Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The real thing

A shocking video appeared on Facebook this week showing a robbery taking place at a market in Phnom Penh. It wasn't a set-up, it wasn't a film production, it was the real thing. A middle-aged women, a money-exchanger, was robbed and shot in the chest at point-blank range by three robbers and left to die on the pavement. Not content with stealing her box of cash, and beating her to the ground, they had no compunction in taking her life as well. This is a side to life in Cambodia, it's not a rare occurrence, and the taking of life with such apparent ease, that can be hard to stomach, let alone understand. The likelihood is that the killers will not be caught. And will be motivated to do it again. And again. Cambodia isn't always the bed of roses it might appear to be at first and second glance.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Coming up...

This coming Friday is the premiere of the contemporary dance performance of A Thin White Line at the Lyla Lagoon Sports Center, featuring the fabulous Belle and friends from 6.30pm. Free tickets are at a premium from those good folks at Amrita. Then on Saturday (3 September), the all-girl group with a cause, the Messenger Band, will give a live performance of their repertoire at Meta House from 7pm as well as showing their new music video, No Choice which tells the story of garment factory worker Vann Houn. The Messenger Band are garment workers themselves who take their message to the people, in both the cities and rural areas, where they sing and talk about social injustices. Director of the film is Kate O'Hara who previously worked with the Khmer Arts Ensemble and who is also co-curator of the month's Our City Festival that's taking place. Our City will start on 8 September with a launch at the Java cafe from 7pm. It will bring together a bunch of people and organizations to celebrate Phnom Penh, its heritage and culture. I haven't seen the schedule yet but it'll include exhibitions, performances, talks and tours offered to the public, free of charge. Java Arts will join with others ranging from ArtXProjects, French Cultural Centre, Heritage Mission, Khmer Architecture Tours, Khmer Arts Ensemble, Manolis House, Meta House, SaSa Art and many more. And over at the renamed Institut Francais (aka French Cultural Centre) there is the annual Lakhaon Festival from 10-17 September with a range of half a dozen plays.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Serious setback

Vann Nath in a quiet moment at Tuol Sleng
Whilst congratulating myself on my team's footballing success, I had the wind knocked out of my sails by the devastating news that the Cambodian artist Vann Nath suffered a heart attack on Friday and is in a coma in Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh. Vann Nath, one of the most gracious men you could ever meet, has been beset by health problems for many years including kidney disease but this latest setback sounds like it will be his biggest battle yet. Vann Nath was one of the few survivors to come out of Tuol Sleng prison alive when the Pol Pot regime was toppled and has been a leading figure in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal and in the media spotlight through his own biography and film and documentary appearances.
Postscript: Vann Nath remains in an extremely critical condition. Keep updated here.
The Print Workshop at the Royal University of Fine Arts will be organizing the sale of Vann Nath's prints to raise money for his medical bills. They are launching their first exhibition this Friday (2 September) at the RUFA studio where the works of the students, Pich Sopheap, Vann Nath and Kong Vollak will be on display. It will continue into Saturday and Sunday.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

I'm ecstatic

It's shirts off and time to celebrate as the Crown players acknowledge their supporters
Get in there! Phnom Penh Crown eased to a 1-nil win this afternoon over rivals Preah Khan Reach that was enough to see them secure the Cambodian League Championship with 1 game to spare. I'm ecstatic and relieved in equal measures as it's a nervous time, knowing that you need a victory to win the title and that this is football afterall, and anything is possible. There are no ready-made certainties even though Crown were pre-season favourites to retain the title they won last year. Coach Dave Booth came in eight games ago to steady the ship after Bojan Hodak moved into the top flight in China and he's come in with a 'don't change anything if it ain't broke' attitude, that has worked like a treat. He has a knack of getting the job done and that's exactly what he's achieved. Eight victories later and Crown have won the league title with just 1 defeat in 17 matches, pending next Sunday's final match against Naga. I know the league officials and many neutrals would've liked next week's game to be the decider, but bugger that, I wanted to win it today and so did the players. Full marks to every one of them. They're recovered from that mid-season wobble when we lost to Naga and in Singapore, to get the job done and the championship in the bag. The league success is important in itself but also for next season and the continuing progression of the club. We want to lead by example in everything we do, whether it's the first-team, the Academy boys, the off-the-field stuff, our aim is to be the number one club in the country and to go onto make waves in Asia, so winning the league is one of those building blocks we needed to have in place. Now we have the small matter of next week's game, collecting the championship trophy and then getting ourselves in tune, ready for the AFC President's Cup final round in Taiwan later next month. That's the great thing about being involved in this club, there's always something to look forward to.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rare visit

