Sunday, 6 January 2008

A musician on a mission

Robbin Thompson song is a theme against human trafficking in Cambodia


If it weren't for the theme song from "The Jeffersons," Robbin Thompson might never have seen Cambodia.

That finger-snapping ditty from the'70s, its perky chorus a declaration of hope and change, crept into the subconscious of Marielle Sander Lindstrom a few months ago, awakening her at 1 a.m. at her home in Cambodia.

Lindstrom works for The Asia Foundation as chief of party for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Her current focus is the Counter-Trafficking in Persons Program in Cambodia, and to revitalize the anti-trafficking message, she wanted to find a lively song that "had the feeling of a Coca-Cola commercial -- lots of positive energy -- a big splash," she said.

She raced to her computer and immediately searched the words "movin' on up." Hundreds of song titles popped up, including a cover version of the song by Thompson, one of Richmond's most revered singer-songwriters, who recorded the theme as a bonus track on his 2002 album, "The Vinyl Years."

Lindstrom e-mailed Thompson, asking for permission to use the song for the anti-trafficking campaign.

"I thought it would take me at least six months to track him down and that my e-mail would immediately be rejected," she said in an e-mail interview.

After fatefully checking his spam folder, where Lindstrom's e-mail had landed, Thompson responded to her query, explaining that he hadn't written "Movin' On Up," so she would have to embark on the time-consuming task of tracking down the song's publisher to get permission.
But Thompson also offered an alternative.

He sent Lindstrom an audio file of his "Move on Down the Line," from his current album, "Just a Blur in the Rearview."

"She liked it even better," Thompson said.

Lindstrom concurred: "It was perfect for a feel-good song that was strong and positive, but for Cambodia, we needed to speed it up."

Several e-mails later, Thompson suggested adding Cambodian musicians and a children's chorus to the song. Several months later, he left Richmond for an airport tour of New York to Bangkok, Thailand, to Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia.

. . .

Thompson's primary mission during his 18-day November stay with his wife, Vicki, was to rework his song to Cambodian standards and enlist the vocal assistance of local children.
About 14 of the kids who provided backing vocals attended the Northbridge International School in Phnom Penh and spoke English, but most others, who sang the Cambodian version in Khmer, lived at a haven called Friends International. "They are homeless, but it's not like the homeless here." Thompson said. "It's more accepted, in a way, and you're not freaked out by it because it's just so prevalent. It just is what it is."

The kids were mostly chosen by a studio employee familiar with their singing abilities, and some auditioned for Thompson, who gave them all harmonicas at the end of the session.

His bigger task, though, was to rewrite some of the song's harmless-to-American-ears lyrics to conform to a Cambodian's precise interpretations.

"We changed the lyrics to be more positive and direct, something like 'moving forward with joy' in the Cambodian version to relate to family and a sense of community. All of that was relative to, if you have a strong family, you won't be a victim of human trafficking," Thompson said.

"When you're trying to fight the good fight, you don't want to upset the government, and different things mean different things to nongovernment people. Even the word 'change' could be misinterpreted. It's an election year [in Cambodia] and the guy presently in power is a good guy, so it was a concern that the word 'change' could be taken as wanting to start a revolution."

A couple of weeks ago, Thompson learned that more editing will be done to the song because the phrase "oh, yeah," a prominent part of the chorus, has a sexual connotation in Khmer.

Incidentally, the original version of "Move on Down the Line" just won Best Gospel Song at the seventh annual Independent Music Awards.

. . .

Though Thompson's travel expenses were paid by The Asia Foundation, he gave the organization the use of his song for free and volunteered his time. Both his In Your Ear Studio and Richmond's Park Group production facility provided services free or at a reduced rate.

"I'm doing this because I got sucked into the cause. It's also a wonderful thing to do and go see a place I never would have gone. I have a whole new outlook on that part of the world," he said.
The official kickoff of the new anti-trafficking campaign is slated for mid-February, and Thompson plans to return to Cambodia for the occasion.

Lindstrom says she is working with the National Task Force Against Human Trafficking to create a dance to supplement the song and hopes to enlist a corporation to help produce an accompanying music video -- the Cambodian version of karaoke.

"It's music put to video with the words on the screen to communicate a message, and it's seen on TV," Thompson said of this karaoke. "They're going to simulcast it in Phnom Penh as well as D.C. through the U.S. Agency for International Development."

