Sunday, 14 June 2009

Fake Chinese monks held for swindling

IMPOSTERS: The 10 fake Chinese monks arrested on Thursday in Samphanthawong district.

Bangkok Post

Published: 14/06/2009

Ten Chinese men impersonating monks were recently arrested for swindling Thai devotees in Samphanthawong district, according to immigration police chief Chatchawan Suksomjit.

Pol Lt-Gen Chatchawan said the gang members had overstayed their tourist visas. They were caught while collecting cash donations and selling lucky charms to the faithful. The men, most of them from China's Hubei province, had collected about 800-1,000 baht in cash donations every day.

In Songkhla, five foreign women were arrested during a crackdown in Sadao district yesterday for exploiting the children of illegal immigrants.

The five were from China, Vietnam and Cambodia and apprehended along with 13 Vietnamese, nine Cambodian and two Thai children.

On Wednesday, 28 Nepalese were taken into custody in Phra Nakhon district for illegally entering the country. They had paid agents about US$3,000-$4,000 (102,000-136,000 baht) in the hope of starting a new life.

Pol Lt-Gen Chatchawan said they stopped over in Thailand for paperwork and were headed for a third country onboard cargo ships.

Teen sacrifices fun for hard work, education

The San Francisco Chronicle

Carolyn Jones, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, June 14, 2009

While her classmates were signing yearbooks and preening for the prom, Vicheka Chres was experiencing a different kind of senioritis as she approached Friday's graduation.

As she had since she started high school, Vicheka, 17, was studying six hours a night. After school and on weekends, she was making apple turnovers in her uncle's bakery - for no pay. At home, she was translating for her mother, whose English is poor and who has a sixth-grade education.

"Fun? I don't really have fun," Vicheka said recently while taking a break from swabbing tables at Rio Vista Bakery, where her mother also works. "I know American kids go see movies, concerts. Go shopping. But that's not what I do."

Vicheka has reason to be motivated. She knows that if her family had stayed in their native Cambodia, which they left in 2003, she wouldn't have had the luxury of studying trigonometry and literature six hours a night. She'd be working in a factory, sewing clothes 12 hours a day for $50 a month.

Instead, she's bound for UC Davis. She plans to study biochemistry so she can eventually be a pharmacist and support her family, those in Rio Vista as well as in Phnom Penh.

Does she have a passionate desire to be a pharmacist? No, but that's irrelevant, she said.

"If I can be a pharmacist, it'll be an achievement for my whole family," she said. "That's important to me because without my family, I'd be nothing."

For Vicheka, the recession is relative. She worries about her mother, who recently had her weekly hours slashed from eight to four at the Tracy casino where she has a second job as a card dealer. But otherwise, Vicheka is boundlessly optimistic.

"I see a lot of opportunity here," she said. "If you don't have money in Cambodia, you don't have a chance at all. Here, there's grants, scholarships, work-study. Here, there is hope."

Vicheka's mother, Thida Chiv, said that seeing her daughter head to college is "a dream come true."

"I did not finish school; that is why my life is so hard," she said recently while helping her brother at the bakery. "My daughter works so hard. I am so proud of her."

Vicheka works so hard, in fact, she often gets headaches and suffers fatigue. Her family tells her to slow down, but Vicheka - motivated in part by the recession - only strives harder.

With graduation approaching, the shy, soft-spoken girl allowed herself the occasional sigh of relief.

"Even though I'm not as smart as the other students, and don't speak English as well, I have studied as hard as I can," she said with a modest smile. "I'm so proud of myself."

E-mail Carolyn Jones at

Cambodia: Controversial Angkor Wat lighting project

Global Voices Online

Sunday, June 14th, 2009
by Mong Palatino

To promote “night lighting” tours and to reverse the 20 per cent drop in visitors, the Cambodian government has installed artificial lighting in the 11th century-old Angkor Wat Temple. This project is opposed by some heritage conservationists and concerned Cambodian citizens. Angkor Wat is the most popular tourist site in Cambodia and is recognized as a World Heritage site.

Heritage conservation specialists describe the installed light bulbs as “unsightly.” Since 2006, more than $12 million were spent for the lighting of the temple. It is part of a grand project to transform the Angkor Wat as a complex of entertainment venues.

The government defended the lighting decoration by arguing that it has the support of the UNESCO. Authorities also added that only solar powered lighting technology was used in the project.

The public was stunned when it learned that holes were drilled in the temple to install electric bulbs. This was denied by the government and the project contractor:

“The working team explained that they have a technique to set up electric bulbs which causes no harm to the temple. They install bulbs by using cork stoppers put into already existing holes, and they set up lights only where it is possibly, and also at the lower layers of the stone. The working team claims that the heat of the bulbs is weak and does not affect the temple.”

