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October 2006


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The toa blog - October 30, 2006

It's been awhile, again. Life was so different before I had a kid... and a guesthouse. Both are doing well. Hard to believe Matthew is 17 months old now. Walking, running, falling, grabbing, talking... four languages. Well, predominantly two - English and Thai, but Grandma put a little Chinese into him, whatever dialect it is they speak in her family's corner of Guangdong, and of course some Khmer has been assimilated as well. Fatherhood suits me.

Two Dragons has been going for two years as well. Two successful years. Successful enough that we've run out of room.

Staff have been fairly consistent. A few waitresses have come and gone - most don't last a month, but everyone else has stuck around. Except the cook. He left last month and under quite positive circumstances. Seems he scored a six-month study scholarship in France followed by a two-year contract at a five-star in Dubai. And to his credit he did something few employees have done before - gave us proper notice. Not that it helped much, the position still hasn't been filled, but at least he tried. In case you're wondering, though you probably weren't, the existing staff is handling the kitchen duties and getting paid O/T, so we're coping. We did hire someone but he only lasted nine days and we're still not entirely sure why but it seems that in the long run his short run will have been for the best.

Already had to do some renovations, expanded the kitchen and put a new floor down in the back two rooms. If anything, it's an excuse to raise rates. The floor was a necessity as the original had consisted of outdoor terracotta tiles and cheap ones at that, hey we ran out of money..., and aside from looking ugly and feeling rough on bare feet, they were hard to clean and absorbed moisture... bad smells. So we have a new floor using fake Italian tiles. I know they're fake because they come from Vitaly, some city called Saigoni.

We finally caved in and put WiFi internet into the guesthouse. It's horribly slow and ridiculously expensive but it's there. Free for the customers who bring in their own laptops and a lot more convenient for us, particularly given the number of guesthouse related e-mails I deal with every day. But how slow and how expensive? Well first let's compare. Over in Thailand, where I also have DSL I pay about $30 US per month for a 2.56 mb download, unlimited bandwidth, a pretty reasonable package most places on the planet, though I'm not naive enough to think I'm getting the full 2.5 megs, but I know I get close to 1 sometimes.

So what can you get in Cambodia? Not much. They do have unlimited bandwidth now, pretty much a necessity if you're opening up to the public, but it certainly isn't 2.56 mb. It's not even 1 mb. 512k? Nope. 256k? No, again. Let's try 128k download and the best I've ever gotten at one time is about 16k. Yeah, dial-up speeds. And the price. $30 a month? No. $50? Nope. $100? No chance. Try (VAT included).... $220 US per month!!!!!!

You read it correctly... $220 US per month for a 128k download that's never been faster than about 16k.

And people wonder why I get down on Cambodia's future progress. Well, when such blatant corruption can leads to charges like this, what else can you think? Like so many things in Cambodia (roads to the border, internet, air travel), when a handful of highly placed individuals can be in a position to earn millions off the backs of everyone else, you have to wonder how this hurts...

Speaking of which, let's talk about the road. It broke again, kind of like it did in 2002. Washed out quite badly in one spot just east of Kralanh and a stretch of about 20 ks west of Kralanh has also been under water. You can get through it and given that the rest of the road is in remarkably good condition, it's not so traumatic. We did the whole thing in four hours last Wednesday. As the rains seem to be coming to an end I imagine in another three weeks no one will be able to tell that any such flooding ever took place.

So we ended up in Thailand. Where it's likely to be a military dictatorship for some time to come. Sort of like in 1991-92 and we know how badly that ended. I'm really of a mixed mind on this. I don't accept the anti-democracy arguments since, and I think this coup has shown quite well, Thailand really isn't a democracy, but on the other hand, knowing that tanks can roll into your capital and take over your government and put your country under martial law at any time is troubling for me. Problem is, for whatever democracy Thailand has/had/never had, freedom of speech has never existed and there are certain issues quite relevant to the political situation today as well as Thailand's political and social future which simply cannot be discussed.

But we can discuss things like the overhaul of the Thai immigration system which sent tens of thousands of expats into a mental spin-out. The days of staying in Thailand indefinitely on 30-day visa-free entry stamps are over. Effective October 1, you can only stay a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period on visa-free entries. But you can enter and exit as many times as you want. When the regs were first announced there was a lot of confusion as initially they stated a maximum of three entries in a 180-day period, but common sense prevailed when, I guess, someone high-up in immigration realized that in the effort to kick out the perpetual deadbeats such a regulation would shut out thousands who visit regularly, albeit for short periods of time, on business trips, weekend holidays, or any number of other legitimate reasons that bring people in from neighboring countries on a regular basis but who have no intent to stay indefinitely.

The new airport is open and open mostly to unfavorable reviews. There's a surprise. It seems the prevailing feeling is that it's nothing more than a large duty-free shopping mall that also happens to be a place to arrive and depart via an airplane. Long walks past endless King Power shops (something like half an hour to get to some departure gates), access points blocked by shopping displays, insufficient restrooms - they cut back on restroom space to accommodate more shopping, 500 baht an hour internet (that's more expensive than what you pay in Cambodia!!! and did anyone tell them that at Changi it's free???), trouble finding a taxi, taxis scamming passengers. I realize a new airport needs time to work out bugs, but any idiot could have known in advance how much restroom space would be needed, or how potentially inconvenient endless shopping arcades could be, this is not rocket science. But then again they weren't designing an airport with shops, they were designing a shopping mall with airplanes. Too bad. Give me Don Muang any day. It may not have been pretty but it did the job.

Speaking of airports and ground travel to Siem Reap, it seems there is going to be two bus departures a day from the new airport to Rongklua Market (Aranyaprathet border point) at 8 and 11 a.m. That would be convenient. If you can find the buses.

I also learned recently that the Bangkok Airways monopoly on air routes from Thailand to Siem Reap remains in effect into 2009. Yippee.

Returning to Cambodia, they've decided to ban dogs from the Angkor complex. A couple of years ago they banned cows (they didn't have tickets), now it's dogs. Dogs pooping in the temples is, according to some official interviewed, "against Cambodian culture." Somehow I never thought to equate dog crap with anybody's culture, but if the shoe fits and it feels good...

Of course one has to wonder if the banning of dogs has anything to do with the upcoming Gyeongju-Angkor Expo? What with an expected 400,000 Koreans running about some sort of protective measures need to be in place. What is this expo anyway? Other than hyperbole? Well, let's see... Koreans are the number one source country for Angkor tourism, about a quarter million last year, so someone, we can assume someone involved in promoting cultural expositions, got an idea to have an exposition in Siem Reap that starts some time in November and ends as soon as possible. Or some time in January. Not sure who would come to Siem Reap to experience any more Korean culture than they have to - with 250,000 Korean tourists last year it's hard not to experience some Korean culture when at Angkor - but Cambodian officials are optimistic this will be a huge event. And if I were an inbound tour operator based in Seoul, it would be. But I'm not. And like most of us who aren't we expect hardly to notice a thing. And we like it that way.

Last thing... a book with a black cover has been published. Read it if you are remotely interested in anything I might have talked about.

Recent Updates on toa

October 25: Updated the Cambodia Overland, Bangkok to Siem Reap section.
October 12: Added a completely revised section on Kampot to Jack Stephens' toa Guide to Sihanoukville and the Soath Coast.
October 12: Phnom Penh Perspective: Bronwyn Sloan authors Sage & Spirit.
October 8: Readers' Submissions: China : Freeze-dried chicken feet and the Three Gorges by Victoria Lubbock

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