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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Local couples travel around the world

By Ashley Mcknight-Taylor

A trip around the world.

It has inspired books and movies. It's something people dream about.

Precious few people truly get to see the world in one fell swoop, but two Suffolk couples can count themselves among such travelers.

David and Julie Holland, accompanied by George and Sue Birdsong, in February took a private jet to some of the world's most legendary and exotic locations.

It started with wishful thinking.
David Holland is a Washington & Lee University alumni, and he received brochures from his alma mater each year advertising tantalizing trips abroad to places such as the Serengeti and Tibet. David and his wife salivated over pictures of the Taj Mahal and pyramids of Egypt.

"It just sounded so absolutely fabulous," Julie said.

Their friends, the Birdsongs, were familiar with the brochures. George also graduated from Washington & Lee, but when the Hollands mentioned the idea to them, Sue said the pamphlets were tantalizing, but typically went straight to the trash. She and her husband, like most people, thought it would be impossible to leave work and other commitments for the length of time such a trip required - in this case, 24 days.

But David and Julie couldn't resist. And after the idea stewed with the Birdsongs for a while, they, too, realized it was an opportunity they could not pass up. The couples spent more than a year making reservations and filling out the necessary paperwork. On Feb. 14 they headed to Washington, D.C. for the first of many flights that would carry them around the world.

But they got snowed in.

With a jam-packed schedule of flights, train rides, sightseeing and more, the delay threw a real wrench in the plan. They made it out of the city the next day, and zipped off to their first destination: Lima, Peru. There they took a quick tour of a museum - their leisure time eaten up by the snow back in the States.

A train, outfitted with a glass ceiling, carried them through the mountains to Cusco and Machu Picchu, where they explored the spectacular ruins of the Inca Empire. The ruins are tucked away on a hilltop between two Andean peaks at 7,000 feet above sea level. The location kept them hidden even from the Spanish. They were discovered by Yale professor Hiram Bingham buried beneath dense undergrowth in 1911.

Julie said each person had a headset so they could continue listening to stories and explanations from the guides while still wandering around the site on their own.

From there, the travelers jetted across the South Pacific to the isolated Easter Island, home to giant stone monoliths, known as Moai, that dot the coastline. The tour group of about 100 people traveled by a specially outfitted Boeing 757 that was outfitted with a personal chef, physician and six professors who could speak expertly on a number of topics related to their travels. Lectures on the population, geography and more gave them a clearer picture of the places they would see, Julie said.

"The guides were very knowledgeable."

They continued on to Samoa, an island of natural beauty and friendly people. Then it was onward to Australia where they had the opportunity to snorkel over the Great Barrier Reef or to ride in a glass submarine. David and George braved the jellyfish and went snorkeling, while the ladies chose the more comfortable underwater journey.

The next stop: Angkor Wat, a temple in Angkor, Cambodia, built for a king in the 12th Century and known as the largest religious monument in the world. It is a huge pyramid temple surrounding by a moat 570 feet wide and about four miles long, along with a number of other temples.

Julie said she found this site most fascinating because archaeologists still were working to uncover the temples, which had been swallowed by jungle. While in Cambodia they also were able to take an elephant ride as a couple.

After leaving Cambodia, they spent one night in China where Julie, though tired, took time to visit the panda compound.

"I was exhausted, but I just could not pass up the pandas," she said.

They also were treated with a delightful surprise: their group became the first tourists to arrive in the country during the Chinese New Year, so journalists there wrote about them and provided translated copies for each person.

They had just a brief rest before the group moved on to Lhasa, the traditional capital of Tibet where the altitude, despite the fact that they took medication beforehand, still made many in the group ill. But the snow on the Himalayas was an amazing sight. They visited an orphanage, where children danced for them, and they saw where the Dali Lama lived.

Next on the list, one of the world's most famous structures: the Taj Mahal in India. Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned this mausoleum, located in Agra, for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Construction began in 1632 and was completed about 20 years later.

Julie said the white marble and inlaid tile of the building were beautiful, as was the extravagant hotel where they stayed while in India. But once they left the gates of the Taj, streets were lined with improvershed people living in slums.

"You go in the gate and it's a whole other world," she said.

From the Taj they traveled to a place of equal, though different, granduer: the Serengeti Plain in Africa. They camped in a mobile tent on a mountain, from which they could watch rhinocerouses and other amazing creatures.

"You could hear animals all night long," Julie said.

The plains of Africa were followed by one of the Wonders of the World - the Great Pyramids of Giza in Cairo, Egypt and the Sphinx. Their last stop was Marrakech, a medieval city in Morroco. From there they flew back to Washington, D.C., arriving exhausted, but satisfied.

