Sunday, July 31, 2011

Feeling crook

I haven't had a case of the runny-bottoms for ages but tonight it's visited me with a vengeance. Think projectile vomiting but at the other end. Too much information? The only food I had today before it arrived was a Lucky Burger at lunchtime. That probably says it all. This morning was spent watching the Crown Academy boys running rings around a team two years their senior on what was more of a water-polo pitch than football, due to hours of rain beforehand. They are a sheer joy to watch and give them five years and they will be the outstanding crop of footballers in the country, I am convinced of it. The rest of the weekend was spent watching adult football, oh and sitting on the loo.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cambodia's pride

Tonight's scene at the indoor arena at the Olympic Stadium
They know how to spoil a party. I'm talking about the Germans of course. The indoor arena at the Olympic Stadium was packed full with 5,000 expectant Cambodians, and a few johnny-foreigners, all hoping to see Cambodia claim their first World Cup trophy, ever. Blow me down, the German team fail to read the script (their Khmer is probably as bad as mine) and power their way to a two-hour long 3 sets to 1 disabled volleyball WOVD World Cup victory that leaves everyone deflated, except for their overblown ego's as they celebrated with the dozen German fans in the audience. The Cambodian players had bust a gut to retrieve the situation after losing the first two sets. A see-saw 28-26 third set went in their favour and as the fourth set ebbed and flowed, disaster struck. Sang Veasna, the best Cambodian player by a country mile over the last three World Cups, went down in agony clutching his leg and the belief literally flowed out of his teammates. Their talisman was out and so were they. Even another spot of flag-waving in the 3rd set from me was to no avail. The boring Germans win again, deservedly so, but where's the fun in that. I doubt many people in Germany give a fig for their volleyball team, whilst in Cambodia, thousands were on their feet in the arena and tens of thousands more were watching events unfold on television, egging their heroes onto victory. It wasn't to be. Make no mistake though, Cambodia is proud of its team, they've shown they are true competitors, both in sport and in life.

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Filming in Cambodia

This article appeared in the online Screen Hub - New Zealand website this week following the world premiere of the documentary Brother Number One, which I've previously reported on.

Brother Number One : in Cambodia
Hanuman Films' Kulikar Sotho was the line producer for Brother Number One. We caught up with her in London for an interview about the film and, more broadly, about shooting in the Mekong Delta.

Kulikar's connection to the subject-matter of Brother Number One is a very personal one. Her uncle was executed in the same prison as Kerry Hamill, having been called back to Cambodia from what was then Czechoslovakia by Foreign Minister Ieng Sary (one of the surviving Khmer Rouge government currently on trial). Kulikar's father was also executed by the regime, for having an international outlook. He was a civil aviation pilot and well educated – both things considered threatening to the agrarian society the Khmer Rouge was determined to recreate.

Annie Goldson has spoken about wanting to include and acknowledge Cambodians' experiences in Brother Number One so as not to focus entirely on Rob Hamill's experience. As one of those affected, Sotho found it very challenging. “Every time I have worked on Khmer Rouge-related documentaries, it opens a Pandora's Box of emotions, as I have to face my own loss and suffering.” In Brother Number One, she also acted as interpreter for several of the meetings between Hamill and Cambodians, including “senior Khmer Rouge leaders responsible for the policies that killed so many of my family … (who) deny everything when the evidence is so overwhelming. Brother Number One was special as it was a shared journey with Rob, someone who had also experienced a huge loss because of the Khmer Rouge regime. We shared our loss and discovered the truth together and that helped to share the pain.”

A young child at the time of the Khmer Rouge coup Sotho has, like generations of Cambodians, lived her life under the shadow of what the regime did to the country and its population. Before becoming involved in film and TV production the company she helped found, Hanuman, had travel as its main focus initially before becoming a destination management company. Its first major contract was ticketing the thousands of UN personnel despatched to Cambodia in the early 1990s. Hanuman Travel is still going strong, handling the visits of thousands of tourists each year to the Mekong region of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Kulikar`s partner in Hanuman (and in life) is Nick Ray, writer for Lonely Planet and author of six guidebooks to Cambodia. The travel and destination management experience provided a solid bedrock on which to build the film servicing business as many of the services visiting crews require are the same as Hanuman provides tourists – hotel bookings, transport, guides and translators. The company also has what Kulikar described as “very knowledgeable fixers” for all the other issues that need dealing with, such as permitting.

Following location work on smaller documentaries and films the big break into film servicing, and with it the creation of Hanuman Films, came in 2000 when Paramount contracted Nick and Kulikar as Location Manager and Line Producer for the first major international production to shoot in Cambodia since the mid-sixties, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Hanuman was instrumental in securing permissions for some of the temple shoots, despite strong opposition within government, as well as the logistics of road-freighting large amounts of equipment into remote parts of country, which involved the army building a couple of new bridges. Since then, Hanuman has become well-established and a regular partner of broadcasters the BBC, Al Jazeera and a raft of documentary production companies and netwroks including Discovery and the History Channel. Perhaps strangely it remains the only such film servicing company in Cambodia.

On Brother Number One Kulikar worked closely with the crew on arranging all filming permissions for the shoot to go ahead. The trial of Comrade Duch, at which Hamill spoke, was the first one heard by the specially-convened court. Sotho explained some of the difficulty of creating the documentary in that environment. “Khmer Rouge-related issues are still very sensitive in Cambodia, particularly when set against the backdrop of the Khmer Rouge tribunal. There is a lot of debate about whether cases 3 and 4 can and will move forward and some of the individuals involved in these controversial cases were also key players in the story that Rob and Annie wanted to tell. It was very challenging to try and encourage some of these senior ex-Khmer Rouge figures to talk openly about their roles in the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) regime, particularly with the ongoing trial. Given the backgrounds of some of these individuals, you need to be careful when to push hard and how far you can realistically push. However, as Rob and I shared a personal stake in this story, I think we went as far as humanly possible to get to the bottom of the story.”

