Monday, June 30, 2008


Making metaphors

Im Sokha, cartoonist, is sketching the image of a high ranking official sitting in a restaurant with great quantities of food before him, the official complains he is bored with what is on offer. To the right of the page a poor man struggles with his farming tools, and as he walks, the farmer says to himself: "What can I find to eat to live for one day more?"
Im’s job, he says, is to represent the negative aspects of Cambodian life in a heterogeneous manner and to make people think more about the society they live in. He spends eight hours a day drawing cartoons for newspapers, working predominantly for local daily newspaper Kampuchea Thmey, but also drawing freelance, selling to weekly and monthly newspapers.
Hunched over a piece of paper with pen in hand at his other "office", Phka Roam Teok Roam restaurant in Phnom Penh, Im says his friends and colleagues often ask him why he doesn’t work in the comfort of air conditioning in the newsroom. Im replies that he doesn’t need to trouble himself with where he works.
"I’m the same as a reporter, and reporters don’t stay in the office do they? It is outside the newsroom where they find their news sources, and it is outside the newsroom where I find the ideas for drawing pictures," Im says.
"This café is a good office, and together with others in the media who frequent here, we all discuss … what could happen today or tomorrow. I get plenty of ideas here to do my work."
And for 24 years now, Im’s ideas have graced Cambodian broadsheet; some pro-government, some anti-government. Im says the pro-government pieces he has drawn have been the idea of the newspaper owner and not his own, as he believes in criticizing those higher up in order to promote social development.
"High ranking officials are not happy when they see themselves made fun of, but cartoons are a gentle and humorous way of criticizing and offering an opinion, without too many words. Cartoons are also an excellent medium for making people understand, even if they cannot read or write."
Im Sokha was born into a prosperous and culturally-aware Cambodia on 24 June 1955. Cambodians were painting, many were producing films and theatre was popular. Im grew up surrounded by, and in awe of these artisans. As a teenager he was very interested in advertising images in particular: roadside billboards and paintings
promoting the latest movie at the cinema. "I liked to paint scenes from Indian films … the men I painted were all very much in the mold of those Indian actors of the time."
Im had no professional training, but he did have plenty of talent and drive, and his work was oft admired by his family and friends.
At the outset of the Cambodian civil war in 1973, Im had to abandon his secondary school education at Samdech Oav High School in Kompong Cham province. The Americans were bombing the area to flush out Yeark Kong troops and Khmer Rouge soldiers living in the jungle. And then, when the Khmer Rouge were able to seize power, Im and his family, along with thousands of other city dwellers, were forced into the countryside. His family went to Prey Chhor district, Kompong Cham province. Here, Im was separated from his family and sent into a special mobile youth team, in which he helped farm and build irrigation and road systems.
Im remembers that sorrowful time: "One of my three brothers was killed in the regime, and I too came close to death all because of a painting of a rice field. When illiterate child soldiers saw this picture I had done, they wanted me killed because they thought I may have been a university student. But they researched my background, saw I was not well educated and released me."
By the time the Vietnamese chased the Khmer Rouge from power in January 1979, an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians had been executed or died from overwork, disease, and starvation. Im and his family moved to Phnom Penh where he began work as a cartoonist at the state newspaper Kampuchea News owned by the Ministry of Central Media. Sokha drew many pictures about the Khmer Rouge regime, as he wanted to remind Cambodians about the horrors the country endured and to urge authorities to seek justice for the millions murdered.
"I want the Khmer Rouge tribunal to go ahead soon. I want to know who set up those killing fields before I die, and even though the Khmer Rouge issue has not been addressed for many years, the perpetrators must be punished."
During the Communist period of Cambodian history post-Pol Pot, Im received a letter of merit from the Ministry of Information for one of his most famous cartoons.
"The title of that cartoon is: ‘The poor man is caught while the powerful man goes free’. In the cartoon there is a cat carrying a piece of dried fish between his teeth, a crowd of people are trying to prevent the cat from eating the fish and are beating it with a wooden stick. Meanwhile, a tiger drags a cow; the same crowd of people now too frightened to intervene." He explains that this was a cartoon representing corruption amongst government officials who take a lot and get away with it, while the poor may steal a paltry amount and are then punished for their "crime". Im adds that this cartoon’s meaning is still relevant today, and it is often still published.
In May 1993, Im began work at Rasmei Kampuchea, a daily then based in Bangkok. Six months later, he returned to Phnom Penh to work as a freelance cartoonist. His reputation grew.
"I drew thousands of cartoons, including for English publications like The Cambodia Daily. Some media companies are pro-government, while some criticize the government. I do find it difficult sometimes to represent pro over anti. I try to be impartial and stand in the middle, but in my line of work, being either one way or the other is what it’s all about." Im Sokha says he is not a modern man.
"The good life for me is not about money, nor is it about a big house or a luxury car. The good life is about the luxury of peace in Cambodia. I want my country to get real independence, so I will continue my drawing to show this progress."


An unparalleled pedal

If satellites could capture sound from earth, thousands of "hellowhatisyournames" would have resounded from the planet when the 2005 Cyclo Smoke-Free Ride for Life made its way around Cambodia’s Mekong basin in early September.

Twenty lime-green cyclos driven in "shifts" by 30 drivers, 10 barang and 2 Cambodian cyclists, and accompanied by 5 support vehicles, passed amused locals who greeted the entourage as if King Sihamoni himself was leading the way.
Emerging from behind trees, from inside darkened doorways, or from out of the middle of a rice paddy, Cambodia’s rural community waved and laughed at the rather extraordinary sight pedaling by.
And those who enquired as to exactly where the convoy was headed were astonished: "Phnom Penh – Kompong Cham – Prey Veng – Phnom Penh," cried the cyclo drivers with gusto—a total of 320km—keeping in mind, an empty cyclo alone weighs 60kg and has no gears.
The cyclos required frequent repairs, their tires burst at intervals with a terrific bang. A truck and driver had been hired to carry a mechanic on board, as well as a compressor and other tools necessary to service the cyclos on the road. Of the other support vehicles, International Resources for the Improvement of Sight (IRIS) leant a brand new pick-up, in which a doctor sat armed with Royal-D for re-hydration and multi-vitamins for "health". When the cyclo drivers were not pedaling, they clambered inside and on top of a National Centre for Health Promotion (NCHP) four-wheel-drive, which also seemed to act as the pace car. Red Cross and Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) vehicles brought up the rear.
This year’s Cyclo Smoke-Free Ride for Life was staged to raise awareness of the conditions cyclo drivers face on a day-to-day basis. Most cyclo drivers live on the Phnom Penh streets beneath the canopy of their cyclo; most earn $1 a day; and most are rural migrants who live apart from their families, families who are often wholly dependent on the cyclo’s income.
As was last year’s successful Siem Reap – Phnom Penh rally, the 2005 event was organized to raise funds for the capital’s Cyclo Centre. The Centre was established in 1999 as a program run by the Urban Resource Centre (URC), a local NGO who help the urban poor community improve their living conditions. In August, Phnom Penh’s Cyclo Centre itself was recognized by the Ministry of Interior as a fully-fledged NGO.

