Monday, April 30, 2012

Boating in Cambodia III – Boat Review of a KGC Challenger 72

I am posting a review of the custom boat I put together here. It will provide people who might be interested in doing the same thing in Cambodia with some good information. They will undoubtedly come across this when googling for leads on the subject.

As mentioned in my previous post I bought the 24’ hull in Vietnam from Kien Giang Composite. This company is part of an Australian group and has been in business for 18 years. It is run by a Vietnamese director. The technical supervisor is a New Zealander.

General description:

All fiberglass hull, deck, and center console. No inner liner.
Solid 3 mm fiberglass, with vertical reinforced support stringers along the freeboard.
Gelcoat inside and out.
Length overall: 23.5 feet, with outboard 25.5 feet (7.32 m/7.80 m)
Beam: 8.3 feet (2.52 m)
Weight: 1000 kg

Standard features are

- Switch panel with 4 fused switches
- Navigation (running) lights
- Automatic bilge pump (float switch)
- Stainless steel bow grabrail
- Stainless steel bow eye
- Cast aluminum cleats (4)
- Rubrail

Optional features:

- Anchor light
- Anchor
- Anchor locker
- Anchor roller
- Captain’s bench seat with dry storage
- Center console
- Passenger seating aft and/or front with storage options
- Seat cushions for all seating
- Hydraulic steering with stainless steel steering wheel
- Fishfinder/echosounder
- Fuel tanks – stainless steel – with fuel gauge
- Fuel flow meter
- VHF radio
- Outboard motor up to 225 HP (rated originally up to 200 HP but with reinforced transom 225HP)
- Canvas bimini canopy or T-Top
- Rod holders
- Swim ladder
- 70-gallon cooler
- Boat trailer

As you can see the boat as it comes from the factory is more or less just the bare hull, and this is how we negotiated it with the customs department. All the options are very expensive. I regard all the options listed above as absolutely necessary on a sea-going fishing boat. I equipped the boat with all of them importing them from the U.S. Only the seating, the center console, the tank, and obviously the anchor locker I ordered from the factory.

Dealing with the factory was at times somewhat difficult. Replies to email inquiries were sort of long in coming. They quoted a 5 weeks delivery time which turned into more than 2 months. They also forgot to install the bow grabrail. I had ordered a 60 gallon tank so I wouldn’t have any problem going to the farther outlying islands. When I measured it it produced only a volume of roughly 40 gallons. Mind you, they charge you $550 per 30-gallon tank. I complained about the grabrail and after some insistence they finally coughed up a refund. They now also refunded the difference for the tank. I will have to install additional plastic tanks like some sailboats use. I hope I can find them here.

The center console is 80 cm wide and roughly 40 cm deep. They have a mold for it and to request a larger one with room for a porta potti as is common in newer center consoles would have cost a bundle. They don’t have any compartments for your tackle boxes or for the VHF radio. I requested a couple of cut-outs so I could install my multi-function tach, and have room for a small storage compartment. Access to the wiring, cables, etc. inside the console is through a removable door facing the driver.


The anchor locker I had put in is large enough for a 15kg anchor with chain and a 100m of rode. There is still room to store the life preservers and two flotation cushions for 5 passengers there.

They installed the tank one step down up front to counter the weight of the outboard aft. It will serve as casting platform or a sun deck. Normally, this space is used for fish lockers.
40-gallon tank forward

There is enough room for two to four people between the tank compartment and the cooler in front of the center console.

The driver seat bench doubles as a storage space and is sufficiently large. The lid of the seat removes completely as opposed to just folding up. This is convenient in some instances but can be a hassle when you only want to grab something real quick.
Dirver's seating with storage

Between the drivers seat and the aft seating you have room for one person on each side for fishing. Of course, there is also room for 2 more alongside the center console, which brings the capacity up to 8 passengers and one captain plus a deckhand. The boat is rated for up to 16 passengers, but that would be too crowded and they wouldn’t be able to move at all.

I’d say 4 people can ride and fish comfortably, 6 is still ok, but anything more hampers the movement on deck considerably.

