‘I can’t come to the phone now. Please leave a message.’

iphone6s-rsgld-frontWhen you call someone in Cambodia who doesn’t answer the phone, tough luck.

When you miss a call from a number you don’t recognize, tough luck again.

In the Kingdom of Wonder, I never have laid eyes on a phone that was not a mobile.  Perhaps some businesses have them, but cellphones here in Cambodia are as inescapable as cockroaches in a New York City tenement and barbells in a gym.

As for  Continue reading

This blog post was supposed to focus on graffiti alone

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  Spotless: Security guards, who usually double as parking assistants, ensure it.  They are everywhere.

One of the striking characteristics of Phnom Penh is the near absence of graffiti.  Strikingly stark walls undoubtedly tempt a mischievous segment of the population, yet an overwhelming proportion of those walls remains pristine.  The relatively few exceptions tend to be on fences surrounding construction.

How can there be so little defacement, I have mused, though to my credit, only briefly?

I have concluded that one reason has to be Continue reading

On trip to to Kampot and Kep, three out of four ain’t bad

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Returning to the city on a sunset cruise from Kampot.

Importuned to travel somewhere in Cambodia when a friend had a long weekend, three of us headed to Kampot within a province of the same name on Sunday.  Kampot, which enjoys justifiable fame for the quality of its pepper, is on the Kampong Bay River 148 kilometers (92 miles) southeast of  Phnom Penh.

We also drove to Kep, which lies on the Gulf of Thailand only a half-hour ride from Kampot for lunch.  Aside from its pleasing coastal views, that city is notable for its crabs, which women, just women, trap and sell at the shore on the edge of the food market.

Arrival at our hotel went badly, as I will explain in some detail later, but there were at least three diversions that made the trip worthwhile.

One was Continue reading

Why so much violence in this officially Buddhist nation?

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In guest post, the writer explores the Khmer Rouge’s violence and violence today.

This illuminating post is published verbatim with the permission of journalist and novelist Philip J. Coggan, whose blog is the source and is well worth following.  If you are in Cambodia, you also likely will appreciate his new book, Spirit World, available at Monument Books.

Here is the big question: how and why did a Buddhist nation produce one of the 20th century’s worst genocides, and one which is marked by so many horrific instances of cruelty and savage violence? A whole chapter in my book Spirit Worlds is devoted to this and for my answer I relied heavily on Alexander Laban Hinton’s Why Did They Kill?. This article therefore stands as a sort of review of Hinton’s book, which is essential reading for all those who want to understand Cambodia.

At one point in my book I remark that underneath the Cambodian smile there lurks Continue reading

Khmer Times unapologetically commits plagiarism

thumb_PC240023_1024There were numerous reasons that I declined to work at the Khmer Times on three occasions starting more than a year ago.

One was how much I have come to value my free time.

The other reasons were more complicated.  For one thing, I had a viscerally negative reaction to Continue reading

Hats off to exceptional international film festival

Opening night of the Cambodia International Film Festival. Source: CIFF/Vann Channarong

Opening night of the festival at Phnom Penh’s Chaktomuk Theater. Source: CIFF/Vann Channarong

The Sixth Annual Cambodian International Film Festival Is a Hit

Despite my expressed vow to avoid writing during the holidays, I was so captivated by the sixth annual Cambodia International Film Festival (CIFF) that I had to share with you my enthusiasm about the event, which was held in disparate Phnom Penh locations Dec. 4-10.

Not only was the festival organized with the precision of a three-star restaurant kitchen, but the quality of most of the films I caught was dazzling.

There reportedly were more than 130 from 34 countries in all, none costing more than $1 for admission, and I cannot explain why this was the first festival I’ve attended.  Only jet lag and ignorance of the screenings kept me from seeing more than the eight or nine (four in one day!) that I caught last week.

Cambodia International Film FestivalAngela Jolie Pitt, Continue reading

Traditional weddings in Cambodia truly test endurance

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The couple engaged in numerous rituals, this one directly in front of their parents.

The bride, bridegroom and their families arose around 3 a.m. on the day of the wedding to prepare for formalities starting approximately 7 a.m.  Preparations included the professional application of layers of makeup and the creation of elegant hairdos.

The key figures didn’t sleep again until sometime before midnight the same day following an elaborate dinner attended by a throng of 640 in a catering hall.

They also were up late the previous night, when 260 of their closest friends and extended family members joined them for a night of celebrating the upcoming union at tables set up under a tent on the street in front of the bride’s home in the Phnom Penh district of Stung Meanchey.

Little did I, who had to leave home for the wedding at 6 a.m., appreciate Continue reading