Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dance on display

Belle enjoying her Wat Botum park appearance
The park in front of Wat Botum came alive with dance and dance fans tonight as La rue danse was played out on eight floodlit stages offering a wide range of contemporary dance, hip-hop, juggling, and much more besides. The audience was entertained by the 20+ performers who rotated across the stages in short ten minute bursts to ensure everyone got the chance to see their offering. Judging by the size of the crowds, the applause and murmurs of approval, the show, part of the Dansez Roam! series of events, was a major success. The best known of the performers was Belle and her dance partner Chy Rothana who performed two separate pieces and wowed the crowds with two entertaining contemporary dance sequences, not usually seen by Cambodian audiences. The audience also loved the monkey antics of Phon Sopheap and the younger element enjoyed the kids from Tiny Toones. But it was the variety on offer that made it such an enjoyable event for all.
Belle and her dance Chy Rothana partner perform a flemenco inspired piece as their 2nd offering
In her 1st piece, Belle offered up a robotic or mannequin style dance
One of the few moments that Belle and her partner paused for breath

Labels: ,

Hotel Manolis

A view of the front facade of Hotel Manolis in Post Office square, Phnom Penh
I was looking through some photos from my visit with the Heritage Mission last year to look around some of the colonial French buildings still standing in Phnom Penh when I realised that I hadn't posted a few pictures of the old Hotel Manolis that stands opposite the Post Office and is now home to many families, who've converted the old hotel suites into homes. The Manolis Hotel was constructed in 1910 and looks out onto the Post Office square. It's obviously seen better days and deserves a lick of paint and some tender care, which has already been lavished on the Post Office and the former Bank of Indochina, that is now Van's restaurant. Some of the thirty families that live in the rooms of the former hotel do not have legal papers and face expulsion at any time. The building was also the headquarters of the French colonial Chamber of Commerce at one time. One of the hotel's most famous former guests was Andre Malraux, who spent four months there in 1923 after stealing carvings from the temple of Banteay Srei before getting caught.
The corner portion of the former Hotel Manolis
The faded lettering on the facade of Hotel Manolis
Two of the former hotel's current inhabitants
A kitchen area in one of the family homes
The original floor tiles are still in place
Some of the shuttered windows inside the inner courtyard of the former hotel

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The passion of the cup

This will be the last football report on this blog. I've created a separate football blog - Kingdom of football - where you will find everything of a football nature after today. And what a day to end it on. The Hun Sen Cup final next week will be between Phnom Penh Crown and the National Defense Ministry after those two teams came out on top in today's semi-finals. The Army team had the easier of the semis, beating Preah Khan Reach 1-nil, albeit against the odds and the formbook. However, the real drama of the day came about in the afternoon's first match between Crown and their big rivals, Naga Corp. This match had just about everything you could ask for in a cup tie. Passion, often mistimed, was evident and that was clear at the card card which reached two reds and 14 yellows. The goals count was just as high with Crown taking a 3-nil lead at half-time with a 3-goal splurge in just seven minutes. Naga, who'd threatened a walk-off just before the interval, came back strongly and pulled back the deficit, the game finishing 3- 3 at full-time, with the Naga equaliser coming from the penalty spot with five minutes to go. In extra time they blew the chance of a win by failing from the penalty spot with almost the last kick of the game and that meant a penalty shoot-out. It was 3-3 after the first five spot-kicks and onto sudden death. The drama continued to unfold when Teab Vatanak had to retake his penalty (he'd missed in extra time), which was saved and then Phuong Narong stepped up to fire Crown into the final before bursting into floods of tears. It was time for everyone to draw a huge breath of air. This game was certainly a glorious advert for the good, and bad, of Cambodian football. More later, over at Kingdom of football, after I've had a lie down in a darkened room.


Friday, February 26, 2010


I'm at a crossroads. For a long while I've resisted the urge to separate my daily blog postings from my football-related posts. Afterall they are part of my life here in Cambodia, even if many people switch off and scroll straight past my football output. However, I do understand the anti-football comments I receive and have been wrestling with the decision about whether to separate them for a while now. And I still can't decide (though I'm edging towards a 2nd blog solely for football). We're not yet into the full flow of the Cambodian football season, just a bunch of cup ties before the season starts properly in a few weeks time, so recent reports have been sporadic and usually at the weekends. Tomorrow for example, the Hun Sen Cup semi-finals will take place at Olympic Stadium with Phnom Penh Crown versus Naga and National Defense Ministry meeting Preah Khan Reach. I'll blog the results, as well as write them up for the Phnom Penh Post, and then make a final decision as to whether I should set up a separate football blog. As for the cup finalists, I'm in favour of a Naga versus National Defense final but I have an inkling that Preah Khan will prove too strong for the Army team in the 2nd of tomorrow's semis.

Labels: ,

A million dollars

Back to that occasional series of photos of my best friends and today it's the turn of Ara. I love this particular picture as it's from her wedding day a couple of years ago. I've known her for a decade now and on that special day she looked a million dollars, with a regal look that the '60s icon Sophia Loren and her ilk would've been proud of. Ara has worked for a relief and development agency for nearly as long as I've known her and she's recently expanded her family's portfolio to provide catering services. She lives in Phnom Penh with her husband Ly and remains one of my very best pals.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Festival season

The opening scene, Euphoria, from Seasons of Migration
The national performing arts festival hit the heights with Season of Migration this afternoon, to a healthy-sized audience at Chaktomuk Theatre. This was a rare performance of the Sophiline Cheam Shapiro-choreographed work by her Khmer Arts Ensemble and the four-act show reminded all present that when classical Cambodian court dance is done well, it looks seamless. The all female troupe glided across the stage, so light on their feet, shimmering in their glittery costumes as they brought to life the gods and goddesses who have to adjust to a new existence and surroundings on earth, experiencing culture shock en route. Most of the audience were Khmer, a few barangs heard about it on the grapevine and turned up, as did the television cameras. We simply don't see enough performances of classical dance in Phnom Penh, certainly of this high standard, and it's high time the Ministry of Culture sought ways of bringing more performances into the public domain.
A scene where the divinities are adjusting to their new life on earth
The final act of Seasons of Migration is called Equilibrium
The deliberate movements and gorgeous costumes characterize classical dance
A scene from the final act of the performance

Labels: , ,

Street performance

Concluding the recent Dansez Roam! series of events by the CCF, the park surrounding Wat Botum will come alive this Sunday night (28th) from 6.30pm onwards, with over 20 performers, including Belle, who will have to battle for space with the keep-fit aerobic groups that inundate the park at that time. Under the banner of La rue danse, there will be eight dance areas dotted around the park where individuals and small groups of contemporary dancers, hip-hop and traditional performers will strut their stuff. The idea is to bring the dancers closer to the audience, with a projection screen also showing dance images by Anders Jiras. It will be an interesting experiment given that the sound systems that boom out the music which accompanies the keep-fit enthusiasts is usually loud enough to make your ears bleed. Bring ear-plugs. This afternoon (2.30pm), the Khmer Arts Ensemble are performing their very own Seasons of Migration classical dance story at Chaktomuk Theater, as part of the national performing arts festival that's taking place at the venue this week.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sharing the love

Coming to a bookstore near you soon, or get it online


1 in a million

This supposed occasional series is quickly turning into a daily event. That will cease. However, in the meantime, here is Sophoin, one of my very best friends here in Phnom Penh. If you are a regular reader of my blog you will have encountered her before. Nothing is too much trouble for Sophoin and she is like a breath of fresh air whenever I see or speak to her. She has an amazing way with people of all ages, and I don't exaggerate when I say everyone loves her. One in a million.


Take a moment

Those happy snappers at SEA/collectiv have just produced their first newsletter and their first 21-page e-zine, Moments. They will produce the e-zine every two months and will host examples of their members' work and other interesting stuff. The group of photographers are also planning a summer exhibition in Phnom Penh. Download the pdf-magazine here.

