The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

News From Storm Kiteboarding

From Scott Soothill
Storm Kiteboarding Centre
Mui Ne, Vietnam

The new and improved 2009 Storm Crew. Hey these must be the smartest instructors and beach boys in Mui Ne. Check out their new home. You can even get your kites in their.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Moon Restaurant, Mui Ne

From Gene in California/Sichuan China:

"When we were in Mui Ne last month, we really like The Moon restaurant, in the high-end district. We were there for 10 days and tried quite a few places but liked this one best - for service and food. The owner and his wife run the place every day and he speaks reasonable English and his staff is efficient and polite. His food was better, I thought, than most of the other Western-style places. Prices reasonable compared to other places."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

On the Radio?

Family members have informed me that I was quoted on the radio back in the USA for something that I've written. I'm not sure if it is from this blog or something I submitted elsewhere. Apparently it is something for Cambodia, so I can only guess it is about the trials. If you hear anything, please leave a comment.

Even Famous Chimps Attack

First I should probably apologize as this entry is very off-topic, but given the current media attention and my personal connection to the topic, I can't help it...

Adam and Nyota (baby Bonobo) being carried by a staff member at the Language Research Center in Atlanta
(now the Great Ape Trust in Iowa

The recent attack on a Connecticut woman in Maryland has directed a lot of attention toward not only Chimpanzees as pets, but also exotic animals in general. The issue interests me particularly because I worked in the field of primatology for several years, as a Chimpanzee caregiver at the Primate Foundation of Arizona and the Language Research Center in Atlanta (currently re-incarnated at the Great Ape Trust in Iowa). I’ve worked with not only common chimpanzees (around 80 individuals) but also bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees) and a solitary, armless orangutan.

Chimpanzees are among God’s most amazing creatures. They are most certainly intelligent, thoughtful, and they can be gentle and loving, yet at times selfish and destructive. Chimpanzees are master communicators; not only is meaning conveyed through their vocalizations, but they also communicate through posturing, motioning of their limbs, facial expressions, and things as simple as a bristling of the hair. In fact, my previous work involved Kanzi, a world-renowned bonobo, with the ability to communicate by pointing to symbols on a keyboard that corresponded to individual words.

I’ve observed the aftermath of more than one attack in my professional work. The Primate Foundation had impeccable security and safety standards, but in any human environment, mistakes are inevitable. I recall that one of my co-workers tripped and fell against the cage containing a group of chimpanzees whom she dearly loved. The noise and excitement stirred the chimps into a raucous, and one of them grabbed her arm and bit one of my co-workers fingers clean off. If I remember correctly, I don’t think the finger was ever found.

It was at the Language Research Center however, where the most carnage occurred. While I was in employment, Kanzi escaped from his cage while in the care of Dr. Sue-Savage Rumbaugh. He mauled one of the scientists in another room, without cause, ripping one finger from his socket, and viscously biting the man on his shoulder. I later learned from my supervisor that Kanzi and other bonobos at the center (all publicized by the international media for their intelligence and thoughtful nature) had a long history of escapes, wandering the premises and surrounding community, and severely mauling lab staff.

It’s possible for a chimpanzee caregiver, or pet owner, to understand a great deal about the feelings, desires and intentions of a chimpanzee by learning to observe subtly changes in their behavior, posturing, vocalizations and facial expressions. Doing so is in fact essential for building a relationship with these animals and creating an atmosphere of trust and confidence.

However, it can never be forgotten that these animals are wild. They are easily startled, highly excitable and have explosive tempers. With strength seven times a normal man, it is impossible to stop them when they have a tantrum. They can be a loving companion one moment, and a horrible monster the next. I don’t believe the damage they do is necessarily intentional. When they get excited, it is as though a light goes out in their brain and the energy takes over, causing them to hurt others they dearly love. No matter how much a chimp has been conditioned to live in a human—and no matter how intelligent it may be, it will never make a suitable pet. It will always have an element of unpredictability and pose a danger to others.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Day 2

Cambodian students head into the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia to attend the trial of Kaing Guek Eav

I had the honor and privilege of attending the Khmer Rouge Tribunal today, outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This was the final day of the initial hearing, in which lawyers and judges set the ground-rules that will determine how the rest of the trial goes.

This trial is for Kaing Guek Eav, better known as "Duch," who was the commanding officer at the infamous S21, a school turned torture facility where approximately 14000 people were killed under his charge.

Most of the subject matter was mundane and elementary. Toward the end however, things turned contentious and much more interesting when the prosecution sought to introduce a video allegedly shot by the Vietnamese military when they invaded Cambodia and first encountered S21. The Vietnam government only just provided the tape to the prosecution.

The defense vehemently opposed introduction of the video, however, suggesting it appeared to be a faked re-enactment, provided by the Vietnamese with political motivation. The defense raised a number of interesting points regarding inconsistencies between the tape and facts known about conditions at S21.

