Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Water-bombers

Anyone who thought there was a government-induced ban on splashing water and powder on people at Khmer New Year should think again. Not only along the road to Ek Phnom just outside Battambang (I still have an imprint from the plastic bag water-bomb that hit me smack in the middle of my forehead) but on Highway 6, the water and powder funsters were at it, throwing bags of water at fast-moving vehicles and motorbike riders that is, in my opinion, an accident waiting to happen. I'm all for a bit of fun but when it puts lives in danger then it's no longer a joking matter. The water-bombers here have gone crazy this year with small plastic bags filled with water or pond water (or whatever they can fill them with), some of which have ice-cubes inside, and which are thrown with as much venom as possible at passing cyclists, moto-drivers, tuk-tuk passengers, etc, from close range. I watched police standing idly by (which is a talent they have in great quantities) while this mayhem was talking place on small country roads as well as the National Highway. Soaking your friends is one thing, throwing missiles at passing road users is another one entirely. And the litter problem directly stemming from these plastic bags is yet another horrible stain on the Cambodian countryside. Actions have consequences.

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Reunion

LtoR: Theara, Boromey, Holly, me, Chakrya, Sak
Great to see my old friend Sak and his lovely family whilst I was in Battambang. Rumnea and I were invited to their home on two consecutive nights for dinner and it was great to catch up after a few years of not seeing each other. Though trying to get a word in edgeways once Theara and Rumnea got started, was a tough act. Both of Sak's elder daughters, Boromey and Chakrya, are studying in Phnom Penh but were home for the New Year holidays, whilst the youngest, Holly, is still studying at primary school. His son, Chamnap was stuck in Phnom Penh. I last recall visiting their home back in 2007. Way too long ago.
2007 edition: LtoR (back row); Theara and Sak; (front row) Chamnap, Holly, Boromey and Chakrya

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Otherwise engaged

With Rumnea just before our Norry (bamboo train) ride in Battambang
In Battambang for Khmer New Year since Saturday evening. Lots to do, so little time to write. Will update when I have a window of opportunity.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Coming home to Handsworth

Steel Pulse are heading home to Handsworth in July
Wicked...Steel Pulse are confirmed as headliners of the Simmer Down Festival in Handsworth Park, Birmingham on Sunday 20th July 2014. Handsworth is their backyard and the band played at the Park nearly 40 years ago, so this is a homecoming worthy of the name. Just wish I was there to witness it. I hope Basil and Grizzly will be on stage with them at some point and that Yaz Alexander will be on the bill too. Busy playing all over the globe, appearances by Steel Pulse in the UK are pretty rare so returning to their hometown will be extra special. They will be playing in Gibraltar and Belgium the previous two nights before hopping over to Brum. Read all about Steel Pulse on my website @ http://andybrouwer.co.uk/steelpulse.html.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Christopher Howes

Christopher Howes, murdered by the Khmer Rouge in 1996
Eighteen years ago this month, Christopher Howes, a British mine-clearing expert with the Mines Advisory Group lost his life in Anlong Veng, in northern Cambodia. Khmer Rouge forces captured Christopher, his interpreter Houn Hourth and their 20-strong de-mining unit on 26 March 1996. The team were soon released, but the Bristol-born former Royal Engineer and Hourth were kept hostage, with the Cambodian murdered soon after. Christopher was taken to the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng and was executed a few days later. It took twelve years to track down and bring to justice those responsible and on 14 October 2008, a Cambodian judge convicted four men in the kidnapping and murder of Christopher and Hourth. The guilty verdicts and 20 year jail sentences were handed down to Khem Nguon, who was known to be the deputy commander of the Khmer Rouge forces at Anlong Veng and who ordered the execution, Loch Mao, who witnesses identified as the man who shot Howes, and their driver Puth Lim, who admitted being present at the murder and to burning the body. A fourth defendant, Sin Dorn was found guilty of kidnapping the deminers and received a ten year jail term. For his bravery, Christopher was posthumously awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal and Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk named a street in the capital after him. You can read much more about Christopher, the media reports at that time and the men responsible, here.

