Urban Witness 001: Phnom Penh

The young lady was rushing back to the cashier after seeing me sitting there at the bar. With a bag of dinner in a plastic box she held in her hand.

Later she passed me the drink menu, with fewer than 10 options, I still ordered the usual one. Conservation wasn’t even needed for this regular customer.

If I am not in a rush to finish the drink, it is possible to sit and think of the contradiction of Phnom Penh within the length to finish the glass of coconut mojito.

There is no need to go far to see what Phnom Penh is like.

Go from one side of Norodom, take a small alley and walk from the middle of that block back toward Aeon mall. From embassies, high-end offices, to Khmer traditional villas, then further you will see many small houses along the side of the street that are so close to each other that there is no personal space for any individual. Then you walk further, you get out of that small bloc, and go on Sothearos and see the five star hotel and Aeon mall right next to each other. And then walk further, it’s the Elite Town of Koh Pich you see, and a good overview of all the sky buildings in the city right now. Just walk as one straight line, passing these three areas, that is modern Phnom Penh in one glance.

If the atmosphere is too suffocated, walk to another corner of the same bloc just one street away of Norodom, where I am sitting right now, there is the new rising western bars of decorated shop houses turned into personalized spaces, like the little corner of Angel town in London.

The jazz music that plays from the speakers, tea-coloured street lights like Christmas, the little small town of Basac Lane offers varieties of crusines and drinks, from Korean to Japanese, Indian, Middle Eastern and Cambodian, to the happy-hour drinks that are probably worth someone’s entire day’s salary.

This area is unreal. Especially the foreigners, mostly western foreigners that walk past every hour, really question the possibility of this little western town inside Phnom Penh’s most contradictory space.

And the classification of consumers here are varied too. Don’t think this is only for the young, even couple with families can just come for food. With the little babies at the back of their carriage or the back of the father, walking past lesbian couples sipping their mojito, speaking all the foreign languages that might not even be understood by other guests.

In London, it’s easy to complain about space. The space and distance between people there are so scary. What about here? How does the atmosphere make you feel? All the spaces are getting smaller, like still a little earth in one town, but even smaller earth. A more constrained version of the earth.

That all doesn’t seem so new, but still seems so strange. To the strangest of it all, is me, who has a mixture of cultural identities as well as the mixture of education background sitting here most of the off working hours just watching people.

Every time I have friends come to visit from Europe, I have to bear with their amazement of the inequalities of the city. And this would be one of the examples.

I can’t blame the expats making this business hub possible, instead I can’t thank them enough to at least create enough demand to make such supply possible. So at least after a long chaotic day, I can come here to feel a little bit of a western city’s vibe and the atmosphere of peace that I might not be able to feel anywhere else. Not too loud and not too quiet.

One filmmaker whom I met one day in a bar with his Cambodian wife criticized Basac Lane as a western expats’ bubble, emphasizing his attachment to the city as the “authentic one”. A young expat living there rebutted: “We come here exactly because we don’t want to remember we are in Phnom Penh.”

I no longer can tell if I am happy or feel disgrace toward the urban development of Phnom Penh. I also can no longer tell if it is better to just eat Khmer sour soup or also include hamburgers.

But it has appeared to me as the days pass by, when I think of food, I can no longer easily find healthy options without having to look specifically to one of the expat shops. I cannot just randomly stop at a food stand and expect to eat healthy food, and even just boiled vegetables or steamed dumplings – it’s no longer an option.


012: Defining Journey

Finally I have come up with a better vision, or say a more preferred aspect to look at journey of simplicity.

First of all, simplicity doesn’t have to be about being a minimalist. I have had friends who really believe in having less to mean more, and make an effort to push a boundary of giving away physical things to empty their mental space. Please don’t ask for an example to explain how to do this, the process to reach this goal is just too complicated to explain… and to do. If you are not a born-minimalist and you are used to enjoy having certain kind of things in order to enrich life,  just be you.

Secondly, it also doesn’t have to be about having the right moments. When we define and give value to journey as good or bad by counting amount of the right moments, based on the value shaping by experiences of culture, education, and family background to be something, or someone, we are giving ourselves an extra burden when things are out of control. Truth be told, I firmly believe there is no right moment.

And lastly, it is definitely not about chasing empty shadow.  This fallacy of thinking almost comes in chronological orders from first point to second, and to this third point. We like to set up a goal, being a minimalist or a materialist for example, then we define a right moment by having achieved these goals – the definition shaped by experiences – as a mean of completeness. Sometimes we might have come to the end of a part of journey to realise we had in fact chased over shadow.

A journey is just a journey. How we make use of time to do something that can see the progress is a journey. A messy day is still a journey. It is lovely to have a plan and goal, and able to enjoy the progress and dedication to achieve or complete those goals. But the tricky thing is we can easily confused when there is an absence of awareness.

