Monday, 25 February 2008

Hotel De La Paix: Minimalist Luxury in Cambodia

Minimalist architecture and chic design stand out in this hotel at the foot of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap Cambodia.
By Steve Alan Miller

As its’ name so aptly states, the Hotel De La Paix epitomizes peace and tranquility. The owners however were probably thinking more about the word peace in a diplomatic context since Cambodia emerged from very bloody conflicts with the Khmer Rouge and warring political factions less than a decade ago.

The Architecture

If you’re the type of person into minimalist architecture, sleek lines and lots of clean surfaces, the Hotel De La Paix should be programmed into your GPS navigation system. This is a hotel where a chic Dior ensemble or a cool Varvatos outfit, would not be out of place, though shorts and t-shirts are perfectly acceptable and very much the norm.

Driving up to the hotel via the dusty main road through Siem Reap it immediately hits you that this looks nothing like the dozens of hotels you passed on your way from the airport. Most of the hotels worth throwing $200-$400 per night are situated on acres of manicured lawns with pools, walkways and for the most part, a lush pallet of color. The Hotel De La Paix on the other hand, is situated on small piece of land that was once a rice depot and before that housed the original "La Paix" hotel. It is well placed in the middle of town where hip bars and great restaurants abound and is only a short distance from the majestic Angkor Wat temple complex. The hotel also sits across the street from a large construction project that is supposed to bring a shopping mall of iconic luxury goods, to this little slice of Cambodia. One could say that the defining features of the hotel is that to the untrained eye, it wouldn’t stand out enough to draw curiosity seekers and tour buses like its neighbors down the road; the Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor and the Le Meridien Resort. It’s cool leave me alone demeanor would play well in most of the world’s hot spots such as the Meat Packing district in downtown New York, Ocean Drive in South Beach, or Meguro-dori in Tokyo. That is not to say that the architecture of the hotel is not beautiful to look at, because it is. The art deco inspiration that brings whitewashed clean lines and imposing designs motifs such as large urns where fire flames upwards on most nights, to an area which up to now has boasted projects in classical Khmer style, is truly stunning.

The Interior

Once inside and away from the dust and tuk tuk exhaust, you are immediately confronted by a grand Angkor sculpture, an Aspara, that stands alone in a large round foyer boasting cured black stone floors and soft white walls. It is stark and stunningly beautiful. Your fast paced itinerary filled with places to go and souvenirs to buy, will come to a halt if only for a moment, as you take in your surroundings. Urban chill music akin to the Buddha Bar or Hotel Costes collections, will immediately envelope the senses. Fabulous people watching, only adds to this understated, but luxurious environment. You can’t help but want to know what else lies ahead. And indeed, just off the foyer is the Arts Lounge which is dominated by a large glass bar in which fibre optic wires change the colors of the bar itself from hues of yellow to pale blues and daring reds. Large scale couches can be combined into beds for a funky urban feel, while a continuous exhibition of contemporary art lines the walls giving the space a very sophisticated air. Needless to say guests were drinking everything from Cambodian concocted Grey Goose Martinis, which were delicious, to extremely fresh banana and mango fruit shakes. I was enjoying a great conversation with my "bed mates" most of whom were from England and France when I was told by my hotel representative, yes, every guest is assigned their own personal hotel rep, that my room was ready. The 107 deluxe rooms include nine spa suites and one tremendous pool side duplex suite. In addition, the hotel’s six stunning courtyard suites with private gardens and plunge pools are situated behind large wooden doors and closed off from the rest of the property, creating a sanctuary within a sanctuary.

The Hotel Room

I reserved a standard deluxe room on the second floor over looking the De La Paix’s beautiful pool that is large enough to do laps. A large part of the pool is underneath an overhang lined with sleek daybeds and thick cushions, dramatically opening up to an open air view above of the hotel’s water garden and restaurant. The room I had was spacious, with large windows allowing a lot natural light in. I found that the rooms facing the street became very hot in the afternoon sun and the others facing the inner courtyard were just as nice as all the rest, but the view was well, of a courtyard.

Since I love a big luxurious bathroom, the Hotel De La Paix didn’t disappoint. Dark woods and soft yellow terrazzo combined to make a cool and calming statement. The bath tub alone was definitely large enough for two people. Sliding doors of diffused glass make the room at once light and airy, while the separate shower area sported a brushed nickel rain head that truly gave a good dousing with more than enough water pressure to wash away the grit that built up from a full day of touring. Interesting accents such as small niches built into the terrazzo covered walls, house the spa towels while copper urns hold shampoo, lotions, gels and the like.

For those who like their room attended to constantly, this hotel delivers with five star sensibilities. Three times per day, room attendants came in and changed the towels if needed, added flowers, lest the scent of jasmine ever leave the room, plump pillows, turn down the bed and leave delicious snacks fresh from the hotel’s upscale restaurant, Meric.

The Restaurant

The restaurant, known for its fusion cuisine, has an indoor-outdoor flow. Outside tables are situated around a stunning courtyard that boasts a small pond with lotus, black rock and trickling water features. There are also several large dining beds attached by chains to the breezeway ceiling that gently swing back and forth There is nothing like taking your morning coffee on an overstuffed swing swathed in luxurious silks. The interior of the restaurant like the bar is cool and chic with floor to ceiling windows and poured cement floors. The wait staff not only remembers your name, but also remembers what you like to eat.

Loved it…but

Although my stay was enjoyable, I do have a short list of criticisms. First, the outside room windows were very dirty. I was told that they are cleaned on a regular basis, but with the amount of construction going on, the dust is hard to keep up with. I will give them that, but none-the-less, the beauty of the hotel includes everything, even the windows in my hotel room. Second, the hotel rooms scream for a plasma screen to be mounted on the walls. Unfortunately, the room had a 24" remote control television sitting on the dresser drawers. It really did take away from the great design of the room. Lastly, from my perch over looking the pool, you also have great views of apartment units next door, no more than 30’ away, with drying clothes on their balconies and assorted eye sores that if I didn’t pay as much as I had, I wouldn’t really complain. But the hotel is trying to create a unique sanctuary. Higher bamboo or palm trees could be used to block out the disagreeable views.

With that said, everyone I came in contact with couldn’t have been nicer. The staff of the hotel wear t-shirts that read, "The Answer is Yes," which about sums up the quality of service at the hotel. In some places it might have seemed forced, but not here.

Room rates start at $300 per night, but the hotel does run internet specials, periodically.

A Boatride at Sunset

Top of the boat
Villagers on the bank
Another fishing/house boat
Fishermen at work
Sunset over the Tonle Sap river
Getting dark around 6.30pm

Everyone is very friendly here, and my new colleagues have invited me on a boatcruise at sunset. It's very common here when friends and family visit (HINT!) to hire a wooden boat and sail up and around the rivers around dusk for two or three hours. Everyone brings their own drinks, a couple of eskies and some snacks, and off they go.

(I say 'rivers' because Phnom Penh is actually situated at the confluence of the Mekong and the Tonle Sap river. The Tonle Sap leads up country to the biggest freshwater lake in Asia. Interestingly enough, during the wet season, the river has so much water in it that it all backs up towards the lake, and it starts flowing backwards! It changes direction when the levels drop though.)

