Small-town blues

August 18, 2017

When I was a mere child, relatively, I spent a summer working on a cattle station in Far North Queensland in Australia, for reasons that escape me now. Suffice to say that it was both an eye-opener, and one of the most brutal and terrifying places I’ve ever been. When I get around to writing my autobiography, there’ll be a chapter on Escott Station, and it won’t be cheerful reading.
But one thing that has stayed with me is the feeling I got when I made it back to Brisbane. Now, Brisbane in the mid-1980s was not the dynamic, get-up-and-go cosmopolitan world city that it is today. Back then, it was Cow Town. But to a rube like me, freshly in from months in the sticks, it was a place of astonishingly urbane sophistication. I’d spent an age in a place with a single copper telephone wire, 1,000 miles from the nearest church or bar, with a population of 40. 
I remember clearly being astonished by escalators, car parks and restaurants. Traffic lights were a renewed revelation. Crowds were frightening. But obviously it all wore off pretty quickly, and cities became my natural home again.
But I’d thought that maybe the same thing would happen again over here in India. I’ve spent the last few days in Bombay, population 20 million, after living in Thiksey, Ladakh, population 2,500 for the last few months. So I was ready for some cognitive dissonance, with all of the world, good and bad, outside my hotel room. In Thiksey, there is a shop, but the man who runs it is not well, so it barely opens. In Bombay, you can get almost anything (except steak).
But no, being in Bombay was the same as being in Thiksey. Just another place. Small town; big city: same same. Shame really. Now I’m sorry I made you read all of that.

In other news, WAR! Indian and Chinese troops apparently clashed only a couple of hours drive from here just the other day. I got very excited about this, journalistically. Until I read the wire story, which said “Chinese troops threw stones at Indian soldiers near Pangong Lake…” Throwing stones? The two largest countries in the world, both armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, and they’re chucking stones at each other like schoolboys? Perhaps this’ll be followed up by a round of pigtail pulling, or some super-tense international ringing-the-doorbell-and-running-away. It’s certainly more charming than the current impasse on the Korean peninsula.
And I also laughed yesterday, Indian Independence Day, at a half-page ad on the front page of the Times of India, which read “Mahatma Gandhi believed in himself. He believed in you, and me, and India. In our skills and ability to match up to the best of standards worldwide. Jaquar salutes that spirit of Indianness. By adopting the highest quality standards in our products, Jaquar has become India’s most trusted bath fittings brand.” Bathos, that is. There isn’t much I can add to that.

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Hello, wage slaves! This is me calling, from sunny Kashmir.

Actually, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to rub it in. But it struck me quite forcibly last Monday morning. I was driving through the mountains; we’d just gone over the Khardung La pass, which is (not) the highest motorable pass in the world, at 17,650 feet. The skies were a wonderfully succulent cornflower blue, the snows a gleaming white. The mountainsides fell away to distant valleys and vast churning rivers: the Shayok, the Indus, the Nubra.

I looked at my watch, and saw that it was noon. Or 0730hrs in London, when scores of people whom I know and like would be forcing their way on to crowded Tube carriages, negotiating the hell that is the London Underground, on their way to jobs that they do simply to pay the bills. And here I was, on a Monday morning, driving through a huge and fascinating paradise, along ancient trade routes, past unclimbed mountains and uncharted valleys, all in the name of work.

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(Oh, and it’s cheap here. Since I’ve been in Ladakh, I’ve only been to the cashpoint once, and have only spent £100. In two months. Back in London, it seemed like just leaving my house caused money to fly out of my wallet.)

Anyway, we were on our way to the Nubra Valley, up near the border with Pakistan and China, and a stone’s throw from the Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest armed battleground. We got to the camp, which is ringed by 18,000 foot mountains, crested with snow, in the lee of an ancient monastery perched precariously on a crag looking out over the valley.

We were there to organise and host a lunch for one of the most remarkable men in the world: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. He comes to Ladakh most years to teach and meet fervent Buddhists, and he had agreed to come and have lunch with us.

