Thursday, July 30, 2009

The forbidden fruit

They say you’re disgusting

They say you stink

They say you’re no good for the heart and your appearance really stings

Some have barred you from high places because you’re an embarrassment 

You’re not welcome

Not even in a small private compartment

They say you shouldn’t be allowed to enter a car, a house or even any space

Cause all you do is leave behind an unforgivable trace

Should you be a forbidden fruit?

Even if I’ve loved you so?

I would still have you and want you though

Believe me, you’re not just a fling

Cause you’ll always be my King


Sunday, July 26, 2009

What to expect when you import your pet into Malaysia

She made it

When you look at a retriever pup, you automatically fantasize about how fun and cute it would be to have one as a pet. All you see are its adoring look from those sparkling and innocent-looking eyes, cute little puppy paws, wagging tail and soft fluffy coat. What you won’t think of at that moment is how much work, responsibility and financial commitment you need to engage in when owning a pet.

A pet requires more than just cuddles, praises and play time. It needs to have a comfortable, clean and safe living condition. Above all, a pet depends completely on its owner for food and water. Hence, if you’re someone who tends to travel a lot or need to leave your pet alone for long periods of time, you should really think twice about owning a pet.

As an expat, it’s even harder when you are considering having a pet. It comes a time when you have to make a decision on what to do with your pet when you leave the country. I’ve seen some expats who left their pets in the care of unwilling friends or colleagues who agreed to adopt their pets out of obligation. These pets, once used to having first class treatment, suddenly found themselves in a state of total confusion and loveless relationships with their new owners. The only person to be blamed for this is its previous owner; not the pet or the new owner. Dumping your pet on someone else is a selfish and irresponsible action.

However, if an expat decides to take their pet with them, the next challenge is to import the pet into a new country. It can be a daunting, frustrating and stressful process. I recently had such an experience and notice that there is a lack of proper information out there to assist pet owners in this process. It took us months to research the information online and dozens of phone calls to the veterinary clinics in Phnom Penh, Veterinary Services Department of Malaysia, KLIA Quarantine Department and Malaysian Airlines.

So, for this post, I would like to share some crucial information concerning the importation of pets (particularly a cat) from Cambodia to Malaysia. Once you know what to do, it actually facilitates the process and reduces a lot of the stress for you and your pet.

Documents needed to import a pet into Malaysia:

1. Import permit/license

In order to obtain this permit, you need to send your pet for relevant vaccinations. For Malaysia, their main concern is rabies. The vaccination must not be less than 30 days upon the date of importation. This means, your pet must be vaccinated for rabies at least one month (but not more than one year) before it travels to Malaysia. Make sure that your vet provides you with a vaccination book containing clear and precise information of your pet with the official vaccine sticker (name and code) and the date of vaccination. It must also be stamped and signed by the vet.

If you’re unable to apply for a permit in Malaysia, you need to send or fax a copy of the vaccination record to your family, friend or pet relocation agent who will need it for the application process.

Once this is done, you need to fill up a form (Form A) which can be obtained at the Department of Veterinary Services of Malaysia or downloaded from their website here. You don’t necessarily have to fill or sign the form personally but the person handling the application should have your contact details and the information of your pet’s date of departure, flight number and other details. (Please refer to the form for all the particulars needed.)

There are several Department of Veterinary Services in Malaysia. I know of two if the applicant lives in the region of Selangor or Kuala Lumpur.

Department of Veterinary Services

5th floor, Podium Block 1A, 4G1,Wisma Tani, Precinct 4, 62630 Putrajaya, Malaysia

Tel: +603 8870 2213 or 8870 2381/82/93/84, Email:


Section 15, Kawasan Perindustrian Shah Alam, Selangor

Tel: +603 5510 3900

I would advice you to call the department up for directions as well as operating time. They are very helpful and efficient. The whole application process usually takes around 30 minutes if you have all the necessary documents. You also need to pay RM5 for the permit.

Once the permit is obtained, you should have two copies as the airline, upon check-in, and the quarantine officer at the arrival terminal will most likely ask for it.

2. Veterinary health certificate

You must obtain an official certificate of health for your pet from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Cambodia. This must be in Bahasa Malaysia or English only. For other countries, you need to get the same from the relevant ministry dealing with veterinary services.

This certificate is only valid within seven days upon departure of your pet. This means, the certificate expires or will not be accepted if it’s dated more than seven days before your pet’s travel. It must also carry the official stamp as well as the correct information of your pet, the owner and the date of travel.

Clinic Animal Navetco (#45A, Street 178 & 318, Phnom Penh, Tel: +855 (0) 12 587 085) assists with the application of this certificate at a fee of US$50. It takes about 3 to 4 days to process. So do plan your schedule carefully.

Agrovet (#26, Street 294, Phnom Penh, Tel: +855 (0) 23 216 323) does assist as well but according to them, they can only produce an unofficial certificate (without the official stamp) and it is acceptable by the government of Malaysia. In order to prevent any problem with immigration, I would strongly advise you to obtain an official certificate.

This original certificate is crucial for you to import your pet. It has to be submitted to the quarantine staff at the KLIA arrival terminal.

Preparing your pet for travel

It is essential that you prepare your pet prior to travel in order to ensure your pet’s comfort throughout the journey. Air travelling can be a traumatic experience for your pet but there are ways to reduce this stress.

1. You must transport your pet in a suitable travel carrier/crate. Do not be fooled by products that claim certification from the International Air Transport Association (IATA). This is usually a marketing gimmick. As long as the crate is sturdy, locks securely, has openings for air and ventilation, contains sufficient space for your pet to stand up and shift its body position, it should be good enough.

2. You should allow your pet to get used to the travel crate before travelling. This might take a few weeks. My Pet Move provides a good video demo on how to train your pet to use the travel crate as well as choosing the right travel crate for your pet.

3. Most airlines strongly recommend that you attach a water bottle on the crate. Make sure that it’s the type that doesn’t spill. You can buy this easily from most pet shops or veterinary clinics. You also need to train your pet to use it if it’s not used to it.

