Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pulse on celluloid

Steel Pulse and in particular frontman David Hinds have taken time out from touring the globe to put in a few hours in front of the camera and onto the silver screen as part of the cast in a new coming-of-age stock car racing movie called Rocksteady and starring Cedric Sanders in the lead role. David Hinds appears onscreen as Ras whilst the band members become the Black Star Liners for the duration of the motion picture. Clark Gayton is the movie's composer and had a stint with the band on trombone in 1992. This time around the eight band members that will be treading the boards are Juris Prosper, Keysha McTaggart, Selwyn Brown, Wayne Clarke, Sidney Mills, Donovan McKitty and Desdale Wilmot, who is better known to all as Amlak Tafari. Keep your eyes open for this film which kicks-off the Woodstock film festival tomorrow. Link: Rocksteady.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Midweek acoustics

Scott and Srey Thy belt out one of their regular songs from the CSP repertoire
Music filled the air again tonight, this time at the Thai restaurant Setsara on Street 278, with the now regular Wednesday night open mic acoustic sessions run by Julien Poulson, the founder of the Cambodian Space Project. Accompanied by some of his Space friends including singer Srey Thy and all-rounders Scott Bywater and Ken White, there was a potpourri of musical styles and performers on show including Arn Chorn-Pond, the founder of Cambodian Living Arts and another female Khmer singer, Srey Seyma. The $5 buffet went down a treat as well as the music. Try a midweek session for yourself soon. CSP are playing again this Saturday at Snow's Bar over the Japanese Bridge, with an early start at sunset and costing $10 entry.
Srey Seyma (left) and Srey Thy formed a formidable duet on a few songs tonight

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Peng's pains

Cambodian actress Peng Phan, an easily-recognisable face to Khmer audiences
Meta House screened the Cambodian film premiere of Good Luck for You Everyday tonight, which told the story of former Cambodian actress Peng Phan, who has appeared in three of Rithy Panh's films, and who turned her home into an orphanage, NACA (National Action Culture Association) devoting her time to the thirty children there. The hour long film was created by two Spanish filmmakers, Raul Abellan and Marc Sarrado and also features some of the children in the care of NACA, all of whom are involved in the arts to some degree. The orphanage is under threat both from an urban development program that may take away Peng Phan's home, as well as the day to day costs that are required to keep the orphanage going. Some of the children were present at the screening, which was very well attended and a collection taken. Peng Phan appeared in a trio of Rithy Panh's films, Rice People, One Evening After the War and Burnt Theatre. Link: website.
On the way out of Meta House I popped into the art exhibition on the ground floor to look at the exhibition of nine Battambang artists, entitled Nine Faces, that will run for the next month. It was a collection of mixed media and an experiment with colours and different materials.
The film's opening credits
Peng Phan in an opening scene from the film; in the prison where she was held during the Khmer Rouge period, she was one of only 30 survivors out of 500 people.
Untitled artwork from Battambang artist Sothea from the current Meta House exhibition
Loun Lao's artwork titled Sadness at Meta House

