With politics and human rights, expats have a problem

eople protest the detention of four human rights workers and an election official on Monday morning near Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison. Source: Phnom Penh Post

A few activists protest the detention of four human rights workers and an election official on Monday morning near Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison. Source: Phnom Penh Post

It is a debate that has persisted since long before I started making Cambodia my home: What should expats do or say when they object to the actions of a foreign government that permits them to live in its country?

The question surfaced again here in Cambodia when a Facebook “friend” posted a story that has dominated the three English-language dailies for days.

A subsequent report in the Phnom Penh Post on Wednesday centered on a speech in which the prime minister said he might seek to have five jailed Cambodians forgiven for their entanglement in what has been dubbed a sex scandal concerning the acting president of a political party opposed to his ruling one.  Hun Sen’s remarks followed Monday’s arrest of civil rights activists essentially for wearing black shirts as they headed to a demonstration in Phnom Penh to call attention to their plight.

If civil society groups hold back during legal proceedings, suggested the price minister, the arrested individuals could be released from custody on one condition.  He said:  Continue reading

Signs in Cambodia sometimes provoke a double-take

Like a café proprietor, the shopkeeper below appreciates how to attract buyers.

Travelers know that they’ll encounter signs translated from the local language into English.  The signs may variously evoke laughter, bewilderment or insights into different cultures.

As I ramble around Phnom Penh, I like to photograph the occasional sign that brings me up short.  Below, Continue reading

Killer disease remains an open secret in Southeast Asia

‘. . . most of the time, the patient has already passed away.’

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The bacterium that causes Melioidosis.  Source: Eye of Science

There may be some folks who call a disease that still kills the “Vietnam Time-Bomb.”  More than 300 U.S. servicemen who fought in Vietnam were infected with it.

Melioidosis, as it is known medically, caused their deaths.  It may be Southeast Asia’s most quiet killer, a stealthy predator.

The deadly disease occurs throughout the world’s warm climes; in Southeast Asia, it is especially present in northeastern Thailand and perhaps less so in Cambodia as far as can be known.  Because it lurks with so little public awareness, physicians here don’t tend to look for it in ailing individuals, and those patients just perish, often within days.

“In Cambodia, we think 70 per cent Continue reading

Vietnam and Cambodia: A study in surprising contrasts

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Fashioned of recycled broken glass and ceramics, the Linh Phuoc pagoda (more photos just below) is decidedly bizarre, making Gaudi’s creations in Barcelona seem banal by comparison.

Please forgive my naïveté about having recently discovered some differences surprising to me between Vietnam and Cambodia in view of, or despite, the two nations’ tangled history, which I will ignore here.

After my return early this month from spending nearly two weeks in Nha Trang, Dalat and Saigon (which I prefer to the official “Ho Chi Minh City”), I saw for myself how Vietnam has changed in the dozen or so years since my previous brief visit.  It also proved impossible to Continue reading

Uneven journalistic standards the norm in Cambodia

Happy Khmer New Year!

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Photo supplied by the police shows nearly naked defendants who were arrested on fraud charges.  It was published last month in the Phnom Penh Post.

Consider me to be a grammar Nazi.  Perhaps even worse, I tend to be a journalism tyrant as well, someone who finds himself, perhaps irrationally, irritated by lapses from commonly high journalistic standards.

I read Cambodia’s three English-language dailies online every morning or in print just about every afternoon that I am in Phnom Penh.  Rarely do I get through any of the publications without finding a lapse in standards that are, to my mind, unforgivable.

I decided one day in December to skim the three journals for their lapses over a few days. Herewith what I discovered: Continue reading

Corruption query is unfortunate sign of times in SE Asia

CorruptionNot only in Southeast Asia would someone write the following, as one administrator of a non-governmental organization (NGO) did on a Cambodia Web site dedicated to expats:

Unfortunately we experienced a case of corruption in our NGO. Our accountant asked service providers to slightly increase invoices in order to get the difference to the lower invoice as a personal commission. For the time being we suspense [sic] her in order to investigate the case.

The writer went on to ask for advice, which another member of the forum answered in detail. Someone else subsequently suggested that the discussion be taken private, and therein is revealed discomfort with the West’s intolerance for the extent of corruption in Cambodia. In reply, on the site of the Cambodia Parents Network (CPN), another writer objected to the need for privacy. Said he: Continue reading

Hike up Phnom Chisor is hot, strenuous and diverting

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Our nearly daylong excursion was hardly a walk in the park. The stone steps on the way up to the speck at the top are high, uneven and often missing altogether.  They make for a challenging climb.

Although “Phnom” normally is translated as “mountain,” it is something of an exaggeration to term Phnom Chisor (also spelled “Chiso”) as other than “Chisor Hill.”

That said, the hike under the noonday sun up approximately 400 laterite steps to the temple at the peak last Sunday was a true challenge.  It left virtually all of our ragged band of more than two dozen hikers Continue reading