I won’t go into the work that went into hosting HH: it was quite a lot, but didn’t involve getting on an urban mass transit system at any stage. But he came, and was incredibly nice and warm, wise, generous and full of a genuinely benign radiance.

We had locked Harley, the Hammer of the Dogs, in a distant tent, but somehow he managed to escape and get past the perimeter of soldiers with machine guns hiding (asleep) in the bushes, and before we knew it he was bounding around under the Dalai Lama’s feet. I dragged him away, mortified, but HH put up his hand and stopped me. “Let him come,” he said, and Harley was allowed to frolic around his divine ankles and disport himself freely.

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Afterwards, His Holiness blessed Harley (His Harliness, now) and was generally a fantastically good man. I’m not very often star-struck by famous people (ie, never) but the Dalai Lama is different, up there with Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi (before she was corrupted by power and became a vicious Islamophobic stooge) in being a genuinely wonderful man and a wholesome force for good in the world.

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After the lunch, I was standing around with His Harliness and a group of very senior Ladakhi rinpoches, when one of them decided to feed the dog, by grabbing handfuls of cream cake and offering them to the little beast. Normally, this wouldn’t be allowed, but who am I to argue with one of the most powerful figures in Tibetan Buddhism?

After Harley started to visibly and cheerfully bulge around the midsection, the venerable rinpoche looked around him, and, seeing nowhere to clean his cream-covered hands, leant down and wiped them on Harley’s back.

I was, I must admit, somewhat taken aback. It was a bit like watching the Pope blowing his nose on the curtains. Harley didn’t, of course, mind in the slightest, except that he couldn’t reach around and get all the liberal crusting of chunks of cake and cream off himself.

So, all in all, it was a fairly good day in the office.

As it were.

 

So have I landed the best job in the world? Well, no, obviously, because it’s a job, which, despite the self-serving strictures of our capitalist overlords, is fundamentally inimical to human happiness. And I’m not a photographer for Playboy, head of product testing for Gibson Guitars, chief taster for Macallan whisky, or a coriander farmer in Tahiti.

But it’s not too bad, considering. Me and Harley the Wonder Dog walked along the stream through our sylvan glades to work this morning. I installed myself in a corner of the camp’s reception area, fired up Bach’s Mass in B Minor on the excellent stereo, and got down to crafting some pieces on how great things are here.

Every so often I pop outside to be confronted by the vast bulk of the 20,000 ft Stok Kangri Massif on the other side of the Indus Valley, dark and brooding and snow-capped, with the insanely vivid blue of the sky above, the green of the poplars along the river etching the view below. Citrine wagtails and orange-crested hoopoes flit through the glass-clear air and butterflies wobble past. The temperature is about perfect.

But there are downsides. Chief amongst them, for me, are the vagaries of the internet. We only seem to get a couple of hours of connection a day, at unpredictable times: it came on at 2340hrs last night, after being off for 12 hours. So I had to get up and start firing off emails. [And it’s just come back on after being off for five days.]

And I could only do that because the power was on, which is an intermittent affair at best. Often, when the internet is on, the power is off, or vice versa. As my job involves writing, emailing, fact-checking and research, and fine-tuning copy, the lack of an internet connection is a major drawback. I’d be working right now if the internet was on, and you’d be spared this, so, you see, it affects all of us.

Also, the dogs. Ladakh is home to packs of vicious and degraded mongrels, who seem to regard Harley-Ji as a potential luscious and glossy hors d’oeuvre. He was attacked by a vast scruffy hound the other day, and bled copiously from the ear for some time afterwards. So I carry a big stick and walk around with potential death in my heart, which feels a little negative while I’m being overlooked by a holy Buddhist monastery full of vegetarians who worship all life. But I would quite cheerfully kill any beast that threatens my little canine pal, and wouldn’t care in the slightest.

