Sugar, Spice and Everything Logical

For a society whose children pretty much memorize the four Prum Viha Thor (roughly translated as the four Brahma’s houses, or good knowledge to house your mind), and for a country which has, through toil and sweat, built literally hundreds of enormous statues symbolizing those four principles (the Bayon Temple, everyone?), the lack of its practice, even in the most “cultured” of citizens, is astonishing.

Meta, Karuna, Obekha, Mutita.
Meta, Karuna, Obekha, Mutita.
Meta, wait, what do these mean again?

When recited too often, with not much explanation, and even less examples in reality have made these concepts too abstract, so abstract that they remain mere letters strung on a paper, rather than practices where you mind should reside in.

Now try blanking your mind, and take a long look at the people you see for a day:

  • How many of them scowl at passer-bys in traffic with their brows knotted, eyes suspiciously screwing, with a barely noticeable sigh? I’m absolutely certain that you’ve been one of them. Or maybe you are looking at these scowling commuters with a scowl firmly fixed upon your face right now! Would you feel this annoyed if you tried to be a bit more understanding?
    “Yes, he’s cutting the line. But then again, he’s probably never had a proper education and was never really taught to think about the little things he does on the road.”
  • How many of the gossips you have overheard would be non-existent if only these people were more open to the possibility that *gasp* maybe they are not the only credible judge in the universe? That others are entitled to have their own motives, struggles and choice as well?
    “She’s so fat…. and that is probably because she feels too helpless in trying to change the way things are.”

When the news of a tragic young teen suicide reaches the public, you bet your ass there are going to be an unending stream of comments which resemble these:

“That kid had everything one could wish for. What a shame she killed herself! Such a waste of space.”

“She was so young, so fresh. I just don’t understand. She shouldn’t have done it.”

“Just a spoilt kid who didn’t know how to handle life.”

Now, how many of the “judges” put the efforts in trying to understand the circumstantial evidence, motives, and influences of the case before handing out their verdicts?

This is an unpopular opinion, but I believe even the government deserves our empathy. What sort of fucked up thing happened to make some of them this corrupted, selfish and so woefully incompetent? As much as I want to dish on the 2017 New Year road sign, if you really think about it, how many competent people are really working for the government? What were the alternatives they had? Or maybe… Maybe that was all they had learnt. Some time before this new year, an official ended his/her day with a sense of pride in his/her chest, believing he/she just made a great contribution to the celebration of his nation’s coming new year.

Of course, at this point, many simply give up on being empathetic altogether because it makes them wushy-smushy. It makes sense that when you are constantly trying to glimpse from others’ viewpoints, there’s this threat of losing your own footing, and the sight from your stance. That’s the risk of not putting your equally valid wants and needs on the agenda.

If you just charge straight from empathy to decision without adding more digits, you might find yourself transformed by your decisions (or lack thereof) into a passive little weed, swaying hither and tither by the wind of people’s perspective, unable to hold a firm stance and introduce any change.

  • That old cocky guy who cut you off in traffic might never learn he’s not as smooth on the road as he thinks he is
  • Your overweight friend who keeps chomping down an alarming amount of weight might never have the push to finally don the gym armor and work out
  • Kids might just get influenced by romanticized suicide (born out of too much empathy, I dare say), and choose to reach the light at the end of the tunnel by themselves instead of braving the road bumps when some minor inconvenience happens
  • and probably the worst of all, our government might just stay slothy, corrupted and continue to produce eye-jarring designs year after year after year.


This is exactly when logic comes into play.

After thoroughly (as thoroughly as you can) analyzing the problem from others’ standpoint, zoom out, and zoom back into your own flesh just to make sure you don’t become that boneless little weed. Many nice people run the risk of burning out by being overly compassionate, helping people all the time without taking their own needs and wants into account (we can’t all be Buddha, you know).

Some altruists might claim to be eating just for the sake of having energy to do noble services to others. Well, wouldn’t it be a nicer world to live in, if those altruists also enjoy eating and still able to help people?

Come back into your own perspective. What do you think of this? How does this action affect your wellbeing? For example, you might see where an abusive friend of yours is coming from. They might have had a terribly abusive childhood. Their efforts in building a codependent squad might stem from their insecurity and abandonment issues. Yes, you can see all these motives and past heartbreaks, but how about your side of the sob story? How have you been affected by their actions? Are you willing to put up with their problematic behavior?

