The Chinese wish, may you live in interesting times, is said to be a curse rather than an aspiration to the person or the people spoken to. I looked back at the time when I arrived in Hanoi in January of 2011 to work and reside in the Mekong region and indeed, my three-year stay in the region has been interesting times for Cambodia and Vietnam. I settled in Phnom Penh as my residence, and shuttle monthly between Cambodia and Vietnam as I manage program activities in these two countries. During those years interesting events happened capturing the attention not only of the local people but the world as well.
- In February of 2011, border skirmishes between the armies of Cambodia and Thailand almost lead to a full-scale war. The bone of contention was the territory where the Preah Vihear temple was located. The situation simmered down after the Thai election where Yingluck Shinawatra won and became the Prime Minister. Later, an international court decided the case in favor of the Cambodians.
- In October 2012, King Norodom Sihanouk died and the whole country mourned. He was mourned for three months and was cremated in pomp, colourful and traditional way. A statue was erected near the Independence Monument for his memories to live on.
- Cambodia was the host of the 21st ASEAN summit in November 2012. The country was put on the spot because for the first time in the history of the organization, no communique was issued at the end of the summit. The territorial spat on South China Sea was not allowed to be discussed, assumed to be the result of the influence of the Chinese.
- One of the events that has lasting effects on the political scene in the country was the 2013 elections. The main opposition leader Sam Rainsy was allowed to come back from self-exile. The results surprised everyone since the opposition showed impressive results. Charges of poll manipulation was raised by the opposition, and that has become the battle cry since then.
- The hatred on the government snowballed with the issues of pool manipulation, clamor for higher wages and better condition in garment factories, demolished communities to give way to rubber and sugar cane plantations and other social issues. This culminated with the killing of several workers in the series of protests in January 2014.
Despite the political instability, human rights abuses, corruption in the government and flooding in the countryside, it is still a beautiful country. I love the night life of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, the food, the culture overload and the diversity of people you met.
- When I arrived in Hanoi, the sports community is still buzzing on the defeat of the national football team against the Azkals during the AFC 2010. The Filipinos were almost mobbed on their way out of the stadium. I was proud (even if I am not a football fan), but kept it to myself so as not to offend my host.
- In February, the sinking of a boat in Ha Long killing several foreign tourists raised alarm bells among government agencies.
- Vietnam protested incursions of the Chinese in the South China Sea in the islands they claimed in July 2012. Protesters with placards march to the Chinese embassy, chanting slogans against the Chinese.
- In 2012, Nguyen Duc Kien, one of the tycoons was arrested as his bank was involved in “illegal business”. This further strained the image of the county that is still smarting from corruption and inefficiency of government-owned corporations.
- The “Red Napoleon”, the general who successfully led the country against the French and the US, Vo Nguyen Giap, died in October 2013. The whole country mourned, and the general was given full state burial honors.
Language is my main limitation in Vietnam, but I found friends despite the impression that Vietnamese are rude. I love Hoan Kiem Lake, Pho Ga, Trung Nguyen coffee and the cold weather in December and January.
All I can say is that we have completed our task and has even exceeded our targets. We have contributed to the development of the microfinance industries in both countries, the main sector at the forefront of poverty reduction. So yes, interesting times indeed!