Sunday, January 31, 2010

The footy madness returns

Hero or villain? Ex-Phouchung Neak striker Heng Sokly came off the bench to sink his former club, in the colours of his new side, Phnom Penh Crown.
Before I launch into the two Hun Sen Cup matches played on Saturday at Olympic, a word on Kuoch Sokumpheak. The Cambodian international striker is back in Phnom Penh after an unsuccessful trial with Indonesian Super League club Persipura last week. Their transfer window opens next week so they were looking at Sokumpheak and a Korean defender but didn't take up the option to sign either after having a look. There's a suggestion they felt he was too small. Disappointing for Sokumpheak, obviously, as it would've been a chance to pitch himself in the hottest league in Asia right now, not to mention the cash windfall he would've got, but at least we'll have the pleasure of his company again in this season's Cambodian Premier League.
The last 16 of the Hun Sen Cup kicked off Saturday without any foreigners, giving the all-Khmer teams the chance to shine. Phnom Penh Crown were made to work for their 1-0 success against Phouchung Neak and it was the Navy old boy, Heng Sokly, who has just joined Crown, who came off the bench to net the winning goal, 5 minutes from time. Crown dominated but couldn't put their opponents to the sword, though Keo Sokngorn, with his head bandaged after a clash of heads left him with a cut eyebrow, was the pick of both sides and it was his pin-point cross that left Sokly with the tap-in as extra time loomed. P'Neak had the ball in the net in injury time but the linesman's flag ruled it offside, sparking a free-for-all that had the Military Police itching to get involved. By the time they'd reached the touchline, the handbags had been put away.
In the 2nd game, it was one-way traffic for the whole match, and Wat Phnom managed to net as many as I predicted, a round 10 against Mekong University's 1. A mismatch from the start, Wat Phnom were known as Spark in the CPL last term, and proved way too strong for the students. Two players got hat-tricks. Srei Vandeth came off the bench in the 2nd half and within 11 minutes he'd netted his 3 goals. Ry Phearoeun was the other ball-claimer after he scored two late goals to add to his 1st half rocket. Other goals came courtesy of Tes Vatanak, Put Savuth, Leang Sok Samnang and Phlong Chanthou for Wat Phnom, with Em Thun scoring for the hapless Mekong side. Two more games will be played Sunday afternoon.
Footnote: For the first time I saw football jerseys being sold before the game. It had to be PPCrown of course and their merchandize was selling for $10 apiece. They also employed a band to liven up proceedings too. You've got to admire their enthusiasm. Read my Phnom Penh Post match reports here.
Crown's national wizard Keo Sokngorn was the pick of the players in Saturday's 1-0 win for Crown. Sokngorn picked up a cut eyebrow from a clash of heads.
The all-Khmer Phnom Penh Crown side, 1-0 winners over the Navy team
Plucky Phouchung Neak put in a determined performance, only to lose to a goal 5 mins from time
The hat-trick heroes for Wat Phnom: Srei Vandeth (11) and Ry Phearoeun (9)
Wat Phnom getting themselves in a tangle before the game begins, or are they just camera shy?
Mekong Kampuchea University were put to the sword by Wat Phnom
Wat Phnom finally got themselves organized and hammered the Mekong students 10-1

Labels: , ,

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sweaty palms

In the courtyard of Tuol Sleng with Chum Mey
I'm reading through the final manuscript of To Cambodia With Love and my palms are sweating. Kim, the series editor, has just sent it to me and told me I have a day to read it through as the final deadline has arrived like a runaway train and my desire for perfection is just about to pass its sell-by date. I've procrastinated long enough, now it's time to face the music and produce what I promised to ThingsAsian, the publishers, what seems like a lifetime ago. Kim has done a fabulous job in picking up the pieces I sent her and I'm very proud of everyone's combined efforts. Nothing is certain in publishing though it looks like TCWL might be out in a few months - but keep it under your hat for the moment.

This morning I took my friend Ting, she's visiting Cambodia for the first time from her home in Taiwan, to Tuol Sleng. She's already seen the city's other major tourist sights on her own but wanted me to explain about Tuol Sleng, the Khmer Rouge, et al. During our visit we met with Chum Mey, one of the three remaining survivors of Tuol Sleng, and who has been in the international press a lot in recent months due to the trial of Comrade Duch, the former director of the detention center where Chum Mey was incarcerated in the final months of the Khmer Rouge control over Phnon Penh. He talked to a small group of British visitors, who were overawed to meet him, completely unexpectedly, with translations provided by their guide, explaining briefly about his detention and torture and thanked them for coming to Cambodia. By the look on their faces, I think he made their Tuol Sleng visit one they'll never forget.
This afternoon I inflicted two games of Cambodian football onto Ting. I don't think she will ever forgive me. She doesn't even like football. They were the opening pair of Hun Sen Cup last 16 games and whilst Phnom Penh Crown just scraped a 1-nil win over Phuchung Neak, Wat Phnom (formerly Spark) went goal-crazy with a 10-1 win over Mekong University. I get the feeling Ting can't wait to get out of town and up to Siem Reap. Little does she know there's two more games for her to endure tomorrow afternoon, before she gets the bus! More on the footy results later.

Labels: , ,

Friday, January 29, 2010

More dance for your delectation

Belle in the 2009 Dansez Roam! performance at Chenla Theatre
Dansez Roam! will hit the stage again next month. This is an on-going series of events produced by the French Cultural Center and Amrita that provides a platform for young contemporary Khmer dancers to express themselves, often in collaboration with foreign artists. It was last April that Belle took the Chenla Theatre audience by storm with her Hope of Tomorrow show and she'll be part of the forthcoming Suites (original music and choreographic piece based on the Bach Suites 1, 2, and 3) and La rue danse (small choreographic) performances, that are scheduled for Chenla and Wat Botum on 12/13th and 28 February respectively. It's not a one-woman performance though as the cream of Cambodia's artists will be joining her including Phon Sopheap, Chey Chankethya, Mom, Yon Davy, Vuth Chanmoly and many more. In March, Belle and the cast of Khmeropedies take their show to Hong Kong and Singapore and to the United States in June.

Tomorrow at Olympic Stadium will see the first matches in the Hun Sen Cup last 16 knockout stage with Phnom Penh Crown and Wat Phnom looking likely to succeed against lesser opponents. Games are at 2pm and 4pm and there are two more matches on Sunday, when BBU and Naga will progress. However, cup football has a way of bringing the big boys to their knees on occasions (just ask Man Utd), so fingers crossed we'll see some giant-killing. Though if PPCrown are losing, they'll probably walk off the pitch, as they did in last season's CPL third place play-off!

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On show

Part of the John McDermott exhibition at the National Museum tonight
In a brief break from my To Cambodia With Love word slog, I went along to John McDermott's book launch at the National Museum this evening with Ting, my visitor from Taiwan. It was well attended, with drinks and finger food inside and outside one wing of the museum. There was an exhibition of around 15 of the photos from McDermott's book, Elegy, in the room next to the famous bronze Reclining Vishnu. If you haven't seen the Great Vishnu, it was found underground in 1936 in a deep well in the temple precincts of the West Mebon island in the huge reservoir, the Western Baray. On show in the museum today is the head, torso and two right arms (this manifestation of Vishnu has four arms), plus several fragments. Its original size would've been more than six metres. After an hour, we popped over to the Rising Sun for Ting's first taste of British pub grub.
The Great Reclining bronze Vishnu at the National Museum
Ting taking a photo of the Rising Sun's resident giant gecko

Labels: ,

The spirit world

If you are in Siem Reap this weekend, catch the opening of the new Jerry Redfern photo exhibition at 4Faces Gallery, a block away from Pub Street. It begins at 7pm on Saturday 30th, just a pity I won't be there. Here's what Jerry has to say about his Be Unscared: A Glimpse of the Cambodian Spirit World in the Everyday exhibition.
This project is a first glimpse into the Cambodian spirit world – as it can be no more than that for an outsider. I have been a photojournalist for years and have worked in Cambodia regularly since 1998. I like to think this gives me a fairly good insight into daily life here. But I also understand that I will never be able to view the Cambodian cosmos as the Khmer do.
That cosmos is a blend of ancient Hinduism (as seen at the temples of Angkor); spirit worship that comes in part from the people who for centuries have hacked lives from capricious jungles; and Buddhism, with its prayers, chants, scriptures, arcane writing and its stories of religious men reborn into worlds beyond this one. We as foreigners know this spirit world exists in Cambodia, but we often miss the common gestures – a twist of the head, a bit of graffiti, a monk's breath, the flames of a candle.
The title “Be Unscared” comes from a sign at the Temple of the Floating Tree outside Phnom Penh, home to a monk with an elephant tusk that people believe can cure mental illness. And while the sign echoes one of the teachings of the Buddha, it also sums up what Cambodians have been hoping for centuries. It's a call for calm in the face of a dangerous world, whether the danger comes from the beasts of the jungle or those in Phnom Penh. On a technical note, the project is done on 35mm color negative film (which itself has become an arcane medium). The film is past-dated, which made it cheap (important for photographers these days) but that also led to a couple of unintended consequences. There are random color shifts in the old film, which are apparent in the inconsistent color of the prints. The old film also left some photos un-useably under-exposed. And then I had to get re-acquainted with taking photos and not being able to see them immediately on the back of the camera. I had to be unscared and trust that I had the images I thought I had seen. Sometimes I did – sometimes I didn't. And sometimes I had better. This exhibit is really just the start of a project I intend to work on for the foreseeable future. In most of these encounters with the Cambodian spirit world, people tell me about other sites, other people, other magic. I really don't imagine I will see all of the Khmer spirit world any time soon.

