Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A busy few days ahead

A few events this week include an exhibition of photographs opening at The Plantation Hotel in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. Its a series of images taken by three photographers in the wake of the recent death of Cambodia's King Father. The exhibition is called Boung Soung (Khmer for Prayers to the King) and the photographers include my old pal Nick Sells, easily the best event snapper in the Kingdom. The following evening, Thursday, is the opening night of the 6-nights a week Plae Pakaa season of traditional shows by Cambodian Living Arts performers at the National Museum. Tickets are $10 a pop and there are three different shows, classical and folk dancing, Yike opera and theatre, which will alternate throughout the tourist high season. I'm hopeful of watching the Yike on Friday and the theatre on Saturday, having witnessed the excellent Children of Bassac shows in the past. Also on Thursday at Meta House is the first showing of the documentary Brother Number One, the story of Rob Hamill's search for the truth behind the disappearance of his brother Kerry in 1978 and Rob's subsequent confrontation with the man responsible for his brother's death at S-21, Comrade Duch. The film starts at 7pm, tickets cost $5 and Rob will be here, all the way from New Zealand, for a Q&A session. The film is being shown on Friday night as well. Don't miss it.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Bizot on Duch

I haven't read it myself but the reviews suggest its the best thing since sliced bread. I'm unconvinced by the pre-publication praise. I'm talking about Francois Bizot's Facing The Torturer, 224 pages and published about now by Knopf. The background to the story is this: In 1971, 30-year-old ethnographer François Bizot was captured by the Khmer Rouge and kept prisoner for three months in the Cambodian jungle, accused of being a CIA spy. His captor, Comrade Duch, eventually had him freed. It took Bizot decades to realise he owed his life to a man who, later in the Killing Fields regime, became one of Pol Pot′s most infamous henchmen. As the head of the Tuol Sleng S-21 jail, Duch personally oversaw the detention, systematic torture and execution of thousands of detainees. Duch′s trial as a war criminal began in March 2009 and Bizot was the first witness to testify. In July 2010, Duch was sentenced to 35 years′ imprisonment for the murder of an estimated 14,000 people. Unable to reconcile the young man who saved his life with the war criminal who terrorised and killed countless innocent people, Bizot attended Duch′s trial and spent time with him in prison, trying to unearth whatever humanity Duch had left. If he was going to talk to anyone, it was Bizot, whom he still referred to as his 'friend'. This is Bizot's personal eye-witness account, picking up where his powerful memoir of a decade ago, The Gate, left off. Bizot rates Duch as normal, ordinary, like anyone of us. He'll need to go a long way to convince me of that.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

New York's finest

A classic pose from one of the Khmer Arts Ensemble dancers destined for New York
I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but if I haven't, and you live in New York, then mark these dates in your calendar. 6 April through to 31 May, 2013. Why? In recent years, Cambodia’s artistic community has slowly been rebuilding itself, and this coming spring in New York the city will be alive with the Season of Cambodia Festival. This gathering of more than 125 artists, performers and scholars will present Cambodian film, dance, visual art, shadow puppetry and more at venues all around the city, including the Guggenheim Museum, the Asia Society and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The celebration is being hosted by Cambodian Living Arts, a nonprofit group founded in 1998 by Arn Chorn-Pond, who survived Cambodia's terrible past as a child and eventually came to the United States. “When I first returned to Cambodia in the ’90s after the Paris peace accord, my friends and I were finding master teachers living on the streets - poor, weak, without food and basic health care,” said Chorn-Pond, whose work in rescuing these artists was detailed in the PBS documentary, The Flute Player. The festival's full programme will be announced soon, though I'm told one group of performers from the Khmer Arts Ensemble, based near Phnom Penh, will be making the trip to showcase their work. Find out more about the Festival here.

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pumping beehive

Srey Thy with beehive, and the band
Equinox was pumping tonight with another slice of the Cambodian Space Project, back on these shores after a visit to Australia. Female singer Srey Thy got into the mood with a beehive hairdo as CSP gave their own tribute to the late King Father with a selection of hits from the Sixties. Films by the former King were screened on the wall behind the band as they performed the usual favourites to a full-house.

