After Japan Quake, the Search for a Survivor

Posted March 18th, 2011 at 9:38 pm (UTC+7)
1 comment

Soeung Sophat (Washington, D.C.) and Bun Tharum (Phnom Penh)

When an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11, Cambodian students in Japan found themselves in a frightening situation. But through social media and other communications, most students were able to check on each other during and after the quake.

When the shaking ended, all of the students were accounted for. Except one. Tea Seang Houng. The search for Tea Seang Huong by her friends demonstrates the important role social media and the Internet have come to play for Cambodians around the world.

Tea Seang Houng, who had been in Japan since March 2010 and was studying to be a translator, left Tokyo on March 9 to visit her host family on the northeast of the island of Honshu. Before she left, on March 7, she updated her Facebook profile, telling 309 friends, in Chinese (according to Google Translate): “A couple of days I can go to Sendai. Unfortunately, this is not holding the mood to travel. Anyway, hope this trip will be harvested [fruitful] in Sendai.”

On March 8, a friend replied, in Japanese, “You be careful!”

Seang Hourng's message in Chinese language for her Facebook friends, telling them about her visit to Sendai.

At 2:46 pm on the afternoon of March 11, a massive earthquake began off the northeast coast of Honshu—130 kilometers east of Sendai city, which sits on the eastern edge of the Eurasian Plate, whose geological collision into the Pacific Plate triggered the earthquake.

Sendai is the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture. Map: Benutzer:Chumwa

The quake, a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter scale, triggered a tsunami, a massive wall of water 10 meters high that swept across Honshu’s northeastern coast. The tsunami devastated the entire region, including Sendai, leaving 1.15 million households and businesses in and around the city of 500,000 without power or water, according to the city government. The earthquake shook buildings across the island, including in Tokyo.

More than 200 Cambodian students in Japan experienced the quake, and Facebook became a main source of information for them.

“Huge earthquake!!” Chea Poleng, vice president of the Cambodian Student Association in Japan, typed on her iPhone just after the earthquake. “First experience escape from earthquake >< so scare!!” Later that evening, the 29-year-old economics student at Tokyo’s Hitotsubashi University wrote: “almost no breath when watching the confusing everywhere in japan! Pls keep alert and announce urself safe all friends here!”

Also that night, a Cambodian student in Hong Kong, Sreng Nearirath, reported on Facebook: “one of Cambodian students named Ms. Tea Seng Huong was spending her time at the host family in the hardest-hit Sendai and now could not be contacted according the email of the Cambodian Student Association in Japan (CSAJ) :(“

By then, news of the disaster was well known worldwide. Footage of the tsunami as it swept houses, cars and debris inland was broadcast on major news outlets. Many worried than Tea Seng Huong had perished in the disaster.

She did not. She survived.

Tea Seang Huong, who is 27 years old, was in a grocery store parking lot when the earthquake hit. She had been shopping in an underground supermarket with friends but had been unable to find what she was looking for. They were on their way to another store when the earth began to shake.

“The shake was like we’re running over a big hole,” she told VOA Khmer later. “My Japanese friend told me to open the car doors, but stay still. In front of me, I saw a vehicle shaking. After half an hour of the quake, aftershocks continued slightly, and it was showering, so we got out of the car. I saw a billboard had fallen on the ground, and the ground was torn apart. I therefore felt terribly shocked.”

“When I was in the parking lot, I sent a text message via mobile phone to one of my friends in Tokyo,” she said in a phone interview.

That single text message was passed on through a network of friends and ultimately on through a Facebook network.

In Hong Kong the following day, Nearirath Sreng posted on Facebook: “We have received confirmed information from Seang Houng’s family that she is safe now..Thanks God.”

Since Sendai was hardly hit, she may not be have access to internet or mobile phone… and she may not remember our number except her family’s number in Cambodia. As we have known Japanese mobile number are very long and hard to remember.”

Modern communications had helped reassure Tea Seng Huong’s friends and family she was all right.

By then, March 12, Japan was still struggling to come to grips with the scale of the disaster. In the days to come, rescue efforts would find few survivors and the death toll would reach in the thousands. Today, international attention is on a series of nuclear reactors whose cooling systems were damaged in natural disaster.

Tea Seang Huong is safe for now, though Japan is still struggling to recover.

On March 15, just after 1 pm, she was back on Facebook. “Dear friends,” she wrote, in English this time. “I’ve just arrived Tokyo n my home. Thank you very much for your warm wishes n also very sorry to let you all worrying about me. it was a hard experience for me, but m very happy n feel luck to b safe. contact u again later.”

Recommended web links:
Cambodian Students Shaken, But Unharmed in Quake
Cambodian Student Association in Japan
Resources related to the 2011 Japan Crisis
Stoicism Amid Disaster: Japanese Region Quietly Grinds to a Halt
Video: Japan Earthquake Swarm Google Earth Animation
In pictures: Returning to a Nightmare in Japan

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

Blogs Providing Discussion Space for Women

Posted March 11th, 2011 at 10:51 am (UTC+7)
1 comment

Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh

Cambodian women bloggers say the Internet is helping them challenge a traditional order that has typically silenced them and to find new ways to air their grievances with society or government.

