Saturday, December 26, 2009

Where Gods and Soldiers Tend the Border in Cambodia

December 27, 2009
By DANIEL ROBINSON
The New York Times
Explorer


IN the wet season, the roads through the northwestern region of Cambodia turn into an undulating sea of muck, with potholes the size of cars and ruts as deep as truck axles. To figure out which routes were least likely to leave me wet, muddy and stranded, I buttonholed a dozen long-distance taxi drivers before settling on the toll road from Dam Dek, which had the added attraction of passing by two out-of-the-way Angkorian temples, Beng Mealea and Koh Ker.

My destination was an even more remote Angkor-era complex: Preah Vihear Temple, awesomely perched 1,700 feet above Cambodia’s northern plains, near the country’s border with Thailand. Designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008 — not without some international controversy — it makes an adventurous alternative to far-better-known Angkor Wat. While several thousand foreign tourists visit the temples of Angkor on a typical day, Preah Vihear Temple gets, on average, just five.

I was traveling with my friend and driver, Hang Vuthy, in a 1991 Toyota Camry with a surprising New York past: according to a window sticker, it had once belonged to a member of the Yonkers Police Captains, Lieutenants and Sergeants Association. Imagining the car in a mid-Atlantic blizzard, it occurred to me that wet-season driving in outback Cambodia is not entirely unlike navigating unplowed snowy side streets. Indeed, for much of our journey we avoided the most treacherous stretches of mire and snaked around potholes of indeterminate depth by religiously following a single serpentine track rendered navigable by earlier cars and trucks.

Preah Vihear Temple — the name means Mountain of the Sacred Temple — is the most spectacularly situated of all Angkorian monuments. Built from the ninth to the 12th centuries atop a peak of the Dangkrek Mountains, it occupies a triangular plateau rising from the Thailand border to a prow-shaped promontory.

An ever-changing architectural, mythological and geological panorama unfolds as visitors progress along the temple’s 2,600-foot-long processional axis, up a series of gently sloping causeways and steep staircases through five gopura, or pavilions, each more sacred than the last.

I began my visit at the bottom of the Monumental Staircase, which, according to the Angkor scholar Vittorio Roveda, “symbolizes the laborious path of faith needed to approach the sacred world of the gods.” The 163 gray sandstone steps, partly carved into the living rock, are flanked by statues of lions and, near the top, two magnificent nagas (seven-headed serpents) facing north toward Thailand. Also intently watching Thai territory were several AK-47-toting Cambodian soldiers in camouflage.

The first structure I came to, called Gopura V by generations of archaeologists, was an airy cruciform construction once topped by wood beams and a terra-cotta tile roof. Many of the stones have tumbled over, but the delicately balanced eastern pediment has survived to become Preah Vihear’s most recognizable icon, appearing on publicity posters, patriotic T-shirts and the new 2,000-riel banknote.

In centuries past, this pavilion was where pilgrims from the plains of Cambodia, having just climbed the steep, mile-long Eastern Staircase (mined and inaccessible for decades but soon to reopen), met their counterparts from what is now Thailand, who had completed a rather less-taxing ascent from the Khorat Plateau.

Alongside a group of saffron-robed monks, I continued north on a majestic, sandstone avenue, 800 feet long, to Gopura IV. There, I came upon a particularly vivid bas-relief depicting the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, a Hindu creation myth in which gods and demons churn the primeval waters to extract the ambrosia of immortality.

Although most of the splendid decorative carvings at Preah Vihear, including this one, depict Vishnu, the temple was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. In later centuries, it was converted to use as a Buddhist sanctuary, and today many of the visitors are Buddhist pilgrims.

As I continued my ascent, I walked under exquisite lintels and tympanums depicting more scenes from Hindu epics like the Mahabharata, and beneath richly carved double pediments adorned with finials and upturned gable ends — calling cards of Cambodian and Thai architecture to this day. Ancient inscriptions in Khmer and Sanskrit, bearing cryptic details about the history of the temple and the Angkorian kings who built it, were hidden here and there under a patina of lichen.

The temple’s culminating point, geographically and symbolically, is Gopura I, whose mandapa (antechamber) and Central Sanctuary, now a jumbled pile of carved sandstone blocks, are surrounded by galleries that call to mind a French Gothic cloister, except that here the windows are rectilinear and the galleries covered by corbelled vaults. (The Khmers, for all their architectural genius, never mastered the keystone arch.)

The entire structure is inward-looking, its outer walls almost devoid of openings despite the sweeping views just outside. Scholars speculate that while the site was considered holy in part because of its spectacular situation, the ancient architects may have believed that picture windows would distract both priests and pilgrims from their sacred tasks.

As I approached the rocky tip of the promontory, just beyond Gopura I, a breathtaking panorama came into view. Cambodia’s verdant northern plains extended majestically toward the horizon, and in the distance I could just make out Phnom Kulen, about 65 miles to the southwest, where the Khmer Empire was founded in A.D. 802. (Angkor itself lay hidden in the haze, 88 miles away.)

To the east, toward Laos, and the west, the Dangkrek Mountains stretched into the distance in a series of serrated bluffs. Looking north, almost everything I could see was in Thailand, rendered remote and mysterious by its inaccessibility.

Thailand ruled much of northwestern Cambodia, including Preah Vihear Temple, from the late 18th century until 1907, when the French colonial administration forced the Thais to withdraw to the current international frontier; Cambodian sovereignty over Preah Vihear was confirmed by the International Court of Justice in 1962.

Thailand, despite unresolved land claims, initially supported Cambodia’s Unesco bid for World Heritage status, but the temple soon became a pawn in Thai and Cambodian domestic politics, unleashing nationalist passions in both countries.

In July 2008, according to Cambodian authorities, Thai soldiers intruded into Cambodian territory near the temple. The Thai government denied that any border violations had taken place. Since then, a total of at least seven soldiers from both sides have been killed in intermittent exchanges of fire, according to local news reports. At the time of my visit, though, the frontier had been quiet for several months.

Curious about what the standoff actually looked like, I asked my guide, conveniently a moonlighting army officer, if I could get a glimpse of the Thais. He took me to the bottom of the Monumental Staircase, where I could hear the distant sounds of war — air-raid sirens and shooting — but the combat was taking place on a tiny television, which off-duty soldiers were watching with rapt attention.

We walked along a forest trail past a volleyball court and trenches, passing soldiers in hammocks with their wives stealing a moment of intimacy in an encampment with little privacy, to a forest clearing with a bamboo table at the center.

About 20 yards in front of us stood a line of neatly built bunkers; uniformed men could be seen among the dark green sandbags. “So those are Cambodian soldiers?” I asked, trying to get my bearings. “No,” my guide answered, “those are Thais. Over there” — he turned 180 degrees and pointed to a line of bunkers 20 yards in the other direction — “are Cambodians.” The table, I realized, marked the midpoint of no-man’s land.

The Cambodians’ front-line bunkers, made of disintegrating sandbags sprouting grass, were shaded by blue and green tarpaulins and surrounded by orderly gardens. Their raised observation post, topped by a thatched roof, looked as if it might have been on loan from “Gilligan’s Island.” I was in the middle of a very un-Korean Panmunjom, a laid-back, tropical version of Christmas 1914 on the Western Front.

I soon learned that the Cambodian soldiers stationed there call the site Sambok Kmom, or beehive, because, they say, the area’s many wild bees leave Cambodians unmolested but set upon any Thai who encroaches on Cambodian land. Moved by national feeling, domestic tourists wearing krama (traditional checked scarves that serve as something of a Cambodian national symbol) wandered by, distributing cigarettes and other morale-boosting gifts to the soldiers who were deployed to help the bees protect Cambodian sovereignty.

