Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hinnigan's Magic

Tony Hinnigan (standing) in the studio with James Horner working on the score for Cristiada. Pic Sylvia Wells
Definitely one man who can do no wrong in my eyes when it comes to music is the multi-talented Tony Hinnigan. If you've heard, and loved, the music soundtracks from such films as Titanic, Avatar, The Mission, Braveheart, Troy and many more besides, then you've already encountered the talents of Tony Hinnigan. He's had prominent roles in the music for scores of Hollywood films from a host of heavyweight film composers such as James Horner, Michael Nyman, John Williams and Ennio Morricone, who value his versatility in style and expertise. It was his penny whistle that accompanied Celine Dion on her massive hit single, My Heart Will Go On, from the blockbuster film, Titanic. His panpipes were the backbone of the haunting and evocative sound from The Mission and his soulful flute and whistle melodies stirred the senses in the action-packed Braveheart. In recent times he's added Apocalypto and Cristiada (aka For Greater Glory) to his cv.

Hinnigan and James Horner teamed up again a couple of days ago at the Royal Albert Hall where Horner delivered a 20-minute overview of the film's score with Hinnigan and the London Symphony Orchestra before the world premiere showing of the newly-released Titanic in 3D, the film originally being released in 1997. Hinnigan has a great sense of humour that shines through when he discusses some of the music soundtracks that he's worked on. Take his involvement with Horner for the Titanic score. "Sometimes I have a "gimmick" to see me through a project (not shaving on "Braveheart", wearing shades 24/7 on "Troy" etc.) - it's stupid superstition. Anyway, for the Titanic I decided I was going to dress smartly and so duly turned up on the first morning in a jacket and tie, much to the amusement of my colleagues. "What, exactly, have you come as?" was James Horner's greeting. After much head-scratching about what key it was going to be in, the first piece of business turned out to be the ubiquitous "My heart will go on." I didn't know it was a song or who would be singing it or anything, save that I had to play it on a B whistle which (thanks to the expertise of Phil Hardy at I had! More about whistles later. I must just name-check Sissel who is one of the most gifted singers I have ever met and an absolute joy to work with, and Eric Rigler, who has taken the playing of bagpipes into a whole new dimension."

This is what he had to say about his work with Ennio Morricone for The Mission in 1985. "The whole thing started with a phone call "out of the blue" followed by our "audition". We were summoned to the headquarters of Goldcrest Films in London and shown to an upstairs office where Sr. Morricone pounded a ricketty, out-of-tune, upright piano and sang tune after tune at the top of his voice. "Can you play this?" enquired his son. few days later we were sitting in CTS studios recording the opening sequence of the film, where Sr. Morricone, seated on a high stool, produced a small plastic recorder from his top pocket and alternately improvised musical phrases on it and pointed it at each of us to do the same on a variety of drums, panpipes, etc. It went down in one take. After three days of somewhat intense recording there was blood on the studio floor - hands from drum walloping and lips from panpipe riffing. Ah, the things we do for art."

And for Mel Gibson's 1995 epic Braveheart. "This was done in Abbey Road, London with the LSO and is the first time I used throat vibrato on a film score. Up till then I'd always played straight but before we started I was practising on my own in the studio when James Horner came rushing in. The conversation went something like this:- JH "What's that?" Me "Erm, it's a quena James." JH "Yes but that sound. How do you get that sound?" Me "Erm, throat vibrato. It's how you're supposed to play 'em." JH "I've been looking for that sound for years and didn't know what it was. I thought it was a different instrument. Keep it in!" Being afflicted with terminal Scottishness, I came over all misty-eyed at the Battle of Bannockburn."

Teaming up with James Horner again for Troy in 2004. "Eric Rigler and I were asked by James Horner to play on "Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius" - a nice movie about legendary golfer Bobby Jones. Two days before I was due to leave for LA, I got a call from music editor Jim Henrikson asking if I could stay on to do another gig. Gabriel Yared's score had been binned (these things happen) and James had 5 minutes to write a new one. Once the golf movie was in the can Eric and I went up to San Francisco to get "anything that sounds weird". This turned out to be Rag Dungs, Shofars, Sipsis, Conch Shells, Fish Trumpets (!) etc, etc. Nothing like a good old film company panic to broaden ones musical horizons." Find out more about the man himself here.
Tony Hinnigan working in his own studio - a vastly talented multi-instrumentalist

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Super stylish

One of the bedrooms at La Maison d'Ambre
A super stylish hotel in Phnom Penh quietly opened its doors a few months ago and based on price and overall look, knocks spots off pretty much every other boutique accommodation in the city. I'm talking about La Maison d'Ambre on St19, built on the site of the former Cathay Hotel. With a designer's touch from top to bottom, it radiates contemporary chic style from every pore. It has ten apartments, each with an individual feel and design, large open spaces, and each room is named after a film. In addition, every room has a kitchen. There's a rooftop restaurant and bar and the contemporary chic feel is taken to the nth degree in every single area of the hotel - even the elevator has a design makeover. Downside is, no pool, but with the space, feel and atmosphere of this superbly renovated six-storey hotel, and prices that are hard to believe as they are so low, it won't take long for this newcomer to rise to the top of the pile.
The sitting room area in one of the hotel's suites
The facade of the hotel has been spruced up since it was called the Cathay Hotel
Returning to the office, I popped into Cafe Fresco for lunch and it seems they're having another turnover of staff. Today was the last day of Seyla, who takes my order and hands me my change nearly every day. Her lovely smile will be missed. Also leaving is Srey Oun, now behind the scenes in the bakery but who was taking orders out front for most of her four years at Fresco. Still shy even though we've known each other for all that time, I'll miss her blushing cheeks and her stilted English. It's always sad to see regular faces disappear, perhaps never to be seen again.
Parting is so sad as I say goodbye to Seyla (left) and Srey Oun at Cafe Fresco today