And … er … that’s about it. There’s a distinct lack of Yorkshire puddings and cheeseburgers, rather too much of the old dal and chapattis, very little beer, and the guy who irons my shirts seems resistant to my charms and takes a day too long to get them back to me.

And what’s that sound I hear? It sounds like it might be coming from the world’s tiniest violin.

Regular readers may recall that one of the most important reasons for me leaving London and my loathsome job was my ever-increasing hatred of commuting. I just finally decided that, clichés aside, life really was just too damn short to spend three hours a day on the Tube. I think most commuters think much the same as I did, but they haven’t got around to actually doing anything about it. Well: I did.

Cambodia was infinitely better – taking a tuk-tuk into the office, the warm wind in my face, through the wild and varied scents of downtown Phnom Penh, was a considerable improvement. But, over the five years I spent there, the traffic got worse, the fumes more overpowering, and the attractions of the office less pressing.

But now I think I’ve really cracked it.

My walk to work this morning took 20 minutes. My grassy path runs between two meltwater-fed streams about two metres apart, lined with willow trees. On both sides, treeless boulder fields run up to vast snow-capped peaks touching 20,000 feet. Off to one side is the Indus River, which gives India its name, and which runs all the way down to Karachi.

Me and the dog on the way to work.

So I walk between the streams, along the sun-dappled path, waving to cheerful women planting in the fields and calling out ‘Julay!’, the catch-all greeting of Ladakh. Birds chirrup in the trees and butterflies dance across the path. I carry a sturdy walking stick, cut yesterday from a willow, and am accompanied by Harley the Wonder Dog, bursting to smell and see everything. It is the very definition of the word ‘idyllic.’

Getting Dog Harley up here was less than idyllic, however. Delhi was a miserable 45 degrees (113 Fahrenheit in old money), and crowded and mainly deranged. Only one airline flies dogs up here, and they really don’t have much of a clue. On the phone they told me I had to take him to their offices so they could have a look at him, and at his papers (of which he now has nearly a kilo), and pronounce him fit to fly. So I got there, after a two-hour drive across town, only to be told that dogs weren’t allowed in the building, and that they didn’t care anyway.

The next day, ticket booked, they called back and told me to take him to a vet, three hours drive away, to get a special certificate allowing him to fly. Which was not a cheap certificate, either. That done, we rebooked the ticket, and eventually arrived at the airport at 0300 hours, to be told that the captain of the plane had to look at him and decide on his air-worthiness. But the captain was in bed and couldn’t be raised. Airline maintenance didn’t like the look of him, and because it was a prop plane thought he probably couldn’t go. No one was interested in the slightest in my expensive certificate. And (slightly worryingly) it wasn’t a prop plane either.

Finally they all gave up, against my implacable insistence that Harley was getting on the flight whether they liked it or not, and two hours later they were unloading him in Leh, in front of a crowd of fascinated Ladakhis.

And so today we walked to work, only to find that someone had put a spade through the internet cable, cutting off the whole of the Eastern Indus Valley, which meant I had to go back home and read books on Ladakh instead. Now that’s the kind of commuting I can get behind.

And, I’m hoping to get a 500cc Royal Enfield Bullet next week anyway. Forget this walking lark.

Forms and function

May 8, 2017

Well, I’m back. Sort of.

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Since I last posted here, there have been a number of changes in my life. The biggest is that I now no longer live in Cambodia. It turns out that my stupid lawyer didn’t bother to tell me that my appeal – against the giant fine the Cambodian judiciary imposed upon me for maligning a fat French paedophile – had passed, and that at the very least I had been banned from the country for five years. And this had occurred in February 2016. Clearly no one had told the immigration department. Or me.

But it seemed like it was a good time to leave. Blossom was pretty fed up with the place, Harley the Wonder Dog was miffed that all dogs have been banned from Phnom Penh’s parks, and, to be frank, I was kinda bored of the country.