A bite to eat at Chayyam. LtoR: Thida, Now, me and Rumnea
A rare flying visit from my old pal Now, who popped down from Siem Reap with her friend Thida, was worthy of a celebratory meal at Chayyam restaurant on St 278 tonight, and Rumnea came too. Lots to catch up on and an opportunity for them to watch the dance performance of Sophea, who is a regular part of the restaurant's doff of the hat to classical and folk dance and music.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Monkeying around

The 7 male monkeys take their plaudits after an energetic performance
There wasn't room to swing a cat, let along a monkey at the Lyla Lagoon Sports Center tonight as the word had definitely got out that there was something very different taking place in this unusual location. The packed audience hushed as the show began and 45 minutes later were long in their applause after an incredible performance by the seven male dancers had kept them transfixed throughout. Khmeropedies III: Source/Primate was all about monkeys. Not the classical ones you see in Khmer masked ballet but the unrestrained, playful, energetic and volatile versions that choreographer Emmanuele Phuon had elicited from the chosen male dancers. To be honest the guys gave it their all, pushing themselves to the limits of exhaustion, literally bounding around the floorspace, repeatedly, or imitating in quite remarkable fashion, the intimate actions and details of our furry friends. This was very far removed from the I and II Khmeropedies versions as to stand in its own category, bringing to life, in a very dramatic way, a role that is always welcomed and enjoyed in Khmer classical performance, but previously under-utilized. As this is a work in progress, it looks like Phuon and her team will continue to stretch the boundaries and give more life to these monkey antics. A very different contemporary show, A Thin White Line, will take place at the same location next week, Friday 2 September, involving the likes of Belle, Yon Davy and Nam Narin, who are working with Australian choreographer Paea Leach.
Two of the monkeymen, Zhacky and Rady (right)

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thin White Line

More dance stuff before I forget. This Friday it's Khmeropedies III at the Lyla Lagoon Sports Center venue (I've never heard of this place before) which you should already know about. 7 guys doing monkey stuff. It's a work in progress, so a great opportunity to see it in a raw state. I'll be there. Then on Friday 2 September at 6.30pm, the Lyla Lagoon will also host a contemporary performance, A Thin White Line, the result of a workshop with Australian choreographer Paea Leach and involving the brilliant Belle (pictured) and four others. Amrita Performing Arts are behind both shows. This kinda stuff doesn't come along too often, so turn off the tv and get along to support the artists.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A chance of survival

Critically endangered turtles are now welcoming visitors. Since June this year, the Mekong Turtle Conservation Center has been open to guests, for a small fee ($3 for foreign adults), where you can see one of the world's rarest and largest freshwater turtles, the Cantor's softshell. Hatchlings are given the opportunity to grow into juveniles before being released back into their natural habitat, after spending ten months in indoor tanks, whilst a large outdoor pond assists with a turtle breeding program. The center gives sanctuary to four types of turtles until they are ready to be released back into the Mekong River. Local fishermen and communities have been educated not to eat or steal the turtle eggs and in fact to report the nests they find in exchange for small rewards. All entry fees and donations will go straight back into the project and the local villagers near the center, which is housed in the grounds of the Wat Sarsar Mouy Rouy pagoda, better known as the 100 pillar pagoda, about 40kms north of Kratie town. Conservation International and the monks at the pagoda are behind the center, which is open from 8am until 5pm, with a break for lunch. So for wildlife enthusiasts , that's rare turtles and rare dolphins on the Mekong River itinerary.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Dance and stuff

