Filed under: Soma Norodom
Khmer New Year falls around mid-April, and every year the people who live in Phnom Penh leave the city to their home provinces or get out of town to celebrate the three-day holiday. This year my girlfriends and I decided to take a trip to Siem Reap, the province where the Angkor Temples are located, about 315 kilometres from Phnom Penh.
We chose to go on the Giant Ibis Transport, an affordable luxury bus in Cambodia, catering to passengers since 2012. With destinations to Siem Reap and Kampot, the Giant Ibis Bus has deluxe leather seats, air conditioner, complimentary snacks and water, and exceptional customer service. A round trip ticket from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is only $26.
Traffic was horrific getting out of Phnom Penh the day before Khmer New Year, and our bus driver, Sitha, was very patient. National Road 4, which is a one lane road, turned into a three-lane road, as cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks tried to cut in front of each other. The Giant Ibis Bus had no control of the other vehicles cutting in front of it. Then a pickup truck, filled up with over a dozen people, and stacked with four motorcycles, sideswiped the bus, as it cut in front of us.
Sitha stopped the bus and stepped out to see the damage that had been done to the Giant Ibis. A long scratch mark and dent, caused by a motorcycle on the truck, was across the right side of the bus, close to the door. The bus driver could only hope the police were there to arrest the driver. Instead, a small fee was given to Sitha, by the truck driver, and both went their separate ways. Luckily, nobody was hurt.
We stopped at Kampong Thom for lunch, a province halfway between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. As the passengers were eating, I chatted with the assistant of the bus and Sitha. I asked about the minor accident earlier. Sitha showed me the damaged area and said he would have to pay for it as he is responsible for the bus. “The truck driver only had $30, and that’s all they can afford to give me”, stated Sitha.
I asked if it was OK to donate money and help him pay for the damage. Sitha and his assistant were speechless, but declined the offer. I asked again, but this time if my friends and I can help chip in to pay for it. Again, they declined.
As we got back on the bus I asked to use the microphone to speak to the passengers. Sitha and his assistant agreed. I briefly explained what happened earlier. Without any hesitation, the passengers voluntarily chipped in to help. This is what the goodness of the human spirit is all about; helping those in need. There is nothing equal to human caring and human will.
Filed under: Soma Norodom
In Cambodia, people work an average of six days a week, and Sunday is a day of rest, spending it with family and friends. For Yulia Khouri, CEO of Innov8 International Group, and Partner, Darren Harris, spending every Sunday with the endangered species in Cambodia is their regular family outing.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend time with them at Phnom Tamao Zoological Park and Wildlife Rescue Center. With bags of lettuce, peanuts, mangoes, dragonfruit and corn, we were ready for a day with the baby macaques – the most sought after species by poachers – and the Asian elephants, the most popular animal in the park.
Entering the wildlife centre, about a 45 minute drive from Phnom Penh, our first stop was to visit Charlie, a baby macaque rescued by Khouri in January last year. “Macaques are not widely recognized as endangered. But many conservation groups around the world recognize that if the illegal hunting and trafficking of the animal does not stop, they will be officially endangered in five to 10 years,” Khouri said.
She is passionate about the issue and has assisted in fundraising events to help raise money for the conservation group Wildlife Alliance’s projects. Her company, along with other sponsors, helped raised $3,000 to build the enclosure for Charlie through a fundraiser in October last year, Rumble in the Jungle. She said it would be held annually to support orphaned baby primates with food, enclosures and maintenance.
“Human development and progress, in any part of the world, often means complete extermination or massive displacement of native wildlife. Often we lose the whole groups and species as a result. The Cambodian Forestry Administration has been fundamental in supporting the work and efforts of Wildlife Alliance in the rescue centre,” Khouri said.
An upcoming fundraiser, Glamazon 2.0, will be held on May 2 at NagaWorld in Phnom Penh to raise money for an Asian elephant conservation centre at Phnom Tamao.
Glamazon 2.0, a glittery, spectacular arts and style exhibition, was created by the team at popular hair salon The Dollhouse and by Innov8 Events (part of Khouri’s company). The organizers promise it will be grander than last year’s event, with catwalk shows, drag performances and dancers.