Although most people know little of Cambodia beyond the Khmer Rouge and the Angkor Wat temple, Hanuman gets to work on a wide variety of productions, including ones with down under connections. Kiwi director Martin Campbell shot Beyond Borders there in 2002. Prior to Campbell's involvement, Hanuman did the location scouting when the project was still in the hands of Oliver Stone. Once Stone dropped out as director and Campbell took over, Hanuman worked with the production's art department sourcing local materials and props. Most recently, Hanuman has worked on Aussie feature Wish You Were Here (fka Say Nothing). It was, said Kulikar, “the biggest Southern Hemisphere shoot we have done, a complex 10-day shoot in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville with a somewhat sensitive script. The shoot included several crucial night scenes, but everything went very smoothly. Everyone involved in the production loved Cambodia, especially Director Kieran Darcy-Smith.”

Due for release by Hopscotch later this year (in Australia at least), the film features Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer, Felicity Price and Antony Starr as two couples who go on holiday together but one of them doesn't make it back. Naturally, Kulikar would be happy to see more antipodean productions heading to Cambodia to shoot, and noted some of its unique attractions. “Angkor Wat, the world's largest temple; the Bayon, one of the world's weirdest; and the perfect film set that is Ta Prohm, where nature has reclaimed the stones. “Cambodia is an up and coming location so has not been shot to death as in the case of established Asian locations such as Thailand or the Philippines. It is creating a buzz as a destination for virgin locations with unrivalled temples, pristine period locations and flexible crew.”

For the producer in your life, she also gave an overview of the economics. “It is also very affordable for film makers with one eye on the budget. Crew rates are generally a lot cheaper than in more developed destinations in the region. There aren't really any major incentives in place, but then taxes are already pretty low by western standards and there is no requirement to have official government minders in places on set. That is a relief compared with up and coming countries like Vietnam.”

Inbound productions from the UK, US and Australia/NZ make up the bulk of Hanuman's workload and income. Hanuman Films is a main vendor for the BBC in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. According to Kulikar, “That brings a lot of work ranging from the Top Gear Vietnam special through to an earlier Brother Number One for BBC Timewatch, a popular history programme. Television is probably still the main bread and butter (or rice and noodles), but commercials are a growing area and we have supported some signature shoots for Pepsi, Cisco and TUI through Radical Media of London. Films are small but growing. And each time they come around they are definitely not small, but very big in terms of organisation and focus.”

While inbound production is Hanuman's biggest earner, there is a reasonable amount of local film and TV work of which Hanuman has a small piece. After a few quiet decades, the film industry is recovering. According to Sotho, “new generation of young film-makers is emerging inspired by the success of people like French-Cambodian director Rithy Panh.” Rithy's S21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine about the Tuol Sleng prison where Kerry Hamill died, picked up over a dozen awards on the international festival circuit in 2003-4 including the François Chalais Award at Cannes. A decade earlier, he was nominated for the Palme d'Or for drama Neak Sre (Rice People). With bitter irony, it addressed the issue that – barely a decade after the end of the Khmer Rouge's agrarian revolution - the country was incapable of growing enough rice to support its population.

With the obvious exception of the ongoing Khmer Rouge trials, the first of which being the focus of Brother Number One, Cambodia is looking forward and growing its economy. The film and TV industry is a very small part of that growth at present, but – as it hasn't been over-shot and remains cheap by international standards – it is growing. Sotho would naturally be happy for that to continue and for Hanuman to continue to grow with it. “Any Australian or New Zealand productions that are thinking of shooting in Cambodia, Laos or Vietnam will be in safe hands.” Which, happily, is a major step forward from the experience of Kerry Hamill back in the 1970s.

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Exam time

A fighting scene in this morning's classical dance examination
I got to see a brand new Cambodian classical dance piece this morning, prepared by a 4th year student as part of their final examination at the end of their degree studies at the Royal University of Fine Arts city-center campus. I was invited along by Linda Hem, herself one of the country's leading dancers and a teacher at the Secondary School of Arts. Interestingly, the dance that was performed for the benefit of the faculty head and judging teachers, was only prepared after the student had arranged the singing and music as the first step. The dance movements and positions then follow the singing. The whole arrangement would've taken months to prepare. Fellow students and interested onlookers made up the audience, including Lost Loves actress and writer Kauv Sotheary, as the thirty minute dance was performed. Other 4th year students taking their final examinations in spoken drama and folk dance were to follow, on this the second day of the finals.
An elephant enters the scene - well okay, not a real one, obviously
One of the RUFA campus buildings. The campus was originally founded in 1918.
A statue in the center of the RUFA campus in the city center

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

In my absence

The volleyball World Cup has been continuing non-stop but without my presence. Cambodia are winning so maybe I'm a bad luck omen, following my flag-waving antics in the defeat by the boring Germans. Two wins have given Cambodia 2nd spot in the group stage and they now play the semi-final tonight against newbies Sri Lanka, who have surpassed expectations. If Cambodia can manage another victory, then its the big one, against Germany in the World Cup Final, again, tomorrow night. But beating Sri Lanka is no foregone conclusion, even though Cambodia defeated them in the earlier group round. I can't make it tonight either, but will definitely be there if they can get through to face Germany. I wouldn't miss that one. As a Brit, any opportunity to put one over the Jerries shouldn't be missed. And for my adopted country, it would be the crowning achievement to win this competition. It would be great to see Cambodia hold their head high in the sporting arena.
There's a new community-based tourism project that is being officially unveiled next week, called Trapeang Roung, in the Cardamom Mountains corridor, next to the successful Chiphat project, both of which are under the Wildlife Alliance umbrella of support. As soon as I have more detailed information on the new project I'll let you have it, though it will be more of the same as Chiphat, so will feature trekking and mountain-biking opportunities for the adventurous, whilst helping the local community to prosper. You get the idea.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Exhibiting her home

Kanitha in her exhibition home. Pic courtesy Kate O'Hara.
I've previously mentioned an exhibition in the home of artist Kanitha Tith, who I met at the weekend. In her words: "Hut's Tep Sodachann is about my neighborhood and my own home, transforming of the strength way of living and memories!" Kanitha is a student at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Design and she features installation works in her art. She's already exhibited at Bophana Center, Meta House and at the Hotel de la Paix in Siem Reap. In her latest 'in-house' exhibition she reflects upon her own house or any living space in the context of private geography. Kanitha's house is in the area of Boeung Kak Lake, where residents are being relocated due to the development of the lakeside and she felt compelled to draw attention to this in her work. The exhibition is on for this week only and you can contact Kanitha on kanithatith@yahoo.co.uk to visit her home.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rain stopped play