The boat itself has a wooden sheltered part, with table down the middle, or you can sit on the roof under an umbrella. So long as the weight is evenly distributed around the edges, it's all quite stable.

The boat is also the owner's home, so while we were sitting around enjoying the mood, the owner's wife was up the front doing the family's washing in a small plastic basin, and the children were playing around in the stern.

We got some interesting views of life on the other side of the river - you can see just how much the river rises during the wet season, and also just how poor the villages on the riverbank are.

Most of the villagers are fishermen, and we often passed a low slung boat with nets aboard and someone stretched out resting on them. At night, the nets are marked in the water with candles floating on little wooden boxes attached to aerosol cans. You'd have to be right on top of them to see them, I suppose, but they seem to work.

New South Korea president plans to develop market economy

SEOUL, February 25 (Itar-Tass) -- The inauguration ceremony of the 17th South Korean President, Lee Myung-bak, was held on the square in front of the South Korean National Assembly building on Monday. Lee Myung-bak won a convincing victory at the general presidential elections on December 19, 2007.

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov attended the inauguration ceremony. He is expected to meet with Lee Myung-bak later.

The inauguration ceremony included the performance of the state anthem, taking an oath, the performance of a military orchestra and the march of the guard of honor, an artillery salute and an inaugural speech of the new president. In his inaugural speech Lee Myung-bak presented his position on the ways for the development of the country as a market economy and the spread of pragmatic ideals in the society. He intends to seek the invigoration of economy through decentralization tendencies and market reforms, to improve the life quality for people by creating new jobs and reforms in the education system, and to provide favorable conditions for foreign investors and cut the number of state officials.

After the inauguration ceremony Lee Myung-bak welcomed about 180 foreign guests, who arrived in Seoul. He met with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice represented the United States, State Councilor of the State Council Tang Jiaxuan represented China, Director General Vitaly Ignatenko represented the Itar-Tass news agency. Ignatenko received a personal invitation from Lee Myung-bak during their meeting in Seoul in November 2007.

About 45,000 people, including foreign workers and tourists, employees of foreign companies operating in South Korea and ethnic Koreans living in other countries attended the inauguration ceremony.

UN Envoy, to Stop Killing, Got Cozy With Khmer Rouge, Milosevic

The book jacket for "Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World" by Samantha Power is pictured in this undated handout image. Source: Penguin Press via Bloomberg News
Samantha Power, Pulitzer Prize winning author of "Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World," poses in this undated handout photo. Photographer: Walter Chin/Penguin Press via Bloomberg News

Review by Craig Seligman

Feb. 25 (Bloomberg) -- United Nations officials are often derided for putting Band-Aids on the gaping wounds of the world's trouble spots.

In ``Chasing the Flame,'' Samantha Power recounts the all- too-brief life of one of those diplomats: Sergio Vieira de Mello, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who died in 2003 in an al-Qaeda bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad. He was 55.

Vieira de Mello, the son of a Brazilian diplomat, more or less drifted into UN work because he was good with languages. At first he was idealistic and eager to shake a finger at the world's butchers. Over the years he developed what Power calls a ``principled, flexible pragmatism'' -- sometimes too flexible.

He spent most of his career in hellholes, among them Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, East Timor and, fatally, Iraq. Again and again Power points up the UN's failures in those places, though ``failure'' is a relative term for an organization that sends its personnel into infernos the powerful nations of the world are eager to ignore.

Underfunded and underarmed, UN forces are often inadequate to the task before them. Then they're lambasted for doing too little by the very nations that have done less.

Yet somehow the UN has repeatedly managed to relieve suffering. Vieira de Mello could point proudly to the repatriation of refugees in Cambodia and Kosovo. In two and a half years in East Timor, he helped that fledgling nation, which had been almost destroyed by pro-Indonesian militias, onto its feet. (That was how he became a marked man: Osama bin Laden regarded the tiny Roman Catholic country as property that had been stolen from the Muslim world.)


His ongoing moral dilemma was how far to engage the butchers in order to prevent more killing. Power doesn't hesitate to fault him for cozying up to the Khmer Rouge, and for becoming so friendly with Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic that his detractors started calling him ``Serbio.''

In what seems like an even crueler joke, this deftness at placating thugs was what made the Bush administration decide he was a man it could do business with. And that was his bad luck. He'd fallen in love and was ready to settle down in Geneva when the Americans pressured Secretary-General Kofi Annan into naming him head of the UN mission in Iraq.

Vieira de Mello had learned from his many mistakes, and he knew his experience could be valuable in stabilizing the country after the fall of Saddam Hussein. He cultivated L. Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, in the hope of being able to help. The Americans didn't want his advice.

Glutton for Research

Power, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for ``A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,'' is a glutton for research. She conducted hundreds of interviews and pored over thousands of pages of documents to produce ``Chasing the Flame.'' And even though her writing is just serviceable and her text runs well over 600 pages, the result is riveting.

She doesn't grandstand. She respects the UN even as she chronicles its dysfunctionality. Her book is a clear-eyed biography of a man who probably would have made the UN run better if he had, as was expected, eventually become secretary- general. And in doing so he could have helped a lot of people.

``Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World'' is from Penguin Press (622 pages, $32.95).

(Craig Seligman is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

KRouge leader Ieng Sary hospitalised indefinitely: officials

File photo from 2003 shows Pol Pot's legendary "Brother Number Three", Ieng Sary (L) and his wife Ieng Thirith. Ieng Sary, one of five top regime cadres expected to face a UN-backed trial over Cambodia's 1970s genocide, has been hospitalised indefinitely, officials said Monday.(AFP/File/Khem Sovannara)
PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Detained Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Sary, one of five top regime cadres expected to face a UN-backed trial over Cambodia's 1970s genocide, has been hospitalised indefinitely, officials said Monday.

The 82-year-old former foreign minister for the regime was taken last week to hospital where doctors "rechecked his health" after a series of scares earlier this year, said tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath.

He will remain hospitalised for "a period of time in order that the doctors can monitor his health," Reach Sambath told AFP.

"The illness is not threatening his life," he added.

Ieng Sary's lawyer Ang Udom confirmed that he had been in hospital.

"I don't know what illness he is suffering from this time," he said, adding that it was not clear when Ieng Sary would be discharged and sent back to detention.

Ieng Sary was hospitalised in late January for treatment of a chronic heart condition. He was in hospital again earlier this month, spending a week under treatment after he began urinating blood.

Ieng Sary has suffered from deteriorating health since his arrest last November, according to his lawyer, highlighting the fragile condition of the tribunal's likely defendants who are mostly in their 70s and 80s.

Their condition has increasingly raised fears that some will not live long enough to be brought to trial for crimes committed during the 1975-79 regime.

Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed by the Khmer Rouge, which dismantled modern Cambodian society in its effort to forge a radical agrarian utopia during its ultra-communist rule.

