So this is the GOODBYE CAMBODIA post as I left the country on August 13, 2021. I thank everybody who has ever supported me on this almost 12-year journey. An utmost colorful chapter in the book of my life.
Thank you for your connection here, your dedication in Phnom Penh, your time to escape to the most comfortable movie theater South-East Asia has ever had, and your desire to see it grow into what it became.
Kolyan Keth now runs the Foodoo – The $5 Gourmet Dinner Box project, which I founded when I saw the need for dinner box deliveries three years ago. My pride and joy for better bread baking in Cambodia, Sandwich Heaven, is passed onto the hands of the highly professional Khmer managers. I keep the secret recipes for my vegetarian nut cheeses by The Nutcracker with me (I can always restart such production elsewhere again). The Phnom Penh’s English Book Exchange with a collection over over +1250 English fiction books has moved to Botanico Wine & Beer Garden.
My latest project, the literary magazine The Quiet Reader, will always stay an online project with the world’s most beautiful short stories by new and emerging authors. But imagine a Best Of-book, one day. To be continued…
The Flicks Community Movie House is closed forever and the venue has been stripped bare. What an enormous joy and connection with the community that job gave me. I don’t think I will ever meet that many people as through an operation like that.
I am so happy the ceiling plates did not fall down in the last weeks, the projector lamp didn’t die, the AC only needed one final re-gas, nobody fell through the termite infested floor planks below the carpet — so it can all nicely collapse on its own, in peace.
Living in Cambodia allowed me to travel and experience the different cultures in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia (where the earthquake tremors gave me some serious PTSD for months), Singapore, Malaysia, but also further away in Japan (which is “the most beautiful woman I have ever met, but I have no clue what she’s saying”), South Korea and China.
Thanks for all the memories, drinks, the foods, foreign friends visiting, the laughs, the journeys, pub quizzes, bike rides, brunches, beaches, sports, islands, and the many celebrations that made it all too unforgettable for the rest of my life.
Cambodia surely has its ups and downs and I have had my share (and enough) of all tropical diseases you can throw at me (I will tell you about that unforgettable typhoid experience for a few beers), but they are experiences nobody can ever take away from me.
There is a expression going around that if you can’t handle yourself (or a business) in Cambodia, you can’t handle yourself anywhere else and I see a good sense of truth in there.
Cambodia is a weird, sometimes baffling, but other times a true magical kingdom of wonder – that will always keep you wondering (and bribing the relevant ministries).
I am moving on, pursuing my dreams and passions. It’s time for a new life elsewhere.
To cite a recent fan mail: Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU.
I escaped my home in Amsterdam for a week off and bought myself a night train ride to Italy. And after a few days in the metropolis city of Milan, I continued on to Rome in a 3-hour train ride through the green country side. I was able to couchsurf with a young Italian couple living in the outer suburbs of Rome.
They basically took my hand and dragged me along in their Italian life. When they were working, I managed to explore Vatican City, I saw the Pantheon, ate pizzas and saw the impressive Colosseum. And I probably visited all 19 basilicas, because I am a nerd. And I did what the Romans do: eat all that delicious gelato ice cream. All day long. It was a hot summer day.
In the early evenings I would meet up with my hosts again and life was very pleasant. We played music, they invited friends over or we went out for drinks.
I was very lucky when one of my hosts had to work in the security department of a big stadium concert. If I wanted to join her. Yes, of course. It was a concert by Tiziano Ferro. “He is the Michael Jackson of Italy. Our biggest pop star!”, she said. I remembered that name. Tiziano had a little summer hit in The Netherlands earlier (youtube). Thanks to my hostess I was able to get into the stadium if I only could just help out the people in their wheelchair area in front of the stage and make sure they are all happy there. What a blast that was. And the crowd sung along. I learned some more Italian and the concert was an absolute joy to attend.
It was just after the show, when I was taken backstage in the catacombs of the stadium and waiting for my hostess to be finished with her job, when the mood changed by a full180 degrees.
I had a received a text message on my phone from a good friend in The Netherlands. Everybody around me seemed to have received such a message. People were on their phone sending more messages. This wasn’t the time yet when we all had data and could surf to the BBC website for a news update. It went by phone and texts. People were in disbelief. Some people cried.
