Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Reunion at Glastonbury

A happy Steel Pulse crew at Glastonbury. LtoR: Amlak Tafari, Selwyn Brown, Grizzly Nisbett, David Hinds, Donovan McKitty and Donna Sterling in front
Just a few days ago, Steel Pulse took part in the massive Glastonbury Festival in England. If I was still living in the UK I would've bust a gut to be there as I have been a Pulse fan for more than thirty years. However I wasn't able to be there and so the next best thing is to take a peek at some photos from the day, taken by Millie Brown, the wife of keyboard player and founding member of the band, Selwyn Brown. And I got a big surprise when I saw them, not only was veteran drummer Grizzly Nisbett on stage, assisting with percussion, but dynamite backing singer Donna Sterling was also in the line-up alongside the two regular backing vocalists, Juris Prosper and Keysha McTaggart. It was quite a shock as I don't think Donna has been on stage with Steel Pulse since she left the band to have a baby in 2004, whilst Grizzly played his last gig in 2001 and had a heart by-pass operation three years ago. It's fantastic to see them back with the Steel Pulse family, and thanks to Millie for her thumbs up to post the pictures here.
Grizzly and the girls. LtoR: Keysha McTaggart, Grizzly, Juris Prosper, Donna Sterling
Steel Pulse's backing vocalists. LtoR: Juris, Keysha and Donna on her comeback
Grizzly roles back the years as he plays percussion on stage at GlastonburySteel Pulse's lead singer David Hinds with Amlak Tafari in support on bass

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At last, the chance to speak

Vann Nath peers through the bars of S-21
I still haven't got out to the Khmer Rouge Trials at Kambol though this week would've been a particularly interesting time to go as the witnesses giving evidence are survivors from S-21 like Vann Nath, Chum Mey and most likely one or two of the prison guards as well. Vann Nath gave his evidence yesterday, some 30 years after his incarceration at Tuol Sleng for exactly 1 year. He survived because of his skills as a painter and his paintings have become inextricably linked with Tuol Sleng, where they hang on the walls of the former torture center. I've met Vann Nath a few times, including a filming session on the upper floor of Building B at S-21 and whilst he was a total professional when giving the interview on camera (which he has done so many times over the years), off camera he was quiet and melancholic. Today it was Chum Mey's turn to tell his story to the Tribunal judges of the torture he suffered during his imprisonment. You can often see Chum Mey at S-21, telling his story to visitors and re-enacting his incarceration in one of the brick-walled cells, it's a part of his life that he cannot forget even if he wanted to, so for his sake, and for Vann Nath, I really hope that their giving evidence and the outcome of the trial will allow some of their demons to rest. It's time some of the burden to tell the world about S-21 was lifted from the shoulders of these two men. I expect one of the prison guards, Him Houy, regarded as too lowly to be up for prosecution, to give his evidence later this week too.
A couple of disappointing briefs from the KR Tribunal: 15 people have been removed from the list of testimony witnesses to save time, the judges have announced and these include journalist Nic Dunlop, the man who discovered Comrade Duch, the man currently in the dock, living under an assumed name ten years ago. The judges also dismissed possible questions to Vann Nath on film footage of Tuol Sleng shot by the Vietnamese soon after they entered the city in 1979 - the judges ruled it was unclear whether the footage was genuine or propaganda produced by Hanoi, as defence lawyers have claimed.
Vann Nath looking at a self-portrait painting of himself that hangs at S-21
A quiet moment for Vann Nath during film shooting at S-21 in March 2008

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New music from praCh

praCh's Dalama 3 album, soon to be released in English
Khmer-born rap star praCh releases the English version of his latest album, Dalama: Memoirs of the Invisible War, on 8 July having already released the Khmer version earlier this month. praCh resides in Long Beach, California and has built up a rock solid reputation with his first two albums, Dalama: The Ending is just the Beginning and Dalama: The Lost Chapter, and he says album number 3 will be even tougher, raw and more explicit, rapping about war, life, politics and his personal frustrations. You can read a new interview with praCh at KhmerCeleb online magazine here. praCh's own website is here.

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An unguarded moment

Hello Darling... at 4FACES gallery in Siem Reap. photo courtesy of ericdevries
I don't think I will be able to get up to Siem Reap in the next few weeks to see the latest photographic exhibition at 4FACES by the gallery owner himself, Eric de Vries. Damn. We've been pals for a while now and I'm pleased that things are are on the up with the opening of his cafe-bar-gallery, a block away from Pub Street in Siem Reap, whilst at the same time taking on the responsibilities of fatherhood with the arrival of C'moon. He's also showing part 1 of his Hello Darling... exhibition throughout July that focuses on the girlybars in and around 104 and 136 streets in Phnom Penh. One of the exhibition photos was taken in an unguarded moment during a visit to one of the bars we made together purely in the interests of researching the background to the story you understand. As it's the first time I've been in an exhibition to my knowledge, I will take a small crumb of comfort from that. You can read more about the forgettable incident here. There's also talk of Eric having an exhibition at Raffles' Grand Hotel d'Angkor in October, so even more good news. Link: 4FACES.
I drop my guard for a few seconds and look what happens. photo courtesy of ericdevries

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Cambodian premiere

Tonight's film, that we kept under wraps for safety reasons before the screening, seemed to go down well with the invited packed crowd at Meta House. Finding Face was given its Cambodian premiere having only had its first ever showing in Geneva in March. The safety aspect related to the family, who are still living in Cambodia, of the film's main subject, the singer Tat Marina, who was disfigured by an acid attack in 1999. The attack on Marina signalled a spate of copycat attacks which still continue today. As for Marina, she is rebuilding her life in America and that was the heart-warming part of an otherwise at times sombre film that highlights a culture of impunity and lack of justice for victims that shows no sign of dissipating. Directors Skye Fitzgerald and Patti Duncan did a good job of telling the Marina story without over-egging or sensationalizing it. Read more here.

