Apr 142018
 

Today is the first day of the Cambodian New Year in 2018, Khmer: បុណ្យចូលឆ្នាំថ្មី or Choul Chnam Thmey, literally “Enter New Year.” The holiday lasts for three days beginning on New Year’s Day, which usually falls on April 13th or 14th, which is the end of the harvesting season, when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labor before the rainy season begins. Khmers living abroad may choose to celebrate during a weekend rather than just specifically April 13th through 16th. The Khmer New Year coincides with the traditional solar new year in several parts of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. It was originally pegged to the lunar calendar, but is now more fixed within the Gregorian calendar. Cambodians also use the Buddhist Era to count the year based on the Buddhist calendar. For 2018, it will be 2562 BE (Buddhist Era).

The three days of the new year are:

Maha Sangkran (មហាសង្រ្កាន្ត)

Maha Sangkran, derived from Sanskrit Maha Sankranti, is the name of the first day of the new year celebration. It is the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. People dress up in new clothes and light candles and burn incense sticks at shrines, where the members of each family pay homage to offer thanks for the Buddha’s teachings by bowing, kneeling and prostrating themselves three times before his image. For good luck people wash their face with holy water in the morning, their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening before they go to bed.

Virak Vanabat (វិរ:វ័នបត)

Vireak Vanabat is the name of the second day of the new year celebration. People contribute charity to the less fortunate by helping the poor, servants, homeless, and low-income families. Families attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at monasteries.

Vearak Loeng Sak (វារៈឡើងស័ក)

T’ngai Loeng Sak in Khmer is the name of the third day of the new year celebration. Buddhists wash the Buddha statues and their elders with perfumed water. Bathing the Buddha images is a symbolic practice to wash bad actions away like water clean dirt from household items. It is also thought to be a kind deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity in life. By washing their grandparents and parents, the children can obtain from them best wishes and good pieces of advice to live the life for the rest of the year.

In temples, people erect a sand hillock on temple grounds. They mound up a big pointed hill of sand or dome in the center which represents Valuka Chaitya, the stupa at Tavatimsa where the Buddha’s hair and diadem are buried. The big stupa is surrounded by four small ones, which represent the stupas of the Buddha’s favorite disciples: Sariputta, Moggallana, Ananda, and Maha Kassapa. There is another tradition called Sraung Preah (ស្រង់ព្រះ): pouring water or liquid plaster (a mixture of water with some chalk powder) on an elder relative, or people in general. This is now mostly a lark for younger people. I will have to watch my step.

There are also a number of traditional games performed over the three days.

Chol Chhoung (ចោល⁣ឈូង), for example, is played on the first nightfall of the Khmer New Year by two groups of boys and girls. Ten or 20 people comprise each group, standing in two rows opposite each other. One group throws the “chhoung” to the other group. When it is caught, it will be rapidly thrown back to the first group. If someone is hit by the “chhoung,” the whole group must dance to get the “chhoung” back while the other group sings to the dance.

Chab Kon Kleng (ចាប់⁣កូនខ្លែង) is a game played by imitating a hen as she protects her chicks from a crow. Adults typically play this game on the night of the first New Year’s Day. Participants usually appoint a strong player to play the hen who protects “her” chicks, while another person is picked to be the “crow”. While both sides sing a song of bargaining, the crow tries to catch as many chicks as possible as they hide behind the hen.

The Khmer New Year is also a time to prepare special dishes. One of these is a “kralan”: a cake made from steamed rice mixed with beans or peas, grated coconut and coconut milk. The mixture is stuffed inside a bamboo stick and slowly roasted. I have prepared ansom chek (អន្សមចេក) for today – sticky rice and banana steamed in banana leaves. It’s traditional and not that hard to make – if you live in Cambodia. I’ll make a sour fish soup that I like, as well. Also, very popular for festivals. This site gives a ton of Khmer recipes for festivals. As ever, the challenge is finding the right ingredients http://www.khmerkromrecipes.com/recipes/recipe273.html . I’ll break my normal reluctance to post recipes from Asia because of the difficulty in getting ingredients (this once). If you do not know what you are aiming for I will not be answerable for your results. I’ll also embed a video at the end for good measure (in English). Fish amok is a fish curry with coconut that is very common in Cambodia, year round, but you will find it on festive tables too. Unless you live in SE Asia you will not find all of the ingredients, but here’s the recipe anyway.

