Thursday, November 22, 2007

Business as usual

It’s all gone a bit quiet this week in the run up to the water festival – known locally as Bon Om Tuk - which officially starts on Friday. I plan to be at the riverfront in the early evening to see the fireworks and the illuminated large floats and then return on Saturday to watch some of the actual dragon boat races, where crews of up to seventy people from villages all over Cambodia take part in hotly-contested races along the Tonle Sap River, in front of the Royal Palace. If I’ve enjoyed it, I’ll return on Sunday. I’ve never been in Cambodia during the water festival celebrations, so I’m looking forward to the experience. Everyone has warned me about the crowds that flock into Phnom Penh and particularly along the waterfront, and to be wary of pickpockets, etc, so I will. The authorities here are expecting upwards of four million people to be in the capital for the festival and will close off parts of the city near to the river to motorized traffic. Bring it on.
The world’s media has focused on Cambodia again this week, with the first public hearing in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, albeit to hear a plea by the defence counsel for Comrade Duch, that he should be released on bail, having already spent more than eight years in custody. Duch was the commandant of the Khmer Rouge prison and execution centre called Tuol Sleng, or S-21 and quote of the week goes to his sister who said, ‘My brother was a gentle man.” For goodness sake the man has more blood on his hands than most. With five of the surviving top echelon of the Khmer Rouge hierarchy now in custody and awaiting trial, that in itself is a considerable achievement, nearly thirty years after they were ousted from their reign of terror by the invading Vietnamese in 1979.
On a lighter note, I was handed another wedding invitation this week, my third in as many weeks, but this one is a bit special. It’s an all-Hanuman affair with our top tour guide in Phnom Penh, Eak due to marry one of our finance team, Nearyrath on Monday 3 December. They make a lovely couple and it’ll be another chance for the youngsters in the office to let their hair down and enjoy themselves. They don’t need to be asked twice.
I spoke to a friend of mine in Siem Reap last night, who is working for the brand new Angkor National Museum and was told that for their opening month promotion, the cost of entry is $8 for foreigners and a dollar for Khmers, though the prices will go up in early December to the set price of $12 and $3 respectively. They told me that very few Khmers have been through the doors as yet and the $3 price-tag will act as a barrier to most Khmers I know from going. At the National Museum in Phnom Penh, and of course at places like the Angkor complex of temples, Khmers are allowed in free of charge and with $3 representing more than the normal daily income of most Cambodians, you can see why they will stay away in their droves.
Finally, I stayed awake til 5am this morning to watch the England international footy match on Star Sports. I really, really wish I hadn't bothered. They perpetually fail to deliver and their 3-2 home defeat by Croatia means they are out of the European Championships at the group stage. What a shambles.

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