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Cambodian bacchanalia has harsh consequences

by Danielle Smith (feat. Matthew Fisher)

Global News
January 29, 2018

When you heard the story and saw the pictures of the young people arrested in Cambodia, was your first reaction, “What’s the big deal?” or was it “What were those kids thinking?”

At first glance, it may seem a bit over the top to arrest people for what amounts to dirty – albeit very dirty – dancing. Images of young men and women on the floor simulating sex positions is not something that would so much as a raise an eyebrow in most cities in North America, considering how sexualized our popular culture has become.

At bars and concerts all across Canada, I think everyone boomer age and younger has witnessed as bad or worse as people bump and grind at dance parties, lubricated with alcohol and drugs.

The young people were adults ranging in age from 20 to 33. There was no appearance of coercion. Everyone in the pictures had their clothes on. Just a little good ol’ fashioned fun, right?

Not so. My guest today, National Post columnist Matthew Fisher, who has made a career travelling the region, didn’t have much sympathy for these kids and most callers didn’t either.

Two Canadians were among the 10 “ringleaders” arrested and they face an uncertain immediate future. They are likely to be detained for 15 days, with the possibility to extend it to four months if circumstances warrant. If found guilty of “preparing pornographic materials” they could be imprisoned for up to a year.

What’s it like in a Cambodian prison? Well, let’s just say you wouldn’t want to go there.

A 2015 report described it like this: “Overcrowded, squalid conditions are the norm and corruption is widespread. For most inmates, cash flow dictates conditions of detention, treatment, family visits and access to basic needs such as food, water, daylight and fresh air. Powerful and unregulated cell leadership structures dominate life inside cells and operate with impunity.”

Fisher said the only reason to go to Siem Reap – where the rave took place – is to take in several Buddhist holy sites at the nearby Angkor Wat. For those who know Cambodia, it seems self-evident that it was highly insulting and disrespectful to have a raucous party there – kind of like partying it up at the Vatican.

Posting pictures of the event online only added injury to insult. When such promotion of bad behaviour makes the rounds, it encourages more of it. That’s likely one of the reasons authorities finally said enough is enough.

The bigger mystery is why on earth people in their 20s would be so obtuse that it wouldn’t occur to them that this wasn’t the place for a bacchanalia. As one listener said, when you travel you are an ambassador for your country. If you don’t behave well, you make everyone back home look bad.

Also, if you have ever travelled anywhere in the world you would know that most guidebooks contain detailed advice on how to respect local customs. Whether you visit a mosque, or a temple, or a Christian church or a synagogue, it is fairly common to be told to cover your bare arms, bare legs and bare head in order to enter. It stands to reason you would conduct yourself with decency and decorum visiting holy sites and cities.

The Cambodian authorities are sending a message and this unlucky group of foreigners have been made the example. Let’s hope for their sake that diplomatic efforts brings their ordeal to a close quickly. And that others will learn from their mistake.


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