4. Ideally, you might want to consider training your pet to wear a collar and use a leash before travelling. This is to allow you or the airline staff to secure your pet easily should it accidentally escapes from the crate. This is also necessary, particularly for restraining/handling dogs when it is finally released from the crate at the quarantine area.

Using a leash can be difficult for cats or dogs that are not used to wearing a collar. We didn’t manage to train our cat to wear a collar since it was too late and thankfully nothing happened.

5. It is advised for your pet’s nails to be clipped prior to travelling to prevent them from getting caught in the cage during transportation.

6. Never ever sedate your pet for the journey. It has been known to cause a lot of complication to animals and some even resulted in death. Some vets and pet owners have recommended that a small spray of lavender oil on the crate lining may help to calm your pet. However, if you wish to do so, I would advise that you try it out first with your pet before travelling. Different pets react differently to foreign objects or scents.

7. Stop feeding your pet 12 hours before travelling. This is to prevent it from throwing up or defecating during the journey.

8. Line the bottom part of the travel crate with newspapers and then lay your T-shirts or other items that contain your scent on top of the newspapers. This will help your pet to feel more at ease during travel. It is not advisable to put too many items in the travel crate in order to allow ample space for your pet and prevent the risk of suffocation should the crate experience sudden strong movement or get squeezed accidentally.

9. Stick your contact details on the inside of the travel crate. This should contain your name, address and telephone number.

10. Prepare some food for your pet and provide the airline staff with clear feeding instruction if the journey is long. It was not necessary in our case since it was only a 1 hour 50 minutes flight.

10. Make sure that the travel crate is shut securely throughout the whole journey (if you need reinforcement, you can tape around the crate with strong tapes but make sure that you do not block the air passages). I wouldn’t advise locking the crate under lock and key to prevent your pet from being trapped in the crate if something happens. What’s important is to make sure that the crate does not open up or disintegrates during transportation.

Booking and preparing your pet’s flight

1. Your pet will be checked in as excess baggage if it’s travelling with you. With Malaysian Airlines (MAS), it costs about US$12 per kg from Phnom Penh to Kuala Lumpur. Even if your pet qualifies within your own personal luggage allowance, it will still be considered as excess baggage. So do set aside money to pay for this.

2. When booking your flight, do inform the airline that you will be bringing along a live animal with you. This can be done through the phone (+855 (0) 23 426 688/ 218 923/24) but it’s better to pay them a visit in person at #35 – 37, Street 214, Phnom Penh, so that you can get a printed copy of your bookings stating clearly that you have a live animal with you. Always ask for the number of an airline staff dealing with pets transportation in case of any complication upon checking in.

3. On the day of departure, it’s advisable to call the quarantine officer stationed at the arrival terminal in KLIA to inform them of your pet’s arrival. The office’s number is +603 878 72370. Provide them with your pet’s flight details.

4. Prepare 7 days’ worth of food (with a printed copy of clear feeding and other important instructions) for your pet during the quarantine period at the KLIA Quarantine Station. Dry food is recommended as it stays fresh. It is also advisable to bring along your pet’s favourite toys to keep your pet occupied during the quarantine period.

5. Prepare all the documents and place them in a folder. You should have 1) 2 copies of the import permit; 1 copy for the airline upon check-in and 1 copy for the quarantine officer upon arrival*, 2) 1 original copy of the veterinary health certificate for the quarantine officer and 1 copy for the airline upon checking in and 3) the original vaccination book.

*If you have the original copy of the import permit, do remember to bring it with you! Without the import permit, your pet may not be allowed to enter the country. In some cases, your pet might be quarantined for 3 months, instead of 7 days.

What to expect on the day of your pet’s travel

1. During check-in, you need to submit a copy of the import permit and veterinary health certificate to the airline.

2. Pay for the excess baggage of your pet.

3. Request the airline to check-in your pet last so that it will arrive first at the baggage claim. Your pet is not allowed to board the airplane with you and will be kept in a designated area at the cargo section.

4. Inform the airline that the designated area must be pressurized and climate controlled. There have been reported cases of pets arriving frozen. Since cats have short nasal passages, it’s particularly important that the air is pressurized. MAS provides good care for pets and they seem to know what to do but for peace of mind, some reminding doesn’t hurt.

5. Once you have arrived, you can collect your pet at the baggage claim. With MAS, the staff actually hand-carried the pet to be handed over to us. So, you may not need to worry that your pet will be mishandled upon arrival.

6. If someone other than yourself has the original copy of the import permit, the person should hand over the permit to the quarantine officer outside the arrival gate. To do this, the person should call the quarantine officer at +603 878 72370 to arrange for the permit handover prior to your pet’s arrival.

7. The quarantine officer will receive your pet, check the documents and then issue an official receipt containing the details of quarantine. They will keep the original copies of the documents as well as the vaccination book.

Keep the receipt safely as this will be used as proof that the pet belongs to you and it has been handed over to the quarantine department. You will also need the receipt to enter the quarantine station.

8. Handover the pet food and instruction to the quarantine officer.

9. From this point onwards, your pet will no longer stay in your possession. It will be transported immediately to the quarantine station by the officer. You can visit your pet immediately at the quarantine station (closes at 4pm) near the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT). For direction, please ask the officer.

10. At the quarantine station, you’ll notice that it’s well organized. Each pet is kept in a secure, well-ventilated and rather spacious individual enclosure**. For cats, there is an additional smaller cage containing a litter box inside the enclosure. I was told that the cats are regularly released from the cage to roam freely in the enclosure. Since each cat is confined to a space alone, it can get very lonely. Hence, it’s a good idea to bring along some toys or other items to keep it company. I was told that dogs are allowed to be placed together.

** If you are importing more than one cat, they would normally place them together in the same enclosure.

11. You can visit your pet during the quarantine period during visiting hours (from 8am to 4pm).

12. After 7 days, your pet will be released once the quarantine authority determines that it is free from any transmittable diseases. You will have to make a payment of about RM3 to RM4 per day per pet (depending on the size and other cost incurred during quarantine) prior to your pet’s release.

