Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Secrets uncovered

Female devata on the inside passageway of the Terrace of the Leper King
Now has lived in Angkor all her life. Our visit to the Terrace of the Leper King last week was her first time ever to see the fascinating carvings up close and to walk through the inner passageway. And she's not alone. I'll bring you a few pictures of the carvings later but it still surprises me that my Cambodia friends are always so busy just making ends meet that they don't have the time, or perhaps the inclination, to discover the world around them, or even their own wonderful heritage literally just around the corner.
Now in jovial mood after her visit to Angkor Thom

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

All new Now

Returning to my occasional series of pictures of my best pals, today it's the turn of Now. This picture was taken at the Khmer Kitchen restaurant last week when I spent a few days in Siem Reap. Now had turned up with a new hairstyle and news that her sister had just given birth to her third child, so she was in a very happy mood. If you've read my blog for a while you'll know that Now has worked all of her life at the temples of Angkor, selling souvenirs, particularly at Angkor Wat, until last year when she began work as the assistant to another friend of mine, professional photographer Eric de Vries. This has opened up a new world to Now and she's revelling in it. I'm so happy for her, long may it continue.
Now and me at 4Faces Gallery, her place of work


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Back home

Now and myself, this morning, courtesy of Eric de Vries
Sunday night update: I'm back in Phnom Penh, caught the Mekong Express at midday from Siem Reap and it was comfortable, on-time and a much better option than Paramount. Believe me. Popped into 4Faces early this morning to say goodbye to Now and the rest of the de Vries' crew, namely Pheap, Lida, Srey Pich and Leak. Yesterday afternoon, following on from my last update, was spent with Now at Angkor including my first visit to the top level of Angkor Wat since it's been reopened to the public. I also went to see the work in progress at the Baphuon but just my luck, access to the temple is not possible at the weekend so I wasn't able to view, up close and personal, the work the restoration teams have so far accomplished. Now has lived at Angkor all her life but like most of her fellow villagers, she had never visited the Terrace of the Leper King, so we put that right. More later.


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.

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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.

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

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

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Welcome to the King's home

The iron gateway at the visitors entrance to the Royal Palace with the figure showing welcome and respect
This morning I took Now for her first-ever visit to the Royal Palace compound. The entrance fee was $6.25 for barang, free for Khmers, which I think is the type of dual-pricing system I like at national treasures like the home of the King. She enjoyed herself even though it was extremely hot and pretty crowded, and it was quite early, as we made it through the doors just after 8am. I won't post the most obvious photos just now, rather I'll concentrate on a few pictures I took that most people will ignore, especially of the wrought-iron gates into the Silver Pagoda area, which have the same design, showing a male figure with hands clasped together in a sampeah welcome. More photos to follow but I'm off to the football at Olympic Stadium very soon.
The wrought-iron gate at the visitors entrance, showing two figures
A small scale model of Angkor Wat sits behind the Silver Pagoda
Another sampeahing figure as you enter the Silver Pagoda compound from the Royal Palace
Much of the frescoes along the inner wall of the Silver Pagoda have been destroyed by time and weather. This is a scene depicting French landowners at court. The murals were originally painted in 1903.
This lady is wishing herself luck with water in the presence of the sacred Nandin bull. This is in the library next to the Silver Pagoda where fortune tellers read your fortune.
The welcome sampeah at the southern gate of the Silver Pagoda compound
Four reclining Buddhas in the Keong Preah Bath shrine which also houses a large Buddha footprint
The final welcome sampeah figure at the western entrance to the Silver Pagoda area

