Thursday, May 31, 2012

On another planet

LP Cambodia authors, Nick Ray (left) and Greg Bloom
A good sized crowd was treated to one of the better book launches I've attended at Monument Books, with lively chat from the joint authors at the launch of the latest (8th) edition of Lonely Planet Cambodia, letting us in on a few secrets of the trade as well as regaling us with stories from the road. For Nick Ray all this is old hat having been the editor of the Cambodia guide for more years than he cares to remember, as he told the assembled throng about his early motorbike adventures in what was then a Wild West version of Cambodia. For Greg Bloom, more accustomed to guidebooks in Eastern Europe and the Philippines, his big headache was what to leave out in the Phnom Penh section of the latest guide whilst admitting to being blown away by the fabulous tourist-less beaches on the south coast islands. Most of the time the authors travel incognito, always refuse commission and play with a straight bat to ensure the popular guidebook remains objective.
William Bagley, the GM at Monument Books, informed me of four new(ish) books he's come across recently, all of them novels, that have already been published but which the publishing house has failed to indicate in their PR to bookstores that the books had anything to do with Cambodia, despite all four books being set in the country. Like me, he's left scratching his head by this obvious omission. They include Colin Cotterill's Love Songs From A Shallow Grave and Tom Knox's The Lost Goddess.
William Bagley introduces the two authors

Nick Ray recalling the Wild West days of his early Cambodia adventures

Some of the sizeable crowd at tonight's event

A book launch is not a launch without a book signing

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The penny has dropped

What do you mean, my contract has not been renewed?
I have been nagging away about the Cambodian national football coach for well over a year now. His name is Lee Tae-Hoon. He was the wrong man for the job, having been sent as a free gift from the South Korean football federation in August 2010 and welcomed with open arms by the Cambodian football federation, simply because his salary was paid for by another country. His previous coaching experience wouldn't have got him a job with a domestic club let alone a country's national team anywhere on the planet. Except Cambodia. His reign went from bad to worse as Cambodia repeatedly fell at the first hurdle in every major competition they entered and it was clear he was the wrong man in the wrong job. So what happens - a year ago the Cambodian federation gave him a year long contract extension. That sounds about par for the course. True to form, the coach continued to beaver away in his own little world and results continued on their downward spiral. He even had the temerity to say he wasn't interested in FIFA World Cup qualification as he was concentrating on the SEA Games at U-23 level. A comment guaranteed to get my goat and that of every football-loving fan in Cambodia. A win at home against Laos in the World Cup qualifier seemed to buck the trend until he took his team to Vientiane and they got hammered in the second leg. By this time I had lost patience and was calling for his head at every opportunity. It was for his own good really, as he was clearly a fish out of water. Cambodia's international reputation and ranking was dropping like a stone and the coach had failed to give his team any shape, structure, style or vision. At last the penny has dropped and the Cambodian federation have now informed the local press that the Korean's contract will not be renewed when it ends in July. Not sure what he will be doing until then, but the football authorities have also said they want to replace him with a Cambodian coach. Unfortunately, the dearth of experienced, talented coaches in Cambodia doesn't bode well for that decision either.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

CLA to increase shows

Had a chat with Cambodian Living Arts today about the Children of Bassac performances that were held once a week at the National Museum in the tourist high season but which have gone into hibernation until October, when they are scheduled to kick-off again. CLA are looking to increase the number of shows to between 3 and 6 nights per week, still at the Museum for the atmosphere, and may include other groups as well as the excellent Children of Bassac. They are really keen on including a yike group, who perform dance drama, amongst their line-up in the next series of shows. Certainly the combination of apsara and folk dances worked well with the Children of Bassac last year giving visitors a good blend of differing styles, but a key task for CLA is to make the shows self-sustaining and to provide enough funds to be able to pay the performers. Phnom Penh is ill-served by regular cultural performances (Sovanna Phum and Apsara Arts comes to mind and then I'm scratching my head), so a much more regular, and high quality show, from CLA would be very welcome, as long as it's pitched at a price to suit the average budget. We shall see what develops in the lead up to the next tourist high season.

Don't forget the launch of the Lonely Planet Cambodia guidebook at Monument Books at 6pm this coming Thursday. The authors of the new edition will be there to let you in on a few in-house secrets such as who gets included and why, and who gets the elbow from the guidebook before it's sent to the bookshops. It's already on sale in Monument if you need to get your copy.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Chapter closed

I've just received confirmation by email that my marriage has been dissolved in the court back in the UK and the decree absolute has been made final. Obviously, I have mixed emotions but I'm relieved that it's finally been sorted out, albeit not in the way which was originally agreed between both parties, and to be honest that leaves a very sour taste in my mouth. Not to mention a large hole in my pocket, figuratively-speaking. I could drone on about it, but you'd get bored very quickly, suffice to say that chapter of my life is closed.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Angkor focus