So in the early, rather damp, hours of September 7, the rally left from outside The Cyclo Centre in a long neat line making its way for Kompong Cham, an initial leg of 118km, which would take the best part of nine hours. The day was cool, the mood was convivial, and as the group moved further into the countryside the scenery became astonishingly emerald, and rainbows of dragonflies and butterflies hovered over the road..
Just outside of Skun the rally stopped for lunch; cyclists stumbled off bicycles grateful for the respite from sitting, cyclo tires were mended and pint-sized pomelo sellers introduced themselves. Large quantities of rice and frog meat were consumed, tea was sipped, toothpicks picked and a newfound energy propelled everyone forward at speed toward Kompong Cham.
Throughout the three days of the rally, these meals were an important routine. They meant a rest, some energy, and they meant a chance to pass the chili to someone you might never have had the good fortune to pass chili to before. Eating on the rally was very much an egalitarian affair. Breakfast was road-side rice and pork in polystyrene, lunch and dinner were sit-down affairs, occasions of soup, an omelet or a fragrant curry. Language and any cultural differences meant nothing—it was simply about eating.
The next day—all decked out in smoke-free green—the group hauled themselves over the bridge out of Kompong Cham for Prey Veng, along Highway 11, 96km to the south east. This was the day of dusky rubber plantations and verdurous rice fields, a green swelling all the way to the horizon and to be able to stop amidst it all, well, this was the way to savor Cambodia.
Later that afternoon, nearing Prey Veng, (where incidentally there are approximately 150 cyclo drivers in business) the sky darkened and a southerly blew. Everyone got wet. Prey Veng was a soggy place that evening; next door to the restaurant the frogs were singing in the rain and it didn’t seem right to be eating them.

And it was still raining in the morning when the rally set off, toward Neak Luong and the vehicular ferry which would take the group over the Mekong for the final leg of 40km back into Phnom Penh.
The wait at the ferry was short, the sellers were not too persistent and then the procession was suddenly across, disembarking and speeding off along Highway 1. Back in Land Cruiser country, Kandal province, the familiar reckless speed and dangerous overtaking began, so everyone kept close to the side of the road. At one point a three-cyclo pile-up occurred, causing great mirth; a thin tree a fortunate barrier to a dunk in the river below. At Preaek Aeng, Royal krama in hounds tooth burgundy, donated by the Palace, were hemmed by some local seamstresses and tied across torsos for the grand entrance into the capital; paper Cambodian flags were threaded into split chopsticks and attached by rubber-bands to handlebars and cyclo side mirrors. Regal and fluttering, the rally was only 20km from its destination.
Most were pensive along this stretch and probably tired, so it was often difficult to stay in line at the pace the rally had slowed to. The group reached the busy Phsar Khbal Thnol before crossing Monivong Bridge without a hitch, although the traffic police there-on-in were not as helpful as their provincial equivalents. Some of the barang cyclists took it upon themselves to become honorary traffic wardens stopping rush-hour traffic down Norodom Boulevard whilst police gawped. But it was a moment of total jubilation when everyone dragged their wheels over the rough stones beneath Wat Phnom, past two parallel lines of waiting cyclo drivers who greeted their colleagues with great applause. Sarany Nouv, 25, The Cyclo Centre’s coordinator gave an incredibly empowering speech, while her rally of admirers cheered.
And although most of us will never know the world of a cyclo driver nor the cyclo driver perhaps our world, for three days, everyone on the rally shared something: all traveling the same distance, in the same shirts, in the same hats, after the same lunches, and there at Wat Phnom, all with the same feeling of satisfaction. For all of those on the rally, this was an unparalleled journey.


A Lifetime Of Words

Miech Ponn speaks hoarsely and at length. At 73, this Cambodian writer has a lot of time under his belt and a great deal to say.
His half-century experiences make him widely recognized both amongst the Cambodian public and abroad. Few men of his ilk survive. In 2003, Miech was presented with a lifetime achievement award by Hun Sen and last October, was the first Cambodian writer ever to win the prestigious SeaWrite Award—an accolade presented to promote Southeast Asian literary talent and to bring the nations of this region closer together.
Miech Ponn is the author of a number of important books about Khmer culture. Aimed at Cambodian youth, the titles include A Girl Entering the Age of Puberty, Khmer Tradition Parts 1, 2 and 3 and Children’s Folktales. Besides these, Miech has another book in the process of being printed—Four Types of Khmer Wedding Ceremony.

"I had been researching and collating that research into these four books since I was a teacher in 1953. I only completed them a few years ago and I am so proud of my work," Miech says Khmer literature student Chhorn Norn, who studies at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, says Miech
Ponn’s achievements are very important for both Cambodian and foreign children.
"In a modern society—even as technology begins to usurp the traditional—we still need to be aware of our national identity," Chhorn says. "There are no other writers in Cambodia like Miech Ponn."
Miech Ponn was born in 1932, to a farming family in Kirivong district, Takeo province. The youngest of five sisters and four brothers, Miech was aware of the importance of Khmer traditions from an early age—his mother organized wedding ceremonies and other such events.

In 1939, he was one of the first Cambodian schoolchildren to go to primary school under the French-governed education system. "I went to Wat Pratheat School in Kirivong. As boys we were to become monks and were to learn about Buddhist doctrines and the workings of the pagoda, and the
girls were to study at home. The girls could only learn how to read and write, that’s all. I liked learning poetry."
Miech proved to be a competent student and was given the opportunity to study further at one of only two training schools in the country. "In 1950, Cambodia only had two such higher-level institutions, one school was for Administration, Economy and Finance Management, the other was a teachers’ training college."
His father was wary of the former school, preferring Miech didn’t study business. "He told me I would learn to sin if I studied economics or finance management, he wished for me to study to be a teacher … and I agreed with him." His parents, and mentors, died before they saw their son graduate. Awarded his teaching license in 1953, Miech was then sent to work in Stoung, Kompong Thom province. In 1970 he married Sam Kim San, together they had five children.
In 1972 he left teaching for a position as president of an American-funded community development scheme in Kompong Thom. Miech says he learnt a great deal about Khmer traditions because he lived and worked in a close-knit community and was able to observe their customs and record them.

