Friday, July 31, 2009

Shop talk

I spent most of the working day today at the six-monthly CCBEN (that's community-based eco-tourism to the uninitiated) network members meeting listening to presentations by various CBET projects here in Cambodia including Sambor Prei Kuk, Mekong Discovery Trail, Chi Phat as well as the Stung Treng-based developments taking place at O'Russey Kandal and Preah Rumkel, the waterfalls on the Cambodian side of the Lao border area. I haven't been to the latter but it looks good enough to get myself up there during the dry season, when the water levels are lower, and the falls look more dramatic. It's always good to catch up and find out what's happening on the eco-tourism front, especially as some of the projects like Chi Phat and the MDT mature and progress. The folks at Wildlife Alliance in Chi Phat for example are now turning their attentions to a new project at Trapeang Rung on national highway 48 which they will link to Chi Phat by a bicycle and trekking route. It was a sad day though as the CCBEN co-ordinator, Sok Sophea, who does a really great job, is leaving to go to Hanoi for the next 9 months to further her studies. She will be greatly missed.
Tomorrow sees a change in the scheduled Cambodian Premier League fixtures as the Cambodia u-19 team playing in Vietnam next week has whisked away some of the key players for a couple of the teams, so their matches have been suspended. However, Phnom Penh Crown - who can go top for the first time if they win - and Khemara Keila are part of the line-up tomorrow afternoon, so the two games will be worth watching. In the week just gone, the two basement teams clashed and Phuchung Neak stay bottom, losing by a single goal to Post Tel.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Another face of Cambodia

I'm still chuckling from all the comments I've been getting regarding the Olympic Stadium's 'peanut princess' who seems to have got her own fan base amongst a small core of my readership. She is certainly one of the attractions that makes a visit to watch football in such scorching hot and humid weather each weekend, a little more bearable. Someone else who makes my life more interesting is my current lady friend pictured above. We're currently estranged as she's visiting her family in her home province, so its a telephone relationship at the moment, which is tough going as her English is as poor as my Khmer.

Absolutely chuffed

I currently have a smile as wide as the Mekong River. My pal Eric at 4FACES Gallery in Siem Reap was looking for an assistant to help him at the gallery shop and with his admin, so I suggested another very good friend of mine, Now (pictured), who has up til now been selling souvenirs at Angkor Wat and Banteay Kdei, or more recently planting rice in her family's fields. Well this morning, she went to meet Eric for an interview, they got on like a house on fire, and she starts work on Monday as his assistant. Which is simply wonderful news. This will be a whole new experience for her though of course she already has good people skills having talked thousands of tourists into buying her souvenirs over the years. Her spoken English is pretty good, having taught herself by reading the books she sells and using her language skills to clinch a deal either in English, Japanese, French and so on, like many of the souvenir-sellers at the temples. She's on a month's steep learning curve as Eric has agreed a tie-in with the Raffles Grand Hotel and has to plan for an exhibition coming up at the hotel in October called Retrospective (2000-2009). As I type this my smile is getting even wider. I am so chuffed for my two friends.
Link: 4FACES

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Good for the soul

Robert Macomber with an 80 year old monk at Wat Hanchey during his research in Cambodia
History fascinates me. It always has. So the new fictional novel set in Indochina that I mentioned a couple of days ago has intrigued me. The publishers Pineapple Press are sending me a copy of the book - The Honored Dead - by Robert Macomber, so in the meantime I asked the author for some background to his novel, the 7th in a series of naval historical fiction following the life and career of Lt. Cmdr. Peter Wake from 1863 to 1907, a time when the United States Navy helped America become a global power.
Q. Can you give a short précis of your novel, The Honored Dead?
A. In 1883, American naval intelligence officer Peter Wake is sent to Indochina to present a message from President Chest Arthur to King Norodom I. It should be a simple courier mission and over in a couple of weeks. Six months later, Wake is still in Indochina and has learned that nothing is simple in the Empire of Vietnam and the Kingdom of Cambodia. Along the way, he meets opium warlords, Malay pirates, Catholic priests, French advisors, Vietnamese madarins, and makes a friend in Cambodia's King Norodom, one of the shrewdest and longest reigning monarchs in SE Asia. The story ultimately leads to a significant event of Vietnamese history in August of 1883, after which the French dominated the region.
Q. Why choose Indochina for the 7th novel in the series?
A. It is an area which many American readers are familiar with, but might not know the fascinating history. My next novel is set in 1886 Cuba.
Q. Is your character and storyline based on any known historical figure or episode, or purely fictional?
A. The protagonist is fictional. The event at the end of the story is real. I weave my fictional character into the real event and tell it from his viewpoint.
Q. What will make your book appeal to non-naval readers?
A. Though a lot of the story is at sea, it's aboard local vessels - a small steamer and a Vietnamese junk. It's also primarily story about early naval intelligence work and how an American on his first visit to Asia deals with a culture completely alien to him.
Q. When and where did your research take place?
A. This is a novel, not a dry history book, but I still have to do a lot of learning before I start writing. In my endnotes (I'm one of the few novelists who does endnotes) and acknowledgments my readers can see a lot of my research. I did about five months of research here in the US (reading histories, memoirs, magazine pieces, maps, reports, etc, from the 1880's), then went to SE Asia by ship. I ascended the Mekong by riverboat from Mytho in Vietnam into central, then western Cambodia. I spent time on the Mekong, Tonle and Siem Reap rivers, along with a little time in the capital and at Angkor Wat. In Vietnam, I was on the Saigon, Mekong, and Perfume rivers. Traveling by river gives you a wonderful view of the land, people, and culture. I recommend it to everyone.
Q. You’ve said your trip here has changed you forever – how and why?
A. Frankly, I was surprised the genuine hospitality I found. My expectations of politically dogmatic, sullen, antagonistic people, angry at Westerners because of the historical conflicts, were completely wrong. I fell in love with the very generous people and intricate artistry of the cultures in Vietnam and Cambodia. I want to return and urge everyone to go there. It's good for your soul.
My thanks to Robert Macomber for his speedy response to my questions and for the use of the photo. Visit the author's website here.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The face of the Angkor Empire

The northern face tower of Prasat Samnang Tasok, at Banteay Chhmar
I promised to bring you some more photos from Banteay Chhmar. So here they are. Well actually, they are photos from Prasat Samnang Tasok, one of the nine satellite temples that surround the main complex at Banteay Chhmar. It is one of four standing satellite temples with the Bayon-like faces. The other remaining satellite temples may've had them in the past, but they are now in disrepair and all trace of the faces have disappeared. Samnang Tasok is essentially a gate-tower, such as you'd find at the city of Angkor Thom, standing to the east of the main complex, amidst dense vegetation and undergrowth, with a ruined gopura nearby. In fact we camped next to its moat and you wouldn't have known there was a temple inside the dense foliage until you walked inside and saw the faces peering directly at you. There's something about these giant faces that have captured my imagination since I first saw them at Angkor Thom, oh so many years ago. 1994 to be precise. I truly believe that they belong to the god-king Jayavarman VII. I don't have any evidence, just my gut-feeling. Probably, because I want them to be of Jayavarman. They are an incredible legacy from the Angkor Empire and everything should be done to protect and preserve them whilst they are still in situ. One of the face towers in the central complex has already collapsed, this cannot be allowed to happen again. I'm pleased to see conservation efforts are being undertaken at Banteay Chhmar, there is much to do and I hope one of their priorities is to ensure the stability of all the face towers.
The blind doorway and northern face at Prasat Samnang Tasok
The decoration is still visible around the north face of the gate-tower
The western face is in a much poorer condition and will only get worse without restoration
The doorway and western face of Prasat Samnang Tasok
This is the southern face of the gate-tower
The southern (left) and eastern faces of Samnang Tasok at Banteay Chhmar
A longer shot of the southern and eastern faces at the satellite temple, east of the main complex

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Press article

Today's Phnom Penh Post carries my article on the Cambodian U-19 national team that is now in Vietnam preparing for the Asean U-19 youth championships.
Here are the links to the PPP website for my match reports from the games played on Saturday and Sunday.

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A naval presence in Cambodia

A new fictional novel published a couple of months ago, The Honored Dead, is set in French Indochina in 1883 and is the 7th book in a series about an American naval intelligence officer, Peter Wake. It documents his trials and tribulations in Cambodia and Vietnam as he secretly assesses the region's political and military situation on behalf of the US president. The author is Robert Macomber, an internationally recognized award-winning maritime writer, lecturer, and television commentator who travelled through the Mekong Delta and Cambodia by riverboat in researching his novel and commented on his trip; "Just as with Peter Wake, it changed my life forever." Historical novels about Cambodia are few and far between, so I hope to get the opportunity to read this one, published by Pineapple Press in Florida. For more about the author, visit his website here.
Another fictional novel, Figurehead, could prove to be a much more controversial publication. In his debut book, author Patrick Allington takes a swipe at journalists, diplomats and just about everyone else including Cambodia's King Father Norodom Sihanouk. His main fictional characters in the book are based on left-wing journalist Wilfred Burchett and the Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan and his politically-charged satire may not find favour with everyone. 248 pages and published by Black Inc in Australia.

Author Patrick Allington with his first novel, Figurehead (photo Black Inc)

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Monday, July 27, 2009

More than 30 years on

The date, 12 August, has been set for Rob Hamill's appearance as a civil party in the trial of Comrade Duch at the ECCC. New Zealander Hamill (pictured) is better known as an Olympic and Trans-Atlantic champion rower, but he's also the brother of Kerry Hamill, captured, tortured and murdered under Duch's supervision of S-21 in 1978. Nearly 31 years to the day of his brother's capture off the coast of Cambodia, Rob Hamill says of his opportunity to face Duch in court; “I expect to experience the widest possible range of emotions when I see Duch, a lot of nervous energy will be expended. Duch says he is sorry and wants forgiveness, but I want to find out whether he truly understands the impact of what he did and the damage he caused. I’m not sure that he does comprehend what he and the Khmer Rouge did to the people of Cambodia, let alone to the families of Kerry, John and Stuart.” His brother Kerry Hamill and Briton John Dewhirst were snatched from their storm-blown yacht, and fellow sailor Canadian Stuart Glass was killed, on 13 August 1978. Kerry and John were tortured for two months at S-21 and forced to falsely confess they were CIA spies, before they were killed and their bodies most likely burnt and buried at Tuol Sleng. A film, Brother Number One, is being made that follows Rob's journey to Cambodia to find out the truth of what happened to his elder brother. Read more here.

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Cambodia's stars of the future

The scene is set for the giantkilling of all time as the cream of Cambodia's budding young football hopefuls take on the young stars from Australia, Thailand and Singapore in the Asean Football Federation Under-19 Youth Championships in Saigon next week. Okay, so it's highly unlikely that Cambodia will progress from their group matches against the countries mentioned above, but there's always hope, as national U-19 coach Prak Sovannara (pictured) explains. "I have a good squad, all of the players bar one are with CPL teams and play regularly as well as train full time. I know its a tall order but at youth level I believe we can give a good account of ourselves. I've selected 20 players and we are going to Vietnam a little early so we can get together, train together and play a couple of practice games before it starts for real." Sovannara has spent the last year as coach to the full national team and took them to the Suzuki Cup finals, as well as using his know-how to guide Preah Khan Reach to the top of the CPL, as their technical advisor. If anyone can get the U-19's fired up and ready for the biggest challenge of their budding careers, Sovannara can.
The squad left Phnom Penh at 6am today, taking the overland route to Saigon, where they will prepare themselves for the tournament that begins on 4 August and involves three games in five days. Cambodia will face Thailand in their opening Group A game on 4 August and then meet Singapore on 6 August and Australia two days later, on 8 August. After some drop-outs, there are just two groups, with the winners and runners-up moving onto the semi finals on 10 August and the final on 12 August. Notwithstanding the coach's optimistic view, progress from the group stage would be a fantastic achievement for the Cambodian youngsters who number Phnom Penh Crown's wonder-kid Keo Sokngorn (pictured) amongst their ranks. Also included in the 20-man squad are two of the CPL's best goalkeepers this season, Peng Bunchhay and Sou Yaty. A number of the U-19 squad are also likely to feature in the U-23 squad that national coach Scott O'Donell will announce later this week.
With the Ministry of National Defense, Phnom Penh Crown and Preah Khan Reach providing the bulk of the U-19 squad for the tournament, CPL matches involving those three teams will be re-scheduled according to FFC Deputy Secretary May Tola. Prak Sovannara also indicated that the Australians would be sending their U-17 team to compete and he felt that at youth level, Cambodia have nothing to fear from Thailand and Singapore. Fighting talk indeed and if his optimism rubs off onto the players, we might just see that giantkilling I mentioned earlier. The full squad is as follows: Peng Bunchhay, Soeng Vanthan, Keo Sokngorn, Touch Pacharong, Hong Rathana (all Phnom Penh Crown), Sou Yaty, Thong Oudom, Lorn Sotheara, Phuong Soksana, Khek Khemarin, Oum Kumpheak (all Ministry of Defense), Chhun Veasna (Kong Reach Sey), Tum Saray, Prak Mony Udom, Suon Makara, Sok Chanraksmey, Sok Vannak (all Preah Khan Reach), Nhim Sovannara, Ek Vannak (BBU), Seng Komsen (Spark). Coaches: Prak Sovannara, Tep Long Rachana, Ouk Chomrong, Phea Sopheaktra.

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Match reports

Saturday's matches in the CPL
A round-up of Sunday's CPL results
The inside back page of today's Phnom Penh Post has 4 of my match reports from the weekend's feast of Cambodian Premier League football. They should be online later today.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mixed bag part two

Turning everyone's heads today, the 'peanut princess' is back by popular demand
Ikenwa Ekene Michael earned Preah Khan a share of the spoils today
Sunday's football was a mixed bag. The top of the table clash in the Cambodian Premier League was devoid of the intensity and artistry you might expect from the top two teams, but the effort was there and the 1-1 result was a fair reflection of neither team's superiority. In the first match however, we had a bit of everything and six goals is exactly the type of entertainment the crowd at Olympic Stadium want to see. For starters, we had the Spark versus Kirivong clash and Kirivong's failure to hold onto their 3-1 lead said as much about their season as it did this particular game. They started brightly this campaign but have fallen away badly, as they did against Spark this afternoon. Goals from Julius Chukwumeka and recent Vietnamese import Vin Nhek Troeung nosed them ahead, only for Justine Prince to make it 2-1 on the stroke of half-time. Chukwumeka then accepted a gift from the Spark keeper to make it 3-1 but Spark refused to lay down and roll over, with Than Rachana Udom's volley and a penalty by Prince, complete with a double backward somersault, ensuring they got a share of the spoils, and the fans got to see some goals.
For the top versus 2nd clash, Preah Khan Reach were looking to complete the double over Crown, who have climbed the table steadily and now lie just a point behind the long-time leaders. As it was, 1-1 was the final result and for all their probing and testing of each other, the match wasn't a classic, but when there's a lot at stake, that's often the case. The skies darkened and the rains came just as they kicked off and the teams played out a pretty forgettable first-half. After the break, it was Crown who drew first blood when Tieng Tiny’s goal-bound shot took a deflection off a defender and looped into the net. A scrappy goal summed up the game so far. As in yesterday's match, the referee then took a hand in proceedings by sending off Crown's Phuong Narong for bugger all. Moments later Preah Khan equalised when Khoun Laboravy's inch-perfect cross was slammed home by another recent import from Vietnam, Ikenwa Ekene Michael and the game ended all square. Just a quick word about the 'peanut princess' who was in a figure-hugging yellow outfit today and turned everyone's heads, not just mine.
Preah Khan Reach line up before today's top of the table clash
Phnom Penh Crown hoping to dislodge PKR at the top
The two captains share a joke as the teams enter the playing arena
Kirivong's recent Vietnamese import, Vin Nhek Troeung, opened his scoring account
Spark came back from the dead to draw 3-3 this afternoon
Kirivong gave Spark an early Christmas gift after leading 3-1
Eyes on the coin gentlemen please, one of today's best toss-ups
The storm cloud on the right is just about to hover over the stadium and bring us some rain


