Aclimation (Top Five List)

Top five things that tell me I am acclimating to Cambodia (possibly too much):

5.   If my delivery order drink (including hot tea) shows up in a plastic bag, I can open the bag and pour it into a cup without spilling or burning myself.

4.   Last night as I went to bed I set my air conditioning to 85 degrees without even thinking about it.

3.   If I see women wearing shorts, I look a second time to see if they really are.

2.   I have stopped checking to see if my ice has a whole in the middle (whole in the middle is a clear sign of ice that is made hygienically, as opposed to being chunked off a huge block with a hammer.

1.   If my moto driver decides NOT to go the wrong way down a one way street, I argue that he should because it’s faster.


Country bars in Japan?

Good time Charlie’s country band, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Sometimes this blog is about human trafficking or Cambodia. This post most decidedly is not.

This post is about how I spent my last night in Japan in what I consider to be, in my limited experience, Japan’s primer Country Bar: “Good Time Charlie”. Also, to make the night even more special, it was right after the Sunshine Festival where country bands from around Japan and around the world had come to play together.

Who knew that you could find a county bar in Kumamoto Japan? I am serious. Here, look and see for yourself.

I realize that the quality of the footage is not very good—it was a dark bar. But you can at least here the music. That is, in fact, Good Time Charlie singing with his band!

Since it was a very busy night at the bar, we shared our table with 5 Japanese men who worked at some communications company. The men were all very nice to us; they shared their whiskey, talked about their lives, shared their love for country music, and danced. Technically, only one guy danced, but he did make me happy. I can’t say that his dancing was true country line dancing. More, it was a mixture of country line dancing, R&B, and his one unique twist. After the cover band played (Meghan’s ), he shouted out to them (and the whole bar heard): “MY HAPPINESS”. It was very sweet. He was obviously enjoying himself. And, so was I.

Who would have known?

Japan trip

Jason, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Head over to my Flickr account for lots of pictures from the Japan trip to see Jason. There are lots of pictures from Kumamoto, Nagasaki, digging and eating bamboo and even a couple pictures of deep fried bees (and us eating them).


Sometimes when you like a cuisine and then go to the place it is from, you realize that it is not nearly as good at home as the real thing. I can’t say that the Japansese sushi was so much better (admittedly, I only went to cheap sushi place). The best part, however, was the little conveyor belt that the sushi traveled on.

Traditional Ceremony

Traditional Ceremony, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

The week before Khmer New Year, I had the honor of traveling with Samnang, my language tutor turned friend, to her family’s home in Battambong to celebrate an ancient tradition. As I understand it, in a family where the parents are elderly and frail, each year before the New Year, the children must throw a party for their parents. This party is to celebrate the parents’ life, clean of the old year and wish the well in the coming year. Generally it takes place a week before the New Year and during the celebration the parents are sat outside the house and bathed by their children (see above photo).

The celebration started on Friday and because of work, I missed the first bit. But, mostly the day included washing the parents, eating, and having various monks come to the house to bless it and the parents. The party ended around sun down, and I spent the rest of the evening playing Go Fish with one of Samnang’s nieces. Everyone else was playing a gambling card game, but as I couldn’t figure out the rules or understand enough Khmer to have it explained—I decided that Go Fish with a 9 year was more up my ally.

I was awoken the next morning at a cheerful 5:30 am and told the monks were soon to arrive. True to my family nature, I went inside, found another bed with a fan and promptly feel back to sleep. The toddlers also slept in. I did, get up at around 7. I couldn’t find Samnang, but one of her nieces (the same one from the Go Fish night) told me that I should put on a skirt and go bow to the monks. Like any sensible foreigner, I figured that this kid had more sense than I did, so I followed her instructions.

When I went out to the front of the house, donning my brand new traditional sampot (Khmer shirt), I found a room filled with 4 monks having breakfast, a man chanting on a microphone, and a large group of people chanting back and bowing. They made room for me and Samnang’s 85 year old aunt (one of the four people being honored) made room for me next to her. So, sitting with both legs to the side, I tried my best to sit straight with my hands in prayer position. When others bowed forward and put their heads to the ground, I followed suit. Sadly, I learned a couple things in this. First, I should have practiced before doing it in public. Second, if my legs are to the side and my hands are not supporting me, I have a hard time staying straight. Third, if I am in that position and bow to the ground I naturally roll to the side like a polar bear and have great difficulty sitting up again. Needless to say, 86 year old great auntie thought this was terribly funny and it did continue for over 45 minutes with very little improvement!

A little before eight, I was spared from my position as white-girl-laughing-stock and invited to have breakfast which was scrumptious. From here, I am not quite sure about the progression of events. But sometime between breakfast and 12:30pm I ate another 3 meals (not including breakfast). And watched as numerous monks came, prayed, and went. Having learned my lesson, I watched this from a far.