"I did spend a lot of time far from my family, because I had to travel for work. And during the civil war, from 1972 to 1975, it was even more difficult to see them because the roads were very bad. The road from Phnom Penh to Kompong Thom was usually cut off."
On April 17, 1975, Khmer Rouge armed forces ousted the population of Phnom Penh into the countryside. Miech was in the capital at the time and wanted to travel north, to Kompong Thom and his family, but was forced to travel in the opposite direction. When Miech asked the soldiers why he was to go to the south, a gun was pointed at him and he was told, "If you do not want to die, you will go south." His hopes to see his family in Kompong Thom were dashed. He spent two weeks walking, carrying his beloved books and papers to southern Takeo province.
The Khmer Rouge regime, led by Pol Pot, closed markets, stripped the population of individual property rights, permitted no employment besides working in the fields and disallowed eating in groups.
"Everyday I had to work very hard just to get a plate of rice, if anybody violated this rule, they were tortured and killed as they were said to have betrayed the Angka or Organization."
It was imperative Miech kept his background a secret, so he buried his books and documents in the ground. "Many intellectuals like me died because of torture, over-work, and disease."
"I nearly died twice. The first time, a Khmer Rouge soldier ordered me to guard a corn field, so (as I found out later) they could kill me during the night. My nephew was a Khmer Rouge local security man and he told me, if possible to stay away, which I did. The second time I was very ill because I was so hungry … I also didn’t want to live and I told my older sister I would kill myself."
"But even though I survived, two of my brothers and a sister died at that time."
After those terrible years, Miech returned to Kompong Thom to find the rest of his family. "From Kirivong to Kompong Thom I had to travel by army vehicle for many days; just finding transportation took a long time," he says.
"When the car stopped in Phnom Penh, I went to buy something from a book shop I used to frequent. Inside, I met a relative of my wife’s called Phat [pronounced Pat]. Phat was now very thin and really didn’t look like the Phat I once knew. He told me my wife and my children were all killed in the Pol Pot regime." Miech says he collapsed upon hearing the news.
"I cried … and Phat cried."
Miech did eventually remarry; they had three daughters.
During the Vietnamese socialist regime post-Pol Pot, he began work as deputy chief at the administration office of the party’s political science school from 1980 to 1985, promoted to chief in 1986. He also taught history of economics, translated communist literature from French into Khmer including the biographies of Karl Marx and Ho Chi Minh. He also worked alongside Nicole Vairon, compiling a French-Khmer economics dictionary and in 1989 he collaborated with Dr. Long Siem putting together a dictionary of Khmer spoken during the Angkor period.
After the election in 1993, he retired from the Ministry of Planning and has worked as a writer and researcher on Khmer culture and tradition at the Buddhism Institute ever since.
Miech is pragmatic about his role as Cambodia’s cultural historian and doesn’t do it for the money.
"I think there are very few people who would want my job as a writer on culture and tradition. I have to work hard for little financial gain, but I will work until I can no longer stand up."


Wonders Of The Northeast

The northeast of Cambodia is the place to visit at the moment: it’s seriously green, strangely volcanic and noticeably cooler than the rest of the country. Cambodia’s Minister of Tourism H.E Lay Prahos is very excited about the area’s increasing potential—an area attracting more and more tourists.
Lay Prahos says 1,005,648 tourists visited Cambodia in the first nine months of 2005. "Even we’re surprised at that number!" he says. "That amount is a 37.4 percent increase for the same period in 2004." He expects numbers for the whole of 2005 to be about 1.3 million and hopes that number will be even higher this year. The Minister admits that as tourist numbers grow, Cambodia must look to providing better services, particularly in the less-explored regions, which also have much to offer.
"Most tourists come to visit our country because they want to see the famed Angkor Wat temples. But many don’t realize this country has kept hidden some of its more natural attractions. We have wonderful pristine environments in the Kingdom like Koh Kong for instance, and Cambodia’s northeastern provinces are perfect for eco-tourism," Lay Prahos says.
He says the northeast covers Kratie, Mondulkiri, Ratatakiri and Stueng Treng provinces. "These areas all have enormous potential."

"For years we’ve focused on promoting the world heritage site of Angkor Wat as our prime tourist destination. Then we’ve promoted Phnom Penh, the center of government, economics and culture and Sihanoukville, our coastal area with its beautiful white sand beaches," he says. "But now there’s a fourth notch in our belt, and that’s eco-tourism in the northeast of Cambodia."
He says the government has greatly improved road conditions between Phnom Penh and most provinces in the country, and will soon turn to more remote and smaller village areas.
"We have many places to invite tourists to and we want to make it enjoyable for them to travel around the kingdom. With good road conditions linking everywhere, tourist destinations are more easily accessed and explored. Nationwide it is possible to go anywhere easily by car and we have paved the way for tourism in the Kingdom. Now the northeast provinces seem a much closer destination for travelers because of the acceptable road conditions."

I recently heard foreigners saying that when they go to [the northeast] they … feel like they are ‘return[ing] to nature.’ They enjoy seeing hill-tribe people living off the land and reaping the benefits of their natural surrounds. It’s quite difficult to see these sorts of unaffected places in other more developed countries, even in neighboring countries. It is hard to find a place quite like the northeast of Cambodia." He says each of the country’s provinces has its own unique scenery and way of life, with many different ethnic groups scattered throughout.
"But in Mondulkiri for instance, this uniqueness is very pronounced: there are upland forests and great expanses of grassy fields reminiscent of European countries, but different in that they’re untouched. This is nature at its original. And in Ratanakiri province it’s different again, with landscapes of streams and tropical forests."
Director of the Ratanakiri provincial tourism office Tra Nut Seang says there are 12 natural tourist destinations in the province, some of these include hill-tribe visits and half are waterfalls including Ka Chhang, Cha-Ung, O’Sin-Lae, Koh-Andet and Ka-Teang.

"However, one of the best waterfalls is O’Sin-Lae: a beautiful seven-tiered waterfall. It’s as beautiful as a painting," Tra says. "Around the area of this waterfall there is also diamond mining. Families in these parts have mined for generations and still use traditional tools to look for the jewels. The diamonds here are younger than those found in Pailin, therefore cheaper to buy." Ratanakiri boasts much more than waterfalls and diamonds though, including Yeak Laom, a lake at the center of an extinct volcano; Veal Rum Plan, an ancient lava field and the beautiful Virachey National Park.
"Tourists never miss Yeak Laom lake ... which is 48m deep and 800m across," Tra says.
He says according to Ministry of Tourism figures, 40,000 visitors came to the province in the first nine months of 2005. "Interestingly, 50 percent of those were local visitors."
Travel details:

- A daily pick-up from Phnom Penh’s Central Market to Banlung will take you 14 hours. For nationals the cost is $20 and for foreigners $25.

- Flights are preferable. There are direct flights from Phnom Penh to Ratanakiri. Contact Phnom Penh International Airport for more details.

- Accommodation in Banlung ranges from $5 to $30. Terra Rouge Lodge is recommended by most guide books.

- The best time to visit is between November and April when the weather is much cooler than the capital.


The Price Of Saying "I do"

Weddings in Cambodia, particularly those held in Phnom Penh, often run into the thousands of dollars, and for a country where most earn a dollar a day, these amounts may seem well and truly beyond a nation’s means. But during the "wedding season" from early October until May, Cambodian dress makers, event management companies, cake decorators and printers, all reap the benefit of thousands of couples tying the blessing strings.
So where do the costs lie? Well for a start, there are the invitations to print and the marriage license to pay for; there is a public address system to hire along with a master of ceremonies, a marquee and wedding decorations; there are the musicians; there is the dowry of cakes, meat and fruit (the more the better) and of course the caterers to cook the mountains of food to last the duration of the (most commonly, but some can last for an entire week) two-day and one-night ceremony. The bride will generally rent up to 12 changes of dress and the groom will also have a large number of suits to climb in and out of. For those families without the space to hold the wedding ceremony at home—or for those wishing to really impress—hiring a venue further increases the cost of a wedding.
One such venue is Phnom Penh’s Mondial Centre. The amount of money Cambodians were spending on weddings attracted businessman Kong Triv to invest in the Centre in 2002. A massive eight-hectare site off Mao Tse-Tung Boulevard, Kong says the Mondial Centre accommodates as many as 5,000 people at 500 tables, at any one time. There are also seven private reception rooms available.
"For a wedding party of less than 50 tables we charge a flat rate of $700 and for a party of more than 50 tables there is a further fee of $15 per additional table. There were about 100 wedding parties held at the Mondial Centre last year and I’m sure the numbers will increase this year in response to ever-growing numbers of young people getting married," Kong says.
Middle-class families will spend between $60 and $75 per table at a wedding reception, while those in the countryside may spend up to $40. In general, wedding guests will decide to offer an amount of money, rather than a gift, to help cover the cost of the celebration and to pay for their meal. A guest is expected to pay about $10 and this amount is considered immediately reciprocated if the guest invites their host to a subsequent wedding.

