Cambodian Headlines

This is a blog about news and news-making in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  The next three months of my life will be spent living and working in this friendly, seething capital of more than 2 million, interning at the country’s premier English-language newspaper.  The Phnom Penh Post was established in 1992 and now delivers daily news to 20,000 Cambodian and international readers.  As far as I can understand it, I’ll be the all-purpose cog in the machine of this Cambodian establishment, covering all the bases: on-the-ground reporting, article writing, video journalism, copy editing, layout, marketing, anything they throw at me.  My goals for this blog are three-fold: to relay the news I cover, to examine the system of news gathering, analysis, and delivery at the Post, and to muse miscellaneously about living alone in Phnom Penh. 

In many ways, Cambodia is still re-building.  In 1975 a radical Marxist regime calling itself the Khmer Rouge (Khmer Krahom in Khmer) seized power and instituted policies of extreme social engineering, resulting in genocide and widespread famine.  Although no exact numerical data exists, most experts estimate that between 1 and 2 million of Cambodia’s educated professionals and ethnic minorities were murdered, often after weeks of imprisonment and torture.  Today Cambodia is a different country, more convoluted fever dream than nightmare.  Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with a population of almost 15 million, the overwhelming majority of whom are Buddhist.  Though it still lags far behind neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, in the past decade Cambodia has vaulted ahead economically, growing at an average rate of 6% per year.  Not unpredictably, these economic successes have been tempered by rampant deforestation, rising pollution, vastly unequal standards of living in rural versus urban areas, and government-sanctioned land-grabs by foreign corporations.  Arguably the biggest problem afflicting modern Cambodia is corruption.   Rated consistently as one of the world’s most corrupt countries, officials often extort fees for even the most basic services.  Traffic cops demand bribes to keep traffic flowing, public school teachers extract fees from their pupils, and the entire governmental bureaucracy seems to run on a system of nepotism and greased palms.  Cambodia is a polarizing country: some see an up-and-coming Asian economic phoenix, while others see a nation cursed by venality and post-traumatic stress disorder.  As former US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli warns, “Be careful, because Cambodia is the most dangerous place you will ever visit. You will fall in love with it, and eventually it will break your heart". 

Metaphorical extension: Cambodia and I are going on a blind date.  I’m never been to Southeast Asia, I speak no Khmer, I have not found an apartment, and I know exactly zero people in the city.  This is travel by fire and I thrive off it.  The next three months promise adventure, challenge, growth, and insight, whether I return home heart-broken or in love.



Phnom Penh
  • Daniel Sherrell | July 28th, 2011
    Nuon Chea, the mass murderer, told the court he needed a hat.  The air conditioning was making his head cold.  After a five minute deliberation, permission to retrieve the hat was granted.  Hundreds of eyes followed the octogenarian,...
  • Daniel Sherrell | June 26th, 2011
                    After two weeks with the Post, I feel like I’ve published enough articles to warrant a post.  Not all have been posted online, but for those that have...
  • Daniel Sherrell | June 14th, 2011
    “Ok, so, um, I guess, sit here and start working on some ideas for a story.”  I take my seat and my one sentence orientation at the Phnom Penh Post comes to a close.  No introductions, no instructions.  A mug of tea from the break...
  • Daniel Sherrell | June 11th, 2011
                    When you get closer you can see that the tower is full of skulls.  Stacked 80 feet high, sorted by age and gender.  The skulls are deeply inanimate...
  • Daniel Sherrell | June 10th, 2011
    After 60 hours in transit, I arrived in Phnom Penh on June 4 with two bags and about two hours of sleep to my name.  As soon as you step outside the airport, the city punches you in the face and opens up all your pores.  Sweaty and...