Five BC Journalists receive Webster fellowships to cover Southeast Asian development issuesGenerously funded by
The Jack Webster Foundation today announced five recipients of the second Seeing the World through New Eyes fellowship established in partnership with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
These five BC journalists will visit Southeast Asia in early 2007 to experience firsthand reporting from developing countries:
- Fiona Anderson, Vancouver Sun
- Luke Brocki, Powell River Peak
- Shachi Kurl, A-Channel News, Victoria
- Karen Longwell, Williams Lake Tribune
- Melanie Nagy, CBC TV, Vancouver
"These Fellowships benefit BC journalists who want an opportunity to see beyond their borders, witness firsthand Canadian organizations that help in developing countries and also view the developing world from a perspective of the people who live there," said Steve Crombie, Co-Chair of the Jack Webster Foundation.
"By arranging these Fellowships with the support of CIDA, it is the Foundation's goal to offer British Columbia journalists an experience that will widen their horizons in a globally significant way."
A training seminar in December will precede February travel to Cambodia and Vietnam with project team leader Don Cayo, Vancouver Sun columnist and veteran reporter on global development issues. Neither the Jack Webster Foundation nor CIDA will have editorial control on the resulting work of the Fellowship recipients.
Experiences from the 2006/07 Seeing the World through New Eyes Fellowship RecipientsLuke Brocki - April 18 | Karen Longwell - March 11 | Karen Longwell - March 10 | Karen Longwell - March 9 | Melanie Nagy- Fourth Report | Melanie Nagy- Third Report | Shachi Kurl - First Report | Shachi Kurl - Second Report | Fiona Anderson - March 5 | Don Cayo - March 5 | Karen Longwell - Feb 26 | Karen Longwell - Feb 27 | Melanie Nagy - First Report | Melanie Nagy - Second Report
Report from Luke Brocki, Powell River PeakApril 18
Glimpses of Phnom Penh
The road is congested worse than an allergy sufferer's sinus cavity at a florist convention, which makes the smooth flow of traffic so astonishing. Now and again we pass Vietnamese flags fluttering in a lazy breeze, political gestures of goodwill heralding a state visit by Vietnamese president Nguyen Minh Triet. There's nothing big on the roads in the Cambodian capital-countless overburdened motorcycles, or motos, perform the duties of western trucks, taxis and buses. Traffic signals are in short supply and lane markers tired and faded. Curbside vendors offer selections of fruit, motos, air conditioners, soups, cell phones, axles, balloons, roadside haircuts, colourful engine fuel in Pepsi bottles . . .
At times, heads and shoulders of moto drivers hover centimetres away from the protruding mirrors of our air-conditioned Mercedes van. Getting closer to the city centre, we turn down a strip formerly popular with prostitutes; recent commercial development in the area pushed street workers to a different part of town. So says our guide, seemingly intent on showing off the seedy side of Phnom Penh. "Many Cambodians commit suicide off this bridge," he says, pointing to a tall concrete structure. I imagine scores of them plunging into the Tonle Sap just as an ambulance screams past us, flashing green and yellow lights. The road seems impossibly full, but it carves an easy path down the centre, parting waves of motos like a science class magnet flinging aside iron filings.
I glimpse a sculpture of a giant black handgun in the middle of a busy roundabout; disturbed, I glance back and notice its barrel, tied in a knot. I later discover the weapon was cast from the steel of confiscated firearms, a symbolic rejection of violence in a country so recently stained with millions of gallons of blood.
The west may remember the late '70s for the birth of punk rock, the ascension of Pope John Paul II and an oil crisis in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, but Cambodia remembers only the Khmer Rouge. Guided by a madman's vision of an agrarian paradise, the Khmer Rouge seized power and closed borders, schools, hospitals, factories, banks and churches. It confiscated all private property and moved people from cities to collective farms. Thousands met their end through forced labour, illness or starvation. Many more were executed.
"To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss," went the doctrine, echoing through speakers tuned into state-run radio. It seems only a fraction of the population was needed to form Pol Pot's utopia. Thus, between 1975 and 1979, given the country's population of eight million, about one in four Cambodians lost their lives... Along the river, we pass golden spires of the royal palace. Close by, a moto driver relieves himself on the red wall of the national museum. Tired and hungry, we arrive at the Goldiana Hotel. It sits away from the riverside tourist lodgings, nestled in an area popular with expat Westerners.
Tuk-tuk, sir? An idle drivers hollers at me across a busy street, offering a trip in his motorcycle rickshaw and setting a precedent for thousands of other such calls. After dark, some drivers also offer trips to places giving "boom boom" massages for "cheap cheap." I shake my head and politely decline, but this only prompts lower prices and more elaborate offers. One man claims to know a lot of women. Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese. All of them experienced masseuses offering their services at unbeatable prices. I decline, break eye contact and walk away, leaving him yelling about further price reductions.
