As I sit in my apartment in London, it feels as if I have just awaken from a dream in which I spent 2 weeks in the amazing country of Cambodia. I start to question whether any of what I am currently seeing is real because the last 2 weeks flew by so quickly, and this time two days ago I was tucking into a local Khmer dish which inevitably included rice and was washed down with Angkor beer for about $2.
Despite my extremely short stay, I left Cambodia inspired to explore more of Southeast Asia in the future, and excited about where the country is headed. Looking back at some of the things I noted during my time there, a few things touched me.
Light will find its way out of darkness
Few things touch the heart more than when one human cruelly takes the life of another human. And yet a myriad of reasons are given as to why it is acceptable to do so.
A visit to the Cambodia Landmine Museum created by Aki Ra about 25km north of Siem Reap really brought to life another example of the devastation humans have done to one another. Having being forced to join the Khmer Rouge army as a 10yr old boy, Aki Ra was involved in setting landmines around the country, and at one time found himself taking aim at his uncle in combat. But following his conscription into the Vietnamese army when they overthrew the Khmer Rouge regime a few years later, and ever since peace returned to Cambodia, Aki Ra has spent his life clearing landmines throughout Cambodia (Aki Ra was voted as one of CNN’s top 10 heroes of 2010) and raising awareness of the devastation caused by this indiscriminate killer and maimer. When one looks at the outcomes of such lethal weapons, it is hard to understand how some governments still refuse to sign the anti-landmine Ottawa treaty which seeks to ban the use of such weapons and prevent the reoccurrence of suffering that still haunts Cambodians long after the Khmer Rouge regime was toppled. Aki Ra and his charity’s continued dedication to risking their lives to clear landmines and supporting the victims are an inspiring example of light that has emerged after Cambodia’s dark past.
Can corruption ever be a good thing?
During discussions about conducting business in developing countries, it is inevitable that the issue of corruption governs a large part of the conversation. And whilst many westerners take the moral high ground and argue that there is no corruption in their culture, this is highly inaccurate when you consider the disguised corruption in western nations such as MP expenses in England, irregularly large individual & corporate donations to political parties in the USA, and oil & gas contracts in Russia (to name a few).
Cambodia has its fair share of corruption, and having spoken to a few business owners it became clear that tax collection is an area which could do with better regulation or rather the proper application of the law. It seems that businesses are accustomed to making unrecognised tax payments to local inspectors which are not necessarily the right taxes due. It also appears that there is a culture of employees convincing their employers to use suppliers who are personally known to the employees for prices that may well be higher than the market rate. And both of these acts are deemed as “normal business” in Cambodia. But if one were to judge these acts not from an idealistic western standpoint but rather from a socialistic perspective, could it not be argued that these acts are more effective in helping the local community than a poorly run government welfare system? Is there not an argument that by allowing these practices it actually helps in keeping money in the country as opposed to the system the west model to the rest of the world which allows large corporates like Apple and Starbucks to pay no taxes? Of course there are no simple answers to these questions but it does make you wonder if an ideal tax and welfare system could ever be applied in any country.
Following my stay in Cambodia, I am excited about the future of the country as more and more opportunities for investment become evident in so many different sectors. And Cambodians are investing in their future by taking the steps necessary to create more opportunities for themselves. An increasing number of young Cambodians are taking English lessons as they recognize employment opportunities due to the influx of English-speaking investors in their country. And having spoken to a few youths, their dreams include becoming business owners and travelling overseas. And why shouldn’t it be possible – after all, there are no limits for those who strive to make a brighter future for themselves.