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A day of firsts

Now meets Ambassador Sichan Siv and his wife Martha for the first time at Monument Books
Saturday was a busy day and Sunday should be the same. Now has come to town for one of her rare visits and after spending time with her cousin in the morning, whilst I was at work, she joined me in hooking up with Ambassador Sichan Siv and his wife Martha at Monument Books for a book-signing of Sichan's Golden Bones memoir. Good to see William Bagley as always, the GM at Monument, who has further increased his excellent selection of books on Cambodia by stocking a few new releases, which I had to buy of course, including Kilong Ung's Golden Leaf and Sambath Meas' The Immortal Seeds. I also donated a copy of Golden Bones to the chief librarian at the National Library. After a quick bite to eat at the Red Orchid restaurant, Now and I then headed for the new premises of Sovanna Phum which wasn't too easy to find. However, the tuk-tuk driver got us there eventually, just in time for the start of their Hanuman and Giant Drum performance. And what a performance it was. If you like co-ordinated drumming and monkey antics, you'll love this. I did. The plan for Sunday is to take Now to see the Royal Palace for the first time and then in the afternoon, it's the start of the BIDC Cup at Olympic Stadium with two games scheduled to take place, including the Cambodian Under-23s and this will be her introduction to live football. The 'first's' keep on coming.
Another team photo, this time including Willam Bagley, the GM at Monument, alongwith Now, Sichan, Martha and myself
Some of the big-hitters at Monument: LtoR: Prince Sisowath Sirirath, Japanese Ambassador Shinohara, Sichan and Martha
Mann Kosal, the man responsible for Sovanna Phum, sings a traditional Khmer song
The Giants take the stage, the monkeys came later
The Giants supported by Sovanna Phum's fantastic drummers

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Life changing

Now in her new exhibition uniform - it looks like its serious business
I had a phone call last night from my friend Now as she was supervising the latest exhibition of Eric de Vries' work at Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor in Siem Reap. Eric is her boss and it's Now's job over the next month to supervise his new exhibition at the hotel, entitled Retrospective Cambodia, featuring the pick of Eric's photography over the last nine years whilst on his travels around Cambodia. Much of the exhibition will feature in Eric's next book, which will be published early next year. She called me as it was just before 9pm and the mozzies were out in force, probably as a result of all that water that has been lying around Siem Reap over the past week. In fact the water levels at her village near Srah Srang have finally receded after rising to well over a metre during the worst of the flooding. Here's a picture of her in her new blue uniform, especially made for the exhibition, and a photo of her taken on one of her rare visits to the capital a few months ago. Her job as Eric's assistant has opened Now up to a completely new range of adventures and activities and she's loving every minute of it. As a souvenir seller at Angkor Wat, she would never have thought of walking into Raffles, but now she will be there every day for the next month, in her bright new uniform, talking to visitors at the exhibition as though it was an everyday occurrence in her life, which it now is. Eric has just sent me a photo of the exhibition, which I've also posted here.
The Eric de Vries exhibition at the Raffles Grand Hotel d''Angkor
Now in more relaxed mode in Phnom Penh recently

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Opening night

A rare and welcome visitor to Phnom Penh and one of my favourite people, Now, Eric's assistant
Here's a few photos from the opening night of Khmer Standoff, an exhibition of photographs taken at Preah Vihear temple near the border with Thailand, by Siem Reap-based Dutch photographer Eric de Vries. The exhibits were on show for the first time tonight and will hang in the Chinese House on Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh for the next 8 days. Get along and have a look at how de Vries captured the life of the Cambodian army soldiers on duty at Preah Vihear. Read an article on Eric and his exhibition in today's Phnom Penh Post here.
Eric (white) and Jim Mizerski get a lesson in Khmer tattoos from Sophoin
Sophoin points to her favourite de Vries photo, which she says shows the strength of the Cambodian soldiers defending Preah Vihear
Sophoin and yours truly at tonight's exhibition at the Chinese House
Two of the Preah Vihear soldiers pass the time. Now recognised the soldier getting his hair cut as coming from Siem Reap.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A few pics for starters

Now proudly displays her own photographs for sale at the 4Faces Gallery, where she works with my pal Eric de Vries
Now's photos of her trip to Preah Vihear under her full name of Chhong Nav
Above and below are a few pictures from the last few days to start us off. Many more to come.
We set up our Hanuman safari tent at the secluded Ta Nei temple and this is the dining table arrangement
This week is a very important time for Buddhists in Cambodia, so the shrines within The Bayon are very busy
Now and myself at the Shadow of Angkor guesthouse last night where we had dinner with friendsThe location of our breakfast spot this morning, next to the Angkor Wat moat, with Sokheng in attendance