I pay US$1 for a tuk-tuk ride into the Russian market. I spot the odd Land Cruiser or Mitsubishi minibus past its prime, but the streets are still awash with motos, many so loaded with merchandise their drivers are hidden from view. Only logic tells me coconuts can't drive, so I assume someone's buried under the moving piles. In '72, members of Pink Floyd dropped some good acid and sang about being obscured by clouds, but this would still blow their minds. Obscured by bananas. Obscured by squealing pigs. Obscured by laughing children. I glimpse a moto carrying four passengers clinging to bits of the bike's metal and the driver's clothes. Obscured by dozens of live chickens, their bodies tied down, their heads darting nervously in all directions. The odd moto carries a businessman in suit, tie and smog mask. I note there are no beggars on the streets while buying a souvenir, but I note too soon. Suddenly I'm swarmed. Solemn mothers holding hungry-faced children in one arm and empty pans in the other cry for my attention.
I bum around the market with Don Cayo, a fellow journalist and team leader on this trek through Southeast Asia. We stop at a noisy corner café filled with Cambodians smoking cigarettes and drinking pop and iced coffees. It ain't fancy: dirty cement floor, sun bleached canvass awnings, hodgepodge glassware atop random patio furniture. We find two empty chairs and join the locals for a bottle of Fanta, a Coca-Cola product wildly popular in Asia, Europe and South America, but curiously absent from most Canadian shops. I watch a big group of Cambodians. They, in turn, watch a Thai kickboxing match on a tiny Sony television. We sneak snippets of conversation during commercial breaks while local youth mimic vicious elbow blows the favourite landed in previous rounds. I turn around and watch the chaos of the streets, grateful for this brief respite.
One of Many Long Drives
Who knew eight grown men, none of them college students, could fit into a Toyota Camry and not kill each other during a 10-hour drive to Ratanakiri. About 600 kilometres northeast of Phnom Penh. Over bumpy concrete, gravel and dirt.
To be fair, one man exits the taxi about an hour into the journey, leaving four bodies in the front–even the driver sharing his seat and three of us in the back: a lawyer, a human rights officer and a journalist all heading to Ban Lung to investigate recent land alienation from indigenous groups in the area. Keeping right in a right-side-drive import works well enough, but passing convoys of overloaded minibuses gets nerve-racking, since the driver has to blindly veer into oncoming traffic before knowing whether it's safe to pass.
We creep north, watching roadside vendors and motos disappear as we move away from the city, to be replaced by dusty cars and emaciated cows. We talk about cultural differences and war-hungry American governments, listen to terrible Cambodian love songs and teach each other to curse in our respective languages.
Paved roads narrow to the width of two cars and Cambodia's famed red soil emerges on the soft shoulders, clinging to tires like icing to donuts and filling the air with a rusty dust.
Advancing communications technology mean cell phones are widely available. This, in turn, seems to be changing an indirect society. I repeat a scenario from my pre-departure cultural sensitivity training, inviting my companions to a social event and telling them they have no interest in coming.
"You'd still say you'd come, because it's impolite to say no, right?" I ask.
He shakes his head and fishes for his phone.
"I guess," says one of the men, fishing for his phone. "But you can always call."
Call and make excuses, that is. Being reachable anywhere is fast eliminating the classic no-show, he says.
Skinny cows parade across the patchy road, skin hanging off their frames like the latest spring fashions off runway models in Milan, and we pull off at a roadside eatery.
We eat generous portions of curry, noodles in soup and pork on rice, chased with three coffees. My treat at 12,000 Cambodian riels or US$3.
I read in guidebooks that Cambodians have a great sense of humour and get my first taste of it when the lawyer points at two white tourists also stopped for lunch, laughs and points back in my direction. "Brother and sister?" he asks with a grin.
"All white people look the same to you, right?" I say.
He nods, beaming, and smacks me on the shoulder.
Five hours later we're still on the same dusty road and I know I'm losing my mind because I'm cheering the driver's aggressive maneuvers like a playoff-bearded hockey fan cheers his squad's miraculous game-seven comeback. I'm pretending we're in a rally race, howling at every close call and cacophony of klaxons and eliciting laughter from my fellow passengers; the fact that nearly every car in the country is a Camry adds authenticity to my reverie.
By now pavement is a distant memory and thick rusty dust hangs in the air like a lazy orange sandstorm. Our driver pushes fearlessly on, weaving from shoulder to shoulder around orange dogs, orange cows, orange-uniformed schoolchildren and motos obscured by loads of melting orange ice blocks, orange queen-sized bed frames and THUD! I turn around to see two riders on a moto losing control and crashing to the ground. Our driver sneaks a quick glimpse in the rearview, but doesn't stop to investigate, instead cursing in Khmer. "He honked and they didn't move over. It's their fault," the lawyer tells me. The practice of stopping to exchange insurance information doesn't seem to exist. I hope the riders are OK, but can't stop smiling at the futility of their statement to police: It was an orange Camry, officer . . .
