Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Sam Savin swapped her classical dance clothes for a more ethnic look this morning at the official launch of the Asean Tourism Forum at NagaWorld. She joined the other dancers from the royal university of fine arts onstage to perform what was termed a newly-created ethnic harvesting dance as part of the morning's proceedings, which of course included the usual interminable speeches by various dignitaries. The deputy prime minister Sok An was in the chair for this formal presentation of the forthcoming ATF, that will take place in January, as well as the launch of the new Ministry of Tourism website. Lots of men in suits were in attendance, lots of cameras, lots of hype, but little substance. And the translation into English was abysmal. However, Savin was as splendid as ever, and is off to France to dance next month, and I also got to meet and congratulate Cambodia's latest sporting hero, 15 year old Sam Sophea, who brought back a bronze medal in judo from the recent Youth Olympics in Singapore. An incredible achievement for this slip of a girl with a lovely smile and personality to match. Meanwhile, the ATF is a big event for Cambodia hence the lavish presentation this morning. Then it was back to the grindstone.
Monday, August 30, 2010
This female Ting Mong had one of the few faces still recognizable after the recent rains in Chi PhatChi Phat, the eco-tourism community that has been hosting visitors to their village (actually its a series of 4 villages; Chi Phat, Chaom Sla, Kam Lort and Teuk Laork) with the help of WildAid for the last couple of years, and which hosted the Hanuman 'fam' trip on Saturday and Sunday, was recently in the grip of an outbreak of Ting Mong. This isn't a tropical disease as you might think, but a simple belief in the power of spirits. Scarecrows are usually found in a field of corn or other crops to scare away birds but you will often see them perched outside homes and are a part of village life and the belief systems of rural Cambodians, who put great stock in their animist spirit forces such as Neak Ta and Ting Mong. Many Khmers believe that an unknown force is embodied in the large puppet-like figure that will protect them from disease or death. You can find Ting Mong constructed using spare clothes and placed in front of the house doorway or gate in the belief that it has the power to drive away the spirit of disease, danger or death. The villagers in Chi Phat had the very same beliefs about a month ago and the Ting Mong pictured here are left-overs from that. About 50% of the houses along the main street had a traditional Ting Mong in residence. Ting Mong is also the name given to the larger-than-life puppets with giant heads that you see at certain festivals in the Khmer calendar.
Ang Krang, and they pack a bite that you remember. They like to hang around remote temples in the countryside waiting for johnny foreigner to come along and catch him unawares as he soaks in yet another temple discovery. I have many recollections of such attacks during my temple-hunting expeditions across Cambodia. I used to joke with my pals like Sokhom that if the landmines didn't get us, the ang krang would. Black humour, you can't beat it. I spotted these guys and their dance of death on a post near O'Malu waterfall in Koh Kong province yesterday. Yesterday's black humour revolved around ang krang and black leeches, both of which were out and about in abundance.
Labels: Koh Kong
Author John Burgess, who was in town recently to launch his book, Stories In Stone, which also had a two-page spread in The Cambodia Daily on Saturday, has been in touch to tell me that my blog is banned in China. Possibly. He was in Shanghai on the way back to the United States and a google search of my blog gave him a message that 'the server cannot be contacted.' After a bit of investigation it would seem that all blogspot blogs are banned, sometimes, as are such popular sites as Google, Facebook, YouTube, Uncle Tom Cobbly and all. Internet censorship in China (commonly referred to as the great firewall of China) is very common, there are no specific laws which the censorship follows, so random is the best word to describe it. However, this random blocking is vigorously implemented by the internet service providers there and the Chinese public are the ones to suffer. Especially if they can't access my blog.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Home sweet home
Chi Phat did me in. The track was under water for long stretches, the rain made it treacherous as a few of my colleagues found out, the leeches were looking for a warm-blooded home and found it, and yes I did say I would never join a bike ride again, after my Mondulkiri experience a while back. Some people never learn. Especially me. The community folks at Chi Phat did us proud over lunch (the best thing about Chi Phat is the food), then it was a couple of hours on the boat and a 4 hour drive back to the city. I'm sitting in front of the telly watching football as I type. My bones, double the age of anyone else on the bike ride, are feeling their age. Our target for the morning ride was O'Malu waterfall, close to the isolated village of O'Key. The waterfall itself was on two levels and made for a very refreshing bathe, but its hard to describe the trip there and back, suffice to say that I was covered in wet mud and my clothes and trainers were utterly waterlogged. I put my leg through a log-bridge, my brake broke and the handlebars whacked against my chest, though I managed to stay upright, just, unlike a few of my work colleagues who'd joined me for the ride. I must say that the four girls who were in our group were great sports and managed to complete the ride, despite the really tough conditions. I had to keep going just so they didn't leave me behind. They have my respect.