Fish Amok (ហហ្មុកត្រី)

For kreung paste

5 kaffir lime leaves, ribs removed, thinly sliced
3 dried Thai red chiles, soaked in water until soft, drained, seeds discarded, chopped
3 slices galangal, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 slices kacheay (also known as lesser ginger or lesser rhizome), peeled and chopped
3 shallots, thinly sliced
2 stalks lemongrass, bottom parts only, thinly sliced
2 small pieces fresh turmeric, peeled and sliced, or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

For fish amok

½ cup coconut milk, plus extra
1 tbsp Cambodian chili paste
1 tbsp Cambodian (or Thai) fish sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp shrimp paste
½ tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 lb boneless skinless meaty white fish, cut into chunks
8 banana leaves
¼ cup nhor/noni leaves (morinda citriforlia), shredded
4 fresh red chiles, cut lengthwise in thin strips

Instructions

First make the kreung paste. Pound together the lime leaves, red chiles, galangal, garlic, kacheay, shallots, lemongrass and turmeric, a few ingredients at a time, using a mortar and pestle until a fine paste forms. You can do this in a food processor, but mortar and pestle is better.

Mix the kreung paste with the coconut milk, chili paste, fish sauce, sugar, shrimp paste, salt and egg in a large bowl. Add the fish and combine well with the kreung paste marinade. Set aside and allow the marinade to infuse the fish for about 15 minutes or longer.

Set up a steamer. Make banana leaf bowls (konthoangs) by placing 2 banana leaves on top of each other and folding into little rectangular bowls with the tapered sides folded up and held together with bamboo toothpicks. Make 4 in total. Make a bed of noni leaves in the bottom of each konthoang. Divide the marinated fish between the bowls, and place on top of the noni beds. Spoon 2 tablespoons of coconut milk over each serving of fish and top off with a fresh red chile. Place the filled konthoangs in the steamer and steam until the fish is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Serve with plain, boiled jasmine rice.

Jan 272018
 

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an international memorial day commemorating the tragedy of the Holocaust that occurred during the Second World War. It commemorates the genocide that resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million Jewish people, 200,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, 9,000 homosexual men, as well as thousands of Slavs, dissidents, intellectuals, and the mentally and physically disabled by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. The day was designated by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7 on 1 November 2005 during the 42nd plenary session. The resolution came after a special session was held earlier that year on 24 January 2005 during which the United Nations General Assembly marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust. The date was chosen because on 27 January 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp, was liberated by the Red Army.

Prior to the 60/7 resolution, there had been national days of commemoration, such as Germany’s Tag des Gedenkens an die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus (The Day of remembrance for the victims of National Socialism), established in a proclamation issued by Federal President Roman Herzog on 3 January 1996; and the Holocaust Memorial Day observed every 27th January since 2001 in the UK.

Resolution 60/7 establishing 27th January as International Holocaust Remembrance Day urges every member nation of the U.N. to honor the memory of Holocaust victims, and encourages the development of educational programs about Holocaust history to help prevent future acts of genocide. It rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an event, and condemns all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief. It also calls for actively preserving the Holocaust sites that served as Nazi death camps, concentration camps, forced labor camps and prisons, as well as for establishing a U.N. program of outreach and mobilization of society for Holocaust remembrance and education.

Resolution 60/7 and the International Holocaust Day was an initiative of the State of Israel. Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel, Silvan Shalom, was the head of the delegation of Israel to the United Nations.

The essence of the text lies in its twofold approach: one that deals with the memory and remembrance of those who were massacred during the Holocaust, and the other with educating future generations of its horrors.

The International Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust is thus a day on which we must reassert our commitment to human rights. […]

We must also go beyond remembrance, and make sure that new generations know this history. We must apply the lessons of the Holocaust to today’s world. And we must do our utmost so that all peoples may enjoy the protection and rights for which the United Nations stands.