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mixed fortunes

Khemara Keila's David Adeyinka saved the day for his side, 12 minutes from time
Defense Ministry goalkeeper Sou Yaty saved a penalty but ended up a loser
As Khemara Keila cemented their 3rd place in the Cambodian Premier League this afternoon, one of their top 4 rivals, Naga Corp, came a cropper against Build Bright and are falling behind amongst the also-rans. However, Khemara didn't have it all their own way against the Ministry of Defense team and it took a sneaky near post flick header by David Adeyinka, 12 minutes from time, to quell the army team. It had been one-way traffic for the second half as Khemara sought the win, though the army had shared the spoils in the opening half. Khemara skipper Kouch Sokumpheak will kick himself for under-hitting his penalty just before the interval, which Sou Yaty kept out with his legs, and he had one of those days when he was simply never going to score. Khemara didn't play anything like their usual free-flowing selves but they won, which was the result they needed to keep in touch at the top.
In the first game of the afternoon, Naga looked lethargic and suffering from a heavy hangover after their midweek defeat against Phnom Penh Crown. Build Bright's youthful enthusiasm gave them the edge and two headers gave them a 2 goal lead, through Prum Puth Sethy and Oum Chandara, before Sunday Patrick Okonkwo reduced the deficit on half-time. Two crucial decisions by the referee then turned the game on its head. He disallowed Om Thavrak's header for handball which no-one else saw, and then sent off Naga's sub keeper Chhorm Veasna for scything down an opponent. A few minutes later Chandara thundered in a 3rd goal for BBU and they withstood heavy pressure and a late goal from Sun Sovannarith, to surprise everyone with a 3-2 success. Naga's players looked dejected as they begin to lose touch with the CPL leaders.
The national U-23 team that will travel to the SEA Games in Laos at the end of the year, should be announced at the end of next week following three weeks of trials. This team will form the bulk of the future full national team so it'll be intriguing to see who coach Scott O'Donell will include. At U-19 level, coach Prak Sovannara and his squad will travel to Vietnam on Monday in good time to prepare for the AFF U-19 championships in Saigon starting 4 August. Cambodia are in group B alongside Australia, Laos and Thailand.
The successful Khemara team, winning 1-nil v Defense Ministry
Toss-up of the week - Defense in red, Khemara in blue
Build Bright's two-goal hero against Naga, Oum Chandara
A youthful looking Build Bright United before today's game
Naga were lethargic and suffering from a lack of fizz against BBU this afternoon
Even the tv cameras have got in on the act, as they keep a look-out for the 'peanut princess' who wore yellow today - she's back by popular demand
I love this. Some of the crowd shelter from the sun's direct light by sitting in the shadow of the floodlight pylon. Only in Cambodia.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Khmer Rock lives

BBC R4 on Khmer Rock - lost to the Khmer Rouge but still alive today
BBC Radio 4 in the UK are spending half an hour on 'Khmer Rock & and the Killing Fields' on Tuesday 28th, when host Robin Denselow will tell the story of Cambodia's rock and roll stars who emerged during the late 1960s with their new sound. Despite losing most of those stars of Khmer Rock during the Khmer Rouge regime, the music is still revered today. Hopefully they'll post a link so we can hear it after its finished at BBC R4. Thanks to Simon for the heads-up.
The performance of the Yeak Lom traditional group from Ratanakiri at Gasolina tonight was cancelled as they didn't actually make the trip down south. Shame. The dvd for the Aki Ra's Boys documentary arrived in the post today from Singapore, he says, breathing a sigh of relief. It's certainly a film about triumph over adversity. This weekend there's another bout of four football matches in the Cambodian Premier League. The second game on Sunday promises to be of particular interest, when top team Preah Khan Reach take on their nearest rivals, Phnom Penh Crown, who are just a point behind them. My money is on Crown though PKR have quietly gone about their business this season, winning matches and have yet to put in a really electrifying performance. Saturday's games should see wins for Naga and Khemara Keila. I'll be covering all 4 matches for the Phnom Penh Post. Finally, the new Cambodian national carrier, Cambodia Angkor Air, will kick-off its maiden flights on Tuesday between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (4 each way) as well as Saigon. There are really cheap fares to be had too. The original idea was to christen the new Sihanoukville airport but that has been put on hold until they can get a 'name' to open it later this year. Oh I nearly forgot, the PM here has talked disparagingly about wedding cakes being a non-Khmer tradition and of foreign influences affecting Khmer arts, which will be a headache for the cake-making business over here as well as people like Belle, the country's leading contemporary dancer, who gets her influences from all over the globe. I can understand a desire to keep a rich vein of tradition to the fore, but there has to be room for innovation and progress too, the country cannot live in a time-warp.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Next month at Meta

Boreak, one of Aki Ra's Boys
So you can put the dates in your diary for August, I will be presenting three documentaries at Meta House next month. The first will be on Saturday 8th, when the hour-long Aki Ra's Boys will be shown in Cambodia for the first time. Filmed in 2007 by the team of James Leong & Lynn Lee, it deals with the scourge of landmines and the effects on the handicapped children who live in the home of Aki Ra, the man who has demined swathes of Cambodia by hand and who runs the landmine museum near Banteay Srei. It was very sad to hear that Aki Ra's wife Hourt unexpectedly died a few months ago, though I believe he's now remarried and continues in his demining work and providing a home for handicapped orphans.
The second film night will be on Thursday 13th with a double-bill of documentaries on a photography theme. The first is Secrets of S-21: Legacy of a Cambodian Prison, a half-hour BBC production from 1996 in which two American photographers, Doug Niven and Chris Riley, painstakingly piece together the details of the genocide that took place at S-21 through thousands of photos left behind when the prison was evacuated. The photos and interviews with former prison guards and prisoners reveal a world built on power, fear, and total disregard for human life and dignity. This is still a relevant documentary more than a decade after it was made and so relevant to the KR trials taking place right now. In the second half-hour film, veteran Magnum photographer Philip Jones Griffiths (pictured), in a film called The Shoot: Cambodian Odyssey, returns to Cambodia to talk about his experiences in the area but also of his approach to photojournalism. This documentary was filmed in 1996 by director Richard Traylor-Smith for the BBC. Griffiths died in March 2008.

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Match report

In today's Phnom Penh Post, my match report from yesterday's CPL encounter, which Phnom Penh Crown won 1-nil. Read it online here.

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Metfone on the line

The Cambodian football federation (FFC) has joined forces with mobile telephone supplier Metfone in a sponsorship deal worth $1.5million over the next three years. Increasing interest from sponsors is great news all round, for the FFC, the clubs and the fans. Okay, so the name of the CPL will become the Metfone C-League for next season but that's a small price to pay as some of the funding will go towards relocating the National Football Center as well as funding the U-19 and U-23 squads. The current football headquarters is a 1-pitch facility southwest of the capital, whilst plans for the new location include 4 pitches on a 52 hectare site in the Bati district, about 40 kms from Phnom Penh. The FFC was previously sponsored by a South Korean technology company and now the Vietnam-based company who own Metfone have come to the party. If I was being picky, it would be nice to have some Cambodian sponsors involved, but beggars can't be choosers in the current financial climate.
Also on the football front, an AFC C-Licence course for coaches was completed on Monday,and 70% of the 30 Cambodian coaches passed the required standard. Cambodia's only A-Licence coach, Prak Sovannara was in charge of the 2-week theory and practical sessions and said he was "delighted at the commitment of the Khmer coaches" who took part. Better qualified coaches will be the springboard for better quality footballers of the future in my view. On the subject of players of the future, the national coach Scott O'Donell has been holding twice-weekly trials for the U-23 squad that will travel to Laos for the SEA Games in December. And he's been very impressed with the 35 or so players that have turned up at 6am at the National Football Center for the sessions. He wants to select his squad soon, as some of the players will also be representing Cambodia in the U-19 championships in Vietnam next month.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Crown pip it

Phnom Penh Crown move to within a point of leaders Preah Khan in the CPL
PPC striker Mohamadou Ousmanou netted the game's only goal
The Clash of the Titans took place at Olympic Stadium this afternoon and failed to live up to the hype. It was an okay sort of game but didn't reach the level of quality you'd expect from these two teams, both riding high in the Cambodian Premier League. As it turned out Phnom Penh Crown collected the win to move to within a point of league leaders Preah Khan Reach, but it should've been a draw. With Naga missing the suspended Om Thavrak, their lynchpin skipper and Crown without their top marksman Keeb Ayoyinka, supposedly off to a Turkish club, the personal match up of the day didn't happen. And the story of the game turned out to be former Naga striker, Mohamadou Ousmanou, who returned to haunt his old club and net the only goal of the game, 3 minutes into the 2nd half. Clear-cut chances were restricted to a mere handful throughout the whole game and despite being the league's leading scorers, Naga looked toothless as Crown came out on top. They have the evil eye over Naga and today was no exception. I liked the referee's style today as he consistently waved play on when players went down feigning injury, though he took 2 minutes to spot a serious injury early on, when the player was stretchered off and didn't return. The man in the middle simply can't win. There was a horn and a drum in the crowd today and it made a difference. Cambodian crowds are incredibly quiet, certainly by British standards, so it was good to hear some noise today, instead of the morgue-like conditions the games are usually played in.
Naga again pipped at the post by Phnom Penh Crown
The captains shake hands before the game begins, Chanbunrith (red) and Sothearith (blue)
The Phnom Penh Crown bench includes 3 national players
PPC asst-coach Bouy Dary and Mohamadou Ousmanou at the post-match press conference
Sidelined through suspension, Naga's Om Thavrak and yours truly share a half-time joke
The 'peanut princess' makes a comeback in a hat - pic by Nick Sells


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Itching to see for myself

A ruined temple wall at Prasat Trapeang Preus, near Phnom Chi. An example of what you may or may not find on your temple-hunting adventures.
Stories of ancient temples from the Angkorean period being uncovered grab my interest immediately, so the story in today's Cambodia Daily that soldiers have found previously unknown temple ruins near to the Ta Muen temples, on the border with Thailand, have me itching to get out there and see them for myself. The temple, known as Prasat Dai Kei, is about 1km from the Thai border and close to Prasat Ta Muen, which is still the scene of disputed ownership between Cambodian and Thai authorities. After receiving information from local villagers, the army located some brick foundations with two walls, two wells and the remains of another five small sites nearby. The Ministry of Culture belives the ruins are from the 11th century and reckons there are more temples waiting to be found along the border. The likelihood of course is that these sites will almost certainly offer up just scattered brick ruins and holes in the ground as a result of scavenging and pillaging in the last 20-30 years by either military or temple robbers. I've seen this time and again where remote ruins are concerned and if you can spot a sandstone doorframe or pedestal in the undergrowth, then you can count yourself lucky. It was in the same northwest region that large sections of the main Banteay Chhmar temple were dismantled by a team of robbers, allegedly soldiers, and shipped over the border and into nearby Thailand about a decade ago.

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More books please

I received an email today from James King, a designer and photographer from London, who has travelled the globe and has just published a book about what he found when he came to Cambodia. It's called Khmer - Shadows In The Ruins, 228 pages of his photos and thoughts and is available through the on-line publishing website at In fact, if you search through the website, you will find a number of self-published books available via their search engine, using words like Angkor, Khmer, Phnom Penh and Cambodia. It seems everyone and their dog is using websites like this to get their work out to prospective book buyers, and why not. If any of these authors would like me to review their books, please feel free to drop me a line. All books on Cambodia are very welcome. As if someone was reading my mind, I've just received the recently published memoir by Sopheap Ly called No Dream Beyond My Reach, who sent me a copy of her 115-page book via a friend. Dr Ly arrived in the US from a refugee camp at the age of sixteen. Her book is her story of surviving the trauma of the Khmer Rouge years in Cambodia and her new life in the States. I will read it in the next few days and post my review here. My thanks to Sopheap for arranging its delivery and to Richard for acting as the postman.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Burma VJ

My visit to Meta House tonight was to watch a documentary, Burma VJ, by Anders Østergaard that told the inside story of the peaceful uprising in August and September 2007 by monks, students and citizens of Burma, that was quickly and cruelly put down by the military. Over 130 monks and others were murdered by the army and the film shows that and the evolution of the protests in gritty realism by way of the Burma VJs who risked their own lives to bring coverage of the uprising to the outside world with their hand-held cameras. It was quite something to see the monks take to the streets and the support that their actions generated, as well as students who rallied their own by putting their lives on the line to express their dissatisfaction with the military rulers of their country. The film material was smuggled out of the country and broadcast back into Burma by satellite, as well as picked up by the international news media. The reaction of the military junta to the protests brought world-wide condemnation though the Burmese generals stood firm and rode out the international storm that followed. You can find out more about this gripping film here.


Perpetrators squawk

The testimony from Khmer Rouge cadre like Him Huy, who last week admitted to transporting thousands of prisoners from Tuol Sleng to their deaths at Choeung Ek, will continue this week. Him (pictured) will be back in the witness box today, as he relates more details in the case against the S-21 chief Comrade Duch, who is clearly still able to exert a degree of influence over some of the witnesses. Him has already confessed to killing one individual in his testimony last week, though other testimony to DC-Cam investigators in the past, suggests Him was responsible for a lot more deaths. However, minimising their role in the Khmer Rouge slaughter has been a factor for all of the former KR who've appeared at the ECCC to-date. Even Duch, who has admitted responsibility for his actions, has been choosing his words carefully and claiming he ordered his subordinates to carry out instructions from above, but didn't actually get involved in the nitty gritty of what went on in the interrogation rooms at S-21. Who is he trying to kid? I don't have a list of future witnesses though I would expect people like Nhem En, who was the chief photographer of prisoners as they arrived at S-21, and interrogator Prak Khan to be called to testify. Nhem En is hardly ever out of the news, whether he's trying to sell Pol Pot's sandals, his own cameras or begging for money for his Anlong Veng museum. Prak Khan has a much lower profile though documents from S-21 clearly show his involvement in the torture that took place and he also showed up in Rithy Panh's film about S-21, when he confessed he thought of the prisoners as 'animals.' After the dismal failure of Mam Nay as a witness last week, let's hope that this week we'll hear more accurate testimony about the inner workings of S-21 and the activities of Comrade Duch. There's paper talk today about another request being sent by investigators at the tribunal to the King Father, Norodom Sihanouk. I can't imagine that he will agree to appear at the trials, though he has begun to serialize his memoirs of his imprisonment by the KR on his official website (in French).

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Match reports

My football reports from yesterday's CPL games in today's Phnom Penh Post. You can see the articles online here.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

CPL = entertainment

Khemara Keila ran riot over Phuchung Neak, winning 5-0 today

Chan Veasna, one of the scorers for Khemara Keila this afternoon
Great entertainment at Olympic in this afternoon's Cambodian Premier League. Two games, 11 goals, a frantic last-minute comeback in the second game and a virtual walk-over in the opening match, we literally had it all. I covered the games for the Phnom Penh Post so my full match reports will be in the newspaper tomorrow morning. Here's a brief synopsis:
Khemara Keila, with Kouch Sokumpheak pulling the strings as usual, rolled over the Navy boys, Phuchung Neak 5-nil. Lanky striker Oladiji Olatunde scored twice, just before half-time and again in injury time and rounded it off with a somersault celebration. Sokumpheak was also on the scoresheet, as were Chan Veasna and David Adeyinka. One-way traffic though new boy Joel Omoraka looked rock solid at the back.
Post Tel were playing their first game under new coach, and old boy, Kao Nisay and should've closed out the match, leading 3-1 with a minute to go. As it was, Kirivong never gave up, and with goals in the 90th and 93rd minutes, spoiled Kao Nisay's party. The match was even-steven though Post Tel were more lethal until the end. They led with goals from Gafar Adefolarin Durosinmi, a wonder goal from Touch Sokheng, and a penalty by Henri Bitga. Kirivong were not to be outdone and Ouk Thorn, Julious Chukwumeka and Him Salam netted for them, with Salam's goal sending their team and bench into raptures.
Him Salam crowned a great comeback for Kirivong with the equaliser in the 93rd minute
The Kirivong line-up who staged a great fightback this afternoon to draw 3-3
Post Tel goalscorer Gafar Adefolarin Durosinmi looking very dejected


Beware bib-wearers

The bib-wearers in action yesterday, removing an injured National Defense player from the pitch. The physio (in white) has a water bottle and ice-pack in hand. Photo Nick Sells
Watching so much Cambodian football has me wincing every time a player goes down and stays down with an injury. The reason is that the first thing the referee calls for is the stretcher-bearers rather than the team's physio. Okay, physio is stretching the word as none of the CPL teams have a trained physio that I'm aware of. However, the point is that, the referee is more interested in getting the injured player off the pitch so he can continue the game. That means that the stretcher-bearers, the guys with the red cross on their bibs, usually reach the player first and without a second thought, each grab a limb and lift him onto the stretcher and carry him off the pitch. Whether the player has a serious injury and cannot be moved doesn't appear to enter the equation. That's my problem with this apparent instruction from on high. Occasionally players break legs or worse and rough-handling from bib-wearing teenagers could cause more damage. The attending physio is usually more interested in bringing bottles of water onto the pitch than assessing the players' injury but in my view, a few seconds of proper assessment from the physio should be the first action taken, and only after his okay, should the bib-wearers be allowed to cart the player from the pitch. The welfare of the player is paramount, not restarting the game a few seconds earlier. Players of course, can help themselves by not feigning injury so often, which is a problem in the game at all levels and in all countries. The lack of qualified sports physios in Cambodia remains a concern. Even the national football team don't have one. This is one area that really needs to be looked at by the football federation and the clubs themselves pronto.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ony on target