The aft seating is comprised of 3 storage boxes. 4 people can sit there comfortably. The lids of these, however, open up on hinges. The problem is they only open up 45° because they are set too far under the fixed backrest. So access is a little bothersome. This is clearly a misconception. The center box houses the battery. These boxes are altogether removable. You will gain access to the bilge and the bilge pump and wire harness/cable conduits this way. In an emergency this is clearly not the most efficient and fastest way of getting to the bilge.
Aft seating set too far back

Lid opens only 45°

Any water on deck drains into the bilge. There is no thru-hull drain as the deck is slightly below the waterline. In itself I consider this an unsafe feature as bilge pumps are apt to fail and if you get caught in a tropical rain storm you will be swamped. I carry a spare bilge pump with me that I can connect to the battery in a hurry. Of course, if the battery is dead too, you are in for real trouble. It’s time to start bailing then. Larger boats or yachts have back-up systems but this is only a 24’er. In my mind this is the one real problematic feature of this boat and should raise some concern. I will in due course modify this myself.
Drain hole into the bilge

Drain hole from tank compartment onto deck

The fuel tank is normally located in the center or slightly forward of the center. If they raised the deck by about 10 cm and with it the freeboard, they could deal with the drainage problem and allow for space for fish boxes at the same time. This would only be a small modification.

Behind the aft seating there is a small platform on each side of the motor splashwell. They are practically an afterthought to cover the space needed for wires, fuel lines, etc. The splashwell is rather small making any work on the motor difficult. Other manufacturers use the entire width of the boat for this. They house wiring/cables under the aft seating.
Splashwell with drainholes - I added scuppers

What’s completely missing is room for a live baitwell. Well I will just have to improvise.


I have Yamaha 225HP 4-stroke rigged to the boat. This is a very quiet motor. You can hardly hear it in idle or at no-wake speeds. Even at wide open throttle (WOT) the sound is not ear-shattering; it’s absolutely bearable. I would guess it at about 83 dB. It definitely does not have that high-pitched whine of a 2-stroke.

The boat features 3 lifting strakes from bow to stern. This enables it to get on plane at your normal speed of around 15 mph but as opposed to other monohulls the bow doesn’t rise up very much and settles down quite smoothly. So coming out of the hole is hardly noticeable to the passengers. Another advantage of this hull construction is that you can travel comfortably even at less than planing speeds.
20° deadrise with lifting strakes all the way to the stern - note the negative chine

It planes on about two thirds of  its bottom surface, which of course increases drag considerably and with it fuel consumption. However, it is rather light in comparison to other boats (no inner liner)  I know and this probably makes up for it. One consequence of the larger wetted surface is that chops are felt more pronouncedly. The seas were pretty calm when I first tested it so it behaved amicably. Another time I encountered a heavy, short chop. Like any monohull it didn’t like it too much. At 30 mph it was downright uncomfortable, at 25 mph only the hardier passengers could put up with it, so cutting it down to 20 mph sort of made it a smoother ride. The ride was surprisingly relatively dry. Taking the waves head on there was some spray blown in by the wind. Later the wind picked up a bit and seas were 2 – 3’. The boat still handled nicely enough. There is no problem steering it, it responds immediately. Turning it leans into it as it should. However, the lack of an inner liner makes the boat somewhat noisier with the waves slapping against the hull. If the freeboard were higher as mentioned above the ride would be more comfortable in rougher seas. This being a monohull, you cannot avoid the pounding in rough seas.

4000 rpm will give me 30 mph and 5900 rpm will get me to a top speed of 50 mph. It also takes off  like a rocket. The tested weight with a half full tank and 2 people on board was approximately 2000 kg.

I could not measure the fuel consumption yet as my Lowrance fuel flow meter did not send any data to my multi-function gauge. There is something wrong with the software. But at about 4000 rpm or 25 mph it should give you 4 mpg. With a 60-gallon tank and the general one-third boater’s rule (one third out, one third in, one third reserve), this will result in a range of about 80 miles or 128 km – not much in the grand scheme of things but enough to get you to  Koh Rong and back. For the interesting island of Koh Tang you would need to carry extra fuel.