The night ended in mourning. Playing the music. Sharing stories. Have more wine or beer. Staring out of the windows.
Conceived on the back of a beer coaster in a pub in Zwolle, since today it has been labeled ‘UNESCO Digital World Heritage’ by the Dutch Royal Library. The website Letmestayforaday.com of the Zwolle former journalism student Ramon Stoppelenburg will be saved forever for posterity.
The Royal Library of the Netherlands in The Hague, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB), sees it as its task to preserve websites in a sustainable way and to keep them accessible and to protect them from loss. That is why the KB archives websites that as a collection provide a ‘representative picture of Dutch culture, history and society on the internet’.
“Many of those websites contain unique information,” says collection specialist Peter de Bode of the web archive of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek. “Sometimes those websites disappear when the owner no longer has the money to keep it up. Or because the technology is outdated. .”
Stoppelenburg’s website has been selected for the construction of a special KB collection of blogs. “Very special”, Stoppelenburg says. He responds via Skype from Phnomh Penh in Cambodia, where he has lived for several years. “Who would have thought, that when I was with my friends at the bar of student café, Iscribbled a few words on a coaster? I can still hear a friend wonder out loud ‘Who’s ever going to invite you to their home?’.”
The idea behind letmestayforaday.com was to see more of the world. At the time, Stoppelenburg studied journalism at Windesheim University of Applied Sciences. But he got the idea through the American website sendmeadollar.com. “But I didn’t want money, I wanted to travel.” In exchange for an overnight stay or a lift from address A to B, he would write about his adventures on his website, one of the first weblogs. After the launch of letmestayforaday.com in 2001, he received offered airfare and lodging from all over the world, he was closely followed by the international media and traveled for two years without spending a dime.
“I thought I would travel around Europe for a few years,” Stoppelenburg looks back. “But that I was allowed to travel halfway around the world?” With the help of tourism agencies and generous donors (a lady from Canada offered him Airmiles: ‘Otherwise you’ll never come to Canada’) he also traveled from address to address through South Africa, Australia and Canada. His experiences were followed worldwide and as soon as it was clear that he would visit a country, the invitations poured in.
Stoppelenburg finds it particularly special that his website is now ‘digital heritage’, because his website is in English. According to De Bode, that does not matter: “The criteria for being selected are that the information on the website should preferably be unique, that the site should be under Dutch management and that it should say something about culture, history and society. on the internet.” De Bode was also intrigued by the Stoppelenburg website: “Two years of free travel, that is so unique.”
10 million websites
KB has been working on a web archive since 2007. “In the meantime, 13,400 websites have been selected, says De Bode. “Every year, 1,000 to 1,500 are added. In total there are 10 million Dutch websites. This also includes websites with the extensions .com .eu .info. There are 5.8 million of the .nl extensions.” Archiving is not very fast, says the archivist. “That is because the selection is done manually, then the owners have to be emailed, they have four weeks to decline. Then we start archiving automatically.”
And not every website is archivable. Vlogs are mainly visual material that cannot be archived. Also because they are often on YouTube and we cannot archive that.”
Incidentally, archiving is sometimes also delayed by the archivists themselves. ,,I must honestly say that I did linger on the Stoppelenburg website for a while, yes. That does happen every now and then, when we come across something special to review.”
The fact that websites are ‘digital heritage’ is internationally recognized in the Unesco Charter on the Preservation of the Digital Heritage from 2003. “They call it world heritage”, says De Bode. “We regard it as digital heritage”. interest in websites that threaten to go offline. If that happens, we’ll lose them, and the information on them too.”
It is 2009. It all started with a suspicious email.
“Hello Ramon, we are inviting you to come to the World Blogging Forum in Bucharest in two weeks. Let us know your details and we arrange the flights.”
Me: “This is a scam, right?”
“Not at all. Have a look at our website. We have a full program with many bloggers from all over the world and are backed up by the Romanian government and all. Oh, and it will all take place at The Palace of the Parliament [only the second biggest building in the world]. We need you to be there too.”