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Weekend away

On a boat at Kompong Pluk
Weekend in Siem Reap, work party and stuff. Here I am on a boat in Kompong Pluk, floating village near Siem Reap, and with my work colleagues after a scavenger hunt around Angkor Thom. More to follow.
Hanuman scavengers at East Gate, Angkor Thom

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Groslier's remote temples

In The Shadow of Angkor - new edition by DatASIA
I've been trying to confirm whether a new publication from DatASIA Press has been published yet, but without any joy. Amazon tells me it came out in February but I have my doubts. In the Shadow of Angkor - Unknown Temples of Ancient Cambodia was written by Georges Groslier and concentrated on his 1913 expedition to some of the remoter temples of that era including Preah Vihear, Wat Phu, Beng Mealea and Banteay Chhmar. This modern edition by Kent Davis - enhanced with 75 period illustrations and detailed appendices - offers readers the first English translation of the dangers, discoveries and people encountered on his solitary adventures. It's a must-have edition for the hordes of temple hunters out there. DatASIA have already brought us Cambodian Dancers, Earth In Flower and Angkor The Magnificent and this looks like another great addition to their growing stable of historical books.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

All's quiet

Life's a bit quiet at the mo. Hence a lack of blog posts. And its bloody hot. We put a spoof blog post on the Hanuman blog today just to spice things up. Along the lines of taking the famous bamboo train onto the roads once the new railway line kicks-in. It sounded funny when we thought of it. I'm off to Battambang for Khmer New Year which I'm really looking forward to. Haven't been there for ages and I have a soft spot for the place. This coming weekend I'm going to Siem Reap for a work party. That's all that needs to be said about that. And next week is the return of Game of Thrones to our screens, or the big screen at The Flicks in my case, since the bar-stewards took HBO off my tv.

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Giving back to the Community

PPCFC's very own poster-boy model and footballer, Bin Thierry, takes the HIV test
Community engagement is a poncey way of saying connecting to the locals. And Phnom Penh Crown football club, of which I am the press officer, is far better than any other club in the country at doing it. In fact I'm quite proud of how much we get stuck in. For the past two nights, a few of our first-team players, the head coach and some of our staff have gone up to Kompong Chhnang to deliver messages and show support for the HIV Prevention Program we are running along side our friends at the SALT Academy. The target audience are High School students from all over the country, more than 2,700 of them, who are in Kompong Chhnang for the High School National Championships. Basically the message is, if you are having unprotected sex, get yourself tested, use condoms and do not look down/discriminate against those who have HIV. It's not something that is talked about much in conservative Cambodia, so its important we lend weight to this important message and our players and staff have thrown themselves into it. They've even got HIV tested too. It's been the same with the One World Futbol Project that we've been running for the past month - delivering indestructible futbols to schools and organisations - where our senior players and Academy youngsters also take part in running football sessions with boys and girls. This is exactly what every professional club in the country should be doing, giving their backing to projects that benefit the community at all levels. Our players are in a privileged position, they play professional sport for a living and need to put themselves up as role models, which is exactly what our club is doing.  Good stuff PPCFC, leading from the front. Oh, and we're currently top of the league table as well.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Climbing the ladder

Kimberly Pal, making waves in Hollywood
California-based Kimberly Pal is a hard-working Khmer-born actress who is one of the leads as well as executive producer of a new film, Hollywood and Vine that will come out later this year. She's appeared on a bunch of television shows in the States such as Teen Wolf and worked with actors like Johnny Depp and Robin Williams on various films in recent times. Let's hope she continues her rise up the Hollywood ladder. Catch a quick look at her latest film @ http://youtu.be/t_OAdjYKdik.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Best of

River of Time makes it onto most people's 'best of' book lists when it comes to Cambodia and Indochina. It's so evocative. You can read more about River of Time author and journalist Jon Swain's love affair with Indochina on his own website @ http://jonswain.org/jonswain/indochina.html.

I had to post this...a short performance by one of Cambodia's Living Treasures, dance master Em Theay, for a forthcoming documentary, Year 33. She not only danced in the royal ballet but was also an accomplished singer, and in later life, one of the few teachers to survive the genocide. The sooner someone writes this adorable lady's detailed biography, the better. Here's the video @ http://youtu.be/K5PgtOnJvKY

Travel Guidebooks on Cambodia are plentiful these days and two of the longest established ones, Lonely Planet and Rough Guide will be bringing out new Cambodia editions this year. The latest LP version should be out in 6-8 weeks time while Rough Guide will be on bookshelves a little bit later, around August time.
 
Audrey Magazine have featured Soma Norodom in their latest edition, spotlighting Soma's soon to be launched Foundation, which will help with sponsoring education opportunities for disadvantaged children. More @ http://audreymagazine.com/audreys-women-of-influence-princess-soma-norodom/.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Then and now

LtoR: 1978, 1982 and 2013 - click to enlarge
To bring the curtain down on mug-shots of myself, I thought I'd do a then and now, with pictures taken of me in 1978 (aged 18), 1982 (aged 22) and last year (aged 53).

