Anti-Vietnamese Protests in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Woman pretends a Cambodian flag is a gun at the Vietnamese Embassy.
Woman pretends a Cambodian flag is a gun at the Vietnamese Embassy.

Anti Vietnamese sentiment has been part of Cambodian culture for an exceedingly long time, and has only been on the rise since the hotly contested 2013 elections, in which the opposition CNRP party made animosity towards the Vietnamese, and their supposed colonial desires, a central tenet of its platform.

Spearheaded by Khmer Krom minority groups, anti-Vietnamese Cambodians announced five days of protests at the end of this September, demanding apology from a Vietnamese embassy spokesman for his remarks about the ownership of the Mekong River Delta area.

Anti Vietnam sticker on a car.
Anti Vietnam sticker on a car.

Some context, perhaps, would be useful here. Kampuchea Krom people hail from what is now Southern Vietnam, a region that once was part of the Cambodian Empire prior to the 1600s. The Vietnamese began to settle there and eventually took Prey Nokor – now Saigon – from Cambodian administration. The French partitioned the region to Vietnam in 1949, and it was deemed part of South Vietnam by the 1954 Geneva Accords – a state of affairs that the Kampuchea Krom population has never accepted. anti vietnam kid BW

Distinctly unwisely considering the current political climate, Vietnamese Embassy first counselor Tran Van Thong commented in June that Kampuchea Krom had been part of Vietnam for a “very long time” prior the French hand-over, enraging many Kampuchea Krom people, and Cambodians who believe that Vietnam continues to hold colonial designs on their territory.

Today’s protest was the second of a planned five days of protest against the Vietnamese at the Vietnamese Embassy on Norodom Boulevard in Phnom Penh. A mixed crowd of various ages, genders, and professions – monks to motodops – gathered on Norodom Boulevard and were not allowed to pass past Street 240.

Teacher salaries and anti-Vietnamese sentiment.
Teacher salaries and anti-Vietnamese sentiment.

The group convened at the park near Wat Botum, speaking for a while about the need for teachers to recieve higher salaries. They then proceeded down Sothearos Boulevard, walking all the way to Mao Tse Tung Boulevard and the turn-off to the Vietnamese Embassy. With no evident plans to threaten Hun Sen or government offices, authorities let them pass unhindered, and permitted them to block traffic as they passed.

Protesters advance down Sothearos Boulevard.
Protesters advance down Sothearos Boulevard.

A metal roadblock had been set up at the rather French colonial looking Vietnamese Embassy, blocking direct access to the front. However, only a few police were in evidence, many napping, most looking rather under-stimulated. The authorities have promised to crack down on the protest, per the Phnom Penh Post, but there was rather little evidence of this on display at the Vietnamese Embassy this afternoon.

Butts against Vietnam.
Butts against Vietnam.

As the protest wore on and hundreds of people milled around curiously, someone burned a Vietnamese flag, and others stamped on Vietnamese flags, a sign of profound disrespect in Southeast Asian culture. Someone had made enormous quantities of anti-Vietnamese stickers, and they were being slapped with abandon on trucks, motorbikes, and, quite popularly, people’s asses and ankles. The stickers reminded me of the common 969 Movement stickers one sees constantly in Yangon, stuck on taxi-cabs, food carts, and lamp posts.

Protesters draped anti-Vietnamese posters over the barricades, and some derisively threw discarded boxes of rice and water bottles over them and onto the street. The police leaned on the barricades by the sidewalk and looked on with mild interest, some taking naps on the sidewalk by the embassy interest.

Bored riot police at Wat Botum.
Bored riot police at Wat Botum.

Tellingly, a massive police presence in full riot gear had been assigned to the area near Hun Sen’s House at Independence Monument – indicating that the Cambodian authorities are considerably more concerned about challenges to the ruling party than they are about threats to the Vietnamese.

