Geckos hanging on to ancient pieces of Khmer temples in the jungles of northwestern
Cambodia have passed on this bit of news. Thais in civies-some calling themselves
"students"-have been seen carrying M-16s and video cameras, taking footage
of what they hope will be transportable pieces of Cambodian culture.
The videos "may" just find their way to illicit antique shops in Bangkok
to be used as high-tech marketing devices for the lucrative international market
of stolen art works. While the location of the Thai-Khmer border is not a hot debate,
its porosity should be an issue on the front burner.
In the battle against the wholesale theft of Khmer cultural artifacts, one unsung
hero is now getting his just reward. Several months ago in Siem Reap Ira Chaplain,
a photographer with Black Star, happened upon a German "visitor" trying
to carry away a sizeable piece of Khmer history.
Ira collared the crook and turned him over to the authorities. The German is facing
a jail sentence in his home country and Ira, so the Gecko hears, is about to be awarded
a certificate of honor by the State of Cambodia. Buy Ira a drink the next time you
On the subject of helping hands, the Gecko has learned that Le Shop, Phnom Penh's
newest supermarket, deserves a blue ribbon too.
With 720,000 doses of measles and polio vaccines in danger of succumbing to tropical
heat, Le Shop came to the rescue of UNICEF, whose refrigerated trucks were in the
repair shop. By loaning their own ice box on wheels, the Aussie purveyors of fine
beef helped deliver the vaccines-destined for Cambodia's children-from Pochentong
to the Central Vaccine Store in Phnom Penh.
For all those who lament that their phone is the only one in town to keep going on
the blink, you can rest easy as you're not alone.
Last week even the phones at the offices of OTC Inter-national-the wizards of telephone
technology-were out of order. It's nice to know that the Department of Post and Telecommunications
plays no favorites.
For those who mutter about spending excesses by foreigners in this impoverished nation,
the Gecko hears that Khmers are doing the imported buck-spenders one better.
Certain wives of well-placed officials who manage to reap just a tad extra income
from their positions are known to seek a miracle cure by taking baths in tubs full
of tinned condensed milk. Quick, who's good in math? What's the price tag on a bathtub
packed with the sweet stuff?
The Gecko's colleagues in Pailin are getting some news to Phnom Penh across the great
divide. Apparently, the cuisine in Pailin is some of the best in Cambodia.
Prince Norodom Sihanouk, UNTAC Chief Yasushi Akashi and Lt. Gen. Sanderson were cooked
up a culinary delight by the queen of Khmer-style nouvelle cuisine: the daughter
of former Khmer Rouge minister and Pol Pot confidante, Ieng Sary.
"The best meal I had in all Cambodia," recalled one satisfied U.N. customer,
relishing the memory of the Sept. 12 repast, adding: "I've never had pressed
duck like that in my whole life. It was out of this world."
Of course the score or so U.N. troops based in the war-battered, mine-surrounded
town cannot count on such royal treatment, although a Pailin posting has its pluses.
When the rains come, the earth yields a treasure trove of rough sapphires and rubies,
causing off-duty Khmer Rouge guerrillas to spend their free time scouring the cuttings
for the precious stones.
They have a ready market for the boys in blue, many of whom will go home with a pocket
full of stones that could each net a few hundred bucks when cut. Not bad at an investment
of five or six bucks for about 20 uncut stones.
Much has been said about the Thai economic invasion of Cambodia since the signing
of the peace pact last year. But wait-the assault force has only just landed.
The Gecko notes that one of the Land of Smiles' more renowned inventions is about
to hit the streets of Phnom Penh. If you've a spare $3,000 and want to impress your
friends, pop on down to Metro Group of Cambodia near the New Market and pick up a
shiny new tuk-tuk.
The Gecko heard an update on the summary punch-up of the ganja smoker by some French
UNTAC soldiers a few weeks ago. The boys from the Republic weren't just slapped on
the wrist-they were shipped home. That makes a total of 17 UNTAC personnel who have
been "repatriated" since the operation began: 15 military component personnel
and 2 civilian police.
A U.N. circular posted in some offices around town focuses on another alarm. The
recent memo from the UNTAC Force Commander's office warns of the "growing number
of venereal disease cases" cropping up among the visiting peacekeepers.
Of greater concern, the memo points out, is the three cases of AIDS detected "amongst
the residents of Red Light localities." UNTAC may bring peace to Cambodia, but
the potential AIDS whirlpool out there is getting stirred up with alarming regularity.
The full price of the peace plan, regrettably, will probably not get paid for another
half decade or more on all sides of the equation. And what a terribly painful price
it will be with no amount of money capable of buying off the prolonged, mostly terminal
misery. Unless, that is, that an AIDS cure can be found, which is definitely not
worth banking on.
The Gecko passes on a word to the wise: At the very least, protect yourself.