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the toa Blog

March 2006


HEY YOU! Why just read? Talk, too. Head over to the talesofasia Discussion Forum and toss in your 500 riels worth. Some items from this blog are also cross-posted to the forum for further discussion (or not).

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 - March 11, 2006

Get out your Thaksin voodoo dolls

According to today's Bangkok Post, Temporary Default Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday that his enemies "are using all kinds of means to try to destroy me, including black magic and the supernatural... but don't worry, I have talismans and various Buddha amulets with me to ward off their magic." The Not Quite PM further believes that he has "good karma to protect (him) from evil," as a result of all the good things he's done for Thailand.

But apparently Thaksin's woes run deeper as it turns out respected astrologer and Senator Boonlert Pairintra predicted in January that Thaksin would suffer a downfall this year because planet Mercury used to favor him but has now been eclipsed by the God of Darkness.

Silly us, we thought it was about things like corruption, cronyism, conflicts of interest and the like.

Thaksin will be interviewed tonight on CNN-Asia's Talk Asia at 9:30 pm.


Another installment in the extensive compilation of things that expats hate but put up with because we know it won't go away but feel an inalienable right to complain about, anyway...

Weddings, parties, funerals in Cambodia.

They are loud. They are really loud. They involve amplifiers and speakers that broadcast the entire event at a volume that assaults every innocent and disinterested set of ears for several hundred meters. In the case of weddings and funerals these things can last three days. And they start before dawn and end well past sunset. And if it's next door to you the best you can hope for is an invitation.

In the case of a funeral there's an encore some three months later in the guise of the 100-day ceremony. We had one of them down the street a couple of months ago. It lasted two days. I asked someone how could a 100-day ceremony last two days?
"He was important," they said.
If he was somone totally unimportant could it be reduced to just a couple of hours? In the afternoon?

Sometimes two or three events occur at the same time. Then they have to compete for the loudest volume. We have three events going on today. I can't tell which is which. They are all loud and sound alike. Probably because they are all playing the same music. Couldn't they share? They could even save money.

I asked someone why they do this.
"To tell everyone how happy they are."
Even for a funeral?
"No, that's to tell everyone how sad they are."
Why does anyone else have to know?
Then I asked the obvious, where did this idea come from?
"Oh, it's tradition."
Tradition? What kind of tradition... like from a long time ago?
"Yes, long time we do this."
Like back when they built Angkor Wat?
"I think so."
So back when they built Angkor Wat they had a party with amplifiers and loudspeakers?

A couple of years ago the Siem Reap bosses considered banning the public broadcast of these events stating they were a nuisance to tourists. Not surprisingly, they didn't get far with it.

Funerals of course can't be planned around, but the worst month for wedding noise is November. Weddings aren't usually planned for rainy months and November is the first month that's supposed to be dry (2005 it was not) so every young couple rushes to get hitched (pre-marital sex is still a no-no, for the girls, anyway) and hence it's weddings weddings weddings. As for the cacophony of today I can only assume that the local astrologers, apparently not the same ones causing Thaksin's downfall over in Thailand, decided that March 11 was an auspicious day.

Graham Cleghorn

There's been a lot in the news lately on this case. Seems he's going to get his case re-opened and be allowed a proper appeal with himself and an attorney present (which you think would have been a given the first time but welcome to the Cambodia justice system), and perhaps get to cross-examine the witnesses that testified against him. With any luck this farce will end soon.

The toa blog - March 9, 2006


After a respite in Thailand that included a quick jaunt up to Chiang Mai to talk to people I needed to talk to and look at things I needed to look at, we're back in Siem Reap observing the gradual wind-down of high season and the arrival of summer. It's hot, 34 to 36 (93 to 97) and humid, yucchy to yucchier. A/Cs are running, electricity bills are rising, water levels are dropping - city-supplied water has cut out twice already, about par for the course this time of year, taxing private wells struggling to raise water from a depleted water table.

There's some acknowledgement of this from the city as the entire downtown area has been one big construction mess as they lay new water pipes, but I imagine all the piping in the world won't mean a thing if they can't get water into the system. Maybe when the bad press hits Korea or somewhere they worry about, they'll make sure that the pipes are more than just in for appearances. Still, for what it's worth, since they did start upgrading the water system, the water does seem to be running a little cleaner, which given the rise I'm seeing in our monthly bill would be the least they could do (a steady and reliable supply of water being of paramount importance among the others). Electricity rates also got a kick a few months ago rising to 870 riel per kilowatt hour (about 21 US cents).

Loyalty - every employer wants it, not many get it. Since opening our doors we've had seven staff leave at one time and for one reason or another. The cook was the first to go last February, he gave us two weeks notice (still the staff record). An afternoon receptionist lasted three weeks - end of the month she got paid, said "thank you" and walked out the door. Ex-manager gave us about six days, conveniently waiting until we had left Cambodia to tell us via SMS. An evening waitress stuck around for a month, announcing her intent to depart the day before pay day (she had been shouted at a couple of times for being an idiot and decided being an idiot is better than being shouted at). A cleaning girl of one year also gave us one day notice, again conveniently the day before pay day. A part-time morning waitress gave notice pretty much as her pay was landing in her hands, "Thank you, umm, today I stop work," and yesterday the latest in a revolving door of afternoon/evening waitresses informed us half an hour after arriving at work that she had to quit because she was moving immediately and permanently back to Battambang. And you just decided this? So that's a total of 22 days notice from 7 different people, an average of three days per person. Of course twenty of those twenty-two days came from two of the seven. Take them away and the average notice can be measured in hours, not days.