On the subject of photography, a book of images from Conor Wall and Hans Kemp, titled Carrying Cambodia, will get a book launch at the FCC in the capital on Sunday 7th March, and an exhibition of some of the images will take place at the FCC throughout the month of March. The book will look at carrying loads, human and inanimate, on motos, bicycles, trucks, remorks and the rest.
A new photo-book from Conor Wall and Hans Kemp

Labels: , ,

Stiff little fingers

Roy Thinnes in The Invaders
The author of a brand new book on my favourite sci-fi television series, The Invaders, has been in touch to tell me about his recent publication. The Invaders: A Quinn Martin TV Series is the latest output from James Rosin, who specializes in books on classic television series. It contains a commentary from the star of the show, Roy Thinnes, producer Alan Armer, and others involved with the show, plus many photos, a complete episode guide and a biography section of the many guest stars that appeared in The Invaders, a show that ran for two seasons in 1967 and 1968. You can find out more about the television series here and it's leading star Roy Thinnes. You can order a copy of the book here.
The Invaders has become something of a cult sci-fi classic since its untimely demise in March 1968. The good versus evil battle was played out in 43 episodes but without a conclusion, when the series ended abruptly with low ratings forcing ABC to axe the show. The series was the first of its kind to deal with alien invasion and spawned future series such as V, War of the Worlds and The X-Files. Thinnes played the character, David Vincent, an architect, who took it on himself to expose the virtually undetectable aliens (except they each had a crooked little finger). Great fun, cheesy plots and re-runs on television in the UK ensured I was hooked.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

English excellence

Continuing my occasional series on the fairer sex, this is Rumnea, who I met a few years ago when I stopped in her mother's sewing shop to shelter from a rainstorm in Kompong Thom town. I was taken aback by her excellent English at the time and it came as no surprise to find that she came to Phnom Penh a couple of years ago to further her education, in the field of accounting. She is a very bright young lady and is working as a company accountant at the same time as continuing her studies at university. And her English just gets better and better.


Crowning glory

A massive lotus crown in the grounds of Prasat Phnom Wan in Isaan, with yours truly giving it some perspective
Occasionally you will see them on the floor but normally they will be almost out of view, at the very pinnacle of the sandstone towers that dominate the Khmer temples in Cambodia and Thailand. On my trip to Isaan last October, there were a few to be spotted and I've posted some examples here. I'm talking about the massive sandstone lotus crowns that sit at the top of the central sanctuary of most temples. Of course, if they have fallen down over time or remain on the ground despite renovations as in the case of the temples in Isaan, then you can understand why, simply because of their size and weight. Up close they are impressive to say the least and they come in different shapes and sizes.
A lotus crown in situ, atop the central tower at Prasat Phnom Rung
A lotus crown from Prasat Prang Ku to be found at Phimai Museum
Lotus crowns in the courtyard at Isaan's Prasat Muang Tam
These lotus crowns are from Prasat Sikhoraphum in Isaan province

Labels: ,

Monday, February 22, 2010

The fairer sex

With all the football reports and pictures, temples galore and other manly, rufty-tufty stuff, there's way too much testosterone on this blog. It's only right and proper that I should counter-balance that from time to time with the fairer and let's face it, far more beautiful face of Cambodia. To that end, I will post the occasional picture of some of my friends, a few of which my regular readers will already know, like Sophoin and Now, and others who you haven't met before. And yes, most of my friends are female. Today it's the turn of Yamong, who hails from Takeo province and works in a city restaurant, and when not trying to teach me conversational Khmer, can be found enjoying (perhaps too strong a word) the fare offered up by Lucky Burger.


Press talk

Today's Cambodian football reports in the PPPost
Today's Phnom Penh Post carries my match reports from the weekend Hun Sen Cup ties played at Olympic Stadium. The semi-finals will be played this coming Saturday. Reports here and here.

Labels: ,

Taking the stage

As part of a two week national performing arts festival that is taking place in Phnom Penh, though you wouldn't know it through the complete lack of coverage in the western media, the Khmer Arts Ensemble will be making a rare public performance of one of their key classical dances, Seasons of Migration, this Thursday (25 February) at Chaktomuk Theater. The start time is 2.30pm and its free to the public. In fact, there are three shows each day at Chaktomuk, with performers coming from around the country to showcase their traditional performance art. But as I said, you wouldn't know it. I went to the theater last week to find out more and no-one could give me a programme of events or tell me who and when they were performing. The Khmer Arts Ensemble are a professional touring dance and music troupe based in Takhmau and they develop and perform the original choreography of Sophiline Cheam Shapiro as well as rare works from the classical repertoire. Find out more here. On the same day, Thursday, a new exhibition of paintings, Depth of Hope, by one of my favourite Khmer artists, Chhim Sothy will open at the Reyum Gallery in the city.
Update: I've just got hold of a translated copy of the festival programme. It shows 3 performances each day being played out at Chaktomuk at 8am, 10am and 2.30pm. The performances are mainly from provincial performance groups performing Yike, Lakhon Bassac and Lakhon Niyey as well as the Seasons of Migration on Thursday, on Friday at 2.30pm the Cambodian Living Arts will present wedding music and on Saturday, Sovanna Phum will also perform.

Labels: ,

An all-military affair

2nd half hat-trick hero Sin Dalin of Ministry of National Defense
Sunday's quarter-final Hun Sen Cup ties also went with the formbook and the semi-final next week will see the Army lining up to face the Military Police team after the Ministry of National Defense (MND) put the upstarts from Rithisen to the sword, winning 9-1, whilst Preah Khan Reach (PKR) saw off the challenge from Khemara to win 3-nil. Truckloads of fans from Kompong Chhnang helped boost the crowd at Olympic Stadium but they went home much quieter after MND did a professional job on the last of the provincial teams in the competition. But it could've been a different story if the referee hadn't disallowed an early Rithisen goal, that sailed in from the wing but was cancelled out by the the linesman flagging for offside. Baffling. Khim Borey and two goals from Thong Oudom gave MND a 3-0 interval lead. Two subs then made their mark, both getting hat-tricks. Sin Dalin netted his late in the game hat-trick in the space of five frantic minutes, whilst Phuong Soksana completed his trio in injury time. Rithisen's consolation was a great solo effort from Ky Rohan.
In the battle of the big guns, PKR did just enough to dampen Khemara's spirits, with Sam El Nasa getting their noses in front in the 1st half. Sub Sok Raksmey scored a 2nd just three minutes after entering the fray and then El Nasa stuck away a penalty late on to complete the 3-o win. Khemara can feel ashamed with their 2nd half showing. Sok Pheng, who has returned to the game after a year on the touchlines, will be seeing more bench time as he was sent off for a second bookable late challenge on 57 minutes. Their skipper Kuoch Sokumpheak was lucky to only get a yellow card for a two-footed lunge before Chhun Kirivatharo received a straight red for blatantly kicking an opponent. They should've also lost goalkeeper Mak Theara when he fly-hacked Prak Mony Udom but the referee and his assistant were the only two who didn't see the incident. It was Theara who scorpion-kicked an opponent a couple of weeks ago and this guy is going to hurt someone soon. He needs to be stopped. And if I was a striker with an opposong team I would get my challenge in first.
Another hat-trick hero Phuong Soksana, in MND's 9-1 success over Rithisen
The Defense Ministry meant business from the kick-off and thrashed Rithisen 9-1
Preah Khan Reach did enough to qualify for the semis, beating Khemara 3-0
Mak Theara, goalkeeper with Khemara, is treading a fine line with two shocking challenges on opponents in recent matches


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Casino teams go through

Phnom Penh Crown looking mean and moody before beating Wat Phnom 5-1 though I don't know why the guys in the front row have to place their hand on their teammates upper thigh - very weird
Now for a look at yesterday's Hun Sen Cup quarter-finals where Phnom Penh Crown dominated their game against Wat Phnom from start to finish, winning 5-1. Crown striker Heng Sokly should've netted a hatful. Instead, he rolled a couple of chances agonizingly wide early doors before finally finishing with some aplomb late on. Crown's national team centre-half Tieng Tiny netted twice in the 1st half, one a delicious curling free-kick from the edge of the box and his 2nd, a penalty after Chan Chhaya had fallen over theatrically when challenged by Wat Phnom's keeper Pov Reaksa. In between, Wat Phnom levelled when Crown's Peng Bunchhay, who looked a bag of nerves throughout the game, spilled a routine catch from a corner at the feet of Ry Phearoeun, who rifled home. After the break, Hong Ratana dived full-length to head in a spectacular effort and Srey Veasna and Heng Sokly completed the rout. Referee Yien Kivatanak had a quiet second game in the middle, after his dramatic debut a couple of weeks ago when he sent off 4 Kirivong players.
The Naga trio of Teab Vatanak, Sun Sovannrithy and Om Thavrak stood out in their 6-0 demolishion of Build Bright United. Vatanak netted a 4-goal haul in the 2nd half, Sun Sovannrithy, in his new unfamiliar striking role, scored two and set up two more, whilst Om Thavrak kept Naga in the game in the 1st half when BBU briefly flourished. It was a good day for Vatanak, who has overcome a career-threatening knee injury and showed his goal-poaching instincts to sink BBU and give Naga a mouthwatering semi-final match-up with fellow-casino sponsored Crown (and a repeat of last year's final).
Referee Yien Kivatanak had a good day at the office, only booking 2 players, in his 2nd match in the middle. Here he gets the toss-up right as well.
Naga Corp in a kit I've never seen before, prior to their 6-0 win over BBU. Teab Vatanak (10) netted 4 goals.
Continuing my series of 'Great toss-ups of the Weekend' - this one captures that particular moment of joy between the captains of BBU and Naga