A slice of free time and Monument Books is always worth a visit. You can find Phnom Penh's best bookstore on Norodom Boulevard. A mite disappointed at not finding a copy of my own book, To Cambodia With Love (obviously sold out and awaiting a new delivery), I was cheered up by getting hold of a copy of Loung Ung's third book, Lulu In The Sky, which came out recently. Her previous books, First They Killed My Father and Lucky Child were both excellent. Another book that caught my eye was Michel Petrotchenko's guidebook on Angkor and called Focusing On The Angkor Temples - The Guidebook, that came out last October. Meant as a guide for first-timers, it contains details on more than eighty temples, 700 colour pictures, 35 maps, 150 annotated temple plans and boasts its merits over other temple guidebooks such as Dawn Rooney's Angkor, Marilia Albanese's Treasures of Angkor and Michael Freeman/Claude Jacques' Ancient Angkor. It presents twelve major temples in chronological sequence followed by the rest of the temples organised in geographical areas and includes Koh Ker, Banteay Chhmar and Sambor Prei Kuk. It has some plus points over the other books and at 386 pages and costing $22, it's a good idea to compare them before you buy.

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Post-nuptials

Chamroeun and Kanhchana at their wedding party
This weekend is a quiet one, with no football on the agenda though I attended a wedding party last night with Rumnea that was football linked. It was the post-nuptials for Chamroeun and his bride, Kanhchana at one of the Koh Pich wedding halls. Chamroeun is the sports editor for the Khmer edition of the Phnom Penh Post and we've known each other since I started watching football at the Olympic Stadium (and writing the footy reports for the Post). He used to work for the French paper Cambodge Soir before it sank and he moved onto the Post. It was a well-attended event and the ceremony halls at Koh Pich don't come cheap. He's a big Arsenal fan so I fully expected him to wear his Arsenal football kit at some point in the proceedings, but was sadly disappointed. I have another wedding party to attend next weekend when Samnang and Veasna tie the knot and their invitation card is the most inventive I've ever seen. The groom is pictured wearing buffalo horns. I can't wait to see what surprises take place at the actual event.
Photo from a mobile phone of Rumnea and myself at the party

Rumnea adds a splash of colour to the proceedings with one of her own designs

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Awaiting memories

The USA front cover of The Map of Lost Memories
Prepare yourself for Kim Fay's debut novel, The Map of Lost Memories. It will be out on bookshelves in the USA and in the UK in mid-August. 336 pages, published by Ballantine Books/Random House in the US and by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK, hence the two book covers I presume. It's also being translated in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Holland, Italy and Hungary. And Karyn O'Bryant will be the voice on the audiobook. I have a vested interest in the author and this book. Kim Fay was the series editor and a gigantic help to me whilst I was completing my own To Cambodia With Love. Without her, my book wouldn't have seen the light of day. Full stop. She was the one who gave me the proverbial kick up the ass to get it finished and held my hand over the finishing line. I also read the manuscript of her novel, then called In Yellow Babylon, way back when and offered up a few observations. But hey, what do I know. Kim is an exceptional writer and I'm utterly chuffed that she is bringing out a book, set in the 1920s and in the Cambodian jungle no less. I would urge absolutely everyone to make sure they buy a copy.
The UK version of the book's front cover

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Talking

Setha Monirorth in a scene from Talking To The Trees
A movie not yet released in Cambodia, but filmed and set here, was shown for the first time at the Cannes film festival last week. Yet another look at child trafficking in Cambodia, Talking To The Trees is the story of a middle-class French woman who embarks on a quest to rescue the child her husband has abused from a Cambodian brothel and return her to her family in the jungle. 90 minutes long with director-cum-actress Ilaria Borrelli in the lead role alongwith Setha Monirorth as the 11-year-old Srey. We await its arrival on these shores, though the subject matter is hardly uplifting. However, if it sheds a little more light on child trafficking in this country then it will be a positive step.

On the subject of highlighting issues, a new column soon to arrive in the Phnom Penh Post, from 1 June, will be from the Royal Rebel herself, Soma Norodom. Printed every Friday, she will be tackling social issues from education, trafficking, drugs, media, business and so on. In both the English and Khmer editions of the Post. Soma will also be the host for the upcoming TEDx in Phnom Penh on 9 June.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Academy pride

The Cambodian U-14s on the front page of the PPCFC website
The Academy youngsters at Phnom Penh Crown have grown tremendously since they came from all corners of Cambodia to join the club's residential full-time football Academy at the beginning of last year. 22 young boys who are rapidly becoming young men and who train to become professional footballers every morning, and attend private school each afternoon, fully paid for by the Crown president Rithy Samnang. 17 of them have just been selected for the Cambodia U-14 national team who will next week join the AFC Festival of Football in Malaysia, the first real opportunity they will have to test themselves and their skills against same age-group youngsters from eleven other SE Asia nations including Australia. It will be an awesome experience for them and under their national coach Bouy Dary, who also happens to be their full-time mentor at the Crown Academy, they are in the best possible hands. I'm not being overly dramatic when I say that the future of Cambodian football is in the hands, and feet, of these youngsters. They have shown they are streets ahead of any of their peers within Cambodia, now is the time to expose themselves to a much wider range of opponents and situations. I have been fortunate to watch them grow and improve at close quarters and I just wish I was able to be in Malaysia to see them represent their country with pride.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Upcoming