Ony Onyemerea, two more goals from the striker gave Preah Khan the points. Photo: Nick Sells
Preah Khan looking mean and hungry for that CPL league title
Preah Khan Reach stay top of the Cambodian Premier League after a 2-nil win over Ministry of Defense, with a workmanlike if unspectacular performance this afternoon. With the Army missing three of their best players, Preah Khan did most of the pressing and it was two goals from Nigerian striker Olisa 'Ony' Onyemerea that won them the points. He tapped in after 17 mins and again in injury time to make his mark on the game, whilst his fellow striker Ekene Ikenwa did everything but score. PKR now have 26 points from 11 games. In the 2nd game, Spark started like a train in the pouring rain and led by two goals after just fifteen minutes. Seng Komsen and Sun Sovanrotha getting on the scoresheet leaving fellow striker and the league's top marksman Justine Prince a frustrated figure. Their opponents, Build Bright, snatched a late consolation with a Prom Puthsety penalty in time added on. Today's games marked the last matches to be covered by my pal Dene for the Phnom Penh Post as he's joining the paper full-time to work on their Lifestyle section and won't be able to make future matches. There are two more matches tomorrow and a juicy encounter on Wednesday, when Naga take on Phnom Penh Crown.
The Ministry of Defense adopt one of the more unusual line-up poses before the match
PKR skipper Sam El Nasa, shakes hands with Defense's Rang Borin (in red)
An Apsara TV cameraman's view of the game
The successful Spark FC team pose before their 2-1 win today
Spark's opening goal came from Seng Komsen
Teammate Sun Sovanrotha netted Spark's 2nd goal
A frustrating afternoon for Justine Prince (blue), the league's top scorer. Photo: Nick Sells

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Samnang Tasok's magic

The mysterious east face of Prasat Samnang Tasok
Our first look at Samnang Tasok, showing the east face from the broken gopura
Prasat Samnang Tasok brings back memories. Both good and bad. It's one of the nine satellite temples that surround the main central complex of Banteay Chhmar. The first time I went there in November 2o01 I didn't even know the other temples existed. It wasn't until my January 2005 return to Banteay Chhmar that I had my first opportunity to uncover their whereabouts, thanks to the diminuative Sita and my moto-driver Heang. And they were a great find, especially the temples like Samnang Tasok that were essentially gate-towers with Bayon-style faces looking out in all four directions. With the ruined temples covered in vegetation and dense undergrowth, and seeing those faces peering through the foliage above, this was temple discovery at its very best. For its part, Samnang Tasok had a sting in its tail. Here's my text from that first visit to this satellite temple, located to the east of the main complex:
The path into the complex of Prasat Samnang Tasok was fairly straightforward aside from the ferocious red ants, so standing still was asking for trouble. The floor of the site was covered in thick bushes so it was easier to utilise the walls and roof of the outer gopura to make our way to the central sanctuary, which was topped by four more giant faces and other carvings. Like the majority of the temples we'd located, apart from the three of us, not another soul was anywhere to be seen and the only sounds we heard were birdcalls and the occasional rustle of a lizard amonst the undergrowth. On the way out, I was perched precariously on the lintel of a gateway when two red ants bit into my stomach after crawling up my trousers - I managed to keep my balance, though this final warning from the 'guardians' reminded me that temple exploration has a downside!
On my recent return to Banteay Chhmar, we camped out overnight right alongside the moat that surrounds Samnang Tasok. The temple is still in the midst of undergrowth and still retained that magic feeling as we walked through the tree cover and emerged to find ourselves looking at the stone faces in the forest. Here are some of those faces.
On the left the south face and the east face on the right
Buddha carvings at the base of the east entrance to the face tower
Buddha in meditation at Prasat Samnang Tasok
More Buddha in meditation motifs alongside this colonette
A circular doorway medallion with bird motifs in the center
The east face of Samnang Tasok
On the left, the east face and the profile of the north face at Samnang Tasok

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Candids from java

Okay so this one is posed, as Jim captures Eric de Vries and myself in front of his photo collage
Jim Mizerski was assigned to take photos at the recent Java Arts Cafe Asia Motion photographic exhibition on 3 July and caught me in his lense a few times. As always Jim has kindly let me have the snaps of me and my pals, which I've posted here as a reminder of a great evening.
An unguarded moment as I laugh at one of Eric's typically dirty jokes
The main man, David Chandler is speaking, so I am listening, alongwith John Weeks (left)
This time David and myself are listening to John, probably talking about comics

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sothy branches out

Close-up detail from the painting, Pinaree and her Son, by Chhim Sothy
The artist, Chhim Sothy, giving an interview for local tv in front of his painting, Footprint History
Chhim Sothy, he of the friendly disposition, beaming smile and artistic talent aplenty, opened his latest solo exhibition tonight at the Chinese House to a large gathering. Titled New Musings and containing 19 acrylic paintings, all of which contained both an abstract and traditional mixture on each canvas. It's good to see him branching out though he finds it hard to shake off his traditional background, judging by these latest works, but that's fine as I love his traditional Buddhist artwork. I keep promising myself to get down to his gallery to see the full range of his work at first-hand. The paintings at Chinese House range in price from $400 to $1,100 and all but four of them were painted this year. The show was curated by Brad and Rattana Gordon, who also run the Teo+Namfah Gallery in Bangkok. It's on for another two weeks. In case you didn't know, the Chinese House is on Sisowath Quay opposite the container port and is a mix of Chinese and French colonial style, built in 1905. The art gallery is on the ground floor with a bar upstairs.
Another abstract with traditional characters, titled Hanuman & Ponaakay
This acrylic painting is titled 8 Directions, by Chhim Sothy

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Cruel Him takes the stand

After the complete waste of 2 days that took up the testimony of the former S-21 chief interrogator Mam Nay, who was too busy covering his own back to tell the truth, in the witness box today we have Him Huy (pictured), who has been much more candid about his involvement in countless newspaper and television interviews in the past. Okay, so he rearranges his story to suit the occasion - a while ago he said he killed thousands, more recently he said he killed five people - but at least we might now begin to hear some crucial details for the first time from a perpetrator witness. Him Huy, now 54, was a senior guard at S-21, and went onto hold the rank of administration chief before S-21 came to its end. He took prisoners to their deaths at Choeung Ek, he's admitted that many times and some prisoners knew him as 'cruel Him'. We shall see how his testimony pans out over the next day or two. One thing is for sure, he will tell us that he had to do it, and do it well, or else he too would've been killed by the S-21 machine, which is, by and large, how it worked at the prison. As for Mam Nay, I thought he would be on a second list of 'cadre most responsible for serious crimes' and liable for arrest and though the ECCC have given him immunity from prosecution under their mandate, he is someone who would not be out of place in the dock alongside his friend and mentor, Comrade Duch.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Peanuts off the menu

The Khemara Keila line-up who fully deserved their 2-0 win over Kirivong today
Khemara skipper Kouch Sokumpheak in blue, was the star of the show, again
I took a couple of hours off work this afternoon to watch the Cambodian Premier League game at Olympic between Khemara Keila and Kirivong and for once the game was played in mild, overcast conditions instead of sweltering heat, until the heavens opened for the last ten minutes. Khemara's Kouch Sokumpheak is head and shoulders above every other Cambodian player in the league right now and displayed an infinite number of first touches, passes and goal attempts that would keep a statistician permanently occupied for the whole game. He was involved in everything. And did everything, except score. That honour went to his teammates Oladiji Olatunde and David Adeyinka, though of course he set both of them up. Khemara bossed the game from start to finish and deserved their 2-nil success. And debutant Joel Omoraka played a blinder too, keeping Kirivong's dangerman Juliuos Chukwumeka subdued. A good win for Khemara who go into 4th spot in the CPL. I have some news about the 'peanut princess' too. Anyone who has been following my posts will know that she's the main distraction at the stadium on matchdays. Well, I have to report that after some investigation, I found out that she's already happily married and has a young daughter. So I'll have to turn my attentions back to the pitch in future.
With the match coming to a close, the heavens opened and the sparse crowd took shelter under the scoreboard
The final picture of the 'peanut princess' at today's game

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Out of order

© the eye of Lady Penh
This has really bugged me today. Lady Penh is a new 'what's on' website that is providing a very helpful schedule of events taking place in Phnom Penh each day. However in recent weeks they seem to be branching out into other areas like interviews and today they have a 'picture of the day,' which is when I got angry. Its a photo taken at the Angkorean temple at Phnom Chisor (located south of Phnom Penh) and their caption suggests they have no problem with this type of defacing of an ancient monument.
The caption reads: Old stones, new love, Fancy a day trip around Phnom Penh? Old stones and new love from Phnom Chisor (off highway 2) - The world will always welcome lovers - as time goes by... With love from Lady Penh!
Sorry guys but that's well out of order. You are condoning the use of graffiti on ancient temples as harmless and that's totally unacceptable in my view. On my travels around the country, I have seen this 'lover's graffiti' at several ancient sites including Phnom Banan in Battambang and Banteay Chhmar and it makes my blood boil. To me it's simple. The perpetrators have no respect for Khmer culture or their own heritage and if caught, they should face stiff penalties. This form of graffiti is one step away from daubing the temples in spray-paint and worse. If we don't take action now to nip this in the bud, it will get worse, as it has around the globe. We are already fighting against the tide of thefts of carvings from the temples. Now we have to teach the youth to respect their heritage and to keep their love letters to themselves.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not against graffiti in its rightful place, ie. an art exhibition or artist's space but ancient monuments are a no-go area for graffiti. I've even posted some on this blog from the derelict hotel on Bokor and from the stairways at Tuol Sleng, but neither examples were harming the essence of the location in my view - although I could argue against myself for the S-21 graffiti! Anyhow, rant over. The folks at Lady Penh do a good job but graffiti on ancient monuments is harmful and should not be condoned.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Who is the real Mam Nay?

Mam Nay, alias Comrade Chan, giving his version of the truth at the ECCC today
Who is the real Mam Nay? According to evidence collected from S-21 and other sources and amassed by the team at DC-Cam and other historians over the last thirty years, he was the chief interrogator, and one of the most terrifying cadre at the S-21 detention center, known to everyone today as Tuol Sleng. At the time of his tenure, as one of prison chief Duch's trusted lieutenants, he went under the alias of Comrade Chan. But today Mam Nay seems to have suffered a complete memory loss of his position, his role, his involvement in the torture and death of countless victims at S-21, where around 20,000 people went in and never came out alive. Today, during five hours of questioning, Mam Nay gave the same response to dozens of questions: "I had no knowledge of that." He denied holding any position of responsibility at the prison. He told the court he was merely a low-level interrogator who questioned less important detainees: "I did not use torture in my interrogation. I believed I would not get a true confession." However, of the victims he did question, he showed no remorse: "None of them was innocent - those people committed offences, either minor or serious. This was the reason for their arrest. How serious or how minor, I don't know. I was just a plain and simple interrogating cadre." Wearing purple fingerless gloves and a traditional chequered krama, Mam Nay said he remembered very little about S-21 and that he could not recall drafting prison documents shown to the court, which appeared to be signed by him. In fact he said he had trouble even remembering the names of his children after a recent accident at home: "I fell onto the ground and fell unconscious for a while. Since then, I seem to forget a lot." How convenient for a man who penned many interrogation reports that came from the S-21 archives, left behind by the Khmer Rouge staff as they fled the prison in the face of the approaching Vietnamese in January 1979. In his earlier life, Mam Nay had been a teacher, later the principal at a college in Kompong Thom province and very active in politics. He was very tall for a Cambodian, he suffered from severe eczema and when he was jailed at Prey Sar by the Sihanouk regime for his activism, he shared a cell with Duch, where the two became friends. Maybe he has forgotten all of that too. His testimony will continue tomorrow, but frankly it won't be worth the paper it's written on.
This picture hangs at S-21. On the far left is the tall upright figure of Comrade Chan (Mam Nay). The man without a cap is Comrade Duch, the S-21 chief, with his wife, Chhim Sophal (alias Rom) in front of him. The picture was taken by S-21's chief photographer Nhem En in 1976.
Some more photos from S-21. Prisoners were photographed by Nhem En on arrival, and others were pictured after their death, as shown here.

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Hiding to nothing

The chief interrogator, Mam Nay, a man with more blood on his hands, literally, than Comrade Duch, his former boss at S-21, made a very brief appearance in the witness box at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday. Whilst defense lawyers pointed out that the witness might well incriminate himself whilst giving evidence, the prosecutor gave an assurance that Mam Nay (pictured, CNN) would not be prosecuted in the ECCC. However, that didn't negate a possible prosecution in a Cambodian court at a later date, so the judges adjourned prematurely so the witness could seek legal advice. Why this wasn't done beforehand is beyond me but is another example of delays and time wastage at the ECCC. The evidence collected by DC-Cam over the last decade suggests that Mam Nay will be a key witness in the case against the former S-21 chief Duch, but if he corroborates that evidence, then Mam Nay will be admitting to interrogation, torture and the death in custody of S-21 inmates. It's part of the bigger question that has been debated for decades, if you prosecute only the leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime then the underlings who followed orders and carried out the killings go free. In the case of Mam Nay, the documentary evidence found at S-21 details his role in the torture and killings, moreso than many killers in other locations. Essentially, he's on a hiding to nothing if he tells the truth. Mam Nay, now 76, was known by the alias Chan during his time as Duch's number 2 at S-21. He carried out interrogations of the senior cadre incarcerated at Tuol Sleng such as former KR minister Hu Nim, and according to Duch, also interrogated Western prisoners. Like Duch he had been a teacher in Kompong Thom province and imprisoned by the Sihanouk regime before he re-joined the KR in the early '70s and linked up again with Duch at S-21. In the late 1990s, after the defection of the Pailin-based KR to the government in 1996, Mam Nay became a policeman in Battambang province, though when Duch was arrested in 1999 he went underground, resurfacing in Pailin a few years later.
One witness who did complete her evidence yesterday was Nam Mon, an alleged survivor of two secret detention facilities run by Duch. She testified that she saw Duch beat two of her uncles to death, the first evidence presented to the trial that Duch killed someone with his own hands. As to be expected, Duch dismissed the evidence that Nam Mon had worked as a medic at S-21 as 'far from reality.'
Update: In his evidence today, Mam Nay claimed he never tortured anyone, and was just responsible for 'asking questions of lowly cadre and Vietnamese prisoners.' He's obviously decided to downplay his role at S-21 completely to save his own skin and is unlikely to say anything that will incriminate himself, and therefore much of what he says can be taken with a large pinch of salt. He's not on trial so I'm not sure whether prosecutors' will be allowed to submit evidence that disputes his version of events. He's the first of the S-21 perpetrator witnesses to give evidence though I wouldn't exactly call him a creditable and reliable witness, though some will say who can blame him as he seeks to avoid future prosecution or even revenge attacks.

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Match reports

My CPL football reports from Sunday's games in yesterday's Phnom Penh Post. You can see the article online here.

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Nirvana, an oil painting by Khun Sovanrith, priced at $1200
Tonight's opening of the art exhibition at the Reyum Gallery was well attended, especially by the younger element who flocked to have their picture taken next to one of the paintings and to enjoy their fill of the free snacks on offer. Of the 23 contemporary oil paintings on show by the two artists, Venn Savat and Khun Sovanrith, the majority had an abstract touch to them, taking them out of my own personal taste range. I must admit that I find little of interest in much abstract art and the three paintings I've posted here were my favourites from the exhibition. Each painting is for sale, with prices ranging from $267 up to $1200, and will be on show through til the end of August at Reyum, on Street 178, next to the National Museum.
Rescue by Khun Sovanrith, priced at $267
Venn Savat's Cultural diversity in oils, priced at $333


Monday, July 13, 2009

Art explosion

Chhim Sothy at his last solo exhibition
In half an hour I'm off to visit a new exhibition of paintings at the Reyum Gallery by contemporary Khmer artists, Khun Sovanrith and Venn Savat. 23 paintings in all, a mix of sceneries, still life and abstracts. I'll report back later. One of my favourite Khmer artists, Chhim Sothy has a new exhibition of his work coming up, opening on the 16th at Chinese House on Sisowath Quay and ongoing until the end of the month. Titled 'New Musings,' Sothy will include his beautifully detailed Cambodian figures against traditional motifs and backgrounds. I'll definitely be at Thursday's opening party. Read about his last exhibition here.