Blogging can provide a useful outlet for the computer literate, including women, at a time when some groups say they are concerned the space for dissent is shrinking in Cambodia.

It has become harder for groups to gather to voice their grievances, or simply to celebrate.

On Tuesday, for example, a coalition of women workers were barred from gathering on International Women’s Day by city officials, and other groups say they have encountered similar resistance from authorities.

And so some people are turning to online platforms, including many women. Online space not only allows for more public discussion, but it can also be a way for women to have a voice where traditionally they haven’t.

Chea Lyda, a researcher with the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s department of media and communications, conducted an online survey of 71 Cambodian bloggers last year, including 26 women. She conducted interviews with 15 women bloggers.

She found the women were well educated and were “vying for the virtual space dominated by men,” according to her findings, which were presented at a conference in Singapore last July.

Most bloggers, women and men alike, are educated.

Blogger Keo Kounila discusses politics, press freedom, culture, and social issues in Cambodia.

Half of the bloggers Chea Lyda surveyed were graduate students, with another 38.5 percent at the undergraduate level. The rest were high school students. Most wrote in English.

Chea Lyda argues that blogging is empowering Cambodian women, “by promoting a sense of agency and of community.”

Keo Kounila is among those bloggers. She has used her own blog as a way to speak out against some of the poor administration she faces in the country.

At a TEDx conference, which was organized last month as a discussion of Cambodia’s future development, she told of her use of the Internet to highlight a land dispute her family was having with its neighbor, including the corrupt behavior of local officials.

“The day before, the two district officials who cited my mother to file a counter-complaint pressured my mother to slip a rather huge sum of money under the table,” she said. “In relation to this, days before my mother was cheated to sign a permission letter to let them install their pipes, the same officials came to my home and pestered my parents every day. Can you imagine what a headache, to have someone come ask for money with threats every day?”

Authors say they can use their blogs to approach such problems.

“Through a blog, I can say whatever I want,” one blogger told Chea Lyda. “It is a platform for expressing and sharing ideas and experiences to contribute to social change.”

For most Cambodian women bloggers, a blog is a web-based journal to express themselves, according to Cambodian Communication Review 2010

Recommended web links:
Cambodia: Rally Barred on Women’s Day
Blogging The New Generation of Cambodia
What Can I Say?
Presenter Gary Bryson travels to Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand and Singapore to meet people who are trying to find a voice for their village, their culture or their nation.

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

Five Years and Counting for Khmer Wikis

Posted March 2nd, 2011 at 10:13 am (UTC+7)
3 comments

Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh

With more than 3.5 million articles in English language, Wikipedia is now the world’s most popular Internet encyclopedia, a collaboration of volunteers from around the globe.

វិគីភីឌាភាសាខ្មែរសូមស្វាគមន៍

Since its launch five years ago the Khmer Wikipedia [km.wikipedia.org], has sought to provide a similar service. It has more than 5,500 registered users who work on translating content from English to Khmer language. Khmer Wikipedia now has more than 24,00 articles and counting, thanks to people with a passion for making knowledge more open and free.

I emailed Oum Vantharith, one of the contributors, who’s currently in Seoul, to learn more about how about the site and its challenges and how the web-based collaboration works.

How does collaboration work now, and how will it expand in the future?
In term of stats, we have more than 5,500 registered users (we don’t know the demographics) but I believe most of them are Cambodians either in the Kingdom or studying/living abroad; some are other cross/inter-wiki users. For the administrators, there are 10 of us. For the articles, we have more than 2,400. So as of now, Khmer Wikipedia is ranked 161st among 279 languages.

How do you work from Seoul?
I’m here to do my Masters of Public Policy in economic development. I will start my course this September after I finish my one-year Korean language course. Basically, I don’t have a fixed schedule for working on Khmer Wikipedia and its sister projects. But I just take some of my free time during weekends to write/edit articles, welcoming/guiding new users, overseeing the recent changes and seeing if there is any vandalism. During weekdays, I just have a peek to see if anything needs my attention. I can say I visit Khmer Wikipedia homepage at least once a day. If not, my day is not complete.

What are the challenges facing you and other contributors?
There are many challenges we are facing. Some has been overcome, some still exist and a few new ones are coming our way.

There’s a lack of interpersonal communication among the admin team because we live far away from one another. No face-to-face meet-ups to discuss thoroughly and do planning.

There is no physical body of the Khmer Wikipedia community, so we don’t have planning, or a to-do list. We are still somehow not organized and well planned.
With Khmer Unicode, there is a lack of unified standard or there is more than one standard. Typing, for example: with or without a space, and/or an invisible space.

For the Khmer language, we mainly base it on Samdech Choun Nath’s Khmer dictionary. But still there are some issues with spelling, like in foreign-loaned words, or technical words.

