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?

 

Analyst Worries Democracy May Be Sidelined for Asean ‘Security’

Chinese and ASEAN leaders attend the 15th ASEAN-China Summit in Phnom Penh's Peace Palace, Cambodia, November 19, 2012. (VOA Khmer/Sophat Soeung)

Chinese and ASEAN leaders attend the 15th ASEAN-China Summit in Phnom Penh’s Peace Palace, Cambodia, November 19, 2012. (VOA Khmer/Sophat Soeung)

Sophat Soeung, VOA Khmer, April 13, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – The adoption of the Asean Human Rights Declaration in Phnom Penh last year marked a major milestone for advocates of Asean democracy. But a prominent Southeast Asian security expert says that while democracy is important for security in Southeast Asia, getting the region’s democracy agenda back on track remains uncertain in the near term.

The recent opening up of Burma, also known as Myanmar, has made some observers see promise of greater democracy in Southeast Asia. But some worry that despite this attention, traditional security issues, like the South China Sea, might sideline the region’s democratization agenda in coming years.

Rizal Sukma, executive director at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, Indonesia, told an audience at the East West Center in Washington last week that the current global geopolitical climate is starting to affect how Southeast Asian countries prioritize their foreign policies.

Countries in the region are having to choose between their core values and their practical interests, he said. “My fear is that most of us will choose interest, rather than values,” he said. “And then we can say goodbye to democracy as the agenda of regional cooperation in Southeast Asia.”

Human rights and democracy were founding principles of Asean, a group that puts together democracies, constitutional monarchies and communist governments. But Indonesia, the bloc’s largest member, has been pushing for greater democratic reform since 2003.

Burma’s reforms in the democratization process have stirred some signs of optimism, but Sukma said democracy should be viewed as important regionally, as well. And that will require changes in a lot of countries.

“In a democracy, you have to open up and cannot withhold information anymore,” he said. “So it provides a lot of opportunities to actually understand each other better.”

But democracy is a tough agenda item for Asean countries, who typically have non-interference policies. It took years to adopt a Human Rights Declaration, one that rights groups have criticized as below international standards.

Katherine Southwick, an international law consultant based in Southeast Asia, told VOA Khmer via Skype that the Asean declaration is an evolving document, and while revision of some provisions will be helpful, its value will ultimately depend on implementation.

That will depend on citizens and governments, “and what kinds of measures they actually take when they are confronted with human rights abuses,” she said.

Sukma told VOA Khmer that the declaration allows governments to argue “cultural relativism” to trump universal rights norms. The declaration was a disappointment to Indonesia, the only Southeast Asian country listed as “free” by the US-based watchdog Freedom House, he said.

And though officially Indonesia welcomed the declaration at its signing in Phnom Penh last November, the country is walking a fine line between promoting a regional democratic agenda and alienating countries that might see its work as patronizing, he said.

Burma was the first Asean country to reach out directly to Indonesia for help in its democratization process, he said. Burma will now chair Asean in 2014, symbolizing the region’s struggle to put democracy as a pillar of regional security. But other issues are pressing, as well.

That kind of tension was brought to light at the November summit in Phnom Penh last year. The summit was dominated by policy arguments of the South China Sea, where Asean members have overlapping claims with China. Discussion on the rights declaration was overshadowed by that contentious issue.

Still, Sukma said Burma’s chairmanship will put democratization higher on the agenda, as the country seeks to trumpet this achievement.

Phnom Penh Going Hypercool Online

Note: This is a repost of an older blog post of December 5, 2012.

UPDATE: Andrew is in fact a new Phnom Penhois, working at a local NGO. He told me via email that  he was doing this in his spare time. At the of the first post on December 5, there was around 25,000 views. One day after, that number increased by 10,000 views to over 35,000.

That I first learned about this amazing timelapse video of my hometown from an Indonesian friend – and not from a Cambodian friend – didn’t initially catch my attention. I was impressed, stunned, awed. So too were many others, Cambodians and non-Cambodians alike it seems, making the extremely well-shot video go viral on YouTube, and making it into Mashable. And this, at a time when I am in the Penh!  Even if you’ve never been to the Cambodian capital or have heard bad things about it, this video might change your mind. It’s a powerful new digital-age way to change other’s perception about your city or country.

The video was uploaded by Andrew Blalock, who describes himself as originating from the San Francisco Bay area of the United States. He may well just be visiting the city, but my guess is that he’s one of the growing number of expats in Phnom Penh. This evening I was just chatting with friends about the recent influx of foreigners to Phnom Penh, making it ever more cosmopolitan.

Andrew: whether Phnom Penh is your transit or your new home away from home, thank you for making it so hyper-cool!

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.