You should expect to pay the following fees:

  • Quarantine certificate – RM2
  • Inspection of pet upon entry – RM30
  • Transportation of pet to the quarantine station – RM30
  • Rental of quarantine space – RM35/7 days
  • Litter for cats – RM14/7 days (unless you bring along your own litter supply)
  • Administrative fee - RM2

13. Now that you are reunited with your pet, the only thing left to do is to welcome it to its new home.


I hope that the information above will assist you in this journey. Please keep in mind that information and procedures may change from time to time. This information is valid at the point of writing. I would still recommend you to call up the relevant authorities to receive an updates on procedures and documents needed.

I am also pleased to write that all the staff we encountered during this journey have been very helpful, professional and pleasant. Never hesitate to ask them for information and address your concern.

Importing a pet is a serious matter and may cause unnecessary complications and stress (for both your pet and yourself) if not well-prepared. But it’s worth doing it since the reward is having your pet with you. However, if you’re not willing to go through such trouble, do not adopt or own a pet if you’re an expat unless you are able to make arrangements to have your pet cared for by responsible and loving people.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Exclusive interview with an Afghan civil society activist on the forthcoming Presidential election in Afghanistan

Afghan flag

Millions of Afghans will be casting their ballots this coming August for its second Presidential election since the Taliban was ousted in 2001. Some remain sceptical as to whether the election will be free and fair while others remain hopeful and desperate to see a positive change in the future administration.

Election in Afghanistan remains as a key interest to me since I had worked for the first election administered jointly by the UN and Afghan Interim Electoral Commission back in 2003. I took this opportunity to carry out an interview with a former Afghan colleague (who wished to remain anonymous for valid security reasons) regarding the current election atmosphere in Afghanistan.

For those who have been following the political situation in Afghanistan closely, this will provide you with a general sense of what’s actually happening in the country right now.

Ka Ea: When is the Presidential Election going to happen?

Anonymous (A): The election has been scheduled for the 20 August 2009.

Ka Ea: I understand that there has been a significant delay on the originally planned election date. What has caused the delay?

A: According to Article 61 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the term of the incumbent President ends on 1st Jawza (third month on the Afghan calendar) of the fifth year. Initially, President Karzai said that because the previous election was delayed, his term should go beyond the initial date set in the Constitution (“constitutional date”).

Later on, as the actual constitutional date drew closer, Karzai unexpectedly declared that he was agreeable to that date. By then, neither the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) nor the other candidates were prepared to run the campaign at such short notice and had to agree with his initial proposed extension date.

Karzai’s opponents accused him of deliberately prolonging his term so that he could make necessary arrangement to secure a re-election.

Ka Ea: I understand that the former interim electoral law drafted jointly by the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB, previously a UN and Afghan body managing the first election) has been revised and finalized by the Afghan Independent Electoral Commission. Can you explain a little bit about the new electoral law (including eligibility of voters)? Are there any significant changes? If yes, what are they?

A: There is no significant change in the law. However, there was a new law drafted and tabled for discussion at Parliament for nearly two years. The draft was very controversial and resulted in many months of boycott by almost half of the members of Parliament. This law was finally not approved.

Ka Ea: During the first election, the electoral campaign went on for 40 days. This time, it is 60 days. A normal standard is usually 30 days. Why is there an extended period for this election?

A: According to the IEC, this was decided on the basis of “inaccessibility” challenges in Afghanistan. Candidates are given more time to reach out to more people in remote and isolated areas.

Ka Ea: How many Presidential candidates are there in this election?

A: 41 candidates.

Ka Ea: Are there any female candidates? Who are they?

A: Yes, there are two this time as compared to only one in the last election. Frozan Fana (the widow of former Minister of Transport who was killed by angry Hajji’s at the airport*), and Shahla Atta (a current Member of Parliament). There are also five female Vice Presidential candidates.

* Hajji is a title given to a Muslim man who has performed his pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Abdul Rahman, the then Minister of Aviation and Tourism, was killed in a mob attack on his plane at Kabul airport on 14 February 2002. Witnesses and officials claimed that the pilgrims beat the Minister to death because they were angry at the latter’s failure to make necessary travel arrangement for their pilgrimage on time.

Ka Ea: In the last election, there are only 16 candidates. This year, there are more than 40. What do you think is the reason behind the significant increase in the number of candidates?

A: Well, I think there are four categories of candidates. 1) Serious candidates, 2) Candidates who have stood against Karzai in a bid to force the latter to appoint them in some positions in the next government, 3) Candidates who may have been encouraged by those in the first category to strategically step down in their favour during the run-up towards ballot day, and 4) Candidates who just want to be famous!

Ka Ea: I read that there are only 2 eligibility criteria to become a candidate for the election; one has to be an Afghan citizen and above 40 years old. I’ve read that many of them are illiterate. Is that true?

A: The eligibility criteria is very loose and basic, mainly an Afghan (borne of Afghan parents), above 40 years old, a Muslim and not convicted of crimes against humanity and deprivation of civil rights. As far as I know, all candidates have certain level of education, but most of them are by no mean fit for the Presidency job. They have no plan, no strategy, even no idea of what a Presidents’s job may require.

Ariana TV channel has organized a debate in which four or five presidential hopefuls are invited to debate issues (modelled after the US Presidential Debate). When you listen to them, most are not more than just ordinary people.

The other night, I was watching the program and one of the candidates was asked about the kind of political system he prefers for Afghanistan (as some candidates, like Dr. Abdullah has promised to replace the current Presidential system with a Parliamentary system in which a Prime Minister will be sharing power with the President). The candidate responded that he did not want any system in Afghanistan, he just wanted an Islamic State!

Ka Ea: What do you think should be some of the important criteria as a candidate?

A: I think a Presidential candidate should have certain important conditions; at least an average level of education, work experience, not being suspected for war crimes or crimes against humanity, etc.

Ka Ea: I understand there are three top contenders; Hamid Karzai, Former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani and Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. Who do you think is the strongest amongst them in terms of popularity with the people and why?

