Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dance on display

Belle enjoying her Wat Botum park appearance
The park in front of Wat Botum came alive with dance and dance fans tonight as La rue danse was played out on eight floodlit stages offering a wide range of contemporary dance, hip-hop, juggling, and much more besides. The audience was entertained by the 20+ performers who rotated across the stages in short ten minute bursts to ensure everyone got the chance to see their offering. Judging by the size of the crowds, the applause and murmurs of approval, the show, part of the Dansez Roam! series of events, was a major success. The best known of the performers was Belle and her dance partner Chy Rothana who performed two separate pieces and wowed the crowds with two entertaining contemporary dance sequences, not usually seen by Cambodian audiences. The audience also loved the monkey antics of Phon Sopheap and the younger element enjoyed the kids from Tiny Toones. But it was the variety on offer that made it such an enjoyable event for all.
Belle and her dance Chy Rothana partner perform a flemenco inspired piece as their 2nd offering
In her 1st piece, Belle offered up a robotic or mannequin style dance
One of the few moments that Belle and her partner paused for breath

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Hotel Manolis

A view of the front facade of Hotel Manolis in Post Office square, Phnom Penh
I was looking through some photos from my visit with the Heritage Mission last year to look around some of the colonial French buildings still standing in Phnom Penh when I realised that I hadn't posted a few pictures of the old Hotel Manolis that stands opposite the Post Office and is now home to many families, who've converted the old hotel suites into homes. The Manolis Hotel was constructed in 1910 and looks out onto the Post Office square. It's obviously seen better days and deserves a lick of paint and some tender care, which has already been lavished on the Post Office and the former Bank of Indochina, that is now Van's restaurant. Some of the thirty families that live in the rooms of the former hotel do not have legal papers and face expulsion at any time. The building was also the headquarters of the French colonial Chamber of Commerce at one time. One of the hotel's most famous former guests was Andre Malraux, who spent four months there in 1923 after stealing carvings from the temple of Banteay Srei before getting caught.
The corner portion of the former Hotel Manolis
The faded lettering on the facade of Hotel Manolis
Two of the former hotel's current inhabitants
A kitchen area in one of the family homes
The original floor tiles are still in place
Some of the shuttered windows inside the inner courtyard of the former hotel

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

The passion of the cup

This will be the last football report on this blog. I've created a separate football blog - Kingdom of football - where you will find everything of a football nature after today. And what a day to end it on. The Hun Sen Cup final next week will be between Phnom Penh Crown and the National Defense Ministry after those two teams came out on top in today's semi-finals. The Army team had the easier of the semis, beating Preah Khan Reach 1-nil, albeit against the odds and the formbook. However, the real drama of the day came about in the afternoon's first match between Crown and their big rivals, Naga Corp. This match had just about everything you could ask for in a cup tie. Passion, often mistimed, was evident and that was clear at the card card which reached two reds and 14 yellows. The goals count was just as high with Crown taking a 3-nil lead at half-time with a 3-goal splurge in just seven minutes. Naga, who'd threatened a walk-off just before the interval, came back strongly and pulled back the deficit, the game finishing 3- 3 at full-time, with the Naga equaliser coming from the penalty spot with five minutes to go. In extra time they blew the chance of a win by failing from the penalty spot with almost the last kick of the game and that meant a penalty shoot-out. It was 3-3 after the first five spot-kicks and onto sudden death. The drama continued to unfold when Teab Vatanak had to retake his penalty (he'd missed in extra time), which was saved and then Phuong Narong stepped up to fire Crown into the final before bursting into floods of tears. It was time for everyone to draw a huge breath of air. This game was certainly a glorious advert for the good, and bad, of Cambodian football. More later, over at Kingdom of football, after I've had a lie down in a darkened room.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Wrestling

I'm at a crossroads. For a long while I've resisted the urge to separate my daily blog postings from my football-related posts. Afterall they are part of my life here in Cambodia, even if many people switch off and scroll straight past my football output. However, I do understand the anti-football comments I receive and have been wrestling with the decision about whether to separate them for a while now. And I still can't decide (though I'm edging towards a 2nd blog solely for football). We're not yet into the full flow of the Cambodian football season, just a bunch of cup ties before the season starts properly in a few weeks time, so recent reports have been sporadic and usually at the weekends. Tomorrow for example, the Hun Sen Cup semi-finals will take place at Olympic Stadium with Phnom Penh Crown versus Naga and National Defense Ministry meeting Preah Khan Reach. I'll blog the results, as well as write them up for the Phnom Penh Post, and then make a final decision as to whether I should set up a separate football blog. As for the cup finalists, I'm in favour of a Naga versus National Defense final but I have an inkling that Preah Khan will prove too strong for the Army team in the 2nd of tomorrow's semis.