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Sue & her students

Sue Guiney in mid-flow at tonight's event, in high definition
Sue Guiney read two excerpts from her latest novel, Out of the Ruins, at Meta House this evening as part of the launch of her book in Phnom Penh. Sue is coming to the end of her annual writing workshop with Anjali House in Siem Reap and invited six of her creative writing program students to join her on stage, where they each read out their own compositions, either poems or short stories. The extracts were from the latest Anjali magazine, issue 6. Reading the magazine, there are some talented young writers under Sue's wing. Anjali do great work supporting the creative passions of street kids in Siem Reap.
Sue and her six students, who all read extracts from the latest Anjali magazine

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S-21's mug shots

For many, the Khmer Rouge regime's brutality has come to be symbolized by the multitude of black-and-white mug shots of prisoners taken at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, where thousands of enemies were tortured before being sent to the killing fields. In Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia, author Michelle Caswell traces the social life of these photographic records through the lens of archival studies and elucidates how, paradoxically, they have become agents of silence and witnessing, human rights and injustice as they are deployed at various moments in time and space. From their creation as Khmer Rouge administrative records to their transformation beginning in 1979 into museum displays, archival collections, and databases, the mug shots are key components in an ongoing drama of unimaginable human suffering. David Chandler has this to say about the book: “Caswell pays homage to the subjects of the heart-breaking mug shots taken at a Khmer Rouge prison and examines the impact that the photographs have had over the years on different viewers. Her humane, sophisticated, and unblinking book sharpens and enhances our understanding of the so-called Pol Pot era.” 246 pages, published this month by University of Wisconsin Press.

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Idling's storm

A political thriller set in 1950s Cambodia, Song for an Approaching Storm, is published this month by Pushkin Press. Author Peter Fröberg Idling's first book, Pol Pot's Smile (2006) was a critically acclaimed work of literary nonfiction published in eight languages. He trained as a lawyer, and was working as legal advisor to an aid organization in Cambodia when the idea for his first book came about. His long anticipated first novel is also set in Cambodia, but like the debut, blurs fact and fiction in order to tell a remarkable story.

The Daily Mail Online reviewed Song for an Approaching Storm and had this to say: Set over a month in 1955 as Cambodia embarks on its first democratic elections, the story is told through the eyes of three people. Sar is in his 30s, a communist who has infiltrated the Democratic party, hoping to gain a position of influence, and who will one day change his name to Pol Pot. Sary is his main adversary, both politically and romantically. An advisor to Prince Sihanouk, he has his eye on Sar’s fiancée, the beautiful and enigmatic Somaly. Some say it was because Sar’s heart was broken by her fickle behaviour that he eventually became so radicalised. The author is a lawyer and biographer of Pol Pot who has worked in Cambodia and has a thorough knowledge of this fascinating and troublesome period.  He has produced a beautifully evocative and compulsive book in which the lyricism of the title reflects the prose of the narrative. Who would have thought I could read about Pol Pot in a sympathetic light?  But such is the power of this must-read novel.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Battambang beckons

Normally I stay home and relax during Khmer New Year, as Phnom Penh turns into a ghost town for a few days. This years KNY is effectively 5-days worth with a weekend preceding the three official days of 14-16 April. So I've decided to make the most of it and to take myself off to Battambang for a few days R&R and will be resting my head at one of the city's top spots, the Bambu Hotel. It will be great to meet up with Sak and his family again and revisit some of the city's best known sights, even though I've seen them a dozen times before. Battambang has always been one of my favoured destinations in the country and I'm looking forward to it. If you've not seen the Bambu Hotel before, watch this video.

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River Monsters

River Monsters' Jeremy Wade in action
A couple more television projects via Hanuman Films in Cambodia. Currently filming in Siem Reap is the Sky series 50 Ways To Test Your Mammy, following the adventures of a 70-year-old mother and her son undertaking a series of adventurous stuff including ziplining at Angkor. Next month, the well-known River Monsters program with Jeremy Wade will be in-country and on the hunt for a river monster, what else. I think this will be part of season six of this massively popular series. Angling is extremely popular in the UK and Jeremy recently completed a road-show around Britain including a sell-out show in my hometown of Cheltenham.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

70s selfies

The order is actually LtoR 1977, 1976 and 1978 - click to enlarge

I just found these three pictures, stuffed inside an envelope and tucked inside a book, that haven't seen the light of day for more then 35 years. Photo-booth pics of yours truly with then-fashionable long hair in 1976 (I was 16 years old), 1977 and 1978. The selfies of their day.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Hanuman keeps busy

