Thursday, December 17, 2015

Death Deferred or Dying in the Countryside

Recently my wife got a call from a cousin of hers in Kratie province alerting her of the impending death of one of her aunts – she is 91 years old. The aunt had asked to see my wife in her final days or even hours. My wife is very close to this aunt as she was one of the major figures in my wife’s early life. My wife is a victim of the Pol Pot era and its aftermath. Her mother left her father for another man – a Khmer Rouge fighter. In those days many people did believe that the Khmer Rouge regime would be better for Cambodia and her mother fell for it. This was shortly before they overthrew the Lon Nol regime; plus this was in the countryside where people by and large are more gullible anyway. My wife’s father got killed by an American bomb that was mistakenly dropped on a Lon Nol army convoy believing it was Khmer Rouge, Viet Cong or even North Vietnamese; her father served as a medic in the army at that time. This aunt along with the grandmother, gone a long time now, then raised my wife until the age of 12 or so. Memories are a little blurry about the exact time.

So naturally she wanted to go and say good-bye to her. We made our way all the way up to Kratie province which is, after all, about 600 km - on Cambodia’s roads at that, although most of them are quite passable now.

When we got there we could observe closely how Cambodians deal with their elderly, which is a stark contrast to how many Western people treat their old parents or grandparents. The aunt lay motionless on a mat; she hadn’t eaten in days and had barely drunk the minimum to keep her alive. She was really frail and emaciated. Her closest relatives kept a constant watch over her. A lay priest came by in the evenings and spoke to her about general Buddhist teachings and old stories from their lives in the village, all the time being ready to call a monk from the nearby pagoda to give her what Catholics would call the last rites. They massaged her with Eucalyptus oil and tried to make as comfortable as possible.

Initially she hardly moved when her daughter told her that we had arrived. But she slowly turned and looked at us with what seemed like unseeing eyes. She appeared really dazed. Her relatives propped her up into a sitting position and we talked to her. When I entered that family almost 20 years ago and visited her from the U. S. at that time, she had taken a real liking to me, kept saying hallo, and good-bye, and started saying ok, and so on - real nice for an old lady. She especially liked hugging which I did from the first time I met her. Cambodians are not in the habit of doing this. So I hugged and held her close and finally, she recognized me and touched my arm feeling whether I was healthy,  not just skin and bones like her. We had brought fruit and shredded dried pork, a real favorite of hers. After a while my wife started feeding her and she began to eat to everybody’s surprise. We took pictures of us with our phone and showed it to her which elicited a real smile from her. She appeared to have gotten back a will to live. We reminded her that when we had told her way back of our decision to make our home in Cambodia in a year’s time she said, ‘But I will be dead by then.’ That was 7 or 8 years ago. So we told her the same thing will happen now. She will live to be 100, don’t worry. Just think of the last time you said something like this. She smiled again. We spend a good 3 hours with her that evening and came back the next morning to say good-bye. She was very coherent and it seems she had shaken off that resignation to impending death. In fact, she was quite cheerful when she said bye, bye to us and waved just like she had all the years before when we visited her.

In the meantime a month has passed and she is still alive today. If we don’t see her again, at least we had given her a few happy moments.

Ohm Im and myself

Ohm Im and her daughter Sehm

She is eating.

The Wat in Sombok

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The European Parliament’s Resolution on Cambodia

It certainly was an overwhelming show of support for Sam Rainsy and his international endeavors to put pressure on the Cambodian government to allow him back into the country without threat of imprisonment for a dubious court sentence.

The explanations for the arrest warrant given by various government spokesmen are, of course rather ridiculous. This is a conflict between the opposition leader and the PM, not the Foreign Minister. Who are they trying to kid here? The excuses put forth are so transparent as to be laughable. Additionally and this is what the government officials seem to forget is that Cambodia is a signatory to a U. N. convention that prohibits double jeopardy. For those who don’t know what this is: if somebody has been tried in a court of law in a signatory’s country that person cannot be tried again in another signatory’s country for the same matter. Since Sam Rainsy prevailed in France the sentence in Cambodia which was passed later contravenes that convention and is illegal by international standards. Cambodia does not much care about international standards always citing its sovereignty. Cambodia, however, is not alone with this stance. Many other signatory countries to that convention disregard this and other U.N. conventions at will, most notably the United States – Guantanamo, torture, illegal wars (Iraq), come to mind. So it actually is no great surprise that Cambodia does the same thing, although one would wish that they used more erudite reasoning for their actions.

Colloquially speaking, one could say Sam Rainsy, on the other hand, has always been pushing the envelope. The Vietnam border issue is as trumped up as many of the government’s legal maneuvers against him. His outspoken racism is also clearly an incitement for possible riots. Common people may not fully understand the implications of how serious such matters are. It is surprising that his rhetoric hasn’t led to more serious clashes with the ethnic Vietnamese in the country. A look to Europe would show them what such rhetoric can lead to. Refugees are attacked because leaders of right wing groups encourage them with their hateful speeches. For a while he toned it down somewhat but the beatings of two fellow opposition MPs at the hands of thugs was enough for him to call the PM a dictator and fascist. Never mind that he later apologized for this. The opposition party clearly encouraged overseas Cambodians both in New York and in Paris to demonstrate against the PM on his visits there. Demonstrations in other countries are an expression of free speech and sanctioned by those countries’ constitutions but whether overseas Cambodians in greater numbers would really have cared about the PM's visit there is highly doubtful. New York has a minuscule Cambodian population. One could assume that they were bused in from Massachusetts. Although Paris surely has a larger Cambodian community they tend to live outside Paris where it is more affordable. Rents are sky-high in Paris. It stands to reason that many of them were encouraged to travel to the city. The government may have played the same game, but what’s right for the goose is right for the gander.

This all provoked the PM’s ire. He, never one to mince words, called Sam Rainsy the son of a traitor. Earlier  he had called him the leader of thieves. The consequence of that ire was the sudden invocation of a past dormant court sentence and swift issuance of an arrest warrant. Sam Rainsy being Sam Rainsy chose not to return from a visit to Korea. He instead has been seeking international support in the Philippines and more significantly in Europe. Why he didn’t lobby the U. S. government or the Congress may have been due to the fact that the Asian-Pacific meeting was being held in Kuala Lumpur at that time and the U. S. president was in attendance. Barack Obama even shook hands with the PM and invited him, but along with all the other Asian heads of state too, to the U. S. next year.

In seeking international support he could obviously only turn to European countries. Those governments and the parliaments there had their hands full with the refugee crisis and how to cope with it. They obviously had no time for Sam Rainsy and his problems with the Cambodian PM.

The European Parliament, on the other hand, has always had an open ear for Sam Rainsy. He must have some influential proponents of his cause. That resolution had been prepared and was ready for a vote when he arrived in Strasbourg.  But what effect will that resolution have?

