Saturday, 14 March 2009

The Other Cambodia

The Gulf of Thailand from Kep.
Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times

A fisherman returns from a day at sea in the waters off Kep, which was founded in the 1920s and was the resort of choice for French Cambodia's jet set.
Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times

In its heyday in the 1960s, Sihanoukville used to draw visitors like Jackie Kennedy and Catherine Deneuve.
Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times

A stroll down Serendipity Beach in Sihanoukville will bring you in contact with fruit vendors, fire throwers, mystics and British Vogue photographers.
Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times

Dishes are set out at Knai Bang Chatt.
Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times

Kimly, a restaurant at the Crab Market in Kep. The shrimp tom yum soup and the shrimp with Kampot pepper are dishes worth trying.
Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times

Rabbit Island, reachable by boat, is lined with knobby pine trees and mangroves.
Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times

The Veranda in Kep is a series of funky bamboo and wood treehouses, many with terrific views of the Gulf of Thailand.
Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times

Rajana in Sihanoukville is one of a chain of nonprofit stores with wonderful textiles and some clothing and knickknacks. Proceeds go to teaching young Cambodians handicraft skills.
Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times

The Cambodian Children's Painting Project in Sihanoukville gives free language and painting lessons to kids who are kept out of school and forced into selling wares or themselves on the beach.
Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times

The remnants of war are still evident on Bokor Mountain, where the Khmer Rouge left a shell of a casino. About one fifth of Cambodia's population, including most anyone educated, was wiped out by Pol Pot in the 1970s.
Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times

Rice fields outside of Sihanoukville.
Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times

To many Americans, Cambodia means only two things: The majestic temples of Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh. But there's another Cambodia, the southern coast, that is beginning to emerge as a popular alternative to the heavily trafficked beaches of Thailand. Left, overlooking the Gulf of Thailand at the hotel Knai Bang Chatt in Kep.
Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times

CWS Taps Affordable Clean Water Solutions in Tight World Economy

Worldwide Faith News

Fri, 13 Mar 2009

Church World Service
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 700
New York, NY 10115
(212) 870-2061

For Immediate Release

Media Contacts

Lesley Crosson, (212) 870-2676,
Jan Dragin - 24/7 - (781) 925-1526,

Simple Bio-Sand Filters Delivering Clean Water to Cambodia's Poorest

Church World Service Taps Affordable Clean Water Solutions in Tight World Economy

SVAY RIENG PROVINCE, CAMBODIA - Friday, March 13, 2009- For Cambodians in rural Svay Rieng province, a little sand goes a long way in helping make water safe for consumption. According to a report by humanitarian agency Church World Service, residents in 19 villages of Svay Rieng have been significantly reducing incidences of typhoid and diarrhea by drinking water filtered through affordable, user-friendly bio-sand water filter devices small enough to place in a home or office space.

CWS has provided 1,216 of the filters to date in 56 Svay Rieng villages for use by people in some 1,900 households, schools, pagodas and commune halls. The effort is part of a multiple-solution Water and Sanitation Cooperation Project by Church World Service Cambodia that has benefitted thousands of the poorest and most vulnerable people in remote rural areas.

The simple bio-sand water filters are a lifeline in a country where it's estimated that 74 percent of all deaths comes from water borne diseases. Despite advances in recent years made by Cambodia's public water utility in converting Phnom Penh's war-degraded water supply system into a model safe-water utility serving the capital city, rural areas of Cambodia still suffer from lack of clean water resources, sanitation, and related hygiene awareness and education.

Given the region's soaring inflation and the toll of the global financial meltdown on funding to aid agencies-- bio-sand water filters are proving a more affordable option for rural water problems than are larger, community well constructions.

Church World Service staff in Cambodia had initially planned to provide a certain number of wells and latrines in the Svay Rieng communities they serve, but couldn't justify suppliers' escalating higher prices for materials. Instead, they reduced the number of wells and latrines on their list and increased the number of much cheaper bio-sand water filters.

The cost for a typical bio-sand filter can range from US$15 to $20, depending on regional costs for materials. In the CWS program, those who receive the filters are encouraged and given training to build their own filter devices.

Bio-sand filters are compact, household-sized box devices, usually built on a concrete base, containing a layer of gravel topped by a layer of sand. When water is poured through the top of the device, it's filtered by the sand and gravel. But it's the shallow layer of water remaining on top of the sand which forms a biologically dynamic wet film, or Schmutzdecke, that makes the critical difference-by trapping and consuming the micro-organisms and contaminants in the water. The filtered water flows out through a pipe at the base of the device into a clean container for safe consumption.

Developed in 1990, bio-sand filters are increasingly being used by humanitarian agencies in developing countries. Research indicates that under optimal operating conditions and maintenance, bio-sand filters can remove most E. coli, worms and parasites, iron and manganese, and other toxicants from contaminated water. *

Non-governmental organization Church World Service, with relief and development offices in Cambodia since 1979, was one of the first aid agencies permitted to work there after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. In 2005 CWS launched its comprehensive water, sanitation, health and hygiene cooperation project for vulnerable, under-served residents in two Svay Rieng districts near the Cambodia-Vietnam border, in partnership with Cambodia's Provincial Departments of Rural Development (PDRD). The effort is part of the CWS international Water for All initiative.

Bio-sand water filters are fast becoming star offerings.

In Thmei Village, about 400 villagers- including women, teachers and 1,384 students at Kokir Primary School- attended trainings on bio-sand filter use and maintenance and clean water and sanitation practices. CWS staff subsequently monitored 156 households and found that those drinking water from the filters experienced a significant decrease in diarrhea and typhoid, according to CWS Cambodia Country Representative Josephine Barbour.

In village commune halls, the water filters are available to everyone. Reports one commune hall clerk, "Now our commune stop [sic] buying pure drinking water from the market. When we organize meetings or other events, we can use filtered water. So we can save some money for other purposes."

Villagers who had bio-sand filters now have spread the word about the dangers of drinking unclean and un-boiled water and other poor hygiene practices-and, at requests from their neighbors, are sharing their water filter like a fountain of life.

Church World Service, which also conducts agriculture, education and livelihoods development programs throughout Cambodia in concert with local partners, is now planning to expand its water and sanitation program in 20 more villages.

Church World Service is an international relief, development, refugee protection and advocacy agency funded by public donations, grants and through the support of 35 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations and communions in the U.S.

How to help: Contributions to help bring clean water and other self-help assistance to families and communities around the world can be made online (, by phone (800.297.1516) or by mailing to Church World Service, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515.

Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia friendship charity golf tournament 2009

The Long Thanh Golf Course


VietNamNet Bridge - The Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia Friendship Charity Golf Tournament will be organised at the Long Thanh Golf Club in Dong Nai on March 28.

The tournament aims to raise fund for poor and vulnerable people as well as to promote the special friendship relation among the three countries.

The proceeds raised by the tournament will be used to provide free eye surgery for poor people, heart operations for children, houses for homeless people, aid relief for helpless rural elderly, scholarships for poor pupils and victims of natural disasters.

Around 200 professional and amateur golfers from the three countries are expected to take part in the event.


A tribute to Ghosananda

Providence Journal

Sunday, March 15, 2009
By Karen Lee Ziner

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — Nearly 30 years ago, one of the fraction of Buddhist monks to survive the Cambodian genocide quietly settled in a tenement on the city’s west side. Few outsiders knew that the humble man in their midst — the Venerable Maha Ghosananda — was already considered a worldwide Cambodian spiritual leader.

At his home at 178 Hanover St., Ghosananda and supporters established the first Cambodian Buddhist temple — Wat Thormikaram — in the United States. It served as spiritual and communal anchor for thousands of Cambodian refugees who resettled in Rhode Island in the 1980s, as well as elsewhere in the country.

But the building burned in 1997, and the communal hall was moved to an adjacent converted garage. Two years ago, Ghosananda died in Massachusetts at age 85. By then the “Gandhi of Cambodia” had been nominated four times for the Nobel Peace Prize, including by the late Sen. Claiborne Pell.

Now local Cambodians are building a new “Preah Maha Ghosananda” worship hall in the late monk’s honor at the original Hanover Street location, in the neighborhood where Cambodian refugees first settled.