For the month of July, Meta House will present its usual eclectic mix of film screenings, discussions and a brand new Global Hybrid exhibition from the 2nd, with works from Khmer and US-based artists, such as Ouer Sokuntevy, Leang Seckon and Stephane Janin. My pick of the film screenings start with the evening when I will present a double-bill of Belonging and New Year Baby on Friday 10th at 7pm, in which two women return to find their roots in Cambodia. It will be the first showing of the Tamara Gordon-directed documentary Belonging here in Cambodia, the story of Li-Da Kruger, who left Phnom Penh as a baby and who returns to find the truth about her past. More here. This Friday, 3rd, Out of the Poison Tree - the return of Thida Butt Mam to the country of her birth - gets another screening, alongwith Kampuchea Death & Rebirth, a film shot after the Khmer Rouge left the city in 1979. On Thursday 9th a night of poetry, music and film includes the female chapei player Ouch Savy, while Saturday 11th will host the first ever Cambodian movie featuring a taboo lesbian love story in Who Am I? Dengue Fever's Sleepwalking Through The Mekong gets another airing on Friday 17th and Rithy Panh's film, Burnt Theater, will be screened on Tuesday 21st. And there's lots more besides.

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Lots of hope

A visit to New Hope has been on my agenda for ages, this article spurs me on even more. I've heard so many good things about the work they do for the children that no-one else wants.

Killeen couple cares for Cambodian children
- by Jade Ortego (Killeen Daily Herald, USA)
The Tuckers say they feel happy. They're lucky. They're blessed. They have more than 1,000 Cambodian children infected with the human immunodeficiency virus who rely on them for medication, food and sometimes shelter, schooling and companionship. John and Kathy Tucker of Killeen went to Cambodia in the January 2000 as Catholic lay missionaries. They became involved with a hospice program for Cambodians infected with HIV, Seedlings of Hope. Cambodia has one of highest rates of HIV in Asia. It soon became clear that there were no programs to help children in Cambodia infected with HIV. Because of widespread ignorance about the nature of the virus, those children were frequently cast off, left to die in the street. None of the 200 orphanages in Cambodia at the time would accept any HIV-positive child. "Assume your sister died of AIDS and you take her children, and find out one of the kids has AIDS. You're afraid that child may infect your biological children … even though it's almost impossible to transmit from child to child," John said. "People don't know that and they want to protect their own children so out of ignorance they abandon these other children," he said.

Their own clinic
In 2006, the Tuckers began New Hope for Cambodian Children (NHCC), a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization, which includes an outreach program, a transitional home for intensive care for infants and the very ill, a day care, and most recently, a village for abandoned children infected with the virus. Neither John nor Kathy has any medical background. "There was no (antiretroviral) medicine. The choice was to learn about the medicine or let the kids die," John said. The Tuckers got a manual about HIV and learned about the medicine and found out it was available in Thailand. They bought it, imported it and hired local doctors to help them start their own clinic.

The NHCC outreach program now covers five provinces and attends to the medical needs of 850 children still living with family members. NHCC provides antiretroviral medication, medical transportation expenses and food for these children. Antiretroviral medication suppresses the virus enough so that the immune system can reconstitute itself. After taking the medication, some children can be tested and come back with a negative result. The children will become sick again if they miss dosages, however, and can develop resistance to the drugs. The Clinton Foundation donates money for the medicine for all of these children involved with NHCC, and has gotten the cost down to $12 a month for one child. The same medicine is about $1,000 a month in the United States. NHCC now includes a village, an almost-sustainable commune of abandoned children on 20 acres about 45 minutes from capital city Phnom Penh.

Building a community
New children arrive every week, kicked out of orphanages or abandoned at hospitals, but the current number is 180. The kids, age 2 to 19, live in a family and community. NHCC pays a married man and woman $50 a month each to live with and raise eight children in the village. These households are in groups of three, and they eat together; these groups of homes are part of a close-knit larger community. The Tuckers are working to make the village sustainable. They use only three and half hours of electricity a day, and make their own bio-diesel out of waste vegetable oil from local restaurants. They make methane gas from pig waste, and use solar panels to power water pumps. The village has 250 pigs and 2,200 chickens. Many orphanages in Cambodia have children make postcards or other crafts to pay for the cost of running it. The NHCC village is funded entirely by private donations, many from the Killeen area, especially St. Paul Chong Hasang Catholic Church in Harker Heights. "These are children and they're going to be children and they're going to go to school, they're not going to work in the afternoon," John said.

