Social Media Highlights Water Festival Beyond Phnom Penh

Water Festival in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. (undated, taken from web)

Water Festival in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. (undated, taken from web)

Cambodia’s traditional Water and Moon Festival or “Bon Om Touk” (បុណ្យ​​​អុំទូក អក​​​អំបុក សំពះ​​​ព្រះខែ), formerly Water Festival, is celebrated in the capital Phnom Penh and provincial towns every November to mark, amongst other things, the end of the rainy season, the reversal to normal course of the Tonle Sap river, and to honor the imperial navy of the Khmer Empire. Although likely rooted in ancient Angkor, the modern tradition is primarily focused at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, whose location at the confluence of four rivers (Chaktomouk), makes the royal capital ideal for provincial boats to float to the venue of celebration with ease. Please note that Cambodian Water Festival is not to be confused with traditional new year Water Festival in Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar which falls in April.

Carvings of Khmer fighting Cham Warriors, Bayon temple (travelsort.com)

Carvings of Khmer fighting Cham Warriors, Bayon temple (travelsort.com)

As a native of Phnom Penh, I grew up either liking or hating the crowds that converge in there. I have always heard and seen on TV some of the same though smaller celebrations in Cambodia’s smaller towns and in the former Khmer provinces in the Mekong Delta of southern Vietnam. But with the boat races in Phnom Penh cancelled for many years following the tragic stampede in 2010 and the advance of social media seems to highlight the many and equally colorful events happening beyond Phnom Penh. These are perhaps reason for Phnom Penhois to, once again, enjoy Bon Om Touk, away from home.

Lowell, USA (August 15)[Click date to Facebook as post embed not working]

Please join us on August 15th 2015 from 9am to 4:30pm. We have boat races, live entertainment authentic food, merchandise and information booths.500 Pawtucket BlvdLowell, MA(978) 995-2362

Posted by Lowell Southeast Asian Water Festival on Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A family trip to Lowell Water Festival in 2015:

Lowell, USA in 2014:

Battambang (October 25): [Click date to Facebook as post embed not working]

អុំទូក បណ្តែតប្រទីត ចេញព្រះវស្សា ខេត្តបាត់ដំបងរូបភាព Sotheara GBShttp://battambangpage.blogspot.com

Posted by បាត់ដំបង – Battambang on Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Svay Rieng, Cambodia (November 1):

Long Boats Racing in Svay Rieng Province, Cambodia. from Kimlong Meng on Vimeo.

Tra Vinh (ខេត្ត​​​ព្រះត្រពាំង), Vietnam (November 23): [Click date to Facebook as post embed not working]

ពិធីប្រណាំងទូក ង ខ្នាតតូច (អុំ ១០ នាក់/ ១ ក្រុម) នាថ្ងៃច័ន្ទ ទី ២៣ ខែវិច្ឆិកា គ.ស. ២០១៥ ដែលបានចាត់តាំងឡើងដោយក្រុមគណៈកម្មការបុណ្យ អកអំបុក បណ្ដែតប្រទីប សំពះព្រះខែ នៅភូមិឫស្សីស្រុក។

Posted by Wat Veluvana on Monday, November 23, 2015

 

Soc Trang (ខេត្ត​​​ឃ្លាំង), Vietnam in 2013:

Siem Reap-Angkor, Cambodia (November 24)[Click date to Facebook as post embed not working]

Apparently, this year’s biggest.

អបអរសាទរ ព្រះរាជពិធីបុណ្យ អុំទូក អកអំបុក បណ្តែតប្រទីប និង សំពះព្រះខែ អាជ្ញាធរខេត្តសៀមរាបរៀបចំពិធីបុណ្យអុំទូករយៈពេលពីរថ្ង…

Posted by Andy Sim Photography on Monday, November 23, 2015

And back to … Phnom Penh (November 24)[Click date to Facebook as post embed not working]

“To me, a Water Festival that has no boat racing is completely meaningless.” The #WaterFestival has begun in #PhnomPenh, but the city is quiet and disappointed. #Cambodia

Posted by The Phnom Penh Post on Tuesday, November 24, 2015

 

What about other places? Where did you go during Water Festival?

 

How Google Figured Out Khmer Translation

A screenshot of Google Translate page displaying the translation of "VOA" in both Khmer and English.

A screenshot of Google Translate page displaying the translation of “VOA” in both Khmer and English.