The boat is a very sturdy and solid platform and is fun to go out on. Workmanship could stand with some improvement.The surface of the outer sides is not perfectly even; it is just ever so slightly wavy. Some nuts weren’t tightened properly, not to mention the aft seating. It pales in comparison to U. S. made fishing boats in terms of features. The quality of the fiberglass is up to par, I would think. Overall, the price is a factor here. If I don’t consider the import duties and taxes I paid the boat would be at the dock for about $22,000 with all the options I put in. My outboard is used with low hours. A new motor would get the price tag up to around $35,000. There is no boat that size on the U. S. market at that price as far as I know. So all things considered it was a good buy, and I can recommend it. I believe it could be a world-class competitor if they took care of the few weak spots.
In the water behind my house

Going out to sea - about 500 m

In comparison, I could have bought a fully equipped, used 2006 24’ Aquasport at $21,000 FOB Los Angeles. With freight, duty, and taxes it would have set me back about $45,000. Although duty and taxes are sky-high in Cambodia buying a power boat the way I did is still more practictable and cheaper. With a trailer I still came in more than $10,000 lower for a new boat than if I had bought the used Aquasport.

As far as I know this is currently the only boat of its kind in Cambodia. Not counting the boats that pull the bananas at Ocheuteal Beacht the other notable power boats are run-abouts and are operated by the activity center at the Sokha Beach Hotel. The Paradise Beach Guesthouse on Koh Rong recently acquired a power boat as well. The way it is set up it will probably be used as a water taxi to transfer guests to and from the mainland.

By the way, if you are worried about maintenance, I know a guy in Sihanoukville and that shop in Phnom Penh. They can do every job. The problem might be the parts, this being a 4-stroke. But I can always get them from the U. S. shipped Priority Mail, which takes 6 - 10 days and is not that expensive. Of course, the motto for power boaters has always been: 'If you want to play, you got to pay.'

Saturday, April 28, 2012

To Take or Not to Take – a Western Husband

Cambodian husbands have a tendency to be somewhat fickle. One possible reason for that is that even in today’s Cambodia marriages are still arranged between the children’s parents. At the very least the parents must give their approval. Cambodian young people don’t really go up against their parents, and that goes especially for Cambodian young women. The bond with parents is very strong. It is still a deeply ingrained tradition among Khmer ethnic people that the husband moves in with his in-laws. The wife just keeps on living there. It’s the other way around with Chinese ethnic people. So after a few years and a few babies later the husband’s eyes might stray a little; perhaps not only his eyes.

Back in the early 90ies when UNTAC came in, decent young Cambodian women did not cavort with foreigners at all. The ones that did, were immediately marked as ‘flighty’ or worse. But all that changed later on when normal foreigners entered the country as members of NGOs or businesses that set up shop here. Finally, Cambodian young women saw ‘normal’ Western people – not dressed in a soldier’s uniform. But the trend to hook up with a Westerner still hadn’t taken hold. Only the occasional ‘respectable’ Khmer girl ventured into a relationship with a Westerner, relationship meaning marriage. By and large, if they did marry somebody from the Western world it was an overseas Khmer man.

Up until about 2003/2004 there actually weren’t that many Westerners outside the diplomatic staff and the NGO network in Cambodia. A sort of influx started around that year, at least that is my personal observation. The higher number of Westerners also ushered in a period of numerous new establishments run by Westerners that catered and still cater to their fellow expatriates. A lot of them are what’s generally called hostess bars, which is just another word for bars where prostitutes hang out. These girls are sometimes directly employed by the owner in order to attract guests (though I heard that the owners usually don’t take a share of the girls’ after hours fees for legal reasons). Now some of these bar owners actually married one of their hostesses. The girl probably did it for reasons that have not much to do with love but more with financial stability and a different life style. These girls don’t work there because they like it but because economic circumstances drive them into this kind of work. Marriage to a Western foreigner gave them back respectability. After all, they were now the wife of a business owner, which is rather highly regarded among the regular population.

Of course, unions between Khmer girls and Western men aren’t all like the above. Most certainly, there are just as many or even more relationships with Western men from different walks of life and ‘decent’ Khmer women. But I would imagine it quite difficult for a Khmer woman to find out what the man is really like. Most likely you have the whole range of different Western male characters here in Cambodia as in any Western country. That there are so many nationalities present doesn’t make things any easier either. An American or German is definitely different from a Spaniard, an Italian, or a Frenchman, though I notice without being able to substantiate this with solid numbers that there seem to be more Australian, British, and Americans here, in that order, than any other nationality.