Arb Many is a head chef and has been cooking for five years. During that time Arb has catered for hundreds of weddings in Phnom Penh and in nearby provincial towns.
He says the price of each wedding depends on the quality of the food and not merely on the numbers. Usually a combination of Khmer and Chinese dishes are served, but Arb says increasing numbers of people are also choosing to incorporate more expensive Western dishes into their wedding banquets. These are buffet-type dishes which may include salads, cold meats and pasta.
"Traditional Khmer and Chinese dishes are cheaper, like duck, beef, sweet and sour soup and so forth. My team put the price at between $60 and $70 per table for eight items of this more traditional style. The price for including European food into the menu bumps the price up to between $80 and $100 per table," Arb says. Kao Lily, 25, is based in Phnom Penh where she owns a business renting out wedding dresses and offering make-up services. Kao says she has the latest wedding gowns available for hire.
"Those women wanting a modern look are opting for dresses with a more European feel, but most Cambodian women are still sticking to the traditional—they want to look like an apsara dancer. It’s all about looking regal. The price for a selection of 12 dresses ranges from $300 to $600 and the cost of the make-up depends on product availability," Kao says.
At Phnom Penh beauty salon Sapors, expect to spend $15 for full wedding make-up and hair-styling; for a house-call you’ll need to pay $25.
And what about the wedding cake? A common sight at Cambodian weddings nowadays is the white, Western tiered number. Baker and owner of the capital’s Apsara Cake Shop Tang Bunthorn says he has never been so busy.
"We get 10 requests for cakes a day! Our cakes are priced on weight, with 1kg set at $1.20. Most wedding ceremonies will require a cake weighing between 10kg and 20kg and my customers spend anything from $20 to $320," Tang says.
In the Cambodian countryside weddings are relative to earning power, and so in that respect, just as extravagant as urban events. But they are usually much longer affairs than their city counterparts.
Seng Lang is a farmer from Kong Pisei district in Kompong Speu province who earns about $1,500 a year. Seng recently paid for his daughter’s wedding and he recites the list without pause. "Besides spending the big money on the necessary food and drink, my family spent over $250 on gowns, make-up and hair-dos; the photographs cost $150; video recording of the wedding was $50; the musicians were over $300 and for the presentation of the dowry to the bride’s family we spent over $500. Then for all the other wedding components, like the P.A system, the marquee, the tables, the generator and the master of ceremonies, we spent about $200 altogether," Seng says, taking a breath.
The sentiment of the ‘Honoring of the Parents’ ceremony (Bang Chhat Madaiy) is fitting at these prices. According to the Khmer Institute, the traditional song performed during this particular ceremony is a "reminder to the bride of the hardships of raising a child", and furthermore, that one day "the bride and groom will one day experience [the hardships] themselves."
Rumleuk kun madaiy oeupuk—Remember your obligations to your parents. They paid.


Sethisak Khuon’s Bella Voce

Cambodia’s number one, Cambodia’s solo uno—that’s the only tenor—drives up in a basic maroon Toyota Camry with pamphlets of his latest national concert strewn over the back seat and beams a dentist’s bankruptcy through the window. And it sounds crassly un-operatic to say, but I will, that if you went to a show for just Sethisak Khuon’s face, and not the Rachmaninoff or the Schubert, you’d be excused.
Two weeks prior, Sethisak had slowly raised arms in the tenor’s pose, in a slightly too big dinner jacket, and impressed at the 2005 Phnom Penh International Arts Festival at Chaktomuk Theatre. The Bangkok Post said he "... graced the festival with powerful vocals gained from years of overseas training." He graced the festival with talent too.

But why does Sethisak sing? And in Russian, Italian, French and German, at that? Why does he admire Franco Corelli, or the opera of Puccini and Verdi? In the land of Bassac music, high-octave love songs and karaoke videos, doesn’t it seem somewhat peculiar to be pursuing a very much Western-derived art form, when there are tenors galore in Europe?
"I sing Western music ... a respected art form ... because I am interested in learning and understanding the world. I also appreciate the language of this music and through it, I will understand other cultures. To understand one culture is not enough," Sethisak explains.

"The Arts are not especially appreciated in Cambodia ... but as this nation grows up perhaps the people will pay the Arts more respect, as they understand it more. Intelligent Cambodians—educated Cambodians—and foreigners support the Arts; the rest of the country is still learning.
"I don’t think it is difficult to compete against other international singers, because throughout the world there are a lot of different voices and a lot of different personalities. Besides, whatever you love to do is good. This is my passion," he says.

Sethisak’s passion has taken him to places far removed from his home and his family in Phnom Penh. In 1988, at 18, he left high school with a distinction in music. The Cambodian Government flew him into the cold to study piano, composition and music theory at the Tchaikovsky Professional Music College in Moscow.
It was rather dark.

"You could see the sun only a little during the year and everything you wore was very heavy. I missed Cambodia a lot at first ... if there had been any chance to come home ..." You would have taken it? "Yes. But once I was in school and I was busy with my studies, I wasn’t thinking about home as much." He was too busy discovering his voice and winning awards. "In my music classes, my voice was naturally louder than the others. My teacher said, ‘Sethisak! You have such a wonderful voice!’ This teacher told me I should try voice classes because they needed a voice like mine."
As it happens, the voice Sethisak revealed proved a winner. In 1996, he came third in the national La Bella Voce competition and then won Best Russian Vocal Performance; a first for anyone from South, East or Southeast Asia.
"You know, when my classmates and I had parties, and I used to sing in Russian, they’d cry." Out of sorrow? Or envy? "Well, it was very competitive ..."
Sethisak lived in Russia, through the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, through some bitterly cold winters, for eight years, graduating in 1996 with a Bachelor Degree in Music Theory and Composition, a Certificate in Voice and a fluency in Russian. With assistance from sponsor/producer Fred Frumberg and "UNESCO and friends", Sethisak then traveled through Western Europe in pursuit of further backing in order to continue his vocal training. "I went to Austria, and then Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris ... I had contacts, but I didn’t find sponsorship until I returned to Cambodia."

