An open letter to American people

Dear Americans,

Greeting from Cambodia!

President Barack Obama will leave his legacy to historians and many generations to write and judge. On November 8 this year you will have your voice heard. You will go to your poll station to elect your 45th president.

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Democrats in Cambodia

In 2009, you wrote a new chapter in history by having the very first African American president of the United States of America. Against all odds. The world was watching. Cambodians were also watching. I was once at Foreign Correspondent Club (FCC) in Phnom Penh; people there were watching the Democrats having a live debate on television. That was the first US election I got to know. Since then, I started to follow US politics: Democrats vs Republicans.

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A Democrats Abroad event at FCC in Phnom Penh

I’ve been to the US of A twice. Your country is amazing. The combined two trips lasted four weeks. I was fortunate enough to first land in Washington Dulles International Airport. So most of my first week was to get a sense of the Capitol Hill and smell the politics. I actually went to see the White House in person. San Francisco International Airport was where I departed twice. In between DC and the Silicon Valley, I visited New York City, Atlanta, and Sacramento. And I met so many nice American people. Once had dinner at their home. Even had a home stay in Los Altos.

I described these memorable trips because I believe and think the USA is a great country, full of great people. And I only hope that in November you will elect a great president, not he-who-must-not-be-named, not he who instills fear among people.

As American author Seth Godin wrote in his book, all marketers and politicians are not liars. They just want to tell you stories you want to hear. The message of fear seems to work well. The more you want to hear, the more stories you will get. I only hope you’ll be able to resist fear. People in my home country, Cambodia, have too much of that. We went through one of the darkest histories humans can ever bear. Even now we have too many stories of fear. Traumatized. Living in the past. Not moving forward.

Thank you very much indeed for the privilege to get to know your beautiful nation and citizens. My amazing trips are something I enjoy telling friends, family, and kids.

The world is watching. Cambodians are also watching. Are you listening?

A letter from Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Tharum Bun, a Cambodian blogger

When and how U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh marks its one million Facebook page likes

This afternoon, I got an instant message from a friend. I got a last-minute invite to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh as it celebrates its big social media day. The embassy’s Facebook Page reaches its milestone one million Likes. Like many countries around the world, Facebook is simply a modern media machine anyone can become publishers.


As a blogger friend nicely puts it: “The legend has it that old bloggers meet every four year there for cake…”


I happened to wear my blue BarCamp Bangkok 2014 t-shirt today. πŸ˜‰


This is probably a million milligram cake to celebrate a million like U.S. Embassy Cambodia’s Facebook Page.

With my helicopter bloggers (read this by then US Ambassador William Todd): An Effective Military-to-Military Partnership): Cartoonist and lecturer Sovathary and Chetra Chap who spearheads Khmer Scholar. It’s a great to catch up and have some nice conversation about next generation of digital marketing using virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

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From right to left: Chetra Chap, Kounila Keo, Sovathary Bon

Many more beautiful pictures from the US embassy:
US Embassy 1million Facebook fans celebration

Big thank to Yarat for the invite!

Kounila wrote about this celebration here: Coming back to the Kingdom when U.S. Embassy Facebook Page has 1 million fans strong

Here’s the official U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh Facebook Page:
https://www.facebook.com/us.embassy.phnom.penh/

Meet Thomas Wanhoff: from Germany to Cambodia with love

I first met Thomas Wanhoff, a German science podcaster, nearly 10 years ago when he moved to Cambodia from Germany. After a couple of years, Thomas started to roam around East Asia. It’s until mid this year, he’s back in Siem Reap. As always, I enjoy listening to stories from people like Thomas. So last week, I met Thomas for a coffee chat at one of his most favorite places, Brown Coffee on the Sisowath Quay. In this interview, I asked him about his early involvement with the BarCamp communities and about his past decade trotting Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vientiane, and Bangkok.

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Having a chat over coffee with Thomas at Brown Coffee Riverside on the Sisowath Quay


Question #1: Please introduce yourself in one tweet.

Answer: German writer, dog lover and Barcamp enthusiast who moves around in South-East Asia

Q: When did you first land in Phnom Penh?
A: In August 2007, just a few days before the Clogger Summit. I heard from someone about this event and emailed Viirak, asking if I can join, and I was overwhelmed by hospitality I experienced. Also, there I made my first ever presentation in English.

Q: What was Phnom Penh like back then: technology, infrastructure, community?
A: Internet at home was only affordable with a 256k Modem, but restricted from 7pm-7am. So even back then I preferred coffee shops and some restaurants with free wifi. At this time the KhmerOS was developed, and the community started to form and expand. And blog.

