The Peanut Sized Mind: Lakhon Khoal

I think this one post probably earn me a lot of hatred from those who will be the subject of my article but I don’t care. I just need to get this out there to fight against the possibly-rising stereotype of Cambodians that we are blindly and illogically aggressive . The point is not all of us are.

This whole thing about Lakhon Khoal just drives me nuts. Yes, Thailand wants to preserve that as theirs because they care about it. If we think it’s ours, why didn’t we do this sooner? How many of those bitching on Facebook know what Lakhon Khoal is? Did they even know that the art form exist? Based on a little bit of my experience working with an art organization before, I know as much as the artists are struggling. One of the most common complaint from artists is they don’t get enough support from local audience, especially the young people. Also, have you noticed that if there’s a traditional performance going on, people always ask first if it was free. People, let me tell you this. Art is not free! Artists are working so hard and they need to be and deserve to be paid. Art is a profession. So, unless you are willing to pay for it, you are not fully supporting just by going to watch it for free. Although I must say, even that is a start because some people are not interested even to go see the free performance.

All I’m saying is nothing comes without a cost. If you want protect something, you need to put certain efforts into it. If we claim that something is ours, we should at least know and be able to identify it. And I’m not talking about being able to do that only when we heard it from somewhere that some other countries with similar art form want to claim it astheir heritage again. Also, countries in Southeast Asia have many similar art forms because we share long history. So, why not embrace this and jointly preserve it rather than trying to create an argument about what belongs to who?

I’m tired of hearing and seeing all of the irrational nationalist sentiments.  I think many Cambodians, especially young ones are capable of using their brain a little more if they try a little harder.

Kampot Writers and Readers Festival 2015: Appreciation and Frustration

I’d never been to a writers and readers festival before I attended this year Kampot Writers and Readers Festival (KWRF). I was very excited when I found out about KWRF 2015. I am not a writer but I love to read and write and I love Kampot. There, I got the perfect match – the anticipated favorite festival in my favorite town.

I arrived quiet late on Friday night, the second day of the festival. So, I missed half of the festival already. That means I can only make comments based on half of the festival that I experienced.

The first session I went to was From Pen to Self held at KAMA. I wanted to write a book some days; therefore, I was really excited about the session. It struck me when I arrived. I saw 6 male panelists including one male moderator all of whom were foreigners. That just looked very strange. Having said that, I want to clarify that I am not a hardcore feminist and I don’t discriminate foreigners. It’s just that when a festival is being held in Cambodia, I expected to see more Cambodian writers, if not many, at least a few more. I understand that there hasn’t been many female Khmer writers, but at least one male Khmer writer in that session would have made the panel feel a bit less weird.


The panel of From Page to Shelf


Why Do I Earn Less Than You?

I just don’t understand why Cambodians get paid way lower than expats for the same job. Firstly, I assumed that it was very unfair. However, I decided to the put the question out there and tried to understand from a different angles I received from the responses.

My question was: Am I being unreasonable if I demand to be paid equally as expats for the same amount of works I do?

Here are a few interesting responses I received:

Most migrants we have same salaries as Khmer but we pay everything more expensive a cause of reasonings as yours.

Personally I would prefer expats to be paid the same as locals. More disposable budget, more jobs, more training, more results.

If you paid expats the same as locals here, you wouldn’t have any expats.

I talked to people who said equal pay is the key and I talked to people who said it is not possible. I was also being asked what do I think create the wages difference between the locals and expats? (more…)

40 Years Since Khmer Rouge, the Story I Grew Up Hearing

I asked my sister if she knew any meaning behind the date of April 17. She said no. The answer didn’t catch me by surprise though it triggered my thought. The new growing Cambodian generation doesn’t know much about what happened 40 years ago. The storytelling has been fading over time.

I would like to make a personal assumption that I am the last generation who got to listen to my parent’s stories of their time during the bloodshed regime. Before, I didn’t know how to feel about all those stories I was told. I have to admit though that I felt it was too much at time. I grew up hearing them, studying them, researching them and at some points, I thought it was time that people should move on and stop reminding the bad memories. I later realized it was too harsh of me to think that way. Only until now, I start to feel that I was lucky to hear all those stories from my parents. Not that those were fairy tales, but my sister didn’t get to listen to that.