An American freelance journalist was sitting in one of Sethisak’s concerts, a "tremendous fan" of opera, the journalist asked Sethisak if he would like to go to the United States. "Well, you know, I was looking for a sponsor! He hadn’t realized there were any opera singers in Cambodia!"
Across the Bay Bridge in Berkeley, San Francisco, Sethisak studied from 1998-2001 with Dickson Titus—teacher of the critically acclaimed American soprano Ruth Ann Swenson. But again, with sponsorship drained, Sethisak flew back to Cambodia to begin the process of fund-raising anew.
And it is about now he chokes on the pineapple juice I’d ordered. "It’s not good for my voice," Sethisak splutters. I have a terrible sinking feeling; I’ve ruined Cambodia’s only tenor’s vocal chords, and with fruit. Water is called for; the throat is calmed, the guilt is quashed and we’re all of a sudden in Italy—he’d found some financial assistance.
Sethisak remembers 2004 and his time in "the city of Verdi" as if he were right that moment sipping a caffe con leite in the local piazza. With perrrrfectly rolled r’s he says, "I lived next to Torino in Torre Pelice. I studied in Busseto ... with the legendary tenor Carlo Bergonzi at the Accademia Verdiana."
This is no mean feat: the cost for three months, or one term, with "The Tenor’s Tenor" is $US30,000, with no more than 15 pupils accepted for each term.
"Singers from all around the world study at the Accademia. I made a lot of friends there ... and a lot of progress. It was good, it was really good. I learned Italian you know, but the old Italian language, the real Italian sung in opera."
And Bergonzi? There is a peal of laughter: a peal forte. "He is very, very generous and very nice, but also very tough," Sethisak admits. "I was one of the best tenors in his academy during my term. He liked me very much because I was from Cambodia, and that was unheard of. He’d never had a student from Cambodia."
"But he said I not only had a voice, I had a head. He said to the other [students] that that was a big compliment. It was a very big compliment for me. He said to the others, ‘You all have a voice, but you don’t have a head like Sethisak. You should study like Sethisak!’"
If he sounds at all conceited, think about what Sethisak has achieved and you’ll realize it’s perfectly deserved pride, not vanity. He’s not making money from this either: "I don’t have another job, I live by singing … and I hardly make ends meet. I am constantly seeking sponsorship."
If he did have the loi, say $60,000, he’d love to return to Busseto for two further terms training with Bergonzi. And if he can swing a fellowship, there could be the opportunity to study in Germany this year. "There is still a lot to learn you know, but you need money," he says. "You can’t catch a shark with a shrimp."
"I know that in Cambodia I will be poor with this knowledge, but at least I try. I do what I love to do."



Floating villages at Prey NorKor

Mekong Fellowship 2005-2006
When a group of children on Vietnam’s Sông Tiê’n river are asked if they want to live their lives as their parents always have—in floating villages as fish farmers or fishermen—the children are united in their desire to move to the mainland. "We don’t want to stay here," they say.
One of the children’s fathers says he wants desperately for his children to move out of the floating village, but he cannot provide for their futures. The 55-year-old fisherman can barely afford to feed them, let alone educate them. As he explains this inability, tears slowly fall down his face and he turns away to look out over the water of the Sông Tiê’n.

Tran Van Thanh and his family have lived in a floating village in Vinh Long province, southern Vietnam, since 1981 when his parents died. Tran and his children are all fishermen; Tran’s partner (they have never married) sells what the family catches at the local market.

"After my parents passed away, I could not afford even a small piece of land; not even a space just big enough for a little house and somewhere to put a bed," Tran says. "I had no education, no qualifications, so nobody could employ me. I had to look for another way to survive, so my partner and I decided to buy a boat and start a life as fishermen. It cost about 2.5 million Dong [about $160]. "Tran’s boat was 4m long and 1.5m wide, and on this boat, he and his partner, and their two first-born children, lived.

"At first, there were many difficulties living on the boat, but we at least felt comfortable, because we were surviving … and earning a living catching fish. It was fortunate, because there was enough fish for us to eat and sell, or barter for rice."
When Tran’s eldest son, 26, married recently, Tran gifted his boat to his son, and bought a second for himself. The same size as the first, this boat continues to house Tran, his partner and four of Tran’s five children. None of his children have ever been to school.
"It’s very hard for us to be able to afford the hundreds of thousands of Dong for … annual school fees, especially as I only earn between $1.50 and $2 a day, which has to feed the whole family."
Tran Van Ut, 43, (no relation) is a fisherman who lives on the Sóng Ha’u (Bassac River). His situation is much the same as Tran Van Thanh’s.
Tran has two children; the eldest daughter is 13 and the son, 11. He says while his children are of school-age, he can’t afford the annual 300,000 Dong ($20) fee. "They don’t have birth certificates anyway … and my wife and I don’t have time to take them to school because we need the boat for fishing. We’d need a second boat to get the children to school and one to remain and fish," Tran says.

"We tried to send our kids to school, but in the end we had to take them out at the end of first grade because our stomachs were more important than school. As a parent, I know I have made a grave error, but life has forced us to do this."
"I’ve never heard of floating village people sending their children to school from primary right through until high school."

Most of those living in floating villages do not have the proper registration required under Vietnamese law; birth certificates and national identification cards are rare.
Nguyen Thanh Ky is a 37-year-old fish farmer from the Chau Doc area. His two children both go to Chau Doc school and are in the seventh and fourth grade, and even though Nguyen’s family all have identification cards, he says thousands of families don’t.

"The local authorities have never come to register any of them, or even give them information about how to go about getting the right papers," Nguyen says.
Mr. Tai, (not his real name) 63, is sitting on the bamboo floor of his small floating house rolling tobacco into cigarettes of cotton paper. He says he often worries about his children’s futures and he worries that without being registered, they’re not even included as part of Vietnamese society.

"I’ve been living here more than 20 years … I don’t have an id card or a birth certificate. I just think, that without those things, we’ve no value as Vietnamese people," Mr. Tai says.
"And what about the future’s children?" he asks. "I suppose only time will time, but I do get very upset thinking about them all."
"All of my children are … illiterate, save one, my youngest son, who is 15, but he’s already stopped going to school after only the fifth grade."
He ponders is own childhood. "When I was a kid, we didn’t go to school; we were too busy with farming jobs and running away from the effects of war everyday. And now, because of poverty, I cannot send my own kids to school. I’m so sorry about that."
Ving Long province fisherman Tran Van Thanh’s daughter Tran Thi My Loan, 16, shyly hides her face. She is sitting on her family’s boat, their house, near a pot of boiling soup: a few cucumbers float on the surface. My Loan doesn’t like to speak, but after a few minutes she softly bemoans her own lack of education.
"I just want to live on land. I can’t even read the script or the alphabet of the Vietnamese language, but living on the mainland must be better than on a floating boat. I want to go to school like the kids there … if only," My Loan says.
Her 23-year-old brother Tran Van Luc wants to improve his standard of living too.
"Living here lacks the things we need to change and improve our lives," Van Luc says. "It is better to be a man though; that’s the means I have to change. I can be a laborer." Van Luc says he has "good health" and is employable for it.

"You know, people from the outside never visit us … You are the first people from the mainland to come to meet us."
Government officials do make visits from time to time.
Chau Doc fish farmer Nguyen Thanh Ky says government officials come to visit his fish farm in order to register the bé (fish farm and attached house). "We have to pay tax for this authority of 1 million Dong per year. If we don’t pay, we are not permitted to sell the fish we produce at harvest time," Nguyen says.

"Of the 10 bé along this river, only one bé has fish. The rest are empty of fish. The farms encounter many problems you see, and we are not offered any technical assistance or help to find markets for the fish, so the fish die; they die mostly because of rising pollution. I thought the local authorities of the Vietnamese Government knew how difficult this livelihood is, but they’re doing nothing for our people here."