There remains a low awareness of Wikipedia as well as Khmer Wikipedia, so we don’t have a bigger body of contributors like Thai and Vietnamese projects.

For Wikipedia’s how-to guide, there’s a lack of a how-to guide or introduction. And though we have a basic intro, new users just don’t read and work on the article right away, thus causing non-standardized articles.

    What do you think Wikipedia Khmer can contribute to Cambodia and the people?
    I have a heart for Wikipedia! When I’m in need of knowledge or information, I always turn to Wikipedia, and 99 percent of the time, I get what I wanted. This has always encouraged me to help promote Wikipedia and build our Khmer Wikipedia, as I believe this project will significantly and positively contribute to the Cambodian people. It can promote Khmer language and the use of Khmer Unicode font. It can build a resource of information and knowledge in our Khmer language on the Internet; thus it will not be limited to textbooks. Plus the knowledge itself is in a searchable database. It can bridge together fellow Cambodians who don’t have adequate proficiency in English language and include them in a wealth of resources of knowledge in our mother tongue. And lastly, it promotes volunteerism, collaboration and skills with like-minded people across the globe.

    How did Wikipedia Khmer get started? Who initiated it and kept pushing it?
    I came onboard with Khmer Wikipedia in July 2006 as a registered user. Then I was contacted by a senior Wikipedian who at that time oversaw and helped build the Khmer Wikipedia project. His username is Jose77. I was working on Khmer localization of the interface. He gave me lists of words, and then I translated and posted to him back. [you can see on my userpage talk here – http://km.wikipedia.org/wiki/ការពិភាក្សារបស់អ្នកប្រើប្រាស់:វ័ណថារិទ្ធ]. Now Jose77 has retired as a Wikipedia editor.

    I was off and on with Khmer Wikipedia, so I just maintained my status as a registered user. But I have been doing behind-the-scene work on TranslateWiki [http://translatewiki.net/wiki/Main_Page] to do Khmer localization on the interface from August 2008.

    In July 2009 I was promoted as an administrator and system operator for Khmer Wikipedia. Since then I started getting involved more on the content, overseeing the entries, guiding new users and deleting useless or inappropriate entries.

    Now we have four wiki projects in Khmer language: Khmer Wikipedia, the main project; Khmer Wiktionary; Khmer Wikibooks; and Khmer Wikisource, which just recently started, so there are many things to do.

    How to search Khmer Wikipedia

    Recommended links:
    Khmer Wikipedia on Facebook
    KhmerWikipedia on Twitter
    A guide to the Khmer Wikipedia
    Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit

    Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

    Cambodian Radio App Proving Popular

    Posted February 12th, 2011 at 7:26 am (UTC+7)
    2 comments

    Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh

    Thousands of people have downloaded a Cambodian-developed application for the iPhone and iPad that allows users to listen to radio on their Apple gadgets.

    The application, called Radio Khmer (version 1.2), was created by KhemaraSoft, a technology firm that develops applications for Apple’s iOS platform.

    Radio Khmer app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch

    Sath Mony, a cofounder of the business, told me recently that the new application allows people to listen to Internet-based radio, like VOA Khmer, Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio France International (RFI), World Khmer Radio and Khmer Post Radio.

    The software development sector could prove to be an exciting new job market for Cambodian programmers hoping to affiliate themselves with companies like Apple, which is popular among young consumers here for its iPhone, iPad and iPod.

    Founded last year, KhemaraSoft now employs five developers, four consultants and an adviser—all of whom mostly communicate over the Internet to organize and complete their tasks from locations scattered across Cambodia, the US and New Zealand.

    Radio Khmer is free to download, but Sath Mony says the company’s English-Khmer dictionary, which costs $3.99 at iTunes, is its most popular app.

    “Most people who are studying and using English every day need a dictionary for an assistant,” he said.

    That revenue helps, as companies like KhemaraSoft must pay Apple $99 a year to post apps on iTunes and a further 30 percent of sales. As of the third quarter of 2010, ending in September, Apple had sold 14 million phones. That’s as many iPhones as there are people in this country.

    Sath Mony said his company is moving ahead and expanding.

    “We have a plan to hire more people to develop an Android application,” he said, referring to Google’s own open-source mobile platform, which is expected to grow into Apple’s main competitor.

    Additional links:
    Cambodia Android Users Group: We need Khmer language on Android

    Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

    TEDxPhnomPenh conference – liveblog

    Posted February 5th, 2011 at 10:13 am (UTC+7)
    4 comments

    TEDxPhnomPenh is taking place today at Northbridge International School (Cambodia). I’m here to cover the day-long event.

    TED speaker and fellow Sophal Ear wrote in an email saying that:

    I’m absolutely delighted that TEDxPP is taking place! TED is about ideas worth spreading and Cambodia has many wonderful ideas worth spreading and sharing. I believe that Cambodian thought leaders and visionaries can come together at TEDxPP not just as speakers but as audience members who can absorb ideas from one another for a better Cambodia.