The latest series of Naked & Afraid premiered on the Discovery Channel last night and the much anticipated Cambodia episode will be coming soon. Hanuman Films coordinated all the scouting for this shoot and selected the final remote location for the contestants to survive. After initial consideration of jungle areas as varied as Mondulkiri, Bokor and Chi Phat, they eventually settled on a remote location in Koh Kong Province about 45 minutes upriver from Koh Kong town. This ensured the crew had a convenient logistical base while the talent could still be dropped in a very remote jungle area with no human contact. The three-week shoot started in the middle of January with the two contestants being dropped in the jungle. Hanuman Films provided a large support team for this shoot, including a fixer and a local crew that included two medics, two runners and several boat drivers to get the crew in and out of the remote location. Watch the new series every Sunday. The latest series of Naked & Afraid premiered on the Discovery Channel last night and the much anticipated Cambodia episode will be coming soon.

Hanuman Films were also heavily instrumental in the filming of the new BBC Mekong series. Indus Films of the UK was commissioned by the BBC to produce a landmark series on the Mekong River and Hanuman Films was contacted as the line production company to assist with the four-part series featuring Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and China. Hanuman Films line produced the first two episodes in the series covering Vietnam and Laos and provided advice and recommendations for the third episode in Laos. Popular television presenter Sue Perkins fronted the show and for episode 1 she journeyed from Ho Chi Minh City through the Mekong Delta and into Cambodia. She visited the incredible floating market of Cai Rang and met a survivor of Tuol Sleng Prison before travelling northeast to the majestic temples of Angkor and the Tonle Sap Lake. Sue and the Indus crew spent several days living in the village of Kompong Pluk, learning about fishing techniques and local lifestyles. The great lake is the heartbeat of Cambodia and the incredible rise and fall in its water levels are intimately connected to the rise and fall of the Mekong River. The lake is known to expand to five times its normal area during the wet season, making it a vital source of fish and protein for the Cambodian population. For episode 2, the focus moved to the wildlife in Cambodia and Sue joined a Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) organised by leading wildlife NGO Wildlife Alliance and the Cambodian government, on a wildlife bust in Koh Kong. She then travelled deep into Mondulkiri Province in the northeast of Cambodia where she visited the Elephant Valley Project (EVP) and learnt about their ecotourism initiatives to protect retired working elephants. In Kratie Province, she encountered rare freshwater dolphins in the Mekong River, as well as the rare Cantor’s Turtle. Finally the team travelled up to Ratanakiri to meet the minority people of this remote province and learn how dams and deforestation might affect their lives as the region develops. Filming has now wrapped on this new mini-series and it will be screened on the BBC later in 2014.

And of course, Hanuman Films have recently wrapped up production on their first feature film, The Last Reel, directed by Kulikar Sotho. Lots more about this exciting movie project very soon.

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

The girls get stuck in

4 of the best girls won prizes
Young girls playing football, or any sport for that matter, is a rarity. In my view, it should be actively encouraged but in traditional Khmer society, its frowned upon. So hats off to the young girls at Punheahok School in Boeung Keng Kang 1 who ran around like whirling dervishes on Sunday morning as part of the friendly football games during the event to introduce the One World Futbols to their school. It was great to see them having so much fun and especially the goal celebrations reaffirmed the messages of teamwork and enjoying sport.
Listening intently to the pre-match instructions

Everyone had to write their name on the board

Okay, lets get stuck in

There was lots of chasing the ball and running around in packs

A subdued team photo

A more typical girly pose

Its presentation time

Another worthy recipient of special prizes

The boys and girls of Punheahok School

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Girls doing it for themselves

The girls giving their all in one of this morning's games
Spent a couple of hours with the Phnom Penh Crown Academy delivering One World Futbols and playing a series of friendly football games at Punheahok School in Boeung Keng Kang 1 this morning. Great fun for the kids, especially a large turnout of girls. They gave it their all. And then asked can they do it all again! The whole idea is to encourage more children to play football and the futbols are virtually indestructible, so they last for a very long time. Chevrolet are sponsoring 5,800 futbols for Cambodia and Crown are helping to deliver them to schools and organisations around the country. This was the second event this weekend after 80 boys attended a similar one on Saturday morning at Crown's RSN Stadium. I must admit it was good to see so many girls trying their best, most of whom had never played before, as football, and sport in general, isn't something that's overly encouraged in schools and by Khmer families for young girls. Most of them really got stuck in and at the end, the most successful won some small prizes, whilst a few were left in tears as they didn't win anything. "I ran so much I almost died. And I didn't eat any breakfast today," said one teary-eyed girl - so she got a consolation cap instead.
A much more subdued pose from the girls this morning

