A great day at the Kampot Writers and Readers Festival

This year was the inaugural Kampot Writers and Readers Festival. On Saturday morning, our little writing group drove down to Kampot to attend. We were hopeful, but a little wary. A lot can go wrong during the teething stages of a new event. There were a couple of hiccoughs, but those were far outweighed by the success of the festival.

We arrived a little late and I ended up watching the first panel discussion on publishing from the door. That was okay. It was a fascinating discussion and great to hear the views of writers who had been through the publishing process. Equally impressive was the audience. They were all seriously working on projects and very interested in learning what they could. I was also impressed to learn that a growing number of Cambodians are taking up both reading and writing.

readers and writers festival kampot cambodiaSee the Cambodian girls on the right side of the photo? They’re working on an English language book with their mentor/teacher. I was blown away by their intelligence and ambition.

old building kampot cambodiaOur next stop was lunch at Cafe Esspresso, one of the most popular (and for good reason) cafes in town. Unlike Sihanoukville, which is a young city, Kampot is old and it shows in a delightful way in the old buildings. Many of them you might call dilapidated, but what one calls dilapidation another calls character. The city exudes character. I hadn’t been to Kampot for about five years and back then it seemed like a sleepy town with little to offer a Westerner. It’s caught on now, though, and I was amazed by the number of cafes and other small businesses that have opened in the part of the city where the festival was taking place.  The beauty of the new ventures is that they are all taking advantage of the city’s wonderful architecture. Some are giving them fresh coats of paint and restoring them to their former glory. Cafe Esspresso has left the walls in their “distressed” state, but decorated the interior with eclectic art. It has a wonderful atmosphere that is matched or surpassed by the quality of the food and coffee – their very own house blend.

The next presentation was about e-publishing. Here again, the panel had experience in publishing online and had some invaluable advice to offer.

Finally, we went to a presentation about violence in Cambodia. I wanted to attend that one because Brian Gruber was going to talk about his book, War: the Afterparty. Brian crowdfunded $10,000 to take him on a trip around the world to places where the United States had “intervened.” Brian has been in the media for most of his life and his talk reflected it. He was humorous, informative and so engaging, I forgot to take a picture of him while he was giving his presentation. I highly recommend visiting his website and reading about his project. I just want to take a side trip to share something Brian said during his talk that was significant to me. He probably won’t agree with my conclusion, but that’s okay. It takes a bit of a stretch of the imagination to follow my “logic.”

presentation at writers and readers festival kampot cambodia

Brian Gruber is the guy on the right

Early in his presentation, Brian mentioned that he reached his $10,000 goal a half an hour before his Kickstarter campaign closed. That was significant because with Kickstarter, if you don’t reach your goal, you don’t get your money. The company doesn’t pocket the money — they just don’t process the donations until the goal is reached.

A bit later, Brian said instead of planning in advance and setting up interviews, he headed for Guatemala three days later. “Serendipity” helped, he said, putting him in touch with people in Guatemala who were able to help him immensely with his work. My book is all about Serendipity. I put my future in her hands when I went travelling in 2006. Without her, I would never have come to Sihanoukville or had the life I now enjoy. Brian may not agree with me, but it seems like Serendipity plays a bigger part in our lives than we give her credit for. Like Brian, you have to grab an opportunity when it comes, but in my life, at least, most opportunities that have worked for me have come out of the blue, with a little nudge from a “serendipitous” occurrence.

You’re more than welcome to think I’m nuts for throwing my future into fate’s hands, but that’s what I did and it all worked out better than any plan I had come up with. After I exhausted all my ideas, I asked a tarot card reader in Bali what fate had in store for me. Here’s a snippet from my book that sort of explains it:

It wasn’t something I planned on doing. It just happened one day when I was in a café on Jalan Arjuna in Seminyak. The card reader, a drop-dead gorgeous Italian woman in her late twenties, was just finishing up a reading with a customer when I walked in. As soon as her customer left, I approached her and asked for a reading. “What does the future hold in store for me in Bali?” I asked.

“Excuse me, but I only give readings by appointment,” she replied with more than a tinge of annoyance. Under normal circumstances, I might have walked away with my tail between my legs, but this time I held my ground.