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Over to the dark side

Noir is not something I know much about. But I hope to be enlightened when I get a copy of a brand new book, Phnom Penh Noir, which has been published by Heaven Lake Press in the past few days. Edited by novelist Christopher G Moore, the book will shed light on the tough, bleak, dark, shadowy side of the city, if that makes sense. It contains fictional short stories by internationally recognised writers such as James Grady, John Burdett and film producer and director Roland Joffé, as well as lyrics from Krom, the poetry of Kosol Kheiv, and the photography from a number of local and international artists. 20% of the books profits will go to charity and a book launch is set for the end of next month at the FCC for an invited audience only.
Staying on the dark side, and the debut album from the band Krom, called Songs from the Noir, will be showcased when the band make their live debut on CTN's Cambodia Entertainment Tonight program on Saturday 17 November, from 5.30pm. They will perform three songs, one accompanied by dancers from the Children of Bassac group, whilst an interview with singer Sophea Chamroeun will also be aired.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Emotional journey

Rob Hamill addresses an audience in Phnom Penh during the making of Brother Number One in July 2010
I've still not watched the documentary Brother Number One by director Annie Goldson, which follows the story of Rob Hamill's emotional journey to find out the truth behind the disappearance of his brother Kerry, in the Khmer Rouge maelstrom in Cambodia in 1978. So I will definitely be in attendance, as I understand Rob himself will be too, when the film gets shown at Meta House on Thursday 1 November. Rob is an Olympic and Trans-Atlantic champion rower from New Zealand who has taken his film around the globe, finally making its way to Cambodia, where I understand it will be shown for two nights at Meta House and another at the Bophana Center. I've known about the film for what seems like an eternity, I've blogged it on numerous occasions, so to finally be able to watch it, will be a relief. I'm told its a real tear-jerker, so be prepared. You can find out more about the film here.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Celebrating the King Father

Get your dancing shoes on and be ready to celebrate the music of King Father Norodom Sihanouk. It seems suitably fitting that the Cambodian Space Project had already decided to do a tribute gig to the King Father, before the sad events of the last couple of weeks. His impact on Cambodian culture and art was already firmly fixed in their headlights and so the gig at Equinox this Saturday, is about as timely as you can get. Hats off to CSP and I hope the gig, free and starting at 9pm, will be absolutely rammed full. Earlier in the evening, at 6pm, the circus is in town, at the Beeline Arena, as the Phare Ponleu Selpak circus folk are popping down from Battambang for their monthly show. With tickets at just $3.50 a pop, you can't go wrong. PPS always put on a terrific show, as I witnessed in Battambang myself.
Monday is another Cambodian public holiday. Not for me but it is for the schools, etc. To keep the children amused, Phnom Penh Crown are holding a Festival of Football at their RSN pitch in Tuol Kork and inviting all children between the ages of 8-12, boys and girls, to join in the fun. Its part of the club's community engagement program and we've invited all the local schools to send us their kids for the afternoon (2-5pm), with the emphasis firmly on putting the fun into playing football. Its the idea of new coach Sam Schweingruber, who has been doing this in Battambang for the past six years. The first team players will be in charge and assisted by the U-15 girls national team, who are coming down from Battambang for the event. Sounds like a blast.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Raving bonkers

