Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Russians re-incarnated in Cambodia!

The other day Kagna was reading Angkor Thom magazine, a bestseller in Cambodia. I had written a "review" of one of the issues last June where I described the stories published. I see things have not changed...

This story features a pair of albino brothers. Here is Angkor Thom's version: The brothers are reincarnated white people (!!!)

The monk was the first discovered reincarnated white person in that neighbourhood. The story is that he was a Russian who died in Cambodia and then re-incarnated in Cambodia (or some rubbish like that).

The extended family - all brown skinned except the boy. So how do you explain the way he looks? How do you explain a brown-skinned mother giving birth to a white-skinned boy?

He was re-incarnated of course.

In a way I don't blame the rural people. How could they have any idea about albinism (a congenital disorder in which persons have an absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes because of a defect in an enzyme that is responsible for producing melanin). You would try to explain the situation somehow and a Russian plane crashing into the village and the Russians being re-incarnated, bursting out in their next life, as a whitish Khmer, would be one way...

But really, the publishers of Angkor Thom should know better - and I suspect they do. They just publish such nonsense in order to sell their rag. The thing is, Kagna actually believes the story, even after I explained about albinos to her and how they are found all over the world.

Here is a photo of an albino boy taken from I explained how I knew an albino boy in primary school in Singapore and he had to keep out of the sun because lack of pigmentation makes people more susceptible to sunburn and skin cancers. The sun also hurt the boy's eyes.

Kagna said this was not the case in the Khmer-white boys, they can play in the sun and have no problems with their eyesight. Therefore, they are not albinos, but re-incarnated white people. Q.E.D.


I wish Angkor Thom would be more responsible and make use of its wide reach to teach people things instead of writing rubbish. They could use their influence to really educate the population, teach them things about nature and the world. Albinism is fascinating in itself. Why not write about this?

Then again, even supposedly educated USA has rags that talk about women giving birth to three headed monsters and this:

The Alien is a favourite story

So he was wheeled out again for Obama.


Wanted: Cambodian student in Singapore

I just received this email from a teacher friend in Singapore:

how have u been?
btw, do u happen to know any cambodian youths who are studying in singapore currently?
I am trying to get some of them to do some sharing with my teams on language and cross cultural issues..

Ann Tat

I don't know any Khmers studying in Singapore but if you do, please send Ann Tat an email at 

Thanks everyone!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Update on Bloom the social enterprise

(Bloom duffel bags - all ready for shipment!)

I keep saying I do not write about Bloom enough. I know many people follow our story. They have emailed me to say they'd like to hear more about my experiences setting up a social enterprise and whether and how successful it can be.

I was reminded of this recently after I posted this on my Facebook: Diana Saw: "Yes! deleted about a 100 "friends"-- people i can't even recognise from their photos and others who don't matter to me. hope this way i can see the updates of only real friends."

[I usually do housekeeping on Facebook because I don't want so many friends. After a while it gets hard to keep track of everyone. When I see these people with 1000's of friends I just want to laugh. Who are you kidding? You're obviously just using them for marketing and (self) promotional purposes.]

Most people said "Phew, glad to still be on your list." But then I got this response from a Facebook friend, John.

"Diana, There's very little reason for me to still be able to see this, but I'm glad I can. I fell in love with Cambodia, Bloom products and then the business a couple years ago on my first visit. I hope to spend a lot more time in country in coming years. Bloom is in inspiration about how to do business the right way there. Next time you have to weed the list, maybe there's another way to keep people like me informed about the Bloom story while still tracking your close friends here. Thanks again."

It was a good reminder. This was my response:

Diana Saw: hey john! that's a really good point. thanks so much for reminding me. i went a little berserk early this morning cos my kitten died and wanted to feel like i was doing something useful. i actually have a bloom list of friends--people i know through bloom (those people on my friends list who look like supermodels are not friends i hang out with in real life - i met them all through bloom!). in fact i think 300+ of my friends fall in the bloom category. i have kept them all because i really appreciate their support. the people i deleted are mostly people from my past job, school etc who add me just so. even though we have moved on and don't even send an email to say hi - just "add friend". it's stupid, really. anyway keep in touch and i hope to see you in srok khmer soon! :)

Yes, it has been a very sad couple of weeks for me because a two week old abandoned kitten I found on Sok San road and took care for 2 weeks died. I will write about the experience when I am able to. I can't really right now cos it still breaks my heart.

