Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Atop Angkor Wat
Titanic Unveiling on Top of Angkor Wat
What links the RMS Titanic and the Cambodian jungle temple of Angkor Wat? Author Helen Churchill Candee survived the infamous maritime disaster to write Angkor the Magnificent, history's most captivating account of Southeast Asia's mysterious Khmer Empire. Her book just reached new heights in Cambodia when publisher Kent Davis unveiled an expanded modern edition of her classic literally on top of Angkor Wat.
Balanced precariously atop a metal scaffold 20 stories above the Cambodian jungle, publisher Kent Davis has recently unveiled Angkor The Magnificent, an expanded edition of Helen Churchill Candee's 1924 Asian travel classic featuring the first published biography of the 20th century adventuress. "It's astounding to think of ancient Khmer stonemasons experiencing this view 1,000 years ago. This is the type of travel adventure Helen Churchill Candee lived for...her spirit is certainly here today!" said Davis at the top of the temple's central tower on a temporary metal framework erected for restoration of the complex pinecone-shaped structure.
Davis held the ceremony at Angkor Wat before donating copies of the book to Cambodia's key libraries including the Biblioteque Nationale, the Center for Khmer Studies, the Khmer Arts Academy and L'Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient. "Angkor Wat is one of the most magical places on earth. Candee's travelogue vividly portrays an Angkor of yesteryear for those looking for insights into these truly magnificent Cambodian ruins" comments Yale archeology professor Dr. Dougald O'Reilly who founded Heritage Watch to preserve Cambodia's heritage. This historic release marks the first time in 85 years that readers can enjoy Candee's evocative descriptions of Asian adventure travel in the land of the lost Khmer civilization. Today, Helen Candee is still the perfect guide to bring the temples to life...for visitors experiencing these wonders in person or from their reading chairs. Angkor the Magnificent is available on Amazon.com in the US and Europe.
The book is produced by DatAsia Press which publishes books focusing on Cambodia and Southeast Asian history. As a researcher with Devata.org, Kent Davis works to document the importance of women in Asian history and to decode the meaning of the 1,780 apsara (female goddess) portrait carvings found Angkor Wat. Dr. Dougald O'Reilly is an author, archaeologist and Yale University professor specializing in prehistoric Southeast Asia. He is committed to preserving Cambodia's cultural heritage and founded Heritage Watch, a non-profit organization working to preserve cultural icons and stop antiquity theft in Cambodia. To read my earlier review of the book, click here.
Here's what Page had to say about the experience:
"In 1990, I returned to Cambodia with a TV crew from Granada Television in the UK to make a documentary called 'Danger on the Edge of Town' to try and find out all I could about their fate, I even allowed myself to hope that we might find them. Of course we didn’t but we did find people that they had stayed with, fed them and could identify them from a book of the other ‘Missing’ which I carried with me. It was an incredibly emotional and spiritual journey. Hearing of how they had been marched from place to place at night to avoid American bombing. How the people had got to know them and like them and how one day they were just taken away with their hands tied behind their backs and never seen again."
It also led Page to establish the Indochina Media Memorial Foundation, to honour the 135 photographers who died from both sides of the conflict. He also produced a book of their work with Horst Faas called Requiem, widely acknowledged as being the best book on the Vietnam War. Another book published by Page in 1995 details his investigations into the fate of his two friends, which he called Derailed in Uncle Ho's Victory Garden, whilst Perry Deane Young also wrote a book about the missing friends, titled Two of the Missing.
