Sounding on Cambodia for February 19, 2010

Busy as a Beaver on Methamphetamines (Yama, Yaba) these days, but here are some of the Cambodian things I’m watching:

  • A US citizen who moved to Kompong Thom to open a “grassroots health clinic,” and was raped, beaten, wrapped in barbed wire and left for dead, has had her account confirmed by the Embassy, in the face of the K. Thom police, who claim the entire thing is made up by the woman, who they characterize as insane.  DAS has an excellent take on the entire thing:

The State Department’s confirmation should spark a new wave of questioning, which will certainly prompt more ridiculous answers from corrupted local officials who are trying to cover up the truth. As any police chief knows, the strong routinely prey upon the weak. Spousal abuse is epidemic. And rape is not only commonplace, it’s considered sport among a significant part of the male population. Sadly, Cara Garcia’s attack was anything but “impossible.” Utterly predictable is more like it.

Give the circumstances, you would think that people would protest in the streets. That women would demand justice. Demand accountability. Demand safety. If not for Cara Garcia, for themselves. For the Cambodian woman who will be raped and likely murdered today. And the Cambodian woman who will be raped and likely murdered tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Ad infinitum.

  • More violence: this time, a Cambodian man from Svay Rieng appears to have been murdered by a gang of Vietnamese thugs just across the border in Vietnam. His brothers, also beaten, are currently receiving treatment  in a VN hospital now.
  • Echoes of violence and strange religion: Chinese Cambodians are flocking to Ta Mok’s old house in Anlong Veng, the last major stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, as well as to his tomb, in celebration of New Year’s.  Given the widely-reported hostility of the Khmer Rouge in general to ethnic Chinese in general, this is a strange tourist site (there are, for instance, no indications that this is seen as a tourism of ‘survival,’ or victory.)  It resembles the sorts of spirit-worship associated on occasion with Pol Pot’s grave site, up the hill a bit.
  • It’s good to occasionally have the rest of the world confronted with the intense disparity of wealth and power among Cambodian’s population.  This article on the “Khmer Riche” has been making the rounds lately.  I have a hard time suppressing vomit when I read descriptions such as these, for example:
It is only in the past few years that the children of Cambodia’s elite have grown confident enough to show off their family’s wealth. “If you want people to respect you in Cambodia, you must have a good car, good diamonds, a good cellphone,” explains Ouch Vichet, 28, better known as Richard. “It’s an I’m-richer-than-you competition.” Richard drives a black Cadillac Escalade ($150,000) and wears a Hèrmes watch ($2,500) and a 2.5-carat diamond ring ($13,000). “My money is from my parents,” he says with refreshing candour, and then breaks it down. They gave him a villa ($500,000), and a rubber plantation that will generate income for the rest of Richard’s natural life. His parents-in-law gave him $100,000 in cash and another villa, worth $200,000, which he sold and invested in real estate. He also runs a nightclub called Emerald — his parents made their first fortune in gems — which provides him with “pocket money”. A party of rich kids can spend $2,000 on drinks and mixers in a single night — more than an average Cambodian earns in three years. His parents’ second, much larger fortune comes from real estate. A few years ago they bought about five hectares of land just outside Phnom Penh for $14 per square metre, then sold it for $120 per square metre two years later. They made more than $5m. “Where else can you make profits like that?” grins Richard. “It’s crazy money.” He has a daughter called Emerald and a son called Benz. His living room features giant chairs ornately carved from tropical hardwood, and a flatscreen television the size of a pool table.
  • And a couple of agricultural pieces.  This one discusses a new Australian Agricultural project amounting to $600 million, and which critics claim will do nothing to help the poor.  I’d love some help thinking this one through, and my Aussie friends can help me do it.  Right?  This one is a podcast from the American Anthropological Association, part of their Profiles In Practice series, and focuses on an expert in Fishery management, a crucial issue for the maintenance, preservation, and improvement of nutritional profiles throughout Cambodia, where approximately 2/3 of all protein intake is reported to come from the natural freshwater fishery of the Tonle Sap.
The sixth installment of our Profiles in Practice podcast series features Patricia Clay, a fisheries anthropologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA). Clay received her doctorate in anthropology from Indiana University-Bloomington, where she focused on ecological and economic development and the success of fisheries cooperatives started by the US government. Her inter-disciplinary work involves fisheries research, policy planning, and social impact assessment for environmental impact statements. Throughout her work, Clay, like many other applied anthropologists, found that she had to cultivate an understanding and appreciation of anthropology within her workplace. She also highlights the importance of skills that are often acquired outside of anthropology departments: statistics, budget management, facilitating cooperative work efforts, and networking.

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