Tuesday, March 31, 2009
4Faces opening soon
New Cafe Gallery
Siem Reap photographer Eric De Vries spent most of the weekend in Phnom Penh hunkered down with award-winning war snapper Tim Page to select a range of photographs to display at the opening of De Vries' new cafe gallery. Page has an ongoing exhibition of his iconic Vietnam War photos at Phnom Penh's Meta House and will now launch "almost the same" exhibition in Siem Reap. The Tim Page exhibition will debut in Siem Reap at the launch of De Vries's new cafe gallery, 4Faces, scheduled to open at the end of April in the street running parallel to Pub Street, near the Maharajah Indian restaurant.
De Vries, a member of the Asia Motion Photo Agency, said 4Faces will schedule new exhibitions every month on a specially-created 13-metre "black wall". Hopefully Dutch-born De Vries will not succumb to modesty by refraining from exhibiting his own works, as his arty black-and-white pieces have gained an international reputation, and an exhibition of his photos from his recent book, This Must Be the Place: Images of Cambodia, toured throughout the Netherlands. In June 2006, FCC Angkor exhibited his funky "Blues for Buddha" series, which documented the varied Buddha sculptures found in Cambodia and Thailand, including unusual Buddhas sporting Fu Manchu goatees and what looked like a Jimi Hendrix-style afro haircut.
Two of the missing
A few quickies
Monday, March 30, 2009
Cambodia Call Up Nine New Faces For AFC Challenge Cup
Cambodia have rung the changes ahead of some crucial matches... 30 March 2009
Prak Sovannara, the head coach of the Cambodia national team, has called on nine new faces to carry the team’s challenge for the upcoming AFC Challenge Cup qualifying round in Bangladesh with games against the hosts and Myanmar. Out of the 22 players called for the centralised training camp at the National Olympic Stadium, the decision was made to rely on the majority of the players from the recent Hun Sen Cup finalists - Phnom Penh Crown and Naga Corp FC. The Cambodian Premier League and Hun Sen Cup holders, Phnom Phen, already had Teing Tiny and Chan Rithy in the national squad and now they also have goalkeeper Peng Bunchhay, defender Lor Pech Seiha and offensive midfielder Keo Sokgnan in the line-up.
On the other hand, Naga Corp contributed striker Teab Vatanak, midfielder Pok Chanthan and defensive captain Om Thavarak alongside existing Kim Chanbunrith and Sun Sovannarith. Preah Khan Reach FC, who emerged as the third best team in the Hun Sen Cup last week, now have six players in the national squad with the addition of midfielder Khoun La Boravy. The other new faces in the Cambodia national team are right-back Pheak Rady from National Defense Ministry FC and Ly Ravy, a midfielder from Kirivong Sok Sen Chey. Those players who have been left out since their participation in the AFF Suzuki Cup 2008 are custodian Hem Samay, defenders Thul Sothearith, Chea Virath and Sun Sampratna, midfielders Sam Minar, Ieng Saknida, Ieng Piseth and strikers Pich Sina and Hok Sochivorn.
Labels: Cambodia football
Vann Nath in Forbes
The Goya of the Cambodian Genocide - by Lawrence Osborne
How painter Vann Nath reveals the truth of what happened.
It doesn't take very long living in Phnom Pehn before a 10-year-old boy with dog-dark eyes slips a plastic-wrapped book into your hand as you are sitting at an outdoor cafe and says, "Genocide, sir, genocide book. Five dollar." The child hustlers here are so charming in that Oliver Twist way that you always give in and buy a genocide book and, even more depressingly, you open it. There are certainly many of them being touted by the kids working the Sisowath Quay alongside the Tongle Sap river. There are the works of the American scholar Ben Kiernan, or the harrowing war memoirs of Jon Swain and François Bizot, or various other memoirs with titles like Pol Pot Killed My Sister or A Year in Hell. Genocide is big business in Cambodia; even the set price destination menus inside the tuk tuks feature the "Killing Fields" - the former Khmer Rouge extermination camp at Cheong Ek--as their No. 1 Phnom Penh attraction, followed closely by Tuol Sleng, the secret prison known as S-21.
