Friday, August 19, 2005

Cambodian Delegates Visit Cuba

Havana, Aug 18 (AIN): Members of the delegation from Cambodia to the recently concluded 16th World Youth Festival are currently visiting Cuba.

The Cambodian delegation led by Men Kuon, president of the youth association of his country, was received by Rolando Yero and Kenia Serrano, leading members of the Cuban Youth Communist League - who explained to the visitors the main aspects of the Revolution's programs and the role of youth in their achievement.

The Cambodian delegation showed special interest in the Cuban family and the ideological preparation of the young generation. They were also pleased with the success of the new education programs implemented on the island which have brought about a reduction in the number of students per classroom.

"We have one teacher for each 50 students," stated Kuon. "Cuba has truly won our hearts and we promise to continue strengthening the ties of friendship existing between our countries," he added.

Thousands of children infected with dengue in Cambodia

Phnom Penh (VNA) - More than 4,300 children in Cambodia were reported to have contracted dengue fever, of them 68 died, in the first eight months of this year, the Ministry of Health's Dengue Prevention Centre announced.

The fatality rate of children infected with dengue has been reduced by haft against the same period last year, the ministry said. However, the rate is still high because most parents are not fully aware of the dangers of the fever.

The ministry is promoting prevention campaigns across the country such as spraying chemicals to kill mosquitoes and larvae and disseminating information on preventive measures against the fever.-Enditem

Cambodian Monk Found Electrocuted in Thailand

A Buddhist monk-in-training from Cambodia was electrocuted in northeastern Thailand when he touched a live electric wire set as a trap for Peeping Toms seeking to peer at women using a nearby bathroom, police said Thursday.

The body of the 19-year-old Buddhist novice from the northwestern Cambodian province of Siem Reap was found Thursday morning near the bathroom built outside the home of Thongkhao Hajhom in Thailand's Sisaket province, 430 kilometers north of Bangkok, police Captain Waranon Jullanon said.

Thongkhao told police he set up a live electric wire outside the bathroom to shock people peeping after he heard that young men in the area were peering at his daughter when she took her bath.

No one had been caught in the trap until Thursday, when police were informed that the body of the young monk in his saffron-coloured robe was discovered near the bathroom and an autopsy found that he had been electrocuted.

No charges have been filed against Thongkhao and an investigation was continuing, police said.

The name of the monk, who was staying temporarily at a temple near the house, was not available.

Amid emerald rice fields, Cambodia's first winery startles but pleases

Photo: AFP
Click to enlarge

PHUM BOT SALA, Cambodia (AFP) - The fresh grape juice ferments in plastic water containers, bottles are labelled in a loungeroom and cheese has never passed the lips of the producer.

But Cambodia's first home-grown wine is proving a hit, startling foreign tourists and winning over domestic tipplers in the tropical country.

Despite being a former colony of wine-loving France, most Cambodians only drink rice wine, a cheap and dangerously potent concoction many farmers make themselves in the predominantly agricultural country.

The twisting, gnarled grapevines at Chan Thai Chhoeung's farm are an anomaly amid northwestern Battambang province's lush green rice fields and orange groves, set near a river swollen with tropical monsoon rains.

"At first I wasn't thinking about starting a winery. I was only thinking about growing grapes because some neighbouring countries produce them," says orange farmer-turned-oenophile Chan Thai Chhoeung.

Both Vietnam and Thailand, which border Cambodia, have begun producing grape wines with varying degrees of success in recent years despite wine-making traditions which dictate that grapes be grown in cooler climes.

Chan Thai Chhoeung planted his first vines sourced from Thailand in 2000, followed by some sent to him by a brother in France.

When the grapes failed to fetch a decent price at the local market, the unassuming 39-year-old sought to find out whether the extra effort of turning the fruit into wine might be a better money-spinner to support his family of six.

Although he rarely drinks wine himself he decided to try, and completed his first harvest of five tonnes (tons) of grapes at the end of 2004.

Chan Thai Chhoeung now has more than 4,500 plants growing across about two hectares (five acres) divided between three separate farms. Varietals plunged into the fertile dark soil include Black Queen, Shiraz and Kyoho.

"While growing them, I met with many difficulties. This type of plant is not easy to grow," Chan Thai Chhoeung says, describing the mysterious demise of 50 Chenin Blanc vines which irretrievably withered.

"In Cambodia, there is a lot of rain and this kind of plant needs not so much water -- and winter," he says, describing the battle wine producers must endure in the tropics.

After its first soak in the plastic water containers, the wine is transferred to large silver vats where it is infused with French oak chips -- a typical budgetary shortcut among wine-makers unable to afford oak barrels.

At this stage, the wine is kept below 30 degrees Celsius (86 F) for the best results, although 20 C is usually preferred, Chan Thai Chhoeung says.

"It's hard to get a stable electricity supply," he complains. Cambodia is beset with a generally poor electricity infrastructure.

Tasting his product five months into the fermentation process, he decided it was flavoursome enough to bottle, eschewing guidelines that suggested a year-long soak.

"Plus I don't have much money, so I tried to produce the wine earlier."

The wine-maker and his wife, Leny Chan Thol, spent 10,000 dollars setting up the business, including a 5,000-dollar loan from a microcredit institution. The largest expense was a 1,500-dollar imported Canadian filter. The amount is significant in post-conflict Cambodia, where the average annual income is about 290 dollars per year.

"According to the ministry of industry, it's Cambodia's first wine," Chan Thai Chhoeung says.

He recommends sipping his 12.5 percent alcohol volume rose or red wine -- he has given up on white -- with a nibble on cashew nuts or a meal of beef steak.

"I've never tried cheese, only prahok," he says when asked whether cheese might accompany it. Prahok, a pungent salted and fermented fish paste, is a Cambodian staple sometimes dubbed fish cheese.

The wine sells for six dollars a bottle at the cellar door and a little higher elsewhere.

"I dream about being able to produce more and sell to other countries. My main problem now is getting the money together to buy more equipment," he says, adding that he'd also like to snap up more land for his vines.

The provincial governor has stepped in to lodge a request for Chan Thai Chhoeung's businesses to be granted tax-free status for the next three to five years, in an effort to help them grow.

Another market are the 20 or so people who stop by the vineyard every day. Among them are French tourists Elizabeth Heitz, 55, and Alain Hummel, 53, whose motorbike taxi drivers suggested a visit.

"This is an event for us," Heitz says of discovering the winery. The couple live above a wine shop in Strasbourg and are pleased to put the knowledge they gained at a wine course last year to the test.

"For us, it's a sweet wine, not a rose... It's a wine to drink before a meal in the summer or with an appetiser," Heitz assesses after a swirl and sip of the apricot-hued rose wine.

Hummel points out that the rose should be served chilled, not poured at the steamy temperature in the hut.

"But in the south of France, we have the same wine as this. It's drinkable," he concludes. Both prefer it over the "red" wine which they say is really a dark rose and "empty".

Hummel is concerned about the size of the vines, too, saying they look up to 20 years old despite their youth. "They have developed quickly, maybe too quickly," he says.

Regardless, the couple is taken aback by the vineyard and the obvious effort Chan Thai Chhoeung has expended in an attempt to put Cambodia on the world's wine-making map.

"All the people who make wine are a little bit crazy," Heitz laughs.