Friday, November 13, 2009

Wat Preah Keo Morokat

The Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh from the southeast corner
As I'm not allowed to take photos inside the Silver Pagoda, here's a few from outside and from different angles. In a break from my football posts, this is one of the crown jewels in Phnom Penh, Wat Preah Keo Morokat, better known to all as the Silver Pagoda, in respect of the 5,329 silver tiles that cover its floor. Its also known for its Emerald Buddha, made of Baccarat crystal, a 90kg gold Buddha encrusted with thousands of diamonds and many other priceless statues and objects, though as with many things in Cambodia, the signage is pretty awful in explaining what you are looking at. The building itself was constructed in wood in 1892 and renovated in 1962. In the same compound are a number of stupas, shrines and wall paintings, or frescoes, that tell the story of the Reamker. More of that later, for now, enjoy the Silver Pagoda.
A view of the northwest corner of the Silver Pagoda
The western (back) entrance to the Silver Pagoda, together with the miniature replica of Angkor Wat
The Silver Pagoda from the southwest corner
The northeast view of the Silver Pagoda
Looking at the Silver Pagoda from the southeast, you can see the spires rising from the Royal Palace are behind

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Explosion of events

I'm gone for a few days and Phnom Penh explodes with more cultural events than I can shake a stick at. Tonight at Chinese House on the riverside, there's the closing ceremony of Golden Awakening, a week of 1960s Cambodian films as well as a party with suitable music. A host of famous Khmer names will be present and it begins at 6pm. At Meta House tonight, Tiara Delgado's Bitter Mekong film will get a 2nd showing at 7pm, whilst over at Chenla Theatre, tonight and tomorrow will see a new contemporary dance creation by Peter Chin called Transmission of the Invisible, and will involve Khmer and Canadian dancers performing together. The folks at the Bophana Center are busy too. At 4pm today they are showing a series of documentaries on Kong Nay, Sapoun Midada and the Kreung minority amongst others. On Tuesday (27 October), as part of World Audiovisual Heritage Day, they will repeat the screenings amongst a series of events including an array of varying musical styles. On Wednesday at the French Cultural Center there's an exchange in Khmer and French with Pin Yathay, author of the excellent memoir Stay Alive My Son.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Looking back

Pont de Vernéville in Phnom Penh 1904
Le Pont Fabre in Phnom Penh 1904
History fascinates me. It always has and I hope it always will. So I was disappointed when I had to miss last Sunday's Khmer Ephemera at Meta House. Joel Montague was presenting examples from his French colonial paper collection that included old postcards and posters of Cambodia. If you want your own taste of old Cambodia seen through early photographic postcards, then look no further than here which has scanned copies of some wonderful images. I've included a couple here, both of them bridges in Phnom Penh that are sadly no longer with us, but what amazing structures they were.
To give you a bit more info about one of the bridges, Pont de Vernéville, here's an extract from a Ministry of Culture website:
The development of modern Phnom Penh began during the 1890s under the direction of architect-town planner Daniel Fabré (1850-1904). During this period the colonial administration made various attempts to resolve the recurrent problem of flooding by filling in several small natural lakes and digging a series of interlinked canals to provide better drainage. The most important of these was the canal completed in 1894, which effectively encircled the quartier Européen. This canal entered from the Tonle Sap, ran east to west along quai Vernéville (now Street 106) and south to north adjacent to boulevard Monsignor Miche (now Monivong Boulevard), before swinging eastwards again to exit into the Tonle Sap at the end of boulevard Charles Thomson (now France Street 47) at the site of a former bridge, the Pont de Vernéville.
Canal de Vernéville 1904 that ran through Phnom Penh
Talking of old photos, I remembered that my mug shot appeared in the Phnom Penh Post at the back end of last year whilst attending a movie preview at Meta House. Here it is but I don't exactly look like a happy bunny do I, and neither does my date for the night, Ameas. A much more happier looking photo was taken at Tuol Sleng of all places a few weeks earlier. It was the first time that Ameas and her sister had been to Tuol Sleng and like many Khmers before her, she had no idea it even existed, let alone what took place there.
A glum-looking Ameas and myself at Meta House (from the PPP)
A much happier pose at Tuol Sleng; same people as above!