It did contain a paragraph that the parliament would ask the European Commission, which is the executive branch, to suspend some $400 million in aid for the years until 2020. Most of that aid is for humanitarian and human rights efforts. EU member countries pledged around $1.8 billion from 2014 to 2019. The European Union is the largest partner in terms of aid for Cambodia. That aid, though, comes from individual European countries and is given by the national parliaments and governments, not by the European Commission.

As with all European Parliament resolutions concerning foreign policy they don’t carry much weight in the great scheme of things. This resolution on Cambodia is a very nice symbolic victory for Sam Rainsy but in the end it won’t achieve any of the goals set forth in it. Cambodia went through the motions and immediately protested vehemently again citing its sovereignty but will most surely just continue to ignore it.

Sam Rainsy also did not consider one significant factor in his international efforts. Europe is too busy with its own problems. The U. K. might even leave the E. U. which would weaken it considerably. The common European currency is in danger, as many economists see it, and the refugee crisis could actually be the beginning of the disintegration of the European Union, as some prominent European politicians, including Prime Ministers, see it. The Cambodian issue, if it were an issue there at all, is a non-issue.

The European Parliament does not even have the power to rein in wayward, for lack of a better word, nations like Hungary and Poland, both members of the EU. Hungary recently stripped its Supreme Court of its powers, giving the prime minister almost absolute authority, and Poland just elected a new government that is about to repeat this. This is against the EU statutes but the European Parliament is powerless or unwilling to do anything about it. In the face of the current problems this might only hasten the split-up of the EU, which currently is in a precarious state.

As a consequence, Sam Rainsy achieved a victory but will still remain the Don Quixote in Cambodian politics fighting his war with the powers-that-be from his exile. And what’s new about that?


Today I finally found the time to post again. I am posting two articles on the same day at. The previous one had been written a while ago and only today did I get to post it.

The next one is on some recent developments and this has been on my mind these past few days, of course, apart from other more mundane things, like running a business.

Military Generals in Cambodia

There are well over 1200 generals in the Cambodian military, not counting the ones on the police forces. There is no accurate number how large the military and police forces are; estimates  say about 150,000 for the military and possibly 100,000 for the police, of which about 7,000 to 10,000 are military police. The police comprises gendarmerie, municipal, military, traffic, and immigration police, and basically all branches must be considered para-military.

In comparison the U. S. military is about 1.4 million on active duty and there are about 500 generals and around 216 admirals. The police in the U. S.  is a local matter,except the FBI, and cannot be used in comparison, inasmuch as the U.S. population currently stands at 320 million whereas Cambodia has a ‘paltry’ 15 million.

The contrast between these numbers is striking. Why would a nation as small as Cambodia need so many generals, some might even ask why it needs such a relatively large military to begin with. Cambodia does not have any real enemies from whom it would have to defend itself. Both Thailand and Vietnam are much stronger militarily and could defeat Cambodia in a heartbeat if ever came to a serious conflict. That, however, is highly unlikely as no country would have anything to gain by waging war on one another besides dead soldiers and an immense cost that especially Cambodia could ill afford. Additionally, Vietnam is a close ally, and Thailand, depending on the government in power, is either a friend, or an adversary in historical questions, such as Preah Vihear. There is some antagonism among the populations of all three countries but that certainly would and will not lead to an armed conflict in this day and age. The skirmishes with Thailand a few years ago about Preah Vihear was more for show and muscle flexing on the part of some firebrands than for anything else. Unfortunately and sadly, this unreasonable and fanatical thinking cost lives on both sides.

The benefit of such a large military/police force is the jobs this provides for people in a poor country. It is a well-known axiom that young, poor men without any great prospects in poor countries join the military. The get free housing, food, and a lot of free time. The military could also be deployed in other areas, most notably in natural disasters. Many soldiers moonlight as guards in factories, plantations, etc., using their free time to supplement their incomes.

By all appearances, and the PM underscored this in a recent speech, the military serves a more domestic purpose. It is the backbone that supports the ruling party. Many of those generals aren’t really soldiers; they didn’t get their rank because of merit but out of gratitude for their support of the ruling party and by extension the PM. They use their position in the business community to influence deals that would greatly benefit their wives’ businesses. It has been a running joke that all high officials have wives that are very successful in business. This is why they have become so wealthy they otherwise could not have become on their meager salaries. The PM said the high ranking generals would not stand for it if the opposition party would retire them. In other words, this would provoke a Thai solution, meaning a military coup. These people have too much to lose to be shunted aside by a new reform-minded government. There are also too many loyal officers and soldiers feeding from the same trough.  That statement made it abundantly clear what the real role of the military in Cambodia is.

Another possible explanation for the high number of generals is that most officials in ministries, e. g. state secretaries also hold a military rank. In other countries you would have all kinds of under secretaries,  assistant secretaries, and assistant under secretaries or directors, etc., in the civil service.  Those positions are usually held by generals in many ministries, particularly the Defense, and the Interior Ministries. Even the PM and the President of the Assembly hold the rank of general. They created a five-star rank especially for them. The late Chea Sim, the President of the Cambodia People’s Party, also held that rank.

Another baffling thing is that there are seemingly hardly any common soldiers or NCOs  (sergeants) visible in public. You only see officers denoted by at least one stripe on their shoulder sleeves. This also applies to the various police branches with the exception of the traffic police.

Still, statistically there is one general for every 110 soldiers. That function is usually performed by a captain in most of the Western militaries. So it does appear as though favoritism and power considerations play a large role.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Cambodian Car Market

The Toyota official dealership announced that it is going to import used cars from the U. S. and other countries, checks them for safety, roadworthiness, and environmental criteria, and will sell them as pre-owned certified cars. I have been wondering why the authorized dealerships have not used this very important tool till now. Up to now they relied on selling their new cars and SUVs and the service that needs to be done by the authorized dealership so that the warranty would not become void. New cars usually come with a 3-year or 50,000 mile warranty. Some brands include free servicing in their package.

Although Cambodia is a growing market sales were quite modest for most authorized dealers given the 125% tax and duty levied on cars. This brings the sticker price up to $125,000 for a car that costs $50,000 in the U. S. or Europe, e. g. roughly an Audi A6. It is also remarkable that especially the luxury car segment has added practically all the biggies in the industry, like Range Rover, Jaguar, Audi, Porsche, Mercedes, etc.  I personally believe that all these brands want to get in on the action on the ground floor believing that the upper middle and upper class will tire of their Lexi and Landcruisers eventually.  They see how successful Range Rover has become – as a used vehicle. Rarely is any on the roads bought new. Additionally, a one-year old used car is a lot cheaper as you usually lose 10% of the new car value the minute you drive it off the lot. They are just as good as a new one. Or take the show room models that are deeply discounted by dealers in the West. Why go for a new one?