At Phnom Tamao, we also visited the Asian elephants. A special one, named Chhouk, was crippled by a poacher’s trap but now can walk thanks to a large prosthetic left front foot.
Sethang, head zookeeper for the Wildlife Alliance, reminisced: “As a little boy, I always loved elephants, and I considered them as a part of my family. Since 1999, I have taken care of elephants; feeding, cleaning, walking and enjoying being around them.”
I watched Sethang and his assistant take the boot off Chhouk and clean his foot.
“The trunk of an elephant has many functions like smelling, breathing, drinking and grabbing small items”, said Sethang.
“Many elephants are killed for their tusks because their ivory is a valuable source for poachers. The Asian elephant conservation centre will educate visitors about the conservation work and the protection of the elephants by Wildlife Alliance,” he said.
It was a great experience, meeting some of the staff members of Wildlife Alliance, and hanging out with the animals. Thanks to the team from Wildlife Alliance, their tireless commitment and dedication to conservation and protection of the endangered species, and to my friends, Yulia and Darren, for continuously fighting for this worthy cause.
The U.S. Embassy in Cambodia is my safe haven. For the past several weeks I have been meeting there to prepare to host TechCamp, which was held in Cambodia for the first time, March 13-14, 2013.
TechCamp is a program under former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Civil Society 2.0 initiative – an effort to use the technology community to assist NGOs. Thanks to the official partners of the US Embassy and Open Institute, and sponsors EZECOM and Norton University, the workshop brought NGOs, civil society groups and technology professionals together, creating an educational forum for discussion and advancement.
U.S. Ambassador – Cambodia, William E. Todd, opened up TechCamp on day one and reminisced when he received his first technology gadget; a Texas Instruments calculator in 1975.
Technology has made incredible strides since and has become a vital part of our lives. So the time was right to hold TechCamp.
The two day technology conference addressed issues in the areas of education, fundraising, women’s empowerment, advocacy & accountability, youth, entrepreneurship, and online communities.
“We were able to gather over 100 NGOs from around Cambodia doing a variety of work”, stated Tony Lim, organizer and IT Manager for the U.S. Embassy.
“At the end of day one, the participants came up with 13 important social challenges in Cambodia. The groups were mentored by our core group of technology experts who provided them with ideas on using the latest technology to solve those challenges. On day 2, the groups came up with innovative and creative solutions to meet those pressing issues”, said Lim.
The Grand Challenge Award winner, selected by the judging committee, was announced on the final day of TechCamp Phnom Penh. The winner was from Group 6.
Group 6 focused on women’s empowerment, and had the challenge of finding a solution to the question: How do we encourage, educate and inform women to become effective leaders in Cambodian society?
“The solution to our challenge is to implement a national kiosk network for distributing information to rural communities and getting information from those communities”, said Luke Deese, Group 6 Leader.
The kiosks, such as an iPad or android tablet, have voice commands, for members who are illiterate, can be set up in health centers. The basic setup requires a protected tablet and 3g coverage, allowing for information to be both sent and received by women living in isolated communities.
Anna Spelman, Communications Consultant and Photographer for Reproductive and Child Health Alliance (RACHA), stated, “It was a wonderful opportunity to meet a diverse group of people from many different NGO’s and groups around Phnom Penh. Not only did I receive some invaluable advice that will help me in my communications work with RACHA, but I also got to hear about all the amazing work being done by others in Cambodia.”
Congratulations to the Grand Challenge Award Winner (Group 6); Luke Deese, Anna Spelman, Harriet Dwyer, Sokharun Sam, and Bopharan Chhum. The group leader received an iPad mini 32GB, and each member of the team received an iPod shuffle, along with 3x Microsoft Windows 8 Professional Licenses, t-shirts and hats.
Also, to the TechCamp Phnom Penh team for organising an educational and successful event. It was an honour to host the first TechCamp, and to finally meet Ambassador Todd.
Filed under: Soma Norodom
The March 2013 issue of WUPP (What’s Up Phnom Penh) magazine launched on Friday, March 1st, throughout Phnom Penh. This is the 7th edition, and I was honored to be selected as the front cover and the face of the month. With its increased popularity, this month, WUPP launched for the first time in Siem Reap, the province known for its majestic Angkor Wat temples.