For the last few years, the U.N. has been sponsoring a weary, bickering, increasingly fruitless war crimes tribunal to condemn the last five senior members of the Pol Pot regime. In the summer of 2008, I watched in disbelief as Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister, was judged "unfit" to stand trial for mental health reasons. This year, it has been the turn of the sinister Duch, the commandant of Tuol Sleng. The others on trial are Khieu Samphan, the former nominal head of state; Noun Chea, Pol Pot's deputy, and Ieng Thirith. But this month in Phnom Pehn I noticed that the papers were also filled with rumors that the UN was threatening to pull out of a trial seen as being manipulated by the nervous Prime Minister Hun Sen. The slippery Hun Sen is an ex-Khmer Rouge himself, after all, and he has many skeletons in his capacious cupboards.
On the streets, meanwhile, the most ubiquitous genocide book by far is a slender volume with the modest title, A Cambodian Prison Portrait: A Year in the Khmer Rouge's S-21. Unwrap the plastic and you enter the most harrowing memoir of them all, a first-person account of the Khmer Rouge years by a naive country painter named Vann Nath: one of only seven men to survive Tuol Sleng. Sixteen thousand others were not so lucky. Some have called Vann Nath the Goya of the genocide, which was contrived by the Maoist regime of Democratic Kampuchea between 1975 and 1979. It was a period in which the strange, secretive dictator Pol Pot - whose real name was Saloth Sar - tried to create what the British historian Philip Short has called "the first modern slave state." Upon emerging victorious from a long guerrilla war against the U.S.-backed government of Lon Nol, Pol Pot's militant Khmer Rouge emptied the cities and drove millions of people into the countryside to work in collective farms. Twenty thousand died on the road in the first few days of the regime and during the next three years and 10 months, 200,000 were executed as "traitors." In total, between 1.5 million and 2 million died. When the Vietnamese army finally drove Pol Pot back into the jungles of western Cambodia, the country was strewn with the remains of the so-called killing fields.
But the Khmer Rouge did not cease to terrorize Cambodia. Supported by China, Thailand and the U.S., Pol Pot himself fought on in the wild Cardamom Mountains near the town of Pailin, on the border with Thailand. Atrocities continued. In 1994, Khmer Rouge units attacked a train on the Phnom Pehn-Kampot line and executed dozens of people, including three westerners. In 1997, the former Khmer Rouge propaganda minister Son Sen was murdered with his wife and children on Pol Pot's direct orders--a lurid crime that led to the dictator's downfall inside his own movement. Only with Pol Pot's death in 1998 did the movement begin to peter out, and the almost supernatural fear he inspired begin to recede.
Vann Nath's electrifying, primitivist images inspired by Bollywood movie posters and drawn directly from memory, are the only testimony to what happened inside S-21, a former French school in the heart of the city where thousands were tortured and murdered under the eye of the psychopathic Duch. It's a paradox of torture (and genocide, for that matter) that it can rarely if ever actually be photographed as it happens. But it can be painted. Like Duch, Vann Nath is quite a well-known character in Phnom Pehn. He owns a large Khmer restaurant on Czechoslovakia Street with a dark dining room walled with bamboo and filled with the kind of miniature red-lit Chinese shrines that look like shrunken porn stores. He wasn't difficult to find in the end. A slightly stooped, white-haired man with a kindly, beaten-up face, he is to be found in his restaurant almost every day, self-effacingly holding court with a trickle of visitors and playing with his grandchildren.
You see at once the wounded, hunted eyes and the slight sense of bemusement--it's a face older than its years and yet somehow also younger. When you are one of only seven people who emerge alive from a killing machine that exterminated thousands, you inevitably wonder why it was you and not someone else. As Vann Nah explains in his book, he was only spared because he was a reasonably competent artist. Duch plucked him from the execution lists because he thought he might be able to produce a few decent propaganda portraits of Brother Number One, as Pol Pot was known. (The execution orders still survive, with Duch's signature at the bottom of a long list of Vann Nath's fellow prisoners and a red line under Vann Nath's name with a comment to one side suggesting that he be spared.)