Sophat Soeung, VOA Khmer, May 24, 2013

WASHINGTON — Editor’s note: Around Cambodian New Year last month, Google launched its online translation service for the Khmer language, making it the 66th language to be translatable on its service. Google says the launch is primarily aimed at making a vast amount of non-Khmer content on the Internet more accessible to Khmer speakers. Divon Lan, product manager of Google’s Next Wave Emerging Markets program, recently spoke to VOA Khmer’s Sophat Soeung by phone to explain what it means for the average Cambodian.

Listen to Full Interview: Divon Lan talks about Google Translate Khmer

You didn’t actually use translators to build this system. How did you actually build Khmer translation on Google?

Google Translate is actually machine translation. Basically, the way this works is we look at all the Khmer data that is out there, on the Web and so on. And we figure out automatically the language model. And that allows us to translate not only from English to Khmer but actually from any language to Khmer. Today there are 66 languages on Google Translate, so, for example, you can go to a Chinese website or a French website and get it translated to Khmer and understand what it says and vice versa. Foreigners from many countries can read Khmer text translated into their languages. Now bear in mind that the machine translation is still not at the level of human translation. If you use Google Translate, what we’re aiming for is that you will be able to get the general idea of what a piece of text says. It won’t be a word-to-word translation. That’s the downside.
At VOA Khmer we have two language websites, one in English and one in Khmer. Would that contribute to Google Translation because they basically have the same content? Is that the idea?

That’s the idea. We look at all the content that’s out there th​at is of that nature in two languages and looking at millions and millions of pages, and we try to figure out what the translation should be automatically using algorithms rather than humans.

A Cambodian student uses Google's new Khmer online translation service between Khmer and French. Google Translate released Khmer as its 66th language on its online translation service around Cambodian new year, 2013. (Courtesy of Divon Lan)

A Cambodian student uses Google’s new Khmer online translation service between Khmer and French. Google Translate released Khmer as its 66th language on its online translation service around Cambodian new year, 2013. (Courtesy of Divon Lan)

Khmer is the 66th language on Google Translate. It’s actually the last language of the (Lower) Mekong region, even after Lao. Is that because of the complexity of the Khmer language that it was released later on?

Yes, it’s partly because of the complexity. It’s partly because to create this machine, the “translation language model,” we need a fairly large amount of text available out there on the web. And Khmer is still, you know, the amount of text compared to other languages is still small if you compare it to other regional languages like Thai or Vietnamese. The amount of content in those languages is much bigger. We wanted to make sure that the quality meets our launch level, which is basically that you’d be able to understand more or less what an article is about although that translation is not perfect. The translation quality will improve over time. So the more people use it, the more people suggest corrections, and over time the quality will improve.

Actually the one language we launched just prior to Khmer was Lao, as you’ve mentioned. That’s also one of our most recent launches. And these languages are very similar in many of the difficulties that we face in translating. One of them is the fact that in Khmer and in Lao and in Thai, you don’t use white spaces to have a gap between words. So one of the challenges is just looking at Khmer text and figuring out where the word boundaries are, and the same challenge exists in Lao as well.

When you write in a language like English, you use a space between every word, whereas in Khmer the words are just stuck to each other. While a human reading Khmer can very easily tell the words apart, it’s actually quite difficult for a computer to understand where one word ends and a new word starts. One thing that makes it easier, by the way, is that Khmer has a unique script. So when we see Khmer letters in a document, we know for sure that’s Khmer, compared to Latin alphabets. Like you see a text, you’re not always sure if this is French or Italian or Spanish. It can be anything; they all use the same letters. For Khmer, if it is in Khmer, it’s Khmer. There’s no question. So that part makes it easy. And that’s the same for Lao and Thai.

Divon Lan, product manager of Google’s Next Wave Emerging Markets program, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Courtesy of Divon Lan)

Divon Lan, product manager of Google’s Next Wave Emerging Markets program, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Courtesy of Divon Lan)

How long did it actually take you to build the Khmer translation and what was the most challenging aspect of doing that?

It took us a few good months, maybe even a year. And the challenges were really getting to a good enough level of quality, given the amount of Khmer text out there on the web is still relatively small. An additional challenge is that we found that actually people write Khmer words in many different ways. So there are a lot of people that don’t use a standard dictionary way to write a word. They just write it phonetically, and then we see many variants of different words, which of course adds another interesting technical challenge for us.

Who did you envision as your audience?

Our audience is primarily Cambodian. What we’ve seen in Cambodia is that the young and educated people in Phnom Penh are all using the Internet. But if you think about that, that’s only 5 percent or so of the population of the country. You have 90 to 95 percent of the people that are not using the Internet. Now there are many reasons why people are not using the Internet, like the cost of devices and things like that. But one of the top reasons in Cambodia is Khmer. Most Cambodians speak only Khmer, and I think it’s our duty as a technology industry—Google and other companies—to provide the world’s information to Cambodians in their language. The vast majority of content on the web is not in Khmer. It’s in English or other languages, and we think it’s critically important to give access to that information to all of the world’s information to Khmer-speakers, in their language. That’s the motivation here.

