There has been quite a bit of discussion around whether it is appropriate to speculate about whether Donald Trump has a mental illness. The rhetoric and armchair diagnosis of Trump is already happening and it’s important to look at the arguments for why people are doing that and perhaps more importantly whether people should. I […]
The crowd in front of the Institute for Foreign Languages is enormous by 9 o’clock, comprised of thousands of mostly young women, though there are young men and older folks as well. Here and there is a monk or two. They stretch for almost a kilometer in each direction down Russian Boulevard, with the crowd still growing, spilling onto side streets, Cambodian flags scattered amongst them. They are garment factory workers protesting the abysmal wages they are expected to survive and support families on. They have demanded $160, and it looks like they’re not going home ‘til they get it. They turned down the government’s recent offer to raise minimum wage from $75 to $95; $95 is still not a living wage, but it did seem like a mild insult.
In the epicenter of the noisy scene is a group of tuk tuks with the strikers’ ringleaders on top, a handful of men and a couple of women. They have megaphones, enormous loudspeakers, and they shout their demands from the tuk tuk roofs. For the first three hours, it is mostly the same two men, looking to be in their 30s, leading the cheers and shouted slogans. Then some drums and music sound, and there is dancing. After the dancing, a young woman appears on top of the tuk tuks, holding a microphone. She gets the crowd riled, her fist raised in the air. Participants and bystanders alike record the scene with their smartphones. RFA and Phnom Penh Post journalists retreat into the coffee shop across from IFL, which is virtually empty…besides me.
I talked to a group of young women just outside the coffee shop, who told me they are from Prey Veng, Kampong Speu, Kandal. The youngest was 16 and the eldest 30, but most were 18 or 19. I wanted to ask them loads of questions, like who were they staying with while they were in the city, so far from home? How could they afford to strike for so long and travel so far to petition their government? How long have they worked in the factories, what were the factories like, what did their families think of their working in them? But they are far from home, indeed, and they look on me with suspicion and perhaps amusement, or puzzlement. Perhaps it is because I’m a short-haired white ‘girl’—a ktheuy (a “queer”) for all intents and purposes, and why do I want to talk to them? City folk are more or less comfortable with me, and I have no trouble around the people in the places I frequent, but people from remote villages are another story. I baffle them, and maybe scare or disgust some of them (sentiments I have heard my Khmer friends and acquaintances express about their ktheuy counterparts). Mostly they are too polite to say anything, but they have few qualms, it seems, about giving me the cold shoulder. A few minutes milling around a huge crowd is not much time to gain someone’s trust.
I am impressed by the strikers’ tenacity; strikes have been happening on and off for months now in various parts of the country, but this round of strikes began last Tuesday. Strikes have often lead to protests, which occasionally have turned violent (which is nothing new). In Phnom Penh they have marched to four kilometers to Hun Sen’s building, carrying signs and wearing smiles. Cambodia is not a union-friendly nation, but it would seem that Cambodians see value in them, and in workers’ rights. Enough to fight for them, though their opponents are formidable. The atmosphere of unrest is tangible; these protests are concurrent with the opposition CNRP’s protests against the 2013 national election results. Various other protests over land grabbing, workers’ rights, environmental and other issues occur on what is becoming a regular basis across Cambodia. One wonders how long things can go on like this before something gives…
Here’s hoping for $160 in 2014!
Things appear to have calmed down quite a bit from Sunday night, when army trucks and military police were out and about, roads were shut down (Monivong, Norodom, parts of Sihanoukville, and some in Steung Meanchey), and people returning from the provinces were trying to decide if and whether or not they should come back to Phnom Penh.
There was a riot in Steung Meanchey supposedly set off by a man of Vietnamese decent hitting a Khmer monk outside a polling station. Whether or not that was the actual catalyst, people flipped their lids and angry voters tried detaining the polling station election official and burned two police cars because their names were not on the registry. After watching several videos of this event posted by people on facebook, it appears that several of the rioters were young men, possibly even teenagers (i.e. not legally old enough vote).
Many people still have not returned to Phnom Penh, but on the whole things seem mostly “back to normal”. Some shops and homes are still shuttered, which is unusual; for most Phnom Penhers, though, today seems like business-as-usual. I have been hearing an unusual amount of sirens, but haven’t seen anymore army vehicles or soldiers in my part of town (Toul Kork). Yesterday, a cruise through Kampuchea Krom revealed a typical amount of traffic, with many businesses still shut but the local market hopping as normal. Nevertheless, a sense of anxiety pervades, with people simultaneously saying, “there’s nothing to worry about” and “wait and see”. Who can blame them when there are reports coming from provincial residents that they have seen military units moving from the provinces (e.g. Kampong Cham, Preah Vihear, Pailin, etc.) towards Phnom Penh. An atmosphere of an uncertainty has thickened since Sunday as everybody “waits to see” what will happen.
If it seems like I can’t make up my mind if things are actually back to normal, well…I have my doubts. Yesterday Sam Rainsy and the CNRP declared that they were rejecting the election results, which saw huge CNRP gains but not an actual, overall win. The election is contested for a number of reasons, including the casting of ballots by Vietnamese migrants who are not Cambodian citizens (and some of whom are in fact illegal immigrants); the “indelible” voter ink being easily washed off, resulting in the same person being able to cast multiple votes (also because of duplicate names on the voter registry); names being left off the voter lists; et cetera.