Action from Monday's Cambodia v Germany volleyball match
Rain stopped play. A leaky roof held up the disabled volleyball World Cup tonight at the Olympic Stadium when the presence of a bucket on the indoor volleyball court signalled a problem before the Cambodia v Slovakia match could begin at 6pm. I waited an hour for the drips from the ceiling to subside but they didn't so I left the indoor arena, annoyed that the organisers hadn't foreseen this problem before the WOVD competition began. Anyone who has played on the court during the current rainy season will have been aware of the leaky roof, so my question is why weren't the WOVD organisers and why didn't they fix the problem before this prestigious event began. Frankly, its embarrassing that this important game between two of the fancied teams was so badly affected. It had promised to be a tight game between two evenly-matched teams and I was prepared to play my part with another flag-waving session, but to no avail. Black mark for the competition officials, especially as thousands were tuned into the live television coverage on Bayon TV. One of them was Prime Minister Hun Sen who immediately ordered local authorities to fix the problem.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Lunchtime special

Rorng (left) and Chantha (right) with Monica behind the camera. I'm the one spoiling the photo.
I enjoyed a long chat with three lovely Cambodian-American ladies at lunchtime today, they are visiting from the United States and have been whizzing around Cambodia with two more friends for the last couple of weeks. We're facebook friends so that's a good enough reason to meet up, as well as helping them out with a couple of contacts before they head back home in a few days. Rorng is doing great work with the Cambodian community in Philadelphia, Chantha is a teacher with elementary children and Monica, is still at school.
The Cambodian disabled volleyball team play the third of their WOVD World Cup matches tonight at 6pm at Olympic Stadium against the favourites Germany. As long as the rain holds off I will get along to watch this one, as it promises to be a cracker of a game. Cambodia and Germany have won both of their opening matches.
Postscript: The Germans are so thick-skinned that they don't realise that everyone and their dog dislikes their ruthless efficiency. They displayed it again this evening when they put paid to the host country, Cambodia, 3-1 in sets in front of a partisan home crowd after Cambodia opened up by winning the 1st set. After that it was pretty much downhill and most of it was due to the German's effectiveness in returning service and Cambodia's excitability at the net. The German's aren't the number 1 team in the world for nothing. They grind teams down, show little flair and almost bore you to death. Annoyingly, they are very successful as a result of their style of play. For much of the final set I worked up a sweat by waving a large Cambodian flag but to no avail. The support from the big crowd was great but on the day, the Germans were just too good.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

House blessing

Part of the house blessing/warming was a series of dances from Belle (center) and her friends
Sunday's are usually spent watching football but today was different. I was invited to a house blessing ceremony by Belle and her mum, Nou Sondab, alongwith a host of friends, at their newly-built home in the countryside near Ang Snoul, about an hour from Phnom Penh. The journey there started out in bright sunny weather and ended with the heavens opening and a monumental downpour that looked set to flood everywhere and everything but finally petered out just as the official Buddhist blessing ceremony by a monk and achars from the local pagoda came to an end. Then it was time for food, chicken curry of course, followed by a series of dance performances by Belle and some of her dance team, to the obvious delight of the local village children who had heard the music and rushed to see what was happening. A very enjoyable afternoon, once we'd found the house in what can only be described as the back of beyond. A quick word about an exhibition at the home of Kanitha Tith, one of Belle's friends at the party, who is using her own home at Boeung Kak to show her most recent work to the public for the next week.
Belle and her mum are sat in front of the monk during the blessing
The monks blesses those present with water
A classical blessing dance from one of Belle's friends
Some of the village youngsters who came to witness proceedings

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Crowd violence

Some of the Prek Pra agitators rush forward to voice their displeasure
Football-related violence reared its very ugly head at the Olympic Stadium this afternoon. Related as in the fans of one team in particular got so overheated with the match officials that we saw scenes that resembled a few British and European matches of the 70s and 80s. Local professional team Prek Pra Keila are well known for their vocal supporters and their large numbers of Muslim followers who come and watch all of their matches at the Olympic Stadium but what we witnessed at the end of today's game has no place in football. Displeased with some of the match officials' decisions, a handful of Prek Pra followers decided to express their anger by throwing water bottles from the grandstand as the match ended and the players and officials were about to leave the pitch area. Players took cover as a barrage of water bottles rained down, injuring one of the ball-boys on the leg. As half a dozen military police moved in to stop the disturbance, it escalated and the police were surrounded, outnumbered and were forced to withdraw. The vociferous Prek Pra fans continued to voice their outrage which had now turned its wrath onto the police before the team's manager calmed the situation down and the fans dispersed. From my viewpoint, the fury displayed by a couple of females in the crowd egged on the others and the police then exposed themselves with their ineffectual handling of the situation. There were not enough police officers to handle the size of the crowd and their 'bull in a china shop' attempt to diffuse the angry fans only inflamed them. The whole episode brought considerable shame on the Prek Pra supporters and may necessitate segregating their fans at future matches. Football has been a catalyst for the Muslim community in Prek Pra to openly display their support for the football team but today's game exposed how easily that can be used as a vehicle for public disturbance, which is a road Cambodian football does not want to go down.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Farewell Scott

Scott Bywater in trademark pink jacket and his farewell Quality Drops
One of Phnom Penh's favourite musical sons, Scott Bywater, a long-standing regular with the Cambodian Space Project and a myriad number of other ensembles, said his goodbyes to Equinox with a collection of friends tonight under the banner of Scoddy & the Quality Drops, and amongst an array of tunes he included a few Cambodian favourites fronted by Khmer lass Cheata. Scott is off to a new life in France after a few years here in Cambodia and he will be sorely missed. Bon voyage Scott.
Belting out a few Cambodian songs was guest songstress Cheata, aka Mom

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Dash da Gun


Percydread, one of my fave reggae singers on the planet, has a new EP out soon on Italy's SouLove Records, entitled Dash Da Gun. Here's the YouTube version. You can find out more about Percydread at his website.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

The glam world of film

The latest view on Cambodia as a destination for the film world comes from the online, The Location Guide, which provides the international film community with essential pre-production resources to plan overseas location shoots. Here's what they had to say recently.