    Of the speakers lined-up, obviously, I am especially proud of each and everyone in the Cambodian contingent (Kung Nai, Sithen Sum, Thet Sambath, Kounila Keo, Channe Suy, Theary Seng, and Phloeun Prim) because TEDxPP is a wonderful platform for them to launch ideas worth spreading. Thet Sambath’s Enemies of the People has been described as cathartic to Cambodian-Americans who have seen it. Kounila Keo’s Blue Lady Blog is at the vanguard of social media in Cambodia; you can find her on Facebook 24/7! I think the legend of TEDxPP will spread and whoever should have been there will have a chance at the next TEDx taking place in Cambodia. There’s no doubt in my mind, it’s the hottest ticket in Cambodia right now.

    TEDxPhnomPenh
    February 5th, 2011
    10:15 – Hello everyone! I’m here to do liveblogging TEDxPP here throughout the day.
    10:19 – Just started liveblogging #TEDxPP. Sitting next to an EZECOM technical guy.
    10:23 – Not as many as registered attendees are showing up this morning. It’s less than a hundred people here.
    10:25 – Coffee break now. Stay tuned.
    10:34 – The second session of this morning is just a few minutes away.
    10:35 – Thet Sambath and Rob Lemkin are taking the stage to present Enemies of the People Video.
    10:38 – In an email interview I’ve done recently, TED speaker Sophal Ear wrote that “Thet Sambath’s Enemies of the People has been described as cathartic to Cambodian-Americans who have seen it.”
    10:49 – I’m collecting all the presentations from the speakers. Got the first one from the first speaker, Sithen Sum.
    10:59 – Chapei Master Kong Nai made a great show this morning to kick off the first TEDxPP in Cambodia.
    11:02 – People are now getting back in conference hall. The second session is about to start.
    11:04 – A Cambodian organizer, Rithy Thul, said about 120 people are now at TEDxPP this morning. 150 tickets were given away.
    11:06 – Rob Lemkin, a co-producer of the Enemy of the People, now appears on screen.
    11:08 – I met investigative journalist Thet Sambath briefly this morning. He looks cheerful. Not sure yet if he will be on stage presenting Enemy of the People he co-produced with Rob Lemkin.
    11:11 – It’s as if people outside Cambodia are having difficulties watching live-video from #TEDxPP.
    11:18 – Thet Sambath sits next to Kounila Keo, another speaker who will take the stage in an hour or so.
    11:19 – “Perpetrators have had nightmare, as you’ve seen in the film [Enemy of the People],” said Rob Lemkin.
    11:19 – Thet Sambath is taking the stage now.
    11:20 Moderator Vannak starts a conversation with Thet Sambath.
    11:22 – Thet Sambath began his documentary film Enemy of the People since 2011 (while in 1998 he started his research) at the time he was working for The Cambodia Daily. He’s currently with another English language paper, The Phnom Penh Post.
    11:23 – I hope that from this film, it can help Cambodia’s new generation and researchers in finding the truth of why the Khmer Rouge killed its own people, says Thet Sambath.
    11:23 – The first film, we call it Enemy of the People. And now we’re working on the second film, says Thet Sambath.
    11:26 – Thet Sambath says confessions by top Khmer Rouge leaders are important for young Cambodians to building the nation’s future.
    11:30 – Romi Grossberg’s Tiny Toones is now on the large screen.
    11:34 – Romi Grossberg, General Manager at Tiny Toones, is now speaking.
    11:38 – After introducing Tiny Toones, now performance by the street kids.
    11:40 – Probably this performance is one of the most creative ways to tell the story of Cambodia’s street children.
    11:42 – With pop music and Hip-Hop dance, the performance excites the audience a lot.
    11:49 – Keo Kounila, who will be speaking next, says she’s moved by Tiny Toone’s performance.
    11:51 – Oh, wow. Sophal Ear’s TEDtalk is now on screen at TEDxPP.
    11:56 – “I’m absolutely delighted that TEDxPP is taking place!,” wrote Sophal Ear, TED speaker and fellow.
    11:56 – “TED is about ideas worth spreading and Cambodia has many wonderful ideas worth spreading and sharing,” wrote Sophal Ear.
    11:57 – Keo Kounila is taking the stage now.
    11:57 – “The New Generation of Cambodia” is Kounila’s today topic.
    12:01 – Fascinating talk by Keo Kounila, who also asks: who’s the first Cambodia’s blogger?
    12:03 – You can visit Kounila’s blog at http://blueladyblog.com/
    12:05 – Kounila’s mother is also here as her audience.
    12:07 – “Blogging gives me new knowledges and perspectives,” says Kounila.
    12:08 – “I also meet with like-minded friends from people from other parts of the world,” says Kounila.
    12:08 – “Where is my freedom,” asked blogger Kounila.
    12:11 – Kounila asks the audience to blog about “yourself, your community, and your country.”
    12:17 – Lunch break now.
    1:27 – I’m back from lunch break. Liveblogging again this afternoon before the end of the day.
    1:37 – Geek and entrepreneur Chris Brown talks about starting a business in Cambodia.
    1:39 – Lean startups by Chris Brown. Execution over ideas.
    1:40 – Ideas are worthless until you can execute them.
    1:41 – Why people keep their ideas secret?