“Sorry! I thought you worked here. Can I explain my situation to you? Maybe you can make an exception and give me a reading now, if you have time.”

She warmed to me after hearing my story of woe and even apologized for her rudeness. “Men rarely ask me for readings,” she explained, “and when they do, they usually hit on me.”

“No, I’d really like a reading,” I replied half-truthfully. Honestly, I might not have been as enthusiastic if she hadn’t been so beautiful. I had a bad attitude towards most tarot card readers. Without facts to back up my belief, I assumed they just told people like me who were in a bind what they wanted to hear. I was at an impasse, though, and set my prejudice aside. Besides, it gave me a chance to have a chat with her.

The first card she focused on showed a young man dancing on the edge of a precipice. “This is the Fool,” she told me. “He can play an important part in your life – if you let him.” The card nearest the Fool, the Four of Pentacles, was a picture of a man hoarding his wealth. He was the aspect of my personality trying to cling to its old life. From those two cards, the rest of the cards fanned out in opposite directions, like two paths I had the choice of following. Proceeding through the cards nearest the Four of Pentacles, she concluded that following his path might not be disastrous, but wouldn’t be materially or spiritually rewarding. If I followed the Fool’s lead and set my hopes, fears and prejudices aside, my future looked bright.

“What about teaching English in Bali?” I asked, still clinging to that fading dream.

She didn’t see it in my cards and wasn’t too enthusiastic about my question. “That’s the sort of job that’s on the Four of Pentacles side of the spread. See how the man has his feet planted firmly on top of two gold coins? That symbolizes his need to stay put and protect his wealth. He’s holding another coin close to his heart and the fourth coin on top of his head says money is all he thinks about. It’s up to you, but does that look like the kind of life you want to live?”

It didn’t. I took a leap of faith and followed wherever fate led me. It turns out my tarot card reader was right.

Tertulia restaurant in kampot cambodia

Anyway, back to our day in Kampot. A friend suggested we eat dinner at Tertulia, a Portuguese restaurant on the Sihanoukville side of the bridge. It took us a little while to find it, but it was worth it. I couldn’t decide whether to eat my barracuda or just stare at the beautiful presentation. I decided to do both and took a photograph before I started eating.

Tertulia restaurant in kampot cambodia - mealLucky I did, because the food was delicious and we loved the restaurant, which was in a quiet, garden setting. After our meal, we headed home and all agreed it had been a great day. We loved the festival and loved everything about Kampot.

 

The Sihanoukville Journal is back online

Update: 24 October

It’s a bit sad, but here’s how my Google Analytics looks since my website went offline. At least some traffic is coming back and hopefully I’ll be back to normal soon:

SV journal stats

Just a quick post to let you know the Sihanoukville Journal is back online. All my websites were hacked and my host suspended my account until I could get the problem fixed. After spending $200 on an online service, I discovered that the virus was on all my sites, so it turned out to be a waste of money. A friend recommended a Cambodian tech guy who works for Excellence in Service, an “excellent” English school. It took him a few days, but he managed to restore most of my sites after the virus deleted everything. Fortunately I had backup files for all but the smallest site. Now all I have to do is replace the photographs on this site.

Getting hacked sucks and getting three websites restored can get very expensive. I was lucky to find this guy. He’s very competent and patient. Anyway, the site is up and running and I hope to post something soon.

Coffee houses in Sihanoukville

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I can’t write about bars because I don’t go to them, but I’m almost an expert when it comes to coffee houses in Sihanoukville. I qualify that with an “almost” because new ones spring up all the time, but I tend to stick with the ones I know.

cafe in sihanoukville cambodia

When Douceur du Cambodge opened, it took up half the space it takes up now. Even though it has doubled in size, it’s harder than ever to find a seat during peak hours. I used to go for coffee and a light pastry at about 10:00 a.m. Now I either go before 8:00 or after noon because it gets too crowded and the staff can’t really cope with everyone. Why do I go there? Price has one thing to do with it. A cappuccino and well-made pastry sets me back $2.50. But mainly it’s because I like their cappuccinos. They’re strong and not too milky.

del marDouceur du Cambodge is on the busiest street in town. Almost directly behind it on a quieter street that parallels it is a tiny coffee house that sells the best pastries in town, if not the world. Okay, there may be better cakes in a few places, but Café del Mar’s desserts are world class. Café del Mar is run by a lovely Ukrainian couple. Definitely worth a visit, but I hope it doesn’t become too popular. I can always count on finding an outdoor table there, even when it’s full in the air-conditioned indoor area.

