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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cassie's Blog: Covering up in Cambodia

By Cassie Phillips for CNN

BATTAMBANG, Cambodia (CNN) -- Cassie Phillips is in Battambang, Cambodia, where she will be working with the NGO Homeland.

Homeland is a Cambodian organization that works with local underprivileged children to give them some of the advantages they may have missed out on in their early life.

Cassie will be meeting and helping children from the region who have suffered from a range of afflictions. Keep up with her experiences in her blogs and video diaries.

September 25, 2007
I managed to stay awake long enough to take in so many new sights it exhausted me to the point of passing out for the rest of the trip.

Some of what I saw included lush rice fields, small thatched houses on stilts, and red dirt roads filled with people. There were people in cars, on motos and bicycles -- riding two to four people each -- and on foot carrying different types of goods. As we left the city, the road became less crowded and the scenery more green.

I awoke when the bus pulled into a rest station. Not hungry, I asked for the bathroom. To my surprise, the toilet, or lack thereof, was a porcelain sink-like bowl in the ground with a bucket of water next to it. To be honest, this caught me off guard. Too embarrassed to ask my male friend how to use the bathroom, I closed the door and sorted it out myself.

Since arriving in Battambang two weeks ago, three observations come to mind. First, communication is more than oral exchanges. In fact, since I've been here, I really haven't been able to communicate with the majority of people orally.

At first, not being able to talk, ask questions, and share stories was frustrating. However, I would say it's a blessing not being able to communicate with people at first because it really allows you to take things in and observe people. I often think people just talk to talk. That is, fill awkward moments of silence or over stimulate one another with meaningless words.

I enjoy the degree of anonymity I have when people trust I cannot speak the language. For example, at work, if I quietly sit in the office, after a while, people forget I'm there and carry on almost as if I am not present. I feel as if I see how people truly interact.

I can figure out quite a bit even though I do not understand what they say. However, I think as I learn more Khmer, people will tailor their behavior, as they know I can understand what is said.

Second, the legacy of European colonialism permeates beauty standards in Cambodia.

Before I came, I was encouraged to observe the cultural dress of women in Cambodia. So when I packed, I made sure to leave my short shorts and tube tops at home. However, I was very disappointed to see the women here always wear pants or long skirts and long sleeves for the most part. Primarily, I did not understand how it wasn't hot for them, especially since most of the kids wear shorts and tank tops.

At first, I thought dressing conservatively was part of the modest role women are expected to fill. Then I realized that covering yourself also protects against all sorts of bug bites and sunburn. This made me happy to cover myself despite how hot it made me.

However, after speaking with a friend, I realized there is yet a third and perhaps supremely important reason for covering up. As she was slipping on her elbow length purple gloves over her long sleeve sweater, while I rolled the sleeves up on my shirtsleeves and wiped sweat from my brow, she told me she wore the gloves so she wouldn't get dark. Many times I heard her comment, "I don't want to be dark."

As a brown person in the United States, I'm attuned to understanding skin color in a racial hierarchy. In my short time here, many people have commented to me that I am "dark like Khmer" as they tap my arm. However, I am never sure if they are paying me a compliment or not. After all, I've seen Khmer of just about every skin tone.

Similarly, I was told that many Khmer envy white foreigners for their big (pointed) noses. These commentaries reflect the French colonization of Cambodia and its influence on beauty standards. Accordingly, I'm not sure how comfortable I am with covering up, but the present dengue epidemic is reason enough for me.

Finally, it feels as if everywhere I go I'm surrounded by smiling faces. Actually, everywhere I go I manage to catch the attention of the majority of people for some period of time.

Normally, the constant stares I receive would become infuriating at some point. No one likes to feel as if they are a freak. However, what makes the stares bearable are the warm smiles that follow, if you just take the time to catch someone's eye and smile at them.

I have daily memories of warm faces and toothless grins which always outshine the blank stares they begin as. The ease at which people are willing to crack a smile in Cambodia highlights the positive energy that abounds and friendly demeanor of Khmer culture.

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Major Drug Discoveries Found in Cambodia

The recent discovery of two huge methamphetamine laboratories in Cambodia has led to fears that the country is becoming a major regional center of illegal drug production and consumption. Authorities say that tougher anti-drug programs in neighboring countries have led some major drug producers to shift production to Cambodia. Rory Byrne reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

This meth lab recently discovered in Phnom Penh's Dangkor District is the largest ever discovered in Cambodia. Police at the scene confiscated laboratory machinery, $100,000 in counterfeit notes, guns and huge quantities of methamphetamines.

Police say the lab was used to manufacture and test new generations of increasingly potent illegal drugs.

Another so-called super-lab recently discovered in Kompong Speu province, west of Phnom Penh, was used to make the raw materials needed to produce methamphetamines.

Police say they discovered almost four tons of drug-producing chemicals, enough to make hundreds of thousands of pills.

Lars Pedersen is the head of the United Nations Office on Crime and Drugs in Cambodia. "This puts Cambodia in a higher league in terms of the drug problem. It's now clear that we have drug production taking place in Cambodia. The main drug, which is abused in the country -- and that goes through the country -- is metamphetamines."

The U.N. says 60 percent of the world's 25 million methamphetamine users are living in Asia. Eighty percent of those are under 26 years of age.

In the past, drug enforcement officials say traffickers used Cambodia solely as a transit point. Most drugs came down the Mekong River from Burma and Laos into Cambodia en route to Thailand and Vietnam. Some got shipped further to Australia, the U.S. and Europe.

