Why do many posts here seem to center on one topic?

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National Bank of Cambodia in Battambang

The most charitable reaction I can attribute to someone’s recent comment to me is that I was taken aback.  Somehow, it seemed like a criticism, and whose skin is thinner than mine?

What that acquaintance said is my blog seems to center on money.  “It does,” I thought?  How can that be?”  Then I thought again.

Perhaps Continue reading

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Police corruption in Cambodia comes home to a friend

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Always hard at work, our underpaid constabulary.

A Khmer-American friend of mine acknowledges that he made a mistake when trusting a Cambodian acquaintance.  That trust has cost him well more than $1 million, a loss he can ill-afford.  Not many ordinary Khmer-American businessmen could.

From what I gather, my friend — call him Hak — doled out monthly payments to the guy.  The man — I’ll call him Vwibol — apparently was to lend that money to other Cambodians at admittedly exorbitant, but commonly charged, rates.  (The details that Hak provides tend to be kind of vague, so I am not even positive about the nature of his monthly investments.)

Every month, Vwibol would return some thousands of dollars to Hak. But the money stopped coming in September.  Vwibol says 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

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

Police in Phnom Penh are paid like piece-workers

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Motorcycles parked, police officers can only hope offenders will stop.  (Source: Khmer Times)

The traffic police officers here receive a salary, albeit a low one consistent with the paltry pay that the vast majority of Cambodians receives, if they are fortunate to have a job.

The police might be forgiven for thinking that the government pays them to work, so work they do when moved to stop slouching on the job in order to attempt an arrest of motorists who break the law.  Although their salary is just part of the job’s rewards, they paradoxically seem to be less than dedicated to pursuing offenders.

The police in Phnom Penh are notorious for Continue reading

In Cambodia, too, death is certain in life–but not taxes

money_5When you know someone well enough here in Cambodia, sometimes even not so well, it is acceptable to ask financial questions thought elsewhere to be too personal.

To query all but the elite about how much they spend on housing or even how much money they earn every month may not be considered to be the least bit impolite.  Asking about the cost of household help is fine.

And you may inquire without hesitation about the taxes that someone pays. However, you can count on a response that will in most cases be surprisingly short: an unabashed chortle.

I sometimes have had occasion to  Continue reading

My first year in Cambodia has passed at warp speed

one year 12

What some folks think of as Angkor Wat is the temple in the background, but the name actually applies to a sprawling complex filled with architectural wonders that cover many kilometers.

December 3 was the anniversary of my move to Cambodia.  Although I felt pretty much prepared for the experience, I have learned a lot.

Everything about making Phnom Penh my home is new.  I have never before been retired, never lived as an expat, never expected to have English be so often understood here and never spent more than vacation time in a developing country.

The list of what I learned about Cambodia and me is long, but I’ll do my best to provide mere brushstrokes of my perspective in the hope that I won’t tax your patience.

One year 3

One surprise has been how deeply moved I have been by the widespread poverty, how desperately I’d like to help a poor people and how Continue reading