Ho ChiI Minh City
My layover in Ho Chi Minh City is a 12-hour symphony of klaxons. Sure, all the guidebook clichés are present, from conical hats to morning Tai Chi in the park, but my memory remains flooded with street noises. In Canada, I turn on reflex to investigate a sounding car horn; here I turn to investigate its rare absence.
The horns melt into layers of noise; staccato beats of motos punctuated by deeper sounds of taxi horns, rumbling engines and squeaky shocks. Unlike Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City also shows a spirit of play. Amid the city's green spaces, young people play badminton and hackisack and seniors lounge over board games in the shade. People here walk for exercise, a testament of a higher standard of living. Hustling to survive leaves no time for recreation in Phnom Penh, save for sporadic card games of tuk-tuk drivers. Even holding a winning hand, they holler at foreigners, hoping to catch a fare. A short trip takes five minutes and pays US$2. With some people living on $1 a day, that's a small fortune.
At long last I recover from the gastric fever I caught in the Cambodian bush. For several days, the sickness served as a stern reminder that my digestive tract, albeit hidden from view, is undeniably an open system. I curse various remote food stalls and shudder at the thought of the street meat I devoured against my best judgment when nothing else was available. My guts finally gave out in the middle of a tiny village.
Even seasoned travellers familiar with little brown children curiously flocking to a white foreigner with a camera couldn't envision the crowds I drew while projectile vomiting in the village square. I should have sold tickets. I shot menacing stares between dry heaves, my emotions torn between disgust, embarrassment and showmanship. No street meat for me tonight. Tonight I dine like a king, treating myself to a buffet feast at a gourmet restaurant housed in a restored Buddhist temple. I feast on glazed pig, freshly fried crab, roasted beef kebabs. For side dishes, clams and crayfish fresh off the grill, sugarcane deep-fried in crab batter, ribs so tender the meat slides off the bone like melting ice cream of a Popsicle stick. Somehow, there's more: boiled eggs stuffed with caviar, coconut curry, fried eggplant, tiger prawn egg rolls, crispy rolled wafers with chocolate sauce, liquor-soaked sponge cake with oranges and cream, about a dozen more dishes I leave untouched.
I sit on a thick cushion in a slender black chair in the corner of a sheltered atrium and nurse my Carlsberg draft. Cloth lanterns hang off the trees and tall bamboo. Elegant waiters in black and beige tunics bring dishes to laughing foreigners sitting at tables under giant parasols and strings of white lights. The air is filled with steady laughter, clinks of tableware, electronic Eastern music and steam rising from polished silver serving trays.
I am the only solitary guest, happy to be ignored by the camera flashes and chattering of western tongues. I dig in my bag for the pack of knockoff Marlboros I bought in Phnom Penh in a similar moment of nostalgia and light up. Surgeon General's warnings be damned, it just feels right.
It's 4 am on my last night in Hanoi. The streets don't want me to leave. I still haven't slept. I hop from bar to bar with people I interviewed, people I befriended and people I've never spoken to and couldn't understand. I walk for hours, lost in the labyrinthine alleys of the city's Old Quarter. I finally slide back to the hotel on my shoes, the deserted streets slick with motor oil, cooking fat, greasy garbage and early morning rain. I'm barely finished packing when the airport taxi arrives.
This is Hanoi: speeding motos, aging French colonial architecture, innumerable cafes. This is the City on the Bend in the River–and it's got class.
Report from Karen Longwell, Williams Lake TribuneMarch 11
I am too tired to write much tonight. It was a 7:30 a.m. start this morning with a long very bumpy ride to visit agricultural projects in the Quy Chau region.
Quy Chau is in north-central Vietnam and is home to the ethnic hill tribe - White Thai. They have their own language and customs. The people here are so friendly and although they are sometimes shy - they don't seem to mind me taking photos.
We came across a wild village party at one stop. Drunk men and women urged us to come inside and try some homemade whisky or vodka - I am not sure which. It was in a clay pot with several straws. They pushed me to take a straw and sip so I did. It wasn't too strong but the people must have been drinking all afternoon because they were quite happy.
Vodka with every meal here - I even saw some people drinking it with breakfast. I had a few sips at lunch and dinner.
Report from Karen Longwell, Williams Lake TribuneMarch 10
Once again I am on the move. After arriving in Vinh city this morning I meet the contact for my final story here in front of the train station. We drive about four hours into the countryside to the town of Quy Chau. In the morning we will drive further to remote villages the project is supporting.
Fabulous views everywhere - when I think about Vietnam this is the kind of scenery I imagine. Statuesic mountains rising out like pillars out of green rice fields and everywhere people are working.
