Kun Khmer Takes Down Muay Thai, Local Teacher Goes Haircut Crazy, Unfinished Skyscrapers Sully Sihanoukville
Good morning, Cambodia. It’s Friday, January 27, and this is your Weekly Dispatch.
TITLE MATCH: Carvings at Angkor Wat attest to the true origins of kickboxing, even if the world calls it Muay Thai. Cambodia, host of this year’s SEA Games, will use “Kun Khmer.” Take that, Thailand.
ON TRACK: Cambodia is spending $8 billion on high-speed railways. New tracks will reach the Thai border, and a new Phnom Penh-to-Ho Chi Minh City line will slash travel time, boost trade and bring tourists.
LEFT STANDING: More than 100 unfinished skyscrapers make up most of the Sihanoukville skyline — and that’s the wrong message to send potential investors. Local officials, rightly worried about funding, are left up in the air.
Minefields have the Strongman on the warpath.
His latest target is an obscure, Russian-language Telegram channel that listed the Kingdom among countries providing “military assistance” to Ukraine, specifically by training the country’s demining experts.
Cambodia has “no ability” to offer military assistance, Hun Sen said, calling the training of Ukrainian deminers “purely humanitarian.” The prime minister’s protests prompted a chorus of pro-government analysts and media outlets to back calls for a correction.
Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 38 years, has grown increasingly sensitive to criticism as he readies his son to take power following elections in July.
Cambodia revised 2023 growth forecasts down by a full point, to a still-healthy 5.6%. Officials blamed the downgrade on surging U.S. interest rates, a strong dollar and a softening global economy.
Foreign investment in construction and real estate was expected to remain flat, as Chinese investors stayed home and the pesky money-laundering problem — Cambodia has been on a global “gray” list since 2017 — continued to deter overseas money. Prospects for the manufacturing sector were little better, with annual growth expected to plunge from 11% to 5.5%.
Bright spots included a resurgent tourism industry, a vibrant local economy and falling inflation.
Thailand walked back threats to boycott kick-boxing at the SEA Games, putting the battle for bragging rights firmly where it belongs — in the ring.
The sport, known worldwide as Muay Thai, has been included in SEA Games competitions since 2005 under the name Muay — a label fiercely contested by Cambodia, which proudly calls the sport “Kun Khmer” and points to centuries-old carvings at Angkor Wat for evidence of its Khmer origins.
As host of this year’s games, Cambodia scrapped Muay and opted for Kun Khmer. Expect the home team to take gold.
Cambodia’s flooded forests are drowning, and major conservation efforts are needed to keep them from disappearing. Experts say dams in Laos and China have upended the Mekong River’s annual flood patterns, leaving forests under water year-round and robbing them of a crucial dry period, leading to rot, decay and death.
Cambodia is planning to drop more than $8 billion on high-speed railway lines from Vietnam to Thailand. China will help fund the western route, replacing existing tracks connecting Phnom Penh to Poipet near the Thai border. French investors are expected to assist with a new Phnom Penh–Ho Chi Minh City line.
ABA Bank blocked overseas money transfers to NagaWorld union leaders, marking a new battleline in the government’s effort to crush a year-old labor dispute at the billion-dollar Phnom Penh casino. The Labor Ministry declined to renew the union’s registration in May, prompting Acleda Bank, the union’s bank, to freeze its account.
Build the world’s largest cyclo — that’s the goal of a local food pantry that provides meals to Phnom Penh’s nearly 300 cyclo-drivers. The current record is 13 meters tall, with wheels more than 5 meters in diameter. To claim the title, the bike must be ridden at least 100 meters.
It’s bad-hair days ahead for students in Battambang. A fed-up high-school teacher began enforcing grooming codes with a pair of hair clippers. Photos of in-class haircuts, many purposefully awful, sparked howls of outrage across social media. District officials, students, even the prime minister, weighed in. All agreed the heavy-handed amateur barbering was a cut too deep.
Cambodia’s “iron-clad” friendship with China may soon face its first test: more than 100 unfinished skyscrapers polluting the Sihanoukville skyline. Government planners dream of a regional commercial hub, and worry that abandoned buildings send the wrong message to investors. Most projects were started with Chinese money. Officials are now looking for more Chinese money to finish them.
Nasty weather has suspended ocean travel in the Gulf of Thailand until January 31. The Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology warned of strong winds and big waves, and cautioned coastal residents to remain vigilant. The Kingdom’s mountainous areas can expect temperatures to drop as low as 15 degrees.
BACKPAGES: From The Cambodia Daily Vault
Survey: Housewives More at Risk for HIV Than Prostitutes
January 24, 2003
Cambodian women are being infected with HIV by their husbands at an alarming rate, a new survey on reproductive health conducted by the ministries of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs and Health has revealed.
Gov’t Tries to Close Brothels In Svay Pak
January 24, 2003
Shutters were firmly bolted at the once-busy brothels of Cambodia’s most notorious red-light district, Svay Pak, on Thursday—two weeks after police warned that the area’s long-established sex businesses had to shut.
Tuol Sleng Survivor Surfaces in Phnom Penh
January 23, 2003
Bou Meng and six other prisoners literally rose from the dead when they walked free from the Khmer Rouge prison, Tuol Sleng, in 1979. They had survived a death camp where 16,000 other people had been jailed, tortured and finally sent for execution on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
The Rise and Fall of Phnom Penh’s Pub Street
The Golden Sorya Mall, which billed itself as Phnom Penh’s Pub Street, has finally been taken down after over a decade of being a famous part of the seedier side of the city’s nightlife.
Photos: Hun Manet, Facebook. Flooded forests, Adam Mizrahi via Flickr.
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