Thursday, January 11, 2007

Sorry, got to go...I've a plane to catch

Talk about rushing around like a headless chicken...why is it that when you want a quiet few days with hardly any e-mails, that everyone and their dog wants to ask you a question...normally I wouldn't mind, but I'm supposed to be packing for a month away in Cambodia! Not to worry, I travel pretty light, so I'll do it just before I leave!
Okay, so unless I get the chance to blog in an internet cafe in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, you may not hear from me for the next month. I leave tomorrow at 6am and get into Phnom Penh at 9.05 on Friday morning. You might catch me in Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Reap, Kompong Thom or up north in Preah Vihear province and then back to Phnom Penh before I return home on 7 February. If you do see me, say hello.

Safe travels everyone.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Redfern on show

Photographer Jerry Redfern will open up two exhibitions of his photographs at the Popil Photo Gallery, located on Street 19 in Phnom Penh next month. I urge you to visit whilst you're in town. The gallery was opened in October 2005 and exhibits local and foreign photographers on a permanent and temporary basis. US-born Jerry, and his wife, writer Karen J Coates form a great team and have collaborated on pretty much anything and everything in Cambodia, the tsunami in Phuket and Khao Lak, human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka, Hmong loggers in Vietnam, unexploded US bombs in Laos that continue to kill villagers today, and much more. They also joined forces for the book, Cambodia Now: Life in the Wake of War, one of the best books I read last year. However, its Jerry's work that will be on show, with an exhibition opening on 9 February entitled Tuamada - It's normal, which focuses on Cambodian kids at work and he follows that up with a slideshow on 16-18 February, An Eternal Harvest: Unexploded Bombs in Laos. Read more about this dynamic partnership at

Boeing fly the flag in Cambodia

Some great news for The Cambodian Children’s Advocacy Foundation (CCAF), who've just secured a $45,000 grant from the world's leading aerospace company and the largest manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military aircraft, Boeing, to help out with their on-going project to implement a Day Care Center/Early Childhood Education, School Integration and Community Development Programs in Banteay Meas, in Kampot province. CCAF is a grass-roots Khmer NGO established last year by Hing Channarith, a former Country Director of Veterans International for the past decade. The primary mission of the CCAF is to support the children of single mothers in the areas of schooling and education, intervention and the prevention of child labor and trafficking. In addition, the nutrition and health of these children must be improved and skills developed to enable mothers and their children to generate an income for their families. The same support will also be given to children with disabilities. Early successes have included the provision of water sanitation and mushroom-growing projects. You can find out more about CCAF here.

Monday, January 8, 2007

The story of cartoonist Bun Heang Ung

The following story appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia on July 20, 1985:

Life under the Vietnamese-occupied Cambodia: The story of Cambodian Cartoonist Bunheang Ung
by Peter White

A set of Vietnamese buck teeth brought a Kampuchean illustrator and cartoonist, Bunheang Ung, within a hair's breadth of arrest and "political re-education". Bun, who escaped from Kampuchea in 1979, now lives in Australia and works for a film animation company. In 1979, after surviving the terror and slaughter of the Pol Pot regime, he was working in the Ministry of Information in Phnom Penh. Like all areas of government, the ministry was controlled by the Vietnamese forces and Bun had been given the task of drawing cartoons for animated propaganda films lauding the benevolence of Vietnam in liberating Kampuchea from the Khmer Rouge. Before Pol Pot's victory in 1975, Bun had worked for 5 years as a political cartoonist for a leading independent Phnom Penh newspaper. With a typical cartoonist's liking for humorous exaggeration and caricature, he had developed a style of drawing Vietnamese with rabbit-like front teeth. Unfortunately, Bun was unable to suppress this tendency when drawing for the propaganda films of his communist masters. He was accused of deliberately poking fun at the Vietnamese. His job, according to his Vietnamese masters, was to show smiling Vietnamese soldiers helping Kampuchean peasants. They claimed Bun was secretly in sympathy with the prohibited policies of the former regime and was trying to stir up nationalist sentiment against the Vietnamese. The charges were serious and Bun's fellow workers were assembled to criticise Bun's work. Imprisonment and deportation to a re-education camp seemed inevitable.