Fidel Castro's younger brother Cuba's president

ABC Radio Australia

The younger brother of Fidel Castro has been confirmed as Cuba's new president by the national assembly.

Raul Castro had been acting President since July 2006 when his brother underwent surgery and began a long period of convalescence.

Fidel Castro retired last week after 49 years as Cuba's president.Raul Castro was reportedly the only nomination to take over from his brother.

Cambodia to restore its historic rail links

e-Travel Blackboard
Monday, February 25, 2008

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Royal Government of Cambodia will be working together to restore around 600 kilometres of rail track between Thailand and Cambodia over the next two years.

“This is one of the last steps in the creation of a regional railway that will stretch from Singapore to Beijing,” said ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda at a ceremony in Sisophon, Cambodia. “Soon, trains will be running from Singapore to Sihanoukville.”

Another 48 kilometres of track near the Thai border will also be restored under the initiative.

Cambodia’s railway rehabilitation project will be funded by a $42 million concessional loan from the ADB. The authority will also appoint an international railway operator to operate, maintain and invest in the railway over the next 30 years.

The upgrade will not only revitalise Cambodia’s railways, but also enhance trade through reduced transport costs. The railway will also help ease traffic on Cambodia’s roads.

The project forms a vital component of the Greater Mekong Subregion’s southern corridor which links Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Discussing genocide
By Cindy Cantrell
February 24, 2008

While a person's name and birth date are major components of one's identity, Sayon Soeun (right) of Lowell says he can't be sure either of his is accurate. Both were assigned to him by a refugee camp relief worker in Thailand.

Born in the Takeo province of Cambodia around 1967, Soeun was taken away from his parents and siblings by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s to be trained as a child soldier.

"I was trained to fight," said Soeun, who carried a gun and witnessed executions, forced labor, and widespread illness and starvation. "They taught me not to trust anybody. They taught me to hate. It has been a very long road to becoming the person I am today."

Soeun credits his inner strength and the support of "many wonderful people" with helping him on his journey. In 1979, he fled to Thailand, where a church matched him with his adopted parents, two brothers, and a sister, whom he joined in Connecticut. In 1990, he moved to Lowell, where he is now executive director of Light of Cambodian Children Inc.

Although Soeun has not returned to his native country, he hopes next year to travel to Cambodia in search of his birth siblings - four brothers and two sisters, according to his memory.

"It's very sad to remember what happened in Cambodia, but sharing my story helps me heal," said Soeun, who will discuss his experiences this week as part of a genocide series at Northern Essex Community College. "Even people who are not rich in this country have the luxury of freedom. It should not be taken for granted."

Soeun's lecture will take place from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Technology Center on the college's Haverhill campus. For more information, call Judith Kamber at 978-556-3955 or visit

FAMILY MATTERS: Authors find inspiration in everything from adventure tales to nature. Eve LaPlante of Brookline only has to look as far as the historical figures in her family tree.

In 2004, LaPlante wrote a biography about her 12th-generation ancestor, Anne Hutchinson, a Puritan immigrant who challenged the male-dominated religious status quo in Boston before being banished and later massacred by Indians with five of her children in 1643.

Most recently, LaPlante has written about her sixth great-grandfather, Samuel Sewall, a Salem magistrate who presided over the conviction and execution of 20 people during the witch trials of 1692. After the trials were halted, Sewall realized his mistake and publicly apologized. He spent the remainder of his life trying to atone for his actions by writing essays attacking the immorality of slavery and advocating equal rights for women and Native Americans.

"I hope readers get a glimpse inside the life, emotions, and physical experience of living in another time period on the same land we're on today," said LaPlante, who coincidentally resides on land once owned by Sewall. "We can also use [Sewall's] experiences to look inward. What do we need to repent for? He gives us hope that we, too, can redeem ourselves and do better."

LaPlante will discuss "Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall" at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Andover Bookstore, 89 Rear Main St. For more information, call 978-475-0143.
STEPPING OUT: Determined that this will be the year she runs her first marathon, Kristin Kinsella of Reading began searching for a running club that would offer support and camaraderie.

Her sister-in-law in Rochester, N.Y., recommended Moms in Motion, but there wasn't a Boston-area chapter. So Kinsella formed one.

On March 1, a 5K run/walk team will begin training sessions at 8 Saturday mornings in Reading, with speakers scheduled for the second hour to address equipment, injuries, nutrition, alternative therapies, and other topics. The goal, according to Kinsella, is for club members to compete in the Melrose Run for Women on Mother's Day, a 3.5-mile run/walk that supports the Melrose Alliance Against Violence.

Kinsella recently hired a trainer for the chapter's dozen members, but said women of all ages and running abilities may still join. Members do not have to be mothers, she said.

"Starting a [Moms in Motion] club is out of my comfort zone, but so is running a marathon," said Kinsella, who last ran a road race in the ninth grade. "The mission of the group is to encourage women to carve out time to take care of themselves while supporting a good cause."

Brit saves rare bears from being eaten

Free... Srey Ya and Jo-Jo at Todd's sanctuary in Kent (Pics: Frank Thorne)
On menu... sun bear in Phnom Penh restaurant

For sale... caged bear at a shop in Cambodia

By Frank Thorne And Susie Boniface

Bears Srey Ya and Jo-Jo playfully rub noses as they get their first taste of freedom... after being saved from the cooking pot.

The pair were destined for the tables of restaurants in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, where diners are prepared to pay up to £500 a time for a bowl of Bear Paw Soup.

But instead of ending up in the stomachs of wealthy businessmen - who eat the "delicacy" believing it will make them strong and virile - they were rescued by Briton Todd Dalton, who brought them back to his Rare Species Conservation Trust sanctuary in Sandwich, Kent.

Srey Ya and Jo-Jo are sun - or honey - bears and at just 4ft high are the world's smallest species of bear.

The bears are found in Cambodia, Malaysia, China and Borneo, but their numbers have been decimated by poachers. They are now officially classed as "vulnerable" by wildlife experts.

When a customer orders Bear Paw Soup the animal will have a paw chopped off to make it.

It will then be kept alive until all of its paws are cut off before finally the carcass is sold as meat.
The rear paws are cheaper because the bear walks on them and the meat is tougher.

The front ones are more expensive, with the left paw most prized as the bears tend to lick it when eating honey, which makes the meat more tender.

Srey Ya was just two weeks old when she was captured by poachers who had killed her mother. She was rescued by a bear charity and taken to a local zoo.

Back in England Todd learned of her plight and flew to Phnom Penh. There he also saw 16-month-old Jo-Jo, who had been seized from a cage in a restaurant. The businessman spent thousands of pounds bringing the two bears to Britain to start a breeding programme.

"I was shocked to learn that these cute little bears are on someone's menu," he said. "It's just sickening."

To support the trust or visit the bears see the website at :

Armed Force Use Violence, Machinery, and Teargas to Evict Citizens of Bonla S’et Village Out of Their Residences

Posted on 24 February 2008.

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 548

“About ten citizens suffered from violence and injuries, and were arrested in the morning of 22 February 2008 when they were resisting the implementation of the order of the Supreme Court which had decided to evict them out of their residences located on more than one hectare of land in Bonla S’et village, Khmuonh commune, Russey Keo, Phnom Penh.