As with most things in Cambodia, Cambodians follow a very simple pattern. If my neighbor has it or something seems to be successful they will just do the same – do it like the Joneses as the Americans say. Initially, way back in the 1989/90 they liked the Mercedes 190, also called the baby Benz in the U. S. As it happens I was the one who imported and supplied them. Next, once the U. S. trade embargo was lifted, the overseas Khmer started importing Toyota Camrys, the best-selling car word-wide, mainly from California. It caught on and soon you could only see Camrys on the roads. Next followed the smaller Corolla and the pick-ups. Of course, the Mercedes 190 had become too small a status symbol for the ministers and state secretaries so they took a shine to what all the UNTAC people used to drive, the Landcruiser -not a bad choice, of course, considering the road conditions at that time. Slowly other brands started showing up, and in the 2000s the car market had become pretty diverse, but the Toyotas and the Lexi still dominated the picture. Everybody who wanted to be somebody needed to drive those gas guzzlers, even if they couldn’t afford them.

One day somebody introduced the Range Rover, an excellent SUV, no doubt, and it became the SUV of choice. Since Cambodians are enamored with all things American, some even imported the Cadillac Escalade, another vehicle that is to Cambodia as pearls are to swine. But the Range Rover with its various types outdid it by far. Soon the more adventurous added Porsche SUVs, BMWs, etc. They were all what the authorized dealers here call grey market. There is no such thing as a grey market, mind you. This is nothing more than a free market economy. Anybody who registers a business, has the funds, can import and sell cars. Before cars are registered they have to pass an inspection, which needs to be renewed every two years. So the argument that these cars are unsafe does not hold much water, not for newly imported cars. Again, as with all things in Cambodia, enforcement of that 2 year interval inspection requirement is not or rarely enforced, most certainly not on all those minivans and trucks.

The calls by the authorized dealers for laws and regulations curbing these imports would be tantamount to a controlled market as in Vietnam – as in Communism. The one regulation that would most definitely put an end to many illegal and unsafe practices is the safety inspection. If the Ministry of Transport would enforce this law that would take care of the biggest hazard on the roads by eliminating the many minivans that in other countries would be condemned. Also the vast majority of the trucks and overland buses on the roads are completely unsafe; the many accidents, with many fatalities, is striking evidence of this deplorable state of affairs.

If authorized dealers want to increase their business they should not rely just on new car sales and high priced service. It is just not affordable for the emerging middle class. A case in point: I had my Mercedes (which I imported myself) serviced at the dealership in Phnom Penh before I moved to Sihanoukville. Labor charges were still within reason but the price of parts was just outrageous. Now I found a good shop here in Sihanoukville with a trained technician who knows how to handle and read the computer diagnostics and do repairs just as well. He gets his parts from a source that imports them from Singapore and the Middle East. In Phnom Penh one part would be $4000, he got it for a little over $1,000. I bought a part directly from the U.S. for $80 and I paid regular duty on it; in Phnom Penh it was $250.

Take a page from the Western playbook. Toyota’s step is only a half-step. The big game changer would be to take trade-ins. Inspect them, repair them and resell them. That would partially dry up what they have incessantly been complaining about – the so-called grey market. Make those used-cars into certified used cars, possibly even with a one year warranty, and they would have a completely different ball game. In the west car dealers, even used car dealers, can buy insurance for this purpose. In any event, this would take away business from the shady dealers on the market and drive their new car sales as well. Large scale advertising campaigns would certainly change the public perception quickly. Why nobody has ever come to this conclusion has been baffling me for a long time. The entrepreneurs in the business obviously do not trust their own expertise.

Another big problem, the extent of which is not really known, is the import of salvaged or condemned cars, which are then repaired here and resold. Sometimes, they put together a complete car from salvaged parts. Quite obviously, there was a reason why these vehicles were condemned and only had a salvage title left. This is just as dangerous as changing Thai cars or Japanese imports from right-hand to left-hand steering as they used to do in the 90ies. This is the sector where stiff regulations should take effect. A few years ago when the Prius craze started I also bought one for city driving. It cost me $17,000 (I forgot the year). It came with a 3-month warranty, though. When I checked the price in the U. S. for the same model and year I was surprised to read that it retailed for $14K to $15K there. We owned it for a year and then sold it. We never had a problem with it but it most certainly must have been a junk car.

As long as the authorized dealerships don’t take the initiative with more advanced marketing techniques, nothing much will change in today’s car market. Calls for regulations might be heard but are uncalled for. So far they have fallen on deaf ears anyway for fear of depriving many people of their livelihood. And, last but not least, there will always be a greased hand that will look the other way. So, take it in your hands, for goodness sake.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Sihanoukville For Rent – The Surge in New Casinos

Cambodia’s policy for the development of the country has long been one of allowing or inviting the private sector to re-build the infrastructure. Most of the roads, probably all national roads, have been built by foreign countries giving Cambodia loans and getting their own companies to carry out the actual construction. Other infrastructure projects pretty much follow the same pattern. Certainly, the government does not believe that casinos play a part in the development of the country, or do they?

So, what I haven’t fully understood to this day is why the government grants licenses for casinos. There is no apparent benefit for the country with this. Of course, they charge a fee which often disappears quite mysteriously. Unfortunately, the national budget is not made available on the internet or to the media in general. Only rough figures get published. Casinos don’t really make much economic sense for Cambodia. The income the country derives from them is minimal compared to the revenues and profits generated there for the owners. They do employ Cambodian staff, mostly menial, as the dealers or croupiers are mainly from abroad. Evidently, management is foreign too. Profits are repatriated or sent to off-shore accounts, which is the greatest advantage speaking for Cambodia as a place for doing business on a larger scale. There is definitely no value added for the country. Detractors and critics no doubt are pleased to read that many of them now do not turn a profit at all. Bokor, that ugly behemoth in a beautiful natural setting on top of the Bokor mountain in the national park of the same name, is but one example. Reports in the media say that many of the casinos along the border to Thailand and Vietnam are also hemorrhaging  money. These casino owners are mostly Thai, Malay, or Hong Kong-based. The largest one is based in Shanghai. Their Phnom Penh operation reportedly actually does run at a profit, though.

Now rather recently, more Chinese gambling operators have discovered Cambodia and in particular have set their eyes on Sihanoukville. Lately, that number of licenses has risen to 76 in all as 10 more licenses were granted, mostly in Sihanoukville. These licenses do include the right to operate on-site and online casinos.

At first glance, it might appear that these Chinese operators see Sihanoukville with casinos as an attractive seaside town for Chinese tourists that would come here to enjoy the beaches and do some gambling after dinner. Chinese people are known to like gambling of any kind. But it turns out that this is not entirely what is going on. There has lately been a noticeable influx of Chinese people. First, people thought they were just tourists. They arrived at hotels by the busload – even in the rainy season. But then, the oldest hotel on Ochheuteal Beach was rented to a Chinese company. They remodeled it and put a casino in – the Bao Mai, formerly the Seaside Hotel on Mithona Street. It belongs to the family of an acquaintance of mine. It was rather successful as a hotel so the offer must have been really good for them to rent it. This hotel also features an on-site casino now.