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A million dollars

Back to that occasional series of photos of my best friends and today it's the turn of Ara. I love this particular picture as it's from her wedding day a couple of years ago. I've known her for a decade now and on that special day she looked a million dollars, with a regal look that the '60s icon Sophia Loren and her ilk would've been proud of. Ara has worked for a relief and development agency for nearly as long as I've known her and she's recently expanded her family's portfolio to provide catering services. She lives in Phnom Penh with her husband Ly and remains one of my very best pals.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Festival season

The opening scene, Euphoria, from Seasons of Migration
The national performing arts festival hit the heights with Season of Migration this afternoon, to a healthy-sized audience at Chaktomuk Theatre. This was a rare performance of the Sophiline Cheam Shapiro-choreographed work by her Khmer Arts Ensemble and the four-act show reminded all present that when classical Cambodian court dance is done well, it looks seamless. The all female troupe glided across the stage, so light on their feet, shimmering in their glittery costumes as they brought to life the gods and goddesses who have to adjust to a new existence and surroundings on earth, experiencing culture shock en route. Most of the audience were Khmer, a few barangs heard about it on the grapevine and turned up, as did the television cameras. We simply don't see enough performances of classical dance in Phnom Penh, certainly of this high standard, and it's high time the Ministry of Culture sought ways of bringing more performances into the public domain.
A scene where the divinities are adjusting to their new life on earth
The final act of Seasons of Migration is called Equilibrium
The deliberate movements and gorgeous costumes characterize classical dance
A scene from the final act of the performance

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Street performance

Concluding the recent Dansez Roam! series of events by the CCF, the park surrounding Wat Botum will come alive this Sunday night (28th) from 6.30pm onwards, with over 20 performers, including Belle, who will have to battle for space with the keep-fit aerobic groups that inundate the park at that time. Under the banner of La rue danse, there will be eight dance areas dotted around the park where individuals and small groups of contemporary dancers, hip-hop and traditional performers will strut their stuff. The idea is to bring the dancers closer to the audience, with a projection screen also showing dance images by Anders Jiras. It will be an interesting experiment given that the sound systems that boom out the music which accompanies the keep-fit enthusiasts is usually loud enough to make your ears bleed. Bring ear-plugs. This afternoon (2.30pm), the Khmer Arts Ensemble are performing their very own Seasons of Migration classical dance story at Chaktomuk Theater, as part of the national performing arts festival that's taking place at the venue this week.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sharing the love

Coming to a bookstore near you soon, or get it online

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1 in a million

This supposed occasional series is quickly turning into a daily event. That will cease. However, in the meantime, here is Sophoin, one of my very best friends here in Phnom Penh. If you are a regular reader of my blog you will have encountered her before. Nothing is too much trouble for Sophoin and she is like a breath of fresh air whenever I see or speak to her. She has an amazing way with people of all ages, and I don't exaggerate when I say everyone loves her. One in a million.

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Take a moment

Those happy snappers at SEA/collectiv have just produced their first newsletter and their first 21-page e-zine, Moments. They will produce the e-zine every two months and will host examples of their members' work and other interesting stuff. The group of photographers are also planning a summer exhibition in Phnom Penh. Download the pdf-magazine here.