Where is all this going, and how will Vietnam respond?

anti vietnam kid colors

Why You Should Pay Attention to Political Unrest in Thailand – UN Dispatch

protests thailand

 

Thailand Has Ousted Its Prime Minister – Here’s Why You Should Care 

It’s over: Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has finally been ousted by a Thai court after a contentious and occasionally bloody political standoff that has dragged on since last summer. In office since the summer of 2011, Shinawatra rode the Thai political tiger for as long as she could — but was eventually brought down by allegations that she transferred a bureaucrat illegally for her own political ends.

Yingluck is now the latest political casualty in the ongoing battle between “red shirt” supporters of the Pheu Thai party and her exiled brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and the “yellow shirts,” who largely are composed of Bangkok residents and wealthier, urban Thais.

Already removed from power, her troubles don’t end there: she was indicted by Thailand’s anti-graft body over a rice subsidy scheme, and may be impeached by the Senate if found guilty.

Read more at UN Dispatch….

Kim Jong Il Invented the Hamburger, and Other DPRK Culinary Highlights

No, the hamburger was not invented in Hamburg. It did not first appear in New Jersey at Louis Lunch.The hamburger in fact first appeared in 2000 at the personal behest of Kim Jong Il, who really wanted top university students to be fed top-quality fast food in-between classes.

Eternally enterprising, Kim Jong Il decided in 2000 that he’d introduce “double bread with meat” to DPRK university students – and according to state media, seemed to take credit for the very invention of the internationally beloved specialty.

“I’ve made up my mind to feed quality bread and French fries to university students, professors and researchers even if we are in hardship,” Kim is reported to have said about the “double bread with meat” innovation, according to the New York Times.

The Dear Leader’s eating habits are described in somewhat nauseating detail by his former personal chef, Kenji Fujimoto, in a fantastic Atlantic article.

According to Mr Fujimoto, the Dear Leader deployed his minions at great expense worldwide to places like:

“Urumqi (in northwestern China) for fruit, mainly hamigua melons and grapes
Thailand for fruit, mostly durians, papayas, and mangoes
Malaysia for fruit, mostly durians, papayas, and mangoes
Czechoslovakia for draft beer
Denmark for pork
Iran for caviar
Uzbekistan for caviar
Japan for seafood”

The Dear Leader apparantly failed to notice – or care – about the mass famine that gripped the nation in the early 90s, but he was more than happy to deploy his squad of minions world-wide to get grapes, expensive fish, luxury fruits from as far as Western China, and sacks of McDonald’s burgers for him whenever his dark little heart so desired.

According to chef Fujimoto, whose memoir, “I was Kim Jong Il’s Personal Chef” tragically has not yet been translated into English, Kim Jong Il really did have a thing for burgers.

After the Leader’s sons came back from a stint at Swiss boarding school, they reported cheesburgers were delicious – and Fujimoto was promptly deployed to acquire some of the exotic treats from abroad. From the New York Times article:

“So I flew to Beijing, and went to McDonald’s and bought a bag of hamburgers,” the chef recounted. “Of course by the time I got back to Pyongyang, they were cold. So Kim Jong Il ate cold hamburgers.”

Kim Jong Il’s culinary exploration was not limited to food – he also maintained a massive wine and alcohol collection. Indeed, Hennessey earnings have dropped 70% as of Monday (not really) – after all, Kim Jong Il reportedly bought up to $720,000 of the stuff a year.

Considering Hennessey’s incredible popularity among the moneied set here in Cambodia, the cognac does seem to have a certain appeal to too-rich-for-their-own good despots of small, unimportant nations.

State-sanctioned entertainment at Pyongyang Restaurant, Phnom Penh.

From all accounts, Kim Jong Il enjoyed a remarkably elaborate diet for the supposedly salt-of-the-earth leader of the most ardently Communist nation left on Earth.

Although the people may be fed state propaganda about Kim Jong Il’s fondness for rustic meals of potatoes, barley, and gypsy tears, it’s widely known on the outside that Jong Il was dining on the finest sushi imported sushi while his people were reduced to eating bark, grass, and insects.

We can only hope that all that luxurious food hastened his fatal coronary.

Is saying that going to get me put on some sort of DPRK watchlist? That would actually be kind of awesome.

