Books about Cambodia

It turned out to be relatively difficult to buy or order specific books in Cambodia. Book shop and library is mostly understood synonym and people frequently send me to the Central Market. This is a cool place and I hope I can provide pictures soon. Thhere is a reasonable number of book stores but they offer pretty much the same. They seem to be specialized on backpackers and the most frequent exhibit is in fact the Lonely Planet. There are a number of popular books that are apparently cheaply reprinted and are for sale at 2-3 bucks.

Several people indicated that David Chandlers ‘A History of Cambodia’ would be a good thing to read. I bought a cheap copy on the Central Market for about 2 bucks.

Other, different people told me to urgently read Amit Gilboa’s ‘Off the Rails in Phnom Penh. Into the Dark Heart of Guns, Girls, and Ganja’. The later seems to be the most popular book behind the Lonely Planet. I purchased it and found it to be very well written and insightful on occasion. I presents the Phnom Penh as a “city of beauty and degradation, tranquility and violence, and tradition and transformation; a city of temples and brothels, music and gunfire, and festivals and coups. But for many, it’s simply an anarchic celebration of insanity and indulgence. Whether it’s the 2$ wooden-shack brothels, the ganja-pizza restaurants, the AK-47 fireworks displays, or the intricate brutality of Cambodian politics, Phnom Penh never ceases to amaze and amuse.”

However, it does not reflect the Phnom Penh that I live. Things seem to have changed rapidly over the last few years. I found many insights in this book funny without mercy and think I will quote it once in a while here.

One of them is in line with my observation about Pagodas, however rather blunt: “There is an overwhelming rawness that confronts the visitor: the trash in the streets, the little children running around naked, the dust, the unpaved roads, and the shacks. And amongst all of this one regularly chances upon a beautiful wat (Buddhist temple) rising up into the sky. While stunning in its own right, the sight is even more amazing in the middle of all the shit that surrounds it.”
Continue reading Books about Cambodia

Cambodia Daily: High Voter Turnout Expected Among Ratanakkiri Hill Tribes

I found this article to be particularly interesting with regard to the upcoming election and “Highland People”:

High Voter Turnout Expected Among Ratanakkiri Hill Tribes; By Kate Woodsome and Kay Kimsong, The Cambodian Daily, July 8, 2003, p. 13

BANLUNG DISTRICT, Ratanakkiri province – Smiling images of King Norodom Sihanouk are projected through the evening darkness against an outdoor movie screen carried between jungle villages.

Throughout the province, Funcinpec officials are showing a film produced by party President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, as well as putting on live comedy shows and giving political pep talks. The event aims to embrace hill tribe villagers with the arms of the royal family, Ministry of Planning Secretary of State Lay Prahas said, using rhetoric long employed by the King.

“People are surrounded and isolated in the forest, so they have no access to the outside world. The only thing they know is this tight duress which has ruled them for the last 20 years,” said Lay Prahas, Funcinpec’s top candidate in Ratanakkiri.

That the CPP won a majority in 48 of the province’s 49 communes in the 2002 commune elections could make it difficult for Funcinpec – or any other party – to win votes in Ratanakkiri. Seven ethnic minorities comprise 65 percent of the population.

The hill tribes “are very active and registered to vote, but they’re doing what they’ve had suggested to them,” said Jan Noorlander, CARE’s Highland Children’s Education Project manager. Hill tribe villagers often rely on the wisdom of elders, and village and commune chiefs to make important decisions.

Distinct languages, cultural beliefs and animism are exercised by the majority of ethnic minorities, which occupy the margins of political life and society.

“It’s a very different culture than Cambodia,” Noorlander said.

Ratanakkiri hill tribes were early recruits for the Khmer Rouge, as their subsistence lifestyles exemplified the society the Khmer Rouge wanted to build.

But one ethnic Tampuan, Bou Thong, helped organize a small rebellion against the Khmer Rouge, Leading thousands of dissidents across the border to Vietnam in 1972. Trained as a communist in Hanoi, he later returned to Cambodia to rise through the CPP’s ranks, ultimately becoming Minister of Defense in the 1980s. He now serves as Ratanakkiri’s National Assembly representative.

