One recent day, with the Siem Reap expat business owners passing the time lamenting the lack of tourists Visit Cambodia 2003 brought, the local police, one of the myriad of divisions where you can choose from fire police, traffic police, foreigner police, tourist police, and now awning police, paid the businesses in the Psah Chas area a little visit. "Remove your awning, now. Orders from the governor," was the message. Most expat business owners responded by putting down their glasses of beer, and saying, "excuse me?" Then handing over a five dollar bill which was duly accepted and come back and see me next week about it.
However, one expat business owner was so incensed that he formed the Association of Psah Chas Merchants, signed up about thirty members and sent a petition off to the governor. And it didn't go unnoticed that one of the signatories doesn't even run a business with a building in the Psah Chas area or anywhere else for that matter. Ah, what the hell, he lives here and what would an organization in Cambodia be without having at least one ghost member?
Well, no one really knows what the Association of Psah Chas Merchants will ever do but it now exists and has a few dozen members and all because everyone had to take down their tin awnings. Maybe we'll have a meeting someday if we can sort out who brings the beer.
Anyway, five dollars or not, within the week most of the tin awnings disappeared from around the Psah Chas area and surprise of surprises, many of the expat business owners had to agree that the place looked better for it. Hmm, maybe the governor was on to something? One of the restaurants, owned by one of the policy's most vocal critics in fact saw his business double the first day without the awning. At least that's how it looked, but few of us can recall him ever having many customers in the first place so it wouldn't take much to double his business.
But alas, the truth of the great tin awning incident came out. The governor really was on to something. See, as the awnings were coming down a truck began to make the rounds of the Psah Chas area offering the businesses a new plastic awning that would conform to the governor's beautification goals. So the idea here is that all of Siem Reap's Psah Chas area businesses will have a plastic awning of uniform red and yellow candy stripes in front which can be purchased for $130 to $160. And it really is a great idea for someone as rumor has it the purveyors of these plastic awnings are relatives of the governor. As of today, the expat business owners have for the most part taken the attitude that the plastic awning people can arse off, however, several of the Khmer business owners, who may have been hit with a little more persuasion to make the purchase, have caved in. To be continued we're sure
Last month I spoke of one block in the Psah Chas area which is being rapidly transformed into our number one nightlife street. A number of the business owners have since launched a campaign to officially name the street "Pub Street". Official recognition or not it's been suggested that someone should just go ahead and put up a sign on each end of the block anyway and see how long it stays up. Speculation of course, but as the street has no signs, let alone a name which anyone knows, the new name might stick. Feel free to add "Pub Street" to your Siem Reap vocabulary.
A lot of the opinionated material in this column originates, no surprise I think, from what are generally friendly discussions involving a few expat residents, which of course I am one, sitting around bars drinking beer and talking about the country we have adopted. Here's another one.
Yet another bar is slated to open soon on Pub Street and rumor has it, and I must emphasize this is absolutely positively unsubstantiated rumor bearing no basis in fact whatsoever, unless it turns out to be true, that said bar will be a "girlie bar". Which in itself is a classification open to various levels of interpretation which I'm not going to try to nail down beyond offering what some of those interpretations might be and you can decide for yourself which one you like.
Siem Reap has developed as a premier tourist destination for one reason and one reason only: Angkor Wat. Everything else is secondary. And Siem Reap is certainly not a sex tourism destination if you define sex tourism as traveling somewhere for the sole purpose of engaging in sex, usually paying directly for it. However, this does preclude a larger, though not necessarily large, segment of the tourist population, which while not traveling for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity on their holiday, may from time to time, choose to engage in such fun with a local and in many cases paying for that privilege. Said activity is possible in Siem Reap and always will be. The issue is should it and at what level?
