The White Building: It’s crumbling, it’s rundown and it’s facing demolition – and its home to 2500 tenants, who mostly pay rent and enjoy to live there.
The White Building is one of Phnom Penh’s most notorious apartment buildings, one that many locals consider a slum.
The following are my on-location field notes from December 2015. I travelled with a Krung guide into the forest, he introduced me to the highlanders and translated all interviews. 66% of the people in the furthest northeast of Cambodia, called Ratanakiri, are indigenous people: the main tribes are Brao (Krung), Jarai, Tampun. The “forest people”, also called “highlanders”, “tribal people”, or “minorities” are actually the majority of Ratanakiri, a very rich province. The Khmer Rouge wanted the highlanders to assimilate, they relocated many of them during their rampage years. The Khmer Rouge wanted the tribes to leave their backward system and begin regular field agriculture, to become rice farmers and contribute to society. The indigenous people were also forced to learn and speak Khmer. In the 80ies the local/tribal people moved to the roads and the “city people” moved to the highlands – to do logging, built plantations and do gold and precious stone mining. The land was given away as concessions to people and companies – for exploitation. The ethnic minorities were …
The highlander tribes in the northeast of Cambodia have lost their battle – even though there are Highlander Associations and diverse NGOs trying to do their best to protect them from land-grabbing. “First comes the road, then goes the trees” – and if the trees go their time has come as well.
My way to the gem stone miners of Cambodia brings me past honey sellers. The indigenous people from the Tampuan tribe come to the roads to sell their produce. Honey is a treasure and these people are a treasure as well, but no one seems to care about their needs, property or knowledge. I am travelling in the northeast Ratanakiri province, an area where the so called “ethnic minorities” are actually the majority and where the living conditions are the poorest of the country. The different tribes are referred to as the highlanders, a general term for the indigenous people who live in this mountainous region. The highlanders forests, once partially sacred and a trusted source for their livelihood, has been sold by the government and is still in the process of being sold out. The highlanders watch how roads are being built through their property, how electricity cables are mounted through their jungle, how foreigners and Khmer alike take away their land and trees; fields with their precious mountain rice and sesame, spirit mountains and rivers (dams …
The Gold Forest is an area off limits to everyone not into the gold business. It is a remote stretch of land with its own rules of law. Preah Mear is one of Cambodia’s biggest illegal gold mining areas. The small, illegal gold digger ventures are cradled into the concessioned land, held by a Chinese company running three mines here, with a depth of up to 500 meters. The Chinese investors aim to harvest 100,000 ounces’ gold per year – 2835 kilogram – every year, for an 8-year minimum. To do that, they have to process 1.5 million tons of ore per year – and this is done with dynamite blasting and conventional drilling by many cheap local laborers who risk their lives every day and year round. The gold rush orchestra is playing 24/7: while generators and stone grinders give the baseline and the loud ringing bells interrupt the groove. The ringing bells tell the miners above the shaft to pull up their bucket, filled with ore from the underground. In-between the sound arrangement, antique looking constructions of gold sifting/extracting slides, …
The Gold Forest is an area off limits to everyone not into the gold business. It is a remote stretch of land with its own rules of law.
Siem Reap, Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri, Phnom Penh
Peace is all people want – and businesses, foreign and local, take advantage of it, exploiting the country and their people to a point of no return.
Siem Reap, Anlong Veng, Cambodia, Northern Thai Border Area
Khmer people are energetic, alert and they havea sense of humor. Cambodia is still recovering from the tragic loss and harm during the Khmer Rouge regime.
In 2014 I was doing research for a documentary about dictators’ cooks. I visited the cook of the former Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, in the north of Cambodia.