Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bubble is burst

Cambodia's AFC Challenge Cup dreams are over for another two years as they lost to a solitary goal in the fourth minute of injury time against the Group A winners Myanmar in Dhaka late this afternoon. With Myanmar needing just a point to secure the automatic qualification place, they made sure of top spot with their 94th minute winner from Win Thein after Cambodia had more than held their own for the majority of the game. Cambodia national coach Prak Sovannara, needing a win to retain any hope of qualifying, tinkled with his offensive-looking team line-up and it appeared to be going to plan with Cambodia holding their much-fancied opponents, and creating a couple of guilt-edged chances before that cruel late winner in time added on. Sovannara said, "We played good football throughout the match but were unfortunate to miss some close chances. The free-kick which bounced off the bar post was unbelievable but things like this happen and we just need to pick the pieces from here and play better next time." A crowd of 2,500 watched the game at the Bangabandhu Stadium in Dhaka in cooler conditions than of late. The Cambodia line-up was: Seiha, Chanbunrith (61 Sokngorn), Raksmey, Tiny, Thavrak, Borey, Vathanak, Sokumpheak, Laboravy (46 El Nasa), Narith (73 Ravy), Sovannarith. subs (not used) Mic, Chanthan, Rady, Pichseyla. Cambodia return home tomorrow, having finished third in their group on three points after hosts Bangladesh defeated Macau 3-0 in their evening kick-off to clinch the runners up spot and the last place in next year's finals.

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Publicity shot 1976

Steel Pulse - November 1976 version [copyright Colin Gabbidon]
I've got the bug now as regards early photographs of Steel Pulse and here's one I haven't brought you before even though its been on my Steel Pulse website for about six years. Its a very early publicity shot of the band, a year before they signed for Island Records and really took off. It was in the collection of Colin Gabbidon, the band's drummer at the time of the photo, November 1976, and just before Colin decided to call it quits after being involved from the very beginning. As you can see they were already trying different angles to get themselves an identity so they stood out from the crowd of bands trying to break through. It looks like clothes were beginning to play a part too, the yellow Taffri gown on the right was popular around that time and this was the forerunner of the distinctive stage act which the band were to perfect a year or two later. The band line up at the time, just as they released their first single, Kibudu, Mansetta and Abuku, was: [back row LtoR] Selwyn Brown, David Hinds, Michael Riley, Basil Gabbidon. [front row] Ronnie McQueen, Colin Gabbidon. See more photos from 1976 here.

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Mannox magic and more

Selwyn 'Bumbo' Brown of Steel Pulse in 1978
I am a glutton for early photos of Steel Pulse and Peter Mannox has a drawer full of them, having been born and brought-up in their backyard of Handsworth in Birmingham, and been around at the time the band were just kicking off their successful music career with Island Records. These are two more photos from Peter which he took in early 1978, showing what most reggae band members at that time did when they weren't playing their instruments. Peter, who now lives in the wilds of Scotland, is able to provide hard copies in higher resolution of these priceless early photographs, up to A2 if you so require. Contact him through his blog here.
Steel Pulse's David Hinds contemplating life in 1978
You may recall that back in April 2008 I posted a slice of a self-portrait by Steel Pulse's lead man David Hinds. Well here is the full painting in all its glory. As you may be aware, the early history of reggae legends Steel Pulse has always intrigued me. They've been my band of choice since I saw them at Cheltenham Town Hall in 1978, some four years after their formation in the backstreets of Handsworth in Birmingham. The founding fathers of the band were David Hinds and Basil Gabbidon. They were best friends, both attending sixth form at Handsworth Wood and they both had Saturday jobs at the Co-Op supermarket in Winson Green. They loved music and they loved art. So much so that they left Handsworth Wood and went to the Bournville College of Art to continue their studies. Basil took a one year vocational course in graphics and David, who joined Basil in the supermarket on Saturday's only, took a foundation course in art studies and later moved onto the School of Art at Margaret Street, the Art Department of Birmingham Polytechnic. It was during his first year at Margaret Street in 1974 that David painted this self-portrait. It's oil paint on cotton duck canvas, 21"x20" and shows David at home - and is a unique piece of artwork by one of the world's leading reggae artists.
David Hinds' 1974 self-portrait in oils

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If...

Ever the optimist, I've been trying to get my head around the rules and regulations of the AFC Challenge Cup qualifying games as Group A enters its final stage later today in sunny Dhaka. Myanmar lead the group on six points and to most observers look favourites to qualify, needing just 1 point against Cambodia in their 4.30pm kick-off. But if Cambodia can raise their game and win, that will put a completely different reflection on qualification. If Cambodia beat Myanmar, and score enough goals then it will all rest on the Bangladesh versus Macau match tonight and come down to goal difference, as the hosts will be expected to beat the minnows. And once Group A is decided, then the AFC will have to determine the best ranked of the runners up who'll join the following teams, already through to next year's finals; India, North Korea, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka. And that's when it starts to get a bit tangled up in the various nuances of the competition's regulations.