I join yet another party here tonight with the entire project staff in attendance. Oddly enough we drink shots of vodka at this party. The last party there was warm beer. Vodka is not really my drink but I take sips to be polite. The commune chief, whose area I will visit tomorrow, also comes to the dinner and encourages me to drink more vodka.
Quy Chau is a small town in north-central Vietnam - only one guesthouse to stay in. There are no hotels. After the drive I wander around town and find I am drawing stares and hellos from every corner.
Report from Karen Longwell, Williams Lake TribuneMarch 9
Trains, planes and automobiles - there are so many ways to get around these days. As I travel by train to Vinh city heading north towards Hanoi, I think of all the means of transport I have used on this trip. In Cambodia my favourite means of transport was definitely the tuk tuk. It is a carriage pulled by motorbike. There is a roof over the cushioned seats to shade you from the sun but sides are open so you get a wonderful breeze. I have to say I felt like a queen riding in the tuk tuk. Then of course there is the motorbike taxi - it's cheaper than the tuk tuk but it feels much more dangerous. You simply get on the back of a motorbike and the driver takes you. There are no helmets. I used a couple in Cambodia and so far one in Vietnam. The advantage of the motorbike is that they are small so I can ask the driver to pull over if I see a good photo.
The share taxi is commonly used to go long distances in Cambodia. It is actually just a car but it is packed with as many people possible. I spent a good four hours with only half my bottom on the seat the other half was pushed up to the passenger door.
Boat was the only way to get to the floating village in Cambodia and also to the wetland reserve in the Mekong. Gasoline prices are quite high here now so I paid a lot for boat transport. It was about $50 US for transport for two days around the wetlands.
While in Hoh Chi Minh City I took one cyclo, which is like the tuk tuk only it is driven by a cyclist. They are phasing out this mode of transport in Hoh Chi Minh, in favour of a better bus public transport system. I feel a little bad for the cyclist because he has to work so hard in the boiling heat.
To get to Quang Ngai from Hoh Chi Minh City, I decided to take a plane. The roads heading north can be quite dangerous, Lan, my foreign press officer, told me.
Anyway it costs about the same to fly. Now I am on my first train trip. It is overnight so I have got a sleeper cabin, which seems a bit old but it is comfortable. It takes about 15 hours to get to my next destination.
From Melanie Nagy, CBC VancouverFourth report
Well I finally made it out of the guest house and decided to hit the streets.... and holy Hanoi...it was crazy!
Started the morning early. I thought I would get a good jump on seeing the town. Well, turns out it does not pay to be the early bird in these parts.
Most parts of the town were closed. So back to the hotel for a baguette and jam....a much welcome change from rice!
Take two. I leave the hotel and decide to follow a walking tour listed in the Lonely Planet. Started off fairly well, but then my own curiosity got the best of me and I veered off the beaten track. I seem to be doing that alot lately!
I walked and walked. I made my way through a maze of stores. First street was shoes. Pair after pair of knock off pumas, vans, diesel. Then row after row of frilly day-glo coloured pumps! I kept going...although I did feel the urge to buy!
Then I hit an odd labyrinth of stores. Everything from snakes in a bottle to blacksmith goods. It seems the market is thriving in Red Hanoi.
After what seemed forever, I decided I needed to stop. I managed to find a street favored by back-packers. I settled into to the Tamarind Cafe. It was such a treat. Plush velvet chairs. Funky decor. Vietnam drip coffee with sweet milk. Pineapple shakes!!!!! Yum.
The rest of the day I walked...and walked....and walked!
Finally got so sick of walking that I hit-up a moto for a ride. That was a big mistake. These guys drive motos worse than Cambodians. In Cambodia they at least seem to have some natural flow of insanity. You never felt as if your life was at risk. Well here it is a different story. I think we almost hit two cyclists and another moto almost hit us!
Also, people here like to push. When you walk, they do not hesitate to give you a good push from behind if they think you are going to slow!
Anyhow, not much more to report. Going to hunt down food and then call it a night. I have to be at the Friendship Village tomorrow where I will spend the day with second and third generation victims of Agent Orange.
Should be a tough day as this story is so tragic. The legacy of the war lives on through the blood of the Vietnamese. In several places in Vietnam the soil is so toxic. Dioxins have suffocated the soil. The nasty chemicals also leach into the water and make it into the food chain. Then into people. Often mother's milk is contaminated. Sad sad!
From Melanie Nagy, CBC VancouverThird report
So I have re-emerged from the my most recent adventure. Adventure is a fitting title, as I have never done something like this most recent trek.
Anyhow lets start with the NGOs..the reason I headed to North east Cambodia....
So entering NGO land..that is what I call the beginning of this little journey. It really is the best way to describe it. I left PP for Kratchie town on a bus. A very slow bus...too many people and too little air.
On the bus were mostly Cambodians and a handful of foreigners. Anyhow ...most of the foreign folk were NGO's.
