Cambodia: phone ownership hits saturation


The recent Asia Foundation report shows how rapidly smartphones have become part of the social and business landscape.

One of the most precise indicators of progress in Cambodia is the degree of ownership of telephones – and the percentage of those that are smartphones. No data in this crazy dis-aggregated market can surpass that of a well conducted market research study – and the report compiled for the Asia Foundation Mobile Phones & Internet in Cambodia 2015   is a great thorough study that surprised me in a couple of areas. The main points:

  • Mobile phone ownership has basically reached saturation.  99% of adults 18-65 own a mobile.
  • The market is dominated by low-end budget phones as well as by showy high-end phones that convey status, while mid range phones under-perform in this market.
  • Smart phones have doubled in share from 20% of all phones in 2013 to 40% by the end of 2015.
  • Khmer enabled phones are now dominant. They made up 30% of phones in 2013 but now account for 63% of Cambodian phones.

The Khmerisation of mobile –  which was technically enabled just a decade ago, has a profound effect potentially. Instead of adapting around English for texting or for online behaviour, Cambodians can do it in their mother language.

I wonder if this simple fact will dampen the seemingly universal desire among young people to learn English. What do you think?















For more on modernisation click here Growth of FaceBook in Cambodia or here  The Electric Village.

Smart-phones: on a Galaxy not so far away.

I hope you find this blog useful and interesting. Let us know if there is any Cambodian topic you’d like to see covered.

The Rabbit and the Earthquake. A Cambodian folk tale.


While many Cambodian folk tales feature Judge Rabbit as the smart wise-guy, other tales portray the rabbit as a nervous, less intelligent animal. In this story, rabbit’s nervousness leads to mass hysteria and an encounter with a creature I never expected in Cambodian folklore: the lordly Lion.  I don’t know how this creature from Africa ever popped up in Cambodian folklore, but I guess these tales travelled at some stage along the silk road a thousand years ago.

The other thing that fascinates me about this story is the reference to an earthquake. There have not been many earthquakes in Cambodia, yet everyone knows they can be frightening.

This is my retelling of the story.


A nervous rabbit lived under a palm tree near a forest. Like most rabbits he was always listening out for danger.

On this hot afternoon he was sound asleep, when a ripe palm fruit fell down on the ground nearby. The crackling sound as the palm fruit fell on the dried palm leaves woke the rabbit with a start!

palmfruitAlarmed, the nervous rabbit jumped up: “It’s an earthquake!” Without looking behind he began running. There was no time for a backward glance, he had to escape the danger!

The herd of oxen saw him running past at high speed and, chewing on grass, one of them called out: “Rabbit! Why are you running so fast? What’s the matter?” Even the oxen were feeling jumpy now, after all, the rabbit looked totally frightened.

The Rabbit shouted in haste “Brother Oxen! It’s an earthquake! There’s no time to chew! Run for your lives!”

The Oxen began to run too. An earthquake? This could be dangerous!

The oxen and the rabbit soon met the Pigs and Deer. Startled, they too began running, joining the Oxen and the Rabbit. The Pigs heaved themselves forward and put on a burst of speed. No earthquake was going to catch these fat pigs!

When the Elephants saw them running, they too, asked “Why are you running? What is the matter?”

The Oxen told them “Haven’t you heard? The earthquake is coming!” Hearing this story, the Elephants joined them. When they all reached the Lion’s den, the clever Lion, seeing all the panic-stricken animals, stretched his paws and casually asked the Elephants, “What’s up? Why are you running?”

The Elephants were out of breath. “We don’t exactly know for sure. We saw the Oxen running. We heard something about an earthquake.”

So the Lion, lazily shook his mane and asked the Oxen, “Did you guys actually feel the earthquake?”

The Oxen confessed, “Well not directly, no.  We saw the Rabbit running, so we ran after him. He looked very frightened.”

The Lion asked the Deer and the Pigs, and they answered likewise.

“Hmmmn,” said the Lion. And he turned to face the Rabbit. “This earthquake.  Just how serious was it?” All the animals looked at the rabbit. They waited for his reply.

“I’m not too sure, myself. While I was sound asleep under a palm tree, I heard the sound of the earth breaking up.  It was a sharp crackling sound. I was afraid and began to run.”