Around the clearing, soldiers from both sides, unarmed and without body armor or helmets, were relaxing in front of their own front-line bunkers. Cambodian officers seemed to find the bamboo table, shaded by trees tall enough to let breezes through, especially congenial. A few paces away, the Thais had strung a hammock between trees, and one soldier, lounging in a white T-shirt, black combat pants and black military boots, was engrossed in a cellphone call.

Despite the apparent tranquillity, I knew that if the order were given, the men on both sides of the invisible line would not hesitate to shoot. In fact, many of the Cambodian troops stationed around Preah Vihear are battle-hardened former Khmer Rouge fighters. For now, though, relations are casual and, I was told, some wary friendships have developed.

The best staging point for a visit to Preah Vihear Temple is Sra Em (also spelled Sa Em), 19 miles by road from the temple. Two years ago, it was a sleepy crossroads hamlet with a single grimy restaurant and one rundown guesthouse. These days, in the wake of the area’s military buildup, it feels like a Gold Rush boomtown, with haphazardly parked four-wheel-drives instead of tethered horses; karaoke bars sporting pink fluorescent lamps and colored lights, instead of saloons; and the gleanings of Cambodia’s recently doubled defense budget, instead of gold nuggets glinting in the stream. Armed men in camouflage uniforms abound.

Sra Em’s accommodation options are rudimentary, to put it politely. My room’s star amenity was a cold-water spigot for filling the plastic bucket used both to bathe and to flush, and below the cheap plastic mirror and its public access comb, dust bunnies had formed around the hair of guests past. Each time I returned to my room, I found a dead cricket, a new one every day, hinting, perhaps, at the presence of some sinister insecticide.

Preah Vihear Temple is, obviously, not quite ready for mainstream tourism. During the two days I spent at the temple in October, I saw only four other Westerners, including an unhappy German couple whose day trip from Angkor Wat had been rather more trying than expected, and perhaps 50 or so Cambodian tourists. But intrepid travelers who brave the diabolical (though improving) roads, substandard accommodations and alarming government travel advisories are richly rewarded.

For 40 generations, Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims have trekked to this temple, seeking to ascend toward the holy and the transcendent. Today, the awe-inspiring nature of this Angkorian masterpiece, accentuated by the challenges of getting there, confer on every trip the aura of a pilgrimage.

NAIL-BITING TAXI TRIPS AND A VOLCANO AT YOUR TABLE

GETTING THERE

With the visa-free crossing from Thailand closed for the foreseeable future, getting to Preah Vihear Temple requires battling Cambodia’s famously potholed roads, which are at their worst during the wet season (about June to October).

Share-taxis, which have no set schedule and depart when full, link Sra Em with Siem Reap via the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng ($7.50 a person; 130 miles; three hours) and with the provincial capital of Tbeng Meanchey ($6.50; 65 miles; two hours). The U.S. dollar is widely accepted.

The taxis, usually “jacked-up” Toyota Camrys, carry six or seven passengers in addition to the driver, so if you want the front seat to yourself you’ll have to pay two fares. Ante up six times the single fare and you’ve got yourself a private taxi.

From Sra Em, a ride to Kor Muy on the back of a motorbike will run about $3.75. Then the three-mile ride up the mountain to Preah Vihear Temple, on a concrete road whose gradients will impress even San Franciscans, is $5 by motorbike or $20 to $25 by four-wheel-drive pickup.

WHERE TO STAY

Glassless windows, sinkless bathrooms, towels with the absorptive capacity of a plastic bag, fans that run only when a generator is sputtering outside your window (usually from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.) and laissez-faire housekeeping are, alas, the norm in Sra Em’s guesthouses. I should have stayed at the 25-room Tuol Monysophon (855-99-620-757), which opened this year. A brown, barn-like structure topped with a red tile roof, it has basic rooms downstairs with private baths, mosquito nets and wood-plank floors, for $10; smaller upstairs rooms with shared facilities are $7.50. To get there from the triangular crossroads, head west (toward Anlong Veng) for 500 yards.

WHERE TO EAT

The Preah Vihear area’s best restaurant, hands down, is Sra Em’s Pkay Prek Restaurant (855-12-636-617), an unpretentious complex of open-air, fluorescent-lit pavilions with plenty of geckos. The specialty is phnom pleoung (hill of fire; $3.75), a meat and veggie feast you grill yourself at your table on an aluminum “volcano” suspended above glowing coals.

SAFETY

Before setting out to Preah Vihear Temple, check the Phnom Penh Post (phnompenhpost.com), the Cambodia Daily or other reliable sources to make sure that Thai-Cambodian tensions are not rising.

According to the Cambodian Mine Action Center (www.cmac.org.kh), the immediate vicinity of the temple is now safe, having been cleared in recent years of more than 8,800 anti-personnel mines. However, nearby areas are still heavily mined, so do not, under any circumstances, wander off the footpaths.

WHAT TO READ

The most useful guidebook in English (and Thai) to the temple’s architecture, symbolism and history is “Preah Vihear” by Vittorio Roveda (Bangkok: River Books, 2000), but it may be difficult to find.

Let Freedom Ring in 2010

This article was written f0r the approaching new year of 2007, but it is still relevant three years on. I heartily agree that the four freedoms are apt expressions for a new year's resolution.


Saturday, December 26, 2009
KI Media
"National New Year Resolution: Upholding the Four Freedoms"

First published in January 2007 (reprinted in January 2008) in The Phnom Penh Post and Khmer translation in Koh Santepheap, as part of the Voice of Justice columns. Rather than progressing, Cambodia is regressing on these four freedoms, most notably with the re-stripping of parliamentary immunity of the political opposition leader and the crackdown on democracy and human rights activists. As we pray for the safety of those unjustly arrested in Svay Rieng, let us be reminded of Gandhi's words: "An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so." Another, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." And also, "Freedom is never dear at any price. It is the breath of life. What would a man not pay for living?" The lessons we learned from the American civil rights movement which resulted in Barak Obama becoming president are summed up by Martin Luther King, Jr., "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." Now, more than ever, we need to be reminded and uphold these four freedoms here in oppressed Cambodia.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations reminds us that whoever we are - rich or poor, farmers or city dwellers, white or black, male or female, Buddhist or Christian, Khmer or Vietnamese or African or American or French - whoever, it doesn't matter - each of us innately yearns for the freedom of expression, the freedom of belief, the freedom from fear and the freedom from want These four freedoms encapsulate what it means to be fundamentally human and express the highest aspirations of the common person throughout all ages. These four freedoms form the cornerstone of a democracy and are fundamental to social development, whatever level of progress of that society or nation.

We are starting a new year and at a time like this, it is instructive to reflect and re-commit ourselves to fundamentals, beginning with the upholding of these four freedoms. In the ten months that I have been at the helm of the Center for Social Development (CSD), I have witnessed that these four freedoms are not yet sufficiently present in current Cambodian society as reflected in the persistent angst of the common Cambodian.

• Freedom of Expression In 2006, we have witnessed our fundamental freedom to express our thoughts, desires, opinions and ideas curbed and suppressed, sometimes violently, sometimes through ill-constructed laws. We witnessed grass-roots human rights activists imprisoned, villagers protesting illegal land-grabbing suppressed violently, garment workers killed or wounded. We were aghast that members of the National Assembly should vote to limit their own ability to debate ideas (or as more memorably put by US Ambassador Joseph A Mussomeli, ''castrate themselves") and thus downgrade the quality of their duties and responsibilities. And as we go into 2007, our freedom to expression continues to be fundamentally inhibited by the criminalizing of defamation.