On the dance and music front, there was a promotion at the new radio station NRG on Friday that involved the Klapyahandz team and a multitude of others including a contemporary piece from Belle I'm told. I didn't go as it was a Tiger beer promotion (I detest beer) and hip hop isn't my thing, so no take on Belle's most recent offering. There was also a do at the cafe at the French Cultural Center on the same night. I didn't make that either. Mainly because it was the French or was it the 'bring your Hawaiian shirt'. Not sure. Much more interesting is the latest in the Khmeropedies series of dances from choreographer Emmanuele Phuon. Following the rip roaring success of the I and II series of performances that have been performed far and wide in the United States and elsewhere, Khmeropedies III is getting its first airing this coming Friday (26 August) at The Sport Club on St 508 in Phnom Penh, 6.30pm start and its free. This time around Belle isn't taking part - she starred in I and II - instead it's an all-male cast with 7 dancers playing monkey roles. Sounds intriguing.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Usual diet

I have been absent this weekend, not because I was incommunicado but because I didn't really do anything noteworthy aside from the usual diet of work and football. And more football. However, we are rapidly approaching the end of the footy season in Cambodia. We have two more weeks left of the regular domestic season, and if Phnom Penh Crown, my team, win one of their last two matches then we capture the league championship for the 2nd year running. It's important that we do, not only because we want to be the top-dogs in Cambodia, but it's also the ticket to join in the AFC President's Cup next season, a competition that raises our profile considerably amongst the Asian football community. After we complete our regular season on 4 September, hopefully by lifting the championship trophy, then we have a couple of weeks before we head to Taipei for the final round of this season's AFC President's Cup, where we are through to the last six teams. This is the third tier cup competition in the region though the kudos in winning it would be tremendous. However, we're up against some tough opposition, so don't hold your breath. Nevertheless, I'll be off to Taipei with the team and we'll give it our best shot.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Her Father's Daughter

Conversations between a daughter and a father, where they come to understand each other, are the backbone of a new book, Her Father's Daughter, by author Alice Pung. Kuan, her father, survived the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and the book details the stages of his life in Melbourne, Australia where he arrived with his wife after living as a refugee in Thailand, China and Cambodia. This is Pung's second book, her first, Unpolished Gem, won the Australian Book Industry Newcomer of the Year award. Her Father's Daughter, all 256 pages of it, will be published by Black Inc in Australia next month. You can find out more about the author here.

The proposed bicycle ride over to Koh Dach and then across the Mekong River to its east bank and then back to Phnom Penh this morning, never happened. Two of the three participants pulled out, so we will re-schedule for later next week. I still have nightmares about my cycling experience in Mondulkiri a few years ago so the postponement is fine with me. Our intended route is flat compared to the altitude I had to deal with in that northeast ride from hell. To be honest, cycling and me don't go well together. What excuse can I find to duck out of next week's trip I wonder.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Avatar in Phnom Penh

Villagers from all four corners of Cambodia converged on Phnom Penh today, dressed in green, to highlight the problem of large tracts of forest that are being lost to domestic and foreign businesses. Many were dressed in outfits designed to evoke a Khmer-style version of the hit film Avatar, which depicts the struggle of an alien race battling to save their forest from commercial exploitation. Protesters had green painted faces, green shirts and wore a green leaf as a hat. Dozens of the peaceful protesters were then promptly arrested for handing out leaflets, albeit released later without charge. One of the key forested areas, Prey Lang covers 3,600 sq kms covering parts of Preah Vihear, Stung Treng, Kratie and Kompong Thom provinces and is the largest primary lowland dry evergreen forest remaining in both Cambodia and Indochinese Peninsula.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Coming home

The Gods of Angkor exhibition is on its way home to Cambodia. This article ran in Voice of America Khmer edition from reporter Cheang Sophinarath:

It ran for more than a year, a collection of Cambodian bronze sculptures from the Angkorian period. On loan from the National Museum of Cambodia, the collection drew thousands of museum-goers, first to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington, and more recently at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California. But now the exhibit is on its way home, its run at the Getty having ended 14 August. The project began with talks between the Smithsonian and the National Museum of Cambodia, said Jeffery Weaver, associate curator of sculptures and decorative arts at the Getty. That led to a Getty foundation grant to train conservators for the sculptures in Cambodia, but went further when organizers decided to highlight the bronzes in the US.