So now we’re in India. Currently in Delhi, we’re going up to Ladakh (the Land of High Passes) for the summer, to write and ponder and be entertaining. I’ve always loved India, but it is a difficult place to get work visas for. But this new job dropped into our laps a few months ago, and he we finally are.

But the paperwork! After Cambodia, where you arrive at the airport, hand over some dollars and waltz in, this place is insane. The forms and interviews in the UK, just to try to get the visas were tough enough. Harley needed me to send 14 separate documents to get a certificate to get him through the airport, followed by an interview with some obscure government department after we arrived. I’ve been here nearly a week, and I’ve spent the whole time filling in forms.

I still don’t have an ID card. Bank accounts need a 20-page form. My Foreigner Regional Registration Office interview is still in the works. The tax stuff is utterly indecipherable. My employers have asked me for a copy of every page of every passport I’ve ever had. They just gave me a form in the last few minutes asking for details of my last six jobs, plus salaries, job titles, mother’s maiden name and job title and my blood type, among other things. And yet I’ve already signed a contract. I went to get some more passport-sized photos taken, and was told I needed at least 30 of them.

Yesterday I had to fill in two copies of a form. At the top were spaces for two identical photos of me, one on either side of the page. For god’s sake, why? For what possible reason can anyone need two identical pictures on one side of a piece of A4? Stupidity in stereo.

It’s lucky I’m a fairly relaxed sort of a chap, because this level of crazed hyper-bureaucracy could easily drive you mad. I’ll keep you posted, as long as I’m not inhabiting a padded room somewhere.

Scales falling

December 28, 2016

So, I’m back in Phnom Penh, for the time being. In the last couple of months I’ve been in the UK (surprisingly relaxed, I thought) the USA (surprisingly busy writing the longest suicide note in history with a single pen stroke) and India (surprisingly confident and happy and increasingly wealthy).

One of my problems, I’ve decided, is that I’m incurably optimistic. When I first moved to Cambodia, I worked with a man who turned out to be amongst the very stupidest people I’ve worked with. I mean fantastically, breathtakingly stupid. But for too long I gave him the benefit of the doubt. “Surely no one can be that stupid,” I thought optimistically to myself, as I watched him try to arrange prostitutes for his best friend, a racist from the Deep South of the USA whom he had never actually met. “People have got him wrong,” I thought, as I listened to him explain how he would deliberately not use sources for articles he typed for the newspaper. “He’s bluffing,” I’d think, as I watched him take bribes from restaurants in return for articles in the newspaper.

I finally came to my senses when he subbed a piece of wire copy, and mistook the name of the French president, Francois Hollande, for a reference to the country of Holland. The piece therefore started “The French President Francois the Netherlands …” and continued for 800 words substituting ‘the Netherlands’ for ‘Hollande’ in practically every paragraph. The scales finally having fallen from my eyes, I had him fired shortly afterwards, and the last I heard he was trying to flog newspaper ads in Rangoon and smoking too much crystal meth. So, as I say, I have a history of cutting people too much slack.

And, on reflection, I think I’ve done much the same with Cambodia.

I arrived here all starry-eyed, seduced by the heat and the fruit and the history and intoxicated by the music. But since I’ve been here, all that has fallen away, and now I see the country differently. I see the horrific pollution, and how no one cares in the slightest about improving things. I’ve seen the awful crushing poverty. I’ve seen the crappy roads, the abysmal infrastructure, the disease, the acceptance of terrible educational standards.

But most of all I’ve seen the grinding corruption, and the concomitant economic inequality. The Rolls Royce showrooms in a city full of people living on a dollar a day. The vast gated mansions occupied by minor customs officials, the army officers who own huge tracts of land, the scions of government officials who carry automatic weapons in nightclubs and will happily use them.

Recently there has been a minor furore here, after it emerged that Singapore said it has imported $752 million of sand from Cambodia, but Cambodia’s records showed it had only exported $5 million-worth. What happened to the other $747 million, one wonders?

Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, the director of an environmental group that has often campaigned against illegal dredging, said: “The companies, which in reality are no more than criminal syndicates working hand in hand with powerful government officials, declare a tiny portion of the actual sand exports. This allows them to make vast amounts of profits, which of course must be shared with those in government who provide ‘protection services’ to them.”

Ministry of Commerce spokeswoman Soeng Sophary said it was unfair to hold Cambodia to the standards of more developed countries. She neglected to explain why. I probably could, but instead I’m going to move somewhere else. Nobody here needs my help to fuck this place up any more than it already is. I can see that now. Finally.

 

 

 

Sax machine

October 19, 2016

I’m currently keeping a file on my computer desktop, to which I add stories from the Cambodian press which strike me as being particularly telling. I call it Ongoing Cambodian Stupidity. Lest anyone think that I have it in for Cambodia, I could clearly compile evidence of stupidity from almost anywhere. Brexit; Donald Trump; the Great British Bake Off – there is seemingly no end to muddled minds. But here are some more gems of sensible thinking from the Kingdom of Wonder.

A senior Forestry Administration official was released without charge after drunkenly killing a motorist with his car and leading police on a high-speed chase in Siem Reap province, because he had no “intention to murder” the victim, a court official said.

While “extremely drunk,” Yan Sideth hit a village security guard on a motorcycle. Police chased him for 13 kilometres. Despite police suggesting charges of speeding, drunk driving, leaving the scene of an accident and reckless driving resulting in death, the chief prosecutor decided to release Yan without charge.

A prosecutor’s spokesman said that the victim had been at fault for driving in front of a speeding car. A spokesman for the Institute for Road Safety, said “It is always difficult to bring justice to victims when the provokers are powerful government officials or rich people,” he said.

Meanwhile Phnom Penh authorities said the chief monk of a pagoda was defrocked after being accused of “encouraging his disciples to drink, take drugs and fraternise with women.” The monk and four novices were defrocked after they were arrested for smoking crystal meth in the monastery. A spokesman said that “after the arrest of those monks, authorities found many empty beers hidden under the Buddha statue in the dining hall.”

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen recently sent a pair of direct messages to acting Cambodia National Rescue Party president Kem Sokha, the first of which threatened “bloodshed” if protests confronted his eldest son in Australia, according to members of the opposition.

According to sources, the premier then said the party should remember what happened when anti-government protesters confronted him in Paris last October – a reference to the vicious assault of two CNRP lawmakers outside the National Assembly by soldiers from the premier’s personal bodyguard unit.

A party spokesman would only say the party had received a “threat to our safety.” He added that the party wanted the situation to “cool down” and would focus on encouraging supporters to register to vote.

And finally, for now, both Cambodia’s former King Norodom Sihanouk and Thailand’s late and much-lamented King Bhumibol Adulyadej were fluent French and English speakers and “shared a deep appreciation for jazz, making names for themselves as saxophonists.”

Despite being hugely important figures in the histories of their respective countries, the two were not particularly close. Apparently Bhumibol came to consider his Cambodian counterpart “a nuisance, in part because in 1954 Sihanouk apparently borrowed a gold-plated saxophone of the king’s and didn’t return it.”

 

Cambodia redux

September 7, 2016

As some of you may know, I’m not currently in the Kingdom of Wonder, and am working on finding somewhere else equally exotic to live. But, of course, I try and keep up with what’s going on back on the ‘Bodge. Somehow, from many thousands of miles away, some of what we take for granted in Cambodia seems even stupider and more unlikely. So here is an ongoing collection of things that have made me question how close Cambodia is to being a halfway functioning society, and not just a dim-witted semi-civilised satrapy dedicated to fleecing the west and eating its own entrails properly grown up.

Spanish activist and researcher Marga Bujosa Segado was recently deported from Cambodia for attending a protest, but before her deportation she was allegedly beaten by the police.