Nevertheless, even if the CPP refuses to budge on the results, the CNRP has really thrown a wrench into the works. CPP plans to continue their dynastic rule through their children won’t be possible in every province now. In Kampong Speu, for instance, Hun Sen’s youngest son Many was all set to have a seat in the assembly, but the CPP won only 3 seats there and Many was fourth on the list. Oops!
The National Election Committee has supposedly declared that the official results won’t be released for another two weeks, thus people seem to be getting back to work and school, and life is getting on as normal. Perhaps by mid-August, the anger will have died down and violence can be avoided. It seems highly unlikely that the official results will differ at all from the preliminary outcome.
On facebook there has been a proliferation of pictures and status updates pleading for the UN and/or the US to “help” Cambodia, declaring that the CPP has not allowed fair elections to take place. Many of these updates are coming from young people, who made up a large section of CNRP supporters.
Will CNRP’s wish for an investigation into the election be granted? Will the US do more than just tut-tut the CPP’s corrupt control of the RGC? Will people say enough is enough and take to the streets? Until the official results come out in August, there is likely nothing to do but wait. Jam mul sun. “Wait and see.”
The national elections are bearing down on us. The closer we get, the more frequent and raucous the political campaigning becomes. Where the commune elections saw hardly any crowds of campaigners or promotional flags, with only a propaganda video here or there, the election for the leader of Cambodia has seemingly galvanized most everybody. You can’t turn around without seeing a Funcinpec poster or a CPP TV spot or a CNRP radio advert. Even the little-known LDP has its supporters out in force.
Friends, co-workers, and random people that I ask about the frenzy tell me that I didn’t see this during the commune elections because “they are unimportant”. Nobody cares about those positions, they explain to me; what really matters is who leads the country. “Who leads the country, leads all,” one young man told me. Perhaps so, but it seems like an awful small, not to mention imbalanced, basket to put all of one’s eggs in.
It seems a hopelessly rigged fight; the CPP is infamous for bribing, threatening, changing voter lists, and altering ballots to get their desired ends. Yet CNRP supporters seem more numerous by the day. Even supposed CPP “supporters” are often paid to join rallies, which explains their lack of enthusiasm when compared to CNRP rallies, to a degree.
Nevertheless, people seem to be pinning their hopes with ever-increasing fervor on the
Cambodian National Rescue Party and it’s just-arrived leader, Sam Rainsy. Rainsy got in yesterday morning (video here). My classes were half-empty, but the streets were full of excited people on motorbikes, in the backs of trucks, and in tuk tuks, shouting “lak prambi! Lak prambi!” Number seven! Number seven! Seven is CNRP’s number on the ballot. (You might be thinking, how is it that the main opposition party is so far down on the list? Good question, I don’t know how they structure the ballot; the CPP is number 4, if you’re curious.)
Rainsy has been back less than two days, and someone’s already shot at CNRP headquarters— though he wasn’t even there and no one was injured, fortunately. People are suggesting it was an intimidation tactic by CPP supporters.
Others have a different theory. The whole thing, claims one young Phnom Penher, is a sham. Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen are actually friends. Without an opposition party, the country would be much less stable; with no hope for the people, Hun Sen would have much more of a threat to his power on his hands.
It’s possible that Hun Sen will win outright. Plenty of people who hate the man still vote for him, because they fear him. They believe him when he says that if CPP loses, “Khmer Rouge shall return”. The specter of Khmer Rouge is never far and never forgotten. While most of Hun Sen’s ties from the murderous Democratic Kampuchea have magically disappeared, at least from the public eye, the threat of Khmer Krahom’s imminent return is fresh in the minds of any Cambodian adult over the age of 25. People will vote for him out of fear.
I am getting out of dodge for the weekend of the election (which takes place on Sunday the 28th), just to be on the safe side. While it would be interesting to see how Phnom Penh expresses its disappointment or elation, I think it probably would be safer to watch it on TV…just in case.
Olympic archery is cool!
The commentators…not so much. One of them (a Brit whose name I haven’t been able to lay my hands on) kept referring to Kaori Kawanaka of Japan as “the Japanese girl”, while her Russian competitor was simply “the Russian”; yet all of the male archers were referred to by their, er, names (such as Marco Galiazzo, Michele Frangilli and Mauro Nespoli of the Italian team, whom he called by their last names).
I thought commentators received training about that sort of thing? Not that it’s needed; most people probably don’t notice it as it’s so taken for granted.
From ESPN, a great article on the hypercompetitiveness of kids’ sports. Since ESPN is kinda an authority on these things, I appreciate their position: kids should be having a least as much fun as they are focused on winning.
Also, people really really do not know what rape is. Really. Men who rape, women who rape, the people who are raped, and a large number of bystanders– people are very confused about how to define rape. (That’s why I’m glad I have such a simple, straightforward definition, though admittedly rape is much more than a physical phenomenon.)
Pussy Rioters get jailed in Russia for blaspheming
god Putin and being feminist (which really are the same thing, in fact).
A fun post on English language idioms.
Michiganians compete in the London 2012 Games!
An interesting blogger with a knack for limericks.
The Guardian has this cool chart which shows LGBT equality/lack thereof in the States.
And queers are going Alice Paul on MI politics in metro-Detroit.
(I know nobody cares except CELTA trainees and applied linguistics nerds, but this phonemic chart “keyboard” is so neat! And it’s saving my life, since MS Word is annoying and doesn’t have all the necessary symbols for writing in phonemic script, unless you know all the magic key combinations.)