WUPP has the latest updates about upcoming events and must-see events in the city, a magazine for the local, expats, and foreigners to enjoy life in Phnom Penh. Founded by Antony Hamon, also CEO, the WUPP team consist of a Design Director, Editor In Chief, salesman, and 4 -6 amazing journalists, who all live in Cambodia, and love it!
Thank you to Nick Sells, the #1 photographer, Kampuchea Party Republic, for shooting my closeup headshot. All WUPP front cover shot is a closeup of the person, very simple, just a photograph of the face.
Also, thanks to Leang Syna, the #1 hair and makeup artist, Syna’s Styling, for making me look beautiful. I envisioned a Charlie’s Angel look, representing a strong woman, as this month is International Women’s Day, March 8th, and Syna came through.
The article, by writer, Romi Grossberg, was the icing on the cake. Those who don’t know me, and after reading this article, will know who I am, what I am about, and why it is destiny for me to be in Cambodia. The article talked about my mentor, my father, who taught me about charity and volunteer work, and to always help those less fortunate. Romi met my father last summer, briefly, and she made the article come to life.
Thank you WUPP Team, my dad is proud and smiling.
Filed under: Soma Norodom
February 14 is Valentine’s Day, a special day when people celebrate their love. Whether it’s your husband, wife, girlfriend or boyfriend, expressing your romantic feelings with roses, chocolates, and expensive dinners to your loved one is a tradition in the US and in many other parts of the world.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day is a growing trend here in Cambodia, and also are seminars and classes about self awareness and the spiritual development of values such as respect and love.
On Saturday, February 9th, I was invited to attend a Raja Yoga Meditation and Positive Thinking class. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to meditate and take care of myself, both physically and spiritually.
The introductory session was two hours in the afternoon. I was not prepared that the first session’s topic was self-esteem. Well, I think I have it, but what I found out was that I don’t really have it – completely.
Raja Yoga Education Centre has classes completely free of charge in both English and Khmer languages. Each course consists of a series of lessons, once a week, taught in small groups or on an individual basis. The courses include: Self-Esteem, Letting Go, Inner Leadership, and Stress Management.
The program is a community service and registered as an NGO.
When we have high self-esteem, we take good care of ourselves; we feed the mind with healthy food and exercise, and take care of our body physically. I haven’t been able to do this, and also realised that I haven’t found “The Holy Grail” – which is our worthiness, our purpose in life and our peace of mind.
Going on a journey alone can be scary, especially when you have the comforts of a support system that tells you what a great person you are. It is when we step out of our comfort zone that we get tested. You have to be mentally strong, as this is the challenge. Yes, it has happened to me.
The visiting speaker talked about a case involving a young man, and she stated: “He feels he is dirt in his father’s eyes.
He and his brother studied for an exam, and the father paid for the schooling – and he failed. The father was upset with him and the young man feels he doesn’t have value.”
This was a case of someone with low self-esteem, and his own father comparing a piece of paper to success and not seeing him as a human being, let alone his own son.
The young generation’s expectations are so high that pressure can be overwhelming. Self-esteem affects everything in life.
After the classes, continuing the process is the only requirements for success.
The rewards of inner spiritual development and meditation are measured through the time and efforts that you put in.
You must learn to love yourself first – if you don’t, you can’t love anyone in a balanced way.
Hope everybody had a wonderful Valentine’s Day!
Filed under: Soma Norodom
When Chinese New Year rolls around, my mother, who is half Chinese and lives in California, will start her superstitious rituals. She faithfully follows the Chinese zodiac signs and believes the yearly predictions.
The Chinese calendar is based on 12-year cycles.
This year, 2013, is the year of the snake, water is the element and black is the color of water, making it the year of the Black Water Snake.
If your element is water, which is associated with fire, metal or earth, the year of the Black Water Snake will bring you the best fortune in 2013.
Growing up, a few days before the Chinese New Year, my mother would pay all the bills for the month, clean the house, buy groceries, wash and gas up her car, and call us kids to tell us to do the same thing.