A new website is up and running for the documentary, Brother Number One, which documents the murder of New Zealand yatchsman Kerry Hamill by the Khmer Rouge in 1978. It follows his brother Rob, an Olympic champion rower, as he retraces his brother's steps and speaks to eyewitnesses and survivors. They are two thirds through filming including Rob's testimony at the ECCC last August and will return to Cambodia for the verdict in the Comrade Duch trial, expected sometime next month. Visit the website here.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Snowed in

I'm snowed under. Not literally, obviously, as I live in Cambodia, but metaphorically speaking. An email pal of a few years, Ting, arrives from Taiwan today for her first visit to Cambodia and our first face to face meeting to boot. I know she is dying to see Cambodia at long last. Another email friend, Cat from France, will be arriving in a couple of weeks as well. In addition, I am under severe pressure to finish the manuscript for To Cambodia With Love by the weekend so its all hands on deck if I want to see my book finally published, in the not too distant future. Not enough hours in the day? - tell me about it! Sorry, can't hang around, I've got stuff to do.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Elegy on Angkor

The National Museum in Phnom Penh provides the backdrop for the launch of John McDermott's book, Elegy: Reflections on Angkor, which will take place this Wednesday, 27 January at 6.30pm. Open to all, the museum will soon exhibit a selection of the photographer's images in large format prints as part of a permanent installation. The coffee-table sized book, 256 pages and retailing at $75, is also on sale at Monument Books and at his own gallery in Siem Reap. McDermott's book is a definitive collection of 100 of his unique black and white Angkor photos over the last 14 years and is a must for the collector. Find out more here.

Labels: ,

Press talk

My match report from Saturday's international friendly in today's Phnom Penh Post. It's online here.

Labels: ,

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Round up from yesterday

The two teams and VIPs line-up before yesterday's game
Here are a few photos to round off yesterday's friendly international match at Olympic Stadium, which Cambodia lost 1-nil to Ulsan University from South Korea. Crowd favourite Nov Soseila was subbed after just six minutes of yesterday's game when he suffered an ankle injury, and was replaced by PPC's Chan Rithy, who has been training in Thailand in recent weeks. Soseila had an ice pack on the injury for the rest of the game and will do well to recover for next week's Hun Sen Cup matches. Om Thavrak partnered Tieng Tiny at the center of defence after Sok Rithy and Prak Mony Udom failed to turn up for training on Thursday and were dropped from the squad. The two subs not used yesterday were keeper Samreth Seiha and Chan Dara. Oh, and Sun Sovannarith, the U23 skipper, has changed the spelling of his name. His new passport shows his name as Sun Sovannrithy.
Kuoch Sokumpheak
will fly out to Indonesia on Monday, accompanied by national assistant coach Bouy Dary, and will spend the next four or five days undergoing a trial for an unnamed Super League club side. The Super League is approaching its half-way break and they have a transfer window opening in February, so they are inviting players for trials around about now. They are allowed 3 foreigners plus 2 non-Indo Asian players in the team. If Sokumpheak, 22, who has remained fiercely loyal to his Khemara Keila team in recent years, is successful, his wages could be up to ten times his current salary. He is without doubt the best homegrown player in Cambodia at the moment and has the type of character that would make him a perfect ambassador for Cambodian football if given the chance. The ISL's growing reputation is attracting some of the best talent across Asia right now and is 'the' league to be in.
Keo Sokngorn, with ball, faced by Pheak Rady in the warm-up
High kicking for the Cambodian starting line-up before the match
The world's press (joke) watch the VIP intro's prior to the game. I counted half a dozen tv cameras.
The Ulsan University team all visited the same hairdresser before kick-off
The Cambodian bench moments before the game starts
Game over, time for a mini inquest with the Cambodian team listening to the coaching staff

Labels: ,

Back to basics

Referee Sreng Hao Dy at least kept his eyes open for the pre-match toss-up. Also keeping a close watch is the 4th official, who switched off later in the game.
I'm on a rant. And yes it's referees again. This time the man in the middle of yesterday's international friendly between Cambodia and Ulsan University. Mr Sreng Hao Dy was the man charged with officiating the game and on the whole he did okay-ish. At least he got the toss-up right. He was a bit petty, handing out two yellow cards for time-wasting in the 1st half and for getting in the way of a keeper's throw out, but when some juicy tackles were flying in from both sides in the second half, he kept his cards in his pocket. However, he fell flat on his arse on the 62nd minute when he booked Ulsan's You Joo Hun for a crap tackle on Sun Sovannrithy. What he failed to realize was that he had booked the same player after 14 minutes for a similar tackle on Chan Rithy. Now I know that all the Korean team sported the same bowl-shaped haircut so individual identification was hard at close quarters but surely he could hear me shouting from the stand that it was the player's 2nd booking. Everyone else did. But no, he obviously can't read his own scribble and blew his whistle to restart the game. It was 3 minutes later that a linesman finally grabbed his attention, pointed out his error and Sreng Hao Dy brandished the red card with a flourish. Incredibly embarrassing for the referee and in my view the 4th official (Thong Chankethya), who is supposed to be the back-up for the match officials, but he too failed to notice the error. In fact he was too busy sorting out a substitution for Ulsan, who had noticed the referee's mistake and wanted to get You Joo Hun off the pitch pronto. They sneakily recalled their sub once the referee had woken up. To be frank it's simply not good enough. This was an international match, and whilst the Cambodian match officials can get away with an error like that in the CPL, getting the basics so wrong in an international game is horribly embarrassing for all concerned. If they want to be taken seriously, they really have got to step up to the mark and act professionally. I'm still scratching my head that match referee Khoun Vireak allowed Phnom Penh Crown to walk off the pitch in the Super 4 play-offs last year and then restarted the match thirty minutes later. Refereeing standards in Cambodia must improve.