No more football

I was going to have a few days without mentioning football at the behest of my readers who get turned off by my coverage, but seeing that have ripped off my recent article in the Phnom Penh Post about Cambodia's new football coach, Scott O'Donell and his backroom team, and given me no credit at all, makes my blood boil - well, that's an exaggeration, it's a little more than lukewarm. Their report is a little stale as it's been a couple of weeks since my 1 July article in the Post but still, a name credit would've been appropriate. I've fired off an email to their editor. I wouldn't dream of using anyone else's work without at the very least giving them a namecheck. And if you find an occasion when I have, please let me know, and I'll hang my head in shame.
There should be some interesting coverage of the Khmer Rouge tribunal this week, when at least two former members of staff at S-21 are expected to give evidence. They will include prison guard Him Houy and the former deputy chief to Duch at S-21 Mam Nay (alias Chan, pictured right; pic CNN), who must've been close to being indicted himself. He served as chief interrogator at Tuol Sleng before the Vietnamese arrived and has since been living in the Pailin region. In an interview he gave to l’Express in 2002, he declared that he had no regrets for his actions. KR expert Stephen Heder said of Mam Nay; 'His signature is on scores of documents detailing the torture of political opponents. He is implicated in hands-on torture and execution and would almost certainly be convicted in any international tribunal.' A list of 34 prospective witnesses are due to appear before the end of August, including eminent historian David Chandler, who is scheduled to be an expert witness early next month.
Finally, in a study of the global hotel industry, the French came out on top, or is that bottom, as the world's worst tourists. The Froggies were least open to new languages, ranked last for generosity and readiness to tip, and next to last for their overall attitude. I will say no more. The best of the bunch were Japanese tourists, though I'm sure the Brits must've been a close second [wink].

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Form-book overturned

Tith Dina's 25 yard screamer put Phuchung Neak in front against the league leaders
New signing Wilson Weyinmi Mene popped up to net Phuchung's 2nd goal
This weekend has been pretty much a case of work, football, sleep, football and more sleep. I did manage a couple of drinks with Eric who was down in the big city again from Siem Reap where his own Hello Darling exhibition at his 4FACES gallery is going down a treat. And apart from spotting Robert Petit, the chief prosecutor at the Khmer Rouge trials who has just resigned, in his Danger Mines! t-shirt in Cafe Fresco, it was all pretty quiet. It's Sunday evening and I'm just re-running the Dengue Fever dvd Sleepwalking, which is a really good watch I must say. This afternoon I was at Olympic again, in the stifling heat and humidity, to watch top v bottom in the Cambodian Premier League. I've said it before, but hats off to these guys for producing reasonable quality football at one of the hottest times of the day. And the first half-hour of the Preah Khan Reach - the league leaders - and Phuchung Neak clash had a bit of everything. Preah Khan have been out front in the league since the start of the season whilst the Navy side have managed just 1 point so far and looked destined for the drop. The game began according to form with Preah Khan hitting the post twice before Phuchung stunned everyone, including themselves with 2 goals in as many minutes. A Tith Dina screamer and a mid-air volley from new boy Wilson Weyinmi Mene was a double sucker blow to the leaders, who pulled one back on the half-hour through Olisa Emeka Onyemerea, and then levelled matters through the same player just after the interval. 2-2 was the final result, a moral victory for the league's basement side if their celebrations were anything to go by. In the second game, I must admit to nearly nodding off on a few occasions - my excuse, it was so hot and the game didn't exactly merit paying it too much attention. Though I had to keep my eyes open, I was reporting on the game for the Phnom Penh Post. Star of the show in Build Bright's 2-nil stroll over Post Tel was mid-season transfer window signing, Augustine Ogbeide Ogbni. He was involved in all the best stuff, doing most of it on his own and netted the first goal after just nine minutes of his debut. BBU settled it early doors after the break through Oriola Adeseye Ogunsano.
Phuchung Neak, before they gave Preah Khan a run for their money
CPL leaders Preah Khan couldn't have expected such stiff opposition
Another in my series of pre-match toss-ups by referee Thong Chankethya, a regular face in the middle at CPL games
Build Bright's two goalscorers take a breather; Augustine Ogbeide Ogbni (left) and Oriola Adeseye Ogunsano
Build Bright United line up before taking on Post Tel


Saturday, July 11, 2009

At a canter

Akeeb Ayoyinka (left) and Oscar Mpoko, the 2nd half goalscorers for Phnom Penh Crown
Srey Veasna equalised for Phnom Penh Crown just after half-time
Football is back on the menu after the briefest of mid-season breaks in the Cambodian Premier League and the weather just gets hotter and hotter. It was hard enough just to breathe sitting in the press box this afternoon, goodness knows how the teams manage to play in these sweltering conditions. Talking of the press box, it was full to overflowing at one stage today with no less than six contributors to the Phnom Penh Post newspaper in residence, not to mention their invited guests. Up for our enjoyment at 2pm was one of the title favourites Phnom Penh Crown, who despatched the Ministry of Defence 3-1 but didn't have it all their own way. The diminuative Nov Soseila eluded three defenders to toepoke the opening goal for the Defense team and their lead lasted until a Srey Veasna equaliser five minutes after the break. With Defense losing the country's number 1 Samreth Seiha to injury, his replacement Sou Yaty got his positioning all wrong as the game entered the last five minutes and allowed Koua Oscar Mpoko to lob Crown ahead. In time added on, Akeeb Ayoyinka continued his fine run of form with a third goal, and maybe his last if his transfer to a Turkish team goes ahead.
Phnom Penh Crown looking mean and hungry for three points this afternoon
The Ministry of Defense line-up who held out for 85 minutes before going behind
Skippers Sothearith of Crown (red) and Borin of Defense decide on which way to kick-off
Tiny winger Nov Soseila gave Defense a head start with a well-taken individual goal
Naga's man-of-the-match Yemi Joseph Oyewole bossed the midfield and scored the opening goal
Friday Nwakuna weighed in with Naga's third goal with a couple of minutes left on the clock
In the second game of the afternoon, the result, a 3-nil success for Naga Corp went to form, as they overran Spark, who'd begun brightly but without their suspended top scorer Justine Prince, they proved toothless and quickly faded. Naga, with Yemi Joseph Oyewole pulling the strings in midfield, took the lead when the man-of-the-match lofted a shot from distance into the net. Before half-time, Olajide Olawaseun turned the ball into his own net for number two and the scoring was completed with a couple of minutes to go when Friday Nwakuna finished off a pass from the impressive Teab Vathanak. Both Naga and Phnom Penh Crown won at a canter and showed the difference in class of the haves and have-nots in the CPL.
Skipper Om Thavrak leads out his Naga team in dark blue
Naga Corp look like they mean business, and they ran out 3-0 winners
Spark began brightly but quickly faded, losing 3-nil
The referee and his coin take center stage with Spark's Vibol and Naga's Thavrak looking on
Today's photo of the 'peanut princess' looking cool and casual, despite the sweltering heat
One from the archives of the 'peanut princess' expanding her range of goods for sale


Friday, July 10, 2009

Don't miss it

Li-Da Kruger (left) and a potential mother, from Belonging
Tonight, 7pm at Meta House, next to Wat Botum in Phnom Penh, I'll be presenting two documentaries about the return of two women to find their family roots, their past, their heritage here in Cambodia. Belonging will give Li-Da Kruger, adopted as a baby and whisked off to the UK, a chance to find out more about her family background. Read more here. New Year Baby, received great acclaim on its release and rightly so as Socheata Poeuv returns to unlock secrets she never dreamed existed. More here.
Film poster for New Year Baby

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Get your tongue ready - here's Preah Vihear

My turn to join in the drum-beating, flag-waving Preah Vihear celebrations after just getting hold of my five brand new, hot off the stamping press, 1-year anniversary stamps to mark the inscription of the Preah Vihear temple as a UNESCO World Heritage listed site. Here they are in all their glory, providing various views of the temple itself in a price ranging from 2,800 riels down to 300 riels. I'll hang onto them and pass them down to my grandchildren, if I ever have any. I might even ask the PM to autograph them for me as a keepsake. What's the chances of that?


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Lame excuse

Ouch Savy appeared but only on a short video clip
What a disappointment the Joop evening turned out to be, at Meta House tonight. Chapei musician Ouch Savy, the main reason for my attendance, was nowhere to be seen in person and a lame excuse for her absence was given as an afterthought by the organisers. Instead, an eclectic assortment of video, Khmer poetry and rap included a brief appearance by Savy as well as her master tutor, Kong Nay, on video. The main thrust of the night was a film, When the rivers run backwards, by Julien Poulson and Justin Foster who combined images of Phnom Penh with differing music styles - though, as they pointed out, it was a very rough-cut version. The most enjoyable video on show was a rap by Dang Kosal, formerly on the staff at Meta House and one of the bodyguards in the musical Where Elephants Weep, who was introduced by his rap moniker, MC Curly. Looks like rap and a cap worn at an angle will be the next time we see Kosal in the public eye. I went away disappointed that I still haven't seen Ouch Savy live.
MC Curly, better known to me as Dang Kosal, raps it up on video

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Khmer women in the spotlight

I've seen the legendary chapei master Kong Nay perform quite a few times, but I've never seen his protege, Ouch Savy in the flesh, so to speak. I've even been to her home and chatted to her mother, herself a well-known musician, but Savy and Kong Nay were on tour at the time of my visit. In fact their touring took them to the United Kingdom where they performed at the world-famous WOMAD festival, to great acclaim, as well as in Australia and New Zealand. So I'm eagerly awaiting tonight's Joop session at Meta House, where Savy will perform as part of a multi-media show. As one of the first women to learn the chapei, Savy, in her early twenties, is a pioneer and her duet with Kong Nay - their houses were two metres apart when they lived in the Dey Krahom area until it was levelled - can be heard on the cd from Cambodian Living Arts, Mekong Delta Blues (pictured right).
Tomorrow night, also at Meta House (next to Wat Botum for those who haven't ventured there before), I will be hosting two excellent films that look at two women from the Khmer diaspora, who return to Cambodia in search of their roots and a better understanding of their past. We start at 7pm and Li-Da Kruger's return for the film Belonging will start us off. Li-Da was adopted as a baby by well-to-do parents in the UK but is still determined to track down her real family, if that's still possible after twenty-five years. For Socheata Poeuv in New Year Baby, she knows her parents, or at least she thinks she does but returning to Cambodia opens a window into a world she never knew. Both films are well worth watching.

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He clicked, they died

Nhem En, a portrait by Doug Niven
Tuol Sleng, or S-21, to give its official title, remains the predominant focus of the Khmer Rouge trials taking place at the ECCC just outside Phnom Penh. The witnesses, in the case against the former S-21 chief Duch, this week have been in the main, civil parties rather than oath-swearing tribunal witnesses, and their testimony has been less than watertight under questioning by the court's judges and lawyers. We haven't seen the chief photographer at S-21, Nhem En, take the stand yet but I'm sure it must happen sooner or later. You may recall that a short film, 'The Conscience of Nhem En', was up for an Oscar recently and was shown for the first time on HBO in the States last night. He is not a person to whom you immediatley warm. If ever. His interviews have displayed a coldness for his actions as a member of the Khmer Rouge and a penchant for self-publicity and financial gain doesn't sit well with most people. In my archives, I found this article about Nhem En, by Philip Jacobson for the Sunday Telegraph Magazine in February 1998, which is worth repeating here.
The photographer of death - by Philip Jacobson (Sunday Telegraph Magazine)
Soon after the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia's civil war in 1975, the Pol Pot regime plucked one of its fanatical young guerrillas from the ranks and sent him to China to learn how to take photographs. Six months later, Nhem En, then aged 16, returned to Phnom Penh where he reported to prison compound S-21 in an outlying suburb of the capital. On his first day there, En learned what the job of chief photographer at the Tuol Sleng compound would entail: photographing those marked down for death. Like the Nazis before them, the leaders of the revolution that plunged Cambodia back into 'Year Zero' were obsessed with preserving a record of the hideous crimes committed in its name. Two decades later, not long after a pair of American journalists came across a vast cache of his negatives, En himself stumbled out of the jungle to surrender. Philip Jacobson reports on the photographer who documented genocide.
Over the course of 30 months, Nhem En produced some 10,000 full-face 'mugshots' for attachment to the dossiers of the columns of men, women and children that wound through his makeshift studio. Under orders never to respond to their anxious questions, he would snap them against a white-washed wall with an identification number pinned to their chests before guards hustled them away. En had no illusions about the fate that awaited his subjects: the S-21 prison compound was already known to those living nearby as a place 'where people go in but never come out'. Virtually everyone held there could expect to be tortured savagely to extract confessions or phantasmagoric crimes against the revolution: in their agony, illiterate peasants would admit to being spymasters for foreign powers. After that, prisoners were taken to a killing field 10 miles away and clubbed to death or suffocated with plastic bags, bullets being too valuable for traitors. By the time an invading Vietnamese army overthrew Pol Pot in January 1979, more than 14,000 people had been 'processed' through S-21, leaving just seven survivors to testify to the horror. The Vietnamese did not find En but they found 6,000 of his abandoned negatives. The grainy prints these negatives yielded were exhibited in what became the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide, where Cambodians would occasionally recognise a face staring out at them.
In the early Nineties, two young American photojournalists working in Cambodia, Doug Niven and Chris Riley, stumbled across the same cache of 6cm by 6cm negatives that had been left to decay in rusty filing cabinets. Brushing away dust and mildew, they were transfixed by the images they saw. 'We looked at each other and said, "Hey, this is amazing, we have to do something with this stuff," ' Riley recalls. On their own initiative, they launched an ambitious project to raise funds to clean and catalogue this unique material and produce high-quality pints from it. The level quality of the work suggested a trained eye behind the camera. 'Some survivors vaguely remembered a guy who took pictures - quite a decent man, it seems, who would slip prisoners water when the guards weren't looking,' says Riley. But when work began on the archive, the identity of the photographer in the charnel house was still a mystery. It was not until 1995 that a stocky, dark-skinned Khmer Rouge fighter clutching a battered camera and a kalashnikov rifle emerged from the jungle in northern Cambodia to surrender to government forces. It turned out that when the Vietnamese had invaded, Nhem En had fled with other prison staff to join resistance units in the remote countryside and had remained there for almost 20 years. Now 39, he had finally wearied of war and hardship. His reappearance would open a fresh chapter in the terrible history of S-21.
Last November, an enterprising Associated Press reporter in Phnom Penh persuaded En to talk on the record about his experiences at Tuol Sleng, hesitantly at first, then in grim but compulsive detail. "Those who arrived at the faculty had no chance of living,' he told Robin McDowell, recalling the sea of faces 'filled with fear and deep sadness' that had passed before his camera. En said he often shot hundreds of photographs every day, whilst his five apprentices toiled in a primitive darkroom to turn out the stream of prints. 'I knew I was taking pictures of innocent people,' En acknowledged, 'but I knew also that if I said anything, I would be killed. The Tuol Sleng killing machine operated around the clock, En added, recalling 'constant cries and screams' as shifts of torturers worked on their victims. When officials who had been purged from the Khmer Rouge government arrived, Pol Pot required copies of En's photographs of them - both before and after execution - as proof that they had been disposed of. En himself survived a brush with 'Comrade Number 1' after he was ordered to process film taken during the Cambodian leader's visit to China in 1977. When one print came out with spots on Pol Pot's eyes, En was detained and accused of insulting the revolution: somehow he convinced his interrogators that faulty film was to blame, conceivably saving himself from being returned to S-21 for liquidation. One day, En recognised through the lens his own cousin, Chhan - accused of being a CIA agent - 'but I kept silent, even after he was taken away'. In October last year, En returned to Tuol Sleng for the first time, to see if Chhan's picture was there. He said he could not find it and left the museum 'feeling very, very sad'.
The knowledge of what happened at S-21 makes a visit to the complex of scruffy three-storey buildings set around the old school playground a wrenching experience. A profound sense of evil pervades the musty cell blocks: in a former interrogation room, a bedframe to which prisoners were strapped during torture remains in place, the floor around it deeply stained. The impact of En's stark black-and-white pictures is even more devastating, burning the faces of the mute and anonymous dead into the mind's eye. Flaws in the negatives have etched black spots like bullet holes into some of the portraits or splashed them with what looks like blood. Many of those photographed by En seem already to have retreated into themselves, resigned and expressionless: a black-clad woman stares into the camera as if it were the barrel of a gun, while the tiny, ghostly hand of a child grips her sleeve. A youth stands with hands tied behind his back, seemingly untroubled by the safety-pin that fastens the number 17 into the flesh of his bare chest. Two men are manacled together in one of En's shots: only at second glance do you see they have locked hands in a desperate embrace. Yet others among En's subjects appear calm and relaxed, like the boy draped in a gaily patterned scarf who smiles as if the picture was intended for a mother or sweetheart. A teenage girl in a clinging crocheted blouse looks almost coquettish, a handsome, silver-haired man shoots a look of pure contempt at the lens.
Professor David Chandler, the distinquished historian of Cambodia, says that in viewing these images that were never intended to be seen we enter a world where everybody is condemned to death. In his introduction to a book of En's pictures, The Killing Fields, Chandler concludes that this 'may also bring us face to face... with what the psychiatrist Carl Jung called our shadow selves. We are inside S-21 [where] we become interrogators, prisoners and passers-by'. Niven and Riley say they always intended the Tuol Sleng archives to serve as a monument to victims of the genocide and 'give them a louder voice today'. All the money the pictures earn is ploughed back into the project. Albums of contact sheets displaying every cleaned-up portrait were provided to the museum. While a BBC team was making a television documentary there two years ago, a woman identified her missing husband in one of them. It is perfectly legitimate to be repulsed by the pictures, Riley observes. "I still find it hard to look at them myself.' He also understands critics of the travelling exhibition of a selection of 100 prints who question whether what one called 'souls on the point of departure' can be described as art. 'But Doug and I believe these faces represent something radically different from written accounts of the killing fields, speaking a kind of visual language, if you like. We don't want people who see them to feel like voyeurs but like witnesses to the catastrophe that overwhelmed Cambodia.'
The coda to the story of the Tuol Sleng pictures comes from Doug Niven, who has had several long conversations with En after contacting him in January last year (Niven speaks serviceable Khmer). En told him that he joined the Khmer Rouge at the age of 10: as the son of a dirt-poor bean farmer whose wife died young, he had impeccable proletarian credentials for a revolutionary movement founded on a visceral hatred of the bourgeoise. "En said he began as a supply porter, but was soon absorbed into a combat unit and saw a lot of hard fighting before the Khmer Rouge victory,' Niven recalls. He was not at all comfortable with questions about his zealous and obedient service in S-21, Niven adds. 'As far as I'm aware, En has never shown any remorse for what he was doing at Tuol Sleng, which I find pretty disturbing. On the other hand, I'm certain he understands that his role in the genocide is quite likely to come up for examination one day, and that makes him very wary.' After fleeing Tuol Sleng in 1979, En had become a soldier once more, but he was subsequently assigned to take photographs (using two cameras found on a battlefield) for the crudely printed 'newsletters' circulated in zones still under Khmer Rouge control. En told Niven that by then he had lost all faith in the revolution and wanted to live under democracy, but he could not explain convincingly why he continued to serve Pol Pot for so long.
'En strikes me as a born survivor, a lot smarter and more focused than any of the other defectors I've met,' says Niven. "There's a kind of inner toughness about guys who've been hard-core Khmer Rouge for as long as him.' On a trip to En's village, where his wife was about to give birth, Niven discoveref that he had abandoned a different wife and six children when he decided to change sides - 'that didn't seem to bother him too much.' When En saw the beautifully produced book of his photographs from Tuol Sleng, says Niven, 'you could see him figuring out if there was going to be anything in this for him'. His new life was hard, he told Niven, describing how the present Cambodian government had trained him to recruit other defectors in a distant province where he lived in an old wooden house with a tin roof and a battery-powered television set. En said he was keen to move back into photography and since then he has tried his hand, with little success, covering the fighting that still plagues Cambodia. His latest idea, Nevin reports, is to go into the wedding picture business.
A stylised version of one of Nhem En's mugshots of a young girl destined to die