    1:44 – When a great team meets a great market, something special happens, says Chris Brown.
    1:51 – Fail fast, and fail often, says Chris Brown.
    1:53 – Chris Brown tells how Bill Gates found Microsoft through reading an article in a technology magazine.
    1:54 – Instead of focusing on the product, you should focus on how to reduce the rate of failure: Chris Brown.
    1:56 – Suy Channe on building the future of Cambodia starts with sharing.
    1:57 – Channe recounts her culture shock in India, where she earned her Master degree in Computer Science.
    1:58 – Channe asks: “Who can be best to tell the local needs?”
    1:59 – Teaching people to fish can be easy. But sustainable development requires a new way of thinking.
    2:00 – Channe joined InSTEDD lab in 2008 to help overseeing its software product development.
    2:03 – InSTEDD, funded by Google, has been developing a low-cost, yet effective communication tools for health workers in Cambodia.
    2:04 – Channe: Having international experts flying into Cambodia to help solve problem is effective. But what happens when they return.
    2:05 – Knowledge sharing can be done through independent groups.
    2:06 – ShareVision was founded by Channe and her colleagues to help bridging the knowledge gaps among university students who’ve not exposed to workplace.
    2:06 – Sharing knowledge among professionals can be faster than learning at schools.
    2:08 – Before you throw your money or technology to communities in Cambodia, you need build and develop their capacity.
    2:09 – Channe: are you willing to take as little as one hour of time to pass on to share your knowledge to the new generation?
    2:13 – A TEDtalk video is on show now.
    2:15 – ‘Extreme lifestyle experiment’ by Colin Wright.
    2:28 – Colin Wright’s site is here at http://exilelifestyle.com/
    2:31 – Daniela Ruby Papi teaches the audience how to count in Khmer language in an easy, fun way.
    2:41 – Group discussion on leadership now, and I’m taking a break.
    3:17 – I’ve just overheard that Theary Seng, the speaker for this afternoon, is landing Phnom Penh from a Norway trip. That’s why she’s not been seen around.
    3:18 – The afternoon break has just come to an end. The last session of the day is about to begin.
    3:20 – Chris Noble on “From Little Things, Big Things Grow”.
    3:20 – Chris asks: what does it take to make a difference?
    3:24 – Chris introduces the audience to leading global travel insurance company WorldNomads.
    3:26 – Chris is also a co-founder of http://www.footprintnetwork.org/
    3:33 Chris: small is the new big.
    3:36 – Probably another interesting thing at TEDxPP is to be able to watch some TEDTalk videos selected by the organizer.
    3:39 – William Kamkwamba on ‘building a windmill’ is now on show at TEDxPP: http://www.ted.com/talks/william_kamkwamba_on_building_a_windmill.html
    3:39 – William says: trust yourself, and don’t give up.
    3:40 – Theary Seng is now at TEDxPP.
    3:46 – Theary Seng is now on stage. Clapping..
    3:53 – Theary Seng gives an overview of the Extraordinary Chamber of the Court of Cambodia( (ECCC).
    3:56 – Theary Seng quotes this: “Justice delayed is justice denied”
    3:57 – Theary Seng: ECCC is both a court of law and a court of public opinion (the people’s court).
    4:03 – Interestingly, Theary Seng’s concluded her reciting a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King.
    4:08 – The last speaker for TEDxPP today Phloeun Prim, who’s now on stage recounting his childhood and how his visit to Cambodia after leaving with his parents as refugees.
    4:09 – Phloeun Prim felt completely hunger for reconnecting with his own culture back home in Cambodia, after he was raised for some years in Canada.
    4:11 – Phloeun Prim takes a different approach in telling his audience on how arts can transform a nation.
    4:11 – What I believe is our destiny is in our hands.
    4:12 – Cambodians are very artistic, because it’s their way of life.
    4:14 – Phloeun Prim has witnessed how the arts have impacted in the society in the last few years. He gives an example of an art master, who teaches some kids in her village.
    4:15 – Phloeun Prim: we’re here to create a movement, and everyone in this room is part of this movement.
    4:18 – As TEDxPP is almost coming to an end, two Cambodian artists are taking the stage. The art master from Kampong Speu chants (Smot) her way for the audience.
    4:19 – Thanks you indeed for following my liveblog for the day.

    Photos:

    Keo Kounila talks about how blogging has changed her life.


    Live Painter and Illustrator Keeda Oikawa’s painting work of TEDxPhnomPenh.

    Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

    TEDx ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’ Just Around the Corner

    Posted January 25th, 2011 at 6:56 pm (UTC+7)
    2 comments

    Bun Tharum

    An ambitious conference to generate ideas on building Cambodia’s future will take place next month in Phnom Penh, where thinkers and doers will talk about Internet activism, social entrepreneurship, roles of arts and culture in Cambodian society and sustainable solutions to capacity building.