Here's confirmation from Monument Books, that Nick Ray and his fellow author Greg Bloom will both be on hand at the launch of the 8th edition of the brand new Lonely Planet Cambodia guidebook at the bookstore next week, on Thursday 31 May from 6pm onwards. They will be sure to have a few interesting anecdotes up their collective sleeves.
Tomorrow night at the Plantation Hotel, on street 184 in Phnom Penh, there's an interesting exhibition planned that brings together 40 artists creating 40 different masks under the banner of the Cambodian Mask Project. After the exhibition, an auction will sell off the exhibits. It opens tomorrow with cocktails at 6pm.
The following evening (Friday 25 May), at the Reyum Gallery on street 178, from 4-7pm, will be the opening of an exhibition of photographs by Kim Hak, entitled Daun Penh. He's already exhibited his works in Paris, Bangkok, France and Canada.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Temple hunting


My pal Sokhom at the entrance to a ruined tower at Prasat Preah Neak Buos
Re-discovering Angkor temples lost in the mists of time is an exciting hobby. Back in January 2003 I went in search of the fabled Prasat Preah Neak Buos, a temple built in the eighth century but because of its remote location, inaccessibility and the ever-present danger posed by landmines, it was one of the last remaining ancient Khmer temple sites to escape close scrutiny by archaeologists and tourists alike. It lies at the foot of a promontory of the Dangrek Mountain range that forms a natural border between Thailand and northern Cambodia. 

Prasat Preah Neak Buos is an unusual monument. Its location demands that it faces south, and with various structures added during the reign of different Kings, it houses an eclectic cluster of temples rather than one large imposing structure. Early inscriptions call the location at the foot of the mountain, Canandagiri as well as Sivapadapurva. In later years during the 10th and 11th centuries, additional monuments were built at the same location, including brick temples with inscriptions facing east, whereas the original temple faced westwards. In the eleventh century, a new group of buildings were erected, with a large brick sanctuary holding centre stage and other smaller edifices and galleries amidst the rocky outcrops and boulders. 

Located just a few kilometres east of the small town of Choam Khsan in the far north of the country’s Preah Vihear Province, I enlisted the help of a couple of locals, who’d visited the temple before but who stressed that landmines, lain indiscriminately by both sides during hostilities just five years before, were everywhere so we had to be careful. To get the temple we took motos but with deep sand along the trail we spent most of our time walking the nine kilometers. We crisscrossed three deep and dry riverbeds, meandered along a cool and shady forest section and got stuck in ox-cart tracks before we arrived at a border police checkpoint, a kilometre from the foot of the mountain range. Surprised by our appearance, the police had not encountered any foreigners before and took some persuading to let us continue our journey. They confirmed that there were no landmines inside the temple but that we must stick to the main trail for our own safety and waved us on our way. We soon abandoned our motos to continue on foot and stumbled upon a large laterite wall, which my guide confirmed was the southern entrance to Neak Buos. We had arrived. Nearby, a broken statue of a lion and a finely carved colonette lying in the grass was early confirmation that this was indeed the prize I was seeking.

The southern entrance is a mishmash of building styles. On one side is a well-defined stepped laterite wall, whilst the opposite side is a natural ridge with sandstone boulders. The main entrance staircase is overgrown, whilst brick and laterite structures lie in ruin on top of the terrace behind. At one of the outer brick buildings, a damaged lintel at the base of a sandstone doorframe was ferociously guarded by red ants, a common enemy throughout my exploration. Walking through the undergrowth along a path of sorts, we encountered another large entry building, this time constructed of brick with a distinctive sandstone double doorframe, before a laterite gopura signalled the beginning of the inner enclosure, where the largest collection of buildings were to be found. Negotiating our way through the two-metre high vegetation, we stumbled across a sandstone lintel with well-known Hindu motifs carved in minute detail, poking out of the earth and likely to have come from one of the five brick towers to our left, in the southwest corner of the enclosure. Thorn bushes made up much of the foliage we encountered and I silently cursed myself for not insisting that we brought with us some machetes to cut our way through. In the excitement of the morning, I'd forgotten something so fundamental. As the sharp thorns penetrated my shirt and trousers, I vowed not to make the same mistake again.

