Sunday, September 14, 2008

Clarkson on Cambodia

Jeremy Clarkson's career as car reviewer and BBC Top Gear presenter has made motoring into show business, but he has earned himself the description of an "equal opportunities loudmouth" for his opinionated commentary on all aspects of life, appearing weekly in The Sunday Times. Clarkson was also in Cambodia recently, on a family holiday. Here's what he's written in his UK Times OnLine column today.

Miss Street-Porter, I have a job for you in Cambodia

Since we’re told charity begins at home, it’s better, I’ve always thought, to give £1m to a hapless British person than 10p to an organisation that provides sandwiches for prisoners in Turkey. Now, however, I have decided that, actually, charity begins in Cambodia. Some people get all dewy-eyed about Africa. That’s jolly noble, but I don’t see the point because I fear that no matter how much money you pump in, the bejewelled pigs that run the place will pump it straight back out again, into the coffers of Kalashnikov and Mercedes-Benz. The only thing I’d send to the dark continent is a team of SAS hitmen to shoot the likes of Mr Mugabe in the middle of his face. Others would say that we have enough problems on our own shores without getting all teary over the children of Mr Pot. I disagree, because these days, every time I think of underprivileged people in Britain, the hideous face of Shannon Matthews’s mum pops into my head, all greasy, fat and stupid, and it’s hard to summon up any sympathy at all.

Cambodia, though, is different. It’s a country of 14m people but between them they have only about 5m legs. In fact, there are 25,000 amputees, the highest ratio per capita of any country in the world. This is not because Cambodians are especially clumsy. It is because of landmines. Nobody knows how many mines were laid during the endless cycle of warfare, but it’s sure to be in the millions. What we do know is that since the Vietnamese invaded in 1979 and drove the madman Pol Pot into the hills, 63,000 people have trodden on one. One man has had his left leg blown off four times. They gave him a good prosthetic after the first and second explosions, but since then he’s had to make his own out of wood.

And it’s still going on today. In most places in the world, you can get three rice harvests per year from your paddy field. In Cambodia, it’s one. This is partly because the Khmer like a weird sort of rice that’s harder to grow, but mostly it’s because you set off with your plough and within minutes there’s a big bang and your water buffalo has become a crimson mist. As a result of the ordnance lying in every field, no one is fighting for a right to roam in Cambodia. They have no equivalent of the Ramblers Association. They have no concept of Janet Street-Porter. In fact they have no concept of England. Because the education is so poor, most people there believe the world is made up of four countries: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Everywhere else is France. All white people are therefore French. Angelina Jolie, who adopted a Cambodian baby, does much to help clear the landmines and has been made a Cambodian citizen, is French. I was French. And every night, most of the men settle down to watch Manchester United and Chelsea slug it out for honours in the French Premier League. I’d never met an adult anywhere in the world (apart from America) who’d never heard of Great Britain. In Cambodia nobody had.

What’s more, you will never see a Cambodian person wearing sunglasses. Mainly this is because the average wage in Cambodia is less than £400 a year and so Ray-Bans are a bit out of range. But also it’s because Cambodians all have flat noses. So sunglasses simply fall onto the floor every time you hop to the shops, and every time your buffalo explodes. That’s what did it for me. The sunglasses. Not the education. Not the notion of living in a country where there is no Janet Street-Porter. The landmines made my eyes prickle, but my heart just mushroomed over the idea that they can’t afford to wear shades. And that even if they could, they’d keep falling off.

I have therefore decided that I must do something. Unfortunately, however, we all reach a point like this when we decide we must help, and then it’s so very hard to know what should be done next. Secretly we all know that for every pound we donate to a large charity, only 2p actually reaches the people we have in mind. The rest is spent on adverts for highly paid co-ordinators in The Guardian and expensive offices in London’s glittering West End. You always feel you want to go to the root of the problem. But in the bee that’s come to nest in my roost, that’ll be hard. Earlier this summer a team of Australian doctors happened upon a little girl in the town of Siem Reap. Her face had been horribly disfigured, by a bloody landmine I suppose, and they were overwhelmed with a need to help. They went to meet her parents, and her father was keen that his daughter be sent to Australia for plastic surgery. Her mother, however, went ballistic when she discovered the poor child would once again look normal. “How will she be able to beg then?” she asked. And the Aussie medics were sent packing.

I can’t even ring the Cambodian government for help because I fear it would be extremely enthusiastic and then all the money I sent over would be spent on fixtures and fittings in the finance minister’s next luxury hotel. That’s if I could raise any money in the first place. It’s hard when money’s tight here and everyone else has their own pet project. I suppose I could write to Ray-Ban asking it to design a cheap pair of shades that can be worn by someone who has no nose. But I think it’d be better if I started work on some designs for the most brilliant mine-clearing vehicle the world has ever seen. I’m thinking of strapping some ramblers together, and then . . .


Blogger dirk said...

Hi Andy,
Read the article as well and was surprised to read so many generalizations, showing very little understanding of Cambodia or the Khmey people. As you love all things Cambodia, what is your opinion ?
ps: thanks for a great blog !

September 14, 2008 12:14 PM  
Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

Well Jeremy Clarkson is someone who likes to stir it a bit, he's just that type. He was in Cambodia for just a few days with his family so he got the briefest of handles on the country but I think his comments are more to create a reaction, than based in absolute fact. Of course Cambodians wear sunglasses, so some of his comments are to be taken with a pinch of salt in my view. Nevertheless Top Gear is one of the most popular tv shows in the UK and that's largely down to Clarkson and his two buddies, so I can forgive him a few generalizations.

September 14, 2008 10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like this guy. He has a sense humor. I went to Cambodia many times and what he has written has some truth to it but he exaggerated a bit, in a funny way. It is true that Cambodians call most foreigners French. The lady with the messed up face daughter could be truth too.There are so many child beggers in Cambodia. The article was hilarious. I read and laughed. Thanks for posting.

September 15, 2008 8:47 AM  
Blogger avalanche222 said...

ok no, andy have you ever been in cambodia? Yes he's exaggerating, that's his comedic style and/or delivery. Yes, he's also attempting to call forth to the attention, like he does when he does the same thing for a great vehicle.

And Yes, the general gist of what he said was truth.

This comment may (will not) be approved by the blog author.

September 29, 2008 11:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Andy,

I have read a lot of articles describing about good and bad things about my beloved country, but article definitely make me laugh out loud. This guy should come to visit Cambodia more in order that he can know better about my homeland.

He will know that most of Cambodian guys and girls are the fan of team England football team, when they are playing in the World Cup or Euro Cup. Also the Barclay Premier League is what we are watching every saturday and sunday nights. And I am a fan of Manchester United, personally.

About the sunglasses, to our perception, we just find it a little bit not polite to wear it as people think that you are so arrogant or so on, as we will look like a gangster, murderer,etc. But now some of us do wear it.

His writing show me that he should learn more about us, and it also give me a laugh out loud after my tired day... ha ha

Thanks you ... From Chivuth

December 2, 2008 5:54 PM  

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