Next I heard of two downtown guesthouses that were rented to Chinese companies - one as staff accommodations and the other one as the computer center for an online gambling operation. I know of at least 3 more smaller guesthouses that were also rented to Chinese online gambling operators. But my biggest surprise came when I was told by a hotel owner’s son that they had leased their successful Golden Sands hotel and the newly built White Sands Palace along with a smaller boutique hotel and a rather well-known and established guesthouse to a large Chinese group. Their plan is to build on-site casinos in the large properties. Part of the properties will also be converted into online gambling rooms – not for guests as some might think but for the online computer operators.  Gamblers in China don’t play against a computer but a real person who is online at the other end.

Depending on the number of computers the casinos need quite a few staff. This being a 24/7 operation they need to work in 3 shifts, hence the requirement for the large number of rooms as staff accommodations.

Although Cambodians have to a large extent Chinese blood in their veins they are pretty apprehensive about this latest development. People in the market are talking about it and fear that the Chinese are taking over the town. This may be without basis but a few Chinese restaurants have sprung up in the meantime, along with at least one purely Chinese supermarket.

So why all this sudden popularity with Chinese gambling outfits? To be honest, I am still flabbergasted and can only surmise that they choose Cambodia as it is sort of easy to get licenses, start a company without too much hassle, business visas have no requirement for a certain amount of investment, no proof of capital is needed, etc., etc.  All this combined with a lax enforcement of laws, an attraction of a seaside town could have triggered their interest. Cambodia also has no money transfer restrictions. It also has enjoyed a rather dubious reputation as an easy place for money laundering, which was underlined by a recent article that investigations of money laundering are rarely ever conducted as the agency in charge employs only 5 people. Given the fact that these ‘investors’ come in with bags of money – the one group mentioned above has a reputed $50 million budget for this – one cannot help but suspect there is some ulterior purpose behind these enterprises. I read that the money bet by gamblers in China, for instance, stays in China – losses in the casinos accounts, and winnings in the gambler’s account. All transactions are by credit card so this is theoretically feasible. Somehow, I doubt this. Profits would be taxable in China and are easily traceable. If they stayed in Cambodia they would be taxable at a mere 10% and there are many ways to finagle numbers or even cook books when using off-shore bank accounts that are not accessible to Cambodian authorities.

We have in the past seen many so-called investments go sour in Cambodia. All too often failed foreign business people just up and run away, leaving behind the Cambodian landlord more or less empty-handed. One such indication that their commitment is possibly a little fickle is that they only rent hotels, although with long-term leases, e. g. 10 years. They pay a security deposit of 6 months. This is easily recovered within a year; gambling after all is big business. Although they also pay rather attractive rents, these are on a monthly basis. One benefit of renting an existing property is that they can just move in and install their computers and internet connections and they are in business. The downside for the landlord is that that they can break the lease any time they want as soon as they have recovered their deposit.

The landlord is left holding the bag. The need to repair and renovation will most likely exceed the deposit he received, not to mention that the hotel/guesthouse business needs to be re-introduced into the marketplace at considerable cost.

In my thinking, leasing land and building a complex with enough units for housing and operating facilities would probably cost the same amount of money than spreading around large sums for deposits for multiple hotels/guesthouses. This would also prove their commitment over the long term. It also doesn’t make sense to use these huge hotels to attract Chinese travelers to Cambodia just to gamble here. So, perhaps, there is something shady going on?

Cambodian hotel/guesthouse owners, though, seemingly rather go for the in their opinion easy money than run a hotel themselves. In the end, they just might end up holding the short end of the stick.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

What’s in a political image?

It appears as though the government always has the innate need to threaten legal action against anyone who in their opinion uses words that seem to criticize them.

The latest case in point was a press conference held by the spokesman for the Ministry of Labor. There is an ongoing discussion about the minimum wage for garment workers with the labor unions. Some of the unions used terms like living wage or minimum wage. Now this obviously very bright spokesman stated that anybody who uses the wrong terminology will have to face legal action. For what I don’t know. What kind of wrong terms can one use in this context? He did not really elaborate on this. One can only presume they want to warn off the union members to go on strike which might turn violent again as in January 2014.

Another example is a speech the PM gave recently. It is a well-known fact that the he often resorts to crude language and threats when dealing with the opposition or anybody who dares to voice even the mildest criticism.

He said if the opposition won the next elections and would act on their plans to reclaim land lost to neighboring countries and redistribute land owned by rich people, they would provoke a war. They would have powerful enemies indicating well-heeled people in the audience. He intimated that they would not stand for it, and neither would the neighboring countries, alluding to the past allegations about Vietnam’s encroachment on Cambodian territory. These ‘enemies’ would protect their rights and holdings. He said that these tycoons are the opposition’s class enemy and taking away their hotels and giving them to the poor would provoke a war. Class enemies –isn’t that a term out of a Communist textbook?

He also referred to the current refugee crisis in Europe saying that the people left Syria, Iraq, and Libya because there is war, there are color revolutions, a desire for change. He must have gotten that wrong somehow. The people are leaving because of religious civil wars raging in these countries (Sunnis and Shiites – ISIS). In none of those countries did a color or peaceful revolution happen. That was the Ukraine before they had their own civil war. These people do want change, that’s for sure, but they want change from autocratic governments and a change in their lives so they can live peacefully. He seemed to imply that Cambodia might undergo the same problems if the opposition won.

The PM also referenced an interview in which Sam Rainsy said the PM wants to avoid the fate of Muhamar Ghaddafi. If he wants to topple him by a military coup Sam Rainsy should reserve a coffin. A very statesman like statement.

One might really conclude from all these statements that he must really be fearful of losing the next election. Why else would he conjure up war? It is as if he is trying to intimidate the entire population by playing on their fears?

Another fall-out from speeches and press conferences like this is the damage to the government’s image, maybe not so much at home but definitely abroad. After all Cambodia is still very much dependent on foreign aid, to the tune of approximately $800 million a year to be exact.  Why portray an image of a bully, although that characterization has clung to him for a long time. If the ruling party has a strong base within the population they don’t need to resort to these crude tactics. They could just let the image of a benevolent, caring government work for them. After all, this is what they think of themselves.