Anyhow on one hand everyone one here agrees that all the NGOS are fantastic. They are brilliant people who are dedicated to making a difference here....especially at a grassroots level. But on the other hand..things here have turned into a massive NGO industry..so I am told. It is really big business here. The government welcomes the NGOs as they come in and do the jobs that need to be done and the government does not have to spend any money helping the people.
Thought that might get your attentions!!! Now many of you know that I was in Kratchie town to work on a story about how some locals and NGOS are trying to save the dolphin. So that is what I was doing..shooting them with my PD150 camera. Let me tell you it was the hardest shoot I have done.
They pop up in one place and then dive down deep and pop up in another. I was basically rolling the hole time running around this long slow boat. It was insane!!!
The Jungle and rice wine......
So after I completed my story on the Mekong Dolphin, I headed up with the Cambodian Rural Development team...we headed into the jungle in Mondokuri Province. Let me tell you this was one of the craziest things I have done so far in my career. Imagine me in the middle of no where....lving in a ranger station....no water ...no electricity....nothing. I spend most of my days with the Phong people..a hill tribe in the area.
One night they treated us to a traditional dance. They played there gongs and I filmed. It was wonderful.
Then they wanted to take me to the waterfall. They said it was a short walk. Well I forgot the golden rule in Cambodia....nothing is as it seems here. A short walk turned into a half hour trek into the thick jungle bush. My clothes were torn by thorns and there were massive winged insects buzzing in my ear.
But then when one of the guys reported seeing a large poisonous snake in the tree...I began to get a bit worried. Then someone said...."hey we are not far from the former Ho Chi Mihn Trail.....I hope there are no land mines"...well then my buzz was gone and I was more than nervous. In the end though, it was all worth it. .The waterfall ..while nothing like waterfalls at home...was beautiful. They figure I was the only white woman to be in that area and I felt like such a pioneer!
The Road to Takeo Shachi Kurl, A Channel VictoriaFirst Report
It's Thursday night, and I'm stunned at how quickly it's all gone by - tomorrow is my last night here before flying on to Hanoi.
Have been very busy - long days, amazing experiences and people...but I think this morning, I just hit a wall.
Emotionally, mentally, and physically.
After four days of perfect health, the gastrointestinal gods were looking for a sacrifice, and they got me.
Yay for immodium and cipro - feeling much better now, and I expected a day of this anyway.
Hit the road to the southern province of Takeo this morning, en route to a rehab center that fits landmine amputees with prosthetic limbs, and learned a lesson in Khmer philosophy.
Was doing an interview with a former Khmer Rouge soldier who lost his leg clearing roads for the Pol Pot regieme in '77.
With a broad smile on his face, he told me he had no regrets about what happened, that he did not blame anyone, except foreign mine manufacturers, for what happened to him...
Now this was not a total surprise - even 20 years later - there are many, especially in the countryside, who believe Pol Pot was not all that bad...and here I had the old soldier defending his general.
But I pressed him anyway: Aren't you angry? sad? regretful? After all, your livelihood has suffered, your country is suffering, and by your own estimate - you know at least six other people affected by mines.
"It's a sin," he tells me.
A sin committed by others? or something you're paying for?
"I did something bad in a past life. I deserve this."
Stopped in a village on the way back where skinny farmers depend on skinny cows for a very lean exisitence indeed.
I don't think you've lived until a cow farts in your face in 37 degree heat.
Talked to a single mother of three amputee who eeks out a living cutting cloth for a nearby tailor - but insists her life is good because her oldest two are in school - for now - and, after all, she tells me, "short arms cannot reach very far".
Back to Phnom Penh, a city no bigger than Campbelll River, where life goes, but not too fast - and with good-natured chaos.
No one gets road rage here - it would be pointless.. much better to just steer around the guy who decides to turn left in front of you.
You know how in Cuba all the cars are pre-revolution?
Well every car here is a 89-93 Toyota Camry... imported second hand from Japan & Thailand.
Communications are big - cell phone shops are everywhere - but foreigners can't legally purchase unless they've lived here three months and come armed with a letter of introduction.
And towers rise up from the middle of nowhere... there's very little infrastructure in this land, but you'll never walk around asking, "can you here me now?"
Something else you won't do is drink lattes at starbucks, eat big macs at mickey-D's, or stay at a Sheraton - that level of "globalization" is not here - yet.
The most foreign investment comes in the form of aid. I have no idea how much Japan spends here - but it's a lot. Canada, I am told, used to have a presence, in the 90's when UNTAC was in charge - but no more.
To the hotel, where I catch up on the Hindi version of "who wants to be a millionaire" (Star TV direct from Mumbai) - and the BBC tells me John McCain announced for president on Letterman.
Out to attempt to eat, and the tuk-tuk drivers are there to offer a lift, as always, but back off when you tell them you'll walk.
Except for one, who told me, "walking is stupid."
Greetings from Hanoi, where I arrived safely last night under the darkness of sky and in the coolness of an early spring shower.