On the subject of photography, a book of images from Conor Wall and Hans Kemp, titled Carrying Cambodia, will get a book launch at the FCC in the capital on Sunday 7th March, and an exhibition of some of the images will take place at the FCC throughout the month of March. The book will look at carrying loads, human and inanimate, on motos, bicycles, trucks, remorks and the rest.
A new photo-book from Conor Wall and Hans Kemp

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Stiff little fingers

Roy Thinnes in The Invaders
The author of a brand new book on my favourite sci-fi television series, The Invaders, has been in touch to tell me about his recent publication. The Invaders: A Quinn Martin TV Series is the latest output from James Rosin, who specializes in books on classic television series. It contains a commentary from the star of the show, Roy Thinnes, producer Alan Armer, and others involved with the show, plus many photos, a complete episode guide and a biography section of the many guest stars that appeared in The Invaders, a show that ran for two seasons in 1967 and 1968. You can find out more about the television series here and it's leading star Roy Thinnes. You can order a copy of the book here.
The Invaders has become something of a cult sci-fi classic since its untimely demise in March 1968. The good versus evil battle was played out in 43 episodes but without a conclusion, when the series ended abruptly with low ratings forcing ABC to axe the show. The series was the first of its kind to deal with alien invasion and spawned future series such as V, War of the Worlds and The X-Files. Thinnes played the character, David Vincent, an architect, who took it on himself to expose the virtually undetectable aliens (except they each had a crooked little finger). Great fun, cheesy plots and re-runs on television in the UK ensured I was hooked.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

English excellence

Continuing my occasional series on the fairer sex, this is Rumnea, who I met a few years ago when I stopped in her mother's sewing shop to shelter from a rainstorm in Kompong Thom town. I was taken aback by her excellent English at the time and it came as no surprise to find that she came to Phnom Penh a couple of years ago to further her education, in the field of accounting. She is a very bright young lady and is working as a company accountant at the same time as continuing her studies at university. And her English just gets better and better.

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Crowning glory

A massive lotus crown in the grounds of Prasat Phnom Wan in Isaan, with yours truly giving it some perspective
Occasionally you will see them on the floor but normally they will be almost out of view, at the very pinnacle of the sandstone towers that dominate the Khmer temples in Cambodia and Thailand. On my trip to Isaan last October, there were a few to be spotted and I've posted some examples here. I'm talking about the massive sandstone lotus crowns that sit at the top of the central sanctuary of most temples. Of course, if they have fallen down over time or remain on the ground despite renovations as in the case of the temples in Isaan, then you can understand why, simply because of their size and weight. Up close they are impressive to say the least and they come in different shapes and sizes.
A lotus crown in situ, atop the central tower at Prasat Phnom Rung
A lotus crown from Prasat Prang Ku to be found at Phimai Museum
Lotus crowns in the courtyard at Isaan's Prasat Muang Tam
These lotus crowns are from Prasat Sikhoraphum in Isaan province

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Monday, February 22, 2010

The fairer sex

With all the football reports and pictures, temples galore and other manly, rufty-tufty stuff, there's way too much testosterone on this blog. It's only right and proper that I should counter-balance that from time to time with the fairer and let's face it, far more beautiful face of Cambodia. To that end, I will post the occasional picture of some of my friends, a few of which my regular readers will already know, like Sophoin and Now, and others who you haven't met before. And yes, most of my friends are female. Today it's the turn of Yamong, who hails from Takeo province and works in a city restaurant, and when not trying to teach me conversational Khmer, can be found enjoying (perhaps too strong a word) the fare offered up by Lucky Burger.

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Press talk

Today's Cambodian football reports in the PPPost
Today's Phnom Penh Post carries my match reports from the weekend Hun Sen Cup ties played at Olympic Stadium. The semi-finals will be played this coming Saturday. Reports here and here.

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Taking the stage

As part of a two week national performing arts festival that is taking place in Phnom Penh, though you wouldn't know it through the complete lack of coverage in the western media, the Khmer Arts Ensemble will be making a rare public performance of one of their key classical dances, Seasons of Migration, this Thursday (25 February) at Chaktomuk Theater. The start time is 2.30pm and its free to the public. In fact, there are three shows each day at Chaktomuk, with performers coming from around the country to showcase their traditional performance art. But as I said, you wouldn't know it. I went to the theater last week to find out more and no-one could give me a programme of events or tell me who and when they were performing. The Khmer Arts Ensemble are a professional touring dance and music troupe based in Takhmau and they develop and perform the original choreography of Sophiline Cheam Shapiro as well as rare works from the classical repertoire. Find out more here. On the same day, Thursday, a new exhibition of paintings, Depth of Hope, by one of my favourite Khmer artists, Chhim Sothy will open at the Reyum Gallery in the city.
Update: I've just got hold of a translated copy of the festival programme. It shows 3 performances each day being played out at Chaktomuk at 8am, 10am and 2.30pm. The performances are mainly from provincial performance groups performing Yike, Lakhon Bassac and Lakhon Niyey as well as the Seasons of Migration on Thursday, on Friday at 2.30pm the Cambodian Living Arts will present wedding music and on Saturday, Sovanna Phum will also perform.