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The Palace

The national flag of Cambodia flies over the Senate State Palace
Inside one of the main reception rooms at the State Palace
In rounding off my first-ever visit to the Chamkarmon Palace compound, opened up to the public for a one-off visit as part of the Open Doors Weekend, I was a mite disappointed. With Cambodia's most famous architect Vann Molyvann involved in the design of the home of Cambodia's head of state, I had high expectations. Instead, it failed to live up to some of the other Vann Molyvann designed buildings and other architectural marvels of the 50's and 60's, though I was glad I made the effort to see it. As it was the home of the former King and his family, the buildings we visited on Saturday morning included their private residences, designed by another Khmer architect called Lu Ban Hap, as well as the State Palace and reception rooms which were products of Vann Molyvann. When Lon Nol took charge in 1970 he moved into the compound and erected more structures, including reinforced bunkers, before the whole area was renovated with Chinese and Japanese government funds in 1998. As for the Senate, it's the upper house of the Parliament of Cambodia and has the power to amend the constitution and laws of the country through its 60 or so senators who represent the main political parties. We were allowed access during the tour to the main areas of the Senate, though if you have been to the Houses of Parliament in London for example, the one in Phnom Penh doesn't come close.
A look at the inner corridors of power inside the State Palace
This is the main Senate Chamber where senators do whatever senators do
The coat of arms of the Senate of Cambodia
The back of the State Palace with its tell-tale 60's architectural designs
Known as the White Hotel, this now hosts the Constitutional Council
The Supreme Council of Magistrates used to be the Queen's residence
This interesting circular structure was the 60's home of Princess Bopha Devi
The former residence of Norodom Sihanouk is being converted into offices
Design elements in one of the gardens at Chamkarmon Palace
This building was erected during the tenure of Lon Nol and has a reinforced bunker underneath
A last look at the State Palace that now houses the Cambodian Senate


Monday, September 27, 2010

Stories on NPR

Some great coverage for John Burgess' Stories in Stone book which gets an airing on National Public Radio's On Point show here with help from Cambodian Living Arts and Dengue Fever. I read the book recently and really enjoyed it. In my view every Angkorian temple deserves a tribute book like this. And the good news for Dengue fever fans is that the band are planning a tour in Cambodia early next year and a new album for Spring.

In the early part of next month I'm looking at making a first-time trip to the Mekong Delta area. On the way out I will be exiting through Chau Doc whilst on the way back I'll be crossing the Vietnam-Cambodia border at Prek Chak, so I was interested to see that a massive hotel-casino has just this weekend opened up a kilometer from this hardly-used international border crossing. The Hatien Vegas Entertainment Resort - costing $50 million, 161 rooms - will bring work to lots of locals, possibly up to 1,000 employees, as well as Vietnamese tourist-gamblers. Casinos are common at the border crossings with Thailand and Vietnam and whilst they are not everyone's cup of tea, they do provide much-needed jobs for the local inhabitants.
Just heard on the grapevine that the weekly French-language newspaper Cambodge Soir will print its final issue this week. How sad. Even though its froggy-speak and I can't understand the lingo, it appeared to have some interesting stories each week (I could only look at the photos and read the odd word) and I'm sure the French will sorely miss it. Its backers have pulled the plug and it is mort comme un perroquet, as the French would say.

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Live in France

So you get an idea of what the Cambodian Space Project are all about, here's a YouTube video from their recent visit to France. Of the Khmer members of the band only Srey Thy was able to make the trip and in the video she is singing Chnam Oun Dop Pram Muoy (I'm Sixteen), a 60's classic from Ros Sereysothea, in the French town of Dinan. The song was also used as the soundtrack for the recent German film, Same Same But Different and was covered by Dengue Fever as well.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Double bill