The weekend has been very hectic so far, with no time to update my blog until later tonight. The first two QFs of the Hun Sen Cup went to form yesterday, with Phnom Penh Crown and Naga waltzing through to the semis with easy wins over Wat Phnom (5-1) and BBU (6-0) respectively. More from these games later. Last night it was out for a very pleasant meal, this morning it was out shopping at Olympic market and elsewhere and this afternoon, back that way for the last of the cup quarter-finals. No peace for the wicked.
Okay, the wicked have a few minutes on their hands to bring you the latest from today's football at the Olympic Stadium. Rithisen brought a few truckloads of fans from Kompong Chhnang but they went home thoroughly dejected after Ministry of National Defence gave them a footballing lesson, winning 9-1. So no more cup shocks this year. In the second game of the afternoon, Preah Khan proved too strong for Khemara, winning 3-nil, though Keila did have two players sent off. But they have only themselves to blame for the self-implosion.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Brothers Grimm

Hot and sweaty in a Ratanakiri cemetary. I'm the one without glasses.
I had to select a photo of myself to go into the book - you know the one I keep mentioning from time to time and which looks set to be out sometime in June or July, with a fair wind and no natural disasters. Don't tell me you've forgotten already. It's called To Cambodia With Love. I chose the photo above, taken on my first ever visit to Ratanakri province in October 2007. Hopefully readers won't confuse me with the wooden effigy next to me. That's the one wearing glasses if you're still not sure. It was taken in the chunchiet cemetery in the Tampoun village of Kachon Leu, on the banks of the Sesan River near Voen Sai in Ratanakiri. There are about 100 graves there and the wooden and stone carvings are meant to represent the deceased when they were alive. And yes, it was very hot and humid that day. I did think about the one below, but rejected the idea!
Recognise this face at The Bayon?


Friday, February 19, 2010

Broken record

The bib-wearers in action, man-handling a concerned Ulsan player onto their stretcher in the recent friendly against Cambodia (pic courtesy
I'm beginning to sound like a broken record. Stop the bib-wearers grabbing injured players at Cambodian football matches before it's too late and someone gets seriously injured. I've said it before and I'll say it again until I'm blue in the face. I know I don't often talk much sense, but even I can see it's an accident waiting to happen. Sadly, it was prevalent in the SEA Games in Laos as well, as I reported here. There seems to be an edict issued to all referees that when a player goes down injured, they automatically call on the stretcher-bearers who invariably arrive at the player's side before the physio, and man-handle him onto the stretcher before any initial assessment of the injury is made. This happens at all Cambodian games played at Olympic Stadium but was also in place at the SEA Games I watched in Laos in December. Soon, these unqualified bib-wearers will aggravate a broken leg or a ruptured cruciate ligament but by then it will be too late. In an attempt to speed up the game, you cannot play roulette with a player's health. At least allow the physio (= man carrying a wet sponge) the opportunity to ask the player if he's okay. Only then should the four bib-wearers each grab a leg or arm and hoist the player onto their stretcher, preferably all going in the same direction when they leave the pitch! It really is farcical and stupid. Stop it, now.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Weekend QFs

Will Rithisen be celebrating another giant-killing act this weekend?
Football takes precedence this coming weekend with 4 games in 2 days, with matches kicking off at 2pm and 4.45pm both days at the Olympic Stadium. It's the quarter-finals of the Hun Sen Cup, the precursor to the new Cambodian Premier League and it'll be seven of the big teams and one of the provincial qualifiers battling it out.
Saturday will see Phnom Penh Crown taking on Wat Phnom, formerly Spark. Without their African contingent (only Khmers can play in the Hun Sen Cup this term) Wat Phnom will struggle, and I expect Crown to get through this tie with some degree of comfort. The second game of the afternoon will pitch Naga against Build Bright, with Naga getting the nod from me. They were last year's beaten cup finalists, losing 1-nil to Crown, but gained revenge by lifting the League Championship.
Sunday will be a good battle between the underdogs Rithisen from Kompong Chhnang, who'll meet up with National Defense, who got through by the skin of their teeth against Koh Kong on penalties in the last round. Rithisen have already claimed the scalp of CPL side Kirivong in a turbulent game that saw 4 red cards, all shown to Kirivong players. This will be a tight game and may just give us another cup upset. However if the army team have Nov Soseila in their starting ranks, back after injury, they will win. The final tie of the QFs will be between the big boys of Preah Khan Reach and Khemara Keila. PKR should have just enough but with Kuoch Sokumpheak in their ranks, Khemara have their lucky talisman back after suspension and the scorer of 18 goals in the qualifiers. I'm still mystified that in the final qualifying game he netted no less than ten goals and still managed to get himself sent off. Daft bugger but still the best homegrown player bar none.


The print is still warm

South of the Heart - the print is still warm
The intrigue is over. In my hands I have a hot-off-the-press copy of South of the Heart: Dry season journeys between Phnom Penh and Pailin, that author Robert Philpotts has just collected from the printers. This is Bob's fifth book and follows the pattern set by his Coast of Cambodia (2000) and Guide to Phnom Penh (1992) publications. Part travelogue, part guidebook, this new 200-page edition covers the area west of the Tonle Sap Lake, focusing on Kompong Chhnang, Pursat, Battambang and Pailin in particular, interspersed with his own illustrations and maps. It literally appeared in my hands moments ago, so I'll give my opinion once I've had chance to read it, though from a brief flick through, it feels like a book that anyone interested in seeking out more of what Cambodia has to offer, should get. It'll cost you $15 and is available only through secondhand bookshop Bohr's Books, located on Sothearos Boulevard, here in Phnom Penh. Now why didn't I do something like this with my travelogues, years ago.

Labels: ,

Closing the Phimai chapter

A small but perfectly formed lintel of Vishnu riding Garuda with dancers, nagas and vegetal scrolling
This is a final look at some of the iconography and sculptures on show at Phimai Museum in Isaan (northeast Thailand), which I visited last October. I couldn't gain access to the indoor exhibitions as the museum was closed on the day of my visit (Monday) but there is a wealth of carvings in an outdoor storage area that reminded me of the compound at Angkor Conservation in Siem Reap. Over 350,000 visitors go to Prasat Phimai each year but only 10% of those visit the museum.
On a totally separate note, the offices at Hanuman are a buzz of activity just now as Hollywood are here... well, not Hollywood exactly but a National Geographic film crew are using the building to recreate an office environment for a television programme they are filming here called Banged Up Abroad. A few of the Hanuman staff have been drafted in as extras, so they'll be able to see themselves on the international Nat Geo channel in a few months, which will be a wonderful experience for them.
A massive statue of Shiva in the outdoor storage area at Phimai Museum
As everyone will know, this Phimai lintel shows Krishna killing the serpent Kaliya
This delightful lintel comes from Prasat Muang Tam and shows a deity, possibly Vishnu with followers above a kala head
A large pediment on the outside wall of the museum buildings, from Prasat Phimai, showing Indra as the central theme
Close-up detail of Indra aboard his 3-headed vehicle, Airavata
Another Phimai lintel, this time showing 2 monkeys attacking a deity, taken from the Ramayana story
A line of Buddhas meditate above a row of hamsas, again from Prasat Phimai

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mum's the word

Keep it to yourself (I'm crap at keeping secrets), but a regular author on Cambodia, he's published four books to-date that I'm aware of, his first in 1992, is on the cusp of releasing another publication any day now. It'll only be available in Cambodia and at very selective venues, so when I get a copy in my grubby little hands (they aren't that grubby, or little for that matter) I'll spill the beans, as it'll definitely be worth getting a copy. Don't you just love a bit of intrigue?

I just saw this photo and it always makes me smile. Photos like this have a great knack of taking you back in time. I'd been on the back of a moto for hours coming back to Siem Reap after another one of my long distance adventures and needed a rest stop. As soon as I got off the moto, this bunch of kids appeared, eyeing the ice-lolly salesman standing at the edge of the road. I gave in immediately and bought each of them a lolly. Absolutely adorable kids and great memories. I'm lucky to have cupboards full of such memories.

