Heading home warms my heart and lifts my spirits

Whittier, Alaska, which is dominated by a building in which almost everyone lives.

Whittier, Alaska, which is dominated by the Begich Building. (Photo by Jessica Spengler on Flickr)

When I moved from Manhattan to Phnom Penh toward the end of last year, most of my friends and family made clear their impression that I was heading to the least desirable outpost of the civilized world.

They were clearly wrong.

During my travels over the last month, I discovered Whittier, Alaska, which must rank on any list as one of mankind’s least hospitable municipalities.

The driver of the bus that dropped Lin and me at Anchorage Airport after a 90-minute drive from Whittier through a one-lane tunnel noted that the city began its life as Continue reading

Tuk-tuks, motos, taxis, feet not only ways to travel

IMG_4450Making one’s way around Phnom Penh is not particularly easy and rarely is very safe.

Although my preferred mean of travel is on my feet, literally walking in the gutter with eyes darting in every direction, sometimes it is necessary because of rain, distance or scheduling to resort to other modes.

Thus have I indulged myself in a tuk-tuk on occasion.  Infrequently, I have hailed a man on a motorcycle, the chief hazards with motos being the lack of a helmet and daredevil drivers.  (Actually, it is motodops who hail pedestrians, not the other way around, with boundless hope in the face of constant rejection.)

But one vehicle I cannot bring myself to take is Continue reading

My views about learning Khmer language have evolved

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My teacher with one of his lessons at Brown coffee house, where I often do my language homework.  On this day, however, Meng tutored me there prior to my upcoming travels.

It was seven or eight months ago that I started studying the Khmer language.  I wrote in this space that I felt it was wrong to live in Cambodia or any other foreign country without trying to learn the language.

My opinion has not changed, but circumstances have forced to me think hard about my goals. One such circumstance is a few weeks of travel starting Aug. 13.

(The travel means that you can expect only sporadic tweets should you be following me as well as irregular posts here or on Facebook, if any, for a while.)

Continue reading

Ladies who lunch not alone in admiring youthfulness

IMG_4443One might be forgiven, after reading this post, for thinking that most ordinary Cambodians do not have their priorities in order.

Certainly, they would rank foremost such issues as how to make enough money for food, afford decent shelter and finance an education.  There is a host of necessities for a quality of life that the populations of many other countries wouldn’t express a need to envy. Continue reading

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