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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My Family Vacation to Cambodia: Quirky Encounters from Phnom Penh to Angkor Wat

When I was a kid I went along with my family to Cambodia for the primary purpose of visiting Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious building and surviving ancient temple. Little did I know the vacation would be
full of surprises, some humorous and others terrifying.

Our first stop was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital. Before we checked into our hotel, my father warned the rest of us to be careful about what we said out loud during our stay, in case the hotel room was bugged. I am not certain as to why the owners of an arbitrary hotel in Cambodia would want to bug their rooms, or if my father was simply paranoid to the point of ridicule, but we took his advice anyway to make him happy.

Oddly enough, we did find a small hole in the ceiling directly above our shower that looked suspiciously like a hidden camera. I believe we blocked it with some tissue paper.

In any case, we did a little sight-seeing in Cambodia's capital and then made our way to Siem Reap, the city closest to our main destination: Angkor Wat. There we met up with our designated tour guide. He spoke English more or less fluently, which relieved my father of the job of having to translate for us (he speaks Cambodian).

The tour guide was a nice enough guy. As the vacation progressed, he led us through the mind-blowingly beautiful Angkor Wat and other temples, explaining their history and the various Hindu and Buddhist sculptures. But when the man got around to describing the plentiful phallic and yonic statues, he unknowingly used their vulgar slang names instead of the aforementioned polite, formal vernacular. He did this consistently throughout the entire tour. Needless to say, it drew some stares from the other tour groups.

Later we passed by a group of locals, one of whom pointed our direction and yelled something in Cambodian. Our tour guide quickly translated this to us as, "What a nice, healthy son you have." If that sounds odd, it's because the tour guide lied. My father, being able to speak Cambodian, gave us the correct translation later. Apparently that person had actually yelled, "White as a ghost!"

Anyway, at some point during this vacation—I forget exactly when—my parents thought it would be fun to go joy riding in a rental car in the countryside. We went driving down the middle of nowhere, bisecting
fields of rice, toward some tourist attraction that we never could find. At some point we realized we had gone too far, and might be near or across the Cambodian border. This is bad. Why? Because there is a trend where people get robbed and killed trying to drive across the Cambodian border.

We turned around as soon as possible and bee-lined for our hotel again. Thankfully, there were no unpleasant encounters. We all got back to the city and then finished our trip in one piece.

That was the quirkier side of my family vacation to Cambodia, in a nutshell.
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Let this case proceed fairly

What is fair for Thais? When Thais were trespassing into Cambodia, they were treated with respect and put on trial with court procedures. But if Cambodians were trespassing into Thailand, they were shot in execution style or burned alive, those culprits will face justice in future.

The arrest and legal proceedings by Cambodia against the Thai Seven is spiralling downward far too quickly into a soap opera with real-life implications. The government, including Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, should take a collective deep breath and reconsider the fast escalating case. Authorities should strongly encourage the noisy and decidedly unhelpful members of the anti-Cambodia nationalist movement to do the same. The decision by Cambodian authorities to charge two of the seven men with espionage is a petty and legally insupportable move. It should encourage Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to take the necessary steps to move the original trespassing cases along and seek an end to what is quickly becoming yet another crisis with the eastern neighbour.

There are many unanswered questions, but everyone now knows the basics of this simmering case. Mr Abhisit assigned the high-profile Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth to gather facts about Thais who live at the Cambodian border. Mr Panich, for unknown reasons, went there with Veera Somkwamkid, who is both a leader of the Thai Patriots Network and a well-known instigator of anti-Cambodia actions. The two men and five companions were recorded on video while Mr Panich stated calmly that they were inside Cambodia. All seven were arrested, charged with trespassing, and taken to Phnom Penh for trial.

PM Abhisit, apparently because of Mr Panich's arrest, has tried aggressively and publicly to win release of the Thai Seven _ "They meant no harm." Hun Sen, apparently because of Mr Veera's arrest, has aggressively and frequently refused to intervene in the case _ "No one can intervene in the judicial system."

On Monday, however, someone in Cambodia intervened rather forcefully. Prosecutors filed the absurd charges of espionage against Mr Veera and the activist's secretary, Ratree Pipatanapaiboon. They allegedly collected information which might damage Cambodia's national security, said the charges. Presumably, the other five men did not collect such information. It is a clearly a vindictive charge, meant to intimidate and to punish Mr Veera for his past actions.

