Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Street life

Its the season of goodwill and giving and so a post about a time when giving is not right seems appropriate (in my opinion)!

Cambodia is a difficult country. I am under no illusion that when visiting on holiday or even for a longer period of time it is so easy to give a dollar here and there and you suddenly feel like you have made a real difference. This is where I plead with you to STOP! and think about the problem.

Yes, of course, it is true that Cambodia does not have a welfare system and some guidebooks may encourage you (irresponsibly) to think about this aspect of society and dig deep into your pockets. Yes, giving 1000 riel (about 25 US cents) might give you a warm fuzzy feeling that a Cambodian family are going to be eating well that night. Yes, you can afford to do it... so why is it so wrong or unhelpful?

Firstly, from an economic perspective, looking at the average daily national wage, which is around $1 (a factory worker might earn $60 a month, a waitress in an expensive western restaurant $70.... and these wages are the middle class salaries) giving even just a dollar to someone who is doing nothing at all is a bit of a punch in the face to anyone who is doing a job. By all means give a nice big tip to your tourist tuk tuk or waitress or the maid who made your hotel room bed instead.

Secondly, from a different perspective, people are put on the streets to beg by people engaged in human trafficking. Yes - really.

There is a baby who is passed from woman to woman on the riverside so that each woman can do their "shift" with the miserable looking baby to get more money from the gullible tourists. The baby is a hired helper! If you are going to give money to a woman because she has the miserable baby then that baby will become more desired by other women and so will suffer a childhood being carted around the riverside by various women to generate more funds. If the baby doesn't generate money (because you ignore it) the baby will be "out of a job" and this is no bad thing. Having a job when you can't yet walk or speak is a GOOD thing! Now there will be some of you still wondering - that if they do not give some cash the woman with the miserable baby - how will the baby ever get un-miserable and how will it eat? go to school? get a better life? etc. The answer is above, the baby is not getting the money. None of it. The money is going to the baby's mother/owner (do you think she ("Pimp") will be giving the baby a cut of the profits....nah) and the woman who hired the baby (she paid to use the baby so why is she going to care - The more awful it looks to her the better - The more terrible, the more $$$).

This is just an example because once the baby can walk it will be put out on the streets to do the begging by itself - Returning its profits to the person it belongs to, not keeping the money for itself. This person may be its mother or it may be someone who has purchased it to beg for it. A kind of slave trade. If you don't give cash then the mother won't have a need to put the child on the street (what would be the point?) and the "slave trade" will die out. It gets worse, some of the begging "slaves" are drugged by their Pimp to make them look even more pitiful. One particular drug makes people loose all sensations in their legs and so it looks as though they have a disability and can't walk at all....

Ahhh so a child with those big brown eyes you fell for finally gets a few riel from you. It is his or hers to keep because unusually they are not a slave beggar and they have run away from "home"... Yeah! What will they spend it on? You hope they will run off to go to school, buy a pen or two and eat a nice wholesome meal. Wrong! More than likely that money will go on glue. Street children in Cambodia have a huge problem with glue sniffing. Its such a big problem that adults have set up places where children can go and buy a small plastic bag with a bit of glue in it to get their fix. These adults have realised that the children are desperate and can't get enough money together to but a whole tube of glue so they "so kindly" have set up convenience stands with just enough glue to get a fix. Just like you were kind enough to give that riel.

Ok! Ok, the above is the worst case scenario - Some adults and children do need your help genuinely..... but a far better way to help is to: a) visit NGO craft shops (more expensive but better quality and you are helping those people, often disadvantaged in some way, who make the products earn a wage) b) visit Friends for a meal (just by the national museum - the food is fantastic tapas) The staff are all ex street kids who have been given a break c) use child safe tuk tuks and moto drivers (look for the child safe logo) d) visit the child safe drop in centre opposite Friends.