The UK goes one step further on this date in commemorating not only those who suffered in The Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution, but also those in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and elsewhere. The Nazi Holocaust is fading rapidly from active memory. There are few survivors and they are all aged. Therefore, it is more important than ever to keep the lessons learned alive to make the best effort to prevent future genocides. I live in Phnom Penh where the genocide perpetrated by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge is still active in memory, and the effects were devastating on the country. The Khmer Rouge murdered 25% of the population, based largely on ethnicity, but they also massacred monks, dissidents, and intellectuals (meaning, anyone with a university education).

The murder of Jews during the Nazi Holocaust is prominent in commemoration events, as it should be. Jews were the main target of the Nazis, and the number murdered far outweighs any other group. That said, I would like to take a moment to remember the Gypsies (Roma) who were victims of the Nazis. Numbers vary depending on what you count as a “Gypsy,” but a figure commonly agreed upon is 600,000.

After the war, discrimination against Roma continued throughout Central and Eastern Europe. The Federal Republic of Germany determined that all measures taken against Roma before 1943 were legitimate official measures against persons committing criminal acts, not the result of policy driven by racial prejudice. This decision effectively closed the door to restitution for thousands of Roma victims, who had been incarcerated, forcibly sterilized, and deported out of Germany for no specific crime. The postwar Bavarian criminal police took over the research files of the Nazi regime, including the registry of Roma who had resided in the Greater German Reich.

It was not until late 1979 that the West German Federal Parliament identified the Nazi persecution of Roma as being racially motivated, creating eligibility for most Roma to apply for compensation for their suffering and loss under the Nazi regime. By this time, many of those who became eligible had already died.

There is now a memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims of National Socialism in Berlin, dedicated to the memory of the Gypsies murdered in the Porajmos (a Roma word for the Holocaust). It was designed by Dani Karavan and was officially opened on 24 October 2012 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the presence of President Joachim Gauck. The memorial is on Simsonweg in the Tiergarten in Berlin, south of the Reichstag and near the Brandenburg Gate.

The memorial was designed by the Israeli artist Dani Karavan, and consists of a dark, circular pool of water at the center of which is a triangular stone. The triangular shape of the stone is in reference to the brown triangular badges that had to be worn by concentration camp prisoners of Roma descent. The stone is retractable and a fresh flower is placed upon it daily.In bronze letters around the edge of the pool is the poem ‘Auschwitz’ by Roma poet Santino Spinelli, although the monument commemorates all Roma and Sinti murdered during the Porajmos:

    Gaunt face
    dead eyes
    cold lips
    quiet
    a broken heart
    out of breath
    without words
    no tears

Information boards surround the memorial and provide a chronology of the genocide of the Sinti and Roma.

The following is one of a series of recipes provided by English Roma that can be found on this site which commemorates the Roma victims of the Holocaust — https://hmd.org.uk/sites/default/files/nazi_persecution_recipe_card_hmd_2017_final.pdf It is a classic English suet pudding, but was collected from indigenous Roma in England. It is cheap to make, and can be boiled all day on the yog (communal campfire) while people are at work. Potatoes and cabbage were usually added to the water used for steaming the pudding.

Bacon and Onion Pudding

Ingredients

225g plain white flour
100g shredded beef suet
10-16 bacon rashers (smoked or unsmoked)
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 beef stock cube
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Mix the suet and flour together with around 150 to 200ml water to form a suet pastry. Add the

water gradually to get the right consistency.

Take the suet pastry dough and roll it out quite thinly on a floured surface into a rough rectangular or oval shape. It should be around quarter of an inch thick. Any thicker and it will become to wet and doughy when it is steamed. The pastry expands in the steaming process.

Trim any excess fat from the bacon and place slices on the rolled out pastry. Sprinkle the chopped onions on top, ensuring an even coverage. Sprinkle with the crumbled stock cube and add salt and pepper to taste. Carefully roll the pastry up, as you would when making a Swiss roll. Make sure you have enough pastry at the ends to seal the roll, crimping the edges to ensure it stays together.