Why you ask? Well, it's all to do with next year's eight-team finals in India (to be played in July 2010). The last of the qualifying spots will go to the best ranked runners up out of the four qualifying groups. That would've been easy to pick the best ranked based on points accrued or goal difference or even greater number of goals scored. However, the fly in the ointment is that the number of teams in the groups became lopsided when Afghanistan withdrew. That means the qualifiers will have played an unequal number of group matches so to ensure equality, a comparison mechanism needs to be adopted. The AFC version states that all teams must be compared across a similar number of matches, and their decision is that the result of matches between the runners up and the bottom-placed team in the group will be considered null and void. All points and goals will not be taken into account. And the best ranked runners up will then be based on the following criteria: greater number of points, goal difference, greater number of goals, fewer yellow/red cards or drawing lots.

Are you still with me? Lots of ifs and buts of course but that's always the way with qualifying group stages in major competitions. Qualification from Group A rests on the two matches being played in Bangladesh later today and they are both finely poised to bring us the thrills and spills of knock-out football. I wouldn't have it any other way.
You can read the AFC competition regulations here.

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Press clippings

My article in today's Phnom Penh Post - click to enlarge
Note: To read the Macau match report in the Phnom Penh Post, click here.

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May's Meta highlights

Well, for starters I will be hosting a couple of documentary nights at Meta House later next month, so I recommend you get along to both of those evenings. As part of Legacy Week, on Thursday 28th at 7pm, I am really pleased to present a double-bill of The Tenth Dancer and Samsara. These documentaries are from 1993 and 1989 respectively and are a time capsule of how Cambodia had survived the Khmer Rouge period and almost ten years of Vietnamese control. I'd asked Sally Ingleton for a copy of The Tenth Dancer before I heard about Em Theay's sad loss when her house burned down last month, so this showing will be particularly poignant. The following evening, Friday 29th, in 'Never Before Shown In Cambodia,' I will have two documentaries to screen, Isabelle Abric's 1993 Fear & Hope In Cambodia which chronicles Cambodia's recent history, and Anne Henderson's 1998 film The Road from Kampuchea, telling the story of the courageous Tun Channareth, co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.
Meta House, on Street 264 in Phnom Penh, will also be screening Site 2 by Rithy Panh on the 30th, and earlier that week, on the 27th, a double-bill of John Pilger's The Betrayal and Tom Fawthrop's Dreams & Nightmares, both documentaries from 1989 and exposing the West's support of Pol Pot. It's a packed month to be honest, with the We Want You To Know! film - with scenes of the KR period recreated by villagers on Sunday 10th - and lots of other interesting films on show, as well as the usual exhibitions and a Pride 09 film festival that focuses on the LGBT community in Cambodia. Link: Meta House.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The word from Dhaka

Cambodia's national coach Prak Sovannara is not a happy man, despite his team beating Macau 2-1 yesterday to register their first win of the AFC Challenge Cup qualifying group matches being played in Dhaka in Bangladesh. In a match he had expected his team to win comfortably, his players failed to find their goal-scoring touch and I think in the dressing-room afterwards, they would've been left in no doubt as to his feelings. However, in the scramble for qualification places, Cambodia's shyness in front of goal in this game may not be as damaging as at first glance. With the group winners getting automatic qualification, the last qualifying place for next year's finals will go to the best-ranked of the runners-up in the four groups, and results against the lowest-placed team in the group may not count. It starts to get a bit complicated and there are a few variations according to the competition's rules, but the bottom-line is that qualification is still up for grabs by all three teams, Cambodia, Myanmar and Bangladesh and so tomorrow's final group games will settle the issue. Cambodia will meet group leaders Myanmar (kick-off 4.30pm), who already have six points after they defeated the hosts Bangladesh 2-1 yesterday. Myanmar need a point to secure the group title, whilst Cambodia need to win to keep alive their hopes of qualification. In the other game, Bangladesh take on bottom team Macau (kick-off 7pm) and they too need to win to push their claims for a place in the finals. It all adds up to an intriguing last day of Group A.

Back to the game against Macau. Team coach Sovannara rang the changes for this, their second game of the competition, including Om Thavrak, Khoun Laboravy and Keo Sokngorn from the start, with Pok Chanthan sidelined through injury and regular striker Kouch Sokumpheak amongst the substitutes. With the coach's instructions to attack their opponents from the first whistle, Cambodia began with a flourish and took a 12th minute lead when Teab Vathanak (pictured) controlled a pass from Khim Borey and scored with a low drive into the corner. So far so good. With Cambodia dominating possession, Sovannara made two first-half substitutions, bringing on San Narith and Sokumpheak to add to his attacking options, but it was his team's inability to convert a hatful of goal-scoring chances that left them with just a 1-goal half-time lead. The coach was not happy, as he explained to me. "We began well, with perfect tactics and strategy and had about 80% of the play, creating at least six golden opportunities to score. I also made two changes in my team to give us even more attacking options. But my players lost concentration at the vital moment and we lost the opportunity to add to our early goal," he said.