"It was a good tired though because it was a trip we'll never forget." .
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'Saddest thing is we lost her right here'Survivor of Cambodian horrors meets her bloody fate in S. Phila.

By Julie Shaw

ONE OF nine brothers and sisters, Nimol Tep, 40, survived the Khmer Rouge "killing fields" period in Cambodia in the late 1970s.
A decade later, she almost drowned when she tried to flee to Australia for a better future. She lived in Cambodia most of her life, then came to this country legally two years ago, living first in Connecticut before coming to Philly.

Then she, along with her 47-year-old roommate, were stabbed to death Wednesday in their South Philadelphia apartment, allegedly after an acquaintance of her roommate had an argument with the older woman over money.

Tep just happened to be in the apartment on 7th Street, near Jackson, at that time. She moved there just two months ago.

Yesterday, two of her brothers recalled a friendly, outgoing woman who liked Philadelphia because of its Cambodian community.

"The saddest thing," said brother Sunheang Tep, 52, as he stood at the doorway of his sister's second-floor apartment, atop a flight of gray-carpeted stairs, "was we went through the hard time together" of surviving the wrath of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

"We didn't lose anyone," he said, speaking just a few feet from where stains of dry blood smeared the white tiles inside the apartment. "The saddest thing is we lost her right here."

"Pretty much everyone's sad about it, especially my parents back in Phnom Penh," the capital of Cambodia, where they live, said Sunheang, who flew into Philadelphia yesterday morning from his home in Rochester, N.Y. Since then, he has had to identify his sister's body and is now preparing for her funeral.

Sunheang and brother Sivhuot Tep, 49, who lives near Bristol, Conn., stopped inside Nimol's apartment yesterday "to collect memories of her," Sunheang said, as he showed a 2005 photo of his sister smiling at Niagara Falls.

The brothers said they did not know how their younger sister came to befriend her Philadelphia roommate, also a Cambodian immigrant. Police have not released the roommate's name because her next of kin has yet to be notified of her death.

In Connecticut, where Nimol lived with Sivhuot, his wife and children for nearly two years, she had worked in a factory assembling electrical supplies, her brothers said.

She then told them she was moving in with her friend in Philadelphia. She thought she could earn more money here, Sunheang said. Plus, Connecticut was too quiet.

"She said she liked it here because she had some friends," Sunheang said. "In the Connecticut suburbs, she had nobody to talk to. There were not a lot of Cambodians. Over here, everywhere you turn, there are Cambodian people" in this area of South Philadelphia, he said.

His sister spoke "very little English" and was learning the language.

Nimol wanted to earn more money so she could return to Cambodia in July to see their parents, Sunheang said. Then she planned to return to the States to move in with a younger sister near Los Angeles.

Police have said that Sambo Nou, 21, who lived a few blocks away from the women, has confessed to stabbing Nimol Tep and her roommate to death in their apartment about 5 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Nou, of Jackson Street near 4th, knew the older woman because she was a friend of his mother's. In the women's apartment, Nou argued with the older woman about a cell-phone bill and about borrowing some money, Homicide Sgt. Anthony McFadden has said. Then Nou allegedly stabbed the older woman, then allegedly stabbed Tep after she came out of the shower.

The two women worked at a clothing manufacturing company. Their bodies were discovered Thursday morning by a resident who lived above them after they failed to go outside to a van waiting to pick them up for work.

A middle child, Nimol Tep was born in an island village in the Koh Sotin district of Cambodia's Kampong Cham province. The family later moved to Phnom Penh, but didn't stay long.

In April 1975 the Communist Khmer Rouge captured the capital. Soon after, Khmer Rouge soldiers evacuated residents from cities, forcing people to live and work in the countryside.

From 1975 to 1979, a period termed the "killing fields," an estimated 1 to 2 million people died from starvation and disease or were brutally executed under Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot's rule.

There was "no school, no shop, no currency," Sunheang Tep said. "We live like prisoners, like third-class citizens." The Tep family was forced to leave Phnom Penh and lived in the countryside in Khampong Thom.

After Vietnam invaded Cambodia in late 1978, Sunheang Tep was able to flee the country by walking to the border and into Thailand, where he spent two years in a refugee camp. From there, he was the first in the family to come to the United States as a refugee.

As for Nimol and the rest of the family, they were able to move back to Phnom Penh around 1980, the brothers said.

Around the late 1980s, she and her younger sister, who now lives in California, tried to flee Cambodia for a better life in Australia.

"She wanted to get out of the country," said Sunheang. "It was still communist." They traveled in a "small boat. All I know was it was not a big commercial boat."