To get there turn left if you’re coming from downtown at the stoplight just past Orange Market. It’s opposite a big new building site about a block up the road.

Speaking of Orange Market, they have tables outside and serve decent cappuccinos. I sometimes go there in the afternoon. They also sell good ice cream, but I usually opt for fresh baked cookies from the market. The cappuccinos aren’t the best in town, but they’re good enough and it’s a good place to go for a caffeine fix in a hurry.

orange market sihanoukville cambodia

I rarely go to the Ochheuteal beach area during the week when I’m busy working, but sometimes when I feel like I need a longer break or have something to do down that way, I stop in at one of several coffee houses. I’ve written about Escape at the top of the hill before, but I’ve been venturing further down the street more recently. To my surprise, Mokka turned out to be very good and has the most comfortable seats in town. They don’t serve snacks, though, so I only go there when all I want is a coffee at a leisurely pace.

mochaAnother great coffee house down that way in the Eno Cafe. They make excellent sandwiches with a variety of fresh breads and serve some delicious pastries, too. It has an upmarket feel to it and is a little pricey by Sihanoukville standards, but that’s still not expensive.

eno cafe sihanoukville cambodiaThis selection of coffee houses in Sihanoukville is really only the tip of the iceberg and I apologise in advance for probably leaving out some equally good ones. Hopefully I’ve made my point, though. If you need a coffee fix and/or delicious pastries in Sihanoukville, you can have them.

 

 

 

One day in Sihanoukville?

otres beach, sihanoukville, cambodia

What would you do if you only had one day to see Sihanoukville? It’s a question most people who come here on cruise ships don’t usually ask. Bus trips around the city are part of their package. I see them now and then. The bus drops them off at the old bus station and they make their way on foot to Psar Leu. I’ve seen the buses parked at the top of Serendipity Road and at the park at the top of the hill. Those are all good places to see, but I think if I could choose someone’s itinerary, it would be a little different.

buddha-wat-kromComing from the port, our first stop would be Wat Krom. It’s a lovely wat on spacious grounds and you can get sweeping views of the city from a couple of spots there. More importantly, it gives first-time visitors a sense of the spiritual side of Cambodian life. I think it would give a better first impression than Psar Leu, which is pretty hectic and may come as a bit of a shock to Western visitors fresh off the boat.

I think I might skip Psar Leu or save it for later. Instead, we would go straight to the top of Serendipity Road and take a walk down to the pier, stopping to buy souvenirs along the way and perhaps a snack down on the beach.

As lunch time approached, I’d give my tour group a choice. We could go to Otres Beach or, if they wanted to try something more traditionally Cambodian, we would go up the hill to Phnom Meas. The views are spectacular there and the food well-prepared.

If they chose Otres, I’d probably take them to Tamu for a taste of upmarket Sihanoukville.

tamu, otres beach, sihanoukville cambodia

Tamu beach restaurant

There would be time for a good meal and, if my guests wanted to, a quick swim. Well, it’s their tour, so if they asked, we could simply stay there for the duration, but if they wanted to continue the tour, I’d offer them a couple of options. If they liked Wat Krom, I might suggest taking a ride out to Ream and stopping at Wat Samathi or Wat Ream. Both are in beautiful rural settings and my visitors could get a look at the airport and a little Cambodian rural scenery during the ride. I’d probably give a pitch for Wat Samathi because of the great views of the countryside and the wonderful walk around the mountain.

buddha-on-stairs

If they wanted to stay closer to the sea, we would head back to town and take the coastal road past Sokha Resort and Independence beach. By then the monkeys would be out, so we could stop to feed them and take some pics before moving on.

By then, the day would be drawing to a close, so we would go straight back to the port and say goodbye to our new friends. They would have a ton of photographs to share and I think they would leave with a great impression of Sihanoukville. One day in Sihanoukville isn’t enough, I know, but this is how I would like to spend it if a day was all I had.