Positive in defeat

Cambodia's starting XI: (back row, LtoR): Tiny, Rady, Yaty, Sokngorn, Sovannrithy, Thavrak, (front row): Narith, Sokumpheak, Soseila, Borey, Chhaya.
South Korea have a worthy reputation when it comes to football and World Cup qualification and as we saw in yesterday's friendly match at Olympic Stadium between the Cambodian national team and Korean collegiate side Ulsan University, their strength in depth is pretty impressive. The team that faced Cambodia yesterday don't even play in the top two professional leagues in South Korea and yet they gave an assured performance to beat Cambodia's best 1-0. Okay, a draw would've been a fair result, both sides created a few chances and the only goal came from a wicked deflection, but it's a reminder that Cambodia has some way to go before they can match the best that Asia can offer. For national coach Scott O'Donell, it's all part of the learning process. "I like to win, I wasn't happy that we lost but there were some positive performances. We've still got a lot of work to do in our attacking third - selecting the right options and having the confidence to shoot - but I was happy with the 2nd half performance, the effort was outstanding and the attitude was good. We used the man advantage until the final third, but they defended well, they were well organized like most Korean teams are. I would've liked a result but you never get what you deserve in football. It was a great experience for the players to be up against bigger, stronger boys. Hopefully we'll learn from that."
It could've been a very different story if Kuoch Sokumpheak hadn't rolled his shot wide of the post from 12 yards in the 2nd minute. Five minutes later, the impressive Lee Dong Kun struck a drive which took a looping deflection off the shoulder of Tieng Tiny, leaving Sou Yaty in the Cambodian goal completely flat-footed for the opening goal. The college outfit looked dangerous going forward with incisive passing and Kun struck the foot of the post on 15 minutes. Yaty came out well to block a shot from the Ulsan skipper Lee Sang Gi on 26 minutes after Kun had carved open the opportunity as Cambodia found it hard to get into the game. They did up their effort just before half-time but Keo Sokngorn and Sokumpheak couldn't find a way past Yang Jin Ung in the Ulsan goal.
A more determined Cambodia came out for the second half and Chan Rithy struck the crossbar with a thumping drive within a minute of the restart. Their bright start received a boost when Yoo Joo Hun was dismissed for a 2nd bookable offense even though the referee failed to notice he'd booked the same player twice, until his linesman pointed it out to him. Very embarrassing for the man in the middle, Sreng Hao Dy. Cambodia pressed with Khim Borey shooting just over and Sokumpheak sending a header skidding wide when he found himself unmarked ten yards out. The game got a bit juicy as both teams gave no quarter and the tackles came flying in thick and fast. On 82 minutes Cambodia's best chance went begging. Sokumpheak fed Sokngorn who drove the ball goalwards where keeper Ung got a touch, the ball struck Tieng Tiny a yard out and agonisingly looped over the bar. Despite their pressing, Cambodia couldn't find an equalizer and the collegiate team recorded their hard-earned success. The match attendance was 5,000.
Although this one-off game didn't bring Cambodia the win they'd hoped for, it was a rare opportunity for the team to get together, train together, and play together and with World Cup and Suzuki Cup qualification on the horizon in October, this is exactly the type of international experience that Scott O'Donell wants his team to have on a much more regular basis. The forthcoming Hun Sen Cup matches and the start of the CPL season will be upon us in no time, so it's vital that the powers that be produce a constructive program of international matches with October at the forefront of their thinking, and quickly.
The Cambodian line-up: Yaty, Rady, Sovannrithy (Chanbunrith 81), Tiny, Thavrak, Narith (Chanthan 76), Borey (Sothearith 87), Sokngorn, Soseila (Rithy 6, (Kumpheak 75)), Chhaya, Sokumpheak (capt).
Kuoch Sokumpheak (10) leads out the Cambodia national team in red
Before the kick-off. LtoR: Nov Soseila, Sou Yaty and Kuoch Sokumpheak
LtoR: San Narith, Keo Sokngorn, Khim Borey and Chan Chhaya
LtoR: Om Thavrak, Sun Sovannrithy, Tieng Tiny, Pheak Rady
Cambodia capt Kuoch Sokumpheak with Ulsan's Lee Sang Gi and the match officials
Cambodia's coach Scott O'Donell (right) and his assistant Bouy Dary face the tv cameras after the match

Labels: ,

Cambodia go down

Cambodia's captain Kuoch Sokumpheak, who will fly to Indonesia on Monday
Two big stories came out from Saturday's international friendly at Olympic Stadium. Cambodia began slowly, conceded a wickedly deflected goal and despite upping their game after the interval, couldn't pull it back and went down 1-0 against the Ulsan University touring team from South Korea, who were no slouches. After the game, Cambodia's national coach Scott O'Donell confirmed that his skipper for the day, Kuoch Sokumpheak will spend the next week on trial at an unnamed professional club in Indonesia, with a view to impressing enough to earn a contract for the 2nd half of the Indonesian Super League season. Sokumpheak is widely regarded as the best of the homegrown talent in Cambodia and if successful, the Khemara Keila striker would be a great ambassador for his country. More on the international game later today.

Labels: ,

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Old friends

Vun Em, left, is the co-ordinator and singer with the Messenger Band
Last night I caught up with a few friendly faces when I met Sokhom, my long-time pal from Kompong Thom at the restaurant that sits under the Dara Reang Sey Hotel on Street 130, and also chatted with Dara, one of the sisters that run the hotel, who I hadn't seen for a few months. Sokhom was in town for 1 night alongwith a customer-friend in the shape of Thierry from Belgium. They had just arrived after spending an enjoyable night in a floating village near the southern mouth of the Tonle Sap Lake as part of their adventures in the north. Thierry is a regular visitor to Cambodia and always hooks up with Sokhom during part of his travels. After a bite to eat at the hotel, the three of us headed to Meta House to listen to the Messenger Band doing their bit to spread the word about workers rights, their hopes and fears, and highlighting the plight of female workers in Cambodia. All of the band's members were or are still garment factory workers and they take their message around the country to educate and entertain their audience. Some of their acappella songs are sad, some are less serious, all of them inform. They dare to talk and sing about topics that are often taboo and deserve great credit for their brave and courageous stance. They sang five songs and chatted to the audience before we watched a film made by the Meta House team called I Am Precious, which followed a fashion competition aimed at exposing the talents of garment factory workers in designing their own dresses and t-shirts.
The Messenger Band members enjoy a lighter moment during last night's performance

Labels: , ,

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sarah's dream stays alive

Amara Chhin-Lawrence and Jean-Baptiste Phou star in the video excerpts of Winds of Angkor
Last year I made mention of a new musical based on Cambodia. It's called Winds of Angkor and has been written by British composer Sarah O'Brien who visited Cambodia in 1999 and 2006. She says; "The piece evolved musically from the initial concept of an intimate love duet to a full-scale theatrical production involving soloists, orchestra, Cambodian musicians and dancers, rhythm section and a state-of-the-art set that features spectacular 3D projections and video content. The challenge was to balance the tenderness of the original letters with the enormity of one of the worst human catastrophes of the 20th Century. Angkor Wat and the surviving temples that rise from the jungle stand witness to the resilience of the Cambodian people and their culture, which ultimately prevailed. Although the story is inspired by tragedy, the musical celebrates the unique, exotic beauty of Cambodia and carries a message of hope to those affected by genocide today." The composer is a classically-trained cellist who has worked with artists such as Andrea Bocelli, Russell Watson, Celine Dion and is a regular member of Yanni's touring company as well as recording a host of TV and movie soundtracks.
The composer's dream is to stage the world premiere in Cambodia. She's already completed extensive pre-production work, which you can see here on video and for which she employed two of the cast, Amara Chhin-Lawrence and Jean-Baptiste Phou, of the incredibly successful Where Elephants Weep, another musical-opera that took Phnom Penh by storm at the end of 2008. It would be another massive leap forwards for Cambodia's artistic development if Sarah O'Brien's vision can come to life here in Cambodia, I'm keeping my fingers firmly crossed. Visit the musical's website.

Labels: ,

Press talk

Today's Phnom Penh Post carries my preview of tomorrow's Cambodian national football team's friendly match against Ulsan University. Read the article online here.

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 21, 2010

O'Donell's view

Scott O'Donell, Cambodia's national football coach
I talked to Cambodia's national football coach Scott O'Donell at lunchtime today to get his thoughts on Saturday's international friendly encounter between his Cambodian national squad and a visiting unknown quantity, in the form of South Korean collegiate team Ulsan University. The game will be played at the Olympic Stadium from 3pm, is being televised live and has been arranged through the national team's links with Korean-owned telecommunications partner, KTC. For the life of me I can't find out anything at all about Ulsan University, though the industrial city of Ulsan has two other professional clubs that play in the K-League and National Leagues, whilst University football appears to be a feeder into these competitions. Scott admitted he knew as little as me. "I know nothing at all about the opposition. They arrived Wednesday, trained that afternoon, have a squad of 22 players and faced Preah Khan Reach on Thursday [whom they beat 3-1]. But it's a good opportunity to get the national team together and will be a good experience to play against a South Korean team, as they are normally well organized and bigger players than our own. I will play the same formation, 4-4-2, as I have before."

In selecting his squad for this one-off international friendly, Scott has kept faith with the core of the Under-23 team that performed in the recent SEA Games and bolstered it with some familiar and experienced faces. Returning to the international fold are the Naga Corp trio of Om Thavrak, Kim Bunchanrith and Pok Chanthan, as well as Phnom Penh Crown's tricky left winger Chan Rithy. The 20-man squad have been training at the national football center just outside the capital for the past four days and will train on the Olympic pitch on Friday. "I wanted to retain the core of the Under-23 team from the SEA Games as in my opinion they performed well for me over the last 3-4 months, both in training and in the games. I've added a few senior players who've played with me before and who are players I believe can add valuable experience, on and off the field. However, this is by no means the final squad for the national team." 2010 will be a key year for Cambodian football in the international calendar. "The focus this year will be on the full national team with World Cup and Suzuki Cup qualifiers in October, so I've put a proposal to the Federation to get the players together more regularly for training and more regular international matches as well." Whether his blueprint for the national team comes to fruition remains to be seen, but whatever happens, Scott's preparation for this friendly match won't change from the norm. "I will approach this game as I do every other game. I'm treating the training sessions in exactly the same way. There's no such thing as friendly games. We go out there to win, win everything, try to be competitive and I want the players to go out there and perform. This is a good chance for them to show the Cambodian public what they are capable of. We want to do well and we want to win the game."