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Thayer's Devil

Nate Thayer has been promising us a book about his personal interaction with the top Khmer Rouge leadership for years. Sympathy for the Devil is the book and now he's seeking funds to complete a project that has taken 15+ years in the making. As he himself puts it: 'I have chosen to give a special focus on that area of Cambodian modern history which has been most neglected and misunderstood – the history of the Khmer Rouge told by the architects of the killing fields themselves. These include extended multiple interviews with all the remaining members of the core elite leadership of the Communist Party of Kampuchea.' The funds he's seeking amount to nearly $70K. You can find out more here.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Community engagement

Some of the boys and the PPCFC squad members enjoying their afternoon
Phnom Penh Crown undertook their latest community engagement project at 3G this afternoon, as they joined forces with Chevrolet and SALT Academy to officially launch the One World Futbol into Cambodia. Its the second event they've held but this was the 'official' one - which will see Chevrolet donate 5,800 of these nearly indestructible futbols to schools and organisations around Cambodia, including 15 schools in Phnom Penh. The distribution of the futbols will be through Crown and the SALT Academy, who operate out of Battambang. For today's event, two elementary schools in Phnom Penh supplied 80 young boys to play with the futbols, aided and abetted by the whole of the Phnom Penh Crown senior squad. After the press conference, the boys got down to playing the games and prizes were awarded to the top five teams in each of the two groups. Everyone had fun thanks to the organisation by the Crown staff and the local Chevrolet dealership.

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Heavenly Dancers

Photographer Arjay Stevens will present his latest photo-art book, Apsaras - Cambodian Heavenly Dancers, at Monument Books this Saturday, 15 March at 5.30pm. Having worked in Cambodia for more than fifteen years, in this publication he combines images of ancient Apsara bas-reliefs from the Angkor temples, with contemporary Apsara dance, and will talk about his inspiration for the book.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Life changing

David Puttnam at Meta House tonight
What a pity that I didn't get the chance to thank Lord David Puttnam in person for helping to change my life. Two of the films he created, The Killing Fields and The Mission have had major impacts on me personally. It goes without saying that my Cambodia connections have shaped my later years, but introducing me to the music of Ennio Morricone and Incantation through The Mission had a monumental effect on me as well. But it was great to hear him talk about the watershed film he produced back in the mid-80s and watched for the first time with a Cambodian audience in Cambodia. The snippets he gave and the answers he provided to the Q&A session afterwards were enthralling. Just wished it could've lasted a few hours longer! He's now a trade envoy to the Indochina region so hopefully he will be back again. 
A full Meta House watched The Killing Fields on blu-ray tonight

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Out of the Ruins launch

The Phnom Penh launch of Sue Guiney's latest novel, Out of the Ruins, published by Ward Wood Publishing, will be on Friday 21 March from 6-7.30pm at Meta House in PP. Special guests will be Sue, of course, and children from the Anjali House Creative Writing Workshop in Siem Reap, where she has been assisting the young Khmer writers of tomorrow. Everyone is welcome. Sue will also be appearing at a poetry reading at Java Arts Cafe on 20 April.

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Last Reel soundtrack

Here we go behind the scenes on the new movie, The Last Reel with this exclusive look at some of the soundtrack recording in Phnom Penh late last year. Composer Christopher Elves and Director Kulikar Sotho teamed up with the Chamroeun sisters, Sophea and Sopheak, from popular local band Krom, to record the haunting melody for The Long Way Home, the film within the film that forms an integral part of The Last Reel: http://youtu.be/DNyRmRg81S4

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

New arrivals

Big thanks to Sue Guiney who has just sent me a kindle edition of her latest book set in Cambodia, Out of the Ruins, published by Ward Wood Publishing. Sue is in Cambodia at the moment, she comes every year to do writing workshops with the kids at Anjali House in Siem Reap. And will be in Phnom Penh to give a reading at Java Arts along with a Khmer poet called Phou Chakriya on Thursday, 20 March, at 6 pm. It's a date. Serious kudos to Sue who does a great job in passing on her skills and support to the Khmer writers of the future.
 

I also received an advance review copy of Thierry Cruvellier's The Master of Confessions: The Making of a Khmer Rouge Torturer - yes, its about the trial of Comrade Duch - from William at Monument Books. It should be on sale at Monument late next month for $25. Hardback edition, 326 pages, published by ecco/HarperCollins.

