CFT was created in June last year (2013) by a group of Cambodians, who like to ride bicycle with my own initiative and under my supervision. The basic aim is to have a group of people, who like cycling for own health, who like to do something together, who have time at least once a month for cycling in team, and who inspired by collective action to raise awareness for the betterment of our society…..
What have we done so far?
- Defined the logo and the T-shirt collectively
- Agreed on name “Cycling for Freedom” or CFT
- Agreed to have joint cycling at least once a month
- Have done nine tours out of ten months since June 2013: almost once a month
- Have created FB group page with more than 82 members now
- Have done a long distance cycling from Phnom Penh to Takeo province (two days with about 180K)
- Have regular reflection meeting after each ride and agreed on plan for action in 2014
- Have developed a core group between 7-15 members for the ride
- Have networks with other cycling teams
- Ride together at least once a month
- Riding to raise awareness on many issues affecting our society
- Trying to attract more cyclists to join us
- Cycling around the Tonle Sap Lake by the end of the year (More than 800K)
- One day create a big event with thousands of Cyclists riding for changes
The German liberal Friedrich-Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) celebrated last year its 50 years of International Work, in Germany. In Phnom Penh, we have celebrated this event in conjunction with “Meet and Greet” on 17 March 2014, at Meta House. It was an opportunity to say farewell to our outgoing Project Director for Myanmar, Malaysia and Cambodia, Ms. Katrin Bannach, and to welcome our new Project Director, Mr. Hans-Georg Jonek, who is currently based in Vietnam and is responsible for Vietnam and Cambodia, from January 2014 onwards.
More than eighty distinguished guests representing partners and civil society organizations, German experts, IAF Alumni and friends of FNF participated fully in this special event. H.E. Joachim BARON VON MARSCHALL delivered his welcoming speech addressing the liberal values and individual freedom. Dr. Lao Mong Hay, Political Analyst, reaffirmed that Cambodia has experienced a lot of change, especially before and after the July 2013 general election. “Cambodians have become more and more real citizens”, stressed Dr. Lao. Dr. Rainer Adam, FNF Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia Office, thanked all distinguished guests for their time to come and our partners for excellent cooperation in the past years and ensured that FNF will continue to support the democratization process in Cambodia.
“It was nice celebration and very simple that we can easily make contact and share what we are doing to friends who are working in the similar fields and others eager to know more about freedom and governance etc.”, said one participant. Another participant put it this way: “It is always a pleasure for me to attend the events organized by FNF. I enjoyed also meeting young people, after the official function”.
Thank you to all VIP Guests and participants for coming and celebrating with us.
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ICE stands for Intercity Express, express train service provided by German Rail. It is quite sophisticated and reliable, though a bit expansive, I would say. My newest experience with German Rail was the trip from Frankfurt/M Airport to Cologne main station. The drive time is 45 minutes. It is convenient and on time. I remembered more than ten years ago, there was maybe no (ICE) connection and I did need to flight for a short distance from Frankfurt to Cologne/Bonn airport. Now, no such a flight service is available. It is not effective at all for a twenty minutes flight, and hours of waiting time and consuming security check procedures. We do need to use train.
The service on board is friendly. The train is clean and it goes with a speed of around 250 Km/h. Sitting in the train, I have out my clock back to the old days during my study time in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). Using trains was quite cheap, especially with discount prices for students. We were able to travel around GDR visiting friends in different provinces by trains. In Cambodia, we have railways too, but only two lines with more than 600K in length. But, it is being rehabilitated for cargo. It would take time to introduce transportation by train again for passengers and cargo in our country. It was quite good developed before the war started in 1970. I used to enjoy riding the train with my uncle from my hometown to the Capital. We had everything on boar too, though not 250Km/h.
According to an article published in Reaksmey Kampuchea, a leading Khmer language newspaper, Prime Minister Hun Sen sent a Well Wishes Letter to all Sino-Khmer on 30 January 2014 during the Lunar New Year. He praised the ethnic Chinese for being part of all Cambodians during good and bad time together. Cambodia now enjoys “full strategic partnership” with China in term of diplomatic relations. Cambodia under Prince Sihanouk recognized Red China under Mao in the early fifties.
