Tom Wang and John Novis

I woke up this morning in a nice little hotel in Siem Reap. It was six-thirty in the morning but it was already quite hot. It was going to be such an exciting day, I thought to myself, already going through in my mind the whole list of activities I had planned for my first day back in this city. It had been nine years since I was last here.

Shoot! I turned on the tap and there was no water coming out. Now, my experience of growing up in a small, dry, tiny village in central China’s Shanxi province became very useful. I managed to brush my teeth with one, literally one, “lid” of water, and used the rest of the 100 milliliter to wet a towel and wipe my face and body.

I didn’t mind the power cut, really, in this small hotel in Cambodia. It was just another thing that brought me back to the Cambodia I had fallen in love with nine years ago. However, I am surprised that it still happens today. Power cuts, interruptions in electricity, are not something that most would imagine after seeing line after line of brightly lit posh hotels and resorts on the way from the airport to downtown Siem Reap.

Cambodia’s annual electricity production is about 600 megawatts, about two thirds of which comes from burning oil, and the remaining one-third from hydro-power and imports. According to Tun Lean, General Director of the Energy Department at the Ministry of Mines, Industry and Energy, a shortage of 50 megawatts still causes blackouts in the capital, Phnom Penh, during the dry season.

I felt quite sad to learn about that. I have seen, with my own eyes, what coal burning can do to a place. I saw it in my own hometown. Heavy dependence on oil imports also usually risks the country’s energy security. I also know that carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels, like oil and coal, are pushing the whole planet, along with the people and the cultural miracles, such as Angkor Wat, close to a dangerous cliff.

Someone has to wake up. Someone has woken up.

I am now in the middle of Cambodia’s dry season, which runs from October to April. I could feel that, when I took a walk after breakfast. The sun was already high and brutal. There was hardly any moisture or breeze. Even the dogs were quick and smart, hiding in the large empty halls of Wats, or Buddhist temples. 

I found a nice little website to talk about renewable energy projects in Cambodia. A few of them are right here in Siem Reap. The projects remind me of one of the constant arguments that repeatedly comes up at the on-going Doha UN climate negotiations: financial support from rich countries to the poor ones, and technology transfer.

Walking down the streets of Siem Reap, I see faces of all colours and I hear different accents from around the world: UK, American, Canadian, Australian, Japanese, and Chinese. They look happy here, especially the parents with their kids. The history and arts of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom belong to the world and should be shared by all. Ask them this question “will you do A, B, and C, to protect Angkor for the future generations?” and I am sure the answer is unanimously “YES”. So, it is also time for those negotiators to make up their minds in Doha and answer a big “YES” to the same question, with the word “Angkor” replaced by “future!” 

I am going to talk to some young minds at the Angkor Photo Festival later. We will see what they want their future to be like. These are the people who smile beautifully, even after the tragedy in the 1970s, because, as I was told by a 60-year-old Khmer Rouge survivor, Cambodian people like to look forward. Yes, why not? What is ahead must be brighter, cleaner, and safer.