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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 - April 8, 2007

Changes still on the way and ohmagod, a toa blog entry!

Okay, so the new website still isn't ready. Hey, CMSs are a lot more complicated than I thought. Actually, I never thought anything about it as I knew nothing about CMSs until I started this project and now everybody and their uncle is telling me which one is the best and everybody tells me something different. Use Joomla, no use dotnetnuke, no use drupal, ... have an opinion? Jump in and e-mail me here.

Speaking of changes, apparently starting the first of this month, Thai immigration has decided to enforce the outbound air ticket rule for arrivals seeking 30-day visa-free entry stamps. No doubt another move towards trying to eliminate long-term abuse of 30-day entry privileges and arguably, another move to further rid the country of evil foreigners bent on destroying the purity of Thailand.

Further to maintaining the purity of Thailand, YouTube has been absolutely blocked in Thailand a couple of times lately. First, because <gasp> someone posted a video of a recent appearance by A witch! A witch! you know, the deposed, err what was his name, you know the guy with the square head (hey, I'm trying not to get banned in Thailand) they said did all those bad things but still hasn't been charged with anything substantive, yeah him. Well, you're not allowed to talk about A witch! A witch! in the Thai media unless you're dragging him through the muck and mire. Face down.

But that was nothing compared to a couple of recent videos that went at the Thai king (and by default, Thailand, as in the mind of a Thai the two are inseparable). One superimposed a monkey head and made a bunch of nasty comments about free speech in Thailand, and reminding us that this video would get you 15 years in a Thai prison, which it would. And I agree free speech does not exist in Thailand but I do think there are better ways to make the point. But I digress, a day or two before this video appeared the first insulting video popped up which featured a slide slow of the king with graffiti painted over his face and at one stage, a woman's pair of feet placed over his head. Yup, really insulting.

Now, I'm all for free speech. But free speech does carry responsibility, and I think these videos, extremely insulting to any Thai, exceed the boundaries of free speech. YouTube claims in its guidelines that:

We encourage free speech and defend everyone's right to express unpopular points of view. But we don't permit hate speech which contains slurs or the malicious use of stereotypes intended to attack or demean a particular gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or nationality.

... and in fact YouTube/Google has tried to remove the videos, but claim they have no way of preventing them from being re-uploaded. And further to that, have stated that they would work to see that such videos could be blocked in Thailand without censoring the entire website.

I don't consider a private company removing offending videos to be censorship of free speech, I do, however, consider a quasi-governmental body's (I refuse to call what Thailand has right now a "government") banning an entire website as censorship. Something Thailand has a rather long and celebrated history of doing. Porn sites, go on, Google "Natt Chanapa" within Thailand (if you're not in Thailand, well, enjoy the stills and the vids) and see how many of the results you can see. Or Google "proxy servers" and see how many you can access. Or gambling sites. And then when A witch! A witch! came along, then began the removal of websites critical of what was then I suppose a government, under excuses such as "Websites demeaning to respected figures" or "Against Thai culture and values"... always makes me think of the enormous amount of domestic violence allowed on Thai soaps leading me to wonder what exactly are Thai culture and values? But I digress again, and since the September coup there's been a huge increase in the number of websites of a political nature blocked in Thailand.

Anyway, my last word on this is should YouTube/Google remove the videos? Yes. Should whoever is in charge of these things in Thailand block an entire website over the existence of these videos? No.

Cambodia had local commune elections last week. No surprise, the CPP won something like 110% of the seats. But of a surprise was for the first time (and at long last) the international news media stayed away - now granted, national elections (next one in 2008) are a lot more exciting, but given that the last commune elections brought in the usual gaggle of newsducks looking for stories where none existed, I can only guess they finally got the hint and moved on to Zimbabwe or somewhere.

CNN's Anderson Cooper did a nice hatchet job on Cambodia a few weeks ago, providing another highly sensationalized and questionably accurate piece on Western pedophiles in Cambodia.

Here's my problem. Pedophilia in Southeast Asia is a problem. It's a global problem. It's a real problem. And for years we've had NGOs and particularly of late, the news media jumping on the bandwagon to eradicate Cambodia not so much of pedophiles, but of Western pedophiles. Even local public service messages on Cambodia television have warned of those evil Western pedophiles coming to prey on Cambodian children. And yes, they should be stopped. But so too should the Asian pedophiles. And particularly the Cambodian pedophiles (never mind it's your uncle) because they didn't even need to travel. Think, think of all the news reports you've read in Cambodia about debauchery arrests (the local legal term for sex with minors). How many times was the arrest of a Western pedophile splashed across the news? Now how about an Asian? Or even a Cambodian? And on those rare occasions a Cambodian, or even Asian, lands in the press, half the time they aren't even called pedophiles, but sex offenders.