• Freedom of Belief This freedom to believe according to the dictates of one's conscience exists but is limited by the lack of other freedoms. Currently in Cambodia, it is true a Khmer is free to believe (in law and in practice) in whatever religion, whatever political party, whatever ideas. However, this freedom of belief is meaningless if this belief cannot be expressed or if this belief is inhibited by fear,

• Freedom from Fear Fear is the worst enemy of freedom. Fear robs a person of opportunities. Fear oppresses. Fear inhibits. In Cambodia, fear thickly pervades the air and consumes the hearts and minds of Khmers. It can be said a culture of fear rules Cambodia and Cambodians. To a large degree, Aung San Suu Kyi is correct in her observation that it is not power that corrupts but fear.

Courage is the only response to fear. As with any other disposition, courage is only fixed in us through practice. As Aristotle notes in the Nicomachean Ethics almost 2,400 years ago, we become brave only by doing brave acts: "By being habituated to despise things that are terrible and to stand our ground against them we become brave, and it is when we have become so that we shall be most able to stand our ground against them." Moreover, when we encounter obstacles, let us be reminded that they are only invitations to courage. Fear destroys a person's spirit whereas courage builds a person and in turn society, and encourages other freedoms. In this New Year, let us now resolve to be more courageous; let us not be stilled by fear

• Freedom from Want Poverty is living in want; poverty deprives a Cambodian of dignity, opportunities and human potential I believe one of the greatest crimes is to deprive a person of her human potential Here, I grieve the loss of human potential on a monumental scale.

Most Cambodians live in poverty, many of them in abject poverty. According to a UNDP estimate for 2006, one in three (approximately 4.7 million) Cambodians live on less than 2000 Riels (50 cents) a day.

The necessary but not sufficient first steps toward combating poverty must include quality education for Cambodians. We know that the Cambodian education system is in crisis. Corruption pervades. Teachers are woefully underpaid a non-livable wage of US$30 a month and are tasked with educating an average of 55 students per class with woefully inadequate teaching materials. What does it say about political will and generally about our society when we have a high school teacher who is surprised to learn that are different time zones, that when it is 9 a.m. in Cambodia, it is not like this all over the world? This is analogous to thinking that the world is flat; it was acceptable to do so in 1492 but not in 2007,

Hence, let us as a nation make a New Year resolution to the protection and upholding of these four freedoms: freedom of expression, freedom of belief, freedom from fear and freedom from want. They are the highest aspirations of the common Cambodian.

Theary C Seng

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Teachers reinstated after extorting "too much" from pupils

Dec 8, 2009
DPA

Phnom Penh - Four primary school teachers have been reinstated after they were accused of taking too much money in 'informal fees' from pupils, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

The director of Bak Touk primary school in Phnom Penh said the school had given its teachers permission to charge each pupil 500 riel (12 cents) per day, but claimed the suspended teachers regularly charged twice that amount.

'I repeatedly warned them about taking (too much) money from students, but they didn't listen,' school director Yim Sokheng told the Cambodia Daily newspaper.

Under Cambodian law, primary and secondary education is free, but low civil service wages mean teachers either take other jobs to make ends meet or extort money from students.

Yim Sokheng told the newspaper that the school's 166 teachers are paid cash every day by students. The 500-riel daily limit was imposed following a directive from the Education Ministry.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Help Build A School In Cambodia, And Maybe Win Something, Too!

My friend, CanCan, hosts the blog Mom Most Traveled, and is participating in the Passports with Purpose, annual event to raise $13,000 to build a school in Cambodia through American Assistance for Cambodia. And anything that helps education in Cambodia is a big CHECK-PLUS in my grade book!

For every $10 that is donated, you are entered to win some of the fabulous prizes available by the various sponsors and blog hosts! Check out the prizes here.



Virtuoso
Passports with Purpose

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Transparency needed

Cambodia's corruption index improves by a hair ... but still near the bottom, i.e. one of the most corrupt country in the world

Wednesday, November 18, 2009
KI-Media

Transparency International issued its 2009 Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Cambodia's rank moved to 158 out of a total of 180, a slight improvement over 2008 when Cambodia ranked 166. Among ASEAN countries, Cambodia ranks lowest along with Laos.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Glowing bugs could find landmines


Monday, 16 November 2009
BBC News

Bacteria which glow green in the presence of explosives could provide a cheap and safe way to find hidden landmines, Edinburgh scientists claim.

The bugs can be mixed into a colourless solution, which forms green patches when sprayed onto ground where mines are buried.

Edinburgh University said the microbes could be dropped by air onto danger areas.

Within a few hours, they would indicate where the explosives can be found.

The scientists produced the bacteria using a new technique called BioBricking, which manipulates packages of DNA.

Alistair Elfick, from the university's school of engineering, who supervised the student-led project, said: "This anti-mine sensor is a great example of how innovation in science can be of benefit to wider society.

"It also demonstrates how new scientific techniques can allow molecules to be designed for a specific purpose."

Each year, between 15,000 and 20,000 people are killed or injured by landmines and unexploded ordnance, according to the charity Handicap International.

Some 87 countries are riddled with minefields, including Somalia, Mozambique, Cambodia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Follow up from the American family reported by Khmer Intelligence

Posted: 15 Nov 2009 10:39 AM PST
On 14 November 2009, Khmer Intelligence published the following report:

Part 2: Below is a follow up from the family:
---------------
Dear Khmer Friends,

Thank you everyone for your patience with us, considering the ramifications of our story.

If you your site could use the information in this letter to make a difference in the corruption rampant in the medical field in Cambodia, please contact me to discuss how we can cooperate. This is a bit long, but please bear with me.

We came to Cambodia to save lives, but because of our outspoken stance againt this corruption, we became targets and nearly lost our lives.

Yes, we managed to escape Cambodia, thanks to supporters of our NGO who used their personal funds and air miles to arrange a ticket. We have nothing left but our suitcases, and must start over here in the US. Cara is still unwell, and will require continued medical care for some time.

For your patience I'll provide you the details, but please be aware this is not a simple story of another assault. As they say in Cambodia, there is little random violence. There IS violence, but nearly all of it is for a reason. It's the reason for the attack that had us so worried.

The initial details of the attack are outlined in the forwarded letter below. It wasn't until a few days later that we put the pieces together to realize this wasn't random.

Since we arrived in Cambodia this past March, we had been working at a small clinic in Kampong Thom Province. At the request of National Assembly Representative from Kampong Thom, His Excellency Nhem Thavy, we were given a closed down Community Health Center. Using our own funds, we renovated and restored the clinic. We were incredibly successful, seeing up to 100 patients a day, who often came hundreds of K's and waited days to see us, as we were the only reliable and available care in the provinces. It reached the point we were getting busloads of sick people arriving daily from past Siem Reap, Kampong Cham, and kampong Channg. As long as we were spending our own cash, we were fine. We had opened on the advice and request of the Ministry of Health while awaiting our MOU to be finalized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We had thought that it would be completed shortly, but as of Oct 12, the day of the attack, it had not yet been approved. We had been told by many other NGO's that a significant "donation"(bribe, specifically cash, a nice camera, or laptop) needed to be paid to get our MOU cleared, but we refused to pay. Therefore, we were told repeatedly by the MFA that our MOU wasn't good enough- basically our budget was under $100,000- too small for their % cut. We were given odd reasons, like we dated it before it was signed, then we removed the date, then it was declined because it didn't have a date. We had used the old Min of Health Logo. We used blue ink on the stamps, and red ink is supposed to be used prior to approval. Then, they didn't like our date. Then, our typeface was too small. We kept making these ridiculous modifications to appease them, until finally, "the ink on our logo was too bright". It reached the point the Secretary General Leng Peng Long, Vice President Nguon Nhel, the Assembly President and finally Minister of Health H.E. Mom BunHeng all appealed to the MFA and we still never got approved. And all this time we were still saving the lives of 100 people a day from our little clinic.

