Whither Cambodia after political deadlock is fractured?

Prime Minister Hun Sen (left) and CNRP leader Sam Rainsy perform for the cameras.  (Source: Khmer Times)

Prime Minister Hun Sen (left) and CNRP leader Sam Rainsy perform for the cameras, but their agreement is wanting. (Source: Khmer Times)

It is hard to consider as anything but a sellout the opposition party’s agreement last week to take its seats in the National Assembly after a year-long deadlock.

The Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) had boycotted the parliament following the July 2013 election, which the opposition had justifiably branded as rigged.

The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s continuing strong-arm tactics over the past year (and many years before) persuaded CNRP President Sam Rainsy to declare victory and cave in, perhaps pointlessly.

Implicitly acknowledging that he had capitulated to a far greater power than the opposition ever could muster by taking to the streets, Rainsy publicly conceded that the deal he made with the devil was his only choice for ending the impasse.  At the same time, however, the globally gallivanting Rainsy turned his back on the large minority faction in his party.

Kem Sokha (left) and Sam Rainsy at Sunday's event.

Kem Sokha (left) and Sam Rainsy at Sunday’s event in a Phnom Penh park.  (Source: Cambodge Info)

That the leader of the CNRP faction, Kem Sokha, had been long silent about the pact is proof of the party’s vulnerability and thus its weakening as a collective force against the Cambodian People’s Party of Hun Sen, who has had an iron grip on the nation for nearly three decades.

Behind the scenes, Sokha did consent to be appointed a top parliamentary official, First Vice President of the National Assembly, so there obviously has been an effort to keep the CNRP from splintering.  Whether that initiative will work in the end is an open question: The evidence is mounting that Sokha’s supporters have been quietly demanding appeasement even as attempts to do so could result in the collapse of the agreement between the CPP and CNRP.

It was, after all, Sokha’s objection to an earlier informal agreement that Continue reading

Bicycles are everywhere, but most riders look strange

IMG_4464It took me an unpardonable while to figure out why all the men, women and children riding bicycles looked odd to me in the course of their normal activities in Phnom Penh.

The great majority of them pedal upright, looking to me like so many prim, pert and possibly priggish individuals.  They remind me of a 19th- or 20th-century painting that I cannot easily locate showing a woman in crinolines on one of those old-fashioned bikes with one outsize wheel.  (If you locate the image, do please send it along.)  You’d think they were posing for pictures,

What are they doing with Continue reading

There is more than one way I can’t pass for Cambodian

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Tuk-tuk and moto drivers often congregate to play chess or cards while waiting for fares. 

My appearance is the most obvious way no one would mistake me for a Cambodian.  Of course, there are numerous other reasons.

One that has proved to be inescapable is a position favored here by man, woman and child for activities as varied as eating, playing a version of chess and merely whiling away some time, often a lot of time.

What they do effortlessly and clearly without discomfort is squat.

I suppose Continue reading

Some food stores cater to expats, but prices are hefty

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There is a small chain of supermarkets aptly named “Lucky.”  It carries many groceries from the United States, but it is legend among expats here for its high prices.

Although Lucky carries items such Skippy peanut butter, Barilla pasta and Haagan-Dasz ice cream, we have to dig deep to pay for such things.

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Prices are in dollars per 100 grams.

For instance, a small jar of Skippy runs $4.90.  A small container of Hagaan-Dasz goes for as much as $18 — that’s not a typo — and 1.1 pounds of Barilla spaghetti is ours for $2.  I purchased a small jar of Hellman’s light mayonnaise for $4.30.  When I buy a five-ounce can of Bumble Bee solid white tuna fish with spring water, I pay $2.60, not bad, all things considered.

Much of the paltry selection of important cheese is sold by the hundred grams, or less than a quarter pound, for very high prices.

The last time I looked at a container of Driscoll strawberries, Continue reading

Many hotels, airlines won’t allow this fruit’s presence

durian photo: durian durian.jpgThe odor that durian (“turen” in Cambodia) is intense, inescapable.  You can smell the fruit down the street from anywhere it is being sold.

Most folks find it offensive, even nauseating.  Until recently, I was one of those individuals.

However, hearing so many Cambodians rhapsodize over its quality as the local turen season approached its peak a couple of weeks ago, I resolved to appreciate its appeal.
Now I do.

My first attempt at tasting the thing Continue reading

It seems there are only two kinds of dogs in Cambodia

One of two kinds of dogs I see in Phnom Penh.

One of two kinds of dogs I see in Phnom Penh.

As I make my way around Phnom Penh, I regularly come across pet dogs.

They seem to fall into two categories, and I am shamelessly generalizing.  One is big and fierce-looking German Shepherds.  The elite use them as guard dogs for extravagant villas, and those animals never run loose.

The second category consists of what seem like Continue reading

I keep learning it’s a good idea to question everything

Stringing cable looks like a freelance procedure.

Stringing cable looks like a freelance procedure.  You should have seen them flinging spiraled wires over obstacles such as other wires as the mercury climbed into the 90s.

One of my biggest complaints about the apartment we rent was my reliance on the building’s slow Internet service, which costs $50 a month for shared WiFi.  Downloading videos of any length has been basically impossible, never mind privacy.

I am embarrassed to say I learned only lately through a casual conversation with a new tenant that it is possible to bring in another service.  Eureka!  It never occurred to me to ask.

Paid in advance, the price for Mega’s product is expensive by U.S. standards, Continue reading