Anyway, I will try to write more about Bloom. The reality is that I have many interests outside of Bloom. I am curious about Cambodia and interested in my environment here in Siem Reap which is why I blog so much about it. I am also more interested in workers' rights and liberty and justice than in business--and that's the truth.

Much of business is very mundane and uninteresting. Sometimes I can hardly believe I spend my time writing emails to customers who negotiate prices. I am so tired of explaining over and over again why our bags are priced as they are, why they are not as cheap as a factory-made bag. I struggle to keep at these email exchanges when all I want to say "screw it, it's just not worth it. let me refer you to a chinese site that sells cheap and rubbish quality bags".

This part of business is uninteresting at best and unedifying--petty even--at worst.

It is something other friends who have multimillion dollar businesses tell me they dislike too. Possibly it is because my friends are like me, i.e., not real salespeople to begin with. Still, it is something we all recognise and accept has to be done. After all, owners or bosses can delegate many things but, at some point, it falls on the owner/founder/boss to explain why the business is run the way it is (in management speak, it is called "escalation". Staff members are asked to "escalate the problem" to their higher ups, and there is none so high up than the boss).

In Bloom's case, because it is small and I am the only foreigner, it falls on me to deal with things like these. I can hire a professional Khmer manager, I guess, but my intention has always been to help the poorest Khmers, not the middle classes. This is why I have steered clear of hiring managers at Bloom, preferring to hire more sewers, i.e., workers. I like workers; I don't like middle managers quite so much. In my experience workers contribute way more to a business than middle managers.

One solution to this specific problem is to send a template email so I don't have to put in so much effort. But I like responding to enquiries in a personal manner because after all, it is me, a person, dealing with another person.

However, this email from a very good customer in the US shows me there are people who tend to forget about other people when they get caught up in the pursuit of profits. My customer had been talking to a very large online Pet store that is not so Smart:

"They loved the collars leashes but wanted to buy them at a disgustingly low price, plus I paid to ship to them & they have this stupid policy about markdown money if products don't sell through a certain amount every 30 day period. I could go bankrupt just filling their order. I honestly don't understand how anyone can sell to them. I (obviously) graciously declined & told them it is part of my business plan to not only build in a % to each product to give back to charities, but that amazingly enough I needed to have a bit of profit in it as well - to which they replied "Oh, I see. Good Luck" click, hangup. My kids asked me if I was upset because I had put hours into presentations for them - but I said no - I was actually a bit relieved that I avoided getting dragged into a corporate mill that would milk me dry."

My customer is great and these are the people I usually end up doing business with--people who care about others instead of simply lining their own pockets. People like my customer and me want to prove that it is possible to do business in an ethical way, in a way that does not exploit anyone, and in a way that gives back to society. Sadly, many people running large corporations (and even small ones) do not think the same way and operate selfishly.

The other reason I don't blog so much about Bloom is that after almost 4 years, Bloom runs pretty much as a well-oiled machine. The workshop is in Phnom Penh under the hands of a very capable young man, Sina, who not only cuts the ricebags into shape but also oversees production together with another very capable young lady, Kamhut, who also makes the templates. As you can see, we would like our managers to also be hands on and involved in the production of the bags. No one is stuck in an office making decisions that have no relevance to the business.

Meanwhile I live in Siem Reap, a 6 hour bus ride away (I made the move to Siem Reap in Nov 2007). It was always the plan for Bloom to be a workers' cooperative, eventually running on its own without me.

Of course there are issues that crop up now and again. The most costly mistake, apart from Sipha stealing from us, was when we did not write the name of the customer who was awaiting the bags at Bangkok's Le Meridien. EMS (Express Mail Service) Bangkok refused to release the bags to Le Meridien even though the hotel knew who to give the bags to. At the same time, EMS Cambodia refused to accept any responsibility even though they had accepted the forms without the addressee and cleared the parcel. Yes, EMS, you suck.

Finally, after a month of to and fro-ing, the bags arrived back in Phnom Penh and we had to pay for the bags to be re-routed to Holland, at a cost of almost US$300 dollars. Thankfully, the customer was kind enough to share the bill for that. But it was still a costly lesson.

At that time, many friends had asked me to dock the pay of the person responsible for the mistake but, come on, everyone makes mistakes. I know the Khmer staff member responsible felt really bad and even asked to be removed from this responsibility for fear of making the same mistake again.