One of the first things you notice about this place is how young everyone is.
It's not because this capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is some sort of hip, swinging metropolis.
Rather, it's a demographic reality. 80 per cent of the population is under 30 - so it's 20-somethings who more than work in the hotels, cafes, and shops -- they run them.
This is a good and bad thing. These "young professionals" are still a little rough around the edges in some ways... willing to help - but without enough experience to be completely effective.
The clerk at the hotel's English, while decent, leaves a lot of leeway for interpretation. I didn't figure out that he was mixing up his "rights" from his "lefts" until after I'd become good and lost in the city's historic old quarter.
The manager of my guest house can't be a day over 25 - so much responsibility on her tiny shoulders, which it turns out, included making the executive decision not to bother with my requested 8 am wake up call this morning.
"It's Sunday," she explained when I asked why at breakfast. "you were not working, you needed to sleep".
I had to laugh.
It makes me reflect on the Peter-Pan phenomenon we're seeing so much of in North America and parts of Europe.
If 30 is the new 20 at home - 20 must be the new 40 here.
Unlike Cambodia, where next to tourism and a little farming, so much of the economy is NGO-driven, Vietnam's markets are growing by leaps and bounds.
This is a country that boasts some of the lowest labour costs in the world, about $50 US a month on average. As a result, companies that had manufacturing bases in China are actually packing up and setting up shop here.
Welcome to the one-party dictatorship that loves a free market.
Politically at least, the old ways are very much present.
I will have not one, but two people accompanying me when I head off to report on the indigenous tribes of Northwest later this week.
One, a member of the "Foreign Press Office", and one, from Hanoi Open University. And guess who's picking up their costs?
Beyond the price of reporting here, I'm already being asked for complete and detailed lists of questions I'll be asking.
I'm told this is so my interviewees can prepare the "correct" answers ahead of time!
We would never dream of doing this in Canada, and it goes against every reporter's instinct, but as much as I'm struggling with ethics - I'm also very much aware I'm not the one in control here.
As well, I'm aware that no matter where you are, the "real" story is not always the one you come away with, in spite of one's best intentions.
Due to some last minute scheduling changes, this turned out to be a forced day off for me... I didn't realize how much I needed it until I fell asleep while getting a $15 dollar facial.
Between flying, dry heat, wet heat and loads of pollution, my skin hasn't been too happy - the service and treatment was as good as you'll find anywhere, but the best part was the err ... unique head massage that included having my hair yanked at by their roots. That and being thumped, soundly and repeatedly on the back.
Nonetheless, face and body are grateful... the rock-hard mattresses and pillows do not make for otherwise sound sleeping.
I took mini-temple tour around the city this afternoon. Hanoi alone is said to contain some 3000 pagodas, mostly Confucian. But at the city's main Buddhist temple, I was struck at how much cultures have mixed over Vietnam's 1000+ year history.
To be sure, China has been the dominant outside influence here ... but there are also tangible ties to ancient Indian culture. The temple's courtyard is shaded by a 60 year-old banyan tree donated by the then-president of India.
There are two lakes that sandwhich the city's center...and on Sunday afternoons, this is where young Hanoians in love come to canoodle...perched on their parked motorbikes along the waterfront.
I use "canoodle" in the most restrictive sense... unlike Paris, where singletons walking by are subjected to full-on make-out sessions along the Seine, public displays of affection are far more chaste.
Lovers do, however, take cruises along the lake in ridiculous swan-shaped paddle boats.
Coffee here is excellent, and the one thing the Colonial French did right here before being kicked out in the 1950's, is instill a thriving cafe culture.
Tomorrow is a "work" day, which means a long and likely boring meeting with more government officials - not the stuff of compelling TV.
Still, I will put on my game face and best manners, because if they're not happy, I gurantee you I won't be either... and all that red tape can be a pain to cut through.
Report from Fiona Anderson, The Vancouver SunMarch 5
Traffic in Phnom Penh
It was the question everyone asked when I said I was headed to Cambodia: Are you going to Angkor Wat, the complex of Hindu-Khmer temples created during
the ninth through fifteenth centuries?
"To visit Indochina without touring Angkor is almost unthinkable," my guidebook says.
But with only one week in Cambodia every moment was taken, traveling to villages, meeting with government officials, and with Canadians who are helping the less fortunate. So I went to Cambodia and did the unthinkable. I did not see Angkor Wat.
But I saw so much more.
I saw villagers travel hours to show me the work of a Canadian doctor. I saw town meetings with complete families sitting cross-legged on the ground or a table, children playing beside them, to discuss gender equality but get stuck on the word gender, a word they had never heard. I saw farmers beaming as they showed the compost they had been taught to make, compost that would save a few cents on fertilizer which could make the difference between buying seeds for the next planting season and having to ask a moneylender for high-interest loans that kept them forever in debt.