Met a rep from a new hotel recently opened in Pursat town, midway between Phnom Penh and Battambang and felt a pang of sorrow for the hotel, the KM Hotel, and how they will fill their 148 rooms in a town that people, generally speaking, whizz through on their way to somewhere else. Highway 5 aint too bad these days and you can do the PPenh to BBang trip in about five hours. You might stop for a bite to eat in Pursat, or for a wee, but to be honest, the only tourist this hotel will see is a Khmer one. Foreigners stopping a night in Pursat will be, hmmm, let me think, a big fat zero. Then another rep arrived from a new hotel to open later this year in Siem Reap. 5-star and to be called J7 Hotel, after the famous Khmer king, yet I'm told the hotel will be designed in a classical neo-Roman style. Duh!...J7 and it'll be Romanesque. I don't get it.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Clay figurines on display

The Missing Picture, Rithy Panh's excellent movie that is up for the Best Foreign Film Oscar next week, will be out in cinemas from 6 March. From today there is an exhibition of photos and the small clay statuettes that figure so prominently in the film of his time under the Khmer Rouge, at the Bophana Center in Phnom Penh, until 4 March.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Quick-witted banter

Dave Johns was on top form at CodeRED
Dave Johns' quick-witted banter went down really well with me at the CodeRED debut of the Cambodia Comedy Club at their new home Tuesday night. A Geordie by birth, he was just the ticket, generating belly laughs from many. I loved him. He involved the audience in his act and pitched it just right, breaking into song at regular intervals. A veteran at stand-up, he knew how to work the punters and did it brilliantly. The Buffalo Sisters in the front row will remember this gig for a long while. One of the best acts we've seen. He could've easily done another half hour. His teammate on their Asian tour is Johnny Candon, billed as one of Ireland's finest, who didn't quite reach the heights of his travel partner. His material was okay, though his set seemed to finish all too quickly after one of the audience flounced out in feigned outrage. Dave Johns was definitely a hard act to follow tonight. Sometimes it happens like that. 
Johnny Candon found it a bit more tough going in Phnom Penh

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Koh Ker revealed

The broken staircase to the top of Prasat Thom in 2001
Great news for travellers to Koh Ker, 130kms northeast of Siem Reap and Angkor. After falling stones made the staircase unsafe a few years ago, the wonderful views from the top of the 40 metre-high sandstone seven-tier pyramid of Prasat Thom have been out of bounds. However, news just in tells me that a brand new wooden staircase has been erected and fifteen visitors at one time, are being allowed to climb the steep stairs to the top. The views over the surrounding forest and west to Phnom Kulen are fabulous and if you don’t mind heights, it’s definitely worth the climb to the top. There is a wooden platform at the  postage-stamp sized summit for extra safety. The pyramid is almost Mayan in appearance and is an amazing feat of engineering from when the Koh Ker complex was being constructed by King Jayavarman IV from 928. The Koh Ker period is known for its impressively large sculptures and some of the biggest Shiva lingas in the country, and just over two hours drive from the main Angkor Park. The photograph of Prasat Thom was taken by me in 2001. The staircase was broken, rickety and downright unsafe. I took my life in my own hands to climb to the top and then down again, in the dark after sunset. I still get the shakes when I think about it now. One slip and I would've been a goner. Fortunately I kept my nerve. Let's hope the new staircase is made of sterner stuff.

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Wildlife adventures

On screen, getting down and dirty with Lucky the elephant artist

The video of the behind the scenes wildlife encounter tour at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center outside Phnom Penh, has just been posted onto YouTube by Hanuman Travel TV. Here's a screen grab of yours truly getting a t-shirt painted by Lucky the elephant. Watch the video.

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Getting shirty

Facebook friend - not
Had to mention an episode on facebook which made me grimace. The guy in charge of the Boeung Ket v NagaCorp match on Saturday was Thong Chankethya, regarded by FFC officials as the best referee in the country and on the FIFA list, which is why he got the big game. His handling of the match, with half a dozen yellow cards, was okay(ish) though some theatrics by a few of the players should've been punished in my view. An incident of note took place in the 2nd half when he was brandishing a yellow card for an infraction and speaking to the player whilst making a note. At the same time, the team took the free-kick behind his back and moved the ball on at least ten yards before he turned around and carried on as if nothing had happened. I found it very surprising and worrying at the same time. He had not completed the cautioning process, he had not blown his whistle to restart play and yet allowed play to carry on regardless. I made this point in a Facebook post and the man in black responded. I responded again and so did he. This is a FIFA referee afterall, someone at the top of his profession. I'll let you be the judge. Obviously criticism is something he's not used to.

