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the toa Blog

June 2007


Want to help stop the illegal trade of Khmer artifacts? Sign the petition to encourage the Thai and Singapore governments to sign the 1970 UNESCO convention on heritage protection. Link is here: http://www.heritagewatch.org/petition.php

The toa blog - June 29, 2007

They found it

On a mountain in Kampot province, no survivors. Best guess is a combination of pilot error and bad weather. Plane was too low, visibiltiy nil, and a mountain appeared where it wasn't supposed to be. Those in charge of these things say they'll be reviewing the approach patterns to Sihanoukville's fledgling Kang Keng Airport.

Funny Money

Don't believe there's counterfeit money in Cambodia? Authorities popped a guy in Poipet yesterday with about $30,000 of the stuff in a combination of USD, Thai baht, and Cambodian Riel. No word whether he was in charge of stocking ATMs...

National insults

It was suggested by a couple of respondents to an overstay question on a popular travel forum that intentionally exceeding ones allotted time of stay in Cambodia was an act lacking in respect to the nation. Well, no, but it is an act in violation of the law and will cost you money. Most people who have chosen to insult nation, religion, and king as well as cause massive loss of face to the Prime Minister who often likes to talk about rule of law and national sovereignty have found the border officials not the least bit insulted but rather quite friendly and good-natured as they methodically counted out and handed over the specified amount of cash. Nonetheless, perhaps soon we might find guidebooks listing under the cultural faux pas section a citation not to overstay your visa as it may cause offense along the lines of touching people on the head (does anyone go around touching strangers on the head back home?) and entering a temple naked (except for your shoes).

The toa blog - June 26, 2007

Plane crash

Yesterday. PMT Air (acronym for Progress Multitrade, though other interpretations are acceptable). Russian-made AN-24. 22 people on board - 13 Korean, 3 Czech, 5 Cambodian crew, 1 Russian pilot. Charter flight from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville. Disappeared from radar - which depending on reports, state seven minutes before landing or thirty minutes before landing. Witnesses saw it go down. It's somewhere in the forests of Kampot province between Bokor and Kamchay Mountains. Wreckage won't be easy to find. Weather is aleady taking the blame.

Deepest sorrow and sympathies for the victims, their families, and friends.

That's still all we know.

Two comments to make:

1.) A blow to Cambodian tourism? Not a chance. PMT is (was?) a backwater airline (air service would seem more appropriate) used by few, trusted by less, and even news of this crash, barely 24 hours after it occurred is barely making international newscasts, let alone headlines. While a possible death blow to PMT, in six months I expect hardly a person outside Cambodia will have ever remembered this happened.

2.) An inevitable tragedy. Yeah, possibly. Cambodia has had more than it's share of dodgy airlines using dodgy aircraft come and go, with PMT arguably the last remnant. And when one thinks about how things are done here - corruption, half-assed work, etc., well it does seem almost surprising that this is the first fatal commercial aircrash in Cambodia in ten years and the first involving a Cambodia-based aircraft since the 1960s. One can only hope this serves as a wake-up call.

As for Cambodia domestic aviation. If this spells the demise of PMT, then that puts Ratanakiri and Sihanoukville off the map for awhile. Siem Reap Airways (Bangkok Airways in a Cambodia disguise) still flies Phnom Penh-Siem Reap and they are most certainly not a dodgy airline nor do they use dodgy aircraft... though I was a bit surprised once recently to board a Bangkok-Siem Reap flight on some small British Aerospace aircraft wet-leased from Druk Air (Bhutan) complete with a Bhutanese air hostess. I refrained from speculation.

The toa blog - June 21, 2007

Just wondering...

So you read somewhere that at such and such guesthouse or hotel some guest's valuables goes missing and it must have been the staff, or weak security, or anything that has nothing to do with anything the guest might have done themselves.

We had a group in for one night. They all went out for a night in the bars coming back quite noisily and drunk at 3:00 am. Next morning the group is checking out, one girl says to me and to quote as well as I can remember, "I know you can't do anything about it, but I want you to know that last night I left my phone charging under the pillow and now it's gone." So I went immediately upstairs to the room and in a matter of seconds found a phone behind the window curtain next to the bed she had slept in.