That was the big corruption we were dealing with, but not the most deadly. It was the little guys who we believe came after us. In the Baray-Santouk referral district of Kampong Thom Dept of Health, there are 19 health care centers just like ours. Almost like our, that is. They are all boarded up, shut down, and non-functioning. Some see a few patients, but not many people go to them because they have no medicine and no staff. At the Baray-Santouk Referral Hospital, there are 10 paid doctors and 37 paid nurses on staff- but me made a practice to bring by every international visitor and challenge them to find a health care worker on the grounds. Not once in 8 months was someone working there. They average 3 to 5 patients a day, and most are never given the medications they need. We would often visit there, and on occasion gave money to the patients to catch a bus to Siem Reap so they could actually get treatment- if you didn't have $50 cash, you couldn't take one of the three empty ambulances sitting there.

But it wasn't the lack of treatment and staff that was the big problem. Each of the other 18 closed down health Care centers in the District were reporting to the Regional Director Dr. Meas Cham that they were treating 900 patients a month. The medicine for these imaginary patients was being shipped there, stolen, and sold by the staff. Every week we would submit our legitimate medication requests, only to be told "we don't have any". Our patients were dying over 50 cents worth of Cipro, and we were quickly running out of our own funds to purchase medicine. We finally confronted Dr Meas Cham and his Supervisor, Dr Vao Lough Kuhn, Kampong Thom regional Director, over this issue, and were told we were going to be reported (to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs!) over our outrageous behavior.

Every time we demanded we be sent the even the basic medication that they were already listing as being distributed to us, we were told they had just run out, or that our "MOU wasn't completed so they didn't have to send us anything". We did not receive one dose of vaccines for 6 months when we were seeing over 1800 patients a month. They had run out every single month. At one point we contacted the head of the Cambodian Red Cross, HE Ho Noun, who paid a visit to our clinic. She was very impressed, and we had a big media day, but still no medicines came. Every now and then we would get a box with 10 IV's, and a few bottles of the stuff that no one could sell (Vitamin A and Birth Control Pills), but never Paracetemol or Antibiotics.

The situation was becoming critical, and we began to put more pressure on the district. We staged a visit with "simulated" visitors from World Health, who asked about why vaccines weren't being delivered. Dr Meas Cham walked out on them, so we called some friends and were arranging an actual aduitor come visit to help out. AT the end of September, we had to close the clinic. We were out of our personal money, and without our MOU, could not even apply for grants and loans. We did get some funding from the Camkids Charity (Dominique and Benita Sharpe, very nice people), but could not operate without adequate supplies. We hoped closing for a few days would put pressure on the MFA and MOH to get our papers completed so we could operate. That's when the top level of the Nat'l Assembly began to put on the pressure. It looked like we might finally get it done, and the local Min of Health would be forced to give us the required medications.

And that was precisely when Cara was attacked.

You see, a lot of people were making a lot of money off of those stolen medications. A lot of staff had very nice Camrys, and a Lexus or two, and without that extra cash, they could lose them. Most importantly, if two westerners could legitimately open and operate a clinic, and treat 2000 patients a month with almost no money, then they might be expected to improve THEIR standards a little bit.

So we were battling corruption everywhere- the MFA at the top, the MOH in the middle, and the thieving doctors at the bottom. This was never our intent- we just wanted our medicine so we could save lives.

We asked for help, and told of the corruption- asked for help from the Red Cross, from Parliament, from UNICEF and World Health, but it seems everyone has their finger in the pie, and everyone had a lot to lose by us succeeding. We were succeeding, and with a completed MOU would have the clout to get around these hurdles.

What's also implied is that many of the larger NGOs in Cambodia are aware of this situation as well- we sat through endless lectures on Child and Maternal Health from UNICEF, when it struck us that they were getting their statistics from the same people who were forging patient records to get enough medicine to sell so they could make their car payments. How many children die every year in the jungles? Who really knows, because I swear every statistic is made up by the other 18 boarded up health care centers that never actually treated patients. Take a drive up Road 6 one day, or any of the tiny villages, and spend 5 minutes visiting the little "Blue H" signs. Do you see 900 patients a month being treated there? Maybe at Sihanouk inPP or Angkor in SR, but not where these statistics are coming from. We can tell you that despite the MOH charging 28000 Riels to deliver a baby, the midwives are charging them $75, so they never come, deliver alone at home, and die a few days later from the jagged episiotomies, the inevitable blood loss or infection, or the tetanus that follows. But UNICEF doesn't see that, they just take the fabricated numbers, spend $3 million on writing the nice powerpoint report, and never see the dying children who never got the stolen tetanus shots.

Someone needed to stop us. So we got what they consider "a warning" in Cambodia. Those details are outlined below.

We are grateful we got out alive- Cara was never meant to survive this attack. We are most grateful it wasn't our children (Samantha, 13, and Moira, 10) who were injured- we don't know how we would have recovered from that.

So we hid for a week, and got a donated flight out of there. We stayed a few days in NY, then a week in Ohio to get Cara medical treatment near her family. We are finally back in South Carolina, and hope to put our lives back together. We will keep our NGO "open" long enough to recover some of the costs for getting home and Cara's medical expenses, and would be grateful for any donations to our website www.sharethehealthcambodia.org

We hope at some point to find the right people to go to with this information. As you know, Cambodia receives close to $1 BILLION in foreign aid, much of it for health care. When the world discovers NONE of that money or medicine actually makes it to the people who need it, things may change. Even telling this story puts us in more danger, but we came to Cambodia to help the people, not to buy Camrys for corrupt doctors. When Ho Noun came to visit us, the staff at Baray-Santouk heard she was coming and washed the walls in the front rooms, and hired people from the village to pose as patients so it looked like they were functional. It was a good ploy, because no one ever really checked. Somehow and somewhere, we'll find the right people who are interested in where all that money goes. Maybe then, the people who need the help can actually get it.

Several people have asked me if I'd ever consider returning to Cambodia. I say yes, with a bullet proof vest and a team of inspectors and auditors from the UN intent on cleaning up corruption. I personally saw too many children dying over 50 cents worth of antibiotics while the people that were getting these millions to care for them were laughing and sipping coffee.

We were careless in speaking openly about corruption while we were still in Cambodia. That was our mistake. When they tried to kill my wife, they didn't get the job done. That was their mistake.

James Garcia
Share the Health Cambodia

Tragedy of an American Family in Cambodia

Part 1: Tragedy of an American family in Cambodia

An American family who have come to help Cambodia and made big sacrifices to run a medical clinic providing basic health care to the poor, are victims of corruption and violence, which characterize the prevailing political system.. The e-mail we publish here has been circulating among their countless known and unknown friends who are deeply moved by their tragedy and revolted by the Kafkaesque situation they are facing. You can read their story by clicking at here, or read their story below:

From: James Garcia <shadomoon2000@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: Re: Emergency
To: "Paul Nou" <psdnou@yahoo.com>
Date: Sunday, October 18, 2009, 3:08 PM

Dear Paul,

I am so grateful for your concern. I will give you the full details and I will trust your discretion to decide which information to release. I am only sending this to you, and hope you can explain to Mr Thavy our situation.

We had been having severe problems with the clinic because of the corruption in Cambodia. We were waiting for almost 6 months for our MOU to be processed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They were reluctant because our budget was so small, and it appeared our anticipated "generous donation" would not be sufficient. We were given ridiculous reasons for delay such as our typeface, then because we dated it, and then because we didn't date it, then because they didn't like the date we picked, and finally because our "ink was too bright on our logo." Mr Thavy and our entire village worked to support us in this, but even with the VP and President of the Assembly and the Minister of health backing us, they wouldn't approve it.

Without our MOU we could not be approved for grants and loans to run the clinic, and spent our entire $40,000 personal budget to keep the clinic operating. And now we were broke.

