There's a formidable force in Siem Reap, up there with Angkor Wat for the number of daily visitors. It’s the Expats and Locals Living in Siem Reap Facebook page and it’s now surpassed a membership number of 1,000.
The page, created about 10 months ago, is a source of information on all things Temple Town. Any given day it can serve up restaurant suggestions, bikes for sale, questions on where to buy what, and, given the feisty nature of our residents, frequent debates.
Former page administrator Zoe Kirby says the page was founded as a good natured way for locals to converse.
“Before, there was no central place for expats and locals to really share information, thoughts and ideas, and experiences. Now the page has developed into an invaluable resource for finding out where to source items, find housing, and allowing new businesses to advertise themselves. It’s also especially useful for newcomers to the town.”
But the page has taken somewhat of a nasty turn of late, with an increasing number of online spats and negativity.
Founder Daniel Venn initially set up the group as a way of meeting people in his new town. “It’s completely cleared a thousand now. When I first started doing it, it was very small. I’d be looking at it getting really excited that there were two more people. I had the idea in my head at the time that this could be big, so I’m not surprised. ”
Though for Daniel, the growth of the group has been a double-edged sword, “It’s a mix between good and bad really, with so many people, there are so many opinions that conflict one another.”
Daniel stepped back from his role as administrator several months after setting up the page following disputes within the group. “There was a conflict of interest. I didn’t really ever delete posts unless they were really directly insulting to someone or other. There was a time when someone made some pretty crude comments, and I was sent about 10 emails from different people asking me to try and delete the person from the group.”
Daniel deleted the member but says that the fallout was worse than he’d expected.
“I did remove the person, which was probably a fault on my part, because a lot of people got pissed. A bunch of people were also happy, but by then the fun had gone out of it.”
Since Daniel’s resignation, the admin post has been a revolving door, some added against their own free will, others criticised for intervening in the group’s conversations.
Earlier this month one admin attempted to bring in a three-strike-system and was met with a wide mix of praise and frustration.
As with many popular forums, criticism, debate and feuds tend to spark off, personalities clash and in a town this small the page has led to some rather rough swipes over recent months, with one new member commenting, “As a ‘new’ Reaper, just joined the page two weeks ago, I was amazed at the negativity.”
Daniel says he thinks the original concept of a cooperative group will win out in the end.
“Aside from all of that, and the animosity, it’s still really good, really helpful. For me personally I found out about things that I’d never have known about, certain shops, certain items that I needed to purchase. You also realise people are decent. But there’s no need to go on there swearing, being rude to other people. What’s the point?”
Daniel says that with the way Siem Reap is growing, he thinks page membership next year could hit 3,000.
As each new quarrel sparks off on the page, names are called and members threaten to quit, that 3,000 mark looks increasingly ambitious. But with calls for positivity rife on the page, change is certainly in the air. . After all, as is frequently quoted among heated threads, “Come on guys, it’s only Facebook.”
But in an aim to dispel any tensions both virtual and real, and more importantly celebrate all that is great about the page, a birthday party of sorts is being thrown to celebrate the 1,000 member milestone, and all Reapers and visitors are invited.
Party organiser Zoe Kirby says the party, at XBar on Saturday, also aims to raise money for chosen charities and to encourage Reapers to get together.
Proceeds of a raffle on the night going to two water charities – Water Aid for Cambodia and the Trailblazer Foundation – a fitting move given our love-hate relationship with town water, or the lack of it, over recent months. There is $1500 worth of loot up for grabs, including hotel stays, spa treatments, restaurant vouchers and a helicopter ride.
The night will feature several local bands including Cambojam and Mylo, three DJs, a fire-breathing act and the infamous ice luge. Food will consist of caterer Michael Foidl’s fabulous pig roasts, pork steaks and sausages plus a veggie option.
What there won’t be is speeches from page founder Daniel. “No, I’d get booed off stage,” he jokes.
Zoe hopes that the event will help shine a light on more positive aspects of the group, “Siem Reap is a small town and it’s inevitable that some people won’t get on but I hope that for this event everyone will put any differences aside and come together.”