Archive for December, 2012

Cambodia’s Underground War

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

Cambodia is a country scarred by years of conflict and some of the deepest scars lie just inches beneath the surface. The legacy of landmines in Cambodia is one of the worst anywhere in the world, with an estimated four to six million dotted about the countryside. Not only a weapon of war, landmines are weapons against peace, as they recognize no ceasefire. Although military skirmishes ended more than two decades ago, war is still claiming new victims: civilians who have stepped on a mine or been injured by unexploded ordnance (UXO), also known as explosive remnants of war (ERW).

In 1969, President Nixon launched Operation Menu which authorized the secret bombing of suspected Vietcong communist base camps in Cambodia. Continuing til 1973, huge areas of the country were carpet bombed, killing many thousands of civilians and turning hundreds of thousands into refugees. During this bombing campaign, more bombs were dropped on Cambodia than were used by all sides during WWII. Today many of these bombs dangerously litter the countryside as UXO. Landmines were also deposited in Cambodia by both sides during this Cold War period. Mines were laid along borders and supply routes to prevent towns and villages from being overrun.

Map showing ERW contamination

Map showing ERW contamination

As a result of a protracted sequence of internal and external conflicts, Cambodia today has one of the world’s worst ERW problems and the highest number of amputees per capita of any country. Military explosives have rendered 64,035 casualties since 1979.


For more information regarding ERW, check out this January 2012 article from National Geographic.

AIDS in Cambodia

Friday, December 28th, 2012

As you walk down Phnom Penh’s city streets, you’ll come across many homeless, crippled, and starving people and families. It’s difficult to walk by all of these people on a daily basis who are mostly begging for money, and do nothing. Although there are homeless people all over the world, it’s a rare occasion for a pedestrian to stop and ask them about their life, how they ended up there, and just their opinions on life.
On our seventh day in Phnom Penh, our tour group and I were walking down (enter streetname here) that runs along the National Museum when we noticed a homeless woman sitting cross-legged on her worn down mat. We stopped to ask her a few questions about her life and who she is with Chen, our native Cambodian tour guide in Phnom Penh, as our translator. Through Chen, we discovered her name is Lanchna and she is infected with AIDS. At the young age of 23, Lanchna has no family, no home, and no treatment. There is an option for some medical treatment at orphanages, but Lanchna expressed her dislike for going to them. Lanchna contracted the disease one year ago as a victim of rape on the streets of Phnom Penh.
After this appalling explanation, it made me question the what the amount of Cambodians suffering from this horrible diseasewas, as well as how many reported rapes occur in the country. After researching, I found that as of 2009, 0.5% of Cambodia’s population is suffering from HIV/AIDS. (insert link). Although this may seem like a small percentage, especially compared to other parts of the world, it is still extremely important to recognize these numbers, as Cambodia is the 69th most infected country in the world. Treatment for HIV/AIDS is expensive and hard to come by, expecially in poorer countries like Cambodia.
Ever since the Khmer Rouge “Reign of Terror” in the 1970s, Cambodia was left with very few doctors, as most intellectuals were killed, since the state was turning agrarian. (insert link here). The lack of doctors, as well as many Cambodian’s preference for traditional medicine, makes it difficult to treat illness like HIV/AIDS. After interviewing Lanchna, I asked Chen if many Cambodians are even aware of the disease. He replied that some know of its existence, but not much more than that. This also makes it difficult for victims of HIV/AIDS to seek treatment if they don’t even know they have been infected.
Besides the issue of AIDS that Lanchna made me think about, I was shocked to hear exactly how she contracted the disease. According to ‘The Mirror’, a weekly Khmer news publication, the number of reported rapes in Cambodia increased 322 cases from 2009 to 2010. This was a reported 16.77% increase since 2008. With the numbers of rapes increasing, its safe to say the number of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS is increasing as well.
Since there are a few number of doctors practicing in Cambodia due to the Reign of Terror along with poverty and a resistance of modern medicine, it is difficult for those suffering from HIV/AIDS to seek treatment and receive adequate care. Even in the United State, if individuals have the resources needed for treatment, it is still hard to come by. When faced with problems of poverty and lack of education, it is even harder. For Cambodians, those who are suffering find it hard to find the proper resources to help them through such difficult times.

