Cambodia legalizes police corruption


For people contemplating a holiday in Cambodia, take note: starting in January police officers in that country will personally receive a 70% commission on traffic fines they issue. This new rule, says the Cambodian government, will reduce corruption. It seems like it legalizes corruption, but whatever. Read the rest

Cambodian rock -- before the Khmer Rouge destroyed it

cambodian pop albums

In the 60s and 70, Cambodia had a thriving, free-wheeling rock scene. Then along came the Khmer Rouge. Filmmaker John Pirozzi hunted down the surviving members of that scene and created a terrific documentary about it.

It's called “Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll,” and is currently touring around the US; check the schedule here to see if it's playing in your city, and when. The soundtrack is obtainable here.

Cambodia had surf-rock, psychedelia and hard rock, with Drakkar (pictured below, in middle age now) being an example of that latter genre. Pirozzi hunted down as many of the living musicians as he could, and -- as the New York Times reports -- he discovered some harrowing stories:

Among those they found was Sieng Vanthy, a young singer in the 1970s who is seen in clips dressed like Cher and dancing like a wild Grace Slick. In one of the film’s most heartbreaking interviews, Ms. Sieng Vanthy — her face frozen by a stroke — says she survived an encounter with Khmer Rouge soldiers only by telling them she was a banana seller, not a singer. She died in 2009.

“The Khmer Rouge understood the value of the artists and their connection to the larger public,” Mr. Pirozzi said. “They’re the voice of the people. You can’t control them, so you eliminate them.”

Touch Seang Tana, of Drakkar, has another chilling survival story. In a Skype interview from Cambodia, where he is a scientist, he recalled being summoned by a soldier at a prison camp who had a guitar.

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What bees taught me about Cambodia

Giant Honeybee Hive in Cambodia
I come from a family of beekeepers, so I had to check out a tour of traditional techniques. But I got more than I expected, and learned a lot about life in rural Cambodia.

Cambodia's creaky, funky bamboo trains: like riding 'a bat'

A norry being operated by Doak Khemra moves down the tracks at the village of Stung Touch. Jesse Pesta/The Wall Street Journal.

Jesse Pesta has a wonderful, colorful piece in the Wall Street Journal about a form of transportation unique to Cambodia: bamboo trains, known locally as "norry." Snip:

In Cambodia, real trains are almost as rare as bamboo trains anywhere else. The impoverished country has a network of tracks left over from French colonial days, but there are hardly any actual trains running anymore. Only one line is in service. The railway never recovered from the horrors of Khmer Rouge murder and war decades ago.

Don't miss his great photos and videos accompanying the article online A six-year-old girl photographed just before her first norry ride is told by her mom that it would be like riding "a bat."

"Creaky Trains Made of Bamboo Still Rule the Rails in Cambodia" []

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Video of Cambodia's homebrew "bamboo railroad"

At long last, here's video of the Cambodian bamboo railroad I wrote about in 2006; this being a homebrew railroad running at 40km/h off an electric motor, along decrepit and degenerating rails that only see one scheduled train per week. It's a pretty amazing ride.

床が竹、壁も天井もないカンボジアのバンブー・トレイン: (Thanks, Francesco!) Read the rest

Lucky iron fish persuades Cambodian women to cook with iron, stave off anemia

Marilyn sez, "University of Guelph student Christopher Charles worked on a project with scientists in Cambodia three summers ago. They were trying to persuade women in poor villages to put chunks of iron in their cooking pots in order to lower the risk of anemia, but the women weren't interested. Then Charles hit upon the idea of fashioning the iron into the shape of a local fish the villagers considered lucky."

It was an enticing challenge in a country where iron deficiency is so rampant, 60 per cent of women face premature labour, hemorrhaging during childbirth and poor brain development among their babies...

The people they worked with — “the poorest of the poor” — can’t afford red meat or pricey iron pills, and the women won’t switch to iron cooking pots because they find them heavy and costly. Yet a small chunk of iron could release life-saving iron into the water and food. But what shape would the women be willing to place in their cooking pots?

“We knew some random piece of ugly metal wouldn’t work . . . so we had to come up with an attractive idea,” he said. “It became a challenge in social marketing.”

Canadian’s lucky iron fish saves lives in Cambodia (Thanks, Marilyn!)

(Image: Kenneth Ingram) Read the rest

Donuts, genocide, and the American dream

Most visitors to Los Angeles and the west coast are struck by the number of donut shops, but few know that the vast majority of local donut shops are owned by Cambodian refugees who fled the killing fields of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. This is also the case in many other parts of the west. Through an interesting set of circumstances, Cambodian families got a foothold in the market, then helped other families through traditional loan systems and sharing of knowledge so they could earn their own piece of the American dream. These are people who have experienced unspeakable atrocities in their immediate families, and bust their asses (often 364+ days a year) to make a better life for their children in North America. So go enjoy a decadent donut sometime soon, and be extra friendly to the remarkable people who make these deceptively quotidian treats. The best documentary on the subject is Cambodian Doughnut Dreams , although the hygiene-averse dude in The Darkside of Donuts teaser trailer best articulates my own relationship with that quintessential American delight. [Video link] Read the rest