“The indigenous still feel they have contact with influential powers because they have him,” Noorlander said of Bou Thong.

Provincial CPP government officials are relying on the party’s past to secure its future.

No high-tech equipment will be employed to rally voter support, just a few microphones, T-shirts, hats and a party platform teeming with history.

“I remember the Tambpuan and ethnic cultures were destroyed by the Khmer Rough. Today the CPP has brought back everything,” commune official Nheam Taisy, 59, said. “We don’t say anything bad about the other parties, we just say the good about ours.”

Voter turnout should be high in Ratanakkiri – about 51.969 of 54.650 eligible voters are registered, said provincial election committee head Sok Ham.

High vote counts from the 1993 and 1998 elections should be even greater this year, he said, as the number of polling stations has increased from 99 to 117 to limit the distance voters must travel to cast their ballots.

There is a high degree of illiteracy in the province, with few hill tribe villagers able to read, write and speak Khmer. But Sok Ham said he is confident that voters regardless of their ethnicity, will be able to understand the ballot, as 50 percent of election officials belong to an ethnic minority and can explain the voting procedure.

CPP provincial Cabinet Chief Nap Bun Heng said voters have voted twice before and will know what to do when handed a ballot.

But Wur Poam, 45, of Banlung district’s Yeak Loam Commune, admits she doesn’t quite understand why she will go to the polls.

“I don’t know what it means to support a particular party,” she said. “The commune chief told us to vote for Huns Sen, so I will.”

Deng Naoi, 69, also will choose Huns Sen’s party because it saved him from the Khmer Rouge. He plans to vote for stability, rather than for change.

More election news is reaching Ratanakkiri than in previous years, with Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America broadcast in Banlung and nearby villages.

But with electricity unavailable to most of Ratanakkiri’s roughly 100.000 residents, radio is heard primarily by people with batteries and understood only by Khmer speakers.

Expectant mother Pleun Chenda, 19, also knows little about the parties running against the CPP.

“I believe our village elders who tell us about the CPP. Everyone likes CPP, so I like them too,” she said.

Lay Prahas considers village elders the best vehicles for change. With his movies and pamphlets packed in several sports-utility vehicles, the Funcinpec hopeful is charging across Ratanakkiri with a message.

“Village elders are the fathers of a family of children – each of which deserves equal rights,” he said. “or else they don’t deserve to be parents.”
Continue reading Cambodia Daily: High Voter Turnout Expected Among Ratanakkiri Hill Tribes

Driving Behavior and Low Capacity

I found the roads to be good examples for what is referred to in development slang as ‘low state capacity’. The Cambodian government is unable to enforce the laws it keeps passing and this is most obvious on the roads of this country. The general rule is that the bigger the car is the more rights the driver can exercise. Taken together with corruption this leads to extreme results. About halve of the cars have the steering wheel on the right hand, the other half on the left. This in turn causes substantial confusion about on which side of the road to drive. The law of the land is that the driving wheel belongs to the left of the car. A colleague told me a few days ago that one party tries to catch votes by seriously promising to enforce this rule.

Somebody whose brother’s car has the steering wheel on the right told me that those cars are illegally imported. Interestingly, I observed that on the compound of the Ministry of Interior a strong majority of the driver has the steering wheel on the right. This is just observation and I did not take any statistical measures yet.

Closely related to this question is on which side of the road to drive. The law says on the right hand and there is a tendency to do so but not significantly so. Nobody has insurance and for this reason people in Phnom Penh tend to drive very carefully. Moreover, it is most of the time about three persons on one moto and often four or five, with some of them being children.