The hall had been conceived as a surprise gift to Ghosananda while he was alive, but the project was delayed for years before last summer’s groundbreaking, said John Chea, vice president of the Cambodian Society of Rhode Island and project manager. The structure has been framed, and interior work is proceeding bit by bit, Chea said.

“We were hoping to get it done by next August but it’s not going to happen,” said Chea. “The economy — it’s so tough to raise money.” He said more than $150,000 has been raised, “but we are short approximately $200,000.” Fundraising is continuing.

When the project is completed, the temple will add decorative presence to a blighted area.

Chea said the temple architecture “is a resemblance of the temple at home [in Cambodia].”

The building reflects traditional design, with steeply pitched, tiered roofs, a door facing east toward the sunrise, and symbolic serpents that angle upwards from each corner of the roof. Inside, there will be a traditional altar, six-foot bronze and granite statues of the Buddha, and a life-like statue of Ghosananda that now sits inside the monks’ residence across the street where daily prayers are held. Community members are also considering bringing an artist from Cambodia to paint murals on the walls.

A pre-existing ornate gateway representing the 12-year cycle of the zodiac features small animal statues for each of the 12 years. A miniature temple arching over the gateway represents the temple at Angkor Wat, a national symbol of Cambodia.

Those who knew Ghosananda –– who became the “Supreme Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism” –– say the new worship hall will be a fitting tribute.

“We are very excited to have this as a permanent location for worship. ... It is in Maha Ghosananda’s honor, and we want to keep his memory alive,” said the Venerable Ros Mey, who is the Cambodian community’s senior monk.

“He was a very compassionate, joyful, unhurried, selfless human being who lived in the present moment and had no possessions,” said Philip Edmonds, a Providence peace activist who was a secretary at Wat Thormikaram. “He gave away everything he was given.”

The architects are Suarez & Suarez Design Group of Providence; the Hanover Group is the main contractor.

THE LATE Dith Pran, the Cambodian genocide survivor whose story inspired the film The Killing Fields, called Ghosananda “the dream keeper of Cambodia.”

An estimated 2 million people died from torture, starvation or disease under the Khmer Rouge regime, including all but about 6,000 of Cambodia’s 80,000 monks who were targeted in the communists’ attempt to eradicate Buddhism. The Khmer Rouge also destroyed or desecrated most of the country’s Buddhist temples.

During the first years of the campaign, Ghosananda was on a forest retreat in Thailand. But he left in 1978 to help survivors who were pouring into refugee camps just inside Thailand’s border with Cambodia. His attempts to re-establish Buddhism included conducting a famous prayer ceremony in a Khmer Rouge controlled refugee camp that was attended by 20,000 people; he also established temples — in shacks — in all of the border camps.

As Chea explained, Ghosananda “became noted for his works of reconciliation in the refugee camps. Even faced with violence, he was able to get tens of thousands of Khmer Rouge soldiers to defect … some even became monks.” Chea added that Ghosananda “was prepared to stop violence, even in the battlefield.”

Ghosananda arrived in Providence in 1980 or 1981, as the first of thousands of Cambodian refugees resettled in Rhode Island.

He and others formed the Khmer Buddhist Society of Rhode Island, and founded Wat Thormikaram in the three-decker house on Hanover Street. The temple was a source of solace for traumatized Cambodians struggling to survive in a new country, and part of a worldwide effort to restore Buddhism to the Cambodian people.

In sandals and saffron robes, Ghosananda led children on meditation walks around the temple.

“We walked for peace. [Ghosananda] would say, ‘Come children, walk behind me,’ ” said Makna Men, chairman of the mayor’s Southeast Asian Advisory Council in Providence, who is involved in the worship hall project. “That’s my memory. It was very comforting.”

Beginning in the 1990s, Ghosananda divided his time between Providence and other Cambodian communities in Massachusetts and Philadelphia. He traveled frequently to his homeland, and in 1991 led a 16-day pilgrimage across the country to restore the hopes and spirit of Cambodian people. It was the first of what became known as the “Dhammayietra Walks for Peace and Reconciliation.”

When the Prheah Maha Ghosananda temple is complete, monks will consecrate the worship hall with a traditional Buddhist ceremony. Chea said, “Worshipers will offer their special, sacred items; the monks will bless them and dig a hole around the building, and place them properly.”

For more information contact John Chea at (401) 699-1222. Donations to the temple project can be made by check to Wat Thormikaram, 177 Hanover St., Providence, RI 02907.

Vietnam, Cambodia boost legislative ties

VOV News

Vietnamese and Cambodian legislators met in Phnom Penh on March 12 to discuss plans to promote the two legislative bodies’ cooperation.

Tong Thi Phong, vice chairwoman of the Vietnam National Assembly, and Nguon Nhel, first vice chairman of the Cambodia National Assembly briefed each other on the current situation in their respective countries. They agreed that cooperation and information exchanges between their legislative bodies have been promoted effectively over recent years. They agreed to support each other at multilateral and international parliamentary forums.

During the March 12-15 visit, Ms Phong was received by the Cambodia NA Chairman Heng Samrin, President of the Senate Chea Sim and Prime Minister Hun Sen. She also paid a courtesy visit to King Norodom Sihamoni.

During these meetings, the Cambodian leaders expressed hopes that the two countries will encourage their young generations to respect and nurture their friendship and good neighbourliness.

Lost in the ruin of Cambodia

Globe and Mail

Kim Echlin's masterful novel of meetings, partings and cross-cultural love

March 14, 2009


By Kim Echlin

Hamish Hamilton Canada, 235 pages, $29

'Tell others," commands the epigraph to Kim Echlin's third novel. Concise and eloquent, the words, belonging to Cambodian genocide survivor Vann Nath, are a fitting portal into the precise, expressive story set to unfold.

Anne Greaves is a precocious 16-year-old. It is 1979 in Montreal, and she is at a club with friends listening to Buddy Guy play the blues. A man joins their table, his eyes on her. She asks where he comes from and he names the Asian nation of Cambodia, then at the mercy of the Khmer Rouge. "Things are unimaginably free here," he says of Canada.

He is 21, a musician, now in his sixth year in exile in the West. The attraction is immediate. For her, it is "that animal feeling, the smell of your leather jacket, the quiver in my stomach, Buddy Guy's voice and your breath on my ear." For him, it is, in part, the dare, "an Asian guy with a white girl," and "all of us pretending nothing was forbidden." They are soon lovers.

The affair is reckless and Anne's father, her only parent, is disapproving. But the two are magnetized, the pull at once erotic and spiritual. "I love you with or without a name," he tells her on their first night. She mentions his name, Serey, one of the few instances in The Disappeared when he is so identified. Another night, she dreams that she calls for him but he cannot hear. "Do not worry, oan samlanh," he says, mixing Khmer with English, "I will always be here."

Her premonition, it turns out, is well founded. Montreal, the title of the novel's opening section, ends in the wake of Serey's return to Cambodia after the fall of the Pol Pot regime. Its buoyancy, capturing the lightness and charge of first love, gives way to the weighted adult textures of the dominant middle part, Phnom Penh. Echlin's storytelling, shifting continents and years in a paragraph, gathers much of its pace and grace equally from her lyrical prose.

A decade has passed. Anne, who has not heard from her lover in all that time, has likewise never ceased being in love. She appears in the Cambodian capital on the eve of contentious elections, with the government brutalizing the opposition. The ragged city, still in shock - like the entire nation - from its recent waking nightmare, is finely rendered: "Phnom Penh. The leisurely put-put sway to the traffic, rickshaws drawn by skinny barefoot men who run or pedal bicycles, four-wheeled remorques drawn by motorcycles, white UN vans, Red Cross trucks, military jeeps and buses, an elephant carrying lumber, the streets wrinkling up from the waterfront ..."

In the city, she meets first a driver named Mau, with "a scar across his left cheek," and then a fellow Montrealer who is in Cambodia helping chronicle the genocide. Forensic worker Will Maracle is actually from Kahnawake, the Mohawk reserve south of the city. "I like the intuition it takes to get bones together," he explains, "to make sense of the scene."

In Phnom Penh, Anne Greaves does finally locate her own "disappeared." The reunion of lovers is human and sad, a meeting of adults now separated by experiences and fates more than cultures or proprieties. In the book's final section, titled Ang Tasom, after a village outside the capital where Anne, Mau and Will Maracle travel, events turn harrowing - bone stripped of all flesh.