The North Korean flag is at half-mast at the DPRK Embassy located a mere 10-minute walk away from my home in Phnom Penh. The Pyongyang Restaurant here remains shuttered for a “period of mourning.”

As a hobby restaurant reviewer, I’m always interested in the culinary habits of the rich, famous, and profoundly evil – and Kim Jong Il is a fascinating subject indeed.

Also: 10 Management Secrets of Kim Jong Il – INC

This gem of an article focuses on the marvelous management abilities of the recently-departed Dear Leader. It does all make a perverse sort of sense. Especially the stuff about charisma, quality control, and “embracing new technologies.”

Does this mean Kim Jong Il was like the alternate-universe evil Steve Jobs of shitty third world dictatorships?

Incredibly Overwrought North Korean Mourning, Rumination on the Future

No one can mourn like a North Korean. At the very least, no one can PRETEND to mourn like a North Korean.

In a country where not writhing on the ground overcome with emotional pain over the loss of a political icon may land you in a freezing work-camp, the ability to weep on command is a survival tactic.

Than again, all that overwrought weeping may not be faux for many present in the thousands laying flowers at the just-about-religious shrines to the younger and elder North Korean despots.

This is a nation where party messages are broadcast into your house via loudspeaker, party portraits must be kept spit-and-polish clean lest you be reported to authorities with the power to ruin both your own life and the life of everyone you love, and where every good thing that happened in the past hundred years can be directly ascribed to the North Korean leadership.

It’s likely at least some of these people really do feel as if the entire world they knew and trusted has come to a grinding, horrible halt.

Barbara Demick’s account of North Korea’s mass-grief over the passing of Kim-il Sung is excellent – and the overwrought, often forced hysterical grief she describes seems to be being repeated with the death of his Bond Villain like son. (Except not one of the cool Bond villains).

Now, the world waits with bated breath to see what happens next. Will sucessor Kim Jong Un take an even more extremist path and take on the world in an attempt to prove he’s a worthy successor?

Of course – the non-entity Kim Jong Un, merely 27 and apparantly even less charismatic than his father (who did have some dark, nerdy semblance of style) will probably be controlled behind the scenes by some savvy handlers until he either attains some margin of independent spirit.

Either that, or we can await a military coup – which may be either good or bad for the rest of the world, depending on who comes to power in that particular shuffle – or (less likely) some sort of profound liberalization of the DPRK.

South Korea watches from behind the DMZ, perhaps thinking “Oh, Christ, are the hillbillies going to finally want back in?” Reunification will be both economically and culturally brutal for both nations—but then again, the starving, belagured people of North Korea deserve better. They’ve been suffering long enough.

I should add that if allegations that the 1990’s famine killed 2 million in North Korea are true – and I’m inclined to believe, though North Korea isn’t talking even if they DO know – well, that’s a human tragedy on par with the deaths that occurred under the Khmer Rouge.

Maybe the DPRK is a *little* less execution happy – but slow deaths by starvation and overwork in prison camps? Is that really much better than being shot in the head? It’s a dark question, but one the leadership of North Korea would, in a better world, have to answer.

An Old Farmer And the Khmer Rouge: A Civil Party at the Tribunal

Police cadets attending the ECCC Tuesday.

Another day, another live-tweeting session at the Khmer Rouge tribunals. The press room is violently air-conditioned and I am the only journalist willing to eat the “weird” Vietnamese sandwiches. Oh, yes, right, the court proceedings….

Nuon Chea has continued to beg off the dock, claiming health issues, which means that today featured one civil party and one witness. I took off after lunch – Clair Duffy was awesome enough to cover the afternoon Twitter shift.

The civil party who spoke in the morning session, a supposedly illiterate, old, and senile Ratanakiri farmer called Romam Yun delivered a startlingly eloquent account of the Khmer Rouge years, frequently using agriculture analogies to describe his experiences.

The  70-year-old Mr Yun, a member of a minority group, had moved from village to commune chief in the Khmer Rouge Northeastern zone, through some combination of coercion and initial belief in the ideology of Cambodia’s people’s revolution.

