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Sitting in a dim office of the Grassroots Democracy Party, behind an “organic” restaurant in Phnom Penh, Yang Saing Koma explains how in 1997, during his nongovernmental organization days, he helped his first farmer. The farmer ascribed to the widespread, yet mistaken, belief that to best grow rice one should plant many rice seeds together and flood the soil.
Addressing protesters before his trip to Australia in February, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had a message, and it was unambiguous. “Do not burn my photo,” he said. “If you burn my photo, I will follow you home … I will follow you and beat you at home.”
Hidden by a fort of folders, 18-year-old Srim Thida doesn’t look up when the door opens. There’s a revision timetable pinned above her desk — a patchwork of apple-green Post-it notes — and a stack of Mon Khmer–to–English dictionaries that threatens to topple over at any moment.