Cambodian Leaders’ Historic Handshake

I wanted to make my 200th entry special and nothing is more special than this. Since the last election, Cambodia has been in a state of tension. Compared with other flashpoints around the world, it hasn’t been serious, but there has been violence. Once violence takes hold, it usually escalates. In my last post, I reported that the CPP and CNRP came to an agreement to hold a 2018 election in exchange for a new electoral commission. Just yesterday, even better news was released. This Cambodian leaders’ historic handshake says it all:

Photo from Cambodia Daily

Photo from Cambodia Daily

Just the previous day, the opposition had been loudly screaming about the detention of 7 opposition lawmakers-elect after the recent violence in Freedom Park. Along with the announcement that CNRP members would take their seats in the National Assembly came the news that the CNRP officials would be released.

Before his return to Cambodia, there was speculation that Sam Rainsy would be arrested, too. No one imagined he and Prime Minister Hun Sen would get together and find common ground, but that’s apparently what happened. According to a joint statement quoted in the Cambodia Daily:

The two parties agree on a political resolution by working together in the National Assembly institution in order to reach solutions for various national issues in accordance with democracy and the state of law

The new National Election Committee (NEC) will be comprised of four representatives from each party plus one independent member. The statement does not mention how the ninth member will be chosen.

“Both parties have [also] agreed to establish a committee of investigation and anti-corruption division”, according to the Phnom Penh Post article, Political Deadlock Broken.

The CPP will still have a majority in the National Assembly, but with 55 active members, the CNRP will have the voice it denied itself when members refused to take their seats after the election because of allegations of election fraud.

Photo from Big News Network article quoted here

U.N. Special Rapporteur Surya P. Subedi was quoted by the Big News Network as saying, “The two parties have finally found common ground, in the best interests of the Cambodian people. They deserve our congratulations, and the Cambodian people to enjoy a moment of celebration”. I couldn’t agree more. While so many countries are being ripped apart by political divisions, Cambodia has found a peaceful solution. Let’s all do our best to continue finding peaceful solutions in Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonder.

Low Season in Sihanoukville?

So restaurant, sihanoukville cambodia

It’s the 6th of June and the rainy season has begun. Usually, we start to see tourist numbers tapering off in April and May. By June, they are a fraction of their high season numbers, with the exception of European summer holiday makers who keep some of our more popular guesthouses busy. While I don’t have statistics to go on, I do go out for dinner regularly and have noticed that this year’s low season is still pretty busy.

On the one hand, I like the low season because of the lack of tourists. On the other hand, it’s a little weird to be the only customers in a restaurant. That hasn’t been an issue this year. I expect a few people to be in popular restaurants, but I haven’t been able to get my favourite table even at some less frequented restaurants this year. That’s saying something, because most restaurants in the Serendipity Road/Ochheuteal area don’t start getting busy until around 9:00 p.m., well after we go out for dinner at 6:30 or 7:00.

So restaurant, sihanoukville cambodia

So restaurant at New Sea View Villa — not packed, but not empty, either

Even more remarkable is the fact that trouble on both sides of Cambodia’s border is having a dampening effect on tourist numbers. As everyone knows, there was a coup in Thailand and tensions between China and Vietnam have made some travellers wary of going to Vietnam. It can be argued that people are coming to Cambodia because it is a safer option, but 9 out of 10 travellers enter Southeast Asia via Thailand or Vietnam and then make their way to Cambodia. According to the Bangkok Post, that’s the reason why Cambodia Angkor Air put its plans to expand its regional flights on hold. The article, Coup disrupts Cambodia airline’s launch, quotes Tekret Samrach, CAA chairman, who  said, “the problems in the two neighbouring countries were affecting tourism in Cambodia and the planned flights needed to be reviewed.”

A good crowd at Kama Sutra in late May

If the troubles in Thailand and Vietnam aren’t responsible for this not-so-slow low season in Sihanoukville, what is? I think it’s because word is finally out that Sihanoukville is a great place to visit. I’ve seen fewer blogs and articles about the beggars and hawkers on Ochheuteal beach and more blogs about the amenities on Serendipity Road; developments at Otres beach; and idyllic visits to Koh Rong and other islands recently. Instead of worrying about crime, tourists seem to be worried about rain. All I can say about that is if you had arrived here on the first of June, you would have experienced rain in the morning and clear skies all afternoon. It’s always, unpredictable, but it’s a myth that it rains all day every day in Sihanoukville from June to September.