The job defines a man to a large extent as well. So a teacher or a businessman will probably be and act different from a sailor, to use an extreme. Some came here because they suffered from a severe burn-out in the West. Other came because they just wanted an easier life, and easier it is for a Westerner with the means the support himself decently. Some wanted to escape the generally regimented life. Many fled the dreary climates in central and northern Europe. The reasons are as manifold as the nationalities here. Those reasons, however, may be the exact opposite in terms of motivation of what a Khmer woman would like to see in her partner. Most likely, she won’t find out until she is well along in that relationship.

What the Khmer women may not realize is that Western men overall aren’t that much different in their approach to women. After a couple of years of going monogamous they also tend to try out something new or younger.

Seeing a number of purportedly successful marriages with seemingly faithful husbands, it may look like a good option to some young women to seek out Westerners to marry.

It’s a given that Khmer women look first and foremost for financial stability in a relationship. Whereas Western men first see the beauty of the girl, or woman (if she indeed is beautiful; I am astonished what ugly girls some men pick.), Khmer women don’t really care that much about either looks or age. Western men usually think love first, and money second. I venture to say it is the other way around with Khmer women.

Khmer girls that haven’t had much contact with Westerners are usually not in a position to see and assess what kind of man they are dealing with; and even the ones that are more familiar are still prone to severe misjudgments in that department.

Now Westerners aren’t all the same. Unfortunately, in those years 2003/4 it wasn’t just the successful, decent, or entrepreneurial type that came ashore in Cambodia. As is the case in many countries like Cambodia elsewhere, the flotsam, dregs, scum of Western society, and other losers, came here for the cheap sex and the low cost of living, in that order.

Some ignorant girls, almost always from poor, rural backgrounds and without education, thought they had finally made it when they met one of those. Virginity is still very much prized but, as marriage was on their mind from the beginning, they thought, ‘Why not?’ and after not too long a time of persuasion from the man jumped into bed with him.

The awakening was all the ruder when she found out that she wasn’t the only one the man was having it on with. Or worse, she got pregnant and all of a sudden that promising husband-to-be showed no inclination towards fatherhood and lost all interest in her rather quickly. Granted, that is only one scenario of many, but still a valid one. It will also come as a surprise to many Khmer women that domestic violence is also wide-spread in the West, and that some Western men are as prone to beat up their wives when angry or drunk, or both, as their Khmer counterparts.

Oftentimes, even serious contenders for marriage aren’t cut out for a mixed relationship. The problem here is not their background but their cultural and other differences. Let’s take a pedantic guy. Now imagine this guy getting married to a girl that is used to leaving things lying around wherever she used them last; or she might cut her finger or toenails right next to the place where they eat or prepare their food; or dust is gathering all over the place, not to mention the state of the toilet. He might put up with it for a while, but after a few months or even a couple of years of no change despite his many attempts this relationship will go sour. He will probably give up in despair, if it hasn’t driven him crazy already, and she will most likely be completely at a loss why everything is coming to an end. In her mind, everything was perfect. She didn’t sleep around, made food for him every day, even tolerated his drinking, if he was, now why is he leaving?

One could write about many more possible scenarios but the moral of the story in my view is: Western men and Khmer wives usually aren’t a good mix. Both have to overcome a lot of cultural differences and show an enormous degree of tolerance for each other’s traditions and customs to make it work. As with everything, there are, of course, exceptions to the rule.

The daughter of one of my wife’s friends was thinking of getting married and originally thought a Western man would be ideal. After all, she saw me and my wife who have been married for more than fifteen years and, by all appearances, are still happy together (which we are). But then she heard of two cases where first the mother’s boyfriend used to beat her up when he was drunk and then where that daughter’s Western husband (a bar owner) slept around with his female staff. So she said, ‘No, I don’t think I want to take that chance.’ She is now engaged to be married to a decent Khmer guy a couple of years older than she. She made the choice herself, her mother initially approved but is now having second thoughts about him. Well, who said such a decision was easy?  Anyway, case in point!