I saw mine fields and mine victims. I saw monks dressed in orange carrying yellow umbrellas to protect them from the sun.
I saw families of five on motorcycles, bouncing along country roads.
I saw a way of life, and I saw hard work and optimism.
So I didn't see Angkor Wat but I don't mind.
From Don Cayo, Team LeaderMarch 5
I spent a good chunk of my first day in Ho Chi Minh City -- the old Saigon -- hanging out with a millionaire.
I suppose that's a fitting way to pass an afternoon in the hyper-active commercial capital of the new and intensely capitalistic Vietnam.
The rich lady is Fiona Anderson, a colleague from the Vancouver Sun and one of the five Jack Webster Foundation Fellows who are in Southeast Asia to pursue stories on international development.
We had planned to go to a war museum but, despite it being a Sunday and the only real day off the Fellows will have during their 16-day trip, Fiona was too busy catching up on her notes from a week in the field in Cambodia and preparing for the week ahead in Vietnam. So we settled for a walk to the HSBC Bank, about three kilometres away, where -- in theory, though it turned out not in practice -- she could access her vast reserve of capital withoutbank fees.
"Should I withdraw a million?" she asked when we reached the ATM.
"Go for it," I said.
She did, and she carefully squirreled away the receipt to keep as a souvenir of this fiscal madness.
The million -- 10 crisp 100,000-dong notes -- cost her $76 Canadian. At an official exchange rate of 16,000 to the U.S. dollar -- the de facto international currency in this and many other parts of the world -- it's causing a lot of trouble for us mathematically challenged Canadians.
We're all having trouble doing the math in our heads.
Last night in the taxi that took us to a fine little restaurant, run as a training exercise for former street children, I felt some angst as I watched the metre churn over thousands and thousands of dong. By the time we got there the fare had reached a staggering 15,000 which, I realized when I did the math, was not quite 95 U.S. cents.
It works the other way, too. After an early morning walkabout by myself, I was feeling hot and tired and in need of shower before lunch. I flagged down a cyclo -- a kind of pedi-cab that's a hold-over from an older Vietnam.
When I was in Hanoi and Hue, further north in Vietnam, seven years ago, these cheap, efficient cyclos where the main way for my colleague and I to get around the central parts of the cities. We found it an exceedingly tight fit on the rare occasions we doubled up in one, instead of two, but whole families, or young couples double-dating, routinely shared a single cyclo.
Here and now, they are few and far between, and used mainly by tourists.
How much? I asked the driver before I climbed aboard.
"You give me whatever you want," he said.
That sounded fair to me, and I resolved to give him a dollar, even though the distance was only half of our $1 cab ride of the night before.
When we got to the hotel, he demanded 500,000. I did some quick math in my head, and thought he was asking for $3, which I considered outrageous for such a short trip. Then I realized it was $30 he wanted, and I got quite irked.
I gave him 1,500 -- too much for a cheat, and I wish I had given him less -- and left his sputtering at the curb when I strode inside.
But most merchants and drivers, both here and in Phnom Penh where I spent a week while the Fellows scoured Cambodia for stories, are curiously unagressive. They ask a little more than they'll settle for, but not much, they quite readily take No for an answer, and their prices are very cheap.
For example, when my only pair of shorts got dirty and I couldn't face a day wearing long pants in the sticky heat, I bought a fashionable pair of cutoffs for $4 -- less than I have paid to wash a pair of pants in some hotels where I have stayed.
A few things surprised me about Phnom Penh. Cambodia is the less developed of the two countries we are visiting, and I had expected a dirtier city with fewer signs of burgeoning prosperity. But there is construction everywhere and, despite the habit of piling construction waste on the sidewalk in front of whatever is being built, the city is much cleaner than many I have seen in other parts of the developing world.
I was also struck by the ubiquitous use of the U.S. dollars. When we arrived for a week-long stay, I asked the hotel to change a $50 US bill into riels, the local currency. "Oh no," the clerk said. "You want to change no more than $20. Everyone will want U.S. dollars."
Everyone did, sending me back to the hotel desk time and again to get more $1 bills. I never did require any more riels, and of the original $20-worth I gave at least half of them away, some to the infrequent beggars I encountered on the street, and some in tips to the hotel staff.
Ho Chi Minh City seems to have far less construction under way than Phnom Penh, but it is the busier and more sophisticated place. The central core puts me in mind of the older parts of Shanghai, with lots of neon, lots of shops and lots of hustle -- though far fewer cars.
Despite a relative dearth of cars, the most striking aspect of Ho Chi Minh City is the traffic -- and the Fellows thought Phnom Penh was bad. Last night, I estimated the number of vehicles -- 90-plus per cent scooters bearing two or three people, and occasionally up to five -- at about 180 a minute.