We headed for the largest of the towers in the center of the inner enclosure. Like so many of the more dramatic of Cambodia's ancient temples, this was partly engulfed in the clutches of a strangler fig tree whose trunk sprouted skywards from the top of the tower. As we got closer we could hear the bats inside the tower signal our presence and the smell of their droppings was overpowering as I peered into the gloom of the sanctuary. The tower is of brick construction and has a stepped-pyramid or tapered appearance, opening out to the south. It was built later than most of the other structures and had survived in a much better condition. The main doorway, the three other doorways are false, boasted half a decorative lintel with an elephant and hermits in meditation, and a broken colonette. Lying closeby was the other half of the lintel where apsara dancers flying above elephants had their heads chipped away. No temple in Cambodia is safe from the temple thieves who seek to cash in on the trade in Angkorian material. I could find no other decoration on the tower as we inched our way through the brush to a large laterite gallery, with crude sandstone pillared windows, on the east side of the courtyard. Climbing to the top to gain a better view of our surroundings, we could just make out the pinnacle of at least eight towers but it emphasized exactly how wildly overgrown with vegetation the whole complex was. We rested for a while, listening to the quietness of the surrounding forest as our exertions had been tiring, with perspiration soaking my skin and clothes even though the overhead sun had not yet reached its’ hottest.

Our adventures continued on a more difficult route around the rear of the central brick tower, stepping gingerly through the thorn bushes and on top of discarded bricks and boulders. There was no path, we made it up as we went. A sandstone lotus flower, fallen from the summit of a tower and another half lintel protruding from the ground led us onto another two ruined brick towers. Both opened out to the east and both had inscriptions on their sandstone doorframes in Pali, an old Khmer script and in Sanskrit. Closeby was the original temple, known as Sivapadapurva, built in the eighth century and with its main doorway opening to the west. The base of the tower was laterite, whilst the top half was made of brick and housed another Sanskrit inscription, with some modern graffiti superimposed, as well as a perfectly rounded colonette and an intricate piece of carving. A few bats had also made their home in the upper reaches of its sealed tower. Another brick tower, opening out in a southern direction, stood a few metres away.

From atop the gallery we had spied another set of structures, lying in the southeast section of the enclosure and that's where we headed next. We were more than two hours into our exploration of the temple complex and whilst we hadn't uncovered anything as remarkable as the main temples of Angkor, the thrill of exploring a virgin site was no less palpable. Reaching the southeast corner, next to the surrounding laterite wall were two very ruined brick buildings. In front of the first was a large decorative lintel with gods, hermits and dancing figures carved in intricate detail. Scrambling around in the undergrowth nearby, we found more finely-carved stonework. At this point the vegetation was almost impenetrable and I just managed to reach two more small sandstone towers with carvings of demon faces, both in situ and lying in the undergrowth. Balancing precariously on fallen blocks of stone, I decided safety was the best option and that we’d seen as many of the structures as we could within the main enclosure. We now headed for the large brick gopura with the double sandstone doorframe we’d seen on our earlier arrival. A row of rectangular sandstone posts preceded the doorframe where I noticed a date carved on the stone, 8.2.1904, most likely from one of the French archaeologists that documented this and many of Cambodia's ancient temples in the early part of the twentieth century.

After a final inspection of the outer southern entrance, we ended our visit to Neak Buos. The thick undergrowth, the vicious ants and the incredibly hot and muggy conditions had made it a hard slog for more than three hours but the thrill of uncovering a major temple complex that few, if any, had visited for many decades, made it all worthwhile. We called in at the police station to rest, eat our lunch and to mend two punctures on one of the motos. If you are seeking to explore a temple that doesn't conform to the more sanitized versions you find at Angkor and you aren't afraid of a fair amount of discomfort then Prasat Preah Neak Buos may be just what you're looking for. If you do pay a visit, make sure you heed seriously the warnings about landmines and are accompanied by a knowledgeable local.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

On My Tv

The Like Me's being interviewed on My TV this evening

Laura Mam, the lead singer with The Like Me's
They are over here but have kept a low profile until their appearance on My TV tonight, being interviewed (in Khmer) and with a couple of their videos being screened. I'm talking about the all-girl group The Like Me's from California, who've been in the country for a week as the guests of CTN and My TV and are preparing to make some more music videos, specifically for the Khmer market. I haven't heard that a public gig is planned, which is a pity as the girls have already garnered a lot of support from their last visit over here in March of last year and a repeat of their knock-out show at Koh Pich would be very welcome.

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Spotlight on Cristiano

Cristiano and myself at our first meeting in 2006, I'm wearing the krama
I was pleased to see an in-depth article in The Cambodia Daily today by journo Michelle Vachon, all about Cristiano Calcagno's painstaking research over many years that has been rewarded with the publication of his book, Kampong Thom and its Province. Cristiano was a man on a mission when I met him a few years ago and we did one trip together, when we spent a few days getting to Phnom Chi in the far eastern corner of the province and back. So I know exactly the lengths that Cristiano went through to make his research as thorough as possible. As I've said on previous occasions, Cambodia would be well served by having a Cristiano in every province, keen enough to spend the countless hours required to register and identify all the archaeological sites inside a province's boundaries. He did a fantastic job with Kompong Thom and his book is testament to that.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ray on the spot

Lonely Planet's Cambodia guidebook editor Nick Ray has pencilled in a Thursday 31 May book launch for the brand new Lonely Planet Cambodia at Monument Books on Norodom Boulevard. It's the 8th edition of the Cambodia guide, which is produced every two years and for which Nick and Greg Bloom shared the research, and is by far and away the most popular of the guidebooks being carried by visitors to the Kingdom. Nick will provide some commentary on his research and his time in Cambodia as well as answer questions from interested readers. The book launch/talk will kick-off around 6pm.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Low-key party