Based on the statistics of the Chinese associations in Cambodia, there are currently 700,000 Sino-Khmer in this country. They are mostly well off and have high function in business, in the government, police and military as well. In total, around 150 Chinese associations are registered in Cambodia. They are playing big role in our society and are well-integrated into the mainstream.
According to William Willmott, a researcher on Chinese in Cambodia, ethnic Chinese are among the biggest ethnic group in 1960. By the end of 1960, there were about 425,000 ethnic Chinese in Cambodia. But, due to war and ethnic cleansing under the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-79), only 61,000 ethnic Chinese were recorded in 1984. It means that the ethnic Chinese has been increased more than ten times in the last thirty years. In comparison to the whole population of Cambodia, this has been double from 7 (in the eighties) to more than 14 million now.
Yesterday, I was disturbing to read an article in the front page of The Cambodia Daily (TCD), a local English newspaper, about the recent promotion of 29 generals to the rank of four star Generals. Already in 2010, we have estimated 2,200 generals in our small army of around 100,000 men. According to TCD, we have already 1,500 generals more than the entire, mighty US Army. Nobody knows exactly the figures of the RCAF (it is a state secret), but if we take the number above divided by 2,200, it comes out that a general would command of 45 soldiers. Normally, a general would have at least 1,000 soldiers to command. Besides, we have too many “ghost soldiers” soldiers whose names only exist and not real combat troops. The salary of these ghost soldiers went into the pockets of their superiors.
Why does the PM needed to promote too many generals? He seems to know that it does not make sense of too many generals for a small army. Few years ago, only he and few CPP’s leaders have Four Golden Stars. All the other have normal four stars or below. Then, the need to promote new four stars, then he upgraded himself to five stars. So, now since we have too many four stars, maybe he will upgrade himself to six stars and then give few close connected and well trusted generals five stars. Let’s wait and see. I think the simple reason is to make his generals happy with the government amid political deadlock and general bad feeling of the ordinary soldiers toward his government before and after general elections in 2013. The opposition tries to attract ranks and files soldiers, including generals, to their camp and it could be dangerous for PM if the generals are not happy with him and his government. It could be the end of his area.
Even during the war between 1970 and 1975, General Lon Nol, the President of the Khmer Republic and Commander in-Chief of the Army had only three stars. The ranks and files soldiers at that time did respect their superior very much. Now, it is not so. Mostly, we have heard many cases of land grabbing attaching to this and that general or people well-connected to them. It means more generals will create more instead of solving problems. And it costs the state in term of salary, offices, assistants etc. The Prime Minister announced that his new government hast “deep reform” on the agenda. Looking at the behavior and practices recently, it seems that his intended“deep reform” is just “lip services”. Poor Cambodia again!
During the first day of the three days Chinese New year, 31.01.-02.02.2014, Phnom Penh becomes quieter. There is less traffic. Many shops are closed and many houses are locked. Our people with Chinese ancestors are having days off to celebrate their tradition and leave the cities for visiting resorts in other provinces. The price of commodities goes off every year during this season. Roasted piglet and roasted ducks are among the most favorite foods of the Chinese.
It is estimated that more than ten thousand piglet from 5Kg to 20Kg were roasted in Phnom Penh alone to serve the needs of the customers. The owner of the shop, where we got our roasted piglet, said that he received orders up to 400-500 piglet for the New Year. We have ordered one piglet of 8Kg. It costs 460,000 Riel or $115. Few years ago, it was less than $100.
It seems that more and more people adapt to the small celebration of any New Year. It is interesting to observe this trend? What are the main reasons behind this behavioral change? It could be a mix of all these factors:
- Peace and stability
- Freedom in belief and religion
- Economic development and better living conditions
- The spread of new social and traditional Medias
- Marketing of the business sector (TV ads, hotels, restaurants etc.)
- Freedom of movement etc.
