Serendipity Road Published

As you can see from the sidebar widget, I’ve published Serendipity Road. There was a minor glitch with the first upload, but the guy who formatted the book for me fixed it and it’s now available on epub. I’ve asked Smashwords how to make it available in more formats, but I’ll have to wait for a reply. To buy the book, click the sidebar widget or click here. If you don’t have an ereader, download Calibre. It’s a FREE program and works brilliantly.

My new cover

I’m a little nervous about publishing for two reasons. I put a lot of effort into writing the book. I did seven edits and have no idea how many hours I spent writing and editing. I published on Smashwords and don’t expect enough sales to pay for my time, but I wanted to publish Serendipity Road anyway. I’m also a little nervous because I don’t hold anything back. I did as many stupid things when I came to Southeast Asia as others do and didn’t edit to make myself look good. That’s why it has “adult content” in it.

One thing I can say is that I learned from the stupid things I did when I first arrived here. I realised I didn’t want to be a sex tourist, a sightseer or a dope smoker. I was looking for a new life: not a diversion from life. I found that new life and am happy here, even though things have changed radically over the past ten years.

Some readers may not believe some of the stories I tell in Serendipity Road, but I assure you they’re all true stories. I wanted to do something I don’t see in many memoirs: I wanted to tell the truth and not leave out stories of the miraculous and mundane. That’s the reason for the subtitle: “between heaven and hell.”

my old cover

A friend made a beautiful cover for me, but it showed me at my present age. I ended up having a retro cover made for me because the book takes the reader back to the late sixties and early seventies. Those were the years that shaped my life and took me on a new trajectory. I let fate be my guide in life and fate took me from a yoga retreat in the Sierra Mountains, to India (where I almost died on my first trip), to Australia, Bali and ultimately Cambodia.

If you want to find out more about my book, here are some good starting points:

I suppose I could do a better job hyping my book, but I don’t want to do that. What you will find is an inside look at my life and Sopheak’s life. You’ll learn things about Cambodia I don’t mention on my blog. Okay, here’s one bit of hype from Penny Sisto, who plays a prominent part in the book:

I am not sure how you arrived..but..you have changed an interesting and amateurly written tale into a short book of brilliance..riveting..read it in one gulp

The book will be available for a $2 discount for two weeks. If you like it, please give it a favourable review. Thanks!

Looking back at 10 years in Cambodia

I created a Facebook page for my book, Serendipity Road. I’m still waiting for it to be formatted. Once that’s done, I’ll be ready to publish. My book is not illustrated, so I’ve included photos and quotes from the book on my Facebook page. I’d like for readers to visit my page, so I’ve included a few photos from the past 10 years in Cambodia here in hopes you’ll visit my page and look at more.

charcoal oven in CambodiaThis is a charcoal oven similar to the one Sopheak’s family built when they lived on the edge of the jungle near Virh Riengh. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

“All it took to eat well at the edge of the jungle was a few hours of foraging, hunting and gardening. Anything they lacked, like rice, they bought with the proceeds of the charcoal they made in their charcoal oven and the occasional turtle they sold in the market.”

When we went to Svay Riengh, we stayed in this house. Svay Riengh is near the Vietnam border. Sopheak’s family lived in the rice fields when she was young and she still considers Svay Riengh home. I can’t say I blame her. Life is slower, quieter and easier there than in Sihanoukville. She’s considering selling our house in Sihanoukville and buying land closer to the main city in Svay Riengh. Either that or we’ll move to Klang Leu so the kids can continue going to school in Sihanoukville.

Svay Riengh, CambodiaWhen I first met Sopheak, we travelled a lot. On our trip to Ratanakiri, we stopped off in Kratie to view the Irrawaddie dolphins. On the way back, Sopheak took the helm for a photo op. When we were viewing the dolphins, I tried zooming in, but they were too quick. I stopped zooming in and cropped photos of the dolphins. That worked much better. They were pretty magical and I’m glad I had the chance to see them.

Kratie, CambodiaThe next photo is of our first housekeeper, Sokha. She was a sweet girl, but on more than three occasions, she became possessed by the spirits of dead relatives. Her mother and baby sister were benign, but her older sister had been raped and murdered. She was angry and didn’t want to leave Sokha’s body. Believe it or not, an exorcism did the trick and Sokha has been fine since. I wrote about Sokha way back in 2011. Here’s the link to Surrealistic Pillow.

Sokha at the beach, somewhere in CambodiaHere’s a short excerpt from the chapter about Sokha. The chapter title is Surrealistic Pillow. It’s from an old Jefferson Airplane song, but also refers to the pillow Sokha laid down on between visits from her mother and baby sister.

“Sokha! You put salt in my coffee instead of sugar!” I laughed. I had to shout, because she had gone back down the hall and into the kitchen. Not hearing a reply, I walked down the hall. When I got about halfway to the kitchen, Sokha stepped into the hallway brandishing a big knife.

“Now Sokha,” I said gently, trying to calm her down. Then I felt a whack across the back of my head.

“You skoot?” Sopheak shouted. “This one not Sokha! This one want kill you!” Then she pulled me back out of the hallway as she called out for Longh.

When Sopheak was a little girl, she wandered into the jungle with a phnong family. She left the family, but wandered for nearly two years, living on small potatoes and other foraged food in the jungle. Her only companion was her pet squirrel, Yuri. It’s an amazing story and I cover it in the first chapter and later in the book, when Sopheak told me about her time in the jungle when we were building our house in 2007. When we went to Ratanakiri, we went to a showcase phnong village and Sopheak met this woman. Contrary to what some people think, phnong is not the name of a tribe. It means “savage” in Khmer and unfortunately refers to all indigenous Cambodians.