Anyway, the point is mistakes happen in business, as they do in any other aspect in life. No matter how well you plan things, accidents do happen. The good thing is we did learn something from this and have instituted a new process--forms have always to be double-checked by someone else before they are sent off. A simple enough idea, but one we did not think about until the mistake happened.

Ok that's it for now. It's 10 pm Cambodia time now and I have to take dad to the airport at half past six in the morning by tuktuk. I will make an effort to write more about Bloom, I promise!

Broken chair

I took this photo to show people that nothing is quickly thrown away in Cambodia. Everything is used until it absolutely has got no life left. I contrast this with Singapore, with its throwaway culture. I know people who will throw or give away a pair of shoes once the heels are scruffed. I've even received donations of clothes from Singaporeans - with tags still intact!

Anyway you can see this plastic chair has been sewn together with wire after it broke in places, to extend its life.

The funny thing was where I saw the chair.

Here! Outside ABA bank on Sivatha in Siem Reap. You'd think a bank would have enough money to replace a broken chair...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Reporters without Borders' open letter to Singapore Prime Minister

People do not believe me when I tell them "first world" Singapore ranks lower than third world Cambodia in the Press Freedom Index, an annual ranking of countries compiled and published by Reporters without Borders. For 2009, Cambodia ranks 117 and Singapore, 133. It is an improvement for both countries from 2008's ranking, when Cambodia was 126 and Singapore, 144, out of 175 countries. In my blog post last year, I tried to explain Singapore's repression is more subtle than Cambodia's, but no less effective. Unlike Cambodia, you don't get shot in broad daylight in Singapore for expressing dissenting views in the media. Rather, it is the fear of lawsuits and losing lots of money (possibly even made bankrupt in the case of Singaporeans) that silences foreign media and local critics.

Anyway, following is the letter from RSF which explains the state of press freedom in Singapore (original is here).

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Prime Minister’s Office
Orchard Road
Singapore 238823
Paris, 25 March 2010
Dear Prime Minister,
A foreign news organisation has yet again been forced to apologise to you and your father and pay you a large sum of money for publishing an article you did not like. This time it is the New York Times Co. that is a victim of this double punishment because of a compliant judicial system that always rules in favour of you and your family in all the lawsuits you bring against foreign news media.
Before the New York Times Co., you succeeded in punishing the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER),, The Economist, International Herald Tribune and Asian Wall Street Journal for their coverage of the political and economic situation in your country.
Threatened by a trial, the New York Times Co. apologised to you and your father, Lee Kuan Yew, for the article “All in the Family,” written by Philip Bowring and published in the 15 February issue of the International Herald Tribune. As well as an apology, this US media company had to pay 114,000 US dollars in damages.
Your lawyer, Davinder Singh, said Bowring’s article violated an “agreement” between your family and the International Herald Tribune, which was sentenced in 1994 to pay a large sum in damages for an article entitled “The claims about Asian values don’t usually bear scrutiny.”
The now defunct Far Eastern Economic Review agreed last November, after a long legal wrangle, to pay you and your father 290,000 US dollars in damages. Despite a lack of evidence, Singaporean judges ruled in favour of your family both in the original trial and on appeal without a thought for media freedom.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the judicial harassment which you and your father have practiced for years in order to prevent foreign news media from taking too close an interest in how you run your country. It does serious and lasting harm to press freedom in Singapore.
Your government has repeatedly displayed a disturbing inability to tolerate foreign journalists. Last October, for example, Benjamin Bland, a British freelancer who strings for The Economist and The Daily Telegraph, was denied a visa and permission to cover an APEC summit in Singapore. “I was forced to leave Singapore after the government refused to renew my work visa without any explanation,” Bland told Reporters Without Borders.
But the censorship has above all affected local media and local artistic production. In October 2009, for example, the ministry of information, communication and arts upheld a ban on a documentary by Singaporean filmmaker Martyn See about government opponent Said Zahari.
In response to the publication of the Reporters Without Borders 2009 press freedom index, in which Singapore was ranked 133rd out of 175 countries, your law minister, K. Shanmugam, described it as “absurd” and “disconnected from reality.”
Unfortunately, the facts show that we are right.
In the six years since you became prime minister and said you favoured an “open” society, we have seen very few improvements in the situation of free speech.
We therefore think your government should take the following measures as a matter of urgency:
1. Put a stop to the libel actions which you and your relatives have been bringing against Singaporean and foreign media that cover Singaporean developments in an independent manner. As the UN special rapporteur for freedom of expression recently said, the prime minister, his minister and high officials must refrain from suing journalists over their articles and comments.
2. Amend the criminal code so as to abolish prison sentences for press offences.
3. Amend the press law, especially the articles concerning the granting of publication licences. The current restrictions are preventing the emergence of independent media. The film law should also be relaxed.
4. Reform the national security law so as to abolish administrative detention, which allows the authorities to imprison people because of what they think.
5. Reform the Media Development Authority so that it is no longer able to censor and can solely make recommendations about TV programmes and films.
6. Allow government opponents and civil society representatives unrestricted access to the public media.
7. Guarantee the editorial independence of all the media owned by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and Media Corporation of Singapore (Mediacorp).
8. Transfer the money that your family has obtained in damages from foreign and Singaporean news media to a support fund for imprisoned journalists that Reporters Without Borders proposes to set up.
We regret that you, the members of your government and your father keep citing the need to guarantee Singapore’s stability as grounds for controlling the media and maintaining its draconian laws. Countries that show the most respect for press freedom, such as Finland and Norway, are peaceful and prosperous democracies. Freedom of expression is not a source of political unrest. Quite the contrary.
You have perpetuated your father’s legacy by continuing to harass and intimidate news media. As a result, aside from a few websites specialising in Singapore, no news outlet can publish independent news and information about issues affecting the political situation in your country.
We would be very honoured to be able to meet with you in order to talk about our observations and our proposals for guaranteeing press freedom in Singapore in person.
Jean-Fran├žois Julliard