But the answer is obvious. The NGOs are western. They're funded by western donors. They need western headlines. But what is the goal? Stop westerners from abusing children in Cambodia? Or stop the abuse of children in Cambodia? Somehow, I don't think the nationality or the skin color of an abuser is going to make much of a difference when considering the trauma a child will suffer.

The toa blog - March 2, 2007

Changes on the way

talesofasia is getting a long overdue overhaul. New design, new features, new approach. I'm already working with a designer/developer and readers should start seeing the changes by the end of the month.

As we are in the early stages of (re)development I'm quite interested to hear any suggestions, comments, etc as to what changes, additions, deletions, etc people might like to see in this website. E-mail me here.

But to that end a few comments on two existing sections of this website:

1.) The Discussion Forum

It's down indefinitely and won't be back until everything else in this website is completed and even then I'm not completely sure I will bring it back. Readership and postings had fallen off a cliff, spam was on the increase, and what postings the forum did receive that weren't spam were all too often moronic juvenile chat shared between at best a dozen or so individuals and of zero interest to anyone else. For awhile I did my best to delete misplaced chat but grew weary of wasting my time with it and dealing with the almost inevitable tantrums that would ensue when I did. But the spam registrations and postings have, given the glacial speeds of internet in Cambodia, become severe enough to eat up an hour, even two hours of my time each day and for what? A forum to which nobody posts anything intelligent anyway? So it's gone. And judging by recent usage there, I doubt too many people will notice.

2.) Blog

Successful as "Cambodia Update" this kinda died when I dumped the rigid monthly format and switched to what has turned into an erratically updated blog. And the blame is, of course, entirely my own. Truth is, after spitting out over a quarter million words I've run out of gas. Since I last posted to this blog, how many times I sat down and said to myself I need to write something, yet found I had nothing to say.

I'm not 100% decided how I'm going to rectify this. One of the problems, and this has effected the entire website, is a lot of back-end problems have developed here and all too often the formatting, cutting, pasting, inserting, etc would take longer than the actual writing. The new toa design and structure will take care of this and maybe writing more often won't seem such a chore knowing that when it's finished it won't take longer to post it then it did to write it. I'm also considering running some sort of news feed and simply post links to stories every day or so with a few sentences of commentary. As will be possible throughout the entire new toa site - there will be an opportunity for readers to post their comments, too.

So on that note, I don't know if this blog will see another entry under this format and style or not. Probably that depends on how long it takes to get the new website going. The last time I did this it was February 2003 and the site was a lot smaller. It's grown, out of control really, while still very much stuck in a 2002-2003 time warp and badly needs to be kicked into 2007 and beyond where website possibilities are almost endless compared to only four years ago.

Anyway, I'll leave with one last item from a couple of days ago in The Cambodia Daily. Seems a police officer fell asleep (passed out) in his car and crashed into the US embassy. As far as anyone can tell the police officer had too much to drink and was not an international terrorist out to blow up foreign dignitaries. But what cracked me up the most was not so much that an officer passed out and drove his Camry into the security barriers outside the embassy but the quotes that followed:

From Pen Khun, deputy police chief of the Phnom Penh traffic bureau: "He didn't drive carefully." Well, thanks for clearing that up.

And because he was a police officer it wasn't a deliberate act: "If he was someone else, he would have been arrested." So apparently Cambodia police officers are, by virtue of their uniforms, above suspicion. Well, we knew that already.

And Song Ly, Minor Crime Bureau police chief stated that he didn't know if he was drunk or on duty. So we assume it must be one or the other?

Song Ly then added "overturning a car in an open place like this - it is never appropriate." So when is it appropriate?

Recent Updates on toa

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.
March 21: Readers' Submissions Philippines: A Puncher's Chance by Antonio Graceffo.
March 14: Updated the Cambodia FAQ; two sections: Legalities, and Health.
March 11: Updated the Cambodia FAQ; three sections: Transportation, Money, and Photography.
March 5: Debuted the toa News Feed a semi-regular summary of news stories that hopefully will be of interest to somebody.
March 3: Readers' Submissions Cambodia: Driving in Cambodia by Butch.
February 27: Updated the Cambodia Overland, Bangkok to Siem Reap section.
February 22: Readers' Submissions Cambodia: Breakfast in Phnom Penh by Brandon Follett and Amy Johnson.
February 22: Readers' Submissions Pakistan: Destitute Women by Hina Shahid.

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