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sophea and her Bassac chums

Sophea practicing her facial acting talents in a comedy sketch tonight
Despite my dry chesty cough disrupting those around me, I managed to sit through the Children of Bassac show tonight, even though the humidity was sweltering and it wasn't just the performers who got a sweat on. As I've said before, the show was excellent and was lapped up by the large audience. It was the last one in the current run as they now take a break for the low season, though they intend to come back, more regularly than their present once a week, in October. They've performed 18 times in this run attracting a total audience of over 1,000 people. They'd obviously like to do considerably better, hence the need to perform more often. The Bassac group are under the Cambodian Living Arts umbrella and are aged between 17 and 23. They put their heart and soul into their hour-long performance, dancing a variety of classical and folk dances to the accompaniment of a small orchestra and singers (who are also dancers). The peacock dance is my favourite though the comedy sketch towards the end was a big winner with tonight's audience. Sophea Chamroeun was to the fore, one of the most recognisable young performers in the country these days with a busy schedule that includes winning talent shows on tv, singing on videos with the band Krom, dancing at Chayyam restaurant and more besides. A busy lady indeed. Sophea and her fellow Bassac-ers are doing a great job in bringing Khmer culture to a wider audience and long may it continue.
If you see eyebrows and a moustache like this, you know its a comedy routine, on the guy that is..
Sophea and her chayyam drum-carrying co-performer
The evening began with a classical dance performance
A selection of the performers take a bow at the end of the night

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Dried up

I feel like a blogging fraud the last few days as my blog posts have virtually dried up. The main reason is that I've been wracked by a chesty cough that refuses to budge since the weekend, despite attacking it with syrup and pills. It's irritating as its a dry cough and repetitive, so after a short while it becomes a bit painful and exhausting. Early nights have been the order of the day where possible and I just haven't felt like sitting in front of my lap-top to blog. Though I have kept my football blogs up to speed, as even sickness can't hold me back from my football. Tonight I'll go to the last performance of the season of the Children of Bassac show at the National Museum and hope that my coughing doesn't spoil it for everyone. So I should have a blog update later tonight.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Academy success, again

As proud as punch at the final whistle, Sath Rozak and Ken Chansopheak
They did it again. Made me feel so proud of them. I'm talking about the Phnom Penh Crown Academy youngsters, who overcame their closest rivals, Preah Khan in the U-14 cup final on Sunday at the bumpy Army Stadium. Despite the surface, the Academy boys played their usual pass, pass, pass style and effectively passed PKR to death. Though they only scored twice in a 2-0 win is explained by the fact that PKR played out of their skin but still couldn't live with our boys. Their celebration at the end was deserved, especially as this final was a play-off final to decide the champions, after a league record by the Academy of played 10, won 10, scored 120 goals and conceded none. I personally detest play-offs to decide a league but it didn't matter to the Crown youngsters. Our mix of Academy boys and other youngsters attached to the club's U-14 group were successful in the other cup final too, winning 3-2, so making it a double-header for the Crown boys. It's great to see the excitement and pleasure on their faces at winning trophies, and repeating their success of last year. Long may it continue.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Burgess on Women

John Burgess, previously of the Washington Post and a lover of all things Cambodian, has crafted his first novel, entitled A Woman of Angkor, which will be released by River Books later this year. Set in the 12th century, Burgess' book will focus on the imaginary story of a woman in the court of the king responsible for the construction of Angkor Wat. It looks set to bring that period of history to life and to show Khmer women in a favourable light. I hope it does as good a job as Geoff Ryman's The King's Last Song, which brilliantly evoked the time of Jayavarman VII. Burgess has already published the studious Stories in Stone, which I loved. Can't wait for your new novel John.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Reggae cometh

Reggae is on its way to Phnom Penh in the shape of Senegalese vocalist Naby, who will be playing at Chenla Theatre on Saturday 7 April (7pm), courtesy of the Institut Francais. He's over this way for gigs in Phnom Penh and then onto Hue and Hanoi in Vietnam and will be the biggest reggae act in Cambodia since the year dot. Wouldn't it be fantastic if he paves the way for some of the leading lights of reggae to try their arm over here. I've been trying to persuade Steel Pulse to pop over for a gig or two, but as the world's leading reggae act, they're a mite busy. But you never know. Naby brings with him a reputation for being a livewire on stage and released his first solo album in 2008. He's toured in Africa, France and Canada and now he's heading to Southeast Asia to bring his dynamic reggae-infused African sounds to Phnom Penh. He brings with him a backing band of guitar, bass, drums, sax and keyboards. The night before, Friday 6 April, the Cambodian Space Project will be performing at Mao's.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Face in the crowd

click to enlarge
It's a small world, in Phnom Penh. If you go to an event, you are likely to get snapped by the king of event snappers, Nick Sells of Kampuchea Party Republic. Sitting in the third row will help too. In the picture above, I'm wearing a black PPCFC polo-shirt and Rumnea is in the seat next to me. See if you can spot us. It ain't rocket science. The event was the fourth incarnation of the Comedy Club Cambodia, which didn't live up to expectations, but which sometimes happens.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Fancy a look at Phnom Penh and Cambodia as it used to be? Then take a peek here and see for yourself at the Southeast Asia Digital Library.