On 31 December 2013, we went to Sihanoukville to celebrate the universal New Year. Many people went there, so that all the hotels and guesthouses were booked. The price went off for three or four times the usual price. One month later, many Sino-Khmer are celebrating the Chinese New Year, including pure Khmer. It is just a new trend, and nothing much to do with belief, religion or tradition. In our family, my wife has prepared also something to mark this New Year as well, just to have something to eat and drink among family and relatives. In two and half month, we, Cambodians, will celebrate our Khmer New Year, for three days, from 13-15 April, every year. The difference between Chinese and Khmer New Year is that the Chinese of Vietnamese are celebrating in the family, but the Khmer are celebrating among family, visiting their home villages and bringing food to the monks in the pagodas. It is good that we have reasons for joint celebration, rather than reasons for self-destruction. Money spent during the new years could help to stimulate the local economy and inject motives/incentives for more goods production to serve the markets during these special events.
The political situation in Cambodia since the national elections in July 2013 remains tense and counterproductive. As Cambodian, I am not happy to see this political stalemate lasts forever. I was encouraging political players, through personal talks and social media, for better cooperation, constructive engagement and continued dialogue. But, time has passed quickly, and more than six months later the two political camps have not settled down their differences, but rather widen it and created more mistrust among them. No political solution in sight yet. Each side tried to settle national problem by using win-lose formula.
After the elections, three summit meetings between the CPP and CNRP, on 14, 16 and 17 September 2013; were organized. I was really hoping that they could hammer out the remaining difference quickly. But, I was completely wrong. The three point’s joint communiqué was signed, but little attention has been paid to it, especially the first point “refraining of the use of violence”. We have experienced the violent crackdown early this month and other violent prone counter demonstrations organized by the ruling party. The opposition reaffirmed their “non-violence” approach. However, they are not reluctant to heavily criticized the government, especially PM Hun Sen. I think critics is good, but we do need to find a way that people were not upset or “losing face” due to strong criticism. You and I do not like criticism either, and perhaps not so many people like harsh criticism. It is good that we have different opinions and different political points of views. It is what the society is all about. Let’s the market decides which idea is best.
I think both parties know well that the country does need “deep reforms” in many fields. Poverty is still widespread; 20-25% of our people are still living with less than 50 cents a day. The gap between rich and poor is widening. The state budget deficit is still 40% and is being covered by development partners through grant and loans. The living standard of Cambodians has slightly improved in comparison to twenty years ago, but the need for real change is much more. I am convinced that only through dialogue and debates, that our country’s problem could be gradually settled. Compromise needs willingness to give and take from both sides. If they set the national interest above personal and party’s interests, the deadlock might have been solved already. It is quite difficult to nurture solidarity and collaboration, but it is quite easy to divide the society and people into groups: red, blue, gray, white etc. We, as nation and people, have suffered the most on Earth. Let’s unite and build a stronger Cambodia together instead of trying to destroy each other.
South Africa’s solution should be studied as role model for Cambodia. We do need Cambodian’s Mandela and de Clerk. Long term peace could be achieved only through peaceful hearts and not by inciting hates. We do prefer the culture of dialogue rather than the culture of confrontation which could lead to more violence and self-destruction.
This morning, I have spent sometime listening to in full length the speech of President Barak Obama at the House of Chamber. It was broadcast-ed live in CNN. Obama spent more than one hour giving a solid, powerful, positive and very encouraging speech. My impression of the speech:
- He is world leader in rhetoric and words selection
- He has built up strong sentences
- He did not even look to his notes
- Many times, people were standing up and gave long applauds to him. The longest one was devoted to the wounded veteran of the Afghan’ s war
- He praised the American strong economy and America as world leader in number of areas
- He has not spoken any nonsense
- He deserved to be a strong leader when he said: “As chief of the executives I intend to lead by example”
- He praised women’s role in the society and the first lady
- He praised American’s diplomacy led by principle and democratic ideals
- He raised the support to any fight for human rights, democracy around the world
- He praised hard work, freedom and responsibility of Americans: Citizen means standing for own rights and duties to serve the country
- He asked the business leaders to raise wages for their workers
- He praised America as place for investment now, not China
- He stands firm to fight against dictatorship, terrorism around the world
- He has sense of humor
Looking the quality of his speech and comparing back home, I think our leaders still have a lot of home works to do so that one day Cambodia could have leaders who could deliver very powerful and inspiring speech like this. Not only powerful speech, but we do need powerful action to serve the nation, not own (pockets) interests.