“The citizens, who faced violence at gun-point from hundreds of police forces, were evicted on the morning of 22 February 2008 by the armed forces who used two excavators to bulldoze the 23 houses of the citizens of 23 families residing in the location since 1993. In 2005, Chhin Vibol had lodged a complaint to the court in this case, alleging that the citizens lived on his land. The citizens lost the case at the court continuously and also lost at the Supreme Court; therefore, people were evicted out of their residences on 22 February 2008.

“Victims of the violence said that armed forces and police were led by Deputy Prosecutor Hing Bun Chea, Deputy Prosecutor of the Court of the Phnom Penh municipality, and by Russey Keo Deputy Governor Keut Chae. The victims said that the authorities used 10 machine guns and 2 excavators to evict the citizens out of their houses. After they refused to leave, police shot a gun up into the air to threaten the people, and they shot 27 teargas-bombs towards the citizens. Police also threw bottles of gasoline into their houses; then two excavators were immediately used to bulldoze the houses of the citizens. These measures of the police spurred the anger of the citizens.

“Mr. Chan Soveth, an investigating official of the local human rights group ADHOC and officials of the Human Rights Action Committee, who went to observe the situation of Bonla S’et village, said that more than ten citizens suffered from being violently beaten by police. Some citizens were hand-cuffed and immediately pushed into a waiting vehicle.

“Mr. Chan Soveth said that the ten people arrested by the authorities on the morning of 22 February 2008 include:

1-Keo Nel, male, 50, who suffered head and body injures
2-Saem Sum, male, 55, was severely injured
3-Paeng Sam Ang, male, 40, was severely injured
4-Paeng Sam An, male, 45, was injured
5-Meoung Smy, male, was injured
6-Meoung Path, male, was injured
7-Mann, male, was injured
8-Seoung, male, was injured
9-Uk Savin, female, 30, was arrested and released
10-Long Srey, 42, was arrested and released

“Mr. Chan Soveth condemned and criticized the use of violence by the armed police force led by the Deputy Prosecutor Hing Bun Chea, the Russey Keo District Governor Keut Chae, and the Four-Star General Peng Vannak, who is the deputy director of Light Penal Crime Department in Phnom Penh, for causing bloody wounds on citizens. He also condemned the serious violation of human rights. Civil society organizations cannot accept such solutions.

“Mr. Chan Soveth said that civil society organizations are greatly disappointed when seeing that the authorities caused serious injuries, arrested citizens, and destroyed the property of these people. Such activities are serious violations of human rights, adding that the authorities did not respect the law.

“Phuong Pha, female, 51, who suffered head injures, said that policed had stoned her and kicked her. She added that police did not only beat, but also arrest people. She continued that people were not even given time to collect their properties from their houses.

“Phuong Pha said that the government did not help to protect the legal position of the citizens. All of these citizens’ families are formerly from the military, and they came to live on this location since 1993. The court decided that Chin Vibol won the case, as they secretly handled the ownership titles of the land that these citizens were living on. The court did not conduct a thorough investigations, but it based its decision on false documents.

“Another victim, Sek Seoun, female, 37, said that she lost her hope and did not know where she should go to live, because she lost her house, her properties, and the land that she has tried to secure for many years. All her properties were destroyed by the police at the blink of an eye.

The same victim requested that civil society organizations help to seek justice for her and other victims because the Deputy Prosecutor Hing Bun Chea led the armed forces that carried out the order of the court, which caused bloodshed of some citizens, and the destruction of their houses. These people were given only one day before police come to evict them.”

Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.15, #3395, 23-24.2.2008

Catching Dengue Fever

MUSIC Band fuses Cambodian pop with surf guitar, Bollywood

February 24, 2008


It's time to get familiar with Dengue Fever. Not the disease, the band. One look at this Los Angeles-based group and you know you're in for something way outside the norm.

Fronted by a former Cambodian pop star backed by five alt-rock musicians, Dengue Fever is definitely an unlikely mix of talent. And then there's the resulting music -- 1960s Cambodian pop infused with surf guitar, Ethiopian soul and Bollywood, all tinted with an alt-rock edge.

Dengue Fever debuted in 2002 and quickly caught on in the hip Los Angeles music scene, where it was named best new band by L.A. Weekly. High-profile fans included Matt Dillon, who used the band's Khmer version of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" on the soundtrack of his directorial debut, "City of Ghosts," and Jim Jarmusch, who included songs on his "Broken Flowers" soundtrack.

The band was born out of brothers Zac and Ethan Holtzman's growing interest in a sound that had mostly been a well-kept secret, barely heard outside of Cambodia. Ethan was backpacking in the Cambodian countryside when he heard a tape of '60s singer Ros Sereysothea and was blown away. He returned stateside with a suitcase full of cheap cassettes and introduced his brother to the music. (A friend he was traveling with came down with dengue fever, thus the band's name.)
"We loved the music and this idea of using it as the basis for a band began to take hold," Zac Holtzman says. "The songs that inspired us were pretty much Cambodia's version of classic rock, even though they were filled with surf, psychedelia and garage band sounds."

Dengue Fever returns to the Empty Bottle on Wednesday. Band members are Zac Holtzman (guitar), Senon Williams (bass), Paul Smith (drums), Ethan Holtzman (keyboards/Farfisa organ), David Ralicke (horns) and Chhom Nimol (vocals).

You can't help being charmed by Nimol's presentation of the songs that have become a nostalgic staple of Cambodian culture. Finding Nimol was the first challenge. The Holtzmans scoured the nightclubs in the Little Phnom Penh area of Long Beach. One night they ended up at the Dragon House, where Nimol was performing. The minute she began to sing, they knew they had found what they'd been looking for.

Nimol had a pedigree known only to the Cambodian diaspora community -- she comes from a well-known musical family, often referred to as "the Jacksons of Cambodia." When other singers invited to audition heard she also was a candidate, they left knowing they couldn't compete.

Holtzman, who sports a beard any ZZ Top fan would love, admits that at first Nimol didn't know what to make of the band. "We could hear her thinking 'I don't know about that guy with the beard,' " he says, laughing. "But her sister convinced her to give it a shot."

Cambodian pop was blasted across the region by Armed Forces Radio during the Vietnam War, and gained momentum until the Khmer Rouge came to power in the 1970s and destroyed much of Cambodian culture. Many singers, including Sereysothea and Sinn Sisamouth, the Cambodian Elvis, were rounded up and died in labor camps.

"There's something familiar about the music but also something very unique about it too," says Los Angeles filmmaker John Pirozzi, whose film, "Sleepwalking Through the Mekong," chronicles Dengue Fever's first tour of Cambodia in 2005. "The band does a good job of taking it in their own direction but staying true to the original spirit of the music."

According to Holtzman, the month-long trip to Cambodia was a "beautiful experience for the band." After performing in clubs and on a television show, which was re-broadcast three times a day, the band was getting recognized everywhere. But the most memorable show was in a shantytown on a stage lit by old car lights. "The crowd was really tripping out on us," he recalls. "We could hear them thinking, 'Why are these crazy people playing our music?' Winning them over was a gratifying experience."

