Thursday, January 29, 2009

Eviction - Dey Krahorm

Yesterday we went to Meta House with 3 of the young people from CCH – It was supposed to be an evening for “Khmer Kids” – the idea being that NGOs dealing with kids would show documentaries and get together... An eviction of residents living not too far from our house (Dey Krahorm) instead took precedence as the topic for the evening. I had been to the eviction site with the children from the Smile Photography project when I took them there to take pictures. Here are some of my pictures from the district. These people's homes and businesses are now flattened.

It was a good documentary and the young people from the evicted district spoke in a very moving way about their experiences. It was interesting to hear about the eviction which has made front page news in the English newspapers here but not the Khmer ones (but this is not surprising).

The eviction is the result of a company called 7NG who has effectively been given land by the government and then who has then evicted the residents with force (a kind of “compulsory purchase order” but without the “purchase” bit and without any form of reasonableness!). Although the dispute has been going on for years it is reported that people were only given hours to get their things together before they were physically forced out and their homes bulldozed. Last night we were told how 500 men supported by police forced the residents to leave and immediately destroyed the area. We were told how one women begged to stay as her husband was sick and could not move but she was arrested, handcuffed and beaten.

I understand that people who own 7NG have government links/are in the government but that is how things tend to work around here. Someone suggested a petition as a way to help. Nice sentiment but these people are the type of people who beat and drag old ladies from their homes they are not the type who care about the “force” of petitions! I’m not sure I’d write my address next to my name if I signed one either otherwise I may not have such a happy time here.

Sadly, this is a typical news story here - people being evicted without regard for their human rights as land prices are so valuable and those in charge are capable of exploiting their position over the poverty stricken and the vulnerable to make a quick buck. They talk of "tidying the town" on the basis it was a shanty town but it was not. It had houses and businesses with some people living there having called it their home for decades.

You can read more on the eviction of the residents here:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Welcome back!

I've gone back to my old job for 4 days this week as a subsitute teacher for my old class. They are behaving (just) and on Monday I arrived to 2 really sweet banners hanging in the classroom.

Today I taught them about Aboriginal Art and some basic Australian history. We proceeded to make dreamtime art .... ummmm not sure how they will turn out but so far....(below)!

On Friday I am starting a new job at another international school. This time EAL teaching "English as an Additional Language". It will be completely different to Third Grade but it will be good to experience another school. I'm booked in to cover a staff shortage for 6 weeks. Once that is over there will just be a month to explore more Cambodia before returning home to the UK. I am really looking forward to seeing everyone but not looking forward to many other things!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Market, swim, dance

Everything here takes 4 times longer than you would generally allow for normally some simple jobs took a day! .... Such as the printing of photos from the Smile exhibition. My task was easy - get the pictures printed and locate some plastic wallets to put them in for sale in the gallery. Sadly the first batch of printing that was done for me was useless so I had to go back to the print shop (which I loathe) and explain the pictures were "under-exposed" to a woman who didn't speak English!!

I then toured the hot, sweaty, over crowded central market for an hour looking for the little plastic wallets. A woman (selling dried fish) at one point asked me what I was looking for (clearly 45 minutes in I was looking a little distressed!) after me miming [a mime for plastic bag is difficult] she pointed in a general direction told me to: "go -go-round"... My faith that the plastic things I was looking for existed was renewed and some 15 minutes later there they were (!!!) - hidden in amongst the craziness of Chinese New Year decorations and more dried fish.

At the weekend we took Sina (from the children's shelter) and her 2 best mates (Srey Leak and Menea) to the water park. I had been there once before. Its not all that bad - think Western-S- Mare and that sea front park with the big pineapple c.1990 - The children enjoyed it though and it was followed by a trip to the largest mall in Phnom Penh, Sovanna, for a burger and fries.