I returned her phone to her and yes, the look on her otherwise hungover face was indeed priceless.

But I wonder if otherwise I might have read on Lonely Planet or somewhere about Two Dragons being a place one should worry about their possessions going missing never mind the customer came back so drunk as to hardly remember their name let alone where they put their phone the night before.

The toa blog - June 14, 2007

An update of sorts

The new toa, toa-v.3, is indeed on the way to reality. Money has been paid and the site is in the hands of the developer. They tell me the first stage, the installation of the CMS will be finished by the end of the month and at that point data transfer from this toa site to the new one can begin. So hopefully the new look will begin to appear in early July. All the wonderful features and add-ons - the second stage - will then start to appear, assumedly when I pay the money.

Siem Reap news. Do we talk about the weather? An unusually wet May followed by a June heat wave (36C/97F again today and no sign of rain). How about the electricity? Tourist arrivals are creeping up again and power outages affecting some or all of Siem Reap are now an almost daily occurrence. They say the electricity from Thailand, due to have been up and running last October, is still four months away. One rumor says many of the people from Puok village to Poipet (about 120 km) who had power lines stuck in their front yards are demanding compensation for it with the local power company saying Thailand should pay. So in other words we'll never see the power come on line. Or just try asking the local power company for an extra 63 or even 32 amps into your building. And wonder how they're going to power all the new construction when they say they don't even have 32 amps to give you and they hit us with rolling blackouts every night? Maybe we could mention the dredging of the Siem Reap river - what a yucchy mess - ostensibly to alleviate the sewers from backflowing into the streets every time it rains. Yes, raw sewage goes from the buildings to the streets to the river. Untreated. Yum.

I got a chance to see the new Angkor Night Market. An attractive opportunity to separate tourists and money with a nice variety of souvenir and clothing shops supplemented with a food and drink area. Some of the offerings go well beyond the usual krama, mass-produced carvings and rubbings, and landmine t-shirts that seem to comprise the bulk of a lot of souvenir stalls in the local markets, particularly Psah Chas. If I had one suggestion to the owners it's to get a generator. On the night we visited, and yes we did spend a bit of money, the market was plunged into darkness by another of Siem Reap's all too frequent power outages. I would imagine that during such blackouts sales would plummet to near zero. Kind of hard to buy something if you can't see it. It's located just west of Sivatha Street under a large thatch roof and say prayers no spark ever lands on it.

The guesthouse received a small renovation in May, which as these things usually go, is still a work in progress. New roof over the restaurant, new bar, some new lights, a coat of yellow paint, new pictures for the walls. And still not enough electricity.

There was a letter to the editor in a recent Cambodia Daily that caused a bit of a stir. Seems someone was perturbed enough by some old geezer in Phnom Penh selling his eggs with the aid of a loudspeaker to write in demanding that this practice be outlawed. No surprise there was a slew of letters slagging off the writer. Reminds me of the time ten years ago I first arrived in Bangkok and on one of my first mornings I was quite rudely awoken at 6 am by a pick-up truck coming down the soi blaring out to everyone on a loudspeaker that he had various fruit for sale, his was the best, the prices were the best, come one, come all and get your 6 am watermelon. My first thought was that if this was back in Philadelphia someone would have come out, taken one of his watermelons, smashed it over his head and taken his microphone and shoved it you know where and that would be the end of that.

But this wasn't Philadelphia it was Bangkok. And might as well have been Phnom Penh.

I don't like the noise such sellers make. I don't like weddings, funerals, and house parties that play their music over loudspeakers for the entire neighborhood to hear. I don't like shops in Bangkok shopping malls screaming out their promotions. I don't like trucks with loud exhausts. I don't like noise at all. I come from a culture that doesn't like noise. I live and work in one that doesn't seem to share this dislike. So perhaps the best thing is to shut up and stop making noise about noise you don't like. It's not going to change a thing and shows a complete inability to adjust to one of the most basic elements of life in Asia. Noise.

Another aspect of life in Asia : software, video, and music piracy. The industries scream bloody murder and demand Asian governments to comply. But have they considered that...