As a result, the bronzes have been here since May 2010, and in Los Angeles, near the Cambodian community in Long Beach, they received a warm welcome and send-off. The collection spurred a conference on the conservation of art, brief courses on Cambodian culture, art, religion and food, and a festival that included the US-based rock band Dengue Fever. The very last gallery course was called “The Glory of Angkor,” set up by the Norton Simon Museum, which houses a permanent collection of Khmer art, and the Getty. The first part of the course taught the history of Hindu and Buddhist art in Southeast Asia. The second went into detail of the Angkor kingdom. As students walked through the Getty gallery on a recent weekend, they were given details on each sculpture’s historic details, its value to the Angkorian period and its conservation history.

Melody Rod-ari, who taught the double-weekend course, said she wanted students “to recognize how important Angkor Wat is to the art history and the culture of Cambodia.” In her lecture, she also focused on the importance of mountain temples in Khmer religious architecture. Those who attended the course said it helped them understand more about Cambodia. And the Getty’s Weaver said, now that the exhibit is gone, he’s looking forward to more in the future.In a separate interview, Melody Rod-ari (above) is the curator of the Norton Smith Museum in Pasadena, and walked the same reporter through her museum's Khmer collection:

“This is a sculpture of Harihara,” she explained. “He is half Vishnu and half Shiva. Harihara became very important to the Khmer kings. These types of sculpture were made all the way up to the 13th Century, but they were very popular from 7th to 9th. I think today it is easy to forget that Hinduism was a very important religion in Cambodia and all of Southeast Asia, because today everyone practices Theravada Buddhism. But Hinduism was very important, so we have a lot of these earlier Hindu images.” She beckoned me closer. On the right side was Vishnu, holding a conch shell, a chakra wheel and a mound of earth specific to Cambodian art. “In Indian art, he does not hold the mound of earth,” Rod-ari said. “He holds the lotus flower and the club.” Harihara’s face had just half of Shiva’s third eye, with matted hair. “It is believed that Shiva does not like to take showers, so that’s why he has the dreadlocks,” she said. “This is not a very large sculpture, just about 26 inches, but in terms of quality it is very fine.”

Her favorite, she said, was a giant image of Vishnu. “He is larger than life and bigger and taller than any person that you would meet,” she said as we stood before the statue. “Something this large would have been inside of the temple. The surface of this sculpture is shiny; this is typical of what you would have seen during the Angkor period. This is because the artist wanted to make sure that the object was beautiful. “This is not just the image of the god,” she said. “It’s supposed to represent the real gods themselves, so Vishnu is supposed to be embodied in this image.” Vishnu held a ball of earth, “absolutely a Cambodian invention,” she said. “You don’t see this in any other place.” The 10th-Century statue had holes in his earlobes, a testament to his importance, Rod-ari said. “He probably wore real gold earrings and bracelets, rings, and necklaces and real clothes,” she said. “So these are the star pieces at the Norton Simon Museum."


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On the airwaves

I received an invite out of the blue today to take part in a radio talk show in a few week's time. It's the PUC Radio Talk Show that is aired daily between 7-8.30pm on 90.0 FM. Soma Norodom is the host of the show which is a bold educational initiative by the folks at Pannasastra University to promote the flow of information on a wide range of topics, in the English language. It's very nice of them to invite to me to join them for their evening show on 7 September and most likely I'll concentrate on my involvement in tourism, though I hope we'll touch on football as well. We shall see, they might have something completely different up their sleeve.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Dreamland

