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.



America Not Founded On Christianity

The following post as 1) nothing to do with human trafficking, 2) nothing to do with being a social worker, 3) no ethical issues, and 4) is not about cooking or my life in Cambodia; however, it is interesting and filled with things I didn’t know.

Also, the following post is not written by me. It is blatantly copied from Tricia at Four Plus Four Equals Ten who copied it from Tammy over at Hollywood Farm Girl and she got it from a letter to the editor of Journal & Courier, Lafayette, Indiana. Anyway, with no further adu, I give you a post that is not mine:

In a recent Journal & Courier article, an attendee of a local gathering in observance of the National Day of Prayer alleged, “Our nation was founded on biblical principles.”

To the extent that our Founding Fathers had any religious affiliation at all, it was a tepid embracing of the philosophy of deism, a popular system of thought at the time. Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, among many others, held deist, rather than Christian, religious beliefs.

The two documents upon which our country was actually founded — i.e., the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States — contain not a word about Christianity, Christian principles, the Bible or Jesus Christ. Neither is there any mention of the Ten Commandments, heaven, prayer or being saved.

In 1797, the Treaty of Tripoli, negotiated by none other than George Washington, declared that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Congress unanimously approved the text of this treaty, and John Adams signed it.

Mandatory church affiliation, among other factors, led to the establishment of the term a “wall of separation between church and state,” allowing, at each citizen’s discretion, freedom of religion or freedom from religion.

The phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and our national motto became “In God We Trust” in 1956 in response to USSRs’ so-called “godless Communists.” It is historically incorrect to claim that America was founded upon Christianity.

Indeed, it was quite the opposite.

Randall S. Smith

Rossville, Indiana

National Plowing Ceremony

Plowing Ceremony, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Have you ever sat and watched paint dry? Or grass grow? Needless to say, it is a long boring, slow moving process.

I am not making the analogy that the plowing ceremony I attended yesterday was like watching paint dry. Admittedly, more happened, but the reference is still there. Also, the reference might be more appealing to me, except I did watch the plowing ceremony not from within the heat drenched crowd of 3,000 peasants, royalty and military; but rather while eating a home cooked breakfast in a beautiful apartment with a breeze and a view overlooking the ceremony. The analogy I am sure would not be appropriate if I understood more of what was going on or what the speakers were saying.

I digress. Plowing ceremony was yesterday! And it’s a holiday for plowing day on Monday—this is a big holiday—people have off from work. So, like groundhogs day in the states where people wait to see if the groundhog sees its shadow and gets spooked to predict the length of winter, the plowing ceremony in Cambodia is when a different animal, cows, predict the year’s harvest.

The ceremony started at 6am—I arrived just before 8am. It consisted of a lot of people bowing to the king, and 8 cows plowing around the circle where spectators were sitting. The cows moved in a parade with people and plows around the circle three times. It was not a fast parade; here is 15 seconds of it:

The parade actually didn’t start until after almost three hours of speeches and bowing to the king. Due to my lack of Khmer and our distance from the speakers—I have no idea what was said.

After the procession two cows were led to bowls of vegetables and grains. What they chose to eat signified a good harvest. Apparently, one cow ate some corn thus symbolizing and average yield, while the rice went untouched! You can see how in a country of farmers whose staple food is rice this could be upsetting.

The ceremony was closed with the words: “May all almighty things guarding Cambodia pour down like the rain and save her from all natural disaster.

Needless to say, my understanding of the ceremony may be lacking (Cambodians reading this are free to post more information in the comment section). However, I would like to share one common piece of misinformation spread throughout the community of foreigners (or maybe its correct information—really, I don’t know). But, I have heard (several unreliable sources) that it is not just the food the cows eat that is important (in some cases this was not the point at all) but rather where they chose to “take a dump” and how much. [side note: is there any polite way to say that in such a public forum?]. Having said this, I also was too far away to report of whether or not this happened.

I’m squishing up a baby bumble bee, won’t my mommy be so proud of me…

Deep fried bees, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Yes folks, I ate deep fried bees while in Japan. I think this is a good first step on my way to eating tarantulas while in Cambodia. I have to say, they were not bad. Mostly, they were just fried and salty and a little squishier than I had expected. Also, it was worth it just to watch Jason gag one down.

 Jason eating a bee

 Clare eating a bee

More about Cambodian Spider eating traditions: (also, visit frizz restaurant where all this information comes from for a wonderful culinary class and their website for all kinds of information and more about spiders as food and wine):

First unearthed by starving Cambodians in the dark days of the Khmer Rouge “killing fields” rule, Skuon’s spiders have transformed from the vital sustenance of desperate refugees into a choice national delicacy.

Black, hairy, and packing vicious, venom-soaked fangs, the burrowing arachnids common to the jungle around this bustling market town do not appear at first sight to be the caviar of Cambodia.


But for many residents of Skuon, the “a-ping” – as the breed of palm-sized tarantula is known in Khmer – are a source of fame and fortune in an otherwise impoverished farming region.

“On a good day, I can sell between 100 and 200 spiders,” said Tum Neang, a 28-year-old spider-seller who supports her entire family by hawking the creepy-crawlies, deep fried in garlic and salt, to the people who flock to Skuon for a juicy morsel.

At around 300 riel (eight US cents) a spider, the eight-legged snack industry provides a tidy income in a country where around one third of people live below a poverty line of $1 per day.

The dish’s genesis is also a poignant reminder of Cambodia’s bloody past, particularly under the Khmer Rouge, whose brutal four years in power from 1975-1979 left an estimated 1.7 million people dead, many through torture and execution.

For the millions forced at gunpoint into the fields, grubs and insects such as spiders, crickets, wasps and “konteh long” – the giant water beetles found in lakes near the Vietnamese border – were what kept them alive.

“When people fled into the jungle to get away from Pol Pot’s troops, they found these spiders and had to eat them because they were so hungry,” said Sim Yong, a 40-year-old mother of five.

“Then they discovered they were so delicious,” she said.

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?

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.

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.

Happy Khmer New Year

Happy Khmer New Year, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

This weekend is Khmer New Year. I hope that you all back home, or where ever you are, have a great one. As the city pretty much grinds to a halt during the New Year, I am taking off and going to Japan. So, my Khmer New Year, although not very Khmer does promise to be interesting!

And, in case you were hoping to learn to say Happy New Year in Khmer— its right there in the picture. Completely clear, right?

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