Rampant injustice can be almost too much to bear

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The unfortunate victim of extortion for a crime that he did not commit has been working at this pool.

The 18-year-old pool attendant at my gym is gawky, gangly and unusually skinny.  No taller than my chin, he has kind of a goofy smile that always accompanies his dependably friendly greeting when we run into each other at the facility.

His was only one of two recent incidents that are symptomatic of rampant injustice in Cambodia.

I got to know the young man — call him Chan — when his job was to clean the equipment on one of the gym’s floors I visit.  I since have seen him frequently when he stands outside the glass doors at the entrance of the pool, where he has been assigned for more than a year.

On March 13, Continue reading

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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

Thinking out of proverbial box could better Cambodia

You can be sure that participants in this protest against the ruling party a while back collectively represent unfathomable need.

Modern history has demonstrated that, indeed, there always is something new under the sun.

Under this nation’s punishing sun, perhaps some possibly new ideas could improve the lives of the heartbreakingly numerous Cambodians unable even to hope for a better life.

As I make my way around the country, various Continue reading

My first year in Cambodia has passed at warp speed

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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

For construction workers, home is where the building is

Construction house 2

Families with children live communally in the shelter at the rear as the foundation is prepared, then they move up into the building when construction progresses.

Most construction workers make their way to Phnom Penh from the provinces, where work for them either doesn’t exist or centers on shrinking farmland and inadequate compensation.

They are distinguished by at least two characteristics: skin browned by the sun from all their outdoor work, branding them as lower class, and by painfully thin, if muscled, bodies.

Their makeshift homes here in the capital are where the work is.  They inhabit crude, rude, jerry-rigged shelters that are moved and modified as work proceeds on each space they occupy until foundations are completed over weeks and months.

Then, Continue reading

New Census data slice the Big Apple into pieces

For lower-priced housing, head to a whiter shade of pale. (Click to expand.)

The U.S. Census Bureau released five-year American Community Survey (ACS) estimates for the first time yesterday, making available social, economic, housing and demographic statistics for every community in the nation.

Reeves, Tex., was among counties with the lowest median home value–$29,000–while Nantucket, Mass. was among those with the highest median–approximately $1 million.

Manhattan’s median grew from $449,800 in 2000, Continue reading