Dogged persistence

December 31, 2013



Well, Harley’s home, and he’s completely adorable. And completely insane.

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of dogs in my life. But not that many puppies. The last one I had to deal with in any protracted sense was a 10-week-old Jack Russell called Bonsai, whom I drove from a remote Scottish island all the way down to Dorset, howling in a cardboard box on the passenger seat for 13 hours. I think we were both pretty relieved when that journey was over.

But how quickly memory fades. I had completely forgotten what a pain a puppy can be. But with the arrival of Harley, I’ve been reminded, forcefully. Harley likes to chew things. And Harley doesn’t take well to being baulked when it comes to chewing. It doesn’t matter what it is: trouser legs, socks, fingers, the walls, earlobes, newspapers, curtains, lamps, electrical cables, cardboard boxes; all is grist, as it were, to his mill. The dog is relentlessness personified.


Now I hesitate to call a dog stupid, especially one that’s owned by me. But it is true to say that Harley’s mind is a little … underdeveloped. He is only eight weeks old. And he is your basic tabula rasa. It’s a delight to see a thought cross his little mind: he’ll be walking in one direction, when he’ll think of something and spasm up into the air to turn around to act on that thought immediately. Even if it involves him running headfirst into a wall.

Another problem that we hadn’t fully anticipated was that until he finishes his shots, in about six weeks, he can’t be let outside. Rabies, distemper, parvovirus: all of them could kill the little beast, and coupled with his habit of putting everything in his mouth in this, a profoundly unclean city, he is in no small amount of danger. So for the time being, we can’t have someone come in to walk him at lunchtime; instead, Blossom has taken him to work today in his cage, and deposited him underneath the stairs. I’ve been dreading a phone call from Blossom at her wits end, but apparently it hasn’t been too bad, apart from him crapping repeatedly in his cage, and filthy children wanting to play with him. (Blossom hates filthy children.)

And I’ve just got back from the pet store. Dog food is $18 for a kilo-and-a-half! That’s apparently enough to last him 11 days. That’s almost more expensive than the food I eat. But Blossom says pizza crusts aren’t nourishing enough for him. The mind boggles.


Anyway, that’s enough dog stuff for now. Have a brilliantly happy New Year, everyone.


Cold weather and tsunamis

December 23, 2013

It’s freezing in Cambodia. Well, not actually freezing, but considerably colder than usual. Yesterday, the temperature at noon was 21°C (70°F), which is pretty cold for Phnom Penh. The Ministry of Meteorology says that this is the coldest weather Cambodia has seen for 30 years, and is blaming it on strong winds from the northeast carrying abnormally cold air southward into Cambodia from Siberia. This is probably true; northern Vietnam has seen snow this week.

Now, most people would say that 21°C is pretty warm. But not Cambodians, and, after perhaps too long here, not me and Blossom either. We shut the terrace doors last night, didn’t turn on the fans, and I almost slept in a T-shirt. That’s nothing compared to the locals: this morning our tuk-tuk drivers were wearing parkas zipped up to their chins and bobble hats. They appeared to be suffering.

The cold weather has had one beneficial effect; we’ve discovered we’ve got hot water. Despite occupying our flat for nearly two years, we only just discovered that if you flip a switch on the fuse box, the showers get extremely hot. Most of the time, some 51 weeks a year, we don’t need hot water: it gets pretty hot on its own sitting in a tank on the roof in the scorching sunshine. But it’s been nice this week.

In other news, the opposition CNRP’s recent decision to hold daily protest rallies, which provoked a huge collective groan of boredom when it was announced, received an unexpected boost yesterday when more than 100,000 turned out to call for new elections and for Hun Sen to stand down. The CNRP, perhaps optimistically, reckoned that there were half-a-million protestors, which seems a little high; they called it a “political tsunami.” But a minimum of 100,000 good-natured electors were out yesterday, the biggest anti-CPP demos since the disputed elections of 1998.

The demonstrators cited a list of reasons for Hun Sen to step down, including the wholesale selling of Cambodian land to foreign agricultural firms, deforestation, the minimum wage, the shooting of garment workers and spiralling unemployment. Hun Sen said in reply that he had “done nothing wrong” so didn’t need to quit.

I, of course, managed to miss the whole thing, being laid up in bed with a savagely bad back, a sign of my increasing decrepitude and age. But if the demos carry on, there could be much more to watch.