Srey Keo, Longny and Rumnea (white) steal the show with their dancing
Taking a well-earned breather with a few of my dancing partners including Srey Keo, Longny and Srey Phen (all sitting)
The villagers of Khlaeng Poar Tboung helped make today one to remember for a long time. It's a rice-farming village stuck miles away, west of national highway 3 in the commune of Prey Neat, Kong Pisei district in Kompong Speu. You wouldn't go there unless you had a reason and we had a great excuse to make the trek this morning. The Cambodian Space Project, following on just a few hours after finishing a gig at Paddy Rice's bar on Sisowath Quay on Saturday night, were appearing as part of a celebration in the home village of their drummer, Bong Sak. And after today's events, I reckon gigs in the rural countryside have to be the best of all. I can't imagine they get any better than this. We all boarded the bus, about an hour later than scheduled and arrived to an array of smiling faces, a couple of hours later, after a run through the lush green countryside of Kompong Speu province. A marquee had been erected in the grounds of Sak's family home and the cooks were busy preparing a slap-up lunch that quickly followed our arrival. Chicken curry is always a winner with me and so it proved. Accompanied by Rumnea, I wandered around the village, stopping to chat to the locals at regular intervals, who were some of the most welcoming I've ever met, and I've met a few.
The band kicked-off their performance and it must've been a couple of hours later that everyone slumped in their seats, exhausted. A fantastic gig, Srey Thy was in top form, the band were rocking and judging by the smiles on the faces on the watching villagers, they loved it too. Never-before-seen foreigners playing 60's Cambodian music and a great singer belting out Pan Ron classics in a remote village surrounded by rice-fields - does it get any better this? Some of the watching children were coaxed into getting onto the dance-floor and I must say how 11 year olds, Longny and Srey Keo, absolutely stole the show. Feigning shyness for all of about thirty seconds, they then found their rhythm and never stopped. Great kids. As the clouds rolled in, we said our goodbyes and boarded the bus for the trip back to the capital. It wasn't the Spacers first village show though it has got to rank up there with their very best in any location. Last night's show at Paddy Rice was the first-part of the double bill. When the full-blown band is going at it hammer and tongs, they can drown out Srey Thy's excellent vocals and I felt that happened for the first part of their performance. It got better after the break but it's something they need to address, and quickly, when it happens again. There was no such problems today, and the gig went off without any hint of a hitch. Top drawer entertainment from the band and great audience participation from the villagers. Where can I sign-up for the next village gig?
Srey Thy was in great form at the village gig today despite a sore throat
Members of the Cambodian Space Project who played a stormer of a gig today
11 year old Srey Keo (blue) came alive when the dancing began
Some of the youngsters itching to get involved in the dancing
Grandmother Yanh was a delightful source of information about her village
Rumnea with Srey Keo and Longny amongst the rice-fields on the edge of the village
One of the older houses in the village of Khlaeng Poar Tboung
Here I am with some of the families who make up the village; 130 families in total.
Paddy Rice's bar was the venue for last-night's opening half of the CSP double bill


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Open sesame

The Chamkarmon State Palace, designed by Vann Molyvann
Fresh back from a rare visit to the Chamkarmon Palace compound, opened up to fifty members of the public for a one-off visit as part of the Open Doors Weekend. The Chamkarmon compound was the home of Cambodia's head of state and as such contained royal residences, used in the 1950s and 1960s by Norodom Sihanouk, his wife and daughter, Princess Bopha Devi, as well as the main State Palace and other buildings. Constructed over a decade from 1955 onwards, the architects who dominated its design were Vann Molyvann, who we already know so much about and another, Lu Ban Hap, who designed the Chenla State Cinema and the O’Russei and Olympic markets. When Lon Nol took charge in 1970 he moved into the compound and erected some more structures, including bunkers, before the whole area was renovated with Chinese and Japanese government funds in the late 1990s. More later.
The former royal residence of Norodom Sihanouk, now being converted into offices

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Documenting the past

An iconic Vann Molyvann building, the library at the Institute of Foreign Languages
With the focus on architecture this month in Phnom Penh, an exhibition that will highlight the work of the most talked about Cambodian architect, Vann Molyvann, will open at the French Cultural Centre (St 184) on Thursday 30th September at 7pm. The era of the New Khmer Architecture during the 50's and 60's has become a fascination for many, especially those in the Van Molyvann Project, as you might imagine. Many of Vann Molyvann’s most important buildings have been demolished and virtually all the original design documents are lost. The drawings, photographs and models in this exhibition aim to reconstruct a historical record of the original design intent of many of his projects. You can find out more about the project here.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Tale of woe