Did I really say it was slow on the football front? Well that all changed today with a veritable flood of stuff happening. The football federation here have gone and stumped me again with their insatiable desire to wind me up the wrong way. The length and start of any football season in any country in the world is pretty much taken for granted. Not in Cambodia. The bozos at the FFC have just announced the dates for the main league competition, the Metfone C-League, and they've only gone and brought forward the start of the season by 3 months. Yes, 3 months, and without any consultation with the clubs whatsoever. They just drop it from a great height and say, deal with it. They are unbelievable. So now all the teams have to scramble around like headless chickens to get their squads together and fit before the new league season begins on 1 January. Absolutely bonkers. In addition, they also announced the Hun Sen Cup dates, which has been a pre-season competition in the recent past. Not now. It combines the best of the province teams with the C-League sides. The involvement of the C-Leaguers will now start on 20 December and carry onto into the middle of March, so the FFC have decides to overlap the two competitions, without any mention of when these games will be played. It's a complete shambles and the lack of guidance, steerage, consultation, with anyone, by the people in charge of football in this country, is a disgrace. Oh, and Phnom Penh Crown signed their second French-Khmer player as well. His name is Boris Kok and the club are rapidly earning themselves a mould-breaking reputation by snapping up overseas-born Khmers, as they undertake a mini-revolution under new coach Sam Schweingruber. All of this football stuff can be found in detail at my Kingdom of Football blog here.

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Captured in grief

Photographer Jim Heston captures the King in mourning
I heard it was amazing to be there, I saw it on tv, as thousands flocked to the Royal Palace area yesterday to pay their respects to the King Father on the seventh day of mourning. The King and his mother came out of the palace to meet the thousands of monks and well-wishers and Jim Heston, more used to stalking the streets at night with his camera, snapped this excellent photo of King Norodom Sihamoni, displaying his grief for all to see. I'm sure Jim won't mind me posting it here, it's a fabulous photo and Jim's stuff just keeps getting better and better. Later, the rain came down in buckets to drench the crowds, but those that were there, will never forget it.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Outpouring of emotion

Picture courtesy of Sabay.com
I haven't been near the Royal Palace since the King Father died. The official week of mourning comes to a close today and its been clear from the news reports and photos over the past few days that Cambodians have been out in big numbers to offer their respects to their former monarch. I just felt it wasn't my place to intrude on their grief and their mourning, I don't have the same affinity with the King Father that the Cambodians do, how could I, I'm not Khmer, and rather than just going along to soak up the atmosphere and take a few snaps with my camera, I've left it alone. But I got a taste of the dramatic nature of what's happening when I stood and watched thousands of factory girls, in white shirts and black paper hats, file past me when I went out for my coffee from Fresco's on St 51 this morning. There they were, 25-30 girls abreast stretching across the road and pavements, hardly a smile on view, a moving mass of humanity as they made their way towards the Royal Palace. And that was at 9.30am this morning. On just one street. I can easily imagine this will be a scene repeated in all directions, as everyone heads to the riverside area today. There has been the most incredible outpouring of emotion and respect for the former King, I don't think anyone was quite prepared for what they've seen so far, and what they will no doubt witness later today. The scenes at the procession from the airport last Wednesday was totally unexpected, and I think today will be another of those never-before-seen occasions.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Slow weekend

Slow weekend with no football to keep me occupied. Elsewhere, the whole country is still in a state of mourning. Particularly around the Royal Palace area, as you might expect, where the body of their monarch is lying in state. They even thought they saw the face of their deceased King in the half moon tonight, with hordes of people on the streets staring into space. I'm currently reading Colin Cotterill's very funny novel Anarchy and Old Dogs, set in Laos and following the investigative pensioner-cum-coroner Dr Siri. I like the author's style and will definitely be digging out other books, especially one set in Cambodia, called Love Songs from a Shallow Grave. There was a pretty big football story today with news leaking out on Facebook that the Cambodian national team coach, Hok Sochetra, had resigned. He's only been in the job for a few months but 4 defeats on the spin over in Myanmar opened his eyes as to the size of the task, and he's thrown in the towel already.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

A foreign flood?