All of the Cambodian players have been involved in their club sides' Hun Sen Cup qualifying matches in recent weeks, with Kuoch Sokumpheak on fire for his team, Khemara Keila. Sokumpheak netted 18 goals in their three matches recently, including a 10-goal haul against Arizon, in a match which also saw his sent off. He was the golden boot winner in last season's cup competition. Scott views the Hun Sen Cup as a real positive for his future plans. "My coaching staff will be at all the future Hun Sen Cup games to identify new talent. That's one of the beauties of the competition. There are some teams we've never seen before and we hope there are some good, young, raw players, and if they show the right ability, we can bring them into the national set-up for training. I've already seen some games in the provinces, at Svay Rieng and Kep. Whilst I'm very supportive of having foreign players in the CPL, I think it's a good idea for the Hun Sen Cup to give locals only a chance against provincial teams and let the teams show what they're capable of, without the foreign players involved."

This is the national team's first game of a very important year. October is the pinnacle of the year with a raft of important qualifying games yet there is no schedule or build-up of international friendlies and as yet, we are still in the dark regarding the fixtures for the Cambodian Premier League season and the Super 4 competition, and how that schedule will impact on the national team. Added to that, Scott's one-year contract will expire in May and in my opinion to ensure continuity it would be in everyone's best interests to secure his future for at least the rest of the year. I await developments with a tinge of apprehension.

Labels: ,

20-man squad named

The Cambodian national team face touring side Ulsan University from South Korea is a one-off friendly match at Olympic Stadium this coming Saturday, kick-off at 3pm. Ulsan are playing Preah Khan Reach this afternoon and both matches are being televised on local channel TVK. This is a good opportunity for the national team to re-assemble after their SEA Games exploits and coach Scott O'Donell has included a few experienced faces in his 20-man squad, to supplement the core of the U23 team that lined up in Laos. The squad have been training at the national football center just outside the capital for the last four days in preparation for the match. Incoming faces include left-winger Chan Rithy of PPCrown and the Naga trio of Om Thavrak, Kim Chanbunrith and Pok Chanthan. Just a quick word on one player who is already in red-hot form during the qualifying matches of the Hun Sen Cup - Kuoch Sokumpheak netted 18 goals in three games, including 10 in a match against Arizon. Here's the 20-man squad:
Sou Yaty, Samreth Seiha (Ministry of National Defence)
Lay Raksmey, Sok Rithy (Preah Khan Reach)
Pheak Rady (MND)
Tieng Tiny (Phnom Penh Crown)
Om Thavrak, Kim Chanbunrith, Sun Sovannarith (Naga Corp)
Prak Mony Udom, San Narith
Nov Sokseila, Oum Kumpheak (MND)
Chhun Sothearath (Build Bright United)
Pok Chanthan (Naga Corp)
Chan Chhaya, Keo Sokngorn, Chan Rithy (PP Crown)
Kuoch Sokumpheak
(Khemara Keila)
Khim Borey (MND)

Labels: ,

Lundy on song

One of my favourite singer-songwriters Jimi Lundy has already been hard at work on his next album, as yet untitled, with recording due to start anytime soon and a target date of June this year for completion. Jimi is Cambodian born and now lives in Melbourne, Australia. He has a real talent for catchy, melodic songs and you can see his latest music video for the song Forever Yours below. He's also just about to complete another video, When Tomorrow Comes, which will feature Cambodian movie star Jan Jariya, who is currently touring downunder.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sam's jaunt

Samantha Brown (above) has been globetrotting with her Travel Channel television show for the last decade. Last week she completed filming of her first visit to Cambodia for her Passport to Asia series having spent time in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and the Angkor temples and on the south coast at Ream. Local fixers were Hanuman Films. In October last year she was in Vietnam. The Travel Channel is available in more than 95 million US cable homes, so she's pretty well known. Talking of Vietnam, Adam Bray, one of the contributors to my To Cambodia With Love guidebook, which is nearing completion, has been involved in the latest Insight Guides Laos and Cambodia guidebook, which should be out sometime next month. He also chipped in with updating the DK Eyewitness Vietnam & Angkor Wat publication that came out last month. A DK book dedicated solely to Cambodia is in the works as well after the two writers were spotted in town recently. Adam was also a contributor to the To Vietnam With Love guidebook by ThingsAsian, which came out last year.
It's raining outside as I type this which is really unusual for January here in Cambodia. It rained yesterday afternoon as well. Parts of the country have also been experiencing fog. Crikey me, we'll have snow next. This Friday night at Meta House (7pm) will see the Messenger Band performing acapella while presenting a film by the Meta House crew of the I Am Precious! fashion contest, held in November. Garment factory workers designed dresses and t-shirts to raise their profile and demonstrate their skills and of course, the all-girl band are all former garment workers themselves.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

1,000 lingas

This massive piece of sandstone has numerous lingas and carvings of the gods in evidence
Kbal Spean is renowned for its rockbed carvings and its myriad lingas, hence one of its names, River of A Thousand Lingas. The idea behind these lingas, or erect phallus, is that they are symbolically meant to fertilize the sacred waters that flow down off Phnom Kulen, the holiest mountain in Cambodia and birthplace of the ancient Khmer Empire, as the water makes its way down to the Angkor plain below. Often the lingas are within a rectangular frame in the form of a yoni (or female form). An inscription found at the site shows that the carvings were begun in 1054 and as well as the lingas there are numerous representations of the reclining Vishnu, Shiva on Nandi, Brahma and other gods, some of which have been defaced in an attempt to remove them.
The top surface, covered in circular lingas, of the same large block of sandstone rock
There are nine lingas represented here, inside the square yoni
Dotted around the riverbed are numerous lingam and yoni carvings
A giant linga at Kbal Spean, within a square yoni
This underwater yoni has five lingas inside and another eight outside
More underwater lingas carved onto a giant slab of sandstone
These lingas are carved into the sloping riverbed at Kbal Spean
More lingas in a dry part of the river just before the head of the waterfall at Kbal Spean
The peaceful Kbal Spean river as it passes over myriad lingas just below the surface

Labels: ,

Monday, January 18, 2010


The cover of the book Beyond the Apsara, with contemporary dancer Belle in full flow
There's a book that was published by Routledge of India at the back-end of last year about Cambodia but which is a bit like gold-dust here at the moment. There's only a couple of books in the country just now with more expected soon. I've been loaned a copy of it - Beyond the Apsara: Celebrating Dance in Cambodia - to have a good look through which I'm doing right now. To say I'm disappointed that Em Theay has been given just a single paragraph in the book would be an understatement, and if it wasn't for an article by Hun Pen then it could also have overlooked the tireless work of another dance master, Chea Samy, to resurrect Khmer classical dance after the Pol Pot period. Contemporary dance is given more column inches than ever before, and combined with articles on classical dance, it looks like the book will present a far more in-depth look at Cambodian dance than ever before, especially with some mini-interviews with 25 dance artists of different ages. It's been printed by an academic publisher so the photos inside the book are poorly printed, which gets a minus mark. More on the book later when I've read it from cover to cover.


Friendly banter

This Saturday the Cambodian national football team will play a friendly against Ulsan University, a team from South Korea who are on a short tour of the region. The game will be played at the Olympic Stadium though I still haven't had confirmation of the kick-off time, even though the game is just a few days away. The Cambodian line-up will be most of the U23 side together with a few overage players, and they began the first of a series of training sessions together earlier this morning. This is a one-off game though most of the players have been in action recently as part of their club sides' qualification for the latter stages of the Hun Sen Cup. The important fixtures for the national team will be later this year, in October, when they will take part in important World Cup and Suzuki Cup qualifying matches.
If you've never heard of Ulsan, the Korean city, in the southeast of the country, was built around the corporate base of the multinational Hyundai conglomerate. It hosts the K-League football club Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i (Ulsan Hyundai Tigers) and Ulsan Hyundai Mipo Dockyard, who play in the National League, and who lost 2-1 to Thailand in a friendly last week. It is South Korea's 7th largest city and the country's industrial heartland. The K-League's season begins at the end of February and most clubs are enjoying pre-season training in warmer climes.
Update: Kick-off time is 3pm on Saturday and the match will be televised live by TVK. On Thursday, the same touring team will play against Preah Khan Reach at Olympic Stadium, with a 3pm start.