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An all-military affair

2nd half hat-trick hero Sin Dalin of Ministry of National Defense
Sunday's quarter-final Hun Sen Cup ties also went with the formbook and the semi-final next week will see the Army lining up to face the Military Police team after the Ministry of National Defense (MND) put the upstarts from Rithisen to the sword, winning 9-1, whilst Preah Khan Reach (PKR) saw off the challenge from Khemara to win 3-nil. Truckloads of fans from Kompong Chhnang helped boost the crowd at Olympic Stadium but they went home much quieter after MND did a professional job on the last of the provincial teams in the competition. But it could've been a different story if the referee hadn't disallowed an early Rithisen goal, that sailed in from the wing but was cancelled out by the the linesman flagging for offside. Baffling. Khim Borey and two goals from Thong Oudom gave MND a 3-0 interval lead. Two subs then made their mark, both getting hat-tricks. Sin Dalin netted his late in the game hat-trick in the space of five frantic minutes, whilst Phuong Soksana completed his trio in injury time. Rithisen's consolation was a great solo effort from Ky Rohan.
In the battle of the big guns, PKR did just enough to dampen Khemara's spirits, with Sam El Nasa getting their noses in front in the 1st half. Sub Sok Raksmey scored a 2nd just three minutes after entering the fray and then El Nasa stuck away a penalty late on to complete the 3-o win. Khemara can feel ashamed with their 2nd half showing. Sok Pheng, who has returned to the game after a year on the touchlines, will be seeing more bench time as he was sent off for a second bookable late challenge on 57 minutes. Their skipper Kuoch Sokumpheak was lucky to only get a yellow card for a two-footed lunge before Chhun Kirivatharo received a straight red for blatantly kicking an opponent. They should've also lost goalkeeper Mak Theara when he fly-hacked Prak Mony Udom but the referee and his assistant were the only two who didn't see the incident. It was Theara who scorpion-kicked an opponent a couple of weeks ago and this guy is going to hurt someone soon. He needs to be stopped. And if I was a striker with an opposong team I would get my challenge in first.
Another hat-trick hero Phuong Soksana, in MND's 9-1 success over Rithisen
The Defense Ministry meant business from the kick-off and thrashed Rithisen 9-1
Preah Khan Reach did enough to qualify for the semis, beating Khemara 3-0
Mak Theara, goalkeeper with Khemara, is treading a fine line with two shocking challenges on opponents in recent matches

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Casino teams go through

Phnom Penh Crown looking mean and moody before beating Wat Phnom 5-1 though I don't know why the guys in the front row have to place their hand on their teammates upper thigh - very weird
Now for a look at yesterday's Hun Sen Cup quarter-finals where Phnom Penh Crown dominated their game against Wat Phnom from start to finish, winning 5-1. Crown striker Heng Sokly should've netted a hatful. Instead, he rolled a couple of chances agonizingly wide early doors before finally finishing with some aplomb late on. Crown's national team centre-half Tieng Tiny netted twice in the 1st half, one a delicious curling free-kick from the edge of the box and his 2nd, a penalty after Chan Chhaya had fallen over theatrically when challenged by Wat Phnom's keeper Pov Reaksa. In between, Wat Phnom levelled when Crown's Peng Bunchhay, who looked a bag of nerves throughout the game, spilled a routine catch from a corner at the feet of Ry Phearoeun, who rifled home. After the break, Hong Ratana dived full-length to head in a spectacular effort and Srey Veasna and Heng Sokly completed the rout. Referee Yien Kivatanak had a quiet second game in the middle, after his dramatic debut a couple of weeks ago when he sent off 4 Kirivong players.
The Naga trio of Teab Vatanak, Sun Sovannrithy and Om Thavrak stood out in their 6-0 demolishion of Build Bright United. Vatanak netted a 4-goal haul in the 2nd half, Sun Sovannrithy, in his new unfamiliar striking role, scored two and set up two more, whilst Om Thavrak kept Naga in the game in the 1st half when BBU briefly flourished. It was a good day for Vatanak, who has overcome a career-threatening knee injury and showed his goal-poaching instincts to sink BBU and give Naga a mouthwatering semi-final match-up with fellow-casino sponsored Crown (and a repeat of last year's final).
Referee Yien Kivatanak had a good day at the office, only booking 2 players, in his 2nd match in the middle. Here he gets the toss-up right as well.
Naga Corp in a kit I've never seen before, prior to their 6-0 win over BBU. Teab Vatanak (10) netted 4 goals.
Continuing my series of 'Great toss-ups of the Weekend' - this one captures that particular moment of joy between the captains of BBU and Naga