Labels: Tim Page
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Helmet or fine
Bernie & Nicholas combine
We start a school in Cambodia - by Nicholas Kristof
There was a special reason for the timing of this trip to Cambodia, one you won’t read about in my columns: My family has built a junior high school in Cambodia, and we just had the opening ceremony. We timed it for the Christmas vacation, so our three kids — aged 11 through 16 — could see it. Oh, yes, and so that they could see kids who are desperately eager to get an education. I’ve been visiting Cambodia for the last dozen years and have been particularly moved by the horrific sex trafficking here. One of the antidotes to prevent trafficking is education, and Cambodia is desperately short of schools. A couple of years ago I wrote about a school in Seattle that had funded a school in Cambodia through American Assistance for Cambodia. I was impressed with the organization and the way it gets extra bang for the buck through matching funds from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. Moreover, in some countries, you build a school and have a nice new building, but the teachers never show up. That’s much less of a problem in Cambodia, where one of the bottlenecks truly is school buildings. So my wife, Sheryl, and I talked it over and decided to start our own school. We had just received an advance for a book about women in the developing world — “Half the Sky,” coming out this fall! — and it seemed only appropriate to use the money to support girls in a poor country. And we also wanted to show our kids a glimpse of need abroad and the way education can transform people’s lives.
Our school is a middle school a couple of hours east of Phnom Penh, and it was finally finished this month. So Sheryl and I and the kids came here as a family trip, all five of us, and participated in the school-opening ceremony. It was quite an event: Buddhist monks opened it, the deputy governor spoke, and each member of our family spoke briefly. There were about 1,000 people attending, mostly students and their parents, and they got a real kick out of seeing my kids speak. American Assistance for Cambodia is the brainchild of Bernie Krisher, a former news magazine correspondent who in 1993 started it as an aid group to support Cambodia. He has built 400 schools around the country, as well as health programs and projects to fight sex trafficking. He also publishes the Cambodia Daily, an English-language paper, and even persuaded J.K. Rowling to donate Khmer-language rights to “Harry Potter,” so that cheap Harry Potter books could encourage Cambodian children to start reading. Bernie is truly an extraordinary figure who is having a far-reaching impact on the people of Cambodia, and I’m just proud to know him.
If anyone out there wants to volunteer to teach English in the Cambodian countryside, the principal of our school said he would welcome an American teacher. He said the village would put the teacher up either at the Buddhist pagoda or in a local person’s home. If you’re interested, contact American Assistance for Cambodia to be put in touch with the principal. Of course, there are lots of other ways to help Cambodia. I met a woman volunteering at teaching English to children at the garbage dump in Phnom Penh; she loves it and finds new meaning in the project. The organization is A New Day Cambodia, run by a Chicago couple and getting rave reviews all around. (There are fewer children at the dump now than when I last visited in 2004, and one reason is the New Day school.) And I had lunch with Alan Lightman, an MIT professor who on the side runs Harpswell Foundation (and who I've featured a few times on this blog), which provides a free dormitory and leadership training for young Cambodian women who otherwise would not be able to attend university. In my speech to the new school, I told the kids that I sometimes wondered why America was so rich and Cambodia was so poor. It’s not because Americans are smarter or more industrious than Cambodians, because Cambodians are sharp as a whistle and incredibly hard-working. One of the factors, I believe, is the educational gap, and we’re just so pleased to do our part to reduce that gap.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Ream in pictures
Incredible though it may seem, one of the Southeast Asian underdogs pulled off the surprise of the year in the final of the AFF Suzuki Cup with Vietnam taking the honours after defeating the high-rollers of Thailand, coached by the British bulldog himself Peter Reid, in the two-legged final. They won 2-1 in Bangkok and yesterday they clinched the cup with a last minute goal in a 1-1 draw. I reckon the Vietnamese will be celebrating for weeks after their success in the competition gripped the nation by the balls. You'll recall that Cambodia were knocked out in the group stages after defeats against Singapore, Indonesia and Myanmar. On that front, it's all gone very quiet after the Cambodian football authorities said they were going to review the team's performance during the Suzuki Cup and make a decision about the future of coach Prak Sovannara. I for one hope that they see that knee-jerk reactions aren't going to help Cambodia's football team improve, it needs stability and Sovannara is the best man for the job. They've tried foreign coaches before and it hasn't worked. Now they need to give a Cambodian coach the chance to make his mark. He's already taken them to the AFF finals with a squad of very young players and he needs time to work with them, improve their fitness, team work and skill-set and who knows, Cambodia could follow Vietnam's lead in 2010.
