Then this happened

This is the riot police spraying the protesters with fire hoses. Followed by a course of tear gas. Behind them a whole phalanx of riot police. It got a bit tense. For a long while.

Two hours into it and Sam Rainsy came. He parted the sea of people and led them peacefully to Freedom Park. And my staff got to touch him as he came past our shuttered restaurant. They were in ecstasy.

To all accounts the protests continue elsewhere in the city. For me, I’m just relieved that they’re no longer engaged in a standoff on our corner of the street. When the tear gas appeared, I won’t lie, I got a bit concerned. We may have scooped our young son up to the safety of the windowless bedrooms that are at the core of the apartment.

12pm on the riverfront

It’s 12pm and here they come. Staying at home suddenly seems like a very good idea.

The protestors march from Freedom Park (in direct contravention with city permit for protest) to the palace.

A succinct version of the day’s events:

The first day of the planned opposition CNRP demonstration has started. In a paranoid move from the authorities, Phnom Penh woke up as a city under siege with numerous police barricades manned by hundreds of Military Police, Gendarmerie and Police units in full riot gear, preventing any sensible planning of itinerary, denying citizens from reaching either their homes or their business. Thousands of people nevertheless gathered at Freedom Park and were joined by CNRP co-Presidents who walked all the way from their homes through the streets, gathering a huge crowd of supporters on the way. Later that morning they marched towards the riverfront, broke through a barbed wire barricade and went praying at a riverside pagoda before returning to Freedom Place.

Thank you to John Vink.

My favourite spot for up-to-the-moment, it’s all happening in PP news, Twitter #electionskh.

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First wave heading towards the barricades.  From a distance we watched barbed wire triangles lifted up and out of the way.

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My vote. My nation.

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Peacefully heading back to Freedom Park.

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Where is my vote?

11am on the riverfront

This morning we headed out for brunch to find this. Barbed wire mania! A barbed wire good time at Sisowath & Sotheras and when coupled with water canons, oops fire trucks parked on standby, a clear indicator that it was time to stay at home. Preventative measures maybe as the city prepares for opposition party protests but we weren’t heading out if there was a chance that we would get stuck out. It’s a big traveling with a toddler no no.

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Demonstration Advisory

Dear Government,

Thank you for your concern for my welfare but when you send me emails like this, it freaks me out.

Dear Nationality, you are receiving this email because you are registered with our Registration of Citizens Abroad service. Please share the following important information with other citizens in your area.

Parliamentary elections were held on July 28, 2013; however, the main opposition party has requested an inquiry into alleged electoral irregularities.  A large rally is expected in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on Saturday, September 7.  We encourage you to avoid any gatherings and large crowds.  Monitor local media and follow the advice of local authorities.

Citizens should remain vigilant at all times, avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media. We recommend, if possible, that citizens get in touch with their emergency contacts to confirm their whereabouts and well being, even if they have not been affected by this event.

Really it’s the fact that you sent me an email at all that freaks me out. Gov, I like it when we don’t talk. It means all is right in the world. There are few, no, no positive circumstances that I can think of that we would communicate in. Lets keep it that way.

When you sent a follow up text to let me know that the security advisory for my region has changed, I felt the need to bulk buy food & water and take a trip to the bank.

I’m sure as time goes on and we share more of these communications, dear Gov,  they will become less impactful but for now you leave me a concerned wreck. My emergency contacts are well informed of my state of being and will not flood you with phone calls. For now your switchboard will remain clear.

Kindest regards,

Vicky

Made in Cambodia

You may have known that many big brands have their factories here, Gap for example, but did you also know that this is where cliches are made? This small store on St 178 specializes in rubber and copper stamps as well as cliche making. What instructions do you suppose you give the artisan to come up with the perfect cliche?

All quiet in the Penh

A bit tense in the Penh today. Very quiet following the close of elections and some civil unrest yesterday. The US Embassy advises staying close to home and avoiding crowds. Seems like good advice!

Sudden insight and appreciation into the role that social media plays in countries with state controlled media (and in a foriegn language) as we turned to twitter for updates. Some alarmist, some satirical, some actually informative. Given the demographics of Cambodia, social media has a large role to play.

An estimated 9.6 million people were eligible to vote on July 28, with 3.5 million people between 18 and 30 years of age, making it the youngest Cambodian election in history.

Check out the rest of the article in PP Post on the role of social media in the elections.

Want to know more about Cambodia’s elections? Check out the Phnom Penh Post or go to twitter and find @HunSensEye for the satirical view.

A world of food

It has been a big week for Khmer BBQ and other Khmer food fun. I wouldn’t say that Khmer is my favourite cuisine. There are a lot of tastes you need to have grown up with to really enjoy (or have spent considerably longer in country). Pra hok (fermented fish paste) is one, fish stomach & a variety of other fish entrails is another, green beans and bean curd isn’t so great either but Khmer food is good for you. There is almost no fat and no sugar in a traditional diet full of soups, fish and rice.

In the week that was, we went to the BBQ restaurant to see the little birds which I’ve finally figured out are quail (sing hallelujah, she finally puts it together) with their friends langoustine and my personal, safe friend, fried rice. All accompanied by a salt, pepper, MSG & lime juice dipping sauce that is to die for!

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Ready, set, BBQ. Dinner is on the grill!

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Whole quail chopped into quarters ready for the eating. They say Khmers like to chew their food. Yes, that would be my experience. Hard not to as you navigate around a maze of bone.

Next we were off to another BBQ joint for a birthday and the delight of grilled bees. Before you scroll down – I will let you in on the mental image I had for this delicacy – glorious, grilled, fat & furry bumblebees. In a country of beef & flying ants and crunchy bar snack crickets this is not out of the question. Wrong! Now scroll.

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Grilled bees…a-hem…grilled wasp larvae in their paper hive. Taste, sweet & slightly grainy. Was really hoping to avoid these but my team made sure that I didn’t miss this signature dish

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Hilariously this was the sign on the back of their bathroom door.

Last but not least we had lunch in a house on stilts on the Mekong River with all our staff. Traditional Khmer building with wooden floors, a deliciously cool breeze and hammocks for the hungover.

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The team and the view out over the river.

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Salt baked river fish with sour mango salsa (YUM! Not as muddy tasting as many of the fresh water fish dishes), Little dried shrimp, mango and something salad (descriptive hey? Often I have no idea what I am eating) and to finish this photo off, chicken with hair, don’t be silly, chicken with deep fried lemongrass. Again the chicken is chopped Chinese style so it’s very bony and there were feet.

As I said an exceptional week of food. Most weeks look more like this…

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Open faced poached eggs, seared tuna on black beans and pepper fried tofu.