For my last night out on the town, a group of friends and I decided to try out the pre-opening party of a new café bistro, Simply Blue, in Phnom Penh.  The place actually has potential, good location, nice atmosphere—the opening however was over crowded with people, many of whom would not be coming back once there was no free food or drinks.  Also, the place was overcrowded with children—many of the children were there with parents; since it was like a bar opening I can’t say I was trilled with this.  However, it was the kids who made it there on my own that got me, hoards of 8-14 year old boys who wandered in searching for alcohol.

A group of the kids came up to where my friend Steph and I were sitting. She was smoking a cigarette and they asked for one.  She said no and told them that they were still just babies and that it was a bad habit—for the record it is a bad habit.  The boys started to talk to us. One boy, who looked about 8 but said he was 11, was holding a beer he had picked up. I asked to see it and then refused to give it back.  I told him he was too small to be drinking and offered to get a soda or juice. He pouted but did not put up much of a fight. 

My friend Christina found it very funny that I would just take alcohol away from a child. I would say underage child, but there appears to be no rule about drinking here. She called me the beer buster and in general gave me a hard time about it.  Later on, as we were leaving, the boy grabbed his beer back off the table where I had put it.  This time it was Christina that took the beer and dumped it on the ground.  Having lost their beers, but found foreigners who spoke Khmer to them, the boys came to talk to us.  Here is the gist of the conversation we had:

Boy 1- Why did you take my friend’s beer? 

Clare- How old are you?

Boy 1- 14. 

Clare- How old are you really?

Boy 1- 13.  Why did you take my friend’s beer? 

Clare- Because its bad for him.  You are probably growing a lot right now.

Boy 1- Yep. 

Boy 2- Me too. I am 10. He is 11 (points at boy 3).

Clare- Well, if you want to grow up tall and handsome you should try not to drink beer.  It makes you not grow (technically it stunts your growth, but I can’t say that in Khmer). 

Boy 2- I wanna be tall.

Boy 1- Tall and get all the girls. 

Clare- Really?  What kind of guys do girls like?

Boy 1- Hot girls. 

Clare- What kind of guys do hot girls like?

Boy 1- Tall guys. 


Boy 1- You are hot.  So is she (points at Megan). 

Clare- What kind of guys do you think we like?

Boy 1 and 2- Tall guys. Handsome guys. 

Clare- See? So now you get it.

Boy 3- How old are you? 

Clare- How old do you think I am?

Boy 1- 34. 

Boy 2- 16.

Clare- Yep, somewhere in there.


Photo Wednesday: Cambodian Traditional Dance

Sovanna Phum, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Picture taken at Sovanna Phum in Phnom Penh Cambodia.

4th of 10: Favorite foods I eat in Cambodia (not all necessarily Cambodian)

As I start my 101 entry, I thought I should do something fun. Inspired by Polly, I have decided to make 10 lists of 10, here is list 4.

  1. Amok- quintessential Cambodian food that I love. Made of white fish (usually catfish) in a red curry, coconut milk, and egg. Steamed in a banana boat or 1/2 a coconut.
  2. Rambutan- the funniest looking fruit I have ever seen, but also among the tastiest.
  3. Strawberry stuffed French Toast with a Ladybug freezer (watermelon juice with mint and lime) from Java cafe.
  4. Anything from Le Rit’s because it is always yummy (they have a 5 dollar set menu lunch that changes daily but comes with a starter, main meal and dessert (you get a choice from 2 of each).  Also, they are a good organization and cause to support.
  5. Indian food at my colleague’s house.
  6. Fresh juice from Two Fish
  7. Avocado and shrimp salad or Baked goat cheese salad from Elsewhere. Also, best drinks in town (fresh juice with vodka, rum, or gin)
  8. Desserts from Blue Pumpkin in Siem Riep.
  9. Large prawns, pretty much anywhere, but best at Two Dolphins in Sihanokville.
  10. Palm sugar juice (bought for 25 cents on any street corner).

The car: A play in two acts


M- a young Canadian who works for a UN agency

G- her mechanic, a local bloke


Somewhere in Phnom Penh outside M’s apartment and inside her car, a 1990s Toyota.

Act 1:

M runs through the rain and into her car. She turns the key. Nothing happens. She turns the key again. Again nothing. 

M makes a phone call.

M: My car won’t start. I must have left the lights on. Can you come now? I really need to get to work.

G- (voice from offstage) Be right over.

Time passes and M fixes her hair. She stares out the window at the light rain. G arrives.

G- Can you pop the hood.  Let’s see whats going on.

Pop sound as hood opens.

G- Yep, I see the problem.

M gets out of car and takes a look.


Once the hood is open it is clear that M’s battery has been stolen.


Act II:

A couple weeks later. M runs out of her apt to her car. It is night and she is going to meet friends. She gets in the car and turns the key. Nothing. She tries again. Nothing. M gets out of the car and pops the hood. 