Emerging from those final pages is an act of love, and an image of horror, that elevates The Disappeared to a level of tragic intensity that it had been bound for from its opening sentences. To describe the act apart from its setting as the climax of a powerfully vivid narrative would be ruin its extreme beauty.

Readers of Kim Echlin's earlier books, Elephant Winter and Dagmar's Daughter, will be familiar with the tension in her fiction between a literary anthropologist's interest in archetypes and a poet's rendering of the sensory world. By the close of her luminous new novel, it becomes apparent that for her the two perspectives, or truths, are in harmony.

For all its brevity, The Disappeared still attends to the skulls and bones and slaughterhouses of Cambodia's agony. Anne's defiant visit to Tuol Sleng, the school-turned-prison where 14,000 men, women and children were killed - and from which Vann Nath, who provided that two-word entreaty to "tell others," emerged, one of just seven survivors - is about witness and record: "In Tuol Sleng," she writes, "a person is asked to stare."

But for the penultimate scene, the truth is definitely poetic. It may also be dramatic. The book, which can be read in a single sitting, builds toward a complex expression of annihilating loss and eternal love that is best experienced, in a sense, like the final act of a tragic play: as something inevitable and beyond the calculations of reason. The final line certainly speaks to that variety of wild human truth. "Come and I will whisper your name to you one more time."

Contributing reviewer Charles Foran's latest book is Join the Revolution, Comrade.

The Impossible Solo...

The Financial Times (

By Ben Bland
Published: March 14 2009

In a concert hall not far from Cambodia's majestic Angkor temples, a Swiss paediatrician is playing the cello. Beat Richner squeezes his eyes shut and breathes audibly, a picture of concentration. He has chosen one of Bach's complicated cello suites, and the sound of his unaccompanied instrument is both intimate and haunting. The audience of 200 is transfixed, apart from one girl wrapping herself in her mother's shawl to keep warm; the air-conditioning in the auditorium is on full blast - this must be the coldest place in Cambodia.

As Richner finishes the piece the audience, mostly composed of middle-aged European tourists visiting the Angkor temples, applauds warmly. With his cello resting against his burgeoning waist, Richner reaches for a microphone and, after a polite greeting and a quip about Barack Obama, shatters the atmosphere of pleasant indulgence. "Without our hospitals, 90,000 children a year would die in a passive genocide," he announces. "The creed of the World Health Organisation and Unicef is that medical treatment must correspond to the economic reality of each country - but the economic reality of most Cambodians is zero."

Richner, aged 61, has built five hospitals that meet international standards for cleanliness and quality and that provide free care to 85 per cent of Cambodia's children. Now, sitting at the cello, he points his finger in accusation. "If we followed the advice of the international community" - by which he means the intergovernmental organisations he has just cited - "which travels the world telling people what to do, we could not save one single child infected with dengue fever or tuberculosis."

Richner also built this concert hall, a simple construction of brick and bamboo nestled around several elegant ponds. It is part of the Jayavarman VII hospital in Siem Reap - a rapidly growing city of 140,000 people in the north of Cambodia. Richner's foundation, Kantha Bopha, completed the hospital in 1999. Tonight's concert is one of two Richner performs weekly; the money he raises by playing helps generate the $25m a year he needs to run the foundation.

He intersperses Bach cello suites with further lecturing and hectoring: "We only had 7,000 cases of dengue this year compared to last year's epidemic, when we had 22,000. But we still need blood to treat them." Sweat beads on his balding pate as he becomes more animated. "I ask the younger guests for blood, especially type B and O. I ask the older guests for money. So, blood or money: that is the question."

One in three Cambodians lives on less than a dollar a day, and even in a country riven by war, corruption and political infighting, medical expenses remain one of the biggest causes of poverty. Richner first came to Cambodia in 1974 as a young Red Cross doctor. He worked at the Kantha Bopha hospital in the capital, Phnom Penh, which had been set up by King Norodom Sihanouk. But in April 1975, Richner was forced to flee ahead of the murderous Khmer Rouge entering the city. Most of the doctors he worked with then were killed - only 50 out of 950 survived as Pol Pot's regime closed hospitals as well as banks and schools and targeted anyone with an education as an enemy of the state.

Richner compares this experience with that of a concentration camp survivor: he feels guilty for making it out alive. It's that guilt, coupled with his humanitarian convictions, that brought him back to Cambodia. After a chance meeting in Paris in 1991, Sihanouk asked him to rebuild the ruined hospital he'd fled almost two decades earlier. (The king was in the French capital for the negotiations that would eventually bring peace to Cambodia; Richner was there to see a friend star in an opera.) He accepted the invitation and, though he initially planned to stay only for a year or two, he has been here ever since.

On the night of the concert Richner was worn down, suffering from a fever. He has locked himself into a seemingly endless struggle to find money, and this has taken its toll on a man who was once best known in Switzerland as an entertainer, singing comical songs in his stage guise as "Beatocello", part musician, part clown. At the end of his performance, however, the entertainer is nowhere in sight: after a few cursory bows before a standing ovation, Richner flees to his office.

Half an hour later he appears in the lobby to greet lingering supporters, donors and medical students. But he appears awkward. "Sometimes it's difficult for me to talk with my audience," he admits later. "They are from a different world. But it's my mistake. I'm alone here and all I do is work. I go to Switzerland two or three times a year for concerts but I've had no holiday in 17 years and never really have a day off."

Twelve hours earlier, at seven o'clock on Friday morning, all 650 seats in the concert hall are full, but with doctors, nurses and cleaners at the hospital's main daily conference. Richner sits at a table in front of the stage, flanked by his two key lieutenants in Siem Reap, Yay Chantana, the hospital's 41-year-old medical director, and Keo Sokha, the 39-year-old head of surgery. As the staff shift about in their seats - wearing flip-flops and sandals, they find the intense cold even more uncomfortable than the tourists will - the heads of department update Richner on the previous day's events. "Were there any deaths overnight?" asks Richner. Luckily not, Chantana responds. After a brief teaching session, Chantana calls the meeting to an end and escorts his boss out of the hall.

Richner strides into the intensive care ward, followed by Chantana and a gaggle of junior doctors. As he walks up to the first patient, an 11-year-old girl suffering from severe pain in her right hip, the other physicians manoeuvre to get out of his way - no easy task in the cramped ward. Richner refuses to turn away sick children, so when the beds run out, patients are treated on mats on the floor.

Chantana explains that the girl has advanced tuberculosis, which has already destroyed much of her hip. Her family lives more than 100 miles away, and like many other Cambodians who cannot afford time away from work, they put off coming to the hospital. "She walked with a wooden stick for five months before coming here," says Chantana. "Because of the late presentation, she needs surgery to save her hip. It's a two-hour operation and she will have to remain in hospital for eight weeks afterwards." Using an MRI scanner that is part of the new $12m wing opened by the Cambodian king in December, the doctors have been able to ascertain exactly how much of her hip has been destroyed, allowing them to save the rest.

Watching Richner stomp around the wards, you wouldn't guess it, but his donor-reliant model, which aims for excellence over affordability, and his stance on Cambodia's medical priorities have put him on a collision course with the international health establishment. One development consultant who works for the WHO in Cambodia, but asked not to be named, explains: "My main concern is the sustainability of his operation. Richner is nothing if not an excellent fundraiser - he's got a lot of charisma - but what happens when he dies? Who will raise the money then?"

Richner's critics also accuse him of failing to provide value for money by not making enough use of cheaper, generic drugs and by relying on the most expensive medical supplies. "It's wonderful that he uses such sophisticated equipment but even in his own country, much of this stuff would only be available in private hospitals," says a doctor who recently toured one of Richner's hospitals but also asked not to be named. People within Cambodia's NGO community are reluctant to speak publicly against Richner, for fear of escalating the clash. They are also eager not to generate adverse publicity at a time when Cambodia's Prime Minister, Hun Sen, is pushing ahead with a new NGO law that some feel is designed to restrict their ability to operate in the country. Some NGOs are also concerned that Richner's focus on child medicine could be diverting money, doctors and attention from other severe health challenges, such as the high rate of maternal mortality and the growing HIV epidemic.