Q: You’re a BarCamp nomad? Tell me what is it like? What’s your most favorite session to date?
A: I co-organized Barcamps in Phnom Penh, HCMC, Vientiane (Laos) and Bangkok, and it was always an amazing experience. Mainly because we could prove that such a concept works in those countries. People are able to create things on their own if they are allowed to. One favorite session was in Bangkok about how to run a company by Karsten Aichholz, and I learned a lot from Phnom Penh-based Christopher Brown. And of course my How To Make Pizza in Pan session was a lot of fun.

Q: What are the 3 things you like most about Cambodia? (please explain why?)
A: People, because those I know are incredible kind and friendly, but also smart. The desire to learn here is impressive.
Living standard: I actually like the imperfection here. Yes, the garbage in the streets is annoying, and so are some dirt roads. But those aren’t important things. And Khmer make the best out of it.
Culture and history: Coming from a continent where we were taught that the roman empire and the empire of Charlemagne were the biggest thing on earth, it is good to know that Cambodia had this at basically the same time in a different part of the world. Gives you a different perspective.

Q: You’ve just started learning Khmer language. What’s the experience (challenges)?
A: I am at early stage. What I think is important is to know how to read, because you get a better understanding of the pronunciation, and you get a lot of motivation. You start recognizing letters. I was able to read “Wing” and “Mini-Mart” in Khmer, that was a huge. Challenge is that it is not getting easier when you are older, but hey, that’s why we moved to Asia, because we like challenges.

Q: As you’ve been living in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand the past decade, how do you describe the common things among these cities? And what are the most awkward things to you?
A: The most interesting experience having lived in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand is that people are less different as they may think. They have a lot of things in common. In particular Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. Food, Language and culture are not that much different. It would be good if those countries (and people) start to discover more what they have in common rather than pointing out differences. Awkward: It took me some time to understand that connections are the most vital thing in Asia, and that time is not so much important as in Germany. But: I still believe in punctuality.

Thomas currently lives with wife and 5 cute dogs in Siem Reap. Read his blog: Thomas Wanhoff in Cambodia


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Meet Chhom Nimol

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Chhom Nimol is a Cambodian singer and lead vocalist for Dengue Fever, a Los Angeles-based music band.

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I took these photos at the backstage before the six-member band started performing.

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These pictures were taken in May 2010 at Wat Botum Park in Phnom Penh.

Photo: Sweet Memory Studio

Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Charles John Huffam Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870)

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A note from Beth Kanter, a friend since 2004: the digital dot

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Beth Kanter at Joma Bakery CafΓ©

Posted date: May 22, 2016

Yesterday I had a wonderful day with Tharum Bun and his family, meeting his wife, children, and in-laws and seeing his home and neighborhood.

I first “met” Tharum in 2004 when he left a comment on my blog announcing why I had stopped blogging for a few months. I had just adopted my daughter, Sara, and Tharum wished her peace and happiness.

I was excited to learn that there were bloggers from Cambodia because I was the Cambodia bridge blogger for Global Voices. Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon co-founders, asked which of the Cambodia bloggers might be good to sponsor for the London Global Summit and I suggested Tharum.

I met Tharum for the first time in London 2005. We have kept in touch over the past 13 years and I have followed his career working as a communications officer for NGOs in Cambodia. He also reached out to me for the 2007 Cambodian Bloggers conference and I ended up being the first person on Twitter to raise money for the conference and come over and teach. (cc: Shel Israel)
He met my children and husband in 2012 when we have a Cambodian Blogger reunion here in Phnom Penh. cc: John Weeks Chak Sopheap Chantra Be)

He is working for InSTEDD and in 2015 he came over for a team meeting and I hosted him at my house.

Yesterday was fantastic opportunity to see what life is like in a neighborhood where a lot of working professionals live outside of Phnom Penh — it is an up and coming neighborhood – sort of like Brooklyn.

Tharum picked me up with his son, Tom. Tom is 4 years old and he was wearing the Stanford T-Shirt I gave him! Tom is attending an American school – an english speaking school where the curriculum is based on play and creativity. Tom spoke perfect, fluent English or a four year old. I was floored. He is also very smart and obviously his mother and father encourage him and are good parents.

Tharum has a daughter too, her name is Sophie. She is very active and friendly – and also picking up a few english words already.

