Friday, June 14, 2013

From the Foreign Correspondents Club: Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

First of all I would like to thank new readers from Belgium, The Netherlands, Thailand, Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

Phnom Penh

Lion at the Royal Palace

Strange Town. No question. Very tough here. Baking hot. Seemingly poorer than Laos. The busted streets remind me of India. There is much street poverty here though held in restraint somehow.

I've been around Phnom Penh on a moto. Big moped. Seen the centre and much of the unmetalled, rock and mud roads too. One feels like an old man having stepped off.

The food here is the best I've ever eaten. Fish is freshwater. From the Mekong, the curries are just lovely, with peanuts, lime and chilli but not too much chilli. That deadly foodgroup is left kindly on the side if you wish to hurt your tastebuds.

My moto driver Sun is a fountain of information and is very thoughtful too. He takes me places, like the Khmer Parliament building. Obama was there a couple of months ago. And the Olympic stadium. The poor thing is far from the state of the art stadiums we see everywhere now. You can more or less walk in. Again Sun got me in here.

Olympic Stadium

FCC Foreign Correspondents Club
Fun if you get plastered but only special because it is by the Mekong. Like twenty other similar places. The food was lousy. Good juices and friendly staff. Just fine.

View over the Mekong at dusk from the Foreign Correspondents Club

I thought Lao was hard enough but being understood here has gone up a degree of difficulty. The Cambodians seem not so bothered about whether you know Cambodian or not. They seem focussed on their lives.

Cheung-Ek is better known as a Killing Field.

The undulations here look like open cast mining has taken place. Each one is a mass grave.

The feeling here? Like walking in a dream. It is a fruit orchard. There is a lake with undisturbed remains underneath. Many mass graves lie quietly. Birds sing. When it rains, bones, teeth, pieces of garments surface. Already the monsoon has started.

A tree where women and children had their brains dashed out.

Elsewhere is the Magic Tree where the Khmer Rouge hung speakers knocking out approved songs. This covered the screams of the dying. Thing here is, no bullets were used. Hammers, hoes, axes, cart axles, machetes. Anything in the garden shed. Some buried were still alive. DDT was sprinkled on the grave. Killed off those buried alive. Covered the smell.
One in four Cambodians were murdered (1.7 million).

8000 skulls here

Moving around so much makes one slap-happy and careless. I have lost a good many things lately. Camera download cables inChina, toiletries in India, swimming shorts in Laos. Just leaving them in hotels and whatnot. Some fatigue and sickness is involved.

Tuol Sleng (S21) was a former school used to torture prisoners by the Khmer Rouge.

I didn't visit this place. Having just been to the fields of Cheung-Ek I envisaged the school as a succession of rooms with nasty tools inside and photographs of the victims.

Just google 'Tuol Sleng Photographs'. You are likely to find the photos there upsetting.

Contemporary Cambodia
The economy of Cambodia at present follows an open market system (Market Economy) and has seen rapid economic progress in the last decade. Per capita income, although rapidly increasing, is low compared with most neighbouring countries. Cambodia's two largest industries are textiles and tourism, while agricultural activities remain the main source of income for many Cambodians living in rural areas. The service sector is heavily concentrated on trading activities and catering-related services. Recently, Cambodia has reported that oil and natural gas reserves have been found off-shore. The GDP per capita is around the $3000 mark.

Sun the moto driver
In 1995, the government transformed the country's economic system from a Planned economy to its present market-driven system. Following those changes, growth was estimated at a value of 7% while inflation dropped from 26% in 1994 to only 6% in 1995. Imports increased due to the influx of foreign aid, and exports, particularly from the country's garment industry, also increased.
After four years of improving economic performance, Cambodia's economy slowed in 1997-98 due to the regional economic crisis, civil unrest, and political infighting. Foreign investments declined during this period. Also, in 1998 the main harvest was hit by drought. But in 1999, the first full year of relative peace in 30 years, progress was made on economic reforms and growth resumed at 4%.
Currently, Cambodia's foreign policy focuses on establishing friendly borders with its neighbors (such as Thailand and Vietnam), as well as integrate itself into regional (ASEAN) and global (WTO) trading systems. Some of the obstacles faced by this emerging economy are the need for a better education system and the lack of a skilled workforce; particularly in the poverty-ridden countryside, which struggles with inadequate basic infrastructure Nonetheless, Cambodia continues to attract investors because of its low wages, plentiful labour, proximity to Asian raw materials, and favorable tax treatment.


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