From Transformers to Louis Vuitton: Filming on location in Cambodia - by James Peak
It’s frequently said that not much doubles for South East Asia, apart from the Asian South East. One very cheap and cheerful emerging option for all your Vietnamese, Philippine, Thai, Lao, Indonesian and Malaysian needs is Cambodia, as Transformers and Two Brothers have established. Such was the power of Roland Joffe’s triple Oscar-winning The Killing Fields back in 1984, that for many people it is still the first thing that springs to mind when considering Cambodia. But the Cambodian Film Commission (CFC) is home to a knowledgeable gentleman named Cedric Eloy, who paints a surprisingly modern picture of an ancient country that is a cornerstone of international production: “About ten years ago shooting in Cambodia could be a real challenge as nothing was organised and there was no real service industry. Then a few projects, including Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Two Brothers, set us new standards. Since then a film-friendly development policy made its way in and thanks to a few officials and film professionals the infrastructure of Cambodia has improved at every level.”

Cedric explains that 2010 saw Cambodia shift up a couple of gears. International feature film production increased 400%, including Chantal Akerman’s arthouse movie La Folie Almayer and the juggernaut that was Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which reportedly enjoyed unfettered access to the famed Angkor temples and a dizzying degree of local helpfulness in the capital Phnom Penh. In addition, Louis Vuitton had Angelina Jolie return to be photographed by Annie Leibowitz. Also, a series of HSBC commercials has just wrapped. Cedric is vastly experienced at shooting all over the country and reels off a list of exactly why they are so busy with international productions: “We provide productions with experienced people for all departments and CFC does continuous training with international film professionals. Now Cambodian crews have better language skills than in other South East Asian countries and there are now excellent set construction teams that allow producers to build large structures for a third of what it would cost anywhere else. We also have blossoming props duplication and costume copying services that set designers appreciate, as our textile industry is huge.

“We have new lighting and grip equipment and other kit if it’s easily sourced in Bangkok, which is 40 minutes away by air. Also, the large expat community in Cambodia due to the presence of more than 3,000 Non-Government Organisations and foreign businesses makes it easy to find Caucasian extras. The road and hotel infrastructures, as well as widespread internet and mobile networks (3.5G) have improved the country’s capacity to host larger productions. We also have specialist professional helicopter companies, speedboat rental and motor homes for actors, all of which have developed to meet the needs of this expanding industry.”

Cedric is also keen to set out the fiscal stall as well, showing lots of evidence that Cambodia will not break the budget: “Cambodia has a very basic tax system so there are no social charges for employment of labour and services are taxed very little in general. It makes it a country where things are four times cheaper than in Europe, which means that we can say 30% to 70% off your normal production budget, but it does not fit to promote it as an incentive. Film-related imports are considered temporary imports and so are not taxed when coming in or going out. Also there are no ATA carnet fees. Foreign salaries and actors’ salaries are not taxed. Incentives are an asset in countries where life is expensive but a production budget in Cambodia is lower.”

Nick Ray, of Hanuman Films, one of the leading film services companies in Cambodia, is just as buoyant as Cedric: “TV stars like Gordon Ramsay and Charley Boorman rated our country as a highlight of their journeys or series in Asia. Radical Media liked it so much they came to Angkor twice in three months, first for Pepsi and then again for Tui. As we speak we have our first 3D production – shooting at Angkor – and a potential IMAX project as well.”

Camerado's Jason Rosette, founder of film festival CamboFest, and now working on his third feature film Freedom Deal, encourages all new international clients to look beyond the traditional, established attractions, such as the largest temple in the world at Angkor Wat: “There is so much here. Cambodia is developing rapidly and has a lot of understated, under-utilised looks. It offers a solid, thoughtful, progressive and modern sensibility as well. If producers are seeking fresh, original Asian locations then Cambodia should be on the list. Even living in the capital of Phnom Penh you can take a boat across the Mekong and feel like you stepped back in time hundreds of years as you wander the dusty road and rice paddies.”

Nicholas Simon, a 15-year veteran of Cambodia with film servicer Indochina Productions, believes that currently Cambodia’s costs are on a par with Thailand and Vietnam, but points to advantages over these places in the form of unspoiled and un-filmed locations, great wildlife (from river dolphins to Asian elephants) and an array of cosmopolitan an modern Asian and French colonial settings: “In Phnom Penh we have recently doubled for Chechnya, Paris, Washington, DC, and the Philippines among others. Directors from Matt Dillon (City of Ghosts), Mouse McCoy/Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) to Vincent Ward and Carlton Chase all either want to come back or already have. And right now we are bidding for a number of TV commercials and photo shoots, as well as producing a yet-to-be-announced period feature with Graham Leader to be shot entirely in Cambodia.”

The Cambodian Government has seen the value of a solid film industry, perhaps in part because former King Sihanouk made several of his own feature films in the 1960s. All the producers TLG spoke to were keen to point how just how quick and efficient servicing production is nowadays, as Cedric explains: “Shooting is seen by the Government as an activity that generates income for the country and that reduces poverty, which is a primary goal of the Government. The CFC has worked with the Angkor temple site to simplify the permitting process and create a rate policy that is really clear. The temples are now easily accessible to all foreign production with a straightforward process.”

Jason Rosette adds: “Cambodians are very hard workers, very skilled with manual crafts (construction, wardrobe), good-natured and eager to learn. In general, the average Cambodian speaks English much more readily than in Thailand. No union rules and lax tax implementation can make up for the lack of formal incentives.”

For Nick, it is the lack of Government intervention that is a big win: “The current Government is really open to promoting Cambodia to the international film industry and its diverse locations can double for many Asian countries. When Locked Up Abroad: Bangkok could not get permission to film in Thailand, it was shot here. “As in all emerging countries there are sensitivities towards certain subjects such as recent politics or the sex trade, but in general there is no requirement to have official Government minders in places on set, which is a relief compared with other South East Asian up-and-coming countries like Vietnam.”

Cedric also makes much of the experience of filming, which he says is unlike anywhere else in the world: “Shooting here is such a great human experience for each crew. I hear constant nostalgic reports from crew who have worked here. Many of them come back as soon as they can for other shooting, holidays or just on the way to somewhere else. Without exaggerating, at wrap parties there are always tears in the eyes.”