A new, foreign-born face at Crown, Thierry Bin
In an interesting development, Phnom Penh Crown have opened the door to Khmer footballers from abroad by signing Thierry Bin, a Paris-born 21 year old midfielder, with Khmer parents, who will join the club on his arrival from France on Monday. Bin stood out as part of the touring Khmer-Europe side that was here a couple of months ago and made it clear he was keen to play professional football in his parents homeland. Crown's new head coach, Sam Schweingruber, has given him that opportunity and could well kick open the door even wider after giving a trial to two other French-Khmers earlier this week. There has been a surge of interest in the past year amongst Khmer football fans for their overseas brethren to be included in the Cambodian national team. A few players like Bin have a good grounding in the European game, he actually played for the French U-16 national side which is a considerable achievement in itself considering the high standard of French football, and that has sparked interest amongst the fans who believe Bin and players like him, will help improve their faltering national team. It's definitely an interesting development, with other countries like the Philippines making considerable gains in recent times by including foreign-born players with Filipino heritage in their line-up. If Cambodia can achieve the same success along similar lines, that might just bring a smile back to Khmer faces after a dismal showing by the national team in recent years.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Not a pretty sight

A couple of pictures I didn't post last week whilst I was up in Siem Reap. The top one is my own portrait, which is one of the least flattering photos I've seen of myself in recent times. These newfangled cameras show up all the age lines and other imperfections in way too much detail. The other is the group of tour guides that I was training, the reason why I headed to temple town for a couple of nights.
Hanuman's tour guides from Siem Reap with myself and Jill on back row

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mourning begins, officially

The crowd gathering at the Independence Monument to pay their respects to the King Father
The official mourning period of one week begins today, as the body of the King Father, Norodom Sihanouk, returns from China this afternoon. There will be a procession from the airport to the Royal Palace after 3pm, when estimates suggest 100,000 will line the streets. I reckon you can at least double that figure, and add more on top. From what little I've seen and heard, there is a massive outpouring of emotion by the population, both young and old, and that could generate serious numbers on the streets later today. The King Father stepped down in 2004 in favour of his son but is associated, in the minds of many, as fathering the golden age of Cambodia and its independence from France, and pretty much everything else has been overlooked. Obviously his life story encompasses considerably more than that, but the television is showing only the positive stuff, as you'd expect. There will be a week of official mourning and then the body will lie in state at the Palace for three months before cremation. That means the Palace, as a tourist site, will close though access to pay respects to the King Father will be allowed. The Water Festival races in Phnom Penh later next month have already been cancelled, though the public holiday will remain in place. I popped out to the Independence Monument at 3pm and the crowds gathering there were enormous.
The King Father had still not left the airport but the crowds were already 10-15 deep at Independence Monument.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bookends


Two novels involving Cambodia have come to my notice, one with the ink still damp from the publishing house and another over a year old. If surreal sci-fi is your bag then Seth M Baker's first part of a trilogy, Reaction (The End of the Iron Age, Book 1) might be just up your street. 296 pages and published in paperback by Dark Hollow Press, it tells the story of a man on the run, accused of killing his father, who must clear his name and save the world from inter-dimensional creatures, obviously. His journey takes him from the mountains of Colorado to the jungles of Cambodia. Doesn't it always? The author has also written a short fiction story, Goodbye, Old Angkor. I asked the author why he chose to include Cambodia in his novel. "I spent some time in Cambodia in '10 and '11, and the place pulled me in. At the risk of sounding trite, it's one of the most beautiful and tragic places I've ever visited. One of my characters was a development worker based in Siem Reap who helps the protagonist achieve his goals. I prefer to write about places I've visited, and since I know both the town and the surrounding temples pretty well, I decided that their inclusion would be appropriate for this particular work." More on the author's work here.

The second novel is a more down to earth detective story from author Bob Sanchez, called Little Mountain. The plot follows a Lowell-based homicide detective Sam Long, who is looking into the death of someone from his past, reigniting memories of his Khmer Rouge work camp named Little Mountain. The more he investigates, the more dangerous it becomes for Sam and his family. The murder mystery is self-published and is set in Lowell, Massachusetts, where thousands of Cambodian refugees settled beginning in the early 1980s. The author's family sponsored one of the first families to arrive in Lowell. Find out more about the author here.