A: Well, they are perhaps well known to the international community, but there are other less known candidates who have established strong popular base in Afghanistan; Dr. Ramazan Bashardost, the former Minister of Planning who resigned as a result of a controversy over the role of NGOs. He believed that most NGOs, including international NGOs were wasting funds donated by Western taxpayers to rebuild the lives of war-torn Afghans.

In a recent opinion poll carried out by a German-supported think-tank at Kabul University, Bashardost’s popularity is second after Karzai and followed by Abdullah and Ghani respectively.

So far in the eyes of many Afghans, Karzai is as they call it ‘khairul moujudin’, meaning the better amongst available options (lesser of two evils). Majority of people are not happy with his performance over the last seven years; his administration is seen by people as plagued by corruption, nepotism, favouritism, incompetency, impunity enjoyed by criminals, failure to reconstruct the country and failure to provide employment and security, amongst other things. But when they compare these shortcomings to Abdullah and Ghani, they still prefer Karzai.

The backgrounds of all candidates are known to the people and they judge them based on this. For instance, when Abdullah was Minister of Foreign Affairs, 97 percent of the ministry staff, including ambassadors and diplomats abroad were not only from one ethnicity (the Tajik) but from one small province in Panjsher. He was the spokesperson for Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Ministry of Defence during the civil war (1992-1996) when the country, including the capital, Kabul, was ruined and tens of thousands of civilians, including women and children were brutally massacred.

So for many people, Abdullah is a reminder of the dark days during the civil war and the exclusive sectarian policies of Shura-e-Nezar, the party to which he belonged.

Ghani, despite being an academic and internationally recognized personality also does not have good reputation inside Afghanistan. People judge on his performance at the Ministry of Finance and Kabul University where he was blamed for pursuing ethnic and linguistic policies. Therefore, Karzai continues to remain as the strongest.

Ka Ea: What do you think will be the changes brought by each candidate above, should he win the election?

A: From what I have seen in their campaign materials, I think Karzai will continue to largely pursue the same policy of the last seven years. He may try to win the war against some Taliban leaders, but I doubt he will be successful in that.

Abdullah has vowed to change the system from presidential to parliamentary.

Ghani has promised to create one million jobs and fight corruption.

Overall, I don’t think Afghanistan will be a better place under Abdullah and Ghani than under Karzai.

Ka Ea: There was a rumour before that former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who is an Afghan American, was going to nominate himself as a candidate. Is this rumour true?

A: Yes, I think he intended to run as a candidate but he changed his mind at the very last moment. I don’t know why. It is said that Karzai promised him a new post (Chief Executive). This post does not exist now, but the Americans wanted to create the post in order to reduce the power of Karzai.

Initially, Karzai hinted to give the post to Khalilzad, but when the registration period of candidates had expired, he rejected the idea by declaring that the new President of Afghanistan will decide on this. So, there are suggestions that he has skilfully deceived Khalilzad!

Ka Ea: I understand that Karzai has nominated Mohammad Qasim Fahim as one of his Vice Presidents and this has caused a lot of criticism from human rights group. Can you talk a bit about Mohammad Qasim Fahimi?

A: Qasim Fahim is a notorious warlord who, according to documented reports by human rights organizations such as the Human Rights Watch, was directly responsible for a number of massacres in the 1990s, including the one in Afshar neighbourhood of Kabul where an entire ethnic Hazara minority community was wiped out by force under the command of Fahim. He has amassed a huge fortune out of war and owns many giant companies.

Ka Ea: Do you think the voters will vote according to ethnic line; Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek?

A: Yes, to some extent. Experience from the past has proven to the people of Afghanistan that politicians played the ethnic card only for their personal political interests rather than the benefit of their fellow ethnic groups, as claimed. So, many voters may vote for the candidates whom they expect to gain personal or communal benefit from while others will vote only for those with whom their influential elders have forged alliance, regardless of ethnicity.

As it stands now, almost all Uzbeks, at least half of Hazaras and Tajiks will vote for Karzai. Perhaps, 20 to 30 percent of Pashtuns may also vote for Karzai. It is very likely that there will be a run-off election. In that case, Karzai will win anyway.

Ka Ea: As I understand, Karzai is Pashtun himself. Why do you think he enjoys only 20 to 30 percent of the Pashtun’s support?

A: Yes, Karzai is Pashtun. But as it stands now, and it is of course subject to possible changes as we get closer to the polling day, many Pashtuns do not like him for many reasons.

He has chosen Mohammad Qasim Fahim as his first Vice Presidential running mate. Fahim is considered by Pashtuns as a close ally and commander of Ahmad Shah Massoud, whom Pashtuns as well as other ethnic groups regard as a cruel and brutal killer during the time of the civil war in the nineties. 2) Karzai is regarded by many Pashtuns incapable of stopping the killings of Pashtuns at the hands of the American military force in the southern part of the country. 3) Pashtuns themselves are divided into different strong tribal affiliations. Other rival Pashtun tribes support their own candidates, such as Ghani, Arsalah, Tanay, and many more. That's why it is very difficult for Karzai to win in the first round without the support from other ethnic groups, but it will be easy for him to win in the second round as he, by then, would probably be the only Pashtun candidate.

Other ethnic groups who may vote for less popular candidates in the first round are likely to vote for Karzai, should there be a run-off election.

Ka Ea: Can you talk a bit about the general campaign atmosphere in the country? Is there a general sense of intimidation?

A: Well, the campaign is not as heated as it was during the previous election. It is very slow and unenthusiastic. Huge posters on the streets and walls are the only visible sign of campaign so far.

So far, there is a sense of insecurity in many parts of the country where Taliban operates. There are few examples of intimidation by authorities also, but not a systematic phenomenon as yet.

Ka Ea: What changes do Afghans really want to see in the country especially with the new president?

A: They want security, job opportunities, reconstruction and above all, justice; things that have been missing so far.

Ka Ea: Do you think Obama’s administration has any impact on the election; e.g. influence on the candidate?

