Holiday unknown to me gives access to French Embassy

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The imposing main building of the French Embassy greets visitors just inside the gate.

An annual series of events around the world under the umbrella of European Heritage Days had escaped me until this year, but last Saturday’s activities in Phnom Penh allowed me and hundreds of others to enjoy access inside some otherwise private international venues.

I learned about the possibility of seeing the French Embassy only the day before by reading a one-inch item in a local English-language daily.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see anything about also being able to tour the British ambassador’s residence, UNESCO offices and a restored colonial-era building where the high-end Van’s restaurant operates.  (I had dined expensively at the restaurant once and have felt no need to return.)

Still, visiting the French Embassy proved to be notable for Continue reading

Remarkable book set in India illuminates deprivation

An engrossing and enlightening book came to my attention a while back.  It was written by Katherine Boo, a longtime New Yorker writer whose prose is elegant and artful.

Behind the Beautiful ForeversHonored by a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, a National Magazine Award and a Pulitzer Prize, Boo had her book published in 2012.  I cannot recommend too highly Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity.

I have to say its ring of authenticity is a clarion invitation to understanding and empathizing with the poorest of the poor.  So compelling are the book’s descriptions that I felt as though I could smell the smells of a slum, taste the bitterness of injustice and feel the pain of deprivation on which Boo trains her attention.

Stupid me, either when I ordered Behind the Beautiful Forevers or got down my list of reading material, I forgot a key fact about the book until I arrived at Boo’s author’s note at the end.   Continue reading

The news in Cambodia gets more dispiriting every day

thumb_img_1058_1024As a former traditional print journalist, I cannot leave behind the urge to keep up with the news.  Consequently, I read online or on actual paper the three slim dailies published in English, presumably for expats.  

The Khmer Times, which I confess has shown modest improvement since its plagiarism scandal several months ago, is the one in which I have the least faith in having achieved an acceptable journalistic standard.  Rather, I tend to rely on the Cambodian Daily and the Phnom Penh Post, which do a pretty good job of reporting the news.

What I see virtually every day is stories about political corruption, traffic deaths, human rights abuses, sexual abuse, governmental misconduct and an extraordinarily high level of judicial malfeasance that boggles my mind. Continue reading