Nguyen’s fish farm harvests almost 100 tons of fish per year and he sells one kilogram for 10,000 Dong ($0.65).
The people living on the river are not the only ones suffering; their presence is taking a toll on their environment. All of the floating villages’ waste goes into the water.
"People cook with the water in the river, clean in the river, go to the toilet in the river. This is how we survive," Nguyen says.

Vietnamese families living in floating villages at different turns in the river have similar stories, whether they live in Vin Long or at Chau Doc, on the Tien (Mekong) River, or the Há’u (Bassac) River. They all have the same background and the same reasons for living the life they do: they are poor and have few skills. Most of them don’t have id; the children don’t have birth certificates.

A policeman at Chau Doc floating village, who wished not to be named, says there are approximately 4,000 floating houses in the village.
"Of that number, about 1,000 families are fish farmers. The rest are fishermen. A very small number have jobs on the mainland. There are no floating schools here, or government clinics, there’s only the police station. I don’t know the government policies affecting these floating people; maybe they’ll move them onto land?" the policeman asks.

"The numbers of people coming to live at the floating village is increasing every day, and the environment is losing out to this rise in population; there is so much more waste. What will the river look like in the village in the future? If the government follows the steps it took to reduce the numbers in floating homes in Vinh Long province it may prove not to be as simple [at Chau Doc]; there are too many to contend with."

It is difficult to get answers from the local authorities in Vinh Long town about managiement of the floating village population. Some locals say that in previous years, the government moved people from the floating village on the Mekong at Vinh Long to the mainland town of Bing Minh, where a vocational center had been set up. According to Vinh Long locals, in resettling the floating village people and limiting the number of people living there, the government felt they could maintain sanitation and keep the river water clean.

Across the border in Cambodia, at the floating villages on the Tonle Sap and at various points on the Mekong River, living conditions are similar to neighboring Vietnam. However the ethnic make-up of the villages in Cambodia is much broader. Khmer, Vietnamese and Cham families all live together on the water.

Commune chief of Kompong Loung, Pusat province Kev Sovannareth says 50 percent are Khmer, 40 percent are Vietnamese; the remainder is Cham. "In total, there are 1,214 families and a total population of 6,962 people," Kev says.
"During the harvest season, these families earn about 20,000 to 30,000 riel ($5-$7.50) per day. While during the low season (between June and October), the fish farmers earn barely enough to keep their families fed."

One Vietnamese fish farmer living at Kompong Luong Nguyen Din, 40, says he’s lived in Cambodia on the water for 10 years, and he says the conditions in Cambodia far outweigh those in Vietnam
"It is a lot better here," Nguyen says. "I can earn more than $1,000 per year, and that’s fine for my family."

Nguyen has three children, two of whom are married. None of the three attended school, but Nguyen did send them to small private Vietnamese-language classes near his house.
Nguyen is positive. "I don’t think we can find any place better than this."
According to the Preak Toal commune chief Preab Proeung the floating village on the Tonle Sap has 1,866 families and a total population of 9,904 people.

Preab talks earning potential and living conditions on the river in mathematics: "Seventy percent of the people living are just surviving or poor. Twenty-five percent have enough, and 5 percent are rich," Preab says.

"The poor people are only earning 5,000 riel per day ($0.25); those in the next bracket are earning 10,000 riel ($2.50). The upper bracket—the rich people—have large fish farms or crocodile farms, and earn more than $1,000 per year."
The stories and dreams of these different nationalities are shared: parents want an education for their children and the children want to learn " … if only …"


Toward a level playing field

H.E. Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi, Cambodia’s Minister of Women’s Affairs, asks me if I’m married, and when I tell her I’m still single, she gives me some advice for the future. In a clear voice with a hint of a French accent, Dr. Phavi says I must remember to help my wife.

"These days, men earn less and so the women have to supplement the family income by working too. But as well as outside jobs, women still have to attend to their household obligations: cooking, cleaning and looking after the children," explains Dr. Phavi.
I mustn’t sit and watch television, while my wife does everything in the kitchen Dr. Phavi tells me.
She is striking at 46, and looks younger than her age. She enjoys a joke. Dr. Phavi also enjoys a rare and accomplished status as a female politician in a very much male-oriented world: she is one of only two female Ministers in the Cambodian Government, following in her father’s political footsteps—H.E. Ing Keth was Minister of Public Works and Transport in the 1960s.
Dr. Phavi is often the "one of only …" Of her eight siblings, Dr. Phavi alone, decided to leave France, where she had lived for 20 years, and return to Cambodia to live.
In 1972 her family fled Cambodia’s civil war for France. She married a Cambodian-French man in 1984 and in 1990 earned a degree in medicine, working initially at a public hospital, before establishing her own clinic in Paris. Dr. Phavi was also deputy secretary general of the Association du Medecine Cambodgienne.

"I lived in France from the age of 12, but I always remembered my nationality … I often worked with other Cambodians," she says. "And the entire time I lived abroad, I never once forgot my Cambodian identity."
In 1992, Dr. Phavi and her husband made the return to Southeast Asia. Initially working in refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border, in 1994 she qualified for a Masters in Public Administration and then from 1995 to 1997, served as technical advisor to the Ministry of Rural Development in community health.

Prior to becoming Minister of Women’s Affairs in 2004, Dr. Phavi served as Secretary of State of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs (MoWVA) where she was in charge of elaborating gender responsive policies, strategies and plans of action. She also worked to ensure the management and follow-up of technical programs in health and economic empowerment and built capacity in MoWVA’s staff on financial and administrative management.

She has also been an active contributor to national and international seminars on gender mainstreaming in reproductive health, HIV/AIDS issues and women’s economic empowerment issues. She was directly involved in the National Poverty Reduction Strategy drafting process and has been a strong advocate for campaigns against women and child trafficking and domestic violence.
Dr. Phavi says she got where she is today with support from both her parents and her husband. "But most importantly, I achieved success with self-confidence."
She says in order to push women to participate in public administration as well as in politics, they need to not only have support from family and colleagues, but they should also have self-confidence, motivation and good management skills.
In politics, as in the home, Dr. Phavi strongly believes men and women should work and make decisions on an equal level. Few Cambodian women have had the opportunities Dr. Phavi has had, but she freely admits that.

"I am a lucky woman who was born into a middle class family. I have a very supportive husband and I have been able to work outside of the home; most Cambodian women have not had the chances I have had."

There are more females than males in Cambodia. According to the 1998 Cambodian census, Cambodia had a total population of 11,747 million (current estimates put this total at just over 13 million). Forty-eight percent were male and 51.7 percent were female. The numbers of women working in the Cambodian Government are certainly not representative of the numbers of women who make up Cambodian society: After the national election in 2003, two women became Ministers, eight became Secretaries of State and of the 123 National Assembly members, only 22 are women.

"Two out of 27 Ministers highlights the distance between men and women in the executive power of Cambodia."
She says with only a small number of women in decision-making roles in the Government, it is often "very difficult to share ideas with our male counterparts, particularly in policy-making for country development."

"Generally, when we think about equality between a man and a woman, we think everything should be about fifty-fifty, and it should. But even Western countries continue to struggle to reach that target. By the next Cambodian election, [the Ministry of Women’s Affairs] hopes that the number of women in leadership roles in the private and public sector will increase to 30 percent. We realize this number may well take a much longer time to achieve, because we need to change social vision … and our leaders.