Neither Rumnea (left) or Sophoin are ever stuck for something to say. Here they gabble on over our meal at Mount Everest.
Tonight I had dinner with two of my very best friends, Rumnea and Sophoin, at our favourite Indian restaurant, Mount Everest. I haven't seen Sophoin for the last few months and it was good to catch up, even though it was pretty much a tale of woe that she had to tell. This included being duped by an old school friend and losing her computer, money and jewelry; loss being quite a common thread amongst people I meet these days. Earlier today I met a friend of a friend from Siem Reap who was in the city to collect some money she was owed and as she was buying a few clothes in the Central market before boarding her bus back home, she had over $1,000 pinched from her handbag. She was understandably distraught.
At lunch I caught up with historical fiction author Robyn Adams, who is in town to do some research for a novel she is writing on Cambodian women. Robyn is from Australia and her last book was called The Sisterhood of the Rose. This is her third time in Cambodia and she is here for two weeks to seek out suitable contacts to flesh out her story. I wish her well. Another author, David Kattenburg has confirmed that his book, Foxy Lady - Truth, Memory and the Death of Western Yatchtsmen in Democratic Kampuchea, will be published next month and will highlight for the first time the story of Canadian victim of the Khmer Rouge, Stuart Glass, as well as the other westerners who died at the hands of Comrade Duch and his S-21 killers in the late 70s. Its a book I'm really looking forward to reading.
Yesterday I spent the whole day at a conference on responsible tourism alongwith another 70 Cambodian travel agents to discuss the impact on our business of what is becoming a key buzzword in the tourism industry, alongside sustainable tourism, eco-tourism, ethical tourism and a whole host of other isms. Interesting and thought provoking for most of the people in the room, organised by the Dutch NGO, SNV and CATA, the association of local travel agents. It certainly gave me a few pointers for our own company, Hanuman, for the future. Tomorrow its Open Door Weekend and in the morning I'll be paying my first-ever visit to the Chamkarmon Palace compound, where the Cambodian Senate (or upper house) are usually secreted behind closed doors. Tomorrow, they will swing open at 9.30am for a one-off visit. In the afternoon, I'll be joining a free guided tour of the National Museum and I'm sure to pop into a few of the other buildings that are opening their doors especially for the weekend. Tomorrow night the Cambodian Space Project are playing at Paddy Rice bar and on Sunday, it's the Kompong Speu village party with the Spacers putting on a coach party for their fans.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Unique Wat Bo

French-style military types on the wall murals at Wat Bo
The main vihara of Wat Bo in Siem Reap
There are only two major painted narratives of the story of Rama in Khmer art, the murals of the gallery that surrounds the Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh and those that are found in the vihara of Wat Bo in Siem Reap. The story itself is Indian in origin and the Cambodian version, called the Reamker was localised and adapted, and can be found in bas-relief and carvings on the Angkor temples and theatrical dance and shadow puppet stories. The Silver Pagoda murals were painted at the back-end of the 19th century, whilst those at Wat Bo date from 1920-1924 and were executed by two shadow puppet designers, Ta Peul and Kong Dith, though some claim it may've been earlier. There are 111 scenes depicted on the walls of Wat Bo and the earliest ones in the story actually correspond to a Thai version of the Reamker story, possibly because Siem Reap was under Thai jurisdiction until 1907. Characters like Rama, Ravana, Hanuman, the gods fighting the evil asuras, the legend of the King of the Nagas all appear and tend to point to this fact. When I visited Wat Bo recently, the main vihara was closed because the head monk was not in attendance. However, without much persuasion, the head layman opened the doors and wooden windows so I could have a good look around, though sections of the murals have been worn away over time and much of the story takes place high up and out of easy eye-shot in the gloom. You'd need extra lighting and a step-ladder to be able to see and photograph them clearly. I had neither.
The 'patchwork' murals of Wat Bo, quite a few are damaged and in dire need of cleaning
What makes the murals of Wat Bo so unique is the 'patchwork' arrangements of the story panels, the colours used in the painting and that the action unfolds in a series of episodes, based on a specific character, such as Rama, Hanuman, the abduction of Sita, and so on. One of the interesting features I noticed in the murals was the French influence and the depiction of western costumes, both military uniforms and otherwise, especially in important ceremonies. Wat Bo, also known as Wat Raja Bo, is the largest and oldest in the town, and province, of Siem Reap. With over 100 monks, and founded at the end of the 18th century, it has a triple roof with wooden pediments in situ. Over one of the doors you can see a Siamese coat of arms, a left-over from Thai control of the area. Other buildings in the pagoda grounds include a sala and library and Wat Bo is renowned for its traditional arts and crafts and music. Definitely worth a few minutes of your time to visit the murals of the main vihara, as long as you find the man with the key.
Reamker characters abound in the murals including this warring white elephant
Some of the Buddha statues that sit behind the main Buddhist altar at Wat Bo
More fighting scenes involving the monkey army
This looks like a local militia grouping with bowler hats and formal attire
These are observers in bowler hats at a session of the royal court
The monkey army, not fighting for a change