To cross a road is very difficult and for passengers without vehicle often impossible. On the Norodom Blvd. close to all those ministries is a major traffic light and there is usually a number of traffic policy staff close by. This traffic light does not only display the three color signal but in addition a huge digital counter. This counts down from 60 to zero and can be seen from fare away. When the countdown passes 10 the drivers of those vehicles with two wheels try everything to get into the best starting position. Frequently they start driving when the 5 is passed, causing major interruption in the traffic that is still clearing the junction. Driving to work I have to pass this junction, which is just going straight ahead on the main road (Monivong Blvd.) It happens frequently to me that the driver of the moto does confidently not reduce the speed, turns right for just a few meters and immediately turns again and tries to get into a good position to be the first back on Norodom Blvd. Various drivers have various strategies to avoid particular bottlenecks.

Outside Phnom Penh the road is about as lawless as it can get.
Continue reading Driving Behavior and Low Capacity

Tonle Bati and the Phnom Tamao

This was Sunday and I decided to drive to the south for a change. I met with Tang at about 8 in the morning.

We drove south the Norodom Blvd. in Phnom Penh first for the moment, where many Ministries and Embassies, among them the Ministry of Interior as well as the Embassies of Thailand and Japan, are located. There were about 60 to 80 trucks standing along the street. Apparently, those had been used to transport thousands of people to a massive election campaign event for the Cambodian Peoples Party (CCP). On the spacious compound of one Ministry there was a tent under which many hundred people where sitting and listening to what the person at the microphone had to say. I heard that Prime Minister Hun Sen is here, too. Attending people were dressed uniformly in party shirt and party hat. The entire affair reminded me of lineups we had to exercise once a week in school when I grew up in Eastern Germany. There are only three big parties in Cambodia (however, about 23 participate in the upcoming election on July 27). CCP dominates the current government and is likely to continue to do so after the election.

This is in the outskirts of Phnom Penh. People use these boats for fishing. I heard on several occasions that those people are mostly Vietnamese or Muslim Cham. And those people are not particularly popular. I heard they are subject to suppression by ‘citizens’ as well as by the police. There are many sentiments particularly against Vietnamese who are without doubt the best hated group.

This is the ferry with which we cross the Bassac. Bassac is the name of this river which meets the Mekong in Phnom Penh. Just like the Tonle Sap I mentioned yesterday.

This is how it looks like when people fish. In the background is a major pagoda which caused us to come here.

My companion indicated that this Pagoda is preferred by Prime Minister Hun Sen. Again, politics and religion appear to be closely tight to each other. Tang mentioned that the ‘management’ of this pagoda is very powerful. Fortunately, the rain in the background of the photo did not hit us.

This is where the more wealthy stupas are.

Those ones appear to be older. The smaller graves upfront remind of Chinese people.

We crossed the Bassac with the ferry again. The ferry consists basically of two boats which are tight together and covered with planks.

This is what drives it. I assume this was a generator in its first live. The supply of electrical energy has gotten better during the last few years particularly in Phnom Penh and many generators are not necessary anymore.

I wanted to visit Tonle Bati and the Phnom Tamao. Both are located at the national street two south of Phnom Penh. Although it is further away (about 45 km from Phnom Penh), we went to the Phnom Tamao first. This was Tang’s recommendation because there is a zoo and most animals would not been seen at midday.

We did not stop very often. After maybe 20 km we had a break at some sort of restaurant directly at the road. The place appeared to be a village. We bought some bananas and ordered coffee with milk, which is common here. However, most people I met prefer to drink tea. There was a TV and the show was on. Top Teen on Channel Five. I do not have a TV at home and liked the show. Attractive young people, mostly women were dancing and singing. This was pop music and sounded to me like 80ies and Casio keyboards. However, it had a specific feel to it and also the choreography was particular and not at all without elegance and sophistication. People of various ages where sitting on wooden chairs, paying only have of their attention to the TV and the rest to their conversation and to us. I learned that there are five channels in Cambodia, four of them private.