"It is a biological fact that male and female thinking is not the same. In politics, men usually think about the importance of economics and development, more than say, welfare and social issues. In fact all of those issues are equally important and worthy of the same consideration; all are necessary for a country’s development. Women’s visions for social development are just different from men’s visions.

"Economic development and social welfare are of equal importance, so both men’s and women’s ideas are valuable. When men think about how to earn money, women think about their families and children’s needs, and they save money.

"In politics, if men are busy attracting more investors into our country, women should be asking, ‘Where can we find the money for health centers and schools?’ … In order to best serve the public, male and female visions should complement one another."

Dr. Phavi is as she says she is; she is more than a female politician and gender equality promoter, she is a mother to a 14-year-old daughter and a wife.
"I think I have three roles: two in the family and one in the public eye. I am a Minister, a mother and a wife. I never forget I am a mother to my daughter and a wife to my husband, even when I am very busy at work."

"At the office I need to work hard for the public; I have many responsibilities as a politician, but when I am at home, I have to be a good housewife and mother, just like other women do for their families. I never talk about my work at home, together with my husband, I usually enjoy listening to classical music and sometimes we travel."
"For me, a job is a job and family is family; those two roles never clash."


Prasat Preah Vihear or Preah Vihear Temple

Prasat Preah Vihear is one of Cambodia’s revered temples located on the plateau of Dangrek Mountains in Preah Vihear Province, Cambodia.

Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia, though some of the outter areas are still under Thailand’s control. The temple has beautiful views all around and has the most spectacular setting of all the temples built during the six-century-long Khmer Empire.
Early Age:

Preah Vihear was constructed begining in early 11th century in the period under the reigns of King Suryavarman I (1002–1050) and King Suryavarman II (1113–1150). The inscription found at the temple provides detailed accounts of Suryavarman II studying sacred rituals, celebrating religious festivals and making gifts, including white parasols, golden bowls and elephants, to his spiritual mentor, the aged Brahman Divakarapandita.

The Brahman himself took an interest in the temple, according to the inscription, by donating a golden statue of a dancing Shiva to temple collection.

Preah Vihear Lay in Cambodia Territory under the Sovereignty of Cambodia:The dispute between Cambodia (Khmer) and Thailand (Siam) over the boundary of Preah Vihea dated back to the early 20th century around 1904-1908.

In 1904, Cambodia and Thailand formed a joint border commission, Franco-Siamese Mixed Commission, for the purposes of establishing a treaty to characterize the exact frontier. According to a meeting on December 2, 1906, the commission decided to travel along the Dângrêk Mountains to survey the whole eastern part of the range to define the exact frontier between Cambodia and Thailand. By autumn of 1907, the map was completed. The map of the Dangrek range shows Preah Vihear to be on Cambodia side of the frontier.
In 1954, Thailand troops invaded Preah Vihear and occupied the temple illegally. In 1959, Cambodia took the incident to the world court, "The Hague International Court of Justice ", and was ruled that Preah Vihear is in Cambodia territory.

On June 15, 1962, the judgment delivered by The Hague Internaional Court of Justice, by 9 votes to 3 votes, ruled that the Preah Vihear Temple lay in Cambodia territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia. Thailand must withdraw its forces from the temple and from Cambodia territory.

And by 7 votes to 5 votes, The Hague International Court of Justice ruled that Thailand must restore any sculptures, stelae (carved stone/pillar), fragments of monuments, sandstone models and ancient pottery of the temple.
Cambodia's Currency:
The Cambodian National Bank issued a new 2,000-riel bank note to refresh currency supplies and simplify cash payments.

Bird-view of Prasat Preah Vihear
If any one and/or any country need to know it's clearly than FunMen (web name),
Please visit: International Court of Justice: 1962 - Preah Vihear
Or Visit:



July-2008 election in Cambodia

Cambodian political parties gear up for July election

Cambodia's political parties are continuing to campaign this weekend, ahead of next month's general election.

It is hoped the nation's fourth democratic election will be free of violence, but already, the ruling Cambodian People's Party has been accused of intimidation by the Opposition.
Sen Lam reports from Phnom Penh that campaigning Cambodian-style is a colourful affair. In the capital, small lorries cruise the city streets in convoys, with loud music and political slogans, as party members pile into the back of the trucks.

Human rights groups and election observers have voiced concern in recent weeks over perceived intimidation, in particular, the arrest and release of a newspaper editor, and the closure of a provincial radio station.
The station had sold air time to opposition parties without government permission. For the moment, the campaigning climate is better than in previous elections, although threats against activists at grassroots level, are reported to continue.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Cambodia election - 2008

Government, opposition begin election campaign in Cambodia

The Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, has called on political parties running in next month's general election to compete honestly and to accept the result of the poll.The 11 parties began the designated one-month campaign period today.In a statement broadcast on state-run television, Prime Minister Hun Sen said all political parties should compete with honesty, dignity and honour and must accept the result of the election which reflects the will of the voters.The statement also called for parties to make the national interest their priority.The last general elections in July 2003 saw the kingdom plunged into a year of political stalemate as parties wrangled over forming a coalition. A government was finally formed in July 2004.Hun Sen has been in power for 23 years, making him South-East Asia's longest-serving leader besides the sultan of Brunei.Meanwhile, a Cambodian opposition lawmaker has accused the government of dishonesty because it has not published the country's rate of inflation for the past three months.A Sam Rainsy Party member of parliament, Son Chhay, says Cambodia has not published its Consumer Price Index since March.He has written a letter to the country's planning minister asking the Government about the matter.Reports in local newspapers have speculated that the ruling Cambodian People's Party is not publishing the inflation rate because it wants to limit dissent before next month's general election.A government spokesman, Son Sithan, says the rate hasn't been published becuase of a technical issue but said it would be released in the next two to three months.The last published CPI stated that inflation rose 18.7 percent in January this year, however observers say the figure is closer to 30 per cent.


Cambodia says no reason to politicise temple

Phnom Penh - Cambodian Foreign Minister, Hor Namhong Friday accused elements in the Thai opposition of politicising the disputed 11th century Hindu temple of Preah Vihear and called it "regretable."
"I deeply regret that some political parties in Thailand use Preah Vihear temple to push the Thai government and disrupt relations between our two countries," he told a press conference.
"Thailand has not ceded one centimetre of land to Cambodia there."
Cambodia closed the border at the site of the hilltop temple late Sunday after a rally by anti-Thai government protestors there.

With ongoing political tensions in Thailand and national elections scheduled for July 27 in Cambodia, the government said the closure was a proactive measure to ensure the safety of citizens on both sides of the border and prevent the issue from escalating.

Hor Namhong said Cambodia's application to have the temple, sacred to both countries, listed as a World Heritage site was in no way related to Cambodian politics and had been underway long before national election campaigning began.

The International Court in The Hague awarded the temple to Cambodia over Thailand in 1962.
Hor Namhong's dominant Cambodian People's Party (CPP) is expected to handsomely win the upcoming elections.

Unlike some of its opposition parties, the CPP, which prides itself on universal diplomacy and has particularly close links with Vietnam, traditionally focuses its campaigns on improvements in local infrastructure and shies away from nationalistic rhetoric.