    The TEDx Phnom Penh conference, set for Feb. 5, is an independent initiative modeled after the Technology Entertainment and Design conference held annually in Long Beach, Calif. It will be hosted by members of the private sector and non-governmental organizations “who have an interest in giving voice to dynamic individuals whose ideas are ‘worth spreading,’” according to the conference website.

    After more than a year of planning, the TEDx conference recently announced four Cambodian speakers, who will join other participants at the Northbridge International School in Phnom Penh. I spoke to some of the nominees to get their thoughts ahead of the conference, which is themed, “Ideas Worth Spreading.”

    TEDx Phnom Penh

    Keo Kounila, a freelance journalists and graduate of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said she will discuss how blogging “changes my life and how it will help build up the future of Cambodia.”

    The 22-year-old said she was excited and nervous after she was invited to the conference in October.

    “We need ideas to improve Cambodia, which is developing with growing pains,” she wrote. “We have to listen and be open to new ideas to improve the country, and those ideas can be found at TEDxPP where people invited to speak to the audience have something significant to say.”

    Software developer Suy Channe said in an e-mail said Cambodians “have a lot to share and express, but in the past we don’t have many public events to accommodate. Somehow, for the past few years things started to change.”

    Suy Channe, who studied at Bangalore University, in India, said the TEDx conference will help bring the thoughts of Cambodians “to the world.”

    “It is a good movement for Cambodia,” she wrote.

    Another speaker, Prim Phloeun, director of Cambodian Living Arts, will discuss “Transformation of a Nation through the Arts.” He called the event “a great way to communicate and to share experience and vision among young Cambodian emerging leaders.”

    “I wish we can organize something in Khmer for Cambodians,” he said. “I would really want to see more Cambodians being involve in the future and make our own platform to speak and [for our] ideas to spread!”

    Other Cambodian speakers will include Chapei Master Kung Nai, journalist Thet Sambath, author Seng Theary, and Sithen Sum, who is currently heading a project to “document the lives of prominent historic and current Cambodians”.

    The TEDx conference in Phnom Penh hopes to emulate an annual event that has seen speakers like former US president Bill Clinton and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. You can TED videos at the website here, which are good sources of knowledge and inspiration.

    Fortunately I’ve just received a ticket and confirmed my attendance to TEDx Phnom Penh. Stay tuned to this Musings on Cambodia blog for more.

    Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

    Blocked Blog Sites Stir Censorship Concerns

    Posted January 20th, 2011 at 8:28 pm (UTC+7)
    6 comments

    Bun Tharum, Pich Samnang

    Failed connections to blogs across numerous Internet service providers—including a prominent dissident site—has Cambodian web users seeking answers from their providers and the government.

    Apparent blocked access to KI Media in all cases, and to all of Google’s blogspot sites in some cases, also raised worries that government censorship moved online this week.

    From Tuesday afternoon, web users with service providers AngkorNet, Ezecom and Metfone had no access to KI Media specifically. Users for Ezecom and Metfone also had no access to any blogspot.com platform.

    That means that some bloggers using Google’s Blogger platform have been unable to connect to their sites.

    “Dat’s it,” tweeted sreisaat, on Thursday. “[S]till no accesss to blogspot sites. I’ve a feeling I’ve been singled out for sum reason.” Her blog, “The Sreisaat Adventures,” is hosted by Blogger and chronicles the everyday life of a Cambodian wife.

    A Facebook user wrote “Please think again for blocking blogspot.com. Not only KI-Media that’s blocked. What about others. They’re innocent. Like me!”

    “Ezecom blocks KI-Media (The Cambodia Daily’s front page today). Nobody is responsible of this matter,” Twitter user @vireax wrote on the microblogging site.
    In fact, any blogger on the Blogger platform had trouble with the three ISPs. By Thursday afternoon, service was restored to Ezecom.

    But KI Media—which is a news aggregator openly opposed to the administration of Prime Minister Hun Sen—has been unavailable through the country’s biggest ISPs.

    Government officials from the ministries of Interior, Information and Telecommunications have all denied that the government issued orders to ISPs to block access to the sites.

    “So far, there has been no official document from the ministry to order the closure of the site,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak told VOA Khmer. “In regards to a verbal order, I don’t know either. We’ve never done things verbally, like Pol Pot did.”

    The Cambodia Daily reported on Thursday, however, an Ezecom technical support provider, Tan Sothun, saying the company had been ordered to shutter KI Media.

    Ezecom issued a strong denial on Thursday, saying it had “not blocked access to any website, nor received a directive from any member of the Royal Government of Cambodia.”

    “Reportedly EZECOM Customer Service staff stated that we received a directive from the government,” Paul Blanche-Horgan, chief executive of the company, said in the statement. “As the CEO I can say, we have received no directive, nor did we block access to any websites on our service.”