A: I don’t know really. These days, the US ambassador is meeting with Karzai’s opponents and attending press conference with them, which has outraged Karzai. I think it is very logical to say that US will have influence over any candidates who wins, because of their heavy involvement in the fight against Taliban and in financing reconstruction development projects.

Ka Ea: In the past, some parliamentary candidates, religious leaders (mullahs), governors have been killed for political and religious reasons, and even for supporting female candidacy? Is it the same now?

A: Yes, it is worse now. Many candidates, including women, are not able to travel to provinces and districts for campaigning because of insecurity. Interestingly, Bashardost is the only candidate who has so far gone to many provinces, including places with huge insurgent’s presence such as Laghman and Nangarhar.

Ka Ea: Since the last election, do you think that people have a better understanding about the election?

A: Of course, but this time they seem to have less motivation to vote.

Ka Ea: Why is there less motivation this time?

A: People are less motivated to vote because their aspirations have not been met by the current administration since the very first election. People now have less trust in the elections. The possibility of large-scale fraud and vote rigging has also demotivated people. Many people believe their vote may not change anything as the winner is already decided and he has made all arrangements for his victory.

Other reason is that in the first election, we had stronger candidates along ethnic lines; Hazaras had their own presidential candidate (Mohaqiq), Uzbeks had their own (General Dostum) and Tajiks had their own (Qanooni). But this time, Mohaqiq and Dostom have joined Karzai’s campaign team under a power-sharing deal.

Ka Ea: In the past, there were a lot of problems during the registration of voter due to the lack of official document to prove citizenship and age of voters. Is it the same this year during the registration period? Are there new challenges? What about participation of women in very conservative region like the South and South East?

A: There are lots of problems this time too. They have issued around 16 million voter registration cards (out of a total population of around 30-32 million). In many places, people have received multiple cards, sometimes in women’s names. For example, a man comes with a list of 10 women he claims are living in his household and receives cards for all of them!

Ka Ea: This year, it is a completely Afghanized process. What are the main challenges?

A: It is not actually a completely Afghanized process. All the money, logistics, procurement, etc. comes from the UNDP-ELECT project. Out of five members of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), three are foreigners appointed by the United Nations. I think, we had a lot of challenges in the previous elections also but were swept under the carpet somehow.

Ka Ea: How many voters are expected to vote during the election? How many percent are women?

A: Around 16 millions. 35 percent are women.

Ka Ea: How many independent observers have registered for the election? Who are they?

A: Not known yet.


A special note of thanks goes out to my friend who had taken the time to prepare this interview in order to provide us with a clearer picture of what’s going on in Afghanistan during this time.


This interview was carried out on 13 July 2009 via email and first posted on Loyar Burok website on 23 July 2009.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A weekend filled with great dining and cultural events in Phnom Penh

There’s one thing which I will regret while living in Cambodia and that would be my failure to engage more in its rich cultural activities. Recently while having dinner with a friend, I told her that I wished I had seen more traditional performances in Cambodia. I was rather ashamed that I never made the time to do this, especially when I knew how captivating the dances are. The King is a huge patron and fan of the traditional Apsara dances, having mastered it himself.

So anyway, my friend planned a fun evening of dinner at the Khmer-Thai or more famously known as KT Restaurant and later on, traditional performances at the Sovanna Phum. She wanted to make my last few days in Cambodia memorable and indeed it was.

For those who would like to experience a truly fun and enjoyable cultural experience during the weekend in Phnom Penh, I would highly recommend these two places.

KT Restaurant (#26Eo, Street 135, Sangkat Boeung Trabek, Phnom Penh)

This restaurant serves an extensive variety of authentic Thai and Khmer cuisines. On the top level, there is an elegant and yet cozy dining area where you get to dine while sitting on plush silk cushions on the floor. Don’t worry if you think it would be uncomfortable because it’s not. The room is tastefully decorated and air conditioned.

Green mango salad

We had the green mango salad (US$3.50/plate)for starter. I would say that it’s the best mango salad I had ever tasted. It came with huge pieces of crunchy salted fish, dried shrimps, cashew nuts and dried chillies. Before eating it, you should crush the salted fish into smaller pieces and mix them together with the green shredded mangoes. The taste was refreshing and slightly sour, sweet, salty and spicy all at the same time. So basically, it leaves a tingling sensation on your palate.

Sour fish soup

As usual, like most South East Asian dining experience, we had several main dishes to go with the rice. Soup was naturally essential to complement the dry rice, which coincidentally was really fragrant, soft and fluffy. We had the Khmer sweet and sour fish soup (US$4/bowl). A bowl will feed about 3 persons.

The soup was very different from the Thai tomyum soup with less spiciness (hotness) although as equally flavourful due to the generous amount of ingredients such as lemon grass, tamarind and a mixture of local herbs. The fish was fresh and tasty.

Squid Thai sausage

Chicken wings

We also had the squid in peppercorn sauce (US$4/plate), Thai sausages (US$4/plate) and fried chicken wings (US$3.50/plate). Now, the Thai sausages were the most interesting since I had neither tried nor seen them before.

In the beginning, it was rather strange to see these tiny brown balls (see above right) and I didn’t know they were sausages. They looked like meatballs but with a glazy surface. The pork meat was spiced with some sort of herbs and probably lime, lemon or tamarind juice since they were a bit sour-ish. The sausages were accompanied with raw cabbage, peanuts, chopped up fresh chillies (the small kind and hence very hot. So watch out!), ginger and garlic. I didn’t know how to eat the sausage with these condiments and so I just ate it as it was. It was interesting but I thought the skin was a bit too thick and oily.

The squid was tasty and as usual, peppery and sweet. I noticed that the restaurants here often cooked with real peppercorns which gave it a really strong flavour. What was interesting about the chicken wings was the deep fried pieces of garlic laced with salt. I could eat them as snacks but of course, there won’t be any kissing after!

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to have dessert since we had to catch the performances at 7:30pm.