Lintel haven

A lintel found at Prasat Phimai and now kept at the nearby museum, this depicts a hungry simha lion eating foliage
One of the positive features of the outdoor exhibition-cum-storage area at Phimai Museum is that many of the artifacts have explanation signs to provide you with more information about what you are looking at. There are up to fifty lintels or part-lintels under the corrugated iron roof, another ten line the outside wall of the exhibition building and many more are inside. Unfortunately I couldn't gain access to the indoor exhibitions, so that will have to wait for another visit. The outdoor exhibits are in pretty good condition and besides the lintels, there are countless antefixes (miniature temple reproductions that line the upper levels of larger temple towers), lions, nandi, colonettes and other sculptures om display. A treasure trove for an Angkor-phile like myself.
In front of this broken pediment depicting Vishnu, is a miniature sandstone antefix
This row of five standing Buddhas teaching was located at Prasat Phimai
This enormous sandstone antefix shows Yama on his buffalo
Vishnu riding Garuda is depicted on this lintel from Prasat Bai Baek
This lintel, from Prasat Ban Prasat, shows Indra on a 3-headed Airavata above a kala
In this scene from the Ramayana epic, demons battle the monkey army, from Prasat Phimai
The central deity at the top of the lintel is surrounded by followers, giving offerings, from Prasat Phimai

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Solo work

Two upcoming dance events are well worth putting in your diary. This Sunday, 21st, at 7pm at Meta House, contemporary dancer Yon Davy will present her first choreography solo work, in the form of Action Wave, with two solos and two duets with dancers Yon Chantha and Choun Sovannary. Davy, who opened up the recent Suites shows at Chenla Theater, told me afterwards that she was looking forward to it, though with some trepidation as it's her first solo work, though she won't be dancing herself. A week later, Sunday 28th, also at 7pm, the Dansez Roam! events come to a conclusion at Wat Botum in the capital with a series of brief dance performances under the banner of La rue danse, with Belle headlining a total of 20 dancers. On the subject of Belle, I found this blog entry with photos by Nicolas Havette, taken last year during rehearsals with French dancer/choreographer Sébastien Ramirez. They're different to say the least.

Labels: , ,

Outdoor show

Phimai Museum is located on the banks of a river, not far from Prasat Phimai
Here's a brief look at Phimai Museum. More photos of the exhibits to follow. Well, the ones I could see which are housed in the outdoor exhibition area, which is much like an overflow storage depot. The doors to the indoor exhibition rooms remained closed as it was Monday, and everything is shut on Mondays, even though the staff were in the building, but couldn't be persuaded to open the doors. My silver tongue failed to work on this occasion.
Looking across a small lake to the main exhibition buildings of the museum. The outdoor storage area is on the right, out of shot.
A treasure trove of carvings and sculptures in the outdoor storage area
Another view of the outdoor storage area, with numerous lintels and other pieces on show
A perfect example of the lintels on display in the outdoor storage facility, most are sign-posted, like this red sandstone lintel depicting Buddhas in meditation

Labels: ,


The head of Jayavarman VII in the Guimet Museum in Paris
I have a bunch of pictures from the Phimai Museum to post here very soon but one of the really disappointing elements of not gaining access to the inner exhibition rooms - my visit was on a Monday when everything seems to shut down in Isaan except the temple itself - was not being able to see the statue of Jayavarman VII, which was found in the ruins at Phimai and now resides in the museum. I've seen practically identical statues in the museums in Phnom Penh and the Guimet in Paris (pictured above), so missing out on the one in Phimai was a real bummer. And yes, it's high-time a proper motion picture was put together about the life and times of this 12th century mesmeric leader who presided over battles, carried out incredible construction projects, major temples as well as schools, hospitals and roads, as well as introducing a new Mahayana Buddhism to the country. They would do well to read the fictionalized account of his life in Geoff Ryman's superb novel, The King's Last Song as a starting point.
A sandstone copy of the Jayavarman VII statue found in Phimai, the original now resides in the nearby museum

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lingering look at Phimai

Looking towards the main enclosure at Prasat Phimai, from the pond at the southwest corner
These are a last lingering look at Prasat Phimai in Isaan province in northeast Thailand, from my visit last October. Yes, it's taken me that long to post these pictures onto my blog. Next I will post some photos from the nearby Phimai museum, even though it was closed on the day of my visit. I was able to have a good look at the sculptures in the gardens but even with a lot of pleading, the museum manager refused point-blank to let me inside the main exhibition rooms. Instead she sat watching the television, eating some noodles. Gggrrr.
This is the public entrance to Prasat Phimai, cost of entry 100 Baht
A pediment on the main sanctuary showing a scene from the Battle of Lanka with Brahma riding his hamsa below a beautiful temple at the top
The immaculately tended lawns within the main sanctuary
A look at the central tower, or prang, from the west
The outer northern enclosure wall that is surrounded by the roads of the city of Phimai
The prang of Prasat Phimai as seen from the northern outer gopura

Labels: ,

Double booked

Original movie poster for Nine Circles of Hell
Why can't I be in two places at one time? Answers on a postcard. This coming Saturday afternoon is one of those occasions. The quarter-finals of the Hun Sen Cup will be in full swing at Olympic Stadium, it's football so I'm drawn to it like a moth to a lightbulb, whilst at 4pm that same afternoon, a film will be shown at Bophana that I've wanted to see for a long time. Nine Circles of Hell, a love story set during the Khmer Rouge regime, was filmed in Cambodia in 1987, as I explained in an earlier blog posting here and featured a Czech-Cambodian collaboration. Though I won't be there, you can see it at Bophana Center on St 200 at 4pm this Saturday (20th Feb). It'll be the Khmer version, rather than the Czech version! On the subject of filming, various locations around Phnom Penh have been used in the past week for filming of National Geographic tv's Banged Up Abroad, a series of programmes showing Westerners who end up in foreign prisons. This particular programme is not about Cambodia but is being used as a 'stand-in' location for Thailand.
A Russian movie poster for Nine Circles of Hell

Labels: ,

There's more from Phimai

The central prang, or tower and mandapa at Prasat Phimai
More from Prasat Phimai in Isaan. There were few people at Phimai during the time of my visit, so I was able to appreciate the temple in its peaceful and well-appointed surroundings. Outside the walls of the temple lies the city of Phimai and closeby is the Phimai museum. These are just a small selection of my photographs. For starters, you can see other pictures here, here, here and here.
A defaced lintel on the west face that in its original form showed the building of the causeway to Lanka with monkeys carrying stones and other characters
A lintel from the east side of the mandapa at Prasat Phimai showing Rama crossing the river Gunga
A lintel and pediment combination from the central mandapa at Prasat Phimai. The pediment shows Shiva receiving tributes from the gods.
Rama has been captured by the coils of a snake and his monkey followers below are suitably distressed by his predicament
A series of cross-legged wise men or rishis in the top level, with hamsas underneath
The central tower, or prang, in the main sanctuary of the prasat
A weathered lintel above the south-east gallery of enclosure 1 showing a 10-armed Trailokyavijaya and followers
An inner lintel with a seated Buddha surrounded by worshippers and hamsas underneath
An unfinished lintel in the surrounding gallery, giving you some idea of how these wonderful pieces were carved

Labels: ,

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Taking a walk through Phimai

The Phimai Historical Park welcomes visitors - pity they can't spell
Take a trip with me through the temple of Prasat Phimai in Isaan in northeast Thailand. It's the most important of the Khmer temples in that country so it was first on my list when I visited Isaan for the very first time in October last year. Known as the city of Vimaya when it was originally constructed in the late 11th century, it's orientation is unusual, as it faces south. For many years the temple site was in ruins until the Thai authorities set about conserving it in the 1960s. The mandapa and main sanctuary is highly decorated with numerous lintels and pediments though many have been moved for safekeeping and now reside in the nearby Phimai museum. The main approach is across the naga bridge and through the outer gopura of the second enclosure. Once through that, the causeway is flanked by corner ponds before the inner enclosure contains the central sanctuary, or prang, alongwith three other buildings. As with all of the temples I visited in Isaan, the whole site was almost polished in its appearance, well-tended lawns and no litter. Spoiled by the broken ruins that I've encountered across Cambodia, and the sense of adventure associated with the temple sites, this felt like high-end temple touring for people who don't like to get their feet dirty. A very different feeling from touring temples in Cambodia.
A lintel frieze of eight dancers on the outer southern gopura
Looking through the outer gopura into the inner second enclosure and the prang
A look at the lawns and dry pools that occupy the second enclosure that leads onto the central sanctuary
A lintel with a grinning kala face and Vishnu holding an elephant and a lion in his hands
Monks enter the central prang of Prasat Phimai
Shiva, with 8 arms, dancing on the southern porch of the mandapa. In the bottom right is Nandi, Shiva's bull.
Intricate decorative carving on the side wall of the central sanctuary
A worn lintel of Krishna killing Kamsa above the eastern doorway
The Krishna lintel and a pediment scene from the Battle of Lanka with Brahma present
4-armed Vishnu on a lintel of the central sanctuary, northern face

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 13, 2010

It's only money

Setting fire to wads of money is taking place all over Phnom Penh
Just a quick reminder that small paper fires are breaking out all over Phnom Penh right now. It's the start of Chinese New Year and these offerings to ancestors, spirits and anyone else who can bring good luck and fortune, are being made all over the city. Anyone with a bit of Chinese blood in their family, and many that haven't, are lighting fragrant incense sticks and burning false paper money as I type. There was a small ceremony at Hanuman this morning for the staff to join in.


