1994 and 1999, estimated by the United Nations to be 13.57 executions per one million population during that period. And out of 174 executions recorded by Amnesty International from press reports between 1993 and 2003, the number of foreign nationals totals 93, which is more than half. Many of them are believed to have been migrant workers. No wonder science fiction author William Gibson wrote a travel piece on Singapore sarcastically titled "Disneyland with the Death Penalty".]

I am glad to see the city-state has made progress. According to the Guardian: "Singapore has seen a big decline in its use of the death penalty since having the highest execution rate in the world in the 1990s, but the government is resisting any change to the law. Singapore's attorney general, Walter Woon, has argued that parliament has the power to show mercy in individual cases."

Cambodia has no death penalty, since abolishing it in 1989. (For a list of abolitionist countries, visit

In this, Cambodia bucks the trend among Southeast Asian countries.
"The only region that goes against this trend [away from the death penalty] is Southeast Asia. At the last meeting of ASEAN, the leaders of Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines said they were in favor of the death penalty and especially for sentencing drug traffickers to death. But that is the only region in the world that goes against this trend."

"There is a very interesting exception in Southeast Asia: Cambodia. Cambodia abolished the death penalty and the president of the parliament of Cambodia was in Strasbourg for the World Congress against the Death Penalty last year. He explained that like Europe, Cambodia had experienced genocide, and this was the main reason the Cambodians had decided to abolish the death penalty.

In fact, in Europe, it was easier to abolish the death penalty because we had two genocides, two world wars on our continent. It was after these debaucheries of violence that Europe abolished it."
From a 2001 Carnegie Council interview with staff from Together Against the Death Penalty. (The Philippines abolished the death penalty in 2006 - Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore still have not).

You can see the leaflets of a campaign by Singaporeans who argue against the mandatory death penalty for drug traffickers.

As for Vui Kong, only a Presidential pardon will save him. Unfortunately, President Nathan, who has been in power since 1999, is not known to have granted clemency to any condemned prisoner.


Photo and text from
"This is Chauncy Morlan, and around 100 years ago his obesity was so shocking that people would pay money to see him as he toured the country as a circus “fat man”. I find the unremarkableness of his size to be a telling sign of how we’ve pushed the limits of obesity in the past 100 years. Imagine, if you will, what society would look like if 100 years from now if what passed as spectacularly obese today would not even turn heads at the mall."

Michelle Obama brought fat back into the picture with her plans to fight childhood obesity. The US is the fattest developed nation, and Americans consume on average 2,700 calories a day - about 500 calories more than 40 years ago, more than what Cambodians consume today. (Does that mean Khmers are tinier than Americans 40 years ago?)

(Khmers consume 2160 calories daily according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which recommends a minimum daily per capita intake of roughly 2,100 calories).

In 2008, 68 percent of American adults were overweight, and 34 percent were obese; roughly one in three children and adolescents was overweight, and nearly one in five was obese. By 2015, a shocking 41 per cent of Americans will be obese.

"Beating Obesity" is a thoughtful article on the subject. Written by Marc Ambinder and published in the Atlantic, Ambinder himself was obese, and chose the US$30,000 bariatric surgery. He lost 85 pounds (38.6kg).

"But why did the obesity rate accelerate in the United States beginning in the 1980s, setting us apart from our peers in other developed countries? (Though the Mexicans and the British come close.)," asks Ambinder. "Did Ronald Reagan’s declaration that “it’s morning again in America” prompt us all to start eating bigger breakfasts?"

It's a complicated issue and fat people may be lacking the FTO gene. Which is not to say people do not have a responsibility to try to gain control of their weight.

I for one applaud Ms Obama for having the guts to tackle this issue, because in this PC (politically correct) age, you can be accused of "fattism". Governments can and should do more.

Ambinder writes: “[I]f you go with the flow in America today, you will end up overweight or obese,” Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told me when I met him at an obesity conference in Washington last summer. “This does not absolve individuals of the responsibility of trying to get more exercise and eat healthier. But it suggests a synergy between policy intervention and personal efforts to lose weight.”

The US government should also pay attention to obesity because it is costs the country's coffers billions of dollars. According to the Surgeon General the total annual cost of obesity in the United States was $117 billion for the year 2000.