It is believed that on the first three days of the Chinese New Year, you should relax – not work or do strenuous activities – and have fun, as this pattern will lead into the new year.
Paying bills or buying things on Chinese New Year means that for the entire year to come, you will be giving away money or paying debts.
I remember when I was living in Atlanta in 2008, and my mother called to tell me to wash and gas up my car before the new year. That year, in February, Atlanta had its first snowy weather, which is rare as it doesn’t snow in the southern state of Georgia. I told her I wouldn’t be able to drive for a few days because of the snow, so I wouldn’t need to gas up. But I don’t think any excuse is good enough for my mother.
My Chinese zodiac sign is the rooster, and this year is a good year for the rooster, which is the most compatible sign with the snake, next to the ox. My mother says if I want to change career, start a business, or even get married, that this is a good year to do so, as the snake year is the best to make big decisions.
The Chinese New Year will begin on February 10, 2013.
It is an official public holiday in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Indonesia. In San Francisco, California, Chinese New Year is celebrated with a parade, the largest Chinese New Year parade outside China.
In Cambodia, it is not a public holiday, but many people living here do celebrate Chinese New Year, as many are of Chinese ancestry.
The Chinese decorate their homes and workplaces in red and yellow. Red represents fire and good luck, as fire removes bad luck and evil spirits.
In addition, the Chinese prepare offerings of food, which include drinks, fruits, tobacco and baby pigs. On the night of New Year’s Eve, people go to the pagodas to make offerings, and traditional Lion Dancers can be seen the next day performing around town.
Red envelopes are used to put cash inside, and it is considered good luck to receive them.
I hope you find a red envelope in your possession, and have a happy Chinese New Year, or as my mother would say, “Gong Xi Fa Cai!”
Filed under: Soma Norodom
Well, this article ‘s message is like my controversial column last October, and wonder if the writer would be accused of incitement.
Royal Funeral Offers Peek at Country’s Power Politics
February 11, 2013
By Colin Meyn
The Cambodia Daily
The King rarely makes public remarks these days. So when Norodom Sihamoni on Monday addressed 400 prisoners who were released in a ceremony at late King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s cremation, his words offered rare insight into his position in the country.
While only the King has the constitutional power to grant amnesty, it was Prime Minister Hun Sen that King Sihamoni told the freed prisoners to express their gratitude to.
“Thank you to the government of Cambodia and Samdech Hun Sen for helping you to get your freedom again,” he said in a speech at the cremation site, before handing out packages of clothing, a mosquito net and $100 to each prisoner.
It was not the only time during the days leading up to the cremation ceremony, which started with a royal procession on February 1, that reflected the comprehensive nature of the ruling party’s control over the events that have taken place to mark the former King’s death—and the monarch’s legacy.
Some observers say the CPP has used the cremation—which was watched by hoards of people who flooded into the city for the event, and broadcast on every one of the nation’s television channels—as a way of consolidating its hold on the country. One of the King Father’s requests for his funeral was that things be kept inconspicuous, according to Prince Sisowath Thomico, spokesman for the Royal Cabinet.
“As far as the King Father is concerned,” Prince Thomico said, “one of his wishes was to organize a humble and modest funeral so that people would not spend too much money.”
But early on in the preparations for the funeral, it became clear that neither the King Father nor the Royal Family would get a say in how Cambodia would bid farewell to the hero of the country’s independence from France in 1953.
“The Royal Family never organized anything,” said Prince Thomico of the dozens of ceremonies, processions and gatherings leading up to the late King Father’s cremation on February 4.
In December, Mr. Hun Sen announced that the cremation site at Veal Mean, the park in front of the National Museum, would cost $1.2 million in public funds. It later turned out that the firm contracted to build it, Vispan, was owned by the daughter of Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol, the very government—and CPP —official charged with overseeing the project.
No less elaborate than the gold- and burgundy-colored building that now fills Veal Mean was the February 1 procession that delivered the late King Father’s body to the cremation site.
The King Father’s body was carried in a golden casket on one of four motorized floats—also painted gold—that ferried Royal Family members and CPP officials along the 6 km route.