The Sovanna Phum (#111, Street 360, Phnom Penh)

The Sovanna Phum performances are only available on Friday and Saturday evening, from 7:30pm to 8:30pm. However, the company offers a variety of fun classes such as classical music, Apsara dance and shadow puppet making, especially for children (well, adults will definitely enjoy it too) at other times during the weekdays. Each class usually charges a fee of US$5 per person, depending on the size of the class and complexity of the puppet design. The performances vary every night and charges an entrance fee of US$5 for adult and US$3 for children under the age of 12.

For information on classes and performance programme, you can call +855 (0) 23 221 932 or click on their website at

 Making shadow puppets2 Making shadow puppets Shadow puppets_2

We managed to catch the Hanuman and Giant Drum performance and it was amazing. The musicians played several numbers of drum beats using different kinds of drums, including the giant drum and other percussions. I couldn’t help but move along with the uplifting and harmonious beats of the drums. The dancers were agile and graceful. I could see that such style takes a lot of discipline and training to perfect.

I liked how they incorporated short comedic scenes during the show which sent the audience in stitches. I could see why they are extremely popular with children. Unfortunately, there was only one scene with the Hanumans or monkeys, which disappointed the children, including myself.

The place is rather small with a room to exhibit shadow puppets and a small stage with several rows of wooden benches under a thatched roof. However, I really appreciated the size since you get a good view of the performances and at the same time have some sort of interaction with the performers. Do get there early because it was packed when I was there.

After the performances finished, the audience was asked to go onstage to try out the drums. Ironically, while all the performers had been men, it was the women who were really eager to try out the drums. It was definitely a rambunctious and disorderly affair!  Thankfully, the musicians provided some pointers to those who tried their hands on them, much to my ears’ relief!

I managed to take photos during the performances and it was probably the toughest time I ever had, without the help of a tripod and flash. Do make sure that you turn off your flash in order not to distract the performers.

The photos below were the best I could do and I do apologize as they didn’t really do much justice to the whole show.

 Drummers Drums2

Dancers2 Dancers

Dancers4 Guest2 Guest

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Happy Herb Pizza at the Riverfront, Phnom Penh


Before I left for Phnom Penh, friends who have been there told us that we should eat at this local pizzeria in Phnom Penh. The Lonely Planet speaks of the same establishment and rumours have it that this restaurant situated at #345, Sisowath Quay serves a special kind of pizza. It’s called the Happy Herb Pizza. So, go figure why the pizzas are so special.

Anyway, I decided to find out today whether the pizza was indeed special or just a myth. I also figured that I had to go there at least once before I leave the country.

I expected the restaurant to be packed especially at this time when it’s filled with tourists but it wasn’t. In fact, the other restaurants serving “happy pizza” were empty too. (There are about three restaurants serving similar kind of pizzas in one stretch. No doubt that the pizzas were very popular before.)

When I skimmed through the menu, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or how to order. The items shown were what you would normally expect in any pizzerias; margarita, pepperoni, Hawaiian, Napolitano, etc. They all come in three different sizes; small, medium and large at US$4.50, 7.50 and 11.00 each. I asked for a small Happy Herb Special Pizza as it sounded “special”.

Happy Herb Special Pizza

The waiter did not ask me whether I would like my pizza, “normal, happy or extra happy.” According to some online forums, this was supposed to be the standard question.

Anyway, when the pizza arrived, I could see some sort of herbs sprinkled sparingly on top.  It could have been oregano for all I knew. There was no scent of the happy herb. Neither was there any taste of the happy herb when I tucked in. The pizza tasted mediocre and in other words, nothing special about it and in fact, a bit too expensive for what I got.

The whole experience might seem disappointing but after I finished the pizza and hopped on a tuk-tuk, I did feel err….happy. However, I wasn’t sure whether my happiness was attributed to the pizza or the fact that the tuk-tuk driver was really nice and friendly or the weather was just perfect. I wasn’t convinced that the herb did anything and if it did, was it merely a placebo effect?

Whatever it was, the tuk-tuk ride was definitely a happy one especially when it came with loud Khmer music for every road users’ pleasure along the way.  After haggling with the driver, he finally agreed to US$2 instead of his asking price of US$3.

When I told him, “You go slow-slow, ok? I take photos.” He jokingly answered, “Then you pay US$3, ok?” I shrugged him off. When I looked up from inside the tuk-tuk, I saw all these photos taken with tourists and the sentence, LONG LIVE FRIENDSHIP and instantly felt sentimental. It was definitely the nicest tuk-tuk I’ve ever been on.

Amazing music tuktuk2

 Long live friendship


We passed the Royal Museum, the Royal Palace, the Vietnamese-Cambodian War Monument and the Independence Monument at snail speed. When I finally arrived in front of my apartment, I gave him US$3 and he accepted it with a huge happy grin.

So whether the pizza had done its work or not, it was indeed a happy day.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Malis restaurant in Phnom Penh

Malis Entrance

What the local reviews claimed as one of the best Khmer restaurants in Phnom Penh, Malis certainly has a large shoe to fill. After ten months of hearing its name mentioned in many magazines and tourism guide books, I decided to try it out today.

Situated at #136, Norodom Boulevard (Tel: 023 221 022), Malis didn’t disappoint my expectation at first glance. It was described by many as a modern and high end restaurant with a lush setting and I was indeed impressed by its tasteful decor and architectural design. I wouldn’t call it modern per se as the interior designer has managed to combine traditional furniture and ornaments with a relatively modern structure.

Upon entering, there was a beautiful statue of the Buddha, beaconing peacefully from the front of a traveller’s tree. The courtyard was indeed lush and provided an atmosphere of tranquillity and calm. Since the weather is mildly cold now, it was pleasant to sit on the terrace surrounded by frangipani tree and two shallow pools filled with lotus flowers and fishes. The water that dripped gently from the frangipani leaves, a result from a heavy downpour which had just ended not too long ago, sent tiny ripples across the surface of the pools.

 Malis centre court2Malis buddha  

As soon as we settled down on a table, the waitress quickly presented us the menu accompanied by small portions of aperitif consisted of fresh passion fruit juice served in shot glasses and plates of pickled cauliflowers and carrots with a knob of spicy paste. I particularly liked the juice which was sweet and sour at the same time and had a concentrated consistency, a good indicator that it was extracted purely from the fruit.