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Good luck to you

Meta House will host another Cambodian film premiere next week, Good Luck for You Everyday, this time the story of former Cambodian actress Peng Phan, who has appeared in three of Rithy Panh's films, and who has turned her home into an orphanage, NACA and devoted her time to the thirty children there. The hour long film was created by two Spanish filmmakers, Raul Abellan and Marc Sarrado and will be shown at the new Meta House HQ on Tuesday 28 September at 7pm. In a double bill, you can also watch The Conscience of Nhem En by director Steven Okazaki, a short documentary that received an Oscar nomination and contains interviews with the S-21 photographer Nhem En as well as S-21 survivors. Link: website.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Opening doors

You already know about it from yesterday, but Open Doors Weekend is definitely on, this Saturday and Sunday, with public and private buildings being opened to the public between the hours of 10am-5pm, both days. The full list is as follows:
Bophana Center (St 200); Bodega and The Building (Sothearos Blvd); Chaktomuk Hall and Chinese House (Sisowath Quay); The Senate (St 63); Olympic Stadium; Post Office and Van's Restaurant (St 13); and the National Museum (St 178).
The visits to The Senate and the National Museum have to be booked beforehand. And its all down to the folks at Heritage Mission and KA Tours for getting this exciting weekend event off the ground. I'll be whizzing around on Saturday seeing as many of these buildings as I can, as on Sunday I'm supposed to be off into the countryside to watch Cambodian Space Project play in a village in Kompong Speu. They also have a gig this Saturday night at Paddy Rice's bar on Sisowath too. Looks like a busy weekend ahead.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Knock, knock

This giant Garuda from Koh Ker will welcome those visiting the National Museum as part of Open Doors Weekend
This coming weekend, called Open Doors Weekend and part of the Month of Architecture, will see free access granted to public and private buildings in Phnom Penh, allowing visitors to learn more about their history and architectural layouts. Information boards will be displayed in both Khmer and English with the buildings open between 10am and 5pm on Saturday and Sunday. Arranged by Heritage Mission and Khmer Architecture Tours, exact details of the Open Doors schedule should be available tomorrow though the only advance booking necessary is for the free guided visit at the National Museum, only two groups a day (10am and 3pm) and for the tour of The Senate on Saturday at 9.30am only. The idea comes from similar events around the world, and this unique event aims to defend and promote the urban heritage that is to be found in Cambodia. Amongst the confirmed destinations are the Bophana Center, the Post Office and the Building - where residents were told last week to stop any alterations or improvements or face eviction - and where one room will be made up to look like an apartment from the Sixties.

