The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Overheard in Phnom Penh

“Snakes on a plane is a great concept. I mean you’re on a plane, where you gonna go? If it was snakes on a bus, you could just get off. That happens in Cambodia you know.” —Vanna

There’s a new Foreign News Editor in town

As of 2009, I became the Phnom Penh Post’s foreign news editor. I only reluctantly took the position. It’s neat being an editor at a daily paper, and the position looks cool on a business card. But it means fewer journalistic adventures to drug hotspots, tropical islands, or city dumps. It means less writing and photographing.

I’ll be stuck at my desk reading the wires and deciding what people will read (or ignore) the next day. Without any reporters under me, it’s just me making the decisions and a couple of subeditors fixing my screw ups. No more waking up and wracking my brain for a story; no more losing sleep over how to structure an article, and definitely no more hour long lunch breaks.

In college, I procrastinated by reading the news, and—like all college students—I procrastinated a lot.

On the brightside, my new job means that—finally—I won’t have to feel guilty about spending all my time reading the news.

Drug Raids in Phnom Penh

Drug users take a hit as police raids force them into hiding

With a new police chief out to make his name, drug users in Phnom Penh once again live in constant fear of the authorities. I talked to four women for the article who had recently been picked up by the police, beaten and then released. What was most disturbing was not their graphic depictions of police brutality, but their nonchalant way of telling me about it—as if being kicked in the ribs by a policeman was no big deal to them. For them, police violence had become routine.

The women aren’t afraid of being beaten—they’ve gotten used to it—they’re afraid of being taken to a government-run “treatment” center. The police told them that the government was building a new facility, and once it was finished, they taken there and forgotten forever.

A drug user, who was shot in the stomach by the police ten days earlier, smokes yaba.

This is probably just an empty threat from corrupt police, but these women are terrified. They’ve all heard the rumors about of gang rape and detainees being beaten to death.

The police all know where the NGOs that do needle exchange are located, and these women believe that the police try to intentionally patrol those streets.

It should go without saying but this seriously undermines the ability of drug users to seek services, and by forcing them underground, it makes it harder for NGOs to reach out and educate drug users about the dangers of injection drug use.

If the Ministry of Health institutes its pilot methadone maintenance program this summer and these brutal raids continue, no drug user will trust the government, ruining the chances of a humane and effective detox program.

First morning of 2009

The decision to release the two on bail and return the case to the appeals court for review was a particularly auspicious way to start the new year.—the US Embassy on the temporary release of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun

Smiling, I stare at my flatmate, rub my eyes and blink slowly a few times.

It’s Friday
No, it Thursday.
It’s Thursday, 2009.

It’s important to establish these things in the morning.

We go to brunch to meet friends, and they don’t show up.
Adam orders well—his breakfast has mangoes and bacon.
I want to drink more coffee, but the place doesn’t have free refills.

The Big Night was a dance floor in a run-down colonial building called The Mansion.

Everybody was there. In Phnom Penh, everybody is everywhere you go.

It rained. We danced. It kept raining, and we kept dancing.

And then we ordered hot dogs.

Not a bad way to end 2008.