Thursday, July 27, 2006

System 100

Fuckin' check this shit out! It's my new Roland Synth 100. It cost me $20. I found it in a store full of dusty secondhand music gear, here in Phnom Penh. I asked the lady if I could plug it in to try. At first, she tried to steer me to some nicer, newer models. No way lady. I want this one. After convincing her that she really did want to sell it, I hooked it up and managed to produce enough space-invader white noise to start dogs barking and kids crying. That was all I needed to know. Sold to the man with dust all over his white t-shirt.

When this was being made in factory in Japan in the mid-late 70s, Cambodians were working in the fields under Pol Pot's regime. Now, Cambodia seems to be the end of the road for unwanted music gear, and buyers here receive containers full of stuff like this from Japan by the tonne. THEY BUY IT BY THE TONNE! They sift through it, repair what they can, and recycle the rest.

I just love that it is called a 'System 100'. It is not just a keyboard. It's a System. The same keyboard (sorry, System) just sold for a thousand bucks on ebay. The interweb tells me that it is used by Orbital, Aphex Twin, Depeche Mode, Meat Beat Manifesto, and (wait for it) Vangelis. Vangelis, I'll fight you with the world's dirtiest System 100 any day.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Home is Where the Dickheads Are..

Kep, on Cambodia's south coast, was once the playground of the Indochine elite, until the war ruined everything. Now, all that remains are the abandoned, crumbling villas, nestled among jungle. Kep is peaceful, beautiful and unique. It makes for the perfect escape from the grime and grind of Phnom Penh. I was touched (perhaps inappropriately) to see this little slice of home scrawled on the back of a bench on the Kep waterfront. Home is where the dickheads are.

*Cambrew, brewer of Angkor Beer, and provider of 'community projects' such as beer-drinking benches for Cambodia's poor, is Australian owned.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ta Mok is Dead

I just got a text from a friend. It read simply 'Ta Mok is dead'.

Former Khmer Rouge Military Commander Ta Mok has just died. He was among the most hated of the hardline Khmer Rouge leaders. He would have faced the long-awaited Khmer Rouge Tribunal later this year. He was among a handful of high ranking leaders expected to face charges for crimes of genocide that occurred during the KR's 1975-79 regime.

After Vietnam overran the brutal regime in '79, Ta Mok hung on in jungle camps along the Thai border until the late 90s. Little by little, his supporters fell by the wayside, either on the battlefield, or defecting to the Government. Ta Mok refused to surrender. He was captured in '99 and helicoptered to a Phnom Penh military prison. This morning, he died in a Phnom Penh military hospital, aged 82. His career achievements had earned him the nickname 'Butcher'.

The news has created a heated discussion in my office. My Cambodian colleagues seem divided on the subject of the KR trial. Some are saying that it's too late; Pol Pot died a while back, and now Ta Mok is dead. The trial will cost $65 million , yet only a handful of ageing leaders are likely to face prosecution. Given Cambodia's poverty, the argument for using the money for humanitarian relief is not without merit.

Others seem to grasp the wider importance of the trial, in the sense that the world must understand what happened. One colleague said that the skulls from killing fields should be kept not only as a reminder of the atrocities, but also as evidence of what happened. He says that it is too late for those people to get a proper ceremony anyway. He doesn't buy the common Cambodian mantra of 'bury the past'.

Both arguments seem strong to me. However, I want to hear my Cambodian colleagues point the finger of blame beyond Cambodia, and understand that others are responsible for what happened to them. I want to hear them blame the Cold War, the USA, China, Russia,Vietnam. I want them to say that they were sold out by a world that didn't give a fuck. They don't though. Having been denied an education, there is a whole generation of Cambodians who are forced to blame each other, and accept this as their own private tragedy.

Perhaps this explains why so many older Cambodians have chosen to bury the past - for the sake of the future. Yet, I'm stunned at how little the post-KR generation know about what went on in their country. There is no mention of the conflict in school curriculum. When I ask a younger colleague what he thinks, he simply shakes his head and says "No idea. It's all up to the government. If they want, they will do."

Monday, July 10, 2006

Cambodian Justice

I’ve been following a story about an attempted prison breakout in Battambang province. The trouble began as an inmate conducted the prison’s fortnightly head count, as was the normal practice. The inmate opened a cell to check on a fellow prisoner, who forced his way out and proceeded to free others. Guards took refuge as the prisoners tried to make their escape. This went on for some time – prisoners running around inside the prison, guards hiding. Shots were heard, and a grenade exploded somewhere inside the jail. Rumours circulated that up to ten prisoners were dead.

The following day, the official story took shape. Nine men had died after they tried and failed to escape. Police claimed that a prisoner died after they had detonated a grenade inside the prison. The official line was now that the men died after agreeing to pull the pin on a grenade that they happened to have lying around in their prison cell. A Cambodian human rights group claims that police snipers dressed in smart black uniforms arrived by helicopter. They were seen firing smart black automatic rifles into the jail from vantage points along the fence. Witnesses heard several minutes of continuous automatic weapon fire. That’s a lot of bullets.

As tragic as it may be, this type of thing isn’t unheard of in Cambodia. Sixteen prisoners died in a similar episode last year. They were buried the same day, their names never released. But here’s the thing about the latest incident…

The next day, human rights groups requested that the bodies be examined. They suspected that unnecessary force had been used to quell the situation. They may have expected to find bullet wounds. Relatives of the dead also requested that their loved ones be returned to them. Their requests were denied as prison guards hurried to bury the bodies within prison grounds. The Prison Director released the following statement:

“We did not permit any of the dead bodies to be sent to their families, because the prisoners have been sentenced for up to 30 years. We will keep their bodies until they finish their punishment.”

No further questions.