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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - MY PHNOM PENH: TOLA VATTHINA

Tola Vatthina
Tola Vatthina is a law student, radio host and standup comedian.


Tola Vatthina, 21, gave Bennett Murray a bit of insight into what it’s like being a modern-day Cambodian renaissance man

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I used to go to this gym, Phnom Penh Thmei, near the corner of streets 1003 and 1986, until I messed up my arm because I did it wrong. To use all the non-electronic machines, it’s just 1,000 riel for entry. And for electronics, they charge you 100 riel per minute. I used to play table tennis a lot and got really big calves – which is the only muscle in my body I can show off to people. I liked to do some bench presses too. I also liked to do that cycling thing, that machine, that makes you feel good. When you’re healthy you feel better, you sleep better – food even tastes better.

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I like Sundance because it’s pretty compact, everybody can see you, and it’s a lot easier to tell how good or how bad your set is going. You can see people pretty clearly, and you can feel the reaction, and whether you need to move the set on or get off stage entirely. I’ve always watched comedy, not like a fanatic but I enjoy watching it. Everybody says I’m the only Khmer person who does a Western-style standup show in English. I hope there are others, but maybe there aren’t. I crack jokes every day in Khmer in class, always shouting out an inside joke everybody gets. But would I do standup in Khmer? Definitely not – it wouldn’t go down well at all.

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I work at 103.7 Radio One, playing the hottest mix of music. I’m the MC of the brunch-time show, so it's 10 in the morning till 2pm, Monday through Friday. Mainly we play music, and if I find something very useful on the internet, I’ll talk about it, or if I find some interesting facts.  For example, when I find something useful to everyone, like something people should know, that’s just normal, general knowledge. Like, how you shouldn’t take a shower after you eat. I also talk about the news and we now play a four- to five-minute summary of the news. And since I go to law school in the evening, I also get my schoolwork done while I’m working.

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Nearly every day I drink water out of the tap. If I’m in my room, and I don’t want to go to the fridge, I drink from the tap. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me personally, I haven’t had any problems with it. In terms of bottled water, the best and affordable water you can buy is 1,000 riel a bottle, and I don’t think you want to go cheaper than that. You can buy the big one for 3,000 riel, so you’re all sorted. And for alcohol, I prefer beer because the water in the beer is the cleanest water you can ever find on earth. There’s no virus that can exist in beer, that’s a fact. But I don’t even drink beer anymore now. 

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I’m still in my last year of law school at RULE, in the English program. I’m studying IHL [international humanitarian law]. In 2014 I went to Portugal for a law competition that was based on IHL and really enjoyed it. The core of IHL itself is the law that applies when there’s an armed conflict, so you can see the real practice in everyday society on the news everywhere. And you’re able to help a lot of people in that line of work, working for the Red Cross and organisations like that. I definitely want to get a master’s degree, but in terms of work I want to work here because there’s a lot of things here we need to improve. I’d like to live somewhere else for the experience, but this is my hometown and there’s a lot of things I know I can help with.



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