The last word in Cambodia’s favour comes from Jean-Jacqes Annaud after he shot Two Brothers for Pathe in Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Mondolkiri: “It’s an extremely engaging country with sumptuous landscapes. Everywhere you look it’s magnificent. Rice fields are splendid, palm trees unique and that countryside with mountains in the background – it forms such a harmonious whole. Architectural sites are fabulous; there is nothing you can compare it with. One main interest is the combination of mountains, flat land and the Mekong. The Kratie area for example is incredibly beautiful. It’s an exceptional location, on condition that you do it the right way.”

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

BNO Trailer and premiere


The sold-out world premiere of the documentary Brother Number One, a film following Rob Hamill's journey to Cambodia to find out the truth of what happened to his elder brother, Kerry who was murdered at Tuol Sleng, will take place at the New Zealand International Film Festival this coming Sunday, 24 July in Auckland. Rob Hamill's application to be heard as a civil party in case 003 at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal has been thwarted though an appeal against the court's decision is now pending. Hamill has already given testimony as a civil party in case 001, the trial of Comrade Duch. Of the film itself, director Annie Goldson has said that she wants the audience to gain; "an understanding of Cambodia, how hard it is to forgive, the horrors of genocide, a desire to learn more, an acceptance of how culpable we all can be." Find out more at the film's website.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Never fail

Buggeration. My glasses just snapped in half. So off I rushed to the opticians, of which there are a remarkable number these days on every street in Phnom Penh it seems. I always use Phnom Penh Optics on the corner of Sihanouk Boulevard and Street 63 and they never fail me. Replacement frames and lenses at $20 a throw are a good deal in my book. I was in and out, including an updated eye test, in a matter of minutes. If I'd waited about an hour I could've had my new glasses on my face there and then. The choice of frames is staggering but I prefer lighter ones than the plastic 'geek/teacher' frames that they told me are so popular these days. I bought two pairs, slightly different in look, just because they were so cheap.
I bumped into an old friend the other day, Hak Sovanrak, who mentioned to me that he's looking for a job. So if anyone requires a very good chef, who has great credentials and can cook anything, western or khmer, then let me know and I'll put you in touch. I used to frequent the Red Orchid bar on Street 278 when Rak and his family were running the show. That is until he and his lovely family, wife Srey Thom, daughter Srey Keo and two younger siblings, sold up and moved back to their Chbar Ampov home. His CV includes 9 years at Hotel Cambodiana so he knows his stuff. He's a genuine guy and deserves a break.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Not a pretty sight

The boxing at Olympic, it was pretty dark and depressing to be honest
Now I know I've bored you to death with blog posts about football when I specifically said that they would only be confined to my Kingdom of Football blog. So rather than talk about the Phnom Penh Crown Academy boys who were simply stunning in their match on Saturday morning and are definitely THE future of Cambodian football, or even mention another win for the senior Crown team who are leading the bunch at the top of the Cambodian Premier League, I thought I'd briefly touch on...boxing! Before watching the football at Olympic Stadium on Sunday afternoon, I spent half an hour watching some of the 570 boxers who are taking part in the 2011 National Boxing Championships, in the indoor volleyball court at the stadium. The tournament will run until 23 July and judging by the two bouts I watched, there will be a lot of cut lips and bruised egos by the end of it. In both bouts the losers didn't make the full five rounds of punches and kicks, ending up on the canvas nursing black and swollen eyes. It wasn't a pretty sight. In fact they looked way too young to box in an adult national championship but I suppose they have to start somewhere. This was the first few days of the competition, hence the small crowd you see in the picture above. They were pretty much family and friends of the boxers taking part, or early football arrivals like me. I've not been interested in boxing since Muhammad Ali packed it in and this won't convince me to start again either. Talking of the indoor arena at the Olympic Stadium, the 2011 WOVD Volleyball World Cup for disabled players will be coming to Phnom Penh again, starting on Saturday 23 July when Cambodia will meet Laos. This will be the 3rd time that Cambodia has hosted the event, with the hosts taking 3rd and then 4th place in the previous competitions. One familiar face will be missing with Christian Zepp no longer in charge of the Cambodia team but I'm sure the games will get big crowds as usual, especially if the home team can get off to a flying start.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Beating with a Pulse

Tony Brown (left) of Pulse Beat with his brother Selwyn
Anyone who knows me will be aware that I'm a massive (understatement) fan of the British reggae band Steel Pulse. Now that I'm living in Cambodia, getting to see them play live has become a bit of a problem. Unless I travel halfway around the world, it ain't gonna happen. Even when I was residing in the UK, gigs in the homeland were few and far between. Fear not. If you are a Steel Pulse fan, living in Birmingham, their hometown of course, and you need to get your Steel Pulse fix, I recommend seeing Pulse Beat at a venue near you. In fact, Pulse Beat performed at the Simmer Down reggae festival at Handsworth Park on Saturday playing such classic Steel Pulse songs like Handsworth Revolution, Roller Skates and Brown Eyed Girl. As you might've guessed, Pulse Beat are a tribute band to the legends that are Steel Pulse. And leading from the front, as the main vocalist, is Tony Brown, the brother of Steel Pulse's founding member and keyboardist, Selwyn Brown. Now that's what I call keeping it in the family. Tony, usually fronting the band Icon, is joined by Paul Beckford on base guitar, normally playing with Gabbidon, Vince Pierce on keyboards, Clive on percussion and Bev Blisset as backing vocalist. From the band New Direction, members Dave Lewis on drums, Alvyn Linton & Trevor on guitar and Celia Porter as backing vocalist, make up the usual Pulse Beat line-up. From time to time, they are joined by former Steel Pulse legends such as Selwyn himself, Grizzly Nesbitt on drums and lead guitarist Basil Gabbidon. The latter two will join Pulse Beat at their next gig, in Victoria Square, Birmingham on 23 July for the Jamaica Live Festival. They are well worth checking out if reggae classics are your thing.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

For the twitchers

For all you twitchers out there and anyone interested in Cambodia's wildlife, there's a good story being carried in the latest edition (July-Aug) of the Audubon Magazine here. The article was written by Christopher R Rox, who also penned this mini 'bird-tour' when visiting the main temples of Angkor. Next time you visit, keep your eyes open for the birds that Christopher lists below whilst visiting Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm.