At present Siem Reap's adult entertainment scene can be divided three ways. First, there are three Khmer nightclubs near the Psah Chas area where local girls hang out available to be bought out for the night or an hour or two by anyone who chooses to do so. The girls are mostly Cambodian and freelancers. Most of the customers are Khmers, though foreigners, expats and tourists, can be seen in these establishments on any given night, though always heavily outnumbered by locals. Second, there is a single expat-run bar located near two of these nightclubs that has a number of freelancing girls available for hire. Customers are almost entirely expats and tourists. Third, are a number of brothels scattered all over town, at least a dozen I can think of without straining, staffed predominantly by Vietnamese girls and under the control of a mamasan. Customers are mostly Khmers, followed by a few expatriates and a very small handful of tourists. Hence, sex for hire is available in Siem Reap to anyone who wants it and one need not go far to find it. However, it does not come to you, you have to go to it, and by and large if you don't want to see it, you won't.
The existence of sex for hire in Siem Reap does not bother me. People can do whatever they want and if two adults want to engage in sex for the exchange of cash, well, so what? Go for it. I don't care. However, I also realize that not everyone agrees with this opinion. More importantly, as I believe it is applicable to a larger portion of the traveling population, are those that while they might not care what activities other people engage in would prefer not to have to deal with it themselves. Out of sight, out of mind.
So what kind of bar are we talking about, girlie bar? A few waitresses serving drinks who can be bought out at the end of their shifts? Not a problem. A few girls sitting inside the bar waiting for whoever might walk in? Not a problem. But what about ten girls sitting out front shouting, "Hello, handsome man!" at every male tourist who walks by? This I think is a problem and it goes back to my contention that not everyone shares the same opinions about prostitution and in a locale built for tourism of a different nature, no one then, should have it stuck in their face. Within two blocks of Pub Street are at least three Vietnamese brothels, two Khmer nightclubs, and one expat-run bar with girls. Why then, do we need it on Pub Street which is rapidly developing as an entertainment strip catering to the activities of drinking, eating, and listening to music, serving hundreds of tourists per night many of whom are there for no other reason? If the final scenario, girls hanging outside the bar shouting at male tourists came to fruition I think this would most definitely not enhance this block and in a small way would be detrimental to the other businesses on the block. If someone wants to open a bar and stick some girls in there, by all means, do so, but do it on a quieter street with less visibility.
Siem Reap, unlike say, Pattaya, has not built itself as a sex tourist destination and doesn't intend to do so. If someone goes to Pattaya and is offended by what they see, my response is, well tough, you shouldn't have gone to Pattaya in the first place because if you did even the slightest research you'd have known what was there and is well established already. But Siem Reap is first and foremost about temples.
Turning decommissioned weapons into art is not a concept without precedent, but the idea is now reaching Cambodia in the name of A Peace of Art Project. Organized by artist Sasha Constable and EU-ASAC project officer Neil Wilford, the project's goal is to introduce Cambodian fine art students to alternative artistic methods, materials, and influences; to create works of art from decommissioned weapons; exhibit these creations around the world; and ultimately sell these works for the benefit of the Cambodian artists and the sustainment of the established workshop.
The project, expected to take place from November 2003 to January 2004, will begin with an orientation session for the selected students followed by a two-week theory course at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh taught by Sasha Constable which will cover the use of metal in art, using art as an avenue of healing in a post-conflict society, correlating peace and art in Cambodia, showing examples of previous projects of a similar nature, e.g. the Swords for Ploughshares project in Mozambique, and finally, supervising the process of turning the students' ideas into reality, as preliminary sketches will be exhibited alongside the completed sculptures.
The next stage is a practical course in basic metal working skills to be held at the Development Technology Workshop in Phnom Penh and taught by Mark Solomon, a blacksmith/sculptor/welder. Following successful completion of this course, the students will be provided with decommissioned weapons disabled under the supervision of the EU ASAC Weapons Expert Lt. Colonel RNA (ret.) Adriaan Sprangemeijer and an officer from the Cambodian National Police. Additional ammunition casings will be provided by the Halo Trust in Siem Reap. The Mine Action Group (MAG) is participating in the project as well. With these donated weapons students will then create artistic pieces under supervision of Sasha Constable and Mark Solomon.
Following the completion of the works, exhibitions will be held and the pieces auctioned. Exhibition locations include the Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh and the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Cambodia in Siem Reap.
The Peace of Art Project seeks to make this a long-term sustainable project with a workshop that will exist not only as a place to create artistic metalwork of any expression but also as a place for learning metalwork skills that can be transferred into sustainable job opportunities.