A more recent 2008 study by The Conference Board found the cost to the US economy in lost working days and extra healthcare costs is a US$45 billion a year. Also in today's WSJ Marketwatch: "If you don't lose weight your finances will".

So I wish Michelle Obama well and hope she fares better than the Naked Chef Jamie Oliver did. Oliver  was reduced to tears trying to convince Virginians to eat better.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Christopher Hitchens re-reads Animal Farm

George Orwell's Animal Farm, written in 1943-44 and published in 1946, is one of my favourite books.

In an introduction, Orwell writes
". . . for the past ten years I have been convinced that the destruction of the Soviet myth was essential if we wanted a revival of the socialist movement. On my return from Spain [Orwell fought against the Fascists] I thought of exposing the Soviet myth in a story that could be easily understood by almost anyone . . . However, the actual details of the story did not come to me for some time until one day (I was then living in a small village) I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge carthorse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat."

I proceeded to analyse Marx's theory from the animals' point of view.

According to Wikipedia's List of books banned by governments: "Author’s preface suppressed in nearly all editions. In the 1940s, Allied forces found the book critical of the USSR, and therefore the material was too controversial to print during wartime; publishers were reticent to print the work, and copies were suppressed. A play of Animal Farm was banned in Kenya in 1991, because it criticizes corrupt leaders. In 2002, the novel was banned in the schools of the United Arab Emirates, because it contained text or images that goes against Islamic and Arab values."

And here is a pic of George Orwell, one of my heroes.

Learn more about the context in which the book was written in Christopher Hitchens' review for the Guardian.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Microsoft's sweatshop?

This photo supposedly shows Chinese workers in a factory in Dongguan, China, slumped in exhaustion at their workstations. To be honest, it looks like they are napping to me, the way Cambodians do during their lunch break.

Anyway, this is what the UK's Daily Mail reports (surprising, since it's a right-wing tabloid):
"Showing Chinese sweatshop workers slumped over their desks with exhaustion, it is an image that Microsoft won't want the world to see.

Employed for gruelling 15-hour shifts, in appalling conditions and 86f heat, many fall asleep on their stations during their meagre ten-minute breaks.

For as little as 34p an hour, the men and women work six or seven days a week, making computer mice and web cams for the American multinational computer company.

This photo and others like it were smuggled out of the KYE Systems factory at Dongguan, China, as part of a three-year investigation by the National Labour Committee, a human rights organisation which campaigns for workers across the globe.


Microsoft said it was committed to the 'fair treatment and safety of workers'. A spokesman added: 'We are aware of the NLC report and we have commenced an investigation. 'We take these claims seriously and we will take appropriate remedial measures in regard to any findings of misconduct.'"

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cambodia's Fake Mercedes

This letter about a trip in Cambodia was published in Malaysian newspaper The Star and won the writer a hotel stay.

One of my expat friends in Phnom Penh, a Brit, had a fake Mercedes van. She told me the insignia was stuck on a Japanese or Korean make. Maybe that was what happened to the letter writer!

The winning letter:
Scary car ride

My friends and I went to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap for a holiday not long ago. Upon checking in, we decided to book a ground package offered by the hotel. Transport would be provided from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.

At the appointed time, we became apprehensive when we saw an old Mercedes Benz with a “For Sale” sign pasted on the windscreen roll up.

Two hours into the trip, the car started shaking. This was not a good sign. An hour later, it was the steering wheel’s turn to shake — violently.

We told the driver to stop the car and check what was wrong. And what did we find? One of the wheels was loose! Most of the bolts and nuts had dropped off!

Our driver recovered odds and ends along the road but none of these fallen parts could be used any more. Imagine our horror. If we had gone on for another hour, the wheel would have rolled off!

What would have happened had we not asked the driver to stop?

We had an anxious ride the rest of the way with said wheel held in place by only three nuts borrowed from the other three wheels.

Imagine the relief we felt when we finally arrived at Siem Reap! The horrifying car ride aside, the trip was actually pleasant and enjoyable.

Diana Kho, Kajang

Canada's Aspire wants Cambodia's iron ore to sell to China

From otcnewswire:
Aspire International, Inc. (“Aspire” or the “Company”) (OTCBB:APIT) announced today that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been signed with the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy (MIME) of Cambodia for conducting geological data collection in Phnum Ngout area, Salakrau district, Pailin province, Ratanakmondol and Samlot districts, Battambang province, Kingdom of Cambodia.

