Three Major Mental Effects of this Pandemic and How to Counter Them!

By now, it should be a solid year Cambodia has declared the attack by the current pandemic. The first outbreak was detected in Siem Reap last year. For some reason, we survived a few outbreaks. Still, the new wave, dating February 20th, proves stronger than ever, taking a few Cambodian lives already. As a result, I had the time to reflect on the mental effects COVID-19 might have caused us, even non-patients. Brace yourself as the next paragraphs may transcend your realities!

1- Procrastination is Real

We have come to tolerate the tardiness of our work. When we reached a stable phase and looked back, we go, “Why shouldn’t this have been done earlier?” Oddly enough, we forgot we were the one to allow it to happen that late! Despite this unwanted procrastination, I’d say we need to update each other of our commitments, no matter how late they may be. Better still is to keep ourselves busy with online education, as mentioned in this previous post!

2- Moral Injury Affects us all

As elaborated in this article, moral jury would have rather affected war veterans, who could have other saved their fellows. In this modern time, due to fast infection, we couldn’t even stay by our loved ones in the last minute. Worse is our inability to bury the deceased, discomforting some religions. I believe if any measure is taken by our medical authorities, this rather means well to us, the living. This compliance will not only keep us alive, but also other lives safe – physically and morally.

3- The New Normal is More Virtual than Physical

This part feels unfamiliar to some, when one has been so used to face-to-face interactions. Although a previous post of mine addressed online interactions, until now, I realize these have not benefited my works that much. How many of you have gone on Zoom, disabling your video feature and acting as if you care about your colleague(s)?! I understand that muting yourself in such conversations may keep them from hearing unnecessary noise. Still, for an “empathic” compromise, I’d suggest the callers show their faces – if not videos – in the beginning and end of such e-meetings.

To sum up, we are still facing some uncertainty of this pandemic and its long-lasting trauma. As we are spiritual beings, virtuality does not seem that bad, especially when we still care about our causes: family and work 🙂 After all, let us bear in mind to not use COVID-19 as an excuse to stop moving forward in life.

PS: Sorry I have no bonus video for this post. But you may feel energized again after reading this article. It covers mindfulness at workplace shared with me by Narin from MastermindClub 🙂

Cambodia Beyond Immi-Crination

I didn’t expect my post on Facebook about the Vietnamese’s issue last Thursday, to receive such various feedback. Some friends, who I rarely interacted with, also jumped into the thread of conversations. So I guess it was a very sensitive topic when it comes to the presence of Vietnamese people in Cambodia. Instead of replying to each comment, I’d like to write out here a separate Note addressing most concerns raised by my (Cambodian) friends. So what you’re going to read might affect you intellectually, emotionally and even spiritually. Before you start, I need your cooperation in doing some simple bodily movements with me. If you don’t do these, I’m afraid you don’t need to read this post further. Ready? Go!

Now I’d like you to hold your fist as tight as possible and close it as if you grabbed a special rare firefly. OK? Then, read on.

Tight Fist
Tight Fist

In Cambodian History, we learn that Vietnam migrated from China and overtook parts of Champa and then, Cambodia. While Cambodia still have some land left like now, Vietnam is reported to control Laos administratively. So we fear that Cambodia will become another country colonized by our neighbor country like Vietnam.
Currently, more and more Vietnamese people flow into Cambodia legally and illegally. The number of this population is said to be unknown or underestimated, increasing more concern about the repeated History of them claiming the land (or water) they’ve settled down in as their territory. Most of illegal Vietnamese immigrants work as fishers, scrap sellers, cafe owners and some even end up as tycoons in our Kingdom.
Legal Vietnamese immigrants have been introduced to Cambodia as workers or professionals. Over time, they also want to settle down here. It is said that they’re planning to monopolize some businesses like telecom or trading, given our relatively weak economy. Some would even worry that they will take over our jobs, especially when we integrate more into ASEAN community.

I may be wrong or even limited about this knowledge of Vietnamese settlement. Call them “Yuon” as you wish; they’re still the same people, despite historical evolution. Likewise, we’d prefer to be called “Khmer” (by blood) while our nationality is Cambodian. So here’s the most interesting part: What makes us “Cambodian”? Is our nation free from fear yet?

Now let’s come with me to visit some Vietnamese originals. Before reading this part, I’d like you to open your fist as much as possible like you release that firefly.