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Story trailer

I had a chat with Yoni Gal last night about the documentary he's making about my fave group Steel Pulse, which he's calling The Definitive Story. If I was living back in the UK, I would've loved to have been involved in knocking on doors and getting involved in the research for the documentary, tracking down the stories, photos, video and anything else I could lay my hands on, to tell the true story of this fantastic reggae band. Unfortunately, I'm not in the UK, so I'll just have to wait for the completed film version, which should be out sometime in 2013. I can hardly wait. Here's Yoni's latest, and second, official trailer for the film.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Cambodia and Mars

It took less than 2 days to finish Douglas Preston's thriller Impact, mainly as I had time to sit down and concentrate during the Pchum Ben holiday. It came out at the beginning of 2010 and with a Bayon face on the paperback cover, it was an obvious read for me. Part of the story is set in the Cambodian jungle and takes the reader through to one of the moons of Mars, so its a pretty wide-ranging science fiction thriller. It rattles along at a frantic pace, with standard thriller elements including an ex-CIA good guy, a university drop-out who just happens to be a whiz at astronomy, a hit-man who takes his work seriously and a lot of stuff in boats. There's also a suggestion that Pakistan will one day take over the world (is that anytime soon?) and that an alien gun has its sights set on destroying the earth. As you'd expect, far fetched but isn't that the fun with thrillers. In the end the good guys win, so all's well that ends well. I'm always intrigued why authors select Cambodia for their novels and this explanation from Douglas Preston answers that question.

In December 1996, NASA flew a special reconnaissance DC-8 over the jungles of northwestern Cambodia. The plane was equipped with a foliage-penetrating radar camera which took pictures of a great swath of rainforest. When the resulting data were crunched on a T3D Cray supercomputer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, a discovery was made. A vast, ruined temple, covering almost a square mile of land and dating from the 12th century, was buried in the jungle. An expedition was mounted to go to this temple, which was named Nokor Pheas after the closest village. At the time, I was working for National Geographic magazine, and I managed to get a berth on the expedition, which was led by Elizabeth Moore, head of the Department of Art and Archaeology at the University of London and an authority on the ancient Angkor civilization. Also on the expedition were Anthony Freeman and Scott Hensley, two top scientists from JPL.
This experience would lead, more than ten years later, to the events described in my new novel, Impact. When we arrived in Cambodia in 1998, we learned that there were no roads to Nokor Pheas and that the trails were flooded from the monsoons and still heavily mined from the war. In addition, the lost temple was, unfortunately, located in Khmer Rouge territory (the Khmer Rouge had, by that time, evolved into guerrilla bands involved in kidnapping and smuggling.) Five days before, the Khmer Rouge had kidnapped three people from the village of Nokor Pheas and were holding them for ransom. Elizabeth Moore was not deterred. With cajoling, pleading, and of course heavy payments, we were able to secure permission for the expedition to search for the temple. We hired a small army of soldiers and ‘rented’ a fleet of old motorbikes which could negotiate the jungle trails. The bikes were light enough, we were assured, to not set off the land mines, which had been calibrated to go off when triggered by the weight of a vehicle.
Nokor Pheas, while remote, was not a huge distance from Siem Riep. The plan was to drive like hell and get there and back in the same day. Spending the night in the jungle would be suicide. We set off before sunrise. Where the last road dead-ended into the jungle, we were met, as if by a conjurer’s trick, by a swarm of motorbike-riding soldiers bristling with AK-47s and 79mm mortar launchers—our military escort. We drove for hours through the rainforest before stopping at a tiny hamlet at the edge of the Khmer Rouge territory. While we waited for the soldiers to scout the route ahead, we made a startling discovery. Most traditional Cambodian villages have a central plaza in which stands a shrine containing the ‘ancestor stones’ of the village—sacred stones that embody the spirits of their departed. One of the JPL scientists inspecting the shrine realized that one of these stones was an extremely rare meteorite. The headman of the village confirmed that the stone had been dropped from the sky by the gods.
To make a long story short, we journeyed beyond Trey Nhor, we found the great temple of Nokor Pheas, and we got back alive. It was one hell of a journey. Being a fiction writer, I was determined to use this amazing experience in my fiction someday—and I finally was able to so in Impact. There is, of course, much more in the novel—two girls who go meteorite hunting among the Maine islands; a NASA scientist who discovers a mysterious source of gamma rays in the outer Solar System and later is found beheaded; the sudden appearance of strange, radioactive gemstones on the black market in Bangkok. All these plot threads come together in Impact into an explosive—and surprising—climax.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bloggers unite