When I was younger, my family usually gathered after dinner or before bedtime so that my parents would start recalling their memories during the regime. My mother was a little girl (around 8 years old) back then. She would tell me how she was sent off to guard cows or buffalo. She was fearless and she told me that sometime she would climb the highest sugar-palm tree. My father was a teenager during the Khmer Rouge. He didn’t get evacuated from Phnom Penh because his was a farmer who already lived in the countryside although he did study in the city. He told me a lot of stories some of which were how he had to bury all his books because he didn’t want them to be destroyed during the war, how his body was swollen because the lack of Sodium Chloride consumption in the already little food he was provided, how he was forced to marry a woman he barely knew and so on. That woman wasn’t my mother as my father ditched the wedding and he got away with it because it was the time that the Vietnamese troops came in and things were chaotic. (more…)

Book Review: Hun Sen’s Cambodia by Sebastian Strangio

Having an academic background as a political and international relations student, I still feel like there are many more history books I need to read to understand what has happened to my country. Every period seems to be well described in separate books and one must go around and read all those books to connect the dots and understand the whole picture of Cambodia’s historical puzzle.

I took a very intensive history course when I was in university. I read many books about Cambodia’s ancient history; however, there seem to be not enough books portraying Cambodia’s contemporary history after the Khmer Rouge. As a younger generation who were born in 1990, I grew up witnessing changes in Cambodia socially and politically. For that matter, I am my own book regarding the period I am living in. On the other hand, there’s a hole in my knowledge which is the period between the Khmer Rouge and the 21st century.

Hun Sen’s Cambodia has helped me filling that hole. When it first came out, I thought it would be a little heavy, especially for people who have no basic knowledge of the current political situation of Cambodia. I was wrong. The book surprised me chapter after chapter. It gave enough background history of the Khmer Rouge period for me to understand without hurting my brain. Also, I was finally well-explained about what happened during the 80s and the 90s which, as earlier mentioned, I have missed out. (more…)

Sexism Within You


I’ve never declared myself as a feminist, nor have I joined any feminism campaign. But if you ask me do I care about gender equality? Yes, I freaking do. It’s just that my belief is to make changes from within rather than to advocate something I am not sure I can do for myself. I know I might get some negative reactions to what I just said but it’s alright. People have different ways of doing things as long as those ways don’t harm others and as long as those ways work.

So, what exactly is feminism? According to, feminism is defined as 1) the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men and 2) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.

I went to a youth event at Meta house the other day, and one of my former classmates gave a speech about sexism in Cambodia. That brought me to think of this particular topic. So, I figure I’ll write my own take on it including my experience of suffering sexism and my own way of dealing with it. (more…)

Impunity: A Somewhat Popular Term



I understand that social injustice inevitably happens in every country across the world. What different is the scale of it. In Cambodia, it has become very rampant, especially in the impunity department. The worst part is it has not just become a serious issue in Cambodia society, but it has also become a social norm embedded deeply in the society. People get this idea that they can get away with pretty much everything. All they need is association with powerful individuals in the top rank of the government and dollars.

Having grown up in Cambodia, I’ve got so familiar with impunity. Want it or not, I and other Cambodians have to live with it. Though impunity has always been a usual practice, the term “impunity” hadn’t become popular until recently. In Khmer, my language, impunity is translated to “និទណ្ឌភាព”. To be honest, if you asked me a year ago, I wouldn’t have known what that word meant.

The idea of calling for action against impunity was introduced by the Cambodian Center of Human Right in 2012, but the real local campaign didn’t start until 2013 and also this year. Observing the impunity campaign this year,  I am pleased that more people start talking about it and condemn it. When impunity is mentioned, we think of people who abuse their powers and use money to take advantage of the commoners and can easily get away with it. It has got more obvious over the years. It makes me feel like those big individuals don’t even try to hide it. It makes us, the normal people, feeling more pain of the absence of justice. (more…)

Public Transportation Takes More Than Buses

I am just curious how many people think the presence of the big public buses strolling around streets in Phnom Penh doesn’t really solve the traffic problem? Opinions are welcomed in the comment section below.