Some in our audience have asked if the Google Khmer translation is available on mobile.

Yes, it is.

A screenshot of Google Maps of Cambodia, displaying in the Khmer language on Friday, May 24, 2013.

A screenshot of Google Maps of Cambodia, displaying in the Khmer language on Friday, May 24, 2013.

Google Khmer was launched more than two weeks ago. What feedback you have gotten so far?

I think the feedback is extremely enthusiastic. I’m following the English-language media in Cambodia, and thanks to Google Translate I now can also follow the Khmer-language media, since I’m not a Khmer-speaker. I’m very excited to see the level of excitement out there. Obviously, there are also comments about the quality, which is to be expected, but I think everybody recognizes that this is really a big step for the Internet in Cambodia.

So this is the early beginning for Khmer Translation. What is the plan? What’s coming up related to this?

This is what we call an “Alpha version,” which means it is the very very first early version of that translation. We hope the quality will improve a lot. We’re investing more and more in Khmer. For example, Google Maps already shows place names in Khmer language. This happened a few months ago. I can’t provide specific details on future plans, but I can say that we’re definitely investing in the Khmer language, because our objective is really to get the world’s information to Cambodians. So every Cambodian—doesn’t matter their background, where they are, whether or not they speak other languages—they should be able to participate in this information revolution that we are in.

On a personal note, I’ll say that my wife is actually Khmer. And when I think about our mission in Cambodia—as Google and even as the technology industry—I always think about my mother-in-law, who is an intelligent, capable woman, but who, like most Cambodians, only speaks Khmer. And because of that, she is not able to access the Internet, access the information that’s out there. And it’s my personal mission to solve that problem. My mother-in-law should be able to use the Internet just like anybody else, in her own language.

Will the Tonle Sap River Stop Reversing?

Note: This is a repost of an older blog post of April 23, 2012.

The Tonle Sap lake-river during the dry season (dark blue) and rainy season (light blue).

The Tonle Sap lake-river during the dry season (dark blue) and rainy season (light blue).

So this will be my presentation topic at this year’s 4th Khmer Studies Forum at Ohio University, April 27-29, 2012. Interestingly, the presentation comes at a time when there is more media coverage on the Mekong river issues, including the recentMekong-Japan Summit, Cambodia’swarning to Laos about the Xayaburi dam, and Cambodia’s own criticized tributary dam plans.

You can also follow my musings on the Mekong river issues pertaining to Cambodia at http://whentheriverstopsreversing.wordpress.com/.

I hope to see you at Ohio University. Here’s my presentation abstract:

When the River Stops Reversing: Raising Environmental Awareness for the Tonle Sap
The Mekong river’s unique hydrology has profoundly shaped Cambodian culture and its civilization for over two millennia. From the author’s experience, however, modern Cambodians do not appear to fully understand or appreciate this connection, resulting in lack of engagement on environmental issues and misguided development policies. The Tonle Sap river is believed to be the world’s only inland river that seasonally reverses its flow. The significance of this hydrological reversal lies beyond its physical symbolism – more importantly, it determines the food security of Cambodia, having shaped its cultural lifeblood for over two millennia. To most Cambodians, this river’s strange rhythm seems ‘natural’ and enduring. However, today the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers are under threat from infrastructure development and climate change more than ever before. For example, the erection of a dam or a decrease in rainfall could disrupt the seasonal reversal. In this context, the author believes that the metaphor of an irreversible Tonle Sap river can serve as a wake-up call for Cambodians of all walks of life to be more aware of their physio-social environment. Through better education and activism, this narrative could elicit more widespread engagement in Mekong river issues, while also bringing about more sustainable national policies to address the developmental and environmental challenges that Cambodia and neighboring countries face in managing this shared resource.

Here’s the full video of my presentation.

Proposed Dam a Mystery, Concern to Kratie Locals

A fishing boat floats on the Mekong river at Sambor in Cambodia's Kratie Provice, a site chosen for a proposed 18-kilometer hydro-dam. (Sophat Soeung/VOA Khmer)

A fishing boat floats on the Mekong river at Sambor in Cambodia’s Kratie Provice, a site chosen for a proposed 18-kilometer hydro-dam. (Sophat Soeung/VOA Khmer)

Original article: Sophat Soeung, VOA Khmer, September 17, 2010

KRATIE, CAMBODIA —Later this month, a major report assessing the pros and cons of 11 proposed mainstream hydro-dams in the lower Mekong region will be publicized by the Mekong River Commission. The report will include information about two hydro-dams across the Mekong River in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.