By the way, none of the above applies to my personal story.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Boating in Cambodia II

In my previous post on this subject back in September of last year I mentioned I was having a boat custom-made here in Sihanoukville. Unfortunately, the deal I had with the two guys didn’t work out as the partners at the boat building place split up. I might have had a change of heart about getting a boat but I had ordered an outboard from the U. S. already. So I needed to get it elsewhere. There are several options; the closest one is in Koh Kong. There is an Australian guy, a dentist actually, who sells RIBs imported from China. Then there is either Thailand or Vietnam. I also checked out a number of Chinese manufacturers online and had them quote me suitable boats. The drawback with buying a boat online is that you really don’t know what you are getting unless you travel all the way to China first.Quingdao has the most factories according The prices are really competitive in comparison to U. S. prices. But then U. S. boats are top of the line. Although Thailand is closer I really didn’t want to go there several times to look for the exact boat I wanted.

In the end I found a Vietnamese website of a group of companies that also manufactures all kinds of boats. The guys in Sihanoukville had planned to make the boat in the sandwich method, that is there is a plywood core covered entirely with fiberglass. This is a common method if there are no molds available for producing the hull bottom and and the inner lining. This Vietnamese company, Kien Giang Composite, located in An Bien in the Mekong Delta, makes full fiberglass boats which is a lot safer due to the fact that fiberglass just doesn’t rot. Wherever plywood is used in the manufacture of boats you run the risk of water seepage through a crack in the fiberglass and then you are really in trouble. The price they offered seemed reasonable too – no bargaining, prices are fixed. The specs seemed all right so I went ahead and ordered it. I made my 50% deposit at the end of December. The quote said they would deliver after 5 weeks on receipt of the deposit. After a week I inquired whether they had started yet but was told they are still putting out 5 boats for a Phillipine customer but I would be next after January 5th. The Chinese New Year held things up too. In order to check on the progress and the factory in general I traveled to An Bien the first week of February. I thought this would be a quick one-day trip as it is only 80 km from the border at Prek Chak/Ha Tien. But until we got there it was 3:30 in the afternoon already as we couldn’t find a taxi in Ha Tien right away and we had to cross a river by ferry at Rach Gia, the provincial center, a pretty large town. Traffic is also much heavier on Vietnamese country roads. Additionally, cars don’t exceed the speed limit which was 70 for the most part. Anyway, when we got to the factory we were surprised to learn that our delivery date was set for March 05, while we had expected it to be Feb. 15 or so. We checked out our unfinished boat and made a few requests for change. Here it is at that stage.

As you can see it is solidly built. The horizontal and longitudinal stringers are hollow and filled with air which will give the boat the flotation. Other manufacturers fill these spaces with foam. But KGC holds that foam becomes brittle with time and doesn’t guarantee the same flotation as enclosed air. The sides or gunwales are between 3 and 5 mm fiberglass. For extra stability they put in support reinforcements spaced 1 m apart. Most power boats these days, especially monohulls, have planing hulls. Trawlers usually have semi-displacement or displacement hulls. This boat has lifting strakes from bow to stern, which should make it get on plane faster and not as noticeable. The boaters among you will know that when coming out of the ‘hole’, that is, the transition on to plane the bow of the boat lifts up considerable and then slowly sets down. If the boat is trimmed correctly only about one third of the bottom is a continuously wetted surface.

In the meantime I had ordered a T-Top, which would have been available as an option but the price was too high for my taste. I ordered it from a supplier in the U. S. and had it shipped in a container as bulk freight. The outboard had arrived back in December already. In order to clear all these things through customs, which is a very difficult process, I used an excellen freight forwarder - CamFreight in Phnom Penh. I can only recommend them if anybody needs to import something hassle-free. They managed to get a decent rate of 26% for tax and duty for the outboard based on the invoice price. Separately I had ordered the controls, partially used, and wire harnesses from my outboard supplier in Florida and had it shipped by USPS. After some discussion with the customs people at the post office I got the same rate. They had wanted 60% initially. Although GPS and echo sounders are available in Cambodia, they are an unknown Chinese brand and very expensive. So I also ordered a Garmin Chartplotter/Echosounder from the U. S. All this is pretty easy for me as I maintain a bank account and a credit card there. It was also shipped by USPS. The customs people at the post office base their tax/duty calculation on the price that is listed on the U. S. customs export declaration. So if you get your supplier to reduce this you can get away with a much lower payment. My GPS/Echo sounder was $520 including shipping. The supplier put $220 on the declaration form and I paid my import duty of 25% on that. The only downside to getting stuff shipped over from the U. S. is the relatively high cost of shipping. You don’t want it shipped regular mail so it will have to be priority, which can run anywhere from $20 to $150 depending on the size and weight of the package. It is still more convenient than going to Thailand by car. Plus you can’t beat the U. S. when it comes to boats, boat accessories, and all the stuff you might need for boating. Smaller packages don’t go through customs anyway. They arrive at the no. 3 counter at the post office. These guys know me by now so well that they call me every time there is a package or letter for me.