The received wisdom among international public health experts is that development aid is best spent on education and the provision of basic rural clinics. But Richner argues that all people have the same fundamental right to good healthcare. He characterises the other approach as "poor medicine for poor people". "When I got my first CT machine in Cambodia 10 years ago, there was an outcry from the WHO and Unicef," he says. "They said it was stupid to spend so much money on this machine. But you need a CT scan to diagnose and treat TB."

He is fond of recounting anecdotes that demonstrate the idiocy and hypocrisy - as he sees it - of his critics. "Princess Anne came here a few years ago as president of Save the Children," he says. "I showed her our laboratory and she said that we must not have such hi-tech machines in such a poor country. 'You must work on the base and Cambodian people must learn how to wash their hands first,' she said. "Then, when I showed her our new maternity ward, she told me it's better to offer birth control than maternity care - but this was stupid. There was a genocide here so there's no problem with overpopulation."

This open antagonism to the mainstream NGO community is extremely unhelpful, his critics argue. "He's merely building up a host of enemies so the fact that no one wants to work with him becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," says the WHO consultant. "But there's always a tension between innovators doing good things on a small scale and the more sluggish public health systems." The clashes between competing humanitarian organisations can be as bitter as corporate rivalries. Richner's insistence that Kantha Bopha remain independent of the public health system and his refusal to bow to the prevailing corruption in Cambodia has put many noses out of joint, and even led to his receiving death threats. And in 1995, the health ministry tried to close the first Kantha Bopha hospital because health officials and their international advisers believed it was undermining attempts to build a national health system. Only the personal intervention of the king saved it. In 2002, Richner threatened to close the foundation himself unless the health minister stopped criticising his work.

The king eventually brought about another truce and although relations with the health ministry have improved since then, the small amount of funding that Richner receives from the Cambodian government is still paid directly to his foundation, bypassing the ministry. >

No one disagrees about one fact: that many of the children in intensive care at Richner's hospitals would die without the treatment they receive there. As Chantana and Sokha observe an operation to remove a nine-year-old girl's appendix, they talk about what her options would be without Richner. Sokha explains that this girl would not have been able to obtain proper treatment anywhere else in Cambodia, let alone in a state-of-the-art operating theatre. "In a government hospital," he says, "you have to pay under the table to see the doctor, you have to pay for an X-ray, you have to pay for the surgeon and the anaesthetist and then you have to find a doctor to look after the follow-up. Altogether, it would probably cost $400 and there's no way her family could afford this."

In a private hospital, the situation would be even worse. "If you complain of abdominal pain, they'll just remove your appendix for the money without properly diagnosing the problem, and the patient will still suffer from the same untreated pain."

When Richner stepped on to one of the last US flights out of Cambodia in 1975, it was with the expectation that he would be back in three weeks. He was doing important work in extremely difficult circumstances: half of the children treated at the Kantha Bopha hospital did not survive. In the spring of that year, a tired-looking 28-year-old Richner told a British TV journalist: "Last week, I cannot say how many children were dying as they didn't come to the hospital because rockets were falling down all around. At the moment, it's very dangerous to bring the children here and it can only get worse. Worse and worse."

Within days it became obvious that Phnom Penh would fall to Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge fighters and the hospital was abandoned. And yet no one at that stage envisaged the terror and suffering that was about to be unleashed as Pol Pot proclaimed "Year Zero" and launched a brutal, all-encompassing Maoist revolution. It would lead to the deaths of as many as two million Cambodians.

Given the destruction that was wrought, the scale of what Richner has built is impressive. Since 1991, the Kantha Bopha foundation has raised and spent more than $370m, with the vast majority of his funding coming from private donors, many of whom live in Switzerland. All five hospitals constantly operate at capacity, with around 300 admissions of seriously ill children every day, 60 operations, 3,000 outpatients, 1,500 vaccinations and 50 deliveries at the maternity unit in Siem Reap. Meanwhile, Richner's drive to cut the rate of transmission between HIV-infected mothers and their newborn children has met with huge success: the normal mother-to-child HIV transmission rate in Cambodia is 40 per cent, but at Jayavarman VII they have reduced it to less than 5 per cent by performing caesarean sections, treating the mother and child with anti-retroviral drugs and insisting that they stop breast-feeding.

Victories like these make a case for the argument that one committed person can achieve more than scores of bureaucracy-laden NGOs. Richner employs 2,100 people but spends just 5 per cent of his annual budget on administration (his 180 doctors take a central role in running the hospitals; they earn about $1,000 a month compared with the $40 they would get from a state hospital). Richner imports all his drugs and medical supplies directly from Thailand to avoid the counterfeit pharmaceutical products flooding Cambodia. The head nurses personally distribute the medicines every day, to ensure no thefts. This vigilance goes for the patients as well as the staff. Chantana points out a young girl who is being treated for TB with a nine-month course of drugs. Like every other patient, she has returned to the hospital for her check-up carrying the empty blister packets to prove that she has taken her medication rather than sold it to a back-street pharmacist.

The problem, then, is not the medicine but the money. Richner only has five months' funding left in the kitty and, unlike many charitable foundations, he has no endowments other than a commitment from the Swiss and Cambodian governments to cover 8 per cent of his annual budget each. He spends everything he gets on new buildings, machinery and drugs, as well as day-to-day expenses. In the past three years he has spent $34m on new construction projects. "The hospitals are working well and everything can continue without me, but the ongoing nightmare is the money," he discloses as he puffs on a Davidoff mini cigarillo, well away from the main hospital buildings. "I can only start to think of my [succession] plan when I get the money - this $200m I need to save Kantha Bopha for 20 years. Then I will be a free man."

It is this attitude that disturbs Richner's critics at the WHO and other international health organisations in Cambodia. They have seen countless maverick humanitarians fall by the wayside when the funding for their donor-heavy projects ran out. "I can think of at least three or four other great individual initiatives in Cambodia that have atrophied when donor funding has dropped off," says one long-standing NGO worker in Phnom Penh. "It would be nice to think that someone else would come in to the fill the gap if funding drops off, but you can't just assume that."

As he's showing me the hospital, Chantana at one point confides: "We don't have to look for God as we consider Dr Richner a god." Richner was named "Swiss of the Year" in 2003 but his work remains little known outside his homeland - where his name often comes cloaked in controversy. Last year, he was criticised in a number of newspapers for turning down a $91,000 donation because it had been raised from the sale of the infamous nude portrait of Carla Bruni, the French first lady, by the Swiss photographer Michel Comte. Although he needed the money, Richner said that nudity offended Cambodian sensibilities and he dismissed the offer as a publicity stunt.

This incident and a number of more serious clashes with the media have left their mark on Richner. In 1997, he was accused of breaking his Hippocratic oath by failing to treat some of the more than 150 people injured in a lethal grenade attack on an opposition political rally - a charge he dismisses. He has since been the subject of highly critical documentaries in Switzerland. He very rarely grants interviews these days.

Last year, about $7m of the foundation's annual budget came from concert donations, with one anonymous Californian couple giving $1m after seeing Richner perform in Siem Reap. But his love of music has withered in recent years. "I don't have the mood to sing songs now," Richner explains as he taps away at the keyboard in his small office. On top of all his medical, administrative and fundraising duties, he is busy writing another book (his first, Kantha Bopha: A Children's Doctor in Cambodia, outlined his philosophy of medicine and his early clashes with the health establishment). Richner's two large desks are overflowing with papers, books, DVDs and videos. Gifts, many of them still unopened, are piled on the floor: statues of Buddhas still in their boxes, bottles of champagne and chocolates. The obligatory kitsch painting of Angkor Wat fills almost the entire length of one wall.

Richner's 200-year-old Italian cello rests on the floor in its blue soft case. As he talks, he gets up to close the door, anxious to ensure that the air-conditioned room stays cool and dry so that "his wife", as he calls it (Richner is single and lives alone), does not deteriorate in the sticky climate. "The cello has a very human voice, like the saxophone," he says. "You can express better what's going on with the cello than by talking. It's not aggressive or accusatory, like me."

Although his protracted struggles have darkened his character, he remains determined to continue. "When I'm frustrated and angry with the government and the evolution of health policy in the poor world, I visit the wards with my colleagues and then I don't doubt that what I'm doing makes sense."