Everything seemed to go well until we tried to order some cocktails. When my friend asked whether they offered happy hours, a common practice in most restaurants here, the waiter thought it was the name for a cocktail. After checking with the manager, he disappointed us by saying no.

When we looked at the drinks menu, there wasn’t much choice in terms of cocktails. I tried to push my luck by asking him whether they served mojitos. He replied quizzically, “Mosquitoes?” in which we inevitably responded with roars of laughter. Our shameless display of rudeness did not offend nor amuse him. He simply told us that he would check with the bartender.

After a few minutes, he returned with a huge smile on his face as he declared proudly, “Yes, Madam. We have mosquitoes.” Perhaps it was his good and earnest nature which made it hard for us to feel annoyed with what many would simply dismiss as a shortcoming.

I would say that Malis’ strengths definitely lie in the quality of its food and how they are being served. Everything was beautifully arranged and garnished. I particularly like the serving plates or rather materials.

We had the peppered scallops and skewered meat for starters. Expecting them to come in delicate portions, we were alarmed by the generous size and thought perhaps we might had been a bit too enthusiastic when ordering. According to my friend, she remembers the portions used to be much smaller.


Skewer meat

Each scallop was small but there were probably about four pieces on each shell. They were mixed in a sauce consisted of chopped up bell peppers, onions, button mushrooms and real peppers still attached to their stalks. The sauce was really tasty; slightly sweetened with strong peppery taste. The skewered meat came with chunky pieces of pork, beef and chicken garnished with pickled green papayas. They were mildly marinated with spices and barbequed to perfection. This dish can be eaten as a main.

Fish amok Lotus wrapped rice

Softshell crab

We ordered fish amok, fried rice with scallops wrapped in lotus leaves, sour chicken soup and deep fried soft shell craps for our main courses. Being more familiar with the fish amok in thick coconut gravy, I was pleasantly surprised by this drier version which apparently is also the authentic version.

Instead of being boiled in gravy, they were steamed on banana leaves with noni tree leaves at the bottom. Normally, the creamy version is very heavy and rich but this one was light and probably healthier. I liked how they were individually served on small plates made from coconut trees. All we needed to do was pick the plates up and eat them straight away. No mess and no stress.

As soon as the waitress unwrapped the fried rice, the delightful but subtle aroma of lotus leaves enveloped the air. The rice was unfortunately not as delightful as the unveiling experience. I thought it was a bit too watery and since we had ordered so many dishes, it was wise not to stuff up our stomach with rice. Thankfully, the soup was rather small in portion but over-compensated by a creamy texture. In fact, I don’t think they should call it a soup. Chicken gravy would have been more justifiable since there was more chicken than soup. The soft-shell crabs were not as fresh as I had hoped them to be despite being creatively served like a small hanging lantern. It came with an olive-green dipping sauce made from blended peppers, salt and lime juice.I thought it tasted too tangy and sharp.

Main Main3


For dessert, my friend chose the rainbow layered bean and coconut custard while I had the sticky rice with sesame paste on a pool of sago and coconut cream.The custard was very smooth and not too sweet. The beans were blended so well that you couldn’t feel the graininess and instead, the tastes of red and mung beans simply melt away on the tongue.

The sticky rice was a good representative of South East Asian dessert where sugar and salt are commonly combined together to create that interesting stimulation to the taste buds. The ultimate prize was the smooth paste made purely from black sesame seeds. I had secretly wished then that the portion could have been bigger.

Now, saving the best for last. As mentioned on my previous post, as a coffee lover, I think the ultimate litmus test to a good cup of coffee is the beans and how they are being brewed. At Malis, they serve it with a creative twist. Coffee Instead of a teaspoon, a cinnamon stick coated with caramelized sugar at the bottom tip is being used. While I slowly stirred the coffee served in a cup resembling some sort of an alabaster material, the scent of cinnamon and sugar were infused into the drink simultaneously. In all my dining experience, this by far has excited me the most.

As soon as you think it can’t get any better, Malis managed to revive what I would say, a forgotten art in gastronomy by many high end restaurants these days. A special thanks to my generous friend as I was privileged to have such an experience without having to contribute anything. 

Last word though, I wouldn’t mind having more mosquitoes if the hours had been happier!


Prices: For starters and main courses, it ranges from US$7 to US$8 onwards and dessert is all priced at US$3 each.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Roast chicken for the culinary challenged

(For those who are wondering or perhaps, feeling a bit disappointed with the change of tone in my blog, here’s a quick explanation.

I’m taking a distance from writing about socio-political issues. I’ve come to realize that there are many blogs which speak of these issues with greater authorities and most of the time, it becomes repetitive and I don’t think I have more valuable opinions to offer. Besides, I’ve learned from some wise friends of mine that it’s important to nourish the soul with some of the simple pleasures of life.

So, unless I feel strongly about specific issues,  I’ll be writing more about lifestyle. I would still like to hear your thoughts on this and hope that you might enjoy reading it.)


I’m not famed for anything except one. I’m a bad cook. Trust me. Been there, done that and still a bad cook. I didn’t really start cooking seriously until I got married. I figure that if I were to be a dutiful Asian wife, I need to start feeding my husband. I ended up feeding our previous dogs more.

"My mom hates sushi because she doesn't believe in paying someone for not cooking!"

Jamie Buchman, Mad About You

Well, it would seem that I don’t even qualify for “not cooking”.

I used to try really hard, like buying cookbooks, watching cook shows and then got really excited trying out what I had learned. I always visualized that my cooking would turn out exactly as it had appeared on the pictures or TV screen. (Big mistake…big mistake!)

Most of the time, it ended up as a complete disaster. The chicken would always be undercooked, the potatoes overcooked, the omelette too salty, the risotto too moist, the flour dough as hard as a rock, so on and so forth. Sometimes, I would burst out into tears, feeling completely devastated with my culinary handicap. What upset me the most was that I really tried hard.