Pedersen says that the recent discoveries of production facilities in Cambodia reflect a growing drug problem in the region. "It's part of a worsening trend in general in the region," he says. "But trafficking in Cambodia is also influenced -- trafficking and production for that matter -- is also influenced by the crackdowns in Thailand, by a tougher policy in Thailand and in China for that matter, also. So it's a matter for traffickers, producers, to find alternatives and this country is a very attractive alternative."

Robert Bruce is with GSM Consultancy and works with governments in the region to safely dispose of illegal drugs. He says that the Cambodian government and other partners deserve credit for acting quickly to try to contain the methamphetamine problem. "It's really unfortunate that Cambodia is being used as a production center but at the same time I think it's very good that the government is stepping in early, supported by donors and supported by other governments to take actions before it becomes more widespread."

Pedersen says methamphetamines made in Cambodia pose a threat to all countries. "We should not forget that it affects all of the rest of the world because drug production in the magnitude that we see here is not only intended for the Cambodian market, it is intended for the world market."

U.N. officials say that greater cooperation between law enforcement and government officials in the region is needed if the threat from illegal amphetamines is to be contained.
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Detained KRouge chief's family demand bail

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — The family of detained Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea demanded Tuesday he be released on bail because they doubt officials of Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal can tend to his poor health.

"We want him released on bail so we can take care of him," Nuon Chea's son, Nuon Say, told AFP.

"I heard there are doctors to take care of him, but we are still worried about his health... we don't know how they are caring for him."

Nuon Chea, 81, is the oldest of the Khmer Rouge's ageing leaders, all of whom are suffering a variety of ailments, making health a major concern for the court tasked with trying the former regime's leaders.

Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said earlier that five doctors and four nurses have been assigned to take care of Noun Chea, adding those in the court's custody had access to better healthcare than most Cambodians.

During a routine medical check-up shortly after his arrest last week, Nuon Chea was pronounced to be in relatively good health.

But his lawyer, Son Arun, said Tuesday he was considering seeking bail, in part over the concerns of his client's family.

"We are considering the case... I am thinking about the reasons (to ask for bail)," he said.

Son Arun said the court has already agreed to change Nuon Chea's prison diet to include more fish and vegetables, and build a new Western-style toilet that is easier to use.

Only two former leaders have been arrested so far -- Nuon Chea and former prison chief Duch.

But others are expected, adding to the burden of keeping those accused of crimes committed during the regime's 1975-79 rule alive long enough to see the inside of a courtroom.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998, while another likely genocide suspect, military commander Ta Mok, died last year.

By the time the communist Khmer Rouge regime fell in 1979 up to two million people had died of starvation, disease, overwork or were executed in one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.
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Vietnam And Cambodia Seek Brunei Oil And Gas Expertise

Bandar Seri Begawan - Vietnam and Cambodia could cooperate with Brunei on technical expertise on oil and gas exploration, said the newly-appointed Vietnamese Ambassador to the country, Mr Pham Binh Man, and Mr Nan Sy, Cambodian Ambassador to the country, after their meeting at the Cambodian Ambassador's Residence in Jln Bengkurong yesterday.

After they met to enhance the two diplomats' cooperation, Mr Pham told Bulletin that during the recent visit by Vietnam's Prime Minister to Brunei last month, three MoUs were signed on the avoidance of double taxation, petroleum and sports cooperation.

The newly-appointed Vietnamese Ambassador said as Vietnam is developing, the country can learn from Brunei's expertise in oil and gas exploration. "We have to put into practice the action on the recent MoU signing on petroleum cooperation," he added.

Meanwhile, Mr Nan Sy said Brunei's technical expertise in oil and gas would be valuable in assisting Cambodia. He also proposed to the Brunei government the possibility of direct flights between the two countries to further enhance trade and tourism.

"Brunei could be a hub for visitors from Sarawak who wish to go to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh in Cambodia which is also popular for its Angkor Wat," he added. -- Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

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Cambodian jungle girl 'returns home'

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Cambodia's mysterious "jungle girl" has disappeared back into the forests where she was found less than a year ago, police said Tuesday.

The wild woman believed by the parents of Rochom P'ngieng to be their long-lost daughter melted back into the jungle about a month ago and searches for her have proven fruitless, said Ley Tom, O'Yadaw district deputy police chief in the remote north-eastern province of Ratanakiri.

Rochom P'ngieng disappeared while herding buffalo as an 8-year-old, which would now make her 27. Her parents believe the woman captured by local workers who caught her stealing food from their logging camp is their daughter, saying they identified her by a distinctive scar even though the woman was unable to communicate in any known language. They did not undergo DNA tests.

"One day she just disappeared back into the jungle, and no one has seen any sign of her since," Tom said by telephone.

The wild woman's story fascinated the world as researchers and psychologists tried to piece together her story after her discovery in January and human rights groups rushed to assist.

Tom said her behaviour changed little during her months in civilization and after the initial excitement died down, people from the outside world forgot about the strange girl in a faraway corner of Cambodia near the Vietnamese border.

"After the first rush of people, organizations stopped coming and no one asked about her," Tom said. "She didn't begin to speak, and she used to walk around ripping her clothes off. Look, I think she was just crazy.

"I have to say it is strange, though, how she can just disappear without a trace."

He said he did not know how the parents, members of an ethnic minority hilltribe who have no access to communication with the outside world, had taken her disappearance, 19 years after they first lost their daughter.

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