By one pm the celebration was over. The place was being cleaned up. Samnang and I were getting on a bus for the long 5 hours ride home.

***Special Note*** As my parents do read this blog (Hi Mom and Dad), I would like to point out that Erin (I think I can speak for my sister) and I are not planning on throwing you this type of party to commemorate your lives and well wish you into the New Year. Before you start to complain, please remember that you do live in Wisconsin and New Year does come around in January. Erin and I fear (again, I haven’t checked with her but am confident she would share the fear) that if we were to commemorate your life in such a way, we might kill you and/ or give you a really really really bad case of pneumonia. Also, it might be illegal.

More on economics

In the last post I talked about economics theory. Specifically, I pointed to the idea that if there is a demand, there will be a supply.  There is, however, more to this than simply meets the eye.

In the counter trafficking movement, much of the work being done has been to control the supply side of things.  Education outreach to villages encourages raised awareness of the risk of trafficking thus reducing the amount of people who will be duped into it. Vocational training and keeping kids in school projects work to increase the economic viability of at-risk populations making them less susceptible to traffickers. Economic development through asset-building and micro-loan programs have likewise made less people vulnerable.  Increasing the security at international borders has increased the number of individuals caught before crossing and thus saved from an unknown future.

But, in reality, a lot of what this is doing is to decrease (but not eliminate) the supply and do nothing to the demand. With a smaller supply and a constant demand, the profitability of human trafficking is actually going up.  Those traffickers who have found ways to traffic people and get them successfully to their destinations, are making more money then they were in the past.  Admittedly, this is hardly working as a deterrent

Human trafficking is tied with illegal arms trade as the second biggest illegal criminal industry in the world—and it is the fastest growing.

In order to curtail this, counter-trafficking programs and governments need to start focusing not just on the supply side, but also on two other key points:

  1. Decrease demand
  2. Increase penalties

If we decrease the demand for slave labor, beggars, prostitutes, etc., then the trafficking rings will have nowhere to sell their “goods” (aka human beings). If they have nowhere to sell the people to and profitability falls, they will go out of business. 

On the penalty side, there are not enough disincentives to either be a trafficker or to use the service of trafficked people.  For example, in many places it is illegal to be a prostitute, but not illegal to be a pimp or a john. The legal system, thus, punishes victims of trafficking (prostitutes) but does not adequately punish those who have trafficked them (unless there is a solid case of trafficking) or those who have bought their services.

Even in places where traffickers are prosecuted, often the punishment in terms of money and time in jail is not on-par with that of trafficking illegal drugs or weapons.  Therefore, with the penalties being less and the goods being re-sellable, it is an obvious and smart choice for criminal networks to get involved in human trafficking as opposed to drug or arms sales.

Giving money to beggars

Begger, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Beggars exist throughout the world; they are not a reaction to third world status, but rather to intrinsic inequalities in economics. Some places beggars are more pronounced then others. Some places they are harassed by the police. Some places they are used in money making rackets.

How can beggars be a business? You would think that they would not make enough money to be profitable. You would think the cost of upkeep (and legal troubles) would outweigh any profit. In many places, you would be wrong.

It is amazing how economics theory works: if there is a demand there will be a supply.

In February I was at a quiz night for a local international school raising money for a habitat for humanity project. At the quiz night, they had several items raffled off. One of these items was a chest made for wood forested in a rainforest. It went for a lot of money as I stood by in awe at the supply which is depleting our world’s rainforest. For me, I would never want to buy such an item because it encourages deforestation of rainforests. It was not just me thinking along these lines; the MC joked that it could only appreciate in value as the wood to make it would soon be extinct or illegal.

Basically, buy buying the object, we create demand.

Begging (in terms of human trafficking) parallels this phenomenon. The process is only profitable so long as the children (generally the victims of begging trafficking rings are children or the disabled) are given money by passers by. Personally, I never offer money to the children in Phnom Penh or those I see traveling around. There is too much certainty in my head that they will not benefit from my pocket change. I will, however, off to buy them food or give them a little of what I am eating.

Side note: giving the peanuts you are given for free with you beer to street children is a sure way to not be offered any more peanuts at most bars in Phnom Penh.

I do my part to break down the cycle of supply demand; but often I wonder what harm I am doing to these children. Traffickers often demand an amount of money to be collected daily be the children; if they are not able to hand over that amount, the trafficker will beat them, leave them out in the cold, withhold the little comfort they have, or force them to continue working through the night. There are cases where children were even beaten or maimed (sometimes permanently) to make them look more pathetic and bring in more cash.

Is my failure to give money contributing to this problem? If so, and it is, how do you stop the cycle? Until it is not profitable trafficking for begging will continue, but as profitability (read demand) drops, the treatment of the children will suffer until it is stopped.