Although no decision has been made by the Cambodian government on the proposals, local people know little about the plans and are concerned their voices will be left out.

Sours Ve, a 38-year-old farmer and guest house operator in Sambor district, is among them. On a recent morning, she said goodbye to a group of tourists from the US, who had staid with her under a home stay system. The community-based tourism project has boosted her annual income, but she says she’s worried she’ll lose her home if a dam is built across the river here.

In 2007, a Chinese survey team arrived at her house and placed a concrete marker on her property. Were the megadam to go forward, it will fall directly across her property, creating behind it a 86-kilometer-long reservoir.

“I asked them what they were surveying, and they told me that they were going to build a hydrodam, and they put in this post on my land,” she said, standing over the marker behind her wooden stilt house after the tourists had gone.

“We learned that this was a study by a hydrodam construction company, but whether they will build the dam or not, we don’t know,” she said. “And our people started to worry, not knowing when the dam will be built.”

Government officials say it is premature for anyone to worry about a dam here. They say the 18-kilometer dam that has been proposed for Sambor is only one of several options they will discuss in coming meetings.

The proposed dam, currently being studied by China Southern Power Grid, is one of 11 dams being considered by lower Mekong countries Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Experts say these dams can be more problematic than their upper Mekong cousins, because down here, the land is flat, which require giant dams and reservoirs.

Critics say the dams will do more than put people like Sours Ve off their land. They can also be damaging to fisheries and the river’s ecology. In Sambor district, there is little information, but plenty of concern.

“We heard rumors that if it is built, it will be massive, and 56 meters tall,” said Sours Ve, who recently traveled to Phnom Penh to learn more about the project and to Ratanakkiri province to see the effects of a Vietnamese dam on the Sesan river.

Locals on a Mekong inland at Sambor, Kratie province see off foreign tourists. A proposed mega hydrodam at the site would completely inundate the island if constructions go ahead. (Sophat Soeung/VOA Khmer)

Locals on a Mekong inland at Sambor, Kratie province see off foreign tourists. A proposed mega hydrodam at the site would completely inundate the island if constructions go ahead. (Sophat Soeung/VOA Khmer)

Locals on a Mekong inland at Sambor, Kratie province see off foreign tourists. A proposed mega hydrodam at the site would completely inundate the island if constructions go ahead.

She is among the most informed people in her community.

“We know that if the project goes ahead, we’ll have to relocate,” she said. “And we locals became worried because we don’t know when they’ll come, and no one can give us an answer.”

Ith Praing, a secretary of state for the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said concerns like these are so far unfounded. Sambor’s potential for a dam has been studied since at least 1964, he said, so this is only the latest study.

“And up until now we haven’t made any decision on the proposal, pending [a more comprehensive] study, to decide whether there is really hydropower potential and what the [negative] impacts are,” he said.

Kratie Governor Kham Khoeun told VOA Khmer he was aware of the study, but not the extent of it. He agreed that concerns right now are premature because studies on ongoing.

At the Sambor district fish market, which according to maps would sit just below the proposed megadam, little is known about the study.

A 33-year-old fish monger who gave her name as Adik said she’d never heard of it.
Nearby, 54-year-old  vendor Nhoung Sokkhim said she’d seen the Chinese during the field study in 2007, but knew little more.

“I saw the Chinese come with their machines, but I haven’t seen any construction,” she said. “I only saw them bringing metallic devices further up near the pagoda. There was no explanation of what is going on. No one knows, not even the local authorities.”

Indeed, Sambor District Chief Heng Sotha told VOA Khmer all he knew about the proposal came from local people.

“I am unaware of the details of the plan,” he said. “There are no official documents informing me about this.”

Ith Praing said there was no need to worry that people’s input would not be part of the decision. The government plans to take the proposal’s negative impacts very seriously, he said, adding that local authorities have in the past been invited to Phnom Penh to discuss the dam.

As proposed, according to a draft report of the Mekong River Commission, the Sambor hydrodam would flood 620 square kilometers, including 3,369 hectares of agricultural land and be operational by 2020.

For Sours Ve, the trade-off won’t be worth it.

“These days, we no longer want electricity if it means having to relocate,” she said.
“It’s possible for us to move, but what about the bones of our ancestors? They’ll be flooded, and nothing will remain.”