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On the set

Smith as Sean and Maguire as Dana get stopped at a roadblock
It looks like location filming in Kampot will be finished this week for the Sean Flynn and Dana Stone-inspired movie The Road to Freedom. Under the control of baby-faced director Brendan Moriarty, who used to live in Kampot, filming is ahead of schedule, with the fictional movie slated for completion early in 2010. With Joshua Fredric Smith as Sean and Scott Maguire as Dana, the film has two quality lead actors out front, supported by experienced actor/producer Tom Proctor. Flynn and Stone, like many of their photojournalist friends at the time, took one risk too many and disappeared in 1970, captured by Khmer Rouge forces. It's a story that has captured the imagination of many, particularly as Flynn was the son of his illustrious father Errol Flynn, and was an actor himself before turning his back on Hollywood to cover the war in Cambodia. Here's a couple of photos from the set of The Road to Freedom, which used locations both inside and outside the town of Kampot. Follow the film's progress here.
Director Brendan Moriarty with real Cambodian army extras at a roadblock

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

View from above

A bird's eye view of Banteay Chhmar
I said I would bring you some pictures from my recent trip to Banteay Chhmar, though this photo of the main temple complex is courtesy of Eddie and his microlite. You may recall that Eddie took me up in his 2-man 'flying moto' back in February for a whizz around the edges of the Angkor Park for an hour. However, he has flown his microlite all over Cambodia and as you can imagine, and see, has some amazing aerial photos from just about everywhere. This is Banteay Chhmar from the west, with its Mebon at the top of the picture and the houses of the village on the right hand side. Though you can see the moat surrounding the temple, the rest of the structures within are almost completely obscurred by the tree cover. The photo was taken in March of this year. Read about my microlite fun here.

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Cracking down

Cambodia's PM has told his ministries and police chiefs to crack down on violent youth gangs who are causing havoc in the cities and countryside. I haven't seen much evidence of these gangs myself, until last night. Whilst the city was in boisterous mood with pockets of the Preah Vihear 1-year celebrations breaking out all over, I witnessed what appeared to be an unprovoked and cowardly attack on a teenager riding his moto along Sothearos Boulevard, in front of the colourful water-fountains. The traffic was snarled and at a standstill when at least half a dozen youths jumped off their motos and started punching and kicking a single youth, who was knocked from his moto and onto the ground. The assault lasted only a few seconds but I saw at least two of the youths using their unbuckled belts to inflict blows. As quickly as it had started, it was over, the youths jumped on their motos and sped away, cheering and giving each other high-fives. It was clear that the attackers knew each other, whether they knew the victim, I don't know but it was a sober reminder that youths and violence make common bedfellows in whatever city you find yourself in. I welcome any moves, however strong-armed they may be, to nip this in the bud.
Instead of watching the Preah Vihear celebrations on television last night, with a massive rally from the Olympic Stadium being beamed across the country, I went to watch a slideshow and talk, Khmer Abroad by photographer Stephane Janin at Java Arts Cafe. Janin moved from Phnom Penh to live in Washington, USA, a couple of years ago and has been documenting the ordinary, everyday lives of the Khmer diaspora in Washington, Lowell and Long Beach ever since. His blog has much of his work available to view. He intends to continue his work for another year before moving to France and beginning the same project there too.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Making camp

Its 6.30am and the early morning sun shows our safari tent and last night's fire
Beautiful early morning light on the moat and trees surrounding Prasat Samnang Tasok
In a precursor to my pictures from my recent visit to Banteay Chhmar, I need to provide some context. I was travelling with my brother Tim and two drivers in a 4WD and after leaving Anlong Veng, which I've covered in previous postings, we arrived at our camp-site at 6pm. The site wasn't inside the main body of the central complex, instead it was right next to the moat surrounding one of the nine satellite temples that orbit around Banteay Chhmar. The temple name was Prasat Samnang Tasok. Our crew had arrived before us and set up the camp. A large safari-style double tent for Tim and myself, with a shower and toilet tent nearby. The rest of the crew would sleep in small individual tents closeby but out of sight. We'd called into the market near the main temple for some water supplies before we settled down onto our comfy beds to discuss the day's adventures, before a nice warm shower and a dinner that would not have been out of place at a city restaurant. Three excellent courses, followed by dessert, eaten in a clearing next to a water-filled moat surrounding a 12th century gateway - does it get better than this? After chewing the fat for a couple more hours, we switched off the fans and fell asleep to the occasional howl in the distance - wild dog, monkey, tiger, we didn't know. Up and showered by 7am, it was time for another food extravaganza, this time a hearty breakfast to set us up for the rest of the day. Then it was time to explore. Prasat Samnang Tasok was less than fifty metres away and it was a temple that I'd experienced before. More later.
Inside the safari tent are our two comfortable beds and fan
Mr Comedy himself, Tim in the toilet tent
Two youngsters fill their water containers from the moat of the main temple
The moat surrounding the central complex at Banteay Chhmar

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Break, what break?

A mere 9-day mid-season break - was it worth it? The Cambodian Premier League resumes the second half of its season on Saturday at the Olympic Stadium with the usual fare of 4 games spread across the weekend. The break was meant to give the teams a breather and to allow clubs to refresh their squads with up to three new faces (1 foreigner, 2 Khmers) but a week off hardly constitutes a mid-season rest period in my book. At this time I don't know which clubs have taken advantage of the transfer window, but we should know soon enough as each team will have resumed playing by Wednesday15th. Preah Khan Reach lead the CPL table at the half-way point, with Phnom Penh Crown in second place, three points behind. Add Naga Corp and Khemara Keila to the equation and from what I've seen to-date, I reckon those four will be battling it out until the end of the season in September. After another nine rounds of league football, the top four teams will go through to a semi-final play-off, titled the Super 4, on 12 September. The final and third place play-off will take place 26 September. The champions will get just under $10,000 in prize money. For me personally, a play-off to decide the champions, stinks. The raison d'etre of a league championship is that the best and most consistent team across the duration of the championship will emerge as true champions, not some johnny-come-lately who has a burst of good form at the end and wins a couple of play-off matches. Yes, there's an argument that says it increases the interest at the end of a season and also stops a team running away with the title, but those don't wash with me. I don't like the idea, and I never will. I'm a football purist and the least amount of tampering with the beautiful game is my preference. That said, its been decided so we'll have to roll with it. The games this weekend pair top (PKR) v bottom (Phuchung Neak) on Sunday, whilst Saturday's opener pits PPP Crown against the Defense Ministry, followed by Naga versus Spark.


Mixed bag

Flags flying above Preah Vihear - the pride of a nation
A mixed bag of 'stuff' this morning. Tonight I will poke my head into Java Arts Cafe again for the Khmer Abroad, talk and slideshow by photographer Stephane Janin, who used to host the Popil Gallery in Phnom Penh and now lives in Washington, US, documenting the lives of the Khmer diaspora. You can get a good feel for his work by visiting his blog. On Monday, a new art exhibition will open at Reyum featuring the paintings of local artists Khun Sovanrith and Ven Savat. The Reyum Gallery near the National Museum provides a great opportunity for Khmer artists to expose their work to a wider public. Later this afternoon, the Olympic Stadium will play host to the 1-year anniversary celebrations for the award of World Heritage status to the temple of Preah Vihear. The place will be awash with the cream of the country's elite as well as top names like crooner Preap Savath and many more. Long rambling speeches, music, patriotic songs, dance, speeches from military leaders, fireworks, more speeches, expect the lot. It's on tv so I won't be there. Oh, and at 11am this morning, the PM has called for bell-ringing, drum-beating and banner-hanging to herald the actual time of the listing. And I'm told there will be traditional dancing at Preah Vihear too, well at Sraem, some 20kms away. An interesting snippet emerged yesterday when two Thai tourists were refused entry to Preah Vihear. In fact, Thai tourists have been banned from the temple until the conflict has been resolved, on the pretext that they might be spies. Finally, the Khmer Rouge trials took a backwards step yesterday when civil party witness Ly Hor gave a less-than-convincing display about his time at S-21. So much so that Duch claimed the man was already dead and challenged the witness testimony. Ly Hor said he was held at Tuol Sleng for one month but was sketchy in his recollection of his time there. It also called into some minor doubt the evidence provided by DC-Cam, whose officers have worked tirelessly for more than a decade to uncover the truth about the Khmer Rouge and presented much of the evidence for the tribunal.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Sovannara leads from the front

Improved coaching will be one very important step towards football in Cambodia getting on a par with some of the better countries in the Asian region such as Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore. The Asian Football Confederation, as the governing body of the sport in the region, organises regular coaching courses at all levels for the coaches of the future in the countries under its jurisdiction. Cambodia is no exception and a very welcome AFC 'C' coaching certificate course began at the National Sports Complex today. Led by Cambodia's only AFC Regional Instructor, Prak Sovannara (pictured), until recently the country's national coach, this will give 30 Khmer participants, drawn from Phnom Penh and the provinces, not only invaluable experience but also the opportunity to continue their coaching education and a shot at the 'B' and 'A' licences in the future. Sovannara is the only Khmer 'A' qualified coach. The course will last from today until 20 July and all the participants must already hold a 'D' licence or received exemption. Included amongst the roster for this course is Van Piseth, who has just been included in the coaching line-up for the Cambodian national team under the new boss, Scott O'Donell. It is vital that the coaches who qualify from the course then take their technical and tactical knowledge into the schools, junior clubs and senior teams within the Cambodian Premier League, to begin the grassroots steps needed to make that much-needed improvement in Cambodian football. They have a long way to go but as the Cambodian proverb says, 'a journey of 10,000 miles begins with one step.'
Prak Sovannara will also soon begin the task of putting together a squad of under-19 players to represent Cambodia at the AFF U19 Youth championships in Vietnam in early August. He was the national youth team coach before he took on the top job for a year and saw Cambodia through to the Suzuki Cup finals at the end of 2008. Now that Scott O'Donell has returned as national coach, Sovannara has resumed his duties with the under-19s and will select 25 players from the current crop of talented youth players with teams in the Cambodian Premier League. The U19 championships will take place in Saigon from 4-16 August and Cambodia have been drawn in a tough-looking Group B that also includes Australia, Thailand and Laos. They will begin on 5 August against Thailand at Thanh Long Stadium and then meet Laos on the 8th and Australia on the 11th.

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Faces in the forest

The south face of Prasat Samnang Tasok with its bewitching smile
This week I will bring you the pictures from my recent visit to the temple complex of Banteay Chhmar in northwestern Cambodia. Banteay Chhmar is one of my favourite locations, so staying overnight in a luxury safari tent, inches from the moat surrounding the western satellite temple of Prasat Samnang Tasok, waking up to the sounds of early morning birdcalls and cicadas, was exactly what the doctor ordered. More from my Banteay Chhmar adventures later this week.

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

A potted history

Professor David Chandler
If you read my blog, you'll know that Professor David Chandler is in town for a few days. And he's here to lend his weight behind the new textbook from DC-Cam that teachers will use to bring the Khmer Rouge period into the school curriculum for the first time. The paper below was presented to teachers last week and is well worth posting here as we'll all learn something from it.
Chandler's potted history

Most people, especially foreigners, think of Cambodian history only in terms of Angkor and modern times, or more specifically Angkor and the Khmer Rouge period. As I hope to show in my brief talk, Cambodia has much more history than that. I will be suggesting to you that all of Cambodian history, from the earliest times right up to 2009, is rich, interesting and continuous. You are all the heirs of an extraordinarily long, vibrant and fascinating past, and you can all be very proud of it. Basically, for my short talk I would divide this enormous stretch of time - from the beginning of Cambodian history until 1953, when the country gained its independence fro France - into four periods. Each of these can be seen in terms of a major theme or two.

1. Prehistories, Funan and Chenla. Theme: Indianization. Dates: 5000 BCE-800 CE

2. Angkor . Themes: Imperial Power, Urbanism and Ordinary People, Dates: c. 800 c.1450

3. Middle Period. Themes: Transformation, Isolation and Outside Pressures c, 1450 -1863

4. Colonial Era. Theme: Theme: Cambodia Enters the Wider World 1863 - 1953.

Prehistory, Funan and Chenla

We have evidence of cave dwellers in northwestern Cambodia living as long ago as 5000 BCE. They were Stone Age people, and several other very early sites have now been excavated. By 1000 BCE people living near present day Kompong Chhnang were casting bronze (lovely specimens of their work can be found in the National Museum). Their tools and ornaments and weapons resembled those found in Bronze Age sites in northeastern Thailand. This doesn’t mean that the early Cambodians were "Thais". You have to remember that there were no national borders in Southeast Asia until the colonial era, and also that the people of what is now northeastern Thailand in those far-off days probably spoke Khmer, or a related language. These people were growing rice and eating fish, so the mainstays of the Cambodian rural diet in 2009, were the mainstays in the country in 1000 BC. This is one of the much continuity in Cambodian history.

The phenomenon we call Indianization, which I have chosen as the major them for this period, really only begins to be recorded in the early years of the Christian era, when Indian jewelries and tools have been found at a coastal site associated by scholars with what the Chinese called the kingdom of Funan. Funan was an important trading kingdom, and the fact that it had an extensive network of canals suggests that it was able to mobilize a large labor force when needed. Unfortunately, no local written records survive from Funan. Information about it comes from archaeological digs and Chinese sources, assembled over several hundred years. The latter are useful because, without saying so, they trace the growing complexity if Funan as its rulers selected linguistic, cultural and administrative elements from India in the complex and rewarding process that we call Indianization.

Indianization was not colonization, but rather consisted of a series of choices made by local elites when they encountered Indian culture, either in India as pilgrims or via trade or in Cambodia (Funan) via Indian traders, bureaucrats and priests. The process took place in unrecorded form between over 500 BCE and 500 CE, more or less. It happened because of trade relations with Cambodia selling exotic forest products and Indians trading these for manufactured goods, especially textiles. The most enduring aspects of Indian culture that were accepted by the Khmer were its gods (and some of these were more popular than others) and its ideas of governance. The Khmer never adopted the caste system that prevailed in India. When Khmer became a written language in about 300 AD, Indian characters were adapted for its alphabet. Indianization was not the first time, or the last, when the blending and adaptation of cultural elements from outside Cambodia helped to form the ongoing cultural history of the country. A key point is that Indianization was not an imposition of control, or colonization, as was the case with China and northern Vietnam.