For the second half, and with Macau visibly tiring in the scorching 39C afternoon heat, Sovannara encouraged his team to apply even more pressure in the final third. This paid off when Keo Sokngorn rewarded the coach's decision to include him from the start, with a tap-in after a corner had struck the woodwork, on 66 minutes. It was all Cambodia again as they kept possession and pushed forward but with Macau getting players behind the ball and frustrating their opponents, it was the group underdogs who grabbed a surprise consolation goal with fifteen minutes remaining. In their only serious attack of the game, a free-kick into a crowded penalty area fell to Che Chi Man and he bundled the ball in past an otherwise redundant Samreth Seiha in the Cambodia goal.

Whilst celebrating their 2-1 success, Sovannara had expected more goals from his team. "Sometimes you need a bit of luck in front of goal and today we didn't have any. We created so many good chances but only took two of them. My team gave a good performance in terms of possession of the ball and taking the game to the opponents, they followed my instructions but we lost concentration at vital times and often, we were too hungry to score and missed the opportunity. In the second half, Macau defended in numbers and gave us fewer chances and their goal came from one silly mistake. We were definitely better than in our first game, but had there been more than a day's gap in between matches, I think we would've performed even better." Now all eyes turn towards tomorrow's final group matches. "I have no injuries so will choose from a full team against Myanmar. I hope we will win if my players keep doing the right things, show their fighting team spirit and have a strong mental approach. It will be a very tough game but I will encourage my players to believe in themselves that they can achieve a positive result," said the Cambodia coach by email this afternoon.

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Ponchaud's history

Francois Ponchaud (photo: Dana Langlois)
One of the most respected experts on Cambodian history and culture, Francois Ponchaud, the author of Cambodia Year Zero, will begin a series of lectures and discussions, in English, on the History of Cambodia tonight at the Catholic Social Communications Center on Street 242 in Phnom Penh at 6.30pm. Tonight's lecture will focus on Cambodia's earliest origins up to the French protectorate of 1953. There will be another five lectures on different historic periods over the next two months, and they are open to everyone. The dates are; 5, 20 & 28 May, and 3 & 9 June. Ponchaud has lived in Cambodia for more years than he cares to remember and having retired from his responsibilities within the Catholic Church, will return to live in France after this cycle of conferences. Sounds like it could be well worth popping along to any one of these lectures, especially as Ponchaud is credited with exposing the truth about the Khmer Rouge in his 1977 book, when many in the West refused to believe such fanciful stories.
Postscript: Francois Ponchaud gave his lecture about the origins of Cambodian history up til the time of the French protectorate in English, which is definitely not his favoured language. However, he soldiered on, taking excerpts from his own book he's written on the country's history. The audience was a small one, but the advertising of these events was pretty low-key and last-minute, so I expect the future sessions to be well attended. I will definitely try to get along to at least a couple more, especially his lecture on the Khmer Rouge period, on Thursday 28 May. Ponchaud just happened to be one of the foreigners cooped up in the French Embassy when the KR rolled into Phnom Penh in 1975 and two years later released his relevatory book.

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Out of the ashes, again

Em Theay adjusts the headdress of Sok Chea during The Tenth Dancer
I urge you to come along to a benefit fundraiser for a national icon in Cambodia, Em Theay, this coming Sunday, 3 May at 4pm at the Bophana Center on Street 200 in Phnom Penh. Here is the official press release for the benefit screening:

Out of the ashes, again
Screening of award-winning film, The Tenth Dancer, to be held as a benefit for renowned classical dancer and singer Em Theay and her family, whose house burned down last month.
On Sunday, May 3rd, the documentary film, The Tenth Dancer, focusing on Em Theay and one of her most accomplished classical dance students, will be shown as part of a fundraising event to help Em Theay and her family recovers from a fire that destroyed all their possessions, including a priceless 60-year-old handwritten book of song lyrics. Organized by Dr. Toni Shapiro-Phim, director of Research and Archiving at Khmer Arts in Takhmao, Cambodia, and the staff of Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center, the screening will take place at 4 PM, followed by a question and answer session with Em Theay and her daughter, Thoang Kim An, also a noted classical dancer.

In just under four years, during the rule of the Khmer Rouge, an estimated 80-90% of Cambodia’s professional artists perished, including most of the members of the royal dance troupe. Perhaps only one in ten survived. The Tenth Dancer is the story of one of those who did. After Pol Pot was overthrown in 1979, dance teacher and singer Em Theay returned to Phnom Penh to help rebuild the troupe. The Tenth Dancer is an intimate portrait of the relationship between a teacher who works tirelessly to pass on her unique knowledge, and her devoted pupil, set against the backdrop of a devastated country. The film weaves the past and the present, memory and dream, to reveal a story of human dignity and survival.
In March, Em Theay’s house burned down. Her family was unable to save anything, as they were trying to help the neighbours, whose house went up in flames first, not imagining the fire would spread so quickly.

Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center will host the screening/fundraiser on Sunday, May 3, 2009 at 4 PM, #64, Street 200, Phnom Penh (behind the French Cultural Center). Admission is free. Donations are requested.

The Tenth Dancer was made by Australian filmmaker Sally Ingleton who has been producing and directing award-winning documentaries for 25 years. Khmer Arts is an international NGO dedicated to fostering the vitality of Cambodian dance across borders. Also see here.

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New season starts soon

Whilst the Cambodian national team are busting a gut in Bangladesh to qualify for the 2010 AFC Challenge Cup finals, the Football Federation of Cambodia have released the fixtures for the first half of the brand new Cambodia Premier League season, which Phnom Penh Crown won last year, and then added the Hun Sen Cup to their trophy cabinet a month or so ago. The first games will kick-off this Saturday at 2pm at the Olympic Stadium when Kirivong are due to meet Khemara Keila. At 3.45pm the champions Phnom Penh Crown will face last year's runners-up National Defense Ministry, who are still in dispute with 5 of their players. There will be five matches each week, on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday, as there are 10 teams in the CPL this season, and the first half of the campaign will end on 1 July. The 2nd half will run from 11 July through to 9 September. The only new face in the CPL this season is Spark FC, while Phuchung Neak were saved from relegation as Kampot didn't want to be promoted. It's all pretty last minute as is normally the case in Cambodia and with the national squad players not returning home from Dhaka until Friday, we'll have to wait and see whether they'll line up in the season's first games.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A thriller at Monument

Thriller writer Tim Hallinan in signing-mode with the blog author
The reason I was late in the door tonight was because I attended a book-signing and reading at Monument Books by thriller writer Tim Hallinan, better known for his Bangkok-based books, though he resides in Phnom Penh for part of each year, as he says it's where he can write without distractions. Los Angeles and Bangkok are where he calls home but Phnom Penh has a special attraction for him as well. His latest book in the Poke Rafferty series, Breathing Water won't be released until August, so it was from his second book, The Fourth Watcher, that he read an extract to the audience at Monument. His first book, which I bought, is called A Nail Through The Heart and features a Khmer Rouge baddie. It was fascinating to hear about Thailand through Hallinan's eyes as he spoke about this particular series and was not joking when he said Breathing Water may signal his departure from the country if the authorities decide he's gone too close to the knuckle. A writer's workshop that Hallinan will hold at ACE in a couple of days should be a very interesting event as he certainly has a clear view of his own style and talent and an easy-going way of describing it. Roll on Thursday. Link: website.
Another signed copy by Tim Hallinan to a satisfied customer

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Cambodia success

I've just walked in the door to be greeted with news that Cambodia beat Macau 2-1 this afternoon in their AFC Challenge Cup qualifying match, though I know the national coach was aiming to score a lot more goals. Nevertheless, a win was their target and that's what they achieved, with the goals coming from Teab Vathanak after 12 minutes and youngster Keo Sokngorn (pictured) on 66 minutes. Macau got their solitary goal fifteen minutes from time through Che Chi Man. A crowd of 6,000 watched the game played in the blistering afternoon heat, recorded at a roasting 39C. True to his word, Cambodian coach Prak Sovannara changed his line-up from the team that lost on the opening day, bringing in Om Thavrak, Khoun Laboravy and Sokngorn into the starting eleven, though two substitutions just after the half-hour mark, gave the team a different look in the first-half. The Cambodia line-up was: Seiha, Chanbunrith (62 Narith), Raksmey (33 Pichseyla), Tiny, Thavrak, Borey, Sokngorn, Vathanak, Laboravy, Sovannarith, El Nasa (36 Sokumpheak). subs (not used) Mic, Rady, Ravy. More on the game as I get it.
In the evening kick-off, Myanmar defeated the hosts Bangladesh 2-1 as well, with two second-half goals from Pai Soe after the booters had taken an early lead. That leaves Cambodia and the hosts Bangladesh on three points apiece with identical records, whilst Myanmar lead the table with six points. There is still everything to play for in the two final games that'll take place on Thursday, though Cambodia will have the more difficult task of defeating Myanmar and by enough of a margin to win the group or finish as the best ranked runners-up out of the four qualifying groups. This is where it starts to get mind-boggling.

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The Immortal Seeds

Sambath Meas arrived in Chicago in 1981 aged eight years old. Her family had just endured the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and had escaped and got their ticket to the United States. Her family's story of constant fear and hunger and more is told in the 204 pages of The Immortal Seeds: Life goes on for a Khmer family, and published by Wheatmark this month. Sambath holds a batchelor's degree in political science from Loyola University in Chicago and is already working on her next two books called Modern Conquest and Memories of the Golden Pagoda.