I was recently invited to join in the BlogFest.Asia gathering, which will take place in Siem Reap from 1-5 November, and was invited to speak. What do I know about blogging? I declined with a thanks, but no thanks. I don't have any secrets or tips to pass on, I just blog. It isn't rocket science. You say what you want to say and that's it. Much of my blog posts feature Cambodia, though not all. Over at my kingdom of football blog, I blog about football and only football. However, if you are a blogger yourself then a meeting with hundreds of other bloggers from Asia may be the thing that will inspire you. It's the third time that bloggers from Asian countries have met and they will address the theme of Change & Responsibility. I hope they have a great time, but I won't be there. If you want more information on the event, click here.

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Stylish by design

My bedroom and incredibly comfortable double bed at the Shinta Mani
A couple of pictures of my room at the Shinta Mani Hotel in Siem Reap. Marpha and her team looked after me particularly well for two nights this week, as I made a lightning-quick visit to take part in tour guide training ahead of the rapidly-approaching tourist high season. We did a similar workshop in Phnom Penh a few weeks ago. The Shinta Mani actually reopened its doors in June, after a year of renovations, designed by architect Bill Bensley who was behind the original Hotel de la Paix. It has 39 contemporary designed 4-star rooms as well as their Kroya restaurant, spa and a working foundation and development center, through which they do great work in providing hospitality training and opportunities for disadvantaged rural kids. They in turn offer great service in the hotel and restaurant, as I witnessed myself. It's a model that works splendidly. They've just agreed to take over the Royal Bay Inn, which sits just over the road, and within a year expect the Shinta Mani Resort to open up. Bensley has been called into design that as well, having just completed the design for the new Park Hyatt, which will rise from the ashes of the de la Paix. It's all a bit incestuous in Siem Reap. Nevertheless, my stay was very comfortable, a bed to die for, a shower that I wanted to slip in my carry-bag and take home with me, the food was excellent, service great and all in all, an intimate place to stay whilst in temple-town. 
An alcove and a photo of Ta Prohm temple is directly above the double bed

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Not a hope

Grateful thanks to all at Shinta Mani hotel in Siem Reap for looking after my every need for the past couple of days. It's a classy hotel, modern in its design with comfort paramount including a bed to die for. The hotel re-opened just a few months ago after a two-year hibernation and a re-fit. They've done a cracking job. Back on the road after breakfast, by minivan, for the 5 hour drive to Phnom Penh. Sat next to the driver in the front seat, gear-stick between my legs, sun in my face the whole way, no leg room to speak of, hot, sweaty and the driver had that typically Khmer habit of overtaking into oncoming traffic without any sign of fear and his hand permanently on the car horn. I on the other hand could be found winching most of the time. At least we didn't murder a dog this time. The traffic outside of the capital was appalling as everyone was leaving and heading for the provinces to celebrate Pchum Ben this weekend, but the road-widening made it far worse. Great idea to leave the busiest road in the country in such a crap state as the tourist high season approaches. Great planning. I was back at my work desk by 2.30pm, having left Siem Reap at 9am. Judging by the mass exodus, I expect the capital to be very quiet this weekend, as it has on previous bank holidays. It'll be good to have a rest from the incessant seal-style clapping and "tuk-tuk sir" that I hear every time I step into public. Even the tuk-tuk drivers who know I refuse to use tuk-tuks, shout it out. As if I don't know they are there, and as if I'm going to change the habit of a lifetime. Not a hope in hell guys.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