The controversy became more intense when the person who exposed the Angkor Wat lighting was sued by a government lawyer for spreading false information. The accused has fled to France to avoid prosecution.

Angkor Wat Temple. From the Flickr Page of DragonWoman

Below are some reactions from the Cambodian blogosphere. From The Son of the Empire:

Can this equipped light attract more tourists to Angkor Wat and Cambodia as a whole while a leader of a country is incompetent to lead a country with transparency, security, stability, human right respect, and yet committing corruption and dependent on alm and submitting to neigboring countries?

Personally, the light decoration is untolerable and I think those who allow this project to be carried out is considered as a traitor and are untolerable.

Those people must think about the long term and should have done their best to preserve this most wonderful work of our greatest ancestors who have built this marvelous heritage for the world, for us and has become the soul, the spirit, and the pride of our people and nation.

Real Cambodia appreciates the effort to improve the image of Angkor Wat

I kind of like the idea of seeing Angkor Wat at night. I imagine some of the statues, carvings, and shadows would be pretty amazing, particularly after happy hour. And hopefully they'd use really environmentally-friendly lighting, like LED lights, in a smart and innovative way, creating lots of trippy, dramatic angles. But I'd also hope they left most of the park undisturbed, all the better to retain its unique position at the nexus of natural and supernatural.

The Southeast Asian Archaeology Newsblog warns that increasing the number of tourists in Angkor Wat is bad for business

The move may serve to boost falling tourism numbers, but does nothing to address what heritage specialists have been saying for years - that the effects of increased traffic to Angkor is ultimately bad for business.

An anonymous commenter rejects the lighting project:

Even from a plain, regular guy like me, I could see that the lighting was absolutely inappropriate for a sacred monument any where in the whole world, let alone a magnificent heritage like Angkor Wat. Who ever came up with that idea should be fired from his job!!!! No sense of fine aesthetic, whatsoever!!!

The Deputy PM will be summoned by the Parliament to answer questions about the controversial project.

Physician's book relives childhood nightmare in Cambodia

Frank Bellino / The Press-Enterprise
Sopheap Ly from Hemet has written a book called "No Dream Beyond My Reach" about her experiences as a survivor of Cambodia's killing fields and her quest to overcome it all and become a doctor.


The Press-Enterprise

HEMET - Dr. Sopheap Ly's tranquil home in west Hemet is a world away from the Cambodian killing fields she survived during the 1970s.

These days, the only fracas Sopheap (pronounced so-peep) Ly and her dentist husband Kaustubh Marathe hear is the occasional cries of their twin infant daughters, Sonali and Manali.

Yet Ly has chosen to relive a nightmare of slave labor, beatings, death and other hardships in a book she has titled "No Dream Beyond My Reach."

Ly believes readers will come away with an uplifting message about turning horror, heartache and disappointment into "sweet victory."

"I want to share my sadness with the world, but also inspire and bring hope," said Ly, who overcame tremendous odds to become a physician.

The memoir, due out this month, immerses readers in the harrowing struggles she and her family endured under Khmer Rouge soldiers and the infamous Pol Pot regime. In 1975, when she was 5 years old, she was abducted and forced into slave labor, typically working 14 hours a day in the rice fields. Her father eventually was beheaded, and her grandparents died of starvation.

"When I realized I would never see my father again, I cried for days," Ly said, her eyes tearing up a quarter century later. "All I had were memories of his love and his words."

Ly dedicated the book to her father, who instilled in her an early dream to pursue a medical career. When things got truly tough, it was his face and words that got her through, she said.

The Phnom Penh native arrived in the United States at age 16 with no formal education. She attended Santa Ana High School, juggled jobs and studies and took on student loans to eventually graduate from Howard University's College of Medicine. She is board certified in internal medicine.

Frank Bellino / The Press-Enterprise
Dr. Sopheap Ly from Hemet writes in her book about her time as a slave laborer and her father's death.

Ly commutes to her job as a physician at the Veterans Administration Healthcare System in San Diego and is an assistant professor of medicine at UC San Diego. A nanny helps the couple with the babies, she said.

Throughout the book, Ly credits mentors and friends with inspiring her to achieve her dream. Dee Gomez, a Santa Ana High School teacher, recognized Ly's potential and steered her into advanced placement courses and a higher level of learning.

Aretha Makia, a fellow medical student and former Miss Cameroon, befriended Ly and provided "love and understanding" as they laughed, cried and pushed through the toughest times to earn their diplomas.