As it happened, I had all the stuff I needed for the boat ready before the boat was even finished.Finally, when it was ready to be delivered it was postponed another 5 days by the factory, which didn’t make much of a difference as the negotiations with the customs department took a little longer. Items that are worth more than $300 need to be cleared in Phnom Penh at the head office. Under $300 the local office can do it. You can imagine that with 115.325% tax/duty on boats and boat hulls the negotiations can prove to be somewhat lengthy. Fortunately, the customs people don’t have a set list as for cars (see my post on importing cars). It all depends on the value on the invoice. If it is too low they won’t believe it. Remember, they got internet there too. So it all comes down to how to liaise with the customs officials. The lady at CamFreight knew her job and in the end I was happy with the result. I won’t publish here for obvious reasons what I paid and how we got that. Incidentally, the T-Top was cleared in Sihanoukville port as we declared its value under $300. Needless to say, it was somewhat higher than that.They didn’t even know what it was, especially since it came disassembled.

Now came the big part: getting the boat across the border. Vietnam being Vietnam they have their stringent procedures, not nearly as flexible as the Cambodian ones. The shipper needs to do an export clearance, which in itself costs about $500. I went to the border at Bavet/Moc Bai with two guys from CamFreight. We got there at 9 am and I hoped to be on my way back at 12 noon. Hey, what’s the rush? This is SE Asia, right? My freight guys told me we would start to clear the boat at 2 pm. So why were we there so soon? Well, the customs guys take their lunch break at 11 until 1 o’clock. The computers are shut down and until everybody is back at his desk it will be 2. But before we needed to get it through Vietnamese customs; and that took 2 hours too. At least we wanted to get it into the zero zone between the two border checkpoints to transfer it from the factory truck to the truck I hired. Finally at 1 o’clock we saw it. But then they wouldn’t let me into the zero zone as I didn’t have a Vietnamese visa. Never mind, that I am not going into Vietnam. After some back and forth between the freight guys, one customs official and the chief of the border police I was let in and we could finally start. Here is how it worked:

So at around 3 o’clock my freight guys started negotiating with the customs officers. Promptly they said we declared too low a price. It was definitely more than what we showed them. I called the CamFreight office in Phnom Penh asking why these guys were trying to set a different value. Of course, I understood they wanted to make some money too. Their Phnom Penh pals had gotten their cut so they wanted theirs too, right? In the end, $100 did the trick and we were cleared at the originally set value in Phnom Penh. My goodness, what a useless rigamarole. Another $40 for road check points completed this thing.

The rest was pretty straightforward. I worked with Ormax on the riverside, practically the only boat shop in Phnom Penh, to rig the boat with the motor, the controls, and hydraulic steering. His shop doesn’t instill too much confidence in his workmanship at first sight. It looks like a junkyard. But some of the car repair shops look the same. They can still do a fine job. He also uses a Navy technician who seemed to know his mettle. It turned out he really did. Two days later the boat was ready to go. Everything worked fine and the job was done nicely. Despite my initial reservations I can really recommend that shop. The factory had forgotten to install the bow grabrail. Ormax put it in for $300. Altogether that boat set me back more than $30k. If I had imported a used 2006 boat from the U. S. it would have cost me $43k. Here it is:

Well, let’s go fishing. I will also post a more detailed review at a later date.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cambodia’s Schools are Back Online

My past post on high schools in Phnom Penh has attracted some interest. Below is an op-ed by Estelle Shumann on the subject of education in Cambodia. I think it is a well-researched article, although it leaves out some significant aspects. The quality of education varies widely; rural areas just get the basic minimum. Driving through the countryside you will see many school buildings sitting vacant. There are not enough qualified teachers. Also people make more money in other fields. This means that children have to travel farther to their schools.

More notably, however, it leaves out the money parents have to pay teachers. This is a consequence of the poor pay teachers receive. If parents don't pay the money, usually 50 cents a day for primary, and up to $1 for secondary schools, again depending on the location, students won't receive enough or no attention. This will leave poorer students behind and more well-off students making their grades regardless of their academic record. In other words, grades can still be bought.