A full day

Spent all day in a tour guide workshop in Siem Reap, dispensing advice and discussing the do's and dont's of guiding visitors. Great interaction from our guides, 18 of them joined in and I think everyone enjoyed it. However, I don't think I could manage teaching as a profession, or guiding for that matter. Then watched Cambodia lose again on tv. It's been a depressing last few weeks on the football front, results-wise. Cambodia were a very poor 2nd best to Myanmar. That's Burma to you and me. Then out for dinner and met up with Eric, Now and Lida for a drink before an early night, ready for another day on the road, heading back to Phnom Penh.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On the road

Took the Mey Hong minibus to Siem Reap this morning. The road between the capital and Batheay is absolutely crap and has been like that for far too long. The road widening is taking forever and the traffic is horrendous. Mey Hong is one of the quicker ways to get to Siem Reap by road as the driver plays chicken with the other traffic. Not for the faint-hearted. And it was a bad day for a dog who didn't make it across the road in time. The small road along the river is being used as a rat run but now a bunch of minibuses are using it, so its as slow as the main road. The kind folks at Shinta Mani are putting me up for a couple of nights with tour guide training on the schedule all day tomorrow. I was just about to jump into the pool this afternoon when it started to rain. Grrr. Big thanks to Marpha at Shinta Mani for a slap-up meal tonight too. They are pulling out all the stops. Just heard that they will take over the Royal Bay Inn next year and give it a Bill Bensley makeover to make it into the Shinta Mani Resort.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Conference matters

At yesterday's press conference
Caught by the lensman for 855 Media Group during yesterday's Phnom Penh Crown press conference. It was the only shot they had of me, they were too busy concentrating on the people that matter. Staying on football, Cambodia play their third game in five days when they meet Brunei this afternoon, in the AFF Suzuki Cup. They have already suffered a couple of defeats, an unexpected 5-1 setback against Timor Leste and a 1-nil reversal to Laos. Brunei are just back from the international wilderness, having served a ban, and should be beatable. But that's on paper and paper never won a football match. Its live on MyTV at 3.30pm this afternoon. Update: As expected, don't believe what you read on paper, as Brunei duffed up Cambodia 3-2 this afternoon, leaving Cambodia well and truly rogered in this competition with three defeats in three games. Not what the new coach wanted, not what the players wanted and certainly not what the fans were hoping for. I'm off to Siem Reap tomorrow to forget about football for at least...a day.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Sam's the man

PPCFC's new head coach Sam Schweingruber. Photos by 855 Media Group
The usual array of television cameras and journos were present this morning as Phnom Penh Crown held its latest press conference. This time it was to announce our new head coach, following the departure of David Booth, at the end of his contract. The new man in the hot seat is Sam Schweingruber, a 33 year old Swiss national, who has more experience in Cambodia than most expats, having arrived here in 2003 and been the director of a social change NGO called the SALT Academy for the past six years. The success he's achieved at SALT, bringing football and education to thousands in the northwest city of Battambang and surrounding area has won him many plaudits, including an honorary medal from the government for his work in grassroots football. His efforts in introducing women's football has seen Cambodia field girls' teams in international competitions for the first time. He's also a FIFA Grassroots Instructor, conducting coaching courses all over Asia and with that background, Crown have decided he's the man to lead us forward into a new future. Crown have a strategic 5-year plan to develop a professional club structure, to nurture youth football through our own Academy and to evolve a fan and community engagement program - that means getting people involved. Sam will continue in an advisory capacity with his former projects but his main focus will be on developing Crown in a way that Cambodia has not seen before. Lofty ambitions, but someone has got to do it and Crown are prepared to lead where others will follow.
The top table. LtoR: Sam (head coach), Rithy Samnang (President) and me (press officer). Photos by 855 Media Group