Disaster struck this afternoon. Nothing life-threatening but my football team (Phnom Penh Crown) lost their first league match of the season. So in my own little world, that's a disaster. We went through the whole league programme last year, losing just once. So to go down to your arch rivals on the first day is a wake-up call. Okay, so we've changed virtually the whole team and we had eight players making their league debuts today. But still, we are the champions, so you'd expect better than a 3-0 defeat on day 1. We have a flood of games coming up so we can put it right quickly, as long as we're as good as I think we are. On paper we should be pretty good but winning games isn't done by drawing pretty pictures with a pencil, its down to blood, sweat and tears on the pitch. Today, there were enough tears off the pitch. I don't need that again. If we want to retain our championship this season, we cannot afford another day like today. End of.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Art abroad

Amrita Performing Arts are taking two of their original shows abroad, with the contemporary dance Crack taking place in four venues in Belgium this month, and the play, Breaking The Silence, touring Rwanda with five appearances in three cities next month. Ground-breaking stuff indeed. Crack was put together by German choreographer Arco Renz for the Singapore Arts Festival last year and is a 'coming of age' depiction by the country's best contemporary star Belle and others. Breaking The Silence has already shown in Phnom Penh and around the provinces at home but is now on its way to Rwanda, a country that has suffered like Cambodia, and this creative exchange is a fabulous development between the two countries.

Christopher Hudson, who wrote the best-selling novel The Killing Fields in the early 1980s has finally been to visit the country here. He makes no bones about the fact that he wrote the novel in his London flat having never set foot in Cambodia. Find out more about the incredible story of Dith Pran and Sydney Schanberg here.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Missing - my funny bone

Tommy Dean, American comic now residing in Australia
Disappointed, is my considered view after tonight's Comedy Club Cambodia session at Pontoon. The previous three episodes obviously raised my expectations to an unmatchable level and it all came crashing down around my ears tonight. The three acts weren't simply up to the same standard as I've come to expect. It's not their fault as such, it's my own, for expecting that the acts were going to be as good as the previous months. I know from experience, and the regular comedy performers that flocked to Cheltenham Town Hall in the 1990s, that shows vary from week to week and month to month. The three performers tonight weren't bad per se, but they didn't tickle my funny g-spot in the way previous acts have. Tommy Dean was the most appealing though his delivery was a mite slow, in fact the whole evening remained in low gear throughout. Ron Josol simply didn't make me laugh at all and jokes about drugs have never found favour with me. Often I think I'm the only person in the audience who has never dabbled with drugs at all. The final performer was Earl Okin from the UK, who I saw years ago, and who effectively repeated the same old-school act tonight. More low-key vaudeville than stand-up, his innuendo seemed to find favour with the audience, except myself and Rumnea, who declared him as "not funny" which summed him up perfectly for me too. I found myself yawning throughout the show, so that should've told me something. I expected better. I prefer my comedy to be more edgy rather than laid-back horizontal, so note to self; 'don't expect too much next time.'
Earl Okin has been in the business for decades, and it showed


To see or not to see

A couple of films in the offing, that may or may not see the light of day. Paulina is a short film project by Cambodian filmmaker Caylee So, who moved to the United States from a refugee camp on the Thai border. It's a coming-of-age story about a teenage Khmer girl, Paulina, who has to choose between gambling addiction and a life outside of the tight-knit gambling community, set in Long Beach. The film's premiere will be on 20 April at Chapman University in California. Watch out for this budding writer-director.
Another story that may be told is the plight of missing journalists in Lost Brothers, a film project that Tim Page, one of the Vietnam War's most celebrated photographers is trying to put together, as he searches for lost journalists from the Cambodian conflict of the 1970s. We've heard the story of Sean Flynn and Dana Stone many times already but it's a search that Page is determined to complete, to find the truth about what really happened to his friends and colleagues, and to document it on film.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Steam Special

All aboard the Steam Special this morning at Phnom Penh railway station. Pic Mike Pass
Mike Pass, who lives in Thailand but has been in Cambodia this week tracking down steam railway engines, sent me this article on this morning's Steam Special:

Sunday saw the first steam train to run on Cambodian rails for many years, courtesy Toll Royal Cambodian Railways. A special 'Family Train Ride' had been organised by the Australian Women's Connection & the station was packed with enthusiastic mums & dads with their awe-struck children, who had never seen a steam engine before. The French built locomotive had been restored by Toll Railways to full operating condition, having been withdrawn from service about 10 years ago, as it was in need of substantial repair.

Looking resplendent in her black livery, Franco-Belge Pacific 4-6-2 loco N°231.501 pulled gently into Phnom Penh's main platform, having spent 2 hours or so being fired-up outside the workshops about a kilometre up the line. The usual tranquil calm of the normally deserted Phnom Penh station was shattered by the shrill whistle of the loco, admist cheers from the waiting crowd, especially from the excited children. The current furore about Toll Railways rumoured pull out of Cambodia was all forgotten for today, as Toll Railways CEO David Kerr & COO John Guiry welcomed some 120 passengers, eager to begin their 42km one & half hour trip to Sras Sre, towards Takeo, on the newly refurbished Southern line. The 6-member locomotive crew had spent many hours lovingly cleaning, checking & oiling up the loco outside the main workshops, before holding a special Buddhist prayer ceremony for a safe journey today. They were all very proud to be associated with this historic loco & welcomed many children on board to operate the very loud & shrill steam-whistle, much to the delight of the assembled crowd. Last photos taken, picnics loaded on board & kids not forgotten, the train departed just after 9am, as scheduled, on what must be a truly memorable & proud day for all those participating, especially for Toll Royal Cambodian Railways & their dedicated loco crew. I watched in envy as the train pulled out of the platform - I had a plane to catch.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