I'm a mite worried that too much sun has gone to the head of my pals in Steel Pulse, Selwyn Brown and Amlak Tafari. I know Amlak will do anything for a laugh but for Selwyn to dress up as a pirate is a little disconcerting! This photo was taken at the end of October when the band were playing at the SPI Music festival in Texas, and the guys joined VIP ticket holders aboard the 17th century replica Black Dragon pirate ship. Photo by Christy McDonald.
Tim Page is back in Phnom Penh, from his home in Brisbane, and will hold an exhibition of his photography at Meta House from 4-7 January which will feature some of his photographs taken in the past 40 years. British-born, his reputation during the Vietnam conflict was an influence on Dennis Hopper's portrayal in the 1979 film Apocalypse Now, and his work can be seen in a slew of coffee table photographic books since. He's also written a book about his search for the answer to whatever happened to fellow photographers Dana Stone and Sean Flynn, who both disappeared in Cambodia in 1971. Page will open the exhibition on Sunday 4th with the screening of the documentary 'Danger On The Edge of Town' and it will continue until Wednesday 7th with more documentary screenings, Q&A's, etc.
Steel Pulse and uniting them against the National Front and others who were spouting their racist views. Here members of The Clash are with Pulse's Michael Riley (far right) outside the home of the National Front leader Martin Webster in one of many photo opportunities that showed the collaboration of black and white during 1977 and 1978 when the Rock Against Racism movement was in full flow. To find out more about Steel Pulse's activism in those couple of years, click here and read the plethora of articles I have accumulated over the years.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Into Ream National Park
Final Chi Phat photos #2
Final Chi Phat photos #1
In the Cardamoms
An early start to our second day saw us take to the atmospheric misty river at 6am and a combination of motorized and traditional rowing boats for 3.5 hours and about twenty kilometres before we left the boats at Domnak Kom to begin our trek through the forest. Needing to keep our wits about us to avoid the overhanging branches and foot-tripping vines on the ground as well as the leeches that were lying in wait with every footstep. As it turned out I think I was the only one not to suffer a bite from one of these blood-suckers. Accompanied by five guides including Mee, the project co-ordinator, they cooked us lunch before we took a rest at a small riverbed at Chunlea Pran, which was scheduled to be our overnight stop. However the pace of our hike was so quick - I'd liken it to a forced march - we decided to carry onto stay overnight at Veal Ta Prak, a clearing with a nearby stream, which is where camp was set up by the guides, with everyone assigned a hammock and blanket. I was knackered and whilst a hammock isn't my preferred choice of bedding, it would have to do.
Both dinner and breakfast the next morning was cooked by Engly, a fomer soldier and kick-boxer turned guide and was pretty darn good. Our other guides included a twenty-year old female guide Manet. Some of the group went hornbill-spotting before bedtime and first thing in the morning in the nearby grassy clearing. We left camp just before 9am for the final three-hours of trekking back to Chi Phat, along a much-easier path through the forest and finally across rolling open grasslands, arriving back at the guesthouse at noon. My feet were in agony - trekking certainly does not rank amongst my most pleasurable pursuits. Whilst the others took mountainbikes to a cave and waterfall after lunch, I had forty winks before catching up with Ka and her family again for my final sunset across the river. I was in bed by 9.30pm after another delicious dinner at the CBET office.