Tomb Raider...However, much of this protected landscape is also cloaked in forest, making it a haven for birds—and heaven for twitchers that can appreciate finely carved pilasters as well as flocks of red-breasted parakeets. As a tune-up for an impending ramble into north-central Preah Vihear Province, one of the remotest wilderness areas in Southeast Asia, I accompany Sang Mony, a guide with the Sam Veasna Center, a local environmental nonprofit that conducts Cambodia birding tours, to the world-famous temples just three miles north of Siem Reap.

As dawn smudges the eastern sky, we cross a broad sandstone causeway spanning Angkor Wat’s 600-foot-wide moat. Over the metallic din of cicadas, Mony notes an Asian barred owlet’s soft, trilling hoot and a common myna’s bright, cocky whistle, a vocal talent that’s made this type of starling a pet-shop perennial. We admire the iconic temple’s central quintet of lotus-bud towers. When the crush of tour groups becomes too noisy, we head north through open forest bursting with an invisible bird chorus: cooing greater coucals, raspy red-throated flycatchers, loon-like lineated barbets.

We’re only a few hundred yards removed from one of the world’s most recognizable monuments, yet there’s not another soul around. Our solitude is rewarded every time we scan the trees: the egg-yolk-yellow plumage of a black-naped oriole; a black baza, a handsome hawk with a banded belly and rakish vertical crest; and an ashy minivet, a pedestrian-looking passerine with an impeccable pedigree—it was first scientifically described by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore. After watching a pair of long-tailed macaque monkeys lope across the trail, we pass through the gopura, or gateway pavilion, of Angkor’s northern exterior wall to a placid stretch of the moat filled with wading birds, including male pheasant-tailed jacanas stalking across lily pads upon incredibly elongated toes while flaunting the special tail-feather extensions that are its breeding attire.

In the afternoon we admire the 800-year-old face towers and bas-relief sculptures of the Bayon and then tackle evocative Ta Prohm, another late-12th century temple, which is noted for its symmetrical layout, its fine stonework, and especially for the immense silk-cotton trees’ tentacle-like roots strangling nearly every structure. We thread our way through dim temple passageways and still courtyards, pausing to admire the detailed apsara dancer sculptures adorning the temple walls, to a towering jackfruit tree near Ta Prohm’s southern edge. Above us the branches are festooned with chattering red-breasted parakeets—highly social, foot-long birds known as “moustache parakeets” for their signature facial markings. Though common, their sheer, squawking multitude is breathtaking. It’s a memorable coda to a unique temple tour.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Eye on Cambodia & Laos

A new guidebook that has just hit the bookshelves is the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Cambodia and Laos. 304 pages and available in paperback and eBook formats, the DK Eyewitness guidebooks have cornered a niche in the market for their easy to read glossy style, with lots of photographs, illustrations and maps. This book has specially devised walking tours that take you right to the heart of the two countries’ bustling cities whilst allowing you to take in the unforgettable sights of the temples, beaches, markets and festivals town-by-town. Illustrated food sections highlight the differences in regional cuisines, and the detailed listings of the best restaurants are provided by resident experts. With its comprehensive guide to dining, hotels and tours, the new DK Eyewitness guide is yet another option for your visit to Cambodia and Laos.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Unsung hero

The Cambodia Daily contained a supplement today, celebrating Bastille Day of all things. However, it also highlighted the work of one of the unsung heroes of Cambodia, Bruno Bruguier and his work in mapping the archaeological gems before and during the golden age of Khmer history, the Angkorian period. Bruno may be one in a long line of French explorers, researchers and archaeologists - such as Etienne Aymonier and Lunet de Lajonquiere - who've trodden the trails around the country on behalf of the research institute Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient, but he's the one who has been putting himself out and about the remotest parts of Cambodia since 1995 to map and identify about 5,000 sites, at the last count, many more than originally believed to exist. Maps have been published and Bruno is now revisiting each region to compile detailed guidebooks, of which two have so far been released. His next one, covering the northern temple temples of Koh Ker and Preah Vihear province is eagerly awaited by temple nuts like myself. Added to that, he's one of the nicest guys around and unsung hero just about sums him up perfectly.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ready for take off

Advance warning. The Cambodian Space Project will be back to rock Phnom Penh on Saturday 6 August from 8pm at Mao's Bar on the riverside. Don't say I didn't warn you. A request - can the big guy who was stomping around the dancefloor the last time they played at Mao's, take up a little less room this time around? Thanks in advance. Before their return to the capital, Julien and Srey Thy will play an acoustic set at Siem Reap's 1961 Art Hotel cafe on Wednesday 27 July, to launch an exhibition of Julien's Cosmic Cambodia screen prints. CSP will be heading to the UK and London on 1 September and are at the End of the Road Festival in Dorset the next day, their first toe in the water in England, before they head over to France. More power to their elbow.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mr Battambang

The folks making the documentary In Search of Camp 32 are now back home in Australia, getting their footage, etc in order to be able to head towards the finishing line to complete their film. The blog of their time here in Cambodia caught my eye because it talked about their visit to Battambang with my very good friend, Sak. I know they won't mind me sharing their blog post with you about meeting Mr Battambang.

When we were in Phnom Penh, we were fortunate to meet with Andy Brouwer who gave us the contact number for Sak, a Battambang expert. As soon as we arrived in Battambang we contacted Sak, who promptly met us at the hotel. We didn’t know it at the time, but Sak would turn out to be an incredible resource of information and contacts. And would also become a dear friend to us all. Not only did he arrange much of our day-to-day logistics, put us in contact with people who would prove to be invaluable to the project and share his wealth of information on the Battambang region, he also opened up his heart and shared some of his experiences during the Khmer Rouge. He is a couple of years older than Hom. Sak witnessed and experienced atrocities that are nothing short of harrowing. He is presently writing a book about his life during that time (in English). Sak is an avid reader and excellent communicator.

