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?