Another early departure the following morning at 6.30am, meant we were back in Phnom Penh a little after 11am. The community project is designed to provide an alternative livelihood for the former hunters and loggers in the four villages of the Chi Phat commune and though its still in its infancy, it seems to be doing just that. On our 1st night in the village, there were twenty visitors, which is the maximum occupancy they can cope with at the moment. Coverage in the latest Lonely Planet guide has alerted the backpacker crowd and they are already making their way to Chi Phat to enjoy the trekking, cycling and natural resources that the area has to offer in abundance. Don't expect herds of elephants and the like, though there are a group of 10 in the area, and you'll do well to spot monkeys, wild pigs, deer and a variety of birds, though remember the area was heavily logged by the Khmer Rouge and the wildlife is only just beginning to recover. The hospitality and food we received was excellent, on the trek and in the village, and as long as you don't expect 5-star facilities, you'll see a very different side to Cambodia compared to Angkor and the beaches of Sihanoukville.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
No smiling matter
Tourism's no smiling matter
Europeans and Americans are feeling the heat of the global monetary meltdown and far-flung destinations are suffering the after effects of greater financial caution
Cambodia's financial dependence on tourism in the face of the global meltdown has rung alarm bells across the kingdom. It has also put at risk the livelihoods of economic migrants employed in hotels and tourist businesses in Siem Reap, Cambodia's chaotic de-facto second city and tourism hub. Surprisingly, Cambodia's nascent tourism industry will be little affected, according to Tourism Ministry officials...
Official optimism is, though, only one side of the story...
Mark Ellison, Asia Adventures' managing director, said as far as the western market is concerned "tourism worldwide and in Cambodia will undoubtedly take a downturn". When people's houses are losing value, unemployment rises and uncertainty prevails, he added, "luxury" items such as holidays are the first thing to be cut.
Andy Brouwer, product manager at Hanuman Tourism, agreed. "The global financial crisis is affecting our client base in Europe and America and their willingness to spend large sums of money on leisure," he said. "Long-haul travel is one of the first things to go when times are hard. There may be some pain before Cambodia once again continues its impressive gains."
The negative effects may linger, Brouwer warned. "The crisis is maturing in the US, but even when it bottoms out we can still expect some lean years. The crisis is only just warming up in other parts of the world and it will affect all types of visitor to Cambodia. Older travellers may have seen their savings reduced dramatically, younger travellers will find it harder to come by jobs and loans, while mid-lifers will be looking at the value of their properties and taking more ocal trips."
Christopher Gow, director of Symbiosis Travel, was equally pessimistic for the short term... "certainly has got to diversify. Cambodia is focused so heavily on Siem Reap at the expense of everywhere else...[except] the hoteliers. Even in Siem Reap you only have to go a couple of kilometres and cross the river on the way to the temples to find people who haven't got running water or electricity - they're living in abject poverty and haven't benefited one iota from the massive growth of tourism."
Brouwer was of a similar mind. "It is important that the industry expands its range to offer more to tourists than Angkor," he said. "If there's little else to interest them, tourists will simply use Cambodia as a short-stop destination and primarily limit themselves to Angkor. We need more to attract visitors away from Siem Reap to give Angkor some breathing space. There are plans afoot to expand options on the little-developed south coast, but without harmonious development by the authorities in league with the local population, and the natural resources, this could be a great opportunity lost."
...Gow was more cautious. "I think the Angkor temples will remain a strong attraction but the danger is that it's one of those things people will come and see once and never come back again, unless you diversify," he said. "Every client we have falls in love with Cambodia, but will they go and see Angkor Wat a second time?"
[excerpts courtesy of Southeastern Globe]
Friday, December 26, 2008
It was a Vietnamese colonel, Mam Lai, who turned the former S-21 prison into a musuem in 1979 and had been the person responsible for the stupa of skulls at Choeung Ek. Lai, the former curator of the American War Crimes museum in Saigon, added the most controversial exhibit at Tuol Sleng - a map of the country constructed out of human skulls - as the Vietnamese deliberately demonized the Khmer Rouge and personalized the "Pol Pot-Ieng Sary genocidal clique." It's clear that photographs and confessions, seen by reliable sources soon after the Tuol Sleng archive left by the retreating Khmer Rouge was discovered, subsequently disappeared but where those invaluable documents ended up isn't known.