Lindstrom said the song also will be distributed through the provincial governor's offices in the 24 provinces of Cambodia and become part of workshops and training videos for the Counter-Trafficking in Persons Program.

But even though his song will constitute a significant portion of an international campaign, Thompson is more philosophical about his Cambodian adventure and what he experienced.

"No matter what you hear or read about a country, if you do go there, you'll find out that it's not the way they say and that people are people everywhere," he said. "The people there are wonderful, no matter if they were people in high places or living in the street. I felt the same warmth for all of them."

School Land Being Sold for CPP Office, Opposition Claims

By Chun Sakada,
VOA Khmer Original report from Phnom Penh
04 January 2008

Listen Chiep Mony reports in Khmer

Cambodian People's Party authorities have colluded with local school administrators in Pursat province to arrange the sale of school land for use as a political party headquarters, Sam Rainsy Party officials said Friday.

"This corruption is taking away from the people of Cambodia," said Heng Chanthuon, an SRP official for Pursat.

A CPP official in Pursat denied the allegations Friday, but said the use of land was up to school officials, and if they offered it to the party, he would take it.

Ong Sovath, a SRP commune clerk in Pursat, said a local village chief and school principal were working without higher approval for the exchange of land.

The land sale had angered local teachers, Ong Sovath said.

Number of tourists to Cambodia reaches over 2 mln in 2007


The Festive Season in China also heads toward the busiest travel time of the year. And Chinese international tourism is growing. Tourism in Cambodia is swiftly on the rise.

Visits by foreign tourists to Cambodia last year soared to over two million. That's a 20 percent increase over 2006. Cambodia Tourism officials say about 60 percent of the visitors went to see the Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap province of Cambodia.

In Cambodia, they're expecting the number of foreign tourists to reach three million by 2010.
Tourism is growing world wide and becoming an important economic base. In Cambodia, tourism provides jobs for more than 270 trades and additional opportunities for many more local people.

Foreign tourists spend about 700 U.S. dollars each while visiting Cambodia, on average. That doesn't include air fare.

Tourism is the country's second pillar industry. In 2006, tourism revenue reached 1.05 billion U.S. dollars. The industry provided Cambodia's economy with 250,000 jobs.

The temples of Angkor were built by the Khmer people between 802 and 1220 AD. They represent one of mankind's most astonishing and enduring architectural achievements. From their base at Angkor, the Khmer kings ruled over a vast empire that reached from Vietnam to China to the Bay of Bengal. More than 100 stone temples survive today, the sole remnants of a grand religious, social and administrative metropolis. Other buildings, such as palaces, public buildings and houses, were built from wood. They have long since decayed and disappeared.

Some archaeologists view the temples of the Angkor complex as tombs of power-mad kings.
Others believe the kings designed and constructed the temples as a monument to their god and to impress their own subjects. Precisely aligned with the stars and adorned with stunningly beautiful religious art, the Angkor temples were creations aimed at guiding ancient peoples in their quest to realize the divine.

Angkor Wat temples set for restrictions

The Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia have access by tourists restricted in order to preserve them, it has been revealed.

Cambodian authorities are tightening restrictions due to high-demand.

Tourists keen on seeing the eminent Khmer Empire archeological sites may only have a limited time to see the world treasures - and could be well-advised to try and catch a glimpse before the change.

However, the potential closures come with a twist, with industry experts predicting that the cost of access could rise once controls are imposed.

Frank Partridge of the Belfast Telegraph said: "The days of free access to Angkor Wat, one of the world's great religious sites, could be coming to an end.

"The Cambodian authorities have roped off the upper level because of the weight of tourists, and further restrictions are expected."

Tourism minister Thong Khon stated earlier this week the Cambodian authorities were seeking to create more destinations for visitors.

Those opting to holiday in Cambodia topped two million in 2007.

Down by the riverside in Cambodian capital

Despite democracy and property ownership issues restricting the development of Cambodia’s real estate sector, fly to let investors can take advantage of some attractive rates in Phnom Penh.

One developer is offering a net rental guarantee of 10 percent for the first two years. Add this to Cambodia’s capital growth which is hovering around 15 to 20 percent per year, and it presents a viable investment opportunity.

A refurbished 1-2 bedroom apartment complete with electricity, water, telephone, central heating, lounge, bathroom and gardens situated in the chic riverside French Quarter of Cambodia’s capital are available through David Stanley Redfern Ltd from £29,151.