No splitting families
The orphans all attend the local provincial school. Their studies are supplemented by tutoring in every class, largely to make up for a lack of education before their entrance into the program. The village also has art, music and dance classes, and a computer class and basketball court that non-infected children from the provincial schools are allowed to sometimes use. This year, a 19-year-old is graduating out of the village and will move to Phnom Penh to go attend a university there. The boy isn't infected with the virus; he is one of the 27 non-infected siblings of a child with HIV who lives on the village. "We don't split up families," Kathy said. Next year, the first HIV-positive child will graduate, and the year after, 12 will. The Tuckers want to rent a house in Phnom Penh for graduates to live in while they attend college or vocational school, where they can still receive care and medication, and remain a part of their family.

NHCC is a secular organization, and doesn't proselytize to the children. "Our kids are Buddhist and they stay Buddhist," John said. "But they do all wear rosaries because they glow in the dark," Kathy said. Kathy also started a daycare program for HIV positive children that provides their widowed mothers with local, living-wage jobs making quilts, which got media coverage by the BBC and the New York Times. Those quilts, which look like baby blankets decorated with elephants and other animals, can be purchased at St. Paul's. People can volunteer to work at the village or donate to NHCC online here. "We get to take care of sick kids and get them healthy. We found something at the end of our lives that gives us real meaning. We love what we're doing," John said. "We sleep very well," Kathy said.

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Looking radiant

Sokheng has been a wonderful friend to me for the last two years, I was honoured to be invited to her party
In a quiet family and close friends party on Sunday morning, it was great to see one of my very best friends Sokheng looking radiant in her traditional garb and extremely happy during her engagement ceremony to Warren. The party began early at Navy's home in Kien Svay and included a gifts-carrying procession to the house, before breakfast was quickly followed by the main ceremony itself. Lunch soon followed and Sokheng took to the microphone to sing, as the dancing began, and it was still only 12 noon. I returned to Phnom Penh with my companion Sophoin, having enjoyed six hours of a party that would go on late into the night.
LtoR: Warren, Sokheng, Sophoin and myself: Sophoin wore red as she said its the colour for Sunday
Sokheng gives Warren a garland of flowers after exchanging the engagement rings

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Preah Khan are still top dogs

Keo Kosal scored direct from a corner to put Preah Khan Reach ahead against Kirivong
17 year old Prak Mony Udom wrapped up the scoring in PKR's 3-nil win on Sunday
Sunday was a bit of a hectic day and I managed to get back into Phnom Penh and sat in my plastic chair in the 'press box' (a loose term by comparison to other press boxes around the world) at the Olympic Stadium just as Cambodian Premier League leaders Preah Khan Reach kicked off against Kiriviong. True to form, Preah Khan ran out deserved winners, going ahead with a goal direct from a corner by Keo Kosal, before Nuth Sinoun added a second on the stroke of half-time and Prak Mony Udom completed the 3-0 scoreline just before the end. They now lead the table by six points and played better today than on recent showings. The second game of the afternoon was a walk-over for Naga Corp, who move into 3rd place. Their opponents, lowly Post Tel had no answer to Naga's relentless pressure and were mauled 5-1, though they did take the lead through Gafar Adefolarin. Normal service was resumed when Teab Vathanak equalised with a close range header and the floodgates opened after the interval with goals from Sun Sovannarith, Pech Sina, Kim Chanbunrith (complete with bandaged head) and Vathanak again. This was Naga at their most fluent and an indicator that they will be in the mix come the end of the season. However, that's still some way off as after this Wednesday's games, the CPL takes a one-week mid-season break where the teams are allowed a transfer window to refresh their squads. We might see some interesting moves. Notable from yesterday's games was that eight of the nine goals scored came from Khmer players and only one from a foreign player - more of the same please.
A man in form, national player Teab Vathanak netted twice for Naga Corp
Naga Corp strike a pose with national skipper Kim Chanbunrith on the back row with his head bandaged after a midweek injury. Not sure what Pok Chanthan (12) is doing with his teammate's leg!
Post Tel come under the photographer's spotlight
The referee looks pleased to have caught his coin at the toss-up between Post Tel's Kun Kuon and Naga's Oum Thavrak (blue)

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Out of the picture

A busy day today, so much so that I haven't time to put you in the picture other than the morning was spent at Sokheng's engagement party in Kien Svay, the afternoon was spent at Olympic Stadium watching a couple of football matches and the evening, well that's private. I'll post the story and pictures tomorrow morning.
And don't forget, tomorrow at 7pm (that's Monday 29th) make sure you come along to the special film screening at Meta House, alongside Wat Botum, of .... sorry I still can't release the name of the film but I can assure you it will be worth watching the Cambodian premiere of a film that dissects key issues in Cambodian today.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Under a black cloud