Labels: ,

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Kbal Spean sculptures

Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta with a headless Lakshmi cradling his legs
If you can manage the 40 minute hike to the top of the mountain at Kbal Spean, your efforts will be rewarded with the sight of riverbed sculptures, thousands of lingas and a peaceful forest setting complete with waterfall. Too many tourists can spoil the serene location but that's a problem throughout the Angkor complex these days. At least Kbal Spean is off the main circuit but it's getting more and more popular, so grab the chance to see it now. I've posted here some of the key rock sculptures you can see on your visit to Kbal Spean, which is essentially a small river that flows from the summit of the sacred Kulen mountains and is fertilized by flowing over the lingas and down to the fields around Angkor below. That's the theory. It is a natural sandstone bridge, from where Kbal Spean gets its name, and depending on the time of year, some of the carvings are submerged by the course of the river and others are open to the elements. The original carvings were made in the late 10th, early 11th centuries and added to later on. You can see quite a few carvings which have been damaged and destroyed by thieves, intent on robbing this secluded place of its treasures. Vishnu is the most popular of the gods featured on the rockbed carvings.
The natural sandstone bridgehead has been sculpted in numerous places with carvings of the gods as well in the shape of lingas that fertilize the flowing water
Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta with Lakshmi in attendance
Next to Vishnu are three temple-type structures depicted containing lingas
Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta, with Brahma rising out his navel. Lakshmi is headless, a victim of thieves. Another carving of Brahma is on the far right of the photo.
A carving of Brahma on a large boulder
Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta and lings on the right side
Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta with Lakshmi holding his legs
Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta with Brahma on a lotus flower
The serene face of Vishnu carved into the sandstone bedrock at Kbal Spean
The central Shiva figure in this carving was hacked out leaving just a few smaller figures at its base
Inside one of the small caves above the waterfall is this shrine containing two sandstone pedestals and some sacred rocks. Hermits used to inhabit these caves.

Labels: ,

What a feeling

Sadness was a key element of Moving into Feeling at Meta House. LtoR: Marine Ky, Mom and Yon Davy.
A third and final contemporary dance performance at Meta House took place last night in front of a full house. All three pieces of work are expected to be included in a new show called The Sound of Rice to be performed in early April. Last night's Moving into Feeling piece explored sound and emotions, with Mom and Yon Davy again giving us their own interpretation of the work, aided by coach Bob Ruijzendaal and artist Marine Ky. The sad sections were very sad and Davy remarked after the show that having to demonstrate all the different emotions left her "feeling a bit crazy in her head." Incidentally, Yon Davy will present her first independent choreography work at Meta House on Sunday 21 February.
Mom (red top) using some of her classical training in her movements
One of my favourite noodle girls, Vey (in yellow) with a colleague. Vey and Vanny work at the noodle shop on the corner of the road leading to Meta House, opposite Wat Botum.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Qualifying success

Yesterday was the final round of group qualifying matches for the Hun Sen Cup, which have been held in four locations in the provinces over the past week. It was good to see the teams from the Cambodian Premier League getting out and about to give the provincial teams a crack at toppling them, though the CPL boys all came through to the last 16 with the exception of Post Tel, who had a miserable time in Kep, losing all four games. Two teams from each of the eight groups qualified for the next round to be played in Phnom Penh beginning in two weeks time (30 January). In Battambang, Phnom Penh Crown waltzed through Group A with 4 wins out of four, netting 26 goals and conceding none. In Group B, the National Defence Ministry had to settle for 2nd spot to the Mekong Kampuchea University side. Up in Siem Reap, BBU and Naga go through as group champs, Naga netting 26 goals in just three games. Down in Kep, Koh Kong topped Group F over Wat Phnom (who were called Spark last season), with Kiriviong also grabbing top spot in Group E. And in Svay Rieng, Khemara scored 28 goals withour reply in their 3 games, with Preah Khan also topping their group with ease. Highest score of the round went to Khemara who beat Arizon 15-o.
The last 16 round will take place over the two weekends of 30 January and 6 February. Koh Kong will fancy their chances of a cup upset against National Defence, whilst Mekong Kampuchea University will also be up for their game against Wat Phnom. I would expect the big guns like PPCrown, Naga, Khemara and Preah Khan to proceed with ease. Only Khmer-born players are eligible for the Hun Sen Cup matches this season, which act as a prelude to the CPL, or the Metfone C-League as it'll be called this season.
Footnote: The Cambodian national team coach, Scott O'Donell made a welcome re-appearance on ESPN's football results program tonight to dissect the Barclays Premiership results. Scott had been a regular pundit on the sports channel in the past but has been absent for some time due to his Cambodian U23 involvement.

Labels: ,

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sunset at Kratie

I spotted a very familiar photo on the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism's website just a minute ago. Above is part of the banner which appears regularly at the top of the Ministry's homepage advertising the Mekong River and the dolphins. Below is my own photo of a lovely sunset taken in Kratie in December 2000 - can you spot the difference? There isn't any. An acknowledgement would've been welcome but if it helps to promote Cambodia then who am I to quibble.
A dramatic sunset view from Kratie in December 2000

Labels: ,

Access unveiled

Today marks the welcome return of access to the upper level of Angkor Wat
Today's the day when the frustrating closure of Angkor Wat's upper level comes to an end and visitors are once again allowed to marvel at this magnificent temple's most sacred area. Kent Davis' Angkor Wat Apsara and Devata website has more on the re-opening of the area known as Bakan here. Taking those final, steep steps to the top has been out of bounds for mere mortals since October 2007 and new restrictions have been introduced to ensure the new access isn't abused, news of which I broke here on 5 January. Enjoy it while you can.

Labels: ,

Homage to a friendship

Svay Ken, his wife Tith Yun and Ingrid Muan captured on canvas
Whilst at Meta House last night I had my first look at their latest display of paintings, which
is a re-hanging of an exhibition - A Good Friend is Hard to Find - that was first shown at the Reyum Gallery in January 2006. The exhibits are paintings by Khmer artist Svay Ken and were his tribute to a friendship he enjoyed with Ingrid Muan, the co-founder of the Reyum Institute who died a year before the initial exhibition. Svay Ken himself passed away in December 2008 aged 76. There are about 30 paintings in the main ground floor display and another dozen smaller portraits on the first floor. Svay Ken's contemporary, self-taught style is very distinctive and his work eagerly sought-after.
A portrait of Svay Ken's wife Tith Yun
Krom Ngoy, a musician and author, known as the Father of Khmer Poetry
Some of the 30 or so Svay Ken paintings on display
A view of one of Svay Ken's own exhibitionsAnother one of the artists' exhibitions recorded on canvas
Svay Ken (right) and Ingrid Muan are interviewed by journalist Seth Mydans in 2001

Labels: , ,

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Where's the day gone?

The authors of Cambodians and Their Doctors, Jan Oversen and Ing-Britt Trankell at Monument Books tonight
Not a spare minute in the day. That's my excuse for my lack of blogging. My working day have been full on with visits from hotel sales teams and travel agency partners from Laos and Vietnam. I must finish work early today to get to a book launch, Cambodians and Their Doctors, at Monument at 6pm, then off to Meta House for a film show including Aki Ra's Boys at 7pm and then onto the moto again, this time heading for the Cavern and high volume punk music by Stiff Little Punks. Not sure when I'm going to manage to grab a bite to eat. Any spare time I can find at the moment is being used up on finishing off the manuscript for my travel book, To Cambodia With Love, which we hope will see the light of day sometime this year. I have shamefully dragged my feet with this but there is now light at the end of the tunnel thanks to the pushing, shoving and threatening from the series editor Kim Fay. Gotta run.
Update: The book launch at Monument for Cambodians and Their Doctors was well attended and pretty interesting. The authors addressed some of the key topics they covered in their research which included local kru medicine, Western influences in French colonial times and the Khmer Rouge period, up to the present time. It came as no surprise to hear that whilst many believed Western medicines were destroyed under the Pol Pot regime, they were in fact kept hidden and used exclusively by the party hierarchy, whilst non-cadre Khmers received only ineffectual herbal medicines, if anything at all. As for the bookshop, there's a stack of books I'd like to buy but my bank account wouldn't be able to take the strain. I'll have to do it in small doses (staying on the medical theme). There were two films shown at Meta House, both showing disability in Cambodia and both highlighting the positives with a film about the work of Handicap International in Battambang and the other, Aki Ra's Boys. The Stiff Little Punks were exactly what they said on the label, loud thrashing punk rock, just like I used to listen to thirty years ago.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


There's a new 8-page pull-out in the Phnom Penh Post every Wednesday called Lift, and it's a new magazine style insert aimed at young Cambodians. So goodness knows why they asked me for a comment on blogging. What do I know? Anyway, in a story today called Vanguards of the Blogosphere, I get a brief mention, though they forgot to put the link to my blog! The article was in both English and Khmer. Being called a veteran British travel blogger sounds like an old git to me. They've got that right then... here's the article by Tharum Bun.