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Event highlights

There's a veritable bundle of exhibitions and stuff happening around Phnom Penh at the moment. Just in brief, here's the run-down on a few of the highlights. At Monument Books tonight there's a talk by thriller writer Tim Hallinan about his books at 6pm, and on Thursday at ACE he's giving tips on writing a novel. Count me in. Obviously there's a whole schedule of films, talks and whatever going on at Meta House. On Saturday they have
a double-bill from 7pm of Jim Gerrand’s film The Prince & The Prophecy and Norodom Sihanouk’s movie Shadow Over Angkor. The exhibition running there at the moment is called Intercities Phnom Penh-Lijiang and it features a range of artists including Ou Vanndy, Chhea Bunna, Ouk Chim Vichet and Sokuntevy Ouer. I should have a couple of documentary nights at Meta House in May so keep an eye out for them.
Over at Equinox (St 278) on Friday is an exhibition of drawings by Khmer artist Nasy Radet called Orphan Smiles which looks interesting, whilst I hear the Messenger Band are playing at Gasolina the same night. Reyum have got a Food in Khmer exhibition running at the moment, Paul Stewart's Ramsar Site 999 - The Flooded Forests of North Cambodia photo showcase began at FCC last night, and the Bophana Center still has its Still Water exhibits on show. Finally, please do not forget that Sunday 3 May will be the benefit screening of The Tenth Dancer at Bophana Center on behalf of Em Theay and her family. I should have this confirmed later today.

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Hamming it up

A strange guy I found hanging around in the forest
Some people will do anything for attention and my brother Tim is no exception. We were half way into our gruelling 11-hour 'ride from hell' marathon on the back of moto's as we travelled across country from Stung Treng to Preah Vihear province a few weeks ago. It was a tough day. Our moto drivers had stopped to fix yet another puncture so Tim and I walked ahead and found a vine, in the shape of a noose, hanging right across the track, hence Tim's impression in the picture above. Looks pretty scary doesn't it - actually, Tim looks scary most of the time! I hope this doesn't upset any young children, it was just for fun and Tim suffered no ill-effects after his stunt...but whatever you do, don't try this at home folks.

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Fake regulations

The S-21 interrogation regulations in 1994, in Khmer and English
An interesting but not surprising admission from Comrade Duch at the ongoing Khmer Rouge Tribunal yesterday was that the rules of interrogation that have been posted at Tuol Sleng, or S-21 to give it its official name, and read by thousands of visitors over the years, are, in his words, a fabrication. In testimony about his role at S-21, Duch said that the 10 security regulations, which were originally on the wall of Block A when I first visited Tuol Sleng in 1994 and are now on a billboard in front of the building, were "fabricated by the Vietnamese when they came in." It was the Vietnamese liberators who helped set up the genocide museum about a year after the Khmer Rouge were expelled from the capital. Duch also testified that his daily interrogation reports to Son Sen and Nuon Chea were also circulated around the Khmer Rouge's Standing Committee, effectively implicating the other defendants who are now on trial. On dissenting voice against Duch and the fabricated rules is former S-21 guard Him Huy, who said; "During the KR regime, all guards were obliged to know all disciplines, and the 10 disciplines at S-21 were written by Duch." The rules included; 'While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all,' and 'If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.'
The S-21 regulations as they are today at Tuol Sleng, in Khmer, French and English

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Press talk

In today's Phnom Penh Post, inside back page - click to enlarge
The Bangladesh game is now history as far as Cambodia are concerned. They now have to concentrate on winning their two remaining matches in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifying competition in Dhaka and will be gunning for goals in this afternoon's match against the minnows of the group, Macau. With Dhaka recording temperatures of over 38.7C, the highest in fourteen years, both teams will have to take account of the scorching afternoon heat but for Cambodia it's literally do or die in this match, a win, and a win by a good margin is essential to have any chance of going into their final match with Myanmar on Thursday with qualification still a possibility. They'll kick off at 4.30pm Cambodia-time, with the two winners from the first round of games, Bangladesh and Myanmar beginning their game at 7pm tonight. Cambodia beat Macau 3-1 in May last year at the last meeting of the two teams though will be seeking an even better result this time around, with coach Prak Sovannara promising a formation that will get at the Macau 5-man defence from the start.
Note: To read the Bangladesh match report in the Phnom Penh Post, click here.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Laos to host SEA Games

Maintaining the sports theme, I thought I'd quickly mention the Southeast Asian Games which are due to be played in Laos in December this year. That's if Laos manage to complete the building of the various arenas, including their new national stadium, some 20kms outside Vientiane, which is still under construction. Laos has already come in for criticism for reducing the number of sports down from 40-odd to 26 and leaving out some of the most obvious Olympic sports like gymnastics, hockey and sailing. What they have included is football, of course, which will be the second main competition for Cambodia this year after the current AFC Challenge Cup qualifying games are completed. Laos have also included a couple of sports that might be new to you, but are typically asian in nature, foot shuttlecock (or jianzi, dacau or tot-sey) which is both a team game and an artistic display, and kick volleyball (or sepak-takraw), which is played with a rattan ball. If you haven't seen the former, get along to Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh any early evening and watch the guys there who are masters at the artistic display version. Eleven nations will compete in the 25th SEA Games in Laos and are as follows: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.

