Monday, August 31, 2009

Press talk

These are my match reports in today's Phnom Penh Post from the weekend's Cambodian Premier League games. They are online here.

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Accident waiting to happen

Tiny shinpads on a CPL player at yesterday's game - an accident waiting to happen
An accident waiting to happen in my opinion. Shinpads as worn by footballers through the ages are meant to protect the shins on the front of each leg from injury. The tibia bone is the one most likely to suffer as it lies directly under the skin without the cushioning given to other bones by muscle tissue. A kick on the shin is not only extremely painful but fractures are common if the area is not protected by a shinpad. Hence my concern is that in today's football, shinpads are becoming far too small and lightweight to offer the protection that is, in my opinion, necessary. Though I didn't play with rolled up newspapers in my socks as the older generation will have you believe, I always wore shinpads that protected my shins but also provided ankle protection too. It seems to me - and the picture above clearly demonstrates this - that the size of shinpads are going in the wrong direction and ankle protection is also in danger of being dispensed with. On one rare occasion when I forgot to wear my ankle padding during my playing days back in England, I suffered a chipped bone in my talus (anklebone) as well as a small fracture of the fibula (the outerslender calf bone) - so I know how painful it can be. My message to all footballers is to wear shinpads and ankle supports that will protect your legs from injury - cuz without your legs in good condition, you will find yourselves on the sidelines.
On a similar note, I am getting increasingly annoyed by the amount of play-acting by players when they are tackled during the CPL games I watch every week. It seems all teams are guilty of it and ear-piercing screams when a player is tackled, rolling around on the floor as if clipped by a sniper in the grandstand and then jumping up and running around as bright as a button as soon as the stretcher-bearers deposit them on the sidelines, makes my blood boil. Also its embarrassing that so-called professional players are trying to get fellow players in trouble with the referee by exaggerating every tackle. The referee's job is tough enough without players seeking Equity cards through their acting antics on the field. I would like to see the Cambodian football federation take a lead in this and issue directives to all clubs to cut it out, and if it continues, then for referees to have sweeping powers to punish the offenders. It's a trait in the game here in Cambodia that we need to get rid of, and quickly.
Shot by a sniper in the grandstand or play-acting - you decide! Photo: Nick Sells

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Penultimate madness

Ministry of National Defense eased to a 2-nil win over Kirivong
Despite having a lie-in on Sunday morning, I conked out in front of the tv on Sunday evening and have just woken up (1am on Monday morning). That's my excuse for the lateness of the football reports from Sunday afternoon's games at Olympic Stadium. The Cambodian Premier League is in its penultimate week of league competition before the play-offs decide the final league rankings - as a traditionalist its not a system I like at all but its designed to create more excitement at the end of a long, hard slog. For me, it's the slog that's important, coming out on top after playing your rivals twice and earning the right to call yourself champions - not the winners of a 4-team tournament. This is my 2nd gripe about the same topic in two days, I must be getting old and forgetful. Back to the action. The Defense Ministry (MND) rattled two goals past Kirivong without reply, Phuong Soksana and Nov Soseila netting for the army boys. In the diminuative Soseila, they have a young man willing to take on any defence and also get stuck in. I know Scott O'Donell, the national coach, likes his attitude, so expect him to feature for Cambodia in the future. MND's best striker Khim Borey is still out of action, as he has been for most of the season, but he's had an operation on his foot injury and could be starting light training again soon - great news for Cambodia and their SEA Games prospects for December. In the second game, Spark failed to ignite (sorry, but I couldn't resist it) and Post Tel grabbed only their 3rd win of the campaign, 1-nil. Durosinmi Gafar got the decider on 16 minutes. Their veteran defender Kun Kuon kept a tight shackle all afternoon on the CPL's most lethal marksman Prince Justine. The most noise in the stadium came from the drums and whistles that accompanied the Bokator championships being held under the main stand. There's both hand to hand combat as well as stick proficiency involved as far as I could make out but it wasn't immediately obvious as I only grabbed five minutes of viewing at the half-time interval.
Defense Ministry's opening scorer Phuong Soksana
Already relegated, Post Tel beat Spark 1-nil
Bokator seen from a birds' perspective - this is the group stick proficiency final


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Wall-to-wall football

At least referee Tuy Vichheka got the toss-up right, as for the rest of his performance - "no comment"
Last night was wall-to-wall live Barclays Premier League action on the tv, so no time to post the Cambodian Premier League results from yesterday afternoon. As it turned out, it was pretty tame stuff with the CPL Super 4 places already booked and the league action petering out as the regular season comes to a spluttering end. That's exactly why I don't like this Super 4 play-off, scheduled for 12 and 26 September. The CPL championship should be decided over the course of the league competition, not some knock-out mini-tournament but it isn't in my power to do anything about it, so I'll stop whining. As for yesterday, Khemara, who had 12 fit players and were without their injured talisman Kouch Sokumpheak, surprised me by beating Naga 2-0 with some degree of comfort. Joel Omoraka and Oladiji Olatunde netted for Khemara but it was referee Tuy Vichheka who got up my nose. 6 bookings and 2 red cards from a game that could hardly be called fiery, tepid even. He was trying too hard to impose himself and whilst Joel Omoraka's red was for an off the ball incident, Friday Nwakuna's dismissal was quite simply a joke, and the referee's way of evening up the numbers. I wasn't impressed. Khemara leapfrogged Naga into 3rd spot. In the follow-on game, 2nd-placed Preah Khan swatted aside BBU 3-1 and with some ease, fielding an all-Khmer starting line-up. Teenage winger Prak Mony Udom was the pick for PKR and though he didn't score, he did liven the game up considerably. Without his presence, I might've fallen asleep [which isn't unknown]. Sam El Nasa (pen), Tum Saray and Kao Kiry for PKR and BBU's Augustine Ogbni found the net. 2nd whine of the day - if the referee's are going to grab the spotlight at these matches [what happened to the man in black who we never ever noticed], then why don't they crack down on the epidemic of play-acting and screaming when tackled that I have to witness every week. That's one area where yellows and reds would be very welcome from my perspective, and the best way to drum it home to every team that football is a man's game, and not for sissies [he says in his best macho deep voice].
The Khemara line-up that defeated Naga Corp 2-0 and have never lost against them
Hero and villain, Khemara's Joel Omoraka scored the opener and was then sent off before half-time
The all-Khmer starting line-up for 2nd placed Preah Khan Reach, 3-1 winners against BBU
Whilst the football was taking place outside, inside the annual Bokator championships were underway


Saturday, August 29, 2009

More from Chhlong

A fine example of the fading but sturdy buildings to be found on colonial street in Chhlong
You can still see some attractive floral decoration on this colonial-style home
Blogger is playing up today so loading my images is taking forever. This is a follow-on post from the Sleepy Chhlong post below and contains more images from this town hugging the banks of the Mekong River.
A well kept traditional wooden Khmer home on stilts on colonial street
A family of wood-carvers hard at work on colonial street
The town's post office occupies this run-down building in Chhlong

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Sleepy Chhlong

The laid-back, sleepy colonial street in Chhlong. On the left is the Mekong River.
There are a handful of locations that have eluded me on my travels around Cambodia over the years. For various reasons I've never managed to get to Svay Rieng, Pailin, Koh Kong and Chhlong. Well, a 30-minute visit en route to Kratie made sure that the sleepy town of Chhlong, hugging the east bank of the Mekong River, was deleted from that list. The driver announced we were taking the short-cut route to Kratie and rather than simply whizz past Chhlong (also known variously as Chlong and Chloung) I suggested a quick look around the place and my fam trip colleagues agreed. We didn't have time to do anything other than walk along the road fronting the river that contains a series of French colonial and Chinese style buildings, some in disrepair, others serving as family homes, but it was good to at last visit the town my pal Caroline had written about eight years ago here. Once the rest of the road to Kratie is paved then Chhlong will see a lot more traffic coming its way and I'm sure the crumbling colonial-era buildings, one of which proudly displayed the date, 1922, on its facade will undergo renovation, much like the classic 1917 family home that was transformed from a derelict mess into the gorgeous Relais de Chhlong hotel. On our return journey we popped into the hotel, which is just about to close for further expansion, but more on that in a later post. For now, colonial street in Chhlong remains a quiet and laid-back location, just around the corner from the town's market. I spotted a handful of very old Khmer houses as well, all of which ensures enough good reasons to return to Chhlong in the not too distant future. I can't believe it's taken me so long to get there in the first place.
The facade proudly shows 1922 as the date of construction of this colonial gem
A beautiful French colonial style building in need of some love and affection
It looks like Christmas has come early in Chhlong
Some of the French colonial and Chinese-style shop houses are in disrepair

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Friday, August 28, 2009

By Any Means

Though it was published nearly a year ago, I caught Charley Boorman's adventure travel book, By Any Means, for the first time today, specifically to read the section on Cambodia. He was gushing in his praise for Hanuman's own Nick Ray, who acted as the fixer for Boorman's whistle-stop tour through the country, and by the time he left, Boorman had fallen in love with Cambodia. Doesn't everyone? The book was also a companion to the television series of the same name on BBC2, which was why Nick was on board as they travelled down from the Lao border and onto to Thailand via Siem Reap on a variety of transport including rocket boat, 250cc dirt-bikes, wooden boats and a bamboo train. Effectively that was the focal point of the tv series, travelling from Wicklow to Wollongong by any means of transport that was available. The more diverse the better. Full of typical enthusiasm and humour, Boorman devotes fifteen pages to his Cambodia adventures as well as half a dozen photos.

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A small step

A proud moment as I pose with my sapling on Koh Trong - we became very close in such a short time :-)
If you visit the island of Koh Trong, a few minutes by ferry from the Mekong River town of Kratie, you can make a small difference by joining a tree-planting scheme at one of the pagoda's on the island. It's an idea started about a decade ago by one of the island's inhabitants who wanted to reverse the trend of tree-felling that was happening all around him. It's got the full backing of the community, the locals play their part in the scheme, there's a caretaker for the area, which surrounds the pagoda at Wat Ty Param Kbal Koh Trong, and you can already see the fruits of earlier labours with large swathes of fledgling trees taking root. As part of the recent fam trip organised by the Mekong Discovery Trail team, each member of our group of 18 tour operators was given a small plot of soil, a sapling and a shovel. Fortunately the locals had done most of the spadework so our role was mostly symbolic though it was still hot and sweaty labour in the middle of the day, though enjoyable nonetheless. At the end of the exercise, each of us had planted a new tree - with a wooden stake bearing our name nearby - which will be monitored by the caretaker and where we can, if so inclined, return to check its progress in the future. A great idea to leave a small eco-friendly footprint from our visit.
A quick check of my sapling's roots to determine its survivability - I almost look as though I know what I'm doing
My sapling appears to be outgrowing its next-door neighbour already
Other group colleagues putting the effort into the tree-planting
The main vihear at Wat Ty Param Kbal Koh Trong, soon to be surrounded by fledgling trees

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Coming up next week

In September of last year I watched a new movie by the Khmer Mekong Films team called Heart Talk at Meta House. It was effectively a preview audience screening to get feedback on KMF's 2nd feature-length film. Next week, on Friday 4th September, the film will get its gala premiere at the Sorya Cinema, next to the Central Market, at 7.30pm, under the new name of Vanished. It's a suspense-thriller-murder story, starring Saray Sakana, one of the country's rising stars.
Also coming up soon will be a new performance by the star of Cambodia's contemporary dance scene, Belle (as seen on the cover of The Cambodia Daily), who will join with Japanese artists to present a performance at the Parkway Center, 2nd floor, at 6.30pm on Tuesday 1st September. Belle has just returned from Taiwan and will soon take off for a two-month sojourn to Europe to further expand her repertoire.
Next Friday, 4th September, will also mark the beginning of the Lakhaon Festival here in Phnom Penh, which'll last for 1 week and include revived and new performances of dance, poetry and spoken theatre by groups such as the Khmer Arts Ensemble, the School of Fine Arts and the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. All performances will take place at the Chenla Theatre from 7pm from the 4th to the 11th, with the Khmer Arts Ensemble and their fertility dance-drama, Ream Eyso and Moni Mekhala, taking place on Monday 7th. If it was up to me, I'd like to see at least five of the 8 shows but I think seats will be at a premium. The plays will be in Khmer with English and French subtitles to make them accessible to all.