Nevertheless, it is an interesting article. Estelle Shumann is a member of

While the rest of the world moves towards online schools and ubiquitous graduation, Cambodia is a country that is running to catch up. After a brutal dictatorship, Cambodia was left with little for an academic class. Under the Khmer Rouge, an agrarian social regime that demanded its people move from the cities to tend the fields, Cambodia had lost 21% of its population. But after decades of rebuilding, Phnom Penh is catching the world’s attention for its progress.

Earlier this month, the first ever United States-Cambodia education fair was opened to Cambodian students at the Diamond Island Exhibition Center in Phnom Penh. More than 20 American and Cambodian educational institutions were featured at the event, according to the United States embassy, which organized the event along with Ruwan Hulugalle & Company and Education USA. The two-day event also featured panel discussions on topics like student life, test preparation and scholarships.

The fact that Cambodia even has a higher education system robust enough to take part in the event is a sign of how far the country’s school system has come since the turmoil of the Khmer Rouge era. Cambodia today has 97 universities, according to statistics from the nation’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. That’s up from six in 1980, and it indicates even more dramatic changes at the primary and secondary levels.

Cambodia’s modern school system grew out of the colonial model used by the French, with two cycles of primary school followed by two of secondary school. Today, Cambodia uses primary schools to cover the first six grades and divides secondary school between colleges, which teach grades seven through nine, and lycées that run through grade twelve. Last year, although Cambodia included more than 6,000 primary schools, only 1,573 schools were teaching grades seven through nine and 407 schools covered tenth through twelfth grade.

As a result, while 2.1 million Cambodian students are enrolled in primary school, only 334,734 were recorded in upper secondary education. Only 51% of students in Cambodia’s urban areas, and 33% of rural students, complete grade nine. This reflects the history of Cambodia’s education system, which emphasized primary school almost exclusively until the 1980s. In the 1981-82 school year, for example, the entire country had 3,521 primary schools, 96 colleges and five lycées.

This leaves the country with very few skilled graduates, making it difficult to find qualified teachers as well. According to education ministry statistics, the majority of Cambodia’s preschool and primary school teachers have only a lower secondary education, and most provinces include some teaching staff with no pedagogical training at all. Cambodian students also have unenviable building conditions to deal with. More than one-fifth of Cambodia’s schools, in both rural and urban areas, lack good floors, and a large percentage of schools are without good roofs or walls.

In 2010, Cambodia spent about 2.6% of its gross domestic product on education, according to figures from UNESCO. Only 21 percent of those funds go to secondary education, however. This places Cambodia well below the average spending level for western countries, which typically direct 5-6% of GDP toward education.

Despite all these challenges, Cambodia’s school system has seen rapid improvement. UNESCO reports that 77% of adults and 87% of youth are literate, and Cambodia has come very close to achieving gender parity in both literacy and school completion rates. The Cambodian government is responding to the problem of poor buildings with a wave of construction, with more than twice as many new buildings being built in 2011 compared to old buildings being repaired. The number of students in secondary education has skyrocketed, from about 5,000 in 1980 to about 900,000 in 2010.

Two bright spots emerge in Cambodia’s education system: Its well-established primary schools, where enrollment rates are well ahead of the regional average, and the rapid pace of change, the Khmer Rouge fell in 1979. This month’s U.S.-Cambodia education fair was promoted as a sign of the progress Cambodia’s schools have made, from a system where few students would complete even secondary school to one where higher education planning is a part of the national vocabulary.

Monday, April 9, 2012

How Many Cambodians in the U. S. ?

With the issue of repatriated Cambodians from the U. S. once again in one of the recent Phnom Penh Post headlines, I wondered how many Cambodian Americans are there really in the U. S. Sometimes one is led to believe that there are vast numbers. So I once again checked those numbers.

The 2010 U. S. census counted 244,000 Cambodians in the U. S., of which about 15,000 live in Long Beach and 13,000 in Lowell. One Cambodian civic leader said in a Voice of America interview that there are 300,000 Cambodians in the U. S. but only 100,000 show up in the census. This is, of course, belied by the census. The census figure matches another survey done in 2005, which counted roughly 241,000 Cambodians ( ). The 300,000 probably applies to the Cambodian population outside Cambodia.