Blog Creation

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

This is my first blog post ever!
I figured this would be the easiest/best way to communicate my experiences abroad next semester. So here it is, my blog! My departure date is the the 10th, so starting then, my posts will be much more interesting.

Em in Asia! 2012-12-27 03:16:56

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

This blog has an expiration date. It’s sad to think about, because blogging has become a major part of my life. It’s my way of reflecting, it’s catharsis, it’s a way to stay in touch with people… but I want to keep this blog pure. I want it to be a record of my time in Korea, and of my time with my students. That time is quickly reaching its end. I may or may not continue blogging, and if I do I’ll post my updated information, but as of right now nothing is sure other than this:

I need to get at least one viewer from Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, or I’ll be really sad.

One of the more fascinating things I’ve been able to do with this blog is track my viewer statistics. As I’m not actively trying to increase my readership, I don’t do much with this information other than look at it. The following graphic is a screenshot of my google analytics page. It’s a map of the United States, and it shows how many visitors have come to my blog from July 2010 to December 2012. Surprisingly enough, I’ve had a visitor from every single state, except for Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Now, I’m sure that for some of these states I’ve only had one visitor, and that visitor probably came to my page by accident and stayed for one or two seconds, but still, that’s a visitor.


If a state is green, that means that it has had a visitor. How saturated it is, shows how many visitors to my blog have come from that state. As you can see, most of my readers are from Virginia and Massachusetts (hi family!), but almost every state is at least slightly green. Every state, that is, except for the concrete-gray Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Blog readers, help me. Spread the word. Unfurl the banners. We have until July, 2013 to make this happen.

Cambodian Rubbish

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

It’s a common site in Cambodia to see side walks with plastic bags, discarded bottles, straws, and other items strewn all about.  When people are done with their food containers or wrappers they throw them on the ground.  There are trash cans, but they are few and far between.  It is most commonly disposed of by burning.  Whether in the countryside or city there are small piles of smoking plastic.  Burning plastic outside of an incinerator is dangerous for peoples’ health and the environment.



One of the major issues is the cost.  There is no government-run trash removal in Cambodia. The independent companies charge large sums that the average person and/or business cannot afford.  Foreigners are charged more than locals.

Growing up I was always told not to litter or to properly dispose of my trash (recycling vs. trash), so coming to Cambodia and seeing the amount of trash everywhere really surprised.  I can understand having a financial strain that keeps one from affording the environmentally sound choice. For a people and a country that depend so heavily on the land beneath their feet, they have a poor understanding of how to help themselves by helping their environment.  I can’t help but think that it is either a lack of knowledge or a lack or concern (they are more concerned with surviving the daily grind) about their environment.

There are some organizations that are attempting to reverse the commonly accepted attitude regarding waste disposal.  HUSK is an organization that has initiated a “Rice for Rubbish” program.  For every sack of rubbish that families turn in, they can receive two kilos of rice.

Hopefully, programs like this and improved education about the environment can change the way Cambodians view and treat their environment.



Winter Break Hiatus

Monday, December 24th, 2012

My winter break started on Friday, and will end on March first. Though originally it looked like it would be a fairly laid back vacation, it seems I’ll be pretty busy after all.

Now until January 1st: Staying with my friend Dianna in Cheonan/traveling with Dianna
January 2nd – 3rd: Visiting my homestay family
January 3rd – 4th: Visiting Sam
January 4th – 7th: Going back to and resting in CP
January 7th: Graduate school application due
January 7th – 11th: Teaching a winter camp at CPHS
January 11th – 20th: Studying Korean independently
January 20th: Korean language proficiency test
January 21st – 30th: Traveling to Japan with Sam and Dan
January 31st: Korean level test at Ganada institute
February 1st – February 28th: Korean language classes at Ganada in Seoul

Historically, I haven’t been very good at updating my blog during winter break (no classes, so there’s just less to blog about), so I honestly can’t say if you’ll hear from me on here until March. Since this is the last winter I’ll be in Korea, at least for a few years, I’m trying to make it The Winter of Korean and study Korean as intensely as possible, which means reducing my exposure to English. I’ll try my hardest to update once in awhile. Happy holidays!