We also took 4 older children from the Shelter to see a dance performance which was the result of a Senegalese woman tutoring 30 Cambodian dancers over the course of a week. This was a great event - The young dancers had been trained in modern African dance technique and then had incorporated their own styles: hip hop, apsara... They came from a variety of backgrounds circus, theatre, classical dance. It was full of energy and the venue was heaving. Far too many expats for my liking but that is to be expected if the action is taking place in an expat garden/bar. There were a few Cambodians watching though including an old woman who had had quite a lot to drink and was announcing very loudly over and over "I want to dance like that" (translation provided by the children!). At that moment the dancers were performing some fairly sexual dance moves...!
Me and Penny one of the children's carers and one of the newer children at CCH - 5 years old.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Phnom Penh Post Office

Visiting the main Post Office here in Phnom Penh is always an amusing experience.

First there are many counters to choose from - Letter, registered letter, registered packet, packet etc etc. There is never a queue of any kind [because no one uses the post for the reasons I am about to explain]. At the right counter you will be ignored by the two women behind it who are "busy" sorting their pencils or similar. When you have their attention they will proceed to "weigh" your letter/packet in a place where you cannot see the weight for yourself.

They will then randomly pick a charge for the packet. You may manage to work out the cost yourself from a faded list they have stuck to the glass and manage to have a conversation about why they have asked for 12,000 Riel when the table says it should onlybe 8,000 Riel. If you are lucky they will shrug and reduce the price. Otherwise, they may just stare blankly (or still shrug) and you are stuck with the random price.

Next challenge... you get the stamps... or do you? Often the (now helpful) clerk will state that they will now deal with the stamping and posting of your packet. Bad idea to accept this. The idea is that if you do not see the stamps being stuck on your packet then your letter will be binned/the contents of the parcel treated as a gift and the money not put in the Post Office till.

So you have got the thing "weighed", you have paid the "fee", they have stuck on the stamps.... Next challenge, get the stamps franked (they have to be franked before you put it in the post box). This is where lots of had actions and drama is necessary to get the job done.

Once you have the letter in your hand fully stamped and franked all that is left is the post box which is far less of a challenge (unless you are using the Post Office on Sihanouk Bvd where the slot is practicially narrower than a letter and looks like it hasn't been opened to collect the mail for a century). You can then inform the person (by email) the packet is on its way - only to be told 3 months later by them that it never arrived.
So the idea I had to post a good book to a friend at home was never a good one. The charge was incomprehensible to me - so I failed at the first hurdle. I was out-numbered. 2 clerks against 1 foreigner. The cost was $13 (more than the book itself)! Having been ripped off (I think) at this stage I was determined to get my stamps. This is when I was greeted by the ever present phrase uttered here ... "sorry cannot". "Sorry cannot"..... aghhhhhhhhh!!! I had paid my money I was trapped. "Sorry cannot" does not usually follow with an explaination here. However, "Late. [it was 5.30pm] Machine off. I will do" - ummmm. Perhaps being British I couldn't bring myself to challenge this explaination and accuse the women of conspiracy to de-fraud me of my stamps. I just said "please - do it tomorrow".

I had no hope of the packet ever reaching the UK. $13 that would be more than a week's salary so the temptation too much.... On the upside when I went outside the PO I saw a whole family of monkeys - including tiny baby ones...walking across the main electric cables!

But monkeys were not the purpose of the trip and so I sadly emailed my friend apologising for my lack of conviction in the Post Office to get the stamps stuck and cursed my wasted $13 (equaling 13 beers in happy hour). Then behold!!!!!!! Today, about ten days later, the packet arrived! Oh sweet JOY! and faith in the Cambodian postal system restored!!!! On reflection it was a book (Cambodian's don't generally read let alone read English novels) and I bet the stamps were far stuck on were far less than $13....

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Back to school

This week I returned to 3rd grade to see my old school children...They had all grown, had haircuts etc! They asked a lot of questions about my holiday. No doubt there will be many more because I am teaching them for 3 days next week!
Other than that time has been taken up meeting friends and catching up and trying to sort out odds and ends relating to the Smile Photography Project. Selected prints of the pictures are also now going to go in the John McDermott Gallery in Siem Reap ( which is great because he is a renowned photographer who focuses on Angkor Wat and surrounds. I'm also going to try and sort that out today which fills me with dread as a trip to the print shop is less than enjoyable due to the general service and staring by staff and other customers!