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Non-stop

The weekend has been very hectic so far, with no time to update my blog until later tonight. The first two QFs of the Hun Sen Cup went to form yesterday, with Phnom Penh Crown and Naga waltzing through to the semis with easy wins over Wat Phnom (5-1) and BBU (6-0) respectively. More from these games later. Last night it was out for a very pleasant meal, this morning it was out shopping at Olympic market and elsewhere and this afternoon, back that way for the last of the cup quarter-finals. No peace for the wicked.
Okay, the wicked have a few minutes on their hands to bring you the latest from today's football at the Olympic Stadium. Rithisen brought a few truckloads of fans from Kompong Chhnang but they went home thoroughly dejected after Ministry of National Defence gave them a footballing lesson, winning 9-1. So no more cup shocks this year. In the second game of the afternoon, Preah Khan proved too strong for Khemara, winning 3-nil, though Keila did have two players sent off. But they have only themselves to blame for the self-implosion.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Brothers Grimm

Hot and sweaty in a Ratanakiri cemetary. I'm the one without glasses.
I had to select a photo of myself to go into the book - you know the one I keep mentioning from time to time and which looks set to be out sometime in June or July, with a fair wind and no natural disasters. Don't tell me you've forgotten already. It's called To Cambodia With Love. I chose the photo above, taken on my first ever visit to Ratanakri province in October 2007. Hopefully readers won't confuse me with the wooden effigy next to me. That's the one wearing glasses if you're still not sure. It was taken in the chunchiet cemetery in the Tampoun village of Kachon Leu, on the banks of the Sesan River near Voen Sai in Ratanakiri. There are about 100 graves there and the wooden and stone carvings are meant to represent the deceased when they were alive. And yes, it was very hot and humid that day. I did think about the one below, but rejected the idea!
Recognise this face at The Bayon?

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Broken record

The bib-wearers in action, man-handling a concerned Ulsan player onto their stretcher in the recent friendly against Cambodia (pic courtesy www.nicksellsphotography.com)
I'm beginning to sound like a broken record. Stop the bib-wearers grabbing injured players at Cambodian football matches before it's too late and someone gets seriously injured. I've said it before and I'll say it again until I'm blue in the face. I know I don't often talk much sense, but even I can see it's an accident waiting to happen. Sadly, it was prevalent in the SEA Games in Laos as well, as I reported here. There seems to be an edict issued to all referees that when a player goes down injured, they automatically call on the stretcher-bearers who invariably arrive at the player's side before the physio, and man-handle him onto the stretcher before any initial assessment of the injury is made. This happens at all Cambodian games played at Olympic Stadium but was also in place at the SEA Games I watched in Laos in December. Soon, these unqualified bib-wearers will aggravate a broken leg or a ruptured cruciate ligament but by then it will be too late. In an attempt to speed up the game, you cannot play roulette with a player's health. At least allow the physio (= man carrying a wet sponge) the opportunity to ask the player if he's okay. Only then should the four bib-wearers each grab a leg or arm and hoist the player onto their stretcher, preferably all going in the same direction when they leave the pitch! It really is farcical and stupid. Stop it, now.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Weekend QFs