The boat sank in a storm. The sisters were rescued and taken to a refugee camp in Indonesia. After two years, they were sent back home to Phnom Penh.

Unmarried, Nimol "just stayed home in Phnom Penh and take care of our parents," Sunheang said. Then after 20 years of his having petitioned the U.S. government, it gave his sister permission to move here two years ago. *

Staff writer Christine Olley contributed to this article.
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Vietnam and Cambodia open international border gate

The Mekong delta province of Dong Thap and its Cambodian neighbouring province of Prey Veng jointly inaugurated the international border gate of Dinh Ba –Bon Tia Chak Cray on April 27.

According to Chairman of the Dong Thap People’s Committee Truong Ngoc Han, the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments at their joint committee’s 8th session in October last year agreed to upgrade several border gates between the two countries to the international level, including the Dinh Ba-Bon Tia Chak Cray.

The two countries have issued relevant legal documents and exchanged diplomatic notes related to the upgrading of the border gate, creating legal basis for its operation. (VNA). Read more!

Cambodia publishes first history of Khmer Rouge regime

The first textbook written by a Cambodian on the history of the Khmer Rouge has been published by the Documentation Center of Cambodia. Previous accounts of the Khmer Rouge era have all been written by foreign scholars and reporters. The book aims to educate Cambodians about the rise and fall of the genocidal regime that killed almost 2 million people in the late 1970s. Rory Byrne reports from Phnom Penh.

Very little is taught about the Khmer Rouge here, in large part because the subject is sensitive among political groups and other high-profile people once associated with the genocidal Maoist movement.

Even those Cambodians who lived through the regime don’t know the whole story, and more than 70 percent of the population has been born since the Khmer Rouge was ousted in 1979.

The new book is entitled A History of Democratic Kamphuchea, the name the Khmer Rouge gave the country after taking power in 1975.

The book is published by the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group that documents Khmer Rouge crimes. It relies heavily on first-hand testimony of survivors and perpetrators of Cambodia’s genocide.

The book’s author, Khamboly Dy, says propaganda and differing interpretations of events have clouded people’s understanding of the regime itself, and of the Vietnamese-led action that drove it from power.

“That part of history is very political, and so far we don’t have the common agreement on the content of [that] history, because there are a lot of interpretations on the history of the Khmer Rouge, like the 1979 event - whether it is the invasion, or the liberation of Cambodia,” he explained. “So there are a lot of interpretations.”

The book was written for high school teachers and their students. It is part of a wider process being conducted by various private groups aimed at helping Cambodians to better understand the history of the “Killing Fields” era. The book was published as United Nations-backed trials of the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders are approaching.

Khamboly Dy says the aim is to present the plain facts, as opposed to trying to interpret them.

“We introduce the facts about the Khmer Rouge - we don’t use the interpretation, we don’t use propaganda, we use facts. And we try to balance, to make the book neutral, not to take sides,” he added. “That is very important, to know exactly what happened in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, and the real events: not the propaganda, not the hatred, because from now on we need to focus on peace and reconciliation, and justice, not on hatred or any propaganda.”

Cambodia’s Education Ministry has approved the book as a “core reference” guide for history textbooks, but not yet as part of the official school curriculum. However, there are discussions about producing a condensed version of the book’s material, to be included in future textbooks.
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Cambodia bar association slashes fees for genocide trial lawyers

[JURIST] A spokesman for the Cambodian Bar Association (BAKC) said Saturday that the group would dramatically reduce the fees it proposed to levy on foreign lawyers taking part in the upcoming Khmer Rouge genocide trials [JURIST news archive] before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia [official website].

Foreign lawyers will now to be required to pay a one-time flat fee of $500, down from an earlier combined rate of over $2700 comprised of a membership fee, a fee of $2000 payable on case assignment, and a monthly fee of $200.

The initial fee structure had prompted concerns from rights NGOs [JURIST report] and foreign judges on the court that it would discourage volunteer lawyers from offering their services and would prompt complaints that defendants had not been given a free choice of counsel; some observers had feared that it would stymie the tribunal [JURIST report], which has already faced criticism for process delays.

Bar Association representative Nou Tharith told a news conference that "The decision to lower the fees reflects the true willingness of the Cambodian Bar Association to allow the process of the tribunal to move forward as quickly as possible." A tribunal spokesman quoted by AP said that the decision of the bar association was a "very positive development." AP has more.

Cambodia's 1975-79 Khmer Rouge [MIPT backgrounder] regime was responsible for the deaths of over 1.7 million people from genocide, disease and malnutrition. The ECCC was created to investigate and prosecute instances of human rights violations by a 2001 agreement between Cambodia and the UN.

