Having twins

January 14, 2015

Phnom Penh is getting a new twin city. I kind of like the idea of twin cities. I like the interchange of ideas and cultures, the reciprocal visits and the fostering of friendship and understanding between different peoples. But I’d always thought that the concept of twinning involved some degree of concordance between places: capital cities, like Phnom Penh, should probably twin with other capitals. But no, our latest twin is … drum roll … Lowell, Massachusetts.

A view of Lowell

A view of Lowell

Now, I’m sure Lowell is a very nice place. But, really? Obviously there are good reasons for Lowell to twin with Phnom Penh, the main one being that there are 10,000 Khmers living there, after they fled the Khmer Rouge, making it the second largest centre of Cambodians in the United States. You can see why the mayor, Rodney M. Elliott, who is currently visiting Phnom Penh, would want to lock up as many Khmer votes as he can by smiling and being nice to Cambodia. But I’m not convinced.

So I went and looked up some of Phnom Penh’s other twin cities. And it’s an odd list. Vientiane, Ho Ch Minh, Hanoi and Bangkok seem fine. I guess I can live with Shanghai, and Mandalay, Bristol and Incheon. In the US, Long Beach is in for the same reason as Lowell. But Providence, Rhode Island, and Cleveland, Tennessee? And Can Tho, Vietnam, Iloilo City in the Philippines and Changsha in China?

I think Phnom Penh is selling itself short by twinning with minor cities. Cleveland, Tennessee, wonderful as it may be, has a population of only 40,000, and is ranked as the fourteenth largest city in Tennessee. It may be famous for Tall Betsy, the Official Halloween Goblin of Bradley County, and for its annual apple festival, but less than one percent of the population is Asian. I don’t know what they were thinking.

Some other people who seem to have left their thinking caps at home were three foreign tourists who were deported yesterday, after being caught riding motorcycles in Kandal province while completely naked. The trio, two men and a woman, from Scotland, Italy and Finland, also shot video of themselves doing it, and posted it on YouTube.



“Their actions have seriously violated Cambodia’s integrity, the beautiful customs and culture of Cambodia, and Cambodian law,” said a police spokesman.

“We cannot allow them to commit pornography like this in our country.”

We all know that backpackers are clueless and badly dressed dickheads, but seriously? They’re spoiling it for the rest of us.


One Response to “Having twins”

  1. Lowell, Massachusetts, is where I took my examination to become a US citizen. It is an old mill-town, a place with famously militant unions who fought for women’s rights in the textile mills – a place with a fascinating and often violent history, an ideal (if eccentrically chosen) place with which to be twinned. I loved your essay.

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