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Like you

Laura Mam of The Like Me's in action on the advert
Whilst watching the Cambodian football team get trounced by the underdogs Timor Leste, who actually stood up and taught Cambodia a footballing lesson, when everyone, me included, expected the opposite, an advert for The Like Me's all-girl group came on, promoted by their partners Cellcard. The band were here for a quick visit and a Fan meet-and-greet recently and will be heading back for another trip fairly soon. The Cambodia team lost 5-1 to Timor Leste, who, cor blimey, had never won an international game before. Cambodia meet Laos on Sunday, so they have a quick chance to recover some face but another defeat and they'll be highly unlikely to progress in this Suzuki Cup competition.
Cellcard sponsor The Like Me's and adverts about the group

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Insight

The kind of interview with author Kim Fay that I should've arranged, but didn't because of my piss poor planning, can be found instead on the garlic never sleeps blog of my old pal Don Gilliland. Kim's debut novel, The Map of Lost Memories, is a brilliantly evocative read of adventures in Cambodia and the Orient set in the 1920s and I recommend you purchase it immediately. Find out more about the book and about Kim Fay here.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Kicking up a storm

The Silver Bell troupe in full swing
Improv dance on sand was the draw card. The Sa Sa Gallery, next to Scuba Nation on Sothearos Boulevard was the destination and with the gallery floor covered in sand from a recent Khvay Samnang exhibition, the Silver Bell dancing troupe had an idea to offer up a series of short dance improvisations earlier tonight. Led by Belle herself, the 10-strong troupe began with a country-style hoedown and continued with a set of cameo dances, ending with a Belle solo that brought out the best in the country's foremost contemporary dancer. She excelled on the sand. The favourite short dance came from Vitou and his impersonation of a dog, which had the audience giggling through the dust cloud that hung in the gallery air. In the confined space, it was tough on both the dancers and the spectators, but to dance on sand is very different from a normal stage floor and the troupe all agreed it was a great experience.
Belle offers a glimpse of her classical roots

Belle enjoys the moment in the after-dance Q&A session

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Changing Course

Twice a year the Tonle Sap River in Cambodia changes course and the cycle of life involved with this phenomenon persuaded filmmaker Kalyanee Mam to follow three young Cambodians as they struggled to come to grips with the changes taking place around them. The result is the documentary film, A River Changes Course, which will be shown at Chenla Theatre in Phnom Penh at 2pm on Thursday 11 October. The filmmaker and DC-Cam's Youk Chhang will follow the screening with a Q&A session. As a lawyer, photographer and writer, Kalyanee worked on human rights issues in various countries including Cambodia, China, South Africa, Mozambique, and Iraq. Her past work has included assisting refugees in South Africa, documenting the atrocities committed against women during the Khmer Rouge Regime here in Cambodia for DC-Cam, and working as a lawyer in Mozambique and Iraq. She escaped from Cambodia with her family in 1979, soon after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime and eventually fled to the United States as a refugee in 1981. She was the cinematographer for a film called, Inside Job, about the financial meltdown on Wall street between 2007-2010 and which received an Oscar for best documentary feature.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Rambling

Back to work this morning at 8am, after landing and getting home to bed six hours earlier. We spent a whole day travelling and transiting through China yesterday, which must go down as the most unwelcoming place on the planet. An exaggeration as I only saw the two airports of course but many of the airport staff were the least friendly people I've ever come across. Give them a uniform and they give you the cold stare. Or in a couple of cases, abuse. In Chinese of course. The South China airline food was abysmal, the airport prices ridiculously high, they refused to book our bags all the way through from Tajikistan, they made us wait for an age at Urumqi whilst they decided to let us in or not, all in all, not a country I'd like to transit through again. Especially as they initially robbed us of a player on the way out by sending him back to Cambodia. One bright light was meeting a Chinese female doctor on the final leg, who was visiting Cambodia with her family for the first time. Spoke great English and restored some of my faith amongst her countrymen/women. I hope she has a great time in Cambodia. Too knackered to attend the launch party for NRG FM radio this morning, the country's first 24-hour music station.

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