We were not “bloggers” like how they are known nowadays. All participants were mostly the first ever people publishing on the internet. Some participants had no rights or freedom of expression in their own country. Some could not come because they were afraid. Others were arrested and detained when they returned to their home country after this event.
It was one of the highest honors to be present and discuss along with people with such caliber.
This was in times when we were still figuring out what this Twitter thing could mean. The world was modernizing really fast and phones lost buttons and became smarter. Don’t even think about uploading a video from your phone onto Youtube yet, though. Instagram did not even exist for another 3 years.
This ended up to be one my most dearest experiences ever. The people. The ideas. The care by all the English University students. Tours. The parks. The enthusiasm. (The after parties). Bucharest.
My mother was born in 1939 and survived through the World War II in Rotterdam with her entire family. At times when the country is remembering the dead and fallen on May 4 and celebrating liberation and freedom on May 5, she will always have problems with these times from the past. For the newspaper the Old Rotterdammer she wrote her story “Hope to never experience it again”.
Here some excerpts:
“I can remember that we had to leave our house on the advice of the municipality, to the air-raid shelter on the East Square in Rotterdam. I don’t remember how long we’ve been there. At one moment we we were taken out of the shelter and loaded on a cart to the town of Bergschenhoek. We were brought to a farm for a few days and returned back to Rotterdam when it was safe again. The shelter had been bombed. According to my parents, our house had been emptied out nicely too.”
“One day, all men between 20 and 40 years old, had to report for the Arbeitseinsatz, to work in Germany. My mother and me brought my father to the Beursgebouw on the Coolsingel in Rotterdan. He was transferred to Germany where he had to work in a bakery. With the help of his German boss there, he managed to escape and he walked all the way back to Rotterdam. The Red Cross came to the house to tell my mum that my dad had probably died. But a few weeks later he was suddenly standing at the door.”
“I have experienced the liberation of the country more or less consciously and saw the airplanes flying over our heads, they were that big and close. My parents were cheering happily, I remember. My dad got his hands on a parachute. Years later I had made a dress from it.”
“Too bad I asked very little about the war from my parents. We didn’t talk much about that at home, or we were at an age that we were probably not interested in that either.”
Since the beginning of the year, I have been receiving confirmations of energy contracts for a certain Tiarra Washington, for various houses/addresses in Houston, Texas. The tally is now at 44 different contracts. From different companies too. There is Reliant (an NRG company, ha!), 4Change Energy, Pulse Power, TriEagle Energy, Just Energy, Good Value and even The Greenest Choice.
So, this Tiarra might be a landlord who signs these contracts for energy suppliers to connect with at these addresses, nobody knows.
How do I know? She used my email address at Gmail. Every. Time. I have received various such confirmations in the last year, mostly for somebody reserving a car to rent in New Mexico or a confirmation of theater tickets in Buenos Aires. My first name is Spanish and my email address could be accidentally entered instead of one Ramon’s actual email address.
But it this case it got out of hand.
Not only I received confirmations of registration, I received the policies that came with the registration and in most cased, I could log on as this Tiarra, by simply using my email address and the given account number on the mail and see “her” energy usage and the current billing on a company’s website.
Reaching out to the energy supplying companies involved, ended up mostly fruitless. They either don’t accept replies to emails and the few times they did, they asked me to identify myself with a passport copy, address details (like on a bank receipt) and to provide recent bills.
One night I had a fun call with one helpdesk, where I actually called the number of the company on Skype. After a 15 minutes wait (I had all the time) I was connected to a person with an Indian accent who would try anything to help me and my email address removed from their entire system. Rashid was his name and he was working at a call center in Mumbai, India. I told him I live in Cambodia and he was excited. “I am only a few hours ahead of you!”.
He also told me he personally answers all kinds of calls from many energy companies in Texas. Most of them are resellers, they don’t have much more than a logo and a website with a signup form and they might have dumped a paper flyer in people’s mailboxes, promising the cheapest or greenest energy.”
The company call center guy is actually telling me this? “I think it is all a big scam, but hey – I only have to answer the phone and process all the complaints. It pays my bills and my 11-year-old daughter can go to school. I am saving hard for her upcoming private high school.”