Prosecutors are expected to indict about 10 defendants; trials which were initially expected to begin in mid-2007 have already been delayed for several months [JURIST report] due to disagreements over procedural rules..
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Americans living 'outside the box' through Peace Corps in Cambodia

By Ker Munith, the Associated press

KAMPONG CHAM, Cambodia - Munching on their first hamburgers in weeks, the Americans traded tales of mastering the Asian squat toilet and eating deep-fried tarantulas.
These were some of the rural realities that greeted 29 U.S. Peace Corps volunteers who left behind the comforts of home to teach English for two years in the Cambodian countryside.

It marks the 46-year-old Peace Corps' first program in the poor Southeast Asian country, which was bombed by American B-52 bombers during the Vietnam War, ravaged by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s and further weakened by a civil war in the 1980s.

Political instability and security concerns kept the organization out of Cambodia until now, but both sides felt it was "the perfect time" to introduce the Peace Corps to the country as it strives to develop and expand its economy, said Van Nelson, the group's country director. The group's arrival makes Cambodia the 139th country where the service organization has worked.

The 13 men and 16 women, from New York, Wisconsin, Iowa and elsewhere, fanned out recently to villages in seven rural provinces after two months of training that introduced them to life in Cambodia - where the average civil servant earn about $25 dollars a month.

Roughly a third of Cambodia's 14 million people live below the national poverty line of 50 U.S. cents a day.

During an eight-week orientation period, each volunteer was lodged with a Cambodian family in Kampong Cham province, 50 miles east of the capital, Phnom Penh, where they eased into their new culture and downsized lifestyle.

Used to driving cars on American freeways, they became accustomed to maneuvering bicycles along bumpy country roads, where traffic rules don't apply.

They lived in shacklike wooden homes on stilts overlooking dry and empty rice fields and slept under mosquito nets to keep away the malaria-carrying mosquitoes that are a major killer in this country. They hand pumped well water into buckets and boiled it for drinking, and many said for the first time in their lives they showered three times a day - the only way to cool off from 100-degree heat in the absence of air conditioning.

They did have some luxuries, like dim lights at night powered by car batteries - a rarity in rural areas.

"We have different routines now. We go to bed earlier and get up earlier. We wake up when the dogs wake up," said Sam Snyder, 24, from Buffalo, N.Y. He came with his wife, 22-year-old Kara, who said the couple wanted "to experience life outside the box."

Dogs weren't the only early risers. Colin Doyle, 23, from Baltimore, said he was awakened regularly by insomniac roosters.

"They crow at 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 5 a.m. Very annoying," he said at his temporary home in Kampong Cham before the group got posted around the country.

Over the course of two years, the volunteers are expected to teach English to approximately 60,000 Cambodians as part of efforts to increase job opportunities, particularly in the booming tourism industry, organizers said.

Tourism is one of Cambodia's biggest moneymakers, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars a year, mainly from the crowds of visitors who flock to the famed Angkor temples in the city of Siem Reap. The government is also developing some of the prime white-sand coastal areas in hopes of building Cambodia's image as a beach destination.

Peace Corps officials said they plan to increase the number of volunteers to Cambodia each year. The initial group ranged from young adults just out of college to a married couple in their 40s.

While the Peace Corps' image remains that of a youth service, the organization has been attracting more and more Americans like Mark Stilwell, a 46-year-old former computer network administrator from Denver. He and his 41-year-old wife Kristine, a high school teacher, joined the organization because they wanted to travel but "in a way that is more than just tourism," he said.

Nelson said the Peace Corps has been attracting older volunteers for years and has found they bring special skills like patience and "a different way of looking at the world than young volunteers."

"We find people coming to Peace Corps when they retire. They just realize that they're not getting any younger and that they should get out and see the world and expand their horizons," he said.

Many said the brief orientation made them realize all they took for granted back home - like washing machines and dryers. Doing the laundry involves squatting outside over a bucket of water and scrubbing each item with bare hands.

Going to the bathroom was another learning experience, as a group of three volunteers explained while on an outing at a riverside restaurant in Kampong Cham, which happened to be owned by an American from Philadelphia and, to the group's delight, served burgers and fries.

Mastering the Asian squat toilet, a porcelain covered hole in the ground, was the first challenge. One volunteer, who asked not to be quoted by name on the subject, said he had given up using toilet paper - which could only be bought at a distant town - and instead did as Cambodians do, which involves splashing oneself with water from a filled tub near the toilet.

