A tidbit courtesy Silong Chhun.

In the 1980s and 1990s, there were weren’t so many books and films about contemporary Southeast Asia in the West.

To be considered a scholar of Cambodian history, the first step was to simply read everything on the topic. And there wasn’t that much explicitly about the country or the area. It was simply “read everything, watch everything”.

Today I’m pleased to observe that’s not entirely possible. There are many more books, publications, films, comics and music. And many more in the voices of Cambodians themselves.

This is a cheesy Disney TV movie. Those who can speak Khmer won’t hear much of it. But as people have pointed out, it was an attempt to show real-world situations, and one of the very first opportunities for Khmers to recognize themselves in the media.

Additional background:

A lazy Sunday afternoon. I’d just finished a yogurt shake at the Blue Pumpkin and was strolling off my topor on the riverside. In jeans and a t-shirt, I look like any other foreigner, possibly a tourist.

“Hello!” hailed the fake monk.

He didn’t realize I’d met his type before. New face, same outfit and scheme.

In Cambodia, real monks don’t solicit money in English from tourists.
Nor do they wear socks.
I whipped out my smartphone to take a picture.
“NO!” he shouted, and ducked into a nearby shop.

I was waiting as he came out – shouting ‘No!’ again.

And tried to ask another foreigner for money.

He quickly backed off seeing me still there, taking pictures.
Something to hide?

He was quite upset at the camera, but seemed to realize it would have been un-monk-like to grab it.

He hurried off down the street for easier targets. I waved at him as he looked back.

I would like to suggest a hash tag for tracking these scammers: #fakemonkPP
Sound good?

Addendum May 02:
The following weekend, I was having lunch and spotted another ‘monk’. He was politely escorted out of the café.
Note how the security guy takes off his hat and regains from touching him. Looking like a monk gets you the deference accorded to a monk.

But this ‘monk’ was not polite in turn. He was quite (physically) insistent that I delete the video I’d taken with my phone.

He even managed to get in the door again, and tried to indicate that the video I’d taken should be deleted. However, he could not express this sentiment in Khmer, despite repeated attempts to engage him.

He did slap down a Chinese language document (and emphatically pointed at it), seemingly as a way to indicate that he was legitimate.
Perhaps he is a member of a Buddhist organization, and dresses like a monk to accentuate it.
(I didn’t get a photo of this: he was quite angry and could have grabbed my phone.)

The heart of the issue (for me) is that something just doesn’t seem right. These guys are too ‘professional’. There are lots of people in need, and I’d prefer to see my donation go to someone who truly needs it.

So… what kind of monastic order accepts monks who are aggressive in their behavior and is sending them to Phnom Penh?
Why are these monks getting into restaurants while ordinary (and obviously) Khmer street beggars are firmly kept out?
Keep your camera phone handy.

It’s not an understatement to say that Mekong ICT Camp changed my life.

I attended in 2010, made new friends, and learned cool new things.
Oh, also: under a year later, I got a job based on the knowledge I’d acquired there.
I returned in 2013 to share what I learned with Open Development Cambodia, completing the circle.
Others are similarly enthusiastic. Here is a home-made film from 2013′s session.

Would I recommend you apply? Heck yeah.
If you are at the intersection of information technology and social change, give it a go.

Here are some links to past Mekong ICT adventures, and below you can find some sketches I’ve drawn.



[BarCamp Saigon] VN Trip July 06-08 2013




Mekong ICT Camp is a biannual training workshop on information, communication, and technologies for citizen media, community health, and civil society development in Mekong sub-region.


The 2015 camp is a five-day activity will bring together the eventual six existing development projects from each Mekong countries and provide them enabling environment to work with their team mentors and partner to sharpen their solutions. The team has 5 days of the camp to turn ideas into a prototype with the help of the camp facilitators who provide process guidance, monitor the progress, and ensure that all team are on track. At the end of the camp, each team will present their work in front of the judges as well as other stakeholders.

Expected participants are Developer, journalists, and social workers. Participants are welcome from every countries and territories, although large of the allocation will goes to Mekong sub-region, which including Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand,  Vietnam and Yunnan, China.


