Random Thoughts by Dave – Half-Finished Roads, Khmer Rouge Survivors and the Cambodian Dating Scene
It’s road construction season in Cambodia and that can only mean one thing – it’s also election season. Indeed, the general election where the country will elect its next Prime Minister and 123 members of Parliament, will be held in July. The results, at least for Prime Minister, are for the most part a fait accompli as the current Prime Minister, Hun Sen, has been in power for nearly 30 years. You could make a case that paving the roads just before the election to show the government is doing something for its citizens isn’t much different from what would go on in the States. However, there is a twist. When I mentioned the road construction to a co-worker of mine, he smiled and started talking about how the construction picks up every five years, but if I noticed, they only pave one side of the road, the other gets paved after the election as long as the current leaders are re-elected. On my way home that day I noticed that indeed, only one side of the road was paved and the trucks had moved on to another location. Just crazy.
The Prime Minister has been even more direct on what will or won’t happen if people do not vote for the CPP (Cambodian People Party) candidates. He was quoted in the local papers last month as saying the CPP would stop providing funding for infrastructure and national development projects if people do not vote for the party.
Khmer Rouge Education
I had the good fortune of accompanying my youth organization to one of the outlying provinces to teach high school students there about the Khmer Rouge regime and its mass killings of Cambodia people. Kampong Thom, the province we were in, was where more than 200,000 people were killed in the four-year period from 1975-1979. For one of the lessons, a bus took us to a neighborhood, we broke into five groups and were told to find survivors and talk with them about their experiences. The exercise served a dual purpose. It gave the students an opportunity to hear the horror stories straight from the people who lived through them and it also was intended to help the healing process of the survivors by unburdening them and also by knowing their stories would be passed on to another generation. During the time of the Khmer Regime, the workers/prisoners would not talk to anyone because talking could get them killed. That mindset continues to today and the victims are reluctant to talk about what they went through unless asked.
The other highlight of the trip was getting to know the students and to witness first-hand how bright they are, something I’ve touched on before. Cambodian schools preach memorization, while my group’s program encourages participation and critical thinking. Most of the high school students relished the opportunity to actively participate in the classes and to think beyond what they are told to think. The sad part is, even if the students are able to go to university, their job prospects once they graduate will be limited, and finding a job that will utilize their smarts will be a challenge. It’s why so many of the brightest students end up working for non-governmental organizations like where I volunteer. They are one of the few places that allows for freedom in the workplace and where they are encouraged to use their intelligence.
A Perplexing Dating Scene
I’m still trying to figure out the dating scene in Cambodia. I work at a youth organization where a lot of college students pass through, but as far as I can tell few have boyfriends or girlfriends. When I ask, many say they are concentrating on their studies and want to finish school before they begin dating. I do see plenty of couples out and about so people are getting together. But 30 appears to be the tipping point, at least as far as women go. If you reach 30 and aren’t with someone there must be a reason why, they say. Also, I learned that women are supposed to be virgins when they get married. Not men, though. I’m seriously thinking of starting an online dating service for professional people here. There are many smart people who should be together. Though that flies in the face of Cambodian tradition, which dictates the man should be better educated and the woman subservient. Hopefully, this is one of the many things that will change here.