And after that, assume you are a floating eye connected wirelessly to a mob of consciousness somewhere looking down at the issue. In case you didn’t catch that totally awesome simile, it’s to look at the issue more objectively (well as objectively as your human flesh allow, anyway). This is done to determine the best course of action which would be in the best interest of the both of you. By doing so, you might:

  • end up creating a workshop, or a social media campaign which aims to educate older people of the little do’s and don’ts on the road.
  • having a heart-to-heart with your friend, and maybe also become her gym buddy.
  • donating to mental illness organizations who provide consultation for suicidal folks.
  • ending a friendship on a relatively good term
  • or when next year comes rolling around, you might try to create a petition for the government to hold a bid for the best design firms for their logo because you’re sure even you can beat last year’s record.

Or… you can just do nothing. But this doing of nothing, laced with empathy is, I believe, still better than doing nothing laced with bitterness and hatred. Buddhism says that to hold onto anger is like palming a burning charcoal. Continue doing it, you burn your palm. Throw it at people, it scorches their bodies. Why not just throw it into the bonfire of life and invite others to join the dance?

In this case, at least one person in the world is less annoyed (hint, hint, it’s you). Now, go get that wall of empathy built. You’re already one fourth of the way to completing your house of mind!


Latrine Is the Shit

*Funky commercial tune for a video before cutting into the main topic*

(Seriously, watch the video first)

Fortunately, born and raised as a lower-middle class city gal, that was not something I ever had to face. No matter how old, manually or automatically flushed, I had been lucky enough to never stay in a house without a toilet. Even my grandparents in the province had that old manual toilet where you had to squat (which I learned years later that it was actually better for your intestines, but that’s another matter).

Open defecation was, in my mind, something of the near past. There were stories of how my parents squatted in the bush and used banana leaves as their trustworthy toilet paper, well, in this case, toilet leaves. I linked open defecation to barbaric war-times necessities which should not exist in our peaceful time of the present. And boy, was I wrong.

That whole assumption changed, when I had to live with a host family for a few days before our journey into the Prey Lang Forest in Kratie Province in 2015. Not a single one of the dozen of houses in the village had a working bathroom, or a toilet for that matter. We had to bathe in the river, and defecate anywhere we saw fit.

I’ve learned a lot during my stay there; perhaps the most memorable one is to never poop in the place where many others also like to poop. I also learned that instead of being a past necessity driven by war time desperation, open defecation is still a reality for some Cambodians.

Further research breaks that delusional assumption because according to the World Bank, as of 2015, open defecation is still a reality for more than half Cambodians as only 42% of the total population had access to sanitary latrines.

That is 8.67 million people who have to rely on the old fashioned squatting bush-leaves style and risk poop mines in the dead of the night to relieve themselves!

Hopefully that shall not be how things will stay and we are expecting the numbers of latrines to grow because according to the Phnom Penh Post, the government has a goal to bring the number of people without latrines to 40% by 2018, and to 0% by 2025!

And that’s a wise choice because open defecation, well, the lack of hygiene in general, is an important cause for diarrhoea, which results in the deaths of more than 750,000 children under the age 5 every year worldwide.

According to a report from World Health Organization, in 2013, an estimated 14% of the deaths of Cambodian children aged under 5 is due to diarrhoea-related diseases. That’s about 2,000 children who could have lived and grown up to be a limitless possibility of personnels had they had access to clean water and simple latrines!

As if killing children (and sending their parents into fright) is not evil enough, diarrhoea, and poor hygiene in generally is also linked to growth stunt!

Though not directly deadly, stunted growth has been found by the WHO to cause a greater risk for premature death, delayed mental development, reduced cognitive capacity, and what’s more? It can even be passed on to the next generation.

You may think children who are victims of stunted growth are so because they lack the necessary nutrients to grow healthily.

That is the case, but not the whole case.

Apparently, a review article found that the lack of WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) also plays an important part in the development of stunting (oh, the irony). Children who lacks access to WASH face more frequent bouts of diarrhoea, parasitic worms, and environmental enteric dysfunction (short as EED which is a disease that causes chronic inflammation, reduced nutrient absorption of the intestine and also weakens the function of the small intestine).

Appropriating that to the Cambodian context, it has been found that, in as late as 2010, 40% of children under 5 were suffering from stunted growth! That’s 600,000 children that might grow up to have delayed mental development and reduced thinking capacity just because of malnourishment and lack of WASH! One wonders just how many of the irrational people one sees on the street and online everyday, struggling to form an appropriate justification for their environmentally-and-socially destructive behaviour might just be an unfortunate result of such simple causes.

It is now time, ladies and gents, to keep our eyes glued to the very simple yet largely ignored cause of supplying each household with a suitable latrine, not only for the sake of relieving all mothers of the bride an embarrassingly shitty moment (puns intended), but to also relieve children of the future unnecessary deaths, and needless stunting of their very-well-deserved growth!