The objective of the MOU is the cooperation of geological data collection for preliminary geological survey for mineral deposits in the above-mentioned area. The MIME Ministry of Cambodia agrees to allow the Company to cooperate with General Department of Mineral Resources (GDMR) to conduct the geological data collection to consider in applying for the exploration and exploiting licenses in the future.

The surface area by mining standards is quite exceptional at 261 square kilometers. This sizeable area under acquisition is considered to contain rich amounts of Iron Ore that, based on historical exploration data, represents a potential resource size believed to be in excess of 1 billion tons of exploitable Iron Ore.

Iron Ore has more than doubled in price over the past year and currently sells for as high as $140 per ton. With recent media reports of expectations of prices in excess of $200 per ton by year’s end, it makes this MOU an especially valuable opportunity for Aspire to acquire a very sizeable Iron Ore deposit so close to China, which is by far the largest importer and most voracious consumer of Iron Ore in the entire world

Aspire International Inc. (OTCBB:APIT) was registered on December 18, 2007 in the state of Maryland. Perfisans Networks Corporation, founded in 2001, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Aspire International Inc. and is headquartered in Markham, Ontario, Canada.

More information can be obtained from the Company’s web sites at and

Australian investors' US$600mil Cambodian land deal

Australia’s former finance minister, Peter Costello, announced a USD600 million investment in Cambodia, for more than 100,000 hectares of land - a deal four times larger by value than any single agricultural investment in Cambodia. Costello is now the MD of BKK Partners Ltd, a corporate advisory firm based in Sydney. The reason for his client's investment? "Rising food prices in 2008 alerted investors to the returns they can make from buying or leasing tracts of land in poor countries that have plenty of water and fertile land."

Cambodians have called for transparency:

We would hope that this kind of investment from a society like Australia would be done in a proper manner," [MP] Son Chhay said. "I would very much like that this BKK company provides the contract to the public so I can have a copy of that."

Land in Cambodia is a complicated topic, not least because of the Khmer Rouge rule in the 1970s, when private property was abolished and land documents destroyed. In recent years around 1.1 million land title documents have been awarded, but that is less than 10 percent of the total land parcels, says the World Bank, which was involved in the scheme.

Combine a lack of title with the fact that around 80 percent of the 14 million Cambodians live in rural areas, and around 40 percent of them live under the poverty line, and the rising landlessness problem has many worried about social instability.

Read full story on IPS News.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The corruption of Cambodia

Benevolence comes to human beings "as naturally as fire turns upward or water turns downward", provided that persons in position of authority illustrate benevolence in their own lives - Mo Tzu (墨子) (ca. 470 BCE–ca. 391 BCE)

I have been feeling depressed since a conversation with a Cambodian I know and whom I have had financial dealings with; someone I have always regarded as honest and decent.

"T" met a Khmer woman who started a project ostensibly to help Cambodian children. She rented a 5 bedroom villa to house the children after securing funding from a Kiwi man. It didn't take long, fewer than 6 months, before the truth emerged. She was pocketing the bulk of the sponsor's money while spending a little on the children. The donor promptly cut her off. Without the money she sent the children back to their families and left the 5 bedroom house.

The Kiwi man realised what a great job running a children's centre is - if you can get it. So he asked my friend if he would like to be partners. T would be responsible for getting the children set up in a home while the Kiwi guy would bring in the money. They would share the profits. T thought it was a great opportunity. After all, he told me, "there is no limit to sponsor money".

I asked why this Kiwi guy would want to do this since he is obviously rich to sponsor the kids in the first place. T shrugged and said simply, "the rich want to be richer."

So now T has his own idea on how to make more money. Basically he would like me to set up a guesthouse with him. He said "we must cheat the customer a little". "What do you mean?" "Oh, many people do like that in Cambodia. Tell customer some of the money go to orphanage but take the money." He paused. "Maybe give orphanage a little."

He told me a Japanese man married to a Cambodian woman did something like that. He raised money for 100 wells but only built 10. I don't know how he got found out but T says "he cannot go home to Japan now."

I told T I am not surprised. I said if I did something like this I would be thrown in jail in Singapore for fraud.

T laughed and said, "in Cambodia no problem." He said we will not get caught because we can pay to get all the documentation and he can also arrange for the photos of the orphans.