Friday, August 27, 2010
KeoK’jay shop in Siem Reap selling their handicrafts. She was overjoyed.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Mooning in Cambodia
Moon Cambodia, is one of a handful of guidebooks dedicated solely to Cambodia and it saw the light of day in the final month of last year. I haven't got a copy myself ( and they didn't send me one, sigh) so can't comment on it but I did notice online that I get a mention in its internet resources section, almost lost at the back of the book. Interestingly the author Tom Vater has used my full name Andrew, something I've not heard since my mum used to shout it out loud when I was in for a smack on the back of the legs. I was about five at the time. Anyway, here's what Moon had to say.
Cambodia blog and travel resource : www.andybrouwer.co.uk. Ten years of Cambodia travelogues, interviews and photos by Andrew Brouwer, a long-term visitor to Cambodia.By comparison, the Lonely Planet Cambodia guidebook that came out in July, also credits my website in its internet resources section, more prominently displayed on page 16. This is how LP state my case.
Andy Brouwer's Cambodia Tales (www.andybrouwer.co.uk). Gateway to all things Cambodian, this site includes comprehensive links to other sites and regular travel articles from veteran Cambodian adventurers. Includes a popular blog.It sure does.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The warm glow of the rising early morning sun at Chi Phat
Historian and linguist Jean-Michel Filippi is in town to deliver a couple of lectures exploring the history of Phnom Penh. Both sound very interesting. At restaurant Le Jardin on Street 360 on Friday 27th, he will present a lecture in English all about Phnom Penh during the French Protectorate (1865-1940), aided by maps, photos as well as a verbal narrative of the history and architecture of the time. It starts at 7pm and is free. Then on Thursday 2nd September, a different lecture, also in English, titled Phnom Penh in Sihanouk's years, will cover the exceptional architecture of the Sangkum Reastr Niyum (1955-1970) in addition to analyzing the politics, economics and education of the period. This lecture will take place at Brasserie Durga on Street 130 from 6pm (cover cost of $5).
I won't be able to make the lecture on Friday as I'm due to return to Koh Kong and Chi Phat with a group of work colleagues for our own' fam' trip on Friday for 2 nights. Most of my work-mates have never been to Koh Kong province so this will be an opportunity for them to see it at first-hand as well as the ecotourism community-based project at Chi Phat, even though I've been there myself only a few months ago. With the football season just ended, I'm just about to find myself twiddling my thumbs at the weekends, so this will keep me out of trouble for this weekend at least.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Sophea Pel, who played the part of Ros Sereysothea in the short feature film The Golden Voice (I'm still eagerly awaiting the feature film length version), will star in a new movie by the same director, Greg Cahill, called Two Shadows. Sophea, Greg and his team were in Cambodia a few months ago filming but it was all very hush-hush and obviously this film is the result of that collaboration. Sophea plays Sovanna who travels from Long Beach to Cambodia looking for her siblings who disappeared 20 years earlier and finds herself embroiled in intrigue and danger. Aside from that I know nothing more about the film, so if you have your ear to the ground, let me know. Link: website.