Source by : Bongkokpost/breaking news on Jun-30,2008



Strategic beauty

If you scale the 2,800 stairs of Prasat Preah Vihear in the province of the same name, a beautiful view will unfold before you. At almost 650m above sea-level, Preah Vihear temple has been the sight of many battles over the centuries; it’s altitude a perfect military advantage.

Located on the Dangkrek Mountains in the northernmost corner of the country and now accessible from Cambodia and Thailand, Preah Vihear temple re-opened to Khmer visitors as recently as 2003. For many years, Thailand claimed the temple as theirs, but a 1962 International Court of Justice ruling found in favor of Khmer ownership. The Court also held that Thailand was under obligation to withdraw all military and police force stationed there and to restore objects removed from the ruins.

But now (Jun-2008) has some speachs as a thief's speach or rebel's speach say that the Preah Vihear temple is not the Khmer owner, and all the thiefs that was speak so are all seat in Assembly chair. Do you believe or not? if you don't believe me please back to see the document was happend in 1962 at the International Court of Justice to see the ruling found by International Court of Justice .

Access to the temple has been much improved in recent years, due to extensive de-mining, jungle clearance and in 2003, the construction of a road from the town of Tbeng Meanchey direct to the Dangrek Mountains.

Deputy Director of the Preah Vihear Provincial Tourism Department Kit Chanthy says according to departmental annual reports, the number of tourists visiting the temple is increasing every year. In 2004, an estimated 66,000 visitors flocked to the temple site, with numbers increasing to almost 90,000 the following year.

"In the first four months of this year, Preah Vihear received 30,536 visitors, of predominately Cambodian and Thai nationality. During the three days of Khmer New Year alone, the temple saw 12,639 visitors," Kit says.

"With greatly improved road conditions to the site on the Cambodian side, many more visitors are able to see this great attraction," he says. "And the other reason for the recent influx? Well, the location of the temple really is amazing, with fantastic views of both Thailand and Cambodian landscapes from the cliff top on the Chuor Phnom Dangkrek (Dangkrek Mountains)."

The temple has four levels with four courtyards each containing five gopuras (entrance pavilions). Preah Vihear has been a place of pilgrimage and worship for kings and commoners alike for centuries as it serves the same purpose as a stylised representation of Mount Meru, home of the gods.

President of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents (CATA) Ho Vandy is optimistic about the future of what he calls the "golden line" linking Preah Vihear temple with Siem Reap’s Angkor complex.
"I envisage Preah Vihear temple to be registered on the World Heritage List, which will mean greater numbers of visitors traveling from Angkor Wat to this temple on their tours," Ho says.
"I’m sure that Preah Vihear temple will be yet another spectacular temple destination in Cambodia, lessening the burden on the Angkor complex," he says.

"Tourists can explore the ‘ancient triangle’: from Siem Reap’s Angkor complex to Preah Vihear province’s Koh Ker (Jayavarman IV’s capital between 928 and 942) and the Preah Vihear temple, then on to Kompong Thom province and the Sambor Prey Kuk temple, ples buried in the forest there."

UNESCO Khmer culture expert Dr. Michael Tranet says the construction of Preah Vihear temple took many years to complete.

"Building began during the reign of King Yasovarman I between 889 and 910; followed by King Suryavarman I who ruled between 1002 and 1050. King
Jayavarman VI continued the construction, and the temple was finally completed by King Suryavarman II between 1113 and 1150."

"The original name of this temple was Se Khari Svarak which means "Power of the Mountain," Tranet says. The temple was dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva.

You see how beautiful for the Preah Vihear temple

Friday, June 27, 2008


An artist remembers

Photographs by Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
"I worry I will not have the strength to be a witness at the future Khmer Rouge Trials," says former S-21 prisoner and artist Vann Nath. "My health worsens from one day to the next and it will not improve," Vann says. He fears he won’t live to see the perpetrators of the Regime punished for their crimes.
Vann Nath, 61, survived 12 months in Phnom Penh’s notorious Tuol Sleng prison, painting pictures of gruesome torture methods his Khmer Rouge interrogators used. Every day at S-21 I watched and recorded Pol Pot’s soldiers torturing prisoners."

Vann’s story has subsequently been made into a film and is shown daily at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. A book—A Cambodian Prison Portrait: One Year in the Khmer Rouge’s S-21—has also been published. "Because of my failing health I am unable to get out much and meet people anymore, and I don’t have the time with all the hospital appointments I have to keep; I go twice weekly to have my blood purified," he says.

"But I have been following the Government’s progress in getting the Khmer Rouge Trials underway. I anxiously await justice, as I am sure most Cambodian people do, and I hope the victims of the Regime will have professional lawyers, particularly as the court will be in the international spotlight."The Trials have been delayed for a very long time and I think this is partly because of the position many current high-ranking officials have found themselves in, especially because of the relationships some of them had with the leader Pol Pot.
His face saddens when he remembers the past. "I always try not to think back, but when we talk about it, it seems it is happening to me again today. Perhaps tonight I will dream about that time again, back when I was a prisoner at S-21, and I will feel that same fear all over.
"When I eat lunch now or drink water, I vividly remember the times when I had very little of either. I remember my legs shackled and being thirsty. What I also recall from those times are those who were cruel and those who were less so.

"Now it is very difficult for me to believe in the goodness of people. I suppose you could say I have lost confidence." Vann takes a deep breath and continues. "It was horrible to see Khmer people treating their own like that … We didn’t know where to go, so we kept quiet and waited for the day we would be taken and killed.

"When I was arrested I never knew the exact reasons why the Khmer Rouge detained me. It was a vague accusation, something about violating the moral code of the Angka.

"I did know that from my village in Battambang province, they arrested people every day. Each month they would arrest many people and drag these villagers away with their hands tied behind their backs and a long piece of bamboo threaded through to make movement impossible. Everybody was blindfolded. They were then taken away and killed.

"Many people had fled from Svay Rieng, Prey Veng and Pursat, thinking they would be safer in Battambang. This was not the case. They were arrested and transported to Phnom Penh.

"I was detained on December 30, 1977, in Samrong (Battambang province) pagoda one night. They kept me in another pagoda for a week, and then, on January 7, 1978, at 10 a.m. they called my name. Along with 35 others, I was ordered into a car. I thought we would be driven immediately to our deaths but instead we traveled to Phnom Penh and were taken to S-21. I considered myself lucky.
"It was very fortunate I was held there, and as the director of S-21 Duch knew I was an artist, he ordered I paint from a photograph as a test. When they realized I could in fact paint they locked me in my cell, but removed the handcuffs."
Vann thinks he painted at least 1,000 paintings during his incarceration at S-21, including portraits of Pol Pot.
"While I was held in S-21, I held no hope of ever seeing my family again," he says. "My two first-born sons died of starvation in Battambang; there was no food or medicine to save them." Vann and his wife, whom he married in 1971, had three more children after he was released from prison.

"When Pol Pot was defeated, people were very happy, but even for all that outward happiness, the cruelties of those years were not forgotten by any means."
"Pol Pot destroyed this country leaving a terrible legacy. There is still a great deal of violence in Cambodia, 15-year-old boys kill people; wives kill husbands; fathers kill sons. This is the heritage that Pol Pot left for us … we still have a long way to recuperate."

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