We sat in the gloom of the dining room in the middle of the afternoon, under plastic vine leaves on trellises, while he ordered me a Khmer feast: mo-cou kroeung, a fiery sour soup, and spiced omelettes called pong teair. Vann Nath has his painting studio upstairs above the restaurant and, for all his odd celebrity, it's a quiet life now, by his own admission--daily painting, family and the business. Like most Khmers, he is reticent, refined, never raising his voice or making emphatic gestures. But from time to time he covers his face with a hand in a gesture of apparent nervousness. He said that he had never dreamed his life would turn out this way, that his work would become the most instantly recognizable icon of a surreal state crime. "I thought I would be painting landscapes. Indeed, I have now gone back to painting landscapes." On Jan. 7, 1978, the 33-year-old painter was arrested. As usual with the Khmer Rouge, there was no explanation, no credible charge; the whole process was somewhat mysterious.
Equally inexplicably, Vann Nah was tortured by electrocution. The questions were always the same. Was he a member of the CIA? The Vietnamese sympathizers? The KGB? He had never heard of any of them. He was then bundled into a convoy bound for Phnom Pehn, still with no idea what he had been arrested for. Instantly, he was catapulted into a Dostoyevskian world of secrecy, paranoia and terror. None of his fellow prisoners knew what they had been arrested for either. It hardly mattered. Decades later, many Khmer Rouge cadres freely admitted that most of the people they had murdered were innocent. Killing innocents was as important as killing the guilty. "Better to kill a thousand innocent people than let a single guilty one go," was one of the Khmer Rouge's cryptically absurd slogans. In the converted classrooms of S-21, prisoners were shackled together with iron bars. They were not permitted to talk, urinate, stand or even turn their bodies without asking permission from the ferocious teenage guards. If they ate cockroaches to supplement the appalling food, they were beaten savagely - sometimes to death. The guards knew, even if the prisoners didn't, that everyone there was doomed to die anyway.
Vann Nath's gripping paintings show many of these scenes: prisoners being flogged, water-boarded, their nails ripped out, their throats cut (it was rumored that blood was collected in this way and peddled to Phnom Pehn hospitals). In a 2003 documentary made by Rithy Panh, Vann Nath re-visited Tuol Sleng with some of the former guards, who were outwardly unrepentant. With demented enthusiasm, they re-enacted their cruelties - revolutionary children tormenting their elders. They stormed up and down the corridors for the cameras, screaming at the ghosts of long-dead prisoners. Vann Nath and Chum Mey, another survivor, watched them in stupefaction. "Pol Pot was always obsessed with the Cambodians disappearing as a race," Van Nath said in the restaurant. "There was this racial hysteria about the Vietnamese, about the Khmers being conquered and assimilated. But during that whole time I kept wondering if the Khmers were simply destroying themselves. I wondered, how can we do this to ourselves? Is it self-hatred? Are we trying to wipe ourselves from the face of the earth?"
We went upstairs to the open-air studio on the first floor - a terrace overlooking the tin rooftops. It was the rainy season and the skies lit up with monstrous flashes of lightning. The studio paintings were a mix: half political paintings, half idyllic, sunset-drenched landscapes filled with Ankgorian ruins, water buffalo and the timeless villages that seem to reside in the Khmer unconscious as a kitsch memory of a lost Eden. They are the kinds of images you see everywhere at Angkor Wat, sold by scores of artists by the roadside. But the Tuol Sleng images are something else. Also derived from memory, they have the gritty, driving force of a personal pathology. Among them stood one of the hallucinatory pictures of Pol Pot, clearly inspired by the iconography of Mao. Looking at it, I was reminded of a curious observation by the French writer Pierre Loti upon visiting the ruin of Banon at Angkor Wat, which is famous for its giant smiling faces of King Jayavarman VII. Loti found the temple terrifying because of those faces, which showed the smile of totalitarian power and cruelty, of calm implacability. When I told Vann Nath this he seemed to recognize the parallel. "Yes, I can see that. I made Pol Pot smile like that because that's what they wanted."
Like a miniature gulag, Tuol Sleng had its hierarchies, its survival strategies (futile in the end, of course) and its resident sadists. Over it all presided the cool, methodical, pedantic Duch, who took pride in the exactness of his bookkeeping. Every day he came into the studio, where a handful of artists were being kept alive for official purposes, and examined their progress. The executioners always came with him. I wondered how Vann Nah felt about Duch now. "Duch was always polite to me. He would come in and look at my portraits and admit that I was making a good effort. We both knew that if I didn't make that effort I would be taken out and shot with the others, but he could pretend to joke about it. He asked me to make Pol Pot look young and fresh. I ended up making him look like a teenage girl, with the pink cheeks. Duch was delighted. I was allowed to live."