Just as striking was the sheer number of government personnel in the parade. Almost everyone in the procession, about 3,000 according to estimates from the funeral’s planning committee, was wearing some sort of government uniform, save representatives of the country’s ethnic minorities.
Behind the flag-bearers at the front of the procession came members of Cambodia’s military and police force. There were representatives of government ministries and members of the Red Cross, Scouts and other CPP-aligned youth groups.
On one of the golden floats at the center of the parade sat the three CPP officials who would flank King Sihamoni and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath throughout much of the ceremony around the King Father’s cremation: National Assembly President Heng Samrin, Mr. Sam Ol and Mr. Hun Sen.
As the King and Queen Mother stepped out of the Royal Palace to join the procession and accompany the King Father’s body to the cremation site, they were closely followed by Mr. Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany.
The scale of the King Father’s funeral, according to historian Henri Locard, was not only an effort to seize the popular momentum behind the monarchy, but a bid by the prime minister to combine his legacy with that of the late King Father.
“The King [Father] had such a grand funeral to an extent because Hun Sen wants to appear as the heir to Sihanouk,” Mr. Locard said. “Sihanouk is the father of independence. Hun Sen is the father of the rebirth. The parallels are striking.”
For the past week, the country’s state-owned and government-aligned television networks have run documentary footage of Sihanouk-era projects in agriculture and manufacturing between regular news reports touting the CPP’s own accomplishments in developing the country.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen wants to show the link between the development during today’s regime and the Sihanouk regime,” said Sok Touch, a political analyst and academic at the Royal Academy of Cambodia.
“If a previous regime has done road construction, they have done that too. If a previous regime has done irrigation, they do it. Previous regimes built houses for people. They build brick houses too,” he said.
However, the vast majority of the news reports last week showed CPP officials mourning their deceased former King.
But the very public reverence of CPP officials for the monarchy, according to political analyst Lao Mong Hay, has not been reflected in their treatment of the present King.
“If our prime minister and ruling party were sincere royalists, they should observe the Constitution and provisions on the role of our King, provisions that would enhance our King’s status as a strong symbol, to reinforce his incarnation as national unity, and help him to pay visits to different places and meet his people,” he said.
For historian David Chandler, the grandeur of the cremation ceremony may have been, in part, an authentic expression of respect for the King Father that Mr. Hun Sen felt he could not show while Norodom Sihanouk was still alive and a threat to his power.
“As Cambodia’s de facto chief of state, Hun Sen wanted to make sure that the ceremonies were correct and lavish. He was saying farewell to a formidable former rival, and was honoring Sihanouk’s place in Cambodian history,” he said. “Sihanouk would have taken the respect as a signal to do more, and as a sign of weakness.”
Regarding King Sihamoni’s reign, Mr. Chandler said: “Sihamoni’s apolitical stance is in fact just what the current institution demands.”
King Sihamoni is widely believed to have been chosen as his father’s successor over his more political half-brother Norodom Ranariddh because he would be relatively pliable.
“I see no interest on [Hun Sen’s] part in preserving the monarchy as such, but because Sihamoni poses no immediate or long term threat, I see no move on [Hun Sen’s] part to do away with it,” Mr. Chandler said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that it was Mr. Hun Sen himself who facilitated things so that then-exiled Sihanouk could return to Cambodia following the civil war.
“The prime minister brought the King [home] in the ’90s for national unity,” Mr. Siphan said. “We respect the monarchy.”
However, he noted, the Constitution stipulates that the King is not involved in politics.
“We separate power from the royalty. A number of politicians, they try to manipulate the King,” he said. “They wish him to play a role as prime minister…even though it’s [inscribed] in the Constitution that they [monarchs] have to be neutral.”
With national elections approaching in July, Mr. Touch, the political analyst, noted that Mr. Hun Sen has been joined by members of the opposition and members of the royalist parties in leveraging the popularity of the late King Father to further their own cause.
“Politicians always say they will protect the monarchy,” Mr. Touch said. “[Mr. Hun Sen’s] words bring him a lot of benefit since the people love the King Father so much.”
(Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin and Kate Bartlett)