Later this week we are going to celebrate the inauguration of Obama with the Democrats Abroad who have been working hard here making sure the Americans here have registered to vote. Fingers crossed that change is now coming now we have waved goodbye to Bush!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Coming home!

Its not ideal to get up at 6.30am on Saturday and Sunday to teach biology and English to a group of year 7 to year 11 children but that entertained me this weekend! Also I have been planning various trips around Cambodia to fill the last 3 months of our time here. Sadly we have booked our flights to come home in April... still there is lots to see and we will be spending time travelling and seeing the children at CCH. Ummm, now how many pairs of shoes can I get made in 3 months? - Now taking bets.
More soon...

Friday, January 16, 2009


After being in Phnom Penh for a week it was time to take a break to Battambang in the North West of Cambodia. The Lonely Planet says it is the second largest city and that it has some excellent collonial architecture....

The journey began with (as ever) a painful bus journey. The bus stopped every hour or so that the Khmers on board could eat some more. This was accompanied by Khmer Karaoke. On the way we stopped to pick up a load of peoplesat under a tree. About 35 people more piled on board - Their bus had obviously broken down. At least I hadn't chosen the earlier bus!

About 6 hours after departure Battambang came into sight and the bus journey was made worthwhile as La Villa proved to be an exellent accommodation option! The house is a 1930s villa that has been restored beautifully.

The following day Mr Mo and his tuk tuk was the preferred transport option to visit 3 of the "sights" of the city - The Killing Caves, Ek Phnom and the Bamboo train. The caves were first and this involved a journey along one of the National HIghways towards the city of Pailin where the Khmer Rouge still hang out. The road was appalling - dust everywhere. I was pleased I packed my Krama (Khmer scarf) which by the end of the day was thick with red dust. The greenery along the way was brown from dust rather than lush and green! A wedding was taking place by the roadside and they had hosed down the section of the road alongside it so the dust did not ruin the dinner. The road was also full of bumps and dips....

The National Highway

Wat Phnom Sampeau was a base for the Khmer Rouge. They murdered many of their victims here in the "killing caves". The tuk tuk pulled in and hassles were surprisingly minimum at the base of the hill. The Tourist Police were on form though. A larger than average guy asked us to write our names in his book and pay im $2. We paid. I wasn't sure if it was a scam - he had a properly printed sign and the book so..... [the Rough Guide later confirmed there is a charge so maybe it is an official charge!] The policeman asked us if we "wanted a small boy". Presumably to show us the way*? We declined the small boy and started the ascent up the steep concrete path. Perhaps we should have taken up the offer of the small boy as we almost missed the turning to the Wat but a small girl on the back of her father's moto on her way home from school shouted "Bot Chwen[turn left]" as she speeded past and we were back on track!

The view and the Wat

The Wat was fairly typical but the views over the countryside were beautiful. Even without the small boy we managed to find 2 caves - including the larger cave that has a large hole in its rooftop where terrifyingly the Khmer Rouge used to push its victims to their death on the rocks of the cave below. Bones of some of the victims are also on display.

There was plenty of opportunity to hand over your cash - Including for a "new way" and also a new buddha statue on the hill. Perhaps some tourists missed the massive gold buddha that is already on the hill?

Clearly "The International Organisation for Victim Assistance USA " could not resist having their name on one of the many walls full of donors names - so they gave $10!!

After the dusty journey back the bamboo train awaited. Train travel in Cambodia is practically non existent. 1 train carries cargo from PP to Battambang once a week and it takes 20 hours. When the passenger service operates it takes about 12 hours. There is no danger therefore of being flattened by a high speed train if you are on the tracks. The Khmers have therefore invented the Bamboo Train. This is basically a bamboo fence panel placed on a metal frame plus 4 train wheels. Add a motorbike engine and off you whizz down the train tracks (practically scarping your chin along the floor) on your illegal personal train. This transports people, animals, bikes from the rice fields in a cheap way! It also makes for a great touristy thing to do. If you meet someone coming the otherway one of the trains has to be dismantled to let the other past!