Belle of the ball

Belle [courtesy of Anders Jiras]
She really is an exceptional talent. I know I've said it before but whenever she performs, she expands the realms of dance that no-one else in Cambodia is doing, can do, will do. I'm talking about Belle of course and her twenty minute self-choreographed solo to Johann Sebastian Bach's Cello Suite #2 at the Chenla Theater last night was an absolute barnstormer. From the opening seven minutes which she spent on the floor before getting to her feet, she had the audience in a trance, simply wondering what she would do next. The dramatic section which saw her blindfolded and cuffed as she symbolized the plight of Cambodia's past was simply stunning in its effect. Her fluidity of movement, her timing, her concentration, her expressiveness and her stamina are all key elements of every performance, and all were much in evidence last night. The evening's show was filmed by CTN and I must get a copy of the tape. I can't believe anyone else could've pulled off such a remarkable demonstration of contemporary dance allied to music that is nearly 300 years old. The first and third Bach Suites saw dancers of the quality of Vuth Chanmoly, Mom, Yon Davy and Phon Sopheap accompany the cello playing of Vincent Courtois in the opening piece, before Chey Chankethya led her vibrant team to a crescendo of movement and sound, aided and abetted by the musicians from Phare Ponleu Selpak. Wonderful entertainment, especially as a recital of classical music would usually leave me cold. The Khmers next to me in the three quarters-full theater expressed their delight at the dance but felt slightly disconnected with what the dancers were trying to represent and perhaps that's something that needs to be addressed before contemporary dance will be fully appreciated by a Cambodian audience. They understand the stories and meanings behind their own classical form of ballet, but contemporary is so new to them that it will take time to bed in and gain acceptance. But I need a similar explanation too, so we're all in the same boat. Kudos to Amrita and the French Cultural Center for hosting the performance under the Dansez Roam! banner of events. Though a few words of English would've gone down well in the opening presentation.

Labels: , ,

Friday, February 12, 2010

On show

Some of the Hanuman team in Siem Reap January 2010
I work with them every day but they get precious little coverage on my blog. So to put that right, here's a recent photo from our visit to Siem Reap of some of the Hanuman team who work in Phnom Penh. It's not a complete team photo but its as good as it gets. Next to me is the only non-Hanuman employee and that's my friend Now, who is Eric de Vries photographic assistant at his 4Faces Gallery. By the way, Eric is already running photography tours around Angkor and hopes to expand those to include a Cambodia In A Nutshell and a 3-day Meet the Soldiers at Preah Vihear tour in the very near future. I reckon the latter could become a popular niche tour.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wise up

Those chaps from Pocket Guide Cambodia have now published Phnom Penh's first fully-indexed street map called STREETWiSE, 84 pages in A5 format, containing detailed maps of greater Phnom Penh combined with an index of streets (by name and number), landmarks, government offices, embassies, banks, airline offices, schools, markets and so on. There's also an 18-page briefing on the history of the city and its street system, tips for beating the traffic jams, transport options, rules of the road and a look at what the city planners have in store for the future. STREETWiSE is available for sale (US$5) at Monument Books on Norodom Boulevard or direct from Pocket Guide (call 023 210 407).

Labels: ,

The beat goes on

Sticking with the dance topic, this article by Tim Etchells appeared in the newspaper on Tuesday. Read on.

Cambodia's beat goes on - by Tim Etchells (
Can Cambodia begin to rebuild its shattered cultural heritage? Tim Etchells wonders if the answer lies with a team of Khmer dancers ... and a specially modified laptop.

I've recently returned from two weeks in Cambodia, travelling with 18 other artists, dancers, choreographers and performance-makers at the invitation of Ong Keng Sen's Flying Circus Project. Based in Singapore, Keng Sen's Theatre Works outfit has been running these exchanges – predominantly Asian in focus, but with routes out in all directions – for something like 10 years. The intention varies with each incarnation, but the broad hope is for a two-way artistic exchange between invited and local artists, and between the invited artists themselves. To call this latter group diverse would be an understatement: our trip saw passports from Indonesia, Slovenia, Turkey, South Africa, India, UK, Lebanon, Singapore, USA and Austria, among others, landing on the immigration desk in Phnom Penh.

Highly organised and efficient on one hand, Flying Circus also courts a creative openness that at times borders on chaos. The logic for Keng Sen is that the encounter must have its own energy, that the group itself must conjure something new from the situation. An approach like this takes time and nerve, but it undoubtedly pays off.

Looking back, it's hard to say what made the biggest impression on me. The country itself remains blighted by poverty, and still in recovery from the devastation of the Pol Pot era and subsequent years of civil war and instability. Culturally, there's a determined attempt to recover what the Khmer Rouge tried to wipe out in its brutal five-year drive to Year Zero, which involved – alongside much else – killing intellectuals, artists, teachers and anyone who spoke French. For this reason, there's much talk of archives, of remembering and preserving. Around 300 feature films were made in Cambodia before 1975, of which as few as 30 now survive. They have been gathered in the last five years and preserved along with other film, sound and photographic materials at the Bophana archive in Phnom Penh, our base for half of the workshops.

The situation is equally dire in the performing arts, since only a handful of classical Khmer dancers survived the killing fields. These old masters are now a precious resource, teaching new generations techniques that otherwise would have slipped away for good. Back home in England, I generally run a mile from people attempting to rescue traditional forms; but in Cambodia, the initiative made more sense – the difference, perhaps, between a past that is dying from irrelevance or lack of interest, and one that has only recently survived assassination.

What I sensed in the younger artists and dancers we worked with, though, was a desire to move forwards with the past, and not to retreat into it. These Cambodian twentysomethings are savvy and hungry, and well aware that their country is opening up, and that internationally financed redevelopment and tourism have been following the inflow of NGOs. They know that they'll need new approaches in the arts, and new political voices to meet the challenges ahead.

I asked Keng Sen what he feared the most from his project. We talked about economic and political dangers (artists as the vanguard for property developers) and about the cultural dangers (Cambodians caught in retreading western postmodern art practice). Then we talked about the positives: the meetings, the collisions, the insistence on and the articulation of differences. There was one moment in the workshops that crystallised these possibilities for me. Tarek Atoui, Lebanese sound artist, ran a session with the Khmer participants that involved sounds collected by the dancers played out from a laptop and a complex array of homemade sensors, motion triggers and pressure pads. It was late in the afternoon when the dancers from Amrita Performing Arts, our hosts for half of the project, took to their feet and began to move in and around Atoui's machinery.

What happened was tentative at first, then suddenly too much. It was as if the dancers wanted to play the system, or make music with it, rather than dance with it. My heart sank. Then all at once they turned a corner and were dancing again – the turning wrists and fingers, lowered centres of gravity, eye contact, pantomime pauses and forward rolls all instantly recognisable from Khmer classical forms. They weren't dancing for the electronics, nor were they dancing with them exactly; they were dancing with and against them, entering and refusing, insisting on and moving through. There was tension in the dancing and music that afternoon, just as there should be on occasions of meeting. It was a privilege and an inspiration to be there. [end]

Today's Phnom Penh Post contains an article by Sarah Outhwaite on the Suites performances as part of Dansez Roam! this coming Friday and Saturday. I have reproduced sections of the article below:

The French musician and the Cambodian dancer work together in perfect tandem, playing their instruments of cello and body. Only when they stop for conversation does distance open between their perspectives on the duet. To the musician, classical heritage has been revered to the point of rigidity. To the dancer, having a classical heritage remains a fragile privilege. Dancer Belle Chumvan and cellist Vincent Courtois rehearse their duet, the centrepiece of this Friday's premier Suites at Chenla Theatre.... The show pairs Johann Sebastian Bach's cello suites with dancers for whom the music is entirely fresh... Performer Chumvan has choreographed an extended solo to the second cello suite. This encounter offers exciting possibilities but also reminds her of the delicate nature of her own sacred dance. "I feel the music is sad," Chumvan says. "I start thinking of all the teachers, singers and master artists who died because of Khmer Rouge. Always the experts." Chumvan is one of nine dancers developing personal interpretations of the Bach suites. A group of Amrita performers collaborates with Courtois on the first suite, and a different group choreographs for the third suite. In the final piece Courtois is joined by young musicians who play harmonies to his Bach cello on their traditional instruments.