Police Major General Uk Heisela told a local newspaper that police officers were concerned when she started taking photos of them. “We were worried she might be a sorcerer and then take photos to do black magic on our stomachs,” he said. “Everyone knows the Spanish practice magic,” he said. “They can fly on brooms.”

I’ll say it again: “Police Major General.”

Meanwhile the Ministry of Defence has released a statement attacking the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party for accusing the military of intimidation by running helicopter, boat and troop training exercises just outside the CNRP’s headquarters, where opposition leader Kem Sokha has been holed up for months trying to avoid charges of the awful crime of having an affair.

As a local newspaper put it, “several helicopters swooped repeatedly over the CNRP offices. At the same time, boats carrying soldiers moored close to the property, while convoys of masked soldiers armed with assault weapons drove past.”

It continues: “When the Post arrived in the early evening, 10 boats were still visible, including two moored close to the CNRP property. They drove away when approached by reporters.”

The military statement read, in part: “The spokesman would like to reject the accusation from those politicians and strongly condemn any people with the intention to ruin the honour of RCAF, which upholds a neutral stance in protecting sovereignty, territorial integrity and the legitimate government.” The ministry questioned how CNRP politicians could present themselves as protectors of the nation while criticising exercises to strengthen the military.

Meanwhile warehouse owners in Phnom Penh have called on the Ministry of Interior to investigate the capital’s economic police, claiming they have been hitting them up for bribes.

An officer with the Phnom Penh economic police denied the accusations, before then offering a Post reporter money to not publish the story. “We just go through their homes and warehouses and we have not done anything like what they accused . . . so please don’t publish it,” he said. “We could give you a small amount of cash monthly or we could give you office materials like books and pens. Those people are just not happy when we do our jobs . . . we don’t ask for their money, they just give it to us from the heart.”

Oh, Cambodia…

Business? As usual.

July 13, 2016

It’s been a strange and febrile week in Phnom Penh: how many times have I written that over the last few years? Last Thursday the anti-corruption NGO Global Witness published an outstandingly good and lavishly annotated report on the financial holdings of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family.

Using only information publicly available via the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce, the report said that Hun Sen and 26 other members of his extended family owned or part-controlled 114 companies with capital of more than $200 million, including firms with links to major international brands such as Apple, Nokia, Visa, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Durex and Honda.

And these were just the public face of the family’s commercial dealings. Most business in Cambodia isn’t registered. The Hun family’s land holdings were not taken into account, which would boost the value substantially. I’ve heard figures of up to $4 billion.

The report says three of Hun Sen’s children jointly own a power company that sells electricity to the national grid. Two of the country’s biggest petrol station chains are run by companies owned in whole or in part by members of the Hun family. Three popular TV stations, a radio station and one of the most-read Khmer-language newspapers are all run by Hun Sen’s eldest daughter, Hun Mana, who also has shares in the largest mobile phone network and owns a leading bottled-water firm.

The Hun family’s response was predictable: vitriol was poured upon Global Witness and the papers that reported the story. As to refuting any of the actual, you know, facts: well, they managed to miss out on that. Instead daughter Hun Mana accused Global Witness of “try[ing] to tarnish my Father [sic] reputation” ahead of next year’s elections. “Anyhow, we thank you for your destructive efforts, which as a consequence will help my father in the coming election as they are all lies and deceitful to confuse the public about what my Father has accomplished.” Hun Sen himself put a picture of the immediate family on Facebook doing shots. Which is also confusing.

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Meanwhile a government-approved news source published a cartoon based on a Nazi cartoon originally published in 1943, but with the heads of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin replaced with The Phnom Penh Post, The Cambodia Daily and Global Witness. I don’t really understand what they’re trying to get at with this: is the government trying to align itself with the Nazis? Do they not remember how that worked out for Hitler in 1945?

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Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan told local media that “If you are not professional, we will take action on that one.” He went on: ‘“I don’t want the messenger to get killed, my friend,” he said with a laugh,’ according to the Cambodia Daily.

