Association of Asian Studies

Well, here we are at the Association of Asian Studies (AAS) Annual Conference, in San Diego (famous residents include Buffy Summers, apparently), California.  In addition to the excellent looking panels and discussions this year, this is the last year I will serve as the Chair of the Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia Studies group (TLC).

Part of the TLC work is the annual invitation to a distinguished academic to speak to issues of broad significance to our members. This year, we have invited Dr. Charnvit Kasetsiri, former Rector of Thammasat University in Thailand, to speak (Dr. Kasetsiri’s personal web page, here). In line with our selected theme for the year – geographies of conflict (or to use a felicitous phrase from our sponsored panel which was unfortunately not accepted this year, “Cartographies of Violence.” Dr. Kasetsiri will be speaking tonight on the conflict over the Angkorian temple of Preah Vihear (Th: Phra Viharn), which has been an object of nationalist desire and mobilization by groups on both sides of the Cambodian-Thai border.

I’m also spending my first conference speaking to publishers, about my manuscript with the working title of “Deathpower in Cambodian Buddhism.” Everyone’s been quite nice,but for a junior scholar (yes, at nearly 40, with a Ph.D., a tenure-track job, and two children, I still consider myself a junior scholar) it’s damn-near heart-attack-inducing.  Luckily those new AED machines are all over the place. :)

This post marks my intention to return to blogging on a slow, but slightly more frequent pace. In future weeks, I should have a few short pieces including discussions about the ideas in my manuscript, my attendance and studies of Samdech Euv (King-Father) Norodom Sihanouk‘s cremation rituals, which I was fortunate to attend, thanks in large part to a generous travel and research grant from my home institution.

Sounding on Cambodia, April 11, 2011

I’ve started a new practice here on Imagining the Real World.  I’ve always used the “Sounding” tag to indicate a group of links to other internet-materials that are associated with each other by a particular subject matter: Cambodia, Buddhism, The Academy, Religious Studies, etc., etc.

However, starting today, I’m going to assign specific days of the week to specific topics.  While some will come and go for the current period, Mondays will be my chance to Sound Off on links related to Cambodian Topics, Wednesday will look at Buddhism, and Friday will look at Religious Studies.

So, what’s on tap for the first thusly-organized Sounding on Cambodia?: Khmer Martial Arts (Bradal Serey), Expats and Global Apartheid, the online publication of sections of the Astrological Yearbook for the Khmer New Year (comin’ up, comin’ up!), a new website on Khmer Manuscripts (huzzah!), Border conflict with Thailand, Draft Laws on NGOs and Unions, and the implosion of the Sam Rainsy Party.

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Cambodia Sounding for August 16, 2010

Some stories I’ve been following lately, or that just caught my eye:

Lower Mekong Archaeology Project (LoMAP) gets some more much-deserved attention from Bora Touch, whose original article, “The Mekong Delta Before Angkor: origins, landscapes and emergent complexity,” was retitled in their classically nationalistic style here. Very much worth a read.

The Mirror, a Cambodian Newspaper translation blog online, run by Norbert Klein, has been doing its important work more frequently, and with more precision, sometimes lining of a sort of “We Said/They Said” set of quotes to attempt to set stories straight, among other crucial issues.  Go check them out and subscribe to the feed. Some stories from the Mirror recently:

And just for fun, some local Christian group in California has received its 15 minutes of fame and made lots of self-aggrandizing comments about their work.  Check it out here, in “Christians Fight Evils For Kids In Cambodia.”  Since I just accidentally ran across some particularly awful manuals for missionization of Sino-Khmer in Cambodia, this struck me as just dumb and rude, but perhaps I’m over-reacting.

The Wet-Season Offensive at Preah Vihear?

I’ve written a fair bit on this blog about Preah Vihear, including perhaps especially this post here, which discusses a famous ritual performed at the site by Bun Rany Hun Sen, the wife of Prime Minister Hun Sen. That ritual, the Krong Pali ritual, immediately brought accusations in Thailand that the Khmer were (typically) practicing ‘black magic’ against the Thais.

The dry season is over, so it’s out of season for the current hubbub over the ownership of Preah Vihear; these have thus far largely corresponded to the traditional military dry season offensives, which is an interesting aspect of the mobilizations themselves.  The current kerfuffle, rather, is based on a different calendar altogether, the calendar of opportunism within Thailand.

AFP PhotoHaving routed the Red Shirts, and with the Thai government hunting them down in ways that smack of Thaksin’s extrajudicial killings during his notorious ‘war on drugs,’ the Yellow Shirts (PAD and allies within the military and government) having again taken up the popular irredentist banner of nationalism. They definitively lost the last round, and Preah Vihear temple was properly listed as a World Heritage Site, under Cambodian authority.  This round is really about the administration plan for Preah Vihear, which the PAD insist be delayed until all land disputes on the border are resolved. Which, of course, they will never let happen.  Should disputes appear resolved, they’ll just head to the border again and cause more violence with the relatively amicable Thai and Khmer on the border, as they did last time. Continue reading

Sounding on Cambodia, March 19, 2010

Funded by the US State Department and the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, Undercover UXO is designed to run on the “One Laptop Per Child XO laptop.” The game will provide a consequence-free learning environment that teaches kids how to identify UXOs and report them to inspectors.