I wasn't overly impressed with the wording on Rumnea's t-shirt
There's a rash of wedding parties coming up. Tonight's was a low-key party for friends and work colleagues for Raksmey and her new hubby, who got married in Kralanh last week, too far for most people to attend, hence the party tonight at Mlobsvay BBQ restaurant. Every male at the table, apart from me, got pretty drunk on the free-flowing beer, which is par for the course, though it gets my goat when most of them then climb aboard their motorbikes and head off home, not in proper control of their faculties. It's a way too common problem in Cambodia which needs addressing sooner than later, for everyone's sake.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Terrace talent

Had a good look at a new guesthouse tonight, The Terrace on 95, and it was perfect timing as they were holding their first youth music jam-night, where some very talented youngsters had the confidence to sing and play music to their peers, including one eight year old who has a fantastic voice. It's the idea of the team behind TTO95 looking to give these youngsters a place to meet and have fun in a safe environment. It worked for me. They also have a fortnightly jam session for adults, though it's not exclusive. Euan Gray is the man in charge of the music. The delicious wraps from their night-time menu were a big hit for me too. The eight rooms at TTO95 are inexpensive, neat and tidy, a good size with big beds and private en suites, nice touches and with wi-fi throughout. It's located on streets 95 and 348, and sits next to The Flicks cinema. Find out more here.

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Of limited interest...

Before the game, I am looking very old and knackered. With Steven Tan the coach of Tampines Rovers.
A few pictures have surfaced from Andrew Him, a photographer in  Singapore, of myself at Wednesday's match. Only of interest to me and my mum, may she rest in peace, but here they are anyway. Thanks to Andrew for sending them on. His photos of the actual match were much more interesting.
Comparing notes with Phnom Penh Crown coach David Booth

Pretending that I know how to use a lap-top. Believe me, I don't.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

It's a wet one

It's the morning after the night before...and it's a wet one. For the third day running I've woken up to a rainstorm and thunder in Singapore (which has disabled my plans for a walk to the coast). Which just about sums up our Phnom Penh Crown footy trip to the city state which ended in disappointment and defeat last night. We knew we faced a tough task against the Singapore champions, Tampines Rovers, who play in the next level up of AFC football, and so it proved but at the same time, we showed that club football in Cambodia shouldn't be under-estimated. We lost 4-3 but it was a topsy-turvy, roller-coaster type of game and after we pulled it back to 3-3 on the hour, anything looked possible. However, in a 42-year old striker from Bosnia by the name of Alexsandar Duric, Tampines have a living legend of Singaporean football in their ranks, and once again, as he's often done in his career, he proved the match winner. More than twice the age of his marker, he showed there's no substitute for experience, guile and know-how as he made a yard of space to whack home the match decider. It was gut-wrenching for the Crown team and coach David Booth, after their heroics to come back from 3-1 down at half-time. But it's all over now, we are out of the Singapore Cup at the 1st attempt and later this afternoon, we're back on the flight heading for Phnom Penh. The last I heard it was raining there too.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Back to my roots

Black Roots - gigging again
It's nostalgia time again. Not only have Incantation released a new album, but there's great news coming from Bristol that one of Britain's best-ever homegrown reggae bands, Black Roots, will be releasing an album of brand new songs on 10 September, called On The Ground. A fabulous live and studio band from the 1980s and early 1990s, the boys from Bristol have teamed up and are gigging regularly again. It was only last week that Sugar Shack Records released a 25th anniversary deluxe version of their 1985 All Day All Night album on CD. As well the original dozen vocal tracks, they added several dub versions and an extended 12-inch mix of Pin in the Ocean. Now back to that new album earmarked for September. The band have just finished recording and mixing the album and the result will be a 17-track release in four months time. The 17-tracks are: 1. I Believe. 2. Pompous Way. 3. Long Long Ago. 4. Militancy. 5. Earth Land. 6. I Am flying. 7. Slavery. 8. Oh Mama Africa. 9. Hide out.10. On The Ground. 11. Call Me Out. 12. No Fee. 13. Struggle. 14. Landscape. 15. Without Direction. 16. Capitalism. 17. Come and Sing. This is wonderful news for all British reggae fans. You can read about my passion for Black Roots here.