Vanguards of the Blogosphere

In the past five years, blogging has emerged in Cambodia as a personal publishing tool, enabling people to exercise their fundamental right to freedom of expression. The Blogosphere in Cambodia is far more active than in neighbouring countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and Laos, thanks in part to a group of five advocate bloggers who held 20 blogging and Web technology workshops in 2007 with funding from the International Republican Institute (IRI). Those workshops, which introduced some 2,000 students from more than 10 universities to the opportunities within the blogosphere, began the formation of a community of bloggers who came together at a 'cloggers' (the word for Cambodian bloggers) summit at Pannasastra University of Cambodia last year. At the conference, which was sponsored by IRI and the Open Institute, hundreds of people shared their experiences trying to write stories that were attractive to Internet audiences. The summit also drew bloggers and social media experts from neighbouring and Western countries.

Blogging is an ideal way to become involved with other young Cambodians looking to make a difference. In countries where freedom of expression is limited in the public domain, blogging has been used as an affordable and convenient tool for exchanging ideas, opinions and a range of views on the news of the day. While blogs offer a unique opportunity for self expression, media experts view blogs as a double-edged sword. Some bloggers may strive to be honest and righteous, but others can use their blogs to spread misinformation or defamatory comments. After being introduced to blogging at a workshop in 2007, Sopheap Chak, a 24-year old former human rights advocate, became interested in the two-way communication tool and the possibility of opening a dialogue to debate social topics, mainly regarding rights and governance. Her online conversations on the Web remain clear and focused, despite warnings and advice from friends. "I still get advice from my friends to please be careful, do not be too outspoken; Cambodia is not the United States or any European country." said Chak Sopheap, currently a student at International University of Japan. In a blog post in May last year, she touched on two alleged corruption issues within the Royal Academy for Judicial Professions and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. "In Cambodia corruption continues partly because the people see it as something 'normal' that most are unable to change. Besides, there is a lack of political commitment to encourage people to speak out against it and hold authorities accountable," wrote Sopheap in May last year, thus setting the stage for a discussion amongst her readers.

Poverty, poor education, and corporate and social responsibility are among the topics that 28 year old Borin Ly frequently comments on. He says that most of his blog posts are inspired by everyday experiences. "I wrote my recent post on food safety because having breakfast with my mother, I started to look at the food and thought: 'Is it healthy?' Then the problem of food safety came into my mind," said Borin Ly, adding that he has heard many complaints from friends about chemicals that are not supposed to be used in food.
Asked whether online dissidents' voices are being tracked by the government, Andy Brouwer, a veteran British travel blogger said, "They are probably off the radar at the moment. The written press is the big thing that seems to be in the spotlight. I'm not sure the authorities have enough media-savvy people to spend time sweeping through the Net, though I could be wrong."
While blogs provide a platform for honest discussion among those with Intenet access, the reality is that less than one third of 1 percent of Cambodians have regular Internet access. Web-based journalism is not being read nearly as much as traditional print media, which has more than 400 registered newspapers. Freedom of speech may be spreading quickly online, but the development of the Kingdom's print and television media must follow if the entire country is going to participate in these discussions.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Echoes of the past

David Hinds of Steel Pulse, June 1978 vintage (pic Peter Mannox)
I love finding old photos of Steel Pulse so the two pictures are reproduced here simply because I've just seen them for the first time and they fit the bill perfectly. Top: David Hinds is snapped by Peter Mannox at a gig at Bingley Hall in Stafford in 1978 when Steel Pulse supported Bob Marley. Mannox captured the band at a time when they were really making big waves in the music business. The Bingley Hall gig was in June 1978, a month before the release of their first album, Handsworth Revolution. Bottom: Colin Gabbidon, complete with Michael Jackson afro hairstyle, the band's original drummer when they were beginning their career in Handsworth in the mid-70s. The picture was taken at Bunny Johnson's Digbeth club in 1975 and behind him is Selwyn Brown on keyboards.
A rare photo from the band's 1975 gig at Bunny Johnson's club in Digbeth. Colin Gabbidon on drums and Selwyn Brown on keys. (pic Colin Gabbidon)

Labels: , , ,


This is a quick-fire update on some of the new book releases that have just happened or will be happening sometime soon where Cambodia looms large in the publication. Guidebook-wise, Cambodia is now getting more solo billing and Moon Cambodia will publish its first Cambodia-only edition next month, 344 pages, authored by Tom Vater. A smaller guidebook, Moon Spotlight Angkor Wat, will be out in April. Nat Geo Traveller's slimline Cambodia (right) will be out soon enough, also next month, 320 pages by Trevor Ranges. And in March, Frommer's will put out their Cambodia & Laos edition, by Daniel White, 352 pages.
Keep an eye out for Carrying Cambodia, a photographic book from Hans Kemp and Conor Wall that should be out around May. This Thursday is the book launch at Monument Books for Cambodians and Their Doctors by Jan Oversen and Ing-Britt Trankell, which I mentioned in a post a few days ago. My good pal Eric de Vries will be publishing his photographic tome Retrospective 00/10 in the next few months too.
A couple of books I missed at the back end of last year. Alive in the Killing Fields by Nawuth Keat with Martha Kendall is aimed at teenagers, 112 pages and the story of Nawuth's survival through the Khmer Rouge time. More of an academic publication is Peg Levine's 260 page Love and Dread in Cambodia: Weddings, Births and Ritual Harm Under the Khmer Rouge, from Singapore University Press. And of course don't forget Beyond the Apsara – Celebrating Dance in Cambodia, co-edited by Stephanie Burridge and Fred Frumberg, which should be available sometime soon.

Labels: , ,

Monday, January 11, 2010

Banteay Srei - briefly

A small diety, probably Vishvakarma, sits atop a grinning kala at Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Angkor group of temples. Over the last few years the sheer weight of numbers of tourists that have descended on this tiny prasat, dedicated to women and uniquely constructed with pinkish sandstone, has seen the inner sanctuary roped off and access severely restricted, compared to the 'good old days' when there were no restrictions. Of course I understand the need to protect the temple but a visit to Banteay Srei isn't what it used to be. I paid a flying visit there a couple of weeks ago with my work colleagues and here are a few photos of some of the carvings and iconography that are viewable. For a detailed look at the reliefs on the inner sanctuary, you'll need a very good zoom on your camera or binoculars. Banteay Srei originally dates from the middle of the 10th century but was added to over later centuries.
This relief seems to show a makara being eaten by a larger makara. That's sea-monsters for you, they'll eat anything, even their own.
Add ImageOne of the most popular scenes, Indra sits on top of the 3-headed elephant Airavata, with a munching kala head below
A pediment on the northern gallery shows the lion-man Narasimha disemboweling the demon Hiranyakasipu (upside down)
Relief detail of a female, judging by the breasts, clutching foliage, next to a finely-carved colonette
I think this is Varuna riding a hamsa (sacred goose) flanked by two lions holding up the foliage
This lintel is located on the ground and shows the abduction of Sita by Ravana
A perfect example of a makara, a sea-monster, with a crocodile head and a long elephant's trunk, that can be found on the end of lintels and pediments at Banteay Srei
At the top of this pediment, Lakshmi (consort of Vishnu) is flanked by two elephants who are pouring sacred water on her. At the bottom, Garuda occupies a place normally reserved for kala.
The western gopura features a duel between the monkey princes Valin and Sugriva on its pediment, taken from the Ramayana epic. On the left Valin is shown dying.
As the monkey brothers duel, left, Rama intervenes with an arrow that kills Valin, right. A good example of the pinkish sandstone used in the construction of Banteay Srei.
The inner sanctuary at Banteay Srei, which has been roped off. The small guardians in front of the prasat are recent cement copies.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

The sound of rice

Mom and Davy during their performance last night
Mom and Davy are two of the new generation of Cambodian dancers who are branching out into contemporary dance whilst still retaining elements of their classical dance background and training in their work. Last night, accompanied by musician Leng Sakkona, they performed a new piece of work, 'How do you sound', at Meta House to an appreciative audience. Rice was the central component alongwith intimate sounds in a 20-minute performance. Next Saturday 16th they will perform another new piece, 'Moving into feeling.' Both works are in collaboration with art director Bob Ruijzendaal.
Davy, Leng Sakkona and Mom create their own sound of rice at Meta House

Labels: ,

Going down under

The boys from Steel Pulse go 'down under' later this month
For the first time in 16 years Steel Pulse will be performing 'down under' when they head for a handful of shows in Australia and 1 show in New Zealand later this month. I've suggested to the band that they take the opportunity to stop over here in Cambodia en route but somehow I can't see it happening. Instead, those lucky Aussies will be hearing the world's best reggae outfit doing their thing in Perth, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, though they open up in Rotorua in NZ on 23 January. All the gigs are part of the Raggamuffin Festival Tour that will also include Lauryn Hill, Shaggy, Wyclef Jean, Julian Marley and Sly & Robbie in the program. Maybe the band will take pity on me and stop over on the way home. For all you nostalgia fans, below is a YouTube video of the band performing Ku Klux Klan in London's Rainbow Theatre in 1980. Sweet.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Don't be afraid

Don't be afraid, he won't hurt you. He may be an angry looking kala but effectively, his location, on lintels over doorways in Khmer temples is just one of the ways to repel enemies and evil spirits from entering the temple, so he's actually protective in nature. He has no lower jaw and his hands are missing but his trademark bulging eyes and exposed fangs are in full evidence. This mythological monster-cum-lion is also called Reahoo or Rahu on occasions. The above monster is on a lintel at the temple of Banteay Srei and I'll post some more pictures from that temple very soon.