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Sells' sights

The latest exhibition at the 4Faces Gallery in Siem Reap will be 'Olympic - Sights from the Stadium' by Nick Sells which will give even greater exposure to the football and sports activities that take place at Phnom Penh's Olympic arena. Nick's photos appear in the Phnom Penh Post a few days each week, accompanying the football reports (that I often write) and other sports. His exhibition, at the gallery-shop run by another pal of mine Eric de Vries, will begin tomorrow and last until 25 September. Get along to the exhibition if you are in Siem Reap over the next month, as Nick captures some great sporting action at the stadium and deserves your patronage.

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Before & after

Island dwelling children at Wat Ty Param Kbal Koh Trong
On our last day of the Mekong Discovery Trail fam trip, we took a ferry ride to the island of Koh Trong, which lies directly opposite the riverfront of Kratie. In fact I used to think it was the west bank of the Mekong River until I looked at the map properly and saw that it was a massive island instead. Silly me. It turned out to be a really enjoyable few hours and I'll fill you in on the details in another post. On a visit to one of the island's three pagoda's, Wat Ty Param Kbal Koh Trong, we all took part in a tree-planting exercise, again more on that later. We also met the group of happy children in the photos above and below, and once again, they were eager to see themselves on film.
...and wait for the giggling to begin. Pic courtesy of Sybille Rotzler of Exo.


Never before

One of the images from the S-21 photo archive
Tonight at Meta House (7pm), I will be hosting a double-bill of mid-1990s documentaries on a photography theme, both films never having been seen before in Cambodia. 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 murders 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, 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. A third, short film by Touch Yinmony called My Father's Teaching will also be shown tonight.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Double take

The smiles say it all from the young troupe of classical dancers at Preah Rumkel
Just as I was posting the group shots below, Jasmine from Bayon Tours, one of my fellow Mekong Discovery Trail fam trip colleagues, sent me three of her photos that corresponded exactly to the scenes in my photos - what a remarkable coincidence. With her permission I have posted her pictures here too. I loved the look on the young girls faces as they saw themselves on my digital camera. They were such an adorable bunch.
These young boys burst into giggles immediately after this photo was taken
All aboard, as we get ready for our boat trip to the Lao border area. I'm in the center and Jasmine is directly behind me. All photos courtesy of Jasmine.


Group shots

These are the adorable young girls who gave the fam trip group a classical dance performance at the Preah Rumkel community office
What is it with me and group shots. Following closely on the heels of the Mekong Discovery Trail team photo, here are a few group pictures from other parts of the trip. It's been a bit non-stop since I got back from the fam trip, hence my posts have been a little tardy to-date.
These young boys gave me a noisy and giggly welcome when we reached the village of O'Svay, the gateway to the border area with Laos
Getting ready for the boat trip to Anlong Svay and the border area with Laos. Behind me is Jasmine and alongside us are Anna and Sybille.


Fawthrop on Heywood

Any excuse to mention one of my favourite people, Denise Heywood, whose book, Cambodian Dance, was reviewed in the Bangkok Post by Tom Fawthrop on Monday this week.
How Cambodian culture re-emerged after the devastating Pol Pot years - by Tom Fawthrop, Bangkok Post

The awesome grace and meticulous movements of the performers have entranced audiences since ancient times, an experience now shared with plane-loads of tourists descending on Siem Reap in western Cambodia, the jumping off point for the world's largest temple complex - legendary Angkor Wat. Dating back to the days of the great Angkor empire that flourished from the 9th to 15th centuries, Cambodian dance is a celebration of the gods, mythology and the world of the royal palace. This 144-page lavishly illustrated coffee-table book authored by Denise Heywood, a lecturer on Asian art, brings the reader a fine appreciation of Cambodian dance intertwined with the turbulent history and how it has always been at the core of Khmer culture and identity. The book details and explains the origins and development of the dances, music and shadow puppetry, all in the context of their spiritual importance as a medium for communicating with the gods. But Cambodia's recent tragedy brought its great tradition of dance near oblivion. The "Killing Fields" regime of the Khmer Rouge not only killed through slave labour, starvation and slaughter nearly 2 million people, including 90 per cent of artists, dancers and writers, but it also came close to extinguishing Khmer culture and tradition. Pol Pot's brand new agrarian dystopia had no place for the arts, culture or any other kind of entertainment except xenophobic songs and Pol Pot propaganda.

Heywood first arrived in Cambodia as a freelance writer in 1994, and her interest in dance was heightened by the extraordinary tale of how a few dancers and choreographers survived the genocidal years from 1975 to 79. In January 1979 a new Heng Samrin government backed by Vietnam proclaimed the restoration of normal society after four years of the Pol Pot regime had trashed most aspects of family life and the previous society. A handful of survivors emerged from the darkest era in Cambodian history dedicated to resuscitating their cherished traditions of dance. Actor, poet and director Pich Tum Kravel and former director of the National Conservatory Chheng Phon were among the cultural stars who miraculously survived. They became the key people enlisted by the new Ministry of Information and Culture under Keo Chenda, charged with the critical mission of bringing all the surviving dancers together. The expertise was handed down through the generations from master to pupil and never documented in written form, so everything depended on human memory. The late Chea Samy became the leading teacher at the re-established School of Fine Arts in 1981 (ironically Pol Pot was her brother-in-law). Piecing together the collective memories of survivors and much of the vast repertory, the performing arts were revived.

When this reviewer saw the post-Pol Pot Cambodian National Dance Company perform in Phnom Penh in 1981, it was a highly emotional experience. Members of the audience wept. This outpouring of raw emotion encompassed both tears of sadness for those loved ones they would never see again - and tears of joy that Khmer dance was alive again and had risen from the ashes of nihilistic destruction. Nothing had greater significance for the Khmer people in this process of rebuilding than this revival of the nation's soul and psyche in which dance plays a central role.

While Heywood is to be commended for her documentation of the revival of dance in the 1980s, it is a pity she has wrongly contextualised this cultural renaissance by claiming that "Heng Samrin's Vietnamese government" organised a national arts festival in 1980. In fact President Heng Samrin and everyone else in the new government were all Cambodians and not Vietnamese. Somehow the author has been infected with the cold war propaganda emanating from Asean governments and US embassies in the region that stressed Phnom Penh was being run by a 'Vietnamese puppet-regime' and the Cambodians blindly followed Hanoi's orders. The reality was more complicated. The cultural revival depicted in this book makes it clear that Vietnamese control over security and foreign policy, despite tensions and differences with their Cambodian allies, did not block the re-emergence of Khmer culture that at the same time planted the seeds for future independence. In 2003 Unesco bestowed formal recognition proclaiming the Royal Ballet of Cambodia to be a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage. And one year later Prince Norodom Sihamoni, a former ballet choreographer and dancer, was crowned king.

Thai classical dance borrows much from the dance traditions of Angkorian times. After Siam's invasion of Siem Reap in 1431, hundreds of Cambodian dancers were abducted and brought to dance in Ayutthaya, at that time the capital hosting the royal court of the Thai king. This timely book also mentions that Cambodian choreographer Sophiline Shapiro has, among many other projects, adapted Mozart's Magic Flute to Khmer classical dance as part of a 2006 festival to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the great composer's birth. This production with many innovations caused a stir among the purists. Shapiro passionately defends her new productions against the critics, telling the author "increasing the repertory of dance will help to preserve it and prevent it from atrophying or becoming a museum piece."

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fam trip team photo

My fam trip colleagues at the homestay on Koh Trong island. I'm in dark blue and glasses.
Just so that you know some of the faces that joined me on the 4-day fam trip along the Mekong Discovery Trail, here's a team photo, taken at a homestay-cum-excellent lunchtime venue on Koh Trong island yesterday. Koh Trong sits in the middle of the Mekong River, directly opposite the Kratie riverfront. More later from the island visit itself, suffice to say that it was a very enjoyable trip, the villagers were ultra friendly, the food was excellent and the homestay had a western loo, shower and proper beds, which is a real result. I won't name the individual members of the trip shown on the team photo, as most of them are tour operator rivals to Hanuman (wink), though included in the picture is Bun Ban, the community leader, as well as the lady owner of the homestay (in red).
I'm being presented with my gift of a pomelo by the lovely Sovanna, daughter of the homestay owner

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Puppetry excellence

Two of the shadow puppet characters that courted the most laughter from the watching children
The questionnaire that I completed at the end of my 4-day Mekong Discovery Trail fam trip asked me for the highlight of my tour. Without hesitation I scribbled down, shadow puppets at Wat Roka Kandal in Kratie. Not only is the venue pretty spectacular, a stone's throw from the Mekong River and on the steps of the renovated early 19th century vihear, but the quality of the performance was exceptional when you consider the artists had received only one and a half month's training before this inaugural show. With more practice and support from the professionals at Sovanna Phum, the talented girls, who provide most of the puppetry during the hour long performance, will be sensational. The musicians and the voice-overs all added to a great show and it was capped off by what seemed to be the whole village turning out for the floodlit event too, with the younger children laughing and screaming at the puppets' funny antics, as they inched ever closer to the stage. Whilst our group occupied two rows of seats near the front, hordes of villagers stood behind us enjoying it as much as we did. The shadow puppet story focused on the princess and the crocodile, which is the tale that is linked to the 100-pillar pagoda at Wat Sasar Muoy Roy, 35kms north along the Mekong at Sambor, so it was educational for everyone too. In the future, they want to offer a dinner and puppet show double-bill that will add a 'must-see' attraction in the Kratie area, which pretty much closes down for the night when the sun sets just after 6pm. It certainly gets the thumbs up from me. After the show ended, I met with the artists to thank them for the excellent entertainment they'd provided and they were simply adorable. They gave me two leather puppets to keep and then took turns to practice their faltering English with the usual array of questions that crop up on such occasions, ie. age, nationality, job, marital status, etc. In return, they rattled off their names and without exception they all looked about sixteen years old but I'm sure they were older. One girl said "I love you like my father" which made me feel very humble and pretty ancient at the same time! If you get the opportunity to see the shadow puppets at Wat Roka Kandal, make sure you grab it with both hands. More from my April visit to Wat Roka Kandal here.
Some of the children waiting expectantly for the show to begin
The musicians and singers open up the performance
A brother and sister watch the performance
The children inch ever closer to the main stage at Wat Roka Kandal
The light shines on the righteous; well on this occasion, two of the artists with yours truly, after their splendid performance

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Back in PP

One of the most enjoyable moments came when the girls above performed an evening shadow puppet show at Wat Roka Kandal in Kratie, to our group and the rest of the village
I'm back home after a very enjoyable 4 days along the Mekong River, getting a feel for what the Mekong Discovery Trail is all about, seeing the sights with some new friends (also known as tour operator rivals) and visiting a handful of new locations on the Brouwer itinerary. I'll post details of the trip and photos in due course, for now I need a shower and an early night. More tomorrow.
For the record, I wasn't available to cover the Cambodian Premier League matches at the weekend, hence the absence of any football round-up. Thank goodness some of you may say. Phnom Penh Crown kept up the pace at the top, beating BBU 3-1, whilst 2nd-placed Preah Khan Reach went down 2-0 to Naga Corp. The CPL's top scorer Prince Justine netted another two as Spark drew 2-2 with Khemara and Kirivong swept aside Phuchung Neak 2-0. PS. The Cambodian U-23 squad was due to play a select Nigerian XI early on Tuesday morning in their first practice match but the heavy rain put paid to my attendance. I later found out it was a 1-1 draw with Prak Mony Udom netting for the national team in their first run-out together despite numerous absences due to injuries and club calls.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Up The Mekong

I'll be indisposed for much of the next 4 days as I'm off 'Up The Mekong' (sounds like a Carry On film to any British readers) on a fam trip to Kratie, Stung Treng and the Cambodian-Laos border area. I'll try and post an update or two but the likelihood is that I'll be back online once I return home on Monday night. Wish me a happy trip.