Dengue Fever finds itself engulfed in a unique mission: re-introducing Cambodian pop to several generations of Cambodians while also catering to the indie-rock scene. "I guess the music has the right combination of being Western enough to approach and foreign enough to be interesting," Holtzman says. "It's a fever that's catching on in a good way."

When: 9 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western
Tickets: $12
Phone: (773) 276-3600

Senior CPC official meets Cambodian guests

BEIJING, Feb. 24 (Xinhua) -- Senior official of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Wang Gang met here Sunday with a delegation from Cambodia's Funcinpec Party led by Chairman Keo Puth Rasmey.

Describing China and Cambodia as good neighbors, good friends and good partners, Wang said the two countries have maintained frequent high-level visits in recent years, and expanded exchanges and cooperation in various areas.

Since the CPC and the Funcinpec Party established inter-party relations in 1995, they have witnessed a rapid increase of exchanges and deepening of cooperation, Wang said.

He told Rasmey, who is also deputy prime minister of Cambodia, that the CPC treasures its relations with the Funcinpec Party, and is ready to further beef up bilateral cooperation and make greater contribution to cementing China-Cambodia all-round cooperative partnership.

Wang also briefed Rasmey about the 17th CPC National Congress as well as China's economic and social development.

Editor: Yao Siyan

French Colonial Class Stirs Property Investment in Cambodia

-- Longstanding and reputable overseas property investment specialists David Stanley Redfern Ltd have recently presented their stunning 1-2 bedroom French Colonial apartments in the emerging property market of Cambodia. --

24-7PressRelease/ - NOTTINGHAM, UK, February 24, 2008 - Available with a guaranteed 10% net return for the first 2 years and an expected 15%-20% capital growth to follow in light of Cambodia's thriving economy, this opportunity is one that's certainly not to be missed.

With just a 1000 reservation fee to secure the property and the 65% 'pay upon satisfactory completion' offer that's attached, the fail-safe purchase of a high demand apartment in the Cambodian capital is a whole lot more affordable and obtainable than you might imagine. Foreign investment in Cambodia between 2004 and 2005 increased by an astounding 450% and when combined with Cambodia's already strong tourism industry and its expected increase of 20% per year for the coming 5 years, tenancy is surely rewarding as well as being as good as guaranteed. With Cambodia's future and all investments made in it looking so promising, the financial benefits are clear but, what do you get for your money?

There's more to Cambodia than its cascading waterfalls, exotic tropical life and ancient relics from an austere but nonetheless auspicious cultural heritage. Modern day Cambodia enjoys a lifestyle not too dissimilar to any enjoyed in the developed western world and cinema, nightclubs, wining and dining are commonplace.

A handful of annual festivals and celebrations are also held, with anything from ploughing, paying respects to loved ones passed and performing arts being the featured theme, reflecting Cambodia's contrasting and simplistic sense of tradition. Understandably a popular tourist destination being the location of the auspicious Royal Palace, Phnom Penh is Cambodia's capital city and host to a number of accommodating local amenities that include restaurants, shops and various other attractions, so to hear that the only thing missing from the Cambodian property landscape are the highly sought after 'western' style apartments like the ones offered with this opportunity, is not only good news, it's time sensitive news.

Assertive and shrewd investors out there are sure to take advantage of these remaining apartments and so if this could be for you, you at least owe to yourself to contact David Stanley Redfern Ltd for an obligation-free chat about the varying specifications and services on offer, as well as any other queries or concerns you might have.

About David Stanley

RedfernDavid Stanley Redfern Ltd is one of the U.K.'s leading overseas property investment specialists. The reasons for this are an incomparable range of international properties spanning 40 destinations worldwide, and unrivalled customer care, which lasts long after the purchase has been completed. Experienced, professional staff and membership to the overseas property market's regulatory body: the Association for International Property Professionals, as well as their stringent due diligence procedures gives buyers the confidence that any purchase with David Stanley Redfern is a safe one.

Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos meet on border intersection


VietNamNet Bridge - Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia have completed a draft agreement on defining the intersection point of the three countries’ border lines at the third working-level round of tripartite talks held in Savannakhet province, Laos, from February 18-23.

At the meeting, the three parties also accomplished a map on a scale of 1/50,000 and documents related to the agreement.

They agreed to soon complete necessary procedures for the signing of the agreement in order to strengthen the three countries’ friendship and build a peaceful border T-junction for stable and long-term cooperation.

The Vietnamese delegation was led by Nguyen Hong Thao, Vice Chairman of the National Border Committee under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

(Source: VNA)

FEATURE: Cambodian development boom creating divisions

Monday, Feb 25, 2008

Amid the rotting trash, shards of bricks and floor tiles are the only evidence of the homes that once packed into the Cambodian capital's Dey Krahom neighborhood, which is slated for demolition.

But a few dozen families are refusing to leave this slum, located on a wedge of once worthless property that is now part of a multi-million-dollar development scheme.

Their standoff with authorities has put them on the front line of an increasingly violent conflict over land in Cambodia that has seen dozens killed and tens of thousands evicted from their homes over the past few years.

Impoverished Cambodia is in the midst of a building boom that has caused land prices to skyrocket across the country.

Realtors estimate that the cost of prime pieces of property in Phnom Penh can top US$3,000 per square meter, a six-fold increase from eight years ago.

Even the vast swathes of wasteland, where the city's poorest have lived for years in squalid camps, are up for grabs.

It is here, rights groups say, that the human cost of this development is being counted in the loss of homes and jobs.

"There is this unprecedented development boom in Phnom Penh, but on the other hand there's more lawlessness, more landlessness," said an activist with a legal aid organization that has worked extensively with the victims of landgrabbing.

"The people who are losing out are the poor people, despite the fact that they have certain rights," he said, not wanting to be named.

After years of complete breakdown, Cambodia's land titling system is in disarray and doubts over ownership -- in Dey Krahom and elsewhere -- are often at the heart of evictions.

While villagers often claim to have some legal title to their properties, developers and the government insist that most of these families are nothing more than squatters and say their removal is necessary as Cambodia lurches out of the chaos of the post-war years.

In their place, Cambodia's leaders -- trying to propel their battered country towards prosperity -- have envisioned vast complexes of modern office towers and luxury shopping, condominiums and public parks.

"There are absolutely no unlawful and forcible evictions in Cambodia," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement earlier this month, responding to accusations by the rights group Amnesty International that the government was pushing people from their land illegally.

"Cambodia in some cases has to re-establish public and social order, such as in the case of turning the streets into market places, living on the sidewalks and in the parks, and illegally occupying state land," the ministry said.

Although many families in Dey Krahom have voluntarily left, taking a payout of several thousand dollars each from developers, others are holding out for more money and refusing to abandon their homes.

"We just want to get a fair price," said Keo Navann, an articulate woman in her early 40s who has emerged as a de facto spokesperson for those threatened with eviction.