We left the national road after about 40 km and continued the journey on an unpaved sort of a trail. This was about 4 km to drive and along the road I saw many people, most of them old or very old and again most of them women. They were standing separately along the entire road and it must have been about 60 of them. They were standing or sitting separate from each other, with a few children around. I have no doubt that these people suffer from countless diseases. Some of them were sitting in the shadow of a flabellum made of a palm leave. These unfortunate people were equipped with simple construction tools. They appear to ‘maintain’ the ‘road’. There is in fact much to do but these people should not be expected to take care of it. It appears that part of their compensation is what people contribute that use the road. However, I saw a number of both cars and moto cycles but nobody giving. It is hard to image that this is enough to support these peoples’ existence.

I did not try to take pictures. I had the experience that poor or impoverished people do not want to immortalize the image of their current unfavorable circumstances, which I find to be quite plausible. That is why I do not want to subject them to further humiliation.

Interestingly, I saw a stand with a number of well-dressed men standing in the shadow of a tree and collecting money to for the maintenance of the pagoda close by. Surprisingly, Tang stopped the moto to contribute and I saw others doing the same.

We arrived at the bottom of two hills, where a number of stands was located. This looked like a market which was not too busy. It was about to rain when we arrived. After a short shower the sun came out again and we managed to stay dry.

We went first to see the Pagoda which was on a mountain. A few people were begging along the stairs, again mostly old, partly ‘handicapped’ women.

This is the pagoda. Next to it on the right are the remaining walls of an earlier building. This is covered by the building on the right. This appears to be rather recent and very functional.

However, there are dramatic scenes painted on the ceiling.

Many of those guys live here and are not very shy.

Next to the pagoda I found an old monk sitting with the company of a young boy under some sort of tent. There were a number of Buddha around and a lot of incense sticks were burning. The monk asked me to sit down and so I did. He had a pack of cigarettes in front of him and I indicated that I would not mind having a cigarette with him. So we had one. Of course he asked me to contribute to the reconstruction of the pagoda (including the construction of new houses for the monks to live in) which I could not refuse. Then he started to spray water at us and praying really fast. I took this to be some sort of blessing.

This gave me a good experience and I started looking around what else I could get. There was an elderly lady sitting under the same tent with another small boy indicating that she could tell me the future. Usually I would not consider asking for such services. However, after the monk took care of my future, I though, this can only get better.

This is how the game works: there is a card game consisting of about 50 paper cards with handwritten texts that I could not read. And a stick. You take the cards to the back of your head, pray very hard and then prick the stick randomly (this is what I think) into the cards. So I did and gave the result to her. She said my future does not look bright but I have another two chances. So I tried two more times with the same result. This lady did not show much movement but I started to worry and wondered what I can do to light up my future. Tang told me sacrificing is usually a good way going about it. I started to think this is a dirty game (“abgekartetes Spiel” since I had paid them already. Maybe not enough.

Tang ensured me that Buddha is not involved in the card business. My tourist guide told me that many of these old people sitting in pagodas and collecting money are doing so because there is actually no other provision for old age.

We went to another building where we could climb a ladder to the roof. On the way I saw another smoking monk. I did not see anybody being busy. Here I took this picture. Three mountains can be seen on it and all of them have visually names that I already forgot. We went with the moto on the street in the center of the picture to the zoo place, which is situated on and around the ‘hill’ in the middle.

Tang managed to get me in for the Khmer price. The entire zoo is pretty much a drive-through affair. So we drove through it.

Those fellows where about to get food (chicken) and crying, apparently driven by desire.

I do not know much about bears but I though this bear does not look particularly happy.

I saw various monkeys, crocodiles, an 80 kilo python, and countless birds. There is said to be a lion but we could not see it. However, I do not think I should make this a zoological review and limit myself to few pictures. I liked the tigers a lot.

This guy gave us company for some time. He was selling coco nuts (I hope I am not mistaken) to (mostly local) tourists who enjoyed feeding the animals to amuse their children.

His bicycle does not have pedals. Neither does it have a brake. So what he does to reduce the speed is he presses his sandal against the tire at the front wheel while driving. I do not think this is too dangerous since there are no steep mountains and there is not much traffic.