Me: The referee in question allowed an incident in the game which I've never seen before. He let play continue behind his back whilst he was booking a player and then turned around and carried on. I've never seen anything like it even in schoolboy football. The assessor will have a field day.
Ketya Ref: Andy Brouwer: You should read law of the game. You are not assessor....you are just a fucking crazy fan of football..
Me: Nice language by the way. I have read the laws. And I've been watching senior football for over 40+ years and never seen an interpretation of the laws like that. Fans are the bread and butter of football, you should not be so quick to abuse them.
Ketya Ref: I want to tell all fan of foot ball : the all i said not for the real fan of foot ball . Just only one person , He is is Andy Brouwer ...

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Krom-tastic

The Chamroeun sisters on stage, in black & white
Watched and listened to Krom at The Doors tonight, as they played one of their fairly rare live gigs. They confirmed the great news that they will be on a European tour later this year with the UK included. The Chamroeun sisters were soulful and exotic as ever, making me think of a siren of the sea drawing you into a watery grave with their bewitching voices - ok, just me then! Seriously their voices take you to another world. I also love the combination of guitar finger plucking, saxophone and accordion. It just sounds right. Listen out for the song Passion - I love it. Great stuff, which should attract a much larger audience than it does. And those that do come, would be better served to keep their voices a little lower when the band is on. It distracts me, so goodness knows what it does to the band. Always a pleasure to see Krom on stage.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

On the stage

Coming up very soon; the Cambodian Space Project are back in town and will perform at Equinox on Valentine's Day, Friday 14 Feb, from 9pm. The following evening, Saturday, Krom are back on stage at the Doors (near Wat Phnom) and they will kick-off at 8.45pm. On Tuesday 18 Feb the next bout of the Cambodia Comedy Club will be housed at a new venue, CodeRED, opposite NagaWorld I'm told, 8.30pm start at a slightly increased price of $10, though you get a free drink. The two imported comics will be Ireland's Johnny Candon and quick-witted Englishman Dave Johns. I think it'll be a good one.

Naked & Afraid - Cambodia edition (two people, stark naked, in the Koh Kong jungle) should be shown on Discovery channel in March. I've heard the lady involved was/is a real looker, well maybe at the beginning - but after 21 days in the jungle, the end result might be a bit different. Find out what the Phnom Penh Post had to say about the show @ http://www.phnompenhpost.com/lifestyle/naked-and-afraid-survival-contest-filmed-koh-kong.

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

A great loss - Bun Heang Ung

Back in 2006, ace cartoonist and animator Bun Heang Ung portrayed me on a motorbike at Angkor Wat and gave me an animated banner for my own website. He did it because he could draw just about anything. A man of fantastic talent was Bun Heang Ung, who I am sorry to report passed away yesterday after a prolonged illness. His own story and his drawings are recorded for posterity in the book, The Murderous Revolution (co-written with Martin Stuart-Fox). My sincere condolences go to his family - we have lost a great artist and a real gentleman. I have written many times about Bun Heang Ung, which you can read here.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Savy - Revealed

Savy released her first single, 'About A Boy,' on iTunes and other major digital retailers on 1 February, as well as her video on YouTube. The Cambodian-born singer will perform at the first annual Cambodian Music Festival in Hollywood on 3 August. I thought it was time to find out more about the artist who is causing quite a stir both in the States and in her homeland.

Your name, family, singing - tell us more...
It's Savy Som but I just go by Savy. My first name seems to be challenging enough without complicating the matter of throwing in my last name. I've asked my parents what my name means in Khmer and so far, they don't have any good answers for me. It's such an awesome coincidence that I was born in the same place (Battambang) as the Queen of Khmer Rock n Roll, Ros Sereysothea! I'll leave that as the only parallel drawn between us though because she is a legend. Sacred. I am just a mere mortal. My parents love Cambodian music, and my brother plays guitar. He actually helped me write my second single. My sister is a brilliant fine artist. The Khmer artistry runs deep through my family, but I'm the only one who could never shut up when the radio is on.

Singing is something I've been doing since I was four. It was never encouraged though. My mom literally told me to stop singing and that I didn't have a good voice. They are the sweetest people apart from that opinion, the thing is that Asian parents are very practical and can be critical. But they're on board now. It only took 28 years. My first audition was for a school play when I was eight. Every season I try out for all the reality singing shows, American Idol, The Voice, America's Got Talent. I've been a feature singer in cover bands but I've never had the opportunity to be a full-time musician due to having to work a day job since I was a teenager to pay those pesky bills.