Contemporary dance often privileges exploration in this way. Chumvan notes how confusing it can become. "Ten teachers give 10 different ideas," she says. "Not like classical with only one way." Chumvan continues to question what "contemporary" means and how strongly her spirit moves toward it. The very teachers she reveres in her Bach choreography have cautioned her against altering traditions so recently recovered. "The master says, you start to do something crazy? You want to kill classical?' says Chumvan. "But if we have something new, we have a new choice." Chumvan continues to ask hard questions as she develops her ideas and synchronicity with Courtois in preparation for the performance. While rehearsing with the cello, Chumvan's movements radiate from the core of Cambodian dance but extend beyond it with sensitive speed and lizard-like clarity. When young Cambodians tell Chumvan they want to emulate her contemporary style, she asks them, "Do you know Khmer dance? First, you should understand who you are." Hearing this, Courtois gives his own perspective. "You can forget your roots if you know them," he says, indicating his heart. For Chumvan, this point has not yet been reached. "Here, everything develops," she reminds us, "and like everything else, culture is still not really grown up."

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Birthday Belle

Belle, center, taking the plaudits at a previous Dansez Roam! performance
Happy birthday Belle, though as a gentleman, I couldn't possibly disclose her age. Cambodia's leading contemporary dancer celebrates her birthday today but has no time to relax as she's been in rehearsals preparing to perform this coming Friday and Saturday at the Chenla Theater as part of the Dansez Roam! series of events. This week will see the presentation of Suites, where seven Cambodian choreographers will interpret their impressions of the first three cello suites of JS Bach through their contemporary style. Belle has warned me to be prepared to see something very different from the norm. A French cello virtuoso, Vincent Courtois, will accompany the dancers live during the performances. They are at Chenla Theatre on 12th and 13th February, starting at 7pm. Tickets are available at the French Cultural Center and at Amrita's offices on Sothearos Boulevard.

This Saturday (13th) at 4pm, the Bophana Center (Street 200) will host a screening of The Continuum: Beyond the Killing Fields, directed by Ong Keng Sen, in Khmer but with English subtitles. In 2002, The Asian Theatre Journal described The Continuum as:
‘a moving exploration of the ability of traditional art forms to speak to new realities. Continuum is part documentary and part experimental performance about Cambodia’s recent past and the process of four Cambodians using their art to come to terms with that past today....The Continuum weaves together stories of life and death under Pol Pot as told by three classical dancers and one shadow puppeteer with excerpts from the classical Cambodian dance repertoire, dance training exercises, shadow puppetry, evocative music by Japanese musician and composer Yen Chang, and documentary video by Noorlinah Mohd. The performance features the extraordinary artistry of master dancer Em Theay, her daughter Thong Kim Ann, principal dancer for the Royal Government of Cambodia Kim Bun Thom, and shadow puppeteer Mann Kosal.’

Yesterday Cambodia launched its Red List of Cambodian Antiquities at Risk at the National Museum in Phnom Penh, in a bid to assist museums, collectors, art dealers and law enforcement officials in recognizing objects that may've been looted and illicitly exported from Cambodia. You can read more about the Red List and download a copy at

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A closer look

The entrance to the southern goura at Prasat Ta Muen Thom
I was elated to visit Prasat Ta Muen Thom, a temple which virtually straddles the Cambodian-Thai border and which the two countries dispute ownership, last October whilst touring Isaan, but at the same time, devastated by the destruction that had taken place, robbing the temple of all of its carvings and sculptures, leaving just a shell of its original form. Built in the 11th century and reconstructed by the Thai art department in the 1990s, the temple unusually faces south and was located on a royal road that passed through the Dangrek mountains in the dim and distant past. The southern gopura greets you after climbing the laterite steps that lead down to the Cambodian border. There are other buildings in sandstone and laterite, a collapsed central tower and a natural linga hewn out of the rock base in the center of the shrine. In fact, the temple was built on top of a natural rock platform and another interesting feature is a rock channel for draining the waters poured over the linga. There are also extensive surrounding galleries but it's the complete lack of lintels and pediments as well as the destroyed devata and dvarapalas to be found on the walls that are the most upsetting. For the time being the Thai Army are fully in control of the temple even though Cambodia lays claim to temple. It was Thai Rangers who were patrolling the site, fully armed, whilst a couple of Khmer soldiers had wandered over the border to exchange pleasantries and cigarettes with their Thai counterparts.
A secondary doorway into the central sanctuary
The northern entrance to the central sanctuary
A dvarapala male guardian has been destroyed by temple thieves
Inside the central sanctuary with a pedestal in situ
You can see the natural rock platform through this window
Natural sandstone lingas were hewn out of the rock base
Another view of the central shrine at Prasat Ta Muen Thom
A reconstructed tower that looks in remarkably good condition
The unusual rock channel that took water out of the central shrine
Another view of the natural rock platform on which the temple was built


Ta Muen in the news again

Thai Army Rangers on patrol around the perimeter of Prasat Ta Muen Thom
The ill-advised visit by Cambodian PM Hun Sen to Prasat Ta Muen Thom didn't take place yesterday afterall. The suggestion was that after giving a rousing speech at Preah Vihear, he was going to head further west and visit the 11th century Ta Muen Thom, another temple which Cambodia and Thailand are disputing ownership over. When I visited the temple last October there was no dispute. The Thai Army Rangers were firmly in control conducting armed patrols throughout the temple site and only allowing Cambodian troops to enter if they were unarmed. Whilst it was good to see troops from both sides enjoying some friendly banter and exchanging cigarettes, the Thais hold the upper hand and if Hun Sen or anyone thinks they are going to move out anytime soon, then think again. Don't they say possession is 9/10ths of the law? Whilst a new road has been paved up to the temple area on the Cambodian side, you will have to cross the border-line and walk through a small wooden gate before entering the temple compound itself, all under the beady watch of Thai Rangers. Whether access is available on the day you visit from the Cambodian side will depend on the generosity of the Thai troops in control. Here are some of my photos from my visit to Prasat Ta Muen Thom, with more to follow. You can see some of the destruction wrought on the temple in a previous post here. It's heartbreaking.
The Thai Ranger on top of the steps is keeping a watchful eye on the border with Cambodia
The view of the temple itself from the top step
Just beyond the base of the steps is the small wooden gate that signals the entrance into Cambodia territory
These are the steps that lead up to the temple from the unofficial Cambodian border crossing
A monk contemplates the location of Ta Muen Thom, completely surrounded by forest, and military
A reminder of the ever-present threat of landmines in the forest surrounding the temple


Monday, February 8, 2010

Display changes

Some of the foreigners killed at S21, including John Dewhirst (center); photo taken in 1997
If I can find the time this week, I'll get along to the public information section of DC-Cam and try to track down the names of the foreigners whose pictures are displayed at Tuol Sleng. My post here refers to my recent visit to S21 and the lack of basic details like names, dates, etc. I've visited Tuol Sleng many times since my first visit in 1994 and in looking back over some of my own photos I came across the picture above which I took in 1997. In those days the portraits, taken as the prisoners arrived at the detention center and before their interrogation and murder, were tacked onto the walls, not in display cases, and I noticed that amongst the photos on show was one of the only known British prisoner at S21, John Dewhirst. It was still on display in 2001. It's not on display today. Below is another copy of the photo, which appeared in The Daily Mail newspaper a few months ago. You can read more about John Dewhirst here and here.
This copy of John Dewhirst's photo appeared in The Daily Mail in September

Labels: ,

Press talk

You can read my report on Saturday's Hun Sen Cup ties online at the Phnom Penh Post later today. Reports.

Labels: ,

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sunday's results

Sophal Udom, Khemara's hat-trick hero against Prek Pra Keila
Sunday saw the last two Hun Sen Cup final 16 ties with both Khemara and Preah Khan Reach easing through with 5-0 victories. They'll now face each other in the QF's in two weeks time. Prek Pra Keila faced the more famous Keila in the shape of Khemara and despite the vocal support of their mainly Muslim supporters, it was Khemara who drew first blood just before half time. Sophal Udom netted before and after the interval and again in injury time to claim a hat-trick, with Ty Bunvicheth netted a couple of goals in between. Even without the suspended Kuoch Sokumpheak, Khemara were way too strong for the CPL newcomers. I must highlight one serious moment when Khemara keeper Mak Theara struck an opponent with a scorpion kick as he collected the ball. The same thing happened in one of yesterday's games. If the goalkeeper collects the ball and in doing so, brings both of his legs over his back and into the body of an opponent, it's a penalty. The referees have got to cut this out before someone gets badly injured. So far they've taken no action at all.