Lee Tae-Hoon arrived in Phnom Penh on Friday to take over the vacant coaching position, after Scott O'Donell decided not to remain after his year, and second stint, in the hot-seat. The local football federation had sought co-operation from their friends in the South Korean football federation and the 39-year-old former assistant coach of the Korean national women's team has arrived to take the helm as Cambodia begin preparations for the AFF Suzuki Cup qualifying games to be held in Vientiane, Laos towards the end of October. Effectively, he's starting from scratch and has about a month and a half to whip the team into shape. Not an easy task. A preliminary squad of 36 players has been picked by his assistant coaches and from recommendations from the clubs and they will begin training under the new coach tomorrow morning. He met them this afternoon for the first time. After a few days the squad will be whittled down to 25 and taken over the border for an intensive training camp in Vietnam. The new coach speaks no Khmer and only a smidgen of English, so everything he communicates to his coaching team and the players will be through an interpreter. It's going to be a tough ask simply from that point of view, let alone the six weeks he has to mould them into a team unit and playing the way he wants. Fingers crossed he's an immediate success.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Meas Soksophea has been my favourite female Khmer singer for a while now, in fact since I heard her rendition of the love song What You Don't Know, which you can hear and see for yourself in the video. She also sang the theme song from the film The Red Sense, which is a beautiful song. Recently married, therefore disappointing all of her male fans in Cambodia, Sophea has been increasing her online presence in the past few months, embracing facebook and twitter with regular updates via the latter. Chancing my arm, I sent her a message and a few questions, which she graciously responded to within 24 hours this weekend and which I repeat below. In what other country would a nation's favourite singing sweetheart reply to an email, let alone within 24 hours? My sincere thanks to Sophea.
Q. When did you record What You Don't Know? A. My record company asked me to record it in April 2008. I sang in both English and Khmer because the Cambodian audience like mixed songs now, and other nationalities like Korean, Chinese and Indians are also doing mixed language songs. The video was shot locally in a 'green' room with 3D animation effects.
Q. Tell me about the theme song for the film, Red Sense. A. I recorded [Svaeng Rouk Pop Tmei; aka Walk to Freedom] about 3 years ago with Phoeurk Chantha. It's a very beautiful song, but you know, I don't even have the audio anymore and I haven't even seen the film. [Note - the film score for The Red Sense was composed by Robert John Sedky and the film itself has been shown twice in Cambodia.]
Q. Can you tell me more about the recording process? A. For many songs I just go into the studio and get it done. I don't always know exactly what film or project it's for. My job is to sing the song as well as I can though usually its for a good cause or project. I trust my studio team, a famous musical teacher here is in charge and I trust him too, he's a good person and has been in the music industry all his life. I know that if he's behind it, it will be for a great film or a good cause like to stop disease, or help with Aids or teach children to wash their hands, for example.
Q. What are your personal favourites? A. I have many favourite songs, even many overseas songs that I've sung, it's so hard to pick. There are so many great song writers too. The most successful of my songs would have to be 1,000 nights and more recently, I Am Sorry, because I have never given my all in acting as much as I did in that video and in part 2 as well. Part 3 is soon to be released. This song was very successful and got many great reviews, which I was so pleased about.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Clustering Face Carvings: Exploring the Devatas of Angkor Wat is part of a push by Kent Davis and others to find out more about the women and why so many of them feature at the temple, and whether they are more than just the decoration they appear. The facial features analyzed in the study by the University of Michigan will be eyes, nose, mouth and face outline but this is a just a start. Why are the women on the higher levels and central tower larger and more powerful than the devatas in other parts of Angkor Wat? To be frank, the questions are endless but Kent Davis is leading the way in asking those questions and his research is expected to generate and divide opinion between experts, many of who have merely dismissed the devata as adornments in this funerary temple of King Suryavarman II. Davis, who has already published three Angkor-related books, will eventually publish his theory in a book, Daughters of Angkor Wat. Articles on his work appeared in the weekend editions of the Cambodia Daily here and the Phnom Penh Post, as he turns the heat up on his research. Find out more at devata.org.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Crown take the honours
Tieng Tiny, Phnom Penh Crown's national defender, shares his medal winning success with his lovely daughter, who accompanied her daddy onto the podiumYou have to feel a bit for the footballers who played in today's Cambodian football league championship final. The game kicked off at 2pm in front of a pretty sizeable crowd and under a scorching hot sun. Television coverage dictated the kick-off time and its a pity that the season's finale should be played in such testing conditions for the players. Phnom Penh Crown won as everyone expected they would, though Preah Khan made them fight all the way for it and the 4-3 scoreline reflects how closely fought the final was. It was a fitting climax to the kingdom's football campaign, watched over by the new national team coach who arrived last night from South Korea. Everything went without a hitch, the game was played in good spirits, both teams brought large sections of supporters with them who made a lot of noise and injected lots of youthful enthusiasm into the proceedings. We even had a military band playing as the cups and medals were presented. It doesn't get much more traditional than that. You can tell the players watch the cup finals from overseas as Tieng Tiny carried his small daughter onto the podium with him to collect his winners medal. Nice touch from the best local-born defender in the competition and that's one of the reasons Crown were successful, they had the kingdom's best players in key positions, notably Tieng Tiny, Sun Sopanha and Keo Sokngorn. Roll on next season, though in the meantime, the Cambodian national team will play important Suzuki Cup matches in Laos in October. You can keep up to date on Cambodian football here.