Open Fist
Open Fist

The first case is the family of a father and daughter, whom my family and I have befriended for years. The father worked as a bike repairer. He admitted to go back to Vietnam from time to time, but still ends up living in Cambodia most of the time. His daughter tried to find a job as a waitress. Both of them speak both Vietnamese and Khmer fluently. Every time we had ceremonies, they would voluntarily come to our assistance without being asked to. Every time my bike was broken down, I’d rather have the father fix it for me. In the past several years, I haven’t seen them, although, a little before that, we might cross each other at times.
The second story was experienced by my wife. A Vietnamese boy came to live in Cambodia with his mother in Siem Reap. She tried to enroll him to a Cambodian school, without success. So she gave up and my wife, as a strong advocate for formal education, thought she would regret it if the boy missed the chance to be educated at the school she administered. So it took her a couple of years until the local authorities considered integrating him with other Cambodian pupils. Reason? He was not born in Cambodia, thus without no paper proving his (Cambodian) nationality.
The third (true) story was made into a short documentary by a colleague of mine. The title is “Scale Boy”. As the title says, the film is about a Vietnamese-born boy who is left behind by his family to live with a Cambodian family. They didn’t care about him as the boy was not even their relative or Cambodian enough to befriend. All he could do for his living is to weigh people at public parks, at night. At day time, he goes to (Cambodian) school with little financial support and learns to play Khmer traditional music instruments in White Building.
The forth story is also true and was made into a feature film called “Freedom Writers”. This drama mainly raises how (illegal) refugees and their next generations live in the US. What stricked me most is how the instructor of those kids (with refugee parents) teaches them about genocide, emanating from racial discrimination, dating back to Hitler’s period. All she can do is to get them to see the consequences of the Holocaust in museums and visit genocide (Jewish) victims. In the end, virtually all of them change their perspective about other ethnic groups they used to fight with or label as a threat.

At this point, ask yourself this question: How do you feel between tightening your fist and reading the History and opening your fist and read these stories? Don’t get me wrong. I’m NOT saying to let immigrants, Vietnamese or not, come into Cambodia freely. As Buddha said, “Walk the middle way”. I think what works best for us at the moment is to enforce our immigration law, in legal terms, and spread love to them as humans, in human terms. They have been brainwashed to destroy us? Then, have we been brainwashed to wipe them out? I may sound too optimistic about opening up Cambodia. But, like it or not, the world is going to evolve into one. One without physical or emotional boundaries. Only then will we prosper together.

I guess the resentment and thread of such lively conversations on immigration are very politically motivated. I’m not sure if the opposition leaders have lately tried to soften their position about the Vietnamese living here. I got informed of their answer about the same “issue” on the same night like this, shared by a caring friend:

LIVE!! RFA: How can CNRP solve the issue of the Vietnamese immigrants?
Kem Sokha: We will put the immigration law into practice.
Sam Rainsy: I appeal for all Cambodians NOT to use violence. We have to respect human rights regardless of whatever nationalities. We will implement the immigration law.

I’m not sure how the ruling party is going to keep the same promise and you don’t have to think like me. After all, the fist represents our heart. Whether or not you choose to open it, it’s going to be your problem, not mine. I hope, this Sunday, you’ll vote for the party that represents best your HEART!

Peace, Prosperity, Unity for a better Cambodia!


PS: Please keep your comments “clean” and “ethical”. I reserve rights to unfriend or even block those who abuse this simple rule. Being positive also means getting away from negative people!

Preah Vihear – Transnational Divide Vs Family Reunion

It is our family’s yearly habit to reach a new destination in the Kingdom. Despite rumors of armed fights, Preah Vihear was planned for our past Khmer New Year holidays. Although I missed Phanit for this cultural exploration, I enjoyed the company with the rest of my family. Of course, we experienced what were told about our civilians and soldiers there live.
Construction of the temple was begun under the rule of the Khmer King Yasovarman I (889-910AD) and completed during the rule of one of his successors, King Suryavarman II (1113-1145). Which means the temple follows many Khmer styles. Still, it is dedicated to Shiva, a Hindu God, predominantly respected in that period. It is situated in what we call in Khmer “Poy Tady”, suitable for a classic Pryamid or mountain-like structure to represent Meru sacred mountain. Unlike other Khmer ancient complexes, Preah Vihear is laid from North to South.

Plan of Preah Vihear Temple

After the collapse of Khmer Empire, the Siamese invaded the country and occupied some parts of it, including Preah Vihear province. When Cambodia became under protectorate, the French attempted to set territorial boundaries with Thailand. In 1962, the temple was returned to Cambodia by International Court of Justice’s verdict. During the civil war, it was occupied by Lon Nol soldiers, then, Khmer Rouge troops. Only in 1998 did the troops surrender to the government. Eventually, the temple could be accessed safely from the Thai side while the road in Cambodia up to the cliff was completed in 2003.