Duch was himself a curious character. A former math teacher who had come under the sway of Maoism in the '60s, he was the same age as Vann Nath and had fought in the jungle army of Pol Pot for years. As it happens, he also interrogated the French scholar Francois Bizot in 1971 after Bizot was captured by the Khmer Rouge near Angkor Wat. The portrait of Duch in Bizot's book, The Gate, was unforgettable enough. Mildly sadistic and a fanatical Communist, Duch had spared Bizot because the latter could play chess and speak Khmer. This odd Frenchman was intriguing and Duch was too curious about him to have him shot. To Bizot, there was a cat and mouse quality to their relationship, and perhaps the same had been true for Vann Nath. Vann Nath's images are more than paintings, and they cannot be judged merely aesthetically. They are folk stories lit by a sudden flash of pornographic horror. His images of water-boarding, a technique used daily at Tuol Sleng, have recently found their way all over the Internet in the light of recent controversies, though few know the story behind them. For many in the West, it was their first actual image of the technique. It shows how the archaic tool of painting has once again become strangely powerful and relevant in the age of digital media.
The faded black and white photographs from 1975, "Year Zero" of the regime, often look like something from the distant past, like views of the Middle Ages. Our sense of distance from them is already extraordinary. But Vann Nath's brilliantly colored nightmares somehow remind us that most of us were alive at the time, living happy lives elsewhere. Pol Pot is not a figure from the distant past and memories are not digital. Last summer, I went every day to the trial out by the air force base. The defendants are ancient, but the machinery of U.N. justice has tried its best to be merciless toward the leaders of the genocide. (Nevermind about the thousands of subordinates who did the actual killing. They cannot be dredged up, for some mysterious reason, and they have slipped back into the population unnoticed: a thousand killers walking the streets with their shopping bags.) As the technicalities dragged on, many impatient Khmers in the audience began to hiss and mutter angrily. Many of them were survivors or relatives of the dead. One day, I was invited to accompany a group of relatives from a small country town called Takeo, who had been invited by the U.N. outreach program to visit Tuol Sleng. The idea was to teach them about what might have happened to their loved ones and to show them the place where they might have died.
Many of these aging farmers had never been to the capital before, and Tuol Sleng to them was just a terrifying word. They arrived at the museum at 8 a.m., a large group anxious at first to have their pictures taken on the neat lawns under the shade of the frangipanis. But soon the mood changed. Tuol Sleng is filled with hundreds of mug shots taken by the captors as the prisoners were being processed prior to being "smashed." There are men, women, children--wildly beautiful young girls, old men, defiant teenagers with bloodied faces, disillusioned Party members who seem incredulous, small boys with cherubic eyes. Each one has a number slung around their neck (there is a famous Vann Nath panting of these ghastly photographic sessions). And there are pictures of the killed, too, each one with his or her throat cut, their chests cut open. There is a girl who threw herself out of a window to commit suicide. And there are the pictures by Vann Nath at every turn, exhibited here as if to corroborate the evidence. The farmers were as shocked by Vann Nath's paintings as by the portraits of the dead - perhaps more so.
Then it happened. I was standing next to a series of photos of prisoners, one of which is quite well known: It shows a young woman sitting next to her baby, her eyes turned helplessly toward the camera. Most of the portraits are marked "unknown" and this was no exception. The woman next to me was also studying this photo with excruciating intensity, and finally she let out an ear-splitting howl of grief. Tears streamed down her face. She recognized the girl with the baby. The farmers gathered round and the U.N. officials came up quickly with their notebooks; it sometimes happened t-hat a visitor recognized a dead relative, and it had happened now. The girl in the picture - the number - had a name after all, and she was the woman beside Me's sister-in-law. She had had no idea what had happened to her all those years before. The girl's name was Ouk Sareth. In the photo, she was 29. The sister-in-law's name was Nob Chim. I spent a little time with Nob Chim. She was 50 now and said she remembered "every moment" of the Khmer Rouge nightmare. Her hands shook with rage; she felt dizzy and had to sit down. She remembered she had built dams and farmed rice for Pol Pot. Ouk's husband had worked in the Ministry of Forestry and as an official had been targeted by the Khmer Rouge. He had been dragged behind a car to begin with - a little warning torture, if you like. Later, he disappeared altogether.