I love starving artists

So do I - that's why I don't give them any money, lol.
(Spotted in downtown Siem Reap.) 

Happy with Tandem Bike

is quit funny. New addition to Siem Reap. So far I have only seen a Caucasian man with his son riding one. Looks fun.

Praying Mantis

Austin found a praying mantis the other day. 

It's a funny creature. Look at it lifting its "wings", trying to look bigger.

Raaah! stay away!

This is its face. Kindda cute. It's called a praying mantis because of the "prayer-like stance". This was what I found out from More:

"Mantises are exclusively predatory. Insects form the primary diet, but larger species have been known to prey on small lizardsfrogsbirds,snakesfish and even rodents; they will prey upon any species small enough to successfully capture and devour. Most species of mantis are known to engage in cannibalism...
"The female may start feeding by biting off the male’s head (as with any prey), and if mating had begun, the male’s movements may become even more vigorous in its delivery of sperm. Early researchers thought that because copulatory movement is controlled by ganglion in the abdomen, not the head, removal of the male’s head was a reproductive strategy by females to enhance fertilisation while obtaining sustenance. Later, this behaviour appeared to be an artifact of intrusive laboratory observation. Whether the behaviour in the field is natural, or also the result of distractions caused by the human observer, remains controversial. Mantises are highly visual organisms, and notice any disturbance occurring in the laboratory or field such as bright lights or moving scientists." 


More Siem Reap graffiti

Almost 2 years ago I wrote about graffiti art appearing in Siem Reap. This was the first that I noticed. Since then, they have been popping up everywhere. I like the colours and think they brighten up the place. I have been trying to find them all. This one is on Sivatha, near the florist (there is only one).

This one is just opposite Pub Street in the old market area, just round the corner from the U-Care pharmacy.

This is in The Lane, behind Pub Street. It says "Thank You (aur kun) Siem Reap" 

The names are Sopheara (Khmer), Taz and Katherine (not Khmer). I guess this was a Cambodian-Western collaboration. Aw-koon guys/gals ! :)

Then there was this...

some children's drawing on a wall next to this altar, which I found funny, lol.

Vintage Volkswagen Beetle

With Cambodian license plate, that's all. :)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cambodian and Korean find love in Asia

I really like this Korean show called "Love in Asia". It is about foreigners who marry Koreans and their stories. There are more than 1 million foreigners in Korea, according to the "Love in Asia" website. One memorable episode was about a woman from Moldova (people in Korea all think she is from the Maldives) who married a Korean man and how she and her children live in Korea. Her older son found it difficult because his Korean classmates discriminated against him because he looks different. Things changed after the mother gave a talk about her country in his class one day.

Anyway, on 25 May, KBS World broadcast an episode on a Cambodian woman, Theary (they spelt it "Tieri" on the show) who is married to a Korean man. They have one son. The film crew followed her home to Cambodia - her first trip home after more than 2 years living in South Korea.