Black storm clouds fill the sky above the Olympic Stadium, complete with lightning strikes aplenty
Akeeb Ayoyinka (left) and Oscar Mpoko, the 2nd half goalscorers for Phnom Penh Crown
The Cambodian Premier League games at Olympic Stadium today were played in very hot, humid and for a short while, rainy conditions with lightning strikes filling the air, as black clouds circled overhead. It reminded me that it was only a year ago that lightning killed three footballers in the city and has already claimed 100 lives this year. Taking a risk with nature can prove costly in Cambodia. As for the football itself, Phnom Penh Crown stuttered to a 2-1 success over Spark FC but had to thank their two African substitutes for the three points against plucky opponents. In two match-defining minutes of a see-saw game, Oscar Mpoko and Akeeb Ayoyinka turned the match on its head after the league's top scorer Justine Prince had netted again for Spark in the first half to give them the lead. Crown had started the game with an all-Khmer line-up, something of a rare occurrence in the CPL these days, but it was Spark who showed the killer touch with a well-taken headed goal from their Nigerian skipper. Then it was the turn of Mpoko and Ayoyinka, within a minute of each other, to strut their stuff and their baby cradle goal celebrations fifteen minutes from the end as Crown cemented second-place in the table. In the second game, a solitary strike from Sin Dalin early in the first half won the tie in favour of the National Defense Ministry against bottom club Phuchung Neak, but the game was a poor second to the afternoon's opener.
The team's enter the arena in scorching hot weather for the opening match
The all-Khmer starting eleven for Phnom Penh Crown today
The Spark FC line-up with top scorer Justine Prince wearing the captain's armband
The players keeping the bench warm for Phnom Penh Crown before today's game
Sin Dalin, the match-winner for National Defence Ministry against Phuchung Neak
Midway through the second match of this afternoon's football I had an enlightening 1-to-1 with the Cambodian national football coach Scott O'Donell (pictured right), who has just returned from running a coach instructor's course in Kuala Lumpur on behalf of FIFA, the world's governing body. Scott was filling me in on what's been happening since he returned as national coach at the start of this month. My interview with Scott should appear in the Phnom Penh Post sometime next week, when I will be able to fill you in on the details here at the same time. What has been notable is that he's been to watch every team in the Cambodian Premier League a couple of times already, he's spoken to the CPL team coaches as a group to get their buy-in and co-operation, he has assembled his own coaching team as well as identifying up to 40 eligible players at under-23 level who he wants to invite to trials, from which he will select a squad of 25 players to represent the country at the SEA Games in Laos in December. More next week.

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Back-breaking banter

Now, in a rare day off, enjoying the sunset at Phnom Bakheng
Now gave me a call today to tell me she's finally off into the fields to plant rice for the whole of next week. It's been held up a bit but tomorrow her whole family and other families in their village will take it in turns to plant their staple foodstuff in their rice fields, a couple of kilometres from their homes near Srah Srang, in the middle of the Angkor temple complex near Siem Reap. First it will be Now's field then the next day, everyone chips in with a neighbour's field, and so on, about thirty people in all. She's actually looking forward to it - not the back-breaking work in the scorching overhead sun - but the comraderie and banter that everyone enjoys that makes their 10-hour day go by quicker. As she just told me, she'll be there in her wide-brimmed hat, her krama covering her face and her long trousers tucked into her socks to avoid the leeches getting a grip. The weather is a bit changeable at the moment, so it could be either rice planting in hard earth or wet soil if it rains during their planting session. She prefers the latter. But what she likes the most is the break from her usual daily routine of selling souvenirs inside the east gate of Banteay Kdei and the opportunity to enjoy the company of her family and her neighbours. I've been to her village a couple of times and I can back-up that they are a happy bunch, who all help each other when the need arises. One of the books she sells on her stall is The Khmers by Ian Mabbett and David Chandler and she recalled that when she read about the importance of rice planting to the Khmer people in the book, she felt very proud that someone should write about one of the tasks that she and her family do together. I never thought about it like that before and I'm so glad that she uses the books she sells to improve her English as well as her understanding of her her own history and culture, in which she takes great pride.

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Panh's People

One of the Rithy Panh films that I still haven't see is The People of Angkor, or Le gens d'Angkor, as it was known on its release in 2003. Well I will get my first chance on Wednesday of next week, at the Reyum Gallery on Street 178 at 6pm, when the film will be screened in Khmer with English subtitles (which is a relief as I thought it might've been in French). Panh, who has dedicated his directorial career towards showing Cambodians in tough and tragic real-life situations, vulnerable but also with hope, humour and realism in films like Rice People, Land of Wandering Souls, S-21, The Burnt Theatre and Paper Cannot Wrap Embers, said of his 90-minute movie; "This film is about the people who live there. An inside view in the shadow of the temples and the great kapok trees, an inhabited shadow that the world’s tourists pass through unawares, wrapped up in contemplating the treasures of Khmer art. This is not just one more film about the monuments of Angkor, their history or their architecture....A story of pain and hope, where the past and present are intermingled, where the divine and human complement each other, and where humor enables people to express the anguish of survival, just as art transcends the contingencies of destiny."