Wordle: eminasiawordle2

Traditional Cambodian Medicine

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

In a two-hour long Khmer culture class our travel group recently attended, we were introduced to some traditional forms of Cambodian medicine.  These treatments included Tiger Balm, the practice of Coining, and the practice of Cupping.  Tiger Balm seems to be the Asian equivalent to America’s Vick’s Vapo-Rub, and comes in a liquid or balm variety.  When a small (very small!) amount is placed on the temples and forehead,the essential oils become fragrant and this can relieve a variety of ailments, including headaches, nausea, etc.  Tiger Balm can also be used to sooth stomach troubles and muscle aches, among other things.

Liquid “Tiger Balm” often sold in markets.

Tiger Balm can be found everywhere in Cambodia– pharmacies, grocery stores, and outdoor markets, to name a few.  The question begs to be asked, then– why is it that traditional, “ancient” medicinal cures are still so prevalent in today’s Cambodia?

The first reason could simply be that the traditional medicine actually works for some people.  For example, today our tourguide/friend Chen, a native Cambodian, told us that while he has developed a cold this weekend, he already feels much better after he got “coined” last night– that is, a metal coin was roughly scraped over his upper chest and back area to increase circulation and aid in healing.  Additionally, I have used some Tiger Balm for headaches since I’ve been here, and can say while it doesn’t completely cure the headache, the scent and sensation is often overpowering enough that you are too distracted to notice your previous ailment!

The other reason traditional medicines are used in modern-day Cambodia, however, lies in their current economic status.  According to the CIA World Factbook, as of 2009, Cambodia’s GDP on Health expenditures is only 5.8%– Cambodia comes in 112th place when compared to other country’s GDPs.

So, this means that if a family member is sick, it is the family’s own responsibility to help this member– they cannot rely on healthcare, or the state for support.  This fact, coupled with the fact that the average Cambodian’s per capita GDP is $2,200 annually, makes for insufficient funds for “modern”, or more aptly called, “western” medicine.  Even if Cambodians had funds for western, or for that matter non-traditional medicine, according to, as of 2000 there were only 0.16 physicians per 1000 Cambodians, so access to these doctors and therefore medicines would be exceedingly difficult..

When one takes into account all of these numbers, it makes sense that the Khmer people are still widely using traditional medicine to fix ailments instead of going to doctors, where they will often charge $20/month for a medicine when a family may only have $100/month to subsist off of.

Would Cambodians be more likely to use Western medicine instead of traditional cures for things such as headaches, back aches, etc, if western medicine weren’t so expensive?  At our local pharmacy in Phnom Penh, a bottle of Tiger Balm sells for 80 cents, while 20 caplets of Tylenol sells for $3.  Would more access to western medicine increase their life expectancy, which is reported to be only 63 years old, according to  Cambodia will probably never get an opportunity to answer this question.

Another factor to take into account when looking into the use of traditional medicine with the Khmer people is the devastation that the Khmer Rouge left on the country.  According to, “One of the greatest losses was people: of a population of about 7 million, 1 to 3 million are estimated to have died under Khmer Rouge rule. Many of those who perished were people with higher levels of education. Only 45 medical doctors survived, and of those, 20 left the country. Only 26 pharmacists, 28 dentists, and 728 medical students remained in Cambodia in 1979.” ().  In other words, Cambodia is still healing, and a result of the Khmer Rouge could be that more “advances” in Cambodian medicine could have been halted because of the genocide.