All aboard

The renovated and plinthed 1910 steam locomotive outside the railway station
A little birdie tells me that a renovated steam engine will be leaving the Phnom Penh railway station on Sunday morning at 9am for a sold-out, and kept very quiet, special charter with a 130 fare-paying passengers on the refurbished southern line towards Takeo. The same engine, French-built in 1939, did a few tourist trips and charters back in 2004 and has had a recent overhaul and steam testing and is once again ready to roll. This will be big news for steam enthusiasts around the globe, people like Mike Pass, who will travel anywhere to see their beloved steam engines in action. Or in bits. Mike has confirmed that another 12 steam locomotives are still in existence in Cambodia, in varying degrees of neglect or otherwise, as I saw for myself back in May 2008 and which a walk along the loco sheds revealed. Inside the locked sheds, lie the best preserved of the steam engines, outside the sheds stand the rusting hulks of the engines well past their sell-by date. And don't forget the renovated engine that stands outside the main station, another French model built in 1910. It's enough for me to get my anorak and train-spotting handbook out of the closet. If I had a closet.
One of the steam locomotives that have seen better days, outside the rail sheds in Phnom Penh


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Tribunal spat

A day doesn't go by without some sort of clash between the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, the government or the various fractions surrounding the whole kit and kaboodle. The latest disagreement is on the fate of Comrade Duch and his life imprisonment. The trial prosecutors assumed that once his sentence was increased to the duration of his natural days, and his involvement in Case 002 as a witness finishes (which might be later this year or next), then he would be transferred to the country's main jail and fall under the jurisdiction of the government's Interior Ministry. Fat chance. They've turned round and said they don't want to host Duch or pay for his food and medical bills for the remainder of his life. They reckon it's the duty of the Tribunal, who should build a separate prison just for him (and presumably his KR cronies should they be found guilty). At other tribunals around the world, those found guilty are then handed over to the local governments but money is always at the front of any thinking here, and the Interior Ministry don't want to get saddled with his ongoing expense. As I said, it's just another day at the tribunal. Interesting to hear too that Ben Kiernan, one of the best known historians on the Khmer Rouge period in Cambodia's history, who has written extensively on the subject, has said he's too busy to appear in person at the tribunal to give testimony in Case 002. The defence teams have jumped on the news though it seems likely that Kiernan will be allowed to give video testimony as a compromise.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Free dance

The Khmer Arts Ensemble at their Takhmau theatre
The highly-polished Khmer Arts Ensemble will host a free classical dance show at their own theatre in Takhmau on Saturday 7 April at 7pm in celebration of their five years as a professional touring company and ten years since they began their organization. The company were recently seen on television here with a new piece of work called Stained, an interpretation of Neang Seda's trial by fire in the Reamker. If you want to see classical Khmer dance performed by some of the very best in the business, put it in your diary.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A bamboo promise

You can read the first few chapters of a survivor's story, Bamboo Promise (Prison Without Walls) by Vicheara Houn, which I understand will be released on Kindle next month and is available via Amazon as an ebook. Click here. It's the story of a high-ranking government minister's daughter, who lost her family but survived the terrible hardships of the Khmer Rouge regime before making a new life. You can order the book here. Hopes are high for a Khmer language translation in the future.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Return to Prasat Khna

Toun Sokheng and myself in January 2007 at Prasat Khna
Reading this excerpt from my travels in January 2007 makes me want to get back on the moto for more of the same. Especially a return visit to meet up with Toun Sokheng and the ancient temple that she calls her own, Prasat Khna. I first met the 'lady of the temple' exactly a year earlier with my trusty sidekick Sokhom. Anyway, just to give you a flavour of my travels that you can find here, I repeat my article, entitled - Quick Return to Prasat Khna.

The 5am wake-up call was provided by a combination of wailing dogs (following last night's full moon) and loudspeaker announcements, as the village of Choam Khsan began early, like all other Cambodian villages. We left the guesthouse and stopped for a noddles and coffee breakfast at a busy foodstall next to the crowded early morning market. As the only foreigner in view, I could sense lots of eyes following my every move as I wandered around the market vendors to see what they had on offer. Our main destination for the day was a return to Prasat Khna - located midway between Choam Khsan and Tbeng Meanchey, along the unused back road - so we took the road east out of the village, turning right after 8 kms and headed along the forest track. We didn't see a soul for over an hour until we reached the Prokieb river and stopped to chat to a mother, grandmother and small children. Crossing another couple of dried riverbeds, we entered the village of Kalapia just before 10am, a little over two hours after leaving Choam Khsan. Kalapia is a quiet, spread-out village of 150 families, and we headed straight for the home of Toun Sokheng, who'd guided us on our first visit a year earlier.

We waited whilst she finished her breakfast, and embarrassed me by asking why I hadn't brought the photos I'd promised her. The three of us walked across the rice fields, updating each other on events of the past twelve months before arriving at the 1oth century temple of Prasat Khna, just beyond a large bamboo thicket. It had taken us 25 minutes to walk the 2 kms, with Sokheng decrying the government officials who'd promised to pay her to keep the temple clear of vegetation but had reneged on their promise. In fact, her hard work paid dividends for me, as the lay-out of the temple was now clearer, it was a little easier to clamber around the complex, although still tricky in places, and an additional laterite resthouse building, albeit in partial ruin, had been revealed just outside the main laterite wall. After an exhausting hour of discovery, we sat on the wall to continue our chat. Sokheng's husband was killed in the final flurry of civil war fighting in 1996, leaving her to bring up their three children alone. Now 46 herself - her daughters are Rany (24) and Silon (15) and her son, Mia (13) - Sokheng is a real down-to-earth, immensely likeable woman with a great sense of humour and well-respected by her neighbours, who'd asked her to stand at the forthcoming commune elections. However, she refused because she can't read or write, having been moved to the village by the Khmer Rouge many years ago from her home in Svay Rieng and missed out on her formal education. We arrived back at her house on stilts at midday and shared a meal of chicken, rice and sardines, washed down with Red Bull, before more chat, eventually saying our goodbyes a little after 1pm. I promised to return, and I will.

