#49 - Hello
Your Cambodia's news fix returned
Sou Sdei and welcome to Campuccino, your fortnightly dispatch of key headlines in Cambodia with a dash of opinion.
To new subscribers, welcome! Thank you for allowing me a slot in your well-populated inbox. My Quickfire Quintet with the Mekong Review Weekly seemed to lead many of you here. So, thank you Mekong Review!
First thing first, how are you all settling in 2023? I am stoked to be back here writing the newsletter again. For some of you newbies, Campuccino has been on a 1.5-month hiatus because I was on the verge of burnout and needed a break. That time off was exactly what I needed and now we are back on the normal publishing schedule with my full attention and energy.
While I’m not going to walk you down my entire new year's resolutions because I don’t have one, here is what you can expect for the newsletter this year. With some changes in my day-to-day work arrangement, I will have more time to play around with the format of the newsletter. It could mean a longer Art & Culture section, a guest post, or an addition of an interview section. What do you think? If there is anything you would like to see in the newsletter, drop me an email and let me know!
Lastly, I have a super exciting announcement. That is you readers can finally support my work through Buy Me a Coffee! While I fully intend to keep this newsletter free, I am beyond thrilled that I now have a new alternative for my subscribers to express their support for the newsletter, should they wish to do so. I mean it takes quite a bit of time to put this newsletter together and definitely many cups of coffee!
That’s it. I’ll stop rambling now and on to the news!
In this issue: the aftermath of Poipet inferno, politics leading to the national election, a different side of the Khmer Rouge narrative, art exhibitions, and more.
While the world geared up to welcome the new year, a high note was not something Cambodia ended the year with. The country inched toward the year's end with news of a big fire that engulfed a casino in the border town Poipet claiming at least 25 lives and injuring many. The incident was tragic but what is even more tragic to me was how it was dealt with afterward. News reports spoke of the building's lack of fire safety measures. The rescue effort was called off after three days stating the building was at risk of collapsing and they could no longer continue the search. The demolition began just a week after the incident. Bodies of victims continue to be discovered as the building cleaning up effort is ongoing. Among the confirmed deaths, officials claimed that there were no Cambodian nationals but many locals reported missing family members without closure or anyone to take responsibility. I think this is all very strange…
With the national election coming up in July this year, things are antsy as you would expect. While I don’t follow politics too closely (because it is the same old game), I can still feel the thickening of the political air. News reports on various showdowns confirm this, of course. It is the usual stick-and-stone tactic from the ruling party. People get into trouble for expressing an opinion or constructive feedback which often ended up being labelled as criticism opposing the government. These days, people tiptoe around any topic worthy of meaningful discussions. Everything is sensitive — human rights, land rights, natural resource management, labour rights — you name it, they are all sensitive. I guess that’s why many Cambodians sing their feeling away in bad karaoke and annoy the shit out of their neigbours because even that is better than risk talking about “sensitive” topics. Anyhow, below are a few good articles I think you should read if you are interested to be up to speed on what’s going on in terms of Cambodia’s politics:
Hun Manet to rule Cambodia way ahead of schedule | Asia Times
Politics 2022: Hun Sen, Candlelight and Unrelenting Pressure | VOD
Hun Sen Threatens ‘Stick,’ Lawsuit for Criticism Aimed at Ruling Party | VOD
CPP Sues Candlelight Advisor Kong Korm, Demands $500,000 in Damages | CamboJANews
For Opposition, NGOs, Criticism Effectively Criminalized Ahead of Election | VOD
Speaking of thick political air, rapper Kea Sokun caused some ripple again with his recently released song “Workers Blood” co-published by labour and human rights group and organisation Central and Licadho. Released on January 10 on Facebook, the song marked the ninth anniversary of the incident in 2014 when authorities and workers clashed at the protests demanding a minimum wage increase. The song prompted the Culture Minister to request further action from the police to “prevent potential irregularities”. Consequently, the police asked for the song to be taken down. I listened and watched the song and its accompanying video before it was removed from Facebook . It was provocative, alright, with footage of distressed workers, violence, and heavy police presence. However, the lyric was anything but. From where I stand, it was a helpless call for remembrance of what happened, some sort of closure and intervention to the incident, and praying for better days. I think the creators knew it would face government scrutiny the minute it was published, but they did it anyway to see how far they could go to express certain things. Now, they know. I wonder though if the song would meet a different fate if this year wasn’t the year of the national election, but maybe that was just my naiveté.
Arts & Culture
👩 នារី - Neary is a Khmer-language Facebook platform to spread messages about body positivity. The page boasts varieties of content from short videos to podcasts that revolve around the topic of beauty standards. I am very impressed with the quality and diversity of content they produce. Cambodia’s society needs more of this kind of initiative of young people claiming their space, calling out toxic comments and stereotypes, as well as asking for changes.
🎨 Flow is a group exhibition by Cambodian artists to highlight the use of watercolor to capture the essence of freshness. The exhibition is at Shophouse Studio in Pteah Chas and on display until March 04.
🖼️ Pray for Prey is an exhibition showcasing artwork around the topic of the environment. The artworks displayed are from over twenty artists, photographers, NGO workers, students, Indigenous communities representatives, and journalists. The physical exhibition is at Friends Futures Factory from January 14 to February 4. Alternatively, you can visit the virtual exhibition via this link.
As Cambodia just marked another anniversary of January 7, I tried to reflect on what the date now means to me. If I am being honest, not a whole lot. I am not saying this to dismiss the significance of the date for others, especially some of those from my parent generation and the generation before them. However, the more I read and do more research, the more I am faced with many different, sometimes conflicting narratives. In this process, I have to unlearn things and have my version of history questioned and re-evaluated. It is uncomfortable but I strongly believe that this is a healthier path to healing and reconciliation. The article that I am about to recommend evokes many thoughts and emotions in me whose many family members were swallowed by the regime. It is “In the Khmer Rouge’s last stronghold, myths from the Cambodian genocide still reign” by Fiona Kelliher. It was hard to go through but it was worth it. I suggest that you read it with an open mind. Also, thanks Fiona Kelliher and her colleagues for covering an infrequently-told story such as this one.
Overheard on Twitter
Campuccino is a fortnightly dispatch of key headlines in Cambodia, written by @DarathteyDin.
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