While socializing with Rashid in India I thought about these people in Texas and all the electricity (and heating) issues they had experienced in the last few months. All because of a highly inept system where anybody can start an electricity supplying company, take your money, but can’t be responsible for the things that company actually provides.
“I know, this is not even allowed in India! If you do this in India, you go to jail. They are all scammers.”
Last week I have been receiving electricity bills on my email address. Tiarra has to pay about $587 per month by average at every address she had signed up. “We only send you the bill by email and you can log in to your account to process the payment.”
Tiarra will never get these emails, because I get them (I have tried to find this person, but any effort was fruitless). “If you fail to pay within X days, we will have to terminate your electricity supply immediately.”
I think about the people living in these houses. Because it won’t be Tiarra, who probably only made huge commissions by connecting these people on the reseller’s electricity network. They will be out of power when the bills are not paid very soon.
One company replied to my email to contact this Tiarra Washington and let her know she’s been using the wrong email address (mine!) – and that email address should actually be confirmed to join a list, service or subscription.
I was told that if I cannot identify myself as Tiarra Washington, I will be considered a hacker of her email account, her energy account and can therefore receive legal actions by their legal department for breaking US federal laws.
“Please do so. Go ahead. I can’t wait.”
“Could you please specify where in Texas is Phnom Penh, Cambodia, sir? Is it a neighborhood or county? We can’t find it.”
From 2001 to 2003 I traveled the world for free, thanks to my own social network www.letmestayforaday.com and the thousands of people from all over the world who invited me over through that website. In return, my compensation for free accommodation for one night, I published a daily travel diary on the website. The entire diary of over two years of traveling is still online and was published as a Dutch travel book in 2004. Below is an English translation from a chapter in this book, which became relevant after the release of the movie The Grizzlies, filmed in Kugluktuk one year after my visit in 2003.
First, some background on the location. Yellowknife is situated at the North end of the Great Slave Lake and came to being after the gold rush of 1934. Yellowknife consists of the Old Town, built on a small island, and New Town, spread out over the bare, frozen tundra’s of the North. During the long and dark winter days, the Great Slave Lake becomes a ring road for Yellowknife and people drive over the vast ice pack. After the slow decline of the gold findings, pure diamonds were found decades ago and the city quickly developed into one of the most important diamond supplier worldwide. Read More
I did not expect that a country as Sri Lanka would take me by surprise THAT much! I had been here before as a little kid in 1989, but so much has changed that it wasn’t really a reunion, but a re-connection with a truly paradise island.
Because that was technically what it was. After living in Cambodia for over 7 years now, I had never left the country for the Christmas holidays.
I had escaped to beaches, or just hide out, while pretty much everybody else leaves the country to “go back home” for a few weeks. And I would be jealous. And all the social media channels would show photos of these friends with families and friend back home, mostly involving lots of food and, of course, snow.
It was in September last year that I got an invite to come to France this winter.
The invite had come from the French mademoiselle Mathilde, who I had met on Otres Beach in Sihanoukville (Cambodia) last summer. Add a bit of financial luck on my side and I had simply booked the tickets. I told my family I would spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve with them in The Netherlands and then spend another 10 days in France.
After training hard for the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon (Dec 3) and the Chiang Mai Throwdown in Thailand (Dec 9-10) and working (perhaps a bit too) hard on a short literary story.
And what a beautiful escape that was.
And as I want to add: COLD. I had forgotten how coldcould be.
I went shopping in Rotterdam with my dad and after parking the car we just had a 1km walk and my toes had become numb. I had him figure out which speaker system he had to buy for his personal computer as I was still crawling up the stairs of the MediaMarkt in agony and with the anxious desperation of getting a sense of feeling back in my feet. The escape from Cambodia to Europe for the Christmas holidays was a necessary one, too.
Once in a while you have to leave home (Phnom Penh for me) to empty the head, defragment certain damaged brain cells, get loose, let things go and experience something else before returning back and gain a way fresher start.
And loose I got and went in France!
On New Year’s day I arrived by train from Rotterdam in the small city of Valenciennes, in the northern departments of France, where I was welcomed by the lovely Mathilde in the warm and historic castle of her mum’s. And Mathilde had all her lovely friends still-left-over from the previous day New Year’s Eve party. A house full of fun and welcoming people, added with plates of cheese and Belgian Kasteel Rouge beer (what a joy) followed.
