From Cambodia to Japan

A Cambodian Student Looks at Life in Two Different Worlds

Poem: The Kitchen Garden Or The Song

Picture Of The Day: Apsaras In Japan

I took this pic in early March, 2003. These young Apsaras were invited to perform in several cities of Japan. Me and a group of Cambodian students volunteered to assist this event. Some were assigned the task of translating for these kids, whilst the rest were responsible for selling Khmer noodle and souvenir. I joined the noodle-selling group.

I also took time to watch these young dancers. First time in my life to see Apsara dancing live in front of me. I used to see them, of course, on TVs.

Beautiful indeed. I guess their perfomance must have impressed the Japanese people as much as it has impressed me.

Justice for the Weak

Finally my friend’s case was settled. He was released from police custody yesterday, after spending exactly ten days for a crime he did not commit (well, I must say he did commit crime against tradition though).

He said it was like he was born again.

But the settlement came only at the expense of his dad’s hard-earned money. 800 Dollars were paid as compensation to his girlfriend’s family, whilst judge received 150 Dollars for agreeing to close the case.

Best actor of this real life dram should be awarded to the judge, who was very quick to alter my friend’s crime- from a usual runaway teen’s case to kidnapping and rape, serious enough to put him at least 8 years in jail if convicted; and who was very quick to decide he is not guilty and closed the case after easily pocketing $150.

His girlfriend deserves the best actress award. She has demonstrated a great ability in performance. She could act as a love-crazed girl, a runaway daughter, and at the same time a heartless girlfriend, an innocent and obedient daughter, and a victim of kidnapping. After all, she’s the winner.

My unfortunate friend might or might not deserve the title as the worst performer, who expected too much from the power of love, from the dream he was sure enough it was not going to come true. Yet he told me he is not angry at his girlfriend at all, and he still loves her no matter what she’s done to him. “She just did what her parents made her do!”

But, whether he is willing to or not willing to, between him and her, it has to be over. I really pray this love to be over. For the last words from his girlfriend’s family was: “No kidding. Next time you will be shot in the head.”

Alone And Drinking Under The Moon

Amongst the flowers I am alone with my pot of wine drinking by myself; then lifting my cup I asked the moon to drink with me, its reflection and mine in the wine cup, just the three of us; then I sigh for the moon cannot drink,
and my shadow goes emptily along with me never saying a word;with no other friends here, I can but use these two for company;in the time of happiness, I too must be happy with all around me; I sit and sing and it is as if the moon
accompanies me; then if I dance, it is my shadow that dances along with me; while still not drunk, I am glad to make the moon and my shadow into friends, but then whenI have drunk too much, we all part; yet these are
friends I can always count on these who have no emotion whatsoever; I hope that one day we three will meet again, deep in the Milky Way.
By Li Po( Chinese Poet 701-762)
Translated by: Rewi Allen
For more of Li Po's poems go here: Selected Poems of Li Po

Pictures of the Day: Sushi(寿司)

The Plaintiff, the Judge and the Money

So here’s the latest development in my friend's case.

I was told he was denied bail and is still being detained in the local police station with one of his legs chained to the wall. The reason he is being chained is because the local police department does not have a proper detention room. They are afraid he might try to escape.

His case has reached the stage of mediation. That is, if he agrees to pay the money to the plaintiff-his girlfriend- he will not have to stand trial. In other words, the case will be closed.

For the meant time, the compensation for emotional distress damages sought by his girlfriend has dropped to $1000(previously $5000). Still, his dad could not afford $1000 and is bargaining for lesser indemnity. He was told that either paying the sum of money they are asking for or seeing his son going to jail. They said the longer he delays the case the more the amount of money is going to increase.

I initially advised him not to pay, not even a penny. As far as this case is concerned, I believe he is definitely innocent. First, his girlfriend is not a minor; she is already 21 year-old. By law she is entitled to go anywhere she wants with whomever she chooses to. With her consent to run away from home, neither my friend should be held responsible for luring her out of her home. Second, the fact that both exchanging phone messages setting out the date and time to runaway from home, not to mention the piles of phone messages both exchanged for over a year, makes the accusation that she was kidnapped sound somewhat ridiculous. There are several other evidences- of which I don’t have to write it down here- because I believe the two above are enough to prove his innocence

I said “initially” because I now am worried about the outcome of the trial if his case is brought to the final step - that is, the ultimate trial. The credibly of the judge is questionable, particularly when it comes to the case of the rich against the poor – a sad fact that I have come to believe over and over again. It would be too risky for him to go on to further step, even though I could assure him that he has a great chance to win the case should the judge truly committed to the impartial application of law. On the other hand, if the judge is corrupted(of course, they are in most cases)he would risk going to jail, paying indemnity, losing his job and after all having his life totally ruined.