A shabby way to urn a living

December 16, 2013

Cambodia is an astonishingly Buddhist country, with over 96 percent of the population identifying themselves as being Buddhist. Of course, there are other religions here; a few Catholic churches, quite a number of Sunni Muslims and innumerable Mormon missionaries pedalling cluelessly around Phnom Penh looking for souls to save. But on the whole, this is a Buddhist country: monks are genuinely venerated, whole lives are dedicated to the local temples, and the people ardently believe.

Which is why it is hard to imagine the shock when people here woke a day or two ago to the news that an urn, supposedly containing some of the ashes of the Buddha, had been stolen from a temple complex outside the capital. Its rather as if someone had broken in to the Vatican and stolen a piece of the True Cross.

The relics were donated by Sri Lanka in 1957 ahead of the 2,500th anniversary of the birth of Buddhism.

In 2002, the urn was transported from Phnom Penh to the Sakyamuni stupa at Oudong, a former capital of Cambodia, watched by tens of thousands of people. Only members of the royal family were allowed into the stupa to see the urn.

Experts in Buddhist archaeology said that the relics were likely destined for sale to private collectors in Thailand or elsewhere in Asia. “Sadly, the urn … will probably end up locked away in someone’s private collection,” professor Robin Coningham of Britain’s Durham University told a local paper.

Dougald O’Reilly, director of Heritage Watch International, said that the items could potentially fetch a high price. “I’m not sure who would want [the relics], but it may be that [they have] considerable value, especially in Thailand, where Buddhist amulets imbued with ‘special powers’ are widely exchanged,” he told the paper.

Reports say that the police knew some of the men guarding the Royal Treasury on Oudong Mountain had stolen from the site in the past, an official said, as four security guards and a villager were charged and referred to an investigative judge. The families of the four guards said the men had only received a total of 10 months’ salary over the past two years.

The Ministry of Culture and the Royal Palace are supposed to pay a combined monthly salary of $42.50 to each of the guards.

Meanwhile, in a rare piece of good news for Cambodia’s beleaguered cultural heritage, Sotheby’s has finally agreed to return a 10th-century sandstone statue that has been at the centre of a legal battle for the past two years.

The warrior figure was stolen from Cambodia’s Koh Ker temple complex in the midst of the Khmer Rouge reign in the 1970s, and resurfaced in a New York auction catalogue in 2011, being consigned by an obscure Belgian princess.

6-The-10th-century-sculptureUNESCO identified the 500-pound artifact, known as the Duryodhana, 36 hours before it was due to be sold, and convinced Cambodian authorities to ask for it back. In last week’s settlement, the auction house, the princess and federal officials finally agreed that the antiquity will be shipped to Cambodia within 90 days.

“It’s wonderful news that after more than four decades away from Cambodia, the statue will be returning home,” Ek Tha, a Cambodian government spokesman, said.


Not just for Christmas

December 5, 2013

Blossom and I recently celebrated 17 years of connubial bliss, or would have done, if she hadn’t been in Bangkok for the weekend. But that aside, we’ve been reflecting recently on how our lives have differed from those of our contemporaries, practically all of whom are married, and all of whom have astonishingly numerous cadres of children. That’s an area where we’ve been at odds with many of them; our cheerfully childless state has been an issue for many people, who wanted us to share in their pain. So we have decided, finally, to submit to the biological imperative, join the ranks of the Standard Unthinking, and give up lazing around in bed on a weekend.

We’ve bought a puppy.

Working title: Harley

Working title: Harley

Said puppy is only five weeks old, so we don’t actually get to pick him up until Christmas Eve. But we’re quite excited. And a little nervous. I can’t remember how to housetrain dogs, for instance. And what is this ‘crate training’ of which people speak? Also, I’m incredibly irresponsible, on the whole. So being responsible for a little dog will be a whole new thing.

For the record, he’s a brindle pedigree Boston Terrier, bred here from parents from Ohio and Texas. He’s currently extremely chubby and tends to leap about violently, then falls asleep wherever he might happen to be. Blossom just has to look at him and starts squeaking. As I said, his working name is Harley (I’ve always wanted a Harley…), because Blossom won’t let me call him Satan, but secretly in my heart he will always be The Vicious Beast of Death. But any other naming suggestions are most welcome.

I’m optimistic that this blog won’t become all about Boston Terriers, and that we won’t get too soppy and stupid about the dog. I used to work for a homosexual couple in Hong Kong who had a pair of collies, and they held birthday parties for them, complete with special cakes and party hats for the dogs. But they were spectacularly stupid people; I hope we’re not. It’s only a dog, in the end. We shall have to see.