Thursday, January 21, 2016

And here is another good one….

I mentioned those flat-out unbelievable excuses Cambodians tend to make. Now the Prime Minister chimed in with one of his own.

A Cambodian-American doctor who had returned to Cambodia recently criticized the Cambodian medical profession. He maintained they are mostly ill-qualified to treat even minor illnesses. As anybody who ever visited one of the many clinics dotting the Cambodian landscape can tell nothing could be more true. Sometimes these doctors prescribe anti-depressants for headaches. A doctor who examined my step-daughter a few years back diagnosed air and water in the abdomen. My daughter had complained about severe abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. As is normal in Cambodia, he prescribed 2 hours of IV, 2 days of observation at his clinic and after that she was sent home with a cocktail of meds we didn’t know what they were for.

When she got to the U. S. we saw a gastroenterologist who immediately diagnosed a certain syndrome and started treatment which eventually ended in surgery. If she had not gotten that care she would have died.

Recently, a woman had an accident with severe head trauma. The husband took her to a large Cambodian hospital. The doctors said she need a CT scan of the head but they needed to pay first. The husband, a poor farmer, didn’t have the money and begged for help. The hospital staff, e. g. the doctors were adamant. Long story short, the woman died.

There are countless examples like these occurring in Cambodia. The medical profession through their associated had the nerve to demand an apology from the doctor who, needless to say, refused.

Now comes the good part. A couple of days ago, the media reported that the Prime Minister went to Singapore for a check-up. What? He is now a real big fan of Facebook and people took to this page asking why he went to Singapore? Well, he said he went there because Cambodia doesn’t have the necessary equipment yet. Ah, isn’t that interesting? He went on to defend the Cambodian medical profession and said, indeed, he had more check-ups on a quarterly and semi-annual basis all conducted by Cambodian doctors. Mr. Prime Minister, couldn’t you have come up with a better excuse? That is just so damn lame that not even middle-school students will believe that.

And why please do all the people with some money go to Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and even the U. S. or Europe for medical treatment. Because 80% (my estimate) of Cambodian doctors are quacks. Some clinics are only operated by nurses; the patients don’t even know that this is only a nurse not a doctor with a medical degree. Such was and is the state of Cambodian health care to this day.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


This is practically a sequence to the previous post. Cambodians have a penchant for cockfights. As in most countries, they are illegal but they nevertheless have an avid following especially in the countryside.

Police often look the other way but sometimes they do raid a fight. The other day in a district in Prey Veng province the police surrounded a fight to stop it and possibly seize the cocks.

In the process the district police chief drew his service weapon and fired a shot hitting an innocent bystander who was holding his child in his arms. News reports say the bullet hit the man in the temple and exited on the other side. The bystander was felled as if hit by lighning dropping his baby to the ground.

The police chief stated he only fired a warning shot in the air and the bullet must have ricocheted from a tree. This explanation is a typical Cambodian excuse. They come up with the most implausible excuses you can think of, often insulting the intelligence of people who can think logically. How can a bullet ricochet even if it is not directly shot in the air? If the gun is pointed even slightly upwards it is absolutely impossible for the bullet to ricochet back downwards hitting a bystander in such way that the projectile would enter the temple and exit the temple on the other side. It was a shot clearly fired at shoulder height, possibly with outstretched arm. It doesn’t take a criminologist to come to this conclusion.

Why would a policeman draw his weapon to break up a cockfight? This sounds just as if it had happened in the U. S. where trigger-happy cops are wont to shoot and kill unarmed African-Americans for minor infractions.

The local court invited the chief for an interrogation but the chief did not show up saying he was sick. This policeman needs to be arrested for at least involuntary manslaughter. If no further news will be read or heard within the next couple of weeks it is safe to assume that the affair will be swept under the carpet. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Cambodians and the Law

Cambodians have a deep-seated disrespect of all laws and regulations unless it involves their hallowed traditional rules of preserving their daughters’ virginity and arranged marriages as well as the ceremonies on all Buddhist holidays, which they celebrate with great aplomb, somber expressions and humble demeanor, alas without great conviction (the elderly Khmer whom I very much respect will hopefully excuse my cynicism).