He chastised developed nations for not giving enough foreign aid to developing nations. A little ironic seeing as Cambodia itself is a major recipient of foreign aid. However, without that aid Cambodia would not be able to pay for many budget items, such as its security forces. A better image would behoove him well with the donor nations one might think. The donor nations overlooked many negative things in the past because any cuts in aid would affect the population in their opinion. Let’s not talk about corruption in this context though and where a lot of that money is spent.  He also repeated that request in a speech at the U. N. later. One can only wonder how much resonance this request elicited among the countries that fall short of those goals, e. g. the U. S.

Intrinsically, however, the PM is dead right. If the opposition were to win the next election and embarked on some of the plans, specifically seriously combating corruption, review of land property, sources of income of the rich in the public and private sectors, etc., they would not survive long. The rich and powerful are too deeply entrenched and have a wide network of cronies in place, not the least the many generals who would also stand to lose quite a lot, to accept any meddling in their affairs. A coup would not be unthinkable in that event, or would it? But I am sure the opposition realizes this without any of the warnings and threats. Before the PM left for New York he told the armed forces to look after Cambodia while he was gone. That pretty much says it all. He controls the military, he has the power, and as long as this remains like this, there won’t be a change of government.

On the other side of the aisle, so to speak, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha visited a Cham community the other day. Kem Sokha said there is no racial discrimination in Cambodia. Sam Rainsy supported this remark explaining there is no xenophobia only apprehension about the loss of land that has been going for so long. This was quite obviously in response to the PM’s statement to the new U.N. Human Rights Rapporteur that she should focus on racial discrimination in Cambodia. This should certainly be one point in any effort for reforms in Cambodia. But the claim that there is no racial discrimination is absurd, especially coming from such prominent proponents of anti-Vietnamese campaigns as Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha. They use every opportunity to raise the subject of Vietnamese encroachment, illegal Vietnamese immigrants, and illegal Vietnamese voters rigging the elections in the CPP’s favor to foment racial resentment among the population. Reading or hearing this, one cannot help but think of them as self-serving, sanctimonious hypocrites and opportunists. Sam Rainsy had seriously claimed in one of the past election campaigns that the rapid increase of the population was because of all those illegal Vietnamese immigrants - unproven and outright false. How is that for fomenting racial discrimination?

Sometimes Sam Rainsy was called charismatic. How on earth did he ever attain that attribute? 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Panasastra University Phnom Penh

This is a private institute of higher learning in Phnom Penh. In a previous post I had pointed out the different characteristics of colleges in Cambodia as compared to the West.

Since the secondary education in Cambodia is rather poor, to say the least, and which is evidenced by the poor results of the high school diploma examinations where only about 53% pass and finally graduate, the colleges have to compensate for the lack of rather basic knowledge. Students have to attend a compulsory foundation year, which is nothing else but lessons that are part of the Western high school curriculum, which usually is a prerequisite for college admission.

Panasastra is one of the institutions with a rather good reputation. How it earned that is not quite known. If you go to college ranking websites worldwide it hovers somewhere in the 3000s They do offer morning, afternoon, and evening classes. Tuition is similar to the Royal University of Cambodia, and which is ranked much higher in the 600s. But ironically, the word among students is that the right thing to do is to go to Panasastra. They believe a degree from there will give you better job opportunities upon graduation.

However, Panasastra suffers a chronic shortage of adequate teachers. Normally, students take four courses per semester but it can happen that Panasastra just happens to be short of a teacher for one course. Consequently the student ends up with only three courses. He/she will have to take it the next semester, which naturally results in prolonging the entire time needed to get that degree. If this happens 3 or 4 times, and it quite often does, this will mean at least one additional semester, and it can quickly become an entire year just for lack of proper college management.

Some teachers also have a way of not showing up for class without any explanations. If it is a long holiday weekend some tend to extend it by a day or two. Of course, student attendance is mandatory and counts towards the grade.

Morale among teachers is reputedly not the best. The fluctuation of faculty staff is quite high. That is not good for the quality of courses at a college. Pay is supposedly not that great either, so it is no wonder they don’t attract enough teachers. Still, they have a huge student body, particularly in the English language department.

Another particular and peculiar feature in Cambodia is the fact that students normally do not receive their diploma upon graduation. Sometimes they have to wait 1 year, in some cases even 2, to receive them since there are not enough graduates for a ceremony.

So, if I had to decide again where a son or daughter should go, it would not be Panasastra.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Any Change in Sihanoukville?

It has been a few months now since a new city governor, or mayor as we would call him, and a new police chief were appointed. The new police chief vowed to clean up the city and rid it of undesirable elements and criminals, in particular mentioning Russian crooks. He had one notorious Russian criminal arrested and swiftly deported. This man had become very close to some local officials and even courts. How else could he have avoided legal repercussions here for so long. This was a headline grabbing action and gratefully acknowledged by the few other people, mostly other Russians that had been affected by that so-called oligarch’s activities. The police chief also promised to clamp down on the traffic police’s illegal stopping of hapless foreign tourists to shake them down for a few dollars. They usually found an excuse for pulling them over, but many times they had no cause for that and then just asked them for their international driver license. After many complaints from hotels and their guests, not to mention foreign expats, he told a meeting of business owners that he would put an end to this. This was also duly reported in the press.

Unfortunately, this did not seem to have trickled down to the traffic cops on the streets because they happily kept on pulling over tourists, even demanding as much as $25. This was already in the rainy season when there aren’t as many tourists in town, so they did have a need to bolster their meager incomes accordingly.

Lately, however, there appears to be a larger traffic police presence on the streets, pulling over mostly motorbikes for minor infractions like not wearing a helmet. The writer could not observe any predilection towards foreigners. Should the complaints finally render some results?

The job of the traffic police is enforcing traffic laws, right? Not so in Cambodia. Their job is to collect as many fines as they can from motorists, both local and foreign, to make a decent living. One could call that soft corruption. A society needs a police force but they must be paid enough to support them and their families. With $50 to $100 a month this is hardly possible. Consequently, one mustn’t really wonder at the audacity with which some of the traffic cops collect their additional incomes.

There is a new traffic law going into effect this year, to be fully enforced in January 2016. They introduced stiffer fines for traffic infractions in order to combat the haphazard driving style encountered on the roads on a daily basis. The most ludicrous feature of the new law will be that traffic cops can retain up to 70% of all fines for themselves. That’s the brightest idea in this respect that I have ever come across in my entire life, most of it living in several foreign countries.  The people who came up with this idea need to be awarded the medal of stupidity. While we are on the subject, enforcing rigorous schooling and testing for driver licenses would be a good start to fight the high rate of road accidents and fatalities.