While the future of Kantha Bopha in Cambodia is far from secure, Richner still hopes to take his model to other damaged nations, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma. He is launching a new academy to train young paediatricians from Asia and Africa in his methods, so they can recreate what he has achieved in their own countries. "I want to show people that it's possible to do this elsewhere," he says. "After Cyclone Nargis, I went to Burma and got a visa even though the NGOs did not. The hospitals are very poor, they have no equipment and a lot of dengue fever, but we could do the same there that we did here."

He is not put off by the rampant corruption in Burma or the malign influence of the military junta. "It was difficult here, too, but it would be possible in Burma," he says. "The only condition is that Bill Gates, Bill Clinton or Barack Obama gives me $200m, because if I leave Cambodia, it will be harder to keep raising money."

Ben Bland is a freelance journalist based in Singapore.

Cambodian boy's luck points to home

Alex Morales shows pictures to Cambodian heart surgery patient Soksamnang "Lucky" Vy, 14 months, and his mother, Ratha Pang, during a goodbye dinner at Sophy's Restaurant in Long Beach on Thursday. (Jeff Gritchen / Staff Photographer)

Soksamnang "Lucky" Vy sleeps while waiting for his flight early Friday as the toddler and his mom begin the journey back to their village outside Phnom Penh, following his recovery from heart surgery. (Jeff Gritchen / Staff Photographer)

Mother and her 14-month-old son board plane after his recovery from open heart surgery.

Long Beach Press-Telegram

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/13/2009

LOS ANGELES -- For a young Cambodian boy whose name translates to "Lucky Friday," leaving the comforts of the United States for a bamboo hut in Cambodia on Friday the 13th, no less, might seem like a turn of bad luck.

But Ratha Pang, the mother of the 14-month-old boy, was all smiles early Friday morning as she prepared to take her son home after his successful December open heart surgery and recovery.

Soksamnang Vy, called Lucky by most who have come to know him in past months, had a dime-sized hole in his heart near the aorta repaired and has been declared fully fit to return to his village outside Phnom Penh.

Vy was brought to the United States for the operation, virtually unavailable to him in his home country, by Hearts Without Boundaries, a fledgling Long Beach nonprofit.

Without the surgery, Lucky would have lived a life of gradually reduced heart function, chronic fatigue and shortened life expectancy.

At his last checkup in February, cardiologist Dr. Paul Grossfeld declared Lucky's open- heart surgery a "100 percent success."

As Pang stood among a dozen or so family members and well-wishers and waited for her 12:40 a.m. flight at Tom Bradley terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, she continually steepled her fingers in the Cambodian gesture of respect and

expressed her thanks in both Khmer and English.

Meanwhile, Lucky snoozed peacefully in a stroller.

"I've been waiting for tonight for a long time," she said through translation. "I think tonight it's really true that my son will have a regular life and I'm ready to go home."

Pang said she was eager to see her mother, her family and her husband.

She added that she hoped Hearts Without Boundaries and other organizations would be able to continue their work for poor families with no access to life-saving procedures.

"Thank you so much," she concluded in English.

Before leaving for the airport, Pang and Lucky were joined by about 20 friends and family members at Sophy's Restaurant in Long Beach, where they laughed and talked excitedly.

The scene was markedly different from last July when Davik Teng, the first patient saved by Hearts Without Boundaries, and her mother, Sin Chhon, returned home.

Chhon wept repeatedly and didn't want to return to the hardships of her life in Cambodia.

Pang, although she returns to an uncertain work and economic future, was able to remind herself that the journey was for her son and his health, according to friends and family.

"She says `America is nice, but Cambodia is home,"' Leakhena Chhuon, a board member of Hearts Without Boundaries, said of Pang.

Peter Chhun, founder of Hearts Without Boundaries, said he is beginning fundraising for a third child.

Chhun said there is a boy in Cambodia named Bunlak Song who is 14 months old and has several holes in his heart and is in dire need of surgery.

Chhun, a member of the advisory board at Miller Children's Hospital, says he has been negotiating with the Long Beach hospital to host the procedure.

Sunrise Children's Hospital in Las Vegas provided its staff and facilities for Lucky's operation and Childrens Hospital Los Angeles donated its services for Davik.

Chhun estimated it cost his organization $10,000 to pay for Lucky's trip, medications and incidentals and $16,000 for Davik.

However, as he made his way toward the departure area for the flight back to Cambodia, Chhun couldn't imagine doing anything else.

"Just to see another child breathe normal and live a normal life, that's a great thing," Chhun said. "There's no end, we'll continue to do this."

The Ministry of Culture Says It Is Not Able to Bring Back Khmer Artifacts Put Up for Sale in the United State of America - Tuesday 10.3.2009

Posted on 14 March 2009

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 603

“Phnom Penh: A high-ranking official of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts stated that the Cambodian government is not able to bring back artifacts which are not listed here and lost, but are reported now in the United State of America and in some other countries.

“A secretary of state of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Mr. Chuch Phoeun, told Deum Ampil on Monday evening 9 March 2009, ‘The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts is not able to collect Khmer artifacts that are lost and not yet listed as Cambodian cultural heritage, even though those artifacts are claimed to be property of Cambodia.’

“The statement was made after the Internet website reported that many types of artifacts are offered for sale at the eBay company, based in the United States of America, which were brought from Cambodia, China, Egypt, Italy, and many other countries. Mr. Chuch Phoeun added, ‘Though we have national and international laws, we lack money for the listing of such artifacts as objects of cultural heritage of Cambodia, in order to provide proper identification of those artifacts.’

“The Secretary of State went on to say, ‘We can only list artifacts at the National Museum as objects of cultural heritage, but artifacts at other museums in the provinces are not yet well listed. We lack money.’

“According to the Secretary of State, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts receives Riel 500 million [approx. US$124,000] per year from the Ministry of Economy and Finance for conserving and maintaining temples around Cambodia. He continued to say that Cambodia needs hundreds of millions of dollars for the conservation and maintenance and the development of thousands of cultural sites countrywide, and to comply with this task, it is necessary to receive and to requests more aid from partner countries, while Cambodia cannot yet provide these resources.

“However, the above report did not state the number of artifacts put up for sale at the eBay Internet auctions company. The report said that the government of China, an Asian country with an old civilization, is trying to demand those artifacts back to its country in whatever condition.

“Regarding what was mentioned by the Secretary of State, Khmer citizens regret that the government does not make as much efforts as possible to return those artifacts to the country as other countries do, to return the rich and invaluable cultural property of the nation. In late 2008, Thailand announced to return to Cambodia artifacts illegally trafficked to Thailand.

“It should be noted that until now, some partner countries assist so that some temples and artifacts are repaired and preserved, like temples of Angkor Wat, Banteay Srey, and Ta Prum.”

Deum Ampil, Vol.3, #135, 10.3.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Banishing the Ghosts in Cambodia

Josh Haner/The New York Times
Overlooking the Gulf of Thailand at Knai Bang Chatt, a hotel on Cambodia's southern coast.

The New York Times

Published: March 15, 2009

IN Kep, a tiny town on Cambodia’s southern coast on the Gulf of Thailand, two British women are staring at the ghostly remains of a bombed-out seaside villa. Originally called La Perle de la Côte d’Agathe, Kep was founded in the 1920s and was the resort of choice for French Cambodia’s jet set. But the Khmer Rouge had particular distaste for Kep and its sybaritic pleasures, and all but razed the town in the 1970s.

One of the women points out a trail of wetness on the villa’s walls and floor where a dog has peed. “Oh, dear,” she tut-tuts. “It looks like the building is crying.”

Less than a mile down the road, rising from the ashes of Kep like an extravagant bird-of-paradise, is the chic 11-room seaside hotel, Knai Bang Chatt, designed in the ’70s by a protégé of Le Corbusier. No one is crying here. All is luxury and escapism; lush plantings and an infinity pool are combined in a way that fairly screams “James Bond love lair.” Sprawled poolside is a muscular young Belgian gentleman engrossed in his Ian McEwan. The man idly smoothes out the waistband of his black designer swimsuit, the greatest irritation he will face all day. Tonight he will dine under a gorgeous palapa-style structure by the sea, and perhaps join other guests for a midnight swim in the Gulf of Thailand.