Will Rithisen be celebrating another giant-killing act this weekend?
Football takes precedence this coming weekend with 4 games in 2 days, with matches kicking off at 2pm and 4.45pm both days at the Olympic Stadium. It's the quarter-finals of the Hun Sen Cup, the precursor to the new Cambodian Premier League and it'll be seven of the big teams and one of the provincial qualifiers battling it out.
Saturday will see Phnom Penh Crown taking on Wat Phnom, formerly Spark. Without their African contingent (only Khmers can play in the Hun Sen Cup this term) Wat Phnom will struggle, and I expect Crown to get through this tie with some degree of comfort. The second game of the afternoon will pitch Naga against Build Bright, with Naga getting the nod from me. They were last year's beaten cup finalists, losing 1-nil to Crown, but gained revenge by lifting the League Championship.
Sunday will be a good battle between the underdogs Rithisen from Kompong Chhnang, who'll meet up with National Defense, who got through by the skin of their teeth against Koh Kong on penalties in the last round. Rithisen have already claimed the scalp of CPL side Kirivong in a turbulent game that saw 4 red cards, all shown to Kirivong players. This will be a tight game and may just give us another cup upset. However if the army team have Nov Soseila in their starting ranks, back after injury, they will win. The final tie of the QFs will be between the big boys of Preah Khan Reach and Khemara Keila. PKR should have just enough but with Kuoch Sokumpheak in their ranks, Khemara have their lucky talisman back after suspension and the scorer of 18 goals in the qualifiers. I'm still mystified that in the final qualifying game he netted no less than ten goals and still managed to get himself sent off. Daft bugger but still the best homegrown player bar none.

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The print is still warm

South of the Heart - the print is still warm
The intrigue is over. In my hands I have a hot-off-the-press copy of South of the Heart: Dry season journeys between Phnom Penh and Pailin, that author Robert Philpotts has just collected from the printers. This is Bob's fifth book and follows the pattern set by his Coast of Cambodia (2000) and Guide to Phnom Penh (1992) publications. Part travelogue, part guidebook, this new 200-page edition covers the area west of the Tonle Sap Lake, focusing on Kompong Chhnang, Pursat, Battambang and Pailin in particular, interspersed with his own illustrations and maps. It literally appeared in my hands moments ago, so I'll give my opinion once I've had chance to read it, though from a brief flick through, it feels like a book that anyone interested in seeking out more of what Cambodia has to offer, should get. It'll cost you $15 and is available only through secondhand bookshop Bohr's Books, located on Sothearos Boulevard, here in Phnom Penh. Now why didn't I do something like this with my travelogues, years ago.

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Closing the Phimai chapter

A small but perfectly formed lintel of Vishnu riding Garuda with dancers, nagas and vegetal scrolling
This is a final look at some of the iconography and sculptures on show at Phimai Museum in Isaan (northeast Thailand), which I visited last October. I couldn't gain access to the indoor exhibitions as the museum was closed on the day of my visit (Monday) but there is a wealth of carvings in an outdoor storage area that reminded me of the compound at Angkor Conservation in Siem Reap. Over 350,000 visitors go to Prasat Phimai each year but only 10% of those visit the museum.
On a totally separate note, the offices at Hanuman are a buzz of activity just now as Hollywood are here... well, not Hollywood exactly but a National Geographic film crew are using the building to recreate an office environment for a television programme they are filming here called Banged Up Abroad. A few of the Hanuman staff have been drafted in as extras, so they'll be able to see themselves on the international Nat Geo channel in a few months, which will be a wonderful experience for them.
A massive statue of Shiva in the outdoor storage area at Phimai Museum
As everyone will know, this Phimai lintel shows Krishna killing the serpent Kaliya
This delightful lintel comes from Prasat Muang Tam and shows a deity, possibly Vishnu with followers above a kala head
A large pediment on the outside wall of the museum buildings, from Prasat Phimai, showing Indra as the central theme
Close-up detail of Indra aboard his 3-headed vehicle, Airavata
Another Phimai lintel, this time showing 2 monkeys attacking a deity, taken from the Ramayana story
A line of Buddhas meditate above a row of hamsas, again from Prasat Phimai

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