It’s difficult to put into words the profound effect Sak had on all four of us. His quick wit, generosity and passion for the local environment both urban and rural were infectious. Sak is bursting with knowledge and a deep desire to educate others about Battambang, a city often neglected by tourists. I had previously travelled to Battambang 3 years ago and to be honest I didn’t think much of it. But within hours of seeing it through Sak’s eyes I had grown to love the place. Sak, we simply cannot thank you enough. Your efforts have enriched our film more than we could ever have imagined. We look forward to seeing you again soon. [Sak is pictured with Producer Gaye Miller].

More on In Search of Camp 32 at their website.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Faith restored

Faith restored. Malis restaurant has a very good reputation here in Phnom Penh for its fine food. I've met Luu Meng, the owner and executive chef and I know how hard he tries to ensure his team do the very best job possible in all respects. The restaurant is viewed as the best in the provision of Cambodian food in the city and so on my last visit, a month or so ago, I went away with a negative impression as my food was plain in the extreme, both the starter and main course. However, always willing to give a restaurant a 2nd chance, I was there again tonight with a business guest and this time my meal got the definite thumbs up for all three courses. The meat course in particular was absolutely spot-on. The service too was attentive and timely and overall, the experience very rewarding. As I said, my faith is restored in one of Phnom Penh's finest eating establishments.

Art collector Douglas Latchford is at it again. He's just handed over another priceless jewel to the National Museum in Phnom Penh, this time an intricately cast bronze boat prow ornament from the 11th century and the only one of its kind to be in the museum's collection. Latchford, who is arguably one of the world's leading art collectors of Khmer artefacts, has now donated five important art pieces to the museum, as well as raising funds to install a modern lighting system in the galleries last year. “I have a passion for Asian art, especially for ancient Khmer sculpture and jewellery,” said the Bangkok-based collector. A museum official confirmed that within the past 10 years, the National Museum had received 306 objects donated by foreign collectors, while 1,600 items had been given by Cambodian residents. Latchford also used the occasion to launch his latest book, Khmer Bronzes: New Interpretations of the Past, his third volume written with co-author Emma C Bunker. The other two are the 2004 Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art and in 2008, Khmer Gold: Gifts for the Gods, which together with the new book form the most comprehensive study of Khmer art history ever published. Khmer Bronzes is over 600 pages long with some 460 photographs inside.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

In a rut

It looks like my weekends are getting well and truly stuck in the same old rut. The football season here in Cambodia has started again this weekend so it means that both my Saturday and Sunday afternoons are spent watching footy at the Olympic Stadium. I'm not complaining as it's my choice to watch all the games but it uses up the majority of my spare time so it means I'm not getting out and about as much as I used to. For example, I haven't got on the back of a moto and disappeared into the countryside for many months now, which is something I used to love to do. Nevertheless, football is in my blood, so attending the games at the near-empty stadium is like devouring your favourite sweets, once you start it's impossible to stop. I'm like that with Opal Fruits (or Starburst as they're called now - they will always be Opal Fruits to me). Watching the games in the hot and humid stadium is actually pretty tiring and its not uncommon for me to return home and fall asleep - it's either the heat or my age, I haven't worked out which one yet. I missed a film at Meta House last night because of exactly that. Living in this marvellous country does have its down-sides... and falling asleep is one of them.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Adding to the pile

Sophiline Cheam Shapiro demonstrating some classical moves
A paperback copy of John Lathrop's new novel The End of the Monsoon, set in Phnom Penh, landed in my in-tray today, courtesy of the publisher's John Murray via William at Monument Books. So I have another book to add to my reading pile. I'd better get my finger out and crack on with reading them instead of posting on my blog. Some say that would be a blessing in disguise.
I met the owner of Kanell restaurant this morning. She was in town, trawling the travel agents to promote her eatery which opened quite a few months ago in Siem Reap. It looks great in the pictures, has a swimming pool on tap, rooms for lots of diners and a choice of good quality Asian or Western food. Located on the same road as Alliance Cafe and just around the corner from another new restaurant, Cuisine Wat Damnak, which is much smaller and more intimate.

Sophiline Cheam Shapiro basically gave a masterclass in the rudiments of classical Cambodian dance tonight at the Sa Sa Bassac gallery, as she teamed up with Belle and artist Ouk Sochivy to discuss the evolution of traditions in art. Once she began you couldn't stop her and she regaled the audience with the basics of the artform that she teaches so successfully with her Khmer Arts Ensemble. Some of her troupe were in the good-sized audience, who also got involved by imitating some of the hand gestures. Sophiline explained in an easy-to-understand fashion, the basis for the storylines in classical dance and showed how she is pushing the boundaries to interpret the age-old art into her own ground-breaking style. Belle took less time to explain why she has chosen the path of contemporary dance to express herself and her feelings but was equally passionate for her cause. And rightly so, as she's undoubtedly the best contemporary performer in the country. Ouk Sochivy's exhibition of her paintings hung around the walls of the gallery as the session took place and it was abundantly clear that she has followed in the footsteps of her grandfather, legendary painter Svay Ken, with her distinctive style of painting. However she is forging her own path by showcasing the youth of today in her art, and her In The Club exhibits were typical of her recent work. The evening was hosted by Erin Gleeson and I must say that it was an interesting couple of hours in the company of artists who know their stuff.
Sophiline Cheam Shapiro standing with Belle and Ouk Sochivy seated to her right
Ouk Sochivy's Girl Band painting is part of her youth culture exhibition
Ouk Sochivy's two female models in the unmistakable style of her grandfather Svay Ken

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Looking ahead

Don't forget tomorrow night's panel discussion (Friday 8 July, from 6.30pm until 8pm) at the Sa Sa Bassac studio on Sothearos Boulevard. The discussion is on evolving traditions in painting and dance and will include the likes of the talented Belle, fresh from her recent travels to USA to perform Khmeropedies, as well as Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, the founder of the Khmer Arts Ensemble and a leading innovator in classical dance, together with artist Ouk Sochivy, who has a solo exhibition at Sa Sa Bassac right now. The following night (Saturday 9 July at 7pm), Meta House is the venue for a documentary called Red Wedding: Forced Marriage and Rape under Khmer Rouge - the story of Pen Sochan, one of up to a quarter of a million women who were forced into marriages under the KR regime.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fresco freebie