Our journey also is just one among the infinite atoms in the universe. In another word, it is consisted of many, many journey combined. So the one we are going through right now, is just a part of a bigger journey, a part of a bigger community, a country, a region, a planet. Either if things can work out or not, our life path is just one among the 7 billions that once in a while, crossing pass some another, this path will eventually end.


011: Shadow

Did you see?

Those times when you were chasing your own shadow, or others’ shadow.

It could be just a dream.

Could it be?

But it seemed so real.

Sometimes you felt insecure of being with yourself without chasing anything,

because complete silence was scary.

Yes, darkness also was scary.

And naked soul was scary too.

But then when you looked up on the sky, you felt even more confused.

“How could I be able to chase shadow all the time, even in the clear blue sky? This must be a dream!” you thought.

Now you wonder, what was it that you were chasing in the past days and nights.

When was the real reality, Did you really see?

010: Right Moment

If I have to say what have I learnt before turning 2() years old next month, it is about the right moment.

As someone with an obsession with planning, I have set up a series of experiences, in work or study, to fulfil the need to control most of the process of this journey. I believe we only live once, so all the moments matter.

I went from one job to another, from one internships to another, but only sticking with a degree as a profession. Not sure how accurate that claim is, I often was told of my capability to do anything.

I also often told that I would be very successful with my career, although that did not excite me.

It is just another journey in order to move on to the next.

In order to reach certain goal, i have worked on many things. There were sacrifices, and doubts. The sad part is, once the goal be reached, if we can’t find a new goal to continue our journey, the joy of “right moment” can lost.

What’s really trigger the need to question the central perception of what is right and wrong really lied beneath this topic about right moment.

Why is it so?

I guess i always know the days are just waited to be passed. What’s matter is the experiences of how those days were spent, sometimes it could be well-spent, or wasted all depends on the what happened during the days.

Some of those days when certain goal was reached probably be the right moments.

We always have this need or hope for today to be the right moments though. We live life by moving on from days to days, in order to not getting lost, different nations, cultures insert certain value to define the motivation/drive for searching how different moments combined to call it a day.

That is why right moment is important. Even we live our lives by moving from days to days, but with the value insert to our mind by the experiences, either cultural, educational, and family background will all contribute to the understanding of what is the right moment for individual to be something, or someone.

I always want to try to make sense of it. As long as there is a good explanation, good argument, good story to tell, life is good. That is my right moment.

But often time, maybe we want more. Or maybe I want more.

I keep wanting more, more right moments to be happy. Right moments to eat, to think further, right moment to work as a journalist, a teacher, and maybe someday a fiction writer.

But who know when will this right moments really take place at the right time we think it should happen?

At least in my experience, after all the scarifies and hard work I don’t really feel like right now is the “right moment” anymore.

Maybe there is just no such thing as right moment.




Obituary: A Girl to Remember

Written by: Sokunthea Hang (All Rights Reserved)

(In memory of my friend from Bachelor studies, who died in a traffic accident on the 29th of August,2016)


It was all over Facebook that night, and it was all over Facebook again the following day.

At least for students at Pannasastra University of Cambodia (PUC) in our year, it is hard not to see people sharing the news about the accident in Battambang, and later the news of Solinet’s death.

Heang Solinet, a fresh graduate law student from Pannasastra University of Cambodia.

The last conversation I had with her was before I went to Europe for my Master’s studies in 2014, when she told me she was also about to go for an exchange in Europe too.

God knows it became the last goodbye.

After hearing the news, I started reading our chat history repeatedly.

“I’m proud of you because you know what you are going to do, wish you success in your career and become a professional journalist so soon. I can’t wait to read your stories,” she said to me before we took off for our next journey.

The thought of regret flooded my mind. We kept talking about visiting each other in Europe.

She is the kind of person that you can hardly forget after connecting with her. Always aspire with a lively spirit, my experience working in group with her for class assignments always be the memorable one.

She didn’t just live to breathe, she lived to inspire.

After moving from the province to Phnom Penh for primary school, Linet’s friendly personality and hard-working spirit earned her love from most of teachers and classmates.

“She’s smart, always got good grades, and was within top ten in class. She used to teach me some lessons during high school, and she also helped other people if she knew better than them” said Van Socheata Chan, one of her friends from high school.

Socheata wasn’t convinced with the news when she first heard about it (it was the same with me).

“I’m so shocked to lose this kind of a good person, I tried to find more information because I can’t believe it. I’m sure many people who used to know her would be sad.”

Linet’s academic achievement was a real legend.