Eating offered new and sometimes stomach-turning dishes, said Chris Rates, a 25-year-old from Oshkosh, Wis., who suffered diarrhea after sampling a delicacy of fried tarantulas.

He confessed to being "freaked out a bit" when he bumped into two of the creature's living, breathing cousins in the bathroom at his host family's home.

"I'm used to living with them now," he said, as he devoured his first hamburger in weeks.
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Vietnamese in Cambodia lauded for overcoming life’s hardships

PHNOM PENH — National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Phu Trong yesterday hailed Vietnamese living in Cambodia for their efforts to overcome difficulties while being abroad.

Trong made the comments while meeting with Viet kieu (Overseas Vietnamese) in Phnom Penh during an official trip to Cambodia.

The NA chairman said he sympathised with Viet kieu who faced difficulties while working to advance the homeland.

He affirmed the Party and State’s responsibility to the Vietnamese community living abroad, including Viet kieu in Cambodia.

Trong said he appreciated the Cambodian Viet kieu’s great attention to the country’s situation.

He also updated the meeting’s participants on the latest developments in Viet Nam, including preparations for the 12th National Assembly election and the assembly’s resolve to renew the organisation and its working methods.

The NA chairman said he expected the Vietnamese community in Cambodia to continue upholding their homeland’s tradition of mutual assistance.

On the occasion, Trong presented gifts from the NA to Vietnamese people in Cambodia partly aimed at helping them overcome their hardships.

Chairman of the Vietnamese association in Cambodia, Chau Van Chi said that while the Vietnamese community was far from their homeland, they always followed their country’s progress and felt happy with the major national achievements made during the period of renewal (doi moi).

Despite receiving care from the Party, State and NA, a majority of Vietnamese people living in Cambodia were poor and unskilled while also having to struggle with legal status issues.

Chi said he hoped to receive more aid, both material and spiritual, from Viet Nam, particularly in helping the children of Viet kieu to return to their homeland to study.

The Vietnamese group also pledged to work together to preserve Vietnamese cultural identity, obey local laws and contribute to boost ties between Cambodia and Viet Nam.

Chairman Trong also visited the Vietnamese Embassy in Cambodia and toured some historical relics and cultural sites in Phnom Penh.

City links

Economic co-operation across various fields between HCM City and Phnom Penh had seen increasing development, according to both Secretary of the Ho Chi Minh Municipal Party Committee Le Thanh Hai and Phnom Penh’s Mayor Kep Chuk Tema.

The two officials held talks in Phnom Penh on Sunday to discuss further co-operation.
Hai said authorities and businesses from both cities have spared no efforts in implementing co-operation agreements.

Several co-operation projects between the two cities had attained good results, especially a humanitarian programme on cataract surgery in Cambodia. A hospital, named after its sister hospital Cho Ray in HCM City, would be built with the city’s assistance in Phnom Penh.
Mayor Kep Chuk Tema reiterated the Phnom Penh municipal authorities’ incentives given to Vietnamese investors in the city.

Earlier, the HCM City delegation was received by King Norodom Sihamoni.

The King expressed his belief in the further development of relations between the two countries.

Hai said he believed Cambodia would gain achievements in national construction, also contributing to friendship and co-operation between the two countries and the two cities.

Hai invited King Norodom Sihamoni to visit HCM City in the near future. — VNS
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Vietnamese firms join giant trans-pacific cable project

three Vietnamese companies joined to connect cable under sea to the US.

The Asia-America Gateway (AAG) project will cost an estimated US$560 million.

The cable system will run from Malaysia to the US via Hong Kong, the Philippines, Guam and Hawaii. The cable will also run through parts of Singapore, Thailand, Brunei and Vietnam.

The Vietnamese firms include the Vietnam Post and Telecommunications Group (VNPT), Viettel, and Saigon Postal (SPT). VNPT will contribute the largest funding of the Vietnamese firms, $40 million, as a founding member.

The project’s other companies are from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, the US, and Hong Kong.

The system is scheduled to begin operations in November 2008 after 19 months’ construction.

It will provide direct access and diverse routing between South East Asia and the USA and will have geographical advantages over the traditional trans-Pacific routes (via the North Pacific).

The new route will avoid some of the areas most prone to seismic activity, a serious hazard for undersea cables.

The cable system will span 20,000km and use the latest Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) technologies. The cable’s 1.92 terrabits per second capacity is six times more than the current international optical cable capacity of Vietnam.

The proposed cable system is designed to provide a high level inter-connectivity with high bandwidth systems. So, its capacity can be extended to other locations in northeast Asia, and southeast Asia, India, Australia, Africa and Europe.
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