“So you heard something but didn’t actually feel anything?” asked the Lion. “You didn’t feel the ground move beneath you?”

“No,” admitted the rabbit. “But the sound I heard; it was pretty terrifying.”

Arching his back and standing up, the Lion spoke: “All of you, come with me.” And slowly, swinging his tail, he led all the panicky animals to Rabbit’s palm tree. He showed them the cracked palm fruit lying on the ground. “There’s your earthquake,” said the Lion.

The embarrassed animals gave the Rabbit a sound rebuke and slowly went back to their own places.

180 young Cambodian students would love your assistance

Click here for a YouTube video I put together:

Savong’s School in rural Siem Reap is extending its services to include primary school teaching for Grade 1 – 6. Here’s some background in a brief 4 minute video. Have you got some energy and skill to assist the project?

You can contact me:  Duncan Stuart –


Another folk tale from Cambodia. You can’t please anyone!

But here’s a mystery.



This story is from the 1993 collection of Cambodian folk tales entitled Cambodian Folk Tales from the Gatiloke.  I should preface the telling of the story by explaining a little bit about the Gatiloke: it is a vast body of hundreds of folk tales that has existed in Cambodia for many centuries and not committed to paper until the late 19th century.

In 1993 and American academic Muriel Paskin Carrison interviewed Cambodian refugee to the USA the Venerable Kong Chhean, a Buddhist monk who shared with Muriel a number of these folk stories. Coming in 1993, this set of stories provided one of the first glimpses of Cambodian culture available to the west since the tragic wars of the 1970s. The book is still available, and the stories are timeless, though many of the footnotes compiled for the volume have since been overtaken by modern history. For anybody wanting to teach in Cambodia, this volume is well worth reading, and I have often thought that it would make a great basis for a set of teaching modules.

In this particular tale called A Father, a Son and a Donkey,  a farmer and his son wish to take their young donkey to the local market to be sold. It is a long way to the market, and the father is concerned that the donkey will grow skinny and lean if they walk it all the way. So he comes up with a great idea; he will string the donkey upside down from a pole,  and carry it in the same manner as farmers might carry a squealing pig. So far so good.  His son agrees to carry the other end of the pole. They also have a heavy pack and several bags to carry, so they string these up as well.

However the father and son don’t get very far when they start drawing jeers and laughter from other farmers also en route to the market. ” I think you’ve confused your donkey for a pig!”  yells one farmer. ” I would hate to taste the pork from that pig!”  laughs another farmer. “What a pair of idiots,”  calls another.

Embarrassed by all this attention, the farmer lowers the donkey to the ground and un-strings it from the pole. ” I suppose we look pretty stupid,” he admits, “so let’s untie the donkey, and son – you ride him.”

” But won’t the donkey lose weight?”  asks the son.

” That’s okay, I’ll carry the pack as well as our other bags so that we don’t overload the donkey,”  explains the father.

” Good thinking,” says his son.

They set off, but again they don’t get very far before other travellers start to react. These other people look angry at the son and tell him that he is very ungrateful; riding in comfort on the back of the donkey while his father is forced to carry the pack and all those bags.

“What a terrible son!  No respect for your father!”

The father and son come up with a good solution. This time the father will ride on the donkey while the son carries the bags.  Surely this time everybody will be happy.

But no! As they approach a village they come across several young women washing clothes in a stream. The women look up and smile and remark what a handsome boy the son is. They also remark what a beautiful donkey he is leading.  The son smiles proudly. But then the group of young women turn their attention to the father sitting astride the donkey. ” He looks like an old monkey up there,” says one girl. Another calls out to the boy: “why don’t you get up on the donkey, you would look like a king.”

The boy is embarrassed and he whispers to his father,”we just don’t seem to do it right! Should we change places again?”

The father is getting clearly frustrated. “First we carry the donkey and everybody laughs at us, then they get angry when you ride the donkey, and now they seem to be upset when I ride the donkey. There is only one other option, and that is for us both to ride the donkey.”

“Great idea,”  says his faithful son. “Dad,  you always have the answers!”

So now the father and son ride the donkey carrying the heavy bags on their shoulders. As they approach a village they come across a customs officer who appraises the sight of the  father and the son and all the bags loading down the young donkey. “That’s just not right,” he tells them. “That donkey is very young and little and you two are cruelly weighing that poor little donkey down.”