Thursday, August 20, 2009


Two interested visitors to the John Vink exhibition tonight
Tonight was the opening of John Vink's photographic exhibition, 30 years for a Trial, at Chinese House on Sisowath Quay, which was very well attended. It showed 21 of Vink's photos covering elements of the the thirty year period that has led up to the Khmer Rouge trials, which he attends every day by the way. They included Pol Pot's cremation site (though I found it almost impossible to recognise it from the place I've visted on at least a couple of occasions), pictures from Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek and of course, more recent shots taken at the ECCC. The exhibition will be viewable until 6 September. The photos can be purchased for upwards of $450. Would I pay that amount for a photo, the answer is no, but I would for a painting if I really loved it enough. In fact the exhibition left me a bit cold to be frank. I came away feeling quite indifferent about it, none of the photos really stood out in my view as having that wow factor, which is how I personally judge exhibitions in general. I like to see something that I've never seen before or an image that catches me by surprise in its effect on me. But don't take my word for it, visit the exhibition and judge for yourself. And you can see a range of the photographer's work here.
Earlier today I paid a visit to another of the boats that are offering sunset cruises and trips along the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers, this time the boat is called The Butterfly and its a new addition to the plethora of boats docked along Sisowath Quay. This 16 metre renovated wooden boat offers a comfortable river excursion, is able to take up to 15 passengers and is already getting its fill of private functions and photoshoots. Its mooring is opposite the Camintel offices.
The 16m wooden sunset cruiser, The Butterfly

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Who's a busy boy

Goalkeeper Samreth Seiha had a busy and fruitful day for Ministry of National Defense
The Preah Khan Reach team that moved back to within 2 points of the CPL leaders
After my morning whizzing around the city, the latter part of the afternoon was spent watching Cambodian Premier League football at Olympic Stadium. I only caught the back-end of the first game, just in time to see the Defense Ministry's goalkeeper Samreth Seiha score from the penalty spot against the Post Tel keeper to put his team 2-1 ahead. Earlier in the game, the country's number 1 keeper had given away a penalty and then saved the spot-kick, so all in all an eventful day for Samreth Sieha. His team eventually won 3-1 and consigned their opponents to relegation. In the second game, Preah Khan moved to within two points of leaders Phnom Penh Crown, with an unspectacular 3-1 win over Spark. It wasn't the three goals they scored that stood out, but the one they conceded. Possibly the goal of the season, it was Prince Justine, the CPL's leading scorer, who executed the perfect overhead kick to give Spark a very early lead. However, Preah Khan simply had too much power for Spark to cope with and their goals came from Ekene Ikenwa, Olisa Onyemerea and an own goal.
Scott O'Donell, the national coach, is keen to get his U-23 squad some practice before they face Singapore U-23s at the end of next month. To that end, a game against a Nigerian select XI will take place on Tuesday morning at the national football center and will be against African players not currently registered with a CPL team.
Spark FC took an early lead but ended up well beaten by Preah Khan
A peek at the after-match press conference as Preah Khan's coach Sam Vandeth faces the tv cameras

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Seeing the city

Inside the main Railway Station building, constructed in 1932 but now lifeless
Last night's Van Molyvann evening at Meta House was jam-packed like I've never seen it before. You couldn't have squeezed another sardine in the place. The reason was two-fold: the topic of New Khmer Architecture is resonating with many who are afraid that the uniqueness of the buildings from the 1950s and 60s will be lost in the head-long race for construction that's happening in Phnom Penh now; and the architecture students from Mekong University were out in force, about 60 of them by my count. Nico Mesterharm's 20-minute film Concrete Visions got an airing as did a talk and slideshow from Bill Greaves, founder of The Van Molyvann Project, who are dedicated to documenting his work in detail.
The facade of the now defunct Hotel Manolis, directly opposite the main Post Office
I spent most of this morning in a tuk-tuk circling around the city visiting some of its major buildings as part of a new tour I'm putting together to tell the story of Phnom Penh through its buildings. So we began at Wat Phnom for obvious reasons and carried on to locations such as the Post Office, Railway Station, French Embassy, La Bibliotheque, Molyvann's White Building and the Central Market. My guide was one of Hanuman's best city guides, Sok Chamroeun, and his depth of knowledge made it a thoroughly compelling, and different from the normal city tour. We are including it in our tour offerings for the new high season.
Decoration around the facade of La Bibliotheque, the city's National Library
Building D at Lycee Preah Sisowath, the city's best high school for many years. My guide used to live in this building as a boarder.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Emotions run high

I am relieved that I didn't attend the Khmer Rouge Tribunal yesterday afterall. I had certainly contemplated it as Rob Hamill, the Olympic rower from New Zealand was giving his personal testimony about the effect of the death of his brother Kerry at S-21, which was under the control of Duch, the man in the dock. Just reading about the testimony in today's newspapers got me pretty emotional, so I'm sure being there would've been acutely more powerful and affecting. Rob Hamill fought to control his emotions during the testimony according to news reports as he described in detail how the death of his brother had affected his family and what Hamill himself wanted to do in retribution against Duch. Kerry Hamill and his fellow adventurers had been captured by the KR navy when their boat Foxy Lady strayed into territorial waters on 13 August 1978. Stuart Glass was killed immediately, while Kerry Hamill and Brit John Dewhirst (pictured) were taken to S-21. The last confession of Kerry Hamill is dated 13 October 1978, less than three months before the KR regime crumbled in the face of the Vietnamese invasion. Yesterday, Rob Hamill told Duch; "at times I have wanted to smash you, to use your words, in the same way that you smashed so many others. At times I have imagined you shackled, starved, whipped and clubbed viciously. I have imagined your scrotum electrified, being forced to eat your own faeces, being nearly drowned and having your throat cut. I have wanted that to be your experience, your reality." His 13-page statement lasted just under an hour and he was allowed to direct six questions to Duch, though the answers he got back were non-specific and 'nondescript'. A documentary film, Brother Number One, is being made that follows Rob's journey to Cambodia to find out the truth about what happened to his elder brother. To read Rob Hamill's statement, click here.

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Talking old times

Mykaell Riley (left) and Basil Gabbidon talking about 'the good old days'
Steel Pulse rocked my world in 1978, the same year as they took the British public by storm with their debut album on Island Records, Handsworth Revolution. The band had started out a few years before in the kitchen of some schoolboys in Handsworth in Birmingham and they have gone onto become reggae legends around the globe. They are still performing to full houses today though only two of that seven-man 1978 line-up remain, David Hinds and Selwyn Brown. For the recent Island Records 50th anniversary series of concerts, Steel Pulse were back on stage in London and invited two members of the 1978 group to join them, the first time they've been back in the fold together since the end of that milestone year. Basil Gabbidon remained with the band until 1982 and is still playing roots reggae to audiences in Birmingham today, whilst Mykaell Riley is a music lecturer in London following a successful career in production after he left the band at the very end of 1978 in acrimonious circumstances. To find out the full Steel Pulse story, click here.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Now on top of the world

Here's a photo for the Now family album, on her first trip to Preah Vihear last week, with her new boss Eric. They took their motos from Siem Reap to Anlong Veng - where they couldn't find Pol Pot's gravesite, which by the way is very easy to find - and then headed for Preah Vihear, staying overnight in the village at the foot of the mountain for a couple of nights. It was Now's first-ever trip to the magnificent temple on the border with Thailand as part of a photoshoot that Eric was keen to do. She thoroughly enjoyed herself though she said it was the most tiring thing she's ever done. She recently became Eric's assistant at his gallery-shop-studio at 4Faces in Siem Reap after working most of her life selling souvenirs at Angkor.

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Press talk

These are my match reports in today's Phnom Penh Post from the weekend's Cambodian Premier League games. They should be online later today.

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Aussies at S-21

Photographs of foreigners killed at S-21 that can be seen at the Tuol Sleng Museum
As a foreigner myself, I've always maintained an interest in the stories behind the handful of foreigners killed at S-21, or Tuol Sleng as we know it today. Rob Hamill, the brother of Kerry Hamill, a New Zealander who was killed there, will give testimony at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal this coming week about the effect of his brother's death. In the meantime, this story appeared in The Australian newspaper over the weekend, about two more of the foreigners killed at S-21 in the late 1970s.

Intrepid larrikins defied Pol Pot's killers - by Mark Dodd and Marianne Harris, The Australian
In late November 1978, in the Killing Fields of Cambodia, a 35-year-old Sydney pub and club worker Ronald Keith Dean signed a confession that he was an operative for the CIA. Three weeks later, another Australian, David Lloyd Scott, signed a similar statement detailing years of anti-communist activity and a long career with the premier US spy agency. Dean and Scott, two knockabout Aussies, who had embarked on a Southeast Asian yachting adventure and strayed into contested waters, thinking they were in Thailand, were, of course, nothing of the sort. Captured by the Khmer Rouge and undoubtedly terrified in Pol Pot's S-21 death camp, they produced a final act of defiance.

Now with the discovery of confessions which were buried in a Cambodian archive and testimonies to a war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, the full details of their capture, interrogation and murder are emerging. Their forced confessions, which have emerged 30 years after their deaths, cast new light on the enduring mystery over their disappearance and have again thrown into stark relief the brutality and paranoia of the Pol Pot death machine.
They also tell a tale of bravery and creativity under the gravest pressure, with Scott spinning a yarn of how Muresk College in Western Australia was a CIA training farm that churned out "active probationary CIA agents". Scott, a former roadie with West Australian rock band Bakery, thumbed his nose at his captors, naming members of the band entourage, such as manager John Hopkins, as a CIA agent and saying he was recruited into the CIA by a "Mr Magoo". Dean also treated his torturers with contempt, spinning a fanciful tale of being recruited into the CIA in Prague.