It took us 8 hours to get from Phnom Penh to Preah Vihear. I guess the travel time could be shorter if our wait for an extra passenger was not that long. To make it worth a while, we converted our wait into a lunch break at the fork road in Kampong Thom, one direction to Siem Reap and the other to Preah Vihear. The closer we got to the provincial town, the more beautiful landscapes I found along the road. It was almost comparable to that in Mondulkiri. Unlike Siem Reap, Preah Vihear province boasts mainly our temple on the cliff. So you could expect 30 miles between Dang Rek mountain range and the motel we stayed in Sra’em district.

Road to Preah Vihear

Indin comedy “Egga”

As it was getting dark, we decided to visit the temple in the following morning. To kill time, we stayed in the room I shared with Panha, Rasy and Silen’s boyfriend and watched an Indian drama comedy. We enjoyed only half of it, with additional explanation by Panha who had watched it a few times already! So our “intermission” was dinner at a nearby restaurant. I’d say nightlife in the district was not so busy, even during celebrations like Khmer New Year. After eating, we ventured further into the central landmark, which is a market near a roundabout. As we had enough of the “walk for fun”, as said in Khmer, we headed back to our motel to enjoy our movie on. How entertaining and unique “Egga” is! Do you believe that a fly can revenge a human? That’s another story to blog about if I have time!

Breakfast before our climb

After breakfast at the market, we continued the trip directly to the temple, which took us about half an hour. Authorities at the checkpoint at the foot of the mountain don’t allow any other vehicle than 4×4 to transport people up there. Otherwise, two tourists can choose to take a moto-taxi together. I did this with Panha while the rest of us took a pickup.At some points, the hill is so slope that it makes sense that average vehicles are not allowed. I couldn’t believe that, just by crossing a nearby valley, we would step on Thai territories.  We stopped around Wat Sekhakirisvara and went on foot for the rest of our visit. I didn’t know that my sisters prepared some provisions to give away to soldiers standing by over there. So once we met one, we handed him a bottle of water ora pack of noodles. A soldier even asked me for rice alcohol instead!

The couple of cousins

Young adventurers

Access by the side

Earlier Lunch-Ugh!

After a hundred meters of walk, we got to the side accessible from Cambodia. Which means the visit is supposed to start somewhere down to Thailand, as I know, with a few steps and easier access. Anyway, due to the conflict, we opted for our land. We took some snapshots before passing by an “orchestra” of soldiers who played music and sang songs to testify their living. Some would sympathized with money chip-in for them. Then, we went in further with remaining food. As we didn’t want to carry that burden anymore, we decided to have an earlier lunch near the gate to the body of the temple. I didn’t join them until after the tour as eating heavy food at 9:45 am didn’t sound “healthy” to me! As Rain was naughty, his mother “asked” a local teenager to take care of him. His care, whether or not genuine, surpassed my sisters’ expectations so much that they gave him great tips and asked him to call to say hi to them after we left him. We were also escorted and guided by a photographer who would work as a cleaner on regular days. Funny enough was that a little shrine is called “Prasat Kuok Troung” (Chest Knocking Temple). Does such a shrine exist in every Khmer temple?! Of course, we took more photos as we stepped in further, crossing the main shrine, where most would stop and pray. The end of the temple is the edge of what we call “Poy Tady”. “Tady” is said to be the name of an elderly general who, deceived by Siamese armies, committed suicide from that cliff. His soul came back with mighty underworld battalions that chased Siamese soldiers out of the Kingdom. Ever since, he has become the main protective spirit of the whole area. How dominant it felt to overlook the provincial landscape from atop!

3/4 Family Picture!

Once finished, we took the same pickup. “We” includes Panha and me as our moto-taxi had some arrangements with the driver! Down the cliff,those in the back of the vehicle kept giving away more provisions and even monies. I was about to do the same, but saw no more soldiers at that point! So I was wondering where all those so-called donations have gone. We also learned from our driver that, after Khmer Rouge integration, H.E. Chea Sophara, then-popular-Phnom Penh Governor, came up with the idea to have the road restored, that links the capital with this remote province. His construction successors were Bayon TV Foundation and Engineer Army.

In political and commercial respects, Preah Vihear temple has remained a hot subject between the two Kingdoms. Despite this, some tourists, like us, would find their way to the top! The good news is, the temple boy who took care of Rain, called us about how lucky we were. The day after our climb, gunshots erupted from the Thai side, yet causing no serious harm. Maybe Tady has protected us?! I’m not sure how long this controversy lasts. But one thing is for sure: what used to belong to us is now scattered across the region. Can we claim it all back? Is it worth the while?

Next generation’s legacy