In fact, his dad did go to consult the judge who’s going to handle this case. The judge said whether my friend is guilty or innocent, $2000 would settle the case. So wouldn't it be much better to return to the primary mediation with his girlfriend's family?

It’s obviously unfair to compensate for the crime you didn't commit. But is there any other option?

I'll write more tomorrow...

The Force of Love, the Runaway Decision and Its Consequence(1)

I called a friend in Cambodia three days ago to say hi, only to find out that he was arrested two days earlier on charge of kidnapping his girlfriend (of course, it wasn’t him who was answering the phone but another friend of mine). Shocked at the news, I curiously asked if he really committed the crime and how it happened.

His explanation as to how thing happened was inconceivable. I could hardly believe this.

I’ll try to sum up the whole story. He’s been dating his girlfriend for over a year. He is from an ordinary background whose family is neither rich nor powerful. She is from a higher class of society - wealthy as well as influential. In December last year, her parents realized she was having relationship with him. They strongly opposed their dating and tried to keep them apart. She was briefly locked up in her room. Nevertheless, they both were still able to secretly keep in touch.

When the force of love was getting stronger and deeper, both decided to runaway as it was the only option left for them. They set out a date to run away from home. And that was last week. They didn’t go anywhere far but his home, hoping that should her parents found out they would understand their deep and profound bond of love, and eventually let them live together.

But the result would not come as easily as he had expected.

Her parents found out where he lives a day later. They got him arrested on charge of kidnapping their daughter. At the police station, when asked if she loved him, the girl said she didn’t, and accused him of luring her out of her home; that he had her handcuffed, and then had her kidnapped. She demanded $5000 from him as compensation. My friend was totally devastated at how thing had turned out. For one thing, he has always expected that she would demonstrate her love of him in front of her parents under whatever circumstance; that her parents would understand; and that love will finally win. He couldn’t believe she would make up such horrible story. Moreover, he does not know how he’s going to afford $5000 to compensate her.

The saddest thing is her family is powerful enough to send him to jail should they want to do so. If he is convicted he could be locked up in prison for at least five years.

Why did she do that? It is because she was pressured to do so? Is it because she had already planned it? Or is it because she suddenly got to hate him?

He doesn’t understand.

I do not understand either. Perhaps the only reason is he believes too much in the power of love.

I’ll write more tomorrow when I got more updated information from my friend. Now I’ll have to call him again.

Oil Be Damned

Stan, the columnist for Khmer440, wrote a fascinating article on the future of oil price, how it's going to affect Cambodian economy, and also offered alternative solutions to the problem:

Actually, getting back on subject, this article is more about Cambodia and its energy future than oil. Gasoline is now about $3 per gallon here; this will likely double in the next year or two and then keep going up from there. Furthermore, those of us old enough to remember the oil crises of the 1970’s understand that the difficulty, even more than high prices, is availability. There were times when people would wait in line for hours to fill their tanks only to have the station run out before they reached the pumps.

In addition to difficulty in the transportation sector, Cambodia also gets nearly all of its electric power from diesel generators. This should be cause for alarm and a crash program to set up a biofuels economy.

The complete article is here: Oil Be Damned

Urban Cambodian Wedding

Traditional Wedding:

  • Wedding lasts three days
  • Both wedding ceremonies and the reception are held at the bride’s house
  • Traditional clothes
  • Traditional Music
  • Food: Cambodian Food
  • Religious Ceremony: Buddhist
  • Conservatives have criticized the newly mixed cultures, stating that wedding is one of the many should-be -preserved forms of cultures, and therefore should be strictly followed according to tradition only. They also say that the new cultures are poisoning the pure Cambodian customs, and are destroying our national identity.