I'd like to earn a comfortable living as a full-time musician. It's what I love doing the most and I'd do it for free, so being paid for it would be a fantastic bonus. I've been working in hospitals in the clinical lab as a phlebotomist (collecting blood samples) since I was eighteen. I love helping people and being there during someone's time of need and duress. I was laid-off from that job in July and I moved in with my brother in order to reduce expenses, so I could focus resources on getting my music out there. I've spent every last dime on it, so it's all I really have at this point.
Your song, About A Boy...
I write all the lyrics, harmonies and the majority of the melodies. 'About A Boy' was co-written and produced by an amazing team in Los Angeles with which I've had the good fortune of working, Liz Hill and Wesley Avery. I wrote 'About A Boy' when I had just started seeing someone that I was feeling delighted by and hopeful about. It didn't work out but I'll always have that song as a snapshot to that time and emotion. It reminds me that great things can only come to those with an open heart. Never stop believing in love. It's the only thing that lasts. Knowledge and love. I live for those things. I will readily admit that I have an unyielding passion for pop music! I used to hide it as a guilty pleasure, but I realized that pop music is one of the few styles that fires up the love I have for performing and honing my craft. While pop is comprised mainly of corn and cheese, it can serve as a reminder to never take things too seriously in life. Life is inherently difficult and you have to find outlets to lighten up the doorstep. Music isn't designed to crack the mathematical equation for cold fusion, it's designed for fun!

I plan to promote the song where ever the music takes me. It's all about connecting with people and I want to be in places to promote what is fun and positive. My tracks are concert quality, so I perform solo for the ease. A band would be ideal though because I learned to sing and perform with live musicians. My second single is an up tempo space travel analogy. I'm in pre production for the music video right now and I'm super excited to start filming! I love Star Trek (The Next Generation) and other space travel anthologies. I enjoy nearly anything written by really smart intellectuals that have a lot of wit and heart. I'm a huge nerd.

What about your Cambodian roots...
I felt very Cambodian growing up, my parents raised me with a lot of the old world values, have respect for elders, to work really hard, be thoughtful, and observant. For me, that's what it means to be Khmer, that when you walk by a seated elder, you stoop to show deference for their life experience. Being Khmer is a warmth of spirit and inviting people to share your meal. I love our food, it's the best in the world! My mom can cook like nobody's business. I'm getting hungry just writing about it. My parents are both alive and live in California, as well as the rest of my family. My family is small, like most Cambodians, we lost a lot of people during the war.

There hasn't been a day of my life that Cambodia does not occupy my mind. I have always wanted to go back but haven't returned mostly because I've had to work and pay every last bill on my own. There's also an emotional component to my return that is tinged with sadness from what my family went through. But I'm ready to go back now, especially if I have something like music to share! Hopefully that will expedite my inevitable return and make it sooner than later.
You can watch Savy's YouTube video of About A Boy @ http://youtu.be/1BbH157f-9A. A big thanks to Savy for taking the time to answer my questions and for allowing me to use her photographs. Nrg FM89.0 have been playing Savy's single exclusively in Cambodia. Listen @ https://soundcloud.com/nrgfmcambodia/savy-about-a-boy.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Cleveland investigates

10thC Hanuman from Koh Ker - picture courtesy of Cleveland Museum of Art
I bumped into the curator for Southeast Asian art at the Cleveland Museum of Art tonight who has been in-country, visiting as many Khmer temples as possible and getting the low down on Khmer art and history. With the recent news media going crazy for stories of looted Khmer art pieces, other items being returned and so on, Cleveland have been doing their own research on the pieces that they have in their museum, back in the United States. A look at their collection online via their website, identifies a number of Khmer items from pre- and through the Angkor period, including this 10th century sandstone Hanuman figure, supposedly from the Koh Ker complex. The figure has no feet so if the piece did come from the Koh Ker site, specifically the Prasat Chem temple, there should be a pedestal or base that would fit snugly onto the sculpture that is in Cleveland. Despite searching the site and discussing in detail with Apsara, no pedestal could be found. It is commendable that Cleveland have actually got off their arse and conducted their own in-depth investigations over here. If they can prove provenance showing that the piece wasn't obtained illegally, then it doesn't look like this Hanuman will be coming home anytime soon. You can see the Cleveland collection for yourself @ http://www.clevelandart.org/art/departments/indian-and-southeast-asian-art.

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