"As far as I know, Aretha is one of the first beauty queens who is a practicing physician today," Ly said. "She is a board certified OB/GYN working with Kaiser Permanente in Maryland."

Ly said her life has been a remarkable journey. She believes her father gave her "excellent genes and a can-do attitude" to persevere.

"I wish my dad were alive today -- especially around Father's Day -- to see me excel," Ly said.

"The hardest part is remembering my father, who really touched my heart."

Reach Michael Perrault at 951-763-3464 or

Rubbish dump dwellers face eviction

Scavenging for bits of plastic, metal and glass that earn them an average $10 a month, the children of Phnom Penh’s municipal rubbish dump are among Cambodia’s poorest.

Hundreds of families live on and around the 100-acre site, making their meagre living from the materials they collect on the steaming rubbish heap, replenished daily with 900 tonnes of the capital’s refuse.

“We don’t go to school. I’d like to but I need to pick the litter and earn money. I have nine siblings and they all work the same job as me,” said 13-year-old Mek.

Dump trucks rumble in and out of Stung Meanchey landfill site throughout the day, while the toxic waste that covers sink holes burns in the sun.

“I really worry about the children working on the dump especially because of the rubbish trucks that sometimes hit the children, because it’s hard to see them up there,” said 26-year-old father-of-two Chan Samon.

His fears are not unfounded—in February a 16-year-old girl was killed when a bin fell on her head. There have been numerous victims like her since the site opened more than 45 years ago.

Chan Samon said he earns a pittance selling mostly bottles and cans to Vietnamese buyers. Middlemen come to nine storage depots at the dump’s entrance, before selling it on to recycling companies for profit.

1kg of plastic fetches 10 cents, while onekg of iron or a glass bottle goes for 2.5 cents.

But these slim pickings are all these families have. Many of them arrived in Phnom Penh from the rural provinces in the hope of finding better work, only to discover their only option was to join those foraging for rubbish.

Now Cambodia’s authorities are closing down the site and moving the dump several miles outside the capital.

None of the residents are clear who is evicting them, only that they have been told to expect to move at any time.

“I heard something about the dump moving but I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Mek, who has worked at the site since he was three years old.

The move has been discussed locally since 2003, residents said, but a recent letter sent out by municipal authorities to all Phnom Penh residents confirmed the closure would take place in the “second quarter” of the year.

It said rubbish collection prices would need to rise because of the move, which it said was necessary because of the “environmental impact” of the site, citing the noise, smell, smoke and poor underground water quality.

Until the proposed eviction a few lucky children had escaped the grimy work thanks to about a dozen charities set up around the landfill site.

The organisations pay parents for lost income while they provide their offspring with schooling, clothes, food and a clean place to sleep. “When I was up on the dump I met (charity outreach worker) Theary and and he brought me here,” said Srey Neat. AFP

Editorial: Temple vandals know not what they do

To those responsible for the vandalism and harassment outside the Buddhist Temple south of Rochester in recent weeks, here's a little history of which you might not be aware.

Many of the people who live or worship at the temple came to this country because they wanted a better life for themselves and their children.

For five years they suffered through what can only be described as hell on earth.

From 1975 to 1979 their country, Cambodia, was ruled by a regime called the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer instituted an extreme form of agrarian Marxism in which everyone was forced to work for the government, often in the rice paddies. Husbands and wives were separated. Children were taken away from their parents. Most lived in conditions we wouldn't tolerate for livestock.

The regime distrusted intellectuals, business people, teachers, and anyone else they viewed as a threat to them. An estimated 200,000 people -- twice the population of Rochester -- were executed. To save bullets, the executioners often used shovels and hammers to crush the skulls of their victims.

You're probably too young, but maybe you've heard of the movie "The Killing Fields." It won three academy awards and is named for the fields where the Khmer's victims were buried. Many of them were forced to dig their own graves before they were murdered.

In addition to the 200,000 Cambodians who were executed, at least another 1.3 million of them -- one-fifth of the population -- died of disease, illness and starvation.

So, you can see -- at least we hope you can -- why so many Cambodians fled the land of their birth for a better place. A place founded on the principle that on this soil we treat all people with dignity and respect, regardless of their race, gender, education level or religious beliefs.

We're not suggesting to you that the monks and others who worship at the Buddhist temple south of town should be treated with more respect and compassion than any of the other people with whom we share this planet. They don't want that.

For 30 years, Cambodian refugees, their children and grandchildren have lived among us. They are your classmates. They are your doctors and police officers and clergy people. They are part of the fabric of our community.