Wrap the pudding in foil or a new clean muslin or tea towel. Make sure you seal it well to prevent steam or water getting in when cooking.

Place the pudding in a steamer and steam for two and a half hours. Alternatively, boil it in a large pan of water. Make sure to keep an eye on the water level and top up as needed.

Carefully lift the pudding out of the pan and unwrap. Slice into individual portions and serve with cabbage and potatoes.

 

Dec 202017
 

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), known in English as Doctors Without Borders was founded on this date in 1971 by Bernard Kouchner and a group of doctors and journalists in Paris. In the aftermath of the Biafra secession, which created a medical crisis in the region, the founding members of MSF sought to expand accessibility to medical care across national boundaries and irrespective of race, religion, creed or political affiliation. To that end, the organization emphasizes “independence and impartiality”, and explicitly precludes political, economic, or religious factors in its decision making. For these reasons, it limits the amount of funding received from governments or intergovernmental organizations. These principles have allowed MSF to speak freely with respect to acts of war, corruption, or other hindrances to medical care or human well-being. Only once in its history, during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, has the organization called for military intervention.

Kouchner

MSF’s principles and operational guidelines are highlighted in its Charter, the Chantilly Principles, and the later La Mancha Agreement. Governance is addressed in Section 2 of the Rules portion of this final document. MSF has an associative structure, where operational decisions are made, largely independently, by the five operational centers (Amsterdam, Barcelona-Athens, Brussels, Geneva and Paris). Common policies on core issues are coordinated by the International Council, in which each of the 24 sections (national offices) is represented. The International Council meets in Geneva, Switzerland, where the International Office, which coordinates international activities common to the operational centers, is also based. MSF has general consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. It received the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its members’ continued efforts to provide medical care in acute crises, as well as raising international awareness of potential humanitarian disasters. MSF also received the 1996 Seoul Peace Prize.

During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970, the Nigerian military formed a blockade around the nation’s newly independent south-eastern region, Biafra. At this time, France was the only major country supportive of the Biafrans (the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and the United States sided with the Nigerian government), and the conditions within the blockade were unknown to the world. A number of French doctors, led by Bernard Kouchner, volunteered with the French Red Cross to work in hospitals and feeding centers in besieged Biafra. After entering the country, the volunteers, in addition to Biafran health workers and hospitals, were subjected to attacks by the Nigerian army, and witnessed civilians being murdered and starved by the blockading forces. The doctors publicly criticized the Nigerian government and the Red Cross for their seemingly complicit behavior. These doctors concluded that a new aid organization was needed that would ignore political/religious boundaries and give priority to the welfare of victims.

The Groupe d’Intervention Médicale et Chirurgicale en Urgence (“Emergency Medical and Surgical Intervention Group”) was formed in 1971 by French doctors who had worked in Biafra, to provide aid and to emphasize the importance of victims’ rights over neutrality. At the same time, Raymond Borel, the editor of the French medical journal TONUS, had started a group called Secours Médical Français (“French Medical Relief”) in response to the 1970 Bhola cyclone, which killed at least 625,000 in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Borel had intended to recruit doctors to provide aid to victims of natural disasters. The two groups of colleagues merged to form Médecins Sans Frontières.

MSF’s first mission was to the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, where a 1972 earthquake had destroyed most of the city and killed between 10,000 and 30,000 people. The organization, today known for its quick response in an emergency, arrived three days after the Red Cross had set up a relief mission. On 18th and 19th September 1974, Hurricane Fifi caused major flooding in Honduras and killed thousands of people (estimates vary), and MSF set up its first long-term medical relief mission.

Between 1975 and 1979, after South Vietnam had fallen to North Vietnam, millions of Cambodians emigrated to Thailand to avoid the Khmer Rouge. In response MSF set up its first refugee camp missions in Thailand. When Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia in 1989, MSF started long-term relief missions to help survivors of the mass killings and reconstruct the country’s health care system. Although its missions to Thailand to help victims of war in Southeast Asia could arguably be seen as its first war-time mission, MSF saw its first mission to a true war zone, including exposure to hostile fire, in 1976. MSF spent nine years (1976–1984) assisting surgeries in the hospitals of various cities in Lebanon, during the Lebanese Civil War, and established a reputation for its neutrality and willingness to work under fire. Throughout the war, MSF helped both Christian and Muslim soldiers alike, helping whichever group required the most medical aid at the time. In 1984, as the situation in Lebanon deteriorated further and security for aid groups was severely reduced, MSF withdrew its volunteers.