This is just a starter setting out why it is never the season of goodwill to give a dollar here and there. Its a controversial subject.... Having said all of the above you have to use common sense. I used to give a few riel every now and then or some food to an old, old woman who would sit on our road by my house. But I did not live in a tourist area, she was not trying to make a fast buck, she never asked anyone for money, she was always happy to get food instead, the moto men and other Cambodian neighbours gave her small amounts too....

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


In the run up to Christmas its nice to get Christmas cards Cambodian style!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Post Office Phnom Penh vs Royal Mail

I've had lots of people sharing their experience of the Phnom Penh Post Office since my first blog about it. My experience of the "service" is not unusual.

Recently a Cambodian student, who stayed with us in the UK in the summer, asked us to bring back some books from Cambodia after our holiday and post them from the UK to Italy where he has started studying. Of course - happy to pop them in the post via Royal Mail for a whopping sum of money.... The idea being that it was far "safer" to post them from the UK.

Those books were posted several months ago now... still no sight of them at the Italian end. Its rather ironic that my $13 from the PP post office resulted in delivery (and probably fed a family for a couple of days due to the overcharge) and made it across the world whereas here, well, Royal Mail resulted in complete postal failure. Try explaining that to the poor guy waiting for his books!!!!

Monday, November 23, 2009

CCH Roadshow




These are two of the many pictures I took at one of the CCH roadshows - A educational show where children teach others about social issues such as HIV, drug abuse and human trafficking. One of the students from the children's centre has documented the roadshow in pictures and written the accompanying text:
(Click on the virtual book to scroll through.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cambodian Crocs

When I first arrived in Phnom Penh and was looking for a "different" day out I went to Phnom Tamao wildlife sanctuary. You can read about the original trip here: I thought the place was well run given its limited funds.

That zoo made the news this week as DNA tests done by conservationists have discovered that one of the world's most endangered crocodile species, the Siamese crocodile lives in the moats at Phnom Tamao! The Siamese crocodile is pretty much extinct (and in fact was declared extinct in 1992). It is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are only about 250 left in the wild and most of those are in Cambodia in the Cardamom Mountains.

The crocs in zoo are now going to be bred to increase the population to 450. Once there are 500 they will be moved off the critically endangered list. It won't be easy for any released crocs as although poaching is now rare planned hydroelectric dams could interfere with the crocodiles' habitat.

Crocs - cambo
... Given that even the experts needed a DNA test to tell unsurprisingly I'm not sure if this photo I took is of the Siamese crocodile

Friday, November 13, 2009

International relations

Relations between Cambodia and Thailand have been strained for some time....not just recently but since Cambodia's independence in the 1950s and even before that. To put it mildly Cambodian people generally are very unsympathetic to Thais (or Vietnamese for that matter but that is a different story) so they love a story to stir up the tension.

Recently it was the dispute concerning 900 year old Preah Vihear temple on the border. The International Court of Justice in 1962 awarded the temple to Cambodia. The Thais didn't like that too much but what really twisted the knife was the fact that in July 2008 Unesco listed Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site. So they decided to send troops into the area....

With the Cambodians thinking was that the Thai's are after their temple/land and the Thais already fighting with their pride over the whole affair it isn't really surprising that the Cambodian army is also dispatched and the Cambodian PM calls the 4km square area a "life and death battle zone" - two Cambodians soldiers sadly died during a gun-battle.

Now there is a new tension - The Cambodian government has appointed former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as an economy adviser and this has made the Thai government hopping mad as they think he is a criminal and a powerful political opponent. Thaksin has been living in exile since 2006 when he was ousted in a military coup. A two-year jail sentence awaits him in Thailand. He arrived in Cambodia on Tuesday.

Cambodians it seems think the appointment is a good idea and the government is refusing to extradite him back to Thailand. This probably because a) the Thais are annoyed thereby increasing the delight of the population and b) most people do not publicly disagree with the ruling party for some reason.... Its reported that Thaskin has been playing golf with Cambodian PM Hun Sen.

Things have escalated though and now Cambodia has ordered the first secretary of the Thai Embassy to leave Phnom Penh, and Thailand have done the same to the Cambodian representative in Thailand (small world but I am fairly confident that I used to teach his grandson...!).