When you painted a cross and "Jesus Saves" on the driveway at the temple, were you really attempting to preach Christianity to a people who practice a religion you don't understand? We think not.

Please understand that when you harass these victims or vandalize their property, you are committing crimes not only against the Buddhists among us. You are also staining our community's integrity.

Then again, maybe you don't care about things like civic integrity and reputation and pride. Maybe you don't care that some are calling this a racist or bigoted place. But most of the rest of us care.

There's little to gain by preaching at you. We've probably done too much of that already. The challenge before us is to figure out why you think and act the way you do -- why you bully people. Are you bored? Do you feel neglected? Are you just angry?

These are among the questions we all should be asking ourselves as we attempt to deal with the ugly issues of bias and racism in and around Rochester. But here's the most important question -- What can we do to change this?

The following is a quote from The Buddha, but there are similar verses in the Bible, the Koran and most other holy books: "Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule."

Local Buddhists say 'thank you' for support from the community

By Matt Russell

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

The Cambodian Buddhist community in Rochester is extending a "thank you" to community members who offered an outpouring of support this week following reports of harassment and vandalism at the local Buddhist temple.

Residents have dropped off flowers to replace those torn up by vandals, and several churches have called to offer support, said temple member Tracy Sam.

"They said if we ever need something, to contact them," she said.

The community response followed reports of vandalism at the temple on May 24 and June 4. Vandals spray-painted "Jesus Saves" in orange on the driveway, threw eggs at an entrance sign, ripped up flowers, and smashed lights.

Temple members say a group of boys have also harassed temple members recently by shouting obscenities at people, including monks, from the road.

The incidents led temple members to say that they feared worse damage or that they might be attacked on their property.

The support from the community this week, however, has been reassuring, Sam said.

"Some people out there really care," she said. "They think about us and they pray for us. It feels good to know that there are people in the community out there who support us."

The siren call of Cambodia’s cockpits

Chrey Thum Cockpit in Cambodia’s Kandal Province

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Eternal optimists from the Mekong Delta are spellbound by the cash-draining cockfights across the border.

Rice farmer Hai from Kien Giang Province declared he would quit gambling for good after selling some land to finance his expeditions to the notorious cockfights just across the Cambodian border.

Hai’s vow might have sounded more genuine had he not been standing by the cockpits of the Golden Stone Casino in Cambodia’s Ta Keo Province having just lost more money.

He is just one of many Vietnamese people from the Mekong Delta who burn through fat wads of cash at the Cambodian cockfighting arenas.

Cockfighting is a tradition in Vietnam but it is illegal to bet on the bloodsport, so the desperadoes patronize places like the Golden Stone, which is less than five kilometers from Chau Doc in An Giang Province and takes any bet no matter how big or small.

A cockfight at the Golden Stone Casino in Cambodia

Thanh Nien visited the Golden Stone last week to find it crowded with hundreds of gamblers, and it was a weekday. On any one day there can be up to 70 cockfights.

The unwritten law

A single bet can be anywhere from VND5 million (US$281) to VND50 million, depending on the pit.

Nothing’s written down as there are plenty of beefy minders around to make sure everyone ponies up after a fight is over.

A cockfight ends when one of the two cocks dies or collapses and is unable to continue. If both fall down, the winner is the one that gets back up first.

And if they both stay down, the referee makes the final decision and announces the winner.

It’s not uncommon for cock owners to collude in fight fixing by quietly injuring one of the two birds beforehand. At the Golden Stone, the fine for this offence is VND20 million.

Born losers

A retailer of plant chemicals in Long Xuyen Town said he had quit the high rollers’ pit at the Golden Stone after losing VND50 million, and tried a cheaper pit.

When he lost again, he quarreled with the bookie and claimed he’d never placed the bet.

He soon changed his mind when a heavy-set thug appeared on the scene to “arbitrate.”

Rooster owners can also bet, but they lose double if their bird goes down.

A farmer from Kien Giang said he had taken along three fighting cocks and lost all his money betting on them.

“It was my last time. I will quit gambling,” he too declared after fessing up that his family had intended to use the money to build a house for rent in Binh Duong Province.

A retired bookie who had plied his trade at several cockpits in Cambodia said he used to make big money from the betting and the commissions from successful gamblers he had advised.

Yet he eventually returned to Vietnam almost penniless after failing to collect the debts owed by regular casino patrons, many of them formerly wealthy people from his neck of the woods.

Nowadays he makes some pocket money by advising cock buyers looking for the best birds, but otherwise is no longer involved in the sport.

When asked if anyone got rich from cockfighting, he answered, “Only the owners of the cockpits.”

Reported by Tien Trinh