For some reason I find zoos not very exciting and I think both of us got tired by watching these animals. So we decided to leave. While driving through the villages I found that many motos were accumulated close to bar-like establishments in which people were watching TV. Tang told me that this is boxing, again on Channel Five.

We just passed a village and the associated pagoda when we saw large Chinese graves on one side of the street. Tang told me that choosing the right place for the death to be buried is important for Chinese people. Their priest (?) determines which location is suitable for the members of a particular family. This is not the case in Buddhism. Khmer people and presumably other believers of Buddhism in various contries countries cremate the bodies of their deceased whereas Chinese people do not (I hope I got it right).

This is what I saw on the other side of the street. I did not see people at other places along the road laboring Sunday late afternoon. And I did not see very often people working collectively. However, I do not think I should draw conclusions from that correlations. What happens here is that young rice plants are taken from this field to be taken to a more suitable one. I learned that the Cambodian rice production has a particularly low productivity of about 4 metric tons per hectare, whereas China achieves about 20. Furthermore there has not been enough rain so fare in this year. July is particularly difficult and referred to as short dry season.

Already on the way back to PP we stopped at Tonle Bati, which used to be a popular destination for the urban population to hang out and spend time with the family. However, things changed and on the better road and with faster cars people can reach the coast to spend the weekend at the sea. And so they speed. Trucks drivers just keep tooting and driving 60 to 80 km per hour even while passing villages where children play close to the road. Car drivers are not better, but faster. Frequently one car overtakes the other while being overtaken by a third car without care for the majority of the people traveling mostly on moto cycles. More often than not these cars do not have plates. It appears that at least 80 percent of them are all sorts of Toyota Camry.

There is Ta Prohm close by, a sanctum build by King Jayavarman VII. (1181-1218). We went to see it and were welcomed by those girls who provided us with flowers and incense. For some reasons they kept asking me how many girl friends I have and told me I look handsome. This seems to be the local strategy for something. My impression was that only few of them knew what they were saying.

This is the main entrance to the central sanctum, where a beheaded Buddha is sitting. An old man was sitting next to the Buddha, pointing at a box to indicate that I should give some money. I recalled that I have to work on my future. The man lighted some of these incense sticks and handed them to me to prick it into a vase.

Behind this first room there are four others and money is being collected everywhere. I could not get rid of these girls while trying to focus on coping with the burden of my karma. “Sehr aufdringliche Kinder”, notes my tourist guide, “die Lotusblumen und Raeucherstaebchen verkaufen wollen.” This is in fact true.

I read that there is a school close by training orphans in music and arts. This folk was playing highly concentrated and really complex pattern on a xylophone like instrument. I had a lot of appreciation for this boy’s music.

This is the entrance to another sanctum (Vishnu) with another old person waiting inside hoping to collect some money.

Did I mention that Cambodia is a very rural country? There are always some animals around.

This is Tonle Bati. Again: this place used to be the first choice for stressed out urban dwellers to spend their weekend with their families. Those huts are for rent and one can sit together over the water, watch the beautiful scenery or go for a swimm. Nowadays people many people travel to the sea over the weekend and this place gets abandoned.

Foreigners have to pay $3 to enter. One gets a ticket which I thought is really cute. Is says

“Ticket Of Constribution
(For Foreign Guest).
Entered For Relaxation Ton le Baty pleasant side Price
$3.00 (free soft drink 1 can)
For entering Relaxation date …
(for supporting tourism part of Ton le Baty pleasant side)
Please, take care and protecting the ecology.
For bid to throw away trash in side pleasant side and into
The water River
Provincial public Tourism office expressed the pleasure of consciousness anything inside the pleasant side of all ladies and gentleman and wish you to meet satisfying in your traveling.

This is the place where I got the soft drink. It was a coke.

Tang is a very silent and rather shy person. He does not have much confidence into his English which is something he shares with many people around here. On Sunday, however, he started to get engaged into some conversation once in a while.