MSF has been continually hard at work in Cambodia, where I now live. In 1999, Cambodia was hit with a malaria epidemic. The situation of the epidemic was aggravated by a lack of qualified practitioners and poor quality control which led to a market of fake antimalarial drugs. Counterfeit antimalarial drugs were responsible for the deaths of at least 30 people during the epidemic. This has prompted efforts by MSF to set up and fund a malaria outreach project and use Village Malaria Workers. MSF also introduced a switching of first-line treatment to a combination therapy (Artesunate and Mefloquine) to combat resistance and fatality of old drugs that were used to treat the disease traditionally.

Cambodia is one of the hardest hit HIV/AIDS countries in Southeast Asia. In 2001, MSF started introducing antiretroviral therapy to AIDS patients for free. This therapy prolongs the patients’ lives and is a long-term treatment. In 2002, MSF established chronic diseases clinics with the Cambodian Ministry of Health in various provinces to integrate HIV/AIDS treatment, alongside hypertension, diabetes, and arthritis which also have a high prevalence rate. The aim is to reduce facility-related stigma as patients are able to seek treatment in a multi-purpose clinic as opposed to an HIV/AIDS specialized treatment center.

MSF also provided humanitarian aid in times of natural disaster such as a major flood in 2002 which affected up to 1.47 million people MSF introduced a community-based tuberculosis program in 2004 in remote villages, where village volunteers are delegated to facilitate the medication of patients. In partnership with local health authorities and other NGOs, MSF encouraged decentralized clinics and has provided localized treatments to more rural areas since 2006. Since 2007, MSF has extended general health care, counselling, HIV/AIDS and TB treatment to prisons in Phnom Penh via mobile clinics. However, poor sanitation and lack of health care still prevails in most Cambodian prisons as they remain some of the world’s most crowded.

In 2007, MSF worked with the Cambodian Ministry of Health to provide psychosocial and technical support in offering pediatric HIV/AIDS treatment to affected children. MSF also provided medical supplies and staff to help in one of the worst dengue outbreaks in 2007, which had more than 40,000 people hospitalized, killing 407 people, primarily children. In 2010, Southern and Eastern provinces of Cambodia were hit with a cholera epidemic and MSF responded by providing medical support that was adapted for usage in the country.

Cambodia is one of 22 countries listed by WHO as having a high burden of tuberculosis. WHO estimates that 64% of all Cambodians carry the tuberculosis mycobacterium. Hence, MSF has since shifted its focus away from HIV/AIDS to tuberculosis, handing over most HIV-related programs to local health authorities.

MSF runs a blog with all manner of information. Go here and you’ll find this recipe for Sierra Leone cheesecake which I’ll reproduce for amusement. http://blogs.msf.org/en/staff/blogs/msf-in-sierra-leone/cooking-with-msf-sierra-leone-cheesecake . It is an actual recipe despite the amusing interjections:

Photo: Chris Sweeney/MSF

Chris Sweeney is a nurse on his second assignment with MSF. He’s currently in Sierra Leone working with children under five as part of a mother and child health programme run by the Ministry of Health. Here he teaches us how to make a tasty cheesecake, using limited ingredients and a little ingenuity…

To make a cheesecake MSF-style, you will need the following ingredients:

 One skinny Scotsman, preferably named Chris.

