Parallel U
pt. II

Number 36–Stalemate, Garbage and more

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP, Cambodia People’s Party, won 60% of the seats in the July election, certified as fair by the international community, but Cambodia’s constitution requires a 2/3rds majority to form a government. As I understand it, no other country has such a supermajority requirement, and for good reason, it’s just too difficult.

The other two major parties, Funcinpec, the royalist party headed by Prince Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy Party, headed by Sam Rainsy (Sam is his surname) are refusing to join a coalition with the CPP as long as Hun Sen remains as its head. Fat chance the PM would relinquish his post after a clear win in the election – he might not stand down even if he lost.

We’re getting into the Cambodia nasties again. A week ago, just a few days after Hun Sen complained bitterly about unfair treatment at the hands of a radio personality closely aligned with Funcinpec, the guy was assassinated in broad daylight. And then a few days later a popular young female singer, also a Funcinpec supporter, was shot three times, twice in the face and once through the neck, but miraculously survived, though probably as quadriplegic.

At first glance, unmistakable acts of intimidation. But something is just too obvious about it. The PM won the election, and constitution or otherwise, he’s in office and will stay as long as he likes. Why indulge in murder? He’s too smart to kill when he doesn’t need to. Of course there were instances of intimidation in the July election – to be expected in one of the world’s poorest countries, besides the same thing happens in Florida.

I won’t even go into, or very far into, the outright theft of American elections through computer voting machine fraud. Can you dig it? Most American states have privatized their elections – you get the contract to run the elections, you get to decide who wins!! And since the three companies that control almost the entire market are owned by GOP stalwarts, you needn’t spend a lot of time guessing which way they plan to swing the outcomes. One Chuck Hagel, senator from Nebraska, was a major owner of the machines that counted votes in his home state when he was first elected – with very large and unlikely majorities in places that had never voted Republican before. Might there be a potential conflict of interest here? Strangely enough, he’s one of the best Republicans in the senate.

At any rate, things are quite normal here. Personally I got turned off of both opposition parties by their virulent anti-Vietnamese rhetoric. The Vietnamese make up about 8% of the population and they are here to stay. The last thing this country needs is politicians stoking ethnic hatred and hostility.

A friend of mine had a bit part – four spoken lines; he knows just enough Khmer – in a locally produced movie for which he received $20. An entire feature film costs $30,000 and even more interesting they are produced by the theater owner. If you want to see that movie there’s only one place to go. There once were 30 theaters in Phnom Penh, and then there were none and now there are five.

Sometime between 6.30 and 7 every night in the old apartment I got serenaded by pop Khmer music. The closest this music comes to Western pop is the ‘50’s and ‘60’s with a decided folk twist. It took me a while to figure out where it was coming from – the streets and sidewalks are jammed with activity at that time. It turned out to be a guy with his business on a bicycle – his shop takes over the seat area so he walks it. It’s also equipped with a big umbrella. I thought for a long time he was selling CD’s because the music was so loud but turns out he sells a local candy – can’t miss when the candy man has arrived.

Last week the Canadian company that contracted to pick up the garbage in Phnom Penh announced drastic cutbacks in service from daily to twice a week. It seems they’re having a hard time getting people to pay their garbage bills. Even the deal they worked out with the national electric utility has only netted them a small amount of money and they were getting tired of taking cash out of their pocket to keep the service going.

This is a problem. The 25 or so apartments accessed from my little alley at the old apartment have two garbage cans that overflow on a daily basis. There were three for a while, but one seems to have vanished. In fact, garbage cans are the exception – nobody wants to put up the few bucks to buy them. In most places people either run to toss their stuff in the truck as it passes by – they blow a loud horn to announce their approach – or toss it into large piles on the curb or in the middle of the street. And it isn’t relatively safely ensconced in big heavy duty garbage bags either. As you can imagine these piles will often get run over and, well, you can imagine. Besides they greatly increase the work load, though of course labor is cheap.

Even on a daily basis these piles can get pretty big so after 3 or 4 days we’re talking serious trash... and lovely rat food. Most people here don’t notice the nasty rodents because they aren’t up late, but as I’m often out and about into the wee hours I can testify that it’s sometimes like walking a gauntlet trying to stay out of their way. Of course I live by a public market, one which, as I’ve described previously, is the antimatter of sanitary.

The poor world, in my experience, is characterized by lack of organization. Last year one of my students invited me to come along to a family gathering at his mom’s countryside house. The buildings weren’t exceptionally small but they were mostly pole, straw and thatch, with a little wood siding thrown in. It was also a pigs-and-chickens-running-free environment. The two brothers I went down with, both educated and intelligent, would toss their fruit peels, seeds or whatever on the ground. The mom would come by a minute later, see it and pick it up. Hardly the most efficient way to do things, but part of a pattern that may take some time to change. At any rate, we’re talking trash.

Finally a weather report. We’re just had two clear days after six weeks of overcast skies. We might have gotten a little sun in the morning but otherwise it was cloudy and relatively cool throughout. It tends mostly to rain between 5 and 7 pm which, coming as it does in rush hour and considering 80% of the city’s vehicles are motorbikes, does not make it the most congenial time. Most people duck for cover when it’s really dumping but there are always a few diehards and kids out happily getting drenched. Highest temperature since I returned at the beginning of September has been 85, it’s been 80 to 82 lately. The nights have been in the mid to high seventies and pleasant as can be. Still somewhat sweaty out walking in daytime but eminently doable.

Finally, finally... a fair and balanced news report. The pResident says that the latest spate of nearly simultaneous bombings in Baghdad mean that the bad guys are getting desperate and it’s even more important for us to stay the course. As part of his brilliant “bring ‘em on” strategy, it’s considered much better to gather all the terrorists in one place far away so they can kill Americans over there and not in the homeland.

Also, it’s okay to vote for Arnold the gropenator; those 16 women who turned up as unwilling gropees are just a small sampling of feminazis; the hundreds more he felt up over the years who didn’t complain were thrilled to have such a handsome, virile movie star feel around in their private parts.

And please, we should all have compassion and sympathy for drug addicts if they are also big-fat-idiot, right-wingnut, talk show hosts. Prison is for small-brained, dark-skinned, servant-class citizens.