In the 4th and 5th centuries CE, Cambodia 's political center of gravity shifted inland from the coastal area of "Funan" into south central Cambodia, with a city located at what is now the village of Angkor Borei. "Chenla" was the name given this successor kingdom by the Chinese. The capital of Chenla was probably Isanapura, or Sambor Prey Kuk in Kompong Thom. During these years the first inscriptions in Khmer and Sanskrit were carved on stone and started to produce a documentary record for Cambodian history and society. Michael Vickery's invaluable work on these inscriptions, which appeared in 2005, has revolutionized our knowledge of the closing years of this early period.

Angkor. Themes: Imperial Power and Ordinary People

All of you are reminded of Angkor every day, whenever you see the Cambodian flag, hear the national anthem, or notice the name of many shops. You see an echo of Angkor in the Independence monument. Many of you have probably visited it, some of you more than once. Angkor is a marvelous tourist site for over a million foreign visitors a year, but for you, as Khmer, it's also something else: a beautiful reminder of your ancestors' extraordinary achievements in the fields of art and architecture, city planning, road building and hydraulic engineering, to name only a few.

For many years, archaeology in Cambodia, dominated by the French, concentrated on the kings, temples and the inscriptions that they found at of Angkor so as to build a picture and a chronology of the empire. They named twenty-six kings, located the remains of more than a thousand temples and deciphered more than a thousand Khmer and Sanskrit inscriptions. In restoring the major temples at Angkor, the French also learned a great deal about Cambodian religion and, from the bas-reliefs of the Bayon, a certain amount about the daily lives of ordinary people. The inscriptions told scholars about royal concerns (often expressed in elegant Sanskrit poetry) and a certain amount about the administration of the empire, particularly as the administration was linked to temples erected by kings or by powerful members of the elite. They gave the temples and everything else that they learned to the world as a gift, and they gave a gift to the Cambodian people.

What was missing from French efforts was a concentration on the daily lives of ordinary people of Angkor - your ancestors: hundreds of thousands of unrecorded men and women who grew the rice, raised their families, fought the kingdom's wars and built the temples. French scholars saw Angkor as a challenge, as a collection of beautiful ruins and as a site for six hundred years of royal history. In the last fifteen years or so, several dramatic changes have occurred in relation to our thinking about Angkor and the early history of Cambodia. For one thing, digging at pre-Angkorian settlement and burial sites has revealed many complexities in ordinary life. Mapping in the Angkor region has also developed into a fine art, using satellite photography to discover Angkorian rice fields, canals and roads. They have concentrated on showing what a large and crowded city it once was - probably housing as many as 700,000 people in the 12th century CE at the time when Angkor Wat was being built. The name of the city was Yasodharapura. We know a lot more than we once did about the city in terms of settlement patterns, streets, household goods, ceramics, roads and canals. Although ordinary men and women only appear in Angkorian inscriptions as names of slaves, they are now emerging as the lively and inventive inhabitants of a large, complex and interesting city as well as the marvelous artists and architects we always knew them to be. And these people belong to you.

At the same time, traditional archaeological concerns - with the kings, their temples and their inscriptions - have yielded a lot of new information about such things as the reign of Jayavarman VII, the astronomical meaning of Angkor Wat, and the nature and scope of international trade. In 2009, we know more about history at the top than we did, as well as more about the daily lives of ordinary men and women and about the 1000 square kilometer urban complex where they lived. Angkor, instead of being a grand mystery, has become a combination of imperial grandeur and the work of people whose language, lives and attitudes many of you would find sympathetic and easy to understand.

The Middle Period. Themes: Transformation and Outside Pressures

No documents survive that tell us exactly when, how or why Angkor declined as a great city after the mid-fifteenth century, and the process was obviously complex, stretching over several hundred years, but some important transformations had already taken place in Cambodian society over a century before Yasodharapura (but never Angkor Wat) was abandoned. The most important of these were the mass conversion of the Cambodians to Theravada Buddhism, the same Buddhism that is followed by most Cambodians today. The conversion probably occurred in the thirteenth century, because when a Chinese diplomat visited Yasodharapura in 1296, the population was already following this religion. The conversion put Cambodia on a similar course to the one being followed at the same time in neighboring Siam and indeed the next few hundred years can be seen in part as a fruitful exchange of culture between these two countries. Unfortunately for Cambodia, Siam in the sixteenth century began to demand subservience and tribute from the Khmer, and continued to do so until the arrival of the French in 1863. The Cambodians did not lose all the wars that they fought with Siam, but the ones they lost led to sizeable transfers of people from Cambodia to Siam as prisoners of war. An important trend of the middle period was the simultaneous shrinkage of territory under the control of the Cambodian king and the decline in Cambodia's population.

Another new factor for Cambodia in the middle period was the rise of a powerful neighbor to the east. By the mid seventeenth century, the Nguyen rulers of southern Vietnam gave royal factions in Cambodia an alternative set of patrons to those in Siam. The Vietnamese also blocked Cambodia 's access to the sea, and from about 1650 to 1850 the kingdom was isolated from the outside world, and carried out very little international trade. However it would be incorrect to view the middle period primarily in terms of suffering and decline. This was the period when the masterpieces of Khmer literature were written - the Chbap and the Reamker, to name only two - and it was the period that connected Angkorian civilization to the society that the French encountered when they arrived in the kingdom in 1860. The connecting tissue between Angkor and the colonial period was made up of Cambodian popular culture, its rich language, and much of its social organization. In other words, you as Khmer are the heirs of this period, perhaps even more than the Angkorian period or the colonial era.

The Colonial Era: Cambodia Joins the Wider World

When French explorers arrived in Cambodia in the early 1860s, they were seeking to expand French commercial interests in Southeast Asia, and believed that Cambodia, or more precisely the Mekong, were a gateway to China. The French had already occupied southern Vietnam as a colony, and were eager to increase the control over the region. Civil wars, rebellions, invasions from Siam, and a prolonged Vietnamese protectorate had engulfed Cambodia for the preceding fifty years. Thai and Vietnamese forces clashed in Cambodia, and the ensuring warfare depleted the country. Its population had been decimated, many of it's wats destroyed, and the newly installed king, Norodom, who was fearful of Siam, sought French protection (or more precisely, accepted it when it was offered). The French were happy to provide this protection, but to Norodom's surprise and displeasure, protection over the next thirty years turned into extensive political and economic control. The king was marginalized. Although Cambodia was officially a Protectorate, with its own King, it was to all intents and purpose a colony by the end of the 19th century, and the French, who built their palaces and kept them from performing any significant political activities, placed all the next three kings of Cambodia on their thrones.

In drawing up a balance sheet of French colonialism in Cambodia, it's important to stress the lasting contributions the French made (using Cambodian labor to be sure to Cambodia 's infrastructure, urbanism and archaeology.) Provincial capitals were planned and laid out by the rich; so were most of Cambodia's paved roads, and most of the city of Phnom Penh. It is easy to see this benefited the French perhaps as much or even more than the Khmer. French worked in archaeology, on the other hand, while bringing prestige to France, was of long term benefit to the Khmer, and perhaps Rankles finest legacy. When the provinces of Battambang and Siem Reap, annexed by Siam in the 1790s, were returned to Cambodia after France had exerted pressure on the Thai, the site of Angkor returned to Khmer jurisdiction, and French archaeologists could begin their serious and helpful labors of restoration. There are negative aspects of the colonial period which I’ll discuss in a moment, I think from the vantage point of 2009 we can say that the French never did as much damage to Cambodia as was inflicted on the country by foreign powers during the Vietnam War, by Khmer and foreigners in the civil war that followed, or under the Khmer Rouge regime. At the same time, the colonial period had several negative aspects, and some of these have lingered into 2009.

Probably the major defect in the French protectorate was that it failed to educate Cambodian people, and allowed them no opportunities, before the 1940s, to participate in the political process. They prepared the country very poorly for independence. Until World War II there was only one high school in the kingdom, and no university. Another flaw in the colonial system was the judiciary. The French put no sophisticated legal system in place, and almost no local lawyers and judges received adequate legal training. On balance, however, probably the major positive contribution made by the French Protectorate was the fact that Cambodia survived to become an independent state, and was not absorbed by its neighbors, as seemed almost inevitable before the French stepped in, not so much to protect the Khmer as to increase their own power and prestige. In 1975, a Khmer Rouge spokesman declared, proudly that "2000 years" of Cambodian history had ended. I hope I've made it clear in these brief remarks not only that Cambodian history extends back further than 2000 years but also that it is fascinating to study, and one that Cambodians can be proud of.

(This paper is prepared for the DC-Cam's Genocide Education Project - National Training Teacher for Lower and Upper Secondary School of Cambodia, Senate Library, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 29-July 7, 2009. The Project in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is support & funded by Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, United States of America, National Endowment for Democracy, Sleuk Rith Institute, and Open Society Institute.)

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Preserving the lifeblood

Em Theay, Cambodia's finest
Here is another press article from the archives, this time focusing on classical Cambodian dance and my favourite icon, Em Theay. Someone has got to write a book about this lady and her unique role in the center of classical dance for the last 60 years. Her story is simply too important not to be told in every detail. She isn't getting any younger afterall. Both Unesco and the Cambodian government should stump up the funds for the book, and my choice to author it would be Denise Heywood. Maybe I should start a Facebook group to get support for my idea. Anyway, here's the story by an old Phnom Penh favourite Jon Swain.
Peace Movement
Cambodia's killing fields almost destroyed 1000 years of culture. Now the surviving dancers of the royal ballet are passing on their secrets, teaching children to perfect the elaborate steps. Jon Swain reports for The Sunday Times Magazine 7 February 1999.
Dawn comes suddenly to Cambodia. For a few treasured moments this beautiful, ravaged little country seems at peace with itself. As the sun begins to light the land, Em Theay, a 66-year-old woman with a careworn expression, leaves her tiny apartment and makes her way through the poverty-stricken streets of Phnom Penh, past the spiked pagodas and processions of monks in saffron robes, to the fine arts faculty on the other side of town. It stands at the end of a dirt track behind the French embassy and, like much of Phnom Penh, is dilapidated. The burnt-sienna and cream floor tiles are cracked and missing in places. But an enchantment awaits the eye. The hall fills with several hundred sparkling girls aged 7 to 17 - Cambodian classical ballet dancers. Their school uniforms of blue skirts and white blouses are exchanged for bright satin bodices. Long silken swathes in reds, blues and purples are bound tightly round the thighs and legs - half skirt, half trousers. The ghostly sound of bells, rising and falling unexpectedly, fills the dawn and, from all corners, hands glide onto the dance floor, unfolding with the grace of a blossoming flower. There are few visions in the world more enchantingly romantic or more apt to bring a faraway look to the seasoned traveller's eye than these dancers. Graceful and perfectly poised, their small hands alone weave amazing patterns in the air. They seem to be the sisters of those bare-breasted apsaras (the king's celestial concubines) sculpted in stone on the walls of the fabled temple of Angkor Wat. The roots of Cambodian dance lie in Angkor, the pinnacle of Khmer civilisation, which flourished more than 1000 years ago. Auguste Rodin remarked, when he saw the dancers in Paris in 1906, that it was "impossible to see human nature brought to such perfection. There are these and the Greeks."
But 20 years ago Cambodian dance was dying. Between 1975 and 1979 the country was turned into a forced labour camp under the rule of Pol Pot, the militant communist Khmer Rouge leader. As many as 1.7m people died, and its rich and vibrant culture was all but destroyed. In order to sever Cambodians' links with their past and start at Year Zero, the Khmer Rouge did away with traditional musical instruments, abolished festivals, burnt books and records and confiscated Buddhist manuscripts. The royal ballet was dissolved, and 90% of the dancers, including Em Theay's two sisters, perished through malnutrition, overwork, harsh treatment and execution in the countryside. It was an irreparable loss, but fortunately Em Theay survived the tyranny. She spent four years working in the rice fields but never forgot the dance movements she learnt from the age of seven. Brought up in the grounds of the royal palace, where her mother was a cook, she was noticed by the queen mother and personally engaged as a dancer. Because of her strong physique she was coached to play the part of the demon king in the Ramayana, the epic of Prince Rama and his wife, Sita, and was so good that she eventually became a teacher within the palace. "Amazingly, my skills saved me from death," she said. "The Khmer Rouge village leader forced me to reveal that I was a dancer and made me perform for him. He was clearly enchanted and spared me from his elimination order." When the Khmer Rouge was overthrown in January 1979, she made her way back to Phnom Penh and joined the new department of culture, for which she works to this day. Her knowledge of the ancient Cambodian dance movements stayed in her head like the secrets of a favourite recipe, and now she is passing them on.
It is a struggle. Cambodia, recovering still from years of war, neglect and suffering despite the death of Pol Pot last year and the final collapse of the Khmer Rouge, devotes less than 0.1% of its national budget to culture. The demoralised national theatre employees - 248 artists, technicians and stagehands - are lucky if they receive $10-20 a month in salary, let alone put on shows, for they lack performance space. The foyer, a triangular one-time fish pond, black with neglect, comes alive for three hours each morning, with 20 dancers practising on a torn tarpaulin lain over pebbled slabs. For the rest of the day the theatre is deserted, save for street children using it as a playground. But help has come from outside. A French theatrical producer is in negotiations to bring a touring troupe of performers to France this year, in the hope of raising Cambodia's culture profile abroad. And there has been assistance from a Japanese foundation, which has donated $30,000 for vital notation work to rescue the 60 or so dances that would otherwise vanish into oblivion. Two foreign-notation experts are busy recording the 4000 gestures on paper and videotape from the few surviving former royal palace dancers before they become too ill to pass on their knowledge, or die. The secret of making the equisite papier-mache and lacquer masks used in performances of the Ramayana was always in the hands of a few specialist families. An Sok, who learnt to make masks in the royal palace at 11 and is now 58, is one of the handful of master mask makers left. A Unesco pledge of $5000 for 30 masks for the Ramayana will go some way to helping him survive. Each mask takes a month to complete. "The faculty has received no money for the ancient art of mask-making, and it is destined to die unless I can train some young people into the business," he said at his roof-terrace workshop near the Mekong river.
Cambodian dance is a highly stylised art. Every day there is intense and painful training to make the joints so supple that the hands can bend over backwards into an agonising position nearly on the forearm. The girls sit cross-legged in rows for these tough morning exercises, moving to the thwack of the teacher's cane on the terracota. Their movements defy the laws of natural bodily suppleness: the stretching of the legs in every direction, the coaxing of the elbow joint in the opposite direction, and kness, ankles, all the joints are trained to find positions that make them look as if they will suddenly snap off. A first-year student had the audacity to grumble to Em Theay and was swiftly reminded that she was now an instrument in the service of the Cambodian king. Every day for the next 10 years these girls will repeat the same gestures until they become second nature and are of the highest refinement. Vong Metri, 44, a strikingly handsome former graduate of the fine arts university, is concentrating on teaching a group of 12-year-olds who are learning the role of Sita, the heroine of the Ramayana. "When we were in the fields we invented a new dance," she recalled. "It was called digging the ground, chopping the firewood, harvesting the rice. It was hard - terribly, terribly hard - but somehow I survived."
If the modern revival of Cambodian dance is to succeed, it will be in no small way due to the efforts of Princess Bopha Devi, King Norodom Sihanouk's daughter. She used to be the leading dancer in the royal ballet before it was smashed by war and the Khmer Rouge. With her suppleness as a dancer, she might have stepped straight out of the legends of Angkor. She is now minister of culture, a role she takes seriously, arriving often unannounced, two pekingese dogs in tow, at Em Theay's training sessions to lend a hand teaching the girls. "Dance has been in my family for generations," she said. "My mother, my grandmother - my father even played a musical instrument to accompany the royal ballet. But then it belongs to all Khmers and, as I see it, our principal aim now is the preservation of classical dance - not only dance but all of our culture. You can say that we will have to be very brave and ingenious. We are a small country with little means at our disposal, but we'll manage somehow because we have to. It is our lifeblood we are preserving here."

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All our yesterday's

It's like opening Pandora's Box. Inside there's a forgotten store of good and bad waiting to pop out - in this case, out of a packing box in my spare room has tumbled a series of news cuttings, magazine articles and stories that I'd forgotten that I'd collected whilst living in England. The following magazine article appeared in Asiaweek, published in Hong Kong, in March 2001 and it sounds a warning about the lure of visitors to Cambodia in the wake of the movie, Tomb Raider. There are a couple of tenuous links, one is that Paramount Pictures' location chief Sam Breckman contacted me about filming in Cambodia and I put him in touch with Nick Ray, who later became the location manager for the filming at Angkor for Tomb Raider. Now we work together at Hanuman Tourism in Phnom Penh.