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Incantation return

Out of the blue, I've just heard that Incantation, one of my favourite music collaborations, have produced a new album. It's called Atacama - Estamos Bien and is a trubute to the Chilean miners and their rescuers that captivated the world between August and October 2010. Known over many years for their authentic South American music, Incantation - namely Mike Taylor and Tony Hinnigan alongwith Tony Maloney - were inspired to record 13 tracks of their evocative sound using native Chilean instruments, strings, brass, rock and flameco guitars and all manner of percussion in a rich and diverse package. It's the first album release under the band's name since their last compilation album in 1998. In the meantime, both Mike Taylor and Tony Hinnigan have continued to contribute to their impressive musical CVs including the soundtracks of many well-known movies. Read more about the band here. You can find out more about the new album here.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Wandering

Renovated heritage buildings along East Coast Road

A lazy day today, for me anyway. Up at 7am for breakfast - the only time I eat breakfast is when I stay in a hotel - then back to my room until player registration at 11.30. While the team had a group chat around the swimming pool, I attended the manager's meeting, which is the usual pre-match formalities and instructions, like 'respect the referee' and stuff like that. After lunch I went for a wander around the area known as the Joo Chiat neighbourhood of Katong. There are many quaint two story pre-war architectural gems with ornate facades, plaster bas reliefs and vibrant colours, as well as the Hindu temple of Sri Senpaga Vinayagar and regular residential properties. There are food shops everywhere you look serving Peranakan cuisine. The area used to be on the east coast itself until reclaimed land took the seafront further away. With its unique mix of Chinese, Peranakan and English colonial styles, it was designated a national heritage conservation area by the Singapore government in 1993. A pleasant enough stroll interrupted by the rain, which is forecast to hit us harder tomorrow night. There's training tonight for the the team between 7-9pm at the match stadium under floodlights.
Ali Baba's eatery on the corner of East Coast Road

The Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Hindu temple
Another lovely looking building on East Coast Road

The renovated shop-houses of the Santa Grand Hotel

The roof-top swimming pool at Santa Grand Hotel

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Monday, May 14, 2012

On arrival

Singapore is hot and has more trees than I can shake a stick at. They went tree-planting crazy a few years ago and the drive from the airport is all green. Our hotel, the Santa Grand, is on the East Coast road and is housed in a renovated heritage building. Actually the lobby and restaurant are in the renovation, the rooms are in an annexe. And small. And they cost more than $200 a night. Phew...thank goodness the Singapore Football Federation are paying. But we do have a rooftop swimming pool. We are being well looked after, lunch was ready on arrival at the hotel. After training, another buffet was served up. I think they're trying to fill us up so we'll be extra slow on the pitch on Wednesday. I think it might just work. The players aren't used to this amount of food on their plates. We will have to ration them from now on. Two of the team had never flown before. We even had to get them passports to allow them to come. They are loving being in another country. They can't stop smiling. An early night tonight...watching Game of Thrones on HBO. Great series. And I used to hate fantasy stories when I was young. Tomorrow I have to attend the team manager's briefing and then we have training in the evening on the pitch where we will play on Wednesday. Well, the players will train. I will merely attend in my official capacity. The team's only supporter.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

City state cometh

On my travels again tomorrow. An early start and flight at 9.30am to Singapore, which means a 5.30am wake-up so I can get myself ready and get to the meeting point for 7am. I never pack until the morning I leave. I'm off to Singapore as part of the Phnom Penh Crown team, six officials and 18 players, as the club are taking part in the RHB Singapore Cup, for something like the sixth year running. The Singapore FA invite foreign teams to join this competition as a way of bringing fresh faces in front of their football fans and it gives teams like ours great experience against traditionally-stronger countries like Singapore. It just so happens we've been drawn in a one-off game against their current champions, Tampines Rovers, so it doesn't come much harder, but as I said, a great experience nonetheless. I'm packing my cash as everyone knows, Singapore ain't cheap. I've just watched the end of the Barclays Premier football season which was on at a sensible time here in Asia. An amazing conclusion to a thoroughly entertaining season of footy. Long may it continue. I won't get too excited though until my team since I was a mere wisp of a lad, Leeds, are back in their rightful place amongst the elite. How long is a piece of string?

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dancers onscreen

Nam Narim and Belle share a joke onscreen
I caught a programme in Khmer language on the CTN channel the other evening that was talking specifically about contemporary dance. Obviously I didn't understand it, but the female interviewer was asking four people questions including Belle and Nam Narim, with both of them being shown dancing solo contemporary pieces between questions. Both Belle and Narim were in Spain recently as part of the collaboration between Amrita and Peter Sellars' Persephone opera in Madrid. Great to see contemporary dance and the dancers themselves getting wider exposure on television. CTN are also currently playing the music videos by The Like Me's. Thumbs up for CTN.
Belle making her point on CTN

Contemporary dancer Nam Narim was trained in Korea

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Friday, May 11, 2012

The way ahead

An insightful look at sustainable development viewed from the perspective of climate change and new strategies for creating a green economy is what Dr Timothy Killeen's new book, The Cardamom Conundrum: Reconciling Development and Conservation in the Kingdom of Cambodia promises to provide. Using the Cardamom Mountains and surrounding landscape as an example, the author seeks to demonstrate how the wise management of a nation's renewable resources can promote robust economic growth and reduce poverty. Dr Killeen is a senior research scientist with Conservation International. Let's hope the government and all parties concerned take heed, and quickly before the rich diversity of the Cardamoms disappears forever. The book is published by the University of Hawai'i Press and the author will be in Phnom Penh on 23 May to launch his new book to an invited audience at the Intercon Hotel.

