Monday, August 17, 2009

Now on top of the world

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

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Get your tongue ready - here's Preah Vihear

My turn to join in the drum-beating, flag-waving Preah Vihear celebrations after just getting hold of my five brand new, hot off the stamping press, 1-year anniversary stamps to mark the inscription of the Preah Vihear temple as a UNESCO World Heritage listed site. Here they are in all their glory, providing various views of the temple itself in a price ranging from 2,800 riels down to 300 riels. I'll hang onto them and pass them down to my grandchildren, if I ever have any. I might even ask the PM to autograph them for me as a keepsake. What's the chances of that?


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cracking down

Cambodia's PM has told his ministries and police chiefs to crack down on violent youth gangs who are causing havoc in the cities and countryside. I haven't seen much evidence of these gangs myself, until last night. Whilst the city was in boisterous mood with pockets of the Preah Vihear 1-year celebrations breaking out all over, I witnessed what appeared to be an unprovoked and cowardly attack on a teenager riding his moto along Sothearos Boulevard, in front of the colourful water-fountains. The traffic was snarled and at a standstill when at least half a dozen youths jumped off their motos and started punching and kicking a single youth, who was knocked from his moto and onto the ground. The assault lasted only a few seconds but I saw at least two of the youths using their unbuckled belts to inflict blows. As quickly as it had started, it was over, the youths jumped on their motos and sped away, cheering and giving each other high-fives. It was clear that the attackers knew each other, whether they knew the victim, I don't know but it was a sober reminder that youths and violence make common bedfellows in whatever city you find yourself in. I welcome any moves, however strong-armed they may be, to nip this in the bud.
Instead of watching the Preah Vihear celebrations on television last night, with a massive rally from the Olympic Stadium being beamed across the country, I went to watch a slideshow and talk, Khmer Abroad by photographer Stephane Janin at Java Arts Cafe. Janin moved from Phnom Penh to live in Washington, USA, a couple of years ago and has been documenting the ordinary, everyday lives of the Khmer diaspora in Washington, Lowell and Long Beach ever since. His blog has much of his work available to view. He intends to continue his work for another year before moving to France and beginning the same project there too.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mixed bag

Flags flying above Preah Vihear - the pride of a nation
A mixed bag of 'stuff' this morning. Tonight I will poke my head into Java Arts Cafe again for the Khmer Abroad, talk and slideshow by photographer Stephane Janin, who used to host the Popil Gallery in Phnom Penh and now lives in Washington, US, documenting the lives of the Khmer diaspora. You can get a good feel for his work by visiting his blog. On Monday, a new art exhibition will open at Reyum featuring the paintings of local artists Khun Sovanrith and Ven Savat. The Reyum Gallery near the National Museum provides a great opportunity for Khmer artists to expose their work to a wider public. Later this afternoon, the Olympic Stadium will play host to the 1-year anniversary celebrations for the award of World Heritage status to the temple of Preah Vihear. The place will be awash with the cream of the country's elite as well as top names like crooner Preap Savath and many more. Long rambling speeches, music, patriotic songs, dance, speeches from military leaders, fireworks, more speeches, expect the lot. It's on tv so I won't be there. Oh, and at 11am this morning, the PM has called for bell-ringing, drum-beating and banner-hanging to herald the actual time of the listing. And I'm told there will be traditional dancing at Preah Vihear too, well at Sraem, some 20kms away. An interesting snippet emerged yesterday when two Thai tourists were refused entry to Preah Vihear. In fact, Thai tourists have been banned from the temple until the conflict has been resolved, on the pretext that they might be spies. Finally, the Khmer Rouge trials took a backwards step yesterday when civil party witness Ly Hor gave a less-than-convincing display about his time at S-21. So much so that Duch claimed the man was already dead and challenged the witness testimony. Ly Hor said he was held at Tuol Sleng for one month but was sketchy in his recollection of his time there. It also called into some minor doubt the evidence provided by DC-Cam, whose officers have worked tirelessly for more than a decade to uncover the truth about the Khmer Rouge and presented much of the evidence for the tribunal.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Blogging on the blink