We walked around his neighborhood which is basically Cambodian style town houses. The neighborhood has a mall, with coffee shop – Brown and a cinema. We had coffee at a Laotian Coffee shop.

It is very gratifying to watch Tharum Bun in his NGO and communications career and his family over the years. One would never think that you could develop strong relationships from connecting through social media – but you can.

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Sambath Meas, Cambodian-American writer

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Sambath writes about arts, science, and technology: http://sambathmeas.com/

Sambath Meas is a Cambodian-born American writer. She lives in Chicago, Illinois. I’m very fortunate to have a chance to interview her about her bond with home country Cambodia and her essence in life: writing and reading. She says “Reading generates ideas, and story ideas are flowing out of me like the Tonle Sap River.”

I’ve followed her work for some years already. It’s until recently when she published her latest book, The Governor’s Daughter: The Scribes of Brahmadhan, that I decided to interview her. This is an exclusive, unedited email interview I conducted this week.

Tharum: Please introduce yourself in 3 tweets.
Sambath: My name is Sambath Meas, which means treasure or wealth and gold in Khmer. My friends call me Sammi and my family and relatives call me Sros. I love going to the theatre, traveling, reading, researching, and writing.

Tharum Bun: Sambath Meas, what’s in the name?
Sambath Meas: Are you going Shakespearean on me? Or do you mean it in a modern day sense? My name matters greatly as I am trying to build a brand and everything great that comes with this name.

Tharum: Please tell me about your childhood and your connection with Cambodia.
Sambath: I was born in Pailin (Gem City), Battambang during the third year of an acrimonious civil war between the Khmer Republic and the Khmer Rouge. By the time I became aware of my surrounding I was already living in a draconian and agrarian society that was run by the victor of the war. When the Khmer Rouge and their former allies the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and the Viet Cong clashed over political and territorial issues that led to the latter’s invasion on December 25, 1978 and not too long thereafter, my family decided not to stick around to witness or experience another stage of Cambodia’s death and destruction.

My father wanted a better life for our family and an education for my sister and me. Therefore, he and my mother took great risks by leaving their ancestral homeland, the only place they knew and attached to, and dodging bombs, bullets, landmines, and human predators, whether in Cambodia or Thailand, to find the land of abundance where people could live in peace and harmony with liberty and justice for all.

My family was displaced for two years in Thailand’s refugee camps before my father’s hard work and prayer were answered. We finally received sponsorship to the United States of America. After many interviews and physical tests, the authority took us to Bangkok where we, carrying our ICEM bag, boarded a giant metal bird to the United States. We arrived in Chicago, Illinois on a frigid night of September 1981. We survived Cambodia’s civil war, the Khmer Rouge, the refugee camps, but it was a whole new type of survival for us on the streets of Uptown, Chicago. My father registered me for school and they put me in the third grade. I did not know a word of English and I was one of the few Asians in that school. My parents, going to school and looking for labor work, pretty much left me, an eight year old girl, to walk the streets of Uptown to and from school on my own and to fend for myself. Unbeknownst to my parents, other kids, specifically boys, taunted me, threw spitballs at me, beat me and routinely called me β€œChing Chong.” They would pull up their eyes to look severely tight and slanted while they pretended they were speaking to me in my native tongue. They told me to go back to China. Not the one to cower from a fight or harassment, I fought back. Unfortunately, instead of my bullies getting in trouble, I got in trouble for my outburst and self-defense. My teacher yanked me out of the classroom and threw me in the principal office. My father didn’t find out what I went through until they called to lecture him about my bad behavior. They reprimanded me. Unbeknownst to me, my parents also received physical threats and verbal assaults and told to go back to China. My father was forced to carry a rock or hammer when he returned from work from the night shift or just walking the streets. However, just like Cambodia and Thailand’s refugee camps, we survived the mean streets of Uptown, Chicago. I continued with my education and went through the growing pains of childhood like normal American kids, my parents worked hard to put food on our table and a roof over our heads, and just like other Americans, we saved enough for small vacations to other states.

My connection with the people and country of Cambodia stems from the Khmer language I speak at home, the family and relatives living in the country, the wonderful history of my native ancestors, and my love for Khmer ancient ruins and philosophy of life that had long been forgotten by Khmer people but now is being practiced by successful people through out the world. I will have to write a book about it.

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Sambath Meas in the corner of a Starbucks Coffee typing on her laptop

Tharum: Who inspires you to write and to become the person you are today?
Sambath: My mother and great authors such as William Shakespeare, H. G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Patrick Rothfuss, J. K. Rowling, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and self-help gurus such as Napoleon Hill, Bob Proctor, and Rhonda Byrne.