But with their signatures on each page of the confessions and their thumbprints at the end of the documents, they were effectively signing their death warrants at the hands of Pol Pot's brutal regime. Documents obtained by The Weekend Australian show the two men were among about a dozen foreigners, including other yachtsmen, killed at the death camp. Confirmation of their deaths has also cast new light on Andrew Peacock's resignation as the Fraser government's foreign minister in 1981 over his unease at Australia's decision to recognise Pol Pot's regime under pressure from China.

Pol Pot's infamous extermination centre, through the entrance of which passed about 16,000 victims, lies off a quiet, dusty side street in the southern suburbs of Cambodia's bustling river port capital, Phnom Penh. Khmer know the old French lycee as Tuol Sleng, or Hill of Poisoned Trees. According to testimony to a UN-backed war crimes tribunal inquiring into the genocide in the Killing Fields, Dean or Scott died in horrific circumstances. "At least one of the yachtsmen may have been killed on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard ... In this instance on an unknown date in 1978, a witness indicated that he observed a Westerner being taken to this location and incinerated on a pile of automobile tyres. It was stated that this prisoner was alive when set alight."

Scott and Dean met in December 1977 after spending their lives a continent apart. Scott had brushed with fame as a roadie for the band Bakery, while Dean had worked in pubs and casinos and travelled through Britain, Zimbabwe, South Africa and the then Czechoslovakia. "I guess I just want to know what happened," said Jenny Morgan, a friend of Dean from his Sydney days. They took off on a carefree adventure and it went pear-shaped, and it just seems so unfair that nothing was ever done about it." Peter Walker, a former guitarist with Bakery, has been haunted by Scott's disappearance for three decades. He remembers Scott as a knockabout country bloke who was the band's ever-reliable roadie. "Dave was a very solid friend to the band and not forgotten by Hank (Davis, drummer) or John (Hopkins, the manager)," Walker told The Weekend Australian yesterday. "Dave was loyal and showed surprising enterprise and ability. His confession sadly demonstrates that behind the laconic farmer boy was a very creative mind."

Yesterday, Scott's sister-in-law, Pauline Scott, was reluctant to speak about the case after more than 30 years. "Let us hope and push the government in any way possible to actually make sure that these people who just carried out these atrocities are actually brought to justice," she said. Former West Australian agriculture minister Kim Chance grew up near the Scotts' farm and was in Scott's year at Wesley. Chance said when he read Scott's 1978 "confession", he knew his former school mate had not been defeated. "There was some real black humour in there," he said. "I knew it was meant to be seen as a funny document by those who knew him. I have been to Cambodia ... I just felt haunted by David the whole time I was there."

Dean and Scott met after Scott accepted an invitation from commercial diver and friend Kim Barnaby for a sailing holiday in Southeast Asia. The three men met in The Philippines and sailed to Brunei, where Barnaby left the yacht. Scott and Dean continued for the final leg of their voyage to Sattahip, a port in southeast Thailand. But two days away from their destination, they were arrested by a Khmer patrol boat. A war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh is starting to shed new light on the fate of the two men and and other Westerners, including four Americans, three Frenchmen, a Briton and a New Zealander. Held apart from the Cambodians, they were kept shackled by leg irons in a special section of Tuol Sleng reserved for "important prisoners". They were fed twice a day - a gruel of "banana stalk soup" or sometimes a little rice if they were lucky. Their toilet was an ammunition case and they were washed with a firehose. And they were tortured, beaten and given electric shocks to obtain the correct confession of offences.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Time for a curry

Leading by example, Phnom Penh Crown skipper Chan Rithy scored twice in their 3-0 win
Sunday's Cambodian Premier league football results to follow. I'm just out the door to get a chicken curry ready for tonight's Barclays football live on the tv. ESPN does British football proud with wall-to-wall live matches over here. One sad detail of this afternoon: there was a commotion halfway through the 2nd game when gunshots were heard in the car park behind the main grandstand, but this is Cambodia afterall and gunshots and gun-related crime are a constant factor in society here. More needs to be done by the authorities to cut down on the easy accessibility of weapons for sure.
Back to the football. In a bottom of the table clash, Build Bright spanked Phuchung Neak 3-1 though the already relegated side put up a spunky fight. Ek Vannak, Oum Chandara and Augustine Ogbni netted for BBU, with the Navy team getting a late consolation penalty through Wilson Mene. BBU lost defender Rim Bunheang to a red card too. For the league leaders Phnom Penh Crown, who made changes and brought in some of their squad players to start the game, it was business as usual, beating Kirivong 3-o, though they rarely got into 2nd gear. Stand-in skipper Chan Rithy scored twice, the first a header and the second, an unstoppable volley, with sub Chan Chhaya getting the third. The win takes Crown five points clear of 2nd placed Preah Khan Reach, who have two games in hand.
The league leaders Phnom Penh Crown beat Kirivong 3-0 at a canter this afternoon
BBU youngster Ek Vannak netted their first goal in today's 3-1 success
I'm still waiting to hear the make-up of the Cambodian U-23 team, which coach Scott O'Donell has selected but is waiting for a press conference to make the formal announcement. We are still 3+ months away from the SEA Games in Laos where the squad will represent Cambodia in the football competition, one of the 25+ disciplines to be fought over. One of the team's best players would've been striker Khim Borey, who has played for the national team for the last couple of years but has been missing for the majority of this season with a mysterious ankle injury. His team, National Defense have at last got him some proper treatment by sending him to Vietnam for a scan on his injury and he might still have time to come into O'Donell's selection thoughts, despite missing the weekly sessions the squad have already had together. They will get together full-time once the CPL season finishes at the end of September, with a game already lined-up at Olympic on Sunday 27 September against Singapore U-23s.

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Footy and food

Khemara Keila goalscorer Sophal Udom
My football round-up from Saturday's Cambodian Premier League is a bit late as I enjoyed the opening of the new Lotus Blanc2 restaurant as soon as the games finished then sat in front of my tv in awe as the Barclays Premier League kicked-off in such great style. I certainly revelled in Arsenal's complete annihilation of Everton. Anyway back to the CPL games at the hot and humid Olympic Stadium. Khemara will be kicking, punching and flagellating themselves after failing to beat Post Tel. I counted at least a dozen guilt-edged chances that they failed to convert to allow the 2nd bottom team to celebrate their point wildly at the final whistle, as the teams drew 1-1. Khemara were without 2 of their African stars and replacement Sophal Udom capped a fine game with a goal on the half-hour mark, before Durosinmi Gafar levelled five minutes before the end. But Khemara should've won easily. In the second game, Naga did just that, beating National Defense 3-1. Sunday Okonkwo netted two beautifully executed goals with Yemi Oyewole heading a third, with the solitary reply coming from Pheak Rady. The games didn't affect the league standings and leaders Phnom Penh Crown play Sunday.
Naga new boy Soeung Monyroath (22) and his coach at the after-match interviews
Then I was off to the opening of Lotus Blanc2 with Sophoin to celebrate her news that she'd just received confirmation of a pass in her management degree finals, which she took just over a week ago. She was ecstatic and rightly so after 4 years of hard study, so was happy to celebrate with a couple of glasses of champagne served up by the hotel and hospitality training school that PSE have just opened up in BKK1 at Lotus Blanc. PSE do fantastic work for disadvantaged children and their new eatery will give me another lunchtime option just around the corner from my office. Then it was back home, settling myself in front of the television to watch the Barclays extravaganza.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

A determination to succeed

Book Review
No Dream Beyond My Reach: One woman's remarkable journey from Cambodian refugee to American MD - A memoir by Sopheap Ly, MD

I can't tell you that her book is a literary masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a book written from the heart by a survivor who is keen to impart her message of overcoming insurmountable odds with her can-do attitude. Books like this are meant to inspire others though for Doctor Sopheap Ly, her most important inspiration was her father and his memory. This she refers to constantly in her book as she weaves her story from her childhood in Phnom Penh, the dark days under Khmer Rouge control, as a refugee in Thailand through her arrival in Dallas at the age of sixteen and onto the years of challenges she faced before graduating from Howard University as a doctor, her dream fulfilled. She gives credit to countless people en route, who encouraged and supported her dream, though it was Sopheap Ly's own strength and determination to succeed that won the day. And full credit to her. She is a survivor and an achiever and her courageous story will certainly inspire others. You can read more about her story here.
No Dream Beyond My Reach was published by AuthorHouse in June this year and contains 43 black & white photographs in its 115 pages.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

30 Years for a Trial

Phnom Savoeun (Battambang). 20/01/2008: Phnom Savoeun cave.
About 2000 people were killed here by the Khmer Rouge and thrown in the cave between 1975 and 1979. The pagoda was used as a prison. Today the building is used as a pagoda again. Photo courtesy of John Vink.
Photographer John Vink can be found at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal most days. A visit to his website will confirm that. So it's fitting that his next exhibition, starting 20 August and lasting thru til 6 September at the Chinese House on Sisowath Quay, is entitled, 30 Years for a Trial. There's a reception at 7pm on the 20th and the exhibition is set to include Vink's photographs of places, memories, and ongoings of the tribunal. Since moving here in 2000, Vink has concentrated on social and land issues all over Cambodia, focusing most recently on events at the ECCC. Visit his website here and make sure you visit the exhibition too.

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My players learnt a lot

Cambodian national U-19 coach Prak Sovannara
At Wednesday's CPL games at the Olympic Stadium, I grabbed a few minutes with the U-19's coach to get his thoughts on how their recent tournament in Vietnam panned out.

The Cambodian Under-19 football coach, Prak Sovannara, the only A-licensed coach in the country and the man in charge of the full national team for much of the past year, has had time to reflect on the recent Asean Football Federation (AFF) U-19 Championships and the performances of his teenage charges. Although Cambodia lost all three games they played in their group A matches last week, two of those games were against the eventual finalists and all three nations they came up against are much further forward in their youth development programmes than Cambodia are. In fact Cambodia ’s youth development is very much at the fledgling stage and the coach managed to get the squad together for just a few sessions before they crossed the border into Vietnam a week before the tournament, held in Ho Chi Minh City , to work on some last minute tactical and teamwork issues.
Cambodia lined-up against bitter rivals and U-19 champions Thailand in their first game and Sovannara was pleased with their application. “My team did a great job, were well organised and we only went behind to a mistake that the Thais took advantage of. After half-time we missed a great chance to equalise and then lost our centre-half, who was sent off. After that, we struggled with the pace of the game and lost 3-0,” said the team coach.
Two days later they faced Singapore and put up a showing that Sovannara was proud of. Though they lost 3-1, the coach commented; “We played so well in the first half and led 1-nil at the interval, though a goal from [Prak Mony] Udom. We pushed forward at the start of the second half to get another but our goalkeeper made a mistake and we were punished again. After the previous game, my players were very tired and found it hard to keep up with Singapore .”
“In our final game we faced more tough opponents, Australia. There were no easy games in this competition. We conceded two goals in two minutes just before half time and that was it really. We were physically and mentally tired and couldn’t get back into the game despite giving our best,” said the man who is also technical director at Preah Khan Reach, who’ve led the Cambodian Premier League for much of the current season.
“We did our best and I was very pleased with the first half performances in all three matches, we showed great spirit and togetherness and our technical ability matched our opponents. But it was noticeable that we couldn’t sustain the speed and intensity of the games. Our physical strength was not up to it and it’s clear to me that the leagues in which the other teams play are stronger and faster,” bemoaned the coach. “My players learnt a lot from the competition, which is important, and they will take away the fact that their performance levels have to last for the whole game and not just for the first half of matches. I was happy with my squad and in Prak Mony Udom and Keo Sokngorn, I had two players in particular who were confident and strong and who impressed me very much.”
There are no more U-19 level matches on the calendar this year though quite a few of the players are expected to feature in the Under-23 squad for the SEA Games in Laos in December, when it’s announced by the national coach Scott O’Donell sometime soon. The Cambodia Football Federation have already lined up one friendly fixture for the U-23s, when they welcome their much-fancied Singapore counterparts to the Olympic Stadium on Sunday, 27 September.