      • An MSF t-shirt to use as apron. You don’t want to dirty one of the two shirts you brought with you on assignment, after all.
      • Two metal tins: one smaller that can fit in the other. The larger tin shall act as a water bath, or, for those who heeded MSF’s advice that learning French would be a good idea, a bain-marie.
      • 45 cheese triangles – and a supermarket that sells them.
      • White chocolate. Or dark chocolate. Or whatever chocolate someone is kind enough to bring to the assignment.
      • Somewhere to hide the chocolate so it doesn’t get eaten.
      • Half a pack of digestive biscuits. (If you don’t have digestives, use a flour, butter, and sugar base – just remember to sieve the flour to remove all the beetles and larvae).
      • Butter or margarine.
      • Sugar, best placed in the sun to get rid of the ants.
      • Three eggs. These can be laid by the hen you named after the last midwife, or you can buy these at the market.
      • Vanilla extract.
      • Condensed milk.

  Method

 1. Mix the ingredients for your biscuit base and press into the foil-wrapped love–heart-shaped tin.

 2. Turn on the gas oven. It has two settings; “is the oven working?” and “I can’t enter the kitchen because the stove is propelling heat across the room like a jet engine”. I recommend the second option.

 3. Place a thick tray on the bottom shelf so that the flames don’t touch the cheesecake, but instead lick around the tray.

 4. Unwrap cheese triangles. At triangle 30, start to think this was a bad idea.

 5. Beat the cheese. After 30 minutes of profuse sweating in the 40 degree kitchen, a colleague will see you and share that there is a blender in the cupboard.

 6. Place beaten cheese into the blender with everything else (minus the chocolate).

 7. Apologise to your colleague who cannot hear her Nigerian soap operas because the blender sounds like a motorbike.

 8. Melt chocolate by taking it out of the fridge. Squeeze into the mix.

 9. Scoop the mix onto your biscuity base. Place on the middle shelf of the oven. Switch oven off after one hour and leave it in there for one hour without heat. Don’t ask why this second hour is important – it is Google’s advice.

 10. Leave in fridge overnight.

 11. Present the cheesecake and tell everyone there is afternoon tea.

 12. Listen to colleagues remind you that you’re British.

 And there you have it! Your very own cheesecake, MSF-style!

 

Oct 232017
 

Today is a public holiday in Cambodia (where I currently live) celebrating the Paris Peace Accords of 1991 (សន្ធិសញ្ញាសន្តិភាពទីក្រុងប៉ារីស), formally titled Agreements on a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict, which were signed on this date, and marked the official end of the Cambodian–Vietnamese War (1975 – 1991). The agreement marked the first occasion when the UN took over as the government of a state. The last quarter, or so, of the 20th century was a horrific time to be living in Cambodia, so that as the century closed with the Paris Peace Accords there was a sense in the country that a modicum of equilibrium and normalcy in the country was possible. I’ll highlight a few salient points in the history of Cambodia here as a way of underscoring two themes I return to in my writing quite often: (1) Nationalism has been an unmitigated disaster since the 19th century. (2) The vast bulk of Westerners are quite contentedly ignorant of the history, culture, and politics of Asia as a whole and of SE Asia in particular. Obviously, all I can do is scratch the surface. You’ll have to learn more on your own.

Sihanouk

Independence of Cambodia and Vietnam from France in the 1950s led to civil war in both countries but in different ways. Cambodia’s independence was reasonably straightforward at the outset, Vietnam’s was not. When France divested itself of Indochina in 1953, Cambodia became a kingdom under Sihanouk, but Vietnam split into a pro-Russian communist northern region and a pro-Western southern region. We all know what happened there next. Cambodia’s history in that era got very complicated because it not only split ideologically between the kingdom under Sihanouk and the Chinese-communist Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot, but also had to battle incursions from Vietnam.