As regards the undesirable elements the immigration police have been cracking down on illegals. One would not believe that such a problem exists in Cambodia at all. But not surprisingly, Cambodia attracts a good number of poor foreigners, or foreigners that have run out of money for various reasons like drug use, etc. and, of course, low-lives that seek refuge in any easily accessible country. These people then have no money to extend their visa so they simply stay on in the hope of not being caught. That went well up to now as the government wasn’t interested in foreigners at all unless they broke a law. Now with the work permits being enforced the immigration police is part of that and in the process weeds out people who overstay their visas. A few days ago I was subject to such an inspection twice – one at my house outside Sihanoukville and one at my business, which means they move from house to house where foreigners live and check on them. They stated they will do their rounds every three months.
On another front, bag snatching in the dark is a popular sport of younger thugs riding on their motorbikes, coming on to an unsuspecting mostly female tourist from behind and ripping the hand bag off their shoulders. Sometimes the bag doesn’t come off easily resulting in the mugger dragging the victim along the road for sometimes up to 100 m. One can imagine what scrapes and wounds these people sustain, let alone the mental anguish they go through in the aftermath. If one thought that the new police chief would ensure a larger presence of the police on the streets after, say, 5 pm, would be greatly mistaken. Police routinely abandon their posts when it starts raining, during lunch time, and after dark. Only sometimes do they install check-points and conduct weapon searches. Reports of rape and other violent crimes among the local population have not decreased either, at least judging from newspaper and internet reports. So has anything improved? I have my doubts. There are no tangible results that anyone can see. However, when this one senator published some questionable documents on Facebook and was promptly arrested for it, the police were reputedly put on alert. One can only surmise the government expected that young restless opposition party followers would take to the streets to vent their anger at this. Consequently, they had no time for any other police business, or so it seemed.

Sihanoukville is one the main tourist destinations in Cambodia. As opposed to the early 2000s tourists now travel to Cambodia not only as an extension to Thailand but as a full destination visiting Phnom  Penh, Siem Reap, Kampot and Sihanoukville at least. Unfortunately, Sihanoukville still has a rather negative reputation among foreign tourists. This is mostly because they see it as one of the dirtiest cities in Cambodia. Trash is strewn all over the place, the beach is dirty and unkempt, sewage still flows into the ocean, beggars populate the beach walkways, even going into restaurants, the streets are flooded after a downpour and the stench of rotten food permeates many places.

The previous governor made a small effort once to clean the beach, which indeed helped a short while, but after the various New Year celebrations it all looked like before. One particular eyesore is the street directly at Ochheuteal Beach – Mithona Street. The many beachside restaurants' rear faces this street and as is the habit of 95% of all Cambodians they just deposit their trash behind their restaurant. This makes for a very beautiful sight, of course. There is a trash removal service, but it you don’t deposit your trash curbside it doesn’t get picked up. Another very appealing feature is the restaurants’ restrooms. They are in a state that no normal Western people would dare use it. And where does all the waste flow. Although there is a sewage pipe running along behind the restaurants it still flowed into the ocean in at least 3 to 4 locations. They put up a septic tank at one end but that quickly overflowed in the rainy season, again producing this intolerable stench.

It is quite ironic that the government put up a sign at one of the entrances to Ochheuteal saying, ‘Sihanoukville – the Most Beautiful Bay’. The bay certainly is beautiful – the beach is far from it.

Otres 1 and 2, very popular destinations, probably outdoing Occheuteal in a couple of years is no better. The roads along the beach are still unpaved and full of potholes – dusty in the dry season, and muddy in the wet season. I am not sure whether there is any trash removal, I know for sure though there is none at Otres 2. At least they all got city water and electricity there now.

This  all says nothing about other primary infrastructure deficiencies, such as good drainage, a working sewage system, proper construction of roadways that last past the next rainy season, directing the flow of truck traffic , cleaning up shanty towns (of course, with alternative housing available).

The new governor promised a complete overhaul of the entire area, designating the southern part of the province for tourist development. Apart from the extensive construction of new hotels and condominium building, any progress on those vital issues that affect foreign, especially Western, tourists, does not seem to have materialized into actions besides the good intentions the powers-that-be formulated. Those formulations have been plentiful in the past. Seeing as where we stand now the past 5 years haven’t resulted in any great strides toward an improvement of the secondary infrastructure.

Just yesterday, however, there was report on the news that the national government issued an ordinance that would fine businesses up to $250 if they just dumped their trash at the curb instead of putting it into plastic bags or appropriate containers. Private citizens would be fined up to $2.50 if they just dropped their trash on the street or any public place. Let’s wait whether this will be enforced. I for one will believe it when I see it.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Dual Citizenship – One Man/Woman - Two Votes

This topic has in the past been the subject of many discussions and varying standpoints in Cambodia. At first glance it may be an issue of law – whatever the law of the land states is generally accepted. Differing interpretations are, of course, determined by moral aspects, and there is no clear-cut singular concept. There is no absolute line what is right and what is wrong in this respect.

Cambodia had many overseas Cambodians returning after 1993. Many of those had acquired the nationality of their adopted country, in most cases the U. S., Australia, or France. They were welcomed as they brought much-needed skills the country did not have. (Although sometimes one had to question what a donut baker would bring to the table in terms of administrative experience. During the Funcinpec/CPP coalition one such was sent to the U.N. as second secretary.)  It was considered a question of unity. The question of nationality had not even come up then. Cambodians born in Cambodia are automatically Cambodian nationals. Therefore, they could return any time. This has been the policy since 1993.

In the aftermath of political conflicts with members of the opposition parties, most notably the leaders of Funcinpec, Prince Ranariddh, and Sam Rainsy of the eponymous party, who had fled the country when they were sentenced to prison terms after being tried for several offenses under Cambodia law, the ruling party began a discussion for single nationality. Initially, this might have been a vindictive thought so that people could not just escape justice by leaving the country, but later it also gained some traction with independent political analysts. Of late the discussion revolved around holders of public office, e. g. members of parliament, the senate, ministers, state secretaries, etc.

Other countries, like the U. S., the U. K, and Australia allow dual citizenship, as does Germany but limited to the E.U. countries. France for one does not allow dual citizenship. Several Cambodians hold both Cambodian and French nationality, which is an obvious contradiction but Cambodian nationality was obtained by birthright and French by acquisition. Cambodians did not have to renounce their Cambodian nationality, which they could practically never lose as long as they were born in Cambodia.

The U. S. allows public office holders dual citizenship; the underlying reason probably being that it still considers itself an immigration country, whereas most European nations do not despite the fact that mainly the former colonial powers have become immigration countries with many people from their former colonies settling there, while Germany is a magnet for immigrants because of its economic power.

Notwithstanding the different rules for public office in terms of nationality, the one contention that many opponents put forth is that there is a conflict of interest for those in public office. Which country has their allegiance? When becoming a naturalized citizen of a country other than their birth country, people have to swear an oath of allegiance to uphold the laws and defend their new country. And this is exactly the point where the moral, if not legal, problem lies. When people become citizens of another country they choose this country as their new home. They vow that their interest and center of life now lies in the new country. They subject themselves to the laws of the new country in all respects. In most instances permanent residence of a certain duration is a prerequisite for applying for nationality. Residents could just retain their old nationality if their ties to their birth country were still closer than to their adopted country. Because of their refugee status most Cambodians didn’t have any personal legal documents with them. The excuse that they would need valid legal identifications in their new country and only naturalization would afford them those is not acceptable. Legal Ids were and are issued to residents too. In other words they consciously chose to make the new country their home, and to sever their political and legal, if not emotional and spiritual, ties to Cambodia.