Ouk was sent to Tuol Sleng, it seemed, never to return. Her baby was killed as well. It is only by listening to people like Nob that you finally begin to fathom how casually the state can kill. Duch had signed Ouk's death warrant; she had shared this small prison with Vann Nath, whose Pol Pot busts stood piled up in a corner of the same room. How intimate and suffocating these interconnections were. Yet the anonymity of the regime's cruelty is strangely connected to the anonymity of its prime instigator, the man born as Saloth Sar.
It is that same anonymity that Vann Nath - consciously or otherwise - has captured in his pictures. As Nob wept, I couldn't help looking over at the impassive, smiling faces of Pol Pot that Nath had created to save his life. They explained nothing. Or did they? Vann Nath's pictures of Pol Pot are the most unnerving of all because he has captured something about the man without even wanting to. Pol Pot was always shadowy and inscrutable. He was always a smiling face in a humdrum photograph, an elusive eminence grise who ruled from behind the scenes. (During his reign, Western analysts had only been able to ascertain that Saloth Sar was Pol Pot by examining photographs of one of his state trips to China.) Inside Cambodia, many didn't know him even at the height of his power, even as they were about to die at his hands.
When Duch asked Vann Nath to put a name to a picture of Pol Pot, the confused artist said "Noun Chea." The director was highly amused, for Comrade Number One often "disappeared." He was always the puppet-master, the hidden engineer of human souls. And in Tuol Sleng one cannot help asking the question: Who was he? In a remarkable 1997 video interview with the American journalist Nate Thyer, the deposed dictator admitted, "I am not a very talkative person. … I am not a special person." He meant it. He mentioned with a shy smile that the French author Jacques Vergès had known him for 30 years "as a polite, discreet young man" but nothing more than that. Saloth was nothing if not stunningly ordinary. "Am I a violent person?" he liked to ask. How secretive the torturers always are, screened by legalisms and pseudonyms and euphemisms, their operations always carried out behind walls and closed doors - from where images can rarely travel. "If I had not painted water-boarding," Vann Nath told me one night, "people would probably not believe it had happened at all." He paused, "Let alone sawing people in half."
It makes sense
This Wednesday night (1 April) at Meta House, to coincide with the start of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, journalist/author/filmmaker Tom Fawthrop will present his rarely-seen documentary, Dreams & Nightmares: Cambodia Ten Years After Pol Pot, which he directed and produced for Channel 4 in 1989, and other films focusing on the Khmer Rouge legacy, beginning at 7pm.
Em Theay's sadness
After posting the Beyond the Killing Fields blog entry yesterday, I recalled that Em Theay was the main subject of a documentary I watched many years ago called The Tenth Dancer, which focused on the strength and resilience of the women of Cambodia in rebuilding their traditions from the fragments of a shattered society. The Khmer Rouge were responsible for the death or disappearance of over 90% of Cambodian artists, including most of the dancers of the Royal Ballet. Theay was one of the 10% to survive. The Tenth Dancer was made as long ago as 1993. Em Theay is still dancing and teaching today and performing abroad at the age of 75 years old - by anyone's reckoning that is a remarkable story.
Em Theay was chosen to dance at the age of seven by Queen Kossomak, for whom her parents worked as domestic servants. She grew up in the Royal Palace and was a dancer and singer in King Sihanouk's Royal Ballet until the Khmer Rouge took over her country. At that time she was forty-three and was sent to live in Battambang, where her talents didn't go unnoticed and her captors encouraged her to sing and dance as well as work in the fields. In 1975, twelve of her 18 children were alive. By the end of the KR period, seven had died and only five were left. Em Theay returned to Phnom Penh where her knowledge and skills of the traditional arts were put to use as a teacher at the National Dance Theatre and the Royal University of Fine Arts until quite recently. She is a vital link to Cambodia's past, quite literally a living national treasure and one that Cambodia should be tremendously proud of.