To many Americans, Cambodia means only two things — the majestic temples of Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh. But there’s another Cambodia — the southern coast — that is beginning to emerge as a popular alternative to the heavily trafficked beaches of Thailand. Here, in towns like Sihanoukville — which, in its heyday in the 1960s, used to draw visitors like Jackie Kennedy and Catherine Deneuve — travelers are exploring the unusual pleasures that occur at the intersection of the luxurious present and the ravaged past.

When my boyfriend, Greg, and I spent a week on the coast this November, we experienced two firsts, both involving tiny bubbles. First, we went swimming one night in Kep among phosphorescent plankton (it’s as if thousands of underwater fireflies are doing a nonstadium version of “the wave”). Later we went into a pharmacy in Sihanoukville and, for $2.80 for 20 tablets (U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere), bought one of the unheralded marvels of modern life: effervescent codeine.

This was not the Cambodia I expected — the tiny bubbles Cambodia. I’d had a sneaking suspicion that my first trip to the land of Angkor Wat and ancestor worship and rampant friendliness might somehow change me, but I expected this change to be triggered by the fact that about one fifth of this country’s population, including most anyone educated, was wiped out by Pol Pot in the 1970s, or that the United States probably dropped more bombs on Cambodia during Richard Nixon’s presidency than it dropped on Japan in World War II.

Y OU’D be hard-pressed to find a town center, let alone a bricks-and-mortar store, in Kep’s bucolic center, but there’s a buzz of activity at the series of shacks along the water that form the crab market. Here fresh crabs are pulled out of wooden cages that you can see just offshore, and, for $7, cooked with curry and stalks of local Kampot peppercorns to produce an exciting variation of everything I’d ever eaten while wearing a lobster bib. Kep is also, oddly, without a decent beach — the sienna-colored sand at the half-mile-long town beach is clearly the world’s largest accumulation of Cajun rub — but you can take a 20-minute boat ride out to Rabbit Island, where a scattering of pale, tubby Britons and gorgeous Danish girls laze on good sand or on the porch of rented huts and sunning platforms, all amid a scrum of mangrove trees, chickens and slightly confused cows. We set ourselves beachside and Greg pulled out a cigarette pack emblazoned with the name of France’s handsomest-ever movie star — Alain Delon — which he’d bought for 30 cents in town. I thought, I am surrounded by at least three kinds of beauty.

We also took day trips from Kep to a temple cave and to Bokor Mountain. Although taxis, motorbikes and tuk-tuks are plentiful and cheap in Cambodia, we’d decided to hire, at $45 a day, a kind and shy 28-year-old Phnom Penh driver named Toun Bon Thim to take us around in his car, including our subsequent nine-hour drive from the coast up to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat.

When Bon Thim and Greg and I stepped out of the car near the trail to the cave temple, we were greeted by a small band of giddy and adorable Cambodian children who wanted to guide us. The kids — led by a hilarious 14-year-old boy in a T-shirt emblazoned “Parental Advisory” — led us through a muddy rice field to a steep set of wooden stairs (“203 steps. Easy!,” Parental Advisory coached me. “Easy for Mr. New York City!”). Soon we were peering down in a stalactite-dripping cave in which sat a very well-preserved seventh-century brick temple, about the size of four phone booths. Parental Advisory looked at my popped eyes and, aping the helium-pitched voice of a flip teenage girl, he exclaimed, “Ohmygod!” Suddenly I wanted to revoke every sarcastic comment I’d ever made about Angelina Jolie and her Cambodian child; I longed to take Parental Advisory back to New York with us, and turn him into America’s next comedy sensation.

Although most of the two-lane roads that link Cambodia’s bigger cities have been improved and repaved in the past 10 years or so, anyone who jiggles his way in a Jeep up the 19-mile road that is being built on Bokor Mountain in nearby Kampot is vividly, if not violently, reminded of earlier road-based pittedness: by journey’s end you realize that if you were a gallon of paint, not only would you be thoroughly mixed, you would now be a solid. (Loung Ung, a Cambodian writer and land mine activist who has returned to Cambodia some 30 times since escaping in 1980 and moving to Cleveland, told me that before the roads got better, she always packed sports bras for her trips back there.) The top of Bokor Mountain is the site of an abandoned hill station, including an eerie, burned-out palace hotel and a Catholic church where sometimes the fog sneaks up on you so thick that you can’t see your hand in front of you. The site was the setting for the climax of the 2002 Matt Dillon crime thriller, “City of Ghosts.”

“Almost every place in Cambodia has a ghost story attached to it,” Ms. Ung said. “I think it’s because we practice Theravada Buddhism: our gods are able to cross between the borders of the world. And we believe that our ancestors are always with us. When so many people died in our country in the ’70s, we ended up with a lot of haunted, unresolved lives. It’s not fear, it’s respect.”

Indeed, Greg and I got our own taste of unresolved living one afternoon in Kep. We were staying at a place called the Veranda — a series of funky bamboo and wood treehouses, many with terrific views of the Gulf of Thailand and the Vietnamese island Pho Quoc. Greg was lying in the hammock on our porch when he heard a series of mewling, feline cries coming from above him, followed by a soft thump. When he went into our bungalow, he saw first the air vent over our bathroom ceiling and then something more unusual: a kitten had landed in our shower. That night over drinks I told a fellow guest, “I think it’s a message from on high.” The man concurred: “Yes. And the message is: a kitten has landed in your shower.”

The theme of untethered animals is one that reasserts itself not infrequently in Cambodia. After Kep, we spent a relaxed day in sleepy Kampot — a placid riverfront lined with colonial-era buildings increasingly being renovated by expatriates — pottering around the second-hand bookstore and taking in the view of Bokor Mountain.

From Kampot we drove three hours to the coast’s most developed town, Sihanoukville, a drive during which we dodged cows, dogs and a monkey that had parked in the road in the manner of an irritable and recently deposed dictator. But the more common life-threateners were other human drivers, whose conception of the word “lane” can only be described as elastic. I asked Bon Thim if most Cambodians believed in reincarnation, and he said yes. I posited, “This may explain why they drive this way.” Equally thrilling to behold were the loads that we saw heaped onto motorbikes — huge, jodhpur-shaped bundles of firewood or morning glories; a bureau and a desk; four twin mattresses; an IV drip; a family of four. Bon Thim told us: “On New Year’s, when workers travel home, there is even more stacking. Sometimes 20 people stacked on the roof of cars or trucks. Sometimes driver has someone seated between him and his door.”

In Sihanoukville, we reveled in the pleasures that the rest of the coast, however lovely, had denied us: white sand beaches, shopping, non-restaurant-based night life. The beaches ranged from the utterly pristine and private one at our hotel, the Independence — where Jackie Kennedy and Ms. Deneuve are said to have stayed and which earned the nickname the Ghost Hotel after the Khmer Rouge used it as a redoubt during their occupation of Sihanoukville — to the very crowded Occheuteal, lined with food shacks and vendors. During our visit to Occheuteal, I bought a bunch of litchis for a dollar from a woman carrying them on her head, but passed up requests to rent an inner tube (50 cents an hour), be massaged in my chair ($6 an hour), have my back hair “threaded” ($5), or hear a blind man sing (unspecified). Greg and I parked ourselves at one of the food shacks and started people-watching; we rewarded ourselves with mango shakes (mango ice and sweetened condensed milk are put in a blender and frothed to a fare-thee-well).

To shop in a country where the average daily wage is less than a dollar a day is to suddenly want to pay retail. Some of the arenas of this strange inclination are more direct than others: both of the shopping haunts that drew our attention were charity-based. On the muddy, trash-flecked dirt road that leads to Serendipity Beach, the northwestern end of Occheuteal Beach, we found the Cambodian Children’s Painting Project, where kids who are kept out of school and forced into selling wares or themselves on the beach are given free language classes and painting lessons. We each bought a painting ($4 each, plus $1.50 each for frames). A few hours later we found ourselves at Rajana, a gift shop whose proceeds go to teaching young Cambodians handicraft skills. We marveled over the jewelry made from recycled bomb shells ($28 to $32) and key rings made from recycled bullets (95 cents), prior to buying lots of silk scarves ($6 to $30) and lemon-grass candles in bamboo holders ($1.75).