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Come in the “low season” and you will also enjoy discounted rates at many of our guesthouses and hotels.

It’s nearly 6:00 p.m. Time to close my computer and find a place to eat tonight. What will it be? I had Italian last night, so maybe I’ll have Mexican or Indian tonight.

My new blog and a little Sihanoukville news

Wow! This is the longest stretch between blogs since I started this Sihanoukville Journal. It’s not that I’ve lost interest — far from it. It seems like something new to write about pops up every day, but I’ve been busy with other things and just haven’t been able to find the time.

Aside from a welcome influx of paid writing work, I’ve been trying to write a chapter a week of a full-length book about life in Cambodia. Originally, it was going to be a short eBook about my wife’s amazing life, but as it progressed, I realised it wouldn’t work without including myself. The book languished for a couple of years until I joined a little writers’ group a couple of months ago. That gave me the opportunity to write a few chapters I was afraid to write before and get some feedback from others. So far, the feedback has been positive and I’ve been encouraged to continue.

My other project is a new blog to replace a couple of other blogs I’ve lost interest in. Google slapped my Writing Resources blog with a manual penalty for “unnatural outbound links” and to my surprise, I rejoiced when I saw my traffic plummet. The unnatural links were only there because I had become bored with writing about writing and let guest posters do it for me. Although they stuck with Google’s old rules, Google recently changed the rules again and the new algorithm looks for links that don’t fit into the blog topic and marks them as spam.

That was just the excuse I needed to scrap that blog and start a new one. My new Expat Journal gives me the opportunity to write about anything I feel like writing about that doesn’t quite fit here. I think the name helps identify the site as a complement to this one, too.

expat-journal-bw-02-1100wWhile I was writing my first entry this morning, I went downstairs for a cup of coffee and was taken outside to see a dog that was hit by a car this morning. The dog’s owner is one of the workers on a nearby building site. I knew they weren’t going to just leave it there, but was a little surprised to see them roasting it about an hour later. That prompted me to scrap my original entry and write a new one. When I first came here, I would have been shocked to see them do that, but I see things differently now. As I wrote in my first post:

Seven years ago, I would have been shocked, but now I’m more shocked by the distance we Westerners put between ourselves and the real world. When our dog dies, we give it a funeral. After the funeral, we eat meat that has been killed in a slaughterhouse by workers who do our dirty work for us.

dog2-smI guess I should add that I hesitated to write about the workers eating a dog because I know some of my readers will jump to the conclusion that it’s a common practice in Cambodia. No, it’s not and there are plenty of dogs who live to a ripe old age here. And before you vegans and vegetarians start feeling self-righteous, please read  Welcome to My Expat Journal.

What’s with the retro header image? It’s partly nostalgia for an era of journalism I missed out on altogether and partly a statement about my belief that the best journalism is that which is done in the field. Half the reason why journalism today is so watered down is because 99 out of a 100 journalists pick up their stories from pre-packaged content on Reuters or AP. The other half of the reason is because they work for corporate media that dictates what can or can’t be written about and what angle they’re meant to take.

In my imagination, at least, foreign correspondents in the past were willing to risk life and limb to see things first-hand and report on them as they saw them “without fear or favour.” Cambodia Daily still uses that line on their masthead, but it’s really just words. They are less biased than the rival Phnom Penh Post, but they do favour the opposition, as this article about yesterday’s rally demonstrates. Of course, I’m biased, too, but this is a personal blog, not a Sihanoukville news outlet.

Okay, duty calls. I have a stack of work to do. The weather’s been beautiful, so I hope to be able to work at the beach tomorrow. If I do, I’ll take some pics and share them with you next week.

Random Sihanoukville News – and it’s all good

As I rapidly approach the end of the 3rd year of publishing the Sihanoukville Journal, I’m finding myself with less time to write in my journal, but more to write about. Pressed for time again, but excited about developments here in Sihanoukville, I’ve decided to give a quick rundown of random Sihanoukville news. Each of the places I mention here deserves a full post, but I don’t have time to cover them in depth.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year!