Rent is freely negotiable between landlord and tenant in Cambodia. Phnom Penh has two international airports that offer daily flights.

As foreign ownership of land isn’t allowed in Cambodia, investors must take one of four routes around the problem. Buy through a local company, lease the land, acquire governmentally encouraged Cambodian citizenship and land ownership rights as you do so.

Passport to savings

By Jason La Los Angeles Times
January 6, 2008

CambodiaStability has gradually returned to Cambodia since the democratic elections in 1993. Although still a poor country, it is largely peaceful and increasingly attractive to adventurers.

Sixty-six percent of its land is forests and woodland.Modest meals cost about $2 to $3. Fancier meals are about $10. Expect to pay around $10 a night for a decent room, although less-expensive accommodations are available.

Upscale hotels cost about $50 a night. (Riels are the official currency of Cambodia, but dollars are readily accepted, so you won't have to worry about doing long division in your head.)
Cambodia's intricate temples are awe-inspiring; the most famous are the Angkor ruins, the pinnacle of Khmer architecture.

A memorable vacation

Saturday January 5, 2008

Nine months ago, a couple of friends and I went to Cambodia for our annual vacation. We started our exciting journey in Phnom Penh and ended in Siem Reap.

Unlike Kuala Lumpur, the traffic here is not heavy, but it’s crazy. People drive like there are no rules. They ignore traffic lights and the traffic police don’t seem to care.

I never imagined riding a tuk –tuk would be such an adrenaline rush. We’d hang on for dear life as it swerved in and out of traffic. At times, we’d be facing oncoming traffic.

Cars won’t stop for you when you cross the road. Instead they swerve to avoid hitting you. I felt it was like attempting suicide to cross the road.

I realise this is a poor country but I didn’t imagine how poor. I bought a lotus snack and threw it away half-eaten. While looking for a dustbin to throw it away, a group of street urchins grabbed my snack out of my hand.

It made me realise how good it is to live in Malaysia

Cambodia counts cost of dengue fever

ABC Radio Australia

Cambodia has struggled through its worst outbreak of dengue fever in a decade with nearly 40,000 cases of dengue fever last year, resulting in more than 400 deaths.

Director of the health ministry's anti-dengue programme Ngan Chantha says most of those who died were childrenMany of the victims were from poor rural areas with little or no access to medical care.

Doctors said at the height of the epidemic last June the country was ill-prepared to deal with such an aggressive outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease.The last serious outbreak occurred in 1998.

Deer Lake woman acclimatizing to home

Joanne Kelly of Deer Lake feeds an apple to an elephant in Cambodia.

MICHAEL RIGLER The Western StarJoanne Kelly has had her eyes opened to a completely new reality.

The 26-year-old education professional spent the past 14 months in the Far East, working as a teacher and travelling to exotic locations.

She returned to her home in Deer Lake a short while ago and said it took her some time to adjust to the reality of winter again.“Just two weeks ago, I was in Thailand and it was 26 degrees out,” Kelly told The Western Star. “When I stepped off the plane in Deer Lake, I couldn’t believe how cold it was family had to bring my winter coat to me because I didn’t have any winter clothes at all.

“My brother wanted to go snowboarding right away, but honestly, it took me some time to get used to the cold again.”

After completing her year-long contract as a teacher in South Korea, Kelly and a female colleague ventured into China to start her adventures.

She said everywhere she travelled, people were generally friendly and helpful.

And her excursions into the Orient were all worthwhile.

“When we were in China, we visited the Great Wall and the Forbidden City,” she said. “After China we went to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.“We travelled by train, bus, shared taxis ...whatever we could find.”

Kelly said some of the sights were exceptional, like the famous Hindu and Bhuddist temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

But some of the realities of the Third World were an eye-opener for Kelly. Cambodia, in particular, left a lasting impression on her.

“While we were in Cambodia, it became really apparent that the country is still in a hard economic situation,” Kelly said. “When people found out that I spoke English, they’d come up and just want to practise their English with me because they’re starting to get more into tourism in Cambodia and trying to build up their economy a bit.

“But while we were there, I remember asking this tuk-tuk (motorized rickshaw) driver how we could help and he advised us to bring some food out to a local orphanage.

So we brought out some big bags of rice to the children and it was incredible to see how they live.