Pol Pot

During the Vietnam War, Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge communist armies had formed an alliance to fight U.S.-backed regimes in their respective countries. Despite their open display of cooperation with the Vietnamese, the Khmer Rouge leadership feared that the Vietnamese communists were scheming to form an Indochinese federation with Vietnam as the dominant force in the region. In order to pre-empt an attempt by the Vietnamese to dominate them, the Khmer Rouge leadership began purging Vietnamese-trained personnel within their own ranks starting in 1975 when the Lon Nol regime, which had overthrown Sihanouk in 1970, capitulated. (Are you following so far?) Then, in May 1975, the newly formed Democratic Kampuchea, dominated by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, began attacking Vietnam, beginning with an attack on the Vietnamese island of Phú Quốc. In spite of the fighting, the leaders of reunified Vietnam and Kampuchea made several public diplomatic exchanges throughout 1976 to highlight the supposedly strong relations between them. However, behind the scenes, Kampuchean leaders continued to fear what they perceived as Vietnamese expansionism. As such, on 30 April 1977, they launched another major military attack on Vietnam. Shocked by the Kampuchean assault, Vietnam launched a retaliatory strike at the end of 1977 in an attempt to force the Kampuchean government to negotiate. In January 1978, the Vietnamese military withdrew because their political objectives had not been achieved an the Khmer Rouge remained unwilling to negotiate seriously.

Small-scale fighting continued between the two countries throughout 1978, as China tried to mediate peace talks between the two sides. However, neither country could reach an acceptable compromise at the negotiation table. By the end of 1978, Vietnamese leaders decided to remove the Khmer Rouge-dominated regime of Democratic Kampuchea, perceiving it as being pro-Chinese and too hostile towards Vietnam. On 25 December 1978, 150,000 Vietnamese troops invaded Democratic Kampuchea and overran the Kampuchean Revolutionary Army in just two weeks. On 8 January 1979, the pro-Vietnamese People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) was established in Phnom Penh, marking the beginning of a 10-year Vietnamese occupation. During that period, the Khmer Rouge’s Democratic Kampuchea continued to be recognized by the United Nations as the legitimate government of Kampuchea, and several armed resistance groups were formed to fight the Vietnamese occupation. Behind the scenes, Prime Minister Hun Sen of the PRK regime approached factions of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) to begin peace talks. Under heavy diplomatic and economic pressure from the international community, the Vietnamese government implemented a series of economic and foreign policy reforms, which led to their withdrawal from Kampuchea in September 1989.

At the Third Jakarta Informal Meeting in 1990, under the Australian-sponsored Cambodian Peace Plan, representatives of the CGDK and the PRK agreed to a power-sharing arrangement by forming a unity government known as the Supreme National Council (SNC). The SNC’s role was to represent Cambodian sovereignty on the international stage, while the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) was given the task of supervising the country’s domestic policies until a Cambodian government was elected by the people through a peaceful, democratic process. Cambodia’s pathway to peace proved to be extremely difficult, because Khmer Rouge leaders decided not to participate in the general elections, and instead chose to disrupt the electoral process by launching military attacks on UN peacekeepers and killing ethnic Vietnamese migrants. In May 1993, Sihanouk’s FUNCINPEC movement defeated the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), formerly the Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party (KPRP), to win the general elections. However, the CPP leadership refused to accept defeat and they announced that the eastern provinces of Cambodia, where most of the CPP’s votes were drawn from, would secede from Cambodia. To avoid such an outcome, Norodom Ranariddh, the leader of FUNCINPEC agreed to form a coalition government with the CPP. Shortly afterwards, the constitutional monarchy was restored, and the Khmer Rouge was outlawed by the newly formed Cambodian Government.

If the alphabet soup and other complications confuse you, don’t panic. To be customarily simplistic I’ll boil it down for you. In the post-war era European colonial governments granted independence to the nations that they had colonized and created where previously ethnicity and governance had been fluid for centuries. Here’s where my fury against nationalism comes in. You really have to be a complete simpleton (which unfortunately too many people are), to think that nations have rigidly defined borders that were establish in some misty past (perhaps by God?), and that all the people within the borders of that nation belong to one stock speaking one language. ALL nations are inherently multi-ethnic and linguistically diverse. I’m not talking about the complexities of immigration for the moment; I’m talking about people born and bred on the soil for generations. Even if you take away the problem of defining borders you are left with a mess. Look at Italy, which has water surrounding it on most sides with the Alps in the north to define the northern bit. Within those geographic borders you have a complete hodge-podge of languages, dialects, and ethnicities of long standing. When I taught in Mantua I had a fair sprinkling of red-haired, blue-eyed students who would look quite at home in Glasgow, yet were as Italian as they come.