I was shaking my head and saying no, no, it is wrong. I told T I myself have been cheated by my former manager Sipha and I felt hurt. I do not want to hurt other people because I know what that feels like, the betrayal, the hurt. And you know what T said? "You got cheated by Sipha because in your last life you cheated her," he grinned.

At that point I wanted to up and leave. Conversation O-V-E-R. How do you argue with someone who draws from "past lives" as his defence?

(By the way, by "argue" I mean the definitions below, and not "quarrel", which is what "argue" is often mistaken to be:

ar·gue (ärgy)
v. ar·gued, ar·gu·ing, ar·gues
1. To put forth reasons for or against; debate: "It is time to stop arguing tax-rate reductions and to enact them" (Paul Craig Roberts).
2. To attempt to prove by reasoning; maintain or contend: The speaker argued that more immigrants should be admitted to the country.
3. To give evidence of; indicate: "Similarities cannot always be used to argue descent" (Isaac Asimov).
4. To persuade or influence (another), as by presenting reasons: argued the clerk into lowering the price.

"Past lives" a lazy way of explaining things, of arguing. And it absolves people of responsibility. By this "reasoning", a Cambodian's bad actions will always be justified - because he/she was aggrieved in his/her past life(s).

This is what I find to be the most ridiculous, not just ridiculous - harmful - aspect of Buddhism. (In general I am attracted to Buddhist philosophy about mindfulness and non-attachment and knowing oneself but I have serious problems with parts of it. A Khmer friend, a former monk himself, once told me he thinks many monks are parasites. They do not contribute to society; only pray and beg. But I think there are good monks - those who teach English to other Khmers, and take in poor children in the wats (pagodas). And wasn't it the monks in Burma who tried to spark a revolution?)

"Past lives" is also the reason (story) Cambodians give (tell) themselves in order to make them feel better that so-and-so is rich and they poor - "He must have been a good man in his past life, that is why he is rewarded with riches. I must have been a bad person, that's why I am poor."

I continued arguing with T because I was curious. I asked, when does it all end? If A does harm to B and B harms A in the next life, can A harm B again in the third life? Why not? What if the harm B did to A was much greater (say kill 5 members of his family versus 2)? When will it end? How do you measure when justice has been weighed and meted out fairly?

And anyway, doesn't being a Buddhist mean you are supposed to be a good person?

To this T said, "we believe before we die, we go to wash ourselves in the Ganges River, you know in India, to wash away all the bad things." I was confused because that's what Hindus do, not Buddhists, but I suspect T himself is confused - Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism (the Chinese altars you see in all the Cambodian shops is Taoist) - everything has been merged into one for many Khmers.

How convenient. At the time when Sipha stole from me, I could not get my head around it: how she would pray religiously and give food and money to monks every bon (festival), yet ripped me off the moment she could. Then I read George Orwell's Burmese Days (George Orwell was at one time a policeman in Burma).

In the opening chapters of the book, there is a fat, disgusting, police chief, who does much evil but who thinks before he dies he will build stupas to accumulate merit. Many people I have told this story to tell me confession works the same way for Catholics - confess and your sins are forgiven and you are redeemed.

(My view of religion is best expressed by Seneca (ca. 4 BC – AD 65): "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.")

I told T there is more to life than money, otherwise I would not be here in Cambodia. He looked at me thoughtfully. Then he spoke: "You know now in Cambodia Khmer people say if you have a good heart you will never get rich; the people who have black heart are the people who are rich."

This is what seriously depresses me about Cambodia. The people are getting greedy and more corrupt by the day. A person who starts out kind and honest like T sees his rulers, neighbours, all getting rich, often by ruthless and corrupt means and thinks, "Here I am trying to do an honest day's work and for what? I will never be as rich."

I keep thinking of the Chinese philosopher Mo Tzu (墨子) (ca. 470 BCE–ca. 391 BCE) and what he believed: that benevolence comes to human beings "as naturally as fire turns upward or water turns downward", provided that persons in position of authority illustrate benevolence in their own lives.

It is no wonder T thinks the way he does - why should the common people just stand by while their rulers and elite get rich selling the country. You are just a fool to do that. After all, money is power.

If you think about it, money was the thing that could have saved a Khmer (or anyone) when the Khmer Rouge took control, and foreigners fled or were evacuated. If you did not have money to pay your way out of the country you were stuck and faced huge suffering and even death.

