New Water Park in Sihanoukville

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The four kids in our household have been hanging out for the opening of the new water park in Sihanoukville ever since the day I foolishly pointed it out to them a couple of months ago. Well, the big day came just two days ago when free entry was offered for its opening day.

at water park1

Since I had to work, we couldn’t go until the afternoon. That’s probably just as well, because if we had gone in the morning, the kids would have wanted to stay all day. As it was, they had a great time for a couple of hours until the sun started to set.

I was a little worried because our kids are so young and the place was packed. As chaotic as it looked, though, no one was pushing or shoving and teenagers and adults always gave the little kids the right of way.

Only the pool is completely finished. They’re still working on the landscaping and a big cement ship in the front is only about half-built. We had to drive around the back to get in and inch our motorbikes through loose dirt and rocks to find a place to park. By the beginning of the next tourist season, work should be completed and we’ll have to fork over money to get in. Early reports say adults will pay $5 and children $3. That means it’ll cost us $22 every time we go there. The kids have us booked for every Sunday into the indefinite future.

Sihanoukville is Changing

I’ve been saying it for years and the water park is just more proof: Sihanoukville is changing. It’s always been popular with Cambodian families, but more foreign tourists are coming here with their children every year. The first few years I lived here, I rarely saw middle-aged or older couples and never families. Then I started seeing a few. Now I see them so often, it’s no longer noteworthy.

At the same time, the new police chief is determined to crack down on crime. An absurdly rich Russian man who has lived here for over a decade was recently arrested for fraud and bail was denied. After the new police chief started work, he called in the military to make their presence felt and I’m told he’s making individual police take their job seriously or lose it. A British backpacker was arrested on drug charges just the other day, so the word is out: Sihanoukville is not going to be a party town for wasted backpackers any more.

As I’ve repeatedly reported, Sihanoukville is not nearly as dangerous or seedy as the media and some bloggers make it out to be. There are pockets of seediness, but there are larger pockets of nice family beaches, mainly frequented by Cambodian families. Unfortunately, the worst areas are the ones where backpackers hang out, so those who come here for a day or two and think they know everything about the “scene” in Sihanoukville keep the wild west “Snookyville” image alive. Their days may be numbered, though. They are in the minority now and everyone from businesses to the local authorities are trying to make this a family destination. I hope they succeed.

Writing about Sihanoukville Cambodia: the real story

This post was updated 14 June 2015 after a change in the title. It’s up to 80,000 words now and I’m working on the final draft.

The impetus for this blog was never profit. It’s always been to present Sihanoukville Cambodia through my eyes: the eyes of an expat who loves his adopted culture. It’s never been quite enough, though. Who am I? Why am I here? What is my personal life like? What’s the inside story about my Cambodian family? Except for the odd snippet, I rarely write about that side of life on my blog.

long way home 3dEvery week, I get together with the members of our small writing group. Writing can be lonely work and unless you get feedback, it can be hard to stay motivated. Since our group was formed, my book-in-progress, Long Way Home, has grown from about 10,000 random words to a full blown book. My original intention was to write about my wife’s amazing life and share stories about the equally amazing things I’ve witnessed here, but never blogged about. I kept stories about my life to a minimum because I didn’t want to write about myself. When I did write paragraphs about my past, the other members of our group wanted to know more.

“I don’t want to write a memoir!” I protested with a grimace. They laughed and said, “Yeah, but we want you to.” It didn’t click that writing a memoir didn’t have to be egotistical self-indulgence until another member of our group wrote a short story about her life. We all wanted more details. She has lived an amazing life, but her story is not about her. It’s about the people she’s met, the places she’s lived and the events that have shaped her worldview. I couldn’t exactly encourage her to keep writing her memoir when mine was exactly the same, so I reconsidered my anti-memoir stance.

It dawned on me, too, that I only see Cambodia as I see it because of the experiences I’ve had in the course of my life — experiences that have taken me from a middle class upbringing at a town in Southern California mentioned by the Beach Boys (“all over Manhattan and down Doheny way, everybody’s gone surfing, surfing USA”); to a yoga retreat in the Sierra Mountains; Maui at the close of the sixties; India in the early seventies; and back to the Sierras where I lived on a commune for several years. Then I moved on to San Francisco and the east coast of Australia, where I lived for 20 years until my comfortable life unravelled. After giving Bali a shot and deciding I liked visiting, but didn’t want to live there, I moved on to this part of the world and finally found myself living in and loving a place that wasn’t even on my list: Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

Some chapters in my book include:

  • Worlds Apart, the opening chapter, gives a brief summary of Sopheak’s life in Cambodia versus my early upbringing in the U.S.
  • The Fool on the Hill tells about my first months in Sihanoukville, when I was living on the Hill.
  • A Cambodian Ghost Story is a true ghost story. Why do I think it’s true? Because the things the ghost told Sopheak were true, but she had no way of knowing about them.
  • Surrealistic Pillow is the story of an exorcism I witnessed.
  • Inside Tree is about the 3 years Sopheak spent wandering in the jungle. She was with a phnong family at first, but left them and continued on alone for another 2 years. She was about 9 years old at the time.