I can see clearly now...

Sometimes you have to hold your hand up and say, great service, great price. And that's exactly what happened to me today when I went to get a new pair of specs. After my tumble in Laos last month, my glasses had been on the slant and to be honest they are at least three years old, so it was also time for a new eye test. Close to my home are Phnom Penh Optics on the corner of Sihanouk and Street 63 and the beaming smile welcome and friendly banter was a good start as I walked through the door. A computerized eye test was free - the assistant told me my eyes had actually improved rather than deteriorated - and within ten minutes I'd selected a new frame and all for under $30. I collected my new specs an hour later and I am definitely a happy customer. They gave me a nice case, a free bottle of cleaning fluid and invited me back if the glasses needed any attention. Great service and a great price. Definitely recommended.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Health in Cambodia

This book sounds pretty specialist though reading the review by the publisher they promise it's more than it appears. Cambodians and Their Doctors - A Medical Anthropology of Colonial and Post-Colonial Cambodia is a 336-page look through the archives at the arrival of modern medicine in Cambodia during the French colonial period and the existing Khmer health practices, that in the main, still exist today. Published by NIAS, Jan Oversen and Ing-Britt Trankell are the authors and they include sections on indigenous healers, spirit mediums and magic monks as well as the Khmer Rouge health regime. The authors are presenting a lecture on their topic at Baitong Restaurant in BKK1 on Wednesday 13th at 6pm and then there's a book launch at Monument Books the following night at 6pm.
On a totally different topic, Meta House, who celebrated their 3rd anniversary tonight with a party, and who will be moving location in a few months, host a new Khmer dance with How Do You Sound on Saturday night at 7pm. Next Thursday I'll be there with the hour-long documentary Aki Ra's Boys as part of celebration for disabled Cambodians and then a second new dance, Moving Into Feeling will take place on Saturday 16th. The Messenger Band are finally back at Meta House on 22nd together with a positive take on the garment industry in the country.

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It's all about dance

Performers from the Khmer Arts Ensemble at practice
There's a lot of dance stuff taking place this year, whether its classical, contemporary and a combination of both. When I hear about it, you'll know too. Currently in town are a collective from Singapore and beyond under the auspices of the Flying Circus Project, hosted by Amrita Performing Arts. They're in Phnom Penh at the moment but will be going up to Siem Reap in a day or two. Not sure if the collaboration with local artists like Belle will translate into a public performance anywhere. Meanwhile Meta House will be hosting a couple of Saturday night dance pieces directed by Bob Ruijzendaal over the next two weekends. On 9 January, Leng Sakkona will collaborate with Mom and Davy for an experimental piece linked to sounds and on 16 January, Mom, Davy and Sopheap will present a revision of a show they performed a few weeks ago at the same venue. Later in the year Amrita will be taking their Khmeropedies II project to Hong Kong, Singapore, New York and New Haven. Created by Emmanuèle Phuon, it has elements of classical court dance and contemporary movements and will involve such luminaries as Belle, Sam Sathya and Chey Chankethya. Also the Khmer Arts Ensemble under the tutelage of Sophiline Cheam Shapiro will be putting on classical shows in Cambodia before heading over to the United States later in the year for a major tour.
A brand new book dedicated to dance in Cambodia is just out. Beyond the Apsara – Celebrating Dance in Cambodia was co-edited by Stephanie Burridge and Fred Frumberg of Amrita and published by Routledge India. With ten chapters by established international practitioners and 25 essays written by a wide range of Cambodian dancers, the book honors the many efforts to revitalize Cambodian dance, as well as while expressing the hopes and fears of today’s generation of Cambodian dancers. The launch took place at the World Dance Alliance conference in New Delhi at the end of November. Additional launches are scheduled in Singapore and Phnom Penh early this year. 242 pages and retailing at just under $100. A peek at the contents reveals essays from HRH Princess Buppha Devi, Toni Shapiro-Phim, Hun Pen, Sophiline Cheam Shapiro and others. And Belle is on the front cover photo.

Labels: , , ,

Cup kick-off

I've been trying to tone down the number of football-related posts in recent times after the glut of them during the SEA Games in the last few months. However, I must mention that the preliminary round of the 2010 Hun Sen Cup kicks-off this afternoon, with 8 games taking place in 4 provincial locations across the country. The big boys of the CPL are out in the sticks, with the champions Naga playing in Siem Reap, cup holders Phnom Penh Crown up in Battambang, whilst other matches will be played in Kep and Svay Rieng. The teams in the eight groups will all play each other with the aim of qualifying for the last 16 round which will be played at the National Stadium in Phnom Penh. Naga, PPCrown and Khemara have each lost their coach in the close season, so will have new faces at the helm this time around, whilst Spark FC have changed their name to Wat Phnom. A few players have changed clubs, like national defender Chan Dara, who has left Khemara Keila for Crown, who've also signed babyfaced striker Heng Sokly from Phouchung Neak, but so far the movement of players has been pretty minimal. The Hun Sen Cup only allows Cambodian players to play in the competition this year, so any talk of the foreign players in the team line-ups will wait for a couple of months until we get closer to the CPL season.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The artisans of Angkor

The humble silkworm being bred at Puok for its beautiful thread
If you haven't been yet, I recommend a trip out to the Angkor Silk Farm at Puok, some 16kms west of Siem Reap. The free guided tours provided by Artisans d'Angkor take you through the silk-making process step by step, from the cultivation of mulberry trees that feed the silkworms, to removing the silk thread from the cocoons and then the natural dyeing and weaving of the silk into the gorgeous end products you can see for sale in their shop outlets. They even put on a free shuttle bus from town and have a silk museum, shop and cafe onsite. If you can make time in your schedule when visiting Siem Reap, do it. Closer to home, in Siem Reap town, is the AA's Chantiers-Ecoles craft workshops where you can see master craftsmen at work with stone, metal, wood, lacquer and silk painting. You've all seen the artistry in the boutiques and shops, so take a step back and see the process from the beginning, to fully understand the craftsmanship that goes into the final product. Find out more at their website.
Boiling the cocoons to produce the yellow thread
One of the many weaving looms at the Angkor Silk Farm
One of the large sheds where the weaving of the silk takes place at Puok
The silk museum onsite at the Angkor Silk Farm
Working with metal is just one the crafts at Artisans d'Angkor's Siem Reap center
A keen eye and a steady hand is required for woodworking
A wooden standing Buddha is being prepared by another craftsman. AA employs over 1,000 Cambodians.

Labels: ,

Glorious gospel fields - dream on!

I've mentioned my dislike for bible-bashing god-botherers before. It's still nagging away at me that they are goose-stepping and cycling their way around the streets of Phnom Penh and beyond. Is it just me or does this crap get up everyone's nose? “God is opening a new door in Cambodia, transforming the killing fields into the glorious harvest fields for the Gospel,” declared Dr Jonathan James, the international director of AEF as he officially launched the new ministry of Asia Evangelistic Fellowship (AEF) Cambodia in Kompong Thom, the one time home of the infamous Pol Pot. Dr James, in his message, encouraged the Cambodian church to marvel at the providence and grace of God in that after prolonged years of unrest, war, genocide and instability, “Cambodia’s day has come”. Why can't these so-called Christians live in the real world and talk properly without all this gibberish crap. Cambodia is a Buddhist country, so why can't you let the Cambodians get on with their own lives without forcing your fruitcake religious views down their throats. I'm all for providing help and support where it's most needed but it should come without any religious baggage attached. Bugger off and convert in your own backyard.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