After finishing high school in 2009, Linet received a full scholarship from PUC to undertake Intensive English for Academic Purpose (IEAP). In 2010, she started her Bachelor of Law at PUC once again with a full scholarship. Later in 2013 she represented Cambodia at an international conference in Vietnam among 20 countries, fully funded by Bridge Across Border Southeast Asia Community Legal Education Initiative (BABSEA CLE).

Before she went to Estonia for a one-year exchange under Erasmus Mundus scholarship scheme, Linet had also received another one-year exchange scholarship to Chiang Mai University.

I used to ask her why she always went for exchanges to delay the time of her graduation. She told me that she wanted to use these opportunities to see the world while she was still young and able to leave.

Not all the inspiring women should be in the news or establish big things. Linet had shown how to be inspiring, cherish moments in life in her way of simplicity, be humble, and focused on making every moment of her life count.

A Cambodian media outlet published an article quoting her thesis partner’s sad statement on Facebook after hearing the news.

The news went viral on social media that day, with some other media picked up the story as well. One of the articles that reported about the accident which killed nine people especially focused on her academic achievements including her GPA score in Bachelor studies, 3.87.


Linet’s friend from university described her as optimistic and cheerful, although stubborn as the youngest child in family, but with a very high discipline in social and academic life.

“She was the best consultant and the one who encouraged me when I was down” said Heng Sreygech, adding that she still could not accept the news given they had just had a conversation less than a week before the accident.

“She was a brilliant and potential resource for our country who supposed to have a very bright future”.

The university also expressed their condolences on the great loss, with the founder of the University Dr. Khol Pheng having attended the funeral with other committees.

Dr. Raymond Leos, one of Linet’s professors, posted the news about the accident on his Facebook timeline, and expressed his frustration regarding the increase in severe traffic accidents in Cambodia.

“Another victim of the growing madness on Cambodia’s highways. This has to stop!”

Dr. Ray’s post was picked up by Cambodia Daily and publish in the paper the following day.

“One of the very brightest and hard working students I’ve ever encountered in Cambodia. A voracious reader (often unfortunately a rarity here), full of curiosity. A thoughtful soul. Her year in Europe really broadened her horizons, and made her even more committed to helping her society. Her family was so proud of her. I am utterly and completely gutted.”

I kept thinking what I can offer to Linet at the end of her life. As a writer, at least this is what I can do for her for the last time.

But this young girl from PUC, is someone who should be remembered.

Let us be reminded of her positive spirit, and remember the good that an ordinary girl can bring to other people’s lives.


Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 23.35.39
Solinet’s Facebook Post on her account.

Life Observer 009: Dealing with grief

You know when there have been enough bad things happened in your life, you then developed this systematic way to deal with grief. The mechanism of letting go and moving on would be a natural reaction no matter how the heart feel.

But this is only based on the fact that “enough” bad things happened in your life and you still managed to be alive.

In a good way to put it, you have become stronger and more flexible.

In a realistic way to see it, you also have become more used to loneliness. Your soul need this training to be strong and independent.

Human sometimes really function like a washing machine. Make sure to do your routine to clean your filter. Your way to see the world, that filter, need to be cleaned and evaluated once in a while to make sure it still function well.

At the end of the day, we all know life does not need to be perfect to be wonderful.


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Life Observer 008 — Reflection

These few months I feel like have been through such a long journey, like a transformation of adolescence, I think.

Everything we have encountered help us to reflect ourselves, every person we have interacted with as well can tell a lot about ourselves throughout the way we deal with them.

At a young age, many’s mind and actions are not at the same track. If using Buddha theory, he said when your mind and body are not in balance you bring suffering to yourself. For what I see, it is in the process of growing, developing from one point of life to another point where we need to deal with certain people and minds in society and they aren’t as pure and innocent like school anymore.

There is one of my favorite quotes:

“I learned the hard way that I cannot always count on others to respect my feelings, even if I respect theirs. Being a good person doesn’t guarantee that others will be good people. You only have control over yourself and how you choose to be as a person. As for others, you can only choose to accept them or walk away.”     —–   Anonymous 

The more mature you are, the more lonely you are. Because you have learnt to live in the way most grown-ups live, enjoy your own company.

It really is more beneficial to spend more time to communicate with one own heart than to just relate with others, but it also is useful to interact with others and learn to do different things so you know more about yourself by the reflection of your actions and words toward them.

Maybe life is all about one’s own reflection toward living to understand oneself. Somehow I think even we cannot control it, but we can manage our attitude toward what was reflected.

Life is like a mirror, when we look at the mirror and smile, we see a smiling face through the reflection. And when we look at the mirror and cry, we see a crying face.

Life itself is a lesson and we all learn from it in a different way, I try to convince myself to be more open to accepting my imperfection. And to care less of what others see about me, and focus more on how I see myself.

Eventually, it’s me who fill in this life with meaning.