Don’t get me wrong. I would love my city to have public transportation. It would be more convenient and I wouldn’t have to go to work smelling like car exhaust everyday because of riding scooter. Finally, public bus service has been put into place. It’s a very good solution. NOT YET!!!

I’ve been to a couple of big cities in Southeast Asia and I realize that public transportation isn’t just about purchasing buses, hiring drivers and putting up roofless bus stops. It requires urban planning which I doubt my city has one. Frankly speaking, public transportation is about  building the whole infrastructure including pavements, bigger roads, proper bus stops (the one with roof and seats) and so on to make this thing works.

I am no expert in this, but I have enough idea to notice that what is being done now is not really effective. I think in order to make public transportation works in Phnom Penh, major changes have to be made to the city’s existing infrastructures and also numbers of means of transportation. Phnom Penh needs bigger roads! Those we currently have are no longer big enough to accomodate the increasing numbers of the vehicles nowadays. I think the government should begin to limit the numbers of any kind of vehicles. Nowadays, we keep adding too many of the same things on the roads. What did I mean by saying the same things? We have cars, scooters, motorbikes, tuk tuk(s) and taxis. Tuk tuk(s) and taxis serve the same purposes. Why not trying to limit those? Also, we have way too many big SUVs on the roads as well. Because of this, riding scooter or walking is so difficult regarding the fact that pavements are used for parking and street stalls.  Now, more big buses were added to the already-crowded streets. From what I’ve seen, doing this has only made traffic jams become worse. (more…)

The Annoying Refugee Deal

I often said that you can’t clap with one hand. For a country to goes well, both the government and the people need to work together to make that happen. However, this isn’t the case for the refugee deal made by my beloved government (that I didn’t vote for) and the Australian government. My philosophy is still applicable in this case though. You still can’t clap with one hand, but this time these two hands do not involve the people. These two hands are the Cambodian government and the Australian government. I don’t see the two governments take into consideration opinions of the general people regarding this deal. My people are not happy, some Australians are not that happy (from what I’ve heard) and the refugees themselves are furious. So, what does this deal mean? Does it mean that the Australian government finally joins the turn-the-blind-eyes game with the Cambodia’s government?

Cambodia’s government cannot even take care of its own people, let alone looking after others. You don’t have to be a scholar or a university graduate to see this. It’s very obvious. Even if you can’t read, you at least hear it from people at the street or acknowledge the day-to-day protests to various issues. Let us all look at the basic public services, shall we?

Healthcare system in Phnom Penh is terrible, and healthcare in provinces and the rural part of Cambodia are even worse. I dare to make this statement because I and my family experienced it. Most Cambodians who can afford to seek medication abroad, they usually don’t even bother to go to the local hospital because it is that bad. There is no quality, morality and accountability in Cambodia’s healthcare whatsoever. This is a serious issue that hasn’t got enough attention from the government. If the locals can’t even get a sufficient and reasonable healthcare, how would the refugees get any better? (more…)

Phnom Penh Without the White Building


© Morgan Macdonald

It was a sad day when I saw the news about the future demolition of the White Building. To be honest, the building used to disgust me. To me, it is now a dirty building and a disgrace to the eyes. HOWEVER, I’ve never wanted it gone.

The White Building used to be one of the most prestigious buildings in the capital during the glorious time. Though I wasn’t born that time, but my mother was. I remembered being told the story about  my mother and her entirely family living in the White Building proudly. I am sure it is part of many people’s memories as well. It reminds people of the good old days.

I’ve never recommended anybody to live in the past. People need to move on. I know that. Nevertheless, there are pasts worth remembering because some pasts actually determine how things are today. The building has its place in Phnom Penh which is where it belongs. Nothing else will fits better in that spot. It, together with other historic landmarks, make up the uniqueness of the city.


© Ron van Zeeland

What could have been done to it?

Renovate it! There are so many things you can do to that amazing building. I agree with the City Hall that it is no longer safe to live in there. How about we get the people out, renovate and repaint the whole building? You’ll see the differences. (more…)