My post from my other blog about the Cambodian National Elections.
Category Archives: phnom penh
For the sake of my blood pressure and to stop stress-induced headaches, I’ve tried to avoid a) reading the newspapers daily in Cambodia and b) blogging about Cambodia. For better or worse, though, I am in a new work environment surrounded by people who choose to immerse themselves in discussions of the social, political, and cultural issues of the Kingdom. Curse you, people who give a damn!
As a result, it’s pretty hard to ignore the abysmal state of affairs. Take Ieng Sary’s death, for instance. One of the top Khmer Rouge officials sitting
the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, Ieng died last week at the age of 88 (87? I’ve got conflicting information), effectively escaping justice for his crimes against humanity. Everyone knew this would happen. No one seems surprised. The kicker, though, is that his progeny currently hold posts in the Cambodian government. That this is so also should not shock, but what does is the fact that many people deny that the Khmer Rouge still control Cambodia. Admittedly, they’ve changed their name from Khmer Krahom (Red Khmer) to CPP (Cambodian People’s Party). Apart from that, the only real difference is that they’ve shed their communist trappings. The current and permanent PR, himself, exists in clear testament to this.
The sad joke that is the Khmer Rouge Tribunal seems to depress the older people around me, whereas folks my age don’t really bother themselves to discuss it. For someone like me, who isn’t a native of Cambodia and of course has no memories of the Khmer Rouge, it seems like a distant affair. I tend to be more struck by the impunity and violence that I see and hear about on a daily basis.
Incidents like the horrific hit-and-run accident which killed three children and injured eight other people are what get to me. The driver, a 23-year-old medical student, smashed into a crowd of people after she tried to escape from an earlier accident wherein she hit a motorbike. People are saying she fled that first accident because she feared vigilante justice from bystanders. Yes, it’s so that that happens, with thieves and robbers and even occasionally drivers, but rarely are the wealthy and powerful held to account, by onlooking citizens or the courts or anyone else. I am of the opinion that she drove away not simply out of fear, but because she felt no responsibility for her actions whatsoever. She probably figured that she was better off fleeing the scene, knowing the police wouldn’t come looking for her if she got away, than staying and facing up to what she’d done.
The rich and powerful in Cambodia see their car as a symbol of their wealth and status. Lexus LX, Land Cruiser, Range Rover, Hummer, 4Runner– these are the names that command respect and admiration. Motorbikes are also status symbols, but of course their owners would trade up in a heartbeat. Ain’t nobody want a lowly bicycle, and if you happen to be unlucky enough to ride one, take extra precaution on the roads; bicycles get absolutely no respect. There is an unwritten rule of the road here which dictates that the larger and more expensive vehicles wins. Never ever ever walk out in front of a car. No one will be brought to justice after they run you over and keep on going.
It’s hard for me to feel any sympathy for the hit-and-run medical student. Every day I witness intolerable disrespect for motorbikes, tuk tuks, cyclists, and pedestrians by high-status SUV and truck drivers. They represent everything I loathe about class in Cambodia. When I witness their drivers’ self-entitled behavior, as if the road were theirs alone, I feel rather hopeless about the whole situation.
Usually I take hope from my students and friends, particularly the younger ones. They can smile in the face of all that is wrong with Cambodia and the world as we know it, and their hopeful nature is rather catching. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to agree with my young students when I’m riding my bike to and from work. There’s not much justice to be had here, be it for the victims of the Khmer Rouge atrocities or the average Dara on the street. Mahatma Gandhi said that the weak can never forgive; forgiveness is a quality of the strong. Somehow I think the weak would rather have justice.
The Indian embassy is interesting.
Never been before.
No one warned me about the crazy visa man.
I went to pick up the passport/visa of a friend of mine who will be visiting India soon. The two Khmer security guards were friendly, showed me in– or showed me the door, rather. They pointed straight. “Go that way,” they said, but they didn’t come in. Actually they slammed the door on me. Huh, that was strange, I thought as I meandered down an exterior corridor of a large, fancy house. Strange-looking embassy, if you ask me.
I was beginning to think I got it wrong when I noticed an open window and a counter under it. It said “visa services”, or something to that effect. I approached and saw a man on the other side, sitting facing away from me, staring intently at a computer.
“Excuse me,” I said. The pale, spectacled man turned and glared at me.
I experienced a moment of doubt. Why was I here? “Uh, I need to pick up a passport.”
The man’s frowned deepened. “No, that’s not right.” It wasn’t? Was this a Jedi mind trick?
“Well, I’m picking it up for a friend, actually.” I started fishing for the receipt. He moved to a desk drawer and started pawing through a stack of passports. He seemed to hesitate on one, but the put them away and looked at me sharply. I gave him the receipt. After glancing at it but a moment, he said,
“Can’t you read?” He told me in the Queen’s English (or that’s what they say) with a pronounced Indian accent. “It says the 23rd.”
“It does?” I was amazed. I hadn’t realized the cryptic scribbles were actually writing, let alone in a language I could recognize. I looked it over. “No, actually, I can’t read that.”