Tang is 34 and lost his parents in the Pol Pot time when he was about 14. He had to work hard to afford going to college. He has a wife and a son. Tang works in the Ministry of Interior and earns about 50 $ per month. He lives with his family in Kandal Province about 45 km outside Phnom Penh.

This time we were traveling with only one moto. Tang borrowed this one from his Nephew, because his moto is old. People around here travel with three up to five persons per moto.

We left after only half an hour and arrived at about 6 pm in Phnom Penh.
Continue reading Tonle Bati and the Phnom Tamao


I decided to Udong on Saturday, which used to be the capital of Cambodia from 1618 to 1866. Udong is about 45 km north of Phnom Penh (PP). The general means of transportation in Cambodia appears to be the moto and I concluded this would be a good chance to learn driving it. I met Tang from the partner organization and he was willing to give me company for this trip.

We went together to the moto rental service ‘lucky’, where I got a simple moto for three bucks the entire day. However, it was in the center of the city and I had to learn driving first on the chaotic road and than on the truly anarchic road outside the capitol.

The street follows outside PP mostly the Tonle Sap, which is a major river and flows into the Mekong in PP.

The picture was taken about 10 to 15 kilometer outside PP. Wooden ships on the shore can carry about 200 metric tons, I was told. What gets discharged here is wood, which comes from various provinces and gets loaded on trucks to be used mostly for cooking (heating really is not necessary around here, at least in July).

In the background people are fishing. There are many fishing boats on the river and there nets span from one waterfront to the other. At least, so I was told.

The discharging of this cargo is associated with hard physical labor.

On the way I saw many Pagodas and a few Mosques, among them this one. A very old man told me this is a very old mosque. However, I doubt this.

This is one of the Pagodas. Maybe it is my ignorance that leads me to call it like that. When I saw this first I thought this must be really old and is really cool. However, it turned out not to be really old. The structure as well as most of the ornaments appear to be from cement.

Also these monks where very cool. I learned that they are students.

I wish to point out that whenever people are in my pictures I ask them before I take it. And I want to stress that I did not give this fellow a cigarette or encourage him to smoke his. He just happened to light his cigarette while I was taking pictures. I told him he is the first cigarette smoking monk I encounter and that I thought monks are not supposed to smoke. He did not mind me taking this picture. Again, I did not make this monk smoke.

This is the ferry which crosses the Tonle Sap at Prek Kdam. There appear to be many rivers in this country but only few bridges. By the way, this seems to be true in large part of the society as well. Particularly with regard to the behavior of political parties towards each other. They are campaigning for the upcoming election on July 27th.
This is a major connection for the national roads 5 and 6. Prek Kdam is said to be populated mostly by Moslem Cham. Except a few mosques I did not see much difference while passing with 20 km per hour.

I was told that some people are poor enough to actually live in this wreck.

This was one of the many modern style pagodas I saw so fare. Other than this one (the construction is probably not yet finalized), they are usually (from what I saw so far) painted in yellow and have, like this one, colorful roofs.

All sorts of religious constructions of various ages can be found on the compound of any pagoda.

Another pagoda out of so many. I found a strong contrast between the poor conditions of many citizens and the number and opulence of all these pagodas.

This is how the scenery looks like most of the time. Except for rice fields, which are usually more dominant. On the right hand from the tree in the center of the picture one can recognize the top of the stupa on the hill next to Udong. From this piece of street it can be seen that this is quite good quality. This is not exactly true of the way many people drive on it.

This is my companion Tang sitting on one of the motos, on which we came here.

This is the biggest stupa on the mountain (which is about 55 meters). The inauguration ceremony took place only some month ago, with the king and queen as well as prime minister Hun Sen being present. This stupa houses some bones and a tooth (behind the window in the upper part) which are said to be from Buddha himself.