Inconsistencies in the video include:
-The entrance in the film is on the wrong side of the building.
-The sign with the name of the facility is missing in the video.
-The number and ages of survivors in the video don't match the known survivors.
-The children survivors in the video are healthy--they should have been haggard and near death.
-The children survivors do not appear in any of the known lists of survivors, and strangely can not remember the names of their parents.
-None of the famous adult survivors of S21 do not appear in the video

The initial hearing ended at 12:28 in the afternoon. The substantive trial schedule will be determined soon, but is expected to resume in March.

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

The trials are not without controversy. Only 5 officers of the Khmer Rouge have been permitted by the government to go to trial. Many members of Cambodia's current government are former members of the Khmer Rouge themselves, and guilty of crimes that will never go to trial. Thousands of ex-Khmer Rouge cadres live freely among the population as well. Only Duch, now a Christian, has freely turned himself in, confessed to his crimes, expressed remorse, and asked for forgiveness.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Amazing Opportunity: Sitting in the Tribunal

In a strange turn of events, I have an opportunity to sit in on the Khmer Rouge Tribunal tomorrow. I can't believe it is open to the public and that there is actually a seat available... So, more tomorrow on this amazing opportunity. A note to media organizations: I am available!

Khmer Rouge Trials Begin

Today marks the first day of the long-awaited Khmer Rouge Trials, almost 30 years after the brutal communist regime devastated the country and murdered nearly 2 million people.

This morning at 9am, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as "Duch" was the commanding officer at the infamous S21, a school turned torture facility where approximately 17000 people were held and all but a dozen eventually killed (either at the school, or taken to the "Killing Fields."

The trials are not without controversy however. Only 5 officers of the Khmer Rouge have been permitted by the government to go to trial. Many members of Cambodia's current government are former members of the Khmer Rouge themselves, and guilty of crimes that will never go to trial. Thousands of ex-Khmer Rouge cadres live freely among the population as well. Only Duch, now a Christian, has freely turned himself in, confessed to his crimes, expressed remorse, and asked for forgiveness.

While the 5 on trial are most certainly guilty of the crimes they are charged, there is a sense that they are being used as symbolic scapegoats while so many guilty people go free.

Its interesting to note that most Cambodians don't seem to want revenge. They merely want those guilty to confess their crimes, express remorse, and explain why they did what they did. Those seeking revenge seem to more often be foreign observers.

S21, seen through an upper window in the complex

A visitor looks through the photos and documents on display at S21

some of the better cells in the prison

Phnom Penh Impressions

Wat at Sunset along the riverfront

The Sorya shopping center is better than Vietnam's Diamond Plaza, Saigon Center and Vincom Towers combined.

Contemporary Khmer Dance at Sovanna Phum Arts Association

Selling sticky rice cooked in bamboo

Another kind of child trafficking. Some of them may be legitimate, but it is obvious that many are not. Why work when you can sleep all day on the street and tourists hand you wads of cash without even being asked? It sure pays more... Dozens of women lay with babies on mats, presented like offerings. Many of these children are apparently rented for the day. They are purposefully dressed in rags--some of them even physically abused--just to make them look more haggard so they can get more handouts. Again, there may be some individuals with real need mixed in, but for many of these women, I believe they've made a conscious choice to live this way rather than work.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Lost Minority Villages of Ninh Thuan Province

Over Tet I went to Phan Rang and visited friends at a Cham Village. One day we drove several hours up into the mountains to visit some Rag Lai villages with stilt houses, untouched by modernity.

Stilt houses are not normally as glamorous as the ones in Museums or National Geographic. Most are small and rustic.

Entering a village

Waiting for the passenger who was too fat to carry up the hill

Passing rivers between villages

Vistas above the villages

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What's he up to?

Unfortunately January didn't have as many entries as I would have liked in this blog. Right after the books for DK Eyewitness and Thomas Cook, I jumped into a piece for a new book from Time Out in the UK. Now I've got my fingers in 2 more books for Insight Guides (making a total of 3 books for them so far in 2008/2009)! The fun never ends! And any day now I have a piece on Mui Ne coming out in Vietnam Pathfinder Magazine!...

..Stay tuned for my next entry which should include photos from Tet in Phan Rang, my stay in a Cham village, and a visit to a remote Rag Lai village in the mountains (stilt houses galore)...


Wilko Krautter from Germany sent these photos of Jellyfish on the beach in Mui Ne (Ham Tien). My friends tell me that these glorious little beasties are, thankfully, relatively harmless other than causing some minor skin irritation and itching. We have many kinds of jellyfish in the bay--most harmless, and some even edible. A rare few are quite dangerous however, and can cause sever pain and gruesome scarring.