Lights, Camera - Tourists! by Alexandra A Seno
Cambodians hope the movie Tomb Raider will lure more visitors. They should be careful what they wish for.
This is no average movie set. The magnificent sandstone ruins of the 9th-century Angkor Wat monument loom in the background. In a rowboat, American movie star Angelina Jolie, dressed in black battle fatigues, has been paddling around the pond for hours in 35-degree heat. On shore, hundreds of Cambodian villagers are jostling for a glimpse of the Oscar-winning actress. A tall white stuntman in a black wet suit and flippers watches her every move, too - just in case she should fall in. "With water and stuff you can never be too careful," says production designer Kirk Petruccelli. It's been a thrill-packed five days. Paramount Pictures brought in minesweepers to check out the set before Jolie and the crew arrived. A few days after shooting started, an armed rebellion erupted on the streets of Phnom Penh, just an hour's flight away. Eight insurgents died after their assault on a military building. "There was a moment of concern," admits Jolie at the end of a day of filming. She says her stint in Cambodia has been a life-altering experience, though. "If anything was to happen to me here, it would be worth it."
With a little luck, the only thing that will happen is that Jolie will become an even bigger star. Paramount hopes Tomb Raider, which is based on the exploits of curvaceous videogame star Lara Croft, will be this summer's biggest blockbuster. Cambodian officials are praying for a hit, too. They want the movie to help put their country, one of Asia's poorest, on the international tourism map. Since the Khmer Rouge surrendered in 1998, and the ruins of Angkor became safe from rebel attacks, the country has again become more attractive to tourists - but until now, they have been mostly limited to intrepid backpackers and super-luxury travelers. The country, whose economy was ravaged by the Khmer Rouge's brutal regime, followed by decades of civil wars and bad government, desperately needs more tourism dollars. "Tourism is going to go crazy," says Nick Ray, author of the Lonely Planet Cambodia guide, who was hired by Paramount as a location manager. "People who see the film are going to look at Cambodia and know it's a real place and will want to come here. They'll say: 'If Hollywood can go, then I can go.'"

Sounds like a typical Hollywood happy ending, right? Think again. Though tourism will give a vital boost to Cambodia's comatose economy, hordes of visitors could destroy Cambodia's ancient treasures. Conservationists already worry that tourists clambering over the ruins threaten to damage sites already in need of major restoration work. Over the centuries, the temples and other buildings around Angkor literally had disappeared into the tropical jungle, until they were rediscovered by French explorer Henri Mouhot in 1860. In recent years, the United Nations named the temples World Heritage sites, and millions in foreign aid has flowed in for restoration work. But with little central government control and rampant corruption, looting and destruction have continued as traders cart Khmer busts and other relics off to the antique markets of Bangkok, Hong Kong, and New York. Meanwhile, tourists are allowed to freely wander the sites - with no controls over what they take or what they do. "Any number of tourists will cause some damage," says Anita Sach, author of the European Bradt travel guide to Cambodia. "Currently visitors are privileged to have such freedom to wander but with that there is the risk of long-term damage." Tomb Raider is just the beginning. Cambodia is going to the movies big-time. Much as Tibet became part of the pop culture conversation via movies in the 1990s, the drama of Cambodia's history, the breath-taking nature of its aesthetics and the frisson of danger has somehow launched the dusty town of Siem Reap, near where Angkor is located, into trendy status in Hollywood. Cambodia is this year's Tibet - the flavor-of-the-month among movies seeking an exotic Asian setting . No fewer than four high-profile productions will include scenes among the ruins of the palaces and temples of what was once Southeast Asia's great empire.

Some outsiders think Hollywood isn't exactly what the sacred temple of Angkor Wat needs. The temples are the stunning legacy of a kingdom that ruled Southeast Asia between the 9th and 12th centuries; in many ways, they represent the soul of the Cambodian nation. "We hope Tomb Raider will encourage more visitors to come to our kingdom," says Sambo Chey, Cambodia's undersecretary of state for tourism. But as Cambodia struggles to emerge from its war-torn history, will Lara Croft send the right message to the world? The deputy director for culture at UNESCO, the Paris-based United Nations organization, wrote a letter last November to Cambodian monuments officials urging them not to give Paramount permission to make the film in Cambodia. "I would like to call your attention to the violent nature of the adventures of Lara Croft," wrote UNESCO's Mounir Bouchenaki. "The association of [Angkor's] image with a film about tomb raiders isn't appropriate." More importantly, he said, the filming could "cause irreparable damage to the monuments." Paramount is aware of such concerns. "[Lara] is not a looter," says Jolie. "And she'd probably shoot you for saying so." When the Cambodian preservation authorities negotiated with Paramount for the rights to film at Angkor, they expressed concern that a film about raiding tombs would portray the wrong image for their country - particularly given continuing concerns about rampant looting of Khmer antiquities from the temples. Paramount eventually persuaded them that the film's plot isn't about looting of the sites. The preservation officials did insist, however, on excising a celebration scene with fireworks, which they thought sounded too much like bombs. Given the fact that Khmer Rouge rebels hid in the temple during the 1970s, and that bullet-holes are visible in the stone walls, bomb-like fireworks seemed tasteless. Paramount dropped it from the script. Nonetheless, the film is a rough and tumble, shoot-'em-up story. On Jolie's first filming day, Croft dropped by parachute onto Phnom Bakheng, the hilltop 10th-century Hindu temple. "I looked around at this great view and it was, like, I had arrived," says Jolie. Over the next few days, she did car stunts in a Land Rover in front of the sacred Bayon temple, perched at the edge of a cliff ["the Cambodians thought I was insane," she says], and received a blessing from Buddhist monks. Jolie says she was "amazed" by the experiences. But the film isn't exactly spiritual. In the movie, Croft, the fictitious British aristocrat who turns thrill-seeker after surviving a Himalayan plane crash, is in hot pursuit of a mysterious "Magic Triangle."

So far, about 1,000 tourists a day flock to Angkor Wat, clamoring to capture the monument as the sun rises behind it. If more tourists are going to start swarming in, Cambodia has a lot of work to do. The hotel and services industries are tiny and underdeveloped. In Siem Reap, which is the country's most important tourism destination, of 32 hotels, only two are five-star. "To tell you the truth, we are not well prepared," says Ang Choulien, director of culture and monuments for the government preservation effort in Angkor and the key negotiator with Paramount. "Very quickly the number of tourists has increased. We are rather overwhelmed by the multiple tasks." Last year, 470,000 foreign visitors arrived in Cambodia, up 30% from 1999. Prime Minister Hun Sen has vowed that the million-tourist mark should be reached by 2003. To achieve this goal, the number of hotel rooms will have to go up from 7,000 two years ago to 17,500 by 2005. Tourism receipts already account for about a 30% share of the national budget. In 1999, the most recent available year for which the figure is available, Cambodia earned $200 million from the entire tourism sector, a record amount. The government is forecasting that the industry will post a 25% annual increase for the next decade - the global average is under 4%. Such dizzying growth only highlights the problems that the country faces in achieving visitor-nirvana. So far, Cambodia has had no real tourism plan to speak of. The Asian Development Bank has just allotted $136 million for tourism-related programs, including building roads and training tourism officials on forming master plans for hotel and service industry development. But the authorities' prime focus is still simply boosting the numbers of arrivals. "They need to learn how to channel interest in Angkor Wat so they can manage how to do minimal damage to the monuments and forests," says Barend Frielink, the Cambodia officer at the Manila headquarters of the Asian Development Bank. In December, noting the 8 million visitors that were welcomed by Thailand, the location for over a dozen films last year, Cambodia announced a "two countries, one film locale" promotional campaign with its neighbor to jointly attract more movie projects.

Be careful what you campaign for. The Paramount Pictures operation by itself strained the country's primitive infrastructure. In early November, 27 heavy trucks, trailers and container vehicles roared onto Vithei Charles de Gaulle, one of Siem Reap's main streets. Rains had washed out many of the roads between Thailand and the Cambodian town, so an advance crew had to repair roads and build bridges before the caravan could set out. "At one moment, I thought we weren't going to have anything," says production manager Chris Kenny. "But everything got here at the last moment and we made a movie." To guarantee electrical supply, Paramount brought in generators. It also shipped in a mobile kitchen truck to feed the 150 crewmembers - and cater to Jolie's idiosyncratic diet, including health bars, tuna, and sardines. Understandably, the people of Siem Reap were a little overwhelmed by the filmmakers' demands. Around the set, many of the conservation department's guards, peasants from surrounding villages, had never used walkie-talkies before. On the first day, batteries ran out, and coordination broke down. Angry tourists complained that guides hadn't told them that sections of the monuments would be blocked off. At the Sofitel Royal Angkor hotel, where Tomb Raider occupied 70 rooms - half the total - staff members happily volunteered information about how much the company was paying for the rooms ($1,900 for Jolie's suite) and who was staying where. Says Weng Leong Aow, Singaporean general manger of the Angkor Hotel: "People here have a natural charm and grace but do not understand what quality of service truly means." Given the country's tragic, recent past, the young Cambodians working in the hotels and travel agencies could hardly be expected to know what "service" means. But villagers have had no trouble figuring out how to make a buck from tourists. Swarms of souvenir and snack vendors assault foreigners outside the monuments. "One dollar, one dollar," they shout, as they tug on tourists' bags, pants, or whatever they can grab. The numbers of hawkers no doubt will increase. And some Cambodians, like Princess Rattana-Devi Norodom also worry that the sacred meaning of Angkor will be lost in the quest for dollars. One problem: local children have been dropping out of school to sell trinkets. Says the granddaughter of King Norodom Sihanouk, the ceremonial head of the country: "The little children selling Cokes at the temple are cute, but I am not so sure that they are growing up to respect a sacred place. Finding the balance is something Cambodia will be struggling with in the years to come."

Tourists arguably will bring in money to help guard against looters and to finance preservation. "The interest ensures that there is investment, so that the temples don't disappear into the jungle again," says guidebook author Sach. According to Cambodian press reports, Paramount paid the preservation authorities $10,000 a day to film at Angkor. "They got screwed," says one foreign businessman. But in a country with an average urban income of $300 a year, even that amount of money can go a long way - if it's used properly. The conservation process so far has been an opaque one, raising concerns that inexperienced operators are in charge of taking in the money. APSARA, the official preservation department, lost its right to collect fees for tickets into Angkor in 1999 when Sokimex, a privately owned petroleum company that allegedly has ties to high-level officials, was suddenly given the license. Tourists pay Sokimex $20 a day to visit the temples. It pays from 50% to 70% of its proceeds to APSARA, depending on how many visit.
The Siem Reap natives, meanwhile, loved the production. Postcard hawker Prak Mon, 25, was determined to be part of the film. A Titanic fan, Prak had heard there would be parts for monks - so he set out to become one. A week before shooting began, he joined a Buddhist monastery on the Angkor Wat grounds. He put up with the awkwardness of his newly shaved head and nights of going to bed hungry observing the temple's evening fast. Then his skin began to itch - he caught ringworm from the communal blankets. Prak stayed long enough to get on the set for a day. "Somehow, I enjoyed it," he says. For his troubles, he earned $20. "I would not be here if I truly thought they hated us being here. We have plans to give back quite a lot [to the local community]," says Jolie while waiting to do a scene with monks in the main Angkor Wat building. Known for her tattoos (in addition to one on her arm that says "Billy Bob," her husband's name, she just announced that she has a new one on her pubic bone) and naughty image, Jolie "isn't a sanitized version of Lara," says Simon West, the director of the movie. "She doesn't do it for the children's eye hospital. She does it because she wants to have fun." West hopes she will become a heroine for a new, pop culture-crazed generation. The Cambodians, meanwhile, have a different sort of poster girl in mind. Says preservation official Ang, a James Bond fan: "I hope people will talk about Angkor because of Tomb Raider." For the Cambodians, the film is not just about the money - it's also about the country's quest for peace and respect in the world. "I am very happy that this big movie has come to Cambodia," says Leung Choun, 65, the abbot of the monastery next to Angkor Wat. "This is a sign that a prediction in Buddhist scripture is being fulfilled. It promises peace in our country and that Angkor Wat will become great again." His dreams of religious revival may come true. But if Lara Croft conquers the box office, the abbot will have to brace himself for a new kind of pilgrim: the international tourist.

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Land of charm and cruelty

Another article amongst the file of papers I found in one of my unopened packing boxes in my spare room contained a story I wrote for my company's in-house staff magazine called Over The Threshold in their Spring 1995 edition. I was working for the Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society at the time and I had just made my first-ever visit to Cambodia the previous November. Here's the article, for posterity sake and before I lose it.
Cambodia - a land of charm and cruelty : by Andy Brouwer (Deeds)
The name of Cambodia is synonymous with the cries of the tortured and starving, and more recently the murder of western tourists by the genocidal Khmer Rouge, responsible for the deaths of over one million of their fellow countrymen in the late 1970s. That country was, however, my choice of destination for a week's break from the rigours of C&G life at Chief Office in late October [1994].
Cambodia, racked by civil war for the last 25 years, is one of the world's poorest countries with a population of nine million, the majority of whom live in abject poverty by western standards. Conversely, it is also a beautiful country with a fascinating culture and people, and a history brought vivdly to life by one of the world's greatest architectural achievements - the temple ruins of Angkor.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of my trip was the three days I spent exploring the dramatic ruined cities of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Flying in from Phnom Penh, the capital, to the northern provincial centre of Siem Reap, I was unprepared for the awesome array of massive stone temples, wide majestic causeways, imposing towers and gates and beautifully intricate stone carvings which I encountered.
The monuments were originally constructed by a dozen Khmer god-kings between the 9th and 13th centuries, but had lain hidden by dense jungle for nearly 500 years until their rediscovery by the French in the latter part of the last century. Along with my guide, Soy Bun, and driver, Somath, I wandered leisurely for hours among the near deserted ruins before completing a whistle-stop tour of the lesser visited outer-lying temples.
For sheer size, the vast spectacle of Angkor Wat, the largest religious edifice in the world, is simply stunning. Its central tower, surrounded by four smaller towers, a myriad of galleries and covered passageways and an 800-metre-long series of richly carved bas-reliefs will linger long in the memory, particularly a dawn visit to watch the sun rise, bathing the temple complex in swathes of red and organge light. Perhaps more startling than Angkor Wat, although smaller and less restored, is the Bayon, at the centre of Angkor Thom. Its most intriguing feature - although its bas-reliefs are extraordinarily detailed - are the giant faces of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, with its enigmatic half-smile peering down from all four sides of the 54 towers.
Among the other temples to make a lasting impression were the well-preserved Preah Khan - a labyrinth of fascinating pavilions, halls and galleries - and the temple of Ta Prohm. The latter has been left much as it was when it was rediscovered - a mass of silk-cotton and fig trees, tangled roots and vines, and fallen masonry framing an eerie and haunting scene.
Phnom Penh on the other hand was an altogether different proposition. It is a city in transformation. The once elegant French-colonial capital became a ghost town when the Khmer Rouge forcibly emptied it of all its inhabitants in 1975. Today, many parts of Phnom Penh are undergoing frenzied reconstruction, although life remains unchanged in the city's back alleys, where the majority of the one million populace live in hovels without any basic amenities.
Negotiating the traffic - a multitude of mopeds, cyclos and bicycles jockeying with private cars and trucks - was a nerve-racking experience. The loss of my suitcase at the ramshackle airport for three days was a nightmare. But nothing could prepare me for my sobering visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which houses graphic reminders of the cruelty inflicted by the Pol Pot-inspired Khmer Rouge regime. Ten kilometres outside the city are the 'killing fields' of Choeung Ek, where at least 17,000 people were taken from Tuol Sleng, brutally murdered and buried in mass graves. A memorial glass tower at the site is filled with the cracked skulls of some 8,000 of those victims, and is definitely not for the squeamish.
I left Cambodia with many lasting memories, enriched by my experiences and eager to return to this fascinating country in the not too distant future.

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Andy shuns sun

In my spare bedroom I still have boxes full of crap from when I moved myself, lock, stock and barrel over to Cambodia a couple of years ago. I was searching for some videos that I need to convert to dvd format when I found a file of papers that included the following press cutting. As you can see the local daily newspaper was a bit starved for news stories and when they heard someone in their area had been to Cambodia, they thought it would make a news feature. The Cheltenham-based Gloucestershire Echo did a similar feature upon my return from my first trip in 1994. Going abroad was a big news story back then in Gloucestershire!