For Cambodians who grew up with the war (as T did), money must be hugely important. There is also more than a little envy when they see the Khmers who did escape the war, and who ended up in the US, France and what have you and who are now back running businesses, who have bought large tracts of land, all with their foreign-earned dollars.

I don't blame T because I have never suffered because of a lack of money (my only memory was when I could not afford a SGD$400 Motorola modem - yes, that is what they cost back then - for Internet dialup connection). I cannot understand what it feels like to lust after money - the desperation to be rich.

The knowledge that I am living among people like these does have an effect on me. It makes me want to get out, out of Cambodia, out of a place where people are willing to sacrifice their morals, their principles, for money. So many travellers have told me Vietnam is like that now - everyone is out on the make, the Vietnamese will even try to rip you off over a bottle of mineral water. Travellers tell me it is exhausting, always having to be on your guard because everyone is out to rip you off. I really hope Cambodia will not go down that road but I'm not optimistic.

I also feel like I have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. Because the people's obsession with money was the reason I left Singapore.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Malaysian woman and her Cambodian maid; me and mine

I was appalled to read this today:

"When the maid agent was at my house, he asked me to brief him again my maid’s weaknesses and mistakes. After briefing him, the agent reprimanded my maid big time. We then went to the laundry room where my maid keeps her clothes and watched her pack her things. I then told the agent that this maid has been treating the laundry room like a rubbish dump as she has been keeping things that we had thrown into the dustbin in this room. All of a sudden, the unexpected happened. The agent did something to the maid which I did not expect that he would do it at my house…. right in front of me. I was really shocked, dumbfounded and for a moment, I felt bad that the agent had done it to my maid, not only once but thrice. My maid was in tears and I felt sorry for my maid. After the agent had briefed the new temp maid what to do, he left with my Cambodian maid."

The woman decided to hire an Indonesian instead, moaning "Now, I have to start training my new temp Indon maid from scratch. I hate to think that just when she has gotten use to everything, she would have to leave when the new permanent maid arrives and I will have to train the new maid all over again."

I've always been against hiring domestic helpers who live with the family ("maids" they are called in Singapore and Malaysia). It's a completely unnatural situation to live with someone and not regard them as a member of the family (or pack in the animal world). Instead, you have to treat this person as a staff member who is doing a job in exchange for a salary.

Fair enough, but familiarity breeds contempt and the whole situation is so unnatural that many employers end up treating their helpers much worse than they would any other staff member who does not live with them.

I once walked past a terrace house where a Singaporean woman was scolding her maid in the backyard. The young Indonesian woman was made to stand while the woman sat and talked down to her as if she was a child. Some bosses even make their helpers kneel to receive punishment. It's just appalling. These are grown women - women old enough to leave their home countries to come alone to a foreign land in order to earn an honest living. They deserve more respect. But they are treated as children who need to be disciplined once they move in to live with the family.

The problem I think is the unnaturalness of the situation. It is almost impossible to live with a person and not have some kind of personal relationship with the person. I employed a live-in helper after moving to Cambodia. We had always resisted a live-in helper but a Malaysian missionary asked us to help this woman, a widow who had sold her land because her son had killed a young man in a motorcycle accident. The widow, who has 3 children, sold the land to pay off the family of the dead man. She is honest and hardworking, said the missionary. Based on the recommendation, we took her in. Big mistake.

First of all, this woman was in her 50s. We treated her like an aunty. For instance, I would ask her if she'd like some tea if I was making some. She did the housework and loved our dogs which was all we asked for. We don't have children and live a simple life so there wasn't that much to do. She would spend every afternoon napping in our hammock, to the amazement of Khmer and barang friends who visited. One Western friend told me she was lazy. We were not too bothered I guess cos we are easy-going. As long as the house was clean, that's fine. I had other things to do apart from manage her anyway.

A Singaporean friend who visited told me I was in for trouble. "You need to draw boundaries," she said. This friend has had live-in helpers her whole life and knows a thing or two on managing helpers. She told me I also needed a "bad cop", which should be Alan. In her household, my friend is the good cop while her mom the bad cop. It was all very confusing to me - worse than confusing, unnatural. I did not think I could act the roles well. The thing I kept hearing from friends, most of them who have helpers, was "be careful or they will climb over your head."