“I will not say my work with the Khmer Rouge was right or wrong, but the political line was not proper, not right,” Yun began, launching into a description of how everyone in his village was gathered to work, including the elderly and the very young.

“We were treated like pigs they could sell at any moment,” he said. “They [the Khmer Rouge] were like our parents – they were supposed to treat us well. Instead they treated us badly, they imprisoned us.”

Mr Yun recalled being summoned to a meeting and told that his “village was to be swept clean.”

Confused—his village had no grass—he asked what exactly was meant by “swept clean.”

“Sweeping cleans means getting rid of those who are not good, and leaving only the good,” he was told.

We all know what “sweeping clean” came to mean to the Khmer Rouge.

Romam Yun Wednesday describing the "Pol Pot" years

“If the village and commune were clean, there were no enemies. On the other hand, if they were not clean, there were enemies in there,” he said.

Employed as a messenger, Mr Yun said he occasionally would deliver messages to a mysterious figure in the jungle, known only as “One.” Presumably this was Saloth Sar, alias Pol Pot.

Mr Yun impressed upon the court how much was at stake when it came to “good” work under the supposed people’s revolution. “When we could not do our work properly, we were accused of being enemies,” he said.

“If we could do it, we would be spared. Otherwise, we would be killed, because we were accused of being against the revolution,” Yun said. “The village was very quiet. It was understood that if they said anything wrong, they would be accused of being against the revolution.”

What happened to the villagers who couldn’t do their jobs?

“Sometimes they were taken out into the forest. They might have been killed in the forest, because they [the Khmer Rouge leaders] were mad we could not meet the plan… They would execute people if they did anything wrong, or went against the Angkha, and then they would be subject to execution.”

Yun also described the breakdown of the village social structure: “We did not know who was who..it was confusing. People did not know their own parents and siblings. A son would beat his father.”

According to Yun, forced marriages did not seem to be common in his village, but formal marriages as we think of them became a thing of the past. “People didn’t get married,” he said. “When people loved one another, they just lived together as partners without marriage, during Pol Pot time.”

Interestingly, Yun’s Ratanakiri village, populated by minority groups with their own religious beliefs, did not seem to suffer the same violent repression Theravada Buddhism did: “No one asked us to do anything with religious affairs..communities managed our own affairs when it came to religions.”

(The fidgeting feet of saffron clad monks could be seen behind him as he said this. Monks are a fixture at the Tribunal).

Over and over in his account, this old farmer likened the Khmer Rouge years to a bad crop, a bad tree, a bad planting season.

“When I first joined the revolution, we cultivated crops, and the plants were grown very well, and yields grew some. But it was fruitless. By analogy, the policy of that [the Khmer Rouge] was very good but it did not yield any good thing for people…by analogy, the tree trunk is very good, but it bears no fruit.”

“In the present day, we have good seeds. The seeds are growing well for the next generation. But at that time, educated people were killed. So we did not have anything.”

Another Tuesday at the War Tribunal, Nate Thayer on Landmines Being Kind of OK

Monks at the War Tribunal. Despite murdering thousands of them, Khmer Rouge defendents cite how much they like monks as much as humanly possible in the courtroom.

Live-tweeting the Khmer Rouge War Tribunal for the past few days and will probably continue until Thursday. Saying it’s been “fun” veers into the realm of the vastly inappropriate, but it has been informative.

I can easily summarize Nuon Chea’s opinion on his involvement in the genocide years thusly: It Was All Those Vietnamese Douchebags Fault.

This is all extra ironic because the Vietnamese party secretary is in Phnom Penh for something or another, and Vietnamese flags have been carefully erected in seemingly every possible spot in the city. And here Nuon Chea sits in the dock at the ECCC, spitting out anti-Vietnamese sentiment in an effort to appeal to popular opinion.

Everyone knows Cambodia is profoundly mistrustful of both Vietnam and Thailand of course, but Nuon Chea’s timing was….unfortunate. Than again, I doubt that he reads the news.

Nuon Chea, however, is willing to give the Vietnamese a pass when it comes to occupying Cambodian territory in one instance. See, Ieng Sary and Pol Pot hid in Vietnam after the government began seeking out known leftists.