Leaving no-one in any doubt about the ownership of Preah Vihear
I'm getting increasingly frustrated with Blogger. At the moment I can only add a blog post to my own blog if I sign in as a guest blogger - how crazy is that. So here I am, guest blogging on my own blog. And even then it took about fifteen ninutes to get into the posting template. So we may find that my posting rate goes awry until I can get my access fixed.
In the meantime, the Khmer Rouge Tribunal continues to role on and this week has been perhaps the most interesting so far because of the witness roll-call. It's been survivor week to put it bluntly, with Vann Nath, Chum Mey and Bou Meng appearing on the first three days - all of whom survived their time in Tuol Sleng whilst adults by virtue of their individual skills as painters or mechanics. On Thursday it was the turn of Norng Chan Phal, who was just eight years old when S-21 was discovered by the arriving Vietnamese. He gave evidence about his final days and the disappearance of his mother which Duch dismissed as he declared all children at S-21 were killed. Newly-acquired film footage taken by the Vietnamese, which was handed over to DC-Cam in recent months, and which included Norng Chan Phal and his younger brother, was rejected by the judges as inadmissable at this time. Next week, another five survivors of Tuol Sleng are expected to give evidence in the trial of the former chief of S-21, though their names are not released beforehand for personal safety reasons. Amongst them are likely to be former prison guards at the torture center, such as Him Houy. Elsewhere there's been lots more sabre-rattling over Preah Vihear as we approach the 1-year anniversary of the award of the World Heritage status to the temple. A big celebration is planned for the Olympic Stadium on 7 July and will no doubt rub the Thais up the wrong way again. And if Cambodian demands for the removal of the Thai soldiers stationed at the pagoda on the summit aren't met, expect more fireworks. This is not a situation that is going to go away anytime soon. Both sides are well dug-in for the duration and without outside arbitration, I don't see any end in sight of the stalemate.
The 131 kilometre road that joins Siem Reap to Anlong Veng will be officially opened tomorrow by PM Hun Sen. National Road 67 is its name and with the continuation road from Anlong Veng to Preah Vihear also taking shape as I type, soon the journey to Preah Vihear will be almost a breeze of about 4 hours maximum. Interesting to hear that in the first six months of this year, the total number of tourists visiting Preah Vihear was just over 34,000. Of those, foreign tourist numbers were down 83% on last year, to 5,050 - which is a lot more than I thought it would be. When I was there a couple of months ago, my brother and I were definitely the only foreigners there on that day. Mind you it was the day when 100 heavily-armed Thai soldiers tried to cross the border, so only an idiot would've been at the temple on that day [wink].

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

In the middle of nowhere

A face has been dug out of this termite mound at Prasat Trapeang Prasat
The three towers of Prasat Trapeang Prasat in shade
Prasat Trapeang Prasat is a few kilometres from the town of the same name, Trapeang Prasat, in Oddar Meanchey province. Its a pretty neat ruin, three brick towers opening to the east in fairly reasonable condition, considering it's been located in landmine and Khmer Rouge territory for all of the last 35 years. Today access to the temple is safe but it's in an area devoid of other temple sites, the nearest one of any notoriety is Preah Vihear, where we had just come from, and about 30kms from our next destination, Anlong Veng. Trapeang Prasat is pretty much in the middle of nowhere though the improvement in the roads will soon make it a pass-through as the tourists flock from Siem Reap and on through Anlong Veng, and Trapeang Prasat, on their way to Preah Vihear. It's going to happen and pretty soon, once the troops end their stalemate on the mountaintop. We were going in the opposite direction, and stopped for a chicken and rice breakfast at a cafe near the town's main traffic circle, which turned out to be a replica prasat. We tracked down the actual temple, which is near a pagoda and surrounded by a laterite wall. There were a few carvings scattered around but everything of value had been taken away, probably by Ta Mok, who had a habit of collecting Angkorean sculpture. Nearby, and just past the dry pond, was a laterite ruin but completely covered in vegetation and impossible to get close to. It was already a hot morning as we climbed back into our 4WD for our next stop, Anlong Veng.
Modern-day graffiti on the doorway to one of the towers
A slab of sandstone, again with modern-day carving
The doorway entrance to the central tower
A kala lintel in the undergrowth
Slabs of sandstone lie on the ground including this defaced linga
A nicely decorated doorway column at Prasat Trapeang Prasat
The west face of the central tower with its false door
The three towers looking from the east
The three towers looking from the west
The main traffic circle in Trapeang Prasat is a replica prasat
Here's our breakfast stop in Trapeang Prasat
The main street in Trapeang Prasat, dusty and muddy