On the other end, we uncovered the scheme that prevented us from getting the medicine we needed from the Ministry of Health. The entire time we were working, and treated over 9,000 people, the local Min of health refused to supply us with even the basic medications. We put in request after request, but were always told they had no medications. When we snuck in recently, we saw the empty warehouse was actually full. For three months we never got one vaccine. When we discussed this at the Kampong Thom Regional NGO meeting, we learned the reason. It appears there are 19 Health Care Centers like ours in the district. Each of them are closed, and most are boarded up and totally abandoned. However, they are each reporting they are seeing over 900 patients a month, and the medicine for those 900 non-existant patients is stolen and sold. They say we did not receive our monthly supplies because they were "out of medicine", Cara saw two SUV's pull up to the Baray-Santouk Referral Hospital at 830 at night and load up with the medicines they just said they didn't have. We have children dying and they won't send paracetemol because they are stealing it.

We confronted Dr Meas Cham and Va Lough Kun many times over this injustice, but were always told "he will be retiring in two or three years so just ignore him."

And still the children were dying and we couldn't get a single bottle of Cipro.

On Sunday night we had a business meeting at our Director Bosan's, next to our clinic, to discuss what we could do while awaiting our MOU, and how much more we could accomplish with this corruption. Cara got exceptionally angry over this injustice, and decided to walk the short distance home. It wasn't a smart decision, but she was overwhelmed at the acceptance of this corruption. We looked for her for a while, but she was very angry and just wanted to walk off some steam. I went home and put the children to bed, and she did not make it home until 5 am the next morning.

While walking, three men in a blue utility truck with wooden sides pulled up to her, heading from PPenh to Siem Reap. Three men jumped out and grabbed her. She was drug into a ditch, and tied up with some barbed wire that was there. She was raped for hours, and when they were done they kicked her face down into a rice paddy. She managed to survive, but was badly injured. While they were raping her she was fighting back and insulting them, making them strike her many times. Her nose was broken, and she has many lacerations from the thorns and barbed wire.

She can clearly describe two of the attackers- one had much lighter hair and eyes than most Cambodians and wears a brown hat, and for the second rapist she was able to bite a large chunk out of his nose. This man spoke very clear English with very little accent, and spoke to the other two men in English, but they also spoke Khmer when leaving. She was unconscious for most of the third attacker.

At 7 am I called the police to make a report, but I was told by my Cambodian friends that "this never happens here." The police arrived to file a report, but when we were able to wake her, she was severely distraught and refused an exam- she was incomprehensible and uncooperative at that point- "Just home many men need to be in me today?' , which is not unreasonable for someone in her condition. She finally consented to go to PPenh for treatment, and the police left without taking any evidence or filing a report. They didn't believe her. We went to the Russian Hospital and several others, but could not get help.

Tuesday morning we were contacted by Mr Ath of the Kampong Thom Criminal Investigation Division, who had always been very kind to us, and he promised to see us at 2:30 that day. He never showed up, and we were never able to reach him. We went to the Chong Doung Police station to try to reach him, but he was "late coming from Kampong Thom." we asked to tell him to meet us as soon as possible, but he never came, called or answered his phone.

We went to the clinic to settle things there, and while going over our records, realized that out Cambodian associate Vanna Doung had been stealing from us the whole time, and creating friction between us and Dr. Nhem Ping, our landlord and Mr Thavy's nephew, so we would remain dependant on him while he was embezzling. He has demanded another $700 from us while trying to deal with this tragedy, and threatened to steal our generator and destroy our building addition and sell the wood. After discussion, we learned of many events of theft and deception. He even turned off our phones so our families could not reach us, and tried to call our business associates to disparage us.

On Wednesday we went to the District Police in Baray. After waiting ignored for an hour, we met the police chief who was angry because we were disturbing his rest time. He was in a towel, having an extended break, and refused to take any report. He deferred us to the local police. Cara did become very rude and angry at him.

We then went to the village police in Choung Doung and met a nice officer who finally made a report. He took no pictures or evidence, but did file an official report. That's when they explained why "no one gets raped here...”. Well, actually there are lots of rapes, but because of social stigma, no one reports them. Women who are raped cannot get married. When there is a rape with severe injury, the police don't investigate, they negotiate a settlement between the rapist and the family. The police do this so they can take a 10% cut of the rapist's penalty to the family. This information was not very comforting to Cara at that time.

We spoke with Dr Ping, who told us he spoke to Mr Thavy on Wednesday, but he never tried to contact us. We wrote to him many times by email and he never responded or called. Now we understand he is out of the country, but Cara desperately wanted to ask for his assistance and friendship to survive this incident. The fact he did not even contact us after learning of this has saddened her deeply as well. We don't understand this action from someone so important to us.

On Thursday we finally packed up and went to Phnom Penh to see Dr Watson at the SOS Clinic, who did a proper physical exam. Cara's nose is broken, she has many serious lacerations and bruises, and severe vaginal tearing and bleeding. She had blood work done, but it was too late for the HIV vaccine. We will not know if she has HIV for up to a year, which is unimaginable. She had already taken a whole pack of birth control pills to induce an abortion since RU486, the "Morning after Pill" is not available here, and neither are several other medications which may have helped Cara through this tragedy. This has made her bleeding and pain even worse.

We did meet with Amy from the Crisis Counseling service, but Cara was still very injured and angry. Diane Whitten from the US Embassy met us there as well, and they have been very considerate, but unable to assist us in getting home.

It appears we may have assistance for a flight to New York, but still have to get to SC to see Cara's personal physicians. We have no home, no car, no possessions or belonging except what is in our suitcases. We sold everything we owned to open and maintain this clinic, and spent over $40,000, all the money we had in the world. Now we have no home, no clinic, nothing. My mother is currently fighting colon cancer at Palmetto Baptist Hospital in Columbia SC, and may not survive the week.

Cara is still alive, but is absolutely non-functional. She can barely move, and has continuous nightmares about the experience. She must get care before she succeeds in killing herself, and with our girls Samantha (13) and Moira (10) trapped in the middle of this nightmare with us, it is more than I can handle by myself. It is hard to think and plan rationally at the moment. I'm just focusing on anything I can do to get her help.

We are currently staying in the apartment of a friend of Dom and Benita Sharpe of the Camkids Charity, who have been such a blessing. Kevin O’Brien of Sihanouk Hospital has been a true friend as well, and has taken Moira to lunch and offered to help with distracting the children so I can care for Cara.

That's everything. We gave all we had, and helped so many people with love and selflessness in our hearts. This vicious and brutal attack by strangers has defeated our spirit. We know these thugs do not represent all of Cambodia, but she will see their face on everyone she sees now. She knows no investigation will ever be attempted. I now look at the nose of every man I see hoping to find the one she bit. She fought hard to survive that attack, but after the treatment she received afterwards, no longer has any will to fight or live.

Please help me get her help to keep her alive. She is the most beautiful and amazing woman I've even met in my life, and I don't know that I could survive without her. Please, just go look at our pictures on the website Share the Health Cambodia and Facebook and see what an incredible woman she is. Please don't let her love and kindness for the people of this country first cost her everything, and then her very life as well.

James Garcia
Share the Health Cambodia

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fake French "Evian" in Cambodia

Yet another reason not to pay too much for your bottled water in Cambodia.

Just another way to make a "buck."


Many stores and restaurants in Cambodia are selling and serving fake "Evian", the famous mineral water supposedly imported from France . The "Evian" bottles in question are actually filled in Cambodia with a locally- produced water whose composition is not the same as the French natural mineral water from the Alps mountains. While a large number of poor Cambodians are starving and most children in the countryside are underfed, it's very fashionable for the privileged few in this country to drink costly bottled mineral water imported from as far as Europe .

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cambodia's Garment Workers Hit by Recession

I read this on KI Media. After a period of true growth, it's always the poorest who are most affected when jobs are eliminated.