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Life's a doddle

On the cards for tonight is a quiet night in with a good book, actually I have a pile of good books that I still haven't read, quite a number of which have been sent to me by publishers requesting a review of their latest publication, so I'd better get my finger out. That also includes the Dengue Fever DVD Sleepwalking Through the Mekong, which I've watched a couple of times now and still haven't penned a review - although everyone and their dog seems to have already reviewed it. So I have a list of tasks already lined up for tonight. Tomorrow it's work and football in that order. Phnom Penh Crown take on Spark FC and bottom club Phuchung Neak face the Defense Ministry at Olympic Stadium from 2pm onwards. My weekly diet of football is adequately feeding my football fever at the moment although we are coming up to the mid-season break and and I'm not sure I'll be able to cope with the withdrawal symptoms. I won't be able to make the games on Sunday as I have an early start, 6.30am to be precise, to get to Kien Svay for the day-long engagement party for my friend Sokheng. And then on Monday night it's the 1st showing in Cambodia of a film that I can't tell you its name - as we're keeping it under wraps until the 7pm start at Meta House gets underway. Somewhere in between I've got to fit in eating and sleeping and the other daily routines of life though having a cleaner like Chrep, who comes round three mornings every week to do my washing, ironing and cleaning, does make my domestic life a doddle. Before I forget, an update on my medical condition - so far so good, pills and cream working well, my skin is looking healthy again and we seem to be on the right track. But I'm not counting my blessings just yet.

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Friendship

Meet Srey Ka. I thought it was time to introduce a few of my friends to the outside world. If you read my blog regularly (is there such a person?) you'll already know about a few of them, like Sophoin, Sokheng, Now, Vy, yes there's a common thread, most of them are female. I've always gravitated towards female friends and living in Cambodia is no different. So who is Srey Ka you ask. Well, she originates from the province of Takeo and now lives in Phnom Penh, she's 26 years old and trying like all of us to make a life here in the capital, and to earn a daily crust. She used to work for the street cleaning company Cintri in her first job before moving into one of the more popular jobs for countryside girls around here, working for a garment manufacturer. When her factory closed a few months ago, another regular occurrence here too, she got a job cashiering and making drinks at a city bar, where she is today. It's not where she wants to be but needs must and in due time she hopes to find a new job that has more sociable hours. Then again, doesn't everyone? She has an adorable personality and an award-winning smile, like all my friends, and works hard to be able to support her family back in their home village. Her story is no different from thousands of others, but the difference is, she's one of my closest friends.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Under wraps

This coming Monday 29th Meta House will show a very special 'surprise' film that hasn't been seen in Cambodia before, yet it created quite a stir in the international press when it had its first showing in Europe recently and we hope that its screening in Cambodia will have the same effect. For the time being the title of the film is under wraps. All very cloak and dagger but it'll be worth it. Space on the night will be limited, so drop me a line if you want to reserve a seat or call Nico on 012 607 465. Meta House on Street 264 in Phnom Penh is the location and the film will begin at 7pm.
For cinema lovers in the capital, a new option is officially opening its doors for the first time tomorrow on Street 95. It's called The Flicks and can accommodate 24 people in its theatre, seated on futon mats. Its aim is to show mainstream English-language films as well as documentaries and art-house movies. The more the merrier in my view.
On the food front, I returned to my usual haunt, Cafe Fresco, at lunchtime today and enjoyed a soup and sandwich lunch that put my recent one-off defection to The Lunch Box into perspective. The choice at Fresco's is wider, the prices similar and the aircon and ambiance much more inviting. Stick to what you know and enjoy.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

It's that man Sokumpheak again

Kouch Sokumpheak rescued a point for Khemara after Naga had led - he can't stop scoring goals
This afternoon was my first taste of midweek football and the verdict - way too hot and humid. So credit to all four teams who did their best to serve up some quality play and it was a definite improvement on last weekend's drudgery. Phnom Penh Crown moved into second place in the Cambodia Premier League with their 2-nil victory over Kirivong in the first match up. They just about deserved it with two second-half goals from Akeeb Ayoyinka and a penalty from Keo Sokngorn but it wasn't exactly edge of the seat stuff. I was looking forward to the second game, Naga versus Khemara and I wasn't disappointed. The two teams were led by the international pairing of Naga's Om Thavrak and Khemara's Kouch Sokumpheak and it was Thavrak who was smiling for much of the match as Naga went two goals ahead. Teab Vathanak finished with aplomb after half an hour and then Sunday Okonkwo added a second. It looked like the points were in the bag for Naga. But Khemara are a team that don't lie down easily and Alichigozie Anthony and then skipper Sokumpheak, with a sublime glancing header, rescued a point with two goals in the last twenty minutes. Honours even though Khemara felt it was a moral victory as their celebrations at the end showed.
A serious Phnom Penh Crown line-up before their 2-0 success over Kirivong this afternoon
Kirivong attempt one of the more unusual pre-match photo line-ups, but they need more practice
All eyes are on the referee and his coin before the Crown and Kirivong match
Great to see the two international teammates and club captains have time for a smile as they lead their teams onto the pitch in the Naga versus Khemara game
A final handshake between Sokumpheak (blue) and Thavrak (red) before battle commences
Naga Corp line up before the match begins, a match they probably should've won
The Khemara Keila starting eleven, who rescued a point in the last 20 minutes
Cutting-edge technology in the press box at this afternoon's feast of football - Phnom Penh Post journo Dene Mullen plays with his satellite link (joke)
And finally, our lovely peanut seller now has a number 2 who she is grooming to take over her peanut empire pending her upcoming marriage