Around her Dey Krahom is gradually disappearing -- large, litter-filled gaps fill the spaces in between the remaining shacks, which stand like lonely sentinels against the developer's construction equipment parked nearby.

"Developers are offering some people US$4,300 for their land, but this amount is not acceptable when they can sell it for US$3,000 a square meter," Keo Navann said.

The standoff turned dangerous last year when villagers in Dey Krahom clashed several times with police and security guards working for developers.

The violence escalated last month as security guards, escorting a bulldozer to Dey Krahom, began hurling rocks at residents trying to block their path to the village.

This strip of land fronting the Bassac River has been the scene of conflict in the past. Two years ago, authorities pushed thousands from slumland across the road from Dey Krahom.

The pre-dawn eviction to a remote resettlement site 22km away was one of the largest single forced moves from Phnom Penh since the communist Khmer Rouge evacuated the capital's population to the countryside after seizing power in 1975.

Davik's heart: The journey begins

Click on picture to see the multimedia

Davik's heart: The journey begins

Davik Teng, 9, and her mother, Sin Chhon, live in a one-bedroom hut in the village of Svay Chrom in the Battambang Province of Cambodia. Davik soon will undergo open-heart surgery in California.(Jeff Gritchen / Press-Telegram)
Davik receives a blessing from monks outside a hotel in Phnom Penh during her trip to collect her visa.(Jeff Gritchen/Staff Photographer)
Above, Tim Keo, left, greets Davik, Sin Chhon and Peter Chhun in front of her Long Beach home. Davik and Sin Chhon will stay with Keo while in the United States.(Jeff Gritchen/Staff Photographer)
Davik woke up groggy on the morning she was due to fly to the United States. Here, her mother, Sin Chhon, comforts her child hours before they both will travel by van to Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh.(Jeff Gritchen/Staff Photographer)
After visiting a mall and Western-style restaurant Sin Chhon, left, Davik, center, and close friend Chantha Bob, of Long Beach, eat french fries during a tuk-tuk ride in Phnom Penh. (Jeff Gritchen/Staff Photographer)

Long Beach group brings Cambodian girl to Southland for life-altering surgery

By Greg Mellen, Staff writer

SVAY CHROM, Cambodia - The morning Davik Teng is to leave her village in Cambodia does not start well.

The 9-year-old is groggy and grouchy in the way of 9-year-olds worldwide who have had too much excitement in too short an amount of time.

"I told you not to play too hard," says her mother, Sin Chhon, in Khmer as she hauls the girl by the arm out of their tiny hut to wash her face. Sin dips a ladle into the outdoor cistern and splashes water into Davik's face. Later, Davik scowls as mom tries to coax a spoonful of medicine down her throat. At breakfast, the child cries because of a stomachache.

In the future, Davik may see this as a milepost day when her life changed forever. In a few hours, she will get into a van that will take her to Phnom Penh where she will catch a plane for the United States. It's the beginning of a journey that will lead to open-heart surgery to repair a hole in her heart that, if successful, will extend the length and quality of her life.

But that is all to come. And for the moment Davik is out of sorts.

A day earlier she had laughed and played with her friends, something to which she is unaccustomed. It is the kind of activity that just three months earlier would have been unthinkable. Since receiving vitamins, heart medications and money for better food, Davik has rallied.

Her father, Souen Tap, who left the family years ago but will see Davik before she leaves for the United States, will say she looks cured. But she is far from it.

Her face and body are now a chestnut brown - a far cry from the pallor she exhibited in October. But she is still reed thin and small for her age.

The exertion of the day before has not been without cost. And today, Davik is tired and irritable. For most of her young life, Davik has been a child denied of play. She would linger in the shadows, watching. She could only engage for short spurts, until her lungs and heart would burn and she would have to stop. It was as if she lived life on a dimmer switch.

Those who have devoted themselves to her want to see that change. They want her to have that rite of childhood - to play with abandon. It is for her they have come together.

This is Davik's journey, but it is also the journey of two men, Peter Chhun and Chantha Bob.

They are the ones chiefly responsible for making sure this little girl in western Cambodia, 180 miles away from Phnom Penh, won't wheeze her life away in a one-room, 6-by-9-foot bamboo hut to become just another sad statistic from a struggling land.

Three people, three journeys, one heartbeat.

A failing heart

Here is what the arc of Davik's life would have looked like if not for encounter with a waiter from Long Beach and his friend, who runs a Long Beach nonprofit that seeks out the Daviks of this world.

Davik's days would have been a slow downward slide possibly ending in an early death and certainly diminishing in quality. Her overworked and inefficient heart would continue pumping blood through the hole and stressing out her lungs. Her breath would come in ragged jags.

Eventually, a heart that had worked too hard for too long would give out. That was Davik's future.

It's called a ventricular septal defect, or VSD. The condition develops in the womb and its causes are unknown. It is not an uncommon ailment in Cambodian children. In about one-fourth of the
cases it heals itself. In Cambodia, where one in seven children die before the age of 5, it is estimated that many children have the defect and it goes undetected.

In Davik's case, it was apparent at an early age that something was wrong. Sin says Davik's problems were apparent almost from birth.

"When she was born she was a chubby kid," Sin says through translation. "Then she lost a tremendous amount of weight and was skin and bone. I was very worried but had no idea what to do."

As a single mother who makes less than $2 a day when she can find work in construction, Sin couldn't afford pediatric care. She didn't know what was wrong, and was powerless to do anything about it if she did.

Sin made the long trek to Phnom Penh with the infant Davik, paying several days' wages to ride the bus. Sin says the doctors diagnosed lung disease and said nothing could be done.

Davik just had to survive and let nature take its course.

The defect in Davik's heart is 1 centimeter in diameter, according to Dr. Mark Sklansky, a cardiologist at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles, which has volunteered its facilities and a world class cardiac team for Davik's surgery.

"A centimeter? That's significant," said Dr. Bill Housworth, the new director of the Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap, which has helped Davik. "It's big and it would cause her big-time problems."

Typical symptoms include fast breathing and accelerated heartbeat, low weight gain and pale skin with cyanosis, or a blue discoloration. Davik had all these symptoms.

"She easily got tired," Sin's sister Souen Chhon said of her niece. "She moaned and cried at night. Most of the time she was sick in bed and not playful. Everybody worried about her."

Sklansky says the surgery should be relatively straightforward.

The route Davik, Peter and Bobby have taken has been anything but that.

Village life

To get to Davik and Sin's home, one turns left on a narrow unmarked dirt road and leaves the century. Only a few miles from the province capital of Battambang, Svay Chrom might as well be on another planet.

Davik, her mother, older sister Davin and a great aunt share a one-bedroom hut on the family compound. It is the smallest home in the complex and the only one without any photos or decoration on the walls. With no electricity, running water or toilet facilities, the compound consists of four homes where Davik lives with her family, 20 cousins, uncles, aunts, a grandfather and great-aunt. They also share the space with five dogs and an assortment of chickens who boldly walk in and out of the homes as if they were family.