Labels: Em Theay
The front line
It was interesting to read the local papers from last week about the continuing tension at Preah Vihear. We were there last Wednesday just moments after a group of armed Thai soldiers had approached the disputed border area, but we weren't aware just how nervous and agitated the Khmer soldiers were who gave us access to the barbed-wire border pass at the foot of the temple stairs. They did look a bit glum and said we couldn't take any photos whereas the rest of the troops we encountered at Preah Vihear, and there were a lot, were all very amicable and friendly. But we were at the 'front line' so to speak, so its not often you get such access in a disputed area, especially minutes after an incursion that could've sparked another gunfire battle that killed a few troops a while back. The full story about our visit to Preah Vihear to follow soon.
Labels: Preah Vihear
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Cup final fever
Labels: Cambodia football
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Following our dolphin fix, we carried on north as far as Wat Sarsar Mouy Rouy, the 116-pillar pagoda at Sambour, stopped at the village of Baay Samnom to chat to a group of women and children for half an hour, before heading back for a sticky-rice with nuns encounter at Phnom Sambok. We called into a few wats en route including Wat Thma Krae where I spotted a partial lintel at the base of some steps that was in good nick. Back in Kratie for 1pm, we ate at U-Hong restaurant next to the market despite there being a power-cut that affected the whole town. Now its time for some shut-eye for an hour or so. Tomorrow morning we head for Stung Treng before a cross-country adventure to rendezvous with our transport at Tbeng Meanchey (for the onward trip to Preah Vihear and Banteay Chhmar).
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
On our travels
It's hard to believe that my last serious visit to stay in Kratie was as long ago as December 2000, when I managed to catch a glimpse of the dolphins and enjoy the gorgeous sunsets as well as get a feel for the relaxed and laid-back lifestyle along the Mekong. And my teenage guide in those days was none other than Phanna, now a successful businessman in Phnom Penh with fingers in lots of pies including No. 10 guesthouse at Boeng Kak Lake. It will be fun to compare my 2000 trip with the 2009 version. Lets hope for more of the following:
Cambodia: Reporter's Log: Reporter Jenny Kleeman writes of her experiences making Cambodia: Selling the Killing Fields for Unreported World.
One of the most unsettling things about forced evictions is that it's impossible to know exactly when they are going to happen. For the 150,000 Cambodians currently under threat of displacement, that means living in a state of perpetual insecurity and fear. For a British crew hoping to document what a forced eviction looks like in Cambodia, it means my producer Andy Wells and I couldn't be sure if we'd be able to capture the key event in our film until it was happening right in front of us. After a few days of researching the story from our UK office, our contacts in Cambodia told us a large-scale eviction was imminent in the capital, Phnom Penh. The residents of Dey Krahorm had received their final eviction notice a month before, and the 120 families who remained on the site didn't seem to be reaching an agreement with the government over compensation for their land. The dispute had been going on for nearly four years. Even though it appeared to have taken a more serious turn in recent weeks, no one could tell us whether the residents would be forced from their land in a matter of days, weeks or even months. But we wanted to make sure we didn't land in Cambodia after it had taken place. We took a punt and decided to fly out as soon as our visas were ready – a week earlier than planned.
Once we'd touched down, it seemed our arrival was premature: the Dey Krahorm residents had managed to negotiate a stay of execution and the situation was quiet once again. In some ways, this was a relief for us: it meant we could get to know some of the key characters from Dey Krahorm - like Vichet Chan, the community representative - in relative calm. We got an insight into community life that we never would have captured had we arrived only a few days later. The news finally came that that the armed forces were poised to seize Dey Krahorm after we'd already done a full day's filming and were several hours away from the capital. It was as unexpected for us as it was for the residents. We managed to get back to Dey Krahom by 10pm. We had no idea what we were going to see that night, but once we'd spoken to Vichet and seen how distraught he was, it was clear that we could be about to witness the end of the community.