In this context it is quite interesting to learn whether all people with dual nationality file their tax returns in their adopted country. If you are a European or North American citizen, for instance, you are required to file a tax return for your world-wide income there (with the possible benefits of a double taxation treaty, which Cambodia does not have with any of those countries).

For MPs allegiance might become significant when it comes to voting on legislation that concerns and affects both countries. In Cambodia’s case there is no great risk of this happening it seems, as most legislation at the present time concerns Cambodian interests. There is nothing that the Assembly could vote on that would benefit another country, with the exception of its neighbors. There is, however, no known public official who holds both Thai or Vietnamese and Cambodian citizenship.

Opponents have a point in doubting or questioning loyalty. It is easy to take a political risk including inflammatory speeches that might lead to legal repercussions, or even abuse one’s official authority when a second passport makes it very convenient to leave for distant shores to avoid responsibility. As in Sam Rainsy’s case he used that option three times in the past. Even currently he uses very strong language knowing that if it indeed backfires he can once again leave and go into self-imposed exile as it was euphemistically called. One has to admire Kem Sokha, without agreeing to his statements and policies, that he keeps firing away at the governing party without having that recourse of a second passport.

In the U. S. which is frequently used as a model, the President must be a U. S. born citizen. There is no law barring him from having a second nationality. Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested that the PM in Cambodia should have only one nationality. Most people, even the ones that are neutral in Cambodian politics, would probably agree. I am not so sure about the MPs, senators, etc., but it would make sense. They were elected by their constituencies to represent them in parliament and promote their inherently Cambodian interests. As no foreign national is allowed to do that why should a Cambodian with dual citizenship be able to do that?  

Democracies have the one man, one vote rule. This rule is certainly undermined by dual citizenship. A person can vote in elections in both countries. Admittedly, this may be a small number in the grand scheme of things, but in terms of logic it is not correct. It would also certainly be a legal aberration if a Cambodian MP with U. S. citizenship votes in the U. S. presidential elections next year, or the French elections.

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Tale of Maps

The opposition party in Cambodia has for months now conducted a campaign about the border demarcation to Vietnam. They claim that the government is beholden to the Vietnamese in acquiescing to incursions by Vietnamese settlers in the border region. Cambodia is losing a sizable swath of land this way.

They asked the government to make public the maps they use for placing the border posts, again claiming that it uses Vietnamese drawn maps. Unfortunately, the government did not release those maps which only heightened the opposition’s suspicion of foul play, so to speak.

The government, on the other hand, stated that this is not a matter for the opposition to handle, which only uses this issue for their political gain. One must understand that Vietnamese people are not too popular with the Khmer, although many have lived here for decades and are naturalized citizens. The opposition can ask questions in the assembly and that’s about it. It is not a job for the legislature but for the executive. Not the wisest statement either, if you ask me.

The opposition even went so far as to gather about 2,500 people to travel to the border to inspect border posts. They were met by hostile Vietnamese farmers there and it came to minor clashes. Reputedly, the opposition MP who organized this trip spent $50,000 on it. (Like there wasn’t a worthier cause to spend this kind of money on.)

In the spirit of the culture of dialogue that both parties had come to follow the government relented somewhat and admitted there might have been mistakes in placing some of the border posts. The PM sent a letter to the U. N. and the French government asking them to send the original maps with the border delineation the French had drawn up in 1939 and which were later deposited with the U. N. and the French government in 1964 by King Sihanouk. This was to show that this map or actually maps are identical to the ones the government is using for the border demarcation and which formed the basis for the border treaty with Vietnam in 1985.

One can understand that this may be an issue of importance for a country but the opposition’s use of this one issue to enhance their profile is sort of preposterous in a country where so many things need to be addressed much more urgently. Additionally, it would appear that border issues had better be handled on a bilateral basis in negotiations with the other country – and that is clearly the government’s job.

Another MP traveled to the U. S. looking for copies of those maps in the Library of Congress. Another opposition member – a senator - fabricated documents, in fact falsified and forged the border treaty with Vietnam and posted it on Facebook. This brought a swift response. This MP was arrested and charged with treason, admittedly a rather far-fetched interpretation of the term treason.

The PMs goodwill and patience with the opposition’s shenanigans was over. He called Sam Rainsy the leader of the thieves and a liar. I don’t know whether the much heralded culture of dialogue is still in effect. Judging from the PM’s speeches lately it does not seem so.

The U.N. sent an envoy with the maps and they were duly compared; apparently they were identical with the governments maps except for a couple of partials that were UTM projections. A week later the maps from France arrived with the same result.

One would believe that the matter would now be put to rest. But the opposition is still clinging to what might be considered the last straw. They said even though the maps were more or less identical that doesn’t mean that the maps the government used for this comparison were actually the ones they used for the border demarcation.

There is a respected cartographical, reputedly independent scientist working on this. He declared the veracity of the government maps and their use and challenged the opposition to follow the entire border, even on foot through the jungle, to ascertain the accuracy of the demarcation.

One would think that aerial photography and the use of GPS would be sufficient to answer any questions. There is even a company in Phnom Penh that specializes in this. Aerial photographs can be converted into the exact scale of a map and overlaid on it to identify the exact course of a border line. Understandably, this might be a little difficult with impenetrable terrain or where the forest foliage makes this all but impossible. There are many ways to use a map of whatever projection and GPS to identify exact locations. (The writer was trained in navigation in his young years.)