Traffic is slightly more orderly here than in Phnom Penh, as well as a lot denser, but you still see drivers cutting corners in the face of on-coming traffic or even driving on the side of the road. People turn onto main roads from side roads with scarcely a glance to see what might be coming, and the on-coming drivers just inch over to give them -- barely -- enough room.
When we first arrived in Cambodia, Fiona tells me, she hired a took-took (a scooter towing a trailer) essentially to cross a street that she wouldn't tackle on her own. And I met other people at our hotel who wouldn't walk any distance because they feared to cross a major street.
But Fiona is a walker, and she has learned to cope. The secret is to walk slow and make no sudden moves such as stopping or darting ahead. You pick a slight lull in the traffic, step out and keep going at a steady pace come hell or high water. Drivers will sweve around you.
The saving grace, I think, is that virtually none of the drivers seem to be aggressive. As Fellow Luke Brocki of the Powell River Peak noted, "There don't seem to be any traffic rules. So nobody can get mad at anybody else for breaking them."
Report from Karen Longwell, Williams Lake TribuneFeb. 26
Shachi Kurl, A Channel, Victoria adjusting her camera
A bit of luck today. My bag arrived in the morning and I could pick it up on my way to Siem Reap plus $50 from the airline (Singapore Airlines) for the trouble. I am on my way for one day in Siem Reap where I will meet landmine victims at a rehabilitation centre. The city is known to tourists for the stunning temple complex - Angkor Wat. Angkor is the pride of Cambodia. It was built between the 9th and 12th centuries and at its height was home to about million people while London at the same time only had 50,000. These days Siem Reap is packed with tourists and hotels. Bars and gift shops are easy to find. The streets are packed with taxis, motorbikes and tuk tuks.
I chose a strange hotel called the Dead Fish Inn. I like the name plus it is very close to the rehabilitation centre. I asked why it is called Dead Fish but no one could tell me. The other funny thing about this hotel is each room is named after more famous hotels like Holiday Inn or Ramanda. I chose the President 2. It's pretty basic for $14 US a night. Shower, toilet and sink are combined in one place - water gets all over the toilet when I take a shower. I don't think any presidents have stayed here.
With a bit of time left near sunset today I went to visit a floating village on Tonle Sap Lake, the largest fresh water lake in Cambodia. The village is a bit of a tourist trap with busloads of people barreling down a bumpy dusty road dodging cattle and water buffalo.
Nevertheless, the village is interesting. All homes, schools, shops and event the police station is floating on the water anchored to the bottom. My boat guide tells me there is no electricity but people use car batteries to run electronics at home.
Tribune photographer Karen Longwell is in Cambodia and Vietnam for two weeks on a Jack Webster Fellowship sponsored by the Canadian International Development.
From Melanie Nagy, CBC VancouverFirst report
Anyhow..met up with the two Canadians and then headed to Siem Reap. Once there I set to work...literally right away. Did an interview that night with Soreaksa...and incredible story.
The next day we went to Soreaksa's village...the one where his family was killed. It was a four hour drive on a road with giant craters in it...I mean it really was not a road at all. Once there it was non-stop shooting. It was one of the hardest...both phsycally and emotionally...days of work in my life. But I loved every minute of it.
I also did another story with a group of Cambodians trying to help land mine victims and disabled children. It was so heart-wrenching..but also inspiring. Anyhow...that story was gathered from a moped.
Anyhow...I am so captivated by Cambodia. This is a country that has endured true evil with Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge...but beneath the sadness and distrust of foreigners there is a delightful curiosity...and when you get the locals to warm up to you...there smile lights up the room. That image is already imprinted in my heart!
They say this is a place where you can sit beside a tiger and never know. Well what they mean by this is that beside you can be a former Khmer Soldier. Someone who fought and killed for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The saying is true.
Just this morning I was out searching for breakfast. Well, it turns out all I could find was soup. But along the way I was started chatting with my driver. An older man with leather like skin...but also a great big grin. Not long after talking, it came about that he was a soldier. He did not directly say he killed anyone, but he probably did...that's what soldiers did here during that time. If they did not kill when they were told then they would be killed or tortured.
It was so odd. Riding in a tuk tuk with a laughing older man who at one point might have murdered entire families.
Cambodia is a place that stops me in my tracks quite a bit. Nothing is ever as it seems. It is such a complicated place. It is riddled with poverty, but at the same time massive gleaming hotels are going up everywhere. There are bus loads of tourists crawling on Angor Wat...but just down the road there are people living in make-shift homes, trying to get by on less than $1 US a day.
These last couple days-while they have been fast and furious-have been some of the best days I have had as a journalist. If I had to go home tomorrow I would walk away of a life time of lessons.
I am off to Northern Cambodia tomorrow...early. I am off to explore the Mekong River and search for the famous..yet dwindling Mekong River Dolphin. Then I am trekking in to hill tribe territory where I will meet people who were displaced during the war. They are struggling to hold onto their way of life and their land.