M- SH*T (as she opens the hood to revel that the battery has again been stollen)


*** Note this play is based on a true story***

Why men suck– a response

A while back I read a piece called “Why men suck (and the women who have to)” in The F Word, Contemporary UK Feminism. The article was written by a woman who had come to Cambodia to teach English and has slowly realized that sex tourists and foreigners supporting the sex industry were not just gross old men, but “in reality, almost all of my male work colleagues were part of ‘the scene’. These men could have been any one of my male friends from England: they were young, intelligent, and, how can I say it? Well, normal. Scary as it sounds, it is a statement that has stuck with me because of the truth I see in it. I have very few male friends here. Let me rephrase. I have two: one of them is 9 and thinks girls have cooties, the other is the only decent guy I have met here (and yes, I am making a blatant judgment about how I feel about western, self proclaimed liberal men, who use the sex trade here). That said, maybe I am being unfair. There must be other men who come here and do not partake; I just don’t know where they are.

On a related note, I find it disturbing how many of the people who work in counter-trafficking and women’s empowerment programs (local and international), visit brothels and take home taxi girls. How do they not see a discrepancy between their work and their own behavior? How do you stop a system, break it down, when you also fund it?

Back to the main thread. There is one other piece/ analogy from the article that has stuck with me:

I soon learnt that the virgin/whore dichotomy is quite literal in Cambodia, with girls staying ‘pure’ until they are married and boys paying for sex from a relatively young age (16 is a rough guess). The fact that men pay for sex is totally accepted and, surprise surprise, it’s not the men who suffer for their actions but the prostitutes, or taxi girls, as they are known. As one friend put it, “sex is like going to the toilet, it’s not pleasant but it’s necessary”: The taxi girls (who come from very poor families and whose pay often contributes to the communal family income) have the unenviable status of a social toilet.

It’s the last part of this—the necessity of sex that strikes me. It’s something that I have heard repeated by male, liberal, western men as an excuse. As if it somehow justifies using another person. And the girls, they ones who take on all the blame, who are humiliated, tortured, tormented, hurt, subjected to disease—in so many ways are the proverbial toilet seat. It makes me sick to think about. It makes me sad.

What are your thoughts?

Some facts about prostitution in Cambodia (citations here):

  • Researchers found 87% of young men were having sex with their girlfriends or prostitutes; 10% were having sex with other males
  • There are 10,000 to 20,000 women and children in prostitution in Phnom Penh, a city of 1 million. Massage parlors and karaoke bars are frequently fronts for prostitution rings.
  • 35% of prostitutes in Cambodia are under the age of 18.
  • Many young prostituted boys live on the streets and at night wait for the male buyers who will pay $2 to $5 for sex.
  • Children as young as four have been sold into the sex industry in Cambodia.
  • Minors, some as young as seven, constitute more than 25% of the prostitutes in Cambodia’s sex industry,
  • The local industry for sexually exploited children is exploding for two reasons: Many Khmer — and other Asian men — believe sex with a virgin will renew their vigor and youth, and the fear of contracting HIV is fuelling a demand for younger and younger virgins.
  • A study of more than 6,000 prostituted girls found that one-third of prostitutes in Phnom Penh and Battanbang were between the age of 12 and 17.
  • 40-50% the prostitutes in Cambodian are HIV positive.
  • 60% of the young prostitutes interviewed in Cambodia were infected with everything from sores and warts to gonorrhea.


Angkor Wat Photos

Bayon, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Photos of the trip are up (click on the photo above). Stories to come. Please enjoy!

Tangled Web: Photo Wednesday

Power lines, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Sorry, as I am traveling, this is getting posted a bit late. It was taken in Phnom Penh, Cambodia Spring 2007.

Sometimes frustration is okay– sometimes it’s not

Sometimes I need to take a moment and breathe.  I need to take a second to have faith that everything will work out in the end. I have to reflect for a minute that the world is not actually against me—despite all evidence to the contrary.  

Yesterday was one of those days.  A friend of mine (Hi Jen!) said that I should think of it as having a Cambodia day.  And, admittedly, it was and yet it wasn’t.  It was a Cambodia day in that all my frustrations were pitted because of cultural imbalances and misunderstandings.  Language barriers certainly didn’t help either.  And if I were in another country I could blame it on them. Or if I were home, I could have blamed it on the company—well, really, if I were at home I could have asked to talked to the manager and demanded to have my situation fixed immediately.  Maybe this is really where the problem lies—I am used to being able to have things fixed NOW or at least be compensated if they aren’t.

This might make more sense if I tell you the story. 