Of course, it is a well-established fact that the opposition has racist tendencies; it has been using those racist overtones in all their election campaigns taking advantage of the population’s general animosity toward Vietnam. Looking back in history it is probably not too hard to find the reasons why there is this racist undercurrent in Cambodia. After all, they lost land – southern Vietnam - to the Vietnamese 400 years ago, and again when the French draw the border somewhat arbitrarily in 1939, and lastly, were occupied by Vietnam for 10 years after these invaded Cambodia to overthrow the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979. Many in the opposition still want to reclaim Kampuchea Krom (southern Vietnam), Prey Nokor (Saigon), and Koh Tral (Phu Quoc). I believe in political parlance this is called revisionism. The map issue is just another all too transparent populist strategy of pandering to the less educated Khmer with Vietnamese resentments. History cannot be rewritten or changed. What the opposition fails or does not want to understand is that these Vietnamese territories are recognized under international law, and the international court would not award Koh Tral to Cambodia – not to mention the question of jurisdiction as two recognized governments affirmed the border drawn by the French. According to historical research there was no Khmer presence on Koh Tral during the last 200 years. And most importantly what would they do with the island? For a more in-depth look at this issue see

Personally, I think the Foreign Minister was pretty much on point when he said the opposition must think all is good in Cambodia because they only harp on the border map issue.  Well, even if there are discrepancies they could and should be worked out in a different way, just like in any other civilized country. The Spratley Islands and Kuril Islands, both hotly disputed territories, are not domestic issues of the magnitude in the countries concerned the opposition makes the border issue out to be here. At present the opposition engages in pure demagoguery. Why don’t they just let it go and focus on the things that concern 99% of the population not living the Svay Rieng border region for a change?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Expats and their Forums in Cambodia

Foreigners come to Cambodia for a variety of reasons, most of them not so altruistic as one might at first thought be led to believe. According to a newspaper article there are about 80,000 foreigners living in Cambodia. The majority of them come from Vietnam, China, South Korea, Malaysia, and other Asian countries. Estimates how many Western expats live here are hard to come by. They tend to stick out simply due to the fact of their different looks. I personally estimate that there may be around 15,000 to 20,000 spread out over the entire country. Most of them can naturally be found in Phnom Penh, but Sihanoukville, a city of some 200,000, has a sizable foreign population too. Most of the NGOs have their main offices in Phnom Penh. Although they do employ local people, management and higher executive positions are usually staffed with Westerners. The Christian churches of multitudinous denominations alone account for a good share of those foreigners. Western embassies make up another large chunk, probably led by the U. S. or Russian Embassy.  But you also have independent business people, a few artists, doctors, dentists, therapists, etc., not to mention retirees who came here for the lower cost of living. Of course, there are a few derelicts who amble along streets shirtless, filthy,  and are often under the influence of alcohol and drugs. These are the ones that are conspicuous the most and give the term expat a bad rep. And one must not forget the many Westerners either who come here to find cheap sex and drink, although I believe these a mostly seasonable expats, not to mention the pedophiles who still think they can easily satisfy their urges here. Law enforcement seems to have taken hold in that respect. They are now quickly apprehended and sentenced to a few years in prison and then swiftly deported (judging from newspaper accounts).

Although, many of the expats I can observe have settled down here with a local wife living on a small income from a business or their retirement benefits. I wouldn’t know of anyone who could be counted as affluent.

What always amazes me, though, is that people practically immigrate to a foreign country only to gather at drinking holes or establishments of their own nationality or the same language. Nowadays, this is often replaced by online forums, Facebook, and so on. There aren’t too many of those message boards outside Facebook in Cambodia. In fact, I can think of only two English-language boards that have a large readership. Some people don’t seem to have anything else to do but spend their lives online. What’s also remarkable is that there are usually only a few posters that populate a board and they tend to dominate all discussions.

The quality of those two boards is very different.  On one, verbal abuse and insults are commonplace, the other one is a more subdued, but both primarily deal in hashing over news and events that were reported before elsewhere. Seldom do they have first-hand tidbits of interest to the general expat community.  Of course, there are exceptions, and this is why I usually check them out too. Sometimes they post things that have slipped my attention elsewhere, although I am an avid news junkie.  

These boards sometimes serve an individual poster’s vanity first and foremost. They want to show how smart and educated they are. I remember one instance when one individual was moved to post a copy of his masters degree diploma when someone had questioned his education and his intellect. Mind you, that was a 50-something mature man. That same man, now proven highly educated, still felt driven to lay bare his soul in a series of articles about his first experiences in Cambodia, including falling in love with a hooker (was it?). What drives these people to disclose so much of their private lives? At one point, he resigned from his teaching job at a local university but couldn’t find anything else. So he went back to his own country where obviously nobody was waiting for an elderly professor past his prime who spent years in a ‘wretched’ country like Cambodia. He decided to head back to Cambodia. He put all that on the board for everybody to read.

Since most of the information is second-hand, assumption, conjecture, and speculation abound. A case in point was a recent incident where a European man was arrested for raping a European girl at a guesthouse after some joint heavy drinking. The facts were scant. Newspaper articles just mentioned the arrest and the accusation. But both boards could not get enough of that discussion, imagining all kinds of scenarios. Of course, googling makes it possible once the name of the accused is known and they are not withheld in the Cambodian press. So they quickly found out that the man had a rap sheet for violence and sexual assault in his home country.  That guy must be guilty for sure, right? Many also had some good advice ready what to do and what not to do if you meet a drunken girl. It turns out the evidence presented pointed to a consensual act with the purported victim fallen down the staircase in her drunken state after leaving the accused’s room sustaining the injuries her concerned friends took to be the consequence of an assault. This had prompted them to assume that this must be a case of rape. Anyway, the actual facts will not be known, I guess; only the man involved will know exactly what happened; the girl obviously was too drunk. The case was dismissed and the man was let go. This case is an example par excellence of how a story can assume a life of its own on a message board. You just need the right people. There is one who is especially diligent in forming pre-conceived opinions without knowing the facts; he virtually drives most of the discussions single-handedly. Best of all, he is by all appearances not even a full-time expat but a seasonal visitor here to enjoy some of the benefits local females are willing and able to bestow on him.

The Internet has replaced the physical get-togethers in bars, it appears. And when you go to a café or bar, you see two or more people sitting together with each tapping on their phone or tablet. Conversation – none. Judging by the posts of some individuals one must think they just sit there waiting for something to crop up so they can jump on it immediately.

Another, really obnoxious thing is that many people jump to conclusions and despite being alerted that they got it wrong they maintain their position even in the face of facts and real experiences. Others go and google someone in order to see whether they can find any dirt on that person. There is one individual with access to police records or court data in the U. S. The results he will post on a board without hesitation. In the Western world this all might fall under the term ‘Freedom of Expression’. But anonymity leads to online behavior that would never be accepted in the non-virtual world there. Freedom of expression has certain limits in Cambodia. Consequently, you won’t find any disparaging or even insulting posts about the powers-that-be in Cambodia. Authorities can now easily find out who posted something they might not like as a young local man found out when he was arrested for calling for a color revolution in Cambodia on Facebook. Individuals, though, who can hardly defend themselves are easy prey for many people on those boards.

Of course, often a board also serves to vent someone’s frustrations with the country and its people, and believe me, there can be many. I guess, originally a foreign-language board was meant to inform people about certain facts about a country and the life there. At least one of them in English is far removed from that. To their credit they occasionally publish real good and sometimes funny articles about the locals, the expats, the way of life here. But that has become too infrequent and has moved to the background vis-à-vis the many rather stupid posts. I noticed that even more level-headed people sometimes succumb to an unfair and unjust disposition. Now, that’s disappointing. 

No sunshine today

No sunshine today
Time to spend on the Internet in weather like this.