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Defeated but not down

If you believe the Bangladeshi press reports then their team fully deserved their success over Cambodia in last night's AFC Challenge Cup qualifying encounter, played in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka. As I didn't see the game myself, I can't agree or disagree, though the Cambodia national coach, Prak Sovannara (pictured), has given me his version of events by email, and they paint a somewhat different picture than the syndicated press reports. Bangladesh scored the game's only goal in the 73rd minute, a header from close range following a free kick. That one-goal separated the two teams, who are neck and neck in the FIFA world rankings, but it may not signal the end of Cambodia's hopes if they can win their next two games. The group winners will automatically go through to next year's finals, but so will the best ranked of the runners up from the four qualifying groups, so its important that Cambodia keep their sights firmly on winning their remaining two matches. And that's certainly what coach Sovannara is looking to do. "I was pleased with my players attitude and I am confident that if we keep doing all the right things, and can be more creative, we can win the next two games. We will need to score more goals against Macau and if we win the next 2 games, we still hope to qualify, depending on the other results."

As for the match against Bangladesh, Sovannara expressed his disappointment with the final result but was pleased with how his players performed. "My players put on a good performance from start to finish. They showed a good team spirit, good discipline and a great attitude against the hosts. We kept our focus, even when we went 1-0 down and if we had taken our chances the result could've been different. If we keep doing that, we will succeed. The players followed my instructions, but they showed too much respect to Bangladesh and I want them to be more creative in the next games. I will change the team against Macau for tactical reasons as we need to play more offensively with three strikers and two supporting from midfield and on the flanks from full-back as well. Pok Chanthan suffered an injury in the first game and the other changes I made in the game were tactical. I believe we can still win the next two games."

How did he view the Bangladesh game? "The Cambodia team played well according to our game plan and strategy. My starting eleven were selected since the training camp in Vietnam, though I changed it after half an hour and took off Vathanak, to give more cover to the defense and to create more options down the flanks. We allowed Bangladesh to have the ball, so we sat back and then counter-attacked as soon as we got the ball, especially down the flanks where the opponents were weaker. We were unlucky when Laboravy missed a great 1-on-1 situation with the goalkeeper just before half-time. The 0-0 score at half-time was a good platform for us." The second-half showing from Cambodia was much stronger as the coach explains. "After assessing our opponents, we changed our tactics and attacked more, again along the flanks and we put more pressure on them when we lost the ball. This improved our play and we got two good chances through Sokumpheak and El Nasa, but didn't score. I also made a switch with Sokngorn replacing Borey. But we lost a goal on 73 minutes when we made a mistake in a dangerous area and they scored from the free-kick. I immediately replaced Narith with Ravy and despite being a goal down, we stayed focused and fought well but we couldn't recover the goal." The result has left Cambodia needing two wins to have any hope of qualifying, and their first test will be against the minnows of Macau on Tuesday afternoon in a must-win game for Sovannara and his Cambodia squad.

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Jolly on a jolly

In Phnom Penh at the moment is the award-winning British television comedian and journalist Dom Joly (pictured), as he reveals in his column today in the UK-newspaper The Independent. Known for his edgy off-beat television shows like Trigger Happy TV, he's also written several books and is a regular columnist for The Independent, Sunday Times and Mail On Sunday in the UK. He's currently in Cambodia doing research for a new book he's writing called The Dark Tourist, which may also become a television series in due course. In his column today, which you can read here, he takes an irreverent look at Cambodian sport. Here's a taster:

I am in Cambodia doing "research" for a book I'm writing about my passion for travel to dodgy places. I'm visiting "The Killing Fields" tomorrow and today, I'm bizarrely off to see a man who is selling Pol Pot's shoes and loo. I've had my fill of dark depressing subjects in the last week or so and I decided to have a little look at the world of Cambodian sport.

The truth is it's a pretty minimalist area. They do play football here but they are spectacularly bad - so bad that most people support foreign teams. Their national football team was supposed to go to the Beijing Olympics but, according to rumours, the powers that be used the tickets to send their families there on a jolly. The only real sport of any consequence here is kick-boxing. I know this sport as Thai kick-boxing but call it that here only if you want to lose your teeth. Here it's Cambodian kic-boxing, but it is exactly the same. Bouts are shown regularly on TV and the gambling is intense.

He also might need to watch his dentures when he talks so disparagingly about Cambodian football too! But that's the risk you take when you set yourself up for edgy, off-beat journalism.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cambodia beaten

I don't have many details aside from the bare match facts but the final score in Cambodia's opening AFC Challenge Cup qualifying game against the host nation Bangladesh this evening, was a frustrating 1-nil reverse, with Enamul Haque scoring on 73 minutes for the home country. It was their first win in three years. I'm gutted as you might expect, we needed a draw at least, especially as expected, Myanmar beat Macau 4-0 in the opening game with two goals in each half, and that gives the two winning teams a great start with three points apiece. The starting line-up for Cambodia for tonight's game was, on paper, a very offensive-looking unit: Seiha, Chanbunrith, Raksmey, Tiny, Chanthan, Borey (66 Sokngorn), Vathanak (30 Laboravy), Sokumpheak, Narith (77 Ravy), Sovannarith, El Nasa. subs (not used); Mic, Thavrak, Rady, Pichseyla. Attendance: 8,060.
A sight we didn't want to see, as Bangladesh celebrate their 1 goal success against Cambodia [The Daily Star, Bangladesh]