First of all, electric outages that have plagued Sihanoukville over the years and peaked last year are a thing of the past thanks to our new power plant. We’ve had a couple of 3-5 minute outages, but that’s it, even now at the height of the high season.

Since before Christmas, it’s been evident that this is our busiest high season ever. It started when I had to wait for a table in my favourite out-of-the-way Italian restaurant, Spaghetti House — twice. The first time, I ended up sharing a table with another expat who was waiting for a table and as soon as we had finished eating, the owner politely asked us to leave because others were waiting.

Then came Christmas and, as I reported in my Christmas blog, we had to wait 45 minutes to get a table at Pizzana.

Dessert time at Olive & Olive

Dessert time at Olive & Olive

Last week, Sophie got a windfall from a client and decided to lash out and take me out for dinner. This was my chance to try Olive & Olive, a new restaurant on Serendipity Road near the Golden Lions. We got there just after dark and the tables downstairs were already filled. There were a few people upstairs, but by the time we finished eating our obscenely delicious meal, every table upstairs and down was full. Olive & Olive isn’t a budget meal, either, so it wasn’t crowded with people looking for the cheapest food in town.

Last night, we went out to the end of the Serendipity pier for a beer before dinner. I hadn’t been down Serendipity Road for a couple of months and was stunned to see a big new hotel next to the Serendipity Beach Resort was already finished and open for business. Out on the pier, the Party Boat offloaded a group as it always does at that time, but then two other boats followed. One was a Koh Rong boat. I don’t know where the other one had been, but there were 4 other similar boats in the water. Last year, there was only the Party Boat and random smaller longtail boats. I’m told there are now 50 guesthouses scattered around Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloen and they have become the preferred backpacker destination, so they need a lot of boats to ferry all the visitors back and forth.

boat arrival, serendipity pier, sihanoukvilleI have to get up very early to get a table at Douceur du Cambodge now and that’s in spite of the fact it’s doubled in size since I first wrote about it in 2011. Sometimes I can’t even find a place to park my motorbike. Fortunately, the former owner of the Spaghetti House has opened Breakfast Mania. It’s a lovely little place on a side road overlooking a vegetable garden. So far, only locals have discovered it, but when word gets out that he serves a cappuccino and croissant for only $1.50, I fear I’ll have to fight for a seat there, too.

breakfast mania, sihanoukville cambodiaLast week I interviewed Douglas and Verona McColl, who own the Coolabah Resort. Knowing it was for a major publication, Douglas came armed with statistics. Sihanoukville tourists topped the million mark in 2013 — double what the numbers were just a few years ago. I’m sure the numbers are going to be far higher this year. Don’t let Sihanoukville’s new-found popularity put you off coming here, though. Now that there’s easy access to the islands and Otres Beach, there’s still plenty of room for everyone and every taste — now more than ever.

Independence beach, sihanoukville cambodia

Okay, I’d better close now. I recently joined Verona’s writing group and am under pressure to finish the book I’ve been working on almost since I started this blog. Between writing or editing chapters for the group to review and writing my regular paid assignments, I’m up to my ears in work.

 

 

Searching for Solutions in Cambodian Politics

I’ve written several blogs in defence of Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen. It’s not because I’m a fan. It’s because the Western news is so overwhelmingly slanted against him, I think some balance is needed. Most recently, mainstream news and social media has been focusing on the police crackdown on striking garment workers in Phnom Penh. There’s no way five deaths and numerous injuries can be justified, but there are more than two sides to any story.

So far, I’ve only read Hun Sen’s side of the story in one English language publication. According to that article (sorry, I can’t find an online link), the Japanese embassy asked for the government’s help in quelling the demonstrations. When asked, the embassy denied having made such a request, but according to a later article in the Cambodia Daily, Japan asked the government to protect its interests during the strike.  The article went on to say that the Korean embassy also asked the government “to protect South Korean garment factories from damage by protesters”, but neither the Japanese nor South Korean embassies suggested using force to do so.