(It's nice to see a successful marriage between a Cambodian and a Korean. The Cambodian government had twice banned marriages between Khmer women to South Korean men because of trafficking problems.)

I took the following images off the TV.

The Korean hosts of "Love in Asia"

Theary gave her parents an electric rice cooker. She had to teach them to use it and they were amazed after half and hour, fluffy white rice appeared. Her family's house in Phnom Penh is really basic. No wonder Theary was heartbroken to see her family living in a shack, compared with her home in Korea with amenities.

 The family's hometown is an hour from Phnom Penh and she went there for a visit. Her father is a cook and he made a meal specially for her - including her favourite...a pig skin dish

You can see the slats on the floor board. The floor is made of bamboo and is raised above the ground. This is common of Cambodian houses in the countryside, where the wooden houses are on stilts in case of flooding. Also, the underneath of the house provides shade and shelter for the animals.

The family went home for Khmer New Year, or "choul chnam thmey". I like the way KBS tells the story, so I leave them to do it...

versus 22.8% in South Korea (more - 29.2% - are Christian, in case you are wondering why there are so many Korean missionaries in Cambodia)

It is a giant buddha - I have no idea where it is in Phnom Penh.

Along the way we see people who seem to have white powder on their faces, which is soon explained...

At night, the family goes to the riverside in Phnom Penh to pray. She wishes her father...

And he wishes her and ties red string on her wrist for good luck.

At night, the family goes to a dance party.

Her son, Eunho likes Cambodian hammocks!

But soon it is time to part. This was sad, watching Theary say bye and not knowing when she will be back...

 At the end of the show they asked Theary's about her dreams...

Good luck Theary! Hope to see you in Cambodia again soon!

British paedophile runs kid's charity in Cambodia

I had shared the story with my Facebook friends but did not do so on the blog.  I just got this email so I think maybe I should help spread the word. You can read the story on the Mirror ((in the email below) or go to the journalist's site  and read the unedited version here: Be prepared to be sickened. 


I'm a volunteer in Cambodia (just for 2 months though), and I read your blog quite often. Anyway, I saw this article from somewhere else which you might be interested to see. It's an expose about a British pedophile running a charity over here in Cambodia. I think he's still doing it even now, and the authorities ain't or can't do anything about it. I think your blog/facebook has a pretty wide reach, so might be good to just post it up, and let more people know about it. (And also for people to generally be more wary of such "charities" over here, and not to just part with their money without finding out more about the charity first =X)

Wee Kee

Friday, June 25, 2010

Siem Reap shops

Slipper shop on the same road as the Handsome Man shop.

Cambodian fashion is very similar to Thai fashion. Bright bold colours and tight fitting.

The Camera Repair shop is next to the bottled water shop.

A new luxury watch shop on Sivutha Boulevard

Wedding cake house on the road to Psar Leu

fitting for a bakery!

Looking for Liza Kerkache

I met this wonderful lady at my shop last year. Subsequently we spent almost everyday together, and Liza even rolled up her sleeves to help me redecorate the shop. But I have lost touch with Liza. I don't have her email and can't find her online. (I am not even sure I spelt her last name correctly).

This is what I know of Liza. She is a North African and Indian beauty, born in France. Liza is married to an Irishman with whom she has a young son. The family currently lives in Australia where her hubby is a pediatrician. Liza - if you are reading this, please contact me! I think about you often and am still using the oil burner you gave me :)

I hope someone out there can help me get in touch with her again. Your reward will be a Bloom bag!

Satellite TV (and World Cup) in Siem Reap

This is the cable TV company in Siem Reap,  RSCTV. We get 85 channels for US$5 a month. One of the best deals in Cambodia, which made me wonder if many of the channels were pirated - duh. These are the satellite dishes used to receive all the channels. Ch'ran, ch'ran! ("many, many").

The company is great - very professional. Every month their guys come on a motorbike to the house to collect the money (now why can't the electricity people do the same, saving me this trouble?). They always give us a receipt for the $5. We had some problems with channels 80-84 (84 is my beloved Al Jazeera) and told them when they came round for the bill. They returned an hour later to fix the problem. Service is very good and we are very happy with our cable TV.

My poor (ok, not so poor) friends in Singapore have to pay a minimum of US$50 to watch the World Cup, but we get it for free (via Malaysian, Thai and Vietnamese sports channels). The high prices led to public demonstrations, rare in tightly controlled Singapore. Yes, Singaporeans are serious about their soccer, lol.


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