Funding is from private sources. Two generous donations have so far been made by the EU ASAC (European Union Assistance on Curbing Small Arms and Light Weapons in Cambodia) and Angelina Jolie.
For more information about the project or how to make a donation, as more funds are needed, send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I like press releases, I can fill space and not write anything. Still, if I didn't think this was worth passing along I wouldn't, so do give this a look:
On Saturday, October 25th, Sihanoukville's Occheuteal and Serendipity Beaches will play host to performances from the Lunar Circus from Australia, DJ Tim (UK) and DJ Mikus (France) to benefit M'Lop Tapang, a non-profit organization established to address the growing needs of Sihanoukville's street children. All parties involved, ranging from the performers to the hosting businesses to volunteers running concessions to the municipal government are donating their time and energy to this cause.
Lunar Circus, you may ask. Seven trained acrobatic performers, three musicians, a mechanic, and a tour manager converged on Margaret River, Western Australia from parts as far away as Europe, the Pacific Coast of Oz, and, well, Margaret River, creating a touring animal-free circus highlighting physical agility and training in the human form, combining traditional circus entertainment with the modern acrobatics of outfits such as Cirque du Soleil. In fact, one member, Sharon Gruenert, is a former member of the world-renowned Cirque. They have years of experience performing across Australia, specializing in taking what is traditionally an urban artform to the outback, as well as festival experience in more standard metropolitan settings, combining music with high-flying aerial stunts, contortion, balance, and humour.
So, then, why the mechanic? Is he juggling spanners or something? No, he's got to keep the double-decker bus running, since Sihanoukville is one stop of the Lunar Circus' Eurasian tour. Starting at Singapore in June 2003, the Circus has toured through Malaysia and Thailand en route to Vietnam, China, Kazakhstan, Russia, and eastern Europe before hitting the western European festival circuit during the summer of 2004. Along the way, the Lunar Circus will be working with outfits such as the internationally acclaimed Shanghai and Moscow Circuses, as well as producing a film of the entire tour.
The Lunar Circus' sole Cambodian performances will be in Sihanoukville, where the municipal government has graciously allowed them to set up their big-top tent along Occheuteal Beach. They will be performing as a benefit for M'lop Tapang, a non-profit organization recently established by Khmer and Western residents to address the growing problem of street children in Sihanoukville. In addition to their performances, they will be conducting circus workshops with the kids of M'lop Tapang which will culminate in a separate performance by the street children themselves.
An event of this stature surely requires a celebration, and party we will. On the evening of Saturday, October 25th, Unkle Bob's restaurant on Serendipity Beach is hosting a fundraiser for M'lop Tapang, featuring DJs Tim and Mikus as well as additional side performances by members of the Lunar Circus. DJ Tim has held down residencies and guest appearances in nightclubs throughout Asia, performing from Singapore to Seoul, while DJ Mikus is one of the founders of Cambodia's fledgling dance scene.
For more information about the Lunar Circus, M'Lop Tapang, or the benefit after-party, please contact email@example.com or call Will Capel, M'lop Tapang volunteer, at (855) 12-708324.
There's a new coffee table style book on the shelves now. The Tonle Sap Great Lake: A Pulse of Life written by Renaud Bailleux highlights the ecological and cultural significance of the Tonle Sap Lake and the region. The book features over 150 full-color photos of which yours truly provided 28. The book is part of the project, "Participatory natural resource management in the Tonle Sap region" within the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, which funded the book with support coming from the Government of Belgium. The book is published by Asian Horizons Books Co., Ltd. in Bangkok, Thailand and will retail for $30 with all proceeds reverting to the project.
Still a stalemate. The National Assembly was supposed to convene on September 27th but the opposition boycotted the event. Glad to see the opposition doing its part for the country. Right. One way or another PM Hun Sen and the CPP will get this government running and will do so without either Funcinpec or the Sam Rainsy Party if the situation warrants it, which would suit many people just fine. Stay tuned...