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Like Me A Lot

With The Like Me's on their last visit to the Kingdom
Remember those gorgeous ladies from The Like Me's? It seems they are heading back to Cambodia in the very near future and are already getting regular exposure on CTN and MYTV with their music video for Pka Proheam Rik Popreay taking both channels by storm, as well as being available on ringtones and call tunes by Cellcard. And that's not all. They plan to release nine songs this year, three covers of old classics and six original songs. Laura Mam and her all-girl team from California are on their way to Cambodia again, after a short but explosive visit last February and March, where the band packed in gigs in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and went down a real treat. I believe their visit is primarily to shoot some music video's in-country and don't have any info on gigs this time around, but if I hear anything, you'll be the first to know.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

The new LP

The cover of the new LP Cambodia
They don't come any hotter than this. The latest Lonely Planet Cambodia guidebook is due out next month but I already have a copy in my grubby hands. The book is still warm from the printing press. The Cambodia edition comes out every two years, so this one has the most up-to-date information on hotels, restaurants, bars and transport that you can lay your hands on. It's a new-look book as LP have changed their design template, with a lot more colour throughout, new sections such as If You Like and Regions At A Glance, as well as the old favourites like Top 10 Experiences and their extensive coverage of Angkor. The size and shape of the book remain the same, there are 16 pages less this time around and an increase of a dollar in price to US$23.99. Nevertheless, it beats all its competitors hands-down for ease of reference and coverage of the whole country, including a new six-page feature on the islands off the coast. My own website and blog get a mention on page 13 with the tagline: Gateway to all things Cambodian; includes a popular blog. I can't argue with that. Nick Ray and Greg Bloom are the two writers responsible for the latest edition of what is by a country mile, the most popular guidebook on Cambodia. I wonder if copies will be on sale along the riverside or at the Russian Market before the originals arrive in Monument books.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Rubbernaut

Prey Lang Forest - by Matthieu Young
A documentary film, Rubbernaut, is currently being completed by Fran Lambrick and Vanessa De Smet and is focused on the lives of families living in Cambodia's Prey Lang forest and how rubber plantations are impacting on their lives and their future. Prey Lang has been the focus of protests and conflicts over communal land rights in recent times and one of the key people involved was Chut Wutty, a dedicated environmental activist, who was recently killed whilst out with two reporters from the Cambodia Daily looking for evidence of illegal logging. One of the journalists, a Canadian, has now left the country. Rubbernaut follows two families on either side of the deforestation frontier. We get to know the stories of two ordinary families who are struggling to make ends meet: one working in the rubber plantations, the other in the native forest.  As these two contrasting lifestyles are revealed we get to understand the passion driving local people to maintain their independence and their way of life. The Prey Lang community joins forces at the site of a new concession where resin trees that local people depend on are being cut down, to make way for the expansion of rubber plantations. Hundreds of villagers walked through the forest for days. The community is not prepared to allow the deforestation to go unchallenged. Find out more about the film's progress here and about the Prey Lang Forest Network here. If you'd like to support the documentary filmmakers, find out more here.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ratanakiri re-visited