Much has been written on forums and blogs, not to mention the local newspapers both English-language and Khmer, and the social media, foremost among them that huge advancement of Western civilization and now world-wide culture, Facebook, about the new traffic law, as it is commonly called in online parlance.

I do not want to repeat all those gripes written and otherwise expressed both orally and electronically, but this law is symptomatic of the state of the Cambodian mind in terms of how to live together within certain boundaries and in a civilized manner. Man laid down rules of how to live together in a group, tribe, or later in states since the beginning of time. Without these rules or laws anarchy would rein.

Now to look at Cambodian roads one might get the impression that this sector of Cambodian life is indeed somewhat anarchic, or perhaps only chaotic. But not only there, in fact in most other cases they flout what officialdom had prescribed. They build houses wherever and in any fashion they want, they settle on land without asking who the owner is, they believe they are due a share of something whether they earned it or not. Polygamy is outlawed in Cambodia. Nevertheless, wealthy, mostly elderly, man have a young and beautiful mistress, semi-officially called the second wife or small wife (propuen chong).This attitude and self-righteousness is the cause of and fuels many conflicts. And then, of course, if a law prohibits certain actions there is always money that can pave the way around a law so officials may look the other way or in direct violation of the law even sanction such illegal actions. A good example is the former practice of granting concessions for large pieces of land for rubber plantations. The designated concession may have been a protected natural habitat or national park. But time and again one could find that these old and environmentally valuable trees were cut down in exactly those spots with official approval. The export of precious hardwoods is another example.  This has been going for decades and the government is unable to stop it. The more egregious cases of clear violations of the law at the highest level involve people who killed somebody, whether in an accident or otherwise, just come to a settlement with the survivors who then don’t press charges. The same system is ingrained for rapes. The perpetrator simply pays some retribution to the victim and her family and then the prosecutor does not see the need for any official action although a myriad number of laws have been flagrantly ignored and broken. In fact, this constitutes another criminal offense. There is a duty to prosecute, whether or not the civil claim had been settled or not. A crime was committed and this requires a punishment.

But let’s take the recent new traffic law as an example par excellence how things work. The law was passed a year or so ago. One would think plenty of time to educate the population about the new regulations. The majority of traffic is motorcycles. The aim was to curb the many traffic fatalities that afflict the county. The law to wear a helmet had been in place already. Now both driver and pinion rider need to wear one. From now on there are only two adults and one child under 6 (?) allowed on a bike. The government convened a committee to hammer out a strategy on how to implement the new law. They came up with the brilliant idea to use about 1750 policemen nationwide, yes, nationwide, to man traffic posts. In Phnom Penh there are over 1 million registered motorcycles but only approx. 90,000 people with a driver license. Countrywide that number is probably unknown. So all unlicensed drivers would need to get a license. Many of the motorcycles, especially in Sihanoukville, had not been registered as the owner had not paid the import tax and duty for it, a prerequisite for getting it registered. In order to get a license they would all need to take a test and pass it. Those tests are a joke insofar as you practically could not fail. The people supervising the test are there to help you check the right answers if you pass them a little something.  But, of course, there is also a fee for the license itself involved.

Now come January 01 police began pulling over cars and motorcycles for infractions of the new law. This being Cambodia it goes without saying that the people who hadn’t had a license did not get one all these months the previous year, notwithstanding the fact that TV had reported on the subject many times. As for the registration, that probably was pretty much unaffordable for most people. So they simply did nothing about it. The rural people simply claimed not to know that a new law even existed – I am sure in some cases that’s even true. According to newspaper reports the police pulled over 80,000 vehicles the first 3 or 4 days and collected an almost similar amount of money. The enforcement provoked a veritable shitstorm on Facebook.  As the PM maintains a very active Facebook page he was swamped with comments.

