Blogs Open Communication in Cambodia
Friday, September 21, 2007; 1:50 PM
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- A Cambodian blogger asked recently whether former King Norodom Sihanouk should be considered the country's founding father of blogging.
He got no definitive answer. Cambodian blog watchers say the 84-year-old monarch may not have known he was blogging when he unveiled his Web site, updated daily by his staff since 2002 with his views on national affairs, correspondence with his admirers and news about his film-making hobby.
But it is clear that young, tech-savvy Cambodians are joining Sihanouk in embracing blogs. The trend is changing their lives and their communication with people abroad _ even as electricity remains an unreachable dream for most households in this poverty-ridden nation of 14 million.
"This is a kind of cultural revolution now happening here in terms of self-expression," said Norbert Klein, a longtime resident from Germany who is considered the person who introduced e-mail to Cambodia, through a dial-up connection in 1994. "It is completely a new era in Cambodian life."
Cambodians with the skills and the means to blog are discovering a wider world and using the personal online journals to show off their personalities and views about the issues facing their country, from corruption to food safety.
"Blogging transforms the way we communicate and share information," said 25-year-old student blogger Ly Borin.
To his surprise, a recent blog post of his on poor food safety in Cambodia drew a comment from an international traveler. He said interaction with a stranger living perhaps half a world away was unimaginable in Cambodia just a few years ago.
Cambodia became one of the most isolated countries in the world during the late 1970s, when the communist Khmer Rouge were in power and cut off virtually all links with the outside world as they applied radical policies that led to the death of 1.7 million people. The Khmer Rouge were ousted in 1979, but the country is still struggling to rebuild. Fewer than one-third of 1 percent of Cambodians have regular Web access.
If the Internet opened a path for news from outside Cambodia, blogging is turning the path into a two-way street.
"Having a blog brings me up to date with technology," said Keo Kalyan, a 17-year-old student whose nom-de-blog is "DeeDee, School Girl Genius! Khmer-Cyberkid." "I can do social networking and contact other bloggers" around the world.
She and three peers organized the first-ever Cambodian Bloggers Summit _ the "Cloggers Summit" to the cognoscenti. Foreign professional bloggers and 200 university students took part in the two-day meeting in Cambodia last month to trade ideas.
Her team also has conducted 14 workshops for 1,700 students to share their knowledge about digital technology.