The guv'nor of Phnom Penh is making dramatic claims that his city will be the host of the world's 3rd tallest building in the not too distant future. I'll believe it when I see it. A third bridge across to the wedding-party island of Koh Pich was opened today and in his speech, he mentioned a 2012 start for the building of Koh Pich Tower which he said would be 555 metres in height, but with only 50 stories. It would be the world's third highest behind one in Japan (634m) and China (600m). Dramatic claims of this nature are not uncommon so I won't hold my breath. The suggested cost is $200 million, though that's very cheap when you find out that the Japanese one cost $850 million. The guv'nor also backtracked immediately when he said that if they couldn't build 555 metres, then it would be 456 metres high. It ain't gonna happen.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Football...what else?

It's been all about football, as usual, this weekend, especially with the Barclays Premier League restarting as well. It well and truly pissed down on Sunday and caused the C-League match between Naga and the Sea Sharks to be abandoned at half-time, with water covering the pitch, the deluge continuing unabated and fans sheltering under the grandstand. I'm having second thoughts about my television pundit predictions as the TVK commentators are taking the piss every time I get my prediction wrong. God knows what they are saying about my predictions on-air. The fact that the football federation has to pay the tv company to screen the matches, continues to make me scratch my head. How can the best game in the world, a religion in many parts, have to stump up cash to get the games screened live; it should be the television stations scrambling over themselves to cover the games. The world's going to hell in a handcart (whatever that means).

I'm putting you on notice that Our City Festival 2011 will be taking place from 8-18 September in Phnom Penh, for the 4th year running. There will be a stack of events including exhibitions, architecture, installation, public art, sound art, video art, dance, talks and films. I'm told the Khmer Arts Ensemble will be showcasing their classical dance works again, before they head off for a tour of the United States, as well as a bunch of local artists and more. I'll let you have the highlights of the festival when I get the info.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Look-alikey is back

I don't know about you but I've missed the occasional look-alikey where I previously compared myself to Prince Charles, as well as King Norodom Sihamoni with cartoonist Bun Heang Ung. This time around it's my good friend Sam Savin, one of the Royal Ballet classical dancers and a teacher at the Secondary School of Fine Arts. Her look-alikey is on the cover of a children's folktale book about the History of Phnom Sompov Hill in Battambang. I hope she doesn't mind. If she does, I'm in the dog-house.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Unveiling Trapeang Roung

A ferry operator at Chiphat in the late afternoon
I had to miss the official unveiling last week of the new community-based tourism project at Trapeang Roung, in the Cardamom Mountains corridor, next to the successful Chiphat project. Essentially it will be more of the same as its sister operation at Chiphat. By that I mean trekking through remote jungle, rough-and-adventurous mountain biking tours, visits to 500-year-old burial jar sites, swimming at waterfalls, wildlife and bird watching, evening boat rides, and nighttime fishing for river lobsters, amongst the activities on offer. A big player in making it happen has been Wildlife Alliance who began work in Trapeang Roung in 2008 to ensure the conservation of the area and getting the community on board. Before they began, the community had few options other than illegal hunting and slash-and-burn farming that was destroying the rainforest. Tourism offers them an alternative opportunity to work as guides, chefs, and guesthouse operators, earning a sustainable living and preserving the environment around them. It promises to be a more adventurous version than Chiphat, which has proved one of the most popular ecotourism projects in the country.
On the subject of tourism sites in Cambodia, one that is on most visitor's programs when they visit Phnom Penh for the first time is the killing fields site at Choeung Ek, the final resting place of more than 9,000 victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. The private Japanese company that took over the management of the site in 2005 (for the next 30 years) have just announced that from 1 January 2012 the admission fee for foreigners will increase to $6 and will include an audio tour of the center, in various languages, whether you use it or not.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Skulduggery abounds