True enough this happened with Ming (the Cambodian word for "aunty") Vee. She would show her temper when asked to do something she did not like and would yell at the Bloom women (at that time they were working in the house) because she thought she was part of the boss's family and therefore above the women. The women came to resent her and started telling me tales about Vee. The worse thing that happened was Vee started shouting at my mother when my mother came for a visit and asked her to do some work.

I should have listened to everyone but truthfully, I thought she was ok at her job. Finally I found out she had been stealing from me (I knew she did strange things like keep our underwear in her drawer - for black magic I was told).

I had gone to Singapore for 2 weeks and when I returned, she said her son was very sick and she needed to go back to Kampong Thom to see him. I said go, go, and even gave her money for the bus fare. It was only after she left I realised my camera, gifts and many, many metres of expensive trimming was gone. I had a Canadian friend house sit during these 2 weeks and she told me USD50 had gone missing from her jeans pocket. Vee insisted she did not take the money, and I paid my friend back for her loss. My friend told me Vee would disappear during the afternoons and we suspect Vee stole our things and passed them to her friends during this time.

Incredibly, she called a week later to ask if she could come back. I told her off and of course she denied stealing the items. I was furious and got the Malaysian missionary to get her to meet me. I thought the missionary had some responsibility since it was she who recommended I hire this woman. Of course Vee denied everything. I was disappointed also with the missionary who basically couldn't give a toss, kept mum and refused to be drawn into the dispute. Since then, my other expat friends and I have learnt about foreigners like her - foreigners who are always recommending Khmers they themselves had problems with. They pass off their problems to someone else. I think it is because people like this missionary like to be heroes, to be thanked and have gratitude from Khmers. I can't think of any other explanation.

In the case of Vee, she had been suspected of stealing from this missionary's organisation. She was responsible for cooking for the Khmers in the NGO and she would return with less food than what she was paid to buy, a very common practice here (cooks will pocket the difference). After she was gone the Bloom women told me Vee would show them trinklets which she attempted to sell. It seems she had sold our things to buy goods to sell. None of the women told me this while Vee was in our employment because they feared she wielded power.

Since then we have not had a live-in helper. We find it more trouble than it's worth. Managing helpers can be very challenging and some women can be mean (my friend caught hers with a man on her bed, another found photos of her helper in my friend's bikini and stealing is common). Whatever they do though, there's never a reason to abuse your worker. Or to tolerate your agent doing it.

PS: For some reason Singapore does not accept helpers from Cambodia, although they accept those from Burma. Anyone know why? Also, Singaporean readers may like to learn more fromTransient Workers Count Too or TWC2.

In Cambodia, Democracy Should Be...

A Khmer friend has won a competition organised by the US Embassy in Phnom Penh (which also bought a bunch of bags from Bloom for Earth Day - thanks US Embassy!). Kounila Keo is a student at the Department of Media and Communication, Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Read more including an interview with KK here.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Selling to the highest bidder: story of the discovery of Sean Flynn's remains

The remains [of Sean Flynn, son of Errol, pictured here] handed over to the US authorities in Cambodia were found by Briton Keith Rotheram and Scottish-born Australian David MacMillan more than two weeks ago. Reports say they were alerted to the location in Kampong Cham province in eastern Cambodia by a local man who claimed to have been a witness to the execution of a tall, blond foreigner. The witness claimed the foreigner had been forced to dig his own grave before he was battered to death.

The two men hired bomb disposal experts, a bulldozer and teams of local people to excavate the site in the village of Phka Dong, where they uncovered clothes, bone fragments and teeth. Contacted yesterday by The Independent, Mr Rotheram, who runs a guesthouse in the town of Sihanoukville, refused to answer any questions about the discovery, the full story of which, he said, would "be for the highest bidder"....

Yet the excavation of the site has been criticised by a colleague of the journalists who has led the search for them almost ever since they went missing. Tim Page, a British photographer celebrated for his work in Vietnam and other conflicts, said he believed a number of other foreign journalists may have been executed and buried at the same site...

"I have had hundreds of people contact me over the years about Sean and I'm always interested in what they have to say," Mr Page, who now lives in Brisbane, told The Australian. "But there is a very strict procedure to be followed when digging at a site of possible human remains, and in this case that has not been followed... It was not a forensic dig. They used an excavator and uncovered a full set of remains, which they removed from the site."
Photo and full story from


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