Even in comparison to their meager neighbors' holdings, the poverty is stark. No family member has even a motor scooter or any other motorized transportation. They have no electronics, although they do have a battery that powers a fluorescent light. Sin rides a bike with a broken fender.

Ched Souen, the family patriarch, says this has been a hard year in the compound. He lost his wife, two sons-in-law and two grandchildren: an infant and a 4-year-old. He barely understands the diseases and ailments that led to the deaths. They are just part of the ebb and flow of life here.

In the early morning of Davik's last day in the compound a cock crows as sunlight begins to wash out the stars and the chirp of crickets is replaced by the squawks of birds. Somewhere nearby floats an eerie, rhythmic chant of monks praying at a funeral.

After breakfast, Davik feels better and her mood improves. For lunch, her aunt makes Davik's favorite meal, sam lor mchou, a sour soup made with tamarind leaves, watercress and pork ribs.
"This is our last meal together," Sin says as lunch is being finished and suddenly the tears start to flow.

Lina Prom, Davik's cousin and the girl closest to her in age, begins weeping. Then so is older sister Davin and Sin and another cousin, Liyik.

Sin begins to say her goodbyes and now the whole compound is weeping, as if the funeral had moved here.

Even the normally stoic Ched seems weakened by the ordeal. As he sits down, a crying Sin drops to her knees, touches his knee several times with her forehead while holding his hand.

Cousins and aunts choke out farewells.

"Kyum sabay chet nas," or "I'm so happy" is a typical refrain blurted between sobs.

"She never expected to go to America, she never expected to have her daughter's heart repaired," Peter translates as Sin's message to the family.

"And then the rest of the people, most of them said, 'Just come back with a new heart. Just come back with a new heart,"' Peter translates. He, too, is crying. Even the van driver wipes his eyes with a towel.

As they prepare to leave, Choeun Chhon, an aunt, touches fingers with Davik through the window. Then the van pulls away and family members fade in the dust.

Bobby's journey

Chantha Bob, or Bobby as he's called, has been looking for love. At 41 years old, he has never been married though he says he's still hoping.

Whatever successes or failures he's had in adult relationships in the U.S., in Cambodia Bobby found what he sought in the unconditional love of a child.

Bobby is the linchpin in this story. If he doesn't come across Davik, the story ends differently. Ends the way it does for so many ailing Cambodians, hapless and forlorn.

A waiter at Sophy's Restaurant in Long Beach, Bobby looks younger than his age. His face is open and innocent, his eyes almost child-like. Yet they belie a hard life. A survivor of the Cambodian genocide, Bobby was robbed of much of his childhood. When he was 8, the Khmer Rouge came, tied his father's hands behind his back and marched him out the door. Bobby never saw his dad again.

Bobby spent almost three years in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines before emigrating to Oregon.

Growing up without a dad has left a void in Bobby.

"Whenever I see parents and children, I get emotional," Bobby says. "I think about what I missed. This is what I want to give them when the time comes, give them what I missed."

Bobby makes frequent trips to his home country. When he does, he goes out to villages to deliver food and supplies to the needy. In 2005, Bobby made such a trip to Davik's village. His older brother Sambo Bob actually discovered Sin and her family while scouting for those in need of help for the Cambodian American Community of Oregon, an aid group for whom Bobby's younger brother Chanley Bob is a volunteer.

While delivering the food, Bobby didn't even notice the little waif in the corner, who barely came out. Later he would hear about her and the miracle of coincidences would converge to give Davik her second chance.

However slowly their relationship began, it has now bloomed. To watch Davik interact with Bobby is to see two people so utterly comfortable with each other, you would swear they were family. Bobby is Davik's hero.

When the pair is reunited in Phnom Penh, Davik jumps into Bobby's arms and rarely lets go. For the next three days, she is like a vine draped over him. And Bobby, it seems, couldn't be happier or more content.

Theirs is a symbiotic relationship.

Whether Davik realizes Bobby's role in her life, or he's a surrogate for her absent father, or just like the cool and generous uncle, the connection is unmistakable.

And for Bobby, who longs for marriage, kids and a family of his own, Davik fills the hole in his heart.

Peter's journey

The ghosts are everywhere in Peter Chhun's homeland. As a cameraman for NBC News as the conflicts in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia raged, Peter filmed his share of carnage. He saw man's brutality and war's devastation.

Before leaving for a brief holiday in Thailand in early April 1975, Peter kissed his mother on the cheek and said he'd see her in two weeks.

He never did.

Phnom Penh fell on April 17, 1975. Peter's mother became one of the estimated 1.7 million Cambodians who died from executions, starvation and deprivation during the Khmer Rouge's brutal four-year reign.

It would take 15 years for Peter to learn his mother died in 1979.

In 1983 and 1984, Peter spent months scouring refugee camps in Thailand searching for her. Peering through the throngs, praying for a spark of recognition.

That search would become the subject of a documentary Chhun made that resulted in four Long Beach families becoming reunited.

"I looked at 1,000 faces and captured 1,000 faces in my camera," Peter says, but none of his mother.

To this day, the loss haunts him. As an only child, Peter believes it was his responsibility to care for his parent and he says he failed.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s Peter returned to Cambodia a number of times looking for ghosts. After the failed attempt to find his mother, Peter succeeded in locating the burial sites of several network newsmen captured and killed by the Khmer Rouge.

When the United States withdrew from Southeast Asia and turned away, it seemed to Peter many Americans forgot his homeland, so he brought Cambodian stories to the U.S.

"At least people started thinking 'Hey, this is Cambodia. It's alive again,"' Peter says.

In 2002, Peter produced a "Today Show" segment of "Where In the World Is Matt Lauer?" from Angkor Wat.

In 2006 with retirement just a few years away, Peter wanted to do more. Rather than chase the ghosts in his homeland, he wanted to help the living.

At the suggestion of his friend Lakhena Chuon in Long Beach, Peter founded the nonprofit Hearts Without Boundaries, with the vague goal of aiding Cambodians.

In October 2007, when he accompanied doctors from the University of California San Diego working with Variety Children's Lifeline who were performing minor surgeries at the Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap, Peter found Davik and his purpose.

Seeing the children who were helped by the outpatient surgeries and being devastated when he learned Davik would be turned away, Peter saw what the rest of his life would look like.

"I had never thought of children before," Peter says of his aid missions. "Now I start my new life. My new mission."

The survivor's guilt still dogs Peter, but by helping children like Davik, it repairs the hole in his heart.

Saving Davik

For most of her life, it seemed there was no hope for Davik. Every time there seemed to be a spark, a reason to believe, it was quashed - whether by ignorance, a culture of fatalism, or the lack of the right tools.

Three years after Davik was misdiagnosed with lung disease, Sin took her daughter back to Phnom Penh where she was diagnosed with the heart problem. Two years later, Sin visited Jayavarman VII Children's Hospital in Siem Reap for surgery but learned the hospital lacked the heart-lung machine needed for the surgery. Sin was told she would have to take her daughter to Phnom Penh for the operation. Sin was overwhelmed and confused.

Sin and Davik returned to the village, defeated.