    Metfone officials could not be reached for comment Thursday. An Angkornet official said the company was looking into a problem on its side.

    Two Internet experts who wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue said Thursday it was not possible for users to be blocked from specific sites without the involvement of the ISPs.

    Access to KI Media was restored on Ezecom on Thursday. It was not accessible at all via AngkorNet or Metfone Thursday.

    The blocked access sent ripples through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, where concerns of government censorship grew.

    Sreisaat called the blocked sites “a comedy of errors” in her Twitter feed. “KI-media is unblocked now and is more popular than ever.”

    The Cambodian government and courts have come under fire recently for attacking KI Media. In December, a staff member for World Food Program, Seng Kunnaka, was sentenced to six months in jail on incitement charges for distributing leaflets of an anit-government article printed from KI Media.

    The international watchdog Freedom House has listed Cambodia’s media environment as “not free.”

    Meanwhile, opposition officials and other critics have long bemoaned the difficulties of obtaining a license for radio stations or TV programming. Nearly all of Cambodia’s broadcast media is either under state control or ownership of supporters of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

    Links:
    KI Media

    Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

    Cambodians and Facebook, a Love Story

    Posted January 6th, 2011 at 3:04 pm (UTC+7)
    10 comments

    Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh

    This week Facebook announced $500 million in investment from Goldman Sachs. This put the value of Facebook at $50 billion, affirming its popularity among many Internet users around the world.

    Cambodia is no different, and in the past six months, the number of Facebook users here has skyrocketed.

    Cambodians use Facebook to “seek fun, socialize and maintain friendship,” according to data from an online survey by Royal University of Phnom Penh. We now have made Facebook the most visited social networking site in the country.

    Leang Chumsoben, a government official in Kampong Chhnang’s provincial administration, has been on Facebook since 2008, using it as a way to stay connected with his sister, a university student in Phnom Penh.

    “We can express feelings more openly than before,” he told me in an e-mail. He had recently shared a news article with his 600 Facebook friends reporting on a local newspaper, a new song about “Or Phnom Penh Euy” currently banned by the Ministry of Information.

    Leang Chumsoben is far from alone in his Facebooking.

    While SocialBakers, a website that provides Facebook statistics, shows that Cambodia users have doubled from 85,000 to 198840 in the last six months, RUPP’s Cambodian Communication Review 2010 says that the number “will be on constant rise along with the growing number of the country’s Internet users as well as the increasingly integrated functions of the Internet – entertainment, information seeking and socializing – among young users”.

    In an online survey of 468 Cambodian Facebook users, CCR found that the site “has increasingly become integrated into Cambodian Internet users’ daily experience.” “More than half of the users surveyed used the site at least once a day and another one-third used it several times a week,” the review found.

    Cambodian Communication Review 2010

    For organizations, groups and individuals, the site has been used to exchange ideas and mobilize supporters in a number of ways, from branding and businesses to celebrity and politics.

    A prominent parliamentarian for the Sam Rainsy Party, Mu Sochua, maintains a Facebook page, where she has 1,450 “friends.” The 56-year-old lawmaker uses the site to spread messages among her supporters more quickly than word of mouth. Four days after the bridge tragedy at Diamond Island in November, 2010, she used Facebook to promote her own blog post “A Nation in Grief – A Nation Transformed.”

    “When I was facing the courts in Cambodia, it was the most efficient means and costing
    nothing to put out the appeal and the response has been very rewarding,” Mu Sochua responded to my email interview, suggesting that Facebook “is a very powerful political tool when
    one has to mobilize thousands or millions to join a cause. Young people contribute to politics in so many different ways and facebook and other forms of social media is changing politics.”

    Cambodia Facebook statistics from SocialBakers

    The CCR predicts the number “will be on a constant rise along with the growing number of the country’s Internet users as well as the increasingly integrated functions of the Internet – entertainment, information seeking and socializing – among young users.”

    Interestingly, SocialBakers statistics and the CCR found that more men embrace Facebook than women. Of the total of Cambodian Facebook users, SocialBakers counts 61 percent as male. The CCR counts 72 percent male in its survey.

    Still, nearly a thousand people are members of Cambodia Women in Business, a Facebook page that shares experiences of entrepreneurs and other business professionals here. Administrators for the site, which was set up by the World Bank’s private-sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, say it “will be a good platform to network, support each other’s activity, but also to celebrate our success.”

    The page is frequently updated with relevant news and information, with links to magazines articles like one recently in the Harvard Business Review. That article argued that women represent a larger market than “China and India combined.” To which a member commented: “I don’t think women are poorly served within that context. Cosmetic companies make a lot of money off women.”

    Cambodia Living Arts, an NGO that supports the arts here, has attracted 6,000 Facebook fans since its launch in March 2010. That means that even if only half its supporters gave them $1 each, they’d have $3,000 for a project.

    CLA Director Phloeun Prim told me by e-mail that the group is aiming for 10,000 fans this year.