Modern Wedding
  • Wedding lasts only one day and one night
  • Traditional wedding ceremonies are held at the bride’s house, while the reception is conducted at the restaurant
  • Some traditional ceremonies are no longer practiced, some new ceremonies are added.
  • Chinese influence: Tea ceremony, Chinese Lion dance, Wedding costumes, food...
  • Western influence: Wedding gown, Music, Wedding cake, Food and drink…
  • Religious ceremonies: Buddhist, Confucian, Christian ceremonies( if couples have converted to Christianity)...
  • Liberals argue that traditional wedding -the kind that lasts three days- is both time and resource consuming. There are too many ceremonies, some of which are complicated and dull, and thus should be abolished. After wedding, both newly-wed couples are extremely exhausted. Moreover, the newly mixed wedding culture is more fascinating, and seems to please modern couples more than the old wedding forms.

I personally agree with the liberals for I believe we should move on; what is good should be preserved, and what is no longer useful should be discarded or let go of. I do believe however that while seeking to enjoy the diversity of new cultures, we should preserve some parts of our traditions for the next generation and never completely let go of all the old forms;otherwise, we'll face the danger of losing our national identities.

Picture of the Day: The Country Road

The Earthquake

10 per cent of the world's earthquakes take place in Japan alone. It is the world's most earthquake prone country. The recent major quake was the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995, in which 6,433 people, mainly in Kobe, lost their lives. Judging from this fact, I have reasons to be afraid of such natural disaster when coming to study in Japan.

Indeed, at the very first week of my arrival , I did spend time contemplating how I would immediately take cover under the table once the building started shaking, how I would run as fast as possible to the emergerncy exit before the building collapsed, and how I would open the window and jump down directly from my third floor in case too many people flocked to the emergency door consequently blocking my exit.

But months and years passed by, there had been no such major earthquake, not even a little one in the area -where I’ve been living- that I could notice. Of course, several minor quakes did occur whilst I was sleeping, so I wouldn’t be able to notice at all.

I had almost forgotten that there are earthquakes in Japan, untill September last year.

I was visiting my friend who lived on the fifth of the 14 floor building. There were three people in the room: me and another two friends of mine.It was around 10 at night. We were watching TV and chatting over various topics when suddently the TV started shaking;books started falling from the shelf;the table , the teacups and everything on it started rocking as though they were moved by the magic power of the martial art masters that you can see in Hong Kong wuxia films, or martial arts fantasies; or as though it was the act of God expressing his outrage against some people who had committed serious sins. I then could feel the whole building was swaying violently back and forth.

I had never been in an earthquake before. The firth thought that struck me was: “Ghost! We are haunted by some evil sprits!” For a few seconds, I found myself stunned, unable to speak.

- “What are you waiting for? Let’s get the hell out of here!” one of my friends who had experienced the quake yelled out with a trembling voice.

- “What?” saidI ( still had no idea what the hell was happening).

- “ Earthquake! Don’t you know it’s earthquake!”

And we three began to panic .

“Run! Run out now?” asked another friend.

Basically, during an earthquake, if we are indoors, we are advised to stay indoors and take cover under a table, bench or desk and hold on, or go to an interior wall or hallway, and expect fire alarm and sprinkler systems to activate.

We then decided to stay in the room and wait till it stopped shaking. Sadly enough, there was only one table, and my friend had put some stuff under it. No other free space enabled us to take cover except for a tiny cupboard where we could hardly put our heads in, let alone our whole bodies. Nevertheless, one of my friends was trying to dive his head inside it, and thus leaving the rest of his body out.

-“What are you doing” I asked him in a bit amusement( still frightened,though).

-“I’m taking cover”, he said, “Head is important, I gotta protect my head.”

For that moment, the fire alarm started sending warning sound.

The building, however, wouldn’t stop oscillating, so we decided to run downstairs through the emergency exit. I didn’t even have to wear my shoes. Either shoes on or no shoes on was no longer necessary at this very moment; but life is. We made it so fast that we probably had never done before. There were already people on the ground; some with their pajamas on, looking just as pale and terffified as us.

The shaking lasted almost one minute.

As far as time is concerned, one minute isn’t that long. But one minute with the quake was long enough to scare the hell out of me, made me realize how great is the fear of death and injury human instinctively has, and how the Japanese people have to endure such frightening moment several times in their lives.