Tharum: Why this book, The Governor’s Daughter: The Scribes of Brahmadhan?
Sambath: The Governor’s Daughter, which took me five months to write, came to me while I was writing Rise of the Eugenicists. I am hoping to finish Rise of the Eugenicists this year, 2016. The Governor’s Daughter is supposed to be series of The Scribes of Brahmadhan that explains back stories and events that are taking place in Rise of the Eugenicists. Plus, I love Sherlock Holmes and I thought I would write my own detective stories that take place in Cambodia.

Tharum: What’s next? Tell me some more about it?
Sambath: I am working on two science fiction novels right now: Rise of the Eugenicists and Tommy’s Mind Palace. The first one consists of grown up themesβ€”politics, social issues, regeneration, wars, destruction, free will, men v. men, men vs. nature, dystopia, utopia, etc.β€”while the second one consists of an adolescent theme of having to deal with the loss of a parent.

In Rise of the Eugenicists, my idea came from our Khmer ancient ancestors who built temples to align with the cosmos and cities on which they built on top of other cities, wars, destructions, and present day political and social problems not only rooted in Cambodia but also around the globe.

The premise of Rise of the Eugenicists: The Scribes of Brahmadhan is this:
We are living in a dangerous cycle. Evil is spreading fast. All of us might not survive it. According to Brahmadhan chronicles, as shown in the Angkor Wat temple, our world is transformed during four eras: krita yuga, treta yuga, dvapara yuga, and kali yuga. The span of krita era lasts 1,728,000 human years, treta is 1,296,000 human years, dvapara is 864,000 human years, and kali yuga is 432,000 human years. These quartet cycles repeat themselves over and over again for 4.54 billion years now.

The human life span is the shortest in kali yuga, because the planet is plagued with never-ending wars, ongoing natural disasters, famine, immorality, greed and lack of ethics. All tolerable religions will disappear and be replaced with fanaticism. Evil roams the planet until everything is completely destroyed. We’re currently living in kali yuga. The battle had begun a few thousand years ago, starting with the Kurukshetra War, which took place in northwestern India, with the fates of the Kauravas and the Pandavas, as described in the great epic of the Mahabharata. Will we survive the kali cycle, as the most evil mind on Earth, arms with newly discovered technologies from the denizens of Brahmadhan, wants to start a new type of the greatest eugenics war, which was disrupted in World War I and World War II?

Tharum: If you’ve 3 wishes for Cambodia, what are those?
Sambath:
1- I wish … actually, I want to appeal to all Cambodian leaders to put aside their differences and act as the healing and uniting force instead of instigating and creating hyperbolic politics to cause people to destroy each other verbally and physically. They should look out for the interests of the people and country for now and for the future to come and not their own personal and short-term gains. We should have learned our tragic lesson when we let hatred consumed us like when the Khmer Republic trashed and abolished the monarchy and the monarchy in turn called out for the people to go into the jungle to form and side with the Khmer Rouge to destroy each other and the country. We still experience its aftermath until this day.

2- People in Cambodia have been injected with negativities since the fall of Angkor to the point of becoming fearful, complacent, and having no sense of purpose in life. What I see on Facebook and other social media most of the time is, peopleβ€”especially young peopleβ€”complaining about boredom, having no money, and having no sense of direction or purpose in life. It’s a waste of human energy to have 80 percent of the Cambodian population not having a sense of purpose and contributing to their own growth and that of the country. I would like to one day, like the Cave analogy in Plato, to lead them out of darkness and into the light, to help them help themselves, to teach them to be positive and great members of their society. I wish…I want Cambodian people to wake up to help themselves and help their country prosper. They have a lot to learn about positive mental attitude and attracting positive energy.

3- Cambodia has been severely deforested. I wish … I would like to call out for like-minded people to come together to reforest Cambodia. Also, from city to countryside, Cambodia is littered with garbage. I would like for us to make Cambodia green and clean again.

Sambath’s published books:

The Governor’s Daughter: The Scribes of Brahmadhan

Kindle edition:

The Immortal Seeds: Life goes on for a Khmer family

Sambath Meas’s official website: http://sambathmeas.com/
Follow her on Twitter: @TreasureGold
Photo courtesy of Sambath Meas


To suggest or recommend someone I should do the next interview, please send me an email: tharum at gmail dot com.