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Head in the clouds

With my head in the clouds
In bringing to a close my brief sojourn in Singapore, primarily for medical care but I couldn't stop myself from doing a little bit of sightseeing, though my early departure meant I missed out on a visit to the Asian Civilizations Museum, I haven't taken any photos from up in the skies for at least a couple of weeks, so here's a few more to add to my collection. You may recall my last bout of aerial photography was in a scary microlite ride near Angkor a month ago. This new bout was on the Silk Air MI608 flight as it made its way into Pochentong Airport in Phnom Penh.
A bird's-eye view of Pochentong Airport and runway as we sweep around
Part of the suburbs of Phnom Penh city
Getting up close and personal with Pochentong town center
A more conventional view of the Pochentong Airport arrival terminal as we land

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Mekong Run

After I spent yesterday afternoon on a boat on the Mekong River, it was timely that the Sunday Times in the UK published an archive report from Jon Swain in yesterday's edition, that provided an insight into life on the Mekong River during the year, 1974, before the Khmer Rouge finally gained control of Cambodia. Jon Swains' superb book, The River of Time, is a must-have book for any collection of stories from that period in history.

From the archive: Dodging Khmer Rouge bullets on a Mekong run - by Jon Swain
March 10, 1974: the world's most dangerous boat trip, to Phnom Penh.

I joined Convoy TT173 at Saigon and selected a freighter called Bonanza Three: her wheelhouse, our refuge during the attack, was protected by a thick wall of sandbags and her skipper, Captain Herri Pentoh, was a “real crackerjack”, according to a US aid official on the Phnom Penh run. Captain Pentoh, a wiry 27-year-old Indonesian with long, greasy hair, stood in the wheelhouse gazing awkwardly at the river bank through binoculars, partly because the solid wall of sandbags restricted his vision, but mostly because, like Nelson, he had only one good eye. The other, made of glass, gave a wild, staring accent to his face.

Bonanza Three, anchored in the oily waters of Saigon harbour, seemed an ugly, rusty old tub, fit for the scrapyard, and that was the reason why she had been chosen for the Mekong River run: her owner thought her expendable. Happily for him, the American government is committed to Phnom Penh’s survival and, so far at least, it has always made it worth his while to gamble the ship and the lives of his crew for a quick return. “The risks are high, but generally so are the profits,” explained Johnny Khoo, manager of the Singapore-based shipping company that runs her. It is understood that profits fluctuate around £17,000 a trip.

The big joke aboard Bonanza Three was the loo. Apart from making privacy a farce, fist-sized shrapnel holes in the door and wall made it all too obvious that the consequences of using it at the wrong moment could prove disastrous. Happily, the Khmer Rouge gunners, notoriously bad shots, have never caught anyone with their pants down. The ship’s radio officer, I was told, was “absent”. Only later did I discover that the poor fellow had been killed two months before, blasted in his cabin by a rocket. Members of the crew had scooped up the pieces in a plastic bag and are still trying to erase this from their memories.

The convoy passed the first big danger point almost unchallenged. At Peam Chor, 15 miles beyond the frontier, the Mekong suddenly curves and narrows to a 500-yard channel – an ideal and frequent ambush spot. Conspicuous to our straining eyes were the hulks of two ammunition barges sunk 10 days before, during the last run. All that remained were pieces of rusty machinery poking from the sluggish water. With the sleepy little town of Neak Leung just a fading smudge to stern, the danger seemed over. Even Captain Pentoh relaxed, unzipping his flak jacket and pulling off his helmet, for he knew that no convoy had been hit on the home run for nearly a year. The ambush came quickly, with a rocket attack on the lead ship, the Monte Cristo, as she steamed past the Dey Do plywood factory only 12 miles from Phnom Penh.

From the wheelhouse on Bonanza Three, two ships astern, it was impossible to assess the damage, but flames and a feather of black smoke on the Wing Pengh, the ship 300 yards from our bows, denoted that she, too, had been hit. Machine-gun bullets clanged and rattled off the hull. In the wheelhouse, the little Cambodian pilot carried on with his instructions, his voice as steady as a rock, his fear betrayed only by his delicate fingers tightly wrapped round a small ivory Buddha. The words “starboard easy” had just left his lips when the rocket burst aft. The explosion felt like a heavy blow in the back. Nobody moved or said anything, except the captain, who said, “Bloody hell, we’ve been hit”, then looked around embarrassed.

Nobody bothered to leave the wheelhouse and inspect the damage until we were safely tied up at Phnom Penh’s dirty brown waterfront an hour or so later. The rocket had missed the steering column by a fraction of an inch; had it hit, Bonanza Three would have been sent circling out of control. A winch was badly damaged and there were a lot of holes, but she had survived yet another Mekong River run. Pinned to a blackboard in the press briefing centre in Phnom Penh that evening, the Cambodian high command’s communiqué tersely read: “A convoy of five cargo ships, two petrol tankers and three ammunition barges has anchored at the port of Phnom Penh after passing up the Mekong without incident.”

The Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh in 1975. Millions of Cambodians died in the “killing fields” massacres that followed.

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