As with most situations in Cambodia, there are no easy answers to these questions.  All I can confidently say is that traditional medicine is still highly used, and poverty is extreme and common in Cambodia (31%, CIA World Factbook.).  Although correlation does not equal causation, I cannot help but wonder– is traditional medicine only a crutch being used by Cambodians until a better healthcare system can be established?

Typing in Korean – Be Careful

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

A Hard Working Society

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Tra's neighbor taking a break on the farm as we try cutting the rice

Tra’s neighbor taking a break on the farm as we try cutting the rice

Everyday people are talking about how much work they have to get done. In America, hard work is portrayed as this whole idea of working hard enough to become successful, and success is portrayed as making and having a lot of money. In Cambodia everything is different. And by everything, I mean absolutely everything. It’s so difficult to describe cultural differences, because a lot of what you see, hear, taste, and smell can only be fully embraced by firsthand experience.
Everyone knows poverty exists and it’s all over the world in every country in some shape or form. We don’t know what to do about it, because if we did, the problem would not exist. It’s a difficult question to ask why it exists in so many places and forms, but even harder to answer. In Cambodia, family is everything. They are not only your blood, but your security. Dr. Rallis has mentioned to us that many Cambodians ask how many children he has, and when he replies that he has none, the first question is, “But who will take care of you?” This says so much about their outlook and the importance they place on family. Many Cambodians have many children in order to increase their security. By security I mean more people to help with the harvest and more people to bring in an income.
Yesterday, we visited Tra’s family who lives right outside the city. His family was so welcoming and generous. Tra showed us their rice farm and we were all lucky enough to meet one of his neighbors who was cutting the harvest as we walked by. We each took turns cutting and collecting the rice, which is brutal, tedious work, especially under the blistering sun. Did I mention Tra’s neighbor is 60 years old and still working on the farm? (Refer to picture). As much as you want to show sympathy for someone working so hard under intense heat at such an old age, you can’t help but feel this sense of admiration.
I know there are many people in America who work hard every day, but a lot of the hard work we see in America isn’t pure labor intensive work that’s motivation is survival. Without harvesting the rice fields, there would be no rice, and without rice there would be very little food to eat. Tra’s family does not harvest the rice to sell for money; it is their main source of food. There are so many labor-intensive steps that go into the whole process of planting and harvesting. Because of the amount of work there is associated with harvesting rice, the more help the better. This is why so many Cambodian families are large in size and aim to be.
Being in Cambodia has already changed my view on so many things, of them being hard work. I know you can work hard in many ways, but for some reason I personally have a greater respect and definition of hard work that is motivated by survival. In Cambodia I see success as a form of survival, with no association to money. I don’t know what makes America so different, or when things started having different meanings behind them, but after many observations of Cambodian culture, I do know that family is everything in so many ways.

Is the Mekong Damned?

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

There are numerous propositions to construct dams along the Mekong river in an effort to provide sustainable hydroelectric power for the region. The dams would provide a renewable source of energy for the six countries that share the river–China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Would damming the mighty Mekong truly be “sustainable,” however?

I believe the social and environmental costs of these proposed hydropower dams would be higher than their benefits. The Mekong falls victim to dredging, drilling, blasting, pollution, and overfishing. The ecosystem is already dealing with degradation. Why threaten its delicate balance even further?

A physical barrier across any portion of the Mekong would have significant consequences. Most evidently, the river’s flow would be choked, altering, and possibly eliminating, the region’s wet and dry season cycles. A dam would block sediment and nutrient transfer, restricting alluvial deposits. The migratory and spawning paths of fish would be disrupted. Millions of people in thousands of communities depend on the river, for income, but also for sustenance. These ecological disruptions could force people to relocate. The majority of people who live along the Mekong are rural and impoverished, and the river serves as their life blood. It seems a dam would benefit the construction companies’ rich and cost the region’s poor.

What is being overlooked is the river’s benefit to the region, just the way it is. Before approval is granted to these hydroelectric companies, the impacts on the region should be deeply considered. Local communities who know the river best should be consulted. In this case, I hope it’s not the poor who, once again, lose out.