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Match facts

These are my match reports in Thursday's Phnom Penh Post from the CPL games played on Wednesday afternoon. 3rd-placed Khemara play again tomorrow, versus Post Tel, whilst the Defense team come up against 4th-placed Naga Corp. Phnom Penh Crown can extend their two-point lead at the top on Sunday when they face Kirivong.

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Better late than never

The two captains lead out Khemara Keila (red) and Phnom Penh Crown (blue). And yes the officials had to walk around me.
Blogger seems to have relented and I can now post photos again. But for how long? Now that I'm playing catch-up, here are the pictures from Wednesday afternoon's Cambodian Premier League football at the Olympic Stadium. The captions say it all and you can find the report from the game here.
Back to the top of the CPL, Phnom Penh Crown looking very unified in their pre-match pose
I quite like the disorganised team photos, much more interesting that the posed ones. This is Khemara Keila trying to sort themselves out.
Nice to see the referee straddling the center line for the toss-up on what is looking a threadbare pitch
An unlikely hero. Thong Udom is a center-half for the Defense team and an U-19 national player but his goalscoring instincts saw MND grab a late equaliser.
The Spark FC line-up who led 2-nil with two goals from the Prince, but were pegged back
The never-say-die attitude of the Ministry of National Defense team earned them a draw. These are the guys we want on the front-line at Preah Vihear.
Post-match interviews for Rang Borin, the Defense skipper (15) who doesn't look too pleased, and Op Sam Ath, the team coach


Thursday, August 13, 2009

On the grapevine

Still no progress on loading photos with my blog postings.
Just received an invite for the soft opening this coming Saturday of the new Lotus Blanc Restaurant, about fifty metres from the Hanuman office on St 51 in Boeung Keng Kang 1. Lotus Blanc is the hotel and restaurant training facility that is housed at the PSE center in Stung Meanchey, which has been providing skills and employment opportunities for children from families making a living from the municipal rubbish dump for the last few years. This second restaurant will be open for breakfast and lunch only and will be used as another training facility for the youngsters. I've tasted the food at the original restaurant and if this is just as good, it'll be a nice option for lunchtimes.
I've just confirmed my place on the Mekong Discovery Trail (MDT) 'fam' trip on 21-24 August. Its a venture by the Ministry of Tourism/SNV to generate interest and awareness of the MDT by taking private sector tour operators to see what the MDT has to offer and to see how we can incorporate that into what we offer our clients. It's certainly an area that Hanuman is very interested in, so I'm keen to make the trip. The program includes visits to Kratie, Stung Treng, Preah Rumkel, the Sopheak Mitt waterfall near the border with Laos, the Anlung Cheuteal dolphin pool and the island of Koh Trong. Should be an enjoyable adventure. Obviously I'll fill you in on the details after the event. Hopefully with some photos, he said sarcastically!
Forgot to mention yesterday that the Cambodian U-23 national football team will be hosting a friendly match against the Singapore U-23s on Sunday 27th September as part of their preparation for the SEA Games in December. Coach Scott O'Donell has his 25-man squad in mind, though it's not yet been publicly announced, and is likely to be reduced to a 20-man squad to take to Laos for the tournament itself.
Finally, just had a whisper that the folks from the Khmer Arts Ensemble, out at Takhmau, will be performing as part of a festival run by the French Cultural Center, at the Chenla Theatre on Monday 7th September. The Khmer Arts dancers are a professional touring troupe so this will be classical Cambodian dance at its very best. More details to follow when I get them.

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Contrition, my arse

Things will be a bit slow on my blog if blogger's refusal to allow the posting of photos continues, as it has for the last day or so. In the meantime, over at the ECCC, Comrade Duch has been spouting off again, this time in response to a witness who broke down when describing the loss of her husband and children. Duch, who has a tendency to belittle and berate some witnesses, went to the other extreme this time, saying he deserved everything the court will throw at him, even death by stoning - if it was a Khmer tradition, which its not. I hope no-one is fooled by his apparent contrition. Duch is in his element in the court, as I witnessed for myself recently. It's his stage, and a massive stage at that, he knows he will be found guilty so he is enjoying the freedom it gives him and is toying with the court and the witnesses. I'm amazed that he gets the opportunity to comment upon everyone's testimony after the witness, judges, prosecutors, civil parties and defense lawyers have had their say, quite unlike any other court I've seen before. He claims remorse but I don't buy it at all. His comments to David Chandler, thanking him for his book on S-21, shows he is boastfully proud of the job he did there, ensuring the so-called enemies of his Khmer Rouge masters were processed in such a meticulous fashion. Let's not forget that evry vile thing that took place at S-21 was borne from Duch's desire to please those masters. I too hope the court will throw the book, the kitchen sink, and life imprisonment at Duch. He deserves all of it a thousand times over. How about we accede to his wishes and introduce stoning as a one-off just for him. I'm in favour.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Football fever

The Olympic Stadium this afternoon was like a sauna. A mid-afternoon shower only made it worse. Nevertheless, the two Cambodian Premier League matches went ahead as scheduled and Phnom Penh Crown returned to the top of the league table, beating a subdued Khemara 2-1, whilst the Defense Ministry came back from the dead to draw 2-2 with Spark in their mid-table tussle. Crown had their teenage starlet, and national under-19 captain Keo Sokngorn to thank for their winning goal, five minutes after he came on as a half-time substitute. He was doubtful with a knee strain after playing three games for the U-19s last week in Saigon, but looked in fine fettle as he headed in Crown's winner. Chan Rithy had given them an early lead and Khemara's Oladiji Olatunde levelled five minutes before the break. With a minute of the first-half to go, Crown were reduced to ten men when Lor Pichseyla was harshly sent off for a 2nd bookable offence. After Sokngorn put them ahead, Crown and Khemara traded blows but no one troubled the scoreboard and Crown retook the CPL leadership from Preah Khan.
In the second game of the day, Spark took a two-goal lead at the start of the 2nd-half with two thunderbolt Justine Prince/Prince Justine free-kicks that Cambodia's no 1 keeper Samreth Seiha couldn't stop. The Prince is the CPL's top scorer with 15 goals. However, his team couldn't cope with the Defense Ministry's never-say-die attitude and after Oum Kumpheak netted, it was left to substitute defender Thong Oudom, thrown up front to cause havoc, who got on the end of a cross from MOTM Nov Soseila to equalise 3 minutes from the end.
I managed to get a quick chat with coach Prak Sovannara to find out his thoughts from the Cambodia U-19 games in Vietnam last week. In a nutshell, he was proud of his squad, who performed with great spirit in each of their games but found themselves lacking in being able to maintain the physical intensity that the other sides managed. Though they lost all three games they played, two of those were against the eventual finalists so maybe it wasn't so bad afterall. Sovannara picked out his skipper Keo Sokngorn and Preah Khan Reach's Prak Mony Udom as the stand-out players for Cambodia. And quite a few of the U-19 squad are expected to be in the U-23 group when it's announced anytime soon.
Online reports in the Phnom Penh Post for the above games, can be viewed here.
  • Blogger is playing up again and I'm unable to load my photos from today's games. I tried again Thursday morning without success, so we may be without images until blogger gets its act together again.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Looking out from the forest

The central tower of Prasat Yeay Chy
This is Prasat Yeay Chy, one of nine satellite temples that surround the main temple complex of Banteay Chhmar in northwest Cambodia. It has fared as well, or not so well depending on your point of view, as the main temple. The central face tower has just two of its four faces remaining intact, the other two lie in pieces on the floor of the temple. Its gopura is broken and in ruins and the forest is trying its best to reclaim the area. On the wall of the gopura are some fading examples of female devata as well as other smaller buddhist figures etched into the sandstone but I couldn't find any lintels in situ. The undergrowth makes investigating the temple area a challenge but it wouldn't be a temple adventure without a problem or two, one of which is the giant red ants that don't give you a chance to stand still for too long. Yeay Chy is one of four satellite temples with their face towers still standing, Prasat Samnang Tasok being another, and the location of our overnight tented accommodation, whilst Prasat Ta Prohm, located just behind the village of Banteay Chhmar, has been cleared of much of its vegetation and is considerably easier to visit.
The weather-worn devatas on the gopura wall
The eastern face of the central tower at Prasat Yeay Chy
The central tower is still surrounded by quite dense vegetation
The inside of the central tower, which is pretty ruined
The north face of the central towers peeps out from the forest of trees
The north face of Prasat Yeay Chy

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Who will? - the airport will

I love a story to warm the cockles of your heart and here is a beauty from the Who Will NGO that is looking after the welfare of orphans and disadvantaged children in Phnom Penh and will soon move to new premises in Kompong Chhnang. This is from their newsletter and is a wonderful example of people going out of their way to enthuse others. Top top marks to the Phnom Penh International Airport crew.

Giving Children Wings
It was the best of times (to half quote Charles Dickens) the day Cambodia International Airports opened their arms to the children of Who Will. What we asked for was a tour of the airport and its various internal divisions in order to give the children an insight into what career opportunities are available. What they were given was much more. On arrival they were met by Monirath Sok, Secretary to the Operations Manager and Samnang Chey, Assistant Manager Operations. Each child was given a bright yellow Visitor jacket and an airport pass and then all were taken to a briefing room where Florent de Warren, Deputy Operation Manager - Airport Services, told them the itinerary and the 'rules of engagement' - be aware of other passengers, stay together, don't run, etc. They were taken to a Check In desk and each given a boarding pass on Flight WW001 of Who Will Air, through Security, into the VIP Lounge and then past Immigration onto a bus, driven by the patient and informative Naro You, which took us to the Control Tower. Here they were briefed by Bunkong Nov on all the instruments, the operation of a control tower and what requirements were necessary to become an Air Traffic Controller.

Boarding the bus again, they were taken to an aircraft of Indochine Airlines - a 737-200 - where they were awaited by two pilots Sivanthan Douong and Sophea Uy. Each child was shown his or her seat, according to the boarding pass, and given the opportunity to sit in the co-pilot seat while being briefed on all the instruments by Sivanthan who never wavered in his professional, pleasant and repetitive narrative. They had the opportunity to walk through the aircraft, look at the galley, ask many questions and even use the toilets. They were then driven to the Fire Department, stopping on the way to watch an aircraft land and see all the machinations that occur to ensure people disembark and eventually receive their luggage.

At the Fire Department they were met by the crew led by Sunday Sen, Safety and Rescue FFS Manager, shown the fire engines and allowed to climb inside and ask questions. They were then given a demonstration of the power of the water hose (300 litres per minute) and all then headed for the bus to be taken to the VVIP section. The VVIP section is the separate section of the airport reserved for kings, presidents, prime ministers and other special envoys. They were taken to the reception lounge where each child was given a gift of a cap with the insignia of Cambodia International Airport and a booklet. They were, by special permission, given the opportunity to visit the premier lounge and, for a while, imagine what it would be like to be a king….

