Dated on July 17th, 2004, from Phnom Penh

/ New Government Starts /

On July 15th, I left scorching hot Tokyo and flew to Pocheng Tong airport, Phnom Penh arriving in a place with blazing heat. One staff member who came to meet me at the airport told me straight away that the new Cambodian government started today. He handed me a bundle of copies of the new government's list. Amazingly, the number of Vice Ministers has increased from two to seven, and Senior Ministers, eight to 15. All the 26 Cabinet members have five Vice Ministers each. Governors of 24 Provinces have two to six Vice-governors. "Why does a poor country like ours need so many ministers and high-ranking officials?" said an indignant king, Sihanouk before he went to Beijing. The new government was actually having trouble in forming the cabinet. And increasing the number of posts was the solution they came up with. It is just like a country which has brought out two Prime Ministers at the same time after the first General Election. It seems as if we can visualize the battle over posts within the ruling party. Anyway after lots of negotiations, the government created this situation on its own without U.N. aid or any uprising.
I recollect lots of letters saying "Thank you very much for bringing us democracy." spilling from the ballot boxes after they had the General Election in 1993. Cambodian democracy is only in its infancy.
People still vividly remember the bitter experience of the 1997 uprising. The improving political situation deteriorated in a flash, and the economy and society stepped back in time a great deal. Maybe we have to give a good evaluation to the Cambodian government for having come so far without any war.
Still the thought of the situation, we will have soon, makes me down ― land cruisers running back and forth on the street, causing traffic jams. The total salary of Ministers was raised from 100 to 300 million dollars, while the salary of teachers stayed at 20 dollars. Maybe it's about time for us big donors to raise our voices about the usage of the money. Anyway, I sincerely hope that violence will never prevail in this country again.


/ Life in your homeland and life in a foreign country /

I happened to sit with a couple from Takeo province on a plane and they said that they had visited their son who immigrated to Germany. The husband was an elementary school teacher. Their story was actually full of complaints about how difficult it was to live in Germany. Their son was working in a Mercedes automobile factory and earning more than 100 thousand yen a month. As I mentioned, school teachers only earn $20 per month. So you might think they are proud of their son earning so much money. "The reality is that little is left if you take out rent, transportation fee and utilities. Above all, the food is awful! It's all frozen food. And the place is freezing cold! They said they lost 5 kilos in weight in a short time. Although the towns and the Alps Mountains were so beautiful, nothing beats Cambodia!" they said. I remembered the Apsara dancing girls. After the girls visited Japan, dancing classes suddenly became popular and the number of students doubled in a short period. I felt that their zeal came from their desire to go to Japan! The comments on Japan from the girls after their visit were full of admiration. To them, a foreign country must be exciting and appealing, whereas adults seem to look at it in a different way. I have a feeling that I am one of those elderly people who feel comfortable with the slow pace and a rest under a palm tree.


/ Better in Cambodia in summer /

Terrible heat, heavy rain, and repeated typhoons: I only get information about Japan through the radio. It is the rainy season in Cambodia and it was raining continuously.
I was invited to an opening ceremony of an assembly hall in ソンダイ temple, located in the central area of Bantheay District, Kompong Cham Province. This is the place where there are many of our literacy classes. We left Phnom Penh in the evening shying away from the hottest hours. And as the traffic also is lighter in the evening, Seila can drive more easily ― she just started driving lessons. These days it is safer going out in the evening than it was before, in Cambodia.
In the temple, a priest was preaching in front of devoted men and women. The temple was so gorgeous! How can this poor and remote village afford this? Later I found out that people who immigrated to the U.S. or Australia to work did fund-raising overseas and build it. I suppose these workers wanted to return the favor to their own country which they had abandoned.
Because Seila drove a little too carefully, we got to eat supper late at night. A cool wind blew from the Mekong River after the rain. In summer, Cambodia is more comfortable than Japan!

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