Fast forward to 2007. Bobby, who first met Peter at Sophy's, learns Peter is going on a mission with doctors to fix hearts in Cambodia. He remembers hearing about the little girl in the remote village and wonders whether the doctors can fix her. Peter says "Why not?" Neither realize that Davik has already been seen and diagnosed at another hospital.

They send a message and money to Davik's family. They believe Davik will finally be made whole.

"When I got the message from America I was so happy," Sin says. "I had high hopes my girl would be fixed and made normal."

Davik and her mom arrive at Angkor Hospital for Children. They join the throng of children and families who regularly gather outside waiting to be seen. Finally, they see a doctor. The news is not good. Tests reveal what earlier doctors had noticed. Davik needs open-heart surgery that is beyond the hospital's capabilities.

"When they told me they would not repair her, I lost all my hopes," Sin says. "I know (death) will come and it's just a matter of time."

But Peter and Bobby won't concede. If life in the West has taught them one thing, it is the can-do attitude of Americans. If Angkor Hospital for Children can't help, they'll find a place that can.

Eventually they get Davik an appointment at Calmette, a French hospital in Phnom Penh. While Peter is in Phnom Penh, Bobby spends time with the family in Svay Chrom and becomes more emotionally attached to the beautiful girl with the sad eyes.

When Bobby gets news Davik can be seen, he hastily arranges transportation and he, Davik and Sin dash to Phnom Penh. This time they are sure she will be saved.

And once again they are devastated. Davik is too sick for surgery. Her blood count is frighteningly low. The doctors tell her she will have to return another day. There are tears when Davik and her mom have to go home yet again.

Back in the U.S.

Peter can't take it. He won't accept that Davik is beyond hope. He starts fundraising to get her proper nutrition, vitamins and heart medicine. Davik's condition improves. But it's only a stop gap. The heart is still leaking, the hole remains.

One day Peter is at work at NBC printing flyers for Davik when a co-worker says, "Hey, why don't you talk to Lauren?"

She means Lauren Ina, one of Peter's compatriots on the Lifeline trip. More important, Lauren is the wife of Sklansky, a cardiologist at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles.

Once again hope percolates. Mark is cautious. There are variables. Defects like Davik's can cause irreversible lung damage. Also her blood counts have to be elevated.

Tests are done and finally, good news, she seems a candidate for surgery. Furthermore, Children's Hospital of Los Angeles agrees to provide its facilities and surgeons for the operation.
Peter is over the moon. Maybe they will be able to save this little girl after all.

Back to Cambodia

It all happens quickly. Peter doesn't want to waste one day, one heartbeat waiting. Within days after CHLA agrees to do the surgery and sets a date to see Davik, Peter and Bobby are on a plane to Cambodia. They arranged to meet Davik and her mom in Phnom Penh.

When the pair pulls up in a tuk-tuk, Davik jumps out. She hardly seems like the girl of just a few months ago. Everyone is elated.

But this is Cambodia, a country of land mines, both real and metaphoric, and there is always an underlying sense that at any moment it can all turn to sludge.

There are still hints of Davik's frailty, though they are more subtle. She is still dangerously thin. When she sleeps, her breathing is fast and shallow, though she doesn't moan and cry anymore.

On Monday morning, the mother and child go with Peter to the U.S. Embassy to get travel visas.
Davik and Sin enter the doors at about 9 a.m. Peter must wait outside because he is not family.

After about an hour-and-a-half Sin emerges alone. Peter runs up to her. She needs money for the visa.

"If they want money, that must be good," Peter says as he crosses back to a grassy area where families of those trying to get visas wait.

Occasionally, a Cambodian skips out waving an approval letter. More often they silently return to the family, rejected.

It's after 11 a.m. when Sin and Davik emerge. There is no joy. Officials want to know why Davik doesn't go to Thailand, where surgery is cheap and more advanced. They question why the mother must travel abroad. Because Sin's name is misspelled on her visa as Chhun instead of Chhon, the official assumes Peter is the father.

This is how it often happens in Cambodia. Officials are suspicious and mistrusting. Applicants can't explain themselves. Things get lost in translation. Misunderstanding and miscommunication abound. Because governments are seen as corrupt and the Cambodian culture is subservient, people rarely question fate.

On Tuesday, Peter talks his way in to answer questions and clarify misconceptions. Several gruelling hours later, it is Peter, Sin and Davik who skip out in celebration. Suddenly, going to America is no longer an abstraction.

Back to the village

Bobby and Peter take Sin and Davik to their village so the family can say its goodbye. As an added treat, Peter arranges for a ceremony to be performed by folk dancers and monks to bless the journey.

It is one thing to be told that people live in poverty, it's another to witness it firsthand in all its deprivation. When Peter sees the mean little bamboo hut that is Davik's home, he is reduced to tears.

It also reinforces what he's doing.

"All I know is I'm so happy to help her out," Peter says. "You walk around in this country and you see so many people who need help. I think I do the right thing by picking her and helping her out."

There is a second reason Peter is crying. It's the ghosts again.

Peter says when he was in Phnom Penh, the trip felt like many others. But seeing the circumstances of Davik's life reminds him of his village and his life as the child of illiterate parents.

"I'm thinking of my own life and I think I am so lucky," Peter says. "Her life and my life here were no different. America gave me a new life and they don't have the same chance."

The day before Davik leaves is a day of celebration. The dancers perform a New Year style dance about a deer and a hunter. Throughout much of the story the wily deer, who represent's the past year, eludes the hunter until at last he is killed. Water is then sprinkled reviving the deer who leaps up and prances away. In this particular ceremony, it is Davik and Sin who sprinkle the water.

It is a story not so much about eluding the past perhaps, but about the regenerative power of hope and love.

In their three journeys to one purpose, Davik, Bobby and Peter have sprinkled each other with holy water. They are mending each other's hearts.

On a Friday morning there are tears once again. Davik is about to board the plane that will take her to the U.S. and another shot at hope. Once again the tears stream as Davin and her little sister hug. Davik's father tries to remain stoic, but he blinks rapidly as his daughter hangs on tight.

There may still be obstacles. Sklansky worries about various "contra-indicators" to surgery, such as possible abscesses due to the lack of dental hygiene in Cambodia.

It is clear Davik's last best shot at life-changing surgery will be here in the U.S.

If all goes well, Davik should be home in Svay Chrom for Cambodian New Year in April.

Peter likes to say he'll bring her home for New Year with a new heart.

A literally inclined person might say it isn't a new heart, it's a repaired heart. Maybe it's both.

Greg Mellen can be reached at or 562-499-1291.

BGI buys Cambodian lot

BGI is a former textile company reconstituted to invest in real estate.

Michal Margalit and Globes' correspondent
24 Feb 08

BGI Investments (1961) Ltd. (TASE: BGI) has signed an memorandum of understanding (MOU) to buy a 4.1-acre lot in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh for $22.5 million. The lot is zoned for a mixed-use office, commercial, and residential project.

BGI will conduct due diligence over the next 60 days, after which it will sign a binding contract, assuming that it is satisfied. The company added that it would consider bringing in partners to the project.