More than 200 bloggers and social-media aficionados from Cambodia and its ASEAN neighbours descended on Siem Reap last weekend for the Blogfest Asia 2012 regional festival. Although speakers identified an overall lack of internet usage in the Kingdom (because of high costs and poor coverage in provincial areas), they said social media use was proliferating among Cambodia’s younger generation, particularly in the biggest cities, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang. As a result, they said, the government should utilise social media and the internet in the public school system.
Claire Knox profiles five of the Kingdom’s best budding Khmer bloggers.
With a penchant for striking photography, self-declared “techno-geek” Bun Tharum was one of the country’s pioneer bloggers, publishing his first post in 2004. Tharum’s informative, clean and frequent posts revolve around technology, the web and social media itself. The 30-year-old is a technology reporter and contributor for Voice of America Khmer. With a slick layout, he features biographies and interviews with other bloggers and social media enthusiasts, “top tweets”, top YouTube videos uploaded about Cambodian events (the King’s death coverage was particularly thorough) and photo-essays of his travels.
“I think my job is about my views; it’s my own space, an outlet for things I cannot express as a journalist,” Tharum says. He believes that with the landscape of Cambodia changing at such a rapid pace, now is the ideal time for the younger generation to blog. “I feel I should keep documenting important events in Cambodia, not as a journalist, but as an ordinary person... I believe blogs will be reconstructed as more legitimate historical documents,” Tharum says.
A Cambodia “what’s on” and one of the most popular blogs among locals, averaging 300 hits a day and with 345,000 unique visits since he started it, according to author Phin Santel. The 35-year-old has been blogging on pop culture since 2008, “when there weren’t many bloggers at all”.
He spends four hours a week writing on his site, which he envisages as an important space for discussion in the future. “My vision for my blog is to make it a place where people can share information about Cambodia. I’ve designed it as a free platform for everyone who wants to promote Cambodia.
My vision for my blog is to make it more accessible and provide valuable information about Cambodia,” he says. His pertinent posts on how to live in Phnom Penh (such as “How to relieve stress in a traffic jam”) are particularly appreciated. Other posts take a similarly practical vein: “Where to buy Cambodian street food to save you a lot of money.”
With video links to documentary and film screenings at local cinemas and on television, guides to purchasing cheap flights, restaurant reviews, book reviews and local sports highlights, Khmerbird is a thorough, colourful and light-hearted synopsis of Phnom Penh.
University student, author and cartoonist Sovathary Bon, 23, describes herself as “just an ordinary Cambodian girl”, yet her uncluttered, sleek looking blog, Cambodian Daughter, which focuses on her photography, art, poetry and cute-as-pie cartoons inspired by tales of her mother’s childhood, belies the modest bio. Many personal blogs run the risk of coming off as narcissistic or self-indulgent, but Sovanthary’s self-effacing musings on everyday events in her life – Khmer festivals, her favourite images and artwork, poetry and her friendships – provide an insight into what it means to be a young, female Phnom Penh-er.
The blogosphere is certainly tuning in to her – at the time of going to press, Cambodian Daughter had accumulated more than 46,000 hits. She was one of eight Cambodian bloggers invited by the US embassy to visit the USNS Mercy when it visited Sihanoukville port in August, documenting the day in photos. Duckorino has a sister blog, camtoonista.blogspot.com, which focuses purely on Sovathary’s comic strips and the adventures of sweet cartoon protagonist Ginger. A charming reflection on life as a 20-something in the Kingdom.
A journalist and one of Blogfest’s organisers, Kounila Keo was a speaker at Cambodia’s first TEDX event in 2011, discussing the influence of blogging on Cambodia’s Gen Y. She has since flown all over the world to educate students on social media at workshops and conferences. The prolific blogger has also created training courses for wannabe bloggers, university students and artists. “Seeing the lack of online participation from . . . Cambodians, I believe I can play a small part in bridging the gap,” she said.
In 2009, Keo was selected to study Web 2.0 and online journalism at the Deutsch Welle Akademie in Germany, and was chosen as one of 10 bloggers and journalists to represent the Asia-Pacific region at the UNESCO Youth Forum in Paris last year. The blog’s greatest asset is its detailed previews and coverage of large events, workshops, festivals and conferences directed at youth around Southeast Asia.
The 24-year-old blends this, as well as lighter travel stories, with commentary on social issues, the government and human rights, historical pieces on the Khmer Rouge and more personal stories that ponder death, happiness and relationships.
Although she doesn’t blog as relentlessly as some of the others listed, articulate political commentator and Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) program director Sopheap Chak provides comprehensive analysis and political commentary on human rights and social issues in Cambodia. Sopheap, 27, who is studying for a master’s in Peace Studies, joined CCHR in 2006. It was a controversial time for the organisation when activists, including then-president Kem Sokha, were arrested for defamation, which she says spurred her interest in freedom of expression and fighting corruption.
Sopheap’s style is more academic than personal, yet it’s laced with her opinions and issues she is passionate about. Recent posts include an essay on the youth labour market in Cambodia and an opinion piece on women’s rights in this country. She also blogs about health services, migration, the environment and land rights, and says it is crucial to form an identity online to engage audiences. “I think every blogger has to define their own purpose first – my primary opinions are on human rights in Cambodia, and I can be very open on my blog.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Claire Knox at [email protected]