A Day Without Texts in Cambodia

Posted on by Sralang Apsara


I got an extra wee holiday this month, courtesy of the local elections. The university was closed for four days (including the weekend) – presumably to allow staff and students to get to their homelands to vote and return by ox-cart. The government put a block on all text messaging for the day before and day of the election, presumably to prevent us receiving an sms like – ”me love u u no love me same same you have rice and sarong already vote CPP/FUNCINPEC/SRP”

The decision actually made the international news on account of it being the first and thus far only time in history that text messaging has been banned for an election. Some critics have missed the point and bang on about infringement of something or other, and there are even conspiracy theorists who make obscure links between the coincidence that only relatively wealthy Cambodians who read English would benefit from such a campaign strategy and that that same tiny constituency tends to be the same as the supporters of the main opposition. There was in fact a perfectly simple and reasonable explanation which the utterly neutral National Election Council stated that the ban was to help voters ‘concentrate’ and, I quote, ”On these two days, the environment must be quiet, according to the law.”

You have to agree that is a wonderful enlightened idea – after all that little peep to tell you that you have a message can be terribly detrimental to that period of contemplation as you meditate on which party to vote for, even though your concentration might already be slightly disturbed by the interminable gazillion-decibel racket emanating from the convoys of campaign trucks rattling your windows.

Noisy the rallies may have been, but for possibly the first time in Cambodian history an election campaign was virtually free of violence. My girlfriend was a presiding officer at a polling station in her father’s constituency – the very moment the polls closed and texts were allowed, she messaged me with the result which, if nothing else, was kind of cool.

More crime stories from a friend who lives in the wrong part of town: a marauding colony of glue-sniffing monkeys is being rounded up by police – they’ve apprehended 15 so far. The wild macaques, dubbed “gangster monkeys”, have been seen cruelly stealing bags of glue from hapless addicts before going on the rampage, nicking knickers and pinching panties from washing lines.

I met an interesting criminal the other day. A young Khmer man, he’d been raised in California but was recently deported to Cambodia, a country he had only known as a baby. For a while now, America has had a policy of deporting Cambodians who have a criminal record if they don?t have full American citizenship. In this case the guy said he was very relieved that he didn’t have citizenship since he would be serving a life sentence by now if he were still in California.

Having already served two prison terms for bank robbery and being rather focussed on the aim of exacting retribution on the killers of his father, he’d have been caught up in the ‘three strikes’ policy. Now here in Cambodia he’s trying to make a fresh start; An American teaching colleague and his wife have kindly taken him in whilst he endeavours to establish relationships with family he’s never known, get an education and stay away from crime. He’s also trying to keep out of the deportee gangster culture – it seems that rather than seek common ground and mutual support, many of them bring their territorial rivalries with them – Californian deportees fighting Boston deportees who are fighting New Yorker deportees and so on. He’s a nice fella – I wish him well.

Sralang Apsara

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