In Cambodia I have never seen for sale a licensed piece of software, DVD, or music CD. I'm sure somewhere tucked down a dark alley some man in a trenchcoat might whisper, "psst, buddy, wanna buy a licensed Windows Vista? How about a fresh imported copy of the latest Disney classic? Only $250 for the Windows and I can let you have the DVD for $20. Whaddya say?" I know, you can buy and download some software off the internet. Okay, let's see, my credit card, here it is, US-based bank. Type in the numbers, oops, payment failed. Something about the IP address showing a Cambodia origin. Cambodia seems to be on a lot of bank's naughty lists. Thailand isn't a whole lot better. While more often than not we can get a credit card payment to go through, let me relate this story and I hope somebody from Microsoft is listening:

Both the wife and I bought new laptops this year. I bought mine from a major electronics chain with a store in almost every Thailand shopping mall. I got a licensed Windows XP SP2 with it. As I wanted. Done. Two months later we visit a major computer show at Bangkok's Queen Sirikit Convention Center to get a second laptop for the missus. We make our laptop choice, a major international brand which we purchase directly from that company's booth. And the Windows XP SP2 on it was pirated. There was no surprise. We asked and they told us. Whatever, we'll locate a licensed copy later as I don't like using computers with unlicensed operating systems. So it's off to a major shopping mall. Plenty of little shops with pirated copies of every imaginable software program written in the last three million years. But no licensed Windows OS. More walking. More searching. The kid is getting bored. More walking. More searching. The kid is getting really bored. So is the missus. So am I. Finally we locate the one shop in this mega major monster mall that has a licensed XP. And they want about the equivalent of $200 US for it and no they don't want to install it for us. That and the box says it's only licensed for sale in a new computer put together by whoever is selling it. Eventually they agree to install it and everyone lives happily ever after.

So for f***s sake, Microsoft, if you want people to buy licensed copies of your software do you think you could make it any more difficult to do so?

Now let's talk music. Downloadable music. There are quite a few large and legal on-line retailers selling, no renting, music in mp3 form. Great if you're in the United States and maybe a handful of other countries privileged enough to be allowed to rent mp3s from these major sellers on the RIAA's happy happy list. But if you're located somewhere in Asia, forget it. If you want to buy downloadable music on-line you're shut out of most sites and forced to buy (at a fraction of the price) from the various Russian MP3 sites all on the RIAA's evil evil list.

So for f***s sake, RIAA, next time you throw a tantrum about Russian MP3 sites and lack of intellectual property respect in the Asia Pacific Region why don't you first make your products available here... and at a price consistent with relative incomes?

DVDs. A handful of western movies do get licensed for distribution on DVD in Asia. Most do not. Every major shopping mall in Bangkok has a handful of western movies available. Chances are however, that the title you want isn't one of them. Fortunately, wherever there is a demand someone will try to fill it and for the 80 or 90% of western films that don't see Asian distribution there are numerous outlets all over the region that will quite happily sell the movies for $2 or $3.

In every instance, software, music, and DVDs I have tried at one point or another to make legal purchases either on-line or over the counter and been thwarted numerous times.

I have no sympathy for these industries' woes. As far as I'm concerned they did this to themselves. If they want piracy to stop they can start by doing the seemingly obvious thing of making their products available and at a price people can afford.

And Thailand is still a mess and I'm only glad it's not mine to clean up.

Recent Updates on toa

May 25: Updated the Cambodia Overland, Bangkok to Siem Reap Traveler's Reports section.
May 25: Updated the Cambodia Overland, Pailin/Battambang Traveler's Reports section.
May 5: Updated the Cambodia Overland, Vietnam Traveler's Reports section.
April 30: Updated the Cambodia Overland, Bangkok to Siem Reap section.
April 16: Readers' Submissions Philippines: Seven short stories by Antonio Graceffo.
April 15: Completely updated the Siem Reap-Angkor Guide.
April 15: Updated the Cambodia FAQ; Tourism section.
April 15: Readers' Submissions Laos: Breakfast in Laos by Brandon Follett and Amy Johnson.

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