Cambodia: Dinner with Perspective

February 6th, 2007

Tonight I talked with husband and wife at a hot pot dinner place.

They both worked for the office of tourism but because it is a man’s culture the wife, with her master’s degree from Holland, only worked part time there because she’d been passed by for promotion so many times it wasn’t worth it. She is still called in to consult when her superiors, who haven’t even bachelor’s degrees, need to use her ideas for their benefit.

She teaches part time now, as does he. He also freelance guides/fixes for journalists and the like.

He sees a huge disparity in economics in the country, with the elite getting richer and the poor staying poor. He believes tourism could save it but the government doesn’t know how to promote for this; he says they only send people to Angkor Wat and they don’t care to do more because it is a corrupt government.

As if to support his statement I noticed behind me a long table of men raise their drinks in a toast. One was a police officer in full uniform, his sidearm with reach of my hand. I asked about this and the man replied that someone had the policeman here because the restaurant needs the police; they are paid, they are bribed, they are treated special because when something happens and you have to call the police, you’d better have them on your side.

There is no national airline and many large hotels, he says, are foreign-owned and don’t employ enough Cambodian staff to help the local economy. He wants to see tourists stay longer and spend more money at Cambodian businesses; now they stay on average only two days and just give money to hotels and transport drivers, not the general economy. Just this last year, he said, they finally reached 1million visitors, compared to 10 million/yr for Thailand and 3 million in Vietnam (I have not fact-checked this).

He believes the government is still a puppet of Vietnam, he hates the communists and equates them to Sadam Hussein and wishes George Bush (who he loves because he is a ‘strong’ man) would do the same in Cambodia.

He feels the Americans don’t like Bush because they haven’t experienced the fear of living under the communists–a time where you could be killed for saying something different.

He was 15 when the Khmer Rouge seized power; he was a soldier previously and was imprisoned for 3 months and then sent out to the countryside to work 16 hour days farming.

Apparently life under the Vietnamese wasn’t any different except there was less farming.

He is 47 and has spent 20 years with nightmares from his experience under the Khmer Rouge. He says much of the population his age and older have similar PTSD but because of Asian culture and because of how they’ve learned to survive, the Khmer people keep it inside.

Haidy Dupuy, a media relations person for the NGO World Vision–which has a 1000 staff in country–said the Cambodians are hard to read because their true emotions are covered in a smile. They smile in happiness, in fear, and in embarrassment. A native Cambodian co-worker said to her that to smile is all the Cambodian people have left.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Posted in travel Comments Off on Cambodia: Dinner with Perspective

Comments are closed.


US mobile: 1.206.409.3069
skype: timmatsui
e: tim(at)

PO Box 17941
Seattle, WA 98127 USA