There comes a time when I just had to admit that I simply can’t cook and so, I stopped trying. Believe it or not, as soon as I stopped planning the day’s menu, scrutinizing cookbooks and visualizing the results, my cooking miraculously got better.

So, in order to prove it to you, here’s the recipe and photos of what I cooked tonight. It’s a simple, no-frill, tasty and hearty meal (probably more befitting a child’s appetite, so it might be good to serve this if you have children dining along). My Mom (and Jamie’s) would be proud of me.

Oh, and our cat could only mentally taste the chicken from a distance.

Note: No precise measurement or garnishing. Who says you need to go pro when you’ve just started?

Chicken tonight

 What you need:

(Serves 2)


2 chicken thighs

1/2 peeled and sliced onions

1/2 lemon

2 pinches of salts

Some ground black pepper

A sprinkle of dried Provencal herbs

2 small dollop of butter

Flageolet Side dishes:

1 can of flageolet beans (you can probably get this from Carrefour and do choose the fine (fins) ones as they are smoother and softer.)

1/2 peeled and finely chopped onions

Some ground black pepper

2 peeled and cut potatoes

1 teaspoon of sunflower oil

Some salt to taste

How to do it:

  1. Place the thighs on a baking tray.
  2. Marinate the chicken by rubbing salt evenly all over the chicken thighs; top and bottom part. Sprinkle some black pepper and Provencal herb and then squeeze the lemon on the top part of the thighs.
  3. Let the chicken sit for at least a few hours (I let mine rest in the fridge overnight).
  4. Boil the potatoes until they are slightly soft. (This is an important lesson I’ve learned for a well-cooked roast potatoes.)
  5. Place the boiled potatoes around the chicken on the baking tray.
  6. Drop a small dollop of butter on each thigh.
  7. Insert the tray into a pre-heated oven (gas mark medium) for about 1 1/2 hour. Do check on the chicken at 30 minutes interval (this is how I made sure mine didn’t ended up as charcoal chicken) and turn the chicken over once the top has turned brown and crispy. Add a bit of water if you think it looks dry but the onions should keep it moist and since they are thighs, there should be sufficient fat dripping out from the meat. When the bottom part looks brown, flip the chicken over again for that final roast. By this time, you can turn down the heat to low.
  8. About 10 minutes before the chicken is ready, heat a cooking pot and pour the oil over it. Once the oil is hot, put the chopped onions in and stir them until they’re slightly brown.
  9. Pour the can of beans into the pot (do not drain out the juice) and let it boil and then turn down the fire to simmer for about 2 minutes.
  10. Sprinkle some black pepper on the beans.
  11. Serve the dishes onto casserole dishes.

Bon Apetit!

Chicken tonight_2

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ads: A cozy and furnished apartment for rent in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Situated in a strategic and safe location, at the crossroads between Street 51 (Rue Pasteur) and Street 360, this unit on the 4th floor is available for rent starting 1 August 2009.

This area, known as Boeung Keng Kang I (BKKI), is quiet, clean and perhaps also one of the best locations in the city. The apartment is literally within walking distance from essential amenities such as international school, the Somaly Raffles Health Clinic, Agrovet (veterinarian clinic), BKK market and a 24-hour convenience store. The SOS International Clinic is situated about 10 minutes away.

Being a hub for many embassies, international NGOs such as the UN and Save the Children, the area is safe and peaceful. It is particularly strategic for those who are working for one of these organizations.

Surrounding the apartment are spas, international and local restaurants, bars and cafes; Le Cedre, Bai Tong, Cafe Fresco, Gasolina and The Living Room, to name a few. Since it’s essentially a residential area, business-owners are mindful and sensitive with the noise level.

There are tuks-tuks stationed permanently just outside the apartment which makes public transportation easily accessible. It takes only 10 minutes by tuks-tuks to Lucky Supermarket, a well-stocked supermarket selling products which you don’t necessarily find in the local market.

Finally, with lots of windows and the advantage of being on the 4th floor, you get a good amount of light and breeze in the apartment. The sunset is particularly breathtaking.

Below are some of the features of the apartment:

  • 4th floor with low density (2 units per floor, maximum 5 floors).
  • Elevator and stairs; with security access card to elevator.
  • 2 large bedrooms; 1 with attached bathroom with bathtub.
  • 1 separate shower room with tempered glass door and toilet.
  • 1 storage room.
  • 2 balconies; 1 from the living room and the other connecting the 2 bedrooms (able to accommodate a lot of potted plants and outdoor furniture).
  • Equipped with beautiful wooden furniture; 2 queen-sized bed with spring mattresses (come with pillows and quilts), bedside tables,  fitted large wardrobes and dressers in both bedrooms, coffee table, sofa, arm chairs, TV console with racks, dining table and chairs.
  • Air conditioning in the living room and both bedrooms. In addition, all room including the kitchen is fitted with ceiling or wall mounted fans.
  • All windows and doors are fitted with mosquito screens.
  • Curtains are provided for all windows, except the kitchen, bathroom and toilet.
  • The kitchen is equipped with spacious wooden kitchen cabinets, gas stove and oven, fridge, washing machine, ventilator, and fire extinguisher.
  • TV and cable channels are inclusive in the rent.
  • The bathroom, shower room and kitchen are fitted with water heaters.
  • The whole apartment is fitted with multiple-type electric sockets.
  • 24/7 generator.
  • 24/7 security guard.
  • 1 secured parking space.
  • Daily garbage collection.

For US$1,500 (negotiable) per month, inclusive of 10% government tax, you get all the above.

If you’re interested and would like to visit the apartment, please contact:

Ms. Rasmey at +855 (0) 12 846 357, (from 9am – 6pm Cambodian time, weekdays only)

If you need more detailed information about the apartment and area, feel free to contact me at, at any time. I promise to reply promptly to your enquiries.

Apartment oko_living room Dining area

 Living room4 Living room

Living room2 Master bedroom

 Master bedroom2Bathroom Toiket sink

Guestroom Shower room Balcony

 Kitchen2 Kitchen


Please note that part of the furniture (and cat!) shown on the photos belonged to the previous tenant.