Almost overwhelmingly, the news depicts the opposition in Cambodia as peaceful. A closer look tells a somewhat different story. You can’t expect to get unbiased news on Facebook comments, but you can gauge a community’s feelings from their comments. Here’s what one person said in a comment on a prominent CNRP personality’s page:

facebook comment1

“we must all stand up and be strong to fight back with the killer or killers and burn down all government buildings including Hun Sen’s house and hold some of his kid or wife hostage”

While no one else supported this extreme view, no one cautioned against it, either.

The CNRP has been downplaying the racist side of its agenda, but anti-Vietnamese sentiments have historically been a big part of the party’s platform. This was almost overwhelmingly ignored in coverage of the recent strikes, but one publication, UCA News, did cover it in some detail. According to the article, Anti-Vietnamese Sentiment Boils in Cambodia, at least “three Vietnamese-owned businesses along the stretch of Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng boulevard, where fighting broke out between police and garment workers last week, were ransacked that Friday afternoon. During the attacks, mobs of young men chased Vietnamese employees and looted or wrecked tens of thousands of dollars worth of furniture and equipment.” The article went on to say the rumour mill in Phnom Penh was saying that Vietnamese and not Cambodian troops had “done the dirty work” during the protests.

“One of several Vietnamese businesses attacked in the wake of clashes between police and protesters last week”
Photo by Abby Seiff from UCA article cited above

I deliberately put this post on hold for a few weeks because I wanted things to cool down first. They have, somewhat, and this video tells the story from a Vietnamese shop owner’s point of view. Although his shop was vandalised, he “is not afraid” because the looters have gone and his Cambodian customers and friends have given him so much support.

The video goes on to quote Mu Sochua, CNRP “law maker elect”, who says unequivocally that her party has never preached or advocated violence. That may be, but many of the party’s constituents do. They also seem to be naively clinging to the hope Sam Rainsy and other party leaders will be able to give them the freedom and prosperity they believe Hun Sen is withholding from them. I don’t see how that’s possible.

Sam Rainsy can’t wave a magic wand and make overseas companies pay Cambodian garment workers higher wages. The reason these corporations set up shop in Cambodia is because wages are low. Most of the land grabs are on behalf of foreign companies. Yes, some of them are Vietnamese, but others are Chinese, Japanese, South Korean, American, Australian and others.

Those who are applauding the solicited support the CNRP gets from American “luminaries” such as John McCain haven’t taken a close enough look at the facts about the “liberation” of Iraq or Libya. They haven’t learned that the rebels the U.S. and its allies support in Syria are destroying that country. They don’t know that many U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are just as despotic as, if not more than, the “regimes” America topples in the name of democracy. American military and corporate interests are always at the heart of its foreign policy, as is true of any nation.

What’s the solution? I think people like the Vietnamese coffee shop owner and his customers have the solution. They live together in peace and give one another mutual support in spite of their different backgrounds. I think the person who wrote The Suffering of Cambodians in a recent MWC (media with conscience) post was on the right track when they pointed out that educated Khmer Rouge helped them escape imprisonment or death, while uneducated soldiers “simply obeyed orders and sent people to prison for questioning or simply killed them there and then.” I think they were even closer to the mark when they wrote, “had young Cambodians studied Buddhism, especially the Kalama Sutta, the Cambodian ‘Killing Fields’ could not have happened.”

“Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.” – Kalama Sutta

Nobody’s going to get the education they need on Facebook. Social media has a tendency to create even deeper social divisions. Yes, it’s been the CNRP’s best way to get around the state controlled media, but they now control the debate on Facebook. If someone tries to engage in serious debate, they are often blocked from the thread.

I’ve been searching for solutions in Cambodian politics and haven’t found any yet, but I’m convinced hatred and violence aren’t the way to go. Maybe U.N. Special Rapporteur Surya Subedi had the right idea when he said, “It is imperative for the leaders to overcome the mistrust and immediately return to the negotiating table without further delay,” so I’ll let him have the last word for today.