Latest news is that a man has been arrested in Cambodia for allegedly spying for Thailand. Apparently he works for Cambodian Air Traffic Service and has been seeking out the flight details of Thaksin.... Thailand says arresting this guy is intimidation with the intention to defame Thailand. The Thai authorities then stated that they would not allow Thaksin's private jet to fly over Thailand's sky on his way out of Cambodia as he is supposed to be returning to Dubai.

In any event, I'm not sure what the government of one of the most corrupt countries can learn from a criminal on the run(!) Who knows what will happen next. If your booking a flight to Cambodia perhaps avoid Bangkok airport or get some good travel insurance!

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I'm missing the beautiful shops (and weather) in Phnom Penh and so thought I would introduce a few of my favourites.

One hidden gem of an UGO shop is Rehab Craft Cambodia (RCC)* - a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization developed to create employment for Cambodians with disabilities. The shop is in BKK - No. 69, Street 315. The shop appears to be a very small inadequately stocked oven of a place. The heat was baking. I went in to it and to say it was warm would be an understatement. However, I did find and want to purchase this beautiful piece of silk [picture to follow].

Now, I went to ask if I could pay for the silk in the workshop area next to the oven/shop and was asked to go upstairs to pay.... upstairs??!! Oh on going up I found a delightfully large, air-conditioned shop full of a range of items. I spent much more time browsing here and added quite a lot to my original purchase. The merchandise is good quality and the range is great - Wooden carvings, kitchen things, bags made of rice bags, silk, cushions, bags, games....

I'd definitely recommend a trip up the stairs! To think I ignored this shop everyday as I motorbiked past it every day on my way to work all because the oven is actually just a large display window (I thought it was odd there were no staff in the oven....or perhaps not given the heat)

More favourites to follow...

*Rehab Craft Cambodia was established in 1995 and pays fair wages. Its workers earn two and one-half to three times the average factory–production wage. It is a is a member of the International Fair Trade Association (IFAT) and of the Artisans’ Association of Cambodia.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Smile - Photo students continue to document their lives in Cambodia

Following on from the Smile Photography Project I organised during my time in Phnom Penh some of the students at the children's centre are keeping up the excellent work and are continuing to take great photographs. They are now completely fearless about taking pictures which is fantastic and the results are pretty impressive - Here are 6 pictures taken by Sambath and Theara.



Sunday, October 18, 2009

The week in pictures...

I didn't take too many photographs on this trip but here are a few to accompany the posts below... I'm now back in England with a few Cambodian projects in the pipeline here. Just 10 days in the humidity and I had already forgotten how cold it is back here... brrrrrrrr!

  • First stop, Phnom Penh - view from Blue Lime hotel over to the Royal Palace - Its still the rainy season in PP hence the threatening sky and the flooded roads....

Next Kep Lodge in Kep - seaside town with 4 of the CCH photo journalists

  • Relaxing in the evening in the bar...I must say they were lethal darts players and even started training the owners 2 year old baby. Ahh I love Cambodian health and safety.

  • The crab market - one of the best places to eat in Cambodia. Rick Stein(of TV chef fame) recently visited Kep. He went to try lok lak at the poshest place in town. This was a mistake this street has the best food in town. Seafood straight out of the sea and served with Kampot pepper. My favourite is Kimly which can be found at the end of the row.

  • A walk around the town and a trip to the King's old holiday villa....The family "guarding"/squatting in the deserted and crumbling building now demand $2 per person to get a look. I've been inside before they got the idea of charging the Barangs an entrance fee. The child below demanding the charge did appear to be doing some gardening (before he decided to escort us off the premises and down the road with this 2 dogs that is)

  • Contemplating the sea view from the crab market

  • A long relaxing walk to the beach on the seafront rounded off with a snack of a off coconut/rice/fruit mix wrapped in leaves and then cooked [read: burnt]
  • Monkey watching....