On the subject of Tuol Sleng and DC Cam, a new book is just about to be published detailing the story of one of S-21's rare survivors, Bou Meng. In 2002, DC Cam's magazine Searching for the Truth reported that Bou Meng had disappeared and was presumed dead. However, he'd survived and like his fellow inmate Vann Nath, his skill as a portrait painter had saved him, though he lost his wife and two children in the Khmer Rouge slaughter. The 175-page book Bou Meng: A Survivor from Khmer Rouge Prison S-21: Justice for the Future, Not for the Victims, written by researcher Vannak Huy will soon be on sale from DC Cam.
New year resolution
Day 1: A five minute animation called The Day The Buffalo Escaped, and a 30-minute documentary by Leslie Hope on the street kids in Phnom Penh called What I See When I Close My Eyes.
Day 2: The star of the show as far as I'm concerned is the 10pm showing at the XBar of The Red Sense. Director Tim Pek's Khmer Rouge haunted tale set in Australia makes its debut appearance in this country and should not be missed (even though I can't get to the screening myself!). Also showing on day 2 is the six minute NISC animation by teenage Khmer students.
Day 3: An 80-minute feature documentary called The Return by director Sven Hill focuses on dance and the disabled. Also being screend are an 8-minute Jason Rosette (the man responsible for CamboFest) docu called Vuth Learns To Rock, and a 14-minute docu by Lach Sophy called Childhood of Mine, about a young boy living near the Vietnamese border.
Day 4: The festival's final day will include Where The Lotus Blooms, a 30-minute film by Matthew Jaik all about love and loss in Cambodia.
For more on CamboFest, click here.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Elephants' tv debut
Stafford, on a family trip to the area, traveled to Siem Reap City. There, he heard a performance of the moribund music played from an ancient instrument he had seen carved in bas relief on the walls of Bayon, one of the main temples of Angkor Wat. The instrument is called the Kse Diev, meaning one string. You pluck harmonics on it, moving it on and off one's chest. Some of the last generation of surviving players were nearly all wiped out by the Khmer Rouge. Stafford's fascination with the music, along with his training, impelled him to quench his curiosity as to the music's current status, leading him to the discovery of the fragile nature of its existence. He quickly found that precious little of it had ever been recorded. Stafford raised funds to found Studio CLA (Cambodia Living Arts), a nonprofit ethnographic audio visual production studio with the goal of archiving Cambodia's endangered musical traditions, training local engineers in audio and visual production arts, and providing a laboratory for new creative and collaborative works.
CLA has now has four self-produced CD's for sale in Cambodia. The recent underground documentary, "Sleepwalking through the Mekong," is based on a Los Angeles and Long Beach band's pilgrimage to Cambodia to record in Stafford's studio and to collaborate with traditional CLA artists. Stafford has plenty of in-country support for the collaborative project. Most noteworthy are Arn Chorn-Pond and Sophy Him, whom he met in February 2002, during his first trip to Cambodia. Arn Chorn, by playing revolutionary songs on the flute, survived the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime that turned him into a child soldier. Today, he is an internationally recognized human rights leader, a recipient among other honors, of the Anne Frank Memorial Award and is the subject of the award winning documentary: "The Flute Player."
Sophy Him, a composer, is a professor of music and fine arts at the Royal Academy of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. Stafford, in support of Him's work, has been part of the creative team supplying additional music and direction for "Where Elephants Weep," the first-known contemporary Cambodian rock opera with a mission to stir young Cambodians to honor their heritage within the context of the changing global society and to inspire them to learn more about Cambodia's performing living arts. The opera had its world premiere in Cambodia this year.
Last but not least from Cambodian Living Arts comes this appeal to raise money for the schooling of one of their best students, Srey Peu, who is in danger of not completing her studies after her sponsor pulled out. Read about Srey Peu, one of the most promising students in the CLA stable here and their efforts to raise $3,500.