In the second game, unfortunately it was spoiled as a spectacle when on 12 minutes referee Neang Sorithya totally over-reacted to a challenge by Oddar Meanchey's Sob Ravy and couldn't wait to wave the red card. A really crap decision which gave the underdogs a mountain to climb. They couldn't overcome the setback though Preah Khan didn't really settle the tie until late on, though in truth they missed a hatful. With 7 national players in their line-up, PKR should've racked up a cricket score. Heang Saravuth netted twice but missed a sitter from a yard and had another three ruled out for offside. Other goals went to Sam El Nasa, Tum Saray and Khuon Laboravy.
Khemara Keila line up before today's game
Prek Pra Keila receive last minute instructions from the match referee
Preah Khan Reach, easy 5-0 winners against Oddar Meanchey
Heang Saravuth chipped in with 2 goals against Oddar Meanchey for PKR


Saturday's results

The victorious Rithisen squad line up after their giant-killing success over Kirivong
This weekend saw the final matches of the Hun Sen Cup last 16 and Saturday at Olympic Stadium saw the first real cup upset with underdogs Rithisen, from Kompong Chhnang, pulling off a 4-2 win over a demoralized Kirivong side, who had only themselves to blame though debutant referee Yien Kivatanak had a big say in the result too. The match attracted a crowd of 6,000 as well as the sweltering heat, a 2pm kick-off is really tough on the two sides. It wasn't a physical encounter but the referee felt it necessary to book 9 players, send off 4 from Kirivong and also brandish the red card to two others, but changed his mind and let them stay on the field. An incredible performance from the man in the middle. Long gone are the days when the referee was anonymous. Kirivong twice led, through Hok Sochivorn's thunderous free kick and a Phan Vanda penalty. Rithisen scored through skipper Ouk Channarith and then in time added on, netted the equalizer via Keo Chandara to take the game into extra time. By this time, Kirivong were down to 9 men with Hang Chantrea and Sochivorn getting red cards. Rithisen made their advantage tell in extra time with goals from Pes Matsoum and Chandara's second. Kirivong continued to implode and lost Ek Vannak and Yem Botra to early baths as Rithisen celebrated a memorable cup upset.

Meeting Rithisen in the quarter-finals will be Ministry of National Defense. Despite a really plucky and gutsy performance from Koh Kong, which saw the game goalless for 90 minutes and another 30 minutes extra time, with little in the way of goalmouth action, it was MND who progressed. With the game going into penalty kicks, MND won 4-3 thanks to successful penalties from Nov Soseila, Thong Oudom, Khek Khemarin and goalkeeper Samreth Seiha, who saved two spot-kicks before firing in his penalty and sending his teammates into raptures. Koh Kong's scorers were Ung Sopheak, Chhin Meng Srieng and Leng Makra.
2 goal Rithisen hero Keo Chandara (19) with Tam Yusos (16)
The self-imploding Kirivong team finished with 7 players on the pitch
Rithisen line up before their cup tie against Kirivong
The Ministry of Defense line up to face plucky Koh Kong, whom they beat on penalties


Winning performance

Samreth Seiha takes a moment after being mobbed by his colleagues for his match-winning performance
If you read my football blog postings, you'll know that Samreth Seiha takes my vote as Cambodia's number 1 goalkeeper. In the past year he's been vying with Sou Yaty for the green jersey, both at club, Ministry of National Defense (MND), and at international level for the U23 and full teams. He's a great shot stopper and Saturday proved he's no slouch when it comes to keeping a cool head under pressure when he took the honours in the penalty shoot-out stage of MND's Hun Sen Cup tie with plucky Koh Kong. It was all square, and goalless, after 90 minutes, still deadlocked after 30 minutes of extra time, hence the penalties. Seiha saved one of the first five regulation spot-kicks, with the score at 3-3. He then palmed away another before grabbing the ball, turning quickly and despatched his penalty kick in the corner of the net and wheeled away in delight before being mobbed by his teammates. A double hero. It doesn't get much better than that. And the first man to hug him was his rival, and pal, Sou Yaty.
Still on the football front, although Kuoch Sokumpheak didn't make the grade in Indonesia during a less than well organized trial last week, we will have a Cambodian player playing abroad this season. It's Phnom Penh Crown's left-winger and national player Chan Rithy, who has signed on for the Royal Thai Army team, who were promoted to the Thai Premier League at the end of last season. He was due to make his debut in their Queen's Cup game yesterday. Rithy, now 27, has been with Crown for the last four years after plying his trade with Khemara and the Cambodian Army teams before that. Good luck to Rithy, who has been one of the outstanding players in the CPL for a few years now.
I took a tuk tuk out to the airport early Saturday morning to deliver Ting for her flight back to Taiwan, via Saigon. She had a great time, her words not mine, and made some friends whether it be the young girls at Tonle Bati or the silk weavers on Koh Dach, so I'm sure she'll be back sometime in the future. Ting is a nurse in Taiwan and left her job to come to Cambodia and then she's off to southern India in a few weeks, her sixth trip there in the last couple of years. Nurses are always in demand she tells me so she shouldn't have a problem getting a job again once her current round of country-hopping comes to an end.
Ting says her goodbyes at the airport

Labels: , ,

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Under pressure

A day to forget for match referee Yien Kivatanak
It's the weekend and that means it's football at the Olympic Stadium here in Phnom Penh. Normally I prefer to talk about the matches, the results and the players but occasionally it's the man in the middle who grabs the headlines and all the attention. Referee Yien Kivatanak did just that today, whilst making his debut as a Cambodian referee. I'm sure it's a game he will want to forget, the look on his face towards the end of the game was one where he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole. The image of a rabbit caught in the full beam headlights of a truck, springs to mind. I've seen him running the line lots of times in last season's CPL fixtures but taking charge of your first match is a whole different ball game, as he soon found out. For the record, and in a game where serious fouls were few and far between, he managed to book 9 players, he sent off no less than 4 players from the Kirivong team with 4 straight red cards and also brandished two additional red cards, but quickly changed his mind and allowed those two players to stay on the pitch. To be honest, there was so much going on that I need to see a reply of the game just to check my facts. It was a cup tie in the Hun Sen Cup and the eventual outcome, after extra time, was a 4-2 giant-killing win by the Rithisen team from Kompong Chhnang against a self-imploding Kirivong Sok Sen Chey team, that finished the match with seven players. Actually it was six players (and therefore making the game technically void) as one of the Kirivong players walked off the pitch and threw his shirt down in disgust, though the referee didn't notice he'd left the pitch. If he had he would've had to abandon the game. But by that time, he'd completely lost the plot. Certainly a debut refereeing performance to remember, or forget, depending on who you are.

Labels: ,

Angkor interlude

A demon and his giant hands hang onto the naga at the south gate of Angkor Thom
Many of the heads at the south gate of Angkor Thom are copies, as you can see from this fresh sandstone demon head above
Cock-fighting and betting in action on the walls of the Bayon
One of the faces of the Bayon

Labels: ,

Friday, February 5, 2010

Withdrawal symptoms

Standing in front of the famous Reclining Vishnu lintel at Phnom Rung in Isaan, and I'm looking a little portly I might add - time for some exercise
Where's the temple stuff? An email arrived in my in-basket today asking exactly that, as they were seemingly getting withdrawal symptoms due to the lack of temple coverage in recent weeks. To be honest I've been so busy finishing my book that I've had little spare time to load photos from my temple visits in Isaan, Angkor, Banteay Chhmar and beyond. They are all still in the pipeline. Never fear I will get to them, I promise. If you believe that, you'll believe anything. No, seriously, I will do it. Here's a photo by way of an apology.
My current visitor Ting will depart back home to Taiwan on Saturday morning. She's been a real trooper, getting out and about under her own steam whilst I've been stuck in the office. Today she was off to Koh Dach to see the silk weavers after spending the last few days up in Siem Reap. No complaints, she's just got out and done her own thing. Bless her.
With her departure, she'll be cock-a-hoop to miss the weekend's football, which I subjected her to last weekend. The Hun Sen Cup last 16 round will be completed with a few more of the big boys playing tomorrow and Sunday. I'm hoping Nov Soseila will be back on the pitch for the Defense Ministry tomorrow as he's always a joy to watch, though an injury he got for the Cambodian national team a couple of weeks ago may not have cleared up. Sunday will see Khemara and Preah Khan Reach in action, with all the big names from the CPL expected to sail through to the quarter-finals. Talking of football, I'm coming to the end of an engrossing fictional look at the Asian football scene by Neil Humphreys and his novel Match Fixer. Football, sex, drugs, gangsters and match-fixing in Singapore are at the heart of this rattling good read. Definitely recommended.