  • Rain...

  • Jasmine (I think)....

  • Next stop Kampot.......

  • A cycle ride around the countryside and cattle.... Cham boys in a village on the outskirts of Kampot...

  • Kampot river

  • Back to the city and shopping - God forbid that you ever enter O'Russei market and dare to go upstairs. Sweating, disorientated, loaded with goods...will you ever find your way out again? I always get lost here. Fantastic market though - Might be my favourite.... The fabric on the east side of the market is amazing and as for the bling Khmer dresses on the first floor....!

  • The school at the children's centre has opened (the primary children used to go to public school but now the centre has opened their own). Observing a day of lessons....
    The girls - S and S - who now seem to be good friends in Second grade. On the right is the beautiful girl I sponsor who is progressing very well.
  • Second grade classroom

  • A fun afternoon for 5 of the children from the centre at the water park (OK, Ok I liked the slide too...).

  • Waiting for the hot dog party to begin - the water park 5 - some modelling clothes donated by my (UK) work friends - present and past.
  • Let the dancing at the leaving party commence..........

Friday, October 16, 2009


Its a good job that here "Daaaahling"is not a term of affection otherwise over fifty moto men could have been the subject of my attention today! Daahl-ing in khmer means walking or walking for fun/strolling. Cambodian's tend to do this in parks when they have them - (even then the "park" really resembles more of a central reservation (like you get in the middle of large roads in the UK)). The the Daahl-ing is usually done just before dawn or sunset. Today I Daahl-ing-ed from about 9 to midday and not in a park but right across Phnom Penh visiting many of my favourite shops and cafes. A few new haunts had cropped up too over the last six months. I am exhausted from the heat, dust and lack of pavements!

I also Daah-ling-ed to our old house and bumped into a couple of our old moto taxi men who were still hanging about in that area for fares. One of them speaks quite good English so I had a nice chat with him and it was good to see a few familiar faces. Apparently business is not so good because people (expats) in our old flat have their own cars and business has been tough. Quite a crowd of moto men used to gather at the front of our house probably because I took long trips out to the orphanage and paid a good price - resulting in quite a high income for a moto driver. Its a bit sad that they are not being used now but so many expats use the big 4WDs that are paid for by their charity to go from A to B in the city. I would say this is really not needed and the money could be better used a) for the charitable purposes of the organisation and b) using local means of transport provides an income for local people who might otherwise be struggling... I am a big fan of the moto taxi!

This afternoon I am going to the waterpark - I have written about this on my blog before... A health and safety risk/disaster waiting to happen on the edge of town... with 5 children from the children's centre and later a farewell visit with hot dogs at the centre itself.

The visit has gone all too quickly but we will be back soon for more...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ahhh you got so fat!

I forgot the weariness of the old Cambodian favourite compliment "ahh you got sooo fat. Do you have baby?" - I now just admit it that yes, "I ate too much..." - It is like saying, in the western world, "daaahrrrrling you've lost so much weight". Basically, in Cambodia, if you are fat (anything over a UK size 8) , you must have money to eat so you are therefore rich. This is a good thing and therefore a compliment!! Funny it doesn't feel that way when they are poking at your beer belly...

Anyway, the last 4 days were spent at Kep seaside town with the 4 children from the children's centre and then 2 days at Kampot, a delightful colonial old town (subject to the comments below that is...)

The trip with the children was good. Mainly the visit revolved around walking around the seaside town and eating all kinds of seafood with the famous Kampot pepper. My favourite place to eat on the seafront in Kep is a restaurant called Kimly. Its right at the end of a row of shed like buildings offering various delicious seafood. Kimly is by far the best and the size of the prawns is amazing!

In Kampot, I was looking forward to staying at Rikitikitavi guesthouse as in the past it had always been fully booked....On arrival they didn't have the booking! Not ideal, but a room was at least available for one night. Cycling around Kampot is great and so with the aid of a bike that only had one gear (the one for cycling up really big hills...and Kampot is flat) a day was spent getting sun burnt and going back to a Cham (Muslim) village near to Kampot where I had been before. This time opposite the mosque in a tiny local cafe I entertained 4 amused village children had a drink of coffee for less than 5p! The teacher of the local school looked on as the English speaker of the village did some impressive translation.