The story of Bun's struggle to survive against the odds is a remarkable one. It is one in which his profession sometimes brought him close to death but at other times was his salvation. Bun was born into a prosperous middle class family. From a young age he wanted to become an artist, hot art bad little status among the Kampuchean middle class. When he entered the Phnom Penh school of fine arts it was against a chorus of complaints from relatives who felt he should be pursuing a career in law, medicine or engineering. That rebellious decision was to be Bun's salvation. When Pol Pot's forces burst into Phnom Penh in 1975, Bun fled with his family into the countryside. He threw away his pen and paper and worked in the rice paddies to provide enough food to keep the family alive. But no-one was safe. The Khmer Rouge began a systematic persecution of the former professional classes who were held to represent the decadent bourgeois values which had no place in Pol Pot's new Kampuchea. Doctors, engineers and lawyers were tracked down and executed. As a former fine arts student, a career usually followed by the poor and lower classes. Bun escaped suspicion. "When I started fine arts, my uncles blamed my father for allowing it. They said I should follow a proper career. But when Pol Pot came, they were always being chased by the Khmer Rouge; their lives were always under threat. I'm sure that if I had become a doctor or an engineer as they wanted that I would never have survived," he said. And while it was Bun's art work that angered the Vietnamese, it was also his artistic skills which enabled him to escape. After the incident over the buck teeth, he did his best to placate his outraged Vietnamese bosses. "I said, 'Yes I am terribly sorry for drawing like that'. I said that it was because there must be something wrong with my brain, that all my suffering under the Khmer Rouge must have damaged my brain and that was why I drew the Vietnamese like that," he said. But he knew that his days were numbered and so turned his artistic skills to forging official travel papers which would enable him to travel freely into the countryside. His copy was a good one and he and his family arrived safely in a town near the Thai border. From there it was only a short Journey to the safety of a Thai refugee camp and then, six months later, settlement in Australia. Now Bun has co-operated with the former Australian Indo-China correspondent Martin Stuart-Fox to write and illustrate a personal account of his experiences under Pol Pol and the Vietnamese in a recently published book called The Murderous Revolution.

You can read more about Bun Heang Ung here. You can also see his handiwork, focused on yours truly, here.

Cambodia - here I come!

Like a runaway train, my next trip to Cambodia will be here before I know it. I catch my flight on Thursday of next week (11th January) and will be walking through the doors of Pochentong Airport into the heat and humidity of Phnom Penh the next morning. So its been a tad busy at my end in the last week or so, hence my tardiness in posting blog articles. My sincere apologies to my readers.

In addition to prepping for my forthcoming trip, I've had an exam at work (I thought I finished my last exam during my O-level's some thirty years ago!) and there's also another topic that's been taking up most of my free time...though for the moment I'll keep that one under my hat. I'll announce it when I get back from Cambodia in early February.

In the meantime, I'll post a couple of topics, including a newspaper report from 1985 that popped up on the Sacrava Toons blog today, all about the exceptional cartoonist Bun Heang Ung, a friend of mine who lives in Australia and produces biting satirical political cartoons about the current situation in Cambodia. Bun also produced the animated banner at the top of my personal website with a visual of me on a moto in Cambodia. I still owe him a cheque!!! Seriously, I love it. There's a chance he might come to London in February - I'd love to finally meet him in person. We've emailed many times and I penned this webpage about him, a couple of years ago. Click here. The book he wrote of his experiences under the Khmer Rouge is a dramatic read and has a wealth of his cartoons in it, so make sure you get a copy if you can.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Doug comes to the rescue

I was really pleased to see an article on the newswires yesterday which highlighted the efforts of one man to almost single-handedly drag the Cambodian fire-fighting department into the 21st century. That sounds a bit dramatic but Doug Mendel has done more than most to equip the Sihanoukville fire department with up to date equipment including a fire-truck no less! You can read about his incredible efforts here. Doug is a former fire-fighter himself, lived in Colorado until recently and captures most of the funds for his work through the Douglas Mendel Cambodian Relief Fund, which you can visit at The donated fire-truck arrived in Cambodia in April last year after Doug raised $18,000 to pay for the freight and insurance costs. He's now managed eleven trips to his favourite part of the world after his first trip back in 1997, and his next trip is in April, no doubt brimming with as many supplies as any one man can carry. This year he hopes to raise $20,000 so he can have water tenders built for two remote fire stations and his aim is to build a fire station from scratch in the most needy location. And when he's not doing his bit for safety, he helps out with funds and toys for two projects in Sihanoukville, the Starfish Project and M'Lop Tapang, who both give support to the seaside resort's poor and needy. I've been in touch with Doug via e-mail over the last few months and I know how committed he is to his personal mission - Doug I salute you.