The latter survey also points out an interesting factor - the median age is 25.3. Now that’s pretty young. Unfortunately, the median age doesn’t give you the proportion of age groups. Nevertheless, it’s lower than the number for the entire U. S. population. The younger people grew up in the U. S. and identify as Americans. All the more surprising is that 44.2% speak English less than well. This figure speaks directly to the average level of education.

So altogether, I believe Cambodian-Americans, not the least that relatively paltry number in Long Beach, are vastly overrated in their significance on homeland Cambodian life. I now also seem to notice a more critical view in native Cambodians of life in the U. S. as a more realistic view sets in.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Importing a Vehicle

I got a response on one of my posts dealing with cars in Cambodia. This poster mentioned he is planning to import cars from the U. S. to Cambodia. I can only say, ‘Good luck.’

The way I see it the field is not exactly undercrowded. There is practically a used-car dealership on every corner. Now if somebody wanted to import a car on his own because they just don’t want to drive another Toyota or Lexus, here is a look at what awaits them.

First you need to get an import company to do all the customs clearances, import license, etc. If you do it on your own a ‘penalty’ fee of 20% on the import duty becomes due. Seeing that most import companies charge only 2% of the cargo value or a minimum of $150, I found this very reasonable. Plus who can negotiate with the customs officers? Certainly, not an in these matters ignorant foreigner. One may drive a good bargain at the market but with these people you are lost.

First you need to find out the assessed value of the car you are planning to import. The customs code does not do this by make, mileage and market value but uses an ‘arbitrary’ value as the basis for their computation of any duty and tax due on the vehicle. This may sound pretty simplistic but in essence is the only practical way of dealing with the high potential of rigged invoices. The customs code uses the engine displacement and the year. Here is the schedule:

The ad valorum duty and tax can be found in this schedule. The 35% is the import duty, the 45% is the excise tax (I call it the luxury tax), and the 10% is the added value tax. These rates are compounded so that the total will be 115.325%.

But, of course, this is not all. You will have to pay for shipping the car wherever it comes from. If it is only one car this is extremely expensive. There are no roll-on/roll-off services available to Cambodia. So most cars are shipped in containers. This can run anywhere from $4500 to $5,500 for a single car from the West Coast of the U. S. It’s not a whole lot cheaper from Europe but there are plenty of RO/RO services to Singapore. Let’s just use $1500 as an average. Your importer may hook up with another shipment so that 4 cars can be shipped in one 40’-container.

So here is the tally for a 2006 Audi A6 2.4ltr., which is officially listed at $12,800 (though you will be lucky to get one for this kind of money. They are around $15,000 to $20,000 depending on mileage).

Shipping $ 1,500
Misc. shipping fees (bunker adjustment, THC, etc. $ 500
Import duty/tax $14.760
Customs clearance $ 350
Customs permit $ 250
Camcontrol $ 15
Use of import license of the import company $ 256

For a total of $ 17,631
If you just use the customs value of the car $ 12,800

You end up paying $ 30,431

Now you understand where those high used-car prices come from. 115.325 % is steep; but governments of poor countries that have to import most of their goods always levy high import duties as their primary revenue. Originally Cambodia used a flat rate of $2500 per car; but when they came in in bigger numbers they quickly raised it based on market values – Sam Rainsy was the initiator of that back when. The customs people at that time sat there poring over French and U. S. classified ads in car magazines and newspapers.

Finally they arrived at more varied tax rates, very high ones that goes without saying, but the World Bank mandated a set schedule not to exceed 35%, which will eventually come down to 10% in 4 or 5 steps until 2020, if I am informed correctly. But the government being no slouch quickly instituted the ‘luxury’ tax of 45%, which will most likely stay forever.

On the whole the car values are pretty decent in my view. Last year I bought a 2006 Prius for $17,500. I was amazed it was so cheap. In the U. S. that car still went for around $14,000 but in the duty schedule it is listed at a mere $7,720 because the gasoline engine only has 1.5 ltr., never mind that the combined HP output is something like 150.

Now after all, perhaps you don’t really need that Audi, BMW, or Mercedes you fancy and can do with a nice Toyota Camry, although a 2007 model will still set you back something like $27,000. But seeing the benefit of cheap service and repairs, it certainly makes economic sense.