The topic of ancient Khmer artifacts being sold at leading auction houses such as Sotheby's in New York has popped its head up again. Researcher Tess Davis has long been a voice in identifying such trading especially when the artifacts have little or no information about their origin, indicating that most of these items were looted from Cambodia or left the country illegally. Between 1988 and 2010, the New York branch of Sotheby's put 377 Khmer pieces up for auction, of which 71% lacked the necessary provenance, or ownership documents. Essentially they were condoning the sale of illegal or stolen Khmer art. During the 1990s, these sales were commonplace though they've now dropped off considerably as pressure from heritage preservation groups have highlighted the skulduggery taking place at these so-called world class auction houses. You can read more from Tess Davis on the subject here. The topic is currently in the news as Thailand have so far refused to hand back to Cambodia 36 Khmer artifacts that they apprehended from smugglers in 2000. Establishing provenance is the reason, though the Thai authorities have already handed back 7 of the objects, whilst Cambodia say they gave the Thais the necessary paperwork a long time ago.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mapping lost memories

Kim and myself on one of her visits to Phnom Penh
My friend and series editor of my own book, To Cambodia With Love, Kim Fay, will have her first novel out on 24 April 2012, according to Kim and her publishers, Ballantine. Which is all very exciting as Kim gave me a draft of her novel a few years ago to read, so I got a sneak preview, though I know that she's re-written long passages of it since and had many sleepless night self-editing herself. At the time I read it, the book was called In Yellow Babylon and was set in Shanghai and in Cambodia in the 1920s. The locations haven't changed but the title of the novel has, it will now be called The Map of Lost Memories. The publishers are Ballantine Books division of Random House in the USA, whilst in the UK (and its Commonwealth countries) Hodder & Stoughton will publish, and in translation in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Holland, Italy and Hungary. Not bad for a first novel I would suggest. I cannot wait for it to land on my doormat (if I had one). Kim has already edited a series of travel books and written Communion - A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam.

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Political study

20 years after he released his last two publications on Cambodia, political scientist Michael Haas (pictured) is set to publish his latest book, The Emergence of Modern Cambodia from the Killing Fields: What happened in the Critical Years? later this year. In it, he will explain Cambodia's six holocausts, the Vietnamese occupation, UNTAC, an economic analysis and prospects for accountability of war criminals. Professor Haas has taught political science in London, Hawaii and California, played a role in halting secret funding to the Khmer Rouge by the American administration and has authored many books on human rights. But it is Cambodia that he has returned to for his latest book, after his well-regarded 1991 publications, Cambodia, Pol Pot and the United States: The Faustian Pact and Genocide by Proxy: Cambodian Pawn on a Superpower Chessboard (which he hopes to publish in paperback soon).

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

A day out

The Academy boys and their coaches on the steps of Oudong
I had a choice of watching the murder of Rithysen, Cambodian football's current whipping boys, by Naga at Olympic Stadium today or join the Phnom Penh Crown Academy team as they headed up to Kompong Chhnang province for a couple of matches followed by a relaxing visit to Oudong mountain. Obviously, I chose the latter as the Academy boys not only play fabulous football but they are an absolute credit to the club and to themselves. The future of football in Cambodia is in great hands if these boys go onto have a career in the game, that's for sure. They won both matches, played on a poor surface in Kompong Tralach, watched by a large and mostly Muslim crowd, who ended up cheering the boys on against a much bigger team in the first match. The Academy boys are 13 and under whilst their opponents were 15 and under. The Academy boys are made of stern stuff as well as playing the game the right way, and came out 2-1 winners, under the hot sun. The next game was against same-age players with the recently-crowned Festival champions, but the Academy were still too good for them, winning 2-nil. As a reward, the boys went for lunch at Oudong mountain and then paid a visit to this very religious location, though the heavens opened and we spent most of the time sheltering from the torrential rain. Next stop we called into the family home of coach Bouy Dary for more food before heading home and arriving back in the dark. As far as day's out go, this was one of the better ones.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Voiceover

Do I have a new career in the offing? I seriously doubt it but you just never know. I was invited to have a go at a voiceover for a radio station commercial this evening and before I knew it, I was in the sound booth doing my bit for the largest housing and business development in the city. I used to have a go at hospital radio as well as football reporting for Severn Sound and BBC Radio Gloucestershire in the good old days back when I was living in Cheltenham but I must admit, I always cringed when I heard myself on playback as I have a very nasal sound when speaking into a mic. I'm told there's a definite need for native English speakers for voiceovers and locally-produced documentaries and the radio people said they'd send my tape to the people that matter. Should I be sitting by the phone, waiting for my first new assignment? No, is the answer.