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UK remains Cambodia major trade partner in 2014

Sokunthea Hang, 18 December 2015

UK embassy in Cambodia has released the latest number on bilateral trade between Cambodia and the United Kingdom to surpassed $1 billion dollars, about 23 percent increase compared to 2013.

United kingdom remains the top five trade partner to Cambodia with a steadily increase trade value, according to latest data from World Trade Organization in 2013.

top 5 trade

“We are working closely with the British Chamber of Commerce as the UK seeks to expand the services and assistance it offer to existing and potential new British investors and traders with Cambodia,” said the British Ambassador to Cambodia Bill Longhurst.

Longhurst also said that the trade value is expected to rise as more British companies are set to invest in Cambodia.


According to Cambodian Commerce Ministry Cambodia’s garment and textiles have the biggest share of the UK investments in Cambodia. They also represented over 75 per cent of the total Cambodia’s total exports worth $17 million to the UK last year.

A Commerce Ministry spokesman said in a press release last month that Cambodian’s major exports to the UK are garments, textiles and rice while the UK exports to Cambodia including vehicles, textile yarn and fabric, machinery and pharmaceutical products.

The UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), the British Chamber of Commerce was established and officially registered in Cambodia 2013. It has aimed to provide advice and assistance to the UK companies that seek to do business in Cambodia.



Statistics shows UK has the lowest road deaths in 2014

Sokunthea Hang,  18 December 2015

The United Kingdom has the lowest number of road deaths compared to many developed countries in the world, according to the latest data from Department of Transport.

The statistic of International comparisons of road deaths by selected countries in 2014 shows Latvia, United States of America and Republic of Korea are the top three countries with the highest number of road deaths.


Duke Nguyen, a Vietnamese student who has lived in London for four years for his undergraduate study said he always feel safe on the London road.

“I rarely, frankly not yet, see any death on the road so I feel relatively safe. Also, drivers always follow the traffic lights so far.”

Daphne Henning, a young American living in Swansea for her postgraduate study thinks her country has such high number of road deaths compared to the UK probably is the result of poorer infrastructure and the higher number of drivers.

“We probably drive a lot more as we don’t have the infrastructure in most areas to support comprehensive public transit systems the way most European (or British) cities do.”

Before coming to the UK, Daphne has lived in Denmark for a year and also has traveled to many other European countries. She said she wouldn’t disagree with those numbers overall except Latvia.

“I am really surprised Latvia is first, I would never have guessed that, but all the countries at the bottom are not surprising because of the public transit systems most of them have and how many people ride bicycles”

A big part of the data is taken from EU road accident database which was published in March by the European Commission. The figures from all the EU countries reveal a total of 25,700 road deaths in 2014. Although the number has decreased 1% compared to 2013, the improvement is small compared to the 8% decrease in 2012 and 2013.

“It’s sad and hard to accept that almost 70 Europeans die on our roads every day, with many more being seriously injured,” said EU Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc in a press release.

“They remind us that road safety requires constant attention and further efforts.”

The European Commission stated that additional effort will be put to road safety targets and actions such as continuous analysis on serious road traffic injuries and infrastructure safety management.

Do you earn what you deserve in the UK?

Sokunthea Hang, 18 December 2015

There were 209,000 jobs with pay less than the National Minimum Wage (NMW) held by employees aged 16 and over in April 2015, according to the Office for National Statistics(ONS).

The data taken from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) shows the numbers constituted 0.8% of UK employee jobs. This was down from 222,000 (0.8%) in April 2014.

The NMW for 2015 are jobs paid at less than £2.73 per hour (16-18 years old or those aged 19 or over who are in their first year),  £3.79 per hour ( aged 16-17), £5.13 per hour (aged 18-20), and  £6.50 per hour ( aged 21 and over).


Source: Office for National Statistics “Low Pay, April 2015” provisional data.

The figures show the highest underpaid occupations are in the elementary occupation with 55,000 and sales and customer service occupation with 32,000 in the year 2015.

The biggest brand to be found to be underpaying its staff last year was retail outlet Monsoon.

Sports Direct is currently under investigation for low pay after the Guardian undercover reporters revealed  how retailer’s warehouse workers are subjected to extraordinary searches and surveillance and local primary school teachers said Sports Direct staff are scared to take time off with sick children.

“The continued rise of insecure self-employment and part-time work, coupled with the slowing down in an already painful and slow recovery in wages, means that too many in the workforce will be struggling to get by this Christmas.” said Commenting Unite general secretary Len McCluskey in a press release.

While the latest statistics from ONS show the number of unemployment has fallen to a seven-year low,  United pointed to the figure of rising temporary jobs and self-employment result in less permanent work.

“We are seeing a re-balancing of the economy away from decent secure jobs to a world where people are increasingly being employed in low paid, insecure work, desperate for the security of a permanent job.” said McCluskey.