From up here one has a great view over the surrounding landscape. At the bottom of this hill is the compound of a major pagoda, which most likely cannot be recognized on this small picture. The turning handrail is due to my camera. On the other side of the mountain constructions are going on to build another huge pagoda.
Also at the bottom of this hill lies the small village Phnom Udong. Again, this place used to be the capital of Cambodia from 1618 to 1866 and King Norodom was crowned here. There are many stupas, all sorts of sanctums and Pagodas around here. Much of it has been damaged or destroyed (like so much in this country, one feels tempted to think) by the operations of several military confrontations, not least the dropping of bombs of the Lon-Nol-Military.

Those are older stupas. The first one houses the remains of King Soryopor. The second one is inhabited by the corpses of King Norodom’s father King Ang Duong.

I found many poor and partly old people sitting on the stairs which lead to these monuments, begging for money. In addition, there are many children trying to sell soft drink and refreshing visitors. With this flabellum-like device they produce currents of air for sweating tourists climbing the 500 or so steps, hoping for some compensation later on.

In this stupa are the ashes of King Monivong who ruled from 1927-1941.

It can be reached via those beautiful stairs.

There seems to be the will to reconstruct this place, including new stairs and this way. This is most likely due to the fact that politics in Cambodia is tight to both the Crown and religion and this place in turn symbolizes either of those.

On our way back, maybe about 20 km from PP, it started raining heavily. Obviously I could not take any more pictures. This rain involved heavy lightening and thunder (which destroyed a medium village close to PP, as I learnt from the Cambodian Daily the other day). This was an interesting experience. Fortunately, Tang had two raincoats with him. However, when we put them on we were already pretty wet. My helmet did not have a visor and the rain became so heavy that I could not open my eyes anymore. So we waited for the rain to become weaker. Then we continued our journey, while it was still raining strongly. Most roads were entirely up to the axis of the moto. At the same time, the street was very crowded. I found that the rain is warm and delightful and enjoyed the wave of water that was flooding from my front wheel over my feet. It looked like all these cars and moto cycles are driving in a river in the very center of Phnom Penh. And it felt like riding a jet ski rather than a motor bike. When I stretched my feet upfront in the water it was like water ski.

We gave my moto back to the rental service and Tang took me back to my guesthouse. He had to drive another 45 km before he reached his home in Kandal province. At this point, both of our clothing was entirely wet.

Continue reading Udong

“General Policy for Highland Peoples Development”

I met somebody who was involved in the drafting of a “General Policy for Highland Peoples Development(1997), which is however not in force. Its first paragraph starts with the following sentence: “The Kingdom of Cambodia is a multi-ethnic society and forms a unity of cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity. The Royal Government of Cambodia shall promote understanding and respect of cultural diversity and ensure that Highland Peoples can practice their own cultures, which are recognized by the Cambodia national society, based on the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia.” The rest of this document appears to be written in the same spirit.

The drafting and associated research was supported by UNDP, ADB and World Bank (WB). However, this support came from outside Cambodia and was very punctual.

There appears to be no organizational continuity on these issues in Cambodia, to say the best. The research started with tables provided by the Ministry of Religion. Since then the numbers keep changing. Census data is provided by the Ministry of Planning. However, population figures about “Highland People” are everything but consisting and dramatically decreasing up to the last census in 1997. Other data is derived from provincial governments and documents from police commissions.

There were objections to the policy by several ministries, most prominently Chapter 3.6 which they want to replace. The wording of this paragraph in the initial draft is as follows: “Further complete or partial deforestation or other forest exploitation in areas inhabited or used by Highland Peoples shall be forbidden unless such forest use permits continued, sustainable traditional agriculture and forest use of Highland Peoples. In no case should such exploitation be permitted without the full and informed participation and consent of the affected Highland Peoples themselves. All exploitation should be submitted to sustainable forest management, including replanting, using of sustainable indigenous species and ensuring minimal impact on the biological diversity of the area. The Government of Cambodia shall adopt general forest management policies which require exploitation to be limited to legally designated exploitation forests, which are not currently or traditionally inhabited or used by Highland Peoples, where sustainable management would be required, and where plans for exploitation would be subject to social, cultural and environmental impact assessment and open to public examination and review.”