By Ker Yann, VOA Khmer
10 November 2009


Over the last decade economic growth has helped lift Cambodia out of its poverty. The signs were everywhere; bustling construction sites around Phnom Penh ; young workers filing into factories, filling orders for eager clients abroad.

More than 400,000 jobs in the textile industry fuelled the hopes of many young women whose earnings in the city helped support their extended families in the countryside.

Ny Sopheak: "I worked in the packing section of a textile factory. I earned sometimes $60 a month from the factory work and I sent $10 a month to my father."

But that factory, like dozens of others, has now closed. The global recession scared investors and shut down factories.

Twenty-three-year-old Ny Sopheak, like 50,000 other Cambodians, recently lost her job in the garment industry.

This in a country where not having a job can mean not eating, or perhaps just having one meal a day.

Ny Sopheak: "Since I don't have enough food I feel so weak and I often get sick."

Today Ny is sharing one egg and some rice with her roommate, Horn Devy who also lost her factory job. That's one egg between two people. Horn feels she can't go on much longer.

Horn Devy: "It's very difficult. It's a hard life, living in a small room like this."

Horn is only 15 years old. She was sent to work to help out her family, small time farmers and basket weavers who can't make ends meet.

Horn's mother says she worries about her, so young, and away from the family. Even so, she wanted Horn to earn money, so that her brothers can finish school.

But having lost her job, Horn has gone from providing for her family to becoming an extra burden. Asked how she feels about this, she says,

Horn Devy: "It's hard to say. I am starving. When you have no food it's very difficult to feel anything."

Her story is unusual because of her young age, but all over Cambodia's capital there are women who are falling into abject poverty as they lose their jobs in the textile factories.

Meanwhile, thousands of factory workers have turned to the streets to pressure the government to guarantee their jobs, their incomes, and their access to food.

And while Cambodia has been hard-hit, other countries are worried too. Guaranteeing the availability of food for everyone is now an urgent issue for governments across Asia-Pacific.

Many governments are now looking at how to invest in agriculture, to stem tide of migration towards the cities, and to help make food more affordable.


But textile factories too, are needed. If they keep closing, experts worry that much of the progress achieved in places like Cambodia, in education, in economic development, and in human rights, could be at risk; and with it the future of the entire generation.
(italics are mine because this is the real kicker)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Alabama issues Stop Sale Order on Asian catfish

Discovered this story from my regular email updates from KI-Media. Since I know several people from Alabama, it struck a chord.

Click on the flag for more information about United States UNITED STATES
Tuesday, November 10, 2009, 03:10 (GMT + 9)

Commissioner Ron Sparks of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries announced on Wednesday a Stop Sale on catfish and basa products imported from Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, China and Vietnam due to positive results for the antibiotic fluoroquinolones.

A total of 40 samples of basa type products and catfish were tested from the five Asian countries, out of which 18 product samples yielded positive results for fluoroquinolones.

Fluoroquinolones and quinolones are chemotherapeutic bactericidal drugs used to kill bacteria by interfering with their DNA replication. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not allow the use of fluoroquinolones in seafood.

Sparks has issued nine orders of suspension from sale or movement for 486 cases of product weighing 8,840 lbs. These products were either voluntarily destroyed or returned to the importer after the Alabama Department notified the FDA of the drug traces.

The Alabama Department’s detection reporting limit is 1 part per billion (ppb) or greater. In the results, 17 samples were in the 1-5ppb range and one sample tested greater than 50ppb.

The basa type products tested were swai, sutchi and pangasius. Out of 19 Vietnamese samples, 12 tested positive; both Cambodian samples tested positive; one of three Indonesian samples tested positive; one of seven Thai samples tested positive; and one Chinese sample tested positive.

Also, one of eight samples of Chinese channel catfish tested positive.

Product samples continue to be collected and tested. Enforcement action will be implemented as necessary.

“The Automatic Stop Sale Order criteria established in April of 2007 is still in effect,” stated Sparks. “This series of tests that we have just completed indicates the importance of the continuation of the Stop Sale Order.”

By Natalia Real
editorial@fis.com
www.fis.com

Sunday, October 25, 2009

T-shirts & School Supplies to Villagers!

In September, just before I left Cambodia, I took the opportunity to deliver two-thirds of my collection of T-shirts, school supplies and hygiene products to two villages.

A Couch Surfer gladly joined us on our mission and had a blast helping pick out just the right styles for each boy and girl. I just wish we had more to give out!
Wearing her smart little shirt
Showing off his goodies
It's a blast to be giving to others who need it more than you do!
Kat had such a great time making a difference for these beautiful girls
Ready for school!
Showing off the T-shirts for her and her daughter
Looking good in their bright new T-shirts and jeans
Thumbs up for making their day!

If you want to be part of next year's delivery of T-shirts and such, just let me know. I am starting a collection now of the following:
  • Children's T-shirts up to size X-Large (boys, girls or unisex)
  • Adult T-shirts up to size Small (men, women or unisex)
  • Hotel size shampoos and soaps
  • Toothbrushes (ask your dentist for free samples)
  • Combs (you can find bags of 12 at 99 cent and dollar stores)
  • Funds to pay for shipping (It costs about $54 for a Large Flat Rate box from the USPS that fits up to 20 T-shirts)
If you can help with any or all of the above, just let me know.

Email me at onlyincambodia [at] gmail [dot] com.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Journal: Tuesday 19 August 2009

The girls who I bought the palm ornaments from out at Prey Dak.

I have not been very good at keeping up with this journal thing. I've never been very good at it, except when I am traveling, and since I am not really traveling, it gets neglected.

I think my days and nights have more or less been the same. I teach, I prep, I have breakfast, I check the internet, I eat lunch, more internet, then head back to school for another class. Occasionally I don't have breakfast. Sometimes I don't check the internet. And depending on if there is a Couch Surfer in town, I may not even have dinner.
Taking the Couch Surfers on a cart ride through the rice fields.

Last week was a little busy. I can't really remember why. There were some Couch Surfers in town that we entertained in the evenings, and sometimes during the day. I didn't go online much, though.
Matt, a Couch Surfer from France, sharing a bottle of Belgian beer with us at the Baray.

Oh, now I know what happened last week. I had no water in my house for nearly a week. It would be there at night and in the early morning, but during the day, nothing. Apparently someone was working on the water line. It wasn't that bad until the end of the week when the water didn't come back on for 2 nights in a row. I had to go stay at a guest house since I absolutely must have a shower before going to bed to wash off all the sweat and dirt from the day.

On Saturday, we spent the morning hanging our ornaments and photos in the shop at the Angkor Night Market. We're still waiting for more ornaments to be made by some of the villagers.

Here's what the shop looks like so far.

If anybody has any special requests for some items, please let me know as I will be heading back to the states on September 15.

School ends on my birthday, which is September 12. Hint, hint. ;) ;) I think I should throw a party for both going away and my birthday. I just need to decide where.

I'm finishing week 7 of the term, which means there are only 3 more weeks to go. I'll be back in the U.S. on September 15. It will be strange.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

This is Cambodian democracy?

The following is from the Thursday 13 August, Phnom Penh Post article, "PM Warns Opponents Away from Lawsuits."

This is NOT fictional! It is the real situation of Cambodia's so-called democracy.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen has spoken out for the first time about his recent legal victory over opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, which he said should serve as a warning to anyone else who might consider suing him.


"If you want to play legal games, I will also play legal games," he said during a graduation ceremony at the Royal University of Law and Economics on Wednesday.


"If you play political games, I will also play political games. And if you play military games, I will also play military games."


Hun Sen said he would be able to silence all opposition voices "in only two hours" if he decided to use force rather than file complaints in court.


"You wouldn't be able to run," he said. "All of you would be arrested."


"External groups, please listen closely," Hun Sen said during Wednesday's address.


"If you do not sue me, then I will not file a countersuit."