Other chapters are about more mundane things like building our house, running out of money and starting a freelance writing career from scratch. Mundane they may have been, but through it all, I have felt the guiding hand of fate. She is a palpable reality to me. I call her Serendipity and I don’t know what I’d have done without her, because if she hadn’t interceded in my life, I’d probably be back in Australia now, living off the dole. Woo Hoo.

I’m only about six chapters short of completing a first draft of about 18 chapters, so I decided it was time to start advertising Long Way Home*. If you’re the down-to-earth practical type, you may find it amusing and are more than welcome to write me off as a nut case. If you’re comfortable with stories about ghosts, the paranormal, reincarnation, natural healing and other stuff of that nature, you might find it inspiring. Either way, I think you’ll find it entertaining unless you’re looking for salacious stories about a sexpat’s adventures in S.E. Asia, crime in Sihanoukville or corruption in Cambodia. I cover those topics in a few chapters and the stories are juicy, so maybe my book will be of interest even to you.

If you want to look at the final product, please sign up for my new newsletter. I’ll keep you up-to-date with my progress and when I finally finish the online edition, I’ll give you a discount on the price of the book.

* 14 June 2015: Now editing the first 22 chapters. Saving the final chapter until I’m happy with those.

Random Recent Events in Sihanoukville

I haven’t been able to update this site as much as I’d like to recently. For one thing, I just finished up a book I’ve been working on. Called The Curse of the Internet, it is basically about the jobs crisis in America. The brief I was given was to establish the case that the internet and related technologies were eroding the U.S. job market, recession or no recession. I was told to write and some some cases edit a series of articles covering every sector of the economy.

I started off thinking this would be a hard task. After all, the internet was no curse to me: I owed my livelihood to it.  In fact, I found the assignment online and I was getting paid to co-author the book. After I got started, though, I was amazed to discover the Saeed was right: IT in general and the internet specifically are destroying far more jobs than they are creating. In the end, I had over two hundred solid references to back my arguments.

Life in Sihanoukville didn’t stop in the meantime. A woman up the street was arrested and taken to jail. The reason is still unclear, but she is certainly an unlikely candidate for jail. From what I can tell, she is a loving mother who never does anything to harm others. Several neighbourhood women got together to visit her in jail. My wife was amongst them. When she came home, she was in tears, not just for our neighbour, but for all the others she saw languishing in the SV jail.

Among all the people packed together in cells were “200 barang.” Whether or not the number was that high, I can’t say.  Sopheak may have been so overwhelmed by the numbers she exaggerated them in her mind. At any rate, it was a lot. She ended up going to a money changer and getting a stack of 5000 riel notes from a $20 bill. She came home with nothing. Since $20 works out to around 80,000 riel and she gave one to each inmate she met so they could buy cigarettes and water, there were at least 16.

Why did she give money to barang instead of Cambodians? It was because the Cambodians in the jail had friends and family on the outside and the foreigners did not. She recognised a few of them. A couple were in jail for drugs and another was in for having sex with children, so it wasn’t as if they had been rounded up and jailed for nothing. What the others had done or not done, I can’t say, but it’s pretty shocking that so many were in jail.

So much for the claim that all you have to do is give the police some money and you will get out of jail. If you want to come to Sihanoukville because you want to get away with things you can’t get away with at home, forget it. It doesn’t work that way anymore.

Big Police Raids in Sihanoukville

Nghi Chhe Guesthouse

Yesterday was an eventful day in Sihanoukville. When Sopheak came home from doing her morning shopping, she told me about a big police raid at a guesthouse opposite the Total Petrol station. The details were sketchy, but she said it was mostly Chinese who were arrested and she thought it was drug related. They were apparently staying in the spookily blocked off portion of the guesthouse.

Then yesterday evening when we were out on our usual motorbike ride, we saw a large group of people gathered outside of the Crystal Hotel in Ochheuteal. Another big raid was underway there. That evening, it all started to become clear when the story was presented on the news. Unfortunately it was in Khmer and Sopheak’s translations sometimes leave something to be desired, but it had to do with people threatening and bribing over the phone and via the internet.

Crystal Hotel

After a few fruitless searches online, I finally changed my keyword phrase from drug raid in Sihanoukville to police raid in Sihanoukville and got the story in English from the Phnom Penh Post. As it turns out, the police were breaking up a telecommunications extortion ring and this was the “first large-scale operation to crack down on cross-border crimes in which we have cooperated with international police [to arrest] suspects of internationally networked organisations,” according to police spokesman Kirt Chantharith. Click HERE to read the full article as it appears in the Phnom Penh Post.