It was then back into the bus to be taken to the terminal building where their journey had started three hours previously. They had been accompanied throughout by Monirath Sok, Samnang Chey and Florent de Warren, who had responded to the myriad questions and looked to the comfort and safety of a bunch of boisterous children – Florent also being the photographer of the day and had taken over 150 photos. There is something about a bunch of happy children that affects everyone that comes into contact with them. And so it was this day. Passengers that normally sit sullenly or morosely waiting for the seemingly interminable hours to pass before boarding their flight, smiled when the children walked past, some even greeted them. The effort that was put into this trip by the management and staff of Phnom Penh International Airport has ensured that the dreams of a number of children have been realised and their horizons broadened. Link: Who Will.



Blogger makes me mad sometimes. Over the last few days its done it darndest to make posting as difficult as possible and then today its miraculously back to normal. No mention of the problem on the blogger forum. I suppose I should be thankful for small mercies that its back to normal but it gets very frustrating when you have something you are dying to post. For example there was a 3-day conference on Banteay Chhmar, one of my favourite temples, and the efforts being considered to file for World Heritage site status, which prompted me to post lots more pictures from my visit a few months ago. The blogger problem put an end to that, temporarily. The conference was held in Sisophon over the weekend just gone and over 100 experts, officials and scholars attended to discuss the future of Banteay Chhmar. Wish I had been invited. Anyways blogger is back (for how long is anyone's guess) and I'll post the pictures this week.
What else is on my program for this week? Well, I'll be at Olympic Stadium tomorrow afternoon for the two Cambodian Premier Leagues games that are due to be played. Also sometime very soon there should be a press conference to announce the Cambodian U-23 football squad that is being assembled by coach Scott O'Donell for the forthcoming SEA Games in Laos in December. I think they want to make a big splash about it in the press, especially as Metfone are now involved as major sponsors.
After my visit to the ECCC (Khmer Rouge trial) last week, more testimony is being heard this week from former S-21 guards and workers though the appearance of Rob Hamill, brother of one of the foreign victims at S-21, Kerry Hamill, has been rescheduled to next Tuesday, the 18th.
Finally, I've just had word that Khmer artist Khin You has passed away in Bangkok a couple of days ago, though I haven't had this verified as yet. The painter had his first exhibition in Phnom Penh a couple of months ago, having returned to the country in 2004 after many years abroad. You can read more about Khin You in this interview with Asia Life.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Match reports

Sunday's double-header at Olympic Stadium
Preah Khan retake top spot in the CPL
These are my match reports from the weekend in today's Phnom Penh Post. They will appear online later today.

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Peanut report

The 'peanut princess' and her young protege at yesterday's game
I nearly forgot a couple of photos taken during the football matches at Olympic Stadium Sunday afternoon. The 'peanut princess' is always present at the games and does her rounds in the main grandstand throughout the matches. She only carries bags of peanuts on her rounds but hosts a wider selection of goodies on her table just inside one of the entrances to the grandstand. Yesterday she was accompanied on her rounds by her protege who was supplying cold bottles of water. Sounds like a good marketing plan to me, peanuts make you thirsty and the water quenches the thirst. That's teamwork. The 'peanut princess' continues to be the most popular seller at the ground and its easy to see why. I almost look forward to seeing the 'peanut princess' as much as the football and I know I'm not alone.
The 'peanut princess' doing her rounds of the main grandstand

Sunday round-up

Hat-trick hero, Vin Nhek Troeung, Kirivon's mid-season signing from Vietnam
Kirivong's skipper and goalscorer Ly Ravy
Kirivong put their recent poor form behind them to notch up a 6-2 success
The youthful BBU side that were trounced by Kirivong on Sunday
It's 1.30am Monday morning and I've just finished watching the film The Untouchables on tv. Great story but the soundtrack music from Ennio Morricone is also untouchable, the man is a genius and if you haven't ever found the time to appreciate the man and his music, I implore you to rectify that immediately. Find out more about the maestro Morricone here. I also watched the Community Shield match on ESPN hence why my posting of Sunday's football round-up is a tad late. As I've come to expect from the Cambodian Premier League in recent months, there were goals galore in the two matches played Sunday afternoon. If you want to see the ball hitting the back of the net on a regular basis then the CPL is where its at. In the first game, Kirivong reversed their recent run of poor form with a 6-2 trounching of Build Bright, and in the second match of the day, Naga consolidated 4th spot with a 3-1 win against the bottom club Phuchung Neak.
Kirivong's recent Vietnamese import Vin Nhek Troeung was the star of their win, netting a hat-trick and leading the BBU defence a merry dance for 90 minutes. His technique in front of goal, cool, calm and collected, makes a nice change from the usual frantic attempts at goal that are the norm. His strike partner Julious Chukwumeka, skipper Ly Ravy and sub Mim Sophal were also on the scoresheet. Two late goals from BBU's industrious African striker Augustine Ogbni made it 6-2. In game 2 of the afternoon, Naga took their time before finishing off the plucky Navy side who stay rooted to the bottom with just 2 points from 14 games. They held out for the 1st half but changed their keeper just before the break - the reasons for the high number of 1st half substitutions in the CPL are a mystery to me - and paid the price when the replacement was chipped early in the second period. Chin Chom did the damage and substitutes Kop Isa and Soeung Monyroath also netted goals for Naga, with Wilson Mene grabbing a consolation for Phuchung Neak. A total of twelve goals in two games, with another five yesterday makes the CPL well worth a few hours of your time every weekend if its goals that you crave. And if you can't make the games, watch the Apsara tv round-up at 6pm every Friday night. Finally, the Cambodian U-19 team ended their AFF U-19 youth championships with a 3-nil defeat against Australia in Saigon on Saturday. Their group turned out to be just as tough as anticipated, with the Cambodians losing all three games they played. However, they did gain valuable competition practice which will hold them in good stead in the future.
Naga Corp consolidated 4th spot with a 3-1 win over Phuchung Neak
Naga's first goal was scored by former national team player Chin Chom
Mid-season signing Kop Isa netted one of the late Naga goals
The toss up between Naga (blue) and Phuchung Neak (red)
Phuchung Neak's goalscorer Wilson Mene at the after-match press interviews
The late afternoon cool air brings out the exercise merchants and kite-flyers at Olympic

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Snapper supreme

Now in her new role
Eric sent through this photo of my great friend Now in her new role as his assistant, and she looks at home I must say. Eric is a professional photographer with a gallery and bar in Siem Reap (4FACES) and he was looking for an assistant to help out at the gallery shop, with admin and on photoshoots, especially as he's just tied-up with the Raffles Grand Hotel in the town. I suggested Now even though her experience has been limited to selling souvenirs at the Angkor temples and helping her family with rice-planting. It was a long shot but I knew that Now was keen to find a different path and gain more life experience, and so far it seems to be working like a dream. She rang me a couple of days ago whilst she was working out how her lap-top works and now this photo of her with the camera, looking to get the ever-popular monk shot. She's due to go to Preah Vihear temple later this week by motorbike for a photoshoot - she says she will be safe as she knows some of the policemen there from Angkor - and every day brings her new experiences, exactly what she had dreamed of. Its hard to describe how proud I am of her. I well up just thinking of it.

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African clean sweep

Powerhouse centre-forward Ekene Michael Ikenwa netted in their 4-1 success
Commanding Preah Khan centre-half Sani Saidu who scored today
It was an all-African clean sweep for the goals in Saturday's solitary Cambodian Premier League game at Olympic, as Preah Khan Reach returned to top spot with an easy 4-1 win over struggling Post Tel. Players from African countries, the majority coming from Nigeria, make up nearly all of the 30 or so foreign players on the books of the ten CPL teams. In the main, they occupy the key positions at centre-half, central midfield and as strikers, and provide the spine of all teams except the Ministry of National Defense, who prefer to field solely Khmer players. Today's game saw no divergence from that trend as Preah Khan featured two powerfully-built strikers and a brickhouse stopper, whilst Post Tel went for a leggy striker and two heavyweight central midfielders for their allotted three foreign players on the field at any one time. Preah Khan's strength in depth served them well in this game and though they gave Post Tel time on the ball and a whiff of a few chances, they were simply too strong for the opposition and won at a canter. Goals from their twin strikeforce of Ekene Ikenwa and Olisa Onyemerea kept Post Tel subdued and second-half strikes from Sani Saidu and Onyemerea again made the result one-sided before Henri Bitga netted a penalty for the underdogs in injury time. The game, the result (4-1) and the scorers certainly demonstrate the importance of the African contingent to the CPL matches but to me there's a downside to their dominance and that is the fewer opportunities afforded to younger, talented Khmer players in their positions. In most leagues that allow foreigners, they are spread around the team in every position but in Cambodia their appearances on the teamsheet are much more predictable, as I mentioned above. And this must in turn have a detrimental affect on the youngsters with certain teams, take Preah Khan as an example. With their two striker positions taken by the Nigerians, there's no way in for their locally-born strikers, and that in the long run will impede the country's national team in my view. No one wants to make unnecessary rules or deny anyone a playing contract but if teams were only allowed one foreigner per the three parts of the team (defence, midfield, attack) then that would give the opportunities I'm seeking. Unworkable I know but I'm clutching at straws.

Two more reasons to watch football at the Olympic Stadium today
Preah Khan's 4-1 success took them back to the top of the CPL
Post Tel finding it a tough ask to line-up for a pre-match team photo


Saturday, August 8, 2009

I'm outta here

Just got a couple of minutes before I get outta here and along to Meta House to screen the first-ever Cambodia showing of the the documentary Aki Ra's Boys, by director duo Lynn Lee and James Leong. We will kick-off the screening at 7pm. The film focuses on Boreak, who lost his right arm in a landmine accident and who tries his best not to go to school. He's a bit of a rascal, but a likeable one. I hear that now, a couple of years after the film was made, Boreak is now almost a changed boy, studious and well-behaved. The film also introduces Aki Ra, who has been demining Cambodia almost single-handedly for years and hosts the landmine museum near Banteay Srei, as well as a home for children like Boreak.
I'm just back from the oven that is the Olympic Stadium. Only one game this afternoon and that saw Preah Khan retake top spot in the Cambodian Premier League, with a run-of-the-mill 4-1 success against struggling Post Tel. It was so damn hot. Hats off to the two teams for doing their best in those conditions. A 2pm kick-off (it was televised so a later start wasn't possible) is murder to play football in. I tried it when I was turning out forBayon Wanderers (ah, the good old days), so I know how hard it really is. I'll post my match report when I get back later tonight.