Ever wondered who got all the medals and certificates ready for these types of events, well wonder no more. Here are the ladies that do.
Labels: Metfone C-League
Friday, August 20, 2010
Sokhom and his family again yesterday in Kompong Thom. I don't see enough of them. I visited their new family home, a one story concrete building that has replaced their old, wooden dwelling that was inches away from the main highway leading into the center of Kompong Thom. Sokhom has erected a road-sign pointing the way to his new home, which now sits alongside his parents-in-law house, and advertising his tour services. His wife now has a stall at the market in the center, selling clothes, whilst Kunthea, their only daughter, has just completed her high school studies and is nervously awaiting her exam results. If they are good enough, she wants to study in Phnom Penh to be a lawyer. As for Sokhom, he was busy with a client, so I only saw him briefly, but we have a friendship going back to our first meeting more than a decade ago and we speak on the phone regularly. Our trips into the Cambodia countryside are legendary, well, between us two anyway. He also gets a brief mention in the latest version of the Lonely Planet guide to Cambodia. Thoroughly deserved in my view.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
7-day remembrance ceremony is very important for Buddhists, and whilst the body of Rumnea's father, Heng Sophal, was buried at a pagoda a few kilometres away, everyone gathered at the the family home today to say prayers with the monks and of course, eat. Rumnea and her mother, brothers and sisters were all in white, the two sons had shaved their heads and mourners from the pagoda, near and far neighbours and in excess of 100 people joined in to remember a man held in very high esteem by everyone that knew him. It was wonderful to hear how loved he was by all. But of course, incredibly sad that the family have lost their most important member. This was the first 7-day ceremony I have attended and sitting in front of the monks during their chanting was a painful experience on my legs, but one which I am so glad to have taken part in. Joining me was Kunthea, the daughter of my best pal Sokhom, and who will soon come to Phnom Penh to begin her university studies. She acted as my translator. After mid-day, Kunthea and I left Rumnea's home to head into Kompong Thom town. We visited her mother's market stall, the family's new home, her father's homemade advertising sign and then ended my very brief stay in Kompong Thom by popping into see Chhunly, another friend of mine, who has just taken up a teaching job at the American VIP school in the town. Seeing her teaching the youngsters made me feel very proud of my young friend. Three hours on the Mekong Express bus delivered me back in time for my rendezvous at Monument Books.
Author John Burgess scratches his head (right) during the book launch of Stories In Stone at Monument Books tonight
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
I'll be quiet as a mouse for a day or two as I'm just catching the bus to head off to Kompong Thom to join the 7-day ceremony in memory of Heng Sophal, the father of my friend Rumnea, who died following a motorbike crash at the end of last week. As I couldn't make the funeral at the weekend, the least I can do is make the effort to join in the very important 7-day ceremony.