Battambang, the colonial riverfront town in northwest Cambodia has been garnering a lot more tourists as of late (as it should) and is firmly on the tourist map now. There is now a proper bus service (opposed to tourist buses) running on schedules to and from Phnom Penh on what is now a vastly improved road. There are at least five companies, which include GST, Ho Wah Genting, Neak Krorhorm, and Capitol. Tickets are $4.
Not surprisingly then, the local powers have seized this opportunity to begin charging entrance fees at most of the area attractions: i.e. Wat Banan, Wat Ek Phnom, Phnom Sampeau. The fees are $2 US and levied on foreigners only. Cambodians need not pay these fees but are charged parking fees of 1000 riels per automobile and 500 riels per moto.
Mekong Airlines, that short-lived enterprise that had the misfortune of beginning life with international routes to Singapore and Hong Kong just as SARS hit, insists they are ready to get up and flying again. This past month they've relaunched with a new management team and I do hope they can put their planes back in the air but I'll believe it when I see it. Speaking of airlines, the feeling is from all who do business with Royal Phnom Penh Airways that this fledgling airline will be out before the year's end.
Mekong Express was a short-lived attempt to provide a more upscale boat service between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. About a year ago they managed to run a few routes before disappearing from the scene as quickly as they came. The rumor is their boat suffered "engine trouble". On about the same time, the other boat companies started a price war that was soon stopped and tickets for foreigners climbed back up to $22-25.
Mekong Express is back in business, or at least their advertisements say so. They are offering an introductory rate of $10, down from their list price of $50. When they formed a year or so ago, they did one leg in the morning, I think it was Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, and then returned in the afternoon, which many people agreed having an afternoon departure was a wonderful addition to Cambodia transport as getting up at sunrise for a five to six-hour boat ride is really not something a lot of people consider a positive part of their holiday. Their present schedule is to travel from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (8 am departure) on odd days and return to Phnom Penh on the even days (again, an 8 am departure). This odd/even scheme seems logical enough except the company fails to explain what it will do when the boat travels to Siem Reap on October 31st?
Rock at Angkor Wat took place as promised on September 20th drawing a large crowd of expatriates, tourists, and a handful of curious locals. Based on the number of hangovers the following day and that no one could remember if the bands were any good or not we can assume it was a good event for the organizers, the charities (the taylor and khoo projects), and certainly all the participants. Yes, I was there and the following day I was as foggy as the next person. Looking forward to the 2004 version.
Quite a few arrests the past few months, with one man, an American, set to be tried in America for sex crimes committed in Cambodia. It will be interesting to see how many of these arrests are followed by convictions. However, as is often the case, those not convicted often avoided this fate by paying enormous sums of money, which is often, in the minds of some, justice served. The situation is while the accused loses every penny they have as well as having their name splashed across every newspaper in Southeast Asia, they are regrettably free to commit the crime again. On the other hand, when the families of the victims receive some of this cash, they are at least receiving compensation they would otherwise not get, and some are apparently satisfied by this scenario. Of course in an ideal world the convicted would serve a prison term and pay tens upon tens of thousands of dollars but I'm still looking for that ideal world. Anyone seen it?
Another reality is that while Cambodian prisons may not be the most pleasant of places, there are a lot worse places to be. And the one in Siem Reap is a new, by all accounts clean facility, where anyone with a bit of cash can get their own cell built, a TV, computer, telephone, a, um, err, maid from the women's section and whatever else they can afford. So in which case is justice better served and by whose standards? Such is the case of Cambodia law and justice. Greyscale indeed.
The Bart Lauwaert/Clint Betteridge saga continues. First of all, Lauwaert continues to sit in jail in Siem Reap, though in general population and not a private cell with his 20-year-sentence extended to 34 years due to his inability (or refusal) to make restitution to the victims. I still think he'll be out in less than ten, if not even five, and knowing Bart, and I do know him, probably no worse for the wear.
But the Betteridge case remains the more interesting of the two. As I've reported in previous updates, Betteridge was the man who was released on bail, got a new passport and fled to Australia. He was arrested there and has been held while the two countries sort out an extradition treaty. Betteridge claims a return to Cambodia would be a violation of his civil rights as he claims he was tortured while in prison. There was no evidence of this while he was in the Siem Reap prison and he never complained even once about it while he was there. Most people around here agree the only torture inflicted on Betteridge came from within his own mind. In any event, the latest trial and tribulation is that his lawyer in Australia has quit. No explanation given, but I reckon that's probably one smart lawyer who knows a lost cause when he sees one.