Crisis-hit Cambodia at a ‘crossroads’: UN envoy (via AFP)

Cambodia stands at “a crucial crossroads” following a bloody crackdown by security forces on street protests, a UN envoy said Thursday, urging political leaders to return to the negotiating table. Surya Subedi, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human…

Zen and the Art of Living in Sihanoukville

cake-prayerJanuary 10th marked my 7th consecutive year of living in Sihanoukville. The night before, Sophie threw a birthday party for me. As is the custom here, before cutting the cake, I was asked to say a silent prayer. I couldn’t think of anything to pray for, because everything was perfect. Had it been any other time, I probably could have thought of a dozen things to pray for, both selfish and unselfish, but at that moment in time, everything was perfect, so I prayed that everyone could experience such a moment.

And it’s perfect at this moment in time. And this one. And at this moment.

with neem karoli baba

I’m the guy in the back with his hand on his hip.

I’ve been big on living in the moment ever since 1971-72, when I was fortunate enough to spend a year in India hanging out around Neem Karoli Baba. At that time, his best known disciple was Ram Dass, whose book, Be Here Now, became an instant hippie classic. Being here now was easy around Maharaji because he embodied it and his presence swallowed us whole.

Time passed and responsibilities and worries tried their best to swallow me whole, but most of the time, the lessons I learned in the 60s and 70s stuck. I was never quite swallowed alive by stress and anxiety, but came close after I moved to Sihanoukville. In my previous incarnations in the United States and Australia, I was on familiar ground. In the back of my mind, I knew I could always find a job. If that failed, I could go on the dole in Australia and when I reached 65, could survive on a retirement income from the government.

I had plans when I came to Sihanoukville, but as Robert Burns wrote: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft agley” (the best laid plans of mice and men/often go astray). The recession of 2008 put to rest my plans to build and sell houses for a living; I couldn’t find a job teaching English; and my modest investments vanished after the recession hit. It got so bad, we had to sell our car to eat and finally even had to sell our wedding rings.

My first income came out of the blue, when a friend who had moved back to the U.S. got me an online job with an SEO company he was working for. That lasted about six months, until Google changed its algorithms and his employer’s Black Hat strategies backfired on him. That was when my freelance writing career began.

Throughout that tumultuous period, Sophie handled everything that happened much better than I.  She was accustomed to poverty and knew that if you didn’t give up, you could survive — or not. As a girl, she lived alone in the jungle for three years. Often lonely and hungry, she kept going by telling herself every morning when she woke up, “Not dead now”  and doing what it took to survive the day. She was nine years old when that became her mantra.

Things were hardest for me between late 2008 and sometime towards 2011. Rather than finding solace in the moment, I became embittered. “Easy for Westerners to preach about living in the moment,” I told myself. “They have options.” Then one day as I sipped a cappuccino at Douceur du Cambodge, just about my only indulgence at that time, the present moment hit me on the top of the head and swallowed me whole again.

It comes and goes, but instead of resisting, I embrace it now.

I was going to write about how much Sihanoukville has changed and grown in 7 years today, but a newsletter from brain pickings reminded me of a book I read decades ago, so I changed my mind. Alan Watts wrote The Wisdom of Insecurity: a Message for the Age of Anxiety back in 1951. Here’s a passage that was quoted in the newsletter:

Since what we know of the future is made up of purely abstract and logical elements — inferences, guesses, deductions — it cannot be eaten, felt, smelled, seen, heard, or otherwise enjoyed. To pursue it is to pursue a constantly retreating phantom, and the faster you chase it, the faster it runs ahead. This is why all the affairs of civilization are rushed, why hardly anyone enjoys what he has, and is forever seeking more and more. Happiness, then, will consist, not of solid and substantial realities, but of such abstract and superficial things as promises, hopes, and assurances.

Just as air enters and exits our lungs without our having to think about it, we will always seek food, shelter and a level of security for ourselves and our families. I’m doing that now just as I did when it looked like I wasn’t going to be able to provide those basic needs to my family. The difference is that the high levels of stress and anxiety are missing and I am able to fully enjoy living here now that I’ve learned Zen and the art of living in Sihanoukville (or anywhere else).

By the way,  Cambodia made it to the list of International Living’s top retirement destinations for the first time this year. True, it was at the bottom of the list, but it was there. We still have a ways to go, but life just keeps getting better here every year. Why wait to enjoy it, though, when you can enjoy it NOW?

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