In Valanciennes we spent the days walking around (strangely zhe French love walking and I seriously wondered why they don’t have bicycles to get around faster – or even tuktuks!?) and even climbing up a nearby terril, a man-made stone mountain from the region’s former glory coal mining days. And did I add already that it was cold? My Cambodian body was slowly getting used to below 10 degrees Celsius temperatures.
Then followed a week in Paris, where I lived with Mathilde in her small student studio near the Université Paris Nanterre, just west of the city of lights (and cheese). Thanks to a mocked-up student pass with my pass photo on it for the regional train, Paris was within 10 minutes of public transport distance at all time.
Start the accordion music by Yann Tiersen now– and see us wandering the streets of Montmartre and up the Sacre Coeur, see me go selfie crazy at the Arc de Triomphe, The Louvre museum, the Notre Dame and of course the Eiffel Tower (which gets lit up like crazy for 5 minutes every hour after sunset!), walk down the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, crossing the Seine and get lost in the most existing book store on earth: Shakespeare & Company.
We ate French raclette (think lots of melted cheese!), stick bread, cheeses, Italian pasta and pizza, Mexican burritos, at Burger King or at Amélie’s Les Deux Moulins and croissants. Lots of croissants – however I learned it’s a crime in France to have croissants at anytime after breakfast! We had the best hot chocolate ever (in my life!) at Angelina’s, a super fancy lunch room where we simply jumped the 30-minutes queue outside.
If you think I returned to Cambodia quite fattened up, these were the reasons. I also thought I needed some fat to warm up a bit more.
Trying out one CrossFit class at the Reebok CrossFit Louvre was a great excessive workout that included a 4x 400m run through the streets of Paris. Yes, cold, but I can’t complain about that, I was trying hard to get sweaty!
In the evening we went to the movies and I utterly enjoyed Le Brio (with English subtitles at the French cinema night for expatriates in town!) and we went to see what the fuss was all about with the upcoming-awards-winner All The Money in the World.
My digital step counter on my watch went crazy these days and even recorded an all-time record over 24,000 steps made on the last day in Paris. As a late birthday gift to me the lovely Mathilde treated me on a day at the Disneyland Park and the Walt Disney Studios of Paris!
What an utter joy that was. Had I already mentioned anything about the cold? So with extra layers of clothing we took the train and fought the weather at these amazing theme parks.
It was fun, thrilling and pretty exciting (my latest visit to a Disney park dates back to 1980 if I remember well) and I thoroughly enjoyed The Twilight Zone’s Hotel Tower of Terror and the various indoor and massive roller coasters, but melted with the attractions of Ratatouille and Pirates of the Caribbean.
As in every Disney park there was a big fluffy parade through Main Street – but the light show at the end of the day, every day at 7pm, was where Disney gave all of itself. The stunning Chateau de la Belle au Bois Domant (Sleeping Beauty’s Castle) became fully illuminated with a spectacular 20-minutes light show that blew me (and a few thousand other spectators) away, including the fire works show that came with it.
This video is just an impression of that…
Talk about a closing act! Now this all became a birthday present not to forget very easy!
The only downside to the theme park business is that I don’t see much value in waiting in 45 minutes queues for a less than 4 minutes attraction, but –hey– I must be getting old. It also had to do something with the cold – which I might have mentioned before. It was cold outside!
And then it was January 10 and it was time to head back home again.
My escape from Cambodia worked pretty well for me.
I am thankful for the volunteers that stayed behind at The Flicks in Phnom Penh for keeping the business running in my absence (and not burning the place down) and feed the five cats that were dearly missed.
But I am most thankful for Mathilde Rémy for inviting me over and taking me in after meeting up only shortly in Cambodia!
Thanks for surviving me that long so far and perhaps our paths might cross again in the future! <3
Now let’s get back to the ordinary hassle in the city, back to eating healthy food (I need to get rid of that extra built-up layer of fat now) and a sportive regime in life.
I can say that 2018 started pretty good and I want to keep it that way. Just keep the cold, it’s all yours.