    “It’s a great way to build a bridge between Cambodians and the world,” he wrote. “Our weekly questions bring a lot of attention and a lot of people answer the question.”

    Musical artists like singers Ouk Sokun Kanha and Preap Sovath have Facebook pages too—the former, a woman, has 31,000 fans, while the latter, a man, has about 10 percent of that.

    A screenshot of Ouk Sokun Kanha's Facebook Page

    All of this is to say that Cambodians are using Facebook more and more and finding more and more uses for it.

    Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

    What Happens When a Blog Goes Offline?

    Posted December 29th, 2010 at 9:33 pm (UTC+7)
    8 comments

    Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh

    This month, the Phnom Penh court sentenced World Food Program staffer Seng Kunnaka to six months in jail on incitement charges, after he handed out copies of an anti-government printout from KI Media.

    This isn’t the first time the government has taken legal action against persons handing out leaflets. But because KI Media is an online news aggregator, Seng Kunnaka’s conviction represents one of the first of its kind. The charges against him put Internet-based media, or even blogs, within site of the courts—at least when they go offline.

    A screenshot of KI-Media, a blog

    Judith Clarke, who researches international journalism at Hong Kong Baptist University, said in an e-mail the government, run by the Cambodian People’s Party, remains mostly unconcerned about the Internet, “because so few people have access to it, and they’re not worried about the educated people who do.” (Cambodia has about 78,000 Internet users, according to UN data.)

    “However,” she wrote, “this latest case seems to have involved some printouts of a very anti-government KI Media article, so I suppose CPP anger is understandable.”

    The case against Seng Kunnaka also shows that cracking down on an individual is easier than attacking a site like KI Media, as long as it stays online. The site, which began in the 2000s as an email digest, has remained faceless.

    In 2007, the English-language Cambodia Daily offered a reward for information about those who run the site, which posts full stories from that newspaper and other mainstream media on its site. The Daily wanted to pursue compensation for copyright infringement. The newspaper’s publisher never found what he was looking for, despite a $100 reward.

    For its part, the Ministry of Information says it has never tried to shut down the site. Indeed, this would be hard to do.

    The team behind KI Media remains anonymous, and its service is hosted by Google’s Blogger platform. That means KI Media is sitting on some of the most sophisticated servers in the world, while its authors could be anywhere. Blogger prides itself on “the importance of freedom of speech,” according to its website.

    KI Media’s contributors, who all use pen names, feed the blog round the clock, keeping content fresh, while keeping out of the reach of those who search for them. And for now, it seems, as long as they are online, its bloggers here are safer than in other coutnries.

    “Thailand and Malaysia have both had cases this year against people posting on the Internet, and Vietnam and Burma don’t allow free expression anyway, nor does Singapore, and China is said by the watchdogs to have more internet journalists in jail than any other country in the world,” Clarke wrote. “So Cambodia is still quite lenient compared to most of its neighbors. I don’t think this arrest necessarily augurs a crackdown on the Internet but it’s a strong warning to anybody who wants to pass round anti-CPP material, and to KI Media (and other American-based media) not to step too far.”

    Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

    Limited ‘Leaks’ Impact in Cambodia: Media Expert

    Posted December 21st, 2010 at 4:49 am (UTC+7)
    Leave a comment

    Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh

    The impact of the disclosure of cables from the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, which could be part of the ongoing Wikileaks campaign, are hard to guess. But the leaks do raise questions as to how the Internet will open up governments, a media expert says.

    Wikileaks, a whistle-blowing website that has begun releasing a series of State Department documents online, has so far put out little regarding Cambodia, although some 700 leaks from the Phnom Penh embassy are reportedly among more than 200,000 documents.

    In one of the few cables released so far that mentions Cambodia, a cable from the US Embassy in Singapore reports former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew expressing concern that “Within hours, everything that is discussed in Asean meetings is known in Beijing, given China’s close ties with Laos, Cambodia, and Burma.”

    Lee also reportedly said Cambodia had “not recovered yet from its difficult history, and the political system is too personalized around Prime Minister Hun Sen.”

    Peou Chivoin, a media lecturer at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said in an e-mail the mention of Cambodia “in passing in relation to China” was not a surprise. But he said Wikileaks, in releasing State Department documents, had “opened up the space of information flow for citizens.”

    “This is what the Internet and the World Wide Web were envisioned to do from the very beginning and hopefully they remain so,” he said.

    Photo: AP Homepage of Wikileaks (file photo)

    There are concerns, however, he said. While the release of the documents by Wikileaks was of itself democratic, how the information was received “could be subjected to legal questions and political intentions,” he said.

    Besides, “more information does not necessarily lead to better democracy,” he wrote. “A textbook explanation will tell us that a better democracy depends on the quality/nature of the information and the ability of the information consumers.”

    Asked whether the leaks, or more like them, would increase transparency and openness in Cambodia, Peou Chivoin said it was not likely.

    “Only few Cambodians would be able to access…such information, and far fewer would be able to connect any such information to pragmatic democratic practices,” he said.

    Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

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    Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2005, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

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