Andy shuns sun for Cambodia - by David Wilkes, The Gloucester Citizen, July 1997
Spain's a pain for adventurer

Holdays in Cambodia are Andy Brouwer's idea of heaven. But his wife Sue is not so keen on visiting the bandit-ridden country, which has been described as a danger zone by some travel experts. She prefers sunning herself in peaceful Mediterranean resorts to touring Cambodia, the scene of evil dictator Pol Pot's killing fields. But Andy can't get enough of the place and is currently planning his fourth trip there since 1994. His fascination with the country means the Quedgeley couple have not been on an overseas holiday together since their honeymoon a year ago. Andy (37) said: "Ordinary holidays are alright if you like sitting about in the sun, but I like to do something different. My wife's a bit sick of me going to Cambodia, and doesn't come with me. She prefers to go to places like Tenerife. At least it means we don't argue when we're abroad!"
Andy, an assistant manager in the mortgage department of the Cheltenham and Gloucester, has been interested in Cambodia since the late 1970s, when the genocide committed there first came to light. "I didn't go there until 1994 because it wouldn't have been safe. The first time I was there, my wife saw a tv announcement saying they didn't recommend foreigners come to the country as three had just been kidnapped," he said. "But it didn't put me off and I've been back twice since and I am planning to go back again next March. I know there are dangerous parts so I don't venture too far off the beaten track. It's an unusual country with some fantastic ancient monuments, and despite the troubles, the people are very welcoming." Sue said: " You could say he is obsessed with Cambodia. It looks very nice in his photos, but I'm afraid our tastes in holidays do differ, and the children are too young to take there art the moment. But one day I will probably go there."
Andy has been glued to American cable television recently watching the first footage of Pol Pot to emerge for years. The dictator was jailed for life by his old Khmer Rouge comrades earlier this week. Andy is also keen on setting up an informal discussion group of people interested in Cambodia. Contact him direct on 01452 721833.

Postscript: As it turned out my obsession grew and grew. My wife never made it over to Cambodia afterall, preferring resorts closer to home and in the Med. It was an obsession that we never shared and two years ago it took over completely when I left England to begin a new life here in Cambodia. I had made thirteen trips by the time I was ready to come and live here for keeps.


Not Gone

Eric de Vries and yours truly in front of his Java exhibit, Not Gone
Last night's photo exhibition at Java Cafe was to highlight the work of the stable of professionals working under the Asia Motion banner, though of course they all work individually as well. The exhibits included images from Stéphane Janin, the former owner of the Popil Galery in the city who is now living and working in the States, and others like Nicolas Axelrod and Peter Harris. And of course my pal Eric de Vries. In fact I see more of Eric now than I ever saw of him when he was living in Phnom Penh - he seems to find an excuse to return to the city nearly every week! And I'm still hoping to be able to get up to Siem Reap before his Hello Darling exhibition finishes towards the end of this month. He tells me he's been thrilled with the feedback from visitors to his 4FACES bar and gallery in Siem Reap after the exhibition opened last week. For the Java show, he chose a selection of pictures under the title Not Gone from the War and Landmine Museums in Siem Reap - demonstrating that whilst the war has ended, its aftermath has not - and part of the proceeds from sales will go to the War Museum. Eric is working on two long term projects called Still Life in Khmer Style, that covers landscapes, temple scenes and buddha statues, and Hello Darling, which is about girlybars around town. Since he settled down in Cambodia over a year ago, he's also produced several series, most of them in black and white: Breaking The Clouds (over Ayuthaya), Lotus of Puok, Going Down Slow (by Train) and a series about the Khmer Islam, Monuments of Joy and Some Praying Time. Link: ericdevries.
A visitor to Java inspects Eric's work up close

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At the very top

David Chandler and the author finally meet after 13 years of correspondence
Some days everything seems to go awry from the moment you open your eyes and then hey presto it all falls back into place with a whammy by the end of the day. Friday was one such day. The electricity and the back-up generator were off more than they were on at the office, making most of the working day pretty redundant. Eric de Vries had called to meet him at the Asia Motion photo exhibition taking place at Java Arts Cafe, as he was one of the exhibitors, and that's when things took a turn for the better. It was a veritable who's who of Phnom Penh but there were two people present who are at the very pinnacle of their respective professions. The foremost historian on Cambodian history, none other than David P Chandler, was in the house. As was the most talked about contemporary dancer that Cambodia has ever offered up, the adorable Belle, or Chumvan Sodhachivy as she's known to her mum, who accompanied her. First I must mention Dr Chandler. I have a book that he sent me in September 1996 - the Land & People of Cambodia - in response to a letter I sent him. We sporadically kept in contact via letter and email since that time, thirteen years ago, but tonight was the first occasion that we've actually met face to face. It was an honour, and he's as nice a guy as people have told me. Alongwith John Weeks, we went for a fine Italian meal at Luna d'autunno and it was just great fun and a real pleasure. I'm quite gobsmacked that I've finally met one of my personal 'heroes' and he lived up to expectations - often in the past that hasn't been the case. If you don't know who David P Chandler is, in connection with Cambodia, then shame on you. Look him up or view the comments section of this post to find out more.
Belle, Cambodia's No 1 dancer, with yours truly at the Java Cafe exhibition
The other star name at the photo exhibition was Cambodia's number one homegrown contemporary dancer, Belle, who was there with her mother, Nou Sondab, herself a star of stage and screen during the 1960s and 1970s. Belle has just completed her six month residency with the French Cultural Center and is now off to Taiwan to gain more experience, before a brief return and then a two month immersion into contemporary dance choreography in France and Belgium. She literally never stops to take a breath. To appreciate how good she is, you must see her perform. She has the classical background training of the top traditional dancers in Cambodia but she combines her exceptional talent with a fluidity of movement, interpretation and freedom that has not been seen in her country before. She is simply Cambodia's brightest hope in dance. And not only is she a beautiful young woman but also down to earth, her feet are firmly grounded and she knows what she wants to achieve, notwithstanding the recent furore about her performances and the celebrity status she has quickly acquired. David Chandler and Belle, both at the very top of their respective fields.
Belle and her mother Nou Sondab grace the Java Cafe exhibition

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Blogging on the blink

Leaving no-one in any doubt about the ownership of Preah Vihear
I'm getting increasingly frustrated with Blogger. At the moment I can only add a blog post to my own blog if I sign in as a guest blogger - how crazy is that. So here I am, guest blogging on my own blog. And even then it took about fifteen ninutes to get into the posting template. So we may find that my posting rate goes awry until I can get my access fixed.
In the meantime, the Khmer Rouge Tribunal continues to role on and this week has been perhaps the most interesting so far because of the witness roll-call. It's been survivor week to put it bluntly, with Vann Nath, Chum Mey and Bou Meng appearing on the first three days - all of whom survived their time in Tuol Sleng whilst adults by virtue of their individual skills as painters or mechanics. On Thursday it was the turn of Norng Chan Phal, who was just eight years old when S-21 was discovered by the arriving Vietnamese. He gave evidence about his final days and the disappearance of his mother which Duch dismissed as he declared all children at S-21 were killed. Newly-acquired film footage taken by the Vietnamese, which was handed over to DC-Cam in recent months, and which included Norng Chan Phal and his younger brother, was rejected by the judges as inadmissable at this time. Next week, another five survivors of Tuol Sleng are expected to give evidence in the trial of the former chief of S-21, though their names are not released beforehand for personal safety reasons. Amongst them are likely to be former prison guards at the torture center, such as Him Houy. Elsewhere there's been lots more sabre-rattling over Preah Vihear as we approach the 1-year anniversary of the award of the World Heritage status to the temple. A big celebration is planned for the Olympic Stadium on 7 July and will no doubt rub the Thais up the wrong way again. And if Cambodian demands for the removal of the Thai soldiers stationed at the pagoda on the summit aren't met, expect more fireworks. This is not a situation that is going to go away anytime soon. Both sides are well dug-in for the duration and without outside arbitration, I don't see any end in sight of the stalemate.
The 131 kilometre road that joins Siem Reap to Anlong Veng will be officially opened tomorrow by PM Hun Sen. National Road 67 is its name and with the continuation road from Anlong Veng to Preah Vihear also taking shape as I type, soon the journey to Preah Vihear will be almost a breeze of about 4 hours maximum. Interesting to hear that in the first six months of this year, the total number of tourists visiting Preah Vihear was just over 34,000. Of those, foreign tourist numbers were down 83% on last year, to 5,050 - which is a lot more than I thought it would be. When I was there a couple of months ago, my brother and I were definitely the only foreigners there on that day. Mind you it was the day when 100 heavily-armed Thai soldiers tried to cross the border, so only an idiot would've been at the temple on that day [wink].

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I don't get it

Pol Pot Needs You byChhan Nawath

Art is down to personal taste and much of the so-called modern or contemporary art leaves me cold and uninspired. Though I fully accept that what I find meaningless, will set the pulse racing for others. That's what art is all about I suppose, it raises questions, sometimes without answers, it frustrates, it arouses passion, it goads us into decisions about what we like and don't like. So tonight's Global Hybrid opening exhibition at Meta House did just that. It frustrated me, it goaded me and in the main, it failed to inspire me. But I could hear from others that they found it riveting. Each to their own. The three pieces of art that I did like will be pictured here when I can get my blog working properly again. The prices ranged from $350 up to $1,000 amongst the 15+ artists on show, a mix of Khmer and USA-based artists who all presented their view of collaboration across a borderless community. An interesting concept but one which I didn't really feel the artists had made me sit and take notice of their work. The exhibition lasts until 2 August. Don't take my word for it, get along and form your own opinion. Another photographic exhibition is taking place Friday night at Java Cafe with the Asia Motion Agency exhibiting 'Change - the boat goes, the pontoon stays'. Included amongst the exhibitors is my pal Eric de Vries, who'll be back in town for a night or two.

Saving Khmer wildlife by US-based artist Tom Tor The two sides of female artist Ouer Sokuntevy

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Cambodia Angkor Airline

The new national carrier, Cambodia Angkor Airline will begin its life in the air on 27 July with an inaugural flight from Sihanoukville's newly refurbished airport to Siem Reap. In a joint venture with Vietnam Airlines, CAA will kick off with just two ATR-72 aircraft and look to add more as destinations and business increases. Is anyone opening a book on how long the airline will last and whether it will go the way of others like Royal Phnom Penh Airways, Kampuchea Airlines, Angkor Airways, Royal Air Cambodge, PMT and Siem Reap Airways? Time will tell.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wrapping up part 1

Phnom Penh Crown's wonderkid, Keo Sokngorn, scored one of their goals in a 4-1 success
Work dictated that I couldn't make the final two Cambodian Premier League matches of the first half of the season this afternoon at Olympic Stadium, so I got my PPP pal Dene to relay the details to me. After today's games the clubs take a brief break before resuming with part two of the CPL season, which will culminate in a Top 4 play-off to decide the champions - a crap system if you ask me but that's their decision. Already promoted from the A1 division below, are Prek Pra Keila and Svay Rieng. This afternoon, Phnom Penh Crown cemented second place and are just three points off leaders Preah Khan Reach going into the mid-season break. Their 4-1 win over Post Tel was to be expected and their goals came from Chhim Ratanak, Akeeb Ayoyinka, Hong Rathana and Keo Sokngorn, before Saing Neth netted a late consolation. Khemara Keila comfortably beat Build Bright 3-1 in the second match, despite BBU taking the lead through Prum Puth Sethy. That man Kouch Sokumpheak was on target again, his 9th league goal of the campaign, as was Samuth Dalin and Olatunde.
After work I went to watch Rithy Panh's The People of Angkor at Reyum with about fifty teenage Khmer schoolkids who have a completely different way of watching a film than I do. They talk non-stop, laugh loudly, phone their friends and generally mess about whilst I was trying to watch a film I've been waiting to see for a few years. Remind me never to go and watch a Khmer movie at Lux. As for the parts of the film I managed to see and hear, the 'real' lives of the inhabitants of Angkor appeared completely scripted in my view and that took some of the shine off it. There was a lot of humour, which pleased the schoolkids, and it was good to see another appearance from the sweeper of Ta Prohm, Choun Nhiem, who passed away earlier this year. I'm pleased I've seen it but it's not one of Panh's best films by a long chalk.

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A view from my taste buds

I've just read that eating a curry once or twice a week can stave off Alzheimer's disease, which is good news for the owners of my favourite Indian & Nepalese curry-house, Mount Everest on Sihanouk Boulevard. I already go there twice a week, either for a sit-in or takeaway, so I must be well on course for avoiding Alzheimer's (memory loss, mood swings, confusion, stress). The gen is that curcumin, an ingredient in turmeric, which is used widely in Indian cuisine, is believed to prevent changes in the brain by blocking the spread of amyloid plaques - toxic protein deposits thought to play a key role in Alzheimer's. I nearly forgot to post this important information and got irritable and confused before I finally remembered it again, so maybe my curry intake needs to be increased! Just for the uninitiated, Mount Everest provide good quality and inexpensive meals, and I would recommend them to all.

Whilst scanning the newswires this morning, I see the Lloyds Banking Group in the UK is slashing more jobs, which will take them up to 7,000 job cuts since they acquired HBOS (Halifax and Bank of Scotland) and were bailed out by the British government in January. Before coming to live in Cambodia, I worked for LloydsTSB after they took over my long-time employer Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society. To say things were never the same again after the merger, is an understatement. Working for Lloyds was a nightmare and to be frank, they treated me with utter contempt after 31 years as an employee of C&G and then Lloyds. At the beginning of June, Lloyds announced they will close all 164 C&G branch offices in the UK by November, axing 1,600 jobs as a result. Lloyds, who control 30% of the mortgage market, acquired C&G as their flagship mortgage name in 1995. 19 years before that, in 1976, I joined C&G as a post-room assistant (see my photo from that era) and working at C&G, as we made a name for ourselves locally and then nationally, was rewarding and fun. Merging with Lloyds changed all that. And it continues today for the C&G staff that are left, including my step-daughter. I'm glad I got out when I did but the attitude of Lloyds then and now, continues to leave a very bitter taste in my mouth.

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Looking ahead

Cambodia's national coach Scott O'Donell, looking ahead to the SEA Games in December

Shaping the future of Cambodian football - by Andy Brouwer, Phnom Penh Post

Former national players Van Piseth and Bouy Dary have joined the national team coach O'Donell to develop Cambodian talent

Recently appointed Cambodian national football coach Scott O'Donell has selected the men he wants to help him shape the future of Cambodia’s national team. Van Piseth and Bouy Dary are no strangers to the international set-up, as both worked with O’Donell in 2007, the last year of his previous stint in charge of the national team. All three have been running their experienced collective eyes over the ten teams in the Cambodian Premier League (CPL) for the first half of the current campaign in order to identify the cream of the country’s young talent.

O’Donell is very happy with his choices. “Both Piseth and Dary were with me before," he said. "I trust and respect them. Both were national team players and have a good knowledge of the game, and we already have a mutual understanding of what we want to achieve. ” Van Piseth, 47, was a national player for Cambodia for three years during the mid-1980s, playing most of his football for the Army team before beginning his coaching career at Khemara. He is due to take his AFC C-Licence coaching certificate next month. Bouy Dary, 23, was assistant to the last national coach, Prak Sovannara, and is one of the younger generation of coaches in Cambodia, currently plying his trade with Phnom Penh Crown. He played under O’Donell in the SEA Games in 2005 whilst with the Royal Navy team, and already has his C-Licence. A third appointment is Prak Sovanny as the goalkeeping coach, a role he had under the previous national set-up.

“The next stage is to get a squad together, with the SEA Games in Laos in December as the next major challenge,” stated O’Donell. “I want to put on a series of trials for around 40 players in the last three weeks of July at the Olympic Stadium, with a view to whittling that down to a squad of 25. Then I’d like to get the squad with me a couple of times a week during August and September, which is why I met with the CPL coaches a couple of weeks ago, as I need their cooperation. I’d be concentrating on their technical and tactical awareness rather than their stamina until the end of the current season.” The 42-year-old Australian is also looking to cement his squad’s preparation for the Under-23 SEA tournament with a couple of friendly international matches and two training camps away in Korea and Vietnam.

Last week, O’Donell, the former AFC Director of Coach Education, went back to Kuala Lumpur to help conduct a joint AFC and FIFA course aimed at developing quality regional coach instructors throughout Asia. Also attending the course was Prak Sovannara, who is now employed as technical coach to XPL leaders Preah Khan Reach. Prak Sovannara will head a two-week AFC C-Licence course in Cambodia, starting July 7, for thirty prospective home-grown coaches. Meanwhile, Scott O’Donell has just flown to the Cayman Islands for a six-day FIFA coaching course he will instruct, a booking that was arranged before he took on his new role as the Cambodian coach.

Assistant coach Van Piseth is no stranger to the national set-up
Maintaining continuity, Bouy Dary was assistant coach in the last national set-up

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Shaping the future

My article in today's Phnom Penh Post on the new faces in the national football team's coaching staff
Note: The article is online at the Phnom Penh Post here.

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