Friday, August 5, 2011

War remnants

A very different style of book about the Khmer Rouge period in Cambodia's history will be a soon-to-be-published (October) collection of documentary photographs by respected photojournalist, Maureen Lambray, together with two authoritative essays by David Chandler and UN staffer Margo Picken. The book title is War Remnants of the Khmer Rouge. 136 pages with sixty tri-tone photographs, the blurb on the Umbrage Editions website says: Along with haunting landscapes, the stark, powerful portraits in this book portray those who suffered greatly under the genocide of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and who, in a sense, are the human embodiment of the country’s deepest and unhealed wounds. Maureen Lambray spent six years working on this Khmer Rouge project. Her work has appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Esquire, TIME, and Newsweek and in 1979 she shot an electrifying photo essay on prison and refugee camps along the Cambodia-Thailand border during the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, which is now presented in this forthcoming tome.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sieve of Angkar

I think it's important to identify books to a wider audience that Cambodian survivors have literally wrenched from their memory and given us an insight into their trials and tribulations. There are many such books and I don't expect to register all of them but if you know of any that I haven't blogged, please let me know. One such memoir, is the self-published The Sieve of Angkar by Virginia resident Sovannara Ky, written with her husband Howard Glass. Ra was fifteen when the Khmer Rouge emptied Phnom Penh and through the turmoil of the next four years, she lost both parents and seven siblings as well as extended family members. She and her two sisters survived. After the Khmer Rouge regime ended, she headed for Thailand and eventually gained safe passage to the USA. Her 194-page biography was published at the end of last year and is available here.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cloud over Cambodia

Heyho, allegations of match-fixing in Cambodia are in the Daily Telegraph newspaper in The UK but haven't been deemed interesting enough for the Cambodian press, aside from a one-liner in the Phnom Penh Post a few days after the 2nd leg match was played. Here's what the Daily Telegraph had to say today about the recent World Cup matches between Cambodia and Laos.

World Cup 2014: Shadow of alleged match-fixing allegations already haunting competition - by Paul Kelso, The Daily Telegraph

The preliminary draw for Brazil's World Cup took place on Saturday but already the shadow of alleged match-fixing has touched the 2014 qualifying tournament. The threat of fixing was highlighted by Fifa president Sepp Blatter prior to the draw in Rio and Telegraph Sport can disclose that one of the early rounds of Asian qualifying has been internally investigated following allegations of manipulation.

Fifa investigators have been alerted to unusual betting patterns in connection with the two-legged tie between Cambodia and Laos in the first round of the Asian Football Confederation qualifying zone. Both countries were eliminated before the preliminary draw in Rio, but the case highlights the rash of match-fixing allegations that have touched teams in more than 50 countries.

The first game in Phnom Penh on June 29 was won 4-2 by Cambodia, with the return in Vientiane on July 3 won by Laos 6-2 after extra time, enough for them to progress to the second round. The second leg was followed by accusations in Cambodia that the game was manipulated, and Telegraph Sport understands that data from betting monitoring software, including the Early Warning System used by Fifa, has highlighted unusual patterns, particularly in the first game.

The last goal in that game, scored by Cambodia in the 88th minute, attracted highly unusual betting patterns. With 86 minutes gone Cambodia were five-to-one on to score again on Asian handicap markets, an extreme price. According to footage of the game on YouTube, Cambodia had two goals disallowed in the last six minutes, after 84 and 86 minutes, and Laos had a penalty appeal turned down in the 88th minute shortly before Cambodia’s Samel Nasa scored.

The second leg finished 4-2 to Laos after 90 minutes, with two further goals in extra time sealing their progress to the second round, where they lost to China 13-3 on aggregate.