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Out of left field

I've just been hit by a rocket. Not really but the same sort of effect. My series editor at ThingsAsian Press, the adorable Kim Fay, for the unique guidebook I'm editing, To Cambodia With Love has just asked that I send her everything by this weekend. That's the whole book, in its finished state, or as near to it as possible. It's certainly the wake-up call I need to stop dallying around and get the book completed. I won't make this weekend but it'll be with the series editors at the beginning of next month and that will speed up the guidebook's arrival in bookshops/on Amazon/on the streets of Phnom Penh (in beautifully photocopied format no doubt) considerably. More news as I get it.
I am taking my lunch late this afternoon, so I get the opportunity to watch the midweek Cambodian Premier League matches at Olympic Stadium and both games are, on paper, well worth the effort and discomfort of sitting in the main stand, sweating profusely. Match reports later.
The main news coming out from the Khmer Rouge Tribunal today is that the chief international prosecutor, Robert Petit has announced he will quit the trials on 1 September, citing personal reasons. Petit has been with the ECCC for three years and has worked in four war crimes tribunals in the last twenty years. His knowledge and experience has been a vital driving force to the ongoing trials. It was Petit who was keen to get more suspects in the dock to join the five currently awaiting prosecution, though his desires didn't exactly curry favour with the Cambodian authorities. We are still awaiting a final decision on this. His departure, even before the Duch trial is complete, will create a void in the process until a suitable replacement is appointed.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A lesson well learnt

Learn from your mistakes my mum always told me. Take my decision to patronize a new sandwich shop - The Lunch Box - that has just opened in BBK1 on Street 282, just behind Wat Lanka. I read about it in yesterday's Phnom Penh Post and thought I'd compare it against my usual lunchtime venue, Cafe Fresco, which lies about 100 feet from my office. Remind me not to be so stupid next time. The 500 metre walk in the midday sun wasn't a good idea for starters and then the forty-five minute wait - yes, 45 minutes - for my takeaway sandwich to materialize was beyond a joke. I'd also ordered a takeaway fruit shake but they had no lid for my cup, so I drank it whilst I waited, and waited, and waited. I heard mutterings of no bread delivery today and more apologies than I could shake a stick at until finally my wait was over. Did I mention that their wall-fans were worse than useless and I was sweating like a navvy... the $1.5 reduction in my bill was small compensation. I walked back, right past the aircon haven of Fresco's to my office to open my plastic lunch box, only to be confronted with an inadequate excuse for a tuna sandwich and one which tasted even worse than it looked. They couldn't even redeem themselves with the quality of their food. Notes for my diary, never go to The Lunch Box again; Cafe Fresco has air-con; great sandwiches; very friendly staff like Smey, Dary, Sophoin and Kunthear; not to mention their gorgeous Snickers cheesecake. Thanks mum, a lesson well learnt.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Brother Number One

The only foreigner likely to take the stand to confront Comrade Duch at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal later this year will be Rob Hamill (pictured), an Olympic and Trans-Atlantic champion rower, whose brother Kerry was murdered by the Khmer Rouge at Tuol Sleng. A film, Brother Number One, is being made that follows Rob's journey to Cambodia to find out the truth of what happened to his beloved elder brother.

In the mid-70s, Kerry bought a yacht, Foxy Lady, and was running a charter business out of Darwin around South East Asia with a Canadian friend, Stuart Glass. Along with a Brit John Dewhirst, they were sailing towards Bangkok when they hit a storm. Mistakenly entering Cambodian waters, Foxy Lady was seized on Koh Tang, Stuart Glass shot and killed, while the other two men were taken to the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, overseen by Duch. The two friends were killed in the final days of the Khmer Rouge stranglehold on Phnom Penh before the Vietnamese invasion at the beginning of 1979.

Rob Hamill will travel to Cambodia to retrace the steps taken by his brother and John Dewhirst, speaking to eyewitnesses, perpetrators and survivors. Rob’s journey will culminate in his giving a Victim’s Statement before the Extraordinary Chambers of the Court of Cambodia. The film will also explore the history of Cambodia in an attempt to comprehend the enormity of the genocide that occurred in Khmer Rouge years. Directing the film is award-winning Annie Goldson and filming has already taken place in the US and England. Historians Elizabeth Becker, Ben Kiernan and Peter Maguire alongwith John Dewhirst's sister Hilary have been interviewed. You can keep up to date with the documentary at their blog.

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Wash, shave...and date

The girls of Phnom Penh are getting bolder by the minute. One minute they were daring to sit on park benches holding hands with their boyfriends or hold on tightly whilst they whirled around the city on their mopeds. Now, as they have you at their mercy with a cut-throat razor hovering above your face they ask you out on a date. Well, that's what happened to me tonight when I popped into my usual beauty parlour for a hair-wash, shave... and a dinner date. And how could I refuse the adorable dark-haired beauty holding a very sharp razor an inch from my throat. I just hope she doesn't bring the razor on the date. With the proliferation of beauty shops across the city, I wonder if this is becoming a popular way for the stylists and assistants to select their next prey. I'll find out and let you know.