Hun Sen went on to criticise civil society groups as "servants" and "spokespeople" for opposition political parties.


Commenting on the current Cambodian People's Party majority in the National Assembly, which was further cemented during last year's elections, Hun Sen said he could continue serving as prime minister even if the CPP lost 10 seats in both the 2012 and 2017 elections. "So, all of you opposition groups, check your age," he said.


"However long you can live, I can accompany you to the end."

If you are not shaking in your boots like I was after reading this, then something is wrong. Never before have I been more thankful to be a citizen of another country than right now. This is downright scary.

Reading this kind of language makes me so sad for all Cambodians. They have no chance of true freedom with this kind of dominance and threats.

For the leader of the country to clearly threaten military action or force for anyone who dares to oppose him is no less than a dictator.

Wake up world! Have you not read your history?

However, what can the international community do? They don't care as long as the country is stable. Who cares what is happening to the Cambodian people as long as it is "open" for business.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What's the Apsara's Authority? (reading between the lines)

The Apsara Authority in Cambodia is the Authority for Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap.

It's this "region of Siem Reap" that catches my attention and is the source of questionable conduct against the people in Siem Reap.

Here is how they describe themselves:

[T]he government has created APSARA, the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap, in charge of research, protection and conservation of cultural heritage, as well as urban and tourist development. This legislative and institutional framework marks the beginning of a new active role Cambodia will take, responding to the call of her own people in the voice of her King, as well as to that of the international community, in managing Angkor as a national and world heritage for the generations to come.

APSARA, in collaboration with other governmental agencies, is responsible for:
  • Protecting, maintaining, conserving and improving the value of the archaeological park, the culture, the environment and the history of the Angkor region as defined on the World Heritage List.
  • Refining and applying the master plan on tourist development according to the five zones, defined in 1994 in the Royal Decree on the protection and management of Siemreap-Angkor and taking action against deforestation, illegal territory occupation as well as anarchy activities in Siemreap-Angkor.
  • Finding financial sources and investments.
  • Participating in the policy of cutting down poverty of the Royal Government in Siemreap-Angkor.
  • Cooperating with the Cambodian Development Council on the investments of all the projects that are involved with APSARA Authority’s mission.
  • Cooperating with ministries, institutions, funds, national and international communities as well as international governmental institutions and non-governmental organization on all projects related to APSARA Authority.

"Taking action against illegal territory occupation as well as anarchy activities in Seimreap-Angkor" is what really concerns me. How do they define "anarchy activities?" Is re-storing or building a house considered anarchy?

Apparently the answer is YES because in a certain village in Siem Reap Province, villagers are being threatened of eviction from their land and homes if they attempt to re-build their traditional homes, or build anything new on their own land. Yes, they have land titles!

APSARA Authority members are arriving in large groups (around 20 people) with guns to threaten and scare villagers. They warn that no one can have any new materials put on their homes. If they do, the APSARA Authority will return and take it away from the villagers.

So, what is a poor villager supposed to do if their traditional wooden house is being eaten away by termites and falling down around them? They cannot do anything to protect the house, so it must crumble around them. If they write a letter to the APSARA Authority to request to restore parts of the house, it is an invitation for the mob with guns to arrive at their doorstep.

And when there is no more house to live in, the only choice being offered by the APSARA Authority is to move to a small piece of land in a district which is more than 30km away! It would be just enough land to build a house. They would lose all of their land that they own and farmed on!

Does this sound familiar? Do the land evictions in Phnom Penh ring a bell?

What can be done? How can they stop their land from being taken away from them? This is land that many have lived on for generations, which pre-dates the Khmer Rouge.

Unfortunately in Cambodia, the poor are no match for the rich, or those authority.

Why is the APSARA Authority doing this? Why do they want this village's land so much that they are threatening the villagers by force? What is the plan behind the action?

The villagers do not know. They can only speculate. The APSARA Authority certainly doesn't tell them why they come when they arrive with their guns.

I have an idea, and it relates to the purposes outlined above from the APSARA Authority itself. However, you must read between the lines to discover how the APSARA Authority truly plans to implement its goals.

If you think that this is a human rights issue and that justice is not being carried out, please respond and let's start a discussion for developing a solution to this challenge.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Siem Reap Daily Tours Opens


It's a soft opening, but we've opened the stall at the Angkor Night Market nevertheless. Right now there's just a desk with a banner.

Eventually we'll add some palm leaf baskets and ornaments to attract more attention. We've also got some great photos of the countryside and different activities people can do on countryside tours that we're going to frame in bamboo and hang around the walls.

So far, nobody has signed up for a tour, but we're hoping it will catch on soon. People I talk to seem to think it's a great idea.

Monday, August 03, 2009

MckLinky Blog Hop: Encouragement

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.

This has been my life verse for a long time. Really, since I started traveling in 1992 as an exchange student in 1992. There have been many instances in my travel adventures when trusting in God has proven the only thing that I could hold onto.

I often like to paraphrase the verse: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don't depend on what you know, but remember Him and He will guide you every step of the way.

It often reminds me of what one of my pastor's said many years ago: Faith is spelled R-I-S-K. I have never forgotten that and it is a good reminder that unless we go out on a limb, our faith is useless.


MckLinky Blog Hop

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Journal: week in review

Well, this week has been full of weather madness and business start-up headaches.

It's been raining a lot. In fact, yesterday it rained pretty much all day. This definitely does not help the laundry situation, particularly since I have only 1 pair of clean underwear left. I finally washed them today, but of course there was a rain storm.

This weekend will be spent entertaining another Couch Surfer.

So, we're trying to open up a little Umbrella Tours stall at the Angkor Night Market. We signed the contract and paid the annual fee on Monday night. Of course, this was not without a discussion of our terms and conditions that we had supposedly verbally agreed to with the manager, but were in sudden opposition by the assistant and the market owner.

Apparently the assistant hadn't communicated our discussion with the owner like he was supposed to. I think that was purposely done. In the end our verbal agreement was accepted, but our "contract" would be "secret".

Then Da got a call on Wednesday from the assistant telling him that the owner didn't agree with our shop description because there was already a shop selling tour packages.

Um, so why is it ok to have 4 "spicies" shops and a gazillion (yes, that's right!) shops selling scarves and other duplicate souvenirs?

Really, the owner just didn't want any competition. And the joke was that he didn't have his shop up and running yet.

This meant yet another conversation with the assistant, where he would ask us about what kind of packages we would be selling. He'd write some notes, then call the owner and have a short conversation. He then asked us a few more questions followed by another conversation with the owner.

I was getting fed up with this. I wanted a meeting with this owner instead of giving away all of our ideas, so I told the assistant to call the owner and set a meeting. Well, all of a sudden the owner was busy, so we would have to wait until the next day to confirm if we could meet him or not.

This was not looking very good. I was getting very frustrated and angry and these tactics to intimidate us.

It didn't work because we were called the next day by the assistant saying that it was OK to open our shop. Hmph. What more will be done to prohibit us?

Needless to say, we have ordered ticket books, business cards, and banners. We'll be ordering leaflets to distribute later.

This is the great thing about Cambodia: production is CHEAP! Meaning, inexpensive.

A box of 100 business cards printed on both sides costs $6.50.

A 100-page ticket book costs $0.50 each.

A 2 meter x 1 meter banner (color) costs $11.

1,000 color brochures on magazine cover (which will actually be 3,000 after being cut in thirds) will be $150.

Does anybody need any business cards?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Journal: Monday 27 July 2009

Monday started with my Level 1 students and a lesson about jobs. We read a story about a man with 13 jobs! Then it was off to Soup Dragon for breakfast and waiting for the Couch Surfers to meet us for our big trip out to the countryside.