AA to the rescue

This Dec 2000 photo of the reclining Vishnu at Kbal Spean is the original 11th century carving
It was in the dead of night in March 2003 that thieves stole in and hacked off the upper body and head of Vishnu and his wife Lakshmi at Kbal Spean. No easy task as the site of the riverbed and its thousand lingas is a 40 minute hike from the main road. But that didn't stop the robbers and their chainsaw from removing the 11th century carving, which some experts believe may've sold for around $50,000 in Bangkok. I first visited Kbal Spean in late 2000 and the head of Vishnu was in place at that time - see my photo from that visit above. However, after the theft three years later, the ugly scar remained until the artists at Artisans d'Angkor came to the rescue of this beautiful carving and in August 2006, they replaced the missing Vishnu. Today, the reconstituted carving (see photo below) would appear to be an original unless you know its true history. The stone carvers at AA certainly know their stuff, though the face of Lakshmi is still missing. Kbal Spean was first discovered in the last 1960s and then re-opened to the public in 1998 after a long time in the doldrums, mainly due to the fragility of peace until late in the decade and the omnipresent threat of landmines. There are examples at Kbal Spean of other thefts, carvings ruined forever, mainly from the period when the authorities didn't have the manpower, the money or the will to keep watch over its priceless antiquities.
The same carving, photographed a few days ago, with the replacement Vishnu in place, carved by the artists of Artisans d'Angkor
A photo showing the destruction caused by the thieves in March 2003. Photo: Sebastien Berger

Labels: ,

Angkor Wat re-opens

Access to the top level of Angkor Wat will re-open soon after 2 years of closure
You heard it here first okay. Visitor access to the top level of Angkor Wat will begin again on 15 January. That's straight from the Apsara Authority (AA) spokesman. However, that access will be strictly limited to 100 people at any one time and they will be closely monitored by AA staff with visits lasting only 20 or 30 minutes max. There are other restrictions like no under-12s, you must dress properly, only English-speaking guides will be allowed and so on. This access will be for 1 month to assess how the management control of visitors is proceeding. Access to the top level of Angkor Wat, the area is known as Bakan, has been out of bounds for visitors since October 2007 and during that time restoration efforts by Khmer, German and Italian teams have been on-going. Their work will soon be seen again by the lucky ones who are prepared to queue for access to the top.
The top level of Angkor Wat, known as Bakan, has been off-limits since Oct 2007. It will re-open on 15 Jan.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Now's day out

Now enjoying the simple life as the sun sets at Mechrey
Sometimes the simplest things give the most pleasure. Take Now for example. She's lived in the shadow of Angkor Wat all her life. Her new job as a photographer's assistant, so far removed from selling souvenirs at Angkor Wat that you wouldn't believe, is opening her to new experiences every day. Even so, she is still only scratching at the surface of life that most of us take for granted. So I asked her to join our company trip to Kbal Spean and the Tonle Sap Lake as I knew she'd never been to either, even though they are literally a stone's throw from her home in Angkor. When every cent counts, finding time to enjoy your immediate surroundings, always takes a back seat. She loved both trips. The natural beauty of the forest, the water - all Cambodians love water - the carvings, the waterfall, meeting people en route, she was as happy as you can imagine at Kbal Spean. And the boat trip to the sleepy floating village of Mechrey was another opportunity to enjoy a slice of her own country, with a group of fellow Khmers, to watch the sun setting surrounded by life on the water and to enjoy the simple pleasures that life can bring.
'Please take a picture on this stone with the trees behind me' - no problem. Now on the way to the top of Kbal Spean, 1.5kms from the bottom.
It only needs a few people to make Kbal Spean feel crowded
This overhanging tree branch provides a viewing spot of the underwater lingas below, and of course, another photo opportunity
One of the best preserved underwater yoni and lingas at Kbal Spean
It's a waterfall at Kbal Spean - so it's mandatory to have a picture taken of Now and myself
On the boat roof as we sail around Mechrey
Reasmey taking a picture of me taking a picture of her, while Leakhena is on the phone
Another fun time, this picture is from Now's New Years Eve celebrations on Pub Street in Siem Reap. Again it was her first time to enjoy this event.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What a homecoming

My kinda night, surrounded by 4 lovely faces at 4Faces: LtoR: Nika, me, Kunthea, Somean, Liza
I'm literally just in the door and got a rare opportunity to watch Leeds United on television, accompanied by a chicken curry of course. Not only that but they beat Man United 1-0 in the FA Cup at Old Trafford and that has got to go down as their best result for years. I've been a Leeds fan since I was wet behind the ears but had little to shout about in recent years until tonight. So now I'm shouting. I spent the morning with my team from Hanuman visiting the Angkor Silk Farm at Puok and the Angkor Crafts Center in Siem Reap, both run by the folks at Artisans d'Angkor, who now employ over 1,000 Cambodians. They are a major success story and have a well-run operation at both centers that allows a fast-flow of tourists every day of the week. The rest of the day was spent on the bus making our return to Phnom Penh. Last night, the Hanuman staff party was a top-drawer success. Everyone had a great time and it was a great opportunity for the whole of the Hanuman operation to get together and have a whale of a time. And they did. I rolled in around 2am after popping into the 4Faces bar to catch the very end of their big night.
A view from behind Nick and Kulikar at last night's Hanuman staff party
During a lull in the dancing, this is Kunthea, who was my Madizone dance partner, at the Hanuman party
A quick stop at 4Faces to see the new exhibition with works by Geoff Croll and Jean Francois Perigois
Intense concentration from this female wood caver at Artisans d'Angkor at their Siem Reap center

Labels: , ,

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Enjoying the Palace

This morning I managed half a dozen hotel inspections and none of them came up to the level of my bed for the night at Angkor Palace. I must find out where they got the mattress 'cause it was the best night's sleep I've had in ages. By comparison, my mattress at home is definitely on its last legs. As for the breakfast first thing, it was pretty good though incredibly busy - not surprising as they have over 250 rooms - but I still rate the breakfast at the Tara Angkor as the best I've tasted in Siem Reap in the last couple of years. The pool at the Palace is the largest in the city I'm told and though we're at the height of the high season and occupancy is very high, the soundproofing must be good as I can't hear a thing outside my room. Don't get me wrong the hotels I saw this morning were fine and the staff very accommodating, but they don't come up to the standard of the Palace. I'm off in a little over an hour to the annual Hanuman staff party so I'd better get my glad-rags on. Unfortunately I'll miss the opening night of the latest photographic exhibition at 4Faces which is being blessed by monks at 6pm tonight. I popped into Wat Damnak this afternoon as I've been invited to the opening of their new library wing next week, alongwith King Sihamoni, but I can't make it, so he'll have to carry on without me. It's a very attractive addition to the renovated buildings at Wat Damnak and it was great to see the existing library being used by so many youthful Cambodians, all eager to use the opportunity to read and learn. Also on my visit list was Shadow of Angkor II guesthouse, which was full and the pool looks very inviting. I hadn't seen Shadow II since it opened, but it was only a whistle-stop visit and great to touch base again with my friends at the Shadow. Lunch was at Viroth's, who impressed me with a neat pork curry.


Time stands still on the lake

Sunset at the floating village of Mechrey
Here are a few snaps from earlier Friday. Sunset at the floating village of Mechrey is an unspoilt spot which has yet to be discovered by the hordes who still tend to aim for the crowded and overrated Chong Kneas, for their sunset fix on the Tonle Sap Lake. It's a much smaller village than Chong Kneas and is no more than a strung out collection of waterborne dwellings and shops. I've included one of the underwater linga and yoni carvings at Kbal Spean, which I hiked up to see on Friday morning, as well as a snap from Pub Street on New Year's Eve with Now and myself seeing in 2010 accompanied by hordes of beer-swilling, firework-releasing party revellers.
Sunset and Mechrey behind me
We found the usual collection of animals and reptiles being kept by the fisherfolk of Mechrey including this small python, in a cage with 3 other larger snakes
The sun is out of sight and a stillness falls on Mechrey
The countdown has finished so its time for a hug and best wishes for 2010 on Pub Street with Now
The underwater linga and yoni at Kbal Spean

Labels: , ,

Friday, January 1, 2010

The lull is over

As you may've been aware, I've been a bit quiet over the last couple of days. Yesterday was spent travelling up to Siem Reap and enjoying the arrival of the new year, whilst today has been spent out and about until now, half an hour before midnight. Kbal Spean and Banteay Srei were this morning's destinations, whilst the floating village of Mechrey on the Tonle Sap Lake grabbed my attention later this afternoon. More later. Then it was off to the Shadow of Angkor with Now for some chicken amok and a final pause to see my pals at 4Faces, then back to my bed for the night at the pretty swish Angkor Palace Resort. I'm spending a couple of nights courtesy of the folks at Angkor Palace and I'm impressed. I'll reserve judgement until tomorrow's breakfast, but so far, very good. Tomorrow is the Hanuman staff party at HanumanAlaya, with a few hotel inspections thrown in before lunch for good measure. Now where is that connecting cable so I can download some pictures from my travels earlier today...