Time for a medical update. At 7am this morning I appeared at my doctor's surgery so he could take a blood sample. He needed to know the state of play before we tried a new course of treatment for my annoying skin problem (discoid dermatitis). By 5pm he had the results and whilst everything looked pretty normal, there was an exception. High fat levels in my blood and heart sent my triglycerides count sky-high and I've been told in no uncertain terms to avoid the following: absolutely no chicken skin, no beef or bacon, no eggs and only tiny amounts of butter and cheese, and alcohol. He also told me to down two litres of water each day, drink the juice from a large coconut daily and undertake more exercise. That, alongwith a dozen tablets each day that'll make me rattle, will aggressively attack the problem before we can adopt a more considered approach in two weeks from now. Fingers crossed this will do the trick as I want to exhaust every avenue before committing to the last resort, a trip back to England.

Hello Darling..

The latest exhibition at 4FACES Gallery in Siem Reap will be from the owner himself, Eric de Vries and part 1 of his Hello Darling.. on-going series of nightlife amongst the girlybars of Phnom Penh's 104 and 136 Streets. He has an excuse - Eric used to live on 136 Street before he moved to Siem Reap so he couldn't avoid the contact. Link; 4FACES.

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More from the Jollymeister

I mentioned a while ago that offbeat journo Dom Joly (pictured) - he of Trigger-Happy TV fame - had been over in Cambodia, sampling its delights. He travelled with Hanuman. Yesterday, the TimesOnline - Sunday Times edition, posted his take on what he saw. I think you can safely say he enjoyed his visit. And it was only a couple of weeks ago that the Sunday Times Travel Team labelled Hanuman as one of the world's Top Ten Fixers. Ding dong.

Cambodia has it all, says Dom Joly.
Sizzling cuisine, ancient temples, wild jungle, buzzing cities... you might not even make the beach.

Growing up, as I did, in war-torn Lebanon, there was always only one serious rival for the news headlines: Cambodia. As with Lebanon, the latter half of the 1970s was an appalling time for Cambodia, with the Khmer Rouge presiding over an attempt to ­return the country to an ancient ­agrarian society — “Year Zero” in their terminology. Estimates of the death toll vary between one and three million people. How does a country ever recover from such trauma and then attract tourists? Somehow, like Lebanon (one of this year’s Rough Guide must-see recommendations), Cambodia has done just that and is a “hot” destination.

No trip here is complete without a visit to the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, Angkor Wat. My first goal, therefore, is Siem Reap, a small town that has exploded with hotels and bars in the past 10 years as the world rediscovers the temples that surround the place. My guide, Ohm, a wonderful former monk with a huge smile and a wicked sense of humour, is an expert in when to go to which temple. He treats it very much like a military operation. The temperature can rise to a staggering 50C in the middle of the day; open spaces such as the main complex become huge ovens and are virtually deserted at this time. We decide that, armed with my special Milletts anti­sweat T-shirt (a life-saver) and a wide-brimmed hat, I am okay with extreme heat. We opt to visit Angkor Wat at lunchtime, and make dawn raids on the less famous surrounding temples.

That night, I sit on the terrace of my hotel nursing a cool beer and watching a temporary downpour dislodge thousands of leaves from the surrounding gumtrees. The twin-blade leaves twirl down like clouds of tiny helicopters as locals dash for cover. I am in love with this country already. The following morning I watch the sun rise over the extraordinary Temple of Bayon. It’s straight out of The Jungle Book — monkeys dance from tower to tower as the 200 stone faces that adorn the temple stare impassively out at visitors. I am absolutely blown away. I keep expecting to see King Louis supporting one of the crumbling towers. I start humming “I’m the king of the swingers, oh, the jungle VIP...”. Ohm looks at me curiously. He’s like some proud conjuror revealing trick after trick. We drive to Ta Prohm, an unbelievably atmospheric temple almost buried by the jungle. The roots of huge trees have wrapped themselves around the stones to become an intricate part of the structure. It’s no wonder they filmed Tomb Raider here. Once again I am the only person among the old stones. I pad about the place in silence save for the chirruping of birds high in the misty trees above. After a glorious 15 minutes of solitude, I spot a Polish tourist taking a complicated photograph of the tree roots. We stare at each other with hostility, both annoyed by an intruder spoiling our solitary adventurer fantasy.

I am loath to leave my new jungle home, but Angkor Wat beckons. We enter the huge complex on the stroke of noon. Curiously, although by far the best known of the temples, it is my least favourite. This is, however, only due to the sublime beauty of the others. The pineapple-like domes dominate the landscape, the surrounding moat still keeping the hordes to a trickle. What a sight this must have been in the 13th century, when it was entirely covered in gold.

In the wetter season I would have taken the option of a fast boat to Phnom Penh up the huge inland sea — it takes five to six hours and is supposed to be very scenic. It being the dry season, I hop on a plane and land in the capital about 40 minutes later. It’s mind-boggling actually to be in Phnom Penh, a city that dominated the World Service airwaves of my childhood. When the Khmer Rouge took over in April 1975, they proceeded to boot out almost the entire population to a hellish life of forced labour in the countryside. For four years the city had no more than 50,000 inhabitants — a ghost town in a land of ghosts. How things have changed. The capital today is a pulsating mass of humanity: the once-empty streets are packed with cars, tuk-tuks, mopeds, rickshaws, bicycles, trucks and elephants — all life is here.

