Longtime observer pessimistic about Cambodia reform

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To paraphrase the old Esquire magazine, why is Hun Sen laughing?  (Source: Phnom Penh Post)

“This is no country for decent and outspoken men.”

So begins Sebastian Strangio’s crystalline analysis of Cambodia’s political environment in the highly respected Mekong Review.  The one-and-a-half-year-old quarterly journal has given me permission to excerpt a substantial portion of the author’s astute perspective on the chasm between what might be desirable in the Kingdom of Wonder and what might be achievable.

Strangio — whose recent book on Cambodia under the 31-year rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen has received terrific reviews — draws a line between what ought to be the situation in the country versus what actually is the possibility of change.

You can read the full essay in the publication, and I suspect the excerpts below will peak your interest.
Continue reading

A shop owner bolsters my appreciation of Cambodians

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This sleek all-in-one is not mine.

My printer mystified me.

Purchased here in Cambodia, the HP all-in-one device is three years old.  It worked fine until a couple of months ago, when it refused to print the information inside a form.

I tried everything, so I thought.  I changed online documents to PDFs, JPGs, Excel and Word, all to no avail.

Finally, it dawned on me that Continue reading

Cambodia hardly is a hotbed of the visual arts, but. . .

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Cambodia’s minister of culture and fine arts, Phoeurng Sackona, spoke warmly about the artist Sopheap Pich, standing at her left, in front of the sculpture called Big Being.

No one would describe Cambodia as a vital center of the visual arts in Southeast Asia.

While there are art schools and art exhibitions, the output does not tend to be memorable. (When it comes the visual arts, I find photography to be the most accomplished.)

One reason must be  Continue reading

Variations of ‘home’ set Cambodians apart from West

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My mother and I at home a few years ago.

Where I spent most of my life, there was the concept of going home.  That referred to where I went to bed at night.

Here, Cambodians usually mean the same thing.

Were I to head to my hometown, that would refer to the Boston, Massachusetts area, where I was born and lived the first 18 years of my life.

Here in Phnom Penh, “hometown” does not exactly exist as a concept.  Instead, Cambodians will say in their language they are going to their homeland.

“Homeland” is freighted with far more significance than “home” or “hometown.”  It has Continue reading

Student transport helps explain pollution in Cambodia

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No one disputes what eyes, ears and noses have detected in recent years: The number of motor vehicles on the streets of Cambodia in general and of Phnom Penh in particular has swelled dramatically.

Residents (and, of course, virtually all tourists) don’t even think of walking here. For one thing, it is considered too dangerous. However, I suspect that most folks believe walking alongside, not on, sidewalks made impassable by parked conveyances is just too unpleasant. (I happen to like the exercise and thus put up with the disadvantages.)

As for taking a bicycle, Continue reading

New construction alters prime area’s ambiance, views

The character of my Boeung Keng Kang I neighborhood has undergone a remarkable transformation in the three years ago this month that I moved to Phnom Penh.

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In this photo from my roof, every high building looking east was built in the last two or three years, probably less. The grey one in the foreground was just completed. The crane in the background (right) atop an unseen tall building with a dramatic elliptical shape is some months from completion.

As I have written in the past, one reason is the explosion of fast-food restaurants in my neighborhood, which is popular with expats.  The other reason is the breakneck speed of new construction, which is obliterating pleasant mid-century villas and the shade of trees that are recklessly cut down on every block.

Perhaps I could argue against the change, though that would be folly.  Instead, what I can rant about is Continue reading

Alcohol consumption is harmful way of life in Cambodia

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Photo recently posted on Facebook is obviously whimsical, but it harbors a darker meaning.

Whether those who imbibe are rich or poor, excessive consumption of alcohol appears to be a widespread practice in the Kingdom of Wonder.  The World Health Organization attributed 2,000 deaths and injuries to the drink last year.

Although the government of Cambodia has been drafting legislation since 2008 to discourage some drinking, enactment has yet to be achieved.

Incredibly, Continue reading