They were really sweet and happy to see us, but the conditions they were living in was hard to see.

“There were rats running around and they had nothing. In fact, my mother asked me what I needed for Christmas this year, and honestly, I don’t need anything because I realize just how fortunate we are.”

Kelly and her travelling companion also spent some time in Vietnam. They arrived in time for the heavy flooding this past summer.“It was amazing how fast the water rose because it, at one point, there was some water in the street and during the hour we were having dinner, it started filling up the restaurant,” Kelly said.

“We went back to our hotel, and by the next morning, the water was so deep in the lobby that motorcycles had washed in and were completely submerged.”

After her experiences in Asia, Kelly was happy to be back home in Newfoundland with family and friends.

However, she is contemplating returning to Asia in the near future. In the meantime, she said the things she saw and the people she met certainly changed the way she views the world.

Cambodian native a retail pioneer in Frederick

Meng Hong Srun, owner of Sunrise Liquors Store, was the first Cambodian liquor store owner in Frederick.

January 05, 2008
By Ike Wilson
News-Post Staff

Meng Hong Srun's 27 years in the retail industry has consisted of 15-hour days and seven-day, 80-hour weeks.

With callouses on his feet and recurring ankle pains from standing, the Cambodian native, who owns two liquor stores in Frederick, is ready to retire.

But that is at least five years away, when his 17-year-old gets the medical training she wants, he said. One of two sons is finishing his opthamalogy residency in Florida; another is completing a MBA in Iowa.

They are children to make a parent proud.

"I don't smoke and drink even though I sell liquor and cigarettes and they don't either," Srun said. "They are cool kids. They are focused on doing the right thing."

Srun worked in a beer and wine store in the District of Columbia for 10 years before moving to Frederick, April 19, 1990. He and business partner Samrith AnChum, bought Waverly Beer and Wine store on Waverly Drive.

They were the first Cambodians to open a beer and wine store in Frederick, Srun said. Today, Cambodian natives own about 15 to 20 liquor stores in the area, he said.

After Srun's partner died in 2003, business grew as the Frederick population increased, making it possible for another acquisition -- Sunrise Liquor on South Jefferson Street.

There, sales have increased 6 percent a year over the last three years.

Srun said he's looking forward to retirement. He hopes for a less stressful job helping people buy eyeglass lenses in his son's eye clinic.

"I won't have to hear people use bad words. I won't have to hear words I don't use, or deal with bad customers," he said.

And he'll avoid anoother downside in the retail business -- dealing with theft.

A husband and wife stole a lot of cigarettes from his store. Instead of calling the police, Srun said he pulled them aside and gently asked the couple to stop stealing his merchandise.

"They were surprised that I saw them and didn't call the police," he said.

His employees have been robbed at gunpoint, Srun said. Good workers have been hard to find.

Customers have been nice for the most part, until about four or five years ago when his Waverly store began to attract troublemakers. "That's the drug dealers in the area," Srun said.

High risk, long hours and stress are why Srun doesn't want his children to do the same kind of work, he said.

He took off three hours Thursday to have dinner with his son before he left for Florida. When he returned, Srun said an employee had received merchandise that the store didn't need and a box of liquor had gone missing.

"In this business, you have to be present all the time," Srun said. "If I had been present, I would have known that the store didn't need the items. Now, I have to call the vendor to return them."
A long way from home

Srun came to the United States from an area in Cambodia, 20 miles from South Vietnam on Aug. 28, 1980.

"I came to this country with no money, I came with nothing," he said.

His early jobs included cleaning homes and roof tops and raking leaves in a church yard.
"I told my kids they're lucky," Srun said.

"They have a nice place to stay. They have cars."

Srun's move from the District of Columbia northward was a no-brainer, considering Frederick's close proximity to the Washington-metropolitan area, which made growth inevitable, and the city's low rent, he said.

With a family and rent to pay, Srun said he had only $20,000 to start his business.

He has not personally sold liquor or cigarettes to a minor in 27 years, Srun said.

A June 28, 2007, letter from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene applauds Srun for refusing to sell cigarettes to a minor following an undercover visit by employees of the department's Division of Quality Assurance Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

"I work hard to support my kids, so they have a better life," Srun said. "This country allows the kids to have good opportunities."

Retirement for Srun will also include visits to his native land, where he intends to soak up some tropical temperatures, he said.