“To be honest,  I agree with you,”  says the father. He turns to his son and says, “forget the pole, lets just carry the donkey instead.”

Now the father and the son are taking turns carrying the young donkey over their shoulders. They don’t get far, as they cross through a field of high grasses, when a local farmer calls out: “Hey you two! That field is full of  thorns and you could easily cut your legs. You really ought to ride the donkey and protect yourselves!”

The father lowers the donkey down, and the donkey starts chewing happily on the grass. ” whatever we do, we never seem to please anybody,” sighs the father. “what on earth are we going to do? How are we ever going to get to the market?”

And that is where the story ends. The moral is clear. If you rely solely on the opinions of other people, then you will never get anywhere in life.

I love this story, and it reminds me that Cambodians respect those who use their intelligence and possess a healthy dose of self-esteem. These two, the farmer and his son lack both.  But here’s a mystery: when I read Aesop’s Fables recently the same story was there!  Has somebody ripped-off Aesop – or have these stories traveled the silk road over the centuries?

You want another tale? For another folk story about the mischievous Judge Rabbit: click here.

Or how about the Nervous Rabbit and the Earthquake?

A collection of folk tales, on-line, has also been published. Cambodian folk tales.

Teaching in Cambodia is different, different – but same.


Monks in the classroom – they add another dimension to the Cambodian teaching experience.

Yesterday Savong sent me a dozen lovely photos taken recently at the school near Siem Reap.  These photos reminded me of the cultural collisions that subtly occur when a volunteer like me stands up in the Cambodian classroom.

At first, (for 45 seconds) culture shock threatens to overwhelm the experience, but as soon as you start asking questions as well as answering questions from the students, the ice is broken. For any volunteer the first few minutes are spent answering questions about your age, your family, your marital status and your country. I pointed to New Zealand on a map, last time I was in the classroom, and told the students that I swam all the way to Cambodia. There’s an international look on young people – a kind of polite “aww bullshit” expression which I recognised, and at once the ice was broken and the students knew not to take anything I said at face value.

There are little cultural tips about teaching here. Don’t point at students with your forefinger (as my mum always told me: it’s rude to point), and take your shoes off at the door.  Again, last time I was there I took off my sandals and this revealed that one of my feet is missing, thanks to a wayward lawnmower, two toes. A girl in the front row nudged her classmate. “Landmine,” I heard her whisper. I felt a bit humbled, because my accident was such a first world problem by comparison. Later when students asked me about my foot I explained that “this big tiger had attacked me.”  Again I got that familiar “aww bullshit!” look.  I clearly lack credibility.

As the photo indicates, there are likely to be monks in the classroom also, and at Savong’s school this is likely because of the local monastery 1km away at the Rolous temple, site of the first of the Angkor temples, almost 1,000 years old. Many of the monks are teenagers, though some are older guys.

At first I wasn’t sure how to relate to them. One expects a kind of Zen-ness about the demeanour, but actually they proved to be just a group of teenage boys: conspicuously sitting in the back row (like I used to do at that age) and not above writing on their desks. For female volunteers there is simply the added instruction: don’t physically contact a monk – either by shaking their hand, or – worse – patting their head. 

After a few minutes in the classroom I’m overwhelmed by the sense that really, this is the same as teaching in a local school. A few years back I wrote a young adult fiction novel, The Whole of the Moon, and this occasioned me to to visit several dozen schools in New Zealand to discuss writing and offer students encouragement. Really those classes were the same as the Cambodian classes. Smart girls sit up the front and whisper. Bad boys sit at the back, legs kicking, eyes gazing out the window.  Students everywhere laugh at the same jokes and take especial delight in proving the teacher wrong.

In Cambodia I taught one class hangman, the word game, and they took special pride in beating the gallows, two guesses away from their fateful end. My word was a biggie: VOLLEYBALL but the moment one boy asked the letter “L” the whole class could smell the teacher’s doom.  They jeered knowingly.

Later on I felt awful for another reason. Was “hangman” a little too close to the Pol Pot experience? Was it culturally insensitive?  Not to worry, Savong assured me. In Cambodia they have a similar word game where you draw steps that, lead, step, by, fateful, step, to, a, crocodile. Snap snap.

I miss these students, and I can’t wait to swim over to Cambodia once more.