The Angkor Guide
In 1944 Maurice Glaize published the Angkor Guide which at the time stood as the definitive guide to the Angkor temples. Sixty years later this book remains a relevant resource item and is available in its entirety online. No doubt one might think, well, what use is a 1944 guidebook? Especially in a country like Cambodia? Political situations certainly haven't remained constant, temples are destroyed, research brings in new interpretations, practical matters of travel changes, etc. All of this has been taken into consideration and where applicable, information has been amended to reflect relevant changes. And as the guide serves essentially as a descriptive work on the temples and not a practical guide for visiting the temples, e.g., how to get around, etc, much of the information is as useful today as it was in 1944.
In the UK and want to be on TV? [June
Letters from the virtual mailbag.
My response: The bit about living in Cambodia is in the oven so to speak, but it's on slow cook if you know what I mean. I will, hopefully, before the year is out, have much more information for living in Cambodia. NGO of the month: Good idea, but it's a lot of work to do as it involves first, researching an organization that I'd want to promote and not all agencies are worthy of promotion, and then spending a day with them, and then writing it up. It's a good idea but it's really not something I can do in a practical sense until that time I have someone I can afford to pay to do it for me.
Any suggestions, readers? I'll forward them on:
While I'm soliciting suggestions, here's another one:
I receive via e-mail, all the US embassy reports, both in reference to Cambodia and to worldwide events. This was sent out on the 12th of September. There was more than this, but I ask readers to make particular note of the first sentence and what sort of U.S. things abroad might be attacked... would that include me?:
For what's it worth, a September 30th release fixed that initial sentence.
Personally, I wouldn't worry too much about the people at Happy Herb's, but a jogger in Phnom Penh must surely attract an entourage of optimistic motodrivers who could only think the man must be in a hurry to get somewhere and why not on one of their motos?
Cows on the road to Battambang:
Something trivial, unless you like Rottweilers!:
There is one I know of in Siem Reap seen every now and then running down
Sivatha Blvd with one of the Siem Reap Moto Club mechanics chasing after
it. The Khmers flee in fear though the dog seems perfectly friendly and
I'm continuing to receive a few travelers' reports every month, mostly detailing experiences on the Poipet to Siem Reap road. They may be read at the Overland page. See the various Travelers' Reports pages. There are three of them.
I've also begun a Reader's Submissions section which is open to just about anything you want to say. Reader's Submissions will be published on any country in the appropriate place on the website. You can link to them from the main Cambodia page as well as the main index page.
It's a done deal. I now have a Visa merchant's account and if you want to purchase a photograph from me you may now do so on this website using your Visa card. Go to the newly redesigned Photography section for more details.
A reminder. I have published on this website a considerable-sized FAQ file, recently expanded to 133 questions and answers on a variety of Cambodia subjects that should answer a majority and then some of the questions tourists and would-be expats might have. While I welcome e-mail questions from readers and I try to answer them all promptly and properly, the answers you are looking for might be found in the FAQ file. Have a look. Most sections have been updated this past month.
And don't forget to check out the new Guide to the Provinces - quick summaries of the tourist highlights found in each of the Cambodia provinces and municipalities.
restaurants, tours and more
We're seeing tourists again in Cambodia and this past September was unusually busy for what is historically the worst month of the year. We can only hope this is a precedent for better things to come and we can get through the next year without SARS hysteria, terrorism fears, riots, and all the other things that kept people out of Asia these past eight months or so.
The third edition of Thailand Update went up on September 15. Do check it out if you haven't done so already. The lead item discusses the disenfranchisement of the expatriate population in Thailand and what many are beginning to notice as a growing consideration for resettlement in Cambodia as Thailand becomes more restrictive legally and in the minds of many of the expatriates, a less welcoming place.
You'll also notice that the Pakistan tales have finally been published.
October 1, 2003
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