Between Kalapia and the village of Po, we encountered some ox-cart traffic and stopped for a breather at a newly-constructed wooden resthouse, where a team of female labourers were building a well. The resthouse is to be used by the inhabitants of Po, a very friendly village overflowing with waves, smiles and goodbyes. At 3.30pm we reached the new pontoon bridge over the Stung Sen river - it cost 1,000 riel to take the moto across - just outside Tbeng Meanchey. We called into the Bakan and Phnom Meas guesthouses but decided to try somewhere new, so booked into the Sopheak Meangkol GH, back towards the river crossing. It cost $6 for a double room with fan, tv and ensuite but the main selling point was the owner's friendly daughter, Soktheara, for whom nothing was too much trouble. A warm shower was the first priority, followed by watching the sun set, a meal of chicken soup, beef and fried vegetables at the Malop Dong restaurant and a tikalok fruit shake on the main drag. Returning to our guesthouse, we had a long chat with the owner, his daughter Soktheara (27) and her cousin Dahlin (15) before retiring at 10.30pm, though the karaoke parlor nearby made it difficult to fall asleep quickly.

Next morning, we were up and out for breakfast just after 7am, having thanked our hosts - I liked the hospitality and friendliness of our guesthouse but the noisy karaoke joint closeby is a turn-off - and enjoyed our noodles at the Malop Dong. On the restaurant's tv, it was good to see a program on Khmer culture, with a 15 minute feature devoted to the delights of Phnom Chisor. Back on the road, four hours later, we took a drinks-break at a roadside stall in the village of Salavisay, just under an hour from Kompong Thom. Dany, a shy 21 year old, youngest daughter of seven sisters, told us her rent for the stall is just $1 per month and she treated us to refreshing drinks and a selection of sweets during our thirty minute rest. As we entered Kompong Thom town at 1pm, Sokhom was pulled over at a police roadblock and fined 10,000 riel for not having any side mirrors on his moto, which displeased him greatly, having had his fill of officialdom recently. He explained that he was currently fighting a court battle with the Pharmacy next door, who were claiming his land even though he has title documents to prove his ownership. Land disputes are flavour of the month in Cambodia right now and in court, whoever pays the most, usually gets the verdict in their favour. Sokhom had taken his fight onto local radio and the Cambodia Daily newspaper - I sincerely hope he gets the decision overturned and quickly.

I booked into the Mittapheap hotel - air-con and hot water for $10 - nestled alongside the Stung Sen river, showered, used the internet ($1/hour) at the corner of the market, visited Cristiano Calcagno at the GTZ offices to catch-up with my fellow temple-hunter, who'd recently completed the Angkor Bike Race, and finished a creditable sixth. We had a drink at the Arunras cafe before I took Sokhom, his wife Sroy and Kunthea for our traditional 'goodbye' meal at the Bayon restaurant. $7 provided the four of us with a veritable feast and drinks, while Kunthea showed off her excellent English, proudly telling me she was top of her class in all subjects, confirming that this young girl is definitely an A-class student of the highest order. Back at Sokhom's home, we finished off with tikaloks and chatted with Keo Sambo, Kunthea's teacher who I'd met on previous occasions. An early night at 9.30pm, allowed me an early start at 6.30am next morning, my last in Kompong Thom. After breakfast with Sokhom at the Arunras, we paid a visit to Sroy's family home about a kilometre away. Sroy's father is called Thai, he's head of the commune with the Sam Rainsy Party and we spent a good hour chatting about politics, as well as taking photos with Sroy's three sisters, their children, Thai and his wife, Sun. Kunthea cycled off to the market, returning with three presents for me to take home before I said my goodbyes and caught the coach to Phnom Penh, outside the Arunras hotel, at 11am. My time with Sokhom is always a fantastic adventure and this trip again lived up to that billing. Have no fear, there will be many more in the future. The three-hour coach trip passed quickly as I chatted to the stewardess, Norn Sombo, a 23 year old former teacher from Kompong Thom, who'd joined the Mekong Express company a year earlier. I arrived at the coach company's headquarters near Wat Phnom at 2pm and headed straight for my home-from-home in the capital, the Dara Reang Sey hotel.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

It's back

Wonderful, my weekly dose of football is back with a vengeance. The domestic Cambodian football season kicked-off today and regular service was resumed from the off. Two matches, played in exhausting heat, and I was just watching, ten goals in two games with at least two of them early contenders for goal of the season, three red cards, the worst tackle of the decade, a flurry of new foreign imports trying to make their mark, a flash scoreboard that shows the action live, a team walk-off, oh and a bit of football in between. Marvellous. If, like me, you love your football then this is the food and drink that sustains you. Okay, we are not talking Barclays Premier League but I was brought up on a diet of non-league football back in England, so my sights have never been set that high from the word go. This is the best Cambodia has to offer, so it'll have to do. The new faces, including three Egyptians making their bow for one of the clubs, didn't exactly uproot any trees like Julius Oiboh did last year when he single-handedly gave Naga a chance of the championship. The season will ebb and flow, I'm expecting a ton of goals, more red cards than you can count, some of the worst refereeing decisions you're ever likely to see, football that wouldn't look out of place on the park on a Sunday morning, but it's our football and we'll cherish it for the next six months.

On an entirely different note, take a look at the temples of Angkor with a fashion photoshoot in mind. These pictures come from the Bergdorf Goodman fashion magazine. The prices are mind-blowing.


Friday, March 9, 2012


You should already know that Comedy Club Cambodia has its 4th incarnation on Monday 19 March, so there is absolutely no excuse to miss it now. Be there.