  • A lay nun burned herself inside the confines of Watt Ounalom in Phnom Penh.  If you click through, beware that the photo is pretty horrific. The reasons for this tragic action remain unclear, though there is a lot of speculation; the woman, whose current status has not been reported to my knowledge, was taken to Calmette Hospital.
  • Anne Elizabeth Moore has another excellent article on Cambodian Garment Workers. Moore has a relatively privileged perspective here, having lived as a dorm supervisor for a few months in Cambodia for the Harpswell Foundation.  The article, a followup to the last one written by Moore at Truthout, focuses on the Messenger Band, a band composed of current and former garment workers.  There’s audio on the site as well – go check it out! I cried at my computer when I read this part:

Members of the Messenger Band

Members of the Messenger Band

As garment factories close, more and more women enter the sex industry by working at the karaoke bars. You have a song about this.

Vun Em: When the factories close down, some girls will go to become entertainment workers, and HIV will spread out around. But why don’t [the NGOs] care about their living life? Why they don’t care about their family? Why they don’t care about the security of those people? Why they care only about HIV? [She starts to cry.] I don’t know, I don’t understand.

We also care about HIV, but you have to think about the lives of the people, not only HIV. If the people don’t have enough food to eat, if they don’t have enough education, if they don’t have good health, how can they prevent themselves from the HIV? They don’t have time to think about HIV, they only have time to think, I need food, I need food. All the time.

  • Land grabs continue – possibly the most important issue for Cambodians living in Cambodia – especially those whose ability to directly feed themselves is dependent upon their land.  In Kompong Speu (Starfruit Province), approximately 1,000 farmers rallied to protest the grabs.  Some farmers burned the fields that were being taken, and a video (embedded below – cautious, it’s difficult to watch) has begun making the rounds of the police violently – not to say brutally – destroying tables, buildings, and attacking people.  This needs to stop.
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SOUNDING on Southeast Asia, 4 February 2010

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is about to make his first trip to ព្រះ​វិហារ (Preah Vihear) temple in the midst of the run-up to the dry-season offensive (military potential, but it’s going to be loud, at minimum), has also been preaching parables to people in his client-base.  This parable is all about a good Buddhist elder and a bad Buddhist elder, and how at some point, the good guy eventually gets tired of being good to the bad guy and the bad guy stops getting what he asks for, gets leprosy, and dies.  Just sayin’!

Meanwhile, just across the Thai border, the cold-hearted bastards at Reuters who analyze trends for investors have started warning about a possible coup.

Economic indicators in Cambodia: a brand-new, purportedly high-quality modern Rice Mill has opened in Battambang Province.  The president has a Khmer name; is the company owned by a Cambodian and do profits stay in country? Meanwhile, pawn shops are becoming legal.  That’ll help. Cause god knows, there aren’t enough opportunities to buy second-hand, stolen commodity goods in Cambodia right now.

Human Rights Watch has released a 93 page report which is very hard to read.  It details the horrendous abuse taking place in Cambodia’s Drug “Rehab” centers, largely of young children from the streets.  Beatings are not the worst of it.  HRW recommends that the centers be monitored by the UN. I think they should be destroyed and ripped down to the foundations.

Oh, and that cool image from the MMAP folks of what appears to be a burial urn?  It was.  And that’s the second one evah.  Awesomes.

SOUNDING on Cambodia: Hun Sen and Preah Vihear

shot caller

Paul Vrieze publishes a review of Hun Sen‘s 25 years in power. Hun Sen’s greatest asset has far too often been seen by his critics as a weakness: he was on many different and conflicting sides in the conflicts of the 70s and 80s – just like the majority of Cambodians. Unlike most Cambodians, in addition to having had a kaleidoscopic history of shifting political loyalties, he has only every really been on one side: his own. [link, via]

Despite his political skills, Hun Sen did not shy away from using violence against political opposition. In 1997, he took over thegovernment by force and the ensuing fighting killed about 100 people, mostly from the rival Funcinpec Party, according to a 2008 US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, which referred to the takeover as an “unlawful seizure of power”.

Before the military takeover, a grenade attack hit a peaceful opposition rally in Phnom Penh, which killed 16 children, men and women and wounded more than 100 others. Recent disclosures of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) probe into the attack, which was conducted because an American citizen was injured in the blast, were made under a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Cambodia Daily, a local English-language newspaper.

The investigation, which was cut short due to intensifying threats to the FBI agent, found evidence that directly implicated Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit and the CPP, while highly placed witnesses declined to cooperate with the FBI, according to the records disclosed to the newspaper. The US government reacted to the violent events of 1997 by banning direct aid to Cambodia for a decade. As the US Congressional Research Service noted, “The autocratic tendencies of Prime Minister Hun Sen have discouraged foreign investment and strained US-Cambodian relations.”

And oh yes, the Dry Season is here – so it’s about time for violent misunderstandings at the Cambodian-Thai border, over the Khmer temple of ប្រសាទ​ព្រះ​វិហារ Prasat Preah Vihear (Thai: Phra Viharn). [link, link]