Saturday, April 26, 2008
Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark
The Guardian, Saturday April 26 2008
Almost half of Cambodia has been sold to foreign speculators in the past 18 months - and hundreds of thousands who fled the Khmer Rouge are homeless once more. Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark report
Sang Run, his hair stiff with sea salt, chugs out into the Gulf of Kompong Som in his weather-beaten turquoise boat, looking for blackling. He scours the shallow, blue water, waiting for a shoal to appear, before skimming his net across the water. He does the same every day, taking his catch to auction on Independence Beach in Cambodia's southern port city of Sihanoukville.
It looks like a scene Sang Run was born into. But 20 years ago the beach was deserted, and he was a schoolteacher in Mondulkiri, a forested province hundreds of miles away in the east of the country. Back then, he could talk all day about palm sugar and betel nuts. He was something of an amateur botanist, but had never seen the sea - nor had any of the group who today gather around his silvery haul flapping in the sand on Independence Beach. Former nurse Srey Pov, who runs a Khmer restaurant along the beach, also came from a province many miles away. She still cannot swim, she says, shrugging. Heads nod around her. Cambodia is a nation that would drown if their boat tipped over; it is also a country whose citizens mostly do not belong to the places where they have ended up.
The Khmer Rouge saw to that, eviscerating the kingdom after coming to power. It was a movement that drew inspiration from Mao's Cultural Revolution, collectivising all the land; but it grew to love terror more than ideology. The ferocity of the regime sent more than 300,000 rushing into exile. At least two million urban Cambodians were route-marched into the paddy fields to near certain death. Worst hit was the Eastern Zone, bordering Vietnam, where Sang Run came from. Its people were derided as "duck's arses with chicken's heads" as the Khmer Rouge grew to mistrust the Vietnamese and accused Mondulkiri people of being disloyal - too sympathetic to their neighbours across the border. Their names were added to those who were to be purged; the catalogue of "crimes" became so long, so general, that anyone could stand accused. The wave of random violence and retribution that scythed through the countryside for three years, eight months and 21 days killed one in five of the population.
Sang Run's family all vanished, but he survived, hiding in the forests, living off what he could pluck and hunt. When the Vietnamese invaded in 1978 - overthrowing the Khmer Rouge a year later - Sang Run found his way, like thousands of others, to Cambodia's 300-mile long shoreline. Stretching between Thailand and Vietnam, the region had been a Khmer Rouge stronghold, controlled by Pol Pot's notorious commander, Ta Mok, who was known as The Butcher. In the 80s, when the fishing shacks and noodle stores went up along the Sihanoukville coast, there was no development plan. There had never been a tradition of thriving fishing communities along the coast - few Cambodians lived there except in the old French colonial towns. The shoreline had been empty - miles of palm-fringed beach front interspersed with the few port towns, including Kep, Sihanoukville and Ream.
Survivors began to build new lives there, learning to love the sea. Some took boats to a nearby archipelago of 22 coral-fringed, uninhabited islands, building up clusters of villages on atolls with names such as Rabbit, Snake and Turtle. Within 10 years, the whole coastline had been patchily settled by newcomers, among them a former farmer, Soch Tith, a stocky man with corncob hands, who was sick every time he got in a boat, but still found his way to faraway Koh Rong, the largest of the islands - 7,800 hectares of jungle. There he cleared small patches to grow fruit.
By 2006, these communities had schools, political representation, and many householders even had papers, stamped by the Sihanoukville governor, Say Hak, which guaranteed them the permanent right to stay under the 2001 Cambodian Land Law. The central government in Phnom Penh had in the 90s designated the entire coast and its islands as State Public Land that could not be bartered or developed.
Then, during the past couple of years, a disturbing wave of rumours swept the coastal communities. Sang Run says that in September 2006 he heard that Snake Island, half a mile out to sea, had been secretly sold to Russians. He did not check. Cambodians ask little from their government; a wariness of authority is a legacy of years of blood-letting under Pol Pot. In any case, it was a familiar story. Shortly after Hun Sen, Cambodia's prime minister, came to power in 1985, frenzied landgrabbing began: influential political allies and wealthy business associates raced to claim land that the Khmer Rouge had seized, gobbling up such large chunks of the cities, forests and paddy fields that Cambodians used to say the rich were eating the country. By 2006, the World Bank estimated that 40,000 had been made homeless in Phnom Penh alone. But, until now, no one had bothered with the coast. Sang Run paid no particular attention to the Snake Island rumour. He should have - it signalled a radical new course for the Cambodian government.
Article continued here.
Phnom Penh - Cambodian officials have moved to quell growing hysteria sparked by a rumour that a ghostly red number was appearing on mobile phones and killing people, local media and police said Saturday.