Finally, how do you mix children that work on the street into the equation? For example, children who sell flowers or shine shoes. Like their counterparts who simply ask for money, these children too are often controlled by trafficking rings. They rarely see the fruit of their labor and are subjected to the same treatment. Even the idea of maiming children sellers continues because the more pathetic and helpless they look, the more likely tourists and locals are to buy the overpriced goods or services.

Japan vs Cambodia

Japan had this amazing sense of order to it. Everyone knew how things worked (except me). There were lines and places to buy tickets and things. The traffic flowed according to the law. Everything had its place and there was a place for everything.

In contrast, I have come home to the last of chaos. There are laws, but no one follows them. Lines barely exist. There is not set way of doing things or getting things and more often then not, you have to just move with the crowd and try not to get trampled.

Amazing how in the land of order I was lost, and here in the land of chao where nothing works right everything seems to make sense.

Nagasaki Peace Park

Nagasaki Peace Park, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

When I was working in Moldova, I would teach 3 weeks of each year for each grade (5-11) about peace and resolution conflict. This looked different depending on the age. Fifth graders learned about sharing. Ninth graders learned about date rape and rape in general. My seventh graders learned about the need for world peace and they learned to fold origami cranes. First we would have story time and then we would work on cranes. I was amazed at how some of the children, so far removed from WWII, Japan, Origami, cancer, or war could take such a liking from this lesson and Sadako’s story. But they did. I know that there are many versions, but this is the one I told.

“Some of you may already be familiar with the origami crane as a symbol of peace, and more specifically the tradition of ‘1,000 Cranes for Peace.’ For those of you who are not familiar with the origins of this tradition, it lies with the story of Sadako Sasaki. Sadako was just two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. While she suffered no immediate injury, the effects of her exposure caught up with her some ten years later and she fought a courageous battle with leukemia. After she had become sick, Sadako’s best friend told her that the crane, which is a sacred bird in Japan, grants a wish to someone who folds one thousand paper cranes. After hearing this, Sadako immediately began folding cranes for her one wish: to get well again. Her health gradually deteriorated and Sadako began to wish instead for world peace, that children could live safe from the effects of wars. Sadly, she did not finish. When Sadako died in October of 1955, she had folded a total of 644 cranes. Her classmates folded the remaining cranes in time for her funeral. This tradition has continued and the paper crane has remained a symbol of peace for children around the world.”

How many times can a heart break?

Feet from the epicenter for the Nagasaki A-Bomb explosion, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

On Monday a nation founded itself stunned at the shooting on the VT campus. Over in Japan, the news came quickly as well and by Tuesday I was hearing the snippets of news and confusing information coming out. Wednesday night, when the story seemed clearer, I read about it in the NY Times and I watched the news (in Japanese). As everyone, my first thought was of shock and horror. My second thought (or maybe first when I learned he was an immigrant) was “oh shit—the backlash”.

Yesterday I went to Nagasaki, a city that 62 years ago we dropped an atomic bomb on. I stood at the epicenter of an explosion that killed about 75,000 of the cities 240,000 residents were killed instantly. Another 75,000 were injured (some of whom died later).

I went to the Peace Park and watched as a class of children read poems about peace, about their wish for the future, about those who had died. I watched as they hung the paper cranes they had made in on of the many places for wishes. I thought about how young they were and the world they were growing in. I visited the Museum, which I think was done wonderfully. It was painful, and moving, and sickening– just like the whole experience.

The whole thing breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart that we live in a world where people get so lost and so angry that they feel killing others in a massive school shooting will help.

It breaks my heart that when the nation sees this man, this boy—they see his nationality and his immigration status first.

It breaks my heart that President Bush could stand up in front of VT and talk about the tragic and senseless loss of life without ever being able to make a connection to the tragic and senseless loss of life that he is instigating and supporting in Iraq.

It breaks my heart that since the bombing of Nagasaki, the United states has considered using nuclear weapons again (both in Vietnam and in Iraq’s first war). Although, at least in this case, I am heartened that we didn’t.

It breaks my heart to think about Agent Orange that we did dump over Vietnam and Cambodia during that war. The effects of this are still playing out today as it is carried in the genes and causes worse birth defects the further down the genetic chain. (So, the great-grand children years to come will be paying for what we did to their great-grandparents in years past). Shame on us!

Maybe this is not a paradox I would have seen if it had not been for timing. Maybe reading about the shootings in Virgina made me more vulnerable to experiencing the pain of Nagasaki. In any case, I can’t be helped but be touched at the out pouring of support for the families and students in VT, while at the same time be horrified that we do not have that same empathy and sympathy for the victims of war (both our own soldiers and that thousands of innocent civilians of other colors that our war, this American war, is creating).

« Older entries