Longs: Hard Work In Manila And A Mystery In Cambodia

Hello everyone!

Two things before we jump in:

One, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance and friends have put out a call for grant proposals for environmental stories. Get pitching, friends! I expect to include some great work here soon.

Two, I’m trying to fill some gaps in my fiction reading. I’m across my Indonesian authors, but please send help, Asean! Who do I need to read from where you are?

And of course, premium subscriptions give you these monthly long reads, the weekly wrap up and (soon!) original pieces. Sign up here for $5 a month or $50 a year:

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See you next month friends!

Erin Cook

Why Teenage Mothers in Cambodia Are in Crisis - Marie Claire
Teenage pregnancy rates in Cambodia have doubled since 2010. The babies and the mothers alike are struggling to eat. This piece from Marie Claire looks at the complicating factors here. Leaving babies with the ‘orphanages’, which were once a must-do on every tourist’s list, are one stop for the infants, as well as NGOs and older family members. They’re not unwanted children, exactly. But poverty, a lack of job opportunities and the flakiness of men often force the women’s hand.

How Aung San Suu Kyi Lost Her Way - The Atlantic
Another month, another ‘what happened to Aung San Suu Kyi??’ story. This one is a fresh take, however. This looks more at how she is presenting the Myanmar line to the rest of the world after months of silence. I’m not sure there has been a piece like this yet. We often cover her comments in the weekly DMKM, but somehow seeing them presented here combined into a longer piece is jarring. ASSK’s ability to shrug off the criticisms and continue running the line of ‘complexities’ and ‘Western misunderstanding’ is dark.

Cambodia Has a Big Problem With Small Loans - Bloomberg
Remember when micro-financing was going to save the world? In Cambodia it has created a private debt crisis with loan sharks and dodgy types moving into the sector. It had initially been established post Khmer Rouge when the civil war left banking infrastructure destroyed, but now the working class fear financial collapse. And it’s happening quickly, Bloomberg reports, with the average loan size growing from $200 to $1,000 over the decade to 2014. This rate both puts Cambodia in among the highest loan sizes in the world AND it’s twice the pace of per-capita income. Ooh boy.

Shirkers (Trailer) - Netflix
Singaporean filmmaker Sandi Tan got started on Shirkers in 1992. It’s been a long and complicated road to get it the film released. But this isn’t it, this is the story of what went wrong, of how the would-be cult classic was flogged by director (and once-friend) Georges Cardona. I haven’t watched it just yet, it going online while I was in deep festival territory, but I can’t wait! I saw 12 Storeys recently, which was made five years later in 1997, and I’m obsessed with 90s Singapore cityscapes. It’s not what it is now, but you can see it coming if you look hard enough. Will stay in tomorrow night to watch!

Meet the Female Nightcrawlers of Manila - Topic
This one did NUMBERS. Lynzy Billing’s piece on Manila’s ‘Nightcrawlers’ has got to be Topic’s most-widely read for October, surely. Since the launch of President Duterte’s war on drugs and the ever-increasing extrajudicial killings, the city’s Nightcrawlers are the only thing making sure the country and the rest of the world learn of the violence. These journalists spend hours upon hours following leads, sitting in police offices, building networks and getting to the bottom of some of the darkest stories in the region. The first time I ever heard of them was a few months back from a Filipino human rights lawyer in Jakarta who couldn’t stop raving about their work, this brilliant piece shows me why.

From Newcastle and New Zealand to the Killing Fields of Cambodia - Independent
I’m still working my way through this, but wanted to include it anyway. Three young men on a gap year went missing in Cambodia as the Khmer Rouge ramped up. What happened to John Dawson Dewhirst and his friends? Not sure yet, will have to keep reading. Holly Baxter quotes from Dewhirst’s “confession” which she found at S-21 and it’s chilling. “British national … I’m a CIA agent. Recently I was disguised as a teacher in Japan. I was born on 2 October 1952, in Newcastle, England ... My father was also a CIA agent.”

How the Mainstream Cinemas are Killing Indie Films Like 'Liway' - Esquire PH
Liway is a film about a true story. A freedom fighter forced to raise her child from inside a prison camp during the darkest days of the Marcos regime. It’s also one of the Philippines’ most successful indie films. It smashed records at this year’s Cinemalaya film festival beating out the former top film by a solid 50 percent before taking home prestigious awards. So why did it flop in Philippine cinemas? Marketing problems could be to blame, as well as audience’s changing tastes. I, for one, would love to see Liway. Here’s hoping it finds its way to Kinosaurus one day.

The Unravelling of Harry Roque - Rappler
Premium subscribers are probably aware that I am deeply obsessed with Duterte’s now-former presidential spokesman Harry Roque. Rappler really came through for me here. For much of Duterte’s presidency, Roque has been a vital right hand man attempting to explain away the more controversial comments made by Duterte but behind the scenes the two rarely saw eye-to-eye. This relationship had fractured in recent months, with Roque keeping on eye on a senatorial bid in 2019 midterms, and collapsed fully at the start of the month. This piece traces their relationship and looks at where to next? Probably not to the senate, Hazza!

50 Shades of Beige: Foundation and Our Obsession with Fair Skin - Jakarta Post
Cosmetics companies selling insecurity and skin lightening formulas in the region feels like something that gets spoken about a lot, but not really reflected on too much in the media. Which is why I was so happy to read this piece from a young writer at the Jakarta Post. Kezia Vessalius compares trends further abroad, like the amazing success of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty which features a far more exhaustive range of shades, with those in Indonesia where the conversation is yet to go mainstream. Also, outstanding headline work.

Born In America, Sriracha Sauce Tries Its Luck In Vietnam - LA Times
One of my fave ever trivia facts is the Sriracha sauce isn’t Vietnam-made, it’s from Los Angeles, baby! Created by David Tran decades ago after the former army general fled to the US, the sauce has been rippingly successful. Now the sauce’s reputation has reached far and wide, is Vietnam about to fall in love with it too? “They wanted some authentic Sriracha and all I could say was, ‘sir-what-cha?’” one Vietnamese tour guide to LA Times. It’s also the feature of one of my most beloved ‘how it’s made’ type videos.

All Hail the Condom King - Bill Gates Notes
I’m obsessed with Mechai Viravaidya. What a man. I’d never heard of him before this piece from Bill Gates paying homage to Thailand’s ‘Condom King’. After training as an economist, Viravaidya was shocked to learn how rapidly family planning had spun out of control and then, of course, the HIV/AIDS crisis hit. His efforts to demystify condoms through fun games and early education have made a huge impact, and the rest of the world could learn from him. Plus, watch the video he’s such a doll I love him.

When Cold War-Era Vietnam Felt The Beat Of The ABBA Tambourine - OZY
I have a friend who is convinced no one loves ABBA like middle-aged Australians. He and I have beefed over this before, because I literally have no idea what he means. That’s not really related, just wanted to put him on blast. You’re wrong, Stanley!! Maybe it’s Vietnam that loves ABBA the most. This piece from OZY’s brilliant ‘Flashback’ section looks at the proliferation of ABBA tunes in heady Cold War-era Vietnam. If they made a musical about that I probably would go see it. Mama Mao? (Yeah, yeah, I know but it works nicely).