The irony, lost on few if any of the Thai public, is that Mr Veera is at least as large a thorn in the government's side as in Cambodia's. The arrest of the Thai Seven, now followed by the further serious charges against Mr Veera, will serve to spur a large rally against the government, scheduled in two weeks. Daily utterings by PM Abhisit on the case are fuelling emotions. There is a strong chance that the Jan 25 rally could descend into xenophobia. It is certain that some activists will attempt to steer the rally against Cambodian relations. It is arguably the only serious issue that the People's Alliance for Democracy can use in its anti-government campaign.

In effect, then, both Mr Abhisit and Hun Sen are acting against their own interests by treating the trespassing charges as a continuing and high-profile case. The rather feverish and daily news conferences feed the extremists. Both men and their spokesmen are providing more ammunition to the PAD and the self-styled "patriots" in both countries.

Mr Abhisit and the government need to do their best to protect Thais in trouble overseas. They need not and should not attempt to intervene directly into ongoing cases. As for Hun Sen, it is always appreciated when he dials down his rhetoric. It may be too much to hope, but if he allows the case to proceed to the judiciary without interference, it would be appreciated.

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Leslie Sanazaro Returns with Daughters of Cambodia Tour, Album

By Annie Zaleski

Singer-songwriter Leslie Sanazaro has a free show tonight from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Wine Press (4436 Olive Street). This show holds particular meaning for her, though: She'll be debuting new songs from a forthcoming album, Daughters of Cambodia, which is due in May 2011. The album is part of a bigger project whose aim is to raise money for a girls' school in Cambodia.

"It's a little bit of an outside-the-box project," Sanazaro said in a press release. "We make the record with the help of musicians all over the country, raise money for the tour, and let the tour stops raise the money for the school in Cambodia. Each show is a fundraiser and is linked with a local women's organization. It raises awareness for women's issues at home and abroad at the same time."

Sanazaro first became interested in this cause while performing in South Korea in 2008.

"I played 70 shows there that year and would read about women sold into marriage to wealthy men from Seoul," she tells A to Z. "Many of them didn't make it. It was very hard to read.

"Then last year I came upon New York Times writer Sheryl WuDunn's book, Half the Sky. I also heard her speak at Webster this past fall. The detailed stories of women who had survived (and some who had not survived) being sold against their will into the sex trade (brothels), well, it just hit me very deeply. For weeks it was the first thing I thought about waking up and the last thing at night. It made me re-think many things."

A planned break from writing music soon fell by the wayside; Sanazaro says she "was suddenly filled with a reason to write new music! While my heart still aches and I still spend a strong portion of each day in thought about the realities of human trafficking, I feel like I've come alive again working on this project.

"I couldn't be more excited to work on something so important," she adds. "The importance of this issue is deeper than I can express. That is why I began writing this music. When words fail, music, time and intent can deliver!"

Sanazaro will follow the album's release with a U.S. tour and a show at the beneficiary Cambodian school. She's currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the project. Tonight's Wine Press show will have a raffle of prizes, including music from bands such as Bill Deschand, Bottoms Up Blues Gang, Auset, Javier Mendoza and Dub Kitchen.
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Cooperation Between Sweden and Cambodia

The Royal Government of Sweden has decided to set up an Embassy in Cambodia to boost up the ties of friendship and cooperation between the two countries – Sweden and Cambodia.

Newly appointed Ambassador of Sweden to Cambodia Mrs. Anne Hoglund told Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance H.E. Keat Chhon during their meeting here last Thursday, according to the spokesman of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

The Swedish diplomat further said her government had provided a financial aid for the mutual cooperation and development to two countries in Asia, including Cambodia.

This year, she added, Sweden took over the rotating presidency of the EU and she also became president of EU in Cambodia, which is a task to share effort in the development activities in Cambodia.

In the meantime, Sweden and Cambodia have been working on drafting a development strategic plan for year 2011-2015, which will be completed every soon, said Mrs. Anne Hoglund, adding that many Swedish companies are interested in doing business in Cambodia.

For his part, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance H.E. Keat Chhon expressed his warm welcome to the diplomatic mission of the newly-appointed Swedish ambassador to Cambodia, which he said is a sign of strengthening the ties of friendship and cooperation between the two countries.

Sweden is a development partner, which has played an active role in the national development of Cambodia and has been providing grant aid to Cambodia since 1979 by starting from a humanitarian aid, he said.

Up to the end of 2009, Sweden provided US$280 million in grant aid to Cambodia to support the fields of education, good governance, human rights and environment. –AKP

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