I fall helplessly in love with the place from the moment I arrive. If I weren’t married with two children, I’d move here tomorrow. The city oozes life and vitality. I spend a couple of days just sauntering around, letting the place seep into my pores, and start to develop a routine. In the morning I have a swim at the hotel — Le Royal, one of the grand old hotels of Southeast Asia. I think about the great journalists who have worked and played here: Jon Swain, who wrote the wonderful River of Time; John Pilger, whose harrowing documentary Year Zero, The Silent Death of Cambodia alerted the world to the terrible things that had happened here. I sip a freshly squeezed lemon juice and pretend that I’m a great foreign correspondent about to drive out of the city to smell the cordite and earn my spurs.

I take a tuk-tuk down to the riverside, where the mighty Mekong and the Tonlé Sap meet. A cooling breeze makes the air bearable. I sit and watch the flow of human traffic pass by. Saffron-robed monks take photographs of each other, as little kids play what seems to be the national sport — a kind of Hacky Sack with an oversized shuttlecock. I think about trying to start this craze in the UK. I could source the shuttlecocks, fly over a display team: it would be the playground hit of next year... then I remember that I’m a rubbish businessman. An elephant trudges calmly past alongside an elderly mahout. Cars seem remarkably unaffected and weave around it. I try to find the hilarious little girl who hassles tourists as they leave the impressive Royal Palace. Her schtick is to find out what nationality the visitors are and then fire a couple of phrases at them in their native tongue. My favourite was when she found out that one couple were Australian: “Omigod, a dingo stole my baby!” she screamed in a broad Aussie accent.

I spend the afternoon wandering around the “Russian Market”. It acquired this name in the 1980s, when Russians were the only visitors to this city. Like all great markets, it’s a confusing maze of stalls and alleyways. I find a little teashop in the centre and sip the sweet liquid in a shady alley. It’s now devilishly hot and only mad dogs and Englishmen are out and about as most of the city sleeps. I find a large group of tuk-tuks under a tree. All the drivers are asleep along with most of the mad dogs. One driver eventually wakes up and groggily takes me to the Foreign Correspondent’s Club. This is my home from home. I sit on the open terrace overlooking the river while nursing one of many cool Angkor beers to come. The Cambodians are obsessed with their world-beating temple. It is on both the national flag and their national beer. I spend the evening reading The Gate, a brilliant book by François Bizot. He is a Frenchman who was captured and then released by the Khmer Rouge (a rare thing) and then survived the fall of Phnom Penh, sheltering in the French Embassy before being evacuated to Thailand.

Sitting high above this pulsating city, watching the medley of boats make their graceful way down the river, I catch a glimpse of what made this place such a paradise to so many ­before the war. To me, the newcomer, it still is a paradise, although of a different kind. I haven’t even the time to visit the coast that is being hailed as the “new Thailand”. But who needs a new Thailand when you’ve got wonderful new Cambodia? If you visit one place this year, then let it be this beautiful, awe-inspiring, magnificent country. The credit crunch has delayed the deluge, but it won’t be long. Go now — you’ll never regret it.

Dom Joly was a guest of Audley. Travel details: Audley can tailor-make trips throughout Cambodia. A nine-day itinerary, staying at the FCC in Siem Reap, and Raffles, in Phnom Penh, starts at £1,650pp. The price includes flights from Heathrow or Manchester with Singapore Airlines (via Singapore), as well as domestic flights between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and a guide and driver throughout the trip. Contact Audley for details of connecting flights from other UK regional airports or Ireland. Other operators include Trips World­wide, Cox & Kings or Bales World­wide. Copyright 2009 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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DFID depart

In the papers today, DFID, the UK's international development agency, is pulling out of Cambodia. They arrived eight years ago but now say that their money would be better spent where there are more poor people, less NGOs and less admin costs in providing the aid. The pull-out will be staggered and their successful public health program will be the final one to go in 2013. DFID provided about $30 million in funding last year and will do so this year as well. Link: British Embassy.
Another journo, this one from the Washington Post, has been busy reporting on Banteay Chhmar here - soon the place will be overrun with journos intent on telling everyone that you can still find a remote temple in Cambodia. Someone tell the world's press that there are thousands of them, not just Banteay Chhmar, though its a good one I grant you. Also while you are at it, tell them that the lighting up of Angkor Wat at night is not a new event, they've been doing it for a while now. And its official, the lights will not cause harm to the temple according to Deputy PM Sok An. The heat from the lamps is 50,000 times less than from the sun.

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Delight and despair

Delight for Defense Ministry's Um Kumpheak and his colleagues after his last minute equaliser against a despairing Kirivong. Nick Sells
Kirivong's Juliuos Chukwumeka tries an acrobatic overhead kick against the Defense Ministry. Nick Sells
Here are some photos from the weekend's football action at the Olympic Stadium. As always the photographer for the Phnom Penh Post, Nick Sells, was on hand to capture the best of the activity, though there wasn't too much to shout home about to be honest. This Wednesday the Khemara Keila v Naga match-up looks like an encounter that may well entice me away from the office for a couple of hours. Don't tell anyone. Link; Nick Sells.
Phnom Penh Crown's 17 yr old wonderkid Keo Sokngorn in action (blue shirt). Nick Sells
Preah Khan's Sok Rithy blocks this cross-shot from a BBU striker. Nick Sells

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