And lo and behold, on Sunday morning local independent political analyst Dr Kem Ley was shot twice, in the back and the back of the head, while drinking his morning coffee in a petrol station on a major junction in central Phnom Penh. He was 45 years old, married, with four children, and another on the way.

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Kem Ley had recently criticised Hun Sen’s family following the release of the Global Witness report, telling VOA Khmer that the report provided clear information about how Cambodia really works and should be used to benefit the country through investigations by the anti-corruption unit, the National Audit Authority and the National Assembly.

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The alleged gunman was quickly arrested. He apparently told police his name was Choub Samlab, which means “meet to kill” in Khmer. The 38-year-old said he killed Kem Ley because he owed him $3,000.

There are a number of inconsistencies here. How an itinerant farmer came to lend one of the country’s leading political analysts a large amount of money is confusing. How he thought that shooting him (with a $2,500 pistol) would get him his cash back is also a point of discussion. Why none of either parties’ families or friends had heard of the loan is a possible issue. But the government has promised a full and independent investigation. So that’s all right then.

It’s not as if full and independent investigations have failed before in Cambodia, as in the shootings of labour rights activist Chea Vichea in 2004 or environmentalist Chut Vutty in 2012. So the country is on edge right now. It’s an uncomfortable feeling. The funeral, in a week or so, is likely to be a potential flashpoint. We’ll be watching closely.

 

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Hit and run

June 27, 2016

I saw a fatal hit and run incident the other night. It was, unsurprisingly, pretty upsetting. So I thought I’d share it.

I was coming home after dark, at about eight in the evening, in a tuk-tuk, going north on Norodom Boulevard, one of the main arteries in central Phnom Penh. Traffic was fairly light. Suddenly just in front of me, a woman on a moped had her back end clipped by a Toyota. She went down, and the car passed over some strategic parts of her body. As I watched, she sat up, then fell back down again, not moving.

Obviously, I was expecting the Toyota to stop. Instead it carried on. But it now had the moped stuck under its front bumper, showering a vast spray of sparks as it continued up Norodom. It is a very long straight road, and I watched it, and the sparks, for a couple of minutes as it disappeared off into the distance.

I still can’t really get my head around it. I mean, you always hear that if you hit someone in the countryside you shouldn’t stop, as the local villagers will beat you to death. But this was central Phnom Penh. No one looked particularly surprised. But I certainly was. The guy didn’t even slow down. Astonishing.

In other news, after my post the other day about outdoor defecation, the government has decided to tighten up, and have now banned dogs from doing their business across Phnom Penh. As well as putting up ‘Do Not Defecate’ signs in parks (actually, they say ‘Do Not Detecate’), they’ve added one that shows a dog taking a crap with a big red line through it. Which is a problem for Harley, the Hammer of the Dogs.

Well, actually it isn’t. Our local pooping park is sparsely policed, and I always have a plastic bag with me. But we nearly got in trouble the other morning as he was having a quick slash against a bush in front of the Royal Palace. Some secret security guy saw this and started shouting ‘No!’ at the poor little beast. Of course, I feigned ignorance and pretended I didn’t know what he was objecting to. It culminated with him exasperatedly demonstrating taking a shit while all his colleagues laughed at him, before I shrugged and walked off, leaving him fulminating with rage.

Of course, he was lucky I didn’t beat the holy crap out of him: there’s nothing I detest as much as minor officials trying to enforce stupid petty rules. And there’s a lot of that in Cambodia. Give a man a walkie-talkie and he turns into Pol Pot.

Another thing Cambodia has a lot of is convenience stores. Many of the bigger ones try and copy western branding, especially that of Seven-Eleven. I went past one the other day called Nine-Eleven, which I don’t think they’ve properly thought through. However I go past another one called Seven-Elephants, which is rather clever.

Other names of businesses that have made me wonder recently include restaurants called Mega Kak, as well as Collagen Soup. And one called Sleuk Chark, which just sounds really objectionable.