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Grass roots

Some of the current PPC youngsters who will be eligible for the new academy intake, at today's press conference
Today was my first official engagement as media officer for Phnom Penh Crown football club. Having recently stopped penning my football match reports for the Phnom Penh Post on domestic football, my new role will be to promote the activities of the best club side in the country, Phnom Penh Crown, the recently enthroned C-League champions. There's a real sense of determination at Crown to take the club to a higher level than ever before and whilst being C-League champions is their initial goal, they also want to create a stir in regional Asean football as well and are starting with the basics. Today's press conference at the Phnom Penh Hotel was to announce the formation of the PPCFC Elite Football Academy for the most talented young footballers in the country. Cambodia's first-ever residential football academy is a major step forward in the development of football in the Kingdom. You have to start early and equip youngsters correctly if you want to see major improvements in standards when they reach adulthood. Crown are the first club to recognise that and to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak. The press conference hosted all the local television channels (so my ugly mug was on the sports news programmes again tonight) and sports media in order to get the message out to the provinces, that trials will be taking place across the country, in 17 locations to be precise, throughout October. The best 12 and 13 year olds will be invited to final trials in Phnom Penh and from them, 22 of the very best will make it into the first intake of the new academy. The aim is to uncover the best of the talent out there and then bring them under the club's wing on a full-time basis for two years, undergoing a tailored regime that will maximize their football potential and provide them with a private education as well. We are talking naturally-gifted players being coached every day to improve their technique and understanding of the game, at the club's own training ground in Tuol Kork. The programme they will follow is closely linked to Everton FC, renowned for their production line of talented youngsters who've gone onto play first-team football, through Crown's regional partners, Asia Pacific Football Academy in New Zealand. House parents will look after the youngster's welfare whilst they are away from home and the goal is to identify and nurture the cream of the country's youngsters, who will continue for another two years after their initial 2-year stint, with progress to the Crown first-team, and beyond, the eventual outcome. Ambitious for sure, but the model has been adopted across the globe and it works. That's why Crown are keen to fund this programme and produce their own homegrown talent of the future. And this is just the beginning. The club are looking to announce a new management structure and a host of new players in the next month or two, in preparation for next season, which should begin early in 2011 when the Hun Sen Cup precedes the start of the league competition. You can keep up to speed with developments over on my football blog here.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Kulen's natural beauty

A first look at the Kulen plateau as we make our way to the top
The gorgeous waterfall that is the favourite of so many Khmer families
In many ways Phnom Kulen is an undiscovered natural haven, located oh so close to the most-visited venue in all of Cambodia, Siem Reap and Angkor. Obviously, some of its pleasures have been on the list of places to see since the mountainous area re-opened up after the end of the Khmer Rouge movement in 1999, but they are just a part of what's on offer to adventurers willing to seek out more of Kulen's hidden treasures. The beautiful 35-metre waterfall on two levels, the riverbed carvings of 1,000 Lingas, the largest reclining Buddha in the country hewn from the natural sandstone rock, are all favourite attractions for Khmers to visit at weekends and holiday times. Afterall, Kulen is the birthplace of the Angkorian dynasty and that makes it the most revered and sacred mountain in the country and a magnet for pilgrims. Elsewhere on this huge plateau that stretches for 40kms, covered in the most part by forest and greenery, you can uncover more than 30 Angkorian brick temples, inscriptions, pottery kilns, numerous rock carvings in cave dwellings that used to house hermits, remote villages that time forgot and an eco-system that has still to be fully understood. Quite literally we've only really begun to scratch the surface to reveal the treasures of Phnom Kulen.
The most revered reclining Buddha in Cambodia, Preah Ang Thom
Boys will be boys, splashing around in the refreshing Kulen river
The water from Kulen flows down the mountain to irrigate the Angkor floodplain, having passed over 1,000 sacred lingas carved into the riverbed
Pilgrims come to the river to pray to the Hindu deities, many of which are carved on the riverbed
The view from the pagoda at Preah Kral, with that small hill in the distance being Phnom Bok
The reason why much of Kulen is still to be uncovered is the absence of any roads; getting from A to B is by small tracks through the forest in the most part.
Occasionally you will come across a magnificent brick temple like this one at Prasat O'Pong, one of 30 such sites on top of Kulen
Our final look at the plateau of Phnom Kulen, this time with the rooftops of the village of Anlong Thom barely visible on the right-hand side


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