Nationalism was the great evil perpetrated on Europe by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/congress-vienna/  — allowing the powerful nations it solidified to spend the rest of the century dominating the world via colonization. Prior to the Congress, Spain and Portugal had done the job of colonizing the New World only to see its empire crumble when they were weakened by the Napoleonic Wars, so that local forces were able to fight successfully for independence.  The aftermath, especially in South America, was a century of civil war as local factions sought to carve out their own nations. In place of Spain, Britain and France took the initiative, colonizing much of the rest of the world (fighting over colonial territory among themselves when they weren’t fighting the locals), with Germany and Italy joining the fray rather late once they had unified into nation-states in the latter 19th century.

What happened to South America in the early 19th century happened in south and southeast Asia in the post-war era. When France felt compelled to release its colonies in Indochina all hell broke loose as I have summarized above. Cambodia does not have God-given boundaries that contain a unitary ethnicity speaking a single language, but Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot thought it should be, though, and set about killing everyone that was not “Cambodian” enough. Pol Pot slaughtered roughly 25% of the population (somewhere between 1 and 3 million out of a population of 8 million), because they were not ethnically pure enough (or were not agricultural enough, or too well educated, or simply a threat to his vision of Cambodian nationalism). The deep irony was that Pol Pot was himself part-Chinese and had been to university. I’m sure someone has written about this before, but the common thread among tyrannical nationalist dictators is that their own ethnic bona fides are far from pure. Hitler had some Jewish ancestors, Napoleon was a Corsican, Stalin was Georgian . . . etc. etc.

It has not been plain sailing in Cambodia since 1991 but the Paris Peace Accords were a start. In 1993, Norodom Sihanouk was restored as king of Cambodia, but all power was in the hands of the government established after the UNTAC sponsored elections. The stability established following the conflict was shaken in 1997 by a coup d’état led by the co-Prime Minister Hun Sen against the non-communist parties in the government. In recent years, reconstruction efforts have progressed and led to some political stability through a multiparty democracy under a constitutional monarchy. Elections next year are a toss-up for the moment with a lot of trepidation in the country.

In July 2010, Kang Kek Iew was the first Khmer Rouge member found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in his role as the former commandant of the S21 extermination camp and he was sentenced to life in prison. However, Hun Sen has opposed extensive trials of former Khmer Rouge mass murderers. In August 2014, a U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal), sentenced Khieu Samphan, the regime’s 83-year-old former head of state, and Nuon Chea, its 88-year-old chief ideologue to life in prison on war crimes charges for their role in the country’s genocide in the 1970s. The trial began in November 2011. Former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary died in 2013, while his wife, Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, was deemed unfit to stand trial due to dementia in 2012. The group’s supreme leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.

As has become my custom here I ought to simply suggest that you buy a ticket to Phnom Penh if you want to taste Cambodian food and leave it at that. Normally for breakfast I find a stall in the market that serves some kind of noodles in broth with meat or fish and vegetables. That is a very common Cambodian breakfast. Noodles in broth with bits added is ubiquitous throughout SE Asia with seemingly infinite regional and local varieties. Without the proper noodles, vegetables, and flavorings you don’t stand a remote chance in the West of replicating even the simplest dish that you can find at a market stall in Cambodia for $1 or less (Cambodian rials and US dollars are used interchangeably in Cambodia). They simmer their broths over wood fires for hours and then heat your chosen ingredients in them for a minute, serving them in deep bowls with a generous portion of broth, (which gets richer the more ingredients are added), and giving you side dishes of condiments. I’m partial to fiery pepper condiments, but I enjoy the pickles also.

What can I say? Pork is a very common broth base. You could start by making a stock from meaty pork bones from a roast. Green onions, garlic, cardamom, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, lemongrass, galangal, garlic, shallots, cilantro, and kaffir lime leaves can be added in various quantities to enrich the broth. The secret is to simmer the broth for hours, refrigerate overnight, and then simmer again in the morning. Then cook some rice noodles of your choice in the broth augmented by vegetables such as bean sprouts or Chinese greens and a little sliced pork. Really though – come to Cambodia if you want the real thing.