First we stopped at this old abandoned Train Station for petrol then zoom....! The track was so badly twisted. The track came apart so many times the wheels would just have to fly over the cracks - with no slowing down. The track was also on many different levels - massive bangs and jolts were all part of the experience! Over bridges

We met this other Bamboo train - they took theirs apart. The track - not exactly Network Rail standards!

About 10km down the track we turned the train around to go back again! We met a Cambodian guy who liked to think he had lived in London - SW7 to be precise. The people who really do live at 37 Queen Charlotte Street, Kensington should be aware that there is an old Cambodian guy out there using their address to lure tourists into buying beer!

On the way back we were followed by another train carrying sacks of rice.

Next stop was Ek Phnom -An 11th Century temple. The countryside on the way there was nice - all the kids shouting "Hello - What is your name..." It was a shame that the rice had already been harvested and so the countryside was brown and straw-like rather than lush and green. Again the Tourist Police were on guard and so I tried some of my (virtually nil) Khmer language skills. I tried out some of the basics on one of the kids hanging about with him. This caused him to give me a history on the temple in Khmer.... Ummmm. I nodded enthusiastically! The temple and the modern Wat were nice enough but the monk/temple photo opportunity was a highlight!

Ahhh the Photo opportunity!

The modern Wat

Lotus fields surrounding the pagodas and the brown/green countryside

On the way Mr Mo took us to see rie paper being made. It wasn't even obligatory to buy something!!!!

Monday, January 12, 2009


When I was a lawyer one of my firms were very keen on SMART objectives - particularly at appraisal time. This is the idea that objectives should be: Specific, measurable etc etc... As one of the frustrating things about Cambodia is that planning in advance is sometimes futile (for instance, planning on a Thursday to do something on a Sunday probably won't work) it was a surprise to come across SMART yesterday in conjunction with a class of 50 or so 12 to 18 year olds updating their "life plans"!

We had planned a movie party at CCH for Sunday. However, on arrival the older children were having an impromptu lecture/individual power point presentations on how they were going to focus their lives to ensure that they would succeed in their career aspirations and goals! The movie therefore would not be on the big screen in the library as planned but as the younger children (who were not planning their lives that day!) were free they could watch it on the computer downstairs.

While the kids were watching on the tiny screen we took Sina to Sovanna - one of her now favourite places for ice cream and for a push of the trolley around Lucky Supermarket. We got various goodies for the children and then went for an ice cream. Sina has been there a few times now and is quite proficient at finding her way around the menu and making sure she gets the drink and ice cream concoction that she likes the best!

On return to CCH we joined in the lecture which was still going on upstairs... part English/part Khmer. The children appeared to have prepared presentations on their aspirations and how they will achieve them. The children would all love to get scholarships to go to United World College and the focus was on the exams that would get them into the College which has locations all around the wold (including Cardiff!). The director then gave a lecture about SMART objectives and SWOT objectives. I couldn't believe that some of the kids already knew about it anyway!

Note: The world economy is cited as a threat to the grades of the children of CCH!

The class went on. The children were identifying their weaknesses... Biology and English. Then with a flourish (in Khmer but I can gather when I am being volunteered for something) Ms Michelle and Mr Fred were identified as the new volunteer teachers by the director (I got English. Mr Fred, Biology!!!). We were then told! To be fair we had announced to him earlier in the week that we were now free to do any teaching the kids needed - I just didn't expect it to be 6 hours on Saturday and 6 hours on a Sunday. Oh well!

Driving around PP new buildings have popped up everywhere since I left 2 months ago to go to Australia. Several new buildings have been completed behind our flat including the house opposite getting a radio mast (what - why wasn't I involved in the consultation process!) but most exciting is the completion of the new Stung Mean Chey bridge!
New view from the apartment. The house that has the radio masts just installed new air con so I wonder what the money for the mast was spent on....

Why wasn't I consulted?!!!!

Previously to get to CCH you had to embark on a risky journey across a old bridge across a open sewer and a road that was basically a large mud track which had ups and downs like a rollercoaster. But now the Bridge has been completed and is OPEN for business! On arrival here in March 2008 we were told that work had started months previously, we had seen virtually no progress for months and joked that when the Bridge was complete it was time to think about coming home...

The old way...
The new way!