Thursday, March 8, 2012


It's like they've been away forever, but the Cambodian Space Project will be returning to these shores soon enough and their comeback gig, or one of them, will be at Mao's on Friday 6 April (9pm). They've been busy down under in Ozland in recent months, will stop off in Bali and after a brief interlude on home soil, they will be winging it over to Europe for a three-month tour starting in Istanbul and encompassing France, UK, Ireland, Germany, Holland, Slovenia, Serbia and Spain, with more countries likely to be tagged on, as always happens with CSP. They also have a return trip to Australia in October. They must be up there with the heaviest gigging schedule of any band you could mention. Workaholics.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Remembring old times

Gemma and I catching up at Circa51 this evening
A bit of catching up and reminiscing this evening as I met up with a former work colleague from my past life back in Blighty. Gemma, with her boyfriend Andy, mum and dad and other assorted relatives, is just coming to the end of a two week holiday in Cambodia having been up to Angkor, down to Kep and enjoying a few relaxing days by the pool at the boutique Circa51 hotel. Gemma reminded me how she started off as a lowly C&G trainee some fifteen years ago - how time flies - and her reason to come to Cambodia, to see her younger brother who is teaching over here. The group have had a whale of a time, despite a few upset stomachs along the way, and we piled into Friends for a meal before heading back to their hotel for a good old chin-wag, and the opportunity to hear the latest about my former work contemporaries. It now seems like another life, one that I left nearly five years ago, after spending 31 years working for what was originally a small provincial building society when I began as a wet-behind-the-ears sixteen year old in 1976. With my long blond hair and pointy shoes. And incredibly cheap, patterned shirts and my older brother's three-piece hand-me-down suit. Those were the days.

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Earl Okin - hopefully he'll bring his friends to the gig
Date for diary. In pen not pencil, as I don't want to miss this one. Monday 19 March. Comedy Club Cambodia presents their latest session with the musical Earl Okin from UK, Canadian-Filipino Ron Josol and American, now resident in Oz, Tommy Dean. I'm 99.9% sure I've seen Earl Okin before, on the comedy circuit as my hometown of Cheltenham used to attract the big-guns and The Earl has been a top performer for more years that he, or I, care to recall. Trouble is I have the memory of a goldfish, so at least all of his jokes and observations will be new to me. Pontoon will be the location as usual and tickets at $10 a piece will be available beforehand.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Today's draw for the AFC President's Cup
More hard work on the horizon after it was confirmed that Phnom Penh Crown will host one of the three qualifying group stages of this season's AFC President's Cup competition. The draw was made at AFC HQ this afternoon and Crown have been paired with what must be the big favourites Dordoi from Kyrgstanythingy, especially as they've won it twice before and been beaten finalists on another four occasions, as well as the Police Club from Nepal and Bhutan's Yeedzin. Matches will take place, six in all, between 3-13 May, so not that far away. The top two teams will go through to the final stages in September. How good are Crown's chances, well, I reckon Dordoi will be very strong, they know what's required of them and they will be the team to beat in this group, Group B. If Crown play anything like they did in last year's competition, when we got through to the cup final, then the Nepalese and Bhutan team must be beatable. But this is international club football, anything can happen on the day, which makes it all the more exciting. All the games will be played at the Olympic Stadium, hopefully some of them will be under floodlights (if the lights are powerful enough) and should attract big crowds as they did last year when Crown hosted the qualifying group round at the same stage. That was a roaring success with Crown and Neftchi progressing, and as the home team, the fans will be expecting their homers to do the same this time around. Football doesn't exactly work like that, but for sure, we'll be giving it our best shot. The build-up to the group matches will almost certainly involve press releases and conferences, television adverts, photoshoots, brochures, you name it, hence why I'll be a busy bee, and that's not even taking into account the six games that will be played. We haven't even started the domestic Metfone C-League yet, that kicks-off for Crown on 21 March, leaving us effectively, just over six weeks to prepare the team for the President's Cup. we are still finalizing our playing squad and coach David Booth will have his work cut out to whip them into shape ahead of the C-League matches - we will play 8 games before the cup matches begin - and the eagerly-awaited President's Cup. The club and quite a few of the players got a real taste for success last season when they reached the final, only to have victory snatched away from them at the very end, so they will be chomping at the bit to make that happen again this term.

Away from football, the Amrita Performing Arts team will host a contemporary dance workshop this coming Friday at 6pm to showcase work they've been doing with Taiwanese dancers. The showcase will be at the National Performing Arts Theatre behind Spark Nightclub on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard. Admission is free, but get your tickets beforehand from Amrita.

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Monday, March 5, 2012


click to enlarge
Today's Phnom Penh Post has a few snapshots from Eric de Vries' photo exhibition opening that was held at the InterContinental Hotel on Thursday evening. The colour print quality on my copy of the PPP was awful. I looked very red-faced, which I am but that wasn't until spending Sunday morning in the sun. They made me look like that a few days before it even happened. Quirky.

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hamill's journey

Rob Hamill at Tuol Sleng
The film Brother Number One has yet to make it over the water to Cambodia. It's an Annie Goldson film that follows the journey of world-class sportsman Rob Hamill as he seeks the truth, and justice, on behalf of his elder brother Kerry who met an untimely fate in Tuol Sleng prison during the Cambodian maelstrom of the Khmer Rouge regime. This review by Peter Calder for the New Zealand Herald gives us a heads-up about the film. I can't wait to see it.

O Brother, art thou? The story of Rob Hamill - Peter Calder on the documentary of Rob Hamill's solemn journey to Cambodia where his brother was killed by the Khmer Rouge.