Had a call this afternoon to tell me I was a winner. It's the type of telephone call I like but on further investigation, my success was pretty small fry. The call came from those fine folks at Cafe Fresco and I was now the proud owner of a $10 voucher, as one of the runners-up in their on-going monthly draw to reward their customers, which has a top prize of a free 2-night stay at the FCC Angkor hotel. You can enter their draw if you spend $5 or more in any one visit. At their prices, you can't help but spend that amount. But beggars can't be choosers and anything free is always welcome. I frequent the BKK Fresco on a very regular basis and though I haven't managed the big prize yet, my fingers are crossed. A nice break in Siem Reap is just what the doctor ordered. You may recall that I wasn't happy when Fresco's completely changed their waiting staff a few months ago. However, I'm pleased to report that the new staff have quickly got up to speed and they always make me feel welcome, even though they still raise an eyebrow when I ask for 4 sugars in my latte.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mum's the word

A pal of mine mentioned the Phnom Penh Museum of Ethnology to me tonight and though I'd heard of it, I've not yet had the pleasure of visiting it. And I don't think too many others have either. For starters, it's not widely known about and is housed in the Tuol Kork home of an individual, so effectively it's a vast private collection. The man responsible for it is historian and ethnologist Dr Michel Tranet, a former undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, and those that have seen his Aladdin's Cave of treasures say it's an eclectic but thoroughly fascinating collection of cultural artifacts stretching back way before the time of Angkor. It includes bronzes, manuscripts, sandstone carvings and much more besides. The study of ethnology usually means the comparison and analysis of the origins, distribution, religion, language, and social structure of nations or ethnic groups. There are museums under the same moniker in Vietnam and Laos but I believe the Phnom Penh version differs greatly. In its current form, it's at best a huge personal collection of artifacts assembled by an individual over many decades. At worst, it's a hotchpotch of stuff rarely seen by outsiders. However, if you see the sign on the side of the road, Museum of Ethnology, ring the doorbell and see if you can get a look inside.

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Meta's month ahead

The start of a new month means a new programme of events at Meta House, here in Phnom Penh. I must admit I used to be a pretty regular attendee at Meta House though my visits have dropped off considerably. Despite their eclectic listings, it's now quite rare that something in their schedule really catches my attention. Regular re-runs of documentaries like Enemies of the People and Lost Loves for example, don't help. This month I'll pop round for the documentary called Red Wedding: Forced Marriage and Rape under Khmer Rouge, this coming Saturday (9 July). It's the story of Pen Sochan, one of up to a quarter of a million women who were forced into marriages under the KR regime. I still haven't seen Facing Genocide, a film following for Khmer Rouge Head of State Khieu Samphan before his arrest and involvement in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. That will be screened on Thursday 21 July. The following night there are three new films under the banner of Khmer Cinema Night, which will give everyone a taste of what Khmer film directors are currently producing. I do miss some of the painting exhibitions that were such a feature at the old location, exhibitions involving Chhim Sothy, Vann Nath and many others immediately spring to mind, though I'm sure it's just a temporary blip. There are more venues opening up and exhibiting artworks around the capital these days, which is great news, but do I get along to them? - not as often as I should.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Emotionally spent

An emotional rollercoaster. Otherwise known as the Cambodian national football team. The whole country was on top of the world last Wednesday when the national team came roaring back against Laos to win the first leg of their World Cup qualifying match 4-2. The crowd at the Olympic Stadium were in raptures of the highest order. It was great to be part of it. Tonight, I'm emotionally drained, thoroughly depressed and angry. Laos turned the tables in the 2nd leg in Vientiane and have just whipped the Cambodian team's arse 6-2 after extra time. I've been very critical of the coach's selection policy, in addition to which we took a reduced squad to Laos to cut costs and both came back to bite us big-time. We had a 2-goal head start that was wiped out within half an hour before we got our noses in front again on half-time. Two more early goals, a trait which Cambodia adopts away from home, was again levelled by that man Kouch Sokumpheak, quickly assuming national hero status, and it was all-square at 6-6 on the final whistle. Edge of the seat stuff. Extra-time was our undoing, another early goal effectively settled it and Laos ran out 6-2 winners on the night. Gutted. We could've and should've beaten Laos but we didn't and now have to wait another 4 years for more World Cup glory.

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Popular doesn't mean good

This evening I had a meal in the enormously-popular Khmer Surin restaurant, which happens to be in almost spitting distance of my house and yet I haven't tasted its menu for maybe six years. I get put off by all the tourist buses that roll up to its doors every evening. They park all over the place and make that particular corner a hazard for all concerned, especially as the street lighting is non-existent. However, I keep getting told that the food is good, hence my visit tonight. I was not impressed. I tried two dishes, both popular and easy to get right, namely fish amok and lok lak. They failed. The amok was weirdly-presented with miniscule portions that simply didn't get anywhere near filling my belly, so I was forced to tuck into my friends lok lak, which had a very tart sauce and the meat was undercooked. The table lighting was poor too, so we couldn't see what we were eating. All in all, very disappointing.

There's what promises to be an interesting panel discussion next Friday evening, 8 July, from 6.30pm until 8pm at the Sa Sa Bassac studio on Sothearos Boulevard. The discussion is on evolving traditions is painting and dance and will include the likes of the talented Belle, fresh from her recent travels to USA to perform Khmeropedies, as well as Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, the founder of the Khmer Arts Ensemble and a leading innovator in classical dance, together with artist Ouk Sochivy, who has a solo exhibition at Sa Sa Bassac right now.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Open for business

Man and ox, in one of Baphuon's famous decorative wall panels
On Sunday a ceremony to inaugurate the Baphuon temple at Angkor, for many years tagged as the world's largest jigsaw puzzle, will see the King of Cambodia, Norodom Sihamoni and the French Prime Minister, Francois Fillon preside over the celebrations and tour the three-tier temple that has been rebuilt at a cost of $14 million. The renovations actually began in the 1960s when a French-led team of archaeologists dismantled the pyramidal building because it was falling apart, largely due to its heavy, sand-filled core that was putting pressure on the thin walls. At that time, workers numbered some 300,000 of the sandstone blocks and laid them out in the surrounding jungle. Civil war, the Khmer Rouge and the loss of the numbering system made it an incredibly tough task to rebuild the 11th century temple before it was finally completed in April. Now the Baphuon is open again, and welcoming visitors in through its doors.
The face of a dvarapala male guardian at the western gopura

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