The team that visited the Ratanakiri gibbons, outside the ranger station gates
I have failed miserably, with so much football taking place, to give you a run-down on my recent wildlife encounter in Ratanakiri. I apologise. I wrote the following for my company newsletter which sums up the experience, so here it is.
Wildlife in Cambodia is becoming increasingly scarce, so it’s great news when a wildlife agency discovers a new population they didn’t know existed. One such discovery is the endangered gibbons of Ratanakiri, the northern buffed-cheeked crested gibbons to be precise, about 1,500 of them, and under the umbrella of Conservation International, an exciting opportunity now exists to see them in their natural habitat. Cue my recent visit to Banlung in Cambodia’s northeast province of Ratanakiri. My destination was the Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area where a small group of habituated gibbons have been the subject of research for the past couple of years. Habituated means they don’t run away from humans, which makes early morning viewing a real possibility. To reach their stretch of evergreen jungle required a 4WD trip of 35kms, a boat ride along the Sesan River and then a two-hour bicycle ride punctuated by a lunch stop before arriving at the ranger-research station. After a shower and a rest we had an early dinner. The gibbons themselves are another 2kms away but the best time to see them is around dawn, so we took an hour-long night-time (8pm) hike through the forest with head-lamps in the hope of spotting pygmy-loris or civet, though we were out of luck this time around. Our guide was disappointed that we didn't see anything so he took us further into the forest, which wasn't a great idea as it got thicker and thicker before we finally turned back. The end of a tough day.
The next morning, it was a 4am departure from camp for the 2km walk to the home of the gibbons and right on cue, as we arrived, their mesmerizing whooping call literally took the roof off the forest in front of us. A few steps under the canopy and the family of four were directly above us, playing, resting, fighting, eating, with the male and female (who is beige in colour) sending their piercing call across the forest canopy. It was a magical moment. After twenty minutes, the local guide told us to be ready to move, and again on cue, the family (dad, mum, a juvenile and a minor, all black in colour except mum) began swinging from tree to tree, high over our heads but easy enough to spot, as we followed our expert tracker who knew instinctively which direction the family was heading. Every few minutes we would pause on the forest floor as the family stopped to eat and inspect their own patch of forest. It was tough-going on the forest floor, there is no path to follow but our group size (no more than six at a time to limit the impact on the gibbons) means it’s straightforward enough to follow the guide and to keep a look-out for the gibbons overhead. It got a bit tense when the family encountered two red-shanked douc langurs, something the guide hadn’t seen before, but after a few moments, both groups went their separate ways without incident, to the relief of all present. We carried on shadowing the family for more than an hour before letting them carry on without further interruption. Then unexpectedly, we spotted a troupe of fifteen douc langurs high in the tree-tops and their different way of traversing the jungle, jumping from tree to tree feet-first instead of the languid swinging of the gibbons with their long arms, was an unexpected pleasure to see. Two hours after our arrival we emerged from the jungle for a well-deserved rest, invigorated by our adventures and experiences.
Back at the ranger station, we had brunch before getting back on our bikes for the ride back to civilization at the town of Veun Sai, on the banks of the Sesan and a ferry ride to meet up with our 4WD back to Banlung and a welcome splash in the pool at the Terres Rouge Hotel. It was a fabulous experience, seeing these rare and at risk gibbons in their natural habitat, and the added bonus of the douc langurs as well. It’s refreshing to know that the work of Conservation International and the park rangers are preserving this pristine environment and allowing new experiences like this to be made possible. I went over the top of my handle-bars on the bike ride back, which just goes you have to be on-guard at all times. Fortunately I only suffered a dent in my pride. The reason I took my eye off the track was that four large red ants (ang krang in Khmer) had gotten onto my hand and I was trying to prise them off my skin. Next time I'll simply stop.
Our send-off committee on the riverbank

Riding the boat on the Sesan River

The forest trail close to the ranger station

This bridge leads to the gates of the ranger station

My hammock

Our less than luxurious bedroom accommodation
The route through a bamboo forest

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Crown qualify

Get in there! Phnom Penh Crown qualified for the AFC President's Cup finals (that's the third tier club cup competition in Asian football to you) with a 1-0 win over Nepal Police this afternoon. They had to wait for the torrential rain to stop before the game got underway half an hour late and with Khim Borey's solitary goal after 21 minutes separating the teams, it got a bit nervy towards the end. But the job is done, with a game to spare, and the Crown team can relax and play with the freedom of qualification under their belt, when they face hot-shots Dordoi this Wednesday. With 4 goals in two matches, I reckon Khim Borey will be getting the freedom of the city soon. We did the same thing last year and it feels good to do it again. It's a great boost for Cambodian football to get a team in the finals for the 2nd year running. We don't have much to celebrate sports-wise, so at least we can hang the flags out tonight off the back of this win.

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Opening up the north

A tree trunk bridge across a river in the middle of nowhere on NH214
The road across northern Cambodia from Stung Treng to Tbeng Meanchey in Preah Vihear province is up and running. Well, it will be in 45 months time. That's how long they reckon it will take the Chinese to complete the road and the bridge over the Mekong River. PM Hun Sen broke ground for the project this weekend which includes 144 kms of road, National Highway 214 to be precise, which I thought was already close to completion, but perhaps that's just the compacted earth version, rather than a tarmac edition. It's also going to see the construction of a 1,731-meter bridge over the Mekong River. Obviously once finished, this will open the direct route between southern Laos and Preah Vihear and of course by extension, Siem Reap, without the need to travel south to Kompong Cham and north again via Kompong Thom. I actually travelled the new NH214 in May 2009 when it wasn't a road, more like a track that linked one village to another. It took my brother Tim and myself a whole day to get from Stung Treng to Tbeng Meanchey, on the back of two motodops, with various stops, falls and fun along the way. It was a tough day, but an experience I'm glad we endured. Something to tell my grandkids - if I had any.

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Formation dancing

Rumnea leads the dance formation team through their paces
The Cambodian Space Project flew into Mao's nightclub last night for a farewell gig before they head for Hong Kong and then onto Europe and the States. I forget exactly where as they gig almost continuously in one location or another. They are real troopers. An advanced masterclass in Cambodian dancing took off for their second song, as the Khmer ladies in the audience, plus Nancy, spontaneously formed a dance formation team. It was great to see girls. I know the band appreciated it. Great songs, great fun. Before I went out I caught yesterday's football press conference on at least three television channels and I've come to the simple conclusion that I am not telegenic at all. Even I find my voice extremely boring, so goodness knows what anyone else thinks. You can see the YouTube video of part of the press conference here.
The Cambodian Space Project begin their set

Hang Meas TV did a 3-minute piece on the press conference - a slow news day?

I must be trying to get my point across - not exactly telegenic

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