Fifa would not comment on whether the case was part of its ongoing investigation into match fixing. In a statement Fifa said: “We cannot confirm or deny any specific investigation taking place on these matches”.

The Football Federation of Cambodia carried out an internal investigation after receiving allegations that the games might have been manipulated, but has found no evidence of match-fixing. In an emailed response to questions May Tola, the deputy general-secretary of the FFC, said that it had heard “unconfirmed rumours” about the tie, and that supporters had made accusations after the disappointment of the second-leg defeat. Some had accused players of result manipulation,” Tola wrote. "Immediately after the team returned home, our FFC leadership has instructed the federation to form an investigation commission to find out if there is any irregularities as rumoured accusation [sic]. After thorough examination and discussion, the Commission has found no substantial evidence or suspicion that the match had been manipulated by players or whosoevers [sic] within the team.”

The acting president of the Asian Football Confederation told Telegraph Sport that while he was not aware of any direct evidence that the Cambodia v Laos games were “not genuinely contested”, the allegations underlined “the destructive nature of match-fixing”. Zhang Jilong, of China, who became acting president when Mohamed bin Hammam was suspended by Fifa, described match-fixing as a “pandemic” in world football, and is hoping to open a dedicated Fifa security office in Asia next year.

Jilong said: “There is no doubt that match-fixing is a real danger to football’s ethical values and needs to be completely eliminated to preserve the sanctity of the sport. AFC will not rest until this plague is completely stamped out in Asia.”

Asia is considered the hub of match-fixing and Jilong is in talks with Fifa’s security department to open a dedicated security office in Asia by the start of 2012. The latest concerns come as Fifa prepares to take disciplinary action against six match officials involved in two notorious internationals staged in Antalya, Turkey, in February, in which all seven goals were penalties. The referees, from Hungary and Bosnia, have been summoned to appear at a disciplinary hearing in Zurich next week, though none is expected to attend having already been banned for life by their home federations.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Happening at Mao's

The Cambodian Space Project will land at Mao's on the riverside of Phnom Penh this coming Saturday (6 August) from 9pm onwards. Catch them this week as you'll be waiting a while to see them again, sometime soon. Their future schedule looks like this: Bangkok, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Bangkok, back to Phnom Penh, Singapore, Ubud, Bali, Timor-Leste, Australia including Darwin, Melbourne, Sydney, New Zealand and back to Cambodia via USA and UK around mid-2012.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Passion and mystery

The main ledge at Phnom Pel has five large burial jars in situ, believed to be 500 years old
One of my favourite people in Phnom Penh is the Jar Lady. I call her that as she is so passionate and uber-enthusiastic about her chosen subject, namely burial jars in the Cardamom Mountains. She's been working on this unique project, to document and conserve the clay and earthenware burial jars and wooden coffins in the wilds of the Cardamoms, for a few years now and she has her biggest and trickiest part of her project coming up at the beginning of next year. There are 12 burial jar sites in the Cardamoms, that she knows about. There are likely more besides. The best known site is called Phnom Pel (or Peang Boran) and it's close to the ecotourism project at Chiphat. I've been there and so have many others because of its accessibility. Most of the other locations aren't so easy to get to including the next one on her hit-list at Phnom Khnorng Perng, also known as the 70-Jar site. The easiest way to get there is by helicopter, or a three-day hike. In January, the Jar Lady and her team are proposing to spend ten days at the site, documenting and on-site preserving of an incredible total of seventy jars. This is akin to the holy grail to the Jar Lady. Trying to fathom out why burial jars, and wooden coffins, containing human remains and a few artifacts, carbon-dated to around 1450-1620 AD, would be housed on high rock ledges in nooks and crannies of the Cardamoms is one of the puzzles the Jar Lady is trying to unravel. Trying to find the funding for her holy grail trip is another puzzle that she has to work out as well. I hope she manages it as someone with her passion deserves to succeed. And the identity of the Jar Lady... Dr Nancy Beavan.

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