I do not have a plane ticket home yet. I do, however, have tons of reservations.  I have settled on one leaving on the 11th with Eva Air.  I talked to the travel agent and clarified that it would be fine if I paid on Monday and got the ticket issued then. Monday morning I called to request the ticket and give directions to my office.  Travel Agent (TA) called back and said the price has gone up 45 USD.  Annoying.  I agree.  One hour later she calls back and says they cannot issue the ticket because I only have 1 hour and 45 minutes in LA airport and that I need 2 hours. This leads to the obvious question: well, why did you give me this booking then.

Hours pass. Multiple phone calls are made to Eva Air, TA, and a different travel agency (TA2). Nothing is resolved. 

I keep my cool. I tell them that I am “very dissatisfied”. Nothing happens.  I am told to give them time.  They never call back. Not once. My cool is lessened as I worry that I will be stranded here forever. I briefly consider a ticket that has me flying Phnom Penh, Taipei, LA, DC, St. Louis—until I find out that it will be 300 USD more expensive.

The day ends with no resolution.  I am flustered at best. 

Jen invites me over for dinner.  I stop by to pick up Indian on the way.  She orders from a deli as well. My moto tries to over charge me.  I needed good karma.  I still need good plane karma (if you have any, send it my way please!). I give him 2500 riel for what should have been a 2000 trip maximum.  He complains; wants a dollar (4000 riel). I can’t even argue I am so annoyed.  I walk away.

The deli delivers the food but forgets the drinks.  Jen lives up 4 flights of steps; the delivery man agrees to bring the drinks up the steps and Jen shows him with flight to use.  The deli, in its infinite wisdom, sends a different delivery person who never manages to find the steps.  I call several times. I shout down the stairwell in Khmer.  

Its just going to be one of those days.  Nothing goes right. Little makes sense. Much would have been simpler if it had just been done right the first time. I am left here. Lost in the chaos, wanting to scream, but knowing that culturally it would be completely inappropriate to do so.

Here is for hoping that tomorrow I get plane tickets…

Girl meets world

Interestingly enough, I came on to write about the anonymity or lack there of as an internet blogger. As I usually do before any post I am composing in my head is put to screen, I read everyone else’s blogs (well the ones i read daily at least) to get me in the right mind frame. Liza’s post could not have been more on target.

It was bound to happen– I mean, my readership does seem to be increasing. Yup, mum and dad are no longer my core audience (although I do believe they continue to hold front row season tickets). I have been welcoming people to my blogs from many fronts, including: Mombian, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, blogher, Mongkol (a Cambodian Fulbright in Boston) and Liza’s loyal readership. Not to mention all the people I have harassed into reading. But it happened yesterday.

What happened you asked? And why am I blogging about it? And why so much build up? Well, to answer your questions, in no particular order. I am blogging because it was a first for me. I have build up because, let’s face it, it makes for a better blog. And, “it” is– I was recognized in the real world for my presence in the blog world. John recognized me! Not only that, but he could tell me about myself (or at least the info in the blurb on the left side of the page). Anyways, not sure how I will feel long term about this lack of anonymousness– but for now, I just thought it was neat!

When I grow up, I wanna be a spy

Sometimes I can be very impulsive– I am stirred easily by things I see or read. It is not uncommon for me to see a movie on doctors and want to be one or read a book about space travel and consider NASA. Coupled with a self esteem and belief that I can do anything, thanks mom and dad, it is amazing that I have not actually chased after all these dreams at once.

In light of this, and the fact that I have watched the first two seasons of Alias in the past month, its is not surprising that I found myself drawn to the organization APLE.  APLE, which stands for Action Pour Les Enfants, is a human rights organization that combats sexual exploitation of children.  While they have many programs, such as pro-bono legal aid and social rehabilitation, it was an article on their field investigators that caught my attention.

Like Sydney Bristow, these social workers are out to catch the “bad guys” (read western pedophiles) by following them and covertly collecting evidence.  “Part sleuth, part spy, these social workers are the street presence in the battle against child sexual abuse.” They work, often in the nights between 5pm and midnight, in many of the hangouts where western men lure and buy children. APLE’s network also includes many others who help collect evidence including locals, expats, and even children themselves.

Though they collect evidence and have secret identities and hidden cameras, they never directly confront the perpetrators.  There main goal is to collect enough evidence to bring it to the police. Some perpetrators are trailed for only two hours before enough evidence is collected– others take months.  Regardless, the information gathered is priceless. According to a police chief of the juvenile protection unit most cases presented by APLE are taken.

The Alias watching part of my mind sees the glamor in all this; even the satisfaction in knowing that pedophiles are being taken off the street.  The other part of my mind though wonders if I could do it.  How do you look at depravity every night and then go home to your children (I don’t have children yet– but let’s imagine) and kiss them, put them in bed, and believe that the world is a good place for them?  How do you compartmentalize your emotions enough to interact with the men and not let the repugnance shine through? In the end, I simply find myself in awe of the work they do– and although I am saddened that it must be done, I am glad someone is doing it.

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