Officials have urged calm in the mobile-phone-crazy country, where rumours spread nationally like wildfire thanks to cheap calls and text messages, and have denied any red number exists.
Posts and Telecommunications Minister So Khun said the rumour was probably due to growing tension prior to scheduled national elections in July, the English-language Cambodia Daily reported.
"Anyone can make this up. In a moment we will hear that fish will grow legs and run away," the paper quoted the minister as saying.
Rumours such as this are not new to Cambodia, where people are deeply superstitious and believe in sorcerers and spirits but have nevertheless embraced texting technology as a national passion.
At the height of the SARS outbreak in 2003, a story circulated that people who did not eat a sugar palm dessert before midnight would die, sparking nationwide mass panic-buying of palm sugar that resulted in several market stalls being damaged.
In January of the same year, a false rumour that a Thai soap actress had claimed the national icon, Angkor Wat temple, was Thai led to an angry mob torching the Thai embassy and businesses.
Police warned Saturday that if the culprit for this latest text- message-fuelled scare was found they would be prosecuted, but admitted Chinese whisper investigations of this nature were virtually impossible to trace. (dpa)
Thursday, April 24, 2008
It's been 14 months since I became a partner in ASEAN Biotechnologies, and as one should expect with a start-up company like this, especially one in Cambodia, it's been a year of trials, baby steps forward, big steps back. It can be terribly frustrating to be involved with something you believe in, as I do in ABT, and to have it so hard to get off the ground. Well there is some news to report. In addition to struggling to raise capital, we've spent the last year finalizing the designs and specs for our WPC (wood-plastic composite) Khmer houses, which are now essentially done. In addition, site work is nearing completion on a site across the Japanese bridge where through our local affiliate company Home Innovation Systems we will build our model homes and cash and carry store. My partners are off to the China factories next week and we should have product in hand within a few weeks.
Meanwhile I've been reading everything I can find about tropical house design issues for the future pad in Hooterville, err Kampot. There are lots of passive solar cooling techniques -- some discussed for example here, many of which work dandy in dry or semi-arid climes, but most just don't in a humid environment like Cambodia. My current thinking: a white WPC tile roof and outside walls on the second floor, traditional brick on the first -- maybe two layers with insulation, but most importantly keeping the house very well ventilated with as few walls as possible, windows properly sized and oriented with big ass overhangs for shade all around. The WPC has better cooling properties than wood and the white will reflect a lot of heat:
"The developing case for the superiority of white tile roofs in Florida's climate is another illustration of the wisdom of considering traditional architecture. It seems that after World War II, prior to air conditioning, white tile roofs were nearly universal in new construction in South Florida because of their perceived advantage in fighting the heat. In a 1950 article appearing in House Beautiful entitled "Your House in Florida", architect Wolfgang Langewiesche says it all:"Your roof must be white. The white color throws much of the heat back into the sky before it ever gets into the roof. This is one climate control idea that is universally accepted in Florida now...Insulation is a must, but without the white color, would finally get hot.""
A nice collection of links re passive solar cooling is found at builditsolar.com.
And I'm off again to K-Town for the land as title is finally ready.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
We're on the road this morning to the coast, leaving behind a very very quiet Phnom Penh. Happy New Year to you all.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
(AP) NEW YORK - Thanks to Bob Dylan, rock 'n' roll has finally broken through the Pulitzer wall. Dylan, the most acclaimed and influential songwriter of the past half century, who more than anyone brought rock from the streets to the lecture hall, received an honorary Pulitzer Prize on Monday, cited for his "profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power."Full story here.
In the CD player this week has been Bob's Bootleg Series Volume I, which contains what I think are some of Dylan's finest recordings. Anyone who thinks Dylan can't sing should listen to his vocals on " Moonshiner", or even "Worried Blues" both recorded when Dylan was just 22 or so. Powerful and heartbreaking, and contrary to myth, perfectly in tune. Great stuff.
There is also an early version of "When the Ship Comes In". I don't think this piano version is as good as the studio release, but it remains for me one his most perfect, and most powerful, literary compositions. According to Joan Baez, it was written in one sitting after Dylan was refused entry to a hotel because of his scruffy looks. As I recall this was the same inspiration for Sonny Bono's "Laugh at Me" (inspiredly covered by Mott the Hoople). Well, they gave the Pulitzer to the right guy.
When The Ship Comes In
Oh the time will come up
When the winds will stop
And the breeze will cease to be breathin'.
Like the stillness in the wind
'Fore the hurricane begins,
The hour when the ship comes in.
Oh the seas will split
And the ship will hit
And the sands on the shoreline will be shaking.