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

View from the edge

The glorious view from the southeast outside corner of the central sanctuary
Preah Vihear has the most spectacular location of any of the Angkorean temples. Perched on the edge of the Dangrek mountains, it commands fantastic views across northern Cambodia and on a good clear day you can see all the way to Phnom Kulen. My first ever visit to Preah Vihear saw the temple covered in low-flying cloud and fog, which can occasionally happen, though the sunset and sunrise from this location is simply majestic and well worth the effort alone. As you leave the blind southern gopura and walk to the cliff-edge, there is a lower-level viewing point with barbed-wire protecting you from falling, though the rock-ledge above is not roped off and you can literally sit on the edge dangling your feet into northern Cambodia. Not for the faint-hearted. The families of a couple of soldiers stationed at Preah Vihear joined us as we sat on the edge enjoying the view and practised their English as we tried our hand at Khmer. It was a light-hearted end to our wander through this magnificent temple and one which I will never tire of visiting.
A false door in the southern gopura with lintel and pediment in situ
Tim takes his chance on the narrow ledge at the southeast corner with a sheer drop below him
The southwest corner of the blind southern gopura
The worn Vishvakarma lintel and pediment above the southwest corner doorway
A look at the village of Kor Muy from the cliff-edge; the village will soon be relocated 20kms away
The view from the cliff-edge is spectacular
A look across the northern plains of Cambodia into the hazy distance
I close my look at Preah Vihear with a death-defying balancing act on the cliff-edge; don't let your children copy this, especially wearing that hat!


Monday, June 1, 2009

At the center

Above the main doorway to the central sanctuary is a pediment showing Shiva dancing on the head of an elephant
We've now reached Gopura I and the central sanctuary of Preah Vihear which is a slight anti-climax in my view. The sanctuary itself is partially collapsed though a place for worship is still attended by laymen, and surrounding it are two covered galleries with inward-facing windows, looking like the cloisters of an abbey. The southern end of the central sanctuary is false and is closed off and access to the cliff-edge is by doubling-back on yourself. To the southeast the corner of the temple is literally inches from the edge of the mountain and caution is required if you navigate that area. We are now at the end of our journey through the Preah Vihear temple, we have climbed up through the successive levels, stretching some 800 metres, and the last part of the walk is outside the central sanctuary and up to the cliff-edge and the sheer drop to the Cambodian plains below. This replication of entering Mount Meru is a journey I would recommend everyone completes at least once in their lifetime.
A false door to the central shrine with a large kala lintel
A re-assembled pediment with a large dancing lion
Vishvakarma and his mace on both the lintel and pediment
A doorway with lintel and part pediment behind the central sanctuary
Another lintel and pediment with Vishvakarma in the hot seat
Close-up detail of Vishvakarma holding his mace and sitting on the head of a munching kala
The main doorway to the central sanctuary shrine of Preah Vihear
A look at some of the rubble from the partially collapsed sanctuary
The cloister-style gallery surrounding the central sanctuary shrine at Preah Vihear


Preah Vihear continued

Looking back at the causeway and the southern entrance of Gopura III
Let me take you back to Preah Vihear, which I visited a couple of months ago with my brother Tim, where we popped into the temple on a day when 100 heavily-armed Thai troops tried to cross the border and we found ourselves as the only tourists at the site, accompanied by hundreds of Cambodian soldiers. In our wander through the temple, we have now reached Gopura II via a small causeway with just ten pairs of boundary posts, of which only a few survive. Gopura II contains a courtyard and two libraries, facing inwards. In the courtyard were a few re-assembled pediments and lintels which were on display in honour of a visiting UNESCO delegation later that same week. Gopura I is attached to the back of Gopura II without a causeway, that separates all of the other gopuras.
A boundary post between Gopura's III and II
Lions guard the steps leading to the northern entrance of Gopura II
The main entrance doorway to Gopura II with lintel intact
One of the two libraries inside the courtyard of Gopura II
A re-assembled Vishvakarma pediment in the courtyard
A four-armed Vishnu with three apsaras flying above
One of the re-assembled pediments reminds me of the courtyard at Phnom Chisor
A section of carving showing a series of animals in the lower register
A row of worshippers and a kala lintel with dancing figures below on display in the courtyard