Kampot is my favourite town in Cambodia - It is relaxed and charming. However, it has been somewhat ruined by the Governor of the town allowing a Russian businessman permission to turn a riverfront building into a hideous Khmer club. Imagine a peaceful town with a beautiful river front... an amazing fiery red sunset... the sound of the birds - and then the thump thump of the bad Khmer karaoke/dance track. It is completely out of character for the area. In fact it doesn't seem to be doing anything for the people of Kampot. Tourism along the riverfront is down for the guesthouses there (the noise drives the guests away) and the people who tend to go to the bar are Cambodian children of the age that really shouldn't be drinking and hanging out in bars/clubs. A bad idea in all ways - However, money talks and clearly the Russian has more money to gift to the Governor than the other bar/guesthouse owners....

A place of recommendation along the river front is Jasmine. A wonderful small restaurant run by a Khmer woman and her expat husband (but she is very much in control). Not only is the food delicious she is a wealth of information and opinions on Khmer culture and attitudes. Pop in!!

Now back in Phnom Penh...Its raining hard... I have been gifted a delightful green rain cape (thanks David!) so now I look like a "traditional" motorbike taxi man but at least I am dry. Lovely.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


There is just over 2 weeks and then I am back in Cambodia for a holiday! Its a long haul flight of about 14 hours but it seems very normal these days... I am busy collecting clothes and toys for the students at the Children's Centre. Let's hope I don't go mad with loads of excess baggage again.... I am really looking forward to some HOT (humid) weather, seeing the childrenand seeing what shade of yellow they chose to paint the central market!!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Summer holidays

During August the director and 3 children from CCH (the children's centre) came to stay in England. It was a trip mainly organised by a film maker IAnna) who is sponsoring one of the children to attend ISPP one of the best international schools in Phnom Penh but as she was coming over to see her (and think about which English universities she would like to study at) with the director and his son we thought it would be nice if one of the other children came and stayed as well. Ravuth, one of the older students at CCH who works very hard and deserves a holiday, came to stay!

I think it was a bit of a culture shock (as predicted). There was a lot of super noodles being cooked during their holiday! By the end of the trip they were all pretty well travelled and had taken part in activities not usually available when you are living in Phnom Penh - like attending a music festival (WOMAD) horse riding up welsh mountains and viewing dinosaurs at the natural history museum.

My mum has cooked lok lak a few times following her trip to see me in Cambodia and as the Cambodian's were craving "real" food she bravely took it upon herself to cook lok lak for 9. She had done so much preparation - even the obligatory pepper/garlic oil sauce that appears on every Cambodian table. However, the excitement could not be contained in the kitchen as my mum arrived with her prepared marinated meat for this Cambodian curry. 4 Cambodian's then assisted in making the dish even tastier.... With the director frying up the individual portions and the others arranging the necessary lettuce and tomato (one leaf with three slices of tomatao)adding more garlic and pepper and sugar and salt and...well, luckily we had no MSG in the house as this is popular.

We then all enjoyed what turned out to be some of the best Cambodian food I have tasted. I was never a big Cambodian food fan as I found it to lack subtle flavours and thought it was quite tasteless or just loaded with MSG/pepper/salt but this was great! Well done mum and her helpers. It was agreed across the whole table (which I might add included a student from France so the standard expected was high(!)) the lok lak was great.

How many people does it take to cook a lok lak?? ...Lok lak perfection! - Well done mum and helpers!

My step dad entertains the masses

Cambodian's get travel sick just getting onto a bus so we thought a trip on the fair ground might be amusing....


A first trip on a train ever for these guys was the London Underground - probably not the best example train in the world...

Bowling - I lost shamefully to children who had never been inside a bowling place before!