Filmmaker Annie Goldson calls Rob Hamill her secret weapon. The Whakatane-born 47-year-old is most widely known for having won, with Phil Stubbs, a rowing race across the Atlantic Ocean in 1997 - it took them a day under six weeks - which is, to put it mildly, the mark of a good keen man. And, says Goldson, he lends a lustre to her latest film that attracts the attention of men. "Husbands and boyfriends are usually dragged to these sorts of films by women," she says, "but Rob is so masculine and also so emotionally open, he allows men to be more emotional."

The film under discussion is Brother Number One, Goldson's unsensational and heart-wrenching documentary about Hamill's 2009 journey to Cambodia on the trail of his murdered brother Kerry. The official reason for his visit is to testify at the war crimes tribunal trying those involved the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot in the 1970s. The film includes spine-chilling official footage of the scene in court when Hamill comes face-to-face with Kang Kek Iew, aka Comrade Duch, who presided over the prison where Kerry died. And as he speculatively uncovers what happened to Kerry, who was picked up after inadvertently sailing into Cambodian waters, imprisoned and tortured to death, he bears witness to the horrors wrought on the Cambodian people at large.

The film is the latest - and best - in an extraordinary trio of documentaries by Goldson, who was last year promoted to a professorship in the Department of Film, Television and Media Studies at the University of Auckland. In 1999's Punitive Damage, she followed the story of New Zealander Helen Todd's law suit against an Indonesian general after her son, Kamal, was shot dead in the Dili massacre in East Timor in 1991; the fascinating An Island Calling (2003) dug beneath the 2001 murder in Fiji of John Scott - famous as the Red Cross go-between in the hostage crisis during the 2000 coup - and his partner Greg Scrivener.

Those films and Brother Number One are a handful of a 20-year output of films that have in common a strong critical perspective and an unabashed political engagement, but are quite devoid of shrill polemic: rage may impel the story being told but the storytelling is exquisitely, even excruciatingly restrained. "I want to raise issues and have people think about history and where we are because often that contains the seeds of solution. It is like going behind the headlines: what was the perfect storm that created the Khmer Rouge - it was a complex history that involved China and the Cold War and a peasantry that had been oppressed and the Vietnam War. And then a young hippie sails right into the middle. So the Hamill family's loss, which was huge, becomes a way of looking into this perfect storm."

With a tenured position and a professorial salary, Goldson occupies a somewhat privileged position among local documentarians, many of whom live from hand to mouth. But the model of academic as filmmaker is common in the US, she says, which is where she came of age as a filmmaker. She had headed off to New York in the early 1980s, "tagging along" with the legendary experimental theatre group Red Mole, and ended up studying film at NYU and later teaching at Ivy League Brown University - where one of her classes included "Diana Ross' twins, Ringo Starr's girlfriend's daughter and Rory, son of Bobby, Kennedy. Since then I have always been an academic, writing books and articles, but trying to really straddle the divide between production and theory. I did initially feel a pressure because universities weren't particularly receptive to production work - it was seen as craft and they took the view that 'we're not going to give you money to go and watch TV'. But now my films are considered as research output, which is only right. It's just like literature anyway because it reflects us back to ourselves just as literature does."

For all that, she says, it can still be hard to fit in to academia. "I'm in the Faculty of Arts, but I sometimes feel that I'm more like a scientist: I work with equipment, deal with big budgets, it's a collaborative process, and so on. So it sometimes feels like being a square peg in a round hole." Goldson's arrival in the Big Apple could hardly have been better timed. A science graduate with a journalism diploma (she worked at Radio New Zealand for a short time) she would otherwise probably have followed her passion for making pictures into television journalism. "I always had a yearning for the alternative and political and formally challenging, of which I knew very little, but it was just very hard in the early 80s in New Zealand to train as a filmmaker. At NYU it was a new discipline. It was a good time: video had just become available as a retail technology, though mainly used by politicised groups such as minorities finding their own voice and avant-garde artists. It was a powerful and productive fusion and I taught myself filmmaking in the streets."

Rob Hamill tells a story about Annie Goldson, the filmmaker he knows: the tiny Brother Number One crew was in Phnom Penh, about to film Rob's arrival at Tuol Sleng, the infamous high-school-turned-prison where as many as 20,000, including Kerry Hamill, died. He was really dithering that day, Goldson remembers, and finding it hard to step over the threshold. "I was really upset," says Rob Hamill. "And she said to me 'We don't have to do this now. We can come back, do it another day'. I knew how tight the schedule was and how hard it had been to arrange and we actually couldn't do it another day. But for me that was Annie Goldson." Goldson smiles when the story is relayed to her. "He's a very engaging man," she says at last, "and we got on very well. But the material was sometimes very emotional and I had to decide whether to push him or take him away and comfort him. Do you keep filming when someone is distressed for the sake of good footage? You never forget that you are dealing with real lives. You have to be mindful of that."

Plainly, the director regards her subject as a star. "His story sounds depressing but Rob really is an inspiring character. All the time he had to think: this man I'm talking to could be one of the men who tortured my brother to death. He could have been bitter but he never was. And the Cambodians loved him. They embraced him as fellow victim, and were thrilled that he was a sports star and amazed he'd come so far. They were amazed to that he had the courage to confront Duch that Cambodians do not have." In July, 2010, Comrade Duch was found guilty of crimes against humanity, torture, and murder and sentenced to 35 years' imprisonment. The sentence was extended in February 2012 to life, without parole and with no chance of appeal. Find out more about the film here.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

I'm live, or am I?

