Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, "When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?"
The King will answer, "Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me." .......Matthew 25

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Problems digging the well

We have unexpectedly run into some problems in Phum Leav. It seems like installing the tube well is a much bigger problem than had been anticipated. They have drilled to a depth of 64m with no success. Because it will cost an extra US$3000 to explore deeper, they have no choice but to consider the less favorable option of an open well. Even that is a prioblem because of the rocky strata.

Literally between a rock and a hard place.

Monday, March 30, 2009

"Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!"

Last Thursday I received some wonderful news. The Toh Kian Chui Foundation wrote to say that they will be sponsoring our school building project with a donation of S$10,000. I was jubilant to say the least. Praise the Lord!

We had already started on the school building in
Phum Leav but have been operating on a deficit. I was mentally prepared for the reality of running into a bit of red, but the donation brought us just over the top, with a bit of excess that can be spent on exercise books and school swings for the children. God has really been wonderful, and faithful in providing for the project. Each cycle of fund raising brings forth just about the right amount, with a bit of excess as if to encourage us.

This last weekend's sermon had an interesting lesson for me. It was based on Luke 5's narrative on Simon Peter's call to discipleship. Jesus had called Simon to lower his nets, after a miserable failed night's fishing. Simon reluctantly obeyed, and was rewarded with a bounty he never expected.

But it was Simon's response that struck me. While the average individual would have celebrated the catch. Praised God for the blessings He had bestowed upon them. And certainly many of Simon's co-workers were already patting themselves on the back and perhaps leaping from the boats in jubilation. But not so Simon. This 'not-so-smart', bluff, temperamental fisherman saw a spiritual truth no one else did. When he should be celebrating like everyone else probably did, Simon could only see his degenerateness and Jesus holiness and divinity. "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" Was all he could say.

What a moment! Such a revelation could only come from the workings of the Holy Spirit.

So the sermon had an unintended consequence of being a bit of a rebuke for me. So often when God blesses us, especially when we had been doubtful of His faithfulness to provide, we see only the bountiful catch. It is of course not wrong to celebrate...and certainly not wrong to give thanks for His goodness. Praise the Lord, we proclaim. But how many will actually respond like Simon? How many will like Simon, allow the Holy Spirit to reveal in that moment, our total and absolute degenerateness and depravity, and see in contrast, His holiness and divinity? How many will like Simon fall on their knees and confess in shame, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!".

May God forgive me for I have been a sinful man.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ghosts of the Khmer Rouge

Cambodia's Khmer Rouge prison chief to address court

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal this week resumes the trial of the Khmer Rouge's former prison chief, who is expected to admit his role in the "Killing Fields" horrors three decades ago.

When proceedings began last month, lawyers for Kaing Guek Eav -- better known as Duch -- said he would use the court to publicly ask forgiveness for his role in the 1975 to 1979 regime which killed up to two million people.

"It is an enormously important moment in the history of Cambodia," said tribunal spokeswoman Helen Jarvis. "People have been waiting for a long time, and the process will unfold over the next couple of months."

Former maths teacher Duch, 66, is one of five Khmer Rouge leaders who have been detained by the court and judges on Monday will read his charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and pre-meditated murder.

The court plans to invite Duch to personally address allegations he oversaw the torture and extermination of more than 15,000 men, women and children when he headed Phnom Penh's notorious Tuol Sleng prison, known as S-21.

"It's unique that we will spend months hearing evidence and testing it at a trial for charges that he has admitted to," said Richard Rogers, head of the Khmer Rouge tribunal's defence office.

Duch, a born-again Christian, has consistently admitted personal responsibility at Tuol Sleng since he was arrested in 1999, although maintains he did not personally torture or murder prisoners.

Most welcome the idea that Duch will at least partially confess in the court, which is seen as the last hope to deal with Khmer Rouge crimes.

"A confession is a good thing for Duch to do. If Duch pleads guilty, I will be eased in my heart," said Vann Nath, who is one of the handful who survived Tuol Sleng because his skills as an artist were deemed useful for the regime.

"We will get a kind of justice -- not compensation -- but justice that can heal our mind when the court convicts Duch and he receives the punishment," Vann Nath added.

Duch faces a maximum term of life in prison by the tribunal, which does not have the power to impose the death penalty.

The defence appears to hope that testimony by Duch will earn him a reduced prison sentence.

"The question is: What is the appropriate punishment for a man who's confessed to terrible crimes, assisted the process of justice and asked for forgiveness?" Rogers said.


Many here hope the tribunal will help Cambodians understand how the Khmer Rouge came to kill its own people.

"We -- the victims -- need to understand (Duch's) brutality and how he treated and executed the prisoners like animals," said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which collects evidence of Khmer Rouge atrocities.

(Extracted from Channelnews Asia report)

See also:

Ex-Khmer Rouge still dominate regions of Cambodia
Difficult to forgive
The Dilemma of Duch

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Khmer Homestay

When we first went to Baray, it was a much more rugged experience. Apart from having to put up with all kinds of creepy crawlies, there were no proper toilets, and we had to bathe from well water.

