Visit to Khmer Rouge Tribunal sparks old memories

Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, testifies at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia yesterday. ECCC

Convicted of crimes against humanity, Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, testifies at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in June. Source: ECCC/Phnom Penh Post.

The idea was not so much to report on testimony given at what is officially named the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts in Cambodia, or ECCC, a U.N. funded organization that otherwise is known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.  It was a sense of obligation.

The courts’ multi-million-dollar mission since its creation in 2006 has been to prosecute ultimately just a few of the individuals involved in the genocide of more than 1.7 million Cambodians in the 1970s.  That the government is filled with former adherents of the Khmer Rouge has resulted in years of negotiations, stalling and the resulting freedom from trial of thousands and thousands of killers.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held onto his position for 31 years, acknowledges that he once was a relatively senior member of the Khmer Rouge before he changed sides.

Having already borne witness to the atrocities committed by Cambodians against Cambodians at a high school that became the notorious S-21 prison — referred to as Toul Sleng — and the killing fields, I decided it was high time that I observe the trial taking place 16 kilometers (10 miles) from downtown Phnom Penh.  My goal was less to recount testimony but more to share with readers how it felt to get and be there.

It was an unexpectedly chilling experience because Continue reading

Risk, even unintended, can result in its own rewards

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Part 3: The final installment of my hiking adventure

thumb_P4020724_1024By the time I had walked, skidded and hiked for a good hour, I decided that I had long ago reached the point of no return and so struggled toward the periodically faint signs of vehicular movement.

Eventually sensing incrementally louder engine noise and spotting what may have been a path, which disconcertingly vanished after a short time, I blazed my own trail, plunged through a thicket and stumbled Continue reading

The best researched plans don’t always work out well

Part 2 of my scary ordeal

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Numerous paths strewn with brown pine needles suggested trails that rarely panned out.

The first installment of my hike in Vietnam chronicles my decision to set out without map or working phone to reach the peak of Lang Biang in Dalat.

Among the three sets of directions I had printed out was this one:

The trail starts about 200-300m from the gate of Lang Biang Base. Follow the paved road that the jeeps take and after 200-300m, take the first dirt road to the right. . . It will go down a hill and there will be greenhouses on the right side of the road.

Simple enough, I thought, except I spotted only a green house, not a greenhouse, and assumed the faint trail that I saw there was the one to take.  Uh, it wasn’t.  I should have Continue reading

In Vietnam’s Dalat, I made two serious hiking mistakes

In this first of 3 installments, the saga of my hike in a foreign land

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The road not taken. . . at least up.

My second mistake was taking the wrong trail.

My first mistake was deciding to forego the road and follow directions I had assiduously downloaded from a travel site.  Truth be told, I should confess that I tried to follow the directions.

One of my chief reasons for visiting Dalat in south central Vietnam in late March was to climb a mountain called Lang Biang and gaze down on the city and the surrounding countryside from an elevation of 2,167 meters (1.35 miles) above sea level.

Unfortunately, Continue reading

Burger King unleashes a torrent of like restaurants

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I never have darkened these doors. In fact, the only one of the restaurants in this post that I have tried is bbq, below, because of a two-for-one promotion. That eatery is part of a Korean chain, and the food certainly is memorable. Memorable, yes, but I have to say it is not so in a good way.

When Burger King opened its doors two blocks from my apartment in January 2014, I tweeted half seriously, “There goes the neighborhood.”

Little did I know.  And how much do I regret that I unwittingly had foreseen what would ensue. Burger King cranked open the floodgates that caused an inundation of fast-food restaurants — which enjoy throngs of young Khmers starting late in the afternoon — along a four-block stretch of a street that parallels mine.

Our mid-rise apartment building is, I hear, only about five years old.  The lot it occupies apparently was a banana plantation prior to construction, and the greenery it provided exemplified my neighborhood.  In no small part because of our building boom (soon to be bust, I think) and the growing profusion of restaurants, gorgeous tropical trees are vanishing apace.

When we moved to the Boeung Keng Kang I area at the end of 2013, one of the chief attractions Continue reading

Housing for contractors defines minimalist approach

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Home away from home consists of makeshift lodging that changes as work progresses inside a construction site.

This is not the first time that I have published a post about the way construction workers live in Phnom Penh.

They arrive here from the provinces unable to find work or at least unable to find work that will support them and their families.  They don’t make much money in construction either — it varies from as little as $150 a month for laborers to a little more for skilled workers.

However, Continue reading

Same veiled request can be more than daily occurrence

Blind Nang Sokearath, 25, is typical of disabled Cambodians trying to scrape up a living. The powers that be have vowed to remove such folks from the Phnom Penh's streets.

Blind Nang Sokearath, 25, is typical of disabled Cambodians trying to scrape up a living. The powers that be have vowed to remove such folks from Phnom Penh’s streets.  The city periodically sweeps up ordinary street beggars too, then essentially jails them.  Source: Phnom Penh Post

The kind of remark I hear all the time was addressed to me an unprecedented three times in one day, on Tuesday, a record that surprised me.

This being Southeast Asia, indirection often is the way questions are answered, criticisms are provided and requests are made.  My experience on Tuesday was all about requests, though no one actually asked this barang (foreigner) outright for help.

The English dailies these days seem to be accelerating their coverage and analysis of corruption, the wicked stepmother of deprivation in a nation with great potential that is far from realized.  As I have written previously in this regard, I keep thinking about thriving Singapore, the tiny city-state that was approximately at the same stage of development as Cambodia half a century ago and that has far fewer natural resources.

The veiled requests concerned Continue reading