Another chance to get our hands on the AFC President's Cup this year
Did you hear me on the radio this morning? No, well I'm not surprised. I only knew I was going on about thirty minutes before I did. I was in bed when the phone rang and I was told I was being picked up to go to the Hang Meas Radio Station to chat about Phnom Penh Crown. I had less than half an hour. Collected by Crown's new admin boss, David Kong, we arrived at the studio, were ushered through the door, seated and headphones placed over our heads and then we were live on air. No time to think about it. It was just after 8am. The discussion focused on Phnom Penh Crown and the upcoming new season. It was all in Khmer language, except the questions to me, and my replies, which were translated into Khmer by the host. I had no idea what was said for much of the 45 minute discussion but it seemed to go well. The host was keen to start some rivalry between us and the new team, Boeung Ket, but i didn't take the bait and just said we welcomed the other teams getting stronger, as it would benefit Cambodian football in general. My parting words were: "Make no mistake, Crown want to win the title again and we will be doing everything we can to achieve that aim." I'm still not sure if the sports talk show was being beamed out live or being recorded for another time. The station was Hang Meas Radio on 104.5FM. I gather they will be interviewing the other teams as well ahead of the new season, which is good to hear that the league will be getting more coverage.

Following on from that, came the big news of the day, that Phnom Penh Crown, and Cambodia, will again host one of the three qualifying group stages of the 2012 AFC President's Cup. It'll take place in Phnom Penh from 3-13 May, will involve four teams, which means six matches to organize. We did it last year and as one of the two qualifiers, we went onto the final round in Taiwan (losing in that infamous final to the cheating hosts). Home advantage in such a competition is always an advantage and with our new look team this season, we'll need every advantage we can get. The games will bring some cheer to the football fans of Cambodia again, probably time for a new television advert to be made, lots of media duties for me to attend to and no doubt a few headaches along the way. But it's great news and the draw for which teams play where will be made by the AFC suits next Tuesday. Can't wait.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

With love

If you weren't aware, To Cambodia With Love, a guidebook with a difference, was published at the end of 2010. I edited the book, with contributions from over sixty fellow fans of Cambodia, and over 120 stories to get your teeth into. Below is my introduction to the book. I think it says it all.

Andy Brouwer's Introduction to To Cambodia With Love
Excerpted from
To Cambodia With Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur, available from ThingsAsian Press.

How do I describe my love of Cambodia? I'm not the world's greatest wordsmith, so I'll keep it simple. In 1994 I came to this country for five of the most exhilarating, nerve-jangling, and frightening days of my life-and that was it. I was hooked, completely, by a country and a people who've subsequently enriched my life to a degree I never thought possible. Those five days sparked a passion that grew with each of my annual visits, culminating in my migration here three years ago. I truly feel at home, I belong, I love every day of my life here, and I want to share my passion for this country with everyone. To Cambodia With Love is the perfect vehicle to do just that.

Fortunately, you don't have to read my inadequate prose to understand the essence of Cambodia. I've joined forces with more than sixty contributors who know this country as well as I do-better in many instances-and who I'm convinced will inspire you to come and see for yourself why this beautiful land is so alluring. Whether it's acclaimed memoirist Loung Ung eating chive rice cakes in the Russian Market in Phnom Penh, journalist Karen Coates exploring a bird sanctuary in Preah Vihear Province, pioneering guidebook author Ray Zepp riding a traditional norry along countryside railway tracks, or scholar and Angkor historian Dawn Rooney explaining her favorite time to visit Cambodia's most celebrated temple, there are essays to feed your obsession if you're already hooked, or spark a love that will continue to grow after your Cambodian baptism.

I urge you to discover and unearth Cambodia's secrets, some of which you will find within these pages, others you must find for yourself-and you will, I assure you. Wander amongst the crowded maze of its markets, absorb the slow pace of village life in a rural landscape where few travelers venture, discover the unique lifestyle along the Mekong River, and above all, appreciate a culture and setting that spawned the incredible temples of Angkor, the jewel in Cambodia's crown. Fifteen years ago, I was blessed to see the Angkor temples without the crowds, to experience sunrise over the pineapple towers of Angkor Wat in glorious solitude, and for that I will be eternally grateful. Though the secret of Angkor is now well and truly out in the open-it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world-there are still many opportunities to grasp your own special memories and lock them away forever, as I have ... beginning with a few suggestions in this book.

I know it's a bit of a tired cliché that it's the people of this and that country that make it such a wonderful place, but the truth is, they really do. Cambodia is no different. After weathering decades of bloodshed and civil war, poverty, and instability, the Khmer have proved their incredible resilience, and their smile remains as bewitching as it has throughout time. The friendships I've developed over the years will last forever. No one will leave Cambodia without a large chunk of admiration and fondness for the people they encounter. You have my guarantee.

This is not a definitive guide to Cambodia. Far from it. It is about inspiration, discovery, sharing, and above all else, a love and a respect for a country that has changed my life forever, as I hope it will change yours.

Andy Brouwer
Editor, To Cambodia With Love

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Eric on view

An intro to Eric's exhibition with the man himself taking a few snaps of the audience
Pat on the back for the InterContinental Hotel in Phnom Penh. Their Insider Gallery hosted an exhibition of photographs by Eric de Vries from today until 18 March and it's free for the artist (unless he sells his work and then they take a small commission for their own charity and community project). The InterCon have turned their gallery area over for artists to exhibit their works, and Eric's mainly black and white photographs are the second exhibition to be hosted. The hotel provided nibbles, the Phnom Penh Post were out in force with four of their journalists lapping up the free drinks and food, and the turn-out of interested observers was good. Eric will take his Ultimate Angkor and Beyond exhibition back to his hometown of Siem Reap for another public viewing at Victoria Resort & Hotel from 23 March til 15 April.
Rumnea with our agreed favourite amongst Eric's photos - a scene of flooded ricefields

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