In recent years however, Esther in trying to provide employment for the villagers in the Baray vicinity has built a a Khmer Homestay 'resort'. This has become more successful than I had anticipated as there appears to have been a steady influx of visitors.

Situated 40% of the way up the road from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, it provides a nice stopover point for travellers. Nicely constructed wooden chalets provide a rugged but civilized living experience for guests. Sleep on the floor under mosquito nets. Simple lighting and a fan if required. Toilets and shower available. Home cooked food. All in all a very affordable and reasonably comfortable, safe stay for school and mission trippers.

In addition, guests get to experience cultural dances by the children, cow cart and horsecart rides to the nearby villages. And yes, that glorious sunset if it is not raining.

Not exactly a five star resort, but on evenings when the clouds clear from the night sky, the Milky Way makes for a billion star experience.

The Khmer Homestay certainly makes our frequent trips to Baray so much more pleasant and comfortable, and I would heartily recommend it to any first timers seeking an experience the usual tour groups never get when they visit Cambodia.


I am usually more concerned about dengue than malaria. Mainly because there is no prophylaxis and drug treatment for dengue. Also because, the mosquito transmitting dengue is the Aedes mosquito which is an urban mosquito. For most trips, we are more exposed to an urban environment and thus more exposed to the dengue threat.

Mosquito repellents are your best hedge against the infection. If you do get infected symptoms usually begin early (3-7 days) which means you may be pretty ill before you leave Cambodia, or before you get home.


Malaria is endemic in Cambodia and travelers to Cambodia must be aware of the risks and necessary precautions. The risk of catching malaria infections vary depending on the location. It is supposed to be lowest for Phnom Penh and around the Tonle Sap area. The above is a 2007 map showing the infection rates around Cambodia. Baray/Kpg Thom/Kpg Chham are not particularly infective - <3/1000.The recommended prophylactic medications are either mefloquine or doxycycline. Around the Thai border, there is apparently a lot of mefloquine resistance so doxycycline is preferred. For the dosage requirements, please check with your local doctor. For Singapore residents, the best source of information and assistance is the Traveller's Health & Vaccination Clinic at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital. They are extremely helpful and will help you with any other precautions, vaccinations you may need.

It is important to realize that drug prophylaxis does not protect 100%. It is advised that other precautions are probably more vital such as use of mosquito nets and mosquito repellents (DEET). I personally find the milder repellents you find in touristy places and pharmacies are too mild. Try and find those with at least 30% DEET. Throw away those gimmicky electronic repellents. They are pretty useless.

The mosquito that transmits malaria is the Anopheles, a dusk and dawn feeder. So avoid being out in the bush around those times. And try and avoid exposing skin.

If you do get infected, the illness usually does not manifest until at least a week after exposure. So if you do get fever before that it is not likely to be malaria. Usually for short trips, infection does not manifest until you are out of the country or home already. Any febrile illness after a trip to Cambodia should be checked form the possibility of malaria.

Monday, March 23, 2009

So, who are the Khmers anyway?

It's an interesting question. Who are the Khmers and how do they relate to the rest of Indochina?

We don't really know who populated the Cambodian territory in early prehistory, but it was probably a mixture of Sino-Tibetan people much like those who populated most of Indochina. In addition there might have been some Austronesian people, much like the proto-Malays who populated other parts of South East Asia and Peninsular Malaya. But what makes Cambodia somewhat distinct is that the earliest recorded civilization was an Indianized civilization called Funan about 2000-2500 years ago. The Indianization apparently occured as a result of infiltration by a group of Kambujas from North Western India. These Kambujas probably intermarried with locals and subsequently assimilated into the local population and gave rise to what we now recognize as the Khmer ethnic group. The Cambodian royalty apparently still take some pride in tracing their lineage back to the Indian Kambujas.

So what we have now in Cambodia is a largely Khmer population who are principally Indianized Sino-Tibetan people, plus some Austronesians (Champas) and relatively more recent Chinese immigrants. Because the Khmer influence was so dominant during the Angkor civilization, it is likely that the Indianized Khmer ethnic traits spilled over into the North Eastern Thai populations. (See 'So, who are the Thais anyway?')

The Frangipani - Lantom

On a recent trip to Thailand, my hosts shared with me an interesting perspective to the humble frangipani (Plumeria). Apparently the Thais associate the origins of the frangipani with Nakon Thom, which is the Thai for Angkor Thom. For them, the common name for the flower is 'lan-thom' or 'leelawadee'.

Like many South East Asian countries, the white frangipani is associated with sorrow and death. Lantom actually means 'sorrow'.

I did a search for frangipani in South East Asia and was quite surprised that many countries actually do make associations with Cambodia, e.g. "Kembang Kamboja" in Indonesia, "Temple Tree" or "Champa" in India, "Champey" in Cambodia, "Champa" in Laos (source Wikipedia).

I don't really know what the basis is for these associations. Apparently the flowering tree originates from South America. If there is anyone out there who has the answer please post a reply, or just email me.