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Mekong Blue

Silkworms doing what they do best at Mekong Blue in Stung Treng
With football taking a front seat in recent days, the topic to suffer has been the review of my recent trip along the Mekong River and into the northern reaches of Cambodia. I have already brought you my adventures in and around Kratie and then we continued north, by minibus to Stung Treng. I don't know if its something to do with border towns, but I didn't really warm to the town or its people as readily as I do elsewhere, but that was probably due to the motodop mafia that we encountered and who certainly left a bitter taste in our mouths, but more of that later. One visit we made, where we were warmly welcomed, was to the Mekong Blue center a few kilometres outside of town. I'd been aware of this Stung Treng Women's Development NGO for a few years but this was my first chance to visit them in person and though it was lunchtime when we arrived, and nearly everyone was asleep or resting, we had a quick tour with their latest volunteer, Mike Cussen, where we saw the process from silkworm feeding to production of a very high quality silk product, which they sell online and in their Phnom Penh showroom. Over 50 women are employed making Mekong Blue products, giving these otherwise vulnerable women a skill, confidence and development and a safe haven for them and their children. They are a thriving enterprise with big plans for the future to carry on and expand the wonderful humanitarian work they have completed so far. Long may they continue. Link: Mekong Blue.
These are cocoons of naturally produced yellow silk collected from the silkworms and ready for boiling
In a specially sealed room, the silkworms are fed on mulberry bush leaves
These are the spinning wheels that produce the long silk threads ready for dyeing
These silk threads are left to dry - they look like long yellow hair extensions to me
Two girls from the natural dye shed hold the silk that has been 'washed clean' of all imperfections
At Mekong Blue they have over 30 looms to make their quality silk products. Here Srey Mao takes time off her lunchbreak to show us how they work.

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AFC press talk

If you thought football was off the agenda until after tonight's opening AFC Challenge Cup qualifier between the host nation Bangladesh and Cambodia, then think again. The 4 participating teams spoke at the official press conference yesterday amidst a heat wave that has gripped Bangladesh and the capital Dhaka in temperatures that topped 38.5C, as well as forcing acute electricity and water shortages on the city's inhabitants. The Brazilian coach of Bangladesh, Dido, has said that his team's best form of defense will be to attack Cambodia from the start of their evening match, after Myanmar face Macau in the opener earlier this afternoon. He said he knew nothing about the Cambodian team and had problems in attack as his two main strikers have been carrying injuries. Meanwhile, Cambodia's national coach Prak Sovannara said; "We are here to win against Bangladesh as well as against Myanmar and Macau and wins against all of them will take us to the finals if we don't squander the opportunities." He felt he was 70% confident of a win over the hosts and that the scorching heat would not affect his players. "I see no difference compared to our country and I don't think it will hamper our performance."
As for Macau and Myanmar, they begin the qualifying tournament in the mid-afternoon heat and that will be a tough ask in anyone's book. Macau are the underdogs of the competition but have been together for a year and a half according to their coach, so aren't afraid of anyone. Myanmar have brought a young team to the qualifiers, comprising of under-23 players as their coach searches for the next generation of senior players. All of the games will be shown live on Bangladesh television and will be played at the 36,ooo-capacity Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka.

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4Faces opens for business

Inside 4Faces, with the exhibition wall on the right
Although I wasn't able to be there, I hear the opening of the 4Faces gallery in Siem Reap on Friday went very well for my pal Eric de Vries and his wife Lida, and the gallery's opening weekend continued yesterday and today, with photographer Tim Page being the first exhibition on display and the man himself being in residence all weekend. I hope to get up to see the gallery as soon as possible and wish Eric, Lida and everyone involved the best of luck with their exciting new venture. Make sure you have a look when you are in Siem Reap.
The outside of 4Faces with customers enjoying a drink on Friday evening

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Breathing new life into dance

Belle, with flowers, and Chankethya take the plaudits from the audience
Contemporary dance, so popular in the West but practically unheard of in Cambodia, is beginning to make its mark slowly but surely, through the energy and vision of dancers like Belle (Chumvan Sodhachivy) and Chey Chankethya, who brought their new style of dance to the stage tonight at the Chenla Theatre in a performance titled Dansez Roam! With both dancers schooled in classical Khmer dance, they included elements of what they know best but much of the performance would've been the first time many Cambodians in the packed auditorium had seen such freedom and unrestrained movement on a stage before. Chankethya began the evening seemingly locked within a mosquito net before bursting out to glide and skip her way around the stage with three fellow dancers. They were followed by Hang Borin who used a chair to center his dance movements, all the while accompanied by both classical style and loud, westernised music. After a short break, the extraordinary Belle, who is carrying the banner of the new contemporary style almost single-handedly if you believe the press, almost brought the audience to its feet with her opening segment, again producing an array of dazzling movements and ingenious variations of the accepted norm. Joined by a group of her peers, they told the story of her mother's life under the Khmer Rouge, combining expressive dance moves, music, singing and story-telling all rolled into one. All in all, a fantastically successful show, leaving the Khmer audience with plenty of food for thought about what they had just witnessed.
A segment from the opening part of Dansez Roam!
Belle opens her half of the show by putting on her dress
Belle uses classical postures in her dance
The cast of Dansez Roam! take their bows