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Golden silence

Sophea Pel as Ros Sereysothea
My radar has been on the blink for the past month or so. It must be, or else I would've picked up that film director Greg Cahill and the cast of his film, The Golden Voice, have been over here in Cambodia shooting the full length feature film all about the life of the wonderful Khmer singing icon of the 1960s, Ros Sereysothea. It was just over a year ago that Greg was in Phnom Penh to present his excellent 25-minute forerunner of the main feature at Meta House, that had been filmed entirely in the States. At that time he was looking for funding to be able to expand the project into a full-blown movie. Well it seems that he's managed that and filming has been taking place, under a veil of secrecy, in various locations, particularly around Siem Reap. Actress Sophea Pel, who earned rave reviews for her portrayal of Sereysothea, her first serious acting role, was in town for a few weeks for the filming. Read my interview with Sophea to find out more about the film. Ros Sereysothea, the darling of Cambodia's music-loving public, was murdered during the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 70s but has left an indelible mark on Cambodian society where her records are still avidly played today. She was part of the vibrant rock n' roll scene that flourished in Cambodia during the 1960s, and was dubbed 'the golden voice of the royal capital' by Prince Sihanouk. As her career soared to an unprecedented level of success, Phnom Penh and Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge regime and artists and intellectuals were targeted for execution, including Sereysothea. Link: website.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Mistaken identity

Have you ever been mistaken for someone else? It's happened once or twice to me in my lifetime and then it happened again today, by email. I think anyone who has an interest in Cambodia will have seen the film, The Killing Fields, which highlighted Cambodia's recent past so vividly in the mid-80s. In one scene, when the western journalists are holed-up in the French Embassy and desperately trying to save the skin of their fixer, Dith Pran, they hatch a plan to use an expired passport of Jon Swain. His two middle names are Anketell Brewer and the idea was to substitute a photo of Pran and scrub out the first and last names, Jon Swain. The plan failed but it remains a tear-jerking moment in the film. So back to today. I received an email that stated the following:
Next, I found your name and saw your website, and remembered : Andy Brouwer - Dith Pran - Sidney Schanberg.
So, I understood that it's certainly you, the owner of the passport, the name repeated by the actor Haing S. Ngor (Dith Pran) in the famous film of Roland Joffe.
I had to write back to the correspondent and set the record straight. That I am Andy Brouwer, but I am not Anketell Brewer. More's the pity.


Experience is the key

The Cambodian U-19 line-up versus Singapore (pic courtesy of Prak Sovannara)
Commiserations to the Cambodian U-19 football team who are in Saigon and competing in the AFF U-19 Youth Championships. Drawn in the same group with the stronger footballing nations of Australia, Thailand and Singapore, it was always a mountain to climb to progress through the group stages and so it has turned out. They lost their opening game 3-0 to Thailand on Tuesday and then yesterday, went down 3-1 to Singapore. They will end their tournament against the Australian teenagers on Saturday before returning home. In yesterday's encounter they led after 17 minutes when Preah Khan youngster Prak Mony Udom (pictured) nosed them in front but it it went awry after the half-time interval. Singapore charged back into the game, levelling on 57 minutes and scoring two more in the last ten minutes. In addition to the defeat, Cambodia also suffered a goalkeeping loss when substitute stopper Sou Yaty (Ministry of National Defense) was sent to hospital late on after dislocating his shoulder. It never rains but it pours. The important thing for the squad is to soak up the tournament experience, much the same as the full national team did in the Suzuki Cup last year.

On an entirely separate subject. I received a package from the post office today which was sent to me from Australia exactly five months ago, by recorded airmail. We check our post office box a few times each week so it hasn't been lying around there, instead its been mislaid in transit for the last five months - where... goodness knows. It contained a dvd of the documentary film The Tenth Dancer from 360 Degree Films, sent to me to screen at Meta House. Fortunately, I was able to get another copy from a separate source but it makes me wonder how much more goes missing that I'm not aware of. If you do send me anything, via the Hanuman PO box number, send a confirmatory email as well please.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Voices from the ECCC

David Chandler and myself at our first-ever meet exactly a month ago
Today was my first-ever visit to the ECCC, the Khmer Rouge Tribunal that has been dominating the news for many months here in Cambodia. I had to go today as David Chandler was giving expert testimony in the proceedings against Duch, the former commandant of S-21, or Tuol Sleng as it's become to be known. I, like so many people who watched Cambodia from afar for so long, had been brought up on a diet of Chandler master volumes detailing the many facets of Cambodian history. In particular, his book, Voices from S-21, was the first in-depth look at an institution that had fascinated me for years, particularly so after my first visit to Tuol Sleng in 1994. To seal the deal, I even got a name-check in the book. So there was no way I was going to miss out on David's testimony to the court. In all, the book's contents and his research came under intense scrutiny in four court sessions today, totalling fifteen minutes shy of 5 hours. There's so much to say about today, I don't really know where to start. How about at the beginning...

It took 45 minutes on the back of a moto to reach the ECCC entrance some 16kms outside of Phnom Penh along Route 4. I arrived at the same time as coaches ferrying villagers from Siem Reap drew up in the car park. Security was very tight, hence no photos from the day, and taking my place in the public gallery, the court began at 9am on the dot. Soon after every seat in the gallery was occupied. My first view of the defendant Duch, through the glass divide, was of him leafing through Voices from S-21, small in stature, looking every inch the studious schoolteacher, flanked by two security guards. He looked confident and at home in the courtroom and his playful interactions with his lawyers at the breaks rubber-stamped that. David Chandler (DC) was called in and sat with his back to the gallery but with his face superimposed on four large tv screens, as well as a pc on the desk directly in front of him. He provided a few brief details about himself and then his research, which began in the early 1990s, then full-time on the book from 1994 until he handed it to the publishers in 1998. He'd studied microfilm archives, the S-21 archives and also at DC-Cam as well as interviewing Vann Nath twice, a couple of S-21 guards including Him Huy and the photographer Nhem En. I had to suppress a wry smile that DC had come over from Australia to testify, whilst Nhem En, who lives in Anlong Veng, couldn't attend the trial this week and had his testimony read out instead.
David Chandler giving testimony today. Photo courtesy of Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
Initial questions came from the judges and included topics such as a response to DC's book by Duch, S-21 as a Total Institution and an Anteroom to Death, the purpose of the s-21 archive and a query over Vann Nath's paintings compared to DC's list of torture techniques. After a break, it was the turn of the co-prosecutors to fire questions at DC, who admitted he was jealous of Duch's handwriting and his neat calligraphy. He also felt from his research, having never met Duch personally, that he was "a conscientious, efficient and dedicated person. It was in his favour to produce as good a product as possible." S-21 was unprecedented in Cambodia, its main business was interrogations and "everyone knew what they were doing, they didn't lose sleep about it or lessen their enthusiasm." A 1.5 hour lunch was taken at 12 noon. All the food was gone by the time I reached it, so I went hungry. I also clocked Rithy Panh, the filmmaker in the press room. On resumption, the civil party lawyers had their turn, with one concentrating on sexual crimes at S-21 and another reading copious passages from Voices. Both the co-prosecutors and the civil parties bemoaned their lack of time to question the witness, even though they both got time extensions. Another break and then Duch's lawyers took over, though it was noticeable that the public gallery had thinned considerably, down to about sixty people, the majority of which were foreigners.

In response to questions from the defense, DC said he was "extremely moved and impressed by Duch's admission of guilt" after Francois Roux reminded everyone that Duch has already pleaded guilty, though it was pretty clear to me that if they can pin the majority of the blame elsewhere they will. Son Sen looks the best candidate, especially as he's dead. Roux kept referring to the French edition of Voices, which DC bitterly complained about, calling his work 'the meat in a Francophile sandwich,' after the publisher made changes about which he was very unhappy. Duch then had an opportunity to address the court and spent 10 minutes offering his sincere respect and appreciation to DC for his observations regarding his work and DC's search for the truth, and his gratitude for writing about S-21, which he called "1 flower in a garden of 100 flowers in the DK government." There was no direct conversation between Duch and DC. The court adjourned at 4.15pm and I managed a quick hello to DC before making my way out and back home. An enthralling day, to see the court in action at last (and yes, it's incredibly slow, but what do you expect when everything has to be translated into Khmer, English and French), to see DC in the same room as Duch, to watch Duch at such close quarters entirely comfortable with his lot - which just seems so wrong - and to witness so many Khmer citizens coming to see for themselves that justice is finally being sought.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Satellite prasat

The central tower and east face at Prasat Yeay Chy peering through the undergrowth
I've been a bit slow to bring you some more pictures from my visit to the northwest complex of Banteay Chhmar, but here's a taster from one of its nine satellite temple, Prasat Yeay Chy, which I popped into after waking up in our tented camp next to its sister satellite Prasat Samnang Tasok. Both temple sites lie west of the main temple complex and are in a ruined state though the central tower at Yeay Chy, also known as Temple IV, is still standing and houses two remaining faces, on the north and east sides. More to come soon.

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August highlights

A tourist looks at some of the photo images found in Secrets of S-21, to be screened at Meta House on 27th August
A quick look at the highlights as I view them, to be seen at Meta House in Phnom Penh this month. I'm involved in two film nights, starting this Saturday (8 August) when I present Aki Ra's Boys, the story of a young Cambodian landmine survivor Boreak, in a double-bill with Ian White's UXO in Laos. Then on Thursday 27th I will screen two documentaries from the 1990s, Secrets of S-21 and Cambodian Odyssey, both with photography as their main element. In between you can see Skye Fitzgerald's Bombhunters on Sunday 9th, the launch of the Vann Molyvann Project on Tuesday 18th and a look at evictions in Cambodia on Saturday 22nd. There's a lot more besides. One exhibition that you won't be seeing is the Miss Landmine Cambodia 2009 show which was due to open this coming Friday. The Cambodian government have pulled the plug on the competition being held here in Cambodia, including a photo exhibition of the 20 Khmer female contestants, though it will probably continue online.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dent in national pride

The Cambodian U-19 national football team played their opening match in the AFF U-19 Youth Championships in Saigon Tuesday afternoon. I previewed the tournament here. With former national coach Prak Sovannara in charge, the U-19's have been in Saigon for a week or so fine tuning themselves for the championships and are in a real tough group A alongside Australia, Singapore and Thailand. It was the latter who they faced in their first game of the round-robin group matches. And Cambodia were beaten 3-0 by their bitter rivals, whilst Singapore drew 1-1 against Australia. Cambodia went behind a few minutes before half-time and then lost red-carded Ministry of National Defense centre-half Thong Oudom (pictured) after 57 minutes, making their task an impossible one. So it proved when Thailand added further goals in the 73rd minute and six minutes from time. In Group B, hosts Vietnam beat Malaysia 2-0 while Myanmar were awarded a 3-0 win for a walkover following Timor Leste's failure to arrive in time. The 3-nil reversal leaves Cambodia with a mountain to climb to progress through the group stage. They now face Singapore Thursday (6 August) and Australia, the joint favourites, on Saturday (8 August). With the odds stacked against them, the U-19 players need to take every ounce of tournament experience they can from these three games as quite a few of them will be called up again soon as part of the U-23 squad to take part in the SEA Games in December.

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Floating tented villas

Just met with Valentin Pawlik, the man behind the new 4 Rivers Floating Eco-Lodge that he's building in the lee of the Cardamom Mountains, on the Tatai River, 20kms from Koh Kong city, on the southwest coast of Cambodia. Its a unique and futuristic accommodation development for Cambodia and should be open in November. 18 luxury safari-tented villas will be on floating platforms alongwith a floating swimming pool and restaurant, on the bend of the river, three kilometres from Tatai village. Away from it all and surrounded by nature will be the theme. It's also just fifty kms from Chi Phat and the Wildlife Alliance eco-tourism project there so worth considering combining a trip to the natural attractions at Chi Phat with a stopover at 4 Rivers once it's up and running. Construction is underway, the platforms will be pieced together soon and the tents are due to arrive next month. The local populace at Tatai village will be building and manning the resort. Visit their website here.