Outside of the tinkly piano-bar womb of Sihanoukville’s two high-end hotels — the Independence and the Sokha — the town’s night life caters mostly to backpackers and beach bunnies, some of them just in from party capitals like Phuket or Vang Vieng, and eager to shimmer and effloresce over cocktails. A stroll down Serendipity Beach will bring you in contact with fire throwers, mystics, British Vogue photographers, sex tourists and many, many opportunities to indulge in something called a “vodka bucket.” Here is the youth of the world, working hard to forget the inequities of working for an understaffed and poorly run N.G.O.; here is the youth of the world, working hard to remember the name of the French dude they just made out with. The signs of these revelers’ impact on the local economy are not hard to find — certain beach bar/guesthouses offer a free night’s lodging to those of their young customers willing to hand out fliers on the beach for an hour; the business card for one local bar included a map which pinpointed the locations of 1) the bar 2) an A.T.M. and 3) the hospital.

Once Greg and I had been home for two weeks, I contemplated whether my day-to-day life had been changed by the trip. I’d stopped e-mailing Bon Thim by then; I’d also burned through our lemon-grass candles, and distributed all our scarves and effervescent codeine and Alain Delon cigarettes. I’d given up trying to recreate the fabulousness of the mango shake that I’d had on the beach. I’d even — was it possible? — stared at our sunset-at-Knai Bang Chatt pictures so long that I had robbed them of their power. Things seemed fairly ... status quo. A wonderful status quo — but a status quo nevertheless.

And then I remembered. We’re adopting a cat.



Any leg of the triangle that is Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville-Kep will take about three and a half hours by taxi and cost $30 to $60, depending on your negotiation skills. A tuk-tuk to Kampot or Bokor Mountain and back will run about $25. The ever-reliable Toun Bon Thim can be reached at Several airlines, including Cathay Pacific (with a stop in Hong Kong) and Korean Air (with a stop in Seoul), have flights from Kennedy Airport in New York, with round-trip fares in April starting at about $1,300, based on a recent Web search.


Knai Bang Chatt (Phum Thmey Sangat Prey, Thom Khan Kep; 855-12-879-486; serves breakfast at a rough-hewn 24-foot-long table under a palapa overlooking the sea, where dinner (about $38 for two) is also served. Guests have use of Hobie Cat sailboats. Doubles from $150 — U.S. dollars are accepted at hotels, restaurants and shops — in the high season (October through March); otherwise from $110.

At the Veranda (Kep Mountain Hillside Road; 855-12-888-619; doubles start at $25. The resort’s bar and restaurant, with the sight of gorgeous sunsets, is quite good, and serves mostly Western food (dinner for two, about $26). Doubles from $25.

The Independence (Street 2 Thnou, Sangkat No. 3; 855-34-943-3003;, stylishly refurbished in 2007, is, along with the Sokha, Sihanoukville’s most luxurious beachfront property. You’ll need to take a tuk-tuk (about $5 one way) if you want to go into town or to the public beaches. Doubles from $140.


At Kimly (to the left of the restaurants at the crab market along the waterfront in Kep; 855-12-435-096), the crab with Kampot pepper is the local specialty. The shrimp tom yum soup and the shrimp with Kampot pepper are also worth trying. Dinner for two, about $20.

Rikitikitavi (River Road, Kampot; 855-12-235-102; is on a balcony overlooking the river. A delicious fish amok — a kind of Cambodian curry that is steamed instead of boiled — is served in a banana leaf. The cook is a former sous-chef at the InterContinental in Phnom Penh. Lunch for two, about $15.

Chhner Molop Chrey (Krong Street, Mondul 3, along the waterfront of Victory Beach in Sihanoukville; 855-34-933-708) is a long-established seafood restaurant, serving fresh fish, shrimp and crabs along the waterfront. Dinner for two, about $16.


At Massage (Champey Inn, 25 Avenue de la Plage, Kep), the setting (under a palapa, and not too far from the sea) is especially nice. Expect to pay $10 for traditional hourlong massage; $15 for oil massage.

Bokor Mountain. Visits to the top of the mountain are in a state of flux while the road is being built. You may be required to go with a ranger in his Jeep ($40, plus $5 park entrance; ask at the park entrance), or you may be able to go in a group tour (try Sok Lim Tours, 855-12-719-872; for $10, plus admission fee.

Rajana (down the alley at 62 7 Makara Street; 855-23-993-642; in Sihanoukville is one of a chain of nonprofit stores, with wonderful textiles, and some clothing and knickknacks. The N.G.O.-run garden cafe downstairs serves good light meals, and is a fine place to cool off.

HENRY ALFORD is a contributing editor at Travel & Leisure and Vanity Fair, and the author of “How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth).”

Preah Vihear

A general view of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, a world heritage site, during sunrise in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh March 13, 2009.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA RELIGION)

Cambodian Buddhist monks sweep around the Keo Sekakirisvarak pagoda near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, a world heritage site, in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh March 13, 2009.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA SOCIETY RELIGION)

Cambodian children look at a soldier as he stands guard at the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, a world heritage site, in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh March 13, 2009. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA MILITARY RELIGION IMAGE OF THE DAY TOP PICTURE)

A Canadian tourist takes a picture of his friend in the compounds of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, a world heritage site, in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh March 13, 2009.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA RELIGION TRAVEL)

A Cambodian soldier holds his child in the compounds of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, a world heritage site, in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh early morning of March 13, 2009.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA RELIGION)

A Cambodian Buddhist monk sweeps around the Keo Sekakirisvarak pagoda near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, a world heritage site, in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh March 13, 2009. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA SOCIETY RELIGION IMAGE OF THE DAY TOP PICTURE)

Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai, UNESCO chairperson of the executive council, looks at the damage caused after a clash on October 15 during his tour

Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai (C), UNESCO chairperson of the executive council, looks at the damage caused after a clash on October 15 during his tour of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, a world heritage site, in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh March 13, 2009. Jayai is in Cambodia for a one-week visit.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA POLITICS RELIGION)

Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai (R), UNESCO chairperson of the executive council, looks around during his tour of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, a world heritage site, in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh March 13, 2009. Jayai is in Cambodia for a one-week visit.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA RELIGION POLITICS)

Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai (R), UNESCO chairperson of the executive council, looks around during his tour of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, a world heritage site, in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh March 13, 2009. Jayai is in Cambodia for a one-week visit.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA POLITICS RELIGION)

Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai (C), UNESCO chairperson of the executive council, examines a broken piece of stone during his tour of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, a world heritage site, in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh March 13, 2009. Jayai is in Cambodia for a one-week visit.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA POLITICS CONFLICT RELIGION)

Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai, UNESCO chairperson of the executive council, walks during his tour of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, a world heritage site, in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh March 13, 2009. Jayai is in Cambodia for a one-week visit.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA POLITICS RELIGION)

Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai, president of Executive Council of UNESCO, listens to Cambodian officials in the compound of Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple in a world heritage site near the Cambodian-Thai border, about 245 kilometers (152 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, March 13, 2009. Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai took his tour on Friday to Preah Vihear temple to see some damage from clash with Thailand, which started last Oct. 15, 2008, as part of his one-week visit in Cambodia.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai, UNESCO chairperson of the executive council, is helped out during his tour of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, a world heritage site, in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh March 13, 2009. Jayai is in Cambodia for a one-week visit.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA POLITICS RELIGION)

Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai (C), UNESCO chairperson of the executive council, looks around during his tour of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, a world heritage site, in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh March 13, 2009. Jayai is in Cambodia for a one-week visit.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA POLITICS RELIGION)

Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai, UNESCO chairperson of the executive council, places incense sticks in an incense bowl during his tour of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, a world heritage site, in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh March 13, 2009. Jayai is in Cambodia for a one-week visit.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA POLITICS RELIGION)

Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai, president of Executive Council of UNESCO, burns an incense stick in the compound of Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple in a world heritage site near the Cambodian-Thai border, about 245 kilometers (152 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, March 13, 2009. Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai took his tour on Friday to Preah Vihear temple to see some damage from clash with Thailand, which started last Oct. 15, 2008, as part of his one-week visit in Cambodia.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