The 4th Mekong ICT Camp 2015

Date: 8-12 June, 2015

Place/ Country  Leaning Resort, College of Innovation Thammasat University, Chonburi, Thailand.

Organised by  Thai Fund Foundation in partnership with Opendream and Foundation for  Internet and Civic  Culture

The main themes for this year is: BIG DATA

For those from the Mekong-region: we will sponsor all your travel, accommodation and program costs, but we ask for a contribution of USD50 from each participant.

This also includes people who are originally from elsewhere but currently working in projects that related to developments of Mekong.

Small numbers of PARTIAL sponsorships (camp fee and accommodation, but not travel cost) are available for people from outside Mekong.

Participants, once selected, will be entitled to subsidy and/or reimbursement for a round-trip ticket from your residence, visa application, food and accommodation. All documents and materials for courses will be provided.

*** Application deadline is April 5, 2015. ***

For the ease of processing, we only accept Online Application.

Please kindly forward to whom it may interested.

Application form and more details at  http://mekongict.org/apply

For 2015 Camp inquiries, please feel free to contact mekongictcamp@gmail.com

Mekong ICT Camp Project is under The Thai Fund Foundation

Address; 2044/23, New Phetburi Rd., Huai Khwang, Bangkok 10310 Thailand

Thai Fund Foundation
2044/23 New Petchburi Road, Bangkapi, Huaykwang, Bangkok 10310
Tel. 66-318-3959, 66-2-314-4112-3 ext. 102
Fax 66 2718 1850
Join Mekong ICT on Facebook
Twitter @mekongict
Log on to our website MekongICT camp

Hey look, it’s the new city bus!

City Bus 01

Hooray for mass transit traffic solutions!
Can we get a skytrain next?

There is however, a disturbing aspect to the bus stops: they use a tactic of what’s called ‘disciplinary architecture’ where seats cannot be slept on due to hand rails. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disciplinary_architecture

Bus In Phnom Penh 02

The bus stops have varying degrees of rain shelter, worth considering.

Public works should take into account all of the public. It’s a challenge in Cambodia, with its big wealth gap.
(That’s why the rest rooms at the Veal Preah Mean park have families living there.)

But it should not be unthinkable to simply be kind. If you have similar examples of discriminatory / disciplinary architecture in Cambodia, feel free to share.

Vice’s Brothel Raid

After Nick Kristof’s infamous ‘live tweet’ brothel raid and Mira Sorvino / CNN Freedom’s follow up, it appears now that Vice Magazine wants to get in on the dramatic action. Let’s take a look at how successful they are.

Live coverage of police activity is a staple in the USA. But filming brothel raids where there may be underage children?
It is often in direct violation of international and local law, if minors are depicted. And I am skeptical of the ‘staging’ of any raid done where a camera is present.

I have never quite gottenVice‘ magazine and its sprawling media brand. Primarily billed as an edgy entertainment magazine/site, its attempts to veer into ‘investigative journalism’ are a bit jarring.

In this new 12-13 minute segment, ‘founder’ Suroosh Alvi tries to cover a lot of ground but doesn’t mention the copious reporting from local news sources, nor further threads to follow.

Vice's Brothel Raid

The segment opens with Suroosh on a ‘hostess bar’ street, where he fails to differentiate between the international and local sex trade.

It then follows a raid by the Ministry of the Interior. “It’s a very heavy scene”….”This is as dark as it gets right here,” comments Suroosh.

The video then follows the choices offered to the arrested women, noting the rescue-to-garment work pipeline, and the prison-like nature of some retraining facilities. A woman who has returned to sex work is interviewed.
(Vice cites her community as near ‘abandoned’ railway tracks, which in reality is contended land, where most live under threat of eviction.)

But Suroosh never names the NGOs and training facilities, a common flaw that is seen across the board in nearly all ‘parachute’ reportage.

There is a brief soundbite with Dave Welsh of the Solidarity Center, which does good networking in a changing union environment. The camera moves quickly on.