Then the tide will sound
And the wind will pound
And the morning will be breaking.
Oh the fishes will laugh
As they swim out of the path
And the seagulls they'll be smiling.
And the rocks on the sand
Will proudly stand,
The hour that the ship comes in.
And the words that are used
For to get the ship confused
Will not be understood as they're spoken.
For the chains of the sea
Will have busted in the night
And will be buried at the bottom of the ocean.
A song will lift
As the mainsail shifts
And the boat drifts on to the shoreline.
And the sun will respect
Every face on the deck,
The hour that the ship comes in.
Then the sands will roll
Out a carpet of gold
For your weary toes to be a-touchin'.
And the ship's wise men
Will remind you once again
That the whole wide world is watchin'.
Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they'll jerk from their beds and think they're dreamin'.
But they'll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it's for real,
The hour when the ship comes in.
Then they'll raise their hands,
Sayin' we'll meet all your demands,
But we'll shout from the bow your days are numbered.
And like Pharaoh's tribe,
They'll be drownded in the tide,
And like Goliath, they'll be conquered.
Laugh At Me
Why can't I, be like any guy?
Why do they try to make me run?
Son of a gun, now.
What do they care, about the clothes I wear?
Why get their kicks from making fun, yeah
This world's got a lot of space
and if they don't like my face
It ain't me that's going anywhere, no
so I don't care
Let 'em laugh at me
If that's the fare
I have to pay to be free
Laugh at me, and I'll cry for you
and I'll pray for you
and I'll do all the things that the man upstairs says to do
I'll do 'em for you
I'll do 'em
I'll do 'em all for you
It's gotta stop someplace
It's gotta stop sometime
I'll make sure that she's mine
And maybe the next guy
that don't wear a silk tie
he can walk by and say "Hi"
instead of why
instead of why
instead of why babe
instead of why
what did I do to you
I don't know what to do
- Copy of my and baby's passports
- Marriage certificate
- Birth certificate
- Health insurance documents
- Business card, investment documents, and letter from ABT regarding their Cambodian activities
- Bank account statement
- Land purchase documents
- Car registration
Meanwhile, we're looking forward to Khmer New Year which begins this Sunday. We'll be spending three nights in Sihanoukville at Reef Resort, and two in Kampot at Borei Bokor. Still no land title for the Kampot property but could/should happen any time although my fingers have now been crossed so long I may need to seek medical attention.
Friday, April 04, 2008
Somebody is getting their shit together. And it makes for a nice town I'll tell you. Phnom Penh, you got a long way to go.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
The fast boat was purported to be a four hour trip and actual time on the $22 boat is perhaps three and a half hours. Unfortunately for us, the time at Vietnamese customs was well over an hour, thus the five hour trip time. Still, it's a pleasant trip. It's a comfortable, well ventilated boat, uncluttered by life preservers and other such nonsense, and crucially, karaoke free.
For the Phnom Penh expat, Chau Doc is paradise for a couple of days. So quiet, so clean, people friendly in a way I've grown unaccustomed to now but remember from my earliest trips to Viet Nam. Kids still says "hello" to every western face passing by, but beggars are not to be seen. It's a modern town but there are no chain shops, and everyone still shops at street markets. Unlike Phnom Penh, the vendors keep the markets amazingly clean and the riverside puts Phnom Penh's to shame. I'll post photos which will be highly embarrasing for anyone who thinks Cambodian markets "charming" in their filth or would prefer to call the Vietnamese yuon-savages as Khmers all do to my constant dismay.
The food here -- only Vietnamese available -- is terrific and cheap. $1 for a beautiful bowl of pho (bigger than the little Hanoi style bowls, smaller bowls can be had for less), $3 for a big plate of grilled fresh squid, 30 cents for a real drip coffee, less than a dollar for a Tiger beer ($.50 for BGI), less than fifty cents for a soft drink. Curiously, rice I see in the market sells for less than half what it does in Phnom Penh. Internet with real 300k speeds is $.40/hour. Our clean, new mini-hotel with air-con and hot water is $10. One can get a poor latte for $3 at the luxo Victoria Hotel, but otherwise it's awfully hard to spend money here.
It's a joy strolling through the colorful, quiet streets with well kept gardens in front most every little shophouse home. There are essentially no cars and still plenty of bicycles. If only there was something to do in the evening...which there really isn't other than stroll, eat and drink, and the town darkens early, leaving karaoke places as just about the only evening entertainment. There are a few beer gardens but these are substantially devoid of customers.
So two days perfect, three...well I'll be happy to be home, if anxious to return in another six months when I need a break from the chaos of Phnom Penh.