M. Olabiyi Babalola J. Yai, left, president of executive council of UNESCO, views Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple in a world heritage site near the Cambodian-Thai border, about 245 kilometers (152 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, March 13, 2009. M. Olabiyi Babalola J. Yai took his tour on Friday to Preah Vihear temple to see some damage from clash with Thailand, which started last Oct. 15, 2008, as part of his one-week visit in Cambodia.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai, center left, president of executive council of UNESCO, gestures in front of a Cambodian Buddhist pagoda near Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple in a world heritage site near the Cambodian-Thai border, about 245 kilometers (152 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, March 13, 2009. Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai took his tour on Friday to Preah Vihear temple to see some damage from clash with Thailand, which started last Oct. 15, 2008, as part of his one-week visit in Cambodia.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

'Breaking the Silence' in Cambodia


Richt Martens / AMRITA Performing Arts
The play is very sympathetic to the perpetrators whose stories it tells, portraying them as victims in their own right. "We don't blame anyone," said Suon. "We want the community to start a dialogue."
Richt Martens / AMRITA Performing Arts
To this end, after each show, Suon or an emissary invited audience members to come forward and tell their stories. After one performance, a man took the microphone. "Those who killed should come and see this show," he said, going on to say that he lived near a man who had killed several members of his family. "Sometimes I try to talk to this man who killed my family," said the speaker. "But he just turns away." Pictured, Pok Sovanna, Kov Sotheary, and Morm Sokly.

Jim Mizerski / AMRITA Performing Arts
Performing concurrently with the Khmer Rouge tribunals, "Breaking the Silence" is an appeal to Cambodians on both sides of the divide to speak up about what happened to them. "We want this to be in the service of the community," the Amrita's program director, Suon Bun Rith said on a recent weekend. Pictured (from left to right) Morm Sokly, Kov Sotheary, Chhon Sina (covered), Pok Sovanna, dancer Khiev Sovannarith, singer Yin Vutha, musician Ieng Sakkona in a scene from the play.

Richt Martens / AMRITA Performing Arts
The audience in this heavily former Khmer Rouge area watched with attention as "Breaking the Silence," the Phnom Penh-based Amrita Performing Arts' new play, proceeded on Sunday night. "Breaking the Silence" is based on oral testimony from Khmer Rouge members and victims who had taken part in interviews at the Documentation Center of Cambodia. Pictured, the singer Yin Vutha leading the actors in a Khmer Rouge children's song.

Richt Martens / AMRITA Performing Arts
Another said, "How did it happen that Khmer killed Khmer?" "You must try," said a third, "To help us think this through." Pictured (clockwise from left), actresses Kov Sotheary, Pok Sovanna, and Morm Sokly rehearsing a scene in which a mother and son reflect on his torture and subsequent betrayal of others during the Khmer Rouge period.

Richt Martens / AMRITA Performing Arts-
In Cambodia's Takeo Province, night fell on a field across from the village pagoda. Women cooked crispy cakes over open fires to sell to the crowd. By the time the lights came on, several hundred villagers had assembled in front of a portable stage. The Cambodian actors, dressed in street clothes, began speaking in Khmer. "So many stories. We have to tell our stories," said one. Pictured, audience members waiting for the performance to begin in Kampong Cham province.

Armed forces pledge mutual understanding and solidarity


HA NOI — The People’s Army of Viet Nam and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces have pledged to continue their co-operation on training, land border demarcation and marker planting, as well as on other issues of mutual concern, thus contributing to the strengthening of solidarity and mutual understanding between the peoples and armed forces of the two countries.

The pledge was made yesterday while Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Khac Nghien, Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Army of Viet Nam, received General Pol Saroeun, Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, who was on a three-day official visit beginning on Wednesday.

Nghien also spoke highly of his guest’s contributions to the consolidation and nurturing of the fine traditional friendly relations between the two armies and peoples.

Committee meets

The Viet Nam-Cambodia joint committee for land border demarcation and marker planting held its third session in HCM City on March 11 and 12.

The Vietnamese delegation was led by Ho Xuan Son, Deputy Foreign Minister, head of the Foreign Ministry’s National Border Committee and Chairman of the Viet Nam-Cambodia joint committee for land border demarcation and marker planting.

The Cambodian delegation was headed by Va Kim Hong, senior minister and Government advisor in charge of border issues, and Chairman of the Cambodia-Viet Nam joint committee for land border demarcation and marker planting.

The two sides reviewed and assessed the work on Viet Nam-Cambodia land border demarcation and marker planting since 2006 and agreed on measures to implement an overall plan for the 2009-12 period.

The meeting took place in an atmosphere of friendship and co-operation. — VNS

The Rent-A-Country

Albert Moldvay / National Geographic / Getty



Take a moment to consider breakfast, the most important meal of the day. Maybe you grabbed a banana or ate a bowl of granola. Whatever it was, chances are that some — if not all — of your morning meal came from a country you don't live in.

Food isolationism is dead. It collapsed in a messy, public heap last year when oil hit $100-plus per bbl. and the world's crush on biofuels pushed food prices to unprecedented highs. Thirty-six nations needed food aid. Twenty-five imposed export bans or restrictions to keep staple crops like rice and wheat at home. As prices shot up 50%, food riots erupted in Haiti, killing at least five, and eventually brought down the government. (Read about Russia's "recession diet".)

And then something else happened. A few diplomats and business leaders quietly boarded their jets and got to work. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and South Korea — well-off states without enough good land or water to feed their people — started to look outside their borders. "It's economically not viable to grow food in the desert," says David Hallam, deputy director of trade and markets for the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization. "They said, 'If we can't grow our own food, we'll grow it somewhere else.'"

Their words did not fall on deaf ears. In April, diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Qatar were officially established. In May, the Presidents of South Korea and Sudan discussed food cooperation at the launch of the Korea-Arab Society in Seoul. The Saudi Binladin Group penned nonbinding agreements with Indonesia to plant rice on some 1.5 million acres (607,000 hectares) of island paradise, and millions more have reportedly been earmarked, from Pakistan and Kazakhstan to Burma and the Philippines. Alwi Shihab, a special economic adviser on the Middle East to the President of Indonesia, sees this new investment as a boon to the nation's agricultural sector. "We have large, sizable, fertile -land and good water," says Shihab.

Growing crops for strangers, of course, is nothing new. The long, grim march of colonialism was driven by Europe's penchant for sugar, tea, tobacco and other crops that don't flourish in northern climes. But as climate change and growing populations put ever more pressure on the earth, state-backed searches for land and food contracts as part of a national food-security strategy strike many as fundamentally new. "We're talking about a whole different logic," says Renée Vellvé, a researcher for Grain, an organization that has been compiling media reports of these deals. Vellvé's group sees a downside. When farmers in food-insecure countries like Laos and Cambodia are scrambling to feed their children, does it make sense to lease out vast tracts to grow rice for foreign governments? "These are not fallow fields," says Paul Risley, a World Food Program spokesman based in Thailand. "These are villages where families have farmed for centuries."

And for investors, moving into regions where so many depend so fiercely on the land can translate into risk. "You see a backlash," says Rajesh Behal, a principal investment officer for International Finance Corp., which has just put $75 million into an emerging-market agribusiness fund. "People say, 'Who are these people, and how long will they be there?'" In July, South Korea's Daewoo Logistics signed contracts to lease more than 2.2 million acres (900,000 hectares) in Madagascar — more than a third of the island nation's arable land — to grow corn and oil palms. A violent political dispute erupted in the capital soon after, complicating the deal. "Farming is a pretty dirty business," says Behal. "You have to know the nuances and withstand the volatility."

But in countries where governments can't afford — or don't prioritize — significant domestic agricultural investment, foreign money has the power to deliver better roads, irrigation, technology and training. "One thousand times we say yes on private and public agricultural investment, but done in a certain way," says Jean-Philippe Audinet, acting director of the policy division at the U.N.'s International Fund for Agricultural Development. "It's very important not to look negatively at this trend. We have to try to look at the win-win."

After all, is there a choice? Some of these deals are probably doomed to fall under the ax of the global credit crunch, if they haven't already. But for land-poor countries, the underlying problem of relying heavily on imports will remain. Encouraging a new generation of deals to come out of the diplomatic closet may be the best chance we have to make sure that people on both ends of the bargain end up with food on their plate.

—With reporting by Jennifer Veale in Seoul