We Must Fight

Narrator Suroosh then attends a wage protest outside a factory. Which is where the clip really loses its footing.
There is no mention of the fact that most rank and file union members are women, but that the leadership is dominated by men.

Suroosh then agitates for the workers to get his camera crew inside, shouting ‘Solidarity!’ to the crowd, so he can do interior factory shots – precious components for a video news story.

Vice Should We Help

The crowd ushers him inside, at great personal risk – the event had seen violence by hired thugs earlier in the day.
In a voice-over narration, it’s noted that the factory manufactures for H&M, Old Navy, Benetton and Russell Athletics – all of whom failed to provide replies for this story. Vice doesn’t mention any brands that it has corporate ties with, such as Nike.

An English-speaking staffer (of what sounds like ‘Barry’ factory) takes Suroosh aside and discusses the factory perspective with him, in an air-conditioned meeting room.

Suroosh is then sent back to the waiting crowd as an envoy with a message from management.

Vice Microphone

Led to a stage, with the rapt attention of protesters, Suroosh states: “It’s not appropriate for me to get involved in these contract negotiations.” So much for solidarity.
He then exploits his stage presence further by asking the assembled protesters what their current wage is.

Not True Vice

The assembled crowd shouts that it’s too low. Suroosh / Vice fails to mention Cambodia minimum wage laws, as well as salary in relation to overtime – key components of the overall wage issue.

He concludes that the factory is ‘far above average’ compared to others. Suroosh has obtained his key ‘inside the factory’ footage, so it’s time to move on. Pretty quick to forget the beatings that took place earlier in the day. If that’s Vice’s standard for ‘above average’, they are essentially accepting violence as a part of the garment manufacturing process.

The segment moves on, adding context about the protests from 2013 and earlier in 2014.

Sooresh: “It’s crazy when you can go to a big retailer in America and buy a hoodie for ten bucks.” Maybe you should take that up with your staff?

As he says this, he is inside an unnamed garment factory. Who gave him permission? And under what conditions? That he not disclose the name of what he labels a ‘sweatshop’?

The clip concludes by noting that many women enter the sex trade voluntarily.

It’s hard to sum up such a big topic in a short clip. It’s slickly produced and fast-moving, but omits numerous key facts, and doesn’t acknowledge the hard work of local Cambodian reporters who have helped to break this news internationally.

Vice is really at sea here. Is this segment an editorial or a straight news report? If they’re attempting ‘gonzo journalism‘ it’s a weak attempt. Their confused role is best exemplified by pretending to be a part of a labor protest, only to get precious visuals and comments for their clip, and then leaving the crowd without any resolution.

In a nutshell, that’s my opinion of ‘Vice’. Professing solidarity, pretending to be your friend, but exploiting the situation for their own benefit – then leaving.

Responsible parties:
Vice Credits All

For more ‘up to the minute’ details on garment industry doings in Cambodia, check OpenDevCam’s tracking of the garment industry in the press. http://www.opendevelopmentcambodia.net/en/?s=garment&post_type=news

For critical analysis, these reports are a good start:
‘Tearing Apart At The Seams’ http://www.sithi.org/temp.php?url=publication_detail.php&mid=4754&lg=

’10 Years Of Better Factories’: http://www.fibre2fashion.com/news/apparel-news/newsdetails.aspx?news_id=115382

‘Monitoring In The Dark: Improving Factory Working Conditions In Cambodia’ http://humanrightsclinic.law.stanford.edu/project/monitoring-in-the-dark/

“Caught between the Tiger and the Crocodile”: Cambodian Sex Workers’ Experiences of Structural and Physical Violence http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15240657.2014.877726#.VD9qZGeSxNt

For a list of actual unions and labor organizations, a current list is here.

Workers Information Centre: http://youtu.be/X5qFfp1fHRg / http://ajws.org/where_we_work/asia/cambodia/workers_information_centre_wic.html
Solidarity Center: http://www.solidaritycenter.org/content.asp?contentid=449
‘Clean Clothes Campaign’: http://www.cleanclothes.org/livingwage/cambodia

Older Posts »