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Another gem

Steel Pulse on Soho Road, Handsworth [copyright Peter Mannox - click to enlarge]
Here's another gem of a photo of the 1978 line-up of reggae legends Steel Pulse, taken by Birmingham-born Peter Mannox and posted on his blog here. It was snapped at the entrance to a snooker hall on Soho Road, Handsworth and most likely was taken at the beginning of 1978. The line-up for the photo is (LtoR): Ronnie McQueen, Selwyn Brown, David Hinds, Basil Gabbidon, Michael Riley, Grizzly Nisbett and Phonso Martin. Peter was born in Handsworth, the band's backyard, and his photo-shoot was used by Island Records, who signed the band in October 1977 and released their first single and album the following year to unheralded success.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Fantastic effort all round

The early monsoon rains that flooded the streets of Phnom Penh this afternoon and continued into the evening put paid to a full house at the Meta House screening of The Red Sense tonight but the crowd was still a good one, and an appreciative one with enthusiastic applause at the end of the film's screening reflecting their enjoyment of the movie. One of the lead actors and screenwriter Rithy Dourng was on hand to introduce the film and to answer questions afterwards and inbetween, we watched a stylish movie, excellent camera work, nice locations, great soundtrack and a story to cater to both a Khmer and western audience. When you consider that the cast had never acted before and it was Tim Pek's debut as a feature film director, this was a fantastic effort by all concerned to handle a subject close to the heart of the Khmer community in Australia, where much of the film was shot, many of whom had fled to the country from Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge regime collapsed. A member of the audience felt the film should be shown on local television in Cambodia and I couldn't agree more, both to show what a capable filmmaker Tim Pek is and especially as the subject matter is a hot topic right now.
Rithy Dourng and the MC for the evening (it's me if you didn't know)
Rithy answers questions about the film following the screening

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London calling

One of the victims of the Khmer Rouge at S-21
London will soon host an exhibition of photographs and a series of events that will focus on S-21, aka Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, in Phnom Penh. A screening of his famous documentary Year Zero and a Q&A with journalist John Pilger has been lined-up and in June, a new play under the title S-27 will be performed for the first time. The photographic exhibition, called Facing Death: Portraits of Cambodia's Killing Fields, will be held at the Photofusion Gallery in Electric Lane, London SW9 from 1 May until 26 June and will be composed of one hundred ID portraits loaned from The Photo Archive Group, a Los Angeles based non-profit organisation founded by photojournalists Chris Riley and Doug Niven who discovered, cleaned, catalogued and saved the negatives found at S-21. These extraordinary images, of people arriving at S-21 and who would never be allowed to leave, will be shown in the UK for the first time. The John Pilger screening and Q&A will take place at the same venue on Saturday 30 May at 3pm with a £10 entrance fee. The brand new play, inspired by the work of the Khmer Rouge photographer Nhem En, who was the man responsible for most of the S-21 face images, S-27 was the inaugural winner of Amnesty International’s Protect The Human Playwriting Competition. The play is by Sarah Grochala and is about a woman who takes photographs of people before they’re executed and how her encounters with the victims of the regime under which she lives change her life. It begins on 9 June and will run until 4 July at the Finborough Theatre, SW10. If you are in the UK, make sure you get along and visit the exhibition, join JP or get your ticket to watch the play.

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Carrying the nation's hopes

The Cambodia football squad and officials getting ready for the off
The players and officials of the Cambodia national football team are pictured early this morning at the departures area of Phnom Penh's international airport as they prepare to leave for their three-match AFC Challenge Cup Qualifying Group competition in Bangladesh. Team coach Prak Sovannara confirmed that the squad is fit, healthy and ready to do battle, with the only injury doubt, striker Kouch Sokumpheak, reporting fit for duty. The players had to miss out on their recent Khmer New Year celebrations as they were in a training camp in Vietnam, so their preparation has been strict and focused on qualifying for the 2010 finals to be played in India. Team Manager Tola May was also upbeat about their chances as the 18-strong squad and party of seven officials left for Dhaka. They will have a light training session this afternoon once they arrive, will train again at the national stadium in Dhaka on Saturday and then begin their competition in earnest against the host nation on Sunday evening. I know Bangladesh television are carrying the games live but doubt whether they will be viewable here in Cambodia.
Coach Prak Sovannara talks to a TVK reporter about the nation's chances in Bangladesh
A light-hearted moment during an interview with striker Khim Borey

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