The Prime Minister, lately somewhat suffering from statesman-like credibility because of the Sam Rainsy issue, took it to heart and swiftly rendered some of the sections suspended, e. g. the driver licenses – for motorcycles less than 125 cc none is needed, over 125 cc you need to get one but won’t have to take a test and getting the license is free. So why not have everybody get one? The registration requirement got a moratorium of I believe 6 months. So here you have the parliament who passed a law – this why it is called the legislature, one of the three pillars of democracy – and then you the Prime Minister, part of the executive branch who without even as much as a stroke of the pen but with an announcement on Facebook nixed part of a law. Wouldn’t that have been a job for the parliament? Of course, he did issue an executive order the next day and promised the assembly would later follow up with a change in the law.

So one can now easily understand why the Cambodian population, from the poor ignorant peasant to the well-heeled city dweller, simply doesn’t respect laws. They see how it is simply ignored and has been for decades at all levels of society so why should they comply with regulations that are against their personal, possibly only momentary, interests. During the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea there were strict laws that applied only to the general population. The party hierarchy had always been exempt unless somebody had rubbed somebody higher up the wrong way. After the 1993 elections, the ruling party simply contested the outcome, threatened secession, and managed to stay in power. Impunity is a widely practiced concept. When it served their purpose the law could be interpreted to fit their needs.

How can compliance with the law be taught to the general education – only in schools, right? This will, of course, only work if there is an educational system in place that would know how to do that. But with absenteeism and corruption as much part of a teacher’s life as everywhere else, this could never reach the broader future generation. This has been going on to this day and this is why even, perhaps especially, the younger ones just say, ‘Who cares?’

So it is no wonder that you can hardly see anybody after January 01 on Cambodia’s rural roads wear helmets, let alone the person on the back wearing one too. 3, 4 or even 5 people on one of those small rickety motorbikes are no rarity either. I haven’t been to Phnom Penh lately; reportedly it is slightly different there but in Sihanoukville one cannot see any noticeable change on the streets. Now they are forming a committee to study how to change the new traffic law to encompass the needs of all people. Who drew up the law in the first place and did the members of the assembly deliberate on it at all? Where was the opposition’s wisdom? Didn’t any of that go into the process at all?

Saturday, January 2, 2016


I am going to write about real snakes, not about the human kind. Snakes are widespread in SE Asia so it won’t come as a surprise when visitors or locals come across one. Most people will freeze up and scream (females) for fear or run away forgetting that most of the snakes, like everywhere, are harmless and will slither away from us. Of course, better safe than sorry, so it definitely is wise not to get too close to them. There are quite a few of the poisonous sort. Please refer to this website for further information and advice.

Hardly a week goes by where we don’t have a snake incident at our house. I have two dogs that routinely hunt smaller snakes. They grab it at the middle and shake it so it doesn’t have the opportunity to bite because their head is flopping around like crazy. Just the other day, though, they encountered a larger one which raised its head in typical snake fashion and my good dogs with their instincts shied away from a direct attack. My help killed it with a shovel. It was the Indo-Chinese spitting cobra. They did kill the smaller one though. The cobra made good fare for people in the nearby village.

On the prowl
Got it
Real small - but can be poisonous too

Spitting Cobra (poisonous) and harmless snake - but both dead

One time they had caught and thought they had killed a smaller snake already. So one dog got closer again to sniff at it and promptly got bitten in the nose. It was a poisonous snake and we had to rush him to a vet to get him a shot of anti-dotes. Poison takes longer in a dog to circulate through the system. According to the vet where it might take 1 hour in humans it takes 6 hours in dogs. His nose was a bit swollen for a while but he recovered fully and was soon back in the game.

New Year's Eve in Sihanoukville

Big Party like Every Year - Maybe Even Bigger This Year

The New Behemoth Hotel

The Entrance 

The Cambodia Beer Concert

The Beach 

Never miss a chance to sell something

The Anchor Concert

The Angkor Concert

TheVIP Concert

Parking Lot Cambodian Style

A local beauty - trying out a new job as a bartender

I am no VIP but I was invited to the VIP concert but couldn't stand it after an hour or so - the noise was deafening.