While I was looking for the English language story about this raid, I stumbled across another recent story about a drug bust in Sihanoukville. According to another Phnom Penh Post article, Foreigners in S’ville drugs raid, dated May 04:

Preah Sihanouk provincial court and military police officials questioned eight people yesterday after the discovery of an alleged drug production site at a guesthouse in Sihanoukville’s commune 3.

Click HERE to read the full story.

Rumours on a couple of blogs suggested that the Happy Hippie may have been raided, but I’m not sure it’s in commune 3. It moves around and the only time I took an interest in the place was when it was located not far from my house for awhile. In spite of its cheery name, the place had a creepy feel about it and the locals said it housed “kmout” (bad spirits).

In spite of what you read in blogs and forums, the police and public don’t welcome drug dealers in Sihanoukville. When a barang in our neighbourhood was finally arrested and jailed for drug trafficking, everybody was talking about it with relief and when the Happy Hippie relocated, that, too, was a welcome event. A couple of years ago, when Chiva’s Shack was finally shut down for good, Sopheak actually cheered.

I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes and I’m sure there are payoffs and some police probably do sell drugs they have confiscated, just as they do all over the world. I can say this, though: the better elements in Sihanoukville and the rest of Cambodia are making efforts to deal with the problem.

In Defence of the Sihanoukville Police

I received one comment to my last post, In Praise of the Sihanoukville Police and several interesting comments on the Lonely Planet and Travelfish forums to similar threads. I was on a mission for the SV police. They came in two forms: clichés and thoughtful comments. The clichés went something like this:

The Sihanoukville police force is the best police force money can buy

and

The Sihanoukville police never investigate a crime. They just take bribes.

Note that no firsthand account accompanied either comment. I responded with another story:

I just want to reply to the point about the Sihanoukville police never investigating a crime. About a year ago, the police asked my wife and I to go to the scene of a crime. They wanted my wife to go because she has helped them in the past. They wanted me to go because the victim was an Australian and they thought I might know him. He had been murdered the night before on the dirt road that skirts the edge of the new Pearl City development.

I did not recognise him, but we did some asking around and discovered that he had left an Ekareach Street bar at about 2 am on foot. No one was quite sure why he had chosen to take that route home at that time of night, but they said he was very drunk and possibly thought it would be a shortcut to his hotel.

At that point, my part was done, but my wife kept digging and found out that 5 itinerant workers had been drinking whiskey at a little shop on the populated end of that road at about the same time the man passed by. As it turned out, it was they who murdered the man. For the record, they were not Cambodians. I won’t mention their nationality because it would sound racist. They had some of the man’s possessions and one of them broke and confessed that “the others” had bashed him to death. My wife found the tree branch in the bushes behind the crime scene, so that helped.

A few days ago there was an incident on our street involving a violent barang (foreigner). It’s a long story and one I tell about in my blog post, In Praise of the Sihanoukville Police.

About a week ago, we got the police to help us make sure another foreigner did the right thing by his pregnant girlfriend. This was the only time when gratuities were involved, but we just wanted them to witness the writing and signing of a formal agreement and take a copy of his passport, so it wasn’t a police matter per se.

That resulted in another unsubstantiated and quite ridiculous claim: “I doubt they would have been so keen to investigate if the perpetrators were Khmers.”

When I responded to that, another comment said, “I agree, the Cambodian police is very quick to arrest Khmer as well (as long as they are not connected, rich, members of the armed forces or police, relatives of some VIP or excellency, etc.)”.

I responded by pointing out that inequities exist everywhere and related yet another anecdote:

A few years ago, a rich kid and his friends got drunk and pelted a house with stones over an earlier minor dispute. The offended party went and complained to his father. His father made the young man pay for all the damages and apologise in person. He told him that if anything like that happened again, he would let him spend some time in jail.

I also got some interesting and intelligent comments and got an inkling into why some people insist on sticking with their blanket prejudices instead of opening their mind to the possibility that things aren’t all black and white. I angrily wrote, “hostile, drunk, drug addicted sex addict barang” and somebody called me on it. He was right. There are plenty of decent foreigners in Cambodia, just as there are plenty of decent Cambodians. I was still angry from my experiences over the past couple of weeks and my anger clouded my judgement.

Anyway, I’ve said what I wanted to say about the SV police. Now it’s time to move on to another topic. A new aquarium opened in town recently. We took Luna there yesterday and it was wonderful. I’ll have to take a couple of pics.

Oh, and I got some great links to other Cambodian and SE Asia blogs. When I get some time, I’m going to put a list on my sidebar.