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.

 

Boiling a frog

June 1, 2016

Sometimes, life in Cambodia is a lot like that metaphor about boiling a frog: you think life is fine, and then all of a sudden you’re surrounded by police with AK-47s, and you realise it very much isn’t.

The police appeared around me as I was stuck in a traffic jam the other day, caused by opposition party protestors trying to present a petition to the king. I wasn’t particularly worried per se, but it is an ugly reminder of who has the power here.

The petition is the latest attempt to fight back against a rising tide of political oppression. It all stems from a stupidly obscure ongoing political story about the deputy leader of the opposition allegedly having an affair with a young woman. The judiciary apparently thinks he is guilty of being involved in prostitution and wants to arrest him, despite there being no evidence, and him having parliamentary immunity from arrest.

The petition calls for the king to step in and stop what’s widely seen as the ruling CPP using the alleged affair as a pretext for flimsy legal cases to neutralise its opponents via its control of the judiciary. Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy is already in self-imposed exile in Paris for the third time in his career.

NGOs say 29 people have been imprisoned so far, and call them ‘political prisoners.’ Even the normally supine European Union Delegation to Cambodia has expressed “deep regret” over the “dangerous political escalation” in recent days and called for “a halt to the judicial harassment of the acting leader of the opposition and representatives of civil society organizations.”

Meanwhile, there has been widespread hilarity after the government’s so-called ‘Cambodian Human Rights Committee’ tried to pass off snapshots of the Singapore skyline as those of pre-civil war Libya, in a propaganda video.

The video, with the wonderfully North Korean-style title Using Rights in an Anarchic Way stitches together a series of before-and-after photos of Syria and Libya, and warns that “the excessive use if [sic] rights will bring about destruction.”

libya

The two war-torn states are a favourite of government officials who urge Cambodians not to ‘misuse’ their rights. Another great example of nuanced political thinking…

And finally, work on a private prison for rich criminals is to begin next month. The country’s interior minister said prisoners with money could pay to stay at the complex, which he described as being “like a hotel.” At the time, another official said the complex might suit the child of a tycoon who was accustomed to luxury. You just couldn’t make it up…