When the event you've come to film finally unfolds in front of you, you just keep filming. On the day that Dey Krahorm was raised to the ground, we worked for 30 hours straight. There was always another piece of the story to cover: from the construction of barricades before dawn and the brutality of the eviction itself to the impromptu press conference the government held on the rubble a few hours after it. By the time it was all over, we were truly exhausted. But for the people we'd been filming, it was only the beginning. They now faced the task of moving whatever they had managed to salvage to the relocation site, and trying to rebuild their lives away from the capital.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Hanuman Film Night
Labels: Hanuman Films
Picture on the Wall
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Meet the coach
Sovannara's playing career began at 17 for the Civil Aviation team in the 2nd Division. As a wide right-sided midfield player, he combined football with his sports teacher studies before joining the more-fancied Division 1 Royal Bodyguard team in 1993 - a move to a club that swept all before them in the top flight of Cambodian football during his half a dozen years there. 1993 also saw him make his international debut against a visiting USSR U/19 team, at the age of 21. It was in 1995 that Cambodia, with Sovannara as a regular in midfield, took its first tentative steps back into re-establishing its international presence. They took part in the SEA Games in Chiang Mai though their years of isolation clearly showed, conceding 32 goals and scoring none in their four matches. A year later, with Fickert (pictured) now at the helm, they took part in the Tiger Cup in Singapore, where they lost all four games, in the SEA Games in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta in 1997, where they won twice and narrowly missed the semi-finals, and finished third in the Presidents Cup in the Philippines the same year.
1999 was a watershed year for Sovannara. In the SEA Games in Brunei, he was to play the last of his international matches for Cambodia, as well as parting company with his successful club side. He passed his B-licence in coaching that year and decided that coaching was where his future lay. He was 27 years old. Though he'd been involved in coaching schools and junior teams, he now moved up a notch, as assistant coach to the national youth team for the next three years, before another step up, this time as assistant to the new Cambodian national coach Scott O'Donnell for a couple of years. In 2006 he tasted a year in charge of club side Phnom Penh Empire, leading them to runners-up spot in the Cambodia Premier League before returning to coach the national youth team at U/17 level. Seemingly groomed for the top job in Cambodian football and definitely the best-equipped homegrown coach, Sovannara was the man the FFC turned to after the departure of Yoo Lee-Heung and following a few early forgettable results, he gained immediate success by guiding the country through qualification to the finals of the AFF Suzuki Cup. The next challenge will be to qualify for next year's AFC Challenge Cup finals with success in Bangladesh next month, as well as a good showing at the SEA Games in Laos at the end of the year. It won't be an easy task but Sovannara has shown he's prepared to take on that challenge, as he continues to shape and define his youthful squad.
Wait for it...
Who's in and who's out?
Crown, the league and cup holders, who already have Teing Tiny and Chan Rithy in the national line-up, now have goalkeeper Peng Bunchhay, defender Lor Pech Seiha and offensive midfielder Keo Sokgnan amongst the 22. Naga, with Kim Chanbunrith and Sun Sovannarith already regulars in the team, have also provided new faces in the shape of striker Teab Vatanak, midfielder Pok Chanthan and their captain and defensive kingpin Om Thavarak. Preah Khan Reach, beaten semi-finalists on Saturday, are the best represented club with six players in the 22, now that midfielder Khoun La Boravy has been added. Completing the new additions to the squad are the National Defense right back Pheak Rady and Ly Ravy, a midfielder from Kirivong Sok Sen Chey.
The players who have made way after featuring in the 22-man squad for the preparations for the Suzuki Cup games in December are keeper Hem Samay, defenders Thul Sothearith, Chea Virath and Sun Sampratna, midfielders Sam Minar, Ieng Saknida, Ieng Piseth and strikers Pich Sina and Hok Sochivorn. Squad training for the Bangladesh matches officially begins at the end of this month so the players who were being put through their paces this morning, were there on a volunteer basis. They were still waiting for permission to use the pitch at the Olympic Stadium so were restricted to the grassy areas behind the goals as they concentrated on their fitness and ball skills. Such is the life of the national team.
Labels: Cambodia football
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Mark your diaries
With all matches to be played at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka, Cambodia will meet the hosts Bangladesh on Sunday 26th April, then either Macau or Mongolia on the 28th and two days later, Myanmar. Three games in six days is a tall order and both Bangladesh (174) and Myanmar (159) are higher-ranked in the FIFA list than the Cambodia team at 180th, but Sovannara is putting his players through their paces as I type, and will have benefitted from getting the squad together for nearly two months before the matches take place. He's made changes to the pool of players from whom he will select his squad of 18 players to take to the games in Bangladesh. Six players have departed including Thul Sothearith from Phnom Penh Crown and Pich Sina from Naga whilst six new faces have joined the national squad, who are currently training every morning at the National Stadium in Phnom Penh. Don't forget to mark your diaries with those three games at the end of April.
Labels: Cambodia football
Bakong's male guardians
Labels: Cambodia postcards