Time for some high culture. And you don't get much higher than the Royal Ballet of Cambodia performing Thong and Preah Neak, the legend of the creation of the Kingdom of Cambodia. This particular classical dance was choreographed by the Royal Ballet's director Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, herself a former dancer and adapted from an original dance of Queen Kossamak Nearyrath Sereivoddhna, her grandmother. A multitude of dances were created in the 60s, including one devoted to the great myth of Cambodia, 'a country born of water'. The prince Preah Thong, son of King Assach Cham, who ruled over the island of Koh Thlok, married the daughter of the king of Nagas, Princess Neang Neak Theravatti. So the legend goes. The members of the Royal Ballet, including my friend Sam Savin, performed this dance at the opening of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music in Morocco on 4 June of this year. The Royal Ballet will be taking to the road in Europe in October for a series of seven performances in France and Belgium from 8-17 October, where another Buppha Devi creation, The Legend of Apsara Mera, will be presented.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Climax of the season
here instead. However, that means the majority of you won't be aware that this weekend is the climax of the Cambodian football season. The local football federation decided a couple of years ago that the regular season would not actually determine the champions. They would only emerge after a play-off between the top fours teams in the final league table. Not how a league championship should be decided in my opinion, but they run it and I just watch. The decision to keep the interest amongst the fans going until the final kick of the season proved a success last year with Naga's unforseen surge to claim the title. This season, the destination of the winners cheque seems certain to be into the pocket of Phnom Penh Crown (sponsored by Crown Casino), regarded as the moneybags team of the Metfone C-League competition. They will meet Preah Khan Reach (the Military Police team) in the play-off final at Olympic Stadium at 2pm this coming Saturday. 2pm is not a great time for a football match, as its usually bloody hot, but that's when CTN can fit it into their live television schedule, so that's why it's a 2pm kick-off. There should be a big crowd so if you find yourself twiddling your thumbs with nothing to do at 2pm this Saturday, get along to watch the game or switch onto CTN. I fully expect Crown to win but it's a one-off game and anything can happen. And in Cambodian football, it usually does. And if you can't be bothered at all, click onto my football blog, Kingdom of football, to read all the gory details.
Labels: Metfone C-League
Monday, August 16, 2010
Banteay Chhmar is slowly giving up its secrets to the renovators from the Global Heritage Fund. Never fully researched, Banteay Chhmar dates from the 12th century and whilst some sections of the temple have fallen prey to thieves, other sections, such as the eastern naga causeway, have been hidden from view for centuries. Lying under the top soil and slowly revealed by the GHF team of excavators over the past two years, the well-preserved naga and garuda balustrades look as fresh as the day they were created. The naga, a many-headed cobra with an outspread hood, is associated with water, its natural habitat. It appears principally in the form of a naga balustrade along access causeways or around the terraces besides the entrance to the monuments. It is often associated in Khmer art with its hereditary enemy, the garuda, a mythological animal that is half-man and half-raptor. During the Bayon period (1181-1219) of sculptural construction, the ends of naga balustrades underwent a major change. At the bottom, one naga, usually three-headed, is straddled by a garuda controlling a second naga, with six heads, whilst more heads decorate the backside of the hood. The balustrade ends at Banteay Chhmar are supported by blocks of sandstone carved with kalas and lions. Almost identical replicas can be found at other temples in the same time period, such as Preah Khan of Kompong Svay. The eastern causeway at Banteay Chhmar has now been reconstructed and adorned with its naga balustrades though work is continuing, as it is throughout this complex.
Hold On [4 Haiti]
If you don't know already, Steel Pulse are THE best reggae band on the planet. They also care. In a bid to help those affected by the massive earthquake that killed around a quarter of a million people six months ago, they have penned a new song Hold On [4 Haiti]. "At the time of the earthquake, Steel Pulse were in Jamaica, working on our new album," says lead singer David Hinds. "We felt the tremor. Two days later, we put down the track. Our challenge was to find a way to get the song out to the public in a manner that would help the people of Haiti in a meaningful way. It took us a while to find the right organisation to donate the song to - one that makes a difference on the ground. We were impressed with SELF and their Solar Health Care Partnership with PIH. We can't get weary, you know," says Hinds. "Haiti still needs our support for the long term, and we know that SELF and PIH will be there every day and night."
To download the song, contribute to helping save lives in Haiti, and to find out more click here. Steel Pulse have just finished a few festival dates in France, Germany and Italy and have some more shows lined-up in California this week. Read more about Steel Pulse at my own website here.
Two book launches this week in Phnom Penh. On Thursday (19 August), it's the turn of Stories in Stone by author John Burgess at Monument books at 6pm. His book focuses on the inscription found at the Khmer temple of Sdok Kok Thom just over the border in present-day Thailand, though the story behind the inscription shines light on the remarkable Khmer Empire that dominated the region from the 7th-13th centuries. Book number two is actually a 30 page colour bilingual comic from John Weeks, the comicmeister of the capital, who will also be presenting a collection of short comic art vignettes on the night, under the banner of QuickDraw, which is this coming Wednesday (18 August) at Java Arts Cafe on Sihanouk Boulevard from 6-9pm. In addition to the exhibition at Java which will remain in situ until late September, an artist talk on Cambodian comics history - 50 Years of Cambodian Comics - will take place on 24 August at the same location with emcee John Berkavitch.