The policy in question is designed to target the four provinces in which indigenous peoples life: Ratanakiri, Kratie, Steung Treng, and Mondul Kiri. The policy does not refer to ‘ethnic groups’, but to ‘highland peoples’ or Khmer Leu.
The legislative process of this policy came to a halt mainly because laws concerning land and forest where not appropriately clear. However, specific laws are in force today.

Given that many government organizations are busy right now because of the upcoming election, it appears likely that this policy will be reintroduced into the legislative process with support by the forenamed influential organizations. Furthermore, WB’s potentially tough (this remains to be seen) Operational Directive on indigenous peoples together with the pending WB (IDA) commitment of about 23 Mill. US$ project costs seems to make this a truly delicate affair.

With regard to my travel plans I learned that there are many organizations in Rattanakiri to assist indigenous peoples. However, to see their lifestyles it is better to go to Mondul Kiri, where people are more easily accessible, tent to be poorer and without assistance.
Continue reading “General Policy for Highland Peoples Development”

Web Page?

I was contemplating that the creation of a web page for either or both the project and minority rights in this country would be a good idea. This could make considerable documentation available to citizens and organizations. It would be cheep, help to facilitate access to policy literature and networking as well as integration of fragmented activities in government agencies and supporting organizations.
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And I do not think this is what I realistically could pursue in three month. In Ethiopia I learned that to make a difference and bring about change highly visible and communicative events such are sometimes a good vehicle. With regard to sequencing and pacing the strategic conflict may arise whether to address minority rights issues before there is the state capacity to enforce them. Based on the above indicated theories I mentioned that I would like to make the case for the integration of associated considerations at an early stage.
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Knowledge Management

At the first glance it appears to me that in the Cambodian political system in general and in government agencies in particular the bottleneck is not so much that research results are not existent, but not available. The bottleneck appears to be in large part access to and dissemination of existing research results. I do not think my project wants to deliver the sort of anthropological, sociological or ethnological research that really is lacking and necessary for policy making.
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Decentralization and Language

The policy implications are powerful, since political measures to overcome gender inequality are not meant to be permanent but measures to accommodate the culture of national minorities/indigenous peoples are meant to be persistent. Since language appears to be at the core of these problems (and because politics is bound to language) I intend to focus for the time being on decentralization and linguistic minorities.
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Neutral State?

This separation is not possible with regard to culture and particularly language. Since the government cannot but promote a particular language by using it in the societies institutions, it cannot be neutral with regard to culture. Women are for good reasons considered a disadvantaged group. However, we assume that once these inequalities are overcome, there won’t be a need for recognition or special provisions to promote women. However, this is not true with regard to rights given to members of groups to promote justice between cultural groups. Many theorists (and most likely people who are subject to assimilation policies) support the view that it is desirable to perpetuate the existence of associated differences.
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The Next Weeks

For these reasons, I intend to focus my research on these groups and associated policy problems for the next weeks. I tend to think I should exclude religious and gender minorities which can be separated from my issue in the following way: In (liberal) theory, there is the old idea that religious minorities can be accommodated by a strict divorce of state and religion (which, however, is not the case in Cambodia).
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The key to whether or not a cultural group is able to perpetuate their culture has been the question whether or not these groups are allowed to maintain societal institutions in their language. Regarding decentralization this might be associated with the question of whether or not these groups are provided the space in the legal and policy framework and whether or not their political and social institutions can (and should) be integrated into it. This I think is a largely a question of whether or not these institutions can be maintained in the mother language.
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“Highland People”

Although the largest ethnic minority groups are Vietnamese and Chinese descendants, Muslim Chams and ethnic Lao with the situation of the Vietnamese being particularly urgent. I believe so called ‘indigenous people’ pose a challenge specifically to decentralization because they live territorially concentrated. Furthermore, it is usually considered fair that immigrants learn the majority language of the country they immigrate to. But this is not true in the case of indigenous peoples.
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