Rough justice

April 24, 2014

As someone who has had a number of encounters with the Cambodian legal system, and expects to have a fair few more, I was somewhat encouraged by the following story, which appeared in the Cambodia Daily. It seems to show that no matter what you do, you can expect to get away with it.

“Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday handed down a one-year suspended sentence to a 31-year-old Chinese man and fined him two million riel, or about $500, two days after he crashed his SUV into a garbage truck while drunk and gravely injured a young trash collector, court and police officials said.

The 19-year-old victim, Yin Reach, remains in critical condition with serious injuries to his legs, groin and kidneys after the Chinese man, Tuan Tao, crushed him between the truck and the front of his luxury vehicle on Sunday.

Witnesses reported that Tao was driving a car with Royal Cambodian Armed Forces license plates.

The victim has opened his eyes but is unable to move or speak and will likely never walk again, according to his brother.

“The doctor told us that my brother has broken the bones in his thighs, knees and pelvis, and damaged his groin and kidneys, while he lost a lot of blood because the arteries in his legs were cut.”

Hurrah for justice! Although you might have to be Chinese, and driving a RCAF-plated car, if you expect to get it.

I have high hopes of Cambodia’s justice system. A one-year suspended sentence and a $500 fine for crippling a young man whilst drunk? I’m laughing…




April the 17th

April 17, 2014

Today, the 17th of April, marks 39 years since the Khmer Rouge finally took Phnom Penh and emptied all of its population out into the countryside. I thought I’d mark the occasion by finally making the trip out to the Killing Fields. It was, as you can imagine, utterly depressing.

First, a little explanation, for those of you who don’t know: there are two main KR death sites associated with Phnom Penh. The first is a former city centre elementary school known as Toul Sleng, or S21, which was a processing site for “spies” and enemies of the regime. It was one of at least 150 processing centres around the country. Some 20,000 people are believed to have passed through S21 to be tortured.

After S21, the prisoners were taken by truck to a site on the southwest of the city, known as Cheoung Ek, but better known as the Killing Fields. There, they were murdered, usually by a hoe to the back of the skull (to save on ammunition). Babies had their heads dashed against a tree.

When I first came to Cambodia, five or six years ago, I visited S21 with a good friend. Afterwards we went to lunch and drank three bottles of red wine in almost total silence. I’ve never been back.

So I wasn’t much looking forward to the Killing Fields, but I figured I had to go at some point, and the anniversary seemed like a good day to do it. But it wasn’t much fun.

The centrepiece of the Killing Fields is a 60-metre stupa, which is filled with 9,000 skulls. It’s even more depressing in person than it sounds. The tree they smashed the babies into is also quite profoundly moving. But otherwise it’s really just a rather calm orchard on the edge of a city. It makes one reflect on Hannah Arendt’s ‘banality of evil’, until you spot a shin bone poking out of the soil, and then it makes me furiously angry.

So not a happy day today. But it’s crucially important to remember those who died, and the scale of the tragedy in Cambodia. Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.


Life’s a Peach

April 7, 2014

Sadly, very little of note has happened here recently, which is why this blog has been a bit moribund of late. What once was exotic has become the quotidian, I suppose, and trying to mine my life for metaphorical blog gold has become increasingly difficult. But still we strive…

We have a new member of staff chez nous. She is called Pich, pronounced ‘peach’, and she’s an absolute treasure. We got in touch with an employment agency who asked us precisely what we wanted. “To work on the days I’m in the office; clean, cook, and love the dog,” we told them. Three days later, they turned up with Pich.

The timing could have been better: I have just changed jobs a bit, and now no longer have to go to the office. I’m typing this in a café, hiding out while I leave Pich to hose down the house and pacify Harley. But she is a godsend. She works 9-5, three days a week. She cooks dinner for us, plays with the beast, who loves her immoderately, cleans everything, sews up my Harley-rent shirts, cuts up mangos and papayas, runs errands and does everything we can think of, smilingly and happily. She works 24 hours a week, or 96 hours a month. For $100 a month. I feel tremendously guilty about this – I earn 20 times her salary, and I do sod all. But she seems fine about it. I wonder if there will come a time when I get used to dirt-cheap slave labour. I hope not.

On the Harley front, he continues to grow at an astounding rate: he’s practically Godzilla-sized right now, stalking through the streets knocking down tall buildings with his huge snout. I think the verb ‘monstering’ was invented for him, as that’s what he does to everything that gets in his way.

The enormous Harley

The enormous Harley


We had a scare the other day though; Pich called in a panic to say that Harley was in a bad way, and I got home to discover his head was swollen up like a basketball, and he was having trouble breathing. The vet seemed to think he had tried to eat a bee or a little scorpion and had paid the histamine price. We got him back that evening, all recovered.

That should have been that, but his head swelled up again later that night, so we had to find the emergency vet, and he had to spend the night in doggie hospital. It’s curious how badly this affected Blossom and I; neither of us was particularly cheerful when the boy was away, and the relief when we reclaimed him the next morning was palpable. Thank god we don’t have any children.

In other news, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, or JICA, has spent many millions of dollars and a great deal of time trying to upgrade Phnom Penh’s sewage system, by digging up the roads and installing new pipes across the city. This would be great, except they provide the money, but not the expertise, so the results are decidedly mixed.

There is a sewer opening just outside our flat. But now, instead of sucking down floodwaters, it pumps sewage up into the street, where it sits, stagnant and mephitic, full of unspeakable things, rotting in the dank sunshine. Our cadre of tuk-tuk drivers sits amidst this foul shin-deep brew, without even the benefit of a decent breeze to shift the stench. No one seems prepared to do anything about it, and with the rainy season just around the corner, it’s only going to get worse. First-world problems, eh?