But according to Nuon Chea, they weren’t hiding in Vietnam at all – they were hiding on Cambodian soil that had been occupied by the Vietnamese due to “American carpet bombing.” Handy excuse.

I suppose it’s all the American’s fault, after all.

Khieu Samphan, I imagine, heartily agrees.

As does Jacques Verges, who defended Carlos the Jackal and Klaus Barbie, among other luminaries. (I suspect Verges agrees with whoever is giving him a paycheck – and is probably a bit bummed that Samphan doesn’t seem to have a hot revolutionary girlfriend for him to steal).

Why Landmines Should Not Be Banned – Nate Thayer

Nate Thayer writes out a rather interesting argument for keeping landmines in the international war chest. Not sure if I agree, but points vis a vis “regulating legal stuff is easier” and “landmines are excellent deterrents” do make sense.

Hey Newt Gingrich, Come Visit Cambodia to See How Awesome Child Labor Can Be

Newt "Fight Child Unemployment" Gingrich

Newt’s War on Poor Children – NY Times

Newt Gingrich, American Republican candidate and professional blowhard, has recently decided that poor children’s primary problem isn’t economic inequality and a lack of access to quality education: it’s laziness.

After calling out US child labor laws as “truly stupid” and suggesting that schools employ poor kids as janitors, the Newt continued the line of thought at an Iowa campaign stop.

“Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works so they have no habit of showing up on Monday,” Gingrich claimed.

“They have no habit of staying all day, they have no habit of I do this and you give me cash unless it is illegal,” he added.

Yep, that’s right: According to Newt Gingrich, poor kids are lazy bums. Unless they are selling drugs, in which case they apparantly turn into tireless hunters for that highly immoral buck.

Here’s an idea: I propose to Newt Gingrich that he visit Cambodia to get a glimpse at how awesome child labor can be. I’ll take him on a personal “child labor” tour of Cambodia, and I won’t even make him pay me.

Cambodia’s progressive and well-thought out child labor “laws” and lack of compulsory education mean that thousands upon thousands of poor Cambodian children work long hours, day after day.

Poor rural Cambodian kids work the rice paddies, tend the family cattle, make bricks, preserve fish, make salt, and perform hundreds of other menial and often dangerous jobs – which take precedence over school for families just barely scraping by.

(It should be noted that these kids often must work simply to survive—and a blanket prohibition of child labor could mean serious, serious problems for entire families).

Children in urban and heavily touristed areas work day and night selling trinkets, souvenirs, and flowers to Cambodian and Western customers, while others pick for trash by the riverside, along the streets, and at the trash-dump.

Tragically, some of these children sell their bodies—but I would like to imagine that kind of child labor isn’t the sort Mr Gingrich would condone.

What about school?

Well, Cambodia’s public schools (such as they are) are underfunded and underattended, and in Newt’s perfect world, I suspect American public schools in poor neighborhoods wouldn’t be getting too much assistance either.

Free school lunches, art classes, and music lessons? That’s just spoiling the little punks rotten.

Far better for those poor children from urban neighborhoods or poor rural enclaves to be selling non-illegal products on the street, picking the street for cans – hey, America has a litterbug problem too! – and using their tiny, nimble little hands to sew shirts in garment factories.

After all, poor immigrant American kids in the 19th and early 20th century spent their days in poorly ventilated industrial factories, operating dangerous machinery for little to no pay. Surely kids in 2011 can do the same if we repeal a few pesky laws – or just ignore them entirely, as Cambodia does.

I think Newt has got me convinced.

Child labor is exactly what is making Cambodia great – and it’s what can make the USA great again.

After all, Cambodian children may be poor, but they certainly aren’t lazy. Overworked, deprived of an education, and trapped in a cycle of poverty? Well, yes.

But they’re not lazy, and to Newt, that’s apparently the most important part of the equation. I hope Newt takes me up on this visit to Cambodia idea.

I’m certain it will give him lots of great ideas for using child labor to solve urban poverty in the USA!