Ratanakiri, CambodiaHere’s a brief excerpt from the book. Sopheak was remarkably brave for such a young girl.

Fear and loneliness plagued her in equal measures during her first weeks alone in the jungle. She kept fear at bay by saying “Maybe I sleep, not wake up” before she slept at night. Every morning she said, “Maybe I die today, but not dead yet” and found the courage to keep going.

Finally, here’s my new book cover. The photo was taken in 1972 when I was in India. Neem Karoli Baba is at the bottom of the photo. He’s best known as Ram Dass’ and Krishna Das’ guru. I’m the guy with his hand on his hip at the top of the photo. My Guru Who Wasn’t My Guru tells the story of the nine months I spent hanging around Neem Karoli Baba in India in 1972. I met him in 1971, but almost died from a bout of hepatitis. I returned after I recovered and scraped together enough money for the trip.

In India, 35 years before I moved to CambodiaNote the subtitle: Between Heaven and Hell. I’ve had some remarkable spiritual experiences in my life, but I didn’t want to pretend I don’t stumble along through life. I’ve done as many dumb things as anybody and didn’t want to leave them out of the book. Some are embarrassing, but that’s okay. I don’t mind being embarrassed as much as I would mind pretending to be someone I’m not. This is my latest short description of my book. I’m still polishing it, but this is the best one yet, in my opinion anyway.

Take a magic carpet ride through the honeycomb of time. Serendipity Road is set in Cambodia, where the author has lived for over 10 years. He tells the remarkable story of Sopheak, who wandered into the jungle at the age of eight and didn’t return home for nearly two years. Sopheak introduced the author to a side of Cambodia most foreigners don’t get to see: a land of ghosts and spirits just behind the surface of life. In a series of flashbacks, the author recounts many miraculous experiences he has had. He experienced miracles in India in 1971 and 1972 and experienced energy healing in Bali and as a practitioner in Australia.

Serendipity Road is more than stories about miracles. The author has had his ups and downs in life and doesn’t hesitate to recount the stupid things he has done. As he writes: “Experiences like those should have been enough for me to become a more exemplary person, but there’s an inescapable magnetism that binds us to this thick, dense, dark world.” Hop aboard the magic carpet and discover how fate in the guise of a beautiful goddess he calls Serendipity guides the author through this world from the United States, to Australia, Indonesia and finally Cambodia, a destination a psychic predicted three years before the author even imagined he would visit, much less call home.

I’d also like to add that a palmist friend read my palm while we were having lunch in Hyde Park in Sydney. She saw four children in my life. “The lines are a little fainter, so they may not be your biological children, but they will be yours.” I didn’t believe her at the time, but she was right.

Back streets of Sihanoukville

shop and barber shop on back streets of Sihanoukville

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Before I lost the cartilage in my right knee, I often rode the back streets of Sihanoukville on my mountain bike. Five years ago today I wrote A Random Motorbike Ride in Sihanoukville. That post inspired me to revisit some of the back streets of Sihanoukville I used to take on my mountain bike.

I’ve written about developments in Sihanoukville before. I was surprised by how many big apartment buildings are being built even on some roads that are still dirt roads. Here’s an example. Note how it’s on a rough dirt road. Maybe the owners know that the road will be paved soon. They’re doing a lot of that now. Usually they pave with cement and many roads I used to ride on that were dirt are now paved.

apartment on a back street in SihanoukvilleI went to get a closer look and ran across this row of old houses on the opposite side of the road. You see that a lot in Sihanoukville, too. Old and new are often next to each other on the same road. I kind of like that.

Old homes on back streets in SihanoukvilleThe road I took was kind of a diversion. It came to a dead end, so I turned around and took another road I frequently rode my bike on. The road is dirt and not very well groomed, but it pops out on the road that leads from the Golden Lions Traffic circle to Sokha Beach. There didn’t used to be much on the road, but it’s better known today thanks to the De Luxx Hotel. It’s a popular guesthouse and has beautiful grounds and a very nice café.

deluxx-hotel-sihanoukvilleI never liked to retrace my steps, so I often took a winding route up to a wide street above Psah Leu. I decided to do that today. I took a dirt road I often rode on and discovered they were even developing here. It looks like someone is subdividing it into blocks of land for houses. That’s fairly new, but I’ve seen a couple of other big areas that have been subdivided. The building on the left is a café/beer garden. There were about 10 motorbikes there at noon, so I guess it’s a popular spot.

subdivision on back streets of sihanoukvilleContinuing on, I came to a familiar paved road. It wasn’t as familiar as it used to be, though. I wrote Coffee Houses in Sihanoukville Go Upmarket in October of 2016. Surprisingly, there was an upmarket coffee house even on this road. Or maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. A lot of people are building nice houses in this area and a number of expats live in this part of town now, so it might be a good location. No one was there when I passed, but you never know. Sometimes they fill up at certain hours of the day and in the evening.

coffee house on a back street of SihanoukvilleAs is so often the case here, just a few doors up the road was one of those little shops you see everywhere in Sihanoukville. The little building on the right is a barber shop. They were both busier than the coffee house I passed.

shop and barber shop on back streets of SihanoukvilleFrom there it was back out to a main road. That road had changed a lot, too. I counted three motorbike shops, a new car dealer and even a large place that was selling speedboats. The road leads to Otres Beach, but I went in the other direction and turned on to the road that goes down to Ekareach Street. I was back in the fray. After a cappuccino and cake at one of my favourite cafés, I came home and wrote this post about the back streets of Sihanoukville.

 

 

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.