“Come back then.” He started to go back to his desk.
“So, it isn’t ready yet…?” I ventured.
“Of course it isn’t ready yet!” The pale man spat, “How can it be ready? It isn’t the twenty-third!” He eyeballed me like I was wearing a big fat dunce cap.
“Uh, hm. Okay. I’ll… be back then. Goodbye.”
“Yes.” He dismissed me.
I was completely steamed when I signed out with the guards. “That guy is really rude!” I exclaimed in Khmer. They seemed to give me a look that said newb. I thanked them and left. I was still pissed until I called a friend, but as I told her what had happened, the crazy visa man sounded to start funnier and funnier.
Still, I wish I didn’t have to go back in two days…
This is going to sound like old news to most of you, since The Avengers opened a month ago, but this was opening weekend here in the Kingdom! This is about the third movie I’ve seen here on the big screen– and this time in 3D, no less!
The movie, itself, was pretty awesome– written and directed by Joss Whedon, so naturally funny. But an epic comic book movie experience is only fulfilling if it has the right crowd dynamics. And I have to say, the Phnom Penhers didn’t disappoint. It was a diverse crowd, mostly Khmer but lots of foreigners, too: Americans, Brits, Africans, Indians, Koreans… But evidently with a shared love of Marvel heroes. The banter and approving applause at various points was reminiscent of movie-going with my comic bookie friends back home. The Khmer women sitting next to me very much liked Captain America.
So what else did the Avengers do this week in Cambodia? They saw the sights, of course.
(Do I have other things I should be doing besides photoshopping copyrighted pictures? But of course!)
I have no complaints about the film (well, one could always launch into an academic or feminist discourse about it, I suppose), except for one…
They killed Phil, wtf!
I have been terribly neglectful of you. I will try my best to take more responsibility for you in the future, including providing you with regular updates. So sorry!
There is a reason for my lack of blogginess lately, though, apart from midterms at my school. My crazy colleague (and friend!) Eileen and I have been keeping quite busy with our second Take Back the Night project, which is coming up fast at the beginning of June.
Take Back the Night, for those of you who haven’t heard of it, is an event to promote awareness of gender-based violence held around the world. Generally there is a series of events of the course of one day which provide a safe place for survivors to speak about their experiences, educate the community about gendered violence, and create discussion about how to end it, culminating in a night-time march and candlelight vigil. My school, Michigan State, usually hosts this event in April (which is sexual assault awareness month). MSU’s TBTN always has a “clothespin line”, where clotheslines are strung across a large area near Beaumont Tower. Upon these lines are hung t-shirts which have been recreated as artwork by survivors, friends and family of survivors, and allies within the community; they draw, write, and decorate the shirts to share their experience of violence, how it has affected them or someone they know, and how to end it. I have always found it to be a very cathartic experience, and also a powerful message to the community, showing that violence is not an isolated occurrence, that it can happen to anyone, and that we all have a stake in stopping it. Last year in Eileen’s village, we recreated the clothesline project. Although it was small, with only 100+ participants, it had an impact on the people in the surrounding villages and we received a lot of positive feedback. This year’s event in Koh Kong will be much bigger, as we have partnered with MTV Exit (an anti-human trafficking campaign in Southeast Asia) who are hosting a rock concert in the evening, following TBTN. We are expecting over 1,000 people!
Between trying to find funding, arrange a venue, locate partners and sponsors, organize volunteers, collect art supplies, etc. etc…not much time to blog or do much else. This event has prompted me to finally dish out the $4 for Photoshop, though, so I’ve been designing logos and flyers and such lately. In fact, why don’t you guys vote for the one you prefer! (It’s okay to say ‘neither’ if you think they’re both blah, by the way.)
Fundraising has probably been the most time-consuming aspect. Between two tabling events (5 days during the past 6 months), we managed to raise over $300– thank you to all the PCVs who helped table, contributed money, and just stopped by to chat! Also thank you to all the Long Islanders from Eileen’s hometown who contributed over $500, from her community and her mom’s church! Because of the generosity of these donations, we will be able to provide accommodations for our 7 Khmer volunteers who would otherwise not be able to afford to travel with us. We have also been able to purchase many art supplies which will make the TBTN t-shirt art event even more successful!
I am nervous and excited for Koh Kong, but the day-long event there won’t technically be the end of our Take Back the Night endeavors. Metahouse, a German-run art gallery/cafe/cinema in Phnom Penh, has agreed to include our t-shirt art project in an upcoming exhibition themed “Freedom”. We will select a portion of the most creative, expressive shirts that suit the themes of anti-violence and freedom from the Koh Kong event, and use them for a participant-engaging exhibit. This Metahouse exhibit is set to run from mid-July to mid-August. I must say… I’M TOTALLY STOKED! I was joking that it’ll be my first art exhibit ever…Only it’s not my art. ;P
Anyway, there will definitely be updates and photos from these events, I promise I will try not to post them 3 months late.
Til’ next time, to quote Red-Green, keep your stick on the ice. ^_^