A complicated New Year’s celebration and a somber anniversary for Cambodia

This week, against the backdrop of Khmer/Thai/Burmese New Year (and other lunar holidays across the region), the Globe recapped last week’s webinar on our controversial Myanmar trip, celebrated Chinese-Thai identity and explored the quiet halls of Cambodia’s languishing stock exchange. We also revisited the brutal history of the Khmer Rouge -- first through an intimate family narrative prompted by an outrage over doctored photos from S-21 prison, and later on the anniversary of Pol Pot’s death

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April 17, 2021
A complicated New Year’s celebration and a somber anniversary for Cambodia

For those of you observing the Khmer/Thai/Burmese New Year, as well as the other lunar holidays marked this week in Southeast Asia and beyond, we can say this is the very first editorial of the year.

Conditions across the region, from coup in Myanmar to Covid-19 in Cambodia and elsewhere, have made it near-impossible to celebrate properly. But for those who observe the holidays, we hope you’ve been able to find some time to celebrate as is your custom — and we hope this new year is a sweet one for us all. 

If the Globe played a positive role in your past year, I also want to take a moment to encourage you to sign up with us as a paid member. We’re a small team here built around making the most of every bit of help we can get. To that, I can say every dollar of your membership goes to keeping us around for another year, putting out high-quality content as part of our own small role in the larger battle of keeping independent journalism alive in Southeast Asia.

For us here at the home office in Phnom Penh, this week gave us space to reflect on where we are as a publication. We’ve had quite a lot of space, actually, maybe too much, as the capital has gone into a two-week lockdown to stop the rising tide of Covid-19 infections here. Isolation can easily give way to introspection, and, for us, that means considering where we’ve been — and where we’ll go next. 

Last week, we revealed that Globe reporter Allegra Mendelson was on a controversial press tour of Myanmar with broadcaster CNN. We held a webinar on Friday of that week to explain some of our rationale for going on the trip, and field questions from readers. On Tuesday, we published the video recording of the event with a written recap from myself. Wondering how this all came about, and why? Hit that link, and email us if you still have questions.

The netizens of Cambodia saw another press controversy when it emerged that a photo piece published by the outlet Vice featured victim images from S-21, the notorious Khmer Rouge prison, that had been edited to replace fearful expressions with pleasant, happy smiles. One man pictured in the piece was also misidentified, much to the dismay of his surviving family. The Globe spoke with 69-year-old Senyint S. Chhim about the portrait of his long-lost brother, Khva Leang, and the story of how an idealistic teacher ended up in S-21. Alastair and I shared a byline on this, and I can say it’s one of my favourite Globe pieces in quite a while. Click this link to read it.

As the controversy showed, Khmer Rouge history is still very much alive in Cambodia. That may be especially true in Anlong Veng, the final stronghold of the communist movement and the death place of its leader, Pol Pot, who is believed to have died of a heart attack in 1998. 

Yesterday marked the anniversary of that death, an event we marked with two articles. In the first, Dr Ly Sok-Kheang delves into the final years of the brutal communist leader as he withered in his final stronghold of Anlong Veng, on the Thai-Cambodian border. Sok-Kheang is the director of Anlong Veng Peace Center, part of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-CAM), and is well-versed in this history. I learned a lot from this piece, and I think you will too. 

The second anniversary piece focuses not just on the past of Anlong Veng, but also on its future. DC-CAM and designer DaeWha Kang teamed up four years ago to start a project that reimagined this troubled place as one of healing. Today, their work is materialising into an ambitious master plan to preserve historic sites while using them to benefit the people who still live today in the shadow of Khmer Rouge. DaeWha wrote this piece for us describing the vision of the plan and its importance to Cambodia.

In a pivot away from political history, Globe reporter Kiana Duncan brought us this deep look into Cambodia’s financial present. Having a stock exchange can be a real symbol of ‘making it’ in our globalised economy. But almost nine years in, the Cambodian exchange seems to be languishing, pinning its hopes on wooing small-to-medium-sized exchanges to list. So what’s gone wrong on the trading floor? Kiana found some answers on the bourse. I really like this piece, read the article to find out why.

And last but certainly not least, we have this excellent piece from our own Wanpen Pajai in Bangkok about the Chinese-Thai experience as seen through the Qing Ming tomb-sweeping festival. Wanpen took some great photos as well to help illustrate this story of history and family, keeping the old ways while assimilating to a new homeland. This is definitely worth your time, so hit this link to see it.

Wherever the future takes us, one thing is for certain — wherever the future takes us, our readers and members will be with us every step of the way.

Please, if you’ve even so much as considered signing up for a membership, hit the link to make it happen. 

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