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 4, 2010

In love with Cambodia

Don't believe everything you read in the press, or on the internet for that matter. Amazon and Barnes & Noble, two of the top on-line book sellers, are promoting the publication date of 1 March 2010 for the new guidebook To Cambodia With Love - A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur, to be published by ThingsAsian Press. As I only finished the final manuscript at the weekend, there's not a cat in hells' chance of it being published in under a month. Now if I had got off my arse and got the book completed in its original timeline, it would've been ready by then, but it'll be at least 3-4 months before there's a possibility of smelling the first freshly-printed edition (I love the smell of new books).
The promo blurb provides the following synopsis of the book, just to give you an idea of what to expect: From a tarantula brunch in the remote Cambodian countryside to a spiritual encounter with the god Vishnu in the National Museum in Phnom Penh, To Cambodia With Love is a true collaboration, containing personal essays by more than fifty writers [Ed. actually it's more than 60]. Among them you will find Angkor Wat expert Dawn Rooney, acclaimed memoirist Loung Ung (First They Killed My Father), and Lonely Planet’s in-the-know Nick Ray. Each essay is paired with a practical fact file so that travelers can follow in the writer’s footsteps. In addition, the book is illustrated with vibrant, full-color photographs. With its unique insights into dining, shopping, sightseeing, and culture, To Cambodia With Love is a one-of-a-kind guide for the passionate traveler.
Can't agree more. The photographs in the book will come from the camera of acclaimed photographer Tewfic El-Sawy, who is based in New York and regularly leads photography tours to India, Sikkim, Indochina, Indonesia, and the Himalayan Kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan. You can see his work here. Also read the publisher's latest.
I will expect all of my blog readers to buy a copy - yes, both of you, including the one who only reads the football posts. This is not a definitive guidebook in the Lonely Planet sense of the word, it is a book by people who are truly passionate about this country and who want to share their passion with you. Something I've been doing for more than a decade already. Fortunately you don't have to suffer my inept writing too much in the book, as it's the contributors who grab the limelight, and rightly so.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Meta on the move

Contemporary dancer Yon Davy at a recent Meta House performance
I've finally managed to find out where Meta House are moving to. The exhibition space and rooftop movie center, that has been located next to Wat Botum for the last three years, is moving to a more spacious home opposite the Phnom Penh Center and next to The Building at the end of April. It'll be bigger and better, with a cafe on-site. I look forward to it. This month at Meta House there's a real eclectic series of events with the highlight for me being the Sunday 21st dance night when Yon Davy presents her first choreography piece, Action Wave. Davy has been involved in the trio of recent contemporary dance performances at Meta House over the last couple of months but this time she's going it alone, albeit with two fellow dancers Yon Chantha and Choun Sovannary. It begins at 7pm. Davy, who began with Sovanna Phum and has danced in Thailand and Sweden, will also be involved in this month's Dansez Roam! performances too. Busy girl.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Domestic upheaval

On the domestic front, it's all change again. My cleaner for the past year, Chrep, has decided to seek pastures new in a beauty shop and has departed. Although we rarely spoke to each other - she was acutely shy and spoke no English and my Khmer is pants - she made my life go like clockwork with her thrice-weekly visits and I will miss her. We hardly saw each other to be honest, she usually arrived after I'd gone to work, but when we did, she would scurry away to a corner of my flat to avoid making eye contact. Now I have to get used to a new cleaner, Det, who began work this morning by looking at my washing-machine with a puzzled expression. Unfortunately, though they are related, there was no official hand-over of duties, so we're starting from scratch. And Det doesn't speak English either.
Yesterday my flat was inspected as a possible location shoot for a forthcoming television programme but I think my yellow walls and yellow curtains put the director off. And who would blame them. If any television show wants to do a flat makeover, feel free to contact me.
Did I mention that my book manuscript is complete and it's been handed to the publishers? Oh I did. Okay, I'll shut up about it then until the ink is dry on the first edition to roll off the printing press, which, fingers crossed, will be in a few months time.
Outside the confines of my flat, Phnom Penh will have its first Pizza Hut soon enough, somewhere along the riverside. The best place for it as far as I'm concerned. I've only ever been in Pizza Hut once in my lifetime, it wasn't a pleasant experience and I don't intend to go again. The same group also run the franchise for KFC (who have 7 outlets in Cambodia at the moment) and they've declared another five branches of the 'finger-lickin' chicken' will open up in the capital, Battambang and Kompong Cham. God help us.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, February 1, 2010

Who are they?

This doesn't look anything like the usual S21 portrait. I'm informed this is Aussie David Scott.
Everytime I go to Tuol Sleng I see their pictures. Yet I still have no idea who they are. Their faces have been staring back at me for years. Maybe, many moons ago the Tuol Sleng archivists pasted their names next to their mugshots, but today there's nothing to say who they are. I'm talking about the handful of pictures of foreigners interrogated and then murdered at S21. I'm sure that in my earlier visits to S21, when the photographs were attached directly to the walls, instead of inside the glass-fronted display cases as they are now, there were other photos displayed as well as confessions, and more. Afterall, it is a museum, so the exhibits have been changed over the course of time. However, I still think, at least as a mark of respect, if the names of individuals are known, they should be displayed next to the picture. The folks at DC Cam have established the names of foreigners killed at S-21 from the meticulous archives kept by the Khmer Rouge staffers, and these include Westerners as well as other nationalities and many Vietnamese and Thai nationals too. Below are the names of the Westerners. I'm sure someone will be able to pinpoint exactly who is who among the half a dozen photos posted at Tuol Sleng, so please let me know, so I can post the names here. The portraits were usually taken as the prisoners arrived at S21 and before their pointless interrogation took place, with death usually following soon after.
Ronald Keith Dean, Australian
David Lloyd Scott, Australian
John Dawson Dewhirst, British
Harard Bernard, French
Rovin Bernard, French
Andre Gaston Courtigne, French
Kerry George Hamill, New Zealand
James William Clark, USA
Michael Scott Deeds, USA
Christopher Edward Deland, USA
Lance MacNamara, USA
Does you recognise this portrait?
None of those being photographed had any idea about their fate
One of the six Western face portraits on display at S21
Another prisoner portrait taken from the display photographs in Building B
The photos of half a dozen Westerners can be found on the walls of Tuol Sleng. Who are they?

Labels: ,

VIP rooms

An ankle leg-iron is an eerie remnant of much darker days
A visit to Tuol Sleng (aka S21) is always a sober occasion. There's not much time for quiet reflection with the sheer number of tourists and locals coming through the main gates nowadays though the benches in the courtyard can provide some respite. This was where I met Chum Mey, one of only two survivors of S21, on Saturday. The solitary cells on the ground floor of Building A, housing what the tour guides term VIP inmates, provide the backdrop for these pictures.
A leg-iron was used to shackle the prisoners to their bed or during interrogation
A leg-iron, pillow and plate occupy the bedstead in one of the solo prisoner rooms
A rusting ammunition box, used as a latrine, remains
The starkness of the rooms and the symbols of confinement are powerful images
A wooden-slatted bedstead, chains and latrine
Another bedstead with symbols of imprisonment, initiated when the detention center was opened as a museum in 1980
Through the broken glass lies the one of the VIP rooms at S21


Hatful of goals

Reigning League Champions Naga Corp progressed at the expense of Chhma Khmao
Sunday's Hun Sen Cup games served up a hatful of goals and kept the fans entertained. Naga saw off the CPL newcomers Chhma Khmao 6-2 much to the disappointment of the Olympic crowd who'd favoured the underdogs from Svay Rieng. In the first match, Build Bright United showed their class with a 7-0 win over Prey Veng, to put the provincial upstarts firmly in their place.
BBU skipper Prum Puthsethy netted a hat-trick in his team's 7-0 demolition of Prey Veng
The all-Khmer BBU line-up that faced Prey Veng
Naga were not only up against the Black Cats of Svay Rieng but also the crowd, who showed their pleasure when the CPL new boys opened the scoring through the busy Mak Chhordaravuth. They were deathly quiet when Naga's Sun Sovannrithy rifled home the equaliser a few minutes later. Sovannrithy was playing in an unfamiliar striking role though spent most of the time on the floor, being upended constantly by the Svay Rieng defenders. A minute later he was floored again, this time by keeper Pen Socheat, who had the last laugh when he saved Teab Vathanak's penalty. After the break, Naga continued to press whilst Svay Rieng maintained their plucky and dogged resistance. Vathanak did find the net when he fired through a forest of legs but Svay Rieng levelled again when Pov Phearith's 30 yard free-kick arrowed into the net like a cannonball. A stunning strike. That spurred Naga on and Om Thavrak put them ahead again before two headed goals from Vathanak sealed his hat-trick and Sovannrithy also cashed in to add the gloss in a 6-2 success.
BBU were way too hot for Prey Veng to handle and coasted into a six-nil half-time lead, as it looked like another double figures result was on the cards. However the youngsters from the Chab Meas provincial team did much better after the break restricting the BBU students to just one more strike, in their 7-0 success. BBU skipper Prum Puthsethy led the way with a hat-trick, Om Chandara netted twice with sub Sophat Chansikunthina and left back In Vireak also getting on the scoresheet. BBU now face Naga in the quarter-finals in a few weeks time.

Labels: ,