We had organized a day of visiting the Artisans d'Angkor Silk Farm, the Western Baray (a water reservoir popular for relaxing in hammocks among the locals), and Da's village for making banana rice cakes and riding on a buffalo cart to see them planting rice.
Jen & Sebastian getting the low-down from the Artisans guide.

The tour at Artisans was fantastic as usual. I always learn something new every time I go. They have also renovated the tour so that you walk along covered walkways. Plus there is a lovely museum-like building at the end of the tour which shows some historical silk uses and such.

From there we went on to the Western Baray for a picnic lunch of grilled chicken and fish. Yummy! I loved the roasted fish with the freshly grated mango sauce. Don't forget to pick up some nom plai ai which are little rice dough balls filled with sugar cane topped with shredded coconut. We spent about an hour or so hanging out there before heading back to the house.

Back at the village, Da's mom had prepared the ingredients for making some rice cakes filled with bananas. This was a lot of fun to include the CSers on. We all enjoyed dabbing some pre-cooked rice on the banana leaves then folding it around a slice of banana before folding up the banana leaf to close it.
Sebastian & Jen getting a lesson in making traditional rice cakes from Da's mom.

The rice cakes were left to be steamed while we took off for a ride on an ox-cart through the rice fields to see some people planting rice. Unfortunately the timing was not the best as the rain decided to come after we got out to watch them planting rice. We had to hurry back to the cart, but there wasn't enough time to get back to the village for shelter before the rain hit.

And hit it did! The wind was gusting so hard that when it started to rain it felt more like little needles on our exposed skin. Without any protection we got drenched. By the end of the ride we were literally dripping wet. Of course, it was fun and exciting for the first few minutes, but after awhile I was counting down the minutes until we got back.
Sebastian & Da at the cart pulled by water buffalo.

Naturally, as soon as we arrived and ducked under some shelter the rain stopped and the sun made an appearance again. The villagers certainly enjoyed laughing their heads off at the soaked foreigners. We eventually laughed, too.

We slogged back to the cottage to warm our spirits with freshly cooked banana rice cakes. Double yummy!

We met up again later in the evening after I finished teaching for dinner at Khmer Kitchen.

Journal: week in review

Today is Tuesday. This past weekend was full of activities.

To start, I enjoyed a lovely Friday night with a dinner at Kampuccino on the riverside with two of the new teachers from ACE along with three Couch Surfers (1 from the US teaching in China, 1 from Sweden teaching in China, and 1 from China working in Shanghai). We enjoyed sharing our stories about life and teaching in China. One of the ACE teachers spend over seven years in China! He's glad to be in Cambodia.

Da and I spent all day Saturday at his parents' house. It was great to see his dad out of the hospital and looking well. We stayed all day because that evening we would be having Cambodian BBQ for dinner.

"Cambodian BBQ" originally posted by Cooking Momster

Cambodian BBQ is quite a bit different than Western style BBQ. They use a round tray with a mounded vent on the top that sits on top of a portable butane stove. The tray holds water where you put the vegetables to cook while you are grilling the meat on the mound. The grill portion is greased up with a combination of pork fat cubes and dabs of margarine. It's really fun and tasty! You enjoy the meat and veggies with a dipping sauce which varies according to who makes it. It's definitely a fun group meal.

After eating BBQ we headed back to town to meet the manager at the Angkor Night Market to discuss our contract for renting a stall to sell our daily tour packages. This will certainly be an undertaking, but I think we can be successful selling the individual daily tour packages to tourists who come to Siem Reap without any tour plans, particularly those on a budget. Additionally, we're hoping that our Cultural Heritage tours will be more appealing and hot buys!

Sunday was spent relaxing as I got to sleep in a little bit. This means I didn't have to be up at 5:30am to go to school. I laid around watching TV and finishing a book I was reading. My ideal way to spend a lazy day. Later in the afternoon we went to the International Fellowship, meeting one of the CSers there for the service.

Afterward, we arranged to have dinner at Moloppor Cafe along the riverside. I love their cashew nut shakes! At the end of our meal with the two CSers from China it started to rain. Eventually it began to pour so we moved upstairs (a place I had never known existed until now.) to enjoy a beer and peanuts until the rain subsided. The rain slowed enough, but it was still coming down.

Monday was a super full and crazy day that deserves its own post. Plus I need to download my pictures so that they can illustrate what I'm talking about.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Journal: week in review


There really hasn't been a lot of exciting things happening. My life has become a redundancy. All days roll into one. My weekends are a time to veg out. The only day to sleep in is Sunday since every other day I have to be teaching at 6:00am.

Highs: Picking up postcards from the post office. Cool, rainy evenings. Meeting the occasional Couch Surfer. Homemade lunches or dinners. Milo + instant coffee in the morning. Watching House on AXN.

Lows: Early mornings. Heavy downpours. The occasional poorly-planned lesson. ANZ Royal Bank. Ants. Hot room at night. Having to find a motodop in the morning when Da couldn't pick me up (one morning I was 10 minutes late to class!).

Must-do's before I leave: Visit Angkor Wat and take some pictures since it's so green during the rainy season. Complete my research survey. Find some businesses to apply for Heritage Friendly status. Go shopping for rattan purses to bring back for my aunt's shop. Buy more palm leaf ornaments. Visit the villages to deliver the T-shirts, school supplies, and soaps that are being mailed. Eat more roasted bananas, and bananas in general.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rain, glorious rain

So, last week was hot and dry. This week it's been raining every day, even throughout the day. Thus the roads stay wet and muddy. But it certainly makes for betting sleeping with the cooler evenings.

So far no serious flooding up here in Siem Reap, either. I'm sure other parts of the country are not as safe.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Journal: week in review

Since I started teaching last week, I found that I had less time and energy to put into my other obligations. That will need to change as I am here for more than just teaching. I really need to nail down my research problem as well as take care of some Heritage Watch business.

I enjoy all of my classes, though it is a bit tiring to teach every morning. Getting up at 5:15 am is not that fun when I finish the night before between 8:00 - 8:30pm. That's just enough time to eat a light dinner, take a shower and get ready for bed.

Lesson planning is not complicated for me. I know what I need to prepare for my students and so I don't have to spend much time doing that.

Saturday night was a fun night. Since it hadn't rained all week, the heat was really making my room a sauna. The night air is so much cooler outside than inside. So when Da suggested driving around town, I was totally up for it.

We ended up going out to the north of town which is referred to as Pyoung You (or something like that) because it was where the South Korean city hosted an exhibition a few years ago along with Cambodia. Now it's just a bunch of open space with nice roads and lighting that becomes the place to hang out at night. There's even a sort of carnival set up with rides and games. Most people go to sit on the mats and drink or eat with friends or family.

While we were driving through the crowds, Da spotted some of his good friends. We actually passed them and continued driving, but they eventually called him and we went back to join them. It was a good thing because my backside was getting a bit sore from sitting on the bike.

The night was so lovely with a nice breeze blowing the entire time. It would have been great to just stay there all night.

When his friends finished, they decided to meet up with a couple more friends and continue the party at a small restaurant near one of their homes. We ordered a few dishes and then the beer was served. We called it quits at 11:oopm, but I'm sure that most of them would be there several more hours. Da had an early meeting the next day as a client was arriving.

I spent Sunday doing very little of anything. I read a book and watched TV. I've been reading The Life of Pi. I didn't think that I had read it before, but I got to the middle section and felt like I was reading something I had already read before. Strange. The book is not as captivating as others I've read, but it's certainly interesting.

Sunday evening was fellowhip, then we went for a drink at the local Sokimex gas station that has a small cafe inside. I was feeling up for bubble tea. It was threatening to rain the whole evening and even sprinkled a bit, but nothing really dramatic.

The drama happened early Monday morning at around midnight. The heavens opened up and it poured for nearly three hours. The sound was so loud because of the metal roof at my place. Of course, this meant fresh puddles and soft mud the next day.