If I could do it again, perhaps I'd make new staff post a bond - several paycheck deductions eventually amounting to one month's salary. Give me at least two weeks' notice, you get it back plus interest. Walk out on pay day as seems to be the Cambodia standard and I keep it.

We unloaded one of the kittens, passed her off to one of the drivers who hang around out front. I don't think she's been eaten yet. The other two are still around and mother cat is going to Phnom Penh next week to be sterilized. No more Two Dragons kittens for us. Three cats are enough and the other two (one male, one female) are also going to go under the knife when they hit six months.


There still at it. Daily anti-Thaksin protests with the man himself saying he won't budge unless the King requests him to. Farcical election coming up on April 2. More protests after Thaksin wins. I'm quite curious to see where this is all going to lead. No one wants to see a repeat of 1973, 1976, or 1992 and someone would really have to go over the edge to instigate another slaughter, but mobs are mobs and while I don't care much for Thaksin, caving into mob rule is not the answer, either. But while the argument that allowing the democratic process to take shape is a valid one, it also assumes that the process is allowed to proceed, well, democratically. As this condition is somewhat absent at this time, and to be honest, actions from both sides are responsible for this condition, it's hard then to say just what process will occur that leads to either Thaksin continuing at the helm or sees his ouster, and whether his replacement is another TRT member or the Democratic party returns to power with Abhisit in the PM post. No one knows how this is going to finish and for all the crystal-ball gazing and barstool hypotheses spread by watchers, wankers, and wannabes, our guesses are nothing more than a drunken game of darts. Sure, I predict Thaksin won't last the year, but it's just that, a groundless prediction that could be effectively argued for or against. As they say, watch this space.

Lonely Planet curse

Think it's a good thing to be named the Author's Choice for budget accommodation in a Lonely Planet guidebook? Think again. A certain guesthouse (not Two Dragons) in a certain place I know a little about, received the honor which, not surprisingly, initially had the guesthouse owner dancing for joy... until every last backpacker started turning up at his place, noses buried deep in their LPs, demanding discounts on $2 rooms and 2000-riel bottles of water and that's if they even paid their bills. He's had numerous bill jumpers which was never a problem before he earned the Author's Choice honor. I know Lonely Planet had good intentions, but at least at the budget level, such a distinction seems not to have the desired effect. The guesthouse in question, okay it's Jasmine Lodge in Siem Reap, is indeed an excellent budget choice owned and run by a young energetic Cambodian who's doing his best to set himself apart from the local flotsam that passes for guesthouses and guesthouse business practices in Cambodia, and while in theory, the Author's Choice honor is deserved, the consequences of it, regrettably, are not. If per chance you see yourself in this piece - a haggler of $2 rooms and/or a bill jumper... please get a life and go away.

The Warehouse

They finally got it open, Siem Reap's newest creation - The Warehouse, blessedly not located on Bar Street, opened their doors in late February and initial response has been favorable. It's a much needed addition to Siem Reap nightlife and with newly opened Viva, a Mexican restaurant and bar across the street balanced with the long-standing Laundry Bar around the corner, we might now begin to see a bit of change in the focus of Siem Reap nightlife, which as I've opined before, has been done a disservice in the evolution (de-evolution?) of Bar Street.

In fairness it should be stated that Bar Street exists not for a small expat community resistant to change (and I'm as guilty as the next), but for the larger tourist community, who of course don't know what the old Angkor What? Bar looked like, or can remember when the Soup Dragon was a hole in the wall around the corner, or when the Red Piano had rooms upstairs (though I think most would concur that the new upstairs is a fine place for an early evening beer or four, horrific bands from In Touch not withstanding), or when the Angkor What? Bar had a video game parlor for a neighbor, or when there was only one establishment with the name 'Temple' in it, or when the beggars were still at Psah Chas, or when you could walk down the street and not hear the cacophony from half a dozen competing music systems (will you guys sit yourselves down one day and come up with some co-operative agreement and sort out this sonic train wreck?), or remember the Nimith Snooker Club, or when Le Tigre de Papier was called What's Next? or when the Banana Leaf was the never-opened Ali Baba Corner,... no, it's for tourists who know only the present. And if they keep coming, and enjoy it, so be it. As much as we expats piss, whine, and moan about the changes to downtown Siem Reap, the fact remains that not one single business on that street developed a business model based on expat patronage. And on that note, my opinion then, really counts for squat.

Recent Updates on toa

April 23: The most recent of several updates to the Overland Bangkok to Siem Reap Travelers' Reports.
April 23: Added numerous new contributions to the Readers' Submissions section.
March 26: Added a new listing in the Business/Employment section.
March 24: Updated the Bangkok-Siem Reap section of Cambodia Overland
February 26
: Bronwyn Sloan and Phnom Penh Perspective returns with A Week in the Life
February 16: Updated the Guide to Siem Reap and Angkor.
February 12: Readers' Submissions, Cambodia: On Learning the Awful Khmer Language by Antonio Graceffo, A Night at the Kickboxing by Philip Coggan, and King's Island by Tim Patterson
February 9: The most recent of several updates to the Overland Bangkok to Siem Reap Travelers' Reports.
February 9: The most recent of several updates to the Overland Bangkok to Phnom Penh + Sihanoukville Travelers' Reports.

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