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Retreat from Humanity

This is timely as I hope to get along to the ECCC on Thursday to hear expert testimony in the Khmer Rouge trial of former S-21 chief Duch from leading historian David Chandler. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago about the plethora of self-published books available from about Cambodia. One such book is Jayne Dunsmuir's Retreat from Humanity: Cambodian Death Camp S-21. It's a 64-page photo essay book showing some of her S-21 pictures alongwith accompanying text on the nature of torture, excerpts from interviews with former prisoners and guards and information on the trial of KR leaders. Jayne published it at the beginning of 2008 and is keen to get it sold at Tuol Sleng with profits going to the museum. She's sending me a copy of her book to see if that's possible. Jayne also won an honourable mention in the International Photography Awards in 2008 with a series of 5 portraits of Cambodian people - 2 of which are printed at the end of the book. Find out more about the book here.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

There's more to Kampot and Kep

A billboard in Kep extolling the virtues of King Father Norodom Sihanouk
Kampot and Kep could have their very own unique museum by the end of the year if lingustics expert Jean-Michel Filippi has his way. The Kampot Regional Museum Project is his particular baby and so far it's been at least one year in the gestation and planning stage, but with a fair wind, the arrival of sponsors and other influential parties such as UNESCO, Jean-Michel is looking to open his museum in Kep before the year is out. And he hopes that it will be a prototype for other regional museums in Cambodia in the future. Perhaps rather suprisingly, the area surrounding Kampot and Kep on the south coast has a varied and interesting history, beginning in pre-Angkorian times and includes at least six distinctive ethnic groups, each with their own brand of religious and economic impact on the area. It was also the hot-bed for revolution culminating in the 1885 rebellion as well as the French colonial authorities exercising their control prior to Prince Sihanouk's Sangkum Reastr Niyum period in the 1950s and beyond. And let us not forget the exceptional natural environment that the area also enjoys. All in all, there is lot to discover about Kampot and Kep, and Jean-Michel's museum will help you do exactly that in a modern interactive and informative way. He is also intending to offer a series of monthly lectures at the site, involve local schools, local crafts and regularly changing temporary exhibitions. Sounds pretty exciting to me. I'll provide more information as it takes shape.

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Match reports

Saturday's match reports
Sunday's match report in the PPP
The inside back page of today's Phnom Penh Post has 3 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, August 2, 2009

Referees take note

Phnom Penh's Ousmanou Mohamadou (blue, 99) can't believe the referee's decision - neither could I. pic - Nick Sells
In the same incident, referee Duong Socheth brandishes the red card to Kun Kuon (orange, 6) with everyone looking bemused by the decision. pic - Nick Sells
The three dismissals on Saturday afternoon at Olympic during the CPL games left me seething. Well, perhaps that's too strong a word for it. They left me bemused and disappointed that both games, played in an open and entertaining style with goals aplenty, should end on such a sour note because of the over-reactions of the man in the middle. Take the Phnom Penh v Post Tel game for starters. We saw five goals, the game was played in a good spirit and referee Duong Socheth had only felt the need to brandish two yellow cards in the 90 minutes. However, with his final decision in the match in time he'd added on, Socheth decided to send off two players, 1 per side, for what looked like an innocuous tussle 25 yards from goal. Two-goal Crown striker Ousmanou Mohamadou and Post Tel's skipper Kun Kuon were shown yellow and then red cards for bugger all in my opinion. Okay, I was sat in the stand and didn't hear if the players reacted to the initial yellow card but for his part Mohamadou had walked away and the referee rushed after him to hold the red card aloft with a flourish. Why? The game was virtually over, the result settled, the initial tussle between the two players was essentially handbags at ten paces, there was simply no obvious need for the referee to react in such a dramatic fashion. Common sense should've prevailed. Instead both players will now miss their next games. Maybe the referee was hoping to send a signal to the CPL teams that he won't stand for any messing - its a close-knit community of match officials and teams - but instead he sends a message that he's officious and overzealous and is happy to spend the rest of the next day writing his match report. In the second game, Khemara versus BBU, the referee, Thong Chankethya, dismissed Khemara's Sophal Udom for what he deemed a second bookable offence in time added on at the end of the game. Why? In my opinion the challenge was not even worthy of a yellow card let alone the over-reaction of the man in the middle who has now cost Khemara the services of one of their players for the next game. He blew the final whistle immediately after he sent the player off, so why couldn't he have just ticked him off with a wagging finger and let it go. I like match referees that sail through a match without you knowing they're even there. I detest referees who want to make statements by their decisions, and both officials on Saturday appeared to be of that ilk. Very disappointing.

The match officials for the Khemara v BBU match, Thong Chankethya is 2nd from left. Come on guys, more common sense please!

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A royal double from the Prince

The CPL's leading scorer with 13 goals, Spark's hot-shot Prince Justine
I know I'm beginning to sound like a long-playing record that's stuck, but the entertainment value of the Cambodian Premier League at the moment is top drawer. Goals galore, thrills and spills in every game and of course there's always the 'peanut princess' to captivate our attention when the football is flagging. Today's feast was served up by Spark against bottom club Phuchung Neak, another six goals and end-to-end stuff all the way. The 4-2 win for Spark took them into 4th place in the CPL but the win was never guaranteed with Phuchung always snapping at their heels. In Justine Prince, or Prince Justine depending on which is his family name - I must admit I'm not sure, Spark have the CPL's top scorer and a man in form. He netted twice today to take his tally to 13 and should've had more. He's strong and powerful, very quick over twenty yards and knows where the net is that's for sure. His strike partner Plong Chanthou also scored twice, his second an unstoppable drive, whilst Phuchung's goals came from a double-strike by the baby-faced assassin Heng Sokly. Such a pity none of the three players managed a hat-trick. My match reports from the weekend's games will be in tomorrow's Phnom Penh Post.
Two-goal Spark striker Plong Chanthou
Phuchung Neak's baby-faced goalscorer Heng Sokly at the post-match press conference
Spark moved into 4th spot in the CPL with their 4-2 win over Phuchung Neak
Phuchung Neak stay rooted to the bottom of the CPL league table


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Getting their money's worth

Ousmanou Mohamadou netted twice for Phnom Penh and was later sent off
A depleted Phnom Penh Crown line-up did just enough to go into top spot in the CPL
Another two Cambodian Premier League matches this afternoon at the Olympic Stadium, another 11 goals and three players sent off - what more can the football fans of Cambodia ask for in terms of entertainment. They are certainly getting their money's worth (it costs $1 to watch from the main grandstand, sheltered from the sun and rain) and the weather today was pretty mild, though still humid. Phnom Penh Crown, the reigning champions, had the opportunity to go top for the first time this season. They did it but they made heavy weather of their 3-2 win over 2nd from bottom, Post Tel. And in the second match, Khemara Keila also took advantage of the rearranged league programme to move into second spot, beating plucky Build Bright 4-2 and nosing above Preah Khan on goal difference.
Crown and Post Tel fought out an even-steven first half until the champions were rocked by a last minute kidney punch by Durosinmi Adefolarin Gafar, who powered his way through and then finished with a deft touch. It was the shock that Crown needed and they came out guns blazing after the break, scoring three goals in less than fifteen minutes. Striker Ousmanou Mohamadou, who wears 99 on his back, grabbed two of them, with substitute Chan Chhaya outfoxing the keeper for the other. Kao Nisey's tap-in for Post Tel gave Crown a few flutters but they held firm and saw out a 3-2 win to go top. In time added on, both teams lost a player when the referee over-reacted in a minor bust-up and sent off Mohamadou for Crown and Post Tel's skipper Kun Kuon. They didn't win any friends with their style today but Crown have been relentless in hounding down Preah Khan and will be a force to be reckoned with during the second half of the campaign.
Kouch Sokumpheak had his thunder stolen today by his fellow striker Oladiji Olatunde as Khemara moved up to second spot with a comfortable 4-2 success in an open game of football, in which BBU never gave up and in skipper Chhun Sothearath they scored the game's two best goals. Though Sokumpheak, the best homegrown Khmer player in the CPL this term, notched his customary goal midway through the second half, it was the leggy Olatunde who netted in both halves to give Khemara a stranglehold on the game, with their other goal coming courtesy of Loch Ratha. Sothearath's double-strike came on the half-hour when his 40 yard free-kick sailed over everyone and into the top corner, and twenty minutes into the second half with an unstoppable drive from 12 yards. After the game the BBU coach blamed his keeper for three of the goals, which was a bit harsh I thought. Oh, and Khemara lost Sophal Udom late on for two yellow card offences. So 11 goals and two pretty good games of football - I think most of the spectators went home happy, I know I did.
Post Tel took the lead against Crown and never gave up
Another two-goal hero today, Khemara's Oladiji Olatunde
Loch Ratha sccored a first half goal for Khemara against BBU today
5th placed Build Bright United before today's game
Khemara Keila stepped up to 2nd spot in the CPL with their 4-2 win
Kouch Sokumpheak (blue) leads out Khemara Keila at Olympic today
Eyes on the coin - the best toss-up from today. BBU in white, Khemara in blue


Bookshelf news

Time for a sneak preview into what books are coming out, or one's that I've missed and are already in the public domain. Let's look first at the travel guidebooks on Cambodia and I see that the National Geographic Traveller Cambodia book, a first edition and edited by Trevor Ranges, will be out in February 2010 - 320 pages. Resisting the temptation to put Angkor Wat on the book cover, Nat Geo look to have gone for the ever-popular monk shot! The following month the first Frommer's Cambodia and Laos guidebook, edited by Daniel White will be published. 352 pages. Both editors live in Thailand I believe - couldn't they find anyone in Cambodia itself? A new historical fiction piece, about the US Navy's involvement in Cambodia in the early 70s, has been self-published by HL Serra via AuthorHouse. It's called NILO Ha Tien: A novel of Navy Intelligence in Cambodia. 400 pages, published this month. Another July release is Joshua Hallsey's 120 page attempt to produce a coherent narrative of US policies here titled US Foreign Policy in Cambodia 1945-1993. Last month, Isabelle Chan's 148-page thesis was published, titled Rethinking Transtitional Justice: Cambodia, Genocide, and a Victim-Centered Model. Another new book which most likely won't find its way to my bookshelf is Beyond Democracy in Cambodia: Political Reconstruction in a Post-conflict Society by Joakim Ojendal and Mona Lilja, only because I won't have time to read it.
A few books that I missed when they were published. In April, Tola Ferris, a high school student in the US, published her 85 page effort called My Life Far Away: Adventures in Cambodia, about her recollections from growing up in her homeland. In October 2008 Bangkok-based photographer Mat Roe self-published Dear Cambodia, 108 pages of his pictures documented from over a dozen trips here. Last but not least is a book by Jay Eric Kanter, a real life explorer and adventurer in the Indiana Jones mould (yeah right). In December of last year he published via Pre Saa press his 165 page book, Way Beyond Angkor: Exploring the Lost Temples of Cambodia in which he makes his way around Cambodia discovering a series of ancient temples, alongwith meeting various odd-balls en route. Talking of odd-balls, I'm surprised I've never bumped into him on my own travels. By the way he lives in New Jersey and Thailand when he's not unearthing all these temples in Cambodia.

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